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MAY/JUN *WINNER* "Mazu's Flame"


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Mazu's Flame

- Cmdr Della Vetri

“That's it. Last bit of signal just dropped away.”

Turning her attention from the swirling darkness on the viewscreen, Vel'na brushed a stray strand of her jewel-green hair away from her face as she looked toward the ship's electronics officer, who's own pale blue skin was bathed in the assorted colours of light from her console.


“There's a curl of the shell's gas drifting in behind us. It's not cutting us off from home completely, but it is between us and Control. Yet more confirmation that the stuff screws with transmissions as well as blocking light.”

“Assuming there's any light out there to block...”

The typically cynical tone of that comment had both females sharing a look of silent amusement before Vel'na shifted her attention to the source.

“Tol, how exactly did you manage to get onto this mission with an attitude like that?”

Smaller and more fragile of build than either of the other two, the male looked almost lost in his seat – which hadn't been designed for one of the Kerrian race's frailer sex – and that impression was only heightened by the slightly nervous look on his face as he found himself the target of his superior’s focus, though that didn't stop the somewhat defiant tone of his voice as he answered her.

“Weren't you paying attention to the newsfeeds? With all the fuss the equality movement has been kicking up, Command wanted a male in on this. Turns out I was the only one crazy enough to volunteer.”

And the fact you're sterile didn't hurt... After all, if you get killed, it's not like the race looses anything.

It was a pretty cold assessment, but that didn't make it any less true. Sighing a little, she shook her head and settled back into her own seat.

“Just because we've found no evidence of any kind of star or anything outside the shell doesn't mean they're not there, Tol. Nothing about our understanding of astrophysics tells us that the three suns we do know about have to be the only ones.”

“True, but if there are other stars out there, why are they hidden? A four light-year clear area surrounded by dark gas that absorbs energy strikes a lot of people as just too much of a coincidence to be natural.”

“If you start on religion again,” came Sa'len's dry comment from the electronics station, “I'm just going to ignore you.”

Stopping herself from joining in, Vel'na concentrated instead on the readings of the helm systems in front of her. The pair of them had been acting like that since they'd met, and it wasn't hard to understand that they were doing it even more now as a reaction to how close they were to the shroud that – as far as anyone could prove – marked the edge of the universe. Hell, she was feeling an almost physical pressure from it herself.

“Tol, if you can manage to concentrate, please tell me how the drive system is holding up.”

Silence reigned for a few moments, then he answered her, sounding far more professional than he had before.

“Intermix is stable, core holding steady. Whilst I can't tell you what would happen if we established a warp field this close to the shell, we're fully able to do so.”

Nodding, she listened as Sa'len gave her own confirmation of the ship's readiness, then started them drifting a little closer to the shell, closing the gap slowly but steadily. Not that she could be totally certain how far away the dark gas was, what with the way it seemed to just swallow sensor scans with no apparent effort. She was relying on little more than visual reckoning and guess-work at this point, but had no intention of telling the two members of her crew that.

Do I want to actually wonder what will happen if we drift in too far? The probes that tested it came back okay, but they weren't crewed...

As she kept her eyes on the viewscreen, it took a second or so for what she was seeing to register – a faint, shimmering glow across the leading edge of the ship's prow. Pale pink, it was only a flicker or two to begin with, but it spread rapidly, gaining in intensity by the second.

“Oh, that's not good... Tol! Give me as much drive power as you can – I think we might need it!”

Fingers flying over the controls, she ordered the craft to turn, knowing full well that the kind of manoeuvre she was telling it to do would push it's agility to the limit. The problem was, nothing whatsoever was happening.

“Sa'len, control's aren't responding. Tell me what's going on!”

“It's system wide.” Tol cut in, sounding surprisingly calm, considering. As long as you ignored the tightness the betrayed just how much effort it was taking for him to sound like that. “Core just went offline, we're experiencing power drain in almost every system.”

Nothing but a steady stream of cursing was coming from Sa'len, which told the story of how things were going at her end all too clearly. Knowing it wouldn't help things if she hassled for updates, Vel'na just stuck to trying to get some kind of response out of the controls as the eerie corona carried on spreading across the hull.

* * *

“Energised dark matter” is what the nerd herd are calling it. Not a particularly common thing to find, and certainly not in a gaseous cloud over a parsec and a half across at it's widest point. We're not getting that much data as yet, mostly due to the fact that it's being stubborn as hell about letting us learn about it, but we are getting some results, most of which tell us that the nova we were looking at a few light-years away is probably responsible for the excited state of the nebula on this side.

