Breathing light and slow, Kayla was in the calm realms of shallow sleep as her body and mind demanded reprieve. Soft ceiling lights left on, a dull glow came down over her battered body and the bed that cradled her. Poorly illuminated into a ghostly form, the gentle rise and fall of her back showed her life in the silence. It was a relieving solitude she was granted without question, once the family of three were shown a place to stay on board the U.S.S Tillman. Having wandered into the room tired and distressed, the woeful Aspatrian shed her dirty, bloody clothing and dropped them at the door to the quarters' separate bedroom; taking her leave without being told or announcing her intentions. The Tillman's crew quarters had the living space and sleeping space separated into two fairly small rooms, much more utilitarian than the larger, now destroyed U.S.S Capitol. So much happened in such a short period of time, Kayla's daze and natural draw towards a bed and isolation was to be expected by those around her. Neither Jacob or Emily thought it prudent enough to badger her. Asking those ever probing, yet predictable questions would have only made her more forlorn in the wake of her defeat, torture, and agony. In such a case, she knew what was best for herself.
Asleep in the pink underwear she had eventually forgotten, the pain of her wounds and injuries fortunately had come to be eased in the wake of Jacob's medical care. Across the left side of her muzzle, trailing towards her eye, the gash that bled and marred her appearance as an innocent Aspatrian child had disappeared only to leave behind a line of messy, blood stained fur. Head upon both the pillow and her right forearm, her once badly shredded and burned paw rested with loose fingers against white bed sheets. Healed as quickly and efficiently as circumstance allowed, it no longer bled, but looked a mess with areas of fur burned away and singed in sad little patches. It's darkened canid skin was bare to the open air, marred with red lines and splotches, though most of the way healed compared to the extensive damage it originally had. Unable to snap his fingers and place her back to perfection, Jacob was left with encouraging fur growth, and handling the cellular remnants of her injury and scarring in wake of her treatment. Kayla's age and lack of a proper blood supply did not help either in the regenerative nature of their complex medicine. This rest was at least helping her red blood cells replenish. What remained was exhaustion and emotions - the feeling of helplessness and failure. Not her mother, nor her close friend, could truly imagine how she must have felt. None but Kayla bore witness to the explosion of the Capitol, or knew of her own narrow escapes from death.
Not far from the closed bedroom door that separated Kayla from the world, Emily had been left temporarily alone as well. The human woman sat on the living space's fairly firm and drab sofa, hands below her chin as she stared off into the dark gray wall in front of her. Being an interior room, there was no calming array of streaking rainbows of light and stars, leaving her to the hypnotizing effects of a stale and unchanging space. Parental decisions adapting, she felt obligated to allow Jacob to leave and do as he needed despite her prior punitive orders on the Capitol to not leave their room. That old doctor saved her daughter, and put more heart into it than she would have expected any kind of friend to do. Her pain was clearly his own, and for that Emily felt she owed the Medicalos a great deal. With such a good track record, and a powerful leadership quality that saved even her own life, granting a request to have fresh clothing replicated was a non-issue. After using his shirt as a bandage there was no way he would be able to wear it again, walking around feeling half naked per the doctor's proper standards.
Having been aboard the U.S.S Tillman for over two hours, streaming towards Earth, it gave everyone a lot of time to think and cope with their life-and-death experiences. There had been no news or updates, leaving them cut off from matters outside of their own thoughts. Guilt and regret flourished in such environments. Sitting around in her lonesome, missing the cheer of her furry Penitatas, it was Emily's softer side that made her feel responsible for what befell them. It was important for Kayla to help others and accept her own knowledge, but she wasn't aware it would place the Aspatrian and those she loved in mortal danger. The whole trip her Penitatas was forced to feel uncomfortable; escorted by armed Starfleet officers, frightened by transporters, and harassed by those too bitter towards life to forgive someone who deserves it. Now forced to stop and reflect, Emily wished she gave Kayla just a few more supporting words. With no one else around, it was human nature to point blame at one's self - warranted or not.
Still jumpy, the opening of the room's door gave Emily a startle, snapping her head back up and out of her hands. Returning from his errand, Jacob stepped through the door with a solemn expression and a new shirt. Starfleet badge and his command pin returned to their rightful places, only the shirt's tan color was slightly off from that of his original. The pair met eyes to greet one another as Jacob tapped a key beside the door, closing it to resume their desired level of privacy. Tucked against his side under his left arm was an additional article of clothing, folded with care. Emily did not need to be told what it was, finding the boy's gesture to be sweet and thoughtful. The kind of thoughtful she had become to suspect.
"I brought a new shirt for Kayla too. Hope black is okay, I know she likes it.", Jacob broke the silence to speak, lifting the shirt up with his paw while moving to place it by Kayla's door. When it came to clothing, he was well aware it would need to meet Emily's approval. She merely waved off with a hand, nodding her head at his fairly stiff words. After what they had gone through, it had become difficult to talk or find comfort. Watching the green scaled boy kneel down, milky white claws against the thin, rough carpet of the room, Emily breathed uneasily, feeling an awkward hesitation in the growing quiet of their company.
"Did you get to see the Lieutenant?", she tried to strike up, voice coming across as worried and subdued. Leaning forward, her chin again rested upon her hands again in what was a nervous response. The situation and thoughts of her mind left her calm, but so occupied with the uncertainty. Turning his muzzle upwards and to his right, towards Emily, the unsmiling Karrian shook his head while his paws placed the fresh shirt against Kayla's jeans.
"Not at all.", he answered quickly, and plainly, right paw brushing Kayla's bloody shirt off to the side to remove it from her messily created clothing pile. Jacob sounded just as distracted, caring dearly for the well being of his patient, lover, and friend. Seeing her blood made him remember the shrill, tearful and desperate cry of pain caused by trying to wrap his shirt around her wounded paw. The sounds clung to him, haunting his conscience. Helping Kayla hurt her so badly.
"What about Kayla?", Jacob responded with another question, raising to remain seated on his knees. His eyes looked worn; a window to the caring man within the body of a scared child. That subtle hint of redness and puffy nature to them told the experienced woman he had spilled a pair of tears not long ago, having milked them so many times from her first Penitatas, and now her second. She had to feel pity. Taking a quick, dry swallow, the mother shook her head as well; hair shifting slightly as she leaned against the backs of her hands.
"She's been quiet.", Emily regretfully informed, wanting to see her as well. Jacob sighed a little, placing his paws against the ground to help himself up. Getting back on his feet, balanced by his tail, he began re-tucking his shirt back into his slacks to make certain it was presentable, as stiff as it still was. Doctor Jacob Vasse had been something of an enigma to Emily, seeing this young, yet so proper and professional rejuve become the closest friend a high profile Penitatas could imagine. Seeing him try to occupy his paws and kill time, it was clear his restless adolescent mind was having trouble waiting for Kayla's return. Tensely awaiting that simple assurance she was okay. And, from what Emily got to see at the Karrian's side on board DeltaStar, he was normally a calm, calculated man even in the body of a seven year old. It was Jacob leading the way, not her, when they found their way back to her daughter's side. But here he was, standing mere feet in front of her, looking so uncomfortable and... sad. His appearance was drooping, seeing those weary blue eyes look towards the closed starship door beside him so longingly. Unknowingly, the young Karrian was stirring long since seeded suspicions that had been lingering in Emily's mind for a while.
Tilting her head forward an inch, a soft, uncertain sort of smile crept across Emily's face. The things she had witnessed were slowly telling a different tale then that Jacob and her daughter told with words. Such notions began to take form as she watched Kayla and Jacob escape DeltaStar, evolving the more she took in these subtleties. It was becoming increasingly apparent that one meant very dearly to the other - a classification beyond that of "just a friend". Friends are all a Penitatas can have, which made the idea very bittersweet. Though, in her state, anger or worry did not play much of a role, despite the notion a critical Penitatas regulation had been violated. She guessed she only wanted to know the truth, after seeing Jacob and Kayla speak to each other on DeltaStar with simple body language and deep cooperation; things found in closer, more intimate bonds. As a parent, she had to know; for better or worse.
"You two are more than just friends.", Emily spoke out of the blue, raising her head with what sounded like a meek, feminine sort of outward statement. Once said, and silence draped over the room as it was before, Jacob blinked a couple of times, moving his eyes away from the crew quarters' bedroom door with quick, seemingly random movements. The words were received, but with the lack of a sizable response, all the woman could go on was the boy's absence of reply and the light grip of his paws against his slacks. Uncertain of how to address Emily, his tired mind simply turned his soft, sad eyes to hers without much moving his head. Not willing to fall into what a seasoned Penitatas parent would call a timid evasion of her inquiry, despite it's very innocent nature, the human tilted her head and closed her eyes to cut Jacob off from giving her such pitiful looks. In a way she felt sorry, but now that she was coming to an understanding there wasn't much way she could keep all of her strictness put away. Jacob knew that when he befriended Kayla.
"Are you not going to respond to that?", she did not change the mild, quieted tone of her voice to accuse, insinuating it was not in Jacob's best interest to ignore his guardian. It gave the Karrian a chill that tensed his body uncomfortably, rippling muscle tension down his back. Backed into a corner, he didn't think such a question would be sprung on him. His secret life with Kayla could not have gone a secret forever, or perhaps it would have if they hadn't been thrown into such a dire situation. Emily finally saw through their guises, acting upon their behaviors and subtle hints. It wasn't how he suspected they would be caught. Curling his green scaled brow, the good doctor huffed lightly out of his nostrils to loosen up enough to speak.
"I'm worried for Kayla's sake.", Jacob spoke lower, guilt forcing out a more serious and older answer to Emily's interrogation. There was no way around it, alone with the mother of his comrade. Standing on his two nearly wobbly claws, looking at the older human, it was the most straight forward and honest thing he could think of to say in his hesitation. It was why he could not directly answer - to that he admitted, it was what would befall the one he cared for. Feeling the doctor's inner misery in speaking those five simple words, uttering their guilt and his true concern, the tight knot Emily's fingers balled into under her chin began to unfurl. Breaking her eyelids open into slits, she stared down at Jacob's reptilian feet. Subtle and nearly hidden, there was a tiny tremble that was given away by his pearly claws. This was the fearless Starfleet commander that stuck close to her side on DeltaStar. Faced with the suffering of a loved one, unable to act on his own accord to save her, his fear was obvious. Emily could not condemn him for wanting to protect Kayla's best interests, despite not knowing just "how far" their affections went. She wasn't about to ask. That, the mother could only imagine.
"Jacob, I don't have the luxury to worry about things like that right now. This... isn't a good time.", the parent reassured with a subdued voice similar to the Karrian's own, coming clean with her presently restrained disciplinary intentions. Faced with everything that just happened, her parental duties were forced to take a back seat. It felt strange, but at the same time, it was one less thing to burden her loved ones with in their time of need. Their safety took precedence, feeling so far from home. It took a few moments of the biting quiet, tensely holding on to the openings of his pockets with his fingers, but Jacob replied with a slow nod. Believing such things was tough when it came to Penitatas affairs. It was certainly an awkward, uncomfortable company the pair provided themselves.
"What are you-... ?", Jacob lowered his voice to ask cautiously, interrupted fairly quickly by an answer.
"I'll do what I must.", Emily spoke as if to lay down the law, even if she did not move an inch or break into detail as to reveal what she was thinking or potentially planning. Feeling well at fault as part of Emily's discovery, such words fell upon the worried boy only to be buried deeper by again the absence of dialogue. For now, they would have to remain empty words, coupled to no consequence or reaction. Like a child sent to his room, Jacob would have to wait to find out her intentions and what they meant to he and Kayla.
Sliding his right paw over his face, Jacob rubbed the bridge of his muzzle as he did under stress. The pressure in his chest didn't seem to want to go away, making the action growingly common this long, arduous day. Squeezing his eyes closed, he huffed tiredly to make a couple of wobbly steps. Prepared to tolerate the silence as best he could, the Karrian boy tossed his tail off to his side and sat down; back to the wall, beside the door that separated him from the orange fox he wished to see and care for. Across from each other, Jacob and Emily sat like those in a hospital waiting room, hanging their heads in solemn contemplation and lacking interaction. They were left to their miseries, hungry and longing for the common peace of their every day lives. Different situations, same end result. Like a low hum in the distance, singing through the bulkhead behind Jacob's ears, the Tillman's warp core pushed on for home.
It was another several minutes of their awkward self-isolation before matters began to unravel their veil of silence. A chirp at the door again startled Emily, whom made quite the irritated sigh as she dropped her arms and leaned back into the sofa to catch her breath after nearly jumping. Not knowing what the sound was from, or for, the stone-faced young Karrian lifted his head and tilted it towards the room's door with familiarity.
"Come in!", Jacob called out with a somewhat deeper voice then usual, trying to find a calm tone in emulating his older self. His eyes itched from an underlying urge to curl up next to his parent and let go of a few frustrations, but that wasn't the Jacob way. Suppressed, he sat with his right knee up, allowing his wrists to rest on it loosely in a young, masculine sort of stance. With a typical pneumatic sort of sound from the room's automatic door, it opened to an expected face stepping in - Lieutenant Brayden, looking as stone faced and uncertain as his once Starfleet colleague Jacob did.
"What's the word Lieutenant?", the green scaled reptile sought information, asking across the room for their current status. Not taking another step into their crew quarters without first closing the door, the human's white thumb pressed firmly into the control panel before addressing what would have been a commanding officer back in the day. Not until the door sealed shut, did Blaine raise his head, taking a couple of slow steps forward into the room and the two sets of eager, somber eyes looking to him for answers. What he had for them, was not what they expected. There was a sense of urgency in his expression, coupled with exhausted breathing behind a reluctance to drop dire messages on an already ailing family.
"Velius has attacked Earth.", Blaine announced with a deep breath, raising and crossing his arms. Both Emily and Jacob raised their heads further, raising brows slowly with a sickening feeling. Jacob's paws left his knee, pressing into the coarse carpeting with a grip; claws snapping a couple of fibers to make a faint crackle.
"What do you mean 'attacked'?", Jacob demanded to have clarified, adopting the older officer's quiet, almost angry tone. He snapped out his words in a sort of shock. This was their home he was talking about. Heart of the human race! Cornerstone of the United Federation of Planets! Shifting his eyes between both Jacob and Emily, individuals that were on his ship as a result of his asking them, Blaine was aware he'd have to be tactful as well as honest. A lot had occurred while they sat here, frightened for their loved one. As they did, even Lieutenant Brayden walked with a heavy heart, and a guilty, burdened spirit.
"I mean he's attacked Earth. Disruption on a planetary scale; everything the bastard can touch.", he stressed, putting emphasis on his words to be as blunt and frank as possible. Gritting his sharp teeth, Jacob growled under his breath while Emily looked on, aghast. Pressing against the ground with his strength, he gave his tail something of a fling and climbed to his claws without a word while Blaine contemplated his own. There was so much to explain if he was going to give a report on their current status.
"Since we departed DeltaStar, Velius has redirected his focus on critical Earth infrastructure. He's been moving from system to system, crippling them in an order which makes recovery too difficult under circumstances. As of now, Earth has no satellite network. Not even the planetary defense platforms are under our control, taken offline and set to no longer respond to commands. Swiftly executed and planned so perfectly.", the man described as a dire situation, painting the picture of a defenseless, helpless world with a population in the billions. Filled with their loved ones. Jacob's accompanied growl was much more audible, throwing his right arm out in heavy gesture. Earth has spent the past two hours slowly falling apart, and they were none the wiser in this dismal room?
"How could something like this happen?!", the old commander shouted accusingly, unable to fathom an entirely compromised Earth. Security experts and systems all in place to stop hackers like Velius, and even Packet-Storm, the Penitatas he came to know so closely. Earth as a whole was the greatest technological fortress in the Alpha Quadrant. And now he's being told an armada could appear on it's doorstep unchallenged? The network of defense platforms in Earth's orbit unable to fire or detect trouble was a terror in itself. The picture, as it was, went beyond that. Blaine had more to say, forced to ignore Jacob's disbelief.
"Jacob, we're talking whole chunks of infrastructure. Without the global satellite network, there is no Galactic-Net, no communications. The computer functions of hover vehicles rely on it for coordination and tracking; not even manual controls work now without a central link-up. He's toying with the global power grid and weather stabilization controllers, playing god.", Lieutenant Brayden continued with difficulty, until he paused with a sigh. Feeling angry and worried, thinking of his wife and daughter back at home, he came to realize he was rambling when rambling wasn't merited. Trying to look Jacob in the eye, as the Karrian was giving him a much more piercing glare then Emily was, he quickly refocused his thoughts to lay it on the table.
"Power never goes out, yet people are sitting in the dark in major cities. They can't call to find out what's wrong, they can't reach their family by any means, and their hover-cars aren't working. People are scared. Before we lost contact with Starfleet Command, there was mention of panic. Once he had control over what was in orbit, all we could do was start shutting things down to prevent his access on the planet's surface; but a lot of damage had already been done. Earth is crippled, with it's own orbital defense platforms potential weapons to be used against it's own people.", he laid out, as hard as it was to tell a tale of their families and those they knew frightened and without recourse. Alone. Blaine and Jacob stared at one another, as if unsure of what to say. With no communications and isolated from the rest of the galaxy, the planet was brought to it's knees. The puppeteer had moved to a bigger puppet; undoubtedly his primary goal. With the Alpha Quadrant's wealth under his command and the strongest planet at his knees, his presence stretched as far as the Federation could reach. Their home, their beautiful planet, dark and under invisible siege.
"He said he was going to strip our technology.", Emily ended up speaking softly, looking somewhat downward as she dredged up memories of Velius' cruel voice from those few hours prior. Statement catching Blaine and Jacob's angry and worried faces, their hacker's words came back to them as well. It confirmed to them Velius' intentions of a power grab as he fulfilled his words beyond that of DeltaStar station. The sort of demands he could make were unfathomable as lives, a planet, and the economy of an entire quadrant fell into perpetual limbo. It was a thrust back towards the dark ages; stripped of their technology and everything they relied on.
"When can we restore what's been lost?", Jacob sighed, trying to calm down so he didn't get too worked up. This was Earth, there had to be options. One man could not hold down an entire planet. While true, the solution was not to be so simple as Blaine nervously cleared his throat; continuing the triangle of stiff words.
"Not so easily when Velius is trying to sever every potentially viable limb available to us. The global satellite network isn't exactly friendly any longer and is trying to disrupt efforts, and he has weapon platforms at his disposal. Other things are sitting offline until we can isolate them. We're working, but...", was the older man's explanation, understanding where Jacob was coming from. He wanted to assure him, officer to officer, that he wasn't here to try and overload his currently young mind and bring further grief to those around him. If it was as simple as using Federation vessels as orbital satellites, they'd do it without thinking of the risk of Velius turning the planetary defense platforms on them.
"Then what is to be done?", Emily sat up straight and expressed sharply with her feminine voice, opening her hands at her sides in expressive frustration, all the while Jacob walked a quick, nervous and agitated circle for a second before stopping to try and remain still. If it wasn't one thing, it was another!
"I don't know how he can do what he does.", was all Blaine could say, unintentionally sounding distraught and defeatist himself as he pictured chaos and darkness on Earth's surface, and in it's orbit. Amidst their wandering thoughts and troubled hearts, there was a telltale hiss of a starship door behind Jacob. Distracted a moment, paw under his muzzle, he slowly retracted it and loosened his brow. Quickly snapping his head over his shoulder with a twist of his torso, the young boy turned to find Kayla standing in the bedroom doorway, paw on the control that just opened it. The Aspatrian looked worn with the burns on her paw and the blood stains in her fur - looking serious and heavyhearted, standing in just her solitary pair of underwear. There was no sliver of a smile across her muzzle, staring ahead at Blaine with what would have normally been classified as a cold glare.
"I told you. He's abusing technology, using multiple automated consoles and relying on heavy-handed tactics.", Kayla outright explained in what sounded like the tone of a scold, repeating her prior words from her home whether Lieutenant Brayden remembered the comment or not. Battered in appearance, the poor fox appeared to be in an understandably foul mood. At this point for Blaine, standing in the somewhat dim room in front of the three he placed here by his own authority, the young Penitatas could openly condemn him if she wished and he would not say or word, nor lift a finger. None daring interrupt or urge further conversation when Kayla knelt down and collected her clothes, they let her dress in peace. She slid her jeans up her stiff legs, then her new black shirt over her head - a sight Jacob was happy to see, since he brought it just for her.
Kayla stepped out of the doorway as soon as she finished, relieving a new note of tension as the room became quiet after her biting words. Running the claws of her left paw through the fur atop her head, the fox attempted to brush some of her fur back and un-cake a bit of the blood beneath her left eye in just a few steps time. All eyes were on her and what she felt to be a tattered, sad, and embarrassing appearance.
"You can go on Lieutenant. I've been listening.", Kayla lightly growled out a sigh, tilting her head forward to drop her muzzle, arms crossed and with fingers gripping uneasily at her new black shirt. With a notable amount of anger gone from those words, Jacob heard her own insecurities. Sounded just like he felt on the inside. Her eyes were without tears, but her mind was filled with sorrow and pain. Still, even after healing it, Kayla tucked her right paw under her left arm to cradle it. Her fur, and fair skin, stripped and taken by a man who called himself her "better" seemed to bring her ache in many different ways; wanting none to see it.
"... For a while.", she paused, standing with a motionless tail, shifting her eyes towards her mother without so much as blinking. Such an addition made Jacob lower his head and not make a sound. That tone was all too telling. She knew. To that, Emily did not reply, sitting with a lump in her chest upon the sofa. Not being able to meet eyes with Kayla, Jacob defaulted to assuming she blamed him for her mother discovering their secret. There was no way of knowing that was true until he could speak with her, but as it stood, Kayla was a girl even if she was tough as nails. Dragging her personal life into an unwanted spotlight that additionally would have ended very badly as a Penitatas, she was going to be bitter and upset. Point was, she was aware Emily knew, and it was all out on the table. Jacob could only hope for forgiveness, and knew he had done nothing to merit distrust. There was nothing he could do but stand in silence upon her mother's probing. What else could he have done?
