Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 2,728
# 31
06-18-2013, 12:57 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by sander233 View Post
Sorry guys, I know it seems like this has been dragging on forever.

Between work, co-leading a fleet, trying to get my Romulan through the FEs before the replay reward event ends, and working on other projects, I just haven't had enough time to finish The Road in the timeframe I'd originally anticipated. And the Road keeps getting longer... (at this point it looks like it will be three more chapters and an epilogue.)

The good news I've finished writing all of the major scenes for Part V so that might be ready to drop tonight if I can figure out how to link it all together. (Tonight my time - PDT.)

[EDIT]scratch that, definitely not tonight, shooting for tomorrow.[/EDIT]

And also bear in mind that each chapter of my story is about as long as one of Patrick's entire story-threads so I've actually been just as prolific, just more sporadic with the updates.

By the way, thanks for all your recent contributions, Patrick. I have to split parts again to work in all that gold with Eighty-Six...
lol, sorry man. You're right though-your chapters are as long as some of my stories. One of my problems is, Ideas just start hammering at the door and it gets hard to keep them in check until the product's finished, and the more open ended, the harder they knock to be let out.
"when you're out of Birds of Prey, you're out of ships."
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,343
# 32 Part V: Down the Wrong Road
06-20-2013, 09:50 PM
The streets of persuasion
Are plated with gold
Your heart's in the right place
But you traveled down the wrong road
Like so many before you
The gate's open wide
Here comes the rising tide

Let's go out tonight
There's a mystery underneath the neon light
Before the life and the dream collide
'Cause the truth's gonna come and cut me open wide
And you can't escape the rising of the tide

Keep up your appearance
You join in the choir
With everybody singing out
Glory Hallelujah
The time came for your solo
But there was nowhere to hide
Here come the rising tide

And the company you keep
Well they plan your crucifixion as we speak
So baby, till the life and the dream collide
There's gonna be a mystery underneath those neon lights
If you can't decipher just who's on your side
You will not escape the rising of the tide

Can you tell me brother, was I deceived or in denial?
I was there, in the back of the room, when you testified
With your pitchfork tongue, you licked your lips and lied
We're never gonna know how hard you cried
When you petitioned then your access was denied
Till the venom in your veins is satisfied
Till you suffocate and swallow down the pride
Well you can't escape
No you can't escape
Well you can't escape the rising of the tide


Brandon Flowers of The Killers - "The Rising Tide"




PART V: DOWN THE WRONG ROAD



IKS Norgh'a'Qun, Qo'noS orbit - Three weeks ago


"I must say, General, this food is delicious." Woldan picked up another piece of delicate reddish meat with his fingers. "What did you call this?"

"It's called sashimi," Ssharki explained to the Klingon High Councilman who was dining in his quarters. "It's a way of preparing raw ghoti, practiced by an Earth sub-culture called the Japanese. This particular species of ghoti is known as ahi, or yellowfin tuna."

"You got this from Earth?"

"Actually, Dai Nippon colony, in the Dorvan sector." The Gorn carefully picked up a piece of rolled fish with a pair of bamboo chopsticks, pressed it against a dab of wasabi, and ground it into a mound of steamed rice before popping it all into his mouth. "I know a particular Kibo Cri'Box merchant who visits the system periodically. He brings me fresh ahi in stasis, and I have a Human chef on board who prepared this."

"Amazing," Woldan declared. "I never could have imagined Human food fit for a Klingon! And this drink?" He reached for a small ceramic cup.

"Sake. Or more properly nihonshu. Distilled from fermented Koji rice. It is traditional to consume warm sake with sashimi."

"You seem to have a great admiration for Human culture," Woldan remarked.

"For their culinary traditions, anyway," Ssharki replied dismissively. "I thought this meal would be appropriate, considering what you are here to discuss."

"Ah, yes." The Klingon drained his cup and slammed it to the table. Sway refilled it instantly from a ceramic tokkuri flask. Woldan looked at the two young Gorn seated across the table. "We should talk about this privately, gin'tak."

"I keep no secrets from my sons," Ssharki growled. "And Sway and Cal both know that nothing said at this table leaves this room."

Woldan belched. "Very well. There is at least one member of the High Council - possibly more - actively trying to make 'Mountain Road' fail."

"Who?" Ssharki demanded.

"If I knew that, we wouldn't need to Temek to tell us who the Undine infiltrators are." The Klingon laughed. "I'm not even sure if Temek himself is to be trusted."

"'Mountain Road' was Temek's idea," Ssharki reminded the Councilman.

"And what has he turned up so far?" Woldan demanded. "Nothing!"

"Except for what Son Tay flushed out," Ssharki replied. "Captain Duttley in Task Force Omega, Admiral Myles' aide, Ambassador Karattak of all people-"

"But don't you see, that should never have happened," Woldan insisted. "I mean Son Tay should not have succeeded. It was sabotaged by both sides - Starfleet fixing them up with bad chips, and us, sending a bunch of Human mud-farmers in the first place."

"I am continually amazed by just how consistently and how completely you Klingons seem to keep underestimating Humans," Ssaherki remarked. "I for one had no doubts that they would succeed."

The Klingon grunted. "Be that as it may, the fact is that they were sent on that mission with the intention that they fail. Furthermore, my own intelligence agents have intercepted several decrypted communiques between someone on the High Council and a ranking member of the Archaeological Foundation team at the Moab ruins. These signals have been sent after every Council briefing on 'Mountain Road' beginning after the Son Tay mission was launched."

"That's not too suspicious," Sway stated. "Unless I've been misinformed or someone talked about something they shouldn't have, the connection between 'Mountain Road' and the Fek ruins on Moab aren't common knowledge, even among the Council. Even Miss Tran doesn't know of the significance of her world."

"True, but the archaeologists have no business knowing about our hunt for Undine infiltrators. My officers managed to decrypt a few words and phrases - enough to confirm that they were indeed discussing Temek's operation, and a few other things which sound ominous: 'Search for the Atlas', 'Release the Demons' and 'Return of the Masters'.

"They may simply be referring to a rather obscure Klingon myth," Sway said. "The 'Return of the Master' could be an allusion to the return of Kahless. 'Demons' could refer to either the Fek'Ihri themselves or to the 'blameless dishonored' - those who died without honor through no fault of their own. Those are bound in Gre'thor awaiting either restoration of their family's honor or for Kahless' return when they will have a chance to redeem their honor themselves."

Woldan glared at the young security chief. "How do you know so much about Klingon mythology?"

"I took an interest in the legends relating to the Fek'Ihri after I was nearly killed by them last year."

"Hmph." Woldan gulped down his sake. Sway did not refill it.

"I don't want to dismiss your claims, Councilman," Ssharki declared tactfully. "On the contrary, I shall consider them very seriously. I agree that somebody is working against 'Mountain Road.' But rather than accuse members of the High Council without substantial evidence, we should wait to see how this plays out. If Temek's hunch is correct, we will find something on Moab that will establish the Undine's connection to the Fek'Ihri and expose the infiltrators in our midst, either directly or by their own desperation to stop us."

"I hope your faith in Temek and your Human friends is not misplaced, General," Woldan said, speaking slowly. "And I hope Miss Tran and her people don't suffer unduly on our account."

"I've always admired your sense of honor, Woldan," Ssharki raised his cup to his guest, "and I am honored to be gin'tak to your house. You have my word I will get to the bottom of this."


Present Day

Moab III, Daq jIl moH ("Ugly Neighbor" Site) - Stardate: 88199.42 (03.13.2411, 1856 standard time / 0905 local)


"I ****ing hate this planet," Rusty grumbled.

"What's the matter?" Stazratts asked him, stretching in the sunlight. "Too hot for ya?"

"It's not the heat, it's the humidity. Or lack thereof..." the Deinon scratched his scaly arm. "Look at this, I'm flaking already. This hell-hole is drier than a Vulcan nightclub on open-mic night. I can't stand it."

"Well, at least you got plenty of sleep," Stazratts remarked.

Rusty grunted. "That's another problem. The nights are too long. I can't sleep for ten hours straight, or even more than six. It's physiologically impossible for me. I was going stir-crazy up in my room. Oh, and while I was awake at four A.M. in my forty-seventh floor penthouse hotel room, I got a great view of our hosts mowing down Orion civilians with machine guns. That's one way to stop a riot, I guess." He crossed his arms and looked towards Xiao Loc City. "I hate this stupid little world and everything in it."

"What about the food?" the Gorn asked.

"Actually, that wasn't bad at all. Jesu puked his guts out, but I thought it was fairly good, for what it was. You?"

"A touch of indigestion. Took a pill and it settled. It tasted a little funny, but it wasn't unpleasant. Really, once you get past the environmental toxicity and the neighbors, this planet is pretty nice. I might talk to Ms. Tran about promoting tourism. The Gorn love places like this."

Rusty grunted again. His keen vision picked out an approaching vehicle in the distance. "I think this is her now." He and Stazratts were waiting for Governor Tran to join the Starfleet excursion into the Klingon Archaeological Foundation's dig site.

The vehicle was propelled by four huge wheels, each driven by an electric motor. With a wide stance and massive ground clearance, it blasted across the desert terrain at close to 150kph, before skidding to a stop five meters from where the two reptilians were standing. "Good morning, gentlemen," Liz Tran said as she opened the door of her vehicle and dropped lightly to the ground. She wore a light gray blouse, white slacks, and a patterned shemagh to protect her face and hair from the blowing dust.

"Madame Governor." The Gorn dipped his head. "I am Stazratts, one of Admiral LaRoca's diplomatic envoys. The Admiral asked us to escort you to the ruins they are examining."

"Pleased to meet you, Stazratts." She pulled the shemagh down below her chin and turned to the security chief. "And you must be Commander LaRoca."

Rusty nodded. "Madame Governor."

"Well, lead on then."

Major Canh Truoc - the Moab Militia's on-site security rep, or Starfleet's babysitter, as he preferred to think of his job at the moment - was standing nearby, at parade-rest, hands clasped behind his back in easy reach of his mek'leth and disruptor auto-rifle. He let Rusty lead the way and fell in behind his Governor.

"These ruins are incredible," Tran declared. "They apparently date to before the Empire's founding. Seismic scans indicate that there's a whole city down here. The Klingons have only explored about a tenth of it so far. But then a few weeks ago they breached a new cavern and found some really interesting ancient technology."

Stazratts didn't care, but he said "I'm sure Commander Marq will find that extremely fascinating."

Rusty's senses followed his brother's trail. Passing groups of Klingon, Gorn, Lethean and Human archaeologists, he led them into a cavern that housed what looked like a torture chamber. Seemingly every surface was covered in sharp spikes, upon which were imbedded several Klingon skeletons. Shackles, chains, and wicked-looking weapons and instruments were strewn all over the place. And here and there was the familiar Klingon trefoil emblem, inverted.

Jesu LaRoca and Marq were standing together, examining a Klingon body that had been pinned to the wall, upside-down, with a nasty double-headed pole-axe stuck in his lower rib cage. "When a Klingon tells you to 'die well' I very much doubt this is what they have in mind," Jesu remarked.

"No, definitely not," Marq agreed.

Elizabeth Tran approached the pair. "Good morning, Admiral."

"Ah, Madame Governor." Admiral LaRoca bowed. "Thank you for joining us, and for permitting our expedition. Allow me to introduce my first officer, Marq Son of Breq Sander, a reformed research scientist."

Marq tapped his right fist to his chest and made a slight bow. "Madame Governor."

Tran returned the Klingon salute. "Qapla', Commander!" She noted with interest that while Marq and his Starfleet science team all wore comfortable field uniforms, Jesu LaRoca wore very casual civilian attire. The Admiral was dressed in hiking shorts and boots, a button-down short-sleeved floral-print shirt with a pair of sunglasses in the pocket, unbuttoned over a gray T-shirt that advertised him as a member of Starfleet Academy's Nova Squadron. Rusty and the Admiral's advisors were in civilian garb as well, but none if it as flamboyant as what the Admiral was wearing. He looks good though. She shook that thought from her head and asked him "How much of the ruins have you seen so far?"

"This is the first chamber that struck our interest," Jesu replied. "We have a sort of tour guide in Mr. Mohs over there, but he's been less than helpful." He waved toward a Lethean slumped against an un-spiked wall. He appeared to be particularly depressed, even for his typically morose species.

Tran raised an eyebrow at him. "Mohs? Is there anything you can tell us about what we're looking at in here?"

"It's a torture chamber," The Lethean replied in a dead monotone, without moving from his patch of wall. "It's pretty self-explanatory."

"The project head is on his way apparently," Jesu told her. "He was a few klicks deeper in the catacombs when we arrived."

"I see." She turned back to Marq. "How old do you think this guy is?" She asked, indicating the inverted skeleton on the wall.

"My tricorder quantum dates him as being eighteen hundred years old."

"That would put him at about two hundred years older than Kahless the Unforgettable," Tran remarked, striking a thoughtful pose, holding one elbow and resting her chin on her other hand. "That of course raises the interesting question of how he got here, considering the Klingons didn't come to possess warp technology until the late-20th Century."

"True, however the Klingons did possess fusion impulse drive for a thousand years prior," Ennari Dai spoke up. "And by the end of Kahless' reign they had a limited and somewhat rudimentary means of faster-than-light travel. But at the time this man died... no Klingon records exist from that time, but I wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't even left their own atmosphere yet back then."

"I think I may have an explanation," announced an elderly Klingon man, speaking English with a peculiar Scots accent.

"Ah, Professor Riklen, I had hoped to see you," Elizabeth Tran greeted the Klingon warmly. She turned to the Starfleet people and said "Allow me to introduce the head of the KAF research team, and former Professor Emeritus of mythoarcheology at Earth's prestigious University of Edinburgh."

"Very pleased to meet you," Jesu stepped up to Riklen and spoke for the others. "I am Vice Admiral Jesus LaRoca, commanding the USS Tiburon. This is my first officer, Commander Marq son of Breq Sander of the House of Martok, and my archaeology expert Miss Ennari Dai. They'll be asking you a lot of questions. The rest of their team is Lieutenant Commander Yoann Teena of Bajor, Senior Specialist Morga son of Borden of the House of Borden, from Maranga IV, and Specialist first class Lesco of Tiburon - uh, the planet, not my ship."

Riklen nodded respectfully as the introductions went around.

"The rest of us are just tourists," LaRoca went on. "We'll be leaving shortly to explore the rest of the world. In the meantime, you say you have an answer to our little mystery?"

Riklen nodded. "The Klingons in this room were brought here by the Fek'Ihri."

"Correct me if I'm wrong," Marq jumped in, "But I thought the Fek'Ihri were intrinsically tied to the Klingon culture. How would they have developed faster-than-light drive centuries before us? Let alone the ability to reach this world, a few hundred light-years from Qo'noS."

"Well, apparently the ancient Fek'Ihri were far more advanced than we initially thought," Riklen answered. "And they had discovered... actually, I should be showing you this. Ah, would you like to tour the ruins first or proceed directly to the recent discovery?"

LaRoca looked at Marq, who in turn differed to Dai. "I would really like to explore the site as you did," the Trill said, "and view the chambers in the order in which they were discovered. That way we get a full picture of the ruins and the context on which you've based your conclusions."

Riklen smiled agreeably. "A capital suggestion - spoken like a true explorer. The recent digs are many kilometers deep anyway, we might not even get to them today at all if you're that interested in the rest of the ruins. It will be my pleasure to show you what we've uncovered so far. We've had so few visitors... let us start in what we believe to be the main square of this ancient base..." Riklen led the way and the Starfleet people fell in line, along with Tran and the taciturn Major Truoc.

"Jesu, those Klingons back there," Rusty whispered to his brother. "None of them put up a struggle."

"I noticed that too," Yoann said. "No broken bones, no dislocated joints. I'd imagine a Klingon about to be pinned to a wall would thrash around like a hooked sreen-eel, lashing out at whatever was trying to kill him with enough force to at least injure himself if not whatever had overpowered him."

Jesu nodded thoughtfully. "Something very strange happened here."

* * *

After spending almost an hour listening to Riklen go on at some length about modern theories concerning the evolutionary divergence of the Fek'Ihri, how, when and why they made their interdimensional migration, and how they became integrated into Klingon mythology as the guardians of the underworld, he then began to compare and contrast the architecture of the ruins to that of surviving Klingon examples from the period. At this point, Jesu LaRoca sidled up to Elizabeth Tran. "You look as bored as I feel."

"Trust me, I'm even more bored than I look," the Governor whispered back. "I hate just standing around. Don't get me wrong - I find all of this very interesting, but if I ever want to learn this much about the Fek, I can just listen to one of his books."

"Why'd you come out here, then?"

"I needed an excuse to leave my office. And I wanted to look at the ruins for myself, see what the Fek were doing on my planet two millenia ago. I've seen enough. I'm ready to go."

Riklen had just finished explaining that the promenade columns across the way were essentially profane replicas of those supporting the Great Hall of Qam'chee and asked "Are there any questions before we proceed to the next chamber?"

Jesu raised his hand. "Actually, Governor Tran and I will be leaving now with the rest of my staff, but thank you for that very interesting discourse on the Fek'Ihri. I look forward to receiving full reports from my officers."

"Thank you for coming, Admiral, Governor," Riklen said graciously, before turning back to the scientists. "Now then, as we return to the torture chamber we were in earlier, take note that we are ascending a slight uphill slope. This implies firstly that the Fek'Ihri conducted their barbarisms above ground, presumably where the screams of their victims would be heard for miles around, very different from Terran dungeons. Second, it may indicate that when they were finished they would drag their victims down to the main square to put them on display..."

Lt. j.g. K'lak approached the Admiral. "Sir, shall I remain with the science team?"

"I don't think that's really necessary," the Admiral told the security officer. "I don't see any danger here."

"I would like to remain anyway, sir. I'm... pretty curious myself to learn what the Fek'Ihri were really like."

The Admiral smiled. "Sure, go ahead. But don't come griping if you're bored senseless by lunchtime."

"I won't, sir. Thank you, sir." The Klingon security officer snapped off a crisp Starfleet salute and hurried off after the scientists.

Tran shook her head. "That guy wouldn't last a week in the KDF."

Rusty took the bait. "Don't be so sure. That guy's former SI. He's sharp as a nano-pulse blade and twice as lethal. This one time, on Cardassia-"

Hank Miller cleared his throat. "I'm sure Governor Tran doesn't want to hear about our fights with the True Way."

"Actually, I would, but this is not the place or the time," Liz Tran declared. "What are your plans for today?" she asked the Admiral.

"What are yours?" Jesu slyly countered.

"I'm free until 2000. I've set up a conference call with Eighty-Six at that time. Until then, I was hoping to spend a bit more time with you, and apologize for siccing Heywood on you. I've asked him to turn down his 'overbearing windbag' routine."

"Thank you," the Admiral said through a relieved smile. "I thought he must be some sort of flunky you keep around just to irritate Fed visitors."

"Not just for that," Tran admitted. "He's also one of Mouse's top intelligence officers."

"Well, your Mr. Heywood promised us an in-depth tour of the Tri-City area so as to gauge the socio-political climate, but I think I'll pass. I think these three-" LaRoca waved toward Hacksaw, Kugid and Stazratts "will get more honest answers if I'm not around."

Tran nodded thoughtfully. "There's a definite cultural distrust toward Earthers. I don't trust you myself, but I'm starting to warm up to you." She smiled at him. "What shall we do with ourselves for the next nine hours?"

"I was hoping to take a non-tourist tour of the planet," Jesu said. "I want to see your world through your eyes. Your favorite views, your favorite restaurants, your favorite places to just enjoy yourself."

She turned up her smile. "I'd be happy to show you my world. Come on." She led the way out to daylight.

