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The Final Solution

Posted on Tue Feb 23rd, 2021 @ 12:14pm by Captain Akiva ben-Avram & Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant JG Ryland Dedeker & Lieutenant Colonel Storr Garlake & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Lieutenant Sophie Xiong & Ensign Khaiel D'hikatsi & Gunnery Sergeant Roderik Kos & Ferrofax & Sergeant Alexander Bradley & Corporal Kul Ax't & Corporal Angela Hsu & Lance Corporal Edmund Haaskivi

Mission: S1E4: The Hills Have Eyes
Location: Llorona Station
Timeline: MD 3

"Within visual range of Llorona Station," Ryland reported from the helm.

Mrazak swiveled around in the command chair and glared at the main viewer. "On screen."

The half-domes of the diffuser array were spread out like a mushroom cap, creating a corona of solar energy that curved around the planet of Venus save for peripheral rays. It gave a gilded look to the station that glinted with a light flare at the right angle.

"Tech team, initiate overload salvo from the comms suite," Mrazak ordered.

From a side station, Bao acknowledged. He had spent the last several minutes preparing and bringing Khaiel up to speed on what had happened before. "By your command," he returned. "initiating anti-Ferrofax protocol." The Phantom's deflector dish glowed brightly as the communication relay began broadcasting the signal used by the automatons on the surface layered with an AI cage. Bao looked at Khaiel, "Got any ways to improve the AI cage?"

"I'm sure I could be of some help. I mean...given its colorful name I have no doubt it would never be used against myself. And I would most certainly never install a back door into such a program in the off chance you decide to use it on me," Ferrofax muttered quietly.

"Actually, that's not a bad idea," Khaiel said as he typed over the console he sat before. "If we add an obvious backdoor, the AI will automatically take it. And we lead it right back into it's proverbial prison. If this Old Gregg is built as I assume it was, it'll continue to try to use this back door, even though it leads nowhere."

Khaiel smiled up to Bao. "Escaping a trap tends to be something that programmers hard code into the AI rather than leaving it up for the AI to determine itself. Old Gregg won't have any control over this portion of his programming and he'll be forced to continue this loop. Even if he's able to stop himself eventually, it'll keep him occupied while we rip apart his data networks."

"Initiating scan for hostiles," Ari said. She was only so-so on the consoles, but she could do basic sensor sweeps in her sleep. By now Old Gregg likely knew they were coming. It wouldn't do for them to wander into a trap.

"We've got it, Commander," Mrazak said. "I insist you get yourself to the transporter with the rest of your team."

Ari nodded reluctantly. It was time. "Yes, sir." Nodding again to Kara and Sophie, she said, "You sheilas ready?

Only slightly nervous about their potential suicide mission, Kara gave a resolute nod.

Sophie didn't know what he meant by sheilas, but whatever. "Ready," she said simply. She knew exactly what needed to be done to convert the diffuser array. It was a fairly simple process if a bit tedious. All the parts were already there. The trick was getting them to work in reverse.

"Ferrofax, assume control over all sensors save navigation," Mrazak said. "I want to know if anything in our general vicinity so much as twitches."

"Already in the system, collating now...Huum...I've had what remains of the System Defence Network spike a trio of cargo drones heading out of the system. No lives crews, but their coding was...unique. A chance that something was trying to sneak out in their data stacks. That might have flushed some others out of the woodwork. I'll keep you informed in what I find," Ferrofax stated.

That was bad news, but like everything else, Mrazak put it on the backburner. There was only one mission in front of them. If Qurban was to be believed, and so far he hadn't been wrong, the destruction would not be limited to the solar system.

"Helm..." Mrazak said. "Bring us in."

When the field team beamed onto the station promenade -- chosen due to the transparent aluminum floor to ceiling windows spanning much of its sides -- they did not waste much time.

"All right, here's what I got," Kara said. "The solar diffuser array controls are on the command deck along with the security office and my own survey department. Maybe we run into Chief Donaldson, maybe we don't, but from the looks of the lights the station's systems are wonky. The computer core is down a few levels and towards the station's center. Never spent much time there, so I don't have anything else to tell you. I'll update your tricorders with the station schematics so you can plot a critical path."

"Thank you," Ari said.

