Literary Challenge #40 : Redux
Hello and welcome to another edition of our writers' challenges! :cool:
Today we start the two-week run of the fortieth Literary Challenge: Redux
Over the past couple of years, we've had some awesome Literary Challenges. As of late, more and more have been participating, and I've been reciving requests if authors could write an entry for a past challenge.This is the writer's thread -- only entries should be made here.
The Discussion Thread can be found HERE.
We also have an Index of previous challenges HERE.
The rules may change from one challenge to another, but I'd like to remind everyone what the base rules are. These may grow as we move on, so also feel free to give feedback!
Literary Challenge #1 - Prized Possessions
The two Captains entered the room and the doors closed silently behind them. The Captain of the ship motioned to a seat in front of her desk and the other quietly moved from the doorway. She watched as the man sat down and then absentmindedly sat in the other chair in front of her desk. The Deltan watched her and smirked slightly.
“So, this is the Solaris,” the man said to break the silence. “She is a fine ship indeed.”
Kathryn Beringer looked away and forced herself to watch the fish swimming in the fish tank. “Yes, he is. Speak of which, I want to thank you again for your handling Captain Tammuz in Club 47. I know it’s been several weeks since that incident but you really didn’t have to do that. I can take care of myself.”
Captain Daikar raised an eyebrow when Kathryn used the male gender to refer to the starship. “Well, like I said then, Tammuz is a brute and a bully. It was not his place to accuse you of stealing this ship because no one owns any ship in the fleet. You were assigned to Solaris and it was that simple. Besides, if I had not interfered, I doubt I would be sitting here right now.”
Kathryn blushed slightly. “Indeed. Well I felt the need to offer my thanks again.” She looked from the fish tank back to Daikar. His bald head framed the hard features of his face. Ocean-blue eyes were stern yet inviting and his cheeks seemed to pull his full lips into a perpetually congenial smile. The strong jawline finalized a commanding presence his muscular frame exuded. Kathryn struggled slightly against Daikar’s charm. She turned toward the bar in the back of the room and realized she was not sitting behind her desk and rushed to say something to continue conversation. “May I offer you a drink?”
For his part, Daikar was patient. “Yes, actually. I’d like an Earth Scotch if possible.”
Kathryn stood and walked to the replicator. She enjoyed Scotch as well and replicated the drinks. Turning, she was surprised to see Daikar had walked to the other side of the room and was inspecting something against the wall. She recognized the item of his curiosity and met him. Daikar accepted the drink, took a sip then pointed to the object encased in glass.
“What is that in the case?”
After a sip, Kathryn licked her lips and nodded. “It’s a scrap of carpet from the floor to the aft shuttle bay of Galatea, an Exeter class and my previous command.”
Daikar raised his eye bows and took another sip to hide his surprised at the answer. “That must have an interesting story.”
Kathryn shrugged imperceptibly, turned and walked toward the edge of her desk. Leaning on it, she raised the cup to her lips and spoke without drinking. “The Galatea was shot apart by Klingons.” Daikar looked over his shoulder to her as if asking for more detail. . After a slight pause, she continued with a far-away glance as she recalled the entire moment. “Nothing exciting: we were pinched between two Bortasqu’ looking for easy prey and got battered on the run. After limping back to ESD, Quinn personally handed me the scrapyard papers.” She took a gulp from her cup and looked into the fluid that remained. “I loved that ship with a passion.”
Daikar looked back at the token and nodded. “That’s a shame.” He sipped from his cup. “So how did this end up as a souvenir?” He walked back to his chair as Kathryn spoke.
“I was the last crew member off Galatea and by the time I reached the door to the shuttle bay I realized I had nothing but memories … I had to take something I could hold. Ironically, I needed to own something from the ship. So I cut that chunk out, walked into the shuttle and waited on Space Dock for a new command.” She spread her arms out as if to show off the entire ship and smiled.
Daikar returned the smile, stood and raised his glass to toast. “Well then, here’s to our ships, may they carry us across the galaxy and back safely.”
Literary Challenge #39 - Lone Drone
The Final Voyage of the Hybrid
Her official designation was USS Hypatia, NCC-95784. To her crew, and her detractors, though, she was the Hybrid, built from whatever ship parts were available after the Battle of Vega. Her hull came from a Miranda-class light cruiser; she also carried the overarching strut and torpedo launcher of a ShiKahr-class, and the wide-spread winglike pylons and warp nacelles of a Centaur. It was an odd assemblage, compared by more than one engineer to a pile of spare parts flying in close formation, and existed only because Starfleet Command wanted their intact ships to be available for front-line assignments. They kept trying to send her on milk runs; somehow, however, she seemed cursed to fly through interesting times.
So far, though, this mission seemed to be exactly the sort Command had intended. She had just rendezvoused with a cruiser from Task Force Omega, and transferred over a number of eager young officers needed to fill slots which had opened on the task force's ships. The young men and women and others were quite visibly happy to leave the confines of the shoddy little vessel that had brought them to the Gamma Orionis sector. And the ship's commander, Grunt, was honestly just as happy to see them leave. He'd had it to the top of his Ferengi ears with snide comments about the conditions aboard the Hybrid - Hypatia, he corrected himself wryly - and he was eager to make headway back out to Sirius Sector, and the relative safety there. Obviously it wasn't entirely safe; that's hard to ensure, when the enemy can change shape and use transwarp drive, as had been driven home with the supposed Vulcan ambassador at P'jem. On the other hand, the Undine weren't thick as gree-worms on a fresh corpse, and usually weren't actively hunting you. The same couldn't be said for the Borg here.
In his command chair, Grunt stretched. "Are they all gone?" he asked.
"Aye, sir," his Klingon science officer, Roclak, replied.
"Good. Not a moment too soon. Mr. Gydap, best speed back home, please."
"Course laid in," the Andorian at helm replied. "Executing at warp factor seven."
"Vovenek's been worried about the intermix matrix, sir. He's asked us to keep it down to seven or less unless it's an emergency."
"Ah," Grunt replied. "Yes, it would be unfortunate if our poor ship were to suddenly explode without even having the courtesy of being shot first. By all means, warp 7 it is."
The ship hummed loudly as the warp drive activated - then began to groan and shudder as the streaks of light on the viewscreen dopplered back down into stars.
"What? What just happened?" Grunt demanded.
"It's not going," a voice crackled over the intercom.
"How very droll, Mr. Vovenek. Can you be at all precise?"
"The warp drive cut out when the coordinator went down, sir," Vovenek replied. "It'll take me a few minutes to track down the issue and get the intermix chamber warmed up again. Then I can make it go."
Grunt frowned. His Pakled engineer enjoyed mocking the common perception of his people, but Grunt saw little profit in joking at a moment like this. "Make it quick," he snapped. "I don't like hanging defenseless in Borg space."
"Well, technically we're still in Federation space, because the Borg come from--"
"Not now, Mr. Vovenek!"
"Aye, sir," the Pakled replied after a moment. "I'm on it."
"Sir," Roclak said from his station, "I'm picking up some odd readings nearby. Looks like metallic debris, probably Borg - but there seems to be a life sign as well. Not human, or any other humanoid I'm familiar with. It could be a Borg drone."
"Borg drone. Really." Grunt's mood lightened. "This mission might be profitable after all. Do we have a brig cell with a suitable force field?"
"Are you intending to bring that - thing - on board? Sir?"
"22nd Rule of Acquisition, my friend," Grunt grinned. "'A wise man can hear profit on the wind.' If we bring back a live drone to liberate, that will get us a commendation from Command. If we have to kill it, there'll still be some information to extract, which is bound to please somebody."
"And Rule 33," the Klingon rumbled. "'It never hurts to suck up to the boss.'"
"So, you have been reading the Rules of Acquisition I gave you!"
"Rule 194. Also the writings of Kahless, and the human philosopher Sun Tzu. Know your opponent."
Grunt chuckled. "We'll make a Ferengi of you yet, my boy!"
"Fek'lhr spare me," Roclak growled. "If you insist on bringing that thing aboard, we have a transporter lock on its signal. I have a squad standing by in the brig."
"Excellent. Beam it in, and we'll go have a look at our prize. Mr. Gydap, you have the conn. Please ask Ms. Shelana to join us in the brig, along with a few of her bright young men."
"Aye, sir. I have the conn," Gydap repeated, his antennae twitching.
Grunt and Roclak entered the brig to find Lt. Shelana, the Andorian security chief, waiting outside the largest cell, accompanied by two large humans and a Vulcan, all in Security uniforms. Inside the cell, a humanoid form stood, covered in bits of metal and tubing. The three-pronged claw at the end of its right arm spun and clacked idly.
Grunt walked up to the wall. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Grunt, captain of the Hypatia. Do you have a name?"
"Names are irrelevant," the Borg - well - droned. "You are Ferengi, species 180. Klingon, species 5008. Andorian, species 3424. Human, species 5618. Vulcan, species 3259. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to the Collective."
"About that," Grunt interrupted. "We don't particularly want to be assimilated, and you're not in contact with the Collective right now. Are you?"
"Desire is irrelevant. Contact is unnecessary. This unit is capable of assimilating all species present, and bringing the grouping to the Collective. You will adapt to service us."
"And if we refuse?"
The Borg raised its mechanical arm - and the claw slipped through the cell's force-field door as if it were merely pretty lights. "Refusal is irrelevant."
The security guards immediately opened fire. Phaser beams flashed along the Borg's surface, beginning to penetrate its plating - when its own deflector fields sprang up. The beams, reflected away, began chewing channels into the ceiling and walls of the room before the guards could stop. The clawed arm then moved more quickly than the eye could follow, tearing the Vulcan's own arm completely off. The Vulcan collapsed, spurting green.
"Um, yes," Grunt said. "Gentlemen? Shall we adjourn?"
"Adjourn?" Shelana asked.
"That means RUN AWAY!" Grunt shouted, suiting words to action. Behind him, he could hear the others pounding along. Shelana paused when her surviving men had cleared the door, then welded it shut with a plasma pistol.
"That should hold it for a few minutes," she said. Almost immediately, the door began to bulge as the Borg attempted to force it open.
"Computer!" Grunt shouted as he ran. "Activate emergency force fields, rotating shield frequencies! Authorization Grunt seven alpha delta omega three one two!"
"Unable to comply," the computer responded primly. "Force-field projectors on deck seven are offline."
Grunt swore. "Okay, let's get to the lift and blow the deck! Let the bastard try breathing vacuum!"
The survivors piled into the turbolift. As the door closed behind them, Grunt barked, "Bridge! And emergency evacuation of deck seven!"
The turbolift hummed into motion. "Unable to evacuate deck seven," the computer said. "Detonation systems are offline."
"What the hell IS online??" Grunt screamed.
"Clarification requested. Would you like a complete shipwide diagnostic?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't understand that last command."
"Never mind!" Grunt shouted. "Take us to the armory!"
"Deck three," the computer responded.
Grunt tapped his commbadge. "Grunt to bridge!"
"Lieutenant, the Borg has escaped custody, and the emergency force fields aren't working! Put us on Red Alert, and dispatch security teams equipped for a Borg!"
"Right away, sir!" The alarm klaxon began screaming, as status lights changed from green to red. "Bridge to all security teams. There is a Borg drone on deck 7. Set phasers to random frequency rotation, full power. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill!"
At that moment, the klaxon went silent, the lights went out, and the turbolift shuddered to a halt.
"It's tapped the power systems, sir," Roclek said unnecessarily. "The Hybrid's been compromised."
"She was built compromised," Grunt snapped. "But she's mine, and I'm not letting some damned Borg take her to the Collective to be scrapped all over again! Get us out of this thing, and head for the hangar deck!" He tapped his commbadge again. "Grunt to all hands! All hands, abandon ship! Repeat, abandon ship! We're going to scuttle!"
"Scuttle, sir?" Shelana asked. "How can you scuttle the ship when there's no power to run the computer?"
Grunt grinned savagely. "The problem with the Hybrid, my dear, has always been more a matter of keeping her from blowing up. That's why we were stuck here in the first place. There's a few wires behind a panel near the shuttle bay that just need to be crossed, and the antimatter containment field will run out of reserve power almost instantly. And when that happens..."
"When that happens," Roclak growled, "I'd like to be at least a parsec away. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here." The Klingon's shoulders bulged as he forced the doors open, revealing the corridors of deck 3 almost level with the lift. "Well, that much is going right, anyway," he remarked.
The group ran toward the armory. After equipping themselves with a fair array of weapons, they headed for the Jeffries tubes. Four decks below, and seventeen bulkheads aft, they emerged from the cramped tunnels, all but Roclak puffing from the exertion.
"This way to the shuttles," he said, pointing.
"Profits, Rock, let us at least catch our breath!" Grunt said.
Roclak bowed. "Of course, sir," he said sarcastically. "I'll just go ahead and prep your shuttle. Be sure to say hello to the Borg for me when it arrives!"
"What (gasp) makes you think (gasp) it can find us?" Grunt demanded.
As if in answer, the corridor lit a sickly green, as unfamiliar characters swirled on a nearby panel.
"That does, sir."
"Yes, it would seem that way. Okay, everyone, rest break is over! Let's move!"
As the group entered the bay, a young ensign called to them from the one remaining shuttle. "Captain! Over here! She's ready to move, but I don't know how much longer the bay doors will answer!"
The group ran for the shuttle. Grunt paused. "Okay, everybody, get on board," he called out. "I'll be right there!" He ran back toward the corridor, where he pried loose a wall panel, and felt around inside. Finding the connection Vovenek had jury-rigged the previous month, Grunt twisted the wires loose, then twined two of them about each other. That ought to do it, he thought, and ran for the shuttle.
"Hurry, sir!" the ensign called out.
The shuttle door closed behind Grunt, and the tiny ship lifted clear of the floor. The bay doors opened, then hesitated and began to slide shut again. The ensign gunned the thrusters, and the shuttle slid through the opening just in time.
"Move her out!" Grunt ordered. "Best speed!"
The shuttle's thrusters fired, as behind her the warp core began to erupt, spraying plasma into space. Abruptly, the entire ship shook, then exploded into a fiery cloud.
"Did everyone make it?" Grunt demanded anxiously.
"Sensors indicate 97% of the ship's personnel made it into various shuttles and escape pods," Roclek replied, hands sliding over the sensor controls. "All of those made it beyond the two-kilometer safe zone - some of them might be a little shook up, and of course, anti-radiation meds all around, but assuming we get picked up inside the next three hours, everything should be all right."
"Very good, my friend. Very good indeed!"
"Good?" the Klingon asked unbelievingly. "You call this 'good'? And what 'profit' are you hearing on the wind now, o wise one?"
"Simple, Rock. The Hypatia was lost to enemy action, while clearly in a situation that was way over our heads and therefore not our fault. And she can't be fixed, not from this - they'll have to give us a new ship! And it has to be a step up from the Hybrid..."
Three Weeks Later
"You asked to see me, Admiral?" Grunt said hesitantly, as he entered Fleet Admiral Quinn's office at Earth Stardock.
