Earth, Sol System, Sector 001, Alpha Quadrant
For what it's worth, in another time and another place, I think we could have been something more, you and I.
Alec blinked awake at the sound of his alarm going off. His bedroom was still dark, the pale grey walls now blue in the pre-dawn light. He sat up and rubbed a hand over his face, heart still aching from the fleeting remnants of the dream.
It had been four years since Alec had walked away from Magnus on Genesis Planet, and even though he had only known Magnus for four days, the memory of him haunted Alec's dreams, and some nights were worse than others. Magnus had believed that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of only one man, and gone willingly to his death to save all the lives of his and Alec's crew - but he hadn't known that he would take a part of Alec with him. And when Magnus had miraculously regenerated during the formation of the planet, returning to life with no memory of anything that had happened after former Starfleet Admiral Valentine Morgenstern had captured him, Alec had felt like that part of him had been lost forever as well.
It probably didn't help that in the wake of the revelation that Morgenstern had been the leader of a subversive organisation called Terra Prime, which had been developing weapons aimed at removing all non-humans from Earth and dismantling the United Federation of Planets, as the only living person with any idea of what had been going on, Alec had been heavily involved in the investigation into Terra Prime, and he had been horrified to discover that Magnus had been a pivotal if unwilling participant at the heart of it all. If all the members of Terra Prime hadn't already been killed by Magnus when he had attacked the Starfleet HQ and when the Admiral's illegal war vessel had been blown up when the Genesis Device had detonated, they would all be facing life-terms in prison just for being complicit in the torture they had put Magnus through. The USS Archer had been taken off long-haul exploration missions and redirected to first-response diplomatic and defence missions because their captain was needed on Earth, and to be honest Alec found it a relief, although he also thought he was letting his crew down - this wasn't exactly what they'd signed up for.
Alec heaved himself out of bed and went through his routine morning exercise and stretches to loosen his sleep-stiff muscles, then mechanically showered, ate, and put on his formal dress uniform. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that he had dreamt about Magnus last night of all nights, because today was the day they were going to announce the verdict of Alec's appeal to get Magnus pardoned by the Federation posthumously.
Yes, Magnus was guilty of bombing the data archive that also housed the secret facility owned by Terra Prime, as well as a myriad of other crimes ranging from stealing an emergency police jumpship and opening fire on the Starfleet Command conference room. And yes, technically Magnus was alive and well with the rest of his crew on Genesis Planet, living out the end of his days in peace as his people had planned to centuries ago when they fled Earth. But the man who had been tortured by Morgenstern and twisted by anger and vengeance no longer existed; in his mind, Alec could justify to himself that he wasn't lying when he'd reported Magnus as dead. Of his own crew, only Jace and Izzy had known about Magnus' resurrection, and while Alec's crew had been aware of the existence of other augments, they'd agreed to keep the secret so that the augment colony could live in peace. In Alec's report he had simply stated that he had fired some of the torpedoes at Morgenstern's vessel, conveniently explaining away both the missing torpedoes and the explosion that had been detected when the Genesis Device had been activated, and that was that.
As for the existence of Genesis Planet, the general consensus after the fiasco with Morgenstern had been to leave the Klingons well alone, and no Federation ship would go into Klingon territory without authorisation. The official word was that the Klingons were preoccupied with a war with unknown foes and were at present too busy to bother with the Federation. Alec had a good idea who the mysterious foes were, but knowing what Magnus and his people were capable of, he was reasonably sure that they could take care of themselves.
Alec had done whatever was in his power to protect Magnus and his people, and if the appeal was successful and Magnus was pardoned on the grounds of extreme duress and mental and emotional trauma, then Alec would finally be able to close the chapter on Magnus and Genesis Planet, put all this behind him and move on. At least, that was what he hoped.
Alec stepped out onto the streets of the waking city, the dull click of his door's automatic lock stifled by the dead air of his empty apartment.
The court proceedings went as Alec had anticipated - he knew he had presented a watertight argument to the council, and the verdict had been decided even before the court session commenced. When the court was finally dismissed, Alec got to his feet with the rest of the crowd in the courtroom as the council shuffled out, but waited until almost all the people in attendance were out of the way before leaving. Campaigning to get Magnus pardoned had not made him very popular with those who didn't know or care what had been done to Magnus and still saw him as a mass murderer, not that he would have done anything differently.
Alec stepped out of the courtroom with a heavy heart. He was supposed to feel better about the successful appeal on Magnus' behalf, and of course he was pleased that Magnus no longer had the sins of the past hanging over his head. Alec could get on with his life now. But why did he feel a sudden urge to get very drunk?
Alec was halfway down the hallway when he heard someone calling his name.
"Admiral Penhallow," he said in greeting, walking towards the stern, no-nonsense woman who had taken over the leadership of Starfleet.
"Captain Lightwood, if I could speak to you for a moment," she said.
"Of course, Admiral."
Alec followed her back to her office. Admiral Jia Penhallow had a reputation for being authoritarian, and had been nominated for the position in hopes that she could lead Starfleet with a firmer hand so that organisations like Terra Prime would not have a chance to exist. Her office was the same office that Valentine Morgenstern had occupied during his term as head of Starfleet, and although it was as neat and orderly as Morgenstern's had been, Alec couldn't help noticing the photo she had on her table, of her daughter and half-Romulan daughter-in-law. Perhaps the Admiral had a personal stake in encouraging the acceptance of non-humans, and it gave him hope for the future direction of Starfleet.
"I received the application you sent in for the Vice Admiral position," she said, settling behind her desk. "Are you sure that is what you want, Captain Lightwood?"
"Yes. Contributing to the investigation on Terra Prime has been a rewarding experience, and I think I could better serve Starfleet in a more administrative capacity," Alec replied evenly.
The Admiral eyed him contemplatively for a moment, and indicated that he should take a seat. "Then I accept your application. It has been a pleasure working with you, and I look forward to having you on my team. Do you have anybody in mind to relieve you as captain?"
"If I may, I would like to recommend Commander Lydia Branwell."
Admiral Penhallow nodded her approval. "The paperwork will take some time to process. In the meantime, I hope you are willing to continue your duties as captain of the USS Archer."
"Of course." Alec cleared his throat. "Admiral, has Terra Prime been completely dissolved?"
"Without knowing who was on Valentine Morgenstern's ship, it's hard to say for sure, but I think we should be able to handle any wayward individuals quite easily. Thanks to your chief engineer, and the cooperation of Clarissa Morgenstern, we managed to decode all of Terra Prime's records. Most of the weaponry Morgenstern forced his captive to develop has been accounted for, stashed away in Morgenstern's secret base on one of Jupiter's moons, save for several items that may very well have been on his ship," the Admiral said. "But before Terra Prime was formed, Morgenstern belonged to a Federation-sanctioned classified organisation named Section 31, now defunct, which may very well have been the predecessor of Terra Prime. Have you heard of it?"
"No, why would I?" Alec asked with a frown. "It's not the sort of information that I'd have had the clearance to access."
"Indeed. I understand that you and your sister have been trying to find out more about your family history, specifically your mother's ties with Vulcan, after something Valentine Morgenstern said," Admiral Penhallow noted. "I'm telling you this only because you have shown yourself to be an exemplary leader, and loyal to the Federation."
Alec tried not to squirm at the thought of all the information about Magnus and Genesis Planet that he had left out in his reports.
"Section 31 is the reason why you have been unable to access the files on your parents - because your parents were part of it."
Alec was so deep in thought when he left the Admiral's office, he didn't even notice Jace and Izzy until they were standing right in front of him.
"We heard the verdict of the appeal. Where did you go?" Izzy asked.
"I went to see the Admiral," Alec finally admitted.
"Oh," Izzy said.
"What 'oh'?" Jace asked suspiciously.
