The Triangle, Memoirs of a Mechanoid: The Sixth Sense
Leaking from the mind of Adam J Purcell
Comes a time in every hunter's life when they become the hunted, yes? Some people bare grudges - don't understand that business is business. Take it personally, yes? Often a simple, er, explanation is enough to dissuade the offended party, eh? Hard to make them understand that we're just doing a job, working on another's behalf. Not up to us to make judgements or second guess another's deep held conviction, eh? So, they want a competitor, er, neutralised? Just providing a service, yes? Where's the profit in revenge, anyway, huh? Can't understand the mentality of these people, myself.
Now Terak, after, er, retiring the Federation President and then the Federation Deputy President, finds the mighty Federation has no sense of humour, yes? Starfleet, the military arm of the Federation, seem more than eager to track Terak down. Knowing Terak it can't be because they want to share his sparkling conversation, yes? Little did he know that a tracking device led them straight to him, eh?
With a flash the decrepit looking light freighter fell out of warp. Little would any observer realise that the vessel was, in fact, a state of the art Federation Runabout whose outward appearance had been deliberately altered to conceal its true identity. There was even less chance that anyone would guess it was actually a Presidential escape craft. Never in a million years would they ever think that the vessel contained a Bounty Hunter named Tonb Terak and the bodies of his latest prey, including the body of the acting President of the Federation himself. Despite the unlikely nature of anyone guessing the situation there were those out there that knew what had happened. Knew where Terak had gone in his stolen craft. Unknown to Terak, though not entirely unexpected, they had followed him from Earth, their numbers growing as others along the way joined the chase. They could observe him through hidden cameras, interface with the Runabout's computer and hide their echoes on his sensor readings.
Mr. Gates, the man who had hired Terak, had provided the coordinates for their rendezvous. In the past they had always met on a backwater planet named Formalhaut 5. This time things were different and as a result, for millions, nothing would ever be the same again.
The tiny disguised Runabout sped toward the blue and green planet, no more than a few minutes away at top speed. Behind Terak's stolen ship another flash marked the entrance of a second ship. Then another. And another. More and more flashes erupted behind him but the Runabout's sensors told him none of it. The activity hadn't missed the attention of the new masters of Achenar, the planet below. Their defences, for the most part, were young and underdeveloped but it was time to put them into action. More than that, it was time to bring forward their plans.
Numbering twenty eight, the Starfleet Armada grouped up behind the Runabout. There would have been little Terak could have done against one of their mighty starships, even the weakest of the group. Against twenty eight he was helpless, especially as they were comprised mainly of their most powerful classes of vessel, including nine Nebula, four Galaxy and two Sovereign class starships. There was also the fact that they could disable his Runabout with one command to his shipboard computer. That was not their intention, however, they wanted to know who he was, who he was affiliated with and destroy the problem at its source. They weren't intending to be subtle about it, either.
"He appears to be on a course for the capital city, sir." one of the USS Sovereign bridge officers reported to his captain, the head of the impromptu armada.
"Captain Zahn, Endeavor here. We're not picking up any life readings on Achenar. Can you confirm?" the voice of the USS Endeavor's captain came in over the ship to ship intercom. Zahn looked over at his first officer for verification. She tapped her panel for a couple of seconds and shook her head, swivelling her small panel for the Captain's viewing.
"No, Captain, we're not getting any humanoid life readings either. Can anyone else in the fleet?" Zahn opened the question to the other twenty six ships also in on the conversation. A barrage of negatives flooded the shared comms channel, nobody was getting any humanoid life form readings at all. "What the hells going on?" Zahn asked himself out loud.
"Something's happening down there, sir!" Zhan's first officer exclaimed.
"On screen." Zahn ordered.
The Sovereign's view screen flicked onto a zoomed image of the Achenar capital city, the very center of it. They had a top down view of the normal municipal buildings but in the middle of them was a large patch of rocky desolate ground. It was completely out of place, as if a piece of the city had been ripped off the face of the planet. On the rocky area stood five vast spires, arranged in a pentangle shape. They appeared to be made out of the same material as the ground, almost as it they had grown up from within it. Though hard to tell from a top down view, the towering spires were adorned with vast glowing runic style symbols down their sides. It wasn't any of that which had alerted the Sovereign crew, however. Between the spires was an area of about one square kilometre. Without any warning red energy beams began blasting out of the ground, sending plums of dust and vents of super heated steam into the atmosphere. The ground all around shook with the force of the subterranean disturbances. Large chunks for rock were blasted into the air as the new funnels expanded into larger, irregular, holes. Before any of the Starfleet ships could determine what was happening all visual observation was curtailed by the expanding dust cloud from which only the tips of the spires escaped. It was then that the black shapes burst out of the cloud, on a direct course for the Federation armada.
Sensor readings on Terak's control board where confused, to say the least. Something violent was happening at his landing coordinates in the city but he couldn't figure out what exactly. It didn't help that he wasn't used to Federation technology, nor that his shipboard systems were being interfered with by the Starfleet armada on his tail, still unknown to him. Furiously pressing virtual buttons on his board in the hope to hit the correct combination to resolve the sensor image, Terak noticed a growing group of black objects leaving the dust cloud mayhem of his destination. They appeared to be flying straight for him. Finally, with more than a little luck, he managed to get a close up visual of one such blip. They were some kind of space craft but totally unlike anything he had seen ever before. There had no discernible engines, no obvious weaponry, not even any windows. If anything, they looked alive. The jet black hull of the ships appeared to ripple and pulsate, not unlike some kind of rough skin. From the bodies of the ships about twenty spines splayed out to the front and side of the vessels. Terak couldn't see any reason to be wary of them but nonetheless they somehow elicited a deep fear in him. There was something primal and ancient about them. Something deadly. They reminded Terak of some things he had once seen. He knew, deep down, that these vessels belonged to Mr. Gates' associates. He only hoped they had come to escort him down because if they felt he had outlived his usefulness...
"There's thirteen of those things coming straight at us, Captain." Zahn's Ops officer shouted out, with an uncharacteristic feeling of panic encroaching on his mind.
"Weapons?" Zahn asked.
