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Mercifully alone after hours in sickbay, Geoffrey John Teller stood in his quarters and wept openly for the first time in his adult memory. Wracking sobs shook his torso as he supported himself with one hand against the bulkhead, peering through tears at the indifferent stars beyond the viewport. He’d maintained his composure through all the debriefings and the mandatory counseling sessions but now, in the safety of solitude, Geoff let the feelings he’d been tamping down pour out unfiltered. Tears ran down his face and onto his uniform unchecked as the events replayed in his mind once again. It started, as it always started...with the children. Their smiling, delighted faces. Their giggles and laughter. Their pure, innocent wonder. Their screams of terror. Geoff tried to shake the memory away but it would not be restrained anymore and he collapsed to his couch, hunched over with head in hands. A renewed series of sobs made his entire body shudder. It was several minutes before he could compose himself, and even then he was far from settled. His mourning had given way to a fierce anger every bit as unrestrained as his grief. With a hoarse bark he called out to the computer, his mind growing dark with increasingly violent thoughts. “Give me all the atmospheric surveys conducted on Telstrus 3 prior to beam down, along with the names of every officer and crewman responsible for their research. Someone is going to pay for this if it’s the last thing I do.” The computer's polite request to have him restate his query led to a shattered display and four broken bones in Teller’s right hand, although he didn’t know that. At the moment, the pain was strangely satisfying and helped focus his incoherent rage down to a fine, precise edge. He dug into the research for almost two hours as his hand throbbed and discolored, subsisting on a diet of cold coffee and even colder rage, but he came away with his answer. “Lieutenant Kowalski, report to my quarters, now!” The comm successfully conveyed the acid in his words because moments later his door chime rang. “Get in here and stand at attention, Mister.” Geoff’s tone was harsh, his quarters a mess and his own appearance far from uniform standard, but none of that mattered to him at the moment. The sole thing on Geoff’s mind was justice but at this point he’d happily settle for a violent measure of revenge. “Lieutenant Koawlski reporting as ordered. Sir, may I speak freely?” The tension in Koawlski’s voice was thick enough to land a shuttle on, but Geoff wasn’t in a mood to be compassionate. “No you damn well may not, Lieutenant. And I thought I told you to stand at attention!” Kowalski’s already rigid posture became ramrod straight, their unblinking eyes fixed on a far off point on the bulkhead. Geoff finally turned his attention away from the console and stood, closing the distance to Koawlski until they were nose to nose. Geoff’s eyes were frantic, red and bulging. A passing medical officer could have checked his blood pressure from the hallway. “Lieutenant, I am going to ask you a series of questions and you are going to respond Yes Sir, Commander Sir or No Sir, Commander Sir. Is that absolutely clear?” Geoff’s tone made it clear what answer he expected. “Yes Sir, Commander Sir.” To Koawlski’s credit, they weathered this volcano of rage without flinching. “Good. Were you the planetary meteorological officer on duty when we arrived at Telstrus 3?” Geoff knew the answer but he needed to hear the man say it to his face. To admit it was him and not some incomprehensible computer error. “Yes Sir, Commander Sir.” Again, it was the answer Geoff had expected, and it did nothing to quell his anger. “Were you responsible for preparing the atmospheric survey the Captain used to judge the coordinates of our beam down?” “Yes Sir, Commander Sir.” “When the Captain asked you to prepare that survey, were his instructions in any way unclear or subject to misinterpretation?” “No Sir, Commander Sir!” “Do you consider yourself competent at your duties, Lieutenant?” “Yes Sir, Commander Sir!” “In that case, Lieutenant, perhaps you’d like to explain why the Thor’s first children's kite flying contest was such a massive disaster?!” “Sir, I...the wind...it was supposed to be gentle...favorable...nothing in our models suggested hurricane force wind gusts!” “Perhaps you’d like to explain that to seventy-three primary school children who just saw two months of their hard work turned into high altitude confetti while they suffered scrapes and boo-boos the likes of which I’ve never seen!” “Sir, I can’t...I...I’ll resign...or...or you can file charges...you can’t possibly….” “Oh yes I damn well can, Lieutenant. As of now, you are assigned to serve as a class mascot until such time as I feel you’ve learned an important lesson.” Kowalski’s voice went up several octaves in shock. “But Sir!.....” “But nothing, Mister. Now get into that Flotter costume and get down to Deck 12. Those kids are getting blankies and juice boxes and they expect a visit from their new pal real soon....” Kowalski sputtered in incoherent shock but retreated in defeat, leaving Geoff alone again in his quarters. He’d always loved the wind but after today...he’d never be able to think of it without remembering Telstrus 3.
