Kayla: Forces in Movement
In the 28th century, the technology of rejuvenation allows for immortality. This device is also used for sentencing as well. A penitatas; a criminal that is sent back to childhood to live a highly strict and disciplined life to start anew. (Story Fifty-Three)
Concept by Lurking Dragon
Kayla and story by Professor Bob
More Kayla Stuff!: www.Professor-Bob.net
On a starry plain where it was colder and darker, a set of celestial bodies circled a large red star on the edge of colonized space. Trade vessels and cargo freighters traveled alone or with escort; planet to planet, linking those far away places together with a network of sparse, scattered life. A melting pot of many races converged on these dense, habitable locations that often governed themselves with their own laws and governing bodies. It was far from the structure and comforts of Earth, differences clearly visible to the naked eye. As their own entities, they were not graced frequently by representatives of the United Federation of Planets and nor did they want their interloping. Such feelings made the appearance of large Starfleet vessels an uncomfortable event; two breaking out of warp with two smaller escort ships in their wake.
The two frigates took defensive point at the aft of their respective lead vessels, the U.S.S Excalibur and U.S.S Redona, as their impulse engines made for a rapid orbital approach over Gerias. Below them was the fairly gray moon, visibly dotted with yellow lights in dense areas and sharp-rimmed craters. It was a silhouette against it's brighter and immensely larger companion, a sea of swirling blue clouds from a quickly rotating gas giant - Costima Three, which the moon orbited. It's silent presence over the small moon graced it with a blue and cyan aurora of colors to illuminate it's normally dim surface, leaving the inhabited world without a true day or night beneath it's splendor. It shined off the silvery hulls of the Patriarch-Class cruisers; heavy descendants of the Sovereign-Class flagships, to add a luster beyond the twinkle of their running lights and windows.
As the military vessels began to encircle the moon, joining the array of present ships, pillars of shimmering light appeared far below on the surface. Costima Three filling half of the sky in Gerias' version of dusk, figures began to materialize from their transporter matter streams upon a rough asphalt and cobblestone street; sparkling as blue as the cyclone of gas above. Their presence did not go unnoticed by the few standing on the stoops of their town homes and leaning against the walls, taking their leave as the set of five Starfleet uniforms melded into fruition. Phaser rifles supported in their hands, the team of officers wasted no time assessing their insertion location's surroundings and potential dangers.
Street lights served to light the way down the rustic streets and alleyways of the city, adding yellow to the blue hues reflecting off of structures built from the moon's stone and metal. Bare, often frayed bundles of wires trailed messily along exposed conduits on the sides of the homes; tall metallic structures casting dim shadows overhead. There was nothing foreboding other than shifty, weary eyes spying on them and the eerie light cast upon the city. Air thick, it smelled moist and mineral laden; an industrious colony, eking a life out of the rock they called Gerias. All appearing safe and accounted for, a human man at the center of the team of Starfleet marines lifted his right hand and waved his fingers down as he lowered his rifle's tip towards the ground.
"Okay, weapons down. We don't need to startle the locals.", the human man of roughly thirty years of age ordered with a lowered voice, keeping their noise levels down for the sake of attracting as little attention as possible. Short black hair sat upon his head, above a clean shaven face. He was Lieutenant-Commander Aldridge, and, as it remained, a murderous hacker was shrouded out there somewhere in the hazy blue shadows; one that held no qualms over slaughtering Starfleet officers and innocent people alike. The team was alert and vigilant, caution taking priority, uncertain as to whom or what could tip their presence off to their target and cause further trouble. It was better to assume he was close, not knowing the individual they were looking for or even what he may look like.
"I'm not certain it's only the weapons sir.", another male officer, the group's sole Cardassian, Terek, quipped as he brought his weapon down to a more unassuming level. Cardassian Starfleet officers were not common, but a couple hundred years ago it would have been unthinkable in the wake of the Dominian War. Their race defeated and scattered, the descendants of those survivors grew up with differing lifestyles more exposed to being open minded; arrogance and sarcasm aside. Skin gray, with wrinkles and ridges about his body, Ensign Terek stood as tall as his superior - if not strangely calm from his awkward Cardassian demeanor. The team's female officer turned her head, trying to pay no attention to the lack of welcome.
"They have no idea why we're here. Lets try and find this guy before anything else happens.", Lieutenant Harrity, a human, responded promptly from her superior's side as she pulled her tricorder from it's holster to take a reading of the area. She was used to Terek's commentary. Following her lead, the team's male Jalaxian, Ensign Bastaire, slid his from his waist to sweep the other direction, choosing to stay quiet. His blue furred feline tail hung limp, just as Harrity's blonde pony-tail. The fifth member of the team, a stiff in the face, young, red haired male human, gripped his rifle tightly and left the sciences to his colleagues.
"As long as I get my hands on that bastard, I think we'll all be fine.", Ensign Stein said with a tone to his voice, letting the other officers know just how he felt about this situation. All five officers were from the U.S.S Redona, and the images of their fellow vessels being fired upon in Earth's orbit remained fresh in the front of their mind. Their ship was present during the conflict with their own defense platform, with their sister vessel, the Excalibur, receiving light damage to her drive section. When their team was called upon to assemble, their mission felt personal knowing all of the disabled and damaged vessels they were leaving behind as their ships left Earth. Fallen comrades and the faces of their loved ones pushed them forward, as well as made some lusty for vengeance. While they did not go and say it quite like Stein, they did think similarly after the threat that was brought upon their home.
"If they were not able to pin-point the hacker's specific location, I'm not certain what we should be searching for. The Redona's sensors would have done a much better job than what we could do down here.", Harrity stared at her tricorder as she shook her head slightly, blonde eyebrows raising out of confusion. There was power consumption and life all around, not seemingly reduced to any one specific location that could constitute as a lead. Excalibur's team was in an adjacent city all together, with a fair amount of ground to cover. They were not off to a good start. Unwilling to accept an immediate stalemate, Aldridge tapped the communications badge on his chest and peered up at the glowing sky.
"Command, this is the Redona Team. We're going to need some direction; nothing out of the ordinary detected from our initial scans. Galactic-net communications are consistent and scattered across normal bands.", the man spoke aloud to their unseen support, peering over Harrity's shoulder to see what the results of her scan had been thus far. The five did not want to stand in one place too long, attracting unwanted attention to themselves.
"We've been conferring with Central Information for methods to actively trace the hacker Velius.", a man's voice was quick to reply; the male Admiral from the temporary command center beneath Starfleet Headquarters. The communications link that had been in use remained open, prepped and ready for the second leg of their operation. As the team awaited their Admiral's directives, all looking in Aldridge's direction, they were surprised to hear the voice of a small, female child.
"The solution to finding him may be low tech, looking for something else aside from the usual culprits. I'm convinced he has a lot of equipment in operation to maintain his inter-link with DeltaStar, and then all of the targets in and around Earth simultaneously.", the girl's voice spoke strangely clearly and concisely to the subject matter. An obvious rejuve, but why one would be on their communications line was a mystery. At their posts on board the Redona, they were unaware of the situation as it had unfolded on Earth, too busy attempting to defend the vessels defense platform twelve disabled.
"Search for a very concentrated area of electromagnetic radiation. On the ground with those sensitive tricorders, you might be able to pick something up at a distance. It should look out of place.", she advised; Harrity and Bastaire both initiating keystrokes to reconfigure their tricorder's sensors. In the background of the communication, the high pitched drone of a medical emitter and various noises broke onto the line at times.
Back on Earth, the computer room which Kayla had done her duty was busy at work. While her paws laid restfully upon the flat control surface of her console, Jacob carefully worked on removing swelling and pain from her finger and knuckle joints; a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory agent ready in a hypo-spray upon her controls. It was a daunting task, trying to help her without giving her body adequate rest. All around them the other officers, their white coats now damp, were trying to clean up the gelatinous mess of the cooling gel that had been sprayed in an effort to stabilize the computers earlier. Not a single white cover-panel was upon the wall, now tossed aside and trampled on the floor. It was still a situation while Velius remained at large, but relief had fallen hard over those in the room; comforting them like a blanket. Knowing their families were safe brought a new life and vigor to their endeavors. The Earth remained whole, as the grids and read-outs upon the room's now uncorrupted view-screen confirmed. Again, Kayla's console too stood at the ready, cooled down and rebooted to a fresh state. She would stay and see this through until the end, supported by those around her as she entrusted the capture of Velius to the same military force whom took her into custody two years ago. Many light-years away, it was difficult for the Redona Team to imagine what had gone on under San Francisco, especially with a young girl providing them subject-matter expertise.
"Who's the kid?", Stein questioned with a snarky overtone in the quiet of their narrow street before being given a brisk wave of Aldridge's hand, motioning for him to be quiet. The younger man wasn't best known for holding his tongue and he wanted none of that to be picked up by his communicator.
"Understood. And you would be?", Aldridge acknowledged with an included query, following his underling's lead with a stronger note of protocol and politeness. In the brief moment of verbal silence, the ambient noise of their surroundings and the two tricorders beeping echoed faintly off the smooth walls around them.
"Kayla Ackart.", she announced as her full name, doing her part while she sat and rested her body after the intense workout she put it through. Jacob had pointed out a brief time ago that Kayla had gone as far as bruising her fingertips in pushing herself to stop Velius' siege. Though, upon hearing her name, the Lieutenant-Commander far off on Gerias cocked his head just slightly. It sounded so familiar, like he had read it someplace before, and the other four seemed to make a similar face in their own way.
"She's Packet-Storm, our special adviser and counter-hacker working with Central Information. We will be available as necessary for support, Redona Team.", a voice spoke up that wasn't familiar to them; Commander Santorae, working across the room from his young, furred colleague to ensure his own system's readiness. Roughly twenty minutes had passed since Earth warded off the bombardment from their own orbital defense platforms, providing only minimal time thus far to prepare for further strikes and defensive measures. The tired, busy sounding voices the five officers had been graced with let them know just who saved the Earth from the mortal danger they watched from space. Knowing well whom Packet-Storm was, their curious questions had all been answered in one swoop, giving each other surprised looks. Both tricorders sweeping the area as suggested, Aldridge raised his right hand and held it near his Starfleet badge; trying to find his words, knowing so many were listening and counting on them. All that work on Earth would be for naught if Velius escaped here.
"Well, that's someone I'd like to have on my side. Redona Team out.", Aldridge spoke more slowly, at least pleased to know they were not completely alone. A quick tap from his index finger made his badge chirp, closing the line and giving Stein an open opportunity to snicker without the risk of being heard. Terek turned his head away and stared down the longer portion of the narrow strip they were standing in, being first to speak up; a trait he was known for, despite his younger human teammate being the loudmouth of Redona's tactical response unit.
"We're taking advice from a Penitatas? That's lovely.", the Cardassian griped, not so much changing his tone of voice. He didn't have to in order to get the sarcasm and awkward notes across. Those outside of the justice system did look down upon their small criminals.
"That's like asking a Ferengi to hold your wallet.", Stein was more than happy to chime in, echoing Terek's sentiments. Aldridge was fairly quick to take a sharp intake of breath and prepare to tell his officers to shut their traps, but his notion was interrupted and settled before he had to intervene, gripping his phaser rifle a bit more tightly from personal discomfort.
"Give her a break, knock it off. She's likely the reason you two will have homes to return to.", Lieutenant Harrity looked up from her tricorder to scold, pointing out their hypocrisy. As her Lieutenant-Commander's right hand, she didn't see any reason to distrust someone that had already proven themselves to be a trustworthy ally. She and Aldridge usually got along like that.
"Agreed.", Bastaire concurred with annoyance, and the only word he had uttered in quite some time. The Jalaxian didn't lift his nose from his tricorder, shifting his stance to scan a little further to his right; the unit beeping and sounding more intense, moving through an area of denser electromagnetic radiation as it was passed by a large, shadowy structure in the distance beyond the town homes. Metal beams and scaffolding towered high into the air, visible only by the bits of blue that glowed off it's surfaces. While it was common for Terek to not reply to such things, Stein scoffed and let his rifle go limp at his side as he rolled his eyes behind his female superior.
"We can give Command more credit than that.", the Ensign attempted to push a point, not knowing Starfleet Command really would have been in a bad way without their incarcerated assistant. Before anyone else could cut in with their own banter and two cents, Bastaire lifted his head and looked up at the faint figure of the structure in front of him; what little of it he could see at their distance.
"I have located an anomaly.", the blue feline announced plainly, but with an uncertainty that was out of character for the man. All turned to him, anxious for a positive lead, while Harrity swung her own tricorder over to see if she could locate the same thing. Promptly enough, both tricorders were chirping in stereo, making a bit more noise than they would have liked.
"There is a power facility approximately one kilometer from our present location. It is generating a massive electromagnetic field in a circular pattern, but there appears to be a second field just below it.", Bastaire interpreted the tricorder's readouts, holding the tricorder strangely close to his eyes as if having trouble seeing something. Harrity squinted, but nodded her head slowly behind her sciences colleague.
"Yes. It's under ground, beneath the two reactors I'm picking up. Their large electromagnetic field is obscuring it, but it must be formidable to be detected in such close proximity. This could only be seen at ground level.", she observed and added for clarity, finding the reading to be strange. There shouldn't be anything under a power station, at least like what they were seeing. It came off as suspicious, if not questionable - the sort of thing Packet-Storm suggested they check. Aldridge held his rifle with both hands, taking a look down their narrow street in both directions; preparing to move out. Attempting to spot thin gaps and alleys between structures was difficult with such an odd, dim blue light bleeding down the walls.
"We'll investigate. It's the best lead we have, and I can't say anything else sticks out on this rock.", their leader decided, calculating the best course of action. It was a fair distance, but at least they were significantly closer than the Excalibur's unit. The two cities were not particularly massive, but they still had to be at least twenty-five to thirty kilometers away. For now they would be running alone, watched over by the Redona's sensors. The man tilted the butt of his rifle away from his chest, gesturing down the street towards what looked to be their first alley while turning his head around to address his team.
"Stein, you're wiry; take point. Lead ahead and keep us moving on a safe route. Bastaire, continue your tricorder sweeps. Move out!", Aldridge lowered both his volume and tone, giving the unit their first orders since arrival on the ground. Their younger officer willing, Stein waved his rifle in positive reply as he took off on his feet first with the rest of the Redona Team in pursuit.
Black boots clapped dully against the semi-smooth Gerian cobblestone, making a decent movement speed while the five softened their footfalls to enhance the element of stealth; at least avoiding being too obvious. Passing by doorways and under small windows, it would be easy for the racket of five rushing people with rifles to attract on-lookers and potential problems. They moved in pairs, very close to one another, with Stein looking briskly around corners with his weapon clutched ready in his hands; taking the darker and quieter of potential slits between town-homes and buildings to avoid residents all together if possible. In the distance there were faint sounds of thumps and clangs from a moon that was not yet at rest, hearing people, street vendors, and the never ending mining that churned ore and precious resource. They passed hissing, leaking steam pipes one after another - sprawled along the bottoms of walls as they went out to heat homes, breaking the clouds of loose moisture as they ran by. Copper-like, they trailed where ever they went, originating from the power station they were making their journey towards. Fit and able to move briskly, one kilometer was a simple task; the unit's female Lieutenant running up along side her superior, pony-tail bouncing off her upper back.
"I've never seen a ship allowed to use warp twenty before. Getting to the outer colonies should have taken three or four hours.", Harrity turned her eyes off to her left, taking the moment to talk to Aldridge while they moved. The warp speed limitations had been made firmly into law for a reason, coming to discover the damage to space such high speed, high power warp bursts caused. Breathing hard, ensuring he would make it without getting winded, Aldridge smiled and tried to look back over.