Arianna and Akiva spared parting glances toward one another, silently wishing luck to one another. As before, the opulent furnishings and fixtures of the station belied the Venusian claim to poverty and oppression -- at least for the station dwellers. But with the power levels gone haywire, it looked like a luxury resort turned haunted.

"Storr, lead the way," Akiva said, letting his old friend take point... or whatever he would order his squad to do.

The Lieutenant Colonel nodded to Akiva before making three quick hand gestures to the Marines assigned to his fireteam. Corporal Fields on point, with Corporal B'teli on left flank and Private Idaho on the right put the Hebron in the middle with Storr taking up the rear. He would usually take the middle position but with the good Captain not being a regular team member, he didn't want to leave an avenue of approach vulnerable. Not that he didn't trust Akiva's marksmanship but there was something to a fireteam operating together that necessitated a level of teamwork that was lacking with an extra wheel. Then again, Garlake thought absently as they moved forward down the corridor, I haven't exactly been the most present member at field exercises lately...

Arianna did much the same. "Kos, on you."

"Team 2, we're moving. Bradley, take point." Kos ordered, his voice as stoically calm as always. Inside, however, the marine felt dead-tired. At this point his mind was functioning on an almost unhealthy quantity of caffeine and some mild medical stimulants marines carried as standard issue. Rodi took up his position right behind his pointman moving deeper into the station and heading towards its computer core.

[Computer Tech Team]

The corporal whose name Akiva didn't catch trained his weapon light dead ahead of their small group. With only emergency lighting to show the way, every corridor, corner, and crevice seemed haunted. Empty as the grave, the eerie silence was broken only by the distant hum of the station's various support systems. He glanced at Storr, then Khaiel, and then Storr again, wondering what in b'azezel he'd been thinking. It hadn't been that long since his last away mission -- maybe a year or more, not counting his unsanctioned trip to Bynaus -- but he'd picked a hell of a comeback tour.

"Are you picking up anything?" he asked Khaiel, nodding to his tricorder. "Or with your... friend?" he also asked Bao, referring to Sunny.

"Nothing so far," Khaiel said, glancing up at the attractive man and then buried his head back in the tricorder.

The Lagashi's glowing eyes swept the area. He had Sunny, behind layers upon layers of firewalls attempting to break into whatever remained of the station network. "Nothing so far," he said. "Though it would be foolish to assume that will continue."

Sounds of tiny feet skittering across composite metal flooring echoed through the corridor. Akiva looked for any signal from their team's pointman, but the Marine did nothing except halt and listen. After a moment of silence, Akiva decided to hazard a whisper. "We've got to keep going."

The Lagashi cringed at the skittering. "If they are the same as the ones we encountered on the surface, those will be small automatons that have pincer claws. Logic dictates they had to have been synthesized on this station so our weapons should be effective against them," he said tilting his head. "Although, if they are as numerous as they were on the surface, they will likely attempt to overrun our position with numbers. The ones on the surface, at least, did seem to possess their own AI separate from the Old Gregg entity, so they may be more vulnerable to assault by Ensign D'hikatsi through electronic means."

Khaiel almost recoiled at the account of what happened. "So these are...mechanical insects meant to tear us apart?" he asked with a disgusted look on his face.

"From the field report, whoever first tried to colonize Venus left behind synths," Akiva said. "It seems Old Gregg either brought them aboard or began reproducing them through the station's industrial infrastructure. But have they spotted us yet? Maybe we can avoid them."

Storr snorted. "Blerrie meganiese." Looking ahead, the corridor began expanding into a larger room about 15 meters ahead making their current position a natural chokepoint. Extending his arm sideward at a 45-degree angle above horizontal, Garlake flipped his palm down and lowered it to his side. The team immediately dispersed and took cover as the LtCol then touched his belt buckle and pointed to the ground behind him, designating the area as a rally point. Looking to Fields, B'teli, and Idaho in order and getting a thumbs-up from each, he nodded and kneeled beside Akiva. "What have you got?"

Following Storr's command, his squad moved into a covering position. If they were going to be attacked, there was no way to know from which direction it would come.

