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Storming of the Bacillus

Posted on Sun Sep 29th, 2019 @ 2:36pm by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant Karna Zsan & Lieutenant JG Ryland Dedeker & Lieutenant JG Jaya Maera Garlake & Lieutenant Colonel Storr Garlake & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Lieutenant Sophie Xiong & Gunnery Sergeant Roderik Kos & Ferrofax & Lieutenant Commander Garai Fenia PhD & Lieutenant Arkady Sjet & Lieutenant JG Grace Sternwood Ph.D. & Master Warrant Officer Alexei Sokolov & XiaoLi Zhan

Mission: S1E3: Barbarians at the Gates
Location: Fluidic Space
Timeline: MD 3

Tsepouda Kreth base | Soukara fragment

Moving from normal space to fluidic space was like being unborn. Whatever the number of bars of fluidic space's atmospheric pressure that were bearing down upon the exterior structure of the abandoned Dominion-now-turned-Obsidian-Order base, they exceeded the base's limits. The polysteel corridors and overhead ceilings were creaking and groaning like an old sailing ship at sea trying not to bow under immense tidal forces. A few viscous drops that seeped through the straining seams of the base's infrastructure began to plop on the ground like the coming of spring rain.

=/\="Chalk One, do you copy? This is Homeplate. Come back, now!"=/\=

If only the ground team were hale and whole enough to reply.

Rodi's consciousness came back to him slowly. His eyes fluttered open, but his mind lacked the capacity to process what he saw. For several long moments he stare at nothing, and everything. And then, like wiping away condensation from a window, it snapped into focus.

Next to Rodi lay Kel. His neck lay at an off angle with his torso, his chest no longer rising. Rodi turned his head to see a dead member of Species 8472, the one his team had killed. As he looked further he saw O'Bannon's lifeless eyes staring at him. His head had been torn off his body. What remained of O'Bannon's body was a charred upper body, next to the second of the Species 8472 that attacked them.

Allen and Thorsen both lay a dozen feet away. Both chests were collapsed by a third member of 8472. That particular creature had a hole in its chest so large Rodi could see the wall behind it.

Then his own pain came. Rodi's right leg felt like nothing but white-hot knives slicing it. The marine glanced down and saw part of his femur sticking out his thigh. His medical training started droning the correct procedure to stablize. He quieted that voice, his only priority was exfil.

With a grunt, Bao started pushing himself from the ground, his uniform singed but himself mostly only bruised as opposed to seriously injured. Skeletal reinforcement wasn't just for show, after all, though he couldn't be sure he hadn't bruised some organs in a way that really required attention. A quick look around confirmed the marines were all dead, save Rodi. He kept his eyes searching for Commander Garai. With luck she had escaped, though she had also thrown that phaser, so she might also be well vaporised for all he knew at the moment. Sunny was throwing error messages at him left and right about the status of the base. He pushed himself upright and made to get gingerly to his feet. He pawed at his commbadge only to find it had singed to uselessness. "Well, as one says in English, fuck me," he grumbled.

"Get over here!" Rodi shouted from the wall, agony lacing his words. "I need your help!"

Distant sound of laboured breathing could be heard, behind one of the crates. Pain had become a weird construct in the past few minutes. It was there, but hardly localized as it had been when she realized she had been injured. Now it was everywhere. Within her body, within her mind most of all. As if the pain was taking over, spreading like a virus, an infection.

With what was left of her mind, she could hear the frustrated howl of Rodi Kos. "K...Kos..." came a gurgle.

On the outside, the slumped bajoran form was a mix of black, teal, dark brown, all covered with what looked to be yellowish brown tendrils, mostly focused on her injured side, though it was also quite visible as it crawled up the side of her neck and started to envelop her face.

Rodi's head snapped around to the sound. Just at the edge of his sight he saw the familiar shape of Fenia. The marine locked his jaw and pulled himself onto his stomach. He knew he wouldn't be able to walk until his leg was set. The scraping of the extruding femur was worse than any other wound Rodi had ever suffered. But as he came close to Fenia, he realized what had happened. "Oh no..." he whispered and looked her in the eyes.

"G..o." Fenia croaked, "finish..m..e, an...d go." Her blue eyes pleaded with him.

Bao came up and blanched. He didn't have a phaser, and his spear was heaven only knew where at the moment, as he'd dropped it during the explosion. "Sergeant, we have to go. The structural integrity of the base is compromised, and this room will not last long."

Rodi slid his knife out of its sheath. "You might want to look away Bao." Rodi said quietly. A tear slid away from the marine's eye. "May you walk with the prophets Fen." Rodi whispered quietly to Fenie, before slicing cleanly through her airpipe and arteries. He let his hand rest on the part of her face not yet covered with tendrils.

