"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)

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Other projects have kept me busy, and will for the forseeable future. To hold you over until then, here is Episode 3-19.


Teaser


Personal Log of Julia Andreys, Captain. 28 October 2643 AST.

Leo's finally released me from the medbay, after four days of observation. I still have to check in with him daily but at least I'm able to live in my quarters again.

Well, quarters anyway. My quarters are no longer mine. I've been removed from command of the
Aurora. Because of… what was done to me. Command is mandating two months of medical leave. And I can't return to duty until I've passed physical and psychiatric evaluations to the satisfaction of Defense Command.

I understand that it's something they have to do. They have to make sure I'm still capable of command after going through that. But I… I hate it anyway. I want my ship back. I want to get my life back to normal… well, as much as this life's been normal anyway. Instead I have to go through this… process, and getting treated like a piece of china that's going to break if you look at it the wrong way.

In a way, it's like Fassbinder is still torturing me. Still hurting me. Even though he's not. <sigh> Alright, I need to finish packing. No more of this for now.



Julia picked up the photograph of her with her parents - and Robert, his sister Susannah, and Angel and Cat Delgado - that was taken after her high school basketball team won the state championship in their division. Seeing her parents always provoked a distant, sharp pain in her heart. If she'd known at that time they only had four years of life left… well, she'd have made different decisions. Robert undoubtedly felt the same way about his parents and sister, taken before their time.

It also reminded her of that frantic night. The tight game, the tension in the air as it went down to the wire, the jubilation when Marcy Lewis hit that three pointer with a minute left and they took the lead for good, and the satisfying swishing of the free throws Julia sunk at the thirty second mark to put the game away. At the time it seemed to be her greatest accomplishment. The idea that she'd end up captaining a spaceship that could jump across universes… that was insanity to the 17 year old Julia in the picture.

She never expected she would get tortured by Nazis either, Julia mused as she set the picture in the bin. She affixed the lid to the plastic container.

"I know the sentiment," said a lilting voice. From the other side of the room, Meridina looked up from the container she was gently laying Julia's trophies in. Meridina was in uniform, as Julia was, and now shared Julia's number of rank strips as well. For the time being, the Gersallian woman - and even after four years Julia was still sometimes put off by the thought she was alien - was the serving Captain of Julia's ship. Since Julia picked her to be the First Officer, it lacked the sting that someone else holding the post might have had.

"Your life hasn't taken the direction you expected either," Julia said, acknowledging the point. "Without us, you'd still be in the Order of Swenya. A field swev… sweev…. Knight."

"Yes. I had no inclinations to this kind of life," Meridina said. "Only to uphold the Code of Swenya. But our destinies are intertwined, and so I am here, a swevyra'se no longer."

"Do you miss it?"

Julia's question prompted a thoughtful look from Meridina. "Sometimes," she confessed. "When I am compelled to deal with the minutiae of command."

Julia smiled at that. "You're telling me the Order doesn't have paperwork?"

"Not nearly the same." Meridina matched the smile. "And do you miss the simpler life you might have had? Playing these sports?"

The answer was immediate. "No. Not at all." Julia picked up another picture, this one from high school graduation. Angel was in it as well, as was freckle-faced, red-haired Marcy Lewis and dark-haired, blue-eyed Jessica Rockledge, another member of the team. She glanced it over for a moment before setting it in her duffel bag, the last available container for her things. "I mean, the games could be exciting. And I had a lot of responsibilities as captain of the team. But I wanted more. I had faith in my ability to be more. Being out here… it's more than I ever dreamed of, and I'd never give it up."

"That answer is true to who you are, yes," Meridina said. "I can sense that. Hopefully it will not be long…"

"I won't be back until the end of the year," Julia said. She gave her quarters, now empty of her personal items, a look before asking, "So, when are you moving in?"

"I am not going to yet," replied Meridina. "Until Command confirms whether or not I will be held on as Captain of the Aurora."

Julia nodded stiffly at that. The thought stung. Even freed from Fassbinder, he's still ruining my life.

There was a little concern in Meridina's voice when she asked, "I am going to Deck 6 to visit Robert on another matter. Would you like me to escort you to your new quarters?"

Julia's first impulse was to say no, but she reconsidered. There were a few boxes to carry, after all. "Lead the way, Meridina," Julia said.




After aiding Julia to her new quarters, Meridina moved on toward Robert's. She met Gina at the door carrying Mastrash Ledosh's protective case. Robert answered the door wearing civilian clothing: a blue T-shirt with the faded insignia of what Meridina knew to be his former "high school" along with a pair of loose blue trousers of Gersallian make. He welcomed them in and to the middle of his living area, where he took a seat while they took the couch. Gina laid the case on the table between them and removed the two books within.

"So this is what Ledosh was working on," Robert said, picking up the newer-looking of the two books. He opened it and read the neat printed High Gersallian text within. "This looks like a book on language analysis," he noted.

"Yes, by a scholar from several centuries ago, Gartanam," noted Meridina. "He studied the dialects of Swenya's time."

Robert checked the other book. It was considerably older and more worn, but the cover still bore fine calligraphy. He read the title. "'The Life of Reshan.'"

"The only existing copy," Gina added. "The volume dates back to Swenya's time as well. It was one of a few books to survive the burning of the Order Library during Kohbal's uprising. Some time afterward, the Order Council placed it on a limited access list. Only a Mastrash of the Council was permitted to even touch it."

"Well, that's not ominous," Robert mused openly. "So Gartanam's book helps you read this one?"

"More than that," said Meridina. "Mastrash Ledosh noticed, and we have confirmed, that there are inaccuracies in the text. Words or lettering that have no place in contemporary language of the time, according to Gartanam's research."

"It appears to be intentional." Gina reached into the case and brought out a pile of notes, all in Gersallian. "Mastrash Ledosh believed they were a code of sorts."

"As in, the out of place letters and whole words are actually hidden text?"

"Yes."

Robert found that interesting. He looked over the notes. He knew enough Gersallian to understand what was written. "'The Circle'," he read aloud, looking over one of the notes. "Didn't that sympathetic Cylon say something to you and Talara about that?"

"She did," Gina said. "We don't know what it means, though."

"There's more to decode, I'm guessing?"

"Yes." Gina nodded. "Mastrash Ledosh's notes are allowing me to reconstruct what he learned. I know it was a weight on his soul."

"I'll give what help I can. Now…"

There was a tone from Meridina's omnitool, and a holographic blue light appeared over the back of her left hand. She tapped at it. "Meridina here," she said.

"We're only ten minutes out from our destination," said Nick Locarno, currently minding the bridge.

"Thank you, Commander," Meridina answered. "I will be coming up shortly."




When Meridina arrived on the bridge with Robert beside her, now in his intelligence branch silver-trimmed uniform with the aiguillette that pretended he was a mere staff officer, she found the rest of the command crew were already assembled and at their posts. Even Scotty and Leo, who normally remained in Main Engineering and the medbay, were present. While Ensign Rawlins, a young African-American officer from New Orleans in Universe H1E1, manned the helm Nick Locarno was seated in the First Officer's seat to the right of the command chair, while Lieutenant Tra'dur of the Dilgar was minding her post of Operations, Jarod's usual place.

Scotty and Leo were not the only visitors to the bridge. The allies the Aurora crew made in the rescue of Julia were around as well. Princess Ursa of the Fire Nation was seated comfortably in an anti-grav chair provided by medbay. That she was fit enough to be present was a good indicator from her recovery from the critical wounds she'd suffered in the rescue. Ursa's daughter Miko, rescued along with Julia, was at the chair's handles. The young woman showed keen interest in the Aurora bridge and those upon it. Both she and her mother wore a matching set of something like Japanese kimonos, colored deep red with gold trim, with Ursa's hair held at top of her head by a metal band marked with a golden fire symbol. Beside them, Yeshe Beifong was standing wearing a set of yellow and orange robes that left her right arm bare, revealing thin, corded muscle on the limb.

The three looked like ordinary Human beings, or to Meridina's eyes, Gersallians. Only she and Robert felt the difference within them. The peculiar energy each enjoyed, particularly Miko, that made them and their people such a unique part of the Multiverse. While there were many in all universes who could feel their connection to the Flow of Life, and use that connection to achieve all manner of things, Miko, Ursa, and Yeshe had abilities that were not quite the same, but just as extraordinary. They were known to the people of their world as "Benders": Human beings with the ability to manipulate basic elements with their wills. Yeshe could manipulate air, Ursa could generate and manipulate fire, and Miko could do both, for she was the Avatar, a being born and reborn to each nation of her world and the ability to "bend" all four of the Elements.

Truly the Multiverse is a magnificent place, with many wonders to find, Meridina considered. She turned her attention to more immediate matters, however. "ETA, Mister Locarno?" she asked.

"We're dropping out of warp in thirty seconds," he replied cheerfully from his chair. "You made it right on time."

"I wonder what the others will think," thought Miko aloud. "About this ship, and your people. We never imagined we would find anything like your Alliance in the stars."

"I only wish we had met your Alliance before we met your enemies," Ursa added solemnly.

"As do we," Meridina replied.

Nothing more was said before Rawlins announced they were dropping out of warp. The warp engines of the Aurora gently quieted and the Aurora was reduced to sublight velocity. Ahead of them a small garden world hung in the void, a distant moon beyond it and a bright yellow star similar to Sol shining in the distance. A series of space stations hung in orbit, two over the poles and three closer to the equator. The amount of space traffic was not quite the level of the most advanced Earths or of major worlds of the Multiverse such as Thessia, Minbar, or Doreia, but every indication was that this was a civilization advanced enough that spaceflight was a part of everyday life.

Tears were shining in Miko's eyes at the sight. "Home," said the young Avatar. "We're finally home."




Undiscovered Frontier
"Finding Peace"




For a short time there was quiet on the Aurora bridge as they approached the homeworld of Miko and the others. Most of those present were simply taking in the lines of the massive continent on the screen.

The first sound was a restrained little squeal of excitement from the port side of the bridge. Everyone turned to see Cat busily examining her screens. "These scans are incredible!" she said. "The stability, the wavelengths in the Groenitz-Hallen bands… this is so incredible!"

"Commander?" Meridina asked, inquiring with her tone.

"I'm reading three distinct energy patterns on the planet," Cat said. "Consistent with rifts in the basic fabric of space-time. But they're all fully stable! I've never even heard of anything like this! It's… it's not even like the Bajoran Wormhole! It's entirely new!"

"You must be referring to the Spirit Portals," Miko said. "They provide our link to the Spirit World."

Meridina considered what Miko said while her own senses felt keenly the peculiar diversion in the Flow of Life. It was not such a complete diversion as to leave her incapable of using any of her talents, but it was more significant here than any other world she'd seen in universe N1C4.

These portals, they seem to have a link to the Flow of Life in some way. As do the powers of the people here. There is much we have to learn, things about the Flow of Life we may never have imagined.

"Captain." Tra'dur spoke English with the same accent her mother used, with tones that Meridina knew to be associated with the Indian subcontinent of the Human homeworld. "We are receiving a hail from the surface."

"Put them on," Meridina answered.

The holo-viewscreen flashed to show a round table. Over three of the chairs, a flatscreen display showed the features of assorted people. Given the appearances, one was clearly related to Ursa and Miko. Two more of the chairs were occupied, one by a woman in a flowing crimson dress and blue-toned business jacket, the other by a man in a brown jacket and beige dress shirt. His lapels had an insignia, a circle with a square cut out of the middle of it.

Meridina spoke first. "This is Captain Meridina, current commander of the Starship Aurora of the United Alliance of Systems."

The brown-jacketed man nodded. "I am Sun Lan, Premier of the Earth Union and current Chairman of the Five Nations' Council. The Council and I speak for the Compact and welcome you and your Alliance to our Homeworld."

"Thank you for the welcome, Chairman," Meridina replied.

"We, and the peoples of the Five Nations, thank your people for your critical role in rescuing the Avatar. We are prepared to open full diplomatic relations with the Alliance of Systems."

"And we have come with a diplomatic team to do the same," said Meridina. "We will beam down shortly to meet with you."

"'Beam down'... ah, your teleport technology. Yes. Please, we await you in Council Tower, and look forward to opening discussions."

"We will be down shortly," answered Meridina.




The Aurora transporters created a spectacle for the assembly waiting for Meridina and the others. She, Miko, and an Alliance diplomatic first contact team led by a blue-skinned, purple-spotted and -haired Dorei woman, Yuria Tashke, materialized in bursts of white light in the South Garden of the Council Tower. Sun Lan was waiting for them with the woman in the red dress and blue jacket. While Sun Lan looked East Asian, she had a darker skin tone and looked more like someone from the Indian subcontinent. Armored figures stood with both, half of them women with their faces painted white.

Also present were news crews, a mix of camera-bearers, reporters for televised news service, and journalists. Meridina noticed the surprise and shock rippling through them. While she looked Human, Secretary Tashke was visibly non-Human, as was her chief of staff, another Dorei of light teal skin and dark purple spotting. One of the cultural analysts was a blue-feathered, gray-skinned Alakin.

Sun Lan was presumably better prepared for meeting alien life. "Avatar Miko. Captain Meridina and honored guests. Welcome to Republic City."

"Thank you, Premier. This is my superior, Yuria Tashke, of the Dorei species. She is one of our diplomats, a specialist in the field of first contact with new civilizations."

"Premier, a pleasure," Yuria said. "I come representing the peoples and species of the United Alliance of Systems, and our President, Henry Morgan."

A Human woman of East Asian background stepped up beside her, looking rather more normal for their hosts. "I am Council Representative Seong Yeo-reum, of the Council Committee on Foreign Relations. I also thank you for the welcome."

Sun Lan nodded again before indicating the woman beside him. "This is Priyanka Dravad, President of the United Republic and Vice Chairwoman of the Council."

"Welcome to Republic City," the woman said, nodding in turn.

As it turned out, the handshake was part of the culture here as well, and so all shook hands, the Dorei keeping their gloves on for the ritual due to their natural touch-based empathic abilities. All the while the cameras kept recording. Meridina sensed the anxiety and disbelief in the assembled, with an undercurrent of excitement that in some cases turned to a sort of giddiness. This was history in the making, something that was to forever transform this world and those who lived upon it.

After everything was complete they entered the Tower. A pair of lifts were waiting to take them up. Meridina ended up in a lift with President Dravad, Miko, and Under-Secretary Tashke. The lifts were windowed and, as they lifted above the structure of the bottom two floors, proved to be on the exterior of the Tower itself, giving an unrivaled view of the city.

"Yue Bay is beautiful," said Miko.

Meridina could not disagree. The waters bordering the city were pristine, a rich crystal blue. In the middle of the bay were two islands. One held the statue of a young man, little more than a boy, in robes similar to Yeshe Beifong's clothing. The other was a series of buildings, all of them being round in structure. Meridina's heart ached at how the architecture reminded her of the Great Temple of the Order of Swenya, now nothing but a memory due to the Cylons.

The bay was ringed by the skyline of a great metropolis. Great and tall buildings soared into the sky, some reaching the heights of the best in Gersal's capital Jantarihal, her hometown. Landward they were framed by the mountains in the distance, snowcapped and beautiful. Yue Bay aside, the city reminded her of Jantarihal.

Yue Bay… and one other thing. While the Bay was ringed by the metropolis, the great towering buildings were missing from the landmass between them. Flanked by two rivers, a peninsula jutted out from the areas to the east of the city center. Only shorter buildings were visible here in similar style to those of the island in the bay. The light of the day did little to obscure the pillar of golden light rising from the peninsula. Even here Meridina could feel a pull through the Flow of Life. Its energies were tied into the pillar at its base. "That is…"

"...the Spirit Portal, yes," said Premier Sun Lan.

"We detected it from orbit, but I was unaware it would look so… beautiful."

"It is the unique one. The portals at the poles are blue in color."

"How were such things made?" asked Under-Secretary Tashke.

"The making of the polar portals is lost to our histories," replied President Draved. "Supposedly the Chaos Spirit, Vaatu, made them long ago, before being defeated by Raava. This portal is far newer. It was created two centuries ago by Avatar Korra to save the city from the tyrant Kuvira's energy cannon."

"The weapon was overloading," Miko said. "Korra re-directed its energies, channeling them into forming the portal."

"I can sense it, even here," said Meridina. "The Flow of Life pools around it. Almost as if it is sustained by the energies of the Flow."

"What is this 'Flow of Life' you're talking about?" asked Sun Lan.

"It is an energy field formed by the life energies of all living things, through what my people call swevyra," Meridina explained. "Some beings, such as myself, have swevyra that is active, and can connect to the universe and the Flow of Life. It grants us abilities beyond the physical."

"It sounds like you are describing chi," said Dravad.

"Chi… I believe I have heard this word before. I may need to investigate further…"

The lift came to a stop, and with it the conversation. The groups filed out of the lifts and through the hall beyond into a chamber. The walls were polished beige and gold, and the floor a fine marble tile marked with the repeated motif of five symbols in an arrangement that brought to mind the pedals of a flower. Meridina recognized the five from the materials on this world already provided: the flame crest of the Fire Nation in black, the three spirals of the Air Nation, the blue cresting waves of the Water Tribes, the circle with an open square in the middle of the Earth Union, and the crest of the United Republic.

The same symbol was on top of a circular table with five seats. Attendants brought up many more for the Alliance contingent, albeit smaller ones.

Sun Lan sat in one of the seats and tapped a button. The screens came active, showing three more beings. One, a wizened old woman with many years showing in the wrinkles on her face, wore an elaborate series of red and yellow robes. A blue arrow tattoo covered her forehead, the blue line going up to the top of her head and the hairline of wispy white strands there. The second viewer was of a dark-tanned man with a bearded face, wearing an elaborate garb of blue and white. The third was another man, with a pointed beard and full mustache of gray hair. His clothing matched Miko's in appearance and coloration, and Meridina could see the family resemblance.

"My colleagues," said Sun Lan. "Master Gewa of the Air Nation, High Chief Iqnarak of the Confederated Water Tribes, and Fire Lord Daizon of the Fire Nation."

Tashke and Seong bowed in respect, as did Meridina and the others. Miko did as well, smiling softly at her grand-uncle's image. Meridina thought she saw his expression shift ever so slightly to relief, but whether she did or not, he remained focused on business.

One thing she did sense was an undercurrent of anxiety. Uncertainty. These people were still wondering what they were dealing with, it seemed, and diplomacy would thus be all the more critical.

Again thanks were given for their role in Miko's rescue. Tashke responded with, "We thank the Five Nations' Compact for their aid in the battle with the SS Exiles. It was the heroism of General Hanraq's fleet that saved the Starship Aurora, and granted the time for the enemy's jamming field to be lowered and our fleet to arrive." The Dorei woman nodded her head. "While our first contact was not made under the easiest circumstances, it is clear that our peoples share many values, and we wish to build upon that."

"Of course. And it would appear we have become part of a much larger community of nations," stated Iqnarak. "I hope you will understand some nervousness we may have at the prospect. Before our encounter, we had no idea that other Human life forms existed, much less species such as your own, Under-Secretary Tashke. The Multiverse is… a lot for our people to take in."

"We have seen such before," said Seong. "And we understand the importance of giving your people time to adjust. If it is your wish that we limit contact for a time, we will do so."

"That will not be necessary, I think," said Daizon. "Care will have to be taken, but your people fought and died alongside ours. We are bound by their sacrifices."

Meridina opted to bring up a question. "Then would your Council oppose my crew being granted leave rights, to visit your world?"

"They are welcome," Dravad said. "The matter that most concerns me is this 'city base' that the invaders were using. I am told that it is a technological marvel thousands of years old, with technology beyond even your own."

Meridina noticed the tension in the room spiking slightly. "That is what it appears to be," she confirmed at Tashke's nod.

"Then control of this city must be determined, and our rights to it guaranteed," said Sun Lan. "It is, after all, in our home universe, at the frontier of our space."

"It is," Tashke agreed.

Whatever Tashke was going to say next didn't get a chance to be said. Miko spoke up. "There are so many important things we have to discuss. The city can wait. We already share it, don't we? There are Compact and Alliance personnel living there and examining the place. Why fight over it?"

Eyes turned to face her. Some were understanding. Many were not. Meridina felt the young Avatar's notice that her remarks were not welcomed, but nevertheless Miko didn't flinch from the negative attention. She felt her point was valid, and wanted it recognized.

Sun Lan did so with a nod. "The Avatar is correct. As things stand, both sides are holding the city. A final disposition can be settled once we have determined the nature of the relationship to come between the Alliance and the Compact."

"We are ready to discuss these matters at your convenience, Excellency," Tashke said in a quiet diplomatic tone.

That discussion picked up. As it did, Meridina pondered what else that the team at the old city had discovered in the time since the Aurora left them for the Compact's Homeworld.




Many light years away, the ancient city in question was in its twilight hours. With night approaching lights were becoming active at all corners of the structure and its five adjoining platforms.

The central structure was the tallest, and it was at the top floor of this tower that Jarod, Tom Barnes, and Lucy Lucero were gathered in a command room, looking over inactive displays.

Nearby, Komin Beifong, cousin of Yeshe, looked over a display of what seemed to be the city. The display, however, showed not five but six of the structures arrayed around it.

They were not alone. A number of personnel, some in Alliance uniform and some wearing the various uniforms of the Five Nations Compact, milled about checking and scanning things. Some of the officers came from the Aurora and others from one of the Alliance ships still present in the system.

Standing with them were personnel from the Maimonides. Commander Philippe Duwala, the First Officer and former Science Officer of the Challenger, was a familiar face, being one of the Facility's rescuees-turned-recruits in the pre-Alliance days. Beside him was Lieutenant Commander Treepk, an Alakin female and the Science Officer of his ship, and Lieutenant Tasina T'Seris, an Asari maiden and the Assistant Chief Engineer of said ship. Doctors Charles Talbot and Indira Vajpayee from the Maimonides science labs rounded out their contribution.

Jarod gestured to the data he'd compiled and asked them, "So, this is what we can estimate for how long this has been here."

"Twenty thousand years," Doctor Vajpayee remarked, astonished. "Incredible."

"So this was around long before the Darglan had their day," said Lucy. She glanced to Komin. "Your people, how far back does their history go?"

"The earliest records date to only ten thousand years ago, and beyond records concerning the Avatar, they're very rare," Komin replied. "We have little idea of what things were like before then. A couple of things. Avatar Korra's memoirs, for instance, describe a world overrun by spirits when Wan became the first Avatar, but the physical evidence just doesn't exist." He glanced back to the display. "You're thinking this city has something to do with our ancient past, right?"

"It's a strong possibility," Jarod confirmed. "There's no proof yet, but given your world's solar system and the dimensional phenomena of your world, it seems the most likely reason. It's why we need access to the computer cores so we can confirm it."

"Hard data is what we're here for," Talbot agreed. He and Lucy remained hunched over a console. "But accessing the data cores is difficult. The SS computer engineers were nitwits, one and all. They brute-forced everything, and there's no telling how much data they corrupted…"

"Nazis suck, but that's like saying the sky is blue," Tom groused. "Me, I want more info on those crystals from that power chamber. The power readouts on those things are insane. They're the best power source I've ever seen."

"The jammer is what is most important, right now," Jarod noted. "If we can figure out how it decreases the permeability of the interuniversal barrier in an area, it won't just keep people from jumping out, it can keep them from jumping in."

"And we would have a defense against further surprise attacks," Philippe said. "Have you isolated it?"

"We're still examining all of the city's machinery," Lucy said. "But we're pretty sure we found the emitters. There are teams checking the attached equipment to give us an idea on where the central core for the system is located."

"All of this technology." Komin turned away and looked into the empty central chamber again. "It's so much. Especially if this is tied to our past."

The others recognized the sound in his voice and knew the city was only part of it. With the fighting done and the danger out of the way, Komin was facing the new truths of his world. The existence of other universes, of other branches of Humanity and other sapient species, and technologies his people hadn't yet discovered… at some point the sheer weight of it would hit the thoughtful. And then it was all they could think about.

Lucy sensed the slight shift in Komin's thoughts. "What do you think those are for?"

She, Tom, and Philippe all noticed what he was looking at. In the middle of the central chamber, the floor was marked by a series of wide, short steps that abruptly stopped. A groove was visible in the floor there, as if something was meant to fit..

"Maybe it was a transporter pad of some kind?" Tom speculated loudly.

"Another mystery to explore," said Treepk. "Oh so many…"

"We'd better get back to work on the computers then," Jarod remarked. "Our answers could be in there."




A gentle smell from incense filled the office of Dr. Tusana, the Aurora's civilian psychiatrist and counselor. Her tanned complexion matched the color of the wood slowly burning in a bowl on the table nearby, the source of the scent. Julia found it relaxing, which she supposed was the point.

While she was officially on medical leave and forbidden from duty, Julia still appeared wearing her uniform. It was, for her, a habit on her ship she wasn't about to give up. Whatever Command said, she considered the Aurora her ship, and she would dress appropriately as the ship's captain.

Tusana noted that sentiment. Her telepathic talents let her sense everything on Julia's thoughts. Julia's frustration, her determination to return to duty, and the shadow of intense pain that still marked her psyche. She was not the first torture victim Tusana considered a patient, so it was a familiar mental wound to the Gersallian woman.

"You resent being here," Tusana observed.

"No," Julia insisted, and she meant it, whatever thoughts might go through her head. "I mean, I feel… I feel some, but that's just feeling. I know that it has to be this way."

"Does it?"

"Yes," Julia said. She sighed. "I was taken for a week. I was tortured, denied regular sleep, mentally violated by a machine, and nearly killed a couple of times. I can't just go back to my command without reassurances that I'm fit for duty despite all of that."

Tusana nodded. "It is good that you acknowledge the necessity for this, Julia. And just as good that you understand your own frustration."

Julia clenched a fist. "I… I want to be back in my command more than anything. I know I can still do this job."

Tusana considered that remark. She did find it convincing. Julia knew others would too. But Command couldn't return her to her ship based solely on her conviction. Julia had to be ready, physically and mentally, for the challenges of command.

Fine, she thought. I proved myself once, I'll do it again.

"You have survived much," said Tusana. "And I understand your feelings. I hope to work together with you on your recovery. Your admission is a vital first step."

"But not the only one."

"No. It is one thing to admit your feelings, another to live with them. What was done to you, it can bring fresh feeling of resentment, if you are not careful."

"What I need is something to do," Julia insisted. "I can't just sit around all day and stew about it."

"Agreed," said Tusana. "Please, tell me about your other activities…"

Julia explained her sports playing, and her martial arts training, and the occasional movie with friends. Robert was already inviting her to join him for a movie night, to rewatch things they saw as children.

Just as Tusana began to comment on this, a blue light appeared over the back of Julia's left hand. She tapped at it and her new omnitool flashed into existence. "Captain Andreys," said the person on the other end. The Turkish accent of Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi was one Julia hadn't heard in a while. Ever since Tra'dur came aboard and Lucy Lucero went off to other duties, Sabiha's work was mostly off the bridge, minding the backup bridge or overseeing the rest of the operations department. Jarod being back at the ancient city-base Julia was freed from was the obvious explanation for Sabiha again being on the bridge, likely for Tra'dur's off-watch period in the shift. Once Julia gave her a note of acknowledgement, Sabiha continued. "I have Admiral Maran for you."

"Put him on," said Julia. The screen of the omnitool shifted to show Maran in his office at Defense Command, across the Columbia river from Portland. "Admiral, sir?"

"I won't keep you for long," replied the leader of the Alliance military. "But I felt you deserved the notice from me in person, not a recording or a note."

"Oh?"

Tusana heard what Maran said to Julia, and breathed a small sigh at feeling Julia's heightened frustration.




With the others doing their own work, Jarod and Lucy found themselves the only ones still trying to get through the SS-installed operating software imposed on the city's computer core. For this work they were in the heart of the city's central tower, down toward the bottom where a large chamber held multiple columns that represented the physical cores of the computers. Each was at a screen examining the ongoing flow of steadily-decrypting data. Lucy was wearing an ops-branch uniform for the job, regardless of her new status on Robert's team.

"So, what do you think?" Lucy asked aloud.

"Hrm?" Jarod looked up from the console. "Think about what?"

"How Philippe's doing? And Nasira and Rodrigo too, really."

"Oh." Jarod tapped at a key, sending a new command into the system. "They're doing well, I suppose. Captain, First Officer, and Tactical Officer on a cruiser-sized ship."

"A science cruiser, but yeah, I had the same thought," Lucy admitted. "It's good to see our people moving up in ranks, y'know?"

"Agreed." Jarod thought back to some of the others they'd known in the pre-Alliance days. He'd joined just as the Facility crew started expanding from their own world to other worlds, such as the 1850s Earth of C1P2. In that time they'd saved thousands, and some of those in turn joined them. "We're not even a drop in the ocean in the Alliance forces these days," he noted aloud.

"We've still got a few. Li's still on the Shenzhou, Madeleine on the Challenger. Ibraham will have to be pried off of the Park's bridge, I think. Now Nasira has the Maimonides." Lucy thought back to some of the others. "What about Hava?"

"Hava Ostrovsky? Science Officer on the Atlantis now. Probably one of the oldest fleet science officers active."

"Peter?"

"Peter Kpomassie, from Togo?" Jarod thought for a moment. "The last I heard, he was still in command track and is the Astrogation Officer on the Ambedkar."

Lucy was letting more names come to mind of those old comrades, but she stopped when her screen changed. "Jarod, it looks like we've got it."

Jarod came over and looked at what Lucy was seeing: the blocky German text was being replaced by alien text of some sort, completely unfamiliar to him. "I've never seen this kind of text."

"Neither have I."

Jarod used his omnitool to capture the text on the screen. "I'm linking to the Maimonides now, we'll run a search through the database. It should only take a few minutes at most, this language looks pretty unique…"

Twenty seconds later his omnitool flashed a result. Lucy looked to it with him and then exchanged a surprised expression. "That's… wow, that… I never expected that," Jarod admitted.

The screen displayed the result of the search.

Sample Match: Language matches samples of language of "Ancients" species, Universe R4A1. Initial samples provided through treaty-compliant research agreement with Stargate Command, R4A1 Earth.




Upon return from the diplomatic meeting Meridina went to the bridge. A quiet watch period would be just the thing to ease her mind from the quiet anxiety and tension she'd felt among the Five Nations Compact's leadership. It was never easy for non-farisa to understand the strain mindwalkers could be under even with relatively passive emotions, especially of that intensity.

Many of the Command staff were present. Tra'dur was back at Ops while Locarno was in the command chair. Ensign Rawlins was at the helm. Caterina and Angel were manning their appropriate stations. The moment she came through the lift door she felt Caterina's forming question. Just before Cat could speak it, Meridina nodded and said, "They have approved leave. We will be provided relevant packets to provide to those exercising leave so they know how to conduct themselves. A currency exchange has been established as well." She looked to Locarno directly. "With Jarod back at the city-structure, I will rely upon you and Master Chief Rohm to arrange leaves with each department."

"Understood," said Locarno.

"I can't wait!" Cat exclaimed. "I want to examine those rifts so much."

"As do I," Tra'dur added. "It is fascinating to know such stable rifts exist on a habitable world."

"This has the potential to change…"

Before Cat could finish, Tra'dur's station gave off a tone. "Captain, we have a ship anchoring to our jump drive."

Moments later Cat added, "Interuniversal jump point forming."

The point formed far from the orbiting stations and ships above the Earth-like planet below. The emerald vortex expanded from a point of light. From it emerged a large warship, larger than even the Aurora, painted in the earthy colors of the Dilgar.

Tra'dur was the most pleased. "It is the Wrath," she said. "Mother-Ka’s ship." A light appeared on her station. "We are receiving a hail."

"On screen."

The Aurora bridge's main holo-viewer blipped into existence along the front wall of the bridge module. On the screen was a Human woman in the impressive uniform jacket of a Dilgar Battlemaster, black and bluish-gray with shoulders fringed with golden material. Golden buttons went down the middle in two lines toward the edges of the gray material. Kaveri Varma's gray hair belied her age, but her skin looked young, from all her many years spent in spaceships. A lifetime aboard ships with little or no gravity also played a role in her frail physique, whatever her recent experience with ships employing artificial gravity.

But there was nothing frail about what was within her light brown eyes. Meridina once touched the mind hidden behind them, and knew the strength and belief in the core of the elder Indian woman as a being. One such sign of that belief was the red bindi prominent on her forehead, a mark of a practicing Hindu.

"Captain Varma," said Meridina. "Welcome."

"Captain Meridina." Kaveri was using the courtesy of Meridina's acting rank. "Namaste. It is good to see you and your people together after these past trials. Is everything prepared?"

"We are ready to beam you aboard, Captain, at your signal."

"That is good," said Kaveri. "Even with everything that has happened, we have much work still to do."

"I will have a report on the progress of the talks completed before the evening is out," Meridina assured her. "We will see you shortly."

"We will." The Indian woman nodded. Her image disappeared.

“Ka'var is coming aboard?" Tra'dur's voice betrayed her surprise.

"She's joining the opening contact talks?" Cat asked. "Or, what, representing Shai'jhur to the Five Nations?"

"No, she is not," said Meridina. She stepped up between Rawlins and Tra'dur and looked over the others. "Kaveri Varma is here to assume command. She is to be our new Captain."
"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 »

Normally a Dilgar ship was commanded by a Battle Captain, or even in the case of smaller vessels a Battle Expert, with Group Captains leading sections below that level and acting as XOs of frigates. In the case of the Union, however, Kaveri Varma was a Battlemaster and still in command of a ship. That had generally only been the case with dreadnoughts and assault carriers, but the Sekhmets had been so rare it had included them as well.

That meant Mai’jon, as a Battle Captain from Tira, was a perfectly qualified officer for the role. The green-eyed Dilgar woman was in a line officer’s uniform, but wore the familiar badge of the Mha’dorn and intelligence flashes. She had been Kaveri’s Executive Officer for the entire duration of the six month, two week long commissioned life of the Wrath since her reconstruction.

Around them the familiar hum of the Wrath let them know she was a living ship. Fitted with both Darglan shields and Abbai Grav Shields, with an internal warp drive capable of driving her at Warp 8 (at least for a few minutes), and a heavy battery of Hyach spinal lasers, she was a beast by any measure, a capable warship even now. Her secondary batteries were mostly Alliance weapons. She was, in fact, the only Dilgar ship which was not lend-lease from the Alliance to have Naqia reactors (in part) and an interuniversal drive, though all of it had been scavenged excesses from Alliance repair and maintenance depots.

“Battlemaster,” Mai’jon saluted on her feet as she came to attention in Kaveri’s office. “We have arrived in the Five Nations’ Compact space as instructed, using the Aurora’s jump anchor.”

“Well done, Battle Captain Mai’jon.” Captain Varma had her hands folded behind her, grey streaked in her hair gleaming in the overhead lights as she glanced about. “Wrath and her crew have done everything asked of them in superlative fashion.”

“We were ably made into a single fighting body by your presence, Battlemaster,” Mai’jon answered. “I do not understand why the Warmaster has requested you assume command of this Alliance ship, but I obey in ignorance and am ready to take command.” As a Mha’dorn, her emotional state was reserved, but Kaveri had plenty of experience reading Dilgar and could tell she would have rather had Kaveri lead them back to the reserve depot and decommissioning ceremony.

“Such is a matter of duty. Another who has a harsher hand could destroy the cohesion of the Aurora and her crew, and… it will become clear, in time, as to why such is important.”

“I understand, Battlemaster.” Mai’jon was silent for a moment. Then, she gently growled and cleared her throat. “Battlemaster, it has been a considerable honour to serve with you. Of course, at first, the crew was terrified, I will be honest.”

“Terrified, Battle Captain?” Ka’var, which she had invited the Dilgar to refer to her as, raised her eyebrows in visible inquiry.

“Yes, Ka’var,” Mai’jon replied earnestly, wide eyes admitting no deceit. “They wondered if you were an officer of substance, or appointed for the Warmaster’s leisure. And they wondered, too, what it would be mean to be Dilgar serving in war under a human. You overcame both quickly, and now, the crew is sad to see you go; they know they are Ka’var’s children, and though I might share their fur, I am not sure I can be the same for them, in the short time before we stand her down.”

“I shall not be the same to the Aurora - a permanent command differs from a temporary one, Mai’jon. We need both time and stability to bind a crew together, when we rise to a captaincy.”

“It may be a while before I get my chance, then,” she replied softly. “They say the active fleet will be reduced to only a hundred and twenty-five ships, and most of them small for policing.” That was a bit more than a quarter of the mobilised size, and it showed how thoroughly Shai’jhur was trying to cut costs to let a Dilgar economy grow and motivate people to reproduce.

Ka’var grimaced. “I had intended to retire upon handing Wrath to the reserve depot. The Warmaster… understands what our people can afford to mobilize in peace. I cannot deny it will be painful, Mai’jon. There is an old human toast that describes the more juniour officer’s hopes in such a time; ‘to bloody wars and sickly seasons’.

“And this is why we are so similar,” Mai’jon smiled thinly. “I understand that sentiment perfectly. Well, what I hope, then, is that I have earned at least the chance to be Wrath’s designated Captain in reserve. Even if I am back on the family’s kraal on Tira, to bring her to life for the annual exercise, and the call of need, would be … I admit, I wish for it, badly. She has been a good ship to us.”

“I have formally put you forward in my last report to the Warmaster, Mai’jon. I have had the intention since a month into my tenure, that you would follow me in the command chair, as I humbly follow my predecessor.”

“Battlemaster An’jash…” Mai’jon shook her head. “Legends will always be whispered about this ship, Ka’var. But it is good we have added new ones. I don’t think Dilgar will quickly forget Wrath’s fight with the rest of our expeditionary fleet over Germania. I pray to the Gods it never be forgot.”

“There will be a triptych, I am sure. Balos on one side, Germania on the other, and Wrath in the centre. The Divine will never let her be forgotten as long as there are Dilgar to remember.”

“And we may have just insured that. Gods, I pray it so,” Mai’jon replied fervently.

“So do we both, so do we both.”

“Thank you for showing confidence in me,” Mai’jon added, her eyes shining. “I will bring her home safe, Battlemaster. But I do have one request for you. A Mha’dorn request.”

“I would not have recommended she be given to you otherwise… what is the request, Battle Captain?”

“You are going to a dangerous posting, the Aurora attracts danger, but especially operations with telepaths have lately been problematic in certain respects. You need protection, so our Warmaster is not to grieve in this short tour. You also need assistance in making sure that the crew walks a righteous course. Please take Group Captain Bei’tir with you from the Marines complement. She is a fully trained Category Six,” which meant P-7 in conversion, “as a combat telepath.” Her eyes flicked and she folded her hands. “We want to make sure you are safe, Battlemaster, but also that Dilgar interests are upheld where they can be.”

“A Mha’dorn request.” Kaveri leaned back in her chair, her eyes narrowing as she considered the matter. “Her experience outside the Union, Battle Captain, if any?”

“Just this deployment, Battlemaster,” Mai’jon’s lips twitched into a curled grimace. “I know, a more experienced operative in wetwork might be preferred.”

“My daughter needs Battlemaster Fei’nur more than I do. Given the Aurora’s reputation, I think she will do well, for what you suggest. She should be briefed, hurriedly. I will make her aware that some may see a more sinister element in her assignation, but… it will be good and welcome to have a fellow Wrather aboard.”

Mai’jon smiled tightly, and then rose. “Thank you.” She saluted. “Thank you. We are proud to have had you, and when it’s all said and done, we’ll organise reunions. Go in glory, my Battlemaster.”

“Thank you, Captain Mai’jon.”




The senior-most bridge officers of the Aurora were gathered at Transporter Station 1 to welcome their new commander. Meridina, Locarno, and Cat waited patiently while the Caucasian transporter operator finished running her fingers over the controls. "Signal received, sir, beginning transport," she said in a slow, partial Southern drawl.

To their surprise, there was not one but two bursts of bright light that accompanied a brief buzz in the air. Within one light Kaveri Varma appeared, while in the other was a Dilgar woman. Both were still in the uniform of the Union, and carrying bags. The awaiting officers stood at attention. Kaveri stepped down from the pad first and looked to them before nodding. "Captain Meridina, Commander Locarno, Commander Delgado. Please, we may be less formal. This is a difficult situation for yourselves and your crew."

They relaxed somewhat, although for Meridina she retained the same stoic posture as always, not so much relaxed as at peace. She sensed the Dilgar was a fellow telepath. "Captain Varma, welcome again to the Aurora. It is good to see you." Meridina channeled her gift elsewhere. Given what happened before, and the necessities that occurred, she felt it inappropriate to come too close to entering Kaveri's mind, notwithstanding the telepath accompanying her.

"Welcome, Captain," Locarno added.

"Hello." Cat smiled at her. Tra'dur was her friend, and so she was basically meeting her friend's mother again. That said, she did feel a little awkward, as something within her felt off about everything going on. And she wasn't sure why there was a second Dilgar with Kaveri.

"I thank you all for your welcome, though I understand it is an uneasy time." Kaveri considered the room for a moment. She'd only been aboard the Aurora a few times. The initial visits were not happy ones, coming during the tension and violence over the Dilgar world Tira, and including the brutal assault that nearly killed Shai'jhur. Then there had been the surrender over Germania, a happier occasion certainly, if still as a conclusion to yet more violence.

And now, yet again, she was here in circumstances that were mixed, to say the least.

"This is Group Captain Bei’tir," Kaveri said, introducing the Dilgar. "She will be serving as my adjutant for the duration of my tenure aboard Aurora. I would request quarters to be assigned to her near those I shall be using, to the extent possible without disrupting the existing arrangements.”

Meridina nodded at the request. Deck 4 was senior officer and staff quartering by design. But there were a couple of open ones for visiting admirals and staff. "I will make the arrangements. She will be quartered on Deck 4 in the fashion you desire. Might I escort you to your new quarters?"

"Of course, Commander, with my thanks."

This was the cue for Locarno and Cat to return to duty, with Cat in particular urgent to finish her backlogged work and enable leave to visit the portals on the planet below. Meridina led Kaveri and Bei'tir out of the Transporter Station and toward the lifts. "I know this has been difficult for you and your crew," the Indian woman said to her as they walked through the azure-lined corridor of the Aurora. "New Liberty is a home for many of them. It is the work they put so much effort into."

"It has been difficult, yes," Meridina said. "Rescuing Captain Andreys helped, although we paid a cost." As acting Captain, Meridina had been the one to commit the ship's twenty fatalities to the void in a memorial service. Giving a funeral oration was not something she wished to repeat.

"I am aware my assuming command will cause issue," Kaveri admitted.

"They will adjust, just as they did when Julia assumed command from Robert."

"It is more than that." Kaveri stopped at that point, as they arrived at a lift. The three entered and Meridina instructed "Deck 4". With a gentle thrum the lift began moving through its shaft. "Your ship's command staff includes the leading lights of your Alliance. Its spiritual founders. The very beings whom its existence is owed to. I am an outsider to that, much more-so than you."

"You fear dissension from us?"

"I know you will not consciously attempt to undermine me. You all believe in the Alliance too deeply to be capable of such," Kaveri answered. "But subconsciously… I know it will be otherwise."

Meridina couldn't disagree with that. "It could be difficult for them, yes." She sensed Kaveri's instinctive desire to know which ones she would expect the most trouble from, but the older woman said nothing. "How well do you know them?"

"I am most familiar with you and Commander Delgado, to be honest. And I know something of Lieutenant Barnes' character."

Meridina knew her presence on the list to be understandable. Again, they'd touched minds, and not in an optimum way. James Hawk's accusation of Shai'jhur raping Kaveri in their first encounter, decades ago, with Earthforce official findings to back up the charge, was just the kind of thing that threatened the effort at Tira. Against her own wishes, and Meridina's, Julia insisted on Kaveri proving the charge wrong by allowing Meridina to enter her mind and verify the truth.

Meridina still felt haunted by it. Fewer were the times she'd ever come so close to violating the most important rules that the Farisa Genut laid out for telepaths of Gersal, and Julia's guilty feelings persisted for a long time afterward.

When it came to Tom, Kaveri had been the one to lay the Order of Valor on Tom's neck after Germania, so she knew what he was capable of, and the shy way he'd received the highest military decoration in the Alliance.

As for Cat…

"I imagine your adopted daughter has been fulsome with her experiences on the ship?"

"She has." A small smile came to Kaveri's face. "She can be reserved, given her upbringing, but Tra'dur is living a dream by being posted to the Aurora."

"She has proven very able," Meridina assured Kaveri. At that point the lift ceased and they stepped out onto Deck 4 and the officer quartering. Bei'tir remained close, but said nothing. "I imagine your familiarity with Caterina comes from her letters?"

"Yes. It seems that though your Commander Jarod is her immediate superior, Tra'dur spends more time in Caterina's presence, researching in your ship's science labs. And she thinks highly of Caterina as a fellow scientist."

Meridina nodded, aware of the truth of that fact. She often wondered if Tra'dur should be transferred to the science division, but Lucy's re-assignment to serve on Robert's operations team meant Tra'dur fit best with Operations. "Caterina would be pleased to know such, I am sure. She is quite enthusiastic."

It wasn't far from the lift to the Captain's quarters. There was no nameplate, nor was there need for any. "Captain Andreys already removed her personal belongings. The furnishings are standard."

"I will have to call on her at some point," Kaveri said. "But only after the change of command ceremony. I fear things might be too raw for her now."

"Agreed. And on that matter, I have scheduled the change of command to take place at 1200 hours ship time tomorrow. I imagined you would appreciate the evening to acclimate yourself and have time to review our reports on the ship's status."

Kaveri nodded. The doors slid open, revealing Kaveri's new living space. It was larger than she was used to in her Earthforce days, given the Alliance's approach to living spaces. "Very thoughtful of you. I shall see you tomorrow, then?"

"I will be here, yes." Meridina glanced at her omnitool as the screen activated. "And we have an open cabin for the Group Captain four spaces down, in the quartering for visiting senior admiralty staff. I will escort the Group Captain by your leave."

“So granted, thank you Commander."



After weighing a trip to the gym or a holodeck, Julia found herself alone in her guest quarters. They were a little smaller than her quarters as Captain had been. There were better quarters, of course, but Under-Secretary Tashke and her entourage took those rooms up.

Not that the bigger ones would make this feel better. She felt exiled on her own ship, sitting here as she did. There was nothing to do. She had no reports to read or write. No commendation reviews to approve. No requisition forms to sign off on. She simply had nothing to do.

Others might have welcomed the break from the grind of command. The relentless monotony of the paperwork, the quiet watches where nothing happened for hours on end. But Julia didn't. Sure, the watches could be boring, and the paperwork tedious… but they were part of the wider whole. They were part of what she was and wanted to be.

For the moment, Julia found herself at a loss of what to do.

The quiet was broken by the tone of her new omnitool. Even though she was on medical leave, she still had a Stellar Navy model device, made clear by the blue color of its holographic light. A blue circle started pulsing over the top of her left hand. Julia tapped at it with the index and middle finger of her right hand. "Andreys here."

"Captain, we have a signal coming in for you from the surface," said Tra'dur.

"Huh." She went to the desk in the quarters and sat there. "Transfer them to me." She tapped a key on her omnitool control to send the incoming signal to the monitor.

The monitor on the desk activated to show a man in a flowing red and gold-trim set of officious robes. He was in middle-age easily, with gray appearing on his mustache and beard, and from his shape it was clear he didn't let any soft living undermine his look. Dark red walls filled the space behind him.

"This is Captain Julia Andreys," Julia said. "How may I help you?"

"Captain. I am Kurato, Seneschal of the Fire Lord. I am calling to extend the Fire Lord's invitation. He would like to meet with you and personally express his gratitude for your instrumental role in Princess Miko's rescue."

Julia carefully considered her response. Even if the intention was a private one, this was nevertheless a diplomatic situation, and called for her to think like that. The slightest faux pas could cause trouble in the short and long terms for the Alliance.

Even with that consideration, she had no intention to say no. The chance to be even an unofficial diplomat was too much to pass up, compared to sitting around the Aurora until they returned to Alliance space. And declining could very well be taken as an insult.

With her moments of consideration complete Julia smiled politely and nodded. "I am grateful and humbly accept the Fire Lord's invitation."

"I will inform my lord of your response. Coordinates for your arrival will be transmitted shortly." With a final polite nod, the court functionary's image disappeared.

Julia's smile didn't quite go away as she went to find her best-looking uniform.




In the heart of the Ancient city-structure was the power core chamber for the city. It still bore the scars of the battle waged between Avatar Miko and her former captors, particularly the scorch marks from her flames and Erik Fassbinder's metaphysically-channeled lightning. Lucy felt the SS officer's former presence with ease, given her prior experience with it.. Fassbinder's dark energy was a shadow in the room, albeit the weaker of the remnant energies given those Miko left behind.

In the center of the room was a triangle-shaped platform. It had three slots for the city's power supply. Those were on a table beside it. Komin looked over the two remaining crystals, now a dull orange-ish yellow with black lines on the surface. They were inactive and had been since Julia pulled them out during the fight. "To think these things have so much power in them," he murmured. "I wonder how they work?"

At the controls for the core, Philippe looked up for a moment. "Professor T'Rya's theory is zero point energy," he answered in his Franco-Cameroonian accent. "That the devices act as a concentrator of sorts to absorb from the zero point field."

"That's pretty impressive. Although maybe not too surprising." Lucy actively scanned much of the room with her omnitool. "R4A1 has plenty of advanced civilizations."

"What is this 'R4A1' you speak of?" asked Komin.

"Another universe we know of."

"Of course." Komin chuckled lowly. "I'm surprised you people can keep it all straight. It's so much to grasp."

"It can be," Philippe agreed. "As for this power system, we should relay our reports so that the liaison officials in Stargate Command can discuss our finding with their authorities."

"Assuming all of this doesn't violate the Protected Planets Treaty with the Goa'uld."

Komin glanced toward Lucy. "What are these 'Goa'uld', and what kind of treaty do you have with them?"

He knew he'd touched a sore spot at the expression on Lucy's face, as it darkened from memory. "They're a species of parasitic worm, snake things," Lucy answered. "They can enter other life forms' physical bodies and take over. As in they basically hijack control of your body, leaving you a prisoner in your own mind while they use your body."

Komin swallowed at that. "It sounds vile. Worse even than these SS we fought. Why does your Alliance allow them to continue?"

"Because, to put it bluntly, they're strong enough that even if the rest of the Multiverse powers we're in contact with joined together to fight them, they might still beat us," Lucy said. "They have access to advanced technology equal to, or even superior, to Darglan tech, and a big fleet to go with it. The only reason we managed to get a treaty with them is because an even more powerful species from a different galaxy backs it."

"I… see." Lucy felt Komin's discomfort at that. It was sobering to think that a civilization like the Goa'uld might have that much power. "The Multiverse is not entirely a nice place, I imagine."

"It has its share of terrible powers," Philippe agreed. "The Goa'uld, the Dominion, the Eubians…"

"And this world you say Humanity comes from in your universes. Earth. What about our world's Humans?"

"From what I've heard, your genetics are a match for us, so you should be from an Earth," Lucy said. "And your language is such a close match to Chinese I can believe it."

"And yet, the Earth is not in this universe," Philippe noted. "Our long range scans have confirmed Sol itself is not where it should be, and probes jumped into the area show only a distortion in space-time."

Something about that tickled at Lucy's memory. It was familiar. Before she could mention anything of her thoughts, a voice came over their comms. "Treepk to power core team. Do you have the scan results for us yet?"

"Getting there," Philippe said back. "We are nearly done."

"Understood. And you may wish to return to the command center soon. We're expecting visitors."




The Aurora's transporters deposited Julia in the wide courtyard of a grand palace, like few she'd ever seen. The architecture was clearly East Asian, Japanese and Chinese, with red and various dark colors predominating. Around the towers and structures, the earthen walls of a caldera were visible on all sides. Beyond them, massive structures of gleaming glass and steel shot toward the sky, more Chinese-esque markings lining them at points in big, bold lines. It made her think of being in an East Asian metropolis like Shanghai or Tokyo, if any of those cities had a caldera in its heart.

She had just enough time to take everything in when she heard Miko's voice call out to her. She turned in the direction of said voice to face the main palace itself. Miko and Ursa approached, the latter still in the anti-grav chair from the Aurora and being pushed by what appeared to be a servant from the palace. Both smiled at her and she smiled back. "Welcome to the Palace of the Fire Nation," Ursa said.

"Thank you for the invitation," she replied.

"My uncle provided it, although I admit I was quite insistent upon it," said Ursa. "Please, follow us."

She did so. They entered the big double doors of the main building into a hall of red and golden coloring. Paintings and statuary covered both walls, and every few steps a figure in ceremonial red and black armor stood in quiet attention. Occasionally a figure in a red or black-toned robe would walk by. Some looked to be servants and some, Julia thought, might be clerks.

"How old is this palace?" Julia asked.

"The original version was built many centuries ago. For a long time, it remained unchanged," Ursa said. "But after industry spread across the world following the Hundred Year War, the pace of new technology quickened. Fire Lord Zuko oversaw the first reconstruction thirty years into his reign. His grandson Kuzon performed another a century later, to accommodate the new thinking machines of that era."

"Computers, in other words."

"Yes. The last renovation was sixty years ago, by my grandmother Fire Lord Masumi. She added the facilities for space-capable craft and new floors to the main palace."

"And the city grew up around the caldera?"

"Over time, yes," she confirmed. "When the years of peace expanded our industry and economy. The Republic became the most prosperous of the five nations, but the Fire Nation has typically remained close behind."

Julia considered that fact. "How do the other three nations feel about that? I can imagine it can cause resentment."

"It can be a source of some discontent," Ursa added. "The Earth Union, back when it was the Earth Kingdom, was hardest hit by the Hundred Year War, and since the Republic was formed from our oldest colonies on their continent, it's caused trouble before. Kuvira and her Earth Empire, Leng Tu's National Redemption Movement…"

"We are not entirely innocent," Miko pointed out. "We've strived to stay true to Fire Lord Zuko's vision of our nation, but Leng Tu would never have gained the following he had if Prince Zaiban hadn't schemed to detach Omashu from the Earth Union."

Ursa sighed, but there was a small grin on her face. "Komin has influenced you, my little sun."

Miko flashed a grin in reply. "Well, Yeshe too. Komin only cared about Leng Tu and Prince Zaiban because their war involved the first generation of stable Varrick reactors being used."

"Yes. But we can continue this later…"

They went through another pair of tall double doors and entered an audience chamber. At the far end a figure was seated cross-legged on a throne of simple crimson and gold design. A golden ornament in the shape of the flame crest present everywhere showed on top of his head, nestled in the man's hair. His garb was dark red with gold trim, as was those of the individuals around him. Many bore resemblances to Miko and her mother. A few did not.

Julia bowed at the waist, holding it for several seconds. When she looked up, Fire Lord Daizon was on his feet. He bowed as well, although not quite as deeply. When he straightened his back, Julia did so as well. "Captain," he said, his voice strong but not deep. "On behalf of the people of the Fire Nation, we are pleased to have you here, Captain Julia Andreys."

"I thank you for the invitation, Fire Lord," she replied.

"We have been made aware of your critical role in the escape of our grand niece from the invaders. For that alone, the Fire Nation is indebted to you. That she is also the Avatar extends this to our entire world."

Julia blushed a little. "Thank you again, but I cannot take too much credit. Miko did the lion's share of the fighting once we were free."

The bewildered looks on the faces of some of the court prompted Julia to kick herself in her mind. Metaphors like "the lion's share" were best minimized when speaking with newly-encountered cultures, since the context for their meaning was not always available.

One of the younger members of the entourage spoke up. "What kind of lion are you talking about? An armadillo lion? Or a saber-toothed moose lion?"

"Or a lion-turtle," added an even younger one. "Those are huuuuge."

Now it was Julia's turn to blink in momentary bewilderment. Alien animal life was one thing, but the translator didn't usually render names like that. Their language is related to East Asian languages from Earth… are they really describing hybrids of two different species into one? Once the thought went through her mind, she returned her attention to the conversation. "Um… it refers to lions from Earth. I apologize for the confusing metaphor. I meant to say that Miko did most of the fighting once we were free."

"Which cannot be held against her," Miko said insistently. "She suffered greatly at the invaders' hands, and still found the strength to defeat our guards and free me."

"So I am aware," Daizon remarked. He focused his amber eyes on Julia. "Captain, I invite you to stay as a guest of the Fire Nation for as long as you please. At your request a room will be prepared for you in the palace. Additionally, I have called for a celebration feast to commemorate the Avatar's rescue. The crews of the Aurora and General Iroh will be invited, and I wish for you and your officers to be among the guests of honor."

The red on Julia's cheeks intensified slightly. "I would be honored to attend, Your Lordship," she answered. "And I humbly accept your offer of hospitality."

"Excellent," was his response. Going by the look on her face, Miko felt the same way.

At least it'll get me away from those guest quarters, Julia thought to herself.




The work day was over for Lucy and many of the others. While they did their own thing, Lucy took the time to meet Talara and take her to one of the many empty rooms in the complex. Outside the window the sun was going down, creating a beautiful twilight sky.

One of the most daunting challenges Lucy faced in the training was precisely how to do it. Meridina's training of her served as a guidepost, but it could only be that. Lucy had to make her own decisions to fit what was best for Talara and her sensitivities.

The Falaen woman, a descendant of the last survivors of a people known as the Alteans, gave her an appreciative look from her eyes. They could have been Human eyes if not for the brilliant lavender point in the iris. Between her eyes and cheeks were blue half-moon marks, following the contours of her eyes, and the silver-blue hair was pulled back to reveal the points of her ears. The two were close in skin tone, although Talara's brown coloration was a few shades darker. "How shall we train today?" she asked.

"Meditation, I suppose," Lucy said. "This place has had enough violence that adding to it, even as training, doesn't seem necessary."

"I have felt it too. Not just the SS, but there is a shadow of violence on this place. Old."

"Yeah." Lucy stepped into the middle of the room and sat down. She sensed the shadow of violence regardless. This wasn't far from the barracks they'd fought in during the attack, and even SS men left the uncomfortable shadow of violence where they departed. "So we will meditate, and it will settle our…"

A tone came from Lucy's left arm, and blue light formed in a circle over the back of her left hand. She sighed and tapped at it. "Lucero here."

"Would you mind coming back up to the control center?" asked Jarod.

"Given we just started training, it'll be annoying. Why?"

"Because the Enterprise just arrived, and Captain Shaham is preparing to beam down some guests. You should be here."

"Fine, we'll be on our way. Give us a few minutes." Lucy stood back up. "Their timing sucks, by the way."

There was a chuckle from the other end. "Yeah, I suppose it does. Jarod out."

"We can simply meditate later," Talara pointed out. "This sounds important."

"It probably is," Lucy agreed.




Their arrival at the control center at the top of the tower brought Lucy and Talara into the company of the others. Jarod, Komin, Tom, and Philippe, along with the other Maimonides officers and scientists, were joined by Commander Zan Li, the head of the Compact's research and analysis team, and some of his subordinates from the various services of the Compact.

Jarod signaled the Enterprise they were ready. "Transporting now," came the reply.

Five pillars of light formed from nothing. As a buzz filled the air the light intensified until it fell away, leaving in place five people. The Aurora crewmembers present recognized the pale look of Ariel Shaham. The Captain of the ASV Enterprise was a lifelong space-dweller, being one of the five thousand surviving Jews of Universe S4W8, with its terrible history of Hitler's triumph over his neighbors and the ultimate conquest of Humanity by the legions of his ideological descendants. Now he commanded the first of the Alliance advanced star cruisers based on the Aurora.

It was the four individuals accompanying him that drew the attention of those who knew them, and curiosity from the others. While Shaham was in the black-and-burgundy-red of an Alliance command officer, these four were in camouflage field uniforms. All were Human or Human-looking, with the tallest and largest having a golden serpent insignia on his forehead.

"So." The oldest of the four, a man with a bird insignia on his field uniform, glanced around briefly before settling on Lucy and Jarod. "Interesting place you've got here," said Colonel Jack O'Neill. "Mind if we take the tour?"
"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 »

Act 3



In the command center of the old Ancient city, Doctor Daniel Jackson looked over the data display Lucy brought up for him and the rest of SG-1. "It's definitely Ancient," he confirmed. "It matches every other example we've found of the language."

"So the Ancients either developed interuniversal drive or encountered a species that did," said Major Samantha Carter. She looked toward Jarod and Lucy. "That's… it's a profound discovery. We may have to completely reconsider what we know of their history."

"And what do you know of their history?" asked Philippe. "I confess I know little of these 'Ancients' you speak of."

"They had a large civilization in our galaxy thousands of years ago, before the Goa'uld," Daniel said. "They were one of the Four Races that maintained galactic stability."

"The others being…?" That question was from Lucy.

"The Nox, the Asgard, and the Furlings," was the reply. Daniel glanced over the screens again. Lucy felt his curiosity, but sensed he also had a nagging distraction. That made her curious.

"Can you read what it says?" Jarod asked.

"Well, some," he said. "I've visited the ruins on P4X-639 that the Alliance has been excavating, and exchanged several communications with the linguists working on the ruins." Daniel turned back to the screen. "It looks like a damage report. I can't understand the whole thing, but it clearly references major structural damage and a lost… platform? Pier?"

"It makes sense. There are five groupings of structures around the central tower, but the data readouts show six," Tom said.

"The commander of the city ordered structural repairs on what was left. Their power systems were drained but mostly intact, but their engines were disabled."

"So this place, it was a ship?" Komin asked, incredulous.

"It seems to have been, yeah." Daniel scrolled the text down to where it ended. "They considered this world the only realistic landing choice."

"It's a marginal garden world, so I can understand it," Jarod said.

"Not fully habitable, you mean?" asked Sam.

"Well, the atmosphere is breathable," Philippe noted. "But the planet's barely got enough land mass to not be considered oceanic. While that alone isn't a barrier to habitability, there's also trace amounts of acidic compounds in the atmosphere, especially concentrated in areas with significant biomass. The Maimonides' zoological and botanical researchers have already confirmed that the native life contains significant enough levels to be dangerous to non-native life forms. Even skin contact is ill-advised."

"So no stepping on the grass, for example," said Jack.

"Exactly," Philippe responded.

Jarod spoke next. "Around here it's not so severe. It's probably why the Ancients landed here. You would need to be left outside for significant amounts of time for the atmospheric concentrations to become noticable and even longer for it to be dangerous. At least a week of exposure before the compound would begin to penetrate human skin."

By the time he finished speaking, there was a frown on Jarod's face. "You seem troubled, Commander Jarod," noted Teal'c.

"It's because we didn't get that information from the Ancients," Lucy said, starting to frown herself. "The SS were the ones to discover how long it took for exposure to become dangerous. Through experimentation on captives." She swallowed. "It was one of the methods Fassbinder considered for killing Julia when he was done with her."

There was silence in reply. "So, how is she?" Jack asked, finally ending it.

"Recovering," Jarod replied. "And she'll be back when she's ready." Eying the growing impatience of Commander Zhan Li and his contingent, Jarod said, "Major Carter, I believe the power core chamber will be something you're interested in. Lieutenant Barnes can show you the way."

"In the meantime, I'll keep working on this," Daniel said. "The more we decipher of the Ancients' language, the more we can understand the remaining data. It could tell us more about what happened to their expeditions to other universes."




There was little noise in Robert's quarters on the Aurora, nothing but the faint sounds of the two Gersallian books on his desk being ruffled while he and Gina Inviere swapped back and forth. Gina was pleasantly surprised to find out that despite Robert's notorious difficulties with pronunciation of Gersallian, he was still quite capable with the language.

Due to their respective gifts, Robert caught that thought and looked up. "It helps that my grandmother taught me to read and write German from the time I was three. Learning multiple languages from childhood helps with comprehension."

"That makes sense," she answered.

Another period of silence continued until Gina held up one of Ledosh's surviving notes. "So far everything he wrote fits," she said. "The errors, when you put them together, are forming whole words. Sentences." She read from the note. "The opening is a statement. 'The true purpose of this volume is to be a guide to those still to come, who must close the Circle to keep our universe whole'."

Robert held up the note he'd been writing out, which said nearly the same, save a couple of wording differences from how he translated the Gersallian text. "What do you think this Circle is?" he asked. "Did any other Cylon mention it?"

"No," she said. "We were only told of everything being part of God's plan." An angry look came to her eyes. "The Inner Circle kept everything else from us. The truth of what they are, what we are…"

Robert looked to her with sympathy. "You were lied to," he said. "And you suffered for it. I'm sorry."

"I've found my new path," she said. "I worry for the others, though."

"I sensed that." After a moment's consideration, he asked, "Have you heard from the Agathons at all?"

"They emigrated outside of our home universe," she said. "To one of the Earths of the Alliance, so they could raise their daughter quietly. Occasionally we exchange messages, but they are quiet about where they actually live."

"I can understand the desire for privacy. I'm just glad they're doing well, and are outside of the grasp of the Cylon leadership." Robert considered another scrap. After moments of thought he flipped through Gartanam's book to confirm a translation, then through Reshan's to check the apparent code. "Well," he began, "that sounds good."

"What does?" asked Gina.

"The translation of the opening bits of the next chapter. If I'm reading this right…" He offered her the note he finished scribbling.

Gina read it aloud. "'The truth is not always what we may wish. Much of what you are about to read will dispel beliefs you may have long held. But it is the truth of the matter, and it is vital you accept that truth.'" She lowered the paper. "There is something more to this, then."

"And whatever it is, the Brotherhood wants to know," said Robert.

"Or already knows, and they wish to keep it from us." Gina looked back to the Reshan book. "Just to ask, are you going to be attending the transfer of command ceremony?"

"I don't see a reason to," Robert said. Even as he spoke, he couldn't quite keep the instinctive bitterness out of his voice. Sensing Gina's curiosity at it, he sighed and said, "I hold nothing against Captain Varma. She's a good woman and Maran chose well in asking her to take the post. I just…"

"It reminds you of what was done to your friend," Gina finished for him. When he nodded, she nodded back in sympathy. "I understand. But given your position on the ship, you may wish to reconsider. Until Captain Andreys can return, you will have to work with Captain Varma. It's probably best if you don't seem to oppose her being here."

Robert considered Gina's advice for a moment before nodding. With a bleary eye he checked the time and noted it was zero two hundred and three minutes. "Well, the ceremony isn't until noon," he said. "I'd better get some rest if I'm going."

"We both should," Gina said. She tucked the notes away in the Life of Reshan and closed the book. "We can continue tomorrow before the ceremony."

"I'll see you in the morning then," Robert said, before turning his attention to the same task of securing their materials.




As 1200 ship time approached, the bridge of the Aurora filled with all of the ship's major personalities. Even Hargert was in attendance, by invitation, with Scotty, Leo, Commander Richmond, and Major Anders all present and the Koenig officers and COB as well. Master Chief Levi Rohm, an Israeli-American ex-Navy man from the H1E4 Earth, was present as the ship's senior NCO, with Senior Chiefs Tahrana Fahraz and Isabela Talaverda representing the flight crew and the main crew respectively.

Kaveri arrived with Meridina and Group Captain Bet'tir with several minutes to spare, and the next lift contained Robert, now in his formal fleet uniform. He took up a place near Science, where Cat was seated, to watch the ship he once commanded be given over to another captain.

Meridina started everything at precisely 1200. With a digital reader in her hand she called out "Attention to orders" and won the attention of those present. She began to read aloud. "'To Acting Captain Meridina, Commanding Officer ASV Aurora, 29 October 2643 Alliance Standard Time. You are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of your vessel to Captain Kaveri Varma as of this date and upon completion of her oath of service as laid out in the Affiliated Personnel regulations. You will then resume your normal posting as the First Officer of said vessel. Signed Admiral Tashan Tiyari, Alliance Stellar Navy Personnel Command.'" Meridina looked up and faced Kaveri, ready to begin the extended section of the ceremony due to Kaveri's transfer between services. "Battlemaster Kaveri Varma, in view of your transfer request from the service of an affiliated state of the United Alliance of Systems, your record has been examined and your request accepted. Your experience and capability merit you the rank of Captain in the Alliance Stellar Navy. Do you accept this finding?"

"I do," Kaveri replied.

"And you are willing to provide an oath of service to the Alliance?"

"I am."

"Then please repeat after me." Meridina consulted her digital reader again, to ensure she got the words right. "'I, Kaveri Varma, do solemnly vow that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United Alliance of Systems against all threats, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the service to which I have entered."

With each clause, Meridina paused to give Kaveri a chance to repeat the oath. When it was done, she let Kaveri decide on her final vow. Most Humans she'd known used some variation of "So help me God". Her mind went back to the day, over three years before, when she'd given the oath. Her choice for the end was to state, "With the aid of the Light of Life", which seemed the best way for a swevyra'se already sworn to the Code of Swenya to do it.

Kaveri repeated the oath and added, “I do solemnly affirm and swear upon the Almighty.”

Once the oath was given, Meridina nodded and said, "Computer, this is Acting Captain Meridina. Transfer all command functions to Captain Kaveri Varma and restore my permissions to First Officer level, authorization code Meridina Sierra India Tango 3806."

The computer's feminine voice responded, "ASV Aurora is now under the command of Captain Kaveri Varma. Commander Meridina now listed as First Officer."

"Thank you, Commander," said Kaveri, quiet and easy formality in her voice. "You are now relieved."

"Thank you, Captain. I stand relieved."

Kaveri turned away from Meridina to look about the bridge at the assembled. "I understand this is a difficult time for you all," she said. "I have not come to make it more difficult for you. While I come from another world, another way of thinking, I recognize that what you have built with the Alliance is truly wonderful. I am honored to take part in serving and defending this grand dream. And I pray Captain Andreys' recovery will be complete."

At her nod, Meridina declared. "Company dismissed," and the assembly broke up. The assembled Chiefs and Hargert followed Meridina and Kaveri to the conference lounge, with Bet'tir still at Kaveri's side.

It was only when they were gone that the remaining command officers slowly looked toward one another. "So, this happened," Angel finally said. "They gave us a new Captain."

"They had to," Zack said. "Meridina doesn't have the experience, I'm a recovering alcoholic who drank while on patrol, and Julia's got two months of mandatory medical leave."

"Well, I mean, it could've been worse," said Cat. "Ka'var, she's a nice lady."

"'Ka'var'?" asked Magda Navaez from the Koenig.

"Kaveri’Varma's name as said by Dilgar," Tra'dur explained from Ops.

"I wonder how things are going to change," Angel remarked. "I mean, Julia handled things differently from Rob here."

"She did, and Kaveri probably will have her own habits," Robert said. "But I think we can adjust. It won't be for long."

"Will it?" Angel asked pointedly. "Do you really think Davies is going to give up on getting us split up by putting one of his people on the ship?"

"Likely not," mumbled Zack. He could remember Davies' attempts to butter him up and turn him against the others after 33LA. "The man knows how to peddle influence."

"Perhaps, but don't undersell the Captain," said Richmond. "If she's fit, they can't deny her the ship. She'll be back, that I'm certain of."

Anders nodded in agreement. "She's a tough one, yeah."

The others listened to the two, who were relative newcomers to the staff (with Tra'dur), and felt a stirring of quiet pride that they'd convinced them, especially the professional Anders, of their worthiness.

Robert's emotions were more mixed. He was proud that Julia had won such loyalty, but the occasion was the reminder that Julia was still leaving the ship. And due to his own duties, he wouldn't be able to be with her while she recovered.

It wasn't that he didn't have faith in her, because he did. That wasn't the issue. The issue was that Robert knew how much Julia still hurt, and a part of him wanted to be there for her if she needed him, not a Multiverse away.

I'd ask for time, but with the attacks… no. All of the Paladins are going to be busy. And Julie would never let me hear the end of it if I shirked work to hover around her.

Besides. with our connection, maybe I can still be there for her.
As he thought that Robert turned his attention to the holo-viewscreen, set to show the planet below. Due to the difference in time dawn was now rising over Republic City below, but it was still the middle of the night in the Fire Nation. She should be asleep…

And yet, he knew she was not.




The glow of the night-lit capital of the Fire Nation filled the sky, and thus the view from the balcony of the guest room where Julia was staying. She stood at it, the light from the city and the half-moon in the sky giving a bright sheen to her silver nightgown. The air was mild, not too warm or cold, which fit the subtropical climate of the capital.

The room was a splendid one, with a soft bed and pillows, silken sheets, and an elegantly carved design for its tropical wood frame. A work desk with a cushioned chair was off to one side, a wardrobe beside it. The bathroom had a big tub with a shower that she'd spent half an hour in before going to sleep.

In ordinary circumstances it wouldn't be so easy to sleep at this time, as this was the afternoon for the Aurora. Fassbinder's schedule for the torture sessions hadn't hewed to anything resembling a Circadian rhythm however. Her sleep pattern was all a jumble.

Which was why she was still awake anyway.

Julia stared up at the night sky, the stars hidden by the light from the capital, and found herself idly wondering what it would be like if things were still normal. I'd be on my bridge watch right now, or having a department head meeting.

Julia's fist clenched. Everything in her life was in turmoil now. Even being rescued hadn't ended that, not with her ship in the hands of another, and her future still uncertain in so many ways. Whatever her understanding of the regulations and the good reasons behind them, she couldn't keep the resentment out of her heart. She just wanted her ship back, not two months of mental therapy while another sat in her place.

"Dammit," she murmured to herself. "Damn you." She balled her fists and wished Fassbinder was before her, right now, so she could punch the bastard. To make him pay. To get some measure of retribution for how he'd disrupted her life.

The mere thought of Fassbinder made her skin prickle with the memory of the nanobots, and how much they hurt. All of that raw pain, inescapable, unavoidable, with nothing to do but scream. Fassbinder's yellow eyes came back to her, the way they gleamed with sadistic glee while he tortured her.

With tears streaming from her eyes Julia stomped off the balcony and into the room. She left the room and entered the halls, the interior lights glinting off the silver material of her nightrobe and pants.

With sleep eluding her and her thoughts so dark, Julia wandered the halls of the Palace. It was a grand home, fit for the royalty that dwelled within, and it made Julia feel self-conscious about her own place here. As a guest she had certain obligations of her own, and diplomatic necessity demanded she be careful in not accidentally failing said obligations.