The tall, dark haired stranger pointed the weapon at Hayley. The young cadet stared at the barrel of the distruptor with fear and gulped. Sweat poured down her brow. Swallowing her fear, she bravely responded, “Please. Let me go and I will leave.” The stranger grinned with coldness and shook his head, “No. You don’t get out of this. Poor little girl. Fresh out of the academy, huh? Such a shame.” Without a second, he fired. The hot beam of the disruptor caught her flank thrusting her backwards. The back of her skull hit the metal post of the lamp. Clutching to her side, Hayley fell to the ground. Fighting the overwhelming darkness, she listened to him bark orders. “Men, take her body out and dump her with the others at the end of the colony. You know where it is. Do it. No one will know the truth of all this.” With her tongue stuck inside her throat, Hayley gasped with pain as darkness overcame her senses. Her life slowly ebbed away as his men carried her away. “Dev” A voice spoke in the back of her head. Hayley stood with her hands on the railing. She watched the shuttle fly from the port in a town in Ireland. She smiled watching and waiting. Already seventeen and full of promise, she waited for the shuttle to take her to the academy to begin her first studies in San Francisco. It was her life-long dream. “Devon” “Huh?” Hayley wondered. Turning around, she listened again and recognized the tone of her father. She smiled leaving her place against the railing to meet him. A barking sound followed him as she exclaimed seeing her favorite Irish Settler, “Mackie!” Her three-year-old puppy ran up to greet her as she opened her arms and exclaimed hugging her, “Father! You brought Mackie! I thought you left him to be cared for.” Mackie barked and slobbered all over her. Stroking her fur, Hayley stood and hugged her father. They embraced as he spoke, “I couldn’t let her alone without letting her say goodbye.” As Mackie sat awaiting her next command, she watched her two favorite humans watch each other. Hayley kept her smile and spoke, “Father. Thank you.” He stood there grasping her hands. He smiled and inquired, “Are you ready?” Hayley closed her eyes. Thinking to herself and feeling an overpowering feeling of emotion, she opened her eyes and nodded. As her green eyes stared at her father, she felt his happiness. Being only half Betazoid as she got half her abilities from her mother, the half Human shook her head, “I don’t know, father. I studied a lot. I learned many things. I thought I would be ready and yet.” “What?” her father inquired, “What is it,” Hayley gulped. Feeling pain on her side, she swallowed harshly and responded in a low, raspy voice, “I still feel this darkness inside me. An emptiness. A void left behind my mother. She,” Struggling to prevent her tears from falling, she turned away. Her father touched her face and responded bringing her to face him,” I know. Things were never the same for both you and your brother since your mother disappeared thirteen years ago. She left without warning and her disappearance made no sense.” Mackie watched them both and whimpered turning her head sideways. Hayley closed her eyes and nodded. Stroking Mackie on her head, she exhaled. Her puppy licked her hand. Her father placed his hand on her head and inquired, “It is part of why you joined Starfleet, isn’t it? To find your mother?” Hayley opened her eyes and nodded, “Yeah.” He sighed, “And I can’t persuade you to let go?” The young girl shook her head and swallowed her response, “No. I have to do this, father.” He nodded assuring her with a kiss on the forehead, “Okay. Be careful. Know that I love you, wherever you are.” That brought back a confident smile to her as Hayley replied, “Thanks. Love you too.” She hugged him and knelt before Mackie to kiss her. Her dog barked as Hayley turned away. The shuttle she waited for had come. Walking toward the plank, she turned to give her father a wave. Following several people, she boarded the shuttle. Halfway across the plank and entering the waiting shuttle, she heard that voice on the back of her mind again. Dev… “What?” Hayley turned around. Searching for the voice, it sounded familiar. It came again via a sudden ringing in her head. Devon… Hayley groaned. Grabbing her head, she fought the ringing pain. Stumbling against the passengers of the boarded shuttle, she banged the wall with her hand. The occupants ignored her apparently unaware of her sudden pain as the voice echoed but louder DEVON! Another groan escaped her throat as a sudden