Tardy to the Party 3: Cauldron
Location: qi'tOk, Qys'taah City
Timeline: MD 4, 1910 local
As if walking through a cloaking field to shimmer into visibility, the away team materialized mid-step onto the metal ramp that Artemis floated next to, which reached out into the null-gravity environment for a B'rel to float and the ramp to touch its docking port.
The shipyard was a massive hollowed out space within the planetary crust, several kilometers stretched out in every direction with framework scaffolding supporting emitters and conduits all over the inner surfaces around them and far, far below them. They appeared to be three kilometers above the "bottom" which was sheathed in mist in a space that seemed another seven kilometers across (with them in the center) and two kilometers above them.
There was wind here. It wasn't in a vacuum, but there was clearly an environmental pocket being projected around Artemis and this section of the access way. A shadow fell over them as a Vor'cha-deng, the model they were used to seeing in their day, floated above them being towed by a small tug towards a line of such finished craft. There were seven rows so far, each twelve ships across and all floating with light-tethers on them to maintain their positions in the shifting gravitic tides.
Lonus took note of the Vorcha-deng with a raised eyebrow of interest. The Klingon Empire used the same hull designs as long as they continued being useful, no matter if the hull designs had been in service for hundreds of years. The Na'qIlS in contrast employed only the latest cutting edge technology, most of their own design. The Vorcha-deng struck him as unusual, as the Na'qIlS of his universe brought the vessel into service later in in Lonus' timeline.
That meant this counterpart of the house was more advanced than expected. More, from what he saw of the sheer number of ships House Na'qIlS were clearly on a war footing. The ten houses arrayed against them posed no threat against this kind of firepower and the Borg threat was over. So, who were they massing their fleet against?
Kestra stood slightly behind and to the right of Lonus, her black eyes were locked on the other woman. She wasn't trying to do anything, but she was aware of everything going on around them.
Anzio took in the shipyards around them and the artificial environment. He took a hit from his inhaler before returning it to the pocket of his uniform and sipping from his canteen, his green gaze settling on the Na'qIlS woman meeting them.
Ceri wasn't entirely sure why she was here, but she stayed alert and looked around as she followed the others.
As they walked towards the tall, statuesque Klingonoid woman below them, her black ceram-alloy armor glistening in the dim lighting, the crimson tell-tales of the power sinks and shield emitters built into it, and the thick collar that would deploy a helmet at need. It was of similar design to Kin'Za's, definitely, though his appeared more advanced than hers. Attached to her armor were a few handle-like parts that looked detachable but lacked sheathes and two built-in beam weapon emitters on the backs of her fists, visible as her arms were crossed. Her coppery curly hair was worn long and her face remained scar free.
Lonus stood at blade's length from LeHr and raised his hand slowly to pet Ssin, who draped lazily around his neck, its blue eyes glittering in the light. He faced LeHr levelly, without fear or doubt. After a moment he inclined his head in a cordial nod of greeting. "House Na'qIlS honors us by this meeting. If the fleet outside the system poses any threat because of our arrival we stand ready to assist."
Kestra kept her eyes bared as she stood near Lonus. She wasn't worried so much as she was just paranoid enough to know things were never what they seem.
"'qIls'," LeHr corrected Lonus, her eyes narrowing as she inspected him for some flaw or clue of something else. "We are House qIls."
"House... qIls." Lonus paused a moment to mull over the change. "Interesting, I apologize for the mistake. If anything, this underscores the reason for our visit. It seems we have a lot to discuss beyond that blockade on your doorstep."
"Subspace chatter says they got a partial image but no hard scans." LeHr's voice was deep and she spoke slowly, majestically. "As I'm sure you're aware, they're attributing us with this new technology and vessel." She shrugged eloquently to show that it meant little, in the final equation. "Grandfather is waiting, if you will accompany me?"
"Of course." Lonus fell into place behind LeHr. "We look forward to discussing the current state of affairs in the known quadrants." He looked back at the fleet in the yard. "We keep running into interesting surprises that House qIlS might be able to help us understand better."
"I am to answer whatever question you have that I can divulge," LeHr offered over her shoulder, leading them to a designated transporter area where a technician, also of the same House and wearing somewhat less-resplendent powered-armor, stood working the controls. The design of the console was different, thin, connected to the platform via a transparent aluminum flat pedestal so that the entire thing appeared to have been extruded from the platform. Power and signal conduits ran from the super-thin touch console to the platform and back up. As they approached the technician nodded to them and LeHr raised a hand to stop them and to pause. There was a crimson transport shimmer in the air above the demarcated octagon on the alloy flooring and the feel of something massively displacing air before the air blew back towards the platform and a gigantic alloy ingot appeared off in free fall, placed exactly in an empty spot near a set of gigantic replication pads the qIls apparently used in their shipyard facilities.
"What alloy is this?" Lonus studied the ingot.
"A hexinium alloy we use to construct our ships," LeHr replied. "The molecular chains are arranged in artificially induced hexagonal patterns to more evenly share out stress and impacts using a base tritanium." She glanced at the technician, who nodded once more, and another air shift and breeze indicated a massive multi-ton volume came in and was transferred out before fully materializing next to the one before it, several hundred meters away. "The manufacturing process is extremely difficult and energy intensive but yields a superior product to anything any of the peers can field."