"I can hardly get a reading at all, it's as if they got some kind of stealth technology. Can't see any weapons..." the Sovereign's first officer replied.
"Let's not guess - I don't like the looks of these things one bit." Zahn said in the most authoritative tone he could muster.
"They'll be on us in-" the Ops officer began before a red energy beam sliced straight through the bridge of the USS Sovereign, killing them all instantly.
Out of nowhere four Shadow vessels rippled in from their hyperspace. Somehow they knew exactly where to be as they materialised around the front of the Starfleet armada. They instantly opened fire on the Federation ships, before the crew even had time to react to their sudden appearance. From in indeterminate point, to the front and underneath the main body of the Shadow vessels, came searing red energy beams that literally sliced their way through the hulls of the Starfleet ships. The USS Sovereign and three other ships, comprising the other Sovereign class plus one Galaxy and one Nebula, had their dishes (their primary hulls) sliced in two. The other Federation ships scattered, firing at their new foes as they did so.
The thirteen Shadow vessels from the planet were fast approaching the fray. Terak, having decided to fly directly to the city, no matter what, suddenly began picking up things on his sensors - sensor echoes. Debris and more of those strange craft from the planet? He tried to push the engines even faster - hoping those ships weren't after him after all.
It was total chaos, the well grouped Starfleet armada were doing what they could to break up a bit so as not to inadvertently hit one another. The Shadow vessels appeared to be deliberately getting into the middle of them. Sure enough, the Federation ships were hitting each other nearly as much as the Shadow vessels. Unfortunately for them whenever their phasers slammed into the Shadow ships the blasts appeared to be absorbed. At best it was knocking them slightly off course.
The Shadow vessels from the planet surface swooped into the group. Though they were all far too busy, in a state of total panic, the Federation forces may have noticed that the planet Shadow vessels appeared slightly smaller and certainly a lot less coordinated than the four from hyperspace. Behind them, unnoticed in the confusion was a small black triangular ship, which was also coming from the hole in the ground between the great spires. It also went unnoticed when a jump point into hyperspace formed before it. The Technomage at the controls wasn't nearly stupid enough to get involved in the fight and piloted his craft through the jump point and out of danger. The route to hyperspace closed behind the craft, with no one, apparently, any the wiser.
The infant Shadow vessels made the total number of Shadow vessels up to seventeen. The number of Federation ships still in action by this point numbered twenty. Of those included the remains of the USS Sovereign and the first Galaxy class attacked - both with the front half of their dishes missing and being controlled by secondary bridges and command crews. The Federation attack was in total disarray.
"This is Captain Tyers of the Copernicus, I am assuming command of the fleet." declared Tyers over the armada wide intercom. She quickly glanced around her Galaxy class ships bridge, glad to see her crew slightly relieved at the news. "Right, those able to, on my mark target your nearest enemy with everything you've got." she paused a second before continuing. "Fire!"
Several of the Shadow vessels were hit by more than one barrage. Of those, three screeched in pain. One, which was hit by the combined phaser and photon bursts from three Federation ships, had two of it's forward spines blown clean off and it appeared to drift away dead in space. A cheer went up over the broadcast intercom from those three ships. Though most of the crews were too busy to take much notice, they took comfort in the fact that they strange ships could be beaten.
"Tyers to all ships - get your engineering teams onto the shields - how can these things slice right through them like they do? Captains, split into four te-" Tyer's began without realising that three Shadow vessels had turned on her ship and, as one, opened fire. In a display of devastating firepower the three Shadow vessels swept over her ship multiple times, in quick succession, with their beam weapons. The Copernicus was sliced and diced into an expanding cloud of debris. Somehow they knew which the lead ship was and eliminated the threat.
The Shadow vessels continued with their policy of targeting the largest Starfleet ships but now instead of hitting the dishes they were slicing off their engines first and leaving them to drift, intending to finish them off after disabling all the ships. It was total carnage for the Federation fleet. They had two more successes in knocking out Shadow vessels but they weren't sure if they were really dead - certainly they were basically in one piece save for the odd spine.
Space around the battle zone was awash with debris from the Federation ships, large chunks several hundred metres across right down to the millions of small fragments and many bodies drifting lifelessly around the area. As the ships were stricken the surviving officers were giving orders to get to the escape pods.
The Federation armada was quickly down to a handful of operational ships. The remaining captains were clever enough not to declare themselves in charge. Instead they agreed between themselves to withdraw and regroup. Before they could go to warp, though, they would have to leave the battle area due to the huge amount of debris. Unfortunately for them they were surrounded and outnumbered four to fourteen. In groups, and coordinated as one again, the Shadow vessels opened fire on the last mobile Starfleet ships. It was over in seconds.
Now all that was left of the Federation armada were the disabled ships. Some of them were still firing as best they could, both with phasers and photons. Those that had been most energetic in such regards had already been dissected, though. Most of the remaining ships were all but dead in space. Still in small teams, almost leisurely, the Shadows began slicing up any large chunk of Starfleet hardware that they came across, especially the stricken remaining ships.
"This is Captain Salvatore, Repulse. We're, er, we're taking those bastards with us. Any of you want to do the same, detonate your warp core on my mark. It was good working with you all... ... Mark."
The Shadow vessels clearly understood the meaning of the message as they scattered, most rippling off into hyperspace as Salvatore declared his intention. Three massive detonations went off within split seconds of one another. The three expanding spheres of energy blasted the debris away from the battle scene. Numerous other, smaller, explosions were triggered as the energy waves ripped though the remains of the Starfleet ships. Those crew members who had been fortunate enough to make it to an escape pod were ripped apart by the release of energy. Of the three defeated Shadow vessels one was too close to the explosions to survive, it too was ripped apart.
Once the energy waves had dissipated, which was less than a couple of minutes, ten of the Shadow vessels returned, all of them the infants from the planet, as were the three damaged vessels. Two of the ten approached the two injured, but surviving, fellows. The two healthy ships moved down onto the injured vessels. There was a brief flash of energy as they touched, the healthy vessels appearing to clamp themselves onto their injured comrades. They now appeared almost as one ship and the two injured/healthy ship combinations flew off toward the city.