Alec took a deep breath. "The council has accepted my application for the position of Vice Admiral."
Izzy and Alec both watched Jace's reaction warily, Jace's expression quickly going from shock to apprehension. "What? When did this happen and why didn't you tell me? And you told Izzy but not me? Were you afraid that I was gonna cry or something?" Jace demanded.
Alec raised an eyebrow at Jace. "Well..."
"Fuck you. Shut up," Jace sniffled, rubbing his eyes.
"When will it be official?" Izzy asked.
"A week or so," Alec replied.
"Vice Admirals don't fly, do they?" Jace said quietly.
Alec shook his head.
Jace sighed, but nodded. "So who's going to be the new captain of the Archer, then?"
"Oh fuck. She's hated me since our days in the academy, she's going to make my life hell," Jace complained.
"Only because you were an asshole," Alec said.
"Were?" Izzy said with a grin.
"Very funny. Anybody who thinks that the two of you are part-Vulcan are dead wrong," Jace grumbled.
"Wouldn't count on that," Alec muttered, thinking of the encrypted flash drive in his pocket.
"Hey, this Vice Admiral thing... It wouldn't be because of Magnus, would it?" Jace asked, dropping his voice.
"I still believe in what Starfleet stands for. But the exploration of new worlds is starting to feel a bit pointless," Alec said quietly. Because in the possibly infinite universe, there was only one place he wanted to be if it wasn't here, and it was precisely the one place he couldn't go.
"So, last week as captain of the USS Archer, huh? Man, that's gotta feel weird, considering you've wanted to be a captain since you were a kid. But if this is what you want, I'm happy for you," Jace said, clapping him on the shoulder.
"Congratulations on the promotion, big brother," Izzy agreed, standing on tip toes to kiss his cheek.
"Let's go to a bar to celebrate. I'll buy the drinks," Alec said, smiling.
"Drinks before noon? Wow. Who are you and what have you done with my brother?" Jace said, slinging his arms around Alec and Izzy's shoulders as the three Lightwoods made their way out of the Starfleet Headquarters.
Genesis Planet, Qo'noS System, Sector 070, Beta Quadrant
It had been four years, and Magnus still couldn't get used to how quiet the nights were on Genesis. The Device had managed to generate a wide variety of vegetation, most of it useful to the augment colony, but there were no other more complex lifeforms - no insects, no animals. The jungles that surrounded the augment settlement were unnervingly silent, and Magnus hadn't thought that he would miss the sound of crickets chirping and toads calling to each other in the night until he was faced with the reality that he would go through the rest of his life without hearing them again. It made living on Genesis Planet feel unreal, like they were imprisoned in a simulation - which he supposed wasn't actually too far from the truth, even if the prison was of their own making.
"You should be sleeping."
Magnus turned, startled, and relaxed when he saw that it was just Catarina. "I could say the same for you," he said with a smile.
He accepted the mug she offered him, and tried not to wrinkle his nose when he saw that it was hot chocolate. There was no possible way for them to grow and harvest cacao on Genesis Planet, but chocolate made by the replicator always tasted like melted plastic to him - he might not have had all his memories, but he definitely remembered how chocolate was supposed to taste.
"You're thinking about him again," Catarina said.
Magnus didn't even try to deny it, looking back up at the strange constellations in the night sky, constellations they would have to get used to now that Genesis was home. "Silly, isn't it? I know he's not coming back," he said quietly. "I barely even knew him."
"Then your memories are not returning."
Magnus shook his head. "Yes, and no. I remember some of our time on Earth before we went into the cryotubes, and sometimes something will trigger the return of a memory. I remember waking up when our ship was discovered by Valentine Morgenstern, and I remember fighting his men. But everything after that is just a mess of feelings and sensations - fear, anger, and excruciating pain. I think they kept me drugged a lot of the time."
Catarina put an arm around him and gave him a squeeze. "I'm sorry you had to go through all of that alone."
"It's alright. Like I said, I barely remember it," Magnus replied.
"And what about Captain Lightwood?"
Magnus smiled a little wistfully. "I don't know. I don't remember much about him either, other than his name. And yet..."
"The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing," Catarina quoted.
"Wise words, and true," Magnus said, and took a sip of his drink, grimacing as he did. At least it was warm - it was always a little too cold on Genesis, since they were too far away from Omega Leonis, this star system's equivalent of the sun. "Catarina, what do you think of me trying to improve that K'normian shuttle-"
"Magnus, even if you could build a warp drive small enough to fit on that tiny thing and find space on it for shields and weapons, it would be unwise to travel back to Earth," Catarina interrupted him gently. "Don't forget, you're a wanted man. The only reason that the Federation hasn't come around looking for you is because they think you're dead."
"But the world has changed, Catarina. There was no Federation when we were on Earth, and if people like Captain Lightwood are anything to go by, perhaps there is a place for people like us, and there is no need for us to hide ourselves away in isolation. You know as well as I do that there is no future for our people here - we are just waiting for death in self-exile while the damned Klingons come around every week like stinging gnats," Magnus pointed out.
"And what do you propose? That we broker a deal with the Federation so that we can return to Earth?" Catarina asked.
"We wouldn't need a ship for that, just a working subspace transmitter," Magnus said quickly. "And we have an ally in Captain Lightwood, someone of reasonable standing in Starfleet who could vouch for us."
"I doubt that it's going to be that simple. But having a subspace transmitter in case of emergencies isn't a bad idea," Catarina agreed. "I'm going to bed. Don't stay up too late working on that transmitter of yours, which I know you've already started building," she said wryly, turning to leave, but paused at the door that led back into the shelter of the living quarters shared by the leaders of the augment colony. "Magnus? Please be careful."
"I promise I'm not going to blow anything up. Well, not on purpose."
Catarina shook her head. "Not with the transmitter, Magnus. With your heart. It's been four years, after all. He may not feel the same way that you do."
"I know," Magnus said, giving her a wan smile, and turned his face away to look up at the stars again.
Alec had barely moved into his new office, but his new desk was already flooded with piles of data slates that all needed his attention, both from the impending handover of the USS Archer to Lydia, and from his new role as Vice Admiral. Signing off on the inventory list he had been checking, Alec stretched out from his hunched position, making a mental note to request for a new chair as his back popped alarmingly. He reached for his coffee mug and frowned when he found it empty, and his stomach rumbled in protest - he'd probably missed lunch again.
There was a knock on the door. "Come in," he called out, pressing a button on the desk that unlocked the door.
"Lunch?" Izzy asked cheerfully, holding up a takeaway container as she came in.
"Yes, please," Alec said in relief, and was wolfing down the food even before she had settled properly into the seat opposite him.
"Are you ready for Lydia to take over the Archer tomorrow?" Izzy asked.
"Almost," Alec said through a mouthful of pasta, thankful that the food gave him an excuse not to look Izzy in the eye.
"Is that why you were looking for me? Is there something you need my help with?" Izzy asked as she came over to Alec's side of the table and picked up one of the data slates.
"Yes, but not with these," he said, gesturing that she should take his seat.
Alec woke his computer with a tap and plugged in the encrypted flash drive. "This is classified information, but I've convinced Admiral Penhallow that you'll be a valuable asset in our investigation."
Izzy frowned as she read through the files quickly. "So we definitely don't have any Vulcan ancestry, but I could have told you that from our blood work." She shot him a sharp look. "I told you Morgenstern was just trying to get under your skin."
Alec nodded sheepishly. "But at least now we know why Mom never talked about being Ambassador to Vulcan - because that was just a cover, and she was really an intelligence agent placed to spy on the Vulcans."
"Isn't spying on other member planets of the Federation against the constitution?" Izzy muttered.