"Your fleet is superior to anything we've scanned from the Empire, the Federation, and the Typhon Pact so far." Lonus gave LeHr a inquiring look. "It's obvious you're massing for a bigger opponent. The question is, who."
"If I told you that, Grandfather would hurt me," LeHr replied with the hint of a smile.
"Ready, First," the technician spoke to her.
LeHr nodded regally and gestured to those with her to follow and advanced to step onto the designated area. She looked at the technician and the merest whisper of telepathic communication, and transport faded them to elsewhere.
The translation was smooth and fast, a half-second to dematerialize and rematerialize somewhere else, to their perceptions time passes and time and space changed around them, not their position within it. They were in a study of some sort, tall paned windows of thick glass shone out into driving snow and distant peaks, in between which were shelves of scrolls and padds and books and all sorts of data media. A desk that looked like a section of tree growing from the stone and wooden floor that had been sheared off in a perfect plane and inset with contact panels had exactly enough chairs for those gathered, plus the new arrivals and the three men standing there.
One was a Deltan, a man with the same blue-green eyes Shahn and Shareen had and the same angular facial features those that knew him from the other universe had learned to equate with his rather famous clan. The second was an older non-Klingon humanoid with some Klingon features and some feline, such as eyes and pointed ears and clawed fingers. He wore much more refined version of LeHr's armor, and even in his normal form those who remembered him knew him instantly.
The last was a tall and slender hybrid, much like LeHr, though the armor he wore was all black with gray trim and had Klingon religious symbols inlaid on the shoulder. He wore swords crossed on his back with the handles hanging down where he could draw them easily, and his dark eyes seemed haunted.
The leap of joy Lonus felt on first entering gave way to the urge to scratch his head in bewilderment. He recognized each man present as he did his own blood. In fact, in his universe one of them was his blood. However, Lonus caught differences that alerted him that his caution about First Contact back on Spartan was warranted.
"Lord qIlS." Lonus stood tall and offered a respectful nod. "Ambassador Tal, Te'Q: You probably know this already but it's still a good place to start. I'm Lonus, commanding officer, Spartan. This is my crew." He gestured to each in turn. "Tactical Officer Kin'Za, Helm Officer Elaan, Missions Specialists Mira'ni and Venir, Medical Officer Eranoth, and Counselor Mestith, representing the Unity."
Anzio nodded to the others. He hadn't known their counterparts back in their reality other than as files in his Intel databases, but they were legendary on Spartan, he knew.
"I've seen your species in my dreams," SomIn's voice, completely familiar to those who knew him, said from the slightly unfamiliar body as he gestured to Mestith. He turned to Lonus. "And something like yours. But we're not in that time yet," he added with a faint frown.
Mestith bowed and spread his arms, palms out, and brought them together as if praying as he stood upright. "I am pleased to represent the Unity of our time at this gathering."
"I suspect you have a lot of questions and, to be honest, so do we." Lonus gestured to his crew. "We've been working to make contact with you, sit down, and sort things out."
Kestra cocked her head to the side as she looked at the one with the swords on his back. She didn't push for information, just letting the whispers that normally danced in her mind to speak. She wasn't trying to get a read on anyone, but unless Artemis was shielding her there was really no way to stop the flow of data that people gave off.
Te'Q turned unblinking eyes like molten gold on Kestra and a chill unlike anything she felt before washed across her like the ghostly fingers of fog. Lights dimmed and distant whispers became clearer, haunting Kestra, tormenting her with their nearness. The world drifted away to darkness. She suddenly felt trapped and alone.
"Kestra," one voice crackled in her mind as a whine grew louder and louder, drowning it out. It was Declan, and he sounded... something was wrong. "Kestra, something's happening, people... people are dying! Engaging emergency shutdown. Get out, you have to get out of--"
She felt his scream as every molecule in his body lit at once and suddenly vanished. Declan was gone and the whine grew louder.
"Death is only the beginning..." a sibilant voice hissed in her ear.
"It begins with you," another added like an eerie echo.
"It ends... with you."
"Bringer of death."
Kestra heard every scream of every marine that died facing her after the slaughter. She exulted in the sound. They would die. They would all die.
Now every face stared at her in the mist, their gazes accusing, cold, and devoid of life. Blood still trickled from their eyes, from their noses and mouths where she burst every blood vessel in their bodies.
"This is all that remains when you're done," hundreds of voices whispered icily. "You shall join us soon enough."
They broke into a chant. "Bringer of Death... Bringer of Death... Bringer of Death..."
For an instant rage flared through Kestra, burning bright and hot before it turned cold. She didn't think about it as everything in her turned cold and hard. She focused her attention on the source of the voices, a sort of half smile slipped across her face as she turned ice cold obsidian eyes onto Te'Q.
She embraced the name, knowing that it was truth. Without so much as a blink to give away her intentions she leapt, driving her fist towards Te'Q's stomach as she drove her mind into his, diving in as she would into a lake, with a small point of focus driving into his mind. following the screams and sounds of slaughter, an eerie laughter like sound coming from her as she threw all that she was into her assault. She knew no other way, throwing everything in, holding nothing back.
