LAST EDITED ON Jan-11-13 AT 01:29 PM (EST)
Thursday, July 12, 2407
Quarian Union, Scandia-CN38 system
Kresge sector, United Federation of Planets
When the unknown aliens attacked the Rayya in Patrol Zone 374 - at the far edge of the Formation, near Scandia's termination shock - the crew at first thought they were batarian raiders. Border skirmishes with batarian ships were not uncommon in the Quarian Union, and since the raiders were always (officially) private operators, they never fielded consistent starship types, so the fact that the attacking vessels were of a completely unknown type was not, at first, particularly surprising.
That assumption lasted until the enemy grappled alongside (something the batarians hadn't managed to do to a quarian ship since 2268) and boarded (something they'd never accomplished against a warship). Expecting a force of batarian commandos, the Rayya's security personnel were utterly shocked by the spindly, chittering aliens who swarmed into the ship's after airlocks instead. Though well-equipped and finely drilled, the quarian security forces were no match for the attackers. Outgunned and woefully outnumbered, they had suffered heavy casualties and fallen back to Frame 340 amidships before any coherent report had even reached the bridge.
On that bridge, the Rayya's command staff struggled to respond to the new crisis. Their task was complicated by the fact that they were still dealing with the old one. Evidenly not caring that they had boarders aboard the quarian vessel, the two alien ships that weren't grappled on were still attacking, and with the admiral trying to rally the rest of the fleet to their defense and the captain busy fighting the ship, neither of the ranking officers present had much time or mental bandwidth to devote to anything else.
Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Rayya stood braced against the flag communications console abaft the captain's seat, having taken over for his harried flag lieutenant. On that console's main display was the visored face of one of his Admiralty Board colleagues, Admiral Han'Gerrel vas Neema.
"Hang in there, Rael," said Admiral Gerrel. "Help is on the way. ETA six minutes."
"I'm not sure we've got six minutes," Rael replied, but before Gerrel could respond to that, the channel broke up in a wash of jagged static.
A voice, high and plaintive, detached itself from the buzz of intercom traffic on the overhead: "What are these things?!"
A moment later, another - sounding less panicky but, if anything, even more urgent - broke in, "They've breached the engine room! All units, reinforce the - "
The second voice was drowned out by a burst of what sounded like automatic blasterfire, but of an unfamiliar pitch and rhythm, and the traffic settled back into an incoherent blur of shouts and violent sounds.
At the back of the bridge, Colonel Vedik'Zorah vas Archangel shared a moment's eye contact with his granddaughter Tali, then said wryly, "So much for our day off."
Tali was intent on her omni-tool and didn't answer him for a moment; then she finished whatever she'd been doing, looked up, and replied with equal wryness, "I didn't even want to come here today."
Vedik chuckled. "And I did?" Then, becoming businesslike, he went on, "Keep an eye on your father. I'm going down to see if I can do anything about the situation in Engineering."
"I'll come - " Tali began, but before she could go on, Vedik turned to the young marine officer standing next to them and said,
"Kal'Reegar, secure the bridge. DO NOT let Tali'Zorah follow me."
Reegar saluted. "Aye aye, Colonel."
"That is cheating," said Tali indignantly.
"An old man's prerogative," said Vedik fondly. "Stay safe, Tali."
"Be careful, Grandfather."
The colonel regarded his granddaughter for a moment, then said, "There are times for that. I fear this isn't one of them."
Then, placing a hand briefly on her shoulder, he nodded first to her, then to Reegar, and left the bridge.
Vedik found the ship's remaining security forces in disarray, trying to rally in the amidships lounge area but not quite able to get it together. It took him about four seconds to size up the situation as he emerged from the turbolift and see that this was the case. Some of the soldiers present were at least trying to square themselves away and get ready to attempt something, but even they didn't know what they were going to attempt, and others clearly were so stunned by the day's events that they had no idea where to start.
He zeroed in on the most together of the survivors, a young woman who was sitting in one of the corner couch booths methodically stripping her rifle. Striding toward her, he rezzed up his omni-tool and told her, "I need your tactical freq's crypto key."
She looked up, did a quick double-take, then put the half-dismantled weapon aside and stood to salute. Vedik waved it away. "We haven't got time for that," he said.
"Uh - r-right," said the trooper. She fumbled with her omni-tool for a moment before figuring out how to pass the encryption key along; once he had it in place, Vedik configured his own tool to broadcast to all stations on the Rayya's tactical band and declared in a ringing voice that brought all the chatter and clatter of the room to a sudden halt:
"Now hear this! This is Colonel Vedik'Zorah vas Archangel speaking. In the absence of Major Carand, I am assuming command of this operation."
Troopers around the compartment - and indeed, all throughout the still-semi-secured part of the ship - paused in what they were doing and gave each other incredulous looks. Vedik'Zorah? The Vedik'Zorah? What was he doing here? The Rayya was not only not his ship, it was the flagship of his estranged son, a man to avoid whom - so the story went around the fleet - he had once refused promotion to Commandant of the Marine Corps and the automatic seat on the Admiralty Board it entailed.
