Captain
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 523
# 1 The Telvenar (story)
03-20-2013, 11:54 AM
Hey everyone. This is a story I wrote that originally started as a Literary Challenge piece, but since has taken on a life of its own. Sadly, I've discovered that it's too large to fit in just two posts, otherwise I would keep it in the LC thread. Anyway, enjoy!



Captain's Log, Stardate 443251

The Da Vinci has been re-routed to the Zeta Andromedae Sector to investigate a series of ionic storms congregating at the edge of the Delmar system. The fact that these storms seem to be clustering together is cause enough for concern, but long range sensors have also indicated a high level of elevated neutrinos and verteron particles present at the epicentre of the storms. If Ensign Sann is correct, the presence of these particles suggests the imminent formation of a wormhole in the Delmar System. Our mission is to scan the anomaly to determine if this it is indeed a wormhole-- and whether or not it is forming naturally, or being artificially created?



"Captain," said Farim Meru, the Da Vinci's Operations officer, "sensors are picking up a vessel exiting the wormhole."

The Bajoran's words caused Arkos to instinctively jolt upright in his command chair as he snapped back to reality. He realized that he had been staring at the Delmar Wormhole for the last minute and a half, entranced by the swirling, cloudy disk that filled the Da Vinci's viewscreen and bathed her bridge in an azure light. Every shade of blue imaginable shimmered in a great whirlpool of ionic energy, verterons, tetryons, and half a million other particles that he was certain Memory Alpha hadn?t come up with names for yet, punctuated by rippling flashes of whites, greys and golds. It reminded him a lot of the screen-captures he had seen of the Bajoran wormhole, and to date, was the most beautiful thing he had witnessed in his career in Starfleet.

It had been there, open and whirling, when the Da Vinci had arrived in the system. The ship?s science officer, Neiazri Sann, had confirmed that it was an actual, fully developed wormhole instead of the primordial collection of ionic storms that they had been expecting, which meant that this wormhole was developing far faster than most others of its kind that had been observed. As K'Nera had astutely pointed out, however, that in and of itself was suspicious. If the wormhole was developing this rapidly, she had said, then it could very well be an artificial pathway being created by the Borg, or the Undine, or any number of the malevolent species that were on the Federation's bad list these days.

And now, with a ship coming through, K'Nera's suspicions had been all but confirmed. As Arkos watched, a tiny, blocky black dot appeared in the middle of the swirling azure disc, the cerulean light casting the relatively tiny shape in shadow.

"Magnify," Arkos ordered. The screen blinked and switched to a larger resolution, enlarging the tiny shape and bringing it into starker detail.

The sight that greeted Arkos sent an involuntary chill down his spine. The vessel that filled the viewscreen was moving in a lazy, half-drifting fashion, its hull pitted and scorched from a bright silver to a dull grey, and noxious green plasma vapours drifting from one of its stubby nacelles. But it was, unmistakably, a Type 8 shuttlecraft. A Federation vessel.

There were a few seconds of uncomfortable silence before Arkos caught himself gaping. Snap out of it, and be a Captain, Arkos he thought to himself, straightening up in his chair. A quick sideways glance, though, reassured him that K'Nera, Sann, and the rest of the bridge crew were reacting the same way, staring at the shuttlecraft in collective awe and befuddlement. Everyone on this bridge, he knew, was thinking the same thing. Could this have come from the Mirror Universe? The Federation?s evil doppleganger, the Terran Empire, had been an active threat as of late, crossing the yawning void between realities with disturbing frequency.

"Ensign Farim?" Arkos spoke out expectantly.

The dark-skinned Bajoran woman ran her fingers over the navigational console. "Sensors are confirming it as a Type 8 shuttlecraft, sir, no known registry," she replied. "It has taken significant damage to its outer hull, and it is leaking warp coolant. I'm also detecting a single life sign aboard."

Farim paused then, and swivelled her seat around to look Arkos, confusion written on her features. "Sir...it's a Korda."

The report sent an even colder chill down Arkos' spine than the appearance of the shuttlecraft had. He became conscious of all of his bridge officers taking sideways glances at him. The Korda were a reclusive, isolationist species native to the half-sunken world of Nar-Etulis. Once a proud and technologically advanced race, the past century had not been kind to them, and they had regressed to the point where they wanted nothing to do with the greater universe. To date, only five Korda had left their submerged homeworld to live in Federation space. One of those five was Arkos Nair.

And now, another Korda was out there, on a damaged shuttlecraft, exiting a yawning chasm in the fabric of space time.

Arkos felt something uncomfortable twist in his gut as his mind raced over the possibilities. Could someone else have left Nar-Etulis to flee the Chastised, with Federation help? Had there been some sort of spatial anomaly, or disaster, on Nar-Etulis that linked to this wormhole? Or was this the product of some parallel universe, a different version of his people and his homeworld? The questions buzzed in his mind like a cluster of angry hornets, pecking at him and raising a host of uncomfortable possibilities.

Sann, to her credit, recovered from her surprise quickly enough to do her own scan of the shuttlecraft. "The Korda's life signs are fluctuating, sir," the Trill reported. "The shuttlecraft's engine systems may be leaking gases into the crew compartment."

There was no time for indecision, then. Arkos tapped his comm badge. "Bridge to Transporter Room," he said, "prepare to beam the shuttle's passenger directly to Sickbay." He rose from his command chair and glanced at Sann. "Ensign Sann, you're with me," he said. "We're going to go check up on our guest." He turned and nodded to his first officer. "K'Nera, you have the Bridge."

"Aye sir," K'Nera replied with a smart nod. "For the record, sir, I think we should still be on our guard. This shuttle could still have come from the Mirror Universe, and it that's the case, then it might just be the point of the spear."

"As always, your dislike of the current situation is noted, K'Nera," Arkos replied with a sly grin. "But I have a feeling that this won't be as bad as you suspect."

******

"We managed to stabilize him several minutes ago, Captain," the thin, balding figure of the Mark I EMH said flatly as he stood before Arkos and Sann. Behind him, nurses and orderlies hovered over the sickbed, poring over instruments and doing continuous scans of their patient. "He was suffering from acute radiation poisoning and a few minor plasma burns, but we have managed to give him adequate epidermal treatment and completely detoxify his system. He needs recovery time, Captain, but he should survive."

Arkos made no reply to the holograph. His attention was fixed the Korda who lay on the sickbed. He was swathed in the priestly robes of a [i]telvenar/i] of the Chastised, faded by age and wear and tear from a cream colour to a rustic brown. An intertwining sigil representing the Ionn, the Architect of the Universe, hung from a pendant around his neck. His grey/blue skin was mottled by a few burns and scars on his forehead, cheek and hands, and a few faded bruises were visible on his bald temple. He looked like he had been through hell.

But more importantly, he looked exactly like Arkos.

The EMH cocked a nonexistent eyebrow. "Captain?" he asked. "Are you feeling unwell?"

"W-what?" Arkos blinked as he turned back to the Doctor. "I..." He swallowed, blinked a few times. Yes, he thought, he did feel a little nauseous. Perhaps he was going crazy? That sounded logical. It would certainly explain why he was seeing another version of himself on the sickbed. "Is he...me?" he asked, aware of how weak his voice suddenly sounded.

The Doctor glanced back at the robed Korda on the sickbed. "DNA scans are...conclusive," he replied. "He matches you perfectly Captain, down to the last cytosine molecule. So, yes, he is, in a manner of speaking, you."

Next to him, Sann stared with abject fascination at the second Arkos. "It looks like K'Nera was right then, Captain," she said. "The Delmar Wormhole does connect to the Mirror Universe. Or at least, one mirror universe. It's always been hypothesized that there could be several."

"I'm glad that you find my...duality...so fascinating, Sann," Arkos mumbled, unable to take his eyes off of his robed double. The Mirror Universe was a widely acknowledged fact and threat in Starfleet records, and it had been all but confirmed that everyone most likely had a counterpart in that universe. But all the same, the fact that Arkos was seeing...himself, lying there on the sickbed, was jarring to say the least.

A buzzing swarm of unasked questions sprang to life in Arkos' head, all demanding an answer all at once. To what extent was this mirror counterpart like him? Was he a complete polar opposite, like every other Mirror person encountered by Starfleet thus far? Or were he and his...twin...more alike than he suspected? His double was wearing Korda priestly garments instead of any uniform, so it was at least unlikely he was affiliated with the Terran Empire. But beyond that, Arkos knew nothing. His curiosity had been piqued, and as usual, was rapidly turning into an insatiable itch. He needed to know more.

"Is it safe to wake me...I mean, him, Doctor Zimmerman?" he asked, using the adoptive name the crew had given the outdated EMH.

The hologram glanced back at the sickbed. "I would not advise it, Captain," he replied. "Your...alternate self needs at least twenty-four hours of resting time---"

As if on cue, however, the mirror version of Arkos suddenly groaned loudly, and shifted on his sickbed. In an instant, orderlies were rushing towards him as a whole host of monitors and readouts began to beep and chime in a mechanical opera.