"Ah, Mr. Grunt! Come in, please." The Admiral gestured toward a seat before his desk. "Don't worry, the court of inquiry cleared you and your men. You were clearly acting in accordance with Starfleet directives when you tried to capture a Borg, and if your ship's systems had been up to snuff, all would probably have gone much better. In fact, we were even able to keep your command crew together for your new assignment!"
As the shuttle entered the dockyards, Grunt peered ahead eagerly, anxious to see his new command. A cruiser! The USS Bastogne! Grunt had never heard the ship's name before, but he wanted badly to step aboard her...
"There she is, sir," Vovenek said from his position in the pilot's seat. He pointed.
Grunt looked. Then he sagged into his chair. Ahead of them, directly where the Pakled's finger pointed, there floated a ship. Saucer above, angled neck connecting to the oblong engineering hull, twin nacelles sweeping upward - and the entire ship sporting at least three separate paint jobs, in addition to the gleam of bare metal where hull patches had yet to be painted.
"The Bastogne," Vovenek said. "Twenty years past her retirement date, but Starfleet can't afford to go scrapping ships just because they're obsolete. They say she's been repaired so many times that none of her original parts remain." He paused, then smiled wickedly at his commander. "Word around the dockyard is that she's properly called the Bastard..."
"Why me?" the Ferengi groaned. "Why is it always me?"
Literary Challenge #6 - "Not THAT guy ..."
Broccoli Did It
The Captain rubbed his forehead indignantly as he listened to the female voice, that normally belonged to a young lathe woman, come out of the mouth of a two meter tall Cardassian.
"I-I really didn't mean for this to happen, Sir."
"I have no doubt," the Captain shifted his weight, "but that doesn't change that it did happen."
"B-but I had the best intentions!" the voice meekly retorted as the large Cardassian began to unconsciously fiddle with his hair. The dumbfounded superior officer stretched his neck in an attempt to avoid letting his amusement show.
"You see, if I was following 'the Good Captain's Guidebook' right now is where I would make some kind of allegory about the road to hell and what it is paved with. However, I'm more interested in finding out just exactly why my bridge appears to be staffed by clones of the same three officers."
"It's not only those officers!" the voice announced with a slight edge of pride.
"So I've been told..."
"And it's not always three!" it added hopefully.
The Captain again sighed, leaned forwards, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Specialist Barclay, would you please just explain to me how this happened."
Amanda Barclay gave a bit of a nervous chuckle and shifted in her seat; therefore the Holographic image of Bridge Officer Gurren Torrok that was being displayed over her body did so as well.
"Y-you see... You know how there have been great strides in Photonic research as of late Captain?"
He nodded. Slowly.
"W-well, since holoemitters are now standard on the bridges of all Federation vessels there is a movement in the photonics field to attempt an emergency holographic officer system for operations. Like the standard EMH but for members of the bridge staff; in case the bridge is suddenly depressurized or is filled with a rapid acting nuerotoxin or the entire officer crew simultaneously develop a case of p-"
"I get the point, Specialist," the Captain interjected, while noting that the more excited her tone of voice the less stutter she gave.
"Yeah, well, it-t uh. It's been a private project of mine and I recently thought I had a breakthrough. So when I was doing the recalibration of the bridge holoemitters I kind'a... a-also... took the opportunity to test my preliminary program."
"Without notifying any of the senior staff or your supervising officer?"
"I u-uh, didn't want to bother them," the Cardassian face smiled nervously.
"So I'm guessing what happened isn't exactly what you had in mind for your test."
"No! Of course not! Changing the images of officers aboard the bridge was far from my original intention! I mean, what point is that? I was trying to formulate a way for programs to actively display and function on the bridge and even then I was only working on the Photonic aspect! The programing for the-"
"Oh! O-oh right. Sorry S-sir. W-where was I again?"
"You were about to explain to me what exactly your programing to the Holoemitters was intended to do."
"Oh, of course. Well... It was only supposed to test the emitter system using recorded images of the Bridge Officers and test if they would display in various locations around the bridge. But... it kind'a got away from me. I don't know why but instead it's-s merely displaying a few of the collected images over top of any officer that enters the bridge. W-with the exception of the Captain of course! I never even considered registering Captains into the system. I mean, if the captain was incapacitated to the point that an EH would be needed you'd expect the bridge staff to-" Catching the weary look of the Captain her tone slowed and returned to topic. "L-like I said Sir. I was simply trying to test the emitter system when the program began displaying the wrong images and rejecting my input. I don't know why but the program is now deeply engrained into the bridge systems. That wasn't something I programed."
The Captain, who by this time had risen to his feet and began pacing through his ready-room, recalled something, "Specialist Barclay, you mentioned a breakthrough you had."
"Right well it's pretty exciting! You see tha-"
"JUS-" He stopped and composed himself, "Err... Just the specifics if you please."
"O-of course, Captain. O-one of the biggest problems I had been dealing with getting a way for the small scale bridge emitters to process the advanced programing required fast enough to be effective. I f-found a new algorithm to use and I thought it would solve the problem. It obviously did though so it's a big succe-"
"Where, exactly, did you find this 'new algorithm' Specialist?"
"We-w-well," the image of the Cardassian began to look around the room as if for an escape, "Y-you know how w-we found that I-i-iconian ruin during the ship's last voyage in the Eridian Belt?" The Captain's breathing stopped and he stood like a statue in mid stride. "I took a look at some of th-the programs we c-collected from the data cache' recovered for inspiration," she said before coughing in an attempt to break her stutter. The look her Captain gave her as he turned around was... complex.
"You're telling me you used an Iconian virus, like the one that destroyed the U.S.S. Yamato and nearly destroyed the Enterprise-D, from a thousand year old data cache, that I expressly ordered to have sealed away from accessing any ship systems, as a template for a Holographic Program?"
"N--n--no," the Cardassian leaked like a kitten, "I j-just used some of it as inspiration."
The Captain flopped back down into his seat and again found his face resting in his palm. "Tell me, Specialist Barclay, have you ever read Mary Shelley; wrote a nice little horror story about a monster created from corpses?"
"I m-may have seen... a holonovel of it."
"So you know you've created a monster then?"
"Heh... heh... It's alive?" She hazarded meekly with a nervous grin. The fact it looked like an oversized Cardassian man was doing it made it a little more unnerving. The fearful stare continued as she tried to guess her Captain's next action. What he did when he finally stopped shaking his head was far from what she was expecting.
"Well I have to hand it to you, Amanda." Cardassian eyes blinked confoundedly. "I make no secret that I like to collect what other captains would call 'misfits' for my crew. It adds a certain variety and diversity as well as a break up from the conundrum of daily routine. So when I heard that the only daughter of the infamous Reggie Barclay was a Photonics Science Specialist and looking for a Duty Officer posting I had to jump on it. Before your father taught at the Academy he had what most would call an interesting carrier to say the least. You know they actually named a disease after the man?"
"Y-y-ye-es, I-I kn-n-now." Amanda's eyes faded as years of teasing and ridicule seemed to descend back upon her on mass. Even at the Academy the name nickname of "Broccoli" would sometimes loom after her. She always wondered how exactly her father's infamy spread so far when he never made it higher than Lieutenant.
"But he was a good man, and a good officer. He had a passion for his work that is seldom found and rarely utilized for good means. You obviously don't have nearly the social awkwardness that he started his carreer with and already your genius in the field of Photonics is showing. I just..." He chuckled again, "I was expecting interesting adversity from you and you did not not disappoint."
"But, Sir! It works!" The specialist rose to her feet in an inspired attempt at defiance. "S-sure we can't get it out of the system or shut it off but, you know, but it runs and takes less energy to run for a week than it takes to replicate a cup of coffee. And it only happens on the bridge! All it will take is some tweaking and a little more elbow-grease to get the kinks out. If someone is able to get this to work it could be a great thing for Starfleet!"
"Make no mistake I'm impressed. Even if you did it by accident your project has developed... great scale. And as far as your creativity Starfleet itself is having a hard time following your work."
"S-S-Starfleet, Sir?" The comment caught her ear. Why would Starfleet be interested in her debacle, let alone know about it already? The Captain took a breath, he still held what some might call a smile of pride on his face.
"You know the reason why the Iconian virus that the Enterprise and Yamato encountered was thought to be so dangerous?"
"S-something about it being adaptable and digging its' way into every ship system... or... something similar."
"Exactly that, in fact. Also its' infectability. All it took was a simple data transfer of a fraction of the coding for it to become ingrained into the Enterprise's system."
The specialist's eyes slowly began to widen as the pieces began to fall together.
"So naturally then, shortly after you attempted your test, when we sent a tight-beam transmission to Starfleet command..."
"The coding spread to the mainframe..." her fear and despair made way for shock and awe, "and was then disseminated to..."
"Every vessel in Starfleet."
Specialist Barclay fell back into her seat, the ramifications of her actions streaming across her eyes. As a result the Cardassian sitting in front of the Captain looked like a lost child.
"Also," the Captain added, "if Klingon Intelligence is as good as I'm inclined to believe it is than it's a safe bet to make that every I.K.S. and affiliate vessel has it as well."
"Yep." He said succinctly. "Every bridge aboard every serving starship is now populated by what appear to be bridge officer clones. Congratulations, you've inadvertently created the most infectious, yet benign, computer virus of the 25th century."
"Oh... m'god. I've created another Broccoli Plague." The thought made the precession through her brain like a funeral march.
The Captain sighed again, but still wore a smile. "Starfleet is opening a task group at the Academy to try and solve the problem. But considering the last Iconian virus could only be stopped by something akin to a full system reboot it will probably take some time to solve the issue. As both its' creator and the person with the most experience with the subject right now I have been asked to transfer you back to the Academy and have you put under the care of Lieutenant Ferra. He's in charge of the Duty Officer postings there."
"I understand, Sir."
The captain stood up and walked passed the bewildered and distant Photonic's Specialist on his way back towards the Bridge. As he did so he patted her on the shoulder.
"Disaster or not, I'm sure your father back at the Academy will be proud."
"I've got a name to live up to, Sir."
When the Captain re-entered from his ready room he surveyed the bridge. It was currently populated by various copies of the same three officers; at the moment his Chief Medical Officer, the Cardassian Ensign, and a Female Klingon Lieutenant Commander. Giving another chuckle and shaking his head he made his way to his seat.
"Which one of you is my acting ship's councilor?" he asked standing behind his Captain's chair. Two women raised their hands. He glared at them flatly before one began snickering.
"Sorry, Sir, couldn't resist," the deep voice of his Bolien Chief Engineer responded. "I'll just make my way back down to Engineering."
"You're the real one then?" the Captain asked with one eyebrow raised.
"I am, Sir. You'd like me to go and make sure Specialist Bro... Barclay is taking the news well?"
"I would." The real person smiled and nodded before leaving, and the Captain returned his attention to the front. He looked around one more time with a hand on his knee before he began to point around. "You three, who I will now call Ensign Torroks one, two, and four. If one of you would be so kind to contact Fleet Command and inform them we are on our way while the two others preform a full ships diagnostic on the vessel's Holoemitters?" They all grinned and nodded before setting about their tasks. "You there, Lt. Commander Shonorru on the left, if you would please plot course for Sol. Warp 7."
"Aye Captain," they smirked before engaging the warp drive.
Literary Challenges 1 and 32 - Prized Possessions and Into the Hive Pt II:
The Mathematics of Tears
Selek strode through the entrance hall of his home, the reassuring weight of the leather-wrapped ka'athyra tucked in the crook of his arm, and into the spacious living area which afforded a panoramic view of ShiKahr. A slender figure sat on one of the low couches, their back toward the entrance and their head bowed, but Selek immediately recognized his daughter. He was simultaneously gratified for and concerned by her presence in his home.
"I was not expecting you to be here, T'Marc, I apologize for disturbing your meditations," he said, moving into the living area properly. Lowering the ka'athyra almost reverently onto a couch, he sat beside it.
"It is a welcome interruption," T'Marc admitted, her head still lowered. "I had hoped to discuss a matter with mother, but she is teaching, so I chose to wait for her to return."
Selek's brow furrowed. To a Human, the expression would have been imperceptible and gone un-noticed. To one familiar with Vulcan behavior, it was a clear indication of angry concern.
"I do not mean to pry, but I am a concerned father," he said. "Have you and Sulak had words again?"
T'Marc looked up and regarded her father, her hands remaining serenely folded in her lap.
"We have, father," she admitted. "You are right to be concerned, I am in quite a predicament. I am still without child, and it is clear that Sulak is... that he prefers the company of men."
Selek raised an eyebrow.
T'Marc's head dipped in assent, her short bobbed hair briefly rippling.
"Even during the pon farr, his... ardor... does not last, and we have to... satisfy our own desires," she admitted, shamed to have to speak to her father about such things.
"That is unfortunate," Selek acknowledged, rising to his feet and crossing the lounge to the food replicator in the kitchen area.
"Unfortunate?" T'Marc repeated, agitation clear in her tone. "It is utterly illogical! For one to be attracted to one's own gender serves no purpose! What good is two males undergoing the pon farr together? One cannot rub two sticks together and make fire!"
Inwardly amused by the metaphor, Selek momentarily considered correcting his daughter, but decided against it. Instead, he tabbed a control on the replicator and while waiting for the two spherical glasses to materialize before him, gathered his thoughts.
"Love and attraction are rarely logical," he admitted. "Your mother and I were not originally betrothed, yet we were attracted to one another. I issued the koon-ut-kalifee to prevent her marriage to Sokar, and we married for love."
Returning to the couches, he handed a glass to T'Marc.
"K'vass?" she exclaimed, "It is barely noon, father."
"When meditation fails to provide solace, intoxicants can provide release," Selek replied. "You are a grown woman, T'Marc, not a child, a drink will not harm you"
"It cannot make things worse," T'Marc acknowledged, sipping the sweet beverage. "I see you have reclaimed grandfather's ka'athyra. Was the ceremony appropriate?"
"As appropriate as possible for one conducted by k'shatrisu," Selek admitted. "Caladan is certainly a very different place to Vulcan. For it to rain constantly... It was as if Natara Himself mourned."
"You miss him," T'Marc stated, to which Selek nodded.
"Indeed I do," he replied. "Marcus may have been born a Human, but he was also family, and I can still think of no finer man to have stood as your en'ahr'at."
T'Marc raised the curved glass to her lips and sipped the k'vass, the first buzz of the sugar intoxication starting to sooth her turbulent emotions, and her thoughts drifted from her troubled marriage.
"You have never explained why you and mother chose to name me after a Human," she said.
"That is a story which begins thirty years ago," Selek replied.
Settling himself onto a stool infront of T'Marc, he raised his hand to her face, his fingers pressing against the katra points.
"My mind to your mind," he said. "My thoughts to your thoughts."
