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Old August 5 2012, 09:07 AM   #1
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Prologue

February 2377
Planet Velkohn, Velkamis System
Gamma Quadrant


She was going to die.

"Liana, you need to get out of there. Right now." Captain Sandhurst’s voice was demanding, insistent, and utterly impotent under the circumstances.

She pressed a hand to the oozing wound under her arm as she replied stoically, "There's no way, Captain. I'm pinned, wounded, and cut off from Pava's team."

Liana Ramirez had known that dying in the line of duty was a possibility from the first time she donned her plebe cadet uniform eighteen years earlier.

She had realized before embarking that her present mission was dangerous, almost suicidal, but it had been critically important.

So many times in her career Ramirez had come close to death, often skirting the grim-reaper’s grasp by mere millimeters, sometimes literally so. She had survived the Cardassian border wars, the Dominion War, and innumerable close calls with a dozen other hostile species over the years.

That fact that her life would end here, deep in the Gamma Quadrant, on the other side of the galaxy from the collection of civilizations she nominally called ‘home’ was perhaps fitting.

The product of a tumultuous upbringing, Ramirez had fled her childhood home at the age of seventeen, seeking out a life of purpose in service to Starfleet. During her career she had called various outposts and starships home for a time, but never with a genuine sense of belonging. In time her career had become her rock, her emotional and spiritual anchor, the one thing in all the universe that she could reliably control. Her skill and bravery in the face of adversity had prompted a swift rise through the ranks, and Ramirez had set her sights on command of a starship as her ultimate goal, beyond any consideration of personal fulfillment in a romantic relationship.

And here, now, right on the cusp of achieving the ambition she’d striven for all of her career… she was going to perish.

All these thoughts flit through Ramirez’s mind in a blur as she waited breathlessly for the cold hand of fate in the form of a blazing hot phaser beam to extinguish her forever.

Ramirez was wounded, cut off from the rest of her away team, and pinned down by enemy soldiers. Three meters away was a potent forcefield protecting a transport-scrambler that was preventing the away team from beaming back to the starship Gibraltar from the underground bunker complex they’d fought their way into less than an hour earlier.

The surviving members of her assault team, some floors above her, were trapped by advancing enemy soldiers and would be wiped out in a matter of moments unless someone could knock out the transport-scrambler field. Ramirez had tried, and though her plan was innovative, it would take far longer to carry out than her comrades had left.

Only one option remained. Gibraltar could knock out the scrambler with a specially retuned drilling phaser. The only drawback was that everything within thirty-five meters of the scrambler would be vaporized, including her.

Captain Sandhurst’s voice took on an agonized quality. “I'm sorry. There's no other way."

An energy beam scorched just over her armored left shoulder to impact the wall above her head. The enemy, still unaware of their impending fate, was still trying to advance into the room she’d occupied.

Though under the circumstances the thought was almost laughably inappropriate, Ramirez felt genuine surge of pity for Sandhurst. He was going to have to kill his own first officer. Finding a replacement for her would be… well… awkward, to say the least.

"I understand, Captain. If our positions were reversed..." she said in as understanding a tone as she could muster. "It's been a privilege, sir."

There was a pregnant pause, and then she heard him say, "God speed, Captain Ramirez."

Captain Ramirez? she thought numbly. Oh… right… I’ll be posthumously promoted.

She then had the almost out-of-body realization that her previous musing would be the last thought she would ever have. Raw panic gripped her heart.

And that’s when everything went silent. Liana closed her eyes tightly, awaiting the storm of raw energy that would annihilate her at the molecular level.

It didn’t come.

After a prolonged moment of suspense, she again became aware that measurable time was passing, far longer than it should have taken a phaser beam to reach her from orbit.

Ramirez opened her eyes.

Her heart hammered in her chest as she looked to the entrance of the chamber to witness the disconcerting sight of a Velk energy beam seemingly frozen in midflight.