"Given the catastrophic potential, the Vulcan Science Academy's experiments on the decalithium isotope weren't exactly within constitution regulations either. Section 31 was sanctioned by the original Starfleet charter to carry out extreme measures in the face of extraordinary threat," Alec said.
"I can understand blowing the whistle on the experiments, but not stealing the research to continue it on our own," Izzy said, shaking her head in obvious disapproval. She didn't say anything for a while after that, concentrating on reading.
Alec had tried his best to understand the files as well, but he wasn't an astrophysicist or engineer like their parents had been. As far as he could tell, the isotope could be used to create a substance called 'red matter', which became more volatile when exposed to heat and pressure, enough that just a single drop could create a black hole large enough to swallow entire planets.
"I'm a medical doctor, big brother. Why would I be of any help understanding this?" Izzy asked.
"Look at this," Alec said, pulling up a file.
"It looks like they were trying to calculate how much pressure the human body can withstand. So they were thinking of using red matter to create a controlled singularity similar to that of a black hole, and send someone through the micro-wormhole that formed?" Izzy asked, catching on.
Alec nodded. "You know the theory. They could potentially travel back or forth in space and time."
"But nobody could survive that amount of pressure, and even if they could, it's a one-way trip," Izzy said.
Alec shrugged. "I don't know. The rest of the data is gone - stolen or erased. Although I'm starting to think that the car that our parents and Max were in didn't exactly go off the side of a cliff because of bad weather and an engine malfunction."
"You think Valentine Morgenstern murdered them for this?" Izzy snarled, her eyes flashing with rage. "If he weren't already dead, I'd bring him back to life just to kill him again."
"Well, I hope he's dead - and not lurking somewhere in the future, or changing the past as we speak," Alec said.
"I'll take a look at these calculations and see how feasible they are," Izzy huffed, then cocked her head. "The project was code named Raziel."
"Yes, I looked it up - it's the name of an angel. But it doesn't really give us any answers, because it just means 'the secrets of God'," Alec said.
Izzy snorted. "A very apt name then."
Both their communicators went off at the same time, the shrill alarm of a red alert, and Alec's eyes widened when he saw the message. Starfleet had just received a distress call requesting aid for the Klingon Empire, but not sent by the Klingons. It was from an unknown sender, and the communications officer on duty had traced the originator of the signal to the coordinates of what should have been the Mutara Nebula.
"Genesis Planet," Izzy murmured.
Alec pocketed the flash drive and both of them were on their feet and out of his office within seconds, the rest of Alec's lunch forgotten on the table.
The Starfleet spacedock was buzzing with a sort of organised chaos - everyone was in motion, but they all knew where they were supposed to go and what they were supposed to be doing to get the outgoing ships ready for launch. Most of Starfleet's primary fleet were currently engaged in the Laurentian system, and as one of the few versatile Excelsior-class ships currently on stand-by for rescue and emergencies, the USS Archer was a shoo-in for the mission. Alec was thankful that he didn't need to explain how desperately he needed to be part of the first-response team, and in fact, with his impending promotion, he'd been put in charge of the whole mission.
Izzy got off the elevator at the infirmary, and Alec made his way up to the ship's bridge alone. Everyone was already at their stations, even Jace, and the mood was tense - none of the usual bickering between Jace and Simon, or small talk amongst the crew while they waited for launch. Simon had been demoted and suspended for a year before being allowed to return as helmsman for the Archer, only narrowly avoiding being dismissed from Starfleet because Alec had provided a character reference for him since Clary had lied to him too, but most of the rest of the crew had served with Alec for the full six years that he had been captain. They had been present when Alec had faced off Valentine Morgenstern, and they knew how much the events at Genesis Planet had affected their usually stoic captain. The only relatively new face onboard was Lieutenant Commander Andrew Underhill, and even he had served as their communications officer for four years, after the whole fiasco with Clary.
"All decks report ready for immediate departure, Captain," Raphael announced.
Alec sat down on the command chair. This was potentially the last time he would ever sit in this chair, but he hardly registered the significance of it. "Set course for Qu'vat, maximum warp, and punch it," he told Simon tersely.
As the USS Archer flashed into warp space with the rest of the ships, Alec shifted in his chair, aware that he probably owed his crew an explanation. He tapped on his console to activate shipwide intraship communications, taking a moment to order his thoughts.
"This is your captain speaking. At fifteen-oh-eight hours GMT, the Federation received a distress signal from an unknown sender in the Mutara Nebula, requesting urgent aid for the Klingon Empire." Alec paused. "Most of you have served with me since I became captain of the USS Archer, and every day I am humbled and honoured that you have put your trust in my command. You know that the Mutara Nebula no longer exists - that the distress signal was likely sent by the augment colony we left on Genesis Planet."
Underhill whipped around in surprise to look at Alec, and out of the corner of his eye, Alec saw Jace bristle next to him, as if daring Underhill to say something about it.
"I believe the augment colony would not have sent a distress signal if they didn't think it was necessary, but although we are technically not at war with Klingon, the Empire has no reason to expect assistance from the Federation. We have no idea what to expect on the other side," Alec continued. "All Federation ships are going in with full shields up and weapons on stand-by, ours included. I know that everyone on this ship will continue to carry out their duties admirably, and I want you to know that I will do my best by you as well. Thank you for your attention."
Jace waited until Alec had cut the transmission before asking, "But who'd be attacking the Klingons - and come out winning? They aren't exactly pushovers."
Alec shrugged. "As far as I know, before they started fighting with Magnus' people, the Klingons had been at war with the Romulan Star Empire for decades. But there're also known tensions with the Ferengi, the Cardassians, and the Federation of course."
"Basically everybody, then. Great," Jace said.
Alec ignored his brother, chewing on his lip contemplatively. Magnus would not knowingly lure them into a trap, but Alec wasn't sure if a 400-year-old man missing most of his memories might not overestimate the Federation's capabilities, especially when all the augment colony had at their disposal was a little shuttle craft and some basic monitoring equipment, which was all Alec had been able to spare from the Archer without raising suspicion. They wouldn't have been able to see anything from within the atmosphere of Genesis, or possibly they had seen some of it if it was currently night time on Genesis. But what had they seen that had convinced Magnus to risk exposing his people's existence for the sake of helping the Klingons?
"Sir, our long-range sensors are detecting massive electromagnetic radiation ahead of us, in the vicinity of Qu'vat. If we keep our course, we may run straight into whatever is causing it," Raphael suddenly said, snapping Alec out of his reverie.
"Emergency stop," Alec immediately declared, and Simon scrambled to pull them out of the warp bubble.
A total of five Federation ships had been sent out on mission, and the other four followed the USS Archer's lead and dropped out of warp almost simultaneously into the dark, empty space a safe distance from Qu'vat, the new Klingon homeworld that had replaced Qo'nos as the heart of the Klingon Empire. A few channels of communication opened all at once, all the captains of the ships trying to reach Alec to coordinate their next course of action.
"Mr Santiago, any sign of what caused that radiation?" Alec asked.
Raphael shook his head. "The levels of radiation appear to be spiking and receding in an irregular pattern, sir. Also, according to our sensors, Qu'vat has disappeared."
"What the fuck does that mean? How can a planet just disappear?" Jace demanded.
"Tactical display on screen, Mr Santiago. Mr Underhill, scan Klingon space for any transmissions in any language," Alec ordered.
Silence filled the bridge, everybody's eyes glued to the screen. Klingon cloaking technology was unparalleled, part of what made their warships so formidable, but even they couldn't hide the entire empire from view, and as everyone watched in horror, the planetary bodies on the screen, all part of Klingon territory, began to wink out one by one.
"Captain, there's a lot of interference in the subspace frequency but there is one clear transmission, in English," Underhill reported. "It's from the same sender that contacted us previously, but the message is different: 'It's too late. Turn back.'"
