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  1. If you prick me, do I not bleed? Cpt Je’rit d’Ka Cpt Galen Aayrn Cpt Chirakis Kirel While most of the ship had settled down for the night, USS Missouri’s fighter bay had business as usual. Patrol shift change progressed smoothly. Flights formed up and lifted to a silent exit into the void. Peacekeepers and their bay crews lined the hangar portside, Crusader Attack Fighters to starboard, each one glistening in the overhead lighting, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Security guarded the captain’s yacht, berthed at the far end. Security’s presence was ordinarily reserved for dignitaries, and this evening was no exception—except that this dignitary had been on this side of the galaxy only once, and his presence had caused quite a stir. “This is a rare wine, Galen,” said d’Ka as he handed his visitor a glass and settled into the chair opposite with his own. “I am sure you will enjoy it. Its grapes grow on the highest mountains of Sindar. But….” He held up a cautionary hand. “....take care. It is powerful.” Having almost empied his glass as he would have at home, Galen stopped to consider its contents. “Powerful… how?” D’Ka chuckled and curled his lips into a broad grin. “If you do not heed my warning, you might end up on the floor and need resuscitation.” “I see,” Galen replied, studying the glass carefully before sipping. “You were about to say,” said d’Ka, continuing their last conversation. “They are not ready, Je’rit. All the species that we have encountered here—with the exception of yours—are very young in their societal and technological development. The few technologies that we provided would have been discovered in their near future. We supplied them because they will be needed within the next few years. However,” he paused to set his glass aside, “some are very interested, but some are skeptical to the point of fear. Some are ready, but the majority is not.” * * * * * * Physically and psychologically worn, Kirel stepped into the bay from the lift. At this point, she didn’t care why d’Ka had asked her to visit—other than the usual. If it accomplished nothing else, it would give her time away from the grind of Aegis. And she had not seen him for… how long? It didn’t matter. Exhaustion was creeping in. Putting one foot in front of the other seemed to be an accomplishment. As usual, the bay chief accompanied her to the yacht. Flight captains and their crews turned in respect as she passed. D'Ka met her at the hatch, they exchanged their bond greeting, and he closed the hatch. When he stepped aside she froze. Captain Aayrn stood and nodded politely. “Captain.” Her response was a questioning glance to d’Ka and back. “Kirel,” d'Ka began in polite suggestion. “You know Captain Aayrn.” “I do,” she confessed in a somewhat aggravated tone, then spoke to Aayrn. “What brings you here?” “I have come to talk,” he replied simply. “About…?” “Whatever you want to discuss.” “Whatever I want to discuss,” she mused, studying his expression. “Yes. Whatever you want to discuss.” “I have much to discuss, Captain Aayrn,” replied Kirel. “In fact, I have many unanswered questions. However, it has been a trying few days—apparently four hours more than the rest of the crew—and I am not exactly in the mood, nor do I have the energy to discuss anything. But,” she sighed, settling into her usual armchair, “since you are here, I will try.” Aayrn sat in the chair opposite. D’Ka handed Kirel a glass of water and sat to her left. She downed it and asked for another, with a touch of something a little more potent. “Where are you hiding your ship?” she began. “Sensors cannot read it, of course, so there is no indication that you... or it... is here.” “It’s not hidden. It is under repair in our home system.” “Really?” she scoffed, taking her drink from d’Ka. Aayrn nodded politely. “So if your ship is not here, how did you get here?” The captain inhaled deeply, then paused a moment to think. It seemed to Kirel that he was either weighing his options or manufacturing a good lie. “There are more modes of travel than by starship,” he said finally. “The process is complicated.” “Enlighten me.” She tossed him a skeptical grin. “Very well,” he began, leaning forward to rest his hands in his lap. “What you see here—this ship, your station, this galaxy, and everything else that you can see or sense—is a minuscule part of the universe in its totality. The universe itself has many layers. When you travel through subspace or use subspace