Her wanderings led her to the reception room for the throne room itself. She looked over the statuary and portraits more closely than the prior day. In a place of honor, beside the entrance to the throne room, was a portrait of a man in the same regalia Daizon wore earlier. There was some family resemblance in the image, although the depicted man was younger. There was a warm look in his eyes, the same amber-like light brown as most of the other Fire Nation royals. The left eye was marked with a vicious, angry scar, a trail of red and pink around the eye trailing backward toward the temple of his head.

At the sound of a slight hum, Julia turned to her left. Ursa approached in her anti-grav chair. She was plainly tired and dressed for sleep, wearing a tan-colored nightgown with the Fire Nation crest in red over the heart. Dragon designs followed the trim lines of the gown and the cuffs. "You have difficulty sleeping as well?" Ursa asked.

"Yeah." Julia nodded. "How is Miko?"

"She is… recovering." A pained look came to Ursa's eyes. "I was holding her until she returned to sleep. She had a nightmare about that strange chair…"

"The Aurora Chair." Julia closed her eyes and felt a phantom pain drill through her forehead.

Ursa nodded. "What was it like?"

"Like having a power drill rammed into my brain," Julia answered. "And then something going through my head, dragging my memories out. Whether or not I wanted them. And all so those bastards could watch." As she spoke Julia's fists clenched. It was bad enough to have Fassbinder and his people seeing her deepest, most fond memories. Knowing that they were broadcast to that audience of Cylons and Aristos, that the latter especially were enjoying the violation and pain she suffered…

"You have both suffered a cruelty that I never imagined possible," Ursa said. "The nightmares are no surprise."

"Yeah." Julia rubbed her face, where the broken cheekbone she'd suffered from a blow during their escape was mostly healed due to Leo. "The physical wounds are the easiest, really. We're both going to need time to heal the mental ones."

That prompted a nod of understanding from the Fire Nation Princess, regardless of her own very obvious physical injury and the fact she was far from healed of it.

Julia looked back to the portrait. "So, this is one of your ancestors?"

"The ancestor, when you consider the modern Fire Nation," Ursa said. "That is Fire Lord Zuko, the peacemaker who ended the Hundred Year War alongside Avatar Aang."

"I notice he had his own scars to deal with."

"He did. The scar was a mark left by his father, the tyrant Ozai, to punish Zuko for a perceived slight." Ursa frowned. "Zuko had a hard life as a child due to his father's abuses. After being his father scarred him in an Agni Kai duel, he was banished from the Fire Nation, and sent on a hopeless mission as his only way to return home. Ozai intended for the experience to break his son, but Zuko proved stronger than he expected."

"What happened to Ozai?"

"He was defeated by Avatar Aang while attempting to wipe out the Earth Kingdom. Upon his defeat Zuko assumed the throne." Ursa looked intently at the portrait. "He was the first Fire Lord in over a century to promote peace and to improve the lives of his people. It took him years to overcome his father's influence, but with time he reinvented our nation from a military-dominated, authoritarian state into one devoted to peaceful industry. Even today his influence is strong in our people and we honor his memory." She glanced to Julia. "My parents named me for his mother, Ursa, the granddaughter of Avatar Roku of the Fire Nation." A wry look appeared on the older woman's face. "It is fitting, I suppose, that I was the mother of the next Avatar to come from our nation."

Julia nodded. As she examined Zuko's portrait further, her mind flashed back, briefly, to her conversation with High Lady Kamea Arano during the visit to the Aurigan Coalition. Barely two weeks had passed since, but for Julia it felt more like two months. "History chooses heroes. Sometimes I wonder what history will say about us?"

"From what I have heard, it will have much to say across this vast Multiverse your people have introduced us too."

"I wonder how much of it will be good." Julia looked toward Ursa and noticed her eyes were drooping. The older woman was clearly exhausted. "May I help you back to your room?"

Ursa's hand went toward the control for her chair, but she only set it gently against the joystick for a moment before pulling it back. "Yes. Mother's spirit would be furious with me if I broke one of the sculptures by running into it."

Julia mirrored Ursa's friendly grin at that while walking around her to take the grips for her chair. The anti-gravs did not entirely cancel out the weight, but Julia found it took little effort to push Ursa through the halls back toward their rooms.




With a buzz and a flash of light, Caterina and Tra'dur materialized in the Old Downtown section of Republic City. The sun was just above the snowcapped mountains to the east. Here, on the central peninsula, the structures were shorter than in the shorelines hugging the bay, and the architecture was different. It reminded Cat of older Gersallian structures, with an emphasis on round buildings and circular shapes. The majority of people around them were clad in the yellow and orange of the Air Nation. Several were bald and looked like monks to her.

Soon they were the center of attention. Drawn by the sound of their transport, passers-by were riveted now on the view of the two "Alliancers". They were in uniform, making identifying them easy, but as a non-Human Tra'dur stood out already.

A familiar face emerged from one group of Air Nomads. Yeshe approached and smiled. "Welcome to the Air Enclave of Republic City," she said to the two. "Please follow me."

"Okay." Cat looked around her and waved. "Uh, hi everyone. We're here in peace and stuff. Nice to meet you!"

As they followed Yeshe into the largest of the nearby buildings. The inside was beautiful, reminding Cat of images of Tibetan monasteries with the architectural style, with the emblem of the Air Nation etched into the design repeatedly. Bushes and flowers were planted along the walls, giving the place a natural feel. "You really like your circles," Cat said to Yeshe. "It's in almost everything you build."

"Airbending is based on spiral movements," Yeshe said. She circled her finger in the air and generated an air current. "As the air itself is in constant motion."

They continued on through the chamber. In the middle was a large statue of a man in Air Nation robes. His bald head was marked with an arrow. Noticing their interest, Yeshe said, "This is a statue of Avatar Aang, the seed from which the Air Nomads rejoined the world."

"The face looks familiar," Tra'dur said. "That statue in your bay…?"

"Is Aang as well," Yeshe said, nodding. "As he looked when he defeated Fire Lord Ozai and ended the Hundred Year War." She led them on through the structure. When they paid some attention to another statue, with a resemblance to Aang, Yeshe said, "That is Master Tenzin, Aang's youngest son, and the first Airbender born in over a century. His older brother Bumi became an Airbender as well after Harmonic Convergence awakened the power in individuals across the world, his statue is on the other side of the dome. Tenzin's daughter, Master Jinora, is over there." She pointed to a statue of a serene middle-aged woman.

"You said Aang was a seed?" Tra'dur asked. "What do you mean?"

Yeshe's expression turned somber. "About four hundred years ago was when the Hundred Year War began. Fire Lord Sozin began the war during a time when a comet was passing through the atmosphere. The heat of the comet blazing in our atmosphere acted as a second source of power for Firebenders, greatly strengthening their abilities, and Sozin's armies used this power to annihilate the Air Nomads."

Cat gave Tra'dur a sympathetic look. Tra'dur's feline eyes grew distant.

"They were trying to kill Aang, so that Sozin's plan to unite the world under Fire Nation rule had no opponent. He did not know that Aang panicked on learning he was the Avatar and fled the temples." Yeshe turned and noticed the look on Tra'dur. "What is wrong?"

When Tra'dur did not reply, Caterina did. "The Dilgar were nearly annihilated by their star shedding its outer layer and irradiating their homeworld. And some of their old enemies recently tried to complete their destruction. We stopped them."

"I see." Yeshe gestured toward the exit. "Let us proceed." The subject change was obvious.

Through the exit they arrived in a park. Beyond it a solid beam of yellow light shot into the sky. The walk through the park was quiet, and nobody spoke until they arrived at the edge of a crater covered in grass and vines. Cat's eyes widened at the sight of a sphere of yellow light in the middle of the crater, the source of the beam.

"Yeshe, these are our guests?"

The speaker approached. He was an elderly man, bald like many of the others they'd seen, with sky blue eyes. A blue arrow was tattooed on his head, the end of a line that went down the back of his skull and neck to his back. Smaller arrows were visible on the backs of his hands, their lines disappearing into the sleeves of his garment.

"Master Gyatsun," Yeshe said, bowing once in respect. Gyatsun returned it. "These are Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado, the Science Officer of the Alliance void cruiser Aurora, and her compatriot, Lieutenant Tra'dur." She turned to them. "This is my teacher, Master Gyatsun. He is one of the leaders of the Air Nomads."

The two matched the bow Yeshe made. Gyatsun smiled and returned it. "Welcome, friends. You came to see the Spirit Portal?"

"I've been scanning it since we arrived in orbit," Cat said, her tone breathless. "I've never seen anything like it in any of the universes."

"Well, allow me."

As they journeyed toward the middle nothing was said. The two Airbenders kept looking back and noticing that Cat was busy with her omnitool, holding her left hand out at times. "The distortion level is much weaker than I imagined it would be," she said. "It's almost like something is bracing the portal in space-time."

"Really?" Tra'dur activated her own omnitool and confirmed the results. "This defies virtually every aspect of physics. A dimensional breach like this shouldn't be this stable."

"Like I said when we made orbit, it's more stable than the Bajoran Wormhole." Cat was so engrossed in her readings that she nearly ran into Gyatsun, who was no longer moving forward and in fact had turned to face her. "Oh, uh, oops."

"It is alright," the elder Airbender said with a gentle tone. "I am unfamiliar with your technology, may I ask what you're using it for?"

"Well, our omnitools are specialized with improved sensors for scanning, so we're scanning the area to learn more about the portal," Cat said. "And this portal, it's simply… amazing."

"Usually the people who come here for the first time can't keep their eyes off the portal itself," Yeshe said. "They are captivated by its presence."

"Well, I mean, it's beautiful, and I'm glad to see it. I'm just interested in these scans too, which are beautiful in their own way." Cat triggered her omnitool to expand its scanner display with the holographic function. It showed a stable pattern of yellow and red within a field of blue. "Normally disruptions in space-time aren't so, well, they don't look like this. This is a perfect field. It's not even fair to call it a disruption, or a rip. A hole, maybe. Or a tunnel."

"The papers we can write, they will be profound." Tra'dur's voice betrayed similar awe. "This kind of phenomena will astound the cosmological community across the Multiverse."

Cat felt self-conscious at the way the two were looking at them and lowered her arm. A blush formed on her cheeks. "Oh, I'm… I'm sorry. This is sacred to you, isn't it? Here I am, having a science geekout over something that's important to you spiritually."

At that Gyatsun laughed. It was a friendly laugh. "It is okay, young lady. You seek knowledge for knowledge's sake. It is a pure endeavor. One many Air Nomads throughout history have worked to fulfill. I could never hold offense."

"You refer to yourself as the Air Nation and the Air Nomads, is there a distinction?" Tra'dur asked.

"Not truly. Once upon a time, it referred to how small the numbers of Airbenders were after Harmonic Convergence. But we have grown and thrived. Our numbers travel the world and the worlds in the void, fulfilling the ideals of Aang, Tenzin, and Avatar Korra."

"Korra was… Water Tribe, right?" Cat asked. "According to the cycle you have."

"She was. And when she was still a young woman, she offered her life freely to save the reborn Air Nation," Gyatsun answered. "While she survived that choice, we consider it a duty to honor her decision by helping the Avatar keep the peace and the balance of our worlds."

Yeshe noticed the look on Tra'dur's face. "You seem thoughtful."

"Yes. My people came close to extinction as well, and it makes me glad to see your example of coming back from that fate," replied the Dilgar woman. "It makes me imagine a future where my people enjoy the same recovery."

"That future will come," Gyatsun assured her. "Now, if you are hungry, our meal hall is this way."

"Oooh. Yeah, that works for me."

"I hope you will enjoy our traditional dishes," Yeshe said.

They were led to the meal hall, another round structure in the complex. It reminded Cat of a cafeteria, as a row of food preparers kept a line of food trays loaded with meals. As they went down the line, Cat accepted something of everything. She noticed Tra'dur was looking from tray to tray with growing desperation. A realization came to Cat and she turned to Yeshe. "Uh, your people… you're vegetarians, aren't you?"

"Yes," Yeshe answered. "It is not our way to eat the flesh of other creatures." Yeshe looked past her and noticed the look on Tra'dur's face. "Is everything okay?"

Cat was prepared to be honest about the Dilgar - namely that they were preferential carnivores - but before she could speak Tra'dur declared, "Oh, it is fine! Everything is okay. I look forward to trying your… cuisine."

Yeshe was clearly uncertain of Tra'dur's insistence, forced as her words were, so Cat said, "It'll be okay." When Yeshe accepted and got a final item for her meal, Cat looked back to Tra'dur and whispered, "I'm sorry."

"I pick our next meal," was the response.




In light of the atmosphere the small group that assembled outside were wearing full suits. Lucy checked the reading on her omnitool and nodded. "The acid content is barely registering," she said. "It must be the wind patterns."

"Well, nice to know the atmosphere won't melt our faces off," Jack noted. He, Sam, and Teal'c followed, with Talara and Komin along. "So, this 'Bending' stuff. How's it work?"

Lucy gave Komin an amused smile, and he nodded. "Well, it's like this," he said. He assumed a martial arts stance before stomping his foot on the ground. A chunk of rock erupted in front of him. As it was reaching the apex of its climb, he kicked at it, his foot nearly making contact. The rock went flying until it slammed into the wall of one of the city structures. The impact broke it into several pieces.

"Wait, how did he do that?" Sam asked. "Some kind of telekinesis?"

"Bending is linked to chi," Komin explained. After stating this he made two punching motions. Smaller rocks tore from the ground and smashed against the wall. "Each style has its own form that makes it work. Earth is rigid and strong, you have to stand your ground with it."

He performed another series of moves, pummeling the wall with more stone, until with effort he made a lifting motion and pulled out a large boulder's worth of rock from the earth, at least two meters in diameter. He thrust his palms forward and the boulder shot into the air, eventually landing nearly a hundred meters ahead.

"Woh." Jack smiled thinly. "Now that's cool."

"It is indeed most impressive," Teal'c agreed. "How does it compare with your own gifts, Lucilla Lucero?"

"There's a connection, I can tell you that much," Lucy said. "I can sense it when he or another bender uses their powers. But while it's related, there's some kind of difference between us."

Sam nodded. After a few moments Lucy felt her accept what visual evidence confirmed. This capability existed, the facts were there, so as outlandish and impossible as it seemed, it was a scientific fact. Immediately her mind went to other places. "So what are its limitations? Does it work with refined ore? Do you need raw earth or can a refined material be manipulated?"

"Refined materials are harder, and not every Earthbender can Metalbend," Komin said. "But I've been trained in it." He made a motion and pulled a metal plate from his suit. It followed his hand around as he swept it in the air a few times. "We can bend the impurities inside of metal Even slight impurities. Only the most purified metals and alloys are outside of a Metalbender's ability."

"Huh. Not bad." Jack glanced to the others. "I wonder how they'd do against the lego bugs."

"The what?" Lucy asked.

"The Replicators," Sam clarified. "They're a machine collective that the Asgard have been fighting for millennia. They rebuild themselves from whatever material they can find, so they're often made of metal."

Lucy nodded in understanding. "Explaining why the Asgard haven't put the Goa'uld down. I always wondered what was holding them back."

Komin, meanwhile, was more interested in the very idea of such creatures, although they sounded like a threat as well. "There is a lot of such things in the Multiverse, it seems."

"Well, machine bugs that want to eat everything is on par with some of the nastiest things," Lucy said.

"Yes. There are also things like the Reapers," said Talara. "And those cyborgs from the S5T3 universe."

"The Borg," Lucy said. The Aurora had been on its exploration mission in the Tanatis Sector in A7R6 during the last Borg attack on Earth. Several Alliance ships were lost or damaged in the fight, although under Captain Picard the fleet ultimately destroyed the Borg cube. "And that doesn't count other threats out there. The Multiverse can be pretty dangerous."

"My people learned that before we even knew it was a Multiverse," Komin remarked.

"So, where's Doctor Jackson?" Lucy asked the others. "Is he devoted to the computer readouts?"

"Likely, but he's got some family issues going on," Jack said. "To put it mildly."

"Oh? Oh. Marriage problems, right." Lucy nodded. "Those happen in any marriage, or so I'm told. Anyway, I'm sure Jarod and Tom are waiting for some help with the tech analysis, and Talara's due for training soon. We should go back inside."

"Yeah. I told that redhead from your other ship I'd be joining the exploration teams for the base," Jack said. "What's her name, one of those English cities…"

"I believe you are referring to Lieutenant Manchester," Teal'c offered.

"Right, her. I should probably find where she and that big German guy are at now. Coming, Teal'c?"

Teal'c nodded and joined Jack in returning inside. The others followed to see to their tasks.
"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)

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After the meal with Yeshe and Master Gyatsun, Cat and Tra'dur took a ferry over to the southern side of the city along Yue Bay's southern coastline. "Apparently this is the city's financial center," Tra'dur noted, reading information from a tourist guide that her omnitool was translating. "Republic City is the center of the entire planet's financial system."

"Huh. So, why are we here?"

Tra'dur smiled. "To make up for that no-meat meal we just had to endure"

Cat winced. She'd spent the entire meal worried Tra'dur would break down and start gagging. "I'm really, really sorry about that!"

"I know, and I do not blame you. I understand some species and cultures do not appreciate meat, either replicated or made."

"Yeah. Although… huh. I wonder if the Air Nation will amend its rules to account for replicators? It seems to be a case of them not wanting to kill animals for meat, I mean."

"It will make any future dinners with them palatable." Tra'dur's feline grin took a slight edge. "Ugh, it reminded me of some of the ration meals I had to eat as a kit."

"Yeah. Not a lot of meat can be raised underground, I guess."

They walked through the busy city streets, watching the passing sleek forms of vehicles. Cat blinked at the peculiar sight of some of them having the emblem of a cabbage on them. "That's just weird."

Their walk eventually brought them to the edge of a park and a bustling commercial area. It was here that Tra'dur sniffed the air and a gleeful, satisfied smile came to her. "Come on, this way," she said urgently. Cat followed her down one sidewalk and then across the busy street, taking advantage of the crosswalk and the stopped traffic.

Around one street corner were two stands, twenty meters apart. The first one had produce, mostly big heads of leafy green lettuce or cabbage, but the proprietor's attempt to get their attention failed utterly. The second was Tra'dur's stop. Her feline eyes nearly shined with joy at the sight of the rotating chunks of meat over a low flame, glistening from the juices of the meat. With the auto-translator active, she asked the proprietor, "Excuse me, but does any of this contain beef? That is, meat from a cow or another bovine animal?"

At the incredulous expression on the proprietor's face, Cat added, "She has dietary laws from her religion. She's not allowed to eat meat from cows."

"Oh. Like how Air Nomads don't eat meat at all?" The proprietor was bronze-skinned and wore a blue and red outfit. His eyes were a gray color. "Huh, you look like someone crossed a cat and a Human. Are all aliens like that?"

"No, we Dilgar are more Human-like than some other species," Tra'dur explained. "Some species are not even bipedal."

"So… ah, I'm not sure what a 'cow' is, really. Something like a hippo cow?"

"A wha?" Cat blinked and then laughed a little at the mental image of a cow and a hippo combined. "I guess? Just without the hippo part."

"Well, I mostly go with smaller stuff. How about some picken-ka-bobs? Only three yuan apiece!"

Given the first contact was still ongoing an official currency exchange wasn't yet in place, but the Republic's government was authorizing an exchange rate for the Alliance crew on leave thanks to Meridina's efforts. Tra'dur was more than capable of paying for four of the shish-ka-bobs, and Cat decided to nibble on what looked like a Cornish hen on a stick, which she was informed was an arctic hen.

Cat received the hen on a stick and turned to find Tra'dur already gleefully chowing down. "This is delicious," she said after swallowing. "It tastes like pork, but the texture is like chicken."

"Mmm." Cat took a bite of her choice and found that it tasted mostly like chicken, maybe a bit saltier. They walked past the first stall, whose proprietor was loudly proclaiming the quality of his cabbage heads. "So they have hybrid species, but not hybrid plants."

"Yes, very weird," Tra'dur managed between greedy bites.

They got across the street when they heard a loud electronic horn. A loud crash filled the air, the sound of metal and plastics smashing and breaking, followed by another crash. Both turned back to see that a traffic collision resulted in one of the vehicles slamming into the produce vendor's stall. He looked over the broken refuse of half of his inventory and put his hands to his temple in a gesture of hopeless despair. "No, not my cabbages!" he wailed.

Cat and Tra'dur exchanged glances. "Do you think there's something we can do to help?"

"I'm sure their authorities have it well in hand…"

One such authority appeared in the form of a human figure in a green outfit with a metal vest swinging down from above via a wire. A couple more joined in the following seconds.

"So… where to next?" Cat asked Tra'dur. When she received no answer Cat turned and saw Tra'dur chowing down as if she were starving. She giggled loudly. "Alright, I'll pick then…" She brought back up the guide and looked it over. "The Future Industries Air and Voidflight Museum looks interesting…"




The sun was coming over the horizon when Julia stirred from sleep again. There were no nightmares this time, no dreams filled with terror and panic and pain, and the sleep she'd enjoyed as restful.

The shower awaited her, but first came her morning routine. Now that she was physically recovered from her captivity, Julia felt capable of resuming that routine to its fullest. With her robe tied close at the waist she walked out onto the balcony and took in the dawning sun for a moment, centering herself.

When she was ready Julia raised her arms into a ready position and assumed her first form. It'd been nearly two weeks since she last practiced and her movements were stiffer and less smooth than usual. But the muscle memory was there to guide her through the exercise. She followed her preferred flow of t'ai chi to mok'bara stances and back again, fusing the Klingon martial art Commander Worf introduced to her with the one she'd learned since she was a preteen. The differences were there, but the principles were compatible, indeed nearly the same, allowing a flow of movement. Sleep faded from her mind and she felt ever more ready for the day.

"Hey!"

Julia stopped and looked to her right. Across the open air of the courtyard below was another wing of the palace, the wing reserved for the royal family. And on a balcony at the same level of hers, Miko was standing, her arm waving. She had on a black and tan-colored set of clothing, pajamas Julia guessed, and her hair was in something of a disheveled mess. Julia waved back and watched Miko take a few steps back.

Then Miko burst into a quick run and leapt from the balcony. Flame erupted from her feet, acting like jets. Her arms whirled in mid-air and a gust of intense wind blew Julia's own hair into her eyes. Through the strands of blond-colored hair Julia saw that the gust was from an intense pocket of swirling air that caught Miko as she landed, cushioning that landing for her. Julia used a hand to brush her hair out of her eyes. "You could have just walked around," she pointed out.

"Ugh, no. My grand-uncle's people would be clinging to me the whole way," Miko answered. "Besides, this way is quicker. And I've done it plenty of times."

"And annoyed your mother every time?"

"Yeah. I always loved that growing up. Annoying Mom was something to pass time when she wasn't dragging me to royal functions." Miko shook her head. "I wasn't the best daughter, I guess."

"Parents understand." Remembering her conversation with Ursa during the night, Julia asked, "So, bad dreams?"

A wan look came to the young woman's face. "Bad ones, yeah," said Miko. "That chair. You too?"

Julia nodded. Over the past couple of days she'd had a few dreams about the chair. As if her subconscious couldn't quite comprehend she was no longer a prisoner. "It wasn't the only way he hurt me, but that chair, it just won't go away," Julia confessed.

"Yeah. I wish we'd smashed it before we left. Maybe the dreams wouldn't be so bad then. Or feel so real."

"Maybe. But dreams don't always make rational sense. That chair left its mark on us and I don't think it'll go away so easily."

Neither of them were interested in continuing that conversation. Miko began the change of subject. "What was it you were doing? I mean, the movements you were making?"

"Oh, my forms? For the last eighteen years I've practiced t'ai chi," Julia explained. "It's a martial art from various Earths that originated in China. I use it as part of my morning routine."

"Oh." A certain look came over Miko. "Because it looked really familiar."

"It did?" Now Julia felt curious. Given the other signs of a link between this world's Humanity and Earth, this could further elaborate on that link. "In what way?"

"Well…" A small blush appeared on Miko's cheeks. "Actually, it sort of ties into my problems."

"Oh?"

It was clear Miko felt some kind of shame or embarrassment about what she was about to talk about. Julia was about to give her assurance when Miko said, "Because the way you moved? That's how Waterbenders move."

Julia blinked at that. "Huh?"

"Each Bending style, it… it has its own movements, it's own forms."

"And the people who manipulate water like you do fire, they move like they're practicing t'ai chi?"

"Yes," Miko said. "I mean, I've seen Waterbending. It's the next element I'm supposed to learn. But I've had trouble with the teachers, and how it works."

"By trouble you mean?"

"Well, the way you move, they move, it's too slow, and it doesn't feel right," Miko said. "Firebending is quick and aggressive and direct. And Airbending is really mobile too. It's about spiral movement, being light on your feet. But Waterbending is… well, it's not those things."

"I see what you mean. T'ai chi isn't aggressive, and it's not so much mobile as fluid. You don't attack or evade, you change the flow of their energy," Julia explained. "You stick to a foe and redirect their strength so you don't have to meet it head on."

Miko nodded in understanding. "It's like that. But I'm a Firebender at heart. I meet power with power. I try to hit harder."

"Well, I can see why…"

There was a knock at Julia's door. Miko went silent while Julia stepped back into the room and went over to the living area of the guest chamber. At the door was one of the domestic staff. "Captain, His Highness the Fire Lord requests your company for breakfast with the family," the man said eloquently. Spying Miko through the door, he added, "And Princess Miko is requested to attend as well."

"Uh, right. We'll be down shortly," Julia said. Once the door was closed she turned back to Miko.

"For you it really was a request, at least, as far as Uncle Daizon is concerned," Miko noted. "But not for me."

"Yeah, I got that feeling. And since I'm a guest in his palace, I can't really deny him and not look like a bad guest." Julia went back to her room. "Well, I'm going to go shower, you should probably return to your room."

"I'll see you at breakfast," said Miko before she went out onto the balcony. With a blast of flame beneath her feet she leapt away.

Julia sighed and smiled softly. "I am never going to get used to that."




After the rounds of meetings with the department heads, Kaveri returned to the ready office off of the bridge. The furnishings were nice and there were clear spaces where Julia's mementos were removed.

It was a rather stark reminder of these circumstances. Julia Andreys was no longer captain of the Aurora not due to her own deeds, but to the captivity she endured. Kaveri felt nothing but sympathy for her plight. Kaveri knew enough of the younger woman to know being taken from her command, even after rescue, was not easy.

Such consideration brought with it the reason Kaveri was here. Why Maran asked for her to command, and the secrets he confided to Kaveri's wife, and thus to Kaveri herself. Kaveri's finger found the control for the ship intercom. "Varma to Meridina. Commander, I would like to see you in the watch office."

A short time later the door chime sounded. At Kaveri's prompting Meridina entered. "You wished to see me?"

"Yes. To clear up an important matter, Commander. Please have a seat."

Meridina nodded and took one. Aware of Meridina's telepathic gifts, Kaveri began to recite entries from the Bhagavad Gita in her head, meeting her telepath subordinate halfway as she always tried with the military telepaths she'd served with in her career. Meridina noted the act. "Those are entries from your holy book, are they not?"

Kaveri nodded. "They are."

"I see. You have my appreciation." While Meridina had adjusted to dealing with stray thoughts, it was comfortable to not worry about them for the moment. "Is the ship's readiness to your satisfaction?"

"Yes. You have done well in your time as Captain of this ship. What I would like to speak with you is of a more delicate matter."

"I see. And that is?"

"The Prophecy of the Dawn, and its nature."

Meridina remained still for a moment. "You have been informed?"

"I have. Admiral Maran shared his views on the matter with my wife, and she with me. And your enemies certainly seem to believe something about it." Kaveri folded her hands together. "When they attacked Gersal, your foes were not just launching a terror raid, were they?"

"No. They were not. They were after specific objects. We believe they failed."

"Oh? And what were they looking for?"

Meridina pondered the question for a moment. She felt no deceit or duplicitous purpose from Kaveri. But she was used to not discussing the Prophecy of the Dawn with those outside of the circle who supported it. Even sympathetic Alliance supporters and authorities might have trouble accepting it.

But her own swevyra, it made her feel comfortable with the idea of sharing information with Kaveri.

"They were after the Life of Reshan, a biographical work of Swenya's mentor and teacher, and Swenya's Blade. We know they did not claim them, as Swenya's Blade was already missing when they came for it, and the Life of Reshan is in our possession. We have it now in Robert's quarters."

"Do you know why they wished for these things? One is a relic, the other a book."

"The relic I am uncertain of at the moment, but the book is more than it seems," Meridina shared. "With the aid of a scholarly work on the Gersallian language of that time, we have learned that the Life of Reshan contains hidden passages, disguised as errors in the language and syntax of the period. This hidden information is what we are still decoding."

"Then it is relevant to your Prophecy?"

"Likely," Meridina said. "Although how it is, we are unsure. For the time being the book remains aboard. We are still deciphering the hidden text."

"Please keep me apprised."

"Very well. Would you like me to assign help in bringing your things to your office?"

"No," said Kaveri. "I see no point in it."

"Oh?"

"I am not here to be in command on a permanent basis, Commander," Kaveri explained. "I am a caretaker for this ship and crew. I have no desire to settle in, nor provide the impression that would be given in so doing."

Meridina nodded in recognition. "Because you see this as a temporary stop before you return to be with Shai'jhur."

Kaveri didn't have to answer. Her desire to return to her loved one, after decades apart, was clear through the verses flowing through her mind. Meridina already knew something of that love, and how strong it was, from the telepathic scan to confirm the contact was consensual.

You have served so very long a career, Kaveri Varma. With a devotion worthy of the Order's finest.

Meridina hadn't quite intended to broadcast her thoughts. Perhaps she hadn't, and her expression betrayed them. Kaveri reacted with a pleasant look. "I am kshatriya, Captain. Duty is my calling."

"It is."

A tone sounded from the desk. Kaveri tapped the blinking key on her desk control panel. "Captain Varma here. Proceed."

The voice on the other end was Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi's. "Captain, Under-Secretary Tashke is ready to resume the talks with the local government."

"Understood. Commander Meridina and I will meet her and her team at Transporter Station 1." Kaveri hit the key again to end the call. She tapped a final command into her datapad and stood. "My thanks to you on your report on the talks, Commander. It brought me up to speed."

"Thank you, Captain." Meridina said nothing more while following Kaveri out of the ready office.




The family dining hall in the Fire Palace was small, compared to the banquet hall anyway. It was still large enough to fit the Aurora's conference lounge and the Lookout together. At the central table Lord Daizon sat at the head seat. To his right was his wife Ty Lin, a thin woman with ash-gray hair arranged in a braided tail. To his left was the seat of honor which went to Ursa. Miko was beside her mother and Julia beside Miko. Other members of the family were on both sides of the table, about twenty in all. A variety of pastries and meat dishes, as well as some citrus, were the offered breakfast fare. Julia picked that which seemed the most appetizing for her plate. She waited quietly for Daizon to have the first bite. After he swallowed everyone else dug in.

Julia was finding Fire Nation cuisine to be on the spicy side, which was fitting in its own way. It wasn't quite as hot as Thai, just hot enough that Julia was frequently relieving her taste buds of the heat with the water and tea set before her.

They were well into the meal when Daizon, his plate finished for the moment, looked to Miko and asked, "The Council has asked me to look into how you are progressing, Miko."

Julia could tell Miko wasn't happy to hear the question. "Uncle, I love you, but please don't mince words. They want to know about my Waterbending training."

Daizon nodded. "Yes. I personally understand that you need time, but the Council are concerned with your development as the Avatar. You finished Airbending rather quickly, but now you seem stuck. And given Chief Lantak did not work out… I recall you sought out a trainer on Tangshan?"

"I did. Her name was Jenna."

A cousin further down the table gave Miko a bewildered look. "Jenna Kamak? The former Pro-bender?"

"And one of the most accomplished Waterbenders alive." Miko's eyes fell. "At least, she was."

"Fassbinder and the SS killed her, didn't they?" Julia asked.

"Yes." Miko's eyes teared up. "Her, her husband Hunan, and their children. They lined them up and shot them, and they just… disappeared. As if they never existed."

"You surrendered to spare them, didn't you?" Ursa asked.

Miko nodded. Her fists clenched. "I wish I had burned that yellow-eyed monster to ash," she rasped angrily. "He… he promised he'd let the people of Tangshan go. Instead he made me watch, just to be cruel."

"What kind of monster was this Fassbinder?" another member of the family asked.

"Infected with evil," Miko insisted. "His spirit is dark and hideous."

"Fassbinder's people, they represent a movement that thankfully failed in other universes," Julia said. "The Nazis believe in the racial superiority of their nation. They consider themselves supermen, and other peoples and species are thought to be inferior to some degree or another. There are few atrocities, if any, they'd refuse to commit against a people they think is inferior. Even in my history, where they were defeated, they invented industrial mass murder. They'd march people into gas chambers, kill them, and then burn the remains. They murdered millions in just a few years. The Nazis of Fassbinder's universe? They've slaughtered billions over the centuries. They exterminated entire species, wiped out whole nations of Humans they considered inferior. Other peoples they forced into zoos, making them live like animals. And the SS are the fanatical heart of their movement."

"Monstrous indeed," Daizon said. "Their attacks on our colonies made it clear they were a savage and cruel people, but the depths of their depravity were unknown to us." He looked again to Miko. "I thank the spirits of our ancestors that you were freed from them, dear Miko."

"I do too." Miko closed her eyes. "I only wish I could have saved the people of Tangshan."

"The survivors spoke of your heroism, and of your willingness to sacrifice for them," Ty Lin said. "You have nothing to regret."

"Don't I?" Miko asked bitterly. "Had I refused to surrender, had I kept fighting, maybe we would have held out. Maybe…"

"No." Julia shook her head. "Fassbinder would have just kept killing your people until he took you. And if he couldn't, he would have destroyed Tangshan from orbit. You can't be blamed for not knowing what he, what his people, are like, Miko." She set her right hand on Miko's shoulder. "It's not your fault, Miko. Although I know you'll feel otherwise for a long time, you have to remember that. You acted to protect people at your own expense, and if you ask me, that makes you a hero."

Julia spoke the words calmly, and with utter sincerity that none at the table doubted. Miko heard them and nodded in acceptance. It wouldn't stop her from feeling terrible of course, but it would help.

"You speak with wisdom, Captain," Daizon said. "And from what the history files your people provided the Council show, you are deserving of the same title of hero for your deeds."

Julia blushed slightly. "Thank you, Your Highness. My friends and I, we just came out here to do the right thing. To help people."

"Indeed."

"I would say you have been quite helpful," Ursa remarked.

One of the younger princes looked theri way from further down the table. He was in his mid-teens, from the look of him, a cousin of Miko's. Julia didn't recall his name at the moment. "The news services are saying a lot about your people. And they showed you have aliens that look like Humans. Are they really aliens?"

"The Gersallians? Yes," Julia said. "Externally they look Human, but there are physiological differences under the skin. And they're not the only ones. The Betazoid, for instance, also look completely Human, except they have dark-colored eyes. And are completely telepathic."

It took a moment for the others to parse that, or at least the term that the auto-translators used in their language for the idea of telepaths. "People who can look into your mind? Really?"

"Yes. Betazoids can do it. Some Humans from the S0T5 and E5B1 universes can too. In fact, most species from E5B1 have some telepaths in their populations thanks to genetic engineering by an ancient race known as the Vorlons."

By this point even Miko's attention was focused entirely on Julia. "I noticed there were other species on your ship," Ursa said. "Your Alliance has four, right?"

"For now. We have Human member systems and nations and the Gersallians, Dorei, and Alakin."

"The Alakin are the bird-people, right?"

"Yes," said Julia. She turned her attention from her meal, recognizing that the others were starving for more knowledge of the Multiverse. "There are also other species that are considering membership, and some of them are already serving in the Alliance. The Falaen, for instance, a species once known as Alteans…"




The Future Industries Air and Voidflight Museum was a treasure trove of information on the progress of the planet's technology. Cat and Tra'dur wandered its halls and exhibits. "I really should get Tom to come here," Cat said. "Or Lucy."

"It is interesting to see where their designs differ from the Humanity of Earth at these stages of development," said Tra'dur. A torpedo-carrying biplane was in the exhibit before them. Their omnitools provided a translation of the exhibit display, remarking that it was an authentic replica of the Future Industries Mark I Torpedo Aircraft. The unfortunate history of the aircraft, designed and built for the benefit of the failed Equalist Revolution, was laid out.

"'Equalists'?" Cat's brow furrowed in thought. "I wonder what they are?"

"We do have an uplink into the planetary extranet," Tra'dur said. She tapped at her omnitool control. "The Equalists…" The holographic screen shifted to show a man in a hooded suit. A white mask with a red circle on the forehead was hiding his face. Text rendered into Dilgar characters was beside it. "Apparently they were an anti-bender political movement from two centuries ago. Their leader, a man named Amon, could take away the metaphysical abilities of benders, and vowed to do this to every bender on the planet to create an 'equal' society. He was revealed to be a Waterbender capable of..." Tra'dur made an unpleasant face. "...of bending the blood inside of Human beings."

"So, equal except for him, I guess," Cat said with evident sarcasm. "And the whole thing about manipulating the water in our blood? That sounds really scary. And creepy. I mean, with how these powers work, you could twist someone up like a pretzel."

"All of these metaphysical powers have some kind of terrible potential, it seems," Tra'dur said. "Which is no different from science, if you think about it."

"I suppose…"

They continued on from that display to find an aircraft marked as the first jet aircraft. It had the jet engines underslung from the wings like most early jet craft from Earth's history. This led to more advanced jets and a scale model replica of the first rocket to make it into orbit. The image beside the model showed a picture collage of the real one. In the middle was a shot of the rocket in the distance with a group of people standing in front of it. The figure in the center was a green-eyed elderly woman in a dark suit with red shoulders. There was an insignia on the shoulders that the angle partly obscured. Her wrinkled face was split by a happy smile. The engraved plaque below the image identified a list of names. They connected faces to names, with the woman in the center listed as "Asami Sato, President of Future Industries, Design Team Lead".

"Sato? Isn't that the name they use on their warp drives?"

"It is," Tra'dur said. She worked on her omnitool again, but Cat beat her to it. Tra'dur looked around Cat's head and shoulder at the English text shining in blue holographic light. "Ah, quite impressive, I think?"

Cat read off the entry. "Daughter of Future Industries founder Hiroshi Sato, Future Industries President, CEO, and lead designer, wife of Avatar Korra… Look at these accomplishments. The first mono-wing plane, the first generation of flying suits for the Air Nation, co-designer of the first supersonic jet engine, design team lead for the first three rocket types… Tom would fall in love with her, I mean, if she were here…"

"And heterosexual?"

"Well, maybe she was bi? But anyway… ah, here. Under family."

Cat highlighted the extranet link for Tra'dur's benefit, listing under "Family" a link for "Yasuko Sato, theoretical physicist and creator of space-warp drive theory". Upon activating it a new page appeared, depicting a woman of dark brown eyes and coloration with thin features. She looked thoughtful and a little stern. "So she's the grandmother for the lady who first proposed warp drive."

"Impressive, certainly." Tra'dur glanced at the next exhibit down. It was a fixed wing craft, or rather the model of one. "Their first orbiter, it appears."

"First reusable one, yeah," Cat agreed. "It's just so interesting… do the Dilgar have anything like this? Something to trace your history of flight?"

"Not any longer," Tra'dur answered.

"Hopefully you'll be able to build something like this one day. Maybe on Rohric after the spores are gone?"

"Or Omelos, if we can reclaim it," said Tra'dur. "But yes, we will. While we have much to be ashamed of in our history, we should honor those who brought us to the stars. The crimes the Imperium committed were not theirs."

Cat nodded in agreement and they continued on.




At Daniel's call, the others headed to the computer access room. They found him looking up from the displays. "Well, it took some doing, but I think I found more files for you."

Samantha and Jarod each took a station and went to work. "This definitely looks like a file directory," Sam noted. "Well done, Daniel."

"Well, it wasn't too hard. Just a few hundred translations I had to figure out…"

"Now you're just grenade-fishing for compliments," Lucy teased. She felt further concern when Daniel, despite his usual readiness to spar wit with wit, only flashed a small smile. "So, what else do we have?"

"Well, we already know this was a ship," Jarod noted. He brought up a full display showing the city and platforms with engine ports underneath. "It looks like the Ancients used them as mobile bases."

"Them, as in plural?" asked Tom.

"They definitely had a fleet of them," Daniel said. "Unfortunately some of the data is just gibberish, from what I've seen."

"The damage to the databank, not to mention what the SS Exiles' engineers did with their methods in asserting control, may have corrupted some of the data," said Sam. "But look at this astrographical time stamp."

Jarod did so and whistled lowly. "Twenty thousand and twenty years since landing. Just as we thought."

"I wonder what happened to them?" Lucy asked. "Why didn't they repair the city to fly again?"

"I'm not sure." Daniel tapped at his screen. "I do know that they came here to monitor planets in this universe."

"Which?"

"It doesn't list them," said Daniel.

"Let me try." Jarod went through the unlocked files. "Even with the corrupted data, there could be a remnant log… found it."

With a key press Jarod brought it up on the screen. Daniel and Samantha looked at it with no obvious recognition. The others weren't sure either.

It was Komin who spoke up. "That's… that's our world."

Everyone turned to face him. "It is?" Daniel asked.

"Yes. I… I can make out the continents easily, even with the different… yes, it's our homeworld," Komin said.

"I've found another planetary profile too," Samantha said. "The data's badly garbled, but I think I can bring up the planet itself." At a nod from Jarod she did so.

The second planet appeared. This time Komin was the one uncertain to what he was seeing. "I've never seen that world before," he said.

"That's okay, because we have," Lucy told him.

"Oh?"

"It's Earth," said Daniel. "The Ancients were monitoring your world and this universe's Earth."

"Then… Earth once existed in this universe," Lucy said. "But why is it gone now?"

"If the Ancients knew, it must be in one of the corrupted files," Jarod said. "As it is, all entries seem to stop about twenty thousand years ago."

"That was when the plague hit," said Samantha. "The plague that wiped them out."

"They last for thousands of years, then get wiped out within twenty years of showing up in this universe," Jarod observed. "Do you think there might be a connection?"

"It's possible," Sam said. "But we don't have any evidence either way."

"Still, we're at least a step closer to the truth," Daniel said. "Let me keep going, I'll see if there's anything else."




After breakfast Julia considered what she would do for the day. Miko and her mother were off to a meeting with members of the Fire Nation's legislative council and she still knew little about the rest of the family.

After taking some time to check in with Leo, who wanted her back up for a checkup before the day was over, Julia decided to perform extra training. After donning her white gi and cloth belt she traveled to the ground floor of the palace and out to the gardens. Cherry blossom trees were budding, soon to bloom, and the grass was soft under her sandaled feet. The air was warm and the wind cool, coming off of the pond in the middle of the garden. She stepped up to the side of the pond. Nearby were a line of ducks with turtle-like shells on their backs. They clearly had no issue with Humans as they waddled past her feet and entered the water. As they swam on, quacking much like an Earth duck would, Julia found she was regretting not bringing some bread to feed them.

Instead of assuming her starting stance Julia sat down at the edge of the pond. The beauty of the park and the fresh scents were calming, and something to enjoy. It wasn't often she got to view real nature like this.

"Oh, there you are."

Julia turned and watched Miko walk up. She was still in a formal court robe with the national sigil embroidered in gold on the dark red silk. Her hair was wrapped into a formal bun that she freed with a yank of a ribbon, allowing dark hair to settle on her shoulders. "I see you found the old turtle-duck pond." She sat down beside Julia. "Mother always brought me out here to feed the turtle-ducks when I was little."

"I'm still getting used to your world's hybrid species," Julia said. "On Earth we have several species of ducks, and several of turtles, but I don't think anyone's mixed them."

"You've seen alien animals before, right? How is this any different?"

"Well, alien animals tend to be alien. Sure, there can be some similarities. Targs from Quo'noS, the Klingon Homeworld, look sort of like boars. Big ones, I mean. Varren from the M4P2 galaxy are like big dog lizards. But there's always something different about them that makes it clear they evolved on another world. These are clearly ducks, and they clearly have turtle shells. It's… a little weird, even when you count aliens."

"Maybe I'll feel the same when I see species from Earth," Miko wondered. "I can't imagine a turtle-duck without its shell."

"Maybe you will." Julia reached down and ran a hand in the cool, clear water of the pond. "So, is everything okay?"

"Oh, it's the usual," Miko said drolly. "A bunch of old people telling me how important it is that I learn Waterbending. How I can't be a good Avatar without it. As if I didn't just spend weeks as a prisoner getting my mind drilled by a machine."

Julia gave her a sympathetic look. "It's alright. Take your time. Rushing into a decision isn't going to help."

"Well…"

Something in Miko's voice drew Julia's attention. The young woman gave her an intent look. "I haven't said anything, but I have been thinking of who could teach me. Someone I think I can learn from."

"Oh? You found someone?"

"I think. But I have to ask first."

Julia nodded. "Alright, that makes sense."

"It does. So…" Miko didn't look away. "Julia, will you be my Waterbending teacher?"
"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 Shroom Man 777 »

But how?!

How can a tai chi practitioner teach water-bending when said practitioner can't actually do the water-manipulations? Unless Miko's OK with the elemental chi manipulation, which she is, and thus her only hurdle is the movements... but nonetheless there's undoubtedly a lot of theory involved and how can Julia get that? Unless Miko already figured that out, or was taught that before, and she was only figuring out the kinesthenic/movement aspects before... yeah the Nazis killed all her waterbender teachers.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

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A silence filled the air between Julia and Miko, only the distant occasional quacking of the turtle-ducks swimming in the pond. Miko's request flashed through Julia's brain once, then twice, as she made herself certain of what the young woman asked her.

"You want me to teach you?"

"Yes."

"To teach your world's Waterbending arts to you."

"Yes," repeated Miko, who nodded.

"Even though I'm not actually a Waterbender? I don't have these powers you do."

Miko shook her head. "Bending comes from the movements and the mentality. That's where I'm having trouble. And you said you've studied the style for years, right?"

"Well, I have," Julia admitted, still quite surprised at what was being asked of her.

"If you teach me the forms, how you move, I think I can put together the rest." Miko shrugged. "If anything, maybe it'll at least get me to a point where even a stuffy old Waterbender like Chief Lantak can bring me the rest of the way."

There was something in the younger woman's eyes that made it hard for Julia to dismiss the request. A vulnerable, needing look. As she considered that look Julia thought she could understand it. With everything that had happened, Miko was looking to get her life back on track, and to do it her way. Having lost control of her life, Miko wanted to take it back.

It was a familiar feeling.

It's not like I haven't trained anyone before. Lucy, Robert, Meridina… I've shown them how to do this. Angel too, even if she prefers mok'bara.

But there was a bit of doubt. Those had been brief teaching exercises, little more than showing the basics. Miko was asking Julia to be her teacher, full stop. That required… quite a bit more than showing the basics. Could she even do this right?

Some of the uncertainty must have shown in her eyes, as Miko shook her head. "I understand if you've never taught before, maybe it you're nervous, but Julia… I think this must be some kind of destiny. Something put our lives on course to meet like we did. I trust you in a way… I know we just met, but I trust you more than most other people I know, and I'm not even sure why. Maybe it was because of how we met each other…"

That was likely. Julia nearly pointed out that their "destined" meeting was hardly a positive one, and that the only hand in it was likely Erik Fassbinder's. But she stopped herself. There was something earnest in the way Miko was asking. Something that didn't deserve a cynical rejection.

"You know that in just a couple months I'm going back on duty, right?" she asked Miko. "When I get my ship back, that's going to demand much of my time."

"Yeah, but that's two months from now," Miko pointed out. "By then I might know enough to make this work. Or at least be closer to the answer I need."

None of the earnestness went away. Miko wasn't begging either, but she was being insistent, in that willful way she was so capable of. Julia considered the request for several moments before saying, "I'll think about it, okay? And I'll let you know by the time of the feast your grand-uncle is throwing."

Miko's face brightened. Julia imagined she felt this was just a deferral of a "yes". "I understand. Take the time you need," she insisted, starting to move her legs as she did. She stood to her full height. "I'll see you for dinner."

"Sure." Julia watched her go and checked her omnitool. Leo would be leaving the medbay for the day pretty soon, as it was getting toward 2000 hours on the Aurora. She should see him for that checkup.




Cat entered the conference lounge off the bridge as the last member of the Aurora command crew to arrive. She took her usual seat beside where Jarod would normally sit, a seat currently taken by Bet'tir, Kaveri's telepath adjutant. Meridina was back in her place across from Bet'tir, at the Captain's left.

A holo-viewer screen was active along the interior wall, showing the command center of what was now known as an Ancient city-ship. Jarod, Lucy, and Tom were present, with Major Carter from SG-1. "So with Doctor Jackson's help, we've deciphered more of the older programming and data in the city," Jarod explained. "The Ancients were here for at least twenty years about twenty thousand years ago, then they abandoned the city ship."

"The timing matches up with what we know of the end of their Milky Way civilization," Samantha continued. "That a plague spread through their worlds and destroyed them."

"Completely?" asked Kaveri.

Sam answered, "There are some indications some of their ships fled to another galaxy, but we haven't found anything to confirm it."

"The most important news is that we've located the mechanical systems for that jamming device the SS used to block our comms and IU drive," Lucy said. "It's going to take some time to examine it. The Maimonides technology and artifact lab teams will be focusing on that until a full team can be permanently assigned."

Kaveri nodded in acknowledgement. "Under-Secretary Tashke is still in talks for a final dispensation with the Five Nations Compact. That will determine the state of a final team."

"Far be it from me to question the diplomats, but I hope they don't take too long," Lucy said. "This could be what we need to stop another surprise attack. These jammers, theoretically, wouldn't just prevent IU comms or drives from operating within the field, it would also prevent incoming jump points from forming. It would either hit the other drive with feedback or force the point to form outside of the field. That means warning time."

"Agreed," Meridina said. "But it is important that we take care with diplomacy first of all. The people of this universe are understandably seeking a measure of security and we should aid them in finding it."

"I can't argue with that. The teams here are getting along, but they're assertive about equal access to the findings," Jarod said. "Anyway, I figured we'd give you a heads up before we left. The Enterprise departs in four hours."

"Of course. We await your arrival, Commander. Aurora out."

The holo-viewer screen shut down. "I am aware it is getting late by your ship's clock," Kaveri said to the assembled. "So you are dismissed."




The SG-1 team was waiting in the command center when the four Aurora officers, with Komin Beifong, arrived to beam out. Nearby Philippe and his commander, Captain Nasira Fanous, were waiting. The Captain of the Maimonides was not a big nor tall woman, but there was a passionate intensity in her eyes that Lucy remembered first seeing years before when the acid-scarred, defiant Coptic girl they'd rescued asked to join the Facility crew. Despite her age - she was about Cat's age, the time with the Doctor not counted - Nasira becoming a commanding officer was no surprise to them.

"Nice to see you all again," Lucy said to them. "I'll tell Zack you said hello, Colonel."

"I'm glad to hear he's doing well," Jack said. His voice was somber. "Tell him that next time I'm around the beer is on me."

"Root beer would be better," Lucy murmured quietly, just loud enough for them to hear. She looked to Daniel. There was something off about how he felt, and it didn't feel like marital problems. "But I'll pass that on."

"Good luck with everything." Tom shook Sam's hand. "It kinda sucks that we won't get to see more of the place."

"I'll pass on anything we find before we leave," Sam promised. She shook hands with Jarod next. "Commander, good luck out there."

"Good luck to you too, Major," Jarod replied.

Talara sized up Teal'c, who looked her over with curiosity. "You are not an elf," Teal'c said suddenly.

"Well, no," Talara answered, confused. "I am a Falaen. Or an Altean, as we were once known."

"Colonel O'Neill and I have a standing wager on when elves will be encountered in the multiverse. He proposed it after we met Secretary Onaran."

"I… see."

Daniel and Sam exchanged knowing, bemused looks.

Nasira and Philippe approached the group. "It is good to see you again," Nasira said to them. "I wish we had more time."

"Congratulations, Nas," said Tom, who offered his hand first.

"Thank you," she said.

"You're off to explore in this universe, right?" asked Jarod.

"We are. It will be the Maimonides' first long-term mission. We are not due to return to Alliance space for six months."

"Good luck with that," Jarod said.

"I'd love to check a Juvap out at some point," Tom said. "I always wanted to see how adjustable nacelles would work."

"You do not have to maintain them, Thomas," Nasira responded. "Lieutenant Tagiya wishes they had simply accepted the reduced warp performance of the lower arrangement."

"I heard you had some trouble after leaving New Liberty," said Lucy. "Is everything okay?"

"It is." There was grief in Nasira's being that she was adjusting to. "We lost people in a fight with slavers."

"I see." Lucy, having nothing to say that wouldn't sound pat, embraced Nasira to give consolation. "Eubians?"

"Eubians," Nasira confirmed.

"Who?" asked Jack.

"The Goa'uld aren't the only civilization with mass slavery," Lucy said to him after pulling away from Nasira. "And they're not biologically hard-wired sadists who torture telepaths for the intense pleasure it makes them feel."

Daniel winced. Jack rolled his eyes. "Oh, for crying out loud, first Nazis, then genocidal robots that look like people, and now this! What's next, horrors from another dimension that eat planets or stars or something?"

Jarod and Lucy exchanged uneasy glances. "Uh, no comment," Jarod finally said.

Jack leveled a glare at him.

"Enterprise to Commander Jarod. We are ready to depart," said a male voice with a Chinese accent.

"Understood, Commander Xiu." The five lifted their duffel bags. "We're ready to transport."

The five figures disappeared in bursts of blue-white light, a buzzing sound filling the chamber.

"Colonel." Nasira gave Jack a nod. "The Greek will be here tomorrow to pick you up and return you to your home universe."

"The Greek." Jack blinked. "Should I be expecting gyros and hummus with olive oil? Or some mob guy offering me deals I can't refuse?"

Daniel gave him a look. "I don't think it means people from Greece, Jack. Or mob nicknames."

Nasira's barely-stifled laughter subsided. "It is an Alakin warbird," she explained, a brief giggle escaping with the words. "We have to find a ship that is compatible with the Goa'uld treaty, and my ship has other orders. Now, please pardon me, I must go and meet with Commander Li from the Compact."

The two officers departed as well, leaving SG-1 to themselves. "Well, now I'm in the mood for a gyro," said Jack. "Let's go see if their replicators can manage to make a good one."




After satisfying Leo on her physical recovery, Julia checked in with Dr. Tusana. To accommodate all three shifts on the ship the Gersallian psychiatrist kept an open door policy and revolving shifts. Julia idly wondered if it caused her any trouble with rest in the moment before she stepped into the room. Tusana was lighting one of the incense candles when Julia stepped through the door. "Captain." The therapist turned to face her. "I hear you are staying with Miko's family?"

"By invitation. And usually it's best to accept, for diplomatic reasons anyway." Julia took her seat. Tusana took her own a moment later. "Not that I don't prefer it right now."

"Instead of being a guest on your own ship." Tusana nodded in acceptance of the thought. "And yet, something has happened?"

"Yeah, definitely." Julia gave a short nod. "I've been asked to do something, and I'm not sure if I should say yes."

"Oh?"

"Miko wants me to train her in t'ai chi," Julia explained. "Apparently it's related to the style that the metaphysically-powered people from this world use when manipulating water. Miko's having a lot of trouble with the style and thinks I can help."

Tusana nodded in understanding. By now the room was fully in the embrace of the gentle smell of her incense. "And you are not sure whether to accept."

"I'm not sure I should," Julia elaborated. "You don't teach t'ai chi in two months. What happens when my medical leave is up and I'm captaining a ship again? I doubt they'll let her come with us. Her own people, I mean."

"Your precaution is understandable, even if premature." Tusana folded her hands together. "Sometimes it is best to leave the future to itself. I presume that Miko, with her status, can easily find another to teach her this art?"

"Likely."

"And she choose you. She clearly trusts you to show her what she needs."

"But I can't," Julia pointed out. "When I go through my forms, I don't move water at the same time! I don't know the slightest thing about how their metaphysical powers work, how they really work I mean. I can't teach her that."

"Perhaps that is not what needs to be taught," said Tusana. "Your art is more than movements, is it not? It is a way of thinking. Of ordering the body and mind. It may be that this is what she needs."

Julia nodded once. "I suppose it could be."

"I would advise you to consider the request," said Tusana. "Not just for your friend's benefit, but for your own mental health."

Julia looked at her without saying a word.

"You are clearly restless," Tusana said. "And I suspect you are not content with your leave. You wish to be acting constructively. To be accomplishing something."

"What I wish for is my Goddamned ship back!"

The exclamation escaped from Julia before she stop it. Tusana said nothing at the ferocity of it, the pent up resentment in the words.

"I know, we went over it before, and I said I understood why I've been relieved. And I do." Julia's heated words carried through the room. "But I… I don't want medical leave, I want my ship back. I want to move on with my life! And I can't because my life hasn't been given back to me! It's here, on this ship, with my friends and my crew!"

When Tusana remained silent a dread came to Julia. Would this be held against her? A sign of unhealthy fixation? Inability to accept what happened?

Tusana shook her head at those worries. "This resentment is natural, Julia," Tusana said calmly. "You seek a return to normal. That is natural for someone who suffered an ordeal like yours. That you are being denied this, even with justification, that is a natural cause for resentment."

Sighing with relief, Julia sat back in the chair.

"Do you object to the idea of teaching Miko?"

Julia gave her head a quick shake. "No, not at all," she asserted. "I'm honored. Flattered, really. We just met this civilization and already one of its most important figures is asking me to help them? To train them? I'm just worried that I can't give her what she needs."

"I understand that worry, and it speaks well of you. Would you like advice?"

"By all means."

"It is just what you need," Tusana said. "I think this would help your recovery immensely. I would accept. But it is your choice, not mine."

"It is," Julia agreed, thankful for the advice.




With no further patients after Julia, Tusana decided to take a meal. She departed her office and walked to the Lookout. She found Meridina eating a late meal as well. Albert was quick to arrange food for Tusana, who approached Meridina. Go ahead and join me, Meridina cast mentally.

Tusana did so. You are having a late night she observed.

The talks ran long. We are making progress at least.

That is good
. Tusana's food arrived a moment later, a plate of liyume with lentils. She started eating away at the contents while her mind remained in contact with Meridina's. I do sense you are doing well. Are you pleased to be relieved of the Captain's place?

I am
, Meridina admitted. And I believe Captain Varma's sincerity in working with us.

She began mental recitations of verses when she learned I was a telepath. It is not often you find Humans who do such to make farisa more comfortable.

Indeed.

And you, Meridina? How are you feeling? About the attacks?


Meridina let out a small sigh. I mourn the lost. I wish we could have saved more. But I am coming to terms with what occurred. I know no blame falls upon me.

That is progress
, answered Tusana. And it is good to hear.




Personal Log of Julia Andreys, Captain. 31 October 2643

Today looks to be the same as yesterday. I spent the morning, Fire Nation time, having another breakfast where Miko's cousins barraged me with questions about the Multiverse. Miko herself is waiting patiently for my response to her request to be her
t'ai chi teacher. I am still considering it.

The
Enterprise is expected to arrive soon with Tom, Jarod, and the others, and just in time for Lord Daizon's celebration dinner. I'm sure the others will have some difficulty from the time difference, but everyone is going to attend at least, with a skeleton crew coming over from the Enterprise to watch things for us.

I'm told Tom has inquired about costumes, since this is Halloween on the Alliance calendar. Now I have a mental image <giggle> in my head of Tom showing up as a zombie <louder giggle> like he did for that high school party. Diplomatically mortifying <laugh> but I'm laughing anyway.

<Deep sigh> I want to give Miko her answer today. But I have a couple of conversations to handle first.





As part of getting her routine back, Julia left the medbay from her daily checkup and went straight for the gym. As usual it had the conflicting scents of sweat and other perspiration from the Aurora's various species. In the nearest ring a new Falaen crewman was showcasing Falaen-style fighting in a bout with a Dorei Marine. A number of others were using the weight machines in one corner, or the treadmills in the other.

The punching bags were mostly open, so Julia stepped up to one and shed her white gi, revealing the burgundy-colored sports bra underneath. She checked her hair to make sure the pony-tail she'd pulled her hair into was secure. After some warm-up movements she pulled on gloves and started to punch the bag.

Punching something felt good. It had a degree of catharsis to it. If she had a picture of Fassbinder to attach to it, this would be even better.

"So, tired of the palace life?"

Julia heard the words between the sounds of her fists on canvas and turned to where Angel was stepping up to the bag beside her. Unlike Julia she didn't need to pull off a robe or jacket as she was quite happy to stroll through the ship in sports bra and shorts. Showing off her muscles was never something Angel would shy away from. "I thought Leo told you to take it easy?"

"He did," Julia confirmed. "But I want to get back into routine."

"I can understand that." Angel gestured toward one of the rings. "So, want to get in a match? Best of three? It'll really get you back into shape."

"Somehow I don't think Leo would approve," Julia noted wryly. "Can you imagine his reaction if I have to go back to medbay today because I took one of your kicks to my ribs?"

Angel could imagine the reaction. "Oh yeah, he'd be ticked, wouldn't he?"

"He'd probably confine me to medbay again."

The bag beside Julia's shook under Angel's first blow. She gave it a few more before asking, "So, what are you doing for your leave? Go find a beach somewhere and try to get a tan?" She grinned and shook her head. "No, that's not you. You need someone to boss around or you'll go crazy," she teased.

Julia struck the bag again before giving Angel a playful glare.

Angel winked and returned her focus to her bag. After landing a few more punches she held back and glanced Julia's way again. "Seriously, knowing you, you've got to find something to do during your leave or you'll go mad, then they'll never let you come back. So got any plans?"

"Well, there's always going to New Liberty to help with rebuilding," Julia said. "But I've actually gotten a job offer of sorts."

"Oh?"

"Miko asked me to train her in t'ai chi."

"Huh." Angel thought for a moment before nodding. "Well, yeah, it sounds good. Especially if you get to live in that nice palace."

Julia rolled her eyes. "It's about more than that actually. Which is why I haven't said yes."

"Well, what else is there to it?"

"Because there's a… metaphysical side to it, you'd say. Their abilities to manipulate elements are channeled in a way that is linked to martial arts, to different styles, I mean. T'ai chi is apparently just like moving water. But Miko's an aggressive fighter. She's a bit like you, in that respect."

"Ah." Angel nodded. "And I've never been one for that 'sticking' and 'softness' and redirecting power that you like to talk about."

"Exactly. She's had trouble with trying to learn it. It's why she was out on that colony when she was captured, she was trying to find a teacher."

"And she wants you to teach her?"

"She does."

Angel finally turned back to her bag and gave it a few punches, prompting Julia to do the same. As Julia's blows picked up in pace Angel spoke up, not letting her own rhythm stop as she did so. "Okay, well, you were her connection when she was a captive. I mean, you two, you bonded, you gave each other someone who was sympathetic. I can see how that would work."

"Can you? We still just met. Come to think about it, there's not a lot we really know about each other."

"Yeah, but there's still a bond there, so it could work."

"You think I should do it?" Julia slowed her punches, trying a few stronger ones.

"Honestly? Yeah, why not? If it works out, hey, good for both of you, and you just made relations with these people even better. If it doesn't, well, you at least tried."

Julia's punches became a little fierce. "Except I don't move water when I do my forms. I don't know the least thing about actually sensing how these powers work!"

"Maybe you don't need to know. She does two elements already, right? I'm sure she'll know what she's feeling."

The point was a good one. Miko likely had some sense of when her movements were actively channeling her powers. Even if Julia wouldn't feel anything, she should. Julia found herself tilting more and more toward agreeing to train Miko.

But she wasn't decided just yet. And she knew just who to talk to to help her make the final decision.




Robert's focus on the Life of Reshan was intense enough that he almost missed the door chime. "Come in!" he called out without looking up, the fingers of one hand closely following words while the other hand scribbled away at an anachronism in the text.

Of course, he didn't need to look up to know it was Julia. But he did anyway. As she approached he stood from his chair, leaving the book for Gina to continue. "You're looking better."

"Feeling a little better," she said.

"I know that you're not," he replied. "At least, not entirely. You're resentful and upset."

"That's cheating."

To that he smiled and shook his head. "I don't need metaphysical powers to know you're upset, Julie. You want to be back here, on your ship."

"I do," she agreed.

Noticing she was eyeing the couch in his living area, Robert brought her over and they sat down beside each other. "I'm sorry I've been occupied lately," he said. "I figured after all of that time in medbay you'd want some distance.."

"We said what we needed to, it's fine." Julia glanced back to where Gina was working on both books. "What are you doing? Research?"

"Part research, part decoding," Robert answered. "We think that whatever the Brotherhood and Cylons are up to, we can figure it out if we finish translating and decrypting the Life of Reshan."

"Ah. That does sound important." Julia nodded in approval. "It's good to do important things."

"It sounds like you're worried you're not."

"More like I'm worried I'll say yes to it and mess it up."

Robert's curiosity picked up. "Oh?"

Julia nodded. "A couple of days ago, Miko asked me to train her in t'ai chi. Well, to be exact, she wants me to teach her to Waterbend, which I obviously can't do."

"I think I see her logic, though. Their abilities are tied to martial arts styles. If she's struggling with this one, getting a teacher she feels a bond toward might make things easier." Robert grinned at her. "It's not like you haven't tried to teach it before. You just haven't had a dedicated student."

"And the fact I can't actually do anything metaphysical?"

"Honestly, I think the important part is the mental element. The mentality of the art. Teach her that, and everything should work out," Robert advised. "You're already thinking of saying yes."

Julia gave him a droll look. "Is that intuition or powers?"

"Both," Robert admitted.

"It's been a hard year for the two of us to be together as much as we used to," she observed.

"It has. But I already knew you were going to have to leave the ship. If you remained aboard for your medical leave, if you even could, that wouldn't be good for you." He set a hand on her arm. "I'll miss you, of course. The others will too. But go ahead and take the time to heal, and while you're at it, helping Miko will give you something to focus on."

A slow, understanding nod was Julia's immediate reaction. "So, when I get back…" She put a hand up to his chin, feeling the coarseness of stubble. "Is this going to be back?"

"Only if you want it," Robert said.

"I don't," she laughed. "But don't keep it off on my account."

"It's fine," he said. "I probably did let it go too far."

Playfully Julia teased, "You did. You looked like a hermit. And that's the last thing I want you to be."

"Don't worry. Umintamil was bad enough. No hermitages or abbeys for me," Robert promised, grinning widely. "So, you'll be at the honors table down there?"

"We all will. I've seen the seating arrangements."

"Between our crew and the Iroh's, that's about three thousand people…"

"I've seen the place, Rob. Trust me, there will be even more there, and we might still have room to spare."

"Then I look forward to seeing it."




The courtyard of the Fire Nation palace was filled with tables and chairs covered in foods and drinks. The palace entrance was obscured by the platform on which some of the tables were set, including a chair clearly meant for Daizon. The command officers of the Aurora, Koenig, and General Iroh were seated to Daizon's left, the attending family members to his right. Julia and Miko occupied the positions of honor to each side.

Aside from the tables and chairs, a stage at the far end of the courtyard was ready for performances by entertainers. Paper lanterns in red, gold, blue, white, and green were strung up on wires all around the courtyard. Everywhere liveried and finely-attired servants stood ready to begin attending to the gathered attendees.

The scope of it was astounding. Julia suspected Daizon must have spent enough money to build a starship to assemble all of the food and materials and people to make the function happen.

Robert sat to Julia's left, with Captain Saizen to his left, Kaveri to Saizen's left, then Meridina, Zack, and the others on down by rank. Past Miko was her mother Ursa, then Daizon's wife Ty Lin, the rest of the family on from her.

On both sides were some low levels of conversation, but not too loud. "There's enough food here to feed both ships for two days," Julia heard Zack say.

Silence reigned with the sound of a bell. Daizon stood from his seat. A cleverly-hidden microphone ensured his voice would boom across the courtyard. "People of the Fire Nation, of the Compact, and those from beyond our stars, I welcome you to this celebration. We are here to commemorate the recovery of our Avatar, Princess Miko, from the captivity of a vile and cruel invader. The brave beings who dine with us tonight have earned our gratitude and hospitality through their bravery and skill. We are grateful for their service and sacrifices."

"But there are those who are not with us today." When he finished, Daizon looked to a group of elaborately-robed men. Several turned away and thrust their palms in the air. Flames erupted, crossing together and merging into a whirlpool of red flame that reached a series of torches erected in the courtyard. The fuel within them caught alight. Julia marveled at how carefully designed the display was, as it was not a group of simple torches, but used different kinds of fuel to generate different colors. The colors that formed depicted the five symbols of the Compact arrayed beside the Alliance torch insignia burning in blue, green, and white. "In this way we pay homage to the honored dead of the Five Nations Compact and the United Alliance of Systems, who fell in battle with the invader. Through their common sacrifice we stand at the dawn of a new age for our people. We are now part of a greater community of nations, of species, many of them united by common ideals that we too cherish. In the spirit of this new age, let the festivities begin!"

With that announcement a series of sparking trails flew into the sky, exploding into fireworks. On the stage opposite a group of performers started playing music, accompanied with dancers who literally trailed flames from their hands as they moved. The skill of the performers brought applause and cheers.

Everyone commenced eating on their own time. Conversations picked up among the guests until there was a general din of noise, while the sky continued to light up from fireworks.

"Sometimes it astounds me," Robert said.

Julia glanced to him. "What?"

"Everything." He smiled and shook his head. "The Multiverse. The alien worlds, the different ways life can develop. Worlds like this one, with powers and things I never imagined growing up."

Julia nodded slightly. "Yeah, I can understand that."

"I still remember the first time I met Meridina. The idea of someone who could read my thoughts, do the things she does… and when I got used to that, other things came along. This world and its people, its uniqueness, it adds to it all. Sometimes I wonder if anything is possible. Whatever Tom or Scotty say about the laws of physics."

"I suppose everything is possible, in some way," Julia said, smiling. "Do you think it makes everything bad we've gone through worth it? If you could wish away finding that pressure plate on the old mound, would you?"

Robert closed his eyes. Instead of answering his hand reached over and gripped hers. "I… I'm not entirely sure. With what just happened, I mean. And all of the fighting, the violence, the death…"

"It's okay," she assured him. "I don't think I'd change what happened. Even with all the things we've gone through. The good makes it worth it in the end."

"It often does," remarked Daizon. The gray-haired and -bearded Fire Lord turned his head to face them. "My ancestor Zuko was known for saying that good things come from the bad, so long as you didn't let the bad change you for the worse."

They looked back, uncertain of what to say.

Their silence prompted a short laugh from Daizon. "Surely what I said was not that profound? I may be getting on in years, but I am hardly the elderly master dispensing wisdom. Or so President Dravad has said to me in Compact Council meetings, often." An amused look betrayed the humor of the monarch.

"It was profound enough," Julia assured him. "There was little point in us repeating the idea."

"Now you flatter me. But I am not so humble that I can't enjoy it." Daizon gestured to the rest of the celebration. "I believe the next act are dancing otter-penguins. It is quite good…"

Taking the hint, they returned their attention to the festivities.




After some time passed the celebrants started to leave their chairs and mingle, all while performances continued on the stage. Feeling quite satisfied with her share of the dinner, Julia left the table in search of Miko.

She found Miko by the turtle-duck pond in the gardens. From here the lights and sounds of the festivities were muted. Miko was looking skyward and in thought. She turned at hearing Julia's footsteps. "Is everything okay?" Julia asked her.

Miko gestured toward her court finery. It wasn't a dress so much as a formal robe with the Fire Nation sigil etched into the right breast. Miko's hair was kept in a tight bun held in place by a metal band with a pin. "I don't really like wearing these things," she confessed.

To that Julia grinned. "Uncomfortable, right?"

"Yes."

Julia gestured to her own dress whites. "Trust me, there is worse."

Miko laughed. "Since we're the guests of honor, you'd think they'd let us come dressed as we pleased."

"I know, right?" Julia laughed lightly as she took the final step to stand beside Miko. The stars in the sky weren't visible due to the lights of the capital, even if the fireworks weren't going off again. "The answer is yes."

Miko looked to her and Julia thought she could feel the elation filling the younger woman. "You'll train me?"

Julia nodded. "At least until I'm back in command of my ship. We'll have to see what arrangements are necessary after that."

"That's okay. We'll make it work. And I'll tell my mother and Uncle Daizon. Are you going to stay here, then?"

"I might as well," Julia said. "For a while anyway. But I do want to go back to New Liberty at some point and help in the rebuilding."

"I'll go with you," Miko pledged. "Not just for training, but maybe I can help. I know a little bit of Earthbending, actually…" She blushed. "I'm technically not supposed to, but being around Komin all the time…"

"Yeah. I think I understand." Julia offered her hand and Miko took it, exchanging the handshake. "Well, for the rest of the night have fun. We start bright and early tomorrow."

"How early?"

"Dawn sounds good."

"Oh. Only dawn." Miko let out a relieved sound. "Gyatsun would sometimes wake me up two hours before dawn for morning practice. He likes to meditate when the sun's coming up."

Julia chuckled at that. "No. That won't be necessary. And, honestly, I've lived on a spaceship for four years now. I don't get to see dawns very often."

There was a gentle rippling in the pond water that drew their attention. Despite the lower light level they could make out the cyan-colored form that emerged, as if a primordial slime creature was leaving the lake like in a cheesy horror movie. The shape made a "glurp" sound and a device moved across its surface, viewing them both with a blue eye. "Oh, pardon me," an electronic feminine voice trilled from the device. "I didn't mean to startle anyone."

Miko was staring in surprise, which only made Julia's following laugh all the stronger. "This is Doctor Ke'mani'pala," she explained to Miko. "I'm guessing Cat didn't take you down to meet her?"

"No." Miko shook her head. "And it, she, is... a member of your crew?"

"A civilian science specialist," Julia clarified.

"Greetings, young Human. I am a Gl'mulli," Ke'mani'pala informed Miko politely. "And I must say, your pond is quite well-stocked in delicious microbes. It is not often I get to enjoy such a meal!"

"You… ate from the pond? Not the banquet?"

"Oh, seas no! Your foods would be a pain for us to digest, and much of it we cannot."

"I… see…"

Ke'mani'pala trilled with amusement as she walked off, looking like a gumdrop with two stubby wide legs at the bottom.