"He's waking up, Doctor!" one of the orderlies suddenly cried.

Zimmerman looked like he was about to say something authoritative, when Arkos barrelled right through him. He ignored the way the Doctor's form fluctuated as his image re-aligned, and further ignored the annoyed glare the hologram gave him as he made his way to the side of the sickbed. His alternate self was slowly stirring, his head listing from side to side as his eyes began to flicker open. It was an unreal experience, staring down at one?s own face as it moved and acted independently.

Slowly, the mirror Arkos opened his eyes. The robed Korda's gaze wandered around listlessly before settling on Arkos. At that point, he suddenly became more awake and alert as his expression twisted into abject fear.

"It's alright," Arkos said as his double began to shake in the bed?s harnesses. "We mean you know harm." More monitors began to beep as the mirror Arkos' heart rate accelerated.

"You...but I...you're..." Slowly, the mirror Arkos began to calm down, his terrified expression giving away to a much more beatific expression. "So it's true," he said, almost in a whisper. "As Ionn weaves, it is true. There really is a Mirror Universe."

Arkos swallowed. He was at a complete loss for words. He had never once imagined he would be having a conversation with himself.

"Please stay calm," he finally said, his mind suddenly adjusting as he went into Captain mode. "We found you aboard a damaged shuttlecraft. Whatever it was that happened to you, you're safe now."

The mirror Arkos shook his head. "No...no, I...we must have words," he said, his voice weak and slurred. "I...I need your help. Nar-Etulis needs your help."


******

Roughly two hours later, after the mirror version of Arkos had been sedated and made to rest again, Zimmerman announced that their guest was well enough to talk with the crew. At Arkos' instruction, his mirror counterpart-- whom Arkos was already mentally dubbing "Telvenar Nair," after his priestly rank-- was guided through the ship towards the waiting room for an audience with the Captain and his senior officers. The security detail would later report that the Telvenar had acted confused, tense and wary throughout the entire trip, staring at every monitor and bulkhead as though they were going to leap from the wall and bite him. The report didn?t surprise Arkos, but did disappoint him more than he thought it would. His mirror version was a definitely a Chastised, through and through.

The Telvenar's initial meeting with the bridge crew had been no less jumpy. Upon walking into the waiting room, his first act had been to shrink back to the door and gaze in helpless terror at K'Nera. Thankfully, it didn?t take much to calm the Telvenar: after Arkos introduced K?Nera as his first officer, the Telvenar's expression eased, and he sat down after bowing to the Andorian in apology. K'Nera had simply glanced at her fellow officers in confusion. "Am I really that scary?" she asked.

The ship's other Andorian officer, Chief Engineer Adim, gave her a joking grin. "Do you really want us to answer that question?" he responded, earning a withering gaze from the Tactical Officer.

"Children, settle down please," Arkos cut in, before folding his hands together and turning to face his double. The Telvenar was still sporting a few faint burns on his cheek and knuckles, but thanks to Zimmerman's treatment, they were now faded and less severe-looking. Simply looking at the Telvenar, though, sitting there swathed in the garments of the Chastised, brought back memories to Arkos. Memories of Nar-Etulis, of Deepwell, of the late nights he spent sea-gazing. Of burnt kald-scales and chanted intonations each morning, when he was younger. And of a whole bunch of other memories he would have sooner forgotten...

As Arkos introduced himself, his crew and his ship, the Telvenar nodded politely, but it was clear that he felt very uncomfortable. The priest looked fidgety and nervous, continuously glancing warily at his surroundings. Maybe his only exposure to starships so far has been to Terran Empire vessels, Arkos thought, and who knows what they did to him. Either way, Arkos noticed that this man?s personality was radically different than his own. Arkos liked to think that he was a confident, outgoing man, but whether due to some lingering trauma or due to his religious doctrine, the Telvenar was the exact opposite?quiet, reserved, and, thus far, overbearingly polite.

"We found you on a damaged shuttlecraft," Arkos told his double. "According to our sensor readings, you were barely conscious when you flew through the wormhole, and your shuttle had sustained quite a bit of weapons damage."

The Telvenar gave Arkos a deep bow. "I am grateful, Captain," he said. "If not for you and your crew, I would most certainly have died. I am in your debt, as Ionn weaves."

The old expression stung Arkos. He realized that it had been five...maybe six years since he had heard someone say that phrase, and maybe nine years since he had said it himself. As Ionn weaves, he thought bitterly. Everything happens because Ionn weaves it.

K'Nera folded her hands. "If you don?t mind telling us, Cap...Mr. Nair, what were you doing in that shuttlecraft in the first place?"

The Telvenar's gaze turned to K'Nera. Again, Arkos saw consternation cross the man's eyes as he looked at the Andorian. Could a mirror version of K'Nera have done something to him? "I had stolen the shuttle from a Terran ship that I was imprisoned upon, Lieutenant K'Nera," he replied. "I was being transported with several others to one of their prison colonies when the ship's power went out. I confess, I do not know how or why this happened, except perhaps because Ionn weaved it so."

Of course, Arkos thought sarcastically, resisting the urge to say that out loud. "And in the ensuing jailbreak, you managed to steal a shuttlecraft?"

The Telvenar gave a sage nod. "I regret to say that I was the only one to make it to a shuttlebay," he said. "My fellow prisoners were all captured or killed by the ship's crew. But before the escape, I overheard one of my fellow prisoners say that the ship was creating a...hole, in space...that would lead to a Mirror Universe. A place that was a better, less cruel, reflection of my world. And while I know nothing of how to fly a shuttlecraft, as Ionn weaves, I was able to find this rent in the heavens." He glanced at Arkos. "I consider it a blessing that I not only made it through alive, but that I encountered my own mirror half in the process."

Arkos had no idea how to react to that sort of compliment. He simply gave the Telvenar a half-smile before glancing sideways at his Chief Engineer. "Adim, given what we know about the technology of the Terran Empire, do you think it's possible that they created this wormhole artificially?"

The Andorian frowned. "I'm afraid I can't base anything off of our knowledge of Imperial technology, Captain," he replied, "but it is possible. A stable, but short-lived hole can be created by generating a magneton pulse along a subspace tensor matrix. Maybe the Terran Empire has adapted this technique and perfected it."

"But if they made the wormhole, why haven't they used it yet?" K'Nera asked. "It sounds like they're trying to create a stable invasion route."

Sann leaned forward. "It could be that they're still testing its stability," she replied. "It's one thing for a single shuttlecraft to go through, but a larger starship?or worse, an entire fleet?would interact with the wormhole differently. There's always the risk of a hole's tetryon field reacting negatively with a ship's shields, never mind the shields of several dozen ships."

Nodding to the Trill, Arkos turned back to the Telvenar. "Well, you've made it through in one piece," he said, giving the man a smile. "My crew and I are willing to help you in any way that they can, and the Federation is ready to grant you asylum if you wish."

The Telvenar nodded. "Thank you, Captain. I accept your Federation's offer, but I come before you with a wish for something more important than my own safety." He stared Arkos in the eye. "Tell me, Captain, as we are both the same person, and are both Korda...in this universe, has the Calamity happened?"

The question was one that Arkos had sincerely hoped the Telvenar wouldn?t ask, as it would mean that at least one version of Nar-Etulis had been spared. The Calamity. The common name for the environmental disaster that had afflicted the Korda homeworld almost a century ago. Decades of intense ice-mining in the polar regions, atmospheric modulation and gas-harvesting had taken its toll on Nar-Etulis' environment. This, combined with a sudden spike in harmful radiation emissions from the planet's sun, had caused the world?s polar ice caps to melt. In an instant, the Korda civilization, one that had rivalled other races for its technological advancement and majesty, was shattered by floods, tsunamis and geological upheaval. The remnants of the Korda race were forced to live in great underwater cities from that point on, a sad reflection of what they once were.

He nodded gravely to the priest. "It has," he replied. "I'm sorry."

His double?s shoulders sagged in defeat. "Even in this universe, then, the Korda are undone," he moaned. "In my universe, though, the Calamity was but the beginning of our woes. No sooner had our own world consumed us when the Terran Empire came." A bitter tone came over his voice. "Those murderous reekfins had always gazed jealously upon us before, but now that we were weakened, they swooped down upon us like carrion."

The Telvenar's gaze returned to Arkos. "Nar-Etulis is no longer our own world, Captain," he said. "The Terran Empire's soldiers walk our cities. They have enslaved our people, and made us toil for their luxury and amusement." His face twisted into an expression of anger Arkos didn?t even know he was capable of. "They have outlawed our traditions, and forbade the reverence of Ionn! It is not enough that they have enslaved us, Captain, now they seek to damn us!"

"What would you ask of us, then?" Arkos said. He already has a suspicion of where this conversation was going.