The shiver of the transporter beam gave way to the cool chill of a Federation transporter room. Standing by the transporter platform, Selek immediately saw his childhood friend, Fleet Captain Marcus Kane. Standing beside him, was an equally tall, slender woman with a jaw-length bob of dark hair. One side was neatly tucked behind her ear, revealing the delicate brown spots at her temples which marked her as a Trill. He recalled meeting Jedda Tobin eight years previously, when Marcus and his new bride, K'm'rn, had held a ceremony to give their bond legal status in Federation law.
Raising his right hand, Selek automatically made the ta'al.
"Nashaut, t'hy'la Marc," he said.
Kane automatically raised his hand to return the Vulcan salute, noting that Selek wore the brown and grey uniform of a Master Scientist beneath his floor-length robe.
"Nashaut, t'hy'la Selek," he replied, before turning his attention to the slender blonde Human woman who stood at Selek's side, clad in a metallic silver bodysuit. "Hello, Professor Hansen, it's good to see you again."
Beside Selek, Seven of Nine frowned, momentarily confused by the input from her occular implant. Since Voyager's return from the Delta Quadrant, she had spoken to Kane via subspace communications several times, but had not seen him in person, and the viewscreen's sensor had been unable to pick up what her occular implant immediately detected.
Atop the normal layers of Human perception, was superimposed a pulsating, coruscating energy signature which she could not immediately identify.
"Annika," Kane said, regaining Seven's attention with the verbal equivalent of a snap of his fingers. "Is everything alright?" Her full lips parted to speak, but for a moment, Borg neuro-processing took over.
"Species five six one eight Alpha: Homo sapiens immortalis," she stated flatly, attracting a wary look from Tobin.
"Yes, that's right," Kane replied guardedly. "I thought you were... aware of my condition. Did it not strike you as unusual that our biological ages appeared so similar?"
"My apologies, Captain," Seven began, recovering herself and stepping forward to shake Kane's hand with a smile. "Indeed, I knew why you appear considerably younger than your chronological age, but my occular implant affords me access to much of the EM spectrum, and I was unprepared for the difference in perception. The energy patterns within you are remarkable to see."
Kane nodded gently, realizing how different the Quickening must appear to a sensor array such as Seven's.
"Professor Annika Hansen, my first officer, Commander Jedda Tobin," he said.
"A pleasure to meet you, Professor," Tobin said, extending her hand.
"I prefer the designation Seven of Nine," replied the former drone.
"You didn't mind the Captain addressing you by name," Tobin pointed out, somewhat offended by Seven's brusque demeanor.
"The Captain studied under my father when he lectured at Starfleet Academy, and became a friend of the family," Seven explained. "Our last meeting in person was on my fifth birthday."
Tobin's eyebrows quirked in a barely repressed shrug.
"Welcome aboard, Professor," she replied, before turning to Selek. "And likewise, welcome aboard, Master Selek."
"Thank you, Commander," Selek replied as the group left the transporter room and entered the corridor.
"Master, may I make an observation?" Tobin enquired.
Selek inclined his head, indicating his assent.
"I was lead to believe that the Vulcan term 't'hy'la', was only used between those in an intimate relationship, yet you and the Captain both used the term, was my understanding incorrect?"
Before either Selek or Kane could reply, Seven answered:
"The term has many meanings, Commander," she said. "It can indeed mean life-long companion or lover, but it can also mean a soul-mate, or what Humans would refer to as blood-brothers, without reference to sexuality."
"Absolutely so," Selek confirmed. "Marc and I have known each other since childhood, and while climbing in Vulcan's Forge in our thirteenth year, he prevented me from falling to my death. No other term of address is fitting for such a friendship."
"Ahh, thank you for clarifying," Tobin replied as they entered the turbolift.
In the Endeavour's observation lounge, Seven stood by the wall-mounted display, while the senior officers sat around the long table.
"It has come to the attention of Starfleet Command, that a Borg cube has been observed in the Romulan Neutral Zone. As this is the known terminus for many Borg transwarp conduits, that in itself is unremarkable. What is unusual, is that the cube has taken no hostile action against any nearby planets or shipping lanes, and would appear to simply be drifting."
"I presume our orders are to make contact and investigate?" enquired the Endeavour's chief of security, Lieutenant Commander Roger Hunt "Does Command want the cube destroyed?"
"Only in extreme circumstances," Seven replied. "It is the hope of Starfleet Command that the ships vinculum can be salvaged, and with Master Selek's assistance, integrated into a long-range sensor array he designed to assist with detecting approaching Borg vessels via their communications network."
"Are there any indications of the resistance which a boarding party might experience?" Kane asked, folding his arms across his chest and stroking his beard.
Seven shook her head.
"Impossible to tell, but I would recommend a minimal away team," she replied. "I have been asked by Starfleet Command to provide what guidance and intelligence on the Borg I can, but I would prefer to remain aboard the Endeavour for the duration. I am concerned that my presence aboard the cube could prove a liability, especially if we were to encounter the One who is Many. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that my cognitive systems could become compromised."
"At maximum warp, we can be at the Neutral Zone by noon tomorrow," said Tobin.
Kane nodded, steepling his fingers.
"When we arrive, Master Selek and I will transport over to the Borg ship," he decided. "I know my way around a Borg cube, and between us, Selek and I have the engineering skill to disconnect the vinculum from the surrounding systems."
"Captain," said Hunt, his mahogany skin contrasting against the vibrant mustard of his uniform collar."Regulations prohibit a flag officer entering a potentially hazardous situation without armed escort."
"Selek can handle a phaser as well as you or I, old friend. He will constitute my armed escort," he replied. "Given that there is nothing we can do until we arrive at the Neutral Zone, I suggest we adjourn until oh seven hundred hours. Commander Tobin, set a course for the Neutral Zone."
Extending his finger, Selek activated the door chime. The doors slid aside, and Selek found himself greeted by Cameron Kane. Against the low light of the room behind her, the light from the corridor reflected back off her tapetum, momentarily making her purple eyes appear luminous.
"Good evening, Selek, come in," she said, her Pentaxian accent reminding Selek of that of Humans from Australia. "It's been a while, how are you?"
"Very well, K'm'rn, thank you," he replied, using the correct pronunciation of her name which eluded most Human tongues.
As he stepped into the spacious quarters, Selek noticed that the temperature was easily ten degrees higher than ship's norm, and he could hear the subtle chiming sounds of Pentaxian flow-music. He passed a platter of syrup-glazed plomeek to Cameron, and saw Marcus and Seven talking casually by the dining table. While Seven still wore her silver bodysuit, Marcus had changed from his uniform into a cream-colored civilian shirt, which reminded Selek of a short Japanese yukata. His attention was drawn to the three dimensional chess set on Marcus' desk as Cameron put the platter on the dining table. Crossing over to it, he scrutinized the pieces, which were of course, exactly where he knew they would be.
"Bishop to Queen four, level two," he said, moving the pieces accordingly and then turning back to the gathering.
"I'll have to get back to you on that move another time," Kane said pouring Selek a glass of Romulan Ale. "I am under orders that we are not to get wrapped up in our game..."
"Understandable," Selek acknowledged, as they took seats around the dining table.
"This looks delicious," Cameron said, putting some of the plomeek on a plate and passing it to Seven, who nodded her head towards a stand by the low sofa.
"Who plays the instrument?" she asked. Selek followed her gaze, and immediately recognized his father's ka'athyra, a diffuse spotlight firing rich colors in the rust-colored wood.
"It belonged to my father," he said simply.
"I was deeply moved when Sotek bequeathed it to me following his passing," Kane added, taking the plate Cameron handed him and placing it before Selek.
"I shall never forget the look on Sotek's face when you played All Along the Watchtower on it," Selek recalled.
Kane chuckled inwardly at the memory.
"If I remember, it was the first time I had been invited for dinner," he said. "I believe your mother's words were 'I have never heard a ka'athrya make sounds like that before...', although I remember your sister was somewhat more impressed. How is T'San?"
"She is well," Selek replied. "She is still living in ShiKahr, and married to Tonax, an architect."
Kane's brow furrowed in thought.
"Tonax," he mused. "He designed that spire down the street from my father's office complex didn't he?"
Selek nodded, and took a mouthful of the plomeek.
"Indeed he did, they now have two sons. Which brings me to a subject I had not mentioned in our last communique. As you know, T'Laya is with child, and we would be honored if you and K'm'rn would stand as en'ahr'att."
Kane was momentarily taken aback by such a request, and Cameron's eyebrows drew together in confusion.
"The Vulcan equivalent of god-parents," Seven said helpfully, before taking a bite of the plomeek.
"I would be honored, Selek," Kane replied. "Are you expecting a son or a daughter?"
"T'Laya has chosen not to enquire," Selek replied. "My mother is sure it will be a daughter, but I am not sure, it is frequent for the first born in my family to be male."
"To a healthy child," Kane said, raising his glass in toast.
At the helm of the Delta-Class shuttle Equinox, Kane reached up and tapped the comm badge affixed to his tactical armor.
"Kane to Endeavour," he said. "We are within sight of the Borg cube, and will be attempting a low-power approach before beaming aboard."
"Understood, Captain," replied Tobin. "We're still within transporter range of the Equinox, so if anything does go wrong, if you can extract yourselves back to the shuttle, we will be able to beam you back. Seven will be monitoring you, and has direct access to the communications console."
"Acknowledged, Commander," Kane replied. "Engaging frequency modulation and initiating radio silence."
In the forward viewport, the slowly rotating hulk of the Borg cube loomed ever closer, blocking the view of the stars as the Equinox drew closer, before matching the drift and rotation of the cube.
"Are you ready?" Kane asked, turning to face Selek.
The Vulcan nodded, hefting a set of transport enhancers over each shoulder.
"Initiating site-to-site transport," he replied.
Vision resolved itself into the dimly lit humidity of the Borg cube. Both Kane and Selek had their phasers drawn, but none of the drones took any action towards them.
"It would appear the bio-dampeners are working," Selek observed, holstering his weapon and stooping to set up the first set of transport enhancers.
"Annika warned us that they only have a limited operational lifespan," Kane replied. "We shouldn't delay in making our way to the central plexus and locating the vinculum."
"I have noticed that despite her preference to be referred to by her former Borg designation, you insist on calling her Annika," Selek said, as they headed down a corridor passed a series of regenerating drones.
"When I see her, I don't see a former drone," Kane replied, looking over his shoulder to ensure the transport enhancers were not being investigated. "I see the child of my Academy mentor, the man who sparked my interest in the Borg, and I see a life which she had stolen from her because of his arrogance."
"You disagree with the necessity of Professor Hansen's work?"
Kane shook his head.
"Of course not, it frustrates me how little opinion was given to Magnus and Erin's theories, and how many lives could have been saved had the earliest reports of the Borg been properly investigated, rather than just passed off as ghost stories to scare green cadets on their training cruises-" he paused as a drone passed them in the narrow corridor, almost close enough to touch. Close enough to see that it had once been a Napean female.
"But it frustrates me more to see that," he continued. "To see a life stolen. Usurped and re-purposed into an unthinking automaton. To think that that drone was once someone's daughter, someone's sister. It's... a violation. And to think that Magnus willfully subjected his child to that danger..." he shook his head. "To call her Seven would be to forget the little girl who wanted to be a ballerina... But I think we should postpone this debate until we have successfully removed the vinculum."
"I agree," Selek replied as they reached an ante-chamber.
Ahead, they could see the pulsating green diamond forms which marked the termination points of the vinculum. As Selek began to position the transport enhancers, Kane took a sonic screwdriver from his tool kit and began to adjust its resonance.
Suddenly, he became aware of the clanking of exo-armored feet on deck plating, and then he heard the voice he had been dreading. The soulless chorus which had haunted his nightmares for nearly two decades.
WE ARE THE BORG. WE WILL ADD YOUR DISTINCTIVENESS TO OUR OWN. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.
"They can see us," Selek noted, drawing his phaser.
"They can't," Kane replied. "They've detected our actions, not us specifically. Keep working, if we can disable the vinculum before they reach us, we'll disable the ship and the drones."
"I do not think we will get that opportunity," Selek replied, as a trio of drones entered the ante-chamber, upper-limbs raised, ready to release their assimilation tubules.
Covering Selek while he worked, Kane raised his phaser and fired. Once, twice, three times. Each time, the golden beam hit its mark, and the drones dropped to the floor.
"There are more drones approaching from the other corridor," Selek warned, aware of the footfall before Kane. He heard the phaser's distinctive hiss again then again, but followed by a dull humming.
"They've adapted!" Kane shouted over the chorus of echoing footsteps. He slapped at his comm badge, but it only buzzed dully beneath his armored fingers."They've activated a dampening field, I can't contact the Equinox. Fall back to the transport site!" Holstering his phaser, Kane's left hand reached round to the back of his armor and drew his tajtiq from its sheath.
A drone blocked his path, reaching out with its cybernetic limb.
Kane slashed the tajtiq horizontally from right to left, severing the prosthesis, and then rammed the blade forwards into the drone's thoracic assembly. Behind him, he could hear Selek following him, using his phaser to destroy regeneration alcoves as they went, using the plasma discharges to disable the drones within.
Then the drones started firing back.
Inbuilt plasma weaponry Kane had not heard of the Borg utilizing since reading Jean-Luc Picard's report on Hugh and his band of isolated drones.
He ducked beneath the reach of one drone, driving the tajtiq in a disemboweling movement, then preparing to move forward, when he felt something collide with his back, momentum taking him to the deck.
He looked back, and saw Selek laying face down, smoke curling from a hit to the middle of his back.
"Selek! Are you alright?" he demanded, reaching for the tricorder on his belt.
"I am -- incapacitated," Selek admitted, the tension in his voice betraying the agony he must have felt. "I cannot feel my legs."
Reaching down, Kane grabbed Selek's arm and threw it over his shoulder, gritting his teeth as he hauled his friend upright, and struggled to maintain balance against the dead weight.
"We need a diversion," he muttered, turning down a sub-corridor, and dragging Selek with him. Pulling a demolition charge from his belt, Kane primed it with a flick of his wrist, before tossing it toward the opening of the corridor. The resulting explosion flung Kane and Selek to the deck, their armor protecting them from the worst of the pressure wave and shrapnel. When the ringing in his ears stopped, Kane saw that the charge had caused enough damage to seal the corridor, leaving them enclosed with a partially-dismembered drone.
"Are you okay?" Kane enquired, remaining seated while scanning the area with his tricorder.
"I still cannot feel my legs," Selek replied wryly, pulling himself into a sitting position against the wall, a flicker of pain passing across his features. "You must leave me here and make your way to the transport site."
"That's not an option," Kane said, looking over to Selek. "I can get us out of this, trust me."
"I do trust you, Marc," Selek replied. "But logic states that I will only slow you down, increasing the likelihood of your assimilation."
"They can't assimilate me," Kane replied. "At least -- not quickly..." His voice trailed of as he recalled his experience at Starfleet Command nearly two decades ago, his eyes fixed not on his tricorder screen, but somewhere beyond:
The look of concern on Beverly's face as she watched him put the hypospray to his own arm, performing the action her Hypocratic Oath forbade... Injecting himself with the nano-probes removed from Jean-Luc Picard so the effect could be observed and studied under lab conditions...