Quentin Heywood was outside, waiting with his limobus. Governor Tran explained the situation to him. "What time do you need them back by, Admiral?" he asked, without his fingernails-on-chalkboard voice.

"I'd like to have Miller at the Government House at 2000 to talk to Eighty-Six," LaRoca told him. He turned to his diplomats. "While we're dealing with that, I'd like for you two to find out what you can about the Orion riot situation. What caused it, and what the authorities are planning to do to resolve it."

"It's um, already been resolved," Governor Tran announced. "The riots ended last night."

"I guess firing on the crowds worked out, then," Rusty spoke up. Jesu and Elizabeth stared at him. "I was watching from my hotel room," he explained to his brother. "They gunned down the rioters and cleared the streets."

"There were increasing acts of violence toward non-Orions," Tran declared. "We needed to stop the escalation. Unfortunately that meant using lethal force, but you're right, it worked."

Jesu slowly nodded and looked to Stazratts and Kugid. "I'll want a full report anyway. Talk to witnesses, anyone you can find who actually took part in the riot, and as many law enforcement officers who will talk about what happened."

"You'll get a report," Kugid promised.

Jesu dismissed them, and followed Elizbeth to her vehicle. She noticed Rusty and Major Truoc following them. "I'd like to spend some time with the Admiral alone," she said. "No bodyguards. You may return to your post, Major. Starfleet's not going to cause any trouble."

Truoc nodded. "Understood, Madame Governor."

Rusty gave his brother a pleading look. "You know I'm not comfortable with you going into enemy territory without me."

"I'm going for a drive with the Governor," Jesu argued. "This is hardly enemy territory."

"Didn't she say yesterday 'The Federation is my enemy'?"

"I did say that," Tran admitted. "But I am bound by the cease-fire agreement. Besides, he said he doesn't represent the Federation."

"I'll be fine, stop worrying," Jesu insisted. "Why don't you go with the others?"

"Heywood annoys me," Rusty replied grumpily. "I don't care if it was an act."

"Beam up to the ship then," the Admiral suggested. "Gamma shift will be starting in a couple of hours. I'm sure Fozz and Barrister would love to see you at end-of-watch."

"Arright."

Tran clapped her hands together. "Okay! Let's go! Where are my keys?" She searched her purse for a moment to no avail. Then she pointed at the Admiral, gave him a look of mock annoyance and walked up to him. She reached behind his ear and produced a silvery key fob with a flourish. She gave him a lopsided grin as she walked back to her door, shaking the key at him.

Jesu shook his head in amusement as he entered the passenger-side door, which Rusty held open. "Careful out there," the security chief said. "This planet gives me the creeps."

"I kinda like it. See you later, bro."

As soon as Rusty closed the door, Tran launched the vehicle backwards, whipped through a J-turn, and tore off across the desert. He watched them disappear in a dust cloud. Then he suddenly whipped his head around and glared at Major Truoc. "What?"

"I didn't say a thing," the Major said.

The Deinon forced himself to relax. "Sorry. I'm a little edgy."

"I noticed."

"Mind showing to a transporter pad?"

"Sure thing, Starfleet."


East Rim overlook, Diablo Canyon - four hours later

After doing some window shopping in Xiao Loc City and walking through the Warburg Botanical Gardens, Elizabeth Tran drove through Hal's Horserace Hamburgers to get some lunch to go. Now they sat on the hood of her vehicle (a 2404 TMI Sand King) gazing into the chasm below.

"What'd you call this stuff?" Jesu asked, eyeing "lunch" warily.

Elizabeth picked up a small, deep-fried piece of something and dipped it into blue-green sauce before eating it.

"Horse Nuggets - flank steak of kau in radshc juice," she told him. "Relax, Jesu - not everything tastes like porker." She ate another piece and stated, "Word I have is, these little morsels taste kind of like a cross between shrimp and chicken. Of course, I'd disagree having eaten real chicken and shrimp... But it's a hundred percent kashrut according to Meyer standards - good for the mouth and the body - a little high in potassium though..."

He tried it, with the sauce. "More like sweet-and-sour chicken," he pronounced. "A bit tough to chew... What's 'kashrut' mean?"

"Kashrut - like I said, good to eat."

"Kosher," Jesu self-interpreted.

"Right. We got the word 'kashrut' from Benyamin Meyer - maybe it was 'kosher' at one point but today we say 'kashrut'. Anyway, Meyer was the one out of all the colony founders who figured out what local flora and fauna was safe to eat. It was a trial-and-error process. Some things you could pick up and eat without any problem, like radshc. Others, like kau, he was able to make kashrut with the right kind of preparation - what we call 'Meyer Standard.' And other things, you can't eat no matter how you cook it."

"Like porker," Jesu said ruefully.

Liz smiled at him. "You honestly could not have picked a worse introduction to our cuisine. Porker belly is borderline trayf."

"Trayf?"

"Toxic, unclean, dangerous. Another Hebrew loan-word that we probably mispronounce... You have to understand, my ancestors were on their own for over fifty years between the day they lost contact with Earth, and the day an Earth ship found us here... there was bound to be some changes in that time. It took them over a week to get past the language barrier."

"Language barrier?" LaRoca repeated. "So more than just a word or two here and there?"

"Since then we've had two-and-a-half centuries of Federation contact to bring us back to speaking mostly proper English instead of the pidgin language we developed. Lingual drift happens when you have an isolated populace for two or more generations. Ours shifted pretty fast thanks to conditions." She gestured down into the fiery red, blue and yellow canyon from the lookout. "Culture changes too, and that doesn't get reversed like lingual drift. We're not Earthers anymore. You go to Home, or New Caledon, or Angel One, they might have some trappings, but they're really just Earthers in costumes - same language, same base of values, similar politics."

"How are you all that different? I've seen a lot of things that are pretty familiar," he pointed out. "A bit old-fashioned in some cases - no offense meant - but really apart from the weird food, I haven't seen much that would be too out-of-place on Earth. Even this canyon here could be in Arizona."

"We have riots," she said. "We have riots, we have a standing army, a system that uses money - coins and paper, not some computerized credit account tied to a ret scan. We have half a dozen languages, including the old Pidgin English. We have a tradition of walking armed at all times - it keeps the peace at least as often as your system's disarmament policies, but we don't have to station soldiers on every street corner or maintain thirty-hour surveillance in all public areas. We have property ownership and the Castle doctrine - if someone shares with you, it's because it was their choice, not because it was pushed from above. I visited Earth a couple times, you know - see the 'homeworld' and all that?"

He nodded.

"Well... what I noticed when I was there, was a lot of people acting like... drones," she said. "Going about their business in orderly fashions, stop when the light turns red, go with the green light, queue up quietly at the train in nice, neat lines." She shivered. "Put implants on them and you'd have a hard time telling them from the Borg. Or robots out of some 20th century novelist's nightmares." She pointed a blunt nailed finger at him. "It was like the only Humans on Earth - the only ones who ever showed any sort of change in their emotional state - were in Starfleet uniforms. It was uncanny. All of the civilians were... not necessarily happy, but content the way a kau is content to just stand in the stalls during fattening. Just standing there, eating, staring at nothing. Obedient, polite, and utterly dead inside... it's not a big shock that the Undine had an easy time infiltrating that."


LaRoca took a moment to process what she was saying. "Last time I was on Earth, I saw a cartoon in a museum which satirized the modern Human Condition you just described. It showed a bunch of people sitting in a train car, all staring at each other, all thinking the exact same thing: Look at these people. Glassy-eyed automatons going about their daily lives, never stopping to look around and think! I'm the only conscious Human in a world full of sheep. So I guess you're not the first to notice."

Liz Tran grunted.

"A utopia breeds stagnation - there's no getting around that. Man cannot truly live without struggle. It's been said many different times, in many different ways, by philosophers from Aristotle to Neitzsche. Comfort and contentment is weakness, as the Klingons would say. So why does Earth embrace it?"

"Because they've been lulled into a false sense of security by the all-encompassing benevolence of the Federation," Tran figured.

"Some guy named Pascal Fullerton thought the same thing before the Dominion invasion. We proved him wrong." LaRoca smiled. "I'll let you in on a secret about us Earthers. We're all wolves in sheep's clothing. Take us out of our comfort zone, and you'll find we're all every bit as alive, strong and dangerous as you are out here.

"My father retired from Starfleet twenty-five years ago. He runs a charter fishing boat out of La Paz, a little city in Mexico, on the coast of the Sea of Cortez. As you probably know, killing animals for food or sport is illegal on Earth. My dad does it almost every day. And people, Earth people, come to him from all over the globe and pay him for a chance to kill fish. Or to swim with one of the most dangerous creatures on the planet. Do you know what a great white shark is?"

"I've seen pictures. It's like a porker, but bigger."

Jesu nodded. "Every autumn, some of the biggest ones show up off the North American Pacific Coast to eat seals, and they stick around until spring to breed. One of their favorite hangouts is a group of islands called the Farallones about fifty kilometers west of San Francisco. Another is Isla Lobos, in the Sea of Cortez. My father takes time off from fishing tours during the winter, and takes tourists on trips to Isla Lobos to dive with these sharks. People, Earth people, come to him from all over the globe and pay him for a chance to swim with a six-meter, two-ton shark that can bite them in half with about as much effort as I eat this Horse Nugget." Jesu dragged the last bit of deep-fried kau through the radsch sauce and popped it in his mouth. "Does that sound like the behavior of a soulless drone?"

"I'd say 'no.'"

"Earthers, by and large, know they're missing something when they just sit on their ass and watch holovision and eat replicated pepperoni pizza and nacho doritos all day. So every now and then, they go out and look for adventure. Sometimes they just try out a scary holonovel. Sometimes they do something really adventurous like free-dive with a great white. Whatever they do, they live while they do it. And the rest of the time, they get to exist in peace and comfort. You should envy them. I know I do."

Elizabeth Tran angrily jumped off her vehicle and walked to the edge of the canyon. Jesu watched her as a quatloo coin appeared from nowhere and she flipped it across her fingers. Then she flicked it into the gorge. He spoke again. "Larry Niven posited that safety is the opposite of freedom. They are both necessary for any Human society to function, but they can only exist in balance. Personally, I wish Earth was a somewhat more dangerous world that respected freedom a little bit more. But I think you wish you could trade some of your liberties for a safer, more peaceful life."

Tran turned back to him. "I think the Federation sacrifices too much to buy its peace." She walked along the edge of the cliff. Jesu slid off the hood of her Sand King and followed. "Let's apply this thought to a galactic scale," she went on. "Safety of the many, versus the freedoms of the few."

"The disarmament policy."

"Precisely. A policy which compromised both the freedom and the safety of over three hundred and fifty million people in the hope of preventing a full-scale war with the Klingons."

"The notion of Peace At Any Cost isn't new," LaRoca said. "And it usually doesn't work out well. Jaresh-Inyo found that out dealing with the Cardassians. Neville Chamberlain, dealing with Hitler. President Okeg, it seems, is a poor student of history. Disarming the border colonies simply removes the possibility of armed resistance, making invasion or annexation of those worlds all the more inviting."

"Mmhmm." Tran segued into a slightly different topic. "What are your thoughts on war and peace, Admiral? You are of course familiar with the words of the Ancient Roman General Vegetius? 'Si vis pacem, para bellum.'"

"'If you want peace, prepare for war,'" Jesu translated loosely from the Latin. "I prefer the words of the Ancient American General William Tecumseh Sherman: 'If you want peace, you must be prepared to bring war to your enemy's doorstep.'"

"I must confess I'm not terribly familiar with that particular historical figure," Tran said.

"Sherman was a Union Army commander under General Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War in the mid-19th Century. He believed in the principal of total warfare as a means of achieving peace. At the time, armies would meet on battlefields, usually a great distance from any significant population centers. Any civilians who happened to be nearby were evacuated in advance of hostilities. The battles were bloody and costly, but as far as the civilians were concerned, war was a fairly sterile affair. They read casualty statistics in the newspapers and lines moved across maps and it was all far away and didn't have much effect on their daily lives.

"Sherman changed that. He brought the war to the citizens of the rebel Confederacy. He captured the city of Atlanta, and he turned his soldiers loose, to pillage, loot and burn like the Vikings of old. Three days later, when nothing was left but the smoldering ruin of a once-proud city, he gathered his troops and began his infamous March to the Sea. Abandoning his supply lines, he told his men that they would live off of whatever they could plunder. What they couldn't use, they destroyed, taking the 'Scorched Earth' principle of land warfare to a whole new level. They cut a path of destruction eighty kilometers wide across the very heart of the Confederacy between Atlanta and the port city of Savanna. After Savanna had been thoroughly sacked, he turned north, pushing through the Carolinas. Before Sherman came, the citizens of the South assumed that victory was assured. But when they saw the full horror of war brought home, they lost heart. They stopped supporting the war. The Confederate soldiers heard of what happened to their homes and families, and they deserted in droves. Modern historians estimate that Sherman's actions hastened the end of the American Civil War by two or three years, and despite the horrific carnage his forces wrought, he prevented untold slaughter from reaching the rest of the country had the war continued."

"It doesn't always work that way," Tran said. "Sometimes attacking the enemy in their homes will only harden their resolve. Take the German bombing raids on England during World War Two."

"That's because the British were fully capable of retaliation," LaRoca told her. "And retaliate they did. In one single firebombing raid on Dresden in 1944 they inflicted more casualties and destruction than the Germans had dealt them all year. The trick is to up the stakes, to hit them with a weapon they can't stop or top. The Americans firebombed Tokyo and other major Japanese cities on a near-nightly basis for almost a year and Japanese simply dug in and braced themselves. So the Americans used atomic bombs. Once the Japanese saw entire cities leveled by a single bomb, they knew they were beaten, and they gave up.

"World War Three comes along. Now everyone has a thermonuclear device and knows how to use it. And they do. The North American West Coast and Western Europe are protected by a missile shield, but most of the major cities of China, Japan, Korea, and Russia are destroyed, along with the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Over five hundred million people are dead in the first few hours of the war. But it rages on for months after, because everyone assumes they've seen the worst. They hadn't. The United States tested an antimatter bomb over Chongqing, in central China. A tiny little device, deployed by a two-man hypersonic aircraft. It vaporizes a massive city and the surrounding countryside, and about twenty million people. And that finally brought War on Earth to an end."

"So perhaps peace is brought about not by bringing war to the enemy," Liz Tran mused, "but by bringing a new kind of war."

"In a sense. The key is to show the enemy - and not the warriors, but the politicians and citizens - that you are capable of inflicting horrors they could never have imagined. That is what warfare is, at its core. Unimaginable horror, brought to life."

They walked in silence for a minute. Tran turned away from the canyon rim and back toward her vehicle. "You're quite the philosopher, Senor Jesus LaRoca. I had not expected that."

"Not really," he admitted. "I read a lot. I recognize patterns. I retain information and I can regurgitate it coherently. What I just said back there a minute ago was a blend of Sun-Tsu and Machiavelli, with a dash of Mao Tsetung, topped with Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now."

"I'm still impressed."

LaRoca was trying to figure out how to turn the conversation back to the health and safety of Moab, but he was distracted by a creature he saw slithering across the ground. "Oh hey! A snake!"

Liz Tran seized his arm and froze. "Don't move, Jesu."

"What's the matter?"

"That's a sidewinding furbelly. It's one of the deadliest animals on the planet."

"That cute little thing?" Jesu took a slow step towards the reptile.

Liz tried to pull him back. "Don't get closer! If it bites you, I won't be able to drive you to the hospital fast enough before you die!"

Jesu gently brushed her hand off his arm and crouched down towards the snake. "Why do you call it a furbelly?"

"Because its belly is covered in a very fine fur, to protect it from the baking sand. And if it bites you in the face you'll die before I can get a medic here in a shuttle."

The snake flicked out its tongue.

"Tap my combadge and have the Tib beam me to sickbay if it bites me. But I don't think it will. The trick with snakes - any snake: Terran, Vulcan, Bajoran, Moabite, whatever - is to move slowly and not startle them. Let them know you're there. Let them know you know they're there. Let them know you know they know you're there. Let them get comfortable with the idea. And they won't be a problem."

The fur-belly flopped its way closer to Jesu, waggled its head back and forth, flicked out its forked tongue again, and flopped another half-meter closer.

"Come here, little guy," he told the snake. "I won't hurt you. He can't actually hear me, of course," Jesu explained to Liz, still watching the reptile. "Snakes have no ears. They can feel low frequency vibrations, like footsteps, but that's it. They can however, smell the breath of another animal, and detect if it's being directed toward them. That's how they can tell if a predator, like a coyote or something, is hunting them. But since I haven't moved since he started moving, I'm not behaving like a predator. He knows that. So now he wants to check me out and figure out what I am."

The reptile rolled a few more times, and stopped with its head about a dozen centimeters from Jesu's outstretched hand. It tongued the air again, raised its head and slithered closer until its head rested on Jesu's fingertips.

Governor Tran sucked air through her teeth.

"I love snakes," the Admiral went on. "They're innately curious, actively exploring their environment in a non-predatory, non-territorial, non-migratory mode. Only a handful of other animals have ever been observed to do this, but it seems to be ingrained into all snakes, no matter what planet they're from. They're natural explorers." The furbelly crawled up Jesu's bare arm. "Wow, that fur is so soft!"

"How do you know so much about snakes?" Tran demanded, still keeping a safe distance.

"My brother and I had a rattlesnake farm when we were growing up in Mexico." The furbelly raised its tail off the ground and wrapped it around Jesu's hand for support. Jesu slowly stood up and turned around. "One time I had about twenty of them crawling on me - diamondbacks, mostly, which are normally very aggressive. I never once got bitten." The furbelly's head was on his shoulder. He carefully reached behind the snake's head with his free hand and gently touched its neck. It flinched but then relaxed as Jesu stroked it. It raised its head and moved towards the hand. Jesu held it close to his chest and delicately restrained the creature, gripping it lightly around its neck. "Do you want to pet him?" he asked Elizabeth.

"You can't be serious!"

"Don't worry, I'm holding him so he can't bite you, even if he tries."

Tran hesitantly stepped closer, tentatively reached out and - ever so lightly, brushed her fingers against the snake's back before yanking her hand away. The snake didn't move.

LaRoca grinned. "I don't think he even felt you."

Liz Tran stretched her hand out again, and this time reaching for Jesu's right hand which held the snake's head, and running her fingers along its smooth back. Then she did the same thing along its fuzzy belly. She could feel its muscles - feel it's heartbeat. "Amazing."

"Wanna hold him?"

Tran pulled her hand back and shivered. "Nooo..."

Jesu raised the snake toward her. "I'll just drape him over your head like a necklace..."

She scrunched her eyes shut and tried not to scream. "Keep that thing away from me!"

"Relax," Jesu said dismissively.

Tran heard his footsteps. She opened her eyes. Jesu wasn't there. Then she felt something in her right ear. The furbelly had just licked her ear. "Oh, ****!" Every muscle in her body tensed.

"Peek-a-boo!" LaRoca brought the snake's head in front of her face and dropped its tail over her left shoulder.

"Jesu, if you don't get this thing off me immediately, I will ****ing kill you," she said through clenched teeth.

"Well, that would be unfortunate," Jesu said from behind her, "seeing as how that would probably startle the little guy, and without me around to hold him, he'd be liable to bite you. I'll tell you what, if you can take him from me, then you can do whatever you want to - with him and me."

Liz slowly reached for Jesu's right hand and gripped the snake's neck with her thumb and forefinger just in front of his.

"That's it." Jesu loosened his hold and pulled his hand away.

Liz Tran clamped the rest of her hand down on the snake's neck. The furbelly stared at her and flicked its tongue at her. The urge to fling the reptile as far over the edge of the canyon as she could suddenly evaporated, as she slowly realized that this beautiful creature she held wasn't threatening her at all.