And so another pagh joined the Prophets.

Bridge | USS Phantom

Ryland gave up and dropped the hail. "No dice, Commander. If they're still alive down there, they ain't talkin'."

That was of little consequence to Mrazak. He'd wanted a report more than any guarantee of their well-being. When he'd given the order to trigger the device, he'd written off the lives of every single one of them. "Very well. We've regained access to our systems, but so far the Cardassians have been keeping the natives busy. If you can manage a controlled descent without drawing too much power, then maybe we can hide the Phantom on the... big rock, near the base, until we can get all systems back up and running."

The dead body of Isaiah Zelaney was still warm not two meters from Mrazak's command chair. Ryland had already dragged the Cardassians to the nearest airlock just on principle.

"Oh, right." Mrazak dry heaved at the sight but soon regained his bearings. "Somebody get Environmental Services in here to dispose of these corpses." The disapproving looks from those present made him add, "Respectfully so with the lieutenant, of course. He was one of us."

While Ryland patched the order through to one crewman or another, Mrazak looked to Storr. "If you please, Colonel, we need to sweep and clear the ship to ensure we don't have any stowaways. And by 'we' I mean you and Commander Linn if he's still among us."

Storr simply nodded and wiped the ichor from the dead Cardassians on his thighs, convinced that his vocabulary was steadily declining the longer he worked with the current Field Team leader. Mrazak didn't have a mouse in his pocket which naturally meant that Garlake was again the Vulcan's personal trash service. Spinning on one heel, the Afrikaner turned and exited the bridge on the turbolift to the rear, Mrazak's further orders thankfully cut short by the sliding doors. One word was all that was needed. "Brig."

"Ferrofax," Mrazak said, putting Garlake out of mind, "please tell me some good news. Can we get out of here?"

"If you would like to become the next target of the Bioship's rather effective attack on the Cardassian armada, then yes we could move. I would postulate we could cover forty kilometres before they detect us, MARS or no MARS. And with the MARS system operational, we can't engage full impulse either No I think sitting put is what we want to do," Ferrofax said somewhat guardedly. "I'm still trying to bring internal sensors back online, but again I don't want to do anything that might ruin our power distribution and cause the MARS to drop on us again. Whoever messed with my data scape...they were good, for a flesh sausage."

High praise indeed.

The situation made Mrazak press his fingers against his temples and moan. He tapped his combadge. "Mrazak to... to..." He scrunched his forehead in desperate searching for the name. "Sternwood! Report to the bridge immediately. The ship is facing a systemic computer glitch. Isolate the problem and rectify it so our onboard AI is firing on all nacelles."

"On my way sir," Grace responded, sounding a bit unnerved.

"And tell those engineers to figure out if we can undo whatever they did. Mrazak out."

Ryland shook his head and muttered, "You gotta' be kidding me." Looking through the main viewer, he could see the rapidly dissipating pocket of atmosphere being compressed by the fluidic space around it. Within the center, floating around like a snowflake in a globe of glass, the abandoned base grew closer and closer. Magnifying the viewer, Ryland could see a multitude of Cardassians trapped outside who was now clutching their throats in the throes of death, clearly unable to breathe the ever dissipating atmosphere that was being replaced by fluidic space. He shook his head again. How could the ground team fare any better?

Engineering | USS Phantom

Kazyah awoke from unconsciousness in a stupor. Unsure of how long he'd been blacked out, his training kicked his cognition into high gear. Both his Betazoid and Romulan halves were struggling with the environment of fluidic space. For that's precisely where he knew them to be -- the distant whispers of telepathic minds rippled rather than echoed through the void. Around his neck hung his Rod of Kel, an artifact of psionic amplification taken from a terrorist he had loathed and reluctantly admired. Now it burned against his skin, like a lightning rod that deflected what was surely otherwise a telepathic bombardment from a multitude of more powerful minds.

Slowly he pulled himself to his feet and staggered down the corridor away from main engineering. Voices called out to him, but after the betrayal and possible concussion he had suffered, his focus was quite singular and lethal.

=/\="And tell those engineers to figure out if we can undo whatever they did. Mrazak out."=/\=

"If I knew what we'd done, I'd undo it myself," Sophie muttered half to herself. She only had vague memories of throwing the device at a Cardassian and then... Well, she didn't know what happened after that. All she knew now was that she was conscious and annoyed. So basically, like a normal day. Time to get moving. She pulled herself off the floor- the floor! How undignified- and blinked around, looking for a tool kit.