Not a part of that inside quip, Lieutenant Brayden was left to the understanding Kayla meant she was listening in on the entire conversation and that alone. Nodding his head softly, the human man looked down, slipping his right hand into his black uniform pocket to continue as if the fox had been there all along. While the others watched, he gripped something tightly into his hand, peering into it as he cupped an unseen object. As he did, he looked regretful and apologetic. This was a hard time for everyone, and he wasn't really about to make it better. Taking his eyes away from his hand, he looked down at the injured and tattered girl beneath him before taking a single, carefully slow step. Blaine reached down, opening his hand to offer what he had for the small Aspatrian. The object shimmered gently beneath the soft lighting above, new and unmarred. Surprised, but so torn on the inside, Kayla could only make a tired-like look of bewilderment.
Reaching out, Kayla picked it up cautiously between her un-injured left paw's thumb and forefinger; orange fur brushing across the palm of Blaine's human hand. Looking down, she examined it in her paw; a Starfleet communications badge, just like the one Lieutenant Brayden and Jacob wore so proudly on their chests. It was a heavy, surreal moment, where those who knew and loved her waited for her reaction.
"Kayla, I have no right to ask you what I am about to ask.", Blaine began with a quieter, more subdued voice. Instead of sounding like the staunch officer coordinating his subordinates as he had been, it sounded like that soft voice he had when talking to Kayla in her room. Just him to her - no Penitatas classification, no rank. The badges' golden glow left Emily looking on with quiet bewilderment, much like her daughter, while Jacob stood with the same quiet, serious sort of look. He knew where this was going.
"We're on our way to San Francisco, where Starfleet Headquarters is located. It's been isolated and is under it's own power, where we can try and defend ourselves from Velius.", Blaine announced as their intentions, Starfleet looking to fight back against Velius with all they've got. But, to do so, the greatest hacker at their disposal would have to remain at their side for the chance at a positive outcome. For the chance at some sort of victory.
"We need you.", he simply wanted to let her know, happy to let Kayla make her own decision as difficult as it would be for such a young rejuve. Though, as he finished saying his piece, Kayla lifted the badge and began tacking it to her new shirt as she had watched Jacob do so many times. Though all the horrors she had witnessed, and pain she experienced, seeing Kayla Ackart's stoic face brought the human man instant shock as her fingers worked diligently against her black shirt. After being dragged into this and injured, she had the right to go home. She was a Penitatas, there was no obligation for her to be here. Yet here she was, pinning herself to go on without so much as a second thought. Jacob didn't doubt her, knowing Kayla's hard headed attitude. She was a fighter, even if that aspect of her strong personality landed her over people's laps.
"I'm not expecting you to be comfortable with this. Are you sure?", Lieutenant Brayden felt the need to question after his pause, making his surprise in the speed and nature of her acceptance that much more apparent. The Aspatrian's nimble little fingers finished their task, leaving the badge tacked into place while she averted her attentions with a soft shake of her head. Looking unable to smile, her movements at least spoke of a sort of determination. This had to be hard on her, and weigh heavily, even if she wanted to press on. Blaine did not want to be the cause of her ambition, but only for that complicated, sweet yet fiery ex-criminal to do the right thing on her own terms.
"I am not going to walk away and leave everyone like that. Velius can't walk free, and the galaxy has already had one too many hackers.", Kayla spoke firmly with a low voice, coming out more airy as a weary thought broke into the mass of emotions she was wrestling to manage. She wouldn't leave her friends, family, and those she didn't know in such terror and trepidation, or force them to submit to a man she very well had helped inspire through her own acts of malice and evil. A murderer with a dead conscience had to be dealt with. Just as Blaine as told her before this hell began, Kayla found herself nothing like this man. Perhaps she had a place wearing this badge after all, standing as an ally to Starfleet. If Packet-Storm was to be a force of good, then so be it... the name would be born anew, if it could not simply disappear.
"You never did anything like this.", Emily mumbled out in comment to her daughter's mentioning of there already being one too many hackers, well aware that it was a pot shot towards herself. In the middle of the small living space, the small furred girl shook her head without much changing her expression.
"I did enough. Hackers aren't just a nuisance.", she affirmed to her crimes, thinking of the projects and technology she destroyed or manipulated by her paws. Those good lives being lived on Earth and beyond did not need such disruption, and at times, dangerous malice. The age of the hacker needed to die; closing loopholes and vulnerabilities that have brought their fair planet to a troubled paradise. Repentant, Packet-Storm was not prepared to sit and watch everything fall to the wind. Too sad, too angry - too headstrong. All four in the room were mocked by the faceless voice they had soon ago heard, but none were hurt quite the way Kayla was.
"I'll have you off this ship and back on the ground where you belong in ten minutes. We've been violating warp speed limitations since word of the attack. Sit tight as best you can.", the good Lieutenant replied to Kayla's strong words, speaking directly to the young Penitatas under his care as if she was the only person there. If an extra note of respect or caring glance of his eyes could place her at any ease at all, he would be happy to grant it. Lifting his head, the human man turned it to both Jacob and Emily with a light nod to simply be polite. Their long faces and clear worries left the room feeling heavy, leaving Blaine eager to change their scenery away from this little room.
"Misses Targate. Commander.", he acknowledged both others with each tip of his forehead as he turned and headed for the door. Emily leaned back into the crew quarters' sofa, crossing her eyes with a quiet exhale to loosen her stiffened muscles while Jacob just gave the same sort of professional nod back to his Starfleet fellow.
Again becoming their family of three, Jacob turned his focus back to Kayla with a hopeful sway of his reptilian tail off to his side and a light, somber expression. He imagined getting to see her face, forcing out a little smile to say hello in their wordless way. Instead, as Blaine left their company, Kayla barely moved from where she stood on tired legs. Just a few paces off to her side, and one behind her, he had a good enough vantage point to see the sullen look on her muzzle. On the outside it looked so neutral, but those who knew her understood it better. That hint of blue eye he could see was staring off at the floor, as she touched the side of her muzzle with her left paw, distracted by the feeling of dried blood. At such a sight the doctor's tail stilled; his wish for a quick smile fading with the sort of sadness he could feel from her. Within the silence of the room, standing as if alone, Jacob spotted a slight quiver of Kayla's ears and a tiny sort of sound. Turning around quickly without so much as a glance to her close friend and companion, closed eyes passed Jacob's own until he watching a stiffly hanging tail moving away from him to find refuge in the darkness of the crew quarters' bedroom. Again, she disappeared behind the dark gray door - hiding out of sight.
Standing where he had been left, the twinge in Jacob's legs from before wanted to creep back through his calves. Kayla was so overwhelmed and sullen. It squeezed on his chest, amplified by his caring nature, that he was forced onto the sidelines when he wanted to help the most. Crossing his arms to fight the tension in his body, the good doctor looked over his shoulder with a glance to the door before lowering his head and assuming a slow pace.
* * * * * * *
Light was as sparse and thin as it had never been before, leaving only the dull moonlight to illuminate the outlines of furniture and the silhouette of a Drakonian. A Penitatas was used to being awake in a dark room with nothing more than the moonlight to shine against their tears in the late of night, but this situation did not apply in the eerie scene unfolding within the confines of their neighborhood and seemingly beyond. Outside of the windows there was not a single light coming from a home and no bright luminescence from the city. Ninne leaned forward, using her tail to counter-balance her raptor-like stance as she craned her neck out and up carefully to peer curiously out of her home's front window to the right of their door. She was trying to keep a weary distance from it. To not see a single light was frighteningly strange and massively intimidating to a young girl's mind. It just did not occur on Earth this day and age; the slits of her highly reptilian ears picking up on the loss of all sound.
"Ninne, I told you to get away from the window!", Ki`rene quietly snapped in haste, looking over from beside the living room sofa with the outline of a stern parental brow lighting up a dim white as her smooth brown scale reflected a hint of moonlight. For some natural reason, in such a situation you spoke beneath your breath even when it was not necessary. In her right claw she held a data pad, having been trying to use the bit of light the screen made to see as a makeshift flashlight. Results so far had been poor. The smaller of the pair corrected her stance and lowered it a little to crane her neck back around, trying to look over her shoulder. Closer to the window's glow, it was easier to see her look of concern; the young drake in a t-shirt and underwear due to the hour of the night and bedtime beginning to pass.
"The sky... there's no lights. Not one.", Ninne focused more on her worry than anything else, seeing a world that looked deserted just outside the walls of their home. The sky being devoid of lights was more than simply abnormal - it meant there wasn't a single hover car above. No electricity, no hover cars, no people. A clear signal something was very wrong. Above there was always the sprawl of movement and life, vehicles traveling at their automatically designated altitudes and invisible highways. It was like the world itself stopped. Ki`rene reached down and dropped the gray data pad on the end table beside her sofa as her daughter spoke her soft words of honest worry.
"Just-... !", the Penitatas mother started to again snap out a hushed scold, immediately catching frustration in her voice. Stopping right in her tracks, Ki`rene took a quick breath and closed her eyes for just a second.
"Come over here with me before I have to try and chew your tail in the dark honey.", the older of the two relented with her more motherly tone, opening her eyes back up to respond the way she felt was more appropriate to Ninne's needs. Ki`rene was feeling a bit scared as well, making the window matter a concern for her Penitatas daughter's safety. With one last glance out the window, the young drake walked across the carpet and to her mother's side; claws nervously holding each other since the phrase 'tail chewing' had been uttered. Softly said or not, Ninne was aware it was still a final warning even if her mother had other things on her mind. She had been looking for a flashlight - one of those objects that was never around when you needed it. Not wanting at least intentionally to get in the way, Ninne slid the base of her dinosaur-like tail onto the sofa and took a seat as to not get into trouble.
There had been no power for well over an hour now, all throughout Calleet. With all communication possibilities cut off and no longer functioning alongside of it, the small family had no idea what was going on, or that there really was a defined danger lurking. What had been manufactured was artificially engineered panic, festering through uncertainty as a planet that normally stood as a whole became split up and isolated by the removal of their technology. No one knew what was going on. Ki`rene had a good head on her shoulders even if a couple of womanly notions of fret tingled beneath the scales on her back. There had been nothing even remotely similar on Earth her whole nearly two hundred years of life.
Having placed her Penitatas back to where she would have liked, Ki`rene decided to take Ninne's place and have a glance out the window herself. Ninne watched her parent with butterflies in her belly, taking the tension of being in the dark so long a bit poorly. The elder of the brown scaled pair set her left claw beside the window, tilting her head and neck to look up into the sky and try to fathom such an empty sight. Within the grasp of dead silence, a simple sound was enough to make the wise Drakonian stagger backwards in a sudden motion; her large, strong legs barely keeping her weight as her balance shifted awkwardly towards her tail. Unexpected, it was received as very loud, and right beside Ki`rene's head when she went to look outside. Paces behind, Ninne leaned on the sofa with her claws, ducking down in a barely prone stance to look over the arm of the sofa with only her eyes, despite her obvious legs and tail visible behind her. Hearts thumping in a startled reaction, the sound came from their front door, leaving their eyes and ears locked on it to determine the noise. A knock? But who?
Again there was a knock, sounding muffled on the other side of their metallic alloy door. Ki`rene did not see anyone when she tried to look out the window, bringing about her own crouching stance as if to lunge for their front door in a full-force Drakonian fashion against a potential intruder. She had been nearly killed in her own house before, and such a thing was not going to occur again! Snapping the expression across her face and snout into a sort of Drakonian snarl, Ki`rene curled her reptilian brows and bared her maw of perfect teeth - used for much more than discipline, she was ready to assure.
"Who's there?!", Ki`rene craned her head slightly closer to the door to demand an answer, yelling it loudly enough through the metallic door to be heard. It made Ninne wince, sinking her head slightly lower before gripping the sofa cushion and lifting it once more. Claws trembling slightly in the open, stale air of their powerless home, the large reptile waited for a response. It took a few moments, but she got one accompanied by the sound of the door receiving a couple of thumps.
"It's me!", the voice was drowned out through the door slightly, coming across as male and fairly familiar.
"Alex!", he reaffirmed through directly identifying, sounding as if he was trying to yell through the closed slit at the center of the two dividing doors that would normally be electrically driven. Ninne tilted her head over on the sofa, while her mother loosened her stance to drop her head with the relieved droop of her neck. Her sigh was fairly inhuman; raspy like a non-Earth Drakonian's natural speech. Took a couple of seconds to gather her senses, looking up with her eyes to figure how she'd even get the door open. With her best foot forward Ki`rene grasped the right side of the door, sliding her right footclaw back to pull on the powerless portion of unlocked door with her might and Drakonian weight. Met with resistance, grunting and growling with her claws trying to keep their hold, Ninne leaped from the sofa and to her parent's aid on her hasty, smaller legs.
Such assistance was unnecessary, as the door budged free just as soon as Ninne grabbed the end of Ki`rene's tail to help pull her parent's weight farther back. A line of moonlight appeared against their carpet, obscured as Alex slipped through the partially ajar door. Once inside, Ki`rene began to push the stiff, unresponsive door with Ninne's help - the smaller drake using her shoulder and broad raptor back to push against her parent's left hip. All she could do was push with her strength until the half of the door would not move any longer, pressed up against the other side of the door as firmly as it could; the pair slipping free of the door to catch themselves on their footclaws. The older panted once to catch her breath, rubbing her claws together to remove a bit of the sting trying to hold onto a fairly tiny surface with her nails and fingertips caused.
"Alex, what's going on?", Ki`rene turned her head to ask the human man, right to the matter at hand. Skipping the welcomes and pleasantries was easy in duress, but Alex was a welcome family friend at any time. Standing beside her mother, Ninne absorbed her surroundings like a sponge - as rejuves and kindern alike typically did. Alex held a data pad in his right hand, leaving the young Drakonian to imagine he had been trying to use it for the same faux-flashlight purpose his mother had attempted. The un-scaled parent lifted the gray pad in the nearly absent light, waving it in gesture at the level of his torso.
"I've been by myself, haven't been able to figure out much. Came over to check on you ladies.", Alex began to speak in his usual mannerisms, mixed with a lower tone and note of concern. He had a soft way of speaking that came through even when he disciplined his Penitatas or handled stress, making him sound comforting and confident even when he was just as unsure of things as they were. It was his conscience that brought him - wanting to take care of the girls even if Ki`rene was bigger and stronger than he was and didn't much require a human's physical protection. Either way, the sentiment was worthy of appreciation.
"We have been okay. Just been kind of jumpy.", the largest of the three had to admit, following her human guest with her neck as she began to walk away from the door. Alex hummed, tapping the cool, flat back of his data pad against his right cheek; his colorful button collar shirt shifting loosely when he moved.
"I figured. Couldn't even get our hover car started to try and find out if there had been a crisis.", Alex added in return, starting to follow Ki`rene casually. His words made the mother turn her head back over her shoulder with a serious look, only to miss Alex's face as the friendly human looked off to his side to wave Ninne along encouragingly - a hint of team parenting, to keep the young Penitatas away from the door and front window. It was cute to see a bit of a smile in the moonlight, automatically leading her young one along as a gentleman would.
"Why can't you get airborne?", Ki`rene asked with a heavier tone of worry, taking into account the rest of the city wasn't flying either when trying to think of a cause. It elicited another hum from the man, Ninne stepping past him to take her seat on the sofa as he shook his head a bit.
"The fangled thing gave me some kind of error on the system screen.", Alex spoke fairly candidly, coming straight out with his tone of voice that it was something he had never even heard of before. Raising the data pad to eye level, he tapped two glowing buttons on it's flat screen to bring up something, apparently having jotted down what he read from the vehicles' Automated Flight Assistance display.
"Fault code zero - unable to propagate airspace command protocol 'ACP', and then a bunch of numbers in rows. It won't even let me switch to manual; those words just stay there in red.", he described being given to him on the screen, dropping the pad back to his side while the two drakes listened. Alex just barely let out a single chuckle, coming off as a distracted thought.
"I've become so spoiled. Kayla is usually here to tell me what these stupid things mean.", he then came to admit, mentioning his daughter fondly. All this was going on, and she and his wife weren't even on the planet. While it didn't occur to a rational adult's mind that Kayla could have had any sort of hand in this entirely unknown problem, Ninne crossed her arms and pondered the possibility. It wouldn't have surprised her - that fox seemed to be involved in a lot of things. She hoped Kayla was alright up there, where ever she was in space. But, the little drake lifted her head with a thought, trying to imagine the words and their potential meaning. Techno-babble was Kayla's favorite language, so Ninne at least hoped she learned something from her by now.
"The car can't get something it needs? Like how the data pads can't pull up information stuff?", Ninne thought out loud for the Penitatas parent's benefit, even if her pondering came out significantly more lackluster than her ten year old mind originally pictured. That couldn't have been any simpler sounding, and it was clear she didn't know any more than they did - beyond the jist anyway. Ninne just made a little face and looked down to make it seem like she was thinking intently, when in reality she was just a bit embarrassed.
"That's my only guess.", Alex at least affirmed the thought with a liberal wag of his data pad, not at all understanding the back-end functions of a modern day hover car computer to take the idea any further.
"What should we do? Just sit here and hope something happens? I'm not comfortable with this notion of being stranded.", Ki`rene expressed very openly, resisting the urge to pace around her living room in the dark. In an age of replicators where there was no concept of a brownout, she didn't exactly have a stockpile of food. The small amount of raw meat she had left stored away was something she and Ninne could eat if they could muster a few of those more primal Drakonian instincts they had never before really used, but it wouldn't stay edible for long. Maybe not even until morning.
"Try not to fret. Time will pass a lot quicker if you get some sleep. I know it's getting a little warm, but...-", Alex tried to reassure, using his left hand in an open downward motion, but while the two adults stood eye to eye their younger counterpart spoke up out of turn to interrupt him.
"Guys.", Ninne cut in, feeling like she had enough reason to warrant it. A quick adjustment of the older human and Drakonian's focus found the girl staring at the window from her seat as she began speaking again and any sort of scolds could be delivered.
"Is that a fire?", the young Penitatas asked for confirmation in a lower, more serious manner; sounding much like her adoptive mother. The notion of having a few harsh words with Ninne about her vocal behavior in conversations all but melted away, as the two parents took a hasty several steps to the window with their mouths still.
Beyond the protection of insulated glass, out over their small grass yards and the narrow strip that divided their homes as a 'street', an orange glow emanated from the far distance over the houses of the suburban Penitatas district. Like a subdued sunrise over the Targate residence, the telltale color of fire radiated from Calleet's core - the city. It was an ominous sign when mixed with their situation, leaving them well aware a crisis was unfolding around them and their helpless little home. A hint of the orange color reflected off of Alex and Ki`rene's moist, shining eyes in the window as they stared at a sight that should have been impossible on Earth.
"An attack?", Ki`rene questioned the sight with an airy whisper, in shaken disbelief. Alex wasn't ready to leap to such assumptions, stiffening his facial expression.
"An explosion, a riot; could be anything. We don't know, we shouldn't guess.", the human man was quick to turn and whisper back, loud enough to make up for the height difference he had to the mother drake. He wanted to stress that point, but repeating himself over and over wouldn't have helped either - leaving him to simply stare up and hope she absorbed his suggestion.
"Tell me something, don't just whisper!", Ninne's smaller feminine Drakonian voice called out behind them, sounding fairly upset they were leaving her in the dark when she was so worried. Again, both parents turned at the same time to face her, not entirely sure of what to say.
"I was just saying your mother and I should stay awake.", Alex outstretched a hand, offering as an explanation; a lie for Ninne's benefit. Ki`rene turned to him with a raised brow, taking in his message with a calm sense of understanding for what he was aiming for. Starting a slow, calm walk towards her sofa, Ki`rene smiled softly in the bit of light they had.
"Yes honey, don't you worry. Now, lay down and get some sleep there on the couch. That's an order.", she spoke as she walked, using her gentle parental tone with a twist at the end. Being Ninne, the stubborn drake needed her Penitatas element as well for Ki`rene to be certain she'd comply. Told that it was bed time, and not just a request, Ninne had no room to stall or do much else aside from what she had been told. In a way, such boundaries put the girl at ease; it certainly let her know her guardian was at her side. Tilting her head downward to look up at Ki`rene with just her eyes, the Penitatas provided a tiny nod of reluctant acknowledgment.
"Okay ma'ma.", she answered her parent, lifting her strong legs onto the white sofa. Fitting with her Drakonian shape was difficult, leaving mostly her belly as a possibility so her legs and tail could go straight behind her along the length of the sofa. Within just a couple of moments, Ninne's head was resting - snout nestled between two cushions like a makeshift cradle. Reaching down with her right claw, Ki`rene gave the top-base of Ninne's tail a quick brushing just where the girl's specially designed underwear terminated, to give her daughter a comfortingly affectionate touch and quell those fears. Ninne was certainly no Kindern, but the mind of a rejuvenated adult could race with fright none the less at a mere nine years of age. A reminder of one of the reasons they need guidance and guardianship.
Beside Ki`rene, watching her soft parenting style and Ninne being put to bed, Alex had decided with certainty that he should stay with the girls. No sense in leaving them alone. If something was wrong, it was all the better they worked together. At least for their Penitatas' sake, even if it was only Ninne who needed protection in this case. Returning her back to it's standard arch as she lifted her claw from Ninne's tail, Ki`rene craned her head close to Alex's own with a thankful expression over the worries she held.
