The Valley Forge finally makes contact with the An in their home territory, but relations turn out to be far less amicable than they hoped...
Keliaya@anncaris | The Valley Forge has travelled slowly with Junior over the past few weeks, learning of his capabilities as they go. Proceeding at a sub-optimal pace, the fleet's resource consumption quickly - Keliaya@anncaris - begins to exceed their original projections. Thanks to their new Orionoid guest, the fleet is given the location of nearby Commonwealth Protectorates and Seelix is sent on her first trading - Keliaya@anncaris - mission to the planet of H'Alcai Keliaya@anncaris has tagged along on the journey with two security officers from the Loki to supervise Seelix@crystyl sits squirming in her seat, more interested in making it comfortable again while her mechme's all busy themselves around the bridge actually running the ship Keliaya@anncaris is tapping away at a console while the ship travels at warp, "I take it you made some modifications of your own, and not all of this is the Arshai's work?" Seelix@crystyl:"I'm... working on it. They don't do bad work, don't get me wrong. But it's lacking in optimization still" Keliaya@anncaris chuckles, "I know what you mean. Your optimization is probably much more extensive than anything Starfleet would allow, but every Chief Engineer likes to make adjustments, especially to ships - Keliaya@anncaris - just out from the shipyard." Seelix@crystyl:"Yeah, that's why I have the extra hands. They know what's needed by now so I can just leave them to it!" Keliaya@anncaris looks around, "Are they the same ones from your old ship? Or at least, have their memories?" Seelix@crystyl:"Yeah, a few parts here and there may have been changed. But they're all still themselves" Keliaya@anncaris:"You're not trying to get everything exactly like your old ship, are you? Just optimizing things for this ship? I don't know your old ship as well as you, but there's some clear differences between - Keliaya@anncaris:- the Arshai engineering and the original...Risian, was it?" Seelix@crystyl:"Yeah, there's not much left of that besides the outer hull now. I'd still like to eventually do some of the same upgrades I did to the first version as they were quite useful. But you're right, - Seelix@crystyl:- it's more about refining what's here now rather than restoring everything that was" Keliaya@anncaris nods, "They'll probably have to be implemented differently, but I'm sure you know what you're doing! You've got an upgrade in terms of what you're working from, though. The design for your old - Keliaya@anncaris - ship was intended for a luxury yacht, if I remember right. This one might have the same frame but the Arshai designed it as a dedicated blockade runner." Seelix@crystyl:"That's true. Will have to see what it's capable of all over again!" Keliaya@anncaris:"I think it'll be even better once you have all the optimization and upgrades done. Don't get me wrong, those Risian yachts are good ships, but they're still civilian designs. Not quite capable of - Keliaya@anncaris:- everything this thing is. Those Dominion-style engines might not outmaneuver the QanwI', but they could give the average bird-of-prey a run for their latinum." Seelix@crystyl:"Hmm... racing Klingon Birds for latinum, I like the way you think!" Keliaya@anncaris:"That's...not what I was suggesting. But I think this new ship'll certainly be capable of it, with the right modification." Seelix@crystyl:"We'll make sure it is! Hey you sure you don't fancy it? You've not been completely dulled by that uniform, so could probably make yourself useful on a racing team still!" Keliaya@anncaris:"I'm not much of a racer. But I would be interested in seeing what kind of modifications you implement," she smirks Seelix@crystyl:"I'll be sure to keep you in mind then! Might even have another colour of the mechme's uniform for you too" she grins Keliaya@anncaris looks to the nearest mech Seelix, "Did you design those yourself, too? The uniforms, that is." Seelix@crystyl:"Mhmm! Of course" Keliaya@anncaris:"Not bad fashion design. No wonder your ship looks so good, too." Seelix@crystyl:"Why thank you!" Keliaya@anncaris:"If you don't do anything illegal, I could give you a hand with those optimizations, too. If my work on the Valley Forge doesn't keep me too busy." Seelix@crystyl:"Eh, you're welcome of course. This place is a tinkerer's sanctuary at the end of the day. But come one... that space whale of yours actually just gave birth to a real space whale! There's got to be- Seelix@crystyl:- some serious cleanup there, and not just in the technological sense..." Keliaya@anncaris chuckles, "Yes, that was quite...unusual. Thorkildsen seems to have things in hand on the technological side, though. Just some repairs to the cargo bay and a bit of power rebalancing work to be - Keliaya@anncaris - done. I think Lennie and the science department has got more on their hands now." Seelix@crystyl:"I wouldn't be so sure... might just be me, but I swear that ship's computer has still got a bit of an attitude. It's not unheard of for new mothers to get depressed, you know. And a big old girl - Seelix@crystyl:- like the Forge is one I certainly don't want to see a mood swing from" Keliaya@anncaris:"Hopefully Mia has her in check. But that's part of why I'm here, actually. Farhalla's taking over as Chief on the Loki while I'm away, to give her a little trial run before I move back to the - Keliaya@anncaris:- Valley Forge fully." Seelix@crystyl:"Ahh, so the grass wasn't greener then?" she chuckles Keliaya@anncaris:"Working on the Loki was a very interesting experience, and I liked being Chief Engineer again instead of First Officer. But the Valley Forge probably needs my technical expertise more now, and - Keliaya@anncaris:- Lennie can use just being Chief Science Officer to focus on Junior." Seelix@crystyl spins around, kneeling backwards in her chair, "So, not a fan of all the pomp and circumstance of command then?" Keliaya@anncaris nods, "I think Keelah felt the same way when she got into Command, too. But I know the ship and crew well, and I'm probably the best choice for XO with Vrolmacht getting his own command. Not - Keliaya@anncaris - sure if I'll continue with Command like Keelah, though. We'll see when the time comes." Seelix@crystyl:"It's fine until people come into the equation. Folks like us, we're better off away from all that stuff" Keliaya@anncaris:"I do pretty well with people. That's probably why Keelah made me First Officer. But I understand why they can be difficult to deal with sometimes." Seelix@crystyl:"Oh yeah, you've got that whole... big family making thing going on haven't you. Well, whatever works for you!" Keliaya@anncaris:"It's got its advantages. Must get lonely with just you and..." she glances around, "you in here." Seelix@crystyl:"Oh, it's not just me, myself and I here!" she chirps, spinning back around and plopping into her seat Keliaya@anncaris:"Well not right now, but...you're not hiding anything, are you?" Seelix@crystyl:"No, only this" she pulls a tribble out from under her tunic, tossing over her shoulder to Kelly Keliaya@anncaris catches the tribble, "I thought you said your stock..." she sighs, "Just...don't sell them to anyone." Seelix@crystyl:"Free gifts only. Gotcha!" Keliaya@anncaris:"That's not what I..." --- Keliaya@anncaris | Several hours later, the Freedom's Spirit begins to approach H'Alcai Keliaya@anncaris | As they near the system... Keliaya@anncaris:"Two patrol ships look like they are changing course towards us. And they've raised shields." Seelix@crystyl:"Huh. Not the best way to open trade talks..." Keliaya@anncaris:"Well, they don't know we're here to trade. Valley Forge wasn't able to send a message ahead. They're probably being careful. Even Starfleet would be alert at an unknown ship entering Federation - Keliaya@anncaris:- territory, and this Arshai blockade runner /is/ armed, after all." Seelix@crystyl:"Well yeah, but it's not like we're coming in hot or anything. Oh still, this is a pretty rough neighborhood I suppose so can't really blame them" Keliaya@anncaris nods, "And we're being hailed now. At least they're willing to give us a chance." Seelix@crystyl:"Ah good, I was worried for a moment that they were going to make us do the hard work" Keliaya@anncaris | An alien which largely resembles a human but with a pattern of Trill-like spots beginning on the bridge of the nose and going down a bald head appears on the viewscreen Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "Unknown vessel. Identify yourselves." Seelix@crystyl gives a broad smile, spreading her hands wide apart, "Ah, hello there friend! I am the one and only Seelix - please, hold your applause - and I bring great news in the form of lucrative - Seelix@crystyl:- opportunities for opening new lines of business! I have been reliably informed that this is the place to come to" Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "We are the hub for trade in the Vos'Edain Marches, yes. But with the current political situation, I'm afraid we're not accepting trade from Dominion territories. Security concerns, you - Keliaya@anncaris - understand. I would suggest you try Telnama." Keliaya@anncaris:"Their sensors must've picked up the Dominion-based technology the Arshai implemented." Seelix@crystyl:"I appreciate the solid tip, but to be clear; I'm not affiliated with the Dominion. Scan more closely and you'll see that the tech signatures you're reading as Dominion are in fact integrated into - Seelix@crystyl:- larger systems which I'm betting you're not so familiar with" Keliaya@anncaris | The alien looks offscreen to one of his crew for a moment, then turns back to Seelix, "You are correct. What are those Dominion signatures, then? Salvaged technology? Your civilization's own - Keliaya@anncaris - inventions inspired by the Dominion?" Seelix@crystyl:"Technically not mine, but those who built this ship for me. They repurposed a lot of Dominion tech and evolved it into their own after picking salvage from a Dominion war across the galaxy from - Seelix@crystyl:- here. So you see, it's all good!" Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "Across the galaxy? You've come a long way, then." Seelix@crystyl smiles, "I get around" Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "It certainly seems so. What brings you to this part of the galaxy? Are you a roaming merchant who's wandered this far?" Seelix@crystyl:"I prefer the term 'free spirited entrepreneur', but yes. I have wandered from one corner of this galaxy to the next, and as you can imagine such a journey results in quite the imbalance of stock - Seelix@crystyl:- levels over time. Which brings us back to the here and now and opportunities for trade" Keliaya@anncaris | The alien nods, "Do you carry exotic goods from afar, then?" Seelix@crystyl:"Some, however I am not so foolhardy as to rush into unfamiliar territory with a hold full of such things. Most are secure at a safe distance for now, ready to be transported here subject to needs" Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "So you've come to negotiate a trade first before bringing the goods. What kind of things do you have to trade?" Seelix@crystyl:"That depends what people here want and need really" Keliaya@anncaris | The alien nods, "Very well. We will escort you to the planet and provide you with transport coordinates. I will send a team down to guide you to the relevant people, and ensure you are not a - Keliaya@anncaris - changeling, of course. Your story checks out, but we cannot be too careful in these times." Seelix@crystyl:"Wait, I know you mentioned politics with the Dominion. But Changeling infiltrators, seriously? That seems so last season..." Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "We haven't had any incidents here, but we've been hearing rumours. The Commonwealth is at war with the Dominion again, and it's clear the Dominion are on the losing end of this one. - Keliaya@anncaris - It wouldn't surprise me if they're doing anything they can for an advantage." Seelix@crystyl:"Yeah, if they're backed into a corner I wouldn't put anything past them. Don't worry, I'm good with anti-Changeling measures. And it sure is nice of you to provide a guide too!" Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "You know anti-Changeling measures? Is that from your experience with the Dominion elsewhere in the galaxy?" Seelix@crystyl:"Yeah, they made quite a nuisance of themselves in the Alpha Quadrant a few years back" Keliaya@anncaris | Alien: "The Dominion had a far reach at their height. Fortunately for all of us, that time is behind them now. I'm sure my people will be quite interested to hear about what the Dominion were - Keliaya@anncaris - up to. But let's get you to the planet first so you can do business." Seelix@crystyl:"Excellent, and it sounds like information is a valuable commodity here. And I don't need to haul extra cargo to trade that" she grins, "Lead on then!" Keliaya@anncaris | The alien nods and the call ends. The two escort ships turn on the viewscreen, heading toward the system Seelix@crystyl:"Well this certainly puts an interesting twist on things" Keliaya@anncaris:"Sounds like this new war has people on edge. Good work convincing them to give us a chance to trade, though," she smiles Seelix@crystyl:"That's what you're paying me for right!" she turns, "You... are paying me... right?" Keliaya@anncaris:"Well, your ship's a part of the fleet now, so any fuel and essential resources we get are partially yours too. But the Federation mentality of sharing isn't exactly something you subscribe to, - Keliaya@anncaris - is it Seelix?" Seelix@crystyl:"Uhh... ok, so we're still to hammer out the details" she chuckles nervously --- Keliaya@anncaris beams down with Seelix to the surface of H'Alcai. They are met with three aliens of the same species as the one that contacted them on the patrol ship. A female steps forward, similarly bald - Keliaya@anncaris - with the pattern of spots running from her nose along her head and down the back of her neck, "Welcome to H'Alcai. I am Fai Hilix Miliator, your assigned guide for this visit. We must first - Keliaya@anncaris - conduct a brief scan before proceeding, to ensure that you are who you claim to be. The data will not be kept in any of our databases, and is purely for security purposes." Seelix@crystyl:"This is the anti-Changeling measure we were told about, right?" Keliaya@anncaris | Fai nods and smiles, "That's correct." The two alongside her step forward with scanners at the ready Seelix@crystyl:"Must be pretty good scanning tech if it can get past the usual Changeling ways of fooling that kind of thing" Keliaya@anncaris | The two begin to scan them as Fai explains, "It is An technology. It reads the specifics of your genetic makeup. The genetics of every being that has come to be through natural evolution is - Keliaya@anncaris - flawed. There are countless mutations and imperfections. While the scan is not foolproof, most Changelings do not have the discipline to tailor their forms to such a level of detail. They - Keliaya@anncaris - also have a natural inclination towards order rather than chaos, which means their forms are typically too ideal to be real." Seelix@crystyl:"Not bad. Good old An, got to love them" Keliaya@anncaris:"Speaking of which, are there any An here? Your world has a diverse population according to our sensors, but no An lifeforms." Keliaya@anncaris | Fai: "We are far from the Heartlands. Very few An traders come here. Most of our business is with their military forces. There once was a large Andarash fleet based in the Vos'Edain Marches, - Keliaya@anncaris - but most of them have moved into Dominion space to fight in the war. Only a small defense force remains to watch over us, so we have not been getting visits as frequently from the An." Seelix@crystyl glances back to Kelly, "Why the specific interest in them?" Keliaya@anncaris:"Oh I'm just curious, having met one of their exploration ships back near the rim and all." Seelix@crystyl:"Ah, makes sense!" looks back to Fai, "So what's the verdict, are we Changelings?" Keliaya@anncaris | The one scanning Kelly steps over to Fai, showing her the data. Fai looks it over before finally replying to Seelix, "No, I don't believe so. But we are sending your companion's data to the - Keliaya@anncaris - Vesilix for final verification. Apologies for the delay, this shouldn't take much longer." Seelix@crystyl frowns curiously, "There something about her that doesn't add up?" Keliaya@anncaris | Fai: "Your friend's genetics have less imperfection than most. She wouldn't happen to be a product of genetic engineering, would she?" Keliaya@anncaris:"Not me personally, but my people have practiced it in the past, and most of us still carry traces of it." Keliaya@anncaris | Fai nods, "That would explain it. I'll just wait for the verdict from the Vesilix to confirm." Keliaya@anncaris | Fai taps away at a PADD for a moment, "The Vesilix believe it to be genetic engineering from prior generations and not a changeling. You're clear to proceed." Keliaya@anncaris | The two with the scanners step back up to Kelly and Seelix, showing them the scanners as they delete the scan data, keeping their word Seelix@crystyl:"Shiny! So, exactly how far does your role as guide go here?" Keliaya@anncaris | Fai: "I will take you to vendors who may be interested in negotiating deals with you. I may also show you other points of interest, should you be interested in any services or business outside - Keliaya@anncaris - the primary purpose of your visit." Seelix@crystyl:"Well, it never hurts to know what's on offer. What sort of services are we talking here?" Keliaya@anncaris | Fai: "Anything you would expect to find on a Mercantile World," she gestures around herself. "But as you can see, we have preserved much of the natural beauty of our planet as well, so we - Keliaya@anncaris - offer much of the services of a Luxury World as well. We may not be Despri or Kelemtor, but these dedicated luxury worlds are further away. We have hosted many Andarash soldiers seeking more - Keliaya@anncaris - accessible rest and relaxation." Seelix@crystyl taps at a PADD she quickly retrieved, spelling out as she types, "...Des-p-ri... Kel-em-tor. Got it!" she chirps, putting it away, "Alright then so, where shall we start with doing business here?" Keliaya@anncaris | Fai smiles and turns the way, "You are interested in visiting luxury worlds, then?" Seelix@crystyl grins, "Always" stating very matter-of-fact Keliaya@anncaris | Fai: "Well, Despri is known for its natural beauty. Golden forests, coral reefs, beautiful beaches, stunning mountains. We have plenty of that here as well, just that Despri is a little more - Keliaya@anncaris - exotic. Kelemtor on the other hand is more about services. They have massive simulation stadiums, regularly hold tournaments that attract visitors from across the Commonwealth, and there's - Keliaya@anncaris - the famed Pleasure Dens and War Arenas, for people seeking anything along the spectrum of physical stimulation." Seelix@crystyl:"Pleasure dens and physical stimulation?" she glances to Kelly, "I'll help sell Keelah on it if you will" she grins Keliaya@anncaris chuckles, "Well we certainly wouldn't need any help selling Lexi on it, from how much she enjoyed the last arena we came across..." Seelix@crystyl:"Oh yeah, I bet she'd enjoy that side of it! Oh well, that's our next mission sorted at least" Keliaya@anncaris | Fai: "We have all of that here to some extent, with the exception of arenas. You'll have to make do with holo-chambers for that." Seelix@crystyl:"Sadly unless it actually bleeds and dies, our friend isn't too interested in having it try to kill her" Keliaya@anncaris | Fai: "You'll have to pay a visit to Kelemtor for that, then. But in terms of business opportunity, neither Luxury World can rival us. Speaking of which..." She turns and leads the way into a - Keliaya@anncaris - building complex --- Keliaya@anncaris | After cutting some deals on H'Alcai, the Freedom's Spirit makes its way back towards the VF and the rest of the fleet Keliaya@anncaris:"So...you're interested in those Pleasure Dens she mentioned? For the services, or business opportunities?" Seelix@crystyl:"Oh no business there, that's just pure self indulgence!" Keliaya@anncaris idly pets the tribble Seelix tossed her earlier, "And here I thought you'd have some devices to sell off to them or something..." Seelix@crystyl:"Yeah... thing is, these places are generally as advanced as they need or want to be. Not often you can come across something they haven't already thought of" Keliaya@anncaris:"That's a good point. I've never really thought about it from a business perspective. I'm not a trader like you, after all." Seelix@crystyl:"Eh, don't sell yourself short. Nobody's a trader like me after all!" she grins and winks Keliaya@anncaris:"I've definitely never met another trader like you. Well, if it's personal indulgence you're after, I could always lend a hand," she grins back Seelix@crystyl:"A tempting thought for sure, but sadly you are already on the business end of me. And I really don't do mixing of business and pleasure" Keliaya@anncaris:"Speaking of business, how do you like this arrangement so far?" Seelix@crystyl:"Hmm... the jury is still out" Keliaya@anncaris smiles, "Since you've been behaving so far, other than concealing the tribbles..." she idly pets the tribble again. "How about we offer a little something more than just fuel and you getting to - Keliaya@anncaris - keep your ship to sweeten the deal?" Seelix@crystyl spins around, "I'm listining. But what's the catch...?" she asks with narrowed eyes Keliaya@anncaris:"There's no catch. Other than you continuing to behave and preserve this mutually beneficial relationship with the fleet, but that's not really a catch, just holding up the original deal." Seelix@crystyl:"When something sounds too good to be true, it normally is..." Keliaya@anncaris:"Are you even going to hear what I'm offering first before deciding it's too good to be true?" Seelix@crystyl:"You're right, I'm sorry - force of habit I guess. So what's the deal then?" Keliaya@anncaris:"We let you keep a little bit of the resources we get, so you and the...mech-yous can slowly start working on some modifications and upgrades. Something for you to pass the time when we don't have - Keliaya@anncaris:- a trading task for you. Having a better ship as a part of the fleet can't hurt, either." Seelix@crystyl:"I don't suppose we're talking a 50-50 split here are we?" Keliaya@anncaris:"Just a little extra on the side that we can spare. You still get your share of the fuel, not to mention freedom and your own ship. I think that makes for a fair deal, doesn't it?" Seelix@crystyl:"Yeah, can't blame a girl for trying though!" Keliaya@anncaris smiles, "That I can't. I suppose the catch is that I'm somewhat curious to see what improvements you end up making with what we give you. Which isn't much of a catch, just one engineer admiring - Keliaya@anncaris - the work of a fellow engineer!" Seelix@crystyl:"And I can certainly live with that!" Keliaya@anncaris:"See, nothing nefarious! As I told you, I'm not a seasoned trader like you." --- Keliaya@anncaris | A few hours later, the Freedom's Spirit begins to near the fleet... Keliaya@anncaris:"We're entering comms range. Might want to start updating the ships on what they need to transfer over to us." Seelix@crystyl nods, looking to the side, "Three, see to it" Seelix@crystyl | The Mechme nods and gets to work Keliaya@anncaris | The Mechme soon gets a response from the VF and Loki confirming that they have the supplies on hand and will be preparing them for delivery to the Freedom's Spirit soon. Before long, the ship - Keliaya@anncaris - drops out of warp, with the much larger Valley Forge ahead of it. They begin to make their approach when... Keliaya@anncaris:"That's strange. Valley Forge just raised their shields." Seelix@crystyl:"Um... did we offend them again?" Seelix@crystyl glares at another mechme, "Five, I'm looking at you..." Keliaya@anncaris taps on the console she was monitoring, "No, I don't see anything that should've...oh." Seelix@crystyl:"Oh...?" Keliaya@anncaris:"No time to explain. Raise shields, evasive maneuvers. Now!" Seelix@crystyl nods, "Ladies, do it" Keliaya@anncaris | The Freedom's Spirit raises shields and swerves aside, just in time as a ship decloaks behind them, firing two white pulses at the spot where they were moments ago Keliaya@anncaris FX | https://wiki.eveuniversity.org/images/thumb/7/75/Magnate.jpg/384px-Magnate.jpg Seelix@crystyl:"Son of a -... well that's just rude!" Keliaya@anncaris | In the distance, a different, larger vessel bearing the same colour scheme decloaks and begins engaging the Valley Forge Keliaya@anncaris FX | https://wiki.eveuniversity.org/images/thumb/3/32/Harbinger.jpg/384px-Harbinger.jpg