Brig | USS Phantom

One moment the ship was under fire and being boarded by Cardassians. The next moment it was dragged asunder through some perversion of quantum mechanics into a place that felt so surreal, so thoroughly alien, so wrong, that Jaya could not at first be certain she wasn't dead. Arkady had certainly handled his own against the Cardassian stormtroopers who had beamed into the brig. But now it was all Jaya could do to maintain her conscious awareness. The ship felt like a fishbowl, a transparent prison where thousands of marauding eyes were on her, probing the depths of her mind and searing her the edges of her awareness.

"Stop!" Jaya clutched her hands over her ears, keeping her eyes shut tight as if to force out the intrusive presences. "Please! I'm not your enemy!"

YA tozhe ne tvoy vrag,” the burly Russian growled through gritted teeth. He reached up to gently prod at a gash a Cardassian had opened up on his forehead. It would leave a scar, because it was a honest wound and not something to be hidden away with a dermal regenerator. “Takoye oshchushcheniye, chto moya golova polna kamney, pytayushchikhsya stat' graviyem. I am sorry, is to say easier in tongue I think in than in one I lie with. Is much strange today, Little Fish?”

Jaya shook her head. "That's not helping..."

Transporter Room | USS Phantom

XiaoLi smiled to herself. She had to hand it the Karna. Everything was proceeding precisely as he indicated, and precisely according to plan. She doubted this could have gone better if she had done it herself. All that was left was to get off the ship, hopefully with a little surprise. She already had the proper coordinates entered into the console along with a little addition to the system of her own -- the ready room of one Gul Kretok's ship. Ten, nine, eight...

The telltale hum of a primed phaser sounded off behind her head. "Don't move." By contrast, Kazyah moved like the wind. Though blind, his telepathically heightened senses were on high alert for the slightest twitch from the Lagashi operative. "I know you aided and abetted Karna's escape," he said. He hadn't yet worked out how exactly, but there could be no other explanation for the recent turn of events. "If you want to live long enough to celebrate your treason to the Federation, then you will do precisely as I say, understand?"

The Lagashi quirked a brow. Slightly faster than anticipated, but more or less right on time. "Ah, I wondered how long it would take you to figure that out, Commander," she said pleasantly, beginning to recite radicals in her head, the most basic of first defenses against telepathy. "Let me guess, you want a grudge match now? You really are quite predictable. Let's get on with it shall we, as I suppose warning you that you go to your death is pointless?"

"You obviously have a way with computer systems. I want you to spoof the transceiver from this Cardassian's communicator onto my combadge." Kaz had lifted it from the body of a Cardassian stormtrooper. While giving his instructions, he tossed it past XiaoLi onto the floor at her feet. "And then we're going for a little walk."

The woman laughed. "I am afraid," she said honestly, "that you overestimate me, Commander. This ship's pet AI is, actually, far too sophisticated for me. The Republic Navy will be studying him for years, I think. No, I am afraid it would appear you have a serious staffing issue. The maestro of these events was one young Mr. Zelaney, I believe it is. I do hope dear Karna remembered to kill him before he left. I would hate to owe the Black Nagus any favors for not tying up the loose ends," she said, even as she instructed her own AI perform the commbadge "spoofing" trusting it to understand her instructions, since its mind could not be read. "I believe your commbadge is ready. Shall we?"

Kazyah made to argue, but he sensed the truth in her words. And, truly, he did not care enough to rebuttal. Traitors die by their own treachery one way or another. "Energize."

Tsepouda Kreth base | Soukara fragment

As quickly as the tripedal monstrosities had retreated, they made a sudden return. First six, then ten, and now twenty creatures broke through surfaces to surround the limping survivors. Yet they did not attack. Their circle was tightly formed save for a singular opening, from which two roughly humanoid creatures made an approach. Hand in hand, they were clearly meant to be male and female, yet their lack of clothing did little to indicate which might be which -- a Vulcan feature here, a Bajoran there, a Terran one besides. They were imperfect amalgams of the majority species of the Federation.

"We are the Groundskeepers," said the Woman. "We have heard the cries of your kind above, and have altered ourselves in condescension of your primitive mode of communication. Tell us why you are here."

"Why have you trespassed upon our domain?" asked the Man. "You are a contamination."

The Woman squeezed the hand of the Man, signaling him to await a response.