pain arched across her side. Clutching her flank, she felt something wet. Withdrawing her hand, she gasped seeing blood dripping from her hand and wound. Falling to her knees, she groaned closing her eyes as the painful voice lashed at her head like an electric whip. DEVON! Opening her eyes, Hayley gasped feeling around her. She was on her back with someone else atop her. Feeling herself whisked away from a familiar setting, she found herself on her back with a bunch of bodies around her. A man knelt over her and held her down as he tended to her wound, “Dev, stay with me.” “Huh,” Hayley groggily attempted to speak. Feeling her system filled with drugs to keep her pain in bay, a nagging ringing in her head just won’t quit as she groaned, “Captain?” The man holding her down appeared dark and clouded. Hayley’s eyes played tricks on her. Feeling her mind taken down, she muttered, “No. It can’t be. The captain is dead.” “Devon. Hey! Dev,” the man tended to her wound spoke. Soon his voice became familiar as she inquired, “Seth?” Her brother was here? That couldn’t be. He was halfway across the quadrant. No way he was here. She groaned, “Seth. What?” “Hey,” Seth spoke as she tried to get up. Keeping her down, “Dev, I’m not here. But, as your brother, I have to tell you. Don’t give up now. Devon!” “What,” Hayley groaned. Fighting to keep her eyes open, she flailed on the ground. Feeling the corpses of the dead near her, she went into a panic and screamed. Her brother yelled, “AWAKE!” Hayley stood up and gasped. Feeling a sudden rush of the smell of the dead crossing her nose, she gagged. No longer sensing her brother, she cried, “Seth!” It was all in her head as the medication was giving her hallucinations. Setting herself back against the only wall nearby, Hayley hissed with pain and groaned. Touching the bandages covering her side, she felt hot, sticky blood on her hand. Feeling nothing but silence in her mind, the half Betazoid cried softly. Realizing that she felt very much alone, Hayley gasped softly, “No.” Sitting alone among the dead colonists for a bit, Hayley felt herself drifting off. Shaking her head, she gasped, “No. Must stay awake.” Her professors had warned her that she must not sleep when she’s hurt bad. Hayley felt the darkness. It gnawed at her. It drew her in. It wanted her sweet embrace. Closing her eyes again, Hayley cried out in pain when another nerve struck her side. “Please, Dev. Stay awake.” She whimpered softly as her eyes slowly closed. The young twenty-three-year-old muttered, “Must. Stay. Awa-“ Sleep tugged at her as darkness embraced the young cadet. [End – To be continued…] Cadet Hayley Devon Caden, “Dev” In training (HCO) Unassigned
The battle was over and Nugra was on the way to the galley of the GSN Claws of Blood. It was nowhere as fancy as those aboard Federation vessels. Nugra had served on everything from the small Intrepid-class starship to the beautiful Sovereign-class ships. The Gorns preferred efficiency over design. The heavy tables were anchored down and the roar of the fire from the pits filled the room with smoky goodness. The fires, of course, were holographic but the heat emitting from them was not. They could live like their ancestors and roast meat over an open fire without risking the vessel with real fire. The holograms just added flair to them. “Senior Commander!” Ak’lar called from his place around one of the fire pits. He was holding a large leg of some animal over the fire making it glisten in its own fats. “Come! Sit! Eat!.” Nugra grinned at a lizard that he never thought would be his friend. A Black claw soldier from the wars, his enemy and somehow the green lizard with blue stripes had become a comrade. The ribbons and ropes on his chest and shoulders, the gem-studded Vss’Kot at his waist told of each and every honor he had won. Even those of the old Gorn Empire cause the youngest lizards to stare at him in awe. Starfleet was of science and knowledge, the Gorn were of deeds and duty. Nugra pulled out his plate which the other Gorns snickered. “You have lived with the humans for too long, brother,” another massive lizard said who took up twice the room. He hulked over the fire making the chunk of meat look small. “You need plateware aboard a Gorn ship?” “I like not to look like a beast when I eat.” “So you look dainty like a Romulan?” “Is that not better?” Nugra joked pretending to hold the plate as daintily as possible. There was a mixture of boos and laughter from her comment as Eeska, his friend, playfully swatted Nugra’s head in a sign of affection. Eeshka was a beautiful lizard with her small frame, gently spines running down her back, and small snout. Her topaz eyes glittered at him as she squatted beside him. “Why do you have that flimsy piece of human technology?” Ak’lar asked finally. The way he spoke showed he had been wanting to ask for quite some time. “A gift from my first captain in the