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"Seeking the Past" - Undiscovered Frontier Season 1 (Star Trek/Mass Effect/B5/Others)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Big Steve, Aug 28, 2019.

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    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    The ten seconds ticked down slowly, an eternity between each. Zack watched the timer as he lost that precious time. His instincts demanded he attack first, that if he got the first shot he stood a better chance of winning.

    But his heart reminded him that if he fired first, the war would be his fault.

    It already is. You're here, in their territory, aren't you?

    "Sir...." Apley was looking back from the helm.

    "Reich warship is locking on," Magda warned. "Weapons powering up."

    "I have a shot," Sherlily added.

    "Sir, we need orders," Apley reminded him.

    Zack ran his fingers on his temples. "Evasive maneuvers, Plan Indigo, Lieutenant."

    The Koenig's impulse drives powered up in tandem with the maneuvering systems. As the ship made a twist and a turn, green energy streaked by it. The ship rocked slightly under them. "They've opened fire," Apley said.

    "Shields still at ninety-eight percent, it was a glancing..." The ship rocked harder this time. "Now ninety-three percent."

    "Sherlily, put a solar torpedo the location of that mound, now," Zack ordered. "I'm not going to have them find any trace of the Darglan technology."

    "Yes sir." Sherlily hit a key. "Torpedo away.... impact. Complete destruction of the surrounding area."

    The ship rocked hard again. "Anti-matter missiles acquiring," Magda warned. "Shields at eighty-six percent."

    "Evasive Plan Charlie!" Zack looked back to Caterina. "C'mon, Cat, tell me you've got something we can try."

    "I'm re-setting the navigational deflector to try and jam their missiles' targeting systems," Caterina said. "But I don't think it's going to work well."

    "Every little bit we can get, Cat." Zack turned back to the screen and drew a breath. "Alright, they fired the first shot. April, full spread, hold nothing back! Apley, Attack Plan Bravo!"

    At Apley's handling the Koenig made a spin in space, shifting up and down and over to make several disruptor bolts miss or barely graze the shields. Koenig turned to face her attacker. Her phasers blazed to life, thick amber pulses erupting from near her swept-forward nacelles and slamming into the destroyer's own deflectors. Solar torpedoes shined with the blue-white fields of their drives before they found their mark, slamming the enemy ship's shields.

    "Direct hit," Sherlily said. "I'm maintaining fire. Enemy shields at seventy-five percent and going down."

    The ship rocked hard under them, straining everyone against their harnesses. "Cat, I need something done with those missiles!", Zack said urgently.

    "Shields holding at seventy percent." The Koenig rocked again as it came around, Apley trying to match the lithe Reich destroyer's movements to keep it in the crosshairs. "Sixty-six percent. Slight armor damage to Deck 2 port side."

    "Firing," Sherlily said again. On the screen more phaser fire and torpedoes converged on the enemy ship. The pilot twisted to one side, forcing Apley to adjust, and half of the barrage and torpedoes missed. "Enemy shields at sixty percent."

    "We've got an agility advantage, let's use it."

    "Aye Commander!"

    Under Apley's control the Koenig's maneuvering became more aggressive and agile. G-forces acted against the crew on board as the inertial dampeners struggled to keep up from the ship's shifting and twisting and turning. With her superior agility and sublight speed Koenig could break off and make attack runs. After the ship shook again - "Shields down to sixty percent." - Apley pulled them up on the Reich destroyer and let Sherlily batter it with the Koenig's weapons. "Pass them. Attack Plan Whiskey on my mark," Zack ordered, keeping his excitement down. In his mind he visualized the maneuvering of both ships, the chance to get his main weapons to bear on weak enemy shields.

    The Koenig let loose, pummeling the Reich destroyer repeatedly and degrading their shields. "They're shifting shields to the bow," Magda said.

    "Good for them.... brace yourselves!"

    Zack noticed the plumes of antimatter missiles erupting from the Reich ship as they made their pass. At this range there was no hope of evasion; an entire salvo pummeled the Koenig, making the ship rock violently. One of the secondary consoles sparked from feedback. "Shields down to forty percent!"

    "Mark!"

    At Zack's order Apley executed a near-flawless turn, bringing the ship's bow to face the aft of the enemy ship. Sherlily had the phasers blazing and fired a full salvo of torpedoes into the Reich destroyer's aft. The ship's shields flickered as their command crew tried to re-direct power back to aft, but it came a split second too late. The phasers blasted through them and made them fail, with the final bursts of energy slamming into bare hull and sending flames and debris spiraling from the impact points.

    Four solar torpedoes crashed into the ship's aft. One hit a nacelle and blew it apart; the other three struck various parts of its rear section. The entire Reich destroyer disappeared in a blast of bright white energy.

    There were some cheers and joyous sighs, but Zack shook his head. He'd just destroyed a Nazi ship... in their own space. Even if they were bastard Nazis... he was the one who was killing them in their territory. If this became a war, it could end up being his fault.

    "Damage report," he asked.

    "Shields still at forty percent," Magda answered. "We took armor damage to Decks 1 and 2. Warp drive, cloaking device, and long range communications still offline."

    "Time to that battle cruiser?"

    "Two minutes. Wait, one minute, they just accelerated."

    "Dammit," Zack muttered. "Cat, have any science stuff?"

    "If we had time I'd say go for the third gas giant," Caterina replied. "We could mask our energy signature more easily."

    "It'd take hours to get there at sublight," Apley pointed.

    "Yeah, I know," Cat replied.

    "Tell me you can get more jamming on their missiles, Cat," Zack asked.

    "Well... I can try," she answered.

    "Alright." Zack took a breath to steady his nerves. "Aurora is on our way, we just have to hold out as long as we can." He keyed the intercom. "Medbay, how is Lieutenant Barnes?"

    "Tired of getting knocked around," Barnes retorted.

    "Talking to the Doc, Tom."

    "I mended his leg," Doctor Opani answered, her accent the lilting one of a Mayali Dorei. "He needs follow-up care, but given all of the shaking I'm guessing you need him on duty?"

    "That I do, Doc. Tom, can you get me some shield power back?"

    "Sure, I know some tricks. There's always some room to shore 'em up even if they've been strained."

    "Get to it. Hostile coming in...." Zack almost asked when, but didn't have to. He looked on the screen as the bigger, nastier cousin of the destroyer they'd just vaporized dropped out of warp, bristling with torpedo and missile bays and disruptor cannon emplacements. "Evasive Plan Charlie, Ap, and get us close without going by those missile bays."

    "Yes sir."

    "Communication coming in," Magda said.

    "Go ahead and put them on," Zack answered.

    "Alliance warship, this is Kapitän Heydrich of the Scharnhorst. You are in violation of the territory of the Third Reich and have murdered the crew of a Reich vessel. Surrender your vessel immediately or it shall be destroyed or taken, and no mercy shall be shown."

    Caterina let out a stifled whimper. Lucy eyed Zack. "They'll probably be worse than Duffy was," she remarked, reminding Zack that Lucy was no stranger to what ruthless men could do to those in their power.

    "Yeah, but it might let us stall for time." Zack nodded to Magda. "Kapitän Heydrich, this is Commander Zachary Carrey of the Alliance starship Koenig. If you want someone for the deaths of that crew, I'll beam over and you can hold me, but I won't turn my crew over to you. Let them go with this ship."

    "That is unacceptable." There was a sharp click.

    "They're locking on!", Magda shouted.

    "Evasives, Apley!"

    Koenig began to maneuver just in time as emerald beams of disruptor energy lashed out at them. The Koenig drew close, phasers blazing and pounding the shields of the larger vessel. "Enemy shields holding, only down to 94%," Magda answered. "This ship is tougher than the cruiser we worked with in Krellan Nebula, it's got an armored hull backing up its shielding."

    Zack watched another large blast of green energy go by the screen, one of many small and large bursts and beams trying to hit his ship. "We're just buying time for Aurora to get here. Put all power to engines and shields."

    The ship lurched under them, showing that despite Apley's best piloting efforts they couldn't avoid every shot. "Some of those disruptor weapons are packing a punch," Magda warned.

    "Make sure to keep away from those super-disruptors then, Ap,"

    "Yes sir," Apley answered.

    Under his control Koenig made a tight turn as it came out by the aft of the Scharnhorst, avoiding the aft disruptors as they did. Missiles flew out of their launch bay and started tracking to acquire.

    "Cat, we could use..."

    "I know." Caterina manipulated something on the control. "I'm sending out interference, but I can only spoof so many!"

    The ship rocked violently as a missile found them, followed by a direct hit by a disruptor. "Shields down to twenty-six percent!", Magda warned. "Damage on Deck 2."

    "Keep it up, Ap," Zack urged, watching Sherlilly take what shots she could. More torpedoes went out, slamming into shields. "Status on that battlecruiser, April?"

    "Their shields are stiill holding at eighty percent." The Koenig shook again. "We're whittling them down but we haven't gotten the shields low enough to make a difference."

    "We just have to keep ourselves in the game," Zack said.

    The Koenig made another tight turn in space to resume a strafing run along the Nazi battlecruiser's belly. Phaser fire defiantly hammered at the big swastika insignia on the lower bow, held back by the cruiser's powerful shields. The ship twisted and weaved to avoid fire. Missiles pursuing it didn't always hit, missing thanks to Caterina's desperate jamming efforts or even slamming into the Scharnhorst's shields themselves.

    It was a shark versus a whale; the whale was big, it could take hits, but it couldn't keep up with the shark.

    Zack tried not to hope for too much. He wasn't out to take this ship down, just to survive long enough for the Aurora to get here so they could dock and get away from this mess of a mission.

    Apley's job was harder, trying to not allow the missiles to hit them at launch but also to avoid getting too close to the big "super-disruptor" emplacements on the Reich battlecruiser. He did his job as well as he could... but found that one maneuver to avoid a torpedo put him in a position to have to risk either. Seeing the missiles launching he made a split second decision to risk the disruptor, trying to time it between shots. They came up on the weapon.

    It fired.

    The Koenig shook violently under them. Feedback from the battered shields caused Apley's station to explode in sparks, making him cry out from the burns that resulted. "Shields down below ten percent!", Magda shouted. "Damage on all decks, forward port sections!"

    "I've lost the port phasers!", Sherlily added.

    That news was bad enough. But there was worse.

    For one pivotal moment, there was no helm control on Koenig.

    Missiles fired from the battlecruiser converged, along with the other emplacements training on a ship that was not quite so hard to hit as it had been. Despite Caterina's efforts to deflect the missiles, two still went off close enough to do damage. More sparks showered from the Koenig's overloaded power systems.

    Zack's spirits fell when Magda told him what he already knew.

    "We've lost shields."

    Zack nodded. "Apley, you good?"

    "Yes sir," Apley answered. "Burns aren't that bad, I still have my fingers."

    "Keep the evasives up. This ship was built to take punishment..." The ship rocked violently again as another disruptor slammed into their armored hull, vaporizing chunks off. "...and we'll have to see how much she takes."

    Apley nodded. "Maintaining evasive pattern."

    "Good. As long as we're shooting at them, they can't risk dropping shields to beam...."

    "Sir, the third Reich ship is coming out of warp," Magda warned. "It's another Z-2500. They're en route to intercept us."

    Zack settled his head against his hand, ignoring another jostle from a glancing hit. There's no way to win this. Dammit, Rob, where are you?! Zack fumed over that. Where were the others? Why hadn't they gotten here yet? Was there more sabotage? More problems?

    They never should have launched the mission. They should have aborted, dammit, the moment those security problems were showing up. Why hadn't Robert done the smart thing!? Why had he gambled on their lives?!

    Damn you, Rob was the thought that came to him, not as unbidden as it might have otherwise been.

    "Maintain evasive maneuvers as well as you can," he said.

    "I'm trying." On the screen the newly-arrived Reich destroyer moved in. They had a clear shot if they didn't mind hitting the Scharnhorst. And he figured they wouldn't.

    That was it. He'd lost. There was nothing more he could do. Zack felt helpless, so utterly helpless...

    ...just as he had when he saw his father was dead.

    Looks like I might join you, Dad. Hope wherever we are going has a bar for us to share that drink.

    "Commander!"

    Magda's voice didn't immediately register with Zack so far into his thoughts, thinking about his father and all they hadn't done. It was only when she shouted his rank again that he looked over. "What?"

    "New contact!" She looked at him and smiled as widely as he'd ever seen her do so. "The Aurora just warped in!"

    Zack had to force the breath out of his lungs at hearing that, just to resume breathing.




    Jarod had replaced Jupap at Ops. "The Koenig has lost shields and taken heavy damage."

    "And it looks like we've got that battlecruiser's attention," Angel said from tactical. "They're locking weapons."

    "Put me on, Jarod." Robert checked the seat harness. "This is Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora. If you hold your fire, we'll hold our's. We only want to get our ship out of your terri..."

    Thick beams of green energy lashed ou from the Nazi battlecruiser and hit Aurora's shields. "I think we have our answer," Julia noted drolly.

    "They fired first." Robert sighed. The entire mission had gone to hell. "Lock weapons on both ships and fire."

    The Aurora's forward weapons erupted in fire. Phaser fire and the thick blue pulses of the bow plasma cannons hammered at the Reich battlecruiser. A few shots were sent toward the enemy destroyer as well. Both ships turned to face them.

    "Tell Zack to get docked ASAP."

    "Sending the order."

    More disruptor bolts crashed into them, although some missed due to Locarno's maneuvering. As missiles closed the distance the smallest emplacements on the hull fired out at them, destroying some before they could hit the shields. "Shields now at ninety-one percent."

    "Status of their shields?", Robert asked Jarod.

    "Down to sixty-five, I think. The destroyer's shields are holding at eighty."

    Robert nodded. "Alright Zack, we've given you an opening, get over here so we can leave."




    There was no premature celebration on Koenig's bridge. They weren't out of danger yet and everyone present knew this. "Head to the Aurora, full speed," Zack ordered. "Get ready for emergency combat docking."

    "Aye sir." Apley's hands moved over the control panel.

    Koenig broke away from the two ships. Suddenly the ship lurched underneath them. "The battlecruiser locked us in a tractor beam," Magda said.

    "Suggestions?"

    "Yeah. Shoot it."

    "I'm locking with the dorsal phaser array," Sherlily said. "Firing."




    On Aurora the ship shook again as the full fury of the Scharnhorst rained on them. "Shields down to seventy-eight percent," Jarod warned. "The battlecruiser's shields are now at fifty percent."

    "Keep it coming, Angel," Julia said.

    Angel focused on her board. The bow cannons blazed as quickly as the systems allowed, pummeling the enemy ship over and over with their thick sapphire bursts. Phaser fire and torpedoes struck out, some hitting the incoming missiles on their way to impacting on the batlecruiser. Locarno twisted the Aurora and kept the bow pointed toward them, allowing Angel to get another shot from the main cannons. The bursts of sapphire energy slammed into the enemy shields again while missiles and disruptor fire made their ship shake. "Shields holding at seventy percent."

    "Laurent's ready for launch," Julia reminded Robert.

    He shook his head. "Then we'd have to take time recovering them. Hold off on that. Miss Al-Rashad, any sign of further contacts?"

    "Just one on long range sensors, at least half an hour away at current warp velocity."

    "We have some time, then," Julia mused.

    "Still not enough. Angel...?"

    "Throwing everything we have at it," she answered. "They're maneuvering, I think they're trying to keep us from hitting their tractor emitter."

    "Stay with them Nick."

    "Doing what I can," he answered.




    On Koenig the ship was rattling as they strained against the enemy tractor beam. "Suggestions?", Zack said. "The phaser isn't doing it."

    "There's not much we can do without Aurora's help," Magda pointed out. "With the engine damage we can't pull out fo the tractor."

    "Okay, we can't. We improvise. Cat, tell me you have some sneaky technobabble?"

    "I' already tried everything we can do on Koenig," Caterina answered.

    "Anthing you could do on Aurora?"

    "Afraid not. This is brute forced-tech, its not going to be easily broken from technical tricks."

    "Come one, Cat, you're giving up on it?"

    "Of course not", she angrily countered. "But I can only do so much with the equipment we have on this ship. I mean, this ship wasn't meant for flexibility, she was built to shoot things. All she's really got is good combat sensors to see things with, weapons to shoot them with, and the tractor beam in case it wants to tow something.... around...."

    Caterina's expression shifted just as Zack's did, the two minds arriving at the same destination from different paths. "The tractor beam,", they said in unison.

    "Sir?"

    "Magda, lock the tractor beam on their tractor beam," Zack ordered.

    "Wait, what? But that will..."

    "Ordinarily it wouldn't do much," Caterina agreed. "But I'm already altering the tractor emitter. Instead of a steady graviton stream, this will be a burst. It should go it like... like... something really dense smashing through something not as dense."

    "Works for me," Zack said.

    "That should do it... activate tractor beam now."

    Magda didn't wait for Zack to follow up with a direct order. She triggered it.

    The rear tractor emitter of the Koenig sent out a burst of blue energy that intersected the ribbon of red light holding Aurora in place. The enemy tractor beam failed and Koenig, freed from her fight with it, shot forward like a rocket, aimed right at the Aurora.

    The ship shuddered violently under them. "They're targeting our impulsors," Magda warned. "Glancing hit on starboard impulsor housing. We're losing some power."

    "Evasive pattern, Apley, but get us to Aurora!"




    The Koenig shot free after the Nazi battlecruiser's tractor beam failed. As they raced forward, the enemy destroyer loomed up behind them, pouring disruptor fire into their rear. "Clever, they modified their tractor beam," Jarod remarked.

    "Angel, get that destroyer off of them!"

    Angel nodded and directed the awesome forward firepower of her ship on the Nazi destroyer.

    The bolts of sapphire energy enveloped the small vessel. Its shields failed and flame erupted as the entire ship's bow came apart. It exploded in a fiery blaze when the barrage didn't cease.

    The battlecruiser started focusing fire on the Koenig as well, now on their port side due to maneuvering. "Extend the shields," Julia ordered.

    "Doing so." The ship started to shake. "Shield effectiveness is going down, we're at just fifty-two percent now."

    Robert nodded. "Broadside fire, Angel."

    The phaser arrays and quad-cannon emitters on the port lashed out at the enemy ship, striking its shields and intercepting the Nazi missiles before they could hit Koenig. "They're on docking approach."

    "Open the doors, Jarod. All hands, brace for Emergency Combat Docking."




    Apley swung Koenig up around the Aurora's nacelle, shifting the inertia of the ship through subspace to avoid overshooting on their course. Zack watched quietly and with a bit of trepidation, but only a bit. They'd trained for this maneuver several times.

    The tricky thing was that it still involved docking with a moving starship in combat conditions and getting right on target. The slightest mistake and the Koenig would plow into other parts of the Aurora, damaging both ships severely. A big enough impact could even destroy Koenig.

    For a moment, Zack regretted not forcing Apley to let him take the helm, given the burns on his hands. But it was too late; all he could do was show faith in his XO.

    Apley fired the impulsors up to an overtake speed, but not too high of one. He gradually reduced them and fired retro-thrusters as they came up to the opened dock door. He twisted the ship ever so slightly to fit the airlock extension and the support struts.

    Impact.

    The Koenig shook hard as it slammed into place, but the landing struts and airlock held from the impact.

    "We're docked, sir," Apley informed them all, his voice even and level, not at all like he had just threaded a needle at thousands of kilometers per second. "Establishing airlock now."

    "Good landing, Ap," Zack sighed, feeling a surge of relief.

    It was over.

    They were safe.




    The impact of the Koenig's high speed landing jolted the bridge too. "Koenig is docked," Jarod reported. "Closing dock doors."

    Robert nodded and felt the ship shake again as another antimatter missile hit their shields. "Locarno, get us out of here, maximum warp."

    "Getting us the hell out of here... now." Locarno finished laying the course in and triggered the warp drive.

    "Are they pursuing?", Julia asked.

    "Yes ma'am," Ensign al-Rashad said from Science. "They're at Warp 9.4. 9.5. 9.6."

    "We're now at Warp 9.7," Locarno said.

    "9.65. 9.67. 9.6.... wait. They're dropping out of warp. I'm picking up a shift in their drive signature. I think they overloaded it."

    "Always comforting to know we can always run away," Angel remarked.

    "Yeah. But we got what we came for." Robert pressed the intercom. "Bridge to Security. Meridina, Commander Kane, get your teams and sweep the Koenig. Let's make sure our friend isn't aboard her."

    "I do not believe it is. But we will check," Meridina answered.

    "ETA to Harris, Locarno?"

    "At current speed we should arrive in five hours."

    "Once we're over the border, reduce our speed to Warp 9. No point in straining the engines even more." Robert wiped at his forehead. "I'm not in any hurry to face Admiral Davies anyway."

    "I don't think any of us are," Julia agreed.




    Ship's Log: 15 May 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We have returned to Harris Station for repair work. The mission was a technical success with the destruction of the Darglan data facility, but the cost.... the cost was too high, not just in those killed by the Changeling and the Nazis but in the fact we got into a fight with them. We knew peace was unlikely, but our actions may have made it impossible.

    The command crew was sitting around the table in the conference room, including the officers from the Koenig. "Between our losses to the Changeling and the battle, we have twelve dead, fifteen wounded," Doctor Opani said from her seat near the end. The young Dorei woman, her skin a dark teal with light purple spots and dark purple hair, looked like she was going to choke. "I did all I could to stabilize some of the worst cases..."

    "We've got them stabilized," Leo finished for her, giving his fellow physician a sympathetic look. "All of the remaining critical cases have a good chance at recovery."

    "How long will it take to repair the Koenig?", Robert asked.

    Zack looked to Derbely. "Two weeks at normal cycle time, sir," she answered. "The dock is a drydock in miniature so that's not the issue, it's simply having to fix all of the damage."

    Julia nodded and looked down the table. "Scotty, do you think...?"

    "Aye." Scotty nodded and looked to the younger woman. "I'll assign ye some teams, Lieutenant. We'll have th' girl up an' about again in nae time."

    "Thank you, sir," Derbely answered. "I'll also need some replacements. I lost people, and I'm not sure Lieutenant Lopana will recover enough for ship duty."

    "We'll speak with fleet personnel. Until then I'll leave Scotty and Tom to see who can be spared for Koenig," Robert said. "Well, that handles that subject. What about the computers? How much data was compromised?"

    Jarod looked up. "We can rule out the IU jump drive technical data, the Changeling never compromised our computer security on it. At the very least, it could have sent out some of the data on naqia and non-critical ship information. And unsealed personnel data."

    Robert nodded. "Any more surprises?"

    "Security and Engineer personnel have been scouring the ship," Meridina said. "No further sabotage charges have been found, and the data we have so far hints that there were no others set. The greater issue is our computer security. The Changeling installed so many bypasses into our internal systems that computer security is completely compromised."

    "We'll have to do a complete restoration from off-site backups," Jarod explained. "Which means a lot of systems will need to be brought offline completely. We'll probably require a week in spacedock ourselves."

    "I'll forward the request," Robert said. "Caterina, that data... was it worth it?"

    "I don't know yet," she answered. The bags under her eyes showed Caterina hadn't slept at all the prior night. "I've been going over what we recovered, sorting technical data and astrographical... all I can tell you right now is that it has more universe designations and a great deal of astrographical data in this universe. I'm hoping it will tell us where the main Facility for S4W8 is."

    "I'm hoping it's not on Earth," Julia remarked, her hands together. "If the Nazis get any indication of how to search for these things..."

    "We'll worry about that when we confirm it," Robert said. "Is there anything else?" When there was no immediate answer, Robert stood. "Alright, we'll adj..."

    "I've got something."

    All eyes turned on Zack. He had been quiet during the entire meeting, only speaking when his ship was involved. Now he looked at Robert. Robert could see that his friend's eyes were smoldering and lined with a bit of red. "Zack?", Robert asked.

    "Why didn't you warn me, Rob?" Zack put his hand on the table. "Why didn't you tell me about this security leak before I left? If I'd known something was up, I would have been checking our systems, I would've seen the sabotage to our comm systems. Hell, I wouldn't have let that Changeling go one step without escort if you'd told me Draynal was a suspect!"

    Robert sighed. "I made a judgement call. We had nothing solid and the mission..."

    Zack's fist slammed on the table, startling everyone. "A judgement call?!", he shouted. "Seriously! You don't trust me with vital information because... what, you were afraid I'd abort? Were you so damned dedicating to pulling this mission off that you didn't care about what might go wrong?!"

    "That's not what it was, Zack," Robert replied, his voice going up too. "I just... I have my reasons, but I knew that mission had to be fulfilled! And I didn't have enough warning to see what was..."

    Zack leaned over and got in his face. "Twelve of my crew are dead Rob!" He brought a finger up so close it almost pressed against Robert's cheek. "Twelve! And I'm the one who has to write their families! I've got to tell a widower his only daughter got turned to vapor! Or maybe you'd like to tell Pammy DeSoto that her husband got flash-fried!"

    "I had to make the call Zack!," Robert shot back. "That's my job! And that means people are going to die!"

    "Easy for you to say when you weren't the one who's ass was getting shot up by...!"

    "ENOUGH!" Julia's shout echoed in the room as she jumped to her feet. She took both and pushed them away from each other with her arms, getting between them. "That's enough, from both of you!" She faced Zack. "I'm sorry, Zack. Rob thought it was the right call." She turned to face Robert. "But he should have told you."

    "It is my responsibility as much as Robert's," Meridina offered, standing as well. "You are right to be upset, Zachary. But please do not let your anger control you."

    Zack's jaw clenched as he continued to glare at Robert and be glared back in return. "I'm done here," he finally said, turning away. "Permission to be excused, Captain."

    Robert nodded stiffly. "Excused."

    Zack made a mocking salute and stormed off, joined by the Koenig command crew. The Aurora crew looked around until Robert waved them off as well. "Julia, go inform Harris Station we need spacedock time, please," Robert said. "I'll be in the ready room checking my final report."

    She nodded, sensing he needed time alone. Robert walked across the bridge and entered the ready room office. He remembered Farmer telling him about such offices almost two years before. "A place for the Captain to decompress when he's on duty." He felt like he needed it.

    Robert found his seat and drew in a breath when examining his report. He had taken full responsibility for what happened, for the decision to launch the operation regardless of the security risk, and for its disastrous result. It was the least he could do.

    With the touch of a button Robert sent the report off to Maran. He brought up another document. The casualty list, both the dead crew from Aurora's contingent to the mission and those Koenig lost. The numbers were horrifying; Zack had lost over a quarter of his small crew. No wonder he was angry.

    At that point it just hit home. His bad judgement had cost sixteen lives, not counting the hundreds of crew on those destroyed Reich vessels. He'd ruined a clandestine operation, violated the space of another sovereign power, and fired on their ships in their own space.

    He'd almost gotten Zack, Cat, Tom, and Lucy killed.

    All because of a nightmare.

    How in the hell could he put that in a report?!

    The stress of the last week finally proved too much with this result. Robert broke down and actually began crying, feeling like he was being crushed.




    After her bridge watch Julia decided to check up on Zack. She went to his quarters, saw he was home, and hit the door chime. After several seconds it opened. She stepped in and saw him leaning over on his sofa seat. "How are you?"

    "I feel like crap," he said. "I sent off the condolence letters already, so you don't have to bug me about those." He looked up at her with the eyes of someone who had wrestled with his thoughts and was tired of it.

    "You... I wasn't coming to nag, Zack," Julia said. "I wanted to make sure you were okay."

    "Yeah. I know." Zack stood up. "I'm... I'm just tired of this." He walked up to her, his eyes red from tears and his expression full of apprehension and dread. "I've got to get this off my chest, no matter what happens."

    Julia tilted her head. "Zack, are you okay? What's wrong?"

    Zack put his hands on Julia's shoulders before she could stop him. "I've always felt this way, Julia Andreys," he said. "I... I love you, Julia."

    Those words froze Julia just before she went to pull herself out of his grip.

    "I'll always love you...", Zack continued. "I don't think I can ever get over it. You're just... you're... I can't think of how to say it but to say..."

    They were so close that his breath actually felt warm on her face. A not-so-unfamiliar odor came across. "Zack... are you...."

    He let her go and stepped away. "There, I said it," he said, sighing with finality. As if he knew the answer. "Now, all I want to ask is... would you ever say the same to me?"

    Julia's words met her thoughts and jumbled up. "What?"

    "Julia, I only want honesty. Please, just honesty," Zack pleaded. "I can't move on without an honest answer. I just... I have to know! Could you ever love me? Could we ever have something together, something more?"

    Julia stared at him for a moment, trying to process what he was saying. She remembered how much of a crush Zack had on her in school, but she always figured that was just because she was one of the few girls he didn't have a chance with. But... love? "Zack, what are you saying?"

    "I'm saying, Julia, that I am deeply in love with you, that I have loved you for years and that it has become pure torture for me to be this close to you without working up the guts to ask." Zack went over to his table and leaned on it. "And I'm just tired of it. I just want to know if there's any hope of you ever feeling that way about me. I want to be more than your friend."

    "Zack, you're kind of putting me on the spot here," Julia pointed out, feeling completely bewildered and off-balance. She'd come to give comfort, not find out... this.

    "I'm sorry, I'm just...." Zack had tears in his eyes. "On Adrana. That computer being gave me the world she thought I wanted. She gave me a world where we were married. Where we were together and happy."

    Oh God. Julia felt... she didn't know how to feel. She felt sympathy and confusion and even some disgust.

    "It wasn't real. I... I realized it. But it made all of that come back. And then I talked to my Dad and to Clara and..." Zack sniffled. "I just can't stand not knowing any more. I just want to know. Is there hope? Is there any chance, Julia, that you could feel love for me, that we could become a family?"

    "Stop pushing it, Zack," Julia retorted. "Do you expect me to just, in a few seconds, decide something like that?! We've never even dated before, we've..."

    "We've known each other since we were kids," Zack countered. "You know me and I know you. And I think you are the most smart, beautiful, and talented woman to ever exist. And I would move heaven and earth to...." He stopped, seeing the expression on her face. He shook his head. "You don't. You won't."

    "Zack..."

    "Don't." He held up a hand. "I've been around you long enough. You don't feel that way toward me."

    Julia swallowed and shook her head. "You're right. You're my friend but I just... that's all I see us as."

    "And there's no hope of that changing."

    "Well..." Julia shook her head and shrugged. "I don't know, I..."

    "Don't you dare," he hissed. "Don't you Goddamn dare do that to me, Julie. Don't you string it out!"

    "What is it you want from me, Zack?!," Julia screamed, her patience at an end. "You're a good friend, and you're funny and sweet and kind, but no, I don't see you as a lover or a future husband or anything. I love you to death as a friend, but that's all we'll be. And I'm not sure if that would ever change or not. I don't know the damn future! Now, I don't know what's gotten into you, but I do know this won't solve anything!"

    And with that, she lifted the opened tequila bottle from the table by the sofa.

    Zack stared at her and at the bottle, its amber liquid within jostling slightly from her movement. The bottle was missing over a quarter of its contents

    "You're drinking this stuff, Zack!" Julia put the bottle back down. "Is it really me driving you to this? Why... you rarely like beer, now you're drinking like your Dad!"

    "Yeah." Zack held up a shot glass that was on the desk, a bit of tequila left in it. In one move he sent it down his throat. "Yeah, I am. Trying to see if Dad was right. If it'd make the pain go away."

    "Zack...."

    "I'd hoped you'd think about it," he confided. "But I can't beat him, can I?"

    "Who?"

    "Rob." He slammed the glass on the desk so hard that Julia thought it would break. "He gets you, he gets Angel... he gets to be the Captain too. Robert Dale, the big hero!" He postured wildly, striking a melodramatic pose. "And Julia, the true love who swoons over him and never ever lets him know it."

    Julia's face paled. It was the kind of pale that would make a smarter man, or in this case more sober man, stop.

    "And there's me, Zachary Carrey. The also-ran. The second-best. The hanger-on." Each term seemed to drip more and more venom. "He gets it all and here I am, in his shadow." He walked by her and picked up the bottle. "He can even send me to get killed and the only thing I can do about it is be his loyal dog or run away. Run away run away run away.... maybe I should. Maybe I should give all of this crap up and go back home."

    "Zack, you don't mean that! Rob's your best friend, I'm your best friend! We're all here for you."

    "Yeah. All for one and all for one, eh?" He held up the glass and seemed to reconsider that. "Huh. Got that wrong. Must be working. Maybe a few more shots and the pain will go away."

    At that moment Julia felt a tear on her own eye. "Zack, we should have breakfast tomorrow. All of us. We should all get together and help you through this."

    "Yeah. God knows I need it." Zack poured another shot. "I'm a true Carrey, and you know how hopeless we are if we don't have someone watching over us, making sure we don't screw it up, right? Otherwise we'll go back to the bottle. Cheers."

    He brought the shotglass up. Julia shrieked and lashed out, smacking his hand and sending the shotglass and its contents flying into the near wall, where the tequila splattered and the glass shattered. She felt words come to her tongue, but couldn't quite get them out. She looked into Zack's sad brown eyes and the red lines around them and... Julia realized she didn't know what to do. How could she fix this? How could she make it better? When it was clear that every moment she was here, she was twisting the knife in his heart.

    His words had struck home too. Julia hadn't realized how much it hurt that Robert was with Angela again while she was still alone.

    Maybe I should be getting plastered with him, was the dour thought that crossed her mind.

    "I'll... I'll leave you alone," she finally said, trying to fight the tears. "But Zack, please... we're here for you. I know this is something you need to do for yourself, but if you need us we're here."

    "Yeah, like always."

    And she couldn't take it anymore. The tears were rolling down Julia's face as she stormed out of the room.

    Zack watched her leave and the door close. Through the haze in his head his heart was still hurting, aching. He'd confirmed it was as bad as he thought. There was no hope. The woman he loved did not love him and would never love him. "Guess it's time to move on," he muttered, holding the bottle of tequila in his hand. "Hey Dad, havin' that drink." He brought the bottle up like he was toasting. "Let's see if you were right."

    At that point, he didn't bother getting another shotglass to replace the broken one. He put the opening of the bottle to his lips and took as big a drink as he could manage.


    Tag


    Meridina had returned to Security and found a message marked urgent. Seeing it was Lucy, Meridina went straight to her quarters. As an assistant department head Lucy had her own quarters on Deck 4, not as large as a department head but sufficiently comfortable. Meridina entered and found it dark. Lucy was sitting on her bed in a nightgown, her knees curled up to her chin. She looked over at Meridina and showed that she had been unable to sleep and was under tremendous emotional stress. "Lucy, what is wrong?"

    "What... what's happening to me?", Lucy said, tears in her eyes. "Because it's not making sense. I've got this thing in me now and it saved us but then it got cold and terrible and I ... I..."

    Meridina's expression froze. She swallowed and walked up to Lucy, sitting beside her on the bed. She pressed a hand to Lucy's arm and felt the turmoil roiling with her. No, not just the turmoil.

    She felt Lucy's swevyra. Where it had once been a small ember, it was a fire now. She had called upon it intentionally, repeatedly, and it had come. But now it wouldn't go away either.

    "Can you make it stop?", Lucy asked. "It's..."

    "I cannot," Meridina answered. "You have opened yourself to your swevyra, Lucy. It cannot be undone."

    "But it scares me," she said, her voice hoarse. "At first it was... it was just useful, it saved our lives, let me fight the Changeling. But then it was trying to pull me back into the facility and I couldn't break free and I just... I was afraid and then angry and I just started to hate it and I wanted to rip it apart and then everything turned cold."

    Meridina swallowed and clasped another hand to Lucy's shoulder. "Yes. You're not trained to deal with your emotions when wielding your swevyra. It brought forth the darkness within you."

    "Tom said my eyes were turning yellow and that my hand was shooting out lightning!"

    "Yes. That is what happens when swevyra is joined with darkness." Meridina found her own mind racing. She had to tell Ledosh about this, she had to share this with the whole Order. "I... I may have done you a disservice for introducing this power to you, and for that I am sorry. This is dangerous. You must learn to control your emotions when wielding your swevyra."

    "Can you show me how? Please? Show me how to do this!"

    "I..." Meridina lowered her eyes. "I must consult my superiors on Gersal. But you must promise me, do not use your swevyra again, not until I say! This is important, Lucy."

    Lucy nodded. "I'll... I'll try..."

    "No," Meridina growled, frowning. For Lucy the sight of her frown and the growl in her voice was terrifying, so completely unlike Meridina as it was. "Lucy, you do not try. You just do it. You must!"

    "But if I can't...?"

    "Then..." Meridina shook her head. "If you use it without training and let your darkness take over... it corrupts your swevyra, your very essence. Few have ever come back from corruption. They... they become murderers and monsters, they lose control and lash out at everything."

    "That would... happen to me?", Lucy murmured, still terrified.

    "It could. But it would not."

    "Why not?"

    "Because..." Meridina's face lost all emotion. "....I would kill you first."




    It was the middle of the night when the chime went off in Robert's quarters. He shifted in bed, prompting Angel to slide off him in her sleep, and reached over for the comm button on the nightstand. "Dale here," he said, his vision still blurry from being tired.


    "Admiral Maran is on comms for you, sir."


    Sighing, Robert pulled his uniform jacket on as he went to his personal computer in his quarters and triggered the comm system. Maran appeared, dawn light behind him. "Admiral?", Robert asked.

    "Captain Dale, I'm changing your orders. You will report to Fleet Command Spacedock immediately."

    Robert blinked. "Sir? is there something going on?"

    Maran nodded. "You're being called before the Defense Committee, Captain Dale. You and your entire command staff."

    That made Robert swallow. "This is about the mission, right?"

    "It is," Maran answered. "I'm doing everything I can to help, but..."

    "But what?"

    Maran lowered his eyes. "You're facing a lot of criticism here in Portland, Robert. If the Defense Committee finds against you, the President and I won't have any choice. You and your crew will be removed from the Aurora. Permanently."
     
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    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Commander Julia Andreys Personal Log, 17 May 2641...

    I'm not much of a diarist. I didn't do the girly diary thing when I was young and this feels like that kind of thing. I do the weekly entry and just focus on business.

    But I suppose I need to sound out my thoughts. Everything feels like it's starting to unravel. The mission to find the Darglan data facility in S4W8 was a disaster because of that Changeling infiltrator. Now the Defense Committee is calling us in, all of us, to investigate what happened and judge us.

    If that wasn't enough, Zack... where could I begin? He came with us because of our friendships and not anything he wanted to do. He's proven himself over and over, but I think that distance... maybe it made Rob not trust him, maybe not. All I know is that it's grown worse.

    And now he tells me that he loves me and wants an answer on my feelings. I want to understand what he's going through, I'm trying to, but it's just... I can't see us working. I don't feel that way about him, and that's killing him. And I...


    Julia was interrupted by the tone at her door. She looked up from her desk in her quarters and checked to make sure her blue nightrobe was firmly tied before calling out "Come in!"

    When the door opened Barnes limped in. The Changeling had broken his leg on LA33. While Leo's treatments were enough to fix the break and mend it, the damage it caused him would last a little longer. "Hey Julie," he said, stepping up to her table. "Can I sit?"

    "Sure. I thought you were supposed to stay off that leg?"

    "I am. But I wanted to..." He sighed and briefly looked out the window. Instead of open stars or a planet, it was the dark blue sheen of the spacedock facility the Aurora was berthed in. "Well, you know. Zack's my buddy. He's my best friend, even when he's a pain in the ass. And it sucks to see him hurting like that."

    Julia nodded. "Yeah."

    "Do you ever think he'd be better off back home?", Barnes asked. "I mean, we all had reasons for doing this. Zack just joined us because we're friends."

    The thought brought an exasperated sigh from Julia. "Sometimes. But then I remember he wasn't doing much before this happened. He had to stop playing baseball and after that he was just drifting. I'm not sure he'd be any better if he had stayed."

    "Maybe." Barnes shrugged. "I tried to get him to come to the holodeck but he's not leaving his quarters. He wouldn't even talk to me."

    "He's... he's just having a bad time," Julia said, trying not to think of that open bottle she'd seen in Zack's quarters and the odor on his breath.

    "Any bright ideas to get him out of it?"

    "It's something he has to work through himself, I think." Julia looked at the clock on her desk. "We've got a busy day today. We should probably get it stared."

    "Don't governments usually take longer to get these things put together?", Barnes grumbled. "It's just been a day and we're already going before the Defense Committee?"

    "It's a crisis, Tom. Things move faster."

    "Uh huh." Barnes gave her a dark look. "And you don't think that's pretty damned convenient for that jackass Davies? You got to figure a few of the people on it are his cronies."

    "I'll remind you he is our superior officer now," Julia remarked. "We were in the center of this mess, so yeah, we're going to get dragged into the mud."

    "Heh." Barnes frowned. "Speaking of messes. Julia, why the hell didn't we get warned that Draynal was a suspect? Yeah, Zack is pissed, and he has good reason to be."

    "Don't ask me," Julia answered. "I didn't know they were suspecting him until Meridina told me he was a Changeling in disguise."

    Barnes looked at her and rolled his eyes. "Jesus Christ, what the hell has gotten into Rob? Sending us off despite the security breach, not even warning you about what was going on..."

    "Rob has a lot on his mind these days," Julia said delicately.




    Flames were devouring the New Liberty Colony as Robert ran through it, a gun in his hand. The dead bodies of the colonists, many of them people he knew, were scattered around the streets. "Beth!", he called out. "BETH!"

    He heard a scream in the distance. He ran through a body-choked street, picking up speed until he tripped. He fell and looked into the vacant eyes. Gabriel, one of the first people he and his friends had ever helped, lay before him, the back of his head a burnt mass. The scream came again, jolting Robert and making him get back to his feet.

    He stormed into Freedom Square, the site of so many happy celebrations, and found it full of bodies. There were still living people here, though. Men in black combat armor, their faces partially obscured by visor plates, and carrying terrible weapons. The swastika emblem was visible in a red band on their upper right arms.

    Before them was Beth Rankin, his cousin, bloodied and bruised and on her knees. "Rob, help me!", she shouted as one of them pressed a disruptor pistol to the back of her head.

    He brought his pistol up and fired on them. But he was too late. With a flash of green from the pistol she fell over, dead.

    Robert screamed in rage and hate at her death, firing his weapon repeatedly into the mass as they scattered. One went down, two... a third... His weapon ran out and Robert tackled the last one, the one who shot Beth. He brought his fist down on the man over and over again, ignoring the pain in his hand from hitting the visor. "I'll kill you!," he screamed, punching again and again and...

    A cold feeling was swelling up inside of Robert as punches landed on the Nazi who had shot Beth. When he took the time to notice, he could see his reflection in the visor. He saw his own face twisted into an expression of hate and rage. And his eyes were all wrong now, going from green to a golden-yellow hue.

    The visor on his enemy opened. "We meet again, Kapitän." It was Fassbinder, the SS officer he'd met in the first contact with the Reich.

    His eyes were also glowing yellow.

    Pain shot up through Robert's side from the knife Fassbinder had plunged between his ribs and into his heart. He toppled over, feeling only the bizarre cold rage as he...

    ...woke up with a start, screaming.

    "Jesus Christ, Rob!" Angel sat up beside him, putting a hand on his chest. "Another nightmare?"

    He nodded and swallowed. "Yeah."

    "What's happening to you? It's like you have a nightmare every other night now." Angel reached over to the nightstand they'd set up on her side of the bed. She poured a cup of water from a pitcher she kept there and offered it to him. "You've never been like this before."

    "Things have changed," he answered. "It's... I can't describe it right now."

    The truth was, he didn't want to. His nightmares of the Reich destroying New Liberty had spurred him to go for the LA33 facility despite the security issues. That decision had, yes, allowed them to destroy the facility so the Nazis could never use it... but it had also led to a fight with the Nazi forces in their own space. He had committed an act of war over a dream.

    "Maybe I deserve to get court-martialed," he sighed.

    "Hey! Don't get like that." Angel kissed him on the cheek. "We had to do it. It was just bad luck. Monstrously horrible luck."

    "Maybe." Robert took her hand and turned his head enough to kiss her on the lips. "But it doesn't change the fact that I didn't do enough. Meridina didn't have strong evidence about Draynal, so I used it as an excuse. If I'd told Zack about him... what if it had been enough? Zack never would have let him board."

    "Or he would have snuck aboard a different way," Angel pointed out. "That whole 'shapeshifter' thing. Listen, Rob, I get that Zack's pissed, but it's not going to do any good moping about it. We've got to deal with the jerks on the Committee now and they're going to snap at any weakness they find. So don't dwell on it. Lay out the facts and why you did things, it should turn out fine."

    "I hope. I'd hate to lose the ship." Robert shifted on the bed to face Angel directly. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Angel."

    She smirked. "Hey, we gotta stick up for each other, right? Just don't ask me to do too much of this touchy-feely stuff. It's not me."

    "I know. You're more into hitting than touching." Robert allowed himself a slight smile at that. "Or so experience tells me. Although you're not bad at the touching either..."

    Angel laughed warmly at that. "Depends on what's being touched." They kissed again. When it was over, Robert exhaled strongly. "Well, let's get this over with. Let's go keep the Aurora."


    Undiscovered Frontier
    "Past Mistakes"



    Zack was in pain.

    And now I know why Dad was always in a sour mood even after he sobered up.

    He looked at the quarter-full bottle of tequila on the table opposite his bed and moaned. His head ached terribly and he felt starved. He managed to focus enough to pull his clothes on and was on the verge of ordering a replicated breakfast when his door chime went off. "What?!", he cried out, irritated. "Come in!"

    The door swished open. Leo stepped in and looked around. "Well, you look refreshed. Booze go straight to your head?"

    Zack looked at him darkly and felt enough shame to lower his eyes. "Julie?"

    Leo shook his head. "No, I didn't even know she'd visited you. Hargert was worried."

    Zack blinked. "Hargert?"

    "Yeah. Seems you actually took the bottle of tequila Albert offered you yesterday," Leo remarked.

    Zack looked back over to the table. A second bottle had... half? Maybe three-fifths of the content left. "Oh," he muttered.

    Leo found a seat, shaking his head. "Zack, man... what's wrong?"

    "What isn't wrong?", Zack asked. "Everything's wrong. Everything." Zack stood up and went to the table. Leo grabbed the tequila bottle he was reaching for before he could take it. "I was just going to put them up, man."

    Leo's expression betrayed his thoughts. "Were you?"

    Zack looked at him for a moment and sighed. "Yeah, if you weren't here I probably would've had another drink."

    "Why, man? You saw what this stuff did to your Dad."

    "Saw it, lived with it..." Zack shrugged. "I just... I wanted to see if it worked for me too. Do you know what he told me, Leo? Before he died? That it made the pain go away."

    "Zack, it's a depressant, it doesn't cure depression," Leo reminded him bluntly.

    "Yeah. We knew that too." Zack shook his head. "But it works anyway. You get to that point when everything's in a haze and you're not feeling it anymore."

    "Is this about Robert, Zack? About your fight with him?"

    "Yes and no. It's about more than us. It's about..." Zack drew in a sigh, unwilling to bring up the other pain he was feeling. "Okay, yeah, I'm getting a little tired of Rob right now. This thing's changed him. He's acting like this invincible white knight now and it got twelve of my crew killed."

    Leo shook his head. "You can't blame him for the Changeling, Zack."

    "No, but I can damn well blame him for not telling me anything!", Zack retorted.

    "He had his reasons, I'm sure." Leo softened his expression. "Come on, man. He's your best friend."

    Those words made Zack's eyes focus on Leo's. "Yeah? Well I wish he'd act like it. Best friends don't send you out without warning you what's up. Best friends don't decide you should be risked because they think the mission is more important!"

    Leo opened his mouth to speak and stopped. "It's not like that."

    "The hell it isn't!" Zack got up and paced around his room. "Now I know what you're going to say next, because I was there for Admiral Maran's fancy lectures. He's my superior officer too. He has to give orders to fulfill the mission even if it means getting any of us killed."

    "That's how things are when you're in a miltiary service," Leo pointed out.

    "Yeah. Well, maybe we should decide what's more important then. Our friendship or the service." Zack stopped and looked down at an old photo of him and Robert in the baseball uniforms of their high school team, smiling at the camera and holding the state championship trophy. "It's getting about time for the trip down, right?"

    "Yeah. Locarno is firing up the Susquehanna."

    "I'll be there."

    Leo went to say something but thought better of it. It was clear this was something Zack had to work through himself.




    It had been two nights since Meridina last enjoyed her own bed. She sat in meditative posture on the floor of Lucy's quarters, Lucy sitting across from her. Lucy's breathing was growing faster. "Don't force it," Meridina urged her. "Just... allow the energy to settle."

    "I'm trying," Lucy said. "But it's not going away."

    That made Meridina sigh. "Lucy, it never will. Your swevyra is awakened. It is a part of you."

    Lucy shook her head. "But I didn't want this," she protested.

    "I know." Meridina swallowed and drew in a frustrated breath. "But it is not about what you want any more."

    "Can't you train me to use it? I feel like I'm about to burst."

    "No!" Realizing she'd barked that like a command, Meridina reached forward and set a hand on her scared compatriot's shoulder. "I'm sorry... unless my Mastrash authorizes it, I can only show you basic calming techniques. Anything more must be done with my Order's approval."

    "Does that mean I would have to join it?", Lucy asked.

    "It is a... difficult matter," Meridina answered. "My people had the same experience with other races like the Dorei, but there were issues that have made us very cautious about expanding the knowledge of using swevyra."

    "So they'd rather leave me untrained until I go insane and become a psychotic?" There was an edge in that question.

    "No. No, Lucy, not at all." Meridina smiled thinly. "I am certain some training can be authorized for you. The extent of it will have to be determined by my Order's Council, though. I cannot make that decision."

    "Alright." Lucy sighed and looked up. "We're due to go down to Portland in an hour. We should probably get ready."

    "I would prefer another day of working with you, to make sure you have control," Meridina remarked. "But we do what we must with the time permitted." She stood up as Lucy did. "I will meet you at the shuttle bay."




    The Susquehanna had been cleared to land directly at Defense Command. It was a new structure erected on the northern side of the Columbia River, between its junction with the Willamette and Lake Vancouver. Towering azure structures formed a five-pointed star around a central building, walking bridges connecting them all together complete with a circle that rounded the middle of the bridges.

    The top of the central structure contained a large bay for shuttles and other small craft. Locarno set the Susquehanna down under guidance from the traffic controller and secured the runabout while everyone filed out. The officers of the Aurora and Koenig were met by MPs in light combat armor, a Dorei and an Alakin, who motioned for them to follow.

    Robert exchanged a glance with Julia when they stepped into a large lift, meant for carrying over a dozen people, and squeezed to the side. The Dorei MP pressed a key and the lift rumbled, lowering them into the structure's middle stories. "I'm surprised this isn't at Council Hall," Leo remarked from the other side of the lift.

    "The Defense Committee meets in Command HQ for the added security," Robert pointed out.

    "Never knew we had one," Barnes muttered. "What do they have to do with the Defense Staff?"

    "The Staff is made up of officers," Julia answered. "The Committee has a mix of officers and legislators from the Council."

    "Three Senators, three Councilmembers, Admiral Maran and the senior service chiefs, the Intelligence Director, with the Defense Minister chairing it all," Robert specified.

    "So Admiral Davies will be there," Caterina said, frowning.

    "Yes he will," Robert said, and that was all he said. He looked over at Zack, who was staring into the distance. Feelings of guilt stirred inside of him. Whatever was about to come his way, Robert knew he deserved some of it.

    They were escorted into the Committee chamber gallery. A long desk curved inward was near the end of the room. Tables across from it were for those providing testimony to sit along with, Robert suspected, legal counsel. "I should have asked Borja to come along," he mumbled.

    "Conflict of interest," Julia reminded him. "She was already assigned to defend Liton against you and Meridina, remember?"

    "But that didn't go very far..."

    They were directed to tables. After this happened, an Asian man in an Army formal uniform went through the side door. When he returned, he was followed by the Defense Committee. Davies and Maran were at the front, along with the other service commanders. The men and women behind them were in civilian dress suits of varying types. Robert recognized Senator Sriroj of the Sol System Republic but the others he was not so immediately familiar with. The mix was rather fair, with the other senators being a teal-complexioned Dorei and a bronze-feathered Alakin. One of the Congressman was openly a Gersallian given his garb was more like robes than a business suit.

    At the end came the Defense Minister. Robert and the others had met Minister Hawthorne before. The assembled felt the slightest of chills when he exchanged whispers with Davies before finding his seat. Was it just a passing comment or a sign that the Minister was going to side with their strongest critic?

    Hawthorne gave no indication of either when he took his seat and smacked the gavel. "We are convening this emergency session to determine what occurred on the 14th of May in the classified operation to determine the existence of a Darglan base in Universe S4W8. While said operation succeeded in the goal of denying Darglan technology to the Nazi German Empire of S4W8, it also caused over a dozen casualties and damage to both vessels involved, as well as instigating an international incident with Alliance vessels being found in Reich territory and firing upon Reich ships within that territory." Hawthorne put his hands together on the stand before him. "In short, your operation has quite possibly thrown our new Alliance into an intersellar war and thus has threatened the stability of the Allied Systems. Now, we are not here to place blame but to discover what occurred and determine if there is blame to be placed. It is my intention to call each of you up in order of rank, beginning with..." He consulted a list openly. "...Lieutenant Doctor Roliri Opani of the ASV Koenig. Lieutenant, please step forward."

    Opani stepped up and took the first table before the Committee.

    Hawthorne stumbled for his notes for a moment. "Before we begin, the Committee wishes to see each of you separately. Everyone else will await their turn for testimony in the antechamber. Sergeant, please show them to where they can wait."

    Robert and Julia looked at each other. "We're going to get railroaded," Julia whispered. "They're trying to turn us against each other."

    Robert found he had no response to that.



    Meridina was quite aware of what was going on as they filed out of the committee chamber. But she had other concerns. She had hoped they would let her be present when Lucy gave testimony, should it become heated. But now... Lucy was going to be facing their inquisition alone.

    She caught Lucy's attention and brought them over to beside a window looking out at the Columbia river and the buildings of Portland beyond. "Lucy, can you do this?", she asked.

    "I... I think so," Lucy said. "I've been grilled before by prosecutors and defense attorneys."

    "This may be worse. And they will certainly ask about your swevyra and the use of it."

    "What should I say about it?"

    "Be honest," Meridina urged. "Do not hide it. It is nothing to be ashamed of."

    "Okay." Lucy nodded. "I get the feeling the deck's being stacked against us."

    "Yes. Admiral Davies has laid the groundwork well," Meridina conceded. "But do not despair. Hearts and minds can be swayed, particularly with the aid of the truth."

    "I hope it's enough."

    "It will be. Now, I expect you will be called first, so remember; keep your breath calm and focus on your control. Do not let anything they say disturb your emotional center." Meridina put her hands on Lucy's shoulders as she said that. "You can do this."

    After Lucy nodded and agreed, Meridina let go and saw her walk back to join the others. She did not; she expected she would be one of the last called, which gave her time to do what was needed. And so she returned to the Susquehanna.




    The officers on Koenig, up to Apley, had all gone first. Apley stepped out of the room looking on the bored side. He went over to stand with Sherlily and Zack. Zack nodded to him and looked over to where some of the Aurora crew were congregating.

    Barnes walked up to him at that point. "Hey Zack, don't you think you're giving them ammo?"

    "Huh?" Zack looked at his friend.

    "Keeping your crew away from the rest of us, these guys are trying to divide us and now it looks like it's working," Barnes pointed out.

    "Huh. Yeah." Zack lowered his head. "Maybe we are divided."

    "Zack?"

    "We're the ones who got sent into the fire. We weren't told who to watch out for or what to look for. Our ship got sabotaged under our noses because Robert and Meridina didn't tell us anything," Zack pointed out.

    Barnes shook his head. "He screwed up, okay, but you're carrying this really far, man. Just go talk to him."

    "I will, when I feel like it."

    Barnes blinked. "What? Dude, you've known him longer than me, you've been friends for..."

    "Don't." Zack shook his head. "I'm... Tom, yeah, we're friends. We'll probably still be friends. But right now, I'm really pissed at him for a number of reasons. And I need time to process that."

    The door opened. "Lieutenant Caterina Delgado," the sergeant-at-arms called. "Please come with me."

    Caterina stood up from between Angel and Jarod. Angel gave her a pat on the shoulder and a last vote of confidence.

    "Poor Cat," Zack sighed. Nothing else could be said as Caterina quietly followed the sergeant-at-arms into the room.




    "So you were proceeding with the data download when the Changeling appeared," Minister Hawthorne asked, looking down at a report.

    "Um, yes... yes Minister," Caterina answered.

    "A Changeling that happened to annihilate an entire security team in a couple of seconds," he continued.

    "Um, yes. Yes, it did. It was hor..."

    "And yet you're still with us," Hawthorne said, interrupting her. "Half a dozen well-trained security officers go down but you're still here. How?" There was evident skepticism in his voice.

    "Um..." Caterina swallowed and fidgeted with her hands. "...Lucy.... Lieutenant Lucero fought with it."

    "Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero, an operations officer with engineering background but no major combat experience?", Senator Kepal, the Alakin, asked.

    "Yes sir. S-she... saved my life, Mister Senator s-sir." Caterina knew she looked like she was abou to curl up and die, and she knew this because it was about what she wanted to do.

    "How?" The question was from General Gulinev, the head of the Army, his voice a low growl.

    "The Changeling was a-attacking me. A-and she stopped it. She held her...her hand up a-and it just went f-flying."

    Most of the looks were incredulous. The Gersallian representative from the Council leaned forward. "Lieutenant, you are describing the use of swevyra. Are you saying Lieutenant Lucero had such a swevyra?"

    "I'm not sure what a swev-eera is, s-sir," Caterina answered, trying hard to focus and stop the stutter in her voice. Having a dozen sets of eyes glowering down on her was not making that easy. "But it... it was like w-what Meridina does."

    "Commander Meridina, the swevyra'se serving on your ship?" The Gersallian sat back and looked to Hawthorne. "Has this Lieutenant Lucero been trained to use it?"

    "Um... I... I don't know, sir," Caterina replied.

    Hawthorne eyed the Gersallian Councilman, who sat back and indicated he had no more questions. Hawthorne turned his head back to Caterina. "Lieutenant, there is something on the record I would like cleared."

    "Yes sir?"

    "Were you, or were you not, responsible for the incursion of the species known as 'Daleks' that forced the destruction of the Darglan facility on your homeworld?"

    Caterina blinked and allowed her confusion to make her face shift. "Sir?"

    "The question is pretty straight-forward, Lieutenant. Are you responsible for the Dalek Incursion?"

    "I... I..." Caterina found trouble getting her voice to speak. She felt like she was being driven into a trap. "Well, I did bring...."

    Hawthorne, clearly fed up with Caterina, raised his voice. "Lieutenant Delgado, were you not in command of the vessel Weaver when it went on the survey mission in Universe W8R4? And did you not bring a load of debris and artifacts back into the Facility itself, in violation of common safety precautions when dealing with unknown alien technology? Did your science team not open the artifact containing several Daleks, which proceeded to attack the Facility and require its destruction? Because all of my records say the answer is yes. Perhaps the records your own friends wrote are wrong."

    "Well... yes, I did bring that back... b-but..."

    "In other words, you showed a disturbing lack of common sense and recklessness, on top of ending your survey mission without authority to indulge in your personal whims of curiosity." Hawthorne leaned forward further. "Can you tell us why you were given such an important role in such a critical and sensitive mission despite this proven history of reckless disregard for procedure and failure to properly follow orders?"

    At that point, all Caterina could think of was Simon and the others on her team who were gunned down by the Daleks. And Control... he had showed her so much, and he was gone too. She broke down and started weeping. "I... I..."

    "Lieutenant, you will answer," Davies barked.

    "Perhaps we should give the Lieutenant a moment to recover," Maran suggested.

    Caterina tried to hold back the sobbing. "I... I studied the Da-Darglan tech f-from the m-moment we had it. I knew w-what to.... to look for." She sniffled. "I'm s-sorry about the D-Daleks. I n-never thought it'd hap-happen like that. I pro-promise it w-w'on't happen ag-again."

    Hawthorne waved a hand in disgust. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant."




    "I'll tear his head off."

    Angel was pale with rage while holding her weeping sister. Beside her Robert had a hand on her shoulder while Julia paced around. "I don't think it'll solve anything, Angel," Julia pointed out.

    "It'll make me feel better."

    "So that's what he's doing? Dredging up every mistake we've ever made?" Robert sighed. "Try to make us look stupid and hope that sways the others?"

    Julia didn't look back immediately, keeping her focus on the door. "That kind of thing works. Especially if you let them goad you into outrage. We just have to keep it cool."

    The doors opened again. "Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero," the Sergeant-at-Arms called.

    Lucy stood up and nodded at them before walking into the Committee room.




    Once before the Committee, Lucy didn't have long before the hard questions came. "Lieutenant Delgado testified that you used some sort of special psychokinetic powers to fight the Changeling," Hawthorne asked her bluntly. "We are aware that such abilities exist, but your record shows no indication of them. Would you please demonstrate?"

    Having seen how Hawthorne and the others reduced Caterina to tears, Lucy briefly pondered using it on him. But at the slightest sensation of cold within her she changed her mind, remembering Meridina's warnings. "One moment." Lucy swallowed and sucked in a breath to focus herself. She looked at the desk in front of her and extended her hand. The energy within her surged.

    It surged too strongly. She had been looking to pick it up. She couldn't get the focus right and, instead, the desk toppled over and slammed into the committee's long desk. "Lieutenant!", Davies barked at her at the clatter.

    Fully rattled by her failure to control what she'd done, Lucy swallowed. "Sorry sir, I'm... I'm still getting the hang of it."

    The Gersallian Councilman looked ready to say something, but he was in awe for the moment and could not interrupt as Hawthorne glared at Lucy. "Perhaps some more forethought should be taken with how you choose to demonstrate this... this power." He overcame however much the incident had rattled him fairly quickly. "And you used this to fight the Changeling?"

    "Yes sir. The control wasn't so much an issue then. I was just trying to knock it around."

    "I see." Hawthorne checked the materials in front of him. "Lieutenant, I would like to ask about some of your missions aboard Aurora over the past year. To start with, a few weeks ago you were assigned as pilot to the Rio Grande for an unspecified mission?"

    "It wasn't a mission," Lucy replied. "Commander Jarod asked for some leave time to assist old friends. He asked for a runabout and I was assigned as pilot."

    "I see. Then, if it wasn't a mission, can you explain why the records show a firearm discharge during this... excursion?" Hawthorne put his hands together.

    Lucy swallowed and took a breath. "We had a hostage situation. A kidnapper was holding a child hostage. Lieutenant Delgado, as in Angel Delgado, shot him with a stun setting after I disarmed him."

    "I see. Yet transporter logs also confirm that Lieutenant Delgado had beamed into what sensor logs show was a secured facility. And I will add that we know you returned several individuals from Earth A4P5 to New Liberty, which is clearly more than visiting old friends."

    "Sir?"

    "Lieutenant Lucero." Davies spoke up now. "Answer this question simply. Did you or did you not participate in an unauthorized extraction mission to an Earth that falls under the Contact Limitations regulations?"

    Lucy swallowed. "I wasn't aware that Earth A4P5 fell under that regulation, sir."

    "As your organization never officially revealed your existence to their governments and societies, it does," Davies pointed out. "So the answer is yes?"

    Lucy nodded. "I suppose it is."

    "And who authorized this excursion? Commander Jarod would have needed authority from a command officer."

    Lucy shook her head lightly. "I don't recall," she replied.

    "That answer is unacceptable, Lieutenant," Hawthorne said. "It was barely two weeks ago!"

    "I don't recall, sir," Lucy repeated.

    "Think carefully on this. You can be charged for perjury and obstruction of this Committee."

    "Then charge me," Lucy answered.

    Davies' nostrils flared at seeing her defiance. Hawthorne shook his head and checked his notes. As he did so, the Dorei senator leaned forward. "Lieutenant, according to these records, you accompanied Captain Dale when he boarded the Mayala three months ago."

    Lucy nodded. "Yes. We were on a covert mission to undermine Captain Potana's rampage in the Cardassian DMZ."

    "The same mission where your captain sabotaged one of the most advanced vessels of the Dorei fleet and allowed the Cardassian Empire to capture vital Dorei technology?", the Senator asked pointedly.

    "I wasn't told everything as I'm not an official senior officer," Lucy reminded them. "All I know for sure is that we blew the Mayala up after enabling the Cardassians to remotely disable her systems."

    "Who authorized this?", the senator demanded.

    "I am not aware."

    "Your claimed ignorance is becoming tiresome," Hawthorne said. "Now, we have some questions on the first contact with the Nazi German Reich at Krellan Nebula, and I suggest you answer them..."




    It had taken some time for Meridina to navigate the bureaucracy of her own Order, with an active Council meeting giving the clerks reason to deny or delay her request to speak to Ledosh. Finally he appeared on the screen. "Meridina. Are you well?"

    "I am. But I have much to discuss." Meridina took a calming breath, subduing her nervousness and energy at what she had to report. "Lucy Lucero's swevyra has fully manifested."

    "What?" Ledosh leaned forward. "Did you...?"

    "No," Meridina answered. "I have not shown her anything. She has called upon it herself. The first two occasions were minor usages, but she recently was forced to defend herself against a Changeling of S5T3. She called on her swevyra repeatedly and actively."

    "And has she shown any darkness?"

    "Briefly. At the end of her fight with the being, when her fear and anger swelled. But it has not taken hold of her."

    Ledosh let out a sigh. "Very good. It is well you have reported this. I will inform the Council. Have you taught her emotional focus?"

    "I have started. But I am also concerned. The leadership of the Alliance military has brought us before their Defense Committee, and it is clear that Defense Minister Hawthorne is one of those who oppose Robert and the others."

    Ledosh drew in a breath. "I see. I shall have words with Senator Kaam."

    "Mastrash, what of Lucilla's power? She needs training."

    "Do not commit to such yet," Ledosh warned. "Karesl and Goras would gain too much of an advantage. If Lucy is to be trained, the Council must approve it."

    "I understand." Meridina looked at the chronometer. "I should return to the others, I will be testifying soon."

    "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina. I will do what I can to assist."

    "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Mastrash," Meridina answered. Her finger tapped the comm button and ended the call.
     
  3. Threadmarks: 1-08-2
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    "Lieutenant Delgado." Hawthorne looked back briefly to the Dorei senator before returning his gaze to Angel. "Do you mind explaining to us the authorization Captain Dale cited in turning over critical technical data to the Cardassians?"

    "He was ordered to do everything short of giving them IU drives," Angel replied, keeping her patience low. But all she could think of was how these bastards had reduced her poor sister to tears.

    "By whom?"

    Angel looked past Hawthorne. "Admiral Maran."

    Hawthorne looked over his shoulder. "Admiral?"

    "President Morgan's orders were explicit," Maran replied. He looked over to the stunned Dorei delegate. "I also conferred with the President-General of the Dorei Federation, Princess Syrina, to make sure she understood the ramifications of Captain Potana's actions. She accepted the idea that we would have to provide the Cardassians with technical data on the Mayala."

    The Dorei senator nodded and put his hands together. "I see," he mumbled.

    Hawthorne frowned and turned back to her. "You went along with Commander Jarod on his unofficial excursion to his native Earth in defiance of regulations, did you not?"

    "I went to protect him," Angel replied. "There's a criminal organization that was looking to abduct him. They'd already kidnapped two people and we had to rescue them."

    "So you misused Alliance Stellar Navy resources in a private action that violated regulation?", Hawthorne answered.

    "And we saved five innocent people from a criminal organization," Angel shot back.

    Hawthorne and Davies glared at her from their seats, as did the Russian general to Davies' side. Hawthorne looked around and seemed irritated that some people had begun to smile or seem amused. "Reports say you brought six back," Hawthorne pointed out, as if happy to catch her in a lie.

    "Yes, we did. I said five innocent people. I didn't count Miss Parker." Angel folded her arms and sat back. "Is there anything else?"

    "The Committee does not appreciate your tone, Lieutenant," Hawthorne growled.

    "Actually, I find her entertaining," a Human Councilman stated from one wing, earning a glare from Hawthorne and Davies. Angel didn't recognize him or his accent. "Please, do continue with your interrogation, Minister."

    Hawthorne looked back to Angel and checked his datapad. "Lieutenant, several years ago, did you participate in an infiltration of the Saudi city of Dammam on your home Earth of H1E4?"

    Angel blinked and nodded slowly. "Yes, I did. We were helping Sarah Brindley get her daughters and son back."

    "Yes. It says here that the Saudi courts had awarded custody to the father, Fariq."

    "After he abducted them from US soil and took them to his home country, where his ex-wife had no standing to sue for custody," Angel retorted. "They even arrested her. The US government wouldn't help her, nobody would until we did."

    "Still, you violated Saudi territory, injured several Saudi citizens, and..." Hawthorne checked the report. "Apparently you personally, as a distraction, stepped out into the open street without a hijab and provoked the Saudi vice police into trying to arrest you, at which time you brutally beat them, causing two broken arms, four broken legs, and several severe injuries among a group of four."

    Angel at that point smirked. "What can I say? I don't appreciate assholes who treat women like scum and property."

    "You will watch your language, Lieutenant, or I'll have you on charges," Davies thundered.

    "Pardon me, Admiral, but what does this have to do with what happened during the LA33 operation?", Angel asked heatedly. "You're just digging stuff up that's not relevant."

    "We decide the relevance, Lieutenant, not you," Hawthorne said. "Now, there is another operation during your time running the Facility that I wish to bring up...."

    "Before you do, Minister, I have my own question." Davies leaned forward in his seat. "Lieutenant Delgado, please answer this: are you now in a personal relationship with your commanding officer?"

    Angel glowered. "As in a friend or..."

    "Don't be coy, Lieutenant." Davies put his hands together in front of him. "To be more exact, Lieutenant, are you in a sexual relationship with Captain Dale?"

    Angel simply stared at him for a moment before choosing to respond. "Who I sleep with is none of your damn business."

    "Oh, but I think it is," Hawthorne remarked. "It would explain why your sister was sent on a highly classified covert mission despite her history of disregarding orders and reckless endangerment of herself and others."

    "Robert sent Caterina on that mission because she is smart, smarter than the lot of you put together!", Angel shouted. "Who the hell do you think you are..." Even as she shouted, Davies demanded she stop, but she ignored him. "...to attack us like this, over and over?! We're out there tring to hold the line and protect the Alliance!"

    "Sergeant-at-Arms, escort Lieutenant Delgado to the brig," Hawthorne ordered. "You're going up on charges, Lieutenant."

    "Maybe someone should charge you," Angel said.

    Hawthorne and Davies looked ready to explode, and they nearly did so when they realized that the Councilman who had earlier supported her was chuckling. "Councilman Zoral, sir, I insist you refrain from undermining this proceeding or I will have you removed," Hawthorne demanded.

    "I call the Defense Minister to order," Senator Sriroj declared from her own seat, standing. Three other legislators stood with her. "It is not his place to remove a sitting member of this Committee. And to be blunt, this interrogation of a woman's private life is out of order as well, and she has every right to express that contempt."

    Hawthorne looked like he had been struck. "Senator, I must protest, you are undermining the Committee!"

    "You undermined it when you ventured into that line of questioning."

    "It is legitimate questioning," General Gulinev insisted. "Fraternization by a superior officer with his subordinate undermines the discipline of the service. Military personnel must sacrifice many things in the name of their duty."

    "Then maybe the military needs to change," Councilman Zoral mumbled audibly.

    "Minister, I will withdraw my motion if you strike from the record the entire exchange regarding Lieutenant Delgado's personal life and rescind your order for her jailing," Senator Sriroj said. "Otherwise I move for a vote to adjourn so that I can bring the issue of your conduct before the Senate Military Operations Committee. If I must, I shall seek your full censure."

    For a moment Angel felt like gloating as she saw Hawthorne grind his teeth in frustration. But despite her temper she held back, knowing it would make things worse. Hawthorne nodded finally. "Very well. All questions relating to Lieutenant Delgado's fraternization with her commander are stricken. Sergeant-at-Arms, belay my last order." Hawthorne directed his gaze at Angel. "Lieutenant, to return to your time in the Facility, I would like to ask about an operation in Syria several months after the Damman op..."




    Meridina returned to join the others as Angel walked out. "How did it go?", she asked.

    "They're throwing everything at us," Angel complained. "Hawthorne tried to arrest me because I wouldn't talk about my relationship with Robert. And he brought up Damman. Damman. And that time in Syria where I left those assholes hanging from the lamppost in their undies!"

    Robert looked at her in confusion. "We didn't even keep records back then, how did they know about it?"

    "Maybe someone wrote an unofficial one," Meridina proposed.

    "No." Julia shook her head. "That's not it at all." She looked down the chamber to a new arrival.

    A man with dark gray hair, well combed and dressed and with his beard equally trimmed had stepped in. His eyes, a light brown in shade, scanned the area and, as he looked at them, his face curled into a slight smile. He walked up to them and said, "Hello. I'm Lawrence Smith, United States National Security Agency." He offered a hand. "Congratulations, Mister Dale. Or Captain, I should say."

    Robert didn't accept the hand, since he was focused on the face. He'd seen it before. He could even remember the first time he'd seen it, the first time he'd met this man, in a very different Portland than the one they were near right now. "Agent Jones," he said, making the name sound like an accusation.

    Smith nodded and smiled. "My little alias, yes. Turns out I was an Agent Smith after all."

    "What are you doing here?", Julia asked.

    "It should be obvious. I've been asked to offer testimony," he answered. "And since the United States government of our little Earth is very concerned to keep good relations with the Allied Systems, the President was quick to agree to sending me. Excuse me."

    Smith walked past them and to the door, where the MPs allowed him in on seeing his paperwork. Julia sighed. "I guess that explains how they knew about Damman."

    "I need to speak to the President," Robert mumbled. "There's got to be a way for him to stop this witchhunt."

    "Lieutenant Nicholas Locarno!", the Sergeant-at-Arms called out.




    Locarno sat at the table and waited for Hawthorne to finish looking over his paperwork. The man Robert had called "Agent Jones" was sitting near the rear of the chamber now, watching quietly. "Lieutenant." Hawthorne put his hands together and looked toward Locarno. "Did you defy Captain Dale's first orders to violate Reich space?"

    "I did not immediately obey them," Locarno answered.

    "Because you knew they were against orders?"

    "Because I believed there was no justification yet," Locarno clarified. "It would have ruined the mission as well as nearly starting a war. I suggested probes be used to regain contact with Koenig and Captain Dale agreed."

    "Very well." Hawthorne shifted in his seat. "Lieutenant, I took a moment to look over your file before calling you in. True or false; were you given a dishonorable discharge from Starfleet?"

    Locarno frowned and leaned forward. "False."

    "Really?"

    "I was expelled from Starfleet Academy. As a result I was no longer a member of Starfleet. I was not given a discharge."

    "You are being semantical," Gulinev remarked dismissively.

    Hawthorne smirked. "Yes, I see the distinction in words, but in spirit? You were kicked out of Starfleet, Lieutenant, for what?"

    Locarno lowered his eyes. "I convinced the cadets in my flight squadron to train for a flying maneuver banned under regulations. We had an incident when training for it and one of them died."

    "And when the investigators came, you lied to them and encouraged your subordinates to lie?", Hawthorne asked.

    Locarno drew in a breath. Having this starched suit drag his dirty laundry out like this brought the memories of that failure roaring back. The pain was fresh again. "I did," he admitted.

    "What happened then?" This was from Sriroj.

    "One of my subordinate cadets, Cadet Crusher, decided he was going to tell the truth. Once he'd done so, I... I couldn't just continue to avoid responsibility. So I confessed to the inquiry."

    "So, you admitted your transgressions?", Maran asked.

    "I did."

    "And you were expelled for this?"

    "I was."

    Hawthorne cut in again. "And yet you were given a position of trust almost from the moment you met Captain Dale and his organization? Despite your past failures in judgement?"

    Locarno nodded. "I was. They were willing to give me a second chance."

    "Thank you, Lieutenant," Hawthorne said. "We need no more of your time."




    Robert sat in the cockpit of the Susquehanna, staring at the blank screen. Seeing "Jones" again had him thinking abou all the choices made in those days. What if they had taken that offer from "Jones" aka Smith and allowed the US government to move in on the Facility? Rescue ops might've stopped on their world, yes, but they could have continued elsewhere. And they might never have brough the Daleks in.

    And you might not have met Picard and rescued Scotty and Locarno and Farmer. You wouldn't have met Meridina. And who knows what nasty things the government might have asked us to do.

    The screen blipped and Robert watched one of President Morgan's aides step into view. "Miss Boronov?"

    "Captain Dale." Her Russian accent was not very thick but still discernable. "I'm afraid the President can't see you now."

    "Does he know it's important?", Robert asked.

    "He does. He also knows its important that his authority does not weigh in on the Committee proceedings. And that it can't be said you've spoken with him." There was sympathy on the woman's face. "I'm sorry, Captain. But you can't see him until this is over."

    Robert lowered his eyes. "I think we're losing this, Miss Boronev. Hawthorne is in league with Davies and the military heads are going along wih it. They're bringing up everything."

    "Yes. It is politics. It can't be helped. If you want to help yourself, Captain, cooperate with them fully. Do not let it be said you tried to evade the Committee. The rest will attend to itself." With that final remark Boronev terminated the call.




    Barnes was in with the Committee when Julia stepped up to Locarno, sitting by himself. "How did it go?"

    "They brought up my time in Starfleet," Locarno answered. He looked up at her. "It's not a time I like to remember."

    "I understand that." Julia sat beside him. "Everyone's got mistakes in their past."

    "Sometimes I think of Joshua. I got him killed. Then to protect myself I tried to ruin his memory." Locarno rubbed at his forehead. "Just one lie after another. And it didn't get me anywhere."

    "So you tell the truth." Julia shrugged. "And then they turn it against you."

    Locarno remained silent for a moment, going through his thoughts. "I almost said no."

    "Hrm?" Julia turned her head to face him.

    "Back when you offered me a place in the Facility. I was ready to say 'No, just take me back. You don't want me.'" Locarno seemed to be looking beyond her, into the past that was in his thoughts. "But I realized what you were offering me. It was a second chance to be something. I could redeem what I'd done to Josh."

    Julia smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I get that."

    The door opened and Barnes came out, frowning. "Lieutenant Commander Doctor Leonard Gillam," the Sergeant-at-Arms called.

    Leo stood up from where he was with Caterina and Angel and walked in.




    "Doctor, please explain for the benefit of this Committee your behavior during the mission to Abdis of R4A1," Hawthorne asked. "Specifically, your insistence on putting a woman through a dangerous procedure without proper facilities and without a full knowledge on the parasite within her."

    "We were short for time," Leo explained. "When she gave birth the creature inside was going to re-assert control. It had to be done there."

    "According to records, the woman nearly died," Hawthorne continued. "Doctor, I am no medical expert, but I can quote at least three surgeons who described your operation as reckless and inappropriate. One even told me you should have your license revoked."