"The Multiverse is just wonderful," Miko said. "Are there other life forms like her?"

"Yes," said Julia. "There are plenty of life forms without what we'd call humanoid shape. Or even distinctly bipedal shape."

"I… see. There is so much I still have to learn about the Multiverse."

"We all do," Julia assured her. "And we'd better get back to the party before your family sends search parties."

"Yes, I suppose we should," Miko agreed.
"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 »

Tag



It was late in the Aurora's day when the feast started to wind down and everyone began returning to the ship. Robert checked up on the repairs to the Jayhawk and used its secure systems to check the official traffic he was eligible to receive from the Alliance's military and intelligence services. He made sure to take everything that related to slaver activity in E5B1 and relay it through channels to Beth and Dr. Meier.

Afterward he returned to his quarters and found Lucy, Meridina, Gina, and Jarod there. They were all arrayed around his table, covered in the two Gersallian tomes and the associated notes. Jarod was busily checking both and scribbling something down. "What's up?"

"I wanted something mentally stimulating after that feast," Jarod confessed. "Not that I didn't like it, but it put me in a creative mood."

"Well, that sounds good."

"Commander Jarod is finishing his decoding of the next chapter's message," Meridina said.

Jarod looked up. His expression matched the deep shock Robert felt filling him. "Okay, this… it's… big."

"What is?" Gina asked.

Jarod finished scribbling and passed the note around. Lucy's eyes widened a little at the contents, Gina's a lot more, and Meridina gasped. Robert took the slip and read it.

"This book's text is nothing but the protective curtain, hiding the truth from those who must never know it. It bears falsehoods for the same reason. The falsehoods are a necessary evil for there are dark forces that would attempt to use this knowledge to prevent my great work from coming to completion. This is no mere boast for the completion of the Circle is the greatest endeavor I have ever attempted in my life, and with the greatest stakes. For the sake of all of our futures the Circle must be completed." Robert read these lines and so far wasn't certain why the others seemed so shocked. It was important, but it didn't seem earth-shattering.

Then he kept reading, and the shock told on his voice.

"If all goes as planned and foreseen, I know you are reading this, Dawn-Bearers of the Allied Systems. Meridina, Robert, Lucilla, Jarod, Gina." He read off their names with increasing surprise. "A great task lies on you. You must find my Temple before the forces of darkness do. Or the Circle will be broken and everything you know will be utterly destroyed." By the time he finished Robert's hand trembled. "This… this is…"

"A profound truth," Meridina said.

"It's our names? In archaic Gersallian?" Lucy looked to Jarod. "I mean, the sounds don't always…"

"That's just it," Jarod said. "It threw me off for a brief moment, since it didn't make complete sense in actual Gersallian. The Gersallian lettering doesn't work quite the same. But if you transliterate those parts of the code into the Latin Alphabet, then our names are spelled out."

"This is… " Gina took in a breath. "Mastrash Ledosh knew. He knew…"

"It looks like this was one of the last bits he translated before…" Jarod stopped there, for their sakes. "He knew our names. That's… how did a Gersallian from three thousand years ago know our names?"

"It is more than that, Jarod," Meridina said. "The book was written over the course of Reshan's known lifetime. These chapters were supposed to have been written when Swenya was just a child. Long before she wrote the Prophecy of the Dawn."

"Some have always said Reshan passed the prophecy to her," Gina pointed out.

"But the Prophecy doesn't refer to us by name," Lucy pointed out. "It makes allusions to sisters of fire and heart and leaders and forgers and stuff. Reshan knew our names."

"This truth, it is… astounding," Meridina said. "His ability to sense the future through the Flow of Life was so profound he knew our names in the distant past. This is the kind of truth that would change everything we know about Reshan."

"A truth that could divide the Gersallians when they learn of it," Robert pointed out. "I mean, one of their greatest historic legends identifying us as the Bearers of the Dawn, and by name? How many would assume this was some kind of trick or forgery? Especially with the Great Temple destroyed and all of the library records to prove this book's authenticity."

"Which is why they must not, for now anyway," Meridina insisted. 'Not until we have learned more about this."

"And it'd be nice to figure out which dark forces he warned about," Lucy added. "Did he foresee the Brotherhood and Cylons? The Nazis? Or maybe those 'Pretender' things that have attacked us over the year?" She shook her head. "Until we know more, we have to keep this secret."

"Agreed. This doesn't leave the room," Robert said.

They all nodded. Even Meridina, who was already wondering how much she could safely tell Kaveri Varma.




Julia made a final check of her guest quarters to reassure herself that she had everything. Almost everything, anyway, save those things being shipped to New Liberty for storage. After her examination was over Julia pulled on a backpack full of things, slung a duffel bag over one shoulder, and clasped a suitcase with the opposite hand.

She approached the door in time to hear its chime go off. Instead of answering she simply stepped up to the door to trigger it to open.

Kaveri stood in the hall. She nodded at Julia. "I hoped to see you before you departed the ship."

"Well, you're right on time," Julia assured her. "Have you settled in?"

"I have." The two began walking toward the nearest lift. "I hope you understand why I have not spoken to you until now."

"I do, and I'm thankful for it." Julia's tone was quiet, meant to be reassuring. "It's not easy, I admit."

"I would think not. And I offer you my promise that I will take care of your people and your ship until you return."

"Thank you." It was a relief to hear it. Julia was aware that, whatever her attempt to instill more professionalism in how the ship was run, other commanders would go yet further, and alienate the others in the process. "I know we don't run things on the Aurora as Earthforce would, but it works well enough, even if a lot of people don't recognize it."

"I confess I find your uniforms lacking, and it is clear some of your crew would not function well in a more military environment," Kaveri admitted. "But I saw your mettle at Tira and over Germania. That is all I need to know. Please do not let worry over your people complicate your recovery, Captain."

"Being the 'mother hen', as Leo likes to call it, I admit I'm always a little worried," Julia confessed. "But I know you can take care of them, so it'll be easy to deal with."

They stepped into a lift and rode it to Deck 3. The lift opened and two lines of senior crew and officers were waiting. Master Chief Rohm, the Senior Chiefs, Hargert, all gave her a farewell. Hargert personally added a strong embrace and handed her an insulated tub. "Stew," he said kindly. "For when you wish a taste of home."

Julia took it and found room in her duffel bag for the sealed container. With Kaveri behind her she moved on, shaking hands as she did. Lieutenant Takawira, Lieutenant Neyzi, Chief Hrakee, Doctors Singh, Opani, and Walker, and yet more. At the door, Commander Richmond and Major Anders bid her farewell.

In the Transporter Station room her friends and others were assembled. Tra'dur was standing beside Cat, Talara and Gina were with Lucy. One by one she hugged them goodbye. Robert received the last hug, and the tightest, before she stepped up onto the pad. "Take care of yourselves, please," she said to them. "And take care of each other and Captain Varma." Focusing on Kaveri, she added, "Good luck, Captain."

"We plan on it," Jarod assured her.

"Aye, now get yerself th' rest ye need," added Scott. "Our girl will be ready an' waitin' for ye tae come home, Captain, that I promise."

After a further chorus of agreement, Julia looked to the silver-horned, purple-skinned Dre'kari crewman and nodded. "Energize."

"Yes Captain." A few key presses came, and with them Julia was whisked away by a burst of light.

For a moment there was silence. Meridina spoke first, saying, "She will do as she needs, and so shall we. Beginning with our departure." After accepting the nod in her direction from Kaveri, Meridina added, "You are all dismissed."

Kaveri tapped at her omnitool's comm key, opening a channel to the bridge. "Captain Varma to Bridge. Take us out."

The Starship Aurora pulled away from the orbit of the unique planet below. The night lights of Republic City and the other cities and towns of the Republic and Earth Union twinkled below as they cleared the orbiting stations and the spacecraft of the unique civilization, the latest of many they had encountered in their time. Once the kilometer long ship was clear, a point of emerald light formed ahead of her, expanding into an interuniversal jump point that took them off to another universe.




The dawning sun shined lush yellow rays upon the great spires of the Fire Nation capital. Gradually the brilliant orb rose high enough in the sky to reach the palace within the caldera at the heart of the city. Some of those rays shined through the open doors of one of the palace's many rooms.

Julia stepped in through one door and found Miko entering the other. The latter was wearing the same outfit as Julia, a white gi with sashes tied around their waists. Both had their hair pulled back into buns, Miko's arranged closer to the top of her head and Julia's toward the back of her neck.

They stopped about three meters from each other. After a second's pause, Miko bowed at the waist, putting her hands together in a gesture that seemed to emulate the flame insignia of the Fire Nation. "Sifu Julia," she said politely. "Good morning."

"Good morning, student," Julia replied with as much politeness. She bowed and emulated the same hand gesture. "Are you ready to begin your studies?"

"I am, Sifu."

"Good. To begin, T'ai chi ch'üan is more than a martial art. It is a method of meditation, an exercise in mind and body. There are many forms and styles. I've done some checking on your world's Waterbending styles so I'm going to start you with forms that fit them the best…"

The two were soon moving in those forms, Miko closely following Julia's movements. The rays of the rising sun around them continued to banish away the lingering coolness of the night, warming them in the process.

And with it came a kind of peace, a soothing balm to their tried, wounded souls.
"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 Shroom Man 777 »

That's actually a very sweet and perfect bookend IMO. No need to belabor the mechanics of the training, since one might trip in the details.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

So, even though I've been writing those "Breach of Faith" novels, over the last several months I took time now and then to write the final three episodes of Season 3, usually when I needed a break from the other stuff.

But I'm pleased to inform you that I will be posting those final three episodes starting on the 31st!



3-20 "The Fury" - January 31st
A group of agents threaten delicate peace talks with the Dominion on Deep Space Nine.

3-21 "Sense of Worth" - February 7th
Leo faces prejudice and violence while helping a refugee camp of telepaths on a war-torn Earth.

3-22 "The Closed Circle" - February 14th
Robert and the Aurora crew rush to discover Reshan's Temple before the forces of darkness can reach it.
"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 »

Teaser


Ship's Log: 12 November 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. We arrived at Federation-controlled space station Deep Space Nine at 0934 hours New Liberty time. Our orders are to support and protect peace talks being held with the Dominion and the Cardassians. Captain Dale and Commander Richmond will be cooperating with Constable Odo of station security in this matter. The Alliance Government hopes to defuse the growing tensions with the Dominion and end the ongoing border skirmishes provoked by Jem'Hadar incursions into Federation, Klingon, and Alliance space. But we can expect the Dominion to extract a high price for any concessions.

I am pleased to report that after two weeks in command of the
Aurora, the crew of this ship has adjusted to the circumstances.


Meridina and Master Chief Levi Rohm were seated in the ready office side by side. Behind the desk, Kaveri examined the performance reviews ordered by Command as part of the fleet-wide mobilization. "I am quite pleased to see this," she said to them. "The crew's performance matches or exceeds all fleet guidelines in every department."

"Thank you, ma'am, but given who we are, it should be exceeding in all of them," said Chief Rohm. The Israeli-American naval veteran was from the same Earth as the Alliance founders, although his presence was not from any link to them but his own decision to enlist following the beginning of the war with the Nazi Reich. It was more chance than anything that led to his assignment to the Aurora.

"I appreciate that, Chief, but with the recent attacks and the changes in command they caused, it is not surprising."

"It is something to work on, certainly," Meridina said. She herself was concerned with the performance of the science section.

"I recommend more drills," stated Chief Rohm.

"That can be arranged." Kaveri signed off on the review. "Thank you again, Chief, for your diligence. You are dismissed."

He nodded and departed the ready office. He knew enough about the weird things that could happen on the ship to figure something on that line was going to be discussed between the Captain and XO, and he had other matters to deal with.

Once he was gone Kaveri looked to Meridina. "Your translation efforts. How are they progressing?"

"Our rate has slowed," she admitted. "We have come to the end of the material partially translated by Mastrash Ledosh before he… died." Pain was evident in her voice, even if she fought to keep a stoic look.

Kaveri nodded. She gave a gentle, knowing look to Meridina. "I imagine it is quite painful," she said. "Ledosh was your instructor in these life force arts, was he not?"

"He was. I was his apprentice from the time I ended my initiate's training," Meridina said. "I never felt so honored in my life before. That he was struck down… even with all the horror of that day, that is the pain I still feel the most keenly."

"I understand that," said Kaveri. "Teachers can be as close as parents. Closer, perhaps."

Meridina sensed an old guilt in Kaveri. Her daughter Zhengli - now Zhen'var, the Captain of the ASV Huáscar - had grown up with teachers more than her own mother given Kaveri's Earthforce career. This was not sensed telepathically, as Kaveri's mind was carefully reciting Hindu proverbs as was her custom to ease things for telepaths in her presence. It was sensed through her swevyra, the part of her that connected to the wider Flow of Life, and gave her insights and abilities.

Kaveri recognized that from the look on Meridina's face. "I am still getting used to the alternate form of telepathy your powers make possible," she admitted. "Even after a lifetime of working carefully around telepaths."

"I have no intention to pry," Meridina assured her. "I promise you that."

"Of course not." Kaveri said nothing for the moment, letting her memories briefly flash back by seven months to Tira, where Meridina had entered her mind to confirm a private matter. Neither of them were comfortable with that recollection as Kaveri, while ultimately consenting, had been understandably upset at being required to give that consent. Meridina, in turn, felt then and now that Kaveri's reluctance undermined the consent, and thus tainted Meridina's use of her telepathic gifts.

Kaveri spoke on a more immediate subject. "This space station, Deep Space Nine. I have heard things about it, but this is my first time here. What might I expect?"

"It is… interesting," Meridina managed.

"Ah." Kaveri smiled at that. "I suppose I shall have to see that for myself during these talks."




The Promenade was as active as ever in light of the coming negotiations. The myriad merchants and traders who usually passed through the station were joined by observers sent from other governments or news organizations, giving establishments like Quark's another set of potential customers.

An electronic trilling filled the air beside the bar proper as another dart hit home on the dartboard beside it. "Another twenty, Chief," said Doctor Julian Bashir, the station's physician. He was wearing the newly-issued Starfleet uniforms, the shoulders now gray with medical blue on the collar instead. "We've got this one."

Chief Miles O'Brien retrieved his darts from the board with a smile. He walked back and handed them over to Zack Carrey, who in turn gave them to Tom Barnes. "Good luck," O'Brien said amiably.

Zack gave him a bemused look. "Given you've got a genetically-augmented doctor on your side, luck isn't at play in this game."

"Ah, but your friend has a rather capable prosthetic right arm," Bashir noted. "It does even things out."

Tom stepped up and started tossing his darts. He made good on O'Brien's points and then some, chipping away the lead of the two DS9 staff. As he finished he asked, "So, how's that Battle of Britain program doing for you? We've been using another one lately."

"We haven't shot down any Jerries lately," Bashir answered. "Miles and I have been running a program trying to defend the Alamo."

"The Alamo?" Zack chuckled. "So which of you plays good ol' 'Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier?'" He said the name and title in a sing-song fashion, emulating the song he'd heard from his childhood.

"We both have, but only sometimes," Bashir said.

"So have you managed to hold the mission yet?"

"Not once," O'Brien sighed. "They always get through in the end."

Tom handed Zack the darts. "I brought us as close as I could," he said. "It's up to you." He stepped back and watched as Zack made an effort to hit the most high-value points.

In the end, he missed one slightly so that the point gap remained, if reduced. He let out a sigh. "Well, that's that I guess." He turned to the bar. "Drinks are on us, Tom."

Zack was surprised to see a holographic viewer, showing a baseball game somewhere in the Multiverse, built into the area above the bar. Another viewer was showing what was presumably a different channel, this one depicting a biotiball game from M4P2. Quark's voice turned Zack's attention to the bar. "I see you lost," he said. "Drinks are on you then?"

"Yeah. And what's this?" He gestured to the viewers.

"Just had them installed," said Quark. Even without asking he already knew what drinks Zack would be ordering and worked on preparing them.

"So you're adding 'Sports Bar' to the 'Casino' part?"

"Not really," Quark admitted. "You'd be surprised how many people watch these things to bet on the outcomes. It's a very lucrative market."

"I know it is," Zack said. He kept his voice from sounding too upset at it. Sports betting only destroyed my career and turned me and my Dad against each other… well, even moreso, there.

Even if he didn't know how he'd upset his customer, Quark swiftly recognized he had and adjusted. "Think of it as an investment. I'm investing in the Federation and your Alliance sticking around. It's not like the Cardassians or Jem'Hadar will be very interested in your sports." He finished pouring the last of the four drinks, specifically Zack's non-alcoholic mix. "I've got a good feeling about the talks too. As the 35th Rule of Acquisition says, 'Peace is good for business.'"

"I thought the rule before it said war was good for business?" asked Bashir.

"It does, but if you ask me, the 35th Rule supersedes the 34th," Quark said before departing.

Zack brought the drinks over to the table where the others were seated. Nearby a cry of "Dabo!" split the air. "So, here we are," he said, making sure to take the non-alcoholic drink offered. "It looks like Quark's optimistic about this summit."

"I'm not sure I can be," said O'Brien. "Between your enemies, our enemies, and the Dominion, it's not going to be easy."

"A lot of people would love to see us go to war with the Dominion, that's for sure, " Zack agreed. "Especially the SS exiles and the Cylons. Our fleet being more spread out means they can hit us easily again."

"Still, with Odo and your Commander Richmond on the job, the talks should be safe," Bashir said.

"I'll believe it when we get through them and actually have a peace," Tom muttered.




DS9's Habitat Ring was built to house thousands in apartments ranging from grand suites to something akin to an Earth motel room. Even with the summit, several sections remained barely inhabited, and their apartments open for rent.

In one such apartment, the renters waited in silence, clad in the dark suits they'd arrived in by various means and ships. They could almost be mistaken for statues with how motionless they were.

The door slid open abruptly and two more figures entered, a man and a woman, both baseline Human. They were wearing traveling jackets, non-descript ones, that they quickly shed. The man revealed his splendid golden uniform, drawing the attention and awe of the others, while the woman was in dark leathers. A prod-like device was attached to her hip. All of those present knew what it was, and all rightfully feared its use.

"All preparations are made?" asked the uniformed man.

One of the dark-suited people nodded. "Yes, Lord Fayd-Taras. Our equipment is prepared, and we have the final intelligence. Everything is in order." The man looked at his golden-suited superior and the woman with him. "Our orders are confirmed then? He has given his final word?"

"Yes," said Fayd-Taras "The decree is given. The Fates are with us."

"The Fates are with us!" the assembled chorused in acceptance.

At that moment, the woman glanced upward slightly, as if she'd heard something she didn't expect. But after several moments she returned her gaze firmly ahead, saying nothing to the others.

And yet, she had good reason.

Above their heads, in the quarters of the deck above, a man and a woman sat in quiet solitude and concentration. Each was clad in white robes and clothing, as if in contrast to those beneath their feet. In unison, their eyes opened and they shared an uneasy look.

"She feels us," said the woman.

"She does," agreed the man. "But we must not let that sway us from our duty. They must be stopped."


Undiscovered Frontier
"The Fury"



Zack took the lead when the turbolift deposited Kaveri and Meridina with him in Station Operations on DS9. The circular chamber, the nerve center for the station, was being manned by various personnel from Starfleet and the Bajoran militia. In charge at the moment was Major Kira Nerys of Bajor. The red-headed Bajoran woman, wearing a red uniform, indicated the office for them. "Captain Sisko is ready to see you," she assured them.

They stepped through to see Sisko reading a PADD held in one hand while the other gripped his beloved baseball. He looked up and gave them a warm, welcoming expression as he stood. "Commander Meridina, Commander Carrey, welcome back." Sisko's baritone voice was controlled as always. He focused on Kaveri. "And welcome to Deep Space Nine, Captain Varma. I'm informed it is your first time visiting the station."

"It is," she said amiably. "Although the circumstances are not as pleasant as they might have been."

"Agreed. To business then." Sisko returned to his seat and prompted them to take chairs as well. "This summit may be our last chance to stop the Dominion build-up in Cardassia and the outbreak of war. The security of the summit is my main concern. I don't want any repeat of what happened last time."

"We will provide you with all assistance required," Kaveri said, understanding what he meant. Meridina and Jarod had already informed her of the sabotage, and the Asari serial killer Morinth, that had disrupted the last diplomatic summit the Aurora crew attended on Sisko's station. "These supply convoys the Dominion is sending, do you have a plan to interdict them?"

"We're working on a solution," said Sisko. "And there's already a convoy preparing to come through the wormhole, although the Dominion is holding it back until the negotiations are over. A slight concession on their part."

"Indeed." Kaveri nodded.

Zack remained quiet while the two discussed the security arrangements further. Commander Phryne Richmond, the Aurora's Chief of Security, would work with Constable Odo and his station security forces. Robert and his Paladin Operations Team - Lucy Lucero, Talara, and Gina Inviere - would be involved as well.

Once they finished the arrangements they moved to leave. "Commander, a moment?" Sisko asked. Kaveri looked to Zack and nodded before departing with Meridina, leaving Zack with the DS9 commander.

Sisko's expression was somber. "I've heard about what happened on New Caprica," he said. "You have my deepest condolences."

Zack nodded quietly and drew in a deep breath before saying, "Thank you, Captain."

"I've been there myself," Sisko continued. "And it left me ready to walk away from everything. I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't have Jake."

"Yeah, that sounds familiar," Zack sighed. He gave Sisko an appreciative look. "It was kind of you to bring it up. Because I know it still hurts."

"It does," admitted Sisko. He picked up the baseball from his desk and rotated it in his hand a few times. "How is Captain Andreys doing?"

"Recovering," Zack replied. "They have her on mandatory medical leave right now."

"I would expect that."

"I expect she'd be going up a wall over it," Zack added, nearly snorting with amusement. "But she found another way to be her usual mother hen self."




The training room in the Fire Nation Palace was silent. No words were shared between the two occupants as one followed the movements of the other. Only the slightest sound of quiet, careful breath could even possibly be heard.

Julia led Miko through a final set of movements. Miko seemed to vibrate with energy, indicative of her nature as a martial artist, indeed as an individual. The careful forms of t'ai chi were not in keeping with Miko's preference. But she diligently stuck to them through the last form. When it was done she pressed her fist to her palm and bowed in respect to the older woman.

Julia answered the bow with one of her own, repeating the gesture. "You're making some progress, Miko," she assured her student.

"Thank you, Sifu Julia," Miko answered. "You are everything I hoped for in a teacher." An excited look came to Miko's face. "And I'm looking forward to our trip."

Julia nodded. They would be departing for New Liberty in a few days. Julia wanted to give help to the colony she'd helped to found as it recovered from the terrible attack of the SS exiles the prior month, the same attack in which she'd been taken prisoner.

For all she'd endured as a captive, there was a silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud. Specifically, without that and the resulting ordeal, Julia would have never met Miko.

"This New Liberty Colony sounds like such a fascinating place," Miko continued. "Like Republic City in its early history, with all of the cultures… I can't wait to see it."

"It can be a sight," Julia agreed. "And they're still rebuilding. I'm wondering what they've changed…"

The door to the room slid open. Seven individuals stepped in, five men and two women in elaborate robes and headdresses of red and gold. They were mostly older, even the youngest being at the cusp of middle age, and the central figure was a man of advanced age with age-whitened hair and beard and a few obvious liver spots. "Avatar Miko," he said, his voice full of reproach. "You were supposed to see us this morning."

Julia glanced to Miko, unaware of said commitment. Miko responded to with a frown. "I received your message, yes, but I thought my silence made perfectly clear that I had no intention of being lectured by the Fire Sages for an hour. I had training to get to."

"It is the matter of that training that we feel we must discuss," the Sage said. "Your training as the Avatar is too important a task."

Julia nodded respectfully. "Is there an issue here, sir?"

The Sage turned his head to face her. "We mean no disrespect to you, Julia Andreys, but…"

"...but they want me to find another teacher," Miko finished for the elder, her voice hot with anger.

"You need a Waterbender to teach you Waterbending," another of the Sages said. "Captain Andreys may understand the style of Waterbending, but she does not have the ability. She cannot train you."

"Funny, because she's a better teacher for me than that miserable old man you sent me to before," Miko retorted. Her fists clenched. "I've made my decision, and I'm not changing it!"

"Be reasonable, Miko. You place an unfair burden on Captain Andreys by making her responsible for teaching a talent she does not possess."

It was a good point. Not that Julia had a chance to bring it up, as Miko immediately countered with, "Bending is not just about moving elements. She may not be able to Waterbend, but she moves, she fights, like a Waterbender. She's helping me to understand that without judging me like everyone else has." Miko's voice lost none of its fire, even as the volume went down. "It's a struggle for me, and she makes me feel like I can work through it."

"That is not our only concern," the lead Sage said. "We have heard you plan to leave for another universe soon. We can hardly accept such a decision, especially given what happened the last time you left…"

"I'm going to a world that's ready to fight off an attack this time."

The youngest Sage spoke up with real heat in his voice. "A world in another universe. What if something were to happen to you?! The Avatar spirit could be lost to us!"

"It wouldn't be. It would be able to come back," insisted Miko. "And I don't want to hear another word of this! I've made my decision!"

"We will speak to the Fire Lord on this matter," the young Sage said, his voice making clear it was a threat as much as a promise.

"Go ahead," Miko answered. "Do what you want, just leave me alone."

With a deep sigh the lead Sage led his people out of the room. Julia set a hand on her shoulder. "They're just worried about you."

"They're worried more about their authority," Miko said sullenly. She drew in a sigh. "I'd like some lunch. Would you mind joining me?"

"Not at all," Julia said.




The activity in Quark's wasn't letting up, giving Tra'dur quite a sight as Cat brought her up to the Dabo table. "It's a bit like roulette," she said. "You place bets on a specific slot, and when the wheels stop spinning, you check to see if the symbols for your slot have matching colors, shapes, or number of shapes. Depending on how many matches you have, you win something back."

Tra'dur examined the shapes. Squares, triangles, and circular shapes were present, in three colors and in counts of one through three for those colors, although the innermost wheel had only non-colored symbols. There were other shapes that she assumed played into the game. She quickly crunched the probabilities in her mind and asked, "And if you manage to get overlapping matches? Say, three triangles from each wheel and the two outer wheels are both red…?"

"The girl at the wheel shouts 'Dabo!' and you win the entire bet." Cat looked to the wheel and noticed that the Dabo girl this time was a new one, an Asari. A brief, instinctive shudder went through her, given what happened the last time she was on DS9.

Tra'dur noticed it. "Cat'Delgado? What is wrong?"

"Uh… nothing," Cat said, not very convincingly.

Recognizing Cat's discomfort, Tra'dur decided to change the subject back to the game. "And the girl is there to look pretty and distract players?"

"Well, yeah," Cat said. "Pretty much." She blushed a little. "And Quark hires some really pretty girls too."

"I would imagine he does. So you wish to play…?"

"Oh, we can go a few rounds. I've had some good luck playing this game. Not that I'm going to get rich off of it or anything." Cat's blush deepened. "To be honest, back when I was burying myself beneath the closet floorboard, I played because I enjoyed getting to be close to pretty girls without feeling self-conscious about how I was attracted to them. I mean, I still felt self-conscious about how puny and thin I was compared to them, but that's easier to deal with."

"And now?"

"Still a little self-conscious," Cat admitted. "But I've been learning to accept I'm just not the curvy type. Vee helped me with that. So…" She gestured to the table. "Want to play?"

"I suppose a few rounds would not greatly hurt my bank account," Tra'dur conceded.

Cat giggled at that and brought Tra'dur over to begin placing a bet on the next spin. The two watched the machine as its spinning approached a peak of activity.




The DS9 security office hadn't changed any since Robert last saw it. He and Phryne Richmond sat side by side and faced Constable Odo at his desk. The station's security chief seemed a little different now, carrying himself more like a normal biped and not as the shape-shifting, naturally-liquid state being he actually was. His face still had its unique shape, the result of Odo's final attempts to emulate a humanoid face based on his Bajoran guardian Doctor Mora. "We have significantly improved our computer systems since the last time," Odo assured them.

"I've read the report," said Richmond. Her voice was a refined one, her accent upper class Australian. In appearance she had skin as close to porcelain in tone as a Human could get, with intelligent green eyes and short-cut dark hair. "Given the consequences of that security breach, it is comforting to hear. And it would appear we are ready for any such disruptions this time."

Robert thought darkly on that. They still had no idea what happened to Senator Kiang, if she'd been murdered or smuggled into Dominion space after her replacement by a Dominion Founder. It was small recompense that the same infiltrator ended up the key to developing the new technology to detect and disrupt Changelings in disguise.

The unease Robert felt inside of himself intensified, and he immediately knew it wasn't from thinking about all of that. Something felt off, wrong.

Odo noticed the slight change in Robert's expression. "Captain?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

"I'm not sure. A… feeling I'm having, that something is wrong here," he said. "I can't describe it beyond that. Just a feeling of darkness and danger on the station."

"I see. I am aware of your metaphysical talents, but you understand I can't do anything to secure against nebulous feelings?"

"I know," Robert said. "If I can I'll tell you more, maybe we…"

A tone filled the air. The voice of Commander Worf followed. "Ops to Constable Odo."

Odo tapped the Bajoran commbadge he was wearing. "Odo here, Commander."

"A Dominion squadron has dropped from warp transmitting diplomatic codes. Their negotiating team has arrived."

"I'll be in place with my security teams immediately, Commander. Thank you for the information. Odo out."

Richmond and Robert stood as quickly as Odo did. Each had tasks to see to to secure the negotiation teams, and now it was time to implement them.




The Cardassian vessel Trager, a Galor-class warship, was the vessel chosen to dock with DS9 and carry over the negotiation team. Sisko, Kira, and Kaveri joined the Alliance and Federation negotiators in coming to meet them, with Odo, Robert, and Lucy among the security personnel present. The long-time Councillor T'Latrek of Vulcan was present for the Federation, as severe and controlled as Robert remembered her being. General Martok - the real Martok this time - was attending with a member of the Klingon High Council, Councillor Porag. For the Alliance Senator Tranu Talam, of the Alakin Union, was leading, joined by other Council members and professional diplomats that included Senator Pensley of the pacifist Tetzelian Republic. He showed no love for Robert at their exchange of glances.

The great red wheel that acted as the inner airlock for the dock wheeled open, permitting several figures to exit. After a pair of Jem'Hadar and a pair of Cardassians stepped out, Robert and the others recognized Gul Dukat as the first official to emerge. Following him as a Vorta, one he sensed Sisko think of as "Weyoun", and after Weyoun a reserved figure in a light pink all-body suit. Given the facial structure Robert was certain it was a Founder.

Whatever his feelings, Sisko was quick to speak. "Gul, Welcome back to Deep Space Nine."

"Ah, Captain Sisko." Dukat's voice had a certain warmth to it, but Robert found it forced. "I am pleased you're keeping Terok Nor in such good shape."

"We have a meeting room already prepared," Sisko said, ignoring Dukat's use of the station's Cardassian name. "If you'll follow me."

The tension in the air remained high even as Tranu and T'Latrek bowed their heads respectfully, getting a return gesture.

The group moved on, led by Sisko, with station security and Aurora Marines clearing the way ahead. Toward the rear, Robert and Lucy suddenly started glancing around their environs, as if they'd heard a noise. Odo noticed this, and the tension in their body language. "What is it?" he asked.

"I'm, we're, not sure," Robert said.

"I feel something. Dark, but there's no threat," Lucy said. "I can't tell where it's coming from."

The look on Odo's face complemented the irritation both sensed in the Changeling, at the apparent uselessness of their abilities in this situation. Neither could much fault him for it, as they felt irritated and uncertain as well. They followed him without another word.

A distance away, a figure clad in dark robes and suit looked at them with bemusement. Her ashen gray skin marked her a non-Human, but other than that she was very humanoid in appearance and general shape. After a moment's consideration she continued in another direction, preparing herself for what was to come.
"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 »

The conference room on the station was set up with two tables facing each other across the middle of the room. The Federation, Klingon, and Alliance delegations sat together with the Dominion and Cardassians at the other table. Jem'Hadar and armed Cardassian guards stood behind the one table while Bajoran and Starfleet personnel stood around the other. Robert stood to the side with Richmond and Odo as part of the security contingent, although the Aurora security and Marine personnel were mostly outside of the room.

Whatever optimism Robert had about the talks quickly started to bleed away as the opening statements made clear the chilliness in the relations of the two sides. Weyoun took the main speaking role for the other delegation and quickly went into the continuing issue of the convoys. "The Dominion is well within its rights to maintain its current convoys into Cardassian space," he said. "Your own agreements with the Cardassian government, and others in this quadrant, have established the principle of innocent passage. Our convoys do not in any way violate this principle."

"A principle the Dominion has not extended to our governments," T'Latrek pointed out. "You cannot claim the protection of a principle you do not hold yourself."

"That was before the Cardassian Union elected to join the Dominion, and be our local representative to the people of the Alpha Quadrant," Weyoun answered. "We are prepared to assume full responsibility for the treaties signed by Cardassia. But we insist on the convoys being permitted through. You may, of course, scan the vessels to your leisure, to affirm their cargos…"

"There are ways to fool such scans," Senator Talam said. "That is why my government insists on direct inspection."

"Under the innocent passage agreements signed regarding access to the wormhole, you have no such right," Weyoun said. "And the Dominion will resist any attempt to compel direct inspection."

"Then we are at an impasse," T'Latrek said. "We have information that your convoys are bearing war materials that are turning Cardassia into a massive armed depot, one capable of sustaining a Dominion war effort against this quadrant."

"Any information you have received is clearly in error, Madame Councilwoman," Dukat said, speaking up. "The Dominion is primarily providing civilian goods and supplies to restore the Cardassian economy. The only military goods sent so far have been to rebuild our defensive perimeter after our war with your own allies, the Klingons." He gave a pointed look to General Martok and Councillor Porag.

"A war your own new allies helped to provoke when they replaced me," Martok retorted.

"From what I am aware, it took very little effort on their part to prompt it," Dukat said coldly. "And if you think we will let the Klingons or any other power steal our rightful territory again…"

"We did not come to exchange threats of war," Pensley began. "We are here to figure out an amicable…"

As Pensley spoke, naturally playing himself up as the peace-loving mediator, Robert considered his feeling that there was something else the Dominion was interested in. The convoys were not the central core of their concerns, as much as they swore otherwise. But as he listened, he could find no indication of what it was.

Pensley's attempt to restore calm to the conference worked, mostly, with Weyoun thanking him and stating the Dominion's commitment to a peaceful resolution. A few more points of contention were raised, the border skirmishes being done so delicately, until the decision was made to end the session so both sides could consider one another's positions. The conference would resume in three hours' time.

As everyone filed out, Sisko and Martok approached Robert and Odo. "You seem distracted," Sisko said to Robert. "What did you make of them?"

"There's something else on their minds," Robert said. "Something they're more concerned about than the convoys or the borders. But they're not ready to bring it up."

"What else is there to consider?" Martok asked, frustration in his voice. It was eerie that he sounded exactly like the imposter Martok Robert met on the last mission to DS9, although this Martok was missing an eye.

"Whatever it is, the sense I got was it was something that they're almost afraid of," Robert said. "Maybe I'll get a better feel for it at the next meeting."

"In the meantime, we should join the others," said Sisko. "We have a lot to discuss."




With Kaveri and Meridina off for the talks on DS9, Jarod was left as the senior officer aboard. It was a familiar responsibility, if still not entirely welcome, and it necessitated that even his off-watch lunch be a working lunch so he could survey the status reports. Master Chief Rohm already had a ship-wide drill scheduled with Kaveri's signature, requiring Jarod to set up the details.

So far his worries about how Kaveri would command the ship had not materialized. She was very much acting the caretaker for Julia, letting Meridina and Jarod maintain the command regimen Julia had established with little variation, save more consultations with Master Chief Rohm and his subordinates. A bemused thought came to mind. Maybe this time we'll actually keep a Master Chief longer than six months, as he thought about the rotating position before. Stasia would probably have preferred things this way. I wonder how she's doing on the Huáscar, wherever they've gone off to…

He noted the shadow on the table and looked up in time to see Gina come to a stop at the other side of the table. Gina was wearing an assemblage of Gersallian clothing, suitable given she was a civilian (albeit a civilian member of Robert's Operations Team, so she was permitted to be armed, as evidenced by the lightsaber on her belt). "Commander Jarod, I didn't want to disturb you, but I could use some help." She held up a digital reader and some scraps of handwritten paper that, previously, she had been holding close to her chest.

Jarod took the offerings while she spoke further. "The translations don't seem to make sense," she said. "I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong."

"The syntax of the old High Gersallian can be tricky," Jarod said. "They hadn't yet absorbed influences from the regional languages." He glanced over the work. As he looked it over he found himself puzzled as well. The results seemed accurate, but they didn't mean anything. He handed it back to her. "I'm going to be busy until 1900 hours, but afterward I can come by and check some of your work. Will that be fine?"

Gina nodded. "It will." She sat down and sighed. "I've learned a lot about Gersallian over the past few years, but it's hard doing this without the others. And they're busy on the station with these talks, so I'm alone on this."

"I understand, I do," Jarod said. "And I know how important this is, so I'll be there when I can. In the meantime, you look like you could use a good lunch." He gestured toward Albert. "So let me get you one."




In the ready office beside the bridge, Kaveri finished listening to Robert's report on the summit. Technically speaking she wasn't involved, as Tranu Talam was keeping the Alliance delegation as strictly civilian outside of the protective detail (likely as a sop to Pensley, who as always was suspicious of the Alliance military). But Robert was keeping her appraised anyway as a precautionary measure given the Dominion's history of deceptive behavior.

If anything it was clear the Dominion couldn't be underestimated. Their arguments were, if self-serving, still accurate as to treaty rights. Kaveri wondered what they hoped to gain by offering to cease their own attacks on Alpha Quadrant ships that entered the Gamma Quadrant. Opening the way to unfettered reinforcements to Cardassia couldn't be the only thing they were after.

The door chime sounded. Kaveri looked up, already certain of the new arrival. "Come in, Commander," she called out.

The door slid open and Caterina entered. She was in her uniform, wearing the knee-length uniform skirt with the jacket and boots. She stood at attention. Kaveri was now used to the lack of a salute, even if it still grated instinctively given her long Earthforce service. "Captain, you wanted to see me, sir?" Cat inquired. Kaveri guessed she was not long returned from her shore liberty on the station.

"Yes." Kaveri gestured to the chair in front of her. "At ease, and please, sit down, Commander."

Cat did so quietly. She gave Kaveri a patient look once she was settled into the chair.

Kaveri brought up the performance evaluations she'd reviewed with Chief Rohm and Commander Meridina. "Commander, I would like to discuss how things are going in the ship's Science Department."

Caterina nodded. "Okay. Are there any projects you're wondering about?"

"I see something here about Lab 3 taking up a greater allotment of computer processing time than they're usually permitted?"

Cat nodded. "Doctor Ke'mani'pala and Lieutenant Patani are running simulations for the Layom Station Multispecies Disease Prevention Office."

"What kind of simulation?"

"It's a virus reported from the S2C3 universe. A government there…" Cat was clearly checking her memories before speaking again. "...the Umojans, they forwarded some samples of a highly dangerous biological agent connected to some species in their sector. 'Zarg' or something."

"Presumably not the same zargs from my home universe?"

"Actually, no, I think it's 'zerg'," Caterina corrected herself. She immediately added, "We don't have any samples aboard, of course. We're only running simulations based on the data they've provided us. I can get the reports if you want to know more."

"That will be fine." Kaveri settled her hands on the desk. "Commander, how are the other projects in your department going?"

"Well, fine, I guess." The young science officer seemed a little confused. "Nothing really of concern, Captain? We're still doing our share of analysis of that Ancient city-ship in N1C4, and the Darglan data found there. Lab 3 wants to see if that 'kohltou' stuff can be replicated, it outperforms medigel in terms of treating critical injuries. Lab 2 is examining reports we have on the shielding technology in A5R0 being based on quantum stasis principles. Tra'dur's astronomical research on pulsars is coming along, if you're worried about her work." Cat frowned. "But it can't be that, is it? I mean, I know she's Operations, but she's a scientist at heart and she's only using Lab resources on her off-time and I've signed off on it all…"

Kaveri shook her head, smiling softly. "No, I am not worried about Lieutenant Tra'dur. It is you I am worried about, Commander."

"Huh?" Cat's expression betrayed her confusion. "Why? What's wrong? Everything's going well…"

"No, it is not." Kaveri shook her head. "Oh, your department is meeting its standards. On any other ship, under any other Chief Science Officer, I would have nothing to concern myself with. But you are not any other Chief Science Officer, Commander Delgado. You are the one who typically leads the fleet in project productivity and scientific papers produced."

Cat lowered her eyes.

Kaveri saw the discomfort on her face and continued. "Tra'dur would write home to her mother about you, how much she admired your devotion to scientific study and endeavor," Kaveri continued. "And your record bears that out. Last year you were even invited to attend a symposium at the Vulcan Science Academy as a guest speaker. From what I have read, you were the only speaker there who did not have a doctorate or more."

"I… it was a subspace subject, one I've got a lot of practical experience and experimentation with," Cat answered.

"But now I hear you are going to turn down the invitation for their next meeting," Kaveri said. "You were supposed to speak on these 'T'Vral Distortions' you found in the Fracture of S0T5. The invitation is clear that they want to hear from you."

"Yeah. It's just… I'm not sure I have the time now, I'd have to take a leave from the ship and with everything going on…" Cat let her wording trail off. "I mean, what if there's another SS attack?"

Kaveri pursed her lips. "Commander, while I applaud your concern for such an event, I am not going to let you deflect the matter. For the last three months your performance has declined. You used to be at the top of the fleet, now you are just meeting the fleet baseline. The entire Science Department on this ship is no longer meeting its old standard. And I want to know why."

Cat swallowed. "It's just… I've had to make some adjustments lately. Personal adjustments."

"Your girlfriend is on the Huáscar now. I know." Kaveri shook her head. "And that is all? She is not around anymore so you are… what, giving up on things? Going through the motions?" Her tone was hard but not harsh as she spoke those words.

"I…" Cat stopped before staying more, as if her words were caught in her throat. "It's a l-lot of th-things, Captain. I'l t-try to im-improve…"

Even as Cat stammered through the sentence, Kaveri looked at the pain in the young woman's hazel eyes. She was haunted by something, something that was weighing on her, and Kaveri was bringing it out. She interlaced her fingers together on the desk and leaned toward Cat. "Commander Delgado…" Kaveri reconsidered that and went for another direction, as her tone notably softened. “I am not trying to find fault with you. When I say I am worried, it is not about your performance review or the ship's productivity rates. It is because I see a brilliant young woman who is a star in her field suddenly losing her light. I want to help you through this, whatever it is. I want you to be as brilliant as I know you can be."

Caterina closed her eyes and nodded. "I'm… I'm working through something," she admitted. "Something I saw. Something I've had to live with recently."

Kaveri's voice was softer, although not soft, when she asked, "Would you like to talk about it?"

Immediately she could see Cat was interested in that. Cat bit into her lip for a moment before she asked, "Can you let me think about it?"

"I can. Just do not keep me waiting too long, please," Kaveri asked kindly.

"I won't," Cat promised. "Permission to be dismissed?"

"Granted." Kaveri kept her pose as Cat stood, nodded in respect, and departed the office. Tra'dur said she once put herself in front of a charging, blood-raged Krogan. What could have given her such fear?




With another practice session ended, Julia was on her way back to her room in one of the palace's many guest suites. She took that time to examine, and admire, the various works of art displayed on the walls of each hall. Portraits and tapestries going back centuries depicted the events of the Fire Nation's history.

Outside of her room Julia stopped to give a closer look to one of the tapestries. It reminded her of textbook pictures of pre-industrial Japanese art, in this case depicting two dragons blowing multi-colored flames into a swirling vortex alive with colors.

"You have an appreciation of our art?"

Julia turned her head. Near her door, the aged leader of the Fire Sages was waiting, hunched over slightly but otherwise looking fine. "I'm not really an art critic," Julia said. "But this does look lovely. Does this species actually exist on your world?"

"Yes. The dragons taught our ancestors how to wield fire, and the most worthy Firebenders go on pilgrimages to see them."

"Including Avatars?"

"Eventually."

Julia noted the look on his face. "You're here to talk me into quitting, aren't you?"

The old man nodded. "I do not doubt your sincerity, Captain Andreys. Perhaps if you were born on our world, you might have been a bender yourself, and I would have no objection. But it seems these arts are unique to this world's people." The Sage bowed his head. "The Avatar must master all four elements to be in balance within. You can teach your style to Miko, yes, but without having Waterbending of your own, I fear you lack the understanding to teach her properly."

Julia didn't argue that point. It was her own concern after all. "You're right that I can't teach the metaphysical side of whatever this is, only the style as I know it. And I talked to Miko about it. But she made her choice anyway, and I owe her the opportunity." Julia shook her head. "If Miko changes her mind, that's fine, I'll quit. I won't wish her any ill will. But that's in her hands, not mine."

The elderly man sighed and nodded. "I had hoped you might quit on your own."

"Miko deserves more from me than that," replied Julia.

"I see. I cannot fault you for your loyalty, at least. Be at peace with the spirits, Captain. Good day." The old man walked away.




In their quarters on the station, the white-robed figures sat quietly. Their minds remain linked, as always, allowing them to sense for danger and have a quiet discussion.

We must act, soon. Before the Adversary's minions make their move.

The woman responded with a shake of the head. I do not disagree, but we must be careful in how we approach them. They may not trust us. They know so little about who we are.

Frustration was the reaction. Because we do not come to them, do not explain who we are. If they knew…

Some of them do not trust psions. And they may see us as just another faction of the Fracture.
The woman's thoughts, considerations, filled his mind. If we go to one of the Forcefuls, perhaps. They will understand us. But they are all so busy with the summit I fear we would be prevented from meeting them.

We should just present ourselves to them now!
He shook his head again. We are too used to the needs of secrecy, if you ask me. We worry too much about the need to hide from the Ministry that we let it influence our decisions.

It is how we have survived for millennia
, the woman cast back. She stood. Either way, we should go to the station's commercial area. We may find an opening there.

There was agreement from the man, who stood with her. They stepped to the door. Just as he hit the button to open it, the woman called out No! mentally.

She was a moment too late.

The door slid open, and a woman in dark leather was waiting. Her arm shot forward and pressed a prod against the man's midsection. His clothing was no protection from the device, which caused him such pain that he screamed and doubled over. His compatriot took a step back and reached out with her mind, seeking to grapple the attacker. But her foe's mental defenses were ready. Her attack probes failed before those defenses. Before the absolute certainty within them, the certainty of superiority, of purpose, so like her own.

"Nice try, Magi," the leather-clad woman said simply before lunging forward. She moved with great speed and the white-robed woman barely evaded the strike. Unfortunately, the evasion carried her further into her room, and away from her only escape. She didn't have long; her foe would have backup coming, that she was certain of.

"Go!" screamed her compatriot. Despite the debilitating agony he forced himself up enough to tackle their foe. "Go now!"

There was a moment when she nearly didn't. When she decided to stay, to not abandon her compatriot. But the need of the situation overrode that. If both were captured, their mission would come to naught, and the Adversary would prevail. She rushed for the open door and turned down the hall. When an armed man stepped into her path her mind lashed out, broke through his mental defenses, and seized his motor controls, forcing his legs to give out from under him before he could attack.

Behind her, she heard her comrade scream in agony. He was at their foe's non-existent mercy. And now, she was his only hope.

She had to get help. It was the only way.




Outside of the conference room and its returning delegates, Robert, Lucy, and Talara felt the distant shadow of intense pain. They looked to each other in concern. Each now knew the other sensed it as well. Something terrible was happening.

"The next session is about to begin," Lucy said. "What do you want us to do?"

Given the nebulous feelings he'd been feeling since coming to DS9, Robert quickly made his choice. "Investigate it, both of you," he said. "I'll continue on watch here.

His compatriots nodded and departed.




The Replimat was not a restaurant so much as an open, replicator-served cafe. It was the closest thing the station had to the kind of cozy, romantic cafe one might ordinarily bring a lover to. This is why Angel picked it for the meal she and her lover Tony Zah were having while on liberty. Both were in standard uniforms, much to their regret, as they rather enjoyed showing off the fruits of their physical training regimens (particularly to one another). Before them were replicated meals, tamales and enchiladas respectively. Underneath the table Angel's foot playfully slid around Tony's, and he grinned at her. "You look like you're already looking forward to getting back to your quarters when we beam back," he said.

"Oh, I am, but I like to build anticipation."

"Well, I'm just glad I'm not on the station rotation for this evening. I'm not so lucky tomorrow."

"They'll have you standing watch with the summit?"

"Yeah."

"Well, at least the other dignitaries are staying on their ships," Angel said. 'Given what happened the last time…"

Motion nearby drew their attention to new arrivals. Angel recognized Worf and the Trill science officer of the station, standing together and looking for an open table. "Hey, Worf, you can join us if you want," she called out.

The big Klingon turned to them, as did the Trill lady. Angel recalled that her name was Dax at that point. "Ah. You have my thanks," he said.

"Mine too," added Dax. Each had a plate of Human-style food. "I'm surprised to see it so busy."

"Well, a lot of our crew are taking brief liberty periods to visit DS9," Angel said. "So everyone's somewhere."

"It's nice to see the station so busy these days, ever since the Dominion took over in Cardassia the station's been quieter than usual."

"I consider that a good thing," Worf said aloud. He looked to Tony. "Lieutenant."

"Lieutenant Tony Zah, Commander," he answered. "An honor to meet you. Angel showed me that calisthenics program you left her."

Worf glanced to Angel, as did Dax. Angel grinned slightly. "Tony's a good fighter and I wanted extra practice," she answered.

"So you two…"

"...are together? Yeah," she finished for Dax.

"I see." Worf looked back to Tony. "I do not recall you from my time on the Aurora."

"I wasn't assigned until a few months ago," Tony replied. "But I'm aware of what you did for them. A lot of people in the crew remember Gamma Piratus. Those left from then, anyway."

"So, I'm getting a vibe from you two," Angel said, looking from Worf to Dax. "Are you…"

"We are," Worf said simply.

"Oh, nice," Tony said. "So this is becoming a double date."

Worf's reply was immediate. "No, it is not."

Dax chuckled. "Worf's not the type."

Angel's grin was a wry one. "Tell me about it."

Worf ignored that part of the conversation while taking a bite of food. When he was finished he said, "I heard about the attack on the colony you founded. I am pleased to know that you fought the enemy off."

"At cost," Angel said. "But yeah."

"It seems everyone's reeling from what happened," said Dax. "Starfleet's put all of our defensive installations on high alert ever since confirmation of the attacks."

"It's been done across the Multiverse," Angel notes. "I think even people who stayed out of the war are worried the SS will target them too. I guess this is the dark side of our technology. The idea that someone can just pop in out of nowhere and blow you to kingdom come."

"We'll get them in the end," Tony said. "Over something like this, against enemies like that, you don't stop until the job's done."

"Agreed," said Worf.

Everyone turned their attention back to their food, but their enjoyment of their meal barely lasted five seconds. "Pardon me," a female voice said, her English accented finely.

They turned their attention to the source, a red-haired woman wearing a white robe. "Uh, yeah?" Angel asked pointedly.

"I'm sorry for interrupting your meal, but my need is urgent," she said. "My name is Pallina Tormayama. I am a Magi of the Sophia, and your comrades at the summit are in terrible danger."




The next summit session began as the last one ended, with the discussion on the Dominion convoys stuck firmly in the mud. Neither side would give, could give really, and it made Robert's heart ache. We've only had a few months of peace. Now it looks like war's going to break out again.

Pensley was trying again to persuade the Dominion to yield a little, promising extensive aid to Cardassia and the prospect of bilateral arms reductions that made everyone else on his side of the table scowl. "There is no point in conflict between our peoples," he said, looking directly at the Founder. "A peaceful galaxy is an orderly one."

"We see no point in conflict as well, but we have obligations," Weyoun said in reply. As if none of them were worthy of being addressed by the Founder. "Surely your Alliance understands such obligations. You've taken on many worlds to protect in the other universes, you wouldn't allow people to dictate how you protected them, would you?"

Through it all Robert continued to sense an element of deception, from Weyoun and the Founder at least. This was not what they were actually concerned with.

This is going to continue to go nowhere until we get to what they really want, Robert thought. He waited until Weyoun ceased speaking again before looking directly at the Founder and asking, "Founder, I can tell you have something else you're concerned with, not these convoy matters, and you're really worried about it."

"You're out of line, Captain!" Pensley shouted. The anger in his eyes belied the pacific mood he'd shown so far. "You have no place to speak here and I won't have you derailing these negotiations for your own purposes!"

Senator Talam gave Pensley an unkind look, but it was T'Latrek who spoke up. "While Captain Dale's status to speak is questionable, his question is pertinent, and I extend it myself. The principles on which the Dominion is currently standing are not consistent with its previous behavior. That implies a motivation they have as yet refused to divulge."

Robert said nothing, recognizing T'Latrek's point about his not being a recognized delegate, but grateful that she'd still defended what he said. He hoped the Dominion would respond.

The initial response he got was a dark look from the Founder. Then, without a word from Weyoun, the being spoke. "Very well then. The Founders are always skeptical of solids speaking peace, so we were testing your flexibility before getting to the real matter. We have only one term that must be settled to our satisfaction to guarantee peace."

"We are ready to hear you," said Senator Talam.

"The Dominion is aware of your devices meant to detect us and destabilize our forms," the Founder said. "If you want permanent peace, you must eliminate these devices, immediately, and pledge to never build them again."
"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)

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The Founder's demand hung in the air. For a moment nothing was said. Robert shared glances with some of the others, including Sisko. Sisko in particular wasn't surprised, but he was clearly not happy over it.

The Dominion posed a threat in a number of ways. It had advanced, capable technology, with its polaron weapons capable of bypassing most standard deflector shield systems. The Jem'Hadar were a ruthless slave race bred only for combat, making them dangerous foes. The Vorta knew well how to manipulate diplomatic and economic situations to the Dominion's advantage. But the greatest threat of them all were the Founders themselves. Not only could they shapeshift, but most scanning methods couldn't discern a real object from a Changeling masquerading as one. With their shapeshifting abilities they were the ultimate infiltrators.

Every power at the table learned that the hard way, too. The Founder infiltrators stirred latent Federation-Klingon differences into conflict and all-out war. They bombed a diplomatic summit on Earth and, just by their presence, nearly provoked a militarist takeover of Starfleet and the Federation. They'd nearly provoked a war between the Federation and the Tsen'kethi beforehand, and even earlier, they'd sabotaged one of Robert's most crucial missions, the investigation into a Darglan base in the S4W8 system of 33LA. The result had certainly accelerated the Alliance's descent into war with the Greater German Reich of that universe, a war that cost millions of Alliance dead, thousands of starships from the Alliance fleets and those of its allies, and lingered on in the SS Exiles' use of interuniversal technology to continue to operate across the Multiverse.

They'd caused some of that damage too, replacing Alliance Senator Kiang and using her position to send sensitive data to the Reich, leading to a disastrous ambush that nearly cost Robert and his friends their lives. Then the imposter Kiang nearly ripped the Alliance apart in civil war by supporting Gersallian Dissenter militants in an attack on the Alliance Senate.

And now the Dominion wanted them to get rid of the only defense they had against those infiltrators.

"You are undoubtedly aware of the damages your fellow Founders have caused to the three governments we represent," T'Latrek said, her Vulcan calm edged with what Robert thought was a measure of disgust. "You are now insisting we open ourselves to further such attacks."

"These devices do more than detect us," the Founder replied. "They distort our cells and inflict terrible pain. You say you use them for defense, but you could also use them to torture us. To kill us, even, with prolonged exposure."

"We would not use them in this fashion," Talam said. "It would violate all manners of laws."

"It is our experience that solids care little for any law if it gets in the way of what they want," retorted the Founder. "We will not tolerate their existence, much less their use. Not only could you use them against us yourselves, you might spread them to other species and cultures." The Founder's voice softened. "We are not unreasonable. Given the importance of this matter to us, we are prepared to make many concessions to the powers of the Alpha Quadrant."

Naturally it was Pensley who seized the offered lifeline. "Such as?"

Without a trace of reservation, the Founder answered, "We would be willing to withdraw from Cardassia and limit ourselves to the Gamma Quadrant."

That brought a number of stunned faces and, Robert noted, a very horrified expression from Gul Dukat.




With all of the speed they could muster Lucy and Talara raced through the dark corridors of the Habitat Ring. Both felt distant sensations of intense pain, the type that only came from deliberate torture. But it was vague and they couldn't sense the central location, only the sense that it wasn't where they were heading.

They felt a pull toward one set of quarters. The door was unlocked. Inside they found that the quarters in question were empty of all but furnishings, some of which were out of place. A chair and a table were knocked over.

"Someone was taken from here. In pain," Talara said. Her sensitivity ran toward feeling such echoes.

"We'd better alert Constable Odo. Whether or not this has anything to do with the peace talks…"

A blue light came alive over the back of Lucy's left hand. Her omnitool was receiving an incoming call. She used her right finger to tap the light. "Lucero here, go ahead."

"Lieutenant, I'm in Station Security," said Angel. "And there's someone here you need to see."




Lucy and Talara arrived to find Odo's security office was already near to capacity. Aside from the taciturn chief of station security and Angel herself, Lucy noticed Lt. Tony Zah of the Aurora's security department, Commander Richmond herself, Commander Worf, and Commander Dax.

Finally, near Odo's desk was a white-robed woman. She had an oval-shaped face and there was a hint of South Asian ancestry in her facial structure while her complexion was as light as Dax's. She had a similar shape to Dax as well while not quite matching her height, and her hair was a solid, brilliant red in color.

"This is Pallina Tormayama," Odo said to them once the door was closed. "She's here to report a threat to the summit."

Lucy could feel the power in Pallina' mind. She didn't have sensitivity to the Flow of Life as Lucy and Talara did, but she was a capable telepath, Lucy believed.

Pallina nodded to her. I am, Lucilla Lucero. Aloud she said, "I need your help. They're here to attack your conference and they've got my brother."

"Who?" asked Worf. "The Romulans?"

"No. The Ministry of Fate, the rulers of NEUROM."

Odo and the two Starfleet officers showed no emotional reaction, and Tony only had a flicker of recognition. But Lucy and Angel exchanged dark looks while Talara was clearly upset to hear of them. "I've never heard of this 'NEUROM'," Odo said.

"I recall several references to them in Multiversal threat assessment reports," Worf said. "They are an alliance of states from the S0T5 universe."

"And they're all bastards," Angel hissed. "Back on Solaris they tried to kidnap Julia and Zack and nearly killed us."

"And they attacked us trying to take the Castle of Lions," Talara added.

Sensing the Starfleeters and Odo were still a little at sea, Lucy said, "They're an alliance of authoritarian and totalitarian states inside of what's called the Fracture, a region of damaged space in the S0T5 universe. We've had a few run-ins with them."

"So we have heard," said Pallina.

"And what are you? Aurigan?"

She shook her head. "No. I am from one of the remaining independent worlds of the Fracture. And I know of them because they are my order's greatest foe."

"What order is that?" Lucy asked.

"I am a Councillor Magi." Expecting them to not understand, Pallina immediately went into an explanation. "Millennia ago, in the horror and chaos of the Reignfall, my order was established by a woman we know as the Sophia. She was a powerful telepath, descended from one of the leaders of the Earthreign itself."

"Who were not very nice people," Lucy remarked.

"No, they weren't," Pallina agreed. "If you know of the Fracture, you know that its instability has a psionic component that can afflict all who dwell within."

"I remember," Lucy said, blanching at thinking of the nausea and illness being in the Fracture caused her.

Pallina nodded, sensing that memory of illness. "The Sophia believed in calming the danger through benevolence and freedom. Make lives better and the fears that fueled the horrors of the Fracture would go away. But she had a great rival, a being that we today know very little of. He was known, is known, as the All-Father."

"What, like in Odin? The Norse god?" asked Angel.

"I am unfamiliar with that allusion," Pallina said. "The All-Father is also a powerful psion. And he preached control and fear. That the chaos of the Fracture could be harnessed with control and powered by deliberate fear. To enforce his will he formed the Ministry of Fate with the mission to turn every psion into an agent of his will. They brought together the initial members of NEUROM and to this day are the secret rulers of the organization."

"Sounds like a bastard," Angel suggested. "So what's going on here?"

"The Ministry of Fate is targeting your summit," Pallina said. "We do not know why. My order dispatched myself and my brother Ignatus to warn you and help you in stopping them. But they have taken him and nearly taken me. Now…" She closed her eyes as tears formed. "...even now, I feel his agony. The Ministry is hurting him. As they would me if they'd taken me."

"We thank you for the warning," Richmond said. "Constable, it's your station."

Odo nodded. "I'll mobilize all of my security teams. I request your help."

"You'll have it."

"That leaves her brother," Lucy said. "Nobody's in their quarters, we found them on our own."

"Then we will have to locate him," Pallina said. "Before the Ministry can kill him."




In the wardroom set aside for their private delegations, the Alliance, Federation, and Klingon delegates found themselves discussing the prickly issue of the Dominion's principle demand.

"They have solid justification," Pensley argued. "This device clearly affects them physiologically. If it inflicts harm we have a moral duty to suspend its use."

When nobody else did, Robert raised the obvious counter-point. "Senator, you're talking about giving up our only means to detect and stop them. Given the damages—"

He didn't get to finish. Pensley's voice roared in fury. "I have had enough of your meddling! Don't think I don't know what you're really after! You want these talks to fail! You want to provoke a war with the Dominion so you can destroy them too! Aren't the millions of dead from the last war you started enough for you?! Well, they're more than enough for my people! If you drag the Alliance into another war, the Tetzelian Republic will not participate! We will withdraw from your cursed Alliance and leave you to drown in the blood you're spilling, and I'll make damn sure history records your name as the man who's caused it!"

Robert let Pensley finish his tirade without another word. He knew there was nothing he could say to convince the Tetzelian Senator he wasn't the aggressive, war-seeking, government-toppling radical that Pensley thought him to be. He wouldn't let Pensley's attitude about him divert the others.

"This exchange serves no logical purpose," T'Latrek said.

"On the contrary, Councillor, it serves a great purpose," Pensley countered. "It is reminding this bloody-handed radical militant that he can't keep dragging the Alliance into wars to fulfill his radical agenda of destroying governments that displease him!"

T'Latrek fixed an icy stare at Pensley that would have chilled anyone into silence. "Senator, I do not presume to comment upon internal Alliance politics, it would be a violation of Federation principle to do so. So I will not allow our common efforts to be diverted by them."

"The Klingon Empire is in agreement," Councillor Potag added. "The Dominion threat is more important than your feud."

Pensley huffed and glared at the silent Robert, but at a similar glare from Tranu Talam, he submitted.

"We should not rush to judgement. The Dominion term must be considered logically, not accepted or rejected in haste," T'Latrek insisted. "If we can secure a withdrawal of the Dominion from Cardassia, much of the potential for conflict will abate."

"That much is true," Talam agreed. "It may be worth the cost to provide us time to deal with the lingering SS threat. But the loss in security from giving up the technology is a grave cost. The Senate remembers what the Changeling who replaced Kiang did, and ratifying an agreement to leave the Alliance vulnerable to another attack like that will not be easy…"

Robert, who was thinking the Dominion term was entirely self-serving and ridiculous, was in complete agreement with that part. But he said nothing. It wasn't his job, after all, and he wasn't giving Pensley another opening to verbally abuse him. He remained silent and tried to think of other things. Ultimately his mind turned to Julia and his hope for her recovery.




As was usual, Julia was invited by Miko's uncle, Fire Lord Daizon, to join the royal family for a meal. She accepted and prepared herself for the hot dishes and foods that were staples of the Fire Nation's cuisine. Their dishes reminded her of Indian and Thai food she'd tried over her lifetime. And she was developing a slight affection for fire flakes, as if her palate was rebelling against her usual preference.

Daizon, his wife, his daughter and heiress Crown Princess Kina, her husband and children, were just one section of the family. A couple of Ursa's siblings and their offspring were around as well, as were Daizon's younger children and related offspring.

Miko still enjoyed a seat close to Daizon, in a place of honor, with Julia given the one beside her. Julia thought a few members of the family were not entirely happy with these arrangements, although she wasn't sure how many of them were against her presence itself or simply not liking the preference showed to Miko.

With much of the meal consumed Daizon signaled that conversation could begin by asking his youngest child, a son, how his education was going. The young man looked to only be a few years younger than Miko and gave an answer about his continuing course studies at Sato Polytechnic Institute in the United Republic.

Once this answer was given Daizon's second-eldest child, Prince Tenzo, looked toward Miko and asked, "Cousin, how is your training going now?"

All eyes turned toward Miko.

Julia waited for Miko to answer, knowing how self-conscious she was about it, and how angry she was with the Fire Sages' constant complaints. Miko, for her part, finished swallowing what she'd been chewing and took a drink. Finally she looked toward Tenzo and said, "I'm making some progress. The style's not an easy one for me. But thanks to Sifu Julia, I'm adjusting to it."

Tenzo was satisfied. Then her Uncle Tzen, Ursa's older brother, openly said, "Perhaps you will find it easier to progress if you took in a Waterbender as your second trainer?" Miko's eyes turned to her uncle. She was looking away from Julia, keeping Julia from seeing her, but she could see Miko was upset given her body language. Tzen continued, apparently not realizing or not caring how Miko took his suggestion. "A Waterbender could help you apply Captain Andreys' teachings to your bending."

Julia considered voicing agreement with the idea, but given the feelings she saw in Miko she remained quiet. Miko's response had to come first.

When it came, it was with clear anger. "A second trainer would only disturb my training," she insisted. "It's not necessary and I'm fully confident that as my training continues I'll start to Waterbend. I only wish my family and everyone else had as much confidence in me!"

"I'm just…"

"No, Uncle, you're not just making an idle suggestion," Miko said hotly. "You're questioning my decisions just like the Sages are!"

"He has a point, cousin," said one of the others. "Captain Andreys may know the style, but if she can't Waterbend, she can't show you how to. Having a second teacher…"

Miko stood and bowed to her grand-uncle. "Fire Lord, I wish to be excused." Her voice lost none of its heat.

Daizon could have ordered her to stay, but he recognized it would lead to nothing constructive. He nodded to her, allowing Miko to depart, her meal mostly done but not quite finished. She stomped out of the room.

"Uncle, I too wish to depart," said Ursa. She couldn't rise given the injury she'd sustained rescuing Miko. As soon as Daizon nodded she did so. "I will help her, enjoy your meal," she whispered quickly to Julia as her hover-chair moved by.

Julia nodded and returned to what was left of her meal, listening as the family very firmly discussed other matters.




Ursa found Miko on one of the balconies on an upper floor of the palace. It gave her, and Ursa, a view of the Fire Nation's capital city. It was the world's third-largest city now, only surpassed by Republic City itself and Ba Sing Se, the great metropolis of the Earth Union. "They mean well," she said softly.

"Maybe. But I'm tired of being questioned," Miko replied.

"I understand that, and it's why I'm not. I know how important it is that you make your own path." Ursa pulled up beside her and put her hand on Miko's. "I trust you, Miko."

Miko faced her mother with gratitude. "I know this will work," she said. "I am getting better at it." Slowly, the gratitude faded from her expression. "Be honest, mother, are you saying these things because you believe I'm right, or because you don't want to fight with me?"

"I don't want to fight with you, true," Ursa admitted. "The last time we argued, you left for the frontier, and I almost lost you from it. And I never want that to happen again." She nodded. "But that's not all. I've seen the potential in you, my little sun. The potential to be a great Avatar, and in one of our most important moments as a people now that the Multiverse is known."

Ursa's gentle worlds soothed Miko's spirit and calmed her doubts. "Thank you," Miko said quietly. "Are you okay with my plans, then?"

"To travel with Captain Andreys to one of her worlds?" Ursa nodded. "I'm always going to be worried about you, little sun, so there's a part of me that will always want you here. But I know this is important to you and I won't stand in your way."

Initially Miko's response was quiet. She turned to her mother and bent over to hug Ursa tightly in silent thanks.




The screens in Odo's office showed the result of another internal scan. Said result was negative and he said as much to the others. Pallina shook her head. "NEUROM has some of the most advanced technology in the Multiverse, and the Ministry of Fate in particular has access to it."

"It wouldn't be the first time the station's internal sensors have been tricked," Odo admitted, although there was still a bit of skepticism evident in his voice. "However, you must understand that this station has a lot of ground to cover if we're to do a search. I don't have the manpower for such a search currently."

"The summit must still be our priority," Worf concurred.

Angel looked up from her omnitool. "Robert's getting my message about a possible attack now."

"And my brother?"

To Pallina's question, Lucy said, "Talara and I might be able to help. You feel him right now, right?"

"I do." She nodded, still a little pale.

"Then we'll use that." Lucy sat on the floor and Talara did likewise. Pallina joined them and extended her hands, allowing each to take one. "Concentrate on that connection, even though it hurts."

Pallina nodded and closed her eyes. She felt Ignatus' pain in the core of her being and, painful as it was to her, concentrated on it. Her brother's life was on the line. She had to save him.

Talara's sensitivity and natural empathy made her the first to feel Pallina's link to Ignatus. She grimaced at the sensation of pain. Lucy felt that and soothed her. While neither of them were telepaths, they shared a bond through the Flow of Life that was just as potent as a telepathic bond between siblings. With Lucy's aid, Talara did the same for Pallina, who was already crying softly for her brother's suffering. Sense his surroundings, Lucy urged. Understand where he is.

Pallina did. She connected to her brother's senses. There was a stale quality to the air. Containers were around him and his captors. One was a man in a great golden uniform and the other…

Lucy recognized it. One of the Ministry's agents, like the one on Solaris. She didn't sense a connection to the Flow of Life in this one, however, merely a strong telepathic capability.

Strong enough to sense the connection.

Both sensitives knew the woman in black would lash out, and both tried to get a feel for where Ignatus was in the moments before it came. The woman's pain-giving prod pressed against Ignatus' midsection with agonizing results. His scream rippled through the connection, the pain with, and Pallina cried out from the same. For her it was so real that she doubled over from it, as if she were the one suffering. Lucy and Talara didn't suffer quite the same. They felt the pain at a remove and kept their focus on trying to get more details on where Ignatus was.

Then the connection was gone. The three looked up, Pallina in the worst shape.

"What happened?" Dax asked.

"They've got telepaths," Lucy said, her voice a little hoarse. "They sensed what we were doing and struck at her brother. I'm betting he's unconscious."

"I could feel their malevolence," Talara whimpered. "Their cruelty. They enjoy hurting him."

"They hate us," rasped Pallina, all of the color gone from her face. "They hate us like nothing else."

"And we'll punch them later for it," Angel promised. "But did you see anything?"

"It was a cargo bay, I'm pretty sure of that," Lucy said. "One of your interior ones."

"We have several," said Worf.

"I felt something from Ignatus." Talara shook her head. Her eyes, with the lavender-colored point in the iris, seemed to be trying to focus on something. "Not from his sight, but his other senses. The air was… wrong."

"In what way?" asked Odo.

Lucy realized what she meant. "Stale," she said. "Like the local air recirculators aren't working right."

"Well, that narrows it down." Dax looked from Odo to Worf. "Didn't the Chief say that the life support systems in Pylon 4 were acting up?"

"He did," Worf said. "He will see to the repairs soon."

That led Lucy to ask, "How many cargo bays are in Pylon 4?"

"Two are in that area," answered Jadzia.

"Then we should send security to both," Richmond said.

"Agreed. We'll need a few minutes to put a team together."

"And the summit?" asked Lucy as she stood up. Talara did the same, helping Pallina as she did.

Odo stood from his chair. "I'll join them to provide extra security."

"Commander Dax and I will inform Captain Sisko and observe from Ops," Worf added.

"Then we'll handle the search too," said Lucy. She looked to Angel and her boyfriend. "You two should probably get back to the ship. Captain Kaveri may put the Aurora on alert over this."

Angel nodded in agreement. "Good luck."




Silence filled Caterina's quarters, save the gentle beeping as she worked the controls of the computer unit on her desk. The screen showed the response from the Alliance Stellar Navy's interuniversal comm network.

Recipient not in standard communication range.

Cat pursed her lips at that. Violeta's last message affirmed they were going on an extended long-range mission, but it was hard to imagine they'd go so far outside of standard spatial aspect range for the Alliance's IU network. Even the M4P2 transceivers couldn't contact the Huáscar, meaning it was heading somewhere far off the Relay network.

It's not like she's your girlfriend anymore, Cat thought bitterly. The two had it as more of a "quasi" status: if they ever had the opportunity to spend time together again they'd try, but both were open to find new relationships if they wanted.

Which wasn't what Cat wanted, really, but she understood why it came up. Not only was it something Sirians tended to do in their situations, but the Multiverse was a big place, and the Huáscar was part of the Explorer Squadron: Vee's ship could be gone for weeks, months, from Alliance space, and the odds of frequently meeting were extremely low. It wasn't fair to either of them if something better came along.

Captain Varma's words came back to her. The more Cat examined her recent performance, the more she could see how badly she'd slipped. She had barely any papers being readied. Her simulations and experimental models were being left alone. She just… she wasn't finding the same spark she used to. Of course the others noticed that. Julia would have eventually called her in, if she were still here.

You know why. It's not just losing Vee. It's those memories.

Just thinking about them brought it back vividly. The wrecked remains of the Aurora from some point in the near future, hurtling toward an innocent planet. Finding her friends, her family, and herself dead on the airless bridge. Those pallid faces with dull eyes came to Cat again.

The Doctor called it a "might-be", not a "will-be". That thought saved her from a deep sense of despair. She almost couldn't get the thought out of her head that they'd meet their end like that.

Be honest with yourself, Cat, she scolded herself, using her mother's voice. That's why you're giving up on your science. You're scared there's no point. You think everyone's going to die anyway.

The worst part was… how could she explain it to anyone? Either she'd sound crazy, or they'd believe her… and then they'd have to carry that burden too. That horrible thought that they might all be doomed.

If I share it, I either look nuts, or I hurt people. If I don't share it… I'm going to lose it. The dilemma faced her and she couldn't hide from it anymore. She had to make her choice.