A black doorway opened, rising from the floor without a sound, a two-dimensional portal of pure darkness.

She recognized it immediately. Fear and hope warred briefly for supremacy in her chest, with hope claiming the victory.

It was a trap, to be sure, but it also signified her only possible escape from certain death.

The captain survived, she rationalized. If he could survive that, maybe I can, too.

*****
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Old August 5 2012, 10:16 AM   #2
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Reeeeyyyyyy!! Just what I needed to start my Sunday off
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Old August 5 2012, 05:35 PM   #3
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Excellent prologue! Ramirez took a desperate gamble in choosing life with potentially painful consequences over certain death.

It remains to be seen whether or not she chose wisely. I cringe to think what the Baron may have done to her.
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Old August 5 2012, 11:14 PM   #4
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Alrighty then, one mystery apparently solved. Ramirez is no clone, mirror universe version or shapeshifter.

I'm both relieved and distressed by this revelation. How'd she get so ... evil? I suppose with the Baron and his time altering technology involved, anything is possible.

The biggest question now maybe, is our beloved former heroine at all salvageable? I really hope so. For her and Sandhurst's sake.

Awesome kickoff to part two.
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Old August 6 2012, 12:02 AM   #5
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UT:TFV - Scorched Earths - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Amon Homeship Transcendent
78.2 Parsecs from the Tarantula Nebula


Sandhurst stood in front of the massive viewport, gazing at the sheer magnificence of the spectacle on display before him.

The bright disc of the Milky Way stretched out ahead, viewed from an angle perhaps thirty degrees above the spiral galaxy’s elliptic. The bright center of the assembly, comprised of billions of stars drawn towards the massive quantum singularity at its core, shown like a giant hazy sphere with a luminosity that was breathtaking.

He felt Nestrala’s hand in the center of his back, and her breath on his neck as she leaned in to whisper, “You are now farther from home than any other human has ever been.”

“No, actually,” he remarked lazily, nearly stupefied by the sight of his home galaxy. “Two of our ships have traveled farther, I think.”

She chuckled lightly. “Your species never ceases to amaze me, Zeischt.”

He forced his eyes away from the resplendent view to look upon her. “I thought we were leaving days ago,” Sandhurst pointed out, “and that you wanted to keep our location a secret from me.”

Nestrala smiled enigmatically. “Our schedule was adjusted to accommodate for recent events.” She swept an arm towards the viewport. “And the display from here was too pleasing not to share.”

She moved beside him and took his hand in hers.

“Where are we?” he wondered aloud. “I mean, we’re outside our… my galaxy, obviously, but where?”

“You call it the Large Magellanic Cloud, a smaller galactic mass orbiting your home galaxy. We are approximately one-hundred and fifty thousand light years from your Federation.”

He whistled appreciatively. “And dare I ask how we came to be here?” he queried, not really expecting a candid reply.

Nestrala offered a patient smile. “The means by which this was made possible shall remain confidential until you have entered the fold permanently.”

Sandhurst shook his head in wonder, still mesmerized by the view. “The entire galaxy is your playground, isn’t it?”

“Our hunting ground,” she corrected.

There was a comfortable silence between them while he considered the implications of that.

When he was finally moved to speak, he asked, “You said when you entered our galaxy, your people were nearly starving, on their last legs. With this kind of power at your disposal, how could that be?”

“Our capabilities have increased dramatically since our arrival,” Nestrala explained. In response to his quizzical expression, she added, “Ours is not the only Amon tribe. Our far flung brothers and sisters came looking for us, and all have benefitted as a result.”

He smirked. “You spoke in riddles in my dreams, too.”