    "It's the nature of the medical community that some will believe in excess caution," Leo replied. "Because I've received notices from a dozen surgeons who congratulated me on the operation. Doctor Andja Layl, who I shall point out is the most distinguished neuro-surgeon on Gersal, went as far as to publish a paper supporting me."

    The Gersallian Councilman nodded at that. Hawthorne scowled. "No further questions, Doctor."




    "Just to be clear, Commander Scott..." Hawthorne made a show of checking his paperwork. "You were once charged by Starfleet for sabotage of a starship and theft of one?"

    "Aye." Scotty had a bemused look on his face.

    "And what became of those proceedings?"

    "Th' charges were dropped, Minister Hawthorne," Scotty replied.

    Hawthorne had a bemused look on his face. "Can you tell us why, Commander Scott?"

    "We saved Earth, sir," Scotty replied. "Went back in time with that Klingon ship, picked up a couple o' whales, and got 'em tae talk tae th' alien probe."

    "Really." Hawthorne had a blank look on his face. A number of the others were clearly bewildered, although some of the legislators were clearly amused. "Tell me, Commander, was anyone punished for your crew's transgressions?"

    "Nae a single one of us, sir," Scotty declared.

    "Oh really?" Hawthorne smiled and looked at his records. "Because I see here that the Federation demoted your superior officer."

    "Oh, aye sir." Scotty grinned widely. "Captain Kirk was nae enjoying being an admiral. They demoted him back tae Captain an' gave him back th' Enterprise. He was happy as a clam, sir. Wasnae a punishment at all, 'twas a reward."

    Hawthorne had nothing to say to that. "You are dismissed, Mister Scott."

    Scotty stood and walked back toward the door. As he did so, the old engineer couldn't help but smirk.

    Behind him, Hawthorne called out, "Sergeant, please bring Lieutenant Commander Jarod."




    As Jarod stepped in to the committee chamber, Robert walked up to Zack. "Hey, Zack."

    Zack looked at him and nodded to Magda and Derbely, who walked off to join the other Koenig crew. "Yeah?"

    "Listen, I know you're upset about what happened."

    "Upset doesn't begin to cover it," Zack said. "You didn't trust me. You were so wrapped up in completing the mission and being the hero that you didn't trust me with anything that might make me call it off."

    "That's... that's not it," Robert insisted. "It was... dammit, I don't know how to explain this. I didn't know he was a Changeling, okay? And we thought Liton could be it. I had nothing in the way of proof that Draynal was an imposter."

    "But you knew enough to see that he could have been something!", Zack retorted. "If you'd just told me, I could've stopped him from coming aboard, or kept an eye on him. He sabotaged my damn ship under my nose because you didn't give me any warning!"

    Robert pursed his lip. "I know," he answered hoarsely. "My God, Zack, if I could change it I would, it was a mistake and I'm sorry."

    Zack remained quiet for a moment. "Rob, your crew lost how many people?"

    "Seven," Robert answered.

    "Did you know them?", Zack asked.

    "I'm afraid not."

    "Thought so." Zack shook his head. "I know the names of every member of my crew, Rob. Don't know their favorite sports or drinks or who is dating who, but I know their names. Including the people who died. I knew some who were married or had kids back home or just parents who loved them. And I had to write the letters."

    "Zack, I'm sorry..."

    "Sorry doesn't cut it anymore!" Zack's shout echoed through the antechamber. "Sorry is when you forgot to pick me up for the prom! Sorry's when you screwed up that catch in the division semi-finals! This is waaaay beyond Goddamn sorry! Nineteen people are dead because of your decision, Rob!"

    "What do you want, Zack?!", Robert hissed. His voice was full of tension as if he were ready to explode as well. "I made a mistake. And I can't take it back!"

    Zack bit into his lower lip for a moment. "I... I don't know," he finally said. "I want... I want to know you won't pick your missions over your friends. Because that's what this felt like. Like you were picking your precious mission over our safety."

    "Zack, it had to be done," Robert stressed. "We couldn't let Nazis of all people find Darglan technology."

    "Someone else could have done it," Zack pointed out. "Don't tell me it was impossible. Harder, yeah. But not impossible."

    "And if you're wrong, the Nazis could have found that site eventually," Robert pointed out.

    "Rob, don't dance around it. What's more important to you, your missions or your friends?"

    "My friends," Robert insisted.

    Zack nodded. "Alright. So this isn't going to happen again, is it?"

    Robert opened his mouth to agree but stopped. "Zack... I, I don't know."

    "Yeah, I figured." Zack shook his head. "What if it was Julia you were sending to die? Or Cat? Actually, it was Cat this time too, so I guess that question is answered."

    "Dammit Zack, you know what this job entails! We have duties and at any time I might have to give orders like that again!"

    "Yeah. The mission comes first, right?" Zack's expression turned pensive. "I love the Koenig."

    "Yeah." Robert smiled thinly and nodded. "I know."

    "But Rob... I honestly wonder if even my ship is worth this. You're talking about putting missions ahead of us, of your friends." Zack shook his head. "Maybe we should just go tell Hawthorne to take the ships then. Take them and boot us out of the Stellar Navy. We can go back to just being friends."

    Robert stared at him in shock. "You don't mean that, Zack."

    "Maybe, maybe not. It's a thought. And it's a damn powerful one, because I hate thinking that my best friend will send me to die," Zack said.

    "I didn't..."

    "But you might." Zack stepped back. "It's clear where we stand, Rob. I'm not going to talk about it anymore." He turned and started to walk away.

    "Whatever happens, you're still my friend, Zack," Robert insisted.

    Zack looked back. There were tears in his eyes. "Yeah, I know. And that's why it hurts so damn much." He continued walking on his way.




    "So, Commander Jarod, would you care to explain why you borrowed a Navy vessel for an unofficial mission to a planet under no-contact regulations?"

    Jarod had been ready for the question from Hawthorne before his testimony had begun. "Years ago, when I joined the Facility staff, they promised to help me with my family and the threat of the Centre. Commander Andreys followed up on that pledge."

    "A pledge made by a stateless organization that folded itself into the Alliance, an organization that is supposed to be bound by Alliance law and command authority," Hawthorne countered. "Do you have any defense against the fact that you misused Navy equipment?"

    "Yeah." Jarod crossed his arms. "I rescued a little girl from kidnappers that were going to murder her."

    Hawthorne didn't respond. "Tell me, Commander, what did you do before you were recruited by the Facility staff?"

    "I was on the run from operatives of the Centre," Jarod answered.

    "And that was it?"

    "I helped people where I could. The Centre had used me to create things that hurt people. I wanted to make it up."

    Hawthorne nodded. "And what kind of assistance did you get with this?"

    "Very little," Jarod pointed out. "I was on my own."

    "I see. SO you acted outside of the law," Hawthorne remarked. "You were a vigilante."

    "I suppose that's one way of putting it."

    "So it can be said that you have contempt for the law?"

    "I never said that," Jarod answered.

    "But you admit you were not a law abiding citizen," Hawthorne countered. "You acted outside of legal authority."

    "Only when I had to. I dealt with people who slipped through the system."

    "There's a reason the system exists, Commander," Councilman Zoral stated.

    "And it's a great comfort to the victims of the people who get away with their crimes," Jarod replied.

    "I believe that will be all, Commander Jarod. You have provided all the testimony I need." Hawthorne looked to the Sergeant-at-Arms. "Call in Lieutenant Commander Meridina."




    Meridina met the gaze of Councilman Palas, the Gersallian present, before taking her seat. Hawthorne checked records. "First off, Commander, I understand you possess psionic abilities?"

    "I am a farisa - a mindwalker that is," she confirmed. "And as a swevyra'se I am capable of other things."

    "I see. Well, I hope you understand if we have taken precautions." Hawthorne motioned to another figure, a Dorei man in simple garb. Meridina nodded to him and received one in reply. "Might I ask why you failed to detect the imposter on your vessel?"

    "I do not go about casually mind-walking my subordinates," Meridina answered politely.

    "I see. And there were no other warning signs?"

    "I knew there was something unsettling, but I had no proper evidence. And I was not sure whom I should focus my concerns on."

    "Yes, you arrested an Ensign Kyle Liton for hacking the ship's computers the morning of the LA33 operation." Hawthorne leaned forward in his seat. "Commander, according to testimony from Koenig personnel, you did not inform Commander Carrey of any concerns or suspicions over an imposter."

    "I was not sure what we were dealing with. It would have been irresponsible to make accusations or statements without further evidence."

    "Still, a simple warning to Commander Carrey to be concerned about Lieutenant Draynal could have prevented the incident from happening."

    Meridina shook her head. "Or the Changeling would have slipped aboard another way. Or he would have murdered Commander Carrey and replaced him instead. The future is made of many paths, to insist on one path's outcome is foolhardy."

    Hawthorne smirked. "I'm not here to debate Gersallian philosophy with you. Tell me, Commander, what is your precise relationship with the Aurora crew?"

    Meridina looked at him for a moment, contemplating the question more than the honest answers she had. The agenda of Minister Hawthorne was clearly greater than the issue at hand. "I am their security officer. And I provide advice for them where their own experience lacks."

    "Really? This includes showing them your... powers?"

    "If you refer to Lieutenant Lucero, I am merely assisting her in mastering the basics of control so she does not endanger herself and others," Meridina replied delicately, eying Councilman Palas as she did so. "Any of my order would do the same."

    "I see. Tell me, Commander, why you requested assignment to the Aurora?" Hawthorne held up a printout. "Because according to records, you accepted your commission for the explicit purpose of serving with the ship."

    "I believed I could do the most good with them," she answered. "I am not sure what your concern is, Minister?"

    "I will be asking the questions, ma'am," Hawthorne said bluntly, causing Palas to frown. "Commander, did any of your superiors in your... 'order' give you any command to join the Aurora?"

    Meridina stared at him blanky. "Sir?"

    "Did any of your fellow swevrassie..." Hawthorne's mispronunciation caused Palas to wince. "....give you an order to serve on the Aurora?"

    "No, sir," she answered truthfully.

    "Because I admit to great concern, Commander, at the influence you might have over this inexperienced crew," Hawthorne continued. "And whether you are prompting them to act in ways that follow your interests instead of those of the Alliance."

    "I swear to you on my soul and my swevyra that I am not. Like them, I believe in the cause of the new Alliance, and I wish to help defend it," Meridina insisted.

    Hawthorne glanced back to Davies, who shook his head. Meridina could sense his disbelief, his suspicion, and how it was infecting Hawthorne. Are they working together or is one working for the other? Meridina pondered at seeing this.

    "Commander." Palas stood. "What are you going to do about Lieutenant Lucero? My swevyra is not very strong in connections, but I could feel her power. She should be trained by your order."

    "I have informed Mastrash Ledosh, Councilman, I leave it to the Mastrashs of my order to make the decision on whether I should train her. To do otherwise would be inappropriate."

    "I hope they have the wisdom to say yes," Palas said.

    "Councilman Palas, I fail to see how these questions are in order," Admiral Davies remarked.

    Palas fixed a look on him. "In terms of the fitness of the Aurora crew, they are far more relevant than your rooting about for mistakes to throw at them," the Gersallian countered.

    This caused some mumbling among the Committee. Meridina sensed there was a growing tension, an obvious clash of interests and faction. "Does the Committee have any further questions?"

    "Actually, we do, Commander," Hawthorne stated. "We have serious questions about several operations by the Aurora since the New Year began, and we must have answers...."




    When Meridina left the committee chambers, she rejoined the others. "How did it go?", Julia asked.

    "I spoke truthfully and weathered the Minister's more hostile remarks." Meridina shook her head. "There is great tension and fear in that room. This is more than the mere whim of Admiral Davies."

    "I wish i knew what," Robert mumbled. "Who's next?"

    "They recessed," Meridina said. "They will resume in an hour."

    "It's going to be night-time before they're done." Robert looked out of the window, where the sun was getting lower in the sky. "We'd better get something to eat, I'm not facing Hawthorne and Davies down on an empty stomach."




    Being a military base as well as a structure, it was not surprising that Defense Command had a mess hall. It actually had several, ranging in size to the large food court maintained on the fifth floor of the central structure to small break rooms with replicators on every floor.

    Zack had decided on neither. He'd brought the Koenig officers with him to the tenth floor officers club. Meals were on high discount here and he wasn't interested in mess hall food or replicated food this time around.

    After some eating and a talk with the others, Zack went to the bar to sit alone and think. He eyed the fine drinks lined up and wondered just why so much booze was allowed in a place where the defense of the Alliance was crucial. His eyes passed a fine bottle of tequila and a type of bourbon he knew his father had loved.

    It was probably best that he had kept his soda filled.

    "You'd be surprised how much booze we flag officers go through."

    Zack heard the voice and turned to face Admiral Davies. The older man settled into the stool beside him. "If not for the committee meeting, I would recommend the spiced rum."

    Zack turned his head. "Can I help you, Admiral?", Zack asked.

    "I was going to ask you that, Commander," Davies replied. "I know we didn't get off to the best start on Harris Station, Commander. But I have to say that I was wrong. By the testimony of your officers and the logs from the Koenig, you performed admirably given the situation you were in."

    "Oh? Because from what I've heard, you've been dragging my friends through the mud."

    Davies shook his head. "Has to be done. There are forces at work that go beyond this botched operation." Davies put his hands together in front of him while leaning against the bar with his elbow. "Commander, you've got a lot of talent, I'll give you that. I've looked through your command decisions and I haven't found one thing you've done wrong as commander of the Koenig. You're the diamond in the rough here."

    "Oh yeah?" Zack sipped at his soda.

    "I think you have real potential to be a damn fine commander. I don't want to see that lost if you get dragged down with the rest of your friends."

    "You're that sure the Committee's going to rule against them?", Zack asked.

    Davies smirked. "I can't be certain, of course. But the testimony so far hasn't gone well for you and your comrades. And there are other factors at play."

    "More than the fact we might be at war with the Nazis soon?"

    "Yes and no. Because there's a pattern of behavior here that the people of the Alliance can see when it comes to Captain Dale and the others. And there are concerns about just why President Morgan granted them such high commissions and gave them the most advanced vessel in the Multiverse."

    "Probably because we don't have special loyalty to any one state or group in the Alliance," Zack pointed out.

    "A good answer. But that doesn't explain why the Aurora gets called in for operations like that mess with the Cardassians. Or this one. It's one thing to send them on survey missions or that trip to Adrana, another to put them on the frontlines of a fight with the Dominion."

    Zack took another drink. "'They' and 'them'. You don't count me with them?"

    "You clearly don't," Davies pointed out. "Which is good. Because this mess means that something's finally going to be done about it, and if you're with them, you'll get hit by it too. I'd hate to see that. I think you're fine where you are. Maybe even up for something more..."

    "Oh?"

    "If you turn out as good as I hope you will, I can see you being a Captain in a few years. Perhaps even Captain of the Aurora yourself."

    It was Zack's turn to smirk. "Ah."

    "The important thing is that you need space to grow. You won't get that by being strapped to Robert Dale and that little band. I can get you re-assigned, put you somewhere that will let you be your own man. And from there, who knows? You could end up in my position one day." Davies laughed. "Better booze."

    "Not too interested in that."

    "Maybe." Davies leaned in. "But I know a boozer when I see one. Maybe you haven't started yet, maybe you have, but I know that eye. I'd hate to see it get to you, because it's the other thing that can wreck your career, even more than being close to the Aurora's crew when they are brought down."

    "Don't." Zack tried to hide the fact that the words struck home; he had, after all, just pulled a Gerald Carrey-level bender, hadn't he? "My life's been hurt enough by booze."

    "Spoken like a boozer." Davies stood and clapped him on the shoulder. "Keep in mind what we've talked about. I'd hate to lose good talent like you because you remained too loyal to your friends."

    "One moment." Zack took another drink and looked up at him. "I might have problems with Rob right now, but the fact is that he and the others are still my friends. And I'm not going to forget what you've done to them. You and your friends even made Cat cry, and that honestly pisses me off."

    Davies shrugged. "Yeah, we were rough on her. But we had to be. There's no room in this crisis for sympathy."

    "Cat's a sweet girl, and she's brilliant," Zack continued. "She didn't deserve to get hammered."

    "Maybe not. But let's be honest here. Caterina Delgado is a brilliant young girl, but she shouldn't be in a uniform and you know it. And when you think of it that way..." Davies continued walking off, but made sure to finish by calling over his shoulder, "...then maybe Minister Hawthorne and I are doing her a favor."

    As he walked away, Zack finished his soda and peered back at the tequila. He could barely remember what it had been like to finally fall into insensibility, but it sounded better than being dreadfully sober and having to deal with his feelings.

    He'd just ranted at Robert for putting a mission ahead of friends. Now Davies was asking him to do even worse. To put his career ahead of his friends.

    The part that really made Zack long for the drink was that he wasn't sure he'd say no.
     
  4. Threadmarks: 1-08-3
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    The crew of the Aurora followed Julia and Robert back to the Committee antechamber. "Are you sure? It's been a long day, you could go back to the ship," Robert asked.

    "We're leaving together," Leo replied, speaking for everyone given the nods.

    Heads turned as the Koenig crew entered the antechamber as well, Zack in the lead. They walked up as a unit and stood with the Aurora crew. Zack looked at Robert and Julia and nodded. "Well, let's get this over with, huh?"

    "Yeah, that would be good," Robert agreed.

    Julia nodded in agreement and briefly met Zack's eyes. Zack forced himself to smile. This was not the place to show how he was feeling inside.

    The door opened. "Commander Zachary Carrey," the Sergeant-at-Arms called.




    Hawthorne wasted no time, going straight into the heart of the matter when he opened questioning. "Commander, were you ever informed of the suspicions regarding Lieutenant Draynal being an imposter or some form of security risk?"

    "I was not."

    "How much did you know about the security problems on the Aurora?"

    "I was informed about the breach of computer security and the spying software," Zack answered. "Commander Jarod and Lieutenant Navaez concurred that there was little risk on Koenig due to keeping its network separate, but we did a thorough search anyway. No problems with the database were found."

    "Yet your vessel suffered sabotage?"

    "Explosives were used to disable our cloaking device and warp drive," Zack explained. "And a malicious command was inserted into the communications system to lock out our subspace and interuniversal communications."

    "I see." Hawthorne nodded quietly.

    "Commander." Davies was now speaking. "What do you think of the decision to keep you ignorant of suspicions about Draynal?"

    Well, here it was. Zack knew this was the question Davies had set him up for with tthe conversation in the officer club. "I think it was a mistake," Zack answered honestly.

    "A negligent one?"

    "No." Zack saw the look on Davies' face. This was clearly not what he wanted to hear. "I think he just made a mistake. A small mix-up of priorities. But not negligence."

    Davies let out a sigh and shook his head. "You're certain?"

    "Yes. I think he was too worried about the Nazis getting their hands on Darglan data or technology. He thought it was more important to prevent than anything else." Zack swallowed. "To call it negligent or anything else is overthinking things. He just... he decided his priorities that way."

    "I see." Davies looked to Hawthorne.

    And here it comes, Zack thought.

    Hawthorne made a show of looking over reports. "Commander, when did you decide to fire on the Reich destroyer?"

    "After it shot at me, sir."

    "Did it occur to you to negotiate first?", Hawthorne asked.

    Zack blinked and stared at him for a moment. "Well, sir, I tried to talk, but they demanded I stand down and permit boarding. It was clear they were intending to seize my ship."

    "You could have scuttled the Koenig," Hawthorne pointed out. "Or destroyed your sensitive technology beyond all chance of recovery."

    "And then my crew would have been captured, sir," Zack pointed out. "Captured by Nazis, I'll add."

    The Alakin Senator raised a gloved hand. "Surely they are a civilized people and would have treated your crew appropriately."

    Zack turned his head slightly. Others were looking at the Alakin with extreme skepticism. "It's just as likely that they would have murdered most of my crew as 'inferior beings', Mister Senator."

    "Surely you exaggerate," the Alakin said, persisting.

    "He does not," General Gulinev growled, glaring across the circle. "They are monsters. And I do not blame Commander Carrey for keeping his crew out of their hands." His glare settled on Hawthorne.

    Hawthorne seemed to get the message. "Yes, an understandable concern," he conceded. "But the fact of the matter is, Commander, that you may have started an interstellar war. This Alliance has not existed for a year yet and you may have just forced it into a conflict."

    "I understand that, Minister, but I wasn't going to let my crew get taken by Nazis."

    For the non-Humans in the room, a surreal sense of discomfort came at seeing the instinctive reactions of every Human in the room to that word. Revulsion and disgust, anger and fear, like the word itself was the foulest curse one could say. The other Human Councilman across from Zoral, Pensley, brought up a hand. "Commander, couldn't you have just evaded until repairs could be made and you could flee?"

    "That would be putting my crew at risk, sir," Zack asked. "Not shooting back just means they're hurting you and not getting hurt back."

    "But you've caused us to be facing a war," Pensley replied. "Started on your own initiative? And how do we know this wasn't planned?"

    "Excuse me?" Zack blinked.

    "Before the formation of the Alliance, you were in an organization of stateless radicals," Pensley charged. "We've heard that in testimony and seen it in the records. You repeatedly invaded sovereign countries that didn't live up to your ideals. How do we know this wasn't some kind of conspiracy to force the Alliance into a war against the Reich to continue your radical...."

    "I call Councilman Pensley to order!" The Dorei Senator stood up. "These accusations are preposterous."

    Even Hawthorne seemed irritated at Pensley, but he was continuing. "....continue your radical agenda? Are you expecting me to believe that you and your cohorts prompted this incursion of sovereign Reich space and fired on Reich ships without it occurring to you that it could force us to destroy the Nazi Reich, if we even can?"

    "With all due respect, Mister Councilman, that is bunk."

    "Is it? That's all you have to say about it? That it's 'bunk'? Because it doesn't..."

    "Minister Hawthorne, please call him to order!", Senator Sriroj shouted.

    Before Hawthorne could, Zack jumped to his feet and slammed the table in front of him. "Twelve of my crew died!," Zack shouted. "They were good men and women and they left behind families that loved them and.... and how could you think for one damn moment I'd get them killed to start a GODDAMNED WAR?!"

    "You are out of order, Commander!", Hawthorne shouted in turn.

    "I'm just supposed to sit here and..."

    "In your seat, Commander, or I'll hold you in contempt!"

    Zack frowned and sat down, fuming.

    "Now Commander, I...." Hawthorne noticed Davies stir. "Yes Admiral?"

    "I believe Commander Carrey's testimony has been adequate for the Committee's purpose," Davies replied. "Do any disagree?"

    There were no nods, although not all outright agreed.

    "Very well." Hawthorne nodded. "You're relieved Commander. Sergeant, please summon Commander Andreys."




    Julia kept her spine straight and her face clear of emotion as she faced Defense Minister Hawthorne. "Did you ever consider informing Commander Carrey about Lieutenant Draynal?", Hawthorne asked.

    Julia shook her head. "I wasn't told he was a suspect. I didn't know until Lieutenant Commander Meridina revealed he was a Changeling."

    "Captain Dale kept this information from you, Commander? Despite being his First Officer and your responsibilities for the crew?"

    "He had his reasons, I'm sure," Julia answered. "You would have to ask him."

    Councilman Pensley spoke up. "Commander, I'm confused as to why this mission was proposed. We had no indications that the Reich even knew about that Darglan facility, correct?"

    "That is correct, sir."

    "Then why did your crew push this risky operation? You courted disaster and you succeeded," Pensley remarked. "You have brought us to the brink of war."

    Julia didn't show any irritation at the Councilman's words. "Sir, we didn't know either way if the Reich could find that facility. What we did know is that we only had a small window of opportunity to move in, or we'd never find out what it was and remove the threat it posed in Reich hands. If we hadn't moved in and if the Reich knew to find it, then the first inkling we would have that they had done so was when their ships started jumping into our other universes."

    "You don't know that would happen," Pensley insisted.

    "No. But do you really think we should take that chance, Councilman? Having Nazis of all groups, loose in the Multiverse? Doing God knows what?"

    Pensley frowned and nodded. "Point taken."

    Hawthorne waited for him to sit back before resuming. "Commander, you were in the field during the operation on Abdis R4A1, correct?"

    "Yes sir."

    "So you made initial contact with the United States of that universe through their space-faring contact team SG-1?"

    "I did."

    "You are aware that technically they would fall under Contact Limitations, correct?"

    Julia shook her head. "That is not how I read the regulation sir."

    Hawthorne blinked. "Really? You have your own interpretation of regulations?"

    "The regulation specifies a lack of interplanetary travel, sir," Julia remarked. "And no prior exposure to higher technology. But R4A1 Earth doesn't fit either. They have the Stargates. They've seen advanced technology. One of the members of SG-1 was not a baseline Human, he was a race called the Jaffa. Clearly Contact Limitation did not apply to them."

    "During that mission, you engaged in hostilities with an alien power of unknown strength," Hawthorne asked. "Didn't it occur to you that the Alliance may not be capable of facing such a threat?"

    Julia took a moment before she answered. "At the time, we were stuck on the planet. Even leaving would have revealed our presence to a hostile alien power."

    "So you just decided to commence hostilities?", Pensley asked pointedly.

    "We were trying to protect an innocent woman and her unborn child," Julia pointed out, a frown appearing on her face. "We were doing the right thing."

    "By dragging the Alliance into a conflict?"

    "The Goa'uld would attack us eventually anyway."

    "You can't possibly know that...!", Pensley began.

    "Councilman, please." Hawthorne smacked his gavel. "It's been a long day, and the Committee has more questions to address to Commander Andreys."

    Pensley frowned and backed down.

    "Commander, earlier this month you approved the use of the runabout Rio Grande to Commander Jarod. Did you know what he was going to do with it?"

    "I knew he was going to go to his home world and look into the people he cared about," Julia replied.

    "You are aware the Contact Limitations regulations extend to Earth of A4P5, correct?"

    "I was, but I did not think Jarod would initiate any kind of contact as defined by the regulations, sir," Julia explained. "Anything he did there was done without my knowledge, although I do not believe he did anything wrong."

    "Really?" This was from Davies.

    "He rescued three people from a criminal organization, Admiral," Julia pointed out. "And he did it without alerting the wider world to our existence. I don't see how that is a bad thing."

    "It shows a flagrant disrespect for regulations, Commander," Davies replied.

    "With all due respect, sir, regulations permit exceptions to save life," Julia countered. "By doing so he was upholding the spirit of the Alliance's most noble intentions."

    "We should have been consulted, Commander," Hawthorne existed.

    "I'll keep that in mind for next time, sir."

    "Are you being cheeky with me, Commander?"

    "No sir," Julia answered promptly.

    "I must say, Commander, I'm not impressed with your crew's behavior today. From where I sit, the Aurora has major discipline issues, and as First Officer that is your department," Hawthorne said. "This is a concern."

    "With all due respect, Minister, my people do their jobs. And they do them to the best of their ability. The things being questioned in this Committee are being brought up as character assassination."

    "Commander, I will not brook disrespect," Hawthorne warned.

    "I didn't intend to disrespect you, sir," Julia replied. "But I will defend the crew from these complaints. They are groundless. No, the operation at LA33 didn't go as planned. Yes, we've provoked the Nazis. It couldn't be avoided. We tipped our hand the moment Aurora arrived in the vicinity. The Nazis would have known something was there and they would have searched for it too. And they might have found it. And that risk was too high." She shook her head. "And I'm honestly scared to death we'll end up in a war, but we have to face the fact that a war might be inevitable. I was there when we made first contact. They hate us and they'll come after us sooner or later. The best thing to do now is to prepare for it instead of pointing fingers!"

    Hawthorne let her finish and took a moment to think. "Well-put, Commander," he conceded. "Before we go, I want to ask you some very sensitive questions."

    "I'm at your service, sir," was Julia's humble reply.

    "How much of a role does Lieutenant Commander Meridina play in the decisions of the Aurora crew?", he asked.

    Julia remained quiet for a moment. "She... well, not very much, I have to say."

    "Really?"

    "Yes. Her place is security and she sticks to that, sir."

    "So you and Captain Dale do not seek her counsel even on issues outside of ship security?"

    Julia shook her head. "No more than we do any of the others, sir. Sir, what's...?"

    Hawthorne seemed displeased, almost. "Did you allow a Mastrash of the Gersallian religious orders to tour the Aurora recently, Commander?"

    "Yes, it was requested."

    "Including sensitive areas of the ship?"

    "Some, I suppose. Captain Dale handled the actual inspection, I merely arranged the quarters for Mastrash Karesl."

    That seemed to get Councilman Palas' attention. "You had Mastrash Karesl on your vessel, Commander?"

    "Yes."

    "Why did you permit this, Commander?", Hawthorne asked. "The Gersallian orders have no authority to tour Alliance vessels."

    "He was a visiting dignitary, sir. I followed proper protocol."

    "I see." Hawthorne scribbled something down. "Last question. Who requested the tour?"

    "Meridina, sir," Julia answered, becoming more and more suspicious of what was going on.

    Hawthorne smiled. "I see. Well, thank you, Commander. You are dismissed."




    Robert had expected to be called back when Julia came out, but the Sergeant-at-Arms hadn't appeared with her. He remained seated while Julia walked up, everyone gathering around them. "How did it go?"

    "They're really interested in Meridina and the Gersallians," Julia remarked.

    "I believed so as well," Meridina said. "I am unsure as to what their concern is, however."

    Scotty nodded. "Aye. They dinnae know what they're lookin' for, so they're scroungin' fer anythin' they can find. Ah've seen it before."

    "You couldn't get ahold of the President, Rob?", Julia asked.

    "He refuses to talk to me," Robert said. "Whatever politics are going on, he thinks that being in contact with me would make things worse."

    "Davies was telling me there was more going on," Zack said. Seeing their looks, he added, "He approached me in the officer's club during the recess. He was trying to get me to side against the rest of you."

    "Did you?", Angel asked bluntly.

    "Angel, that's not fair," Caterina protested. "Zack wouldn't say something to hurt us."

    The look on Angel's face showed she wasn't so sure about that. Zack shook his head. "Whatever arguments I've been having with Rob, I'm not turning on anyone for that bastard. Especially not for someone who makes Cat cry."

    Caterina smiled softly at him. "Thanks."

    Robert walked away from them and looked out the window at the twilight sky. It would be dark within the hour. Julia stepped up beside him. "Are you ready for this?', she asked.

    "No," he admitted. "I get the feeling everything they've hammered you and the others with was to gather ammunition against me."

    "Well, from what the others said, Sriroj, Palas, and Zoral are on our side. And General Gulinev hates the Nazis enough that he might be sympathetic."

    "Or he might be pissed at me for working with them at the first contact," Robert pointed out. He looked down at the Columbia River. Even in an era of faster-than-light starships and matter transporters, ships still moved along the river below. A cargo barge sailed quietly below. Shuttles flew in all directions around Defense Command, the setting sun glinting off of their surfaces. "You ever think we took a wrong step, Julie?"

    "Oh?"

    "How did we go from helping people to running around in uniforms? I mean, this lifestyle, is it even something we wanted?"

    "Maybe not originally," Julia conceded. "But it feels good to know we're still making a difference."

    "Are we? I've probably started an interstellar war." Robert sighed. "Sometimes I wonder if we should have just stayed on New Liberty and made lives there. We could have left this to someone else."

    "I suppose we could have." Julia shook her head. "But then we wouldn't be, well, us. Whatever happens, Rob... this is what we are, this is what we want to be. We all believe in this new Alliance and we want to protect it."

    "Even if it means dying young?", Robert asked quietly. "Or if we have to send our friends to die?"

    Julia reached over and took his hand. "Rob, this is the life I want. I... I like being a part of this." She prompted him to turn and meet his eyes. "Maybe I'll get hurt by it. Maybe it'll kill me. But if I gave it up now, I'd regret it."

    "Yeah." Robert closed his eyes. "I..."

    The door to the committee chamber opened. "Captain Dale," the Sergeant called out. "The Committee is ready to see you now."

    "Well." Robert sucked in a breath. "Here we go..."

    "Go kick their asses, Rob," Julia said, smirking. "We're all rooting for you."




    Robert took his seat at the table facing the Committee and immediately noticed he wasn't alone in facing them. At a second table was Smith who gave him a blank look as he took his seat. "Captain Dale." Hawthorne checked over his notepad. "Captain, you were called before this committee to ascertain your actions regarding the Darglan facility found in System LA33, Universe S4W8. And going by the records and testimony we have seen today, I must say I am not impressed with your performance."

    Robert remained quiet as Hawthorne eyed him, apparently waiting for a protest. When none was offered he continued. "You commenced a highly sensitive mission despite a grievous breach of security on your vessel. You withheld vital information from your subordinates. And because of your actions, nineteen personnel are now dead and we are facing a potential war provoked by your actions. Before this committee rules on your actions, I would like to hear your defense of your actions."

    Robert nodded. "Well, sir, all I can say is that I made judgement calls. Scrubbing the mission at the stage we detected the security issues would have come too late to hide what was attempted from the Reich. They would have known we were up to something. They would have doubled their patrols and investigated the area themselves. They might have found the Darglan base there."

    "We have heard that defense already, Captain," Hawthorne remarked dismissively. "I find the supposition of it unconvincing. Still, this does not explain your failure to inform your subordinates at the suspicions regarding Lieutenant Draynal."

    "Are you saying I'm supposed to spread suspicions about other officers, sir? We didn't have any proof, nothing beyond Meridina's concerns that there was more to it. And despite her abilities, even she didn't know the truth of whether Draynal or Liton had done the deed." Robert shifted in his seat. "As far as I knew, we're not supposed to accuse a man of anything without proof of actual wrong-doing."

    "So you defend the fact you didn't warn Commander Carrey?"

    "No, I simply believe I have a viable explanation," Robert finished. "I know full well that I made mistakes. I should have told Commanders Andreys and Carrey. I accept full responsibility for that decision."

    "And what of the Reich?" Pensley stood. "Captain, do you expect me to believe this is all a coincidence? You and your crew are composed of radicals who have repeatedly conflicted with other states before. Now you have violated Reich territory and destroyed their ships. They're going to want blood."

    Robert frowned and nodded. "I know that, sir. If I could change my decisions I would have changed what I did about Draynal."

    "So you say. But what I wonder, Captain, is if this isn't what you wanted?"

    "Excuse me, sir?"

    Pensley frowned. "Your history ever since you gained access to the Darglan technology is that of a militant radical. You provoke other nations with little regard for the damage you cause. In the past half year you've provoked the Goa'uld, the Cardassians, the Dominion, and now the Nazis...."

    "That's ridiculous, I've...."

    "...in short, sir, it was a disaster the day you and your radical friends were given anything but a swift trip to a jail cell," Pensley declared. "Every bit of testimony today has served to reinforce this in my mind."

    Robert remained speechless with surprise at the intensity of Pensley's words. "Sir, I have not mindlessly provoked enemies as you claim, and these accusations are incredible."

    "You serve a radical agenda, Captain, and I am out to dismantle it," Pensley pledged.

    "Councilman..."

    Robert was interrupted by Hawthorne's gavel. "I think that will be quite enough, Councilman, Captain. The Chair still has questions." When Robert's head moved to face Hawthorne he checked his notes. "Captain, did it ever occur to you that taking the Aurora into Reich space would only make things worse?"

    "We'd confirmed Koenig was engaging," Robert replied. "The damage was done. I wasn't going to leave them behind."

    "Yes. I believe you invoked a similar reason for entering the Gamma Quadrant in January, defying orders to maintain position at Deep Space Nine. This caused thirty-eight deaths amongst your crew and the near loss of the Aurora to Jem'Hadar ambush." Hawthorne put his hands together. "You nearly lost your entire ship for one vessel. A vessel that is, in the grand scheme of things, not valuable enough to justify this cost."

    "On the contrary, sir, we needed every indication of Dominion capability we could get, and losing Koenig could have compromised the IU drive."

    "I'll remind the Committee that under Captain Dale and his crew, Aurora fought off a dozen attackers," Admiral Maran pointed out.

    "And I'll remind the Admiral that this was because Koenig and the USS Defiant arrived to assist," Davies retorted. "Without their arrival the Aurora would have been destroyed or captured by the Dominion."

    There was murmuring among the assembled at seeing the subordinate counter his superior. Hawthorne ignored it. "When assigned to the mission to chase down Captain Potala of the Mayala, you kept the Cardassians and the Federation ignorant of your plans, creating a situation where the Cardassians suspected you of duplicity and nearly started the conflict you were supposed to prevent."

    "If the Cardassians had known, my plans might have been compromised," Robert said.

    "Why did you choose such a high-risk solution, then?"

    "Because it seemed the best way to stop Potala with a minimal loss of life," he answered. "If we'd had to destroy Mayala, the entire crew would have been killed."

    "Why didn't you recover what was left of Mayala?" This was from the Dorei senator. "You allowed the Cardassians to recover the debris."

    "There was nothing in that debris that the technical schematics we provided wouldn't have told them," Robert pointed out.

    "And who authorized that? Who told you to compromise Dorei starbird design to a potential foe?", the Senator demanded.

    Robert looked to Maran, who nodded. "Admiral Maran and President Morgan."

    The Dorei Senator glared at Maran. "Under what justification?"

    "That we couldn't risk a war with the Cardassians. My orders were to provide any support insisted upon, short of providing them with IU drives," Robert answered.

    "And why did you rescue the terrorist captives liberated by Potala?", Pensley demanded.

    Robert felt an involuntary shudder. Thanks to Meridina he knew what those "terrorists" had endured in Cardassian custody. "The alternative would have been to blow them up. And since I'm not that confident in the Cardassian judiciary, I wasn't going to condemn them based solely on what the Cardassians claimed."

    Robert scanned his eyes briefly over the committee. He didn't have Meridina's senses, but he could see there was something going on given the looks being exchanged. He and the others were getting pulled into a larger issue.

    "Captain." Sriroj stood. "You initiated first contact with the Nazi German Reich, did you not?"

    "Yes," he answered. "During a search for the pirates responsible for attacking the colony on Grodni III. We encountered a Reich cruiser, the Reich's Glory, under Captain Joachim Lamper. With Captain Lamper's assistance we found the pirate base in the heart of the Krellan Nebula and destroyed it."

    "How many pirates did you take prisoner in this operation?", Hawthorne asked.

    "None. They were all killed and their ships destroyed. Their carrier vessel was successfully seized by Captain Lamper's boarding parties, so any surviving pirates ended up in his custody."

    "So for all we know, this was a Nazi operation," Gulinev grumbled. "They could have tricked you."

    "The thought crossed my mind," Robert admitted. "But if it was a Nazi op, Lamper didn't know about it. His behavior and actions were sincere."

    "You know this for a fact?"

    "It's my judgement, yes." Robert shook his head. "Minister Hawthorne, members of the Committee, everything that has happened was because I made a judgment call. It's what the job calls for. Thankfully I've usually been right. This time... well, I was probably wrong. I'm sorry. And the consequences are grave. If you want to punish me for that, fine. But it's just the nature of what we do. When we're out there, on the firing line, we have to make these calls. We're going to mess some of them up. All we can hope is that we're right more often than not."

    The Committee sat in silence for a moment. Robert stole a glance over at Smith.

    There was a smile on his face.

    Davies crossed his arms and nodded at Hawthorne. The Defense Minister turned back to Robert and a smug look came to his face. "Thank you, Captain Dale, for that enlightening little speech. But I'm afraid we can't simply accept 'it was a judgment call' with you. Not given your history. Mister Smith?"

    "Yes, Minister?" The NSA man stood.

    "For the pleasure of the Committee, please explain the circumstances in which you met Captain Dale."

    "I met him in federal holding in Portland," Smith replied. "He had just been arrested by FBI agents supported by the NSA."

    "Why?"

    "For one thing, he was wanted in the state of Kansas for the suspected murder or manslaughter of Patrick Duffy." Smith coughed. "However, my agency's interest was in Mister Dale's participation in several recorded raids into other nations, in which prisoners of varying types were forcefully removed."

    "Which nations were those?", Sriroj asked.

    "Kimmist North Korea. The People's Republic of China. Castroist Cuba. And a few other nations of similar stripe."

    "He forgot Burma," Robert said aloud. If he was going to be hanged for doing the right thing, he wanted full credit. "And I can't remember if it was before or after we met that we got several journalists out of Putinist Russia."

    "Wait." Pensley raised a hand. "What is this about murder? Admiral Maran, didn't you vette this man first? Putting a wanted criminal..."

    "President Morgan was fully briefed on what happened to Duffy," Maran replied. "And the investigation has since corroborated Captain Dale's claim of self-defense."

    "Has it?", Pensley asked, still openly suspicious.

    "It has, yes," Smith remarked.

    Robert resisted the temptation to look at Smith. He'd just missed what seemed to be an opportunity to dig the knife in.

    Pensley frowned and went to speak further, but he was waved off by Hawthorne. "Mister Smith, can you explain the consequences that Captain Dale's operations had for you at the time?"

    "It was a diplomatic fiasco," Smith remarked. "Multiple countries were convinced he was an American agent and we could do nothing to dispel this. He cost the United States significant pull in several nations and nearly provoked a diplomatic break with China."

    "In other words, he acted without any regard for the conflicts he caused."

    "Yes."

    "And he turned down the request of your government to take over operation of the Darglan Facility, even though it was on US soil?"

    "He did," Smith said.

    "Thank you, sir." Hawthorne looked to Robert. "Do you have anything to say about this, Captain?"

    "I was trying to help innocent people," Robert answered. "I wasn't thinking about consequences at the time because I believed they should not overshadow the needs of the people suffering. It was later that I realized our activities had further consequences we were responsible for, and I urged the Facility Council to account for those in what we chose to do."

    Hawthorne shook his head. "I think, Captain, that we have heard enough on this subject. Your record speaks for itself."

    And here comes the railroad. Robert raised a hand. "Minister Hawthorne, I'm...."

    "Before we adjourn, there is something else to ask," Davies said. "Captain, according to testimony, Commander Meridina was the only other person to have suspicions of Lieutenant Draynal."

    "Yes. She brought them to my attention," Robert replied, wondering where this was going.

    "And you chose not to reveal this to other officers?"

    "Commander Meridina and I decided it was safest to keep the information from being shared. We didn't know how far our systems had been compromised."

    Davies nodded. "Tell me, Captain, how often do you turn to Commander Meridina for advice in your decisions?"

    "When it's a security issue," Robert answered. "I'm afraid I don't understand this line of questioning."

    "I have concerns," Davies said. He ignored a look from Maran. "Commander Meridina is the only member of her religious order to be an Alliance officer. She has already been shown to abuse her position in your crew, such as giving Mastrash Karesl a tour without the approval of Command."

    "He was a dignitary," Robert answered. "His tour was in line with any other tour we would give to a visiting dignitary. What are you getting at sir? What's going on?"

    Pensley looked at Davies and then Robert. "We question, Captain, the chain of command you follow, and I know I'm beginning to wonder if it's being followed from Gersal instead of here."

    "That's preposterous," Robert retorted. "I take my orders from the President of the Alliance and the chain of command he laid out for me. Commander Meridina's advice is only at my request, and regards security."

    "And this issue of Lieutenant Lucero manifesting abilities like the Commander's? Did that just... happen, Captain? Because that seems to be more than a security issue."

    There was an edge to Davies' words. Robert almost responded to it, but held off not wanting to give him another opening. "I'm not sure. But it was probably a good thing." He wouldn't even let himself think about what happened when he'd tried to help Meridina when she was feeling the suffering of the Maquis prisoners. "I'm not sure what the Committee's concerns are when it comes to Meridina, but she's done nothing wrong."

    "So you say, Captain." Davies sighed. "It's clear to me, at least, that regardless of this issue you have major issues with your command."

    "Agreed," Hawthorne said. "You're dismissed, Captain. The Committee will deliver its judgement in the morning."




    When Robert stepped out of the committee room he felt spent. Everyone looked toward him and he shrugged. "I don't know what's going to happen," he admitted. "Hawthorne's definitely going along with Davies, but the rest... it could go either way."

    Julia spoke up first. "What's got me worried is how other officials will take it, or the governments inside the Alliance. I thought the whole point of the Aurora being in our command was because we have no tie to any of the Alliance systems?"

    "Apparently they already feel we're being co-opted by the Gersallian swevyra'se," Robert sighed. "Sorry, Meridina."

    Meridina was shaking her head with sadness. "It is I who should apologize. I asked for assignment with you. I did not anticipate such animosity."

    "They'll give a final decision in the morning." Robert motioned to the far door. "Given how late it's getting, I don't imagine there's any point in flying back to the Aurora tonight. I think they have spare officer quarters in the southwest tower."

    "Or we could always go get rooms in Portland or something," Caterina suggested. "It's an awesome city."

    "Awesomely weird," Angel said.

    "That's the fun part!"

    "No, it's probably for the best if we stay here," Julia pointed out. "I'll go find a personnel officer to arrange rooms."

    As they went to file out, Robert heard the sound of a throat clearing behind him. He turned and saw Smith had left the room as well. He had his briefcase again and carried it along. "Captain, it's... interesting to see you again."

    "Oh?" Robert tried to hide his bitterness. This man had threatened his cousin's liberty, his liberty, and in general looked completely untrustworthy. "I'm not sure I'd call it that."

    "Well, I haven't changed much," Smith remarked. "Save for giving up tobacco finally. On the other hand, you're a different man now."

    "Oh?"

    "Oh yes. You've learned quite a lot about responsibility since the last time we've seen each other." Smith set the briefcase down on the nearby bench. He turned his head and looked out at the lights of Command set against the dark night beyond. "Ironic to be in Portland again for this meeting. Always did like how crazy this city could be."

    "To be honest, sir, you don't strike me as that type," Robert remarked.

    Smith chuckled. "I suppose not. I have been careful about coming off as the stern man in government black, haven't I?" A small smile crossed his face. "Do they still have the Peter Iredale wreck? Or did it rust away finally?"

    "I'm told it was preserved." Robert crossed his arms. "So you came all of this way just to, what, help them bury us?"

    "As I said, young man, the United States is trying to stay on the good side of the United Alliance of Systems," Smith replied. "Don't blame me for that. Actually, you might want to blame yourself."

    "Oh really?"

    "Had you accepted my offer of patronage, we would have been involved with establishing this Alliance from the get go," Smith pointed out. "I would also point out that you would likely still have your Facility, since you would have never sent that nice young lady Miss Delgado out on a command mission she really wasn't qualified to perform. That's no slight against her, either. Caterina is a brilliant young lady. She's just not command material."

    Robert said nothing. Smith was, much to his frustration, pretty right about that. "Of course, we might not have been in place to rescue Carlton Farmer's family," Robert pointed out. "And we wouldn't have rescued Nick and Scotty either."

    "Maybe, maybe not." Smith shrugged. "Water under the bridge now. I have no intention of letting our rocky past interfere with the future. Regardless of our differences, I'm not too keen on seeing you stripped of your ship."

    Robert almost replied with sarcasm and disbelief, but he held back. He had to admit that Smith had been quick to confirm the death of Duffy was self-defense.

    "You're still one of us, after all," Smith continued. "You and your crew have quite the following back home. You haven't noticed it, maybe, given how busy you've been. Visiting for the funeral of Mister Carrey wasn't long enough."

    "If we've got a following, how did we avoid getting swamped by reporters?", Robert asked pointedly.

    "Good question," Smith agreed. "Maybe someone made sure that the media didn't put two and two together about Gerald Carrey's connection to Commander Carrey."

    Robert couldn't hide his skepticism. "Really?"

    "Maybe." Smith smirked. "I'd offer my hand, but I know you're not ready to shake it. I just want you to know that you've got friends back home who are watching out for you." He picked up his briefcase. "Good luck, Captain Dale, and many happy voyages to you and your crew."




    The bunks given to them were small quarters for junior officers visiting from their normal places of duty. Six officers per room with set of desks, a replicator and common dinner table, and a common bathroom. At the central table, Zack looked at all of his subordinate officers. "It's been a tough day," he said. "And since I didn't sell Rob down the river for Davies, I'm just as likely to end up on the cutting block."

    "I just can't believe that," Sherlily complained. "You've been a model commander for the Koenig."

    "If they kick you off the ship, I'm going back to Sol service," Apley announced. "We did our job and we did it right."

    "It's something political," Zack said, after which he sighed. "I'm lumped in with Rob now. And I don't regret it. I'm not going to sell a friend down the river even if I'm pissed at him."

    "It's why we like you, Commander," Doctor Opani said with a smile.

    "Thanks, Doc. Thank you all for standing with me. And if we make it out of this, well, I've had some thoughts, and I would like your input on them..."




    A few rooms over, Robert was trying to sleep. He could hear soft sobbing from across the room; Caterina, by the sound of it. The day had brought back a lot of painful memories for her... and for everyone, really.

    It was something to have all of those mistakes aired out like that. It made Robert realize how far they'd all come, how they'd matured and, perhaps, how far they had yet to go.

    Sighing from inability to sleep, he got up and went to the replicator to get a drink and a fruit bar for a late night snack. When he went to the table he looked back and saw Locarno getting something himself. "Everything alright, Nick?"

    "We won't know until tomorrow," Nick answered. Getting his own snack, an alien from from S5T3 that Robert didn't recognize, Locarno walked over and sat across from him. "It's gotten me to thinking about everything."

    "The past." Robert took a bite.

    "Exactly." Locarno sipped at his drink. "I've told you about Starfleet Academy, right? I remember explaining to the Facility Council at some point..."

    "It was a past life," Robert replied. "Don't let it get to you."

    "I can't just let it go." Locarno shook his head. "They trusted me. And I got Josh killed. All because I let my ego get ahead of my judgment."

    Robert nodded silently. "Is that what I did wrong, you think? Let my ego get ahead of my judgment?"

    "I don't know. Maybe."

    "Yeah. Maybe I just wanted to be the one to accomplish that mission. I didn't want to come back into base and abort the whole thing. Then someone else would've gone in. Maybe gotten it right, maybe not, but it wouldn't be my responsibility." Robert took another drink. "Maybe that's my problem?"

    "What?", Locarno asked.

    "Trying to take on too much responsibility. Wanting to do everything." Robert closed his eyes for a moment. "When I look back, I get this feeling that maybe... maybe it's that I was finally getting control of my life back after losing my family and having the farm about to be taken. The Facility gave me a purpose. It let me focus myself."

    "In Starfleet we're reminded that a good commander has to know when to delegate," Locarno pointed out. "Not that it's followed. Some captains had reputations for being control freaks. Others got reputations for delegating too much. Neither were supposed to end up going very far. Well, except maybe becoming an admiral."

    Robert smirked and chuckled at that. Locarno did the same. "Yeah, I guess."

    "If we walk away from this tomorrow, just keep that in mind," Locarno continued. "Trust us more. Don't be afraid to give us information, even if Meridina or Julia tell you not to. If you think it's the right call... sometimes you gotta make that call."

    "Words of wisdom, Nick." Robert finished last of the fruit bar. "So, it's midnight, and we'd better get back to laying awake in our bunks."

    "Speak for yourself, Captain." Locarno grinned. "I added sleep aids to my snack."

    "Clever," Robert laughed.




    The next morning everyone got up at roughly the same time. Julia took charge of making sure everyone got shower time in the three quarters granted to the combined crews and went last herself. Once in uniform nobody had the stomach for breakfast; with their fates being decided they went straight to the antechamber. And there.... they waited.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    As the day drew closer to noon with no call to come before the committee, grumbling stomachs finally got the better of everyone and lunch was sent for. Robert accepted a roast beef sandwich from Angel, who had insisted on making sure he got his food. "I thought Julia was supposed to be the mother hen?", he asked her while looking out the window. He gratefully bit into the offered lunch.

    "I can be comforting too, you know," Angel said with a sly grin. "I admit I'm not the doting girlfriend type, but I can't have you going in there on an empty stomach."

    "Let's just hope I keep this down, right?"

    "You really think they're going to find against us?", Angel asked.

    Robert shrugged and finished a bite. "I think Davies and Hawthorne are against us. So is Pensley. Gulinev, i can't begin to think about. And the rest are more scared about the possibility we're going to have an interstellar war than anything. Won't be hard for them to get into a 'blame someone mood'."

    "And that blame being thrown at us," Angel said in a bitter tone.

    "Yeah." Robert looked back at the door. "I just wish I knew what was going on. Is it really taking them this long to deliberate?"

    "They're politicians," Angel mumbled. "Who knows...."

    The door opened and the Sergeant-at-Arms emerged. "The Committee will see you all now," he announced.
     
  5. Threadmarks: 1-08 Ending
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    They lined up together at the tables, Robert in the middle and flanked by Julia and Zack. There was no division between Aurora and Koenig personnel; they were mixed together, presenting a united front to the Committee.

    As the line settled in Robert took the time to look them all over. The tension in the room was palpable. Everyone had worn and tired looks on their faces. Pensley was completely hostile and Hawthorne was almost glaring at Robert and the others as they stood ready to hear the Committee's judgment. Davies' expression was neutral. Robert didn't know what to make of that. "This Committee has reached a formal conclusion as to the operation concerning the Darglan database in System LA-33, Universe S4W8," Hawthorne announced. "Captain Robert Dale, we find that you acted broadly in line with your orders and the requirements of the situation, but we are entering a formal censure on your record for your failure to share critical security information with your subordinates."

    Robert nodded. He knew he could expect no less.

    "With the censure formally entered, we hereby grant leave for you and your crew to resume your posting aboard ASV Aurora and ASV Koenig," Hawthorne announced, with clear disappointment.

    At that point Robert realized he'd been holding his breath. He let it out in a gratified sigh while smiles and cheering came from around him. Julia turned and hugged him.

    The display of celebration clearly did not go well with Hawthorne or Davies. The former hammered away with his gavel. "I will have order in this chamber," Hawthorne insisted. "Captain, the Committee wishes to make it clear that we are going to be observing your actions very closely. We hope you recognize the second chance you are getting and act accordingly. Please do not give us cause to bring you before us again."

    "Yes, Minister," Robert answered gladly, trying to keep a relieved smile from his face.

    "You are all dismissed. The Committee is adjourned for the day." Hawthorne smacked the gavel one last time.

    Everyone held back until they got to the antechamber, at which point Barnes was the first to let out a whoop of joy. Zack clapped him on the back, laughing and smiling with everyone else. "Aye, I told ye we'd beat 'em," Scotty said to Robert happily.

    "Yes you did, Mister Scott." Robert clapped his hands together. "Alright everyone, let's get to the Susquehanna and head home."

    "I'll call head to Hargert and make preparations for a celebration," Julia volunteered.

    That brought more cheering as everyone began to leave. Robert noticed, out of the corner of his eye, Agent Smith walk by, briefcase still in hand. He nodded and winked.

    Something about that wink made Robert feel very nervous.

    A sound came from behind him, a guttural clearing of a throat. Robert turned at the exit and stood at attention as Admiral Davies walked up. Davies made him stand at attention for a second longer than usual before returning it. "At ease, Captain."

    "Admiral."

    Davies' nodded stiffly. "Well done. You're heading back out there. If only..."

    "If only what...?"

    Davies already seemed to be reconsidering what he was about to say. "Captain, you have no idea what this victory of yours has cost the Alliance. Frankly I don't know how much you know..."

    "Admiral." Robert shook his head. "You're not making sense."

    "Pray I don't start making sense," he replied. "Or you might just regret what happened today. Now go out there and do your job, and do it right. Don't screw up this second chance, Captain, because next time nothing's going to save you from a court-martial." Davies turned and walked away at a brisk pace.




    Everyone returned to the Aurora in time to settle in and get some work done. But this was just to pass the time for 1900 hours ship time. At that point, officers and crew entered the lounge at their leisure for the celebration dinner. Various drinks were served all around while Hargert made use of his unreplicated stocks for fine meals, borrowing from multiple cuisines to accommodate every taste, as evidenced by Caterina's squeal of joy at the "best Jello ever!"

    Zack sat at the bar, joining every toast, nursing a soda the entire time. "More soda, Commander?" He turned and saw Albert looking at him. "Just soda?"

    For one moment Zack thought about the bottles of tequila in his room and the thoughts in his head, of what he wanted to talk about tonight. He opened his mouth, preparing to ask for another bottle of tequila...

    "Just soda," is what he actually said.

    As Albert retrieved this soda Robert stepped up toward the front of the lounge and put his back to the windows looking out at spacedock. "Everyone, please!", he shouted.

    "Alright everyone, quiet down!" Julia clanged a spoon against her glass. "The Captain has something to say!"

    Quiet settled over the assembled. Dozens of faces looked at Robert, who took a drink of water first. "I know everyone wants to celebrate tonight over the Defense Committee's ruling, but there's something we can't forget." He glanced down at a PADD, but it was only a brief glance. "We all lost some comrades a few days ago. They died to stop a horrific threat from gaining the technology to threaten the Multiverse." He swallowed. "Crewman John DeSanto. Crewwoman Aisha Muniz. Crewwoman Beverly Grant. Crewman Mahmud el Fadil. Crewman 1st Class....." As he recited the name, eyes across the room closed and heads bowed as everyone paid homage to their fallen comrades.

    Robert had spent the entire day memorizing the names. Every member of the Koenig and Aurora crews killed either by the Changeling or in combat against the Nazi ships. He'd made himself memorize that list; he owed that much to the dead.

    The last name was not one who had died on the mission, but was nevertheless a comrade who had been slain. "Lieutenant Pagos Draynal." When he finished reciting the list, Robert lowered his eyes. "Lieutenant Draynal was a victim of the same menace that cost us other comrades earlier this year. It's hard to think that we spent months with his murderer walking amongst us like it belonged here. All while it had the blood of our shipmate on its hands. I hope his spirit has settled, knowing that we have defeated the monster who took his life and then stole his identity." He swallowed. "As for our other comrades. They died for the cause they believed in. And they died because I made the decision to send them into danger. It's possible they died because I did not share information I should have shared. I allowed myself to get distracted by the mission and didn't think things through, and for that I humbly ask for your forgiveness. I made a mistake. The Committee has censured me for that mistake, and they were right to. I will make sure to never make such a horrible mistake again, no matter what it means for our mission. You deserve the truth from me."

    Robert scanned the audience. Some nodded in understanding. Others appeared to be less forgiving, but were not being openly upset. He knew he would have to rebuild their trust in him. "All I can ask of you is that we all, together, not allow our past mistakes to get in the way of what the future holds. We face the possibility of war with the Third Reich. And we have to count on each other if we end up in that war." He nodded to Julia, who picked up a glass of wine Hargert had quietly poured amongst others. Robert held the glass up, causing others in the crowd to do the same. "To us, the crews of the Aurora and Koenig. And to our future!"

    "To the future!", was the common reply. Glasses of wine (and one glass of juice, in the hands of Caterina) emptied together.

    "And now back to the celebration," Robert said. "I don't want to make Hargert stay here all night cleaning up leftovers." At that, there was laughter.

    Zack was one of those laughing. He'd already nibbled on a plate, but he wanted to keep his stomach empty for what he was about to do. He got up from the bar and weaved into the crowd. Julia was with Apley and Magda, chatting with them about the Koenig's systems. "...glad to hear you got that sorted out, the inertial dampeners always gave me fits," Julia was saying when Zack made eye contact with her.

    "Hello sir," Apley said. "Come to join us? Commander Andreys was telling us how good a pilot you are."

    "Best man to ever fly Koenig," Julia declared.

    Zack smiled and nodded. "Well, Ap here is giving me a run for my money these days." He kept his eyes on her.

    Seeing the look Zack was giving, Julia smiled to the others and excused herself. They walked into a corner of the lounge and found one of the remaining tables. "I guess it's time we had a talk again?", Julia asked.

    "While I'm sober, yeah," Zack answered. "I'm sorry for putting you on the spot like that. You deserve more."

    "It's okay." Julia lowered her eyes. "I never realized, Zack. I mean, I always saw you as just hitting on me because, well, you're Zack Carrey and I'm an attractive woman."

    "Not just attractive. Beautiful. Beyond beautiful. Aphrodite is jealous," Zack insisted.

    "Flatterer," Julia replied with a smirk. "I just want to know... how much of that was the tequila?"

    "None of it." Zack shook his head. "I meant every word. The only thing the booze did was loosen my tongue. I couldn't hold it anymore."

    "I see." Julia breathed in and leaned forward on the table, putting her hands together. "I don't know what you want me to say, Zack."

    "Well, in my dreams, you'd admit you loved me too and we'd talk about our wonderful future," Zack half-joked, since a part of him really wanted that to be the outcome. "But I know that's not your answer."

    "Yeah," Julia admitted. "I.... you're a friend, the best. But not that way. I'm sorry."

    "And it can never be that way," Zack remarked.

    "I...." Julia sighed. "I don't see how, no. I just don't see it."

    Zack nodded even as his heartache grew suffocating. "Yeah. Kinda figured that. Well, thanks for being honest, Julie."

    "What are you going to do, Zack?", Julia asked. "I'm not the only woman out there."

    "You're the one I'd give anything for," he answered. "Anything. But that's me, and I'll just live with it. Don't know what'll happen, but I'll get to it when it comes along." Zack stood up. "I've got some paperwork to catch up on. I'll be by tomorrow with a final draft of my AAR and signed requisitions for the repairs, okay?"

    "Yeah, okay," Julia said quietly.

    Zack nodded and walked away.

    For a moment Julia just looked at her glass. When she looked up, she saw Robert and Angel standing together. Robert's arm was crooked around Angel's back and her arm was intertwined with it. They drank from each other's glasses and stole a little kiss in the process.

    A part of Julia ached. It almost felt like betrayal even if it was nothing of the sort. Except... it was, wasn't it? Her mind flashed back to the two of them, battered and bruised and so very alive, beside the collapsed mound on his family property and invigorated by their escape from the Darglan Facility before it blew up. She remembered the enraged Dalek that chased them, the final words with poor Control as he helped them escape the Facility he was bound to, and that tumble as the mound fell out from under them.

    She remembered Robert's playful grimace as she hugged his broken ribs.

    And the kiss. Not just any kiss. One she had unknowingly longed for her whole life and which, at that moment, she gave to him without reservation, without any restraint. The sense of him returning it with equal passion to her own... at that moment, it had truly felt like the world had strangely righted itself.

    But that was then. Now... now he was back with Angel. Again. And she was alone.

    "Maybe Zack's not the only one who needs to move on," she murmured to herself as she wiped the tear that came from her right eye.




    Zack stepped into his quarters and walked up to the table where the two bottles of tequila remained. He picked up the one Albert had given him and took a shotglass. All the while, his heart continued to twist feel like it was going to fall out. For all that he had expected confirmation of what he knew to be true... it still hurt to have that door slammed close on him.

    Still, Clara Davis had been right. It was something he had to know. He knew it now. He hated it. It hurt. But the uncertainty was gone.

    He tipped the bottle enough to put a little tequila in the shot glass. He picked it up and brought it up to gulp... and at the last moment held back. He looked at the glass and the liquor that was within it. Is this really what I want to be? Get hurt and crawl into the bottle?

    No! NO! I am better than this!


    He angrily threw the glass and watched it shatter against the wall, spilling its contents out. He picked up the tequila bottles, one in each hand, and went straight to the bathroom where he poured them into the drain. "I'm not becoming this," he muttered as he did. "This was your demon, Dad, not mine. No, not going to do this." Tears began to flow from his eyes as the final contents of one of the bottles gurgled out. "I don't care how much it hurts." Once the bottles were empty he put one in the replicator to be reclaimed and kept the one his dad had given him. He put it up on the shelf. "I'm not you, Dad. I'm going to face my pain. I'm going to deal with it," he swore. "I'm going to... deal... with it..."

    Zack couldn't hold it back anymore. "It's not fair," he sobbed. "Why can't it be me? Why can't she love me? It's not fair! It's... not...."

    He knew he had paperwork to do. But he couldn't help it. He collapsed into the couch and began crying.




    Robert was in his office the next morning going over the repair orders when Zack entered carrying a note tablet. "Hey, got that paperwork for Julie?", Robert asked him.

    "Yeah," Zack said. "But I've got this for you, Rob."

    "Oh?" Robert took the tablet. His eyes scanned it. As he read the words, his mind began to rebel over what he was seeing. He looked up. "Zack.... what... why?"

    "Davies is an asshole and I was never going to side with him against you, but he said something that I'm agreeing with. I need space to grow, Robert."

    "This..." Robert shook his head. "Why? I'm sorry about the Draynal thing, but I don't see why..."

    "I need space, Rob." Zack sat down across from him. "I need... breathing room. A chance to grow on my own. To stop following you and the others around like a lost puppy."

    "Zack, you're not..."

    "Hold on, let me finish," Zack insisted. "I've been adrift for years, Rob. Everyone knows that. And if this incident's taught me anything, it's that I need to be my own man. I need to get out on my own. The Koenig is the only thing I have going for me right now."

    "And what about your crew?", Robert asked. "Are they okay with this?"

    "I asked the others a couple of nights ago and they agreed." Zack smiled a little. "They're looking forward to some extended operations."

    Robert sighed and put the tablet down on his table. "Zack, I... are you really that sure of this."

    "As sure as anything in my life," Zack vowed.

    "It's possibly you'll never be re-assigned to us," Robert pointed out. "If I process this and...."

    "I understand. But please, do it. Don't make me beg or go to Maran or anything. Trust me."

    Robert looked back at the tablet and drew in another sigh. "Finish one more mission with me, and I'll do it," he finally said. "Just one, because I'll need the extra ship and it'll take too long to get another assigned that can fit in our bay."

    Zack pursed his lips. "Yeah, one mission. Sure. But we're already getting one?"

    "Later today. Admiral Maran's coming aboard. Apparently it's something that came up after we went off to LA33." Robert put the tablet into his desk drawer. "We're due to see him in the main wardroom in four hours. Bring your staff."

    Zack nodded. "Sure, I'll do that."




    Tag



    Meridina returned to her quarters for the first time in days. She had an hour to get ready for Admiral Maran which granted plenty of time for her to do what she needed. There was paperwork, of course, but more important than that...

    After several button presses at her main computer system in her quarters, Meridina was treated to the image of Mastrash Ledosh appearing on her screen. "Mastrash," she said politely. "You have heard the good news?"

    "I have. It is good to know the Committee showed wisdom," Ledosh answered.

    "Yes. I am afraid my presence made things worse. There are those who believe our order is wielding influence over this ship and the Alliance."

    "There are always those who fear things they don't understand. We will show caution and patience with them. But I'm sure you called over another matter." Ledosh nodded and smiled. "It took me some time with the Council, but they have agreed to accept Lucy Lucero's training by you."

    Meridina smiled. "Excellent news."

    "Just be careful, Meridina."

    "I will be, Mastrash. Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

    "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina."




    Everyone was assembled when Admiral Maran entered. "Hello everyone," he said, smiling slightly. "I'm glad you're still here. I think this is a mission that requires your expertise."

    "What is it, Admiral?," Julia asked.

    Maran pulled out a data slip and put it into the wardroom's main display slot. A starmap with the label of N2S7 appeared. The extent of Dorei and Gersallian space was visible on the edge of the map. "Years ago, when Meridina first visited the Facility, the Facility's data systems provided her with astrographic coordinates that listed the location of a 'prize' that the Darglan left for the Gersallians."

    "Oh, yeah, I remember that!", Caterina said, eagerness in her voice. "It was this system with a blue star. It was months away from the frontier."

    "Admiral, have you actually sent expeditions that far?", Meridina inquired.

    "Unmanned long range probes only," Maran answered. "And we have quietly re-directed colonization efforts in this direction with the help of the probe findings."

    "We could make it in a few months at maximum warp," Locarno said, noticing the edge of the map. "Although it would put us pretty far from support."

    "What kind of mission are you looking for, Admiral?", Julia asked. "Exploration or...?"

    "Well, we would like you to scan systems en route to the area," Maran said. "But no. Rather, we believe we have a first contact mission in store for you."

    Everyone looked at each other. "A first contact mission, ye say?" Scotty grinned. "Aye, havnae had one of those for a while."

    "I'm aware of that, Commander Scott. But we believe you are well-suited for this given your prior experience with first contacts. Such as our own." Maran smiled and nodded.

    "So the probes have found evidence of a race out that far?", Robert asked.

    "Yes," Maran answered. "Long range probes identified ships moving though these star systems." He put his finger to an area. "At least two distinct kinds. We don't know what the difference is so hopefully you'll find out."

    "Hrm, two weeks at cruise warp, Mister Locarno?", Julia asked.

    "At least twelve days," Locarno confirmed.

    "Aye, some good practice fer my engineers tae learn endurance runnin'," Scotty said. "A chance tae stretch th' lass's legs a bit."

    "Admiral, do we know anything about them? Any intercepted radio communications?", Angel asked.

    "One probe did pick up an old transmission at sublight," Maran confirmed. "At least a month old by the time the probe flew past." Maran reached over to the controls and hit a key. "It's military of some sort so it was encrypted. And the signal seems to have degraded at the range the probe picked it up."

    "And untranslated," Julia said. "So I'm not sure..."

    "Actually, Commander, no," Maran said. "It didn't need translation. It's in our language databanks."

    "Which language?", Meridina asked.

    Maran had a bemused look on his face. "By our systems.... Human English."

    Everyone stared in silence.

    "Here's what our computers managed to decrypt so far." Maran hit another key to bring up the prompted area.

    "...sweep is clear?" It was a male voice, although the accent wasn't easy to tell due to the static in the line.

    "....no.....clear.... land, Galactica Actual?"

    "This... Galactica..... landing...."

    Maran switched off the recording at that point.

    "Galactica?," Jarod asked.

    "Long range sensor probes confirm that this ship is part of the fleet moving through that area," Maran said. "To find actual Humans out that far, Humans who may be indigenous to our universe, is extraordinary for my people and the Dorei. President-General Princess Syrina and Director Anjila requested President Morgan send an expedition to make contact. We want it to be you."

    "Humans from N2S7?! This is awesome," Caterina squealed. "This is beyond awesome! The idea that there are Human colonies out that far...!"

    Robert nodded. "We're glad to take the mission, Admiral. We're due to leave spacedock tomorrow. And we can finish Koenig's repairs on the way."

    "Good to see you're in high spirits over this mission," Maran stated. "I'll inform the President immediately. Just remember, we don't know what these people are like or what the other force in the area is like. Be careful out there."

    After Maran stepped out, Robert stood up. "Okay everyone, we're due to leave tomorrow and we're going to be out of port for over a month, so make sure you've got everything stocked that you need stocked. Let's get to it!"

    They all filed out of the wardroom.
     
  6. Threadmarks: 1-09 Opening
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Teaser



    Ship's Log: 1 June 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We have arrived in the target area to begin our search for the Human vessel called "Galactica". I'm pleased to report that the Koenig has completed repairs and will be joining us and the runabouts in a search pattern.

    In the weeks we've spent coming out this far, I've been wondering just what kind of people we'll find out here. With the Earth of this universe a radioactive ruin we know they are the descendants of survivors of some kind, but we know nothing about their culture or society except that they still speak English. We have to be ready for anything.

    Robert sat alone in the crew lounge with a plate of replicated hash browns and sausage with an apple. He sipped at the orange juice and took another bite while reading over one of the most recent examinations of N2S7's wrecked Earth. Earth had been a ruin for millennia according to this, with nearly three thousand years being the estimate for the atomics that ruined the world. The early space-faring Gersallians even detected the atomic detonations.

    "Hey, reading anything interesting?"

    Rob looked up and watched Tom Barnes sit across from him, a bowl of cereal and some mashed Gersallian breakfast fruit. "Hey Tom. Looking for another day of work?"

    "Tell me about it. Thirteen days at Warp 9.2? Every system is getting regularly checked over."

    "I've noticed the reports," Robert remarked, still staring at his notepad. "Scotty's keeping you working?"

    "Obviously," Barnes remarked. He shoveled some cereal into his mouth and gulped it down almost without chewing. "This is the longest we've ever run the warp engines continuously. We've had a few issues with it. Looks like the Aurora wasn't the marathon runner we hoped she was."

    "We've never had to run the warp drives this long before." Robert tapped the notepad to shut it down and focused on his breakfast.

    "Well, man, it's always nice to get where we need to go fast, right?" Barnes chuckled and dug his spoon into his cereal again. "We'll probably need a full yard overhaul to get all the kinks out, though." He looked up and saw Robert staring into the notepad. "Hey, this is Defense Command to Captain Dale, anyone home?"

    "Huh? Oh." Robert moved the notepad away. "I'm just reading up on N2S7's Earth."

    "You mean the one that was blasted to atomic rubble thousands of years ago?", Barnes asked bluntly.

    "Yeah. I'm just wondering what these Humans will be like. I mean, they still speak English, but who knows how different they are?"

    "We'll find out soon enough with Cat on sensors," Barnes remarked. "I think she's been bouncing non-stop the last two weeks."

    "We're in a barely-charted reach of space, of course she is."

    "Heh." Barnes took a bite of cereal. "So you're just letting Zack go? Just like that?"

    Robert set down the fork-full of hash browns. "Not my choice," he finally said.

    "Really? C'mon man, have you even tried talking him into not going?"

    "I have. It didn't work." Robert sighed. "Zack's committed to going out on his own."

    "And you're just going to let him do it?", Barnes asked, unable to hide the accusation in his tone.

    Robert thumped his cup down on the table. "What do you want me to do, Tom? If I tell him no he's just going to send the request up the ladder! And then I won't be able to make sure he's at least getting an assignment he'll do well at!"

    "Can't you get Maran to block it too?"

    "I'm not sure. Not over something like this. Just because I might want something doesn't mean Maran or President Morgan will give it to me. I'm the subordinate, after all." Robert sipped at the juice. "If you want to talk him into staying, fine. Go ahead and try. But so long as his request stands, I have to let him go."

    Barnes grumbled inaudibly. "I just don't want him ending up under some asshole who gets him killed."

    "Nor do I," Robert remarked. "But it's his choice." Robert looked down at his multidevice. "I don't want to fight about this, Tom. I've done all I can and it's not enough. Now we'd better get breakfast wrapped up, staff meeting's in an hour."

    "Yeah yeah..." Barnes sullenly went back to work on his cereal.




    Julia was taking her breakfast in her small office, going over personnel reports in the meantime. She looked up at hearing the door chime go off. "Come in."

    Zack stepped in holding a notepad. He set the tablet device down on her table. "I finished the personnel list. The replacements I've gotten from the Aurora are getting their bunks today, Apley will see to it."

    "That's good," she answered, smiling thinly. "I'm glad we got your crew back up to full strength."

    "I wish we had more time to train them," Zack remarked. "But my people will get them up to speed no matter what."

    "I'm sure of that. You've got a good crew." Julia's thoughts briefly went to her command of the ship a couple of months before, when Zack was stuck to the machine on Adrana and she had to command the Koenig to investigate a raid on an Alliance colony. "So..." She put her hands together on the desk. "Is it me?"

    Zack didn't have to ask what she meant. He figured this conversation was coming the moment he'd made his decision. "No, I'm not leaving because of you," he said. It wasn't a lie but, of course, it wasn't entirely the truth either. "I lived for years knowing you didn't share my feelings. The only thing that's changed is that you know what I feel."

    That made Julia swallow. "Yeah. Listen, Zack... I..."

    "You don't have to say anything else," he insisted. "Honestly, Julie, I think Davies was right about one thing. I need the space. I've been following you guys around ever since my baseball career tanked and I've got to move on my own. It's not because of you or Rob or anyone, it's just that..." Zack stopped and struggled for the right wording. "...I need this, Julie. I need to get on my own for a while."

    "It might not just be for a while, Zack," Julia pointed out. "You might never get re-assigned to the Aurora."

    "Then I don't, but I'd rather try."

    Julia saw she wasn't going to convince him and took in a breath. She felt like this was her doing, that he was doing this to get away from her in particular because she had... what, been honest with him about her feelings? Yes, that was it, and it was just a bad situation all around. She couldn't blame him for it, but she couldn't blame herself either.

    "Then... just take care of yourself, okay?", she said, giving in.

    He smiled and nodded. "You know I will."

    As he left, the second thought in her head was And stay away from the tequila. She looked to the time and went back to work, knowing the meeting was just half an hour away.

    Undiscovered Frontier
    "The Human Condition, Part 1"


    The command crews of the Aurora and Apley were assembled in the Conference Room at the right time. Robert nodded to Jarod, who opened the meeting. "We've reached the general area that the long-range probes indicated for Galactica's course through this region of space," he said to everyone. "We already have long-range sensors actively scanning for any trace of them."

    "It's goin' tae be like lookin' for a micro-fracture in a warp assembly," Scotty muttered. "I cannae give ye any better on th' sensors, sir."

    "I'm more concerned about our warp drive status, Mister Scott," Julia said.

    "Ye dinnae need tae worry about a thing, lass. We've had a few wee issues from th' constant run, but that's just givin' her more breakin' in. A little yard work when we get back tae dock an' me bairns will be better than ever."

    "To get back to the search, Mister Scott's right about how hard it is," Locarno said. "The search pattern could take weeks to fully cover everything on their projected course."

    "Which is why we're setting up the net. Koenig and some of the runabouts will launch and take up part of our search patterns." Robert looked to one side of the long table. "Jarod, will we have any issues with maintaining a real-time sensor connection between the ships?"

    "There will be some time delay at longer ranges, especially for data coming from the runabouts," Jarod answered. "We can get around that by dropping signal boosters at regular intervals."

    "A good thing we stocked up on those," Zack said.

    "Which runabouts will we keep in reserve?", Julia asked. "Are we really going to commit all of them?"

    "The more we have, the better the net," Jarod pointed out.

    "Exactly my thought," Robert said. "Put them all out. Six man crews. Even the St. Johns."

    Julia nodded. "Scraping together the crews is going to mess with department scheduling, I'll make sure the department heads know what's going on."

    "Jarod, make sure Lucy's ready, she'll be in command of the runabouts from the Rio Grande."

    Meridina looked up. "Captain, I would request that I join her on the Rio Grande."

    "Is this about that training?"

    "Yes. She is still very early in it, she will need my presence," Meridina answered.

    Robert gave Julia a look. Julia shrugged lightly, as if to say 'You're the boss'. "Alright. Commander Kane, I'd like you to coordinate with Meridina's assistants on ship security."

    "Of course, sir," Kane pledged.

    "Do we have any idea of what kind of superluminal drive they have?", Julia asked. "It'd help with the search pattern."

    "Nothing definite," Caterina answered. "I went over all of the probe records, the probes have picked up bursts in subspace but nothing compatible with a warp drive."

    "What about a hyperdrive? Like the Goa'uld have?"

    She shook her head. "If they had something like that it'd be showing up on sensors already. This is something localized. I've got some theories, though."

    "Oh?", Julia asked.

    "Well, there's a few ways to go faster than light," Cat pointed out. "Warp drive is one of the easiest ways. Goa'uld hyperdrive accesses subspace directly, that's why it's so fast. And then there are mass effect fields and the Mass Relays... actually..." Caterina activated the hard-light keyboard for her point of the table and began hitting keys. The main monitors shifted to show readings. "This is a compiled sample of the subspace bursts we're picking up," she explained, showing one reading. "And this is the result of a ship activating a Mass Relay."