Terak's ship descended into the expanding dust cloud at the center of the city. Instrument landing proved easier than he expected and the battered looking craft touched down on the edge of the new hole, next to his own ship, the Avenger 2, and one of the five great spires.
With a smooth gliding motion, that betrayed the broken facade of the Runabout, the door/ramp at the back of the ship swung down to the ground. So extreme was the dust that without his helmet to improve his vision and filter the air, Terak would not have been able to leave his stolen ship. As it was he walked down the ramp and approached the treacherous edge of the abyss. Standing calmly on the edge he surveyed the chamber below. He could make out several figures but only one appeared truly human. Never one to waste his own time, Terak stepped off the edge and allowed himself to fall the several hundred metres to the floor below. A controlled burst of his jet pack saved him from a messy end.
All around him Borg drones were clearing the rubble from the cave-in caused by the young Shadow vessels cutting their way to the surface. The vast chamber housed numerous large silo style vats. Most of the vats were empty - both drained of fluid and lacking an occupant. Of those that were empty most were smashed as their one time occupants, the growing Shadow vessels, cut their ways out. Of the seven or eight remaining vats each still contained a large dark shape. These ships were more bulbous and with lesser developed spines. They were clearly for a different purpose that those that Terak had seen earlier. Across the other side of the chamber Terak could see where one of the occupied vats had been smashed by the rock fall, its contents spilt onto the floor, the viscous fluid and infant ship both. By his reckoning they were lucky to only lose one. It was then that he saw the relatively small figure of a Borg approach the beached vessel. The drone climbed underneath the ship. Several seconds passed by, for some reason he couldn't explain, Terak continued to watch the vessel. Instinctively he knew something was about to happen. An inhuman screeching filled the underground complex as the vessel shook violently on the ground. Terak, not having an knowledge of the Borg, was surprised to see them continue their tasks, utterly oblivious to the chilling spectacle. The vessel rose unsteadily into the air, righted itself and much more gently glided back down to the floor. There it sat, as if waiting for orders or maybe resting from its monsterous 'birth'.
A figure in a breath mask walked calmly up to Terak.
"My associates are pleased with your success. Unfortunately you appear to have brought the Federation right to our doorstep. My associates have seen them off but not before signals were transmitted. They know where we are, if not who we are." Mr. Gates said, slightly muffled though the full face breath mask. "They will think twice before coming here again. Our plans will have to be brought forward, though." Mr. Gates looked about himself, through the slowly thinning dust. "On your way down you may have noticed a small angular craft. Our enemies infiltrated us and, " he paused to choose his words, "stole some items from us. We need you to follow them and make sure they cannot make use of these items. We believe they are going to a world called Betazed..."
"What is wrong with you?" Dilon exclaimed in shocked disbelief as his companion, a wizened old Klingon by the name of Ki'yak, rubbed his own face with urine soaked hands.
"It's good for the skin, makes me look thirty years younger." Ki'yak said, only partially believing his own words.
"It makes you stink, that's what it does! No wonder your forehead's like that - and put that away, or at least turn around... Awh! Now what are you doing - you're, you're gargling with it?!" Dilon said, turning away, utterly disgusted.
Sharing the small featureless black room with Dilon and Ki'yak were eight Betazoids. One, Tym, was a tomb raider who had stumbled across the recently dead world of Achenar with his fellow grave robbers. The Borg had invaded, in hours having assimilated most of the population. Tym heard the mental anguish of the other seven Betazoids, who were being experimented on by the Shadows. A Technomage by the name of Belgarath, having followed Dilon and Ki'yak to Achenar in search of information, helped the group escape in his craft.
Tym was doing all he could to ignore Ki'yak. Being a telepath he had a nasty experience when he first met the Klingon - he attempted to scan his mind. The after taste was still lingering, in fact he suspected he would need to go into therapy to excise the horrors he saw in Ki'yak's mind. For now he kept himself busy by attending to the other Betazoids. All were unconscious, most physically butchered or diseased. The mutilations were horrific and it took all Tym's limited medical knowledge to keep them alive during the long journey. If anything the mental damage was even more severe, and the reason why most of them were unconscious - their minds had simply shut down, unable to take any more.
The room they occupied had no windows, nor any obvious ways in or out. There wasn't even any obvious lighting system. The distinction between floor, walls and ceiling were lost as they were all a matt uniform black. The only things that stood out were the ten of them. It almost appeared as if they were trapped in a void, sitting on nothing but an imaginary floor. If they didn't know better they wouldn't even have imagined they were travelling, such was the total lack of motion sensation. Belgarath had encouraged them aboard but they had not seen him since they lifted off. For all they knew it could all be a great hoax.
None of the others came from Belgarath's universe and none had before travelled in the chaotic hell that was the hyperspace his people used. The red and black fabric of hyperspace undulated and shifted around them. Gravitational inclines were constantly threatening to pull the craft off course, rip it apart or crush it. There were no landmarks in the shifting, deadly seas of hyperspace. Direction and even distance were uncertain and nonuniform. Hyperspace was basically unnavigable, at least without the aid of beacons. In Belgarath's universe a crisscross of beacons joined systems and planets to other systems and planets, powerful beams of energy that all ships had to follow for safe passage. Ships that drifted off the beacons were never seen again. Most didn't have the massively expensive engines required to punch a hole back through into real space and relied on jump gates to return to safety. Even if those expensive, usually large military vessels, that did possess jump gates lost their way in hyperspace, they could open a jump point into real space but would almost certainly end up light years from any solar system. Many decades of travel in real space. Even if they got their bearings in real space it bore little relation to the twisted hell that was hyperspace. Without a beacon to follow they could not even be sure they were travelling in a straight line with the gravitational eddies and drift they would encounter. The chances of happening across a beacon if they strayed too far were several billion to one.