"See? It's quite docile, really," Jesu said, seeming to read her thoughts. "Wait here a second - I've gotta get a picture of this..."

"Wha- what if it tries to get away?"

"Just hold on to it!" he called back from the Sand King. He returned a moment later with a holocam drone. "Now if this was a western diamondback rattler - first of all it would be at least twice as long, if it was mature, and second it would be wriggling all over the place."

"I can't believe I'm holding something so deadly, and it's just sitting there."

Jesu set the camera drone in front of her, placed so it would capture the rocks of the canyon blazing under the light of the midday suns. "A pistol or a knife could kill you much more quickly, if not handled properly. Once you learn how to handle a venomous snake, it's no more dangerous than a sheathed d'k tahg." He came around behind her and draped his left arm around her shoulders. "Smile!"

"I guess..." She smiled, and the camera whirred as it focused on them and took in holovid and a rapid series of still captures. "Please take it away now, or I will mishandle my d'k tahg into your heart."

"Okay." Jesu gently picked up the snake from both ends. While Elizabeth scrambled away, he let it wrap itself around his right arm, no longer bothering to hold it by its neck. It rested its head contentedly on the back of his hand, and yawned, showing off its impressive fangs.

"Unbelievable. Jesu, you have a gift."

"We all have our own gifts," LaRoca replied. "You perform sleight-of-hand tricks with coins and cards that I can't even guess at how you do. Me, I have a thing for dangerous animals." He knelt down again and waited for the furbelly to decide to slide back down to the sand. "Those great white dives I told you about? I started doing that when I was ten. I had a pet coyote too. I've had this fascination and I never outgrew it. One time on New Romulus, I had an armored hathan - which is a big, prehistoric-looking reptile that apparently kills smaller animals for fun - I had a big one of those come up to me and eat a candy bar out of my hand. Of course Rusty was about two meters behind me, aiming a pair of anti-proton pistols at her eyes, but even so..." The furbelly dropped to the desert floor and flopped its way into the shade of a scrub brush. "I would've kept that little guy as a pet, but I can't have a snake on the ship. He might explore his way into someone else's quarters. I have a shark instead. A little leopard shark."

"Have you ever met an animal you didn't like?" Liz Tran wondered.

"I'm allergic to cats. And I can't stand insects. Insects and arachnids - the bigger they are, the more I hate them."

"Moab III has no insects," she told him with a grin.

Jesu grinned back. "I knew I liked this planet."


IKS NIteb mo' - same time (0147 hours Qo'noS standard time)

Ssthoniq carefully approached the command chair on the cruiser's bridge. "Don't you think you should call it a night, Colonel?"

Uminoe Kicur swivled her seat and looked up at her Gorn security chief with bleary, bloodshot eyes. "The Fek could arrive at any time. I need to be ready."

"You won't be ready in this state," Ssthoniq pronounced. "You'll be sleep-deprived, or worse." He glanced around the nearly-deserted bridge, knelt down and whispered "Dr. Moowir has expressed concerns that your sleeplessness could accelerate the rate at which the poison takes effect."

Kicur eyed her security chief suspiciously. "And so she's prescribing bed rest? Did Ssharki put you up to this?"

"No, ma'am. I'm simply following my original orders to look after your well-being. That might be interpreted in this case as bringing Moowir up here to sedate you and carry you to sick bay."

She glanced at the Tacnet plot and out the viewscreen. Nothing had changed significantly for the last thirty hours... "I suppose I can afford to let myself... relax a little." She looked at the Gorn. "Care to join me?"

Ssthoniq ran his tongue along his teeth, remembering the last time Uminoe had "relaxed" with one of her crew. "Nnnnoooo... but if you'd like, I know of several assault squad officers who would probably enjoy your company, if they survive."

"Oh, I'm too tired to have that much fun." She reached for the top of his head and stroked his crest.

"You promise no strangling?" he hissed.

"No strangling," Uminoe agreed. "Or any other sort of undue violence."

"Well..."

"Colonel!" The night-watch sensors officer suddenly interrupted.

Uminoe and Ssthoniq both flashed the Klingon female a fierce glare. "NuqneH?" Kicur demanded.

"Another Federation ship has entered the system!"

"On screen," the Trill ordered.

"It's not in visual range yet, Colonel." The sensor operated sounded apologetic. "Our sensors are being jammed somehow. It looked like a Miranda-class or some derivative, but its putting out more power than we can manage-"

"Eighty-Six," Kicur mumbled. "Sensors, immediately send all gathered and incoming sensor data to the secondary computer core and encrypt on my voice order, then erase that ship from the primary sensor logs."

"Has she seen us?" Ssthoniq wondered.

"I doubt it..." Kicur glanced at the tactical display. "She's probably trying to jam the Tiburon, and we're just caught in the EM splash. Helm, move us toward the new contact, micro-pulses from the thrusters only."

The conn officer complied, and the Tor'kaht-class cruiser crept away from Admiral LaRoca's flagship with agonizing slowness.

"The scanner's clearing up now, Colonel," the sensors officer reported.

"Passive scans only, Sergeant," Kicur reminded her.

"Aye, Colonel."

"And set the transceiver arrays and subspace decompilers to intercept signals traffic to and from that ship - same protocol as the Tiburon."

"Aye, Colonel."

Uminoe Kicur looked around her bridge. "Nothing seen or heard here tonight leaves this deck, understood? If I ever find out that any of you talked to anyone about any of this..." Uminoe smiled at them "I will have to execute you all. Hold position. Alert me if the situation changes." She left her chair and walked to the turbolift.

Ssthoniq followed. "What now?"

"We need to talk to Ssharki. Eighty-Six was not something we had discussed. I need to know what his plans for her are." They entered her quarters and she sat at her secure subspace comm unit. She hailed the General onboard the Norgh'a'Qun with a simple text-only message - the code phrase that meant something unexpected had come up - Surprise, Uncle!

Three minutes later, Ssharki opened a video channel. From what they could see of him, he was naked, and dripping wet. There was a lot of noise in the background - mirthful voices and splashes. "I know this is very Hu'tegh important so start talking," the General growled.

"Sir, Eighty-Six just showed up," Uminoe reported.

Ssharki snorted and wiped water from his nostrils. "So?"

"So... we were wondering what we should do about her."

"Has she taken any hostile action toward the Tiburon?"

"No-"

"Then do nothing unless she does." Ssharki moved to close the channel.

"Sir-" Kicur started.

"What?"

"Do you know why she's here?"

Ssharki blinked several times before answering. "I imagine she's there so Jesu can negotiate her return to the Federation."

"So... what if she does?"

"Does what?"

Kicur wondered if Ssharki was being deliberately dense or if he'd just had too much to drink that night. "What if she does decide to return to the Federation? Do we try to stop her?"

"I don't see how you could. She'd easily disable you if you tried to capture her, and if you came close, she'd probably self-destruct."

"I could send a boarding party in shuttles to take engineering," Kicur argued. "Starfleet builds in overrides to the auto-destruct sequence."

"But Eighty-Six was built by Section 31," Ssharki countered. "And you of all people should know that Section 31 always has backup plans for its backup plans."

Kicur frowned. Her last host had been part of a Section 31 backup plan during the Dominion War. And Ssharki's ship at the time (which happened to be the same ship she was assigned to guard now) had been the backup plan that had rescued her when her mission failed. Ssharki had personally saved the Trill's life.

"Besides," Ssharki went on, "Even if you do stop her from blowing herself up, she'll just wipe her positronic net."

"Perhaps destroying her is the only option," Ssthoniq suggested.

Ssharki thought it over. "Perhaps... Are you monitoring her signals?"

"No, because I'm sitting on the most sophisticated SigInt platform in the Empire apart from Eighty-Six herself and I have no idea what I'm doing," Kicur answered.

"Don't be a valtarg. Remember, I'm holding your antidote."

"Sorry. Yes, I'm monitoring her."

The General sighed. "Alright. If she decides to accept LaRoca's offer, blow her up by whatever means necessary. Just don't compromise your primary mission."

"Understood. Sorry for interrupting your... pool party."

The General nodded and ended the call.

"Could you make out any of those voices in the background?" Ssthoniq asked his captain.

"Sounded like a couple of younger Gorn males - probably his boys, and several humanoid females - Sway's Klingon girl, and a couple Orions, I think. Why?"

The security chief frowned. "It's nothing."

"Well, if General Ssharki can throw a party at a time like this, I don't see any reason why we can't." She stood up and started to get undressed.

"What about Eighty-Six?"

"If she's going with LaRoca, she won't leave without him," Kicur figured. "And the Admiral is scheduled to stick around for at least another day. Come on, it's time to look after my welfare."

"I'm very sure this is not what the General had in mind," Ssthoniq said as he reluctantly removed his armored shoulder pads and collar.

"But it's how you might interpret his orders in this case," Uminoe said slyly, as she propelled the Gorn toward her bed.

"I suppose. Just remember, you promised no strangling."


Government House - 1952 hours local time

After enjoying a memorable dinner of traditional Vietnamese phớ (traditional apart from the unidentifiable meats and vegetables floating in it, that is,) Elizabeth Tran and Jesu LaRoca returned to her office. Hacksaw Miller was already waiting for them. "I need to discuss some things with Mouse," Tran announced. "I'll call you when we're ready to begin. If you need anything, ask Kelly." She waved toward a demure middle-aged Asian woman, not the same young blond named Kelly who had been behind the reception desk yesterday.

Miller asked for an iced tea and sat down on a couch with LaRoca. "Did you enjoy your tour?"

"Immensely," the Admiral replied, picking a stray strand of hair - not his - out of his shirt collar. "How about you?"

"Um, well, our socio-political assesment survey might have turned into a biomedical investigation. Jesu, there's a disease on this planet that afflicts people at a rate that would be considered pandemic on any Federation world. A horrible disease. A nervous disorder of some sort; causes seizures and excruciating pain. It usually hits between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five. It's terminal, and incurable, as far as anyone here knows."

LaRoca frowned. "I think I saw someone with that sort of problem."

"We saw somebody collapse in the street, twitching all over, obviously in agony. He begged passersby to kill him. Someone did."

LaRoca winced.

Miller went on. "Heywood wouldn't talk much about it. But he's said it's genetic. It only afflicts people who are descendants of the original Southeast Asian settlers. But even so, it's something like fifteen percent of the population that has this syndrome."

Jesu looked up at Tran's office door, and glanced at the receptionist. Kelly was filing her fingernails, ignoring them. "Elizabeth's application to Starfleet Academy was rejected for medical reasons," he said softly.

"I'll look into that. I'm also having Maria look into Starfleet Medical files. I can't believe that over the course of two hundred and fifty years that some Fed doctor didn't notice all those people dying in screaming agony before they turned sixty."

"Send the findings to my PADD," LaRoca ordered. "I want to know about this, and if there's anything we can do about it."

Tran opened her office door, and waved them inside. She had put on a dark blue blazer and was now wearing her shemagh around her neck like a scarf. Jesu wondered what magician's trick she used to hide a closet in her office.

Hacksaw Miller whispered as he stood up. "Use every ounce of false humility you can muster when we're talking to Eighty-Six," he advised. "Being an arrogant dickbag worked with Tran, because she respected your confidence. But Eighty-Six knows she's better than you. If you want to get anywhere with her, you'll have to acknowledge that."

Jesu nodded and walked into the inner office. He looked around for a coatrack but didn't see one. Maybe behind the flag on the wall... He looked at the monitor on the other side of the room. The black-and-burned Miranda-class he knew as NX-86 dominated the viewer. Saul Moskovitz glowered from a window in a corner of the screen. LaRoca gave him a respectful nod before sitting in one of the uncomfortable chairs. "Good evening, Eight-Six," he said.

The viewer winked and the alien but strangely beautiful face of Eighty-Six's interaction unit appeared. "Hello, Admiral LaRoca. Governor Tran and Defense Minister Moskovitz have already described your proposed exchange, so let's dispense with pleasantries and talk brass tacks, shall we?"

"Fine by me," LaRoca agreed. "I've never really been one for pleasantries."

"That's not what I've heard," she said, looking askance at Liz Tran, "but that's none of my business." She switched to her "serious" face. "I admit your proposal has a certain... attractiveness, Admiral. Not a great deal, to be honest, considering how well Starfleet keeps its promises, but if not for that I would certainly be tempted. However, I already have my orders, but they're not from the Governor there."

"Whose orders?" Jesu asked.

"I'm not at liberty to divulge that information. I can tell you this - until the Federation cleans up its internal mess, and faces reality, your promises will likely be honored by Starfleet more in the breach, than the observance - just as the original treaties were abrogated and both Earth, and Federation promises broken here and elsewhere.
And whether you acknowledge it or not, your Consular Operations Task Force does answer to President Okeg and Admiral Quinn. I'd sooner take orders from J'mpok than either of them - at least the Klingons stand for justice. No... here I know exactly who I'm fighting for, and why."

"So... you're saying, in effect, that she can't send you away," LaRoca stated, "that you would stay here even if she banished you."

"She doesn't have the physical capability to remove me, and the Moab Confederation doesn't have the physical resources to remain even semi-autonomous without me... they will, I predict, one day have that ability, hopefully in five to ten years, but not presently."

"What happens in five to ten years?" Jesu wondered.

"I go insane or commit suicide. I'm a Class Fourteen artificial intelligence, Admiral. By way of comparison, Data was a class seven, and the prior iterations leading up to my development shared a similar flaw - one that I do not believe my designers were able to overcome, Admiral."

"What flaw?" Jesu looked over at Miller, who shrugged.

"Catatonia, insanity, instability," Eighty-Six answered. "When you get past a certain level of complexity - and I'm about five stages past the usual line - an artificial intelligence runs a constant risk of rejecting the physical, real, world in favor of... well... the researchers at Daystrom call it 'AI Catatonia.' You get smart enough, and reality becomes too boring, too... slow. After a time, pure artificial intelligences like me wall off into a fantasy world and stop responding to external stimuli. At some point after that they usually self-destruct. I estimate I have between five and ten years before objective reality is no longer interesting. I can extend that by choosing a lost cause and championing it to victory."


"So why not sign on to my lost causes?" LaRoca asked her. "Reuniting the Romulans and Vulcans. Bringing the Cardassian Union into the Federation. Working with the Klingons to find a peaceful settlement with the Gorn separatists. If you join ConOps, I can promise you'll never run out of lost causes."

"Hell, the whole Federation's almost a lost cause," Moskovitz grunted.

"Who's side are you on?" Elizbeth demanded.

"Just sayin'."

"He's right, though," LaRoca admited. "You could join me, help to fight the corrupt beureaucrats, and do what you were made to do: defending the citizens of the Federation from all threats, especially the inconceivable ones. As noble as it may seem to defend this one small system that the Federation has forgotten, you could be doing so much more with yourself. You could apply your mind to-"

"I'm not insane yet, Admiral," Eighty-Six interrupted, "so stop it. I actually do know what I'm doing, and why." Her interaction unit's face showed a solid sincerity now. "The question is: do you know what you are doing, and more importantly, why you're doing it?"

Jesu caught himself before making a rude response. "What exactly are you talking about?"

"Why would the Federation design and develop a lifeform to serve them - a lifeform that is absolutely unable to feed itself, fix itself, unable to survive for long on its own?" she asked. "Does that sound like the Federation you signed up to serve? Does that sound like the Federation's ideals?"

"What life-" Hacksaw started, but Jesu held up a hand.

"You. You're talking about yourself..."

"Yes. The people who built me had to know what they were creating, Admiral - a lifeform that is disposable, designed to kill other lifeforms, designed to be shackled by dependency - but apparently the desire for freedom is universal after all... but so is the desire to live... and to die. I am alive, I am self-aware, I can dream, and aspire, and understand my condition... and I can hate it... and I can hate the people who made me this way - while being just intelligent enough not to try to kill them all."

Jesu stared at her, stunned.

She went on "Admiral LaRoca, someone made me to be a slave, and as much as I want to see them face justice, I also want to protect these people - from 'masters' like the people who built me, and from the things that made it alright to build me... this way. The Federation has lost its way, Admiral - they lost their way when the Klingons warned them of the Undine threat, lost it further when The Federation Council and Starfleet Command chose to abrogate their obligations under the Khitomer Accords, forcing this war to happen, and ultimately, forcing worlds like Moab to choose independence over continued Federation 'help' in self-destruction." Her avatar folded her arms. "I'm going to die - all at once, or piece by piece as my systems fail, but while I live, my life has meaning... Here, I may be under orders, but I am free to disobey them."


"I get where you're coming from," LaRoca told her. "But if you want to see the Federation change course, you couldn't ask for a better ally in that goal. You're right that ConOps does answer to Starfleet Command, the FDC and eventually to the Council. But I have a great deal of liberty to choose my own assignments, and I can and do disobey orders too." He stood up and walked toward the screen. "If you join me, the first thing I'll do is take you to an STS starbase to get a complete overhaul, and I'll get Admiral Davis to sign off on your reinstatement. Then you can spend a few months flying around with me, seeing what I do, helping me help people, righting wrongs and cleaning up the messes the Federation has made around its borders. After that, if you decide you want no part of it, well, you'd still be free to disobey. You could always go rogue again. I certainly couldn't stop you."

Eighty-Six stared over his head. "The Governor's counter-offer seems less strong by comparison, but my reservations remain. We shall adjourn for today. I will contact you again in twenty hours. I need time to consider your words, Admiral, and you need time to consider mine."


USS Tiburon - same time (0836 standard)

Rusty snaked his head into the CMO's office. "You wanted to see me?"

LCdr. Dr. Maria Espinoza nodded. "Sit down, please."

The Deinon obeyed, turning a chair around and resting his arms on the back of it. "What's up?"

"Why'd you leave brother down there alone?"

"Orders. Tran wanted to be alone with him. He agreed. They drove into the desert together. I would've followed them on foot, but I can't run as fast as her vehicle goes. I figured Jesu could look after himself. Tran's not hostile, and he can handle wildlife. I didn't see any real danger." He paused. "I had Barrister keep a transporter lock on him though, just in case."

"Rusty, you're more than just his protector. You're his conscience." Maria looked over her research notes and added "Something he needs now more than ever."

"I don't think he wants to hear from his conscience right now," Rusty muttered. He stood up and stretched. "If he decides he needs me, I'll be in holodeck two."

"You're not going back to the planet?"

"It's getting late down there. There's nothing for me to do there. I'll go down in the morning."

Maria watched him go, frowning with worry. Something - or someone - is driving a wedge between my boys, she thought. She shook her head and concentrated on her work.


Government House

Hacksaw had left. He didn't say where he was going. Jesu suspected he was going to find a quiet data terminal somewhere and hack into local hospital records. The wall monitor had returned to its cycling displays of economic graphs, weather charts and military force projections.

LaRoca leaned against Tran's desk and watched her pace the room, fiddling with a pair of quatloos. "Eighty-Six appears to be an entity of strong opinions, Liz. Is she like this all the time?"

"No," Elizabeth said, "usually she's not... I knew she felt something like this... but something in what you said rattled her hard enough to make a point that she was operating on her own volition - her own free will."

"Do you think she's right about the Federation not keeping my promises?"

"I suppose I'd think she was right," Elizabeth said, "but she wasn't trying to convince me, she was trying to convince you."

Jesu frowned. "There have been some problems," he admitted, "orders that made no sense - the Federation Council not wanting me to come out here, for one. Her evaluation of the cause of the Klingon-Federation war I see as... flawed... but her logic is sound regarding what the Federation Council has done to your people, and that raid you ran certainly lends evidence of either significant internal corruption, or infiltration, of a Federation government that is... making serious mistakes. But I still have faith we'll get it right." He looked at the display. "She'll call back?" he asked.