    Side by side, the two readings were clearly distinct, but Robert and the others noticed not completely distinct. "Aye, I see what ye mean, lass," Scotty said. "Th' principle is different, but look at that profile."

    "Are you saying these ships are carrying their own Mass Relays, Cat?"

    "Uh, no," Cat answered Julia. "The effect is all wrong. Mass effect fields don't have those ripples in the Groenitz-Hallen bands."

    ""And the energy profile's still off," Jarod added. "The similarities are the result of the burst sending mass through the subspace domain in a single pulse. I would actually suggest their drive system is some kind of jump drive. Point-to-point, I mean."

    "The Darglan had knowledge of those kinds of drives," Caterina confirmed. "They just never used them."

    "So we're not going to find them at warp?" Robert sighed. "Well, that makes the hunt harder."

    "Yes, but if we can get a bead on where they are, we would have a sphere of space that we would know they were inside. Then the trick is to find out how long they have to go between jumps."

    "Well, upload those energy bursts into the runabouts and Koenig," Robert ordered. "Nick, confer with Jarod over the probe records and see if you can find us any point these ships were seen at. We'll use that to start our search pattern."

    "Will do," Locarno answered.

    "Everyone's dismissed."




    Robert went to his ready room off the main bridge after the meeting. It was something Carlton Farmer had adapted from Starfleet when he built the Aurora and Robert found it useful during those times he had to combine a bridge watch with paperwork. For now he sent off a quick report through subspace to be relayed to Admiral Maran, detailing they'd arrived at their target site and would commence the search.

    After that he took a moment to look over reports from S4W8. Admiral Lithgon had been giving him regular updates since they'd set out. For all the good it did (and Robert didn't know how much that was), Lithgon had sent a letter to the Defense Committee supporting his decisions over the LA33 mission. After considering the situation for the moment Robert moved his fingers over the controls and opened an interuniversal comm line to the Liberty, Lithgon's flagship. After a minute Lithgon's face appeared on his monitor. "Captain Dale. Any luck on your mission?"

    "We're commencing the main part soon." Robert took a breath and settled his thoughts. "Sir, anything new?"

    "We've had reports of Reich activity along the periphery of the Krellan Nebula," Lithgon answered. "Several of their battle squadrons have been deployed. I've moved the Fourth Fleet to our side of the Nebula in case they are planning something. So far they've refused all attempts at contact."

    "I see. As important as my mission is, sir, I wish I were there. If a war starts it's my fault."

    "Don't think like that, Captain. You did your mission under adverse circumstances. Keeping that technology from Reich discovery was worth the risk. Don't doubt that." Lithgon's clipped Commonwealth accent sounded soothing over the communication channel. "And if it comes to war, we'll hold the line."

    "Of course, sir. Aurora out."

    "Godspeed, Captain." Lithgon disappeared from the screen.

    Robert barely had time to look at paperwork for the door chime sounded. Julia walked in and he motioned to a seat for her. "I've made the personnel arrangements. We should be ready to launch in an hour."

    "Good. The sooner we settle this the sooner we can be free for other duties."

    "You're thinking of S4W8?"

    "Yes." Robert lowered his head. "It's my responsibility, Julie. Mine. I mean.... a war because of my decision, how do I live with that?"

    "You accept it happened, that it's outside your power."

    "Was it?"

    "Now's not the time to doubt yourself, Rob," Julia said, her tone a little harsh. "If you start thinking that way you're going to make worse mistakes."

    "I suppose. It's just..." Robert shook his head. "Who am I to get to make these kinds of decisions?"

    "Someone with a duty, who understood the mission." Julia put her hand on the desk. "I'm going to tell you right now that if it had been me in that chair, I would have done the same thing. I would have launched the mission. It had to be done, you can't get around that. So stop moping about it."

    The heat in her voice made Robert look up at her. "Tough love?"

    "No. Tough love is when I smack you in the head for this self-pitying horse crap," Julia responded.

    "Yes Mom."

    Julia crossed her arms. "And don't 'Mom' me."

    He gave up at that point. "Point taken, Julie. I've gotten it out of my system. Now I'll get to my paperwork. Damned paperwork."

    "Don't make me get the soap for that potty mouth," Julia teased.

    He responded by winking and smirking at her.




    The Aurora came out of warp near a solar system with no habitable planets. Everyone was on the bridge now. "I'm picking up trace readings," Caterina said. "It looks like there was a subspace distortion here a few days ago consistent with the burst effects we've been seeing."

    "As good a place to start as any," Robert remarked. "Jarod, we're good for launching."

    "Yes sir." Jarod pressed a key on his board. "Opening bay doors."

    At the back of the neck, where the primary hull flowed downward to the top of the shorter drive hull, the bay doors set into the neck slid open one by one. Koenig detached from her berth under the expert piloting of Creighton Apley under Zack's direction. The smaller attack starship cleared the dock and tilted "upward" compared to the Aurora. The Koenig moved across the bridge viewscreen and, with the flash of its nacelles, it elongaged and disappeared in a burst of white light.

    After it had launched, a dozen more craft surged from the rear of the ship. The Rio Grande led the way, followed by the Susquehanna and the other runabouts of varying class. Each went out on a different vector and warped away.

    "All ships are away. Communications network up and running," Jarod noted.

    "Deploy the comm buoy," Robert said. "And then take us out on our next patrol point."

    "Yes sir."

    A single comm buoy launched from the aft torpedo tube, deploying as the Aurora moved past. A moment later the Aurora turned in space and warped away as well.




    In the living area of the Rio Grande, Lucy grimaced and forced herself to focus on the weight in front of her. It levitated in mid-air in the grip of the power surging inside of her. It really wasn't that hard.

    It was doing it while upside down and holding herself up with one hand that was the hard part.

    "Keep your focus, Lucy." Across from her Meridina was doing the same thing. Both were in exercise uniform wear; sweatpants and sleeveless sweatshirt with their branch colors of beige for Lucy and brown for Meridina respectively. She was holding a larger object, a toolbox, with barely any effort. Lucy found that unfair, as the notepad computer she was trying to levitate wobbled in her "grasp", threatening to fall.

    "I'm trying," Lucy hissed.

    "With swevyra, you cannot 'try'," Meridina replied. "You must do. Otherwise it will not happen."

    "Yeah..." Lucy breathed hard and redoubled her effort.

    "Commander, Lieutenant?"

    The sudden talking jolted Lucy out of her concentration. The notepad clattered to the floor before her. As she struggled to grip it again with her power, she lost the further concentration that helped her stay balanced upside down. She tried to get her other hand over to do a full handstand but couldn't get her hand in place in time. She fell forward, knocking the air out of her lungs with a belly flop on the floor. "Ooof!" With murder in her eyes she looked up at the purple-skinned Dorei male standing at the entrance to the doorway. "What, Petty Officer Lagama?"

    "I'm sorry to interrupt you, sir," he answered, ignoring her death glare. "But we've got something being relayed by the probe in the area, it's on long range sensors currently."

    "Plot a course." Meridina bent her right arm, lowering herself to where her hair touched the floor, and then in a single movement jumped off with her hand and somersaulted to an upright position, kneeling as she landed.

    Much to Lucy's dismay and jealousy, the toolbox never touched the ground through the entire thing. Meridina plucked it out of the air with her hand and set it down on the nearby stand herself. Lucy groaned with irritation.




    The Koenig moved through space under cloak, although with all interior lights set at standard operation. Zack was going over a readiness report on his new transfers while seated in his chair. Seeing the list of fourteen new names reminded him of who he lost, dead crewmates or those too wounded to keep serving. He wished them the best.

    "Sir, we have a subspace burst on sensors," Magda reported from Ops. "It matches the drive pulses from the probe records."

    "Which group?"

    "Unknown, sir. We haven't been able to tell which pulses are from which group yet."

    Zack nodded. "Send out the location over the comm network to the other ships. Ap, set a course and engage, Warp 9.2."

    "Yes sir, Warp 9.2."

    As Apley changed their course and brought the ship past the cruise speed of Warp 7, Zack hit his intercom. "Engineering, we're going to do a little sprinting to investigate a subspace pulse. Keep us appraised on any issue with the engines."

    "Yes Commander," Derbely answered. "I can give you Warp 9.3 if you'd like."

    "You heard the woman, Ap."

    "Aye sir, 9.3 it is," Apley answered.

    Zack could feel the deck plates thrum ever so much as the ship accelerated yet further, moving at an intercept speed. Let's see what we've found.




    Lucy and Meridina had switched into their duty uniforms and joined the rest of the runabout crew. Aside from Petty Officer Lagama was Petty Officer Dugan, Crewman Zuk, and Crewman Li, all taking up posts in the rear stations for supporting Lucy as the pilot and Meridina as the co-pilot and gunner of the craft. "We're coming up on the signal," Petty Officer Lagama said.

    "Preparing to drop us from warp," Lucy replied.

    "Officer Dugan, make sure we maintain the active subspace link to the other ships," Meridina ordered.

    The young lily-complexioned woman behind her nodded. "Yes ma'am."

    Lucy brought the ship out of warp toward the edge of the system. "We have ships on long-range sublight sensors," Lagama said. "Reading several vessels of multiple sizes."

    "Do we make contact, sir?", Dugan asked.

    "It is best to hold back for a moment," Meridina suggested. "I sense that...."

    "I'm reading a subspace energy signature building up. Dozens," Lagama said. In the distance, through the cockpit, small stars briefly sparked into existence and faded. "They're gone."

    "That must be their jump drive system in operation," Lucy said. "Send it on to Aurora. In the meantime, I'll set us on a course to resume patrol."




    Koenig dropped out of warp and slowed to a near-relative stop. Magda looked over their sensor readings. "I'm detecting ships nearby. Going by the subspace readings... I think they're our ships that jumped."

    "On screen and magnify." Zack looked at he screen and waited for the distant images to zoom in. "What is that...?"

    On the screen, a pair of ships twisted quietly in space. It looked to Zack like a pair of three-legged chair bases glued together but slightly off-axis from each other; the result was the top and bottom of the ships spreading out in three arms not directly parallel to each other and a central trunk in the middle. "Those things are huge," Sherlily muttered.

    "I'm getting some life sign readings," Magda answered. "Human. But... I don't know. I don't think there's nearly enough life signs on that ship, not unless they have insane levels of automation."

    "That would be something," Zack muttered.

    "I... wait..." Magda checked a reading again. "They're launching craft. There must be dozens..."

    On the screen numerous craft emerged from the ships, looking like a central body with wings to the side. Even larger craft emerged behind them. "I'm not reading life signs on those craft," Magda said. "They've got to be drones."

    "Make sure Aurora is getting this," Zack ordered. "Whatever's going on...."

    "We've got a subspace pulse! It's another..."

    With a button press the screen showed what was empty space... but it didn't stay that way. With flashes of white light ships appeared. They were far enough out that even at maximum magnification sensors couldn't show much detail, certainly not shapes.

    "Those fighters and ships are moving on an intercept course toward the new ships," Magda informed him.

    "It's an ambush. Great, these people are having a war out here." Zack let out a sigh of irritation. "What do we know about the newcomers?"

    "Subspace pulse is consistent with the readings so far. I'm picking up Human life signs. Lots of Human life signs."

    "How many?"

    "At this range and with our sensors... At least forty thousand," Magda replied. She checked her readings. "Sir... two of the biggest ships are launching fighters and maneuvering to intercept. But most of those ships aren't showing any sign of preparing for combat. From what I see, they don't even have weapons.... and that group of drones is heading right for them." Magda turned and showed Zack how much she had paled despite her rich bronze complexion. "They're carrying high yield atomic warheads."

    "Are they raising shields?"

    "I don't see any sign of shields from either side. I don't think they have any."

    Zack nodded. "Then we take them out, I'm not letting civilians get killed, I don't care who's who. Apley, intercept course, full impulse! Code Red!" With the press of a key red lights switched on around the bridge and a klaxon sounded on every deck, ordering his crew to battle stations. "April, set the torpedoes for proximity detonation, area effect."

    "Aye, activating proximity detonators, disengaging charge-shaping measures."

    "Magda, inform Aurora." Zack watched the lead flight of drones loom on the screens. "We need to take them out before they fire on those civilian ships. Decloak as soon as we're in firing position."

    They gained that position soon enough. The Koenig shimmered into view and fired a full spread of solar torpedoes into the mass of drones. The torpedoes closed the distance as the drones began to react and split apart. Zack watched with satisfaction as the torpedoes detonated with brilliant bursts of light, accompanied by further explosions as the drones were blown away by the blasts.

    "First wave eliminated," Sherlily reported. "Second wave is coming on. Those other ships' fighters are coming in now."

    "Okay, no more torpedoes like that then. We'll do this with phasers. Apley, Attack Pattern Delta. We need to keep them off those civilian ships."




    "What in the gods' name is that?"

    Colonel Tigh's astonished remark was the first to come as the new DRADIS contact blipped into existence. Within seconds Cylon contacts began to disappear from the DRADIS screen. "Lieutenant...?!" He looked sharply at Gaeta.

    Lt. Felix Gaeta was shaking his head. "It's not matching any known recognition file. And it didn't even jump in. It just appeared."

    "What, you're telling me we've got a godsdamned ghost ship out there?"

    "It looks like they're on our side." Admiral William Adama looked to Petty Officer Dualla. "Make sure we check fire around that new ship."

    "Yes sir. This is Galactica Actual, all Vipers check fire, do not hit the unknown contact, repeat, do not hit...."

    On the DRADIS the Cylons were dropping like flies. The second wave was coming in next....




    The Koenig came around and came up beside the next wave of drones. Her phasers blazed away blasting one after the other. Several enemy shots struck her shields. "The lack of feedback is a good thing, right?", Zack asked rhetorically.

    "Their weapons aren't optimized for dealing with shields," Sherlily said, still focusing on her work.

    "Shields still at 98%," Magda confirmed. A moment later she called out, "Third wave, sir!"

    Zack didn't have to give the order. Apley expertly turned Koenig and brought them around to face the third wave, just as the small dart-like fighters from the "friendly" fleet engaged.




    "That thing is frakking insane." From the cockpit of her Viper, Lt, Louanne "Kat" Katraine was coming up to engage the incoming Cylons and was starting to feel like her presence was superfluous. The unknown ship was tearing through the Cylons with impunity, pulling sharp maneuvers while amber light repeatedly struck out and blew Cylon ships to shreds. A heavy raider disappeared in a fireball from one barrage of the other ship.

    "You are clear to engage, check weapons on new contact."

    "Weapons free, people." Kat brought her guns on line and moved to engage. "Check your fire, we don't want to hit that thing."

    "Like we'd do anything to it," another pilot muttered.

    "Watch your six, there's still plenty of toasters out there." Even as she said that she watched the newcomer dive into the third wave and start blasting them to pieces. Not for much longer though.




    The Koenig's phasers were blazing away, the cannons blasting entire lines of enemy fighters apart while the phaser emitters set into the dorsal and ventral centers of the hull lashed out at others. The Koenig was an eagle among sparrows and Zack almost felt sorry for their unknown enemy.

    The third wave was the largest and even with the friendly fighters engaged it was taking time to destroy them. Too much time. "Several drones are through, they are firing missiles," Magda said.

    "Sherlily, take out those missiles! Use torpedoes if you have to!"

    "Aye sir!"

    Koenig shot past the attacking drones, focusing her fury on the white lights of missile engines ahead. Several burst into flame under the phaser fire. "Ten seconds to impact, I can't get them all!", Sherlily warned.

    "Apley! Put us between them and the target! Extend the shields!"




    Radiological alerts went off in the Galactica CIC. "Missiles inbound on the Faru Sadin," Gaeta warned. "Time to impact twenty.... fifteen...."

    On the DRADIS screen Adama and Tigh watched the new contact accelerate ahead. Missiles dropped off the screen. "They're too close, they're not going to stop them all," Tigh said.

    The contact accelerated past the missiles and moved beside the Faru Sadin. Adama breathed in a sigh; the unknown ship didn't look large enough to survive the missiles about to impact, and the Faru Sadin might still be lost.

    "Impact," Gaeta said. The screen showed the impacts with the missiles dropping off the screen, as did the two ships. The blasts cleared and....

    The two ship icons were still there.

    Tigh's jaw dropped. "That's not possible. They must have taken five hits."

    "New contact is maneuvering again," Gaeta confirmed. "I... I don't know how they did it, sir. I'm not picking up any sign that their hull was even effected by nuclear initiation. It's like they have something protecting their hull from direct fire...."




    After Koenig stopped shaking, Zack called out, "Damage report!"

    "Shields down to fifty percent," Magda answered.

    "I thought their weapons weren't made to penetrate shields?", Apley asked.

    "Yeah, well, we extended our shields too, so that weakens cohesion," Magda pointed out. A tone came to her board. "Those two capital vessels are moving into engagement range. I'm picking up targeting systems coming online."

    "Yeah, what do you want to bet they've got something that can break our shields?", Zack mused. "Evasive maneuvers, Ap. Get shots in when you can."




    "Cylon Basestars will be entering weapons range in three minutes." Gaeta checked his screens.

    "How long until the Fleet can jump again?", Adama asked.

    "About twenty-five minutes," he answered.

    "Damn."

    "Ready all weapons," Tigh ordered. "Coordinate with Pegasus on the lead Basestar."

    "Yes sir.... wait, DRADIS has another contact!"

    By the time Gaeta said that, Tigh and Adama were glancing up and watching the new contact appear "over" the fleet. "Do we know what it is?"

    "No sir. It's not on recognition charts."

    "They're sending out a signal," Dualla added.

    "Put them on," Adama ordered.




    "Code Red," Julia ordered from her chair, securing her harness in the process. "All hands to combat stations. Launch all fighters."

    From his own seat, Robert finished securing himself as well. "Status of the engagement, Jarod?"

    "Koenig is showing shield loss. From residual traces the enemy is using atomic weaponry, comparatively high yield. The other ships show no hull damage, but there is a lot of debris from fighter-sized craft."

    "Looks like we found a war," Locarno mused.

    "Jarod, put me on, open audio and video." Robert cleared his throat. "This is Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora to the unknown party engaging the civilian ships. If you do not stand down and withdraw, we will engage. Repeat, withdraw or we will engage."

    "I'm not reading anything familiar about either side," Caterina said from Science. "But I am picking up signs of low grade naqia power. Almost every ship around us is unarmed. There's about... 50,000 people, maybe, in these ships."

    "That's a lot of people crammed together, given the sizes of some of those vessels."

    "Agreed, Nick." Robert kept his focus on the ships. When they were clearly continuing to close he turned in his chair. "Angel, give them a barrage from the forward cannons."

    "Locking on now," Angel answered, holding back a temptation towards a feral grin.

    The Aurora's forward cannons erupted in sapphire fury. Groups of six large bursts of blue energy hammered into one of the ships repeatedly. Red flame erupted from the battered ship's mid-section and lower body as the pulse plasma cannons hammered it mercilessly. Lights along the lower end went out.

    Julia gave Robert a curious look. "Wasn't that supposed to be a warning shot?"

    "Quite a warning, too," Jarod noted.

    "Looks like it worked," Locarno nodded drolly. "Because they're turning away."

    "I'm picking up a power surge inside of those ships." Caterina looked up. "I think they're jumping."

    With a burst of white light the enemy ships vanished.

    "Are any of the remaining ships the one mentioned in the decrypted message?", Julia asked.

    "I'm checking now," Jarod remarked. With the tap of a button he brought one of the remaining ships onscreen and zoomed in on its side, where the text "Galactica" was in view.

    "There's my answer."




    Adama watched the two Cylon Basestars vanish from the DRADIS board. "Mister Gaeta..."

    "I don't know what they fired, sir," Gaeta said, looking over his screens. "It spiked the thermal readings but I've never seen anything like it. I... I don't even think they were rounds."

    "Then what else could they be shooting?", Tigh demanded.

    Gaeta swallowed. "It might be DEWs, sir. Directed Energy Weapons."

    "That's not possible, those never worked," Tigh insisted.

    "It's the only thing that makes sense. The speed that their shots crossed the range in and the thermal pattern doesn't match any railgun cannon or chemical propellant I've ever heard of."

    "There's one way to find out." Adama picked up the nearest phone receiver. "Put me on."

    "Yes sir."

    "This is Admiral William Adama, commander of the Colonial Fleet, to Captain Dale of the Aurora. I would like to give you my thanks for your assistance."




    On the Aurora bridge the voice of Admiral Adama came over the speakers. It sounded rather older, like a rougher version of Admiral Maran, to Robert's ears. He looked to Julia. "Admiral, I'm pleased we could help protect your ships. Are you aboard the Galactica?"

    There was a brief pause. "Yes."

    "Ah." Robert allowed himself a small smile. "Well, Admiral, my ship was sent out to find you after we picked up some of your radio transmissions with long-range exploration probes. I'm here to greet you on behalf of the United Alliance of Systems."




    "....here to greet you on behalf of the United Alliance of Systems."

    Adama looked over at Tigh and the others, every man looking around in wonder as the voice on the other end made his greeting, now being piped into CIC's speaker systems. "I'll inform President Roslin immediately. But I'd like to ask something first."




    Robert shrugged, even though he knew Adama wouldn't see it. He imagined they were teeming with questions. "Certainly, Admiral Adama. What do you want to know?"

    "Are you from Earth?"

    Julia raised her brow and gave him a knowing look. Robert nodded at her in acknowledgement. "Yes, Admiral Adama....."




    ".....we are from Earth."

    Every breath in the Galactica CIC stopped for a moment.

    Adama exchanged a meaningful look with Tigh, allowing the knowledge to root through his brain for a moment. The Thirteenth Tribe wasn't just a legend after all. Even then, though... things felt "off". The Aurora and the other vessel were too different. There was something more going on here than finding the lost Tribe from Kobol.

    "Thank you, Captain," Adama said into the receiver. "I think it's safe to say President Roslin and I will be very interested to see you."
     
  7. Threadmarks: 1-09-2
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Robert, Julia, Angel, and Cat were met in the transporter room by Barnes. "Do we have a beamover point?", he asked them.

    "A shuttle just left Galactica and is headed for what looks like a liner starship," Julia said. "From what they've said, it's acting as the personal ship of the President of the Colonies."

    "Well, that's another mark in them being from Earth, right?", Cat asked. "Calling themselves Colonies, I mean."

    "Yes, except they call themselves the Colonies of Kobol, not Earth," Julia pointed out. "At this point we don't know anything about them beyond the fact they speak English and that they're a refugee fleet fleeing the other faction who attacked them."

    "I hate going in blind," Robert grumbled. "Hell, we knew more about the Reich when we made contact."

    "Yeah. We knew they were Nazis," Barnes pointed out.

    "Exactly. We have no idea what these people are like. Anything we say might offend them. We're walking in a minefield here." Robert stepped up to the transporter pad. "Well, I haven't gotten my legs blown off yet. So let's head off into the minefield, huh?"

    "I still think we should have taken a shuttle or a runabout," Julia said. "We're going to freak them out."

    "They're going to find out one way or another," Robert pointed out. "Best not to hide it."

    "Well, let's hope they don't shoot us," Barnes grumbled, getting up behind Robert on the transporter.

    "We're due over there now," Robert said. "Petty Officer, Commander Jarod should have relayed to you our destination ship and coordinates on board. Find the best spot and beam us over."

    "And keep a transporter lock on us just in case," Julia added.

    "Yes ma'am," the Gersallian woman at the controls said, making her thoughts of who was giving the right orders evident.

    "Always having to show me up," Robert teased, shaking his head.

    "Covering your ass is my job, Captain," Julia replied with a smirk.




    It was with great difficulty that Laura Roslin had pulled her cancer-stricken body to stand and await the newcomers. She had her best dress on and stood beside Admiral Adama. "So they say they're from Earth?", she asked him.

    "Yes ma'am, they do."

    "And do you believe them, Bill?"

    "Honestly, I don't know what to believe. Gaeta is still trying to get a handle on their technology. The ship they call the Koenig survived three direct hits from Cylon nukes and somehow prevented a fourth from hitting the Faru Sadin. Gaeta actually thinks their ships are armed with directed energy weapons."

    "That would make them even more advanced than the Cylons," Roslin pointed out. And Adama - as well as her aide Billy, who was behind her and to her right - could sense the optimism in her voice. "This might be it. We might actually get away from the Cylons. Maybe they'll even help us retake the Colonies."

    "One thing at a time, Madame President."

    "Yes." Roslin sighed and grimaced. "Are they on their way yet? What kind of vessel were they bringing...."

    Before she could finish the sentence, five columns of white light appeared in front of them and coalesced into five humanoid figures. Everyone save Adama jumped back a step and the presidential guards actually put hands on their weapons. "Admiral Adama. And President Roslin, I'm assuming?" The dark-haired man with green eyes stepped up and offered his hand. "Captain Robert Dale, Starship Aurora. My First Officer Commander Julia Andreys, Tactical Officer Lieutenant Angela Delgado, Science Officer Lieutenant Caterina Delgado, and Assistant Chief Engineer Lieutenant Thomas Barnes."

    Nothing was said at that moment. "How... how did you do that?", Roslin finally managed.

    Julia gave Robert a look, which he ignored. "We use a subspace tunneling effect for site-to-site transport," Robert explained. "I didn't mean to startle, but I didn't want you to think I was hiding this capability from you."

    "I see. Well...." Roslin took in a pained breath. "By the Gods."

    By this point Adama had gotten over his own shock and was taking stock of the five officers here. They all looked closer to Billy in age than anything. The Delgados were rather obviously related despite their different sizes, close cousins or even sisters. Adama examined their black and color-trim uniforms and noted the insignia on the collar and how the gold stripes worked for signifying rank, with the uniform's color being specialty. "I was hoping to meet the officer who saved the Faru Sadin," he said.

    "Commander Carrey is busy overseeing work on his ship," Julia explained. "He may join us later, or for further talks."

    "I see. Before we begin, you need to make sure your computer systems are secure." Adama faced Robert directly at this point. "The Cylons routinely upload computer viruses into opposing ships."

    "Thank you for the warning, Admiral." Robert held up his multidevice and triggered the comm unit. "Dale to Aurora."

    Jarod answered, "Aurora here."

    "Run a high level security scan on all computer systems, make sure nothing got past our active firewall defenses. Do the same thing on Koenig."

    "Understood, sir. Jarod out."

    "Well, now that we've gotten that settled.... Captain, it's a pleasure." With her shock subsiding Roslin took command of herself and led them back to the conference area. Robert and the others noted that it was all clearly rigged up; liner seats torn out and such to make room for the table. Seats were taken on all sides. "I must say it's an honor to meet you all," Roslin said upon sitting. "Our faith has been rewarded. We've been hoping to find the Thirteenth Tribe."

    The others blinked, and at that point Adama's thoughts of how the situation was more than it appeared grew stronger. "Thirteenth Tribe, Madame President?", Julia asked.

    "Well, yes," Roslin said. "Our texts speak of the Thirteenth Tribe that left Kobol when we did and traveled to Earth."

    "I think I understand," Caterina said, looking to her superiors. "Their civilization was settled millennia ago so it's no wonder...."

    "It's no wonder what?", Adama asked.

    Caterina blushed and looked peevishly toward him and then her superiors. Robert sighed. "Admiral Adama, we have a large gulf of knowledge to make up, and it's not going to be easy to explain. You need to understand that.... there is more than one Earth."

    Adama didn't hide his disbelief. "Excuse me?"

    "We have a technology in our ships called interuniversal drive," Robert explained. "It's the foundation for how the Alliance formed, Admiral. And... well, I can see this is going to be a long discussion...."




    When the Rio Grande came out of warp the view was amazing. Lucy watched several dozen ships gently move by her cockpit view. "That's an entire fleet of ships, the probe data didn't do them justice."

    "I can only wonder what drove so many souls into the void," Meridina answered.

    "Well, let's find out what's going on...." Lucy noticed a signal coming in. "Hail from the Aurora. Jarod wants us to divert to one of the civilian ships and pick up Robert and the others from a diplomatic meeting when it's over."

    "How interesting," Meridina murmured. She felt a sense of unease as the Rio Grande turned toward a long vessel with oval windows.

    Lucy looked over at her. "What's wrong?"

    "There is darkness here," Meridina answered. "And loss. So much loss. It fuels the darkness I feel." She turned her head. "Do not worry about me. Bring us to our new destination."




    Neither of the Colonial leaders were quite believing what they were being told. "Multiple universes? Earth in all of them? Captain Dale, this is..."

    "...hard to believe, I know, Madame President. If I hadn't been there at the beginning I wouldn't believe it either."

    "But what about Kobol?", she insisted. "Kobol is where we're from."

    "It's more likely that..." Caterina noticed the look Julia was giving her and stopped the line of thought she was having on the real nature of Earth and Kobol. "I'd have to know which system Kobol is in, ma'am, to find out what it's like in other universes."

    "I'll provide the navigational information for that," Adama offered, noting Roslin's thinning lip. She was already in her final days and now there were strangers who seemed to be questioning everything she - and most of the Colonies for that matter - believed in.

    Julia noticed her waning expression. "Madame President, you don't look so good."

    Roslin smiled weakly. "I am in the final stages of breast cancer, Commander. I don't have much time left."

    Caterina reacted the strongest to that news, putting a hand over her mouth and letting out a pained gasp. Angel took her other hand and explained, "I'm sorry, Cat's still very sensitive about it. That's how our mother died."

    "I'm sorry to hear that, Lieutenant." Roslin nodded, looking very worn at that moment.

    "Madame President, Admiral, there's still one thing we would like to know," Robert said. "Who are the ones chasing you? Our sensors picked up human life signs on the other ships. Are they some... breakaway faction of your society or a second human one?"

    "They're not human," Roslin answered. "They're called Cylons. They're machines who rebelled against us years ago. We let them go and they repaid us by annihilating our society."

    Robert and Julia exchanged looks. Suddenly the civilian fleet's purpose became starkly clear. "So you're all that's left?", he asked.

    "Yes," Adama replied. "We have over 49,000 survivors from the Twelve Colonies in the Fleet."

    "What... what happened to the rest?", Caterina asked, her voice growing shaky.

    "The Cylons used a virus to disable our military defenses and annihilated our homeworlds with atomic bombardment," Roslin answered. "They killed billions of our people in the first minutes of the attack."

    Robert let out a breath. "My God...."

    Roslin and Adama focused their eyes on him. And not in a pleasant way. And I think I just stepped on a mine, he thought ruefully. So much for never blowing my leg off before. He swallowed. "I'm sorry, I get the impression that I have just said something wrong."

    Julia had already noticed the likely cause, saying, "You used 'Gods' as a plural before."

    "Our people worship the Lords of Kobol." Roslin's demeanor was becoming chilly. "The Cylons we've caught have talked about worshiping only one God."

    Having been quiet for most of the meeting, and desperately wanting to leave it, that remark finally brought Barnes' attention. "Religious robots?", he said, incredulous.

    "A lot of Humans are monotheist in Earth and Earth-descended society," Julia explained in a cautious tone. "The majority hold to one of the Abrahamic faiths. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And a lot of sects and separate churches within those groups."

    "Ten thousand Protestant churches," Angel noted dryly. "Or so my Mother always joked about when she was arguing with door-to-door missionaries on why she remained Catholic."

    Adama's mouth curled into a sardonic half smile. "I think you understand our concern about that. But I'm not here to talk about religion. I watched a ship smaller than half of our fleet take three direct hits from Cylon nukes and shrug them off. And in the process it stopped a fourth nuke that should have hit the Faru Sadin. I've never seen anything like it, and I'd like to know what it is."

    "Energy deflectors," Robert answered. "We sometimes call them deflector shields, or just shields. They protect our ships from weapon fire until they're overloaded and lose strength."

    "And the weapons on your ship?"

    "Plasma pulse cannons," Angel said, smirking. "I almost wish I'd fired a second barrage, it would have finished that Cylon ship off."

    Adama and Roslin exchanged glances.

    Seeing a chance to alleviate their concerns over the religious issue, Robert quickly said, "This is why I brought Lieutenant Barnes. We can find ways to engineer shielding generators onto your ships. Your capital vessels at least. It could give you an edge."

    "And what will it cost us?", Roslin asked.

    "Nothing," Robert replied. "We were sent out here to investigate your people and see if they needed help. You do, so we'll give it."

    "We'll have to send people over to see how it would work, mind you," Julia added.

    Roslin fixed a look on Adama that showed some skepticism, or so Robert thought. Would she really think we are some elaborate Cylon plot?

    "I'll have preparations made for you to tour Galactica and Pegasus," Adama replied.

    "Madame President." Julia looked at Roslin. "We have medical technology that can deal with cancer, ma'am. If you like I can have our ship's medical staff try to..."

    "Right now that's not important," Roslin interrupted. A diplomatic smile crossed her face. "What's more important is the Fleet. We only have so much food and supplies, if your people could get any more out to us..."

    "I'll consult with Command," Robert said. "It will take about a month, at least, for supply ships to make it this far out. Maybe longer since we will clearly need to escort them."

    "We'll appreciate any efforts you make," Roslin answered.

    There was a beep on Robert's multidevice. He reached over and pressed it. "Dale here."

    "The Rio Grande is ready to dock with Colonial One, Captain," Jarod said.

    "Thanks, Commander." Robert looked to Adama, who motioned to one of the guards. "There's something more you need to know, and I'm not sure how I can show this to you so I'm going to say it outright. The Alliance is not just made up of Humans."

    "You have machines too?", Adama asked coldly.

    "No," he answered. "We have, well, from your point of view and mine, we have aliens. As in sentient non-Human species."

    Roslin and Adama stared at him. "Really?"

    "Yes, Madame President. Aside from our Human members, the Alliance also consists currently of the Alakin, the Dorei, and the Gersallians. The latter will make you feel more comfortable as they are, by all external appearances, Human as well."

    "My Gods...." Roslin looked around wearily. "Captain, this is... I mean, you tell us there is more than one Earth but maybe not more than one Kobol. You say that you travel universes. You worship one god like a Cylon. And now you say you have aliens."

    "Commander, didn't you assign a Dorei to the Rio?", Robert asked Julia.

    "Yes sir," she answered. "Petty Officer Lagama, I believe."

    "Then perhaps we should introduce him to the President and Admiral," Robert suggested.




    The Rio Grande's side airlock door opened when the Aurora officers arrived with Adama and Roslin, being supported by her aide Billy Keikeya. Lucy and Meridina exited first. "Captain?", Lucy asked.

    "Madame President, Admiral Adama, these are two more of our officers," Robert announced. "Lieutenant Commander Meridina, our Chief of Security, and Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero, one of our operations officers."

    "Greetings, Admiral." Meridina bowed her head. Her senses told her what her eyes were already indicating from body language and demeanor; he was a formidable man, while the woman at his side possessed a great deal of internal strength even with her body failing. "Madame President."

    "They want to meet Petty Officer Lagama," Julia said.

    "Of course. Officer, please disembark." Meridina turned back to the door. Lagama emerged. His purple skin was contrasted by the dark teal spots and light blue hair pulled back into a braided pony-tail. The long ears of the Dorei rounded out his alien appearance beyond his basic humanoid form.

    Sharp intakes of breath and open startlement struck the Colonials, every one of them. "By the Gods," Roslin breathed. "It's..." She limped another step, as if wanting to see Lagama closer.

    "He could have undergone extensive surgery," Adama pointed out, maintaining composure slightly better.

    "We can provide genetic and biological samples to your personnel if you want to verify we're not deceiving you," Robert offered.

    Lagama smiled softly. "Ah, you worship a house of Gods as well? I had worried that most alien species followed the Lushan and Astra obsessions with singular all-powerful deities."

    Meridina contorted her face slightly, showing bemusement. "Human polytheists, interesting. I admit to only passive familiarity with the Hindu religion of Humanity."

    "I get the feeling comparative theology is going to be very interesting," Julia remarked drolly.

    "I'm sorry..." Roslin leaned more heavily on Billy. "It's been a long day and I need to go lie down."

    "I understand, Madame President. Please, feel free to contact our ship if you need anything." Robert looked to Adama. "The same to you, Admiral. I'll have Commander Scott and Commander Jarod begin assembling teams and preparing our replicators to equip your ships with deflector technology."

    "I appreciate the gesture, Captain," Adama replied. With Roslin walking away he leaned in closely and lowered his voice. "And I'll inform Doctor Cottle that your chief surgeon will be calling."

    Robert answered with a nod. "Of course," he murmured back. "An honor to meet you sir." Robert offered his hand.

    Adama took it and accepted the handshake. He nodded to the other Aurora officers in turn before leaving to rejoin his stricken President.

    "Their leader is dying of cancer, they suspect us because the Cylons worship only one god, and they're the last survivors of a society apocalypse." Barnes shook his head. "Yeah, this mission's going to be a doozy."

    "Get with Scotty as soon as you get back, Tom," Robert said. "We need to get them on their feet before those Cylons get back with reinforcements."




    Adama returned to the President's office to find her laying on the chairs. Billy dutifully brought a glass of water over to her. "I thought..." She took the drink Billy offered and returned the glass to him. Her eyes were hazed with fatigue and pain when she looked at Adama. "I thought we had done it, Bill. That we'd found the Thirteenth Tribe and Earth. And now they tell us Earth - our Earth - is a wasteland too. And... and they don't even know about the Lords of Kobol, or worship them!"

    Adama found a seat. "It's not what we expected. But we shouldn't let this get in the way of a good relationship with this Alliance. Like it or not, ma'am, we need them."

    "Do you think they'll let us settle on Earth?"

    "I'm not sure Earth's in any state to be settled in right now," Adama pointed out. "But they'll be able to find us a planet. And once we've had a few generations... maybe then Earth can be settled."

    "Very true." Roslin took in an agonizing breath. "I would have liked to have seen it. Earth."

    "You may get your chance. Their doctor is going to speak to Cottle. If they're right about the technology they have to offer, maybe he can do something about your condition."

    Roslin smiled thinly at that. "A nice hope. I suppose it's better than nothing. See what Cottle says. And make sure to keep Doctor Baltar informed."

    Adama nodded stiffly. "I will. Get some rest, Madame President." He stood and left.




    In the main conference room of the Aurora, the command crews were meeting again. Robert and Julia went over the conversation they'd had with Adama and Roslin and what was planned. "Scotty, you still need time for the warp engines, right?"

    "Aye, a bit of an overhaul. We'll be ready tae go in a few days."

    "The warp drives need that much work?", Zack asked.

    "It's always hard on 'em th' first time ye put 'em through their paces like we did. It's nae somethin' big, just some part replacements."

    "And if we have an emergency?", Julia asked.

    "A few minutes' warnin' an' I can give ye Warp 4."

    "Better than nothing for the moment," Robert noted. "Cat, how are the long range scans going?"

    "I've had to change parameters to track these jump drives. We should know if anyone jumps to within a hundred light years of our position. Two hundred light years' distance is possible, but only with delays from the way the subspace bursts of their drives ripples outward."

    "And the long range probes?"

    "Still sending us telemetry, but nothing else." Caterina indicated the map and the courses of the probes. "Although within a few days the lead probes will actually be passing through the Helios star cluster on the Galactica's starmaps. It's their home systems."

    "Make sure the probes are listening for any sign of survivors." Robert had seen enough dreams of mass devastation lately, to know that it had happened in this universe, and so recently, was daunting. If we'd known about them, we could have stopped it, was the thought in his head. It came unbidden and he pushed it away; he couldn't save everyone after all.

    "I think we need to focus now on the assistance we can give." Julia noticed his reverie and stepped in to continue the meeting. "We've sent off our reports to Admiral Maran. Until we hear from him, we're the only ones present who can help. So how will we do that?"

    "We only have so much replicator stock, but we could replicate some non-perishable food items for their food stocks." Jarod put his hands together on the table. "And plenty of water."

    Leo nodded. "Medicines. I stocked up before we left dock, we have plenty to help with a variety of illnesses. And I can get the staff ready to cooperate with their physicians on learning our equipment."

    "Speaking of equipment..." Robert looked to Barnes. "Tom?"

    "We don't have the Darglan Facility's super-awesome replicators anymore, so no mass-producing the best stuff," Barnes pointed out. "But we can make some things between the replicators and the machine shops. Particle rifles, phasers, hell, I could probably make their firearms and tools if they need it. Shield generators for their ships will be trickier."

    "We still have parts to rebuild our own completely several times over," Julia pointed out.

    "Yeah, our own. But they have a different power source, different electrical wiring, different everything. I'm going to need to see how their systems work to finalize any shield generator construction. Which we've started, by the way."

    "Good. We'll arrange transport for you." Robert looked to Julia. "Given how badly they took our last beaming, we should probably tone down on that. We'll assign shuttles to take people back and forth."

    "If we're upgrading them, maybe we should give them some better sensors too," Caterina suggested. "If their jump range is within forty light years, they would be able to detect Cylon jump signatures and avoid traps."

    "We'll need to look over their electronics systems, then," Jarod pointed out.

    "That's something you and Cat can do," Robert answered. "Tom can join you in fitting shields on the Galactica. Scotty, does Lucy has enough engineering experience to do the same on Pegasus?"

    "Aye, she's capable of it," Scotty confirmed.

    "So Cat and Lucy will go to the Pegasus and Jarod, Tom, and Leo to the Galactica?" Julia shook her head. "Aren't we putting too many senior officers on the job?"

    "Just for the initial survey and work," Robert said. "Plus I think it will build confidence, they'll realize we're putting real effort into this. With all the differences we have, I want them to see us as friends."

    "And try not to use the Lord's name in vain," Julia added drolly. "They get tetchy around monotheism."

    That got them curious looks.

    "The Cylons aren't just evil genocidal robots, they're religious evil genocidal robots," Barnes explained with a smirk.

    "And apparently they are monotheists," Julia continued.

    "While these people are polytheists," Angel added.

    "Hrm. To each their own," Leo remarked.

    "Exactly. Alright." Robert stood. "I've got a shuttle pilot waiting to fly us to Galactica. Get whatever tools you'll need and let's go."




    Doctor Gaius Baltar had taken the news of the contact with the mythic "Thirteenth Tribe" as everyone else had, but he had internalized it and began working through the information he was being given. This was made easier when Adama appeared in his lab and gave him the basic details before leading him off to greet the incoming shuttle. His head swam with the implications.

    Alien life forms. Multiple universes, and Earth as an irradiated wasteland. It's all so much, he thought.

    "Don't forget that they worship God too."

    Baltar turned slightly. The blonde-haired Cylon that was somehow in his head looked back at him and smiled. "See, Gaius? God is everywhere."

    "I wonder about how their religion works," he said in response. He almost added a "Where have you been?" but held back; too many witnesses.

    He had said so out loud, so Adama took it as an invitation to talk. "I'm not sure. What I don't need is people getting scared by it."

    "Does the Admiral really think they're just an elaborate Cylon trap?", his head-Cylon cooed.

    "You don't think they're really Cylons, do you?", Baltar asked aloud.

    "I doubt it," Adama said. "If they are, then...."

    "....then you are all doomed," Head Six finished for Adama, at least in Baltar's head.

    Tigh was waiting with Adama in the landing area. Baltar watched the shuttle come in. I wonder what those twin engines along the rear of the bottom do? Some form of jump engine?

    "So, what are we expecting?", Tigh asked Adama.

    "They're young, quick, and eager," Adama answered.

    "And they command a ship like that?" Tigh shook his head. "A bit fishy if you ask me. And you want to let them rummage through our engines and scanners?"

    "They're very special, Gaius." The sultry voice made him turn his head slightly. He found his head Cylon very distracting in that red dress. "Be very careful."

    "It's a risk. But I'm willing to take it. They didn't fake the nukes they shrugged off."

    The shuttle door opened and Robert stepped out. Leo and Jarod followed him with Meridina; Cat, Barnes, and Lucy came behind. Zack took up the rear. They all stiffened their spines. "Admiral Adama, permission to board?"

    "Permission granted, Captain," Adama responded.

    "They don't salute either?", Tigh murmured to him.

    "Gersallians and Alakin have differing interpretations of Human salutes," Meridina suddenly said, showing she had heard Tigh. "And the Alakin salute is similar to what Humans call the 'Heil Hitler' salute and was considered unpalatable."

    Tigh shot a glare at Meridina. She bowed her head. "I apologize, sir, if I was rude. I wished to assuage your concerns about our crew and show we mean no disrespect."

    "None taken," Adama answered, ending the issue in his mind.

    Baltar looked over the group. Young, indeed. And the women... Meridina was the least directly alluring, being a fairly-average looking brunette, while the one introduced as Lieutenant Delgado was small and didn't fill her suit in to Baltar's taste. The third... she was gorgeous.

    "Gaius, be careful with her," he heard his head Cylon insist as he moved his head to look at her. "She sees beyond what normal people can. She is a hunter and pure danger."

    Despite himself, Baltar was curious about that. "Oh really?," he muttered.

    "This is no game, Gaius. She can reveal me, and your secrets, to the rest of the Colonies. Imagine what they would do to you?"

    Baltar frowned. He could imagine.

    "And the same goes for that tan girl you are looking over."

    That caused a sigh.

    "....my CAG and my son, Captain Lee Adama." Adama was finished introducing Lee and Tigh.

    "Your help is appreciated, Captain," Lee said to Robert, extending a hand. After Robert took it Lee offered the same to Zack. "And yours too, Commander. Your ship kept my people from taking any losses."

    "Glad to help, Captain," Zack answered. "I'm a pilot myself, wouldn't mind getting to fly one of these things some time."

    "We've got simulators on the Pegasus if you want to try," Lee answered. "I noticed your ship has some fighters of its own?"

    "Yeah, Mongoose strike fighters. They handle pretty well."

    "I'm sure there are plenty of things we can share," Robert said. "My crew and I are of one mind on this. Your people need our help, and we're glad to give it. We've already got our replicators making spare food and water for your quartermasters."

    "That sounds like more technology we will have to learn about." Adama gestured toward Baltar. "And before I forget, our illustrious Vice President and resident Cylon expert, Doctor Gaius Baltar."

    "Doctor." Robert offered his hand to Baltar. Baltar looked at it for a moment before accepting it. "I would like to learn more about these Cylons," he said. "For my report to my superiors."

    "Tell him," Six's voice whispered. "Tell him about the prisoner."

    Baltar's eyes turned to Meridina briefly. Her expression seemed to shift a little. He swallowed hard and focused himself on Robert. "Ah, yes, of course. I'll be happy to share my information, including all data I have on detecting Cylons who appear Human."

    "Given the ones it missed, don't bank on it too much," Tigh groused.

    "They appear Human?", Meridina asked. "How?"

    "They are, essentially, cybernetically enhanced bodies," Baltar explained. "Organic with machinery components inside."

    Meridina shook her head. "And your science makes it hard to detect them?"

    "Yes, as we've found out the hard way," Adama answered.

    Robert looked back to Caterina and Leo. "Do you think our sensors can do something about that?"

    "Well, our ship-mounted sensors only read Human life signs on the Cylon starships," Caterina answered. "It's possible that we could create a direct scanner that would look for cybernetics or whatever else goes into a Cylon. We would need to have one first."

    "Tell them Gaius," Six repeated, her voice dropping to a hiss in Baltar's ear. "Tell them about her."

    Baltar felt a lump in his throat when Meridina's eyes shifted around. "Um... yes, I think we might be able to help with that." Baltar ignored the look he got from Adama. "We do have one Cylon prisoner on the ship."

    "Really?" Robert turned to Adama. "Admiral Adama, do you think Commander Meridina could be allowed to interview this prisoner?"

    Adama nodded. "I can arrange it."

    "I am most grateful, Admiral," Meridina answered. As she did so, she looked around again. Her swevyra was feeling... active. There was something here that she could not see....

    Baltar swallowed and nodded. "If it's okay, Admiral, I have some work I need to finish up on. I wouldn't be much of a guide for these gentlemen and ladies."

    Adama nodded, clearly agreeing completely. "I'll see you later, Doctor Baltar."

    Baltar left, making sure not to seem too eager to get away.




    The tour of the CIC led to everyone splitting up, Adama assigning other personnel to specific groups while taking Robert to his office. "I hope your people understand the issue of how many gods there might be," Adama said while reaching for a pitcher of coffee. "Besides the Cylons, we've had monotheists before, but they were known for fanaticism and terrorism."

    "The crew is aware of trying to keep their references low." Robert allowed himself a small grin of amusement. "Technically any Christian is supposed to not call out 'God" for anything anyway. Old Commandmant about the Lord's name being taken in vain."

    "Are you a religious man, Captain?" Adama offered him a cup of what looked like tea or coffee.

    Robert took a drink. "Not as much as I could be, I suppose. If it came down to it... I would say I believe, but that I'm not a church-going type anymore."

    "I see." Adama took a quick drink. "Our people can be the same way. Some believe in the Lords of Kobol to their very souls. Some just do it because its habit. And I suspect there are some like our illustrious Doctor Baltar who don't believe anything."

    "I get the feeling you don't like Baltar."

    "Don't care for the man," Adama admitted. "There are worse, I suppose."

    "I would say so." Robert briefly thought about his own recent problems with government.

    "Given your age, Captain, I know there's more to your position and background than you've told me so far."

    "You could say that, Admiral," Robert admitted. "There are reports I can provide you if you want more details. To put it simply... the Alliance exists because of us. As in my friends and I on the Aurora."

    "Hmm. I suppose it will be interesting reading, then."

    Both men took drinks. "It was more interesting living it. Everything I ever thought about the world got turned upside down." Robert chuckled. "Maybe that's why they send me out for these things. I know what it's like."

    "People are going to be shaken up by it when we give official announcements. Everyone is convinced you are the Thirteenth Tribe." Adama sipped again. "But we won't forget your help. Our people will warm up to you."

    "That's all I can hope for." Robert took his last drink. "Admiral, may I ask a delicate question?"

    "Certainly."

    "I get the feeling, sir, that you didn't want us to know about your Cylon prisoner."

    Adama remained silent for a moment. He nodded slightly. "I admit I was concerned about it, yes. Cylons have a way of getting into your head."

    "You were actually worried it would convince us to turn on you?" Robert thought about that. "I suppose I can see the point."

    "I'm glad you see things my way, then."

    "Well, Admiral, I can tell you one thing," Robert said, looking directly at the older man. "I don't care whether they come to me reciting the Lord's Prayer. They're guilty of genocide and that's what matters to me. So I'm not going to let this Cylon get between us."

    "Thank you, Captain."




    "Hrm. I'd almost think it was low grade naqia," Barnes said while looking over stored tylium. "But you actually make it liquid form during refinement?"

    "It's for the best performance," Chief Galen Tyrol explained.

    "Maybe it's a related metal?" Caterina walked up behind them. "There are a few spaces left on the periodic table. It'd explain why my sensors thought your power generation was low level naqia."

    "I suppose." Tyrol looked at Barnes. "What is this naqia stuff anyway?"

    "A solid state metal used in power generation reactors." Barnes followed Tyrol through to another engineering space. "Where's your Chief Engineer? I need to go over things with him, if we're fitting shield generators on your ship I need volume."

    "This way, sir."




    Leo stepped into the Galactica infirmary and was met by a much older man. "Doctor Cottle?", he asked.

    "Doctor Gillam, is it?" The old man offered a hand that was slightly less wrinkled than his face. Gray and white hair covered his head. "Thank you for coming. Admiral Adama was telling me you might be able to assist with the President's condition."

    "I heard. Breast cancer." Leo shook his head. "Advanced?"

    "Very. She's got weeks left."

    Options went through Leo's head. "That rules out several options. Surgery?"

    "Too big, and she's too weak."

    "I imagine. Do you have any X-Rays....?"




    Jarod stood in the Galactica CIC and looked up at the DRADIS screens. "Flat screen monitors, wouldn't be hard to replace those with a holographic interface," he muttered to himself.

    "Excuse me, sir?"

    Jarod looked over and faced a young man with a Mediterranean complexion. "Lieutenant Gaeta, right?" Jarod offered his hand. "Commander Jarod."

    "Sir." Gaeta finished saluting and took the hand. "Colonel Tigh says you're here to upgrade our electronics?"

    "A few upgrades, we're not sure what your power systems can handle," Jarod admitted. "And fabricating naqia reactors for you will take more time and a full supply of naqia."

    "Of course." Gaeta nodded. "Sir, can I ask... how did your ships appear like that? There was no sign of a jump, just.... a surge of radiation and you were there."

    "We use warp drive for FTL. It doesn't move you to a location immediately like your drives, but it can be constantly used." Jarod looked over one of the panels. "If we get enough power we can turn your displays into multi-function touch pad or hard light displays."

    "Hard light?"

    "A form of holographic interface, they use them in M4P2. The Darglan favored touchscreen displays with adaptive capability, and Carlton Farmer further modified them with Starfleet-standard systems."

    "Wow, I..."

    Jarod smiled at the younger man, clearly bursting with questions. "It's a lot, I know. What can you tell me about your DRADIS systems?"

    Gaeta nodded. "Yes, um, a lot, sir. Here, let me show you."




    Meridina had stayed with Lucy and Zack for the tour, with Lee Adama showing them around the ship. Lee and Zack were talking piloting tricks with Lee discussing Cylon tactics in the process. "There is something here," Meridina murmured to Lucy.

    "A lot of grief," Lucy said. "I can feel so much of it around them."

    "No, something... else. But I'm not sure." Meridina turned to Lucy. "While things are going well, keep your swevyra open. Something may yet go wrong."

    "Do you think..."

    "I see no discernible danger at the moment, but I feel an uneasiness in the near-future. Be cautious when you join Caterina on the Pegasus."

    "I will," Lucy promised.

    Around the next corner they were met by Colonel Tigh. "Alright, Commander, we're ready for you. This way to the special brig."

    "Of course, Colonel." Meridina nodded to the others and walked away with Tigh. He led her back through some of the corridors they had already used. Meridina found them stark. Gray was a neutral color to her people as well as Humans and it made the ship feel utilitarian. She would have preferred the light blues and yellow paneling of the Aurora's many corridors.

    "I'm warning you now, Commander." Tigh looked back. "These Cylons can get into your head. Gods know how much I wished we'd spaced this one, but the Old Man thinks its still of use."

    "Does it actually have the ability to enter minds?", Meridina asked.

    "No, thank the gods," Tigh muttered.

    "Then I think I shall be fine." Meridina turned her head as they rounded another corner. "Is it cooperating?"

    "For the most part. Actually claims to want to help us, and it did save us once from a Cylon virus. Saved its own skin, at least."

    "Curious." Meridina decided to withhold further judgement until she saw the Cylon.

    They came up to the cell. "Brought you a new visitor today," Tigh called out, opening the door and admitting Meridina. "Play nice. Hit the call button when you're ready to be let out, Commander."

    "Of course, Colonel." Meridina looked over at him as he closed the door and locked her in with the prisoner.

    Meridina looked the Cylon over. A woman, long dark hair, facial features and skin color were from the East Asian region of the Human homeworld or the Chushallan people of her own world's northwestern continent.

    The woman's stomach bulged. Meridina's jaw lowered in surprise even as her senses confirmed what her eyes saw. She could feel the small life force within; an unborn child.

    Her eyes met the dark eyes of the Cylon and she could see emotions. Anxiety, concern, fear. Meridina swallowed.

    This was no machine. This was a person. She had a mind. She had a heart. She had swevyra of her own.

    And she was kept in a cage like a wild animal.

    "Have fun." Tigh walked off, leaving them alone.

    "Who are you?", the woman asked.

    "I am Meridina. A Lieutenant Commander of the United Alliance of Systems' Stellar Navy. And I am a swevyra'se of Gersal." Meridina looked back and checked the door. Metal and glass covering. A difficult obstacle indeed.

    Thoughts came to her mind that Meridina pushed away. She would perform the duty that Captain Dale requested of her first. Information about the Cylons.

    And then she would perform her duty as a swevyra'se, to the Code she believed in, and give aid to this caged soul.
     
  8. Swordoflove1

    Swordoflove1 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Awesome chapter
     
    Big Steve likes this.
  9. Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Thank you for the complement.:)
     
  10. Threadmarks: 1-09-3
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Everyone not remaining on the Galactica met at the shuttle. "Captain Thrace will be waiting to show you around the Pegasus," Lee said to them.

    "It's newer than the Galactica, right?", Caterina asked.

    "Yeah. Only other Battlestar to survive the attack," Lee replied. "Any upgrades you put on our ship will work even better with her, I imagine."

    "We'll get to work on it," Lucy promised.

    "Thank you for the tour, Captain." Zack extended a hand. "If we stick around much longer, we're going to have to swap fighters for a test flight."

    Lee smiled at that. "Sure thing, Commander." He turned and walked away as they all boarded the shuttle Moore.

    Zack settled into the pilot seat while Robert sat in the back with the others. After they received takeoff clearance Zack eased the shuttle out of the Galactica's landing pod. Everyone looked out the side windows. Aurora was nearby of course, as was Koenig, but they were more interested in the other ships milling around. "Transporters, liners, refinery ships... this is all that's left of an entire culture," Caterina said quietly. "Why?"

    "Hopefully Meridina can get us some answers," Lucy said. "Although I'm not sure any answer will satisfy me."

    "None will satisfy me," Robert murmured. "Whomever these Cylons are, we need to hunt them down. Especially if they're near that Darglan cache the Facility showed Meridina."

    "Oh yikes. We thought Nazis with Darglan tech would be bad, if the Cylons get it..." Caterina seemed to shiver. "I mean, if they want to wipe out Humanity..."

    "My thought exactly." Robert looked to the front window. Pegasus was looming ahead. The ship was close enough in appearance, but it had a more refined look to it; clearly a newer ship. They set down in the port landing pod and Zack killed the engines. "Zack and I are due back on the Aurora soon, so I'll leave you two to your work after we introduce ourselves. Check in every hour and keep us up to date so we can send over the new gear when it's ready."

    "Yes sir," Lucy answered.

    By that point the door had opened. Robert and Zack stepped out with the ladies behind. Waiting for them was an older, heavyset man with light green eyes and a blonde woman with short cut hair. "Captain Dale?" The older man extended his hand. "I'm Commander Fisk of the Pegasus. This is our CAG, Captain Kara Thrace."

    "Nice to see another pilot."

    "Yeah. You're one too, I see." Thrace grinned slightly.

    Zack almost subconsciously put his hand over the "starwings" insignia on the left shoulder of his uniform. Only Lucy had the same insignia. "Yeah."

    "Commander Fisk, this is Commander Zack Carrey of the Koenig. He's just flying back with me. Lieutenant Caterina Delgado will look into upgrading your ship's electronic detection systems and Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero here will examine your systems and see how to install shield generators."

    "I'll take her to see Garner, our Chief Engineer. Lieutenant?"

    Lucy nodded and stepped to follow. All things considered, she didn't like Fisk one bet. He felt... oily.

    "Remember Cat, hourly check-ins," Robert reminded her. "Be patient with her, Captain." He looked back to Thrace. "She lets her curiosity get the best of her."

    "I'm not the most patient type," Thrace warned. "But she'll be fine."

    Robert nodded and led Zack back into the shuttle. When he turned back and saw Zack still staring, he raised an eyebrow. "Zack...?"

    "Hrm? Oh. Sorry." Zack smirked. "Just admiring the local scenery."

    Robert sighed and grinned. "Don't you always?"




    The Cylon in the cell had remained silent for some time. Meridina didn't push the matter; there was no time limit and she felt she could get more by giving the being in the cage time to finish whatever thoughts were in her head.

    "You're really a Gersallian," the Cylon stated.

    Meridina nodded. "I see they mentioned us to you already?"

    "No."

    "Then..." Meridina blinked. "...you know about us already. How?"

    "We've been exploring our portion of the galaxy for some time," the Cylon answered. "We were excited to find other life forms. And surprised to see your people resembled Humanity so much."

    "Ah, yes. And this made you fearful of interacting with us?"

    "Among other things. It was not in the Plan." The woman turned away. "My name is Sharon, by the way."

    "Sharon. Yes." Meridina nodded slightly. "You speak of a Plan. Did it involve what was done to the Colonies?"

    "Yes. We were all told that," Sharon said. She lowered her head and shook it. "I can't make any excuses for it. Something possessed us. Fear, envy, hatred, something that made it seem okay to annihilate Humanity."

    "Charismatic leaders can cause any life form to turn away from that which is right." Meridina put her hands together in front of her. "If your race knows of mine, then you know what I am."

    "A... knight," Sharon answered. "A defender of peace and justice and the innocent."

    "We strive to be, yes."

    "I wish i could see the world like that now. Everything was so clear before..."

    "Before?" Meridina's question was gentle in its probing of Sharon's thoughts.

    "Before I..." Sharon smiled gently. "Helo. Lieutenant Karl Agathon. I was ordered to befriend him and seduce him. He... had seen another copy of me that he knew as Boomer."

    "Why were you given such orders?"

    "Because..." She put a hand on her belly, not able to say any more.

    Meridina nodded. She sensed Sharon's feelings. And she felt her mind. She may have machine parts, but she is still a living being. "Your people wish to reproduce. And you were sent to make it work with a Human."

    "Yes. And then I fell in love and brought him back to the Fleet." Sharon shook her head. "You can guess how I was welcomed. Especially since my counterpart Boomer tried to kill Admiral Adama."

    Meridina didn't ask. She could feel the images coming from Sharon. Hands around her neck. The terror of asphyxiation after being thrown into vacuum. A gun in her face. A man striking her and... "I am sorry if you have been mistreated," Meridina said softly, forcing that last image of what Sharon had almost suffered from her mind.

    "I'm sorry that your people will be drawn into this now," Sharon replied. "Out here, between the Cylons and the Colonies, there's so much blood it will drown us all."

    "We can fix that," Meridina assured her. "The Alliance can protect this fleet."

    "You'll try. And the Cylons will react." Sharon shook her head. "And I don't know how they'll respond, but it'll be terrible. They know so much about you already."

    "Their knowledge should give them pause, then." Meridina stepped forward. "Help me understand them, and we could find a way to peace. And you'll be free to be with Helo again."

    Hope flared in her eyes for a moment. "We don't get told everything," Sharon said. "To understand us, you have to understand that even if we are machines, we believe in God. Just one, not the Lords of Kobol like the Humanity of the Colonies do...."




    Caterina thought the Pegasus looked better on the inside than Galactica while going from the CIC to the access of one of the sensor systems. Captain Thrace - "Starbuck" as the pilots called her - led the way as before. "You command the fighters, so why are you giving me the tour?", Caterina asked.

    Thrace clearly bit back an answer. "The Admiral asked me to look out for you," was the answer she gave. Pegasus was on its own for a while and the crew is still getting... used to being under new command."

    "Oh? Well, I mean, I hope they know we're here to help?" Caterina frowned. "We just want to help, you know?"

    "People don't always like getting help," Thrace pointed out.

    Caterina stopped and looked to Thrace. "This isn't about the religion thing, right?"

    Thrace smirked. "It could be," she conceded. "I don't mind much so long as you people help us blow up frakking toasters."

    Caterina gave her a confused look. "...what does 'frak' me...." Realization dawned on her face and Caterina blushed fiercely.

    That drew a laugh from Starbuck. "Well, aren't you the sweetest thing? Haven't been around crew much, have you?"

    "Well... I mostly interact with the science division," Caterina answered.

    Thrace blinked. "Wait, science?"

    "Yes. I'm the Aurora's Science Officer. Sensors too, but that's just part of the job."

    Now Thrace began laughing. "Wow, I..." Her face contorted in a mixture of amazement and bewilderment, her eyes growing wide. "Honestly I can't imagine our ships having something like that. This is the Navy, that's outside our usual work. Your people... actually do that?"

    "Well... not every ship. The ships that are just there for fighting don't have science departments. But we're a kind of special missions ship and it can come in handy. And I love seeing new space phenomena and planets and stuff."

    Thrace said nothing at first. It had been a while since she saw someone so plainly enthusiastic and energetic about, of all things, space exploration. It was another thing the Cylons had taken from them, it seemed. At least the Old Man was getting along with these people. Maybe in time they would have that kind of enthusiasm again.

    They came to the access hatch to the sensor hardware. "Well, this is it. I can find a member of the crew to show you more if you need it."

    "Thanks." Caterina took the hatch and started to open it. Her face twisted into a grimace as she struggled to twist the wheel. Thrace grabbed the wheel and helped her twist it fully open. "Sorry, I'm... we don't have things like this back on the [i[Aurora[/i]," Caterina apologized.

    "Don't mention it." Thrace turned and went to walk away. As she did, a thought crossed her mind. Curiosity that demanded some kind of resolution. "Hey, Lieutenant."

    Caterina looked out from within the hatch. "Yes?"

    "You said you didn't know who the Lords of Kobol were, but why did you name your ship for one?"

    Caterina blinked at her and stepped out of the hatch. "What?"

    "You named your ship after Aurora, the Goddess of the Dawn, a Lord of Kobol."

    Caterina's jaw dropped. "Wait, you.... who..." An enthusiastic expression replaced the startlement. "Your other Lords, they have names like Zeus and Hera and Apollo, right?"

    "Yeah, all of them are Lords of Kobol."

    To Thrace's surprise, Caterina let out an enthusiastic little noise, one that her sister and friends knew as the "Caterina squee of excitement". "The Olympian gods! The Greco-Roman pantheon! You worship the Greco-Roman pantheon!"

    Now it was Thrace's turn to stare in confusion as Caterina hopped off the deck plates a couple of times. "Who are the Greco-Romans?"

    "Oh, they were two different civilizations in Earth's classical period, in the millennium before the Christian Era," Caterina explained. "The Greeks were the founders of Western civilization and they... I mean, they worshipped Zeus and Hera and Athena and Poseidon and stuff, and they colonized the neighboring peninsula of Italy and their pantheon and religious beliefs spread to the locals, including the early Romans, who gave them different names like Jupiter and Juno and Minerva." Caterina blinked. "Wait, you said the name Aurora was in your pantheon, but you use Greek names and Aurora was the Roman name and... oh this is so cool!"

    "Okay, now I'm getting a little confused. How could your people know about the Lords' names but not their connection to Kobol?"

    "I don't know, and that's what's so exciting. I mean, it's going to take years of study and excavations and..." Caterina brought up her forearm to access her multidevice. "I've got to get some notes for a paper on this!"

    Thrace couldn't help but smile; the enthusiasm was infectious. But she shook her head. "You might want to see about doing the scanners first?"

    Caterina looked up from where she'd been typing on her multidevice. "Oh, right... yeah." She blushed. "Sorry, I just get kind of... carried away."

    "Oh, it's fine. About time someone around here was that giddy."




    Ship's Log: 4 June 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. I'm pleased to report that we have had few problems interacting with the Colonial Fleet so far. Food and medicine from our stores is being distributed into the Fleet and brought morale up. Our efforts to look into ways to upgrade the fleet's defenses have gone well and there has been no sign of Cylon activity.

    If things keep up, I have considered approving shore leave requests to the Colonial ships.


    The morning staff meeting was fully staffed for the first time in days. "I've found the cure for our problem with the power situation," Barnes said to everyone. "We have enough emergency reserves of naqia to cobble together a few small reactors, enough to give each Battlestar a respectable deflector capability. Not as good as our own or of a ship of similar size, but enough to deal with Cylon nukes. Unless the frakking toasters find out how to make shield penetrators." When everyone stared at him Barnes smirked. "Yeah, I picked up some Goddamned vocabulary. I like it. Frak. Frak frak frak...."

    His sing-song recitation of the Colonial cursing was halted by Julia clearing her throat loudly. "Tom, I will go get a bar of soap."

    "Yes, Mom," he retorted.

    "When can we expect to have those ready?"

    "Later today," Barnes answered. "I've got the overnight crew finishing up the main work, I just need to take them over and install them. I'll get Lucy a set for the Pegasus."

    "Good. Now about their sensors..."

    Caterina and Jarod looked at each other. Jarod shook his head. "That's not so easy. The ships would need major yardwork to fit anything useful."

    "I think Pegasus could have a subspace sensor suite set into its electronics array," Caterina added. "Not the full set we'd prefer, but it would be something. It would at least give them warning of Cylon ships jumping to a vicinity of ten light years."

    "Communications?", Julia asked.

    "A little easier. A basic subspace transceiver array could be fit on pretty much every ship in the fleet," Jarod replied. "I'd have to examine the other ships to see if any could be refitted with better sensors."

    "Actually..." Robert pointed a finger up. "What about their Raptors? They use them for reconnassiance, they're jump-capable, and they already have a large-scale electronics system. Could subspace sensors be fitted onto those?"

    Jarod and Cat looked at each other. "Limited ones, sure," Jarod replied. "They might not get the full forty light year range we want, though. Honestly I think the only way to guarantee them that kind of radius would be to... well..."

    "Assign one of our ships to them," Cat finished for him.

    "Yes."

    Robert nodded. "I'll let Admiral Maran know. He's due to be on subspace when I meet with Adama and Roslin again. Before we finish, how is the distribution of the food and medicine going?"

    "It's proceeding." Jarod tapped a button to bring up the list. "They're letting us beam supplies straight to specific points."

    "Wow, that's quite a bit of trust," Angel remarked.

    "It is. Which is why we're going to live up to that." Robert looked up from where he was checking a tablet. "By the way, Julie, Angel, how did Doctor Baltar's tour go yesterday?"

    "Short and not very educational," Julia answered him.

    Angel smirked. "Baltar was more interested in us than the ship."

    "Oh?" Robert smirked. "Should I be getting jealous?"

    "Well, he does have that accent that Julie likes so much," Angel teased, earning her an annoyed glare from Julia. That made her smirk grow.

    "Well, if that tour didn't work, maybe having Adama or Tigh visit would work better." Robert looked to Scotty. "Mister Scott, how is...."

    He was interrupted by the tone of the ship's intercom. "Captain Dale, we've received a signal from the Galactica. President Roslin.... she's dying."

    Robert looked to Leo, who nodded. "Tell them Doctor Gillam will beam straight to their medical center." As Leo stood up, Robert did as well. "I'll be right behind you, Leo."

    Leo hit the comm button on his multidevice. "Gillam to medbay. Prep the ICU for an advanced cancer...." His voice faded as the door closed behind him.

    Robert stood as well. "I should probably get over there too. If Roslin... well, it's best if we're being as understanding as we can. Everyone else, finish what you have to and get back to it. I'd like to tell Adama we're ready to test the new equipment."

    Everyone got up and went their separate ways. All save Meridina. Robert waited for her to move and, when she hadn't yet by the time the room was empty, he asked, "How goes your debriefing of the Cylon?"

    "She has proven useful. My reports lay out what I've learned."

    "'She'?"

    Meridina eyed him directly. "She is a living being, Captain. She has the light of Life, swevyra, inside of her. She is carrying a child."

    Robert blinked. "Okay, I hadn't read that part of the report yet."

    "You mean you focused on the raw data and not the rest of my report?", Meridina asked pointedly.

    "Well..." Robert sighed. "Meridina, are you sure this isn't some kind of... of sympathy game?"

    Meridina shot a glare at him. "I am sure," she insisted. "I would have thought better of you, Captain. I remember how close you were to the Control system of the Facility."

    "Control didn't contribute to the murder of billions of people," Robert replied pointedly.

    "Collective guilt is not sufficient reason to deny an individual redemption. She has taken up arms against those who committed those crimes. She has repeatedly aided the Humans of the Colonies against her people. How much must this woman do before she is properly treated?"

    "She's being mistreated?"

    "She is kept in a cell as a prisoner," Meridina replied. "She was on several occasions physically assaulted despite her condition. Even you have been denying her the basic right of being seen as a living being."

    Robert remained quiet for a moment after that rebuke. He felt nothing but horror and anger at the Cylons for the crimes and atrocities they had committed. If Meridina was right, if this one was completely sincere.... "Did she pull the trigger?", Robert asked.

    "Pull the trigger?"

    "On the gneocides? Did she give any of the orders for the attacks? Carry them out personally?"

    "Not to my knowledge. She was part of the Cylon group attempting reproduction."

    Well, that makes it easier I guess. "Alright. See how much more you can get out of her."

    "I wish to appeal to Admiral Adama and President Roslin for her release," Meridina said.

    Robert shook his head. "Probably not the best time, Meridina."

    "So I should leave her to suffer in a cage?"

    He winced at the sharp point of her question. "Better to ask the question when Adama will be receptive, not when he's worrying about Roslin's condition. If you want the Cylon released or treated better, it's best if we build up enough trust with the Colonials that they'll be willing to listen to your arguments."

    "A fair point," Meridina conceded. "I shall return to Galactica today. Perhaps I may be able to bring comfort to Roslin as well."

    "Right now I'm wondering if that's all we can do for her," Robert murmured.




    Leo looked over the readings his own devices were giving him on Roslin's condition. Her body was failing from the cancer destroying it from within. Seeing her with IVs and a breather tube in her nose reminded him of the medicine he had been learning to practice before Robert found the Facility back home and changed Leo's life. "The only option for you now is surgery, Madame President," he informed her.

    Roslin looked to Cottle, who nodded. "Doctor Gillam's technology makes it possible," he said. "But you might not survive it."

    When she spoke, her voice was low from weakness. "What are my odds, Doctor?"

    Leo and Cottle exchanged looks. "We've been discussing that," Cottle answered. "Doctor Gillam has the optimism of youth, so if we meet halfway... fifty-fifty."

    Roslin drew in a breath and nodded. "How long would it take for me to recover?"

    "With the right regimen of medicine, a week before you're out of bed, full recovery in a month," Leo answered. "Safe dosages of medicines to bolster your weakened system will be the important part. Too much and the cell regeneration could become cancerous itself. Too little and it won't be enough to heal you."

    "I suppose it's better than being dead," Roslin said weakly. "Doctor Gillam." She turned her head and faced Leo. "Doctor Cottle has something I've asked him to show you. I need your opinion on this."

    "I am at your disposal, ma'am," Leo replied.

    Cottle led him over to a set of blood samples. Leo brought out his medical scanner from his white doctor's coat and ran the scanner over the samples. "You people have quite a lot of those toys," Cottle murmured.

    "They save time," Leo replied. His eyes settled on the results coming back. HIs eyes narrowed. "This sample is, well, damned odd. I'll need a closer look at the patient to figure it out."

    "That won't be necessary, Doctor Gillam," Cottle said. "I just wanted your opinion."

    "My opinion is that the sample is Human baseline with peculiar genetic markers." Leo brought up the genetic information again and began looking it over. "Some of these abnormalities look familiar..."

    "Oh?"

    "I'm not sure where. A mutation possibly. I'll need to run tests."

    Cottle nodded. "As I've said, that won't be necessary. Doctor Baltar is already running them."

    Leo looked over. "Your Vice President is a biologist?"

    Cottle smirked. "He thinks he's everything. I'd rather have your people run the tests myself."

    "But Roslin won't allow it." Leo sighed. "She still doesn't trust us?"

    "The President can be cautious. At times. Thank you for the consultation, Doctor Gillam. I..."

    The far door opened, interrupting them. Baltar and Adama were entering. "This will be a private meeting, Doctor," Cottle said. "You should go."




    Barnes stepped into the CIC, his work uniform crumpled from working around. "Is the Admiral here?", he asked Tigh.

    "He's busy," Tigh answered. "Why?"

    "I think I have it, I've routed the controls through to one of your panels here," Barnes answered. "I just need to run a couple of tests, get your status screen installed, and the shields are ready for testing."

    Tigh nodded and looked to Gaeta. "Lieutenant, give him a hand." The tone of voice made the end of that sentence clear; And keep an eye on him.

    Gaeta nodded and followed Barnes. "How is this going to work?", he asked.

    "Oh, simple. Just had to tie the naqia reactors into your power system controls and to the shield generators. Your engineering crew is putting the finishing touches on the new power conduits feeding the shield generators. It's not hard with the tools I brought along. Should be done by the time I'm done up here." Barnes got to his knees in front of one of the consoles and consulted the schematic hologram hovering above his forearm, courtesy of his multidevice. "Okay, here we are, this connection is the one. We're going to relay the controls through here and set up a hard light display for you to use it and read off status. It's going to look out of place, but it's the best I can Goddamned do without ripping your controls apart completely and installing control software in your systems." Barnes seemed to consider what he just said. "And sorry about the Goddamned. I know you worship the Greek gods and such, it's just a slip of my Goddamned tongue. Sometimes I think my first words were 'God damn'".

    Gaeta stifled a grin, looking over and seeing some concerned looks from the others. "Oh, that's fine. Apology accepted."

    "Good. Now..." Barnes pulled out a screwdriver tool. "...let's crack this frakker open."




    Robert met with Adama in the infirmary on Galactica at President Roslin's bedside. She seemed barely awake as he reported the progress. "Lieutenant Lucero has already confirmed that the shield systems will work. Pegasus successfully tested them a few minutes ago."

    "That's good news. And our own?"

    "Barnes is putting them in place as we speak. You should have your own shields within a couple of hours."

    "Thank you, Captain." Roslin's weak voice caused them both to turn. "You're doing wonders for our people."

    "It's the least we can do, Madame President." Robert stepped up beside her. "We'll do all we can to help. I'm expecting a call from..."

    As if on time, the multi-device on his right forearm let off a low tone. He reached down and pressed the comm button on it. "Dale here."

    Julia was on the other end. "Admiral Maran is on subspace for you."

    "Tell him I'll be right there." He looked up at the others. "I'll let you know how it goes."

    "Thank you, Captain."

    Robert nodded and hit another key. "Dale to Transporter Control. One to beam back." A moment later white light coalesced around him and he disappeared.

    Roslin looked at Adama. "I don't think I could ever get used to that."

    Adama nodded. "Are you going to reconsider going to their ship for treatment?"

    Roslin took a pained breath. "I may," she admitted. "Cottle doesn't believe I can survive the operation, no matter how advanced their technology is."

    "You're a fighter, I don't think you'd go down quietly," Adama reassured her.

    "Especially now." Roslin laid her head back, clearly spent of energy for the time being. "How long until Cottle is ready for the Cylon?"

    "He said a few more hours."

    "I'd like it done as soon as possible. And try to keep our new friends out of it." Roslin took in a breath. "They're a little too idealistic. A shame we didn't meet them earlier. Things might have been easier."

    "They're going to know something's been done," Adama pointed out. "Their security chief has been meeting regularly wih the Cylon over the last day."

    "Revoke her access," Roslin ordered. "They've learned enough about the Cylons. And make sure to turn on the new shields as soon as they're ready. And I want the prisoner on continuous watch."

    Adama put two and two together. "You think our friends would try to take the prisoner?"

    "I think that they're idealists." Roslin smiled weakly. "And I would rather not give them the temptation."




    Baltar struggled in the grip of the Cylon in his head. As much as she was in his head, the grip of her hands on his tie and the way she was tightening it to choke him.

    Abruptly it ended. Baltar looked around and saw a couple people had been staring at him. He coughed and walked on, his agitation growing as he did. He had to do something, he needed...

    "Doctor?"

    The voice made him turn even as the hairs on his neck bristled. He recognized the security chief from the Aurora, the plain-looking brunette who, while not unattractive, was a little too plain-looking for his taste. "Commander... Meridina, yes?"

    She nodded. "I wish to speak with you on the issue of the Cylon prisoner. I'm told you have studied her."