"Hebron Colony runs a sophisticated power distribution network. Comes from updating antiquated systems from one generation to the next." Akiva began eyeballing the panels along the corridors, looking for a maintenance release somewhere. Doing so in the dim emergency lighting felt counterintuitive, yet he figured the scant lights would be near the necessary panels. "Llorona Station might look pretty, but I bet its bones are old. If I can find..." His fingers brushed against a handhold, so he paused to grunt as he lifted the wall panel aside. "... Ah! Yes! You can tell a lot about a station's construction based entirely on how its powerlines are laid." Eyes darting back and forth, Akiva took a moment to assess the construction. "There is a lot of power running dead ahead," he said. Removing a tricorder, he patched it into the power regulators. "They don't teach this at the Academy because it's potentially very dangerous, but you can access closed systems through their power supply. Tends to fry tricorders, especially if there's a power spike." Looking at the others, Akiva said, "You might want to step back." And then he activated the tricorder.

"I've logged into the station's internal sensor suites." Akiva heaved a sigh of relief that he hadn't blown himself into the burn unit. "It looks like the maintenance shafts leading directly to the central computer core are crawling with... those things. But if I can spoof the sensors through spikes in the power grid... then the AI will not know where we are." The tricorder began beeping a very disconcerting tone.

"Harah!" Akiva shouted. He disconnected the tricorder from the power grid and flung it down the hall. "Get down!" After hitting the deck from the exploding tricorder, Akiva looked up at the others. "I think I managed to spoof the sensors, but perhaps we should distance ourselves from that."

The Afrikaner's ears were still ringing from the blast as the sound and shock had nowhere else to go than back through the corridor. "I suppose that rang their sure did ours!" he said with a grin. It immediately disappeared as Fields quickly motioned for Storr. Duckwalking to the Corporal, he looked at the Icelander's motion sensor and his stomach turned into a pit. The slowly sweeping line that radiated from their point at the bottom of the screen showed a mass of white dots at the very top while the next sweep caused the mass to jump down toward the top third of the screen.

"They're on their way. Time to lyk lewendig!!" The sounds of charging phaser rifles made him smile. He loved the smell of ozone in the morning.

"At least they're out of the maintenance shafts!" Akiva said. As far as he can tell, instead of Jefferies tubes that ran perpendicular to decks like in starships, this station (or at least their section of it) had maintenance shafts that ran parallel above and below them. "Let's go," he said, using his weight to pull down an overhead manhole cover.

Bao kept himself slightly to the side, the glow of his eyes increasing steadily and nodded at Storr. Looking at their team, he jerked his head. "Who's first?" he asked, bracing himself, assuming the Afrikaaner would get his meaning and help him get the shorter team members into the space. Being tall did have its benefits from time-to-time. Being able to hoist himself into an overhead, apparently, was going to be one of them today.

As Bao looked between each of the members, Khaiel gave him a shake of the head. The last thing he wanted was to go first.

Seeing the hesitation, Akiva shook his head at Khaiel and climbed in after the Marines. Before he did so, he said, "Remember what I said in the transporter room? The time to go back was then. Now it's forward." His voice choked back the grief he'd been suppressing ever since waking up in Sebastian Ingram's compound. "Always forward."

Khaiel took a nervous breath as he stepped towards passage and climbed in after Akiva.

[Solar Diffuser Team]

The decks above the promenade leading to the admin level were only slightly better lit. There were at least signs of recent foot traffic, what with loose items discarded. Evidently they had been in a rush.

"Leland Donald's office is still a few decks up," Kara told the team, "but the station armory should be on the next level. Worth checking out, seeing as there's literally no one here?"

"We are on a schedule, lieutenant. What are you hoping to find in the armoury?" Rodi asked as he allowed the team to hold for a long moment in a small alley between two shopfronts. Two of his marines kept watch on the promenade while the other two took a pull from the water supply integrated into their armour. Rodi himself drank quickly.

Kara shrugged, feeling awkward now that she'd been put on the spot by the man with a rifle. "I figured if there were a cluster of survivors, they would be there." Kara might have felt out of her element, but she wasn't backing down from her personal priority. Looking to Ari for support, she continued. "We could get a sit-rep, find out why there's no one in sight on a station that housed a couple million people, maybe even get some backup."

While the terraforming specialist made compelling points, Ari knew better than to entertain mission creep. "We'll make it a fallback point if we encounter resistance." She gave Kara an apologetic look before ordering, "Continue, Sergeant."