"This is not a good idea..." she had warned, her tricorder raised, before he felt the cold rush flood through his body...
Waking up to be told that the nano-probes had asserted themselves and in his attempts to contact the Collective, he had killed five guards before he could be subdued. Omicron radiation had disabled the nano-probes, and his immortal biology had then eradicated them from his system. But nothing would eradicate the feeling of guilt from his waking moments, nor the whispers of the Collective from his dreams.
It was not an experience he wished to repeat.
"There is no significant increase to the possibility of me being assimilated regardless of if I carry you out of here, or make a break for it myself," he insisted, running his tricorder over Selek's wound. "Forth degree plasma burn, the charing to the spine has caused some nerve damage, but nothing which can't be healed. Fortunately, the wound is cauterized, and your blood pressure is stable. Focus on managing the pain, and leave me to think of a way to get us out of here."
"Marc, listen to me, there is no way out of here for me," Selek insisted. "I ask that you perform the tal'shaya, for I have no desire to become a drone. I taught you the to'tsu'k'hy when we were boys, the tal'shaya is merely an extension of that technique. Simply maintain the contact and increase the pressure, and it will be fatal."
"You taught me the nerve pinch so Vonik would stop bullying me," Kane pointed out, before chuckling. "The look on his face the first time I used it on his lackey Stann... But I have no intention of using it to dispatch you. I have no intention of letting my god-daughter be born without a father."
Selek raised an eyebrow.
"You think T'Laya will have a female child?"
"I think I know better than to disagree with your mother," Kane replied, clapping Selek on the shoulder as he got to his feet and moved towards the non-functional drone, his tajtiq held ready to strike, should the creature still have enough life in it to attack. "I also think I've found us a way out of here..."
Taking his sonic screwdriver, Kane began to re-polarize the drone's spatial nodes, then began to enter commands into his tricorder, his fingers inputting commands with a focused precision unhindered by the armored gloves.
"Marc," Selek called out. "What are you doing?"
"All drones are equipped with a built-in transporter lock and recall subroutine," Kane replied. " If I can synch my tricorder to this one's cortical node, I will be able to access the cube's own transporter system..."
In the Endeavour's sickbay, Selek looked up as the doors opened, and Kane approached the side of the biobed.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, drumming his fingers against the back of the PADD in his hand.
"I can feel my legs once more," Selek replied. "Although I must admit, it was considerably less painful when I could not."
"This might take the sting away," Kane said, handing the PADD to Selek.
On the screen, an open comm-link to T'Laya on Vulcan.
"Nashaut, ko-telsu T'Laya. What news do you have for me?" he enquired.
"Two days ago, I delivered our daughter into the world," T'Laya replied. "I thought we might name her T'Ren, after my mother."
"I know that was a name we had discussed," Selek admitted. "But we shall name her T'Marc, after my brother."
Sitting back, Selek moved his hand away from his daughter's beautiful face.
"Now," he said. "You know why you carry your uncle's name."
Challenge #5 - Shards of the Mirror
The Demon Emperor
A young man with black hair and violet eyes stood on the balcony of a palace, surveying the city around him and the night sky above.
His city. The capital city of his planet. The planet which was the center of his empire.
When the Terran Empire collapsed, many of its worlds found themselves under the rule of the Alliance. The world of Neo Britannia was one such world.
However, five years ago, this man, Lelouch Lamperouge, led a brutal resistance movement against the Alliance. Gaining the loyalty of his men, and employing strategies developed through playing chess, he eventually managed to force the Alliance off of the world.
The populace hailed him as a savior, declaring him the leader of their people. However, he was not done.
He proceeded to have a space fleet built, and led the forces of Neo Britannia on to world after world, liberating them from the Alliance and taking them for himself. And in every battle, he always led from the front, believing that was the only way a leader should lead.
After one year, Lelouch's territory consisted of seven planets, and he changed his name to Lelouch vi Britannia, First Emperor of the Neo Britannian Empire.
The following year, he added another fifteen worlds to his Empire, and his brutality to the Alliance Forces, Ship and Soldier alike, even after they surrendered, caused them to call him 'Demon'.
Now, five years after he had launched his initial resistance, Lelouch's Empire consisted of 125 worlds, and his enemies tended to call him the Demon Emperor. However, his subjects continued to hail him as the one who had saved them, and would follow him into the very depths of hell.
'Five Years,' he thought to himself, even as he continued to survey the Neo Britannian Capital of Pendragon City. 'Five years since I started this crusade. I never imagined that I would come this far. But I can't stop yet. The Alliance killed my parents when they spoke up against them, and the O'Brien's 'Terran Dominion' did nothing to prevent it. No, I will not stop until I have destroyed the Alliance and the Dominion, and my Neo Britannian Empire is the only dominant force among the stars.'
Lelouch turned to the open doorway leading to the balcony, seeing a woman with bright red hair and vibrant blue eyes, dressed in a crimson nightgown. He smiled upon seeing her, the woman who had been with him from the very start of his campaign, and who had become his beloved Empress only a few months ago.
"What is it, Kallen?" he asked.
Kallen vi Britannia, formerly Kallen Kouzuki, smiled back at him and said, "You should come back to bed. We have another campaign tomorrow."
"I know, Kallen," Lelouch said as he turned back to gaze over Pendragon. "I just couldn't sleep--it's been five years, after all."
Kallen stepped up beside him. "Yes," she said, slightly melancholy. "Five years since we began our campaign to punish the Alliance for killing our loved ones, and the Dominion for just letting it happen. To be honest, part of me never expected us to get this far."
"Part of me felt the same, to be honest," Lelouch replied. "But we persevered, countering the Alliance at every turn, and now look where we are--Emperor and Empress of a vastly expanding Empire."
Kallen smiled again. "And when we're done, it will be the only ruling power in the stars, right?" she asked.
Lelouch smiled as he embraced his Empress, kissing her passionately. "You know me so well, my love," he said after they parted.
"I've had five years to learn," she replied. "Now please, come back to bed. We need our rest if we're going to lead the fleet in battle tomorrow."
"And lead it we shall," Lelouch replied as he let Kallen lead him back into their bedchambers.
'After all,' he thought, 'the only ones who should kill... are the ones prepared to be killed themselves.'
Literary Challenge #29 : Hello Q...
It had been a long week, and Lt Commander Rhonda 'Polekitty' Evans had many hours still to go before she could hit the sack, still it had been a good one. The had been an outbreak of an unknown pathogen on one of the rim colonies, and the Powhatan was the closest ship. Between herself and Dr Mot they had been able to come up with the cause and an antidote as well, though it had taken several days, then seeming countless hours administering the cure. It was good to get a chance to do medicine again, even if Starfleet disagreed and stuck her in command. All that was left was the report writing, you'd think in the future they'd come up with self writing reports by now she thought as she entered her ready room.
"You do not belong here."
She blinked, not recognizing the voice, then as she looked around saw what seemed to be a human woman..no not human. It was the female Q. Rhonda had never met her personally but had read about her in a report "Thats what I keep telling them? she says as she walked past Q to the replicator "I'm a doctor not a starship captain. Hot chocolate, with marshmallows."
Q looked annoyed "I don't mean that, I mean you don't belong in this reality-" there was a flash, and then there was two of them, this one she recognized, looking like a human male in a Starfleet uniform. "I thought the continuum had decided to monitor a bit more before coming to a decision?" said Q, a smirk on his face "Yet you seem to be jumping the proverbial gun a bit."
"I am simply gathering information before I make a decision."
"YOU make a decision?" Q smirked, as Q frowned "you know what I mean" she said, crossing her arms.
Rhonda got her mug, taking a sip "anyone else want some?" she asked politely before sitting down on the edge of her desk. Q and Q shook their heads "no thank you, never touch the stuff." Q said, before turning back to Q. "besides shouldn't she have some say in this?"
Q rolled her eyes "You're a fine one to be championing mortals all of a sudden Q" He just crossed his arms "The continuum did ask me to be the defense" he said with a frown "So as a favor, and the fact that I know these primates better than most other Q, I agreed. Starting with it's not like she asked to come here."
"that's true I didn't." Rhonda looked at the Q's. "I'm not unhappy here, but it was Schrodi who opened the dimensional portal and shoved me through, saying I was needed elsewhere. If you've a problem with it, why don't you take it up with her?"
Q looked sour, shaking her head "That blue...incomprehensible, quantumcatgirl freak..." Rhonda actually laughed a bit "Oh so you did meet her..ya know when she merged with her duplicates in the multi verse back in my home reality, I'm not surprised that she ended up a Q."
"She's NOT a Q!"Q said haughtily.
"Yet" Q narrowed her eyes and glared at Q "Maybe in a few milennia she may have matured, anyway that is beside the point. There is enough people popping in and out, playing with alternate dimensions as if they were a carnival fun ride, to have someone meddling and stick you in this reality..."
"One that on your home, was not real." there was a flash, She was on her bridge, except it wasn't. The consoles were dark, the walls made of plywood and plastic foam "The world you came from was much more savage and brutal than even the mortals in this dimension are." There was another flash, and the three of them were standing on a street corner in what looked like Chicago. There were police sirens and crime scene tape across the street, yet another gang shooting. Q pulled a newspaper out of a vending machine "War, rumors of war, fear, death, such a pleasant world." Q just smirked "This is your home, not the marginally improved dimension of Starfleet" she said , leaning back as across the street the corner pulled a sheet over a young body.
"True, but it's a dangerous and violent universe, from single celled organisms on up." Rhonda said as she sipped her hot chocolate "I've been doing my best to protect and heal people as much as I can, anyway I can."
"That is true" said the other Q. There was another flash, and they were in a different city, seemingly impossibly tall skyscrapers in the background, here and there there could be seen colorfully clad humanoids flying in the distance. Q was dressed in Polekitty's old costume, revealing black and white tights, standing on the edge of the building, while Q continued "You did at that. Risking your life over and over again, for those that feared and hated you, jumping into the fray, for truth, justice and all that of lofty ideals..that muscle bound freaks spouted before pounding each other with locomotives."
Q looked down at herself "I don't see how you could wear this without falling out of it" while Q floated behind her, his Starfleet uniform changed to red and blue tights, cape fluttering dramatically in the wind, a giant 'Q' on his chest. "Millennium City might not be what you're used to , but you would fit in here, you could go back to being the 'Perky Polekitty', or whatever they called you."
She stared out at the folks flying, then shook her head "that's part of my past now, I like what I'm doing, and besides, no one looks good in spandex, I don't care what they say."
There was another flash, another reality shift. She was back on a starship bridge, but a darker one, and emptier. Q bowed dramatically "If you prefer to be in space, perhaps this might be more suited to you."Rhonda just took another sip, her mug of hot chocolate now a wine glass, her uniform tunic a crimson red, sporting a skull and crossed bones, with a long flowing cape and boots that came up to her knees. "love the boots, but not really a cape sorta person. They get snagged too easy."
The female Q looked exasperated "Why are you even offering her choices? It's impossible for her to comprehend the ramifications of the situation."
Q just smiled "But you did ask me to be her defense counsel" he said, shifting his appearance again, dressed in a long black robe, with a powdered wig "Though I must say, most Starship captains I have dealt with are more..annoyed."
"Sorry to disappoint you" she said as she stood up, cape swirling around her feet. "But this is neither here nor there, if you were going to exile me , or remove me totally from this reality you'd just do it. You're so far up the evolutionary chain from us, I mean, if I picked up an ant on the tip of my finger. If I put it down again, and it asks another ant, "what was that?, how would it explain?"
"Don't sell your kind too short, you're perhaps a little slightly more advanced than ants." Rhonda squeaked as there was another flash, and she found herself a skunk sitting on the chair. "Perhaps we should just leave you like-AACK!"
Q had quickly stepped to the side as Rhonda sprayed Q, Q rubbing her eyes and coughing as Q smirked "you should have expected that Q, you're slipping."
There was another flash, and Q was dry again, Rhonda back to herself. She glared "You're right, put a primitive brain full of mush into a much smaller container, and of course all you'll get is instinctual actions.." She glared at Rhonda "and why are you taking this so calmly?"
"What good would it do to get upset?" Rhonda asked "All that does is not let you think clearly, the time to have a panic is after a situation is over." She looked down into her mug "No one ever asks for what happens to them, life is what happens when you make other plans. I never wanted to be bitten by a mutated radioactive skunk when I was 13, never wanted to be a hero, never wanted to be kicked in the butt through a portal to another world. But that's what happens, and that's what I had to deal with. Whatever you two decide, I'll deal with that too." She turned to Q and smiled at her "It's kind of like this. The Continuum is a mystery. And I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything. The fact that you're here, gives me hope."
"Hope? How do you mean?"
"It's simple really. Maybe it's because I'm at heart a medic. Infinitely advanced beings who claim to be looking down on us...yet you continually intervene, poke, prod, annoy, and watch to see that we're doing the right thing. Could be it is just to protect yourselves..but it also could be that you see promise. Not in my lifetime, or my future children's lifetime, but someday."
Q had a smirk on his face, and the reality shifted again. He sat across from Q and Rhonda in her ready room. "I think the defense rests" Said Q. Q said nothing, the both of them silent for a moment, then Q stood up, arms behind her back. "You can stay, the Continuum will allow you to remain, though we will be watching." there was a flash and she was gone.
"Well, I think that was rather successful" Said Q. Rhonda just shook her head and went to refill her hot chocolate "I did most of the talking, you were trying to get rid of me it sounded like."
"What, you wanted that I should have made it easy for you?"
She just smiled "Nothing worthwhile ever is." Sitting down behind her desk, she picked up one of the PADDs with the waiting reports. "I really have to get these done unless you need something else."
Q shook his head "you've muddled through well enough I suppose, though I should warn you I'll probably check up on you from time to time, just to make sure we made the right decision."
She just smiled to herself as he vanished "Drop by anytime" she said, then got back to work.
Literary Challenge # 20 & 21 : Saying Goodbye & Saying Hello
Rear Admiral Bryan Mitchel Valot stared out the window of the Utopia Planita station as they brought the once elegant Star Cruiser into the shipyard. The ship's massive hull had visible energy weapon damage, multiple hull breaches, and several chunks blown clean off. Despite the damage, however, Bryan could still barely make out the name and registry in the flickering bow running light: U.S.S. Athena, NCC-92753.
"Hey sir," Commander Ibalei Zera, his Trill first officer said, walking up beside him.
"Ibalei, Hey there," Bryan said, clearly happy to have some company.
"Look, Bryan, what happened wasn't your fault," She said, reading how sad he was about the loss of his command.
"It feels like it was," He replied, shaking his head slightly.
"Two Negh'Vars and a Bortas'que, Bryan. I doubt there is any ship in Starfleet that could have succeeded against those odds."
Bryan stood silently as they finished towing the hulk into dock. "I'm going to tour her one last time before they officially strike her down."