    "Ah, yes... yes I have." Baltar swallowed. The Cylon in his head had warned him about Meridina, and seeing her eyes seem to burrow into his mind didn't make him feel any better. "I have studied her. Did you, um, need anything?"

    Meridina opened her mouth to speak but remained silent for a moment. "Doctor Baltar, you seem disturbed and frightened. What is wrong?"

    Get out of my head was the first thought he had. It seemed the only explanation for how she could be so exact. "Oh, well..." His mind raced as he realized the opportunity he had just been handed. "I'm just... upset is all."

    "Over President Roslin?" Meridina nodded. "Yes, I can understand that. I am sorry your leader's illness has harmed her so badly."

    "No, it's not that," Balter insisted. "She's ordered something... something I cannot agree with. Something I cannot in good conscious abide by."

    Meridina's head moved slightly. Her expression remained controlled but he could see she was interested. "What is wrong?"

    "She's... oh Gods I cannot..." Now Baltar was calling on the acting skills he'd been learning for all this time. "...it must be her illness. I honestly don't want you to think badly of her but..."

    Meridina drew closer. "Doctor, given the state of agitation something terrible is being wrought. Let me know and I may be able to prevent it."

    Baltar drew in a breath, as if to steel himself. "President Roslin has... she's ordered the termination of the Cylon's pregnancy."

    His words caused Meridina's jaw to drop open. "You mean she... she has actually ordered the killing of Sharon's unborn child?"

    "Yes. Yes, she has. And she is clearly unhinged by her deterioriating condition, but Admiral Adama will not defy her, and she will not listen to anyone who tells her otherwise."

    Horror spread through Meridina, followed by disbelief and anger. Clearly the grief and despair she had felt here had corrupted these people, to make them capable of such an atrocity. There was debate about a mother's right to not be pregnant, but there were alternatives there, and it was at least the mother's right to decide for her own body. To hear that a woman was going to be forced to abort her own pregnancy? That was nothing less than evil.

    Too great an evil to ignore.

    "Thank you for informing me of this, Doctor," Meridina said. "I will act as is needed. Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Doctor Baltar." She nodded at him and moved on briskly, with a clear sense of purpose.

    Baltar watched her go and looked around. Nobody else was present around them... until his friend reappeared. "Do you think..."

    Head-Six smiled at him. "I think, Gaius, that you have done something truly brilliant. Our child will be saved."




    "I won't let them take my baby!"

    Sharon's voice came through the phone speaker loud enough for Meridina to hear as she stepped up toward the cell. An armed Marine stepped into the entrance way, blocking her path. "Sorry, ma'am," he said to her. "Admiral Adama sent orders, you're not permitted access to the Cylon anymore."

    Of course he did. But Meridina wouldn't let that stop her. She smiled politely and bowed her head. "I understand." She inhaled and exhaled to gather her thoughts and will and brought an open hand up. "You will not bar my path."

    The Marine's expression froze. His will struggled, but it was enervated by hours of quiet guard duty. In the hands of her power, that of her telepathic mind and her own powerful swevyra, he could not resist. "I will not bar your path," he intoned.

    "You will open the cell door," she added.

    "I cannot, I do not have access," he answered without emotion.

    Meridina sighed. "You will stand by the wall."

    "I will stand by the wall." The Marine walked away from the opening and stood by the wall, facing it, oblivious to all around him. It would not last long, but it would last long enough.

    Meridina entered the immediate area by the cell, looking through the cracked glass at the panicking, enraged Sharon. The brown-haired man outside the cell turned and faced her. "Who are you?", he demanded.

    "Commander Meridina!" Sharon grabbed the receiver on her end again. "Commander, help me please! They're going to kill my baby!"

    Meridina nodded. "I know." She looked to the brown-haired man talking with Sharon. Even without seeing the name on his uniform, she knew who he was given the feelings of fear and worry and pained love coming from him. "You are Helo?"

    He nodded.

    "Stand clear." Meridina looked back to the door. "Sharon, get away from the door."

    In the time it took for her to take in a focusing breath, Sharon did so. Meridina reached out with her power and gripped the door with it. It was a good door; it resisted fiercely. But she would not be denied. She kept her face locked in a calm expression as she reached into everything that was her, everything she believed in, and pushed against the cell door with it.

    There was a loud shrieking of metal. Hinges screeched in protest and screws flew free as Meridina wrenched the door off of its hinged by pushing it inside the cell. A grimace of exertion crossed her It slammed against the opposite door. She motioned to Helo to enter with her. He embraced Sharon, oblivious to their situation, which was made starkly clear when the Marine she had sent away stepped back into the opposite doorway with his firearm raised. "Don't move!", he shouted while grabbing for his radio. "I need backup at the Cylon's cell!"

    Meridina tapped the comm button on her suit's multi-device and took Sharon and Helo's hands into her own. "Meridina to Transporter Control, emergency beam out now on my signal!"

    "I said don't frakkin' move!", the Marine shouted, raising his weapon. When white light covered them he opened fire, but he didn't seem to hit anything as the white light disappeared, taking all three of his targets with it.
     
  11. Threadmarks: 1-09 Ending
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Robert was in his quarters looking over paperwork while Admiral Maran's image remained on the far panel. The image was a little fuzzy given the booster buoys they had deployed could only boost the subspace signal so much. "The Dorei are putting together a relief convoy, but it's going to take months to get it out there."

    "They should be fine for a few months." Robert took a sip from some replicated grape soda. "We can stay with them until the convoy gets here."

    "We can't have the Aurora out there that long, Captain. For the time being continue establishing diplomatic relations with them, but expect a recall order in a week or two."

    Robert sighed and put two and two together. "The Nazis?"

    "And the Batarians. They made another raid into our M4P2 colonies yesterday. The Poryana and Constellation drove them off before they could cause any damage but the Systems Alliance is warning us they'll keep coming."

    Robert frowned. "Slaving bastards," he muttered. "No luck with diplomacy?"

    "They're not very friendly to other species, we've found."

    "Great. Well, I suppose..." There was a tone from his multidevice. He reached over and pressed it. "Dale here."

    Julia was on the other end. "Captain, we have Admiral Adama for you. He says it's urgent."

    "Put him through." Robert looked at the device and saw it confirm the line connecting. "Admiral, what can I do for you?"

    "What the hell are your people doing, Captain?" Adama's voice was its usual baritone, but now tinged with anger.

    Robert looked at the startlement on Maran's face and knew it matched his own. "Admiral, I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about?"

    "Your security chief just broke into the cell and transported away with our Cylon prisoner," Adama informed him coldly.

    Robert felt his jaw lower. "She what?"

    "So you're telling me you had nothing to do with that, Captain?"

    Robert noticed the concerned look on Maran's face. "I did not. I have no idea what Commander Meridina is up to but I'm about to find out."

    "You do that. Because I expect you to turn that Cylon back over right away. Adama out."

    Robert shook his head. They'd come so close and now it looked like all of the trust they were winning was getting thrown out the airlock. He looked at Maran. "Admiral, I have to deal with this."

    Maran nodded. "I understand, Captain. Keep me appraised." He hit a key and disappeared, replaced briefly by the seal of the Alliance's Defense Staff.

    Robert went to the door. "Computer, locate Commander Meridina."

    "Commander Meridina is in the Main Medbay."

    He hit the comm key on his multidevice. "Dale to Kane. Commander, get a squad and report to the Medbay immediately."

    "Yes, Captain."




    In the Galactica CIC, Adama was leaning against the central table. Tigh stood across from him. "Do you believe him?", Tigh asked.

    "I would like to," Adama admitted.

    "Could they have been working with the Cylons all this time?" Tigh frowned. "We've been letting them frak around with both Battlestars, if they're with the Cylons..."

    "I'm not convinced of that. It's more likely that..." Adama shook his head. "It's more likely that Commander Meridina found out about President Roslin's orders and disapproved."

    "Which means someone who was there told her," Tigh said. "Or Helo. They took him too."

    Adama nodded. As he thought about it, though, he had another suspect in mind. Baltar did this. "What is the status on the new shield systems?"

    "Pegasus is ready to turn them on," Tigh replied. "Engineering reported back an hour ago on ours, Lieutenant Barnes has already tested them a few times and is doing final checks."

    "Good. They mentioned they can't transport through them. I want more control over who comes and goes from our ships, starting now. Be ready to turn the shields on the moment I give the order."

    "Will do. What are you going to do now?"

    "I'm going to talk to President Roslin. She needs to be informed."




    Robert had worked up a full blown mad-on by the time he got to the Medbay. He found Leo and a brown-haired man in Colonial uniform beside a bed occupied by a young Asian woman; the Cylon, he realized on seeing her face fully. There was a gentle swell in her belly. A pregnant machine?

    That thought vanished when he looked into her face. He could feel the relief and fear she was dealing with. The danger was gone for the moment, but in her eyes he could see her fear of him. An acknowledgement of the fact that with an order he could send her back to the Galactica.

    Meridina was standing nearby. She faced him with only the slightest hint of regret. "Captain. I see you have been informed."

    "When my security chief decides to throw all of our hard work in the crapper, I would prefer getting told about it immediately," he said, trying and failing to keep the irritation and anger out of his voice. "We had these people ready to trust us, Meridina. Ready to let us help them. Roslin was getting ready to agree to surgery over here, where we had a chance of saving her life! And you pi... throw it all way for what?"

    "They were going to murder Sharon's baby," Meridina replied calmly.

    Robert opened his mouth to speak and stopped as the word "murder" hit his brain full force. He felt his face contort into an expression of utter confusion. "What?", he asked. "What are you..."

    "President Roslin ordered Sharon's baby to be terminated," the Colonial man said. "They were going to murder our child."

    Robert turned to face him, feeling his mouth growing dry. "And you are?"

    "Lieutenant Karl Agathon," he answered. "They call me Helo."

    Robert drew in a breath and nodded. "Okay. Okay, so..." His mind raced with the implications. "Maybe I could talk to Roslin and get her to rescind the order."

    "She will go back on her word if she thinks it necessary," the Cylon - Sharon? - warned. "When Helo and I returned to the Fleet he got into an armed confrontation with Lee Adama. She promised to put me in a cell so Helo would lower his weapon. When he did, she ordered me thrown out of the airlock. If I hadn't known how to lead them to what they were looking for I would have died right there."

    Robert bit into his tongue. He'd noticed Roslin had a tough streak to her and admitted the practicality of that situation; defuse an armed standoff by giving a concession she could withdraw at a moment's notice. "Just like that?', he asked.

    "Just like that, sir," Helo confirmed. "The moment I lowered my weapon Roslin ordered them to throw Sharon out of the airlock. 'Put that thing out the airlock', she said. After Sharon got us and her precious relic back to the fleet!"

    Meridina gave Robert a pointed look at that point. He realized that just that morning he had been expressing a similar thought process. The Cylons as things, not people. And Robert had seen what happened when living breathing people were relegated to "thing" status. Are we really seeing only one side here?, Robert thought. Have we stepped into two sides trying to exterminate each other and picked a side without finding everything out first? Robert swallowed. "Sharon, what was your role in the attack on the Colonies?"

    "I came in after the attack," she answered. "I was assigned to find Helo and seduce him. We wanted to see if a Human and Cylon could reproduce."

    "But you had no direct role in the genocide of the Colonies?", Robert asked insistently.

    "No," Sharon answered.

    He looked at her intently, trying to see if he saw any sign of falsehood there. In his gut, his instinct, he could feel she was being truthful.

    "But that doesn't change what we did," Sharon added. "While I was with Helo I realized how wrong we were. What the Cylons did to Humans of the Colonies was wrong."

    Robert looked sideways to Meridina, who nodded. "I am a farisa, Robert," Meridina reminded him. "I sense her thoughts even without my swevyra. I am not blind to deception. She is not deceiving us."

    "But why?", Robert asked. "I can see Roslin thinking an adult Cylon was a threat, but why order the abortion of a baby?"

    "Because she's afraid of what our baby is," Helo said. "I'm not sure why, Adama couldn't explain either."

    "The baby has genetic abnormalities off Human baseline," Leo explained. "Cottle showed me a sample. I didn't know who it was and they wouldn't say. I didn't know until I was giving Sharon and the baby a checkup and took a scan."

    I can't believe this is happening, Robert thought. Just when everything was working...




    Roslin remained still as Adama explained what happened to her and Baltar. She didn't seem angry, she was clearly too exhausted to be really angry, but she did look disappointed. "I was afraid it would come to this," she sighed.

    "Captain Dale insisted he didn't know and would find out what was going on," Adama said.

    "Possibly true," Roslin conceded. "But it's too late for that now. We need to get that Cylon back."

    "Honestly, Madame President, why?" Baltar leaned over beside her. "We've learned so much from her already. And the alliance with these people has to be worth more than one Cylon."

    "It's not just about the Cylon now, Doctor," Roslin said. "If we don't react to this, we give up our freedom to these people."

    "You can't seriously believe..."

    "Maybe Captain Dale and his crew mean well. But have you thought about the people who command them? If we let them dictate terms to us without reacting, they'll continue to dictate terms to us. Where we can settle. What we can say." She wheezed. "What lives we can lead. No. We cannot become their complete dependents. We have to assert our independence."

    "You're signing your death warrant, ma'am," Baltar reminded her, looking upset. "These people could save you."

    "The cost would be too high," she rasped.

    "Then as your successor, I plead for you to consider what I'm going to have to...."

    "Leave us, Doctor," Roslin insisted. "You can lead the Colonies as you see fit, but until then I am President and I make the decisions."

    Baltar opened his mouth to protest but clearly thought better of it. He turned and stormed out.

    "He has a point," Adama said. "Whatever you do, he may undo."

    "I'll leave you to handle that, Bill, in whatever means you think are necessary," she answered. "But for now, we need to respond. How long ago did you talk to Captain Dale?"

    "About half an hour ago."

    "And he hasn't called back." Roslin grimaced sadly. "I think someone told them about my orders for the Cylon's baby. I suppose I can't blame them for doing this. But we have to respond. Are those shield systems ready?"

    "Pegasus and Galactica have full shield capability now," Adama confirmed. "Their people are looking into modifying our Raptors and ships with their sensors now."

    "Raise those shields. Give him ten more minutes," Roslin wheezed. "If he doesn't send the Cylon back, I want you to..." Roslin licked at her dry lips. "...I want you to take those Aurora officers into custody."

    Adama lowered his eyes. "Are you sure? Those people have been working day and night to help us."

    "It's for their own good," she said. "How do you think our people will react when they hear that they're sheltering a Cylon? It's for the best, Bill. Ten minutes. And then you arrest the Aurora officers."




    Robert followed Leo and Meridina into a side office. "What are we going to do about this?", he said hoarsely. "Do you honestly think Adama and Roslin will just overlook this?"

    "Offer them more assistance as compensation," Meridina proposed.

    "It's not about that and you know it," Robert hissed. "We just slapped them in the face. One of ours went up to them and took their prisoner, saying we don't trust them to do the right thing. That we don't trust their judgement. That we know better."

    "From where I stand, we do know better," Leo retorted. "This is unconscionable, Rob. We can't let them just kill a woman's baby because of a few genetics tests."

    "Need I remind you that the Defense Committee is watching us like hawks, that Hawthorne and Davies are waiting for any excuse to throw us off this ship?", Robert blurted out, going with the fear that was bubbling to the top of his head while the mission unraveled around him. He immediately regretted those words as he saw the bewildered looks on the faces of Meridina and Leo.

    "I'm going to pretend that one of my best friends didn't just imply that his job was more important than a woman and her child," Leo said, every word deliberate in its tone.

    Robert felt his cheeks burn with shame. "I'm sorry," was all he could say.

    He felt a hand take his. He watched Meridina take his left hand into both of hers. "Even the bravest of us feel fear. I have felt such from you for weeks now. I understand, Robert. I know what you're going through and all of those doubts and terrors in your heart. But I know that you are still a brave and good man. Within your heart and swevyra is a well of courage that I have come to appreciate since I met you. The only thing I honor more is the well of empathy that resides beside it. Because of these things, out of all the beings I have met, I have never seen a sense of moral awareness as strongly as yours. You know what the right thing is. And I know you will do it regardless of the cost to yourself."

    As she spoke Robert thought he could feel something of her essence. This was more than when they'd mentally bonded so he could share the pain of Cardassian prisoners with her. This was something different, something deeper. He could see himself through her eyes; the Robert Dale that Meridina saw, always caring, always willing to be the first to charge into danger to protect others.

    He knew that instinct within him well. It was one that had been unlocked by what the Facility offered him. It was the sense within him that said that evil existed, that some things were just wrong, and that anyone who aspired to do good had to stand before it and say "Enough. No more. I will fight you." Regardless of the consequences.

    "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing," he murmured, feeling tears on his cheeks. "Thank you for reminding me of that."

    "You already knew," Meridina assured him. "I simply helped you push away the fear that obscured your vision of that."

    Robert nodded and took in a breath. "Okay. We'll offer Sharon and Helo asylum. Leo, get with Lieutenant Borja, have her draw up the requests. I need to get the others off of those Battlestars in case things go bad." He reached to his multidevice and hit the comm key. "Dale to Transporter Control. Emergency transport, lock onto our people still on the Colonial ships and energize."

    "Aye sir."

    "Do you think they'd really take them prisoner?", Leo asked.

    "At this point, I don't know," Robert admitted. "It's better not to..."

    "Captain, Transporter Control here. We can't beam anyone aboard. Galactica and Pegasus have raised shields."

    They looked at each other with deep concern. "I need to get to the bridge. Leo, get ready for, well, anything."

    Robert rushed out.




    "Do you really think this will work?" Chief Tyrol looked up from under the electronics station in one of the Raptors.

    "I'm hoping it will," Jarod said, kneeling beside him and checking the lines for the naqia micro-reactor they'd just installed. "Fifteen light year sensor range, anything that has the slightest subspace signature will show up." He looked over to the exit. "Tom, how is that external sensor coming?"

    "It's coming along frakking well, man," Barnes called out from under the Raptor.

    Jarod rolled his eyes and smirked. "Seriously, Tom? You're using that word more than they are."

    "I like the Goddamned sound, alright? It feels..."

    Barnes came out from under the Raptor in time to see a squad of Galactica's Marines coming at him at a brisk pace. "Yo, where's the fire...?" he started to ask.

    "Don't move!", one voice boomed back as their weapons came up and pointed at Barnes. "Hands on your head! Get on the ground NOW!"

    "What the hell are you....?!" Barnes moved a step forward.

    Shots rang out. Blood erupted from his left side and right hip and thigh as two shots struck him. Barnes screamed as he collapsed to the ground. He used a word that he tried to avoid and which was rather similar to the Colonials' 'Frak".

    "What the frakking hell?!" Tyrol pulled himself up from his workspace in time to see the Marines move closer. "What in the gods' name are you guys doing?!"

    Jarod was already on his multidevice. "Jarod to Aurora, we are under attack, we need immediate beamout! We're being..."

    Two more Marines came from around the Raptor and pointed their weapons inside. "Hands on your frakking heads now!"

    Jarod and Tyrol obeyed and looked at each other in confusion. Jarod fought down the panic he felt even as he was grabbed by the Marines and pulled to the ground. His arms were twisted behind his back and his wrists secured with ties. He tried to fight down the involuntary panic, the panic that said "The Centre has finally caught you!" whenever he even conceived being this helpless.

    "What the hell is going on?!", Tyrol demanded, looking for the man in charge.

    "Commander Jarod and Lieutenant Barnes?" The sergeant of the Marines stepped up. "You're both under arrest on suspicion of being Cylon agents." He jerked a thumb toward the panting Barnes. Blood was pouring from his untreated wounds. "Call Doc Cottle for that one, and take both of these toaster-lovers to the brig."




    Caterina never saw it coming.

    She had been working in a cubby space, an access port for one of Pegasus' electronic data lines. Suddenly two hands grabbed her feet and yanked her out from the cubby space and to the hall. Two more hands grabbed her collar and lifted her up. At least half a dozen men were glaring at her, all bigger than her and stronger than her. Caterina let out a cry of fright. "Wh-what is going....?"

    The first fist smashed into her belly hard enough to make Caterina puke. She doubled over and felt her head spin from nausea. "Should've known you were toaster-lovers," one of the men grumbled. "Yeah, we're onto you. Just your lucky day, you little Cylon-loving bitch, that you're with us instead of those limp-wristed jackoffs on the Bucket."

    Caterina began to stammer through the pain and terror. "I-I do-don't kn-kn-know wh-wh-what-t-t you-you're talk...."

    She was interrupted as they hauled her back to her feet and another man planted another punch, this time on her face. Pain exploded thorugh the left side of Cat's face and she screamed. Her eye began to sting. "Too bad Lieutenant Thorne's gone," another said. "He'd know what to do with a frakking toaster-lover like you, wouldn't he boys?" That prompted evil laughter from the assembled Pegasus crew.

    Up against the wall and hurting, Caterina screamed for help. Instead she took another punch, this one breaking her nose and knocking out a tooth. Blood streaked from her injured face as she hit the ground again. "We j-j-just w-w-want t-t-t-to h-e-elp," she whimpered, starting to sob. "P-p-plea-a-ase d-d-don't h-hit me ag-again..."

    A foot smashed into the right side of her face. With her eyes swelling shut Cat could only see swirling colors as she took another kick to the head and another to the belly. Pain exploded down her entire body and she screamed and cried for help again.

    The only reply was being picked up again to take another punch.




    Lucy's first warning that something was up was when the Pegasus' shields turned on again without warning.

    Still, she worked quietly, monitoring the power flow while checking an open panel of electronics for the sensor upgrade project. All the while she felt that new something inside of her, the swevyra Meridina had taught her to tap into, scream in worry and anticipation. The energy of the ship around her was shifting. Some of the crew was becoming angry.

    And then she felt the first surge of pain and a familiar life force within it. "Cat," she murmured.

    Boots were clamping down on the metal deck from a distance, growing in intensity. In that moment Lucy knew something was wrong. She left the panel and retreated down one hall to a nearby storage locker. She reached for her belt but was reminded she was unarmed, a concession to friendship that was now proving unwise.

    Meridina's voice returned to her mind. You do not need weapons, she had said early in their training. With swevyra all is possible. Your very essence can protect you from an attacker.

    Well, I guess I'm about to find out
    , she thought to herself. Lucy felt another surge of terror and pain and knew it was Cat. They're beating up Cat.... why?! What's going on?!

    The door opened suddenly and two armed crewmen stepped in, brandishing firearms. "There you are!", the lead one barked. "Hands on your frakking head or we'll splatter your brains all over the wall, you frakking Cylon-lover!"

    Lucy held her hands up for a moment, thinking. She could feel Caterina hurting and more importantly felt their rage, their hatred. They intended the same for her the moment she was in their power.

    Lucy had once been helpless in the power of such men. It was not an experience she intended to repeat.

    So she moved.

    And the guns went off.




    Robert stepped onto the bridge and was met by Julia. "Jarod was calling for help and said he was under attack," she informed him. "We can't get a hold of anyone now."

    Robert went for his chair. "Patch me through to Galactica."

    Jupap, sitting at Ops, nodded. "Opening channel," the Alakin ops officer chirped.

    "This is Captain Dale to the Galactica," Robert said. "Please come in. We can't reach our people."

    For a moment there was no response. "Their shields are up," Jupap confirmed.

    "Rob, what's going on?", Julia whispered.

    "Everything's going to Hell," he replied in a similar hushed tone.

    After another ten seconds the hail was answered. "This is Admiral Adama."

    "Admiral, we received a distress call from Commander Jarod," Robert said. "And your shields are up so we can't beam him over. Do you know what's going on?"

    "As a matter of fact, I do." There was something weary in Adama's voice. It was the sound of a man not entirely pleased with what was being done, but he knew he had to do it. "Under the orders of President Roslin, I've placed your people under arrest as Cylon agents."

    Julia's jaw dropped open. "You can't be serious," she hissed.

    From Tactical Angel stared daggers at the viewscreen. "Cat," she murmured.

    Robert swallowed. "Admiral, this isn't necessary. We can work out an arrangement."

    "They will be returned to you when you return the Cylon to our custody," Adama responded.

    Julia stared at Robert. "So Meridina did..." She stopped when Robert shook his head at her.

    "Admiral, I know what you're planning to do to her," Robert said. "I can understand why you hate Cylons, but it doesn't justify forcing someone to abort their baby."




    Adama stood in the CIC with the phone to his head. "That's not your place to decide, Captain. She was our prisoner. Our responsibility. You had no right to seize her from our custody."

    "But you have the right to kill an unborn child?"

    Adama remained silent while Tigh rolled his eyes. "That's not up for discussion, Captain Dale. Return the Cylon and we'll give your people back. That's all that has to happen here." He lowered the phone somewhat and looked at Tigh. Every bit of his expression told his crew that Adama was, in his own way, begging Captain Dale to acquiesce and to not kill the hopes they'd been feeling since meeting the Aurora crew.




    Robert ignored the glaring look from Angel. He could see Julia's jaw was clenched now that she knew the stakes. "Could you give me a guarantee she won't be mistreated?", Robert asked. "And that President Roslin will rescind her order for the forced abortion?"

    There was silence at first. Robert bit into his lip a little. Please, Admiral Adama. Don't do this! We can make it up to you, don't do this out of pride!




    Adama kept his eyes focused on the DRADIS screen. He thought about just agreeing. Get the Cylon back and plead to Roslin to change her mind and avoid a rupture that could doom the Colonial Fleet. Right now his only bargaining chips were the four Aurora officers he was holding.

    "I can try to convince the President, yes," he said. "But I won't give a false guarantee." He lowered the receiver and checked DRADIS again. The Aurora had, during their time with the Fleet, positioned itself several thousand caroms out to give it room to maneuver in event of a renewed Cylon attack. But now it meant it had room to maneuver to attack his Battlestars. "Four of your people for one Cylon, Captain. I know how much you care about your crew. Please listen to reason."




    "Listen to reason?" Robert frowned. "Me? You're the ones throwing our help back in our faces. You're the ones who've attacked the officers I sent to help you because you want to execute an unborn baby!"

    Locarno looked back. "Orders, sir?




    "We will not be dictated to," Adama insisted. As he did so he knew where this conversation was headed. And it wasn't in the direction he wanted. He put a hand to his receiver. "Have all Vipers ready to launch. Prepare main guns."

    Tigh's expression stiffened. "Yes sir."




    "And I won't let you get away with using my people as hostages," Robert retorted. "We can offer you so much, Admiral. A new home. Protection from the Cylons. Maybe... maybe one day we could even get our fleet out to the Colonies and liberate them! But none of this will happen if you don't stand down now."

    Robert looked to Julia. "Signal Laurent," he mouthed, not even speaking.

    Julia nodded with comprehension. She hit a key on her pad, signaling the flight deck to prepare for launch.




    Adama clenched his jaw and looked to Tigh, who shook his head. They both knew where this was going. "It's all a waste," Adama lamented. "Such a godsdamned waste." He brought the phone back up. "I'll say it again, Captain. Return the Cylon or your people will stand trial as Cylon agents."




    Robert heard the bridge door swish open. Meridina emerged onto the bridge and looked down on him. "You're asking me to send a woman back to your custody to have her baby murdered, and you're holding my people hostage to give me no choice." Robert hit a key to temporarily mute his transmitter, ensuring Adama couldn't her him. "Status on their shields?"

    "They're at full power," Jupap reported.

    "But they're not very thick," Angel added. "It'll take a few shots but I can destabilize them enough to get a transporter beam through."

    "That would require us to lower shields," Julia reminded them all. "We'd need to take out their weapons too. And if we do that, we could leave their entire Fleet defenseless. The Cylons would slaughter them."

    "Or we take our chances and lower our shields too to get Cat and the others out." Angel's voice sounded tranquil, but Robert and Julia exchanged worried looks. They knew that tone of voice. A calm before the storm, and a violent storm of rage it would be. "Or we just give them the damn Cylon back."

    "Then you would be condemning Sharon's unborn daughter to an abortion," Meridina pointed out calmly from where she was standing.

    Angel bit into her lip. "Bastards, those bastards", she hissed. Tears appeared at the corner of her eyes as her need to protect her sister warred with her beliefs about life and the sanctity of one's own body.




    "We're probably going to die, you know."

    Adama cast a sideways glance to Tigh. He looked back without apology. "You saw what that thing did to a Cylon Basestar, sir. Those shields they gave us are jury-rigged models. They'll blast through them like tissue paper."

    "Which means they can't risk it," Adama pointed out. "If they damage our ships too badly their friends will die too."

    "Are you sure of that, sir?", Tigh asked pointedly. "Because this kid doesn't sound like he's going to fold. He might risk it."

    "Even if he does disable us... he knows he'd be leaving us defenseless against the Cylons." Adama set his jaw. "He's not going to risk forty eight thousand people for one life."




    Robert drew in a breath and swallowed. "You realize that if we do this," he started, "and if we end up crippling those ships.... these people will be defenseless."

    "Do you really think Adama would risk that?", Julia asked. "Is one Cylon more important than their entire civilization?"

    "I am not sure if he is bluffing or not," Meridina said. "He is a very practical man, but also very capable of standing his ground."

    "He's not the only one," Robert murmured. He turned the audio output back on. "Admiral, I'm not letting you hold our people hostage like this. We came to you to help you. And you've betrayed that."




    "Your people raided my ship," Adama retorted. "You broke in to a secure section and you stole away a valuable prisoner, all to impose what you decided was right over the decisions of our official leadership. Who are you to say what we can and can't do?"




    "I shouldn't have to say that kind of thing!", Robert shouted. The heated tone in his voice was almost startling to those on the bridge. He sounded like he'd been wounded by what Adama was implying. "You should be a moral enough man to know right from wrong!"




    Adama's face remained emotionless. In his heart and mind, he felt agreement with that. But he had a duty to perform. And he didn't believe Dale was the kind of man to abandon all that was left of a society like that. "I have an obligation to obey the orders of our civilian leadership," he said, keeping any trace of irony out of his voice. "All I can do is promise you that if you return the Cylon, I'll appeal to President Roslin to allow more time before she makes a decision."




    "You and I both know she won't," Robert replied. "She knows she's dying. She won't trust us to save her and she damned well won't leave this for Doctor Baltar will decide. I want your word that no matter what happens, you won't kill that Cylon woman's baby."




    Adama closed his eyes. "I can't make that promise, Captain." He looked to Tigh and shook his head.




    On the Aurora bridge, Robert closed his eyes and drew in a breath. He looked to Julia and shook his head.




    Tigh nodded. "All hands, prepare for battle stations!"




    Julia closed her eyes and gave a nod of understanding. "Code Red! All hands man battle stations."

    Robert swallowed. "Launch Koenig and all fighters. God forgive us."




    "Launch all Vipers," Adama ordered. "Gods have mercy on us all."




    From all three ships fighters began to pour out of their quick-launch tubes. The Aurora's dock door opened up to permit a quick launch deployment of the Koenig, which came about and took a vector approaching the Pegasus and its fleet of fighters.

    On the bridge of the Koenig Zack was closing his eyes and praying. His friends were on those ships.... was it really going to come to this?




    Lee Adama moved his fighter into defensive formation and looked at the approaching Mongoose fighters of the Alliance ship. The shape would have been more similar if not for the wings on the Mongoose fighters, engine nacelles visible at the apex of the wings "above" the fighter's main hull.

    "Everyone stand by. Do not fire unless we get the order from Galactica," he ordered.




    In the Galactica CIC Adama watched the developing tactical situation on the DRADIS. "Have the Fleet jump to emergency coordinates as soon as their drives spool up," he ordered. "I want them out of the line of fire."

    "He's going to do it," Tigh breathed. "He's going to attack us."

    "Sir..." Gaeta looked up from where he was monitoring, among other things, the new hardlight display showing their shield status and controls. It stood out in the CIC, a stark reminder of what the Aurora crew had helped them with. "Can't we..."

    "We cannot, Mister Gaeta," Adama said gruffly, cutting him off. "If we back down now, we'll always back down."

    "This is crazy, sir! One Cylon can't be worth..."

    "Belay that talk, Mister!", Tigh shouted.

    Gaeta paled and nodded stiffly. "I'm picking up active scans from weapons systems. Their fighters are locking on to Galactica and to our fighters."

    "Lock our weapons on their fighters, if they shoot at our people shoot back," Adama ordered.




    "Fighters report weapons lock on the Galactica. Koenig has locked weapons on Pegasus," Jupap said. "They are waiting for your order to engage."

    It was the moment of decision. Robert felt like he was alone in the central chair, the weight of the dilemma starting to crush him. Four of his people, of his friends, were at stake.

    And so was an innocent, unborn life, to be snuffed out because of a dying woman's prejudice.

    "Sir, I have weapons locks," Angel reminded him. "Permission to fire?"

    "There has to be another way," Julia said. She shook her head. "Something better than this."

    "If we back down, then what do we stand for?", Robert asked. "We're just saying it's okay for prejudice to do horrible things because it's practical. I... I don't think I can live like that. And I think they'd understand. Tom, Jarod, Cat, Lucy... they all signed on believing in doing what was right. They'll understand." He took in a breath. "They'll understand," he repeated, as if trying to convince himself.

    "Aurora, enemy fighters weapons are hot. Do we have permission to engage?"

    And so it came down to this. More than his decision at LA33, or at Krellan Nebula, or in the DMZ.... this was the big one for Robert Dale. This was where he had to decide what mattered to him. His friends were being threatened because of his principles, and his choice was to give in on the things he believed or to act to get his friends back, regardless of the consequences.

    He looked back to Meridina, who was watching him closely, conflict all over her face. She had set this into motion. Now she had to watch him take up the burden of finishing her action.

    He swallowed... and he decided.

    "Fire."






    To Be Continued....
     
  12. Threadmarks: 1-10 Opening
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Last Time on Undiscovered Frontier... (Imagine this said with Majel Barrett Roddenberry's voice)

    And now the conclusion....



    "Sir, I have weapon locks. Permission to fire?"

    Angel's words pierced the heavy thoughts weighing down Meridina's heart. She remained standing for the moment near the rear of the bridge and close to Angel's place at tactical.

    Meridina had never imagined it would come to this. She never thought that the darkness she had felt amongst the Colonials would manifest itself so terribly. Hatred, fear, pride, any combination of those sentiments could be seen in the fuel for the Colonial reaction to what she had done.

    Not that she regretted the action itself. The Code was clear, and the Code was her belief. Sharon - the pregnant Cylon woman - had been facing the execution of her unborn child due to the prejudice and whim of a dying woman. Meridina could have never faced her mentor Mastrash Ledosh, let along her father Karesl, if she had not acted as she did. It would have been a disgrace to everything the swevyra'se believed in.

    She did regret what came after that decision though. She had not made the right choices. Now others were in danger because of her actions, good as they were. The old warning about how even the most light-filled of paths could lead into dark places came to her mind.

    She'd told that one to Lucy once, and explained its meaning to her. Lucy's reply had been a Human saying that Meridina found oddly appropriate.

    No good deed goes unpunished.

    She sensed Robert's momentary indecision. His anger at Adama's obstinate stand. And his determination not to yield. Meridina had grown to appreciation that determination in the face of evil. Whatever other issues Robert had as a person, when the moral decision was in front of him he was often decisive and fearless in pursuing it.

    it would be an admirable quantity if he ever joined the ranks of her order.

    But right now, she could see where this was going. She didn't need the future-sensing gift of Swenya to know it either. They would fire. Colonial pilots and crew would die. Jarod, Tom, Cat, and Lucy could be rescued, or some or all could end up victims of Colonial retribution before the shooting stopped.

    All of those people were about to be hurt for her decision.

    Meridina knew she had made the right choice.

    Now she would have to accept the consequences of that choice, no matter the sacrifice.

    "Fire."

    The moment she felt Robert's order coming, Meridina was already using the console to make sure the order didn't go out over the open channel. She cried out "Wait!"

    Angel's hand froze just above the control. Eyes on the bridge turned toward Meridina.

    "There is a better way," she said to them, or specifically to Robert and Julia. "A way that will not lead to bloodshed. It could salvage our relationship with these people."

    Julia looked from Meridina to Robert. He looked to Jupap at Ops. "Status of the Colonial forces?", he asked the Alakin.

    The avian checked his boards. "They are on combat standby still. They have not fired."

    Robert sighed and nodded to Meridina. "I'm listening."

    "I acted in accordance with the Code I'm sworn to uphold. I will not allow others to endure the consequences of my actions on either side," Meridina explained. "Give me to them."

    Robert blinked. "What?"

    "Give me to them, put me in their custody," Meridina answered. "If someone is to stand trial for an offense, let it be me."

    Robert's first reaction was going to be "Like hell I will". But he held his tongue. He kept his eyes fixed on Meridina, who returned the look. There was determination there. Not a bit of fear.

    Get four of his people back, four of his best friends, at the cost of Meridina. Robert had no illusions that the Colonials would be kind to a sympathizer with the cyborg race that had exterminated their friends and loved ones on their homeworlds. Meridina was setting herself up as a sacrifice.

    He looked to Julia. "There has to be a better way. There's got to be one."

    "I can't think of one," she said. "At least this buys time, right? Time for negotiations? Maybe we can talk them out of being too harsh."

    Robert bit into his lip.

    "This is crap!", Angel shouted. "You can't trust them, they might just grab Meridina too!"

    "Admiral Adama would not break that agreement," Meridina pointed out. "Not in his current situation."

    "Like that matters," Angel guffawed. "He's clearly led around on a noose by that snooty President over there. She's the nut who caused this in the first place!"

    Meridina looked at Angel. "You're allowing your anger and fear to drive you into paranoia, Lieutenant. I understand that you are afraid for your sister. This will ensure she is returned safely."

    "You honestly believe that?", Robert asked her. "I'm beginning to realize there's more to these people than I knew."

    "Their suffering has brought them into a dark place, yes. But we will not lead them out of it by embracing our dark impulses too." Meridina stepped up to him and to Julia. "This is the right way to do things. I am positive of that."

    Julia let out a sigh. "I think she's got a point there."

    Robert swallowed. "They might kill you," he pointed out. "Roslin could have you ejected into space when convicted. Or she might not even bother with a trial."

    "Then I will die." Meridina drew in a breath, hoping to calm herself and the others by her example. "I knew I might face a terrible death the moment I swore to the Code, Robert. If that is my fate, then I will accept it, and you must as well."

    Robert felt eyes boring into him as the crew looked at him. Everything about the situation stank. Not just the standoff, but here he was, having Meridina suddenly step into the situation to play the holy martyr. A part of him bristled at having his commands interfered with, even if he was happy for it.

    "Hail the Galactica again," he ordered Jupap. When he received a nod in reply, Robert steadied himself by putting a hand on his chair and said, "Admiral Adama, I have a counter-proposal to end this standoff."




    Undiscovered Frontier
    The Human Condition, Part 2




    In the Galactica CIC, Adama looked pensive. For the moment, this resumed conversation had at least prevented a shooting war he didn't think he could win. Every moment bought a chance at a solution. He eyed Tigh, who looked at him with defiant concern. "He's chickening out," the grizzled old XO muttered. "He doesn't have the..."

    "Would you take that risk, Saul?", Adama asked carefully. "Would you risk the entirety of the Fleet like I did?"

    "It worked," Tigh said.

    "No, I don't think it did. I think we just got lucky." Adama held up the receiver again. "I'm listening, Captain."

    There was a pause. "My security chief is willing to stand trial in Colonial court for removing the Cylon Sharon from your ship, if you return the officers you seized."

    "I see." Adama breathed a silent prayer of thanks. He eyed Tigh and waved him off. Four hostages for one sounded like a sucker's bet. But if Adama was going to hang someone for this fiasco, better it be someone who was at least responsible. "I would need to take special measures to ensure she doesn't break out."

    "I give you my oath as swevyra'se that I will not attempt escape," Meridina said.

    "With all due respect, Commander, we don't know much about your people, and that oath doesn't mean a lot to me."

    "If I swore on the essence of my mother and the honor of my father, then? On the Code I have sworn to uphold? I will not allow others to be punished for my actions, Admiral. Not my allies nor your people. If someone must suffer over this situation, let it be me."

    "And what's to stop her from doing any more of that mind mumbo-jumbo to get her guards to unlock her cell?", Tigh demanded. "We're going to have to keep her locked up and chained down, and I'm not even sure that'll work. She yanked that heavy cell door off its hinges!"

    As Adama thought it over in his head... it made sense. It was the best solution in a bad situation. Losing the Cylon was a small price to pay and any concerns about the Allied Systems bullying them would be dealt with by Meridina's offer to stand trial for her deeds. Roslin might not be entirely happy, and four prisoners for one seemed an unfair trade...

    ...but it was the right thing, regardless. It had already felt wrong to make prisoners of men and women who were offering aid to them. If someone was going to hang for this, if someone had to hang... the person who caused the situation was the one.

    But Saul Tigh was right. The woman's strange power was something he had to take into account. Just blindly trusting her... he needed insurance.

    "I'll return all but one of the prisoners in exchange for Commander Meridina," Adama answered. "The other will be kept under custody until the trial has ended. Once Commander Meridina is acquitted or her sentence is fulfilled, he or she will be returned."




    Robert shook his head. "That's not good enough," he said.

    "It's going to have to be. Commander Meridina is too powerful to keep as a prisoner without insurance, or harsh treatment."

    "I will willingly accept whatever confinements you feel are necessary..."

    "Sir!" Lieutenant Jupap, the avian Alakin officer at Ops, chirped the word with restrained excitement. "I'm picking up something on the other Battlestar, it's..."

    "...what, Lieutenant?", Robert asked, keeping his irritation low.

    "Explosions, sir."




    The armed men from the Pegasus crew opened fire on Lucy. And they nearly killed her.

    Nearly.

    Meridina had taught Lucy quite a bit in the past couple of weeks. One thing was how to use the power that now swelled inside of her to know where someone would strike before they did. In the moment before the guns went off she felt that knowledge fill her and called on her body to drop low. The bullets whizzed over her head.

    In the same movement she motioned upward with her arm. Kinetic force, the same power that Meridina called swevyra, answered her and directed itself at the armed men. They flew backward and out of the door with sufficient force that it stunned them all. Lucy jumped to her feet and brought her fist down on each of them. She ignored the pain in her knuckles from the blows that knocked out her attackers. She stripped the clips from their guns and took one of the sidearms before she ran on through the ship's corridor. She could feel Caterina's terror and pain in the distance. The Pegasus crew had siezed her as well, and Lucy could feel the chill of the dark forces Meridina had taught her to avoid. Hate, fear, and anger were now heightened across the ship.

    Lucy brought up her multi-device while running and checked her functions. She nodded with satisfaction at seeing she could detect the proximity of Caterina's device, overlaying its positional data with the schematics of Pegasus she had used for her installation work.

    She also noted her connection to the settings of the shield generator. That was the most important part of all. We have a chance to get out of here, then, Lucy thought to herself as she ran down the gray corridors, trying to evade confrontation and get to Cat.

    Hopefully, she wouldn't be too late.




    Pain exploded again across Caterina's face as another meaty fist slammed into it. She habitually spat out the wad she felt in her mouth and through her swollen eyes she could see the white tooth mixed with red blood now glistening on the deck.

    Powerful hands seized her and held her up. "You frakking toaster-lovers," an angry voice rasped. "I lost my whole frakking family on Virgon! All of them! And you types think you can just turn on us, help out that toaster? Frak you." A knee slammed into her belly. Caterina doubled over in pain and felt the urge to vomit again.

    "I-I-I didn't... didn't...", she tried to say. She took a foot to the ribs and hit the floor. "Plea-ease s-stop....!"

    Hands grabbed the back of her uniform jacket and pulled her up. One of the larger men smirked and grabbed her by the throat. "That frakking weakling Adama doesn't know how to handle your kind. But we do. Oh we..."

    Despite her swollen eyes Caterina made out the fist gripping a pistol that came in from nowhere and struck the man choking her. He let go of Caterina and stumbled backward. The savage pistol-whipping ruined his balance and caused him to fall. The others with him were equally shocked. Freed from the grip on her throat Caterina collapsed again, wheezing.

    "Are you out of your frakking minds?!" Kara Thrace stepped between Caterina and her tormentors. "You were sent to arrest her, not beat her to death!"

    "You heard the Colonel! They helped that toaster escape! They're all frakking toaser-lovers!"

    "She's almost a kid!", Kara shouted in retort. "You're just looking for something to punch because you're pissed off. The Cylons killed your family, Kowal? They killed a lot of people I cared for too and you don't see me acting like a frakking thug! You don't get to just beat someone to death because you're pissed off! This is still the Colonial frakking Navy and you follow your Godsdamned orders!"

    "The way I see it, Bucket, there's four of us and one of...."

    Caterina looked up in time to see Kara's gun focus on the man who'd delivered the most punches to her. "You take one more frakking step and I put a bullet in your head! Stand down!"

    The men all looked around. Each had a sidearm of their own, but they had ignored them while beating up on Cat and each knew that the first to draw would get shot, even if his buddies might get shots off. And nobody wanted to be the first to get shot.

    That left them in stalemate.

    "You okay, Cat", Kara asked, not looking back.

    Caterina had trouble finding words to reply. She ended up sobbing a reply of "No".

    "You people from Galactica don't have guts," one of the attackers protested. "You don't know how to deal with people! Admiral Cain knew! She showed us how it was done!"

    "Admiral Cain isn't here anymore," Kara retorted. "She's gone! Get over it!"

    "Not until the Old Man gets his head out of his..."

    By now even Cat heard the pounding steps on the deck. From the floor she could see familiar boots coming down the opposite way. The crewmembers turned to face the intruder.

    "Get away from her!" Lucy waved a hand. The man furthest to the left from Caterina's point of view suddenly flew and slammed into two of the others, all three hitting the bulkhead with such force that they were either unconscious or heavily dazed. Kowal let out a cry of challenge and went for his gun.

    Suddenly he was lifted off his feet, sailing over Kara and Cat and hitting the wall. He let out a grunt and landed right beside Cat.

    Kara looked back as Lucy came up to them. "What the frak...?"

    Lucy made a grabbing motion. Kara jumped backward a bit as her gun flew from her hands. "Thank you, Captain Thrace, for helping her," Lucy said. "We'll be leaving now."

    "I can't let you do that. You're both under arrest."

    "There's no way I'm agreeing to be held against my will," Lucy said. "I've suffered that before. I'm not doing it again."

    "You don't have much choice," Kara retorted. "Those shields are up. You can't be transported out. If you keep fighting you'll just get killed. Give up and I'll personally watch you two until the Old Man and your captain sort out this mess."

    Lucy answered by bringing up her wrist. Her multidevice display activated and she pressed a button. "What are you doing?", Kara asked.

    "Setting the shields to overload," Lucy answered.




    Colonel Fisk felt a slight tremor in the deck and looked to Hoshi. "What the hell was that?"

    "Explosion in one of the engineering spaces. Light blast, no major..." There was another tremor. "We just had another explosion. Sir... it's the shield generators."




    "Pegasus shields are down," Jupap reported.

    "We can get Cat and Lucy out!", Angel shouted.

    "But not Jarod and Tom," Julia pointed out. "If we just snatch them..."

    "I'm not leaving them," Robert said. "Lower the shields." He breathed in, knowing the risk he was taking by doing this. By all rights he shouldn't be lowering shields in this situation, not to retrieve just two people.

    "Don't fire, Admiral, please," he murmured quietly.




    "The Aurora's shields are going down. I mean, I think." Gaeta looked over the hard-light display's sensors. The sensors weren't quite installed entirely yet, but he was sure he was seeing a shift that showed the lowering of the big ship's defensive screens.

    "He's going to get his people off Pegasus," Tigh said. "Bill." His voice lowered to a bare whisper, meaning only Adama could hear the use of his name. "We have the shot."

    Adama nodded gently. "A shot."

    "Pegasus is requesting orders, do they fire?"

    "You're not going to give the order, are you?", Tigh asked.

    Adama shook his head. "No. No, I'm not starting a shooting war we can't win."

    "Galactica Actual, this is Pegasus Actual. They've removed our prisoners. Admiral, your orders?" There was a hint of disapproval in Fisk's voice, but only a hint, likely an unconscious one.

    "Make sure that our prisoners are under watch and don't have those arm devices of their's," Adama said to Tigh. "I don't need them sabotaging us too."

    Tigh nodded and went to give the orders. Adama turned his attention back to his receiver. "Captain?"




    On the Aurora bridge, tense moments passed before Jupap gave confirmation. "We have them."

    Robert and Julia looked at each other and nodded, exchanging a sigh of relief. At tactical Angel was visibly struggling to contain her relief. "Raise the shields again." Robert reached down and pressed the intercom button. "Mister Scott, any ideas on their shields? Can we get a transporter through it?"

    "I dinnae think so, Captain. It's nae safe enough."

    "I understand." So, right back where we started. But with things more even. "Meridina, are there any ways we can suppress your abilities? Drugs, that kind of thing? That way they don't have to fear you using them?"

    "I am afraid such a thing is a very complicated issue," she answered. "Some drugs might reduce my ability to call upon my swevyra, but they would also alter my mind-state. I could become catatonic or violent."

    "I see. Thank you." Robert put a hand on his forehead.

    "Captain?"

    "I'm still here, Admiral Adama."

    "Did you get your people back safely?"

    "We did, yes."

    "That's good to hear." There was a breath on the other end and some silence. "Captain, this situation has to be resolved. I don't want a shooting war."

    "Nor do I," Robert answered. He sighed and swallowed. "You want insurance against Meridina breaking free?"

    "I must insist."

    "Fine." Robert nodded. "As her Captain, I am responsible for her conduct. I'll stay on Galactica until this situation is resolved."

    The rest of the crew stared at him in stunned silence.




    Adama stared at nothing for a moment. He drew in a breath. "You would do that?"

    "As I said. I'm responsible for the conduct of my officers and crew. If someone has to be a hostage to her good behavior, I'm the one who should do it. My command crew can run the ship in my absence. They'll be under strict orders to not interfere in the situation." Adama heard a dissenting voice in the background momentarily. It ended quickly. "Would that be enough?"

    Adama considered it. It was gutsy as hell and he respected it. But there were other concerns in his mind.

    "I don't like it," Tigh grumbled. "Those kids over there might get ideas in their heads no matter what he orders."

    "I know. But it's a chance to get us out of this Godsdamned stand-off." Adama held the receiver up again. "I accept your terms, Captain. We'll arrange quarters for you while you're kept in custody. How do you intend to do this exchange?"

    "We're going to fly an unarmed shuttle over. You meet us in your launch bay with Jarod and Tom. We do a standard exchange and they fly the shuttle out."

    Adama nodded. "So long as the shuttle is in space within half an hour. Otherwise I won't let it land on Galactica."

    "Half an hour. Agreed. Dale out."

    There was a tone on the line that told Adama the channel was closed. He put the receiver back on its cradle and breathed in a sigh. "Get a small Marine team for the launch deck and have the rest ready in the adjacent compartments."

    Tigh nodded. "We have a complication, actually."

    Adama kept himself from sighing. "That would be?"

    "The Marines shot Lieutenant Barnes."

    A harsh breath came from Adama. "Perfect," he growled. "How bad?"

    "Cottle's getting him stitched up. He says the kid'll make it."

    There was a faint sigh of relief. If they had fatally shot the engineer.... No use thinking about that possibility now. Adama pushed those thoughts out of his head. "Let Cottle know we need him ready to board the shuttle in half an hour."

    "Right away, sir."

    Adama watched Tigh leave and turned back to the DRADIS screen. It was filled with contacts; Vipers and the Alliance Mongoose fighters plus the two combat ships from each side. He breathed a sigh of relief that they were still all there.

    He'd taken a terrible gamble. And he'd failed. The fact that he hadn't gotten his people killed over it seemed a divine gift. This wasn't like facing down Cain or a Cylon, after all. This was different.

    He could have overruled Roslin. Disobeyed her. He could have gone to Zarek or Baltar and had them declare her unfit. But he'd already betrayed her once, and look at where that had left the Fleet. They were lucky to have survived that division. Turning on Roslin to seemingly protect a Cylon infiltrator would have broken the Fleet again.

    Adama found he needed a drink. But he held off for the moment. Not until the exchange.




    "You're insane!"

    Angel's shout caused heads to turn. Robert sighed and said, "It's for the best..."

    "That's assuming you can trust them!", Angel continued. "And I don't! We gave them help and they turned on us, there's no telling..."

    "Lieutenant!" There was authority in Julia's voice that superseded any personal friendships she felt. Angel stopped at hearing her rank shouted and fumed quietly. Julia sighed and looked to Robert. "Alright. We have half an hour. I'll ask Lucy to get to the shuttles and find something to use. A pattern enhancer or something else that would let us break through their shield to beam you all out."

    "Have Lucy meet us in the shuttle bay," Robert said, heading toward the lift door with Meridina. He looked back and focused on Angel. Her eyes burned with anger and worry. "And see if you can get Jarke or Luneri to relieve Angel from tactical. She needs to be with her sister right now."

    Julia nodded in agreement. A pensive look was in her green eyes, though, and Robert knew they would be having a conversation about it later.




    They met Lucy in the launch bay. The combat-modified runabouts were still in position outside of the ship, clearing deckspace that had been used to bring out one of the smaller shuttles. The Type B was a sleek craft. Like most shuttles and runabouts the warp nacelles were built into the landing surface, reducing structural issues with supporting them in gravity or atmospheric flight. Dark windows of transparisteel provided the pilot a cockpit view without requiring technology. A lift mechanism was holding it above the floor, exposing the belly of the shuttle.

    Lucy was already under it with one of the hanger technicians. She was reaching into the single defensive phaser emitter that was beneath the cockpit. "I'll have this out in another ten minutes," she promised.

    Robert looked at his multi-device. "We have twenty before we have to get into space. Do you have time to do rig anything..."

    "Robert." Meridina looked at him. "I told you, I don't want to trick them. That will destroy what we have achieved."

    "Adama's not entirely in control over there," Robert reminded her. "In case they betray us, I want options. Lucy, can you expand the shuttle's transporter capacity?"

    "Not in ten minutes," she answered, her head still inside of the compartment. "And I can't put a pattern enhancer or anything that would let it beat their shields."

    "Damn," Robert sighed. "What about..."

    "This takes time, sir," Lucy continued. "Anything done sloppy might not work, and might also be visible. And that would give the whole thing away, right?"

    "So we just have to trust that there won't be any treachery?" Robert sighed at that.

    "Pretty much." She ducked her head out of the compartment to look at his expression. "I can attach a pattern buffer that would let the transporter get three people at a time. That's the best I can do."

    "That should suffice," Meridina answered before Robert could speak. "You would simply leave me behind."

    Lucy frowned at that and directed a pensive look at Robert. "I'm the Captain, it's my..."

    "It is your duty to command your crew," Meridina reminded him. "As security chief, your welfare is my responsibility. As a swevyra'se, your defense is my obligation. If there is treachery, I will be the one to suffer for it. I will not allow it any other way."

    "I don't like leaving people behind," Robert growled.

    "You must get over that, then." Meridina settled her posture. "Because it is not avoidable."

    He couldn't help but glare in reply. Robert shifted the weight of his duffel bag and moved away.

    Lucy was focused on removing a final piece from the phaser assembly when she peeked to see Meridina was still there and alone. "Are you sure about this?"

    "I am."

    "It's just..." Lucy swallowed. "I'm still learning how to control this. And you're the only one who can teach me."

    "I have made arrangements," Meridina answered. "If I die, another instructor can be provided to you." She showed no emotion at bringing up that possibility. "It is possible you would have to leave the Aurora, however, and train on Gersal."

    Lucy stopped for a moment and looked at her again. "I don't know if I want to do that," she admitted. "Just drop everything in my life and leave?"

    "That is what our Order is about," Meridina replied. "We give of ourselves to benefit others. We serve." She bowed her head. "I understand if you do not wish to become swevyra'se. I simply wish you to be trained to control the power and restrain yourself from darkness."

    "Then we should make sure you come back," Lucy answered. "Now give me a moment and we should be ready to go."




    Adama waited with his Marines as the shuttle from the Aurora came to a landing. The tension in the air was thick, and it wasn't helped by the presence of the bed-ridden Lieutenant Barnes and Commander Jarod, who glowered angrily at everyone around him. Cottle remained nearby in case Barnes' condition worsened.

    The door to the shuttle opened and Meridina walked out, wearing a set of brown robes and loose pants. Robert was in uniform with a duffel bag over his shoulder. He held it up and slid it to about halfway between the shuttle and Adama's party. Adama nodded to a Marine, who opened the bag and went through it carefully. Uniforms, clothes, and other essentials were pulled out onto the deck. A second Marine came up with what looked like a Geiger counter. He ran the sensor over the bag. "It's clean," the Marine said.

    Adama nodded. "How do we do this?"

    Robert was busy looking at Barnes in the stretcher and took an extra moment to respond. "We meet halfway," he said. "We continue on to you, the others go into the shuttle."

    "Fair enough." Adama nodded to Jarod, who took control of the stretcher. He began wheeling it toward Robert and Meridina, who walked out to meet him in measured steps. Every step of the way Robert kept a close eye on the Marines. In this situation he wanted to reach for the weight of his multidevice on his right forearm, just to remember it wasn't there. All he had was the subcantenous transponder Leo had injected him with before coming over and an open channel to the shuttle's transporter should things turn violent. He fought to control his beating heart as he weighed the numbers and the likelihood of surviving if shooting began.

    Robert and Meridina met Jarod and Barnes halfway. Jarod whispered, "What now?"

    "Get back to the ship," Robert answered with his own whisper. "Key your device to the comms, if shooting starts you can activate the transporter and close the hatch. But otherwise don't do anything."

    "You're really doing this?"

    "We are," Meridina said before continuing on. Robert nodded and walked up as well. Jarod barely had time to register displeasure before they were out of mutual sight.

    As he got closer he could see the tension in the room wasn't alleviating. Any movement that seemed suspicious, even if it was innocent, might trigger a violent reaction.

    With measured and practiced steps, Robert and Meridina were within arm's reach of Adama and his Marine guard just as Jarod reached the shuttle. Jarod wheeled Barnes around and pushed him up into the shuttle. The rear hatch began to close behind them.

    Meridina had already presented her wrists. Adama personally took out the cuffs and fixed them on while a subordinate fixed the ankle cuffs linked with the others by a chain. "By the authority of the President of the Colonies, you are under arrest. The charge is assistance to the enemy of the Colonies."

    "I understand," Meridina answered, bowing her head.

    "Captain." Adama looked at Robert. "You will be placed under guard in the VIP cabin. A line of communication to your ship is being set up and you will have monitored access to your people. Meals will be arranged."

    "Of course," Robert said. "Will I be permitted to attend the trial?"

    "That will be determined," Adama said. "I'd like you to follow us while we will escort the Commander to her cell. Private Larkins will hold your bag."

    Robert nodded, seeing it as Adama keeping everything "above board", so to speak. He handed his duffel bag to the Marine that Adama had indicated. By that point the lead Marine squad had left the landing deck with Meridina amongst them. Adama and Robert took up the rear with the other Marines.




    Julia waited until she had confirmation that the shuttle carrying Jarod and Tom was docking before she gave the official stand-down order. Fighters were recovered save for a defensive patrol. For the same reason the Koenig was not re-docked. Similarly, the two Battlestars were standing down.

    That didn't mean peace was guaranteed, though. The situation was still tense. Their relationship with the Colonials was hanging on a razor's edge, and it was in everyone's hands to keep it from falling.

    With that in mind, Julia motioned to Angel. LIeutenant Luneri, a Dorei woman from the Sindai nation of Hargano with dark purple skin and blue spotting, waited with disciplined patience for Angel to acquiese to standing down. She followed Julia into the conference room. The moment the door closed Angel started speaking. "I can't believe you let Rob go along with that! I can't even believe we're doing this!"

    Julia looked at her angrily. "We're trying to keep people from shooting each other, Angel. Rob is doing what he has to, and something that will keep us from getting kicked off our ship when we get back."

    "They can't blame him for..."

    "They can and you know it! This crew is his responsibility and having his officer go behind his back like that... it would prove everything that Hawthorne and the others fear about Meridina's place in our crew. We have to salvage this."

    "At what cost?! Is this what we signed up for, to get betrayed by the people we're trying to help? We should have stopped him, Julie! We..." Angel stopped speaking for a moment. "...if something happens to him, it'll be our fault."

    "No, it'll be his. His choice, his responsibility," Julia pointed out.

    Angel glared back. "I can't believe that. Don't you feel any worry for..."

    "Of course I do!", Julia screamed. "I'm worried about both of them! Just as I'm worried about everything else around here because, Goddammit, it seems I'm the only one who bothers to worry! And now I have you undermining both of us on the damned bridge!"

    "If you think I'd just stand by and watch while something like that happens, you're nuts! That's not me!"

    "That's what you have to do, Angel!" Julia pointed to the bridge. "Remember that in there, or in here with others, we're not a bunch of close friends. We're a captain and his crew. We get orders, we follow them, and we don't undermine the chain of command by protesting every little thing in front of the whole crew! And I know you knew this when we all signed on."

    Angel's lips thinned. Her hands clenched into fists. "Maybe I didn't think it would get this insane," she finally managed. "Maybe I think this military stuff is crap and that we ran things perfectly well back when we were doing things out of the Facility."

    That drew a sigh from Julia. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I miss them too. But the past is the past. We decided to stay together and work for the benefit of the Alliance. That means making sacrifices and paying costs." With Angel clearly still on edge, Julia decided to switch to being supportive. "Why don't you go see Cat? She needs her big sister right now. And you need to see she's okay."

    Angel nodded briskly. "Fine. I'll go do that. But I swear to God, if Robert gets hurt over there, or if something happens to him..." She seemed to be choking on the word. "Then I say we blow them all to hell. And I don't give a God damn what Hawthorne or Davies will say about it."

    With that said Angel walked on to the turbolift door across from the bridge door. Julia watched her go and felt apprehension at what they were facing. And, she had to admit, more than a little agreement. If Robert died over there, if the Colonials killed him... Julia wasn't sure she wouldn't give the order to blow their Battlestars to little bits. She liked to think she wouldn't go that far, but if they were betrayed...

    God, I hope you did the right thing Robert.
     
  13. Threadmarks: 1-10-2
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    The cell for Meridina was an open air cell that used a chain-link fence structure around it in a cube. Armed guards were posted around when they arrived. Robert watched passively as the Marines escorted Meridina into the cube. Her shackles were linked to the ground. A bedroll was beside them as the only concession to bedding. "If she has to use the bathroom...?", he asked in a low voice.

    "We'll provide her the means," Adama answered. "But she's not leaving this cell until her trial."

    "So even with me as a hostage, you still don't trust her to not try and escape?"

    "I think it's better to prevent temptation."

    Robert looked at him. There was something in his voice that made him think Adama wasn't just talking about Meridina being tempted. "I suppose. So, this trial... how will it go?"

    "On Galactica. Lee is looking for a defense lawyer for her now."

    "Lieutenant Borja can assist."

    "You can discuss that with the attorney."

    Robert nodded. "Can I speak with her very quickly?"

    "Yes. But not inside the cell."

    Robert nodded. He got the feeling that Adama wasn't being paranoid about them so much as making sure others couldn't be. He stepped up to the cell door. Meridina had assumed a sitting position and closed her eyes. "Are you uncomfortable?", he asked.

    "I am fine," Meridina answered. "This is quite satisfactory given my current situation. Thank you, Admiral Adama, for your courtesy."

    Robert didn't look back to see Adama nod silently. "Listen, we'll find a way out of this. I'll smooth things over with Roslin and give her compensation, something to get her to stop this."

    "If you think you can." Meridina took in a breath. "Whatever happens, I am at peace with it. My swevyra is settled."

    There was nothing more Robert could say at that point. He stepped away and walked back to Adama. "I'm ready to go to my quarters."

    "This way," Adama said, gesturing toward the door.

    "After we drop my things off, I want to see Roslin."

    "The President is resting right now. I'll have Cottle inform you when she's able to talk."

    "There has to be a way to smooth this over without this mess about a trial," Robert insisted. "We can make other concessions."

    "It's not for me to decide, Captain." Adama shook his head. "You'd have to talk to Roslin or the Quorum about that."

    Again, Robert got the feeling Adama was trying to tell him something. He filed that reference away for later and said nothing more as they walked on in the company of the Marines.




    Angel was already fuming when she got to the medbay. Her mind was full of anger toward everything. Toward Robert for his damned "I'm responsible for everything" martyr complex. Toward Julia for that damned speech about the military or chain of command or what have you. Toward Meridina for causing this mess and the Colonials for being obstinate jackasses and...

    She entered the medbay through the starboard entrance. The nurses looked at her and she saw one pale a little. Fear suddenly surged in to match her anger. Had something happened to Cat? Had those pagan bastards done something to her little...?!

    "Angel, over here."

    She looked to where Leo was standing at the entrance to the operating room in operating scrubs. "You're just in time," he said. "I was about to go in. Tom was shot."

    Angel snarled. "Where is Cat? Did they hurt..."

    Leo pointed to the next section. Angel tromped in. She started to hear a familiar sound. Caterina was sobbing.

    She turned her head to the source of it and saw Cat sitting up in a bed, now wearing a blue medical gown. A nurse was standing beside her with a dermal regenerator applied to her face.

    Her black and blue face, with blood seeping from her mouth, her split lip, and her nose. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut.

    For the moment sheer worry overwhelmed the fury Angel felt. She ran over and gently hugged her crying sister. "I'm here Cat. It's okay, I'm here."

    "Th-they k-kept hitting m-me," Cat sobbed. "They k-kick-ed me a-around. I... I-I d-don't kn-know why...."

    Tears were coming down Angel's cheeks. "They can't hurt you anymore. They can't. It's okay." She tightened the embrace a little, letting Cat bury her face into Angel's shoulder.

    "W-why? I-I was he-helping th-them..."

    As Cat continued to sob, Angel put a hand into her dark hair and held her sister close. "They'll never touch you again," she hissed. Rage began to build inside of her. Pure, fiery rage. "Never again. I'll never let them." I'll kill them, I'll kill every last one that tries to hurt you!

    Cat's only reply was to cry some more.




    Adama was brief in checking on the defenses of the Fleet following the stand-down on both sides. He was due in the infirmary. When he arrived he found Roslin was awake again, looking as miserable as before. "Bill." Her voice was weak and strained. "What happened?"

    Adama found a seat before speaking. "We made a mistake and it almost cost us."

    "What do you mean? Did you get the Cylon back?"

    "He wouldn't back down," Adama said. "I thought maybe he would. He was young, I thought I could get him to doubt what he was doing. But he wouldn't back down."

    Roslin nodded gravely. "So we still have their officers?"

    "We have two. The engineer on Pegasus sabotaged their shields, she and the other officer over there were transported out by their matter transporters."

    Roslin showed no reaction to that. "What about here?"

    "I exchanged them," Adama answered. "Commander Meridina offered herself as a prisoner in their stead and agreed to stand trial for taking the Cylon. Captain Dale is here as a hostage to her cooperation."

    Roslin licked at her dry lips, prompting Adama to give her a cup of water. "A trial?"

    "Yes."

    "No." Roslin shook her head. "She would reveal the Cylon pregnancy in her defense. That's the very thing we've been trying to avoid. Everything in the Fleet would go insane if the news went public."

    Adama wasn't surprised by the response, but he couldn't quite hide his disappointment. "What do you suggest?"

    "I don't suggest anything, Bill. My order is simple. She's a Cylon sympathizer who undermined the security of the Colonies. And she represents an unacceptable security risk." Roslin sipped at the water again. "Throw her out of the nearest airlock."

    "We could make it a closed trial," Adama suggested.

    "And risk her defense leaking it anyway?" Roslin shook her head. "No, it has to be done this way." She looked at the expression on his face and narrowed her eyes. "I can see you're not in agreement."

    "I think your illness may be interfering with your judgement, Madame President."

    Her look turned frosty. "Well, Admiral, that isn't your call to make."

    "If we did that, then we give up any hope of getting help from these people," Adama pointed out.

    "If their help means being subjugated, then what good is it?" Roslin's breath grew raspy. "Have faith, Bill. I was right last time, remember? We don't need them. The Gods have been on our side so far."

    Adama sighed. "I think you should sleep on this."

    "I don't think it's necessary. The choice is clear." Roslin frowned. "We can't let news about that Cylon baby get out. Commander Meridina knew what she was getting into when she offered to surrender." Seeing he didn't look convinced. "The last time you fought me on something, Bill, it split the Fleet. Please don't do that again."

    "Those were different circumstances," Adama replied. "The Alliance can change everything for us. I think you're being paranoid."

    "Yet you followed my orders to stand up to them."

    Adama's voice became a low growl. "And we nearly got destroyed because of it. You're asking me to sacrifice the security of the Fleet over your fear. I'm not going to spit on the hand Captain Dale's offering."

    Roslin looked ready to continue to argue. But she halted. Her strength was clearly drained. "I suppose it doesn't matter," she said. "I'm going to die soon anyway. And you'll be following Baltar." She turned away in the bed. "I wash my hands of this, then. Just leave me to die."

    "They might still be able to save you," Adama pointed out.

    "I've made my peace with my death, Bill. And right now I'm just so tired I don't care anymore."

    With nothing more to be said, Adama left the infirmary.




    Even though he was officially the Vice President of the Colonies, Gaius Baltar still preferred to work out of his lab most times. Especially now, as he was going over his notes on the Cylon's baby and reviewing the samples he'd taken from the fetus.

    "Distracted, Gaius?"

    "Well, now I am," he mumbled. The Cylon in his head was hovering over his shoulder. "I'm still analyzing the child's cellular makeup. I'm trying to find something I can bring to Roslin. Something to get her to agree to the baby living. Then maybe the Cylon will be returned and I can..."

    "Don't worry about the child," Six cooed. "She is safe where she is, right now. The important thing is how to deal with the Gersallian woman."

    "Knowing Roslin..." Baltar stopped when he heard the door open. He looked up and saw Adama enter. "Ah, Admiral. I see we haven't been blown to pieces by our new friends yet. I take it the negotiations have gone well?"

    "That's why I've come to you, Vice President." Adama clearly didn't like that either, not that Baltar quite cared. "President Roslin... is no longer capable of making reasonable decisions."

    "Oh?" Baltar frowned. "What do you mean?"

    "Captain Dale and his security chief replaced the two officers we had," Adama explained. "Commander Meridina has surrendered to our courts. Captain Dale is staying with us as a hostage to her behavior. They made the agreement on the belief that she would get a trial. President Roslin, in her condition, has ordered Commander Meridina's immediate execution."

    "For once, I agree with Roslin," Head-Six said to Baltar.

    Baltar ignored her. "What? She... but if we did that, then..."

    "...then we would alienate our best hope of survival, yes," Adama said. "Doctor, I would like to request that you go to the Quorum on the matter."

    "Well, yes," Baltar said. "The President's suffering has ruined her mind, that much is clear." He nodded briskly and tried not to sweat. "I will call the Quorum immediately."

    "When you do, I would like to ask that the Quorum take up the issue of Commander Meridina."

    "In what way?"

    "To negotiate her release in return for other concessions," Adama replied.

    Baltar blinked. Behind him, he heard a hiss from the Cylon in his head. "You want to let her go?"

    "I can't keep her a prisoner and Captain Dale a hostage for the time period of a full trial. And a trial would mean public exposure of the Cylon baby and provide the peace movement openings for sabotage."

    "You can't let him, Gaius," Head-Six insisted. "She could tell them that you warned her about the child. She is a threat to you! She has to die!"

    "Well, Admiral, I shall ask the Quorum about it, but surely a closed trial is a suitable alternative," Baltar remarked.

    Adama looked at him intently for several sconds. "I'm not sure that's a good idea, Doctor," he answered in a low tone.

    "It might be the best, though. People will talk if we let her go." Baltar fought to keep himself from flinching. "Perhaps a private trial by the Quorum? Just to determine if we can safely release her."

    "I'll leave that to you." Adama turned toward the door. "Let me know as soon as you have an answer."

    After Adama stepped out, Baltar looked back to the Cylon in his head. "You're awfully vicious today."

    "I'm pointing out the obvious."

    "Are you?", he asked skeptically. "If i didn't know better... I would think there was something more about this Meridina woman and her kind that has you on edge."

    "Gaius, trust me. She is a threat to you." Head-Six drew close to him. "Do what you need to, but you need to make sure she dies."

    There was something in the intensity in the being's eyes that worried Baltar. Actually it scared him. But he wasn't going to cause a fight he couldn't win either, not even for his own little Head-Cylon.

    So he put his thoughts to the side and went to his lab phone. "Communications, patch me through to Cloud Nine," he said upon the comm specialist answering. "I need the Quorum on the Galactica immediately. It's about the President."




    Robert found that the VIP quarters were smaller than the ones aboard Aurora. He quickly set up his belongings and took out the laptop-sized portable system that would let him communciate visually with the Aurora.

    First the bridge popped up. Locarno was in the command chair. "Captain, is everything alright?"

    "Yes." Robert shifted in his chair. "Where is Commander Andreys?"

    "In the medbay. Doctor Gillam just brought Barnes out of surgery. He's going to be fine."

    Robert sighed with relief. "Oh thank God." Tom's fine. "Can you patch me down there?"

    "Transferring you now."

    The screen blipped and changed to show the medbay from one of the interior walls. Leo and Julia were standing around a bed. Tom Barnes was asleep in it. "How is he?", Robert asked.

    Julia and Leo turned. "He's going to be fine," Leo answered. "Nothing vital was hit and Cottle got to him in time to stop the bleeding."

    "That's good to know."

    "What's happened over there?," Julia asked.

    "I'm under house arrest. Meridina is chained to the floor of a cube with a platoon of Marines ready to shoot her. All things considered..." Robert sighed with resignation. "This is about the best outcome we could have hoped for. How are Lucy and Cat?"

    The look on their faces told Robert he'd just asked a question they didn't want to answer. Leo reached over to the controls off-screen and tapped them. The image shifted to a different bed in the medbay. Angel was still in uniform, sitting beside her younger sister and comforting her.

    Robert looked at Caterina's face and couldn't stop the gasp from coming out. "My God... Cat? Cat, are you...."

    "She's not okay," Angel hissed, embracing her trembling little sister. "She looked worse when we got her back." Angel's eyes burned with a rage Robert rarely saw from her and knew to be nasty. "This is what those bastards did to her, Robert. They beat my little sister! For nothing! For the sheer joy of it! And you still want to work with them...!"

    Robert found his own anger was starting to rise. "I'll handle it Angel."

    "It's not going to be enough, they'll..."

    "I said I'll handle it!," Robert shouted in irritation, causing her to go quiet, still visibly fuming. "I'll talk to Adama and..."

    He heard footsteps and turned to see Adama was standing at the threshold of the VIP quarters. "Yes, Captain?", he asked.

    Robert knew he had an angry look on his face. He didn't care. He pulled to the side and allowed the image to show Caterina. She looked away from the camera, but the bruising and wounds on her face were still visible. Angel looked into the camera with a glare that by all rights should have killed. Robert pointed a finger accusingly at the screen. "It's not enough you took my people into custody when they were trying to help you instead of pursuing a more diplomatic action. Or that one of your Marines got trigger happy and shot my officer, my friend. Your people are so out of Goddamned control that they did this to one of my people! Not just anyone, but Cat, and she..." Robert lost his words at that point. The idea that someone would want to savagely beat Cat of all people. Sweet, inoffensive, geeky Cat?

    Just what the hell is wrong with these people?!

    Adama looked at the screen pointedly for a moment. Robert reached over and cut the transmission. "I'll have it investigated," Adama answered.

    Robert shouted, "That's not good enough!"

    Adama met his expression coldly. "It's the best you're getting. This is for the Fleet to deal with."

    "You people..." Robert sank into a seat. "My God, Cat. She must have been terrified." He looked up at Adama. Had he been calmer, he might have recognized that the old man's look wasn't stern defiance, but constrained shame. But all he could think of was Caterina being beaten. "We just wanted to help. That's all we want. To help. And you... look at you, seriously, look at how you are! Ordering the abortion of a baby because you find her existence inconvenient, hurting the people who came over to give you the means to protect yourselves! All for what?!"

    "What about your side?", Adama asked. "Your security chief bluntly violated all of the trust we showed you. She didn't try to appeal the decision. She didn't come to us and offer to take the child. She took our prisoner by force."

    "Oh, you really think Roslin would have handed Sharon's baby over if we asked nicely?", Robert guffawed. "Don't even try that. We both know she wouldn't have cared."

    "That doesn't justify betraying our trust," Adama retorted. "Because that's what this comes down to. Commander Meridina violated the trust I extended to her."

    Robert was still fuming, but said nothing more while he struggled to regain control of his anger.

    It was clear the two had nothing else to discuss. "I'll come back when you've cooled off." Adama turned and walked out.




    Zack was the last one to arrive to the staff meeting Julia called. He took up her usual seat while she took Rob's. The absence of Cat, Angel, Meridina, and Barnes gave the air further tension; Lucy was sitting in for Barnes.

    "We did too good a job," she said. "I mean, the shield systems aren't fully up to spec, but they're pretty secure from transporter exploits."

    "I know there are ways to beam through shields," Julia said.

    "Aye." Scotty nodded. "But it isnae easy. Ye could kill th' people ye're beamin' out if ye cannae match the shield harmonics completely."

    "Can't we?"

    Scotty looked to Jarod. "Mister Jarod, maybe."

    "Maybe six out of ten," Jarod admitted. "But the shield harmonics can be unpredictable. I honestly don't recommend it."

    "Are we even sure about trying?", Locarno asked. "Even if we succeed it'll completely destroy our relations with these people."

    "I know." Julia nodded at him. "I'm not saying we will, but I'd like the option if we had to do it."

    Zack nodded at her. "We can't leave Rob and Meridina, though," he said. "We need to talk to them and get this smoothed out."

    "They've made it pretty clear they don't want to talk about it," Jarod said. "Nothing we offer can change that."

    "There's got to be something." Zack looked to Lucy. "You've been learning that life force stuff from Meridina, right? Maybe you and I could go over there and find out what might change their minds?"

    Lucy blinked and clenched her fists. "I..." She looked away. "I'd rather not."

    "Then I'll go alone," Zack said.

    "No," Julia said. When he looked at her with clear frustration, she returned it with a disciplined look. "I know you want to get Rob and Meridina out of there, Zack. But I can't risk any problems with the Colonials right now. You can make calls, but that's it."

    "I think this is a mistake," Zack said. "The risk is worth it."

    "That decision is mine to make. And I'm in command. So no."

    "Oh, that's an original argument," Zack said, rolling his eyes. "'I'm the boss, so I win'."

    Julia's eyes shot daggers at him and Zack quieted over it. "So for now, just work on finding a safe way to beam through the shields we gave them," she said. "For now, we're not breaking the agreement."

    She was answered by nods. A sullen one in Zack's case.

    "Well, you're all dismissed. Except for Commander Carrey."