"They'll send out a crew to try and clean up the subspace vortices, I hope. We would have ripped some wide open.", the man had to say with a weary note of pride. Having technology that could do that much was impressive, but ruining their universe wasn't exactly a good thing. It at least got them to Gerias in one piece. The two checked off to their sides once they reached a larger, wide open space. Life was sparse; loading docks and rusted metal guard-rails all around, with two men in the near distance slowly turning their heads to watch the five, semi-shadowed figures rush by with something clearly held in their hands. One holding a container in his arms didn't move an inch, unsure as to what was going on or what he was seeing. In this case, the Redona Team preferred it that way; disappearing down a short couple of steps and between two buildings. So much unlike Earth and it's society, they didn't know what to think about this place. It all felt so primitive, with a lingering potential for lawlessness and corruption. Rejuvenators weren't even a no-cost, government provided service like Earth has enjoyed for hundreds of years now.
"Stein, I'd better not fall into a hole following you into such stupid places!", Terek snapped up ahead at his partner, sounding faint to Aldridge and Harrity trailing behind with Bastaire at the rear, checking his tricorder frequently. Rounding the next corner, they had to jump down a short distance into an empty drainage canal, each landing with a dull thud on their boots to keep up with their quick colleague and inevitably irritated Cardassian, being dragged along such an odd route. However, Bastaire never said a word, knowing well from his readings that they were going the correct way. Down in the valley of the sloped-sided canal, the light reflected by Costima Three was greatly reduced as the strange metal they ran upon reflected no light. They passed pillars and gratings too dark to even see, but none of them felt the risk of turning their rifle-mounted flashlights on was warranted. It did, though, require their lead officer to slow down, now much closer to the others in his search for a clean way towards the power station, now towering much closer on their left. Metal scaffolding went high into the air along the side of the tall structure, looking barren under likely automated control. Not a single light was to be seen, even on it's taller structures.
"Sir!", Aldridge heard called behind he and Harrity, running steadily. He turned his head over his shoulder, trying to stay close to his female comrade and friend to avoid plowing into anything. Ensign Bastaire wasn't doing that much in the air of cautiousness, looking straight down at his tricorder without so much as looking up to check and see where he was.
"The second field is definitely not part of the power station. It has it's own epicenter, strong and fluctuating at frequencies unlike anything else in the area.", the feline didn't call out loudly in excitement, but he did leave those notions in his voice between sharp intakes of air. He held a lot of things back normally. Continuing to hear such positive reports and bits of intrigue come from Bastaire started to create a lump in Aldridge's chest and a strange numbing feeling in his legs. Harrity eyed over her shoulder for a second before turning them straight to Aldridge, rounding the next corner into a narrow, grating-covered niche heading away from the drainage canal. Through the passing shadows of metal bars the power station was now a clear shot dead ahead; old musty smells striking their senses.
"This... must be it. That sounds like a confirmation to me.", Harrity openly speculated with their commanding officer, sounding as if she felt as nervous and surprised on the inside as he did. The man didn't let any of it onto his stone-wall face in front of his officers, but they may have been closing in on the demon who literally kidnapped a planet. Uncertainty was high, not even certain what they were running towards. It was hard to see, squinting to look up above, but Aldridge wanted to hold onto the idea that it was true.
"We'll find out soon enough.", he commented more quietly a moment later, huffing after from keeping the brisk pace up for the length of time they had, going every which way Stein lead them; Gerias one big obstacle course.
Coming up along side of one of the structures jutting out of the power station's main building, entering the center of the large complex, the narrow drain reached a point where it sloped outward and became somewhat wider. Tucked just beneath ground level where they slowly came to a halt, metal grating nearly touching the top of Aldridge and Terek's heads, they encountered a flimsy metal access door tucked against the side of the gutter. Thick and a faint yellow-ish hue in the low light, it looked as if it had seen too many years of weather and corrosion; the door clearly having been leaking water inside along it's bottom seam. Stein had stopped beside this door, leaning on the metal to catch his breath, hand on his chest where the red on his shoulders met the black of his uniform.
"The field readings are just below us, through here. We're meters from it's source.", Bastaire advised as he approached behind everyone else, reaching out with his left paw to point downward with an untrimmed feline claw. Having stopped just to have that confirmed, Stein made a prideful, energetic sort of laugh in his youth. He removed his hand from his chest, reaching to his side to touch the door's control panel and activate it, so long as it worked in the condition it was in. The tiny keypad did not beep, in fact flickering with age when touched, but it did what it was intended to do. Beside it, in front of the team, the access door slid open with a mild groan, much slower than the automated doors they were familiar with in most modern facilities. As it slid away into the wall, cricking and clanking, the sound of dripping, moving water came to their ears from the cavity below; the door opening to a platform and a free fall off it's three sides, illuminated by yellow, stained and dirty lights. None moved immediately. Not even Stein, whom peered around the edge of the door, trying to stick his head in and make sure the area was a safe one.
"Be on your guard. Take it steady.", Aldridge ordered more slowly than his prior orders, keeping his voice down as he waved his right hand for the team to enter in careful unison; Costima Three against their backs.
One by one they fit through the small doorway, holding onto it's frame to ensure their footing until it was just Aldridge and Harrity remaining. Without prior explanation, Harrity halted after she stepped forward. The woman looked up into the door's frame once she was half inside, stopping and reaching up at something in the quiet. Kneeling down beside her, Aldridge attempted to see what she was inspecting with a hand on her shoulder for support. Feminine fingers dragging softly across a metal surface above, Harrity's mouth opened slightly, then closed with a slight change in her expression.
"There is corrosion everywhere, but the metal the door slides on is smoothed down. It's been in use.", the observant woman deduced, staring up as she spoke. The three officers inside on the platform lifted their weapons wearily, looking around more intensively to make sure nothing could be missed upon hearing such a thing.
"Some random old door, in a gutter, leading towards a large electromagnetic field has been seeing use?", Terek commented with his weapon pointed straight outward, down into what looked like a tunnel or ducting system below; lined with thick tan sheets of native metal and a thin stream of water flowing down a recessed indentation in the floor. Stein shook his head back and forth, taking a deep breath as he looked off the other side of the platform and did the same.
"This has to be it. Let's keep moving!", Stein said with force and a sort of excitement, feeling as if he was too close to wringing Velius' neck to stop now. While Harrity and Aldridge climbed through the doorway with their weapons in hand, the younger officer was busily checking the sides of the platform, coming to spot a ladder upon it's side straight ahead from the doorway. Slipping down to his knees, phaser rifle held in one arm pointed outward, the man slid on his hip and got a foot down onto the rails to climb down with one hand. Harrity was prompt to rush forward, hand lunging for her tricorder as she went after Stein.
"Hold up! This is a damn power station, that water could be radioactive!", she tried to yell with hushed restraint, to get her point across while not making a racket down in this niche beneath the ground. Flipping her tricorder open, she quickly tried to make an assessment of the area though Stein continued to climb downward, unevaded by her typical scold. The others stood behind her in wait with the sound of Stein stepping down the ladder growing fainter, hearing the occasional benign beep from their Lieutenant's tricorder.
"The water is run-off from the station, it's radiation levels are within normal parameters. Looks like this section is used for additional drainage or shunting for it's coolant systems; cold water only.", Harrity started with a sigh, stating aloud for her colleagues who took a moment to stop and listen before charging ahead. That fool Stein would have been unhappy if he landed feet first in a bed of radiation, but he seemed adamant about pressing forward as aggressively as possible. One of those "instinct" driven men, Harrity groaned about in her head. Not wanting to get left behind, she snapped her tricorder back closed and got a footing on the ladder to begin her own decent; Aldridge and his other two men following behind. Stein was waiting for them at the bottom, found to be pacing and checking the immediate area once they climbed down the two stories of rough, bare metal rungs.
At the bottom, the entire area was made with a type of tan metal, apparently corrosion resistant with it's lack of rust. Even in the bed of the shallow recessed stream through the middle of the tunnel, flowing gently and filling the area with the smell of water, there was not a trace of deposits. To the left and right the semi-narrow tunnel continued on, but off to their right the end was visible and looked as if to get wider along the way. As each pair of boots landed on the metal floor and off the ladder, they clapped sharply upon impact with a very short, almost instant echo. Pipes of various size and configuration lined the upper portions of the walls; sickly yellow lights sitting beneath them with dingy plastic-like covers. For the anxiety and tension that was starting to fill the minds and bodies of the five Starfleet officers, the scene was eerily tranquil for what it was. The lack of noise left only the sound of water and the drips of leaking pipes, looking as if no living being had been down here in over a decade to maintain the most basic components of this tunnel.
Yet, Bastaire's tricorder chirped with warning more rapidly then it had before, now so close to the source of the field it was set to detect. This time not a word was said; the Jalaxian man raising his head from his tricorder with a slow, single nod as he looked out at the widening, short stretch of tunnel, where at it's very end they could see a narrow hall and door. Adopting his silence the team cautiously crept, avoiding stepping in the thin stream of water as Aldridge took point ahead of them, focused and alert. As one unit they set out, weapons at the ready; Stein holding his own much tighter than the others, boiling with the angry hope that this would be the man he wanted. Traveling up a very shallow incline, they moved closer.
Alone in the silence, it came from a pair of long, thin, slicked back ears coated in a layer of thin gray fur. Slightly darker, thicker gray fur hanging loosely around them like wisps of hair, they shifted in the force of the creature turning it's head in an abrupt snap. It's draconic-shaped maw opened somewhat with it's rows of sharp white teeth; upper rear barely larger than the rest, tips poking out from it's muzzle even when it was closed. A mix of canine and reptilian qualities graced it's form, with bony, semi-broad spines protruding from the back of it's neck to the tip of it's tail with each vertebrae. It's hands sat stiff and motionless against a computer console's control panel, touching it with the soft, spongy spots on it's palm and fingertips that didn't come out to a pad like most species; a soft black hue that blended in, just like it's claws. With a shove away from the console, sliding it's chair, the creature rose to it's four toed feet, sporting moderate-sized claws against the rough metal it's pads rested it's weight upon. Emerald green eyes stared out towards a door across the room over scattered rows of devices, computers, and consoles. Colorful lights blinked and danced across numerous crude units all throughout the entire room, stacked messily and cooled by tiny sprawling pipes of gel. Display screens all around reflected their shimmering light off it's pupils, reacting to something even though the room was quiet and motionless here in the solitude it dwelled within. Wires and metal sank beneath it's flesh against the right side of it's head and neck, protruding from it's back and arms where a dark blue, warm jacket hid them from view above worn black pants. It's long, spine topped tail tried to stay still - stealthy - the dark gray, thicker fur that went down it's back emerging upon the upper, top side base of it's tail from his pants.
"You've got to be kidding me... ", a voice mumbled to itself, male, sounding shocked and uncomfortable as he turned with a quick motion and stepped away from the console. It was a mere three steps to the row of miscellaneous terminals and computers lining the center of the rectangular room, surrounded by familiar, thick sheets of tan metal. This room was lit with white, clean light from tall sconces built into each corner of the room; protected with stainless steel. The creature lifted his muzzle - gray furred snout pointed up at a fuzzy monitor above, suspended by a slew of messy, black and red dangling wires. It displayed a narrow hallway and it's opening, granted by a nearly microscopic camera implanted between two seams of metal plates in the ceiling. There was nothing there to be seen. Just the trickle of water pipes into the system from just beyond where the hallway began; corners beside the short, thirteen foot long hallway hidden from view. It lead to a door to his far right, at the end of the rectangular room he had called home for a while; his cot sitting just in front of him, tucked in the corner with books and things set beside it in casual disarray.
But for a few more moments he stared, as if expecting something. The metal rings on the front of his jacket moved only with the man's breathing, anxious in those few seconds. Then, just as he appeared to suspect, figures emerged on the top right of the image, walking in a partial crouch with rifles held at the ready. Colorful gold and red shoulders graced his vision - Starfleet uniforms coming into view as they came to the end of the short, narrow hallway and caused the man to take a quick step back.
"Oh fuck, you're not!", he flared his draconic nostrils and shouted like an panicked, cornered animal in the tight, essentially armored confines of his little room; throwing out his right arm and pointing at the screen as he turned and bolted for the short side of the room furthest from the doorway.
Hastily and sloppily, the creature grasped a thin sheet of metal with it's bare hands and tore it from the wall, throwing it aside to strike the legs of his cot. Behind it, hidden away, was a small cache of weaponry hung on what was once a place for storing tools - all of various sizes, shapes, and colors from many different worlds. In his rush, tail flung to his side in such a rapid thrust of his body, his spines smacked the edge of a console behind him as he reached out and collected all that he could grab in a short period. Rifle-shaped devices with straps were thrown over his shoulders, while smaller things were shoved into the wide pockets or waist of his pants until he was left with only things of a less useful nature on the wall. A rifle slung over each shoulder and pistol-like weapons on each hip, he broke into a brisk run for his primary console, claws noisily smacking the metal floor with each fall of his feet.
Sliding into his seat with force, the chair slid ungracefully towards his console while his weaponry smacked against his back; movements all rushed. Right claw raised, it grasped a blue wire that came down from the cortex-computer implanted into the side of his head and pulled it's terminal plug from the top right pocket of his jacket; shoving it's metallic, coated connector into the front of his computer console before placing his claws upon it's control surface. While his fingers did not have the grace of Kayla's own, stiff and lacking fluidity, the creature's display screens flickered and changed at a similar speed; his eyes twitching under heavy focus, back turned to the monitor trained on Aldridge's officers.
There, outside and unknowing amidst the serene trickle of cool water, the officers had all huddled into the two corners at the end of the tunnel; narrow hallway leading to a door situated between them. Harrity and Bastaire had begun their tricorder scans of what laid ahead, one on each side of the hallway - humans on the right, and Jalaxian and Cardassian on the left. Peering around the corner, the tiny distance to the door looked no different than the rest of the tan metal down in this system, but the door itself was slightly darker with recessed ridges and no visible control panel to either of it's sides. Only feet away, it stood as a bothersome, suspicious obstacle by the initial tricorder readings that were coming back to the team's two primary sciences officers.
"It looks like it's sealed mechanically and magnetically.", Harrity spoke with a low voice, poking her head partially around the corner to point her tricorder at it and obtain her scan. She reached back and tossed her pony-tail over her other shoulder, staring at her tricorder's screen with an uncertain expression all of her colleagues were staring at. The device she held continued to beep, but sort of erratically as the woman worked with diligence in mind.
"I'm not detecting any force fields or barriers, but there is an unknown energy signature present. Just barely. It could be coming from inside, but we're so close to the reactors above us there is severe interference.", she turned her head up from the device, withdrawing it and her head back around the corner to more comfortably comment on her findings. There was a lot of uncertainty in her tone, but Bastaire didn't speak any agreement nor disagreement upon closing his tricorder. Aldridge didn't come this far to be deterred by a locked door in this day and age, thinking of what they could do to communicate with whom might be inside this room ahead.
"You think someone inside might be able to hear us?", Aldridge turned to both his side and across the slab of metal they were crouched upon to ask, directing it to both Harrity and Bastaire. However, the response came from his other side; a gruff scoff. Ensign Stein stood up with a shove off the wall, stepping quickly out into the center of the area to stare down those feet of hallway. His weapon initially down, the young human lifted it into his arms and pointed it straight at the middle of the door, looking down the length of the rifle with a fire in his chest. Essentially, he volunteered whether it would work or not - he didn't care as long as he tried, with the other four readying their rifles and watching. Stein's phaser rifle raised up slowly by an inch as he took a deep breath, then lowered back down as it slowly left his diaphragm.