"Mr Santiago, is Genesis Planet still there?" Alec asked, voice tight.
"Genesis Planet is currently out of range, sir."
"Lieutenant Commander Lightwood-Roberts, please report to the bridge," Alec barked into the ship's internal comms, then to Simon he said, "Mr Lewis, change course and take us to Genesis Planet. Now!"
The USS Archer flashed into warp space, followed closely by the other Federation ships. If there was something out there that was powerful enough to take out the entire Klingon Empire, Genesis Planet was definitely in danger. They were still a distance away from Genesis, and every second that passed could be the difference between destruction and salvation for Magnus and his people. Alec tightened his grip on the arm rests of the command chair.
"Arrival at Genesis in five seconds," Simon announced. "Four, three, two..."
They dropped out of warp with the little blue planet in view, and had barely had a chance to get their bearings when a torpedo struck them head-on. The ship trembled under the onslaught, saved only by the fact that they had shields up at full power. As it was, the artificial gravity on the ship was distorted for a few seconds, and anybody who wasn't seated or holding onto something stumbled. Simon swerved the ship away sharply on instinct, and they felt the impact of a second torpedo glancing the hull of the ship even though the enemy remained out of view. The other four Federation ships had also dropped out of warp, and immediately came under heavy fire.
"Shields at 60 percent. Torpedo appears to be typical of Klingon make," Raphael reported.
"Fucking ungrateful bastards! We came all the way out here to save their asses and they're attacking us?" Jace fumed.
"They may not know that we're here to help. Tell all the other ships to hold fire, keep to evasive manoeuvres, and direct all power to shields. Mr Underhill, attempt to hail the Klingon vessels," Alec instructed.
Maia entered the bridge, her expression impassive, and it was only because Alec knew his sister-in-law so well that he could see the tension in her shoulders. Maia had a complicated relationship with her half-Klingon heritage, but even so the possibility that the entire Klingon race had just been decimated could not have been easy news to bear. Underhill was a competent communications officer, but Alec had learnt his lesson with Clary, and anyway he had a feeling that the situation called for a native Klingon speaker. He indicated that Maia should take over the communications station from Underhill, and she announced their intentions clearly into the transmitter, the harsh sounds of the language at odds with their message of peace.
It was a shot in the dark, and Alec was prepared for the Klingons to ignore them, but to his surprise and relief, one of the ships answered his hailing, and the Klingons stopped firing. With a greenish flicker, a hulking Klingon cleave ship rippled out of its cloaking defenses and appeared in front of them; the heavily armoured warship was three times the size of the USS Archer, with a menacing ramming blade running along the full length of its underside, but impressive as the ship was, Alec could tell that it was significantly damaged. At the same time, the imposing figure of a battle-scarred Klingon warrior coalesced on the forward monitor of the Archer, the ceremonial gold sash and medals he was wearing indicating that he was someone of high rank.
The captain of the Klingon vessel didn't waste any time on pleasantries. "Has the Federation come to ensure the demise of the Klingon Empire?" he snarled, the ship's computer providing a translation that Alec was sure had been heavily sanitised.
Without a word, Maia came to stand next to Alec, and Jace got up to offer her his seat. This put her face in clearer view of the Klingon captain, and although Maia was only half-Klingon, her Klingon heritage was clear in the prominent ridges on her forehead. It was a gamble - half-Klingons were usually looked down on, seen as too "soft" - but Alec hoped that at least it would distract the Klingons from firing at them again, and it definitely seemed to be working.
"I am Captain Alec Lightwood of the USS Archer. We have only just arrived in Klingon space, and I promise you on my honour that whoever attacked the Klingon Empire is not affiliated with the Federation - we are only here to help."
"How did you know to come?" the Klingon captain growled.
Alec was tempted to lie, but opted for a half-truth instead. "Our sensors detected an unusual electromagnetic radiation reading," he said.
"meQtaHbogh qachDaq Suv qoH neH - only a fool fights in a burning house," the Klingon captain finally said grudgingly, surprising Alec again by switching to heavily-accented Federation-standard English. "You may address me as Admiral Lucian."
Alec inclined his head in acknowledgement, relieved that he had been deemed trustworthy enough - for now. "Could you tell us more about what happened?"
"The Empire was attacked by hundreds of tiny ships, of a type we had never seen before. Our shields were useless against their beams, and they thought nothing of diving into our ships, sacrificing themselves to destroy us. But they were just a distraction," the Klingon Admiral said, and battle-hardened as he was, he couldn't quite keep the grief out of his voice. "While our ships were fighting them, something appeared on Qu'vat in a red burst, and before we knew it, we saw our home swallowed by a black hole that had formed in the core of the planet."
"You're sure they were not Romulan ships, or anything belonging to a known planetary civilisation?" Alec asked.
"As if the Romulans were capable of such undying loyalty to their empress," Admiral Lucian spat. "No, they were not Romulans. But I know that they must have something to do with that little blue planet that appeared out of nowhere."
"Why would you say that?" Alec asked as evenly as he could.
"Those energy beams that the ships used were similar to what the people of the blue planet use to repel us," Admiral Lucian replied, narrowing his eyes at Alec. "You are familiar with this planet. You seek to protect them."
"Starfleet has always been a force for peace-keeping and humanitarian aid. We've had contact with them several years before, enough to know that they would not be capable of launching such an attack on Klingon, and that they are not in league with those who did. They are the only ones of their kind in the galaxy," Alec said. "Perhaps we could conference further at a neutral location-"
"Sir, we are receiving another transmission from Genesis Planet - an invitation to land," Underhill interrupted. From the expression on Admiral Lucian's face and what little Alec could overhear from the Klingon side of the screen, they had received a similar message from Genesis.
Admiral Lucian turned to shout out a command at someone Alec couldn't see on the screen, a word Alec recognised as "uncloak". A moment later, Alec saw movement behind the projection of the Klingon Admiral on his screen - a full task force of at least a dozen Klingon warships materialising, battered but still formidable. The Klingon homeworld might have been destroyed, but the Klingon Empire was still a force to be reckoned with.
When the Klingon Admiral turned back to face Alec, his expression was unreadable. "It appears we have found our conference location, Captain Lightwood."
Alec, Jace, Maia, Underhill, and a couple of security officers left the USS Archer in a shuttle, leaving the five Federation ships in a stand-off with what Raphael reported to be twenty Klingon vessels, all of them hovering around Genesis Planet like a minefield waiting for just one wrong move to set everything off. The Federation ships were quicker than the Klingon ships, and Alec had left Raphael in charge with instructions to lead the five ships to safety and abandon his small landing party if it came down to it, but he knew too much of the situation was hinging on the Klingons keeping their word.
"This is not going to end well," Jace muttered as the Federation shuttle entered the atmosphere of Genesis Planet.
"The Klingon Admiral accepted our call for cease-fire. Magnus extended an olive branch inviting us to land, so he must be willing to end hostilities with the Klingons as well," Alec pointed out.
"Then that makes both of you crazy people," Jace said. "Since when do we talk it out with the Klingons?"
"Since now. If we keep doing things the same way, then we spend the rest of our lives fighting the same battles," Alec said absently, his eyes fixed on the sensors that told them that the Klingon shuttlecraft had just entered the atmosphere as well.
It was night time on Genesis Planet, and Alec frowned as the shuttle's lights illuminated the terrain of the planet. When he had visited Genesis Planet at its creation four years ago, most of the land had been covered with swaths of tropical jungle and thick vegetation, such that it had been almost impossible to find space to land, but a lot of that was gone now. He saw snow on the mountains and on the ground, and in place of the jungle all he saw was frostbitten dead wood. With a sinking feeling, he realised the reason for the dramatic change in the climate and ecosystem - Genesis was colder than Earth, being further from the system's star, and many of the plants had not been able to survive. With no animals or insects, the entire ecosystem had been thrown out of whack. There was a source of light in the distance, a beacon to direct them, but as they drew nearer, Alec saw no buildings, no other lights, and no other signs of civilisation or life.