"I ask, Captain, that the Federation save my...our...people!" the Telvenar replied. "I ask that the Federation send a fleet through the...wormhole, as you call it...and liberate Nar-Etulis!"

For a moment, the table went silent. Arkos pulled his gaze free from that of the Telvenar. He couldn't imagine Nar-Etulis ground down under the Terran Empire?s heel like that. He didn't want to. What the Telvenar described stained every single good memory he had of his birth-world. But he knew that if he had seen what his mirror counterpart had seen, he would be just as angry, just as desperate and just as determined. What he had to say next was going to hurt them both, on so many levels.

"I'm sorry," he said, "but I'm afraid that isn't possible."

The Telvenar looked as though he had been slapped. "I'm sorry?" he asked. "What do you mean by 'not possible'?"

Arkos took a deep breath, and folded his hands together. "Look," he said, "if the situation in our own universe were any different, I would say yes. I would make the petition to Starfleet to secure this wormhole and send a fleet through. I would try my damndest to see Nar-Etulis liberated, and if it weren't for Starfleet protocols, I would see the Empire bastards hang for every Korda life they've taken."

He leaned forwards a little to lock eyes with his double. "But right now, the Federation is fighting a war on too many fronts. We're battling for our survival against the Klingons, the Romulans, the Breen, the Cardassian True Way, and most of all, the Borg. We could not try to liberate your universe's Nar-Etulis without trying to liberate every other world oppressed by the Empire, and that would be a massive, and risky, undertaking. It would mean fighting the Terran Empire in its own space, against its full strength, through a single wormhole. I'm sorry, but Starfleet does not have the resources at hand for a full invasion of the Terran Empire. We're barely holding off the Klingons as it is."

The Telvenar stared in blinking disbelief at Arkos. The look of betrayal on his face stung him deeply. "But...there is a wormhole out there, right in front of you!" he shouted. "Your ship could use it to fly through, and get to Nar-Etulis!"

"The wormhole," Arkos replied, as calmly as possible, "could very well be unstable. And even if it wasn't, a single ship flying deep into the Imperial space would be suicide. I am not going to risk the lives of my crew so recklessly."

"It is your world!" the Telvenar almost screamed this time. "Our world! Our people! We have a responsibility towards them!"

Arkos felt the blood in his cheeks run hot. "I know,? he said, his molars clenching slightly. "Damn it, I know. But I also have a responsibility to my crew, to my ship, and to the Prime Directive. I am sorry, Telvenar, but I cannot help you."

The Telvenar made a deep, slow exhalation as he glared furiously at Arkos. A few seconds of cold silence fell over the room. The skin on the back of Arkos' neck prickled. He felt hatred in that silence-- real, caustic hatred, flowing out from his double.

Abruptly, the Telvenar stood up from his chair. "By your inaction, you doom thousands, Captain," he hissed. "You are no better than the Empire."

The words hit Arkos like a hammer-blow. He sprang to his feet as the Telvenar walked towards the doorway, and would have leapt across the table to punch his double in the face if K'Nera hadn't stood up at the same time, pressing an arm against his chest to block him off. "Captain!" she shouted. Held in place, Arkos could only glare venomously at the Telvenar as he strode out of the room.

Exhaling loudly, Arkos sat back down and took several deep breaths. That man wasn?t him, he decided firmly. That reckless, irrational, Ionn-trembling kakrynn wasn't him at all, even if the two of them looked alike.

He breathed out again, and let his anger flow out along with the breath. "Alright," he finally said, turning to Sann and Adim. "As long as that wormhole remains open, it presents a clear and present danger to the Federation. Our top priority is sealing it, temporarily if not permanently. Sann, could we destabilize it with a photon torpedo?"

Sann drummed her fingers. "We could," she replied, "but we'll have no way of calculating how unstable the implosion would be. The collateral damage could be immense."

"During the Dominion War, the crew of Deep Space Nine did try to seal the Bajoran Wormhole with a series of phase-conjugate graviton beams," Adim suggested. "It failed that time due to sabotage by a Changeling, but unless someone in this room is a shapeshifter, I see no reason why we couldn't try it ourselves."

Arkos nodded to his Chief Engineer. "Good. I want you two to get on that right away. The sooner we can close this wormhole, the better. In the meantime," he glanced at K'Nera, "seeing as he's accepted our offer of asylum, I want quarters to be arranged for our guest. We'll keep him safe and comfortable before passing him over to the Diplomatic Corps. Dismissed."

Sann and Adim both got up and left the room, quietly pleased, as usual, to have a project to work on. K'Nera, on the other hand, remained seated, staring impassively at Arkos. Arkos recognized that stare. K'Nera didn't give it to him that often, but when she did, it meant that there was something that she had to get off of her chest.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?" she asked.

He nodded. "Granted."

"Sir, are you alright?" she asked. She seemed genuinely concerned. "I don't think I've ever seen you react this angrily to someone before."

Arkos' jawline tightened. "Well, you did hear him, K'Nera," he replied. "That...our guest...practically called me a traitor to my own people. I'm quite sure that if someone accused you of hating your own species, you would do a lot more than simply sit there and be appalled."

"That's not what I meant, sir," K'Nera said. "I noticed that ever since he came into the room, something about your alternate self has set you off. You've seemed more on edge, more blunt in your way of speaking and acting, and you seemed unusually eager when you discussed closing the wormhole. If I didn't know better, sir, I'd say that there was something about your mirror version that you hated."

Arkos felt his cheeks burn at the comment. "Don't be ridiculous, K'Nera," he replied. "He's a refugee from the Mirror Universe who needs our help. It's not my place to hate him. I just don't intend to bow to his impossible demands, either."

The Andorian seemed nonplussed as she continued to stare at Arkos. "Sir...my knowledge of the social situation on your homeworld is hazy, but does this have something to do with the conflict on Nar-Etulis that you escaped from?"

At that point, Arkos stood up abruptly. "Lieutenant, I am a Starfleet officer," he spat angrily. "I am above whatever petty grudges or local conflicts you may be referring to, because I have been trained to see the bigger picture! I suggest you carry out your orders instead of trying to play psychoanalyst with your commanding officer! Are we clear?"

K'nera's gaze intensified into one of hurt anger and of defiance. Arkos could see that she would dearly have liked to retort to his comment, but her Starfleet discipline overrode her hot-blooded Andorian temper. "Yes sir," she replied stiffly.

"Dismissed."

Without a furher word, K'Nera stood up and stormed out of the meeting room. The doors hissed closed in her wake, leaving Arkos to brood in silence.

Last edited by ambassadormolari; 03-20-2013 at 12:00 PM.
Captain
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 523
# 2
03-20-2013, 12:01 PM
Later that day, against what he was sure was his better judgement, Arkos paid his double a visit.

Maybe, he thought upon reflection, he really did want to salvage something from that disastrous meeting-- the Telvenar was him after all, even if it was a a more shortsighted, religious him. He was willing to concede that maybe he was partially to blame for the failed meeting: he had always been more used to dealing with generators, mechanisms, relays, engines and computer networks than with people, despite all of his management training. This felt like an opportunity to improve on his people skills with someone he could, in a sense, relate to.

And maybe, he also reflected, he was being spurred on by a desire to prove K'Nera wrong. To prove that he could, indeed, rise above the emotional baggage he knew he'd been carrying since he'd left Nar-Etulis.

At Arkos' approach, the door to the Telvenar's quarters slid open with a gentle hydraulic hiss. He was greeted by the sound of low, rhythmic chanting, and the familiar, salty smell of burning incense. The Telvenar was sitting cross-legged in the centre of the quarters, his fingers held outwards in the interlocked shape of the detrevat, the symbol of perpetuality, over the smoke billowing upwards from lit kaldscale stick on the floor. His eyes were closed as he quietly sang the Ninth Invocation of the Making in rhythmic, flowing voice.

The sound and smell involuntarily caused the back of Arkos' neck to tingle. He hadn't sang the Ninth Invocation since he was a boy. And now, here he was, hearing himself sing it as an adult.

He remained there, standing immobile in the doorway, for almost half a minute until the Telvenar finally finished his prayer-song. He glanced up at Arkos, his expression calm and almost expectant. The anger and the raw hatred the priest had displayed earlier in the waiting room were gone.

"Ah, Captain," the Telvenar said, smiling. "I must thank you for arranging these quarters for me. The Empire's idea of living quarters were a steel room barely the width of my arm, so I must say this is a welcome improvement."

Sensing no tension or animosity from his double, Arkos allowed himself to relax a little, and chuckled at the Telvenar's comment. See? he told himself mentally. Beneath that religious exterior, he has a sense of humour, just like you. There's no need why you can't get along with him.

He folded his arms behind his back in a classic Starfleet 'at ease' posture. "I hope I am not disturbing you, Telvenar," he said.

The Telvenar's answer was preceded by a polite bow. "You are not, Captain," he replied. "I feel that I must apologize for my outburst earlier today. It was...unbecoming of a Telvenar."