It's taken a lot of work, and some creative application of signal filtering, but we've finally managed to get something from inside. Four major neutrino sources within the cloud, and figuring in the level of interference from the cloud itself, we're guessing they're somewhere in the order of full-blown stars. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, has the astrometrics team clamouring for a chance to get a probe in there. Not sure they realise that the cloud would likely kill a probe long before it got to where they want it – the energy levels in the cloud in this area would fry it's systems unless we added a proper shield generator to it...

* * *

Three days. Three full days since they'd lost both contact with home and most of the function of their ship, drifting deeper and deeper into the dark mass of the shell, only the shimmering glow that clung to the hull giving any form of clue that there was anything out there at all.

It was cold now, as well. Heat had been leeching from their environment ever since the life support system had failed after the first day, and the air itself was becoming increasingly foul. It had proved a difficult task to balance just how active they should be to keep warm with how fast they were using up what breathable atmosphere they had left, but they'd managed it this far.

We won't last all that much longer though.

Not a thought she wanted in her head, but there was no way she was going to be able to ignore it. Breath frosting in the air in front of her, she shuffled along the corridor toward the engineering section. There was little real point in it, apart from the fact that moving helped keep her from feeling quite so cold, but she needed something to do, and running a visual check on the drives was as good a waste of a few minutes as anything else. She couldn't even really occupy herself with random conversation, as she was the only one awake right now...

Even the short distance from the [...]pit had worn her out, the chill conspiring with the bad air to rob her of what little energy she could summon – but she still managed a smile when she looked through the hatchway to the drive section. She'd wondered just where Tol and Sa'len had gotten to, and now she knew. The warp core was dead, but it's mounting provided a nice enough little cubby-hole to crawl into, and she could see the pair of them in there, Sa'len's arms wrapped around the smaller male in a distinctly protective way that was very much at odds with the way she usually acted toward him.

Figures... She always did tend to get cranky if anyone but her messed with him.

Vel'na wasn't sure what, if anything, she should say about it to either of them. Given the fact that there was little apparent way they'd be getting back home, it seemed a little officious to point out to the pair that behaviour like that was against regs, fun as it might be to play with their heads for a little while.

No. Not worth it. It would be too easy to provoke Sa'len into something rash by accident, and there was no reason at all to put extra pressure on Tol. Better to just let them be, and hope that they could keep each other as happy as possible in what time the three of them had left.

Turning back toward the [...]pit, she started shuffling again, hands tucked tightly into her armpits as she went. The blanket she'd looted from one of the emergency kits helped a bit, draped as it was around her shoulders, but that wouldn't last forever, and did precisely nothing at all to help with the fact that she was also increasingly hungry. Problem was, eating used energy, and using energy used oxygen.

“Screw it,” she muttered to herself, “I don't plan on dying hungry.”

When she reached the [...]pit again, she dropped into her seat and reached down to the emergency kit that was propped up beside her. Grabbing a ration bar, she ripped it open with quiet determination, and with a general air of defiance toward the cosmos in general, took a bite and started chewing. Settling back in her seat, she watched the vibrant pink flames dancing on the outside of the ship, letting herself admit that the sight was really quite pretty, in a hypnotically ominous sort of way...

* * *


The gravelly voice from behind him might have startled Cmdr Tori Jones if she wasn't thoroughly used to the fact that the Captain of the USS Galatea was incredibly good at showing up unannounced. Giving Doctor Kelwas a quick smile who's cause was safely behind her, she made sure it was gone from her face before turning to face the stocky Tellarite CO.

“It looks like it was close, Captain, but all we seem to have gotten to them in time.”

“And who are they?”

Kelwas decided to field that one, though the Betazoid failed to bother with anything like looking up from his tricorder as he did so.

“That will have to wait until they're conscious – which may not be for a while. Major levels of dehydration, borderline starvation, cold exposure and oxygen deprivation tend to have a detrimental effect on most people. I can tell you this, though – they're tough. Most humanoids would likely be a whole lot closer to dead than these three are.”

With a grunt of acknowledgement, the Captain stalked a few paces closer to the trio of occupied biobeds. Frowning to himself, he studied the occupants for a few silent moments before turning back to his First Officer.

“Their ship?”

“Low-tech by our standards, but a solid design. Warp capable – barely – but quite obviously not intended for any kind of long trip. Engineering estimates that if it's systems weren't fried by the nebula, we'd be looking at something with the endurance of one of our shuttle-pods.”