Blue light appeared on the back of her left hand, telling her she had an incoming call. She tapped it. "Delgado here."

"Commander, please report to the bridge," Meridina said. "There may be an issue on the station and we need you on sensors."

Cat nodded. "On my way. Delgado out." She shut down her computer screen and stood to get her uniform back on. Whatever you do, Cat, it can wait. Deal with this first, she told herself.




With a life on the line, the three moved as quickly as they could through DS9. The lift took them to the outer ring and from there they made their way into Pylon 4. The familiar sense of slightly stale air told them they were getting close. "Cargo bay's here," Lucy said, noting their position on her omnitool and a map display of DS9's interior. She drew her lightsaber. Talara did the same while Pallina remained behind them, her mind prepared for trouble. They didn't sense any danger and Pallina didn't feel any minds. They have a magister with them, she thought to the others. He may be shielding their mental presence from me.

Understood.
With that in mind Lucy pressed the cargo bay door control. It slid open without effort. Her lightsaber ignited in readiness of a fight, prompting Talara to do the same.

No fight happened, however. They found the cargo bay empty.

Mostly.

Ignatus was in the middle of the bay, wrists held spread-eagled by wires suspended from the walls. It was a painful position to leave someone in. His robes were tattered and his shirt ripped open, revealing bruising and welts on his chest from a severe beating. His face had received similar treatment.

"Ignatus." Pallina stepped forward to go to her brother's aid. She was only stopped by Lucy, who held her arm out to block her path. Lucy's surface thoughts told Pallina what was wrong.

Explosives. Around the room. It's a trap.
"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)

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Pallina and Talara remained still at the entrance to the cargo bay while Lucy brought her omnitool on. She kept it to passive scan, just in case the detonator was rigged to activate if actively scanned, and waited for the results. As they came to her screen she noted that aside from the explosives there were field emitters active as well. "They've also got an anti-beaming field up," she said aloud.

"Then what do we do?" asked Talara. "I can sense his injuries. They are extensive. He needs medical attention."

"I know." Lucy nodded while still checking her readings. "But if we don't do this right, we all get blown to kingdom come."




The extra security received little comment when the summit reconvened. Kira now sat with the Bajoran delegation with her phaser openly holstered to her hip. Odo and Richmond were in the room as well looking particularly tense.

The Changeling didn't take note of any of that. "We are prepared to hear your terms in exchange for eliminating the technology that harms our people," he said.

"We would propose a compromise," said Tranu. "We will agree to not use the technology widely. It will only be employed to protect our most critical places and will never be applied offensively."

"Unacceptable," was the immediate reply. "The term cannot be enforced without risking my people. And you would still possess the technology and could use it at any time."

"The same is true even if we accepted your terms," Tranu pointed out. "And I will add that if we were to agree to eliminate the technology, we would have no means to effectively enforce any promise by your people to cease infiltration. On two known occasions your people have infiltrated the Alliance. The first infiltrator was only discovered because evidence was found identifying the remains of the officer they replaced. The second infiltrator masqueraded as an Alliance Senator for months with success and was only unmasked by extraordinary circumstances. You understand that we are reluctant to completely eliminate our ability to guarantee against further infiltrations."

"And we will not let ourselves be victimized by solids ever again," the Changeling declared.

"We will never use this technology aggressively," Pensley insisted. "And given time and the building of trust, we can have it deactivated."

"Trust for solids is low among my people, and your decision will not improve the matter." The Changeling's tone was growing harsher. "The Dominion will not accept your continued use of this technology, and I remind you that it will do nothing to stop our Jem'Hadar."

"If it is a war you wish, Changeling, the Klingon Empire is ready," Potag challenged.

"Threats of war are unnecessary," T'Latrek said, glaring icily at Potag.

"We are not threatening you," the Changeling informed them. "We are informing you of the term necessary for peace. It is your choice, solids: peace or your weapon against us."




One thing was clear to Lucy and the others; they were running out of time. The NEUROM team was on the move. And Ignatus, wounded as he was, needed medical care. They had to act and neutralize the risk.

"Do you think we can hold him in the air and pull him out?" asked Talara.

"The sensors might detect his movement and trigger the detonator. That's what we need to deal with." After several seconds Lucy felt an idea form in her mind. "Talara, give me a link to your omnitool, I need the extra processing power."

Talara did just that, calling up the blue holographic interface for her Stellar Navy-issue omnitool and linking it to Lucy's. Lucy operated her own with speed.

"What are you doing?" asked Pallina.

"Using our omnitools to isolate the local bands their hardware is using. Given the layout, the detonator is likely wireless… there. Found it." Lucy's fingers moved over the hard-light controls her omnitool generated. "Okay, this is going to be tricky. They've set it up to auto-detonate if anyone connects to the device, and they're using a rotating frequency for the connection to the bombs. But I think I can fool the auto-detonate for a little while. Long enough to get him clear."

"So we can enter?"

"No. Talara, throw your lightsaber and cut him down. We'll levitate him out."

"Understood." Talara pulled her weapon from her belt. With a press of a button the lavender-colored energy blade came to life with a snap-hiss.

"On my mark. Three… two…" Lucy had to allow the countdown to hang in order to ensure her plan was working. "...one… now."

Talara threw her blade into the cargo bay. She focused her will on it, powered by the Flow of Life, and directed the blade to spin through the air. It turned the blade into a shining lavender disc of light that sliced through one set of bonds and then the other. She recalled the blade to her hand while Ignatus dropped halfway to the floor. Lucy caught him and held him in place. Talara felt the strain on her mentor from this as Lucy was both exercising her power to hold Ignatus and was keeping the detonator from going off.

The moment Talara had her weapon back in hand she extinguished the blade and fixed it to her belt again. She stretched a hand out and took control of Ignatus from Lucy, relieving her teacher of the burden and letting her focus on the detonator. It seemed only a couple months ago Talara would never have been able to hold such a weight as she was now, but with some strain she was able to pull Ignatus toward the door.

Once he was through Lucy slammed the door closed. Talara felt a spike of realization and fear go through her teacher. Without warning Lucy turned toward her and Pallina and pushed them away with a blast of invisible energy, throwing the two and the unconscious Ignatus clear of the cargo bay door area.

A moment later the explosives in the cargo bay went off.

The door contained the blast initially. But a second, larger blast, not even a second later, tore the sliding door from its track. Talara felt Lucy's power flare up in self-defense before the door smashed into her and drove her into the wall. There was crushing pain and then nothing. "Lucy!" Talara cried, scrambling to her feet while Pallina looked on in shock. "Lucy!"

"She's… I think she's…"

Even as flames roared from the opening of the doorway - the station's systems here were too damaged to engage fire suppression - Talara charged forward. She reached out with desperation and pulled the bent metal frame of the door away from where it was half-laying against the far wall. Beneath it Lucy was laying on the ground. She wasn't moving. Her armor was visibly damaged. Talara knelt beside her and instinctively reached through the Flow of Life, terrified that Lucy was dead. She was relieved to feel Lucy's life energies intact. She instead sensed the injuries Lucy suffered. Knowing they were beyond her ability to heal, Talara immediately keyed her omnitool. "Talara to Aurora, beam Lieutenant Lucero to medbay immediately, medical emergency!"




The bombing didn't go unnoticed on the bridge of the Aurora. Cat tore herself from scans of the wormhole the moment she saw the unexpected thermal flare. "Captain, I've just picked an explosion on DS9, one of the pylon cargo bays."

Kaveri's response was immediate. "General quarters, all stations," she said.

Beside her, Meridina sensed the next order Kaveri was going to give and asked, "Captain, may I join the Marines? I believe Captain Dale will need my assistance."

Kaveri nodded to her. With the summit in danger, they'd need every available resource on the station to stop the attackers.




The blast was not so great to cause the station to shudder. Outside of those in the area of the pylon where the blast occurred or the crew in Ops, nobody would know until news came.

Nobody save the lone figure hidden away in the station core, in one of the maintenance storage areas.

The woman in the dark cloak frowned at the sensation. The fools, agents of an overreaching and petulant master, were going through with it. Their audacity was perhaps admirable, but their actions in contravention of their true master's orders were unforgivable.

The woman started to smile. She left her hiding place and started to run.




The summit was in paralysis. The Changeling's terms were fixed and he refused to give particulars on the Dominion's offered concessions until he received assurance the Alliance would accept the abandonment of the Changeling detector device.

It was frustrating for Robert, who could sense the certainty of the Dominion leader. The term would be accepted or war would be the result, and it was a war the Dominion believed it could win now that the Alliance faced the persistent threat of the SS exiles and the Cylons to tie down so much of its fleet.

Robert's thoughts on the matter were sharply diverted as he felt imminent danger. He focused on that sense, ignoring the discussion around him, waiting patiently to see if danger materialized.

Acting on instinct, guided by the metaphysical energies within him, Robert raised his arms and used his will to create a wall of force against the conference room's far wall. A number of people noticed the gesture, but none had time to respond to it.

With a thunderous roar the wall exploded. Robert's bubble of will-powered force caught the blast, weakening it enough that none were harmed by it. Robert's entire body ached with the force of the blast and how it hammered at his will. It knocked him backward and to the floor.

Dark-clad figures came through the newly-formed hole in the wall, firearms raised. They fired a moment before the security in the room could. Green pulses of light scorched and burned the security personnel that they struck, those who didn't get to cover in time. Those who did helped get both sides of the summit to cover.

"Return fire! Cover the delegates!" Richmond shouted. Beside her Odo dropped his customary humanoid form. After a few moments as a shapeless globule of amber fluid, he took the form of a white-furred creature with a horn on its head and jumped from hiding at one of the attackers. The attacker was too busy gunning down a Jem'Hadar guard to stop him from ripping the the gun away.

Robert was back to his feet a moment later. His lightsaber came to life in an emerald flash and hummed away as he intercepted fire. He forced two of their opponents to slam into each other. Around him Richmond and the various security forces, including the Jem'Hadar and the Cardassians, started to return fire with increasing efficiency. Several of their foes went down.

And then a man in an immaculate gold uniform appeared, like some kind of war god, pride and disdain on his bearded face. He didn't move a hand, nor a muscle. Only the intensity in his eyes spoke of the power he unleashed.

Every humanoid being in the room froze. Robert felt the telepathic attack wash over his defenses, paralyzing him by forbidding his brain from operating his body. Even the involuntary grimace he would have formed failed to show on his face. He started to reach inward, grasping for his connection to the Flow of Life to aid him in breaking free.

The only two beings in the room not effected by the telepathic attack were Odo and the Dominion Founder. The former was wrestling with a particularly strong member of the attacking force. The latter, noticing what was happening, took the form of an avian and flew upward.

Whether or not the Founder intended to aid Odo was a moot point. A barely visible ripple came over the room, as if an energy field was being formed. As the ripple went through the two changelings they turned amber again. Their solid forms seemed to melt until they were both puddles of goo on the floor.

One of the remaining shooters came through the hole in the wall with what looked like a cylindrical wet-vac, at least to Robert. She ran the device over the fallen changelings. They were sucked in within a couple of seconds.

The attackers began pulling out of the room. As they did so, the golden-suited man sent one final telepathic impulse to the assembled.

Sleep.

All of them, even Robert, crumpled to the floor.




The bomb blast and attack were not unnoticed in Ops. Sisko, Kira, and Worf were at the central table and Dax and O'Brien were at their stations, everyone prepared for the potential crisis they'd been warned of. "Chief, what's the status on Pylon 4?" Sisko asked while the others confirmed the other blast.

"The damage isn't extensive. Looks like it blew out a cargo bay. Some structural damage."

Kira noticed another update on the systems. "Sensors are confirming weapons fire in the wardroom."

Sisko didn't let his grim thoughts about the result of this attack show on his face. "Mister Worf, get down there with security teams, immediately."

"Yes sir." Worf went for the turbolift.

"It's going to take time." O'Brien looked over his systems. "Something's hacked into our security systems. Looks like a localized takeover of forcefield generators and bulkhead controls. We're doing what we can."

Worf stepped onto the lift. "We will make our way through regardless," he said. "Administration Deck." The lift lowered into the ground.

"I've got the shields up," Kira said. "They won't be beaming out. Locking down docking clamps."

"Get me the Aurora." Sisko waited for his Ops crew to follow the order. The blank flat oval viewscreen changed to show a view of the Aurora bridge. The gray-haired image of Kaveri Varma showed. "Captain Varma, the summit's been attacked."

"We have been notified as well. Commander Meridina and a security team beamed over the moment we detected the explosion. If you can extend your shields around the Aurora, we will send over further security teams."

Sisko nodded to O'Brien. "Extending shields," O'Brien said.




Meridina and Lieutenant Lindstrom's team advanced through the halls of DS9, weapons readied and sensors seeking their foe. The latter part was the most difficult. While the sensors were functioning, life sign readings were not stable. A selective kind of jamming was in place. Meridina found she was relying more on her personal life energy, and her telepathic senses, to discover the location of her foes.

The sense of danger escalated as they approached a junction in the corridor. Meridina's lightsaber flashed to life in her hand, signaling Lindstrom and his people to bring their rifles up. They moved into place.

The enemy was already aware of their arrival, their own weapons raised, and Meridina was ready to repel their fire. But before either side attacked, she felt a mental presence strike at the group. Her mental defenses met the attack and held. Lindstrom and his people had no such defense, however, and their attacker implanted intense terror and fear into them. Lindstrom whimpered and dropped to a knee. "Don't hurt me," he pleaded.

"Fire," the golden-suited enemy ordered, his uniform one Meridina recognized: the uniform of NEUROM's Ministry of Fate.

Even with the mental attack still pressing against her defenses, Meridina was able to lift her lightsaber in defense of herself and Lindstrom's people. She reflected as many of the shots as she could, but there was too much incoming fire. One of Lindstrom's people was hit and went down, critically wounded. Another joined him.

Fire let up, but Meridina had no opening to use that. From the enemy ranks a leather-clad woman leapt forward, a sinister grin of anticipation on her face. The incoming fire kept Meridina from moving away, not if she was to protect the security personnel behind her. She watched the woman's prod come up toward her leg and steeled herself for what she knew would come next.

The weapon made contact with her hip. Pain paralyzed the leg and rippled through Meridina's body in waves. She gasped while struggling to keep her attention forward. It brought her down to a knee. Worst of all, it slowed her, and her enemy knew she was vulnerable in this state.

A powerful force gripped the leather-clad woman and threw her back toward her allies. She toppled into two of them, sending all three tumbling to the ground in a tangled heap. Freed from the savage agony, Meridina was able to get back to her feet and keep her weapon moving.

Talara rushed in with her lightsaber at the ready. She caught fire that would've struck another of Lindstrom's people, knocking it back into the NEUROM team and singing the shoulder of a shooter. Pallina ran up behind her, white robes trailing from the speed with which she was moving. She turned her eyes toward the golden-uniformed man. A determined frown crossed her face. "Release them, Magister!"

"Magi!" the man snarled, while Pallina's mind interposed her power between him and the Aurora security team.

Before anything more could be said or done, a soft, sinister laugh came from the other direction. Several of the NEUROM team turned to face it. Meridina and Talara shivered at the intensity of the dark power they now felt, suddenly revealed as if hidden by a cloak.

Coming down the opposite side of the corridor the NEUROM forces were using was a lone figure. Her cloak was black as night, a contrast to the ash-gray of the skin on her face. Her eyes were a burning red like twin coals, the power behind them searing. Her right hand extended. A lightsaber blade of bright crimson light, brighter than either Meridina or Talara's blades, flashed to life with a snap-hiss. The brightness of the color was one Meridina and Talara had only seen in memory, specifically the memories of Robert and Lucy, of the mysterious woman called "Yellow" who escaped them on the Citadel.

They were distracted by the sheer fear they felt from their foes. One of the soldiers actually wailed in terror.

The Magister did not show fear, although the two sensitives felt it radiate from him instinctively. His voice was still firm as he demanded, "What are you doing here?! This is a sanctioned operation!"

"Not by the highest." The voice was chilling. Talara felt a flicker of recognition at it. "You were warned Magister. Yet you defied that warning. You have crossed the Fates."

A thought rippled from many of the NEUROM soldiers, loud and clear for Meridina and Pallina, even to Talara through her sensitivity. In their terror their minds recited a line memetically seared into their hearts in childhood.

Cross the Fates and face the Furies.

Pallina gasped at the intensity of the fear and of her own realization. "Tisiphone."

The gray woman laughed. "Yes, Magi!" And with that said she charged, her lightsaber singing in the air. The Magister issued a mental command to his soldiers and the combat was renewed.

The NEUROM team was in a bad place, but they fought. It was with the courage of the desperate that they did so, but it was still courage. Talara and Meridina worked hard at deflecting their fire, as most of it was coming against them.

This was understandable given what was happening on the other side of the corridor. The red-eyed being Pallina called "Tisiphone" advanced with relish at her foes. They fired at her to no avail, her crimson lightsaber slashing through the air to deflect their shots before it started cleaving through their bodies, every blow struck a mortal one.

Lindstrom and his people were regaining their footing, aided by Pallina's mental aid against the NEUROM Magister's telepathic attack, returning fire with some effect against the NEUROM team. They had protections, but they had little in the way of effective cover. Their numbers more than anything kept Lindstrom's people from pressing their position.

The leather-clad woman got back to her feet and advanced with a hiss, each hand now holding a pain-provoking agiel. Talara intercepted her and deflected her blows. She felt the woman's anger and need to feel the pain of others press against her mind. The training she'd received from Lucy helped resist this attack for the time being while every impact of her lightsaber seemed to damage the agiels a little more.

There was another battle beyond these, but none could see it The minds of Pallina and the Magister were in direct conflict. The sheer will and drive for control of the Magister's mind pressed against Pallina's. She sensed his name - Fayd-Taras. The All-Father himself sent you to this. Why?

Magi scum!
was his only response. With his will, Fayd-Taras pressed fear on Pallina. He forced the memories of her brother's torture on her. Of the other Magi he'd encountered in his career, their terror and agony as the Ministry of Fate destroyed them slowly and brutally and with sadistic glee.

Pallina resisted as best she could, not by righteous anger for her brother and her fellow Magi, but by the peace within. The peace of her soul, tied to the oneness of all life and the serenity it promised as taught by the Sophia. The freedom to embrace that light in one's own way. Peace brought happiness. Peace brought comfort. Peace banishes fear.

It was soon clear that they were in a stalemate, even as fighting continued to rage around them.




The quiet in the conference room was broken by Robert, who groaned at the headache he felt as he stood up. The telepathic sleep command had broken clean through his defenses, but it'd been weakened enough to lose its grip quickly. He rose to his feet and tapped at the blue light shining over his left hand. "Dale here."

"Captain Dale, what is your status?"

The sleep in Robert's mind cleared enough for him to recognize Kaveri's voice. "Telepathic sleep command got everyone in here, but I resisted enough it didn't hold me for long," he said. "They took Constable Odo and the Founder."

"Commander Worf and security teams are attempting to arrive at your location, but that section of the station was sabotaged. Your attackers, have you identified them?"

"NEUROM," Robert answered. "Ministry of Fate. I need Lucy and the others, immediately."

"Lieutenant Lucero's been beamed to the medbay with severe injuries. Lieutenant Talara's joined Commander Meridina. I'll have Ms. Inviere beamed over immediately."

"Good. I'll get to work, then." Robert lowered his arm and concentrated. Immediately he felt it. Not just the ongoing fight and the fear it brought, but darkness, cold and terrible in its power. It was deeper than even Fassbinder's had been. And it was approaching Meridina and Talara.

So he started running, channeling every bit of his power that he could in the process to hasten to his comrades' side.
"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)

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The Ministry of Fate personnel fought with the courage of the desperate, keeping up their fire against the Aurora security personnel. Talara's lightsaber kept them from effectively engaging the security teams while Meridina duelled the female agent. Their telepathic talents canceled one another out, and the concentration to face those attacks did even the field in terms of Meridina's abilities with the Flow of Life as well. Beside them Pallina, protected by Talara's defensive maneuvering, kept her mind locked with the Magister Fayd-Taras, keeping his impressive telepathic talents from joining the rest of the battle.

Even though they were stymied at this end, it was along the other that the NEUROM team were losing badly. No matter how much fire they kept up, the approaching figure of Tisiphone seemed impossible to hit. Her lightsaber was a streak of bright crimson as it deflected their shots. She deftly maneuvered around others. Nor was the fire very accurate; every member of the NEUROM team was stricken with utter terror at the appearance of one of the dreaded Furies.

And they had a good reason for that terror. Even before she got into striking range, Tisiphone was inflicting death on the troopers. She deflected their fire so that it struck them in vital points. With the sheer dark power at her command she sent the squad leader to his knees gasping for air he could not breathe in, given the force clamping his airway closed. And when she got into range her lightsaber brought instant death to whomever she swung it at. Each strike was a lethal blow.

The troops there tried to fall back, but soon they were the only thing between the Tisiphone and Fayd-Taras' back. They couldn't retreat any longer. They could only stand their ground, blasting away at the ash-gray figure scything through them. Their shots scorched the walls and floor of the station's corridor, blackening the Cardassian-made materials, but no blow landed on the relentless Fury. Her eyes burned like red coals as her lightsaber deflected those shots that posed her a danger. One bolt slammed into the throat of a NEUROM trooper, fatally wounding her. Her comrades moved as she fell, trying to spread out and fire from multiple directions.

It was for nothing. She gained the range. She ducked under one shooter and then slashed upward, a vicious cut that sliced through her opponent from his right hip to his left shoulder. As that foe fell, nearly bisected by the strike, she whirled and caught the blasts of the remaining trooper with her hand, seeming to just absorb them. Purple-tinged lighting lashed back, enveloping the trooper. His scream soon escalated into a death-scream as the energy tore the life from his body.

Fayd-Taras felt the deaths at the periphery of his senses. But his mind and Pallina' were locked in a struggle and he would never pull away from it. Knowing what would come next, he made his choice.

Pallina herself realized what he was doing and tried to pull away, but couldn't. With vicious hatred Fayd-Taras locked his mind on hers, forcing Pallina to maintain contact just to defend herself. Ensuring she would experience what came next.

Tisiphone's blade struck out again. A cry of visceral agony came from Fayd-Taras as the crimson lightsaber of the Fury burned through his abdomen to come out the other end, then moved upward, searing its way through his body until it came out through his head.

It was a brutal death, and Pallina felt every moment of it. She felt the Door open and Fayd-Taras' terror as his being was ripped from his remains. She felt his rage as, in his final moments, he tried to maintain their contest just long enough to pull her in too. To make her feel what was on the other side of the Door.

She managed to avoid that. She disconnected at the threshold, leaving Fayd-Taras behind.

But still the Magi suffered. The agony of Fayd-Taras' final moments as the lightsaber ripped through him echoed in her body, as if it were her guts being speared, her lungs being burnt to a crisp and sliced through by the heat of the lightsaber. She gave a stifled cry and collapsed.

Meridina felt her pain as she felt the deaths around her. More importantly, she sensed the fear in her opponent at Fayd-Taras' death. The vicious woman's attack faltered, if just for a moment, and that gave Meridina the room to strike. With expert quickness she sidestepped a clumsy blow and swung her lightsaber at the woman's arm. The blade cut cleanly through the forearm, causing the lower part of the limb with its attached hand, and the weapon it held, to fall to the floor. A cry of pain and surprise came from her foe and echoed in Meridina's mind due to their telepathic connection.

She forced the phantom sensation away with the sure knowledge that her own limb was still intact. She swung her weapon again and removed the woman's other hand and arm up to the elbow, removing her last weapon. Another gasp and cry, and this time her foe was down, no longer a threat.

She didn't have time to consider her victory. She sensed the danger, the imminent death, and by instinct Meridina's lightsaber struck forward, as if to cut the air before her disarmed foe.

The blue blade arrived in time to intercept the crimson weapon of the Fury a second before it could cleave the leather-clad woman's head in two.

The Tisiphone looked to Meridina and scowled. "This is not your affair, Gersallian!"

"She is unarmed!" Meridina responded.

"She has betrayed her true master," the Fury retorted. "She must pay the price."

"I will not let you kill her."

Meridina felt the rage of the being surge, only slightly leavened by sharp amusement. A wicked smirk came to the ashen gray features under that dark hood. "You will 'let' nothing, Gersallian."

The incoming blow was sensed at only the last moment. Meridina intercepted the Fury's lightsaber only mere millimeters from her body. Another blow came, just as vicious and swift as before, and again she barely stopped it. This process repeated again and again as mere seconds passed. The power of her foe was incredible, like nothing she'd faced before. Even Mastrash Goras paled in comparison to the sheer power of the Fury.

Pain shot through Meridina's shoulder. The Fury's lightsaber ran through the armor, scorching the flesh below, before Meridina's blade intercepted it just shy of her neck. A short laugh came from the being and Meridina got the uneasy feeling she was allowed to stop her own decapitation. "Pathetic," the Fury rasped.

There was a buzz in the air and lavender light rushed. Talara's strike hit nothing but air, however, as the Fury deftly evaded the attack. Meridina attempted an attack of her own, this one caught by the Fury's lightsaber. You have an opening! she thought, connecting to Talara's mind and urging her to land the blow.

Talara, to her credit, didn't hesitate. Didn't dare against this strong a foe. Her blade went in.

A sharp snap and hiss filled the air and a second crimson blade, as bright as the first, came to life between the Fury and Talara, intercepting Talara's attack. The Fury cackled and spun around, a lightsaber in each hand allowing her to duel the two of them at the same time without having to switch back and forth. Indeed she went on the attack, focusing her strength on Talara while Meridina struggled to aid the Falaen woman. Talara cried out as one of the blades striking along her hip, searing through armor and into her flesh. The Fury's armored boot snapped up and caught Talara in the chest. Ribs snapped under the empowered blow and Talara fell back, wounded and in pain.

And yet the Fury now seemed in danger, as the last of the NEUROM team went down to Lindstrom's squad. Pulse rifles pointed her way.

But they never fired.

The Fury slammed her fist down to the floor. A powerful burst of energy radiated outward and blew Lindstrom, Talara, and everyone else backward into the walls of the surrounding corridor. Only Meridina managed to deflect the powerful energies with her own, leaving her as the only one standing. She immediately resumed her duel with Tisiphone.

Or so she tried. The Fury's blasts caught hers, locked her lightsaber into place between them, and the Fury's head shot forward and slammed into Meridina's face. Meridina's nose took the brunt and was broken immediately, startling her enough that the Fury knocked her legs out from under her with a burst of unseen force. She loomed over Meridina. "You are weak. Unworthy." Her blades came up.

But they didn't come down. They swept to the side and caught Gina's lightsaber as it came slashing in. "The Cylon." Tisiphone laughed. "The traitor and exile."

"Leave her alone," Gina demanded.

That brought another laugh. Meridina felt the dark power of the Fury surge with pleasure at the renewed contest. Her lightsabers renewed their pitiless assault, this time focusing on Gina. Gina resisted bravely even as blow after blow started singing armor and robe and, eventually, skin. Ignoring the red hot pain of her broken nose Meridina started to get back up, blood flowing down around her lip.

Even as she attacked, aid came from a third quarter. Robert raced in, catching one of the Fury's lightsabers with his own before it could slice into Gina's right arm. Determination showed on his features; he could sense the power of their foe and knew the fight would be hard.

Tisiphone actually took a few steps back, holding her lightsabers in a defensive position. "The Dawn-Bearer." Her eyes focused on Robert, who met them without flinching. "I was wondering when you would come. And where is the other, I wonder?"

"She's not available."

"Ah." Tisiphone cackled. "Wounded, I take it, by Fayd-Taras' trap? She should have left the Magi to die. My master will be disappointed I could not test her as well."

Talara struggled back to her feet behind the others. She got her lightsaber back up and moved ahead to join them, heedless of her own injuries.

The Fury struck before they could begin a coordinated attack. She became a whirling dervish of crimson, her lightsabers switching without seeming effort from one foe to the next, from attack to defense, and pressing her four foes. Robert took the brunt of the offensive strikes, as if Tisiphone knew his skill with the blade was not as great as his raw power. He grunted as one lightsaber blow ran across his right side and chest, but he did not give way.

And yet, neither did the Tisiphone. Outnumbered four to one, she held her ground, indeed, all four felt the sincere belief she was winning the duel. More than that, it seemed their continued fight was only because she was letting them. Slashes injured lightly but not deeply, never threatening life or limb, while nobody landed a blow on her.

But despite that they didn't back down.

Pallina forced herself to a knee. Her mind burned from the pain of Fayd-Taras' death and how close he came to pulling her into the Door with him. Now she recognized the predicament before her and knew the others needed her help. She pushed away the instinctive fear at the very idea of telepathically assaulting one of the dreaded Furies and sent an attack probe at Tisiphone's mind. It was like looking into pure obsidian coating a roiling storm of rage and vicious fury. The probe faltered against those defenses. She pressed harder.

Tisiphone scowled. "This isn't your affair either, Magi!" Deflecting a strike by Gina, she directed energy at Pallina to throw her back. Robert absorbed it with his own power. The scowl grew. "Very well," she hissed, her mind still resisting Pallina' probe even as her body and power resisted the others. "We will finish this later!"

And then, without giving them a chance to stop her, the Tisiphone turned back on the leather-clad woman still staring at her, terror on her face. The terror increased as the Tisiphone's arm swung outward. Her hand released the lightsaber it grasped, sending the crimson blade spinning forward. The blade cut cleanly through the woman's neck. Her head fell one way, her body the other.

The blade returned to the Tisiphone's hand as she spun backward, evading a strike from Gina and Meridina. She snarled at them and barked a harsh command in a language none recognized. A recognizable transporter effect whisked her away.




O'Brien and Dax both noted the new information on their consoles. "We just detected a transport," Dax said. "But I can't get a fix on where they went."

Sisko frowned. "Intensify scans. Chief, did they go through our shields?"

"Doesn't look like…" O'Brien stopped, seeing something else at his station. "We just had a disruption in the shields near Pylon 2. It looks like a ship just went through it."

"Confirmed. They're decloaking now."

Sisko turned to the main viewer. A vessel showed on it, flying away from the station. The ship reminded him somewhat of a small Klingon Bird-of-Prey with the downward sloping wings, but the engines were far more prominent and the sides mounted with what looked to be armored shields. "Tractor them."

"Trying, but it looks like someone's sabotaged the tractor systems," Dax said. "They're not getting power."

"Alert the Aurora." Sisko's words were heavy with disapproval and frustration: once again someone had sabotaged his station.




The same ship was visible on the Aurora bridge. The moment the ship decloaked Cat confirmed, "They're moving away at high sublight velocity."

"Helm, intercept!" Kaveri ordered. "Lock a tractor beam immediately."

"Aye ma'am," Locarno replied.

"Firing up tractors," Jarod added.

As the Aurora pulled away from DS9 Cat continued her report. "The ship's accelerating faster than usual for a ship of that size. I'm running it through the database now… wait, we have a power spike!"

"Activating tractor beam."

Jarod spoke as he was working, and a ribbon of blue energy did reach out. But even as it appeared, the ship rushed forward as if shot from a cannon, disappearing the next instant and leaving nothing for the tractor beam to grapple.

Kaveri frowned but said nothing. "Can we intercept them?" she asked.

"I'm not picking them up on sensors," Cat said. "They didn't go to warp, or S0T5-style hyperspace. Although the energy pattern is similar…" Something else showed on her screens. "Captain, we've got a match on that ship. Two, in fact."

"And they are, Commander?"

Cat looked over the record to make sure she was right. "It's structure is the same as a ship that fled the Citadel three months ago, involving someone that was stealing debris from Sovereign. And it… it also matches the profile of the ship that protected the Rio Grande when it was evacuating the Great Temple of Swenya last month." She blinked. "Exactly, in fact. It's the same ship. The records from the Rio Grande match it completely."

Jarod and Locarno waited patiently for further orders. Kaveri didn't make them wait long. "Bring us back to the station, Commander Locarno."




With their foe gone everyone stopped in place. Slowly the pain in their bodies from their various injuries began to make itself known, drawing grimaces that they pushed away. Talara, ignoring her own broken ribs and injured hip, went to the aid of the unconscious Lindstrom. Gina used her omnitool to generate a cloth that she used to dab at Meridina's broken nose, wiping up the blood. Robert looked down at the blistered skin showing through his damaged armor and winced. "What the hell was she?"

"A Fury," Pallina said. She was still picking herself up off the floor. "We… I can't believe it."

"What?"

"They're a myth. A legend of the Fracture," Pallina continued, very pale, as if she'd seen not just a ghost but the most horrific demon imaginable. "The Furies are supposed to be the enforcers of the Fates themselves. Every child born to a world in NEUROM is raised to fear them with intense memetics. 'Cross the Fates and face the Furies.' But, it doesn't make sense."

"What? That she killed their forces instead of aiding them?" Gina asked.

"Fayd-Taras is, was, a Lord Magister of the Ministry. He acts directly as an agent of the All-Father, and the All-Father… he is supposed to be the interpreter of the Fates."

"So he was a traitor?" Talara asked.

Pallina shook her head. "I know his reputation, whispered in fear across the Fracture. It's not conceivable."

"And he claimed he was sanctioned," Meridina added. "And this Fury only stated herself as acting on behalf of the 'Fates', not the All-Father."

The confusion on the Magi was obvious. "It makes no sense."

Robert walked over to one of the dead NEUROM troops. He recognized the cylindrical container there and pulled it loose. As he did footfalls came from down the corridor. Worf and a force of Starfleet and Bajoran security officers had their phasers raised and ready. "It's all over," he said to Worf.

There were more footfalls. Weyoun came up with a couple of the surviving Jem'Hadar. "Did you rescue the Founders?!" he demanded. "What has become of them?!"

Robert found the hatch for the cylinder and opened it. When nothing came out he tipped it over. A blotch of amber fluid poured out for several seconds. Slowly, very slowly, the resulting puddle became two. "They feel weak," he said in sympathy, given how he felt. "They're having trouble regaining their shape."

"We will see to their safety," Weyoun said.

"Constable Odo will remain with us," Worf replied.

"Nonsense. Solids have already threatened the Founders enough today," Weyoun retorted. His Jem'Hadar started lifting their rifles.

"We 'solids' also kept them from getting kidnapped," Robert pointed out, forcing diplomacy when he wanted to snap at the obsequious Vorta. "And Odo's part of this station, the people here are worried about him. How about both of you care for them until they can regain shape."

Weyoun's blue eyes fixed on Robert for a moment. Tense seconds passed in which Robert feared the Vorta might push this further. He felt relaxed when Weyoun nodded. "Very well. In recognition of your selfless actions to rescue the Founders, we'll permit you to assist us."

Robert could see Worf bristle at the wording, but the big Klingon said nothing. He recognized the insulting concession as still, ultimately, a concession.

After all, the sooner they had this handled, the sooner Robert and the others could get to the medbay. I'm starting to envy Julia's extended vacation, Robert thought with some humor.




Silvery light barely broke the deep shadows of the guest suite where Julia was staying. She remained in bed, wrapped in a sheet as she turned and turned in her sleep. Sounds came from her throat that did not form words, coming from the dream that was afflicting her slumber.

When she awoke it was not with a start, simply her body no longer bothering with the pretense of rest. She opened her eyes and found her arm gripping a pillow. Her dreams already began to dissolve like the threads of a weak spider's web, leaving her only with the faint memory of calling out to Robert as he was stalked by… something. Something shapeless, vicious and powerful, a monster of shadow and darkness.

She took in a breath to focus herself and let the dream fade off.

And then she heard the footstep.

She defied the instinct to move, keeping herself still, on her side and turned away from the source. Was it her imagination? She waited.

Another footstep.

As a third joined it, she knew it was not her imagination. She couldn't be sure of the distance, but she was confident it wasn't far. And it was drawing closer. Adrenaline filled her as she readied herself to move.

The footfalls stopped. There was nothing.

Julia pushed herself forward, rolling out of her sheets and off the bed.

As she rolled free heat baked her. Flame erupted from the middle of the bed a second after she was away. She hit the ground, her heart pounding and mind racing. Her eyes, adjusted to the darkness from being closed for so long, focused on a shadowy shape nearby, one of her eskrima sticks. Her left arm shot over and picked up her eskrima stick.

She got to her feet and faced an attacker. He - she was certain her foe was male - was clad in dark clothing. The only light was the dull reflect from the flames consuming her bed and the flames roaring around his hands. Twin eyes of dark amber glared with anger at her. His right hand came up and the flames around it surged.

With only a second to spare, Julia figured out what she needed to do. She ducked low, allowing the fireball from her foe's palm to toast her shoulder and arm but not make any full contact with her body. Seeing his movement she twisted to the right, evading another attack.

Sensing she had her best shot, or at least the best she'd get, Julia's arm shot forward. Her hand released her stick. It flew through the air, tip forward, and smashed into the cheek of her attacker before another bolt of fire could be thrown. She dashed forward with that opening.

Had she struck him in the eye as she'd hoped, her foe would never have recovered before she was in grabbing range. But he did recover, and again flame came from his hands. Julia got to him just before he could renew his attack, allowing her to use her forearms to push his arms around, stopping him getting a strike in. As his frustration spiked his movements got a little sloppy. He moved his arm a little too far, exposing it to a grab. She got her hand on the wrist and gained control of the arm.

Now her foe panicked, trying to twist out of her grasp, but Julia stayed with him. She twisted the wrist in turn, twisted until there was an audible snap and a sharp hiss of pain from the dark-clad man. The pain of his broken wrist stunned him long enough for Julia to get her hand on his free arm, bringing it under control and allowing her to turn him and pin his arms against his back.

The door to the suite bedroom slid open. More figures entered. Julia swallowed, not liking the odds, and turned him toward the others like a shield. But they didn't advance toward her.

Behind her, on the balcony, she heard the roar of strong flames and a sharp impact on the ground. Footsteps sounded and Miko's voice cried out, "What is this?! What are you doing?!"

The man in her grasp groaned, still hurting from her pressure on his arms and his broken wrist. Feeling more confident in her safety, Julia called out, "Lights on!" The system for the Fire Nation Palace, altered to recognize her English commands, obediently activated the lights for the bedroom.

The dark clad men, and her attacker, turned out to be in dark red and gold, and she quickly recognized the faces of the Fire Sages.

Footsteps echoed in the suite outside. Through the open door came Prince Tzen and a squad of the Fire Lord's Lifeguards. "What is the meaning of this?!" Tzen demanded.

"This man attacked me," Julia said, nodding toward her captive. "He tried to burn me alive in my bed." She watched Tzen look to her burning bed with satisfied vindication.

The head of the Fire Sages shook his head. "It was not our intent…"

"Right now I don't care about your intent," Tzen raged. "An honor guest of the Fire Lord has been assaulted in her bed by one of your number!" He gestured to his guards. "Have this extinguished immediately!"

"Allow me, Uncle." Miko stepped toward the bed and motioned with her arms. Powerful gusts of air stamped down on the flickering flames, blowing them out.

"We must speak to the Fire Lord," insisted the elder Sage.

"You will, in the morning, but for now you're going to the cells!" There was genuine mortification in Tzen's voice. Behind him more guards materialized, as did other palace servants, some carrying fire-fighting equipment. Those guards joined the initial squad in taking the Fire Sages into custody. Julia released her foe to be taken. Tzen bowed his head to her. "Captain, we will post guards, and have your wounds tended to."

Now that her adrenaline rush was fading, Julia felt the pain. She looked down to see the scalding on both of her forearms from where the flames of her attacker made contact with her skin. Her shoulder also had a slight burn on it.

Tzen continued. "My deepest apologies for this disgrace, Captain. The Fire Lord will not allow this to go unpunished, I promise you."

For a moment nothing was said. Julia realized Tzen was expecting a response, so she matched his bowed head. "I thank you, Highness, for coming to my aid as you did," she said politely, "and I accept any aid you can give. I trust in your judgement and that of the Fire Lord."

Mollified by her reply, Tzen raised his head and gave her a little nod before departing, bellowing as he did for medics to come.

Julia turned to Miko, was not so easily mollified. "I'll find out what's going on," she promised. "The Sages have gone too far."

"At least one of them did." Julia walked over to a chair and sat down gingerly, feeling the throbbing pain from her burns quite strongly now. She winced before looking up and smiling. "Thanks for coming too, Miko."

Miko forced her own smile to her face, but it was clear she was still upset by what happened.

We can sort it out in the morning, Julia thought. Right now, I feel like I could almost go back to sleep...




Ship's Log: 13 November 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. The investigation into the NEUROM attack on the summit continues. I have reported all of the facts as they are known to Admiral Maran but as of yet, I am unaware of any response to them. The Alliance's relationship with NEUROM is non-existent, to my knowledge, with no standard diplomatic contact between our governments..

While the goal of this "Magister Fayd-Taras" was not met, it appears the summit itself is still a casualty of the attack. I will be present to witness what may be the last session of the conferees.



A different wardroom without a blown-in wall was picked for the final meeting. Kaveri and Sisko joined their delegations.

Quiet reigned until Weyoun stood. "The Founder continues recovering from the treacherous assault we were all subjected to," he began. "I speak for him." Weyoun nodded his head toward Robert, patched up and with the Alliance delegation. "The Founder thanks those who bravely stood up to the attackers and ensured his rescue. Your courage is commended." He turned his attention back to the rest of the room. "Given the situation, the Dominion believes it is best if further discussions are postponed. We are withdrawing our participation in these talks and propose that any further discussions be held on a neutral world considered suitable to all parties."

Porag scowled. Robert felt the disappointment in the room. Another month allowed for all sorts of escalations and crises to begin.

"As a sign of good faith, the Dominion will extend our voluntary moratorium on convoys through the wormhole," Weyoun continued. "This extension will last for one standard month."

Senator Tranu nodded. "The Allied Systems thanks the Dominion for this gesture. We hope to locate a suitable site for renewed talks. In the meantime, we concur with your decision."

The other contingents did so as well. The summit broke up. Robert let out a sigh and glanced to the others. Kaveri glanced back and nodded. She recognized that nothing had been done to untie the knot the summit had been considering when the attack came. Any new summit would have to deal with the issue of the anti-infiltrator devices all over again.

But at least they bought time. Another month was also plenty of time for new developments that might make peace last.

While the groups filed out, Robert did have one last conversation he wanted to pursue. He approached the far door and drew the attention of the withdrawing Cardassian delegation. "Gul Dukat, a moment of your time?" he asked.

The Cardassian leader considered him for a moment before nodding. He stepped away from the others, joining Robert in the corner. "Captain Dale," he said. "I haven't had the pleasure before, but I read our dossier on you during the Mayala crisis. It's quite interesting to finally meet you."

Robert nodded. Nearly three years had passed since the Dorei starbid Mayala was used by its devoted commander, Captain Potana, to attack Cardassian ships in the DMZ. Now that the matter was brought up he recalled Potana clearly. If only he'd held off. The Nazis would've been the evil he longed to fight. "I recall reading your dossier as well, Gul."

"I'm sure you have. So, what is it you wish to ask?"

"Nothing to ask, simply some advice to share." Robert smiled thinly. "If I were you, Gul, I'd be careful about inviting foreign powers to attack my new bosses."

Dukat's face never wavered. Robert felt only the slightest concern come from within him. "And what makes you think I did anything of the sort?" he asked.

"I have my ways." As long as we're being cryptic with each other. "I do have to wonder why you'd have standing contact with people like NEUROM. Or rather, how you would, since NEUROM has no standing connection to any interuniversal-capable government that I know of."

Robert didn't like the amused grin on Dukat's face. "Oh, I have my ways as well, Captain. And as for why, I considered a number of allies to help restore Cardassia's greatness. The Dominion proved the best choice, in the end. Now, if you'll pardon me…"

Robert didn't stop Dukat from returning to his delegation. He walked over to rejoin the allied delegations. Pensley openly spoke as he came close. "I think we can consider this outcome proof that diplomacy may yet work," he said, flashing a challenging look toward Robert. "The Dominion clearly has no hostile intent. They have every reason to be aggressive now rather than later, if that were their goal."

Robert said nothing in response. It was Odo who spoke up instead. "You are sadly mistaken, Mister Senator, if you believe the Dominion poses no long-term threat from their behavior here."

Pensley showed surprise. "Constable, what could you mean by that? Surely you understand your own people as well as any of us."

"I understand them more than any of you," Odo corrected. "And one thing I understand is that my people do not think in the same time lengths you and most other people do. They will give up advantages now for those that will further their interests a decade or now, or even a century. Whatever they say now, they still intend on conquering the Alpha Quadrant and the entire Multiverse beyond it."

Pensley scowled. "I think that's quite unfair of you."

"Unfair or not, it is the truth," Odo said.

Sisko nodded to Odo before looking at Pensley and, beside him, Tranu and the others. "What matters is that we're ready for them, whatever they decide. The Coalition has to hold together against the Dominion threat. So long as it does, we have a chance."

"Our best chance can only be secured through peace, Captain Sisko," Pensley insisted. "I would think that a Starfleet officer would know that."

Sisko responded to Pensley with a bemused look. "I do, but I'm not naive about it either." His tone was diplomatic, but his word choice was not lost on those present. Pensley scowled, recognizing the attack on his own beliefs in Sisko's words.

"We should return to our vessels," T'Latrek advised, clearly not wanting to see another argument involving Pensley. "Our work here, for the moment, is done."

Nobody objected.




The Aurora medbay was more active than usual given the injuries from the security contingent being tended to. Robert had his own wounds that needed double-checking, in this case by Nasri. She examined the pink line across his chest. "I think you'll get away with no scarring," she said. "The regenerators have done their job."

"Thank you, Nasri." He pulled his uniform undershirt back over his chest and looked to the others. Meridina's nose was back into position and healing. Talara sat up on the bed, broken ribs mended, and Gina likewise was in better shape.

Given their status, Robert returned his attention to Nasri to ask, "Can we see them now?"

Nasri nodded. She led them into the main ward of medbay and a pair of beds. Leo was standing beside one, checking the plentiful injuries on the Magi named Ignatum while his sister watched quietly from a seat. In the adjoining bed Lucy was clad in a medbay gown and still asleep. "They're all patched up," Nasri said to Leo.

Leo looked up at them and nodded. Robert sensed smoldering anger in him. "Is everything okay?" he asked his friend.

"I'm getting very tired of treating torture victims," Leo lamented. "This was particularly cruel."

"The enmity between the Councillors of the Sophia and the Ministry of Fate has lasted for millennia," Pallina said. "We are well aware that to fall into Ministry hands means a terrible, brutal death. It's a part of the risk."

That clearly didn't make Leo feel any better, nor Robert and the others for that matter. "There's still a lot about them we don't know," he said to Pallina. "I'd be happy to hear more."

"I can share what we know, but our knowledge is incomplete as well," Pallina admitted. "The Ministry is usually very careful about revealing itself. Entire worlds in NEUROM can spend centuries without coming to the attention of a Magister. This new… aggressiveness in them is like nothing we've seen before."

"They did not enlighten me further," Ignatum added, still clearly weak. "But there is more that worries me. That there was a Fury here…"

The fear the title gave the two Magi was deep. Robert thought it akin to finding out that something like a mythological monster was real.

"The Councillors will have much to consider, but for now brother, you must rest."

"It occurs to me we know as little about your people as we do the Ministry," Meridina said. "But it is clear to me you are followers of the Light."

"The Sophia spoke of the Light of Peace, won through free minds and souls," Pallina said. She looked toward Lucy. "And she spoke also of the sacrifices those in the Light sometimes pay for the sake of others."

"Yes." Meridina and Talara both glanced toward Lucy as well.

It was Gina who asked Leo the question Robert was already wondering. "How is she?"

"Hurt, but alive," Leo said. "We stopped the internal bleeding, mended the broken bones. There's a slight concussion that's going to keep her off regular duty for the next month or so." Leo eyed Robert significantly with that.

"Message received," Robert sighed. "'Don't take Lucy on life-threatening missions.'"

"Don't take her on any," Leo corrected. "Light duty means I don't want her doing more than reading. And only so much of that a day."

"We can certainly manage that, I think," Robert agreed, thinking of the translation work they needed done. He turned his attention back to the Tormayanas. "As a Paladin of the Alliance, I can say that the Alliance would be quite interested in learning more about your people and, perhaps, finding common ground to work together on certain matters?"

Pallina nodded. "My people would welcome allies in the cause of peace and freedom. Our home universe has suffered from too much darkness for too long."

"I'll let the President know in my report." Robert chuckled. "Which I'm due to go write, in fact. Please excuse me."

The others joined him, all save Meridina, who sensed the interest of the two Magi in her. She remained where she was and gently reached out with her mind to touch theirs. I can sense you wish to say more to me?

The siblings glyphed confirmation. Through it came enthusiasm, somewhat ecstatic. You are a follower of Swenya. The Sophia wrote of her.

She did?
Meridina's attention was entirely on them now. I was unaware there was a connection.

Long ago, in the Reignfall, the Sophia learned of Swenya and her Code. She considered it an example for the Councillors to follow. 'Do not injustice to another, defend the weak and innocent…'


Meridina's approval came through the connection. The Order will be pleased to connect with you. Those loyal to the Light must work together in these times… She couldn't keep the grief from showing on her expression, or in her mind.

The two Magi responded with warmth, projecting it through their mental link. We of the Magi were heartbroken to learn of the attack you suffered. It is clear that we must do more to support one another as the dark powers of fear and anger grow.

That drew a glyph of agreement from Meridina. I am afraid I must go attend to my duties as First Officer, she projected to them. Before turning away she gave them the information they needed to connect with her father Karesl, now the leader of the Order by virtue of being the last surviving member of the Order Council. They acknowledged it.




Once she was gone and they were alone, Ignatum gave Pallina a worried look. "Do you think we should have said more? They have been kind to us."

A guilty look crossed Pallina's face. "I feel the same, brother, but we have a duty. The Sophia left clear instructions to us all. The Circle must be protected, at all costs, or the Darkness will take us all."

As expected, Ignatum could not object to that.




With the sun halfway to noon in the sky, Julia followed Miko and Ursa into the audience chamber of the Palace. Daizon was at his seat, flanked by his wife and the Lifeguards. Other guards and Prince Tzen were standing watch on the assembled Fire Sages. They were back in their official robes as well, all save Julia's attacker during the night, who was in a simple vest and pants with restraint cuffs on his arms. The cuffs actually encapsulated his hands, presumably to prevent him from generating flame, and one was joined by the brace for the wrist she'd broken in the fight. His eyes glared her way, suspicion and anger filling them.

Julia bowed respectfully to Daizon. "Your Lordship, you wished to see me?"

"I extend my personal apologies for the attack you suffered last night," Daizon said, his usually calm and friendly voice now firm. It turned harsh as he added, "Our nation is disgraced by the behavior of those it looks to for spiritual guidance." He turned his attention to the Sages.

The elder Sage who spoke to Julia before bowed. "Fire Lord, our deepest apologies. One of our own has allowed our disagreements over the Avatar's training to go too far. We can only beg your understanding and your mercy."

"You can start with an explanation."

Julia knew better than to give voice to her regret about how harsh Daizon was sounding with the Sages. She did regret it, but she recognized why. The Sages had insulted him as deeply as they threatened her, given she was the Fire Lord's guest of honor. Above that, this kind of attack had all sorts of diplomatic and political repercussions. Her death would have drastically undermined the Fire Nation's relations with the Allied Systems and its place in the Compact. Even the attack itself could cause problems.

"Sage Ko Ran is convinced Captain Andreys poses a threat to the Avatar, my Lord."

Daizon gave the unrobed Sage a cold look. "Does he?"

"She would threaten the Avatar's very existence, my lord," the man said, finally speaking. He shot a glare at her which let Julia see the bruise from where her stick struck him. "In her arrogance she misleads the Avatar in her training, and now she plots to bring the Avatar to another universe. A universe in which the Princess Miko's death could spell the end of the Avatar Cycle itself! Once she refused to relent, I had no choice but to act to save the Avatar!"

Miko's nostrils flared, but she held back from speaking.

"So instead of bringing this worry to my attention, you decided to murder my guest?" Daizon asked coldly.

"The Fire Sages exist to serve the Avatar as well as the Fire Lord," Ko Ran said. "I regret bringing dishonor to your house, my Lord, but the Avatar Cycle is the higher concern."

"And yet, what proof do you have that this is a danger to Princess Miko?" asked Daizon. "Have the Sages learned anything new since they last brought their fears to my attention?"

"We have not, my lord," the lead Sage confessed. "We simply believe that given the stakes of the matter, the existence of the Avatar Cycle demands excessive caution."

"Princess Miko?" Daizon looked to her. "What have you to say about this?"

"The Avatar Cycle is greater than the material universe. Raava exists on a plane beyond our own," Miko replied. "And we know that the spiritual abilities of the Humans and other species can be performed in many universes. Why couldn't Raava exist in them as well?" She drew in a breath. "A century ago some feared that Avatar Komin should not leave our world for the same reasons. Yet he perished on Zhongsu, many light years away, and I was born here in the palace."

"A different universe is an entirely different scale, Avatar," Ko Ran protested.

"Maybe so, but you do not convince me it is that different. And with her power, I believe Raava would find her way back here wherever she was." Miko shook her head. "As the Avatar I believe I can do more than just maintain the balance here. In time, I can be a symbol of balance to the whole Multiverse. Let me try this. If I feel a danger I can return."

Ko Ran was clearly not convinced. The lead Fire Sage sighed. "I only wish the best for you and our world, Avatar."

Daizon nodded. "It is clear that matter is decided. Captain Andreys?"

"Yes, Lordship?"

"I will see to this rogue's punishment, and it will be thorough," Daizon said. "As the victim of his treacherous attack, I offer you a chance to determine what that punishment will be."

Julia considered the offer. More than anything, she had to say this the right way to avoid insulting the Fire Lord in one way or another. She contemplated carefully her response before coming to a judgement. "I trust in the Fire Lord's justice."

Daizon nodded in reply. "Then this matter is settled for now. You are all dismissed from my presence."




An hour later Julia was finishing packing the last of her things in the guest quarters. The bed she'd finished the night in was properly made and she'd spent ten minutes tidying things a bit, making it easier on the palace staff. It was unnecessary, but it made her feel better.

She was met at the door to the suite by Miko, a duffel bag in the dark red and black of Future Industries. "Uncle Daizon will not let Ko Ran off lightly, you know. What he did will go down as a black mark in the history of the Sages. Probably the biggest one since the majority of them tried to betray Avatar Aang to Ozai in the last year of the Hundred Year War."

"And that saddens you?" Julia asked, recognizing the tone in Miko's voice.

She nodded. "I… I didn't want to humiliate them, just get them to understand what I'm doing. To trust me. You're the first teacher in these styles to make me believe I can make Waterbending work."

No pressure there, Julia, was the thought that went through Julia's head.

They made their way through the palace to its small shuttle port. An Alliance runabout, the Dravatrusta from the Starship Shenzhou, was waiting for her, a favor from that ship's captain.

Also waiting for them were Daizon, Ursa, and other members of Miko's family. "Miko, Captain…" Ursa nodded to them from her chair. "We came to see you off."

"You're not going to try and talk me out of this?"

"Some of us are worried," Tzen confessed. "But we understand why you're doing this. Just be safe and come back home when you can."

"I will." Miko smiled. "After all, I'll have to go find Komin Beifong to teach me Earthbending, right?"

"Hopefully it won't be long, either," Prince Tenzo remarked. The family laughed and applauded at the idea, and Miko joined in.

That left Julia's goodbye. "I'm honored by having such gracious hosts," she said. "And by the opportunity Miko's giving me. I'm hoping that I can help her reach her potential, and soon."

"We trust you will do all that you can, Captain," Daizon said. "And given everything you've accomplished since meeting my grand-niece, I'm quite confident you'll have her waterbending like a natural."

Julia smiled and nodded in thanks. He was perhaps laying it on a bit thick, but it was a nice sentiment to hear and he meant well.

Miko gave hugs to her relatives, young and old, and the two made their way onto the runabout. An Alakin Ensign of copper feathering and gray coloring was at the helm beside a blue-skinned, teal-dotted Dorei man with a shaven head. He turned and revealed he was a junior Lieutenant. "I'm Lieutenant Jakata nis Tapa and this is Ensign Thees Lanu," he said. "Captain Ming's given us our orders to get you to New Liberty, ma'am. Whenever you're ready?"

Julia took a seat at one of the rear stations. "Launch at your discretion, Lieutenant." She nodded to Miko who took another seat, after which she looked forward with clear excitement on her face.

The runabout lifted from the pad and made its way into space. Through the cockpit window the Starship Shenzhou glistened in the sunlight, her azure hull marked with lines of white and green. Miko admired the ship. "She looks a little like yours."

"The Shenzhou and the other ships of her class were modeled off the Aurora," Julia explained.

"Shenzhou is generating us a jump point in thirty seconds," Ensign Lanu chirped. "Odds are the spatial aspect will be off, it'll take a few days of warp flight to get us to New Liberty."

"Understood, Ensign. If I weren't on mandatory leave I've offer to join the rotation."

"No need, Captain, I brought us a full crew of four," Tapa assured her.

The time passed in which Miko's excitement clearly grew. She gave Julia one final grin, one Julia matched, before seeing the formation of the green vortex that spirited them to her own home universe to Julia's.




Roberrt made sure to be present in the ready office when Sisko arrived to meet with him and Kaveri. She accepted the digital padd offered by Sisko. "Dax and Chief O'Brien have confirmed the sensor readings in the Starfleet databases. It's the same class of ship the Enterprise tried to catch at the Citadel three months ago."

"The ship for that woman called 'Yellow'," Robert specified. "She stole at least one piece of Sovereign that we know of, maybe more."

"And now we know she is also likely an agent of NEUROM's Ministry of Fate," Kaveri finished, looking over the padd. She used her omnitool to copy the data over to her systems and then to Robert's. "I thank you for this, Captain. It's clear that NEUROM is a threat to the stability of the Multiverse."

"Can you think of why they'd want the summit to fail?" Sisko asked.

"I don't think that's it," Robert said. "They were after one of the Founders."

"Why would they be interested?" Sisko asked.

A thought came to Robert. It was an example he was constrained from saying too much about. "There was one on Solaris last year," he said. "When we were there. They tried to capture that one too."

"But you do not know why?"

"I don't, Captain Varma. The NEUROM agent wasn't very talkative about it. But it worries me. They want a Founder, and they wanted pieces of Sovereign. What could NEUROM be up to?"

"Or rather, this faction, since the woman with that ship helped stop the attack," Kaveri pointed out. "There may be an internal matter we're not aware of."

"The chances are good. Better than those of our keeping the peace with the Dominion, I'd bet." Robert spoke the last with some trepidation. One interstellar war had been bad enough. He wasn't sure the Alliance could easily endure another big one.

Whether because she saw his expression or had the idea already, Kaveri changed the subject. She nodded to Sisko. "Captain, before we depart, I would like to invite you and your command crew for a dinner aboard the ship."

To that Sisko grinned. "You beat me to it, Captain Varma. I had the same thing in mind. I suppose it depends on how you feel about Cajun food? My father is a Cajun chef, and I know most of his recipes."

“I find that the style is pleasingly palatable, if missing the… bite of old favourites. Certainly your offer of hospitality is accepted, I can offer no such display of skill in response.”

Robert had his own reason to grin. "Captain Sisko, I think it's about time I introduced you to our lounge host and cook, Hargert."




It was a room of elegant, yet decadent, repose. Atop a pile of pillows sat a being that few knew existed and yet commanded the destinies of billions, ancient and terrible in her power. A heavy brow was set on her face and long, red hair down to her back. A gown hung loosely over her form, comfortable in its make. Some might look and think they saw a soft being, preferring pleasure, but one look into the eyes and they would know their error. This was a being with power, power felt more than seen, and many would think it for the better.

Long ago, she had a name. Now the only name she cared to answer to was "Alekto".

The Tisiphone bowed to her. Her coal-red eyes looked up and a pleasant expression came to her face. "Master, I am pleased to report a complete success. Your son's foolish meddling was disposed of. Fayd-Taras and his entourage are all slain."

The Alekto smiled faintly. "I am pleased. And your encounter with the Dawn-Bearers?"

That prompted a derisive snort. "I have my doubts, Master. They are weak. Unworthy."

"Perhaps." The Alekto glanced to the other figure in the room, a woman wearing shaded glasses over her eyes with pale brown skin and a comfortable set of yellow robes. "Megaera, would you concur?"

The woman considered the matter. "I agree that their strength is not what we require. But I believe they have the potential. And we know they are the best candidates, do we not?" She glanced to Tisiphone. "Did you test them all?"

"One was already wounded, saving one of those Magi interlopers," the Tisiphone admitted. "Her whelp of a student was nothing. The Cylon traitor and the Gersalllian have some skill, but I held back greatly to avoid killing them. And Dale does not yet trust his own strength in the Force. He cannot handle it. And he is terrible with a lightsaber."

The Alekto considered this quietly. She turned to a nearby console. "Xanadu Control, activate hypercomm systems."

The computer system heeded her verbal command. Seconds passed in quiet until blue light formed in front of the Alekto. It took the shape of a man, handsome, well-dressed, at ease. While she was seated on her pillows he was in a high-backed chair, the top decorated with an insignia that made Tisiphone scowl: a winged infinity symbol.

The insignia of Pan-Empyrean Holdings.

"Sidney," the Alekto said, some bemusement in her voice. "Have I alleviated you from the tedium of your stockholders?"

"Not today," he answered, his voice resigned but not hostile. He settled his hands on his lap. "To what do I owe the pleasure? Have you finally considered my argument?"

"I have." The Alekto nodded. "I require further proof. A test, and a personal one. You should make the arrangements."

That did draw a sigh from the wealthy self-made immortal. "I wish you'd take this on my personal word. But I know better. And I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

That made the Alekto's grin turned satisfied, almost wickedly so. From the folds of her gown she brought up an object, a cylindrical device, one many across the Multiverse would now recognize as a lightsaber.

And one many a Gersallian would recognize as the lightsaber: Swenyakesh. Swenya's Blade itself.

"No," purred the Alekto. "You don't."
"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)

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Departure from DS9 was due within a few hours, so the crew of the station and of the Aurora made use of the time they had.

The Lookout's bar was loaded with the dishes emerging from the kitchen, where the assembled from both groups were quick to parcel it all out. It didn't go unnoticed when Sisko, clad in a chef's uniform and apron, emerged with Hargert, clad similarly, each with a jambalaya dish in their potholder-clad hands. They set their work down at the middle of the bara. "Alright everyone, the main course is ready!" Sisko proclaimed.

"And quite the course it is," Hargert added. He smiled and bowed his head toward Sisko. "It's been quite an education, Captain. My understanding of New Orleans cuisine was always a little lacking."

That brought a grin to the commander of DS9. "It's always important to remember the distinction between Creole and Cajun. My father taught me that early. I suggest you stop in at his restaurant if you're ever at our Earth," Sisko said. "And bring that leika spice when you do, Dad'll find a lot of uses for it."

Hargert nodded at the reference to one of the Dorei spices he was familiar with. "Of course. Once you showed me your recipes I thought it might complement the flavor."

This was overheard by the others. "I suppose we're about to find out," said Bashir.

"Oh, I think it'll work," Jarod said, waiting patiently to take his own share.



Cat was getting her own fairly small tidbits while in conversation with Dax on the subject of T'Vral Distortions. "...saw the report, and I was surprised by the intensity of the gravimetric distortion," the raven-haired Trill woman said.

Cat restrained a sigh: Dax was as pretty as ever, but Cat already knew from Angel she was spoken for. Briefly she wondered if the symbiotes had any influence on the sexual orientation of the host, since even if they were always in straight hosts the odds were good of experiencing both genders over time.

"And what about the expanse of the subspace effect?" Dax asked, bringing Cat's attention back to the subject. "Did that conform to Doctor T'Vral's theory?"

"The first one did," Cat answered, recalling the example she saw and the later ones explored by other ships. "A few months later the Kitana found a field with three times the projected volume for the star type. We think it was Betelgeuse, although with the Fracture's messed up space-time we can't be sure. And the Maimonides found other new ones in their recent mission."

"I'll have to look into those reports." There was a passionate curiosity in Dax's voice. "It fascinates me to hear this. Back in Starfleet Academy, before I was Joined, I did a paper in my junior year on T'Vral's theory and the necessary conditions for it."

"I'd like to think Doctor T'Vral would appreciate seeing her work confirmed," Cat said, recognizing that whatever the Dax part of her was, the host Jadzia was at least somewhat a fellow soul on the matter of science. Being an older woman she didn't have the same youthful enthusiasm - and that didn't count having a centuries-old being in her body, sharing a personality and memory - but Cat could see that being her in a decade or so.

The thought came roaring through her without warning. If I live that long. She saw her own death-dulled eyes again, in that slightly different uniform, in her chair on the broken Aurora bridge.

"Is everything okay?"

"Hrm?" Cat blinked and noticed the worried look on Dax's face. "What?"

"You went a little pale there," Dax said.

"Oh. I just… a thought. Just a thought." They sat down at a table where Tom and O'Brien were already present, talking about the damage that NEUROM's agents had done to the station. O'Brien recognized their presence with a quick "Commanders".

After responding with "Chief" and "Tom", Cat dug her fork and spoon into the jambalaya, curious about it. She'd had some spicy food before, and she'd heard good things about Sisko's cooking. Combined with Hargert, she imagined it would be great.

It was.

While she enjoyed eating it, Cat found herself looking over the assembled. Lucy was the only one not present, given her injuries still had her in the medbay, but everyone else, even Gina, was digging in. Her eyes tracked through the room to where Sisko and Kaveri were seated with Zack and General Martok. The latter stood out given the metal mug in his hand, but he seemed content to attempt the Human cuisine as well.

"So, what more can you tell me about the Fracture?" Dax asked.

That drew Cat's attention back. But even as she spoke on the subject, her mind kept wandering back to Kaveri.



Gina was mostly by herself at a corner table of the Lookout, and that suited her. With her portion of the meal finished she was still hard at work over a translation that now seemed hopeless. As much as she tried, she couldn't make sense of much of the message.

"Everything going well?" Robert sat down beside her. "Or do you want to be alone?"

Gina sensed the genuine warmth in Robert. It was annoying in that it was a distraction, but it was also something she couldn't help but appreciate. "I'm… well, I'm still occupied." Gina held up a paper she'd scribbled her translation attempts on. Robert took it and looked over the flowing Gersallian characters. "I've tried to transliterate into modern Gersallian and even your Latin alphabet, but nothing works."

Robert furled his brow. The first line made actual sense. "By my name the way to the truth will be open." But the rest was a random assortment of Gersallian characters. They didn't make sense. "Maybe it's a cipher," Robert suggested. "We should run it through some conventional Gersallian ciphering techniques."

"That's my next step."

"Good." Robert took her papers before Gina could stop him and set them in a chair. She looked at him like he was insane. He grinned. "Now, how about you go and get a second helping, because it's really good, and find some people to talk to? Personally I'm interested in asking Major Kira more about Bajoran spirituality."

Gina sighed. "We need to get this finished."

"We do," he agreed. "But we need to tend to ourselves first. I think Mastrash Ledosh would prefer it that way."

She almost protested that, but sensed Robert wouldn't yield. With a sigh she stood up, plates in hand, and followed Robert out of the corner.




They were an hour out from DS9 when Cat arrived on the bridge. Beta Shift's watches were standing now with Lieutenant Tinashe Takawira as the Officer of the Watch. He'd been moved from his usual position on Gamma Shift by Kaveri as one of her small changes to the running of the ship. He noted her presence with a nod. "Commander."

"Lieutenant. Just here to see the Captain."

"She's in the ready office," he replied, his accented English from his homeworld Nkomo, a Zimbabwean-founded colony.

"Thanks. And congratulations, I heard you're due for the promotion at the start of next month."

He smiled. "Thank you." The smile turned a little bitter. "Captain Andreys signed the recommendation to the Promotion Board. I wish she could be here to see it."

"So do I," Cat said. She missed Julia too. "I'm sure she'll be happy when she hears it."

There was nothing more to say on the subject so Cat approached the ready office door. She took in a breath to steady herself and hit the door chime. A part of her didn't want to do this, was worried the others would still find out…

...but she had to. For her own sake of mind, her own sanity, she needed to tell someone. Needed to have some advice.

"Come in," came from the other side, aided by the speaker system. The door slid open and Cat entered. Kaveri was at her desk, a digital reader in one hand and a cup of hot chai in the other. Cat stood at attention and Kaveri let her relax, replying with "At ease. Take a seat, Commander."

She did so. "I… I've thought about what you said, Captain." Cat settled her hands in her lap and used them to brush at the uniform skirt that went to her knees. She made herself look back up and focus on Kaveri. "It's true that I've let things go, and I'm going to fix that. I… I've had something that just... " She pursed her lips in thought. "Can I explain it to you? It's a lot to take in, and it's a little scary."

Kaveri set the digital reader down. "Go ahead," she said. "Given all I have survived, I can handle scary, Commander."

Cat nodded. "Okay." She felt one last counter-push, one last urge to break this off, but she forced it away. She was committed. She had to do this to keep Captain Varma's respect, and given how much Tra'dur respected her "Mother-Ka", she felt like she wanted it. "A little over a year ago, after the Canary Wharf incident in W8R4, I traveled with the being we encountered there, the Time Lord called the Doctor. For everyone else I was only gone for a few minutes, but for me it was almost a year."

"And something happened to you on this journey?"

Cat nodded. "You could say that..."
"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 »

Teaser


Ship's Log: 13 December 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. At 0756 hours New Liberty time the Aurora arrived on station at Earth, Universe Designate T7C8. Our purpose is to facilitate a peaceful first contact with the planetary government of this Earth and support humanitarian aid. Earth T7C8 is still recovering from a civil war waged against the planetary government. It was a conflict only ended due to outside intervention from the war criminal James Hawk.

It would seem that once again the Alliance is bound to pick up the pieces left behind by that man.



It was 0920 when Kaveri heard the chime on the ready office door. "You may enter," she called out.

She'd anticipated Commander Meridina and the Gamma Shift's watch logs to review and sign off on. Instead Captain Robert Dale was the figure that stepped in, wearing his silver-trimmed intelligence officer's uniform that covered for his role as a Paladin of the Alliance.

As much as the Alliance needed special forces capable of standing against dark forces, Kaveri did not think Paladins, uncomfortably like secret police or unaccountable secret agents, were the correct choice. None of it showed on her face, however. "Your mission went well?" she asked politely and correctly.

"Well, it went smoothly, at least," he replied. He sensed something of her sentiment and said nothing about it out of politeness, not to mention his own occasional concern about what the Paladins could become. He nodded politely to Group Captain Bet'tir. The Dilgar woman had the flying eye pin of the Mha'dorn, the Dilgar telepath organization, and still wore the more elaborate uniform of the Union of Tira and Rohric's military. Officially she was Kaveri's personal adjutant while she was on Alliance duty, but it was something of an open secret that she was here to personally protect Kaveri given she was Warmaster Shai'jhur's wife.

He continued speaking on the matter, as much as he could, while he casually had an old folk song his grandfather loved play in his head. "A face to face contact with a potential pro-Alliance asset in S2C3 that went off without any violence. I never even had to draw my lightsaber."

"If only all our missions were so easy." Kaveri took a sip from her cup of chai. "S2C3. I have seen that universe mentioned in a number of the recent fleet orders. They're keeping a dreadnought squadron active there at all times now. It seems an unwelcome drain on our resources given the lingering Dominion issue."

"The growth of our economic and diplomatic contacts with the Umojan Protectorate makes that inevitable, as dangerous as it might be. For one thing, it means our relations with the dictator of the Terran Dominion are getting frostier by the day." Robert decided not to say anything more about the issue. "Emperor" Arcturus Mengsk was shaping up to be a future pain.

"The reports on the Protoss remind me of what it was like to learn about the Vorlons." Kaveri said those words while glancing at a digital tablet with the report on T7C8 Earth still displaying on it. "But I am being reminded of my home universe's history in other ways today."

"I can see why." Robert leaned forward in his chair.

"You were the one who brought this world to our attention, I hear?"

He nodded. "I did. The coordinates were cast into my mind just before Hawk and his people beamed off of Tau Atrea."

Kaveri replied with a nod, leaving Robert to considering his encounter with Hawk on that mission. The Tau Atrea mission still stood out among the others he'd taken as a Paladin, given the encounter with the Liberationist faction of the Psi Corps and the first indication of the threat posted by the Aristo rulers of the Eubian Concord of A5R0.

The most important part of that mission, at this moment, was his second encounter with James Hawk. The interuniversal rogue — and accused war criminal — fought on his side that day, working with Robert and the Psi Corps settlers to fight off the Aristos' hired guns. The two had even had a face-to-face discussion (or rather argument) that gave Robert important insights into Hawk's character.

But it was Hawk's subordinate on that mission that prompted their current mission. Rebekah bat Gurion hailed from the war-torn Earth spinning below them. She was one of that planet's telepath minority population who joined up with Hawk out of gratitude for his putting down the most vicious of the factions in the war, the telepath-killing "Dissolutionists".

"Before I left the Corps' settlement, Max Cohen let me know of some of the things Becca told him about her homeworld," he continued, for Kaveri's benefit. "Honestly, as much of a threat as they can be to Multiversal peace, this is one case where I wonder if Hawk and his crew weren't doing the right thing. The Dissolutionists were butchers, pure and simple. They committed multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity, especially when it came to telepaths."

"I can understand the sentiment." She glanced to the pad again. She was up to the confirmation on the "psi-bomber" program, when Dissolutionist forces made captured telepaths become psionic suicide attackers to save their families from execution.

Robert didn't have the report from in front of him, but he'd read it enough to remember the key points. "Reportedly some Dissolutionist groups are still active, even though their ability to maintain organized resistance was destroyed by Hawk. They've fallen back on terrorist attacks in several locations and are turning to guerilla war in others. The central government's still trying to crush them, and they're starting to turn authoritarian in the pursuit of that. And they aren't much better toward telepaths. They see them as weapons and tools more than living people."

"A familiar flaw, to me," Kaveri said, a certain harshness in her tone.

Robert nodded once. "I saw the similarity too."