    Zack stopped rising from his chair and let the others leave first. "I know that things between us have gotten complicated," Julia began, "and that you're probably not thinking things through. But remember that until you get the okay to leave this command, you still have to accept orders, and that includes mine. And while I shouldn't have to say this, your behavior is showing I do, and I don't like that, Zack. I don't like it one bit."

    He remained quiet for a few seconds before finally speaking. "Maybe that's become our problem," Zack finally said. "We're trying to balance being friends and being officers, giving each other commands when we used to give suggestions." He looked over at her. "You really like this too, don't you?"

    "What do you mean?", she asked.

    "This 'Group Mom' thing you've got going on. No, not just that. You like being in command. Even back during our days in the Facility, you were always taking charge of projects and missions."

    Julia nodded at that. "Yeah, I suppose I do. It's a lot of responsibility."

    "And you've always liked that." Zack sighed. "Dammit, Julie, I don't want to be the troublemaker. But you're asking me to sit here while Rob's in danger."

    "I'm asking you to trust his judgment. And mine."

    "Really?" Zack looked to her. "I just wonder if this is Rob trying to make up for the screwed up mission with that Darglan base. Putting himself at risk like that..."

    Julia sighed. "Yeah, well, you know Rob. Always putting himself at risk when he can get away with it."

    "Yeah." Zack tapped a finger on the table. "Listen. I know that those people like me. And my crew. We saved one of their ships. If they know it's me, I don't see how I'd be in danger. Especially if I'm not on Galactica and they can't think I'm trying a scheme to get Rob and Meridina out. I really think you should let me make contact with someone. Captain Adama seemed pretty reasonable."

    "Not right now," Julia answered. "Give it a day to see if things finish settling down. Then ask again."

    "Fine. A day."

    Julia nodded. "You're dismissed."

    "Aye Commander," he said, a little flippantly, before walking out of the conference room.




    "A private trial?" Tom Zarek looked at the others in the Quorum. "Are you serious?"

    "Absolutely," Baltar said. He sat at the head of the table in the Galactica wardroom, the flag of the Colonies behind him. The twelve members of the Quorum were seated to either side of the table. Zarek, representative of Sagittaron, was two seats down from Baltar's right. "There are sensitive matters at stake."

    "You mean Adama and Roslin are trying to save face for nearly getting into a shooting war with people who came to help us," Zarek retorted. "If the trial is public then they have to admit what's going on."

    "What is going on?", Miksa Burian of Aquarion asked. "What did this Alliance officer do?"

    Baltar took a drink. He knew it likely that word of what Roslin had ordered would leak if it the entire Quorum heard it. It was bad enough she was dying and would leave him in charge. If they removed her early, that would put him in the hot seat even faster. And if they tried and failed, it would put him on Adama's bad side, which he preferred to avoid.

    On the other hand, they would find out eventually, and turning the Quorum against him seemed even less reasonable. "She took the Cylon prisoner from our cell and spirited her to their ship using their transporter technology." Baltar took another drink as the assembled all stared in bewilderment. "The Cylon is... pregnant."

    "What", the Piconese representative blurted out. "You can't be serious!"

    "I am. I've examined the fetus extensively."

    "Who's the father?", Zarek asked.

    "A Colonial Raptor pilot, Helo Agathon. He was taken over to the Aurora as well." Baltar held up a flimsy. "They've filed for political asylum in the Alliance."

    "Why?" This was Burian again. "Why would they help the Cylon?"

    "By the Gods, I knew it," Sara Porter of Gemenon muttered. "They're siding with the Cylons. They're against our faith and they're siding with the Cylons."

    "That's premature," Baltar answered. "In fact, the reason has to do with the Cylon's baby. President Roslin's order is that the pregnancy is to be terminated as a potential threat to the Fleet."

    That bombshell silenced the room. Zarek blinked. "She what?"

    "She's right," the Tauron delegate said. "It's... it's some kind of abomination, that thing should be terminated."

    "This is why the alien officer took the Cylon?", Burian asked. "To save the child?"

    "Yes." Baltar nodded. "At least, by her admissions."

    "I'm with Roslin, throw the alien out of the airlock."

    "That would be inadvisable," Baltar remarked bluntly. "A legal trial would give any sentence we impose the force of law and they would have to respect that. If we summarily execute their officer, the Alliance may very well leave us and never re-open relations. You could even push them into relations with the Cylons." Baltar put a finger on the table. "This is the single greatest opportunity the Fleet has ever had. We have to do this right. If Commander Meridina is to be executed, it should be from the finding of a trial. A private trial by the Quorum."

    "Why don't we negotiate for concessions?", Zarek asked. "The technology these people have could revolutionize life for the people of the Fleet. They could help us find a new world to settle. Their replicator technology would give us food and medicine that we need." He looked at the others. "I say forget a trial. We negotiate with Captain Dale or his superiors for compensation."

    "And we just let that Cylon get away?", the Tauron delegate demanded. "What will that say to our people then?"

    "That we're putting the future ahead of everything else," Zarek countered. "We have a chance to change Colonial society for the better. It doesn't matter how many gods the Alliance worships, if they're willing to help us, we need to accept it."

    "I'm with Zarek," Burian said. "I call for a vote on Vice President Baltar's private hearing suggestion. We will interview all of the key witnesses and Commander Meridina herself. We can use a possible decision to prosecute to extract concessions."

    "No!", the Tauron shouted. "We can't be that weak!"

    "We're already weak," Zarek countered. "And I'm tired of it. Better to make a deal now while we have an advantage. I second Delegate Burian's motion."

    Baltar dutifully counted up the votes as they came. The motion was brought forward and passed by eight votes to four. The meetings and trial would be held on Galactica.

    Now he just had to decide whether to listen to the Cylon in his head and ensure Meridina died.




    Roslin spent most of the day in and out of sleep. She could feel the end was coming on.

    A part of her welcomed it.

    It had just gone so insane. These other humans, their talking about multiverses, about Earth being the home of Humanity and not Kobol, it was so much. Just too much.

    This, the Cylon having a baby, it was like the entire universe was conspiring to drive her mad even as it killed her. Roslin felt adrift and she had grabbed onto whatever constant she could to stay stable. The need to protect the Fleet, to keep it from falling apart, just as it would if the Cylon having a baby was made public, or if they bowed to the Aurora's crew and their imperious behavior.

    Roslin looked around in the infirmary, groggy-eyed, her mind struggling to focus. What could she do to end this madness? She hated the thought of leaving her people such a mess.

    "Madame President?" One of Cottle's nurses walked over to her. "Ma'am, are you okay?"

    A small and wistful smile crossed her face. "I wish I could say I was. Where is Billy?"

    The nurse looked out of her vision. There was the sound of her aide being roused and after a minute or so he stepped into Roslin's view. "Ma'am?", he asked.

    "Can you deliver a message for me?"

    "Yes, of course."

    "I want to see Captain Dale. As soon as possible." She licked at her dry lips. "While I still have time."




    The dreams came again.

    For Robert, they were familiar imagery, still chilling and terrifying. Third Reich starships burning planets. Fassbinder killing Beth. The girl in the red and gold clothing leveling everything around her, begging for his help. He could feel the burns on his body as an armored, red-haired figure urged him toward a distant red light, spewing forth destruction. A dark robed figure looked at him from a throne raised high. He turned and saw a young girl, maybe eight years old with disheveled red hair, huddling beside him in fear. Dark energy came from the robed man's upraised hand.

    He expected pain. Instead he was in a room on Galactica. He recognized Adama, Tigh, and what looked like the Colonial Quorum at a table. Meridina was sitting beside him. A shot rang out and blood erupted from Meridina's temple. She tumbled over dead into his arms. "Meridina!", he cried out. He looked up in time to see someone holding a gun to his head. He could just make out blond hair framed around the face.

    The gun went off.

    Robert sat upright. A brief cry had been coming from him when he awoke, terminating as he regained control with wakefulness. His arm reached out for Angel before he remembered she wasn't there. He was alone.

    He reached over for his time piece. It was still morning on both ships. He had gotten maybe four hours of sleep. Robert rubbed at his eyelids and cursed the starkness of the dream. It seemed so much more. And he knew he wouldn't be going back to sleep any time soon.




    Lucy woke up screaming.

    The images still stuck in her head. Meridina and Robert dead. Guns going off. She'd been helpless to stop it, like she was seeing it as a ghost and not a person. She touched her arms as if to reassure herself that she was flesh and blood.

    As she did so, she realized that it wasn't just a dream. It didn't feel like it was one. Her senses, the new ones, were still tense and excited. Meridina had told her that sensing the possible future was one possible outcome of her growing attunement to her swevyra. Or it could have been her experiencing the thoughts or dreams of someone else.

    Her first thought was to seek out Meridina and ask about it. Her mind quickly reminded her that Meridina was currently a prisoner over on Galactica. She would get no answers from Meridina.

    ....couldn't she? Lucy thought about it for a moment. Could Meridina feel her mind? Could they communicate? She breathed in. She could try, couldn't she?

    You cannot try. You must do. Lucy smiled a little at the thought of Meridina's rebuke to those thoughts. She curled her legs up and set her hands on them in what felt like a natural meditation pose. She focused herself, her essence, and reached out, seeking another. Meridina? Meridina! Are you out here? I want to talk! Please?

    Nothing.

    She bit into her lip and concentrated. She would make a connection, she would do something about this, she had to. She....

    Images came to her head. Not of Meridina and Robert dying, but of an open field, grass and trees. A sky? It was interspersed with a big starship with a wide dome. Other images came. There was a blond woman, other figures... another woman, a bit older looking. Something familiar about her, very familiar. A gun was changing hands. "This will be our chance," someone said

    Lucy opened her eyes. She knew that hadn't been a dream. It was something more.

    Trust your feelings. Meridina's words came to her mind. Your swevyra will show you the way through your feelings. Trust in them.

    Which meant she had to find the ship.

    As an assistant department head Lucy didn't have quarters near the hull, so she had no window to look out into the fleet. But she knew she had seen that ship before. She went to her personal monitor and accessed the Rio Grande's sensor logs with her personal clearance. Ship after ship from the Colonial fleet popped up. She isolated them by size and....

    "Bingo," she murmured to herself. "And I cannot believe I just said that out loud."

    The domed vessel was on the screen, along with its name: Cloud 9.
     
  14. Threadmarks: 1-10-3
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    The VIP quarters Robert had been put in had a small shower stall. He was grateful for that, feeling like he needed one. An old note reminding people of water rationing was still visible at the entrance. He smirked at that. At least they'd topped off the Fleet's water reserves before everything went insane. At least I won't feel guilty for taking a long shower, he thought while letting the warm water wash over him.

    When Robert emerged from the shower, towel around the waist, the door to the room was opened. He recognized Billy Keikaya, Roslin's aide, who looked as exhausted as he felt. His clothing was disheveled in a way that testified to his living in the infirmary now. "Mister Keikaya?", Robert asked. "Can I help you?"

    "President Roslin wants to see you," he said, his eyes bleary.

    "At this time of night?"

    "Yes. And she'd like it as soon as you can get there."

    Robert rubbed at his tired eyes. He had thought about trying to sleep again. He acquiesed with a sigh. "Let me get ready."




    The Marines on watch followed Robert and Billy to the infirmary. Robert watched quietly as Billy checked on Roslin to ensure she was awake. He nodded to Robert and Robert stepped up, accepting a chair from a nurse while Roslin turned in her bed. She looked even worse now. "Captain," she said. "Thank you."

    "It's nothing," Robert said.

    She remained silent for a moment. "Do you have anything you want to ask me, Captain Dale?"

    He did indeed. But Robert didn't want to press the matter. "I admit to some curiosity, but you're not feeling well. I would rather you rested."

    "I'll sleep when I'm dead," she muttered in reply. "Which won't be long from now."

    "Despite everything... Leo will still help you," Robert said confidently.

    Roslin turned her head to face him. "I believe that. But I think it's too late."

    Robert nodded. "So... that's it? You're just choosing this? You're choosing to die?"

    Roslin's silence resumed. "You're not pleased with me, are you Captain?"

    "Honestly?" Robert shook his head. "No, I can't say that I am."

    "I understand that." Roslin's weak voice cracked a little. She reached for the styrofoam cup containing water. Robert grabbed it before her weak fingers could knock it over, preserving the fluid from spilling. He gently handed it to her and let her take a drink. "But do you understand us?"

    "I've tried. But I can't. Not when it comes to that baby." Robert shook his head. "Why would you order such a cruel thing? Why would you kill that child?"

    "The very existence of such a thing is a threat to the Fleet," Roslin insisted. "It will... people won't understand. They'll become angry and lash out."

    "That doesn't justify murdering a child."

    "One life for thousands," she answered. "Do you even know what that child could be? Who knows what the Cylons are planning?"

    "I don't. Do you?" Robert sat back in the chair and crossed his arms. "Or are you letting fear decide what you're doing?"

    "Every day," she countered. "I'm afraid of my people dying out, Captain. I'm afraid of losing any more than we've already lost. And I'm afraid that the world has gone mad, and that you're the reason why."

    "Really?"

    "It's not your fault," she sighed. "But you're changing everything. You've taken the most fundamental facts of our history and ripped the foundation out from under them. As news of this spreads, my people are going to.... Gods, I'm not sure what. Lose their minds, perhaps."

    "Your people have been through a lot," Robert agreed. "But is this the legacy you want to leave them, President Roslin? Look at what fear has already done to them? They shot my friend. They beat up my other friend, they were trying to beat her to death. All because of their hate and their fear. Now look at where it's gotten us?"

    Roslin' shook her head. "Do you know what it's like, Captain? To see everything you love destroyed?"

    "I know what it's like to have my world crumble around me," he answered. "I lost my parents and my sister. I lost the family home." An old and familiar pain panged within him. "I.... I moved on, yeah. And I've lost people since then. I've had to be responsible for sending people to die. It hurts. Every time. And..."

    Roslin looked at him expectantly.

    "I'm afraid," Robert admitted. "I'm always afraid I'll end up sending a friend to die. They're the closest I have to family now. I..." He swallowed. He thought of what would happen if he lost any of the people close to him. "I'm afraid I'll lose more people. That I'll lose my world again."

    There was a nod of reply. "Yes," Roslin said. "This is all we have left. And we could lose it again. And I can't let that happen. I... I can't lose what we have left. No matter what."

    Robert swallowed and nodded. "Yeah. But maybe..." He swallowed. "What if you fail to make a new world because you're too scared of losing what you had? I had to rebuild my life and it made things better in the end. Maybe it's going to be hard for your people to understand the truth, but how much better off will they be when it's over? You'll have a world again. Allies who will protect you from the Cylons. Your people won't be running and trying to save what little they have left."

    There was quiet after that. Quiet until Roslin finished processing what he had said. "It's odd to see idealism like that still alive." Roslin took another sip. "If only we'd met you sooner."

    "Yeah." Robert nodded. "Madame President, Meridina wasn't trying to... she meant it for the best. Isn't there anything we can do...?"

    "Not now," she said. "It's come too far. It's out of my hands. You'll have to ask Baltar and the Quorum tomorrow."

    Robert nodded. "Okay. Yeah."

    "For what it's worth..." Roslin sunk her head onto the pillow. "I'm sorry about your friends getting hurt. There's been enough suffering on this Fleet."

    "Thank you," Robert answered. It wasn't the best of apologies, but for the moment.... well, what better was he going to get with Roslin in this condition? Better to make progress.

    He remained seated until Roslin had returned to sleep. At which point he nodded to the detail watching him and had them escort him back to his VIP quarters.




    The feeling of fingers on the hairs of his neck jolted Baltar back to wakefulness. He blurted out a wordless protest at the sudden waking. The stiffness in his neck and arms made him realize he'd fallen asleep against the worktable in his lab. "Good morning, Gaius," the Cylon in his head purred.

    Baltar rubbed at his eyes and yawned. "Oh, thank you very much," he muttered. He blinked his eyes to adjust to the lights of his lab and his head turned toward his monitor. "Wait... what?" Results from some of his studies of the cells from the Cylon's baby were showing. "That can't be right... can it?"

    "Oh, it can," the head Cylon said. "You know what this means."

    "I need to find Adama," Baltar said. He pulled on his lab coat and rushed toward the door.




    Meridina had rested surprisingly well despite the chains and having to sleep on the deck. She returned to her meditations upon awakening. She let her swevyra pulse quietly inside of her, feeling the life around her, sensing the flow of energy, practicing her focus and senses as if she were in her quarters and not a cage.

    The stiffness and anxiety of her guards spiked. Without opening her eyes Meridina spoke out, "Hello, Admiral Adama. You wish to speak with me?"

    "How did you know it was me?", he asked.

    Meridina opened her eyes and looked at him. The commander of the Colonial fleet was pulling up a metal chair outside of the cage. He looked moderately rested. "I sensed your swevyra," she answered. "You have a particularly robust life force."

    The look on Adama's face spoke of his instinctive disbelief. "You can do that? You can sense people with.., your mind?"

    "Not my mind. At least not like that." Meridina put her hands together in front of her. "I am a farisa as well, yes, so I can sense minds even without using my swevyra. But it is with swevyra that I feel the life forces of others. I can see what is within them. If they are in darkness or in light."

    "Darkness?"

    "It is cold and terrible," Meridina said. "It clouds judgement, it corrupts mind, body, swevyra, and soul. It is found everywhere that fear, hate, and anger dominate." Her eyes fell. "I have felt much darkness in your Fleet. Painful darkness. I fear for the souls of your people."

    Adama crossed his arms at that. "Is that so?"

    "It is. Look at your poor leader. Her fear led her to the terrible orders she gave. The extinguishing of a new life and the attacks upon those who came to give you aid." Meridina focused her eyes on him again. "Where else could such terrible demands come but from darkness?"

    "So you decided to take matters into your own hands," Adama said. "You violated your orders from Captain Dale and our laws."

    "Yes." Meridina nodded. "I did. To protect an innocent life."

    "Why?"

    "Because it is the Code. 'Do not injustice to another. Defend the weak and innocent. Do not act in hatred or spite. Let courage within you spark your swevyra. Stand firm even when alone. Be to all a swevyra'se without fail. Do all these things though it cost you your life.'" Meridina's heart swelled as she repeated those words. They were the core within her. They were the light that guided her. Others might view them with cynicism or believe them too simple, but she did not.

    Adama was in thought at hearing those words. "Those are nice words. But the world doesn't always work like that."

    "It does not," Meridina agreed. "Which is why I hold to them as I do."

    "You realize you could be executed?", Adama said. "If we find you guilty, you will be shot or spaced."

    "Yes." Meridina drew in a breath. A brief surge of fear came up and was reflexively forced out of her mind. "I have faced death before, Admiral Adama. I have seen the horror of those ends. And I have long understood such might be my fate, either at your hands or those of another. If that is what I am called upon to do, I will do so."

    Adama remained quiet for the moment. "You didn't have to surrender to us," he said. "Why did you do it?"

    "To save the others," she answered. "And to save your people."

    "You were afraid that Captain Dale would have destroyed us?"

    "Not just that." Meridina looked him directly in the eyes. "Since I came here, I have sensed the darkness amongst your Fleet. All of the pain and despair and grief of your people... and your fear. Fear is the basic fuel for darkness, Admiral Adama. My people have long taught that fear drives the mind and soul to anger. The anger becomes hatred. And hatred leads to suffering."

    "We're already suffering," Adama pointed out. "We've lost almost everything."

    "Almost, yes," Meridina agreed. "But not everything. It is when all light is gone that all hope is lost, that life loses meaning, and all fall into darkness. Your people would be lost forever. I do not want that. I would be an example to the Colonies of light, of standing for what is right and dying for it, and to keep your people from losing the hope that the Alliance now provides you. If my life must be extinguished to ensure your people are saved, to rekindle the light within your hearts..." She bowed her head. "....then I make the sacrifice willingly."

    There was quiet in the room. Adama put his hands together and considered the young woman. "You believe in this?"

    "With all of my heart," Meridina pledged. "I am a swevyra'se of Gersal. I stand for Light and the Code of Swenya. I honor her teachings, passed down from the wise Reshan, tempered by Swenya's spirit, and given to my people to guide them. That is the calling that has been in my heart since i was young."

    The sincerity of Meridina was evident to Adama. He thought bitterly on what had transpired. How much of this was his fault? He knew Roslin's judgement was being impaired by her illness, but he let his own fears of breaking the Fleet again lead him into the confrontation that now saw this noble woman chained down and threatened with death.

    He didn't like the Cylons. He was irritated beyond words with Helo's affection for the damn Cylon, the one wearing the face of the traitor that had shot him. He still didn't trust her, for all that the Cylons loved to play the long game.

    He would have spoken more if Gaeta hadn't shown up at the door to the cell. "Admiral? Vice President Baltar wants to see you. It's urgent."




    Lucy was at Zack's door when he emerged. "Did you get my message?", she asked.

    "Yeah." Zack nodded. "Glad to see you changed your mind. Now we just need to change Julia's."

    "I think I can," Lucy said.

    They walked to the nearest turbolift and got in. "Bridge," Zack said after they entered.

    "So..." Lucy cleared her throat. "You're still leaving?"

    "That's the plan," Zack answered.

    "You really think that will make things better?"

    "Maybe, maybe not, but I know that staying here is suffocating me," he answered.

    "So it's... that." Lucy nodded. "We want to help you, you know that right?"

    "Yeah. But this isn't something I can get helped with," Zack replied. "It's something I have to do for myself."

    There was nothing more for Lucy to say. They remained silent until the lift let them out onto the bridge. "Angel's taking the day off, I see," Lucy murmured upon seeing Lieutenant Jarke at Tactical. Ensign al-Rashad was at Science. Seeing Caterina was missing reminded Lucy of what had been done to her and she breathed a silent prayer that Cat would recover emotionally from the beating.

    Julia was in the conference room, using it as an impromptu office space mwhile she ran the ship. The morning reports were piled beside her while she munched away at a breakfast pastry. "....delicate situation, Commander," they heard Admiral Maran saying. "While I applaud Commander Meridina and Captain Dale for defusing it, allowing anything to happen to either will go too far for the government. We already have Congressman Palas talking about an investigation. If the Colonies do anything to hurt Meridina, it will destroy any hope they have of getting Gersallian support for resettlement near the borders. I can't guarantee the Dorei will be willing to go it alone on their defense. You need to make this clear to the Colonial authorities."

    "I'll try, sir..." Julia started skimming a datapad. "But the more we push them, the more likely they might just act ouf of spite. What Meridina did cost us a lot of trust with them."

    "I imagine so. Whatever you and Captain Dale do out there, Commander, the President has your back." Maran briefly went silent. "And just so you know, Your guests' asylum requests are in the system now. Whatever happens, you can't return the Cylon named Sharon or Karl Agathon to Colonial custody."

    "I imagined as much sir."

    "Good luck, Commander. Maran out."

    There was a chirp to confirm the channel ahd closed. "Well, that's handled," Julia sighed. She looked up to them. "Let me guess. Here to ask for permission to go over again?"

    "We need to go to Cloud Nine, Julia," Lucy said. "Immediately."

    "Well." Julia's expression showed some surprise. "You've changed your mind. What happened?"

    "I reconsidered it," Lucy answered. "I need to go over there."

    "What would you do over there?", Julia asked. "The Quorum is returning to the Galactica for their hearing about Meridina."

    "I was thinking it might be good neutral ground to talk to Adama, maybe through his junior officers," Zack said. "His son's a cool guy. Maybe we can discuss things. Not just this mess with Meridina but getting mutual cooperation back on track. Or if not Adama, maybe the civilian leadership of the Fleet?"

    Julia seemed to consider it. "It is a good idea, in general. I can call Adama and see what he..."

    "Bridge to Commander Andreys." Jupap's chirping voice interrupted them. "Admiral Adama wishes to speak to you."

    "Speak of the devil," Julia said. She put away her breakfast. "Put him on, Lieutenant."

    After several moments the old man's voice rumbled over the speaker. "{i]Commander. Vice President Baltar wants to make a visit to the [/i]Aurora concerning the Cylon baby. He's determined something special about the child."

    Julia blinked. "Well, I can certainly meet the request, but I'm shocked you're considering it in these circumstances, Admiral."

    "Only because of what he's found. He needs to discuss it with your Doctor Gillam. But due to the situation, I need a guarantee of some kind."

    "You mean beyond having Captain Dale as a hostage?", Julia noted wryly. She looked to Lucy and Zack. "Well, we have our own request. Commander Carrey wants to talk to someone on the Cloud Nine. He thinks that we can get a dialogue going again on cooperation."

    For a moment there was silence. "I can send a couple officers to meet with him."

    "Great. Our people will transport over to the Cloud Nine in an hour and you can send Doctor Baltar to us. Anything else, Admiral?"

    "The Quorum will be meeting in a few hours to debate what's going to happen to Commander Meridina. I'll keep you informed of any decisions."

    "Please do, Admiral. Andreys out." Julia tapped a key to cut the transmission. She leveled a look at Zack and Lucy. "Alright. Head over there. See what they might want to release Meridina and get this crisis over with."

    "Without telling them that the bosses back in Portland are talking about cutting them off if anything happens to Meridina?"

    "Uh, yeah," Julia answered. "Best to do it that way for now."

    "Sure." Zack looked to Lucy. "Want to get some breakfast before we go?"

    "Alright," Lucy answered. She felt she'd need it to settle her nerves. The energy inside of her was starting to vibrate with the feeling that something bad was about to happen.




    Lee Adama stepped off the shuttle from the Galactica and found Tom Zarek waiting for him. "So, Captain." Zarek smiled at him. "I've heard you're coming to meet with officers from the Alliance ship?"

    Lee smiled diplomatically. "You hear a lot of things, Mister Zarek."

    "I'm good friends with the ship's staff." Zarek followed Lee to the door leading away from the landing bay. "I've got an hour before we're due over on Galactica. I wouldn't mind meeting this officer."

    "Of course you wouldn't Zarek." Kara walked up. "Captain."

    "Captain. Although we don't have to be formal." Lee nodded at her. "Nice to see you. I hear you had some trouble."

    "A bit." Kara eyed Zarek. "So, when does our party show up?"

    They were answered by the sight of an Alliance shuttle entering the last berth in the bay. It came to a perfect landing beside Lee's shuttle. The side hatch opened and Zack stepped out with Lucy behind him. Lee and Kara saluted first, recognizing Zack's superior rank. "Commander Carrey, good to see you again," Lee said.

    Zack straightened his spine and nodded. "Captain Adama, Captain Thrace. You remember Lieutenant Lucero?"

    "I do." Kara nodded at Lucy. "I'm glad I didn't have to shoot you yesterday, Lieutenant."

    "I'm glad I didn't have to smash you into the bulkhead, Captain," Lucy answered with a thin smile.

    Kara smirked briefly before her expression darkened. She wanted to ask about Cat Delgado but not with Zarek in earshot. Lucy sensed the desire and, on her own, added, "Lieutenant Delgado's good as well."

    Zarek stepped up between them. "Commander Carrey? You're the commander of the Koenig, right?" He offered a hand. "Good to meet you, Commander. I want to give my personal thanks to you and your crew for saving the Faru Sadin."

    "Likewise, Mister..." Zack took the offered hand.

    Lee moved his eyes toward Zarek. "This is Representative Thomas Zarek of Sagittaron," he answered. "He's a member of the Quorum."

    "Your... legislative council, right?", Lucy asked.

    "Yes," Zarek answered. "We're the civilian government that runs the Fleet alongside President Roslin." He smiled at Lucy. "You are?"

    "Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero, operations officer," Lucy replied simply.

    "Ah. Were you one of the officers the military tried to seize when Roslin and Adama nearly ruined everything?"

    Lee and Kara shot looks at Zarek. Lucy and Zack couldn't help but notice the tension. Lucy nodded slightly. "I was over on Pegasus, yes."

    "My apologies, Lieutenant, for any harm caused," Zarek said. "The Quorum is planning on investigating this entire incident thoroughly. We hope to get this situation resolved so that our relations with your people can be put back on track."

    Zack nodded and looked to Lee. "Well, I came over to try and get some cooperation going again. A lot's going to rely on your people releasing Meridina, though."

    "I thought so." Zarek smiled. "I have a reserved table at one of the best lounges on the ship. Why don't we head there to discuss matters? Captain Adama can take over for me when it's time for me to head to Galactica."

    Zack noticed the obvious consternation from Lee and Kara. But he also knew that he was dealing with a political figure who had the sway to make things work more smoothly. He nodded. "Sure. I'd like to."




    Julia was waiting in the shuttle bay when the shuttle carrying Baltar arrived. He instructed the pilot to remain on standby and pulled out a briefcase. "Commander." Unlike his prior tour, this time Julia had the feeling she wasn't getting undressed behind his eyes. He was actually intent on something else. "I'd like to go straight to your medbay."

    "Doctor Gillam is waiting for you," she answered. "Follow me." She led him out the door. Two security officers, a blue-skinned Dorei and a red-feathered Alakin, fell in to escort them.

    When they arrived in the medbay Leo was waiting for them. Sharon and Helo were at one bed with life sign scanners active behind them. Caterina was still in the other bed for observation, sleeping quietly in the arms of her big sister. Baltar noticed them and the remaining bruises on Caterina's face. "Did we... do that to her?", he asked.

    "Yes," Julia answered... simultaneously to his head Cylon. She moved around and stood beside Julia. Baltar took notice for a moment but kept any thoughts about two beautiful blondes being beside each other from entering his head.

    "I'm sorry," Baltar replied. He looked at Leo. "Doctor Gillam?"

    "Doctor Baltar, yes?" Leo extended his hand and allowed Baltar to shake it. "Your preliminary information was pretty interesting. I've been running my own tests, but I never imagined..."

    "Imagined what?", Sharon asked.

    Leo turned and looked at Sharon. "Your baby's cellular structure is... well, I've never seen anything like it. The cells are biochemically flexible to the extent that they're quite capable of repairing cellular damage."

    "So our baby is what, more surviveable?", Helo asked.

    "More than that," Baltar replied. "The child's cells could likely be used to heal others."

    Leo shot a look at Baltar. Julia saw this and realized what Baltar meant. "You mean... President Roslin?", Julia asked.

    "Probably," Baltar said. "The baby's cells could send her cancer into complete remission."

    Leo perked up at hearing that. "Which would buy us time for treatment to get rid of it."

    "Exactly," Baltar said.

    "You're okay with this, Doctor Baltar?", Helo asked. "I mean, you'd be President..."

    "That presumes, Lieutenant Agathon, that I want the job," Baltar answered. "I have many interests, being President isn't necessarily one of them."

    "She tried to kill my baby," Sharon protested. "Now you're asking me to risk my child to save her?"

    "The risks are non-existent," Leo assured her. "We won't have to cut anything, we'll use microprobes to gather the cellular material we need."

    "I assure you, your child will be perfectly safe," Baltar added.

    Sharon bit into her lip. She looked to Helo. "Not unless they return Meridina safe and sound," she answered.

    "Pardon?", Baltar asked.

    "I want Meridina returned safely to the Aurora," Sharon answered. "Let her go. And I'll consent to the operation."

    "President Roslin may not have that much time," Julia said. "She's pretty bad."

    "That's her fault," Sharon answered. "Meridina was ready to risk her life to save my baby. She's risking her life now to save the Colonial Fleet. I'm not helping the woman who could get her killed." She looked intently at Baltar. "Meridina for the treatment."

    "The Quorum is intending to discuss whether criminal charges will be levied today," Baltar said. "But I don't think we can get an answer that quickly..."

    "Don't expect me to say yes until you do."

    "Don't, Gaius."

    Baltar saw his head Cylon move beside Julia and toward Leo. "Don't do anything to let Meridina go," the head Cylon insisted. "She has to die." The blonde smiled and purred, "Besides, that would make you President."

    "But I don't want to be President!", Baltar blurted aloud.

    "Then I suggest you listen to the woman." Angel stirred from the bed. She glared at him. "You give us back Meridina and Robert and your President gets her cure. Otherwise you'd better be ready to hear 'Hail to the Chief.'"

    "Lieutenant..." Julia shot a look at Angel.

    "Gaius...." The Head Cylon was glaring at him. "She's a threat. She has to die. No matter what."

    Baltar swallowed. "I... I...." He looked fearfully at the head Cylon, which meant he seemed to be looking at Julia. She looked at him quizzically, not sure whe he seemed so upset and frightened of her. "I understand. Yes, it's your choice. I'll... well, we'll see what the Quorum wants to do." Baltar looked to Julia. "Commander, I would like to return to Galactica. I need to prepare for the Quorum meeting."

    "Of course. This way, Doctor." Julia escorted him out of the medbay.

    Angel looked at the pensive look on Leo's face. "You don't seem happy," she said.

    "I'm not," he replied. He glanced toward Sharon. "I understand you're angry, and you have the right to make this decision.... but I don't agree with leaving a woman to die."

    Sharon didn't answer him. She looked to Helo and laid her head back.

    Leo retreated to his office to look over readings. Angel followed him, vibrating with anger. "Have you forgotten what that evil bitch caused?", she demanded.

    "No, I haven't," Leo answered. "But that doesn't mean I want her to die." He looked squarely at Angel. "And if you were in your right mind, you wouldn't either."

    Angel crossed her arms. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

    "It means that you're so mad you're not thinking straight," Leo replied. "I know you're a better woman than this, Angel."

    "She caused Cat to get hurt. Because of her Rob is over there, in danger. All because she wanted to kill a baby. So you tell me why I should give a damn."

    "Because you're a better person," Leo answered. "At least, I thought you were a better person."

    Angel's nostrils flared. She looked like she'd been struck. For a moment it looked like she was struggling to speak, but she gave it up and stormed out of the office.

    Leo sighed. Angel was passionate to a fault at times. He darkly wondered how much of this was her frustration at Robert not letting her come with him. As much as he enjoyed seeing his friends being happy, he was starting to doubt it was such a good thing given their new jobs.

    He decided to get his mind off this by turning his attention to the scans he had of the half-Cylon baby's cells. This was a biological mystery he would love to solve.




    Lucy had to admit her surprise. She was convinced Zarek's focus on economics and politics would cause Zack's eyes to roll up into his skull and his brain to go into shutdown mode. But he remained attentive the entire time, responding to Zarek's remarks about economic unfairness or the oppression of the Sagittarons by bringing up bits from their former lives in Kansas. Zack wasn't an economist, of course, but with her input he talked up how replicator technology altered supply and demand for an economy.

    "You're a pretty smart man, Commander," Zarek said, pointedly shaking Zack's hand again. "Hopefully we can implement this replicator technology across the Fleet. It would make the lives of our people a lot happier."

    "Hopefully we can get to that," Zack agreed. "We just need to clear up this situation with Meridina over that Cylon."

    Zarek smirked and ignored the uncomfortable looks from Lee and Kara. "Yes, well, I believe we can get that out of the way today. I'm going to bring everything up in the Quorum to make it clear Roslin acted stupidly. Not that I don't admire her accomplishments, but I think Roslin's sickness has ruined her mind."

    "I'm not one to speak about her, honestly," Zack said. "But..."

    There was a tone. Zarek pulled out a mobile phone unit and answered it. "The Quorum's ready? Fine, I'm on my way." He closed it and stood. "It was great talking to you, Commander. I look forward to seeing the Colonies and your Allied Systems working together in the future." He offered a hand and Zack accepted it. Zarek walked away.

    Lucy and Zack watched him go for a moment. When Zack was sure Zarek was out of earshot over the background chatter of the lounge, he looked back to Lee and Kara. "Well, that was fun," he sighed, taking a drink from the club soda Zarek had ordered for him.

    "You handled yourself pretty well," Lucy remarked.

    "He certainly took a liking to you, Commander," Lee said. "It can be tricky when Zarek does that."

    "I learned how to deal with that stuff from Rob and Julie," Zack said. "I smile and nod a lot and say something here and there to break up the monotony. Honestly I don't even know half of what I said about replicator-based economics." He set the glass down. "So, can we talk about cooperation?"

    "Sure." Lee nodded. "I think the Admiral wants this Meridina situation out of the way. If we can get anything to show for it, to show you understand you crossed the line with us, I think you'll find that the Quorum will let her go."

    "Okay." Zack put his hands together. "What do you have in mind? More shield generators? Replicators?"

    "Well..."

    "...actually." Kara leaned in. "What if you helped us raid Caprica?"

    Lee gave her a look. Zack blinked. "Your capital world, right? The one the Cylons nuked?"

    "Yeah. There are survivors," Kara answered. "I've seen them myself. They're fighting a war with the Cylons that they can't win. Sooner or later they're going to run out of radiation treatments and they'll all die."

    "And you want to raid Caprica to give them supplies?"

    "No," Kara answered. "I want to raid Caprica to get them out. We can bring them to the Fleet. Hell, with your technology we could hit all of the Colonies. There's got to be more survivors."

    Zack nodded. "If I remember right your home systems are weeks away from here. I'm not sure we could launch an operation like that so easily."

    "It's not so far if we use Cylon drives..."

    Lucy started to look away, letting Zack debate the idea with Kara. As her eyes scanned toward the front door of the lounge she saw Zarek was still standing there. There was a woman with him, blond, looking away from Zarek and talking. Lucy focused on her senses, feeling with her life force, and felt their speech come to her. "....private meetings, Councilman? What about the transparency we were promised? How can you keep the people of the Fleet in the dark about what's going on with the Earth ship?"

    There was something in that voice that got Lucy's attention. Zarek answered, "Sometimes we have to be careful about the information we give out, Ms. Biers. You know that. But I assure you, the findings of the Quorum will be publicly....

    "How can we guarantee we get the full truth if everything happens behind locked doors?", the woman retorted. Lucy focused on the voice. She knew she'd heard it before.

    Zarek sighed. "What if I let you in on the session then? You can report on the findings when the Quorum agrees to go public. And not a moment before. That's the best I can do for you."

    The woman seemed to think on it. "You drive a hard bargain..."

    Lucy's eyes widened.

    She knew that voice.

    And just where did you come from?

    I hear your ship had some form of... teleporter?

    We have tests to run. We'll let you know a final price when we get back.

    Lucy focused again, trying to sense Zarek's sight. She couldn't mind-read like Meridina so she couldn't do it directly. But Meridina had shown her how the power she was using could sense things even without direct mental link. She tried to focus on the image.

    "Lucy?"

    "Shh," she hissed, ignoring the look on the faces of Zack, Lee, and Kara. "That woman...."

    "Who?" Lee looked beyond. "Are you talking about D'anna? The reporter leaving with Zarek?"

    They did indeed step out. Lucy couldn't get the image in her head and growled in frustration. "I need to see what she looks like," she insisted. "Please."

    "Her news show is on in a few hours..." Kara began.

    "I need to know now," Lucy insisted. She turned to face them. "Picture her in your minds. Please, trust me."

    Lee and Kara exchanged looks. Kara knew some of what Lucy could do but Lee had not yet seen it. When Lee looked to Zack he shrugged. "Hey, I've seen the stuff Meridina can do, and Lucy can do it now too."

    "Alright, fine, do your mumbo jumbo and..."

    Before Kara finished the sentence she sensed something in her head. The image she had of D'anna Biers almost slipped but she kept it. "You're actually reading my frakking mind?"

    "I'm just sensing the image in your head, it's not entirely clear but..." Lucy felt the image come clear in her mind. She gasped and fell back into her chair. "Oh God, I was right. I was... oh God it's her."

    "Who?", Zack asked.

    "The woman who tried to buy me on Djamar Station. Remember, back when we first met Meridina and the Gersallians and the Dorei?", Lucy said to him. "When those pirates abducted me?"

    Zack's brow furrowed. "But... that doesn't make sense, the Colonies haven't come this far out before, and definitely not to the frontier of Dorei and Gersallian space."

    "What are you saying?", Lee asked. "That you've met D'anna?"

    "That's her!", Lucy insisted. "I remember her. She was with this other guy, this... dark-skinned bald guy..."

    Kara grabbed Lucy's forearm. "What did you just say?"

    "Dark-skinned bald guy. Uh, a little lighter in color than Leo," Lucy answered. Lucy thought of the two of them together. The blonde woman - D'anna, she could swear - watching as the man drew blood from her.

    Kara's jaw dropped. "Frak me," she said. "Frak me... I see his face. How the frak..."

    Lucy blinked. She didn't think she was projecting the mental image that much...

    "He's a Cylon I saw on Caprica," she continued. "And.... oh frak me.."

    "Excuse me?" Lee looked at the two women. "What are you two talking about?"

    "She's one of them," Lucy said. "That... that explains why Meridina has footage of her at that Faith Summit that got bombed five years ago. And how she was at the station."

    "Who's one of what?", Zack asked.

    "D'anna Biers..."

    "....is a frakking Cylon," Kara finished for Lucy.
     
  15. Threadmarks: 1-10-4
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    The final Quorum members were preparing to board the shuttle to Galactica. Zarek was going to go last and have D'anna with him.

    "Excuse me." D'anna got Zarek's attention. "I'll be right back." She motioned to a man standing off to the side, waving at them. "Interviewee. Before this happened I was scheduled to talk with him today."

    "Well, don't keep me from giving him the bad news," Zarek answered. "Although if he's patient, maybe he'll get that interview today after all."

    "Thanks. I'll be right back." D'anna hurried over to the man, dressed as priestly clergy. "What is it?", she asked.

    "You know your purpose," the priest said. It wasn't really a question.

    D'anna nodded. "I do. But is the ship..."

    "It is," he pledged. "The Humans only got one. You will be welcomed back with open arms."

    D'anna nodded and looked very reassured. "I look forward to it. I'm tired of living here."

    "Aren't we all?", Brother Cavil said, a sarcastic smirk on his face. "Remember. The Gersallian must die. Everyone else is extra."

    "She's the priority target. I'll shoot Captain Dale and Admiral Adama afterward," D'anna whispered back.

    "Yes." Cavil put a hand on her shoulder. His voice became loud. "Of course I understand, my dear child. This is a momentous event, you should be there to observe it. I will patiently await your return!"

    D'anna smiled and nodded before she pulled away. Zarek gave her an amused look as she boarded the shuttle before he did.

    All of this time living amongst the Humans, and it came down to this. A great blow to be delivered for the Plan. For God.

    And she would be the one doing it.




    "So let me get this straight." Lee held a hand up. "You two are going to accuse a leading journalist of the Fleet of being a Cylon with evidence based on reading minds?"

    "No," Lucy sighed. "Based on the fact I saw her years ago on a pirate station where she tried to buy me. In the company of a known Cylon."

    "But that link is based entirely on Kara seeing inside your mind somehow," Lee protested. "This... it just isn't going to work."

    "So we need proof," Zack said. "Something that confirms someone is a Cylon."

    "Doesn't Doctor Baltar have a Cylon detector?", Lucy asked.

    "It didn't work before," Kara snorted. "And I bet he's already tested her."

    Zack smirked and clapped his hands together. "Well, a good thing Baltar's not the only genius around here, right? Let's take this to Jarod and Cat and see what they come up with."

    "You mean we'd build our own Cylon life detector?", Lucy asked. "How would we know it works? We'd need a... Cylon...." Lucy laughed. "Of course. We have Sharon."

    "Bingo," Zack said. He stood up. "We'll return to the Aurora. You two want to come?"

    "Probably better if we don't," Lee said. "I'll get back to Galactica and see what I can do to stop Biers."

    "I'm going too," Kara said. At that, the two groups headed off from the lounge.




    Robert had an early breakfast and was ready when Tigh came to collect him. "They're moving your friend to the starboard hanger deck," he said.

    "Thank you, Colonel." Robert took a final check of his uniform in the mirror and stepped out to join the older man. The Marines followed them as they walked through the corridors of the big ship. Robert noticed Tigh was struggling with something. But he kept quiet.

    Finally Tigh broke his silence. "Thought you should know the Old Man is going to clean house over on Pegasus."

    "Ah?"

    "We heard about what they did to that sweet little scientist girl," Tigh continued. "It's a Gods-damned disgrace and I don't mind saying it."

    Robert fought down a surge of anger over what had been done to Cat. This was, at least, something being said in the right direction. "Yes. It was."

    Tigh made a noise from his throat. "Not that I think your people were right. All this talk about being our friends and the first thing you do when we're not seeing eye to eye is poke us in the eye." Tigh turned his head and faced Robert. "Just how were we supposed to take that, huh?"

    "Well, obviously not well," Robert remarked. "We both screwed that up. But we weren't the ones who were going to force a woman to abort her baby."

    "You deal with Cylons long enough, you're going to lose that attitude about them quick," Tigh retorted. "As far as I'm concerned, you can keep her, and Helo too if she's that damned important to him. But if you trust them that quickly you'll get burned. Understand?"

    "You might not believe how many times I heard people tell me that about people they hated."

    "Oh yeah? How many of them got nuked by the people they were warning you about?"

    Tigh's question was right on the mark. Robert frowned and sighed. "None."

    "You kids think you're smart, but that won't do you a bit of good if you walk around just trusting people," Tigh continued. "The Cylons are bad news. Keep that in mind."

    At that point Robert didn't think the discussion would go anywhere else, so he ceased talking about it.




    Julia entered the medbay and found Zack, Lucy, and Jarod in the corner, Leo nearby and checking on Cat. "You said something big happened over there, what was it?"

    "We found another Cylon," Zack answered.

    Julia's jaw dropped open. "What?"

    "Not just that," Jarod continued. "But going by Lucy's description, it's the same being who tried to buy her from the pirates at Djamar Station over two years ago."

    "Or a copy at least." Lucy held up her multidevice and showed the image of a blonde woman. "They call her D'anna Biers. She's this big time video journalist for the Fleet."

    "And you're certain that's her?", Julia asked. "It's been..."

    "I won't forget that day," Lucy said, almost harshly. "I... it's not something you forget, Julia."

    Julia nodded in understanding. "Okay."

    "Besides, Meridina and I found her in other footage," Lucy said. "That Faith Summit the Dorei nations held back before our contact? The one where Captain Potana from the Mayala had his entire family blown up? She was there too. She's the leading suspect for planting at least one of the bombs."

    Julia let out a breath. "Meridina said the Cylons already knew about the Gersallians and Dorei, but this is beyond that. I mean, if it's true..."

    "...odds are it is," Jarod interceded.

    "...if it's true, the Cylons have been attacking two founding nations of the Allied Systems for years." Julia gritted her teeth. "I need to tell Admiral Maran. And we need to do something about this..."

    "We are," Jarod answered.

    "That's why they're taking up room in my medbay," Leo called out, looking up from where he was treating the fractured bones in Caterina's face.

    "We're putting together a scanning protocol to detect humanform Cylons," Lucy clarified.

    Julia blinked. "Really? How? Our sensors haven't been able to pinpoint any Cylons in the Fleet."

    "It's an issue of resolution," Lucy replied. "The sensors used for those kinds of lifesigns aren't programmed to look for the internal indications that a Human has Cylon bits inside. That's what we're fixing here."

    Jarod held up a medical scanner. "Just doing some final tweaking. We're using Leo's examination of Sharon and her baby to establish a base point for scanning differences between Human physiology and Cylon."

    "Good. When will it be ready?"

    "Twenty minutes or so, need to finish patch updates," Lucy replied.

    Julia checked her multidevice and the clock on it. "Alright. I'll go call Maran."

    "Of course."




    Meridina remained in cuffs for the procession through Galactica, surrounded entirely by the Marines with Adama alongside her. She noted the way he was looking about. "Are you concerned, Admiral?"

    "A little," he admitted.

    "This would be about the other Sharon being shot?"

    He didn't look at her or give any indication of how much that thought annoyed him. "Maybe," he conceded.

    "I shall be careful to observe for attackers, then," Meridina pledged. Bound hand and foot she had only limited mobility, but some people could be surprised what a swevyra'se could do even in her situation.

    As she said that, Meridina did feel a tingle of warning within. She felt like something might happen, she just wasn't sure what.




    D'anna took leave of Zarek outside of the hanger deck. She slipped away from him by alluding to a need to use the restroom and was directed to the nearest "head" by helpful crewmembers. The Galactica facilities were unisex, but at this point they did include semi-private stalls. Knowing it was the best choice she had, D'anna went to work. From her personal bag she pulled several ceramic pieces out, rods and flat pieces and the like.

    It would only take her ten seconds to assemble the light firearm and put the clip in. Five shots. It would have to be enough.




    Lee and Kara came in hot to land on Galactica. The flight deck officer confronted them at the exit. "What is your problem, your velocity was..."

    "Fleet emergency," Lee said. "Where's Admiral Adama?"

    "Off with the Quorum, I think. Starboard hanger."

    Lee nodded and, with Kara, they took off.




    Zack watched impatiently as Jarod and Leo fussed with the scanner. "The setting should be working," Jarod protested.

    "It's not," Leo countered. "See? Human scale returns. Nothing to say she's a Cylon."

    Sharon sat passively. Helo stood nearby, looking ready to hold her hand and frustrated at seeing Sharon used as a test subject. "Maybe there's just no way to tell?", he said.

    "No. We should be able to detect the electronics inside of her body," Jarod answered. "The bioelectric field shouldn't be this close to baseline normal."

    "What if Cylon bioelectrics only trigger when a Cylon's actively using their electronics?" Lucy suggested.

    They all looked at Sharon, who shrugged. "It's not something we just consciously do or not do," she said. "It's a part of us."

    "That Quorum meeting is about to start," Zack reminded them. "We need a way to prove D'anna Biers is a Cylon, and this is our best hope. There's got to be something...."

    "Why not try a focused electromagnetic scan?"

    Eyes turned toward the nearby bed where Caterina was sitting quietly. She looked far better now. The worst bruises still showed a little but she no longer looked like she'd gone twenty rounds with a heavyweight boxer. Caterina slid off the bed and smoothed out her hospital gown for modesty's sake. She walked over. "The Cylons probably have signal shielding built into their electronics. But that kind of shielding will stand out if you run it through an EM scan on the right wavelengths."

    "That's not a bad idea," Jarod said. He handed Cat the scanner. "What do you think?"

    Cat accepted it and started tinkering with the object. She tried a setting and got nothing. She focused and went through them, seeing if she got any results. Just as Jarod went to take back the scanner, Caterina called out, "Wait! I've got it." She prompted Jarod and Lucy to look. The scanner was shining gold over Sharon's profile. Cat moved it to scan Helo and Zack, but there was no golden aura like on Sharon. "There, see? The scanner senses the insulation. You can see she's a Cylon."

    "Brilliant," Zack said, applauding.

    "I'll say." Jarod put an arm on Cat's shoulder. "Way to go, Cat, that was a great idea."

    A smile broke through Cat's expression. She blushed slightly.

    "Carrey to bridge." Zack took the scanner and went for the door, Lucy behind him. "Alert Galactica, we need to get over there now."




    D'anna returned to the large hanger deck and smiled at the Marine guard at the door. She handed him her personal bag and he gave it a quick check before satisfying himself there was nothing inside of it. Since landing on the ship had required going through more extensive security procedures she wasn't subjected to the kind of search that might have revealed the gun she had assembled. She was waved in and found a seat in the front row. She had pencil and paper in hand to complete the facade.

    Most of the Quorum was already in its seats and the handful that weren't had gravitated around Baltar. D'anna considered shooting him if she could, but Cavil's priority list was still in her head. The Gersallian, then her captain, and then Adama. Baltar would come fourth if she could actually get the shot off.

    She steeled herself, ready to implement this phase of the Plan.



    On the bridge of the Aurora Julia watched Jarod resume Ops. "So this device can find Cylons?"

    "Yes. Cat found the right EM wavelengths to pick up their internal signal insulation." Jarod ran his hands over the Ops station. "I think that given time I can refine our ship sensors to do the same, but I'm looking at hours of work."

    "So we need to get the device over there." Julia leaned forward. "Put me through to Galactica."




    Tigh took up the phone when he got notification of the signal. "Colonel Tigh? This is Commander Andreys. We have a device that can scan for Cylons, we think one of them might be going after the Quorum. Can we send a shuttle over?"

    Tigh frowned. "Awfully convenient," he murmured. "I'm afraid that's a no. The Admiral's orders were strict; no ships coming in during the meeting."

    "This is important, Colonel."

    Or a trick. Tigh allowed the suspicious thought to nearly come to his tongue. But he didn't give it a voice. If they were right - and Gods knew they had the techno-wizardry to pull it off, as far as Tigh thought - then this was something worth the risk. "I'll get Adama", he said. He nodded to Dualla. "Patch me through to the hanger deck."




    The Marine phalanx with Adama and Meridina entered from the door opposite of where D'anna had come. She had expected that and wasn't ready to take her shot anyway. Not until she was seated beside Captain Dale at a table facing the makeshift half-circle where the Quorum were taking their seats. She needed every second.




    Adama saw the tension go through Meridina's body. "Something wrong?", he asked.

    "There is danger here," she murmured. Meridina's swevyra'se was buzzing with a warning sense. Something was dreadfully wrong.

    "What kind?"

    "I'm not sure," she had to admit. "But there is real physical danger in this room."

    Adama's skepticism nearly had him dismiss her words. But he didn't. His instincts told him something was wrong here. The room was a big target for the Cylons, after all, even with all of the security to ensure the proceedings remained private. He cursed the necessity of using the larger hanger deck over the smaller but more easily-secured wardroom. Before he could say anything, one of the Marines called out to him. "Admiral, it's CIC for you, Colonel Tigh says it's important."

    Adama went over and accepted the phone. "Adama here."

    "I've got Commander Andreys asking to send people over. She says she has a Cylon detector and that one of her people identified a Cylon in the Fleet."

    "Suspicious timing," Adama murmured.

    "Damned suspicious," Tigh agreed. "I mean, don't their shuttles have those transporting devices? If we let one get within the shields..."

    "Yeah. Put the Commander on for me." Adama remained quiet until he heard the clicking of the channel being piped in. "Commander Andreys, this is not the best timing."

    "I know," she said. "But Commander Carrey and Lieutenant Lucero just got back a short while ago with the news. Lieutenant Lucero saw a suspected Cylon over on Cloud Nine."

    "Were you field-testing this device you say you have?"

    "No. She says she's seen the woman before. Years ago on a trading outpost on the outskirts of Gersallian space. None of your people could have been that far out, but Sharon says the Cylons have been poking around the edges of Gersallian and Dorei space for years now. She would have to be a Cylon to have been there."

    Adama frowned. "You'll understand my skepticism, Commander."

    "I know. But this is something we can use to make up for what Meridina did. We could gift you the scanner and the means to make more. It's a handheld device."

    "If it works," Adama answered. "You wouldn't happen to have the name of..."

    "Admiral, Captain Adama's at the door," one of the Marines said. "He wants to see you." The Marine leaned in. "He says they found a Cylon on Cloud Nine."

    Adama put two and two together. "Bring him in, quietly." He started visually scanning the crowd. Meridina was still tense, far moreso than she'd been at any point of this crisis. And he could feel it in his bones. Something was wrong. He started scanning the crowd of Quorum aides and members of the Galactica crew being brought forth for testimony. His eyes moved across the crowd.

    "Commander, are you still there?"

    "Yes. You wanted the name of the person Lieutenant Lucero believes to be the Cylon?"

    "Yes." Adama's eyes kept scanning the room. They passed across the front row of seats and he saw...

    "D'anna Biers."




    D'anna kept looking at her targets. Robert Dale looked pensive but unaware. He had more mundane concerns at the moment. The Gersallian was different. She looked... tense and concerned, if not outright fearful. Like she knew that someone was coming to kill her but didn't know who it was or how her death was going to be brought about. That worried D'anna.

    Adama was on the phone along the wall. People moving about obscured her sight of him at points. But she watched his eyes scan the crowd. They swept over her and stopped for a moment.

    A moment enough for D'anna to begin feeling suspicious. Was she somehow betrayed? Should she just shoot now? What if...?

    Adama's eyes kept going. D'anna calmed her thoughts and returned to looking around.




    Meridina felt the intent come across her conscious. There was someone here with the intent to do violence. She was certain of that now. She started looking around the crowd and knew she would be the intended victim.

    But where would the attack come from?




    Adama forced himself to keep his eyes sweeping. D'anna Biers, a Cylon?! The thought filled him with disgust and horror. She was in the perfect position to undermine the Fleet with her journalism. There were few people he would be more horrified to hear were Cylons.

    "That's a big charge, Commander," he said.

    "We can prove it. We've tested the scanner, it works."

    "And all I have to do is let you penetrate Galactica's defenses. I'm not sure I trust you that much, Commander."




    On the bridge of the Aurora, Julia cringed and put her hand to her forehead. That was the problem, wasn't it? Trust. Adama had to trust her and she had to trust him. And after everything that had happened.

    This is your chance, a voice inside of her said. Convince him and beam Meridina and Robert out. You can sort it out later. It'll even be better for them since they won't do anything to make the government back in Portland cut them off!

    Locarno and Jarod gave her looks. They didn't have to say anything. They knew the temptation she was facing.

    It was a strong one, too. All it required her to do was violate Adama's trust - should it be extended again - and decide what was better for the Colonials. She was certain she was right about what they needed. But...

    No. That was not how this should go. They had to start building a relationship of friendship with the Fleet. That couldn't happen if there wasn't any trust.

    "I understand, Admiral," she said. "We've got trust issues going on here. But shouldn't we move past them? It's the only way any of us can be safe from the Cylons. Meridina stole your prisoner. Your people shot one of ours and brutally beat another. We've each done something to the other. Let's stop it. Please. We have to."




    Adama was mulling it over when Lee and Kara were brought up by the Marine. Lee leaned in close. "It's Biers," he said in a low voice, nearly a whisper and just as good as one given the noise in the background. "Lucero recognized her."

    Adama nodded. "You believe her?"

    "I do," Lee answered. There had been no mistaking the horror and instinctive fear on Lucy's face.

    "Yeah." Kara nodded. "I don't know what these people can do, but I... she showed me the face of the guy she said was with Biers. It was that Cylon I met on Caprica running the fake hospital. She saw them together, Admiral."

    Adama's jaw clenched. He didn't ask again if she was sure. He could see it blazing in Kara's eyes. Lee looked just as certain. He was ready to stake everything on his impression of Lucy Lucero.

    Which meant the Cylon was here. Now. It had wanted to be here. It was up to something.

    Trust. The key issue was... could Adama trust Commander Andreys? Could he trust the woman to respect him and not snatch back her captain and her crewmate the moment the Galactica's shields lowered? If he was wrong.... then the entire Fleet and Quorum would be humiliated. They would never recover from that.

    Every thought in his head told him it was a bad deal. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that he could do to hold Commander Andreys to her word. She had every reason to retake her people. He wouldn't even really be able to blame her for that, when it came down to it; protecting her own like he would protect his own.

    "Sometimes you have to roll the hard six," he mumbled to himself.

    "Sir?", Lee asked.

    "I'm about to do something potentially stupid," he sighed. He held up the phone again. "Biers is here, Commander. Starboard hanger deck. Send your people and the scanner over by your transporter, we need that thing now." Adama flipped a switch to reconnect to CIC. "Tigh, lower the shields to allow a transport from the Aurora."

    "What? Say again?"

    "Lower the shields. Now."

    There was clear hesitancy in his voice. Adama almost repeated the order before he replied, "Lowering shields."




    "Galactica's shields are lowering," Jarod said. He didn't point out he could get transporter locks on Meridina and Robert. There was no need.

    Julia's temptations returned. Augmented by what Adama had said. The Cylon was there. It - she - could be up to something! Robert and Meridina were in danger! Beam them back, you don't have to risk anyone else....

    Her hand hit the intercom button. "Bridge to Transporter Room 4. Beam over now. Starboard hanger deck. The Cylon is there!"




    Adama half-expected to see Meridina and Robert disappear.

    Instead two more figures materialized nearby. He recognized Zack and Lucy. "Raise shields again," he ordered into the phone.

    "Yes sir," Tigh said with relief in his voice.

    Adama could feel the same relief in his. He noticed the looks Baltar and Zarek were giving him, indeed the eyes turning toward the new arrivals, and felt the relief surge even stronger. He had shown trust and Andreys had honored it; now she was showing trust in him by giving him two potential hostages.

    "Admiral, what is going on...?" Baltar asked.

    Adama went to answer.

    But he didn't get the chance.




    D'anna's attention went straight toward the two pillars of light that coalesced into two figures. More of the Alliance officers... she even recognized one as having been on Cloud Nine earlier.

    That made her apprehensive enough. She looked to the woman... just as the woman looked at her.

    Her.

    At that point, D'anna knew she had been identified.

    So she pulled out the gun, aimed at Meridina, and fired.




    Meridina had been looking away from D'anna when she felt the warning through her swevyra'se. The arrival of Lucy and Zack had distracted her from one threat she thought she felt, an aide of one of the Quorum members who radiated disgust and hate at her.

    And for all of her skill and power, that warning time was simply not enough to prevent the attack.

    Meridina tried to jump anyway even as the gun barked out. The shackles on her ankles limited her movement and kept her from getting clear of the shot. Pain surged through her chest from where the bullet struck her body, ripping through flesh and bone to lodge in her ribs. Blood erupted from the wound and hit the floor while she was in mid-air. She hit the ground and wheezed. She fought against the pain and looked up.

    The blonde woman. She hadn't noticed her yet. But she was there... and Meridina remembered her. The woman from the Faith Summit videos. The one Lucy had seen on Djamar. Even she could remember the glimpse she caught of Lucy's prospective "buyer" from that day when she had met Robert and Lucy.

    With everything that had happened... she hadn't realized the true ramifications of what Sharon had said about her people knowing the Gersallians and Dorei.

    She didn't have time to say anything, though. The mysterious blonde pointed her gun at Meridina's head. She would be dead in a second.




    Meridina had a second to live when Lucy acted.

    She gathered her will and grabbed the gun with it, lifting upward with enough force to try and yank it out of D'anna's grip. The Cylon woman was stronger than she looked and, as it turned out, actually joined the gun in the air. Shot after shot rang out, sending bullets into the hull plating. A scream came from one aide.

    After four shots went off the gun clicked, emptied of ammo. Lucy let go and the Cylon plummeted to the ground. Two of the Marines who had been guarding Meridina grabbed and restrained her. "The Plan will succeed!", D'anna screamed. "God will not be denied! He will not be denied!"

    "Who are you?!", Lucy shouted. "Why did you take my blood the last time?! Why..."

    "Lucy." Robert stepped up to her and shook his head. He looked to Adama and nodded. Nearby Baltar, Zarek, and the Quorum were watching with stunned faces. "Admiral Adama?"

    Adama was already giving orders to the Marines. A corpsman among them was tending to Meridina's wound and giving advice to an aide who had been hit in the arm. "Admiral, shall we take the prisoner to the cell?", one of the Marines asked.

    "One moment." Adama looked to Zack. "The device?"

    Zack nodded and handed it over. Adama turned it over in his hands. It looked relatively simple. A few buttons, a display showing a frequency wavelength, and a screen showing everyone in bright blue silhouette. He brought the device up and pointed it at D'anna and the Marines flanking her. They remained blue. D'anna lit up with gold light. "I'd say it works," he said. "Get that thing out of here."

    D'anna began screaming again as she was dragged out.

    "A Cylon detector?", Robert asked Zack.

    "Yep. Lucy, Jarod, and Leo slapped it together. Cat figured out the best way to use it." Zack smiled at him. "And Lucy and I spotted the crazy blonde over on Cloud Nine and Lucy recognized her from... where was it?"

    "Djamar," Robert said. Looking at Biers he thought he could remember her face too, although there had been a bunch of pirates between them so the memory wasn't the clearest one he had. "Holy crap. The Cylons have been messing around on the frontier for years, haven't they?"

    "Looks like it," Zack murmured.

    Robert nodded and looked over to the Quorum, where eyes were on Zarek. "I had no idea...!" the Sagittaron protested. "Who believed Biers was a Cylon? I mean, come on!"

    "Maybe you're one too," the Tauron delegate barked.

    "He isn't," Adama barked back. He held the scanner up to the Quorum. "Going by this thing none of you are."

    "Right." Baltar settled back into his seat, looking like he was sick. He looked to Robert. "Captain. I believe I speak for the Quorum and the entire Fleet when I say that we are grateful for your people revealing this treachery to us. And for the technological means to find other Cylon infiltrators."

    "You're welcome, Mister Vice President," Robert replied formally.

    There was hushed muttering in the Quorum, but Zarek and Baltar ignored it as the former whispered to the latter. "Ah, yes, that makes sense," Baltar said. "Captain, seeing as how the efforts of your people have helpfully replaced the Cylon prisoner your officer seized, I think it is safe to say the Quorum is willing to let the matter be dropped. I can hold a vote if it is liked."

    "Tauron will not stand for this miscarriage of justice, this defiance of..."

    "Then Tauron's representative can sit down," Zarek declared, glaring at the Tauron representative.

    "I demand a vote!"

    "Very well," Baltar said. "All in favor of dropping the matter concerning Commander Meridina?" He raised his hand alongside Zarek. Eight more hands went up within four seconds. "All against?" The Tauron rep and two others raised their hands sullenly. "The motion from Tauron fails. The Quorum hereby drops all charges against Commander Meridina. I imagine she will need medical treatment," Baltar continued, "but she is free to leave when the doctors clear it, as is Captain Dale. Hopefully not immediately, however." Baltar nodded at Robert. "I also believe a resumption of talks is in order?"

    Robert smiled slightly. "Yes, I would agree. I'm grateful the situation is clear so that we can resume discussing the relationship of the Colonial Fleet to the United Alliance of Systems."

    "Well, since we're gathered here..." Baltar looked about at the Quorum, still assembled as they were. "...perhaps we should start by discussing the means to produce these new Cylon detectors..."




    Ship's Log: 6 June 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. The crisis with the Colonial Fleet has passed and we are resuming cooperation on several important matters. I have remained on Galactica to continue talks with the Quorum, but we will soon be transferring these discussions to Cloud Nine.

    However, this has allowed me to be present for the most important fruits of our cooperation.


    Robert stood with Adama, Billy, and Baltar as Cottle and Leo finished the examination of Roslin. She was sitting up in her bed, very weak but not quite so weak as the last time Robert had seen her. Leo showed the results of his medical scan to Cottle, who nodded. "The cancer is gone," he announced. "Complete remission."

    "Is it gone for good?", Roslin asked.

    "Probably not," Leo conceded after exchanging a look with Cottle. "But we can deal with it now. Early detection cancer prevention treatments can keep you cancer free."

    "So she's effectively cured?", Robert asked, just to make sure of things.

    "Yes," Cottle said. "She is."

    Roslin blinked and took in a breath. "How...?"

    Cottle and Leo glanced toward each other. Baltar was not so reluctant. "Cells taken from the Cylon baby," he explained. "They have cancer-destroying properties that we used."

    Roslin stared at him. "What?"

    "The baby saved you, Madame President," Baltar answered. He smiled slightly. "The universe has a funny way about things, doesn't it?"

    Roslin breathed in and looked away. "Yes. I thnk you're right. What else have I missed...?"

    "Billy can bring you up to speed from your bed," Cottle said. "You're going to need time to recover, so get used to seeing me every day for the next week."

    "So you say, Doctor." Roslin licked at her lips. "Before you go... I would like to talk to Captain Dale and Admiral Adama."

    They stepped forward while Billy moved away and Baltar left. Roslin liked at her lips. "Captain, I want to thank your people for their patience," she said quietly. "i'd like to put this behind us."

    "So would I," Robert answered. "We need to trust each other."

    "Agreed. I want to arrange compensation for your officers that were harmed by our people. I know we don't have much to offer, but if they need anything from the Fleet, tell them to ask and they'll get it."

    "I will." Robert leaned forward a little. "Madame President, we've each made mistakes, but I'd like to think we can work together despite them. I'm making solid progress with your Quorum on setting up permanent relations."

    "Thank you." Roslin grinned weakly. "I've come to realize that your people are the best thing that have happened to the Fleet since we left our homes. I thank the Gods we haven't been driven apart. Whatever happens from here on out, your Alliance has my support."

    "Thank you, Madame President."

    Roslin nodded and the general gesture and look told Robert his part in the conversation was over. He left to return to discussing things with the Quorum. This left Adama and Roslin to talk. "Feeling up to getting back on the job?"

    "No," Roslin admitted. "I 've thought about just giving it to Baltar." She held a hand up. "Don't worry, Bill, I'm not. I have to go on and do what I can for our people."

    Adama nodded.

    "You trusted them," Roslin said. "Despite everything that's happened, you trusted them."

    "Yes." Adama found a seat. "I admit that it didn't look like the smartest choice, but it was the right one."

    "I agree." Roslin nodded. "I've made some mistakes, Bill."

    "We all have."

    "But mine were worse. The idea of questioning what I've believed for so long, it made me take bad decisions. By all rights I should be dead because of them." Roslin blinked. "That Cylon woman would have had every right to deny letting them use her baby for my treatment. I mean, I tried to kill her baby. By the Gods, Bill, why was I so scared that I ordered something like that?"

    "We all were," Adama answered her. "There's no telling what a half-Cylon child means for us."

    "Still..." Roslin shook her head. "Things have to change. We've been so scared that we haven't dared to really hope for something better, and we almost lost our first real hope since the attack. We can't do that again. We can't afford it. These people are our best hope, even if they're not the Thirteenth Tribe, even if Earth is our homeworld or whatever else we have wrong about our past." She seemed to search for more thoughts, but her fatigue was clearly getting the better of her. "Thank you for trusting them, Bill. Thank you for avoiding my mistake."

    Adama nodded quietly. "You should get some rest," he said. "We need you back to full health." After she nodded and laid back down Adama stood up to leave. He had a few things to arrange in CIC first, but after that he was due on the Aurora. He had something he needed to do.




    Baltar returned to his lab and sighed. Roslin had survived. He wasn't going to take a leadership position he wasn't sure he wanted. Everything had come out quite alright, all he needed to do now was get ready for the next Quorum session with Captain Dale and....

    "You fool."

    The voice made him spin and face the frowning visage of the Cylon in his head. She was dressed more modestly than usual; she wasn't here to tittilate him. "Pardon?", he asked.

    "Meridina is still alive," the head Cylon said. "She's still a threat to you."

    Baltar rolled his eyes. "Listen, with what happened I couldn't exactly demand we continue trying her. Zarek carried a majority in the Quorum."

    "You didn't even try!"

    "Why?" Baltar walked around the table and glared at her. "Why is this woman supposed to die? Why are you so determined to kill her? Why do the Cylons want her dead more than they would want to kill Adama or me?"

    "Because God demands it," the head Cylon hissed. "Her kind are the enemies of God. His plan requires her death."

    "What Plan? How is she an enemy of God? This doesn't make sense!"

    That lovely face contorted in anger and Baltar expected to get yanked by the tie again. But slowly she seemed to control her anger. "I understand, Gaius. Your means are limited. God understands." She smiled thinly and put a finger on him. "God will ensure she does not meddle with the Plan. Meanwhile..." She looked down and away from him. Baltar followed her eyes.

    She was looking at the sealed letter Roslin had left for him earlier in the week.

    "...I wonder what President Roslin had to say?", the head Cylon cooed. "Maybe you should open it..."




    Adama went over on a Raptor to the Aurora, piloting it himself. He landed in the fighter recovery bay along the top of the drive hull and received instructions from there to his destination.

    The medbay of the Aurora looked almost alien to him. Displays were built into the walls, the beds weren't the same, and the signs of the high technology of the Alliance were everywhere. He was met at the door by Commander Meridina. "Feeling better?", he asked her.

    "Yes," she answered, smiling slightly. "They're ready for you."

    "Thank you," he answered, moving past her. A dark-skinned nurse that Meridina referred to as Nasri showed him to a wing. On one bed he saw Lieutenant Barnes, now pouring over a PADD and looking mostly recovered, and on the other was Lieutenant Delgado. She didn't look too bad now, with only a little bruising, but Adama had seen an image of her after the Pegasus crew had abused her. The security camera picture hadn't been pretty.

    Seated beside Caterina, Angel Delgado was in her predominately black duty uniform with olive brown tactical trim. The others were still in civilian clothes. And all looked intently at Adama. "Lieutenant Barnes, Lieutenant Delgado." Adama put his hands behind him. His expression remained reserved and his voice firm as he spoke. "I've come to thank you for the help you have provided to the Fleet, and to issue my personal apology for the injuries you received when you were taken into custody during this past crisis. It was never my intention that any of you be harmed. And I know that it was a violation of your good will to seize you while you were giving us aid. On behalf of the Colonies, of the Colonial Fleet, and of myself, I am sorry. I ask for your forgiveness."

    Angel was staring daggers at him. Cat slowly looked at him, clearly uncomfortable with making eye contact. She swallowed. "I.... thank you for the apology, Admiral Adama. I forgive you."

    Hearing Cat's reply, Barnes remained quiet for another moment, pretending that he was focused on his personal reader. He set it down and sighed. "Sure. I'm not happy with you people, but at least you're admitting that you frakked things up with us. Apology accepted and you've got my forgiveness. Just don't frakking shoot me again." He returned to his PADD.

    Adama nodded. He turned to face Meridina. "I'm sorry for any discomfort we caused you, Commander."

    Meridina nodded. "And I am sorry for not attempting diplomacy with you and President Roslin first. Had I done so, perhaps this matter would have been handled without violence."

    "Apology accepted," Adama said happily.

    Angel slid off the bed. "I'd like to ask you something, Admiral," she said. Her voice was a little flat, almost emotionless. Meridina cast a look at her, full of worry and concern. She knew that the voice was deceptive in what was really going on in Angel's heart.

    Adama looked to her and nodded. "Your question, Lieutenant?"

    "Who hurt my little sister?", Angel asked.

    "Crewmembers aboard Pegasus, who are being disciplined for their behavior," Adama answered.

    "That's not what I asked." Angel drew closer. Barely-contained rage was starting to drip into her words. "Who is responsible for my little sister getting beaten? I want to know."

    Adama looked over the young woman. She reminded him of Kara with her body language, all angry tension and raw physicality. He knew that she wouldn't be satisfied with his answer, or any other answer he was enjoined to give. She wanted names. She wanted something to grasp.

    So he gave her a different answer.

    "As Admiral of the Colonial Fleet, I am responsible for the conduct of the men and women under my command." He leaned in toward her, given his slight height advantage, to look her eye to eye. "So if you want to hold someone responsible, you'll have to settle for me."

    Angel was quiet for a moment. "Fair enough."

    The next thing Adama knew, his back was hitting the wall behind him hard. Pain shot through his face as he slid to a sitting position against the wall. He brought a hand up to his face and felt blood trickle from his lip and nose, the result of Angel's fist slamming into the space at his nose and mouth. He cracked a grin. Damn, she is fast, was his thought. He barely remembered seeing the punch as more than a blur.

    "Woh," Barnes said, peaking over his digital display. Cat said nothing.

    Meridina gave Angel a dissatisfied look. "Was that truly necessary?", she asked.

    "Yes," Angel replied laconically, returning to her sister's side.

    Meridina sighed and offered Adama a hand. "My apologies Admiral," she said. "I shall take you to get medical attention."

    "It's fine," he answered, rubbing at his jaw. He followed Meridina out off the room. "Remind me to invite the Lieutenant to Galactica for fight night. A punch like that should make her a regular."
     
  16. Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Oops, sorry, forgot to update yesterday.

    Just to ask, I've been taking it slow with one episode act at a time, but would the readers here like me to make it an entire episode a day instead of one act? Admittedly this is a bigger deal later in the series when big things happen and some of the acts break 10,000 words with the episodes being regularly over 30-40k (and quite a few in Season 3 are over 50). But I can change it back as required, if people want a faster pace.
     
    Blindline153 likes this.
  17. Threadmarks: 1-10 Ending
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Tag



    Two days later, Adama, Lee, Kara, and Colonel Fisk were assembled in the Aurora conference room with the senior officers of the ship. "We've finished integrating the sensor systems," Adama said. "Both of our Battlestars have the promised scanning ability."

    "Good," Robert answered. "Now as for parts..."

    "I've got a question." Kara held a hand up, but only after speaking. Eyes turned toward her. "It's all nice and cuddly to cooperate over this stuff, but the fact is we need more help than this. We've got people back on the Colonis who are still alive, fighting the Cylons. But they're not going to last much longer."

    "We've gone over this, Captain Thrace," Adama said, a little exasperation evident in his voice. "It's too far away. Too many jumps, not enough fuel, and the Cylon fleet would be ready to attack us."

    "Maybe we have another way," Zack said. "I mean, I can take Koenig in close under cloak and..."

    "Going by starmaps, the Colonies are another two weeks away at maximum warp," Locarno said. "You're talking about spending that much time stuffed to the gills iwth people, if there are any more left."

    "So we're just supposed to forget they exist," Kara scoffed. "We can be there in hours with Cylon jump drives. And..."

    "Wait." Caterina held a hand up. Robert pointed to her. "The Cylons can jump further than you, but that's not from better drives, is it? I mean, they're not any more robust, they just have the means to calculate further jumps."

    "Yes."

    "Then the answer is perfect," Caterina said, smiling. "We use the Aurora computers and the long range probe data to calculate jumps even further than the Cylons. It'd shave a lot of time off."

    "That would require having the Aurora joining the expedition," Lee pointed out. "Unless you have the means to build us better astrogation computers."

    "We only have so much raw material for computer parts," Barnes said.

    "Aye, and we've used some already for th' shield systems an' sensors," Scott added.

    Kara frowned. "So we're back to not doing anything for all of the people back there? Admiral, remember..."

    "I know they helped you and Helo, but we just don't have the means," Adama said bluntly. "Your plan would require about every Raptor we had left.."

    "Why can't we just put a jump drive on the Aurora?", Caterina asked. Everyone looked at her and her shyness made her blush. "I-I mean... w-we find some ast-asteroids, b-build some w-with raw ma-material..."

    "Nice thinking, Cat," Zack said to her, smiling.

    Julia raised an eyebrow and looked at Robert. "Tom, Scotty?", she asked.

    "Well, we did put in some spare space to accept secondary drives," Barnes admitted. "I mean, Farmer did, given all of the data the Facility had on higher bands of hyperspace. I suppose we could install a jump drive."

    "Aye, but th' power, lad, th' power we'd need tae make these jumps." Scotty shook his head. "We'd have tae disconnect th' warp drive an' power our jumps directly from th' main reactors."

    "So we couldn't use warp and jumps at the same time?", Robert asked.

    "Nae sir, not at all."

    "And it would take hours to change all the connections back and forth," Barnes continued. "Even with every engineering and operations hand on task, it would take a while, too long to switch back and forth."

    "I see." Robert scratched at his chin. "Still..."

    "Building a jump drive large enough for this ship would require a yard," Colonel Fisk said, smirking. "It's not happening out here."

    "Why not build it on Cloud Nine?", Cat asked. "It's got a lot of internal space..."

    "Carefully designed artificial garden space," Fisk clarified. "Building a drive there would expose the environment to all sorts of toxic materials."

    "So that plan won't work anyway," Zack lamented.

    "Well, actually..." Cat had stopped stuttering, but with everyone looking at her again it came back. "Th-there is a-another pos-possibility."

    "Yes, Lieutenant?', Adama asked directly.

    "If we h-had a d-drive already b-built.... we could j-just beam i-it in and in-install it..."

    "I can't risk pulling any drives off our ships," Adama answered.