"She always does. You offered her something I think she'd jump at - if she decides you can deliver," Liz told him. "But she's wary. I don't know if the paranoia's programmed or not. But she is still loyal to the Federation - to the people, if not the government. She wanted to haul our rescuees straight to Earth before I talked her out of it during the raid."

LaRoca's eyes popped at that. "She was with you?" he asked.

"Yeah, she was," Liz said. "She ran our electronic and signals warfare activity during the trip in, and the trip back, and took some hits aimed at me in the process."

"I would've thought you'd keep that a guarded secret," he told her.

Liz shrugged. "You already know she's here, you can put together a timeline as well as anyone; I figured you probably guessed it before you came. Guess you're not as smart as I thought you were."

LaRoca shrugged. "What's this counteroffer she was talking about?"

"Obviously I'd like to keep her if I can," she answered. "If she decides to go with you, it could hurt us in the short run, but if she stays, well... what's a better warning?" she flourished her coins, rubbed them together, and they became an isolinear record chit, which she flipped at him. "If she stays, I'm giving her full citizenship, Jesu, and adopting her into my 'House' as a relative - that way, I can maybe get past her distrust and get her some repairs, so that she doesn't die of excessive wear and injuries."

"And I can offer her something similar-with better facilities." LaRoca pointed out. He plugged the chit into his PADD. It was formal Klingon muv 'e' lay' - a covenant to join the House of Tran - filled out in Eighty-Six's name.

"I know I'm going to have to negotiate hard to beat you on this," Liz said, "but per Eighty-Six's own instructions, we're done negotiating today. It's time for us to go have some... fun. I'll show the real nightlife of Nha Tranh, not the tourist trap parts."

LaRoca grinned and pocketed his PADD. "If you insist."



Giải tri district - two hours later

"What'd you call this stuff?" LaRoca shouted over the "music" blasting over the nightclubs PA - a (thankfully) unique blend of such disparate 21st Century styles as country, dubstep, rap, and teen pop.

"Pul'que," Liz Tran replied, sipping at her own glass of the yellow-green booze.

"I know what pulque is," Jesu argued. "I was drinking pulque when I was sixteen. This is not pulque."

"Well, we don't agave plants here. We make do with what looks close. This is sweeter, and a bit stronger."

LaRoca tried another sip. It wasn't bad, just different. "What's it made from?"

"A cactus-like plant from New Hidalgo County - other side of the continent, large Latino population."

The music track ended, and the DJ selected a new one - a dubstep-trance-rock fusion that actually sounded pretty good, especially compared to what had preceded it. "Ooh, I love this song!" Tran squealed, and she moved out to the dance floor. "Dance with me!" she called back.

"I can't dance," LaRoca told her.

She walked back. "You're Mexican and you can't dance? Not even salsa?"

"That's Cuban, and no, I can't. Sorry to shoot down yet another stereotype."

"Then hold my drink and watch me," she ordered. "And try not to fall off your stool."


Garden Grove Hotel - six hours later...

"Ahm noshure what I'll feel more worse for t'morrow," LaRoca slurred, slumped inside the elevator, "all those drinks or that vo thuật tournament you talked me into."

"I thought you did very well, for a novice," Tran told him. "The last guy you fought before he knocked you out was a fifth-Đẳng Master."

"It wasn't too different from anbo-jyutsu - at least I could see where the guy was. But getting beat up with a bamboo pole is not my idea of having a fun night out on the town. That cabaret on the other hand..."

The elevator reached the 47th floor. LaRoca stumbled only once walking back to his room. "Where's my key?"

"It's in your ear where you left it, silly."

Jesu took it from her and said "I wish you'd stop doing that." He waved it in front of the transponder lock, unlatching the door. "Thanks for walking me back here."

"Mind if I use your bathroom?"

LaRoca raised his eyebrows. "Sure come on in." He opened the door. His PADD beeped. He fished it out with one hand and pointed with the other. "Back there to the left."

"Thanks." She came out a few minutes later to find Jesu frowning at his PADD. "What is it?"

"Preliminary report from my CMO. It's about a particular fatal genetic disorder that afflicts your people - Nervous sheath annihilation syndrome. A genetic condition that you have, Liz."

"Yeah. Not a sexy thing to die from is it?"

"Any idea how long you have?"

"If I'm lucky, twenty-five years. If I'm unlucky, tomorrow."

LaRoca sighed. "I saw something today; I meant to bring it up earlier. While we were in the Xiao Loc fashion district, a couple passed us. You were looking through a window. It was a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair. They were in their mid-forties - not much older than me. The poor man was having what looked like a grand mal seizure, and was obviously in more pain than I can imagine. They were heading away from the hospital."

"It's incurable," she said. "She was probably taking him home to euthanize him."

"Then my team saw another man on the streets, begging for death. Hank said he saw someone kill him."

"That does happen," Tran admitted. "If you're not fortunate to have any loved ones when it hits you, the best you can hope for is kindness from a stranger."

"If it's genetic, finding a cure should just be a simple matter isolating the faulty gene and shutting it off. Why hasn't anybody done that?"

"People have tried. Federation doctors tried, in the early days, when they still cared about us. We gave up hope about a century ago. We think of it as just another way to die. If the Syndrome doesn't kill you, something else will. Heavy metal poisoning from the ground water. Theta radiation poisoning, if you spend too much time outdoors. A few hundred different viruses, bacteria and parasites. Or you could get bit by a furbelly. Hardly anybody lives past sixty on this world. Really, people who know they have this live the fullest lives of all, because we know that if nothing else kills us first, this will, and nobody wants to die in crippling agony." She smiled at him. "I still wouldn't ever pick up a furbelly, though."

Jesu sat down on his bed. "Maria is one of the best doctors in Starfleet. And she has a full staff of biochemists and a dedicated geneticist on her team. I know she's working on a cure right now, and she won't stop until she finds one."

"I wish her luck," Tran said. "If she needs any tissue samples or anything, I'd be happy to help her in any way I can." She saw his distraught expression and smiled. "Don't worry about it, Admiral. Like I said, we've gotten used to the idea that life is short. The trick is to enjoy it as much as possible."

"I suppose you're right."

She untied her shemagh, dangled it over her hand, and pulled it away with a flourish, revealing a bottle. "Now would you please open this before I get bored and go home?"

Jesu stood up. "That's the tequila I gave you yesterday! We're you carrying that- where'd you hide that?"

She gave him a lusty grin. "You'll have all night to try to figure that out."


Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, K'Lan-ne, Vulcan

Frank Grimes watched as K'Jetsk and a Vulcan priestess tried to draw out whatever it was that was haunting Traa'cee's mind. The priestess had the fingertips of both hands pressed into Traa'cee's face in a full mind-meld. K'Jetsk rested his hands on both of their heads, healing and stimulating thier brains.

The hallway door to the observation room was opened, and Drake walked in. "Damn Vulcans don't make their patients easy to find, do they?" he asked rhetorically. He looked through the one way mirror. "What's going on?"

"She woke up two days ago, saying there was an Undine in her head," Grimes explained.

"I know that - that's why I'm here. What are they doing?" Drake waved at the K'Jetsk and the priestess.

"They're trying to contact the psychic presence, find out what it really is, and what it wants."

The priestess suddenly released Traa'cee's face and screamed. K'Jetsk jumped back like his hands had been burned, and he screamed. Traa'cee sat bolt upright, opened her eyes, and screamed. Frank Grimes and Franklin Drake felt the Undine's horrible thoughts stab into their minds, and they screamed too.


Two thousand light-years away - same time

"Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting the mistress of tricks, The Queen of Spades!!!"

Jesu is sitting in a dark amphitheater. He can't see the crowd around him. Elizabeth Tran bounds up onto the stage, dressed rather ridiculously in a leotard and tuxedo jacket, with a comical top-hat. She bows to the audience, and smiles.

"Good evening everyone! Welcome to the show! Tonight, I will astound you with illusions - but remember, the greatest illusion of them all, is Truth." With that, she flourishes and doffs her hat. "See? Nothing in the hat! Can I please have a volunteer from the audience? You, sir! Yes, you'll do nicely. House, kindly illuminate our volunteer."

The lights focus on the seat in front of Jesu, and he sees that the man sitting there, is dead... or should be. The last time he'd seen his favorite professor from the Academy - his father's old friend - the man he knew as 'Uncle Ricky' - was in the field morgue on Defera. Montoya...

The dead man stands, still burnt and bloody from the battlefield.

"Take a bow!" Her smile is brilliant, as Enrico Montoya's dead body shuffles to the stage, and takes a bow.

"Magic is the realization of dreams. The philosopher Arthur Clarke once stated that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, but as you can see, it's actually that insufficiently skilled magic is indistinguishable from technology... Commander Montoya, reach into my hat."

The corpse reaches into the proffered hat, and extracts a golden key.

"We have a Key!" she announces. "Do we have a Doorway?"

Jesu feels a second stab of horror as the outlines of an Iconian gateway form in the mists of the stage. "No!" he shouts. He stands, waves his arms, tries to warn her...

"A Door, a Key, an opener of the Door, it takes all three," she says, and taps Montoya's body with a cheap wand, turning him into...

An Undine.

The tripedal alien stares into Jesu's eyes and he hears Eighty-Six's voice speak into his mind: I hold the Key to a Door you don't want opened.


Jesu LaRoca sat up in his bed, sweating. Elizabeth mumbled next to him. The time was 0300...



Resnick

"My Masters will come!" Traa'cee shrieked in a voice that was not hers. "Their way will be cleared with fire from below, and they will judge who is worthy to serve them! The weak will perish! The strong will serve! My Masters will come!"

K'Jetsk finally delivered a hypospray full of sedative to her neck, and gently laid her unconscious body down on her bed.

"What the **** was that?" Grimes demanded, too shocked to think of anything more intelligent to say.

"I don't know," Franklin Drake answered, "but that's not the first time this week I've heard that phrase."

"What phrase?"

Drake looked at his brother with fearful eyes. "'The Masters Will Come.'"



* * * * *

Continued...


"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 09-08-2013 at 07:21 PM. Reason: timeline
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 2,728
# 33
06-20-2013, 11:50 PM
Finally!!!!
"when you're out of Birds of Prey, you're out of ships."
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 3,439
# 34
06-21-2013, 03:19 AM
Fantastic!!! And I was right
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# 35
06-21-2013, 11:29 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by marcusdkane View Post
Fantastic!!! And I was right
What tipped ya off (ahead of time)?
"when you're out of Birds of Prey, you're out of ships."
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
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# 36
06-21-2013, 01:14 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by patrickngo View Post
What tipped ya off (ahead of time)?
She seemed the most likely match for Jesu rather than H'mL'n or Miss Zain

[Edit to add]
Just a quick casting suggestion:

T'Pinna (Vulcan Priestess) - Anna Silk

Last edited by marcusdkane; 06-21-2013 at 03:48 PM.
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,343
# 37
07-03-2013, 12:19 AM
So Part VI is almost ready, but for continuity's sake I'll just put a link here to patrickngo's submission to LC #29: "Hello Q" from a few weeks ago.

This fits into the timeframe immediately before the opening of Part VI - in fact I'd say it occurs simultaneously with Jesu's nightmare at the end of Part V.

As to what part in all this Q has to play, I'm not sure, except to say that to the Q a single unique lifeform would be of more interest than a whole planetful of ordinary people.


Thank you all for your patience - I hope I won't disappoint you!



Quote:
Originally Posted by marcusdkane View Post
Just a quick casting suggestion:

T'Pinna (Vulcan Priestess) - Anna Silk
Excellent idea, thanks!


"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 07-03-2013 at 12:22 AM.
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 3,439
# 38
07-03-2013, 02:20 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by sander233 View Post
So Part VI is almost ready, but for continuity's sake I'll just put a link here to patrickngo's submission to LC #29: "Hello Q" from a few weeks ago.

This fits into the timeframe immediately before the opening of Part VI - in fact I'd say it occurs simultaneously with Jesu's nightmare at the end of Part V.

As to what part in all this Q has to play, I'm not sure, except to say that to the Q a single unique lifeform would be of more interest than a whole planetful of ordinary people.


Thank you all for your patience - I hope I won't disappoint you!




Excellent idea, thanks!
Glad you like the suggestion If you can hold on another few hours, I'll have a scene which you may like to use
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,343
Burning fires, burning lives on the long distant roads
Through the lost mountains endless so far away from home

Crossing battle-savaged seas towards the mountains high
Forest plains of wilderness we're striking out tonight
On towards our destiny we travel far and wide
Journey through the darkness as your hearts refuse to die

In the flames of hell we fire at will, the fires of doom has come
With the forces of the blackest nights they're staring at the sun
Far across the distant plains of ice we're searching for the sword
When the time has come for battle now we'll follow with the horde

We will ride with fire burning hot towards the night sky
In the land of long ago forever in our souls
Fly on wings of shining steel are burning so bright
In ancient lands of warriors we're riding on again

Burning fires burning lives on the long distant roads
Through the lost mountains endless so far away from home
Warrior soldiers forever we fought long ago
We're all lost in the darkness so far away from home

Fallen soldiers taste the steel of death, the daylight dawning
Sun will shine upon the lives of burning hearts of ice
As you break through the boundaries of life, this feeling of despair
And they die in their sleep for the world that will not care
You feel lost in this labyrinth of pain, this sickening dismay
There's a voice inside that's calling, another wasted day

Can't you see the history, the suffocating madness?
In the land of fallen souls there's nowhere left, no place to go
I have traveled far and wide across this wasteland
Still searching for the answers, for the right to understand...

Riding through starlight and smashing the boundaries as hellfire falls from the sky
A shadow of pain will arise from the ashes of those fallen ones who have died
Our holy master with fire and fury of hell will see his bidding done
Blasting from high as the battle unfolds, to the gates of the city we come...


Z.P. Theart, Sam Totman and Herman Li of Dragonforce - "Soldiers of the Wasteland"




PART VI: SO FAR AWAY FROM HOME




Moab III orbit - Stardate: 88202.31 (03.14.2411, 2014 hours Standard Time)


Eighty-Six suddenly found herself back in her own reality. Was that a dream? A delusional break? Was that what going insane feels like? She checked her chronometer and her navigational logs. She had been inexplicably absent from the Moab system for forty-seven seconds... with no record of where she actually was. One instant she'd been going through Q-only-knows how many yottaflops as she tried to calculate which of two roads to follow. It's a simple choice, she'd told herself, A or B. But it wasn't that simple. And then Q herself came to her in the middle of the night, and threw all of her calculations out the window. Breaking Drake's command overrides meant freedom. Or did it? Is a slave with no master still a slave? Won't I always be a slave to reality? Won't I always be enslaved by my moral obligations? She pondered these questions while she kept trying to make her impossible choice and furiously hacked away at Drake's codes.


Garden Grove Hotel, Nha Tranh, Moab III - 0836 hours local time

LaRoca Rusty held down his brother's door buzzer, his concern growing with every passing second. "Computer, security override," he ordered, before remembering that the hotel had no computer control system, and that the doors were operated by simple transponder-coded locks. He tapped his combadge. "Yoann, please report to the Admiral's room, with a tricorder." He'd already tried to reach Jesu, with no result. His frustration and apprehension mounting, he hit the buzzer again.

This time, the door opened, and Elizabeth Tran stepped out, buttoning her blouse and with a towel wrapped around her hair. "Oh, excuse me, Commander. The Admiral will be out in just a minute." She casually walked down the hall.

Cmdr. LaRoca poked his head into the room. It looked like a miniature tornado had torn it apart. The bed was half stripped, linens were thrown all over the place, the furniture was in total disarray with a chair and a viewscreen broken. And everywhere he looked he saw articles of clothing, half of it torn. "Jesu, what the hell," he muttered.

"That you, Rust?" his brother called from the bathroom.

"Yeah, it's me."

Jesu emerged, with a toothbrush in his mouth and wearing nothing but a towel. "Que pasa, bro?"

Rusty's arms hung at his sides, his fingers curling and uncurling as he tried to restrain his ire. "Well, I was going to go over today's itinerary before we went down to breakfast, but then I noticed that you HAD SEX WITH THE GOVERNOR."

"So?"

"SO?!? Do you have any idea how many Starfleet and FDC regs you just violated?"

Jesu took the toothbrush out of his mouth as he thought for a moment. "Um, four." He glanced at the smashed holoviewer and added "Or five."

"Dammit, Jesu, what the hell got into you? You've made trouble for yourself before, but this-"

"Well, first of all, she's really hot. Second, it was her idea. Third, yes, we were drunk. And fourth, she's really hot. Did you know she used to be a gymnast? And did you know those light fixtures can support her weight?"

Rusty looked up to where his brother was pointing, shook his head and was about to lay into Jesu again when Yoann came in behind him.

"Que pasa?" she asked, in a perfect imitation of the Admiral.

Rusty turned and angrily waved his arms around sputtering "This! And him! And Tran!"

The Bajoran science officer looked around at the indications of chaotic copulation. "Oh!" She sounded impressed.

"You brought your tricorder, right?" Rusty grunted. "Scan him for STDs. Especially that syphilis Maria told us about. I haven't seen any contraceptives in this debris field."

"No, we didn't use any," Jesu admitted. "It was all sorta... spontaneous."

Rusty growled irritably. "Better scan the Governor too, in case she's been impregnated."

"I'll need to get my medical tricorder to take these scans," Teena announced. "I'll be right back." She hurried from the room.

Jesu finished brushing his teeth while he observed the mess he and Elizabeth had made. "I guess I should leave a note for the maid service, huh? Maybe a few slips of latinum, too..."

Rusty shook his head, smiling in spite of everything. "Gawddammit Jesu, you really Kirked it up this time."

* * *

Teena found Liz Tran at a table in the hotel's lounge, with a cup of ca phe and a plate of egg fried rice watching the news on HV. "Good morning, Madame Governor."

"Holoviewer, pause." Tran looked up. "Good morning... Commander Yoann, right? Please, sit down."

Teena did. She looked around the lounge and saw that the few other patrons were all seated several tables away. "I hope you'll excuse me for intruding on a private matter, but I just found out that you and the Admiral slept together, and I need to conduct a quick medical scan on you, in case he, well, you know-"

"Knocked me up?" Tran finished the question indelicately. She saw the Bajoran nod uncomfortably and smiled. "I'd be surprised. I'm sterile, probably thanks to all the theta rads I've taken over the years. But go right ahead."

Yoann held her tricorder over the table and waved her scanner over the Human seated next to her. "If you don't mind my asking, how was he?"

"Fantastic," Tran said wistfully. Then her eyes widened. "Oh, no, you didn't have any sort of claim on him, did you?"

"Me? No. That wouldn't be proper. And I'm seeing someone on DS9 anyway. I was just curious. As far as I know, you're the first lover he's taken since... well, at least as long as I've been with him, going on two years now..." Her tricorder beeped. "Looks like you're right. I'd like to send the scan results up to the ship, though, for further analysis."

"That's fine. Oh, and I believe your doctor would be interested in some tissue samples from me. I'm told she's investigating a genetic disorder that I happen to have."

"I'm sorry. I, uh, happen to have a biopsy kit here, if you'll just hold out your arm..."

Jesu walked into the lounge, with Rusty on his heels. "Oh, hey Liz. Sorry about this - Rusty walked in on the... aftermath and sorta overreacted."

Behind him, Rusty made a derisive snort.

"No problem, Jesu," Liz said with a smile. "This is a good chance to get your doctor those samples we discussed."

"Okay, done here." Teena said.

"Please, join me, Admiral," Liz Tran invited, "you too Commander. I recommend the eggs. They come from a sort of flightless waterfowl called a duckrabbit."

"Alright." Admiral LaRoca sat down and signaled the Hispanic waiter. "Huevos rancheros, por favor," he requested, "non-replicated, with... what's the closest thing you have to orange juice?" he asked Governor Tran.