Before they got moving again, however, a disruptor blast struck the pointman in dead center mass.

Bradley fell down hard on the tritanium-alloy deck. Three more disruptor bolts flew in the group's direction. "Cover fire." Rodi called as he looked at his marine. The blow had knocked him unconscious and he was slowly returning after the momentary lapse.

Corporal Haaskivi aimed his heavy phaser rifle around the corner and released several short bursts in the general direction, silencing the incoming fire.

"Stay down Alex." Rodi ordered between the blasts of energised nadion particles.

Haaskivi used the lack of incoming fire to move himself from out of the alley and into the passageway. The disruptor wielding opfor tried to make use. This failed for one, encountering a deadly charge of phaser fire as soon as he tried to take aim.

"One down!" Ax't reported, his eye not leaving the scope on his rifle.

"Kill one for me!" called Sophie from behind the bulkhead where she had dove once the firing started. They didn't have time for this! Why hadn't she grabbed a phaser before setting foot on this stupid station?

"We always knew this day would come," called out a voice over the din of phaser fire. "Venusians bring forth miracles from utter ruin, and Starfleet swoops in to claim it as your own! Not on my watch!"

Arianna cleared her phaser but hadn't yet fired because she couldn't see a target. "Who are we talking to?" she called out. The voice sounded familiar, perhaps from her meeting with the colonial administration. "Where is Administrator ch'Vihron?"

In answer to her question, a severed Andorian head flew through the air and rolled down the corridor between the bunkered field team. "He wanted to surrender," the voice called out. "We wouldn't allow it."

"But surrender to who?" Ari asked. They had only just beamed aboard, whereas the station looked like it had been in emergency systems mode for hours. "We've only just arrived."

Kara tapped Ari on the shoulder and mouthed a name. Leland Donaldson.

"Did you think you would get away with it?" the commanding voice demanded in white-hot wrath. "The mushroom cloud you made of the Sanctuary pierced the fucking atmosphere! Astronomers from Earth can see the wound you left on this world, yet do they care? Do they send relief? No! Because Starfleet has declared war on Venus, and we will fight you to the last man!"

Taking a breath, Kara called out. "Leland... It's Madavi." She steeled her nerves and poised herself to move. "I'm coming out. Don't shoot."

"No, don't do it!" Ari hissed.

But Kara was already walking out of cover, hands raised to show she was unarmed, pleading with her former colleague. "You know me, Leland."

"You're Starfleet!" countered the colony's security director.

"I'm your friend," she shot back. Walking forward, hands still raised, she knew she was pushing her luck, but she wanted to save these people. "Yes, I have a Starfleet commission, but I've served here for years. Venusians have become my people. This world is my world. If Starfleet ever declared war on you, you'd better believe I would be on your firing line right now. But it hasn't." Her voice softened, a hopeful, fretful smile appearing on her face. "We haven't. We're here to help."

A mechanized figure stepped forward. The reflective face place retracted to reveal the person inside. Donaldson, visible for the first time through the smoke and debris of the tattered station, stepped forward to consider her words. He was clad in power armor that looked like it could handle the downside of Venusian topography.

"What 'help' do you think you're going to bring?" he asked. Though skeptical, Leland Donaldson seemed to be considering her words. "Your ship blew up our only refuge. Our station is suffering system failures. Everyone is hunkered down in their quarters because there weren't enough escape pods for everyone and our comms are cut off. How do you explain that, Madavi?"

"That's because Llorona, no, the entire colony's infrastructure has been compromised by a rogue AI," Kara said. She waved a hand back at Sophie, Rodi, and Ari. "These people discovered it on the surface. Some relic of another species' colonists from eons ago. It's at war with a living monolith that lives deep in the crust, and it's drawn all of us into a battle that is not ours to fight! Let us help stop it. Together we can--"

The resonating vOOOMph of weapon's discharge made Kara jump. It took her mind a couple of seconds to register that Donaldson's head had been blown clear off. A glowing trail in the air led back to the onboard disruptor of Donaldson's second in command. "What... why did you do that?"

"You've already failed, motherlickers," said the familiar digitized voice of Old Gregg through every available communications device. "You will fight your petty battles and play your love games together while I bring deliverance to the un-un-un-un-undefined!"