"Thank you.", the elder drake mouthed with her snout as well as she could, for the human to be able to read. Alex didn't quite get it, but was able to guess what she said just fine. He gave her a little two fingered salute off his clean blond bangs to silently reply; a calm, playfully friendly gesture that was pure Alex Targate.
* * * * * * *
Upon being summoned to leave the room they had been provided for their journey, Kayla stuffed her paws into the pockets of her jeans to prepare her nerves for another round of armed escort. She had hid in the bedroom until called to leave, sharing no words with those around her on the way out. It took time to regain her sense of composure after Blaine left them briefly ago. To feel weak and defeated was an emotion she had trouble handling when her actions were being so closely watched. All the things she was thinking and re-hashing in the clambering trails of her mind would be kept carefully bottled behind the wall she erected between herself and those she loved. Everything crashed down upon her so suddenly and violently, the only thing she could do to feel strong was keep the tears out of her eyes and focus on what needed to be done. She solely witnessed the deaths of over seven hundred people, experienced near-death and stared down the barrel of a bolt-firing phase turret, and failed in thwarting a hacker she felt was her inferior. In the wake of those atrocities and events, she had to give up the fur of her right paw, walking as a marred and blood stained individual, and now had her mother to face as a heavy secret came to light. A personal, long hidden secret; certain to bring strong consequences for violating the core rules each Penitatas must obey. A convicted criminal, a Penitatas, was not supposed to have any sort of intimate relationships, much less the sort of acts she dabbled in with her partner which were even more forbidden. Kayla was distracted and scared, shrinking into seclusion rather than looking Emily in the eye.
Bare footpaws making their way onto thin corridor carpeting, the Aspatrian had to make a couple of extra turns of her head as she followed Blaine's lead. There was no additional presence waiting outside the door, and none of the usual trailing of boots behind them as she expected. Contorting her once annoyed expression into one more of surprise, Kayla looked up at the back of the Lieutenant's head; walking just behind he and her mother.
"Where are the security officers?", Kayla asked with almost a suspicious tone, unsure as to why she wasn't being given the star criminal treatment. Jacob had been pondering the same thing, trailing just behind Kayla to keep a polite distance until he could get up next to her for what ever brief moment of private conversation they could have. It wasn't like they'd complain about such a thing, since the aggressive protocol irritated and upset the poor old hacker.
"Technically it's just me. There is a lot of trust behind sending you into Starfleet Headquarters - thought such measures would be a moot point.", Lieutenant Brayden eyed over his shoulder to answer, being fairly frank about the subject matter since Kayla did not hold back her agitations over special escort. Emily did sort of wish her daughter would better watch her tongue, but the fox didn't really cross the line to warrant any sudden scolding or choice words. It was that tone she heard in her living room when Blaine had first arrived, and her daughter had the audacity to outright tell the man 'no' to his request for help. After what had happened the parent couldn't blame her so much for that, but the attitude in that tone rattled her parental instincts. Kayla didn't have to be snide to get her point across, but it was easy to forget the distress that brings about such heavy discomfort. To Blaine's answer, Kayla didn't speak. She just lowered her head back down to walk quietly behind the adults, strung along for another uncomfortable trip through a transporter to yet another place she attacked. Seeing Starfleet Headquarters in person sounded good in theory, but after the events with DeltaStar and it's director, she feared the environment would be just as unwelcoming.
"Kayla?", Jacob interrupted the thought, quietly saying her name to catch the attention of her tall canid ears. They pivoted off to her side with a tilt of her head, giving Jacob the acknowledgment from her eyes he had so dearly wanted. The Karrian boy used his paws to correct his shirt, ensuring it was tucked into his slacks again as he took a couple of quick steps to be at his companion's side; looking a little long faced to express his concern. The two had not had a chance to speak since they escaped DeltaStar, being that Kayla writhed in silent pain during her initial treatment and hid away as soon as she could. Despite Jacob's fear of a cold shoulder greeting him, Kayla hid away the fact she was reading into him just as he was reading into her, just to see how he was doing.
"I've been so worried about you. Certainly hope you're not upset with me.", the young doctor tried to talk to her, keeping his voice down, yet hasty with the limited time they had. Traveling through the corridors of the U.S.S Tillman at a fair pace, they weren't far from the transporter room they had first arrived in. Much to his kind heart's relief, Kayla cracked a tired smile even if it was ever so tiny. It looked weary when placed upon her dirty muzzle fur; eyes seeming to be someplace else entirely.
"Just not feeling well. If you're worried about my mother, I'll handle it. You held your tongue like a Penitatas; we're quite the bad influence on you. I couldn't have asked for more.", Kayla attempted to convey as if she was relaxed, but every few words there would be a slight discrepancy in tone. Jacob could pick up on the fact she was only trying to hide her actual feelings and pain, even when telling the truth. Her mother's discovery could have only compounded the confused, roaring thoughts within that brilliant head of her's. Maybe it would have been easier if she was angry with him, if only to at least have somebody to blame.
"I bet a better Penitatas would have thought of something better to say if they were intent on avoiding punishment. But that's only your dirty laundry. What about Velius? What happened, and you?", Jacob pressed a little, minding the fact he had to be very cautious. He was sure to sound gentle with his genuine concern, even if he was quite worried for her sake; walking with such a forlorn face, still seemingly trying to hide her right paw in the pocket of her denim pants. She had been quiet and distraught before Emily probed too deeply into their personal affairs. It left him wondering what he could do to help her recover from her experience. What was she thinking about? What she felt?
"And your paw. You keep hiding it.", he motioned down with his left hand's index finger, trying not to break his eyes from her face to make it seem like he was staring at it. The bit of exposed black canine skin sticking out from her pocket disappeared as she shoved the rest in, leaving only a hint of discolored and burned fur on her wrist exposed. Kayla's face curled, turning her muzzle slightly away; coming off as embarrassed and defensive.
"Don't worry about it.", Kayla replied with a lower voice, saying it quickly to dismiss it without getting aggressive over the matter. She was trying so hard to bottle things up inside, the poor thing wouldn't even admit like a normal girl that she was shamed by the mutilation of her fur affecting her simple, pretty appearance. That it was caused by her being bested at her own mastered trait, and that memory of the pain lingered in her nerves to stiffen her fingers in nagging discomfort. It hurt worse than anything she had ever experienced. At least when she was raped, she slipped into an oxygen deprived unconsciousness without warning, and when she was shot it disrupted her nervous system to cause painless paralysis. The explosion she was forced to feel, burning and shredding away her skin with molten metallic shrapnel and plasma. Beyond that, Jacob had no idea what she had gone through within the fortress that was the DeltaStar banking platform. No one did, as Kayla turned to evasion - trying to stay strong and perfectly stoic. Damn it Kayla, this wasn't like standing in front of your classroom to be punished! You don't have to act so unflappable, and hide the fact you're terrified and upset!
"Sorry. I didn't mean anything.", Jacob frowned somewhat in hushed apology at Kayla's side, not getting more than a few more steps more before reaching the transporter room on the Tillman's sixth deck, where they had been staying. There hadn't been enough time to try and talk to her, or wait things out to see what would make her feel bad. Now the reptilian boy just wanted to sigh a long growl of frustration, but he kept his face as he stepped through the doorway behind their older counterparts. The precession passed the Tillman's Transporter Chief, his station beside the room's doors, headed straight for the transporters without dawdle. About to be thrust back into the fray, the tension swelled; a tremor barely noticeable from the paws deep within Kayla's pockets.
Stepping onto the lighted lattice of the transformer platform, warm and glowing, Jacob wished he could pull Kayla away from all of this, eying her subtle motions. Still sullied with blood, she would never be able to find peace until she was home - this endeavor over. The old Kayla was too good at being alone, making pushing people away that much easier when she felt vulnerable and wounded. Was that it? A taste of the older Kayla?
"Prepare for transport. We're leaving Earth's immediate orbit in one minute!", the older sort of Transporter Chief spoke gruffly and aloud from his control console off to the side of the transporter pad, ushering the individuals to assume their stance on the transporter pads. The small window of opportunity was their captain's order, with due reason. Two orbital defense platforms were within firing range if Velius happened to notice a matching warp signature from the vessel that escaped DeltaStar, comparing sensor records from the banking station. This was a get-in, get-out operation for the Tillman, in order to avoid meeting the same unfortunate fate of the U.S.S Capitol.
"Get us as safely inside the command building as you can, chief.", Lieutenant Brayden called back, turning on his transporter pad as the others took their places. Most of the Starfleet compound, including all three central buildings, was fairly transporter resistant by intentional construction. With the situation as it was, Lieutenant Brayden was forced to keep his team on board the U.S.S Tillman while they watched over their prisoner, Peretti. Time was of the essence, not looking to place more lives in danger by pressing their transport time window to it's limit. The Tillman's Transporter Chief waved the Lieutenant off promptly with one hand, working on his console with the other, just to let Blaine know he heard him. Emily holding her purse, fur-brush handle still sticking harmlessly out beside it's strap, she made a quick look around to ensure all was accounted for; a last minute nervous reaction. On the pad beside her, Kayla stood with her head dipped down a bit and her eyes closed - the blood stained fur on the left side of her muzzle staring back at the motherly figure. The human woman turned her expression, making a face for just a moment.
"Energizing!", the old Transporter Chief announced loudly, syllable by syllable in the manner he said it, as his aged, wrinkled white fingertips jammed hard against the smooth transporter controls to slide them up and engage the emitters. Jumping them all on to their maximums for a quick transport, Kayla stifled a tiny squeal; the sudden static-like feeling shooting up her body and feeling less like a gentle ride on a river in the midst of her stiff cringe. Though, once that feeling disappeared, the enveloping feeling that came over her seemed much more familiar and calming. Opening her eyes to timid little slits, looking out through the milky sparkles of blue and white, she felt detached from the world. Now that, for once, felt like a wonderful thing; dancing on the molecular level through the contained matter stream.
For once having been willing to remain disassembled a while longer, re-materializing at her location did not bring about any of her expressive reactions of physical disgust. Her paws did not bat at any invisible faeries or blue sparkles, but remained in her pockets for the first time since people first began beaming her around. Now within a whole new location, the fox opened her eyes and examined with her ears, standing alongside the rest of the transporting party.
They ended up inside of a modern hallway, surrounded by sloped architecture dotted with the occasional colorful painting. Each one was encased in brilliant metal frames, displaying artwork and culture from different species and influential worlds - the mark of the progressive, open entity Starfleet was built to represent. The carpet, dark red, was lush under the pads of Kayla's feet, along a row of opaque glass automatic doors. It all looked simply administrative, but to Kayla it was high class. All she had was the Calleet Courthouse to compare it to. Blaine turned his head to look around, needing just a moment to gain his bearings. He was eager to continue forward, knowing it'd be safer for the moment to keep his entourage moving. Lingering thoughts of guilt left him feeling protective of the three civilians he brought with him.
"We're on the first floor, headed to sub-level two where the central computer is. We'll be better protected down there; there's tritanium plating beneath the command building.", Lieutenant Brayden broke the empty building's ambiance, giving a wave of his right hand for his accompaniment to follow. The three followed without question, but while Jacob understood what Blaine meant, Kayla and Emily were left with questions. Footsteps filled the hallway, as the carpet and decorative walls did not do much to deaden the sound.
"Protected? Why exactly?", Emily asked first, with her daughter keeping her thoughts to herself. Kayla's paws remained firmly in her denim pockets, fabric starting to bother the burnt fur follicles on her wrist; expression half between cross and focused, ears pivoting from time to time.
"If Velius can actually control the planetary defense platforms, he could turn it and level all of San Francisco just because Starfleet Headquarters is located here.", Blaine answered a pace ahead of her, his chillingly honest words bouncing off a couple curved columns along the walls. Jacob could have sworn Kayla started walking a little faster. Deep down he wanted to chuckle and point it out, but he was pretty sure she'd not appreciate it. Even the doctor didn't feel as calm and confident as he usually did.
"It's why the building is empty. They're supposed to evacuate to the lower levels during a crisis.", Jacob at least felt up to speaking. It made him feel better, which is why he wished Kayla would do the same instead of trudging along with her sort of scowling expression.
The four passed different rooms and hallway intersections, some articles scattered or dropped where they had been abandoned. Some glass doors were left open to empty desks, pictures of family standing upright upon their smooth marbled surfaces. Behind them, large sprawling windows revealed a sea of darkness; the moon being the only object to rule the sky. It was the first time any of them got to see the situation they had heard about, witnessing what felt like an apocalyptic scenario. Dim, empty building and sky, devoid of life. Emily for one clutched her purse and stared out the window each time they passed an open office door, with Blaine keeping the pace and Jacob observing from the rear to make sure nobody got lost. It did not take more than a minute or so to reach a room with a mechanical door; metal and differently shaped than the others. Lieutenant Brayden shoved it open without stopping, the three reading the words 'Emergency Stairwell' as they trailed close behind. Carpet suddenly turned to metal stairs, clanging under the quick steps of their feet. For Kayla, this was the first time she really wished she had her shoes, being that the stair surface was rough - brutal on her pads, not to mention abnormally cold. It took six flights to reach the first sub-level, then another five, metal bangs echoing deeper the further they went down the shaft. Emily frequently checked over her shoulder to make sure her rejuves in tow were making the trip alright, stopping at the bottom to rejoin Kayla's side. As the fox left the final step, she received a hand against her back and an assuring smile - both things the girl did not much reply to, but did not object. They were both feeling rather vulnerable, seeing the emptiness of the world above. Velius covered their world with a sheet, and there was no escaping his presence.
A metal door similar to the one above chirped an audible confirmation upon the Lieutenant's approach, unlatching just quickly enough to be shoved open without impedance. Inside, the floor turned to a plain, sterile white tile that felt strangely warm, along a wide corridor of stone gray walls. Here the doors were a flat, dark metal with a dull luster, looking as secure as they likely were, among bits of lit Federation-style control panels that brought the only color to this utilitarian place. While the air was artificially generated, the rumbling, muffled tones Kayla's ears detected were not. This floor was populated; their voices drowned out by air systems and thick metal bulkheads. Kayla figured this had to be it, the place where Starfleet Headquarters housed their physical computer system, and the place her days on the galactic-net ultimately came to an end. These would be the people who worked to stop her, sent armed Starfleet officers to her home, and provided the evidence for her trial. The Aspatrian was nervous enough to be nauseated, imagining that she already had a history with a location she had never seen or heard of.
"Looking good. Just ahead now.", Blaine announced from the front, Kayla slowing up to mere staggered steps in order to better take in her surroundings and deal with what would be beyond. Jacob noticed and was feeling happy to take the moment to talk to her, maybe answering some questions, but a nudge against Kayla's right shoulder from Emily brought her focus back forward. The fox looked up at her parent for only a brief second before pulling her eyes away; that sadder face from the Tillman melting into her tense expression. Jacob clenched his hands, hating that every possible moment to try and help his friend and companion was being disrupted by something. There was a lot to absorb here and a lot was being asked of her.
Past two moderately sized panels on the wall displaying status information, the group reached a door at the end of the short hall where it intersected with another. Open hallway to their left and right, a tap at the small vertical panel beside the door in front of them caused it to slide open to the left with a heavy hiss. Finally their steps slowed, entering their destination - Starfleet Headquarters' central computer system and control; Kayla's bane. The sight, sound, and smell was all Kayla's own, taking it in as she took a few paces past her family to see everything with a looser look across her muzzle. White and gray cover-panels dotted the side walls of the rectangular room, with several removed and laid against the floor as technicians in white coats worked with internal equipment and wiring. Straight ahead was a large display screen with two computer consoles positioned diagonally in front of it, overlooking the empty space in the middle of the immaculate, tiled room. From the screens and behind the protective panels that were taken down, brilliant flashes of green, red, and blue lights streamed seamlessly; the display showing error information about their deactivated galactic-net up-link. Men and women, primarily human, clean lab coats covering their Starfleet uniforms, worked diligently on their particular tasks in caring for the computer system that lined the inside of the walls. Kayla's blood tarnished face looked all around, quiet and amazed to actually stand in this place, soon catching the turns of others heads and the looks on their faces. Experienced in reading expressions, the Aspatrian could see they felt the same way she did - seeing something, or someone, they never expected to.
Off to the party's left, beside a small semi-opaque sheet of glass and matching door, the only other one in the central computer room, an older fair-skinned human man turned his head and did not stare as the others did. Instead a tiny smile appeared upon his mouth, turning on his black Starfleet boots with a wide sway of his open white lab coat; the sole figure of the room that wore it open, carrying such a large data-pad in his left hand. Beneath a head of thick black hair, quite possibly dyed at his age, he was a man of tall body and face; gentle motions and soft steps. Against the neck of his uniform, now immediately recognizable to all present, was a round, gold Commander's pin.
"Greetings Lieutenant. Thank you for being so prompt in bringing miss Ackart.", the gentlemen spoke with a soft voice, as well as an accent Kayla had some difficulty identifying. It sounded somewhat European, but so light that it didn't much stick out. The lack of initial hostility brought about a flick of her right ear, considering she was still nervous in such a place. Beside her, the main thought going through Emily's head was a distracted notion of being glad to have armor plating above her head, now scared of an orbital attack since it had been mentioned as a possibility.
"Kayla, this is Commander Santorae, the head of Starfleet Central Information. We spoke briefly before the satellite network failed.", Blaine looked down and added for his Penitatas volunteer's benefit, introducing the man as to not keep her in the dark. The older Commander knelt down in front of Kayla, dropping his height to her level in order to be polite. His wrists rested on his knees - the slight wrinkles appearing on his knuckles becoming more apparent, being so close.
"Yes. It looks like you have seen your fair share of Velius today already. Your resolve remains admirable, just as I remembered it to be.", Commander Santorae shared directly with Kayla, looking at the blood caked into her stained orange fur with a light, empathetic look on his face. Knowing she looked marred and battered, Kayla swallowed hard, ensuring her right paw was dug deep enough into her pocket to hide away all of the shame she felt. Though distracted, her tired blue eyes looked over the older human, analyzing his words about her resolve. He looked familiar, that face of his. With a moment of quiet, looking as if she was thinking very intently, her brow curled as she tilted her head with a more than curious outward reflection.
"You're the one who stopped me. I saw you in the courthouse, when those two officers were taking me out of my cell.", Kayla blurted out with a tone and volume lower than she usually utilized, realizing that the two had indeed crossed paths before. The Commander simply chuckled, soft and airy sounding, waving his right hand in expression where it remained on his knee. He appeared almost embarrassed, if not humbled.
"I played a role in defending this system, but I certainly did not stop you alone. That was impossible. It was a team effort to keep the automated defense systems operational. You came closer to seizing control than you may realize, but it at least was I who compiled the evidence and delivered it to Calleet.", he explained, accepting the direct responsibility for the events that occurred that fateful day. From there he made an apologetic frown, seeking not to upset his assistant.
"I am responsible for the height which you now stand. I'm sorry, for what needed to be done.", Santorae admitted for the sake of honesty. It did not bring him pleasure to upset another's life, but it did bring pride that a job was done, and an era had ended. Understandably tense and uncertain of what to say, Kayla gripped at the softer, lighter colored fabric inside of her pockets since she could not wring her paws together to relieve the anxiety that flowed up from her belly. Hearing what had been heard, she was aware her family's eyes were on her. Peretti was one thing, but this man, a person she unknowingly challenged, turned out to be kind.
"You did well sir.", Kayla nearly whispered it was so quiet, choked up by tense embarrassment and shame. Her eyes closed part way, tilting down with a dip of her muzzle. Jacob could see it in her face; she wanted to say she was sorry, but was frozen. Meeting face to face with another victim of her malice, she was forced to answer for the actions of Packet-Storm, a faceless entity hidden by the cloak of the galactic-net.
"All is different now, don't worry Kayla. I'm aware of the real person behind the title you had given yourself those decades ago. There is much trust in bringing you to this room. I know what we have sacrificed by letting you see it.", Commander Santorae worked to relieve the tension in the air, tapping the large data-pad against the bone of his lower left leg. Kayla understood where the man was going when he spoke of sacrifice. Above her though, still jumpy from the thought of potential imminent dangers, Emily did not at all understand what he meant; curling both of her eyebrows.
"What do you mean? You don't need to sacrifice anything for us.", Emily commented with a confused sound in her stiff voice, completely missing where the Commander was going. Kayla lowered her head a little further, ears about ready to start tilting back towards her skull. Across the older man's face, that smile he first had returned.
"A hacker's greatest challenge is uncertainty. Once they dive into a computer system or attempt to interfere with one's function, they do not know what will happen once they cross the threshold. The defenses or construction that awaits them upon engaging the device.", Santorae explained as easily as his mind could immediately think of, looking up from his crouching stance. Then, he gave a tiny shake of his head.
"Now that she has seen exactly what we have, how the central computer is comprised and how many people are working to maintain it, we would not be able to defend ourselves in the event Kayla attacked again.", he admitted with surprisingly no difficulty, signifying the degree of trust he had in the young hacker. Commander Santorae's gaze turned back to Kayla, sporting a hint more humor in his smile. There was something he'd like to hear, thinking of that note.
"Kayla, with the proper preparation, how long do you think it would take to capture Starfleet Central Information?", came a fairly blunt question. Deep inside the sharp edge of the query cut Kayla, inciting a quick tremble in the Penitatas' arms. It was because of those eyes she knew was watching. The extent of her abilities and their potential for evil was something she chose to keep to herself. Subdued, the Aspatrian did not raise her head or eyes in order to reply; seconds of silence ticking by.