He walked through the once sleek interior of the U.S.S. Athena, now beaten and bruised by her last fight with the Klingon Empire. As he walked, he was brought back to when she was still a sleek and elegant warship. He watched as crewmembers walked through the halls in uniforms of varying color: red for tactical, yellow for engineering, and blue for science. He smiled as he closed his eyes. When he reopened them, he once again saw the ruined hall, cables hanging down from the walls and ceiling, and visible scorch marks from battle damage. His journey eventually led him to the lounge. He looked around, again flashing back to when the Athena was still a capable ship. This time, he saw his crew talking, laughing, and being as close to a family as they could possibly get without actually being one. He heard the faint but constant sizzling of the stove, crew ordering drinks from Rulian Mazan, the Bartender, and a poker game going on in the far corner. He listened, closing his eyes once more. Upon reopening them, he once more saw the scattered tables and chairs, the destroyed bar, and clear evidence of a fire from when the stove was destroyed. Sighing to himself, he once more continued his tour, this time ending up in main engineering. Despite the fact that the ship was all but inactive, he could still hear the faint hum of the warp core as it powered the few systems that remained online. He closed his eyes, and remembered the room as it once was: massive, covering about three whole decks, dominated by the warp core. Engineers studied their readouts, keeping the heart of the ship beating. When he looked again, he once more saw the darkened room, lights either shut down to save power, or outright destroyed by battle damage, displays flickering on and off as the ruined EPS conduits desperately tried to keep them supplied with constant power. Once more, he walked on, this time ending up on the once sleek and elegant bridge. He looked around, and once more saw it as it once was: low, windowed ceiling, futuristic chairs and consoles, and a dedicated bridge staff. Just to the right of the captain?s chair, he once more saw Ibalei sitting, her long, beautiful red hair tied up into a ponytail with her bangs slightly parted along the left side, her soft yet piercing grey eyes, and, as if she wasn't beautiful enough already, her Trill "spots" running down the side of her face and neck, as if to accentuate her already beautiful form. Looking once more, he saw the ruins, battered and bruised, destroyed consoles, scattered chairs, and a ruined main screen. He walked up to the dedication plaque, which, though it had been damaged, the motto of the ship, "From strategy comes victory, and from victory comes peace," could still be read. He eventually found his way back to the airlock, and, just before he exited the ship for the last time, he looked back and said, "Death closes all: but something ere the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done, not unbecoming men that strove with Gods."
"Admiral Valot, Commander Zera, good to see you," Admiral Quinn as Bryan and Ibalei entered his office, about a week after the Athena was officially decommissioned.
"Sir, what do you need?" Bryan asked, sitting down in a chair across the desk from the Admiral.
"I understand you have been left rather homeless after the Athena was stricken from the roster," He said, picking up a PADD and reading very carefully.
"Well, sir, there haven't been any new postings available yet, and some of my crew have already found assignment elsewhere," Bryan repiled somewhat sadly.
"We have a brand new Odyssey class ship preparing to be commissioned. Equipped with the most advanced technology that Starfleet has to offer. Enhanced MACO pattern resiliant shield arrays with auxiliary shielding, MACO pattern impulse engines and deflector array, an asynchronous warp field generator, polarized neutronium armor, point defense grid, and a full prototype Artificial Intelligence."
"An AI, sir? As in essentially sentient?" Bryan asked curiously.
"Indeed. This new ship is being used as a testbed for the innovations I just described. She's all yours, if you want her."
Bryan looked at his First Officer, who nodded. "We'll take her, Admiral. What's her name, if I may ask?"
Quinn looked down a little. "Funny story about that. We're not really sure what to call her. Do you have any suggestions?"
Bryan and Ibalei looked into each others eyes and smiled. "I believe we do, sir."
Bryan's Peregrine fighter glided silently beneath the massive hull of the Odyssey class ship. The hull of the vessel gleamed brightly in the sun's light outside the front window. The fighter passed over the main hull and the ship's name finally came into view, a name that was both symbolic and sentimental to Bryan and his crew: U.S.S. Athena, NX-92753-A. Bryan smiled a little as the shuttle maneuvered into position to land in the main shuttle bay at the vary aft of the main hull.
"U.S.S. Athena, this is fighter Odysseus, requesting clearance to land," Bryan said, tapping the console in front of him.
"Fighter Odysseus, this is the Athena, You are cleared to land in the main shuttle bay," Lieutenant Commander Six of Nine, who was and still would be the Athena's chief engineer and second officer, called out in her usual I'm-not-your-typical-boring-liberated-Borg-I'm-much-more-cheerful fashion. "Shall we roll out the red carpet for you, sir?"
"That won't be necissary, Six" He replied, fully aware that she would have some sort of surprise anyway. "I'm just glad to be home."
"Roger, sir. See you on the Bridge. Athena, out."
"You know that she already has something planned for you, right?" Ibalei asked from the chair next to him.
"Yeah," He replied, smiling as he pulled the fighter into the shuttle bay. "I just like to let her feel a little rebellious is all."
As they stepped out of the fighter, there was the distinct sound of snapping to attention as someone called out "Admiral on deck!" Bryan walked through the sleek corridors of the new Athena, which were flanked on both sides by crewman standing at attention. The eventually came to a turbolift, which opened as soon as they approached. As Bryan and Ibalei entered, Bryan called out "Bridge," and the lift sped away. When it opened once more, the door revealed a bridge unlike any Bryan had seen before. Sweeping curves elegantly surrounded the raised central platform, right where the "big three" chairs were located, with the Federation emblem directly between them and the main view screen. To the front, sides and top, were massive windows providing an excellant view of the space around the ship, and o the aft was a conveniently located transporter pad. Bryan stepped out of the turbolift and immediately Justin, who was already standing beside the door, called out "Admiral on Deck!" for the first time on the new Athena. Bryan walked to the center of the bridge, sat in the captain's chair and tapped the intercom button.
"Ladies and gentlemen," He called, "This is the Admiral speaking. Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Athena. Some of you served with me on prior ships. Many of you have not. That doesn't matter. From this moment on, you are all family to me. Because we are going to be in some of the most dangerous areas of the Federation and deep space, I will expect a lot out of you all. There may come a time when you are too afraid to go to your post. There may come a time when you feel so tired that you cannot fight anymore. There may come a time when you are so scared that you become unable to do your duties. I will tell you right now that that will not happen on my watch. You are the best crew in Starfleet. You can and you will hold the line when it counts the most. You will stand fast against the darkness, and you shall come through. You shall stand strong against our enemies, and you will not falter. You will stand together, no matter the cost, no matter the odds. Good luck to you all. Rear Admiral Valot, out."
"Not bad, sir," Ibalei said to Bryan's right.
"Thanks," he said, smiling a little. He looked around the sleek bridge, already feeling at home on the new Athena. "Mister Ables," He called to the helmsman, "Take us to the stars."
The ship glided smoothly out of the dock, and began to maneuver around, preparing to make her very first warp jump. Just before she did however the ship passed where the original Athena was docked and the entire crew took to the windows and saluted. At long last, the new ship had officially taken on the name of the goddess of wisdom, battle, and strategy.
Captain?s Log, Stardate 443251
The Da Vinci has been re-routed to the Zeta Andromedae Sector to investigate a series of ionic storms congregating at the edge of the Delmar system. The fact that these storms seem to be clustering together is cause enough for concern, but long range sensors have also indicated a high level of elevated neutrinos and verteron particles present at the epicentre of the storms. If Ensign Sann is correct, the presence of these particles suggests the imminent formation of a wormhole in the Delmar System. Our mission is to scan the anomaly to determine if this it is indeed a wormhole-- and whether or not it is forming naturally, or being artificially created?
?Captain,? said Farim Meru, the Da Vinci?s Operations officer, ?sensors are picking up a vessel exiting the wormhole.?
The Bajoran?s words caused Arkos to instinctively jolt upright in his command chair as he snapped back to reality. He realized that he had been staring at the Delmar Wormhole for the last minute and a half, entranced by the swirling, cloudy disk that filled the Da Vinci?s viewscreen and bathed her bridge in an azure light. Every shade of blue imaginable shimmered in a great whirlpool of ionic energy, verterons, tetryons, and half a million other particles that he was certain Memory Alpha hadn?t come up with names for yet, punctuated by rippling flashes of whites, greys and golds. It reminded him a lot of the screen-captures he had seen of the Bajoran wormhole, and to date, was the most beautiful thing he had witnessed in his career in Starfleet.
It had been there, open and whirling, when the Da Vinci had arrived in the system. The ship?s science officer, Neiazri Sann, had confirmed that it was an actual, fully developed wormhole instead of the primordial collection of ionic storms that they had been expecting, which meant that this wormhole was developing far faster than most others of its kind that had been observed. As K?Nera had astutely pointed out, however, that in and of itself was suspicious. If the wormhole was developing this rapidly, she had said, then it could very well be an artificial pathway being created by the Borg, or the Undine, or any number of the malevolent species that were on the Federation?s bad list these days.
And now, with a ship coming through, K?Nera?s suspicions had been all but confirmed. As Arkos watched, a tiny, blocky black dot appeared in the middle of the swirling azure disc, the cerulean light casting the relatively tiny shape in shadow.
?Magnify,? Arkos ordered. The screen blinked and switched to a larger resolution, enlarging the tiny shape and bringing it into starker detail.
The sight that greeted Arkos sent an involuntary chill down his spine. The vessel that filled the viewscreen was moving in a lazy, half-drifting fashion, its hull pitted and scorched from a bright silver to a dull grey, and noxious green plasma vapours drifting from one of its stubby nacelles. But it was, unmistakably, a Type 8 shuttlecraft. A Federation vessel.
There were a few seconds of uncomfortable silence before Arkos caught himself gaping. Snap out of it, and be a Captain, Arkos he thought to himself, straightening up in his chair. A quick sideways glance, though, reassured him that K?Nera, Sann, and the rest of the bridge crew were reacting the same way, staring at the shuttlecraft in collective awe and befuddlement. Everyone on this bridge, he knew, was thinking the same thing. Could this have come from the Mirror Universe? The Federation?s evil doppleganger, the Terran Empire, had been an active threat as of late, crossing the yawning void between realities with disturbing frequency.
?Ensign Farim?? Arkos spoke out expectantly.
The dark-skinned Bajoran woman ran her fingers over the navigational console. ?Sensors are confirming it as a Type 8 shuttlecraft, sir, no known registry,? she replied. ?It has taken significant damage to its outer hull, and it is leaking warp coolant. I?m also detecting a single life sign aboard.?
Farim paused then, and swivelled her seat around to look Arkos, confusion written on her features. ?Sir?it?s a Korda.?
The report sent an even colder chill down Arkos? spine than the appearance of the shuttlecraft had. He became conscious of all of his bridge officers taking sideways glances at him. The Korda were a reclusive, isolationist species native to the half-sunken world of Nar-Etulis. Once a proud and technologically advanced race, the past century had not been kind to them, and they had regressed to the point where they wanted nothing to do with the greater universe. To date, only five Korda had left their submerged homeworld to live in Federation space. One of those five was Arkos Nair.
And now, another Korda was out there, on a damaged shuttlecraft, exiting a yawning chasm in the fabric of space time.
Arkos felt something uncomfortable twist in his gut as his mind raced over the possibilities. Could someone else have left Nar-Etulis to flee the Chastised, with Federation help? Had there been some sort of spatial anomaly, or disaster, on Nar-Etulis that linked to this wormhole? Or was this the product of some parallel universe, a different version of his people and his homeworld? The questions buzzed in his mind like a cluster of angry hornets, pecking at him and raising a host of uncomfortable possibilities.
Sann, to her credit, recovered from her surprise quickly enough to do her own scan of the shuttlecraft. ?The Korda?s life signs are fluctuating, sir,? the Trill reported. ?The shuttlecraft?s engine systems may be leaking gases into the crew compartment.?
There was no time for indecision, then. Arkos tapped his comm badge. ?Bridge to Transporter Room,? he said, ?prepare to beam the shuttle?s passenger directly to Sickbay.? He rose from his command chair and glanced at Sann. ?Ensign Sann, you?re with me,? he said. ?We?re going to go check up on our guest.? He turned and nodded to his first officer. ?K?Nera, you have the Bridge.?
?Aye sir,? K?Nera replied with a smart nod. ?For the record, sir, I think we should still be on our guard. This shuttle could still have come from the Mirror Universe, and it that?s the case, then it might just be the point of the spear.?
?As always, your dislike of the current situation is noted, K?Nera,? Arkos replied with a sly grin. ?But I have a feeling that this won?t be as bad as you suspect.?
?We managed to stabilize him several minutes ago, Captain,? the thin, balding figure of the Mark I EMH said flatly as he stood before Arkos and Sann. Behind him, nurses and orderlies hovered over the sickbed, poring over instruments and doing continuous scans of their patient. ?He was suffering from acute radiation poisoning and a few minor plasma burns, but we have managed to give him adequate epidermal treatment and completely detoxify his system. He needs recovery time, Captain, but he should survive.?
Arkos made no reply to the holograph. His attention was fixed the Korda who lay on the sickbed. He was swathed in the priestly robes of a telvenar/i] of the Chastised, faded by age and wear and tear from a cream colour to a rustic brown. An intertwining sigil representing the Ionn, the Architect of the Universe, hung from a pendant around his neck. His grey/blue skin was mottled by a few burns and scars on his forehead, cheek and hands, and a few faded bruises were visible on his bald temple. He looked like he had been through hell.
But more importantly, he looked exactly like Arkos.
The EMH cocked a nonexistent eyebrow. ?Captain?? he asked. ?Are you feeling unwell??
?W-what?? Arkos blinked as he turned back to the Doctor. ?I?? He swallowed, blinked a few times. Yes, he thought, he did feel a little nauseous. Perhaps he was going crazy? That sounded logical. It would certainly explain why he was seeing another version of himself on the sickbed. ?Is he?me?? he asked, aware of how weak his voice suddenly sounded.
The Doctor glanced back at the robed Korda on the sickbed. ?DNA scans are?conclusive,? he replied. ?He matches you perfectly Captain, down to the last cytosine molecule. So, yes, he is, in a manner of speaking, you.?
Next to him, Sann stared with abject fascination at the second Arkos. ?It looks like K?Nera was right then, Captain,? she said. ?The Delmar Wormhole does connect to the Mirror Universe. Or at least, one mirror universe. It?s always been hypothesized that there could be several.?
?I?m glad that you find my?duality?so fascinating, Sann,? Arkos mumbled, unable to take his eyes off of his robed double. The Mirror Universe was a widely acknowledged fact and threat in Starfleet records, and it had been all but confirmed that everyone most likely had a counterpart in that universe. But all the same, the fact that Arkos was seeing?himself, lying there on the sickbed, was jarring to say the least.
A buzzing swarm of unasked questions sprang to life in Arkos? head, all demanding an answer all at once. To what extent was this mirror counterpart like him? Was he a complete polar opposite, like every other Mirror person encountered by Starfleet thus far? Or were he and his?twin?more alike than he suspected? His double was wearing Korda priestly garments instead of any uniform, so it was at least unlikely he was affiliated with the Terran Empire. But beyond that, Arkos knew nothing. His curiosity had been piqued, and as usual, was rapidly turning into an insatiable itch. He needed to know more.