"It is, perhaps, greater than you know." Kaveri set the tablet down. "We like to pretend that our Earth is a fully unified world with a unified people. But the truth is the Earth Alliance's popularity is not and has never been universal. It nearly collapsed several times during the 22nd Century. Without the first contact with the Centauri, a fourth World War would have been inevitable for us." Kaveri turned thoughtful. "Sometimes I believe such a conflict is still inevitable."

"I read that Earthforce has had to put down anti-Earth Alliance coups in some of your constituent nations?"

"The uprising of the African Bloc, yes. The Martians' repeated efforts to break away. The Canal Wars. And the War of the Shining Star saw millions of dead across East Asia."

Robert felt an emotional resonance in her. It coalesced into a memory of a much younger Kaveri finding a small, crying child in the wreckage of that war, a little Chinese girl. "Your daughter Zhengli, Zhen'var I mean. That's how you adopted her?"

She nodded. "It was. My first assignment was in the peacekeeping force in Guangxi during the rebuilding." The thoughtful look remained on her face. "For all the blood shed during the recent civil war, it was at least brief. Sheridan is a true believer in the Earth Alliance and fought to reform it, not break it up. Looking at these reports of T7C8 Earth, I see what we might have become. What we might yet become."

"They might have a chance to be better," Robert pointed out. "From the data we have, the central government has to deal with a reform movement popular in several regions and countries. And while some of their political figures are pushing for authoritarian, arguably fascist measures to suppress the reformist movement, it's not a universal sentiment in their government. Reform is possible."

"Reform is usually possible, but it rarely comes easily. I'm aware you have an interest in the plight of telepaths, Captain."

"I have an interest in the plights of any mistreated people," Robert replied. "I want them to be free. I know it sounds a little canned, but that's why I'm out here."

"It is worthwhile, at least. I've always felt our treatment of our telepaths was one of the great crimes of our society," Kaveri said. "And now I see another world starting down the same dreadful path mine took."

Robert nodded in reply to that. "Part of the talks will be trying to convince the United Earth government to firm up its devotion to civil rights. Stopping them from conscripting telepath children will be a part of that."

"It will not be easy. They will resist it, not just from the usefulness of telepaths, but because they will not want to feel that they were forced into the decision by a greater force."

"So we'll have to persuade them to do it themselves," he said.

A silence followed, indicating the discussion was over. Robert was ready to stand and head off but stopped himself when he remembered what else he'd come to tell her. "On another matter, Captain, I figured you'd like to hear this." Seeing he had her attention he continued. "The Huáscar just re-established contact with the fleet and Zhen'var made her initial report on their mission. It was in my update from Portland last night. They're on their way back to Alliance space now."

A gentle, satisfied expression came to Kaveri, resonating with the relief Robert sensed in her. "That is good to hear. Thank you for sharing it, Captain."

"I can't go into particulars on what happened out there, but going by what I read, Zhen'var made you proud with what she did."

“She always has. My daughter is not faultless, but I have never failed to be satisfied by her upholding of dharma.”

Any further discussion was halted by the chime for the door. Kaveri bid the person outside to enter. Meridina stepped in carrying a digital pad. She nodded to Kaveri and then to Robert, giving Bei'tir the customary telepathic recognition as she did, before stepping up and handing the pad to Kaveri. "The Gamma Shift reports and logs, Captain," she said politely. "And Deputy Secretary Crawford informed me that we are due to transport down at eleven hundred hours."

"We should prepare." Kaveri accepted the pad and brought it up to read. "You have arranged the Officer of the Watch in your place already?"

"Commander Locarno will be assuming the watch, Captain."

"Very good. We shall see you in the Transporter Station, Commander."

Robert stood. "I'll let you get to it, then, and I'll go check on other matters."

He put it carefully, but he sensed both knew what he meant. The decoding of the Life of Reshan was proceeding despite the difficulties of finding the message within had become gibberish. Or, more likely, a code within a code, one they would need to figure out how to decipher if they were to learn the secrets that the Cylons and the Brotherhood of Kohbal went to such great lengths to find out.

"Miss Inviere believes she's found the end of the double-coded segment," Meridina said.

"I'll consult with her then, and leave you both to the diplomacy side of things. Good luck."

He didn't bother adding that they'd probably need it.


[align=center]Undiscovered Frontier
"Sense of Worth"
[/align]




Dr. Leo Gillam, Chief Medical Officer of the Aurora, had seen many a sight in his life, particularly after the change that came with the discovery of the Darglan Facility.

He was thus fairly prepared for the sight of a tent city, and that of rubble.

His difficulty came with the location.

While he ultimately made the friends that defined his life after his parents moved to the flat farming counties of the Kansas prairie, Leo's first twelve years of life were spent in the urban spaces of Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up mostly in the environs of Marietta, he had memories associated with every corner of the city in question. And while he'd seen poverty there on his Earth, it was nothing like this.

The tent city was put up among assorted buildings, mostly the broken remains of apartment structures, warehouses, and commercial spaces. Some of these buildings were still partially intact and were being used, but a number were nothing but a pile of rubble. In the distance, he could see the Atlanta skyline now containing half-skeletal remains of skyscrapers gutted by explosions, adding to the sense of ruin and destitution.

The sight stunned him enough that he remained stationary for several moments, only jolted out of it by the voice of the Aurora's security chief, Lt. Commander Phryne Richmond. "Doctor, is there a problem?" Her upper class Australian accent stood out compared to the others on the Aurora command staff.

Before he could reply, one came from the figure beside him. "He grew up here." Lt. Commander Caterina Delgado, the ship's Science Officer, gave him a sympathetic look. "Right?"

"Yeah."

By this time a group of people approached, three men and two women. One of each was African-descended, like Leo, and the rest were Caucasian or of brown, multi-racial appearance. They moved with a certainty before coming to a stop a meter in front of the Aurora group. "You're more of the Humans from another universe," said the lead figure, the African-American woman. "Thanks for coming here, I didn't really expect to see more help."

"Going by our preliminary scans this site looked like it needed priority."

"We do. I'm Nysha Williams, and I'm the elected leader of the Atlanta Telepath Community," she replied.

"Ah." Leo sighed. He'd been there for the briefing the night before on what to expect. "Dr. Lenoard Gillam, Chief Medical Officer on the Alliance Starship Aurora. I'm guessing that's why you didn't expect us?"

"We're used to being ignored by the Unies," another member of the group said. "They give us cast-offs that their occupation troops don't need."

"Which is better than what the locals give us, which is the stink eye and violent thoughts." Nysha sighed. "And before you ask, yes, we can sense your surface thoughts, we can't help it, and it's as annoying to us as it's frustrating to you."

"We work with telepaths," Cat assured them. "We know how that works."

Leo noticed the way their eyes shifted. They were surprised but also seemed a little relieved. "The Gersallians have telepaths," he added, elaborating on what Cat said. "Our ship's XO is one, as is our ship's civilian psychiatrist."

"I'll believe it when I see it," said one of the men. "Way it's gone for us, banals either want to kill us or make us their tools."

Leo knew better than to protest their purpose. Actions, not words, he thought, knowing they'd pick it up.

"Allow me to introduce my colleagues. Walter Smith, Irma Michaels, Kevin O'Hare, and Sam Laffler."

Leo took the lead in shaking hands while the others introduced themselves. "Given your situation, I'm betting you have a secure space for medical supplies?"

"This way, Doctor."

Nysha's comrades stayed with them for the walk from their beam-in point towards the center of the camp. Leo looked around at what looked like assorted families and individuals. Some were eating military rations, some were carrying pails or pots of water. Some just seemed to be staring into space. Children ran about from tent to tent, playing, but Leo found children always played when they could whatever their circumstances. Even when everything around them is rubble.

"Just what happened here?" he asked.

"Atlanta was the capital of the New Confederacy," Nysha said. "After that offworlder ship wrecked the Dissolutionists' main forces, the Union and the Pacific Fed broke through the lines. The Dissies scraped together enough guns and troops to fight for Atlanta, but that was just them being diehards. The Unies put them down, hard, and ruined the city doing it."

"I grew up in this city," Leo said. "On my Earth, anyway. I can't imagine how it must've felt to see armies wrecking your home."

"Oh, I was cheering the invaders on," Nysha said. "All of us were. The Telepath Underground helped us find places to live under the Dissie regime, but it wasn't the easiest living. People were always accusing one another of being teeps, even other banals, and heaven help any teep they actually caught."

"I read the reports," was all Leo said on that. Inwardly he seethed at what he'd read. Unethical medical experiments, forced druggings that ruined telepaths' senses and took the will to live from them, straight up executions. The fact that actual medical doctors had participated in these activities offended him at a basic level.

"Yeah, we can tell," the other woman remarked. "Maybe don't make it so loud?"

Leo winced. "Sorry."

"Just to clarify, 'Dissie' or Dissolutionist were those who wanted to eliminate your global government, yes?" Richmond asked.

"Pretty much. And half of the Dissie nations and groups hated the other half, but they could agree on two things." Nysha scowled. "They hated the Unies, and they really hated telepaths. So they started the war to try and wreck the Unie government, make the world ungovernable, and to kill as many telepaths as they could get their hands on."

"They think we're lab experiments, not real people," one of the others added.

"Here in North America, something like half the states voted to withdraw, and when the Unie-backed Union government refused, they declared the New Confederacy and joined the war. Took half of the North American military with them when they did, and the Pacific Fed took another chunk."

"And they are?"

"Pacific Coast. Columbia, California, Oregon. They broke with the Union over the conscription laws and the Federal Telepath Regulatory Act," Nysha said. "They formed their own government with Hawaii and New Zealand and a bunch of Pacific Islands. It's one of the few countries left where telepaths have rights."

"Then why don't you move there?" asked Cat.

"Because the Unies won't let anyone leave the 'security zones'," Lafler snarled. "They arrest anyone who tries without authorized papers."

The conversation ended as they stepped through an intact door into what looked to have once been an office supply company. Nysha led them through a shattered office space to a storage area that was two-thirds empty. "As you can see," she said, "we have a lot of space for you, and we've got people watching around the clock."

Leo and the others looked about the room. Most of the goods present looked like the kind of aid one got from charities, and indeed some was in boxes labeled with crosses and other religious iconography. "Aside from the Unies' leftovers, our only source of supplies are religious charities," Nysha explained.

There was an exception, however. In one corner were stacks of supplies that were clearly from another Earth. Working around these stacks were three people taking an inventory. One was in a pale blue lab coat and the other in something that seemed to be nurse's scrubs while the third was a woman in a black suit. Her hair was dyed a bright shade of pink, causing her to stand out among the others.

"It seems one of the supply ships already came to you," Richmond remarked.

"They call themselves the Jenny Winters Foundation," Nysha explained. "They beat you by about an hour."

"They must have come down the moment we signaled the all-clear," Cat observed. Cat also noticed that as she bent over the lab coat was draped to one side and the slacks underneath caught in just the right places.

The woman turned around and gave Cat a once over. “You know, if you’re going to undress me with your eyes, you could at least buy me a coffee first…”

Nysha and the others sensed a telepathic reply. Sister, be gentle…

Of course I will, but come on, how often do I get to do this?
was the reply.

“Wait, what…”Cat froze, and noticed the black gloves and Psi Corps badge on the woman’s coat. A deep blush came to her cheeks. “Oh God, I’m sorry.”

The coat-wearing woman grinned. “It’s fine! I wouldn’t be a mind-nudist if I thought otherwise. In my own head, I am completely naked.”

Richmond exchanged a curious look with Leo. "I wasn't aware that we had an Earth Alliance contingent with the aid fleet," she said. "I thought it was only Alliance, Federation, and Systems Alliance groups participating?"

“Not precisely accurate.” The reply came from a man in pale blue set of nurse's scrubs. He bore a clear resemblance to the woman. “There is no Earth Alliance involvement here. However, a certain obvious sub-population within the Earth Alliance might have registered an NGO with the Alliance government. I’m Thomas Spencer, this is my sister Dr. Abigail Spencer, and our silent companion here is Kusko Al. And I do apologize for my sister, she gets a bit cheeky.” Tom shot her a glance.

Leo nodded to them. "Good to meet you Doctor." He extended a hand. "I'm Doctor Leonard Gillam of the Starship Aurora. This is Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, Chief of Security, and Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado, our Science Officer." He went on to introduce Nasri and the other nurses with him.

“A pleasure.” Abigail replied and shook first, with Kusko second, and Tom last. “We’ve heard good things about you and your ship. As you can imagine after recent events we have an interest in helping the telepaths of this planet. And I do apologize Commander, I only meant to play with you a little bit, not mortify you.”

"No, no, it's fine," Cat insisted, still blushing a deep red. "I'm just, I… never mind."

To relieve Cat from her embarrassment, if nothing else, Leo picked up the conversation. "Well, they need every bit of help they can get from what I've seen. I'll have our coordinates relayed to the ship so we can beam supplies directly in here, and we can get started in cataloguing everything."

"When you say 'science officer', what do you mean?" Nysha asked, speaking up now that the introduction was over. "In some Dissolutionist regimes, their idea of 'science officers' were the ones responsible for experimentation."

"Oh, it's nothing like that!" Cat answered. "Well, we do experiments, but not like, you know, like that. We do good experiments, like studying flora and fauna and running simulations and examining spatial phenomena."

“A lot of their ships do exploration in addition to military duties. They need people for that, in addition to… I’ll call it quantum chicanery, during combat operations.” Tom explained by way of interlocution.

Leo chuckled. "You'll have to pardon her enthusiasm, Cat's always loved the exploration element of science. I don't think there's a planet, asteroid, or star she hasn't happily scanned." His piqued anger at what Nysha described slipped back into his thoughts. "Nothing like what those butchers you're describing did."

“Yeah that…” Abigail shuddered “and the Unies are not much better, from what we’ve picked up. They get a bit close to home, if you understand my meaning. Unfortunately we have the benefit of hindsight.” Which was directed toward Nysha. Kusko Al nodded and glanced between them. It gave Leo the feel that more was being said.

Whatever it was, it wasn't his business. He keyed his omnitool. "Gillam to Aurora Transporter Station 3."

"Chief Jayan here, sir," answered a Dorei transporter operator, her accent sounding like a blend of South Asian and Polynesian in tone. "Are you ready?"

"My coordinates, Chief."

Nearby the first pallet of supplies materialized with a buzz and a flash of white light. More started to within seconds. Leo noted the way Nysha and the others were looking at the supplies, as if divine providence had finally come through for them. Given the way transporters operate, I'm not surprised, he thought. "Commander Delgado will be helping you sort out the bio-sciences gear and Commander Richmond will help any security you have."

"I'll show her to Lawton," one of Nysha's fellows offered.

"Good. I'd like to get everything settled so, with your permission, I can make a round in your medical tent," he offered. "I want to pitch in, if I'm welcome."

"It'll be welcome, Doctor, and honestly, we're not in the best position to refuse it," said Nysha. "We only have a few trained nurses and some untrained ones."

"You don't have a physician?" he asked.

"We did," was all she would answer. The two medical telepaths went stiff.

Leo nodded and sighed. "Well, between Doctor Spencer, myself, and anyone else we can call in, I hope to make good for that." As he spoke a thought went unbidden through his head. I hope Richmond won't be working as hard as it looks she will be.

Abigail gave him a slightly reproachful look, and he knew that he’d tempted fate.

He flashed a weak grin her way, knowing precisely what she meant.



Kaveri, Bei'tir, and Meridina materialized in an open courtyard in front of an elegant ten story structure in Brussels' old "European Quarter". Beside them Deputy Secretary Travis Crawford and a half dozen officials and staff materialized as well.

The delegation were representative of the Alliance as a whole, with one Alakin, two Humans, two Dorei, and three Gersallians beside Crawford himself. They were all in general business wear suitable for diplomacy, but Crawford was clearly here to make an impression. He had a Stetson hat and a bolo tie on a suit of dark green. His weathered face was formed into an easy grin as they were approached by an assemblage of formally dressed persons. Half were in European-style wear, two more had what Meridina recognized as West African formal garb, and a woman who matched Kaveri's skin tone was wearing a formal suit based around a sari. Like Kaveri she had a red dot, a bindi, on her forehead.

She sensed some hostility from the group, particularly a man with a bronze shade and European-style business suit. For the most part that hostility was tinged with worry and fear. This is not going to be an easy first contact, Meridina mused.

"Hey there," Crawford said, his accent one that Meridina was told was a "Texan drawl". "I'm Deputy Secretary Crawford, and these are the rest of my team." He introduced them one by one, revealing an aid specialist, a legal advisor, and an economic analyst among them. "And these fine ladies are Captain Kaveri Varma and Commander Meridina of the Aurora."

"I'm National Affairs Secretary Samira Gupta," the woman in the lead position said. She gestured to the others, introducing the man Meridina sensed hostility from as Security Minister Paul Marias, while another figure was Defense Minister Tochiro Kanegawa. "President Lawrence and Premier Gorchkov are waiting for us."

They were led into the building. Inside the main foyer was a memorial depicting a blue flag with a circle of gold stars and a list of names. Seeing their curiosity, Gupta said, "This is a memorial to the personnel of the old Berlaymont building who were killed in a terrorist bombing that destroyed the structure," she explained. "We wished to honor those who stood for the common unity of Humanity."

The explanation fit what Meridina was feeling. She could sense the lingering specter of death and terror here from that event.

Crawford doffed his hat to the memorial and the Gersallians joined Meridina in a contemplative nod of the head in respect to the fallen.

From there they were led to an elevator. Halfway up the building the car came to a stop, allowing them out into a hallway with a lush carpet. Their route took them to a big pair of double doors emblazoned with laurel-contained globe depicting Earth from its northern pole, every continent visible with the Southern Hemisphere on the outside of the image.

Inside was a stone-faced woman of pale complexion and an older bald man. They were introduced as the President and Prime Minister of the United Earth by Gupta, who directed everyone to their seats.

As they sat down, one figure remained seated in the corner, not a part of the discussion. The woman had a bronze skin tone and dark-colored hair showing under her headscarf, a hajib. Meridina sensed a telepathic talent in the woman. She also felt lingering resentment in her, a sort of resignation to her life.

Once they were all seated, President Lawrence spoke up. "This is Miss al-Ghazi, a service telepath. She's here to advise us and prevent any mis-understandings from any telepaths in your entourage."

"I am a telepath," Meridina said, "and trained as a…" She almost used "swevyra'se", but that would be confusing to their hosts. She opted for "...a Knight in the Order of Swenya."

"I am also a telepath," offered the Gersallian aid specialist, a man named Henjasaram. "Although my talent is quite weak."

"I am a telepath as well," Bei'tir said, and said no more on the matter.

There was an uncomfortable look from Kanegawa, but the most intent reaction was from Marias. His mind filled with singing.

"Thank you for being forthcoming," Lawrence said. "And we thank you for the aid being offered to our world. Unfortunately, we must also lodge protests with your government."

"Well now, we've only exchanged comm calls until now," Crawford said. "What's the problem, Madame President?"

"We're informed that you've opened communications with constituent governments of United Earth," she said. "Such as the Pacific Federation and Iran. It is part of the United Earth Charter that our government will handle any communications with off-world bodies."

Lawrence's tone was firm, if not harsh, but Gupta quickly added, "We understand that you may not be aware of our constitutional procedures, Deputy Secretary, but we do wish this to be addressed. It would be much like us opening negotiations with your Alakins instead of the whole Alliance."

"Ah, well, even under the Alliance Constitution that's allowed to an extent, ma'am," Crawford said. "But I understand the point."

"We were simply attempting to ensure our aid went where it was needed," Henjasaram added. "No offense was meant."

"That is understood, but we wish to be clear on this. United Earth will handle our side of your relief efforts, not component governments."

Meridina sensed Marias' intent a moment before he spoke. His words were in English with a Greek accent. "There's also the telepath issue, and your attempts to support telepath supremacist and liberation movements."

This time the response from the assembled was confusion. "Mister Minister, I'm afraid we're at a loss," Crawford said. "We just got here."

Meridina sensed distrust and uncertainty from the others, and a certain sentiment from Marias that Lucy would've called "smugness". "You claim to have nothing to do with these groups, but what we have proof to the contrary," he insisted. He brought up a digital device and tapped a key.

This brought a holotank built into the table on. They were treated to footage of a raid. Meridina frowned at the sight of armed people being gunned down by figures in tactical uniforms of some sort. The footage shifted to showing open cases with weapons.

Darglan weapons.

The confusion from Crawford and his people was palpable. Meridina noted the telepath al-Ghazi nodding to Premier Gorchkov, who whispered something to Lawrence.

Meanwhile Marias continued. "This was a raid my forces waged last week on a Telepath terror cell in North America. These weapons match yours, do they not? They certainly aren't from our world." Like a prosecuting attorney pressing his case home to a jury, Marias gained a pleased edge to his voice. "In fact, they also resemble the weapons used by the ship called the Avenger when they attacked the Dissolutionists, and your own people admit that Mister Hawk's pirates use the same weapons you do. And they haven't been seen in months. In short, Mister Deputy Secretary Crawford, your government is lying to us, or you've lost control of your people."

It was a blunt accusation and Meridina noticed Crawford's thin frown. "I don't know where those guns came from, Minister, but they didn't come from us. We came here to help you out."

"You came here to wow us with your technology and press change on us. It won't work. We will continue to do what we need to in order to protect the people of this planet from terrorists, saboteurs, and radicals."

"I think Minister Marias has made the point sufficiently," Gorchkov said. "We are sympathetic to the possibility of an error in your government. And maybe this Hawk person did give them guns. Either way, we will decide how telepathy is utilized on our world, no one else."

"It's your world, Premier, not ours. We're just here to give a helpin' hand," Crawford said, his drawl now in an assuring tone. "If someone on our side's doing this, we've got one of our top people in orbit who can find out."

Gupta was quick to take charge of the discussion again. "Excellent. And now that this necessary business is over, we're interested in hearing more about your proposals."




Robert sat with Gina and Talara in the cockpit of the Jayhawk, where the comm station activated to present the bearded face of Admiral Maran. The Gersallian military leader, effectively the man in charge of the Allied Systems' military, looked a little less stressed than before. Robert figured it was due to the reorganization at Command to relieve some of his tasks.

"The President's pleased by your report of the meeting in S2C3. While we hope Emperor Mengsk will continue to observe formal neutrality, it's always good to have options."

"What about the Earth government there? This 'United Earth Directorate'?"

"They've refused communication and the approach of any ships on their settled systems. Intelligence is trying to ascertain if they've gone into isolation due to their expedition into the Koprulu systems, or if this is the start of a retrenchment for further expansionist actions." With that question answered Maran's expression shifted. He was ready to get down to business. "This situation on T7C8 Earth needs consideration. No operation to arm telepath liberation movements or their Reformist states has been approved at any level of the Alliance government."

"Meaning either a rogue op, or someone else. Probably Hawk."

"Maybe, but this doesn't fit his usual behavior."

"Maybe not, but Lyta Alexander could be having an influence on his planning. Either way, I'm ready to look into it."

"Has the local government provided any samples of the technology for you?"

"A rifle, that's all," Robert said. "And Captain Varma made it sound like it took every bit of charm Secretary Crawford could manage to talk their leaders into providing one. He even went as far as giving them an anti-beaming shield for use at their government HQ, as a gesture of good faith."

Maran wasn't surprised at the shield being provided, and he didn't bother speaking on it. "Analyze the rifle, see where it came from, and follow where that leads."

"Even if it leads to someone on our side?"

"Especially if it's on our side," Maran insisted.

"I'll get our people on it right away," Robert said. "I'll report back when I have something."

Maran nodded in reply. "Good. Maran out." He cut the line from his end.

"So this is what we'll be focusing on?" Talara asked. "What about the Life of Reshan?"

"Lucy's still on light duty and can handle that with Gina," Robert said. "But we'd better go see Captain Kaveri about borrowing Jarod's services. Tom's too."

"We seem to be out of the double-encoded part of the message," Gina said. "The errors used as the code are forming proper words again."

"Maybe they'll give us the clue we need to decipher the segment then. Keep on that until I say otherwise." With that said Robert stood and walked toward the rear of the cockpit.

Talara followed. As they stepped out of the Jayhawk cockpit she asked, "Have you heard anything from Captain Andreys?"

"Yeah, she's been on New Liberty for a few weeks now," he said.

"I hope she has recovered enough to return to us. I respect Captain Varma, but Captain Andreys is… I feel like this is her place."

"It is," Robert agreed. "And I'm sure she'll be back soon enough."




Native avians chirped away from their nests and perches in the surrounding trees of the Lake Park, adding to the appeal of New Liberty Colony's specially-preserved park space and providing a soothing touch to the beauty of the locale. Nearby a stream was flowing on its way to the Carrey River, its color a healthy and lovely blue.

On the bank of the stream, Julia Andreys was going through a form in the art of t'ai chi chuan, a martial arts style she'd favored since her childhood. The chirping birds and the gentle rustle of the stream added to the sense of serenity that she felt as she moved her arms and together and around her body.

Beside her the same movement was repeated by her student, Princess Miko, a resident of the Human-inhabited world found in N1C4. The grand-niece of one of that world's rulers, the Fire Nation's Fire Lord, she held a special place on her world as the Avatar, the one being who could "bend" all four of the traditional elements using metaphysical powers unique to their world.

The more Julia learned about Bending, the more she appreciated the art inherent in it. Each element answered to a specific kind of martial art, one that fit that element's nature. In this case, her favored t'ai chi matched the Waterbending arts, and Miko wanted to learn that style from her in the hopes Julia's teaching would work better than other Waterbending masters she'd tried to learn from.

They finished the form and did the customary closing, Miko bowing to her and Julia bowing back. "Well, I think that's it for today," she said.

"But we… oh." Miko caught herself. "Your appointment."

"Yeah."

"You seem worried about it," Miko observed. "Why?"

The question prompted thinking on Julia's part. The appointment was with a Stellar Navy-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Schneider, who was on New Liberty to work with residents still suffering psychological issues from the SS Exiles' attack. She held Julia's future in her hands given her recommendation could see Julia's return to her ship… or her forced retirement from fleet duty.

It was a prospect that honestly scared her when it didn't make her angry. While her ordeal as a captive of the SS Exiles was something she did need time to recover from, that recovery was already accomplished. She wanted, she needed, to be back in her place. On her ship.

"It could decide whether I get my ship back," Julia admitted.

"Oh. Right." Miko's own mother, Princess Ursa, had commanded void ships before she retired to raise Miko. It gave the young woman an inkling what this meant to her teacher.

"I've still got two weeks of medical leave left," Julia said. "But this review will determine whether I get to go back on duty or I remain on psychiatric leave. It might not be determined today, but this is my first session with Dr. Schneider and, yeah, it's a little intimidating." Julia sighed. "I'd love it if she approves my return to duty in one session, but I doubt it."

"I understand. I'll see you later, Sifu?"

"Yes, you will."




After ensuring the inventory work was well-handled, Leo found himself in the tent that housed the Telepath community's care ward. There were several injured and sick people to treat and he went to work, dispensing medication with a hypospray when needed. More extensive treatments would have to wait until the resources were ready, but Leo made sure they were properly tagged.

His current patient was a child that couldn't be older than nine. The little boy's name was Patrick. He had a pale complexion marked, on his face, by little brownish freckles.

On one cheek at least, because the other cheek was one big swollen bruise.

There were other injuries consistent with a beating as well. Leo hid his emotions to provide Patrick a reassuring smile he didn't feel. "Hold on for a moment." He ran a regenerator over the bruises, coaxing the damaged, swollen tissue to return to normal by healing that damage. Relief showed on the child's face.

Beside him, a scrubs-clad young woman with bright red hair arranged in a pony-tail was watching quietly. "This technology is remarkable," she said.

"It's a great tool for healing." Leo finished working on the main bruise. "What happened?"

"Antoine threw the ball over the fence," Patrick answered. "I went to go get it without waiting for an adult. I shouldn't have."

"It was a hate crime," the nurse said, her voice resonating with fury. "Locals hate telepaths with a passion, and they don't care for their age."

"Can you report him?"

"The local police would laugh at us, and the Unies only care if the people are openly supporting Dissie propaganda or have firearms," she replied.

Leo shook his head. "I'm sorry." He looked at the boy while reaching into his lab coat pocket. "So, Patrick, where can I find your parents?"

He regretted the question as pain showed on the child's face. In a weak, sad voice Patrick said, "Mommy and Daddy don't love me anymore."

Leo glanced at the nurse. Ill-concealed fury was written on her features. He felt his stomach twist as he asked, "This happens a lot, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," she said bitterly. "The Dissies sometimes executed the families of telepaths, so it's one of those things, you know? It made people terrified of having a teep in the family. Sometimes they drive them away on manifestation." Turning her attention fully to Leo, she said, "I'm Rose, by the way. Rose Williams."

"Doctor Leo Gillam," he answered. "Any relation to Chairwoman Williams?"

"No blood relation."

With the introductions over, Leo returned his attention to Patrick. "What kind of parent can throw out their own child?"

"People convinced telepaths are the spawn of Satan or a biological experiment made by the Unies," Rose replied.

"You sound like you speak from experience." While speaking Leo took the moment to finish the last regenerator sweep on Patrick, finishing off the last bruise. He pulled his hand out of his lab coat to reveal he was holding four sealed lollipops of purple, red, yellow, and blue color. "You were a good boy, Patrick, take one."

"A lolli!" Patrick quickly picked the purple, grape-flavored one.

"What do we say, Patrick?" Rose asked rhetorically.

"Thank you, Doctor," he replied.

Leo helped him off the table and returned his attention to Rose. "He trusts you. I'm guessing your parents did the same to you?"

She shook her head. "I'm not a telepath. But my younger sister Lily, she manifested a few months before the end of the war. When she got detected the government took her without a fight from my parents. Even when the war was over, they didn't try to find her. So I told them to go to hell and came here to help out where I can."

Leo said the only thing he could think of as a reply. "I'm sorry to hear that, you have my condolences."

She opened her mouth to reply, but Leo never heard it.

The explosion and the immediate gunfire saw to that.
"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 »

Naturally ComradeTortoise is the writer for the Spencers and Kusko in this episode.
"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 »

The bomb blast came first. It blew a hole in the perimeter fence of the telepath camp and sent out a shockwave that blew down every tent within six hundred meters. The same blast wave blew through human beings on both sides of the fence with the same destructive effect.

The attackers emerged from the shell of a bank, as its vault was still intact. There were at least twenty, maybe thirty of them, wearing red and white bandanas that covered their faces and carrying automatic rifles. One of their leaders made their intent clear. "Kill all of the psifreaks before they recover!"

They moved with the discipline of former soldiers and trained fighters, heading toward the billowing dust clouds left by the bomb. Upon arrival inside of the blown fence their guns came up and they started gunning down anyone who seemed to be moving. Several of them threw more devices, small explosives that kicked up more debris and dust. Fog grenades went next.

Despite this visual obstruction Richmond observed them through her tactical visor, which formed over her face much like an omnitool interface from the projectors on her temples. A grim expression came over her face as she brought her pulse rifle up. "Lindstrom, Matali, left flank," she ordered. "Use image enhancement, they're trying to keep cover inside of fog."

Beside her, a number of armed telepaths were already bringing out their own rifles, although these were chem-propellant projectile firearms like the attackers' weapons. Their leader, a man named Lawton, had a scraggly beard and a glare in his eyes that was, for the moment, understandably vicious. "We'll go on their right. The banals think their fog grenades will block our line of sight, but my people are ready for this."

"Go ahead and be careful. Above all, I don't want them getting away." The sentiment was shared, and for similar reasons. A firm statement about the result of such a direct attack should provide a suitable deterrent to further efforts.

Richmond watched her teams move in and start engaging the gunmen. She tapped at her omnitool's comm system. "Richmond to Aurora, I want the immediate response team deployed. I'm relaying their arrival point now."

"Confirmed, Commander. Sending them in."

Richmond moved forward with Lawton. By the time she took her first shot Lindstrom and Matali's squads were already laying down fire on their opponents, drawing return fire that dissipated against personal forcefields. This was to the benefit of the telepath militia, who lacked the protective gear of the Aurora security teams. They took some return fire sporadically, and at the ranges involved this ensured some were hit.

But not many. They kept advancing, a few firing regularly to draw attention while the others went to work using their mental powers. They simply stared intently at their attackers.

Chaos spread through the enemy ranks. Some of them turned their guns on themselves or their comrades. Others simply threw down their weapons.

The Psi Corps woman, Kusko Al, came up beside Richmond, a PPG pistol firmly in hand. Richmond openly welcomed the woman to coordinate mentally with her. Kusko seemed momentarily confused by the idea before she followed up on it. A thought not Richmond's own came to her mind. I can't see them through the fog.

I can. Richmond tapped at her visor.

She felt something behind her eyes, seeing what she saw, and more of the attacking insurgents started simply dropping in place. Kusko wielded her power with brutal efficiency, shutting down motor neurons and paralyzing the insurgents one by one.

The check on the attackers prompted the survivors to turn and try to retreat. But Richmond's response team was already at the breach in the fence. Shot after shot stunned the retreating foes, who again found their own weapons were useless against the forcefields employed by the security personnel.

Altogether the attack lasted barely five minutes, at least according to Richmond's timer. "Secure captives!" she ordered, and her people went to work, using zip-ties to secure wounded and downed insurgents.

She turned to Kusko and nodded. "Well done. That helped put this rampage down before it hurt anyone else."

Kusko was silent for an extra second before finding the wording she wanted to use. "Thank you for your flexibility. Most people don't want …” She mentally switched a word, “telepaths in their minds."

"I admit I wouldn't want it all the time, but there's no denying how useful it is."

"Commander!"

Richmond turned away. Leo was running up, a medical kit in hand. "If you've secured the area, I'll get to work," he said.

"We're secure," she answered. "Good luck, Doctor. I don't think you'll be finding a lot of survivors."

Their eyes went to the carnage from the blast, including the devastated and maimed bodies. "Probably not," Leo sighed.

Then, with a deep breath, he went to work.




The day's second meeting with the Earth government was going more smoothly, Meridina thought. Security Minister Marias was not present this time, nor were the President and Premier, and the diplomatic minister, Gupta, was taking charge in laying the agenda for her side.

With the war having ended less than a year before, the planet still bore the wounds of the terrible conflict. The presented data on the rebuilding efforts indicated up to a decade would be necessary to provide even a basic level of civil services and economic connection to the entire planet on par with what was known in the pre-war years. The death toll amounted to over a billion.

At Crawford's behest Henjasaram explained the sort of aid effort the Alliance could maintain at the moment. It wouldn't fix the planet overnight, but the materials, and the technologies granted, would hasten reconstruction.

"It is more economical, and feasible, to promote your world's own economic healing than to simply ship in materials," Henjasaram explained to Gupta and the other ministers. "That has been our experience with prior aid and rebuilding efforts. While humanitarian supplies will be provided as normal, our aid efforts will focus on helping you re-establish civic industries and the production of your own supplies for the purpose of reconstruction."

Meridina noted that Kaveri's omnitool blinked once. A priority message was being sent to her. A moment later Meridina's activated in the same fashion.

Before they had a chance to do anything about it, an aide entered the room and went up to Defense Minister Kanegawa. The Japanese man's expression became a frustrated frown at the words whispered into his ear.

"Minister?" asked Gupta.

"I'm afraid I must leave for the moment," he said. "There's been an incident in one of the occupation zones and the military commanders wish to brief me on the matter." He said no more before departing.

"An 'incident'?" Crawford looked to Gupta. "This happen often?"

"More than we'd like," she admitted. "The interlopers eliminated the leadership and military strength of the Dissolutionist nations, but some of the rank and file remain devoted despite the odds. They receive protection from sympathetic civilians in many areas and frequently attack government forces or telepaths."

"Ah. Well, we won't butt in on that, but if you want a helping hand I'm sure we can pitch in," Crawford answered.

"Your aid will be more than enough help, I think. By all means, please continue describing your plans."

During the discussion Kaveri lowered her left arm below the table and brought up her omintool's display. Meridina sensed concern in her being and sent a telepathic query. Has something happened? She noted Bei'tir, as always, was monitoring Kaveri's mind for such a communication, but the two were at a general understanding on the matter by this point and there was no concern in the Dilgar's mind.

A bombing and attack at the Atlanta telepath camp Doctor Gillam is aiding. Our security forces were involved in the fighting.

Meridina nodded, recognizing the reasons for her concern. Not just the danger to members of the crew, but the complications their involvement could cause in the careful diplomacy here. Were any of ours hurt?

No
.

That, at least, was a relief, but it made it clear just how difficult this world's situation was proving.




With the area considered secure Leo called down additional help from the Aurora. Dr. Walker, a Tohono O'odham woman, the Alakin Dr. Hreept, and Dr. Roliri Opani - a Dorei - led a contingent of the Aurora's nurses to take charge of the immediate surgeries in a surgical tent beamed in directly from the Aurora.

As one of the first doctors on the scene, Leo was left with the harshest job of them all: triage.

The victim had been on the outside of the fence, one of the nearby residents caught in the blast. He was no older than thirteen, African-American, with frizzy hair and a lanky, lean form.

He was also missing both of his legs and was covered in blood from a plethora of wounds caused by blast shrapnel and debris. His dark eyes stared into Leo's face with no sign of thought within them.

The tears flowed from Leo's eyes at the child, especially at what his medical scans told him. His skull was nearly crushed and his brain was a mess of traumatized tissue and hemorrhages. Even the latest techniques being circulated in the fleet, many of them added to the database by Surgeon-Commander Nah'dur of the Huáscar, would not save the child. The brain damage was too extensive.

Still, Leo felt like his heart would rip in half as he tapped at his omnitool display, causing the micro-fabricators to create a black-colored tag. Leo gently laid it on the boy and murmured, "I'm sorry." Just in case there was enough cerebral activity left to feel pain, he added a massive dose of morphine that would completely numb any surviving pain sensation.

"There isn’t. He’s gone. I wouldn’t waste the morphine in a war zone… not that it matters with replicators, I suppose."

The voice prompted him to look over toward Doctor Spencer whose voice sounded like she was speaking from experience in that regard. She was casually providing a black tag for the battered remains of an adult, this one with the remains of a vehicle fender sticking from the side of the skull. When she looked to him again she was slapping a red tag on another patient - a middle-aged Asian woman in a C-collar - without missing a beat she said, "Saving the body wouldn't have accomplished anything but given false hope to his family."

"I know," he answered, but then he did inject the morphine. "I just… I hate children dying in my care. It makes me feel like a failure." The image of Joshua Marik in his OR came back, as it always did at these times.

"Been there…” she projected an image into his mind. a small shattered girl with catastrophic burns and a half-melted badge in a field operating theater. “My residency was during the Earth-Minbari War, so believe me when I tell you, you’re not a failure. The only failures here are the wastes of oxygen who perpetrated it."

Their conversation was gradually drowned out by the sounds of shouting. Leo stood and turned toward the perimeter of the bomb blast area. The Aurora security teams were watching that perimeter in lieu of anyone more capable at the time. Dr. Spencer glanced that direction, and rolled her eyes in utter contempt.

“Not this again…” she muttered, despite not being able to see what was going on from her position, and went back to assessing another grievously wounded person.

Leo however, could see it. Richmond and three of her people were confronted by a growing crowd. The forward figures in said crowd were shouting something. The situation was getting ugly so he rushed to deal with it. "What's the issue?" he called out as he entered earshot.

The closest members of the crowd were the kind he expected. Mostly male, none into middle-age, and looking very angry. One of them, a bearded Caucasian man, stuck an accusing finger at him. "We've got family in there! Actual people, but you're treating the fake ones!"

Richmond flashed a worried glance at him. She didn't speak, but he could tell that she wanted him to keep his distance in case this got violent.

But Leo wouldn't leave it at that. If the mob got violent, it would interfere with their efforts to save people. It was with that in mind that he gathered his courage and strength and replied, in a loud and firm voice, "We are engaging in triage of the wounded. Our technology allows us to save a lot of people that would die otherwise, but the sad fact is we can't save everyone, so we have to sort the cases by chance for recovery. That is our only criteria! So please, step away and let us keep working on this."

For a moment it looked like the gathering crowd - now even larger - would accept his explanation. But the bearded man didn't back down. He stepped forward, almost up to Leo's face, and brought a finger up as if to poke Leo's chin with it. "How about you let us help, huh?" His expression turned vicious, and he sneered, "We'll kill all of the psifreaks so you can do your jobs and save real people!"

Others in the crowd shouted their support for the idea, which looked to be emboldening the man even more. He took the extra step and was in Leo's face directly. Leo recognized the vicious, blind hate in the man's expression, as if it were exploding out of every pore with the sweat pouring down his face.

Richmond's jaw clenched. "Doctor…"

Leo didn't flinch. "I'm not letting anyone kill anybody. There's been enough death today. Stand back and let us get back to saving who we can."

The man roared a reply. "You're saving the Goddamned psifreaks instead of real people!"

Leo knew better than to argue with that kind of sentiment. Not when there was a mob to fuel it. He turned away from the man and faced Richmond. "Commander Richmond, if anyone interferes with our triage efforts, please stun them. I need to get back to work."

Richmond nodded. He thought he saw the hint of a smile on her face as he stepped past her. "All teams, we're facing a riot situation. Weapons on stun, keep personal forcefields to maximum."

The man that Leo turned his back on chose to defy her. He lunged, as if to tackle Leo. Richmond stepped into his path and let him slam into her personal forcefield. It flickered blue and held, throwing him back.

One of his friends came up, brandishing a crowbar. Richmond remained passive as the weapon swung in mid-air just to be stopped by the same field. He tried several more swings to no effect before backing away, frustrated and, more importantly, intimidated.

Behind the two hotheads and their allies, the crowd started to split up. They'd gotten the message: they had nothing that could hurt Richmond's security people. There was no point to lingering.

"They're dispersing," Richmond said into the comms. "Everyone, back to—"

She was interrupted by the low whine of battery engines. She looked up and noticed a host of aircraft, drones from the size of them, swooping in from the east. They were the size of toys, none reaching a meter in length.

The crowd's reaction was not what she expected. Screaming broke out and everyone seemed to start running.

By now Leo's attention was drawn back by the sound. He watched the aerial craft, drones he figured, swoop in. They dropped canisters like an old World War II dive-bomber dropping their bombs.

Thick, gray gas erupted from the dropped canisters. People in the crowd started choking, many clawing at their clothes to cover their faces. Leo used his omnitool to take a quick scan of the gas, confirming it was a form of tear gas.

In their rush to get away, the crowd ran into a new barrier, as multiple armored, wheeled vehicles rumbled up. Soldiers in digital camo and carrying rifles and batons dismounted the vehicles and rushed forward. More cries came as they laid into the crowd, using their weapons to beat people until they hit the ground, upon which they were zip-tied by the soldiers in the following waves.

Concerned with the possibilities, Leo rushed back to Richmond's side. "I suggest you stand back for this, Doctor," Richmond said. "It's their affair."

At a particularly loud scream from the attack, Leo said, "They were dispersing. What are they trying to prove here?"

"Presumably, they are reminding the people here of precisely whom is in charge," Richmond remarked.

The crowd was in complete disarray, with people trying desperately to get around or through the soldiers, but there was no escaping the ring of shield-carrying riot troops. Said ring was only incomplete due to the presence of the Aurora's security staff watching the bomb blast zone.

Some in the crowd noticed this. They fell back toward Leo and Richmond. One in their number, a woman with a mocha complexion, had tears streaming from her reddened eyes. "Please help us!" she cried. "Let us in!"

"Just minutes ago you were threatening to march in here and begin murdering survivors," Richmond pointed out. "Now you're begging for help?"

A man stepped up beside her, a teenage child beside him. "Please, they'll throw us into camps and never let us go home! That's what they do to anyone they arrest!"

Richmond glanced toward Leo, who met her eyes. "It's not our place," she said. "This is the telepaths' camp. It's their rules, not ours."

Beyond the little crowd of pleaders, the military personnel nearly had the rest of the crowd subdued. Within less than a minute they would be done, and there'd be no more time to make the decision.

Leo keyed his omnitool to connect to the comm device Nysha Williams had. She answered immediately. "We've got people begging to be allowed into your zone," he said. "They're trying to get away from the military."

"I'm no fan of the Unies, Doctor, but I know damn well what these people are like and why that mob formed. Give me a reason to give them sanctuary."

It was a good point. Leo swallowed and said the first thing that came to mind. "Because we're better than this."

A sigh came from the other end. "They'll have to stay at the edge of the camp, and if the Unies threaten violence we won't defend them."

"Understood. And thank you."

"Thank me later, Doctor, if this doesn't blow up in our faces."

The conversation was overheard by the group. Richmond sighed and nodded, gesturing to them while keying her omnitool. "Security teams, we've got seven people entering our zone. Keep an eye on them at all times until I order otherwise."

The group gleefully rushed past at Richmond's permission. Just a hundred meters away a group of armed soldiers were coming that way. Richmond leveled a little glare at Leo. "You've vastly exceeded our orders, Doctor, and it's entirely possible I'll be ordered to hand those people over."

"I know, and this is on me," he answered. "And if you get that order, well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there." With that said he turned. "Now I've got lives to save."

"Somehow I think my job will still be harder," she said as he stepped away. She turned her attention to the soldiers and the officer in their number. From the looks on their faces, it was clear demands were about to be made.




Meridina sensed the impending interruption a moment before it came. The door to the conference room flew open and Kanegawa entered, stone-faced, with a red-faced Marias behind him. "Mister Secretary, guests, we have an issue to discuss," he said somberly. Marias flashed an angry glare his way for what Meridina sensed was his disapproval at the Defense Minister's choice of words.

"What has happened, Kanegawa?" Gupta asked.

Marias spoke up immediately. "We would like to know why Alliance naval security is protecting terrorists!"

The force of the accusation was as unsettling as the charge itself was confusing. "Now just what do you mean by that, Minister Marias?" Crawford asked. "Because that's a mighty big charge."

"And it is true. Observe."

Marias brought out a digital tablet and tapped it a few times before swiping along it toward the table. This action sent a video file into the holotank of the table which came to life. The assembled watched as Leo and Richmond allowed seven people past them. Troops, including the one wearing the camera that recorded the video, approached Richmond. "We're taking those people into custody, stand aside."

"For the moment, no," Richmond answered. "They have asked for asylum and Doctor Gillam granted it."

"In the name of the United Earth, we demand…"

Crawford and the others started looking toward Meridina and Kaveri. "Captain, this Doctor Gillam fellow is one of yours, right?" Crawford asked.

"He is. With your permission?"

"Of course." Gupta nodded, her face frozen into an uncertain frown while Marias seemed halfway between actual rage and vicious vindication.

Kaveri brought her left arm up and activated her omnitool. "Captain Varma to Commander Richmond," she said to it.

A few moments later Richmond's voice filled the room. "Richmond here, Captain."

"We have been informed you are preventing United Earth personnel from taking suspected terrorists into custody."

"Doctor Gillam did win permission to grant temporary asylum in the camp to a group of unarmed people fleeing the military's attack on a local crowd," Richmond replied. "They believed the United Earth military would take them from their homes if captured."

"Commander, are these people terrorists? Did they have something to do with that bomb?" Crawford asked.

"At first glance, no. They were simply part of a crowd of locals observing our triage efforts. The crowd did nearly become violent, but the ringleaders backed down when they realized they had nothing to defeat our protection. They were dispersing peacefully when the local military showed up and started subduing them."

"Subduing them, Commander?" Kaveri shared a certain, somewhat resigned look with Meridina. "In what way?"

"A baton or rifle butt to the cheek or head seems the normal method around here, in lieu of stun weapons," came the droll reply.

Crawford and his people looked to Kanegawa and Marias with a clear frostiness in their demeanor. Their peers at the table were clearly uncomfortable, particularly Gupta and the Finance Minister, a German man named Fluck. Marias returned the frosty looks with a defiant glare. "We are within our rights to confine suspected Dissolutionists," he declared.

"Sounds to me like you're more interested in puttin' your boot on peoples' faces, sir," Crawford said coldly.

"I'm sure the Premier and President would appreciate being informed of these issues," Gupta said in a sharp tone. "Thank you for informing us of the issue, Minister Marias." Her tone made clear that she wanted him out.

His reply was a disgusted look before he turned and departed.

Gupta sighed and turned her head back to Crawford and the others. "Now that we've settled this issue, shall we return to the business at hand?"

Henjasaram folded his hands on the table. "Do your soldiers routinely attack unarmed civilians? And do you take them from their homes?"

Gupta shared an uncomfortable look with Fluck. "There is a proposed policy, and only proposed, to relocate potentially violent Dissolutionists to new homes in loyalist territory where their incitements will go unheeded," she admitted. "The Executive Council has not approved the policy as promoted by the Security Ministry."

"Well now, that's reassurin' to hear," Crawford remarked. "We want to be good neighbors, Minister, and that's the kind of matter that'll be hard to ignore."

The response was an embarrassed silence that lasted until Crawford, turning his charm on again, proposed they take a recess. Gupta gladly concurred.




Doctor Gertrude Schneider's office was in the Colony's central medical complex. The building was already repaired from the SS attack and Julia had little issue finding her way to the office in question. She was in a professional suit, a navy blue blouse with a black business jacket and calf-length trousers with comfortable short-heeled business shoes. The ensemble was carefully picked since a uniform might make her seem obsessed or in denial, and she didn't want any issues with the doctor. As an addition she wore her mother's old silver band necklace, a simple adornment and the only piece of jewelry she regularly owned.

Dr. Schneider herself was a silver-haired woman with a few wrinkles on her face. She looked like she still indulged in some athletic activity, showing an energy and youth that belied her visible age. "Ma'am." Her voice had a slight, soft German accent. Her hand extended to a reclining chair. "Whenever you're ready."

Julia eased into the chair. "I wouldn't want to take any more of your time, Doctor, I know you've got other patients."

"No more today, however. You're my last appointment." Scheider smiled gently while her fingers hovered over a digital pad, occasionally tapping at it as if typing. "You were seeing your ship's contracted civilian psychiatrist before you left, yes?"

"Doctor Tusana, yes."

"And then you spent nearly three weeks on this newly discovered world in, which universe was it...?"

"N1C4." Julia recalled that while the universe was now common knowledge, some of the facts behind its discovery were still either classified or not widely known. "I was a guest of one of the planet's rulers."

"Really? We'd just made contact, you must have made an impression."

"I suppose I did. His grandniece and I were, well, fellow prisoners."

"Ah." Schneider nodded. "So you bonded."

"We did. Then we got free and we helped beat the SS and got rescued in the end. Her mom nearly died."

The doctor took more notes. "I've read the medical record. A device was used on you by the SS commander, a machine that pulled memories to project on a holoviewer of sorts?"

"Yeah. The chair." Her face twisted into a grimace as she remembered the horrible drilling pain in her mind. "That damned chair."

"You were also beaten, healed, subjected to immersion-based electro-shock, and had Eubian torture nanobots applied to your skin." Schneider went down the list. Julia pursed her lips at hearing the ways she'd suffered expressed so clinically, but she said nothing. She didn't need to, given Schneider lowered her eyes briefly. "Miss Andreys, you are not my first prisoner of war. And, regrettably, you're not my first torture victim. But you are the first I've seen to be this functional so soon after your ordeal. I find it inspirational, but also concerning."

"Oh?"

"As much as we sometimes try to claim we can do anything, Human beings have limits, and terrible things happen when we're pushed beyond them. And that is what torture does to the human mind, Miss Andreys. Pain is the way our bodies tell our minds that something is wrong. It tells us that damage is being inflicted and we must protect ourselves. Torture prevents this mechanism from functioning. The mind breaks under the pressure of being unable to stop the perceived damage."

Julia nodded at that. "I can testify to that," she admitted.

"And yet you seem like you are here to have a standard examination," Schneider remarked. "You're dressed like a woman going to work, and you walk like someone in control of their life. We both know you're not."

While the doctor's tone never lost its reasonableness, her words put Julia on edge. What was Schneider angling at with this talk? What was the point of it?

"Your medical leave is up in a couple of weeks, provided no further physiological limitation is determined," Schneider noted. "But for the moment, your future is not determined. It'll be decided here, partially by me and partially by the Stellar Navy's senior officers. We can decide you're fit for command, or that you're not."

"Yeah, true," Julia said. Why rub it in?

Schneider eyed her carefully. "Tell me, Miss Andreys, have you considered your future should I determine you're not mentally fit for command anymore?"

Julia forced her facial muscles to freeze, but she could tell her eyes made clear how much that thought angered her. "I admit I haven't," she said. "I feel that, my ordeal aside, I'm fit to command, and I intend to prove it."

"That's not your place, however," Schneider said. "And if you feel this way, why not show it to the world? Nothing in the regulations bans you from wearing your uniform, yet here you are dressed as a civilian. As if you've already prepared yourself for that life?"

Whatever comfort Julia'd felt upon entering was slipping away. This feels like an interrogation more than an interview, she thought. Knowing she needed to give an answer, Julia decided for careful truth. "Listen, I know how it'd look if I did that. It might come off as obsessive, or being in denial about what's happened. Like everything's already back to normal. So I decided to come like this."

"In other words, you tailored your appearance as if this were a negotiation," Schneider observed. "You thought ahead to how I might react to you in uniform, decided it was a risk you didn't want to take, and acted accordingly."

"Pretty much, I suppose."

Schneider tapped away at her pad. "So, to return to my question, you clearly haven't considered that you won't be returned to command duty. I would go so far as to say you're afraid of that possibility, such that you'd rather avoid the thought of it."

"I'm not thrilled by the idea, no."

"Well, please, indulge an old woman." Schneider moved the pad away, looked Julia in the eye, and asked, "Say that I tell your commanders you're not mentally fit for command right now. That I recommend you be reassigned to a non-command position. Whatever your first thought was to that, please, tell me?"

The question came as a brief curl formed on Julia's lips, nearly turning them into a snarl. It went away as Julia searched and searched and found she didn't have such an answer.

"Miss Andreys? What would be your first choice?"

With Schneider looking at her expectantly, Julia finally shook her head. "I don't know," she admitted. "I don't have a first choice. I simply haven't thought of it."

"I see." Schneider considered her carefully for a moment. "Have you considered that maybe you've put too much of yourself into this occupation, Miss Andreys?"

"What do you mean?"

"You define yourself as the Captain of a ship very strongly, that is clear. But that might not be the best for your mental health. Nor is it the best for the service or your ship and crew. It could be a sign that you've suborned your entire identity to this work, to an unhealthy and even obsessive degree. That would have an impact on your performance as Captain, it may even mean you're no longer capable of the judgements necessary. Certainly you would be prone to making decisions based not on the needs of your mission or your ship, but your emotional need for commanding a ship."

"That's not what it is," Julia insisted. "I simply didn't consider the idea because it doesn't make sense. Whatever else has happened, it didn't change who I am and what I am. I'm as fit to command now as I was before."

"Unless you were never truly fit for command."

There was real heat, and challenge, in Julia's voice when she made her reply. "My record proves otherwise."

"Ordinarily I'd agree, and it is quite impressive. But that doesn't change what happened to you, Miss Andreys. You were captured by the enemy. You were abused. Tortured. Your mind was subjected to an attack from alien technology we don't understand."

"That doesn't change who I am," Julia insisted.

"That kind of remark is precisely my concern, because such an experience would change anyone," Schneider replied. "You don't suffer like that and not change. Insisting otherwise seems like denial."

Julia sighed with exasperation. "I have more nightmares now, that's it," she said.

"Ah, nightmares? About your ordeal?"

"Yes." Julia felt leaving off a "duh" at the end was a concession worth something.

"I see." Schneider retrieved her pad. "Do you feel comfortable sharing them?"

"Not particularly, they're not pleasant," Julia said.

"Ah. Well, I don't want to discomfort you, so we'll move on."

That ship has sailed, lady, Julia thought, unkindly.

Schneider's questions at this point went into minor details, about Julia's personal routines primarily. A timer went off to interrupt one of her answers, but she gave it anyway. Once she was doneSchneider tapped at her pad and set it aside. "We are done for today," she said. "My assistant will schedule your next session."

"You're not approving my return to duty, are you?" Julia asked.

"Not today," Schneider said. "We still have more work to do before I can be sure you are fit." Schneider folded her hands together. "And perhaps you should consider honesty about yourself when you return to see me, Miss Andreys."

"Alright." Julia stood. "And for the record, until I'm told otherwise, it's Captain Andreys, not 'Miss'." Without another word she left.

She didn't see the little half-smile that formed on Schneider's face as she typed another little note onto her pad.




The time on his omnitool told Leo that the sun had already set outside, but his focus was on the patient before him. He went back to work removing the shrapnel from the internals of a male telepath his age. His hands carefully operated the controls of the surgical transporter, the holographic control display allowing him precise control over the system. As each piece came out, Doctor Amita Singh used the tissue regenerator to restore the opened tissue, minimizing internal bleeding in the process.

It was long, exhaustive work given the precision needed on such vital organs. Sweat beaded Leo's face and was only kept out of his eyes by the careful application of a sponge held by a nurse, in this case the red-haired nurse Rose Williams. And given it was his third intensive surgery of the day, in a row at that, his exhaustion was becoming evident.

Despite his fatigue, Leo finished in good time and with no visible issues. He pulled away the surgical transporter system while Singh performed the last regeneration. When she was done a scan confirmed the man's survival and condition. "Send him on to the post-op tent," he said. And bring in the next case."

"I will do the next case with Doctor Opani. You will go have dinner and get some rest," Singh insisted. "You are exhausted, Doctor Gillam, and you already had a long and trying day."

Leo gritted his teeth, wanting to argue and knowing he had no argument to oppose her. She was right. As a responsible doctor, he had to acknowledge that. "Alright," he said. "I'll leave this to you."

"Thank you," she answered. "And you'd better get to the camp mess. Hargert sent down a couple of big tubs of sausage stew."

"Sounds heavenly." Leo stepped away as a group of orderlies brought in the next patient. Rose gave him a small smile before heading to Singh's side. He crossed paths with Opani on the way out.

A short walk to the next tent via a connected walkway brought him to the shower and changing tent. Dr. Spencer was pulling on a fresh suit of silver and brown, a brass Psi pin over her heart and well-crafted gloves on her hands. "I see they chased you out," she said. "You look, and feel, like you're about to fall over."

"Of course I do." A weak smile formed on his face. "I'll clean up and get dinner. Hargert sent down sausage stew. It's his signature food and worth the calories."

“Unfortunately manifesting while helping with the slaughter takes all the joy out of meat. My brother and I are vegetarians, even if it is replicated. Beetles are on the menu though.” She replied casually before a gentle smile formed on her face. "I wanted to thank you for your work today. With the triage, and then facing down that mundane mob. You're not the first mundane doctor I've met that treats us like people, but that sets you apart from the others."

"Thank you. I figure it was just the right thing to do, really. Keeping security from having to shoot people is always a good thing."

"Standard procedure in the Corps during mass-casualty events is for Metapol to drop the first rank of rioters and induce a sort of ordered panic in a rolling wave. Crowd dynamics does the rest.”

"I imagine what the telepath militia would've done was much worse, if Richmond hadn't stunned them all first."

“Probably just killed them. I’d have helped, to be honest.”

The sincerity in her voice was impossible to miss. Leo's instinctive reaction was to oppose the idea, that doctors were supposed to heal, but he stopped that reaction as he imagined things from her perspective and the intentions of the mob hotheads to murder people she considered family as well as patients.

“Exactly. Our version of the Oath has caveats, in the same way combat medics carry guns.”

"I understand."

She grinned a bit “I know. Anyway, poor Tom is likely about as tired as we are. I should go track him down and stuff food in his face. He forgets to eat.”

"I'll be joining you soon enough," Leo said as she walked away.




Kaveri, Bei'tir, and Meridina walked into Science Lab 2 and quickly found the lab table where the others were assembled. Cat, Tom, and Jarod were each operating equipment focused on a rifle that looked remarkably like a Darglan-tech pulse rifle, the kind that the Alliance had manufactured in the billions to fight the Reich War. Robert, observing quietly, was the first to react to their approach. "Captain, Commander." He nodded at them. "How are the talks going?"

"Carefully," Kaveri answered. "The incident in Atlanta complicated matters on both ends."

"The Security Minister is inherently hostile to us, he sees us as a threat to his government," Meridina explained. "He was not pleased with Doctor Gillam."

"I heard what Leo did. It sounds like him, certainly." Robert smiled thinly. "And knowing him he's about to keel over from exhaustion after working all day on the victims."

"It might cause us mischief to be seen as shielding possible insurgents against their government." Kaveri looked past him to where the others were working. "Secretary Crawford asked me for an update."

"Well, it's definitely Darglan," Cat said. "But it's not ours."

"How can you tell?"

"The elements that compose the weapon are different, for one," she explained. "And we don't use naqia in our weapons like this."

Bei'tir asked the next question, clearly for confirmation more than anything else. "Alliance weapons use other power methods, yes?"

"Yeah," Tom answered. "We typically use ion-lithium batteries for basic functions, with the charge clips that power the weapon employing ion-trinium composite batteries. Most field chargers don't have naqia either. But this thing does."

"It might be Hawk's," Robert suggested. "A lot of his Darglan tech is more advanced than the stuff we got, at least in terms of military applications."

"I checked the profiles on the rifles we confiscated from his cache on Earth C1P2." Jarod tapped a key and projected holographic readings side by side on the table's holo-viewer. The three command officers looked over the findings. "There are definite similarities, but they're not the same. Again, different elemental construction, and these rifles have a higher power efficiency rating."

"So they are even more advanced..." Kaveri said. "Someone has refined the technology further."

"Hawk must have people who work with the technology, otherwise his forces wouldn't be as potent as they are," Meridina noted. "Perhaps they've done so?"

"Possible, but unlikely," Tom said. "I mean, we're not talking a few refinements from tinkering here. It's not something we could've done in our Facility either, not by ourselves. These are evolutionary improvements at the design level. Someone had the design and improved it from experience and experimentation."

"Your implication is that this was the work of a deliberate research effort," Kaveri said. "As in a government organization, or a corporate R&D lab?"

Jarod nodded. "That sounds about right."

"Which would imply that someone in the Alliance may still be responsible," Meridina noted. "Using both your original examples and the confiscated material from Hawk to create these weapons."

"But what would the point be?" Cat asked. "I mean, if the Alliance was doing this, why are we here with aid? One undermines the other."

"Governments do not always work in unison." Kaveri frowned. "This could hypothetically be someone in our military or intelligence service pursuing another agenda. It may even be a defense contractor selling prototypes to arms dealers as a means of unregulated testing and development."

"Either way, I need to report this to Maran." Robert sighed. "If it's someone on our end, they need to be stopped. This world's not stable and they're pushing it back towards war."




After a refreshing shower and change of clothes, from his operating scrubs to his Stellar Navy duty uniform, Leo departed the physicians' tent and traveled the short distance to the big mess hall. It was one of the few intact structures, formerly the dining hall of a technical college, now repurposed to provide daily meals to the camp residents.

It was night time outside now. Portable lights illuminated the walkways between tents and the intact structures, solar cell chargers prominent on their bases, with some of the structures also having lights mounted high on their walls. The relative lack of overhead lights gave the camp a certain feel Leo didn't often see. And the stars were far brighter than he remembered growing up. Atlanta was a thriving metropolis there, here it's rubble, he realized.

At the opening of the hall a young woman met him. She took a quick glance at him and he felt a very slight brush against his mind, one that made his fatigue impossible to miss. A sympathetic look came to her face and she reached into one of three plastic containers, pulling out a green slip of paper. "Use this line," she said. "We sort by priority."

"Right. Thank you." He accepted the slip and entered the hall. As expected there were three lines. One line had children and a pregnant woman, with another woman holding a newborn baby in her arms and a pair of silver-haired elderly behind her, and all had blue slips. Further to the side, the longest line were carrying red slips, adults of varying ages and dress.

Between them was the line with other green slips. He noticed one of the camp's few nurses there and the face of one of the militia he'd seen during the triage work. Leo walked up to the line in a gait he hoped wasn't the equivalent of a zombie.

He didn't say anything, nor even think anything, but that didn't stop the people in the green line from noticing him. One by one they stepped to the side. The invitation was a clear one even without the thoughts being projected into his mind: among themselves they sorted by priority, and surgeons were near the top of the list. Leo knew better than to resist, accepting the gesture and approaching the lunch line. A big steaming bowl of Hargert's signature sausage stew was filled for him. A strawed canister of fruit punch and an apple were added to the tray, as was a cut of lean pork. He took the assembled items to a table.

By the time he was sitting, a few people were looking his way, including Walter Smith from the camp's governing council. He felt good wishes and warm feelings descend on him like a blanket of sentiment, not in an overpowering way but a gentle pressure that proved a balm to his exhausted state. He formed a smile on his face and nodded in appreciation before getting to work on his food.

The dinner was excellent, but given how tired he was, it only added to his desire to get some sleep. Since he was going to make rounds in the early morning, beaming back up to the Aurora felt like a waste of time.

Walter approached. "We've got a place you can rest, Doctor."

"Thank you," Leo said. He followed Walter out, the gratitude of the people still in the mess hall still warming him until he was through the door.

"It's been hard," Walter said as they walked along. "The Unies gathered us here to keep an eye on us as much as to protect us."

"It doesn't look like they were protecting you that well," Leo noted. "Their soldiers would be on your perimeter if they were serious about it."

"Don't I know it." Walter shook his head. "The Dissies shot us, drugged us, or cut us up, the last two in trying to find a way to end telepathy. The Unies aren't much better, they just want us around for our mental abilities. We're tools to them, and possible weapons. Makes me wonder what'll happen if they decide they want us gone too."

Leo understood his fear. It was an easy transition to make. He chose to ask a personal question. "Are you all from around here?"

"Nah. I was born and raised in Tulsa myself," Smith said. "I manifested after the war started and ended up on a train to Andersonville south of here."

"Why Andersonville?"

"It's where the New Confederacy government ran its telepath experimentation center, part of the worldwide Dissie efforts to wipe us out."

Leo found the choice to be diabolically inspired, given the history he associated with that locale. "I see you survived."

"A unit of Pac Fed infiltrators hit the train, got me and a bunch of the others out. Nysha was in charge of the underground cell that helped them. I've worked with her since. After the war, the Unies took every telepath in the North American occupied zones and put them here." Walter shook his head. "Honestly, sometimes I think our whole purpose is to provoke attacks like these so that the Unies can come in and wipe out the insurgents involved."

"You think you're bait."

"Yeah, and I'm tired of it." Walter shook his head. "You know, I always saw myself as North American until after the war. Now it feels like I'm something else, something different. Being a telepath, it's like being part of a nation or a tribe that everyone likes to crap on."

Leo nodded as an answer, as they were now stepping up to a building. Like most of the buildings in the area it was only partially intact, a former hotel or extended stay business. Walter opened one of the intact doors. The inside was dark until Walter held a light up to show the interior. Leo saw that there was a bed and other furnishings. "There's no running water," he said, "but the beds aren't bad."

"I'm glad to hear that." Leo went over to the bed and sat on it. It was a little too firm, but he could sleep on it easily. "Thanks for the place to lay my head."

"You've saved good people, you deserve it," Walter replied.

Walter left him at that point, closing the door as he did. Leo's omnitool lit up the room until he was ready, settling under the sheet and curling the pillows under his head until he was comfortable. He let sleep fill his head to gently carry him away.

A hand grabbed his arm.

Leo's eyes shot open. The light in the room was non-existent, just a little from the outside, creating at least three silhouettes in his vision. Before he could speak he felt more hands take hold of him and force him up. He tried to speak, but he couldn't. Something gripped the muscles of his jaw and tongue, holding his mouth closed, something intangible and unseen.

"You've got him?" a low voice asked.

"Yeah."

"Let's go."

Leo's leg and hip muscles moved as if on their own accord, bringing him into an awkward standing pose. "He looks unnatural, make it look right!" another voice hissed viciously.

"S-sorry…"

"Quiet, tube baby!"

There was the sound of flesh striking flesh. For a moment Leo felt the force working his muscles slip away. He stumbled forward and tried to raise his voice, but a hand clapped down on his mouth while others took him by the arms. A new voice hissed. "Get control again, dammit, and stay quiet! We need to get out of here now!"

A stab of frustration went through him. He recognized the voice: the woman who'd begged to be allowed into the camp. No good deed goes unpunished.

The controlling force returned to him, this time with a sense of apology in it. Despite himself and his fatigue he took a step forward, then another, his captors following. One opened the door and they emerged into darkness. The nearby light was out, presumably wrecked for this purpose.

Where are they taking me? he wondered as he was led further from the building. They were heading toward the blast zone, where the fence was still broken. I'm being kidnapped! he thought in what he thought was a loud fashion, hoping a friendly telepath would hear it.

Don't call for help! We need you, we need you more than they do! It was words this time, urgent, female. They'll make me hurt you if you try!

Who are you?
Leo thought, but there was no answer. Instead his muscles went into operation again, moving him along in the middle of the group. Where are you taking me?

Stop talking!


As the command came one of Leo's muscles contracted awkwardly. He felt his balance teeter and he started to fall, just to be caught by one of the men in the group. "Linda, that little psifreak's going to get us caught," he heard a deep voice whisper.

"Keep the song in your heads and shut up," the woman answered, her voice low. "We keep going."

Step by step they moved closer to the fence line. Leo was certain security would be there, but with the darkness around and the guards mostly worried about someone coming in, would they see him? Would they even realize he was being coerced?

He tried to open his mouth, to ask why, but his jaw wouldn't work, nor his vocal cords. They were under outside control and he couldn't force that control away.

Run! a voice urged in his head.

Suddenly he felt a second force in his head, just as powerful but more directed, more controlled. It flowed through him as if it were a purging element, tearing away the outside control on his motor functions.

He nearly stumbled again as his control came back, but he caught himself. Again the arms came for him, trying to grab him, but his jacket wasn't sealed and the fingers gripped it instead of his actual arm. He twisted free, leaving his uniform jacket behind. He dropped low for a moment before forcing his exhausted body into a dash aided by the adrenaline release he'd been feeling since he'd been attacked.

Behind him screams and shouting began. There was no gunfire, but he heard the definite sound of flesh striking flesh repeat. A distant crack indicated a bone had been broken, as did the following scream of agony, but he kept going until he found the remains of an old utility shed in the gloom. The door was gone, probably blown away by the bomb, and he entered it and hid behind an old shelf. Outside the shouting started to die down while he keyed his omnitool's locator beacon.

"Doctor?!" A woman's voice pierced the shed, followed by a light beam. "Security Officer Elisa Chase, I've got your locator. You can come out now. Are you hurt?"

Leo sighed with relief and emerged from his hiding space. Chase was a lower-ranked Petty Officer in Richmond's security department, a stocky, muscular woman of some height. "I'm not hurt," he assured her. "Just damn tired."

"Doctor Gillam is secured," Chase said, presumably speaking to Richmond and the others. "I have him."

As they emerged from the shed Leo said, "They forced me to go with them. I think they had a telepath with them."

"Commander Richmond'll sort it out, sir."

Richmond was already present. The area around them was lit up from a spotlight aimed their way. Leo tracked it visually to a tower set up by the camp militia. The beam itself was focused on the seven people who'd taken him, the same people he'd convinced Nysha Williams to let in the camp.

All of them were now being secured with tie-straps by Richmond's personnel. Some of the telepath militia were present and watching, many of them looking sternly at the interlopers. A couple even glared Leo's way, as if to scold him for having let these people in.

There was no scolding expression on the face of the one uniformed figure among them. Kusko Al beamed with gratitude and a little bit of satisfaction. Leo approached her and asked the obvious. "It was you, wasn't it?"

"I freed you from the control, yes." Kusko extended a hand, showing it was gripping his lost jacket. "We moved in once you were clear."

"Thank you," he said to her, for both her aid and for returning his jacket.

Once he pulled it on she gestured toward one of the smaller figures among the captives. "The girl's a telepath, a little strong but very untrained."

Leo approached them. The group were glaring his way, and there was no mistaking the frustration and anger there. Even the telepath had a sullen look, which fit her ragged clothing and short, dirtied blond hair. "What's your name?" he asked her.

She pursed her lips and stared at the ground.

"Under ordinary circumstances I'd confine them on the ship," Richmond said, "but this isn't our jurisdiction, and we've already tromped on enough toes with the locals." She turned to a figure that Leo recognized as the bearded Lawton, the man in charge of the telepath militia. "With your permission, sir, I'll have one of our modular runabouts converted into a holding site and flown down."

Lawton nodded. "Go ahead. Just keep them clear from our people."

"Of course." Richmond turned her head toward him. Her cat-like green eyes reflected some of the light striking her, and Leo could tell she was ready to give him an "I told you so". "Doctor, until we know for sure that there are no more security breaches, I'd appreciate it if you returned to the Aurora."

"I'd rather stay, we might have further medical emergencies," he replied.

Richmond sighed. "Then I'd like to keep a guard on you at all times, until we verify why you were targeted and that there are no more threats to your safety."

"I'll assign a couple of mine," Lawton said. "It's our camp, after all."

"Of course." Richmond wasn't entirely satisfied by that, but they'd already pressed the camp leaders enough. Her look to Leo made it clear that if she had her way, he'd be beaming right back at this moment.

Maybe I should, he thought, feeling the exhaustion coming back as his body used up the released adrenaline. But I might be needed. We've still got some critical cases. "I'm ready to go back to bed."

Lawton turned to his people. Without a word two of them, an African-American woman and a tan-skinned man, stepped forward, assault rifles still in their arms. "This way, Doctor," the woman said.

Leo fell in, forcing himself to stay walking with much of his waning energy. What a day...




Unlike Leo Richmond had no choice on going back to the ship, not given the security situation being so unsettled. She'd have to settle for resting on the runabout Brahmaputra and its bunks.

But her bunk had to wait. The Aurora operations staff's hard work was on display, as they'd turned the modular runabout's rear cargo section into a makeshift brig. There was just enough room to provide each prisoner with a cot and some room to stretch, with forcefield cubes barring them from interacting.

The accommodations only barely met regulations on emergency confinement. She already dreaded filing the seven separate Emergency Confinement Report forms that would have to go across Captain Kaveri's desk.

Under her direction one of the seven, a large man with the kind of face made for the perpetual scowl on it, was escorted into the middle living section of the Brahmaputra. Officer Chase and another of her squad, Security Officer Hrelu Sat, brought the cuffed man to a chair and set him down in front of Richmond and Lawton. He glared hatred at them both.