Arkos allowed himself a slight smile at the Telvenar. It was, he realized, the first time he had actually smiled to his double. "Water under the bridge," he replied. He quickly noticed the puzzled frown that the comment had earned him, and quickly corrected himself. "Sorry, it's a Human term that I've grown accustomed to. It means that there's no harm done, and any fault has already been forgotten."

"I see." Arkos saw a faint look of unease cross his double's features. "The Terrans certainly are fond of their idioms, aren't they?"

Suddenly aware that he was walking on thin ice now (and realizing that he'd just thought another Terran idiom in his head, frighteningly enough), Arkos decided that it would be best to lighten the mood further. "Annoying, aren't they?" he asked.

"The Terrans, or their idioms?"

"Both."

A slow smile crept over the Telvenar's face. "In that, Captain, we are agreed."

The two Korda shared a laugh before Arkos cleared his throat and continued. "I came here to let you know that the Da Vinci will be heading off soon. The Federation Diplomatic Corps has been notified of your request for asylum, and they are all too happy to help. We will be taking you to Starbase 85, and from there, the Corps will help relocate you to a new place to live, far from the incursion zones of the Mirror Universe."

He was met by a raised eyebrow from the Telvenar. "A temporary place to live, you mean," his double responded. "Make no mistake, Captain, I am grateful for the sanctuary that the Federation is willing to give me. However, I have every intention of returning to my homeworld, Captain, with or without your help. I cannot allow myself to live in comfort and safety while our people are being oppressed."

Arkos swallowed. He should have known that this issue would come up. He did not look forward to the argument that was no doubt going to ensue.

"That will be...difficult, Telvenar," he said.

The Telvenar stared up at him, frowning. "Why is that?"

Arkos took a deep breath. "As you may have overheard, the Terran Empire clearly created the wormhole as a gateway through which to invade the Federation," he said. "As much as I understand and...appreciate your wish to help Nar-Etulis, Telvenar, it is my duty to close that wormhole and prevent any possible invasion."

He braced himself, expecting the Telvenar to explode again into upset, betrayed outrage. Instead, he got something even worse: a period of silence. It was a bitter, caustic silence, one in which the Telvenar stared at him in hurt disbelief, before looking away. His double's tripartite expression of anger, betrayal and sadness felt like a deep stab wound in Arkos' chest.

"And what of your duty to your people, Captain?" the Telvenar finally asked, still looking away. "To your faith? Does your duty to an...alien organization...supercede those?"

Arkos' jaw tightened. This "alien organization" gave me shelter, just as they're giving it to you, he wanted to reply. The Federation accepted me when my own people would not. He fought down the retort, knowing that he could very well shatter the bridge he had come intending to repair. "I know this will sound harsh, Telvenar," he said, "but when I joined Starfleet, I took an oath to defend the Federation and its principles. I cannot willingly endanger other races and peoples to protect my own, no matter how much I might want to. And as for my faith...your faith and mine are two different things entirely."

The Telvenar looked up again, this time looking at Arkos with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. "I see," he said. "You are an Apologist."

Arkos nodded. "Yes. And that, I do not apologize for," he answered with the old motto.

In the ugly aftermath of the Calamity, when the remnants of the Korda race had settled into the dilapidated underwater settlements called deepwells, two prominent ideological groups had arisen. One was the Chastised, a religous group that renounced contemporary technology and preached a more modest, low-tech lifestyle. The Korda race had brought the Calamity on itself, the Chastised argued, through their over-reliance on technology and their wanton disregard for tradition, nature or their own limitations. The ice caps would not have melted if the Korda had not employed the technology or environmentally thoughtless production means that they did, and now they were all paying the price for the reckless, unhindered progress of their forebearers. The Chastised offered a return to a more rudimentary, low-tech lifestyle that brought tradition and the worship of Ionn back to the forefront of Korda life, and many Korda, still seeking some sort of cosmic answer after the desolation of the Calamity, joined the ranks of the Chastised.

The Apologists, on the other hand, might have been referred to generically as "atheists," but that would have been a simplistic description. They were skeptics and rationalists, who recognized the intrinsic value of scientific discovery, technological advancement and rational, forward thinking in this time of adversity. They were of the firm opinion that abolishing technology was no answer at all-- that, if anything, technological advancement was needed now more than ever if the Korda race was to survive. They promoted a worldview based on logic and reason, rather than on religion and mysticism, and wanted the Korda race to move forward, not backward. Their name had stuck because, unlike the Chastised, they saw the Korda's previous way of life as nothing to be ashamed of or sorry for, environmental carelessness aside.

The suspicion on the Telvenar's face lingered. "I am certain that things may be...different in your universe, Captain," he said slowly, "and I make no assumptions about you. It is just...in my universe, it was the Apologists who welcomed the Empire to Nar-Etulis with open arms. The Apologists were the ones who made the annexation possible. They are evil, godless people who have forsaken Ionn for the false promises of the Empire."

Evil. Coming from the Telvenar, the word hurt like a blade between his ribs. It was a word he'd heard thrown at him, his family, and their beliefs more than once, and it didn't sound any better coming from his own lips.

Slowly, Arkos walked over to the side of the room and sat down on an unoccupied chair so that he could face the Telvenar more levelly. "I'm not going to contend that approaching the Empire was an ignorant and utterly stupid decision on their part, Telvenar," Arkos replied, "and I understand that the Apologists of your universe may be different in many ways from those in mine. But...have you ever considered that your Apologists might have been motivated by something other than malice? That perhaps they had good intentions behind their actions?"

The Telvenar's expression hardened. "I fail to see anything 'good' about what they did, Captain."

"Really?" Arkos folded his arms. "If your Nar-Etulis is anything like mine, then life is hard. There are few functioning generators left, even fewer life support systems, and all of the Deepwells use antiquated equipment to keep their populations alive. The mortality rate is three times what it was before the Calamity, and I don't even want to consider the infant mortality rate."

The Telvenar nodded. "Yes. It has been this way for as long as I remember, Captain. And yet we endure, as Ionn weaves."

Arkos shook his head. "No, don't you see? It doesn't HAVE to be that way. Maybe your Apologists, as ultimately wrong as they were, thought that joining the Empire would improve the standard of living for Nar-Etulis."

"An utterly selfish desire, Captain," the Telvenar replied. "The state of Nar-Etulis is our punishment, our lot to endure. It is the only way we can atone for the hubris of our forefathers in thinking themselves masters over nature. To embrace a technologized way of life such as the Empire's would be to re-embrace that hubris and repeat our mistakes."

It was the same, stupid argument Arkos had heard hundreds of times before, obstinate and unchanging. "Haven't we suffered enough?" he retorted. "You talk of punishment and atonement, Telvenar, but the way I see it, the Korda race has more than paid for any crimes it has committed, imagined or otherwise."

"Then you are being very short-sighted, Captain," the Telvenar said sternly. "Before the Calamity, our civilization spent centuries defiling the planet, trampling on tradition and wrongfully setting ourselves up as gods. Our fall was just and deserved, but if we must suffer for centuries of wrongdoing, then our penance must be just as long." He folded his arms. "Would you have us create another fragile, false pedestal for us to put ourselves upon, so that we fall again just as hard?"

The comment made Arkos' blood burn. "So this is it? You think our people should continue to suffer in the name of 'penance'?" His hands balled into fists. "You speak of wanting to save our people, but you would see them continue to live in squalor and wretchedness, to see them punished for the actions of their forefathers! Please tell me how THAT is saving them!"

The Telvenar's eyes widened a little at Arkos' words. He stood up, glaring at his counterpart. "How dare you," he hissed, his voice remaining level even as his anger leaked past his calm outward facade. "You have not seen what I have seen, Captain. The...defilements that the Empire has carried out against our temples, our traditions, our way of life. These are the fault of the Apologists. They seek nothing less than to kill our faith, to quash our belief and our traditions in the name of 'reason' and 'progress'."

Arkos stood up in turn, meeting the Telvenar's glare. "I'm sure the Empire are every bit as evil as you say they are, Telvenar," he said said in slow, measured words. "But before you cast the Apologists in the same light, consider that religion cannot feed a starving people!"

"A Korda who refuses to acknowledge Ionn--"

"--is no Korda at all. So I've heard. But let me hypothesize something to you, Telvenar. Suppose that your version of Nar-Etulis was never annexed. Suppose that you and the Apologists were allowed to live side by side undisturbed in the Deepwells, with no outside force bothering you. What do you think would have happened?"

The Telvenar seemed nonplussed. "Whatever Ionn weaved," he replied, as though it were obvious.

"Then allow me to propose to you an alternate version of history, Telvenar," Arkos said. "One where Apologists and Chastised DID live peacefully with one another, for a while. And then, one day, the Chastised started to grow more and more afraid and suspicious of the Apologists. They began more openly use words such as 'godless' and 'blasphemer' in their presence, all because they chose not to believe in some mythical fate-weaver."