"We are representatives of the United Federation of Planets, conducting a mission of peacekeeping! You are suspect to be in violation of intergalactic law - please open this door and subject yourself to immediate search!", the man called out with his best voice, bringing forth his staunch professionalism that got him onto the Redona's team despite his brash nature. Standing on an unfamiliar world with potential danger ahead, his hands did not shake and his weapon remained stoically at the ready. The five officers looked both at him and the door, hearing nothing besides the ambiance of the tunnel. Someone heard them, stopping his keystrokes abruptly to listen to the monitor behind him without turning his head. His claws folded and his expression turned stiff and cold. Motionless, he waited just as the Starfleet officers did. Moments ticked; his console at the ready, just as the rifles outside his door.
"I repeat - open your door! Occupant, you are under arrest! Comply!", Stein yelled out after several moments of inactivity, hands holding his rifle that much tighter until his index finger began to indent against the weapon's trigger. They didn't know if there was someone inside with certainty, but it was a safe bet that things were absolutely amiss. Stein wanted this to be the place, so in his gut, it was. The creature hidden away took a deep, nervous breath; a tension beyond the cold and methodical aura surrounding him that didn't match up with his calm seated position, ignoring the officers. He too was faced with something uncertain, difficult to comprehend as his green eyes stared intently at all the information prepared upon his computer's two primary display screens - perhaps neither predator nor prey, waiting in this heavy silence. Decisions were to be made, all based on who would make the first move. Stein grit his teeth and took another deep breath, sharply and suddenly after many fleeting moments of nothing.
"Have it your way!", the young human snapped, swinging his thumb to increase the power output of his phaser rifle from stun to lethal before giving the trigger a heartfelt squeeze - intending to punch a hole in the metal door and push forward. His weapon fired it's red beam of particles, shining brightly from the black, ribbed barrel of the rifle. The sudden phaser burst startled his teammates, but the rapidly emitted beam of energy reached the door in a fraction of an instant, bringing forth an unanticipated reaction.
As the red stream struck the door, the entire area was lit up by a bright white light as if there had been a massive explosion. The sound that came from the narrow hallway was a ripping snap, crackling at a very high, nearly inaudible pitch aside from Bastaire's Jalaxian ears. All instantaneous, the team around the corners curled up defensively and shielded their faces from the unknown blast; bodies stone solid from the shock. Just as they began to sense there was no heat against their skin, in that instant Stein let out the most blood curdling scream they had ever been so unfortunate to hear. The bright light faded away; Aldridge removing his arm from his face to find his young subordinate collapsed upon the ground, rifle at his side and clutching his face as he screamed on his back. Against the door, from what he could see out the side of his peripheral, he saw little orange spheres floating in the air, glowing vibrantly like sparks. However, instead of falling, these sparks sat still until they shrank and faded away; Stein writhing violently on the ground beside him, distracting his attention from what was going on just feet away from the team.
"I thought you said there was no force field!", Terek shouted angrily in distress, sounding distressed in his own way as he crawled out to Stein's side with hurried, desperate motions as the man continued his screaming. Harrity's back was plastered against the metal wall behind her, breathing hard out of fright.
"What force field does that!", the woman shouted back in her defense, not wanting to be given the blame for what happened to their comrade; something they weren't even certain about. He was a young man they had come to know well, training together and having their regular teamwork exercises. Refusing to be the cause of what befell him, her hands began to fumble for her tricorder.
"My eyes! My eyes!", Stein screamed sharply, sounding shrill and in a deep panic. Under the grip of his fingers, the small trickle of blood began to seep between them as he made the most grotesque sounds of agony. Aldridge swallowed with difficulty, starting to grip his weapon as if to defend his fellow, only to grasp that there really wasn't anyone to fire upon. Instead, his hand shot for his communication badge.
"Redona, we need sensor support! Likely hostile - Stein is down! Command, we may have located Velius!", Lieutenant-Commander Aldridge shouted loudly enough to try and be heard over the screaming, holding his rifle at the ready while Terek pulled Stein to safety on his side of the hallway, keeping him down on his back; Stein's rifle still left fallen in front of the hallway entrance. He called out to all those who could support them, taking the wide open communications line to his advantage to communicate with his ship and Earth at the same time. In Central Command and Central Information, all those present froze for a moment before dropping what they were doing to shift their focus to a new threat called over their badges. Kayla leaned against her console, lifting her paws to flex her fingers as she listened; Emily over her shoulder and Jacob at her side. This was it - the moment a tired planet had been waiting for. As before, initial victory aside, the Aspatrian who stood for that planet placed her paws beneath her muzzle and stared down at her display screen in intent focus.
"I'm blind!", Stein let out loudly enough with a horror-film warble to his voice to be picked up by Aldridge's communications badge, sending a chill down the spines of all those listening. The man's legs kicked, fighting against a strong pain while his Cardassian fellow held him down and steady for his own good, trying to calm down his friend and ensure he could not further hurt himself. It wasn't easy, finding having his sight taken away gave Stein strength in his flailing limbs.
"It'll be alright!", the Cardassian officer attempted to reassure, but the tone of his voice was way off for conveying it the way he intended; hovering over the younger human while he tried to hold Stein's wrists with a single, unoccupied hand. As requested, the voice of U.S.S Redona's Captain broke into the now fairly loud run-off tunnel.
"Lieutenant-Commander, our sensor readings in your immediate vicinity are being skewed by the power facility's reactors. There is an additional life-form near you, but it cannot be identified. Stand by!", the older man called out to his crew before cutting out momentarily. Unwilling to wait, Aldridge shot his gaze straight off to his side to get answers from Harrity's new tricorder readings. These she provided without being asked or even looking up to see if anyone was listening, shouting aloud for anyone who would hear. The woman's fingers tapped quickly at her tricorder; striking it hard enough to try and hide the fact her hands were trembling.
"I don't understand what technology this is! It looks like the phaser beam was converted directly into light energy!", Harrity tried to make sense of what happened, still unfamiliar with the energy signature present. It wasn't even all that big, but the blast of intense light was more than enough to blind Stein. They had only been spared because they were around the corner just enough to not have seen the epicenter of the burst. Ensign Bastaire, huddled against Terek and their fallen comrade, looked down the hallway without so much as lifting his tricorder. The usually quiet Jalaxian looked visibly unnerved, dropping his affinity for science to clutch his weapon defensively.
"Instead of the field absorbing the blast like most shields, it converted it into something that could not harm it - one energy into another.", the blue furred man appeared annoyed at the concept, also not knowing of any species that protected devices with such strange technology. For Bastaire, this was all the confirmation he required, all the ready to follow Stein's brash suit. Intellectually minded or not, he was still a Jalaxian. Their leader had to breathe and take it all in, trying not to get as rattled as the others as his com-badge returned to activity.
"Aldridge, we can not get an emergency transporter lock on your team. There appears to be a transporter scrambler active in your area, and it's not stationary. Proceed with extreme caution; support is on the way.", their Captain called back to them, unable to do anything from orbit to assist. Hearing that there was no quick way out and no help for their colleague available to them in the immediate, the four remaining officers lowered their heads and loosened their muscles in heavy disappointment. Stein now whimpering and groaning, squirming against the tan metal floor where he was tucked protectively into the corner beside Terek and Bastaire, his sounds remained the only ones among the quiet, weary Redona Team. A voice began to speak over the communications line emanating from Aldridge's Starfleet com-badge, recalling the Excalibur's tactical team for beam-out and re-insertion to a location closest to them that wasn't being jammed or scrambled. Aldridge wanted to avoid waiting any further now that he already had one officer down, turning his head slightly to read the expressions and discomfort of his crew.
"The four of us should try to hit the barrier at the same time. It might not be able to convert that much energy so quickly!", their leader suggested as a theory, rolling it into a loose order as he lifted his phaser rifle into both his hands as if prepared to point it and fire right away, ending this standoff with an invisible individual. They would have to cover their eyes and take precautions, but it was the man's hope that it would work and they could get Stein beamed back to the Redona. Though, as he gave his idea aloud to his team, looking across the small divide to Terek and Bastaire to convey his directives, he found they were both staring not at him, but to Harrity at his side. Distracted from his gun-ho orders, Aldridge stopped and turned his head to his Lieutenant.
For the length of time he had known his friend, the look on her face wasn't something he had seen before. Lieutenant Harrity's mouth opened as her tricorder slowly began to chirp, beeping an alarming tone at a steadily faster rate as her wrist tilted the device further upwards. As if the tricorder was no longer important, the woman's eyes trailed further up as the hand-held unit slumped loosely in her hand; wrist going limp. Air heavy and tension mounting, listening only to the uncomfortably calming trickle of water, matters grew much worse beyond that of their one fallen colleague.
In an act that affirmed his nature, gray muzzle twisted into an angry rage, the creature just beyond Starfleet's reach went ahead with what he had prepared on his console while waiting for the team of officers to make their first aggressive move. Once Stein fired his weapon, the man known as Velius could no longer sit quietly knowing his position had been compromised; unwilling to be backed into a corner and allow another body to declare themselves victorious. Faced with this staunch reality, a heavy decision had been made that disregarded the instinct of self-preservation. Despite the difficulty of what he had done, the cold man would find his victory and final retribution for the insult of having armed officers present themselves in an attempt to arrest him. The man whom towered over Earth as it's god would make this his eternal grave, willing to take as many others as he could if his freedom and life was about to come to an end. If it was to end, it would end on his terms - no matter the cost, as long as those around him became victims and paid the price.
Velius' claws now still against his computer console, code fully executed and his various computers and terminals all acting under an automated nature, beeping and streaming lines of textual information down their many displays, the man took a deep, raspy breath through his nostrils. Above his head, and his current hidden niche of a home, he turned the power station he used to hide from sensors with into his final weapon; an intentional reactor overload. Hacking into the plant's automated controls to sever it's safety protocols and ramp up the internal sub-fusion reactions, he sealed the entire city's fate if his own was to be sealed. Fast acting and sure to be violent in explosion, the furred creature squinted his emerald eyes at his console's report of reactor cores one and two's status. To knowingly terminate your existence was a difficult choice, but when faced with losing he'd rather find a new route to becoming the winner. Covered in energy-based and disruptor weapons of various class and origin, his last objective would be to defend himself and allow the blast to take place; unplugging his cortex-computer jack to watch his screen and listen to the monitor behind his head in enraged silence.
"The reactors are going critical. Someone is shunting them out of parameter... They're late style fission reactors; the bridge technology between it and fusion. The reaction will spiral out of control until it can no longer be contained or absorbed, and the concentrated blast takes out the entire city.", Lieutenant Harrity began to mumble, tucked into the very corner at the end of the tunnel, beside her superior. Her eyes were distant, as if she was already beginning to cope with her own death, and her words were no different - barely audible to Aldridge's communications badge. Such soft, terrified yet calm words sank a dread all around, like listening to someone's last words. On Earth, Kayla's ears moved slightly, standing as tall as they could while her muzzle came off her paws slowly. It was out of one pit and into another; Velius unsatisfied with his kill-count until they very end.
Just as Aldridge squeezed his right hand in firm hold of his phaser rifle, in no way ready to call it quits and die without a fight, back on Earth Kayla swung her tail fully behind herself and placed her paws upon the control surface of her console. They would just have to give their hacker a war on two fronts. With a majority of the cooling gel cleared from the white tile floor and Santorae's technicians available for another round, the fox took it upon herself to charge straight in, pulling up her console's connection bouncing trail. As her mother and companion watched, Emily taking it upon herself to cover her mouth and avoid panicking, the central computer room's main display along the front wall changed back to it's connection status screen; showing a green line blink between the Earth and their one satellite, then out to the asteroid belt, and continuing on with two to three locations being connected every second, beeping affirmatively with each one her quick, skilled fingers bounced along.
"Kayla, what are you doing? You're going after the power station on Gerias directly?", Commander Santorae turned and called back from the front of the room, turning on one black boot to quickly make a jog for Kayla's side. All listening and aware, the pressing need to help was first and foremost as long as it was within their capability. Those ship crews assisted them with a powerful resolve, and it was time to return the favor now that it was her turn to be that invisible hand in the sky. With a flip of his wrist, Jacob pulled the pain killer and anti-inflammatory hypo-spray he prepared from Kayla's controls, injecting it into Kayla's neck while she paid it no attention under her heavy focus.
The Karrian waited as the hypo-spray hissed, pulling it away from Kayla's orange fur as soon as the dosage was given; happy to assist for another round as he watched over her shoulder. He could at least tell she was searching for the power station's outside galactic-net connection, to counter-hack Velius without having a specific address to start with. The girl was undeterred by how tired her body was becoming under the physical and mental stress of operating at her max for such a long duration, now headed into the final round. Fingers typing as quickly as before thanks to Jacob's prompt care, Kayla's only worry was that she may not be able to keep it up as long as she did the first time.
"Not about to let Velius murder another person - not even himself. I've had enough.", Kayla growled softly under her breath, looking visibly irritated at the deranged man's tactic. Watching the U.S.S Capitol's crew lose their lives in a flash was difficult enough; watching the sensor readings from the U.S.S Redona and Excalibur as a hundred thousand lives disappeared from sight would surely make her howl in personal agony for weeks. It made her remember his laugh, happily mocking her as he tried to kill her. She'd fight for them as if it was her own life still on the line, to see this through until the bitter end. No victory would be true until Velius' threat was exterminated and they could finally go home. No more fear, one less hacker and murderer. With one final stroke of her right paw's fingers, bare black canine skin against cool, lit console, she held it above the colored keys as she paused and looked up.
"Guys! Do your thing!", Packet-Storm called out over the front of her console, out to the two technicians at the front of the room with their own consoles to control the connection and Starfleet's computer. With an "Aye ma'am!" in acknowledgment, Kayla turned her eyes back down and made the final keystroke, adding that last green line from the Gerias satellite to the moon's surface. As before, the entire network of green lines turned red with a shrill beeping alarm; the fox going straight to work, solo against an improvised weapon. Having gone one round together, all present worked as a team and respected their Penitatas counter-hacker in the mutual trust they shared in her. Through the relief that fell over them, happy to be alive and free, the feeling of debt and gratitude filled their hearts, ready to follow her as if she was their commander's ranking equal.
"All of you on Gerias, I'll counteract Velius the best I can! The more distracted he is, the better!", Kayla yelled over her communications badge without so much as taking her eyes off her console's displays, beginning to breach the layers of security between her and gaining access to the power station. Over the open line her voice was one of many as the starships around Gerias began rushing the possibility of evacuating the residents in danger, as if they could transport a hundred thousand people in the minutes it would take for the reactor cores to give out. Within thick, ribbed metallic spheres suspended in containment chambers, each reactor sported a wildly spinning sphere of radioactive energy from active fission; the containers absorbing the constant array of particles to convert them into electricity. Now their radioactive fuel heated and the reaction grew, bringing that spinning sphere of plasma-like fire to a size that made more energy than could be safely absorbed. Once it reached critical mass and breached their cores, the fission reaction would release it's unstable energy in an instant, like a rubber band; Velius' suicidal wish.
Thankful for the confident voice that broke through the thick aired, dismal tunnel around he and his fellows were within, Lieutenant-Commander Aldridge wasted no time seizing the remains of his wits. As Kayla began her task he leaped to his feet and slipped in front of Lieutenant Harrity, throwing his arm out around the corner to point his phaser rifle at the door. While keeping the rest of his body around the corner, he was left with one available arm to shield his eyes and attempt to continue his duty. Facing away from the hallway, leaning tight up against the tan metal, he looked over his officers; face muscles tight with his strong expression. All three that could actually see stared right back, wanting orders so they would at least die trying if they were to perish in such a foul place. Stein remained facing the wall upon his side, listening as his heart pounded and his breathing remained deep, handling the residual pain as best he could.
"All of you, listen up! I want four simultaneous phaser bursts on that door, on my mark. Keep your damn eyes covered and your head around the corner!", their leader commanded without any beating around the bush, going straight to what he wanted with a loud, bellowing tone of authority. While the order was for his able-bodied officers, he wanted Stein to know he was covered and taken care of, and not just a body tucked in the corner. A team they would remain.