In this universe, where the Federation and Klingons resided, there was no jump gate and beacon system. Nothing to guide the younger races from Belgarath's universe, such as the Narn and Centauri. Fortunately for those possessing the ancient technologies of the First Ones, such as the Shadows, Vorlons and Technomages, there were faint paths they could follow. They were far too indistinct for comfort but could be discerned, just about. For years the Federation were aware that their faster than light technology, that warped space around their ships to beat the light speed barrier, was damaging the very fabric of space itself. The problem was hushed up and they quietly went about designing slightly less harmful engines, the expense and military consequences of grounding their massive fleet was too much for any of them to seriously contemplate. Much damage had already been done and their tweaked engines were only slightly better than before. In time, along with other considerations, this would become a very serious situation for their entire universe. For now, though, it allowed the more advanced members of Belgarath's universe to move around virtually unnoticed by their new hosts.
A hole in space vortexed open. The sleek, paper dart shaped, Technomage ship shot through the swirling blue rift directly into close orbit over the Federation world of Betazed. The planet glistened invitingly as the craft dived into the atmosphere.
As they flew over the tranquil scenery only Belgarath was able to look out and appreciate the unspoilt beauty of the place. Even the towns and villages were carefully crafted to blend into their rural scenery. Forests, lakes, rolling hills and wandering herds of wildlife for as far as the eye could see. The capital city was only obvious due to the area occupied rather than density of buildings. Vast open spaces, more forests and plains, separated the overlarge rustic buildings, many joined by scenic rivers with old fashioned looking boats calmly making their way around the city. One particular building stood out. It was slightly off center of the city, though it was difficult to tell given how distributed the city was, and particularly well served by river connections and primitive looking tracks. Unlike most of the other buildings that appeared to be built of wood, this one was most definitely constructed of the finest stone with exquisite marbled effects that glinted in the same way as the rivers and lakes around it.
The black angular ship was in stark contrast to its surroundings as it slowly drifted down onto a grass plain before the government assembly building. A small delegation approached cautiously from the majestic building.
Inside the hold area of Belgarath's ship his passengers turned to look at the small crack of light created by the entry ramp lowering. It was immediately obvious they were somewhere different to where they had begun. Ki'yak rushed to his feet, pulled his bat'telh off his back and charged at the blinding daylight. The ramp hadn't quite finished lowering when he reached the end of it. With a jump he hit the ground running. Dilon and Tym rushed after him, getting as far as the bottom of the ramp by the time Ki'yak reached the approaching delegation. Ki'yak growled at the strangers like a rabid dog.
One of the delegation of four, an alien in brown garb with bone growing out of the back and side of his head, indicated for the other three to step back. From within his jacket he retrieved a cylinder and held it before him in his right hand. Right before Ki'yaks eyes it elongated into a fighting staff that the Ranger then grabbed with both hands in a defencive posture before his body.
Rushing up behind Ki'yak, Dilon and Tym tried to look nonthreatening, Dillon sporting a rather less than sincere broad smile. Tym looked at the the three strangers a few steps behind the Minbari Ranger. Unlike their protector these three were human in appearance. Dilon noticed Tym's body language and that of the three he was looking between. It was obvious they were conversing telepathically. A whole planet of telepaths, Dilon thought to himself, this must be the safest place in the universe.
Nods of agreement went around the four Betazoids as they came to a consensus. Two of the Betazoid government officials stepped past the Ranger, ignored Ki'yak and proceeded up the ramp into Belgarath's ship. Ki'yak was about to take exception to this when Tym spoke out loud.
"Relax, they're willing to help us. Relax Ki'yak!" Tym said insistently, for a moment considering using telepathy to project mental suggestions at Ki'yak but then thinking better - he didn't want to go anywhere near that mind ever again.
With a look to Dilon first, Ki'yak gave a last growl to the Ranger and stomped off a little way, deciding to take a look at his surroundings.
"Er, I'm Dilon and that", he said glaring at his Klingon companion, "is Ki'yak. He's a bit mad, so I wouldn't look into his mind!"
"I can definitely vouch for that." Tym added hastily.
"He smells a bit too... but don't tell him - " Dilon continued.
"He has trouble accepting reality?" the Betazoid councillor offered.
"No, he'd probably give you some horrible demonstration!" Dilon corrected.
"Ah, I see - I've met a few Klingons in my time but never one I've liked! Let me introduce myself, I'm Councillor Guro. This is Dulann, from your universe?" Guro prompted.
"Er, I don't think so - I'm from the New Republic, the Empire and all that." Dilon said.
"I am a Ranger, a Minbari. My universe: Minbar, the Shadows, Vorlons, Babylon 5 and so forth." Dulann explained before getting on to the point that really interested him. "That is a Technomage vessel, I recognised it on their sensor readings. I've heard of them but never seen one. Is this your vessel?"
"No, Belgarath - he rescued us from these Shadows..." Dilon began.
Before long the butchered Betazoids were being removed by stretcher parties from the hold of Belgarath's ship and taken into the Assembly Building, ready to be moved onto the capitals main medical research facility. Belgarath himself hadn't made an appearance. Dilon was beginning to get concerned when Guro suggested they all go inside to discuss the situation further.
"Well, thanks, Councillor but I think I'd better try to get back to Achenar and rescue DB again. I won't let them run us off this time. You with me Ki'yak?" Dilon turned to find his sulking companion. As he looked about he caught sight of Ki'yak, sitting on the floor, but what really caught his attention was something black moving in his peripheral vision. It was Belgarath's ship. Silently lifting off. "Hey! What about us? Wait! We've got to go back and get DB or find Terak!" Dilon shouted uselessly as the ship shrunk off into the distance, giving absolutely no indication that Dilon even existed to it. "Wait..." Dilon cried desperately. "Wait..."
The Avenger 2 sat in orbit above the Betazed capital, utterly unnoticed by their tracking devices and the few orbital defence platforms they possessed. Onboard, the sole occupant scanned the meagre airwaves, the tiny output that was Betazed's local news and entertainment media. The story Terak was after, the arrival of Dilon and his group and, especially, the destination of the ill Betazoids, did not feature on any news channel. Had he beaten them here? Possibly, he had one of the fastest ships around in his own universe. Either way he had to locate the most likely medical facility. They may possibly even be taken to a secret government laboratory. There are two types of people he might get that kind of information from and now he knew exactly where to find one of those groups.