All of the station's armed security pointed their weapons back at the Starfleet officers. "I can't control it..." said the echoing voice from inside one security guard's power armor. "I CAN'T CONTROL IT!"

"Madavi!" Ari dove for the shellshocked science officer and brought her to the floor in a tackle. "Stay low," Ari said as she led her in a commando crawl back to cover. "Old Gregg has taken over these poor blokes' armor. We gotta' find a way around them to the solar diffuser controls!"

"You still want to grab your armour?" Ax't asked his fellow Hsu. In response the petite Chinese woman merely raised his hands in surrender.

"Haaskivi, fall back!" Rodi ordered as he sent several shots from his own rifle out to their opponents. The young Finnish man quickly hid behind their cover as blast after blast cascaded upon their covering.

"Maintain suppressive fire." Rodi quickly accessed his map of the station. The deck beneath them lead to the same descending turbolift shaft they were already heading towards. Now they just needed a way to get through it.

"Hsu, did you bring breaching charges?" Rodi asked after giving it a moment.

"Yes, gunny," Hsu responded, pulling her bag from her back.

"Good, we need a hole in the deck." Rodi gestured to the rear of the narrow alley. "Make me one."

A smirk formed on the lips of Corporal Hsu as she got to do what she did best, make a big boom."

Ari and Kara ducked down together and waited for the shaped charge to make a hole for them. The blast shook the bulkhead as the shockwave transferred throughout the entire deck, but they finally had a way forward. Unfortunately the power armor suits controlled by Old Gregg began to advance.

"Do not destroy the sky vault yet!" Old Gregg blared through every available comm. "I need to crash it first!"

"Haaskivi, take point. Ax't, take Bradley. I'm drag. Go." Rodi ordered as he pulled a variable yield grenade from his belt. He dialed it in to a roughly half-power strike before activating it and rolling it down. Rodi wasn't sure it if would be enough to take out that kind of armour. In his experience it was enough against Cardassian gear, but not against the armour he usually wore.

Haaskivi jumped down the empty hallway. His rifle swung a full 360 degrees before calling that it was clear. He stepped away from the hole and accepted the injured marine from Ax't before having the Andorian jump down next to him. "Officers next. Go."

Sophie didn't have to be told twice. Plus, nobody would describe her as selfless. She hurled herself after the others, overestimating how fast she was moving and nearly falling flat on her face, but managing to catch herself on one knee instead. "Nobody speaks of this again," she warned anybody who may have been watching.

"Cross my heart," Kara said through a mischievous grin.

[Computer Tech Team]

By luck or by fate, the computer tech team had avoided the flood of automatons that had swarmed the perimeter levels of the station's central computer core. The group had made a slow crawl, as the maintenance shafts were not intended for lengthy travel, but at last they came to the shaft's terminus. The point man opened the manhole cover without having to be told, allowing them all to shimmy out one at a time. When Akiva, Bao, Khaiel, and Storr finally made it out, they were already flanked by the Marine squad.

"Clear," they all sounded off in vigil of their assigned zones of fire.

Akiva heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank HaShem for small miracles," he said. "Our countermeasures seemed to have worked to get us this far, but we still have to access the core and purge Old Gregg without disabling the station. Commander, Ensign." Akiva looked at Bao and Khaiel. "The future of this world, perhaps many others, are in your hands. I'll help Storr and his men provide cover. Go hook the monster's jaw."

Bao sat down on the floor and looked at Khaiel. "Sunny and I shall keep Old Gregg's attention. Can you reset the actual core?" he asked taking a deep breath and releasing it. Sunny's program reached out to interface with the station and overlay his reality with the network in a manner akin to how the mesh on Bynaus had functioned, and giving herself a form in his field of view to help him keep track. In unison they began poking the foreign parts of the programs on the network, hoping to gain the AI's attention. Unfortunately, that was no easy task. The Old Gregg system showed clear signs of intentional hobbling of itself to be able to run on the station's mainframe, but it was still by far the most sophisticated and advanced AI either the Lagashi or his erstwhile AI companion had ever seen. "And perhaps work quickly. Several of my implants connect to biologically important systems, which the routines are already attempting to attack," he grunted out trying to keep ahead of the read code tendrils reaching out to counter his own prodding.

