Ispaoreai Hyps’rat (Onyx Station)
Reaching the kruin’s chamber proved easier than Qwert had expected.
After agreeing to accompany him, Lkim had led him to the rear of the yaszmoot chambers. Pressing his hand to the flesh, he had opened a small opening revealing a cramped tunnel behind. Qwert had taken a step closer only to recoil at the stench emanating from the passageway.
“Maintenance veins,” Lkim had said. “They run throughout the whole station, pumping nutrients in and waste products out. They’re mostly abandoned now, though.”
For good reason
, Qwert thought as he dragged himself up and out of the last of the veins fifteen minutes later. He was sweaty and covered in viscous, foul-smelling oil that dripped from the veins’ walls and ceilings. Collapsing to the floor, breathing hard, he looked around. Lkim had led them to a small hollow that thrummed with life, lit by the soft green glow that infused the whole station.
Climbing through the veins had been like travelling through Jeffries’ tubes, forcing him to exert himself like he hadn’t in a long time. Of course, Jeffries’ tubes rarely stank like that.
I’m getting too old for this
, he thought, then glanced at Lkim. His companion had collapsed to the floor beside him, his chest rising and falling, the breathing flaps beneath his chest quivering softly. We both are, I suppose. This is a young man’s game.
Lkim was the first to recover. After only a few more moments, he managed to roll over, leaving Qwert where he was and crawling over to a small protrusion bulging up out of the fleshy floor. Qwert watched as he pressed his fingers to it, the bulge opening up and swallowing the other man’s hand with a sucking sound. Moments later, a small portal irised open. Forcing himself to move, Qwert joined his companion and looked down at the chamber below.
Glorious Material Continuum
, was his first thought.
The kruin’s chamber was spheroid in shape. The walls, ceiling and floor hunkered beneath a complex network of veins. Green, purple and blue liquid pulsed through those veins, bathing the room in multicoloured light. Qwert traced one of the veins with his eyes, watching as it pumped the liquid into an hourglass shape that rose and fell from ceiling and floor. The three liquids swirled and danced within.
His breath caught in his throat when he saw the small figure floating where the hourglass tapered to a point. Body pierced a dozen times by some kind of tendrils snaking from the station’s flesh, the former kruin looked like a puppet abandoned by its puppeteer.
Before he could take in more of the view, a tremor shook the chamber. The floor and ceiling contracted and rippled, while sparks of electrical energy raced along the network of veins. When it reached the hourglass, a shimmer of energy flashed into life, obscuring his view of the kruin.
“What was that?” Qwert asked when the effect had passed.
Lkim wordlessly pointed to the edge of the room.
For the first time, Qwert saw the Laurentii below. Soldiers stood at regular intervals along the wall, claw weapons in hand, eyes scanning the room. Thank the Exchequer, so far none of them had thought to look up.
Lkim, though, was pointing to a clump of Laurentii off to one side, a safe distance from the central core. Qwert recognised Lkinym – the havac was naked, his red-orange flesh seeming to glow beneath the multicoloured light emanating from the veins. A group of Laurentii, their naked flesh the chalky colour of a gravat’s milk, surrounded him, painting his body with what appeared to be blood.
Beside them, a group of soldiers crouched beside a squat machine. As Qwert watched, they pressed their hands to it, fingers passing through some viscous biological component. The machine began to thrum and throb, then emitted an electrical pulse that repeated the same effect as before. Once the ceiling had finished moving beneath him, Qwert looked at Lkim.
“They’re trying to force Ispaoreai Hyps’rat to release kruin Asuph so that they can insert Lkinym.” The disgust in his voice was all too clear. “It is a blasphemy.”
“I don’t understand,” Qwert said, returning his attention to the sight below. “What are they hoping to do?”
Lkim shook his head. “Normally, when a kruin dies, Ispaoreai Hyps’rat maintains his body in stasis within the brainchamber for three days while the yaszmoot chooses a successor. Once that successor has been chose, the Hyps’rat empties the brainchamber, releases the kruin’s body and evacuates it.”
“To the reclamation level.”