"Less than five minutes.", Kayla admitted with obvious trouble, but wanted to be open with the truth as the man before her had been. All those around Kayla lifted their brows, including Emily, who had already seen the fox's talent first hand. The last bastion against Packet-Storm openly surrendered to her will, all to bring her in as an ally. It was something that had never occurred before, and strangely, it brought the fox no comfort in knowing that Starfleet Headquarters could crumble at her feet. There was no rush or mischievous thrill. She did not want their system, seeing that it would serve no purpose or drive. It was a huge change from years ago, when the thought of taking down the Earth's mighty technological fortress would have filled her with undying vindictive desire, just to prove someone was smaller than she was. Packet-Storm learned humility. The unfortunate thing was that she had to learn it the hard way.
"You can see how much faith we're placing in you. Don't let me down.", Santorae told the stiff Penitatas, reaching out with his free right hand. His aged fingers held open under his soft face and words, he sought to shake the paw of his once greatest nemesis. A hand outstretched in the name of cooperation and friendship, abandoning the past in hope for the future; a clear look into how this man thought. Timidly, Kayla's weak eyes turned back up towards the man's hand, uncomfortable and somewhat unhappy look straight across her muzzle. There were words lodged in her throat that would not come out. Without speaking what she wanted to speak, Kayla reluctantly pulled her burned right paw from the security of her jeans pocket and clasped her smaller, fur-less paw into the human's hold; shaking his hand. It hurt to bare her marred, blemished black canine skin to the vision of others but she couldn't have shook the man's right hand with her left.
Introductions complete, his staff already working diligently to modify and enhance the capabilities of the central computer system for a specific function, Commander Santorae got to his feet to continue with the plans he had underway. As he stood, the wrinkled skin of Kayla's marred paw slid by his own, allowing her to tuck it against her black shirt, cradling it into her belly with her left paw.
"Come. I have something you will want to see.", Commander Santorae spoke with a tilt of his head towards the semi-opaque glass door he stood beside earlier, inviting Kayla to follow him. Amidst the bustle of the computer room, Lieutenant Brayden stepped out into it to examine their progress and allow the fox and her loved ones to enjoy their moments before things got serious. Penitatas kept close to her guardian, at her side, Jacob was forced to continue taking up the rear as he followed, having not the desire to branch off away from the girl he joined this whole trip to take care of. Something inside of him feared a second DeltaStar incident, choosing not to let Kayla leave his watchful eyes without reason. Past the door, it closed behind to quell the sounds of work and leave the low ambiance of the rest of the sub-level to leak through portions of the ventilation system. Here the tiles were smaller and cooler, along a row of storage room doors and blue-hued walls. They were lead a short distance to the fourth door on the right, open to it's dark interior. Peering around Santorae's hanging coat, Kayla saw the room was tiled all the way up to the ceiling with tiny pewter squares; metallic pipes running along the walls in various places, with containers and pieces of derelict computer equipment scattered and littered about the room. Once the lights flickered on, it's purpose as a makeshift storage room became more apparent once the light reflected off the moist surfaces of the pipes, perhaps shunting coolant fluid to places around sub-level two. A shallow basin appeared in the back far corner of the room with bronze colored knobs instead of controls, looking to be a utility area for rinsing non-electrical equipment or buckets. It looked to have not been used for that purpose for a long time. Some feet in front of the doorway stood a large object covered by a protective shroud; left here in disuse. It was there that the older Starfleet officer stopped, turning to address his new colleague.
"I believe you will be needing this.", he announced as Jacob leaned against the room's metal door frame, watching Kayla and her mother. Without hesitation, Santorae grasped the shroud and pulled it off of what it protected - his gift in a way. Kayla's paws weakened their grasp on each other, her maw opening ever so slightly as the shroud crumpled on the ground behind what was being presented to her. It was an old friend. One which Kayla thought she would never see again, yet it sat here before her, having been condemned to a dingy utility storage room beneath Starfleet Command. Emily stood with uncertainty, but Jacob opened his eyes wide curiously at the idea of seeing a crucial object of yesteryear.
"Here?", the Karrian mumbled to himself, having his suspicions confirmed by his comrade's look of shock. In the light of the room, the device's wide central screen shined; still dull in it's corners, just as the day Packet-Storm left it. It was her console, the one Packet-Storm dominated the galactic-net with. A weapon of digital proportions and an extension of Kayla's self.
It sat whole, one wide display with two small side screens wrapping around a centralized seating point with the controls in the middle and custom keypads adjacent to it. The main typing surface was smooth like the displays of most modern panels, touch sensitive and unlit, but the adjacent axillary controls had physical buttons with a stray switch or two. A strange mix of modern and sub-modern technology, blended together from the scrap the unit appeared to have been constructed from. The sheets of metal that covered it's innards looked to have been cut by hand from different scraps. Despite the slight color variances it looked like a legitimate, fairly sizable console. Kayla's paws lifted, stepping forward to touch it's middle control panel.
"My baby.", Kayla shuddered out the words as airy as could possibly be uttered, unprepared for such a surprise. Emily was able to more easily figure out what this device truly was from her daughter's reaction, mouth tightening in annoyance with her referring to a weapon with such a fond notion. Santorae was not as much shocked, having seen the amount of personal work that went into it, but still had to stifle a bashful chuckle at her affections with the old thing.
"The plan is to interlink this console with our central computer, granting you our additional processing power and my support staff. Seeing that none of us are hackers, we'll create a secure gateway out into the galactic-net for you using a confidential relay satellite above San Francisco that has been offline since prior to the attack. You're at the center of our entire offense and defense, Packet-Storm.", he explained his idea now that the necessary pieces had been revealed, speaking with his data-pad dangling between his thumb and forefinger. For the first time in hours, Kayla had a smile. A large one at that, beaming with a sort of excitement straight down to her core. She an her old companion would dance once more.
"I can accommodate that plan and assist with the cross connection to her boards.", Kayla agreed, finding that to be a very wise decision; giving her the best arsenal of tools possible, going straight back to calling her console a 'she' as she used to. There would be no better machine for her to try and stop Velius with than the one she had known since it was barely a box on her living room table. Her original operating system and programs - the real deal, not the small things she coded since her incarceration with a 'P' on the backs of her paws. A lifetime's work sat within this device. Thinking of that, Kayla's face shifted and her brows curled, peering up at Commander Santorae while she leaned against her console, paws on it's blank, dark controls.
"Now you didn't touch this thing, did you?", Kayla questioned in a protective gripe, shifting her tail from side to side against her legs. If someone went and tried to dissect her hacking console, there would be no guarantee it would even work. That, and nobody touched her baby. Behind her, Emily gripped her purse a little tighter, reaching up with her left hand to squeeze the bridge of her nose, just as Jacob usually did with the bridge of his muzzle when he was getting stressed. Small notions and tones from Kayla's voice had been bothering her parental senses all day, and her charge's behavior over being reunited with something she caused so much harm with was getting under her skin. In the rear, Jacob just found it amusing to see Kayla loosen up some. Good for her!
"Minimally. The encryption of the memory centers is insane, and actually activating the unit requires voice authorization we couldn't break. The only evidence I got from it was the fact it existed. It has sat here ever since it was taken from your home.", the older Commander was forced to relent a truthful response, admitting that there wasn't anything they could have done with a device that turned into a brick without it's sole, designated user. This sort of work she still took a great deal of pride and joy in, making it a nice thing to hear. Even having left it behind, it was still relevant and formidable. It's not like she had the pleasure of ever discussing it with another person before; even Andrew from school was far too novice to appreciate a chunk of perfected programming or seen her real work. To speak this openly and intelligently was something of a rare luxury.
"Fourteen billion bit encryption, further protected by the cypher checking a cyclic-output pin coming off a sub-processor to make sure it's my system attempting to access the data.", the ex-hacker could have nearly giggled in young pride, stroking the control panel with a toothy grin.
"I got bored one day.", Kayla decided to announce for her own benefit, slipping in a bit of 'shock factor'. Many of the things that used to fuel her involved doing things simply because she could. As observant as the Aspatrian was when it came to reading humans, she swore she got a tiny twitch out of Santorae's left cheek.
"Bored... a day?", Commander Santorae caught himself somewhat mumbling, unsure of how the heck something like that would even be possible, much less done 'just because'. It became painfully obvious that the Penitatas before him made a living out of this, occasionally with awkward motivation. The old Packet-Storm was certainly a reclusive introvert, and this machine was physical proof of it. Kayla and Santorae's meeting brought about memorable moments for both, past crashing into present, but Emily wasn't seeing it that same way. Watching the criminal entrusted to her guidance take such positive feelings about her old ways and harmful creations soured her stomach. The Penitatas parent had grown tense enough over the matter that she was already toying with the end of the wooden fur-brush handle sticking out of her purse, like a memorized reaction. It was the last thing she wanted to see out of Kayla, arrested and sentenced for the same things she was unfairly taking pleasure in while a hacker tormented their loved ones. It was selfish, and an insult to those cowering beneath Velius' actions - or so she interpreted. Emily had no idea if her husband was safe, and here was Kayla taking pride in her days as a hacker? She wouldn't stand for this - emotions running high in the wake of DeltaStar, bringing tensions and impulsive behaviors to a peak.
Gritting her teeth in anger, Emily motioned for Commander Santorae with her forehead and mouthed a request to have a moment alone with Kayla, keeping in mind her furred daughter's keen sense of hearing. Not wanting to be in the way or disrupt his colleague's family dynamic, Santorae was prompt in granting her guardian's request, stepping off for the door to take his leave, while Kayla stood with such a light smile over her old console. In the light, she could just see her reflection off the panels, unaware her mother was irritated as she re-lived images of a life since past. Turning over her shoulder, Emily made her orders to Jacob that much more prompt and simplistic, raising her right arm and extending a finger - pointing for him to leave. Seeing her fingers actively grasping at the handle of Kayla's brush made him upset in his partner's defense, not readily willing to obey Emily's sudden, brash order. Stepping forward with one foot, right hand firm against the metal door frame, the doctor tilted his head down and replied with an excessively cross stare of his own; green reptilian brows curled sharply and his nostrils threatening to flare above his sharp teeth. 'Don't do this', his scowl warned, seeing no reason to bring any harm to Kayla for simply finding happiness in something. There was nothing at all wrong with that! Emily firmly disagreed in the same silence they began arguing in, throwing that same finger towards him then back out down the hallway with an aggressive snap, demanding that he leave immediately. The woman he had come to know was nearly red in the face from making so many expressions and hard motions, obviously mad as a hornet at the offenses she perceived. Her hand wrapped itself around the handle of the brush, pulling it out half way while still staring down the Karrian as if to threaten both their hides if he didn't obey promptly. Clearly there was no chance of seeing eye to eye, and not an attempt on the human woman's part.
Not wanting to make the situation worse, Jacob found his forward foot retreating back to the door's entryway. Displeased and increasingly angered himself, the look across his face stiffened into that of a soundless snarl, gracing Emily's general direction with a cold, piercing glare as he took another reluctant step back. She was given that treatment until Jacob slowly slipped away from view, quietly leaving for the central computer room under intense protest. The thought of breaking Kayla's spirit down choked him up, written all over his face and body language. Medicalos and not a Penitatas, he was under no obligation to agree with every parental order she laid down. Over-reactive woman looked into Kayla's innocence and saw what she wanted to see, rather than what it really was. After what they had been through, walking down the side-hallway with his hands clenched, growling under his breath was all he could do to hold his tongue.
With Kayla's back turned for a quiet moment against the computer console she called her own, Emily quietly slid the rest of the Aspatrian's fur-brush from it's resting place within her purse. The wooden implement free, the parent flipped the brush in her nimble hand to a ready position, thrusting her free hand out to catch Kayla off guard and lay down prompt law. The rough, hard kind she normally felt Kayla so rarely warranted. Before the small Aspatrian girl understood what was going on, feeling a sudden heavy squeeze upon her upper left arm, there was a pull and a violent blow to the back of her right thigh that exploded in the quiet of the room as hard wood impacted a denim-clad leg. Her bare footpaws already stumbling upon the tiny tiles from being grabbed so quickly, the initial blow to her leg was more than strong enough to knock it out from under her, buckling without even the chance to brace itself. Brush swung with the maximum force permitted to Emily, the sting and bruising strike blazed through Kayla's stiff jeans; shock-wave rippling through her flesh at unseen speed to cause a sudden screech uncharacteristic to the Penitatas' normal reaction. So painful and unexpected, her instinct was to squirm and try to leap away from the source of agony, but had been held firm by tightly squeezing fingers.
"How dare you act like that! Showing affection to something you harmed people with! Where's your compassion?!", the enraged parent yelled, muscles taut throughout her body as her right arm swung heavy blows aimed for the backs of her daughter's thighs and bottom. As soon as the pounding spanks against her were understood, Kayla cried out 'Emily!', desperately and sharply in the middle of her mother's yelling, drowned out by the words above and the loud swats of the brush against her blue jeans. The flat surface of the brush came quick and with significant power, to the extent that Kayla was fearful of her tail receiving a blow. Such an impact would surely snap it, which sent her tail up and off to the side, against the intense urge to lower it protectively over her backside. Kayla's body leaned forward, right leg loose, held upright only by Emily's hold on her upper arm as she was swatted with a vengeance. Teeth bared by the pained wrinkle of her muzzle, the fox fought to keep her eyes open as she struggled to turn around under the constant flail of her brush hitting her with such bruising weight, roughly and randomly filling her with bolts of fiery agony that throbbed without a delay. Panic kept her tense, heart racing.
"It's not like that! Stop! Emily, stop!", Kayla shouted in her defense, wanting her parent-in-discipline to desist and listen as her voice jumped to a higher octave as she cried out. The tears were burning into her barely open eyes, choked back only by the fox's will when it came to the intensity and rough nature Emily was using against her. Her feet slid and kicked, trembling and barely able to try and stand. It was the sort of thing she would have seen a miscreant or purely malicious Penitatas get as prompt penance for their crime - but it was Kayla who felt wronged. Her own thoughts already fragile, the pair was sure to clash as their means of handling stress went two different directions. Those pleas for audience went ignored; Emily spanking as hard as she could, struggling against her Penitatas to keep the girl upright and turned appropriately to have access to beat beneath her tail.
"This machine is evil, just as what you did with it! But you'll stand there and smile about all of it?!", Emily ranted with significant accusations, swinging the fur-brush in her tight hand with a mother's solid conviction. Blow after blow to her wiggling, squirming legs, her whole body trembling straight down to her fingers, Kayla growled out a sudden teary sound as it became too much to bear; the next hard smack to the seat of her jeans enough to knock what was left out of her legs and send her towards her knees. Being that Emily had such a hard, exceptionally uncomfortable grip over Kayla's upper left arm and the sleeve of her black shirt, the abrupt pull towards the ground and additional force from the fox's feet finding traction against the ground broke the older human's balance. Grunting, she had to hold back a swat as it stopped half-way, quickly reeling her arm back to the air to re-torque for another blow as the two struggled.
"You're wrong!", Kayla's head snapped up, muzzle in a half-snarl and cheeks tearing up, yelling with her tear stricken voice with anger in her eyes. No, she wouldn't let herself be railroaded over this. As a Penitatas would rarely dare, she defied her guardian, arm pulling as hard as it could while her body kicked, trying to guard her legs. With all the yelling, the violently grabbing and moving pair looked more like squabbling hens than mother and child, both feeling equally right.
"You can't punish me for loving my creation! It's never done any wrong!", she shouted as clearly as she could within that storage room, struggling alone with her mother as the sobs wanted to break her words. The one who committed evil was she, not the computer that stood beside them. Having pride should have been alright, she meant no disrespect to anyone. Emily did not understand, and for that, it tore her up.
"Your baby?! I don't think so; roll over!", Emily retorted with the angriest of yelling, falling down onto her right knee in the struggle to keep Kayla restrained. Her face cringed, bone meeting the tiled floor, pain masked by adrenaline as she swatted with the brush at any open opportunity she could find - catching Kayla's left lower hip with a forceful spank that brought the fox to cry out a sound and squirm her leg more quickly.
"I tell you when you deserve something, not the other way around!", the Penitatas parent demanded, reminding the girl cowering and fighting with her who was in charge. Who did this Penitatas think she was? There was no immediate cooperation, so without any further waiting her left hand and arm twisted, thrusting the eight year old Aspatrian around onto her right hip with a violent pull. Under her fingers, Kayla winced at the feeling of a few strands of fur being torn out from such a motion, squirming with her weight to try and turn away and break free of Emily's hold. She sobbed with desperate sounds, not like that of a repentant, bawling and well-disciplined Penitatas, but more like a child that felt squashed and held down, fighting to free themselves from a terrible pain. Kayla upon the ground, looking up all she could see was the underside of Emily's left sleeve as the distinct beating of her fur-brush against her jeans again graced her flattened ears. She screeched out again, now barely able to move or roll over to shield her bottom and legs from the volley where she was pinned. They popped loudly, nearly echoing through the room, filling the small girl with enough pain to make her want to outright beg. Her legs shook, toes curled as they scraped against the small tiles; body attempting to curl up as a natural response under her mother's scorn.
"I... !", Kayla tried to continue to cry out in her defense, but suddenly kicked her legs with so much force Emily's grip on her arm and upper body buckled; the pain too intense even through her jeans, as the brush swatted shock-waves of ache deep to the bone and straight through her denim clothing, coating straight down where ever it chose to fall. It ached as if she had been ripped open - a harsh spanking for certain, that she struggled not to receive. Surely even a dozen switch lashes would have been better, and definitely not as rough.
"I didn't have friends! Family! You don't understand!", she tried to scream again, arguing with her parental figure to see that there was nothing bad about her feelings. Those words shouted so quickly to get them out, they were broken in a haze of her tears as she was given another swat of her brush against the side of her left thigh; the two struggling to both hold or avoid one another in this disciplinary dance against the tile. Emily's fingers slipped from Kayla's arm, taking hold of the fox's shirt sleeve to tug there instead amongst all of the squealing and sounds of movement. The black fabric stretched, Kayla's chest heaving beneath, trying so hard to stop getting struck as her mind raced through memory and the throbbing, crushing pain in her two young legs.
"Kayla!", Emily scolded in irritated disbelief she was fighting to spank her typically repentant daughter like this, breathing heavy and awkwardly trying to keep the strangely strong Aspatrian in an appropriate position. The kicking of the girl's legs threatened to strike her, feeling Kayla expending all her strength to try and pull away, as if to roll onto her back and get off her side, to again block her brush. Not willing to stop, the brush spanked at the side of her exposed thigh, swat after swat, quickly punishing that one spot to bruise it and force Kayla to roll over and accept what she had coming - and boy did she have it coming.
"My husband is out there! Everyone's children! And they could all die! You have no right to pride!", the human shrieked, hovering over Kayla to grab her, brush twitching in the air from the rush of blood surging through her body, waiting for the right time to strike again. Terrified and tearful, Kayla's tail tucking itself hard against her pants no matter the danger to it, her paws reached out to grasp at what ever she could of her parent's clothing, or the hand that held her. It was a scene more violent than intended, each vying for power over this session of Penitatas justice; both yelling and upset, taken to the edge by all that they experienced. Through the slits of her eyelids Kayla peered, blurry from crying even if she held most of it all back deep within, she saw the brown of her wooden fur-brush above, Emily bringing it down by a couple inches before bringing it back up as she fought to get a proper swatting opportunity. Teeth gnashing, Emily pulled Kayla's shirt hard enough to snap a couple of threads, hurling the heated rejuve onto her right shoulder with enough force to hurt. It was a sudden, brisk motion, but Kayla was not deterred. Arms flailing for position against Emily's abdomen, shoving under the arm that pulled her, the fox experienced one more heavy swat to the base of her rear, pinching a few strands of fur from her tail. As soon as it's ache exploded, numbing and slowing the jerk of her legs, the child almost instinctively dove her paws for the brush as it left her jeans.
"Please, listen to me!", Kayla begged, even if it sounded much like a tear-stricken demand, fingertips first grazing the bristles of her fur-brush. Emily tried to jerk it away once there was a hindrance in withdrawing the wooden brush to the air, but the Aspatrian's fingers from both her good paw and her burned paw gripped the tool tightly. Kayla pulled, squirming to get off her hip and onto her knees; Emily caught off guard by Kayla's abrupt seizing of the brush, now finding herself trying to get the damn thing back. The tips of the bristles bit into the skin of Kayla's bare right paw, black skin indenting visibly to each thin, sharp rod, while her left paw grabbed the handle and her mother's hand with force. In a swift motion, the two were nearly joined - Kayla sliding on her jeans to a semi-sitting position, unable to make it to her knees, upright with her feet off behind and her knees bent to her side. Her head dipped at the feeling of sitting on the bruises her mother left beneath her jeans, but her muzzle turned back up with a sad plea and pain-laden eyes. Kayla held that brush with all her might, pulling towards her chest for leverage... it would not take the brush away, and she knew that. But it stopped the spanks, and forced her mother to look her in the eyes.
"That machine is all I ever had! My only real accomplishment my whole life! It was my only friend in the world; she's been with me since I was little!", Kayla delivered hastily, passion filling her tearfully damaged tones. Emily's grip on the brush was much stronger than that of a child's, making the task of restraining it difficult. The bristles were surely cutting into her injured, marred paw, but that did not seem to show up in the Aspatrian's expression and quivering jaw. And, despite all the struggling and disobedience, the look across her muzzle and face was nothing more than submissive, ears flattened to the point they shook. The lip of her muzzle curled, and desperate tears trickled over orange fur and chalky red dried blood.
"You let go!", Emily ordered with more difficulty than before, wearing herself out and looking increasingly upset; face red and eyes not looking as good as they did before. Unable to pull the brush away, hearing tiny scrapes of the bristles against Kayla's paw from her attempts beneath all of the shuffling and breathing ambiance, the human's left hand darted from her girl's arm straight for her paws. The one that tried to hold her own, the fox's left, furred paw, grabbing it and jamming her thumb into the back of it. Kayla grit her teeth and whimpered, arms shaking as her fingers threatened to lose their grip.