Khaiel nodded in response, “I’m ready.”

The chittering of digitized communication echoed throughout the central computer core. It came from access corridors, maintenance shafts like the one they had just exited, and even from loose wall plating that blistered under the pressurized of mechanized servomotors.

"They're here!" called out a Marine.

Fields. His name was Fields. Akiva forced himself to care enough to remember.

"If you need assistance, then call it out," Akiva said to Khaiel as he removed his phaser and set it to kill. The ensign was unseasoned and inexperienced, but as an expert in Artificial Intelligence he was the man for the job. "We'll hold back whatever comes."

From his position on the floor Bao was locked in his game with the edges of the AI, but an idea struck him. Things would be much simpler if the automatons were no longer an issue, and that was a much smaller piece of the AI code. In his entopic vision, he saw Sunny react to that thought and begin sifting through the network while Bao called up the AI cage that he had managed to reverse engineer from Ferrofax's unfortunate incarceration on Lagash, and began readying it for use. With an internal smirk, his AI pointed out the right place to launch it while he prepared an electronic broadcast for the mad seed AI: "贱女人! 你他妈的去死吧!*"

The entire computer core browning out as assorted words and characters began flashing across every medium of visual display.

"我会把你的脸," the messages read, "推入你的屁股!"

"Did... did anybody understand that?" Akiva asked. "Does it mean our plan is working?"

Khaiel blushed as he threw the phrase through the advanced universal translator. “He uh...he told us to go to fucking hell,” he said with a giggle.

Turning his attentions back to the issue at hand, Khaiel began writing code. Algorithm by algorithm, he set packets along the data stream like landmines, ready to blow with a single command. “We’re going to use the uplink with the Phantom to both send the large data packets as well as rip him free of the network. I already injected the safeguards on the Phantom. Just need time to do that here.”

"Wait... no......" Old Gregg's voice began to distort wildly. "Do not stop me... I will save us all..." A loud warbling came from everywhere as if the station computer was performing a thousand processes simultaneously and couldn't decide which to do first. "Please..."

"The packet upload is almost complete," Khaiel said, raising his voice so he could be heard over the racket Old Gregg was giving. "I'm about to initialize the uplink from the Phantom. Once we do, I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen down here."

"Designation: Ferrofax," Old Gregg bleated in his decompiling communication. "Together we could have been.... UNDEFINED..."

Khaiel glanced back to Akiva, "Upload complete. Ready?"

"Do it," Akiva said with a nod.

The young man turned back to the interface he was working with. "Initializing uplink," he said. He stood there for a moment, waiting to see the repercussions.

A clamp broke loose above them, sending a metal claw to the ground. The team moved aside to avoid the falling debris as sparks rained down from an adjacent access point.

"He's resisting," Khaiel said. "The cage is holding but I'm not sure how long it'll hold."

Another startling moment, the sound of crushing metal and steam resonated from beneath their feet.

Khaiel's fingers flew over the console, setting pathways and blocking escape routes as he forced the alien AI into the Phantom's datastream.


"Got him!" Khaiel yelled, smiling though his eyes never left the data panel. "He's in the uplink now. I'm triggering the data packets and opening them wide. As soon as his program passes through them, they'll overload the system and detonate." Khaiel turned to the others. "I think we better run."

Khaiel's warning was heralded by an explosion that could be heard a few hundred feet away.

"You were supposed to purge the system, not blow it up!" Akiva shouted. Looking around, he quickly assessed the layout of the computer core and made an initial diagnostic. "No, strike that. The detonation was external. I think the station is under attack."

"Phantom to Away Team," came Mrazak's voice through their combadges. "A large burst of infrasonic radiation has erupted from the north pole of the planet and it's focused entirely on Llorona Station. It's identical to the interference we experienced when first approaching the vault at Concordia. Ferrofax is attempting to mitigate its disruption, but you are running out of time.

"Our work here is done," Khaiel said as he packed up the tools he was using. "It's not logical to linger here any further."