Bao looked at Rodi and gave him a clear 'keep fucking quiet' look as he turned to the two aliens. "Master Groundskeeper," he began. "It was never the intention of myself or my associates to trespass into the fluidic realm. I invite you to verify telepathically that I do not know how we came to be in fluidic space, and have no desire to enter into or remain within your realm. I can only assume some series of events transpired around this installation that resulted in it being transported here. As for how we came to be on the installation, I believe you must be familiar with the Cardassians. The crude and primitive by my own standards species that seems to have been antagonizing you and calling you forth into our space. They took a step too far and called you forth at my home, resulting in the death of hundreds of millions of my people. We investigated that incident and traced the source of the technology to this installation. It is our intent that the ability to bring you into our realm be removed from them, permanently, and if I might be permitted to add, with extremely violent prejudice." The last might not, technically speaking, be appropriate for a Starfleet officer, but Bao was certainly in no mood to negotiate any kind of leniency for any Cardassians that might be left alive.

As Bao explained the marine slid his arm off of Bao's shoulder. It slid down to his leg. Rodi had positioned himself slightly behind Bao to avoid being seen as he slid the seven and a half inches of serrated steel from its sheath. The blood of their comrade was still on it. Rodi's breathing quickened as he looked upon these horrid creatures again.

"We have already done so," said the Woman. "The Others created small breaches, released interferons within our domain." She paused for effect, ladening the worse with feelings of imperative wrath. "Yet it was your vessel which brought this foreign body here through the Great Breach."

The Man gave interruption. "The Metal Ones sought to assimilate us. We destroyed them! Then your kind developed the Antigen and spread it to the Metal Ones! Their assimilation attempts began anew! Now your vessel creates a Great Breach to bring your... worlds... to our domain? Sacrilege! The weak will perish!"

"It must be destroyed," the Woman agreed, though less eager to commit her people's forces to greater violence. "But we must gauge our response. We must signal our kind to prepare for local neutralization and ejection or for a systemic purge within the invading domain."

"Or... assimilate the invading domain." A wolfish smile slowly crept over the Man's face, as if he was unaccustomed to the gesture.

The Woman raised her head and shrieked her voice to nearly a howl. Around her, the gathering of tripedal kin raised their heads in assent. "NO," the Woman declared. "We will hear them out."

Bao looked between the aliens. "If it please you, Mistress Groundskeeper, I have no idea about what has happened on my ship. However, I am reasonably certain that should you permit us to leave we will exit your realm with all possible speed. I can see no reason either to not let you purge this foreign body in whatever manner you see fit. Personally, destroying it down to the atomic level sounds like a wonderful idea. Master Groundskeeper, I would suggest the possibility that by your own narration of events, we are not as week as you seem to suggest. A conflict between our peoples would benefit no one."

"But you are you not a Metal One?" the Man said to Bao in challenge. "Will you not seek to assimilate our Morphon as did the others?"

"No, as similar as we must seem to you," came the reply. "The ones you refer to as the metal ones have made contact with just over 10,000 different individual species, all of which have their own individual cultures, goals, and agendas. I imagine this must seem ill-ordered chaos to you. I personally, am a representative of a group of approximately 150 of these species. We seek to expand our knowledge, but peacefully, and co-exist with those we encounter. Through this, we may make changes to ourselves, but we also preserve our individuality as well. My species, for example, practices routine manipulation of our genetic code, and physical augmentation of our bodies with technology to optimally perform in our chosen fields. The gentleman behind me, however, is from a different species where such actions are considered serious crimes. To us, you are another example of what another species in our Federation refers to as the IDIC: infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

The Man and Woman grew pensive for a moment.

"We must call for a Monocytic Consensus," the Woman said at length.

"Agreed," the Man replied, almost reluctantly.

Deck Two| USS Phantom

The turbolift doors opened to...nothing special. Bright lights, a clean, empty corridor, and the dull thrum of the warp core seemed to signify that everything was operating at normal capacity. Storr blinked for a moment, taking it in. Hadn't they just suffered a severe weapons barrage and system failures throughout the ship? Cutting his eyes left and right, nothing seemed askance and it made him all the more concerned. His ears ringing from his heartbeat throbbing in his ears, the station commandant took a first then second tentative step towards his destination. The whine in his mind increased to a physical pain behind his eyes that he rubbed to no relief. *What was going on?* he asked himself, his hand instinctively reaching out against the wall to attempt and steady the unsteady scene.

Suddenly, an equally stuttering Cardassian appeared at the far end of the slightly curved walkway. Storr's eyes met the invader's and for a moment they both recognized the pain and disorientation in the other. For a moment, the Lieutenant Colonel thought that they would be able to parlay but that moment was snuffed out as the Obsidian Order agent removed a knife from his boot and threw it directly at Garlake. Thankfully, "directly" meant flying over Storr's head and impacting the wall, breaking off the tip and clattering somewhere behind him.