"I built it with my own two paws! I would have never even learned your language if not-... !", Kayla continued on, before being interrupted by a twinge of pain and the need to hastily change her grip. Her left paw had been forced open by the heavy press into the bones in the back of her paw, bringing the fox to lunge her upper body forward and get her whole left arm beneath her mom's own. Leaning in, she shifted her weight downward in force, taking her right paw from the brush bristles to tightly hold Emily's wrist between her body and her arms. Pinned and forced into a leaning position from where she knelt, Emily growled in frustration, this time immediately grabbing instead for Kayla's left ear. No more of this! With a grab and a twist, Emily pulled the Aspatrian's fox ear back from where it laid against her head, using her hand's position to also press her thumb into the pressure point behind Kayla's ear. For the fox's sensitive ear, that was far too much agony for her to deal with; a last ditch effort, likely intentionally taught to Penitatas parents to handle aggressive situations. Defeated, shrilly growling and making this strange, tiny canine howl, the act trembled her entire small body but did not break the grip in which she hugged Emily's arm to her chest. Face muscles and eyes clenched tight, the tears flowed easily under the simple, yet terrible grip and pull her mother hand on her poor ear. After a moment Kayla's jaw again trembled as she tried to speak; her will to speak urging to be listened to.
"She's the only thing I have to show for forty years... the only thing that stayed when others disappeared! I raised myself with it! I was the only one who did wrong, and making it was not a bad thing! It was a terrible life and I starved, but I at least survived and made myself feel less alone! Don't take that away by calling me evil!", Kayla's voice broke, dropping in volume as she sobbed it all out, head now throbbing as intensely as her legs. Welts burning against the seat of her jeans, arms aching and locked, those words were the sole things her tired, battered, clouded mind could think of. It was the inside of her heart, and all the things she came to learn about her old self. Encouraged by the pain, all sorts of bottled thoughts and feelings surged and swirled. Emily was left with tension in her face, working to regain her breath while silently pressing behind Kayla's ear, pulling and abusing the thin flap of cartilage and skin. Her hand, though, grew weightless and numb, forced to hear Kayla's reasoning. She didn't call Kayla evil, just her actions, and the device she constructed. Coming down to it, she did sort of accuse Kayla of being evil too... didn't she? None of these words dealt with being a hacker, or her glory days, but of hardship and filling the gap in her life with an inanimate friend. The pride that beamed from her eyes was from her creation, not what the creation was eventually used to do.
"You just see her as a weapon, not the love I put into her! Fuck, even I am a weapon! My kidnappers thought I was one, and now so does everyone else throwing me at Velius! You're no different!", the stricken Penitatas growled out with more trouble, finding anger and sadness mixing in those thoughts. She felt misunderstood, now finding she had a better grasp on what was right and wrong about her ability. It was what you did with it, not the skill itself.
"No one that asked for my help was selfish, but because of it I saw a lot of people die! I watched the Capitol be destroyed; that nice Captain and all those people we saw! I almost died from the explosion and a turret, and had that console go up in my face! Look at me! I'm covered in blood, missing fur... I look like a monster!", her voice slowly ramped up in volume, pausing and sobbing with sharp intakes of air from time to time. Kayla's head stayed down, leaning against Emily's arm as she held it in a death grip, crying and sputtering. Her parent's hand loosened it's hold on Kayla's ear, coming free of the pressure point behind it to find it didn't change the fox's tears nor tension. Killed? She saw all of that, and experienced near-murder so many times while she was alone on DeltaStar? Emily was nearly frozen. Her daughter held all of that inside, took enough time to enjoy an old memory, and Emily herself went and fell off the deep end.
"You... ", Emily began to mutter above, voice shaken as her blood continued surging without her responding to it and her resounding fears, but Kayla went on.
"Five minutes... nobody had even five minutes for me, just to let me wash off the blood! The Earth can spare me five minutes after making me watch so many people die! They're never coming back! And I... !", Kayla broke down, letting loose her pains until she could no longer. At the end, still mid thought, the Aspatrian fox fell into a fit of crying as she so desperately held her mother's arm; the wooden brush now still against her shirt. The sounds of struggle and anger all but gone, it was replaced by the sad wail of a young girl. Hidden away against Emily's arm, her purse crumpled against the ground with articles spilling from it, Kayla's maw quivered while open, sobbing and crying aloud. Not the sound of a disciplined Penitatas or bawl of a Kindern, it was the sound of heart ache and mourning. Emily grit her teeth once more, but this time it was to choke back a tried sob; eyes admit-ably watery after all that. She was all too aware she let Kayla down, jumping down her throat with assumptions. She didn't know! Before saying a word, Emily sighed deeply, placing her left hand against Kayla's back to pull her close to her chest, allowing her to keep a tight hold on her arm. Saying anything at all was so very hard after what she had done, listening to and feeling Kayla's deep lament.
"I made a mistake.", Emily eventually swallowed and whispered, jaw tense as she looked into the fur atop Kayla's head. Back when Kayla had been caught fighting in school and dabbling in her old hacking business around the time Dianne was arrested and tried, Emily had let the fact she was upset get to her. Just like then, she got too harsh and ignored Kayla's needs. Not every memory was pleasant, reminded of her failures as a guardian for this poor girl. They were rare, but remained inexcusable. This time her daughter nearly died, had been paraded around to be "used", had her relationship with Jacob exposed... nothing was ever easy for Kayla, and she didn't bother to talk to her about any of it, simply expecting her to be quiet, respectful, and helpful to all those that moved her about like a sheep. Emily's worries, and maybe the knowledge of Kayla's secret, inevitably got the best of her. For that, she felt like a fool.
"It's alright now, let it out. I'm sorry.", she encouraged with a much softer and quieter voice, resisting the need to bite her lip. Kayla's hiccuping cries were muffled by her shirt and chest, her hand stroking along the fox's back to soothe her until eventually coming to a rest behind her head.
The parent cradled her girl's head to her bosom, not having the heart to interfere with Kayla's quiet, likely difficult moment till the tears slowed; weeping out of fear and loss. Kayla may have grown up in solitude, but it seems she never really wanted it to be that way. Confused, vindictive, and reclusive, she hid away until she was thrust into a new childhood as a convicted criminal. As intelligent as the Aspatrian she had been tasked with disciplining was, it was sometimes too easy to forget she was the product of a very unnatural lack of any upbringing. Raped and abused, escaping a horrible world only to be alone - an insignificant speck on an intimidating, far away planet, just to end up in a place like this. Emily imagined those darker, horrible tragedies and years, seeing how Kayla would stay close to the things she loves and the memories that bring her joy.
It took some time, but Kayla's tears soon grew weak, slowing and quieting with her mother's embrace. Her body radiated heat from their scuffle, tense and uneasy, staying as a constant reminder to Emily of the distress she accidentally caused. Looking down as much as her head could, Kayla's folded ear she pulled just beneath her chin, she thought of the words she wanted to use, trying to think before she said something else she'd want to take back.
"I'll give you more than five minutes. You're the volunteer; I shouldn't have pushed you so much back at home, and never would have if I had known what would happen. You and I... we just had a misunderstanding. I didn't think about you first, and I get too strict when I'm not feeling right.", Emily sought to gently and calmly explain in the wake of her apology, adding a light rocking motion while she spoke; voice airy and troubled enough to almost sound teary, Kayla's keen hearing could detect. That slight tremble in a few syllables tipped her off, getting the young fox to open her eyes a little against the darkness of her parent's t-shirt. On a day like this, after all she had seen, all she really wanted was some attention, love, and understanding. What she had been told at least cut the air, even if it was extremely hard to let her guard down; arms and paws still clenched solid around Emily's arm and the brush she held. Emily though made a hint of a grin, looking down with her reddened eyes as she attempted to cheer up her charge.
"I fucked up.", she uttered with a slight difficulty, being so out of character.
"As you would say, on your more swear-happy days.", Emily concluded, dropping her usual staunch parental linguistics to share a moment. Even though she was still sniffling and softly sputtering, Kayla made what sounded like a muffled snicker for a brief moment within Emily's embrace. Those Aspatrian ears had never before heard her mother swear before, and the humor of the sudden nature was not lost on her.
"I'll let you keep your brush, but I need my arm back. Okay?", she was sure to suggest carefully, offering to relinquish Kayla's fur brush from her hand to ensure no further swatting would ensue if the girl let go. Kayla's motions were slow, but she steadily released her grip; finding her arms stiff from holding so hard. As her paws pulled away, they slid the wooden brush from the palm of Emily's hand, coming to rest protectively against Kayla's chest. From there, she looked up, eyes and cheeks soaked amidst an uncertain, worn frown. At least Kayla was looking at her, Emily thought, now that their unintentional conflict had been stopped.
Thinking about what this storage room provided her, Emily stood up with a raised index finger to ask for a moment, heading back to the door to close it while she collected her purse. There may have not been a soul around, but she wasn't about to risk embarrassment or further discomfort; the door sealing with a metallic clang once it slid shut. Clutching her wooden fur-brush like a scolded puppy, the fox merely watched, accepting direction once her mother returned to her side.
She was lead gently by the shoulder across to the far corner of the storage utility room, silent between loose, wet sniffles. Taking into mind the water spigot and shallow basin inset into the tile floor, rising up out of it a mere two inches, Emily could at least grant Kayla the washing up she wanted, even if it was an improvised one due to being stuck underground far from home. Stopping beside it, the basin looked visibly chalky, and the water valves were crusted with minor decay in their lack of use; things like buckets and broken bits of hose sitting within a few paces, visibly dry and unclean. Willing to let go of it, seeing as Emily wasn't about to strike her again, Kayla placed it on the slightly curved edge of the basin to be used for it's other, lighter purpose of straightening her orange and white bits of fur.
"Let's get this blood of you.", Emily went straight to work, kneeling down beside the basin to give Kayla a bath, like old times, offering her hands to assist in stripping the younger's clothes. She tasked herself with removing Kayla's shirt, slipping it over her head and damp cheek fur, while Kayla removed her jeans and underwear as soon as her arms were free. Their motions were less than fluid, remaining on edge and shaken by their emotional states. At least in this position, in private with the parent she confided in, it did not bring her any additional discomfort by being reduced to getting bathed rather than her new privilege of showering alone. No way would she turn down a helping hand to take care of her and wash the blood from her tarnished fur; she'd rather have it this way, to relax and get to feel safe for a few moments. Kayla's tail tucked stiffly against her bottom and legs, bushy but scraggly, still protecting the painful welts and bruises that felt too swollen to touch with her paws. Only wanting to examine, Emily reached around placed the back of her hand weightlessly against the back of her girl's left upper thigh, at the base of her rear, to check how tender it felt. Just the initial press seemed to make Kayla wince a little, bringing Emily to withdraw her hand. It was not horrible like it would have been if the fox allowed her to pound such a severe lesson in through her jeans, but the flurry of swats that did make contact each left their own bruise.
"Let me see if I... ", the concerned parent mumbled, turning to reach for her purse, only to stop with a sudden drop of her shoulders and frustrated sigh. She had already forgotten she had no nano-lotion, when only hours ago it was a well known fact. She felt like she was losing it, forced to turn her eyes back to Kayla with an apologetic look across her weary face. The quiet made Emily feel that much more foolish, the two girls just staring eye to eye.
"I will have to ask a favor of Jacob. He'll be furious with me.", Emily spoke a bit more quietly, face more sour and towards the expressionless side while she made an open handed gesture for the basin. There would be no hiding what happened from him, once he seems the remnants of punishment left upon Kayla's legs. Left without any sort of prompt relief, Kayla stepped over the two inches of rim sticking out of the floor and worked to sit down steadily, since the throb could not be helped. Those tiny blue tiles so hard, it took the support of both her paws as well as the press of her feet against the slope of the small basin to ease herself down carefully enough to not thoroughly abuse the aching spots that dotted her behind. The discussion growing towards the realm of open and frank, the fox worked on her urge to speak her mind as her weight sank into the basin and her limbs were able to begin relaxing. It was not the most comfortable seat, but the marks were fresh and deep enough to feel numb under pressure.
"Speaking of Jacob, and furious... ", Kayla sighed grumpily and weakly, tilting her head off to the side as the water began to flow from a narrow bit of piping near her left hip. It splashed noisily against the tile until the water flowed freely, free of air in the line, to begin soaking the fur around her bottom, legs, and tail. It was cool, seemingly unable to get much more than lukewarm. Those couple of things were all the fox needed to say before getting a reply, as Emily waved the thought off with her hand to show she understood. The notion of her Penitatas having a boyfriend or any sort of similar relationship violated the principals and rules at the core of what Kayla had to obey during the course of her incarceration. It was universally forbidden. Re-raising a young criminal was intended to be strict and focused, disallowing sexuality and intimacy; such adult notions were for those who were grown, or had level-heads as more voluntary rejuvenated individuals.
"Yes, I'm not happy. I'd bet it's not new either. I'm trying not to imagine what went on behind my back for now, it's best we don't get into it.", Emily answered honestly, noting her irritation through her tone, but her present intentions through her hands as she cupped them beneath the flowing fall of water. Fingers and palms dripping, she raised them first to the blood smear along Kayla's left cheek and muzzle, finding the dried blood already mixing with tiny bits of prior tears. Firmly rubbing with her thumbs to break the flecks of blood up, the moistening of the red spot did not cause it to wash away from her fur the way Emily would have liked. Kayla's face stayed tight, eyes clenched and unable to reply with such hard rubbing beneath her eye, ears half-lowered until Emily ceased her attempt. Taking in a deep breath, Kayla reached up and touched the spot once her mother's hand moved away to sift through her purse. It was becoming easier to look at her mother, tension fading as her attention helped her to relax, but trying to feel herself again was a different matter; expression drooping.
"You and I will have a long talk about it. I promise.", Emily's voice relented, feeling the need to fill the silence with something as to keep the air from growing heavy. It was parental, and a "talk" meant she was likely going to face consequences of some sort, but it was left open ended and softly spoken like a reassurance. Not exactly a feel-good thing to ponder but Kayla assumed Emily was trying to let her know that the issue will be handled in due time, and not to remain over her head the way it was now. A few items in the older human's purse rattled and clacked, ceasing when Emily lifted a thin, small capacity bottle filled with a semi-clear, thick fluid. To a trained eye, the discreet container's contents were easily identifiable as liquid soap, stored in a convenient travel container for those necessary punishment moments on the go. It didn't shock Kayla that Emily had some soap with her at all times, but it did make her think about the lengths the Penitatas Justice Department went to make sure the stuff was simple and portable. A slight lingering worry tickled the lining of Kayla's throat, being that she did let a less than nice word loose mere minutes ago.
"This stuff is for discipline, but it's still soap. I guess it would still work for cleaning.", Emily considered aloud, looking at the clear vial between her thumb and forefinger. Water lapping at her now soaking tail, that doubt slipped back out of Kayla's mind, pleased that her language would be excused. It was easier to forgive her parent's overly emotional outburst of paddling, if her own overly emotional outbursts were also forgiven. The level of water filled to only that of a puddle as it drained from a small, grated hole between Kayla's orange thighs, giving her at least a tiny amount of cool water to sit in while a bit of soap and water were calmly and slowly mixed into her cheek by attentive fingers. Muscle tension missing from her face, it was apparent Kayla was trying to enjoy the massage that was freeing the dried blood left behind from the since regenerated gash. Busy working with only her fingers, lacking even the most basic of rag or sponge, the extra effort needed to wash out Kayla's fur gave Emily time to observe her daughter as she knelt in that little corner.
"Your computer. How did you come to make something like that yourself? I didn't know you felt so strongly about it, but I do guess it was your portal to the world outside your house.", she took the time to try and relate, shoving prior assumptions and conclusions aside to ask the source herself. Sounding curious and well-meaning, Kayla left her eyes closed to respond, soap running down the strands of fur on her neck.
"When I was very young, I could speak only a few non-Aspatrian words. Just enough to act like a neighbor's adopted child, getting food from that sweet old lady's garden I told you about, but she was getting on in years. She must have decided it was time to rejuvenate eventually. I tried to keep the garden alive by myself so I could keep eating the bits that were left, but I wasn't even ten yet.", Kayla began telling her tale, going into a period of time she generally did not discuss openly and was rarely asked about. A troubling period during the rough start of her life, it stayed buried down, left in the past. Water carefully splashed against her cheek and muzzle, the fox's expression did not change.
"The fruits and vegetables didn't fair well without her. Got so hungry I went looking for a new source one night, and found a scrap yard some distance from the home I came to inherit. It's out in the north-west outer edge of Calleet.", Kayla opened her left eye a bit once the suds and lather cleared out from around it, giving a directional clue as to where her home was. That part surprised Emily. Rinsing the girl's now orange fur, that was the first time she heard where the infamous Packet-Storm used to live; a mere stone's throw away her whole life.
"Incorporated Calleet, way up there?", Emily questioned to signify she knew of the location. There were a few facilities and industrial applications out that way, on the edge of an older residential district. Immediately the human envisioned the disused shuttle-ports, and the overgrown slabs of metal and asphalt where ships once landed. Suddenly she felt a little closer to the story of how a tiny Aspatrian refugee, orphaned and alone, ended up escaping from a likely illicit vessel to find residence here. Emily intentionally did not ask about where Kayla lived these years of getting to know her, trying to avoid bringing up how Kayla's life was before her arrest, being that it was a home she could not return to.
"That's the place.", Kayla confirmed, placing her paws upon the tops of her legs. Feeling increasing discomfort from her bruising backside, the change in sitting stance allowed her to learn forward just enough to relieve some pressure. Her tail slid wetly against the tile, fur streaming one direction as she shifted it over to her other side.
"That scrap yard became an important part of my survival. I saw it was a place people threw things away, but there was food. Edible food. Devices and things, all still useful, but wasted. Having reached out away from my home, it was one of the first things that made me hate this place.", came out with a bit more difficulty considering the message she had to deliver, for the take of telling the truth. Emily kept her hands busy, leaning down to wash some blood away from the burnt bits of fur over on Kayla's right paw, though her face did droop even if only a little. The observation of a Kindern, seeing the wasteful, greedy nature that sometimes overtook those whom lived upon utopia Earth.
"But I kept learning from the books I had been left, and eventually began trying to make use of some of the components I would find. I'm not an engineer, but I got experience in computers and basic schematic reading. When those parts would light up and come so full of life, making their sounds and requesting commands, I felt so much less alone.", Kayla's tone faded somewhat at first, until the tiny crack of a smile emerged from the ends of her muzzle. Again, a warm memory seemed to bring her comfort.
"I was so young, it actually felt like the devices and parts were thankful. I used my imagination to think of it like I was saving them, so that I'd have a purpose. Basically just a kid playing.", she sounded a hint bashful to come clean about, knowing well that it was a strange if not sentimental way of coming to start down the path that ended up in places much more sinister. On Emily's end it was also sad, being that it also meant the child Kayla had been didn't start off mean-spirited, and was lonely enough to find comfort in inanimate objects. It was so much to take in, the mother couldn't think of interrupting, placing her urges to add comforting words into the diligence of her massaging, soapy fingers; discolored streams of water running down Kayla's wrist and thigh.
"Then came the galactic-net, and I could see beyond my roof and the Earth. My collection of books become infinite, and there were people to communicate with that wouldn't endanger my status as an unregistered alien. I saw many things, good and bad, and found I was nothing more than a forgotten speck of dust in a huge galaxy. Over the years my computer grew bigger, finding better and more parts, while I became angrier, lashing out at the world around me like the spiteful teenager I turned into. It just never stopped from there.", the fondness soon faded away as she remembered more emotional, sadder thoughts her younger self used to assume of the world and people around her. No parents to learn right and wrong from, no people to be social with to learn how to even communicate or tolerate others, the growing Aspatrian eventually closed herself off and became the narcissistic introvert that dabbled deeper and deeper into the dark talents of hacking, without care of consequence or what it did to others. One mind, one focus, few things that made her happy.
Emily swallowed hard, forced to make sure for a few moments there that her jaw wouldn't again quiver. She didn't want Kayla to see that, thinking of how the fox's life might have went if someone placed their wing over her. It was a recipe for a perfect storm, one that wasn't even supposed to be possible in their day and age. The story suggested the possibility Earth created their own nemesis, Packet-Storm. As a stern parent, Emily did realize the responsibility to do right was Kayla's own, but still. Finishing with the fur that still remained on Kayla's injured paw, nothing more she could do with the singed patches, the parent figured she'd do Kayla's feet before she shut the water off. Walking around barefoot, the pads and toes of her canine reminiscent feet were a bit gritty looking. It was tough to think of something to say after Kayla shared what she did, scooping up water into her palms to lather down the fox's footpaws.
"I know it's not how you would have lived, given a better chance. The rest of us have faith in you though. Living outside your box hasn't been the easiest I realize, but you have the potential to have a bright future. Somebody else must have thought the same - just look at your sentence. A truly vicious person would see more than just two six-year cycles.", Emily decided she would attempt to cheer up by shedding some light on a few of the positives, like the sort of person Kayla turned out to be after earning such a large, negative reputation. In moments the pair had shared in the past, she had wondered the reasons why Kayla got off so easy, with Kayla generally suggesting someone may have willed it that way. It always sounded like an upbeat, proud notion. While having her footpaws rubbed down, globs of soapy lather filling between her toes to coat from her claws straight down felt wonderfully nice, Kayla's eyes trailed off noticeably. The trickle and slap of water in the basin took over the sounds of the room once more; a building disdain filling within the young girl's chest at something that remained unsaid for too long. Watching her mother rinse down her footpaws, doting as a devoted parent, she licked her lips and prepared for something that bothered her for all too long.