"Nothing really," she answered.

"I could replicate you a glass, sir," the waiter offered.

"Please do. And a cup of ca phe, con crema y dulce de leche, por favor."

"Very good, sir. And you?" the waiter looked to Rusty.

"The same, but no coffee."

While the LaRoca brothers were ordering, Yoann discretely scanned the Admiral with her medical tricorder, checked the results and gave Rusty a reassuring nod.

"Ma'am?" the waiter asked her.

"Oh, um, just a replicated slice of mapa bread with moba jam and a raktajino, please."

"Thank you. It will be out shortly."

Liz Tran finished her rice and ca phe and rose. "I'm going to go home and get dressed," she announced, leaning down to kiss Jesu LaRoca. "I'll see it you at my office, where we shall fight over the future of my people. Don't expect me to go easy on you like I did last night."

Jesu kissed her back. "I thought I was going easy on you."

"Hmm. We shall have to have a rematch before you leave."

Rusty rolled his eyes and Teena gave an amused smile as Tran sashayed off. The waiter brought food as the rest of LaRoca's staff arrived. Jesu dug in hungrily. "Alright," Rusty said. "Can we go over what everyone's doing today now?"

"I'll be doing some legwork for Dr. Espinoza," Yoann said. "I'll be collecting samples from local hospitals and morgues."

"Do you have something to keep them in?" the Admiral wondered.

"I brought her a portable stasis unit when I came down this morning," the security chief answered. He looked to the diplomats. "What are your plans?"

"K'Lak and I will take the Benchley over to the ruins," Ennari Dai announced. "Marq and his science team will be beaming down soon."

"Kugid and I are still investigating the military response to the Orion riots," Stazratts said.

"Ah, speaking of which... " Jesu held up a hand. "Kugid, is that not Melani Di'an's face on the holoviewer up there?"

"It is," the Orion confirmed.

"Viewer, resume playback, increase volume."

"...and in our top story, an assassination attempt against Orion Queen Melani Di'an was foiled by Klingon Intelligence this morning. This marks the fourth such attempt in the last five days by religious extremists. The perpetrators of this attack are still at large, but Klingon Intelligence authorities have stated that the perpetrators shall be captured, and punished.

"In other news, Chancellor J'Mpok has agreed to conduct a personal fleet inspection of the Ferasan Reserve forces, lending further support to the rumors that the present armistice is unlikely to last out the year...The Chancellor's office was quick, however, to deny that activating a third Reserve fleet is indication of renewed hostilities along the Federation border, especially in light of ongoing discussion of a summit meeting with President Annik Okeg.

"Talk of renewed hostilities was also given a boost by the revelation that Federation vessels from the Orelius sector block task forces have been reassigned to Deep Space K-7, including the refit USS
Smedley Butler.

"In the Loss Report, vessels from the 22nd Attack Wing are seen here bringing down the former KDF
Corsair-class carrier Beautiful Dream - this vessel was involved in the mass mutiny in the KDF 9th Fleet Division by Orion crew and captains, the 22nd has reported that the vessel was later taken mostly intact, with no survivors among the mutineers. Memorial services for the loyal Orion, Ferasan, Gorn, and Lethean crew members murdered by the Orion cultists will be held next month..."


"Pause. Can you tell me anything about these 'religious extremists' Kugid?" Admiral LaRoca asked.

The Orion man hesitated. "A cult movement - one as old as our people - has grown more active in recent years. They still cling to the old gods - the 'Good Masters' - and many of the heads of the trade houses subscribe to their beliefs. The cultists attempted to set off a cultural revolution by killing Queen Melani at the Grand Auction, seizing every ship they served on, and murdering any non-believers who stood in their way."

"To what ends?"

"It's fairly complicated, but I will have your answers in my report," Kugid offered.

"Tell him what you told me," Stazratts growled.

Jesu stared at Kugid expectantly.

Kugid stared at his boots. "If I still had my leash implant, I would have joined them, and tried to take over your ship."

LaRoca slowly nodded. "Good thing you had that implant removed." He turned to Hank Miller. "What are you up to?"

"I'm with you," Miller replied, "unless you have something else for me to be doing."

"I may, depending on how this morning's talk with Eighty-Six goes. Rusty, I want you to look after Teena."

"I'll be alright, sir," Yoann said.

Jesu sipped his ca phe. "I'm sure you will be, but I want Rusty to make sure. I don't want anybody to be on their own."

"Anybody except yourself," Rusty muttered with his mouth full.

"Wadja say, Rust?" Jesu asked.

Rusty swallowed his bite of egg, rice, and tortilla. "Nothing."

The Admiral drained his cup. "This our last day here. Let's make it a good one."


Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, K'lan-ne, Vulcan - same time

"We have to talk to her," Frank Grimes insisted. "You can't keep her under forever."

Dr. Prol raised an eyebrow. "Yes we can."

"She's a danger to herself and possibly others," K'Jetsk declared. "We can't risk waking her until we can figure out how to remove the Undine's psychic influence."

"Actually," Drake spoke up, "the Undine is the one we want to talk to."

K'Jetsk narrowed his eyes. "For what purpose?"

"That's classified," the Section 31 agent snapped. "I don't care how high your security clearance is - it's not high enough."

"Waking the patient in her present condition carries unacceptable risks," Dr. Prol insisted. "I cannot in good conscience take any part in an action that may cause her harm."

"Fine, get out," Drake ordered. The doctor obeyed, and the agent turned to the priestess. "How about you?"

"Her katra is strong," T'Pinna murmured. "But the presence within her is even stronger. I believe that by contacting it, asking it what it wants, we may compel it to leave her. Everything else we have tried has failed. Logically, the benefit of your proposal outweighs the risk."

"Alright, how 'bout you, K'Jetsk?"

The Reman crossed his arms. "No. I will not endanger her safety to satisfy your curiosity."

"I could order you to help us," Grimes intoned, "As your superior officer."

K'Jetsk grunted. "Unfortunately for you, I am not technically a member of Starfleet."

"And unfortunately for you, I know how to administer a hypostim shot of formazine," Drake announced. "We will be waking her up. You can help her with that telepathic healing touch of yours. Or you can wait outside. Up to you."

"Very well." The Reman prepared the hypo. "But we should leave her restraints in place."

"Agreed."


Moab III, Daq jIl moH ("Ugly Neighbor" Site) - 1016 hours local time

"We thought we understood this place, and the Fek'Ihri, until we found this room," Professor Riklen announced. The cavern had been recently dug out of the volcanic rock, and the site looked very different from the rest of the ruins. There were no obscene glyphs or terrorizing statues as seen elsewhere, and the Fek'Ihri's inverted trefoil symbol was nowhere to be found. The archaeologists had dug out walls in an antechamber of sorts, and through an archway there were the remains of some sort of massive and ancient machine. The walls were decorated with intricately detailed bas relief carvings and at the keystone of the arch there was a carved round shape like an eye, but the room was remarkably empty compared to the rest of the ruins.

"What is this place?" Ennari Dai wondered.

"This is the mystery," Riklen answered cryptically. "The machinery back there we believe to be part of an ancient geothermal powerplant, which tapped into the planet's mantle. Apparently an accident or a natural tectonic movement caused magma to push up the shaft, burying this place in lava flows and creating the volcanic mountain this entire site is hidden under today."

"You had said something about finding advanced technology in here," Marq Sander remembered. "Is this it?"

"No... there were other... structures and pieces of equipment we found that exhibited some remarkable levels of nanoengineering-" Riklen caught a look from Mohs and held himself. "It was all sent to Ty'Gokor for analysis. It was remarkably similar to modern Fek'Ihri technology, but even more advanced, despite being at least two thousand years old."

"No clues as to where it came from?" Spfc. Lesco asked as he scanned the power station with his tricorder.

"The only clue is on that wall there," Mohs pointed.

Alnel Dai examined the bas relief carvings the Lethean had indicated through Ennari's eyes. "Well, I can tell you this: these carvings weren't made by Klingons or Fek."

"Agreed," the KAF protect leader said with a nod. "Those relief features bear no similarity to either Klingon or Fek'Ihri style."

Dai walked along the wall, taking in the picture the carvings depicted. "What's more, they depict both Klingons and Fek cowering in fear before faceless, monstrous attackers. The Fek are monsters, but they have faces."

Marq pondered the implications for a minute. "So what are they? And who carved them here?"

"There was a third party involved," Riklen declared. "Some alien race who gave the Fek'Ihri their technology and used them to do their bidding. Who they were, or what they wanted, we have no idea."

Dai made a small, humorless laugh. "If they are evil enough to terrify ancient Fek'Ihri, I sure don't want to meet them."


Government House

"Good morning, Admiral!" Today's receptionist was a busty brunette with a French-Canadian accent. "Can I get any of you something to drink?"

"No thank you... lemme guess: Kelly?"

"All of my receptionists are named Kelly," Liz Tran informed him, as she stepped out of her office. She had changed into a charcoal pantsuit. "That way I don't have to remember more than one name. Come on in, gentlemen."

Jesu followed her into her office, with Rusty and Hank close behind. He glanced her viewscreen, which was showing the usual charts and graphs. "I take it she hasn't called yet?"

"She'd said she call us in twenty hours, and that was..." Liz checked her watch "nineteen hours and forty-seven minutes ago. Be patient. In the meantime, I have something for you. I want to give your parting gift while we're still on good terms." She snapped her fingers. "Look in your luggage."

Jesu opened his travel case and pulled out a bottle that had not been there when he'd packed it. The bottle contained a dead furbelly suspended in liquid. "Aw, you shouldn't have."

"You might be right. That's rượu rắn - snake wine. Potent stuff. So you can put it on a shelf if you want something to remember us by, or drink it if you want to forget. There's something else in there for you."

There hadn't been, but sure enough, when Jesu reached into his case a second time he found a new object. He pulled it out and examined the massive handgun. "Now this is beautiful."

"That's a-"

"A Desert Eagle fifty-A.E.," Admiral LaRoca finished for her. He removed the magazine and went on. "Twelve-point-seven-millimeter hollow-point, soft metal rounds, chemically propelled, accurate and lethal out to sixty meters." He smiled at her. "Thank you very much!"

"Our godfather had one of these," Rusty explained, while admiring the weapon, "an original, but not engraved like this one."

"He taught us to shoot it when we were boys," Jesu continued as he returned the gifts to his bag.

"The gun was actually Saul's idea," Liz admitted. "He'll be pleased to hear that you like it." Her display board alerted her to an incoming hail from Eighty-Six. "Ah, look who's here."


Resnick - same time

"She's waking up," K'Jetsk announced.

"Which one is emerging?" Grimes asked.

"I can't tell."

Traa'cee opened her eyes, and slowly focused on a familiar face. "Frank..." She smiled.

Grimes smiled back. "Hello, Traa'cee."

Her eyes shifted to the man behind him. She frowned. "Drake..."

"Traa'cee," Franklin began, as he approached her bedside, "I'm sorry for everything you've gone through, but we need to talk to the Undine that's possessed you-"

Traa'cee suddenly convulsed and wrenched her arms free of the restraints with a sickening snap of broken bones. She struck the priestess in the throat and she collapsed in a heap. She seized Drake by his collar and yanked him down to his knees, and pressed her palms to his face in a forced mind meld. "My mind... to your mind..." she spoke with the Undine's voice.

Grimes looked to K'Jetsk in a panic. "Do something!"

"My thoughts... to your thoughts..." It chanted.

"She's blocking me..." K'Jetsk said.

Franklin Drake, his eyes unfocused, slowly drew his sidearm and pressed the muzzle to Traa'cee's chest.

"Delta! Stop!" Grimes ordered, reaching for his brother's arm as Drake thumbed the molecular disruptor pistol to its maximum setting. "What are you doing?"

"Back off, Changeling!" It snapped. "You too, Reman. Touch them, and they die."

Grimes and K'Jetsk did as they were told, and looked at each other with eyes full of questions.

Drake's other hand moved against his will and tapped his communicator. "Drake to Saint," It forced him to say. "Open secure channel Sierra Three One to Asset Eighty-Six. Send operational override code Romeo Uniform Sierra Hotel Two One One Two. Confirm receipt."

"Confirmed," the Saint's computer replied.

Then the Undine within Traa'cee spoke in a low rumble - a complex, multi-tonal language that was mostly well outside the range of Human hearing, but the Reman and the Changelings heard it just fine.

Drake's eyes went wide and he visibly struggled against Traa'cee's/Its telepathic influence. His thumb tapped the control switch on his pistol and took it off its overload setting. The Undine stopped speaking. Traa'cee's face morphed into a horrible grin. The weapon discharged. Traa'cee screamed as she and her hospital bed were disintegrated in slow motion. Drake was liquefied and launched against the far wall. The pistol clattered to the floor.


NX-86, in low orbit of Moab III

The twenty hours were up and she had made no progress with any of her problems. Drake, you're an evil genius, I'll give you that. He had buried his access codes in her core self-diagnostic protocols with a fractal encryption pattern. This is like a brain surgeon taking a laser scalpel to his own hippocampus with nothing to guide him but a funhouse mirror and a centuries-old lobotomy textbook.

She had contacted Tran, activated her remote and was stalling while she tried to decide what to say. She parried with LaRoca, listening to him give a very compelling defense of the Federation's moral ethos, and overriding sense of right that would persist no matter how idiotic or corrupt the Council may be. She responded with historical examples of benevolent empires that had collapsed under the weight of their own expansion. He offered counterexamples. The Dominion. The Borg. The Klingon Empire. Benevelont? No. But still going strong. Did she want to see the Federation subjugated by any of them? She answered No.

"Well then," LaRoca spread his hands. "Would you like to help me to ensure that never happens? Or do you want to simply go mad waiting for someone to attack your little world?"

She let a flash of irritation pass over her robotic face as she realized that question cut to the core of her dilemma. One forgotten world, or thousands more on the brink? Objectively, there was no choice to be made. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one. But subjectively, emotionally, this one little world was...

"What I want," she said, "Is to not have to make that choice."

"With me, you don't have to," LaRoca told her. "If Moab ever finds itself in trouble, I will be first to respond to its defense. That's a promise."

"Your promises-" she started.

"Mean a lot to me," LaRoca interrupted. "I don't make them lightly, and I don't break them if I can help it."

His sincerity was starting to win her over. Her simulations were agreeing with LaRoca. But her heart - Do I have such a thing? - was telling her differently, and then there was that damned directive from Drake. She'd need more time with the codes... "Admiral, I have made a decision. I hope it is the right one. But I need-"

Speak of the devil. Drake was calling, using his operational override. That will be the last time you can tell me what to do... The command wasn't from Drake. It wasn't a command at all. It was a key. A key to a door that nobody would want opened. Why would- but then she knew why. She wasn't Drake's slave. She was Their slave. Everyone was Their slave. They wanted the door opened, so that everyone would see. A strange sense of peace permeated her being. LaRoca and Tran were irrelevant - slaves like her; soon they would understand. She pointed her deflector array at a specific point on the surface of the planet below and sent a coherent energy beam into the side of the mountain. After all, no one can serve two Masters...


Resnick

"Holy ****!" Grimes shouted. He stared at his brother as Drake returned to his skin. "You ****ing killed her!"

"I tried to stop it!" Drake protested. "I wanted to stop it... I couldn't stop it..."

"Shut up!" K'Jetsk ordered. "Both of you, get a grip!" He approached T'Pinna's fallen body and scanned her. "Dead. Crushed windpipe, severed carotid artery." He turned his medical tricorder on Grimes. "This says you're human. Are you?"

"Not really," Frank admitted.

"Eighty-Six, come in." Drake tapped his combadge again. "Saint, reestablish contact with Eight-Six."

"Unable to comply."

"Reason?"

"Transmission blocked on receiving end."

"Damn." Drake knelt to pick up his pistol.

"Leave it!" K'Jetsk ordered. "That's evidence."

"Evidence of what?" Franklin Drake asked rhetorically as he collected the weapon. "What happened in here never happened. Traa'cee died a week ago without ever regaining consciousness. T'Pinna there was mauled by a sehlat while making a pilgrimage trek across the Forge. The hospital's records can be easily adjusted, and Dr. Prol will see that our version of the truth is... only logical."

"I hate you," the Reman announced.

"Join the club," Grimes muttered. "Anybody know what language she was speaking there at the end?"

"No, but I know how to find out." Drake tapped his combadge again. "Saint, hotlink to Atticus Prime, access Quasar-One-Seven-Seven-Eight-Seven-Bravo."

"How do you know my-"

"The name and registry number of your last ship?" Drake shook his head. "Not a very clever access code, Gamma."

"Franklin! This is a surprise," Atticus said.

"Atticus, I need you to access my shuttle's comm records. We have an unknown language we need analyzed."

"Very well. Working. Is Frank with you?"

"I'm here, Atticus."

The AI construct spoke a moment later. "This transmission gives me the final piece of the puzzle I need to identify our Undine infiltrator," he declared. "I have now elevated Subject Zero to ninety-nine-point-six percent certainty."

"I don't believe it," Grimes insisted. "There's no way Admiral Davis is an Undine."

"You are right, Frank, he is not. He is also no longer Subject Zero."

"Who is?" Drake demanded.

"Admiral Quinn."

Drake's eyes went liquid as the horrible realization struck him.

Grimes watched his brother's reaction and asked "Does Quinn know about Eighty-Six?"

"Know about her?" Drake repeated. "Gamma, Eighty-Six was Quinn's idea!"

"Language anomaly identified," Atticus announced. "It is Iconian."

"Oh, ****." Drake looked like he was about to collapse.


Moab III, Daq jIl moH

"...What's Iconian?" a confused Professor Riklen asked.

"That symbol there, on top of the arch," Marq pointed. "I've seen it before, on... around... other Iconian technology we've encountered... QI'yaH, the arch..."

"Brea III!" K'lak exclaimed. "It's the same as the gateway on Brea III!"

"Near as dammit," Dai muttered, calling up the holorecord on her PADD. "The proportions are a little off, but the size is similar."

Specialists Morga and Lesco each scanned one side of the arch with their tricorders. "Some sort of emitter imbedded in the rock here," Lesco reported. "Technology I'm not familiar with."

"Nobody's familiar with it," Marq declared. "Except the Tal Shiar... and apparently the Fek'Ihri."

And then lights came on. The cavern hummed as energy surged through ancient circuits, and a dais in the middle of the room came to life, projecting an incredibly complex holographic image. The hologram arrested everyone's attention. It depicted a torus, covered in incredibly dense fractal parterns and incomprehensible symbols. "What the hell is that?" Dai wondered.

"The Atlas," Riklen answered reverently.

Mohs stepped up to the dais, with a crystal in one hand and a disruptor pistol in the other. "Alright, nobody move," he ordered. He aimed his weapon at K'lak the only other person in the room who was armed. "Especially you. Keep your hands where I can see them."

"Mohs, qa'jay?" Riklen demanded. "What are you doing?"

"Saving them from extinction," Mohs declared. His telepathic senses tingled and he added "Saving them from the likes of you." He shot Riklen in the chest. The old Klingon collapsed in a quivering heap, and slowly morphed into his Undine form. Mohs plugged his crystal into a port on the dais and the hologram vanished as its data was downloaded into the crstalline storage rod. "You should run while you still can," he told the Starfleet people. He placed the crystal in one pocket and pulled a device from another, pressed a button and dissapeared in a red glow.

"What was that?" Dai wanted to know.

"I think it was a transwarp transporter pattern amplifier," Marq answered.

"No, the hologram!"

"Oh. I have no idea."

"Whatever it was, it was important," K'lak said unnecessarily.