Making full use of the natural stealth abilities of the Avenger 2, Terak took his spherical craft down into a forest clearing. He couldn't get too close to his target, his craft had a low sensor profile but certainly wasn't invisible. An anti-gravity swoop bike transported him through the edge of the forest and across the open plains between his ship and the two storey wooden great hall.
All was not as it seemed, Terak realised, as his swoop skidded to a stop, despite not actually being in contact with the ground. As great halls go it was far bigger than it appeared from a distance but it was all the more impressive for it, even more so as it was constructed mainly of natural elements such as timber. There were concessions to modern life visible, however, such as the numerous glass windows. More than that, around the side of the building lay a large but verdant hollow within which several very out of place looking hover vehicles sat. Terak carefully surveyed the area. When he was sure no one was around the vehicles he flew his swoop over the crest of the hover park hollow and down among the vehicles. They all looked showroom new, sleek and shiny. Locating the one he thought the most expensive, Terak pulled up next to it and jumped off his bike. Like all the others this one had a retractable roof and, also like the others, it was down. Taking another careful look around himself Terak jumped into the back of the hover car. From down in the vehicle park you could only just see the top corner of the building, the clear blue sky above and a tunnel that lead into a sub-level of the Broadcast Centre. To be sure he wouldn't be seen until he wanted to be, Terak leaned between the two forward seats and, with the aid of a handy glyph to tell him which button, keyed the roof to close over his head. He pulled a remote control device from his belt and instructed his swoop to return to his ship. Then he waited.
For several hours he waited patiently in the cramped back of the hover car. He heard a few people take their own vehicles over that time and was tempted to grab them instead. But no, he'd been warned about the Betazoids and their powers. He'd have to be extremely careful on this one - an enemy that can know your intentions just by looking at you is incredibly dangerous. There is only one way to combat such a threat - surprise, give them no time to react. That was exactly what he did.
With his helmet audio receptors turned up he could hear the sound of feet cutting through the short grass. The closer they came the more convinced he became that they belonged to the vehicles owner.
"Did I leave that up again?" came a man's voice as the feet slowed down next to the hover car. The drivers door opened and the man began to ease himself into his seat. It was then that he sensed he was not alone. He spun around just as Terak jabbed at his neck with a syringe. The man slumped across the passenger seat as Terak pulled the evil looking needle from his neck. Leaning between the front seats again, Terak pulled the Director of News across and out of the drivers seat into the passenger one beside. What for most people would have been an awkward move, perhaps even impossible in armour, Terak easily squeezed through the gap to sit in the now vacant front seat. He'd already examined the controls whilst he waited and had no trouble in starting the engine and speeding up the steep incline to the grass plain beyond. He couldn't help thinking to himself how overly trusting the society appeared to be - they didn't even have security mechanisms to stop their vehicles being stolen!
>Er, it's me again. It's been a few hours since we were teleported here (is that what they call it?) . We're in a medical facility, research too. The Betazoids we rescued have been taken away to be looked after and they've done medical scans on me, Ki'yak and Tym. They did have some trouble persuading Ki'yak - I don't think he trusts them, they seem very uncomfortable around him too!
This Ranger has been asking us lots of questions about the Shadows. He wants to know what they are up to, how we got involved and all that. He's not telling us quite as much in return. Somethings definitely up around here. You don't need to be a telepath to sense that something bad has happened and I don't think it's just Ki'yak's arrival on this planet!
The door of the stark white room opened inwards. Through it, into the unused consulting room, entered Dulann, the Ranger. He looked at the rooms only occupant.
"I'm beginning to feel like a prisoner here." Dilon said, pocketing his recording rod. "What's going on?"
"Just over four local hours ago it was announced the Federation President and the Deputy President are dead." the Minbari stated flatly.
"The Deputy President, too? He wasn't on Venwi's Claim too, was he?"
"He was assassinated in a separate incident."
"Great Maker... Why did it take them so long to say about Sankey?"
"Great Maker? You sound almost Centuari?" Dulann prompted, suddenly unsure if he could trust Dilon again.
"Huh? It's a droid expression really - you know 'thank the Maker' and all that? When I was a kid my best friend was a droid... an old Accutronic Model E..." Dilon shook off the good memories to return to the present. "But anyway, what have they said about Sankey's death?"
"Very little. They say he was at an emergency conference discussing the Triangle situation. An assassination attempt succeeded in killing him and his party. It tallies with what you said but no mention of where the conference was held, the Klingons or Crookall's attendance and survival."
"Crookall - he was third in command. Does that mean he's now the President?"
"I believe so."
"Wow, and I saved him!" Dilon exclaimed before remembering the man himself. "He's not a nice person, though. Not like Sankey... What happened to his Deputy?"
"They have released few details about that so far. It is clear he was not on Earth but that is all we know."
"No wonder everyone is on edge around here."
"There is more to it than that." Dulann said, slightly surprised Dilon had picked up on the concern of the Betazoids. "When you first arrived we feared you might have been involved with the Earth authorities."
"Why, you're friends with them, aren't you?"
"I am an observer, sent by Entil'zha Delenn to watch over the Betazoids. They will be useful in the upcoming war against the Shadows."
"I mean the Betazoids - they're friends with Earth, all part of this Federation?"
"Shortly before you arrived the Betazoid government learnt of an attack on their Earth consulate. The Human's killed all the Betazoid staff."
"What?! Why?" Dilon said, totally taken aback by the news. It didn't sound like them at all.
"A mistake. The Human's believed terrorists had captured the building. The Betazoid's are very suspicious of that explanation and have recalled all their people from Human territories."
Dilon sat there in stunned silence. He didn't know what had prompted the Ranger to suddenly reveal what was going on but, in a way, he wished he hadn't.
"So... now you're going to kill me... I knew, I knew from the second I saw you. I can see it in your mind. I see great pain... I... I... This truth serum of yours works on Betazoids as well as Humans from your own universe... I knew you were worried about that. Now I've told you everything you want to know you're going to kill me. I knew you would. I could see that from the beginning. Without this serum I'd never have talked. So, here it comes..." the Director of News babbled as Terak pressed his gun to the Betazoid's head and pulled the trigger. The body slumped to the forest floor.