He didn't give them much time to ponder that now, though, as he went on, "Listen up, Marines. I know you're in shock. You're surprised, you're scared, some of you are hurt. We don't know what these things are, we're outnumbered and outgunned. Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemen? We're quarians! We're always outnumbered! Now pick yourselves up, recharge and reload, and get yourselves to the Level 12 midships common area on the double."
His voice dropping to a raspy growl, the colonel continued, "We're going back into that engine room, boys and girls, and if these creatures even know what fear is, we are going to make them experience it - because it's that or all our families are walking back to Scandia-1! Counterstrike commences in fifteen minutes - mark! That is all."
Then he closed the channel, turned to the soldier he'd acquired the comm key from, and said with faint amusement, "Carry on, Crewman."
She stared at him for a moment, uncomprehending. He angled the ghosts of his eyes at her abandoned weapon. "Oh!" she said, almost startled, and sat back down to finish the job.
Vedik sat down opposite her, unlimbered his own weapon, and started checking it over. "What's your name, soldier?" he asked.
"Uh, L-Lyra, sir," she replied. "Lyra'Raan."
"You must be Shala'Raan vas Tonbay's niece," said Vedik conversationally. "It's a small fleet."
"Relax, Crewman," said Vedik lightly, stowing his rifle on his back again and starting on his sidearm. "I'm not your commanding officer. I shouldn't even be here. Anyway," he went on, not unkindly, "it's not me you're really frightened of, is it?"
Lyra glanced at him, then returned her attention to her weapon. Vedik had no way of knowing for sure, of course, but he was fairly certain from context and the rest of her body language that she was blushing furiously inside her helmet. "No, sir," she replied quietly.
"There's no shame in being scared, Lyra," Vedik told her, earning a look of blank shock. He sighted down the holographic tri-dots of his sidearm on the far bulkhead for a moment, then shut down the weapon and returned it to the magmount on his hip. "I don't know what they told you in Basic, but the truth of the matter is, being brave isn't about fearlessness." He stood up and turned to see the room starting to fill up with security troopers, yet becoming increasingly quieter as they arrived.
Six minutes later, they were massed in the main companionway outside the blast doors to Main Engineering in entry formation, Colonel Zorah at the front of the stack.
"Override codes initiated," said the tactical engineer opposite the stack, his omni-tool interfaced with the door's control panel. "Ready for entry in five."
"What is it about?" Lyra suddenly asked from where she stood behind the colonel, her rifle at the ready in her right hand, left hand on his right shoulder.
"Sorry?" he said, not looking away from the engineer.
"If bravery isn't about fearlessness, what is it about?"
"Override complete," the engineer reported, giving the colonel a thumbs-up across the now-unlocked but still closed blast doors. "Ready for entry on your mark, Colonel."
Vedik thumbed off his rifle's safety and announced on the tac band, "Weapons free. Everyone tag in."
Then, as the ready-to-go icons for everyone in his impromptu force began to flick on in his helmet's HUD one at a time, he looked back over his shoulder, met Lyra's eyes through their visors, and told her,
"It's about being scared as hell... and not letting it stop you."
Then, facing front again, he opened the comm channel again and announced, "OK, boys and girls, it's go time. Keelah se'lai!"
IPS Valiant (NX-06041)
"Secure from warp," Captain Utena Tenjou ordered as the strobing lights of the Rayya's battle with her attackers filled the main viewer. "Klaang, what've we got?"
"That exact configuration isn't in the database," Sub-Commander Klaang reported, peering into his scanner. "However, the general configuration is about a 74% match for the alien vessels that attacked Vastru II last year."
Utena frowned. "Well, log all the sensor data, we'll pass it along to Intelligence when we have the time. Right now we've got other problems. Saionji, can you get me the Rayya?"
"Lot of interference in the area - I think the attackers are jamming," said Kyouichi Saionji at the comm station, "but let me see if I can get a laser lock... there. Channel's open."
"Rayya, this is IPS Valiant," Utena declared. "Apart from the obvious, what's your situation?"
If Admiral Zorah - who was not, Utena had to admit, her biggest fan in the galaxy - were surprised or perturbed that her ship had come to his aid (and reached him before elements of his own navy, which were burning serious neutrons inbound at high sublight), it wasn't apparent in his voice as he replied,
"Valiant, we have been boarded. Hostile aliens have occupied the engine room, but they seem unwilling or unable to tamper with our systems as yet. Our marines are mounting a counterattack. Recommend you concentrate your fire on the enemy's support vessels."
"Roger that, Admiral. We'll see what we can do to keep them off you. Be advised, Challenger is about three minutes behind us."
"Understood. Rayya out."
Utena turned a slightly impressed look to Corwin Ravenhair, who stood next to her conn with one hand braced on the top of the seatback. "He almost sounds pleased to see us."
"Well," said Corwin wryly, "I imagine he's got bigger things on his mind right now than... " He blinked suddenly, flinching almost as if struck, and trailed off in mid-sentence. Utena, watching him closely, saw his eyes unfocus, and before she could ask him what was wrong, he said in a low voice, "... oh no."