"Please state your name."

The glare didn't stop. His mouth didn't move.

Richmond crossed her arms. "You attempted to kidnap an Alliance Stellar Navy officer. We'd like to know why. Cooperate and maybe we'll let you go."

The mouth twisted into a sneer. "I don't talk to puppets," he said, his deep voice smug. He leveled his eyes at the telepath camp's security chief. "You want to speak, lab rat, use the voice God gave you, not your new toy."

Her curiosity at this remark was answered by Lawton. "He thinks I'm controlling you telepathically." Lawton chuckled. "That's how these banals view the world."

"I've seen what you psifreaks do to people who get in your way," the man growled.

"He's singing a song in his head over and over," Lawton continued. "Some folksy old-time music. It's a placebo, he knows it can't stop me."

"You really like talking to yourself, don't you, tube baby?"

"I get it, another slur." Richmond sighed. "You're the kind of man who gets very aggressive when he's terrified, aren't you?" At seeing the telltale flicker in his intense brown eyes, she nodded and grinned. "Because that's what you are. Terrified. This is the defiant courage of the hopeless, and to be honest, I find it overwrought and melodramatic."

The sneer turned into a snarl. "You going to talk all night through this poor lady you've puppeted, lab rat? Too afraid of a prisoner to speak to me? Or are you just glorying in the moment, you sick sadistic bastard?!"

"I'm more amused by the blind bigotry fueling your terrific ignorance," Lawton retorted. "Commander RIchmond is speaking of her own volition, and her people are here helping us of their own free will."

"Like hell they are. They're run by a bunch of alien psifreaks, we already know that much!" the man raved. "And now her alien master's letting you play with them! You want my name? You want anything? Why don't you just rip it from my head?! Why don't you just break my mind down like you do to… to…"

She could tell something was wrong when the sentence trailed off. The man started to cough violently. Panic flashed through his eyes as the coughing fit continued. When it stopped, his body began to shiver and he keeled over in the chair.

"Get a corpsman, now!" Richmond ordered her people, kneeling down to inspect the man. Spotting something along his neck, she pulled back the collar of his jacket.

Blue lines and sores stood out on his reddened flesh.
"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)

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The exhaustion was clear on Leo's face when he appeared on Kaveri's personal monitor in her ready office. She had the model turned so that Robert could see him as well.

"Almost all of the insurgents have whatever this is," he said. "The symptoms we know of start as a dry cough. Then auto-immune responses kick in, blood pressure goes up, the veins enlarge and stick through the skin, and the cardiovascular system starts throwing clots. I'm also monitoring a spike in body temperature and increasing decay in neuro-transmitter levels. Neurological symptoms will likely begin soon."

"Do you have any indication of what this sickness is?" Kaveri asked. "And how contagious it is?"

"Scans don't show any sign of an agent in the air, so it's nor airborne. Beyond that we don't know anything yet." Leo rubbed at his forehead. "We're relocating the sick to the St. Johns, under security watch, and I've sent samples to Dr. Ke'mani'pala and Dr. Diptheek. Between Lab 3 and the iso-lab in medbay, we should be able to identify what this thing is soon."

"Very well. And on the other matter, I am reassured to see you are fine given what happened."

"As fine as I can be."

"If you need more security, we could always send Talara or Gina," Robert offered.

Leo shook his head. "The telepaths have their own security here, and Richmond's teams helping out. That's all we need." He looked off-screen. "I need to go. I'm taking over rounds in the post-op tent for Dr. Hreept."

"Keep me informed, Doctor. Aurora out." Kaveri tapped at the control for the screen, ending the call. She turned to Robert. "You seem concerned."

"Well, he's my friend, for one." Robert sighed. "But the fact is, I feel something is going on here."

"The conditions down there are ripe for epidemics, unfortunately. I speak from experience." Kaveri rose.

"Even so, maybe you should take Gina with you, or maybe I could go. Just in case it's something more than Bei'tir can handle." Robert gave a nod of acknowledgement to the Dilgar telepath at her seat in the corner. "You could always play up my role in the Alliance being founded to justify being there. So it shows that we find their situation important."

"Somehow, I think they will be more swayed by your status as an operative of our government," Kaveri noted wryly. "Secretary Crawford asked to keep our presence down to myself, Group Captain Bei'tir, and Commander Meridina. I do not see him changing his mind at this point."

"Probably not," Robert agreed. "I wish I could give you, and him, more to go on than vague unease."

"When you can, let me know." She stood from her chair. "Until then, we must stick to our duties, and right now I am due to attend the new day's sessions in Brussels."

"And I'll go see if Tom and Jarod have found anything new or interesting this morning."




Given the other prisoners were now under both medical and security observation, the one remaining captive on the Brahmaputra was the telepath. Lawton was off resting so Richmond had the Psi Corps security telepath, Kusko Al, with her for the interview.

By now she figured Kusko wasn't the standard Corps telepath. The way she acted, the way walked around people, she carried herself differently. She'd also been amazingly prescient in intercepting the insurgents before they could make off with Doctor Gillam, a timing that Richmond couldn't accept as mere coincidence.

Their prisoner was young. Richmond suspected she was no older than sixteen, maybe as young as fourteen, although the sullen expression and dull stubborn anger in her eyes was definitely that of a teenager. "So, what was your name?" she asked. "Surely you can give us a name to call you?"

Nothing.

Richmond nodded to Kusko. I'm Kusko Al, a Newtype/telepath like you.

The girl's face lit up with fury. "I don't want anything to do with psifreaks! Get out of my head!"

It was clear Kusko hadn't expected such a virulent reaction. Richmond crossed her arms and spoke with a clear sardonic tone. "A strange opinion, young lady, since you're a telepath as well."

The emotional resonance the word gave the girl was obvious to RIchmond, but it was Kusko who felt the sheer self-loathing from her. This girl hated who she was. She hated herself and those like her, a hate reinforced by the people she'd associated with. The verbal and even physical abuse she'd endured briefly surfaced in her mind before she forced it away, softly singing a pop tune in her mind.

"Why did you try to kidnap Doctor Gillam?" Richmond asked. "Or was he a target of opportunity?"

The telepath crossed her arms and looked away. Given her situation it was striking that she still managed to pull off the "sullen teen" look so well.

"Young lady, your options are not very good at the moment," Richmond remarked. "Whatever your relations with the others, that's over with now. They'll be turned over to the United Earth authorities as soon as their medical condition is dealt with. Given the situation I imagine they'll be spending a very, very long time in a prison of some sort, and it will not be pleasant."

"Why are you working with the Unies?!" the girl demanded. "All we want is to be left alone! To live our own lives without having Unie psi-hunters going through our minds to punish us if we don't like the Union! That's the only reason they even allow psifreaks to live, they're just weapons to the Unies, weapons and spies!"

“From what the people in this camp have told me,” Kusko replied, “the Dissies turn telepaths into suicide troops. You use the term ‘our’, as if they would have ever allow you to live a life. If you hate the Unies so much, why not join up with the Pac Fed forces? Why assist in your own destruction?”

The girl looked away. Richmond could see they wouldn't be getting any cooperation soon. "You're not going to accomplish anything, young lady, by refusing to cooperate. This doesn't impair us in the slightest. All it does is ensure you get into greater trouble."

Kusko decided on a strategy right then and there. “Don’t patronize her. She knows full well what awaits her in a Unie prison, and there’s very little chance they’ll honor any deal a foreign government makes.”

<That strategy won’t work with her, she’s not a common criminal but a brainwashed terrorist. You have to deconstruct her belief system. Give me some time.>

It made sense. Richmond had the feeling it was something Kusko had personal experience with, to some degree. You'll want to start fresh, then. She stood. "Take the prisoner back to her cell, I'm done with her for now." With that said she left the living area for the Brahmaputra cockpit area.

Leo was waiting for her, looking only a little more fresh than he had the prior evening. "Any sign of symptoms yet?" he asked.

"Nothing. The only symptom our young kidnapper shows is that of a sullen teenager that knows she's in deep trouble." Richmond's tone kept its sardonic edge. "It's not unlike stubborn, self-righteous doctors with savior complexes."

Leo chuckled softly. "I guess I earned that. I thought I was helping people."

"And that's what they were counting on. Honestly, I'm starting to suspect yesterday's attack was a cover for what happened last night."

Leo raised an eyebrow. "You think the bombing and invasion were to get those people in?"

"During the chaos, certainly, had we not been there to help they might have masqueraded as wounded inside the perimeter. Their telepath friend would've helped admirably in that respect." Richmond walked over and settled into one of the side chairs, prompting Leo to do the same. "Once the attack failed, they did what they could to generate the mob scene to try again. The local military forces contributed, certainly, and their response could have been easily guessed based on what I've heard."

"And they played me like a fiddle." Leo crossed his arms. "Want to know the funny thing?"

"There is little about this situation I could identify as 'funny', Doctor."

"i know. But it doesn't change the fact that they may have gotten what they wanted in the end. Medical treatment, I mean." Leo looked toward the back of the runabout. "That's why they wanted me. The girl controlling me made it clear I was 'needed'."

"Something tells me the local government will disabuse them of that sentiment in short order."

"Given how this sickness progresses? Maybe not." Leo stood. "Anyway, when you can get them, samples of the girl's blood and a tissue analysis will help us determine if she's infected. I'd do it myself…"

"...but I wouldn't let you," Richmond said for him. "Go back to your duties, Doctor, and I'll get you those samples."




After escorting the nameless young telepath back to her cell, Kusko was beat. Exhausted and at something of a loss. She knew what she needed to do, but didn’t really know how precisely. She needed advice. Which was why she wandered into the tent Tom and Abigail Spencer were occupying. Both of them were still awake somehow and hastily putting their gloves back on when she walked in.

“Jesus, Kusko. It’s a good thing we felt you coming or this could have gotten awkward…” Tom noted. He was doing his charting, while Abigail was reading something on a datapad. Both were easier with the gloves off given the touch screens.

“Sorry.” She replied a bit sheepishly. She had her own set, but that particular cultural quirk — the intense sexualization of hands — was still strange for her, and she suspected it always would be. Or maybe not? Maybe someday she’d slip the gloves off and feel naked?

“It’s alright. You’re new, and I wasn’t kidding about that mind-nudist thing, but we’re not at a German beach or in some kind of bourgeois masquerade orgy so... Tired and rambling. Something is clearly on your mind.”

“It’s this… terrorist girl.” Kusko sighed. “She’s a telepath, and brainwashed so thoroughly she willingly fights for people who want to wipe telepaths out of existence. They abuse her, call her tube baby to her face, and she hates herself so much she just takes it and tries to kidnap doctors.”

“Ah. That. Speaking of which, you did good. Leo is a good person, if a bit naive. I’d hate to see him in enemy hands. You want to try to turn her, don’t you?”

“She has information we need, so yes. But also, what they did to her is just wrong. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since joining the Corps it’s that we aren’t — and should never be — tools to be used.”

“Then start with that.” Tom answered, interjecting in place of his sister. “You have experiences that if you trust her with them, might give you an edge in turning her around.”

It wasn’t a bad idea, Kusko thought, and nodded. “We’ve both been experimented on, I’m certain of that, so it’s an easy place to start, even if the Flanagan Institute was Zeon Pioneers Space Camp in comparison to what they did to her. Worst case, we end up having to break through her defenses. I know I can do that if I have to.”

“Good.” Abigail affirmed “Now come on, hit the sack, I get the feeling that tomorrow is going to be very long. We have the cot set up and everything.” And it was, complete with a memory foam pad. “Hell, the tent is even impregnated with mosquito repellant.”

“The Corps really is Mother and Father, they’re eating me alive.... That sounds like an excellent idea.”





The full Executive Council of the Earth National Union - the United Earth's executive government cabinet - was in attendance for the days meetings, including Kanegawa and Marias. Kaveri, Bei'tir, and Meridina again joined Crawford's team and listened as he laid out an early recommendation.

"I know you folks are worried about terrorism, and we'll be glad to help stop it," he said. "Give you time to rebuild. My team and I looked over the reports and have a few recommendations to make, if you'll hear us."

Gupta looked carefully to President Lawrence, who nodded to her. This prompted Gupta to begin speaking. "We recognize that your Alliance's diversity of experiences may give you some ideas we haven't considered."

"Alright then. First off, you folks expressed concerns about some of your member governments making independent contact with us. That it'll undermine your authority. We recognize that and we'll be cautious about it. But you might want to consider inviting their counsel on these matters. Open some dialogue." Meridina felt Crawford was being perhaps a little too familiar, but she recognized that he was trying to be engaging to encourage their comfort. "If anything, it might help you with some of the folks in the former rebel countries. Folks who might settle down if they think you're going to help them out now that the war's over instead of treatin' them like they're still enemies. And then there's the matter of your telepath population—"

Meridina felt the surge of anger before the interruption began. Security Minister Marias slammed a hand on the table. "This is inexcusable!" he proclaimed. "We are the governing body of this planet, responsible for ten billion souls, and you're lecturing us!"

"Minister Marias…"

"Secretary Gupta, you are disgracing the Executive Council by going along with this… this farce," he declared. "These people claim to be here to help, but their actions speak to their true motives! Their support of Dissolutionists and the telepath underground proves their real motive is our destruction! They wish to conquer us peacefully, and they can only do that if our government is weakened by the Reformist agenda they're parroting to us!"

Marias glared at the entire Alliance delegation. "The lessons of the past century are clear to us. So long as Humanity is divided in leadership, we are doomed to war and suffering. The Union must gain control of the world to stop this. We must make our world a true nation, one people under one flag, to avoid the wars of our past.

“The Reformists are merely the subversive side of Dissolutionism and their way would cause more conflict, not less. And this talk about treating Dissolutionist insurgents as anything but the enemies they are is nothing but an attack on my office and agency! I will not sit here and suffer the efforts to ridicule my brave agents putting down threats to world peace!"

Without seeking permission, he turned from the table and stomped from the room.

"He is not grandstanding, is he?" Kaveri asked in a whisper.

"He is genuine," Meridina whispered back, after a moment to consult with Bei'tir on whom should answer. As she spoke the embarrassment and uncertainty of Marias' peers came to her senses. Kanegawa looked sheepishly at his notes, Fluck rolled his eyes, and Gupta seemed quite flustered. Their leaders were equally perturbed, although Meridina felt a certain sense of quiet understanding from Gorchkov and a few of the other cabinet members. Marias' passion unsettled them, but his arguments resonated with their fears and grief.

Gupta, mortified, was apologetic as she spoke to Crawford. "Please, give us the list of your proposals, and the Executive Council will discuss them," she said. "But understand some of those proposals may not be politically feasible at this time."

"Understood ma'am," Crawford answered politely. "We should probably move on to other business then. You wanted to see some of the treaties that govern interuniversal relations?"

"Yes, that would be useful."

Meridina knew what she really meant was that the change of subject was useful.





The day began with Lucy Lucero cursing yet again the concussion that had brought her a month of boring light duties, as well as curses for the bomb, the NEUROM operatives who set it up, and their mothers for bringing them into the world just to vex her personally.

After breakfast she visited the medbay to get her daily check-up out of the way. Over half of the medical personnel were down on the planet, but Dr. Allen-Epstein from the Koenig crew was on hand to go over the scan. "You have recovered well," he noted. "Neurological scans are all clear, and the injury has healed. Honestly you'll be back on duty in a day or two, I imagine."

"Hallelujah." Seeing the way he was grinning at her, she made a very fake wince. "I mean, oh no, I have to go back to work and probably get shot at, I should find a way to extend my medical leave."

"That sarcasm implies you like being shot at."

"Well, I suppose I'm one of the relatively few people in the Multiverse who can block people shooting at me and send the shots back, return to sender," Lucy conceded, now grinning sweetly. The grin faded after a few seconds. "How is everything holding up here? It looks like you're down to a quarter of your staff."

"Oh, it's… well, it's holding up, I suppose," he answered, his German accent not particularly thick. "And we're at half, actually, Doctor Gilliam's arranged for the rotation between normal duty up here and the aid work to keep half of the medical staff here on the ship, off and on duty."

"Doesn't look like it."

"Well, I had to send teams to the brig to get samples from the prisoners from yesterday, there may be an epidemic in the area. It's not surprising, that kind of thing happens in these situations."

"Did you go down there yet?" Lucy asked

He nodded. "I was at a displaced persons camp yesterday in Iran." He shook his head. "It's not the first such place I've seen. I worry that I'm too used to that level of suffering and deprivation."

"I know the feeling," Lucy said, slipping off the table. "I got a little used to it back in the Facility days. Sometimes it can make someone wonder about the world. Then I met Meridina and learned how to draw on a metaphysical power source that gets stronger by making people feel better, so I just roll with it now."

He grinned at that. "I would too. Have a good day."

With her checkup done, Lucy headed to Science Lab 2. Jarod and Tom were at work on the rifle provided by the planetary authorities claiming the Alliance was arming insurgents. She could see why given it was visibly a Darglan pulse rifle. "So, anything else?" she asked. "Robert let me know what's up."

"Nothing new," Jarod replied. "We know it's Darglan, but it's also a newer model than anything we've seen before. The refinements make it obvious this required a significant effort."

"It's definitely not rigged modifications," she agreed, looking at the scan results on the model. "So now the question is finding out where it came from."

"Cat's running a library search on the elements, but nothing is so unique as to stand out yet," Jarod answered. "But I've had a thought."

"Let me guess. The naqia?" Lucy smiled at him.

"You used your woo-woo powers to sense that, didn't you?" he asked.

"You picked that term up from Tom, and no, I didn't need them. It's something clever, so you thought of it already."

"I did." Jarod tapped the display. "The sensitivity of the sensors will have to be turned up, and some calibrations done to ensure we get accurate results. That's what we're working on now, in fact."

"I'll let Rob know. Need any help?"

"We've got it handled," Tom said. "And you've got that ancient code book to work on, right?"

Lucy's sigh was intentionally dramatic. "Gina says she finally got out of the gibberish zone, but I'm getting tired of it all the same. Do you know the pain of dealing with old High Gersallian syntax, cross-referencing it with other work to find errors, and figuring out the part of the error that makes the code? Is it the subject of a sentence because its out of place, or is it the participle? Is it really an error or am I confusing it with normal Gersallian?"

"I find it fun," Jarod said, grinning. "I like codes that make me think."

"After a while, it gets old," she replied. "Want to swap places?"

"I don't think Captain Kaveri will go for that," Tom said. "The bigwigs want this done."

Lucy sighed and crossed her arms. "Alright, I'll go get back to code work. Let me know if you need my help."

"We'll call, don't worry," Jarod answered.

With intentionally-exaggerated resignation, Lucy left the science lab. We'd better decode that book soon, she thought. I'm going to go stir crazy otherwise.





The lunch hour in New Liberty saw Miko and Julia enjoying the sights. It was, technically, a working lunch, as Julia was running scans to survey the reconstruction of the Market District.

This meant facing the remaining damage from the attack, of course, and she found it a mixed experience. She understood, and mourned, the fact that people died in those broken buildings, slain in an attack that nobody saw coming. To a degree it made her feel like a failure. She'd failed these people by not preventing the attack.

But she knew this was wrong. More than that, even with over five percent of the colony's population killed in the attack and many, many more wounded, the colonists were bouncing back. Like Gersal they were receiving aid from across the Multiverse, aid and volunteers, and they were rebuilding their homes with a spirit that Julia couldn't help but feel warmed by.

When she finished her last inspection she turned to speak to Miko, just to find she'd stepped away. Why she had was soon apparent. A band of musicians had taken up their usual position in the square, and the fusion of Makossa and what sounded like Korean music was attracting a crowd.

The music, and Miko.

The band played merrily despite the impromptu addition to their act, as Miko danced in the street nearby. It wasn't just any dance, but one Julia remembered seeing in the streets of the Fire Nation's royal capital and on the holovid programs she'd seen on their local networks. The traditional dance involved actual Firebending, long and short spurts of flame from Miko's hands and feet in line with her movements and the music. The assembled crowd were cheering the sight, enchanted by her ability and her skill.

Julia was looking into the crowd when she was surprised to see a familiar face approach her. "Liara? Doctor T'Soni?"

The Asari xenoarcheologist nodded at her. She smiled briefly before letting her expression turn to something neutral. "Captain. I'm delighted to see you're alright. I heard what happened and I was horrified to think you were lost."

"It was a close call," Julia answered. "And not easy. But I'm alive and I've even made a new friend." She smiled in Miko's direction as Miko completed a set of dance forms that culminated with her forming a dragon crest from flame.

The crowd cheered approval. She turned and bowed respectfully to the band while the call for an encore rose. Julia didn't hear the exchange Miko shared with the band leader, but it was clear the crowd request was considered acceptable by both. Miko went into a ready stance as the band started replaying the tune from before.

With Miko clearly occupied with another performance, Julia returned her attention to Liara. "Who is she?" Liara asked. "Does she have metaphysical gifts like Lieutenant Lucero and Captain Dale?"

"Something like that," Julia answered. "On her world, people can be born with metaphysical talents to manipulate basic elements. Normally just one, but she's a special case. We were both captives of the SS before the rescue."

"I see. Goddess, she looks very young. A Human maiden by comparison."

"That does sound about right." Julia smiled at Liara. "So, Doctor, what're you doing on New Liberty?"

"I'm waiting to get a response to my application to your Navy's science division," Liara answered. "I followed through on your friends' invitations to become a civilian specialist on one of your ships."

"Wonderful. Whichever ship you wind up on, I hope you do well."

"I admit, I would much prefer coming back to the Aurora. I'm familiar with your ship. And most of your crew are still the same, yes?"

"Mostly. Except for my place, right now." Julia wondered how Captain Varma was faring with the others. The communications she'd gotten had mostly been inquiries into her health and how she was doing with very little besides platitudes on their missions. They want to make sure I recover, I know, but I really wish I could be sure they were fine.

"You're worried about them?" Liara asked.

"Oh, always." Julia chuckled. 'Didn't they tell you, Doctor? I'm a mother hen."

That brought momentary confusion to Liara. "That's a fowl or an avian, I thought? One of the species your people use for food?"

"It's a metaphor, I'm sorry."

By now the music ended a second time, and Miko gave the last bit of her fire show an even greater flare to even greater applause. There were a few calls for another encore, but the band started putting their things away, the signal they were calling it a day. Miko approached, sweating but very enthusiastic. "That music, it's so different, but it sounded just right with the drums and the pipes. I couldn't help myself." She noticed Liara. "Oh! Hello. I'm sorry, I've never met your species before."

"I'm an Asari, from the M4P2 universe," Liara answered.

"The aliens who are all women?"

"That is a very… simplistic explanation, but yes, we're a monogendered species."

"Princess Miko, this is Doctor Liara T'Soni, a xenoarchaeologist my crew worked with in the past." Julia gestured between them. "Doctor T'Soni, Princess Miko of then Fire Nation, and her world's Avatar."

"Isn't that a Human word for someone's appearance in an extranet setting?" Liara asked.

"For us, but for their world, it has a different meaning."

"Of course. A pleasure to meet you, Princess." Liara bowed her head.

Miko returned the gesture. "Thank you, and I'm so glad to meet you, Doctor. There are so many species I've yet to meet in person, and I'm always happy to meet another of Sifu Julia's friends."

"Sifu?"

"It's a term for teacher," Julia explained. "I'm teaching her my martial arts. It's related to her duties." She checked her omnitool. "Speaking of duties, I have to finish this reconstruction inspection for the Colony Council. Mrs. Soloveitchik is expecting it before dinner."

"We're having dinner with Governor Rankin again tonight?" Miko asked.

"We are, and that's why we need to get finished." Julia nodded to Liara. "I'll see you around, Doctor."

"I hope so," Liara said. She turned away and started walking toward the north exit of the Market Square.

"Now that you've got your jitterbug sorted out, let's get back to work," Julia teased Miko.

"Jitterbug?"

She sighed. "Sorry, another of those cultural things to explain. You see, it means…"




As she walked away Liara kept a careful eye out around her. At least she's still safe, she thought. For now.

Once she was alone Liara checked her messages on her omnitool. A new one flashed to life, directly from Feron. His source on Ilum had come through.

The words were not what Liara wanted to hear.

Shadow Broker definitely targeting Captain Andreys. Has arranged clean travel IDs into Alliance. Can't confirm identities. Will find out what I can. - Feron

Liara frowned. I have to protect her, she thought. This is my fault, and I have to make it right.





After the lunchtime rounds Leo went out to the St. Johns to make use of its replicator instead of taking from the camp's own food supplies. It gave him the chance to look up the condition of the six insurgents who tried to kidnap him. The more he saw their symptoms, the more he was wondering just what he was dealing with, and the more impatient he was for Ke'mani'pala and Diptheek to get back to him.

He was partway through a steaming bowl of beef stew and a lunch salad, fresh from the ship's replicator, when one of the security officers stepped in. Rose was beside him. "She wanted to see you, Doctor," he said.

"Hey, Rose." Leo gestured to one of the chairs in the forward section. Go ahead and have a seat.

For her part Rose was looking around the forward cockpit section with widened eyes. "This is a spaceship?"

"A small one," he confirmed, grinning. "The St. Johns is a medical runabout. It carries a surgical theater and bed spaces in the rear modules at the cost of a smaller living space. She's meant to supplement field facilities when the ship's not available."

Rose slipped into a seat. She ran a finger across one of the controls. It blinked red in response, indicating it was locked down. "And you're on a bigger ship, right? I mean, you live on one?"

"I do." Leo took a bite. "Computer, activate main viewer, show a recorded image of the Aurora, front angle."

The holo-viewer built into the cockpit's front window activated, showing an image of the Aurora from the front. She was, as always, an impressive ship to look at, with her long tapered hull shape with gentle lines. The deflector dish was a round golden eye with blue lines running through it that was built into the forward decks of the drive hull. Though the image angle didn't show it, almost precisely above the deflector dish, on the top of the ship, was the Aurora's bridge module, although the Starfleet-style Captain's Yacht was built into the bottom of the primary hull, an addition made by the late Carlton Farmer during the Aurora's final construction.

"It's… huge," Rose said, her eyes as wide as saucers.

"A bit over a kilometer long, in fact," Leo said. "We have our own internal lift car system for moving across the ship."

"And it can fly to other planets?"

"With the warp drive we can go to other solar systems," he confirmed. "And the interuniversal jump drive lets us to go other universes."

"Including different versions of Earth." Rose's smile of wonder turned bitter. "Most better than this one, I'm sure."

"Oh, there are worse."

"Not many, I'm sure." She lowered her eyes.

"Well, not many recently had a terrible war, yeah. There's the Earth where Nazi Germany won the Second World War, too, although we recently beat them."

"And how many where the people murdered entire families because one of them was a telepath?"

"None I can honestly think of," Leo admitted. "Telepaths among Humans aren't common in the Multiverse. So far only six universes have seen Humans capable of it. Yours, the E5B1 universe that the Spencers came from, Ms. Al's home universe of M5G8, and the S0T5, S2C3, and A5R0 universes." He thought about the last three and what he knew of them and their histories involving persecution of telepaths, particularly the last one with its slavery-dominated empire controlled by the telepath-torturing sociopaths called Aristos, and let out a deep sigh. "I suppose each of those universe has had these things happen. Sheer hatred like I saw in that mob, and the insurgents, I have trouble grasping it. I've faced hate before, but never like that."

"A lot of people around here associate them with the United Earth Government, and they consider them to be evil oppressors."

"Why?"

Rose shrugged. "Pick a reason. Because the Unies want to break down national distinctions and make everyone part of one Earth nation. Because their bureaucrats kept trying to impose economic policies on everyone before the war. The Unies act like control freaks, so the Dissies started forming in a bunch of places. And since the Unies started passing laws to make telepaths part of their investigations and security, it made everyone's fear of telepaths worse."

"Even when they wanted nothing to do with the central government?"

"Well, it was an excuse for a lot of people, I think," Rose said. "My grandparents were young when telepaths first manifested, and there were a lot of killings back then too. Telepaths are scary bogeymen to a lot of people." She glanced his way. "You can guess why, given what that one telepath did to you last night."

Leo nodded quietly. It was something to have his own body stolen by another mind. It was terrifying and unreal to go through it. "It wasn't pleasant, but I'm not going to start thinking all telepaths are monsters because one kid did that to me."

Even as he spoke, he considered how others might put that. Some would be clever about it, he imagined. They wouldn't outright be anti-telepath, they'd just make soothing noises about "protecting against the bad ones". They'd sound reasonable to scared people.

"Growing up before and during the war, I never thought about it. All of the adults in my life said just about the same thing, that telepaths were dangerous and bad. That they liked to puppet other people for fun, that they spied on us. They were monsters, probably made in a lab by the Unies to control us. I never thought anything about it or that it was wrong. Not until Lily was suddenly sick and didn't want to be around people. Then I felt her voice in my mind and I knew why."

"They call it a mindburst in E5B1," Leo said gently. "Telepathic powers manifest and the telepath gets overwhelmed by the voices around them. They collapse, usually. Causes them to lose consciousness from the overload in sensory information."

"She said it came in her sleep. That she just heard the rest of us thinking. She was terrified about it." Rose sniffled as the old memories continued to come back. "She came to me because I was the only one she trusted. She begged me not to tell, and I promised not to. I didn't. I swear I didn't."

"But they got her anyway." Leo already imagined how it went. "The change in her behavior. Not wanting to go to school or socialize. Something tipped them off."

"They took my little sister, and I couldn't stop them." Rose shook her head while the tears flowed. "I couldn't do anything. They had guns, and they threatened us, and Mom and Dad let them go. They let them go with Lily, and we never saw her again, and they never talked about it."

There was fury in her words toward the end, mixed with grief and loss, which Leo knew was a wound he was powerless to heal. All he could do was take her hand and offer her the solace of that gesture.




In his office in the Berlaymont building Security Minister Marias waited patiently. His reports for the day were done and his orders were out.

The two figures that entered were other members of the Executive Council. Minister Tobias Winthrope was the Minister of Education and Minister Mohinder Tangri had the portfolio of Minister of Industry and Production. "Kanegawa didn't come?" Tangri asked, clearly unhappy with it.

"He's not in the right mindset," replied Marias. "With time, we'll win him over."

"We have no more time on this issue," insisted Winthrope. "The populace has to be rallied now, before the Alliance's technologies become widespread enough that they're susceptible to the influences from off-world. If we don't assume control of the Executive Council before an agreement is reached, nothing else will suffice."

"Lawrence and Gorchkov will not relent easily," Marias said. His voice was carefully low, not too stern and not too eager. "We may have to use violence."

"It's too late for that kind of thing," Tangri pleaded. "The Alliance is already here. Their technology is just as potent as the renegade ship that intervened against the Dissolutionists. If we act, they'll destroy us with ease. This purpose is hopeless."

Marias slammed a fist on the desk before him. "It is not hopeless, Minister Tangri, so long as we stand true to our beliefs! The Alliance is still a decentralized nation, with aliens that we can play against with careful diplomacy. If we make it clear that any interference will result in widespread military resistance, they will not try to stop us."

"You still believe you can control the Legislative Council?"

"I'm certain of it." He didn't speak aloud his thought that it was easy to control the politicians if you made it clear contrary votes would get them shot. I hope the Reformist scum do try and resist. I'll shoot every one of them.

"I still believe you underestimate the Alliance," Tangri said, shaking his head. "If they fight us, we lose."

"If they fight us, we'll turn this planet into a guerrilla nightmare on them," Marias growled. "It's not like they'll be getting Dissie help since they're obsessed with helping telepaths. And they've admitted to the existence of other governments not in their alliance, governments we might be able to turn to in order to resist them. Now, I just need you two to keep the Premier from signing anything away, give me 72 hours on that, and when I'm done, we'll have the government, and our Union will survive."

Winthrope nodded in agreement. Tangri's face betrayed he was not so supportive, but resignation showed as he finally nodded. "We leave the matter in your hands, Minister."

"We'll make this work, I promise."




Leo was in surgery with Dr. Opani this time. The patient was a woman, a camp resident who'd been a red tag case the prior day and needed several organs treated due to the scope of her internal injuries. This was her third surgery with Leo transplanting new kidneys due to the damage to the previous ones. Nasri was his attending nurse this time, helping with his tools and providing the sponge to wipe sweat from his forehead.

"Looks good," Opani said as he made the final connection for the renal vein. "I'm opening the shunt."

He waited for several patient seconds to see if functionality was coming back. A small smile came to his face as the display showed the kidney was working as intended. "We're set here," he said. "Mrs. Becky Rogers has new functioning kidneys. Let's get her back to post-op care."

"The file says she has a husband and children in the camp," Opani remarked. "They'll be thrilled that she'll make it."

"That they will."

The surgical transporter unit eliminated the need for closing their patient up. Once her vitals were confirmed Nasri sent her off while Opani and Leo prepared the machines for the next case.

When Nasri returned, she was frowning. "Doctor, Commander Richmond says you need to report to the lab immediately. Captain Kaveri and Captain Dale need to speak with you."

Leo didn't like the sound of that.. He glanced toward Opani and received a nod in reply. "We have Doctor Sesantasl on standby in the post-op tent, I'll take over and bring him in to assist."

"He's not yet operated on Humans," Leo remarked. "I'd prefer Walker or Hreept."

"Walker's on Aurora rotation today and Hreept's at the camp in Johannesburg," Opani noted. As if anticipating his next query, she added, "And Doctor Singh's at the Yogyakarta camp."

"I see. Alright, bring in Sesantasl, and I'll go see why I've been called away."

Another benefit to how they performed surgery was the elimination of having to regularly deal with blood and other bodily fluids and matter. Cleaning up usually amounted to changing out of the operation suits and showering off sweat, and given the urgency Leo figured he could get away with a fresh application of deodorant and using a towel. Afterward he donned his usual uniform and added his white lab coat before heading out.

The on-site lab was set up in one of the structures nearby, a partially-intact strip mall. The remaining sign for the space they used indicated it was once been a chain of pharmacies, making the lab location fitting. He walked in to find Richmond present with Doctor Spencer, Nysha Williams, and Walter Smith. He felt their appreciation for his continued efforts and relief that he was okay given the prior night's excitement, but their attention was on the holo-viewer set up.

The screen was set to Science Lab 3. Robert and Kaveri were present with the lab's head researcher. Dr. Ke'mani'pala was a Gl'mulli, an agendered gelatinous species that looked like living gumdrops that, depending on the surface, could either slide along or would walk on two stubby legs they formed from their bodies for that purpose. A device on the cyan surface of the alien scientist acted as both a voice vocoder, allowing her to communicate with other species, and sensors that translated audio-visual data into the electromagnetic spectrum the Gl'mulli used to sense their surroundings and communicate.

Beside Ke'mani'pala was the head of the Aurora's isolab, Dr. Yithiri Dipthreek, a male Alakin from the Shreesep continent of that world. His plumage consisted of blues and greens while his mottled skin was a strong gray tone. His beak had a tapered shape to it, common to Shreesep-descended Alakin.

"Captains, Doctors." Leo stepped up "You've found something about that illness?"

"We have, and the news is not good, Leonard," Ke'mani'pala said. "We are still running analysis on the effects of the virus, but we can confirm a few things about it."

"For one thing, it is not airborne," Diptheek said. Leo felt relief at that, relief shared by the rest of the room and utterly palpable from the telepaths present. "The protein coating breaks down in the gases of an atmosphere."

"Thank god," Nysha muttered. "The last thing we need is an epidemic here."

"Unfortunately, you may get one anyway. While the virus can't survive in atmosphere, it's incredibly virulent on whatever vectors it can survive in. We're still running tests on immune responses, but from what we can tell, the immune system of Human bodies are not equipped to counter this virus."

"Anything else we should know, Doctors?" Kaveri asked.

"There is one final piece of data, and it is the most troubling, Captain." Ke'mani'pala's vocoder made a low, slow trilling noise, one Leo knew wasn't a good sign. It was the equivalent of a sigh. "The biochemistry of this virus is very telling. It lacks the signs associated with the natural evolution of a virus species in nature. It is, in our opinion, a product of deliberate design."

"As in somebody made this?" Walter asked, horrified. Beside him Spencer paled at the realization, but Leo could practically see the metaphorical gears turning inside her head.

"Exactly, sir." Diptheek nodded. "This is a bioweapon, and someone has unleashed it upon your world."
"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)

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Leo felt like he'd been punched in the gut. A bioweapon in an environment like the camp wasn't just an epidemic in the making, it was an outright pandemic, one that could have already spread elsewhere.

Including the Aurora.

"Rest assured, Doctor Gillam, that medbay is preparing for a full bio-scan of the ship, and to receive any cases." The warbling tone to Diptheek's words made clear his own stress at the situation. He was, Leo recalled, a practicing xenovirologist, and this kind of problem was what he both trained for and dreaded to see.

"And we're under quarantine for the time being, until we learn more about transmission vectors," Leo added. He watched as Nysha seemed to be on the verge of a panic attack at the news. He didn't blame her, given the damage a sickness like this could do to her little community.

It was Spencer who spoke up next after remaining silent for the first few beats. “Don’t panic just yet Nysha. There’s someone else on this planet with advanced tech. More than that, the telepath isn't sick. Even with - the way terrorist cells work - prolonged contact. The symptoms are also all neurological, even the cough and auto-immune reaction...” At that point, she almost looked like she wanted to laugh a little bit, but she didn’t. “I think this bioweapon is targeted to mundanes, or rather, designed to exclude telepaths. I’ll send up some clean tissue samples for culturing, but you’ll want to focus in on the serotonin and acetylcholine receptors. They’re subtly different between us and mundanes - practically the only thing that shows up on the surface of a neuron in both latent and active telepaths, so that’s probably how the virus is binding.”

"Doctors, can you verify that telepaths are immune?" Kaveri asked them.

"Easily," trilled Ke'mani'pala. "I will examine the biochemistry of the virus and how it interacts with the samples Doctor Spencer provides. The results should not take very long to confirm."

"Could you use this information to come up with a vaccine or a cure?" Robert asked.

“Oh sure. We’d need a retrovirus, probably something custom to deliver… well I know of CRISPR-based gene-editing but you might have something better. Basically cut the mundane versions of either the AChR or the various 5-HT1 receptors, and replace with the telepath versions, along with a promoter to ensure transcription. It won’t fix the damage that’s already done, but it will vaccinate. Hmm. Will probably need to include something to deactivate the old receptor too. So you’ll need a cocktail of retroviruses that also includes an irreversible competitive inhibitor.”

Diptheek nodded his head once. "I concur with Doctor Spencer, and our iso-lab has the means to create a suitable series of retroviral agents. I'll give priority to the vaccine, we'll need to begin creating preventative zones immediately around the site to avoid the disease's spread."

“We’ll need to figure out if it’s spread by some sort of animal vector too. If it is, that makes our lives more difficult.” She added.

Ke'mani'pala trilled in response. "I will be continuing my examination of the virus. I find its biochemistry interesting."

"Meanwhile we can talk to the cell's telepath and find out more about how they got sick," Richmond suggested, looking toward Kusko.

“I’ll see what I can do. Maybe she’ll open up if she believes we’re trying to cure or prevent the disease.” Kusko paused for a moment, and smiled, though the look was very measured. “By the way, can you stop calling her the cell’s telepath?”

Abigail winced “Yeah… I wasn’t going to say anything because she hasn’t given anyone her name and we don’t want to play the pronoun game forever but let’s not denote ownership or membership.”

"I was speaking loosely, in that she's part of the cell for a reason we've yet to confirm," Richmond pointed out. "But your point is accepted."

"We are due to brief Deputy Secretary Crawford on this situation," Kaveri said. "Please keep us informed of any developments."

One by one the screens shut down. The assembled glanced at one another for a moment. "Just in case, I'm going to make sure the militia's keeping an eye out for anyone else with symptoms," Nysha said. "Let me know if anything else happens."

"I'll get back to surgery," Leo said. "We still have a few cases from yesterday that need follow-up operations. Let me know if you need anything, Doctor Spencer?"

“Will do Dr. Gillam, hopefully some of the brains in the freezers still have viable cells, if not, I’ll have to get creative with a microtransporter.”

"Somehow, I don't think I want to know," Richmond murmured before walking away with Kusko.




The Aurora and Koenig command officers were present with Deputy Secretary Crawford's staff for the meeting in Conference Room 1. Robert waited patiently while Dr. Allen-Epstein, the Koenig's medical officer, provided the briefing to Crawford on the bioweapon. His staff betrayed understandable horror at the thought.

It was Meridina who raised the obvious question. "How do we inform the United Earth authorities?"

"Carefully," Henjasaram advised. "Minister Marias will likely accuse us of creating it, as things stand."

"That man's a few cards short of a pack," Crawford muttered. "But you're right about that."

"Neither can we keep it from them," one of the Dorei staffers said. "And their own intelligence and security services will be aware of this on their own soon enough."

"I'll make the call, and promise full cooperation," said Crawford. "It'll make for an interestin' meeting tomorrow, that's for sure." He looked toward Robert. "Anything on those guns they showed us, Captain?"

"We're developing a plan that might tell us whether there are any more on the planet, and where they are," Robert answered. "We should have the solution ready soon."

"Then I'd better get to work on my end. Now, Captain, I don't want any problems with these people, so I'd like you to be cautious about launchin' your own raids. I'm speakin' with the President's authority on the matter."

"I'll consult with you, of course."

The word "consult" was not the same thing as "seek permission", and both men knew it, just as both men knew the latitude given to Paladins. Robert hoped his tone of voice and sincerity would make it clear he wanted to work with Crawford. The older man answered with a nod and a tip of his Stetson before leading his people out.

Any further departure was stopped by the way Robert pointedly returned to his chair. Once Crawford and his people were gone Kaveri directed her attention his way. "Captain, I can see you have something more."

"Yes. A new discovery, classified, that may shed light on this." Robert folded his hands on the table. "We've been going at this believing rogue elements in the Alliance were responsible. But there's another, more chilling possibility."

"The SS?" Angel proposed. "They could've fooled with captured weapons."

"Worse. What I'm about to tell you doesn't leave the room." Once they all nodded in affirmation Robert continued speaking. "For the last several weeks, the Starship Huáscar has been on a classified mission to F7S4."

"The hothouse Earth, you mean?" Cat asked.

"That's the one. Long-range scans by the best sensors in the Alliance found an abnormality in the Cyrannus Cluster System, or as we know it…"

"Helios," finished Gina. "The Colonies of Kobol."

"Yes. And in F7S4, it was different."

"Wait, different?" Cat's interest was piqued. "How?"

Robert answered by keying the holotank, displaying the star cluster in question. "This is Cyrannus as it appears in N2S7 and elsewhere." With another key tap he created a second image. "This is Cyrannus in F7S4. Admiral Maran and Admiral Davies dispatched the Huáscar to investigate last month."

The differences were obvious. The second Cyrannus had an extra main sequence star and several more smaller stars. Cat gawked and then let out a little shriek of excitement. "Oh my God, ohmyGodthatsawesome. I have to ask Vee!"

"She won't be able to tell you anything, even if you admit to knowing," Robert pointed out.

"Why has it taken so long?" Locarno asked. "They should've made it there in a few weeks, at most."

"The same long range scans identified a subspace dampening field around the system," Robert answered. "It'd make warp entry impossible. They had to spend a month working their way in on impulse power."

"Well now, that's a scary thought," Scotty said from his chair. "A subspace field o' that size, stoppin' all warp? Maybe those extra stars are for powerin' it?"

"They weren't. Because the Huáscar found this."

With another key press Robert replaced the image of the cluster with that of an old hulk of a ship. It was a ship, with something of the form of a squared rocket, tapering toward the nose. Two great squared oblong deck clusters thrust up from the main hull, and what might have been the track of a mass driver lay along the dorsal hull. The armour was thick, immensely thick, twenty metres or more, and was gouged and torn in every place. She hung in space, a ghost ship of an ancient battle, her bow splotched with colours which might have once been a shield or standard. She was enormous, three times the length of the Aurora by the scale on the image--three kilometres long.

"Wait a damn minute." Angel leaned forward. "I recognize that. It was in the Darglans' old records of potential threats."

The way Jarod's face went white brought everyone else's attention. "Commander?"

At Kaveri's comment Jarod rubbed at his eyes, as if to make sure of what he was seeing. "I've seen that before," he said. "From research I started earlier this year. From our trip to the Fracture." He pointed. "That ship matches old records in S0T5. It's a Venguer-class dreadnought, a capital ship of the Earthreign."

A hushed silence filled the room. "The Earthreign, ye say?" Scotty gave him a bewildered look. "Aren't those th' scunners that used t' be th' rulers of S0T5?"

"Most of the people in the Fracture just call them the Reign, and refer to their collapse as the Reignfall," Jarod clarified. "Which happened three thousand years ago." A particular look came to his eyes.

Robert nodded at him, showing he'd already made that connection. "For the benefit of everyone who doesn't know, three thousand years ago was when the Darglan were forced to give up interuniversal travel. It was when Swenya rose to prominence and led the Gersallians of her time into a terrible war that few came back from. It was about the time of the atomic destruction of the Earth in the N2S7 universe, and we believe the ancestors of the Colonists of Kobol would've left just beforehand. And, as Jarod just reminded us, it's when the Earthreign of S0T5 collapsed, their Earth vanished, and an entire section of the galaxy around where Earth is meant to be is now a shattered region of space-time."

"That's a lot of things happenin' at once," Scotty observed. "I dinnae believe in coincidences like that."

"All of these things are related," Kaveri said.

"We know the Darkness War was multiversal in some way," Robert said. "The Doctor's description was clear that they've threatened other universes before. They invaded that Darglan Facility we found at Gamma Piratus and forced the Darglan to evacuate and trigger a suicide charge on the people left behind."

"And now we have an Earthreign warship in another universe," Meridina said. "Did the Darglan bring it there for some reason? To help fight the war?"

Robert didn't answer with words. He tapped the holotank control again. A new image came up, from the interior of a ship. "Commander Fera’Xero and officers from the Huáscar took this image while examining the ship in question."

"Holy crap!" Tom leaned in. "That's an IU drive! An original Darglan model IU drive!"

Cat stared. "It is. How did the Earthreign get their hands on that? The Darglan didn't even share it with the Asgard!"

Robert folded his hands on the table. "I admit I wasn't going to show this to you just yet. I had to plead with Admiral Maran to do it now, since Portland's still going crazy at the ramifications. But given what's happening below us, I think we have to consider how this comes together."

"What, you think that some people from the Earthreign are still out here, causing trouble?" asked Lt. Cmdr. Magda Navaez, XO and Operations officer of the Koenig and an old Facility hand. "That they're behind this?"

"You think some of them survived, Rob?"

To Zack's question Robert shrugged. "I don't know if any survived in another universe, although what the Huáscar found certainly hints at it. But what I'm talking about is a regime we've already met. People who are just as ruthless and totalitarian as the Earthreign was said to have been, who come from the same region of space. People we've already run into that we know have Darglan technology."

"NEUROM," Jarod said harshly. "You think it's them."

"We know they have Darglan deflector technology," Cat offered.

"And they have advanced ships with unique FTL drives, as we saw at the Citadel and DS9," Robert added.

"It'd be easy for them to refine leftover Darglan weapons from the Darkness War into what we've found here, the same thing with any salvaged deflector systems," Tom offered. "But holy crap man, do you get what you're saying?"

"That somehow they have access to Darglan IU drives? I do, and it scares the crap out of me, but it fits." Robert gestured to the screen. "If the Darglan, for whatever reason, let the Earthreign use their drives, then NEUROM's founders might've gotten their hands on an example. Along with all of the other Darglan technology we've seen them use."

"So this entire time, all these last thousands of years, those golden-uniformed jerks with their creepy dominatrix agents have had IU tech?" Zack shook his head. "But you'd think we'd have found a sign of that before now. They're willing to conquer other worlds, right, why wouldn't they conquer into other universes?"

"The fate of the Darglan, perhaps?" Kaveri kept a calm tone. "The material I have been given to read states that the Vorlons and other First One races punished them for something related to using the technology. Maybe they feared having the same done to them."

Robert nodded in agreement. "That's just what I was thinking. I mean, imagine it. They sit on it for millennia because they're worried about letting the Darkness back in, or of getting the attention of ancient races, the forces the Doctor warned us about. Then we come along. They sit, and wait, but there's no sign of any problems. No Darkness, no Vorlons coming after us. The Alliance just keeps going."

"And they figure it's safe now," Locarno said. "So they start looking into other universes too."

“Exactly,” Robert shook his head ruefully. “The final piece is in Yellow warning us about Sovereign's debris. It implied detailed knowledge of another universe which might only come from, say, a Darglan database they have access to and we don’t.”

"So here we are with someone handing out refined Darglan weapons to destabilize the world, in a way calculated to undermine our relations when we came along."

Jarod brought a finger up. "If the bioweapon is theirs, there might be mention of it in S0T5 historical materials. Buried under a bunch of metaphor, most likely, but still there."

"It's something to look into, and it makes this situation all the more important," Robert remarked. "NEUROM's been pushing at us this year, especially that attack on DS9. This might be their opening move for expanding on the interuniversal level."

"Aye, it's always somethin' else," muttered Scotty.

"Well, if it is them trying to get through the door, I say we slam it in their face," Angel said, flexing a fist.

"If at all possible, Lieutenant, that is precisely what we should do," Kaveri agreed. "But our first priority remains the mission at hand. Commander Jarod, how soon until your sensor recalibrations are complete?"

"We should be able to commence scans by tomorrow," he answered.

"Excellent. Let us know when we get results. Everyone else, I suggest we go to standby running. If Captain Dale is correct, there is the possibility we will face NEUROM warships at some point, and we need to be ready."

"We will initiate Code Blue running status immediately," Meridina said.

"Then we are finished here, unless Captain Dale has more to share?"

"I don't," Robert said. "This is the relevant part of the information."

"Very well. You are all dismissed."




Richmond waited with Kusko while the telepath was brought back from the cells installed on the Brahmaputra. The teen still looked sullen and uncooperative, but Richmond thought she could see the signs of relenting she'd hoped for. The time to realize how much trouble she was in would hopefully press the young lady toward more cooperation.

By common agreement between the two Kusko went first.

“Hey, you doing alright? Relatively speaking?” Kusko asked gently.

The girl looked at her with hooded eyes. At first Richmond thought there would be no verbal response, but it came eventually. "I'm not in pain. But I don't matter. Linda and the others, they're real people, you should be asking them."

“You’re a real person too.”

"We're test tube babies. The Unies made us to spy on other people and make them obey the world government."

“Do you think that telepaths across multiple universes were created by this piddly little government?” Kusko pulled up a chair and sat down.

"I don't know about other universes, I don't even know you're really from one!" The girl gestured around. "This could be a trick. A stage you've set up to trick me and make me think this! But I know the truth."

"And what truth is that, young lady?" Richmond asked.

"Psifreaks shouldn't exist," the girl said. "We're wrong. Our powers are wrong. We're not natural. People aren't meant to read others' minds or control their bodies like that."

Richmond kept the pleased smile she felt from forming on her face. "You heard these things from that woman, Linda, right? How did she justify you doing that very thing to Doctor Gillam, after he got you away from those soldiers?"

The girl bit into ler lip and snarled. She crossed her arms and it was clear from her body language she wouldn't be answering.

“Ignore her.” Kusko said flatly. <You’re not actually helping Lieutenant.>

Richmond returned the thought carefully. The more she's angry at me, the more leeway you might have to make this work.

<Point. And I get to play good cop. New at this.> She replied. “Look, here’s what I know. There are human telepaths in six different universes that I know of. This one, my home universe, the Spencer’s, and several others I haven’t met anyone from. There might be more. In all of them, telepaths emerged sometime in the early space-age across a period of thousands of years. In the Spencer’s home universe I live in now, most other space-faring species have telepaths. And in all of them, the genetics are… eerily similar. Do you know what that means?”

"That other governments also want to spy on their people, obviously." The words were not said with much meaning behind them, more out of obstinate defiance than anything.

“No. If that were true, they’d all be different. Similar solutions to the same problem maybe, but not identical. In my universe telepathy manifested spontaneously in many spacedwellers--”spacenoids”--simultaneously. And a heck of a lot of us were anti-Earth Federation. Your equivalent of Dissolutionists. Spacenoid Independence activists, if you want to call us that.”

Richmond turned her head back to Kusko. This is going to take more time. I think I know what will get through to her, although you may not like it.

<I know. But I have to ease her into it a little…> Thinking of memetic transfer for some reason before she caught Richmond’s drift. <Ugh. This is going to set things back…>

You can work on that more later, but right now the doctors need more information. Richmond activated her omnitool. "Young lady, right now our main concern is the illness in the people you were captured with. They may all die if we can't figure out how to stop it."

"Ask the Unies. I wouldn't be surprised if they got us sick."

"The Unies aren't exactly happy with us right now, given we didn't turn you over to them yesterday," Richmond pointed out. "If we're to cure your comrades, we need to know more about this disease. When the symptoms started showing up, for instance." She glanced to Kusko. Her self-interest is warped to the benefit of her captors. She may cooperate to help them, especially if we make her feel like she's a full member of the cell.

<Oh I like this even less!> And Kusko really didn’t, not at all. But then, it was Richmond on the chopping block at this point too. “And think, if they did it, they’re not exactly going to tell us, now are they? But if you tell us what you and your people were up to and when they started getting sick, we might be able to figure out how it spreads and trace it back to the source.”

Richmond watched the girl's eyes as she considered their arguments. Her breathing slowed and her eyes lowered. "It started a week ago," she said. "We keep a cabin out on Kennesaw Mountain, near one of the streams feeding a beaver pond. Bobby was the first to get sick. He started coughing. Then he started getting these blue lines on his skin, and the blue spread to the rest of him. Linda didn't know what to do, she'd never seen anything like it, and she was an attending nurse down in Andersonville."

Richmond didn't need to see Kusko to know how much she had to bury her revulsion at that admission. "Go on."

"Mike got sick next, a couple days later, then Sandra. A few days ago most of the cell was starting to cough and Bobby, he collapsed. He died the day before yesterday." The girl's face twisted into grief. Tears formed in her eyes. "He was always the nicest to me. He… he didn't hit me when I accidentally read his mind, and he'd think jokes to make me giggle…" She sobbed.

Richmond forced any trace of sympathy down, since Kusko was playing the sympathetic one. "I'm guessing that's when they decided to launch this foolhardy attack?"

"Linda wanted to lure a Unie doctor out. She said she knew they didn't have a doctor here because another cell, uh, took care of her." It was obvious to all she meant the murder of the camp's physician. "We thought the attack would do more damage and the Unies would have to bring in their doctors. But we watched while your people stopped them. Everyone was starting to panic when Linda saw your doctor come out and start tagging people. She told Big Tom and Mark to go get a mob together and told us the plan to sneak in when the Unies showed up."

"How did she know we'd let you?" Richmond asked.

"I… I don't know, I think she was just going for whatever would work. Everyone was getting so sick. We had to leave Mike behind before the riot, he couldn't walk, and Sandra stayed with him since she wasn't feeling good either." As she spoke Richmond tapped away at her omni-tool, directing Lieutenant Lindstrom to take a team and scan for the two. "The mob gathered up and your doctor let us in, then we laid low until night. We just wanted one of your doctors, and he was the first one we could find." The girl sighed. "And that's it. Are… Are Linda and the others still alive? What's happened to them? I want to see them, I want to see them!"

"They are, though the disease is rapidly progressing. They’re in isolation though, would video work?”

"I must see them, I mean, yes, video, just let me see them!"

Richmond promptly tied her omnitool into the living section's holo-viewer, then tapped it into the St. Johns' recorders. Moments later the holo-viewer came to life to show the insurgents in their beds. One sheet was already covered, showing the occupant was deceased, but the other five were visible. Their faces had splotches of blue formed by the blue lines of enlarged veins throbbing against their skin. A few coughed loudly.

The girl broke down crying at the sight. Her emotions, to Kusko, were a kaleidoscope of guilt and relief and fear and grief. She didn't want them to die, but deep down she wished they'd stop hurting her, and she wanted to be free, but she didn't want to be because freedom for psifreaks meant everyone else was their slave.

They brainwashed that poor girl rather strongly, Richmond thought at Kusko, unable to keep her revulsion from giving real heat to the thought. Apologies if that was too loud.

<Part of it is the culture she lived in. The rest... She said what they wanted to hear often enough she believed it herself, and rationalized what they did to her so that it would have meaning.>

"Are… are they going to die?" the girl sobbed.

"We're trying to prevent that, and you may have helped us." Richmond stood from the chair. Her eyes met Kusko's. I'm going to look into the others she spoke about, you can continue dealing with her.

Kusko nodded.

"My name is Regina," the girl said quietly. "Since you wanted to know."

"Just Regina?" Richmond asked.

She nodded. "That's the only name I can remember."

"Well, Regina, Ms. Al is going to talk with you some more, and I will return later. Let her know if you need more food, the replicators are open." For you both. She left at that point.




At Jarod's call Robert arrived in Science Lab 1 with Gina and Talara. Jarod, Cat, and Tom were present, as was Lucy. "Aren't you supposed to be translating?" Robert asked her, some bemusement in his pointed tone.

"I needed a break, and this is more interesting," Lucy said defensively. "After three thousand years, it can wait another day, right?"

"Well, unless the Brotherhood of Kohbal beats us there," Robert remarked flippantly. "Then the day will seem rather important, right?"

She had no easy response to that, so her response was to playfully stick her tongue out at him. Robert chuckled at her. "Are we ready?"

"Sensor calibrations are complete," Jarod said. "Cat's got the sensitivity set right, we should be able to make it out."

"Begin the scan, then."

They started working, operating their controls and, through them, the powerful Darglan-designed sensor systems that gave the Aurora such a wide range of detection methods with the precision and resolution it enjoyed with them. At the holotank in the middle of the Science Lab, a likeness of the Earth blipped into appearance.

One by one, returns came, briefly blinking red before turning blue. "Blue are for all naqia traces we account for," Cat explained.

"Right." Even as he replied Robert saw the first red one blink into existence. Another came, then another and another.

"Most of those are cities," Lucy observed. "Tel Aviv, Portland in Oregon, Wellington, Auckland, Seattle…"

"...Honolulu, Samoa, Manila, Tehran, Trincomalee, Alma-Ata." Robert finished comparing the red blips to the cities he knew on the top of his head. "Bangkok too."

"Rio de Janeiro, Curtiba, and Brasilia," Jarod added. "And I'm starting to notice a very concerning pattern."

"Oh?" asked Leo.

"The cities in question." Robert frowned. "They're all capitals or major cities in the nations that are considered Reformists inside the United Earth power structure."

"That would mean NEUROM is arming the Reformists." Cat shook her head. "But that doesn't make sense. The Reformists want freer government. They treat their telepaths the best. Why would NEUROM be for people who oppose everything they want?"

"I can think of a few things," Robert muttered. "Triggering a devastating new war on the planet's the most likely of those reasons, but we've got to be careful for the other ones." He turned to the others. "Thanks for this. Relay those results to my secure systems on the Jayhawk, I need to consult with Admiral Maran and Crawford."

"Sending the data now," Cat answered. "So, you're not going down there lightsaber swinging, are you?"

"No, definitely not, but I'll be doing something," he promised.




After Lt. Richmond left, Kusko found herself sitting at the interrogation table across from Regina. Admittedly, it was nice to finally have ner name. She was still on the verge of crying for people who most definitely didn’t deserve her tears, but there was nothing for that right now.

“I’m sorry about Bobby.” She said after letting a moment of silence pass. He was the only one who might be worth it. “I’ve lost a lot of comrades…that seems to be the one commonality among all human telepaths other than the genetics. Loss.”

“Doesn’t matter…” Regina replied weakly, her eyes still watered over with barely choked back tears. “Psifreaks aren’t real people. We shouldn’t exist so the only good we can do is strike back at our own creators so the world can be put right again…” She’d finally answered Richmond’s question at least.

Kusko mulled that over, turning it around in her head, trying to figure out what the best approach would be. “So what if we were created? We still hurt, bleed, feel, mourn, love. Why does that make us less than human? Is genetically modified corn somehow… not corn?”

“Still doesn’t change the fact that people have a right to not get snooped on. People’s thoughts should be private…”

“Or… people should adjust what privacy means. If the world was blind, but suddenly some people could see, should they put their own eyes out to avoid looking at people; or should people start wearing clothes to hide their nakedness if they care so much?”

The logic of that argument - flawed though it admittedly was given the limitations of analogous experience and language - created a crack and Regina lashed out emotionally. Not telepathically, but in a way that belied the fact that the poor girl had almost certain helped kill people. In so many ways, Regina was still a teenager, a child.

“You don’t understand! You can’t! You don’t know what I’ve been through, you haven’t seen what I’ve seen! You can’t be right, it has to mean something!”

That was when Kusko did it, Regina was relatively powerful, but she’d never actually been trained and her blocks were like tissue paper to someone trained - even briefly - in the Corps. The memories she shared were flashes, horrible flashes of anguish and grief for friends whose bodies rejected the implants and destroyed themselves from the inside-out. “But I do kid. And I thought the same damn thing. I was willing to throw my life away for it. When Newtypes - telepaths - were discovered in my home universe, we were celebrated as proof of Zeon Zum Deikun’s predictions of our evolution as a space-faring people. Then he was murdered, and Oldtypes took over. They did that to us, and I convinced myself it was for the greater glory of Zeon… but it was just power-grubbing Oldtypes.”

Kusko's words were heard, but Regina's reaction was from the memories shared. Flashes of memory came from her mind, of being strapped to gurneys, of drugs, of surgeons poking in her brain, people talking in words she didn't understand. She remembered the bed and darkness, the feeling of the cloth over her eyes that kept her blind, and all of the panic and fear of the minds around her as they languished in the darkness. Kusko though was caught up in her rant, and didn’t catch it.

“We were put into the service of an ideology which wanted to dissolve the Earth Federation--we were told we were special, so we had to sacrifice more. To be experimented on. To harness our infinite potential to win the war. To turn ourselves into machines. They made trading cards with our images and they ordered us to kill, and kill, and kill. So kill we did. Zeon called us the future, the Dissies call you Psifreaks. But you and I got treated the same way, and that’s because Oldtypes feared us. As long as we let them have power over us, we’ll never realize our true destiny, no matter what that is. We’ll just be their pawns.”

“So we're all really tube babies," she said, her voice hollow as the memories kept rippling through her. Kusko's words melded with the memories scything through her psyche. "You are too. Our powers come from things in tubes. And… and at least the people at Andersonville were trying to destroy our powers, they were trying to free people from us!"

“No!” Kusko slapped that down hard. “They were trying to murder something they didn’t understand, like some Oldypes have always done. And what they can’t murder they subjugate. Created or not, the legacy of humanity is ours too, and they have no right to take it or our future from us!”

The words came to her ears. They echoed with a voice from her thoughts. Regina. I'm Regina! I'm Regina! Where did that thought come from?

The anger. She felt the anger again. Was it anger? It was vibrant, red. The fury burned through the darkness.

‘What the hell is this?’ Kusko thought to herself, p’seeing that broadcast loud and clear.

The trembling voice. "What the hell is this?" Then the screams, the cries of agony and the smell of blood, flesh ripping. A door opened somewhere, not just any door but the Door, and people screamed as they fell in. The straps came off, the darkness ended. Her eyes hurt from the light. Through it she saw the woman, clad in darkness, the blades singing through the air as they cut through the men and women in the pale blue suits. The dark woman glared at them and stabbed a finger in the air. "Get out!"

There was running then, a tide that pulled her along. The thought I'm Regina in her head. She felt the door opening again, heard the roaring flames, the cries, the burning that seemed to sear her skin when no flame touched it. She remembered being grabbed and pulled away from the tide.

Thomas’ mental voice came over Kusko’s communicator; loud and clear was an understatement. “That’s one hell of a flashback. I’m on my way.”

The face filled her vision. Linda. The name was Linda. She looked over her. "What's your name, teep?" Regina. I'm Regina! The woman's hand came up, stinging pain on her cheek. "Talk like a real person, dammit, that hurt!"

Linda took her along. Others came. They hid, they fought. She remembered their disgust, she remembered the first slaps for hearing their thoughts. The end of the war, defeat, the Unies everywhere. "If you try to go to them, we'll kill you dead, psifreak", Big Tom warned frequently. "We'll kill you good and dead, like any other freak."

But I only wanted to sing… She asked to sing and they said no, all except Bobby, who made her laugh and never ever hit her, he just wanted the Unies gone, he even stopped Big Tom from beating her one time when she sang in her head. But now he was dead and he wouldn't make her laugh anymore.

The newer memories were sharper, ones she could grasp, but they still hurt when joined with the older ones. They rose again, looping endlessly, and the tears flowed from her eyes. She didn't want them back. She just wanted to hear the song again. "Girls just wanna have fun," she wept, trying to sing. "They just wanna have fun".

Then, the loop stopped. Frozen. Her consciousness felt like it swam in an endless void for a brief instant. A tapping sensation and then her self shattered apart into a million pieces as something sorted through them finding the corners then expanding out to the edges, and found pieces from a different puzzle. Then a voice, another person, this one kind manifested in the darkness.

‘You’ve been through hell little one. Not all of it your own. My name is Thomas Spencer and I’m here to make it right.’ The pieces started to assemble into recognizable events, connected to other fragments, faces she’d forgotten, birthdays she’d celebrated, camping trips, soccer practice, songs, so many songs. Songs she sang with her family, with friends. Then a pause, stasis.

Thomas closed his eyes and sank into the chair Kusko had been occupying. ‘Regina’ was face-down on the table, unconscious in her chair. It had been forty minutes. “This is going to take a while… I don’t have all the details yet, but her memories were disrupted and co-mingled with another person’s drug-induced mania. I have to reconstruct her episodic memory.” He tapped the communicator on his wrist “Sis, I’m gonna be a while…”

“Figures with that mess!” She replied with her typical bedside manner. Which was to say, acerbic. “I’ve got things covered here. Too bad, you’re missing out on some fun virology!”

“Hey, you better fill me in! I can’t remember my first wife’s name without thinking about rancid-” she cut him off.

“Science appreciates your donation. Don’t sweat it, you didn’t need those ones. She was terrible and you need to remember that or else you might go crawling back! Bye!” She cut the connection.

“It’s been twenty years and she still won’t let it go…” he muttered.

“Wait. What was that about not needing your neurons?” Kusko asked, slightly horrified.

“Oh. We needed samples for testing because none of the bodies on ice had good tissues. So I volunteered and she found a cluster of about ten neurons that I…” he paused and grumbled the next few words “didn’t need.”




The next morning Kaveri and Meridina went over the Gamma Shift logs together at a working breakfast with Crawford in Conference Room 1, giving their insights to the questions he and his staff posed as they worked.

Robert arrived as the breakfast came to an end. "Mister Deputy Secretary." He handed him a digital pad. "The scan findings."

"Well now, let me see here." Crawford looked them over. His face grew into a solid frown as he did. "Captain, if this is right, then Minister Marias may very well have justification for his paranoia. Someone's arming the states most likely to oppose their central government."

"For what it's worth sir, this could be a setup of some sort. If we tell the United Earth government, and show them this evidence, they'll certainly launch some kind of pre-emptive strike and start a war."

"And if we don't show it, they might find out, do it anyway, and figure we were involved." Crawford shook his head. "Well, talk about being squeezed between a rock and a hard place."

"I could launch my own operation," Robert suggested. "My team and I could take out these locations one by one, especially with Major Anders' Marines working with us."

Crawford pursed his lips in thought for a moment before smacking them. "I get what you're aimin' for, Captain, but I'm not for that. Not right now. Landin' Marines, or anyone, for an operation like that, well, that'll give Mister Marias what he wants too."

"This may be the best way to prove the origin of these weapons, sir. Recovered information from the cache locations."

"I understand that son, I really do, but for the time bein', I think it's best to let sleepin' dogs lie. We'll keep talkin' to these folks and see how it goes. Why don't you remain on standby in case we do gotta move?"

A look passed between them. Crawford knew Robert could choose to go anyway, and Robert knew that might make the situation worse. He finally nodded. "Of course. I'll stay on standby until it becomes necessary."

"Right, Captain. Now, why don't you dig in to this fine breakfast Mister Hargert's kitchen made? We'll be beamin' down soon ourselves, and nothin' helps diplomacy like a good hearty Texan breakfast."




After a morning run with Miko and some breakfast at one of the cafes in the Colony's Visitors' Quarter, it was time for Julia's next appointment with Doctor Schneider. This time she came in full duty uniform as if she were heading to the Aurora bridge, and she carried herself like it.

Schneider grinned at her and bid her to sit. "How are you doing, Captain?" she asked.

"I'm improving every day," Julia answered.

"Any nightmares?"

"Only a particularly strange dream about a Volus, a Ferengi, and a Brakiri trying to sell me broken down engine parts," she answered. "And the Ferengi threw in my old motorbike, which was a little unfair."

Schneider laughed. "A real dream, or are you being sarcastic with me, Captain?"

"A real dream, I take this therapy seriously. But I'm not happy with it."

"You believe I was unkind?"

"I believe you might have an agenda, or are otherwise pushing something."

"You're being forthright. Good, that's good for you. Did you think on what I said?"

Julia nodded. "I did, and I think it's crap. Yeah, I put a lot of stock into being a captain, because it's the kind of thing I've always wanted to do. But commanding a starship doesn't define me. I could join the colony government here if I wanted, or go become a trader, or maybe even go back to playing women's basketball professionally." Julia listed those items off with steel in her voice. "But I'm a damn good captain and I can still serve the Alliance, and I've put a lot of time into my service so far."

"There are other ways to serve the Alliance, Captain, than starship command," Schneider pointed out. "You could be a naval advisor on diplomatic teams. You could command a space station, or a planet-based facility, or a shipyard. Given your place in this Alliance's foundation, you could even begin a political career. Maybe stand for election to the Alliance Council?"

"Maybe I'll do any or all of those things one day, but right now, I believe I serve best as a starship captain," she insisted. "It's not a role just anyone can have, especially not on one of the fleet star cruisers. It's not just about combat tactics and strategy. It's about managing people. About balancing the act of being a diplomat and an explorer and a fighter, and knowing which role you have to focus on in each situation." Julia knew her voice was getting passionate, but she didn't hold it back. "Being the captain of a ship like the Aurora means getting to be the first face of the Alliance to a newly-encountered world or species. We make decisions that can write history. I've already done that, and I know I have what it takes to do it again, Doctor. And I'm determined to do it."

Schneider jotted down a few notes. "You sound like you're ready to fight the entire service, if need be, to get your ship back. Would you really try to do something like that? A slower, more patient approach might see you given even greater command authority, might even get you into the Admiralty before you're thirty-five given your age."

"I don't think so," Julia answered. "And while I'll love to make admiral one day, right now my place is at the command chair of a ship. I never agreed to give that up, not unless I couldn't do it, and I know I can."

"You believe you can. You cannot know."

Julia looked at the old woman with increasing suspicion. "Why are you trying to talk me out of this?" she asked. "You're supposed to judge my mental state, not try to guide my career."

Schneider folded her hands on the table. "You're being rather aggressive today, aren't you? You feel threatened by me, then?"

"More like I'm getting fed up with what I feel are attempts to manipulate me," Julia answered. "I've seen psychiatrists before, as part of my duties and earlier in my life. I've never seen one act like you. It's like you came out of the gate looking to burn any bridge I might form with you. And all this harping about my future, I'm honestly considering issuing a complaint, Doctor. I consider this inappropriate."

Schneider didn't lose her smile. "You fight for yourself quite admirably, and you're not afraid to be direct. Interesting. I'd say you're treating me in the same fashion you speak of with star cruiser command. In our last session you were the diplomat, looking to set a tone for our discussion and making what you thought was a concession in your appearance to win my approval. Today you are the fighter, finding ground and taking a stand on it." Schneider jotted another note down and Julia wished she could pull the pad to her hands like Robert could. "How does this training with Princess Miko progress? Is she doing well?"

"It's not really your business, but yes, she's learning the style of t'ai chi well, I think," Julia replied. "It's taken her a while but she's learning the forms and the flexibility in it."

"Good, good. Have you had any traumatic episodes related to your ordeal…?"

The questions came and Julia gave honest, simple answers to them, keeping her patience as she did so. Their time was soon up and she got up to leave. "Still no clearance to return to duty?"

"I'm close to my decision. One more session, I think, will do it."

"One more session." Julia nodded at her and left. I need to get ahold of Lieutenant Commander Borja, or Lieutenant Vajpayee. Something's rotten here.




After Julia was gone for five minutes, Schneider noted an incoming call on a private line. She turned it on. "Doctor Gertrude Schneider, how may I help you?"

The image that appeared was that of Admiral William Davies, Vice-Chief of Naval Operations for the Alliance Stellar Navy. Like Dr. Schneider he hailed from the H1E1 universe of the Earth Confederacy. "Dr. Schneider. I'm sure you know the case i'm calling about."

"Captain Andreys, I imagine," she replied. "You're aware that there is attached privilege here, even with military regulations."

"I am, but you're also required to share your general thoughts with us on the patient's suitability in service," Davies answered. "And as I've hoped has been made clear, the service has certain expectations. If we find out someone's not upholding them, they won't be happy with the result."

"I've been made aware of your 'expectations,' Admiral," she answered. "But you may be disappointed. Captain Andreys is going to fight to return to duty. She's even ready to issue complaints about me if I refuse her."

"She said so?"

"She didn't need to. I can see it in her. She's a fighter."

"Don't let it deter you from making the right call, Doctor. Here in Portland we've had grave doubts about her suitability for some time, and the trauma she endured only makes our concerns more acute. We can't let her be returned to service on sentiment. I hope your findings are made as appropriate."

"My findings are not finalized, but I'll give the Stellar Navy the results it hired me for," she replied simply. "Now, I have another appointment coming in soon, so I must be going."

"Of course. I look forward to your final determination being made soon, Doctor. Davies out." He disappeared from the screen.




With the morning rounds done Leo headed for the lab. He found Abigail Spencer present and openly conversing with Ke'mani'pala over an open comm. "The process you describe is fascinating," the Gl'mulli scientist was saying. "Your mental communication ability, unique compared to the rest of your species as it is, holds similarities to how my species exchanges information."