As directed, the rustle of clothing and phaser rifles filled the once stagnant end of the tunnel, bolting straight to their places. Bastaire taking the same standing position as his commanding officer, Harrity and Terek crouched behind their respective individuals and swung their own weapons around the corner and the legs of the one in front of them. Once the barrels of their rifles were straight and confirmed to be on point, the group covered their eyes with their free arm, tucking their face into the crease of their elbow. As Terek did, turning his head to shield his vision, he came face to face with the younger human beside him. Stein sat up, squinting with tiny pools of blood on his eyelids like crimson tears, clearly unable to see at all; keeping himself propped up with a single hand at his left side.
"Hey, get down!", Terek waited to cover his eyes, snapping with a note of genuine concern. The idea of being blown to bits in a radioactive crater seemed to bring out the lighter side of his Cardassian personality. Trying to sound like a hard-nose didn't come out so well in his generally sarcastic tone. Stein tried to make a face, but the muscles in his cheeks appeared frozen from the trauma that occurred to his eyes.
"Someone kick me my phaser.", the young man said with a lot of restrained pain, speaking through his teeth. He sounded both angry and terrified at the same time, too personally uncomfortable to sit and be quiet. In a world of darkness, further threatened by things outside of that little world, he couldn't lay there and cower, hoping someone else would save him.
Terek was as quick on the draw as usual with his reply, just barely getting to speak a syllable before the clatter and grind of a phaser rifle against metal echoed lightly down the length of the run-off tunnel. Stein reached down with an unsteady hand, stopping the weapon to scoop it up in his hands, visibly touching it with pats from his hand to ensure he was picking up the correct end and wasn't about to blast an arm off. Terek dropped his partially raised arm, uncovering more of his eyes to look off to his side; Aldridge re-assuming his position against the corner of the hallway, throwing his weapon back into a firing position. In such a way, imagining what the younger man must have felt, he wasn't about to tell him no. Quickly and just as willing to help, Stein lifted his weapon and judged the location of the door by the prior sounds of his colleague's voices; no reason to cover his eyes like the others.
"Ready!", Aldridge called promptly, getting Terek to turn his head and cover his eyes. Five phaser rifles trained on an invisible force that none of them could truly understand, taking in the quiet trickle of water for one last time, their will to survive urged them forward without turning back. A flicker of a thought passed through Aldridge's mind, thinking of the times they laughed together. By damn, they had better be able to do that again soon; not losing it like this.
"Fire!", he yelled sharply, squeezing the silver trigger of his phaser rifle as hard as he could, sustaining it for a formidable length burst. As his rifle erupted it's prompt stream of shimmering red, the others all fired, striking against the door with minimal variance in their willing unison to follow Aldridge's command. In a fraction of a second's time, the sound of phaser fire was drowned entirely out by a snapping crack so loud it was like lightning had struck at their feet. The entire area lit up bright enough to white it out, then coming to sound like an explosion of sparks and electrical arcing; the light intense enough to blind Velius' microscopic camera for a time.
Like before, despite already expecting some sort of grandiose response from their target barrier, this one was violent enough to still force them to withdraw their weapons and curl up defensively. A gentle rush of air breezing over Aldridge's shoulder prompted him to try and open his eyes, coming to see the light fading and the familiar scent of ozone and ionized gasses pass by his nose. Out of caution he looked around the corner with a tight squint, coming to loosen it at the unexpected result of their efforts. Many spheres of sparkling orange spheres stood still in the air, glowing like tiny dying suns. Black smeared against the door, showing they had done nothing more than singe it's outer surface using weapons that would have neigh affect upon it's unseen protection.
"I covered my eyes and I'm still seeing spots!", Terek griped with force, uncovering his face to rub at his eyes in discomfort; slamming his phaser rifle down at his side. His gray skin wrinkled even more with his massage, looking increasingly irritated. Bastaire and Harrity were much quieter in the face of their failure, needing nothing more than a look at the door remaining in their way before they slumped back into their respective corners; all the more reminded that the clock was ticking, disaster moments away. They didn't have enough time to get inside the power facility and try to shut it down themselves. Muscles tight, they wanted to fight on, but the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming. Stein just had to take the lack of commotion as the sign the door withstood their attack, staying seated right where he was with little change in his weighted expression; his phaser rifle loose in his hands and against his lap.
Aldridge leaned his shoulder against the tan metal wall, feeling his prior confidence waning as the trickle of water came back to his ears after the loud sounds left his mind. There was still no way he wanted to stop, seeking to come out of this alive, but his racing mind was running out of ideas. Forced to look over the faces of his team, his friends on board the Redona, he was filled with guilt. Packet-Storm was their ticket to surviving, but he wasn't doing that good of a job being a distraction when separated from Velius by so much metal. He wanted to know where he went wrong, leading his team into such a place. The older human man took a deep breath, letting it out in a sigh while he re-gathered his thoughts and pondered physically pounding on the door - anything at all aside from doing nothing.
As he reached up and rubbed at his eyes, fingers massaging at his face, the lack of focus on his sight made him notice a faint noise coming up from down the tunnel. The clamber against metal and the thin stream of water quickly grew closer, prompting Aldridge to remove his hand from his face and look down the little recessed stream in the floor. He was first graced by the fairly large, golden shoulders of a Drakonian Starfleet uniform barreling towards them at break-neck speed for a female drake; legs and large claws pounding at the floor and water in it's stride with a fairly young, barely adult male human in her wake to collect the tiny droplets of water she kicked up around his ankles. Catching a glimpse of her face, the Drakonian woman grinned across her reptilian maw as best as the dinosaur-like species could muster; running like a raptor tracking prey.
"Ladies! Heads down!", the large woman exclaimed as she approached rapidly with force, swinging her short arms back with a snap of her body in mid-stride, grabbing a huge and easily noticeable tube from her broad Drakonian back. Black with a red stripe clear down it's side, the Redona Team winced and quickly scrambled in their own way as she threw it into her claws; Aldridge throwing himself down to his knees to cover his head with a loud clatter of his phaser rifle as it fell to the ground.
"Stein!", Terek snapped suddenly when he saw the weapon she pulled from her back, coming out of his crouching position to tackle his comrade. The young human grunted with the impact of having someone land on them and not get off - the Cardassian shielding his body with his own; while Harrity brought her knees close and covered her head, and Bastaire tucked himself tight into his corner like a blue furred ball, shielding himself with his rifle.
The unknown Drakonian woman pulled a handle on the side of the tube, bringing it to it's fully extended position; the larger, boxy end pointed behind her as her smooth scaled footclaws ground to a halt at the end of the stream of water. Her legs bent as she slid into the crouch, lifting the weapon with a heavy swing. Right in the middle of the floor some paces back from the hallway and it's formidable door, she thrust the launcher over her right shoulder and snapped open the unit's targeting screen, as if she really needed it in such close proximity. As the weapon chirped, beeping one, twice, and thrice, Velius' skin at the base of his muzzle curled. The muscles around his eyes came loose as he opened them slightly from their angry squint; suddenly stopping his typing upon his console, where he was attempting to stall the counter-hacker he spotted by flooding the power station with too many requests in order to slow it down. He was aware it was Packet-Storm, but something came over him to stop his fight even with her. With a shift of his feet, the creature snapped his head and torso around to face up at his crude security monitor, wearing a surprised face before he even saw what was going on just outside his door. He barely had enough time to grit his teeth before a bright flash of red enveloped his monitor screen.
Targeting scanner scrambled from the flurry of interference, the little screen merely flickered once the weapon fired, kicking back. Essentially a new-style, miniaturized and low-yield photon torpedo launcher, the old technology lived on as the black and red tube flung it's shining crimson ordinance in the blink of an eye. The Drakonian woman's right leg slid back, bracing the powerful blast on her footclaw; the weapon punching the shielded, dark tan door with immense force and a prompt outward blast. The shimmering, deadly star exploded with a sharp, rumbling boom, as metal scraps and pieces were blown away in an instant. A rush of smoke and fire rushed past the outer edges of the hallway, grazing the tightly covered officers with a wave of heat rushing by; the woman with the photon launcher seemingly unshaken by the stream of smoke and ember passing by her sides. So powerful and full of physical energy, the torpedo violently ripped through the metal door as if it was unshielded - ejecting it's badly damaged remains straight back into Velius' room, bouncing harshly off the floor to strike the back, long wall of the rectangle with deafening force. Flames shot through around where the door once stood and a shock-wave rippled through the room, knocking out a small cluster of computers at the end of the room that began the line of systems that dotted the middle of it. Far enough from the blast to not be outright scalded, out on the other end of the room, the gray furred man was knocked from his seat; face meeting the cold metal floor with a bang and painful grunt, shrapnel skittering all around him. The bits still glowed red, making tiny high pitched sounds as they bounced off the floor and walls, followed by a massive cloud of smoke that enveloped the entryway and flowed through the entire space.
His body rolling to an ungraceful halt, spines of his tail grinding against the floor, Velius covered his mouth to quell his cough after taking in a lung-full of soot and smoke. Behind him, at the other end of the rectangular space, the remains of his door half-stood against the wall across from his doorway, barely visible through the smoke though it glowed red. Pieces of things and articles scattered around the room; the creature trying to get his bearings as he tried to right himself, rifles dangling from his shoulders like weights.
Outside and now invisible to him, console chirping above his head as it was left unattended, the Drakonian woman whom stripped him of his primary defenses corrected her stance. Heat flowed from vents at the rear of the launcher; reaching over to hold it with her left claw and prep the unit to load it's second miniaturized ordinance with her right. The human that accompanied her knelt down slowly at her side, crouching as he raised his phaser rifle and the officers from the Redona recovered from the sudden blast. Stein had tensed up fairly hard once it hit, knowing then why Terek jumped on him, but now that it was over his hands were busy trying to throw the Cardassian off of him. Aldridge got up as briskly as he could, getting back to his defensive crouch as he looked around the corner at the dark cloud of smoke, unable to see into the room beyond knowing the door was exceptionally gone.
"Excalibur Team?", Bastaire called from the corner, louder than he expected from the ringing in his pointed ears. The Jalaxian wasn't quick to release his rifle from his fingers, keeping it tucked against his face.
"Yes sir!", the human with his Draconian superior called out; a tone in his voice hinting to pride and inner confidence with his age. Aldridge thumped his back flat against the wall beside his corner to the hallway, looking back at his new colleagues in the accumulating smoke. The tunnel ventilated poorly, causing it all to hang in the air and stagnate.
"What the damn hell are you doing with that?", the Lieutenant-Commander shouted to his brown scaled support; able to see the light glint off her Lieutenant's pin to see the large woman's rank. Hauling around a portable photon torpedo launcher was not standard procedure, and he didn't expect members of the Excalibur's crew to come flying down the tunnel with such brazen aggression. The behavior reminded him of Stein, but this drake had more of a care-free, dutiful atmosphere around her. Her support, the Ensign at her side, smiled as if he was her close friend and admirer.
"I take advantage of having a big back. This comes with me on potentially dangerous away-missions.", she commented back while finishing her re-load, pulling a lever on the side of the launcher; the unit clanging a loud metallic sound coupled with a few electromagnetic pulsations. Careful to not stay in one spot, the crouching drake crept to her left as she took aim for the doorway again, in case lethal force would be required. Slightly off to the side, her eyes watched intently as she waited for the smoke to clear; unable to see through the pea soup wafting through the air.
"Za`kira is our walking armory.", the boy with her, Garrison, commented loosely with a subdued snicker of sorts. Entirely overly confident, Aldridge and Harrity both made a face and deduced, but his superior at least made up for his lack of caution. All the while, Terek and Stein squirmed and quarreled quietly; the older Cardassian unable to get up with all the shoving about. Eventually the younger human shoved him off to his side, sitting up to try and look up at the voice he heard without being able to see. Terek up-righted himself to a sitting position, pulling his rifle close to his chest while Bastaire attempted a follow-up tricorder scan.
"Hey! Velius!", Ensign Stein turned his head and called out for any unfamiliar sets of ears to hear, neck muscles loose and wobbly without any particular known direction to point his head. Aldridge looked over to his colleague with just his eyes, staying right in position as he awaited visual contact; Bastaire's tricorder readings even more distorted and meaningless than before from the surging reactors above. The tunnel echoed his words, falling silent in their absence. Headstrong even though he was blind, the young man yelled out as if he was still taking point as the arresting officer with his strong words.
"Resistance is not an option! You're cornered - surrender now or you risk further conflict!", he ordered the unknown, unseen creature to resign himself to his fate for the good of all those involved. All of the Starfleet officers made their weapons ready, prepared to sever the silence with a barrage of phaser fire at a moment's notice. There was no sounds of life or additional clatter, nor a response; the teams staring and listening, hoping to catch a glimpse of something. As it stood, the first blast may have killed their target and there was no one left to heed Stein's commands; Harrity batting at some of the smoke to clear it around her face.
Shrouded away, sound dulled by the pads on his feet, the creature they sought had recovered from the blast and made a quick sprint; not away from his smoldering, torn door but towards it. As if undeterred by the concept of fear, seemingly uncaring of anything surrounding him, the creature covered his nostrils with his free left claw and took a deep breath, trying to use his thin fur as a filter to get some decent air as he ran straight into the cloud of smoke. Once passed the computers and terminals along the center of the room, many of the displays cracked and broken, he stopped between his doorway and the back wall where the visibility dropped to absolute zero; nothing to be seen by the eyes. It was then that he reached for the rifle-like weapon over his right shoulder, throwing the strap off his arm as he dropped the long barreled, green device into his claws and pulled it straight up to his face as if to align a shot. No party could see the other; the smoke stinging Velius' eyes as his heart galloped, focused with a strange, sickeningly calm hatred that allowed him to move like a wind when faced with the end.
Then, unabated by his position or inability to see, the creature stood tall and closed his emerald green eyes. Without his sight, standing in the back of a thick cloud of hanging smoke, his claws re-directed the weapon's aim as if tracking something through it; concentrating and trying to find calm serenity in the art of stealing away a life. It was simple for him, squeezing the rifle's ribbed trigger once his breathing slowed and a feeling of certainty warmed his chest. The silence through the tunnel was cut wide open; a loud energy-based gunshot splitting the air like thunder, creating a wave of rippling green light from the sides of the rifle's barrel as it shot a long blast of concentrated energies through the opaque cloud of smoke. The cloud lit up, and in an instant, the long bolt of energy streamed through it to an entire squadron of unknowing Starfleet personnel.
The next sound was that of tearing and splitting; cracking and grotesque.
Straight through, the bolt went through Za`kira's chest as if it was not a solid mass, coming to emerge undeterred out the crouching Drakonian's lower back and straight through her tail a second time. Blood sprayed into the air like a fine mist, turning her surroundings into a red cloud; pupils having not even enough time to dilate as the force of the bolt shot the large woman off her footclaws. Everyone turned their heads in shock at the sound, finding the woman knocked clear backwards; hard enough to bounce violently off her right shoulder and her photon torpedo launcher before coming to rest with a loud bang when her weight struck the metal floor. Half her body and head laid in the tiny, thin stream of water that converged there at the start of the run-off tunnel, running red. Not only her, but Velius himself lost his footing, sent backwards from the massive kick of the rifle; staggering until he struck the remnants of his door against the wall. Gritting his sharp teeth, he threw the rifle back over his shoulder in frustration as he dived for cover behind the computers and terminals beside him - phaser fire coming in numerous bursts all around him, but missing against the back wall. Yellow sparks skittered and landed at his feet, but with the smoke, the creature's expression was not dimmed as he pulled the other rifle from his left shoulder. The kick from the first wasn't what he expected, never having used a single one of these weapons before.