Charging in a suicide run, the Cardassian dove shoulder first into Storr's abdomen, driving him against the wall with a resounding thud.

This maneuver, while strategically solving the bizarre inertial problems that they both faced by taking distance out of the equation, put Storr in the tactically advantageous position of the having the Cardassian's head and neck exposed from above. Lt Col Garlake wasted no time in bringing his elbow down sharply on the delicate structure connecting the alien's head to his spine and his foe's body dropped like a sack of potatoes at impact. Untangling himself from the dead weight, the Afrikaner made his way down the rest of the (thankfully) empty corridor to the brig.

The brig doors opened and Storr quickly assessed the scene. Seeing that there was no physical threat, he quickly nodded to Arkady and rushed to Jaya's side, taking her diminutive form in his arms. He didn't know what she was experiencing but knew enough that she needed him. Now.

"Voices!" Jaya whimpered, eyes closed and strained. "So many voices! They cry out for vengeance! For satisfaction! Contamination! They want to purge us!"

"Shhh..." Storr hushed more than whispered as he stroked her neck and nuzzled her bald head with his whiskered face. Reaching out with his force of will rather than mind, he projected a sense of warmth, calm, and protection. He only hoped that it was enough to muffle some of the voices that rang so loud in her head.

The reassuring presence of Storr was a grounding rod for maelstrom that threatened to overwhelm Jaya's mind. Her hands briefly melded with his before she grasped his face and clung to him, staring eye to eye, until her breathing steadied. "Thank you, my love..." Her eyes fluttered back into focus, though they were dulled from their usual sparkle. Dissociation was an unusual state for Deltans, but desperate times called for desperate measures. "They are so angry. I hear them, trillions of voices shouting one chorus of protest... to... the Morphon? The... only dissent is what form our doom should be."

Obsidian Order Starship Dreadnought-Bret (OOS Dreadnought-II) | Gul's Ready Room

Two blue pillars of energy shot through the main deflector and materialized Kazyah and XiaoLi side by side within the confines of the gul's ready room. Rather than the dimmed light and muted earth tones of standard Cardassian design, the walls were harsh mineralized alloys and relentless lighting of Dominion design. It was clear to any observer that this vessel was once occupied by Jem'Hadar, but there were none to be found. It was crewed entirely by Cardassians.

"Guards!" Gul Kretok shouted in surprise at the intrusion. They must have been stationed just outside the door, as four of them rushed through the door, disruptor files raised, in but an instant.

Kazyah counted three individuals besides the guards -- Kretok, Karna, and another Betazoid. A female. When his mind swept across hers, he felt the same empty void that was in Karna. "Damn. Now there are two of you."

"Now, now, Kaz, that's no way to speak to a lady." Karna wagged a chiding finger at him. "Nwexele here fancies herself my better. Eighteen years she's given to the Order compared to my scant four."

The Betazoid woman called Nwexele said nothing, though her black eyes narrowed at Kazyah.

"Are you collecting Betazoids?" Kazyah said to Kretok.

The gul's mouth stretched in a mirthless smirk. "Unlike the Federation, our Union does not possess client races of a telepathic variety. We must find them abroad when the opportunity arises. I was merely a field agent known as Tydeus Amarak when we first met. Together we escaped that Romulan internment camp, which was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I taught him everything he knows, until one day... he left us, not once to make contact, until today. Karna has had his uses, despite his questionable loyalty." Looking to Karna, the man continued. "Which I will have him demonstrate once more. Kill your compatriot, here and now."

"At once." Karna approached Kazyah, who was seized by two of the guards. Walking up to the man, Karna flourished his jackal knife taken from the body of his Romulan interrogator four years ago. "From this life to the next," he intoned. And then his knife flashed.

Zhan gave a cold smile at Kaz as the knife did its work. "So nice to work with actual professionals," she said, bowing slightly to Karna and the Gul. "Gul...Kretok, wasn't it. I believe we have some matters of potentially mutual benefit to discuss if we can make it out of this, and you will agree to grant me...I won't say safe, but passage untortured and alive."

Before Kretok could give reply, the ship rocked from a volley of direct hits from 8472's destructive beam ordnance.

Bridge | USS Phantom

"Commander, the bio-ships are changing course," Ryland reported from the conn.

Mrazak stood up and stepped closer to get a better look. "What are they doing?"

Ryland glibly chuckled at the wanton destruction. "They've blown the shit outta' the Cardassian armada. There's nothing left except a big-ass battleship, a Jem'Hadar hand-me-down by my guess. Looks like it's been disabled. For some reason, the bio-ships are holding off fire. If I didn't know better, I'd say the spoonies are getting boarded."