The Klingon shuttle came out of the gloom, flying at an angle towards the beacon, and both shuttles landed almost simultaneously, a safe distance from each other, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Alec's crew emerged cautiously, wrinkling their noses at an overpowering smell of rotting things. The ground beneath their feet was no better than half-frozen, waterlogged dead vegetation, and was covered with fungi in a distressingly bright shade of green. In a moment, the Klingon Admiral emerged from his shuttle as well, flanked by several of his own warriors. Both sides were eyeing each other warily and primed to reach for their weapons if it came down to a fight; then there was movement in the darkness. A humanoid figure was walking towards them, and even before he stepped into the light, Alec found that even after four years he would recognise him anywhere.
"Welcome to Genesis Planet," Magnus said.
With his enhanced sense of sight, Magnus saw their shuttle crafts swooping through the night sky long before they even noticed he was there. Despite all that they had gone through in the four years struggling to sustain the augment colony on a planet that was rapidly withering under a constant winter, the darkness of Genesis was familiar and friendly, and hid Magnus from the eyes of their visitors, affording him the opportunity to observe them.
The handsome Starfleet captain was the first man out of the Starfleet shuttle, followed closely by a contingent that was predominantly human and male. The group from Klingon, on the other hand, was a more even mix of male and female, which came as no real surprise - Magnus had noticed that the fiercest Klingon warriors tended to be female. Magnus was pleased to see that the leaders from both sides appeared to have their teams well in hand, and had exchanged curt nods in greeting, so they were both trying to be cordial, if still very much on guard.
It was strange to finally be looking upon the face that came to Magnus in hazy memories about broken glass and screaming, as well as dreams of soft lips on his skin and gentle hands on his body. Captain Lightwood looked more care-worn than Magnus remembered, and didn't look like he'd been sleeping well. As he watched, the captain turned and happened to face Magnus squarely, and Magnus was hit by a sudden barrage of images - of a dark, noisy bar, of a sweet drink and the slight burn of alcohol, of pushing Alec against a door and kissing him breathless.
Magnus, if this isn't something you want...
Oh, I assure you that there's no way you can make me do something that I don't want to.
When Magnus came back to himself, he was clutching his head, fingers digging into his scalp, and breathing as hard as he had been in the memory, but for less pleasant reasons. Magnus closed his eyes and counted to ten, willing his racing heart to slow down. Reminding himself that this was a delicate diplomatic situation, and that he couldn't afford to be distracted by Alec Lightwood, Magnus turned to address the Klingon leader first when he stepped out into the light.
"Admiral Lucian," he greeted him.
"I am afraid you have the advantage. I do not know your name," the Klingon Admiral replied warily.
"I'm Magnus, one of the leaders of my community. Thank you for agreeing to meet," Magnus replied, and turned to the group from Starfleet. The Starfleet captain's expression was neutral, almost aloof, and only the way he'd squared his shoulders gave away how on edge he was. "It's good to see you again, Captain Lightwood," Magnus said, trying not to let his disappointment show.
The Starfleet captain swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing. "It's good to see you, too."
Admiral Lucian frowned as he looked between the two of them. "Why did you ask to meet us here? There is nothing," he finally said to Magnus, gesturing around them.
"My council is awaiting your arrival. But I suggest that you leave all your weapons behind in your shuttles if you want them to remain intact," Magnus replied.
"You want us to just go in unarmed? What if we refuse?" the blond Starfleet first officer asked.
"Both Starfleet and the Klingon Empire should be aware that my people are perfectly capable of defending ourselves if the need arises, but there are children amongst us, and I'd rather it not come to that," Magnus said with a thin smile. "But if you insist on bringing your weapons, don't say I didn't warn you."
He turned away from them, pretending that it didn't bother him to leave his back facing them, and led the way through a section of dying forest to the edge of the augment colony's settlement. When his guests finally caught up, he noticed that all of them were no longer holding their more obvious weapons, although the Starfleet first officer still had a knife concealed in his boot. Magnus couldn't resist winking at Captain Lightwood before taking a step backwards through the defensive force field that hid the augment colony from unfriendly eyes.
Magnus saw Captain Lightwood's eyes widen with shock, as it must have looked as if Magnus had disappeared into thin air. The Starfleet captain was the first one through the force field, ignoring his first officer's hissed warning and following Magnus without hesitation. There was a sharp pop as the first officer came through after his captain and he yelped, frantically trying to get rid of the knife in his boot. By the time he managed to get it out and drop it on the ground, it was burning white-hot and sizzling gently on the half-frozen ground. He glared at Magnus, who simply smiled at him beatifically.
"He did warn you," Captain Lightwood said in amusement.
"Damnit, Alec, whose side are you on?" his first officer groused.
The Klingon group stepped through just in time to catch this exchange. The Admiral did not seem pleased, undoubtedly suspecting that there was more to the relationship between Starfleet and Magnus' people than met the eye, and that they would both turn on him.
"We have much to talk about, and I suspect that the invaders will return. Let's keep moving," Magnus suggested, walking briskly down the dirt path.
Magnus had chosen the entrance to the augment village furthest from the residential area, where everyone was supposed to be asleep, but probably weren't, because they knew of the visitors. The sturdy wooden houses his people had built were small but fully equipped with all the creature comforts they could scrounge up with the limited resources available to them - running water, electricity for lights and heating, and things like blankets and bedding from the replicator. Their clothes were also produced by the replicator, wearable but unfortunately all based on the template for Starfleet uniforms.
A large portion of the land covered by the force field was actually used for growing crops - salvaging and replanting whatever they could from the cold outside the protection of the force field, then painstakingly hand-pollinating, weeding, harvesting, and maintaining the crops. Lamps had been set up to provide warmth and artificial light so the plants could photosynthesise, and so the village was never completely dark, but it was the rampant fungi growth that was the real challenge, constantly ruining the crops. Ragnor was in the midst of developing some serums that would genetically modify the plants and make them more resistant to fungal infection, but it would take some time yet. The solar panels from the Starfleet-issue modular shelters had been removed to contribute to the complicated system that generated power for the whole settlement, but the structures themselves were designated as administrative and research buildings, especially since Ragnor, Magnus, and their team of scientists and engineers tended to work with things that were volatile or couldn't be exposed to the elements.
Catarina and the other leaders of the colony were waiting for them in one of the shelters. Each was in charge of a specific aspect of the augment settlement: Magnus was in charge of their defence and weaponry, Dot oversaw their surveillance systems, Lorenzo was responsible for civilian infrastructure, Ragnor was in charge of food production (and thus wasn't present, because he wasn't needed here), and Catarina oversaw their people's general health and well-being. Catarina rose to greet their guests warmly, and Magnus was thankful for her talent for putting everyone at ease, even the Klingons. Still, their guests were visibly distracted by all the screens on the walls, which clearly showed every ship and planetary body not just in the vicinity of Genesis Planet, but in the entire Qo'noS System.
The only one who had only glanced briefly at the screens was Admiral Lucian, who was quietly observing everyone else's interactions. It was the look of a seasoned warrior sizing up the alliances and weaknesses of his opponents, but there was something more, an edginess and restlessness to him. It took Magnus a while to realise that it was fear - fear that the Klingon Admiral was very good at hiding, but fear nonetheless. Magnus certainly didn't think less of the Admiral, since he had just watched his homeworld be destroyed and his entire species be nearly exterminated; if anything, Magnus found that it made the Admiral more human, for want of a better word.