Seelix@crystyl:"Who the hell are these guys?" Keliaya@anncaris:"I'm not sure, but these pulses look familiar. I'm analyzing now, keep them off us..." Seelix@crystyl:"Ladies, take that little one down first. You know the drill; the more we disable, the more we salvage" Keliaya@anncaris | The Freedom's Spirit manages to just keep up with the little one, which proves to be quite maneuverable. One of the mechmes return fire with the polaron arrays, but the raider spins to the - Keliaya@anncaris - side, aptly evading all but one hit, which its shields manage to absorb. Meanwhile to the other side of the Valley Forge, a second cruiser decloaks, followed by two other raiders. However, - Keliaya@anncaris - before they have the chance to engage the VF, the Loki decloaks behind it and opens fire, drawing its attention instead Keliaya@anncaris:"These are very different designs, but these tachyon weapons and systems configuration...I think these are An ships." Seelix@crystyl:"An?! I thought they're supposed to be your friends!" Keliaya@anncaris:"They are! Well the expedition we encountered was very friendly and from what they told us, they run a good civilization back home as well. I don't know why they would attack us either!" Seelix@crystyl:"Well if they are supposed to be your friends, maybe someone needs to tell them that..." --- NPC@annpc#557 | On the bridge of the Valley Forge, Thorkildsen has come to the same conclusion as Kelly and informed Keelah... Keelah@crystyl:"Keep trying to hail them so we can tell them that" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "They've sent a message in response to my broadcast that we're their allies. They don't believe us." NPC@annpc#557 | Ann: "We should get tha' Orionoid we picked up, Verindi." Keelah@crystyl:"Agreed. Tee, get her up here" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ nods, "On it." NPC@annpc#557 | The bridge shakes slightly as the VF takes another hit Keelah@crystyl:"Try telling them that we'd be happy to demonstrate our sincerity if they'd stop shooting long enough for us to communicate properly" Keelah@crystyl | Rianni: â€œThe rest of the fleet is inbound and should arrive shortly, but not likely before someone takes some damage. We can regulate our weapons, but Junior's got a mind of his own" Keelah@crystyl looks over, "Keep covering him as a priority" NPC@annpc#557 | Ann: "Seems like the Forge's already doin' tha'." Keelah@crystyl | Rianni nods: "That won't be a problem. I'm going to have to run some diagnostics later, because right now I keep having to reset my phaser yields back down to where I want them" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "They're not willing to cease fire unless all our ships stand down first." Keelah@crystyl looks between the two, "I guess the ship still has some of that maternal instinct lingering after all..." NPC@annpc#557 | Ann: "I guess so. And I got a feelin' Valley Forge ain't gonna be standin' down with Junior still under threat in tha' case..." Keelah@crystyl:"Tell them we will cease fire, but they will need to disengage as well so we can create some distance and lure Junior out" Keelah@crystyl:"And tell Seelix to fall in with us too. Ann, bring us about" NPC@annpc#557 | Ann nods, "Aye Cap'n." Keelah@crystyl | Rianni: "Ceasing fire, but as we figured Junior is still on the defensive" Keelah@crystyl:"Lennie, try locking on to Junior with a weak tractor beam" NPC@annpc#557 | The VF stops firing and the Freedom's Spirit darts in to fall in line Keelah@crystyl | Lennie nods: "Takin' care not t'hurt th'little guy" and tries to 'encourage' Junior along with them NPC@annpc#557 | Slowly, the An vessels disengage and begin to fall back too. As they do, the turbolift doors open and Verindi steps out NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "What happened? Are we under attack?" Keelah@crystyl | Junior doesn't stop pestering the raider at first, but as Lennie ramps up the power he is persuaded to leave the raider alone and starts fallowing the VF again Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, the An seem to have followed the Freedom's Spirit back from it's trade talks and tried to launch a surprise attack on us" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "The An? Launching an unprovoked attack on you? That doesn't sound right." She looks to the viewscreen at the retreating An vessels, "But these do look like Andarash ships..." Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, so I am hoping you can help shed some more light on this" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "May I send them a message?" Keelah@crystyl:"By all means" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi steps up to the comm console where TQ begins working with her. The two groups of ships continue to keep their distance, soon moving out of one another's weapon range NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "Now they're hailing us, Captain." Keelah@crystyl looks to Verindi, "I assume this call is for you. On screen" NPC@annpc#557 | A Vesan, a member of the An's Warrior Breed, appears on the viewscreen with the bridge of a ship behind him. He is wearing a uniform, though distinct from any of the ones worn by the - NPC@annpc#557 - expeditionary group at the rim, "Just what is a Druid of Essi doing on an enemy ship?" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "This is /not/ an enemy ship." NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "Scan data indicates a close match to a vessel known to be allied with the Dominion. The smaller vessel it has just rendezvoused with makes use of Dominion technology. And it seems to - NPC@annpc#557 - be followed by a spacefaring creature not unlike those the changelings have been known to transform into." Keelah@crystyl:"Forgive my saying so, but that is a lot of supposition to make an aggressive move with. A challenge, fair. But to outright declare war on a ship? Seems rather excessive" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "We are already at war with the Dominion, and a ship very much like yours has engaged Andarash vessels on multiple occasions. We have every reason to believe you are working with our - NPC@annpc#557 - enemy." NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "This ship comes from the other side of the galaxy. There's no other ships like it here outside of this fleet." Keelah@crystyl:"Well, we are not. The spacefaring creature with us is exactly what it appears to be. The vessel you followed here has repurposed technology based on salvage from the Dominion war that I'm sure was - Keelah@crystyl:- explained when it arrived on its trade expedition. And as for this ship you claim to be 'very much like' ours, the druid is correct. So please corroborate this claim with data, that we may perhaps - Keelah@crystyl:- shed some light on the situation for you" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "The spacefaring creature and the vessel we followed are circumstantial evidence at best, yes. That is why we did not attack the vessel during its journey here. It was primarily - NPC@annpc#557 - upon seeing your ship that I ordered aggressive action. We are sending you our data now. As you can see, this vessel does not merely utilize similar technology, it is of a nearly identical - NPC@annpc#557 - design. We thought you the same ship that the Andarash had fought elsewhere, though upon closer scrutiny, there are several differences. But there is no mistaking it- you are both of the same - NPC@annpc#557 - base construction." Keelah@crystyl:"Then something is clearly amiss. While we review your data, please see our own data package showing our friendship and alliance with the An expeditionary fleet back in our native region" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "The data's coming through. Sending it to the Engineering station for analysis." Keelah@crystyl stands and joins Thorkilsden to check it out NPC@annpc#557 | The Vesan nods, "We shall do so, and reconvene when we have both evaluated one another's information." NPC@annpc#557 FX | The comm ends NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen: "This can't be right." He turns to Keelah as she heads over. "Captain, the ship they sent us the data of...it's the USS Lexington." NPC@annpc#557 | On the Engineering console is an unmistakable image... NPC@annpc#557 FX | https://s3.amazonaws.com/assets.enjin.com/users/15014689/pics/full/3987379.jpg --- NPC@annpc#557 | Emma: "According to our records, the Lexington disembarked on a long-range exploratory mission into the Gamma Quadrant. They crossed over through the Bajoran wormhole not long after the Valley - NPC@annpc#557 - Forge set out to find the Heart, so it's very possible that they've encountered the An. But why would they be supporting the Dominion in a war...?" Keelah@crystyl:"That is an excellent question. Though it is true that we have something of a tentative alliance with the Dominion, it is really more of a non-aggression pact than anything else. I suppose it is - Keelah@crystyl:-feasible that the Lexington is attempting to aid an ally who seem to be struggling in the face of conflict with non-associated aggressors, as they would see the An" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi nods, "From all accounts I've heard, the An were the ones who started this latest war." Keelah@crystyl:"So Captain Omar would be well within her rights to answer a request for aid from the Dominion. If we truly want answers though, we will have to find the Lexington for ourselves and ask her" NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen: "The data they sent us doesn't give any indication of where these scans were taken. Just details on the Lexington herself, and some of the fighter craft she's carrying." Keelah@crystyl:"And we still have to work things out with the An here, or they'll just start shooting again" NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen nods, "We'll probably need to ask them where they last found the Lexington. And maybe they'll tell us more about what exactly the Lexington's been up to." Keelah@crystyl:"They haven't exactly been cooperative so far, and with good reason in their eyes. We indeed are exactly like one they identify as an enemy vessel. I'm not sure yet how to convince them that we are - Keelah@crystyl:- not, unless the data we sent has more of an impact" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "I could calm things down if I go over there, and try to convince them that you're good people from my time here so far. But I don't know how much that will sway them. It could - NPC@annpc#557 - diffuse tensions in the moment, though. Essana pheromones are very good for that." Keelah@crystyl:"We'll keep that in mind, but I'd rather resolve this ourselves as far as we can without putting upon you as our guest" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi smiles, "I'll be here if you need me, Captain." NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "They're hailing us again." Keelah@crystyl returns to her chair, "On screen" NPC@annpc#557 | The same Vesan as before appears on the viewscreen, "We have examined what you sent us. It would seem that you have encountered the Suvoseh Expedition and become allies with them. However, - NPC@annpc#557 - they travelled far away from here. Perhaps you were not aware of your people's support for the Dominion here." Keelah@crystyl:"We certainly were not aware of them being out this far, let alone getting involved in a conflict. It is feasible that they answered a request for aid from the Dominion, but we can only guess until - Keelah@crystyl:- we can find them to ask for ourselves" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "Is it your policy to answer calls for aid regardless of who it originates from, Dominion or An?" Keelah@crystyl:"In blanket terms; we have a standing rule that we always respond to requests for aid. Acting on them however can be more subjective. Given that the Federation has a non-aggression pact with the - Keelah@crystyl:- Dominion following our victory over them in the Alpha quadrant, and the fact that you are not known to them and so seen as outsiders, it is within scope for that ship to render aid to the Dominion- Keelah@crystyl:- against an outside aggressor. It is still unusual however for a single starship to simply join the ranks of someone else's war machine, I would more expect them focus on providing aid and relief. - Keelah@crystyl:- Possibly also attempting to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict. But again, this is pure supposition at present" NPC@annpc#557 | The Vesan nods, "It would explain how you came to be allies with the Suvoseh Expedition, yet another one of your ships assist the Dominion. You say you fought the Dominion in the past, then - NPC@annpc#557 - signed a non-aggression pact?" Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, some years ago they - after the discovery of the wormhole which connects the far side of Dominion space to the core of the Alpha Quadrant they attempting to expand through and declared war on - Keelah@crystyl:- the quadrant. I will spare you the details, but suffice to say that the Founders were left severely weakened by the time that was done and they had no choice but to yield. Since that time they - or- Keelah@crystyl:- at least some portion of the Dominions forces - have been known to aid the Federation and it's allies in the face of larger conflicts" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "Such an invasion certainly sounds like the way the Dominion operates. I assume that conflict was where the inspiration for some of the systems in your trade ship came from?" Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, there was a great deal of salvage left over. The trade ship you speak of was actually built by a more distant species not known to us at that time. They repurposed and evolved the Dominion - Keelah@crystyl:- technology as a refinement of their own, and they too have become friends and allies in the larger Coalition, along with the representatives of your people" Keelah@crystyl:"Since discovering that our accidental transposing to this corner of the galaxy brought us close to their home territory, we have since been eager to find your people and bring them news of that - Keelah@crystyl:- expedition in the hopes of further growing that alliance. I am sure you can see the difficulty of our position now, as-" she raises her hands one by one indicating each group, "-on one hand we - Keelah@crystyl:- the Dominion; known and tentatively allied. On the other, we have the An; known to very few, but also allied-" she brings her hands together, "And right now, those two allies are in conflict with - Keelah@crystyl:- one another. The Lexington may well have taken sides without knowing this, I can only guess. But we at least do know this and have no intention of involving ourselves in this conflict on either - Keelah@crystyl:- side. That said, I would still like to better understand the nature of the conflict, and perhaps that will lead to a cleaner resolution" NPC@annpc#557 | The Vesan nods, "Yes, I see your dilemma. How do you wish to proceed? Will you prove your friendship to the Commonwealth, or seek out this other vessel and convince it to forfeit the war?" Keelah@crystyl:"Honestly, I would like to find a way to do both. Perhaps if we can locate the other Starfleet vessel and find out what is going on from their perspective, we can make that a first step towards - Keelah@crystyl:- solidifying our friendship with the Commonwealth" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "I will report this encounter and your intentions to my superiors in the Andarash. Remain here for the moment. I will contact you again shortly." Keelah@crystyl:"Very well, we will await your response" NPC@annpc#557 | The call ends NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "That went quite well." Keelah@crystyl:"As well as we could have hoped for I think" she nods NPC@annpc#557 | Emma: "Should we call the other ships to keep their distance for now, so we don't escalate things again?" NPC@annpc#557 | Ann: "Yeah, the giant Nuhar Defender warpin' in isn't gonna look very friendly, even if it is!" Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, an excellent point. Please see to it" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ nods, tapping her console, "I'm calling them back now." NPC@annpc#557 | A few minutes pass by as the VF waits, then TQ announces, "We're being contacted by Seelix's ship." Keelah@crystyl:"Put them on" NPC@annpc#557 | Seelix appears in her seat on the viewscreen with Kelly beside her NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly: "Captain. Is everything alright? What's going on with the An?" Keelah@crystyl:"Ladies. You are aware that the An are in conflict with the Dominion" NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly nods, "Yes, we were scrutinized by the planetary security at H'Alcai for the similarity to Dominion readings that some of the Colonial Fleet systems on this ship gave off. But even if - NPC@annpc#557 - these ships wasn't aware of our explanation, opening fire on us without warning is quite an overreaction. Especially compared to how reasonable the An on the Mothership seemed to be." Keelah@crystyl:"Indeed. They were definitely suspicious after scanning the technology on the Freedoms Spirit, which is why they followed you. They attacked upon seeing us because they recognized our similarity to - Keelah@crystyl:- the Lexington, which is apparently recognized here as a Dominion ally and considered an enemy of the Commonwealth" NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly: "The Lexington? A Dominion ally?" Keelah@crystyl:"Apparently so. They have shared little data with us, but what they did provide as identity of the 'unknown enemy vessel' is clearly identifyable to us as the Lexington, and we know she left - Keelah@crystyl:- Federation space on an expedition to this quadrant so it is feasible. We are just awaiting word back from them on our proposal to seek out the Lexington to find a resolution, or to at least make - Keelah@crystyl:- Captain Omar aware that the An are also our allies" NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly nods, "I can see why they attacked if the Lexington's been fighting them on the other side of the war. Still, that seems very unusual. Even with relations between the Federation and - NPC@annpc#557 - Dominion getting better, there's still General Order 21. I'd understand if they were helping Dominion civilians and refugees, but if that's all they're doing, I don't imagine the An would've - NPC@annpc#557 - reacted the way they did with us." Keelah@crystyl:"My thoughts exactly. Captain Omar is one of the most capable and level headed Captains I know, so I want to get her perspective on what's going on here. Because as you say, this doesn't stack up" NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly: "Could the Lexington have fallen into someone else's hands? Or the crew have their minds controlled by someone else. They might never have gotten our implants all the way out here." Keelah@crystyl:"That is an unsavoury possibility, but one we can not rule out at this time" NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly: "I hope we find them and figure out what's going on soon. Everyone on the Valley Forge is alright, I hope?" Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, thank you. The fighting did not go on long enough to cause any real harm. We have the rest of the fleet holding out of range for now until we know our next step" Keelah@crystyl | Lennie: "An' Junior's settled down again now, though he still seems kinda anxious around them An ships" Keelah@crystyl nods, "Oh yes, Kelly you might be interested to know that the Forge does indeed seem to have retained something of an instinct, at least when it comes to Junior" NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly smiles, "Well, we know that for sure now. I was hoping to learn it under slightly better circumstances, though." NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "The An are hailing again." NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly: "I'm glad to hear everyone's well. I'll let you get back to your talks with the An." Keelah@crystyl:"We'll keep you informed" she smiles, nodding to TQ to switch channels NPC@annpc#557 | Kelly disappears from the viewscreen and the Vesan reappears NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "I've spoken with my superiors. Your story lines up with the information you've presented us and what we know. There is still a chance that this is an elaborately crafted deception, - NPC@annpc#557 - however. Which is why the Andarash have decided to escort you on your search for your other vessel." Keelah@crystyl:"Very well. Since you will be joining us, does that mean you will be able to share some further insights on the locations where this ship has been seen?" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "My ships will accompany you as far as Outpost Veha-Sima. The Andarash will be assembling another force to search for your other vessel from there while we return to our duties here. - NPC@annpc#557 - I may tell you what we know on the way." Keelah@crystyl:"So it's not so much that you're accompanying us on our search, but rather keeping us under restraint attached to your own search party" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "That's correct. Keeping you under watch may be more accurate. Your vessels are formidable, and neither my force nor the one being assigned to join you on your search will be capable of - NPC@annpc#557 - overpowering you. We do not seek to threaten you with force, merely to monitor what may be a potential threat within our Protectorate territories." Keelah@crystyl:"A reasonable measure given the circumstances" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "I am glad you see it that way as well. You are also permitted to complete your trade with the Alcai, if you so desire." Keelah@crystyl:"Thank you, it would be a shame to let them down after we just met. We will take some time to transfer cargo to the trade ship and then send it on it's way before we depart then" NPC@annpc#557 | The Vesan nods, "I will let you arrange your cargo transfer. Contact us when you are ready to depart, or if you wish to discuss the whereabouts and activities of your other vessel further." Keelah@crystyl:"I welcome any opportunity to discuss the situation in more detail. But since our course is somewhat predetermined for now, we will focus on getting everything in hand and can perhaps look to - Keelah@crystyl:- continuing that discussion en route" NPC@annpc#557 | Vesan: "A good plan. We'll wait until you're ready to continue, then." NPC@annpc#557 | The comm ends once again Keelah@crystyl:"Alright, let's get everything on Seelix' shopping list moved around and send her back to complete the mission before we get underway" NPC@annpc#557 | As Emma gets to work sorting the cargo, Verindi looks over to Keelah, "This Lexington, it's the same type of ship as the Valley Forge, then?" Keelah@crystyl nods, "I think we have a lot to catch you up on, don't we. You have been very patient in your support here with very little context. Let us convene to the ready room, and I can bring you up to speedâ€ NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi nods and follows over, "I know that you and your crew are good people, from what I saw of your actions with the Gelesh-Nen. That is enough for me to evaluate you, even if other vessels - NPC@annpc#557 - of your people do not meet the same standards. But I'm still curious about this one that has thrown its support for the Dominion, of course." Keelah@crystyl | Lennie glances over her shoulder as Keelah leaves without a word to her. Uncertainty coming to the surface as she's silently left in charge Keelah@crystyl | Rianni spots her and smiles, "Relax Commander! It's a sign of confidence from her, trust me. She knows she doesn't need to say anything for you to have it all in hand is all!" Keelah@crystyl | Lennie still doesn't seem convinced --- Keelah@crystyl steps into the ready room and replicates some tea for them both before taking a seat, "Whilst there is no denying that every ship CO is their own person, with their own interpretation of morality, - Keelah@crystyl:- there are still core fundamentals which bind everyone beyond personal interpretation" Keelah@crystyl hands over a tea, "So firstly to answer your question; the ship in question is indeed very much the same as this one, but it goes beyond that. It is actually our sister ship the USS Lexington" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi takes the tea and sits opposite Keelah, "Does that mean you were constructed together?" Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, exactly. The Valley Forge and Lexington were both commissioned together many years ago. Depending on your beliefs and philosophies, it goes even beyond that. Tell me, do your people have any - Keelah@crystyl:- such concept as nostalgia or historical romanticism?" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "Yes. Our history has changed little over the centuries, and for us the concept is stronger for memories of past events we have personally experienced." Keelah@crystyl:"Naturally. Well, my own people are less inclined to emotional attachment of any kind, so the past is a difficult one for us which is why I did not want to presume" she looks around at her walls, - Keelah@crystyl:- "Do you know what all of these drawings are?" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi glances around, "These are other ships, are they not? Some of very different designs by their appearances or had different purposes than space travel." Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, -" she points, "-those are naval vessels. But all of these have one thing in common; they are all the Valley Forge" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "You mean they were all named the Valley Forge? Not that they were eventually rebuilt and transformed into the ship we're on now, I assume?" Keelah@crystyl smiles at the notion, "Correct. Throughout modern history, numerous vessels have carried the name dating right back to pre-warp naval ships on the Human homeworld" she raises a finger, "Now here is- Keelah@crystyl:- the relevant context. Almost all of these Valley Forge's throughout history have had a sister ship called Lexington" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi nods, "So it's a ship with a history closely tied to this one." Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, a fact which I have grown to appreciate alongside the Lexington's current CO whom I hold a great respect for" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "I thought you were well-acquainted with the Lexington's commander. I assume from what you were speaking about, that siding with the Dominion in the war would break those fundamental - NPC@annpc#557 - rules you follow, and is not something you would have expected from the Lexington?" Keelah@crystyl:"Exactly. There is a reason Captain Omar commands the Lexington on a lone long range expeditionary mission. It is the same reason I command the Valley Forge on a lone long range expeditionary - Keelah@crystyl:- mission. We are both leaders of the same ilk, we are entrusted above others of our rank to solely represent Starfleet and the Federation across the galaxy without support. We have to be of a - Keelah@crystyl:- certain mindset and approach, or we would not be entrusted with such missions. So on that premise it is fair to say that both Captain Omar and I would make relatively similar decisions in the same- Keelah@crystyl:- circumstances" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi nods, "I can see how you may come to view the An as aggressors in this conflict, if you knew only of the Dominion. You would probably choose to assist Dominion worlds who don't wish to - NPC@annpc#557 - join the Commonwealth with evacuation, or aiding those wounded in the fighting. But you certainly do not seem the type to take aggressive action against the An. While the Andarash may be the - NPC@annpc#557 - invading force, they too operate with a code of ethics. They would never cause more damage than necessary or attack non-combatants. You should have no reason to come into conflict with them." Keelah@crystyl:"Exactly. Therefore it is fair to carry that theory to Captain Omar; whilst she might seek to render aid and support, there is no logical reason for her to put her ship and crew at such risk as to - Keelah@crystyl:- join the front lines of a conflict this far from home. That said however; context is everything" she sips, "I find myself reflecting back on the alliances I forged with new encounters during our - Keelah@crystyl:- early journey. Whilst we operated by the same principles, and provided aid and support to those in need. In the eyes of their adversaries, we may well have appeared to be an unprecedented new - Keelah@crystyl:- arrival on the battlefield that came from nowhere and started dessimating their forces. As I said, context is everything" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "And I hope the Andarash Commander will be able to provide us with more context." Keelah@crystyl:"They, and Captain Omar when we find her" --- NPC@annpc#557 | The next day, the Valley Forge and co. continues on their way, this time following the small Andarash force as they lead the way NPC@annpc#557 | Eva: "The An ship informs us it'll be four days at this speed before we reach the outpost." Keelah@crystyl:"Time enough for things to settle I hope" NPC@annpc#557 | Ann: "Should we ask 'em 'bout the Lexington in the meantime?" Keelah@crystyl:"I am hoping to ease their misgivings about us and have them come visit us so we can discuss it" NPC@annpc#557 | Eva nods, "I'll extend them the offer." NPC@annpc#557 | A few moments later, Eva announces, "They're willing to send a small group over." Keelah@crystyl:"Excellent" she stands, "Lennie, why don't you grab our guest and meet us in the transporter room?" Keelah@crystyl | Lennie nods, "Will do" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi stands with Keelah and Lennie as three An transport in, one of them the Vesan seen on the viewscreen earlier, along with two others Keelah@crystyl:"Welcome aboard, and thank you for joining us. Call me old fashioned, but I always did much prefer face to face dialogue. I am Captain Se'Lai, this is my Chief Science Officer Lendaria, and you have- Keelah@crystyl:- already met our guest Verindi" NPC@annpc#557 | The Vesan steps off the transporter pad, "I did not introduce myself properly before. I am Commander Nahio of the Khasuen. This is First Lieutenants Sulni and Takel." Keelah@crystyl:"It is a pleasure to meet you all properly. Now that we are all underway, we thought it would be nice if we take the opportunity to get to know one another better, so we have small reception laid - Keelah@crystyl:- out to welcome you" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Thank you. We wish to learn more of you as well, to discern whether you can truly be trusted." Keelah@crystyl:"Since we have a few days of travelling ahead of us, it is the ideal opportunity. Right this way, if you please" she leads them out and towards the reception room NPC@annpc#557 | As they walk along, Nahio looks to Verindi, "So how did you come to be on this vessel?" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi: "I was aiding the Gelesh-Nen when this vessel arrived, and resolved one of the major crises they were dealing with. I came on board to help act as a guide for them, as they travelled - NPC@annpc#557 - through Commonwealth territory in search of a solution to the plague." NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "The same plague that swept through many of our Protectorates some years ago?" NPC@annpc#557 | Verindi nods, "Yes, that one. It is now ravaging several regions just beyond our territory, and there is no end in sight." NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "That explains why you would be travelling through the Vos'Edain Marches towards Dominion space." Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, our latest intelligence on the plague suggests the source is within, or even further beyond Dominion space" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "That is why the war began. It was one of our reasons for pushing into the Dominion's territory- to seek the origins of this plague, which our leadership believes was either created by - NPC@annpc#557 - the Dominion or the result of them tampering with something they then lost control of." Keelah@crystyl:"I don't suppose they would ever be particularly forthcoming about such things given your history" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "No, they would certainly not. We no longer believe they unleashed the plague on us intentionally as a weapon. All signs indicate that Dominion worlds were hit just as severely as - NPC@annpc#557 - Commonwealth Protectorates, if not even more so. But it is still possible they created and lost control of the plague. In any case, they are unwilling to reveal its source to us." Keelah@crystyl:"Perhaps we will have more luck with them, or the Lexington already has and can shed light on the situation when we find them" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "If your Lexington is allied with the Dominion, they may very likely be privy to information we don't have." Keelah@crystyl:"Have you had any encounters with the Lexington yourselves, or is it all taking place further away from your area of operation?" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "No, we have not. Our ships are assigned to this border region to stand guard, in case the Dominion attempts to sneak soldiers or spies behind our lines. We have not seen any action - NPC@annpc#557 - at all in this war beyond some pirate activity, and our recent encounter with you." Keelah@crystyl:"Ah yes, we have had our own share of run-ins with pirates since arriving in this region" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "We do our best to keep Commonwealth territories safe, but it is easy for these criminals to slip through on the border regions. Pirate activity used to be extremely rare in the - NPC@annpc#557 - Vos'Edain Marches until recently, though." Keelah@crystyl:"Something changed recently to increase their activity?" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "The collapsing of the Dominion. The Marches are one of the regions along our border with the Dominion. The potential of being on the front line was always the greatest danger here in - NPC@annpc#557 - the past. Crime on the other hand was difficult, being positioned between two of the great powers in this part of the galaxy. There was always a heavy Andarash presence in the Marches in case - NPC@annpc#557 - Dominion decided to invade, which further dissuaded criminal activity." Keelah@crystyl:"So since the Dominion's decline, the Andarash presence has been reduced as well" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "That is one of the causes for the rise of crime in the Marches. The Dominion's decline has also meant an increase in piracy in their territories due to their own military presence - NPC@annpc#557 - being reduced. And some of the worlds who seceded from them have not fared well, adding to the problem as their people turn to criminal activities in order to survive." Keelah@crystyl:"Such instability is always a natural breeding ground for that sort of thing. Unfortunate" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "Yes, it is. I hope that once this war is over, we may be able to dedicate more forces to improve things here." --- NPC@annpc#557 | After a short walk, the group arrives at the conference room set up to receive the guests Keelah@crystyl:"Nothing too fancy here, but we have a modest buffet set up so please help yourselves" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Your vessel is quite comfortable for one so formidable in battle. It is certainly much unlike how the Dominion designs their military ships." Keelah@crystyl helps herself to some snacks, "Well, that is because the Valley Forge is not a military vessel. At least not in the traditional sense of a warfighting vessel" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio and his officers move over to the table, taking seats as well, "What is your purpose, then?" Keelah@crystyl:"Long range exploration. We are somewhat like Starfleet's equivalent of your expeditionary force's mothership, though on a much smaller scale and typically not so generational" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Ah yes, I see. That would explain how it looks. This ship feels more like it was made to be a home than a mode of transport or a weapon." Keelah@crystyl:"Exactly, yes. Intended to operate alone for long durations, we tend to favour the comfortable side of things so that we can house families with us. But being alone, we must also be capable of - Keelah@crystyl:- defending ourselves which is why the ship is often misread as a war machine" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Not unlike our Nos'telari Motherships. They are not made for war, but are quite formidable should conflict find them, as you have no doubt already seen firsthand. We An learned long - NPC@annpc#557 - ago that the galaxy is as dangerous as it is wonderous, and only a fool would venture into it unprepared." Keelah@crystyl:"I am glad that the comparison to your motherships works, it is always easier when the person you are describing this to has an understanding of the principle from their own culture. Honestly, you - Keelah@crystyl:- would not believe how many species we've encountered who have no concept of this necessity at all" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Yes, not all people are interested in discovery for its own sake. The Dominion for example fields no exploration vessels or organizations. The closest they do is scouting beyond their - NPC@annpc#557 - borders for new territory to expand into." Keelah@crystyl:"We have seen that side of them for ourselves, but little else. I suppose I had always hoped to one day learn that there might be more to them" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "I suppose there is a little more. Their scientific labratories are quite impressive, from what I have heard, and their grasp of sciences, particularly biological, outclasses anything - NPC@annpc#557 - in Commonwealth space. Their shipyards are the very model of efficiency, though that comes at a cost." Keelah@crystyl:"And what is that?" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "The Dominion is run like a machine civilization. Such is the way of the Founders. Everything is about order and efficiency. If you stray from the established order, you are dealt with - NPC@annpc#557 - swiftly and without question. If you stay within the bounds the Dominion has set, you will want for nothing. You will be safe from external threat, provided all the resources you need, but you - NPC@annpc#557 - will, in essence, live the life of a machine. There are always little pleasures, of course, even the Dominion cannot strip it all away. But in the end, every member of the Dominion, civilian, - NPC@annpc#557 - soldier, or administrator, is merely another piece of a great machine. It is a life, but not one many are satisfied with." Keelah@crystyl:"From what little experience I have in dealing with them, it is hard to dispute any of that" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "There are some who willingly choose to join and remain with the Dominion. A few species, usually ones unlike you or I with very different ways of thinking, actually prefer such a life. - NPC@annpc#557 - Others were on the brink of extinction or lived in regions that were in complete chaos before the Dominion came along. For them, a safe life under the Dominion is worth the cost, as otherwise - NPC@annpc#557 - they would most likely not have any life at all." Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, for some that would be quite appealing. There are plenty in the region we came from in fact, but fortunately we have a much more stable presence there to help steer things right" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "That is good to hear. We are doing what we can to establish order in Dominion territory as well. That is the other reason for this latest war." Keelah@crystyl:"Oh? Sounds intriguing" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "The Dominion was falling apart before this war began. A combination of various recent events, including the plague. Many civilizations who were brought into the Dominion by force and - NPC@annpc#557 - dislike the Founders' strict order found themselves in a position to secede as a result of greatly diminished military presence. The Dominion, as expected, reacted very harshly to this. They - NPC@annpc#557 - began reconquering and punishing whomever they could. Some of the newly seceded states reached out to the Commonwealth for assistance, and we answered." Keelah@crystyl:"I see, so that was the catalyst for this current conflict then" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "The Dominion sees it as us conquering their territory, but we are supporting those who have already left the Dominion. We have not liberated any world that does not wish to be - NPC@annpc#557 - free from the Dominion." Keelah@crystyl:"And what of your search for answers about the plague, have you gained any insights from the worlds liberated so far?" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Only what I have told you so far, that we no longer think the Dominion unleashed the plague on purpose, as many of their worlds were also hit quite hard by it." Keelah@crystyl:"As I suspected; they play their scientific knowledge very close to home. It will likely be very difficult to learn what they know unless they see fit to willingly share that information" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "We have always had a tenuous relationship with the Dominion at the best of times. They were unwilling to share the information even before this current conflict. We have already - NPC@annpc#557 - exhausted all potential diplomatic solutions before we moved into former Dominion territories." Keelah@crystyl:"Well then, let us hope that we are able to explore alternate avenues" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio takes a bite of food before speaking again, "On the subject of your ability to explore alternatives...this other vessel of yours aiding the Dominion. The Lexentor, was it?" Keelah@crystyl:"The Lexington" she corrects politely NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "The Lexington- I assume by its similarities to this vessel that it also came out here to explore?" Keelah@crystyl:"Correct. Both vessels belong to a dedicated subdivision with the Starfleet hierarchy; the Deep Space Exploratory Corps. The sole purpose of which is, well, it's in the name" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio chuckles, "Yes, I gathered as much. I take it participating in a distant war is not a part of your usual mandate?" Keelah@crystyl:"Not strictly, but as we touched upon previously; there are certain standing mandates regarding the provision of aid and support to others. Where said others are recognized allies, or at least - Keelah@crystyl:- friendly, there is more freedom within our Prime Directive than if it is a completely unknown species to us. But whichever way you look at it, the Lexington joining a Dominion offensive is simply - Keelah@crystyl:- not logical regardless of how one interprets the rulebook" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "What is it that your rules would allow you to do, in regards to this conflict?" Keelah@crystyl:"Technically speaking, they would allow total involvement under the correct extenuating circumstances. But as I said, even if such circumstances existed and the Lexington's Captain felt inclined to - Keelah@crystyl:- do so, there is no logical reason to pursue that course of action for the Lexington here" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "And you believe the Lexington's Captain would pursue a logical course of action above all else?" Keelah@crystyl:"Of course. She may not be Vulcan, but there is an old saying 'common sense prevails'. You have seen a glimpse of this ship for what it truly is now; you have seen how we live with families and even- Keelah@crystyl:- children on board with us. It would be highly illogical to put such a ship into the midst of a warzone, especially so far from home" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "That is exactly the reason Nos'telari Motherships usually do not involve themselves in conflicts, either. Perhaps the Andarash's records of encounters with your Lexington may shed more - NPC@annpc#557 - light into its decisions." Keelah@crystyl:"I certainly hope so, as there are not many scenarios which viably justify their direct involvement" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Our first encounter with the Lexington was some ways into former Dominion territory. They were ferrying refugees of the war and encountered an Andarash fleet. They were allowed to pass - NPC@annpc#557 - peacefully as they did not threaten or attack us at the time. Prior to that, we had heard rumours from refugees that came to our territories of ships aiding the Dominion with their many recent - NPC@annpc#557 - problems. It may refer to the Lexington, though we cannot say for certain." Keelah@crystyl:"All sounds quite reasonable so far" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "There were several more confirmed instances of the Lexington rescuing Dominion civilians, even military personnel and a Founder, which brought them into some tension with our vessels - NPC@annpc#557 - at times. But the aggression did not begin then. We were not quite sure what to make of these early encounters. There are reports stating that they returned An survivors to Andarash vessels, - NPC@annpc#557 - and even rumours from Dominion separatists that they negotiated peaceful secessions and saved them from the Founders' wrath. From what you tell us now, this behaviour sounds more in line with - NPC@annpc#557 - your mandates, lending aid to those who require it and acting as a true neutral party." Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, even displaying that neutrality by aiding both sides where appropriate. This is the action I would find much more consistent with expectations" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "The Andarash did not consider the Lexington a threat at the time. We were wary of it, as the reports indicate it had Dominion representatives on board, though in a diplomatic - NPC@annpc#557 - manner rather than military. One Commander even suggested that the Lexington and your people may make prospective allies in the future." Keelah@crystyl:"Well clearly something has changed since then" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "More recently, reports of the Lexington's aggressive actions began appearing. The first instance was during an attempt to liberate a system seeking to secede from the Dominion. They - NPC@annpc#557 - were often supported by Dominion vessels, and these actions came closer and closer to our borders. It also seems like they are leading an elite Dominion strike team on some form of surgical - NPC@annpc#557 - counter-offensive." Keelah@crystyl:"If that is true, that is quite the turnabout. I'm sure even you can see the extreme differences in conduct here which suggests that either something significant has changed on the Lexington, or the- Keelah@crystyl:- nature of the reported activity started to shift" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "We have no indication of what provoked them. It is possible that perhaps their commander was replaced by a Founder, and they are no longer led by the same person as before. I must - NPC@annpc#557 - admit that makes little sense, though. The Lexington does not have some of the modifications your vessel possesses. While it is still a very formidable ship, I do not see the Dominion going - NPC@annpc#557 - through such effort to seize control of it. They are not faring well and have far less of a military presence than they did before, but a single ship would not turn the tide of the war." Keelah@crystyl:"What about the possibility that the reports on their sudden change are baised? Information is after all a most powerful weapon, and it is not inconceivable for someone to decide they didn't like - Keelah@crystyl:- what the Lexington was doing and so began a propaganda campaign to skew how they are viewed by your people" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "It is...not impossible. The Andarash serves the good of the Commonwealth, but it is still made up of individual An. Perhaps a Marshal has developed a particular dislike for the - NPC@annpc#557 - Lexington for one reason or another. Still, the conflicts that have arisen with the Lexington are certainly not fabricated, even if the reasons were obscured or altered by those filing the - NPC@annpc#557 - reports. You can see why we reacted to your presence the way we did." Keelah@crystyl:"Of course, and I am glad that you are trying to keep an open mind on this too. I am certain it will help us discover the truth and with it a resolution" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "If the Lexington crew is anything like yours, it is difficult to believe that they would have sided with the Dominion in this war. Especially so suddenly, as is evident when I review - NPC@annpc#557 - all the reports surrounding that ship." Keelah@crystyl:"Well hopefully once we get there it will not take us too long to track them down" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Our scans during our various encounters don't indicate any cloaking technology on the Lexington, so finding it should not be too difficult. There tends to be quite a few rumours to - NPC@annpc#557 - follow as well, as they still seem to be aiding refugees after they had apparently sided with the Dominion." Keelah@crystyl:"Interesting. Do you know much about the region itself? Is it currently in disupte, any evacuations in progress or such?" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "The region the Lexington was last sighted in is still in dispute, though there are few Dominion military forces still active nearby. For all intents and purposes, it is a free - NPC@annpc#557 - region now that the Dominion still lays claim to, but does not have the strength to reclaim while the Andarash are supporting the separatists." NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "The escort who will be accompanying you from the outpost onwards will know more about that region. It is not our area of operation, after all." Keelah@crystyl:"Of course. Still, I appreciate your insights" --- NPC@annpc#557 | A few days later, the Valley Forge begins to approach the outpost... NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen: "Small station coming into view on long-range sensors. No larger than a Federation border station. I was expecting something bigger seeing the size of their Motherships, but I - NPC@annpc#557 - guess it's only an outpost." Keelah@crystyl:"You say 'only', but it is an impressive installation regardless of scale. Come now, you should appreciate the engineering behind any fixed border facility like this more so than most" NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen: "Good point, Captain. I'm seeing three ships around the outpost. One looks like the same class of cruiser as the ones following us. The other two are smaller escorts, but they - NPC@annpc#557 - read differently from the raiders with us at the moment." Keelah@crystyl:"Anything noteworthy?" NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen: "Nothing obvious at this range. I'll keep analyzing as we get closer." Keelah@crystyl nods NPC@annpc#557 | A few minutes later, Thorkildsen comments, "You're right though- the station has some impressive sensor systems. Judging from these launch systems, two of its hangars aren't for docking but - NPC@annpc#557 - deploying fighter craft. Armaments are about what one would expect for a border outpost." Keelah@crystyl:"Small support craft are a curious choice. I don't recall the Dominion favouring them particularly, so why fit a border outpost with them...?" NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen: "The Mothership makes heavy use of them for defense, so maybe it's a staple for larger An facilities and stations." Keelah@crystyl:"It would seem so" NPC@annpc#557 | Thorkildsen: "Speaking of the Dominion, the raiders with us seem more like the An's equivalent of the Jem'Hadar attack ships. The escorts we're seeing here are closer to the Recon Ships we - NPC@annpc#557 - saw with the Mothership. Less armaments, more sensor equipment. I'm guessing they're meant to be scouts." Keelah@crystyl:"A logical conclusion" NPC@annpc#557 | On the viewscreen, the station comes into view NPC@annpc#557 FX | https://wiki.eveuniversity.org/images/thumb/8/8b/Apostle.jpg/384px-Apostle.jpg NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "The Khasuen is hailing us, Captain." Keelah@crystyl:"Put them through" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio appears on the viewscreen again, "Captain. We've reached Outpost Veha-Sima. I'm sure you've noticed the vessels waiting to continue onwards with you from here." Keelah@crystyl:"We have indeed. I take it they have been waiting for us and are now eager to get underway" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio nods, "That's right. Meanwhile we'll refuel and restock here before returning to our patrols. The outpost is authorized to provide you with refueling if you so require before continuing. - NPC@annpc#557 - This is the shorter leg of your journey, there is much further to go before you reach the region in which the Lexington was last sighted." Keelah@crystyl:"That is most generous, but our warp drive requires highly refined dilithium crystals. I would not expect such a facility to carry spare stock of those, and even then did it would not be something - Keelah@crystyl:-readily shared" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Very well, then. We will part ways here. I wish you luck on your search, and once you've found the Lexington, I hope you can resolve things peacefully and perhaps learn more about the - NPC@annpc#557 - plague." Keelah@crystyl:"And I look forward to our next encounter being more amicable from the start once we have done just that. Farewell for now" NPC@annpc#557 | Nahio: "Farewell, Captain." NPC@annpc#557 | The call ends and the viewscreen returns to the view of the station Keelah@crystyl:"Well then, let's see about making introductions with our new travel companions" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "Contacting the other ship now. I have a channel open, Captain." Keelah@crystyl:"On screen" NPC@annpc#557 | A female Tak'an appears on the viewscreen, "So you're the ones I'm to escort?" Keelah@crystyl:"So I understand of it. I am Captain Se'Lai, it is a pleasure to meet you" NPC@annpc#557 | Tak'an: "I'm Commander Kesa of the Namaset. We will be accompanying you along with the Aberen and Makesis." Keelah@crystyl:"Alright. Or would it be fairer to say that we will be accompanying you? I understand you already have a search plan of some form?" NPC@annpc#557 | Kesa: "A bit of both. We would like your fellow vessel to cease their offensive on us as well, and have an idea of where to search for them. The plan is simply to proceed where they were last - NPC@annpc#557 - sighted and pick up the trail from there." Keelah@crystyl:"Yes, this reported offensive stance does not ring true. That is to say that however we look at it, we are unable to conceive a valid reason for it. Especially in light of their reported earlier - Keelah@crystyl:- interactions with your people which painted them in the much more neutral and diplomatic light I would have expected. There is something more to this situation yet, and we need to find out what" NPC@annpc#557 | Kesa: "The Dominion are conniving, especially their Changeling leaders. It would not surprise me if they have tricked or coerced your people to act against their will." Keelah@crystyl:"It is certainly possible" NPC@annpc#557 | Kesa: "Are you ready to depart immediately, or do you have any resupply you wish to conduct at the station first?" Keelah@crystyl:"We have no urgent requirements. If it suits, perhaps our tradeship could remain here for a while to investigate potential trade opportunities and then catch up to us" NPC@annpc#557 | Kesa nods, "That is amenable. Commander Nahio does not believe there is much risk of you being Dominion spies. I see no reason not to allow your trade ship to remain behind for a short while." Keelah@crystyl:"Ok, I'll let them know the plan and we can get underway at your discretion" NPC@annpc#557 | Kesa nods, "Contact us again once you have made all your preparations." The comm ends Keelah@crystyl:"Please inform Seelix that she has a new assignment" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "On it, Captain." Keelah@crystyl:"As soon as she's good to go, send a message to Kesa that we are ready to depart" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "Seelix has just acknowledged. Informing Kesa now." She taps her console. "They're ready to lead the way." Keelah@crystyl:"Then let us begin this next leg of the journey. Form up on them, match course and speed" NPC@annpc#557 | Ann nods, "Aye Cap'n. Formin' up now." NPC@annpc#557 | On the viewscreen, the VF and co., minus the Freedom's Spirit, begin arranging themselves behind the three Andarash ships NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "They're signalling us to follow the cruiser." Keelah@crystyl:"Acknowledged. Ann, you heard the lady; follow that cruiser" NPC@annpc#557 | As Keelah says that, both escorts by the cruiser cloaks and disappears from view NPC@annpc#557 | Ann: "They must be sendin' those ships ahead to scout, like we do with QanwI' an' Aethon." Keelah@crystyl:"It is a most efficient approach. Speaking of the QanwI', they and the Loki have been awfully quiet of late. Are they still checking in and following discreetly?" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ nods, "They've been checking in, but they haven't detected anything of interest except freighters at the moment." Keelah@crystyl:"Good to know. Now that we're pressing into the search area it might be worth the QanwI' scouting ahead as well" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ: "Should I give them the order now, or wait until we're underway?" Keelah@crystyl:"No, have them engage with Seelix. T'Lana might find use in the opportunity to get feet on that station. So the QanwI' can remain in support here for now and then push ahead to scouting once - Keelah@crystyl:- everyone is caught up again" NPC@annpc#557 | TQ smiles, "Good thinking. I'll let them know." --- NPC@annpc#557 | As Seelix explores trading opportunities on the An border outpost, Lexi takes a wander around to get the lay of the land. It doesn't take her long to find the station lounge, where a number of - NPC@annpc#557 - uniformed An are eating and drinking merrily. Lexi notes that the majority of them are Vesan, the Warrior Breed of An. The second most common appears to be the Kalan Scout Breed, with the - NPC@annpc#557 - remaining two breeds being a minority, but still accounted for. The lounge is not as rowdy as a Klingon bar, but is louder than ones on Starfleet stations NPC@annpc#557 | Ambient music throbs through the establishment as well, enough to be pervasive in the background, but not enough to drown out any conversation NPC@annpc#557 Sound FX | https://youtu.be/JaTYkMYQtAs Lexi@crystyl smiles to herself on entering, strolling over to the bar, "Well this seems like a nice chill place to sit back a bit. What's your speciality?" NPC@annpc#557 | The bartender is wearing a uniform, albeit one that is primarily white. Though the uniforms are different, the colour scheme seems to match what the Nos'telari use- black and red for combat - NPC@annpc#557 - personnel, and white for various civilian support roles NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "Depends on what you're after. Food, drink- and then there's strong or light, energy boosting, sweet..." Lexi@crystyl:"So no house special then? Well let's go with a good strong drink then, see how your stuff compares to a barrel of bloodwine!" NPC@annpc#557 | The bartender reaches behind a counter, taking out a bottle and pouring a glass for Lexi, "Teconna rum. A favourite among the Vesan soldiers and one of our strongest drinks. Sure you can - NPC@annpc#557 - handle it?" Lexi@crystyl laughs, "Honestly I'd love it if I can't! Don't remember the last time I found a drink that could topple me, so let's have at it!" NPC@annpc#557 | The bartender grins, "So you're /that/ kind of patron. Well, have fun, and let me know if you need something stronger!" He hands the glass of dark amber rum to Lexi. It looks deceptively like - NPC@annpc#557 - lemon tea. Lexi@crystyl gives it a cursory sniff before knocking it back, "So what's this about something stronger? I thought that was supposed to be the strongest you had!" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "Teconna rum isn't strong enough for you? You can hold your alcohol! I didn't say it's the strongest we had- just that it's a favourite strong drink. You want to try the strongest?" Lexi@crystyl:"Damned straight! You know how hard it is to find good bloodwine out here, let alone store enough to keep my fighters in check!" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "I don't know what bloodwine is, but you might like this..." He reaches under the bar, taking out a different bottle and pouring out a pink drink Lexi@crystyl gives it the same curious sniff before taking a swig NPC@annpc#557 | To Lexi's surprise, the drink is as strong as bloodwine. When it fades away, it leaves a faint metallic aftertaste that almost resembles blood, except there's a bit of of sweetness mixed in, - NPC@annpc#557 - like some kind of strange, sweet blood Lexi@crystyl hrms, "Not bad... what do you call this stuff again?" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "Cerenalda. It's a rather rare drink. Fermented from something that only grows on one Commonwealth world. Well, grows properly that is. There's imitation Cerenalda, which isn't - NPC@annpc#557 - really an imitation. It's made from the same plant, just grown on other planets, but it never turns out the same. This bottle," he taps, "is the real thing." Lexi@crystyl:"So I guess it wouldn't be possible to order two dozen barrels of it to go then?" she pouts, taking another swig NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "Not from this outpost I'm afraid. But you'll find stocks of it all over the Commonwealth. It's considered by most to be the strongest drink in the Commonwealth." Lexi@crystyl:"Well I guess I'll just have to enjoy it while I'm here. Probably for the best anyway, as that sweetness might get a bit much in large volumes" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "Depends on your tastes, I suppose. If it's strong and not sweet you prefer, you might want Nizentor Whiskey. It's not as strong as Cerenalda, but it's good for drinking large - NPC@annpc#557 - quantities at once. People knock themselves out all the time with it. And it's rather common too, with the Nizen being one of the best established mercantile civilizations in the Commonwealth." Lexi@crystyl:"That so? Well, maybe that will do for a while then" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "Here, I'll give you a taste." He retrieves another bottle and pours a bit for Lexi Lexi@crystyl gives it a try NPC@annpc#557 | The drink is indeed not sweet and has the smokey flavour of whiskey. However, it is notably stronger than Earth whiskey Lexi@crystyl:"Yeah, this could work. Maybe for those slightly more civilized nights when the whole crew isn't drinking out of the barrel by the jugload. HA! Like that would ever happen..." NPC@annpc#557 | The bartender chuckles, "Sounds like an interesting crew you've got. Well, this one we do have a few barrels to spare. I'll be happy to talk to the quartermaster about a trade with you." Lexi@crystyl:"Sure, why not! If they start pouting I'll just remind them that it will make the rare nights when I do crack a barrel of bloodwine for them that much more valuable. That, and crack their skulls for- Lexi@crystyl:- good measure! HA haha" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender chuckles, "Definitely an interesting crew. Almost sounds like you run a Meya'c ship." Lexi@crystyl:"Yeah, not a bad comparison from what I've heard. Though I've yet to see if they live up to the name" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "The Meya'c?" Lexi@crystyl:"Yeah, heard they're like the best of the best in the Commonwealth, but have yet to see for myself" NPC@annpc#557 | Bartender: "There's none of them here at the moment, unfortunately. The soldiers here can tell you plenty about them, though," he motions to one table. "That group rotated back from the front - NPC@annpc#557 - lines recently. They've probably met and even fought beside the Meya'c." Lexi@crystyl smiles, taking her drink, "Sounds like a plan! I'll be back to see about that trade deal later" she heads off to indicated table NPC@annpc#557 | Three of the An at the table are Vesan, with one Masan, the Stock Breed. A female Vesan turns as Lexi approaches, looking her over, "Hey there." Lexi@crystyl:"Hey folks, word is you all just got back from the front lines. So here-" she plops down the current bottle she's been trying, "-since you have returned, then you must be victorious. and victory - Lexi@crystyl:- calls for celebration!" NPC@annpc#557 | Another Vesan speaks up, "That's right. We've got the Dominion scrambling all over! Maybe the Founders'll slip away, they're a slippery sort, but they're going to have to rebuild from nothing - NPC@annpc#557 - after this. Won't be long until the Dominion's a thing of the past!" Lexi@crystyl:"HA!" She slaps him on the back, "Now that's the voice of a warrior right there! You must have some good stories from this last campaign now" she suggests, while helping herself to a seat NPC@annpc#557 | The first Vesan nods, "Quite a few. You headed towards the front lines? I don't recognize your people," she looks to the Masan. "Nebi, do you recognize the species?" NPC@annpc#557 | The Masan, Nebi, shakes her head, "The patterns reminds me of the Alcai, but they're not in the right spot. And she has hair." Lexi@crystyl:"Let me put you out of your misery; my species is Trill, and we're not around this part of the galaxy so it's no surprise you've never seen another. I'm just passing through with this trader at the - Lexi@crystyl:- moment, but we will be heading towards those front lines with the rest of our convoy shortly. They left a little while ago with some of your folks" NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi: "You're going to the front lines with traders? Are you a trader yourself, or a mercenary like Toyan suggested?" NPC@annpc#557 | The female Vesan chimes in again, "She said she was going to the front lines. I assumed she was fighting the war. Like the Meya'c, or something." Lexi@crystyl laughs, swigging her drink, "Me, a trader? Pfft, not in this life anyway. No, my warriors are tasked with protecting the convoy. It's been some years since I last got to spar with a Jem'Hadar - Lexi@crystyl:- though so I'm looking forward to seeing what their latest batches are capable of" NPC@annpc#557 | One of the male Vesan speaks once more, "I haven't fought Jem'Hadar before now in my lifetime, but there's definitely been some changes with them." Lexi@crystyl:"Oh? And how do you know that if you haven't fought them before?" NPC@annpc#557 | The other male answers, "We train against them regularly in simulations. The sims probably don't reflect their skill perfectly, but there's some differences in the appearance that we can see. - NPC@annpc#557 - The ones in our sims are mostly based on data from the last war." Lexi@crystyl:"Ah, yeah sims are all well and good but no substitute for the reflexes and unpredictability of a real foe, right!" NPC@annpc#557 | Toyan nods, "It's pretty different fighting Jem'Hadar in the field. They're every bit as formidable as the stories say, and much smarter than the ones in the sims. They've got the battle - NPC@annpc#557 - prowess of the Meya'c and the discipline and organization of us An." Lexi@crystyl:"Sounds like you've faced your share of them" NPC@annpc#557 | One of the males nods, "We're all marines here. We've seen a few engagements with Jem'Hadar. Couple with Drai and other Dominion species, too. That's never happened in the old wars." NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi nods, "Usually only we've deployed mercenaries. Shows you what state the Dominion is in." Lexi@crystyl:"Well I hope they've at least still got some fight in them, been itching for a good workout ever since we got to this region" NPC@annpc#557 | Toyan: "Oh that they certainly do. The Dominion as a whole might not be doing so well, but you can bet every Jem'Hadar soldier is still giving it his all." Lexi@crystyl:"Glad to hear it! So what's next for you all, shipping straight back seeking more glory in battle?" NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi: "Kavi and I are heading back after a bit of rest here. Toyan and Hetar are heading back home." Lexi@crystyl:"Damn, that sucks. Still, I suppose someone has to rotate out on occasion" NPC@annpc#557 | Toyan nods, "That why you're so eager for action?" Lexi@crystyl laughs, "Nah, we're just always eager for it! Don't get me wrong though, my warriors are anything but foolhardy. We just savour the opportunity when it presents" NPC@annpc#557 | Kevi: "Your people certainly sound like kindred souls with the Meya'c. You'll get along well with them." Lexi@crystyl:"Sounds fun. Many of them out seeing action these days?" NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi: "Beside the Andarash, they're the most numerous Commonwealth forces you'll find in the front lines. They jumped at the chance to fight the Dominion as soon as the war began." Lexi@crystyl grins, "Sounds like my kind of crazy!" NPC@annpc#557 | Hetar: "The Meya'c aren't like us. We're soldiers. We fight to protect the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth strategically uses the Meya'c to protect our interests, but the Meya'c themselves, - NPC@annpc#557 - they fight for the sake of fighting." Lexi@crystyl:"You know people often used to say that about the Klingons until they got to understand them better" NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi: "The Klingons? That's not your people, is it? You said a different name earlier." Lexi@crystyl:"Yeah, my warriors are Klingons and it's the Klingon warrior caste we all belong to. I'm the exception, not the rule, as you don't see so many Trill with them" NPC@annpc#557 | Toyan: "Is it common for them to accept members of other species into their warrior caste?" Lexi@crystyl:"Incredibly uncommon actually! Well, much like you do with the Meya'c actually, they use and abuse other species as fodder when it suits. But the true warriors are almost exclusively Klingon" NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi: "The Andarash do not use the Meya'c as 'fodder.' Though they are different from us, they are highly respected. Their role is more akin to elite forces for boarding action and planetary - NPC@annpc#557 - combat, or surgical strike teams for ship to ship engagements." Lexi@crystyl:"Ah, my mistake. I figured you regard them like the Klingons regard fighters from other species" NPC@annpc#557 | Kevi shakes his head, "I know the word mercenary often has such connotations with other civilizations. For the Andarash, mercenary forces all serve a special purpose, something regular - NPC@annpc#557 - ships and marines can't do, or not as well as they can, at least." NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi: "Most Protectorates become Protectorates of the Commonwealth for our protection, which is why they're called Protectorates. So most of the time, it's those of us in the Andarash doing the - NPC@annpc#557 - fighting. The Protectorates who offer soldiers usually have something unique to contribute." Lexi@crystyl:"I get it, yeah. I've known similar arrangements with other species in the past" NPC@annpc#557 | Hetar: "You're not a mercenary though, are you? You're a fully fledged member of the...Kingon, was it, warrior caste?" Lexi@crystyl:"Yes, the warrior caste is the segment of that society which dominates everything. I fought my way to the top as an outsider, even moreso than one normally has to" NPC@annpc#557 | Nebi: "We get Andarash soldiers of other species on occasion, too. They're not common, and we call them exchange officers. The word was made for Protectorates who commit some troops, but not - NPC@annpc#557 - enough to make up dedicated mercenary forces, so they serve within the Andarash. But many exchange officers nowadays are just members of Protectorates who don't normally contribute military - NPC@annpc#557 - forces at all, but these individuals want to help protect the Commonwealth. So they're not a part of any formal exchange program." Lexi@crystyl:"Wanting to protect something they believe in is an honourable pursuit. I am glad to see the Andarash nurturing that" NPC@annpc#557 | Toyan smiles, "That it is. And while the Andarash is a primarily An organization, we're open to everyone who wishes to serve the interest of the Commonwealth. After all, once we started taking - NPC@annpc#557 - in Protectorates, we've been about more than just the An." Lexi@crystyl:"Not always an easy transition is it" NPC@annpc#557 | Kevi: "Fortunately, it's one our ancestors made many generations ago. Now, we just have to defend what they've built." Lexi@crystyl:"Sounds like it's going better than ever right now too" NPC@annpc#557 | Toyan nods, "Never thought we'd see the Dominion on the defensive like this. They've been one of the major factors against more Protectorates joining up. Pretty much stopped all chances of - NPC@annpc#557 - that on a whole side of our border, due to the Dominion's size."