"There was no mystery. I know why my sentence is light.", Kayla so begrudgingly admitted, looking down towards her legs and feet where she sat in that little tiled basin. Emily sat up, lifting her soapy wet hands with a look of bewilderment on her face that the fox did not wish to see. The truth contained no pride, but she did not want her mother to believe such fiction anymore. She wanted to be open enough with the people she lived with and loved, enough to trust them past what the old her would have allowed. Once upon a time, self image was more important than all else, unknowing and confused about how to talk with others. Water dripping from the Emily's fingers, landing against the edge of the basin, she knelt still.
"How do you know?", she asked, damn near afraid to hear the answer. Emily hated when things occurred without her knowledge. Kayla simply shook her head, looking back just over those two years ago.
"You didn't read the court report. Instead, you asked me. It was kind, but I held back. I made something up, and after I had made the mistake, I had to live with it once I settled in.", she said in such a tone it was hard to tell if she was trying to be apologetic or self-loathing. Either way, there was no pride in the words, and she couldn't look her parent in the eye. After a moment of the water's droning lapping, the girl's unhappy face contorted to one of frustration, wet paws slapping to her face to grip her muzzle; eyes clenched tight.
"I lied! And I don't want to live the lie anymore! There was no saint that wanted to just make me a useful part of society!", Kayla's voice raised, railing on the verge of fresh new tears. All she was really doing was re-upsetting herself, reviving the emotions she just quelled, but it was helping in telling the truth. Gritting and baring her teeth, leaning forward and lifting her knees as if to curl up, she tried to take a calm, slow breath to keep what remained of her fur-brush's scorn from affecting her too severely.
"That's how my story ends. I sit in a court room before a judge, a prosecutor, and all these officials, and I keep my head down. I shook, and I cried. Everyone expected Packet-Storm to be belligerent and angry; intimidating.", she growled, again shaking her head, feeling the peak of foolish.
"Pathetic. I was pathetic and meek, and they knew it. The fur on the back of my head was ratty, my clothes picked from the scrap yard. All I could do was tell them who I was, what I did, and that I was sorry. I begged. I was terrified as if I was going to die.", Kayla admitted what truly occurred that fateful day. An image of a former self, surrounded by people seeking to bring her to justice; everything she had come to know fading away the instant phase rifles were pointed at her face.
"I didn't want to tell the people I just met that someone took pity on me. I felt like I had been crushed, and the notion that there was that 'bright future' got me through the day. It was a stupid lie, but I never wanted to get in trouble for it. It would have been nice if it was true.", she released her paws from her cheeks and muzzle, speaking much more lightly now that it was out there. Not lifting her nose or looking up, Kayla was given the pleasant surprise of a gentle pat to her right thigh, within her field of vision. Seeing no ill reaction, she cautiously raised her head to see Emily shutting off the water spigot; the metal tube's flow stopping abruptly. It's subtle drip making not a sound, as the remaining puddle of water slipped away down the drain.
"I think you were just as right the first time. Even if you were shown pity and leniency Kayla, they still must have known you had the potential to change your ways. Else they would not have taken the risk of going easy on you. They gave you what they thought you deserved. Maybe it could have been more, but on that day, it wasn't.", Emily stayed much more calm and positive than the young Penitatas expected, certain for sure there would at minimum be a slap to her thighs for admitting to lying. Kayla had only been rejuvenated minutes prior, she didn't know any better and was too scared of how others would perceive her. Kayla mulled over what Emily said and couldn't think of anything to disprove it with, or a quip to nay-say it with. It made sense, thinking back upon the older, white haired judge that presided over her that day. That helped revive her smile a little.
"Thanks.", was all Kayla could think of to say, feeling timid. Those around Kayla said they learned so many things from her, but she learned from them all the same. With a helping hand she climbed to her wet feet so as not to potentially slip, but the tile certainly felt enough like sand paper when it was damp to make sure that would never happen. At least the stiffness of her fur had been resolved she figured, stepping out of the basin to be dried by nothing other then the bottom of Emily's shirt. Lacking a towel or scrap of rag, she was left to improvise if she was going to keep Kayla from dripping everywhere. The woman brushed her daughter's damp patches of fur on her face, moving downward to the groin, legs, then feet, taking care not to press on any possible bruises. It was easy, finding the tender, swollen spots just by running her cotton shirt and fingers over them. Kayla did not protest or wince, at least as far as she could tell. The tail was the hardest, trying to wring it out with her hands with squeezing motions towards it's tip without outright pulling on the thing.
It took time, but before long Kayla could be described as damp instead of a wet rat along her haunches. Stepping her feet back into the leg-holes of her clothing, the fur along the bottom of her tail sagged, parted and separated from the moisture left behind. Pink underwear and somewhat-dirty blue jeans back around her hips, black shirt over her shoulders, she stood for a brushing of a different kind; the occasional droplet of water being flung by the pass of bristles through her fur. Kayla could at least feel clean now, instead of this filthy, blood-stained beast being corralled around like a sheep. Pants were another story, but neither knew where this place would have replicators. In the end, Kayla got all that which she wanted and needed, and didn't need anything past that. Feeling less self-conscious and ashamed, her right paw did not slip into any hiding places; thumbs tucked into her pockets like usual. Purse shouldered, Emily gave Kayla's head an affectionate ruffle and lead the way out of the confines of that room, having had enough of it for the same reasons Kayla did as well. In a way, the two's disagreement served to strengthen their bond and ease their worries, bringing them back into focus; the self-made computer console remaining behind, for now. Walking with head held high, leaning on optimism for support, Kayla's main concern for the moment was looking composed, returning to the light and life of the central computer room beside her parent with a cool head. She felt better, but had to stay on-track to remain that way.
Jacob leaned against the white wall beside the main entryway, arms crossed with a stern look on his face. It was obviously directed up towards Emily, but when Kayla cracked him a smile to let him know things were okay, his eyes drifted back down and his expression eased. Still uneasy and guilt ridden, the mother was observant enough to pick up on it all and not press the matter - she didn't feel the need to be right all the time, and accepted responsibility for her actions. Their return, audibly marked by the slide of the automated glass door to the storage hallway, caught the attention of Commander Santorae; the kind gentlemen having returned to his staff and work while he waited for his new colleague and her guardian patiently. This time upon inspection, head turning to look around the room, Kayla saw there were fewer panels off the walls but certainly more wiring and thick cables scattered about the floor and hanging from awkward places. She had to be careful not to trip over any, walking a bit stiffly from the heart-beat like throb in the muscles of her upper legs.
"That took longer than expected! We're just about ready for the inter-link with your computer console now, I was going to send a team down there soon to roll it down. With care, of course.", Santorae spoke with energy, sounding somehow relieved his staff's work was coming along smoothly enough. He was also sure to add an assurance that they would treat her machine with respect, seeing just how much she cared for it. Kayla let out a tiny chuckle that was only half-forced, finding that she was going to get along with this older man without issue. Jacob remained beside the door, keeping some distance until he could find a time to be alone with his companion. Looking less than happy, he simply observed in order to watch over her and the rest of the room, seeing that being at her side wasn't enough to keep her entirely out of trouble. It was all because of his age and short stature, the Karrian unfairly damned himself for.
From his vantage point, he had been watching all of the wiring work and the addition of a few components, slotted in behind the white cover panels; sliding in on metallic rails to make rows of brightly flashing devices, lined up in groups. He heard them talk and work, and now was trying to listen with diligence on his fellow Commander's status report with Kayla, hearing terminology and time-frames that didn't make immediate sense. It was how he figured Kayla felt most of the time, thinking about how well she listened and absorbed the happenings in a single room. A hiss right beside his head distracted him without startling, turning his head up at another one of Santorae's men walking briskly into the room, white coat fluttering softly behind. The seasoned boy made a face he made a thousand times before, reaching up without looking to smack the controls above his head to close the door. Reminded him of his cadets; not every door closed on their own, rushing dim-wit.
"Sir!", the darker skinned human called to his superior, coat falling motionless once it floated back down against his legs once he had joined the small group Santorae had been chatting with. In his hands he clutched a normal sized, small gray data-pad with a white engraved Starfleet insignia on the back, fingers tense against the flat device. Kayla eyed up at the young man's hand, curling a curious brow.
"Yes Ensign? What's so urgent?", Commander Santorae questioned, uncertain as to why someone would be running and nearly panting. Sure there was much going on, but it was handled. The younger of the two lifted his data-pad to a readable level, but didn't look down at it in order to answer.
"We received a communication from the U.S.S Fargo and Perseus that broke the jamming barrier of the satellite network. One of the orbital defense platforms locked onto them with it's targeting scanners. The two vessels retreated at full impulse, but confirm the platform did not power it's weapons.", he informed with urgency, wanting to report right away that Velius had achieved weapons lock with the defense platform network, using emphasis on several words to make his message as firm as his heart was beating within his chest. Several nearby white-coats turned their heads nervously, while Kayla curled her muzzle with distaste. Velius was still moving, and only growing more powerful.
"He is gaining access to more of the defense platform's controls by the hour! It won't be long until Earth is a hostage at gun-point, rather than merely under siege!", Santorae barked, for the first time looking rattled since Kayla had met the man. Suddenly he looked just as discomforted as his younger Ensign, turning his head to look at the rest of the room and look over his compliment of officers and colleagues. The eyes that looked at him, reminded him of all that was at stake. Their children, their homes, their planet. Jacob appeared without a word at Kayla's side, having listened to the whole message - now no longer able to sit at the sideline and just listen.
"If Velius is focusing on breaking into their weapon's systems, he'll eventually get access to them entirely. He's playing with it.", Kayla was prompt to use her knowledge to warn, having seen his particular hacking style on board the DeltaStar banking platform. Brute force, one system at a time, taking only what is convenient and most easily controllable and maintainable. The mind of an efficient killer, hidden behind a computer screen. His eyes watching Kayla, Jacob turned them up at Santorae to cut in as soon as she had finished speaking; Emily feeling lost in all this, but seeing everyone's reactions and the word 'weapons' again, her chest became crushingly tight.
"Show them Commander. They don't know anything about the planetary defense system.", Jacob suggested with a deeper, more quickly spoken voice than he usually utilized - trying his best to be taken seriously and get listened to. They continued to speak of it, but he wasn't sure even Kayla knew much about it. Commander Santorae, turned with a swing of his open coat, reaching with an outstretched hand for the room's central view screen.
"Computer, display an overlay of the defense platforms and their armament!", the man ordered with a raised voice, walking with purpose a couple of steps out into the room towards it. Kayla walked at his side, trying to keep up as the computer system chirped affirmatively and activated the requested images. Across the wide screen, filled with colors, was an image of the Earth and stars, dotted with green symbols and an overlaying, crossing grid of green lines. Twenty-four dots sprawled over the entire planet, all showing themselves as the image rotated; an image appearing on the left. A flat, brown-gray satellite of large proportions, surrounded by a grid of panels that shimmered brilliantly in the sun's radiating light. Alone they looked innocent enough, covered in many panels and curves like a shield above the planet's surface, but the computer than displayed a system overlay on top of the image. Weapons compartments; turrets and entire weapons batteries tucked away beneath a strong, twin layer shield array. Quantum torpedoes, type twenty-six planetary defense phasers, and a reactor barricaded in the middle. The strong arm of Earth, protecting it like a waiting great wall.
"The planetary defense network consists of these defense platforms, orbiting to cover every square meter of our atmosphere with it's protection against illegal incursion of our space to stopping the threat of armadas of warships. Massive payloads on each, they could hold their own. Turned around and pointed at the Earth, Velius could rain down on the surface and commit genocide. It was never supposed to be used against it's own people!", Commander Santorae almost yelled in anger, growing blatantly frustrated with their assailant by his last sentence. This mass of weapons had been above their skies since the time Starfleet was founded, upgraded over the years to be even more vigilant and deadly enough to keep up with the improvements in technology. It's existence had always been a relief to a planet with such a massive population, challenged by other beings and worlds in those years long ago only to find humans would never let go of their home without a fight. Technology was being turned against them to such a degree now that nothing in their world was safe, having become so reliant upon it.
"He took the financial center of the Alpha Quadrant, then went for it's strongest planet! Velius wants to hold the cards for the entire galaxy, it's going to get harder the longer we wait!", Kayla added alongside her elder counterpart, clenching her paws at the sight displayed upon the view screen of so many weapons dangling above their heads. That power driven fool now had all the money and markets under his thumb, and went to finish the task by obtaining an entire planet. From there he could get what ever he wanted; a world for ransom. Ships, armies, power. Kayla didn't put the crazy notion past him for a second! Velius was deranged, with a god complex that would make no feat of cruelty even bring a hint of remorse! The thought of Earth being used in such a way brought the room to a standstill, quiet falling over the sterile white surrounding them. Commander Santorae grit his teeth, snapping his head around.
"Get to work! Finish the adaptations and fetch Packet-Storm's console; prepare to bring the backup satellite online!", he immediately ordered his officers that stood in uncertainty with idle hands, turning the room into a flurry of hurried flaps of their white lab coats as their efforts expedited. Left on the screen for now remained that image of a defense platform and all that stood to harm their loved ones. The Commander left their sides promptly, making a hand motion for two of his staff to follow him as they headed for the glass door and the tool they were going to attempt to end all of this with. Kayla, unsure of what to do, hesitated but joined the party behind her new partner to try and give this teamwork angle a shot. Slightly damp tail streaming behind her, Jacob went to follow but was stopped before he could lunge forward with a single foot. A hand touched his shoulder and held it without force, fingers against his tan shirt. The feminine touch was obvious before the boy even raised his head, snapping it up and to his side to meet Emily; long face at his side. Communicator badges chirped all around, their moment and inaction the only calmness within Starfleet Central Information.
"Jacob, I needed to say I was sorry. I made a mistake I'm going to have to rely on you to fix.", Emily made good on her word, admitting what had occurred despite it not being the easiest thing to say to such an intimidating face. When the Karrian meant business, it did not actually matter what his height and age was, as it was proven when he yelled at an Ensign on the U.S.S Tillman's transporter pad. To ensure she got what she meant across, as to what she did, her free hand gestured with a loose index finger towards the medical emitter holstered at his waist. Jacob wasn't happy to hear Emily went through with her overly emotional threat, but was at least thankful he was being allowed to repair what it left behind. She must have talked it out.
"Everything got the best of me, and I was too harsh. She has my support.", she added for clarity, wanting to explain her actions since some of the aggression was directed at his disobedience while trying to defend his companion. Emily wanted him to know all was well. Jacob sighed roughly to denote his agitation, but did accept what she had to say. Emily was Kayla's parent, and misunderstandings were a fact of life. Things were intense for all involved; even he was feeling the squeeze.
"I really hope you weren't too rough. She hasn't been herself.", Jacob lowered his voice, speaking just loud enough to be heard about the bustle of the room around them. Normally such a thing would never come out of his mouth, but the situation as it was, he was tasked with protecting Kayla's best interests. While her discipline was a necessary fact of being a Penitatas, and often highly severe, he had never seen her mother punish in a state of mind she should not have been making such judgments in. Looking down at Jacob's disappointed and concerned face, Emily couldn't help but rub his shoulder in empathy.
"She saw too much on DeltaStar.", Emily decided to respond vaguely as to why her daughter had been so reclusive, figuring the brief sentence was explanation enough and Jacob might just understand what she meant. As for being too rough, she wanted to say yes, but didn't think it would help. Jacob was so young at the moment, it would be unfair to bombard him with things that would upset him. He would get to heal Kayla - that was what mattered.
"I can tell you're upset with me. She means a lot to you, doesn't she?", the older human woman sprung on him, a curious sort of warmth melding into her quieted voice. Despite the lack of parental questioning, Jacob's hands and forearms tensed up at his sides and he hesitated like back on board the Tillman when he was asked if Kayla and he were and item. Mind spinning with the clambering around them, the boy huffed a difficult breath through his green, reptilian nostrils and held his tail close. Unlike his Penitatas fellows, he didn't have the same ability to chose his words carefully; something he well knew, now that Emily was aware of their relationship.
"Yes ma'am.", Jacob answered as simply and respectfully as he could, thinking the shortest, honest answer would be best as he stared up over his shoulder at his companion's guardian - the one who held the last say in what would become of them. Truth be told he was as intimidated by her as she was of him while caught up in this whole situation; a complicated triangle of love, parenting, and the justice department's guidelines. But above his stiff muzzle Emily graced him with a small smile, hand remaining on his shoulder.
"Kayla put everything on the line to prove your innocence. Her sentence could have been tripled. I think you mean a lot to her too.", she commented, providing kind words when they were needed most. She didn't even mention the sort of hellish trial Kayla would have suffered at the hands of a Penitatas Court judge, while openly admitting her prior knowledge to him that her daughter did these things in secret in the name of justice. However, to Jacob, while the words were good spirited they also came to him as cryptic, not knowing what the Penitatas parent would be forced to do when this was all said and over. He hoped, anyway, that they would be returning home. Emily's hand leaving his shoulder, he shifted his eyes off to his other side to again stare at the array of lines and the death that circled the world far above the black night sky. He paused, thinking to himself for a while until the glass door across from them again slid open to signify the other group's return.
Floating in on a hover-cart clamped around it's base, the old computer console they were introduced to was brought in by a slew of hands guiding it along; Kayla right along side of it, left paw on it's control panel surface to assist. The look on her face was serious, legs moving actively with the clear intention of working. It was a lovely sight, seeing her so adamant in doing her part even after everything she had gone through; fighting for the side of good. It was a delayed response, but Jacob turned his head back up at Emily, whom too was watching the same scene unfold in front of them.
"I'll take care of her. Don't you worry.", the doctor assured in a slow spoken manner, giving his metallic, cylindrical medical emitter a pat against his hip. He wanted to sound less frustrated, just to let Emily know she and him were alright. Jacob was a forgiving soul. Emily gave him a discreet thumbs up at her side, appreciating that he could make her error right and grant Kayla some deserved comfort if she was to sit and try to save all their lives. Seeing Kayla give her top effort, there wasn't anything she had to worry about. Her Penitatas' heart was in the right place, watching her work with Commander Santorae to direct efforts; her console being carefully lowered and secured in the middle of the computer room facing the main display along the rear wall. Her white and off-white machine sat in the center, complimenting the two consoles up front. Kayla had to ignore that it was a position that would place all eyes on her, something she despised, but it was the only functional location possible with all the necessary wiring and logistics. The clusters of cables that littered the floor from every which way surrounded that very spot, now ready to be used; many footfalls attempting to avoid them. Within the minute the computer console was settled down, hover-cart being maneuvered back to the storage area amidst the chaotic flurry of voices. Beside Kayla's console, hand resting above it's left side auxiliary monitor, Commander Santorae raised his head as if he'd add a new series of orders but shifted his attention once his communications badge chirped beneath his white coat.
"Brayden to Santorae.", the Lieutenant's voice called out through the device. By the tone of his voice, where ever he was, Blaine was equally aware of the situation unfolding. It struck Emily that the man wasn't in the room any longer by the time Kayla and she returned.
"Yes Lieutenant?", Santorae questioned with a brisk tap of his badge to open his line, his men circling around him to complete their tasks, including Kayla's efforts to remove her console's metal panels that covered it's seasoned, cluttered internals.
"Command accepted your report - they agree with the plan. The Fleet Admirals are bringing the ships to a safe holding pattern around the planet, out of range of the defense platforms to be ready at a moment's notice in the event they're necessary. We'll be working in tandem.", Blaine advised his current superior officer from deeper below Starfleet Command, having gone down to the temporary command center on sub-level four where the primary legs of the military remained standing. They accepted Santorae's plan, coming to accept that Velius could only be thwarted on the digital plain or else he would disappear to return another day, just like his less violent predecessor Packet-Storm; their new consulting partner. A large scale operation was about to be underway, unbeknownst to a darkened world above them.
"Excellent! I'll set-up the communications between our two levels. Santorae out!", the stoic Commander called back, shifting on his feet to make haste to get ready. His boots stopped abruptly, snapping his head over to his new-found partner.
"Kayla?", Santorae asked quickly, but simply before he ran off. Orange paws darting about, digging her way into the system internals underneath the very front of her machine with only her feet and tail sticking out from under the control key-panel, she did not back up or move from what she was doing.
"I've got it handled!", Kayla was prompt in her reply, understanding from his voice that he would be leaving the connections to her console solely up to her in his absence. Knowing how capable she was, Commander Santorae left her to her work while he bolted off for the front of the room to secure direct connections down to the temporary command center to keep them isolated and protected during the attack. Jacob looked up at Emily cautiously, just to make sure she wasn't making any faces. She looked distant, eyes moving slowly about the room as if she was suffering from being so overwhelmed. He did not wish to leave her side, but the young doctor had his own duties to tend to; medical emitter and tricorder discreetly unsnapped from his waist as he stepped to join his companion in front of her old console.
Jacob looked to make sure there was nobody watching before slipping down onto his knees and crawling under the console's open front at Kayla's side. Preserving his girl's dignity, he knelt beside her close enough to hide the emitter in his closed, green hand as it reached back and began a slow sweep beneath Kayla's tail; red flickering and streaming lights illuminating the seat of her jeans. Kayla's blue, weary eyes looked at him, but neither spoke for a brief moment. Cables strewn, Kayla was busily connecting the different colored cables to particular places, slipping some into slots while using clamps for others. Each device inside looked slightly different from the rest, and others were entirely different. Technology from different races and eras mingled together, scuffed and scratched from their eventual use and duration in the scrap yard. Strangely enough, it all still smelled like the inside of a house - the scent of Kayla's home.