"Does time pass differently on this planet or something? I could have sworn we were gone for four years, not forty," the Starfleet first officer muttered as he looked around at the surveillance monitors in astonishment. "This looks even more sophisticated than what we have. How did they come up with something like this out of the stuff we-" His captain promptly elbowed him in the ribs to shut him up.
"This technology, as well as the defensive force field surrounding the area, looks very similar to Klingon stealth technology," the part-Klingon Starfleet officer remarked.
"That's because part of it is built from Klingon technology. The Empire presented us a welcome gift of a squadron of their ships when we moved into the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, we had to crash land them first," Lorenzo said snidely.
Catarina shot him a chastising look, and Magnus quickly added, "But that's all in the past now. Perhaps introductions are in order. We should at least know who we are working with."
"You knew my name even before the introductions were made. How long have you been watching the Empire?" Admiral Lucian suddenly demanded. "Captain Lightwood said that he had contact with you several years ago, but it is more than that, isn't it? You live in Starfleet buildings and wear clothes cut from the same cloth. Do you also owe your loyalty to Starfleet?"
"Trust me, Admiral Lucian, the people of Genesis Planet owe no loyalty to Starfleet," Lorenzo said, sneering at the Starfleet contingent.
"You ask for trust, but give none in return," Admiral Lucian observed.
"For the last four years, your ships have been invading our air space, attacking us with no provocation," Lorenzo snarled. "Can you really blame us?"
"No provocation? A planet that appeared in the outermost borders of Klingon space, suspected to be created by the Federation to spy on the Klingon Empire, inhabited by beings capable of decimating an entire squadron of ships?" Admiral Lucian countered.
"Gentlemen, please. We all have some way to go before we can earn each other's trust, but right now we have a common enemy, possibly a threat to all sentient beings this side of the galaxy," Catarina interrupted, and nodded at Dot.
Dot stood up, waiting for Catarina to finish facilitating the brief introductions all around the room before tapping on a screen. "We have visual and subspace audio surveillance covering a large portion of the Beta Quadrant. At fifteen-oh-three hours Earth time, a massive surge in electromagnetic radiation was detected in this sector," she pointed to an area right at the boundary of the Beta Quadrant, "followed by the formation of a wormhole and the appearance of an enormous fleet of tiny fighter ships numbering in the thousands. We sent out a distress call to Starfleet once we determined that they were heading towards the Klingon Empire."
Admiral Lucian frowned. "So that is how you knew my name. You were listening in on my conversation with Captain Lightwood."
An awkward silence followed his accusation, but before Dot could respond, Captain Lightwood cut in with, "Did you say there was a wormhole? Could you identify what caused the electromagnetic radiation?"
"As far as we can tell, it was caused by some sort of lithium isotope," Dot answered, obviously relieved by the interruption. "Perhaps trilithium, or-"
"Decalithium?" Captain Lightwood suggested.
"Theoretically such a material might exist, but it would be highly unstable..." Dot began, but Magnus had stopped listening.
Decalithium. Where had he heard that before?
"Magnus, are you ok?" Catarina asked, noticing that he was rubbing his temples.
"Captain Lightwood is right - it's a derivative of decalithium, also known as red matter," Magnus said, wincing. "I was forced to work with it at some point, but I don’t remember anything more."
"Is this an admission that you had a hand in the destruction of our homeworld?" Admiral Lucian growled, standing up from his seat so suddenly that it fell backwards and hit the floor, and the entire Klingon contingent stood up as well, teeth bared and arms flexing.
"Magnus, I think you should go and rest. I'll explain everything," Catarina said firmly. To the Admiral, she said, "If I may, Admiral, our people have a way of speaking through the mind, in which we cannot lie..."
Magnus left her to it and staggered off to a random room inside the shelter. He didn't bother turning on the lights, sitting down on the first thing he accidentally bumped into. Closing his eyes, he grasped at the elusive threads of the memory, hoping to remember more about the red matter and the mysterious army of ships that had emerged from the wormhole, but all he got for his efforts was a splitting headache. After a while, there was a knock on the door.
"Come in," he called, expecting Catarina or Dot, but it was Alec Lightwood who opened the door.
"Admiral Lucian has agreed to hear us out. Unfortunately, all the enemy ships that didn't manage to escape self-destructed, so we can't examine them more closely. But if the wormhole was created by red matter, unless someone else has been doing similar research, I think we can assume that this has something to do with Valentine Morgenstern," Captain Lightwood said, then hesitated. "Catarina thinks I should help you remember."
"But you don't want to?"
"It's not going to be pretty."
"No, I don't expect it will be, but that's ok." Magnus beckoned him a little closer. "It won't be like a mind meld, I'll only be able to see what you wish to show me, what you think is important for me to know. But bear in mind that something that seems innocuous to you may trigger some other memory in me."
The Starfleet captain sat down next to him, as far away from Magnus as he could manage. Magnus belated realised that he had stumbled into the spare bedroom used by whoever was on guard duty, and that they were both sitting on the bed, making the situation more intimate than he'd intended.
Magnus held out a hand. "Whenever you're ready, Captain Lightwood."
Alec Lightwood put his hand in his, and a flood of images filled Magnus' head. Alec had taken his request to heart, and was holding nothing back - or perhaps he had just been holding it all in for so long that he couldn't do it anymore. It was too much all at once, Alec's emotions, memories, and the information that he has gleaned in his investigation into Terra Prime presented in cold clinical reports but triggering a chain reaction of frightening memories and sensations.
"Magnus! Magnus! Fuck, I'm going to get Catarina, just hang on-"
Magnus clutched Alec's hand a little tighter, wiping his bleeding nose with the back of his hand. "No, Alexander. I'm ok," he said through gritted teeth, his head hurting too much for him to do much more than that.
Alec helped him lean back against some pillows with his head tilted forward, and Magnus pinched his nose bridge until the bleeding stopped.
"Are you sure you don't want me to get Catarina?" Alec asked worriedly.
Magnus shook his head. "It was just a lot. I'm ok."
"So... do you remember everything now?" Alec asked.
"I have the memories, but they don't feel like mine," Magnus said carefully. "I suppose I could see why I did what I did, and given the same circumstances I'm not sure I would have done differently. But I'm not quite the same man you grieve for."
"I know that," Alec said, pulling away, and Magnus felt a little pang in his heart. Catarina was wrong - the problem wasn't that Alec had moved on after four years, but that he hadn't moved on.
"I'm sorry, Alexander."
"It's not your fault," Alec replied quickly, then cleared his throat. "What about the red matter? And the alien ships? Do you remember anything about those?"
"Yes. I'm afraid I worked on two things involving red matter - containment capsules loaded with a single drop of red matter in dampening fluid, and the red angel suit."
"Angel? You don't mean a time-travelling suit?" Alec asked in horror.
Magnus looked at him in surprise. "How did you know about that? Morgenstern kept it a secret even from his own closest circle."
"It was something my parents were working on. Valentine Morgenstern stole it from them."
Magnus nodded in understanding. "Your parents were incredibly gifted. The theory was sound, but it was very experimental. The red angel suit was intended for time-travel, but I wasn't going to make something like that for Morgenstern, no matter what he did to me. I convinced him that it lacked some key component, but was forced to make something out of it still. In the end I compromised by making a suit that could allow him to traverse light years through space instantaneously without the need for a starship, but planted a flaw in the design - on initial impact the suit would blast the traveller through a wormhole to somewhere tens of thousands of light years away."
"But he came back. That red burst that was seen on the surface of Qu'vat was Morgenstern in the red angel suit, wasn't it?"
"I snapped Valentine Morgenstern's neck myself, when I was beamed onto his ship with the Genesis Device," Magnus admitted. "But Morgenstern was paranoid about it being stolen, so the suit was keyed to allow access by only two people - Valentine, and his son Jonathan."