“Huh. I wonder if some of the necessary genes were borrowed… it’s not entirely unique though. Most of the species in my home universe have had telepathy grafted on.” She replied. As Leo entered, she didn’t even look up from what she was going over “Hello Dr. Gillam. Thomas won’t be joining us just yet, he had a memory to reconstruct. ‘Regina’ was a mess.”

"I heard." He stepped up to one of the scanners. "All of the bombing survivor cases are in recovery now. Doctor Walker finished the last surgery this morning." His eyes tracked the readout on the display. "Any luck with the vector?"

“Oh yes!” Abigail replied enthusiastically. “Regina gave us the location of infection. The virus is present in both the water - concentrated in a beaver pond - and in the local mosquitoes, mostly Culex quinquefasciatus. We’re still working up the physiology of how that works, but it’s in the salivary glands, and Dr. Ke’mani’pala is just about to get other results...”

"The cultures you provided have proven the hypothesis presented," Ke'mani'pala said. "The virus is unable to bond with the neurons in the marked cultures, only with the control sample without the receptors your cultures contained."

Abigail took in an exultant breath and grasped the air with her gloved hands, bringing it in to her chest. “Rightness. It is mine. You hear that universe?” She pointed at nothing with her other hand. “Mine. And won’t my brother be pleased!”

Leo felt relief, not just in identifying the vector, but finding a possible weak point to beat the virus. "And now that we've confirmed that, Doctor Ke'mani'pala, how fast do you think we could use this to stop the virus?"

"Oh, I've already begun some chemical work on deriving a retroviral solution. Altering receptors to prevent the virus from binding shouldn't take long at all with all of the samples I have available. A more complicated effort for a counter-viral agent will be a greater undertaking, but I will consult with Dr. Diptheek to begin those efforts as well."

“At home it would take weeks to incubate a vaccine, here… well you can make HIV or whatever with the relevant modifications inside a few minutes once you’ve got the details worked out. We really need to step up our rollout of that tech…”

"Keeping up with the advance of medical technology in the Multiverse feels impossible half of the time," Leo admitted. "Sometimes I think I should relegate one of my staff to nothing but reading medical journals."

“You mean you don’t already? Huh. Memetic transfer is a hell of a drug…”

"Not all of us are born with the ability to share information that easily," Leo lamented with a relieved grin at their success still on his face. "Doctor Paxson on the Discovery did write a paper once recommending a PA-level medical professional be assigned to each star cruiser to brief the medical staff regularly on new advances, but Personnel never got around to acting on it."

“Ah. Bureaucratic inertia. Still, we can’t possibly retain everything. No sapient can, not really. It’s a matter of not being in unknown unknowns territory, but known unknowns and knowing where to look. We cheat shamelessly, but there are definite limits on the degree to which we prosper. Anyway, Thomas probably wants to know that his donated neurons were useful. Then I need to start work on setting up vaccination infrastructure. I’ll back.” With that, she bustled out of the bay with a jaunt in her step. The camp was sprawling and there was a lot to organize. They had to assume that everyone in camp had been exposed if it was transmitted by mosquitoes, to say nothing of off-site teams.

Leo turned his attention back to the reader. "Ke, we'll want to synthesize as much of the retroviral agent as we can so we can nip this thing in the bud. See if the Federation ships can be ready to help out."

"I will communicate with Dr. Selana on the T'Pol and Dr. Eisenburg on the M'Benga." Ke'mani'pala formed manipulating digits from her gelatinous body to use a control in her lab. "It was interesting to speak with Dr. Spencer on communications. Human telepaths communicate not dissimilarly to Gl'mulli."

"So I've heard," Leo answered. "And since the high end ones can sense EM fields, there may be a biophysical connection there."

"Indeed. It will make for an interesting paper. Perhaps I will ask her to co-author one with me?"

At that Leo grinned. "Well, you two will already have first dibs on a paper about—"

A hot, stinging pain struck Leo square in the back. His muscles seized up and he collapsed on his side. He struggled to try and breathe while most of his body's muscles refused to respond to commands. He was barely able to turn his neck enough to look up at his attacker. The name formed on his lips, but he had little air to speak.

"Rose?"

Rose Williams finished locking the lab door. She turned back, her hand gripping a Darglan-style pulse pistol. She walked toward him.

"Doctor Gillam?" The trilling in Ke'mani'pula's electronic voice betrayed her worry. "Leonard? What happened?"

Rose got close enough to look into the viewer. She lowered her weapon at Leo and pushed her thumb up the power control. "Destroy all of your work," she demanded, glaring into the viewer at Ke'mani'pala. "Or I'll kill him."




The day's meetings narrowed down to Gupta, Fluck, and Kanegawa, while Meridina had likewise returned to the Aurora to assume the watch given the situation in Atlanta. This left Kaveri and Bet'tir with Crawford's team with the discussion now on the mechanics of Earth T7C8's admission to the Multiversal community. "It is important for us to be capable of asserting our sovereignty over our world," Kanegawa said. "As thankful as we are for your assistance, we feel we must take the time to consider all of the options the Multiverse provides for us."

"We've got no objections to that, Mister Minister," Crawford said. "Our concerns are about your vulnerability. Your world needs time to recover, after all, and while you're rebuildin', you're susceptible to unfriendly governments offerin' you snake oil to get in on what goods you can still make." Crawford gestured to one of his staff. "Now, my people have a suggestion to make for—"

The room's comm system let out a loud ring. Kanegawa sighed and, with an apologetic look on his face, answered. "Is there an issue?"

"Sir, this is Captain Ollanda of the Council Security Unit. We have armed security forces surrounding the Berlaymont Building and other structures of the Union Quarter. We've asked them to disperse and they're not responding."

The Alliance diplomats could tell their hosts were unsettled by that, but it was Kaveri who openly frowned. She'd seen this before, indeed, just half a decade ago. Images of Earthforce Marines and Nightwatch personnel storming EarthDome's offices, the Senate, and ISN came to her. And now it happens here.

"Captain." The voice was Meridina's. "We're detecting a general transmission from a source in Brussels, it's overriding the planetary communication system."

"Put it on to my omnitool, Commander." Kaveri's hand tapped at the blue light controls surrounding her left forearm, generating a holographic viewscreen that got the attention of everyone at the table..

Security Minister Marias' face filled the screen. "Attention, loyal citizens of the Earth National Union. I am Security Minister Paul Marias, and I am forced by circumstance to make this announcement with the support of several of my peers on the Executive Council. After significant investigation, we have determined that those governments that adhere to the so-called 'Reformer' political doctrines are in fact in collusion with Dissolutionist rebels and off-world agencies. We have proof that they have subverted the President and the Executive Council with telepathic agents."

"He's mad!" Gupta shouted, furious. "This will provoke another war!"

"In light of this evidence, as a patriot of our new global nation of Mankind, united under a single flag to a common destiny, I am taking the President and the Executive Council into custody, and have ordered the arrests of all suspected traitors in the Union government." Marias raised a fist. "I take this action with a heavy heart, but we must act to save ourselves from division and off-world conquest! All security forces of the Union, in conjunction with our proud fighting men and women, must move quickly to seize traitorous elements in all of the regional governments of the world, before civil war claims us all." Marias raised his chin. "And lastly, I call upon the representatives of the Allied Systems, as they call themselves, to honor the principles they claim to cherish, and to stand aside while we secure our world from future conflict. I will regard any interference by the Alliance in this action as proof of their collusion in their conspiracy, and all off-world personnel will be dealt with as enemies of the Union. God save the United Earth and the Human Nation!"
"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)

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No sooner did Marias' message end than his troops started entering the buildings. Some of the building security didn't bother resisting, surrendering immediately, while others opened fire and sought to protect their charges. The sounds of gunfire started filling the Union Quarter of the city of Brussels.

In their conference room in the Berlaymont building, the ministers of the United Earth were still struck dumb by what was occuring. "Peers? What madmen would support this?!" demanded Fluck.

"Winthrope," Gupta suggested. "And Tangri. They've favored Marias' authoritarian pushes before. And Gorchkov might back him."

"If he's brought together the security forces for the region for this, we'll never hold him off." Fluck looked with panicked eyes to Kanegawa. "You're the Defense Minister! Call in the troops, protect the government!"

Kanegawa shook his head. "Is… are you sure he's wrong? Look at what's going on! The Reformists have been pushing this agenda, now suddenly there's alien rifles and a bioweapon, maybe something is subverting the Union."

"You can't believe that!"

As they fussed Kaveri leaned in toward Crawford. "Sir, Captain Dale's operations team is standing by. With our Marines we could nip this coup in the bud, and we can beam out any threatened aid workers in short time."

Crawford ran his hand over his chin in thought. "I understand what you're proposin', Captain, and it's mighty temptin'." He shook his head. "But it's not what we're here for. We can't just intervene with these folks' politics willy-nilly, it'll turn on us."

"With all due respect, Deputy Secretary, the way things look, they are going to turn on us regardless. Whatever off-world forces are manipulating the situation will see to that."

She saw the doubt glint in his eyes. He wasn't sure he was making the right call. Nevertheless his jaw set and he shook his head. "They have to ask," he insisted.




Marias' diatribe played over the speakers in the Jayhawk cockpit. Robert finished latching the arm guard of his blue combat armor into place and pulled the brown robe that Mastrash Kilaba gifted him onto his shoulders. It was, perhaps, a silly thing to add, but it was an extra touch that complemented the armor and gave a unique look that he thought was an advantage in conflict. It also served to give a uniform feel as Gina and Talara pulled their robes over their own sets of combat armor. I'd feel better if Lucy were here, but she's still off active duty.

A holo-viewer screen showed the bridge, where Meridina was on duty. "We have no orders authorizing intervention."

"No, but as a Paladin, I've got some leeway on that," he answered. "I'll have to answer to Maran and President Morgan for it, but I'm not going to allow our people to be killed or made hostages."

"What are your intentions, then, Captain?"

"Wait at the Berlaymont building under cloak, move in if absolutely necessary or it gets authorized." He gestured to the helm controls. "Talara, are we ready?"

She took over. "All systems are ready, and a platoon of Major Anders' Marines are in the loading area. The major is preparing another strike force on the Gonzales."

He nodded. "Cloak and take us out."

The Jayhawk rippled from sight as she launched from the shuttle bay, banking down toward the Earth below after she cleared the Aurora.




Self-diagnosis was always a tricky matter for a doctor to perform, but in this case Leo felt justified by the situation he was in. Pain is consistent with a stun shot with a pulse gun. The partial motor paralysis backs that up. I'm still conscious, so it wasn't full power. I should start getting some motor control back soon, although it won't do me any good right now.

Rose's hands shook slightly, but not enough to completely throw off her aim. If she pulled the trigger he'd take another shot, and the weapon was set to kill.

On the screen Ke'mani'pala was manipulating the controls of her station. Rose kept looking back from her to Leo. "Go faster," she urged. "Delete it all!"

"There are redundancies," Ke protested.

Leo found his voice box was at least working. "Rose, what are you doing? What is this?"

"It's about ending this," she said. "Stopping this abuse of telepaths, once and for all. The plague will see to that."

"How will a plague stop it?" Leo found a little strength returning to his voice. "A plague that anyone will quickly see doesn't hurt telepaths? It'll just give people another reason to hate them."

The look in her eyes was wild. Fury, grief, and shame burned alike in the intensity Leo saw there. She met him eye to eye even as her gun shook slightly. "They'll fear them more," she said. "Once the plague's run its course, telepaths will be the majority here. The banals won't pose a threat, ever again."

Leo swallowed to try and clear the lump of fear he had in his throat. Given the mosquito-based vector of the plague and the logistics of trying to deal with them, they were pressed for time. If they could get a vaccine into place now, then they had a shot at containing the outbreak with vaccinated populations. If they didn't, its global spread became more assured with every passing day.

WIth this in mind, he pressed onward despite the risk. "You're talking about a world with billions of dead, Rose! It'll break all of civilization, and telepaths will suffer from it just as much. Even worse, you're leaving them with the stigma of benefiting from the mass slaughter of billions of their neighbors, their loved ones and friends!"

"It'll be better in the long run," she insisted. "It… it has to be."

"It won't. It doesn't work like that."

Rose turned on him with violence in her voice. "What do you know?!" she shrieked. "You weren't here! You didn't live here, you didn't see them take them away! You didn't hear the things they said! You didn't deal with the terrible things they justified, the terrible things they were doing to my little sister!" The ferocity of her tone made her voice grow more hoarse by the syllable. "They're animals, Doctor, and this is precisely what they deserve, what we all deserve."

"Even you? With all the compassion you've shown, you think you deserve this?"

Leo hoped it might make her reconsider, but even with the tears welling up in her eyes, she didn't stop. "Yes," she said. "I do." She directed her eyes toward the viewer again. "Show me your work. Show me you're destroying the data, or I'll kill him."

"Very well. You are making a horrible mistake," Ke'mani'pala answered.

"Just do it!"




Thomas was completely knackered. Absolute, bone-deep weariness. Since breakfast the last several hours had been thirty minutes on, fifteen off to let his cardiovascular system rest and recover, but the repeated strain was starting to get to him. Then Abigail walked in the door doing a little dance. The sort of dance she’d done when she was correct, ever since she was a child.

“Good news I take it?” He asked. His patient was unconscious, so he could chit chat for a moment without interruption.

“Well, you know how much I love being right! A vaccine is almost done, and their working on an anti-viral solution but once it’s in the cell that virus is… well let’s just say it’s in the anomaly file. Spread in water and can hitch a ride in the cells of aquatic organisms like mosquitoes to spread directly, or into new water bodies. We don’t have much time before it goes global.”

“Ah! Good thing you were right then.” Thomas replied, but then Kusko piped in.

“Why bother?” She asked. “The Oldtypes die, it becomes a Newtype planet and Oldtypes can’t hurt them anymore.”

Abigail winced. No one had taken on this conversation with her. “Lots of reasons. For starters, the deaths of billions would traumatize every telepath on this planet and lead to the collapse of civilization. The other reason is a bit more abstract.”

Kusko’s follow up was genuinely curious, if blunt. “I’m not dumb, I can handle abstract. Lay it on me.”

“The Law of Contradiction.” Thomas said flatly, and Kusko, not getting the reference at all, just stared at him. “Basically, everyone is the product of themselves and everything that came before them, interacting with the material conditions of the here and now. The throngs of mundanes here don’t deserve to die. Some of them might have to, but over time many can be educated and change.” He shrugged. “They’re still people. And a lot of them lack any kind of context or framework to do anything but what they’ve been doing. Take Lily here as an exam—”

“What did you say?” Abigail asked, suddenly ramrod straight but also practically ecstatic. But before Thomas could reply, Kusko felt like a die was cast. She held up a hand and sought, listening to the currents of everything around her to peer into the now-collapsing-future possibilities in her immediate surroundings.

“Get back to the lab, now.” She commanded in no uncertain terms. She couldn’t tell them, or it would affect the outcome. “I have to go warn Richmond. Go!”

They didn’t question it. They both booked it. Kusko also left, locking down the shuttle as she did to protect the unconscious telepath inside. She felt as much as heard the snapping of branches outside the camp perimeter, the tiny voices of men and women about to seize tactical surprise, trepidation, guilt. Uncertainty was collapsing even as she ran, finding the Lieutenant Commander at her little command post near the main entrance. For her part, Richmond noticed the commotion and was standing to face her.

“Ms. Al, what seems to be the problem?” She asked. Too out or breath to speak, Kusko spoke directly into her mind.

<United Earth attack imminent, foreign agents inside the camp.>

“How do you—” Richmond’s perfectly understandable question was interrupted.

<Precognition. Alert your men.>

That actually confirmed something Richmond suspected already, and she tapped on her own communicator. “Prepare for imminent enemy contact.” What officers she had commanding the enlisted security forces answered back in the affirmative, without even ten seconds of pregnant silence to spare.

A few calls of warning from those members of the militia who could — and were trained to — sense hostile thoughts was all the warning anyone else got. Gunfire erupted from the perimeter and cut several of them down, but Richmond’s men were protected by personal shields. Bullets shattered against them on impact in puffs of metal and cavitation.

A flash of warning she couldn’t even comprehend, and Kusko violently shoved Richmond a fractional second before a shot from a pulse gun passed through the space her face had occupied. She drew her own PPG and fired back, as additional pulse guns opened fire on Richmond’s men, the camp militia, and the United Earth Forces.

Pandemonium erupted.




The Berlaymont building and its environs showed through the cockpit of the Jayhawk. "Put us on the roof," Robert said from his seat. "That should ensure we're inside that anti-beaming shield."

"Bringing us in," Talara answered.

While she brought them to the landing, the ship's comms activated. Meridina's voice filled the cockpit. "Robert, we have a hostage situation in the Atlanta telepath camp. It is Leonard."

Robert let out a weary sigh. Of course, something else has to go wrong. "What's going on?"

"A member of the camp staff is holding Leonard hostage, and Commander Richmond's units are being attacked by some of their militia and the United Earth military. The hostage taker is demanding we destroy all of our work on curing the bioweapon."

Robert grimaced. "If we lose that work, even if we start over, it'll make stopping this thing a lot harder. It'll kill more people."

"Dr. Ke'mani'pala is presenting them with apparent cooperation, but Jarod has already backed up all relevant data."

"Should we divert to Atlanta?" asked Gina.

Robert drew in a breath and concentrated, considering the matter and seeing how his instincts, tied to the Flow of Life, led him. Both places were important and would require full commitments to see success. Should he save the UE government or stop the hostage situation?

There was no clear or easy answer, but Robert came to a conclusion anyway. "If we don't stop Marias, it means this world ends up in civil war, and we wouldn't be able to stop the plague anyway. We'll have to deal with this first." Robert rose from his seat. "Talara, hold the ship down. Gina and I will be joining the Marines in the hold. Have the transporters ready for squad-by-squad deployment."

"Yes sir," Talara answered.




The arguing in the conference room of the Berlaymont didn't subside, even as renewed reports came in of the approach of the security minister's troops. Kaveri felt a sense of resignation over the folly of it all.

"Minister Kanegawa, there's still time!" Fluck insisted. "Call out the army!"

"I cannot guarantee they won't side with Marias," he countered. "I am not even sure we should be stopping him! The Reformists are a clear threat to the cohesion of our nation. Their proposed reforms would cripple us against Dissolutionist terrorism and would leave us vulnerable to further forced concessions. We might lose the entire Union!"

"You do not know that, you cannot possibly know," Gupta insisted. "The Reformist states want a solidified civil rights position from the Union. It is something we should consider. It would certainly undermine the Dissolutionists' arguments!"

"It will risk another global war in the future," Kanegawa insisted. "We can't afford another one, especially not now with other worlds to consider." He gestured toward the Alliance team. "We must remain strong, and maybe Marias is the best way to do it. He can consolidate the government and we can wait for a better time to reform."

"If you don't stop him now, it will guarantee a new war," Fluck argued. "The Reformists will not allow their governments to be seized as traitors, they'll fight back!"

"If so, it proves their loyalty to the Union is weak," Kanegawa retorted. "Giving in to them will simply lead to another, greater war in the long run. No, the more I think about it, the more that we may need a period of strong central rule to suppress decentralizing forces that would weaken our government."

Kaveri rose from her seat. "With all due respect, you are not considering this problem fully, Minister."

Kanegawa's eyes honed in on her. "This is not an affair of your Alliance, Captain. Your input is neither requested nor required."

"I do not speak as a Captain of the Alliance Stellar Navy," she answered, her eyes meeting his without flinching. "I speak as a child of the Earth of E5B1. An Earth that confronted the same problems your Earth now faces. We have fought our own conflicts concerning the power of EarthGov. We had to deal with the rise of telepathy among our population, and then the existence of alien powers beyond our solar system. Indeed, without the Centauri first contact we may have had a war just like the one your world just fought, with forces seeking to break the Earth Alliance up."

Kanegawa did not respond. Gupta, perhaps seeing opportunity in Kaveri's words, nodded. "Please, Captain, continue."

"Like your Union, the Earth Alliance made choices about its role toward the Earth. I am sad to say those choices were not happy ones. EarthGov has accumulated power and turned toward the authoritarianism that Minister Marias preaches, and you, Minister Kanegawa, consider so lightly. But the result was not greater security. The result was more conflict. Some, like the War of the Shining Star, killed millions. The others were smaller conflicts as different colonies or nations, even continents, sought to break away from an EarthGov they felt oppressed them. Ultimately, these conflicts helped to fuel the rise of outright fascism in our people."

"Our treatment of our telepaths led down that same road. We took them and made them into recording devices under the law, we drove them into a ghetto we called 'Psi Corps', and then we used them as we saw fit. As tools of power, as weapons against the enemy. The result is a captive population of eighteen million souls who live or die by the word of those appointed by EarthGov to oversee them. Men who turned their captives into a tool for the oppression of others."

"We barely escaped the victory of fascism on our Earth, Minister. The right man in the right place at the right time swayed the balance against those forces. But they still remain to haunt us."

"Your world has a chance." Kaveri was speaking to all of the assembled now. "You have a chance to do better than mine did. You can avoid the bloodshed and terror that my Earth has suffered with, all you need to do is make the decision here to walk the better path."

She stopped and waited for them to react.




The range of motion was returning to Leo's limbs. HIs motor functions were recovering steadily from the stun shot. He hoped that soon he might be able to go for the gun with a reasonable chance of success.

For the moment, he kept talking. "You are ready to die?"

"I am," she said, her lip quivering. Not from fear, Leo thought, but the sheer emotions roiling through her. "It's the least I can do for her."

"For your sister, Lily." Leo swallowed. "I know it hurt you to see them take her, and I know it still hurts that you've never found her, but this isn't going to fix it, Rose! I've seen enough death to know that! It never fixes it! It only means more loss!"

"You… you don't get it, do you?" Rose demanded. "You fly around in your ships with all of your technology, and you live like you do, and you don't understand just how evil people can get. How wrong things can be."

"I do understand!" Leo insisted. "Rose, I got into this work because I saw suffering people that needed someone to heal them! That's why I've become a doctor, to heal people, and that's all I've ever sought. And I've had to work hard at it, and sometimes, sometimes I couldn't save them." His lip quivered as his mind transported him back to the Aurora OR where Joshua Marik's leukemia-battered body bled to death on the inside, no matter what he did to stop it. Or all of those over the years he had to black tag in triage because their wounds were too grievous, or who died without him being able to stop it.

The mutilated Turian soldier on New Brittany. Dr. Lumenaram, blowing himself up in the Cybermen "conversion" unit they transformed the Aurora OR into. And all of the other members of the Aurora crew who'd died because he didn't have what it would take to save them.

He swallowed. "Life is precious, Rose. All life. The people who took Lily forgot that. They let their hate and their fear guide them and they did terrible things. Don't go down that road, please. This isn't the legacy you want to leave for Lily."

Rose's lip quivered and Leo thought he was getting through to her. Her hands started to lower the weapon.

A new voice boomed in the room. "Do not let this spineless mute come between you and our work, Rose Williams," a man said. His voice seemed to echo in Leo's mind, as if the words were vibrating inside his brain.

It helped Leo recognize them. He looked beyond Rose to the newly-arrived man.

Lawton, the camp security chief, looked no different at first glance. But there was a difference in his posture and the way he carried himself. He was plainly not the same man Leo met when he arrived, with a stern, commanding look in his eyes that seemed to transfix Rose and keep her in place.

"You have been annoyances," he said, glaring toward Leo and then the viewer. When his eyes narrowed on Leo again, Leo felt his diaphragm seize up. It was like his body's respiratory system was locked up, the autonomic nerves no longer allowed to transmit the orders that led to his breathing. Instinctive panic came to his face as he tried to force a breath to no avail.

"Alien, you will begin an immediate computer system purge on your entire ship," Lawton demanded. "Or you will watch Doctor Gillam die quite slowly."




In another part of the camp, hundreds of meters away, everything around her unfolded as a chaotic mess, but in Kusko Al’s mind there was a certain sublime clarity. In front of her, traitor militia, telepaths all. Behind her, Alliance troops and loyalist militia did battle with the UE security forces. Between superior weapons and personal shields, Alliance troops were not in much danger from the United Earth soldiers, but they’d be cut down by organized telepaths very quickly, but she couldn’t deal with all of them alone. Camp militia were leaderless and disorganized, still reeling from the shock of surprise contact.

Kusko knew exactly what she had to do. She reached out with her mind and absolute authority. Kusko Al, Psi Corps, I am assuming command in the absence of Mr. Lawton. She then glyphed a mental image that highlighted each telepath in formation as alternately green or red. You are now designated. Greens, begin suppressive operations against UE forces. Reds, force-protection operations for alliance security. I’ve got offensive operations against traitor forces. She didn’t want to order them to kill their own comrades, afterall. That could get messy and lead to defections.

The militia complied, half of them split from the line under cover to move closer to Richmond and her troops and started jamming out attack probes. The other half, now having concrete direction, began assaulting United Earth troops. Some simply went down screaming, others shot their own men or pulled their own grenade pins. It created confusion in addition to casualties, and muted the effect of their raw numbers.

Then she tapped a button on her omnitool, extending an orange hued straight blade from it’s holographic emitter on her left hand. Blade in one hand, PPG in the other, she went to work. She bolted straight in, rolling under a fusillade of pulse gun fire and moving with inhuman grace to side-step another that normal human reactions could never have allowed her to dodge, but she saw the probability cones of incoming fire collapse into unity before the triggers were actually pulled. She wasn’t inside the OODA loops of her enemies, she was inside their causal chain.

Kusko dove head-first over a crumbling brick facade and drove her omniblade into one man’s chest. Blood fountained from his mouth as his mind screamed in agony and terror. Her PPG was already pointed at another woman who was coming around the corner and fired before she was even visible. She didn’t even look, the woman’s soul was pulled into the Door before her mind was even aware it was dead. An attempt was made to batter down her mental defenses, but it skittered over them like a handgun attempting to penetrate the armor of a tank. She traced it back to its source. Inspiration flashed across her mind.

‘I’ll need that one later.’ Instead of killing him, she shattered his own blocks like so much glass and dropped him into a coma.

It felt like an eternity, but in reality it had been about twenty seconds since she’d first gotten moving. It was going to be a long few minutes.




Robert and Gina stood on the transporter pad in the Jayhawk cargo area while Marine teams under one of Anders' subordinates remained ready to join them. With his omnitool Robert was tied into the Jayhawk's sensors and the indicators showing the locations of the rampaging security troops in the building. They were nearly halfway up the building now. The defenders were fighting valiantly, but they lacked the numbers to hold every staircase and hallway. While they had President Lawrence safely under control, Premier Gorchkov was already a captive of Marias' troops, and they had nobody who could effectively stop the squads heading for the conference room.

If we don't stop this soon, Captain Varma and Secretary Crawford and the others will be hostages.

"Prepare to go on my mark," he said. I hope they ask for help soon, or I'm about to step on a diplomatic landmine.




Compared to before there was silence in the conference room, save for the quiet conversation Gupta was having with Lawrence over their internal comm system. When Gupta lowered her phone it was with resignation. "The President will not authorize a request for help unless the remaining Executive Council are in unanimous agreement."

"I call yea!" Fluck declared. "Marias will either corrupt the Union into something that deserves to collapse, or he'll destroy it with another war! If we just sit down with the Reformists, we can make a deal that everyone can live with. They'll accept a greater central focus if we guarantee civil rights."

"And how will the rest of the world feel if we concede like that?" Kanegawa demanded. "How will they take it if we repeal the Telepath Registration and Regulation Act as the Reformists demand? So many of these people fought for the unified Earth, if we undermine it to appease the Reformists they'll side with Marias!"

"You overestimate that sentiment," Gupta insisted.

"I've spoken to my officers, I've spoken to their soldiers, they fought and died for the idea of the United Earth, and we have to honor that!"

Fluck let out an angry "Pah!" "You're just afraid of losing power," he accused. "If we step down from emergency control, the Defense Ministry will lose prerogatives."

"I'm afraid we'll turn the army over to Marias! I'm afraid the Reformists' loyalty to our ideals is weak and insincere, and they'll use any concessions to break the Union into irrelevance. We'll be no better than the old UN from before the Third World War!"

"Minister, you may be surprised by their sentiments and how much you would agree with them," Kaveri remarked. "They fought at your side against the Dissolutionists for a reason. You speak of the sacrifices of your soldiers, but remember they sacrificed too." When Kanegawa didn't respond right away she continued. "You have a chance here, sir. A chance few ever have: to decide the history of a world. The choice you make here, today, will shape the world you wake up in tomorrow. Do you really want that world to be shaped by your fear?"

Kanegawa's face made it clear he was quite fearful. Fearful of Marias' troops, fearful of his military commanders feeling betrayed, fearful of the world descending back into war. He swallowed. Slowly the look on his face became one of resignation, but not a fearful resignation. "You are correct, Captain," he said. "I'm afraid. I… I lost my children in the war. My hometown. The Union is what I have left, and I fear for it. But fear is what led to the war, and it will bring another one." He let out a breath and brought up his phone. He tapped a single key. "General Roberts, this is Minister Kanegawa. Minister Marias is attempting to seize control of the Union government. I'm ordering you to dispatch your troops into the capital immediately, and warn all of your commands globally to suppress the Security Directorate."

There was a tense moment as they waited to see if Kanegawa's senior officers would obey his commands. Kaveri felt a little surge of relief when Kanegawa nodded. "That's right, General, the Security Minister's gone too far. We'll do what we can to stop his forces here, but get those troops into position. Thank you." He hung up. "Marias will have me shot now," he said to the assembled. "Most likely all of us."

As if to punctuate that remark, they could hear not-too-distant gunfire. Kaveri glanced at her omnitool and confirmed that at least a dozen armed figures were on the floor and closing in on their location. "Not if you ask for our help," she said. "Let us stop them for you."

Kanegawa pursed his lips. Gupta said, "I'm in favor," as did the other ministers in the room. "Minister, we all die otherwise," she asserted.

"This could be used against us." After saying those words, he let out a small sigh. "But we'll be alive. Madame President, I concur with my colleagues. We will need the Allied Systems' help."

Lawrence's voice came over the speaker on Gupta's phone. "Very well. Since the loyal elements of the Executive Council are in concurrence, Deputy Secretary Crawford, I formally request your forces aid the legitimate government against this coup attempt."

"Gladly, Madame President, we'll get right on it." Crawford nodded to Kaveri.

"Varma to Dale," she said into her omnitool. "Captain, aid is formally requested. We need it immediately." She said that even as the sound of footfalls outside grew louder. Marias' troops were seconds away from arriving.

Twin flashes of light formed in the room, in apparent defiance of the anti-beaming shield, and coalesced into the forms of Robert and Gina. The collected ministers were bewildered to see just two rescuers and both wearing robes over their armor. The sight further bewildered them when they saw neither had firearms. The room was filled with the twin snap-hiss of lightsabers igniting.

The door flew open. Security troops appeared in the doorway, rifles raised. "Surrender or—"

Robert's empty left hand came up. The ministers watched in amazement as the half-dozen soldiers in the doorway went flying as if struck by an explosion. He and Gina rushed forward, their weapons buzzing in the air, and soon emerald and sapphire flashes outside of the room were joined by surprised shouts and the occasional scream of surprise and pain. From her seat, Kaveri could see that they were fighting non-lethally, intentionally avoiding fatal blows while disarming their adversaries (in some cases, literally).

After ten seconds the two figures re-entered the room. Robert's green lightsaber extinguished and he nodded respectfully to the assembled. "I'm Captain Robert Dale," he introduced himself to the Executive Council members. "A Paladin of the Alliance. This is a member of my operations team, Gina Inviere." He gestured to Gina. "We've got Marines beaming in to clear the coup forces. If you want to tie us into your command and control, we'll adhere to it."

That was for Crawford's sake and for Kanegawa, who immediately took Robert up on the offer.




The vise-like grip on Leo's diaphragm refused to relent. Try as he might he couldn't breathe, and his body began reacting as he expected. His vision started to go out as he looked at the horrified face of Rose, her gun still pointed toward him.

Then, for a moment, relief. He sucked in a greedy breath and exhaled. The moment his exhalation finished the vise returned. He couldn't breathe again.

Lawton was glaring at the viewer. "I can sense your deceit, alien. You're backing up your research while making a show of destroying it. You will purge all of your ship's computer systems now or he will die."

"Once your hostage is dead, you have no more power," Ke'mani'pala replied. "You cannot kill him."

"No? Even as I speak my followers are seizing the others from your ship that are in our camp. I'll bring them in here and make you watch as I kill them, one by one."

There was a malevolence in the man's tone that was chilling. Leo noticed the torn expression on Rose's face. His mouth moved as he tried to speak, even with no air coming from his lungs. You don't have to do this.

Rose seemed to know what he tried to say. She swallowed and the gun in her hands quivered with greater violence.

The vise disappeared briefly. Leo brought in a breath, and spoke as he exhaled. "This is wrong," he managed to say before his breathing was cut off.

Tears flowed down her cheeks. Leo could see the tension as his vision went back to the brink of cutting out. Whatever her feelings, Rose wasn't a killer, not deep down. It was one thing to be complicit in a plague that might kill people you don't see, but holding a gun on someone, helping to strangle the life out of them… that was entirely different. It would be even if they'd never talked, hadn't worked together, gotten to know one another.

Rose's hands shook as the gun turned away from him. It focused on Lawton. "No," she said. "You… you can't do this, you can't kill someone like this!"

He never lashed out. In the span of a moment Rose's hands opened wide and she dropped the weapon. A choked breath came from her throat before she dropped to her knees.

"Your anger made you useful, mute," said Lawton. "But now, your use is at an end." He looked at Rose with murderous intent as she fell over, trying desperately to breathe. "Watch carefully, alien. This is the fate your shipmates will suffer if you don't cooperate."

Suddenly, Lawton's eyes widened in surprise. The vise on Leo's chest let go. He could breath again and he sucked in air with wild-abandon. He didn’t notice the two other figures in the door until one of them spoke.

“Run.” Thomas croaked through clenched teeth. “We can’t hold him off for long.” What Leo couldn’t see was the withering series of weaponized medical probes they’d surprised Lawton with, attacks that slid off even his casual-defenses like water off a swan’s back. He’d been concealing his power from them, just as he’d been concealing his intent.

He struck back, aiming to incapacitate, and it took the combined strength of their gestalted mind — which would have been a match for a Psi Cop — to hold him back. That same attack was paired with a message.

Join me, my brethren. I am Hab-Kuzad of the Ministry of Fate, and I come to you as a fellow telepath! Your people are just as oppressed by the mutes. The Ministry is ready to save you and bring you into the fold.

And they believed him. He honestly did think he was helping; that the only way for telepaths to be safe was to rule over mundanes in perpetuity and by whatever means necessary.

But that didn’t change the fact that he wanted to murder a world.

Fuck That! We’re not helping you murder billions, they replied in unison, and to emphasize their refusal, attempted to provoke a catastrophic seizure.

This time his defenses caught the attack, breaking it with little apparent effort. He might have flung it back toward them, but he held that back, instead pressing forth his will and the thought within. Mutes outnumber us by a billion fold, he reminded them. They will not be missed.

His mental voice echoed through the connection with the force of a piston. Inevitability filled every thought, every word in the sentiment of ultimate triumph Hab-Kuzad projected into them. It is the destiny of the Esper to rule over the mute. For this they try to destroy us, but we have beaten them every time. We will always beat them. We were meant to be Kings!

The words came as hammer blows on their defenses, laced with the learned superiority he felt toward non-telepaths, and his conviction that they too would join him once they understood the world as he saw it. It was an inevitability as true as the solar winds, as mathematics, as gravity. The telepath will rule, the mute will obey or be crushed. The telepath serves as the agent of Fate itself and acts in that fashion in all things.

But to the Spencers, it was fascism. Telepathic space fascism; like Bester turned up to a fever pitch and bolstered by past glories. The certainty itself was an attack, that feeling of inevitability intended to erode their resistance. However, it had the opposite effect. Fascism and its antecedents were the driving force of their own oppression, and they were not about to trade one oppressor for another; or to accept their lot in life as a servant so long as they had a slave beneath them. And render life into a mere caricature of itself? We think not. We will fight our oppressors and win, but we will not become you.

Hab-Kuzad sensed their sentiments as his attacks battered away at them. It confounded him. Every telepath loyally following him in the camp had bowed to these inevitabilities. These two resisted. Why? How? He redoubled his attack, this time throwing in recrimination, as if they were children to be lectured to and scolded for defiance. You defy Fate! You defy your own legacy! And for what? I offer you a future of glory and purpose! You have nothing that can compare!

Your glory, your purpose. Not Ours.
Dozens of memories of mutual support and community coursed through their minds, but there was that one. Millions of telepaths staring down planetary destruction and rising up with one telepathic voice, even then in hope and determination for a better future. If not for them, then for survivors who’d made it off-world or were still in the colonies. The song of their own people rose in a great mental chorus across the entirely of the earth.

‘We are strong in each other, we're sister and brother, And we will all come together in a better place, a better place than this. Our love will guide you, Our love will hold you. And our love will show us the way.’

When they allowed that memory to fade, they continued. We have no desire to inflict upon others what has been inflicted upon us. That is the spite of a child, and it only ends in tears. Just the opposite, in time, we’ll eliminate all oppression by leading the mundanes toward a better future for everyone.

The certainty in the Spencers met the inevitability in Hab-Kuzad's beliefs and produced a straining equilibrium. His raw power and conviction were yet insufficient to break down their assured knowledge of the love and common purpose in their community, purpose without strict control as Hab-Kuzad envisioned. But his power was still great and their efforts, great as they were, could not break through to stop the onslaught.

I will not be beaten by this misguided foolishness, he insisted through the link. The Ministry will have this world! You two cannot stop it!

Which was when his mind was assailed in the telepathic equivalent of a sucker-punch. Hab-Kuzad’s defenses held, but it was difficult and he reeled from the shock of it.

Good thing there’s more than these two! Kusko’s mental voice boomed through his conscious thoughts. It was almost as big a shock to the Spencer twins who didn’t exactly disguise it.

What can I say? I prefer utopian dreamers to dystopic ones was her only response. Then, she took off a glove and touched the back of Thomas’ neck, joining their gestalt and making for a much more even fight.

To the Spencers' certainty in their sense of family came Kusko's experience. In Hab-Kuzad's system she saw the control and bloodiness of the Zabis intensified to a degree she never imagined. He would enslave her and other Newtypes with chains greater than any Zabi ever conceived.

That is what is required of us! he raged, with Kusko's defiance bolstering that of the Spencers. The Fates have decreed that role! To defy the Fates is to deny reality! His fury at that defiance briefly bolstered his attack. Wave after wave of hectoring washed over the three, scolding them for defying the way of the world, for denying the glory of their purpose as ordained by the All-Father.

The very idea was preposterous. History and reality don’t work that way, it does not use men. It is the actions of men pursuing their own ends. You have been lied to, used, just as the mundanes use us now. It was countered with weaponized dialectical materialism.

You know nothing!

Both sides of the fight were reeling. Given time the Spencers and Kusko might wear him down, but there were good odds one or more would stroke out first.

That was when Leo returned with Rose, and this time, they weren't alone.

The council of five that governed the camp joined them, Hab-Kuzad's words echoing in their minds along with the defiance of his opponents. Nysha held her hands out. Walter and Irma took those hands, and their hands in turn were taken by their other peers. Five minds became one, albeit clumsily, and as one they struck at Hab-Kuzad's mind.

Theirs was not the same certainty that the Spencers had, nor the same exact experiences as Kusko's. But they had something of both. The experiences they and their people in the camp had with the forms of oppression their world still labored with armored them from Hab-Kuzad's conviction of inevitability, as they recognized it for what it was. From the five joined minds came something like pity, as Hab-Kuzad could not conceive of anything but oppression.

While his defenses held against the Spencers and Kusko, he turned his eyes towards the five. You would fight for the banals? The people who experimented upon your families? Who turn your children into weapons? His attack was a clever one, as it played upon the resentments they felt. The anger at the injustices they'd endured. This world should be yours. Help me destroy the mutes and those that would stand for them!

The appeal resonated. They struggled against it. Why should they fight to protect people who oppressed them? Why not let them all die and inherit this world?

Nysha's eyes moved away from Hab-Kuzad's, trying to escape the pressure of his powerful, trained mind. She found herself looking at Leo.

He and Rose weren't moving. Didn't dare interfere, for fear of harming the entire group in some way. But seeing him and the worry on his face, even as the blood trickled from her nostrils, reminded Nysha of something he'd said. Something that resonated within her.

Because we're better than that.

She'd thought those words were silly. Those of a man who lived in the luxury of his spaceship and never faced cruel reality. But then she'd seen him live up to the compassion in those words. The hours he spent saving people without thought or hope of reward. The world might be cruel, but Leo and his people showed they didn't have to wallow in it. They could be better.

Walter added to the thought. His memory of history came to the gestalt's aid, recalled the words of a man that swayed his heart and, through him, their collective conscience. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. The words resonated through the gestalt as they considered the source and Walter's unwavering faith that Dr. King's words applied to telepath and non-telepath as much as it did to those of black and white skin.

These 'banals' came to help us, the gestalt challenged Hab-Kuzad. They fought for us. They healed us. And they asked us for nothing. They only want us to be free!

Freedom was a word Hab-Kuzad could not parse mentally. In his world of control it was virtually meaningless. A word with nothing behind it. Freedom is a fiction! his mind raged instinctively at the idea.

But for both gestalts, it was more. It was choice. It was life. It was the future they sought and they thought was worth dying for.

Against the intensity of an idea he could not truly fathom, Hab-Kuzad's power failed. His defenses crumbled against their defiance of his convictions and the raw power behind them.

For all of his training, eight minds with the right beliefs, the right convictions, was simply too much to stop.

As the realization of defeat came, a subconscious impulse triggered in his mind, a programmed reaction to this outcome. The Spencers tried to stop it but to no avail, and all they could do was break the connection and urge Nysha's gestalt to do the same.

They did at the last possible moment as the implant hidden in Hab-Kuzad's brain activated. A powerful agent flooded through his head, dissolving brain cells and tissue. He screamed and collapsed. All eight telepaths felt the cold sensation of the Door opening and drawing him in, slamming shut a moment later.

Leo rushed up to the fallen man, his omnitool set for medical scanning. He swallowed at the results. "Looks like a suicide charge of some kind, an organic acidic agent's already liquifying his brain." Leo remembered the mission to Solaris, where a NEUROM operative had reportedly triggered a similar device when facing capture.

“Yeah.“ Dr. Spencer replied. “It was… automatic, pre-conditioned in his mind, he couldn’t stop it if he wanted to.” Her voice was strange, mostly because she had a handkerchief to stop the nose bleed. The other reason telepaths never wore white.

Leo stood back up and faced the viewer. "Doctor, we have backups I hope?"

"Of course, Doctor. Commander Jarod is restoring everything now. We'll be back to work shortly."

"Good to hear." With his concerns there re-assured, he turned to Abigail and Thomas. "Thanks for the rescue."

“Our pleasure. Though thank Kusko, she warned us and got us moving.” Thomas replied. “Speaking of which, Rose, there’s someone here you should see.”

Rose looked at them with some confusion. Confusion that swiftly gave way to shock and hope as she thought about what they were saying.

Leo looked from her to them. And then he thought of the telepath girl kept by the cell and his eyes widened.




It was at the behest of the Earth Union's General Roberts that Robert and Gina fought their way into the Security Ministry building, advancing ahead of Earth army soldiers while the Aurora Marines guarded alternative exits.

Their opponents were of little concern, given the locals' training to fight telepathic foes didn't amount to much against their training and abilities. They took careful, conscientious care to not kill anyone they fought.

And yet, they could feel death when they approached Marias' office. It was a fortified door, so Gina and Robert cut through the hinges with their lightsabers before knocking it down. Inside were two dead bodies, Ministers Winthrope and Tangri, and a very alive Marias bringing his pistol up toward his forehead. They felt his intention to pull the trigger.

Robert's hand motioned toward the wall. Invisible force ripped the gun from Marias' hand. He stared at his open hand for a moment before scowling at them. "I won't be used against my homeworld," he swore. "I'll make you kill me!"

"Your people will judge you for your crimes, Minister," Robert said, glancing down at the bodies. "Enough blood's been shed."

Marias snarled in anger at that. "You think you can conquer us with kindness, divide us with your lies about rights. But my people will see you for what you are. They'll fight."

"Your people are tired of fighting," Gina pointed out. "They want peace."

Marias slumped into his chair, a defeated man, and did nothing but glower as Earth troops came in and took custody of him. Robert and Gina looked around the room and judged what was in sight, including reports. "Odd," Gina said, looking over a stack of orders and papers.

"Hrm?" Robert looked away from a photo of Marias with a young woman in a set of digital camo BDUs. "What?"

"He's been planning this for a while," Gina said. "The dates here…" She checked with the displays on his office. "If he'd waited another two days, he would have had three times the forces he used. And he would have had a unit in place to seize General Roberts and the rest of the military command."

Robert's brow furrowed. His eyes moved over a small shrine: a folded Earth Union flag and a medal in a case with a photo of the same young woman in full uniform. His daughter, Robert thought, given the facial resemblance. She died in the war. After that distracting thought he returned to Gina's findings. "He might have won," he said aloud. "Or would have had a better chance of winning, at least."

"So why did he act today instead?"

Given what was happening in Atlanta, Robert had an idea about that. "We'll let the local authorities figure that out," he said. "For now, let's get back to the Berlaymont. I want to get an update from Atlanta."




The fighting was well over and the rogue security forces turned over to their comrades. Richmond was looking for Leo when she saw him, trailing the Spencers and Kusko. Rose was with him, trembling as she walked. "Doctor, are you alright?"

"I am."

"Have you found Lawton? His people seem confused about his role in this."

"He's in the lab, dead. And he was a NEUROM agent."

Richmond got the feeling he had something else on his mind. She ended up following as they approached the Brahmaputra.

Thomas, with something of a dramatic flourish and overdone pressing of keys, opened up the runabout’s door. He led them into the living area where a young woman was asleep on the cot.

It took Leo a second look to recognize his captor of the other night. She'd been cleaned up, although her blonde hair was still a mess. He heard a sharp gasp from Rose. Her knees hit the floor as she dropped down onto them.

“She was taken to Andersonville and her memories got scrambled.” Thomas explained. “I’ve spent the last day reconstructing those memories. There are still some fuzzy patches and missing association paths, but I can go ahead and wake her up.”

He did so, reaching into Lily’s mind and bringing her conscious mind out of the void-state he had it in. She emerged from that state remembering the conversation she was having with Kusko, but also having all of her original memories. She looked around, and saw her sister.

The teenager looked blankly at the scrubs-clad woman at first. The memories in her head recognized the face, broadly, but emotionally she was stuck. Now that it was conscious her mind was trying to find the emotions in those old memories.

Leo watched the tears flowing down Rose's face. She looked frozen, as if she feared this was a trick or a dream. She sniffled and managed the word "Lily".

A little gasp came from the throat of the teenage girl. Her mind gently probed at Rose's.

Rose nodded. When her mouth opened again, it was to begin singing. "I come home in the morning light/My mother says, 'When you gonna live your life right?'..."

Lily breathed in at that. There were tears in her eyes now. Her voice shook even as she started singing too. "Oh mother dear we're not the fortunate ones/And girls, they wanna have fun."

Rose let out a sob before picking it up again, even as Lily joined with the same words. "Oh girls just want to have fun. Oh girls, they just wanna have fun!"

There were no more words. There didn't need to be. The sisters sang on in their minds while Lily dropped into Rose's waiting arms. Sobbing became laughter and became sobbing again as they held each other close, two loving sisters reunited when neither ever expected it again.

Leo couldn't keep the tears from his own eyes. As it turned out, the telepaths were even more susceptible to the joy washing over them.

He glanced Richmond's way. Her expression was controlled but her green eyes made it clear she wasn't unmoved.

A single, gratifying thought came to him. It looks like Rose got her sister back after all.




Ship's Log: 18 December 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. The last holdouts of Security Minister Marias'
coup forces have surrendered to the Earth Union government. It would seem many of the offices and branches of Marias' agency remained on the fence until the government survived the initial attack, allowing for a quick resolution to the crisis. None of the aid workers scattered across the world were harmed.

The Reformist governments have pledged continued membership in the Union in the aftermath of the failed
coup. Their leadership is in negotiations for a variety of reforms that will put the Union on a path away from authoritarianism.

As for the plague, the efforts of the fleet's medical section have seen a vaccine successfully developed. It is being provided now to communities around the Southeast of North America and other possible infection sites. Dr. Diptheek believes a counter-virus should be available shortly that will reverse the condition in those already infected.

Our efforts to learn more about the NEUROM operations have not gone as smoothly.



The young man's face was twisted into a snarl. Meridina and Doctor Tusana were seated in front of him with Commander RIchmond. The Spencers and Kusko were to their right and Walter Smith and Irma Michaels to their left. Kaveri and Robert were behind them with Kaveri's adjutant Bet'tir at her side as always.

"Hab-Kuzad is dead, and your camp's leaders rejected him," said Tusana, her Gersallian lilt speaking lightly and carefully. "There is nothing gained by obstinance."

"Just tell them what they want to know, Mister Tanner," Walter insisted. "We could get you amnesty when we show the Unies you were programmed."

"Amnesty?" Tanner spat at him. "That is what I think of your amnesty, traitor. We may have been stopped now, but espers will rule this world," the man insisted. "When the Ministry of Fate governs and NEUROM rules, traitors like you will suffer the wrath of the Fates. The mutes will be put in their proper place. And my brethren and I will have places of honor in the All-Father's order."

"The Alliance won't permit NEUROM to take this planet like that," Robert said. "We've stopped your plague and we'll help them find other agents. There's no reason to keep fighting for them."

"Stay to your own place, Forceful!" Tanner shook his head. "The only way for espers to survive is to rule mutes completely. We were meant to be Kings. That's what Fate's decreed. Our victory is inevitable."

"Why are you talking like this?" asked Irma. "Calling people 'mutes' and talking about Fate like it's God or something? And what's this about espers?"

"It's how people from S0T5 refer to telepaths," Robert explained. "They call them espers, and a word for non-telepaths is 'mute'." He stepped forward and reached through the Flow of Life for Tanner. Tanner let out a hiss and struck at his mind, but he used his powers to stop the attack. "His very nature's been twisted. Some kind of mental programming? It reminds me a little of what I sensed in Saren, but it's not nearly the same thing as Reaper indoctrination." He remembered that innate twisting he'd felt in Saren and those Salarians on Virmire. It wasn't what he felt here, but there was something fundamental about Tanner's mind that was out of place. Something in his presence in the Flow of Life was innately shifted.

Tanner's reaction was to attack again. This time the other telepaths stepped in. Meridina and Tusana blocked the attack and the Spencers slipped through his defenses with attack probes. Abigail rendered him unconscious while Thomas started sifting through his memories. Walter and Tusana joined him.

"There is something peculiar in his thoughts," said Tusana.

"I sensed this in Hab-Kuzad's mind." Walter shook his head. "It isn’t gibberish but I don’t know what it is.."

Thomas spoke. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Bet'tir? Anything?” He asked the Dilgar. There’s an order to it but I can’t figure out what it is. Maybe the Mha’dorn has seen something we haven’t.

The Dilgar also took a look. Peering through Tanner’s mind and rifling through the memories to find a baseline, something that would be easy to interpret, the first real concrete memory Tanner had was the easiest one, blowing out the candles on his third birthday. But it was off somehow, even for a human mind it was just ever so slightly out of sync. She looked at other psychologically foundational memories and they were anomalous too. Then she got it.

“It’s like a mathematical transformation. All the information is there but it’s been shifted around and mapped differently. All roads lead to NEUROM. It’s so pervasive you can’t disentangle them all without a complete mind-wipe or figuring out exactly what was done. Something like it was tried during The War as part of Len’char’s counter-intelligence efforts…” Both Thomas and Abigail knew what that meant. Spectacular levels of evil and incompetence.

“So, Bet'tir, what you’re saying is, we’re going to need a protracted research effort to figure out how to deprogram these people.”

“Yes, that is an accurate summation.” Bet'tir answered. “There is a good chance that the necessary work will not pass a Psi Corps Institutional Review Board.”

Robert shook his head in disgust, but even that paled to the sheer uncomprehending horror that Meridina and Tusana shared. This went far beyond even the worst their people imagined as an abuse of telepathy. This was the warping of a mind, a living being, into another shape.

“And fixing it to restore the willing-victims… will likely require us to do the same, only in reverse. In the mean-time, their plans are not as concealed as all that. Memory vaults, but not encrypted inside other memories.” Thomas wasn’t happy about that first part, but it was a job for Sigma and the Mha’dorn. Maybe the Gersallians if they could stomach it. “We can crack them, give us a minute.”

A vaulted memory was simply a memory that had its patterns of association cut, so one couldn’t reach it from other thoughts. Encrypting memories hid them inside the structure of other memories. An alert telepath could detect a vault with a naive deep scan, not so with encryption. Once detected, a vault was easy to crack open, and it took Thomas all of a minute sort through the contents.

“Hm. Not as blood-thirsty as we initially thought. They were planning on forcing a new civil war, and making the Reformist states dependent on them to fight off their enemies and the plague. Nominally independent when the dust settles, but completely dominated by NEUROM indoctrinated telepaths.”

"They must have anticipated our eventual arrival," Meridina said. "But we arrived earlier than they planned."

"Thanks to Becca bat Gurion," Robert mused aloud. "Undone by another telepath."

“We’re going to have to pass this up the chain.” Kusko said. “I can’t imagine they aren’t pulling strings in the Earth Alliance. If they aren’t now, they soon will be.”

"I'll add this to my next report to our government as well." Robert fought down the anger he felt at this. If it's not the Aristos getting off on torturing people, it's NEUROM brainwashing them. He noticed the intent look of Meridina, who didn't need to say or project anything to show her worry at the anger he was feeling. He tried to reassure her by relaxing the look on his face and focusing himself on the Flow of Life around them. The last thing I need is to end up like Hawk.

“The nice thing about just being a telepath is that we can just be pissed without the universe being disappointed in us and turning us into monsters.” Dr. Spencer smirked. “But don’t worry too much about us. Forewarned is forearmed!” There was a propaganda poster about that somewhere. “If you manage to capture more agents, we’ll take them.” IRB or no, the deprogramming work was absolutely necessary. “Speaking of which, Rose and Lily. We’re prepared to offer them asylum.”

Robert nodded. "Leo offered them the same thing on my behalf."

Tusana smiled softly at Thomas. "You did good work in restoring her memories as you have. I have built upon it by helping her rebuild some of the missing association paths. For her emotional well-being the memories of her imprisonment are currently vaulted until she is ready to open them."

“Thank you. For all of it really. There are certain drugs that can be used to help process those memories without being triggered by them. So she’ll have excellent post-acute care.” He was referring of course to MDMA.

"We have similar drugs, although our preference is for farisa therapists to aid the victim in processing the memories with emotional support."

"They would both face serious charges from Earth authorities," Kaveri said, bringing them back to the subject. "The local government may have fought off an authoritarian coup, but I would fear for the elder Williams' life if she ends up in their custody."

“Treason for Rose, Terrorism for Lily, yes.” Kusko had checked the relevant laws.

"That's why Leo had Richmond keep them on the Brahmaputra when it came back," Robert said. "The Williams are aboard now, he's got them in spare medical assistance quarters on Deck 12."

With Captain Varma there, Kusko was reminded of something. “Before I forget, Captain Varma, when I got my marching orders I was instructed to give you this should I see you.”

“Oh?” Kaveri looked at her somewhat intrigued. Kusko reached into one of the pockets inside her uniform coat and pulled out a small box and an envelope sealed in wax.

“Fowler regrets not being able to make the wedding.” She handed them over. Kaveri pulled out a small blade to open the envelope and read the contents. Both a congratulatory card in bright flashy colors and a letter written in a script so precise that it might as well have been printed by a machine. Then she opened the box with a soft smile and closed it up again.

“Oh gods, that old warhorse is far too kind. Thank you Ms Al, if you could convey to him my thanks and sincere affection?” Which was definitely there, purposefully allowed to leak through the Captain’s habitual internal mantra.

“Of course Captain.”




It was still the late afternoon when the party from the Aurora arrived at the telepath camp. Robert and Gina were personally escorting Deputy Secretary Crawford and members of his staff. They materialized in the camp commons.

Leo was there, waiting for Nysha and her fellow councillors. The Spencers were beside them.

Before he could begin introductions, Crawford stepped forward with a big grin on his face. His hand came up. "Nice to meet you folks," he said in his most charming drawl. "I'm Deputy Secretary Travis Crawford, Alliance Foreign Office, and I've been dyin' to see how you folks have been getting along."

His mind wasn't singing anything, or showing any signs of anything but just outwardly presenting a gregarious form of charm. Nysha grinned at the sincerity she felt and accepted the hand. "Chairwoman Nysha Williams, sir. Welcome to the Atlanta Telepath Settlement."

Crawford took in the place and nodded. "Still gettin' things back to normal around here, I can see. I hope our people can help you out with that, get you some homes set up real soon."

"That would be good, Mister Secretary. Living in tents gets old after a while."

"Oh, I reckon it does!" He gestured to his sides. "Captain Dale and his nice young lady Miss Inviere saved our hides in Brussels, and he wanted to meet you folks too."

Robert introduced himself formally and did so with Gina. As he spoke, he briefly looked toward the Spencers with some concern at what he was sensing from them.

Through that entire exchange, both the Spencer twins looked ever so slightly stricken and pale. In their minds it was like they were seeing a ghost. But not just any ghost, some sort of Hitlerian poltergeist. They cleared it quickly as soon as attention was turned on them and logic reasserted itself.

Crawford offered his hand, the same warm smile on his face. "Well now, the folks from the Jenny Winters Foundation, right? I hear you were a big help with this terrible plague situation, and that nasty fellow tryin' to stop us from curin' it."

“Um. Yes. ” Abigail accepted his hand in her own gloved one. “And it was a pleasure to do that, fascism has no place in all of existence. I’m… I’m sorry Mr. Secretary I don’t generally find myself at a loss for words.”

“She really doesn’t.” Kusko was giving her the strangest of looks.

“But, and I know this might seem crazy… You’re not a Mississippi Crawford, are you? Related to one Lee Crawford?”

Crawford furrowed his brow for a moment. "Well, I sure am. I'm from Texas myself, out near Tyler, but Lee Crawford of Mississippi was my great-grandpappy. He was one of the first warp-flight astronauts, took the Trailblazer out to Tau Ceti in his day. I'm guessin' he existed in your history too?"

“He wrote the Crawford-Tokash Act. And… the resemblance is uncanny.” She shook her head, put somewhat at ease. “I’ll admit when you walked in the experience was more than a bit surreal.”

"Well now, didn't intend to give you folks a start." Crawford's smile faded into a somber look, and Robert felt some unease in him. "The Crawford-Tokash Act. I read up on that. Terrible law. Written by an unkind man. I guess I now know why great-grandma took my grandpappy and his sisters and hightailed it home to Texas."

“Not your fault, there’s no need to apologize for it's just, well, I guess no matter how many universes there are, the world is still small.” Thomas interjected.

"It sure can be," Crawford said. "Well, we've got the folks in Brussels reconsiderin' their laws about telepaths, maybe we'll get EarthDome to do the same one day. The way I see it, you folks should be as free as any one else on God's green earth, mind-readin' or not."

They both grinned. “Yeah, maybe one day.” Abigail said, but her voice said ‘soon’ in a completely deniable way “Not that I’m able to comment on Earth Alliance policy, of course.”

Given the Secretary's time was as valuable as her own, Nysha spoke up. "Is there anything you'd like to see first, Mister Secretary?"

"I hear you've still got folk recoverin' from that attack," he said. "If they're willin', I'd like to shake their hands and wish them well."

After Leo nodded in approval on the idea, and the fact there were people able to receive visitors, Nysha said, "This way then, Mister Secretary."

As they walked on, Robert took the time to shake the Spencers' hands as well. Thanks for helping my friend, he thought, the image in his head clearly on Leo. And give my regards to Dr. Meier and his husband Mister Hendricks. I can't always keep in touch.

The entire central committee will be getting a briefing and we’ll make sure to include that. Thomas replied.

Robert walked on, picking up his pace to catch up with the group. As he moved along, he could hear Thomas humming a familiar tune. I guess they have the Twilight Zone too, he thought to himself.

Abigail p'cast a reply. Oh yes! But not enough to prepare us for that. I’m going to put in a note to revise the curriculum.

His reply was a low chuckle.
"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 »

My thanks to Voyager989 for vetting Kaveri's dialogue, of course. While this was originally made as a Leo episode, the set-up let me make it a great payoff for Kaveri being Captain at this point (3-22 will have a similar moment).
"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 »

Tag


It was the evening hour in Atlanta when Crawford's visit ended. After he and his staff returned to the Aurora Robert arranged a return transport for himself, Gina, Leo, Richmond, and the Spencers with Kusko.

They were met in the transporter room by Dr. Tusana and the Williams sisters. Rose's red hair was again pulled into a pony-tail. Lily's hair, while still short, was combed and brushed into something other than the mess it'd been before. They were still arm in arm and looked like it would take a tank to separate them. Her grungy clothes had been replaced by a cleaner and brighter ensemble of a yellow skirt and sundress.

"We've talked with Dr. Tusana, and we've decided to take up your offer of a place at Tau Atrea," Rose said to the group, particularly to the Spencers. "It sounds like a good place to start over."

“The Corps in general is. Though you might be in for a bit of a culture shock. I hope you like Soviet realist art…” Kusko replied.

"It has to be better than the stuff the New Confederacy plastered everywhere," she replied. "And the Unies' stuff is terrible."

Robert chuckled. "It reminds me of old motivational posters in my school days. Not nearly as motivating or inspiring as intended. Although I admit I felt the same about what I saw on Tau Atrea. I've never been one for that kind of art."

“Hey now! You be nice! That’s decades of capitalist propaganda talking.” Abigail protested with good humor. “In all honestly though, it’s a rough and tumble frontier colony, but growing. Think American West with clean water, sanitation, and any bandits who do show up won’t live long enough to regret their life choices.”

"It's not rubble, at least, and our parents won't be showing up." Rose ran a hand through Lily's hair, tousling it much to her sister's enjoyment.

“I basically went straight into the military, I’m just waiting on my home ship to be commissioned.” Kusko said “But there’s a lot for civilians to do, and the Corps will make sure you have something that suits both your skills and what it is you want to do. So you won’t be bored either.”

"I really like being a nurse," Rose confirmed. She turned her head to Leo and bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Doctor, for everything."

"And I'm sorry for trying to kidnap you," Lily added.

Leo's response was a friendly grin. "No harm was done in the end," he said. "And it brought you two back together, so I figure everything worked out."

"You're one of the good ones," Rose said. "I think that's really why Hab-Kuzad wanted you gone. You were making people in the camp willing to think well of outsiders again. He wanted to turn everyone against ban… against non-telepaths."

Leo nodded. "That's how people like that work. They use fear and hate to control the rest of us. It's why it's so important that we don't act on our fears, even if it means we might get hurt."

“Basically a telepathic space-Nazi… which isn’t something I ever thought I’d see. Don’t beat yourself up too much Rose. Most of us would love to have a sister who’s willing to do what you did for our sake… just not, you know, going that far.” Thomas added “As to nursing, we’ve got you covered there. We’ll get you up to speed. Any thoughts of your own Lily?”

"A lot of thoughts. It's good to have my own brain back," she said. "Although I feel really bad for Regina, whoever she was. I'm… I'm not sure she was one of the survivors." Lily brushed away a tear and, at Rose's concerned look, hugged her tightly. "It's okay. I know that I'm lucky in a lot of ways, and I want to live up to that. Maybe I can help people like Mister Sinclair or Dr. Tusana helped me, or protect them like Kusko or Commander Richmond."

RIchmond inclined her head. Her expression was pleasant and she spoke quietly. "You'll find your own way, I'm sure."

“There’s no need to decide right now. We have a thorough curriculum that should give you a taste of everything you can do, and from there decisions can be made. I hope you liked school as a kid… both of you, because there’s gonna be a lot of that.” Abigail grinned. There would be a lot of those motivational posters.

"Sir." The Dorei transporter chief, a purple-skinned woman with blue spots and light teal hair and eyes, looked up from her console. "The Father Xabier just signaled. They're preparing for their return jump to E5B1 and are awaiting the passengers' transport."

"Looks like it's time to go." Rose and Lily started with Leo, giving him a hug and moving on to the others. Gina accepted hers with slight bemusement but a legitimate warmth.

Kusko wasn’t so much of a hugger but accepted their hugs anyway. Don’t go into engineering on the ship. Chaos reigns there. She glyphed them warning imagery of a ramshackle engineering section kept together with strong vocabulary and quick thinking.

The other two were far more enthusiastic about hugs.

Where did the ship gets it name? Did Father Xabier have something to do with Jenny Winters? Lily actively thought.

Abigail answered that one. He was a Basque Catholic priest who sheltered telepaths from pogroms, both when we were first discovered and then fifty years later when we made contact with the Centauri. Jenny Winters is… a long story. Short version; a young telepath who was enslaved, rescued and indoctrinated by a terrorist cult, before she was finally liberated from them. Later, she went into our Education division and made a name for herself talking people off the Sleepers, drugs people can take to suppress their telepathic talents.

With Lily's curiosity sated, the sisters stepped up on the transporter pad. With a final wave they disappeared in twin bursts of light, their departure marked by a short electronic buzzing sound.

"We'd better get back down to the camp," Leo said. "Things are looking better, but there's still a lot of work to do."

"Right." Robert noted his omnitool light up. He read the message and took in a breath. "And I've got something to see to." He gave a significant look to Gina, who recognized what he meant immediately. When she checked her own omnitool, she found the same message.

Finished decoding new section. Need to see everyone ASAP. - Lucy




It was late in the Aurora's formal day, with Beta Shift on the duty watches, when the group assembled in Science Lab 1 at Lucy's summons. Robert and Gina arrived just after Jarod, and Talara came a moment later. Meridina appeared with Kaveri and Bet'tir coming last. They approached the central holo-table of the lab while Jarod confirmed the final lines of Lucy's decoding work.

"It's a… poem?" Gina asked, surprised.

"It looks that way."

The words hung in holographic light in front of them.

In Doom, In Ruin, In Broken Despair;
Queen of the Fortresses! Flower of the Rim!
To go to Reshan's Temple, first to leave
Time, space, and fair stars.
By the Wings of Infinity
Travel to madness, travel to wastes
Travel to the End of Sanity
Travel to the Limits of Pain
To reach Reshan's Temple
First Afam'oso must be gained
Where Hope Met Darkness
The Path must Begin


Robert felt the surprise in Meridina and Gina. He glanced toward them, as did Bet'tir, Lucy, and Talara. "What is it?"

"Afam'oso." Gina swallowed. "I read about it when studying the Order's history. It's a legend from Swenya's day."

"It's a great battle Swenya is said to have fought," Meridina said. "It was said she led a great army to victory against overwhelming odds. The legend speaks of her arrival at the battle as being 'living hope'." Meridina drew in a breath. "It's always been a mystery. There is no place on Gersal or its earliest colonies by that name. Some believed it to be part of the great war she fought in, but it was never associated with that war in the surviving accounts."

"The other theory was that it was a lost localization, or from one of the languages that died out after Kohbal's uprising," Gina said.

"It's not Gersallian," said Jarod, looking at the book itself. "It's Portuguese."

All eyes turned toward him.

"A Famoso. It means 'The Famous'," he continued. "It was a nickname of the Portuguese fortress at Malacca during the height of the spice trade."

"What does a sixteenth or seventeenth century Portuguese fort have to do with any of this?" Lucy asked.

"Probably nothing," he admitted. "But it might have been the inspiration for the name of another fortress or structure that was named in the original's honor."

Robert finished tapping away at his omnitool and projected the results as a secondary screen on the holo-table. It was an article of the Encyclopedia Solaria from S0T5. "It's a legend there too," he said.

Kaveri read the text. "The Earthreign, again," she murmured.

"Looks like it," Robert agreed, not enthused at all with the connection. "It looks like it's some legendary fortress that was said to have survived the Reignfall. But nobody knows where to find it in the Fracture."

"So the poem refers to some legendary lost space fortress that a lot of people have apparently died trying to find." Lucy let out a frustrated "ugh". "Why can't it be a simple starmap? They might as well want us to find Atlantis." She tapped at the controls to the computer. "Maybe I can set up a search wide enough to find out something more?"

"That might not be necessary." Jarod pointed at the poem. "Consider that line, before the bits about traveling."

"'On the Wings of Infinity'," Bet'tir read. "I fail to see the significance, Commander?"

Robert breathed out in frustration and lowered his head.

His action was noted, but for the others' benefit Jarod brought up another image, showing a stylized winged Moebius strip.

"Winged infinity," Kaveri remarked.

"Exactly." Jarod nodded. "But better known as the logo of Pan-Empyrean Holdings, a major megacorp on Solaris. The megacorp."

"Sidney Hank," Robert sighed.

"You still owe him a favor for the information that led to us rescuing Julia, don't you?" Lucy asked him.

"I do," he replied. He lamented the fact, but not the reason for it. "Let's hope he doesn't want another one." Robert used his omnitool to activate a connection to the IU communications network. "I'll see if he'll answer a message about this."

"What does a Solarian business tycoon have to do with all of this?" Kaveri asked.

"Honestly, there's more to Hank than just that," Jarod noted while Robert worked. "He's a peculiar individual. Some of the evidence we've seen indicates he's existed in some form for at least two thousand years. Nobody knows if it's true, or how it could be true. The best theory is that he uses mind-state computer backups and clone bodies, but it shouldn't be possible to retain that much memory in a Human being's brain."

"Well, that's unexpected," Robert murmured. Before any of them could ask he projected the incoming call onto the holotable.

The visage of Sidney Hank appeared, wearing a fine business suit and seated in a high office chair emblazoned with the winged Moebius. He took a small sip of what looked like his favored brandy. "I've been waiting for this call," he said. "You finished decoding the book up to the poem?"

A number of the others blinked in surprise, but Robert simply nodded. "I'm not surprised you know," he said. "But yeah."

"I always thought the poem was a little self-indulgent," Hank remarked, as if confiding a secret. "But the old man had his quirks. Anyway, now you need the directions to A Famoso. It won't be easy. It's at a meta-stable point in the Fracture. Think of it as an oasis of space-time stability. You won't enjoy the experience getting there."

"Oh, I was already sure of that. But Ledosh was ready to die to get us the book," Robert replied. "So we'll go anyway."

"Good for you, Captain, that's the spirit." Hank grinned. His eyes never moved, nor did his hands, but Robert noted data coming in on an encrypted subchannel. "These are the necessary coordinates to find the fortress. Be there within forty-eight hours. Hank out."

After his image disappeared Robert relayed the coordinates to the system. "Looks like it's outside of NEUROM or Aurigan space," he said. "We should be safe taking the Jayhawk, but we'll have to leave now to get there within the time limit."

"Then you had better depart immediately," Kaveri said. "I imagine that given the message left in the book, you will be bringing Commander Meridina and Commander Jarod?"

"I think it's wise to," he replied. "Will you be okay with that?"

Kaveri nodded. "Commander Locarno has command experience, and Lieutenant Tra'dur has filled in the role before. We will be fine. Better, perhaps, than you, given what I have learned of the Fracture's effects upon telepaths and metaphysically-gifted people."

"Oh, this part is going to suck, no doubt about that." Lucy stood alongside Jarod.

"I will have a jump to S0T5 prepared for you," she said. "The spatial aspect of an attempted jump to Kerkyra should get you within the range you need, if we are fortunate."

"Thanks." Robert nodded to her. He followed it up with a nod to the others. "It's about time we received answers."

They agreed, and as one they left the lab.




In his private office on the Villa Straylight, Sidney Hank stared into space for a few moments. A small sigh of resignation came next, after which he stood. "Dionysus."

"Yes?"

"Alert Black that I need Green's services. Blue's as well, if he can find her. And have Ms. Montague report to him as well. And for the hard part, activate the hyperwave transceiver." As he spoke Hank approached the control to his secret room. It opened. He stepped in and let his eyes wander to the images on the wall. Remembering the good times, and the desperate, that the images represented, he went to the box in the middle of the room. He considered the vast amount of time he'd waited for this moment and all it portended before he picked it up.

When he emerged back into his office, the blue outline of a figure in repose appeared. The Alekto looked relaxed and confident, which was not uncommon for her, but which Hank’s own brutal experience told him was highly deceptive. Hank ignored the part of his mind that recognized he should be intimidated as hell by her power, even with the logic routines from Dionysus bolstering that sense.

She surveyed him, curious and expectant. He held up the box. "It's time," he said. "Dale and his people are on the way to A Famoso."

"Very well." The look on her face was not quite contentment, nor satisfaction. Just a faint bit of eagerness, he thought. "We'll meet you there, and I'll decide once and for all whether these children are the ones we've waited so long for."

“Why do you think you’re the one who gets to make that decision?”

The Alekto laughed. “Well, the Doctor isn’t going to be there, is he?” She paused, and then looked at him with an expression that conveyed earnest seriousness, an almost impossibly rare emotion in the mercurial and dangerous creature he now faced. “Hank, we have to get this right. Trust me for what I’m good at.”




The dawn sky over New Liberty was chasing away the vestiges of night over Julia's head while she led Miko through another set of forms. She found special enjoyment in going through them herself given her stress over Dr. Schneider and her concerns about the psychiatrist's motives.

When the final form finished, Julia was pleased to note how well Miko went through the entire set. As much as Miko preferred more direct exertion of energy, Julia thought she was clearly coming to grips with the principles of t'ai chi. "Miko, maybe it's time to try something new," she said, putting confidence in her voice to encourage her student.

"A new form, Sifu?" Miko asked politely.

"Yes and no. Come here."

Julia led Miko to the lake shore while admiring the shimmering dawn light on its crystal blue surface. Once they were up to the shore she moved into a stance and made a push-pull motion with her arms. Miko stated doing the same. "I want you to concentrate on that," she said, stopping for the moment. "Keep that motion up."

"This is a Waterbending push-pull teaching form," Miko said. "I… it's never worked for me." Her eyes focused on the water, as if she could command it to obey with the intensity of her stare alone.

"Don't focus on the water," Julia said. "Focus on your form. Feel the fluid motion in your body as you follow the form. Think of what it means to be fluid, to be water. Imagine your energy ready to shift itself in any given direction and follow the flow of the environment around it."