He took a deep breath before continuing. "Suppose, Telvenar, that one day, the Chastised collectively decided that the Apologists were too dangerous to be allowed to live alongside them. That they started denying them services and shelter, and making the deepwells less accessible to them. That they started ganging up on and beating individual Apologists, and that those beatings gradually turned into killings. And it got so bad, that those among the Apologists who had the means were forced to leave their birth-world and never return. In this alternate history, Telvenar, can you still rightly say that the Apologists are the evil ones?"

There was a short, uncomfortable silence. Arkos, though, saw his counterpart?s stern, indignant expression waver. Slowly but surely, the Telvenar looked away from Arkos. "I do not know," he finally said.

"Of course you don't," Arkos growled.

At that point, it was obvious to Arkos that he had made a mistake in coming here. There was no common ground, nothing that could be salvaged between him and this Chastised who wore his face. He wanted nothing more than to get on with his duties now-- to close the wormhole and head to Starbase 85 so that he could dump the Telvenar there and never have to deal with him again. Their conversation was over.

It was just as well, as a second later, the warbling beep of a red alert burst into existence all around them.

The Telvenar jumped at the noise, bewildered. No sooner had the red alert sounded when Arkos' comm badge beeped. "Bridge to Captain Nair," came K'Nera's voice.

He slapped the badge. "Nair here."

"Captain, you're needed up here. A ship is coming through the wormhole."


*****

The Telvenar had insisted on accompanying Arkos to the bridge, stating the need to see if it was his pursuers. Arkos had not been in the mood to bother talking to him, and so his double had accompanied him on the turbolift, obviously taking his lack of response as a 'yes.' He ignored the Telvenar for the entire short trip, even when the Telvenar walked in after him as he strode onto the bridge.

He was greeted by the sight of the azure majesty of the wormhole on the viewscreen, and of a metallic shape gliding out of it like an ancient sailing vessel riding a bow wave. Arkos instantly recognized it as an Excalibur-class ship, a medium cruiser, one of the most common starship builds to be churned out of the Utopia Planetia yards. It was, the engineer in him had to admit, a beautiful ship, its swan-like shape was silhouetted a dark silver against the wormhole, its deflector and nacelles gleaming a vibrant blue that blended in against the wormhole. The Excalibur-class was a top-notch vessel, ably combining capability and aesthetics in one effective and iconic design. He had always hoped to command one, if and when he was ever promoted.

He'd never once imagined, though, that one would be out to kill him.

"Report!" he ordered as he sat in his command chair. The Telvenar hovered near the edge of the tactical desk, his gaze affixed to the viewscreen.

"The vessel came out of the wormhole a little more than a minute ago," Farim replied as she pored over the ops console. "No known registration or identifying codes being broadcast."

"They're powering up their weapons, sir," K'Nera added.

Arkos had been afraid of that. As the Excalibur-class drifted closer, he could see the ugly ochre markings staining its hull and saucer, marring the ship's beauty. "Shields up!" he ordered. "Arm phasers!" Even as he gave the order, he desperately hoped it didn't come down to a fight. The Excalibur-class was one of Starfleet's workhorses, well-armed and able to fulfill a variety of combat roles. A lighter Miranda-class like the Da Vinci, on the other hand, had a reputation for being the first ship to explode at every major battle in Federation history. He doubted things were any different in the Mirror Universe.

"That's it," he suddenly heard the Telvenar whisper. He glanced at his double, and saw that he was gazing at the screen in abject horror. "That's the ship that I was imprisoned upon."

A console behind Arkos suddenly beeped. "Captain," K'Nera said, "we're being hailed."

Arkos felt his throat tighten. A part of him really didn't want to see what the crew of the other ship looked like-- he'd seen more of this universe's dark, twisted mirror in the Telvenar than he had wanted to. "On screen," he ordered.

The view shifted to that of the unnervingly familiar sight of a starship bridge not unlike the Da Vinci's. Dominating the screen was an even more unnervingly familiar Andorian woman. True, her usually short hair was now shoulder-length, a leather patch covered her right eye, and her uniform bore a captain's pips as well as the badge of a sword being driven through a planet, but she was still familiar.

"This is Captain K'Nera of the I.S.S. Caligula," the Andorian woman said. "We..." she trailed off then, as she seemed to recognize the faces staring back at her. A cruel smile lit her features. "Well, this is a surprise!"

Arkos did his best to keep his face from betraying any emotion. Next to him, though, the Telvenar was looking at K'Nera in outright terror. His own first officer, by contrast, was gazing at her double with quiet fury. Slowly, Arkos stood up from his command chair. "This is Captain Arkos Nair of the U.S.S. Da Vinci," he said, loudly and authoritatively. "You are intruding on Federation space. State your business."

"Captain?" the mirror K'Nera echoed with an amused chuckle. "You mean you've actually risen to a command position? How sad for your universe, then." Her gaze shifted towards the Telvenar, who visibly cringed. "We are here, Captain., for that gentleman standing right next to you. He is both a wanted criminal, and the property of the Terran Empire. We would appreciate it if he were returned to us."

My counterpart is a slave, Arkos realized. The Telvenar had not been joking when he'd said the Korda of his universe had been subjugated. "The Telvenar Arkos Nair has asked the United Federation of Planets for asylum," he replied. "And it has been granted. We don't particularly care for your labelling him as...property."

Captain K'Nera's smile widened, as though she were taking some delight in Arkos' defiance. "Then your asylum, I think, has been granted prematurely," she replied. "Please be sensible, Captain. Consider the lives of your crew-- especially that fetching Andorian at your tactical console." Behind Arkos, his universe's K'Nera bristled. "Is it really worth endangering them all for one lowly criminal?"

"My crew aren't the sort to be moved by threats, Captain K'Nera," Arkos responded flatly, "and neither am I. You call Telvenar Nair a criminal. What crime has he committed?"

The mirror version of K'Nera folded her arms. "Murder," she said, "and treason. He assassinated Governor Syrku Tahl of Nar-Etulis, and was en route to his trial before he escaped. For the sake of justice, we demand his return."

Syrku Tahl. Arkos felt his blood run cold at the name. He slowly turned to face the Telvenar, who was fidgeting at the edge of the bridge.

"You have five minutes to reach a decision, Captain Nair," the mirror K'Nera continued, "or we will make that decision for you. Caligula out." And with that, the viewscreen changed back to the looming shape of the Imperial ship.

Arkos didn't even notice. He continued to stare in disbelief at the Telvenar. "You killed Uncle Syrku?" He remembered his uncle, a man of big smiles, a wide gerth and wonderful stories. He also remembered the day the Chastised lynched him, and used hot pokers to brand him with holy symbols until he finally died in agony.

The Telvenar shook his head. "He was a puppet of the Empire!" he protested. "He was living in luxury while the rest of us slaved! He betrayed us! I had to--"

"You killed Uncle Syrku?" Arkos almost screamed this time. The Telvenar's protests simply made it all worse. It all felt like a horrible violation of Arkos' memories, of the few good things he remembered about his homeworld and a gross distortion of the day it all fell apart.

In an instant, he had grabbed the Telvenar's collar in a death grip, raising a fist to strike. "You murdering son of a--"

Another pair of hands suddenly grabbed at his outstretched wrist, catching his arm in a strong grip before he could deliver a punch. "Captain, that's enough!" he heard K'Nera shout.

Biting back his fury, Arkos tore his arm free of K'Nera's grip and turned back to the viewscreen, turning his back on his double. The Telvenar wasn't staying one moment longer on his ship, he decided. The Empire can keep him, and Starfleet command can censure me all they want for all I care. I'm not going to risk my life or the lives of my crew for that murdering bastard, no matter what the Federatin charter--

The Federation charter. The old, revered document stating that all sentient species and individuals had the right to freedom and self-determination. The very document he had sworn to uphold, no matter what the circumstance. Damn it...

The Telvenar stared gat Arkos, seemingly understanding his double's anguish. He hung his head in an unspoken admission of guilt. "Captain...I have no wish for you to risk the lives and your crew and yourself on my behalf," he said. "I...I think perhaps it would be better if you agreed to hand me back to the Empire. I don't want anyone else to suffer for my sake--"

"Belay that!" Arkos spat, interrupting his double, before tapping his comm badge."Bridge to Enginering. Adim, is the graviton beam ready?"

"Negative, sir," came the Andorian's frantic reply. "The deflector grid still needs some final adjustments, which will take at least fifteen minutes!"

"We don't have fifteen minutes, Adim!" Arkos snapped. "Skip non-essential parameters if you have to, we need it ready, and fast!" He turned to K'Nera, who was still standing near him after restraining him. "K'Nera, hail the hail the Caligula."

His First Officer warily made her way back to her station and tapped at the console. "Aye sir."