    "So we don't," Zack suggested. He looked to Kara, who smiled widely as she realized what he was thinking. "We get the drives we need by another route."

    "That is?", Adama asked.

    "Simple." Zack put his hand on the table. "The Cylons have been hunting you, right? I say we return the favor. We hunt them and take the drives from their Baseships. They should be large enough for Aurora."

    Robert and Julia looked at each other and then Adama. "It's awfully risky, Commander," Adama said. "But it's not impossible."

    "Hunt down the Cylons and steal one of their drives," Julia asked him in a deadpan tone of voice.

    "Yes. That's what we should do," Zack said. "We cripple their ship, take it over, install the drive, and boom, the Aurora can jump. Then we can lead some of the fleet back to the Colonies and rescue anyone we find that's still alive."

    "Oh, I like it," Kara said.

    "I like it too," Lee said, looking at his father. "On top of rescuing people, it might give us a better look at the extent of the Cylons' forces."

    "I'll have to get approval of the mission from Portland," Robert said. "But the chance to get a clearer picture of what they're doing on your Homeworlds, that should convince President Morgan and Admiral Maran."

    "So it's a plan?", Julia asked. "We hunt the Cylons down, take a drive from one of their Basestars, and head back to get survivors?"

    Adama nodded, seeing Kara smiling widely and looking particularly happy with Zack. "It's a plan," he agreed.

    "Well." Robert smiled slightly. "Let's get started on it."
     
  18. Threadmarks: 1-11 Opening
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Teaser

    The Starship Koenig twisted in space with her dorsal phaser blazing away at Cylon raiders on her tail. The ship completed its maneuver and turned slightly to face its main target: a Cylon Basestar, one of three in the immediate area. Missiles and railgun rounds from the ship lashed out at the smaller Koenig, which maneuvered sharply with rolls and turns to avoid most of the hits. Blue energy shined against the hull from full hits and bright blasts from proximity nuclear initiations.

    "Shields holding at sixty percent," Magda reported from Operations.

    Zack nodded, keeping his focus on the fight. "Status of the fighters?"

    "No friendly casualties yet."

    "Good. Sherlily, prepare to lower dorsal shields." Zack reached down and punched his intercom. "This is Carrey. Are you ready, Commander Meridina?"

    "We are, Commander," Meridina answered.

    "You heard the lady, Ap." Zack pressed the comm button. "Captain Adama, we're ready."

    "We read you, Koenig," Lee answered. "All Vipers form on me."

    "Extend shields around our fighters," Zack ordered.

    With Lee's Vipers flying close escort, Koenig moved in close to the Basestar. Around them other Vipers and the Mongoose fighters from the Aurora were steadily eliminating the Cylon fighters.

    Apley's expert piloting kept most hits from striking them. Lee's pilots matched his maneuvers closely, keeping their vulnerable fighters within the extended shields. They gave suppressing fire that shot down several of the Cylon missiles before they could get close while Koenig's blazing phaser cannons took out more. A spread of solar torpedoes raced across the distance and smashed into one of the arms of the Cylon Basestar. Explosions rippled up and down the arm and its weapon emplacements went silent.

    "Drop shields! Commence beaming!"

    For several seconds, Koenig was vulnerable to enemy fire as she sent boarding teams over to the Cylon ship components. Missile and rail gun fire converged on the ship and was fought back by the escorting fighters and Koenig's own weapons. Nevertheless the ship rocked violently as one nuke got through and initiated on its armored hull. Powerful rounds slammed into the housing of the port nacelle.

    Magda finally brought the shields back up. "Transport complete," she reported. "Shields are holding at forty-five percent. We have minor damage on all decks, partial armor loss on Deck 2 starboard section, and some damage to the port nacelle housing."

    Zack gritted his teeth. That was too close. "What about the engines?"

    "Warp drive inoperable."

    "Not surprising," he muttered. He hit the intercom button. "Bridge to Engineering. Karen, I need shield power back."

    "I'm on it!"




    "Shields still holding at ninety percent," Jarod said on the Aurora bridge.

    "And Pegasus?"

    "Their shields are at eighty percent."

    On the viewscreen phaser fire from the Aurora sliced along the arm of one of the Cylon Basestars. Weapons fire receded from the enemy ship. "Over seventy percent of Basestar Bravo's weapons are now offline," Angel said.

    "Excellent. Prepare to lower shields." Robert hit his intercom. "Commander Kane, we're about to send you over."

    "We're ready, bridge."

    The Aurora traded shots with the other Basestar, which was focusing on them almost exclusively now, freeing Pegasus to use the transporters rigged into their ship to send Marine teams to do the same job. At the right time Jarod dropped the shields and the Aurora beamed the strike team over.

    "Let's get these ships disarmed and disabled," Robert said. "We've got a schedule to keep."




    Undiscovered Frontier
    "Necessary Risks"




    Ship's Log: 9 June 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We have successfully completed our attack on the Cylon Basestars shadowing the Colonial Fleet. Although we took a few casualties in the battle, we gained our primary objective by salvaging enough parts out of the Cylon ships' drives to build a jump drive for the use of the Aurora. Soon we will know for sure on whether we can bring the Aurora with the raid on the Colonial Homeworlds.

    Robert sipped at the morning coffee that was waking him up before looking back at his panel screen, where Admiral Maran was looking at him. "The engineering teams are working with their Colonial counterparts to put the pieces together for one intact jump drive. The trick is going to be the course calculations more than anything. Our Darglan computers are powerful enough to lengthen the jump range beyond the Cylon standard. Jarod and Cat are crunching the numbers now."

    "I see." Maran nodded. "President Morgan has okayed the operation."

    "That's good to know. Even if we save just a few thousand.... it should really improve morale for the Fleet to get survivors from their homeworlds." Robert set his coffee down. "President Roslin has asked me about the relief convoy."

    "Princess Syrina cleared it with the Council of State yesterday. First Minister Henzi is going to require some of what President Morgan called 'horse-trading'." Maran smiled with contemplation at the intricacies of the politics of the Dorei Federation and its 185 nations. "But we should have a convoy ready to go out by the end of the month."

    "It's going to take them the better part of a month just to get here," Robert mused. "Can we really stay out this far until late July?"

    "Probably not. Honestly, Captain, the President is already planning on ordering you to get back here by the start of next month." Maran's expression hardened. "Admiral Lithgon has reported increased Reich activity on their end of the Krellan Nebula. They're using the nebula's sensor shadow to obscure some of their ship movements."

    "What about probes? Cloaked ships?" Robert frowned. "You could call in the Weaver or the Rodriguez."

    "We're not willing to poke at the Nazis again. Not after what happened with your ship. We're still trying to get them to talk but all we've gotten is silence." Maran shook his head. "It doesn't look good, Robert. The more this situation lasts, the more I'm convinced that we're going to have a war."

    Robert winced. "We'll try to get this operation wrapped up quickly."

    "Good." Maran held up a PADD. "Now, about your other matter. Commander Carrey's transfer request. I have a few questions from you on this situation..."




    Robert, Julia, and Zack were waiting in the shuttle bay for the arrival of the shuttle from Galactica. Behind them Commander Kane and an honor guard of Marines were standing with rifles at parade rest. A newly-replicated copy of the Colonial flag - or rather the Colonial bird-insignia seal on a flag - was held up by one of Kane's honor guard while another held the Alliance flag.

    "Seems rather silly to go through all of this for a strategy conference," Zack whispered to the others.

    "Orders are orders. Extend full courtesies," Julia replied. "That means we follow protocol on visiting government dignitaries."

    "Right." Zack sighed. He briefly fidgeted with the golden tassels hanging from the epaulets of his dress uniform jacket. "So we're wearing dress uniforms for a standard meeting."

    "Yes. Now shush."

    Julia hushed him for good reason, as the door on the shuttle opened. Admiral Adama stepped out with his son Lee, Captain Kara Thrace, and Colonel Fisk behind him. Tom Zarek and Dr. Baltar emerged next.

    They felt some surprise at seeing President Roslin up and about as well. Or at least she was for stepping down. Her aide Billy Keikaya came up behind her with a wheelchair that she settled into. After she did so she looked around at the shuttle bay.

    "Permission to come aboard, Captain?", Roslin asked.

    "Granted. President Roslin, it is my honor and pleasure to welcome you aboard the Aurora," Robert said to the woman who just a week before had caused two of his friends to get hurt and had nearly started a shooting war between them. It made him grateful that he left Angel on bridge watch. She didn't forgive so easily.

    "Thank you, Captain Dale." She nodded and smiled thinly at the assemblage. She was already looking healthier after a week of treatment by Leo and Doctor Cottle. The cancer that had nearly killed her was in complete remission and anti-cancer treatments were underway to kill it permanently. "I admit I'm still rather weak from my recovery. As much as I would like a tour of your ship, I think we should get down to business."

    "Commander Jarod and Lieutenant Delgado are waiting for us," Robert answered.




    The command crew of the Aurora and Koenig were gathered with Roslin and the Colonial contingent in Briefing Room 2. A set of curved tables were arranged in a circle around each other with a holographic projector in the middle. The two groups sat in their listed spots while Jarod went to the holoprojector. "Madame President, Admiral Adama, Captain Dale." Jarod nodded at them. "We've been going over the data from the long range probes that came into proximity of the Helios systems." He tapped a key and brought up a holographic space map. Icons lit up on both sides. "We're here." He indicated one icon with the Alliance torch insignia and the Colonial seal side-by-side. On the other end was a larger Colonial seal. Around it small dots glimmered in the holographic projection, with a few more visible between the two icons. Small red markers popped up at a few points along the way. "Going by the records from the Galactica and what we can piece together from the destroyed Cylon force, the Cylon fleet is currently located in these areas."

    "A search pattern," Adama said, noticing the layout of the purported Cylon fleets. "They're out looking for us."

    Jarod looked to Caterina. She swallowed and nodded. "Space is too big. And what we've seen of their sensors means they don't have the means to scan long-range for the Fleet."

    "They've probably relied upon Cylon infiltrators to keep them informed of our movements."

    "That's our best guess." Jarod nodded. "And since we can find them now, their ability to pass information on is limited."

    "It's going to take a while to use those hand scanners on everyone in the Fleet," Adama remarked. "Have you made any headway on using ship sensors to locate Cylons?"

    "No sir," Cat said simply. She licked her lip. It was very apparent that Cat was speaking carefully and deliberately. "The sensors for detecting life don't let us scan for their insulation. At least, they don't yet."

    "How long would it take for you to make that work, Lieutenant Delgado?", Roslin asked.

    Roslin's voice was, if not friendly, at least gentle in tone. She clearly recognized Caterina and Adama noticed the slight change in her expression, the guilt at knowing what had been done to the brilliant young Alliance science officer and how it was due to her orders.

    Nevertheless Caterina, who had so far managed to control her shyness, clearly started to lose her control. "W-well, Ma-Madame President," Caterina stammered. "It's a m-matter of...."

    "It's an issue of resolution, Madame President," Jarod finished for Cat, looking at her with understanding and concern. "The sensor we developed for Cylon detection relies on ultra-fine resolutions to detect the tell-tale signs of a Cylon in biological form. Ship-based sensors aren't made for that kind of resolution at that scale, just as how our ship-mounted sensors didn't detect your cancer."

    Roslin nodded. "I see. Can these technical limitations be overcome?"

    "We would have to build an entirely new sensor system," Jarod answered. "That takes time."

    "So that solution is out, then," Zarek sighed. "We're stuck with the hand scanners. And any Cylons left will go out of their way to avoid them."

    "Maybe we can install versions of the scanners at chokepoints on every ship," Meridina suggested.

    Jarod nodded. "That we can do."

    "Then it's something the Fleet will implement with your assistance, Captain Dale," Roslin said. "However, I would like to return to the issue of this operational plan that Captain Thrace and Commander Carrey have been proposing."

    There were nods. Zack and Kara stood up and walked over to join Jarod. "Lieutenant Delgado and I have been analyzing the drives and their physical limits. Since the real limitation is how accurately computers can control the jump effect to certain distances, our ability to apply the processing power of the Aurora's computer cores allows us to plot jumps even further than the Cylons."

    "How much further?", Adama asked.

    "Around fifty percent," Caterina answered, having found her voice. And very deliberately keeping her eyes off Roslin. "Maybe seventy-five percent with our most optimistic projections."

    Lee looked at his father. "We could jump back to the Colonies in about six jumps that way."

    "As few as four if our best estimates prove true," Caterina confirmed.

    "What if we have a jump miscalculation?", Fisk asked.

    "We use subspace transmissions," Jarod answered. "And we calculate a rendezvous point."

    Adama nodded. "And if things go south we can always abort and form back at the Fleet."

    "Just how much force are we taking for this?", Zarek asked. "Are we going to leave the Fleet undefended?"

    "No." Adama shook his head. "Galactica will remain behind to cover the Fleet. I'll transfer my flag to Pegasus for the operation."

    "And who's going to be in charge?", Baltar asked.

    Robert looked at Adama and nodded. "As far as we're concerned, you're an allied force, and the military chain of command is clear. For this operation I consider myself under Admiral Adama's command."

    "Thank you, Captain." Adama nodded to the officers in the center area. "Captain Thrace, Commander Carrey, now that we know we can do this, can you tell us what we're doing?"

    Kara looked at Zack, who nodded and hit a key on the holo display. A series of points linked the Fleet to the Colonies. "It's a smash and grab," Kara said.

    Zack hit another key to show an icon representing the attack force jumping across the points. "We jump in, scan for life signs, and then beam as many people as we can off each of the Colonies before the Cylons can react."

    "Given the speed of their communications and jump drives, they'll react pretty quickly," Julia pointed out. "They'll swarm us."

    "That's why we split up," Zack continued. "Pegasus and Koenig will cover one group and Aurora the other. And if the Cylons react in force, the Aurora will move to engage. We've already seen that the Cylon Basestars don't have the firepower to hurt this ship."

    "You can't jump frequently, though," Adama pointed out. "Once the Aurora is committed to one area, she's stuck there until the drives can spool back up."

    "Yeah, I know." Zack looked at Jarod. "How long would it take for warp to be restored?"

    "Going by what Scotty's been saying?" Jarod shook his head. "Hours. Unless we rework the drives in a yard, the reconfiguration is manual. Even with every member of engineering and operations on hand, we're looking at two hours for a switchover. An hour if Scotty pulls a miracle."

    "Knowing Mister Scott, he may just do that," Robert said. "But I don't like the thought of having to wait that long. Unless we absolutely have to, we'll stick to using the jump drive exclusively for this operation. Which means we need... how long?"

    "If you keep the drives spooled up, you can do it every ten minutes or so," Lee said. "But that will wear the drive out."

    "And we're already cobbling it together from the remains of three different Cylon capital drives." Jarod nodded. "So we can only keep the drive spooled up for so long. I'd suggest that before our final jump we take a few hours of downtime to run drive checks on all ships."

    "I have a question," Baltar said. He shifted forward in his seat. "Commander, Captain, have you given any thought to how many people we can reasonably bring back? If we run out of room from the first Colonies we go to, we could end up leaving people from the other Colonies behind. This could be a political nightmare for the Fleet if some Colonies get more people rescued than others."

    "A good point, Doctor," Zack conceded. "That's why we want to get volunteers from the Fleet."

    "Excuse me?", Roslin asked.

    "We'll ask some of the larger passenger-carrying ships to join our rescue fleet," Kara clarified. "The more volunteers we get, the more space we have for people we get off the Colonies."

    "And we're just supposed to risk all of those civilians?", Balter asked pointedly.

    Zack shook his head. "Honestly I doubt we'll get that many ships. And we can't accept any that provide a vital service to the Fleet. What few we do get, well... we temporarily evacuate the people living on those ships to the ships remaining behind. Cloud Nine alone has all the space we need. Between that and Galactica's unused hanger, that's space for thousands at least."

    "When it comes to bringing people back from the Colonies, the Aurora has space for thousands of refugees," Julia added. "Captain Farmer estimated we could bring aboard twelve and a half thousand without overloading the ship. For a short time we could probably double that."

    "That alone would be about half of our population," Roslin noted. "Finding all of those people places to stay is going to be... difficult."

    "We could always bring some back with us," Robert noted. "There are refugee stations and camps that could accept them until we find you a planet to settle."

    Roslin nodded. "I see."

    "So we're not landing on any of the Colonies?", Zarek asked. "We're just using the matter transporters? Are we putting them on each individual ship?"

    "We can rig some transporters on each ship that volunteers, yes," Robert said. "And assign transporter control officers to operate them. It might slow down our operations, but transporter operations training is universal throughout our engineering and ship operations departments and preferred in several other fields. Even trainee officers could handle some of the load, so long as we're not making them get too fancy."

    "If we do have to land, I suggest we have Marines on standby," Commander Kane said. "Just in case of the unexpected."

    "Agreed," Adama said. "We'll coordinate with you on that. Are there any more questions?"

    There were none for the moment. "Then President Roslin and I will deliberate on whether to launch this operation or not," Adama said. "Expect our answer by tomorrow. You're all dismissed."




    Once everyone was out of the room, Caterina leaned against one of the tables and let out a nervous breath. "Everything okay?" She turned her head and saw Jarod was standing by the door.

    Caterina shook her head. "Not really," she admitted. "I thought I was doing well. But..." She plopped into one of the chairs. "She's the reason I got beaten. I can't get that out of my head. Why did they have to hurt me?" Tears were forming in her eyes. "I w-was just th-there to help t-them..."

    Jarod took a seat opposite from Caterina's. "I know."

    "A-and they sh-shot Tom..." Caterina sniffled and wiped at her right eye. "I'm sorry, I, I just..." When he didn't say anything she continued. "Look at m-me. I'm b-being a big ba-baby."

    "You went through something horrible. It takes time to come to grips with that."

    "Be-being a sh-shrink again?", Cat asked him. "Mister Pre-Pretender?"

    "Don't need to go into that to know what's hurting you," Jarod answered. "You just have to understand that it's okay to be upset about it. You're not being a big baby, Cat, you're just a very sensitive young lady."

    "Maybe too sensitive..." Cat had managed to get her sniffling under control by this point. "What am I going to do? I keep falling to pieces. I can't be like this and do this work. Maybe I should just leave..."

    "You're stronger than you think, Cat." He patted her on the back. "Listen, why don't you take the rest of the day? Lieutenant Lumwe needs a bridge watch for training anyway."

    Cat nodded. "He can have it. But I need to get back to work."

    "We've done all the preliminary calculations for the planned jumps," Jarod pointed out. "We really don't need to do any more until we get final confirmation of when we're launching."

    "Not this," Cat answered. "It's the data from that Darglan database we recovered in S4W8. We got a lot of raw astrographical data as well as a few new universal coordinates to try out. I'm hoping some of the data will lead us to their Facility in S4W8." She lowered her eyes. "It would at least be something after that mission went so badly."

    Jarod sighed and nodded. "Yeah, you're right about that. Want any help?"

    "You're going to have your hands full helping Scotty and Tom get that jump drive installed," Caterina pointed out. "I'll be fine." She wiped away the last tear in her eye. "I promise."

    Jarod nodded and gave her a pat on the arm. Cat stood and walked out of the conference room.




    With the bridge watch over and his official day wrapping up, Robert returned to his quarters and went over the final bits of paperwork so helpfully sent down to him by Julia. He went from scowling to amusement before finishing.

    He had just filed the last report when the door opened. Angel walked in, still in uniform. Robert rose from his chair and met her just past the door. It was closed by the time they embraced and their lips met in a quick kiss. "Hey. Nice day?"

    "Yeah," she said, smiling slightly. "Actually, I was pretty mad at things today, but shooting up Cylon Basestars in the tactical simulations let me vent."

    "Ah, good." Robert gestured to the table. "I figured we'd decide on dinner when you got here and then..."

    "...actually, I'm just coming by to pick up a couple of things," Angel said. "Cat's still having trouble sleeping so I'm going to spend a few nights with her."

    Robert blinked and nodded. "Oh. Alright." He nodded. "Yeah, if she needs you that's the best thing to do."

    "And yet you sound disappointed," Angel noted.

    He sighed in reply. "Yeah, I guess I am. I was looking forward to spending the evening with you just in case we're running off to the Colonies tomorrow."

    "Ah." Angel nodded. "Well, I can't blame you. Carpe diem was pretty much my argument for us getting back together, after all." She settled into the chair for the moment. "But Cat's still.... Rob, you didn't see her...."

    "I saw the pictures," he answered, shuddering.

    "Even that wasn't enough," Angel said. "They beat her so badly, I mean, Leo was considering surgery to fix her face if he couldn't repair the damage." She glanced out the windows. "And here we are, being buddy-buddy with them again."

    Robert could hear the edge in her voice. "Angel, some of them did that. But that doesn't mean they're all guilty. I mean... from what Lucy says, it was Captain Thrace that stopped the beating. And she's the one pushing this mission."

    "Yeah." Angel clenched a fist. "Yeah, I know. But it doesn't change the fact that they hurt her, Rob, and I wasn't there to stop them. I'm supposed to protect Cat. For God's sake, she's all I have left!"

    A stab of irritation went through Robert. What about us? Don't you have me too? But he didn't give voice to it. Not just because he knew it would be wrong to say it, but because... did she really have him in the same way her sister was hers? As in family? The two of them were a couple, but he couldn't lie to himself on how close they were, or rather, how not close they were. Since they'd gotten back together Robert had been waiting for the day the other shoe dropped. "I know. Angel, I know how much your little sister means to you, and how much she looks to you. Give her as much time as she needs. I'm just asking you not to take things out on the Colonials."

    Angel looked beyond him. Robert watched her wrestle with her emotions. "Yeah, you're right," she conceded. She stood up and went to the nightstand where her things were kept in a drawer. She pulled out the small carrying bag she'd brought them in and started putting them back. "I need to get going to make sure Cat gets a good supper before she goes to bed tonight. You'll be all right?"

    "I'll be fine," Robert assured her.

    "That's good to hear." She finished zipping the bag up and walked beside him. Angel leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Love you."

    "Love you too," Robert called back to her as she went to the door. He said nothing more as she left.




    Adama had a restless night. He didn't get many restful ones these days, of course, but this one stood out. The questions weighing on his mind demanded he consider every angle. Every potential issue.

    On the one hand, he owed it to the Fleet to protect them. If this adventure went south, the Fleet would lose Pegasus. Galactica alone could only do so much against Cylon forces and being overwhelmed was a distinct, and frightening, possibility.

    On the other hand… ever since Starbuck had returned from Caprica with news of survivors, Adama had felt gnawing frustration that he could do nothing to come to their rescue. And they deserved that. Leaving someone behind… it struck at the very core of his feelings, no matter how often he had felt it necessary.

    But it wasn't necessary here. Now he had a powerful asset that they could use to rescue thousands of Colonial citizens on the Colonies and give the Cylons a real bloody nose too.

    How could he pass that up?

    When morning came he went to the VIP cabin that Roslin was staying in while finishing her treatments with Cottle. She was looking a bit healthier today. But Adama could see the lines on her face from a night of worrying. "Did you have any better sleep than I did, Bill?", she asked him.

    "Not likely," he admitted.

    "It's a big decision. Risk the security of the fleet to maybe save a few thousand survivors." Roslin remained silent for several moments. "If you had asked me to authorize this two weeks ago, I would have said 'no' right out. Even with the Aurora available."

    "I'll stand by your decision," Adama assured her. "Whichever way you go."

    "I know." She nodded. "The damnedest thing is… my head is telling me I should say no. That we should be satisfied with what we've managed to walk away with."

    "I know the feeling."

    "...but I can't get that ship out of my head, Bill. Every time I think about the Aurora, I start to feel hope like I haven't felt in… a very long time." Roslin drew in a sigh. "And I can't just listen to my head on this one."

    Adama waited expectantly for what she was to say next.

    "You've got my permission, Bill," Roslin said. "Find as many of our people as you can and bring them back. May the Gods be with you."
     
  19. Blindline153

    Blindline153 Getting sticky.

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    Just found out that you are posting here so thats awesome. I'm almost finished with what you have posted on SB. I really hope to see more of this its pretty damn cool.
     
    Big Steve likes this.
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    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Once word came down from Roslin the Aurora crew got to work. Every engineer and operations officer with the necessary aptitude began to take the assembled engine and, with input from the engineering officers sent by Galactica and Pegasus (in a bemusing reversal of the ships' prior roles), prepare them for operation. The warp drive was carefully disconnected from the ship's power systems in order to power the stolen Cylon jump engine. Gardner from Pegasus oversaw the process of replicating whatever parts they had not been able to salvage from the Cylon ships.

    Robert was waiting in his ready room going over the usual reports and paperwork demanded of him when Julia entered. "They're almost ready," she said. "Scotty wants to do a test jump in two hours."

    "Right. He says it will work?"

    "If it doesn't, the safeties will kick in. And Jarod's confident that there are no reasons it wouldn't work."

    That prompted a nod. "Well, if he is…"

    Julia took a seat and crossed her arms. "Having second thoughts?"

    For a moment he said nothing. But as he collected his thoughts, Robert finally nodded. "Yeah, a little," he admitted. "We're going to be plunging into the heart of Cylon-held territory using a drive cobbled together from battle salvage and some guesswork. We have no idea on the actual strength off the Cylon forces in the Colonies. And even if we prevail, we won't be able to get everyone."

    "Unless there aren't many left to get," Julia noted. "But I get your point."

    "And there's no telling what effect it would have on the Fleet if we have a disproportionate number of people from some Colonies over others. We could be introducing major political instability in their system.."

    Julia nodded at that. She had made similar calculations. "Those are all good points. But I think the potential benefits make it worth the risk. The Fleet will get a morale boost from this. And it will give us a better look at Cylon capabilities."

    "And it might convince the Cylons to be less intrusive on our frontier," Robert noted. "It could buy us time. Especially with the Nazi situation."

    Despite everything, Julia could tell he was distracted by something. And it wasn't too hard to guess. "Everything okay with Angel?"

    "Why wouldn't it be?"

    "Because you seem distracted," Julia answered.

    "Nothing much to say. Things are going steady. She's not staying with me at the moment, Caterina is still recovering so Angel wanted to stay with her a few nights."

    "Ah." Julia had no immediate reaction to that. She had some thoughts on the matter, of course, but nothing to share. Especially not with Robert. "And yet you seem a little put off."

    "I suppose," he admitted. "But it's not important. Especially not when you consider what we're about to get up too."

    "Right." Julia stood from her chair. "Well, I need to go have a talk with Jarod about how many of his ops people will need to be assigned to the Colonial ships that are volunteering to join us. Meridina and Kane will be assigning personnel to assist and scan for Cylons."

    "It makes me wish we had brought more personnel," Robert sighed. "Or had more time to train Adama's people."

    "We don't always have the luxury of time," Julia noted. "So, let's make the best of it."

    That prompted a thought from Robert. On what he had discussed with Maran. "As for making the best of things," he began, "I'd like to get your opinions on something I'm discussing with Maran. It's about Zack's request."

    Julia's face made it clear how she felt about Zack's imminent departure. "Alright, I'm listening."




    Meridina waited patiently for her chance to see Robert while final preparations for departure were made. Security teams had to be assembled, arms distributed, assignments made… it was the the part of this position that she had heard the others call the "paperwork tyranny". Monotonous, surely, if necessary to keep an organization going.

    Once this process was complete Meridina was able to meet with Robert. in his office. He nodded to her and asked, "Meridina, I guess everything is ready on your end?"

    "It is," she said. "But I have a request to make."

    "Yes?"

    "I would like to stay with the Refugee Fleet."

    Robert stared at her for a moment. He would be wondering about her motives, obviously. And wondering why she would stay when they could use her help. "May I ask why?"

    "It is… a feeling," she said.

    "Ah. One of those feelings then?" Robert sighed. "Meridina, this is going to be hard for me to justify…."

    "Not necessarily," she said. "President Roslin and her people could always use assistance in securing the many refugees evacuated to Cloud Nine for this rescue mission. Since my subordinates and Commander Kane have matters well in hand for the rescue, it should not be out of the question that I stay and help President Roslin maintain order."

    Robert considered that line of thought. "I'll grant you that it is justifiable there, yeah." He sat forward in his chair. "You think the Cylons still in the Fleet are going to try something?"

    "It is not a surprising thought, no," she said. "They know our scanner works They know we will soon be able to detect them across the Fleet. Instead of waiting for the inevitable they may attempt an attack."

    "One you can possibly sense coming." Robert contemplated that. He had his own gut feelings on the matter, feelings that said she was right. "Okay. I'll approve it. But I can't leave Lucy with you, she'll be needed here to help with operating the jump drive and the evacuation."

    Meridina nodded. "Her training has progressed enough that I believe she can make it on her own for these next few days," Meridina agreed. "I will inform her of what her training requires while alone and then prepare to embark for Cloud Nine."

    Robert nodded. "I'll inform Adama and Roslin."




    The preparations for the raid had created organized chaos in the fleet. Shuttle after shuttle disgorged residents of several of the Refugee Fleet ships, all tasked to join the Pegasus and Aurora on their expedition. Personnel from Cloud Nine struggled to accommodate the inflow of ship after ship of people displaced, at least temporarily, from their "homes".

    Galactica's functioning landing pod was undergoing the same process, with shuttles bringing in loads of refugees to be settled in the starboard module for the time being. Admiral Adama watched this press of bodies continue working their way into the ship and past the Cylon scanners being waved by two technician petty officers. Tigh and Lee stood to either side of him. "Don't you think we should be taking Galactica instead?", Tigh asked. "And leave the Pegasus with the fleet?"

    "I want to bring as much force to bear as I can," answered Adama. "Just in case."

    "Do you think the Cylons will put up a fight with our new friends around?", Tigh asked.

    "They'll have to. Just letting us fly in without resistance will make them look vulnerable to the Alliance."

    Lee almost expressed his wish to go with them. Adama nodded at him, he recognized what the look meant. He put a hand on his son's shoulder. "If things go bad, keeping the fleet and President Roslin going will be on you."

    "I understand," Lee answered. "We'll follow the course that the Aurora plotted for us and get the Fleet to the safety of their Alliance." Lee reached forward and hugged Adama. "But I'd like it if you were the one leading us there."

    Adama nodded. He would have said more but a look at Kara stepping out of a shuttle reminded him they were almost out of time. He gave Lee another pat on the back and excused himself from the two.

    "Colonel Fisk and the Pegasus are ready for you, Admiral," she said when he stepped up. "And despite everything, we've got three Alliance technical officers setting up their transporters."

    "Good. I don't want any problems." Adama shook his head. "After seeing what they did to Lieutenant Delgado, I'm concerned with the discipline of Cain's people."

    "The idea of returning to the Colonies to pick up our people has them excited." Kara climbed into the shuttle beside Adama and took the pilot seat while Adama took to the co-pilot seat. "I don't think they'll give us any problems."

    Adama answered with a wordless nod. Their shuttle launched from Galactica just behind an empty one going to ferry in another load of evacuees. The shuttle peeled away in a different direction, leaving Adama the sight of the Aurora in her place along Galactica. She looked different, alien, compared to the aesthetic designs of the Colonial ships. As they moved along he was able to watch Koenig make a slow and careful approach to the opened doors of her launch bay. "Hell of a thing," he mused.

    "Yeah," Kara agreed. "I always figured this would be a raid on Caprica with a group of Raptors to get a few dozen people. Now we're going back with enough ships to carry out thousands."

    "The Cylons won't make it easy."

    "Let them try," Kara said. "You saw what the Aurora did to those Basestars."

    "I did." But what Adama didn't feel he needed to mention was that the Cylons would learn from that. When they challenged this rescue mission, they would have a plan drawn up to account for the power of the Aurora.




    Aboard Cloud Nine, a group of people - lost among the crowds of thousands being set up to live on the ship for the short-term - remained hunkered together in a spare room.

    Among them stood Cavil, still in priest garb.

    "The scanners are being spread out among the fleet," one of his charges said. "It won't be safe for us much longer."

    Cavil nodded. "Regrettably, our effort to drive a wedge between the Human groups has failed."

    "Well, we need to do something," another of his followers protested. "They're raiding the Colonies now to free more of their people. The Plan is in jeopardy…"

    "The Plan will be completed," Cavil insisted. "As promised."

    Another voice spoke up. This from someone wearing the garb of a technician assigned to Galactica. "They have stolen our technology for the new ship to make the jumps. This could be an opportunity."

    "It is quite the opportunity, yes…" Cavil nodded and grinned slightly. "And it will be used. As for the rest of us, we must prepare. Our time is short and there is much to be done…"




    There was quiet tension on the Aurora bridge when the time for the test came. Everyone was at their assigned stations. "All systems are green," Barnes said from Engineering. "Everything checks out."

    "Do we have a destination plotted for our test jump?"

    "We're going to make a baby hop first," Jarod said. "Just ten light years."

    "Right." Robert nodded. "Whenever you're ready, Jarod, Nick."

    The two went to work. "Navigational data loading now. Jump plotting."

    "Transferring power to jump drives."

    "Course plotted. Feeding to jump controls now."

    After several seconds Jarod looked back. "Ready when you are."

    Robert wasn't the only one to take in a forced breath. "Here we go," he murmured to himself. And he gave a nod. "Jump."

    At the press of a button, power from the Aurora's banks of naqia reactors surged into the giant jump engines assembled in the ship's spare machinery spaces. Energy surged until the drive generated the jump field. In a flash of white light Aurora disappeared from her place among the Refugee Fleet.

    On the bridge everyone let out a breath. "So." Robert nodded. "Nothing went wrong."

    Jarod chuckled. "Just as I said."

    "That was so cool," Caterina added enthusiastically. "That subspace shift, the way it works… I'm going to spend hours going over it! I've got papers to write!"

    "Engineering tae Bridge. All systems intact. Th' drive is powered down, spooling up can commence in twenty-five minutes."

    "Thank you, Mister Scott," Robert replied. "Jarod, please signal Pegasus with our coordinates."

    "Signalling now."

    After another forty seconds, several flashes of light filled the holo-viewscreen. Pegasus and over a dozen ships of the Refugee Fleet appeared. Jarod put an incoming hail on speakers. "Congratulations on your first jump, Captain Dale," Admiral Adama said.

    "Thank you, Admiral," he answered. "Next time we'll try for a long-distance jump, so long as Mister Jarod and Mister Scott concur."

    "It should be no different," Jarod said.

    "Aye, sir. Th' principles were th' important part, and we've just confirmed they work. Th' only problems a long range jump cud prove is if th' calculations are off."

    "I'm starting them now," Caterina said. "They should be done by the time we jump again."

    "Well, good to see everything is getting off to a good start then," Julia mused.

    Robert nodded. "Now we just have to keep it that way."




    The refugees seemed in fairly good spirits on Cloud Nine, spreading their blankets and mattresses out on the well-kept lawns and over the pavilions of the luxury liner starship as if it were some grand camping experience. Meridina thought of how this might have actually become an improvement for them. They Had spent months living in the cramped quarters on all sorts of starships, after all.

    But more to the point, she could sense a change growing in the Fleet's populace. When they had arrived she had felt uncertainty, fear, grief, and anger that sometimes went over the line to hate. The Refugees had been understandably traumatized by their sufferings and it made Meridina's heart ache to consider that suffering. But now there was a gentle thrum of hope and of happiness. The replicator food stores that Captain Dale had arranged for the ships of the Fleet ensured everyone received a full meal, at least. After the regrettable confrontation that Meridina had caused by her actions, it seemed that the Aurora crew had resumed acts of personal charity, sharing little items and luxuries with the suffering Colonials. This is how a people heal. This is how those falling into Darkness are brought back toward the Light.

    "You look content, Commander Meridina."

    Meridina turned and faced President Roslin. She was still in a wheelchair from her weakness, but whatever physical issues she had, her spirit seemed to be recovering. This woman, who just a week ago had done the unthinkable, and who had then ordered Meridina's execution without trial, now seemed to appraise her with friendliness, and warmth. Perhaps dashed with guilt, too, given the emotions Meridina felt emanating from the Colonials' political leader.

    "You don't wear the same uniform as the others?", Roslin asked.

    Meridina had, for various reasons, opted not to wear the basic Stellar Navy uniform she typically did in normal duty situations. She was instead clad in the robes and armor of a Gersallian swevyras'e, or "Life Force Knight" as Lucy insisted on terming it. "This is my uniform, Madame President," Meridina replied.

    Roslin nodded. Meridina was aware she looked out of place with her blue robes over dark purple body armor, with the striped rank insignia of a Lt. Commander on her collar. ""I have heard that your people are considered 'Knights'."

    "We are," Meridina said. "Sworn to the Code of Swenya, which has guided us for three thousand years."

    Roslin nodded. "Three thousand years…. that would mean your people have been doing this since Kobol was our home."

    "It would appear so," Meridina answered. "Although much has changed in those years."

    "How is it that your people are not more advanced than this, then? From what I have heard, there are civilizations in this Multiverse that are just as advanced as you but have not had such a long life."

    "All civilizations, cultures, and species progress at their own paces, Madame President. We Gersallians tend to believe in contemplation and acceptance of what we have. I have been told this differs us from the Humans we so closely resemble."

    "Maybe," Roslin agreed. "

    "There are other races besides mine that tend to be slower in advancement," Meridina continued. "Perhaps the longer a race lives, the more patient their members are. Although your species' tendency toward rapid development is not unheard of. It is our experience that the Dorei tend to be as impatient and changing as Humans do."

    Roslin nodded. "Commander, I have heard stories about your… abilities. Can you tell me why you thought it necessary to stay with the Fleet and not join your ship and crew on the rescue mission?"

    Meridina considered that question. She almost prevaricated, but it occurred to her that honesty was a superior policy to such acts; it would inspire trust. "I have uneasy feelings about this, Madame President. I fear that the remnant Cylons in your fleet may attempt something due to the success of our scanner."

    "The thought had crossed my mind," Roslin agreed. "Colonel Tigh has Marines on standby if something happens."

    "I fear that may be what our foes are relying upon," Meridina admitted. "Their greatest concern must now be your people reaching the safety of our space."

    ""Yes." Roslin nodded. "I need to go see my people now, Commander. Once again, I thank you for your help, and I am sorry of what came between us."

    "Thank you, Madame President. Please, have a pleasant day."

    Roslin rolled off in the wheelchair and left Meridina to her thoughts. Through this general brightness, physical and emotional, Meridina thought she could feel a darkness but she wasn't sure. She had to be ready.




    Cavil hadn't expected to find dissent among the others. And he had never anticipated the dissent he found from the one he expected to be most willing for his plans.

    The Number Six model had adopted a name. Gina. Gina Invieve. And she had suffered horrifically the abuses of Admiral Cain and the crew of the Pegasus.

    "This is for the best," he insisted. "If you don't, they'll find you with their new technology. And they'll do it all to you all over again."

    Gina didn't look at him. She just kept looking off into space. Beside her were fliers from the Demand Peace movement. "The Plan," she murmured. "What is it?"

    "I don't follow," Cavil answered.

    "What is the Plan?", Gina asked. "And what has it brought us?"

    "It's the Plan of God," Cavil said "The plan to punish those who enslaved and abused us. Who abused you."

    "So God demands death?"

    "God demands justice. The annihilation of those who believe in false deities."

    Gina's eyes looked back to the fliers. "I wanted to hate them all," she said. "For what they did to me. For my suffering."

    "They should pay," Cavil insisted.

    Gina picked up one of the fliers and held it to Cavil. "Even the ones who wrote this?"

    Cavil stared at her. He took the flier and read it. The Demand Peace movement listed out all of the "crimes" that the Colonial society had committed against the Cylons before and during the last war. It spoke of the military causing the Cylon attack, of the military's continued desire to wage a war that could never be won, and how the only hope for peace and the future was to accept the Cylons and make peace with them.

    "They only say these things because they know we will annihilate them," Cavil said. "They would never say them otherwise." Cavil threw the flier aside. "You can't abandon the Plan. God's will must be obeyed."

    "One of them is the only reason I got away from Cain's torturers," Gina remarked. A haunted look filled her eyes. "I'm just… tired of it all. Tired of the treachery and death. If this is what must be done, I'll do it." She said those words without any of the conviction Cavil had desired. They weren't the words of a true believer in the Plan of God, simply the saying of someone who looked ready to die.

    She will have to be boxed, Cavil thought to himself. He couldn't afford her thinking such things.

    The funny thing was that Gina would probably consider that fate a mercy, if it meant an end to her existence.
     
  21. Threadmarks: 1-11-3
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    They were at the last jump before the relief fleet would begin their run around the various Colonies. While Scotty and Barnes attended to checking the jump drive and making sure it was functioning, Admiral Adama came aboard with Thrace and Zack in order to go over their final plans.

    "We'll start here," Thrace said, standing beside Zack at the main holo-display in the briefing room. "Aquaria. From here we can move on separately to the other Colonies and rendezvous at Caprica."

    "Isn't Caprica the known location for the other survivors?", Robert asked. "Shouldn't we start there?"

    Adama and Thrace exchanged looks. That was enough for Robert to understand the choice was not military or practical, but political. Julia was the one who inquired, "You're both Capricans, right?"

    "We are," Adama admitted.

    "And if we went to Caprica first, the others would accuse you of unfairly favoring your own world over theirs. But if Caprica goes last, then they can't question the order."

    "Not as effectively, anyway," Leo observed.

    "Do we have any solid indications on the Cylon fleet, Jarod?", Robert asked.

    Jarod and Caterina exchanged looks and shook their heads. "Nothing definitive," Jarod said. "I'm not sure if this means they're not maintaining a close patrol of the Colonies, or…"

    "....if this is a trap," Thrace added for him. "That they know we're coming and are waiting to jump us."

    "That is my concern as well," Adama said. "Until the evacuations are done, we'll need to keep a constant CAP out."

    "That'll be a strain on our flight crews," Julia noted. "But it's worth it."

    "After Aquaria, where do you think we should go?"

    Adama listed out the remaining colonies in order. Aurora and half of the expedition would move on to Canceron while Pegasus went to Aerilon. From where they'd split into the different systems, Helios Beta for Pegasus and Gamma for Aurora, before converging in Alpha and ultimately meeting back up at Gemenon.

    "Given the size of the Helios Cluster, Koenig can effectively switch between groups if we sustain high warp speeds through the entire period," Zack pointed out. "We can also move ahead and start small-scale evacuations on the other Colonies ahead of the rest of you."

    "It would be better if you acted in the support role, Commander," Adama replied. "Keep your ship at the halfway point between Pegasus' group and Aurora's."

    "It's your call, Admiral," Zack said. "I'll keep our long range sensor sweeps active and be ready for any incoming signatures."

    "Are the other ships ready to begin evacuations?", Robert asked Jarod.

    Jarod nodded. "I've already consulted with our officers on the accompanying vessels. The transporter systems are as ready as they'll ever be. Backup pads are in place should we get a short in any of the systems. But we will have to be careful with the pace of the evacuation. And any battle damage to the ships in question, especially to their power systems, could knock out the entire portable system."

    "Our priority will be keeping the Cylons off of those transports then," Robert noted. "Angel, please make the necessary tactical preparations."

    Angel nodded at Robert. Very business-like, too. Just as it should be, but he admitted that customary familiarity might have made him feel better.

    "It appears everything is in order," Adama noted. "With that, I consider this briefing adjourned. May the Gods be with us all."

    That won a number of nods from the assembled. Adama had to appreciate the irony that he had just given that exhortation to people who were, by custom, monotheistic.

    With everyone filing out of the room, Robert stepped up to Adama. "Admiral, you don't seem entirely comfortable."

    "I don't see the Cylons letting us get away with something like this," Adama admitted. "They're going to hit us. Hard."

    "I get the same feeling," Robert agreed. "We just have to wait and see what they try, I guess."

    "Keep your eyes open. "

    "Good luck, Admiral," Robert said.

    Adama's response was a nod that said the same sentiment.




    Jarod remained behind to clear up the briefing room before it would be time to finish the final drive checks.

    Julia came back into the room. "You've been busy the last few days," she observed. "Maybe you should take some time to rest before we make our plunge."

    "I'll be fine," he answered.

    Julia regarded him with a hint of skepticism. "Jarod, can I ask you something?"

    "Of course."

    "Do you still beat yourself up over the Dalek attack?"

    Jarod looked up at her and considered that question. The Daleks had forced them to destroy the Facility to keep the Darglan technology out of the Daleks' metaphorical hands. During that time Jarod had matched wits with one of the creatures, trying to keep control of the Facility computers from its stubborn hacking attempt. At best, he had delayed the creatures only; the Dalek had consistently outmaneuvered him in the equivalent of cyberspace. Nullifying every code change, eliminating every counter-intrusion software written on the fly. He had faced a creature far more intelligent than he'd realized.

    "I suppose you could say that, yes," he admitted to her. "Farmer would still be alive today if we had stopped the Daleks."

    "Maybe," Julia admitted. "But how many of us would have died if you hadn't held them off?"

    "We nearly lost everything because I wasn't good enough," Jarod mumbled. "I've always relied on my intelligence. My ability to figure things out. That Dalek… he made me look like a putz."

    Julia walked closer, shaking her head. "No. None of us understood how intelligent and powerful the Daleks were. You saved our lives that day, Jarod. That's the past you should focus on. Not the loss of the Facility. Things worked out regardless."

    "Again, tell that to Carlton Farmer."

    Julia sighed wistfully. "Alright. You don't want to let it go yet. Just, please don't be afraid to talk about it."

    "In my own time," he answered. As he did so, he felt that familiar disbelief and anger at having failed so completely. He knew that couldn't happen again.

    No matter what. He had to win the next time. Or he might lose everything… and everyone.




    The flotilla of ships jumped right into the orbital space of Aquaria. The planet below bore the scars of the atomic devastation of the Cylon attack on the landmasses standing out from her oceanic surface. From sensors Caterina could see the remnant radiation affecting the planet. She shook her head. "I… I mean, I always knew this was the result of major nuclear initiations, but to actually see it…"

    "Steady, Cat," Julia said softly. "I know it's horrifying. But there could still be people alive down there."

    "Right. Scanning now." Caterina ran the light sign scans. "Remember that I can't tell the difference between Humans and Cylons up here."

    "Yes. That's why we're going to beam up samples from each concentration of life signs you find," Julia noted.

    "Okay. Starting scan." Caterina went to work. A sense of uncertainty came over the bridge as she did. Would there be anyone alive down there?

    It passed when Caterina's voice picked up to her more happy, excited tone. "Life signs! Several hundred of them, at least! It looks like they're scattered in some of the smaller islands without major city centers."

    "Start beaming them up," Robert said. "Jarod, coordinate with the transporter operators on the other ships."

    "Maybe we should broadcast first?" Caterina suggested. "I mean… think of how scared they'll be just being yanked up like that."

    "This is why we've got someone from the Fleet waiting for them here," Julia said. "There's no guarantee any of the survivors have anything we can broadcast to."

    "And when it comes down to it, we're still pressed for time." Robert took in a breath.

    Julia noticed that. "Is everything okay?"

    "I'm just feeling… off…" Robert admitted. "No Cylons yet? Not even their fleet?"

    "I know." Julia nodded. "All we can do is complete the mission and see what they throw at us."

    "It'll be something big," Robert said. "I'm sure of it."

    But there was nothing more to be said about the intense anxiety Robert felt about the situation. All he could do was wait while the transporter operators on all of the ships did their work.




    The evacuation was proceeding better than anyone might have expected. Adama remained quiet and introspective as he overheard the reports coming in to the Pegasus CIC. Lieutenant Hoshi relayed the successful transports of the last identified survivors on Virgon.

    "Bring our fighters back home for jump," Kara ordered from her place near him. She looked apprehensive and for understandable reasons; the number of survivors on the various Colonies were pitifully small. Only a thousand from Aquaria, 300 on Aerilon, and their last report from Aurora revealed there were only 400 from Scorpia. Sagittaron, Canceron, and Libran had each yielded over a thousand, many of them suffering from radiation sickness. Leonis had taken them a couple of hours; there were a surprising 2,400 survivors to be found.

    But survivor counts over 1,500 seemed to be the exception, not the rule. From all appearances the Cylons had openly hunted down and killed any concentrations of survivors they could find on the various Colonies. It made anger fester in Adama's heart at the sheer brutality the Cylons had shown; extermination just for the sake of extermination.

    "Makes you wonder how this fighting will inevitably end," he muttered.

    "Sir?", Kara asked.

    "The Cylons want us all dead," Adama said. "Why? What's their purpose? Why do they hate us so much?" Adama's expression grew dark. "And what will they do once we have the colony world in the Alliance that Captain Dale says is being determined?"

    "You think they'll still attack us even there?"

    "Seems to me that they'll stop at nothing to murder us all," Adama noted. "They've been toying with us the entire time, hunting us like animals… why would they stop simply because they find we're in Alliance territory?"

    "Maybe we should look into leaving this universe then?", Kara asked. "I mean, this whole 'Multiverse' thing that the Aurora people having going on. I've heard some of them talk about an entire world and colony set aside for people like us, people needing a home."

    "New Liberty?" Adama nodded. "Yes, Captain Dale spoke about it with me. He thinks that we might be better off settling some of the open space on that world and working with their New Liberty Colony."

    "Other Humans," Kara said. "It'd be… well, I don't know. Interesting? We'd have to learn how they live, find ways to get along…"

    "The question is, give or take a few generations, would there be anything left of our people?", Adama observed. "Would we still be the Humans of the Colonies of Kobol, or just one part of the greater whole? Our grandchildren talking and acting and praying like them?"

    "They'd be alive, I guess."

    Adama nodded. "Yeah. But it's when I think of that outcome that I come to understand why President Roslin wants us to have our own world."

    "Well, there has to be other worlds out there we could colonize, in all those other universes. Somewhere we can get away from the Cylons."

    Adama didn't comment on that thought. There was a part of him that rebelled at it. Mostly from his understanding of what that meant; they would be forever abandoning their homeworlds to Cylon occupation. Sure, one day in the far future the Alliance might drive the Cylons out, but by then their descendants would have been living together on a new world for how long? How many would decide to stay on a virgin world they had helped to build up instead of returning to the broken, irradiated Colonies?

    It was silly. But he couldn't help but see it as a betrayal of all of the people who died. Of everything that made the Colonists from Kobol whom they were.

    "Last flight is landing now, sir," Hoshi reported. "All ships are ready for jump."

    "It's time to finish this," Adama said. "Prepare a jump to Tauron. And keep your eyes open. The Cylons are up to something. There is no way they would let us get this far without something up their sleeve."

    "Preparing FTL jump now… fleet reporting readiness."

    Adama looked to the plotting. Aurora would be off to Picon while they were at Tauron and the ships would rendezvous to finish Gemenon and Caprica last. And he was certain it was at Caprica that the Cylons would show their hand. That was his only explanation for why they had yet to launch any further attack.

    And we had better be ready for them.




    Koenig
    moved quietly through the interstellar space between the Helios cluster stars, under cloak and watching for Cylon activity. Zack sat at his command chair with a cup of rich replicated coffee. Hours of waiting and near boredom were growing more and more tense by the second.

    "So, where do you think we'll get assigned?", Magda asked him.

    "Hrm?"

    "When we leave Aurora," Magda continued. "Where do you think the fleet will assign us?"

    "Probably a frontier patrol," Zack mused. "Or back to M4P2 so we can chase the Batarians around."

    "I wouldn't mind going home myself," Apley said. "As in, being assigned to the Abdis command back home."

    "I don't know if I'm the diplomatic type," Zack admitted. Abdis in D3R1 tended to be a posting requiring careful diplomacy to balance the ever-continuing tensions of the Sol Republic and the Colonial Confederation. Both being members of the Alliance had not entirely eliminated the decades of heated ideological differences. That would be a tricky posting, but a chance to do some good, Zack considered in his head.

    "Shooting up Batarian slavers sounds more fun," April said from Tactical.

    "There's always going back to S5T3," Magda pointed out. "Patrols along the Cardassian border, dealing with Maquis…"

    "Would be nice to visit DS9 again sometime," Zack pondered. "I owe Commander Sisko a few baseball games."

    Magda sighed. "You yanquis and your baseball. No appreciation for real football."

    "Speak for yourself, Lieutenant," April answered. "I was captain of the high school team."

    "Oh really?"

    "I scored five goals in my senior year," April continued.

    "I never went for either kind of football," Zack admitted. "Huh. I wonder what kind of sports the Colonials like to play?"

    "Probably nothing like we have," Apley noted. "Well, unless they're actually long-lost descendants of Earth colonists. Maybe they were on this 'Kobol' world for so long that they forgot they came from Earth?"

    "An interesting thought, sure," Zack mused.

    There was a tone at Ops. "Signal from Pegasus, sir." Magda looked back at him. "Still no opposition. They're jumping to Tauron now."

    "Take us into the Helios Alpha system, Ap," Zack said. "We'll go scout out Gemenon."

    "Changing course from patrol route now."




    Robert had taken some time to eat in his ready room while the evacuation of Picon's 2,000 or so survivors continued. Julia entered with a happy look on her face, a new thing given how dour everyone had been as the hunt for survivors had proven so difficult and unrewarding. "Well, I do have some good news for their Fleet," she said.

    "What?", Robert asked.

    "The Piconese survivors apparently have a ship," she said. "Some of them survived by hiding their ship in a jungle canyon and keeping it powered down. Lucy is planetside helping them get the ship spaceworthy. Her jump engine is intact and they'll be able to join us. Jarod calculates she can hold up to around fifteen hundred people comfortably."

    Robert raised an eyebrow. "That is good news. The Colonials could use that extra space."

    Julia's smile faded. "I know you were hoping to recover more people, Robert. But we shouldn't have held out too much hope for a lot of survivors. As it is, just our half of the fleet has gotten nearly 6,000 people out. Picon is just one of the lucky ones."

    "One wonders how Mister Zarek will take it that only eleven hundred of his people survived," Robert mused.

    "Not well. But at least it's eleven hundred more," Julia observed.

    "I'm just wondering what comes next," Robert said. "Because this can't be the end of it. The Cylons are going to continue pursuing Adama's fleet. I'm surprised they haven't already attacked us, they have to know we're here."

    "I think they'll hit us over Caprica," Julia said. "Angel and I are in agreement on that."

    "Maximum terror and effectiveness?" Robert proposed. "It makes sure they get a shot at annihilating all of the survivors in one swoop."

    "Yeah. Laurent and his people are ready for a combat launch the moment that time comes."

    "And what about Zack?"

    "Currently waiting under cloak at Gemenon."

    "Good. We're almost done." Robert looked out the window at the broken planet of Picon. He felt unsettled. So much death. It's like I can feel it in my bones, in my soul. "I'm tired of flying through this graveyard."

    "You and me both," Julia answered.




    At Gemenon Koenig was already finished scanning the planet when the two halves of the rescue fleet jumped into orbital space. Zack nodded when Magda informed him Pegasus was hailing. "Koenig here, Admiral," Zack said as soon as the channel opened.

    "Commander, I want you to move on to Caprica. The Cylons are most likely to ambush us once we're completing the Caprica evacuation."

    "Understood, Commander. We'll get underway right away,. At full impulse it shouldn't take us long."

    "One other thing," Adama said. "Captain Thrace wants to go with you."

    "Oh?"

    "She'll be taking a team of Marines led by Commander Kane," Adama continued. "Just in case the resistance on Caprica is under siege."

    Zack looked to Magda. "Have the transporters ready. As soon as Captain Thrace, Commander Kane, and their teams are here, we'll head on out."

    After a few minutes Kane and Thrace stepped onto the Koenig bridge. Kane was in Marine combat armor and Thrace was wearing what passed for Colonial field gear, complete with a sidearm. Both were carrying the new Cylon detectors. "Carrey."

    "Starbuck." he nodded back. "It's going to be an hour or two at full impulse. Might want to find somewhere to sit."

    "What, can't you just use those 'warp drive' engines to get there faster?" Kara asked.

    "Warping through a gravity well is a tricky business," Zack answered. "Especially if you're moving at distances rated in light-seconds. Sometimes it's just better to take it slow."

    "Besides, if there is a Cylon ambush waiting for us, we're more likely to see it coming in at impulse," Sherlily pointed out.

    "Yes. My esteemed tactical officer raises my other concern," Zack said. "Last thing we want to do is warp right into the gunsights of a Cylon ship."

    "Even under cloak?"

    "Magda can explain how a ship coming out of warp doesn't necessarily remain completely undetected," Zack remarked. "Normally I'd be all for getting this done. But it's best to be careful for this one."

    "Good point," Kara conceded. But she still seemed very impatient.

    "I'm guessing you know someone down there?", Zack inquired.

    "Yeah." Kara nodded. "Yeah, you could say that."

    "Don't worry, Starbuck," Zack said. "We'll get him back. All of them. "

    "If they're still alive," Kara mused sullenly.

    "Until we know otherwise, they're all alive, right?"

    "Yeah." She nodded. "Right."
     
  22. Threadmarks: 1-11-4
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    When Koenig made orbit of Caprica Magda began scanning immediately. "I'm detecting Human life signs at various points on the planet."

    "Numbers?", Kara asked urgently.

    For a moment Magda examined them closely. "At least…. twelve hundred."

    Thrace sighed and lowered her head. "Gods, that's... " She swallowed. "I had no idea that there were so many left."

    "The question is, how many are Cylons?", Zack asked.

    "Well, several dozen are very isolated all across the planet," Magda noted. "With a few I'm picking up concentrations of refined metallic substances. Presumably those are the Cylons."

    "I'd put a solar torpedo into each and every one of those concentrations if I could," Zack mumbled. "But that's not what we're here for. Magda, anything on sensors?"

    "Just some planet-based sensors. They can't see us, that's for certain."

    "But they can probably call in help," Zack noted. "April. Lock on to each of those locations. The moment that the fleet is due to jump in, I want a torpedo dropping on their heads."

    "They seem to be concentrated around the largest of the cities," Sherlily said. "I think I can get them all with one spread."

    "Good."

    "So now the question is, how do we get down without being seen?", Kane asked. "I don't suppose any of the shuttles cloak?"

    "Nope," Zack said. "But there is one trick I remember Sisko talking about back on DS9." Zack reached over and hit his intercom. "Engineering. Karen, do you think you could pull off a transport under cloak?"

    "It'll be tricky. But I might be able to get you enough power. The problem would be the cloaking field disrupting the transporter beam."

    "Any way to account for that?"

    "Give me a moment to think. The problem is that if I weaken the field too much the cloak won't hide us from detection by most common detection systems."

    "Well…."

    While this discussion went on Thrace walked up to Operations. She leaned over beside Magda and pointed to a part of Caprica. "Can you show me more about this group?"

    Magda nodded. "Sure." She zoomed in the vie, allowing the clump of life signs to become more refined and show more individual people. "Looks like thirty-six life signs. No, thirty-seven. All Human."

    Relief was visible on Thrace's face. "Thank the Gods, they're all still alive."

    Magda nodded. "I'm not detecting…" She squinted. "Wait." She hit a few keys and shifted the view to a short distance away. More life signs were moving across the screen joined by other signatures the sensors were detecting. "Those aren't Human signatures. Those are energy signatures. I'm detecting metal concentrations…."

    "Dammit," Thrace breathed. "Commander, we have a situation!"

    "What?" Zack turned to face them.

    Magda answered, "I'm picking up what looks like a Cylon attack group approaching one of the concentrations of Human life."

    "Crap," Zack sighed. He looked to Kane. "Get your people ready. I'm sending you and Captain Thrace down." Zack looked to Apley. "Bring us in toward the north pole of Caprica, Ap. As close to the atmosphere as you can get us."

    "Commander, this might not work. If their sensors are too refined or we make too much of a disturbance in the upper atmosphere..."

    "it's a risk I'm willing to take, Karen," Zack answered.

    "Right. I'll get my best people to the main transporter room then. Good luck. Engineering out."

    By the time this was said Thrace and Kane had already left the bridge.




    For weeks, Samuel Anders had been nursing a hope he knew to be unlikely. That Kara Thrace would return with reinforcements from Galactica. That he and his band of survivors might actually survive.

    Today his hopes and prayers were answered.

    Albeit not in the way he expected.

    He and the others were cleaning their firearms in the central, open area of their base when the half-dozen pillars of light formed in front of them. When they dissipated he saw Kara standing among five other people. Two were in Colonial uniforms, but the other three had on body armor that he had never seen before and carried guns like out of some science fiction serial.

    Another group of lights appeared nearby about five seconds later. Six more beings appeared in their number, all of them with the strange armor and weapons. As Anders went to speak Kara's name, his eyes widened as he focused on one of the appeared beings.

    Despite said creature's helmet, he could see that he or whatever it was was not human. A blue beak protruded from its face like a bird's beak.

    "By the Gods?!" The cry of surprise caused several people to start going for weapons.

    "Woh! Woh, hold it!" Kara held her arms up. "They're friendlies!"

    "What the hell is going on here, Kara?!", Anders demanded, still shocked.

    "It's okay," Kara said. "They're our allies against the Cylons. We came down because the Cylons are moving to attack you, right now!"

    "Speaking of Cylons…" Kane raised his head from looking at a display on his arm. "Sensors have them almost to the perimeter of the compound."

    "That's ridiculous," one of the others said. "They'd…"

    Gunfire erupted in the distance.

    "The pickets." Anders nodded at Kane. "Right. Everyone get your weapons! They're coming for us!"

    "Ijala, find a perch!", Kane shouted.

    Ijala chirped in reply. The Alakin Marine pulled out his sniper rifle and went for the nearest building with a roof he could snipe from.

    "Dijalas, Mendelssohn, you're on the north end. Lewis, Rashid, South!" Kane finished assigning four of his other Marines to the other main points of the compass. "I don't want those toasters coming in on our blindside," he explained to Anders.

    More gunfire temporarily interrupted Anders. When it was over he nodded in agreement. "So what now? How did you just appear like that?"

    "Beamed down from a ship in orbit. And no, we can't just beam you out, they'll detect our ship and the rest of the fleet isn't here yet."

    "Fleet?" Anders looked to Kara. "They're going to drive the Cylons out?"

    "No, just to get you out," she answered. "We've been sweeping the Colonies getting all of the survivors we can."

    More gunfire came from downhill. "Time to talk is over," Kane said. "Get your guns and find some cover!"




    Shortly after the last transport was finished on Koenig Zack finally asked," Any sign they detected us?"

    "None at the moment," Magda said. "But…"

    "But? But what?"

    Magda was busy looking over the sensor returns from the surface. "I've been scanning all of the remaining life sign groups. I'm now detecting more energy signatures approaching each."

    "A concerted attack," Apley pointed out. "They're going to wipe the Caprican survivors out."

    "Can we do anything about it?", Zack asked.

    "We don't have the security personnel or surplus crew to hold all of those points," Sherlily pointed out. "And if we fire torpedoes we might just hit friendlies in the process.

    "Yeah. Of course. Because nothing can be simple. Alright, get me Pegasus."




    Roslin and Billy were at the restaurant on Cloud Nine enjoying their late lunch. Roslin felt good to be able to hold down food again. She also noticed that she wasn't the only one looking better. "My illness was a drain on you too," she noted.

    Billy didn't deny it. "It was my job to take care of you, Madame President. I felt helpless to see you dying like that."

    She nodded. "I understand." She turned her head to look outside. Children were playing in the grass under the supervision of a pair of adolescents. "Despite everything, people seem so much happier now."

    "Meeting the people from Earth - or whatever they are - is giving everyone a feeling that we have a future." Billy took a drink and put his fork into his salad. "I mean... a place we can go to be away from the Cylons. Somewhere we don't have to worry about them chasing us. Maybe we should go to one of those other universes they have so the Cylons can never find us."

    "It's a thought," Roslin agreed. "I'm just happy to see so many smiles again."

    Unfortunately, it wasn't a smile that was on Lee's face when he stepped into the restaurant. He saluted to Roslin, who nodded back. "We have a situation, Madame President."

    "What?" She considered the possibilities. If the Cylons had begun attacking there would have been an alarm across the ship to jump. That was the plan for any Cylon ships coming in.

    "We were ready to begin the scanning procedures," Lee said. "But... well, there's a protest now."

    "A protest?", Roslin asked. "Over the Cylon scanners?"

    Lee nodded. "Yes ma'am."

    Roslin took in a breath. She set the salad fork down and nodded to Billy. "Let's go, Billy. I need to talk to these people. We need to make sure they're not being manipulated by Cylons."

    "I've already signaled Commander Meridina to meet us there," Lee said. "It's at the podium for the address you planned later."

    Roslin didn't answer that. She was already thinking through all of the possibilities of what was going on.




    Adama was listening, along with Robert from Aurora, to Commander Carrey's report. Inwardly he mused that this was likely not a coincidence. The Cylons had yet to challenge them because Caprica was clearly their chosen battlefield. "Do what you can, Commander. We're almost done here."

    The line cut, but Adama remained on with Dale. "We can jump ahead, Admiral," Robert said. "I have enough security and Marine personnel to secure those ground sites even if we can't safely bombard from orbit."

    "It's risky, Captain," Adama pointed out. "You'll likely trip whatever Cylon trap is waiting for you. And if they launch at us instead, it'll take time for your drives to cool down for another jump."

    "I know. But I think it's a necessary risk, sir. Without it hundreds of innocent people will die."

    Adama noticed the attention of the CIC crew. Undoubtedly they were already weighing his choices against Cain's. An amusing thought since Cain would have undoubtedly started a war with these people over the Cylon Sharon.

    They could judge as they wanted. He would make his decision based on what needed to be done, not to measure up to a dead woman.

    "You're right," Adama agreed. "It is. Jump ahead, do what you can. We'll follow as soon as the last ship signals readiness for the jump to Caprica."

    "Yes, Admiral. Jumping now."




    Meridina's senses were alert. She followed Roslin to the improvised stage so she could address the citizens who were protesting the scanners. "They're all fake!", one man yelled. "They're here for the Alliance people to turn us against each other and conquer us!"

    "Really?", Roslin asked. "Because I have seen these devices. They work. They have been demonstrated to me and to Admiral Adama, who supports their use."

    Cavil stepped up through the crowd, acting every inch the humble priest. "Please, Madame President, understand their fear," he said calmly. "It is easy to forget how wild the stories are that cross our fleet. We have heard about how certain Alliance personnel, such as their security officer, can enter and alter minds.''

    "Are you suggesting I am being mentally influenced?", Roslin asked, bemused.

    "I'm only saying how people might take it," Cavil answered. "You know I have often tried to tend to the souls of our people and assuage their fears. I did not want any misunderstandings." Cavil looked to Meridina. "Can I help you?"

    Meridina had indeed been paying careful attention to him. She sensed deception. She could not be sure what kind, not without entering his mind, but this man was not being as honest as he depicted. He had a greater agenda. "I am merely contemplating the issues, sir," she answered politely. Now was not the place to be confrontational. "I understand that fear can be a powerful agent in the minds of people. Especially those who have already lost so much."

    "Then you would understand why it might be best, to delay these scans?", Cavil asked her and, through her, asked Roslin. "Until Admiral Adama comes back, perhaps. When people will feel safer."

    Roslin put her hands together. "I understand that so much change has come to the Colonies lately. I'm sympathetic to you all. I was scared myself at first. To have so many things questioned. To find out how much there was that we didn't know about the universe, so to speak, and our place in it. But I learned, the hard way, that fear is not the answer to this. We must face the future as it is. And we must not let fear cloud our judgement."

    Meridina looked back to Lee, who was quietly looking through the scanner he had brought along. His gaze was fixed on the readout screen. She stepped over and looked at what he was seeing.

    He had focused the scanner on the crowd. Most were showing up as blue figures. Humans.

    Built several, not many but several, were gold.

    Cylons.

    Cavil seemed to focus on Meridina and Lee. A small smirk crossed his face.

    Meridina had only seconds to react. She used her power to push Roslin and her wheelchair off of the podium.

    Force erupted from beneath the spot where Roslin had been sitting. The blast knocked both off their feet as well as the Marines brought along for Roslin's security.

    The impact from that fall dazed Meridina momentarily. Gunfire began to erupt around her.




    Aurora jumped into orbit of Caprica. The moment she did, Koenig decloaked and sent a spread of solar torpedoes into the surface of the planet, hitting the identified positions of Cylon communications and sensor arrays.

    On the Aurora bridge, Julia was busy working with Lieutenant Kemap, Meridina's second in command, and Lieutenant Gurel, the senior Marine commander on the ship. They were already preparing to beam down even as Robert gave the order to launch all of Aurora's fighters.

    "Koenig's torpedo bombardment is complete," Jarod said. "From what I can tell, they completely suppressed the Cylon control and communications in this system."

    "They're not likely to take long to see what we've done, though."

    "Teams beaming down now," Angel reported.

    "Angel, do you think you can take out the Cylons with orbital fire?", Julia asked.

    "In a few of these cases, yeah, but I'm risking friendly fire in some cases."

    "Do what you can," Robert ordered. "Every point you can't we'll dispatch teams and begin evacuations."




    In Anders' resistance base, Kane eyed an approaching Cylon robot through the scope of his assault rifle. His finger squeezed the trigger and bolts of azure light slammed into the machine. Its polished gray exterior turned red and orange wherever the bolts scourged its hide. Sparks erupted from within and the red eye died down. Given that the firearms of the resistance weren't doing so well, Kane didn't seem surprised by the looks his Marines were getting from the others. This was the first firefight between the Cylons and Alliance troops, and Kane intended to make the Cylons fear the combat firepower of an Allied Systems Marine.

    He drew a bead on another Cylon pouring fire into a Resistance position, keeping them pinned in. Before he could pull the trigger a bolt of orange light came from behind and overhead. Ijala's shot took the Cylon's head clean off.

    "Gods, we're going to actually win this thing, aren't we?", Anders said, surprised and gladdened at the same time. "Where did you find these people, Kara?"

    "They're from Earth," Kara answered, smirking. "Or something like that. It's a really long story."

    "Sir, no fire from the south yet. But I think they're moving to hit our flank," said one of Kane's Marines over the radio.

    "Engage and destroy if they come close, but hold your position." Kane keyed his command frequency to the ships above. "Kane to Koenig, got any ETA on our pickup?"

    To Kane's pleasure, it was Commander Andreys who answered. "We're completing an evacuation of a pressed survivor position. Standby."

    "Good. Because we've got several dozen people down here who need evac."




    Julia nodded. "Understood, Commander. We'll get those people up ASAP." She looked to Robert. "Interesting timing, don't you think?"

    "I don't think it's just timing," Robert answered. "This is intentional." He looked back to Cat. "Anything on long range sensors?"

    "No," Cat answered. "I'm not picking any subspace spikes. Nothing consistent with the Cylon fleet."

    "They could be hiding," Julia pointed out. "Adama said something about an anchorage? Ragnar?"

    "So they could just jump right on top of us."

    "Shields are still up whenever we're not beaming," Angel said. "They won't get any first hits on us."

    "We've finished evacuating the most threatened groups," Jarod reported. "Transporters are standing by to pull Kane's group out."

    "Start the process."




    Kara left cover to begin lining up the non-combatants of Anders' group for transport. "Just stay in these positions," she said. "Stay in them and you'll be fine. "You're going up to a ship."

    The first group was taken a moment later. Kara moved on to the second group as they lined up. Dammit, I should have remembered one of those scanners. But at least they've got them up on the ship too. We've got to get these people out of the firing zone or someone's going to get killed.

    As her eyes passed over another waiting group, she spotted one pair of eyes and the face that went with it. Familiarity struck her. She'd seen…

    "Oh frak," Kara cursed. "Stop him! Stop that priest, he's a Cylon!"

    Kane and his Marines responded immediately, wheeling around with weapons raised.

    The Cavil unit in Anders' resistance couldn't keep the smile off his face, even though he had just been outed. The contempt he felt for even these advanced Humans swelled eagerly at the mistake of letting the attack distract them.

    His finger was already on the activation key of the transmitter he carried with him. He pressed barely a moment before Commander Kane put two rounds into his torso.




    In Engineering Scotty looked up at hearing the alarm tone. "What in blazes is that?", he asked.

    Nearby Lucy, working with him on keeping the rigged jump system working, went over to a monitor. "That's odd. That jump drive… there's some sort of activity coming from it…" Lucy's eyes widened. "Jamming field! Get a jamming field up now!"

    Scotty was too far away from the relevant control, but one of the engineers got to it immediately and did as ordered.

    The lights went out a moment later.




    The first sign that something was wrong on the bridge was when Jarod noted activity in the ship communications system. "That's odd," he said.

    "Jarod?"

    "Something's being transmitted through the communications syst…"

    The lights on the bridge died out, replaced a moment later by the white emergency lights.

    "I'm getting widespread system failures across the ship," Jarod reported. "Something's locking out our controls."

    "What just happened?", Robert asked, although he already knew the answer. Cylon virus, it's got to be, but how?

    "It's some sort of virus. Advanced, very smart, it's already learning..." Jarod's hands started running over the Ops station controls. "I'm trying to purge it but it's putting up protective controls. It's usurping administration control of our computer control systems."

    "What systems do we still have?", Julia asked.

    "Life support's on a closed automatic network, it can't access that. Manual helm control is possible, armor and hull self-repair systems are also isolated, but we've got no shields and no FTL, all subspace communications are out."

    "Send a signal to Koenig…"

    "Not advisable," Jarod pointed out. "This thing could use our signal as a piggyback ride into Koenig's systems."

    "Subspace spike!", Cat shouted. "I've got a subspace spike on sensors, it's….!"

    On the screen, flashes of light appeared. From within them the shapes of Cylon warships formed.

    "How many?", Julie asked.

    "Ten, at least," Caterina said. "They're launching fighters!"

    "Direct our fighters to intercept… dammit, are our fighters affected too?"

    "Not from what I can tell," Jarod said. "But if we try to tie our command-and-control into their networks the virus might spread."

    "Enemy boarding ships launching too!"

    "Evasive maneuvers," Robert ordered. "Evasives, now!"

    "I'm trying!", Locarno answered. "But manual helm control hasn't giving me a lot of options!"

    The ship began to shake steadily as Cylon fire struck the hull. Robert clutched the arms of his command chair. "Jarod…?"

    "I'm trying to keep it out of the other systems. The virus keeps shifting its position in the computers, writing itself new permissions and access authority every time I cut off one of its access points."

    "Can you get us engines back at least?"

    "That's what I'm trying, please stop distracting me!" Jarod kept at his work, writing new command access procedures on the fly and using them to try and cut off the virus from the systems it was shutting down remotely. It retaliated each time he tried, circumventing his new protections.

    It's happening again, he thought. His mind flashed back to the Dalek that had beaten him for control of the Facility's systems.

    Once again, he was losing.




    The plight of the Aurora was not lost on Koenig. "What the hell?!", Zack had cried out upon seeing Aurora's acceleration decrease and her shields drop. And then the Cylons jumped in. "What's going on?"

    "It looks like they're suffering multiple system failures," Magda reported. She reached over and tapped several keys. "I'm picking up further transmissions from the Cylon ships. They're trying to access our computer systems."

    "Can they?", Zack demanded.

    Magda shook her head. "No. The firewall precautions Jarod and I set up are too strong. The signal receiver is isolated from computer control and can't be used as a conduit for their virus coding."

    "Well, thank goodness for small favors, right?"" Zack nodded to Ap. "Okay. Code Red, Ap." As the klaxons blared and the running lights for the ship turned red, Zack turned to Sherlily. "It'll take us too long to actually deal with those Basestars. Concentrate your firepower on any boarding ships. I'm not letting them put any forces on Aurora."

    "Roger that."

    "Accelerating to combat speeds," Apley said.

    "Get me Adama."




    Adama listened with consternation to the report from Commander Carrey. A thought occurred to him; that jump drive system they'd installed. The Cylons must have left a little surprise.

    "How long until the fleet is ready to jump?" he asked Hoshi.

    "Two ships are reporting mechanical troubles. They need ten more minutes to check their drives," Hoshi answered.

    Adama nodded. "How many of our people are on those ships?"

    "All of the Aerilon survivors," Hoshi answered. "And most of the Leonis survivors."

    So that was his choice. Risk those ships and the precious survivors on board them, further hope for their people, or risk that the Cylons might either destroy the Aurora or, even worse, seize her and reverse-engineer the technology on the powerful ship.

    "Inform those ships that they are to jump to Caprica when ready," Adama said. "As for the rest of the fleet, we're jumping for Caprica. Have the civilian ships make the jump to two thousand kilometers out and maneuver to the opposite side of the planet from the Cylon forces there."

    "Yes sir," Hoshi said. "I'm recalling our Vipers now. Estimate two minutes until we can jump."

    "Tell them they have one minute," Adama answered. "All hands, Assume Action Stations, Condition One."




    Cavil knew he had been found out, but that had been expected.

    What he hadn't expected was to see the Gersallian woman react quickly enough to save Roslin. That irked him; the blast meant to kill her had simply thrown others on the podium back.

    "It's a Cylon attack!" he screamed, wanting to laugh at what he felt to be a sort of joke at the Humans' expense.

    The attack occurred with brutal swiftness. Cylons pulled out guns and started firing into the crowd. More explosives went off. Not all of the blasts were deadly, it was simply meant to add to the chaos. All across the ship more bombs would go off and other Cylons would begin setting off attacks with their firearms.

    Of course, that wasn't the only thing being done. With this scanning technology the Cylons in the Fleet were all dead. That much was certain. But with the ships nearby to catch their minds and resurrect them, there was no fear in that. Simply the duty to God, the need to kill as many of these apes as possible.

    What surprised Cavil was the speed with which the Gersallian recovered. The Cylons knew of these 'swevyra'se" of course, but they had always been careful never to face them.

    That policy proved wise given what happened next.

    Meridina moved with speed even the Cylons couldn't match. One moment she was barely back to her feet, but the next there was a sharp metal sound in the air and her blade was out and extended. There was a shimmer of blue around the memory metal blade as it swung out and deflected a bullet intended for Roslin's head. Cavil scowled and started pulling the trigger repeatedly, but it was to no avail as the lakesh caught each bullet in mid-flight. Meridina calmly lifted her hand and extended her arm. Cavil felt like he had been hit by a shuttle.

    The other Cylons were starting to react, turning away from the Colonial people they had been shooting with abandon. They faced Meridina with guns drawn. Surely the amount of firepower would keep her from deflecting all of them.

    And she wouldn't have deflected them all, true. But that didn't mean anything, as it turned out. Meridina dashed forward and reached her arm out again. Raw force sent the Cylons flying. She got to the nearest one and with a single cut removed the male Cylon's hands from his wrists. He screamed and fell. The next Cylon compelled Meridina to go for a more permanent solution, a blow to the neck that sliced out the carotid artery.

    Lee struggled to his feet. He looked up in time to see Meridina slice through the ranks of the assembled Cylons with perfect poise. He stared in disbelief at how fast and decisive she was. Every strike fell home. Every Cylon shot was deflected or evaded, as if she knew where they were going to shoot. The only reason we ever held her prisoner was because she let us, he realized

    Billy, defiant of the firing, rushed to Roslin's wheelchair. "Madame President!", he called out, reaching for her. Roslin looked daze as her hand came up, feebly, to reach for him. "Ma'am, we have to get to safety!"