?Is it safe to wake me?I mean, him, Doctor Zimmerman?? he asked, using the adoptive name the crew had given the outdated EMH.
The hologram glanced back at the sickbed. ?I would not advise it, Captain,? he replied. ?Your?alternate self needs at least twenty-four hours of resting time??
As if on cue, however, the mirror version of Arkos suddenly groaned loudly, and shifted on his sickbed. In an instant, orderlies were rushing towards him as a whole host of monitors and readouts began to beep and chime in a mechanical opera.
?He?s waking up, Doctor!? one of the orderlies suddenly cried.
Zimmerman looked like he was about to say something authoritative, when Arkos barrelled right [i[through him. He ignored the way the Doctor?s form fluctuated as his image re-aligned, and further ignored the annoyed glare the hologram gave him as he made his way to the side of the sickbed. His alternate self was slowly stirring, his head listing from side to side as his eyes began to flicker open. It was an unreal experience, staring down at one?s own face as it moved and acted independently.
Slowly, the mirror Arkos opened his eyes. The robed Korda?s gaze wandered around listlessly before settling on Arkos. At that point, he suddenly became more awake and alert as his expression twisted into abject fear.
?It?s alright,? Arkos said as his double began to shake in the bed?s harnesses. ?We mean you know harm.? More monitors began to beep as the mirror Arkos? heart rate accelerated.
?You?but I?you?re??Slowly, the mirror Arkos began to calm down, his terrified expression giving away to a much more beatific expression. ?So it?s true,? he said, almost in a whisper. ?As Ionn weaves, it is true. There really is a Mirror Universe.?
Arkos swallowed. He was at a complete loss for words. He had never once imagined he would be having a conversation with himself.
?Please stay calm,? he finally said, his mind suddenly adjusting as he went into Captain mode. ?We found you aboard a damaged shuttlecraft. Whatever it was that happened to you, you?re safe now.?
The mirror Arkos shook his head. ?No?no, I?we must have words,? he said, his voice weak and slurred. ?I?I need your help. Nar-Etulis needs your help.?
Roughly two hours later, after the mirror version of Arkos had been sedated and made to rest again, Zimmerman announced that their guest was well enough to talk with the crew. At Arkos? instruction, his mirror counterpart?whom Arkos was already mentally dubbing ?Telvenar Nair,? after his priestly rank?was guided through the ship towards the waiting room for an audience with the Captain and his senior officers. The security detail would later report that the Telvenar had acted confused, tense and wary throughout the entire trip, staring at every monitor and bulkhead as though they were going to leap from the wall and bite him. The report didn?t surprise Arkos, but did disappoint him more than he thought it would. His mirror version was a definitely a Chastised, through and through.
The Telvenar?s initial meeting with the bridge crew had been no less jumpy. Upon walking into the waiting room, his first act had been to shrink back to the door and gaze in helpless terror at K?Nera. Thankfully, it didn?t take much to calm the Telvenar: after Arkos introduced K?Nera as his first officer, the Telvenar?s expression eased, and he sat down after bowing to the Andorian in apology. K?Nera had simply glanced at her fellow officers in confusion. ?Am I really that scary?? she asked.
The ship?s other Andorian officer, Chief Engineer Adim, gave her a joking grin. ?Do you really want us to answer that question?? he responded, earning a withering gaze from the Tactical Officer.
?Children, settle down please,? Arkos cut in, before folding his hands together and turning to face his double. The Telvenar was still sporting a few faint burns on his cheek and knuckles, but thanks to Zimmerman?s treatment, they were now faded and less severe-looking. Simply looking at the Telvenar, though, sitting there swathed in the garments of the Chastised, brought back memories to Arkos. Memories of Nar-Etulis, of Deepwell, of the late nights he spent sea-gazing. Of burnt kald-scales and chanted intonations each morning, when he was younger. And of a whole bunch of other memories he would have sooner forgotten?
As Arkos introduced himself, his crew and his ship, the Telvenar nodded politely, but it was clear that he felt very uncomfortable. The priest looked fidgety and nervous, continuously glancing warily at his surroundings. i]Maybe his only exposure to starships so far has been to Terran Empire vessels,[/i] Arkos thought, and who knows what they did to him. Either way, Arkos noticed that this man?s personality was radically different than his own. Arkos liked to think that he was a confident, outgoing man, but whether due to some lingering trauma or due to his religious doctrine, the Telvenar was the exact opposite?quiet, reserved, and, thus far, overbearingly polite.
?We found you on a damaged shuttlecraft,? Arkos told his double. ?According to our sensor readings, you were barely conscious when you flew through the wormhole, and your shuttle had sustained quite a bit of weapons damage.?
The Telvenar gave Arkos a deep bow. ?I am grateful, Captain,? he said. ?If not for you and your crew, I would most certainly have died. I am in your debt, as Ionn weaves.?
The old expression stung Arkos. He realized that it had been five?maybe six years since he had heard someone say that phrase, and maybe nine years since he had said it himself. As Ionn weaves, he thought bitterly. Everything happens because Ionn weaves it.
K?Nera folded her hands. ?If you don?t mind telling us, Cap?Mr. Nair, what were you doing in that shuttlecraft in the first place??
The Telvenar?s gaze turned to K?Nera. Again, Arkos saw consternation cross the man?s eyes as he looked at the Andorian. Could a mirror version of K?Nera have done something to him? ?I had stolen the shuttle from a Terran ship that I was imprisoned upon, Lieutenant K?Nera,? he replied. ?I was being transported with several others to one of their prison colonies when the ship?s power went out. I confess, I do not know how or why this happened, except perhaps because Ionn weaved it so.?
Of course, Arkos thought sarcastically, resisting the urge to say that out loud. ?And in the ensuing jailbreak, you managed to steal a shuttlecraft??
The Telvenar gave a sage nod. ?I regret to say that I was the only one to make it to a shuttlebay,? he said. ?My fellow prisoners were all captured or killed by the ship?s crew. But before the escape, I overheard one of my fellow prisoners say that the ship was creating a?hole, in space?that would lead to a Mirror Universe. A place that was a better, less cruel, reflection of my world. And while I know nothing of how to fly a shuttlecraft, as Ionn weaves, I was able to find this rent in the heavens. ? He glanced at Arkos. ?I consider it a blessing that I not only made it through alive, but that I encountered my own mirror half in the process.?
Arkos had no idea how to react to that sort of compliment. He simply gave the Telvenar a half-smile before glancing sideways at his Chief Engineer. ?Adim, given what we know about the technology of the Terran Empire, do you think it?s possible that they created this wormhole artificially??
The Andorian frowned. ?I?m afraid I can?t base anything off of our knowledge of Imperial technology, Captain,? he replied, ?but it is possible. A stable, but short-lived hole can be created by generating a magneton pulse along a subspace tensor matrix. Maybe the Terran Empire has adapted this technique and perfected it.?
?But if they made the wormhole, why haven?t they used it yet?? K?Nera asked. ?It sounds like they?re trying to create a stable invasion route.?
Sann leaned forward. ?It could be that they?re still testing its stability,? she replied. ?It?s one thing for a single shuttlecraft to go through, but a larger starship?or worse, an entire fleet?would interact with the wormhole differently. There?s always the risk of a hole?s tetryon field reacting negatively with a ship?s shields, never mind the shields of several dozen ships.?
Nodding to the Trill, Arkos turned back to the Telvenar. ?Well, you?ve made it through in one piece,? he said, giving the man a smile. ?My crew and I are willing to help you in any way that they can, and the Federation is ready to grant you asylum if you wish.?
The Telvenar nodded. ?Thank you, Captain. I accept your Federation?s offer, but I come before you with a wish for something more important than my own safety.? He stared Arkos in the eye. ?Tell me, Captain, as we are both the same person, and are both Korda?in this universe, has the Calamity happened??
The question was one that Arkos had sincerely hoped the Telvenar wouldn?t ask, as it would mean that at least one version of Nar-Etulis had been spared. The Calamity. The common name for the environmental disaster that had afflicted the Korda homeworld almost a century ago. Decades of intense ice-mining in the polar regions, atmospheric modulation and gas-harvesting had taken its toll on Nar-Etulis? environment. This, combined with a sudden spike in harmful radiation emissions from the planet?s sun, had caused the world?s polar ice caps to melt. In an instant, the Korda civilization, one that had rivalled other races for its technological advancement and majesty, was shattered by floods, tsunamis and geological upheaval. The remnants of the Korda race were forced to live in great underwater cities from that point on, a sad reflection of what they once were.
He nodded gravely to the priest. ?It has,? he replied. ?I?m sorry.?
His double?s shoulders sagged in defeat. ?Even in this universe, then, the Korda are undone,? he moaned. ?In my universe, though, the Calamity was but the beginning of our woes. No sooner had our own world consumed us when the Terran Empire came.? A bitter tone came over his voice. ?Those murderous reekfins had always gazed jealously upon us before, but now that we were weakened, they swooped down upon us like carrion.?
The Telvenar?s gaze returned to Arkos. ?Nar-Etulis is no longer our own world, Captain,? he said. ?The Terran Empire?s soldiers walk our cities. They have enslaved our people, and made us toil for their luxury and amusement.? His face twisted into an expression of anger Arkos didn?t even know he was capable of. ?They have outlawed our traditions, and forbade the reverence of Ionn! It is not enough that they have enslaved us, Captain, now they seek to damn us!?
?What would you ask of us, then??Arkos said. He already has a suspicion of where this conversation was going.
?I ask, Captain, that the Federation save my?our?people!? the Telvenar replied. ?I ask that the Federation send a fleet through the?wormhole, as you call it?and liberate Nar-Etulis!?
For a moment, the table went silent. Arkos pulled his gaze free from that of the Telvenar. He couldn?t imagine Nar-Etulis ground down under the Terran Empire?s heel like that. He didn?t want to. What the Telvenar described stained every single good memory he had of his birth-world. But he knew that if he had seen what his mirror counterpart had seen, he would be just as angry, just as desperate and just as determined. What he had to say next was going to hurt them both, on so many levels.
?I?m sorry,? he said, ?but I?m afraid that isn?t possible.?
The Telvenar looked as though he had been slapped. ?I?m sorry?? he asked. ?What do you mean by ?not possible???
Arkos took a deep breath, and folded his hands together. ?Look,? he said, ?if the situation in our own universe were any different, I would say yes. I would make the petition to Starfleet to secure this wormhole and send a fleet through. I would try my damndest to see Nar-Etulis liberated, and if it weren?t for Starfleet protocols, I would see the Empire bastards hang for every Korda life they?ve taken.?
He leaned forwards a little to lock eyes with his double. ?But right now, the Federation is fighting a war on too many fronts. We?re battling for our survival against the Klingons, the Romulans, the Breen, the Cardassian True Way, and most of all, the Borg. We could not try to liberate your universe?s Nar-Etulis without trying to liberate every other world oppressed by the Empire, and that would be a massive, and risky, undertaking. It would mean fighting the Terran Empire in its own space, against its full strength, through a single wormhole. I?m sorry, but Starfleet does not have the resources at hand for a full invasion of the Terran Empire. We?re barely holding off the Klingons as it is.?
The Telvenar stared in blinking disbelief at Arkos. The look of betrayal on his face stung him deeply. ?But?there is a wormhole out there, right in front of you!? he shouted. ?Your ship could use it to fly through, and get to Nar-Etulis!?
?The wormhole,? Arkos replied, as calmly as possible, ?could very well be unstable. And even if it wasn?t, a single ship flying deep into the Imperial space would be suicide. I am not going to risk the lives of my crew so recklessly.?
?It is your world!? the Telvenar almost screamed this time. ?Our world! Our people! We have a responsibility towards them!?
Arkos felt the blood in his cheeks run hot. ?I know,? he said, his molars clenching slightly. ?Damn it, I know. But I also have a responsibility to my crew, to my ship, and to the Prime Directive. I am sorry, Telvenar, but I cannot help you.?
The Telvenar made a deep, slow exhalation as he glared furiously at Arkos. A few seconds of cold silence fell over the room. The skin on the back of Arkos? neck prickled. He felt hatred in that silence?real, caustic hatred, flowing out from his double.
Abruptly, the Telvenar stood up from his chair. ?By your inaction, you doom thousands, Captain,? he hissed. ?You are no better than the Empire.?
The words hit Arkos like a hammer-blow. He sprang to his feet as the Telvenar walked towards the doorway, and would have leapt across the table to punch his double in the face if K?Nera hadn?t stood up at the same time, pressing an arm against his chest to block him off ?Captain!? she shouted. Held in place, Arkos could only glare venomously at the Telvenar as he strode out of the room.
Exhaling loudly, Arkos sat back down and took several deep breaths. That man wasn?t him, he decided firmly. That reckless, irrational, Ionn-trembling kakrynn wasn?t him at all, even if the two of them looked alike.
He breathed out again, and let his anger flow out along with the breath. ?Alright,? he finally said, turning to Sann and Adim. ?As long as that wormhole remains open, it presents a clear and present danger to the Federation. Our top priority is sealing it, temporarily if not permanently. Sann, could we destabilize it with a photon torpedo??
Sann drummed her fingers. ?We could,? she replied, ?but we?ll have no way of calculating how unstable the implosion would be. The collateral damage could be immense.?
?During the Dominion War, the crew of Deep Space Nine did try to seal the Bajoran Wormhole with a series of phase-conjugate graviton beams,? Adim suggested. ?It failed that time due to sabotage by a Changeling, but unless someone in this room is a shapeshifter, I see no reason why we couldn?t try it ourselves.?
Arkos nodded to his Chief Engineer. ?Good. I want you two to get on that right away. The sooner we can close this wormhole, the better. In the meantime,? he glanced at K?Nera, ?seeing as he?s accepted our offer of asylum, I want quarters to be arranged for our guest. We?ll keep him safe and comfortable before passing him over to the Diplomatic Corps. Dismissed.?
Sann and Adim both got up and left the room, quietly pleased, as usual, to have a project to work on. K?Nera, on the other hand, remained seated, staring impassively at Arkos. Arkos recognized that stare. K?Nera didn?t give it to him that often, but when she did, it meant that there was something that she had to get off of her chest.
?Permission to speak freely, sir?? she asked.
He nodded. ?Granted.?
?Sir, are you alright?? she asked. She seemed genuinely concerned. ?I don?t think I?ve ever seen you react this angrily to someone before.?
Arkos? jawline tightened. ?Well, you did hear him, K?Nera,? he replied. ?That...our guest?practically called me a traitor to my own people. I?m quite sure that if someone accused you of hating your own species, you would do a lot more than simply sit there and be appalled.?
?That?s not what I meant, sir,? K?Nera replied. ?I noticed that ever since he came into the room, something about your alternate self has set you off. You?ve seemed more on edge, more blunt in your way of speaking and acting, and you seemed unusually eager when you discussed closing the wormhole. If I didn?t know better, sir, I?d say that there was something about your mirror version that you hated.?