"Well, that's just great," Mrazak said, dripping with sarcasm. "How close are we--"

The entire ship rocked with sudden impact.

"Close," Ryland said. "We just skimmed the top of the base. Prepare for an emergency landing!"

"Negative!" Mrazak shouted. "Prep RTS thrusters and set us down gently. I don't care if it gives away our position!"

"Aye, sir." Ryland swiveled back around and made the helm dance.

Mrazak looked to Grace who had been hard at work sitting in Isaiah's old Ops station. "Tell me you've isolated the computer issue."

"I think so sir," she said. "I know how they got there... Isaiah put some sort of ghost registry on the computer. I'm working on combatting it but every time I try it reverses my actions against it. I'm wondering if there might be a chip he placed in the computer somewhere," she said, biting her bottom lip. "I'm working on blocking it now."

"Good enough," Mrazak nodded. "Ferrofax! Is the breach still open? We need to get back through!"

"Though asymmetrically. Its almost as though the Phantom were acting as a magnet, drawing the aperture closed," Ferrofax said. "I've also taken the liberty of loading the crash buoy with our logs, sensor data, and a compressed kernel of my own heuristic programming in case we do in fact crash."

Mrazak balled his hands into fists and swatted the air. "Damn it all! Why can't anything go right?" The fact that his previous suicide order which had cleaved a chunk of Soukara into fluidic space had left them alive seemed to have been forgotten.

The ship rocked again, though much more gently than before. "We've landed," Ryland glibly announced. "Now what?"

"Now we fix this," Mrazak said, eyes ablaze with passion.

Fluidic Space

Despite the clean sweep the organic bio-ships had made of the Cardassian armada, more and more ships dropped out of warp to surround the buoyant bubble of Soukaran landmass. Weapons were charged, but none of the ships fired. Instead, the dozens upon dozens of ships mobilized together into a honeycomb lattice. The haste and rhythm of their movement was uncanny. As they found their positions, fibrous tendrils reached out from among them and joined together, the smallest tendril being larger than old growth tree trunks. All of them pulsated with bio-electric luminescence which crackled against the disabled Dominion Dreadnought, the only remaining non bio-ship vessel besides the Phantom.

Tsepouda Kreth base | Soukara fragment

The gathered tripedal aliens suddenly linked appendages, forming a physical barrier around Bao and Rodi. Heads raised, their heads oscillated like ringing bells that gave no sound. In contrast, the Man and Woman gasped as if in pain and nearly collapsed to the floor.

"It is come!" the Woman gasped.

"A Ganglion of the Morphon!" the Man declared.

The score of tripedal guardians surrounding them knelt in honor and partial paralysis at the advent of something beyond corporeal reckoning.

"Proclaim, Ganglion," said the Man and Woman together, and their eyes rolled back in their heads, clearly unnecessary for what would happen next. Though they continued to speak in unison, their vocal chords blended together into octaves beyond the humanoid range. It made for speech that was intelligible only as the sub-strohbass harmonized with the ultra-whistle register.

"Groundskeeper response has neutralized the invading forces. Continued breaches will not be tolerated. The beacons are required, as is the storehouse which created them. The Morphon does not will mutual destruction, but such shall permit it save that the demands are satisfied. Egress will be granted upon exchange. Do not delay."

Bao bowed politely. "No argument from me. Could you facilitate communication with our vessel. I will advise our commander of the terms, and personally incapacitate him if he so much as tries to breathe a contradictory word about them."

Rodi just stared at the aliens. His blade still in his head, slowly drying stains of Fenia's blood on it. He felt nothing anymore.

Deck Two| USS Phantom

"I understand now..." Jaya's voice fell flat. "I mean, I don't... but I see how wrong we were." She looked at Storr and Arkady with pleading eyes. "Species 8472 is not a species at all, at least not how we classify them. They're antibodies! Fluidic space, whatever it really is... this is their biological system. They defend it with their lives because that is their purpose. Their war in the Delta Quadrant was an immunoresponse to a threat to the massive macroorganism they call home. To them, we are biological infections to be purged. If we can get away from here and convince them we aren't a threat, I don't think they'll follow."

"'re saying that they're white blood cells to our virus?" he asked, quizzically. That would make fluidic space...the thoughts and dimensions alone, let alone the chilling implications, made his head spin. He was a simple man that enjoyed simple problems of which this was not one. Storr shook his head to clear it, enraptured by the knowledge that Jaya was indeed alright.

Arkady pondered this. The logic was there, sketched in at the corners with bright day glow crayons and the sort of functional theoretical scaffolding only the mad and brilliant would call structurally sound.