Terak had visited worlds in his universe beyond count. Where he came from the one-time Old Republic, as it was now referred to, had consisted of a thousand thousand worlds. Those worlds were still there, for the most part, but were now members of the New Republic, the Empire (or the Remnant as some optimist New Republic officials were beginning to call it) or were keeping neutral in the civil war that still raged. It was boom time for people in Terak's business of Bounty Hunting, both back in his own universe and especially in the power play arena that the Triangle had become since the mysterious portals had appeared.
It was thanks to these universe joining portals that Terak had been given the opportunity to enter the Triangle, the apparent central point to which all the other universes had been joined. Since arriving the worlds he had seen could easily have been from his own universe, minor technology differences aside. Betazed was different, though. No doubt there were similar worlds in his universe but he had never been given occasion to visit one. The wide open spaces, even in the capital city, was particularly surprising to him. More than that, the danger of a race of powerful telepaths was unique.
What Terak had failed to truly appreciate, for his experience with telepathy was virtually nonexistent (minor Force sensitives aside), was why Betazed was as it was. The Betazoid people were a very private people, precisely because of their abilities. They did not routinely block their minds to others - they didn't need to. As a race that could instantly pick up on other's emotions, surface thoughts and, if they chose, probe deeper still into each other's minds, it became second nature to respect their feelings and privacy. Individuals would quickly develop the ability to ignore the constant background noise of everyone else's thoughts. Nonetheless, they all preferred peace and quiet, privacy and, if not solitude, certainly avoidance of crowded areas. Most races, particularly after their industrial revolutions, would slowly congregate into larger and larger cities. Not so for the Betazoids. In fact, the emergence of remote communication technologies meant their communities became more and more distributed, they even relearned spoken word to use these technologies. Just the prospect of travelling in crowded mass public transport systems would sound horrific to them. For this reason few Betazoids left their home planet, Betazed, and their only off world colony, Haven. That, and the fact that the other races, leading Federation races included, tended to eye them with suspicion. None of them liked the idea of having their minds scanned by 'prying' telepathic aliens, no matter how human and trusting they appeared.
None of this, however, mattered greatly to Tonb Terak. He turned around and climbed into the hover car next to him, leaving the body on the ground. Spinning the vehicle 180 degrees on the spot, so he was facing the slightly less dense way through the trees he had entered the forest by, he then slowly accelerated out. Within minutes he was speeding across open plains toward the government research laboratory that he now both knew of and, equally, knew his quarry had been taken to. He allowed himself a brief moment of self congratulation - he'd chosen exactly the right person to gain the information from. It was one of his specialities.
It was a large green shallow dome shaped building that, at a distance, could easily be mistaken for a hill. Like much of the Betazoid architecture it quickly became apparent it was larger than it initially appeared. Around the base were hundreds of small windows and wide sets of doors, one at the 'front' for people on foot and another ninety degrees to the side of it that was obviously for various types of vehicles. A river passed in front of the main doors, complete with a small set of wooden docks. Terak, in his inherited hover car, drove over the river and up to the side vehicle entrance. As he slowed the doors automatically slid open and he glided in. The doors slid closed behind him and the floor began to descend, taking him and his transport down into the sub-levels of the research centre.
The rapid descent slowed and finally halted as he reached the vehicle park level, which he suspected from the distance he had gone, was either at or just above the bottom of the complex. This could be easier than he thought, he mused to himself. The only thing that concerned him was the light. For an underground car park it was surprisingly well lit. In fact, if you didn't know better you might even think you were outside. Instead of concrete or metal the entire level was built from polished marble-like stone. It looked incredibly clean, open and pleasant - almost more like a top flight hotel on Coruscant.
Terak eased the hover car into one of the numerous empty spaces, each delineated by a rectangle of different, darker but no less shiny, stone. He carefully opened the driver's door so as to make as little noise as possible and looked around. Nobody in sight. In the center of the level was a small block of doors that were clearly a set of lifts. Terak, as ever in his all encompassing armour, made his way to them. He was well aware that if he were seen alarm bells would be raised, as they likely would be if they saw his face, too. His only option was to remain in the shadows.
A ping sounded from one of the doors as he approached. One of the lifts had arrived on the level. He wasn't going to take any chances, there could be people inside, so he rushed around the side of the central lift block as the lift doors slid open. Sure enough, he could hear voices and light footsteps as as least three people exited the lift. He froze, not wanting to alert them to his presence - he could kill them but that may attract even more unwanted attention. He listened as the group fell silent and stopped. Had there heard him? He paused, placing his hands on the two blasters in his hip holsters, just in case he needed them in a hurry. He waited for what seemed a minor eternity, he was about to give up and go in, guns blazing, when the group began talking again, out loud, and began walking off. Once they were a safe distance Terak leaned around the side of the lift block to get sight of them. Sure enough, there were three of them, both talking amongst themselves and into hand held recording devices at the same time.
Ducking back into cover as the three interlopers entered two side by side vehicles, Terak waiting for them to leave. The large vehicle lift at one edge of the vehicle park was still down so they were gone in less than a minute. Terak took the opportunity to listen at the floor. There were no sounds except that of the vehicle lift ascending up the open shaft. The construction of the building was too good to allow noise to transfer between floors, telepathic broadcasts too, though Terak hadn't considered that fact. Nonetheless his hunch told him to try to descend further, if he could. He summoned a personnel lift from the central block and, like the vehicle lift, one was waiting on that very level.
He was correct, there was a level further down from the vehicle park. But, he needed a key to access it. Not wanting to set off an alarm by blasting open the panel, Terak keyed the lift to keep the doors open and then hit the top level, presumably at the top of the dome. He wedged the doors open with his foot to give himself enough time to exit. Back in the vehicle park he watched the doors close and heard the lift ascend. He pulled a vibro-blade from a hidden sheaf in his right boot and jammed it between the closed outer lift doors. With a quick twist the doors opened enough for him to get his fingers into the gap and prise the doors apart. The knife fell to the ground. Once they were apart enough Terak jammed his entire body between the doors and used his legs and back to keep them apart whilst he leaned down to pick up his weapon. He took a quick look up and then down the shaft. The way was clear. He sheaved his knife, gave a final push to open the doors a bit further and twisted out from between them into the thin air of the lift shaft.