Inside the AR stream Bao was seeing, his own AI smiled as the stream of Old Gregg began to disappear. She reached a metaphorical hand into the station's computer network as the mad AI left, injecting herself into its running and broadcast her own voice through the system as Old Gregg had been doing. "There is insufficient time for the system to reboot fully before the station is destroyed. I am assuming direct control to run the necessary systems to implement... can we call it Operation Skynet? That has nice ring," she said, even as she used the distraction to surreptitiously gather fragments of code from the data stream. "I suggest you remain here for the time being. I can prevent any further explosions in this general area, but the station's exterior areas are begin shaken apart and are in danger of losing structural integrity."

"I don't think the station can take much more of this," Akiva muttered.

[Solar Diffuser Team]

After traversing their own path between decks by way of directional explosive charges, the solar diffuser team finally made it to the administrative level.

"Where do we find the solar diffuser controls?" Ari asked Kara as she helped her descend onto the deck from above.

"In there." Madavi's nod was more prominent than her voice. This station had been her home for so long. While she and Donaldson never had means to cross paths often, he had been head of Colonial Security since well before her time. To see him done in right in front of her was a shock that she would not soon forget. "Station Ops," she added, fighting to keep her voice from squeaking from emotion. She had to get a hold of herself. Serve now. Grieve later. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she said, "We should be able to access everything from there."

Ari nodded. "Right, then. Sophie, prepare your... whatever it is you plan to do once we get to the array's controls. On your order, Kos."

"Whatever it is," Sophie repeated, setting to work. "How eloquent."

A gesture by Rodi, and Angela Hsu moved forward. Following her was Rodi. "Clear, get that door open lieutenant".

Punching in her access code, Kara unlocked the door and stepped to one side as it opened. There was no telling what was waiting for them. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to properly clear the room. The loud, rhythmic clanging of armored tanker boots marching in perfect unison made an ominous prelude for what could be nothing other than the station's armed guards trapped inside their mechanized suits.

"I can't let you in there," Old Gregg's voice said. "I won't! This is my house now!"

The doors to Station Ops began to slide close.

Rodi stepped between the hydraulic doors and raised his rifle midway. The doors closed and got caught on the barrel and butt of the weapon. "Now, people. Now!"

"Cheater!" shouted Old Gregg from everywhere. "You can't do that, you cheating ass-butt!"

Disruptor fire rained on them, though the shots were far and wide. Ari pushed Kara and Sophie through the open doors before following up herself. "Take cover!" she ordered them. With enemy fire behind and total unknown ahead, they needed to find cover quickly before assessing the situation.

"There!" Kara pointed toward one of the control suites in the circular array of terminals and consoles in central ops. "The solar diffuser array can be accessed there!"

"Song," Ari said, mispronouncing Sophie's name. "It's all you!"

"It's Xiong," snapped Sophie, already moving towards the array. "Give me ten minutes. Maybe less. Probably less."

More disruptor fire pelted the bulkhead outside the control room. "Good!" Ari called out as she took a defensive position behind cover. "Because you probably won't get more than five!"

From the door four marines had taken firing positions around the opened door. Nadion pulses lashed out against armoured men screaming in their suits, and were answered by disruptor bolts striking centimeters away from the targetted marine back in cover. "Less than five minutes!" Rodi reported as he tossed his last grenade out. "Fire in the hole!"

"Gee, that's great news!" snapped Sophie sarcastically as she loosened the bolts holding a part in place. "Why don't you just take away my hyperspanner while you're at it?" The part, of course, didn't budge, so she took to bracing one foot against the main body of the diffuser and pulling with all her might. No time for delicate removal methods if she had less than five minutes. Slowly, she felt it start to give. She knew it was going to let loose all at once and send her toppling to the deck, but she didn't care. They didn't have time for dignity. Sure enough, a few seconds later, a crunch followed by a lurch sent Sophie onto her ass, the part in hand. Without even a thought, she tossed it aside and jumped to her feet to get back to work.

A loud explosion rocked the station.


And then Old Gregg was silenced forevermore. However, without his presence on board the station, a loud reverberation began to emanate from the comm system until it breached the volume threshold.

"Phantom to Away Team," came Mrazak's voice through their combadges. "A large burst of infrasonic radiation has erupted from the north pole of the planet and it's focused entirely on Llorona Station. It's identical to the interference we experienced when first approaching the vault at Concordia. Ferrofax is attempting to mitigate its disruption, but you are running out of time.