"Za`kira!", the young male human that accompanied her cried out like a scalded child, feet scrambling to make it to her side. His boots smacked upon the metal floor as orange bolts of disruptor discharges impacted the walls and floor around him; two barely missing his legs and lower back. Aldridge growled out of fright, trying to provide the Ensign recovery fire; unknowing that Velius had full cover, and was firing blindly around the corner of a terminal with a rifle he could handle. One struck the wall near his head, causing him to jump back to avoid the metal shards from striking his face.
"Kid! Hurry!", he commanded Garrison from the Excalibur Team, unwilling to see such risks taken out in the open with a shooter actively trying to snatch their lives away. Even Bastaire and Terek were putting themselves out in the line of fire too much, aiming as if they could actually see through the smoke before it cleared away. Harrity rushed out with the Excalibur officer, leaving Aldridge's side as the pair tried with all their strength to try and drag the mortally wounded Drakonian to Aldridge and Harrity's side of the tunnel to get behind cover. Their efforts could only move her so many feet, leaving at least half her body and their own exposed; her size and weight too much, with their hands liberally coated in blood from just grasping her uniform. Harrity clenched her hands and teeth, pulling her rifle back to her chest as she leaned against the wall and stared at the oozing, dripping hole in the back of that admirable, strong woman's back. She could see spinal vertebrae, and recognize some were missing. Her eyes were closed and her maw twitched, not responding to being dragged along the floor or her friend's yelling for her to come to. Garrison's hands slapped at her left cheek, clearly looking and sounding the peak of distressed, not handling this at all as well as his cocky attitude once suggested. Shaking, his right hand smacked his communications badge hard enough to made it cockeyed upon his uniform.
"Excalibur! Excalibur, Lieutenant Za`kira is down! I need to get her out of here, now!", he shouted over the bursts of phaser fire, fully alerting the ships and those on Earth that the situation had reached it's boiling point. The telltale sounds of phaser and disruptor fire in the background was obvious enough by itself. They were already watching the status outputs of reactors one and two on Gerias once Kayla provided them the information link-up from the power station's computers, and now they had to worry about Velius' more physical threat on top of that.
"Negative - the transporter jammer in the area is still in effect! She'll have to be taken back to the insertion point!", was the immediate response that came over his badge, which made the trembling young man smack his face in terror and frustration as his friend died at his knees. He growled tearful sounds through his teeth, over what remained of Za`kira's labored, tachypneic breaths. There was a brief pause; Garrison angrily smacking his Starfleet badge to terminate the line.
"She can't use ladders... Za`kira jumped almost the whole length down here. I can't pull her back up.", he quietly sobbed, trembling as another orange bolt struck inches away; metallic embers sprayed upon his Drakonian friend's uniform. Harrity didn't know what to say as he lamented, trying to lean away from the disruptor bursts fired at them like an assault rifle. The situation made her freeze, while Aldridge wanted her to turn and fire her rifle; feeling like sitting ducks when it was actually Velius that was cornered. Suddenly the human man spun around on his knees and grabbed Harrity by her shoulders, squeezing uncomfortably to the extent that Harrity took shock and tried to pull away. Garrison's eyes were red and watery, trembling with the look that cut her down to the very spirit.
"Help her! Stay here, and keep her alive!", the man begged from the bottom of his heart, shaking Harrity as he requested this nearly impossible task to her. The Drakonian before her was barely alive, having had most of her internal organs and lungs shredded by a bolt of searing energy. She was already bleeding to death and in shock - unresponsive. What could she possibly do? Before she could try and reason with the young man, the human released her and grabbed his phaser rifle, rising to his feet with a sprint; turning his rifle behind him to give a quick three bursts of phaser fire down the hallway and into the heart of the smoke cloud that was now starting to thin. As he ran, touching his badge, Harrity heard him call for an emergency rejuvenator unit to be beamed in as close as possible; meaning he was going for a mad dash to the surface and back. At her knees Za`kira gurgled, blood dribbling from her maw, seemingly unable to even breathe any longer. She knelt there unsure of what to do, sinking into hopelessness.
"Harrity, do you think she's going to make it until he gets back?", Aldridge turned over his shoulder and asked with a low tone in his voice, breathing quickly as he pulled his rifle back from around the corner. Harrity's pony-tail curled against her back with the movements of her head, looking over the battered and wounded form of the Drakonian that allowed them to face Velius. Lower jaw stiff, she remained over the woman as asked.
"No.", she was forced to reply fairly softly. Terek across the way still heard it, giving a slight look before throwing his rifle back in front of his face to keep the fire up. Aldridge turned his head away, looking at the corner of the hallway as he readied himself to fire another volley.
"Then get to cover. Don't risk your life for the dead.", the older man ordered in a way that sounded less like a command, and a plea for rationality. Every so many moments there would be another slew of orange spheres of death smacking the metal around them, barely missing often times despite the cloud of smoke obscuring everything. The words bit Harrity deep, thinking of breaking the panicked, young man's trust as he tried to rescue his friend. This poor drake didn't have to die in such a place; was it really fair not to try? Just try?
As Aldridge lifted his rifle and began to fire short bursts around the corner again, squinting to see the faint outlines of things coming out of the dissipating smoke, Harrity paused and did not get up. Instead of following his directive, the woman slammed her phaser rifle against the wall beside her with both hands; internally damning the idea of fighting. She slid in her crouch even closer to her fellow Lieutenant, throwing her palms end over end upon the side of the large reptile's chest where it remained intact. As life faded from her, Harrity attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation as the last ditch effort to buy time until that young man, Garrison, returned. She'd have to keep her cells and brain alive if rejuvenation was to work. Aldridge noticed the lack of fire from his side, turning around entirely to see her attempt this on Za`kira; something that made him growl with anger that she'd risk herself so foolishly.
"Tia!", he yelled at her like a plea, using the woman's first name as his expression turned to that of shocked worry for her; in such risk of being shot without adequate cover, with disruptor bolts continuing to land in close proximity. Shaking his head, he spun and returned the barrel of his phaser rifle to combat. He'd have to try and defend her if she was going to become a medic for the lethally wounded. Eyes fixing to try and see through the remaining smoke, Aldridge grit his teeth.
"What is this shit? We can't see a damn thing - how did he hit her anyway? Thermal imaging?", their leader began to gripe and comment openly, trying to figure out how their opponent had such accuracy when he hadn't even had enough visual to see him once. Disruptor fire came from the waning cloud, seeming to come from behind an object just to the right of the open doorway. Seeing that, Aldridge took the chance of exposing his torso and leaned out to take aim and fire upon the spot the bolts originated from; enough to make Velius duck and have to avoid the shrapnel of his computer components, unbeknownst to the Starfleet officers.
"Not with the interference in the area!", Bastaire was quick to remind from a sciences standpoint, despite his bared fangs and fairly aggressive firing stance. From the left side of the tunnel, it was easier to see the spot Velius was hiding behind as the smoke cleared. He had seen the barrel of the creature's weapon, and the faint hint of claws as he fired over and around the nearby surfaces. Then, Velius stood, stumbling from his spot once too many phaser blasts came his way, struck in the back of a head by a chunk of metal; lifting his weapon to rapidly fire it upon them as he moved. Both Terek and Bastaire had to fling their backs against the wall the aim was so accurate and close, coming to land too close to the blinded Stein for comfort, who felt the impacts and heat nervously. Terek leaned forward just soon enough to see the creature run and take a dive for the floor; his other rifle streaming behind him. Once on the floor, the gray furred man landed under the cover of one of his damaged consoles, reaching back to check the gash on the back of his head that was throbbing something fierce. He squinted from the pain, having no idea his desires for digital domination would come straight to his doorstep in such a manner. The image Terek caught before he hit the ground was enough for him to identify his species, coming to see those slicked back, long ears and spines.
"He's an empath! Dammit, that's how he can see us!", Terek roughly exclaimed, throwing his rifle up to give a burst of fire. The multiple beams struck around Velius' myriad of equipment, knocking down a cluster of small memory units as the rack that held them was blasted to pieces; the units dangling from their wires, swaying to and fro. Bastaire and Aldridge took an uncomfortable breath, agitated and unnerved, knowing their target could sense their presence the whole time.
"Roferian!", the Cardassian identified, finding those spines unmistakable. Seeing a hint of a head peer over the consoles so far down the rectangular room that only Bastaire and he could see, a couple of colorful cables against the creature's head further tipped him off that things were not as they seemed; backing off to avoid another slew of disruptor bolts. They struck the corner, scattering bits of molten metal scraps along the ground. Several hot fragments skittered about, lightly smacking against Stein's uniform top and slacks just hard enough to spook him; causing the younger human to gasp and wildly scoot back a foot, back firm against the wall.
"And he's fucking wired!", Terek added to his observations, sounding increasingly agitated the more he found out about this madman and had to yell over the sound of his high powered disruptor rifle. Not only could the bastard use low-level mental abilities to sense basic things, like presence of nearby life-forms and their intentions, but being 'wired' also meant he had illegal implants. The man had caught glimpse of Velius' cortex-computer and it's dangling blue connection wire, telling him that this Roferian went all the way when it came to what he planned on doing. It was undoubtable he was the source of their moving transporter scrambling signal; the unit tucked inside of his body to permanently protect him from the technology. Clearly a serious career criminal, one that had gone far dabbling in hacking and illicit technology completely under the radar.
"Where did he get all of this?", Aldridge spat, putting the pieces together. Unknown shielding technology, illicit implants, and they had already been fired upon by two completely different weapons of different worldly origins. A black-market powerhouse; something they were under the impression had been long since taken care of since the disbanding of the Orion pirate syndicate centuries ago. Stray disruptor bolts could only impact the wall on Terek and the others' side of the hallway, but the chunks of metal ripped from the panels went as far as Harrity and Za`kira; the human suppressing a sad-sounding whimper as she quickly brushed glowing hot flecks from the drake's snout before they could burn straight through her scale. The blood flowing from the wound in her chest in back slowed significantly, dribbling only from the Lieutenant's resuscitative efforts.
Inside, Velius panted, trying to catch his breath as he leaned against the front of one of his secondary consoles; head touching the face of the unit's control surface after his last round of fire. His gray claws both held his one rifle, finding the combat exhilarating but sickeningly petrifying, knowing it to be his last. It was already about time for the reactors to go up, and he was feeling the rush of victory come over him as time ticked out for his assailants. Smoke clearing away to only leave a fog in the air, thin but still smelling thickly of different materials, he enjoyed what he figured were his last fleeting moments - deep in his narcissism and hedonism. A tiny extension of his brain - an organ at the base of his skull - filled him with the electrical impulses it picked up from those around him; feeling none of them approach any further, and certainly not any calmer, as the extra sense was able to provide. So close, he could feel their fears as if they were tangible, imagining just how fast their minds must have been racing under the threat of imminent death. Smiling toothily, snide and full of himself, he brushed his blue jacket of debris and chuckled lightly; alone in the room with the occasional beep and flicker of a light from one of his crude computers.
"Is this what you expected?", that cruel tone of his came out, raising his head for his voice to carry; coming off as strangely calm and pleased, trying to not care that his life was about to end at his own hands. The faces of the Redona Team contorted with rage, cheeks stiffening and brows curling as they found this man to be without any lick of remorse; not even appearing to have the emotional capacity to react to this situation with the gravity it deserved. He fired his weapons as if he was fearful for his life and preservation, but when it came to words, other thoughts seemed to come to light. It made him seem all the more twisted and perverted, mocking their heavy, racing hearts. It hurt the vulnerable and fragile Harrity the worst, whom needed to bite her lip to keep from sniveling as she put all of her body into trying to save the life of a fellow officer. Scales already cool, she could feel them growing colder as the tissues beneath them failed to perfuse; hinting that she was not saving cells as she hoped. There might not have been enough left to save.
"We need to move in... ", Bastaire whispered only loud enough for those around him to hear, raspy and rushed from his adrenaline. Aldridge put a hand out and made a lowering motion, trying to tell his fellow to cool down. Velius had a way with riling people up, mocking them when they were at their most fragile. Once the sounds quelled and turned silent, Aldridge stared down the hallway into the room, seeing all the burn spots and broken devices from their phaser fire and the prior torpedo. There was no sign of who spoke to them from his vantage point, prompting the human to take point over his overly eager officers and begin a slow creep forward, up the right wall of the hallway that Velius could not see.
"Sure, why not.", Aldridge tried to be snide right back, stalling with a reply as he crept along the wall; weapon at his side. Out of sight, Velius grinned, slapping his rifle back into both hands. A small amount of blood staining the thicker bit of fur on the back of his head, he crawled forward a couple of paces, dragging the connector of his cortex-computer quietly along the metal floor. Seizing opportunity, the Roferian took a sharp intake of breath without another word to give away his position.
With a thrust of his legs, the Roferian raised up to a standing position and flung his body down the line, sprinting the few terminals towards the doorway to make contact with the person invading the entry hallway to his room; feeling one of those signatures grow encroachingly closer. He threw his rifle out without any proper aim, firing the rapid, bull-pup style disruptor weapon as his feet kept him lithe and mobile to catch Aldridge off guard and eliminate Starfleet officer number two. The bolts of disruptor blasts were already coming as soon as Velius made himself visible to those at the end of the hallway; Aldridge pushing off his feet to dive backwards, not unable to dodge all of it in his exposed position. A disruptor bolt punched across his right side, taking a small chunk off the side of his belly as the other bolts rained metal shrapnel down upon him. Bastaire and Terek fired their phaser rifles back with no hesitation, struck hard in the chest by the sudden emergence of a wound upon their commanding officer; fearful that they would lose another comrade, and friend. The bursts of phaser fire came close enough to Velius as he tried to duck away, cutting into his computer arrays and terminals to shower his upper body with a slew of metal debris and computer chips.
It was then that Lieutenant-Commander Aldridge struck the ground with a clang, landing on his lower back first while still loosely clutching his rifle. Out of natural instinct, he rolled onto the side with his wound and tried kicking his boots against the ground to get away, smearing a trail of blood as he managed to move; the pain numbing his movements into a fog. Terek and Bastaire lost sight of their target, trying to keep Velius down for their leader to escape, but all the gray Roferian had to do was slide his body along the smooth floor to find a decent place to return fire. His short rifle emerged near the floor, just beside the last pile of charred components at the end of the units running along the middle of the room, swung outward and fired blindly as his body and head remained behind cover; Velius needing only to keep them at bay in order for the reactors above to kill them. Bolts skittering around Aldridge, the man cried out in fright, trying his damnedest to not be struck; clutching the bloody crater in the side of his abdomen, feeling the burned rim of his uniform and skin underneath his fingers. Squinting from the pain, he could see Velius' claw and rifle, fearing this would be the end if he couldn't get away from it's spray of disruptor bolts. As a burst of darkness came over him, he thought it may have been it.
The lights surrounding them in the tunnel and the white ones in the corners of Velius' room flickered and dimmed all at once, bringing rolling darkness through the run-off tunnel and immediate area. Sudden and unexpected, the light their weapons made shined dully off the tan metal surfaces around them with each flicker. Power fluctuating, the lights had difficulty while battery arrays in Velius' room alarmed, coming to support all of his equipment and systems on their own electricity. Withdrawing himself back to cover, Velius looked up and curled his muzzle wearily, baring his sharp teeth in what could only be described as a strange mix; fearful annoyance.
"Packet-Storm!", the Roferian uttered sharply under his breath, livid at the thought of his final 'gift' to the universe being tampered with, along with his suicidal way out. In his seemingly panicked confusion he fumbled with his weapon, ceasing fire while trying to free up a claw and grab his cortex-computer's terminal jack; needing to check and defend the overloading cores now that they had been left to themselves and Kayla's counter-assault. The firefight would be for nothing if at least one reactor wouldn't blow. His fear was inevitably true as he struggled to find the end of the cable coming from the side of his implant - the dip in power was indeed Kayla's efforts far off on Earth finding success.