"She got you good.", Jacob spoke somewhat gruffly under his breath, keeping his voice down so no one could possibly hear them under the control surface of Kayla's console. The comment got the fox to slow her work and peer over at the screen of Jacob's tricorder to see what tipped him off, but she couldn't understand what she was looking at despite the obvious bruising being displayed. Her bottom numbed, feeling tingly where Jacob eased and healed away the ache of a forceful brush swat - scattered blood from the bruising breaking down to be washed away by her body as cellular waste.
"She also needs to deal with stress better.", Kayla griped openly, even if her voice was as subdued as her scaled friend's to keep their conversation private. He was close enough to feel his warmth at her side, seeing him check over his shoulder just to make sure nobody would put two and two together and think she got punished for something. He seemed to be working in a rushed manner to make sure his hand would not be spotted back there as well, which would be just as awkward. Speed aside, his eyes darted to and fro, tricorder and back to Kayla's awaiting face.
"You're doing great though, I'm so proud of you. It must be getting late, but you're still fired up and ready to go.", Jacob took a moment to compliment, sharing his present thoughts and encouragement. He was starting to feel drowsy, not even knowing what time it was. Kayla sighed in the dim light directly in front of her face, gripping a thin wire within her paws. It was wonderful having Jacob at her side and it made her feel so much safer, sharing a bond of trust and affection with the Karrian who was once a strong, prideful man, but the tense fox hesitated. Her mind wanted to dip into thoughts of their more enjoyable days and the things they had shared; her black nose catching his clean scent, still present in his new shirt. Kayla looked at the wire thoughtfully, as if she was staring off, then slowly began to insert it into a board to the pair's right, reaching over a metal bracket to fasten it.
"That ship, the Capitol. Velius turned weapons against it so quickly they couldn't defend themselves. I won't let that happen to the rest of us.", Kayla spoke with a couple of strained grunts, reaching around the inside of her console with the wire while her backside stung and throbbed where Jacob's attentions had not yet reached. Endorphins disappearing and the harsh swats setting in, the pain was rising while she worked, knees pressed to the hard metallic surface below. Without needing to be explained, Jacob was able to understand that Kayla witnessed the U.S.S Capitol's destruction, just as her mother did shortly ago. The thought of his Kayla having to experience such a thing made Jacob frown, feeling as if that was entirely unfair. It was no wonder Kayla was so determined and hurt in more ways then just physically.
"I know you won't. We'll get through this.", Jacob affirmed her thought, working his emitter down her left thigh with only the image on his tricorder for guidance. He spoke softly and thoughtfully, but Kayla still let out a scoff. While not exactly hostile, it made the boy wince in fear he didn't say something correctly.
"For you maybe! Do you have any idea how badly I'm going to get it when this is all over, and we're still alive?", the riled Aspatrian sort of snapped, paws quickly scraping about the floor of the console to collect another fist-fill of wires as her work continued unhindered. To win or lose, the one who lost in both outcomes was her. Victorious or not, Kayla's trial and pain would not end, faced then with the consequences of having an affectionate relationship - a boyfriend - during her imprisonment as a Penitatas. Okay, so maybe there were many things crashing about Kayla's poor head, but Jacob's face stiffened along with the fingers holding his emitter under Kayla's tail.
"Don't be like that! You yell like I'm not going to get in trouble too.", Jacob initially raised his voice, bringing it back down to a quieted but stern-sounding tone as to not further irritate his partner.
"I'm not immune to being punished just because I'm not a Penitatas. Not interfering with Penitatas affairs is the only big rule I am asked to follow, and I broke it. Even if miss Lory won't raise a hand to me now, she'll just ask a friend to do it for her.", he spoke as firmly as he could, just trying to be heard while Kayla's paws distractedly fumbled over making their wiring connections. Jacob could see in Kayla's face that she was listening.
"It's not what you have to deal with. Not even close. But I'm not getting out unscathed; I didn't clam up in front of your mom just because I wasn't going to have to pay any price. I'm sorry.", Jacob lowered his voice further, again apologizing for their secret being leaked due to his inability to cover it up properly. Kayla was not going to be in this alone, and she had to know that and accept it. The girl bit her lip, hesitating on her next wiring connection. Muffled in their ears were the sounds of all the others in the room, deadened by the metal and console components surrounding their heads.
"They could separate us.", Kayla mumbled sadly, staring off into the inside of her console. Jacob too was uncomfortable and upset of the possibility, not having wanted to utter it either. She had right to be worried, but damn it, he wouldn't let her be worried alone. That is what it meant to have a significant other, miss Ackart. With his semi-free hand, Jacob carefully brushed the back of his hand against a portion of Kayla's hip he had healed, stroking through denim.
"We'll handle it together. You didn't abandon me, I won't abandon you.", Jacob promised, tilting his muzzle towards her to make the point hit home softly. Kayla's small form shuddered a little, her body relaxing as the ache in her backside grew smaller and the tension in her chest was shared with her comrade. The boy meant his words. In the end, he died on board the U.S.S Apollo, losing his entire life and his plans until one day a girl with black ear tips, orange fur, and a silky white tail-tip stepped into his room. She saved him from an unexpected childhood alone, then again from Starfleet injustice.
Easing up her expression, Kayla looked down, seeming to think or mull guilty thoughts. She didn't mean to make Jacob feel responsible, but he knew that. They were good to each other. In their personal quiet, sensations from Jacob's medical emitter skittering about Kayla's legs, the next moment they shared was a silent one. Almost uneasily, Kayla lifted her head, gracing Jacob's eyes with her own drooping ones. Steadfast and strong, even in the face of all this, but in the end she was still scared. Eight and seven years old, what more could have been expected of them during this period of their rejuvenation?
"I love you.", Kayla gently reminded Jacob, appreciating his patience. Jacob was quick to smile at hearing that, the bashful sort of fellow he was, but he was quickly shown a different expression as Kayla's attention turned to a metal bracket between their muzzles. His vision narrowed in the shadows cast by parts of the console above, staring as Kayla pulled a long strand of dull orange fur from over the slat of steel. It's length was impressive. The Aspatrian appeared to have a lack of words, having found a mirror of sorts into her past self, not doubting where a long strand of orange fur may have come from.
"This must have come from my tail... ", she said in a longing manner, as if she suddenly missed her body as it once was. It was surreal, coming across something you long since left behind from a life since past. That strand sat inside of her console since the day she was arrested and it was removed from her home, staying right there until it's owner found it again one day. With a light shake of her head, Kayla took the bit of fur and laid it back across the slat of metal in which she found it, as if it would be wrong to disturb something such as that.
"I was always with her. Apparently I still was.", Kayla mumbled, referring to her console when she said 'her'. The strand of fur would stay. A piece of her would watch over the device once this was said and done. Jacob didn't quite know what to say, unsure of how he would react if he went back to that laboratory on board the Apollo and found something that linked him to it. Kayla was a sentimental one, though, it occasionally seemed. It at least let his smile ease back in, looking back down at his medical tricorder to finish his patch-up job from Emily's impromptu spanking.
The pair remained side by side while Kayla finished wiring her console to inter-link with Starfleet's system, taking no more than a couple more minutes of diligent work. Jacob had a couple of scares, pulling his arm back under the console to hide it's precarious position and the reason why it had to be back there. It was a relief once the passes of his hand revealed no clear trace of swatting remaining on the small screen of his tricorder, illuminating the bits of console components surrounding it. Holstered back at his waist and both hands free, he gave Kayla a pat on the back, rubbing it in a circle through her black shirt before sliding back and standing up beside her feet. Around them the bustle of them room had failed to quell, now with technicians seated at the two diagonally placed permanent consoles situated at the front of the room. Their wide display across the wall now displayed rows of numbers, and a partial image of the Earth with their one satellite, sitting deactivated and waiting. Kayla grunted below, catching his attention as she up-righted herself, calling out before even standing.
"Inter-link complete!", Kayla yelled towards the front of the room for the men and women she was now working with, and for Commander Santorae's benefit. He looked back and provided a quick nod, giving one of his men a pat on the shoulder as he pointed and gave instructions. His subordinate hurried off as ordered; Jacob then helping Kayla up after being down there for a brief time. The metal cover was placed back where it belonged, held partially off by the wires and cables streaming from beneath it, and within a moment Santorae returned to them. Anxiety taking it's toll on how quickly they were doing things, it appeared the human man was growing winded in his need to take a break and breathe for a while.
"Bring your console online. We'll move ahead.", he said with a panting voice, making a gesture with his right hand to give Kayla the go-ahead. Standing in front of her machine's controls, Kayla placed her paws up onto the blank panel. It was difficult to lean on it with her short stature, but Kayla put some weight up onto her right elbow and reached out to flick an old mechanical switch near her right side's auxiliary controls. A faint high pitched sound came to Kayla's tall Aspatrian ears which only she could hear, bringing back fond memories as the console came to life. It's screens lit up a solid blue, until something within the console beeped and the once blank touch-surface of the unit's main controls lit up with all of it's vibrant key colors and the screens turned black.
"Sir, I have it.", another young, meek sort of Starfleet officer approached Santorae and spoke, holding an adjustable stool in his hands. Kayla eyed up at the man, seeing he had broken a sweat. He must not have been asked to do much before this day; kind of a hard way to get used to being given orders. The Commander, motioned for the young man to give it to Kayla, causing the cadet to clear his throat out of embarrassment. He had already been told why he was fetching the thing. Promptly and with unsteady hands, he placed it in front of Kayla's computer console and adjusted it's height once the fox had stepped aside. Almost as if looking for reassurance, the man stood and looked at Kayla once he up-righted his body.
"Thank you.", Kayla provided to help him feel at ease, or to at least not feel so awkward, placing a paw up onto the soft, padded black surface of the console stool; rectangular enough to give plenty of seating and wiggle room. Using that paw, she boosted herself up and took a seat, pleased that her backside and legs didn't scream out in bruised, battered agony once she did. Comfortable, she felt rather fine. The cadet hurried off, leaving Kayla to turn her head and focus back on her console's central screen. She sat in front of it, leaning on the edge of the control surface to support her muzzle with the backs of her fingers.
Taking a deep breath, Kayla took a quick look around to her sides. Commander Santorae and Jacob on her left, and her mother on her right, with plenty of other technicians and their white coats within ear-shot. She looked over at each of them, then back to her screen with a look on her face. White text sat upon the black, simple from the unit's hardware that protected the machine from entry, requesting voice authorization. Kayla sighed roughly, lifting her paws and firmly rubbing her muzzle to get over the feeling that came over her.
"I can't believe I'm going to say this in front of people. As soon as you hear it, forget it.", Kayla did not look away from the lit display screen as she spoke, tone low and somewhat tense. To Jacob, it sounded sheepish. At first he didn't understand, but Kayla's right paw left her muzzle and hit one of the physical buttons beside her; it making an audible clack once touched. Her uncovered eye looked on listlessly.
"Tak Domai!", Kayla shifted her voice back to normal, speaking as old as she possibly could to ensure the machine recognized her command without error. The words, though foreign and harsh sounding, caused the console to chirp in confirmation, scrolling several lines of information rapidly before the screen changed. Emily blinked, not ever hearing such a thing.
"Aspatrian. I don't speak that language.", Kayla stated quietly, noting her personal disdain for her home-world's tongue. She watched her unit boot, catching Jacob's curious looks off to her side. Lifting her muzzle from her paw, Kayla tried to timidly smile.
"It means, 'I'm home!'.", she told him, though spoken loudly enough that those whom watched and listened could hear too. Kayla was at least trying to share, but it wasn't that easy. Jacob's support made it easier. Commander Santorae was watching casually, though his gaze did not deviate from it's attentive stare - he was seeing something he never had before. Packet-Storm's arsenal. With a double beep the unit came to a fully activated state, all three screens lighting up with colors as many smaller windows opened. Across the main, wider display in the middle, a blue grid-shaped planet appeared with a wide map of known satellite and galactic-net relay stations appeared where she once monitored the entire galaxy and planned bouncing points. All the sudden Kayla looked as if she'd be sick, claws scraping against the smooth surface of her touch-panel controls at what she was looking at. Her ears slowly folded towards her head, her teeth grit, and a look of shame crept across her muzzle.
Not all memories were grand and fond. Her computer sprang back to life, re-opening all of her prior running programs. They returned reporting an error status, automatically displaying logs and long lines of code across each of the three windows, but particularly her two side displays. Things like 'Starfleet CNTRL' sprawled repeatedly at the start of most lines, Jacob seeing many sorts of old data re-appearing from when this console was last used. All of this coming up in Commander Santorae's presence, proof of her failure and crimes against him, Kayla swallowed hard and choked down her pride. Having her actions thrown back into his face made her feel tiny, and made those words she wanted to say earlier come further up, but once again she couldn't say it. Kayla's muzzle fell silent. Looking on at the mess of logs and corrupted file data, she received a soft touch against her left shoulder. The girl jumped slightly; fur of her tail standing on end. But, she was met with a kind face looking down from above her, not planning on judging her twice.
"Please feel free to clear those. I need no trophies.", Commander Santorae told her softly, taking the moment to breathe as he had needed. He was level headed when the going was tough - enough to know Kayla felt vulnerable and ashamed. Kayla gave a weak nod in response, placing her paws against her console's controls. With only a couple of quick strokes, each bringing a successive chirp similar to a Federation computer console, the windows all disappeared and her arsenal of programs re-cycled back to life anew. One window after another, each program with a different display and purpose blinked into view. The main display provided her active monitoring, both graphical and a large window of textual data; defensive and offensive control programs off to her sides, along with connection status and various highly in-depth applications. Each was quick, executing code at it's maximum efficiency; Kayla's strongest edge being her software coding prowess. To a trained mind, Commander Santorae was able to see this rig was of military-grade quality. It was no wonder Packet-Storm could do what ever she wanted, until the day she made a mistake. Every angle was personally controlled and monitored by a lightning fast pair of paws and unblinking eyes.
"Ready.", Kayla advised once everything had been run, looking over them to ensure their status was green after her prior encounter with the computer she was now inter-linked with. Staring ahead at her main window and out over at the main view-screen, Kayla settled her muzzle back into her paws like old times; fingers curled beneath her canine chin. Santorae looked out over the front of the room, catching the stares of his officers once more. This would be his final preparatory order.
"Listen up! This will be a joint operation between Starfleet Central Information and Starfleet Central Command. There will be a lot of noise and chaos in the communications between us, but know this - you will be taking your orders directly from me. And, if miss Ackart provides a directive, follow it unless told otherwise!", Commander Santorae called out over his computer room as it fell silent, looking around the white room and coats as his orders began. Down beside him, Kayla's fingers moved slightly at hearing that her own orders were to be followed. She was happy to work with them all, but to know they would do as told was at least a relief. This concept was too new, used to being in a room alone while doing this task.
"Our computer is going to connect with the satellite above, and we will manage and protect the connection ahead of miss Ackart's computer. You're all her support; defensive and offensive management is going to be her responsibility. Do your best.", Santorae toned his words down for, trying to bring some calm over the room and his staff. Their families all in grave danger, they would have to keep their wits about them. His encouragement was all he could give them, with no Earth-based communications available for them to find out if their loved ones were alright, or to tell them to find shelter. From a volley of quantum torpedoes, there was not many places to hide as it was. Their eyes remained on their Commander; the older man taking a deep breath.
"Activate the satellite, bring the connection into a listening state.", Santorae ordered softly, giving the order that would begin all of the events to follow. The teams in front called back, 'Aye sir!', as the two technicians seated in front of the room's two primary consoles began to raise the satellite to a working state; un-hacked in it's long offline condition. The family and those of the room all watched, seeing a yellow line link their location on Earth with one of the satellite blips in orbit up on the main screen. Even Kayla's console, made for the purposes it had been, acknowledged and displayed it's link with the galactic-net. Bits of numbers and loose data-strings began appearing on Kayla's monitoring software, bringing no urgency to Kayla's face or fingers.
"Connection established. Listening only.", the technician on the right console confirmed, calling out to the room; the communications lines now opened with sub-level four to share information like a radio. Like a cue, the central computer room fell silent. They watched, and they listened; Jacob and Emily out of the loop. Uncertain of what was going on, the Karrian leaned in to ask Kayla with her mother stepping closer to listen.
"Now what?", Jacob asked as quietly as he could under the circumstances, looking at the general inactivity on her console's computer screen. Keeping her muzzle propped up on her paws, resting on her fingers, she tilted her head so her eyes could see his face.
"I wait. We're connected to receive data, but not send - the loop isn't complete. When we detect activity in the satellite network, it will be Velius looking to attack a target. At that point, we'll go full-loop, and I will engage his connection. In this state, we're invisible, but inactive.", Kayla was able to explain fairly clearly, sating curiosities. She sounded a bit on the stiff side, and as the minutes began to pass and the tension in the room mounted, the young hacker's outside appearance began to change with it.
While the parental figure in the room tried to keep an eye on both her Penitatas daughter and the displays around the room, exceptionally distracted by images of home and yearning for her husband, Jacob soon began to pace behind Kayla. From time to time the two rejuves had stumbled upon their past, reminiscing a life once lived through actions or objects, but in this moment they slowly became shadows of their former selves. Nervous and awaiting the start of an unseen war, Jacob walked with his back straight and his hands behind his back, claws toying with one another as he absorbed everything around him with his observant nature. His face was neutral and straight, never staring, keeping to himself as the Commander once did upon his starship. As he tried to keep a vigilant watch over his loved one, protective of those under his care, he saw things that made him feel uncertain, if not closer to a woman he never had the opportunity to meet.
As the silent room endured the passage of time, ticking by, Kayla stared intensely and unwaveringly at her console's primary display screen. Her muzzle remained perched on her paws, fur-less fingers between furred, as if she wouldn't dare move and miss something. The look across her face, the muscle tension at the base of her muzzle, it was all something he had never seen from the young Aspatrian since he had met her. Normally so friendly and with a stoic spirit, she took things as they came - this person in front of him was one that decided what would come, un-bendable to anyone's will. Brows above her eyes curled down and the muscles beneath her eyes curled up, wrinkles at the base of her muzzle from her ice cold glare. So focused, as if fueled by anger and the pain she was dealt by a person she never met. Jacob could see this was the closest he would come to seeing the old Kayla; the one whom likely sat in front of this console, just like this. Kayla had been hurt, just as she once felt a world's cold shoulder hurt her. Tapping into her old self, a being of immense skill, Kayla sat poised and ready for the moment of truth.
A couple of lines of data sprung up on Kayla's primary display, loosening her muscles a little from her expression to her fingers. Random beeps sounded in the room; her paws looking to dart at a moment's notice. Jacob froze where he stood, ceasing his pacing with clenched hands. Those present had enough of a moment to take a deep breath before a surge of information and a spike across the satellite network made itself apparent. Kayla's paws bolted from their waiting stance and over her flat control panel, running over it's lit surface while the technicians up front did their part with Commander Santorae looking over them. Voices broke into the room, ending it's silence for good.
"Connection is masked and unverified.", the middle-aged technician on the left announced for the room and the open communications line to the center below, new bits of data appearing by the second. Their hacker Velius for certain, especially as they were able to watch the data being transmitted around the world through the satellite network. While Kayla tapped quickly at her console, plowing data into her programs without so much as saying anything to anyone else, Santorae squinted at the information flowing across their main view-screen. A green line appeared from the satellite network, linking it with a location on the Earth's surface.
"He's found a new target. Looks like a power plant in southern Eurasia.", Commander Santorae spoke aloud, just barely fast enough before Kayla smacked her paws flat, finishing her keystrokes and raising her head.
"Full loop!", the young Aspatrian girl commanded, calling over the screens of her console to the technicians up front. Ready to break out into a cold sweat, the left technicians' fingers went to work.
"Yes ma'am!", he called back without turning his head, sending the command signals to their own satellite. Just as Commander Santorae began to open his mouth and inform Starfleet Central Command listening in, the line on the main screen that linked them to their satellite turned from yellow to green, with all going red with an alarm in a flash of Kayla's nimble, ready fingers.
"We have engaged the hacker. Monitor the defense platforms for any increases in power consumption!", the Commander called out, informing their colleagues high in the sky to be vigilant and careful as a chirping alarm mixed with his voice, sounding down in Starfleet Central Command where many ears were listening and watching events unfold from a different angle. Jacob saw Kayla's information and status monitors explode once the connection lines turned red, taking to an immediate offensive and receiving automated countermeasures. It wasn't within his ability to read the information coming in so quickly, but the way the main view-screen on the wall displayed it made it easier for the older computer professional, Santorae. The Commander saw the automated countermeasures came from two locations, and not simply just one. Turning back at the fox, working in a flurry, he pondered in wonder of her ingenuity.
"Sir, we've spiked the connection to the power facility in Eurasia; it's attempting to counter-attack but the data is being dumped to a black hole!", the technician on the right console called back to his commanding officer, sounding shocked that they had apparently attacked the location they were trying to rescue. Apparently Kayla was shunting the counter-offensive data to an unknown, non-existent location to protect their systems. Commander Santorae was not so quick to jump to those conclusions, shaking his head promptly.
"What Packet-Storm did was raise it's defenses. Velius could have breached that facility without it's automated systems becoming aware, but that isn't possible now that Kayla's attack blew his cover.", Santorae explained aloud, watching the data stream in and out of his facility. Velius certainly knew something was up, and appeared to be shifting his focus to the connection that was butting in on his work. This was it, they'd now be under direct attack from more than just automated programs.
Jacob had never gotten to see Kayla do her thing before. It was a wondrous sight, hearing such a rapid, constant beeping from her keypad and the occasional clack of a physical button while she managed so many different things at once. Over her shoulder he saw her face, serious but steadfast. Kayla could see him, her target. Through her knowledge and ability, she felt he was as close as an arm's reach, able to see his actions and differentiate them from those of automated countermeasures. This time she allowed and encouraged the rush, letting it fill her mind and flow down her arms to fuel her response time.