as a conduit for communication, you approach the outskirts of a larger universe that holds more than what we can see or experience as we sit here, discussing the matter.” “So you travel through a multiverse? Hopping from one layer to the other?” “Similar, but not exactly. It’s….” “...complicated. I know.” She sighed and downed another drink without losing eye contact. He didn’t seem to mind. She could not decide whether that was a plus or a minus, but it was certainly interesting. “You have something else on your mind,” Aayrn said finally. “Something disturbing.” “Why do you say that?” she said evenly. “Your expression, your body language, the way you sit in the chair, the touch of anxiety you are trying to hide.” A few seconds of thought, and she chuckled, raising a brow. “Not telepathy?” “Captain, It does not take telepathy to see that something is bothering you.” “Very well,” she answered with a glance to d’Ka for another drink. “I just returned from a debrief, a discussion with command. We discussed the possibility that your telepathy—or the telepathy of your people—is manipulating us. It brought to light many questions that I, as mission commander, could not answer. For instance, how do we know that you and your ship were really here? How do we know for certain that you are not just a solid image that is projected into our minds? How do we know that you were ever really here?” She paused to see if that elicited an answer—which it did not—so she continued calmly. “You come and go at will, Captain—or at least your image does. Your telepathic power goes beyond that of the Sindar. You could easily manipulate anyone on this station, to make them believe that you are real, or that your ship is real. How do I know that we were actually on the Voad, Captain? How do we know that we actually experienced your battle? How do we know that we were not in a holodeck? How do we know that we actually did stay away for four hours while this station experienced a time lapse of a few minutes? Explain that to me.” D’Ka placed another glass next to her, which she ignored. The chronograph on the wall hummed its way from one millisecond to another. The muffled roar of Crusader Attack Fighters launching could be heard outside. She waited for his answer. “I am not sure that I can explain that, Captain. You and your bondmate have physically touched me. Je’rit and Dr. Sandero, made telepathic contact with me. Frankly, I’m at a loss as to what could I use to prove that I am here with you now. That I am real.” “Then perhaps I can assist you,” she said, slipping her dagger from its scabbard. A flick of her wrist landed the dagger’s point in the decking between his feet. Aaryn recoiled to a stand, horrified. “Use it,” she said. He looked to her, then back to the dagger. “We don’t use these weapons. We engage in battle with ships and fighters. I am not familiar with your procedures.” It took him a second to regain his composure. “Are we supposed to fight here, with this weapon?” “No. This dagger is seldom used to fight,” she replied as she pulled it from the decking then cleaned its point. “It is used to form friendships, for bonding, and to call upon the universe when warriors pass in battle.” Whether he understood or not was immaterial. He seemed to understand, but he also seemed reluctant to come near the dagger. He looked to d’Ka, who nodded, then he acquiesced. “Very well. Show me how it is used.” Kirel educated him to the ritual: a slice to her palm and a slice to his, pressed together, then dripped onto a clean, white cloth. Besides Aayrn’s reaction to pain, the color of his blood—a dark crimson—drew her attention. Drs Pavilion and Sandero should be very interested. “And what does this do?” Aayrn asked, nursing the injury after d’Ka bandaged it. “It is normally a bond of close friendship, Captain,” Kirel replied. “However, your blood on this cloth will tell us if you are real, which you seem to be. Captain d’Ka, Captain Aayrn,” she said, nodding politely to each. “If you will excuse me, I have something to attend to.” And she left. * * * * * * Aayrn stared at the hatch as it closed behind her. “Is this normal, Je’rit?” “She is a warrior. It is her normal,” he replied casually. “And it is mine at certain times.” He turned away from the hatch and nodded. “Thank you. Our meeting has served its purpose… and moreso.” He rubbed his palm. “If we are needed, call us and we will respond. If not, we will not interfere with these species’ development. S’lan.” D’Ka nodded. “S’lan.” And he was gone.