The innards of reactor one had gone dark; the malfunction cleared and the power station's automated shut-down systems activating to kill the out of control sphere of nuclear energy it detected. In it's state, the sudden ejection of anti-fission gases to the reaction chamber caused a very unstable termination of the reactor, the shock-wave shattering the reaction chamber to fall to pieces within the containment well like shards of glass. With one down, it would be a race to rescue the second reactor; Kayla doing her damnedest, for all their sake.
Aldridge's life in danger, kicking his way back to cover in a panic, the flicker of the lights brought the perfect distraction. Without so much as a word, their fiery Jalaxian flung his body around his protective corner and made a run down the hallway and towards Velius' room, passing his fallen leader to ensure no further disruptor bolts would come down upon him as he pushed his body to safety. The human looked up, gritting his teeth and squinting as he saw the blue pass by his eyes, unable to open his mouth to stop Ensign Bastaire from doing anything foolish. Instead, he could only hope for the best in this sudden action, with Terek providing fire from the rear, ready to cover both his colleagues. The fluttering of the lights slowed and stopped with difficulty as Bastaire became the first to enter Velius' doorway, the citadel that held DeltaStar, weapon pointed out and down to give their target a phaser beam to the chest the moment he laid eyes on him.
Caught off guard, distracted on the ground as he scrambled to get his cortex-computer jack into his claws, Velius' eyes shot open wide and he scrambled to get to his feet; trying to slide backwards like Aldridge had been doing, once he heard and felt Bastaire rush in. He managed to get to a more upright sitting position, swinging his rifle around to come to bear over the terminal he had been leaning against, being fired upon first as a phaser blast exploded inches from his face, striking the terminal's control panel and showering him with hot metal and a clear, glass-like substance. The Roferian cried out, shards of devices becoming lodged in his jacket and cutting his neck, bloody scratches numerous across his face; barely able to fire off two disruptor bolts from his rifle before a second phaser burst came from the officer rounding his central row of computers to fight him head-on, meeting the threat eye to eye. Velius' bolts struck the wall, while the officer's struck the ground at his side, forcing sparks and metal up off the floor and around the Roferian's arm. Weapon knocked from his right claw, suddenly numb and unable to squeeze any sort of trigger, his left claw dove instinctively for his waist in the speed of the moment.
As Velius came face to face with Bastaire and the tip of a Starfleet-issue phaser rifle, the man made an instant roll onto his right side, grasped the pistol at the left side of his waist, and pulled the trigger without taking the weapon from his pants. Sharp and shrill, the small device shot a tiny, glowing green energy projectile that singed his pants and went straight outward to strike his Jalaxian assailant in the chest, just below the sternum. The strike against flesh made a spatter of red along with a strange dispersion of green sparks from the area of impact; Bastaire's arms unable to come up all the way to re-aim at his opponent, despite the teeth-baring resolution on the Jalaxian's face to protect his colleagues. With a swing of Velius' leg, the limber man swung his body weight to turn and upright himself; pistol pulled into his right claw as Bastaire staggered in their brief, miniscule moment. Green eyes cold, expression tight but nearly blank, Velius swung the light weapon up like a predatory animal and began pulling the trigger mindlessly, never willing to succumb and allow himself to be stopped in such a way; chest tight from the pain of his shrapnel cuts and nearly being taken down. Resolute in silent rage, green screams came from his pistol as fast as it could fire, littering the wall and Bastaire's torso with deep, bloody wounds; the feline man barely able to made a sound as he fell beside the row of terminals, right in front of his team. His body tensed abnormally as he fell, rifle firing a phaser stream at the ceiling, which made a clap and rain of yellow sparks from the tiny flecks of raining metal as the weapon struck the ground.
"Bastaire! Move!", Terek screamed, closing one eye to take aim and make his mark count while Aldridge cleared his body back around the corner to safety, scooting with his legs and rifle for support; red trail smeared the entire distance. The Cardassian saw Velius stand tall, walking quickly with a purpose - not defending himself, as if it didn't matter. In those eyes, he saw little to nothing as the pistol swung out towards him. Quickly, Terek fired his rifle to stop their target, fixated and sure, only to be shocked by a sudden blow that snapped his right wrist into pieces; a pistol bolt striking his phaser rifle hard enough to kick the weapon back and break bone, as his own beam struck Velius' left upper arm. It made the Roferian stumble, coating the shattered computer terminal at his side with speckles of blood, but aside from a stronger grit of his teeth the deranged killer appeared undeterred. Terek's weapon fell from his wounded wrist as he shouted out in agony, grasping his broken wrist; opening his eyes just soon enough to see something he wished he didn't, just around the corner he was hiding behind.
In Velius' stride, left arm now hanging limp, he lifted his right claw as he stood with Bastaire at his feet; littering the Jalaxian's body with further energy bolts from his pistol in his nearly expressionless anger. In that instant Terek shook, upset and with rage, seeing a friend murdered execution style before his very eyes. Green particles bounced violently off of Ensign Bastaire's body; it jumping violently with sprays of blood with each point-blank shot. Terek's phaser beam had struck, set well into the lethal range, but his mangled mess of an arm didn't stop him in the state he was in. Velius was with no doubt a monster; a creature of Cardassian myth. As soon as the deed was done, blood sprayed all around until it coated Velius' pants, the Roferian tossed the pistol to the ground and turned, reaching up to clutch his arm as he ran in a hurried stumble across the room. The act made Terek squint, seeing the kill-happy creature drop his weapon and retreat, but the hacker had other matters to deal with of much more urgency. If the last reactor would blow, this whole situation would come to an end.
Becoming unsteady on his feet, knowing angry Starfleet officers would soon regroup and charge him again, pain now coursing through his upper body, Velius ran down the line of terminals to one that still worked. Kneeling down for cover and to be hidden from view, he leaned his body off to the side to slide his other rifle from his shoulder, allowing the heavy weapon to land hard on the floor. His last pistol set upon the console's control surface at height with his muzzle, he reached down with a shaking claw and took his cortex-computer's cable into his fingers. Promptly as he could, he slapped it into the unit's input jack to inter-link with the machine; eyes twitching slightly as he focused on a world outside that of the physical. Packet-Storm had to be stopped just as well, and he only had seconds to do it. This unbelievable feeling of being trapped, and the agony, would go away if the reactor would just go. His left arm didn't even move, nerves severed as it bled copiously upon the tan metal he knelt upon as streams of droplets fell rapidly from his dead fingers.
Wounded at the end of the hallway, Aldridge sat clutching his side as his eyes burned, staring down it at the defiled corpse of his officer. Blue tail coated in droplets of blood, it was motionless and without a single twitch of consciousness or nerve-cell life. Across from him Stein sat as he did, unaware he would never see Bastaire alive again, and Harrity slumped over the body of Za`kira, exhausted and long since emotionally defeated - broken in face of the situation. Down the tunnel came the sound of running in the near distance, to which he certainly believed was that young officer returning with a portable rejuvenator to rescue his friend - in vain, at that. With Terek working to collect his phaser rifle in only one hand and fight past his fracture, Aldridge found himself surrounded by the wounded and the dead. It was a numbing, dark experience, forced to face mortality on so many levels and the loss of his comrades and friends. Blood dribbled down the black fabric of his Starfleet uniform, slowed only by the press of his fingers against the wound. Beyond the pain and the sultry fog of his mind, something welled up deep inside of the numbness.
Something gave him a drive. The seemingly human urge to see something to it's end and disregard all of the consequences once the breaking point had already been reached, and adrenaline was coursing through every capillary. Staring out at Bastaire's body made him want to get up and do something, no matter if it failed, or if it caused him to die. It urged his blurry mind not to care, and to sacrifice.
With his weapon, using it like a crutch with it's butt against the ground, Aldridge rose. Legs wobbling, he supported his body on the wall and let his rifle drop to the ground with a clatter once standing, catching the attention of Terek. Before the Cardassian could do as much as grab his weapon in his left hand and go after his leader, the Lieutenant-Commander made for a slow sprint down the hallway with a stiff face. Like an unstoppable force, his left hand slowly slid away from his wound and he grew a little faster, reaching Velius' room and taking a dive for the floor. As he slid upon the metal, the human man scooped the discarded pistol into his hands; a weapon much lighter than his rifle, as his shoulder bumped Bastaire's limp side. Forced to ignore his bloodied colleague, badly mangled from his execution in a pool of blood, Aldridge stood with his friend's blood on his clothing; pistol held pointed outwards, ready to fire. Step by single step, the human man walked along the center row of computers on the side that had Velius' cot. Aldridge was aware of Velius' extra sense, ignoring it as he openly stepped upon broken shards of various things and a component hanging from the ceiling snapped free of it's supporting wire to fall to the ground with a heavy clatter.
Once the hint of movement was detected by his eyes, seeing gray instead of just colored lights, his Roferian target had already pulled his own energy pistol from the control surface of his console. Firing over the terminal he was using it with his one available arm, Velius grit his teeth as he tried to stand; his cortex-computer wire becoming taut as he rose. This weapon was slower and deeper sounding, letting loose thick blasts of red as it's bass percussion shook the air, but it all went ignored by the one that approached him. Bolts passing by Aldridge's head close enough to shift his short black hair and burn his skin, ripping it away in strips, he stood without blinking to fire his weapon. Pistol letting loose it's high pitched scream, he didn't hope for a lucky shot, instead shooting the largest logical target he could. Those green, glowing bolts struck and erupted sparks high into the air, blowing apart the rear panel of the console Velius' cortex-computer was visibly linked with; the tightness of the cable as Velius went to stand tipping Aldridge off in that instant. In a flash of white and sparks, the console's display burst into a shimmering display of flying shards; the Roferian falling hard upon his knees with a horrible scream, much like Stein's when he was blinded.
Inside Velius' head, he was assaulted by a high pitched sound that was louder than any ear could hear. Struck by a power surge into his cortex-computer from the console, his vision faded from red to blue; his mind ripped apart by the sudden rush of electrical signals directly into his brain as his implant back-lashed. Velius' pupils shrank unnaturally, squinting in pain as his balance and coordination lacking body tried to swing his pistol up and fire; looking more like a limp flail.
Aldridge stepped forward, just enough to see the Roferian's emerald eyes over the back of his console, and his arm attempt to come up without the true ability to aim. Mind reeling, the Roferian was defenseless and helpless, straining to control his limb and fire. Fear lit up in his eyes. Now he'll know how everyone else feels.
A pull of the trigger shot a green bolt that ripped through the right side of the Roferian man's chest, blowing a hole in his jacket that sent pieces of fabric into the air; a single metal clasp going airborne to land with a tiny sound against the ground. Velius' eyes shot open wide, as did his maw, losing his breath with barely a sound as his right lung collapsed and he was flung onto his back. Rolling weakly onto his right side, he coughed up a couple droplets of blood upon the floor as he huddled up into a ball, weakly; the once fearless creature writhed in growling, gurgling silence. His arms tried to cover his chest and his wound, struggling against the pain to breathe; eyes squinted and every so much in the moment as his vision recovered from the surge to his brain. Behind Aldridge, Terek had rushed into the room, steady on his feet as he rounded the computer consoles with Stein's phaser rifle held in a single hand, finding his had been knocked out of commission.
Seeing their hacker and murderer was down, the Cardassian rushed down the length of screens and consoles to kick away Velius' weapons; making a racket with the clatter and commotion. As Aldridge stood, foreign pistol in his hand, he was well aware as he took a deep breath that he may have been killed when he looked down the tiny barrel of an energy pistol without so much as trying to dodge. With their opponent so brazen and cold, it took a similar mindset and a dash of tactics to step in front of him and survive. In the end, it was worth it. Worth it for his friends. Incapacitated, squinting hatefully out of his eyes, the Roferian known to him as Velius only stared, teeth bared in a tight, trembling grit; seeming to not know what else to do. Terek standing over him with a phaser rifle pointed clear at his head, it was as clear to him as it was to Aldridge that this was over.
And he lost.
With that thought in mind, Lieutenant-Commander Aldridge recalled his communications badge was active with it's line open and available. Unsure if he had any decent reason to move or if this was all for naught, the man swallowed and took a breath before speaking his question with nervous trepidation.
"Command, what is the status of the reactors on Gerias?", the man inquired, Terek staring at him with the same tired and angry look on his face as both handled their losses quietly for the time being, until their work was complete. Velius attempted to move, which got the kick of a boot in his side; inciting the Roferian to cough raspily in light of his severe lung injury, curling his tail against his legs. He could lay there hypoxic for all Terek could care, so long as he lived to see tomorrow. As if on queue, that female voice he had come to hear earlier graced him with a response; prompt and polite.
"Reactor one is fouled, but shut down. Reactor two appears to be stabilizing, it should be back in the safe zone soon. We nearly lost the first reactor.", Kayla spoke with a hint of trouble back on Earth, breathing labored as if she had overdone herself again. It was no way near as bad as the initial assault against Velius to trace him, but her fingers hurt and her body protested loudly from the lack of rest. Counter-hacking the power facility had to be done so quickly, she had to push herself hard. Aldridge had to let a little smile onto the sides of his mouth, thinking of how close they came to death. If it hadn't been for that Drakonian woman, that Za`kira, the death toll would have been extraordinary if it took any longer to breach Velius' door. The kind man swore inside his head that he'd do something nice for her memorial service. Hearing Kayla's voice made Velius' skin crawl, as the creature attempted to growl in some odd sort of way; foaming at the mouth, pink from the blood.
"Fuck you Packet-Storm, you bitch... ", Velius attempted to yell half through his teeth, jaw too stiff and lungs too empty to really let it out. As a drop of blood fell from his Roferian muzzle, Terek stomped on his right claw and brought about quite the pained expression. Muzzle curled and teeth bared, the pain seemed to make him tremble as he resisted crying out; weight feeling as if it'd crush his fingers beneath Terek's still polished Starfleet-issue boot.
"That is no way to speak to our heroine. Learn respect.", Terek spat down at the man only half calmly, ensuring his words were forceful and heartfelt. It was a long ways from making Penitatas jokes. Kayla's dedication to their lives was more than he could have asked for, earning even his staunch Cardassian brand of trust after handling the power facility's reactor cores for them. With an additional press from his foot, he let up on Velius' claw, just to continue watching him and make sure he couldn't do anything aside from breathing. Aldridge placed his hand over his wound, trying to put pressure on it as he began feeling a deep ache creeping back into it.
"Acknowledged. Area is secure, hacker Velius is in custody. Send medical teams immediately, and a shuttle for our prisoner. He has an implanted transporter jammer.", Lieutenant-Commander Aldridge informed his home, Earth, and his crew on board the U.S.S Redona that their job had been done in the best professional voice his tired, wounded body could muster before tapping his badge to close the line. In his moment, Velius right in front of him on the other side of the row of computer equipment, he didn't much feel like a winner so many feet from his butchered underling and friend. Nor did Terek, only pleased to have ended the bloodshed. In their reality, Starfleet aside, it took fortitude to not riddle the cowering, wounded Roferian with holes from their respective weapons. They just weren't like him, cold and without a conscience.
Elsewhere, overwhelmed, there was a moment of silence on Earth as the Redona and Excalibur acknowledged Aldridge's requests. Those in Central Command and Central Information stood or sat where they were, smiling a smile of relief. It was finally over; this chapter in the Earth's history had been closed - at least to them, it was done. At her computer console, Kayla slumped against it with the most tired, drowsy smile of her own. She rested her head upon her arms, looking at the calm that had fallen over her unit's primary display and the sort of good it had done today; a good she had never used it for before. In the moments that came, the room turned to laughter and clapping - expressions of joy. They were happy to be alive, with no other people slated to fall at Velius' hands. From here, there could be rest; a human and Karrian hand both upon Kayla's back.