"Jonathan must have taken some of the red matter capsules and used the suit to escape from the nebula before the Genesis Device detonated - but he's not working alone," Alec said, frowning. "Somehow he's found an ally in wherever he was blasted to, beings who helped him weaponise the red matter, and he's brought them back with him."
"Red matter is inherently unstable, so the wormholes will only stay open for a short time, and there wasn't much of the red matter to start with," Magnus said. "Once Jonathan's exhausted his supply, these invaders will be stuck in whatever distant quadrant they originate from - which means that every move he makes is a calculated one."
"He must have expected the Klingon Empire to lash out when they were attacked - but at whom?" Alec asked. "Admiral Lucian dismissed the Romulans almost immediately, and the Federation would never attack Klingon without a formal declaration-"
"Oh, no," Magnus breathed as the pieces clicked into place. "He knew that Genesis Device was meant to create a planet for my people, and he knew that even if Starfleet wanted me dead, you were on our side. He wanted the Klingons to come after us, and he was counting on my people somehow reaching out to you for help. It's a trap."
There was a knock on the door, and Dot came in without waiting for their response. "Another wormhole just opened," she told them. "They are coming."
By the time Alec and Magnus rejoined the rest of them, the Klingons had already left for their own ship, having requested that their ship beam them up directly from outside the protective force field.
"We have to hurry, the invaders are almost upon us," Maia said.
Alec nodded, and said into his communicator, "Mr Santiago, we need you to beam us up. Mr Santiago?" Alec frowned. "He's not responding."
"Raphael, this isn't the time to develop a sense of humour!" Jace barked into his own communicator, but there was no response from the crew on the Archer. Alec tried hailing the captains of the other four starships next, but all he got was static.
"Maybe the attackers have jammed the subspace frequency. We'll just have to use the shuttle," Maia said tightly.
"I'm going to take the K'normian shuttle to patrol the area. I'm sure Jonathan will make an appearance soon enough," Magnus said grimly. "Take care, Alexander."
"You too," Alec replied as they went off in separate directions.
"Oh, so it's 'Alexander' now, huh?" Jace remarked.
"Shut up, Jace," Alec muttered.
Magnus had tried to let him down gently, but hadn't he basically said that Alec shouldn't have any expectations of him, because he didn't feel the same way as the Magnus who had died when the Genesis Device had gone off? Alec felt like a prize idiot for hoping that somehow when Magnus regained his memories, he would be interested in picking up the connection that had just begun to form between them. He should really have learnt not to let his heart override his head by now; but he had no time to dwell on it - he had to get back to his ship.
The four of them piled into the shuttle and Alec deftly worked the controls, taking the craft into the air and towards the sky, pushing the engine of the small craft as quickly as it could go. Even from within Genesis's atmosphere, they could see the battle starting, the starships of both friend and foe alike zooming rapidly across the darkness like a meteor shower gone awry. Alec began to think that joining the fray in the shuttle would be a very bad idea - the shuttle was intended for travelling between orbit and the ground, and didn't have robust defence or offensive capabilities. They were still a distance away from the planet's atmosphere when there was a clear burst of red light in the distance, on the surface of Genesis.
Alec hesitated for only a split second. He swerved it around alarmingly while it was still going at full speed, in pursuit of the flash of red light.
"Alec, what are you doing?" Jace hissed.
"Captain, may I remind you that the USS Archer, with your sister and my wife on board, is out there?" Maia said pointedly.
"No need to remind me, Lieutenant Commander. I am aware of it," Alec replied, eyes fixed on his target.
Up close, Alec understood why the suit had been named the red angel - there were streaks of glowing red radiating out from behind the mechanised suit, like two wings. The figure was crouched down and was placing something into the ground, and looked up when he saw the approaching Starfleet shuttle craft. He waved sardonically at them, and Alec realised that they had no way of stopping Jonathan Morgenstern from activating the suit and escaping, but just then, another shuttle craft swooped out from the gloom from the other direction, uncloaking like a Klingon warship before shooting something at the red angel. The missile burst open and fell around the figure like a blue net - some sort of force field - and the suit fizzled out and went dark.
"What the fuck? Your boyfriend turned the K'normian shuttle into a Klingon ship," Jace commented as their shuttle landed.
But before they could all scramble out of the ship, the ground shuddered with a shock wave as whatever Jonathan had sent into the planet detonated somewhere deep within the core of the planet. Meanwhile, Magnus had managed to knock Jonathan Morgenstern out, and was dragging him behind him like a rag doll, angel suit and all.
"Magnus, how do we stop the red matter from destroying Genesis?" Alec asked.
"We can't. Once initiated, the reaction can't be stopped, and the singularity will pull in everything in its orbit. We have to evacuate the planet," Magnus said, the hard lines of fury on his face transforming him briefly into the ghost of the man he had been in another lifetime.
There was no time for discussion - everything else would have to wait. They hauled their unconscious prisoner onto the shuttle and raced back to the augment village, where everyone was already gathered in the open space in the middle, so used to a lifetime of being pursued by enemies that evacuating from yet another home that had come under threat was a common occurrence, to be expected. Lorenzo had managed to commandeer the Klingon shuttle that had been left behind, and Dot and Catarina were herding their people onboard. In the distance, even in the darkness they could see mountains crumbling as violent earthquakes wrecked the planet, and Genesis began to fold inward upon itself.
The group from Starfleet opened their doors to Magnus' people as well, and they barely managed to fit everyone before the alarms on the gravitational sensors started blaring. The overloaded shuttles took off clumsily, already suffering from the effects of the black hole forming inside the planet, and struggled to gain altitude.
Whipping out his communicator, Alec spoke into the open channel hailing all ships within range, "Captain Lightwood speaking, we need emergency tractor beams for two ships."
He had barely finished speaking before two blue beams focused on their shuttles and began to draw them upwards. Dark blue became violet, then pitch black, as their ships exited the atmosphere of the planet, and Alec noticed that all the tiny alien ships had already fled, no doubt to avoid the pull of the black hole that was forming in the heart of Genesis Planet. He was a little unsettled to realise that the tractor beams originated from the massive Klingon cleave ship. This was the closest he'd ever come to a Klingon ship, and Alec could admit that it was an impressive piece of construction - an entire ship weaponised, such that even the body of the ship could be used to slice an enemy ship in half.
But Magnus and his people weren't looking at the Klingon ship; they were watching Genesis Planet starting to crumple soundlessly - oceans, mountains, land masses, the frozen planet that had been their home for four years vanishing inwards. There were more than a dozen of Magnus' people onboard Alec's shuttle, including Catarina and her daughter, and it was their resignation that pained Alec more than if they had cried for the destruction of a planet that was truly theirs for once.
"Magnus, I'm sorry," Alec said.
"It's not your fault," Magnus said stonily. "I should have remembered. We'd have had patrols out watching for Jonathan sooner, and he wouldn't have had the chance to plant the red matter."
"Magnus, it's not your fault either," Catarina said, beating Alec to the punch, but Magnus didn't seem to have heard her.
"Where do we go now?" Madzie asked. She had been a very tiny little girl when Alec had seen her last, but she was not so little anymore. Platitudes wouldn't work on her.
Alec cleared his throat. "I thought you might want to return to Earth. After all, it is your homeworld."
"That's a good idea," Magnus agreed.
"No! Magnus, we discussed this," Catarina protested.
"It's for the best, Cat. I'm holding our people back," Magnus said. "I'm going to surrender myself to Starfleet."
"You don't have to do that, you're not a wanted man, not anymore," Alec told him. "Of course there might be some complications, since officially you're dead. But I made sure that the pardon was given on the basis of the things that were done to you before you died, so I'm reasonably sure that they can't overthrow the verdict even if you suddenly turn up alive."
Magnus shook his head in wonderment. "Why did you go to all that trouble?"