    Billy's shouts drew the attention of one of the remaining Cylons, a blond woman that Lee recognized. Shelly… Godford, he thought, if he remembered the name correctly. She was drawing her weapon into a ready position. Lee could see she was only seconds away from killing Billy, Roslin, or both. There was barely enough time to think when he pulled his weapon and fired. Blood erupted from the Cylon's body where his bullets struck home.

    A moment later Meridina knocked the Cylon over with her abilities. The threat had passed.

    "Captain Adama, do you read? This is Corporal Hansforth, sir."

    Lee pulled out the radio he'd taken. "I'm here."

    "We've got reports of violence and casualties all over the ship, sir."

    "It's the Cylons," Lee said. "They've launched a terrorist attack. The President is wounded but alive."

    "Orders?"

    Lee felt frustration come to his face. "Deploy the Marines. Try to quell the violence without killing any civilians. Just make sure the Cylons aren't killing them either. And make sure the Quorum are protected!"

    "Roger that, Captain."

    There was a grunt of pain. Lee saw the last Cylon go down with Meridina's lakesh over his head. She'd just smacked him with the pommel. There was some blood on her robes, but the sword was surprisingly clean for all the cutting it had just been used for. "Captain Adama." She nodded respectfully. "Do we have any more information?"

    "It's a general attack," Lee said. "The Cylons are going out in one massive strike."

    "Yes. I suppose it makes sense from their perspective." Meridina sighed. She was clearly not as unmoved by the carnage as she had seemed. "But I sense greater things planned than a mere shooting attack."

    There was a choking laugh nearby. Cavil got up on his side. "You can't stop us," he said. "You'll never stop us. Our way is the way of the future."

    Lee and Meridina stepped up to him. "You were a Cylon all along," Lee said, frowning.

    "The worst part was pretending to follow your false gods," Cavil answered. "You have… it's so funny, you have no idea who it is you worship. No idea…"

    Meridina looked at him with curiosity. She no longer sensed deception, not immediate deception. "I am unaware of how their religion has any bearing on this."

    "It has everything to do with it!"," Cavil laughed. "Stupid organic meatbags, that's all you are. "

    Lee's retort was immediate. "That's funny, because from where I stand, it looks like you're just as organic as we are."

    "No," he rasped. "I'm more. I'm so much more…."

    Meridina went to inquire further but stopped. "A distraction," she said.

    "What?", Lee asked.

    "He is distracting us. This entire attack is meant to grab our attention." Meridina knelt beside him. "What are you really planning?"

    Cavil smirked. "Why don't you find out, Mindwalker?"

    Meridina considered that response for a moment. "You want me to read your mind. You…" Her eyes widened.

    With only seconds to spare, she threw herself on Lee and knocked him clear.

    Cavil's finger was already pressing the detonator.

    The explosion would have killed them both if Meridina had not jumped at just the right time. Instead she and Lee rolled on, coming to a stop on the natural grass with burning wreckage and charred chunks of cyber-ized flesh lying around them. "Frak it," Lee mumbled. Pain was shooting through his side.

    Meridina put a hand on him. She felt bruised and worn too. She felt certain there was nothing broken though. After a moment of concentration she said, "You have a cracked rib. My apologies."

    "Better than being blown to pieces, I guess," Lee answered hoarsely.

    Meridina stood and focused. She felt out with her essence, her very life force, for the injury, and did what she could to mend it. Lee stared at her in some amazement at feeling his pain recede. "We are not in circumstances that would have allowed me to heal you more fully,' she explained.

    "Thanks anyway."

    Meridina nodded. She turned her attention away from him for the moment, sensing for what may come, what was going on. Looking for…

    There.

    "We must hurry," she said to Lee.

    "What? What's wrong?"

    "This was all a ruse," Meridina explained. "The real Cylon plan is still progressing. I believe I can find their operative."

    "Well…" Lee reached down and checked his sidearm. He still had several rounds in it. "Lead the way."




    The advancing Cylon combat drones continued to pour fire into Anders' burning resistance encampment. Kara and Anders hid behind a one of the disabled vehicles for cover . "Some rescue," Anders remarked.

    "Frakking Cylons," Kara growled. "They must have sabotaged the Aurora with a virus. Something hidden in that jump drive."

    "It sounds that way," Kane said from his own nearby cover. He poked his head out and let out a spray of fire. They could hear the Cylon he targeted shrieking as it was ripped up by the burst. "I can't raise them on comms!"

    "Suggestions?", Kara asked.

    "Yeah. We hold out until help arrives," Kane replied.




    Koenig plunged into the group of Cylon fighters and heavy raiders approaching Aurora's port side. Her phaser cannons blazed away with pulses of amber light. The Cylon ships, even the heavy ones, burst like eggs as they were hammered in turn by the fury of the attack ship. Behind her a flight of Mongoose fighters peeled away and engaged another of the Cylon boarding ships. Their own pulse weapons peppered it with energy fire. One of the pilots let loose with a missile that finished the raider ship off.

    On Koenig's bridge the ship rattled. "Direct hit from the nearest Cylon vessel," Magda said. "Shields holding at eighty percent."

    "I really didn't want to find out how much those things could possibly hurt us," Zack noted. "Ap, evasive maneuvers where you can."

    "I'm trying, but I can't do much if we want to keep those boarding craft off of Aurora," he answered.

    Dammit guys, what's taking so long. The Cylons couldn't have knocked out your systems that badly… could they?




    On the Aurora there was another harsh shaking as more Cylon weapons impacted on the hull. "Damage report," Robert said.

    With Jarod busy dealing with the virus, Julia had taken over that task. "Damage to Decks 18 through 23, Section G, and Decks 25 and 27 Section L," she said. "Self-repair systems are repairing what they can, but with our systems compromised they're being overloaded."

    "Angel?"

    "Weapons systems aren't responding," she said. "I can't aim my fire, if I just shoot I might hit our side."

    Robert almost asked Jarod for an update, but held himself back. Jarod was clearly locked in intense combat with the Cylon virus in their system.

    Cat's voice spoke up. "Subspace spike!" She looked at him with a smile. "It's the Pegasus!"




    "DRADIS contacts confirm ten enemy base stars," Fisk reported to Adama.

    "Raising shield systems." This was from another officer on the bridge, Lt. Kendra Shaw.

    "Great circumstances for a full combat test of the shields," Adama sarcastically mused to himself. Aloud he gave the necessary orders. "Engage the basestars nearest Aurora. I want our Vipers to keep any enemy boarding craft off of her."

    With Adama's order the Pegasus plunged into a battle that just two weeks before would have looked suicidal. Her railgun mounts opened up with fury on the nearest Basestar while Vipers shot from her launch deck.

    "Don't accept any incoming communication from Aurora," Adama said. "Not until they get that virus under control."

    "Assuming they can," Fisk mumbled.

    Adama grunted. He didn't think that possibility needed mentioning. Besides, the kids over there were smart. Fighting a Cylon virus seemed to be their kind of thing.




    Jarod was ready to grind his teeth with frustration. This… thing was out-thinking him at every turn, circumventing everything he threw at it. It refused to release its iron grip on the Aurora's defensive systems or propulsion. The only progress he could claim to be making was that the virus couldn't start locking out more systems while it took up commandeered processing power fighting him.

    Not again, he thought. "I'm not getting beaten again," he said to himself. "Not by something like this."

    "Jarod?', Julia asked.

    "Not now," he barked back, too intent on his task for decorum or protocol to matter. He took a moment to ponder the foe he was up against. A virus specifically tailored to render ships helpless, to identify any software obstacle to its control and bypass it or, over time, eliminate it. That was the key. How could he deal with this thing? Get it to stop going after the vital systems, to trap it in Aurora's computer systems?

    The ship rocked heavily again, reminding him of their time constraint. "Hull breach on Deck 6," Julia declared. "Emergency forcefields not responding."

    "How many?", Robert asked.

    There was strain in Julia's voice too when she answered, "I can't tell. Not yet. At least five people were in that section."

    Jarod closed his eyes for a moment and thought about this problem, even as he kept feeling the pressure of the situation push him down. Every moment he failed to get the ship running again, members of this crew were dying. How long before this kind of thing killed one of them? The wrong hit and the entire bridge might get taken out. Certainly the Cylons were going to start targeting the bridge soon enough. ''I'm picking up damage to Deck 10, Section C," Julia said. "One of their breaching pods got through. I'm sending Marines and security to contain the Cylon boarding party."

    Jarod got back to work. They were running out of time.




    The Cylons moved with machine precision into the Aurora after breaching the hull. They came across a damage control party and opened fire just as the party reacted to their presence. Two of their targets fell with no life signs remaining; the others fled down the corridor. The Cylons moved ahead, not so much in pursuit but to achieve their objective: access to the ship's control bridge.

    They neared the lift when the counter-attack began. Pulses of particle fire destroyed the lead Cylon utterly, leaving only a pile of half-molten scrap. The Cylons reacted by turning and firing to force their foes back into cover. There was a flare of energy ahead; their rounds were striking a personal forcefield.

    Their fire redoubled. One Cylon activated its anti-personnel grenade launcher and loaded an explosive grenade.

    It never got the chance to fire.

    A series of objects flew ahead and into the Cylons' midst. They had never seen such objects before. Their systems did calculate the likely purpose of the items and they responded appopriately; two of the raiders jumped on them to preserve the rest of the attacking force.

    The resulting explosions blew those raiders apart. It also turned their broken, shattered pieces into projectiles that battered their comrades. The Cylon team began a tactical retreat, obeying the tactical command programming to find another route that was not defended.

    They fell back toward their breaching pod... and into another hail of fire. This time from even heavier weapons.

    The Marine fire was precise and rapid. They were the hammer to ship security's anvil, and the effect of their firepower showed. The Cylons whipped around frantically, returning fire, but their weapons proved insufficient against the protective gear of the Marines. The two last Cylons poured enough fire into one target that they got through his shields and managed several successful hits.

    This proved only a slight retribution for their destruction.




    Meridina followed Lee through Cloud Nine to the engineering decks, past signs warning about authorized personnel being required and the like.

    As they approached the reactor chamber Meridina could feel an increasing sense of pain and anguish. Bewilderment, uncertainty, anger… it was all indications of a traumatized mind.

    When they arrived they found one Colonial sitting against the wall. The young woman was breathing hard and clasping a wounded arm. Blood was pouring from the gunshot wound and onto the ground.

    Banks of tylium-fueled reactors were arrayed across the room. Standing beside one, at a control station, was a blond-haired woman. Meridina and Lee had already seen another like her, with the Cylons at the crowd, making who she was seem obvious.

    But this Cylon was different. She was the source of all the emotions Meridina had been sensing as they approached. Meridina felt deep surprise at what she was sensing. For this woman's feelings to be so strong…

    "Please, do not do this," she said.

    The Cylon woman looked at her. There were tears already streaming down her eyes. "Don't," she ordered, looking at Lee and his drawn gun. She opened her blouse; a belt of explosives was underneath. "I'll blow up," she threatened. "And the reactors will go."

    "Why do you wish to destroy yourself?", Meridina asked. "I do not sense the same conviction in you as in the others."

    "Because I don't have a choice," she said. "Because I'm not going back."

    Meridina stared at this frightened being and wondered what she meant. That left Lee to make the connection. "You're Gina Invieve," he said

    The Cylon seemed to nod a little.

    "Whom is this 'Gina'?", Meridina asked Lee.

    "She was a Cylon infiltrator on the Pegasus," Lee explained. "After the attack, the crew discovered who she was. They…" Lee swallowed. "Admiral Cain was out of control."

    Meridina didn't need further explanation. She had known what the Pegasus crew had done to Cat. With their brutal commander still alive? And the attack on their worlds fresh? Gina's suffering was evident, even if thoughts of it weren't constantly flowing from her mind to confirm all the horrid details. "You will not go back," Meridina pledged. "I will not allow you to be harmed."

    "You can't stop them from hurting me," Gina said. "And you can't stop the Plan."

    "What is it?", Meridina asked. "What is the Plan?"

    "We're not told the full Plan, none can know it. It unfolds piece by piece, as they say God intends."

    Meridina nodded. "Yes. Sharon said much the same thing." Meridina kept a serene expression on her face as she approached Gina. "I feel your fear. I understand how much you suffered. But I will protect you. Just as I acted to save Sharon and her baby."

    Gina seemed more confused by this than disbelieving. "Why? After all that we've done, why?"

    "Because, it is the right thing to do," Meridina answered. "Because you are a wounded soul who needs to be healed. You did not kill the people of the Colonies. Your leaders did."

    "You shouldn't be here," Gina said. "You're not supposed to be out here. The cycle has to end…"

    Meridina kept herself from asking about what Gina was talking about. There would be time to satisfy curiosity later. "Gina, you have suffered too much, yes. Please, let that suffering end here. Do not be the source for more. It must end.."

    "Don't take another step closer," Gina insisted. "Not one more step!"

    Meridina nodded and stopped. She got onto her knees in a meditative position. "Very well. I shall remain here and we can talk peacefully."

    Lee stared in disbelief as Meridina set her weapon to the side and looked back to Gina. "I pose you no threat, Gina Invieve. You are not at any risk by my hands. All I wish to do is talk."




    Anders' base was now almost completely overrun. The handful of surviving fighters who hadn't been beamed up before everything went to hell were joined by their Marine rescuers in the central structure of the facility. Outside gunfire still raged from the Cylon war machines trying to mow them all down. At every possibly interval Kane and his men popped back up out of a window to pour more fire into them.

    But just because they were using energy weapons didn't mean ammunition was unlimited., Several of his people were short now of the energy clips that let them fire their weapons. "Looks like they're preparing for a big push," Kane remarked while checking out side the corner of a window.

    "We can't hold here," Kara noted. "We need to do something."

    Anders smirked. "Well, there was my final 'Frak you!' measure."

    "Oh?" Kane looked at him. "That would be?"

    "We built a bomb," Anders explained. "Big enough to level the whole place. It would be our final farewell if the Cylons ever arrived to wipe us out." He frowned. "I'm not much for dying, but I had always figured that if I were going to, best to take as many of the frakkers with me as I go."

    "Heh." Kane smirked. "Good thinking. Where's the bomb?"

    Anders gestured to a tarp in the middle of the structure.

    "Can you set it now?"

    "Guess we're giving up on the rescue?", Anders asked.

    "Nope." Kane looked back and smiled. "I've got a plan."
     
  23. Threadmarks: 1-11 Ending
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Koenig shook once again. "Shields down to forty percent," Magda warned. "Slight damage on Deck 2 port side."

    The Cylons were clearly more interested in capturing Aurora than destroying her, but they weren't showing the same restraint toward Pegasus or Koenig. Zack watched Pegasus' jury-rigged shields flare blue again as several more Cylon shots slammed into her. "Status on Pegasus?"

    "Their shields are barely above fifty percent," Magda said.

    "Right." Zack eyed the display. "Pick that Cylon on our port side. Take us in close."

    "How close?", Apley asked.

    ""Close enough to skid the paint off if we want," Zack declared. "Sherlily, torpedoes and phasers, please. Keep them coming."

    "What are you doing?", Sherlily asked. "At that range we won't be able to evade."

    "Not them, no," he admitted. "But their buddies…"

    Apley allowed himself a grin. "Of course. They keep shooting at us too, they'll hit their friend."

    "Exactly. Take us in!"

    Koenig raced in toward her target. As she drew close several Cylon shots that missed them slammed into their target instead. Sherlily added to the mayhem with phasers and torpedoes. Explosions plumed from the basestar's hull at the onslaught as Apley kept them weaving around the ship's emplacements, giving Sherlily all of the time she needed to hammer the enemy ship.

    Behind them several of the fighters from the Aurora came soaring in to support their attack. Anti-ship missiles dropped from their hardpoints and slammed into the wounds Koenig was carving into the Cylon ship.

    The coup d'grace was delivered by two Raptors from Pegasus. Apley flew them clear of the basestar just in the nick of time. The nuclear warheads in the Raptors' missiles blasted through the weakened armor of the Cylon ship and set her tylium reactors off. The entire ship blew apart.

    But that was just one basestar, Nine more remained in the fight - nearly eight now, given how badly one was faring against Pegasus's guns - and Aurora was still helpless before them.




    Back on Caprica, Anders was finishing the arming fuse. "Are you sure about this?', he asked Kane.

    "Damned sure!", Kane answered.

    "This is Godsdamned crazy!", Kara laughed.

    "Goddamned crazy is our job, Captain," Kane agreed.

    Anders nodded and set the fuse. "Twenty seconds!"

    "Alright everyone! Now!" Kane motioned to Rashid, who blew the south wall down and immediately opened fire. Ijala came up beside him and sent off a shot with his sniper rifle that blew the head off another Cylon machine. The Alakin sniper jumped to the next bit of cover while the other Marines behind him came up and poured fire into the enemy.

    Nobody stopped for long. There was a cry of pain as rounds found Anders' leg. "Come on!", Kara shouted, and she pulled him up. Kane noted with approval that Lance Corporal Toussiers was quick to give her aid, helping Kara pull the injured Anders along with them.

    The Cylons from the other angles surged toward the house and on to their rear. Which seemed bad, especially as they had yet to get clear. But that was, in truth, exactly what Kane had been counting on.

    At the twenty second mark, the blast deafened them all and sent them flying. Kane scrambled back to his feet despite the disorientation of being thrown down. An inferno raged behind them, complete with bits and pieces of Cylons scattered about. "Ha! Semper Fi, you toaster bastards!"

    The rest of Kane's Marines got up just as the remaining Cylons ahead of them recovered from the blast. Particle fire ripped through them and finished opening the way to safety for the assembled survivors of Anders' resistance.

    "Mission accomplished," Kane declared.

    Now all they had to do was wait for Aurora to get them out.




    The reactor chamber's silence was thick with tension. Lee felt sweat on his brow as he waited for something, anything, to happen. Even if it was the Cylon setting off her explosive and starting a chain reaction that could destroy the ship.

    The quiet tension was getting to Gina as well. "I'll kill us all," Gina insisted. "You'll die too. You'll die."

    "I am ready to die," Meridina answered. "I knew the moment I took up my lakesh that the Code might require my life. I chose to take up the burden anyway because some things have to be done. Evil must be confronted. What was done to you, Gina Invieve, was a terrible evil. Regardless of what your people did to the Colonials, evil cannot atone for evil. Would that I had been there, I would have raised my lakesh in your defense."

    "Commander…" Lee began. He was hoping she would do something more than talk; the lives of everyone on Cloud Nine were at stake.

    "Captain Adama, please. It must be done this way," Meridina urged.

    Lee swallowed and nodded. He hated not doing anything about this situation, but he could see that the wrong move from him would cause Gina to set off the bomb and destroy the ship.

    "I can sense it in you, Gina Invieve," Meridina said. "A desire to do good. To end the suffering, this cycle of hatred between the Humans here and the Cylons. But bloodshed can never end hatred. It only feeds the darkness with the fear and anger and hate that it creates. Don't give in, Gina. Please, do not give into that darkness. Choose life. For yourself and for others. There is hope for you and your kind."

    Gina met Meridina's eyes for several crucial seconds. Meridina felt all of the emotions roiling up within the heart and being of Gina Invieve. Including some surprising feelings of guilt, of treachery.

    She loved Cain, Meridina realized. Despite what she was doing, she fell in love. The trauma of what Cain had allowed to be done to her had no doubt made the betrayal all the worse for her, not just Cain's betrayal of what they had, but her own betrayal.

    Was she wrong to have not acted by now? There were a few ways Meridina could disable Gina, could stop her, but most were likely to be fatal. And every moment she waited, it made it less likely she would stop the Cylon woman in time.

    Was she hesitating? Hesitation was not something a swevyra'se was supposed to do; it weakened the use of one's swevyra.

    But she couldn't just kill Gina. She was a victim too. A victim of leaders who had caused this horrible genocide, who had put her into that position, and exploited her loyalty.

    "Have hope for the future," Meridina pleaded to her. "Follow the Light. Step away from Darkness. I implore you, see that there is worth in these people and in yourself. Breaking the cycle can begin with you. With one decision."

    Gina took in several more breaths. She looked to the reactors and then back to Meridina and onward to her suicide vest.

    And then Gina let out a cry of frustration and pain.

    Her hand went to the belt and pulled at it. It came loose. She threw it to the floor and collapsed to her knees, weeping.

    Meridina did not move quickly. She stood only long enough to move beside Gina Invieve, whom she put her arms around. "Thank you," Meridina said.

    "Don't let them take me," Gina pleaded. "Not again."

    "Never again," Meridina promised. "I will make sure of that." As she said this she looked back at Lee with a stern expression. It made clear she would brook no dissension on this and that was good enough for him.

    "I'll go and check on how the others are doing," Lee offered.

    "Thank you, Captain. I will take Ms. Invieve somewhere private." Meridina watched him go before returning her attention to the weeping woman in her arms. "It will be fine," she assured her. "You have made the right choice. And your future will reflect that choice."




    On Aurora, the ship remained mostly immobile and completely defenseless against the Cylons. Fire was pouring into their hull now, even as the auto-repair systems struggled to restore it. "I think they've given up on boarding us," Robert observed as they continued to shake. "Jarod?"

    Jarod said nothing. He was too busy. With one hand he was still writing circumvention programs, trying new and more complex algorithms to override the virus' remote shutdowns of the vital systems. This proved futile; the virus adapted to each one in turn and re-asserted control over those systems. Shields, weapon aiming, helm control…

    But this was now just a distraction. Jarod's real focus was what he was doing with the other hand. It was the kind of multi-tasking only he could hope to pull off.

    Julia noticed something was up. "Jarod? Why are you isolating the tertiary auxiliary computer core?"

    "You'll see. I'm transferring ship functions over to it now. With it isolated we'll get most of our control back and the virus won't be able to touch it." He finished his final touches on that and loaded the final programs from backup memory. A near-perfect clone of the shield and weapon control systems was now installing in the aforementioned auxiliary core. It was almost surprising how full the core was. Jarod imagined the core was storing backup data as it was, but it clearly held more data than he'd thought it did.

    "I'm getting helm control back," Locarno said. And indeed in the following moments the other functionality was due to restore itself as well.

    But the virus had other plans. Detecting the transfer of control, the virus reacted by beginning to transfer itself into the core with the other programs, keeping a slender thread of command open through the connection to keep its lock-down on the main core and systems.

    "We've lost helm control again," Locarno reported, sounding irritated.

    "Jarod…"

    Jarod didn't reply to Julia. He was too busy. He had to make sure. He used his own connection into the auxiliary core to run purging programs and force the virus to rewrite its adaptations on the fly. It had to transfer its functions completely into the auxiliary core to resist the extra computing power.

    All of its processes.

    At confirming that, Jarod smiled. "I've got you," he muttered.

    The virus had understandably locked down the connection to the auxiliary core to keep him from cutting it. He had fully anticipated that.

    But what the virus didn't know, could not know, was how the cores were designed. How Jarod and Farmer and Barnes had set them up for just such cases. What he and Barnes had later done with the lessons learned from the Dalek invasion of the Facility.

    Jarod reached to one corner of his panel and pressed a button. The button controlled a circuit, a manual one isolated from the software operation of many ship systems.

    With the press of that button, the physical connection of the auxiliary core to the others was cut completely. And with that, the virus was now trapped. Helpless inside the auxiliary core.

    Jarod laughed with triumph. "I've got you. Now…" With the virus cut off, it could no longer reimpose remote lockdown on the ship systems it had secured. Jarod swiftly deployed a new set of override commands that eliminated the lockdowns and restored central system control. He tapped a key. "Engineering, this is Jarod. You've got reactor control back."

    "Aye. Restoring full power… now."

    The emergency lights were replaced by the main lights of the bridge. "I've got helm control!", Locarno declared, smiling.

    "Aiming control for weapons is back online," Angel said. "I'm raising shields!"

    Just as she said that another series of nuclear-tipped missiles came in from the Cylon ships. Before these weapons had destroyed the armored hull they'd impacted, blasting away debris and threatening to irradiate people within the ship. Now they crashed almost harmlessly into the raised deflector shields of the Aurora.

    Robert felt a rush of excitement. "Well done, Jarod," he said, unable to keep from smiling. "Lieutenant Delgado, please let those Cylons have it."

    "With pleasure," Angela purred. A feral grin was already crossing her face; she had felt her own frustrations at their evident helplessness, and now she could give vent to them.

    Aurora's main battery opened up a second later, directed at the nearest Cylon ship on her bow. Bursts of sapphire energy slammed into the unshielded Basestar and nearly blew it in half. A follow up barrage of phaser fire from the bow-facing strips completed the job. The Cylon ship was torn apart in an explosion.

    Aurora surged forward, her shields at full and her weapons blazing. Her forward cannons again found a victim to rip into while on both port and starboard sides her phasers were blazing away. Solar torpedoes erupted from her launchers and wrecked another Cylon basestar scourged by the barrage of phaser fire. Robert watched with satisfaction as Aurora set into her tormentors like a bear freed from its cage.

    "Shields still holding at ninety percent," Jarod remarked upon a series of impacts. "They're throwing everything they have at us and they can't make a dent."

    Robert nodded. "Maintain firing until they withdraw, Angel."

    "You're assuming I let them withdraw," Angel said.

    Robert exchanged grins with Julia while Angel and Nick continued to assault the Cylons. But as he observed this sight, a prickly feeling came to Robert. A sense almost of deja vu. I've… seen this before, haven't it?", he asked himself.

    He closed his eyes and focused. Yes. Yes, he had seen this before. He'd seen Aurora tearing into ships like this. In his dreams.

    Suddenly he found he could barely keep up the smile. One of my dreams… it came true, he pondered. He thought back to things Meridina had said, about sensing the future, and felt dread build up.

    This might be a victory, but not all of his dreams were so appealing. Visions of Nazi warships setting New Liberty ablaze, of Nazis murdering his cousin Beth and countless other colonists he knew on that world, came to him. A new sense of horror filled Robert that even the victory here could not get rid of.

    There was a flash of light. "That last Cylon ship just made a jump," Caterina said,. "There's no way for me to track where they went."

    "Let them run," Robert said. "We've had enough fighting for today." He nodded to Jarod, who re-established the communication line to the other ships. "Aurora to Pegasus. Thanks for the assistance, Admiral."

    "It appears your crew had things well in hand," Adama noted. "Did you manage to purge the Cylon virus?"

    Robert looked to Jarod. "I've contained it in an auxiliary computer core for the moment," Jarod answered, knowing Adama could hear him. "Although I'm also going to spend a few days fixing up our main computer systems. They're a mess of override programs and access workarounds right now."

    "Can you jump?"

    "Before we do, I think Scotty and I need to take a look over those jump engines," Jarod replied. "Just in case there are any more surprises."

    "Understood. We'll finish the evacuation of Caprica in the meantime. Adama out."

    Jarod stood up. "Sir?"

    "Go ahead, Jarod," Robert said. "Go help Scotty make sure this thing isn't going to screw us over again." He forced himself to smile again, for Jarod's sake. "And Jarod? That was magnificent. You did good."

    Jarod nodded. "Thanks… Robert." He gave a nod and smile of his own and headed to the turbolift doors while an Ensign at the secondary tactical station shifted over to assume Ops for the time being.

    Once in the turbolift, Jarod drew in a breath and sighed. That had been so close. Far too close.

    But he'd done it. He'd won, and saved all of their lives in the process. He'd outsmarted that damn Cylon thing.

    Their technology in starships might have some inferiority to ours, but their computer programming is impossibly good, Jarod pondered to himself. That wasn't just a virus, that was an AI. But there would be time to consider that more thoroughly later. They had to check that jump drive over thoroughly, and quickly, so they could get back to the Refugee fleet and be assured the virus didn't have a copy waiting to surprise them.




    Kane, Kara, and the others ended up being beamed up to Pegasus, where the medical staff quickly helped deal with the injuries among Anders and his people. Kane and Kara reported to the CIC to report their success. Kane saluted Adama smartly. "Admiral, our operation was a complete success."

    "So I've heard." Adama turned and faced them. "And the Aurora is clear of any further Cylon virus issues."

    "What happened over there?", Kara asked.

    "Apparently that Cylon drive we cobbled together had a hidden data module in its machinery," Adama said. "Once the Cylons knew the Aurora was in orbit they sent a remote activation code to the module to deploy its virus."

    "So everything should be good now?", Kane asked.

    "I'm told Mister Jarod and Mister Scott have already purged the data module of any copies of the virus," Adama said. "They should be ready for jump shortly. Captain Kane, I'll have you returned to your ship with your Marines immediately."

    "Of course, sir."

    Once Kane was gone Adama and Kara exchanged looks. "Well." Adama's voice was sounding growlier than he seemed to actually be. "Looks like your rescue mission was a bit more exciting than you'd intended, Captain Thrace," he remarked.

    "Indeed, sir." Kara nodded. And she smiled too. "But we got what we came for."

    "That we did," Adama agreed. He looked back to the DRADIS screen. "Hard to believe how things have changed so much already now that we've met these Alliance people. I just took Pegasus up against 10 to 1 odds and won. We were holding our own even before the Aurora came back online."

    "They're great people, sir," Kara agreed. "Thanks to them, we just rescued thousands of our own from whatever the Cylons had in mind for them."

    "A shame that they'll be going home soon," Adama said. "I wouldn't mind having them accompany the fleet on our way to their space."

    "You could always ask them about the idea, sir?", Kara pointed out.

    "I already intend to. In the meantime, why don't you go get some rest? Check up on your friends from that resistance force." He looked back to her. "You're dismissed, Captain."

    "Before I go, sir?" Kara remained standing there. "That Cylon. He's a priest back on the Fleet. Brother Cavil."

    "So I heard," Adama answered. "I'll inform Roslin as soon as I can."

    At that Kara nodded and walked off, leaving Adama to his thoughts.




    Roslin listened patiently as Lee finished his explanation of what had happened and what was going on. "Only thirty dead," she breathed. "Thank the Gods. I hate to say that, but given what they might have done…"

    "We'd all be dead if not for Meridina," Lee answered.

    "So you've said." Roslin put a hand on her chin. "And the Cylon she stopped in the reactor deck?"

    "They're in a private suite I arranged. Under armed guard," Lee answered. "We'll see what happens when the expedition gets back."

    "Yes." Roslin accepted water from Billy to quench the slight thirst in her throat. A bandage from the medics on Cloud Nine was handling the bruise on her arm from where Meridina had knocked her over to save her life. "At least they came through alright. I was worried that I was letting the Admiral and Captain Dale take too much of a risk..."

    "It was a necessary one."

    That prompted a nod. "I agree." Roslin took another sip and returned the cup to Billy. "Well… I suppose that's enough said. Now, we should probably talk about the housing issue…"




    Ship's Log: 13 June 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. The Rescue Fleet has made its rendezvous with the Refugee Task Force unit as scheduled. It is my pleasure to announce that altogether we rescued over eight thousand people from the remaining twelve colonies. It was, perhaps, not as much as was hoped for. But for those eight thousand people, and for the Fleet as a whole, it's still a great boost to morale.

    The Cylon virus' ability to attack our systems has been a puzzling development. How did they get such a capability to adapt their virus so quickly to our Darglan-based computer technology? This is a mystery I will leave it to Commander Jarod and Lieutenant Delgado to solve whenever they can.

    On a final note, Commander Meridina returned to the ship with a story of her own to tell and, unexpectedly, another Cylon refugee seeking asylum in the Alliance.

    Robert and Meridina stood in the medbay watching Leo and Nasri give an examination to Gina Invieve.

    "She has suffered terribly," Meridina remarked. "It would appear Caterina and Lucy were most fortunate in their own dealings with the Pegasus crew."

    Robert sighed and shook his head. "It makes me think. About..."

    "About what?"

    "The human condition," Robert answered. "We can do such great things and turn around and be utterly despicable."

    "Such is the way with all sentient life," Meridina replied. "All are open to the allure of darkness, just as all are capable of following the course of Light." A worried look came to her face. "Robert, I sense great anxiety in you. I do not think you should feel that way about this mission, it was quite the success."

    "It's not the mission, it's…" Robert swallowed and sighed. "After we got the systems back and Angel went to town on the Cylons, I realized that… I was feeling deja vu. That I had seen this happening already, seen our ship rip through the Cylons' forces."

    Meridina appraised him carefully. "Truly?"

    "Yes I saw it in one of those dreams I told you about." He looked into her eyes. "Does this mean my dreams are going to come true? That I can actually…"

    "It simply means this particular one was the path the future was on," Meridina assured him. "Do not let it worry you, Captain."

    Robert nodded. He wasn't entirely convinced of that, but he knew he should let it rest.

    Besides, sometimes things more ominous and frustrating and annoying than visions of the future were at hand.

    Things like paperwork.




    Lucy was the last to arrive in the tertiary auxiliary computer core chamber. Contained on Decks 15 and 16, the two deck-high chamber held the centralized core structure that contained the hardware of memory and processors for the tertiary core, providing the ship with emergency extra processing power and memory in the event of an emergency.

    Jarod and Cat were already present at the controls for the core. Nearby was a blackened spot that separated two sections of wiring. This would have been where the emergency physical isolation circuit had been placed, made to burn out the wiring completely and cut the physical connection of the auxiliary core to the main computers. That was how Jarod had saved the ship.

    "You're just in time," Cat said to her. She looked up from where she was sitting by Jarod. "We're just about to examine the core."

    "Examine… oh." Lucy nodded. "You're going to examine the virus in its isolated state before you wipe the core."

    "That's the plan," Jarod said. "With a sample of the virus we'll be able to understand more about how the Cylons'' coding could attack our systems."

    "Sounds like a worthwhile cause," Lucy agreed. She pulled up a chair. "I'll monitor the core from here and make sure the virus doesn't try anything nasty."

    "That works. Okay… initiating search now… It might take a few minutes, there's a lot of corrupted data from my bait."

    "I've got the time," Lucy answered.

    "Really?" Cat blinked. "Because between your actual shifts and all that weird mystic stuff Meridina's having you do, I didn't think you had a lot of time for yourself."

    "I get enough," Lucy answered.

    "Oh. Well, that's good. I guess." Cat looked back to her screen. She gave a puzzled look at it. "Jarod, are you seeing this?"

    "That depends," Jarod began. "What is it?"

    "I… I'm not finding any trace of the virus in the core," she answered. "Or anything from your bait either. It's like someone wiped the whole core."

    Jarod brought up his own screen. "Huh," he said. "You're right. The virus' coding has been deleted. It's just a bunch of inert data in the system now."

    "So you're saying something made the virus inert?", Lucky asked.

    "Yeah. I mean, the basic coding is still there. But all of the executable elements have been removed. Like someone ran a program specifically to shred the command elements of the virus."

    "What… how could it do that? We didn't have any protective software in our auxiliary core, did we?" Cat asked.

    Jarod shook his head. "Nothing in here but some backup data for the main systems."

    "Maybe the Cylons' viruses are programmed to go inert after a while?" Lucy said. "So nobody can recover them and examine them?"

    "No," Jarod answered. "This isn't right for that. Too much of the code is intact. I could use this, right now, to write sniffer programs and security gates to specifically thwart this virus. Whatever this is, it isn't to protect the virus from being examined and countered."

    "Damned peculiar then," Lucy agreed.

    "Well, the important thing is that the computer systems are okay," Cat said. "We'll get the connection re-established soon and everything will be back to normal." She gave Jarod a look and a smile. It was one he returned with sunny enthusiasm.

    "Well, you're a bit sunnier than you've been lately," Lucy commented. "Something new?"

    "You could say that," Jarod answered. "Everything is fine now." Jarod started tapping keys. "Let's go ahead and set up a firewall around this virus, we can transfer it to an isolated system for for further study."

    "I'm on it."

    "Same here."




    Sharon and Helo had spent the crisis helping where they could. This had primarily meant seeing to the refugees transported up from the Colonies. Now that those people had been moved over to the Colonial Refugee Fleet, they had the stateroom Commander Andreys assigned to them to themselves.

    Helo was busy looking out of the stateroom's window toward the fleet. Galactica loomed closely in the view. "I feel a little odd,' he admitted. "It seems like I had just gotten back. And now I'm leaving again. Probably for good."

    Sharon stepped up beside him and took his hand. Her other hand settled on her belly. "I understand," she admitted.

    "Same for you, right." It wasn't a question. They were both well aware that they had become exiles. "What do you think about that New Liberty Colony that Commander Andreys and Doctor Gillam talked about?"

    Sharon smiled gently. "I think it's a great place to find a fresh start. But there are plenty of worlds. I don't think we're in a hurry."

    "No. We're not," Helo agreed. He turned and faced her. "I'm just happy that after everything's that happened, you're finally free. And we're together."

    "Sometimes I wonder if it's just a dream." Sharon smiled back at him. "If so, I never want to wake up."

    They didn't say anything after that. They shared a kiss instead.

    Just after the kiss ended there was a tone at their door. "Come in," Sharon called out.

    The door swished open and Commander Meridina stepped in. "Helo, Sharon." She bowed her head and received a similar gesture in return. "I don't wish to intrude, but would you mind giving me assistance with something?"

    "Anything," Sharon answered.

    Meridina stepped to one side. The two watched as a Gina Invieve stepped in, head bowed. "She is in need of help," Meridina said. "Someone willing to show understanding. I thought you two might wish to provide it."

    Helo and Sharon exchanged looks. Those looks turned into nods. "Yes," Helo said. "Of course."

    Meridina smiled and nodded. "Thank you." She turned and looked at Gina. "Whatever your life was before, whatever you did or what was done to you, that is over. Here you are among friends. People who will care about you as a person."

    Gina nodded. "I'm grateful," she said. "I just want to put the past behind me."

    "Yes. It is best for your heart and soul. My apologies,but I have some final duties to attend to."

    With that spoken, Meridina left the traumatized Cylon woman to the care of her peer and Helo. Meridina suspected there were none better-suited to helping the poor woman.




    Zack had just finished securing the Koenig when he got the call to Robert's ready room. He made his way via the turbolifts to the bridge. Julia stood up from the command chair. "Thanks for watching our back out there, Zack," she said.

    He allowed himself a smile and nodded. "You're welcome, Julia." He swallowed. "Despite… everything, how I feel, how you feel…. you only ever have to ask and I'll help any of you in any way I can. I won't let… my issues come between me and my friends."

    "I know." Julia thought on it and decided she could risk a friendly hug. Zack accepted it in the spirit given. "Somewhere out there is someone for you, Zack," Julia assured him. "It might not be me. But she's out there."

    "Maybe," he murmured back. "But for right now, I just want to get on with my life."

    They parted ways. Zack nodded to Barnes, who had an apprehensive look on his face. Zack understood how upset his friend had to be. He might be Robert's best friend for the most part, but but he was definitely Barnes' best friend, full stop. And now he was leaving him behind.

    Sorry, Tom. It's something I have to do..

    Zack stepped into Robert's office. Robert was consulting the holo-display image of Admiral Maran over subspace. Telltale crackles told of how the signal was not quite real-time, taking several seconds to pass via subspace between Aurora and the IU transceivers that connected them to Portland.

    But what Zack hadn't expected was to see Adama present as well, standing to the side.

    "Ah, Commander Carrey." Maran nodded. "Good to see you. You came just at the right time."

    That made Zack curious. "Sir?"

    "Captain Dale informed me of your transfer request," Maran said. "I believe you are looking for some time to operate independently?"

    "I am, sir."

    "Well, as I told you and your friends some time ago, these sorts of things can become permanent. And no assignment is truly independent." Maran folded his hands. "However, I believe I have an assignment that fits your desires without leaving you prospects of being shut off from a return to Aurora in the future."

    "Sir?" Zack asked.

    "Commander Carrey." Adama was speaking now. "I've requested that the Alliance provide the Fleet with assistance for our journey toward Alliance space. I would have preferred it being the Aurora, but I'm told they're needed elsewhere."

    Robert nodded to second that.

    Zack put two and two together. "You want me. Me and my crew."

    Adama nodded as well. "Correct. I'd like Koenig to join us as a scout for the Fleet. And a little extra firepower wouldn't hurt just in case the Cylons start pursuing us again."

    Zack looked to Maran. "So you're assigning me to join the Colonial Fleet?"

    "For the time being, yes," Maran answered. "Until they reach Alliance space."

    Zack looked to Robert, who grinned slightly. Zack returned it. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, my crew and I would love to do that. But how are we going to work out the FTL drive issues?"

    "I've got an engineering team working with Aurora's machinery shops to build a jump drive big enough for the Koenig," Adama answered. "They tell me they're already in the process of assembling it."

    "And you won't even need to spend hours changing systems around," Robert added. "Maybe half an hour to swap drive systems, at most."

    Zack nodded. "Well… that's just… that's awesome, yeah." Zack nodded to Maran. "Thank you, Admiral. This is the sort of assignment I was looking for.'

    "I expected as much, Commander."

    Zack looked to Adama, who quietly extended his hand. Zack took it immediately. "It'll be a pleasure to work for you, Admiral Adama," he said.

    "Likewise," Adama agreed.




    The debriefing was held on Aurora. Roslin and her aide had brought the entire Quorum this time, with Lee accompanying them from Cloud Nine while Adama, Thrace, and Fisk arrived from Pegasus. This time Roslin had insisted on waiving the ceremony and Robert had (gratefully) agreed.

    The debriefing went smoothly. More than smoothly. The rescue fleet had accomplished all that it could have reasonably hoped to. The further destruction of nine Cylon Basestars, combined with the casualties inflicted earlier in the week, would make the Cylons take a pause in threatening the Fleet any further. The eight thousand survivors were being distributed among the fleet. Space would be a bit tighter now, but it wouldn't be a problem for the ships, especially with the one gained at Picon.

    "You've all done so well," Roslin said to the assembled officers of the various ships. "Eight thousand of our people rescued from Cylon hands. And these new technological gifts to help us feed and sustain ourselves for the remaining flight to your space. I couldn't ask for better allies.":

    Robert responded quickly. "We're honored to have aided you, ma'am."

    "On behalf of the Colonies, I thank you for your bravery and service." Roslin's expression turned somber. "And our condolences go out to those of your crew who perished in this operation. They will be remembered as heroes of the Colonies."

    Robert rose. "Thank you, Madame President, for your kind words and the sentiments toward our fallen crewmates. My crew and I are proud to have helped rescue so many of your people. Just as we're proud to have established positive relations with your people, as we were sent out to do." Robert allowed himself a smile. "I'd also like to state that Admiral Maran has confirmed that a convoy of ships is being prepared to meet with the fleet and escort it into Alliance space, if that is your desire."

    "It is," Roslin said. She looked to the others, who nodded. "The Quorum has agreed to a motion made by myself and Representative Zarek. We will seek sanctuary in the territory of the United Alliance of Systems. We're still determining which of your offered worlds we will accept. Honestly I suspect that this decision will not be settled until our forthcoming elections. But we will be on our way."

    "I'm glad to hear it. I think that the Colonies will be at home in the Alliance. Our societies have much to offer to each other."

    "Will the Aurora be accompanying us into your space?" Baltar asked.

    Robert shook his head. "I'm afraid that we have been called back. There is still some battle damage the Aurora will require yard work to fix and my government believes we're needed elsewhere." Realizing how that might sound, Robert added, "Instead, we are leaving Commander Carrey and the Koenig to join the fleet." Robert looked to Zack, who nodded and grinned. "Commander Carrey has been looking forward to independent operations for himself and his crew. Working with your fleet as a scout was something Admiral Adama and I felt was a perfect fit."

    "I'm looking forward to working with the Colonial Fleet on its way to Alliance space," Zack added. "My crew and I will be glad to help your people in any way required."

    "I think the crew of the Faru Sadin is well aware of that commitment," Roslin answered, smiling. "You and your crew will be welcome with the Fleet, Commander, as if you were our own."

    "You will be our own," Adama added. "As far as I am concerned, Koenig and her crew are a part of the Fleet and will be given the same treatment I would give to any of my other subordinates."

    "I'm honored, Madame President, Admiral."

    After Zack sat down Robert said, "It may be some time before we see you again. But I'd like to express my best wishes for the rest of your journey. I look forward to hearing about your arrival at your new home, whichever world you choose."

    There were a number of nods of agreement at that.




    When Baltar got back to his lab, he took a seat and breathed a sigh of relief. "They're not staying," he said. "She is not staying."

    His Head Cylon appeared beside him, slinky red dress and all. "Yes," she purred. "That is good."

    "You never told me why you wanted Commander Meridina dead," Baltar said.

    "Because, Gaius… she is the Enemy." His Head Cylon appraised him like she was wont to do sometimes, when it seemed like she wasn't sure if she wanted to punish him or not. "But I understand your reasons for letting her live."

    "It wasn't my choice!" Baltar protested. "There was not a single thing I could do to justify harming her after D'anna Biers tried to kill her."

    "Our chance will come. One day." The Cylon spirit thing, whatever it was, smiled at him. "Now. The election."

    "Yes." Baltar felt spite well up within him. Roslin's letter to him, her presumed final words after her death and his succession, had been a slap in the face. A preachy, sanctimonious prattling by a jumped up schoolteacher. And he wasn't going to take that lying down. "I'm running," he said.

    "Against Roslin."

    "Yes, against her." As he said that he knew it would be hard. Roslin's popularity was going to soar over these past events. A bitter irony given how close she had come to spurning their new allies, just to get the credit for making them allies. "I'm going to put Roslin in her place. I'm going to become President of the Colonies."

    "Good. God is with you on this, Gaius." The Cylon leaned in close to him. Baltar could swear he could feel her breath on his neck in a sensual, arousing way. "All is going according to God's Plan..."




    Across a space of thousands of light years, a number of figures gathered around a central location. Eleven in all.

    Chief among them, the First began speaking. "Things will still progress according to the Plan," he assured his brethren.

    The Third looked at him with narrowed eyes. "I am not so sure. We did not anticipate contact happening so quickly."

    "We were supposed to keep any Colonials who fled from approaching the others," the Seventh added. "This failure may cost us everything."

    "Do not be alarmed, my brethren," the First insisted. "Again, this changes nothing. A handful of remnant Humans will not change the fate of our enemies. Their doom will come in due time."

    "And the Alliance?", the Eighth said. "They will interfere."

    "They will have other concerns. As we have known. As we have foreseen."

    "You underestimate them," the Second said. "Just as you underestimated the Gersallians before. The Enemy's order of knights are powerful. We must avoid conflict with them."

    The First snarled at him. The failure of the plot to turn the aliens against each other did rankle, yes. What should have been a savage religious war was defused by those same damnable meddlers. "Thanks to the action of our Third and Fourth, we now have our own weapon to turn on the Enemy should they interfere further," he said. He looked off into the shadows. "Come."

    A lone figure joined them. Hands of light bronze reached up and pulled down the hood of her robes. The face they all saw was that of a young Human woman. Her dark hair was naturally curled toward the ends. Her eyes were blue in color.

    "Greetings to the Twelfth of our kind," Cavil said "Please, demonstrate the talents."

    The Twelfth nodded. "By your command." She turned to the others and reached out to the Seventh. He started to gasp for air. The rest watched in stunned silence as the Seventh fell to his knees, choking and clawing at the air between him and the Twelfth. She showed no immediate emotion but her satisfaction was evident.

    And everyone noticed how her blue eyes turned into an unnatural gold.

    The First waited until the Seventh was facing severe damage before he announced, "Enough."

    At the First's command the Twelfth pulled her hand back. The Seventh sucked in air greedily.

    "We can now face the Enemy on even terms," the First said. "Twelve will provide us with the finest of our infiltrators. Once the proper training is completed, of course."

    The others nodded in agreement. They had been suitable cowed by the newest demonstration of the First's power.

    "Let the Humans run," the First continued. "Let them scurry into the arms of the Alliance. Their fate is still sealed. God has spoken. The Plan will succeed. The Enemy will be destroyed."

    "God has spoken. The Plan will succeed. The Enemy will be destroyed."

    The twelve continued the chant until the meeting broke up. The First looked to the Twelfth. "I am pleased," he said. "You have done well."

    The Twelfth nodded in gratitude for his thanks and departed as well. The First was left to consider their plans.

    Soon. Soon they would find the Gift. They would have the power to destroy the Humans, to destroy the Enemy, and to rule as they were meant to.

    God's will would be done.




    Zack was the last of his crew to get their things off the Aurora. Not from any desire not to leave, simply because he had arrangements to make with the rest of his stuff.

    Which was why Robert was in the room with him helping him pack up the last few pieces. "Beth's got a storage locker lined up and ready," he said to Zack. He held up a picture of Zack with family members when he was younger. "A shame Koenig doesn't have room for all of this."

    "Well, you know, she's not built for it," Zack pointed out.

    "Yeah." Robert shook his head. "Zack, I'm sorry."

    Zack finished putting his baseball mitt into his duffel bag. He turned and gave Robert a confused look. "What?"

    "I'm sorry that I haven't been able to help you deal with… things," Robert continued. "I'm sorry that I let things get so… distant when it came to us. So distant you feel like you need to leave."

    Zack sighed and shook his head. "It's not like that, Rob. I… honestly it's not too much distance that became the problem. It was the lack of it." Zack set the duffel bag down on the table. "Listen, things got heated over that LA33 disaster. Yeah. You've made mistakes and I've made mistakes. I just did whatever I had to, you know?"

    "All we can do sometimes," Robert pointed out.

    "Exactly. But when the day's over, Rob, you're still my best friend." Zack chuckled. "Hell, we've been friends since we were what, five years old?"

    "A couple months after I turned five," Robert answered.

    "Yeah. I mean, the only person your age who has known you longer is Julia," Zack pointed out. "I'm not going to give up on twenty years of friendship, man. I just got frustrated, that's all."

    "Yeah." Robert tried to think of what to say. A part of him wanted to talk Zack into not going through with this. Into letting him find someone else. No matter how late it was.

    But he couldn't. He knew Zack felt this separation necessary. Whatever risks it posed. And since Robert had been the one to get him pulled into this life, who was he to deny Zack the room to fully grow into it?

    Maybe serving with Adama will be good for him. Adama's got the experience to help him deal with things.

    Zack remained silent for the moment. "So." He checked his multi-device. "It's about time, I guess.

    "Yeah." Robert sighed. "It is. I'll walk you to Koenig."

    They remained quiet on the walk there. When they got to the corridor leading to the airlock, they were no longer alone. The rest of the Aurora crew turned out. Leo came up to Zack first and gave him a supportive pat on the shoulder. "Good luck, Zack," he said. "Keep in touch."

    "I will, Leo."

    From Angel it was a handshake. "Take care of yourself out there, Zack.," she said.

    "I'll do my best," he promised.

    "Good. Because if something happens you, Cat will cry." Angel gave him a mock glare. "And I'll have to hurt you then."

    "See, you do love me… for given values of love." Zack chuckled and moved onto Caterina who, enthusiastically, put her arms around him in a hug. "Woh. Hey… Cat? Have you been eating a lot of protein? I think you're going to crack ribs soon."

    "I'm going to miss you," Cat said. "I wish you weren't going."

    "Aw, Cat, don't worry. I'll be back before you know it," Zack said. "Now… about those ribs…"

    Cat let go of him. Scott gave him a smile and a handshake. "Good luck, lad. I'll look forward tae hearin' any stories ye've got when ye're back home where ye belong."

    "Thanks, Scotty. Take care of things while I'm gone, alright?

    "As if ye have to ask, lad."

    Jarod gave him a handshake. Nicholas Locarno did as well, wishing him luck. While accepting a hug from Lucy Zack realized someone was missing.

    Julia stepped up and gave him a hug. "You okay?", she asked.

    "Where's Tom?", Zack inquired, seeing a distinct lack of Barnes in the group. "I know he's upset, but…"

    "A moment." Julia considered him and gave him another hug. "Be careful out there, Zack. We're going to miss you."

    "I'll miss you too," he answered, patting her on the back as briefly as he could.

    When the hug ended attention turned to the end of the hall. Barnes was standing there in his uniform, with tool belt on, and a duffel bag on his shoulder too.

    "Tom?", Cat asked, confused.

    "I'm going," Barnes said.

    Zack looked at him. "What?"

    "I said I'm going with you," Barnes repeated. "Karen's going to have her hands full overseeing the modifications to the Colonial ships and stuff. You're going to need an extra set of hands in engineering. And I know Koenig just as well as she does."

    "The paperwork's already signed," Julia said. "The temporary assignment has been logged."

    Zack looked back to Tom and sighed. But he couldn't keep the grin off his face. He gave Barnes an affectionate, friendly smack on the shoulder. "Coming along, eh? Mister Scott, are you sure you'll be fine without Tom to keep things in order?"

    "I'm sure I can manage," Scott answered, grinning knowingly. "Best if you bring your friend along. I cannae have th' lad frettin' about ye bein' gone th' entire time, now can I?"

    As Caterina gave Barnes a hug, everyone had a moment to reflect on just what this meant. Barnes was going to stay with the Fleet, with the people who had shot him just over a week ago, simply because he wanted his friend to have a buddy along.

    Zack understood that too. He had to concentrate to keep any tears from forming

    "I hope I am not too late." Meridina stepped up and grinned at them. "I wanted to see you both off as well."

    "Not too late at all," Zack said. He offered her a hand. She took it and gave Zack the handshake. "Please, keep them safe."

    "I will. I promise you." Meridina and Barnes shook hands. Afterward she stepped back and nodded her head in a goodbye gesture. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Zachary Carrey, Thomas Barnes."

    Zack returned the nod. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina."

    Meridina's eyebrows went up. "You've learned the proper pronunciation." She looked to Lucy with some humor. "Hopefully Lucy will learn it as well as you have."

    Lucy chuckled at that. Her blue eyes glinted with amusement and a bit of mischief. "Well, I was starting to think of it as a fun way to tease Meridina after a particularly hard training session."

    Meridina gave her a bemused look. "It appears I may have to make things yet harder for you then."

    That earned her a playful glare from those same blue eyes.

    To that exchange, Zack took a moment to respond. "I had some down time to look the pronunciation up, actually." He stepped up to the airlock with Barnes behind him. "Alright everyone." Zack turned back to them and waved. "Be careful, stay safe, don't be strangers... and Rob, if you dump Angel again you'll have earned every bruise."

    "Yes," Angel said, smirking, "he will." She gave him a knowing look that made Robert blush and caused the others to chuckle and giggle at his expense.

    After another moment Robert recovered from that. "Good luck out there." He gave Zack a meaningful look. "Come back to us when you're ready."

    Zack nodded back. "Yeah. We will."

    "Adios, compadres!", Barnes called out.

    Everyone remained and watched as the two entered Koenig's airlock. "Well." Robert sighed. "It's time for us to depart too."

    They left for the bridge.




    Tag

    Everyone took their normal places upon the return to the bridge, save the conspicuous absence of Barnes from the Engineering station. Lucy had taken it instead. She brushed a lock of her curly dark hair out of her eyes and focused on her screens.

    "Koenig is ready to launch," Jarod reported.

    Robert nodded and restrained a desire to sigh. "Alright. Let her go."

    "Completing launch procedures now. "

    They watched on the screen as Koenig pulled out of the launch bay and moved over to a new position by Galactica. A light appeared on Jarod's board. "Hail from Galactica."

    "Put them on."

    It was audio only, as usual. "Aurora, this is Admiral Adama."

    "We read you, Admiral."

    "This meeting has been a turning point for our people. I hope to see you again some time. May the Gods, or whomever is out there, watch over you."

    "Godspeed, Admiral Adama," Robert answered. "Godspeed to all of us."

    "Farewell, Captain Dale. Adama out."

    "Well." Julia settled completely into her seat. "This was quite the first contact mission."

    "Yes it was," Robert agreed. "So… Jarod, you were saying about that jump drive?"

    "We removed the data module from it," Jarod answered. "But the entire thing was never meant to be used constantly and our return trip left some of the components nearly burnt out."

    Julia spoke up next. "Were there any problems hooking the warp drive back up?"

    "None at all. Scotty thinks we need to take it easy on the way back, though. He recommended no higher than Warp 9."

    "That'll add a couple of days to our trip back," Robert noted.

    "Best not to wait around, then," Locarno operated his board. "Laying in course to Gersal, Warp 9."

    Robert and the others waited for Locarno to finish that task. The Refugee Fleet covered the holo-screen. Almost 60,000 souls, huddled together in a ramshackle fleet. The few survivors of billions of slaughtered people and all that was left of a unique Human civilization. Robert pondered on how much things had changed for these people since they had met them. The Colonials had been given the one thing that made their situation tolerable.

    Hope.

    Despite everything that had happened, he and his friends had given these poor people hope that they had a future beyond fleeing the Cylons.

    "So." Julia was clearly thinking out loud. "How much do you think Hawthorne and Davies will protest all of the risks we took on this mission? And our decisions?"

    "They can try," Robert answered. "But we can show that whatever risks we took, they were necessary. And that the outcome was better for them."

    "Course laid in."

    "Alright, Mister Locarno." Robert nodded. "Take us out."

    The Starship Aurora accelerated past the Refugee Fleet and turned. On a number of the ships curious Colonials watched with awe and joy as the large starship pulled away, becoming ever smaller against the backdrop of space. The warp nacelles lit up with bright blue light for a moment, after which the Aurora surged forward at warp speed on her way home.




    Adama watched Aurora disappear from the DRADIS scopes. "There they go," Tigh said. "Hope they stay safe out there."

    "I thought you didn't care much for them, Saul?" Adama asked.

    "Well, they're rough around the edges. Need some discipline." Tigh smirked. "But, hell, they were a good enough sort. They gave us a lot of help right when we needed."

    "They still are," Adama noted, looking at the DRADIS signature for Koenig. Commander Carrey's ship had taken up its new position ahead of Galactica. "Lieutenant Duala. Put me on with the rest of the Fleet. I want to make a quick address."

    Duala blinked at that. It was quite the request; it would require each ship putting Adama on their internal PA systems. "Yes sir. I'm patching you to the other ships." Duala keyed the necessary channels and opened the necessary bandwidths to carry the signal. "Admiral Adama wishes to address the people of the Fleet. Please open this channel to ship PA systems."

    After about twenty seconds Duala looked up. "You're on, Admiral."

    Adama nodded. "This is Admiral William Adama addressing the people of the Fleet. A lot has happened in these past two weeks. We have met new allies of incredible capability, but most importantly, of incredible charity. Thanks to the help of Captain Dale and his crew we are better prepared to defend ourselves from the Cylons than we've been ever been. And we now count another eight thousand of our own among us again. We are now setting course for Alliance space. Earth is there. We can't move in just yet, but it's there. As are so many other Earths over the Multiverse we've been introduced to."

    "But we're not going alone. The Alliance has pledged its aid to us. We are already due to meet with a convoy in some time that will provide us with material aid and protection. Until we meet that convoy, however, we have not been left alone by our new friends. It is with great pleasure that I welcome Commander Zachary Carrey and the crew of the Koenig to the ranks of this Fleet. You may have heard of these people. They risked their own destruction to save the Faru Sadin from a Cylon nuclear attack. They helped us get thousands of our people out of the occupied Colonies. And now they are staying behind with us, to help protect the Fleet until we get to the safety of Alliance territory."

    Adama let that last point sink in for a moment before continuing. "It is my hope and expectation that from this point onward, Commander Carrey and his crew will be treated like any other part of this Fleet. They will be shown all of the courtesies you would show to any member of the Colonial Navy." He gave a look to the rest of his crew in the CIC, who all looked on with support. So he finished with, "So say we all."

    "So say we all.," the CIC crew echoed. The speakers echoed with more repeats of the same line as other ships in the Fleet echoed Adama's words.




    Adama's address had been heard on Koenig as well. Zack nodded to Magda. She put him on as the final echoes were carrying, allowing him to add his own "So say we all" to the chorus.

    "Thank you for your support. Adama out."

    Once the line was cut, Sherlily remarked, "Always good to be appreciated."

    Zack smirked at that. He looked over to where Barnes was sitting at the engineering station for the bridge. "Settling in?"

    "Sure," he said. "Although it's a bit redundant up here compared to the Aurora."

    "Well, Karen's going to start making the rounds of their ships to set up shields and all sorts of stuff, you'll be getting plenty of time down in Engineering."

    "I just wouldn't recommend changing too much," Apley added. "Karen has her own system in place."

    "Yeah, I understand that," Barnes said. "So, ready to give this new jump drive a spin?"

    "As soon as Adama signals our course."

    "We're receiving that now," Magda said. "Galactica is signalling the fleet to prepare for a jump."

    "It's a shame we don't have Aurora's processing power," Barnes sighed. "We're months away from the Dorei frontier at the rate these ships can jump."

    "Ah, it's no big deal," Zack answered. "Think of it as a chance to get away, Tom. Spread our wings a bit."

    "Yeah, sure. Until some Cylon starts shooting our ass up."

    "Don't worry, Lieutenant," Sherlily said. "I'll return the favor."

    "Jump set in," Apley said. "We're ready."

    "Jump when we get the go signal."

    "Right. Five, four, three, two…. one."

    With a press of a key, Apley jumped the Koenig in time with the rest of the Refugee Fleet.
     
  24. Threadmarks: 1-12 Opening
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Teaser

    Ship's Log: 2 July 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. I'm pleased to record that the warp drive system overhaul that Commander Scott required is now complete. With our repairs completed I am looking forward to departing on whatever mission we are called upon to complete next.

    We have yet to receive a replacement for the
    Koenig, which stayed behind to provide additional support for the Colonial Refugee Fleet. It remains to be seen whether we will receive the replacement ship before we embark on a new mission.


    Robert finished putting in the morning ship's log and took a sip of coffee. It was replicated and lacked the flavor of the coffee he could have gotten from Hargert in the Lookout. But with departure imminent, he thought it best to save time by eating breakfast in his quarters.

    Well... that wasn't entirely his motivation.

    He looked back as the shower door opened. Angela stepped out with a towel wrapped around her from shoulders to hips, revealing muscled arms and legs. Her wet hair glistened in the soft light of his quarters. He smiled at her and gestured to the plate of eggs and pancakes he'd replicated for her. "Hungry?"

    She responded by leaning over him and kissing him on the cheek. "Thanks." She settled into the chair opposite him and began to partake of the breakfast while drying off. "You were up early."

    "Yeah." Robert gestured toward his computer monitor. "I wanted to make sure all of the dock paperwork was in order."

    "Well, we got that damned Cylon drive out and over to the tech people where it belongs," Angel said. "And Scotty's finished the drive overhaul. It looks like we're ready."

    "Mostly. There is something I wanted to show you." Robert picked up a digital pad and handed it to her.

    Angel set her egg-covered fork down to accept and read it. Her brow furrowed. "You're expanding our torpedo locker? Two hundred extra torpedoes for the ship?"

    "It seems reasonable."

    "S4W8," Angel sighed.

    "Nothing new from there," Robert said. "Just the same reports of Reich activity near Krellan Nebula. The Fourth Fleet's on position in the region. And I hear they're forming a Ninth Fleet to join Lithgon's forces. But it'll be a week before they can get into place."

    The reminder of the possibly imminent war in a universe where Nazi Germany prevailed in World War II turned the breakfast into a working one. Angel let her expression turn into a frown as she sat the pad down. Her appetite drained away. "Have another dream?", she asked.

    "Not last night," Robert said. He grinned thinly at her. "Thanks to you, I think."

    She returned the grin, even if she didn't feel it. "That's sweet of you. But I'm just... worried, I guess."

    "We all are."

    "Not about Nazis. Not about Cylons either. About you. You're blaming yourself for what's coming," she pointed out.

    Robert couldn't deny it. "I have good reason. It's my fault."

    Angel's temper flared. "Dammit, Robert," she hissed. "Stop this failed messiah crap. You made a bad call. But let's face it. Nazis, Robert! Nazi's for Christ's sake! We're going to end up at war with them anyway!"

    "It's how soon that is that worries me," Robert remarked.

    "Alright. Yeah, you're not going to stop this." Angel shook her head. She pushed the plate away. "You know what? I'm done with breakfast. I'm going to get dressed and check on Cat." She stood from the chair.

    Robert opened his mouth to call out to her. But he said nothing as she entered the bedroom. He couldn't think of anything to say. Anything that she'd accept, anyway.

    She'll calm down, he assured himself. She's just being protective of me, I need to recognize how protective she is.

    He said nothing further, even after Angel stepped out in a brisk pace. She'd left in such a hurry she hadn't even taken the time to brush out her wet hair.

    Robert decided to finish his breakfast. But he only got a few bites into it when he received a call over the ship intercom. "Bridge to Captain Dale," the chirping Alakin voice of Lieutenant Jupap said.

    Robert sighed and hit the response button on his desktop. "Dale here."

    "Admiral Maran is calling over IU radio for you."

    "Relay it to my quarters." Robert looked down to make sure his uniform undershirt had no stray bits of breakfast on it in the moments before Maran's gray-haired visage appeared on his screen.

    The Gersallian admiral looked none the worse for wear. "Captain, I've been informed that Aurora's drive overhaul is complete and you're due to launch today?"

    "Yes, Admiral," Robert replied.

    "That's good news," Maran answered. "Because we have a mission for you. Something we think is suited for the Aurora." His expression shifted to show the weight of what he was about to ask. "S4W8, Captain."

    Robert frowned. They'd had enough experiences in that universe so far. It was one of those alternate timeline types of universes, and one with a particularly nightmarish outcome to history; The "Third Reich" of that universe now stretched across entire sectors of space and commanded a starship force that was potent and dangerous. Robert and the others had been the ones to accomplish first contact with the Reich, actually working with them to deal with pirates that based themselves in the Krellan Nebula along their border.

    But then, of course, had come 33LA. "Anything else on the diplomatic initiatives, Admiral?", Robert said. "I can't imagine the Reich will be happy to see us around given what happened at 33LA."

    "Still no response to diplomatic contact attempts. We're seeing continued Reich fleet activity near Krellan, but our analysts are starting to believe this may be saber-rattling, or even a feint. Admiral Lithgon's continuing to observe near our end of the nebula."

    "So, if it's not trying to get them to talk, what is it?', Robert asked.

    Maran put his hands together on the desk. "According to your report of the first meeting with Captain Lamper, he spoke of something called 'the Remnants'."

    "He did. I got the impression they were Humans who defied the Reich."

    "We have confirmation that this is true. The Phosako have informed us that a grouping of these Remnants have been moving on the periphery of their space recently. We would like you to make contact with them."

    "As in you want us to meet these 'Remnants' and get to know them."

    "Yes. We'd like to know more about them. And, if possible, to take them as an ally should the Reich attack."

    Which is probably a certainty at this point. Robert nodded. "We'll jump to S4W8 once we're out of here."

    "I'll have coordinates relayed to you. There are several Phosako patrols in the region that will provide assistance. I needn't remind you that relations with the Phosako are of immense importance in this time. Make sure everyone maintains their diplomatic composure."

    "Of course, Admiral."

    "I look forward to hearing your report on the first contact, Captain. Maran out."

    Robert reached for the communications key after Maran's image disappeared. "This is Captain Dale to Bridge. Inform the Command Staff we have new orders. I want everything ready for our scheduled launch."

    "Yes sir."

    And with that done, there was little Robert could do save finish his rapidly-cooling breakfast.


    Undiscovered Frontier
    "The Survival of Hope"




    Most of the Command Staff were in the Main Conference Room when Robert arrived. "Sorry if I'm running late," he said. "I was just conversing with Admiral Kermayis about getting our final replenishment done as highest priority. We can't afford delays in launching."

    As Robert took his seat, he noticed two chairs were empty. Barnes' chair, obviously, although Lucy was supposed to be taking it up for the moment, and Meridina's chair.

    Right. They went planetside this morning.

    "Admiral Maran has new orders already?", Julia asked.

    "Direct from President Morgan," Robert confirmed. "We're heading to the frontier of Phosako space."

    "Back to Naziverse, then," Leo muttered.

    "Exactly." Robert put his hands on the table. "They want us to make contact with the Remnants."

    "The who?"

    To answer Leo's question, Julia spoke up. "When we made first contact with Captain Lamper, he said something about the Aurora being too large and powerful to be a Remnant ship."

    "They must be the outcasts of the Reich and its conquests," Jarod said. "With nowhere to go in Human-inhabited space, they'd have to head out into the frontier."

    "So what, they're freedom fighters?", Angel asked.

    "Presumably, although more likely they're more like the Colonial Refugee Fleet," Jarod replied. "Constantly moving through space, having to stay ahead of the Reich's expansions. At best, maybe getting to settle a planet every generation or so and getting pushed off when the Reich's explorers find them."

    "I'm guessing the President would like them on board in the event of a war," Julia noted. "But that doesn't sound like they'd be very capable of fighting one."

    "Not directly," Jarod agreed. "But there's still so much we don't understand about Reich space in S4W8. The Remnants could have knowledge of how things work in the Nazi Empire. Worlds with viable resistance movements. Political divisions within the Reich government. We already saw some evidence for that."

    "You mean the fact that Captain Lamper treated that SS guy like he was a rabid dog needing a leash?", Angel said, smirking.

    "Exactly." Jarod nodded. "If we're going to war, this is information we can use."

    "And the Remnants could know it," Robert said, finishing the thought. "So our objective is to find them and open a dialogue."

    "The Phosako were polite, but I'm not sure they'll want us poking around on our frontier." Julia shook her head. "I doubt 33LA endeared us to them either."

    "We're scheduled to link up with a Phosako patrol cruiser, the Diligence, tomorrow," Robert answered. "Apparently the Phosako actually want us to meet the Remnants. They'll be helping us locate them."

    Caterina actually grinned. "Oh, that's great! I like the Phosako."

    "They didn't quite like us, dear sister," Angel reminded her.

    "I'm not sure you can say one way or the other," Leo pointed out.

    "They seemed all right tae me." Scotty leaned ahead in his chair. "What concerns me is these Nazi scunners. Dinnae tell me they might nae be showin' up."

    "We have no reports on Reich activity in that zone," Robert said. "But I'm sure Cat and Jarod will be keeping an eye out." Robert eyed the chronometer. "Well, I know we all need to make final launch preparations, so I won't keep you. Any questions?"

    "I've got one." Julia tapped the table. "We don't have a support ship anymore. What's Command doing about that?"

    "I'm told one will be assigned to us shortly," Robert replied. "But I wasn't told anything beyond that."

    "Good to know we'll be going in without that backup," Angel muttered, crossing her arms.

    "We do what we can," Robert said. "Julia, can you message Meridina with the new plans?"

    "I'll do that right away."

    "Good. Alright everyone, this meeting is over. Let's get to work."




    Lucy Lucero stood amidst the vaulted ceilings and thick columns and felt a sense of wonder tempered by her irritation. She expressed the latter by fidgeting with the blue robe over her shoulders. It turned out that comfortable wear was not always a perk of having super mind powers or life force energy or whatever you wanted to call it.

    Meridina looked at her with bemusement as they crossed the Courtyard of the Great Temple. "It is not wise to keep a Mastrash waiting."

    "Yeah, sorry," Lucy answered. In truth it wasn't as great a sacrifice to don the robes as Lucy otherwise felt. What was more aggravating was that they were likely to depart today.

    But instead of preparing Aurora for launch, she was down here dealing with this "swevyra" stuff.

    Okay, so I have all of these powers now, but I still have other stuff to do, she thought. Loudly.

    She knew it was loud because Meridina faced her with patience written on her expression. "I understand this is an imposition, Lucy," she said. "But these things must be done."

    "Your boss wants to see me… why? They don't trust you in doing this?"

    "There are some…. issues, perhaps," Meridina remarked delicately. "Although I am hoping you are finding compensation in seeing this place."

    Lucy looked over the structures around them again while they approached the main building. It almost reminded her of pictures of big European cathedrals, not counting the fact that instead of high spires and roofs they were built circular and round. It was still quite stunning, especially when one looked back over the sprawling capital of the Gersallian Interdependency in the valley below, with all of the tall building spires shining in the yellow sun of Gersal. They've had interstellar government since before the Greeks had city-states, Lucy thought. It did give her a sense of humility. Among the explored universes so far, the only species that could claim a similar age of interstellar reach were the Asari in M4P2 and the Goa'uld of R4A1.

    As they entered the structure there were more robed individuals milling around. Some had blue robes, like those being worn by Meridina and Lucy, while others were in simple light cream-colored ones and a few reds. "So the colors of the robes mean something?", Lucy asked.

    "They can," Meridina said. "The light-colored ones are for those who work with the Order but do not have swevyra attunement sufficient to wield our power. The blues are us. And the red are those of our Knights assigned to security at our Temples."

    "Any other colors I should know about?"

    "Green denotes those who are not skilled at combat but have great abilities for healing," Meridina continued. "And purple is for Mastrashs. Purple with blue trim are for Mastrashs on the Council."

    "What's the difference between that last set? I mean, between a Mastrash and one who's on the Council?"

    "It is an issue of denoting one's time in the Order. To get a seat in the Council they must provide decades of service and show incredible understanding of the way the energies of the universe and of our life force intertwine."

    "So basically, they have to put their time in and show they've been keeping up on the work," Lucy said.

    "Yes, that is one way of putting it," Meridina said.

    They approached a door flanked by some of the red-robed security people. They looked intently at Meridina and Lucy and gave Lucy the uncomfortable feeling her brain was being picked at. "What's behind here?", she asked, looking up and up and up at the high double doors of what looked like fine crafted wood.

    "The Council and Assembly Chamber," Meridina answered. "The Council meets here and can hold sessions with an audience."

    Once inside the doors, Lucy muttered, "And by audience you mean a crowd big enough for a football game."

    It was like entering a great stadium from the floor level. Across from her and around were rows and rows of seats stretching skyward. In the middle of the chamber there was a large round table made of stone, finely carved and designed. Chairs ringed the table.

    Beyond the table, in an indention within the wall beyond the table, there was a vaulting painted image. Lucy looked up at the image. The figure was a woman, tall and graceful-looking, wearing a tattered robe and holding a lakesh blade. The lakesh was painted as if it had an otherworldly light to it, more light than substance. At her feet were a series of figures in dark clothing. "Is that…?", Lucy began, walking up to the giant picture.

    "It is Swenya, yes," Meridina answered. She took in a breath and didn't disguise her own awe. "It was not contemporary, unfortunately. Much of our art of the time was lost in the Uprising of the Brotherhood."

    "The who?"

    "Those who had given in to darkness," Meridina continued. "A secret clique under the Mastrash Kohbal that attempted to usurp control of the planet a hundred years after Swenya's death. They were inevitably defeated and destroyed. But they caused great suffering before they were driven off Gersal."

    "That sucks," Lucy muttered. She walked up toward the altar or whatever it was at the foot of the painting. Several surfaces glinted in the light: protective glass coverings. Lucy looked down at a tattered pair of blue robes. "Let me guess," she said. "Swenya's?"

    "Yes," Meridina said. "Her robes… her sandals…" Meridina rested a hand on the glass covering in the center, "...and her lakesh."

    Lucy looked at the lakesh of Swenya. It had no blade that was visible. The hilt was rounder than that of the lakesh Meridina used. "It looks like your hilt design changed over the millennia."

    Meridina answered with a nod.

    "Does the blade work? I mean, you could use it in ceremony?"

    "Sadly, no. It was broken millennia ago and it never functioned afterward."

    Lucy looked back at the case and the sword within. She put a hand on it. The idea of fixing the sword came to her. Silly, perhaps, but it would be something to see the lakesh of a woman who was evidently considered the heroine and founder of the Gersallian order.

    "It is quite the sight, is it not?"

    Lucy and Meridina turned from the artifacts of Swenya and faced a new arrival in the chamber. The older, wolf-haired Gersallian man drew a pleased smile from Meridina. "Mastrash Ledosh." She bowed her head respectfully. "This is Lieutenant Lucy Lucero."

    "Mastrash is a word for 'Master', isn't it?', Lucy asked while giving a bow of her head too.

    Ledosh returned the gestures respectfully. "I believe that is an approximation that works in your Human tongue." Ledosh looked over Lucy. "Your swevyra burns brightly. Meridina tells me your training is progressing well?"

    "I suppose," Lucy said. "I've had to use my, uh, 'powers' a few times already."

    "Lucy is a quick thinker, Mastrash," Meridina said. "I cannot give her enough credit in that regard."

    "Well, that is good to hear."

    "So, uh, how is this going to work now?", Lucy asked.

    "You will be trained in the basic uses of your power," Ledosh said to her. "Should you choose to join our Order, you will be trained in more advanced techniques."

    "Joining your Order means…"

    "Well, you would come to Gersal," Ledosh answered. "We would give you further instruction in our ways here at the Temple. In time you would serve in the field alongside a knight like Meridina. When judged ready, you would be made a Knight yourself."

    "So I'd have to leave the Aurora," Lucy pointed out.

    "Well, yes," Ledosh said.

    "Why can't Meridina train me? Besides, she's in the fleet, why can't I be as well?"

    Ledosh drew in a sigh. He gave Meridina a careful look that was returned evenly. "Young lady, Meridina's current status is something of an exception to the rule. Our knights do not usually serve with armed services. Our place is to protect the innocent and administer justice, not to serve as military personnel."

    "Oh. Well." Lucy shrugged. "I guess. I mean, I can see why that's your policy. But I'll tell you right now, Mastrash Ledosh, that I have no intention of leaving the Aurora."

    "I understand," Ledosh said. Lucy noticed his expression remained passive and accepting. Nevertheless she got the feeling he had not liked her answer. "That is your choice."

    "Mastrash, would it not be permissible to train her further in anticipation that Lucy could then train other Humans in ways that more closely fit various Human cultural practices?", Meridina asked.

    Ledosh looked at Meridina with consideration. "You mean to emulate how we dealt with the Dorei."

    "It seems the most reasonable course to take," Meridina said. "Humans have their own cultural views and concepts, indeed, still have many diverse ones from what we have seen."

    "You will remember, Meridina, that our introduction of the Dorei to swevyra did not go smoothly."

    "Oh?" That piqued Lucy's curiosity. "What happened?"

    Meridina lowered her head. "There were…. difficulties. The diversity of religion and race among the Dorei, much like your own species' diversity, prompted distrust between nations that had closer relations to Gersal and those that did not."

    "The Dorei had yet to form their Federation," Ledosh said in elaboration. "We drew closest to the most spiritual and friendly of the Dorei nations, like the Astra and Lushan. Others felt endangered by this. Once swevyra began to be trained among those Dorei nations those who were not as close to us became aggressive and hostile. Other factors went into play as well, but the result was what the Dorei call their First Unification War. Millions of innocent Dorei died."

    "It sounds like an obvious side-effect of First Contact, though."

    "Perhaps," Meridina allowed. "But it was not in keeping with our purpose. Our inability to assert our neutrality led to attacks on our people as well. In the end, the Dorei states that formed the Dorei Federation won the war, although a second one was required thirty years later after the equally disastrous First Contact with the Jeaxians to finish unifying the Dorei."

    "I apologize for the impromptu history lesson, Lucy Lucero, but it is necessary for us to illustrate the reluctance my people would have to contemplating the training of Humans outside of the Order."

    "And so you think people wouldn't approve because they're afraid it'll cause conflict between Human states."

    "It is perhaps more complicated than that, but basically the answer is yes." Ledosh nodded. "They would rather not train you at all than train you outside of the Order and its rules."