In an instant, the view changed back to a view of the Caligula's bridge. Past the cruel smile of K'Nera's double, Arkos could have sworn he saw mirror versions of Sann, Adim and Farim working at their stations as well. They looked unnervingly identical to their alternate counterparts, the only notable difference being the sword-emblazoned Empire uniforms that they wore.

"Ah, that was quick!" Captain K'Nera exclaimed cheerfully. "Are you sure you don't need a few more minutes to decide, Captain?"

"We don't need five minutes, or five seconds," Arkos growled back. "The Federation has given Telvenar Nair asylum, and we will honour that agreement."

The mirror K'Nera gave an almost pouting frown. "Are you sure that's wise, Captain? You are risking much for one worthless Korda."

"Perhaps," Arkos replied, "but another 'worthless' Korda knows that you're here for much more than chasing an escaped prisoner. You intend to destroy us, whether we give you the Telvenar or not, and pave the way for an invasion."

The Andorian's grin returned, wider than ever, as she clapped her hands together. "Very astute of you, Captain Nair!" she exclaimed. "Try to put up at least a little bit of a fight, will you? One-sided battles are quite boring."

And with that, the Caligula's bridge disappeared, the screen flickering back into the dominating image of the Empire vessel and the whirling abyss of the wormhole behind it.

And then, a split second later, the starscape was pierced by a burning lance of phaser fire, and bridge shook violently...
Captain
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 523
# 3
03-20-2013, 12:02 PM
Within seconds of the Caligula's intitial phaser burst, Arkos barked the order to return fire. The Da Vinci and Caligula both began the battle in earnest with a mutual volley of photon torpedos. The spaceborne projectiles screamed past one another like spinning red stars, impacting explosively against the shields of both ships and sending officers on both sides hurtling off their feet as the ships around them shook violently.

Under normal circumstances, the forward shields of an old Miranda-class like the Da Vinci would have collapsed immediately under such a bombardment. Captain K'Nera, however, clearly had no idea how much effort Arkos Nair had put into updating his vessel-- how many long hours and days he had spent bargaining and wheedling with starbase quartermasters to get resources and equipment not normally reserved for light cruisers. As such, the Empire captain was faintly surprised to discover that the Da Vinci's shields were more robust than she had expected, straining but holding against the Caligula's torpedo onslaught. Her surprises would not end there.

Powering forwards on impulse, the Da Vinci dipped low under the Caligula's starboard bow, its forward phaser cannon blazing to life and sending bolts of ochre light stabbing upward at its foe. The Caligula's forward shields buckled, before her crew recovered from their surprise and returned fire, their ship's forward phasers washing against the shields its smaller opponent. The Caligula powered forward on impulse as it fired, and the two ships began a dance of evasive manouvers.

The Da Vinci pulled to the Caligula's stern, and the two ships exchanged broadsides, yellow beams and the pulsing cannon flashes crisscrossing as fore and aft phaser arrays were brought into the equation. The shields of both ships shimmered as they gave and took punishment. With a sudden burst of speed, the Da Vinci suddenly pulled to the side and flew directly away from the Caligula instead of letting her pass, not wanting to be caught by her aft torpedoEs. Her aft phasers stabbed back at the Empire vessel as she jinked, deftly evading two lashing phaser bursts from her opponent as she ran on high impulse.

Swinging around, the Da Vinci came around to face the Caligula again, just as the Empire vessel glided around to bring its forward weapons to bear. For the second time, seperate volleys of photon torpedos flew past one another, accentuated by piercing phaser bursts as both ships laid into one another with their forward armaments. Shields buckled and gave out. Consoles and bulkeads exploded under the feedback. Crewmen were knocked or blown off their feet, and damage control teams hurriedly rushed from spot to spot to keep their respective ships running.

Even with the Da Vinci's updated weapons and shields, by rights, it still should have been fighting a losing battle against a superior vessel like the Caligula. Captain K'Nera, however, had underestimated just how resourceful her opponent was, simply because he wasn't approaching this battle from a military perspective. As the Empire captain sat on her command chair, barking orders and threats to her crew, Arkos was standing in his own bridge, working furiously at an engineering console as he collaborated via comms with Adim, all the while while shouting orders of his own and trusting his K'Nera with the Da Vinci's firing solutions. At Arkos' command, the Da Vinci pulled every trick they could against the Empire vessel, reversing the polarity of their shields to briefly absorb some of the Caligula's withering phaser fire, carfully managing and distributing auxiliary power and, as the two ships closed in on one another, unleashing a charged particles that caused the Caligula's starboard shields to flicker and die. K'Nera quickly took advantage of this weakness, raking the Caligula with aft phasers and fore cannon and scoring two long, burning gashes across its main hull.

This success was short lived. As the two ships passed one another by, the Da Vinci was caught by a torpedo burst from the Caligula's aft launchers. The salvo slammed against the ship's rear shields, overloading, before a stinging phaser beam lanced back from the Caligula, biting deeply into the aft section of the Da Vinci's main hull.

On the bridge, Arkos was nearly thrown off the feet by the impact as, nearby, the main shield console exploded, flinging Ensign Weber back in a burned, lifeless mess. A cluster of support cabling had torn free from the ceiling on the left side of the bridge, sparking violently, and a ruptured life support line was now venting gas in the upper left hand corner. As the ship shook, Arkos caught a glimpse of the Telvenar clutching the railing of the operations desk, clinging on in terror.

"Hull breach on Deck Two!" Sann shouted from the Science station. "Aft shields are down, and our hull is at seventy-five percent!" The bridge rocked again, another of the aft consoles exploding in a sudden burst of flame. "Make that fifty percent, sir!" Sann hastily corrected. "Captain, we can't take another hit like that!"

Moving over to the main shields console, and wincing as he forced himself to touch the hot, burnt screen, Arkos cursed under his breath. The aft shields were too heavily damaged, and he wouldn't be able to restore them in time. More importantly, the main impulse drive had taken some damage as well. They could still turn, but not quickly enough to bring their starboard shields around to face the Caligula's onslaught.

Glancing back at the screen, Arkos saw the stately shape of the Caligula do a turn, coming around to face the stricken rear of the Da Vinci like some pacing predator. The two long breaches they had scored across the Caligula's flank still glowed, angry and orange. They had wounded the Empire ship, but unfortunately, it hadn't been enough.

It was then that realization suddenly hit Arkos. The evanescent blue glow of the wormhole no longer dominated the viewscreen, fixed as it was in an aft view. The Caligula was right behind them. The wormhole, however, was in front of them.

"Sann, throw up ECM countermeasures in the bridge to repel any boarding attempts," he ordered, before switching to comms. "Adim, give me a status update on the graviton pulse. Is it ready?"

"No sir," he heard Adim reply. The Andorian's voice was heavy with defeat. "I'm sorry, sir."

Swearing under his breath, Adim turned to his Tactical Officer. "K'Nera, lock photon torpedos on the wormhole and prepare a full salvo."

K'Nera turned around to look at Arkos, eyes wide in surprise. Sann spun around in her chair. "Captain, a salvo of torpedoes could--"

"I know the risks, Sann!" Arkos snapped, before turning back to K'Nera and nodding. "Do it. And hail the Caligula."

Warily, K'Nera nodded, before turning back to her station and tapping the controls. A second later, the viewscreen again switched to the bridge of the Caligula. K'Nera's evil twin, Arkos noted with distaste, was still smiling, and her bridge was much less of a mess.

"Ah, Captain Nair!" the Andorian exclaimed. "Do you wish to surrender?"

Stepping in front of the viewscreen, Arkos made a point of looking his opponent in the eye. "That's funny," he said, "I was about to ask you the same question."

The mirror K'Nera laughed mirthfully. "Confident to the bitter end. I like that." She folded her hands. "You've put up a valiant fight, Captain Nair. And that's the first time I've had anything positive to say about a member of your species. But you are outclassed, and on the verge of destruction. You have lost this battle."

Arkos allowed himself a wry grin. "Oh, I disagree, Captain K'Nera," he replied. "We still have a full salvo of torpedoes, armed and ready to fire."

"With no aft launcher to fire them out of," K'Nera sneered back. "If you were facing in the right direction, then I would take your threat seriously, Captain Nair."

"I didn't say I would fire them at you."

For the first time in this encounter, the mirror K'Nera had stopped smiling. Her features creased into a frown that seemed to tug uncomfortably at the corners of her eyepatch. "What?"

"In your enthusiasm to blow us up, you seem to have forgotten about the wormhole your ship came out of," Arkos said. "Very careless of you, Captain. My own First Officer would never have made that mistake." Behind him, at the Tactical Console, he was certain that his own universe's K'Nera was blushing at the comment. "Unless you power down your ship's weapons, I will destroy the wormhole, and with it, your only chance of returning to your home dimension. My Science Officer informs me that the resulting implosion would be quite...catastrophic for the both of us."