"Corwin, wha - "
He shook his head. "Damn. I have to go. I'll explain later."
Then, turning, he left the bridge.
"... Go where?" Utena asked the space he'd left behind as the Valiant plunged into combat with one of the alien ships.
Vedik climbed to his feet, thinking it was a little bit odd that he didn't remember getting knocked down.
Must have been a concussion blast, he thought, shaking his head. That would account for the fact that the sounds of the battle he could still see raging all around him were so strangely muted, hollow and distant - though it didn't account for how cold he felt. It was freezing in here, which, in the - hah - heat of the moment he hadn't noticed when they first entered the engine room. He wondered if the aliens had been screwing with the environmental controls. Also, everything looked vaguely blue, as if his optics filters had been knocked into some unfamiliar mode by the blow he'd taken.
Then, with another shake of his head, he told himself sternly to pull himself together and worry about that later. Right now he still had a job to do. Raising his rifle, he sighted it on the nearest of the aliens, pulled the trigger...
... and nothing happened.
His reaction was instant, automatic, honed by years of drill and even more of experience. Without even looking at the rifle, he cycled the energy system, cleared the charge buffer, repressurized the blast chamber, and tried again.
Assuming that the weapon had been damaged by the same blast that had knocked him down, Vedik discarded it and drew his sidearm. He had a second, maybe two, to stop that attacker before it got the drop on Lyra'Raan - she was facing the other way, laying down covering fire for the engineers as they tried to dislodge another group of aliens from the starboard companionway to the upper level of the engine room, and she wouldn't see him in time...
Suddenly, with a flicker of pseudomotion that reminded him of nothing so much as a ship emerging from hyperspace, a man in black armor appeared next to Lyra and - without pausing for more than a half-second to assess the situation - smashed the approaching alien to the deck with a whirling blow of a six-foot, metal-shod staff. The creature's vacsuit visor shattered on impact, and the rest of it tumbled backward and down the half-staircase to the lower level, its weapon flying from its hands.
Without hesitation - and without, apparently, being noticed by Lyra - the black-clad figured turned and stepped toward Vedik. As he did so, he seemed to come fully into focus, becoming the only thing in the colonel's field of view that wasn't slightly indistinct and bluish-tinted. The swirl of battle seemed to fade away around them as he approached, until, as he reached Vedik's side, it appeared eerily as though they were alone in the Rayya's cavernous engine room, only a small part of which could be made out through the chill blue haze.
"What the... " Vedik murmured.
The armored man - much too burly to be quarian - raised a five-fingered hand and touched a control at the throat of his armor. A moment later his helmet seemed to divide into sections and fold itself away into the suit's gorget, revealing the face and unruly black-and-silver hair of a human. A human, to Vedik's surprise, he knew.
"Corwin?" he blurted - and then, as long-ingrained instincts took control, "You know better than to crack a seal aboard a quarian ship!"
"Where you and I are right now, Vedik... it doesn't matter," Corwin replied.
"I don't - what?!" Vedik replied. Then, for no reason he could consciously name, he suddenly looked down...
... and saw himself sprawled at his feet, the plastron of his biosuit neatly holed dead-center.
"... oh," he said. He looked up from his fallen body at the grave face of his granddaughter's Avalonian friend and lifelong penpal, with whose help she'd saved the Rayya from an infectious outbreak two years before. "But what are you doing here?"
"This is a side of me I hoped you'd never have to see," Corwin told him.
Then, drawing himself up as if on an official occasion, he spoke in a formal, slightly stilted tone: "Vedik'Zorah vas Archangel: I am Corwin the Raven-Haired of the Æsir, Watcher O'er the World-Engine, Chooser of the Slain... and I have chosen you."
Vedik absorbed this in the silence it deserved.
"You have lived a life of devoted service to your people," Corwin went on solemnly. "Now that life has ended with honor. You gave it that your countrymen might live. For a soldier as you have always been, there is no higher calling. For this reason you are called to Valhalla, Odin's golden hall, there to dwell in glory until the armies of good and evil meet in battle on the Final Day." He held out a gauntleted hand. "What say you?"
Vedik gazed back at him for a moment, what could be seen of his face through his visor completely blank.
Then, with just a hint of an edge in his voice, he replied, "I say you're crazy if you think I'm going anywhere while Tali'Zorah is still in danger."
Corwin regarded him for a moment, then gave him a slight smile. "She's safe," he said. "They never came close to the bridge. Your counterattack saw to that."
Vedik mused on that for a moment, looking around. Then he turned back to Corwin.
"She's going to be furious with me for leaving her behind," he said wryly.
Corwin's solemn front cracked outright as he let out a slightly guilty snort of laughter. "I expect so," he agreed.
"Do what you can for her, will you?" Vedik asked him, seriously now. "I know it meant a lot to her that you were there for her when her mother died."
Corwin nodded. "Count on it."
"All right," he said, "I guess if I have to go anywhere that isn't home, this 'Valhalla' of yours is as good as any." He took Corwin's offered hand. "Are there other quarians there?"
"Lots," Corwin told him as the haze began, in turn, to dissipate in a blaze of white light.