    "So, bottom line is, Meridina can only show me the basics," Lucy said. "After that I either have to leave the Aurora or give up on learning more."

    "This Order is built upon sacrifices of such sorts, yes," Ledosh said. "We have all made them." He looked to Meridina.

    Lucy did too. Meridina shook her head. "It is nothing. I appreciate how close you are to the others on Aurora."

    Lucy said nothing to that. She supposed she shouldn't be shocked at it, after all. These people were warrior-monks or what have you, naturally they'd want to instill discipline and train someone like that.

    "Making a decision at this point will not be necessary for you, Lucy Lucero," Ledosh said kindly. "It will still be some time while Meridina teaches you the basics of swevyra."

    "Yeah." Lucy nodded. "And I suppose I only get the cool memory metal sword if I sign up?"

    "The lakesh, you mean?" Ledosh smiled and nodded. "Yes. They are the symbol off those who serve with us."

    "Right. Yeah, I get that." Lucy looked back to the display of Swenya's relics. Lucy's eyes settled on Swenya's weapon, to be precise. "Has anyone ever managed to make Swenya's blade work?", Lucy asked out of curiosity.

    "No. Not for thousands of years,," Ledosh said.

    "Do you ever try?", Lucy asked. "I mean, just to see what it was like? I'm guessing it was one of your species' first attempts at a memory metal construct like that."

    "There are certain… requirements one must fulfill to even be allowed to touch the hilt," Ledosh said. "Actually trying to activate the blade within has no standing rule in our Order."

    "Huh." Lucy turned to him. She offered a hand. "Well, whether I come back to sign up for the robes and knight stuff or not, it was a pleasure to meet you, Mastrash Ledosh."

    Ledosh considered her hand for a moment before smiling and accepting. "Ah, yes, your handshake." he nodded. "May whatever choice you take be the calling in your heart, Lucy Lucero. Mi rake sa swevyra iso."




    They were walking out of the Temple again and toward the shuttlepad when Lucy looked to Meridina. "It's pretty lovely here."

    "It is," Meridina agreed.

    "Everyone sacrifices, he said," Lucy pondered. "What was your sacrifice?"

    Meridina remained silent for a moment. "My sacrifice was to lose my father," she admitted.

    "Huh?" Lucy furrowed her brow. "What happened to your father?"

    "He is a Mastrash as well", Meridina admitted. "Once I agreed to be swevyra, I was no longer his daughter. I was his student in the Order."

    Lucy took that in. "Yeah, that's rough," she said.

    "I believed the cost was worth it." Meridina felt a pang of sadness. "We all make sacrifices for what we believe in. You are already familiar with the things one might have to endure in doing the right thing, yes?"

    Lucy's skin crawled. She knew precisely what Meridina was referring to. "I don't like thinking about that," Lucy said to her. She flashed back to that damned room in the Duffy home. She remembered terror and pain at the hands of Patrick Duffy. "Being tortured to death wasn't something I expected to happen," Lucy mumbled.

    "I can only be grateful you were rescued," Meridina said quietly. "I am truly honored, Lucy, to have you as a student in swevyra."

    Lucy took in a breath and recovered from those old memories. "Yeah. I'm glad too. And thank you for showing me how this stuff works." She grinned thinly. "Or, at least, showing me what you can show me."

    "Simply because I cannot show you the more extensive abilities does not mean I cannot advise you in developing your power on your own," Meridina said, her voice low. "I could not show you things, but I am morally obligated to make sure you do not dabble in the darker powers that misuse of swevyra can cause."

    "I suppose that makes sense," Lucy answered. She brought up her left arm and pulled the robe sleeve back enough to reveal her multidevice. She tapped a key on it and brought up the chronometer. "Given the time, maybe we should get going. The ship's due to launch in an hour."

    "That is advisable, yes," Meridina noted.




    The bridge crew was all set when Robert got to the bridge. Lucy was again in Barnes' place at Engineering, reminding him again of how Zack and Tom were gone. "And will be for the rest of the year, probably," Robert mused to himself under his breath.

    "All moorings are clear," Jarod said. "We're no longer connected to the station."

    On the viewscreen they could see the vista of Gersal's surface and its western ocean below them. A Gersallian dreadnought starship loomed ahead, nearly the same length as the Aurora but wider.

    "Impulse engines to one quarter," Locarno said.

    "I thought thrusters only in these places, Nick?", Julia asked.

    "It's an old Starfleet tradition," Locarno answered, grinning. "To make sure the Captain is awake and paying attention. But you're right. Switching to thrusters. 20 kph and rising."

    Robert and Julia exchanged sly grins at Locarno's remark.

    Aurora's thrusters gently pushed her out of the confines of the docking space they had occupied. Once they were fully clear Locarno returned the ship to one quarter impulse. Aurora picked up speed. Soon they were away from the station and making for sufficient open space to jump. "Establishing link to Harris Station for jump," Jarod said. "I'm getting the necessary telemetry."

    "Jump when ready."

    It never got old for them. Watching space split open with an interuniversal jump point of swirling green color. That sensation that rippled through you as you passed between universes.

    They emerged on the other side at Harris Station. Several warships from various Alliance member states were milling about the station. They were the nucleus of a new fleet for self-defense with an increasing amount of original construction to join starting toward the end of the year. There were a few ships Aurora's size to be seen. A Dorei battle starbird, two FedStars battleships, an Alakin capital warbird with sleek winged form and red and yellow coloring to contrast to the purples and blues of the Dorei starbird. It was a demonstration of all the various ship aesthetics that existed in the Alliance. The diversity of the Allied systems in action.

    "Set a course for the Phosako frontier, Mister Locarno," Robert said. "Warp 9.2."

    "Course laid in," Locarno answered "I'm using the coordinates Admiral Maran provided. We should be there right on schedule."

    "Engage when ready."

    Aurora turned away from Harris Station and jumped to warp speed.
     
  25. Threadmarks: 1-12-2
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    Simon_Jester from SB is the creator of the Phosako. He contributed to the scene with Kelsuulo.



    Caterina had turned over the bridge science station to one of the junior science officers so she could return to the Science Labs, 1 in this case, to continue another project. Angel soon arrived with a container of food in one hand. "You missed dinner, Cat," she said, her voice partly scolding. "Again."

    "Sorry," Caterina answered, wincing. "I just got really busy here."

    Angel put the plate down at the work station beside where Cat was working and looked at the screen. She recognized it as raw data being examined. "Isn't Jarod handling the computer scrubbing and fixing?"

    "That's already done," Caterina insisted. "This is something else."

    "Oh?"

    "It's the data we recovered from that Darglan data site at 33LA," Cat answered. "I've been making some progress restoring some of the files that were lost or only partly downloaded before we had to get out."

    "Right." Angel put a hand on her sister's shoulder reflexively. Being reminded that she had nearly lost her sister twice in the span of a month was not welcoming. "So?"

    "So what?"

    "What's so important about it?" Angel asked. "So important you're spending most of your free time in here now?"

    "Angel…. that other data facility said there was a full-scale Darglan Facility in this universe," Cat replied. "Do you know what this means?"

    "You're worried the Nazi jerks might find it first, aren't you?", Angel said.

    "Exactly! If I can find any data on its location, we'll know for sure if it's in danger of being found or not."

    "Right. That makes sense." Angel tapped the food container. "But you're still going to have to take breaks to eat, little sister."

    "I had a nice lunch, I'll be fine."

    Caterina made a face a moment later as a very audible growling noise seemed to come from her stomach. Angel crossed her arms and smirked.

    "Okay, so I didn't eat lunch today," Cat admitted.

    "Cat, I love how enthusiastic you can be about things, but you need to remember to do things like eat too. You're still recovering from what happened on the Pegasus..."

    An involuntary shudder went through Cat. "Please, don't remind me about that," she sighed. "Please."

    "Right. Sorry."

    "I'll eat in a moment, okay? I just want to see if this data compiling routine will…."

    Before she could finish, the data on the screen stopped flowing. An error message popped up.

    "Ugh. I was so close," Cat groaned. "So close."

    "How about you eat, get some rest, and come back at this fresh tomorrow?", Angel suggested.

    "You're probably right," Caterina sighed. She looked to Angel. "So, are you moving back in with Rob?"

    "Are you ready for me to?", Angel asked. "You've been having nightmares."

    "Yeah, but I did well enough last night," Cat answered. "I'm starting to sleep better. Really. Go be with him, sis, I'll be fine."

    Angel sighed at that. It seemed that between Cat and Robert she was spending most of her time not sleeping but hugging someone gripped in bad dreams. At least if it was getting better for Cat…




    The nightmares came to Robert again.

    The familiar imagery returned. The cybernetically-enhanced alien from M4P2. The girl in the red and gold clothing. Lamper with his eyes shining an inhuman blue. The ruins of the New Liberty Colony. Strange warships blasting Aurora repeatedly. Same as always.

    He heard a scream. Robert turned and watched Julia, stripped down to what looked like undergarments, writhing in agony in a metal chair. "Julie!" He reached out to her.

    But he couldn't get to her. He was in a dark room. A star burned outside the window. "You can't save them all," a man's voice said. Robert turned and saw a strange man with odd blue eyes appraising him coldly. At his feet were Angel, Cat, Zack... everyone. Unconscious. Or dead. "If you can't accept that, you'll lose them all. We'll all lose."

    The figure faded. It was Julia again, sprawled out on the floor. Robert watched a familiar face look over her. The man in the dark uniform looked at him with unnatural eyes of yellow and gold and smirked. "She will be mine, Kapitan," the voice of Fassbinder, the SS man, cooed.

    Robert yelled in rage and charged at him. He brought his fist up to strike. But before he could there was a flash of red light from behind. Pain surged through his belly. He looked down to see red light and...

    Robert woke up. Not with as much of a start this time, more of a gentle tremor. He believed this is why Angel didn't stir and seemed to remain fast asleep at his side. He drew in a breath and laid his head back against the pillow. Already the images from his dream were fading back into the background of his mind. They didn't make sense to him. So many faces he didn't know, he didn't recognize. The image of Julia suffering was the one that stuck out the most strongly in his head. I can't let these dreams impact my judgement again, he thought. He'd allowed his fears to be amplified by them before. It had contributed to his bad call over the 33LA mission. I can't let that happen again. Even if Meridina is right and they really are potential futures.

    Looking at Angel made him think of what she had said earlier. He knew she spoke from worry. Worry that he was trying to take on too much and not unburden himself to others. He understood that. He darkly wondered if he was starting to come off as brusque and unfriendly to the others.

    "I can't do that again," he muttered to himself.

    "Mmmmm?" The querying sound came from Angel.

    "Shh. Sleep," he urged her. She'd need to be at their best in case they ran into into trouble.

    Of course, the same applied to him, so Robert turned over and tried to go back to sleep as well.




    The Aurora dropped out of warp near the uninhabited star system Everyone had assembled on the bridge for this meeting. "Well, there's nothing special about this system," Caterina noted. "I mean, beyond it being a system I've never scanned before. Three gas giants in the outer system. A rocky world with carbon dioxide and methane atmosphere. No asteroid belt or anything. No settlements."

    "An empty, useless star system, basically," Locarno noted. "Perfect place for meetings off the beaten path."

    "Is it?" Julia asked. "Because if anyone detects ships here they're going to know they're trying to avoid being seen together."

    "Good point," Jarod agreed.

    "So, where are the Phosako?" Robert asked.

    "We're about five minutes early," Julia said. "Maybe they're going to show up right on time?"

    "Looks like it," Cat said. "I've got them on long range sensors. They'll be here in three minutes."

    "That's reassuring. Anything else on long range sensors? Or any trace of recent ship transits?"

    "Nothing," Cat answered. "Looks like there might have been a ship through here days ago. There is an old radiation pattern mixed with basic gases from sublight drive byproduct. But it's so old it's almost completely faded."

    "Well, nothing for it then. We wait for the Phosako."

    When the Phosako ship came out of warp, it did so within 20,000 kilometers of the Aurora, an incredibly close range. "That was pretty precise," Locarno noted.

    "It's not surprising," Jarod noted. "They're pretty good at precision behavior."

    "Oh?"

    "You didn't see their traffic patterns on their homeworld," Jarod mentioned. "The Phosako don't have traffic jams. They're a very sociable species and they're very careful about maneuvering vehicles." A light appeared on Jarod's console. "They're hailing."

    "Put them on."

    Robert knew what he was going to be seeing when the Phosako captain appeared on the screen. The Phosako were bipedal and mammalian, typically shorter and stockier than Humans. They had blue fur covering their skin to give them something of a bestial, almost feline appearance. The feline nature of their appearance was aided by their eyes. Typically yellow in color, the eyes of the Phosako had bands and patterns of color in their eyes that could look like swimming movement to a Human and be incredibly disorientating. Differences between individuals tended to be in actual size variation and, from what Robert recalled, specific details in their facial structure and sometimes the tint of their fur.

    The Phosako on the screen, clad in the gray tunic and jacket of the Phosako space forces, gave a slight nod. "Captain Dale. I have heard of you. I am Vessel Commander Kelsuulo of the Diligence."

    "Commander Kelsuulo, my pleasure to meet you, sir."

    "I will transport over to meet with you in ten of your minutes. Is that satisfactory?"

    "It is, Commander. I'll be waiting for you in the transporter room."




    Kelsuulo accepted Robert's greetings with quiet introspection upon his transport to the Aurora. "You have become something of a known quantity among our forces, Captain," Kelsuulo said while accepting the offered handshake. "We are most fascinated by your recent attack into Reich space."

    Something about the way he said "fascinated" didn't make him seem to be approving.

    Robert didn't let himself think of the decision that led to that error. "Some judgement calls have to be made, I made them. And that one was wrong."

    "An understatement, certainly," the Phosako commander judged. "But that is not the matter at hand. You are looking for the nomadic humans of this universe, are you not?"

    "The ones called the Remnants, yes."

    "Interesting title for these transients. Come. I will share my information with your command crew as planned."




    The Conference Room was ready when Robert arrived with Kelsuulo. "I appreciate your hospitality, Captain Dale. It is easy for us to forget that there are Humans capable of providing such in this universe now." Kelsuulo sat down at the table across from Robert's place, allowing him an easy view of the entire Aurora command staff.

    "Thank you, Commander," Robert answered, putting on a diplomatic smile. "As much as I enjoyed our visit to your homeworld earlier this year, I'm afraid our mission could turn out to time sensitive. We won't be able to satisfy curiosity with the Phosako as much as we would like."

    "Of course. You are here instead to find the Remnants." The Phosako captain put a furred paw against his chin. "I have had some encounters with them in my career. They are not permitted settlement in Phosako space, you see, but we have allowed them to trade with our worlds. They tend to move around the edges of our territory."

    "Pardon me, Vessel Commander." Julia raised her right hand slightly. "Why is it you don't let them settle? You still have plenty of open worlds on your periphery."

    "Yes. But to give sanctuary to these people would invite the violence of the Terran kadahuli."

    "The Nazis, you mean," Robert said.

    "Yes. I believe that is what you call the dominant Human government in this continuum," Kelsuulo remarked. His jaw worked from side to side, the Phosako equivalent of a nod. "The... Nazis. You are perhaps aware that they are prone to sudden outbursts of irrational savagery. They have delusions that others have hostile intentions toward them and employ violent demonstrations to ward off the same. They have already exterminated three species that we made contact with in the decades prior to their arrival in our region of space."

    Robert swallowed at that. "Yes, that sounds like Nazis to me," he sighed.

    "Then you can understand our desire for discretion." Kelsuulo settled his hands on the table. "The Council could not afford to provoke them by granting sanctuary to the nomads."

    "Can you tell us anything about the nomadic Humans, the Remnants?', Robert asked. "What their motivations are? Their tendencies?"

    "Other than their wish to avoid being exterminated by the kadahuli?" Kelsuulo shrugged. "I believe they are of specific ethnic groups and nationalities that the kadahuli are intolerant toward. In my own dealings with them they have appeared to be fairly diverse in their colorings, their languages, and their traditions."

    "So basically… anyone the Nazis hate," Julia said. "Which is most of the Human species."

    "Or anyone who'd rather live out beyond their space than be a second-class citizen," Jarod added.

    "Those two seem to be the primary characteristics that all Remnants have in common," Kelsuulo said. "As for the group currently on the outer edge of our space, I believe they are one of the more nomadic elements. In your terminology they are a religious and ethnic group… I believe the Reich calls them 'Juden.'"

    Robert blinked from surprise. "Juden?"

    "Yes."

    "Jews, in other words," Jarod noted.

    "Wow. " Cat's eyebrows went up. "You're telling me that Jews managed to survive a history where Nazis conquered the world?"

    "Not easily, I'd guess," Jarod remarked.

    "This group tends to be one of the better organized bands," Kelsuulo noted. "And even more cautious than the others."

    "Hopefully they'll know how to get in touch with the other bands."

    "I imagine you seek their alliance against the Reich?" Kelsuulo asked.

    "More like their knowledge," Robert answered. "There's still a lot about the internal processes of the Reich that we don't understand."

    "And with the 33LA incident making war likely, your government needs as much aid as it can get." Kelsuulo nodded. "A reasonable endeavor, yes. It will be interesting to see how you manage it. We are still uncertain how to take your Alliance."

    "Pardon?"

    In response to Julia's inquiry, Kelsuulo shifted his chin slightly. "My apologies. I should note that, among my people, it is common to believe the Human species incapable of orderly large-scale governance. It appeared to us that the largest Human organizations that could function in collective sanity were relatively minor ones in the order of a few million, like the Remnants you speak of."

    Leo looked at him with surprise. "So you think that if we're too big we all get like Nazis?"

    "Not necessarily, but it did seem that you lacked the... reasonable nature that would permit governance of large populations. Many of us speculated that Humans might also have other, entirely unknown forms of mass social madness, with the Nazis happening to be the least dysfunctional option available in Earth's industrial age. If so, their success would be explained by evolutionary processes. The Alliance's appearance has, obviously, compelled us to reconsider the question."

    "And you don't think the Alliance proves we can?" Angel asked.

    "You were nowhere to be found in our universe until a year ago. We are still considering the question," was Kelsuulo's answer.

    "Aye, cannae argue with that, I suppose," Scotty said. "I'd think we were all a pack o' scunners myself if I only had Nazis tae measure Humanity by."

    "Thank you for appreciating our position. I will add that we are happy to have the Alliance as neighbors. Your colonies are providing economic advantages to our worlds that did not exist before."

    "Is there anything else you can tell us?", Julia asked.

    "I am afraid I cannot give you further specifics. I am quite certain the Remnants know who you are now, Captain, and that may aid you in treating with them. Or it may not. May your reason prevail over such difficulties." Kelsuulo stood from his chair. "My ship will forward to your vessel our known locations of Remnant-held outposts and meeting places, I hope your work bears fruit, Captain Dale. I personally believe the Reich will be at war with your Alliance by the end of the lunar cycle."

    "Thank you for your assistance, Vessel Commander," Robert said, not bothering to bring up his somber prediction. He stood up. "I will escort you back to the Transporter Station to be returned to your vessel."

    Kelsuulo responded with a wiggle of his chin. "Of course."




    With the Phosako captain departed, everyone else had returned to the bridge. "Commander Kelsuulo is away," Jarod said.

    "I'm bringing up the coordinates he relayed to us." Locarno looked over the resulting data. "It's in unclaimed space. At our normal cruise warp we should be there within several hours."

    "Let's get started then," Robert said. "Take us out."

    "Engaging now."

    After Aurora jumped to warp Angel noticed Cat was looking especially intent on her screens. "Cat?", she asked. "What's wrong?"

    "Huh?" Cat looked up. "Oh. Nothing, sorry. I was just a little…"

    "What was it, Cat?", Julia asked.

    "Just… it looked like a bit of noise in the background radiation. But nothing special. I was just making sure my systems were properly calibrated so we didn't get any false signatures. We're good."

    "Make sure you keep an eye out ," Robert said. "The last thing I want is to blunder into an ambush."

    Cat nodded in reply.




    Lucy kept her breathing regular and paced to help focus. With all of the blood rushing into her head it was not easy. She almost asked Meridina why this upside-down hand-stand exercise had ever been created, but knew better than to interrupt her own focus. Or invite that knowing bemused grin that Meridina always got when she heard Lucy protesting one aspect or another of the training.

    And this is only the 'basics'? Lucy groaned to herself. It made her intention to stay on the Aurora all the easier to keep.

    "You're distracting your focus with thoughts," Meridina noted. She was again doing the same thing. And, again, holding a heavier object - an entire weight from the gym - while Lucy was still using the notepad.

    Lucy frowned and kept her concentration. One hand holding her body up, aided by the power in her life force, while the rest of that power was going to keep the digital notepad rotating in mid-air beyond the reach of her right hand.

    "Good. Yes, very good," Meridina noted. "We are done." She set the weight down and, with barely any effort, jumped off with her one hand and landed on her feet.

    Lucy set her notepad down and tried to do the same. Much to her surprise, she actually managed it today. Mostly. She nearly fell over again upon hitting her feet.

    "This is pretty complex stuff for basic training," Lucy said.

    "It is standard training to develop the necessary focus when using your swevyra," Meridina replied. "The advanced training you would have done on Gersal would have involved more difficulties. Higher gravity, larger objects, irregular surfaces. There are many such things to challenge your focus."

    Definitely a good thing I didn't stay on Gersal… Out loud Lucy asked, "Are you upset about my decision? To stay on Aurora?"

    "I am not," Meridina admitted. "To be honest, Lucy, I believe your destiny, and my own, is to be met on this ship."

    "Huh. Destiny and stuff?"

    "Yes." Meridina smiled and nodded. Lucy looked over and noticed a couple of people were starting to stare at them.

    "We probably look like loons saying things like that in the gym," she noted to Meridina.

    "Humans have difficulty understanding the idea," Meridina said.

    "Some do. Although for most people, destiny stuff is in literature."

    "Interesting." Meridina took a seat and pulled a bottle of water from a cooling container they had brought with them for the training session. "For Gersallians, destiny is a way of expressing your potential, and where you are best suited to be in life."

    "But doesn't that undermine your freedom to choose your path?", Lucy asked. "People can change their minds about what they're intending to be.

    "That is a countervailing belief, yes. But I believe that destiny is expressed best when these decisions are made. Just because one has a destiny doesn't mean you are following that destiny correctly. It can take a long time to realize what destiny means for you."

    "Huh." Lucy took a sip of her own water. "I got the feeling Ledosh wanted you to get me into joining full time."

    "It is fine. I believe there is a greater conflict on the horizon. I believe the place you need to be is here, on this ship, with this crew." Meridina looked toward the other people in the room. "I can feel it in my very soul. This ship, and crew, are meant for great things. Many destinies will come together in the actions of the Aurora."

    "Well, we'll see where destiny takes us then, I guess?" Lucy said. She held up her water bottle. "To destiny?"

    "Yes." Meridina accept the offer to clink water containers with Lucy.




    Angel always preferred the punching bag when she needed an outlet. There were less bruises on her sparring partners' faces that way. Her muscles tensed under the bronze of her skin before being released with each punch. Sometimes she mixed it up by kicking the bag too.

    "Another fight with Robert?"

    Angel looked over and saw Julia step up. She was also in the service-provided sports bra and shorts for physical training. Gloves were already on her hands. "Not a fight," Angel answered. "Just… nothing, really."

    "Only 'nothing really'?" Julia took up a bag beside her and gave it a few jabs to warm up. She didn't have quite the same developed muscle tone as Angel's, looking more lean than built. She threw off a couple of quick jabs followed by a slight kick to the bag. "Angel, I know you. This is your 'I need to punch something because I'm frustrated' thing going on."

    Angel sighed and gave the bag another strong punch before stopping. "Fine. Busybody." She ignored Julia's follow-up laugh. "Cat's still having nightmares from what those bastards did to her on Pegasus," Angel said. "And Robert's been having nightmares too."

    "He mentioned nightmares lately. But I thought that was just nervousness from the 33LA problem."

    "I'm sure it's more than that," Angel said. She punched the bag again. "I've never seen him so riled up from dreams before. He's really agitated about it."

    "Which means we have to be there for him. Keep him from making any more mistakes." Julia gave her bag another punch.

    "Yeah." Angel stepped back from the bag. "You want to spar?"

    "With that vicious mood you're in? Am I going to take a kick to the rib this time?"

    "Hey, last time was an accident, I swear," Angel insisted. She grinned thinly. "And I'm a bit more mellow now, if you've noticed."

    Julia smirked back. It was an ever so thin reference to her and Robert being together again. Despite the complaints about nightmares it had seemed to improve their demeanor. Hopefully they would continue to be happy together.

    It'd be nice to have that, wouldn't it? The thought came and went before Julia could stop it. "Alright," Julia said. "You're on. Best out of three?"

    "Sure," Angel agreed.




    It was with trepidation and some irritation that Robert reported to the medbay after receiving the request through the ship's comm system. No sooner had he taken a step into the bay did he hear Leo all out, "Over here!"

    Leo was already waiting for him by one of the biobeds. Robert sighed and walked up. "You wanted to see me?"

    "Don't pretend you don't know what this is about," Leo said. "You're overdue for your checkup."

    "Rapturous joy," Robert sighed. "I think you get too much enjoyment out of getting to boss us around like this."

    "Makes up for all the frustrations you put me through when we were starting out," Leo answered. He pulled out his medical scanner. "And all of those times I had to keep you from frying your brains with the infusers."

    "That was mostly Cat and Tom," Robert protested.

    "And when it wasn't the infusers," Leo continued, as if he hadn't spoken, "it was keeping you from wasting away." Leo smiled thinly. "Well, at least you're eating right again. I'm not showing any of the nutritional deficiencies you had back at the beginning of this whole mess."

    "You can thank Hargert's cooking," Robert answered.

    That made Leo chuckle. "That works for me." He held the scanner up to Robert's head. His smile started to vanish. "Are you sleeping well?" he asked.

    "About as well as I can," Robert replied.

    "Your brain chemistry is a little off," Leo said. "Symptomatic of sleep deprivation."

    "Maybe it's the nightmares."

    "Nightmares?" Leo tapped a few keys and - of course - ended up shining a light into Robert's eyes. "What kind of nightmares?"

    "I… well, not normal ones," Robert replied. "Just feelings of being elsewhere and of nasty things happening."

    "Huh." Leo tapped another key on his scanner. "I'm showing definite signs of your brain chemistry being a little out of whack. I'd like to give you a small sleep aid if this keeps up."

    "Aren't those habit-forming?"

    Leo gave him a sardonic look, as if he was slightly offended at the insinuation that he wouldn't know that. "I was about to say that I'd like it if you had a psychiatric evaluation of sorts first. Nightmares recurring like that may be psychological and not physical. Sleep aids wouldn't help so much. Especially since the ones that might suppress your brain dreaming would also mess your brain up in other ways if taken for too long."

    "And we wouldn't want that. Although Julia thinks my brain is already messed up enough."

    At that Leo smirked. "She may be onto something." Leo reached into a satchel. "Now, let's….

    There was a beep from Robert's multi-device. "Bridge to Captain Dale.

    Robert brought his right arm up and tapped the comm key. "Dale here."

    "We're approaching the first system the Phosako provided us," came the answer. It was Locarno, manning the bridge for the moment. "So far there are no signs of a ship. But sensors show indication of a vessel having warped through recently."

    "Good. Relay that info to Jarod and Cat and set course for our next system. I'll be up shortly to relieve you. Dale out."

    "I guess I'd better hurry," Leo remarked. "And you can tell me about those nightmares you're talking about."

    "They're nothing something I can describe easily," Robert warned.

    "That's fine. I'm not trying to find meanings from them or anything. I just figured it would do you good to talk about them with someone else. Have you talked to Angel?"

    "I think Angel has enough on her mind helping Cat recover from that beating," Robe said a little too urgently. "I'd rather not burden her with my problems too."

    "She's your girlfriend, right?" Leo said. "She's there for you. You think Angel would be happy to know you're playing the chivalric route with her? Like she was some wilting flower?"

    "Of course not," Robert replied. "But I also know she's got a lot on her mind with helping Cat feel better. I'm not going to ask her to choose between us or overburden herself between the two of us. I'm a big boy. I can handle it."

    "The sleep deprivation says otherwise," Leo retorted. He sighed. "But I know when you're not going to take my advice. Just remember that there are people who will help you, alright?"

    "Of course." Robert nodded. He tried to convey his understanding with a small smile. "You guys, I mean, everyone… you've been the reason I haven't gone nuts."

    "Tell me about it." Leo almost said more, about how self-destructive Robert's relentless need to be the hero could be, but thought better of it. He went back to the checkup. "Anyway, now I need you to open your mouth and say, 'Ahhhh'."

    Robert glared at him. "You're not being serious."

    Leo nodded at him, holding up the tongue depressor.

    "I'm not a kid," he protested.

    "If you behave, Captain, there will be lollipops."

    "You're incorrigible…"




    Everyone was back on the bridge, later than usual for their given shifts, when they arrived at the next system. "Three minutes from exiting warp," Locarno said.

    "Which system is this?", Julia asked.

    "System 29IR on the survey maps," Jarod answered. "A long range probe already scanned the system months ago. Gas giants, some moons that might have useful mineral resources, and a couple of terrestrial planets with one Venusian planet." Jarod tapped a key. "Hrm. This system is flagged for further study. The survey found signs of naqia deposits in the asteroid belt beyond the third planet. And significant supplies of Ripleyite."

    "Ripleyite? Isn't that…"

    Jarod nodded at Robert's query. "A room temperature super-conducting mineral. Something you can use in building antimatter generators, among other things."

    "Sounds like it would be useful for space-dwelling semi-nomads," Julia noted.

    "I'm picking up ships on sensors now," Cat said. "They're close to one of the terrestrial moons with a strong magnetosphere. It's why I didn't see them before."

    "That might be them," Robert said. "Jarod, prepare to hail…"

    "I'm picking up weapons fire between the ships," Cat added.

    Julia and Robert exchanged concerned looks. "Code Red," Julia said. "Sound General Quarters."

    The klaxons went off briefly as red lights came on around the bridge. "Laurent reports fighters are ready for launch," Jarod said.

    "Can you tell us anything about the ships?"

    "One's definitely larger than the other," Cat said. "And I'm picking up a couple of smaller ships now. Their energy signatures indicate they're offline."

    "Preparing to bring us out of warp," Locarno said.

    Aurora dropped from warp speed into the area of the moon where the battle was taking place. On their viewscreen two ships immediately stood out. One was large, wide, and powerful-looking, colored white and blue with weapon scouring on several locations. There were four large warp nacelles arrayed in an X pattern around the main body. This vessel was nearly the size of the Aurora but looked older and more run-down. Blue energy flared along the hull as emerald energy fire poured into the ship's side. It retorted with similar energy weapons that scoured the foe.

    Their foe was a sleeker vessel. Built like a shark in space, a predator ship certainly, with thick cannon blasts erupting from the bow to rake into the big ship's side again. The shields of the large ship were clearly starting to falter. Near it were the two smaller ships, both disabled by weapons fire.

    "Which one do you suspect is the Remnant?" Robert asked.

    "For all we know, it's both," Julia pointed out.

    "Going by sensor scans, I can't tell," Jarod replied. "The Phosako records have multiple specific energy signatures existing for all Remnant contacts."

    "Well, that big ship's not as heavily-armed as she could be for her size," Cat said. "From what I can tell of her structure, a large section of internal space is given to other functions. A lot of life readings, that's for sure. There may be more than 5,000 people in the big ship."

    "That sounds like Remnants to me," Julia said.

    "Agreed." Robert looked to Angel. "Lock on to the attacking ship at my signal. Ready all weapons. Jarod, put me on."

    After hearing a tone from the Ops station and getting a nod from Jarod, Robert spoke up. "This is Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora. We request both vessels cease this fight and explain their grievances to us."

    "Yeah, that's going to go over well," Angel remarked sardonically. "They're locking weapons on us now."

    "Who?"

    "Both ships."

    Robert blinked in surprise. "Well, I didn't expect that. Put me back on." When that was confirmed he continued, "I repeat, this is Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. We come in peace. I'm looking to speak to the band of Humans known as Remnants who wander this region of space."

    The moments passed. The second ship promptly turned toward them. "They're locking weapons fully," Jarod warned.

    "Brace for impact."

    The smaller ship opened up with the same emerald energy weapons. Aurora shook slightly. "Shields holding at ninety-four percent."

    "Return fire."

    Angel's hands went to those appropriate keys. The pulse plasma cannons on Aurora's bow opened up with sapphire fury. Bolts of blue energy slammed into the the enemy ship as it maneuvered toward them. Its shields held for the moment. "It looks like their shield strength went down by a third with that volley," Jarod said. "They're maneuvering to get to our side."

    "They're quick too," Locarno added. "I don't think I can keep them from getting out of the bow arc."

    "They'll wish they hadn't," Angel said even as she was readying her starboard side weapons.

    As the enemy ship came up and poured fire into their starboard, Angel readied the phasers. Beams and pulses of amber light lashed out from the phaser strips and pulse cannon emplacements along the starboard hull.

    "Their shields are below fifty percent," Jarod reported. "Ours are still at ninety."

    "And I think they know that," Locarno remarked. "They're breaking off."

    "Let them," Robert ordered. "If this is really some skirmish between Remnants, I don't want to let them…."

    Before Robert could finish, the big vessel finished coming about. An energy cannon emplacement in the bow fired off a shot. An emerald lance of enormous power lashed out through space and struck the rear shields of the escaping ship. Missiles erupted from emplacements in the bow and raced across the range, exploiting the weakened shields in that arc. Two went off against the shields and two more slammed into unprotected aft hull. The other ship stopped its forward acceleration and began to drift off-course.

    Small craft began to emerge from the sides of the big ship. They moved toward the crippled vessels, the greater number of them toward the ship that had just been crippled. There was a tone from Jarod's console. "They're hailing."

    "Put them onscreen," Robert answered.

    The man that appeared had faintly-tanned skin. His face bore some wrinkles in his brow, the kind you see with someone used to carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. His short dark hair was graying. A set of brown eyes appraised them carefully for several moments. "I am Arik Shaham," he said. "Master of the vessel Tikvah. I have heard of you and your ship, Captain Dale. I apologize that it took me so long to remember your name. We must be cautious of other ships."

    "Thank you, Captain Shaham," Robert answered. "Who was attacking you?"

    Shaham frowned. "Bounty hunters," he replied. "Privateers who hunt our people to win rewards from the Reich."

    "I see." Robert took in a breath. At least this hadn't been a Remnant versus Remnant fight like he'd feared. "It looks like you have some vessels disabled. Can we provide assistance?"

    Shaham seemed to consider it. "We are running low on medical supplies. And I lost my chief surgeon a month ago. If you can provide us assistance with the wounded…"

    Robert nodded. Julia went for the intercom key. "Bridge to Medbay. Please prepare for wounded."

    "Right away," Leo answered.

    "We're ready to receive your wounded," Robert said.

    "My thanks, Captain," Shaham said. "In the meantime, you are out here to meet with us?"

    "Yes," Robert said.

    Shaham's expression darkened slightly. "You wish us to fight the Reich at your side, undoubtedly. This I cannot do."

    Robert shook his head. "I didn't think you could and we're not out here to ask you to commit to any military alliance. We're out here to learn more about you and what you know of the Reich's internal structure and details. Any aid you give in that will be more valuable than having you on the battlefield when the time comes."

    Shaham considered that. He nodded slightly. "Very well spoken, Captain. I will transport over to your ship shortly. Is there space in your shuttle bay?"

    "Our shuttle bay has plenty of space, yes," Robert replied.

    "I will arrive shortly then. Shaham out."

    After Shaham's face disappeared, everything on the bridge quieted. "So much for sleep," Robert sighed. "We need to get this meeting off right."

    "I'll see if Hargert can provide some finger foods to the conference room," Julia offered.

    "A great idea. In the meantime, secure from Code Red. And make sure to get those wounded to Leo."

    A series of affirmations answered him.




    Robert and Julia were waiting in the shuttle bay as the shuttlecraft came from the Tikvah. It was painted light gray in color with no visible warp drive on it. Its shape reminded Robert more of a skycar from the FedStars' planets than a shuttle like in their shuttlebay.

    After some discussion, it had been decided to avoid the full trappings of state, if only because there was no recognizable government that Shaham had alluded to. Robert and Julia were in their normal duty uniforms. Meridina had opted for hers as well.

    The side of the craft opened. Arik Shaham stepped out of the side. He'd evidently been piloting. Beside him was a woman who looked perhaps a few years younger. She was not too thin but hardly solid in build. Dark hair and olive skin made her look more Mediterranean than Arik. There was only a slightly lighter coloration on the young woman who stepped out behind them, wearing a sleeveless blouse of vibrant blue color compared to the older woman's faded yellow color and the utilitarian gray of Shaham's suit.

    "Captain Shaham." Dale nodded. "Welcome to the Aurora." He gestured to Julia. "This is my First Officer, Commander Julia Andreys."

    Arik nodded his head. "A pleasure to meet you," he said in accented English.

    "That's not translated, is it?" Julia asked. "You know English?"

    "It's a common language for those of us who flee the Reich," Arik answered. "The first of those to flee came from North America."

    "I see." Robert nodded.

    "My wife, Sarah," Arik said, gesturing to the older woman. She smiled at them out of friendliness. "And my daughter Na'ama."

    Na'ama Shaham was gawking at the size of the shuttle bay. "What is this one?', she asked, gesturing toward tone of the runabouts.

    "That is the Vistula," Julia replied. "She's one of our twelve runabouts."

    "We name them for Earth's rivers, usually," Robert added.

    Na'ama continued to look at the craft with wonder and curiosity. Her parents gave a glance in that direction and returned to business. "My thanks, Captain Dale," Arik said. "I don't know how many of my people might have died if you had not come along."

    "I'm glad we could help," Robert said. "It's why we went out into space in the first place."

    "We have heard so many rumors of your people," Sarah said. "Where they come from, what you are. I'm curious to learn about you."

    "The rest of my command staff is assembled in the conference room for us," Robert explained. "We're more than willing to share information."

    "Lead the way, Captain."




    On the way up Julia and Robert had barely been able to hide her own mirth at just how excited Na'ama seemed to be at seeing the Aurora. Whatever Tikvah was like internally, it apparently didn't have Aurora's azure-paneled corridors or any of the other aspects of the ship. She repeatedly asked about the ship's capabilities and size in a way that made both of them think of Caterina.

    "Cat's going to love this girl," Julia whispered to Robert, who smiled and nodded in agreement.

    Once they were in the conference room introductions were made. The Shahams sat at the other side of the table to face the Aurora command crew. "Your ship is so interesting to see," Arik admitted. "I'm afraid our vessel would lack in comparison."

    "Having to fit 5,000 people and the means to maintain them in a ship of your size can't be easy," Jarod noted.

    "What was that weapon you used on the enemy ship?", Angel asked. "The energy signature reminded me of Nazi super-disruptors, but the power of it was crazy. The Scharnhorst's main batteries don't match it."

    "It was a super-disruptor cannon we salvaged from a destroyed Reich dreadnought," Arik answered. "They are typically fixed to those vessels as spinal mounts."

    "You defeated a dreadnought?", Robe asked.

    "Alas, I cannot claim credit," Arik answered. "It was during a war ten years ago. The Reich attacked an alien species, the Kameli. Kameli ships managed to disable and destroy one of their dreadnoughts in the final days of the war."

    "I always liked the Kameli," Na'ama said sadly.

    Robert had a bad feeling about how that war ended for the Kamali. "I see. Well, I suppose it's useful to have something like that."

    "It has saved us more times than I can count," Arik answered. "But to get on to business… You said you wished to know of the Reich, Captain?"

    "We need to know more about it," Robert explained. "How it's organized. If there are any weak points in its power structure we can exploit in event of a war."

    "Of course," Arik said. "We do not keep in touch with many sources of information in the Reich's territories, but I am familiar with some of the unrest that can occur in the worlds of the subordinate nations." "He nodded to Sarah. "Sarah is something of a historian and can help explain how the Reich's structures came to be."

    "We'll be grateful for anything you can tell us," Robert assured them.

    "Might we ask questions of you, Captain?', Sarah inquired.

    "Of course," Robert replied.

    Sarah and Arik exchanged looks. Na'ama looked more attentive for the conversation's direction.

    "It is a matter of some… importance to us," Sarah said delicately. "But might you know how many of our people are left in your multiverse?"

    Robert considered that question. "Your people? You mean…"

    "Jews, Captain," Arik said quietly. "How many Jews survive in your Alliance? And in other worlds?"

    Understanding dawned on Robert. "I see. Well, to be honest, I haven't counted."

    "A few billion at least," Jarod said.

    The Shahams gawked at him.

    "It can vary by universe, of course," Jarod answered. "But in general…. You're looking at over five billion in the Alliance alone. And that is being conservative. And there are Jewish populations on a lot of worlds, even small ones." Jarod looked at Caterina. "How many Jews do you think are on New Liberty? From all of those missions we ran into the Eastern European ghettos and the Pale of Settlement in C1P2?"

    "I think around 10,000," Cat answered. "In the New Liberty Colony alone."

    "Ten thousand," Arik said with astonishment. "On one colony."

    "Five billion…."

    The Aurora crew became uncomfortably aware that this information was having an effect upon their guests. Tears were already flowing down Sarah's eyes. Na'ama looked about ready to weep with stunned joy.

    Even Arik, for all of his stern demeanor, seemed to suddenly be thunderstruck.

    A horrible realization came to Robert at that moment. On why their reaction was so extreme. He looked to Julia, who nodded. She had realized the same thing.

    It was Meridina who openly spoke what they were thinking. "You are the last of your people in this universe," she said gently.

    "Yes," Arik answered with his voice hoarse from the feelings coursing through him. "The Jews on Tikvah are all that is left of our people."

    "Five thousand," Jarod murmured.

    Faces across the room darkened. It didn't take much to imagine why.

    Leo was the first to speak up. "I imagine you have health problems with a population that small."

    "It's not enough to maintain proper genetic diversity," Sarah agreed. "We have had to turn to genetic engineering to try and alleviate the effects. But there is only so much our means allow us in that direction."

    "The Nazi, they hunt us without pause," Na'ama added. "For centuries they have hunted us, destroying our colony ships, our population vessels, any colony we have planted on a world."

    "We once settled a colony with much of our population that escaped Earth," Sarah continued for her daughter. "It fell to the Reich a hundred and fifty years ago. Two million survivors of the Nazi purge of Earth, wiped out in a manner of minutes. Only two hundred thousand escaped."

    "And still they hunt us," Arik finished.

    Robert put his hands together on the desk and lost himself in thought for a moment. It was upon seeing the fiery, cool look on Julia's eyes that he realized what he had to do next.

    "We can give you a home," he said. "A place."

    That drew the attention of the Shahams. "Captain Dale?"

    "A new colony world if you want it," Robert continued. "Or a place on New Liberty. Regardless of which you chose you would have a new home, in another universe, far away from the Nazis."

    The offer left them quiet for several moments. "That is a…. handsome offer, Captain," Arik replied. "We will consider. Until then, feel free to ask any question you have."

    "Before we start." Julia gave Robert a look before turning back to the Shahams. "Is your warp drive operational?"

    "It was disabled during the attack," Arik replied. "My engineers believe it will take the next two days to finish fixing it."

    "Two days." Julia shook her head.

    She looked to Scotty, who nodded back. "I think I can find somethin' tae help with that, sir," he said to Shaham.

    "Your assistance would be welcome," Arik answered.

    And the reason was clear to all. If the Reich's hunters found and engaged a crippled Tikvah, they could complete the extermination that their forefathers had begun centuries before.

    And without a word needing to be said, Robert and his people were in clear agreement. They would not let that happen.
     
  26. Threadmarks: 1-12-3
    Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    The Shahams are adapted from the material of a friend of mine with the SN of Coyote. He's the creator of the BOHICA Blues webcomic, which draws upon his experiences as a National Guardsman assigned to Iraq.


    Ship's Log: 4 July 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We remain in place in system 29IR to provide support for the Remnant vessel Tikvah. According to Mister Scott the ship is still half a day away from warp capability. Engineering teams are working with those on the Tikvah to get the ship back to warp capability as quickly as they can.

    In the meantime I am left haunted by the weight of what we have found. We came out here to get information we might need to effectively oppose the Reich in a war. Now our mission may be vastly more important; saving the last of an exterminated people from extinction. I can only hope we're up to that task.



    Robert looked up from his computer in his ready room when the tone came in from the bridge. "We have Admiral Lithgon on subspace for you, sir," said Lieutenant Jupap.

    "Transfer him to my ready room, Lieutenant."

    "Aye sir."

    The face of Admiral Lithgon appeared. "Captain Dale." His voice had a bit of an accent to it, a sort of faded Commonwealth accent, almost English and almost Australian Robert thought. "Admiral Relini informed me of your progress." The older man shook his head. "My God. I'm actually surprised there are any Jews left in this universe."

    "Not many," Robert said darkly. "And we're doing what we can to get them warp capable again."

    "You think the Reich is going to attack them while crippled?"

    "I'm certain of it."

    "Do what you can for them," Lithgon answered. "Things are quiet around here, thankfully."

    "Nothing new has happened?"

    "The Reich activity has slowed down as of late. Granted, that might mean they're ready for whatever it is they're planning, or maybe they're getting cautious due to our increasing ties to the Phosako."

    Robert shook his head. "I can't imagine these people will just let things slide. We entered their space. We blew up two of their ships."

    "I agree. They're coming one day. But every day they don't come is a day another ship leaves the yards," Lithgon pointed out. "So I'm content to see them do nothing."

    "I hope everything is fine with Fourth Fleet?"

    Lithgon nodded. "We're on station near Krellan. Just to make sure the Reich forces across the border don't try anything. Fourth Fleet is the most powerful combat fleet in the Alliance right now so that has to be giving the Reich serious thoughts."

    "Once this is over, Aurora can be there in a day's travel at high warp," Robert pointed out.

    Lithgon smiled at that. "Yes, you do love to put that Darglan warp drive through its paces, don't you? But I don't think that would be necessary, Captain. The truth is, Aurora isn't meant for fleet operations like this. You're better put to use dealing with whatever issue or crisis the President and Admiral Maran think needs your attention."

    Robert thought on that. He shook his head. "If something happens, I'm the one responsible for it happening. It's not right that you're on the firing line and I'm not."

    "It's not about right or wrong, Captain. It's about what is needed for us to get through this situation," Lithgon pointed out. "And right now, the Aurora is needed where she is. If war does come about, the President will need your help keeping other sectors quiet, not facing down Reich war fleets."

    And leaving others to die for my mistake, Robert thought darkly. "I can see your point."

    Lithgon grinned at him. "You'll do your part, Captain. I'm sure of that." Lithgon looked away for a moment and accepted a digital pad from someone. "Duty calls, Captain. I'll talk to you later. Be careful out there, and good luck."

    "Good luck to you too, Admiral. Dale out." Robert leaned forward and pressed the key to shut down the comm link.

    "And that leaves me nothing left but paperwork," he sighed, turning his attention to that labor.




    Lucy found the Tikvah to be a remarkable ship from an engineering perspective. The hull had clearly been intended to be a colony ship but had undergone major modifications since its original purpose. Hydroponics bays provided a small amount of food, just sufficient to prevent starvation in the colony's population, and a meat vattery provided raw cloned cell meat - beef and fish from what she had seen - to supplement their diet with animal nutrients.

    Still, it was clear these people were living on the very edge of the precipice. Most looked, if not malnourished, slightly underdeveloped. Some had illnesses that they lacked the medicine to properly treat or manage. They lived in small spaces and their days were spent between what seemed to be enforced inactivity or frenzied work to keep their ship running. Their clothes were mostly unadorned and threadbare. One young woman had come to her offering a small ring if she could get a fresh set of clothes.

    A ring. With a jewel and everything. For a set of clothes that Lucy could effortlessly replicate back on the Aurora. She'd never forgive herself if she took the girl up on that offer.

    That said, for all of their horrible conditions, despite everything… she didn't feel that darkness that had permeated the Refugee Fleet. The people here didn't show anything like the attitude of the refugees from the Colonies of Kobol had. While they had been terrified, angry, and quick to become nasty when pushed, these people actually seemed… hopeful. The one girl had offered the ring for clothes invited her to sit and eat with her family; not with Lucy's rations, but with their own portions. They had so little, but they offered it freely.

    "We give them hope," Meridina noted. She stood beside Lucy and observed, a short distance away, one of the engineers teaching a group of adolescents how to maintain one of the power conduits. "For all that they have lost, hope still burns bright in their swevyra."

    "It's all they've had," Lucy observed.

    "Yes. Sometimes that is all one can have. And sometimes it is all that one needs." Meridina looked to her. "I did not mean to interrupt your work. I am here to oversee the return of some of their wounded. And to gauge their ability to resist boarding parties."

    "Is there any real threat of that?", Lucy asked. "The Nazis want to blow them out of space, not abduct them."

    "There is more than one way to do that," Meridina reminded her. "But I think this ship is about as secure as it could be. Their ship militia seems to have things well in hand."

    "That's comforting to know," Lucy answered. She looked back to the plasma conduit. "Sorry. I need to focus on this. I'm surprised this conduit hasn't gone boom yet."

    "I will await your return to the Aurora, Lucy," Meridina answered.




    Julia and Scotty beamed over to the Tikvah and were led directly to the meeting room. On the way both had ample chance to notice how different this ship was. Darker, crowded, more confined spaces, with the interiors dull brown and yellow with faded gray in spots. Some of the bulkheads had to be opened manually by the young man escorting them because the automatic systems had failed.

    Arik Shaham was waiting for them. This time he had a couple of young men with him. One was darker skinned than the other, and it was the second that drew Julia's attention for how much he resembled Arik. "This is my son, Yonatan," Arik said. "And my second in command, Benyamin Shameel."

    "Commander Julia Andreys, and Commander Montgomery Scott," Julia answered, gesturing to herself and Scotty.

    "Welcome to the Tikvah," Shameel said. He grinned at them. He had a well-kept beard and Julia considered him quite handsome, with a light olive complexion.

    Yonatan seemed somewhat less cordial. He nodded briskly at them.

    "I know our vessel isn't much," Arik answered. "But I hope you find our hospitality acceptable."

    "More than," Julia assured him.

    "Aye. Ye've done us a fine greetin', sir," Scotty agreed. "My teams tell me yer systems are workin' well given th' age on 'em."

    "Yes," Arik nodded. "Starship maintenance is something we all learn. Every citizen of Tikvah over the age of 12 knows how to fix a power conduit or repair a burnt out circuit."

    "She's an old girl, but she's healthy an' strong," Scotty observed. "A credit tae her crew, certainly."

    "Speaking of them." Julia gave them a warm smile. "I was going to offer some replenishment for your food and medicine stocks. Aurora has replicator systems and raw materials to provide humanitarian assistance in a crisis."

    Arik allowed himself a chuckle at that. "It is a shame our appetites were so horrible last night," he said. "Those 'finger foods' that your gallery served looked rather appetizing. Simple vegetables and vat-cloned meat get exhausting on the palate after a while."

    "Hargert would be happy to send your people some meals," Julia said. "Although it might take him some time to make enough for your entire ship."

    "There will be time enough for that later, Commander Andreys," Arik answered. "For now, we will focus on the repairs we need"

    "Of course." Julia nodded. "As for our other offer?"

    "I have submitted it to the community," Arik answered. "I intend to vote yes."

    "Perhaps ye should let us send ye through tae another universe now, Captain Shaham," Scotty recommended. "Just in case."

    Arik smiled softly at that. "That is my thought as well. But abandoning our universe of birth is a major question for our people. I'm awaiting a final word from our Rabbinical Council on the matter." He sighed. "Although if need be I will act and deal with the repercussions later."

    "It would probably be better to get the warp drive fixed first," Julia said. "Jumps between universes have specific spatial aspects to them, you can jump to somewhere further away relative to your starting position, but there's still a margin of error and you could end up deep in interstellar space."

    "I understand. Hopefully our drives will be up shortly."

    "Is there anything else I can do for you before Mister Scott and I examine our work teams?"

    "Nothing," Arik answered. "Although my daughter has asked for permission to visit your ship again. She's quite taken."

    Scotty and Julia exchanged knowing looks. , "Aye," Scotty said. "An' I think we have just th' lass tae show her around."




    Caterina was quick to show Na'ama to her science labs. "This is Science Lab 1," she said happily, showing her into the chamber. There were port and starboard exits, with them coming through the port, with the middle being a series of control consoles and sensor displays, both 2D and holographic 3D. Even now models of some space phenomena were being displayed on various instruments. "We mostly study space phenomena here and computer systems work. Science Lab 2 is where applied physics simulations are run and readings looked over."

    "Is there a Science Lab 3?", Na'ama asked. The young woman's eyes shined brightly with wonder.

    "Deck 20," Cat answered, grinning widely. "Biological materials. It's mostly run by Leo and his medical staff with some of our biologists. I'll have to take you down there before we're done and see if Doctor Ke'mani'pala is on duty."

    "Who is she?"

    "She is… a relative term. Doctor Ke'mani'pala is a Gl'mulli. They don't really have genders. The Gl'mulli are a gelatinous species who sense their surroundings through sensitivity to energy and electromagnetic fields."

    Na'ama's face betrayed her surprise. "Really?'

    "Yeah. And they're really good at microbiology."

    Caterina found a seat at one of the stations and invited Na'ama to sit beside her. Na'ama felt the science officer's enthusiasm to be infectious to her. I wonder what it's like. Getting to travel to so many systems, so many universes, and just explore.

    "I'm running a data recompiler here," Caterina explained. "It's going through scrambled data we recovered from data we recovered from an alien computer system. It could have some important stuff on it."

    "Really?" Na'ama touched the nearby console and found a key to bring up the coding. "I've studied lots of computer systems since I was a child. My mother considered it important to be able to record our history."

    "You must not have a lot of open computer space over on your ship," Cat noted.

    "No. But we have enough." Na'ama started typing in little commands. "I think I can apply one of our screeners to this."

    "Screeners?"

    "Yes. It's a program that analyzes the raw data and finds natural patterns in the data that hooks up to other fragments. It's excellent for defragmenting information."

    Cat looked at her a moment before her smile turned into a laugh. "Why didn't we ever think of something like that?! Can you show me the plans?" When Na'ama nodded and used the console to hook into her systems on Tikvah, Cat called up Jarod.

    By the time Na'ama was done, Jarod had arrived. "What have you got?"

    "I'm ready to run the pattern compiler now," Na'ama told them.

    "Let's do this," Cat agreed, smiling.

    Na'ama giggled with excitement before hitting the necessary keys. Together they watched the program start to work, examining the data and slowing patching things together. "Wow," Cat said. "That's pretty good."

    "I never imagined it would run so well," Na'ama said. "Your hardware is just so much better than ours."

    "This could be a big help." Jarod tapped her on the shoulder. "Thank you, Miss Shaham."

    "Please. Na'ama is fine."

    "I'm Cat." Caterina offered her hand.

    Na'ama nodded and accepted it. When the handshake was over she looked back to the systems. Her eyes followed various screens until she was looking at what looked like sensor returns.

    What she saw made her frown.

    Cat noticed it. "What's wrong?"

    "What are these sensor readings?', Na'ama asked.

    Cat looked at them. "Oh, you're looking at yesterday's sensor logs. They come from the first systems we came to in our search. It's some kind of power surge I figured it was in background space, maybe a flare-up of subspace energy, or barring that, a ship having a momentary default."

    "No," Na'ama insisted. "It's not that." She looked up with growing horror. Her mind raced to things her parents had shown her, the work her father had given her in learning how to examine sensor returns. "You saw this on your way to find us?"

    "Yes." Cat saw the way her face was looking. "Na'ama?"

    "No. No no no." Na'ama shook her head. She couldn't keep her fear out. "It's them."

    "Who?", Cat asked.

    "The Nazi, the Hunters," Na'ama answered. "It's one of them."

    Jarod, having overheard, leaned over her shoulder to look at the screen. "How can you tell?"

    "I've seen these patterns before," she said. "It's from how they hide their ships from detection."

    "You're saying that's a byproduct of their cloaking system?", Cat asked.

    "Yes." Na'ama looked to her. "Did they follow you?! They might have suspected your purpose, please, did you see that signature anywhere else?"

    "No… no, I didn't," Cat replied. She looked back to her station and changed it to connect to the sensors. "Here, let me run a long range scan. I'll see if I can pick it up anywhere…." Cat stared at the screen.

    "What?", Na'ama asked.

    Jarod was looking too. "Caterina, that's the signature."

    "And it's almost on top of us," Cat said. She jumped from her chair. "We need to hurry!"

    Jarod slapped his multi-device. "Jarod to bridge!"

    "Locarno here."

    "Nick, call Code Yellow!"

    "What? What's wrong?"

    "That signature Cat thought she saw at the rendezvous with the Phosako, it may be a Reich hunter vessel."

    There was an intake of breath from the other end of the comm line as Cat and Jarod left the lab and entered the main corridor. They turned and ran on toward the lift doors. The ship running lights turned yellow as they did.




    Robert got to the bridge just as Jarod and Cat did. "Report."

    "Na'ama Shaham recognized that background energy signature I saw yesterday," Cat said. "It's a Reich hunter ship under cloak. And I'm picking it up again."

    "What?" Robert felt his mind race. Did we lead them to these people…? No. No, that other ship might have already been transmitting their location. "Inform Captain Shaham." Robert looked to tactical. Angel was off-shift, so Lieutenant Luneri - a female Dorei - was on station. The purple-skinned, teal-dotted woman was already preparing the weapons. "Lieutenant, track that power signature. The moment it pops up I want you to hit it with everything."

    "Yes sir," Luneri responded.

    "On my mark, prepare to raise shields," Robert said. "Do we have any messages from Tikvah?"

    Jarod nodded. "Shaham's people are preparing for combat. They're ready to raise shields the moment the enemy ship appears."

    "Can they maneuver? I hate the idea of giving them an open shot, shields or no."

    Jarod shook his head. "No. Their engineering teams had to take impulse drives offline to continue repairs to the ship's power grid."

    "Dammit." Robert smacked his fist to the arm of his command chair. He felt his mind start to race. "They're sitting ducks. Nick, can you maneuver us to cover them?"

    "If that ship is half as agile as I think it is, we could never stop it from getting by," Nick answered.

    "I'm detecting a shift in the background energy of the anomalous signature," Cat said. "I… I think they're coming out of warp…."

    "Lieutenant, can you lock on?", Robe asked.

    Luneri worked furiously at her console. "Sorry. But I'm not getting a solid lock on the other energy signature."

    "Even if you could, there's no guarantee you'd hit. It's an anomalous area, the ship could be anywhere within that volume of space," Cat pointed out.

    "Regardless… manual aim, Lieutenant. Fire phasers when ready."

    "Aye, sir," Luneri answered, going to work on her console.

    The phaser strips on Aurora's starboard side lashed out, one by one. The beams of amber energy stabbed at empty space over and over again. But nothing seemed to connect.

    "Cat, can you get a clearer image so we can shoot more accurately?", Robert asked.

    "I'm doing my best, but the effect isn't localized enough."

    More phaser streaks joined the other. Tikvah fired a few bolts of disruptor energy as well. But nothing hit.

    Then it appeared. A squat, compact, shark-like warship painted deep black. There were no markings, nothing to see that announced their affiliation. Bot it wasn't hard to know just whose ship it was.

    Luneri's aim was was true this time. Phaser fire lashed repeatedly against the small warship's shields. "Firing torpedoes!", the Dorei woman announced. Sparks of blue white light lashed out toward the Reich ship.

    Just as torpedoes erupted from its main launchers.

    The Aurora's torpedoes impacted first, defying the last minute maneuvers of the hunter ship. The small ship's shields broke down and two of the torpedoes made impact on bare hull. There was a flash of intense white light, the result of an anti-matter explosion, and then nothing was left.

    The torpedoes of the hunter ship didn't cause such catastrophe on the Tikvah. One was even destroyed by the disruptors on the Jewish refuge vessel.

    But the other two torpedoes made impact.

    The first slammed into the Tikvah's shields. It soon became clear that the torpedo was meant to deal with them; the moment it made impact there was a wave of energy from the impact point and the Tikvah's shields wavered.

    This allowed the second torpedo to bypass them directly and slam right into the upper starboard nacelle of the Tikvah's warp drive system.

    The resulting explosion consumed that warp nacelle in fire. The Tikvah spun slightly from the force of the blast. Lights across the ship began to flicker off. Robert watched this in horror. "Jarod! Report!"

    "Their warp system is crippled," Jarod answered. "I'm reading major feedback through their power grid. With all of the makeshift repairs they've had to do, it couldn't deal with the hit."

    Robert watched the great habitat ship list in space and felt his stomach twist. "How many losses have they taken? What about our people?"

    "I'm trying to establish communications again." Jarod's hands moved swiftly over his controls.

    After several moments they got a signal. "Aurora, do you read? This is Commander Andreys."

    "This is Aurora. Julia, how are things going over there?"

    "Bad. Main power is offline. Most of auxiliary power is going to life support systems, and even those are offline on four decks in the engineering spaces. Mister Scott and their engineers are trying to assess the damage… Robert, I'm sorry. But this ship is crippled right now. I don't think we'll be getting her underway any time soon."

    "We took out the Reich hunter ship," Robert answered. "Hopefully that means we've got some time."

    "What was that ship?" she asked.

    Arik's voice came over the comm line. "A stealth attack vessel. They train to launch attacks like that, cloaking and firing shield-piercing torpedoes before an enemy can react. I suspect their commander thought he could evade your torpedoes"

    "How do you defend against it?', Robert asked.

    "By being able to go to warp and evade," was Arik's bitter answer. "I apologize, Captain, but I must see to my crew and people. We have casualties to attend to."

    Robert swallowed. And there are so few left… "I understand. We're standing by to assist. Commander Andreys, please return to the ship so we can discuss our options."

    "I'm on my way back now."




    Everyone was gathered in the conference room on Aurora. "From what I've heard, the Tikvah is completely crippled," Robert said to his assembled command staff, including those returned from Tikvah. "What options do we have?"

    "Well, the warp drive is completely out," Lucy said. "Tikvah needs major yard time to even hope of rebuilding it. And if the Nazis are gunning for us here, we don't have time to get a yardship out here."

    Meridina nodded. "What if we were to create a jump point for them? Could they not escape through it?'

    "There's no guarantee that they'd arrive close to a system," Caterina pointed out. "They could end up stranded in interstellar space."

    "Actually, that's not the main problem," Jarod said.

    "Aye." Scotty shook his head. "We cannae send th' ship through a point. She'll come apart if we put her engines tae th' necessary power tae enter a point."

    "Maybe we could use our own SIF field to reinforce their structural integrity?" Lucy suggested.

    "Nice idea, lass, but it's nae possible any longer. Even our ship cannae project an SIF field of th' necessary intensity an' size. Nae enough tae protect from acceleration an' th' gravitational shear of a jump point."

    "So we can't jump them out or bring them under warp tow," Julia said.

    "Nae, Commander, we cannae do any of that." Scotty shook his head. "If I have a day or two I might be able tae rebuild her systems enough tae be taken under tow by th' Aurora."

    "That does seem to be our best choice," Jarod agreed. "I'll run the calculations to make sure, but…"

    Before he could finish, there was a beep over the comm line. "Captain." Lieutenant Luneri was speaking from the bridge. "We have a ship on long range sensors coming in at high warp. According to Ensign al-Rashad, it has subspace fluctuations consistent with an anti-matter pulse drive."

    Robert swallowed. "Relay the sensor information in here, Lieutenant."

    "Aye, Captain."

    A moment later the holo-projector over the central table activated to show the relevant sensor readings. Jarod, Cat, and Scotty examined them closely. "That… is a big subspace signature," Cat said.

    "Real big," Jarod agreed. "I've not seen one this big yet."

    "Can you identify it?", Julia asked.

    "It's not on any of our recognition charts," he answered.

    "Maybe Captain Shaham will know," Julia said to Robert.

    He nodded and pressed the key on the table to re-open the channel to the bridge. "Lieutenant Luneri, put us through to Captain Shaham immediately. Prepare to relay sensor information."

    "Aye."

    After several moments Arik's voice came over the speaker. "Captain Dale. What can I do for you?"

    "We're relaying a sensor return to you," Robert explained. "It just came up on long range sensors."

    There was a short pause. Then not so short. Arik's voice was shaky when it came back. "Captain. That signature… that… that is a dreadnought."

    Robert felt like he'd been punched. "What?", he asked, incredulous.

    "I have only seen this sort of pattern a few times," Arik explained. "It is from the power assembly of an Aryan-class dreadnought."

    Everyone looked at each other. Even Angel frowned. The Alliance didn't know much about the Aryan-class, the dread pride of the Raumskriegsmarine, but what they did know was that it was a full-sized dreadnought that likely had few, if any, equals in the Alliance fleet as it was now.

    And the Aurora, advanced as she was, was not a dreadnought.

    A Hebrew curse spat on the line. "I know this signature. That fluctuation pattern… yes. It's him."

    "Him?", Angel asked.

    "Oberführer Hendrik Eicke, commander of the Eichmann," Arik answered. "He and his ship have hunted us for years. He would be arrogant enough to risk the Phosako to pursue us…"

    Robert groaned. "A ship named for Adolf Eichmann…" He shook his head. "Damned appropriate, I guess. How far out are they?"

    Caterina hit a few keys to show the actual location of the signature, including speed and direction. "They're picking up speed. I think… no more than half an hour. Maybe forty minutes," she answered.

    Julia shook her head. "There's no way we can get the Tikvah ready for a warp tow or jump that quickly."

    Robert looked around. He swallowed and thought on the situation. Whatever happened, he couldn't abandon these people. But if they stayed, he knew the Eichmann, or any other ship of that class, would make short work of Aurora. "We're too far from Harris Station to ask for reinforcements," he said. "They'd never arrive in time. That leaves one last option." Robert drew in a breath. "We beam them over to the Aurora. All five thousand of the Tikvah's residents."

    "Five thousand people. In half an hour?! Ye'll be puttin' heavy strain on all of our transporter systems!" Scotty protested. "Ye'll fry out everythin' from th' Heisenburg compensators tae th' subspace channel stabilizers!"

    "But it is possible," Lucy said. "We can average about six people every fifteen seconds on just one transporter station. And we've got six on the ship. Twice that if we include cargo transporters."

    "And the runabouts can manage another two per runabout," Jarod added. "The problem is sustained pace. Eventually we might have issues if there are any parts that go down."

    "Still, it's our best hope," Robert noted. "And if push comes to shove, they have their own light ships. We can cram as many of them as possible into our shuttle bay and launch deck."

    "That means no launching our own fighters," Laurent pointed out. "My pilots wouldn't be able to return."

    "I know, Commander," Robert said. "But it's something we'll have to do."

    "Couldn't we dock one of their attack ships into the Koenig's dock?" Julia asked. "That might carry another few hundred people, minimum."

    "Something to consider," Jarod said.

    "We're running out of time, though," Lucy said. "We need to start a transporter evacuation now if we want to be done when that Reich dreadnought shows up."

    "Right." Robert touched a button beside him. "Captain Shaham, are you there?"

    "We are, Captain Dale."

    "My crew and I have discussed the situation. Our only chance now is to beam your people over to the Aurora."

    There was a moment of silence. "As in your matter transporters?"

    "Yes."

    "I…. see. Yes. I understand. But can you fit all of our people together? Will I need to leave anyone behind?"

    "Not if we hurry," Robert said. "Get your people ready immediately. We're going to start transporting in the next few minutes or so. If you have any shuttles or craft that can dock with our ship or land in our fighter hanger or shuttle bay, send them separately."

    "We will commence evacuation immediately. Thank you for your efforts on our behalf. Shaham out."

    Robert looked to the rest of the table. "Lucy, go to Transporter Station 2 and do what you can. Mister Scott, you're on Station 1. Jarod, I need you at Operations making sure everything's running smoothly. And I want all cargo transporters going as well. We've got maybe thirty minutes left before that Reich dreadnought shows up. Let's get these people out of here."

    Everyone left as quickly as they could.




    Arik was no stranger to crisis. His people had suffered so many close calls over the years that he was used to them. This crisis just happened to be the worst of many.

    "Take only what you can carry with you immediately," he urged into the ship's PA system. "It is a sacrifice, I know. But there will be opportunities to reclaim that which we lose."

    His order circulated through the ship. Section by section, the representatives of the Tikvah Knesset responded to show their deck and sections as ready. Fifty responses in total, each representing one hundred or so people. Less than that in some cases given their recent fatalities.

    And the wounded. They will need to be evacuated with care, he pondered, even as Sarah came up to him. "Yes?"

    "I cannot carry everything, she said. "Arik… our history. Our records. We will lose so much if…"

    "We can write histories again, love," he assured her. "We'll be alive to do so."

    She nodded. "I understand. I was just hoping there was a way to make sure they were preserved."

    "I will carry what I can." Arik looked to Yonatan. "Help your mother. Carry the data drives to the Eagle."

    "Father, you should let me stay with you," Yonatan protested. "There's still enough power in the capacitors to fire the super-disruptor once."

    "And what good would that do?" Arik demanded. "Against a dreadnought?"

    "It is something," Yonatan insisted. "Maybe give us an opening to plow our ship into them…"

    Arik seized his son's shoulders. "I know you wish to prove yourself a worthy leader of our people, Yoni. You will get your chance. But I need you to live. Go with your mother. Help her and get her into the Eagle. It is under your command."

    Yonatan's eyes widened. "Father?"

    "It's yours, Yoni. Shameel and I will direct the evacuation until all is complete."

    Yonatan's mouth dried. He realized what his father was saying. "Father, please…."

    Sarah teared up. "Arik, you're not going to…"

    Arik gave him and his worried wife a reassuring smile. "I will not throw my life away. Unless we have no choice, I will see you again on Aurora. Go now, and if the worst comes and I go to my judgement, tell Na'ama how much I love her."

    "We will," Sarah promised. She reached around him and gave Arik a kiss. "Please, come back to us."

    "I will," Arik promised. Now go."

    They did so. Shameel looked at him. "Sir, what do you have in mind?"

    "In case the Eichmann arrives early, we must have a backup plan," Arik answered. "Come. We have much to discuss."
     
  27. Big Steve

    Big Steve Getting sticky.

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    Robert was watching the seconds tick away as they ran out of time. "Status?", he asked, mentally counting their time left to be within five minutes.

    "Three thousand six hundred and sixty relayed by transporter," Jarod answered. "The runabouts have brought in another three hundred. Four hundred from the assault ship that just docked and ninety-five from their remaining shuttles."

    "That leaves almost five hundred," Robert observed. "We're running out of time, we need to get those people out now."

    "They're going as fast as they can, but we've already had delays from transporters being overextended," Jarod explained. "Transporter Station Five is still down. And Cargo Bays 2 and 7 have their transporters completely offline now due to strain."

    "Are we going to make it?", Robert asked. He counted on Jarod's "Pretender" mind to do the math immediately.

    "It'll be close," was all he said.

    "Right." Robert looked around. Julia was off the bridge currently to oversee the settlement of the evacuees in specific parts of the ship, if just to ensure they weren't in the way if they had to fight off the arriving enemy warship. With Lucy and Scotty off manning transporters that left the bridge engineering station manned by a young Gersallian ensign, Mataran, but everyone else was in their proper place.

    With a tap of a button Robert brought up a small holo-map zoomed out from the star system enough to show the approaching wapr signature. This might every well be the fight of his life, at least in terms of starship combat, if they couldn't flee before the process was over. And that was looking more and more likely.

    "Susquehanna just reported in," Jarod said. "Their transporters have gone down."

    "Bring them back in," Robert replied. "In fact, bring all of our other runabouts back in before that ship gets here. I doubt we can hold it off long enough for them to get to safety anyway."

    "Orders sent." Jarod noted another item. "The last of the Tikvah shuttles is coming in for a landing, routing them to the fighter landing hanger."

    All Robert could do was urge his people on mentally to finish in time. He kept a count as they neared the magic number, just past five thousand. And I know we can outrun that bastard.

    They still had two hundred left, though, when Caterina cried out, "They just accelerated! They'll be on top of us in forty seconds!"

    Damn! "Code Red," Robert ordered. "Angel, take whatever shots you can."

    "Should I raise shields?"

    Robert looked again at the figure. Two hundred and twenty-six. Two hundred and twenty-six people who would die if he ran. Captain Shaham was one of those two hundred and twenty-six; he'd be widowing Sarah and orphaning Yonatan and Na'ama.

    Sometimes you can't save them all, he thought to himself.

    But even as he did, another part of him simply rebelled at the idea of leaving anyone behind for these people. For Nazis of all people. "We don't leave people behind," he reminded himself.

    "Hail from Tikvah," Jarod said. He put them on without asking or saying so; there wasn't time.

    "Captain, if you can survive long enough to get the rest of my people off, I may have a way to buy you time," Arik said.

    "I'm up for anything, Captain Shaham," Robert replied.

    "Keep his attention then. Can you extend shields around Tikvah?"

    "We'll lose so much shield effectiveness that it won't work for long," Jarod warned.

    "We don't have a choice. Do it." At least this way we can sustain the evacuation.

    "Extending shields," Angel said.

    "Ship coming out of warp now!"

    On the screen the enemy warship decelerated from warp. It was an ugly thing. The ship, which was nearly three hundred meters longer than the kilometer-long Aurora, had a gunmetal gray hull spotted with disruptor cannon emplacements, some of them quite large, and a battery of missile cells to go with the evident torpedo launcher in the bow. Like all Reich ships it had that bizarre slant in the middle of the length, spending about a third of its length in a ten degree incline before the hull straightened again for the drive hull section. Blue Bussard ramscoops were joined to warp nacelles that shined blood red. The ship's angle, coming at them from "above", showed the ventral side of the hull. A large Nazi swastika emblem - black cross on white circle on a square of red - was emblazoned one deck "under" a trio of large spinal-mounted weapon emplacements. They were clearly the super-disruptors that Robert had already seen used by Scharnhorst back at 33LA, but even larger than that battlecruiser's weapons.

    An additional insignia was visible at several points; two lightning bolts side by side. Or rather, two "S"es side-by-side.

    Robert waited to see if they would make a surrender demand.

    Suddenly the three spinal mount weapons opened up, sending a trio of emerald disruptor beams at Aurora. Because Locarno was already maneuvering the ship away in an evasive maneuver, although one that wouldn't uncover the Tikvah entirely, only one of the beams struck their extended shields.

    The shield met the beam... and yielded. The disruptor beam slammed into their primary hull.

    Robert felt a tremor go through his heart and gut.

    Just one shot. Even with shields extended...

    "Starboard shields failed!", Jarod shouted. "Shield cohesion down to fifty-four percent!"

    Even as he asked that fire already erupted from the other disruptor emplacements on the enemy ship, joined by missile bombardment. The interceptors on Aurora retorted to shoot down the incoming projectiles, but disruptor beam after disruptor beam struck at Aurora's overtaxed shields. The shields yielded on a couple of the larger shots, allowing the penetrating energy to scour Aurora's azure hull in multiple places.

    Even as Jarod was busy reading off the damage, Angel was letting loose with everything she could. Phaser beams retaliated and slammed into the bow shields of the Eichmann, joined by whichever cannon emitters she could bring to bear. But they couldn't present bow or aft to the ship, not without uncovering the Tikvah to the dreadnought's murderous barrage, so there was no using the more powerful pulse plasma cannons or any effective barrages of torpedoes. What torpedoes Angel did fire, as a test, were taken out by intercepting disruptor fire due to the need to turn.

    "Effect on shields?"

    "Negligible," Jarod answered. "Their shields are still at over ninety-five percent."

    Which means they can hammer us with their best weapons and we can't touch them. Robert looked to his displays. Whatever this plan is, Shaham... please hurry. I can't wait much longer and risk damage to our warp drive.




    Arik had only three people with him. Shameel, the best shot, was at tactical, Miryam Levitsky was keeping an eye on the power readings at their auxiliary engineering station, and Michael Zedner was at the helm, preparing for his order to turn the ship.

    "Sir, you realize this ship will start falling apart the moment we achieve full acceleration?", Miryam said.

    "Well aware of that," he answered. "But it'll only start."

    "And we only have one full-power shot from the super-disruptor," she continued.

    Arik smirked and said, "I know. Status on the Aurora?"

    Shameel checked his board. "They've taken hull damage. Their shields are already failing. They can't survive much longer."

    That prompted Arik to check his displays. Only a bit longer...

    "Shouldn't we let them go?", Shameel asked. "Better that most of our people get away than none do if they are lost."

    Arik had thought of that. But the thought made him feel sour. No. He would not leave another of his people behind to die at the hands of the Nazi, not if he could help it.

    You are being foolish, he imagined Sarah saying. And maybe she'd be right. But with these circumstances, he had a chance to save them all. And to give the SS a good black eye.

    "Almost there," he muttered. "Almost. Standby to fire."




    One of the secondary consoles sparked as Aurora's over-extended shields took another direct hit from the Eichmann's main weapons. This time all three beams hit. "Shields down to thirty percent! Hull breaches in Sections G and H, Decks 4, 6 through 10, and 14," Jarod reported. "Emergency forcefields in place."

    "Any casualties?", Robert asked.

    "None yet," he replied.

    "I'm still not doing much to their shields," Angel said.

    "Then forget it," Robert barked. "Mister Mataran, divert all weapon power to shields. Auxiliary power too."

    "Aye sir," the Gersallian officer replied.

    "Shields stabilizing at sixty-two percent," Jarod added. The ship shook again. "One of their anti-matter missiles got through." Jarod shook his head. "They're drawing to within five kilometers. At this range our interceptors are going to have trouble acquiring their missiles."

    The turbolift doors opened and Julia marched in. "What's going on?!", she asked.

    "We're taking a battering while the evacuation finishes," Robert said. "Captain Shaham has a plan."

    Julia went to her seat and buckled her harness on. "This is crazy, Robert. We've gotten almost all of them off, if we take more hits like that we could lose the warp drive. We should leave."

    "I know," he said. "But if Captain Shaham's plan..."

    "He's not the captain of this ship," she retorted. "You are. Make the call."

    Robert was ready to retort but stopped. He knew she was right.

    But he also wasn't about to just abandon Shaham. He pressed the comm key to open the tactical link. "Captain Shaham, we can't stay here. I'm risking my entire ship..." They shook again as the Reich vessel's big guns laid into them once more, causing more consoles to spark from feedback. "...waiting for this plan."

    "There are only fifty of us left, Captain. I just need fifteen more seconds."

    "Shields are back down to thirty-eight percent," Jarod warned. "Primary Generator 2 just overloaded and went off-line. We have to restore the shields to normal or we'll lose the entire system." The ship shuddered again. "Thirty-two percent. Damage on Decks 22, 25, and 31."

    "Enemy range is now six kilometers," Locarno warned.

    "If they get any closer our interceptors will never intercept their missiles," Julia said. "Robert...."

    "Ten left," Robert answered. "Almost there."

    "Robert, you need to..."