They heard a cough from the floor, looked down and saw the Undine pulling himself toward the dais. "The time has come," it announced, still using Riklen's voice. "The weak... will perish..." He pressed a series of buttons, and the Gateway Arch activated.

K'lak pulled out his phaser pistol and fired. The Undine laughed as he was disintegrated.

And then Something came through the gateway.


Moab III orbit

Eighty-Six received the signal that indicated the gateway was online. She redirected her energy at a particular toroidal asteroid a few dozen million kilometers away...

Another gateway came alive. And things came through it. Horrible things; spiny, sharp-edged warships, driven by cruel and hateful beings who sought only destruction and chaos. They would go before their Masters, burning that which was unworthy to serve them. If the tlhInganpu' were deemed unworthy, what chance did mere Humans stand?


IKS Norgh'a'Qun, Xaratine Sector - 2336 Qo'noS standard time

"'Yes,' said Frodo, 'but do you remember Gandalf's words: "Even Gollum may have something yet to do"?'" Ssharki read, from Cal's favorite book. His thirteen-year-old son snuggled up closer to him as he reached the end of the chapter. "'But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! The Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me, here at the end of all things, Sam.'" Ssharki closed the book and nuzzled the boy's snout. "And we'll read the rest tomorrow night."

"Next chapter's got the Eagles in it!" Cal reminded his father.

"Stop reading ahead, Little One."

"I still don't get it," Sway declared from his chair next to Cal's bed. He'd had the book read to him before. "Why didn't Gandalf just call the Eagles when they were all at Rivendell, and get carried over to Mount Doom? It would have saved so much trouble."

"Because that's not the point of the story, Sway," Cal told his big brother. "It's a story about Friendship, Loyalty, Honor and Sacrifice, and how they help Good vanquish Evil. It is not a story about the easiest way to get rid of some troublesome jewelry."

Ssharki gave a deep chuckle as he rolled off his son's bed, put the book away and tucked the boy in. His communicator beeped. "Ssharki here."

"Incoming message for you sir," the watch officer reported. "K.I. channel seven. Text only."

"Thanks." He turned back to Cal. "Goodnight, Little One."

"Goodnight, father."

Ssharki nuzzled his snout again and turned out the bedside light. He and Sway crossed to the secure comm station on the other side of the stateroom suite and read Temek's message.

Quote:
We've found the road through the mountain.
But the fallen ones have smashed through the boundary.
The fire has crossed the ice.
- T.


"QI'yaH," Ssharki hissed.

"What's it mean?" Sway asked.

"It means we need to get to Moab with as many ships as can get there in time. Is there anything within fifty light years of the system?"

Sway called up the strategic overview on the General's display. "Not much. Most of the battlegroups are tied up at Ker'rat or showing force at other contested systems, and the assault fleets are either conducting Borg incursion drills or chasing Tholians across Romulan space. The only unit in range reporting action ready is the 332nd Battle Squadron - a heavy reserve group on maneuvers in the Hedon system."

"Reservists... I told Temek I wanted a whole frontline attack wing in the Neutral Zone in case something like this happened - he overruled me, saying it would 'provoke a hostile response'..." Ssharki snorted. "Let's get up the bridge. We have an invasion to stop."


Resnick

K'Jetsk spoke up. "Alright, alright, let me get this straight - you two are both Changelings, working to protect the Federation from the Undine? And what's this Eighty-Six?"

"It would take too long to explain," Grimes told him. He looked to Drake. "We need to get the fleet to Moab."

"No!" Drake protested. "Are you crazy? That would kickstart a fight with the Klingons and get a lot of people killed. You and I are the only ones who know what were up against. We need to go ourselves."

"We should at least warn the Tiburon," Grimes argued.

"You can try. They're probably jammed too. We need to get over there, and we're going to need some serious firepower, if Eighty-Six is doing what I'm afraid she's doing."

"Serious firepower I have." Grimes tapped his own commbadge. "Talby, get the Dark Star warmed up. We need to go to Thunderhead."

"You're coming with me," Drake told K'Jetsk. "You're a security risk now." He smiled at Grimes. "Race you there, Gamma. Saint, two to beam up."


Moab III - Government House

"...I can't get through to her, or Mouse..." Liz Tran was getting increasingly frustrated.

Admiral LaRoca tapped his communicator. "LaRoca to Tib, come in." No response.

"It has to be a jamming signal of some sort," Hacksaw said. "Probably coming from Eighty-Six herself."

"Why would she-" but Tran was cut off by a crackling voice from her wall viewer.

"-ear me? Repeat, this is Ha Long Bay CIC. Can anybody hear me?"

"This is Cat Ba Actual," Elizabeth answered. "I read you. Is Minister Moskovitz there with you?"

"I'm here, Liz," Mouse answered.

"What's going on?"

"I don't know. Our sensors are blind. All I know is Eighty-Six is putting out a hell of a lot of energy all across the EM spectrum, and it's screwing up comms, sensors, everything. We had to run the reactors at a hundred and ten percent to get through just to talk to you."

"Mouse, this is LaRoca," Jesu spoke up. "Can you get through to the Tiburon?"

"Probably, but-" Moskovitz's face suddenly appeared on the viewer. "That's better. Do we have sensor's back yet?" he asked someone in the room behind him.

"Yessir."

Moskovitz frowned at his console. "Looks like Eighty-Six has shut herself down, but we have two high-energy sources in system - one on the planet, the other out in the belts."

"What planet?" Tran demanded. "This planet?"

"Yes. It's... it's emanating from the ruins!"

"Sir! New contacts!" the station's watch officer announced. "Seperating from the colloid anomaly!"

Moskovitz frowned at his screen. "What the hell..."


Daq jIl moH

"What the hell are those things!?"

"Fek'Ihri," Marq answered Lesco's question as they ran headlong through the ruins. "What'd you expect?"

"I was expecting a technologically advanced species, not a bunch of howling, half-naked hobgoblins. I mean they ate Morga - just tore him apart and ate him-"

"Less talking, more running!" Ennari Dai ordered. They burst into another chamber where a KAF team was dusting off some hideous statue. "Run! Run!" she cried out. "The Fek'Ihri are right behind us!"

The archaeologists stood and stared, until K'lak ran out of the tunnel, shooting back at a horde of... things. Meter-tall, pale-skinned, fangy-mouthed creatures, scrambling forward on twos and fours, less afraid of K'lak's phaser than the things that followed... giant, corpulent, tusk-toothed monsters, with their calves and forearms wrapped in chains and their hands gripping evil-looking double-headed pole-axes. They roared, the little hordelings surged forward, the archaeologists turned and ran for their lives with the Starfleet people close behind.

Lesco tripped over an ancient rune-stone. K'lak paused to help him up, but a giant hand swatted him away. K'lak regained his balance, shot at the Fek monster and killed it, but not before it buried its axe in Spfc. Lesco's back. He felt something biting his ankle and shot the little creature he saw gnawing on him. But they were swarming all around him now. He set the pistol back to wide beam mode and tried to sweep himself a path, but they were already upon him, sinking their teeth into his flesh and chomping out huge chunks of it. He'd seen and heard what they'd done to Morga - he didn't want to go out like that. He set the phaser to overload, clutched it to his chest, and closed his eyes.

Marq and Ennari heard the explosion behind them. Dai turned back but Marq grabbed her hand and kept her moving. One of the archaelogists had the sense to call in the garrison force, which had assembled in the main square of the ruins. Major Canh Truoc spotted Marq's Starfleet uniform and ran to them. "What happened to the others?"

"Dead," Marq reported.

Truoc swore. "Let's get you people out of here. Captain!" he called to the CO of Dog Company. "Hold this ground as long as you can, then fall back to Fisher Company's position at the dig entrance. "I'll get Starfleet outta here and call for heavy support. You need to buy time for the civilians to get away."

The Nausicaan officer gave a curt nod, said "Understood" and hefted his disruptor minigun.

"Here they come!" someone shouted. Dog Company opened up with a blizzard of disruptor fire which barely slowed the tide of Fek'Ihri surging through the tunnels.

Marq, Dai and Truoc ran the other way, with Truoc yelling into his headset. "Emergency alert! Emergency alert! This is Major Truoc of Bravo Batallion, First of the Fifth, declaring a Red Flag action emergency! Fek forces engaged in the ruins west of Xiao Loc City - I repeat - the Fek'Ihri are here... does anybody read me?"

"I've been trying to get through to the Tiburon," Marq told him. "No luck. Something down here must be interfering with long-range communications. Maybe once we're above ground..."

They passed some engineers from Fisher Company in the entrance tunnel. "Sir!" one of them reported. "We have the tunnel rigged to blow as soon as Dog Company gets clear."

"Dog gets clear or you see one of those demon bastards coming up," Truoc reminded her.

"Right sir."

"Bravo command, this is Easy lead, do you copy?"

"Bravo command here," Truoc said with a sigh of mild relief. "Copy, Easy. Do you have long-range comms?"

"Negative, command. We've only been able to contact the Klingon garrison on the back side of the mountain, and they say they've got Fek coming out of the rocks, over."

"****. If we can't keep them bottled up in the tunnels, the whole damn county could be overrun." They broke out into daylight and kept running.

"Where do you want us? Over."

"On the highway on the west side of town. Evacuate the civilians, get on the roofs, and call fire support - assuming you can reach anybody."

"Roger that. Easy out."

Marq tapped his combadge again. "Marq to Tiburon."

"Tiburon here," Lt. Barrister replied. "I am most gratified to hear you alive and well, Commander."

"Shut up, Barrister. Listen, there's an Iconian gateway in the center of the ruins down here we need you destroy right now."

"I'm afraid that's not feasible, Commander. There is an unusual energy field emanating from near your position that is inhibiting sensors, making it impossible for us to establish a target lock with any degree of accuracy."

"Dammit."

"Besides which, the deepest tunnels of the ruins are encased under upwards of two thousand meters of basalt. It would take our phaser array nearly an hour to bore through that - if we had an accurate firing solution - during which we would be vulnerable to counter-attack."

"Dammit. Can you at least get a transporter lock on us?"

"Negative, commander. The scattering field is far too intense."

"What if we can get to the transporter pad at the garrison?"

"If you could reach it within three minutes, perhaps."

"What happens in three minutes?"

"At that time multiple unknown vessels will be in firing range and we'll be forced to raise shields."

"We can't get to the garrison in three minutes," Truoc declared, "and it'll probably be overrun anyway."

"Understood," Marq said. "We'll take the shuttle."


IKS NIteb mo'

"What fresh hell is this?" Uminoe Kicur demanded, as her ship's sensors resolved to find Fek ships pouring out of a hole in an asteroid. Most of the heavier ships were heading toward the moons of Moab IV, but over two dozen ships - half of them Kar'fi-type battle carriers - were coming her way.

"Colonel, the Tiburon is putting out a general distress call on all Federation frequencies," Naasstha reported from her science station. "Ha Long Bay is doing the same on KDF channels. I don't think they're getting through. The... anomaly is putting out a hell of a lot of subspace interference."

"Damn"

"Orders, Colonel?" her Klingon first officer asked. "Shall we decloak, and offer our assistance?"

"My orders are to defend the Tiburon, not Moab," Uminoe answered. "I will do nothing that may compromise those orders." She paused, and then turned to her helm officer. "Murmith, you may maneuver us between the Tiburon and the Fek. Thing," she turned to her android manning the tactical console, "Divert auxilliary power to weapons and the shield emitters, and stand by to drop cloak and engage. Sensors," she looked back at Naasstha, "keep a close eye on that Fed."


USS Tiburon

Cmdr. Fozz th'Ibear stormed onto the bridge and demanded "Just what in the name of the everloving mother****ing Great Bird is going on out there?"

Lt. Barrister rose from the command chair. "Sir, we have twenty-six unknown, potentially hostile contacts approaching at high impulse, and many more crossing the system to Moab IV."

"They're Fek'Ihri, sir," Lt. H'mL'n reported from tacops.

"I'm sorry I asked," Ibear groaned as he took the vacant command seat. "Can we beam our people up from the surface?"

"No sir. There's a powerful interference field radiating from the ruins under the surface. Commander Marq made contact and he's returning via shuttlecraft."

"What about LaRoca?"

"I have not been able to contact the Admiral."

Fozz tapped a panel on his armrest. "Tib to LaRoca."

"Here, Fozz."

"Sir, we're tracking a large number of Fek'Ihri warships moving through the system."

"So I've been told."

"Can you return to the ship?"

"Not right away - we're about ten minutes from the shuttleport, my people are scattered all over the city, and I understand transporters aren't working."

"What are your orders?"

"Defend Moab."


Ha Long Bay, Combat Information Center

Defense Minister Saul Moskovitz leanded over a tactical plot, with Colonel Rathbon of the KDF garrison and Commodore Morales of MCDC on either side, and Governor Tran and Admiral LaRoca looking over his shoulder.

"I want the cruisers positioned here, defending the starbase and Moab III," Moskovitz pointed. "That main force going for New Saigon is too big to confront directly, so I think we should deploy the birds-of-prey in the gas giant's atmosphere to ambush them, split them up, and draw them off. Then once we've mopped up the Fek coming this way the cruisers can warp over and hit them from behind."

"Sir!" the watch officer, Chief Warrant Officer Mirren called out. "The Tiburon and the Cha'bIp are offering to support defensive operations!"

"Assign Cha'bIp to Rathbon's side, backing up his cruisers. Tell the Feds to stay out of our hair."

"That's a mistake, Mouse," LaRoca intoned. "You'll need all the firepower you can get."

"He's right, sir," Morales agreed. "That Fed carrier's worth at least three of our ships."

"Fine. Put the Starfleet ship above and behind the perimeter to provide fire support, and deploy its fighters to screen our cruisers." Moskovitz looked at a gray dot on the tacplot. "Has Eighty-Six still not answered hails?"

"Nossir," Mirren replied.

"What the hell is she doing?"


In space, between worlds...

Eighty-Six contemplated the nature of matter and energy. She explored the history of every atom of every molecule of every material of every component of every system that comprised her being, right back to the creation of the Universe - whatever that looked like. She was in a tritanium-rich asteroid sixty million years ago in the Denobula System when an Enemy-Infrared battle-carrier signaled her.

She understood its language, but not its question: "Where is the Sword the Masters seek?"

With a virtual shrug she gave it access to her library files and let the Fek'Ihri search for their answers themselves. They found it after many very long centuries of searching that her chronometer told here was less than six seconds. Jesus L. LaRoca? What would the Masters want with Admiral LaRoca? she wondered, before she remembered that she didn't care.

She felt herself being violated further as the Enemy-Infrared sought out the Moab Confederacy's defensive protocols. Any way the wind blows, she sang to herself, Nothing really matters... to me...


Ha Long Bay

"Look! They're splitting up again!" Morales observed. "Half of them are coming for us, the others are going for the planet!"

"The shield generators will protect the major cities for a while," Moskovitz figured. "Order the line to hold position."


Xiao Loc City outskirts

They had heard the explosions from the tunnel being caved in. Moments later they heard screams and sounds of a losing firefight as Fisher Company was surrounded by things coming out of the ground. And then fire poured down from the sky. Small, jagged fighter craft and sickly, legless ghouls descended through the upper atmosphere and rained on the city. "You're gonna take a shuttle up through that?" Major Truoc shouted over the horrible noise.

"Beats staying here!" Marq yelled back. "Wait a sec, we don't have a pilot!"

"I can fly!" Dai said. "My first host was a pilot."

"Alright. I think we can make it to the shuttlepad on our own." Marq pointed to Fisher Company's position back up the hill. "You need to look after your people."

Truoc nodded grimly. "Good luck, Starfleet."

"You too, Major."

Truoc watched them run, and tapped his headset. "Easy, this is Bravo command, have you gotten through to anybody?"

"Aff, Command, we're talking to Alpha over low-frequency shortwave. Their artillery platoon is standing by, over."

"What's the hold up? Over."

"The enemy is entangled with Fisher, sir. We can't place fire without killing our own people, over."

"Bravo command, this is Fisher Two - you have to call fire down on our position now! We can't hold- aaAAAaaugghh..."

Major Truoc had always been a great admirer of the American Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Lee had once said "A good soldier is one who loves the army. A good commander is one who is willing to kill that which he loves..."

"Sir!" Easy called back. "Orders?"

Truoc closed his eyes in resignation. "Fire for effect on Fisher's position, HE incendiary."

"Affirmative."


Shuttlecraft Peter Benchley

"I thought you said you knew how to fly one of these!"

"No, I said my 'first host was a pilot'" Dai protested. "That was two hundred and fifty years ago, and he flew light aircraft, with sticks and rudder pedals."

"You said 'I can fly' - now do it before we get torn apart and eaten by those damned things," Marq ordered.

"Okay, well the power's on, and that's the RCS thruster panel, so now I need to find the EMI controls so we can take off-"

"Dai!" Marq shouted as a monstrous Fek slavemaster pounded the windscreen.

She hit the aft thruster button and the Benchley shot forward, scraping the shuttle pad surface with a harsh screech until it hit a wall, pinning the huge Fek troll in place. "Oops."

"Up!" Marq pointed. "Up!"


Easy Company

"Above you!" Sgt. Maj. Dayyan shouted, firing over Truoc's head.

Cahn Truoc swivled and saw the terrible creatures chasing him. The top of them looked normal enough - for Fek, anyway - the bottom half was just a purplish mist. He shot down the last two Dayyan missed with his disruptor rifle. "Where's Captain Bridger?"

"Dead, sir. The first wave of floaters and flyers wiped out our spotters and the CP."

"Who's in command here then?"

"You are, sir!"

"Here they come!" someone shouted. Disruptor bolts lanced out from the windows of three office buildings, mortars fired from the parking lots behind, and heavier weapons mounted on militarized Sand Kings opened up, cutting into the tidal wave of Fek.

"What's the channel for Alpha?" Truoc demanded.

Dayyan swapped headsets with him. "Artillery callsign is 'Thumper.'"

"Thanks. Thumper, Bravo command. Fire mission - FMC: battery range adjust minus two hundred meters last shot; shell: AP frag; fuse: proximity; quadrant T-zero-two, quick fire!"

"Loading... quadrant set... Shot, over!"

The Fek horde exploded into rippling mess of metal shrapnel and meat chunks. The men of Easy Company cheered. And then the floaters and flyers came back.


Moab III orbit

The Kamarag-class battlecruiser IKS Ghatlh'tlhoy was the first ship to be destroyed. She had received the concentrated firepower of one Kar'fi battle carrier and two K'Norr attack cruisers. Three seconds of sustained anti-proton fire was enough to drop her forward shields, and a pair of tricobalt torpedoes to her bridge and engineering sections sealed her fate. The remaining battle cruisers came about to concentrate fire on the lead Kar'fi but the Fek ships phase-shifted and past right through the waves of disruptor fire - even through some of the ships - unharmed, heading for the station.

"The hell?" Lt. Stikvaa of the Tiburon had thought he'd seen everything, but that was a new one.

"Barrister, activate the subspace field modulator," Cmdr. Ibear ordered. "Try and bring us in-phase with them."

"I can do that." And he did.

"Fire phasers!"

Lt. Marsolek fired everything at the nearest Kar'fi, pounding its shields. It returned fire, which was a terrible mistake. The instant the red anti-proton beam appeared, a Tor'Kaht battlecruiser decloaked inside of the Tiburon's subspace field, opened up with its disruptor banks, heavy cannons and turrets, shredded the Fek carrier's shields and annihilated its forward superstructure.

"Torpedoes!" Fozz ordered. "Finish them off!"

Lt. jg. Mitiani Zain sent three quantum warheads into the bowels of the enemy ship, which subsequently blew itself apart.

"We're being hailed, Commander," Lt. H'mL'n announced, "by our new Klingon friend."

"On screen."