Federation. It’s a reminder.” “A reminder of what?” the young Senior Ensign spoke up at his side, feeling safe being closer. “For every great thing, there are mistakes one should never forget.” *** Nugra found his room, tapped in the pass-code and strode into the muggy air. The thick aroma of Abalor plants and incense relaxed him immediately. There was a small, alien scent in his room. The biting but aromatic Jestral root nipped at his powerful nostrils and the memory of a certain Trill captain had come to his mind. The smell was calming and familiar in the muggy wild of his home. He did not make the same mistake as last time, he had sent her a note before he left Federation space that he was heading back to his home-world. The relationship between the Gorn and the Federation had not healed to the point of open communication. It would have been very difficult for him to send anything to her let alone making it there after the censors had looked at it. There was still fear the Federation was going to be out for revenge. Nugra went over to the little pot that held the growing roots of the Jestral plant and checked the soil monitors. The plant glistened in the starlight as the condensation kissed the leaves. He crouched down gently caressing it as if it had been a pet. It was the only thing that he had of the other life of a starfleet Captain. That was probably why Jalana Rajel had gotten it to him before he was too far deep into Gorn space. He had no clue how to make the tea but he planned to take the leaves to her when it was time to go home and have her show him. ‘When do I go home?’ Was not this his home now? There was actually nothing left in Starfleet for him. Since stepping down from his command of the USS Victory he had gone from one department to another, ship after ship. His chances for Fleet Captain dwindling at each move. Starfleet needed people of his experience and the Gorn never thought they hated him but his career had come to an end. Nugra knew he was fooling himself to think that he would ever command a Federation vessel again. Nugra Tk’Moong let the memories of his ship, the Victory, fill his mind from the corner where he guarded the deepest thoughts. The smell of the carpet and plasteel, the humm of the machinery. The quick, exciting talks of Ayiana Sevo, the rich Scottish accent of Alucard Vess, the gentle tones of Talia Kaji. Talia. It had even considered resigning his commission for a while before the request to return to Gorn space had come. Shaking himself of the revelry, he forced himself to the present. He was Senior Commander Nugra, Son of Moong, the High Arbiter of the Defender of the Egg, Holder of the Princess’ Ruby. He was a god among Gorn. Then why didn’t he feel at home? Ignoring the nagging voices, he climbed under the heavy animal hides and curled up to sleep. *** Nugra’s uniform was perfect as usual with his ribbons, medals, and ropes all positioned perfectly. Nugra strode into the room with confidence and certainty. Nugra strode in a crossed his left arm across his chest with hand out in a Gorn salute. “Reporting as ordered, Senior Master.” The older lizard turned to face him from the multitude of floating holographic screens that provided him everything he needed to know about the sector. "I need your experience from the Federation." "Oh? How can I serve?" Master Hrrsh tapped his claw against the duraglass panel and the screen changed to a starmap which he motioned Nugra to take a look at. The Gorn strode over closer and peered at it and recognized the coordinates being displayed. "This is Meeriso sector?" Nugra asked with a tilt of his head in surprise. "It's barren for the most part except for ion storms and a few other unique phenomena." "Yes," Hrrsh said with a nod. "But we picked this up about a week ago. It took our techs three days to piece together the jumbled signal to realize what it was." Nugra watched the string of symbols scrawl across the lower portion of the screen and to his astonishment, he recognized them. "That's a Starfleet IFF frequency." "It is. We had the Guardian's Errant pull the information and it's the USS Constantinople-A, Federation Constitution Class Refit circa 2271s. Under the command of Captain Daphne Pierce. Federation historical records show the vessel went missing in 2274 in the Baretz pass.” "Have you informed Starfleet?" Nugra asked. "No." Hrrsh answered with a finality that caught the younger Gorn off guard. "Why?" "I have an old Federation vessel clear on the opposite side of Gorn space which we have never seen before. I don’t know what we have.” "That's where I come in." "Correct. We are going to have to tell them if the ship is actually there and it will be better with an ex-Starfleet officer was the one investigating." "What is my assignment?" "Senior Commander Tk'Lnn Vss'Kov of the GSN Gorn Talon-A is in charge of the mission and will be heading to the Meeriso sector to see if they can