Aware of the sort of pain Velius caused, Aldridge didn't have the heart to sully the news of the man's capture with a report to his Captain that Bastaire had been killed in the line of duty. There had been enough of that, leaving the report to be one made in private without so many ears to listen. Aldridge and Terek were content to remain quiet for the time being, just as their Jalaxian comrade would have done himself. The Lieutenant-Commander looked down at the energy pistol held in his hand; examining the silver and blue tool that stole away a life, and brought down a killer. Lightly and without second thought, he tossed the weapon aside, coming to land on a fragmented disarray of parts and pieces beside him as their Roferian prisoner tried to lift his maw off the ground and speak.
"I could have turned it off if you didn't fry my cortex-computer... ", Velius attempted to say over the crushing pain in his chest, with a fragment of rib shifting about with each word. It was quiet, interrupted by a raspy, labored breath as the creature shook, growing more desperate for medical assistance now that he wasn't going to be mercifully incinerated in an explosion of his own making. Aldridge and Terek barely changed their expressions, content with the bed Velius made and was forced to lay in.
"Isn't that just too bad.", Aldridge replied plainly, voice fairly low as the ache of what happened further numbed him. Not caring to converse with his prisoner, much less look at his face any longer, the human man turned his sullen face away and began a slow walk for the open doorway, clutching his wound and taking each step easily. Upon the ground, at Terek's feet, Velius closed his eyes and squeezed them tight, curling deeper into his pain-ridden ball. The edges of his muzzle, what could be called his Roferian lips, quivered under the strain of his gritting teeth.
"Stop being so fucking conflicted!", Velius tried to shout at him, coming out with exceptional difficulty; rales emanating audibly from the gray furred man's chest as his blood dribbled and seeped upon the ground. The scratches and wide gashes on his face and neck further served to weaken his appearance; Aldridge stopping to turn his head and look back over the row of trashed and damaged terminals to see the man writhing, squinting those emerald eyes so damningly at him. Using his extra sense, the hacker could feel the turmoil pulsing from the human's brain as it intercepted the shifts in his electrical field. Aldridge only stared back.
"If you want to shoot me between my damn eyes, just do it!", the dirtied, torn Roferian tried to call out again, losing his air towards the last part of his sentence. He coughed, trembling as he tried to take in more air. It was like he didn't understand why someone with the desire to kill, would not. Velius wanted to disappear and be freed, making the prospect all that much more sweet while he got to jab at his captor. Unfazed, the human man merely shook his head light and slow as he turned and began walking again. Even with a phaser rifle pointed at his head from a Cardassian above, the creature exhibited no signs of remorse. His face shoved in Bastaire's wouldn't do a thing to weight his conscience, seeing just how little value the Roferian man, not even all that old looking, assigned a life. Apparently, not even his own was worth enough to preserve.
"Terek, keep him there. I need to check on the others.", Aldridge lifted his head to speak, calling back to his colleague without speaking too loudly in that tattered, dismally quiet room that Velius used as his personal citadel. The remaining machines would serve to assist Starfleet in their efforts to fix the wrongs the man had caused; vessels already converging on DeltaStar and returning to Earth's orbit without fear of being fired upon. Left and ignored, something the Roferian appeared to despise, he nuzzled his snout against the floor and closed his eyes uncomfortably as a much stronger man towered over him.
With care, Aldridge stepped by Ensign Bastaire, looking down as he did to respectfully not tread upon any of the man's spilled blood. It wasn't easy to just walk by a shredded Starfleet uniform, but the human was able to pull his attention from it and back to the hallway they once fired down. Stepping over the remains of the doorway, he walked out towards his other officers, watching and listening while he clutched his wound; becoming light headed from the shock and loss of blood. He'd be fine, but he'd have to fight past it until he could receive medical attention. Fingers bloody upon his abdomen, he felt he could not say the same about others, coming upon the scene of Excalibur's young Ensign.
Harrity giving her resuscitation efforts her all, arms likely feeling like gelatin after all this time and stress, the Drakonian woman beneath her pumping hands no longer twitched or moved. Not a breath, not a gurgle. Za`kira was motionless and lifeless as her teary-eyed friend and companion stood at her side with a portable emergency rejuvenator held in his unsteady hands. His fingers fumbled clumsily in his panic as the unit powered up in his arms, held upwards like a fat, rounded rifle. Controls on it's right side, a tiny display on the upper portion of the unit gave out information on the rejuvenator crystal's health and status, stored in a metallic, shining cylinder at the end of the device. It hummed and whined quietly, droning as four armatures began to rotate around the cylinder; a soft, gentle green haze beginning to spark at the tip of the unit between the pointed ends of the rotating components. Garrison didn't hold back the quiver of his lip, and as he approached and leaned against the corner of the wall where the hallway ended, Aldridge saw the most contorted sort of silent agony across Harrity's face. Blood went across the entire front of her uniform and straight up her arms, bearing witness to more than she could handle. Stein remained right where he had been left, sitting quietly with a down expression without knowing what was going on around him anymore.
"It's primed, get clear!", the shaky voice of the young Starfleet officer called out, prompting Harrity to pull her arms back quickly and slide away from Za`kira in hurried motions to avoid exposure to the rejuvenatory radiation. The device in Garrison's hands made a high pitched sound before returning to it's low, quiet drone; the tiny green sparks flashing into a shimmering, wobbling stream of translucent, soft green energy particles. It's light contained into a single thin beam, the man shot it at his companion and held it as still as his hands would allow. The rejuvenator stream shined against the Drakonian's tattered uniform, lighting up against her upper back and base of her neck, where the scales and tissue seemed to glow as an energy coursed through them. Aldridge looked on with no cheerful expression, stone solid with half a frown at the sight of his fellows attempting to rescue a life that had already gone. No blood dripped from her wound or partially open maw, eye-lids closed to the world. The older of the two human men swallowed with difficulty, trying to avert his gaze just enough to not get upset as time began to pass as the glow against Za`kira's back did not change or progress. Garrison whimpered desperately, squirming his legs while he held the rejuvenator and turned his head to Harrity, whom knelt a foot or so away from the drake's body; floor smeared in drying crimson streaks and scattered bits of metal.
"That should have been a large enough dose from the rejuvenator!", Garrison cried out, still letting the armatures on the portable rejuvenator spin and release their gentle waves of green upon his friend. The light moved and flowed upon her body, but brought no reaction. She didn't begin to become smaller, and her scales did not appear to become younger, sitting just as they had been. Harrity placed her hands against her face and buried her sorrows quietly, feeling now more unwilling than ever to pick up a weapon and continue her commission as part of the Redona's tactical team. Aldridge took a deep breath, not moving from where he had propped himself, speaking soft with his face turned away.
"A long time ago, before the discovery of this technology, Starfleet officers went into space with the full knowledge that they could be killed, going to placed unexplored and facing things they didn't understand.", Aldridge spoke aloud, as if narrating a story to comfort the shaken officer's nerves; Harrity and Excalibur's Garrison both. The two did not speak. The younger man made a stubborn growl at the thought, throwing himself down to his knees and terminating the rejuvenator beam to continue his desperate efforts like a sobbing child. It was a terrible sight to have to see, as gory as it had been and the sort of emotional disaster those involved had became in the quiet of that tunnel.
"Za`kira! Come on, let this work!", Ensign Garrison yelled sharply and broken at the fallen, brown scaled reptile, slipping the portable emergency rejuvenator to his side to briskly rub at the drake's body with his hands. Rapid and forceful, the motions massaged into tissues and nerve cells, trying to get them to wake up and respond to the rejuvenation radiation flowing through her entire body. Dying tissue ceasing their functions and depressing, he wanted to breathe the slightest amount of life into her and get a couple of brain neurons to feel his touch and fire. From neck down to her tail he tried to do something, anything, to save her after all the things they had seen and been through. Behind his tear sullen eyes, the young human raced memories through his mind of how she helped him through the academy and into the position he was in. A mentor, and was soon to be their Lieutenant-Commander at the head of their team. He didn't want to let her go. Things like this wasn't supposed to happen in their supposedly golden day and age. But, true to that story, Aldridge's words continued on.
"It's no different today. We've become spoiled by rejuvenators. We walk as if we don't take the same risks as they did. My murdered crewmen would beg to differ.", his words were soft and light, urging for the young man to lay down his grief and let it out more constructively. Aldridge wanted to help break the cycle of agony, not wanting to hear his tearful pleas when that drake deserved sentiments more honoring and decent in her time of departure. A goodbye, to let go of her and keep her memory strong and unsaddened within him. Garrison clenched every muscle in his body, squeezing free a pair of tears over his soft, white cheeks as he knelt over his friend; palms now liberally coated in partially coagulated blood.
"Bad things are still a fact of life.", Aldridge tried to turn his head back down to the younger man to say, explaining just how things were. That his friend contributed to his life and others by her existence, and now simply had to go. Frustrated and in personal agony, his superior officer's words only fueled the young human further into his frenzy, unable to let go. His hands landed back upon the Drakonian woman with a harsh slap from each, rubbing even harder and more briskly with the occasional harsh slap from an open hand to force some nerve cells to acknowledge him.
"No! No dammit!", the Excalibur Team member called out, refusing to let the matter go and allow his friend to die, swinging his arms quickly and hard every which way to stimulate Za`kira's body short of outright punching her. Aldridge lowered his head and breathed harder; the slapping, rustling sounds making the pain in his disruptor wound much more severe as it reminded him of the sound he heard when his abdomen was blasted. Off on the other side of the narrow tunnel, Stein placed his right hand against his forehead and lowered it while he dealt with all he heard and could not see. The remnants of his eyes were now crusting over with blood and fluids, hidden from view by the shadow of his hand.
Garrison went on with whimpering, distressed sounds that would make any man's heart pound from the life or death of it all. After some moments of the rubbing and striking, the young man's arms seemed to flail out in anger, growling sharply at the lack of anything occurring. In a fit, the man grabbed the portable rejuvenator and jumped back to his feet with an unsteady swagger, swinging the brick of a rejuvenator unit back up into his arms. The armatures of the device again began to rotate, shimmering little green spots until it flashed over into that same soft, nearly silent wave of light green energy outpouring from the end of the unit from it's interior crystal. That glow rippled and flowed over Za`kira's limp form, bouncing and dancing across her scale with a mild glow where the radiation beam touched the back of her neck. Aldridge was not about to begin yelling at the poor kid, feeling his heart sink deeper into his toes in helplessness. It was hard to try and keep looking at him, so he would not be alone in his time of need.
"There are times where we-... ", the Lieutenant-Commander began to speak, to lay out his mind and knowledge, before his words came to a stumbling halt. It wasn't that his words would be difficult to say, but his eyes caught a glimpse of a flicker of rolling green rejuvenation energy moving away from the point the wave impacted the Drakonian's body. The human opened his mouth slightly, coming to see more of the twinkles and flitters, as if cells were reacting to the rejuvenator to make a gentle light show beneath and upon the reptile's cold brown scales. Harrity slowly dropped her hands from her face, just enough to stare over her fingertips with quivering, wide eyes.
A light appeared, glowing and increasing in size upon the back of Za`kira's neck. The sphere of warm green light stood there, signifying something was working if the reaction would just take hold. Garrison clenched and gnashed his teeth, holding the button on the side of the rejuvenator with a shaking set of fingers as he stared at that spot and it's coursing surges of rejuvenator energy. Then, like a passing dream, the light suddenly vanished in a shimmering green flash, like a light bulb that burned out. The energy gone, it struck the three violently in the chest, as if all remaining hope had been extinguished with that warm light of life.
As the last remnants of the light disappeared, a ripple of green arcs erupted from the spot it once stood. Like a sudden surge, blazing it's energies and radiation through surrounding tissue, the zip of electrical-like arcs shot away from that point and places upon the Drakonian's body began to glow; the reaction suddenly kicking into gear the way it would have on a normal, living individual. Aldridge's left hand fell from his wound, staring in disbelief at the sight before him. A person he had long since accepted as dead was actively rejuvenating from the large dose of rejuvenator particles and her friend's mindlessly steadfast attempts to save her. His cries and loud words, rubbing and slapping, stirred activity into her cells before they were lost for good. They woke up, with the last unstable flicker of their chemical and electrical processes to allow the radiation to course through and race through all of her networks of nerves and ion channels. Visibly to the naked eye, her body began changing, continuing even as the portable rejuvenator sputtered and ceased it's beam. The reaction already begun, it would not stop for anything until the woman's cells changed and regressed to a far prior age.
Brown scales shrank and smoothed; her wound closing right before their eyes as her form became smaller and more child-like. Right down to the color of her scale, Za`kira rejuvenated down to a new individual, whole and intact. Through the lacking precision of a single rejuvenator crystal not having the abilities of true rejuvenation chambers, sporting many crystals and more control, the woman could not maintain her gender due to the chromosomal traits of the Drakonians, losing even that part of herself as she shrank down to a new body. Coming loose and free from her clothing, she sank within them until the glowing slowly began to fade; cells all rapidly dividing and changing structure over the course of a minute. It wasn't a pleasant thing to watch, seeing bones twiddle away as if a person was being crushed, but it was essentially a painless, tickling sort of rushing feeling.
As the reaction came to a halt and the green glow under Za`kira's scales all but disappeared, the remaining male Drakonian child laid limp with it's eyes closed within a blanket of bloody, loose clothing too big for itself. Garrison fell to his knees, slapping the fabric of his pants right into the pool of blood that had been under his friend to grasp his arms around the drake, lifting it's head and neck into his hands with a calmer, but still rattled motion. Tears along his face, he looked down into the little one below, clear of wounds and roughly as young as seven, as the emergency rejuvenator knocked her all the way back to. The moment was quiet and uncertain, as the young human didn't seem to know what to say.
"Za`kira? Za`kira?", Garrison called her name, as pairs of boots began to fall from the ladder to clap to the ground down the tunnel. They sounded faint in the distance, but hearing her name and the low sounds, the small young boy began to twitch. The sight of life brought a tiny laugh to the man's face, turning his mouth into a shivering smile below his watery eyes. Aldridge was absolutely frozen, seeing that he had been telling the lad to give up and accept his companion's passing. He was wrong, and it felt so good. The drakeling shifted it's right leg as if to stretch it's new body, filled with light, uncertain movements until his eyes cracked open; yellow from his pupils just barely lit by the light. Then, like a crack of lighting struck, the child opened his eyes wide and jumped, kicking it's legs and screaming as it reached for and batted at it's chest through the remains of the Starfleet uniform wrapped around his body. Harrity winced, but Garrison quickly wrapped his arms around Za`kira and squeezed the drake into a reassuring embrace, desperate to quell what understandably came over his friend.
"Za`kira, no, no! It's all in your memory, it's just your memories!", he spoke quickly, rushed in trying to stop the small Drakonian's panic as he appeared to feel the blinding agony of the blast that tore through the adult body he once had. The scaled boy whimpered and breathed erratically, ceasing his squealing, pain-stricken sounds to try and catch his breath - not having actually breathed in any of these last minutes. Tears filled Za`kira's young eyes, claws still clutching at his chest as his mind re-wired itself and adjusted to such an abrupt change. But, through his reaction, they could all see his memories remained intact; Za`kira still a member of their living world. As the child grasped not being dead, all the sudden a lot smaller, Lieutenant Harrity dropped her head and looked down into her bloody hands.
"Bad things do happen.", she spoke softly, voice shaken and weary from her shattered emotions as she repeated her commanding officer's words. Aldridge took an unsteady step away from the wall he propped his wounded body upon, moving closer.
"... But they don't have to.", Harrity corrected, sitting exhausted from all of her efforts. This day they tried hard enough, and gave enough effort, that they could save a life against all odds. Velius' death toll dropped by one, and a superb officer was granted a second chance at life. Looking over the scene that unfolded, Aldridge stopped beside his Lieutenant and cracked a smile, placing his left hand back over his wounded abdomen.