She brought a hand up to the back of his neck, pulling his head down gently to meet her passionate kiss. “Then let us communicate more directly…”

*****
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Old August 6 2012, 12:44 AM   #6
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Thank God you didn't actually bump off Ramirez! What made you decide to bring her back?
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Old August 6 2012, 12:59 AM   #7
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Ln X wrote: View Post
Thank God you didn't actually bump off Ramirez! What made you decide to bring her back?
This was always the plan. I've been sitting on this revelation for three years or more.
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Old August 6 2012, 01:38 AM   #8
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UT:TFV - Scorched Earths - Chapter 1 (continued)

Chapter 1 <cont'd>

USS Europa


Captain T’Ser was three-quarters of the way done with the fuel consumption report she was reading when the lights flickered and the deck beneath her feet shuddered.

Careful to suppress the frustrated sight that threatened to escape her lips, T’Ser lowered the padd to her lap and glanced at the now embarrassed looking crewman seated at the bridge’s Engineering console. “Report,” she ordered, already knowing the response.

“Another power spike, Captain,” he replied sheepishly. “Lieutenant Ashok says we’ve had to throttle back to warp nine to maintain crystalline integrity in the reaction chamber. Automation systems are adjusting power distribution to the main deflector and the structural integrity grid to compensate.”

“Acknowledged,” she said tersely, trying not to growl the words. She took a deep breath in through her nose and released it through her mouth, murmuring a calming mantra she’d learned ages ago. Sufficiently centered, she looked up towards the Flight Control board. “Brett, are we there yet?”

“Not yet,” the lieutenant replied with a hint of mischievousness in his tone. “ETA to the Ledolian system and In’Drahn station is now four hours, twenty-one minutes at our reduced velocity, sir.”

T’Ser nodded her head fractionally in response, working heroically not to allow her impatience and frustration to boil over in front of the crew.

Their overall mission to the nearer reaches of the Delta Quadrant was stressful enough in and of itself. Adding to that burden, the crew had been forced to sit idly by while the atavistic En-Il-Que species had overrun a populated star system. Then, to make matters worse, Europa had been called upon to jump to the defense of a stricken Romulan warbird in that very same system. And in the midst of that rescue, an unknown alien threat flying a Borg cube had attacked and abducted Captain Sandhurst.

The whole scenario was so laughably implausible that it would never have been accepted as a potential worst-case training scenario at the Academy.

A text message scrolled onto the display on her chair’s armrest: Let’s go chat for a bit, preferably before you blow an injector.

She glanced over to her left and observed Counselor Liu looking straight back at her expectantly.

On a whim she stood suddenly, nodding to Liu and heading for the ready room. “Commander Pell, you have the conn.”

Liu rose to his feet and followed her through the doors into what was now her office, forgoing any pretense of their leaving the bridge in close proximity being coincidence.

“What am I supposed to say?” T’Ser began, her tone vaguely hostile. She stood facing the aft viewport with her arms crossed defensively.

“That’s entirely up to you,” Liu replied.

“The captain’s been taken, the engines don’t work, and only the most blindly optimistic would call our mission here anything close to a success.”

Liu bobbed his head agreeably. “All true.” He moved to take a seat on the couch set against the inner bulkhead. “Can I get you a tissue?”

T’Ser spun around, her expression one of mounting anger. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

“Our situation is bad,” Liu answered. “But the ship’s intact, the engines can be fixed, and life goes on, regardless of who the captain is.”

“So my feelings are… what? Inconsequential?”

“Not at all,” Liu allowed. “But they need to be experienced and expressed in private, Captain. You’re carrying your emotional burden around with you publically, and it’s starting to affect your subordinates. They need to be able to look to you for direction and strength, just as you looked to Captain Sandhurst.”

“But I’m not feeling any of those things right now!” she exclaimed.

“Then fake it.”

She glowered at the flippancy of his response. “And if I can’t?”

“Then surrender command to Pell,” he suggested.

T’Ser laughed without humor. “She doesn’t want it any more than I do.”

“Lar’ragos, then.”

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t let that cold-hearted bastard command a shuttle.”

Liu raised an eyebrow in an intentionally Vulcan-like expression of disapproval. “Say what you will about the man, his record indicates that he gets the job done.”