“Antibodies who have starships...or blood ships...” he grumbled, rubbing at his temple. “Is certain they do not have friendship.”

Jaya swallowed her apprehension and called forth the last vestiges of her Deltan self-control. "We have to get to the bridge. We have to make Mrazak understand."

This was a problem that Storr could understand and handle. With great care yet swift movement, the Marine cradled his delicate Deltan wife into his arms and rushed out of the brig, sure that the burly Russian's steps were not far behind him. If Jaya could get them out of this mess, it was his job to deliver her and her message, whatever it might be and could mean.

Bridge | USS Phantom

When the trio arrived on the bridge, they were just in time for another one of Mrazak's apoplectic meltdowns.

"Do you honestly mean to tell me that the best and brightest minds that Starfleet has to offer can't reverse engineer the phenomenon that brought us here, the device which catalyzed it, or even piece the damned thing back together?!" The Vulcan Without Logic was pulling at the short hairs of his head with both hands. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've heard in my entire life!"

What's worse is that he did not appear to be addressing anybody in particular. The return of Garlake with Jaya and Arkady in tow almost went unnoticed. Almost.

"At least the ship is safe from Cardassian intruders, which is fabulous," Mrazak said. "At least somebody around here can manage to accomplish something before we all die horribly from our own stupidity!"

For a moment Lieutenant Colonel Garlake was alright with the Phantom vaporizing if it meant that the megalomaniacal Vulcan would disappear with it. It had been a good run, he had done his best in this life and in the balance, this would have been a good thing for the universe. It was only a moment, though.

Depositing Jaya gently in the First Officer's chair beside Mrazak, the Commandant simply stood back and awaiting. Patience was a virtue, they said, and it was something that he both lacked and had in spades. Thankfully, it was the latter that he possessed at this time and he simply listened, watched, and waited.

"I did it!" Grace yelled, unexpectedly. "I did it." She was typing furiously at the console almost abusing it. "I blocked the registry... now to destroy it," she said. The emphasis and tone on the word destroyed was ominous-sounding come from the soft-spoken girl.

The familiar hum and whir of ship-wide systems heralded their return to full functionality. Mrazak cheered at the junior officer for her effort. A data dump chimed from the communications system. "Would somebody get that?" Mrazak barked. "I'm trying to concentrate!"

"Sir, it's Chalk One," said the petty officer specialist in Operations gold. "Seven combadges detected, only two life-signs."

"Ferrofax!" Mrazak yelled as if it would persuade the AI. "Beam the survivors to this spot for immediate debriefing, and deposit the... rest... somewhere out of the way. They've got some explaining to do."

”Aye aye. Materialising some for reckoning now, and some for later dispensation as a spider might do it,” the AI said, sounding ever so slightly distracted. Well it had been a rather busy day for it.

Bao re-materialized in front of Mrazak. He ignored the Vulcan momentarily in favor of tapping his commbadge. "Emergency medical team to the bridge," he said before glaring at Kos, as if daring him to argue. That settled he turned his attention back to Mrazak.

Tapping Arkady's arm, Jaya said, "You said you're a doctor, right? You can stabilize him, at least until the med team arrives."

“Is always work for supper, never have supper,” Arkady said with a put upon sigh of the hard working back bone of any institution. He knelt beside him, and began the work of stabilising him. It was shockingly easy to do, as it mostly focused on a simple equation: If Blood Flow Out> Stop.

Mrazak ignored the moving scene depicting the triumph of the human spirit. He had eyes only for Bao. "Well? What happened down there? And, more importantly, how can we fix it?"

"The short version, commander, is that I have a tentative accord with Species 8472 and their 'morphon,'" Bao said, rather hurriedly as he physically shoulder an enlisted specialist away from a console. "They want the beacons and the base, and plan to 'purge' both, which I understand to mean they intend to completely and utterly destroy them. They will, however, permit us to leave with no further harm or act against us so long as we hand over any beacons we happen to have and do not interfere with their purging of the contamination in their realm. Since I am standing here obviously, I did not refuse their offer. There are a few other more minor details that can wait until we are somewhere that is not about reduced to its constituent atomic particles."

Mrazak raised a hand in protest. "Hold up. How can we trust anything they say? They killed Dr. Garai and nearly killed you! What's to stop them from reneging once they have what they want?"

Sensing her moment, Jaya interjected, "As your Psychology and Psionics Specialist, I have to concur with Commander Qiao. It's...all I can do to shut out the oppressive voices of this place, and their echoing demand is in accordance with what the commander has said." A thought occurred to her. "As a Vulcan, wonder that you can't detect it."