"I suppose you're right.", the man relented, pulled out of the numbing darkness as he witnessed a miracle. The young, male Za`kira squinted through watery eyes, gritting his teeth while trying to look around, as if in a daze. Surrounded by blood, he looked off to where he last remembered standing; the blood spattered outwards from that very spot, with bits of muscle, organ, and bone scattered widely. The black and red miniaturized photon torpedo launcher sat damaged, cracked with a chunk of housing missing, itself broken as much as the impact had broken his older body. That shatter of shoulder and rib bones was the last thing he could recall, aside from the foggy call of his name.
"Is that... mine, Terry?", Za`kira finally spoke aloud, voice lisping and slurred from such a recent rejuvenation. It was small, scared and told of his new-found age as he used his fellow's first name, just as the older Za`kira always did. Garrison looked over his shoulder, then quickly turned his head back around and lifted his right hand to shield the sight from the drake's vision.
"You don't need to look at that. Everything is okay now.", the young man continued to reassure, removing the reminders of the pain as best he could. As the gravity of what happened fell upon Za`kira's fragile young mind, the small drake tucked his snout against his companion and cried quietly in the private shroud of his uniform. It was alright - only seven and not knowing what laid ahead. The life of a Medicalos, and a sudden end of a Starfleet career. The knowledge that he was dead, only to come back and not even be female any longer. It was a heavy thing for a barely wired, fresh mind to cope with, but he would have support. Soon he'd be back in normal clothing, rejuvenated again back to being a girl at the cost of further regressing back to four years of age. In the calm, the other three officers from the U.S.S Excalibur's tactical team had run by and into Velius' room, with the medical teams following right behind. Aldridge turned from the young drake and human, making a few steps to see Terek round the corner with his rifle lowered at his side, having passed Velius to the other officers for shuttle transport. They were busy cuffing him and preparing a stretcher they could get up a ladder - something that pained and irritated the Roferian who already had a hard enough time breathing.
"Terek.", Aldridge called to his fellow, motioning with a nudge of his head and a light smile to show Za`kira had survived. The Cardassian merely made a surprised and pleased face, nodding his head slowly a couple of times. They were still stiff from their grief, only to be expected.
"I'm going to help the medical teams with Bastaire. Catch up with Stein, and tell him what's happened. Get your wrist looked at, too.", the man both advised and ordered without any sort of commanding tone, tired and worn as he squinted lightly. He intentionally didn't say he was going to help handle the Jalaxian's body, being that the nearby Stein had no idea he had been killed with nobody making any word of it. It was time he knew, however. Terek acknowledged the request with some difficulty, looking at his superior.
"Aye sir.", Terek relented, turning his eyes over to the younger human on their team, sitting there already forlorn without his sight. A medic was now at his side, speaking with him and trying to get a look at his face; the shoulders of his uniform a pleasant blue. Ensign Stein had enough to deal with, but Terek did have to sit down and tell him the truth. Though, as the Cardassian took his first step, Aldridge stumbled. A gray skinned hand shot out and caught his comrade, helping the human stay upright, to which Aldridge appeared sheepish about in his condition.
"Perhaps I'll let a medic look me over too.", Aldridge accepted with a grunt and exhausted exhale of breath, heading down the hallway to say goodbye to a friend.
* * * * * *
The longest day of Kayla's two lives drew near it's welcome end, coming to a close with the same calm peace of mind that it began with. No longer pressed to worry about murderous hackers, the fox could revert back to her usual concerns like paddles and and who would next scrub her muzzle out with soap. She'd rather handle those things any day, than the constant unbearable threat of being killed by unseen forces. Even as she acted as Starfleet's invisible eye in the sky, handling the power station on Gerias to free it's safety and control protocols, she never did see Velius' face; still knowing him only by his cruelty, and his voice. She knew he put up a fight, but not at what cost did the officers on the surface of that moon paid to capture him alive. This day, emotionally, mentally, and physically taxed to her limits, she was happy with the simple notion Velius was gone from her life. With the Earth satellite network gone silent and every defense platform unresponsively still, the planet would be able to restore itself and bring all those lost pieces of infrastructure back to service. Only then would the massive population of their fair, green and blue world know the sort of havoc that had been wreaked that impacted every single one of their lives in one fell swoop.
Beside her old friend, the computer console she built with her own two paws out of both love, and then hate, Kayla stood with a light and drowsy smile. Her furless right paw touched it's metal side panel, running it down and over the edge of her unit's left auxiliary display screen, which now stood still and dark. In it's life within her old home, the small house she took occupancy in when it's original resident alien passed away, it was rarely ever deactivated unless it was receiving upgrades or internal maintenance. To shut it down with the intention of leaving it's side made Kayla homesick, missing parts of her life that once were, and were no longer. Reunited with the machine, her girl, the old hacker had found a new calling, and a new lease at a more fruitful life. For this, she loved it's crude exterior all that much more. While she touched it, thinking, the silver, filled in 'P' on the back of her paw stood out bright and obvious against her now bare and scarred black canid skin.
For a time, she had been given a multitude of kind words and 'thank you's from those that passed by. Starfleet officers in their white coats shook her paw, looking her in the eye. They were all eternally grateful for her assistance, with both the male and female Admirals personally acknowledging her service before the open communications line was shut down and her badge went silent. Never before had she been given such positive attention, especially once faced with the stigma of her own reputation as the notorious Packet-Storm. It was so unfamiliar it brought about modest embarrassment, making her quieter than usual in her exhausted stupor. But, as the minutes past and Commander Santorae passed out new orders to pairs of his technicians, the room slowly began to empty out until only about half of the white coats remained. As some cleaned up the last remnants of the cooling gel, scooping it away with collection equipment, they worked with content and a quiet joy. The discarded and thrown wall panels had been propped up beneath where they would soon return; everything slowly returning to normal, while Santorae directed his two console-operating officers in their part to help free the global satellite network.
"Hey. I haven't wanted to cut into your moment. You doing okay?", Jacob stepped up behind her and asked lightly, smiling just as tiredly. Kayla at least had a nap; it was getting fairly late into the night and his eyes had grown heavy now that his heart slowed down. The fox appeared to have been sharing a quiet moment with herself, and that was something well earned and best not disturbed unnecessarily, he figured. Kayla sighed comfortably, taking her paw from her console to turn her head.
"I need a real nights sleep. I'll be able to get one now that he's gone.", Kayla referred to Velius, now feeling safe enough to close her eyes. The movement of her fingers had decreased as they again stiffened, her Karrian partner could tell. She looked to be trying to ignore it, not mentioning it when asked. Standing there alone together in the white room, Kayla's mother off taking a breather for a moment, Jacob shook his head and reached out to take the fox's right paw. Lifting it into his green scaled hands, touching her bare ebony skin, Kayla tilted her head and gave him something of a warm, silly look as he began to knead her fingers and joints. Too soon to try further therapy or medication, the next best thing was somebody to rub out the pain.
"Easy... I'm pretty sure I bruised them again.", Kayla added with a tiny, half chuckle as her ears folded back a little in her expression; eyes blue and bright. Jacob curled the ends of his maw with a look, stopping his efforts to just hold her paw in his hand. She had felt so self-conscious about it before, hiding it like a marred appendage and dirty secret once it had been badly wounded and her fur burned away, he wanted her to at least feel better about it. He sure didn't mind taking care of it, and he'd tell her he approved of her paw by simply cradling her fingers in his own. But as he did, tiredly looking into the face of his forbidden girlfriend, he noticed Kayla's brows curl as if she was staring at something over his shoulder. Clearing his throat, knowing her expressions all too well, Jacob lightly released Kayla's paw from his hands; Emily more than likely standing right behind him, having returned from her trek.
"Interrupting?", the older woman questioned with a bit of a tone to her voice, before Jacob had even the time to turn around. Bashful and caught up in the moment, the boy turned and placed his hands behind his back.
"No, not at all.", he attempted to chuckle awkwardly as if nothing was going on, now that they had been caught holding hands. That was a touch more obvious than just being close to one another, but none the less, Emily just made a face and hummed. The pause was unnerving for he and Kayla both, but Emily appeared to take a deep breath and move past it.
"I ran into Mister Brayden. He's working on getting us a nice place to spend the night, he said. Are you about ready to get some rest Kayla? You have no idea how far past your curfew it is.", the human woman began to speak normally, noting just how late it had become. Here in San Francisco, it was a quarter till two in the morning. She felt fortunate that her daughter was able to hold out that long at her young age, and had basic medical assistance right at her side. And someone to rub her paws, apparently. To the question Kayla gave a gentle tip of her head, even though she did not want to step out of the room and abandon her console. It had been such a day, but there were things she didn't want to leave behind.
"Yes ma'am, I'm ready.", the girl politely acknowledged, yawning once she was reminded again that it was deep into the night. Upon seeing it, Jacob had to cover his green maw and try to stifle a yawn of his own, to which he failed miserably.
Across the room Commander Santorae had been awaiting the return of his assistant's parent, signifying that the young hacker would be leaving him for the night. Bright and cheery in the wake of what all happened, he was eager to give Kayla a proper goodbye and speak with her one last time now that the situation had been quelled to the point he could stop for a moment. The fox's keen ears stood tall once she heard his boots, walking with the posture of a gentlemen. She turned her head to grace him with that tired smile plastered firmly across her face, looking so much looser and casual than she did when she first arrived. Battered and frightened, that girl was meek. Even exhausted beyond words, a confidence came from her much different and stronger from that of before.
"Kayla Ackart, our guardian angel.", the older man greeted, speaking fondly as he stopped and began to kneel down to the younger rejuve's level; respectful as he was when he met her, choosing not to stand over her and talk down to her. It was a sentiment she did like, but such words made Kayla grin timidly, reaching up to rub the fur atop her head. Such things brought a tension she wasn't used to, despite the fact it wasn't all too bad. Like her partner Jacob, though, she was uncomfortable handling such praise. Counter-hacking was a new subject to her, but deep down inside, it felt no different from what she had always done.
"There wasn't a single way we could have stopped the defense platforms without you. Kayla, I hope you understand that you saved the lives of millions, if not billions. Destroying every defense platform one by one would have taken a long time, and every ship in the fleet. The losses would have been staggering, if not crippling.", Commander Santorae spoke to his prior note of praise, lowering his tone with notions of conviction and honesty as his wrists settled upon his knees and he made himself comfortable, able to look in those weary blue eyes of the young Aspatrian. Kayla had trouble not averting them, still having no real clue what to say to someone when they told her such things - and Santorae had an elaborate way of saying it.
"I'm... really just happy to have helped. To have been asked, I guess.", Kayla tried reaching down to find, deciding to just say what had been on her mind before Jacob had begun talking to her. Her words were soft, spoken slowly. When it came down to it, she was still humbled by the fact someone trusted her enough to ask for her assistance. That she'd be granted the chance to stand beside the individuals and entities she once threatened during her reign as Packet-Storm, righting a wrong she had come to regret. If there was anything that meant something to her, it was just knowing someone appreciated the fact she was trying. The sort of grin that came over Santorae's face looked distant, as if he was thinking of something in his moment of silence. He came to look down at his hands, appearing to look at the back of them. Kayla hadn't seen the intelligent man at a loss for words before, tilting her head to try and get a decent gauge of his facial expression; changing her own as she analyzed his.
"There is a saying.", the fair-skinned man suddenly spoke, steady, sounding as if something was weighing on his mind as his eyes came up from the backs of his hands. Kayla righted her stance, curling a curious brow.
"A Penitatas owes a debt to society, is what they say.", Santorae eluded to, as his hands pressed against his knees and the man stood up, white coat coming off the floor. Once he stood tall, the Starfleet Commander crossed his arms and looked down with the lightest look on his face as he gave his true opinion to the little saint that stood before him.
"Perhaps it's society that owes a debt to you. You can trust that I will be calling who ever I need to call, to tell them what all you have done for us.", he thought of her status as a Penitatas and said, promising to advocate on her behalf. Those whom held her in chains had to know of her efforts and the lives she saved, cooperating with them despite being wounded and treated with distrust. Kayla's eyes opened a little wider; her keen smile creeping back from hearing something so kind. It made her imagine... being free. The fox didn't know what would happen from this day, but hearing such a thing made a hope linger in her heart. As she thought about the future, the future couldn't happen until she had served her sentence. Anything that helped in that realm was appreciated, and acting as her advocate was the nicest thing Santorae could have done for a Penitatas serving hard time.
"That would mean a lot to me.", Kayla replied with a tone of surprise, sounding more than simply humbled by his sentiment as she looked up at him. Santorae's kindness made Jacob smile, all too familiar with the coldness Penitatas were sometimes forced to endure from others. The older Commander gave a nod of his head, allowing his prior expression back onto his face.
"The least I can do is put in a good word, and hope for the best for you.", Santorae affirmed, willing to do any good for her her possibly could. There would surely be others struck with the same gratitude. But, as the fox again began to yawn, the man chuckled aloud, though softly with his demeanor.
"You also deserve a good rest. I'm sure you'll have a busy morning in the wake of all this.", he offered like words of wisdom, spoken to encourage the Aspatrian Penitatas to go and finally sleep. Emily was certainly down for that, taking a step forward to place a few fingers on the black shoulder of Kayla's shirt. Giving a quick peer up to her mother, Kayla turned back to Santorae and nodded her head approvingly. As the family turned, saying goodbye to one another, Kayla stopped and placed her left paw on her console one last time. Now leaving it for real, her smile dimmed slightly.
"You'll look after her, right sir? Keep her in a nice place?", Kayla asked to Santorae behind her, as her family continued walking a few steps. To her question she received a soft pat on the back, promptly.
"She'll be stored personally.", the Commander reassured, daring not to disturb the bond Kayla shared with her unit; going as far as to call it a 'she' just as the fox did. That was good enough for her, at least with the circumstances as they were. With a turn over her shoulder, her fingers slid free of the console's smooth surface for the last time, raising her paw to give Commander Santorae a final wave before catching up with Jacob and Emily out the door to the central computer room.
Her feet still bare as they had been, the pads of her Aspatrian footpaws cushioned her footfalls until she was right at Jacob's side. So soon after their moment of embarrassment with her mother, Kayla was certain to keep her paws well to herself while she walked along with a thought on her mind. It allowed her to keep up her light smile, bringing energy to her face.
"You know, I think I found what I could do for a living. A career; some sort of actual future.", the Aspatrian announced with a fondness, mulling over possibilities in casual conversation. She had never known what she'd do once she became an adult again. It would happen someday. Jacob hummed curiously, turning his head as he walked behind Emily, knowing she'd be eavesdropping on every word at this point.
"Really? What's that?", the Karrian asked curiously, slipping his hands into his pockets; one of his claws getting stuck for a moment on a strand of thread. Kayla tilted her head back, pointing her muzzle straight at the ceiling in the hallway.
"A business, with clients. Digital security, like... a good-guy hacker, making the next generation of programs and shoring up companies' loose ends to protect them from attacks.", she came to suggest, painting a picture of a young, dedicated woman trying to find a life of her own. Jacob had never heard Kayla say such a thing before, which made his maw open slightly from the thought of it.
"How about... Ackart Enterprises?", the Aspatrian grinned much more toothily as her eight year old imagination took hold of her drowsy mind. Listening ahead, Emily made a face that nobody could see, tightening her cheeks and sort of nodding. Beside her, the thought made Jacob snicker with a personal delight for his companion. Not only was he infinitely proud of her, but now she was thinking about the future - things to build upon. Goals. That girl, she was a trip, growing so much with each experience.
Headed to bed under a dark, hover-car free sky away from home, the world would be steadily coming back to life as it had been known. In the wake of Kayla's actions, and the things they had all witnessed, the next day would come filled with uncertainty; not one knowing what would happen, or what would befall the Aspatrian that let the world wake up to another day.