Miko did as instructed. She continued the movements and was clearly frustrated at the lack of results, but she didn't give up. Julia watched her breathing relax. Her movement became more fluid, not relaxed but not rigid. Her arms were a continuous flow, forward and backward, push and pull.

The surface of the water rippled.

Julia heard it instead of seeing it. She turned her head and looked down. Miko's eyes journeyed in the same direction. They widened as the surface of the lake rippled in time with her arms, moving back and forth as if a wave generator was working on its surface.

She did it, Julia thought, and a broad smile crossed her face. After weeks of worry that she would ultimately hold Miko back, trying to teach her a skill she could never actually perform herself, she finally had proof she was doing right by her new friend and student. She's doing it! She's moving the water!

The water movement stopped because Miko stopped. She lifted her arms in triumph and shrieked joyfully into the air. "I'm Waterbending! I'm actually Waterbending!" She turned and threw her arms around Julia in a tight hug.

"Run!"

The cry pierced the air and drew their attention, confused as it was. Julia recognized Liara as she ran up the lake path toward them, a mass effect pistol in one hand while the other waved frantically. "Run now!" she shouted. "They're tracking you, they're after you!"

Julia still wasn't sure what Liara meant. But given the year she'd had, and what the others had gone through over it, she wasn't about to stand around. She grabbed Miko by the hand and raced in the same general direction as Liara. Behind them, Julia heard gunfire, and the sound of projectiles striking the ground behind them. Once she knew Miko was following she brought her left forearm up. "Omnitool, emergency call to Colony Security, now."

The omnitool's screen came up with an error. There was no signal. She was being jammed.

Something must be jamming the planetary comms, she thought, as that was the only thing that made sense. We have to get back to the Colony.

They met up with Liara as they approached the clearing before the park exit. There were no trees here for at least forty meters in any direction and the concrete path was laid out.

At the exit the trees came back together, creating a wall of said trees for the exterior view of the parik. From those trees came two figures. One was, like Liara, an Asari, of a purple complexion, and the other was a red-colored Salarian. Both were in white and yellow uniforms with a big black circle insignia. They both raised firearms where they stood.

Julia stopped, trying to keep them from opening fire while she considered new options.

Their situation only got worse, however, as their pursuers came up behind them. They were another pair of Salarians carrying assault rifles with the same armor.

"Eclipse mercenaries," Liara said, sounding as if she would hiss the words.

There was no reply from them while more movement came from the trees. Julia looked in horror at one of the figures. He was one of the young Cameroonian musicians who played in the square. But now he looked pale and gaunt. His eyes were covered by a set of sunglasses, and his face was vacant of emotion.

The figure beside him had the same pale skin and sunglasses, although the skin tone was much lighter. She smiled viciously. "The Dawn-Bearer, as expected."

Her voice rasped and crackled. It reminded Julia of the 'Pretender' she'd fought on Noveria, who'd nearly killed her, Angel, and Richmond with inhuman strength. “Nyuru, I give you the Dawn-Bearer.” She pitched her voice to the mercenaries. “Kill the others, Contain Captain Andreys!” The woman idly produced a pistol as a personal shield glimmered around her. “We have five minutes to kill them before there’s a response.”

The musician began to advance toward Julia with a snarl.
"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 »

Teaser


The mercenaries converged on Miko. They took no chances and opened fire at once, mass effect rifles chattering and micro-rockets salvoing from under-barrel launchers. They were attacking Miko like she was a tank, not a random girl practicing in the park. She had a split second to respond, trembling as she spun away and called into herself a wall of fire that detonated the rockets in mid-air.

With the mercs concentrating on Miko, Liara was left alone. She called forth a biotic attack to pin the mysterious woman in the darkness of the trees with a singularity. Her target moved faster than seemed possible, and easily evaded it. Even as she did, pulse fire came from the woman’s new position, unerringly accurate. Liara knew how dangerous the game she had been playing was… So the lightweight body armour plate she had been wearing on her torso kept her from being killed instantly as the pulse fire tore into it and flung her off her feet and backwards.

With a smirk, the woman drew a second gun, letting the first fall to a lanyard. She looked sharply for Miko as the woman used her Firebending to drive the Mercs back into cover. They were all the finest veterans, highly equipped, and two of them were biotics who were pushing Miko to the limit. She already had a wound from a gunshot on her arm and it was slowing her bending down.

Julia couldn’t do much about anything, because the musician with his blank eyes was moving as fast as the others before him. He had lunged in a blur of motion and flung her backwards across the stone, slamming down into the rocks of the walkway around the lake, and then was on top of her a moment later. All of her skill had just served to keep her from slamming her head into the rocks as she fell and skidded to a stop under the enormous blow. Ugh, I think that was another rib, she thought as the pain flared.

Then she had other problems. The man was over her, pinning her down with a knife in one hand and … Fangs descending from his teeth. Even after all this, Julia felt a moment of incomprehending shock and terror. Vampires. Pretenders are Vampires.

But the dead man hesitated. And in a moment’s hope, Julia knew why. The simple silver band necklace of her mother’s had been a nice choice for a morning exercising out in the park. Now it symbolically stood between her and death.

As Miko battled the mercenaries, the Pretender woman who had driven Liara out of the fray waited for her chance with the second gun, stepping from the shadows into the dim pre-dawn light and levelling it. In a glimmer of light, Liara, struggling to her feet, saw what the gun was, and gasped in horror.

It was a Romulan disruptor pistol. And Liara had no doubt at all that the calm and cool woman had it set to disintegrate.

Aiming at Miko’s back as the woman finally engulfed one of the mercenaries in flames, there was a smirk on that pale face with plump red lips and sunglasses on before dawn. She pulled the trigger like a practiced killer and the green beam lanced out.

Miko spun around just in time to be caught full-on the chest by the beam. Liara felt a scream die in her lips as she charged her biotics for the attack. Too Late, Goddess!

But Miko’s eyes were glowing white, and the beam slammed into a whirling wind and rings of fire around her instead of striking her body, being absorbed and refracted by the immense power surging from within Miko. Her attacker’s face twisted into a grimace. “Raava.” She held down the trigger, and the sheer energies of the horrifying disintegrating weapon pitted themselves against the Avatar State as the Pretender drained the charge trying to burn through.

And then Miko felt it, through the Avatar State. She was the Avatar, she was complete… And through the defences she had raised, she was being attacked again anyway. A mind pressed into her own, dark and corrupted. It commanded her to stillness, it tried to pull a distinction between her and the Avatar, to bleed pure fear into her. You don’t know bending, you can’t hold this, you are imperfect, behind in your training…

The thoughts crept like corrosion into Miko’s mind.

Julia’s necklace had lasted long enough for the attacker to claw and battery at her neck with gloved hands until awkwardly ripping it off. She fought back with a pocket knife, lunging up to just break the blade off in his chest to no effect. For all that, this was an unskilled creature, acting almost like an animal, incomprehending in how he handled his hands and body. But Hungry.

And then his head exploded from his body in a whirling motion of a stark silver blade which glinted in the rising light. It rolled across the stone as the headless body toppled back down onto Julia, and she struggled to kick it up, looking up.

A short figure in a barnous stood there with a scarf wrapped over where her eyes should be and long curly black hair descending on her back. She held a silver blade dripping with dark red dead blood and flecked with bits of flesh and bone.

“Rebecca,” she called out, sharply. “I’m going to give you the rest you deserved all those years ago!”

The Pretender woman deactivated the disruptor and whipped around, leaving Miko in the Avatar State to regain her strength and turn on the mercs around her. She reached out and flipped up an object which extended into a memory-metal sword, and began to retreat. “Come at me, bitch,” she responded with a growl.

The woman in the barnous, no eyes required, ran straight for her. The two swords clashed sharply in the rising sun, and clashed again. Each time that the Pretender struck with her blade, she found it met with silver that bent, chipped, and yielded, but revealed a steel core beneath that held. The little blindfolded woman always knew where her opponent was in time to match the blade against blade.

Freed from the telepathic attack, Miko turned her power on the Eclipse mercenaries. With the Avatar State all of the elements, even those she hadn't trained fully with, were at her command. With a swing of her leg she carved grass and earth from beneath them, throwing them off their feet. The Asari grimaced and kept her footing with a backward jump. She threw a biotic bolt at Miko that was leapt over effortlessly, the air beneath Miko propelling her into the air. Once airborne she twisted and drew the same air with her, projecting it forward in a tightly-packed funnel cloud that slammed into the Asari with all the strength of a miniature tornado. The woman went flying back down the path. A rapid series of hand gestures summoned stone from beneath the lush grass, stone that wrapped around the Asari's limbs and waist to pin her in place.

The Salarians recovered. The red-skinned Salarian gave the order to fire only to be taken from the side by a biotic bolt that sent him spinning skyward. Still in the fight, Liara focused her biotic gifts into an even larger bolt, one that burst into a singularity once it was over the remaining Salarians. The pull of the generated dark matter drew them into the air.

Miko raised her hands, summoning twin funnels of tightly-packed air, with stone and fire mixed within. With a single downward gesture she struck the Salarians with these weapons. Liara's singularity burst at the same time, as she willed the energies to expand outward in a brief explosion of dark matter. The twin strike put both down for the count, leaving them wounded and unconscious.

As Miko swung to assist the mysterious woman, she saw the blades skitter together and the Pretender lean down with her strength into Ms. Blindfold. For a moment it seemed like she would drive the shorter woman into the ground. Then Blindfold released her blade with one hand and let herself be driven to the side, but the bottom dropped out from the Pretender she was fighting; the woman toppled forward as her weight shifted.

With the heavy leather gloves she wore, Ms. Blindfold grabbed the blade of her own weapon and bunted it back up into the torso of her opponent, sliding her hand down to the crossguard. She pulled hard and flicked the blade back across the woman’s chest. A horrible screaming erupted across the park as the wound seemed to hiss, and the blindfolded woman rose, twisting the blade in deeper and deeper.

“It was done fairly,” she said, ‘looking’ down as the figure below her toppled into the paving stones, and twitched, and finally did not move any longer as the silvered blade was thrust up into the neck from below. “No Powers, no lightsabre. No eyes,” she smirked and then shook her head slowly, and drawing the blade back from the corpse, dropped to her knees--and tenderly kissed the forehead of the rotted, emaciated corpse which was all that was left on the ground. “Rest easy. I have freed your body.”

As Julia rose, she realised the universal translator on her omnitool was translating the woman’s words for her, and through the pain, she haltingly checked the original language.

Old New Franconian. The language unique to S0T5, the legendary tongue of the Earthreign.

The sun rose over the park, and the woman rose to face it. Julia realised who they were dealing with now. She’d seen the images. The resemblance left her no doubt. “Yellow,” Julia said.

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain Andreys, but we need to go now. They will not stop, and the rest of the Dawn-Bearers need you. My ship is waiting.”

"Those things… I remember the one on Noveria, but are they actually—"

"Yes and no,” Yellow answered, preempting her. “They’re creatures of sapient nightmare. They are formed by feeding on fear. But once they do… They become as real as matters for your comprehension, anyway. You will learn more, but we must go."

"Not without them," Julia insisted, noting the injuries on her comrades. Now that the danger was past Miko was back to normal, her amber-toned eyes showing instead of the solid white of before. She was looking to the gunshot wound on her arm with a grimace, as if just remembering she was hit. Liara looked just as worse for wear.

Instead of the opposition she'd anticipated, Yellow simply nodded. Before Julia could say anything else, the all-too-familiar sensation of a Darglan transporter whisked them away from the battle site.




Alone in the fractally-twisted spaces of the Fracture of Universe S0T5, in spaces that once hailed the Terran Reich, the legendary Earthreign, as their ruler, the Alliance vessel Jayhawk continued its solitary flight at her top speed of Warp 6.

Inside the cockpit the ship's official master, Captain Robert Dale, Paladin of the Alliance, felt like he wanted to vomit. The same could be said for the two present members of his operations team, as Gina Inviere and Lieutenant Talara shared his metaphysical gifts and thus the sensitivity to the wrongness that existed within the Fracture.

The only person in the cockpit who wasn't pale and nauseated was Lieutenant Commander Jarod, Operations Officer from the Aurora, who was the natural choice for pilot for the moment given his relative insensitivity to the wrongness of the Fracture. "We'll be there soon," he said. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I'm going to vomit," Robert answered weakly. He glanced to the systems screen he was technically manning. The warp drives on the Jayhawk were running at their maximum potential, something they weren't meant to do indefinitely. They were starting to push the ship like it'd never been pushed before. He tapped a button on the console. "Engineering. Lucy, looks like the drive's getting a little hot."

"It's the field intensity, I'm trying to compensate but it's not easy." Her voice betrayed she was suffering just as they were. "Why did this damn place have to be in the Fracture? I feel like I'm going to hurl all over the engines."

"If we're right, this was a battle from the height of a war with the Darkness," Robert said. "A war that probably caused the Fracture in the first place. We can't be surprised this place exists inside of it."

"There's still a lot we have to learn about that old war," Jarod said. "The information we have on it is sketchy. We haven't found any Darglan accounts in either of the S4W8 databases, or any databases recovered from Darglan space."

"Maybe the Darglan didn't want to remember the war, as a people," Talara suggested. "It marked the end of their interuniversal civilization."

As she spoke, Robert saw some color return to her bronze-toned face. Her eyes, with their mostly-Human appearance save the lavender dot in the center of her irises, seemed to focus more.

He felt it too. The sense of wrongness was fading.

"I'm picking up a large mass ahead," Jarod said. "Bringing us out of warp in one minute."

As those final seconds passed by, Meridina arrived from the quarters she was sharing with Lucy, looking better than she had before going to rest. Lucy arrived after her just in time for Jarod to bring the ship out of warp.

"Well, that's certainly impressive," Robert remarked.

Through the cockpit's front windows was the sight that fascinated them all. Ahead of their ship was a massive sphere of metal, broken and battered with multiple openings in the shell. Surrounding the sphere was a great cloud of debris, hugging it like an aura, with pieces small enough to fit in a fist and large enough to rival even the Aurora in size. The sphere itself was ninety kilometers in diameter, completely stupendous in size, second only to the colossal Dyson Sphere found in S5T3.

As they approached the larger pieces of debris became recognizable. "Vengeur-class," Jarod noted. "There must have been dozens of them at least. And a whole bunch of other ships we don't recognize."

Lucy set a station for sensor readings. "Jarod, look at this elemental comparison. Is that what I think it is?"

Jarod glanced quickly at the results from one of the scanners. "Its Darglan," he said. More results showed. "And that might actually be a piece of bio-armored hull. The composition suggests Vorlon bio-armor."

"The Vorlons were here?" Robert stared ahead as the debris loomed larger.

"Looks like it. Another of the samples is coming up as a ninety-five percent match to Apexai-made alloys. And there's even more here the sensors don't recognize."

As he spoke the others were already feeling something different. "They were desperate," Gina said softly. "I can feel it here."

Talara nodded. "I'm feeling terror. They knew they would probably die, and they were terrified of what they were fighting."

"But they were still holding." Lucy's expression was grim. "Desperate, terrified, and utterly defiant."

Robert swallowed. "I recognize this feeling," he said, concentrating on an old wrongness surrounding the area. "I've felt this before. On Gamma Piratus."

"I can feel the deaths." Even without the nausea of the Fracture present, Meridina's face was pale. Besides feeling what the others sensed, her telepathic talents felt the mass death-traces of people who'd died in the hulks they were now flying around. Many had been telepaths and left stronger traces. Proud, terrified, desperate, defiant, it all mixed together.

The debris field thickened as they closed on the sphere, forcing greater maneuvering from Jarod. He flew them between the shattered pieces of one of the Vengeur-class dreadnoughts. As they emerged out the other end they were presented with another piece of debris, this in the shape of a tall, red-and-white vertical hammerhead bow with a blown weapon turret on the side. Jarod had to bank the Jayhawk to starboard, hard, to evade it, then come back to his original heading to avoid the burnt silver of a catamaran-shaped hulk.

Around them, they could feel a further unease, it felt like something was lurking in the background around them, a fundamental tension. Nobody could place it, but it left them all on edge.

"We're almost there," Lucy noted, even as a familiar-looking hulk loomed ahead. Everyone felt a little ache in their hearts at the broken ruin of a Darglan Emergency Cruiser, a sister to their own Aurora.

Beyond the feelings of the others, Robert felt like he could see what happened back then. In a corner of his being he imagined the great dark forms, ships that seemed to be made of living shadow, and the vicious onslaught of these vessels as they seemed to eliminate deflectors and crumple armor to dust, destroying and slaughtering the defenders of the sphere by the dozen. He wondered if it was his imagination, or in moments, if it might be a real memory.

The sphere itself loomed ahead of them. Jarod guided them toward its broken exterior while Lucy returned her attention to the sensors. "Most of the station is in vacuum," she said. "I can't tell if it's from battle damage or if someone deliberately decompressed the interior. But I'm picking up a sign of a remnant atmosphere toward the central core. Looks like it's still sealed against vacuum."

"Any sign of a place to land?" Robert asked.

"Nothing. I'm not sure of any way to directly access the intact portion save for beaming in."

A tone filled the cockpit. Gina checked her station. "We're getting a signal from inside the station. It's a message, naming all of us except Talara. 'Welcome to A Famoso. We will meet you in the Garden."

"Nice to get an invitation, like that's not ominous as hell," Jarod remarked. "So we all go?"

"We'll go." Robert stood and nodded once to Talara. "Talara, beam us over and keep watch. Let us know if you pick anything up."

"Yes sir," she answered dutifully.




The Jayhawk's transport capacity meant that the sensitives beamed over first. They took a moment to sense for immediate danger while Lucy verified the atmosphere with her omnitool scanners. "It's fully breathable," she said, removing her breathing mask and returning it to the folds of her robe. The others did the same. Lucy and Gina had the blue robes Gersallians used for field Knights of Swenya while Meridina donned a brown field robe like Robert's own. The ladies had purple armor while Robert's was an azure blue shade.

Another burst of light formed. Jarod appeared, wearing a field action uniform with a pulse pistol in his hip holster. "Well, I can see why it's called a garden," he mused.

The structure they were within teemed with plant life and flowing water, vast enough that the water currents included an active waterfall. "Reminds me of what Scotty said about the Genesis Project cave," Robert said, taking in the sight.

They walked on, following a stone-laid path toward a central piazza in the lush space. The scents were fully natural, wafting down from flower-bearing trees. It was hard to imagine they were in the middle of an ancient space station, not on a planet somewhere. The vast open space stretched on for kilometres all around them.

The piazza itself had four approaches, each a stone-hewn path. There were old benches and chairs present, as well as rose bushes. In the piazza center the floor was carved marble, forming an eagle insignia. Robert recognized it from the briefing materials from the Huascar's discovery in the Cyrannus Cluster: it was the symbol of the Terran Reign, with its Old New Franconian declaration of Mes Werke, damiu que mon Leutle ne soit esklaven sind. "My work, all so that my people shall never again be slaves".

As they approached, he felt something familiar. A trace left long ago, the metaphysical equivalent of a remnant sunbeam from a once-risen sun. I remember this, he thought. I felt it… where? After a moment's consideration he remembered. Umintamil. It was in Umintamil. His eyes widened as he considered what that meant. The old Gersallian monastery where he spent six weeks trying to get stronger control over his expanded powers was known as once being a favored spot for Swenya, in her late years, to meditate and reflect on her life, and mourn those who had passed. If he felt the same remnant light here was he did there…

...then Swenya herself had been to this place, long ago.

But more than that, it was clear that something significant happened in this place. An act that he felt was, in some way, literally awesome, such that it left a mark for sensitives like him to sense.

Meridina looked around at the piazza, her face full of wonder. "I can feel it. She was here." Her voice was barely a breath. "Swenya was here."

"I feel it too," Lucy said. "Something happened here. It's left a… mark of some kind."

Jarod was still scanning quietly. "It's not something that shows up on sensors. Anything else you can—"

The four felt the danger all at once, the dark and malevolent shadow of a threat. A shadow they remembered. Their lightsabers hissed to life in unison.

Then the power came, pure and strong, nearly knocking them off their feet when the wave hit. In the middle of the plaza a single dark form slammed into the ground. They knew who the figure would be even without looking toward her, seeing the ashen gray complexion and the eyes as red as burning coals.

"Tisiphone," Robert hissed.

The Fury of NEUROM sneered at his reaction. "I won't be holding back this time, worms!"

The attack came fast, and it came like a sudden storm. Red lightsaber blades flashed to life, one in each hand, and in the blink of an eye she was in their midst. Her speed was astonishing and her ferocity enough to startle them all. Her lightsabers slashed independent of the raw force that knocked them backward and interrupted their attacks on her.

Jarod watched, nearly struck dumb with awe. He was used to his friends and comrades going through foes with ease, but here they were, with a four to one advantage, and their foe was outfighting them all at once. One by one her strikes burnt armor and robe, even skin. Bursts of sheer will threw them to the ground the moment their guard was down.

As the others were forced away, Gina thought she had an opening and rushed in. The Tisiphone whirled, forcing the blue blade away from her back and bringing her foot up. She kicked Gina in the mouth with enough force to smash bone and break teeth, causing her to spin and hit the ground, blood spurting from her lips. Tisiphone loomed over her as if to strike Gina down before she could recover.

Desperate to help, Jarod went for his pulse pistol and fired. Even with her back turned one of the Tisiphone's blades flashed backward, catching the blast and batting it off into the bushes. She turned on him and snarled. "Ignorant child, you dare to call yourself a 'Pretender'? You would be killed for that on many worlds." She charged at him.

Meridina got back to her feet and lashed out with her mind, relying on her telepathic power to attack their foe. What she encountered was utter, vicious darkness, a deep well of anger and hatred and desire for power that defied reason. Just touching it was agony and she had to break off the attack probe, at which point Tisiphone tossed her back to the ground.

Robert, back on his knees, summoned his strength and sent a wall of force at the Fury. She sensed it coming and met force with force, throwing it back at him and sending him flying into the bushes of the piazza.

This left nobody to stand between the Tisiphone and Jarod, and she went in for the kill. Jarod scrambled backward, firing as he did, just for each bolt to be deflected by the Tisiphone's crimson lightsabers. Instinctive fear filled him at the sight of his charging foe, telling him there was nothing he could do to stop her from slicing him into pieces.

A moment before her lightsabers could come down on him, Lucy appeared between them. Her blue lightsaber met the Tisiphone's weapons and stopped them. Her expression was locked into grim determination to counter the proud sneer that curled the Tisiphone's black lips.

Jarod scrambled away, giving Lucy the ground she needed as the full fury of the Tisiphone came down on her, a living crimson whirlwind battering at Lucy's blue blade. Her foe was the quickest she'd ever fought, with a vicious darkness unlike any she'd encountered before. She felt fear at the power of this adversary and, with effort, pushed it away, relying on her instincts empowered by the Flow of Life. They guided her arms and her blade, moving them inhumanly fast to block the flurry of strikes that came next. The Tisiphone seemed determined to kill her, and she would not let that happen.

After several moments of their duel the Tisiphone's sneer turned into a grin. "Now that’s more worthy," she purred. "If only we'd fought on Deep Space Nine, I might have gotten greater satisfaction in my victory."

Lucy didn't react to the taunt. She couldn't let herself react to anything, not to her fear, not to her worry over her comrades, or her anger at this foe for hurting them. She ignored all emotions and centered herself on her connection to the Flow of Life. She let it guide her as the attack resumed, even more ferocious than before. It took everything she had to deflect the storm of blows the Tisiphone rained upon her. Her lightsaber movements had to be quick and had to be exact to resist.

It was almost more than she could manage. Lucy felt pressed to the limits of her speed, her endurance, and her focus, but she found the strength to keep her poise. She turned and backed away, surrendering ground without letting herself be pinned into place. She felt each blow coming before it could land and blocked it as necessary, allowing only glancing blows that singed and stung but did not inflict wounds.

Her fighting only seemed to make the Tisiphone more determined to strike her down. The Tisiphone whirled about Lucy, testing her defense again and again. "I can sense you faltering, girl," she hissed. "You are not my equal."

"I won't let you harm my friends." The remark was made without rancor or even passion. It was a matter of fact statement, a declaration of intent.

Robert and Meridina were recovering again. They tried to go in and help Lucy. The Tisiphone dodged a wave of force from Robert and used one of her blades to stop Meridina's attack. She whirled away from Lucy for a moment and threw Meridina into Robert with a precise wall of force. She turned back as Lucy came for her, weapon raised, and their blades again locked.

The Tisiphone growled and unleashed her will against Lucy to knock her back. She succeeded only partially, as Lucy quickly recovered. Again they rushed to meet each other.

There was a blur of motion. Another figure appeared between them. Twin ruby blades came from the bone-crafted weapon in her hands, a lightsaber that somehow packed two blades into the same space as one, that intercepted the weapons of both. A masked face with a turban to cover the head looked toward Tisiphone and then Lucy. "This battle is over," the figure declared with an electronically distorted voice.




Undiscovered Frontier
"The Closed Circle"





“Stand down, Tisiphone,” the voice instructed next, and the mask turned levelly to face Lucy. “Stand down, Lucilla,” it added, in scratchy, metallic overtones.

Lucy refused, though she fell back from the strange figure, back toward her friends who held their blades at the ready. Conversely, the Tisiphone retreated as ordered, stepping back and deactivating her lightsabres to stand with a bemused smirk curled on her lips as she flipped her hood back up and gazed at them, looking confident and unconcerned.

Lucy slowly fell in with the others. They could all feel it, except for Jarod: The second being had no presence in the Flow of Life, no connection to it like their own. Not light, not dark. None.

“If you were wise, you would obey,” Tisiphone spoke again, “for you face more power than you can possibly imagine: the ultimate weapon.”

“That’s enough,” the figure rejoindered, shooting a sharp, masked glance back to the Tisiphone.

Though he couldn’t sense the masked figure, Robert could sense that there was enormous power in the being, that Tisiphone was being perfectly honest. He lowered his weapon and extinguished the blade.

“Who are you?” he challenged. “Why did you let Tisiphone attack us?”

“Attack? If this was an attack, you’d be dead,” Tisiphone laughed, only for the figure to whip up a gloved hand, raised in a stop gesture at the palm. Once again the Tisiphone went silent, and the masked figure refused to answer.

“Since she isn’t feeling very talkative right now, I thought I’d mention that I always call her ‘Neanderthal’,” a voice rang out as a small party moved out from some trees and down the path toward the others.

Robert shot a look at the familiar sound. It was Sidney Hank, approaching from the opposite direction, wearing a business suit as if he were on his way to a board meeting. At his side, carrying a case, was the mysterious agent Mr. Black that Meridina recognized from Noveria. Another woman, vaguely white-Hispanic and with a mask with a visible HUD lowered over her upper face, stood at his opposite side, fingering a lightsabre. And Scirocco Montague, the immensely powerful telepath in Sidney's employ who'd once single-handedly killed an Aristo, hung behind her, staring almost entranced at the cowled and masked figure that Sidney had just called the Neanderthal.

Lucy swore she heard a soft snarl from under the mask.

“Impertinent as ever, Sidney,” they most definitely heard.

Hank stopped walking. The others halted with him. “Take the mask off. I know exactly what you look like already and I can show all the others if I feel like it.”

The left hand of the figure reached over and pulled the right glove from her hand, revealing delicately white-alabaster skin that was flawlessly perfect, with pale nails. Then, ever so methodically, and almost reverently, she unclasped the mask from the turban, and slowly peeled it to the side and down.

It revealed a woman, better described as handsome than beautiful, but still aethereally perfect. Her brow was heavy and sharp, but her eyes vivid and green, her hair red, chin prominent. Pulling the turban off with the mask, her red hair cascaded down her back. “You will call me Alekto,” she instructed simply, as she dropped mask and turban to the ground beside her. “And Sidney, you will perhaps reflect on the fact that when the Circle is closed, I may be far less tolerant of your impertinence.”

"I suspect we'll both be reconsidering our relationship once the Circle is closed," he replied, not bothering to react directly to the offered threat. "Although let's be honest, we'll still have a common interest." He didn't bother elaborating on it.

Sensing Lucy's own impatience and feeling some of his own, Robert imposed a diplomatic tone to his voice. "Well, now that we're all here, we have questions. About this Circle that keeps getting mentioned, what it has to do with the Brotherhood of Kohbal, and the location of Reshan's Temple." He looked from Sidney to the Alekto and back. "And that's not mentioning the ancient war that was fought here, a war that's still shaping the Multiverse today."

"The Multiverse has long been shaped by the Darkness," the Alekto said. "Countless civilizations have fallen at their hands. Whole universes purged of light and life. That is all you need to know at this time."

"The Circle's the urgent matter," Sidney said in agreement. "Everything depends on keeping it intact."

"And the Circle is?" Lucy asked. "Some kind of object in Reshan's Temple?"

"The Circle is not an object, girl, it is a metaphorical construct." The Alekto gave her an annoyed look. "One that I was not pleased to learn."

"There'll be a day when you learn what the Circle is, but right now, even learning about it would put it at risk," Sidney remarked. "What you need to know now is that Reshan's Temple is necessary to keeping it intact. There is something kept there, something you need to gain access to."

"Holy crap."

The words drew everyone's attention to Jarod. He was staring at the Alekto intently. He swallowed. "That word. 'Alekto'." His eyes faced Robert and then Meridina. "It's Ancient Greek. It's the name of one of the Furies."

"As is Tisiphone," Robert remembered.

"Yes, but the name itself has a meaning," Jarod continued. "Translated from Ancient Greek, it means unending, or endless."

The Alekto shot a sharp look at Jarod, but rather than speak, just smirked.

The word struck a chord in the others, save Gina. "As in 'the Endless'?" Meridina asked him.

Jarod nodded, his mind making it clear that was exactly what he was thinking.

She turned her head to face the Alekto, who met her eyes. Interest and pride shined in them. Meridina searched her own memories and felt where the familiarity she was feeling came from. "You," she said. "You were at the judgement of the Darglan millennia ago." As she spoke those words the memory of the ancient recording came back easily.

"I was," she said. "I always felt their punishment was lax, given the devastation their irresponsibility wrought. You think of the Darglan as innocent explorers; to everyone who actually had to deal with them, they were gullible idiots who got trillions of people killed. But that is irrelevant to the matter at hand." Those green eyes focused intently on Meridina, to the exclusion of the others. "Sidney believes you are the best candidates to complete the Circle, but you are woefully lacking in skill. I require a test if I am to be convinced you are capable of meeting the challenges involved."

"Oh, another test, I love those," Lucy groused sarcastically. "Are you going to have your pet swevyra'kse try to dice us into pieces again?"

Tisiphone's eyes blazed with readiness, but the Alekto shook her head. "Nothing so difficult, child. You will actually have a hope of completing this one.” Her expression turned sharp, and she stared directly at Merdinia. “I want to see if you are sapient, or an animal. Come here.”

She reached down into the folds of her robe and produced a rectangular box, one side of which seemed a black well of emptiness.

“The rules are simple, Meridinia,” The Alekto said with a coldly unflinching face. “Put your hand inside the box. No matter what happens, don’t take it out. If you do, you will die.”

Meridina's eyes focused on the box. Robert stepped up beside her, frowning. "You're not killing her, not over something like this," he insisted. "That's not necessary."

“The Box only allows you to kill yourself. I must know,” The Alekto shot a look at Sidney as if to preemptively quell him.

"She doesn't mean me immediate harm," Meridina said softly. "None that I can sense." She stepped forward. "And our lives are already at risk. If this will lead us to the secrets Mastrash Ledosh died to protect, I will do it."

The box was held up to her. Meridina's senses felt nothing particular about. Her life was not threatened by the box itself. But she did feel unsettled by it. The others were too, severely, and the tension in the piazza was increasing steadily.

With her eyes on the Alekto, Meridina put her right hand into the box.

Her hand caught fire.

At least, that's how it felt. The pain shot through her hand as if she'd dipped it in flaming acid. Her face twisted into a wince and she nearly cried out from the intensity of it.

There was something else to it, something more intense. She knew, she absolutely knew, that her hand was being melted, being destroyed. It was burning in chemical agony, flesh was melting away to reveal muscle and tendon and below it bone. It was being utterly obliterated. Every biophysical instinct in her entire body screamed for her to take it out instantly, to quench the pain.

This is a test. She focused on the light of Swenya that she had felt around her. She felt that light, gently encapsulating her, her existence, her feelings, her determination to do Good and Right by the Code. If the price of this was that The Alekto would take her hand, she was prepared to give it.

The Alekto watched rigidly, betraying no emotion. Her eyes did not flicker, even as Sidney watched her sharply.

Sharply from across the gap between the two groups, the woman named Green and Tisiphone exchanged a glance, the glance leaving little doubt at Green’s disgust, or the fact that the two of them knew each other from the past.

Meridina felt her heartbeat and her breathing slow as the unimaginable agony continued, and yet she didn’t have the slightest ability to faint even if she wanted to. The impulsive temptation to remove her hand… Slowly began to fade. Her calmness at the Flow of Life settled her. Her hand was gone, and it was gone to a purpose she would understand. Swenya was here, with her, the Light of Life was here, with her.

“Alekto,” Green said quietly, “she has passed.”

The Alekto started, and nodded. “You are right.”

Tisiphone’s lips curled into a sneering frown. Her Master ignored her.

The Alekto pulled the box away. From the agony evident on Meridina’s face, from what the others could feel of her, Robert and Lucy and Gina had been blanching in horror. But suddenly, as the The Box was pulled back, Meridina’s hand was revealed--perfectly intact, without a blemish on it. Meridina herself, so convincing was the device, stared at it in shock.

“She might just be the one,” the Alekto said, shaking her head and looking bemused. “She might just be the one. And you all might really be the Dawn Bearers.”

“Was that necessary?” Lucy asked at the savage deception and torture, unable to restrain heat in her voice.

“Oh, yes it was, more than you can possibly understand,” the Alekto answered. “We cannot afford mistakes about this, the risk is completely incalculable.”

A tone from Robert's omnitool ended the conversation. He tapped at the blue light that formed over the back of his left hand. "Dale here."

Talara's voice came through the other end. "Sir, another ship just came through the debris field. Sensors show it's a match for the vessel that the woman Yellow used to flee the Citadel."

The Alekto's expression betrayed pleasure. "She's on time."

Moments passed and four columns of light flashed into existence in the piazza. A sharp buzz filled the air and when it ended, four more people were with them. Robert was stunned to see Julia arriving with Yellow, Miko and Dr. T'Soni beside them. He stopped himself from giving her a hug given the uncertain circumstances.

"It went well, I see." The Alekto observed with a matter-of-fact tone and slight shrug.

"Yes, Master," Yellow answered. She turned her head toward Robert and Lucy, allowing them to see her face and the cloth headwrap covering her eyes. "The Pretenders made an effort at Captain Andreys, as you foresaw. They were planning on converting her into a host."

"Well done, Megaera. The enemy is thwarted, and it seems we have our Dawn-Bearers." The Alekto reached into the folds of her robe. When her hand came back out, it was gripping a familiar lightsaber.

"Swenya's Blade," Meridina gasped. "You've had it."

"So that's why you were at Gersal for the attack," Lucy said, glaring at Tisiphone. "You came to steal it!"

"My Master required control of the weapon to ensure the Circle was not jeopardized," Tisiphone responded, smirking. "Besides, had I not been there, you would have died. Your compassion, Lucilla Lucero, is your greatest weakness."

Sidney rolled his eyes. "Alekto, can you reign in your pet assassin again? Her barbs get old.”

“Tisiphone, be polite to company, please. The Circle is not yet closed.”

A glare flashed from the woman.

Megaera, for her part, was looking gently to Sidney’s companions, as if she were communicating despite the lack of sight.

“Black, Green, please mind your duties,” Sidney instructed, though it was gentle.

“I don’t get to socialise much,” Megaera noted, bitterly.

“I didn’t choose your boss,” the head of Pan-Empyrean answered. His fingers snapped and Black lifted the case he was carrying. He pulled it open. Inside, nestled in velvet and protective foam, was another lightsaber, this one crafted of dark-surfaced material. "I'm sure Kohbal's people are going to know the time's coming, and you've got to beat them there," he said, taking the weapon from its place. "You'll need this."

Robert approached and accepted it into his hand. He held it to the side and with his thumb felt out the switch. With a sharp snap-hiss the weapon's blade flashed to light, a brilliant purple in color.

Another snap-hiss came to the air. Lucy was testing Swenya's Blade, which blazed with sapphire brilliance.

"Whose weapon was this?" Robert asked.

"It's known as the Closed Circle," Sidney remarked. "I believe the Gersallians would call this Reshankesh."

Robert extinguished the blade and stared at it. "Reshan's Blade?"

"The old man was quite the duelist, among other things. Even Swenya usually lost their practice duels." Sidney grinned as if he'd been there for them. "Well, at first. Anyway, I've been waiting three thousand years to get that thing out of my vaults. You'll be needing it when you get to Reshan's Temple."

"Why?" Gina asked.

"The blades are the keys to the Temple's inner chamber," Sidney replied. "Without them you can't get in and you can't get what you need. And anyone trying to force their way in without them would be in for a nasty surprise."

"You have the book," said the Alekto, a hint of impatience now in her voice. "And you know how to read it. Don’t think you can just ask us where to go and it’s not another test, either. Reshan would not confide the coordinates with either of us."

"He didn't trust you?" Lucy asked.

"He didn't want to give either of us any temptations," Sidney said. "And he needed someone to keep his weapon safe through the millennia."

"Enough time has been wasted. You still have work to do." The Alekto turned her head toward Yellow a.k.a. Megaera. "You will accompany them, Megaera. See to it that the Circle is kept intact."

Megaera bowed her head. "Yes, Master, of course."

The uncertainty Robert felt from the others was evident. An objection formed and died as he felt the certainty within him that they would need a powerful ally for this fight. "The Brotherhood of Kohbal is dangerous enough that your help will be welcomed," he said. He kept his eyes on Yellow and the Alekto and didn't return the others' bewildered looks.

He could understand why: he felt the darkness that seemed integral to Yellow as a being as easily as they did. Trust wouldn't be easy. But his instincts were certain she'd be necessary.

"Then we are finished here," the Alekto said, and the dismissive tone of her voice was impossible to ignore.

Robert keyed his omnitool. "Talara, we'll be beaming up nine people this time. Tagging them now." He tapped at the omnitool to designate Julia, Miko, Liara, and Yellow.

"Transporting now."

The others beamed out first, leaving Robert for last. The moment the second group was away and Robert was alone, Sidney flashed him a grin. "I see Captain Andreys is hale and hearty," he said, smiling. "I'm glad to see that favor worked out for you in the end."

Robert didn't get a chance to answer before he was whisked away by the Jayhawk transporter.




Once the others were gone, Sidney nodded once toward the Alekto. "Nice to see you again in the flesh, after all of this time. We'll see if we end up making a habit of this."

“If you want, Sidney,” the Alekto answered with a shrug. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Sidney chuckled and waved a tipped salute. At the signal, the masked woman — the one known as Green — tapped at an omnitool interface. A transporter pulled the quartet away, leaving the Alekto and Tisiphone alone in the heart of A Famoso's garden.

The Alekto leveled a look at her subordinate. "I can sense your interest in the Lucero woman. Surely she was not that skilled a duelist to try your talents?"

"I would have beaten her before long," Tisiphone insisted. Her tone turned wistful. "But it has been so very long since I fought an opponent of such mettle. It was a pleasure I didn't expect to have again so soon."

"You mean that she fights like a Jedi." The Alekto's expression turned thoughtful. "Although she has an impertinence, a passion, that is entirely her own. And yet, it feels familiar."

The tone in her voice prompted a certain look from Tisiphone. "Master, you don't think she's…?"

"Time will tell, my Fury," the Alekto answered. "Go and retrieve Yellow's vessel. I wish to return to Xanadu. Preparations must be made."




The Jayhawk flew back out through the debris field, this time under Lucy's control.

In the back of the ship Robert and Julia exchanged a hug. Liara, Miko, and Megaera watched the unexpected reunion quietly while Robert himself noted the tension in Julia's being. He could tell she'd been in a fight, a bad one.

Considering the exchange back in the Garden, Robert pulled away from the hug and turned to Megaera. "Thank you," he said, and he put sincerity into it. "For saving Julia and the others."

"You are welcome.”

"We'll probably be rendezvousing with our main ship shortly…" Robert trailed off and looked to her. “Megaera or Yellow?” he asked, trying to be polite.

“Megaera. Yellow is an old code name,” she laughed.

"I wish I could've been there for you all," he added. "Whatever these Pretender things are…"

"Yellow, Megaera, she said they were living sapient nightmares," Julia said. "I'm still wrapping my head around it. It had fangs, Rob. And it was a Human being just a day or two before. A member of one of the street bands."

"When one of their number kills someone, they turn their victim into a vessel for another of their kind," Megaera said. "That was the fate they had in mind for you."

Robert clenched a fist as he pushed away the thought of losing Julia to something like that. She swallowed and nodded. "Thank you again for stopping them."

"Do you want to rest?" he asked. "I mean, going through that…"

"What I want is to make sure Schneider doesn't torpedo my chance to get my ship back," Julia replied hotly. "I get the feeling she'll use any excuse to deny me, and an 'abrupt disappearance' could work for that."

"If she's that biased against you, Maran will make use of it," Robert assured her. "Besides, from what you've said, you were attacked by more than just vampires or whatever they are. There were Eclipse mercs there. Colony Security will find them, word can get out that you were attacked."

"Who were those aliens anyway?" Miko asked. "The ones with the black circle on their armor? I recognized one was an Asari like Liara."

"The others were Salarians," Liara answered. "A squad of mercenaries from the Eclipse organization. They were hired by the Shadow Broker to kill Captain Andreys."

Robert frowned at that. "A reprisal over us saving Shepard's body?"

He could feel Liara's discomfort and grief as she nodded. "Yes. Feron established a data brokerage on Ilium and we got word of the contract, so I came to New Liberty to see about stopping them. The Broker provided clean IDs for your attackers to enter Alliance space. But I had no idea they were for creatures like that 'Pretender'. I figured whoever was coming was working for the Broker."

Megaera outright giggled. "He may have believed them so, or thought of them as clients, but the Shadow Broker has no idea of what he was dealing with. They had an agenda far beyond killing you."

"Why would they want to make me, what was it you said, a host?" Julia shuddered again at the thought.

"To use your body against your friends. To inflict the maximum grief on them. And ultimately, to keep you from completing the Circle."

"And they'd want that because?"

"Because, Captain Dale, if the Circle is broken, the Darkness will win, and that is precisely what the Pretenders want to see happen."

"Why?"

Before she could give him an answer, the ship intercom chimed. Jarod's voice came over the speakers. "The Aurora just jumped in. Captain Varma is ready to hear what you've learned."

"Then bring us in for a landing, and warn her we might want to meet in Conference Room 1. We've got extra guests along."




The senior officers of the Aurora and Koenig quietly listened as the events at A Famoso and New Liberty were shared with them. Most of them kept glancing toward Megaera, seated at the table with Robert's operations team.

Cat let out one of her customary "squees". "There's actually an intact garden inside A Famoso?! Did you get scans of it? What kind of species did they have growing in the garden? How is the atmosphere and the water flow maintained?!"

Before Robert or the others could reply, Megaera spoke up with a stern voice. "Do not, under any circumstances, try to board the station. There are dangers there you are not prepared to face."

"Well, at least we'll have scans?"

"No, we don't." Lucy looked up from her omnitool and glared at Megaera. "You deleted them. How did you delete our scans of the station?"

A sly grin crossed her face. "I have my ways. We are quite familiar with Darglan technology, after all."

"So you have recovered the Swenyakesh and acquired the weapon of Swenya's mentor Reshan." Kaveri spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. "And they will allow you into the Temple's inner chamber."

"That's what they both said," Robert answered. "They didn't know where to find it, though, and they said nothing about what the book's gibberish would mean."

"Then finding the Temple comes next." Kaveri put her hands together on the table. "Your Paladin authority permitted me an opening to depart T7C8, but I expect to receive orders from Command to either return or head to another mission. If you are to go to this Temple, we will need a destination soon."

"That's why I'm about to head back to Science Lab 1, with Meridina, Jarod, Cat, and my team, to figure this code out," Robert said. "I have a feeling we're running short on time to get this done."

"We will linger here for the moment," Kaveri said, "while you work."

"You are sufficient distance from the station to be safe from any troubles," Megaera said. "But I must repeat myself. Do not approach, do not send probes, do nothing to disturb A Famoso. The consequences would be dire."

Kaveri leveled a curious look at the woman with the head-wrap covering her eyes. "I will take that warning under advisement."

"To remove any risk, perhaps we should jump for Gersallian space?" Meridina advised. "While we have no records of its location, Reshan most likely built his temple in our home universe."

Kaveri nodded her approval. "A sound suggestion. Commander Locarno, have us jumped to N2S7 immediately, the nearest jump anchor please. Everyone else, you are dismissed."
"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 »

The group assembled in Science Lab 1. Cat and Jarod manned the controls for the holo-table. Seated around them were Robert, Julia, Lucy, Meridina, Gina, Miko, and Liara. Megaera took up a chair as well, looking more like she was observing than intending to participate.

The Life of Reshan was laid on the table with Gartanam's guide to the old High Gersallian of that time. The holographic display above it was loaded with all of the material decrypted from the book, including Ledosh's efforts and their own.

Robert noted Miko was absorbed with reading the material. "Wait. The writer knew your names. The book is three thousand years old and the writer knew your names."

"It is possible that Reshan's connection to the Flow of Life permitted him to see much of our timeframe," Meridina said. "He was known for having a truly expansive swevyra."

Liara kept reading. After skipping over the gibberish elements she read the translated poem. "So this is what led you to that station. Why did he express it in a poem?"

"Reshan had a sense of humor, if a wry and sarcastic one," Megaera remarked.

Robert shot her a questioning glance. He was getting the impression that their traveling companion had seen Reshan in the flesh.

"So what did we learn at A Famoso that can tell us where to find Reshan's Temple?" Lucy shook her head. "Nothing in Tisiphone's attack or the Alekto's little hand-torturing box is related to it."

"I still think this segment is a code itself." Robert indicated the block of nonsensical text. "We just need the cipher key to decode it."

"Could it be an anagram of some kind?" Julia asked.

Jarod shook his head. "I've already run every possible permutation, there's no way to arrange the letters to form a coherent sentence in any way relevant."

"So we're looking for a substitution cipher."

"I have an idea," Liara said. "In my galaxy, many Prothean researchers like myself have to deal with relic hunters or Hanar extremists attempting to take over our work sites and exploit new finds. For centuries many have turned to codes to relay information about new dig sites or findings. One popular method involves substituting numbers for letters. Maybe the letters here are meant to stand for numbers too?"

"That's a good idea." Jarod started tapping at the controls in front of him. "I'm going to run a simple substitution, each letter becoming its number in the alphabetical order."

On the holoscreen the Gersallian lettering transformed into numbers.

"Wait." Cat took over. A certain gleeful anticipation shined in her hazel eyes as she stared at numbers, even as her fingers operated her console and arranged them into three lines. An excited shriek of triumph came next. "Yes! I knew it!" She stood from her chair and went to the door. "Come on!"

"Where are you going?" Miko asked.

"Main Astrography," Lucy answered for her, standing up as well. Julia and Gina were already doing the same while Jarod put away the books. "Because those numbers are interstellar coordinates."



The Aurora's lift system brought everyone to Deck 12, into the forward sections of the ship. Much of the deck was set aside for the medbay and related spaces, plus some of the crew quartering, making Astrography the only major ship function on the deck not involving the ship's medical services.

Cat was the first to arrive, taking over the central console and loading the coordinates provided into the system. By the time everyone was in the room she'd already put the coordinates on the main holo-display, a great holographic projection of the Milky Way. "Aw," she sighed, seeing a blinking red indicator well off into the empty void of intergalactic space.

"Of course it can't be that easy." Julia walked up beside her and set a reassuring hand on Cat's shoulder. "It was a good idea though."

"Could the numbers mean something else?" asked Miko.

"Maybe, but coordinates would make the most sense." Robert focused his attention on the map, testing his connection to the Flow of Life to see if he could get any insight there.

"Maybe it's not a simple substitution," Lucy offered. "Maybe there's a cipher to it, and the numbers should be ordered differently?"

"'By my name the way to the truth will open.'" Gina's spoken words brought her everyone's attention, although Megaera's seemed more bemusement than interest. "That came before the encoded segment. Reshan's name could be the cipher."

"That makes sense," said Jarod. He brought up his omnitool and displayed the encoded segmente again. His fingers moved over the holographic hard-light keys that formed over his forearm. "I'm going to re-run the substitution with the first letter of Reshan's name as the number 'one'." After several seconds Jarod finished projecting a new set of coordinates onto the map.

The icon changed. Now it was inside the galaxy, but in a section of open space.

"Maybe the temple's a space station or something?" Cat proposed.

"Even if it is, that location was beyond our ships' range in that time," said Meridina.

"The Temple will be on a garden planet," Megaera added. "That much I'm positive of."

"So we're still missing something," Robert said.

"Maybe, but I think I know what it is." Jarod grinned. "We're using Gersal as the basis for these coordinates, since that's how the Gersallian system works. That's our problem."

"So we should track it from, what, Earth?"

"Not Earth. Think about that poem on A Famoso. It stated the station was necessary to find the Temple. We went there for the Alekto's little test, but I don't think that's what the book message meant."

"Oh, duh!" Cat ran her fingers over the controls. "He wanted us to use A Famoso as the base position for the coordinates!"

Cat swiftly shifted the display again by resetting the base coordinate. This time the icon moved into the midst of a star cluster near the border of Gersallian and Dorei space. The system zoomed in until fifteen stars were laid out in a rough line. She brought up the records for the nearby stars. "The Domaram cluster," she said. "Known in S5T3 as the Divoran cluster and in E5B1 as the Serpentis Cluster."

"Serpentis. Part of that cluster was in Darglan home space," Julia noted.

"Yeah. There are a few habitable planets in the Cluster. In N2S7 the Gersallians settled one of them, named Domaram as well. And the library computers have two garden worlds marked off for the presence of sapient native life."

"Well, it's a place to start," Lucy noted. "Maybe it won't take long?"

"You're still looking at some pretty intensive surveys to figure it out," said Jarod.

"There has to be another way to make sure," Liara insisted.

At that Robert laughed. "Reshan's being clever," he said. When everyone gave their attention to him for that remark, he grinned. "Space is always moving, right?" When the others nodded he continued, "Well, that means that coordinates will change over time. Reshan said his name was the key, but what if it's not just as the cipher? What if you used the cipher to render his whole name as a number, and it's a year or a date?"

"It would change the starting position," Jarod said. He grinned. "Clever."

Everyone watched intently as he turned the name into a number. Cat took the number and set the galaxy map to that date.

The indicator shifted slightly… and stopped over a single G-class yellow-orange star.

"Domaram H," she said. "Or Lambda Serpentis, if you want."

"One of our colonized systems in E5B1 and other universes," Julia said. "There's a Darglan ruin in the E5B1 universe version."

"Yeah. But here, the system has a native species," Cat said. She brought up the system's information profile. "They're in a pre-industrial state of society and technology with some signs of being on the cusp of an Industrial Revolution." An image showed a series of humanoids, a species that had long ears like the Dorei but angled outward instead of backward on the head. The skin tones and hair colors ranged from Human-like ones to bluish or gray.

"If Reshan didn't want any Gersallians to disturb the temple for all these years, putting it on a planet with a less-advanced species seems a safe bet," Jarod said. "He might have anticipated they would leave a species like that alone."

"Yeah." Robert looked to the others. "Anyone feel otherwise?"

There was no disagreement.

"Alright." He keyed his omnitool. "Dale to Varma."

"Varma here," said Kaveri.

"We have coordinates, Captain, can you get us underway? Jarod's relaying them now."

"I will see to it right now," she replied.



With a destination determined, Kaveri emerged onto the bridge. Locarno stood from the command chair and returned to the helm once she resumed her watch on the bridge. "Commander, set course for Domaram H. There is an inhabitable planet in the system."

Locarno entered the system name into his astrogation systems. "The Gersallians have the system on the protected list, the planet's got an indigenious sapient species."

"Acknowledged. Set the course anyway, Commander. This is what we and our enemies have been searching for."

"Yes ma'am," he said. "Setting course now, engaging at Warp 9.2."

Kaveri sat quietly, her mind intent on the arguments she would present to their superiors when the call inevitably came.




After seeing to guest quarters for everyone, Robert returned to his quarters with Julia. Once they were in private he took a seat beside her on his couch, resting a hand on her shoulder. She shivered, and not at his touch. "It really was a living nightmare, Rob," she said. He sensed her try to push away the fear that still lingered, just for it to come back. "I mean, Noveria, now this. And the one that attacked Jarod and Angel. Are these things going to keep coming after us?"

"It sounds like it. We'll just have to be careful."

"Careful?" Her voice took an edge on. "These things are beyond careful. The one on Noveria almost got us, and this one… I mean, every time we face them, we lose. Somebody else has to come along and save us from them! What happens when that doesn't happen?"

"I wonder if that's why Megaera's been ordered to stay with us," he said aloud. "To make sure of it."

"She can't be everywhere at once." Julia smacked her hand on her knee. "And on top of all of that, Schneider's been pushing me about doing anything but going back to starship command."

"It sounds like she has an agenda. I wouldn't put it past Davies to manipulate the system to get one of his people in place to stop you from coming back." Robert tapped away at his omnitool. "I sent Chief Almerda a message asking about things. He hasn't given me a full report or anything, but he mentioned they picked up those Eclipse mercs. He was happy to hear you're fine."

"What about that poor man's body?"

"They'll be examined. One set of remains was so badly decomposed they can't do anything about it. The one who attacked you was named Pascal Mbanga, one of the Makossa musicians. He emigrated after the Alliance was founded. The family reported him missing yesterday morning."

"They must have spent the day making him… whatever he was turned into."

"Yeah. I warned Almerda to be careful with the remains. His people are already trying to figure out what happened. I'll probably have to come up with something."

"Yeah. The last thing I need is to have to tell people I got attacked by a vampire, then I'll look really crazy."

Robert leaned in and embraced her. He could sense all of the emotions she was struggling with, her terror and frustration and fear for her future, and used his gift to project into her his confidence that it would all work out.

She returned the embrace. "I've missed this," she said. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you too," he said.

"You've still been shaving, I see."

"For when you got back. I didn't want you to think I was going to become a hermit again."

She giggled at that, and he laughed as well.




Liara's guest quarters were not the same as she'd had in her prior time aboard the Aurora, but they were just as comfortable as the other set. Compared to the Normandy and other military vessels she'd seen, the Aurora was more like a passenger liner, and better than most ships she'd ever traveled on in her life.

After synching her omnitool to the room Liara decided to visit the ship's lounge. After all of the stress and surprises of the day she could use a good meal, and the Lookout lounge always provided that, even if it wasn't Asari.

In this case she picked Dorei food, enjoying the texture and crispness of sesham vegetables and a strip of baked kunar. At her request, a glass of Serrice ice brandy was provided by Hargert, who welcomed her back personally before going off to see to other meals.

She started at seeing the mysterious Megaera with the wrap of cloth hiding her eyes in the corner, having created a bubble of space around her by her mere presence. But Hagaert braved the standoffishness to take her order, and she was now eating some special concoction or another. That humanized her a bit, and Liara wasn’t bothered by her presence.

Liara was partway through the meal when Cat arrived. The ship's science officer was still in a state of excitement over the day's findings. "That was clever," she said to Liara. "The idea of the code being numbers changed to letters."

"A number of my colleagues recommended it," Liara answered. "After regaling me with horror stories of looted dig sites, or worse, Hanar beating us to them."

"They worship the Protheans," Cat recalled. "So yeah, I guess they don't like you digging stuff up."

"Some don't mind, but there are groups who do."

The tone in Liara's voice betrayed the true state of her feelings. "So, how have you been doing? Since we left you on the Citadel, I mean?"

A sardonic smile crossed her face. "Oh, I've been busy. At first it was giving testimony about my mother's holdings and involvement with Saren, reminding me how her name has been utterly ruined. Then I provoked the most powerful data broker in my home galaxy so that he wants to kill me."

Cat winced. "I'm sorry it's all been so bad for you. You deserve better. Have you thought about joining up as a civilian specialist? I know you were on New Liberty to help Julia, and I really want to thank you for that. But now that you're here…"

"I have applied, actually," Liara said. "But I haven't heard back yet. I was warned the applicant list was quite long."

"It is." Cat grinned. "But I can help you there. As a chief science officer in the fleet, I can fast track the application. I can even request your assignment to the Aurora, if you'd like."

"You can?" Liara's smile became a warm one. "Really?"

"Really!" Cat giggled. "It helps that I've gotten some recognition in a few fields, it makes the Stellar Navy Science Division look good."

"If you'll have me, I'd love to be on your ship," Liara said. "I understand your missions won't always involve my speciality, but your computers and systems would let me continue my research into the Protheans." Left unsaid was that the research would also be into finding out more about the Reapers. "And I would love to get to see more of the other universes."

"I'll look right into it," Cat promised, more than happy to get Liara onto the crew.




After finishing her conversation with Robert, Julia knew where she had to go next.

She found Kaveri in her ready office, drinking chai and reading from a digital pad. "Captain Varma," she said respectfully.

"Captain Andreys." Kaveri looked up from her device. "It is good to see you are doing so well."

"Thank you. For that, and for how you've handled my crew." At Kaveri's inviting gesture Julia took a seat. "I'll always worry about them, of course, but they are in good hands with you."

"I admit they are not the kind of crew I would have ever expected to command, and to command so well." Kaveri smiled and it was clearly one of bemusement, in part. "It has been a learning experience."

"A good one, I hope."

"It has not been bad. And it has been useful." Kaveri sipped at her chai. "Would you like something?"

"No thank you," came the reply. Julia considered the sight before her. Kaveri looked something like an old grandmother, quietly cherishing the simple pleasure of a favored drink. "I won't keep you long. I just wanted to give you my thanks, and I hope that if everything turns out, you'll be going home to Shai'jhur soon."

"I am looking forward to that, more than I can say." Kaveri turned openly thoughtful. "For thirty years I mourned her, not certain if she found a way to survive or not. Had the necessities of the war with the Reich not intervened, I might have remained in retirement and stayed at her side happily, but she needed the experienced captains in her fleet."

The mention of Kaveri's relationship with Shai'jur, the last Warmaster of the Dilgar and the leader of the Union of Tira and Rohric, prompted Julia to remember one of her less-proud moments of the past year. "I would like to apologize again for when I insisted that Meridina scan you," she said. "I felt like it was something I had to do given the crisis at Tira, but I was wrong to ask that of you. I'm sorry."

“It is good that you hold the regret, and offer the apology freely, Captain. May the memory serve you well as a teaching moment in the future.”

A tone filled the room. Kaveri checked her monitor. "It is a hail from Command in Portland. It would appear that we are about to get new orders."

"Then I'd better go," Julia said. "Good luck."

Kaveri accepted the wishes with a single nod. Once Julia was gone she accepted the call, already forming her coming arguments with Maran.

But it wasn't Maran who appeared on her screen.

Admiral William Davies appeared instead.

Kaveri kept the same respectful expression on her face she'd intended for Maran. Even before her transfer to the Aurora she'd heard of the animosity between Davies and the Aurora crew. She could understand some of it, given what she knew of Davies' history as a tried military commander, but she did wonder about the full scope of it. Her own presence as the Aurora's captain was undoubtedly due to Maran's concerns about Davies pushing a permanent replacement for Captain Andreys.

"Captain Varma. I assume you've completed whatever operation Captain Dale brought you into?"

"We have retrieved his vessel, yes," Kaveri answered.

"Good. Because we need the Aurora elsewhere. Admiral Maran is already with his flagship responding to a Cylon fleet concentration near Doreia."

"The enemy again penetrated our frontier sensor outposts?" she asked.

"We suspect they had SS Exile assistance with that, but all possibilities will be explored. Anyway, we want the Aurora warping toward the fleet right away." As he spoke the coordinates of the fleet concentration were relayed to Kaveri's screen and the Aurora astrogation computers.

Kaveri did the mental calculation based on the distance. "If there is a battle, I doubt we will arrive in time, even if we go at maximum warp."

"Agreed, but you would be there in time to deal with stragglers or to help rally a counter-attack if the first fleet is defeated."

Kaveri considered what the others said in the briefing and the reports she read. "Admiral, we have reason to believe the Cylons may be pursuing a target other than Doreia."

Davies let out an exasperated sigh. "Captain, I'm aware of this theory that the Cylons are tied to some ancient Gersallian mystic group, but we have no firm intelligence from sources without recognizable bias." Kaveri could read between the lines there, Davies didn't trust the Order of Swenya or anyone linked to them, so he didn't accept their eyewitness accounts of the Cylon attack. "I hope you can see that Captain Dale and those officers closest to them have an agenda on these matters that doesn't conform to military reality or Alliance interests. This entire thing is a waste of time."

Kaveri considered her reply very carefully. Whatever her own beliefs or understanding of Gersallian metaphysics, she was in agreement that there was something to the Temple of Reshan and the contents of the book. But if she just outright stated it that way, Davies would likely dismiss her and insist on the order.

"Admiral, there is another element to this situation we must consider."

"Oh?"

"Whatever we feel about Gersallian beliefs, there is no denying that the Cylons clearly have an interest in the matter. Consider their attack on Gersal. They deliberately targeted sites associated with Swenya in the opening strike, except they spared the Great Temple of her organization until after they made an attempt to raid it. They went after relics and the contents of the Order library and only employed atomic weapons on the site after their raid concluded."

Davies nodded. "That, I concede, is true. The relevance?"

"Consider this fleet operation. Their arrival point may be in the vicinity of Doreia, but it also isn't far from the Dorei-Gersallian border zone, including the star cluster that Captain Dale suspects is the site of a temple built for the Gersallian figure Reshan. A temple which was lost to the Gersallian records after the Kohbal uprising, an uprising that clearly has connections to the founding history of the Colonies of Kobol and the Cylons, and may have some significance to them as well."

"You believe they may have found something in the Order library that gives this temple's location?"

"That, or whatever their connection to the Gersallians in the past, it includes fragmentary knowledge that provides a possible location."

Davies settled back into his chair. The expression on his face continued to ooze skepticism, but there was calculation in his eyes. "You make a good argument, but tell me this. What are you getting at, Captain? What are you wanting to do about this?"

"Allow me to support Captain Dale in seeing this through," Kaveri said. "If there is something of value there, it could prove vital to Alliance security. The Aurora could serve as an anchor to bring in responding ships should the Cylon fleet arrive, or otherwise aid him against detached Cylon squadrons."

There was obvious conflict on Davies' face. He does not wish to approve of this, Kaveri thought. Seeing the sentiment on his face she couldn't help but come to a conclusion about him. He can't hide his distrust and resentment of Dale and the others. Something about them angers him. I can see why Maran was so intent on forestalling him in replacing Captain Andreys.

She waited patiently for the reply. When it came it was preceded by a nod of Davies' head. "Your argument makes sense, Captain. Very well, For the time being, you're cleared to continue on course to wherever you're going."

"Domaram H," Kaveri informed him.

"I hope this pans out, Captain. Keep Command informed. Davies out."

It would seem I have fully cast my lot in this matter Kaveri thought. Whatever their flaws from a military mindset, these people formed the Alliance, the entire Multiverse, as we know it. Why does his resentment of them run so deeply?




After seeing to her duties for the day Meridina set off to see to another matter that her heart and mind could not put off any longer. A quick inquiry with the ship's computer pointed the way to Holodeck Chamber 2. When she arrived at the location she noted it was active. With a tap of a key Meridina verified the holodeck doors were not sealed. Out of politeness' sake she tapped the intercom key. "May I enter? I wish to speak with you."

“Yes, you may,” the voice distantly answered.

"Thank you." Meridina tapped the door key and let the double doors enter, admitting her to the holographic chamber.

Inside was the bustle of an intense scene in a market-place. There were tourists walking about--humans, predominantly--and there were grand columnaded buildings with iron balconies fronting a park with statues, while toward what seemed a river there were cannon on a monument, and on the opposite side of the square from it, there was a grand human Cathedral, flanked by two buildings of a very old style. Meridina found herself standing toward the river, where looking to the right, she could see a long and low market-place with vendors selling wares and shops stretching on with a mixture of carriages and cars around it. Megaera was sitting at a table in an open-air cafe under the roof of the end of the market place. Most of the people were speaking English, but the uniformed waiter took the order in French flawlessly before she turned.

“Do you want any? Coffee and beignets, the only things on the menu, or else water, but it’s all vegetarian,” she observed, her blindness not hurting her ability to detect people at all.

"A coffee would be useful. I have spent much of the day dealing with the backlog of my duties," Meridina replied while approaching. She glanced about the square. "Aside from the Alliance capital of Portland, I have not visited many Human cities."

Deux café,” Megaera amended to the waiter, and reached to stretch out a chair to Meridina. “A very dear friend of mine loved this place above all other places, so I recreated it, since it was in your data-banks. It was called the Place de Armas in the common tongue of the Earthreign, and this café was simply Café du Monde, the Café of the World. It apparently exists under that name in many universes, which surprised me,” she confessed, and her lips turned to a smile. “Welcome to Nouvelle-Orléans.”

Meridina took the offered seat. "Nouvelle-Orléans." As she considered the pronunciation she recalled where she'd heard a similar name. "Would that be related to the Human city of New Orleans? I recall Captain Sisko on DS9 mentioning he came from that city, and that his father owns a bistro there."

“It is the same city, but in the history of the Earthreign, it was dominated by French speakers by the end of the 21st century, my friend explained to me once. Well, as part of explaining some other things,” Megaera allowed.

Meridina nodded in understanding. "You miss your friend, I sense." It was one of the few things she did sense from the woman, whose mind was closed to her, and even through her swevyra all she could sense was the innate darkness that made Megaera something of a mystery. Such darkness was usually accompanied by violent, uncontrollable behavior, but Megaera was nothing like that. She was controlled in a way that Meridina thought she recognized, even though she could not recall it at the moment.

“I miss a lot of things,” Megaera answered, accepting the two cups of milky coffee cut with chicory and the bag of beignets from the waiter. “Likely, you can’t even imagine how many things I miss.”

For a moment Meridina felt that melancholy through Megaera's mental walls, a deep one that made her blink. She feels like she is old beyond reckoning.

The feeling also struck something in Meridina. Her own loss, and the things she missed, came to her. "I am familiar with loss, although mine was recent."

“I have not lost everything, but only almost everything,” Megaera allowed, taking a drink of her still quite hot coffee, her head bowed toward the cup. “Gersal is a lovely world. I am sorry for the bloodshed upon her.”

The memories of that horrible day came back for an instant. Meridina nodded and fought back the tears that formed in her eyes, pushing the memories back as well. She distracted herself with the drink. It was hot on her tongue, but not painfully so. "We lost much. The Cylons, the Brotherhood, they went out of their way to try and destroy the memory of Swenya on our world." Meridina took in a breath while glancing about at the fascimile of the square around them. "I was stunned to feel her presence at A Famoso. I knew she fought in the ancient Darkness War, but to follow her actual footsteps, to sense the imprint of her Light at that garden, it made me wish my people could experience it."

“Her light may have imprinted the garden, but what was wrought at A Famoso was a terrible day in a terrible War, Meridina.”

Between the way the words were spoken and the sense her talents picked up from Megaera, Meridina wondered if Megaera herself had been there in some way. "You sound as if you fought in it yourself."

“I did,” Megaera answered.

Meridina couldn't keep her surprise off her face. She felt no deception in the statement, but if true… "That would make you older than the oldest Asari Matriarch."

“The Alekto uses me when I’m needed,” Megaera shrugged. That was also true, but it also sounded like something of an obfuscation.

Is she kept in some kind of stasis when she's not needed? It was a possibility, but Meridina sensed she would not get any further with this line of discussion. "I have never felt a being like the Alekto before. It was like she had no swevyra, no connection to the Flow of Life to speak of. Not even the unfelt connection all beings possess. If I had not seen her moving and speaking as she did, or sensed the power, I would have assumed she was a machine intelligence."

Megaera smirked. “The Alekto is not a machine. She is beyond life. It is very difficult the first time you encounter her, certainly, but that is the truth.”

Beyond life? The concept was alien. "And the Box device she used. It made me feel as if my hand were being melted off my body. Even my swevyra insisted it was happening, but it was all an illusion. I have never seen technology that can fool my senses like that."

“It is technology grounded in the fundamental truths of reality,” Megaera replied unflappably. “That is the currency The Alekto deals in: A truth so great we cannot fully fathom it.”

Again she sensed Megaera's complete sincerity in the remark. But it didn't quite make sense.

She almost asked for more information about the Alekto. She will not share much more with me, though. She will keep her master's secrets.

"On the Citadel, you spoke High Gersallian to Robert and Lucy," she said. "And you say you witnessed the ancient war with the Darkness. Did you… did you know the Grand Foundress?"

“I did,” Megaera shook her head. “They called her that within her own lifetime and she justly detested it.” She took one of the sugar-coated beignets and started to eat it idly.

"So I have been told before." Meridina took another drink of the coffee. Questions rose in her mind, too many to ask. By the time she swallowed it she settled on one. "What was she like?" At seeing Megaera's interest in the question, Meridina explained, "Kohbal destroyed as much of her memory as he could, though he failed to make us forget her. There's so much of her life we don't know of. Her upbringing, her parents. Why Reshan chose her."

“She was brave and didn’t seem capable of appreciating fear,” Megaera answered. “Her confidence electrified those around her, though she could be iconoclastic and rigid. To her there was very much One Truth, One Right. But she was capable of pity and compassion for darkness, her rigidness never deviated into cruelty. I liked fighting at her side. She infuriated the Alekto, though, My Mistress sees the Cosmos in functional terms and is equally convinced of her own right. They quarrelled about the Ends justifying the Means or not.” Megaera shrugged. “In the end, she convinced even the Alekto to let her try to win by her doctrine of Right, and she succeeded in stopping the Darkness… For that time. A final victory eluded her as it long has my Mistress, however. Truth be told, I doubt it’s possible.” She looked up with her concealed eyes, with no way to know what was really there. “Swenya and the Sword counterattacked back into Darkness-place, but they barely escaped with their lives, and only when the Alekto came to aid their retreat. It is a fool’s hope, that entire realm is oblivion given form, I do not think it can ever be defeated, just stopped, like the legend of the Wall of Gog and Magog.”

Megaera's description met rapt attention. Her description of Swenya was an honest one, one that the Order would never use, but it did nothing to tarnish Meridina's view of her homeworld's greatest heroine. If anything it bolstered it, to know that Swenya risked herself so openly trying to strike the Darkness down in whatever their home space was, and could face down even a being like the Alekto. She does not seem the type to accept dissent against her views. That Swenya persuaded even her…

"Thank you," she said. "I can feel the honesty in your words, you indicate flaws we have forgotten, but that she tempered her own flaws with her compassion. It is what I would hope for." There was a slight relief in her voice as well. Given all she'd learned of the Order hiding things, such as the last line of the Prophecy of the Dawn, it was reassuring to know Swenya herself was as she was imagined to be.

“As I said, I was pleased to fight at her side,” Megaera shrugged. “There are many dead who I remember, and she shines bright among them.”

Meridina nodded. She considered Megaera quietly for several moments, drinking her coffee as she did. That she was immersed in darkness was evident. That she did not let it drive her was equally so. "I have had my own experience with darkness," she admitted. "I remember striking down Dralan Olati on Jarod's home Earth and feeling joy at the kill, only to become disgusted with myself."

“I suppose you think you are a better person than I for that,” Megaera answered dismissively, head bowed, seeming to be staring down hard into the bottom of her cup with concealed, sightless eyes. Who knew what the contemplative gesture meant.

"No, I…" Meridina shook her head. "Perhaps I feel something like that. I have been trained to see darkness as a terrible thing. But I…" She wrestled within for the words she wanted. Her own emotions conflicted. She indeed felt an instinctive disapproval of darkness, and embracing it. All of the teachings of her life told her such darkness reduced the Flow of Life. That it was something to be stopped.

But those teachings came from Swenya. The same Swenya who clearly meant something to this woman immersed in darkness, who recalled her with such warm sentiment.

"I do not know your story. Why you came to hold such darkness within you," she admitted. "But if you were truly given over to it, as I understand darkness anyway, we could not have this conversation. You would not have let Robert and Lucy go at the Citadel without an attempt to strike them down."

Megaera sniffed. “Principled self-interest. That’s all. No, you don’t understand my story, or where I came from, or what I have done. But pray you never have to face the Darkness. If you do, you might have to be Swenya to avoid being touched by it.”

For all those words, Meridina wondered if that was all there was to Megaera's sentiment. That her actions were only principled self-interest, and not a sign of something else. She chose not to speak on that, as it seemed unlikely to go anywhere. "I hope with all my heart and swevyra the Darkness does not come back," she said, even as she dwelled on the final, suppressed line of the Prophecy of the Dawn. Swenya herself foretold their return, after all. "But if that dreadful day comes, I will do what I must to stop them and protect those I hold dear. If it requires me to live up to Swenya's example, I will do so, whatever the cost."

As she spoke those words she glanced at the hand she'd placed in the Alekto's terrible box. The limb she'd been ready to sacrifice, if it came down to it.

A tone sounded in the holodeck, accompanied by a blue light over Meridina's left hand. She tapped it. "Meridina here."

Kaveri's voice came over the line. "Commander, I would like to speak with you. We are en route to Domaram, and there are personnel matters to consider."

"I understand, Captain. I am on my way." Meridina took a final small drink of the offered coffee before standing. "Thank you for your time, Megaera, and for your words. I will cherish your recollections of Swenya, and hope that I may live up to her standard in our relations." She bowed her head respectfully. Megaera returned the gesture before focusing on her remnant meal and drink.

After the door slid close behind Meridina, Megaera raised her head, and very softly, hard to hear over the ‘crowd’, began to sing:

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
The last whose realm was fair and free
Between the mountains and the sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen.
The countless stars of heaven's field
Were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
And where he dwelleth none can say.
For into darkness fell his star;
In Mordor, where the shadows are.”
"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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