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Captain
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 502
# 10
03-08-2013, 05:29 PM
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?"

"Both."

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

Last edited by ambassadormolari; 03-20-2013 at 10:25 AM.