Mrazak cleared his throat. "My considerable endowments lie elsewhere."

The innuendo was not lost on Ryland, who shamelessly snickered from the helm.

Engineering | USS Phantom

Meanwhile, back in Engineering, Sophie was frantically trying to figure out what was going on. The return of full power was definitely a help. Sensors were showing a magnetic polarization, of which the Phantom was half. The other half was... well, she didn't know. But, it was not in the ship, which was extremely troubling as there is no such thing as a single pole magnet.

The other half must be the spot from which the Theta flux readings were coming. There was no other explanation. That meant that in opening the rift into fluidic space, the ship had become polarized and sucked in to join with the flux readings spot, thus completing the magnetic field.

“Xiong to the bridge!” she said, tapping her combadge.

The initial reply was a groan. =/\="This had better be important,"=/\= came Mrazak's voice, grizzled by hypervigilance and stress.

“I think I've figured out what has happened,” she said. “I'm reading two magnetic poles- one of them is the ship and the other is the spot where the Theta flux readings are coming from. The device opened a rift and polarized the ship -- north or south I don't know and it doesn't matter -- and we were sucked through to join with the other pole. Now all we have to do is to de-polarize the ship. I'm still....” Her eyes fell on a piece of the device and frowned. “We... may be able to duplicate it even without the device, sir,” she said slowly as she pulled on a pair of protective gloves.

=/\="That... you just might be on to something. Continue."=/\=

“Well, if we,” started Sophie, bending to pick up the piece, “gather all the pieces- or as many as possible” she picked up another fragment, “and beam them all into space,” another piece, “then activate them with a polaron beam from the sensor array,” she reached for another piece, missed, and grabbed it on the second try, “it should depolarize the ship and push us back through to normal space.”

Mrazak actually chortled. =/\="You're describing a magnetic monopole, Lieutenant, which is impossible in our universe. But we're not in our universe, are we? No, in fluidic space we just might be able to turn this disgusting liquid aether into so much effluvia that will do more than reverse the polarity of the aperture, but actually render it monopolar! That could invert the quantum singularity and pop us right back into standard space. It's genius, Lieutenant! Make it so!"=/\=

If Sophie were perfectly honest, she would admit that she hadn't thought about fluidic space working differently than their own. But, that wasn't Sophie's style. "Of course," she as she hastily picked up more fragments. "I'll let you know when we're ready." And with that, she ran from Engineering, arms full of goop covered bits of machinery. She had to get to the transporter room.

Transporter Room | USS Phantom

Only two minutes later, Sophie burst into the transporter room. Finding nobody there, she spilled the bits onto the pad and hurried to the controls. She activated them and beamed them to a spot just off the port side of the ship. "Xiong to the bridge," she said, tapping her combadge.

=/\="We read you, ma'am,"=/\= came Ryland's drawling voice.

"The fragments are in place," she said. "You should read them just off port."

=/\="Copy. Boss says we'll take it from here. Bridge out."=/\=

Bridge | USS Phantom

Mrazak did the honors himself. The polaron beam struck the largest cluster of floating debris, though the reactivity soon spread in a chain reaction that electrified the local fluidic space like discharging neon. Arcs of lightning shot from the debris near the Phantom's port side to the nearby base.

"Get us out of here," Mrazak ordered.

Under the circumstances, Ryland forewent the usual pithy remark and set the RTS thrusters to full burn. Once they put some distance between the ship and the landmass, Ryland asked, "So, uh, about that heading... Where are we going exactly?"

Before Mrazak could reply, the chain reaction of electrical discharge between the small debris field and the Tsepouda Kreth base came to a head. The landmass trembled for an instant before it exploded into white-hot smithereens.

"Shields!" Mrazak shouted. "ALL THE SHIELDS!"

Fluidic Space

The taut white sheet-like aperture flashed in a bright flare that vaporized the free-floating landmass. Soukara's prodigal subcontinent and the Dominion base it hosted were erased from existence, as the swarm of Groundskeeper vessels fell upon the debris with savage intent. The Phantom was enveloped in the cascading white light that carried it away from the continuum of fluidic space and back into the Milky Way's Alpha Quadrant.

Yet they were not alone. The kilometer-long battlecruiser salvaged from the Dominion war, rechristened the Dreadnought II by the Obsidian Order remnant, was ripped apart. Most of the hull suffered the same fate as the planetary fragment, save the fore section containing the bridge. It disappeared in the same flash of light as the Phantom.

Fluidic space resonated with the telepathic cheers of Groundskeeper vessels united through the Ganglion armada of the Sacred Morphon. The strong had prevailed.


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