“Never mind the collateral damage,” she retorted.

Liu stood unhurriedly, taking a moment to stretch out a kink in his back. “The collateral damage we suffer out here is measured in the hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives, Captain. If these fleets make it to the Alpha Quadrant, the casualties could be in the billions.” He looked at her with a neutral expression that nonetheless somehow conveyed absolute sincerity. “We’re all expendable. With all due respect, sir, you would do well to remember that.”

He moved toward the door, only pausing when she directed an acidic, “Thanks for the pep-talk, Counselor,” in his direction.

“Captain, I would be more than happy to talk with you about your feelings any time. However, I’m practiced at telling people what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear.”

“Your message is received, Counselor. Dismissed.”

“Aye, sir.” He nodded gently and exited the cabin.

*****

Planet Oramuan
Delta Quadrant


She looked out at the meandering river as it snaked its way though the moonlit landscape under the twilight cast by the planet’s two waning satellites.

From the veranda high atop the great citadel, Liana Ramirez could see all the way to the peaks of the distant mountains, now bathed in the orange half-light of the twin moons. It was a view that she suspected would once have filled her with agoraphobic anxiety. Now, however, she could appreciate the beauty of the panorama with a kind of muted approval. It was not joy or wonder, though, for such emotional highs were largely denied her now.

The people of the villages below knew next to nothing about their mysterious overlords, only that they commanded great energies and that opposing their will was tantamount to suicide. They were sufficiently primitive that they had not warranted the Baron’s special attentions, so long as they kept the citadel supplied with whatever its inhabitants desired.

His piteous wailing had subsided to a keening that she could only occasionally discern over the clicks, whistles and croaks of the insect and amphibian analogues of this region. It had been another difficult night for him, yet another significant loss of self, and try as she might, Ramirez found it harder and harder to shepherd him through these increasingly frequent bouts.

The very same engramatic modifications he had subjected her to in order to make Ramirez into the perfect companion ironically also served to dissuade her from being a doting caretaker. Yes, she loved him, after a fashion, but as she had never known true love in her earlier life, she had no basis for comparison. She was loyal to him and to his goals, and perhaps that was the best that could be said.

Finally unable to hear any more of his weeping, she turned back and entered the extravagant sleeping chamber through the great glass doors.

There atop a massive bed, the Baron lay curled up in the fetal position, finally asleep. The bed sheets were gripped tightly in his balled fists, and the mattress beneath him was soaked with the evidence of his incontinence. The Regression had come for him, as it nearly always did, in the late evening. Tonight amid the multiple seizures and the ranting, he’d relived some ancient conflict from his distant past, plagued by it for the last time as the Sentinels’ retribution tore the memories from his mind forever.

The Baron had never fully explained to Ramirez how he’d managed to escape imprisonment by the Sentinels following their first encounter with him. However, his captors’ parting gift to the Baron had been an ingeniously crafted bit of poetic justice. It was known simply as the tapeworm. Ultimately, it could best be described as some manner of multi-dimensional Higgsware, a hyper-submicron construct that existed, and yet did not, both here and elsewhere simultaneously.

The tapeworm could not be located, or isolated, or treated or destroyed. All manner of imaginative countermeasures had been employed by the Baron and others to thwart it, and all had met with failure. The tapeworm slowly but irrevocably hunted down and deleted the Baron’s long-term memories, eating away at his past, his very sense of self, and leaving him an increasingly confused and irrational wreck of a man.

He had tried to regenerate, that wondrous ability of his species by which the memories of all his former selves were delivered into a new body, a process not unlike that of Trill symbiosis, but altogether more elegant somehow. It had only made matters worse, accelerating the process, and leaving the Baron with agonizing gaps in his memories and personality that had rendered him progressively more unpredictable and if truth be told, pathetic.