On the viewscreen, Captain K'Nera stiffened. Slowly, she leaned back in her command chair, daggers in her eyes as she glared at Arkos. The cruel mirth she had been displaying before was gone. "If you fire on that wormhole, Captain Nair," she said, "then you sign your own death warrant. Even if the implosion does not destroy your vessel, we surely will."

Arkos met the full, venomous intensity of his rival's glare, and kept smiling all the while. "Oh, I have no doubt about that, Captain K'Nera," he said. "You've already proven that your ship is quite formidable. However, even if you do destroy us, and even if you do survive the wormhole's implosion, you will still be cut off from your home dimension, alone and unsupported. How long do you think you'll last, Captain, before the Federation hunts you down?"

He saw the Andorian's jaw twitch uncomfortably. Arkos did not think of himself as a vindictive person, but all the same, he took a measure of satisfaction from the Empire Captain's discomfort."Power down your weapons, Captain K'Nera," he said, "and I may consider letting you return to your own universe unhindered. Otherwise, I promise, my crew and I won't be dying alone today. The decision is yours."

Captain K'Nera went quiet. For a moment, she glanced off screen, as though listening to a report from one of her officers. Whatever that officer had told her must not have been pleasant, as her expression soured even further. Slowly, she glanced back at the viewscreen, her fingers drumming anxiously at the arm of her command chair.

What she said next was completely unexpected. "Your orders?" she asked.

Arkos was baffled. At first, he thought that K'Nera was addressing him, though he had no idea why she would ask him for orders. To his surprise, however, the Telvenar-- who, up until now, had been cowering in the corner of the bridge-- suddenly strode towards the viewscreen. "Do it, K'Nera," he said.

Captain K'Nera nodded. "Aye, sir."

Arkos felt a chill run down his spine at the words. He barely heard his own K'Nera report behind him as the tactical console beeped. "Sir...the Caligula has powered down her weapons."

He spun around to face his double. "Sir?" The horrible realization hit home, at that point, that his double was not a Telvenar.

Slowly, his double turned to face him. As he turned, everything about him suddenly seemed to change: his meek, stooped posture straightened up, his shoulders broadening into a more imposing and confident pose. His face-- which Arkos had seen express beatific calmn, seething hatred and abject fear-- suddenly hardened like granite and became blank, emotionless and unreadable. As Arkos stared at his double, a completely new and different person stared back.

"Yes," his mirror replied, his tone just as flat and emotionless as his face. "I apologize for the deception, Captain. It was necessary to earn your trust, and further necessary to gain access to your ship's databanks."

His double's words hit home like a hammer-blow. He spun to face the ops console. "Farim--"

The Bajoran was already running her fingers delicately over the panel. "Sir, he's right!" she gasped. "There's been a steady information feed running from the ship to the Caligula this whole time! It's been so small that we've never noticed it until now!"

"Cut it, now!" Arkos ordered. Farim complied immediately, executing several blocking commands. Next to him, though, Arkos' double seemed impassive and untroubled, even as K'Nera strode down fromt he tactical station to point her phaser at him.

"It doesn't matter," his double said. "I have what I need."

There was a shimmer of iridescent light, and a second later, Arkos' double was gone. Arkos was about to bark an order to have that transport signiature traced, when his eyes drifted to the viewscreen. There, on the bridge of the Caligula, stood his double, his outline still glimmering with residual transporter spectra as he materialized onto the enemy ship. As Arkos watched, the mirror version of K'Nera stood aside aside deferentially, allowing the Korda to dominate the foreground as he stood, tall and straight, facing the viewscreen. As his double faced him on the viewscreen, Arkos became uncomfortably aware that he now had the calm, confident posture of a man used to command. The posture, Arkos realized, of a Captain.

It had all been an act. His double's supposed escape from the Mirror Universe, his story of persecution, his prayers and his outbursts...they had all been just one big elaborate act, meant to get his guard down. Arkos' hands balled into fists when he realized that he had been used and manipulated this whole time.

"Now, Captain," the mirror Arkos said quietly, his face still blank and impassive, "we will be on our way. There is no point in protracting these hostilities any further." As he spoke, Arkos' double raised one arm, and casually rubbed the back of the mirror K'Nera's head as one would stroke a cat. The Andorian did nothing to object, and even gave the Korda a lascivous, affectionate smile as she stood at his side.

Arkos, quite frankly, was too angry to notice this or to care. "Do you think I am just going to let you leave?" he growled. He still had those torpedos pointed at the wormhole, he knew. "You have initiated hostilities against a Federation vessel and stolen data from our computer banks. That is not something I intend to let you to get away with!"

His double simply raised an eyebrow. "We have honoured our end of the bargain, Captain," he said calmly. "You yourself said that if the Caligula deactivated her weapons, you would allow her safe passage back through the wormhole."

"No, I said I might consider it," Arkos retorted. "And, that was before I realized you were spying on us!"

"Perhaps." His double stopped rubbing K'Nera's head and folded his arms. "But I know you will let us leave unhindered, Captain. You risked yourself and your crew to protect one lowly slave. This tells me that you're an honourable, decent man in spite of your flaws. The sort of person who would never destroy an enemy ship that has agreed to stand down." His emotionless face creased in a frown. "More's the pity. An attitude like that will get you killed one day, Captain."

The screen flickered, and switched back to a view of the starscape and the slender shape of the Caligula hovering behind them. As Arkos watched, the graceful Empire vessel began to drift forwards, casting a shadow over the bridge as it began to pass them by. The ochre Imperial markings and the red, impaled planet symbol seemed to catch the starlight and blaze proudly as they were brought into focus.

"Captain," K'Nera said, "they're heading towards the wormhole. Shall I fire the torpedos?"

At first, Arkos did not respond. It would have been so easy to issue the order, to destroy the wormhole, and with it, ensure the deaths of every man and woman on the Caligula, his double especially. But the parameters had changed. They were no longer defending something or being fired upon, and if Sann was right, destroying the wormhole would probably destroy the Da Vinci as well. He would be needlessly sacrificing himself and his crew in a petty act of revenge.

And as much as he hated that bastard right now...his double did have a point.

He took a deep breath. "No," he muttered. "Let them through, K'Nera."

K'Nera gave her Captain a concerned expression, but said nothing. Silently, the crew of the Da Vinci sat in the damaged, sparking bridge of their ship, watching on the viewscreen as the Caligula glided onwards into the swirling expanse of the wormhole. Before long, the Caligula was just a tiny sliver of dark metal and blue emissions spectra against the swirling azure sea of gas, dust and cosmic energies that was the wormhole. They continued to watch in silence until the Terran ship finally disappeared from view completely, engulfed in the golden wash of the wormhole's centre.




****

One day after the battle against the Caligula, K'Nera stepped up to the doors of Captain Nair's ready room. After pressing the door chimes and hearing a disgruntled reply of "Enter!" from inside, K'Nera strode in.

As expected, Arkos was at his desk-- a plain obsidian affair with his personal computer set up in front of him. A complicated ornament dominated the right hand side of his desk-- a conglomeration of brass cylinders intertwined around a violet crystal, the inside of which flickered with jagged, static outlets of power that coruscated in a constantly changing weave of colour. Apparently, Captain Nair had designed the....whatever it was...ages ago after he had left the Academy and signed on as an engineering officer. Behind the desk were two coral structures on seperate pedestals, one an intertwining spiral of oranges and greens, while another, more cocoon-like structure was tinted a deep aquamarine colour.

K'Nera had been in the Captain's ready room before, and was used to his interesting choices in ornamentation. What drew her attention, however, was the goblet that Arkos was taking a sip out of and the long silver bottle he was holding in one hand.

"Drinking on the job, Captain?" she asked.

Arkos turned and gave her a chastened look. "Altelian ale," he replied. "Completely non-alcoholic, I assure you. Which, I guess, defeats the purpose, but that's Starfleet regulations for you."

K'Nera said nothing further on the matter as she stepped forward, placing a PADD on Arkos' desk. "Sann and Adim report that the graviton beam has worked, Captain," she said. "As far as we can tell, the wormhole has been completely sealed. As soon as Adim completes the repairs, we'll be able to resume standard patrol."

Arkos sighed. "Until they go and create another one, you mean," he muttered. And dupe some other, gullible Starfleet captain, he wanted to add. "What about our databanks? What did the Telv...my double...get away with?"

The Tactical Officer folded her arms behind her back in a professional posture. "We found a portable data scrambler hidden in his quarters, as well as a long-range transmitter heavily modified for stealth signals," she said. "From our diagnostics, he was primarily going after astrographic information and our mission logs...although he also transmitted quite a lot of our database information on the Borg."

Arkos shifted in his seat, looking up curiously at K'Nera. "The Borg?" Could that be what he was really after? Information on the Borg? He sighed and shook his head. "If the Empire is having problems with their universe's Borg, then they could have simply asked us for information," he muttered. "We would gladly have helped. It's what we do."