Qwert suppressed a shiver. They had visited the reclamation level on the first day. Seeing the waste extracted from the station’s many levels pour into those throbbing pink sacks where the digestive fluids broke it all down into trace elements and nutrients… And they do that to their leader?
“What happens then?” he asked.
“The new kruin enters the brainchamber. If he is accepted by Ispaoreai Hyps’rat, his body is harvested – the cerebral tendrils that connect him to the Hyps’rat inject themselves into his body.”
Qwert glanced back at the hourglass shape. The fluid still swirled within, the old kruin’s body still floated there, and that shimmering shield still protected the chamber from anyone accessing it.
“And they’re trying to force the station using that machine?”
“It would seem so. As soon as Lkinym shot a weapon at the brainchamber, Ispaoreai raised its defences. I doubt even it could lower them now. Still, there must be something they hope to…”
Lkim’s words were cut off by the familiar whine of weapons fire. Qwert flinched away, convinced they had been found. When no energy blasts reached them, though, he moved back to the opening.
A group of soldiers had gathered in a tighter circle around the brainchamber. The weapons fire was directed at the hourglass shape.
“What are they doing?” Lkim asked in shock.
“Looking for a way in,” Qwert replied. “If they can’t get the station to grant them access freely, it looks like they’re prepared to cut their way in.”
“I cannot believe even Lkinym would be capable of such a sacrilege.”
“How long do you think it will take them to get past the station’s defences?” Qwert asked, ignoring Lkim’s shocked words.
The Laurentii just stared at the scene below. Qwert reached out and grabbed his shoulder, squeezing hard. “How long?”
Lkim shook his head. “I am not even sure it will be possible. If it is… At least an hour. Probably more.”
Qwert nodded. If he had been so inclined, it left him with a fair amount of time before he had to move on the renegade kruin. He wasn’t though. Groves and Benjamani, as well as Lkim’s loyalist Laurentii, were still under siege in the yaszmoot chamber. And he had no idea what might be happening out in space. No. He needed to get rid of Lkinym now.
His mind made up, he drew away from the opening. Lkim looked at him and frowned.
“You are not attacking?”
He shook his head. “Not from here. If one of those priests moves at the wrong moment, I might miss him. And considering the number of soldiers down there, I doubt we’ll get more than one shot at this.”
“I need you to get me closer to him. Do these maintenance veins run all around the chamber?”
“Yes, but they are more difficult to access. Lkinym may have them guarded.”
“A risk we’ll have to take. We should be able to handle a few guards. But I need to be closer before I can pull this off.”
Lkim thought about that for a moment, his face tilted away and his eyestrip flickering between dark green and blue. Finally, he nodded.
“I think I can get you closer.”
Qwert shook his head. “Tell me where to go and how to get there.”
“But you will need my help.”
“I don’t need a guide, Lkim. I need a diversion.”
He frowned. “A diversion.”
“Here’s what I want you to do…”
Ianto completed downloading the small part of his matrix into the shuttle Picard
and reached out with his new senses.
(0,001% of his cybernetic functions wandered through his memories, fired by the name of the shuttle.
Picard. Data’s memories, stored safely in Ianto’s own hippocampian cortex, resonated with the name. Most were happy, others drenched with sorrow. The death of the
Enterprise, her captain’s own execution at Jem’hadar hands… The last years of the Federation had been a dark time and his memories were so clear he might as well have lived them himself.)
The shuttle felt like an extension of his self, as much a part of him now as the holographic avatar he had created with Kalara’s help.
(2% of his functions were allocated to constantly monitoring her in the brig. Damien was with her. He wished he could go to her, tell her it would be alright. His conversation with Commander Ly’et had given him hope – if he could prove she was not behind the betrayal, he believed that the Cardassian woman would listen to him. )
He could control the shuttle’s thrusters in the same way he controlled the photonic musculature. The sensors, so many pairs of eyes and ears and noses, drowned him in data from the world around him. Metallic plating became his skin, tractors beams his hands.
(An infinitesimal 0,0000001% was currently sharpening the holographic matrix of his photonic self, and designing a new uniform more akin to the resistance uniform his father had worn than the early Dominion War era one he currently wore.)