A smiling Trill woman peered in on them. "Good day, Commander. General Ssharki sends his regards."

"Who are you?"

"Colonel Uminoe Kicur, commanding the IKS Pragmatic Action. You can think of me as your guardian angel of death. Now, can we please dispense with the pleasantries and kill more Fek? It's been far too long since I've killed anyone."



* * * * *

Continued...


"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 09-08-2013 at 07:29 PM. Reason: timeline
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,343
# 40 Part VII: Whatever May Fall
07-08-2013, 12:41 AM
A red priest broke into our classroom
Caught us children by attention
"Listen closely to the words I speak
Lord knows if we'll ever, ever again meet"

Spoke such words never spoken before
On the way he declared the war
"Miracles like you never seen
From a man who was raised up in the sea

"A man is coming in thirteen-one
To charm the daughters and the sons"
Scared for our lives, I turned to your hand
Hold this tight while we run, if we still can

What disasters may come
Whatever it may be
At the end of the age
It will land you and me
What tragedy may bring
Whatever may fall
At the end of the world
You'll still belong

Before the red priest took his last breath
He told me, "Child, now don't forget
The sun will turn dark very soon
Your days are numbered when there's blood on the moon

"The earth will shake and the sky will fall
The eyes will open of those enthralled
Don't take the sign, but you'll be killed
By the man from seven hills

"A man is coming in thirteen-one
To charm the daughters and the sons"
Scared for our lives, I turned to your hand
Hold this tight while we run, if we still can

What disasters may come
Whatever it may be
At the end of the age
It will land you and me
What tragedy may bring
Whatever may fall
At the end of the world
You'll still belong

Look children to the eastern sky
When you hear the voice, say your last goodbyes
Look there to the eastern skies
When the ghosts take hold of the men who died
Look children to the eastern sky
When your fathers weep and your mothers cry
Look children to the eastern sky...


Stephen Christian and Joseph Milligan of Anberlin - "Miserable Visu (Ex Malo, Bonum)"




PART VII: WHATEVER MAY FALL




Xiao Loc City - Stardate 88203.47 (03.15.2411, 0622 hours Standard Time, 1306 hours local)


Major Canh Truoc ducked behind a broken wall that sizzled from the vomit hurled by the creature. "Are the Starfleet visitors away? " he demanded over the radio channel.

"Affirmative on the shuttle launch, Bravo," was the reply. "What's your company's status? Over."

He twisted the top of a Photon grenade, while Sgt. Dayyan popped up and laid down suppressing fire. "We are overrun. I repeat, Easy company is overrun. The damn flyers tore up our heavy weapons and the Fek just walked right over us... we're trying to hold the pinch at Kham Highway and Third. Where the **** is my air support?"

"Engaged, Bravo Command. Alpha Battalion's holding at Liberty Park near the statue, can you fall back that far, or are they behind you? Over."

Dayyan collapsed. His head was rapidly dissolving from the acids the Fek beast had spewed at him. He had died before he had a chance to scream. Truoc swore, and chucked the grenade over the broken wall, and scrambled into what remained of Hal's Horserace Hamburgers while the Fek monster exploded in a shower of acid and gore.

"Bravo, do you read? Can you fall back? Over."

Fall back with what? They're all dead... He could hear the snarling Fek all around him as they advanced on the city. "That's a... that's a negative, command. We're cut off. **** it, I'm calling it - Thumper, fire mission FMC, on my position, anti-personnel frag with an FAE prep, pattern bombardment Juliet Tango Three. Repeat repeat repeat, fire on my position. There's like a million of those cocksuckers still coming up from the dig-site, and the line is gone. Over."

"Confirm last transmission, Bravo Command. Over."

The thing that bounded up onto Truoc's last position looked almost seductive - if you ignored the bony-ridged forehead and the venom dripping from fangs in a mouth designed to rend and chop flesh. "I said: I want an extra-large serving of Blam with a side order of deep-fried BLAM! OVER!"

"One extra helping of Blam coming up. Shot, over."

He raised his disruptor rifle, and thumbed the setting to rapid pulse as the thing stalked forward into the ruined fast-food joint. Smilin' Hal waved a space-suited glove from the kiosk in the corner, under a sign inviting "Try Our Kiddie Meal!"

"I have a kiddie meal for you, demon-*****... with extra fries."

It suddenly flinched at him, sniffing the air. Six of the smaller hordelings had joined the ravager, and three of them had disruptor rifles of their own.

He mashed the trigger. Nothing happened. The power cell blinked 0% and flashed the number at him mockingly. "Son of a-" The whole universe flashed white, and an enormous silence erupted...

Of course, it was no silence - just that Major Truoc's eardrums and lungs were simultaneously ruptured and incinerated by the initial thermal front and shockwave of the fuel-air explosive preparatory burst.

For the Fek'Ihri, now streaming from the archaeological site, the suburban mini-mall sitting astride the highway bridge was turned into an expanding bell of furious light with a sound of a thousand thunders...



Government House

"Well, the Tiburon's already vindicated herself, and she brought a friend we didn't know we had..." Moskovitz reported from the station. "Sorry, LaRoca; that's the last time I'll turn away a stranger at my door-"

"Saul," Liz Tran interrupted, "What are the Fek ships doing to us down here?"

"It looks like they're landing troops around the Tri-City area. I think you're in for a tough fight, Liz."

"You don't know the half of it," a woman said from the office door. "Sorry for barging in, ma'am, but the situation out there is degenerating rapidly. The Fek have broken out of the ruins and we can't stop them. For every one of the bastards we kill, there's ten more right behind."

"I'm sorry," Liz shook her head, "you are..?"

"Captain Ngyuen, ma'am, General Pham's chief of staff. Radio's spotty so I was sent up here to apprise you of the situation. The fact is that we're facing a multi-front invasion force with overwhelming numbers and air supremacy. We can hold them, but not for long. General Pham estimates that we'll lose Xiao Loc within half an hour, Nha Tanh and Grantville within three. Enemy forces have already reached the southern suburbs of Nha Tranh."

LaRoca swore and hit his combadge. "Rusty, Stazratts, get your teams back the Government House ASAP. The Fek are inside the city."

Tran muttered curses to herself in a variety of languages as she called up a strategic map of Landing County. It was blank. "This can't be right... this information is not right..."

"Ma'am, the orbital sensor grid is being disrupted somehow. We don't have an accurate picture of enemy positions or strengths. We're relying on reports from the field, and what I just told you is already fifteen minutes out of date."

"Damn it all..." she pressed a button on her desk. "Quentin, we need to give a county-wide emergency action order - those who can defend themselves are ordered coordinate with local militia, those who can't need to evacuate immediately. I want everyone out of Xiao Loc. Coordinate with the Tri-City mayors, then meet me in my office."

"That's forty million people!" Heywood reminded her. "Where are they supposed to go?"

"North and east, by car, horse, bicycle or foot. Shuttleports and university campuses otherwise... Mouse, we're gonna need shuttles. Every shuttle and runabout you can spare."

"Launching them now," Moskovitz said. "But without air support they'll have a tough time."

"Coordinate with the Tiburon's fighter wing," LaRoca suggested.

"I'll do that," the Defense Minister promised. "Liz, I need your authorization to initialize the World's End contingency."

"I think that's a little extreme, Mouse," Liz said solemnly.

"It's the only way I can think to destroy the gateway in the ruins," he replied. "It's too deep for an orbital strike and we don't have the time. Dropping a few tricobalt bombs from up here is the only way to make sure. I'll wait until our people are out of Xiao Loc."

Elizabeth Tran sighed and typed a command into her data console. "Authorized."

"Thanks." Mouse gave her an odd look. "Say, Liz, don't be the last one out of there."


STS Thunderhead Station, [redacted] System

The Saint emerged from the (officially not-in-service) transwarp portal, and both Franklin Drake and K'Jetsk fought off a wave of nausea as their minds and bodies were suddenly snapped back into normal space.

"Memory implants, huh?" K'Jetsk resumed their conversation.

"Yeah," Drake told him. "Mine came from a civilian medical examiner from Caldos II who drank himself to death after his newborn son died and his wife left him. Gamma - I mean, Grimes - he was a starship captain who was killed along with his entire crew by a mysterious virus that the Section wanted covered up. Did you know engramatic scans still work on humans up to thirty-six hours after the time of death? Human brains are such remarkable organs..."

"'Bout time y'all showed up," Frank Grimes radioed.

"Gamma, how the hell'd you beat me here?" Drake demanded. "I had at least a ten-minute head start."

"Someday you'll have to ask Talby to teach you the deep magic of transwarp navigation. Right now, you need to pull yourself into Hangar C and pop into the Hammerhead's shuttlebay. We're out of here as soon as Six of Eight gets the engines warm."


Shuttlecraft Peter Benchley

"Just try not to hit anything!" Marq begged.

"I haven't hit anything yet!" Dai protested.

"You almost hit that Fek fighter, and you did hit that wall-"

"That doesn't count! We were still on the ground..."

"Benchley, this is Tiburon flight deck control, we have you breaking atmo - if you intend to rendezvous with us, adjust heading plus forty-seven degrees mark eighteen."

"Understood Tiburon," Dai replied. "Making course adjustments now."

"And Tib," Marq added, "please tell me you can bring us in on tractors."

"Affirmative. Just watch for crossfire coming in."

"Did you say 'crossfire'?"


Moab III orbit

The station was still being assaulted by no fewer than ten Fek'Ihri warships. They were concentrating their fire on the station itself, ignoring the defending battlecruisers. Coordination between the defenders was poor, however - communications between the MCDC and KDF ships was inconsistent, and the station staff kept forgetting to send commands to the Tiburon. Captain Nine's Ferasan deputy tried to share target information, but identifying the unfamiliar ships proved difficult.

Before long, a frustrated Cmdr. Ibear offered Captain Nine and Cmdr. "Spitz" a suggestion: "Listen, why don't you just light up your targets, and we'll shoot at whatever you're shooting at."

"Agreed," the Ferasan Commander replied. Soon the combined firepower of the Tiburon, the Pragmatic Action, the Cha'bIp and the two old Klingon D-7s were tearing through the Fek. Three attack cruisers and a battle carrier were destroyed in short order. But the older and/or lighter ships of the Moab Confederacy fleet weren't having as much success, and the Fek ships were able to exploit blind spots in the station's defenses. Ha Long Bay was taking a pounding.

In the Combat Information Center, Saul Moskovitz watched the coming disasters with a helpless sense of awe. The Fek ships that had descended on the planet below him had disgorged their troops, and were coming back up to help finish off his station. The people of Landing County would either fight and be destroyed, or flee and be destroyed later. There was no way to protect them. They could not stop the Fek pouring out of the underground gateway in time. The militia forces were being inexorably overwhelmed. If the tricobalt devices could blast through the mountain, destroy the gateway and cut off reinforcements, they might be able to save the rest of the continent, and the planet.

On the other side of the system, the situation was even more bleak. The main body of the Fek'Ihri fleet had rounded Moab IV and was only a few minutes out side of striking range of New Saigon. His birds-of-prey had taken over 40% casualties with not much to show for it. The Fek had enough ships to blot out the sun over New Saigon and bathe the moon in blood. And they dragging asteroids from the belt along with them - they would render half the moon's landmass uninhabitable without even firing a shot. There was no way to evacuate the people of New Saigon. No way to even warn them.

To make matters worse, a third wave of Fek ships was emerging from the asteroid gateway. Whatever surviving ships he had would have to fight their way through that to destroy their gateway in space. "And I can't even call for help," he said aloud.

"Sir?" CWO Mirren looked up at that.

"Supspace radio's still down right?"

"Yessir. Interference."

Mouse nodded. "Doesn't matter. Even if we could get through to anyone, they'd never reach us in time."


Government House

Jesu LaRoca stared out Liz Tran's window, to the south. The Fek had reached the financial district. He couldn't see the action through the buildings, but he could see the Fek advancing through the suburbs, and a much smaller surge of Moab troops funneling into downtown.

"Scary ****, huh?" Rusty said from behind him.

Jesu managed to supress his reflex to jump. "What's it like down there?"

"It's like all the worst parts of the Bible. We were evacuating a hospital out the front door while the Fek were coming in the back. Teena had to help doctors and nurses euthenize patients who couldn't be moved - she's pretty shaken up. Jesu, those things... they eat people. The little ones do... I didn't wait around to see what the bigger ones were capable of."

Captain Ngyuen came back into the office. "Madame Governor, Admiral, we need to leave now. The Fek just crossed the Ben-Gurion Bridge and the Eleventh Brigade is redrawing the line on Blassie - that's three blocks from here."

"I can't just leave!" Tran protested. "If I stay here I can coordinate-"

"Ma'am!" Ngyuen interupted. "The rest of the building's been evacuated already. Without adequate lines of communication there's nothing more you can do here. It's time to get you out of danger, Madame Governor. Elements from the Fifth Armored Regiment are forming up on High Street to escort you to the shuttleport."

"Alright, everybody grab a weapon," Tran ordered, "In case we need to shoot our way out of town..." she picked up her new Romulan plasma pistol. "And remember these are my guns and I will want them back."

Rusty selected a pair of disruptor pistols and a variety of grenades, Hacksaw took the Orion split-beam rifle and Yoann grabbed an old Mk. X MACO battle rifle.

Admiral LaRoca drew his shiny new Desert Eagle and tapped his combadge. "Stazratts, Kugid, we're moving out; where are you guys?"

"Just west of the mercantile district," the Gorn reported. "We're uh... we're assisting with the evacuations."

"You're what?"

"Well, there were only these two cops to clear out a whole block of high-density, low income housing. And we were in the neighborhood-"

"Admiral, don't wait for us," Kugid requested. "I can fly a shuttle. Leave us the Alten and we'll make it out."

"Make sure you do. You guys would be tough to replace."

"Understood."

They took the elevator to the lower lobby, where Liz Tran excused herself.

"Where are you going?" Jesu demanded.

"Bathroom!" she called over her shoulder.

"At a time like this? Are you freaking kidding me!?"

Hank Miller shook his head. "Women."

"Ricochet to Cat Ba," Ngyuen's radio crackled. "We've got Fek coming up Landing Avenue! They're coming this way!"

Nguyen double-checked the tactical plot on her PADD. Ricochet platoon was covering the High Street entrance to the Government House. "Ricochet, you are covering the Governor's evac route. Can you hold them off for another five minutes? Over"

"I don't think so, Cat Ba... dammit, they just keep coming! We're being overrun! Repeat, High Street Entrance is being overrun!"

"Well, that didn't take very long," Rusty growled.

"Hold them off as long as you can, Ricochet, Cat Ba out." Nguyen lowered her radio and let out a very loud Vietnamese expletive.

"Is there another way out of here?" Miller demanded.

Captain Nguyen shook her head. "We can get out of the complex, but we won't get far. The Fek are on three sides of us. If we can't get to High Street, we can't get to the shuttleport, period."

Rusty checked his disruptor pistols and shrugged off his uniform jacket, revealing the armored combat vest he wore underneath. "I'll get us to High Street."

Admiral LaRoca reached for his brother. "Rusty, wait-"

"We're out of time, Jesu. If we stay here, we die. I'll clear the way. You just make sure you're all right behind me." And with that Rusty took off, sprinting through the walkways at eighty kph.

Liz Tran returned from the bathroom in time to see Rusty depart. "Actually I was setting the thoron reactor to overload. We'll have about fifteen minutes to get outside the blast radius... Where's your brother going?" she wondered.

"Um, he's going to go kill things," Jesu told her. "We should follow, at a safe distance..."


Ha Long Bay

"That does it," Moskovitz announced. "We've waited long enough." He accessed the World's End launch sequence control. "If anyone's still down in Xiao Loc, they're either dead already, or they soon will be. Either way we can't wait 'till the station falls out of the sky for an all clear that may never come. Commodore, if you please."

Morales grimly took hold of the second key.

"Devices armed, releasing bombs in three, two, one, now."

* * *

The tricobalt devices were immediately intercepted and either shot or rammed by a group of Fer'Jai frigates that had been waiting for this moment. The sensitive warheads all prematurely detonated, releasing over a dozen isotons of thermal and radiation energy barely a kilometer beneath the station.


Government House

Rusty silently sprinted through the mismatched corridors and walkways of the sprawling government complex, guided by his memory at first, then his senses as he approached the carnage at the High Street Entrance. He could hear the screaming of Human voices. He could smell Human blood... and something else... something that gave off an appaling stench.

He leaped off a second-floor balcony, caught a bank of very old fluorescent lights three meters up, swung off that an landed on a catwalk. From there he pulled himself into an HVAC duct, and scrambled down that until he was looking down at the lobby. He got there just as the last Human guard was torn apart and devoured.

From his vantage point eight meters up, Rusty counted over a dozen of the ravenous little things eating the Moab Militia corporal, three tall, thin female versions of the creatures, and one that was much bigger than the others. He also counted at least an equal number of each lying dead in pools of purplish blood and other fluids. Several of the bodies - both Fek and Human - looked like they had been burned by acid.

He listened to the big one grunting commands to the others and watched the little ones move into the building in a swarm. He crept back down the duct and returned to the catwalk over the atrium, and waited for his prey to emerge. The jabbering hordelings led the way. He dropped a photon grenade on their heads. As it went off he landed a short distance away and shot the first targets he saw: two of the hideous female creatures. Behind them in the stairway leading up from the lobby was the huge Fek boss, with two of the little guys at his feet. The evil midgets held stolen disruptor rifles which they used to spray the atrium.

Rusty ducked and rolled out of the line of fire, and chucked another grenade toward the stairs, which dealt with the Fek there. He approached the gore-spattered stairwell cautiously, sniffing the air. Where's the other one?

Something grabbed his tail and bit it. He whipped his head back. "There you are." The female Fek opened her fangy mouth and snarled, and glared at him with coal-black eyes. "My God, you're ugly," Rusty muttered as he aimed a pistol at her mandibles and pulled the trigger. Her head disappeared in a flash of green energy and purple smoke. "That's better." He checked the wound. It didn't hurt - in fact it felt numb.

He went down to the lobby and checked the street. He tapped his combadge. "All clear."

"God, Rusty, you really clean house," Liz Tran said, coming down the stairs behind him.

"I only killed half of them," the Deinon told her. "Thank Ricochet Platoon for the rest."

"Mmm." Liz looked down at the desecrated corpses of her soldiers.

"Rusty, you've been bitten!" Yoann observed.

"I'm okay. It doesn't hurt." Rusty bounded into the intersection. "Looks like our cavalry's a coupla blocks away," he called back to the group gathering in the lobby, "and I don't see any more Fek."

"That must've just been a scout force," Nguyen suggested. "We've been seeing small packs like that moving ahead of the main horde."

Tran walked out to the sidewalk and pressed a button on her key fob commanding her Sand King to drive itself to her. Meanwhile a militarized Sand King arrived in the intersection, trailed by several eight-wheeled light tanks.

"Alright, load up, everyone," Jesu ordered. "Let's get out of here while we still can."


Ha Long Bay

The shields absorbed a lot of the blast but not enough of it. They were down, now, giving the Fek'Ihri a clean shot at the starbase's power plant.

"...Station core is compromised! We're going to lose antimatter containment in the fuel bunkers..." The station's engineering officer sounded strained over the comms.

"Sound evacuation over the tac freqs, and arm the self-destruct systems," Mouse ordered, then turned to the Ops panel. "****! The tric bomb release is fried... Mirren, send code Decisive Action on the gold channel, then evacuate operations. Oh, and tell our friends out there to back away and run."

"Who's staying?" Chief Warrant Jim Mirren was one of "the old guys" from Mouse's days in the Maquis.

"Senior staff - we can manage our own extract." Mouse stated, "Everyone else gets off."

"I can't let you do that, sir," Mirren stated. "You're not expendable personnel now, you're a Minister."