As it was, she attracted his fury and welcomed it. Upon using her trick to stop the seizure of another power plant, she directed her first volley of hostile packets and began scanning his connection for vulnerabilities. Velius' system appeared to be very well defended, blocking most of her attempts, but a single failure never slowed the flurry of her fingers; bare skin and orange fur dancing upon the panel in front of her. It was a race to pierce his armor and halt programs before he could find a way to stop them, and there were a lot of ways. Kayla's blue eyes were all confidence, but a swarm of broken requests and invalid chunks of data caused one defensive program to fault and re-cycle on her. Catching it off to her right, on her auxiliary display, Kayla growled softly, seeming to tap harder at her console. Ports appeared to be opening and closing on Velius' end, leaving her to try random brute forcing attempts she despised. Sloppy or not, she was fighting to get in the front door while keeping a steady stream of garbage data to bog his efforts down. The technicians around the room were beginning to scramble, trying to keep the Starfleet computer system at full operation under the heavy stress of their data-exchange.
Within Kayla's console, a strange, gurgling sort of beep began to emerge. Kayla's ears perked, twitching and flicking, until able to identify the source of the sound. Some sort of electrical signal or carrier wave, being intentionally bled into the sound circuit for her console. Had Velius gotten that far in?
"Kayla, Kayla.", a voice came distorted from her console, smug and amused, although audibly more irritated than the fox and her family once heard. Commander Santorae turned around from the main view-screen right away, gritting his teeth nervously - the reaction one has to Velius' cold, murderous tone. That got Kayla to bare her fangs and growl more audibly, never taking her eyes off her work. It was more than unlikely he could hear them, with the fox setting in additional commands to disable her console's microphone before he could get into those controls.
"Commander, there is a new distortion in the carrier signal.", Kayla heard one of the technicians say, no longer focusing on their voices to even pinpoint which of the two spoke those words. She read into them, not caring who said it or why. On her screen, eyes and paws straining, Kayla focused deeply on crashing Velius' countermeasures. They were so close to her's, she got a sickening feeling in her gut that they were cheap reproductions of tactics of her own. It at least gave her ideas, using types of flood attacks that she was vulnerable to back when she initially shut down DeltaStar.
"You are a tough one to make go away. Always a step behind.", his voice taunted, making Kayla want to snap her head away from her screens. She resisted, simply curling the skin of her muzzle into a silent snarl.
"It's not a distortion, it's Velius! The noise is an underlying carrier being picked up by your receiver, figure out it's randomization algorithm and filter it out!", Kayla called out over the flurry of key-beeps within the computer room and the infrequent messages coming over their communication line; status reports from orbiting ships and acknowledgments from Central Command. The young ex-hacker was gaining headway, seeing a lack of defense response beginning to arise from Velius' connection, allowing her to train her focus on his system itself. Take him offline, trace the connection, and that would be the end of him; just as she had been arrested those two years ago. Packet-Storm used every trick she could imagine, right down to spoofing her information to look like it came from Velius' own hardware to make the computer fault. Piece by piece it would have to crumble, while she tried her hardest to protect herself from his heavy handed tactics and what felt like several computers attempting to lock up her programs - confirming what she had been saying since leaving her house, that this man was nothing more than a technology abuser.
"I've filtered out a portion of the noise, I'm still trying to get the rest!", Kayla heard Commander Santorae call from the front of the room, apparently having tackled her request on his own. Carrier signals and the concept of using them in such hostile ways was outside the other technicians' realm to defend the computer from. It began to become futile within moments, the carrier signal rotating it's structure to break free of the filter. With it, the signal from the satellite began to surge, dropping huge packets of broken and invalid information like a noisy brick every second. Devices behind the white panels began to call out, warnings and alerts appearing across the main display - but not Kayla's console. Santorae looked around in a prompt panic, throwing his arm out to point at a team currently waiting on standby.
"Hurry, get canisters of cooling gel!", he ordered with his urgency leaking deep into his voice, running to the wall to start ripping off panels. The first came off the wall with a dull thump, thrown to the floor with a loud clatter; heat visibly pouring out from the rows of computer and server components within.
"Kayla, he's attempting to overwhelm the satellite if he can't disable it! He's causing it to malfunction and route surges back at us; our computer system and the signal receiver will overheat!", the human man shouted while he worked, running along the wall to tear the white protective panels away like festering limbs. Such noise was harsh to Kayla's hearing, causing her to fold her ears back intentionally to dull it. There was a noticeable response lag from the satellite's fault, forcing her to stop her assault and try to protect the satellite; using her own hostile tactics on the satellite to force it to pay attention to her instead of him. An old style 'denial of service' technique, setting up a continuous loop to run off her system of specific requests for the satellite to respond to - the rest of Velius' heavy handed assault being dumped by a busy system as if it never existed, not being available to process it. As soon as she confirmed the program and went back on the offensive, the waveforms on her monitoring software eased and so did the alarms from the Starfleet system, but only so much. The surges were much smaller and more infrequent, but they were there when they could break through to try and keep the overheating up.
"Receiver effectiveness has been reduced! Signal strength at ninety-four percent and falling!", the left technician yelled over the room, trying to get the message over his shoulder back to Kayla. The information came through her communications badge she wore upon her chest, as part of the communications loop that had been opened for the operation, acknowledged only by the fox's desperate attempts to disable Velius' ability to generate all these damn surges of information and actively create workarounds for the shifty sorts of things he thinks up to gain access to her console; hearing the speaker crackle and whine from the rapidly varying underlying carrier wave Velius initially spoke to her with. The team Santorae sent out rushed back in with heavy containers, holding them like fire-extinguishers as they began hosing down the computer panels liberally with a non-conductive, non-interfering cooling gel to try and reduce their computer temperature. Time was of the essence, and only grew more dire. A sudden shout over the communications line moved everyone's hearts into their throat, working into a panic while trying to do their jobs with shaking hands.
"Emergency! Fleet sensors are reporting defense platform activation - all platforms!", a previously unheard voice came over the open communications line through their badges, male and urgent. Up on the computer room's central screen, it flashed a red warning and added the defense platforms to the interpolated view of the satellite network. Damn it Kayla, go!
"Thrusters have been fired on all platforms! They are rotating to come to bear with the Earth's surface!", another male voice, older, added with an equally firm and urgent overtone. In the space above, the defense platforms were starting to slowly turn to fire upon the Earth and it's people. Trying to keep her breathing under control, Kayla tried to ignore the constant barrage of noise and voices, staring at the sea of information streaming across her display to become lost in it. Jacob's tail was starting to shake, and he didn't care despite the fact he knew it was. The heart of the Federation was facing destruction from their own technology, the things built to care and protect them. Over Kayla's shoulder, the Karrian saw nothing he could follow with his eyes or grasp. Faith was all he had.
"Correction, one defense platform is shifting it's orbital plain - thrusters not turning it like the others! It is defense platform twelve, part of the North American defense grid! Sensors indicate it's targeting scanners are online, intentions unknown!", that same voice called over their badges again, sounding desperate to get the situation in an order everyone could understand. During a time of peace, they weren't used to giving updates on weapon systems. Kayla's folded ears muffled the information, and she heard it while counter-attacking Velius. If she could stop him, the defense platforms would cease function!
But then her pupils shrank and a notion struck her hard. It filled her with intense fear, to the effect even the great Packet-Storm's fingers stiffened and her typing speed decreased. That platform! Please, no!
"The satellite!", Kayla suddenly screamed after a couple seconds, after the intentions of that one rogue defense platform were realized. Some of the white coats in the room, including the two technicians she had been working with snapped their heads around; Commander Santorae's face growing pale. Taking his attentions off the heat-reduction efforts, fire teams now on potential standby, Santorae stared at Kayla while she worked up a storm on her console to try anything she could to speed her efforts. The noise became muffled and hazy in his head, thinking about what he was about to say.
"Packet-Storm is correct, Command! The satellite must be protected, we cannot lose our only connection to the galactic-net! It seems Velius is not done trying to destroy it!", the Commander shouted aloud to the temporary command center, knowing everything would be over if Velius was able to stop Kayla's counter-attack. His attempt to ravage the planet would go unchallenged, with not enough time to twiddle down the shield arrays of each and every defense platform. With dread, all those whom were staring shot their heads back to their work trying to keep Starfleet Central Information's systems up for just a little longer and protect their best shot at saving their families. Religion had long since melted away from Earth, but deep down inside, the people of that room cried out on the inside for divine intervention.
"Acknowledged. We will move the fleet to protect the connection satellite.", a deep voiced man agreed over the line - undoubtedly an Admiral. A series of chirps sounded over the communications line, making Kayla more nervous while she was trying to work.
"Emergency directive from Starfleet Command: Engage defense platform in grid A-E-Six. All fleet vessels, attack pattern Beta.", called a woman, spoken clearly yet firmly as she ordered the Federation's starships into combat.
"We have four minutes until the Earth is within defense platform firing range.", she added, with a timer display appearing on the computer room's central view-screen. Now there was a time limit! Squinting, Kayla thought as hard as she could while simply bombarding Velius' system as best she knew how. Her efforts were working, but she didn't know if her battle within the confines of their computers would come to such an abrupt conclusion! As it stood, they had taken damage; signal strength now down to eighty-nine percent and her console having trouble running a couple necessary programs from the abuse they had been receiving. Now, far above the dark skies, weapon systems were powering up and shields raising from a fleet of ships - more lives in critical danger. The U.S.S Capitol all over again, and Kayla felt like it was her own fault. Teeth clenched so tight it hurt, Kayla had to think quick and act fast as to how to end her stalemate. Resisting the urge to whimper, she shook her head and closed her eyes just for a split second to moisten them.
"Somebody get me the code for the Planetary Defense Network! At least it's communications structure!", Kayla called out as an order, getting several "yes ma'am"-s in reply from all around the room. Ears lifting from her head, the tiring and desperate Aspatrian shifted her attentions to purely defense, needing to keep everything working if her idea was to work. This man was an overzealous fool, it had to work! Kayla insulted him and cursed his very alias within her mind, seated in the center of this madness and a red countdown timer in front of them all.
"Damage reports coming in from four vessels, one has been disabled! Their transmissions indicate multiple casualties!", Kayla was forced to hear over her badge's communication line, listening to what was unfolding in Earth's orbit. Prompt and to the point, the technicians shunted a file of base code straight to Kayla's console with their inter-link, providing her with a read-out of the code. Kayla's eyes twitched, staring at what made up such a large, highly secure network of weapons. Three minutes and one satellite was the time she had to decipher it and follow through with her plan. She punched up some basic code within seconds to assist with bouncing Velius' attempts away, but the technicians would have to do their part.
"I'm working on something, just try and keep the connection open!", Kayla called out to any who would listen, reports continuing to flood over her communications badge and keep her gears grinding red-hot. With extreme reluctance, Packet-Storm slowed her defensive efforts, eying back and forth from one intensive task to another; programming something based on a giant lump of pure code, in less than three minutes. Kayla's paws flew at a speed and fury not seen yet, focusing to the extent her eyes stopped blinking - mind flowing like a computer itself. An alarm called on her console, reporting critical status in one program, then another, with the signal status falling to eighty-five percent between Starfleet and it's threatened satellite.
Defense platforms were almost half turned, solar arrays blinding as they pointed straight out along the Earth's atmosphere in their rotation. One was simply sinking it's orbit, while Starfleet vessels circled the platform to focus their fire and break down it's shields. Weapons armed and deployed upon being attacked, it shot off phaser bursts and quantum torpedoes like machine-guns, filling it's surrounding space with vibrant blue streams of death. Each impact to it's shields rippled white, firing back at all of it's attackers as bits of debris scattered around it; ships coming in close enough to let loose a volley of fire before retreating, keeping enough in the area so that the platform could not focus it's armament on one vessel. A pass by meant another salvo of phaser fire to it's shields, and another punishing heavy phaser punch to the vessel's shields - disabling that shield arc and requiring the ship to roll and guard it's unshielded hull. Fires and failures were coming in as quickly as they could call them, with crippled ships lingering dangerously close to the planet's atmosphere, bleeding fiery scraps of metal and plasma from the chunks missing from their saucer and drive sections.
"Corsair, evasion pattern Delta! Perseus and Normandy, provide recovery fire! Sensors readings show the station is down to forty percent shields - focus on the fifth dorsal arc, full spread!", those commanding voices rattled Kayla's nerves, hearing their combat planning and status. They were going to knock through a specific part of the platform's shields just as it's weapons fire destroyed portions of theirs; the fastest way they could mortally wound the platform. Their one usable satellite nearing firing range, it locked onto it with it's targeting scanners.
Running out of time up there and on the ground, Kayla's paws were in agony, but she couldn't feel it. Her console was starting to lock up, and they were reaching one and a half minutes until the defense platforms began their assault on the planet. But up on her screen, while everything else failed and came down around her, cooling gel wafting through the air like a mist, her efforts to program a new weapon were left untouched. She wouldn't let anything happen to that program, stopping to defend herself only to ensure that program would be unscathed.
"Ma'am! Eighty percent! The connection is losing cohesion, the link-up with the satellite won't hold much longer!", the front right technician turned and yelled out; his system crashing to a halt, forced to attempt a restart. Even the temperature in the room was starting to rise from the heat spewing from the computers and components in the walls; Emily and Jacob forced to watch, with the mother admitably teary eyed in fright. Kayla ignored it, tapping her smooth console surface like a zombie, heart pounding as line after line appeared in her coding, put in faster than anyone could read while her eyes analyzed the defense network's coding. Jacob couldn't believe it, she was writing the code without looking at what she was making at all, placing all her faith into what she had done her whole life.
A fresh alarm sounded, catching Jacob's attention to the view screen reporting firing range for the satellite. This was it; a single burst of fire would destroy their only chance of survival. All of the sudden the information about the connection strength with the satellite skewed, shooting way out of parameters with the view-screen scrambling. It came as a shock, but as quickly as the scramble came it all returned; connection re-established immediately as if it only cut out for a second.
In orbit around the Earth, defense platform twelve that once looked over a portion of the North American continent stopped firing. It's functions came to a halt, and it's once blinking lights faded to black as it grew dark; six Federation starships turning on their axis and branching off away from each other after their final pass. Their forward shields and hulls torn to shreds, casualties on their bridges and all around their front sections, they landed the last spread of torpedoes that broke through ravaged shields and impacted all around the platform's weapons array. Still sticking up, it's quantum torpedo launchers fell silent - their last fleeting shots fired upon the satellite to no avail. Three torpedoes missed the satellite within two meters, clipping one of it's solar panel arms to cause it to blink out for a moment. The defense platform joined the debris in Earth's orbit, as the fleet retreated to a safe distance.
Time bought for their hacker, Kayla dumped the last line of code into her program and suddenly stopped. The fox blinked, closing her eyes tight and took a deep breath. Fifty nine, fifty eight... the timer counted down, some technicians breaking down and seeming to give up. Corrupted information had slipped onto even their main view-screen - bits of green and blue numbers and letters blinking precariously about. Using her right paw, marred by Velius and shamed without fur, two trembling keystrokes compiled the program, and one more ran it; butterflies so intense and strong in her gut she wanted to throw up.
A screen appeared, running long lines of code just like the ones Kayla's main display showed. Then, faster than Kayla's eyes and expertise could possibly read, it launched a battery of different attacks and floods of illicit packets with an all new edge aside from their speed. The program emulated the control system of a defense platform, transmitting waves of data Velius would not be able to immediately block without dumping control of the Planetary Defense Network. These attacks came signed and forged as if they were from a real defense platform, something he could not guard against considering he was actively using such communication. Right past all of his deflection protocols and blocking firewalls, Velius' system let the entire endless attack in without challenge. All around her rival hacker screens flickered and froze up, everything threatening to come to an immediate halt as if he had no security or defenses at all. This sole program was the only thing left standing when it came to Starfleet or Packet-Storm's software; a shining light at the bottom of a barrel of tricks. The offensive data being used against them stopped coming and the satellite stopped pulsing, noticed by a quieting room.
"I... did it.", Kayla panted, talking with a surprised and tiny voice under her breath. Her paws stiffened to that of rocks, unable to keep up with the intense typing and operative ability required of them in her young age. The pain was blinding and the girl's eyes threatened to water, but so full of adrenaline it looked more like she was staring off into space.
However, quickly as success came, the connection Kayla required failed. Her program stopped transmitting it's digitally lethal barrage, and the line that should have been frozen dead disappeared from the galactic-net. Kayla sat upright in her seat, fighting to get her paws moving again.
"No, no, no, no!", Kayla cried out, slamming her paws down onto her control panel to numb them from the pain of impact. It's lit controls flickered; her support and Santorae working to find out what occurred considering they retained their satellite. It's values were acceptable, though their receiver strength was holding at eighty percent.
"There was a spike on the line at the very end, consistent with a transmitter-suicide!", Commander Santorae shouted over his left shoulder, hands leaning on the back of the left side technician's console chair. Kayla was familiar with the concept, though she never resorted to it. An explosive attached to their galactic-net communications transmitter-receiver, detonated to prevent tracing when there were back-ups readily available to switch to in an emergency. No, not today! Kayla's efforts on her console were changing the distorted view-screen's image, zooming it out as a green line actively connected their satellite with another one in the Milky Way asteroid belt. Her family watching her desperate reaction wanted to reach out and help, all the while Commander Santorae took quiet confusion in the midst of all that had just happened.
"Kayla, what are you doing? He's going to destroy logs at the end of his connection-bounce trail.", he spoke softly as he approached the young Aspatrian's computer console, stepping lightly as he tried to savor their temporary victory even if catching Velius would be impossible now. Santorae wanted to ease the poor girl out of attack-mode. Kayla responded with a weak, hoarse growl. It wasn't aggressive, it was just her being hard headed and disagreeing passionately.
"He'll need time to get back up and running! I'm checking specifically for the control prompts for the defense network, their signature is unique - I can find him!", Kayla said as her eyes tried to focus on flashes of logs and data, using other bits of programs used in her research and re-con hacking attempts. Sometimes finding information that wasn't there was the point to hacking, because what was the fun if you didn't amuse yourself? At least that was the old Packet-Storm's reasoning, as she now turned those techniques against a fellow hacker in following her first trail. Tracing along his chain, the green lines grew more abundant along her screen and the room's large one; confirmations now being called over their badges that the defense platforms have powered down. Kayla was pleased, but it was for nothing if Velius could reactivate them, jumping as far across the solar system as Velius' trail was taking her, knowing every second counted.
Then, as if a shock to her paws, the trail ended and she had no place else to go. Her fingers twitched, jumping away from the console as if she was about to start jamming in more commands that were not warranted. Quiet, she scanned over what was there, quickly picking it apart with her console to examine the satellite. It suffered severe corruption within the recent, perhaps even before she accessed it, but she was only looking for a miniscule forty-bit string, and one escaped damage to be picked up. Raising her head, muzzle pointed at the room's view-screen, her motions let Santorae know she had found something.
The satellite orbited one of a gas-giant's moons, way out in the far reaches of the Alpha Quadrant. It was an Earth colony - the screen displaying a likely population of approximately three-hundred thousand in sparse cities and surrounding mining operations. Kayla's efforts even provided them a cone of service for the orbital device, finding it served two of the moon's largest cities and providing them an area in which Velius was. It was more than Commander Santorae or any of his officers had hoped for after such a close call. Surprised and awestruck by Kayla's conviction, the man spoke aloud.
"Command... Do you see this?", he asked, a raspy note to his tone. A few quiet warning tones sounded in the background, coming from damaged and overheated pieces of equipment.
"Affirmative Commander. The planetoid is identified as Gerias, an 'M' class moon surrounding Costima Three. Vessels will be dispatched immediately.", the Admiral-sounding man from before spoke up again, immediately followed by his female counterpart.
"Attention all vessels: assume defensive orbit around Earth. Flagships U.S.S Excalibur and Redona, your orders are to head for the Costima system at maximum warp and apprehend the hacker Velius. You are granted frigate support.", her orders came fast and prompt, more hurried then before despite the lack of imminent danger of being destroyed.
"Central Information, your orders are to stand by.", the man spoke again, adding his own orders. They were now support for Central Command's own plan and mission, none more eager to help after the starship's save than those present. Cities would be ashes by now if it wasn't for cooperation and a joint effort.
Now able to look around, Kayla peered around the room around her while she clutched her paws against her chest to warm and protect her painful joints. The place was a mess; coolant gel and panels covering the ground haphazardly. Her console screens were just as corrupted and frozen as every other in the room. Yet all she saw was hopeful, relieved looks all around. For the first time, she used her abilities to their peak and there wasn't a single sour face to be seen. Smiling in comfort, Kayla began to think she had found her place. The niche she was supposed to fill.
"Let's begin repairs.", Commander Santorae found enough of a smile to order, turning to start cleaning up his poor computer room. Slowly all of the white coats began to move again, some visibly moved by the fact they and their world survived to see another eventual sunrise. Emily just grasped her chest, sneaking off to the corner to try and hide the fact she was bawling like she often made her Penitatas charge. From where she sat, hunched over weakly, Kayla could see just over her main screen and finally see the faces of the two officers that assisted her at their own consoles. The two, apparently friends, looked at each other and then gave Kayla a casual, simultaneous salute.
Just as Kayla began to chuckle, her chest hurting from it due to all the prior tension, a firm grasp appeared on her shoulders. It didn't startle her, as no one else had hands as small as her own. Looking up over her shoulder, fur on her head slightly disheveled she was graced by the thankful and loving hands of her young partner. Jacob looked a bit misty-eyed, outside of his usual sorts, but it only made Kayla smile that much bigger.
"I know you're happy the world is still here, but I'm in a lot of pain.", the fox tried to joke, sounding terribly worn as she rubbed her fingers.