~NO!~ She felt her senses clear and she and Te'Q were still looking at one another, though Riss had emerged and circled around her neck, muscles massaging her shoulders. Only a moment had passed. ~I'm sorry Kestra,~ Artemis told her softly. ~I can't permit you to attack. Te'Q's powers were not an attack; you were actually reading him while his powers read your past. I didn't realize who he was until I saw what he was seeing through you. I'm sorry.~
Ceri's experience was far different then Ketra's for many reasons, the most obvious of which was that she had developed an iron control over years of working with the sick and dying. Where Kestra couldn't block, Ceridwyn could. Then there was her mixed blood and the limitations that gave her yet another layer of protection. But it was the most subtle thing that had the most impact on her experience around this being tied so closely to death.
Death and she were on a first name basis.
Some days Death was a friend that took the suffering into gentle arms and gave them into peace. Others Death and she did battle, each fighting to claim the soul of the person on her table. But always she was aware of Death. So she didn't fear him, she didn't hate him, she knew him well.
The souls of the dead didn't scare her. Though she mourned every loss, she knew she had done her utmost to save them and knew, too, that in whatever afterlife they found, they would know that. It wasn't that she didn't make mistakes, and those mistakes had cost lives at times, triage is what it is, you have to prioritize those you can save. But she had faith that the dead would see and understand her role as a physician. Even those that she had loved that she lost were a comforting presence, not one she feared.
Kestra blinked when Artemis spoke, looking like she had just woken up from some kind of dream. She looked around the group of people who stood before her and reached up to pet Riss. ~Thank you, Artemis,~ she sent, gratitude coming from deep inside her. She looked at Te'Q and her eyes were much warmer than they had been. ~I apologize for my loss of control.~ She sent the words to everyone, though she looked only at Te'Q, as he was the one that she had attacked.
"There is no need to apologize," Te'Q replied with a face of solemn repose. "I have that affect on people."
Ceri took a half step closer to Kestra. She didn't touch her but she offered her hand to the other girl. She'd read Kestra's file, knew enough to not push or try to shield her, she was just too strong. But maybe she could offer her some of her calm, some of her comfort with the dead and ease this time for her. There was always the worry that Kestra's panic would leak into her but she was trained, and she was a healer. If she could help she wasn't going to withhold that from someone who was hurting.
Kestra gave Ceri a sad smile, realizing that the other woman didn't realize that her response hadn't been one of panic or fear but of cold, calculating rage. For the moment that it had gripped her she hadn't been in the present, she had been back in the lab that had finished the job of creating her, the place that had taken the last person that she had ever cared about. She had been fighting the dead and not the living that were standing right in front of her. ~I am alright, Doctor. Just got lost for a little bit.~
"And thus the moment passes," SomIn intoned formally and nodded to Thess, who smiled at the visitors comfortingly.
SomIn gestured for them to take seats and glanced at LeHr. She gave a head bow and then clapped her hands once. In the next instant, armored figures shimmered into view and filed out in two lines at a quick march, their helmets up and nothing of their features showing. All of them carried some sort of advanced assault weapon and moved with utter precision. Once they were gone and the door shut, LeHr moved to stand on the landing, her back to the door and feet planted shoulder width apart and arms crossed. The other door, which Thess had entered through, closed, and after a moment Kin'Za grunted and stood, moving to that position to mirror LeHr.
Lonus took the leaving of the guards as a gesture that SomIn was ready to get to business. He looked SomIn in the eye. "You offered a gesture of trust inviting us here and letting us see your facilities. We're prepared to trust in kind, but nothing leaves this room, save to your most trusted associates."
Anzio wasn't sure what exactly went on with Kestra, and he wasn't happy with the fact that there had been a dozen cloaked soldiers in the room and they hadn't known it. Of course, he didn't fault this SomIn for that, but just didn't like that he hadn't picked up on their presence. His antennae moved a bit agitatedly as he sat down with the others, letting the captain speak.
"Of course," SomIn replied and smiled as he glanced at Anzio. "Rest easily, the armor we use cloaks neurogenic fields specifically to block telepathic detection, especially since all of my progeny are telepathic in some way or another." Kin'Za looked mildly surprised, which meant he was shocked. SomIn caught it and nodded, "Yes, we're a bit different than you're used to aren't we?"
"A bit," Lonus allowed with a curl to his lips, "and that's why we're here. Someone has tampered with this reality and we're here to put it back on track. Before we can accomplish this we need to ascertain exactly how this reality was supposed to naturally flow and pinpoint what happened to alter it. Before we can do any of this," He leaned forward in his seat and clasped his fingers on the table, looking between SomIn and Thess with a down-to-business expression. "We need logistics and support from those native to this reality who are familiar with time and reality alteration. Support from a group known for working toward the long-term benefit of everyone regardless of race and politics."
Lonus looked SomIn in the eye, "In our reality that's you and that places your name at the top of the hit list of anyone looking to sabotage this reality."