locate the signal." "When do I leave?" "Immediately. Vss'Kov is waiting for you right now." *** The shuttle jolted hard as a wave of energy from the neutron star of the Holdath System made it past the stellar body that they were using as a shield. The jerk through the occupants around though their harnesses kept them in place. "Who thought we would also have a ride?" Burrk chortled from his seat. The massive reptile rattled his metal harness causing Eeska to shake her head in irritation. "I keep hoping something will take you out, you big oaf," she said with a mocking laugh. "Nothing is big enough to take out, Burrk." Nugra was of the opinion to agree. "What's the SOP, Senior Commander?" Ak'Lar asked. "Breach and then search pattern," Nugra said as another wave, just not as strong, rocked the ship. "I doubt anyone is alive by this time but we need to take steps to secure and make sure. Who knows what could have taken up residence all these years." Nugra had enough experience with alien life forms to not take anything for granted. It was easy to die in the void. "There it is!" the pilot called and Nugra tapped the screen on his harness to allow the view of the pilot to be seen. The side of the planet was dark but with massive canyons and mountains. Standing out with it's white hull and wedged between two giant mountains was the saucer section of the distinctive Federation design. "Land on the surface of it. We'll cut our way in," Nugra said. It took about 30 minutes before the team was able to breach the hull. Fitting their helmets on and activating the armor they wore, Nugra went first followed by Eeska, Burrk, and Ak'Lar last. Nugra dropped to the corridor below and moved forward before dropping to a crouch. The corridor and red carpet stretch before them though the hall was only illuminated by his helmet's head lamp. "Clear," Nugra said as the others took up formation beside them. "We'll make our way to the bridge. Look for Jefferies Tubes marked Primary service. Anything else will be too small for our kind," Nugra warned. It was Ak'Lar that spotted Service Tube 2-B which told him that he had access to the bridge. The hatch need breached as the ship was so old, it didn't connect to their external power packs to remote charge the computers. Burrk led the way to breach the top tube and they all soon found themselves in the circular bridge of the Federation starship. The bridge was empty though there was a layer of dust that showed it had not been visited in a number of years. Nugra strode forward and found the tattered remains of a Federation uniform among the last few bones that had not disintegrated. "It appears the ship's captain died in her seat," Nugra mused. He tapped the computer panel on the armchair and it did not respond. It was not like he had expected it to. "Ak'Lar, There should be a power junction under the communications panel," Nugra said pointing to it. "See if you can get it to interface with our power systems. We need to pull the ship's logs." "On it, Senior Commander." "Bring back memories?" Eeska asked as she stood beside him, weapon slung at ease in front of her. "Yes," Nugra said with a nod. She was one of the few she trusted especially since she had started the conversation on their side channel. "I cannot imagine how you could have stood it, Nugra," she said looking at the blank screen too. "Not only is the design alien but to have so many around that were not like me would have been really lonely." "It was for a time," Nugra said with a sigh. "But I had a good captain when transferred looking for my brother and a good crew. Tafaz, Heath Story, Captain Hurne. They are the reasons that I did not return to the Gorn Hegemony until the call of the Princess." Eeska nodded. "Do you plan to go back?" "I don't know," Nugra said with a shrug. A distinctive human trait he had learned. "My career dead ended there after I stepped down from the USS Victory. The Civil War, the loss of my friends...when I went back, I could not get myself to fit in even though I had a lot of friends that I called comrades. I went from being on the front lines to a Captain regulated to administrative work. I...I just couldn't be happy." "Have you been happy being back?" That was a good question. He was on the front lines and fighting for a cause but there were even less familiar faces here. "Senior Commander! I think I got it to work." Nugra turned to look at Ak'lar as one of the computer panels lit up. "You haven't escaped my question, Senior Commander," Eeska snarked at him. Nugra walked over to the panel and quickly tapped in a few commands that came back to him. Command directives had not changed for years; his old command codes would work to access the ship's log and download them. "There we go," Nugra said with a grin as his own tricorder beeped making the interface between the two computers. A copy of the data began to flow in while he began to sift through the