The man who had once ruled an empire of trillions with an iron fist had been reduced to sobbing uncontrollably and pissing himself in his own bed.

Ramirez watched him sleep, and dreaded the coming of morning when she would have to hold him, and reassure him that all would be well. She would have to remind him of his righteous anger towards those who had wronged him, many of whom he could no longer remember. She would have to tell him the tale of Sandhurst and the captain’s transgressions, and the intricate web of plots the Baron had spun in order to exact his revenge.

It would not be long, Ramirez realized, before the Baron was left a catatonic shell, a drooling automaton bereft of thought. And then it would fall to her alone to exact penance from the Baron’s enemies in his name.

*****
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Old August 6 2012, 02:14 AM   #9
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Wow. I'm not sure what to say to that. I didn't expect the Baron to be such a wreck at all and I expected Ramirez of taking over from him in a way even less. I wonder how he got her to that point. On the other hand, do we really want to know? I'm sure it wasn't pleasant.
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Old August 6 2012, 03:52 PM   #10
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Um ... I ... this ... um ... I mean ... wow ....

I really don't know what else to say. You have officially blown my mind. About everything. And that's hard to do.

More substantively, I very much like where you're taking Liu in his interactions with T'Ser. The Amon continue to be intriguing, though I find Donald's ... "Stepford-like" transformation ... disturbing somehow. That's not a "bad thing", of course. I accept your explanation for it, and can only assume that this is exactly the kind of reaction you intend. Liana and The Baron ..., never saw any of that coming. With your opening, you had me thinking that perhaps she was just biding her time until she could escape his clutches, but that clearly is not the case - though, I suspect it may well have been at one time. As I have commented before, I genuinely love the subtlety you frequently employ; for instance, how you merely drop the simple phrase "engramatic modifications" to explain the obvious changes in Liana's personality, and leave the rest to our imagination. Very nice! I also like your aptly elusive, yet perfectly evocative description of The Baron's "tapeworm". "Higgsware". Beautiful.

And with that, I am honestly left speechless. Very much looking forward to having my mind further blown.
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Old August 7 2012, 06:38 AM   #11
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UT:TFV - Scorched Earths - Chapter 1 (continued)

Chapter 1 <cont'd>

Kitumbra II
Klingon Colony Ke’VangTi
Klingon/Romulan Border, Alpha Quadrant


Massive bolts of energy emerged from nothingness to slam into a Bird-of-Prey, two-dozen defense satellites and the colony’s single orbital station with unexpected fury. Even as martially-minded a species as the Klingons couldn’t keep their shields up all the time, and as they hadn’t detected the approach of any hostile or unidentified craft, there had been no reason to do so. In less than ten seconds the planet’s orbital defenses had been completely neutralized. Only two of the targets remained sufficiently intact to warrant a follow-on strike.

Seconds later, a massive warship emerged from what appeared to be a brilliant tear in the very fabric of space/time. Nearly seventy kilometers long, the dark cylinder was studded with inelegant protrusions, like barnacles marring the hull of a seaborne vessel. As soon as the behemoth had extruded through into normal space, the subspace spectrum was overwhelmed by a cacophonous dirge that jammed every conceivable channel and disrupted the power systems of everything in orbit and on the surface.

More than fifty drone craft spilled forth from the invader, each thrusting away from the cylinder on an independent trajectory. Weapons emplacements studding the blemished surface of the great cylinder opened fire, sending streamers and pulses of energy screaming into the atmosphere of Kitumbra II. They struck surface disruptor batteries and spaceports, military infrastructure and supply depots.

Thousands were dead within the first minute of the assault, and tens-of-thousands more perished in the minutes that followed. The attack was precise and methodical, and unfolded with an exactitude that those on the receiving end could not help but appreciate, from a purely predatory standpoint.