Pitch blackness returned almost instantly to the lift shaft as the doors clanged shut with more force than would seem safe. Just as abruptly a red-orange glare appeared as Terak activated his jet pack to control his descent. It was a long way down to the lower level, in excess of twenty metres, even with the high ceilings common to Betazed it was easily equivalent to four or five normal levels. This gave Terak even more confidence that his assumption was correct.
After carefully looking through a small crack he'd prised between the lowest levels doors Terak deemed there to be no immediate danger and forced them all the way open. Sure enough, beyond was the buildings dedicated power core. No research centre should be without one, Terak thought to himself.
The large anti-matter chamber and its associated machinery was left unattended. Clearly it was low maintenance and almost certainly monitored from an administrative level above, if not offsite entirely. The technology was different to what he was used to and he spent ten minutes examining the it to determine the best locations to place the explosives. Unlike with Imperial facilities he couldn't place the detonation packs and be out within sixty seconds, at least not if he wished to be sure they would do they job.
Once placed he set a five minute timer, confident that the detonation packs were hidden well enough not to be found in that time, even if an engineer did suddenly turn up to do a routine inspection, and also give him more than enough time to get clear.
This time he only had to press a button to summon the lift - there were no restrictions getting off the level, only down to it in the first place. One set of lift doors opened and Terak peered in from around the corner. It was empty. He walked in and pressed the button for the next level up - the vehicle park. The doors slid shut and the lift began to move up.
With a 'bing' the doors opened to reveal the spacious vehicle park. Terak froze as he caught the slightest glimpse of movement behind a landed hover car. A sliver of infrared could be seen at the bottom of the driver side window - someone was hiding, waiting. He pulled both of the blaster and the DEMP gun from his holsters. The countdown timer overlay on the inside of his helmet was almost down to four minutes left already. With no time to waste he decided to rush to his appropriated hover car, guns blazing if necessary.
As he began his sprint he noticed multiple figures enter his peripheral vision. He outstretched his arms sideways to let off streams of covering fire but before he could pull either trigger something odd happened to him. With a scream of pain Terak brought the palms of his hands, still holding his weapons, to the sides of his head. He tripped over his own feet as he faltered and collapsed to the ground in writhing agony.
The eight Betazoids walked toward him, keeping their mental attack going as they did so. From behind the car, a little way in front of the contracting group, Dilon, Ki'yak, Dulann and Tym stood up. They were warned that a dangerous individual was sensed in the vehicle park. How right they were.
"It is him - he can tell us what happened to D-" Dilon began but was cut off when Ki'yak shoved past him and began a berserker charge at the bounty hunter. "Hey - wait!" Dilon shouted after him.
Momentarily the Betazoid group, mainly comprised of scientists and doctors from the building, were distracted. They glanced up and the howling Klingon, some of them even instinctively reading his surface thoughts - that was enough to cause them discomfort. The united mental attack on Terak was broken and the bounty hunter took instant advantage of the fact. Still curled up on the ground, Terak's arms snapped up and bolts of energy began to fire indiscriminately. Only the blue bolts from his DEMP gun could be seen by their eyes but the invisible blaster bolts were the more deadly.
Of course, the Betazoid's sensed his intention before the barrage began. Those that were not too fazed by reading Ki'yak immediately turned their attention back to their captive. It was too late to save three of them. Two had holes blasted through their torsos by invisible heavy blaster bolts, another took an electro-magnetic pulse to the head from the DEMP gun - she would likely survive but probably need help learning to walk and talk again.
Terak could feel the pain begin to return but not quite as focused this time. He looked up to see a Klingon charging at him. From leaning forward in an almost foetal position, Terak threw himself backwards. With a thump and scraping sound as his jet pack hit the ground Terak saw he had just missed being sliced in two by Ki'yak's bat'telh which arced down into his previous position. Terak kicked sideways at the Klingon's weapon as he felt the Betazoids loose concentration again, as they backed off from Ki'yak. The corner of the bat'telh embedded itself in the stomach of another Betazoid, who had sensed the action coming but not consciously realised the threat it posed to him directly. Ki'yak pulled the long crescent shaped sword from the mortally injured Betazoid and threw it to the ground. He pounced down onto Terak.
Having backed away from immediate danger the four remaining Betazoids again concentrated their minds on Terak. This time they took a different tack.
Terak's mind swam, He was aware of something leaping at him but couldn't think what it was or why. Instinct took over and he brought his knees up to his chest, feet slightly outstretched. Something heavy landed on him. He kicked away with his legs and felt the something pushed off.
Ki'yak landed with a thud on his back. Now he was mad. In every sense of the word. He scrabbled in some hidden pouch and pulled out a small canister. He got onto all fours and, like a quadruped, almost galloped on his hands and knees over to the convulsing bounty hunter.
"[Who have you brought to us, Tym?]" drifted across a wordless thought, a meaning below the unspoken thought words that came over the top. "His mind is devoid of virtue, it is almost dead, emotionally. [we cannot kill him - though he deserves it] What shall we do with him?" one of the Betazoid's said to Tym telepathically.
"[What happened to DB?] Can you deep scan him?" Tym asked in return.
"[No thanks - I'm not doing that!] It is all we can do to confuse his senses." the other Betazoid replied.
"[Thanks a lot, rather you than me but...] Okay, I'll give it a go [Hope he's not like that disgusting Ki'yak]"
Tym stepped around from behind the parked hover car, glancing briefly at Dulann and Dilon. "Can you get Ki'yak off him for a second?" Tym thought at Dilon, not realising he hadn't spoken it out loud. Dilon nodded, not sure exactly how he'd go about it without getting himself killed.
Dilon scurried around the side of the car after Tym, pulling on Dulann's sleave to follow. The Ranger took great offence at being touched by the human but resisted his urge to attack - that is no way for a Ranger to behave. They both sped past Tym as he slowly walked up to the group, doing what he could to home in on Terak's thoughts despite the chaotic thoughtscape around him.