writing. The visuals had been degraded and would take rebuilding but the text extracts were still present. "Looks like the Constantinople found an unstable wormhole," Nugra mused as he read through the terran standard he had practiced for years. "She crashed here when the neutron star ripped the lower section apart. Looks like the crew lived for about 25 years before...something happened." "Something happened?" Eeska said shifting her weapon. "I don't like the sound of that." It was at that point, Nugra saw that the data had become broken and the captain of the vessel had not kept up the log. There was a report of something on the ship and then one description jumped out at him. A cold chill went down his spine as he slammed his fist on the computer turning it off. "Everyone. Get your stuff. We are leaving now," Nugra ordered with no uncertainty. The description the captain provided of the assailant in her last logs, the fear it generated told him what he was dealing with. "Nugra to Gorn Talon, come in." "This is Vss'Kov. Go ahead." "Initiate Oblivion Protocol, Senior Commander. confirmed encounter aboard this ship." "Understood. Get out of there. You have five minutes before we're in position and have the plasma torpedoes overloaded." "What is going on!" Eeska shouted as Nugra began to yank out the cords and had Ak'lar wrap them up. "Buurka. Point Alpha. Eeska Point Bravo. If you see anything, no matter what it is, shoot to kill. I don't care what it looks like." To her credit, Eeska did not say anything as she sensed the extreme urgency from her Senior Commander. As soon as they were ready, Nugra began the descent down the jefferies tube with his weapon unslung and facing down. He knew he had a chance thanks to his encounter with a Yeltan so many years earlier. As everyone else climbed down they began to move towards the exit point when he heard Buurk groan in fear. Nugra spun around to see his giant lizard looking down the hallway. Looking back was a pair of liquid black eyes attached to a grotesque body with multiple legs. It had a sadistic grin on its face showing the rows of serrated teeth. The Hunger was here. Nugra did not hesitate as he felt the fear field the creature emitted begin to touch him. The green plasma bolt struck and sizzled by the creature as it dodged. Nugra continued to fire as he pulled Burrk back, breaking his gaze with it. "MOVE. NOW!" "WHAT IS THAT?" Eeska shouted terrified. "Move to the shuttle!" Nugra continued as he continued to lay down fire keeping the quick creature back. "Gorn Talon to Nugra. ETA 3 minutes." his comm said. "Negative, Talon," Nugra hollared. "We've engaged it. We're 30 seconds to egress. Fire now!" There was silence but the Gorn knew Tk'Lnn wouldn't hesitate. Too much was at stake. It made sense now. The neutron star, the dead crew, the wormhole. Nugra had encountered the same wormhole when he was with the Duronis II Embassy. The creature would build a ship in the center of the neutron star and work towards letting it's armada in to consume the galaxy. It was the bright red beams shooting past him that he realized that his pilot had dropped auto turrets into the hallway having heard the conversation. Nugra kept firing as his away time climbed the net ladder back into the shuttle. Nugra hurried up himself and threw himself in as he felt the claws barely miss him. The Gorn slammed his fist on the button slamming the hatch shut. "GO NOW!" The shuttle detached and launched as two burning red giant balls of plasma passed them and connected with the hull of the starship. The rending explosion was silent but the shuttle took the brunt flipping and tumbling out of control. If it had not been for Tk'Lnn being ready with a tractor beam, they would have broken the horizon and been destroyed by the neutron star. *** Once they were sure nothing could have survived, the Gorn Talon left making its way back towards the fleet. Nugra stood in the briefing room with Tk'Lnn and Hrrsh on the screen. "Excellent work, Senior Commander," Hrrsh said a bit paler. "I know we have heard stories of some of them being in our galaxy but I never thought they were in our space." "It's good we found it and destroyed it," Nugra said angrily. "I've seen what they have done to another reality." "I also got your transfer request. Though I do not think it's a wise choice, I understand why you want to go back and deliver the files." Hrrsh said with a nod. "I'm seeing what type of work I can pull off for you." Nugra nodded as the screen died. He had requested to return to the Federation after his encounter with the Hunger again. They had become a dull memory to the point he had forgotten why he had been chasing them and what they were truly capable of. He couldn't defeat them here in the Gorn Hegemony but maybe in the Federation. He had a choice to make. Ignore the threat or go home and stop the threat once and for all. It was his choice to make. -END-