Arkos felt his cheeks burn at the comment. ?Don?t be ridiculous, K?Nera,? he replied. ?He?s a refugee from the Mirror Universe who needs our help. It?s not my place to hate him. I just don?t intend to bow to his impossible demands, either.?
The Andorian seemed nonplussed as she continued to stare at Arkos. ?Sir?my knowledge of the social situation on your homeworld is hazy, but does this have something to do with the conflict on Nar-Etulis that you escaped from??
At that point, Arkos stood up abruptly. ?Lieutenant, I am a Starfleet officer,? he spat angrily. ?I am above whatever petty grudges or local conflicts you may be referring to, because I have been trained to see the bigger picture. I suggest you carry out your orders instead of trying to play psychoanalyst with your commanding officer. Are we clear??
K?Nera?s gaze intensified into one of hurt anger and of defiance. Arkos could see that she would dearly have liked to retort to his comment, but her Starfleet discipline overrode her hot-blooded Andorian temper. ?Yes sir,? she replied stiffly.
Without a furher word, K?Nera stood up and stormed out of the meeting room. The doors hissed closed in her wake, leaving Arkos to brood in silence.
Later that day, against what he was sure was his better judgement, Arkos paid his double a visit.
Maybe, he thought upon reflection, he really did want to salvage something from that disastrous meeting-- the Telvenar was him after all, even if it was a a more shortsighted, religious him. He was willing to concede that maybe he was partially to blame for the failed meeting: he had always been more used to dealing with generators, mechanisms, relays, engines and computer networks than with people, despite all of his management training. This felt like an opportunity to improve on his people skills with someone he could, in a sense, relate to.
And maybe, he also reflected, he was being spurred on by a desire to prove K'Nera wrong. To prove that he could, indeed, rise above the emotional baggage he knew he'd been carrying since he'd left Nar-Etulis.
At Arkos' approach, the door to the Telvenar's quarters slid open with a gentle hydraulic hiss. He was greeted by the sound of low, rhythmic chanting, and the familiar, salty smell of burning incense. The Telvenar was sitting cross-legged in the centre of the quarters, his fingers held outwards in the interlocked shape of the detrevat, the symbol of perpetuality, over the smoke billowing upwards from lit kaldscale stick on the floor. His eyes were closed as he quietly sang the Ninth Invocation of the Making in rhythmic, flowing voice.
The sound and smell involuntarily caused the back of Arkos' neck to tingle. He hadn't sang the Ninth Invocation since he was a boy. And now, here he was, hearing himself sing it as an adult.
He remained there, standing immobile in the doorway, for almost half a minute until the Telvenar finally finished his prayer-song. He glanced up at Arkos, his expression calm and almost expectant. The anger and the raw hatred the priest had displayed earlier in the waiting room were gone.
"Ah, Captain," the Telvenar said, smiling. "I must thank you for arranging these quarters for me. The Empire's idea of living quarters were a steel room barely the width of my arm, so I must say this is a welcome improvement."
Sensing no tension or animosity from his double, Arkos allowed himself to relax a little, and chuckled at the Telvenar's comment. See? he told himself mentally. Beneath that religious exterior, he has a sense of humour, just like you. There's no need why you can't get along with him.
He folded his arms behind his back in a classic Starfleet 'at ease' posture. "I hope I am not disturbing you, Telvenar," he said.
The Telvenar's answer was preceded by a polite bow. "You are not, Captain," he replied. "I feel that I must apologize for my outburst earlier today. It was...unbecoming of a Telvenar."
Arkos allowed himself a slight smile at the Telvenar. It was, he realized, the first time he had actually smiled to his double. "Water under the bridge," he replied. He quickly noticed the puzzled frown that the comment had earned him, and quickly corrected himself. "Sorry, it's a Human term that I've grown accustomed to. It means that there's no harm done, and any fault has already been forgotten."
"I see." Arkos saw a faint look of unease cross his double's features. "The Terrans certainly are fond of their idioms, aren't they?"
Suddenly aware that he was walking on thin ice now (and realizing that he'd just thought another Terran idiom in his head, frighteningly enough), Arkos decided that it would be best to lighten the mood further. "Annoying, aren't they?" he asked.
"The Terrans, or their idioms?"
A slow smile crept over the Telvenar's face. "In that, Captain, we are agreed."
The two Korda shared a laugh before Arkos cleared his throat and continued. "I came here to let you know that the Da Vinci will be heading off soon. The Federation Diplomatic Corps has been notified of your request for asylum, and they are all too happy to help. We will be taking you to Starbase 85, and from there, the Corps will help relocate you to a new place to live, far from the incursion zones of the Mirror Universe."
He was met by a raised eyebrow from the Telvenar. "A temporary place to live, you mean," his double responded. "Make no mistake, Captain, I am grateful for the sanctuary that the Federation is willing to give me. However, I have every intention of returning to my homeworld, Captain, with or without your help. I cannot allow myself to live in comfort and safety while our people are being oppressed."
Arkos swallowed. He should have known that this issue would come up. He did not look forward to the argument that was no doubt going to ensue.
"That will be...difficult, Telvenar," he said.
The Telvenar stared up at him, frowning. "Why is that?"
Arkos took a deep breath. "As you may have overheard, the Terran Empire clearly created the wormhole as a gateway through which to invade the Federation," he said. "As much as I understand and...appreciate your wish to help Nar-Etulis, Telvenar, it is my duty to close that wormhole and prevent any possible invasion."
He braced himself, expecting the Telvenar to explode again into upset, betrayed outrage. Instead, he got something even worse: a period of silence. It was a bitter, caustic silence, one in which the Telvenar stared at him in hurt disbelief, before looking away. His double's tripartite expression of anger, betrayal and sadness felt like a deep stab wound in Arkos' chest.
"And what of your duty to your people, Captain?" the Telvenar finally asked, still looking away. "To your faith? Does your duty to an...alien organization...supercede those?"
Arkos' jaw tightened. This "alien organization" gave me shelter, just as they're giving it to you, he wanted to reply. The Federation accepted me when my own people would not. He fought down the retort, knowing that he could very well shatter the bridge he had come intending to repair. "I know this will sound harsh, Telvenar," he said, "but when I joined Starfleet, I took an oath to defend the Federation and its principles. I cannot willingly endanger other races and peoples to protect my own, no matter how much I might want to. And as for my faith...your faith and mine are two different things entirely."
The Telvenar looked up again, this time looking at Arkos with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. "I see," he said. "You are an Apologist."
Arkos nodded. "Yes. And that, I do not apologize for," he answered with the old motto.
In the ugly aftermath of the Calamity, when the remnants of the Korda race had settled into the dilapidated underwater settlements called deepwells, two prominent ideological groups had arisen. One was the Chastised, a religous group that renounced contemporary technology and preached a more modest, low-tech lifestyle. The Korda race had brought the Calamity on itself, the Chastised argued, through their over-reliance on technology and their wanton disregard for tradition, nature or their own limitations. The ice caps would not have melted if the Korda had not employed the technology or environmentally thoughtless production means that they did, and now they were all paying the price for the reckless, unhindered progress of their forebearers. The Chastised offered a return to a more rudimentary, low-tech lifestyle that brought tradition and the worship of Ionn back to the forefront of Korda life, and many Korda, still seeking some sort of cosmic answer after the desolation of the Calamity, joined the ranks of the Chastised.
The Apologists, on the other hand, might have been referred to generically as "atheists," but that would have been a simplistic description. They were skeptics and rationalists, who recognized the intrinsic value of scientific discovery, technological advancement and rational, forward thinking in this time of adversity. They were of the firm opinion that abolishing technology was no answer at all-- that, if anything, technological advancement was needed now more than ever if the Korda race was to survive. They promoted a worldview based on logic and reason, rather than on religion and mysticism, and wanted the Korda race to move forward, not backward. Their name had stuck because, unlike the Chastised, they saw the Korda's previous way of life as nothing to be ashamed of or sorry for, environmental carelessness aside.
The suspicion on the Telvenar's face lingered. "I am certain that things may be...different in your universe, Captain," he said slowly, "and I make no assumptions about you. It is just...in my universe, it was the Apologists who welcomed the Empire to Nar-Etulis with open arms. The Apologists were the ones who made the annexation possible. They are evil, godless people who have forsaken Ionn for the false promises of the Empire."
Evil. Coming from the Telvenar, the word hurt like a blade between his ribs. It was a word he'd heard thrown at him, his family, and their beliefs more than once, and it didn't sound any better coming from his own lips.
Slowly, Arkos walked over to the side of the room and sat down on an unoccupied chair so that he could face the Telvenar more levelly. "I'm not going to contend that approaching the Empire was an ignorant and utterly stupid decision on their part, Telvenar," Arkos replied, "and I understand that the Apologists of your universe may be different in many ways from those in mine. But...have you ever considered that your Apologists might have been motivated by something other than malice? That perhaps they had good intentions behind their actions?"
The Telvenar's expression hardened. "I fail to see anything 'good' about what they did, Captain."
"Really?" Arkos folded his arms. "If your Nar-Etulis is anything like mine, then life is hard. There are few functioning generators left, even fewer life support systems, and all of the Deepwells use antiquated equipment to keep their populations alive. The mortality rate is three times what it was before the Calamity, and I don't even want to consider the infant mortality rate."
The Telvenar nodded. "Yes. It has been this way for as long as I remember, Captain. And yet we endure, as Ionn weaves."
Arkos shook his head. "No, don't you see? It doesn't HAVE to be that way. Maybe your Apologists, as ultimately wrong as they were, thought that joining the Empire would improve the standard of living for Nar-Etulis."
"An utterly selfish desire, Captain," the Telvenar replied. "The state of Nar-Etulis is our punishment, our lot to endure. It is the only way we can atone for the hubris of our forefathers in thinking themselves masters over nature. To embrace a technologized way of life such as the Empire's would be to re-embrace that hubris and repeat our mistakes."
It was the same, stupid argument Arkos had heard hundreds of times before, obstinate and unchanging. "Haven't we suffered enough?" he retorted. "You talk of punishment and atonement, Telvenar, but the way I see it, the Korda race has more than paid for any crimes it has committed, imagined or otherwise."
"Then you are being very short-sighted, Captain," the Telvenar said sternly. "Before the Calamity, our civilization spent centuries defiling the planet, trampling on tradition and wrongfully setting ourselves up as gods. Our fall was just and deserved, but if we must suffer for centuries of wrongdoing, then our penance must be just as long." He folded his arms. "Would you have us create another fragile, false pedestal for us to put ourselves upon, so that we fall again just as hard?"
The comment made Arkos' blood burn. "So this is it? You think our people should continue to suffer in the name of 'penance'?" His hands balled into fists. "You speak of wanting to save our people, but you would see them continue to live in squalor and wretchedness, to see them punished for the actions of their forefathers! Please tell me how THAT is saving them!"
The Telvenar's eyes widened a little at Arkos' words. He stood up, glaring at his counterpart. "How dare you," he hissed, his voice remaining level even as his anger leaked past his calm outward facade. "You have not seen what I have seen, Captain. The...defilements that the Empire has carried out against our temples, our traditions, our way of life. These are the fault of the Apologists. They seek nothing less than to kill our faith, to quash our belief and our traditions in the name of 'reason' and 'progress'."
Arkos stood up in turn, meeting the Telvenar's glare. "I'm sure the Empire are every bit as evil as you say they are, Telvenar," he said said in slow, measured words. "But before you cast the Apologists in the same light, consider that religion cannot feed a starving people!"
"A Korda who refuses to acknowledge Ionn--"
"--is no Korda at all. So I've heard. But let me hypothesize something to you, Telvenar. Suppose that your version of Nar-Etulis was never annexed. Suppose that you and the Apologists were allowed to live side by side undisturbed in the Deepwells, with no outside force bothering you. What do you think would have happened?"
The Telvenar seemed nonplussed. "Whatever Ionn weaved," he replied, as though it were obvious.
"Then allow me to propose to you an alternate version of history, Telvenar," Arkos said. "One where Apologists and Chastised DID live peacefully with one another, for a while. And then, one day, the Chastised started to grow more and more afraid and suspicious of the Apologists. They began more openly use words such as 'godless' and 'blasphemer' in their presence, all because they chose not to believe in some mythical fate-weaver."
He took a deep breath before continuing. "Suppose, Telvenar, that one day, the Chastised collectively decided that the Apologists were too dangerous to be allowed to live alongside them. That they started denying them services and shelter, and making the deepwells less accessible to them. That they started ganging up on and beating individual Apologists, and that those beatings gradually turned into killings. And it got so bad, that those among the Apologists who had the means were forced to leave their birth-world and never return. In this alternate history, Telvenar, can you still rightly say that the Apologists are the evil ones?"
There was a short, uncomfortable silence. Arkos, though, saw his counterpart’s stern, indignant expression waver. Slowly but surely, the Telvenar looked away from Arkos. "I do not know," he finally said.
"Of course you don't," Arkos growled.
At that point, it was obvious to Arkos that he had made a mistake in coming here. There was no common ground, nothing that could be salvaged between him and this Chastised who wore his face. He wanted nothing more than to get on with his duties now-- to close the wormhole and head to Starbase 85 so that he could dump the Telvenar there and never have to deal with him again. Their conversation was over.
It was just as well, as a second later, the warbling beep of a red alert burst into existence all around them.
The Telvenar jumped at the noise, bewildered. No sooner had the red alert sounded when Arkos' comm badge beeped. "Bridge to Captain Nair," came K'Nera's voice.
He slapped the badge. "Nair here."
"Captain, you're needed up here. A ship is coming through the wormhole."
The Telvenar had insisted on accompanying Arkos to the bridge, stating the need to see if it was his pursuers. Arkos had not been in the mood to bother talking to him, and so his double had accompanied him on the turbolift, obviously taking his lack of response as a 'yes.' He ignored the Telvenar for the entire short trip, even when the Telvenar walked in after him as he strode onto the bridge.
He was greeted by the sight of the azure majesty of the wormhole on the viewscreen, and of a metallic shape gliding out of it like an ancient sailing vessel riding a bow wave. Arkos instantly recognized it as an Excalibur-class ship, a medium cruiser, one of the most common starship builds to be churned out of the Utopia Planetia yards. It was, the engineer in him had to admit, a beautiful ship, its swan-like shape was silhouetted a dark silver against the wormhole, its deflector and nacelles gleaming a vibrant blue that blended in against the wormhole. The Excalibur-class was a top-notch vessel, ably combining capability and aesthetics in one effective and iconic design. He had always hoped to command one, if and when he was ever promoted.
He'd never once imagined, though, that one would be out to kill him.
"Report!" he ordered as he sat in his command chair. The Telvenar hovered near the edge of the tactical desk, his gaze affixed to the viewscreen.
"The vessel came out of the wormhole a little more than a minute ago," Farim replied as she pored over the ops console. "No known registration or identifying codes being broadcast."
"They're powering up their weapons, sir," K'Nera added.