“Tactical systems?”

“Zip. Polarised hull plating for navigational purposes, but the single most offensive thing it can do is ram someone.”

“Which it very nearly did. If T'Mel didn't have such good reflexes, that ship of theirs would have ploughed right into us.”

Tori deliberately didn't point out that putting the Luna-class ship so close to the nebula's edge had been done against her recommendation. Her boss knew that, and would no doubt point out his own failing in the report on this incident. He was like that... Instead, she chose a different topic to carry on with.

“One thing they do have in abundance on their ship is sensors. Not great ones, but a lot of scanning capacity. I'd say the thing was designed for the same kind of job us the Galatea.”

“Boldly going forth and looking for trouble?”

“Not quite how I would have phrased it, Doc, but yes.”

Only a faint twinkle in the Captain's eyes gave any hint that he appreciated Kelwas' comment, or Tori's dry response, but it was definitely there, at least until he looked back at the comatose figures they'd rescued from what had been shaping up to be a less than pleasant exit from life. Pretty much everything they knew or had been able to figure out suggested the most likely answer to what he was about to ask, but he did it anyway.

“So where did they come from?”

There was no immediate reply, so he glanced in Tori's direction. As soon as he did so, he caught the look she was giving him, the one she usually reserved for times he was asking stupid questions but she was being polite enough not to say so out loud. With another grunt, this time managing to combine typical Tellarite irritability with a clear sense of pleasure at a new discovery, he turned and headed for the door, trusting his staff to keep him updated when anything changed.

* * *

Almost the first thing Vel'na was aware of was the fact she wasn't cold any more. Next came the ease with which she could breathe, though the air did seem to taste a bit wrong, and the presence of a low background hum that had been absent from her senses since her ship had died around her.

She couldn't actually remember falling asleep – or slipping into unconsciousness, which was probably a better description – but it must have happened, and now she was awake again. Opening her eyes, she made a move to roll off of whatever it was she was lying on, only to come to a frozen halt as she saw the scene around her.

Totally unfamiliar equipment, laid out in an equally alien configuration was only the start. From where she lay, she could see at least four figures moving about, their strange attire nowhere near as disturbing as the fact that every single one of them looked.... wrong. She couldn't help the gasp of surprise that escaped her lips, and the sound obviously alerted the strange beings to the fact that she was awake, as two of them started moving her way.

Backing off as best she could, she nearly scooted right off of the edge of the bed she was on, with only a quick move from one of the beings saving her from a violent trip to the floor. About the only thing about his appearance – and it was definitely a 'him' – that wasn't wrong were the pointed ears, and even the casual strength with which he moved her back into a less precarious position was nothing like she could have expected.

Looking around wildly, she managed to spot Tol and Sa'len laid on beds nearby, and she made a sudden scramble in their direction, only to be pulled up short by a gently insistent hand holding her in place.

“Don't worry, they're fine.”

That came from the other male that had approached her, earning him an exceptionally suspicious look. This one didn't even have the right shaped ears that the other did, and his skin was a paler, more pinkish colour than that of a Kerrian. Combined with the rest of the evidence her senses were throwing at her, she only had one real conclusion she could draw.

“You're aliens.”

The accusing tone of her voice was met with a smile and cheerful nod of agreement, followed by a gesture that had the one holding her backing off a little, though he remained close by, lurking in the kind of way she'd encountered mostly in soldiers and guards. Frowning at him, she tried to figure out if the fact that his clothing had a yellowish trim to it meant anything, given that the other one's outfit had a bluer shade instead.

“That we are, yes.” the one who had spoken before said, “From your perspective, at least. And lucky for you, too. If we hadn't been here, chances are all three of you would currently be arriving in whatever afterlife your people happen to believe in.”

“So where are we?”

Opening his mouth to answer, the male stopped instead, looking over toward the doorway that was now sliding closed behind a squat, hairy individual who met her confused gaze with a level one of her own before straightening into a more formal pose as he came to a halt.

“You are aboard the Federation starship Galatea, madam. I am Captain Terek, commander of this vessel, the man who's crew saved your life, and the one who gets the distinct pleasure of welcoming you to a much, much bigger galaxy.”

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A little note... You may notice whilst reading this that some words have been molested by the forum's rather eager profanity filter - unless I've completely lost track of my writings, there's nothing actually offensive in terms of language in there, it's just the system messing about :)

(Also, bonus points if anyone can spot the connection 'tween the title and the content. It is there... :P)

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