Reaching out, he built neuronal links between two parts of his ‘brain’, birthing a new pathway – one that allowed him to perfectly correlate the functions of the shuttle with the feed he was receiving from the Redemption
. He would need all of the sensory input for the mission ahead.
(5% of his functions maintained a steady ‘eye’ on all of the engineering systems within
Redemption, guarding his second ‘body’ as she prepared to go into battle. 1% ensured that no one on board realised how much control he actually had over the ship’s systems.)
Taking control of the shuttle and connecting both his ‘bodies’ in one smooth neuro-cybernetic stream took all of 2.25469 seconds. The 15% of his cortex that controlled the holographic matrix on the bridge sent impulses through the biomimetic packs he had allocated to control it, straightening his ‘back’ and turning his ‘head’ to look at Prin.
“I am in full control of the shuttle Picard
, Commander. Whenever you are ready, we can begin.”
“Whenever you are ready, we can begin.”
Prin nodded, glancing at the hologram standing at the very edge of the Pit. “Thank you, Mister Ianto.” She turned to Barani. “Ops, what is the status of our allies?”
The attractive dark skinned human woman checked her screens, her form hazy through the myriads of flickering screens surrounding her. “Standing ready, Commander. Varec Kh’ylat says that as soon as we gain an opening, they will follow your lead.”
Prin turned back to one of five screens hovering in the air in front of her. Through it, she could just about make out the armada that the Laurentii had gathered - five Behemoths and two dozen smaller craft. On the screen, the positions of the various loyalist Laurentii ships appeared in blue, while the enemy ships had been tagged red. Three of the blue Behemoths had drawn a handful of rebel ships away, the battle between them raging near the system’s innermost gas giant. Redemption
and her allies had drawn back, gathering just outside the system. A line of three Behemoths protected them, engaging the loyalist front line and trying to force a breach.
It was obvious to anyone that there were more reds than blues. For the moment, that didn’t worry her too much. She wasn’t planning to launch a full out battle for control of the station - if everything went according to plan it would be more of a lightning raid.
If everything went according to plan.
The Laurentii had been surprisingly amenable when she explained what she wanted to do. Of course, she hadn’t mentioned exactly what the ‘secret weapon’ her people had devised was going to do - the Hegemony feared the Borg as much as anyone else in the galaxy. She doubted any of them would have agreed to have their station forcibly assimilated. If it worked, she would have some explaining to do, but at least she would be doing it with Ba’el, Ambassador Benjamani and Admiral Qwert at her side. If it failed… Well, there would be nothing to apologise for.
On the screen in front of her, the three blue icons representing their outermost Behemoths ran another attack on the rebel front line. There was a brief exchange of fire - little more than distant flashes of lightning on the holographic tactical projection in front of her - and the loyalists pulled back. Prin held her breath, hoping to see the break she needed. After a few seconds, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. The rebels were holding firm. They didn’t seem to have any interest in chasing their enemies - as long as they stayed away from Onyx Station, they were happy to keep them at bay.
Prin studied the situation past the front line. A mass of smaller blue icons buzzed around a core Behemoth just behind the front lines - a vast armada of smaller vessels. They were going to find it hard to push through them, but if they managed to hold on to at least two Behemoths until they reached that point, the larger ships should be able to punch Redemption
If that worked…
Five Behemoths surrounded Onyx Station at close quarters. Even if Redemption
managed to survive past the front defensive line, through that mass of ships and into the relatively free and open space beyond, they would be all alone. Against five Behemoths. The shuttle Picard
would be close enough to launch, but Prin wouldn’t be able to protect it.
She shook her head. It was about time she called in her back-up.
Gemma Turner keyed her comm as the incoming transmission from Redemption
appeared on her screen.
Starburst Squadron had pulled out along with the rest of the Laurentii fleet, and she had ordered her people into a holding pattern around the larger Federation ship. It had been a waiting game since then, watching their Laurentii allies play cat and mouse with their enemies. The comm chatter from her pilots had started out well natured, but she could hear the strain growing in their voices.