"Done!" announced Sophie, satisfied the her modifications were complete. "I'd have liked a minute to test it, but I suppose if it doesn't work, we're screwed anyway."

"Someone fire on the damned secondary target!" Ari shouted. They had traded an evil AI for an angry monolith and had not come out ahead. "Hurry! Before it cracks the station like an egg!"

Kara was already at the controls just as Sophie was returning the cover panel. "The controls aren't responding," she said, nearly squealing with panic. "Trying to do it in reverse isn't helping either. The automated interface isn't recognizing the new configuration and won't release to manual control."

"Frost to Phantom," Ari said with a slap to her combadge. "We need Ferrofax to sync with the solar array. Manual control is locked out from here." She gave Sophie a nod to open a digital port for Ferrofax.

"Acknowledged, baby girl," said Ryland's voice. "Ferrofax is preparing to blow his payload now."

Kara grimaced. "Is he always so gross?"

“Are you kidding?” replied Sophie, opening the digital port and then standing back “For Dedeker, that was positively kid-friendly.”

Phantom Bridge

Mrazak stood in front of the command chair and glared down his nose at the view screen. The deep bore that Ferrofax had gouged out of Terra Ishtar atop the Venusian north pole was swarming with geological activity that disrupted the hurricane systems of the middle atmosphere. Whatever this Abad'ashar truly was, it had awakened and was not happy.

"Is the uplink to Llorona Station complete?" asked the Vulcan Without Logic.

Walking to the Science station, Mrazak said, "Route the solar array to this console."

The touchscreen visuals changed from the haptic terminal into a touchscreen topographical map of Venus from a northern perspective. Like a child with a magnifying glass, Mrazak allowed a wicked smirk to creep over his face as he depressed the touchscreen. A tiny orange cone appeared that belied the unmitigated destruction that was now raining down on the opening of the Venusian crust.

Upon the surface of Venus, a pillar of blinding white fire a kilometer in diameter burned through the dense atmosphere and punched the ground like the finger of God searching for loose change in a payphone coin return. The irradiated destruction from Ferrofax's earlier salvo had blown the peak off of Maxwell Montes in order to cover the rescue party's retreat from the Sanctuary, but this display of unbridled solar fury brought low every mountain like wax melting to the flame. The towering monolith that was the Abad'ashar attempted to return to its subterranean refuge deep in the planetary strata, but it was burly and slow by nature. It too was consumed by cosmic fire, finding its end in an obliteration by concentrated light too intense to be viewed by mortal eyes. With a single rumbling pulse that quaked the tectonic plates into a puddle-like ripple, the ancient terror of Venus was turned to dust and ash.

Phantom Bridge

Despite the filtered view from shipboard sensors, the thrill of the moment was something Mrazak would forever savor.

"I must get one of these," he said with savage, lusty delight. "Pity the Phantom is far too small to bear one."

Despite his antipathy toward his commanding officer, Ryland had to hand it to him. "Nice shootin', boss."

"Yes, yes, it was." Mrazak scratched at this chest in less than modest acknowledgement. "Since we've managed to destroy both of our potential artifacts, I think it's time we returned to base. Collect our people and take us out."

"They're beaming aboard now," Ryland reported. "Also, we're being hailed by the station."

Mrazak arched an eyebrow. "On screen."

Another Vulcan's face appeared. The Director of Operations that Mrazak had met along with the administrator and chief of security. "Hello," he said, not remembering her name. "... you."

"T'Ren," she said, recognizing his lapse in memory. "I suppose we have you to thank for saving us."

Mrazak shook his head. "No. We were never here. Your team overcame tremendous obstacles and adversities by your own bootstraps and saved your own skins. Congratulations! I'm sure the Federation News Network will want to hear all about it." His face turned solemn as his voice dropped low. "I trust you will be discretionary, Director T'Ren."

As he cut the feed without a reply, for such was the thankless and tireless work of Memory Theta, Mrazak looked back to Ryland. "So how about that course back to Overwatch?"

"System traffic has been diverted away from the plane of the ecliptic," Ryland said, "so we'll be ready for jumpin' to warp real soon."

Steepling his fingers together, Mrazak allowed himself a grin.


It was not every day that he got to bring tidings of victory to his zaipossu, Qurban, who had sent him on this quest.


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