Before their primary computer network failed completely, the Klingons identified a ninety-four percent probability that the immense craft was, at its core, an exact match for an alien probe that had transitioned imperial territory on its way to Earth some ninety years earlier, neutralizing two Klingon battle cruisers in the process. Layered upon its surface was a veritable city of artificial habitats, buildings and pressurized domes protruding from the neutronium skin of the interstellar juggernaut.

It drifted into orbit, coming to a slow stop directly above the largest settlement. The drones it had released on its approach each unfolded into large, dish-like arrays that moved into geo-synchronous positions around the planet.

In the cities and townships below, Klingon men and women having heard the cry of battle rose to collect disruptor weapons and ancient chemical slug-throwers. They took all manner of edged weapons down from mantle displays, drawing them across whetstones in preparation to meet whatever invaders were foolish enough to provoke the Klingon Empire.

When their attackers finally saw fit to show their faces, they came by the thousands in waves, materializing in a blinding storm of energy that left the Klingon defenders squinting and dazed.

They wore battle armor that dazzled the senses with flowing colors and patterns, and were armed with staffs that served as both pole-arms and energy weapons. They were daunting to look upon, and many species would have been cowed at the sight of them.

The Klingons were unimpressed, and battle was joined.

Even those Klingons grown old and arthritic struck with a power and speed that few would have believed possible, so strong was their love of both homeland and battle. Many felt they had missed their last chance for an honorable death with the end of the Dominion War, and thus charged to meet the enemy with joyous cries upon their lips.

But where the Klingons were strong, the enemy was stronger. Where the Klingons were fast, their attackers were faster still.

Disruptors blazed, firearms crackled and staffs parried bat’leths in swirling ballets of violence that surged and ebbed through urban streets and rural fields. The Klingons fought well, and indeed some of their enemies fell in battle, but they were too few to tip the scales in the Empire’s favor.

Within hours, the streets ran red with Klingon blood, and the fields drank their fill from the veins of the dead and dying. The cities burned and crumbled, and those who had tried to avoid battle found themselves trapped in the smoldering rubble. Unable to flee and unwilling to fight, they died a coward’s death with no one to mark their passing into the afterlife.

All the while the satellite arrays in orbit supped on the death throes of the colony and its inhabitants. Energies unknown to Klingon science were drawn in from the anarchy that raged below, filling the attackers’ coffers with a fuel available from no other source.

When the battle cruiser Yowd arrived hours later to investigate the colony's sudden silence, only a handful of the planet’s population of seven-hundred thousand remained alive. Whoever had devastated a Klingon world had done so at their leisure and then escaped without a trace.

Though the Klingons would not know the exact identity of the intruders for some time, the message had been delivered with crystal clarity.

There was a new power in play with the ability to reach deep into the Alpha Quadrant and make its presence felt.

*****
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Old August 7 2012, 07:15 AM   #12
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Niiice. I am totally loving the story.

Wouldn't the streets have run purple with Klingon blood though?
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Old August 7 2012, 07:17 AM   #13
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Cobalt Frost wrote: View Post
Niiice. I am totally loving the story.

Wouldn't the streets have run purple with Klingon blood though?
Heresy!! I should smite you, or cast you out... or something.
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Old August 7 2012, 01:26 PM   #14
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

A link to the whalesong probe? Most curious.
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Old August 7 2012, 03:47 PM   #15
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Cobalt Frost wrote: View Post
Niiice. I am totally loving the story.
Agreed. Your descriptive talents are unparalleled. I saw the entire engagement quite vividly in my mind.

Gibraltar wrote: View Post
Wouldn't the streets have run purple with Klingon blood though?
Heresy!! I should smite you, or cast you out... or something.
I must admit that the same thing struck me. I was going to suggest "magenta", as it seemed a reasonable compromise between purple and red.

BrotherBenny wrote: View Post
A link to the whalesong probe? Most curious.
Another detail that I felt very nicely conveyed just how powerful the Amon are. If they can take on and defeat the Borg and the Whalesong probe, who could stop them?

Nicely done.
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