This had better be good
, she thought as Ba’el’s Cardassian XO - Prin Ly’et - appeared on the screen.
“Commander Turner, we are preparing to make a run on the station,” Ly’et said without preamble. “Once we get close enough, we’re launching a shuttle in an attempt to rescue our people trapped there.”
Does that include your captain?
Gemma wanted to ask. But she forced herself to nod. “Understood.”
“I’m sure you can see the odds out there as well as I can,” Ly’et went on. “Getting at the station is not going to be easy.”
“My people are ready to punch you a hole, commander.”
Ly’et smiled. “I’m sure they are, Commander Turner. That isn’t what I want them to do, though.”
Gemma frowned. What exactly was Ly’et getting at?
“I want you and your people to fly as close to Redemption
as possible. Stay in the range of our defences while we break through the Laurentii lines.”
“Stay in range of your defences? Commander, that sounds a hell of a lot like hiding. My people aren’t going to like that.”
“I didn’t think they would. And yes, that is exactly what I want you to do. Hide. Stay in our sensor shadow, stay beneath our shields. Stay alive.”
“Commander, that doesn’t make any sense. If you don’t want us in the fighting, we’d be better off in the flight bay. Unless…” Gemma felt her eyes widen as she realised what Ly’et was asking.
“Unless I want you ready to move the moment we break through.”
While Ly’et was talking, Gemma checked her screens again. She zoomed in on the station. She doesn’t think any of our allies are going to make it to the end game. She’s going to throw
Redemption against those Behemoths. Which means…
“You want us to protect the shuttle going in.”
“That shuttle is our only chance of getting our people back, Commander. It has to complete its mission.”
Even if that means every member of Starburst Squadron is sacrificed to make that happen.
She nodded. “I understand completely.”
Prin took a moment to answer. When she did, her voice - normally so cool - held a myriad layered emotions. Regret. Sadness. Pride. “I know you do, commander. And thank you.”
Turner felt herself sit up straighter. No wonder Ba’el chose her as his second officer
, she thought for the first time. Maybe he isn’t the only fleeter who is worth a damn.
“We’ll do the job, Commander Ly’et.”
“Thank you. May the Prophets be with you.”
The small screen went dark. Turner stared at it for a moment, then allowed her eyes to slide upwards. She stared through the gathered Laurentii ships, past the ongoing battle, to the small glowing blur in the far distance. You’d better be on that station, Ba’el. And you’d better be alive. Cause I’m coming for you.
Shaking her head to rid it of thoughts of Ba’el Sarine, she activated the comm. Time to tell her people what was coming.
Prin closed her eyes as she cut the comm line to Turner. The young woman’s face hovered in front of her eyes. You just ordered that girl to her death, Prin. Her and every other member of her squadron.
It had to be done,
she told herself. She believed it too. It still didn’t make it any easier.
Taking a moment, she looked around her bridge. Her bridge. Without even meaning to, she had started to think of it that way. Not that she had any doubts that Ba’el would soon be back in the centre spot, giving the orders, and leading these people home. Not a single one. Still, it was nice for a moment to enjoy the feeling. Her bridge. Her ship. Her crew.
She felt a lump grow in her throat and swallowed hard. In a few minutes, she was going to order all of them into battle. And when she gave that order, she had no way of knowing how many of them would be coming back. She took a breath. She would just have to do her damnedest to make sure that as many of them as possible were still standing when she handed the reins back to Ba’el.
Before her thoughts could distract her any more, L’wynd spoke up from Tactical. “I think we have our opening, commander.”
Prin waved her hand, bringing the tactical display front and centre before her. The three loyalist Behemoths - in blue - were making another strafing run on the Laurentii front line. For a moment, she thought that L’wynd was imagining things. Then she saw it. Three of the enemy ships were slightly out of position compared to the rest. As she watched, they moved even further, attacking the loyalist ships. The three blue dots darted out of their weapons range, but the red dots kept on moving.
Thank the Prophets! They’ve taken the bait.
“Lieutenant Barani, message to all ships. We’re going in.”