Bustling past the Betazoids Dilon and Dulann each grabbed one of Ki'yak's arms and dragged him off Terak. Ki'yak didn't even appear to notice at first, so engrossed was he in playing with his acid set on Terak's chest. Ki'yak was like a little boy playing with a chemistry set, laughing with glee as toxic fumes were produced when he pored another combination onto Terak's armour. It bubbled and hissed its way through Terak's protective shell, eating through the thin skin of plastic, down into the durasteel below and then through the coated fire resistant layers of fabric beneath, finally reaching his pale blue skin.
Ki'yak finally locked his legs in a standing position just before Dilon and Dulann were going to just dump him on the floor. He hissed at the two spoil sports and stomped off in a huff.
"[Why can't someone else do this?] Well, here goes nothing..." Tym said to this fellow Betazoids. It was a cold mind. Damaged, damaged by a man named Thra- Wait! Detonation packs, power core...
Tym reeled, in surprise - it was there, right on the surface. Confused, certainly. Terak wasn't sure how real his own immediate memories were but Tym could see them clearly. Some part Terak's mind, a desperate refuge for his rational consciousness was screaming for him to leave.
"[We're all going to die!] This place is wired - we may have less than a minute!" Tym called desperately.
"[Let's get out of here]" "[Sound the alarm]" "[Someone should try to disarm the devices]" "[I've got to get out of here!]" "[It's all your fault for bringing them here]" A series of panicked thoughts went around the group, none of them actually putting anything in thought words, merely emotions and sub-conscious impulses.
"[I can save you] I'll disarm them, I've seen where they are [am I mad?! Get outta here! Save myself! No, my fault...]" Tym told the others.
"What's wrong?" Dilon asked.
"Terak's rigged this place - it could go any second!" Tym shouted urgently and unnecessarily loudly.
"What?! I'll try and disarm it!" Dilon said as the other Betazoids began running off to the nearby lifts.
"No, I've seen where they are - "
"I will help." Dulann declared.
"Get him out of here - you'll need to question him." Tym said, pointing at Terak and ignoring the Ranger.
Ki'yak had snapped out of his sulk and wasn't about to argue - he'd lived far too long to die now. He ran over and grabbed the still convulsing form of Terak and hauled him over his shoulder. "Quick - start hover car." Ki'yak ordered Dilon.
"But what about them-" Dilon asked, looking at the four fallen Betazoids.
"Without this medical facility they're probably dead anyway! Go!" Tym bellowed as he sprinted toward the lift block, closely followed by Dulann.
Dilon, always having an instinctive knack with machines, though not always a good knack, immediately figured out how to power up the nearest hover car. Ki'yak dumped Terak on the back seat and, thanks to the roof being down, jumped head first into the front passenger seat.
The car smacked back into the ground as Ki'yak landed in the passenger seat but it continued to rise again. Dilon violently jerked the craft back away from the wall and over spun it around. Correcting his heading he pushed it full throttle at the big up arrow on the side wall. With a crunch he hit the wall, just under the sign. All three of them were thrown forward, with Ki'yak, who was still upside down in the passenger seat, getting his head jammed underneath the glove compartment. For a brief instant Dilon thought the arrow was falling down onto them, then he realised they were ascending, the front of the vehicle dipping to the lift floor as it rubbed against the wall.
Tym ran out of the lift before the doors had even fully opened. He went directly to one of the two detonation packs, with Dulann in tow. Tym jumped onto the top of the large tubular conduit.
"Yes - here's one! The other is behind that control console." he said pointing at a console a good twenty metres away. "I can't quite read these symbols but I think we've got a good thirty seconds left."
"How do we disarm them?"
"Damn. I knew there was something I forgot to check..."
The doors opened before the crushed nose of the vehicle to reveal a gloriously sunny late afternoon. Dilon pushed the throttle to full again, hoping the damage wasn't as bad as it looked, and it did indeed look bad from his vantage point. The vehicle jerked forward, it's nose still pointing down despite there being nothing, except gravity, working on it now. Leaving a shallow furrow in its wake the car sped forward. Dilon looked over his shoulder to see the dome, now with dozens of people streaming from the main doors, and a few jumping out of the, fortunately ground floor, windows.
There was what sounded like a massive thunderclap and the ground appeared to rise up. The dome shattered into a billon shards and collapsed inwards as a thick black smoke billowed out of the massive hole in the ground. The sickening sight suddenly disappeared for Dilon as he found himself looking at the sky. He felt the car hit something - they were sinking. He'd crashed into one of the rivers with the car unable to get any lift. As he looked down to see where they were he realised he had spotted something - in the sky. He did a quick double take. He saw what looked like a series of small explosions high up above the faintest whispers of cloud.
High above the surface of both Betazed and the Betazoid's only colony of Haven, a small group of black ships sliced away the last remaining orbital defence platform. Around them four other ships shimmered in from hyperspace. The resemblance to the other Shadow vessels was clear but these were far more bulbous and had only vestigial spines compared to their battleship cousins. These new ships immediately aimed themselves at the planet they orbited.
Above the luscious blue green Betazed, four of the monstrous looking craft dived into the atmosphere. Likewise above the golden beaches of which Haven was famed, four other identical nightmare craft cut their way through the clean sky.
At each location, as one, the bulbous craft opened organic looking vents on their sides, like massive heart valves. Instead of pouring out life giving blood there came a thick stream of what appeared to be black dust. The inhabitants of both worlds looked up into their skies, planetary waves of fear washing over them as they watched the black specs high in the sky leave expanding tracks of black cloud behind in their wake. The Betazoid people knew instantly that the end had come for them but never would they know why.
Nowhere on either planet could escape the plague that rained down on them, now invisibly dispersed in the air. The people began dying in hours. Even their Federation medical technology couldn't pinpoint what it was, not in time. Within days the entire population that remained was sick, unable to attend to themselves, much less each other and especially not the dead. Though few dared admit, even to themselves, the plague was indeed one hundred percent contagious and one hundred percent lethal. It was too efficient to be natural but they didn't have time to figure out who or why. Both Betazed and Haven were quickly quarantined by the Federation. Despite their best efforts there was nothing that could be done for the Betazoids but mourn.