K'Nera gave a resigned shrug. "Given all our information on them, I don't think the Terran Empire is very big on asking, sir," she replied. "What bothers me, though, is the fact that they knew we would be here, specifically, and knew to send your own exact double through to carry out this deception. It's too perfect to be a coincidence, sir."

"I'll note as much to Starfleet Command in the official report, then," Arkos agreed.m He looked back down at his desk and took another swig of Altelian ale. "All I have to do now is think of how I'm going to phrase things in that official report. As far as I know, there's no easy way to explain how a Mirror Universe agent stole data from my ship and was allowed to escape."

K'Nera frowned. "Captain...with all due respect, your double had all of us fooled, not just you," she said. "I don't think there's any shame in admitting that."

He looked back up at his Tactical Officer. "We're Starfleet officers, K'Nera," he replied gruffly. "We have to be prepared for any eventuality, any circumstance. And this time, we weren't. Or at least, I wasn't." He took a deep breath. "Tell me...if you had been in my position, K'Nera, would you have destroyed that wormhole?"

The Andorian tensed at the question. "I..." She paused a little, considering the question before answering. "Yes sir, I guess I would have," she admitted. "But then that wouldn't make me any different from the ***** who nearly destroyed the Da Vinci."

Arkos smiled a little at K'Nera's response. He gestured to the chair opposite his desk, and the Andorian obliged him by sitting down. "Well," he muttered, "at least now we know that in a space battle, I can outsmart you any time." He gently pushed the bottle and a spare glass in her direction.

K'Nera gave Arkos a sour expression."Please," she grumbled, declining the glass with the quick shake of her head. "Her forgetting about the wormhole was clearly an intentional act on her part. It was all part of whatever fiendishly clever plan she and that captain of hers had concocted, although I'm sure she was the brains of the operation." She paused. "For what it's worth sir, I think you deserve more credit than you're giving yourself. For the most part, you acted in line with Starfleet principles and did so bravely, and...In retrospect, I guess you were right to dislike your double as much as you did."

Arkos frowned. "Yes...no...maybe not, I don't know." He took another swig of Altelian ale. "I think in the end you may have been right, Lieutenant. I think I did hate him because of what he was. He was a Chastised...one of the religious caste on Nar-Etulis that I had fled from originally, and I think I hated him for what others like him had done." He took a deep breath. "If I'm honest, though, I think it was more than that. I looked at him, and saw what I was when I was much younger, and what I could have potentially become if I hadn't made the choices that I had. And as unfair as it sounds, I think I hated him for it."

K'Nera's expression softened. "Well, I'm not going to pretend I know too much about your past, sir," she said. "But given how much of what he said was a lie, then I think you can take some vindication in knowing that your prejudice wasn't based on anything concrete."

"As ever, you really know how to make me feel better, Lieutenant," Arkos muttered dryly. He glanced back at one of the coral structures at the far wall of his office, and his expression softened a bit. "Although...as odd as it sounds, my double did achieve some good in his deception."

K'Nera perked up. "Sir?"

"He gave me a reminder of where I've come from," Arkos went on, "of who my people are, and more importantly, why I joined Starfleet. Partly, it was the urge to explore and to boldly go, et cetera et cetera...but I also joined in the hope, however naive it was, that out there in the stars I would find some concrete solution to my world's troubles. That I would be able to find some way, however slim, of helping my people. All of my people, K'Nera, even the ones I don't like." He re-filled his glass. "For the longest time, I excluded the Korda from my thoughts and only thought of the Federation as my people, but now...it's nice to be reminded that I've given myself a mission in life."

Slowly, K'Nera smiled, and took up one of the empty glasses. "I'll drink to that, sir," she said. Smiling, Arkos poured her a glass, and the two of them shared what was left of the Altelian ale.

End.
Ensign
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 24
# 4
03-20-2013, 02:30 PM
Very nicely written and quite enjoyable.

I liked the element of religious conflict put in there.

I also spotted a few question marks that slipped in.

I felt a little bit lost with the characters - I assume that this is a continuation of previously written piece? It wasn't too terribly difficult to get into the groove, but it was initially a little jarring. "What, who's that? What are they doing? Should I know them already?"

It is funny how the people in the Mirror Universe wind up in almost the same place, doing almost the same thing (in a different way) as their Prime Universe counterparts, isn't it?

Thanks!
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 1,479
# 5
03-20-2013, 03:09 PM
Looks like Arkos learned a little lesson about how blind prejudice makes you. It seems to me the Terran Empire knew exactly how to play him, and he fell victim to it. Still would not ever want to have him meet Alyosha, though. :-p

Christian Gaming Community Fleets--Faith, Fun, and Fellowship! See the website and PM me for more. :-)

Sig by gulberat. Avatar credit to balsavor.deviantart.com
Captain
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 523
# 6
03-21-2013, 10:27 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by thesciencer View Post
Very nicely written and quite enjoyable.

I liked the element of religious conflict put in there.

I also spotted a few question marks that slipped in.

I felt a little bit lost with the characters - I assume that this is a continuation of previously written piece? It wasn't too terribly difficult to get into the groove, but it was initially a little jarring. "What, who's that? What are they doing? Should I know them already?"

It is funny how the people in the Mirror Universe wind up in almost the same place, doing almost the same thing (in a different way) as their Prime Universe counterparts, isn't it?

Thanks!
Yeah, it's almost too convenient how Mirrors and their Prime counterparts keep meeting. I, for one, blame Q.

Sorry for the confusion, Thesciencer. This piece is, indeed, follow up to my previous Literary Challenge entries (heck, it actually started as a Literary Challenge). If it helps, the "introductory" story of my captain and crew cn be found here (starts on middle of the page, concluding post is at the top of the next one):

http://sto-forum.perfectworld.com/sh...ighlight=arkos


Quote:
Originally Posted by gulberat View Post
Looks like Arkos learned a little lesson about how blind prejudice makes you. It seems to me the Terran Empire knew exactly how to play him, and he fell victim to it. Still would not ever want to have him meet Alyosha, though. :-p
Well, do bear in mind that, for a brief while, he actually fought to protect his double, in spite of their supposed differences.

Thanks for the feedback! In retrospect, I'm a bit dissatisfied with the ending-- I feel I might have gone for an "easy way out" by having a space battle and a twist ending, rather than having Arkos and his double work out their differences, and thus put more emphasis on the philosophical/ethical dillemma in the story. But, you live and learn, I guess.
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 1,479
# 7
03-21-2013, 10:35 AM
Oh...I wasn't trying to suggest you did anything wrong with your ending or that you needed to change anything.

I only meant that, as it currently works, the plot makes it seem that the MU did their research, and figured out exactly what prejudices of Arkos' that they could play on to keep him from spotting what the MU double really was. Make him a Telvenar, make Arkos so full of contempt that he won't look any closer. The plot logic was sensible.

There is nothing wrong or badly written in your story. Don't change anything--don't take my comments as ANY reason to change anything! I made that mistake once with a friend of mine. I will never ever make it again.

Christian Gaming Community Fleets--Faith, Fun, and Fellowship! See the website and PM me for more. :-)

Sig by gulberat. Avatar credit to balsavor.deviantart.com
Captain
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 523
# 8
03-21-2013, 10:40 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by gulberat View Post
Oh...I wasn't trying to suggest you did anything wrong with your ending or that you needed to change anything.

I only meant that, as it currently works, the plot makes it seem that the MU did their research, and figured out exactly what prejudices of Arkos' that they could play on to keep him from spotting what the MU double really was. Make him a Telvenar, make Arkos so full of contempt that he won't look any closer. The plot logic was sensible.

There is nothing wrong or badly written in your story. Don't change anything--don't take my comments as ANY reason to change anything! I made that mistake once with a friend of mine. I will never ever make it again.
Oh trust me, I wasn't calling my own ending into question based on your comments. That was more a personal doubt of mine. But I'm glad to know that the whole "MU Agent" twist still works.
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 1,479
# 9
03-21-2013, 11:03 AM
Your story should only ever be whatever you want it to be.

Christian Gaming Community Fleets--Faith, Fun, and Fellowship! See the website and PM me for more. :-)

Sig by gulberat. Avatar credit to balsavor.deviantart.com
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,478
# 10
03-21-2013, 10:57 PM
That was a terrific conclusion to your LC story!

Once again, I am absolutely awed by the depth and complexity of Captain Arkos Nain.

And what a cruel twist at the end!

I think what I enjoyed most about your conclusion though was your space battle. Absolutely brilliant descriptions of starships in motion. I could easily picture where each ship was at every moment in the fight. I love the way you stayed true to the "submarine warfare" style of combat from "Balance of Terror" and obviously Wrath of Khan. I also enjoyed little game elements you threw in there, especially how your character's career choice - as an engineer - led him to approach the battle differently and gave him an advantage over his opponent.

Bravo, sir! And please don't stop there!
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off


All times are GMT -7. The time now is 10:03 AM.