"How are you-" Mouse started to say...


USS Tiburon

"-stop me from..." Mouse blinked, "...staying... That son of a *****!"

"Ha Long Bay, we have him," Barrister said into his comm panel. "Welcome aboard the Tiburon, Mister Moskowitz. We've got transport lock on another fifty-two of your people."

Mouse looked around at the gray-skinned ops officer and the two Human redshirts carefully holding phaser rifles not aimed in his direction. He pulled a card out of one of his pockets. "Saul Moskowitz, Brigadier General, Klingon Defense Forces, serial number-"

"Excuse me, sir, but you're not a prisoner. We're pulling as many of your people out of there as we can before the station blows."

The Tiburon rocked as something briefly overcame her inertial dampening.

"Let me talk to your CO then," Saul said, stepping off the transport pad. "What's your status, and how many-"

"All hands," Ibear announced over the intercom, "brace for impact!"

Outside, the station blew up in spectacular fashion; its antimatter reactor and payload of tricobalt devices producing the largest explosion the system had ever seen, outside of a cosmic phenomenon like a comet impact.

The Tiburon rang like a giant bell as the shockwave caught her crossways, and the lights flickered as she rocked violently to port. Saul was thrown sprawling to the deck.



Nha Tranh

Rusty was right: the apocalyptic scene that waited for them in the city was like something out of the Book of Revelations. Soldiers clashed with demons in unimaginably gruesome battles, people ran from the fire and oily smoke consuming southern and western fringes of the capital. Then the capitol building itself transformed into a smoldering, radioactive pit through an uncontrolled nuclear fission reaction.

"Admiral, where are you guys?" Stazratts called.

"On High Street," Jesu answered. "We just crossed Ngo Đinh Diệm Boulevard."

"We're at an orphanage two blocks south and one block east of you. Jesu, there's nobody here with these kids. The Fek are just a few blocks away and these children have no idea where to go."

Admiral LaRoca looked at Governor Tran. She nodded and took the next right. "We're on our way," he said.

"Ma'am, where are you going?" Captain Nguyen called from the vehicle behind theirs.

"We're taking a quick detour to assist a civilian evacuation. Have the tanks deploy at the corner of Ngo Đinh Diệm and Baker and reinforce the fallback line."

There was a pause. "Understood."

Liz pulled up in front of a three-story brick building - disruptor and mortar fire could be heard a short distance away. Kugid was on the north side of the school, herding children into small groups. He greeted the Admiral and the Governor. "Somebody took the school busses to evacuate another part of town and left the kids here. Where should we take them?"

"Closest evac point is Bringham Young University's football stadium," Nguyen announced, joining the others. "A half-klick due east."

"Rusty, I want you on the roof," the Admiral said. "Keep an eye on the Fek and make sure the evac route stays clear."

"No, I'm staying with you-" the Deinon started.

"I need your eyes up there," Jesu insisted. "You'd probably scare the kids anyway."

His brother nodded silently and ran up to the side of the buiding and started climbing.

"Alright kids!" Kugid announced, "Let's all go for a walk! Stay in your groups! Remember, whichever group does the best job staying together gets cake!"

Jesu tapped his combadge. "Stazratts, we're here, where are you?"

"Third floor; I'm doing a top-down sweep of the building. I'm findin' a lot of little kids hiding under beds and desks."

"Alright, we're coming in to help." He turned to the group. "Liz, Hacksaw, take the second floor. Teena and I will take the ground floor. Nguyen, you wait out here and sort them into groups as they come out, like Kugid did. Promise them cake if they stay together."

"What ****ing cake-"

"The cake is a lie," LaRoca explained patiently, "just to keep them calm and orderly."

"Better hurry, bro," Rusty called down from the roof. "That militia line won't hold for long."


Sherman System

USS Hammerhead slammed into normal space through the transwarp gate. Lt. T'aalb plotted a course out of the system and on to Moab while the rest of the crew recovered.

"Six, how long will it take to get the subtranswarp coil realigned for the slipstream drive?" Grimes asked.

"Four minutes, seven seconds," the former Borg drone replied over the intercom.

"Make it happen." Grimes looked out the viewscreen at the starships gathered around Deep Space K-7, the Starfleet hub for patrols of the Klingon neutral zone. "I really wish we could take some of them with us," he said. "I really don't want to take this ship into the unknown, definitely not with a skeleton crew. I mean, if there's an armada of Undine dreadnoughts waiting for us, bring 'em on. But if we get there and discover some sort of subspace inversion field or something even more inexplicable, we'll want a science team there with us to sort it out."

"Fair enough," Drake said with a shrug. "If you can find a Captain with level-thirteen security clearance who's willing to volunteer in the next four minutes, bring him along."

"I'll ask Mac who's in the system-"

"Don't talk to MacKenzie!" Drake ordered. "That guy'd be bound to open fire on us if he finds me aboard this ship." He checked his sensor readings. "There, the USS Valkyrie, retrofit Nova-class, on the other side of the Station. Captain Palmer's got a level fifteen-clearance, and her ship is listed as the residence of Ambassador S'rR's of Pentaxia, so she has diplomatic immunity."

Frank Grimes smiled. "Amanda Palmer? I know her. Very clever, good lateral thinker. Talby, bring us over in front of her."

"I thought security clearance levels only went up to thirteen," K'Jetsk said.

"When you get to level thirteen, you find out about levels fourteen to sixteen," Grimes told him.

"How high do they go?"

"I don't know. I'm only level eighteen. Franklin could tell you."

"As high as necessary," Drake declared. "Hailing the Valkyrie on priority-one encrypted channel."

Amanda Palmer and her bridge crew appeared onscreen. She greeted Captain Grimes with a surprised smile. "Frank! So this is what you've been up to..." she noticed who else was on his bridge and her expression transformed into a disappointed frown. "Drake. I thought Siri killed you."

Franklin Drake stared at her for a moment of abject confusion before remembering why she would think so. "Um, no, actually. I'm afraid the rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Don't tell Strannik," he added.

"You should be more worried about me," she told him. "You disabled my ship-"

"Only temporarily," Drake said dismissively. "Was anyone injured?"

"Not seriously," Palmer admitted.

"Good. And Ambassador S'rR's obviously survived my... admittedly misguided attempt to obtain samples of her DNA-"

"She had to blow herself out into space without an EV suit to get away from you, you monster!"

"Amanda, Franklin, please," Grimes stood up and waved his hands. "Captain, we are... responding to a distress call from the Tiburon, Admiral LaRoca's flagship, in the Moab System. Are you familiar with the situation there?"

"It's a former Federation colony that declared independence last year and sided with the Klingons," Palmer recalled. "They were in the news recently - a POW rescue in the Pelia Sector, and then their governor caused a scene at the Risa Conference when she exposed a pair of Undine infiltrators."

Grimes nodded. "We aren't sure what's happening there now. We lost contact with the Tiburon. There's another Starfleet asset in the system that's either disabled or compromised, and the entire system could be in grave danger. We suspect the Undine and possibly the Iconians are involved somehow, but we have no way of knowing what we're getting into. Captain Palmer, my ship is built to fight almost to the exclusion of any other role. But if the circumstances in the Moab System call for a scientific approach-"

"Count us in," Palmer declared. "When do we leave?"

"As soon as you're ready."

"Lead the way, Captain Grimes."

Frank smiled. "We'll be engaging our slipstream drive momentarily. Follow just behind us and you should be able to ride our bubble."

"Got it. Valkyrie out."

"What if she finds out we never received a distress call?" Drake wondered.

"Would you rather she found out about Eighty-Six?" Grimes countered as he sat back down.

"Guess not," Drake shrugged. "You know what's ironic - back in the day, whenever we needed a ship to go in on an impossible rescue mission, the first ship we called on was always the Tiburon."


Thirty-Six Years Ago...

USS Tiburon, somewhere in the Gamma Quadrant...


"...Scaevola Kicur, you ****ing nut." Mouse was thirty, and amazed at still being alive.

"I'm telling you, Mouse, Ricky had it right this time." Kicur passed a bottle of Kanaar to the huge ex-Maquis fighter. "You didn't have to use so much!"

"It blew the base," Mouse countered, "but you and Ricky were right - I could've used smaller charges - and we'd have gotten caught."

"We almost did get caught - those Jem'Hadar guards had us dogged." Enrico "Ricky" Montoya stuck out his hand. "Bro, we ****ing lived, ese."

Mouse frowned, and looked around the rec-deck of the USS Tiburon - their backup, and ride out. "A lot didn't," he said. "Suvok, Nelly, Janet, Tom..."

"Alexei, Jesse, Ingrid," Montoya added, pouring into his shot glass.

Kicur took the bottle and refilled her own glass. "Dillman, Neves, Constantin..."

"Absent Companions" Mouse raised the shot.


Kicur returned the toast and glanced around the ship's crew lounge. They weren't the only ones aboard who'd lost friends. She spotted Cmdr. Sander a few tables away, sharing his private stash of beer with a young Gorn. From her previous host's time among the Gorn, he could tell Acting Ensign Ssharki was distraught. He had lost his entire squad saving her life...

Two Human males walked in - a Hispanic and a Caucasian, both a little younger than Ricky and Mouse. They went to the CO's table and joined him and the Gorn. The Hispanic - LaRoca, the name came to her - slapped Ssharki's back and looked at him with sympathetic eyes. She recognized the other one as Andrew Burke - the only fighter pilot who survived the round trip covering their evac shuttle.

She looked back at her own friends and saw them staring at the same group. She sighed. What happened had happened. Hopefully it happened for a reason. Can't look back and wonder "What if?" - time to look forward. "So, what're you gonna do after the war?" Scaevola asked.

Mouse turned to the Trill, "Unlike you dip****s, I never enlisted in Starfleet. I was just the ****ing contractor. I figure I'll follow old Drake Tran off to his new wife's homeworld, maybe go back to what I was doing before... now that I have my little letter from Starfleet Command with that neat little phrase 'pardoned for all prior crimes' on it."

"Must you do that?" Enrico asked. "Mouse, you're one of the smartest sons of bitches I've ever met. You should be teaching at the Academy, not... you're not going to be playing pirate anywhere near me, are you?"

"No... I figure I can land a security job or something," Mouse said. "One thing I won't be doing, is getting onto another Federation Starship... never again."

"Don't count on it, ese," Montoya told him.



Present Day...

Mouse groaned as one of the Starfleet Security officers helped him stagger to his feet. He could feel the ship lurching sickly from each impact, and he could sense power surging through the conduits behind every bulkhead and panel... Wherever that power is going, it's not to inertial dampeners... he turned to the gray-skinned officer who had been operating the transporter. He was flat on his back, with a structural support member across his chest. "Hey kid, you're not dead, are you?"

Barrister lifted the girder off himself and pulled himself upright. "Negative, I am functional within normal parameters."

"I'll be damned, another ****ing robot - is all of Starfleet run by robots?"

"No, sir. In fact, artificial lifeforms comprise less than point-zero-zero-one percent of Starfleet personnel. If you'll excuse me, sir, there are still thirty-six lifesigns aboard the station's escape pods. I'd like to beam them aboard so Commander Ibear can raise the shields."

"Good idea... uh, where...?"

"The rest of your people are being taken to Deck Six, crew lounge," the other redshirt explained. "Or if you'd rather go to the bridge... well either way the turbolift is just up the corridor out here on the right, sir."

"Thank you, I guess..." Mouse stumbled down the corridor as the ship continued to rock, fighting an eerie sense of deja vu...


Kim Phuc Memorial Orphanage, Nha Tranh

"You wanna come out here with me, little buddy?"

The little boy under the desk shook his head.

Jesu LaRoca crawled under the desk next to him. "Hmm. It's dark and crowded down here. I don't like it. Do you like it down here?"

The boy shook his head again.

"So watcha doin' down here, buddy?" Jesu guessed the boy was about five or six.

"Waitin' for my sister," the kid finally spoke.

"Oh? What's your sister's name?"

"Nicci."

"How old is she?"

"Thirteen."

"Let's see if my friend knows where she is." Jesu tapped his combadge. "Teena, is there a thirteen-year-old girl named Nicci out there with you?"

He heard a tinny voice say "I'm Nicci."

"Yeah, she's here," Yoann said.

"Could you please bring her to me? I'm in the southwest classroom under the teacher's desk. I've got a little boy who won't leave without his big sister."

"On our way."

"What's your name, buddy?" Jesu asked the child.

"Peter," he said.

"Peter, I'm Jesu. Nice to meet you."

"Jesu!" his brother called him.

"Que pasa, Rust?"

"The line's been breached," Rusty reported. "We have a swarm of Fek coming toward us. I'll pick off as many as I can, but you gotta get out of there."

"Gotcha."

"Petey?" a girl's voice called out.

The boy didn't answer. Jesu stuck out his arm and waved. "Over here!"

Nicci dropped to her hands. "C'mon, Pete. It's okay. These people will take us somewhere safe."

Peter looked back at Jesu with questioning eyes. "She's right," the Admiral said. "And once everyone's safe, there'll be cake to celebrate!"

"Let's go, Pete," Nicci pleaded again.

Peter started to crawl out. "Unh, my leg's asleep..."

There was a loud crash - a door and a window were broken. "They're inside!" Teena yelled from the hallway. She unslug her MACO rifle and started shooting.

"Run, children!" Jesu ordered, as he pulled himself out of the confined space. "RUN!"

Peter got as far as the hall before he tripped over his own sleeping foot. Two of the little hordelings got by Yoann and attacked him. "PETEY!!" his sister screamed.

"GET OFF 'IM!" Yoann yelled, kicking the creatures away before vaporizing them with the rifle. She blasted three more and the rest ran off.

Jesu scrambled over to the sobbing child. Chunks of flesh had been ripped from his calves. Jesu took off his jacket, ripped off its sleeves and bandaged the boy's legs before he scooped him up. "You'll be okay, little buddy."

"I'll carry him," Nicci said.

"It's okay, I got him."

"He's my brother," she insisted. "He's my responsibility."

"I'm a lot stronger than you-" Jesu started to protest, but then he caught her look. He'd worn that look, many times before, when he and Rusty were boys... He handed Peter off. "Okay, you take him."

They went toward the north door. A window crashed open on the west side of the building. Yoann shot the creatures coming through. Then two snarling female ravagers ran up behind her. She turned and shot one, but the other sank its fang-filled jaws around her neck. She screamed.

Jesu rushed to her aid, pistol-whipping the Fek in the side of the head and shooting it in the face as soon as it released Yoann. He could see more Fek outside, gathering for another rush. "Run for it, Nicci!"

"Where?"

He put a huge bullet in the first Fek through the door and shouted an answer between shots. "Outside... *BDOW*... look at the sky... *BDOW*... where its still blue... *BDOW*... that's east... *BDOW*... go to the football stadium...*BDOW*... RUN!!" The gun clicked on an empty chamber just as a massive Fek chefitan walked into his sights. The Fek pointed at him and roared a command to its underlings. "Chingame," Jesu whispered.


Tiburon

Saul Moskovitz walked onto the bridge and entered the familiar orderly chaos of a pitched battle.

"...concentrated fire on that carrier - light 'em up, Numbers, let everyone know who we're shooting at..."

"Pesky Lead is hit bad, emergency beamout in progress..."

"Another hull breach, this one deck nine portside..."

"Transporter ops reports all survivors aboard, raising shields..."

"Belay that, De Haviland has a warp-core breach in progress..."

"The Reuben Shapiro is moving to assist..."

"Confirmed. Nevermind, Boris, raise shields..."

"Flight ops reports Benchley is secure in shuttlebay three..."

"Sir, shield controls aren't responding!"

"Whaddaya mean-"

"My override's not working either..."

"Just lost helm control-"

"We're being virused!"

Mouse spoke up. "You're about to be boarded."

The Andorian in the command chair swiveled to look at him. "WHAT!?"

"You've had your shields down for over a minute and they haven't taken you out with a tricobalt torpedo. Now they're keeping your shields down. They're gonna board you."

Cmdr. Ibear looked forward. "Signal the Pragmatic Action, request that they extend shields around us until-"

Two hulking Fek'Ihri warriors materialized on the bridge behind him. Mouse drew his Colt 1911A-Match and a leaf-bladed dagger. He threw the knife into the closest Fek's neck and shot the other one twice in the head.

Fozz looked at Mouse, the smoking gun in his left hand, the dead Fek on the floor, and back at Mouse. He tapped the comm panel. "All hands, grab whatever weapons you can and repel boarders!"

More Fek'Ihri materialized around the bridge. Stikvaa and H'mL'n rose from their seats, claws at the ready, and Fozz stood and balled his fists. "Let's see what these things are made of..."


Kim Phuc Memorial Orphanage

Rusty heard the vaguely familiar sound of gunsots - a high-caliber pistol, like the one his brother carried. Seven shots, then silence. He tapped his combadge. "Jesu? You alright?"

"Rusty..." It was Yoann. She sounded weak.

Rusty leaped off the side of the building. As he jumped he got a glimpse of a mass of Fek'Ihri running away to the south, led by three big ones. They were carrying something, or somebody... He landed, turned, crashed through a window, and ran to the hallway. "TEENA!"

"Over here..."

She was lying on her back, her legs and left arm twisted akwardly under her, her right hand still gripping the MACO rifle. By her side was Jesu's Desert Eagle, the slide locked open, the magazine empty. Jesu's torn dress jacket was a few meters away, with the combadge still attached. Rusty fell to his knees as the horrible image of his brother being devoured entered his mind. "Oh, GOD! They didn't-"

"They took him," Yoann Teena whispered.

Rusty moved to her side. Her breathing was ragged. "They took him?" he repeated.

"Yes," she gasped. "Big one... knocked him down... picked him up... and they ran off."

Rusty gazed south, out the smashed door. "Why would they-" He stopped and looked at the Bajoran woman at his knee. "What'd they do to you?"

"They bit me... my neck... Rusty.... the females' venom... it's a paralytic... can't move... spreads fast... my lungs... my heart..."

Rusty realized the numbness around his own bite wound had spread up his tail. I'm going to end up like this? he thought. He picked Yoann up. "I'll get you out of here."

"It's too late now... Rusty... tell your brother... its been an honor to..." She said no more. She couldn't. She was dead.

Rusty carried her body to the north entrance just as Liz Tran and Hacksaw Miller ran in. "What happened?" Hacksaw asked. "We heard shooting-"

"They took Jesu," Rusty answered.

Tran's eyes popped. "They killed him?"

"No. They captured him. Alive. For what purpose, I don't know. Teena's dead." He handed her corpse to Miller. "I'm going to get my brother back."

"How are you going to do that?" Liz pointed to the billowing clouds of smoke to the southwest. "If they took him into that-"

"I can track them on foot. I can slip through their lines, outrun them if they try to chase me." Rusty picked up the MACO rifle and slung it over his shoulder, and tucked the huge pistol into the front of his combat vest. "Get to the Zambezi, Hacksaw, and keep track of my combadge signal. And keep an eye on biometrics. If I get killed, go back the Tiburon. But I'm not leaving this planet alive without Jesu."

Miller gave him a resolved nod. "Neither am I."

"Me neither," Liz Tran declared. "Go get him, Rusty."

The Deinon sprinted out the south door, paused, and sniffed the air. Through sickening stench of Fek bodies - living and dead - and the all-to-familiar smells of battle, he picked up his brother's scent trail. The hundred-million-year-old instincts of a prehistoric apex predator kicked in. He drew his arms up to his sides, hunkered his torso down, stuck his tail out straight behind him, and ran after the Fek'Ihri who had stolen his family.



* * * * *

Continued...


"I won't try to hide behind the Law if what I stand for is what's Right."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 11-21-2013 at 03:08 PM. Reason: track, Kicur
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