Arkos had been afraid of that. As the Excalibur-class drifted closer, he could see the ugly ochre markings staining its hull and saucer, marring the ship's beauty. "Shields up!" he ordered. "Arm phasers!" Even as he gave the order, he desperately hoped it didn't come down to a fight. The Excalibur-class was one of Starfleet's workhorses, well-armed and able to fulfill a variety of combat roles. A lighter Miranda-class like the Da Vinci, on the other hand, had a reputation for being the first ship to explode at every major battle in Federation history. He doubted things were any different in the Mirror Universe.
"That's it," he suddenly heard the Telvenar whisper. He glanced at his double, and saw that he was gazing at the screen in abject horror. "That's the ship that I was imprisoned upon."
A console behind Arkos suddenly beeped. "Captain," K'Nera said, "we're being hailed."
Arkos felt his throat tighten. A part of him really didn't want to see what the crew of the other ship looked like-- he'd seen more of this universe's dark, twisted mirror in the Telvenar than he had wanted to. "On screen," he ordered.
The view shifted to that of the unnervingly familiar sight of a starship bridge not unlike the Da Vinci's. Dominating the screen was an even more unnervingly familiar Andorian woman. True, her usually short hair was now shoulder-length, a leather patch covered her right eye, and her uniform bore a captain's pips as well as the badge of a sword being driven through a planet, but she was still familiar.
"This is Captain K'Nera of the I.S.S. Caligula," the Andorian woman said. "We..." she trailed off then, as she seemed to recognize the faces staring back at her. A cruel smile lit her features. "Well, this is a surprise!"
Arkos did his best to keep his face from betraying any emotion. Next to him, though, the Telvenar was looking at K'Nera in outright terror. His own first officer, by contrast, was gazing at her double with quiet fury. Slowly, Arkos stood up from his command chair. "This is Captain Arkos Nair of the U.S.S. Da Vinci," he said, loudly and authoritatively. "You are intruding on Federation space. State your business."
"Captain?" the mirror K'Nera echoed with an amused chuckle. "You mean you've actually risen to a command position? How sad for your universe, then." Her gaze shifted towards the Telvenar, who visibly cringed. "We are here, Captain., for that gentleman standing right next to you. He is both a wanted criminal, and the property of the Terran Empire. We would appreciate it if he were returned to us."
My counterpart is a slave, Arkos realized. The Telvenar had not been joking when he'd said the Korda of his universe had been subjugated. "The Telvenar Arkos Nair has asked the United Federation of Planets for asylum," he replied. "And it has been granted. We don't particularly care for your labelling him as...property."
Captain K'Nera's smile widened, as though she were taking some delight in Arkos' defiance. "Then your asylum, I think, has been granted prematurely," she replied. "Please be sensible, Captain. Consider the lives of your crew-- especially that fetching Andorian at your tactical console." Behind Arkos, his universe's K'Nera bristled. "Is it really worth endangering them all for one lowly criminal?"
"My crew aren't the sort to be moved by threats, Captain K'Nera," Arkos responded flatly, "and neither am I. You call Telvenar Nair a criminal. What crime has he committed?"
The mirror version of K'Nera folded her arms. "Murder," she said, "and treason. He assassinated Governor Syrku Tahl of Nar-Etulis, and was en route to his trial before he escaped. For the sake of justice, we demand his return."
Syrku Tahl. Arkos felt his blood run cold at the name. He slowly turned to face the Telvenar, who was fidgeting at the edge of the bridge.
"You have five minutes to reach a decision, Captain Nair," the mirror K'Nera continued, "or we will make that decision for you. Caligula out." And with that, the viewscreen changed back to the looming shape of the Imperial ship.
Arkos didn't even notice. He continued to stare in disbelief at the Telvenar. "You killed Uncle Syrku?" He remembered his uncle, a man of big smiles, a wide gerth and wonderful stories. He also remembered the day the Chastised lynched him, and used hot pokers to brand him with holy symbols until he finally died in agony.
The Telvenar shook his head. "He was a puppet of the Empire!" he protested. "He was living in luxury while the rest of us slaved! He betrayed us! I had to--"
"You killed Uncle Syrku?" Arkos almost screamed this time. The Telvenar's protests simply made it all worse. It all felt like a horrible violation of Arkos' memories, of the few good things he remembered about his homeworld and a gross distortion of the day it all fell apart.
In an instant, he had grabbed the Telvenar's collar in a death grip, raising a fist to strike. "You murdering son of a--"
Another pair of hands suddenly grabbed at his outstretched wrist, catching his arm in a strong grip before he could deliver a punch. "Captain, that's enough!" he heard K'Nera shout.
Biting back his fury, Arkos tore his arm free of K'Nera's grip and turned back to the viewscreen, turning his back on his double. The Telvenar wasn't staying one moment longer on his ship, he decided. The Empire can keep him, and Starfleet command can censure me all they want for all I care. I'm not going to risk my life or the lives of my crew for that murdering bastard, no matter what the Federatin charter--
The Federation charter. The old, revered document stating that all sentient species and individuals had the right to freedom and self-determination. The very document he had sworn to uphold, no matter what the circumstance. Damn it...
The Telvenar stared gat Arkos, seemingly understanding his double's anguish. He hung his head in an unspoken admission of guilt. "Captain...I have no wish for you to risk the lives and your crew and yourself on my behalf," he said. "I...I think perhaps it would be better if you agreed to hand me back to the Empire. I don't want anyone else to suffer for my sake--"
"Belay that!" Arkos spat, interrupting his double, before tapping his comm badge."Bridge to Enginering. Adim, is the graviton beam ready?"
"Negative, sir," came the Andorian's frantic reply. "The deflector grid still needs some final adjustments, which will take at least fifteen minutes!"
"We don't have fifteen minutes, Adim!" Arkos snapped. "Skip non-essential parameters if you have to, we need it ready, and fast!" He turned to K'Nera, who was still standing near him after restraining him. "K'Nera, hail the hail the Caligula."
His First Officer warily made her way back to her station and tapped at the console. "Aye sir."
In an instant, the view changed back to a view of the Caligula's bridge. Past the cruel smile of K'Nera's double, Arkos could have sworn he saw mirror versions of Sann, Adim and Farim working at their stations as well. They looked unnervingly identical to their alternate counterparts, the only notable difference being the sword-emblazoned Empire uniforms that they wore.
"Ah, that was quick!" Captain K'Nera exclaimed cheerfully. "Are you sure you don't need a few more minutes to decide, Captain?"
"We don't need five minutes, or five seconds," Arkos growled back. "The Federation has given Telvenar Nair asylum, and we will honour that agreement."
The mirror K'Nera gave an almost pouting frown. "Are you sure that's wise, Captain? You are risking much for one worthless Korda."
"Perhaps," Arkos replied, "but another 'worthless' Korda knows that you're here for much more than chasing an escaped prisoner. You intend to destroy us, whether we give you the Telvenar or not, and pave the way for an invasion."
The Andorian's grin returned, wider than ever, as she clapped her hands together. "Very astute of you, Captain Nair!" she exclaimed. "Try to put up at least a little bit of a fight, will you? One-sided battles are quite boring."
And with that, the Caligula's bridge disappeared, the screen flickering back into the dominating image of the Empire vessel and the whirling abyss of the wormhole behind it.
And then, a split second later, the starscape was pierced by a burning lance of phaser fire, and the tense atmosphere was literally shaken violently.
Within seconds of the Caligula's intitial phaser burst, Arkos barked the order to return fire. The Da Vinci and Caligula both began the battle in earnest with a mutual volley of photon torpedos. The spaceborne projectiles screamed past one another like spinning red stars, impacting explosively against the shields of both ships and sending officers on both sides hurtling off their feet as the ships around them shook violently.
Under normal circumstances, the forward shields of an old Miranda-class like the Da Vinci would have collapsed immediately under such a bombardment. Captain K'Nera, however, clearly had no idea how much effort Arkos Nair had put into updating his vessel-- how many long hours and days he had spent bargaining and wheedling with starbase quartermasters to get resources and equipment not normally reserved for light cruisers. As such, the Empire captain was faintly surprised to discover that the Da Vinci's shields were more robust than she had expected, straining but holding against the Caligula's torpedo onslaught. Her surprises would not end there.
Powering forwards on impulse, the Da Vinci dipped low under the Caligula's starboard bow, its forward phaser cannon blazing to life and sending bolts of ochre light stabbing upward at its foe. The Caligula's forward shields buckled, before her crew recovered from their surprise and returned fire, their ship's forward phasers washing against the shields its smaller opponent. The Caligula powered forward on impulse as it fired, and the two ships began a dance of evasive manouvers.
The Da Vinci pulled to the Caligula's stern, and the two ships exchanged broadsides, yellow beams and the pulsing cannon flashes crisscrossing as fore and aft phaser arrays were brought into the equation. The shields of both ships shimmered as they gave and took punishment. With a sudden burst of speed, the Da Vinci suddenly pulled to the side and flew directly away from the Caligula instead of letting her pass, not wanting to be caught by her aft torpedoEs. Her aft phasers stabbed back at the Empire vessel as she jinked, deftly evading two lashing phaser bursts from her opponent as she ran on high impulse.
Swinging around, the Da Vinci came around to face the Caligula again, just as the Empire vessel glided around to bring its forward weapons to bear. For the second time, seperate volleys of photon torpedos flew past one another, accentuated by piercing phaser bursts as both ships laid into one another with their forward armaments. Shields buckled and gave out. Consoles and bulkeads exploded under the feedback. Crewmen were knocked or blown off their feet, and damage control teams hurriedly rushed from spot to spot to keep their respective ships running.
Even with the Da Vinci's updated weapons and shields, by rights, it still should have been fighting a losing battle against a superior vessel like the Caligula. Captain K'Nera, however, had underestimated just how resourceful her opponent was, simply because he wasn't approaching this battle from a military perspective. As the Empire captain sat on her command chair, barking orders and threats to her crew, Arkos was standing in his own bridge, working furiously at an engineering console as he collaborated via comms with Adim, all the while while shouting orders of his own and trusting his K'Nera with the Da Vinci's firing solutions. At Arkos' command, the Da Vinci pulled every trick they could against the Empire vessel, reversing the polarity of their shields to briefly absorb some of the Caligula's withering phaser fire, carfully managing and distributing auxiliary power and, as the two ships closed in on one another, unleashing a charged particles that caused the Caligula's starboard shields to flicker and die. K'Nera quickly took advantage of this weakness, raking the Caligula with aft phasers and fore cannon and scoring two long, burning gashes across its main hull.
This success was short lived. As the two ships passed one another by, the Da Vinci was caught by a torpedo burst from the Caligula's aft launchers. The salvo slammed against the ship's rear shields, overloading, before a stinging phaser beam lanced back from the Caligula, biting deeply into the aft section of the Da Vinci's main hull.
On the bridge, Arkos was nearly thrown off the feet by the impact as, nearby, the main shield console exploded, flinging Ensign Weber back in a burned, lifeless mess. A cluster of support cabling had torn free from the ceiling on the left side of the bridge, sparking violently, and a ruptured life support line was now venting gas in the upper left hand corner. As the ship shook, Arkos caught a glimpse of the Telvenar clutching the railing of the operations desk, clinging on in terror.
"Hull breach on Deck Two!" Sann shouted from the Science station. "Aft shields are down, and our hull is at seventy-five percent!" The bridge rocked again, another of the aft consoles exploding in a sudden burst of flame. "Make that fifty percent, sir!" Sann hastily corrected. "Captain, we can't take another hit like that!"
Moving over to the main shields console, and wincing as he forced himself to touch the hot, burnt screen, Arkos cursed under his breath. The aft shields were too heavily damaged, and he wouldn't be able to restore them in time. More importantly, the main impulse drive had taken some damage as well. They could still turn, but not quickly enough to bring their starboard shields around to face the Caligula's onslaught.
Glancing back at the screen, Arkos saw the stately shape of the Caligula do a turn, coming around to face the stricken rear of the Da Vinci like some pacing predator. The two long breaches they had scored across the Caligula's flank still glowed, angry and orange. They had wounded the Empire ship, but unfortunately, it hadn't been enough.
It was then that realization suddenly hit Arkos. The evanescent blue glow of the wormhole no longer dominated the viewscreen, fixed as it was in an aft view. The Caligula was right behind them. The wormhole, however, was in front of them.
"Sann, throw up ECM countermeasures in the bridge to repel any boarding attempts," he ordered, before switching to comms. "Adim, give me a status update on the graviton pulse. Is it ready?"
"No sir," he heard Adim reply. The Andorian's voice was heavy with defeat. "I'm sorry, sir."
Swearing under his breath, Adim turned to his Tactical Officer. "K'Nera, lock photon torpedos on the wormhole and prepare a full salvo."
K'Nera turned around to look at Arkos, eyes wide in surprise. Sann spun around in her chair. "Captain, a salvo of torpedoes could--"
"I know the risks, Sann!" Arkos snapped, before turning back to K'Nera and nodding. "Do it. And hail the Caligula."
Warily, K'Nera nodded, before turning back to her station and tapping the controls. A second later, the viewscreen again switched to the bridge of the Caligula. K'Nera's evil twin, Arkos noted with distaste, was still smiling, and her bridge was much less of a mess.
"Ah, Captain Nair!" the Andorian exclaimed. "Do you wish to surrender?"
Stepping in front of the viewscreen, Arkos made a point of looking his opponent in the eye. "That's funny," he said, "I was about to ask you the same question."
The mirror K'Nera laughed mirthfully. "Confident to the bitter end. I like that." She folded her hands. "You've put up a valiant fight, Captain Nair. And that's the first time I've had anything positive to say about a member of your species. But you are outclassed, and on the verge of destruction. You have lost this battle."
Arkos allowed himself a wry grin. "Oh, I disagree, Captain K'Nera," he replied. "We still have a full salvo of torpedoes, armed and ready to fire."
"With no aft launcher to fire them out of," K'Nera sneered back. "If you were facing in the right direction, then I would take your threat seriously, Captain Nair."
"I didn't say I would fire them at you."
For the first time in this encounter, the mirror K'Nera had stopped smiling. Her features creased into a frown that seemed to tug uncomfortably at the corners of her eyepatch. "What?"
"In your enthusiasm to blow us up, you seem to have forgotten about the wormhole your ship came out of," Arkos said. "Very careless of you, Captain. My own First Officer would never have made that mistake." Behind him, at the Tactical Console, he was certain that his own universe's K'Nera was blushing at the comment. "Unless you power down your ship's weapons, I will destroy the wormhole, and with it, your only chance of returning to your home dimension. My Science Officer informs me that the resulting implosion would be quite...catastrophic for the both of us."
On the viewscreen, Captain K'Nera stiffened. Slowly, she leaned back in her command chair, daggers in her eyes as she glared at Arkos. The cruel mirth she had been displaying before was gone. "If you fire on that wormhole, Captain Nair," she said, "then you sign your own death warrant. Even if the implosion does not destroy your vessel, [i%5
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