"Like you said, you're not the same man who did all those things. You deserved a clean slate," Alec said.
"Oh, Alexander," Magnus breathed. "You're really not like the rest of them, are you?"
Before Alec could try to ask Magnus what he meant by that, their crafts were drawn into a docking bay that was half full, and restrained until the airlock behind them had shut tight. For better or worse, there was no way out of the Klingon ship now. Alec heard a command shouted out in Klingon over the ship's internal comms, and then the massive cleave ship flashed into warp space, away from what was left of Genesis Planet.
The shuttle's ramp was deployed, and Alec found Magnus falling in step next to him as they made their way out of the open portal. Admiral Lucian was waiting for them at the bottom, flanked by a squadron of guards. For a moment, they stared at each other, unsure of the Admiral's intentions; then Admiral Lucian inclined his head solemnly.
"My condolences for the loss of your planet," he told Magnus.
Magnus acknowledged it with a curt nod. "I captured the man responsible for destroying our planets, mine and yours. If you don't mind, Admiral, I would like to borrow the use of your brig, or whatever you use to contain prisoners."
Admiral Lucian bared his teeth in a menacing grin. "It would be my pleasure."
The five Starfleet ships and most of the Klingon ships had scattered pell-mell from the destruction of Genesis Planet. While Maia and the Admiral's crew attempted to hail them and get them back into some semblance of organisation, Alec and Magnus were personally escorted to the prison on the ship by Admiral Lucian, where Jonathan Morgenstern had been extracted from the angel suit and strapped down to some sort of platform. There were bruises all over his face, not just from when Magnus had captured him, but he was still very much awake.
Jonathan smirked at Magnus when he saw him. "How the tables have turned. Is it your turn to make me scream?" he asked, spitting out a mouthful of blood.
Magnus ignored his jibe. "Is he refusing to talk?"
"He has plenty to say, none of it useful to us," Admiral Lucian replied.
Just then, Jace and Maia entered the room, ignoring the shouted protests from a couple of Klingon guards. Maia quickly apologised to Admiral Lucian in Klingon, then turned to address Alec. "Captain, the Archer has been compromised. The other four ships have come in, but our long-range sensors show the Archer heading back to the Alpha Quadrant surrounded by a hundred of those tiny alien ships, and they're not responding to our hailing."
"Destroying Genesis was a distraction," Magnus said grimly. "Who are you working with? Why have you taken over the USS Archer, and what do you stand to gain from attacking the Klingon Empire and Genesis Planet?"
"So many questions," Jonathan said with a slightly maniacal laugh. "Well, I have a concussion. I'm afraid the information you're looking for has completely and permanently fled my mind."
"You-" Maia growled and both she and Jace started forward with their fists balled up. It was only the knowledge that beating Jonathan up wouldn't make him talk that gave Alec the incentive to hold his sister-in-law and brother back.
"He is stalling for time. Desperate times call for desperate measures," Admiral Lucian said. He said something to a guard, and the guard hurried away to retrieve a sealed box and a pair of metal tongs. "This is your last chance, Jonathan Morgenstern."
Jonathan bared his bloodied teeth at them and remained silent.
Admiral Lucian inserted the metal tongs into the container and probed inside briefly before withdrawing them carefully. There was an alien arthropod clasped at the end, about an inch long, with snapping mandibles extending from its head while its carapaced body squirmed futilely in an attempt to escape.
"What the fuck is that?" Jace said, backing away in horror.
"It is a lifeform native to the deserts of Ceti Alpha V. It likes neither the light nor the cold - what it prefers is a warm, dark place, the safety of being inside another creature, until it matures. Its reluctant hosts are understandably not fond of it, so it seeks to prevent being ejected from the host body by clamping securely onto the host's cerebral cortex, during which it secretes a numbing fluid that has a curious side effect on sentient beings. Someone hosting one of these will find themselves extremely susceptible to suggestion," Admiral Lucian explained. "These are somewhat domesticated, of course, trained to obey simple commands. Like pets."
"Pets?" Jace repeated incredulously. "Why would anybody keep these things around?"
"Fried Ceti eels are an Orion delicacy, although I frown on eating one's pets. Besides, I find them far more useful in other ways," Admiral Lucian said, bringing the writhing creature towards Jonathan's ear, and for once Jonathan actually looked frightened. "I would say that I regret the discomfort that this will cause you, but you are not worthy of my pity."
Jonathan struggled violently to no avail, screaming as the creature burrowed inside his ear, and after a while he stilled, expression blank.
"Who are you working with?" Admiral Lucian asked.
"The Dominion... the Founders," Jonathan choked out.
"What do they want?" Magnus demanded.
"War. Fear. Chaos. Because people who are afraid are people who are easy to control."
"That's why they took over the Archer - they're going to use a Federation ship to attack someone," Maia said in realisation.
"What is their target?" Alec asked.
"Vulcan. They are going to get more red matter, to make a bigger wormhole so that more of their Jem'Hadar ships can cross over."
"There is no more red matter. They're wasting their time," Alec said.
"Then we'll force the Vulcans to make more," Jonathan spat.
"You crazy son-of-a-bitch. If they take over this side of the galaxy, what makes you think they're going to let you live?" Jace said.
"They will absorb me into the Great Link. Make me one of them," Jonathan said with satisfaction.
"We have to stop them from capturing the Vulcan scientists, and destroy all the existing red matter in the possession of the Dominion," Alec said. "Without the backup of unlimited ships from the wormhole, it should be far easier for us to deal with those that are stranded here."
To their unease, Jonathan began to laugh. "The Dominion has endured for ten thousand years, and will endure for ten thousand more, long after all our civilisations have crumbled into dust. There is no stopping them, because they cannot die."
"We cannot hope to catch up with the USS Archer, not in this ship. It is built for might, not speed," Admiral Lucian said. "However, I am sure we can beam you onto the ships of one of your comrades."
"The Archer is the fastest ship of the five, and it has a headstart. A distress signal has been sent out to Starfleet and Vulcan has been warned, but we can't very well shoot the Archer down, not when our crew is probably still alive and being held hostage," Alec said. Izzy was on board, as was Raphael, Simon, and all the people who had become family to him.
"Plus, according to Jonathan, these things can't be killed because they're liquids?" Jace said skeptically.
"There is one solution," Magnus finally said. "Of everyone here, only Morgenstern and I can pilot the red angel suit. I could get on the USS Archer and seize control of the ship."
"No, we're not doing this again," Alec said firmly. "You, alone, against something that cannot die and god knows how many Jem'Hadar warriors? Besides, I am the captain of the USS Archer, and I'm responsible for the safety of my crew."
"The suit might not even be able to get past the shields," Maia pointed out.
"If the Dominion are working with Jonathan, you might be able to trick them into letting you board the ship," Admiral Lucian suggested.
Alec shook his head. "Why let them see Magnus at all? We would lose the element of surprise." He looked toward Maia, and immediately saw that she'd had the same idea.
"All Federation ships have an internal manual override system near the hangar that would disable weapons and warp drive capacity. It's used during maintenance, accessible from the outside of the ship," Maia said.
"Show me," Magnus immediately said, and grasped Maia's hand briefly so she could show him where it was and how to use it.
"Sabotage the ship, leaving all of us to catch up. That is a good plan," the Admiral said. "It will not be an easy fight, but you say that reinforcements are arriving from the Federation - we might not be able to defeat them on our own, but working together, we may stand a chance."
"Jonathan says that the Founder on the Archer has the last capsule of red matter. Even if they can't be killed, we could ignite the red matter to send them through a black hole - after we've evacuated everyone on board the Archer, of course," Magnus said.
"Then it is settled," Admiral Lucian declared, before turning to his warriors to give them instructions.
Magnus put on the red angel suit, and was escorted to the docking bay, where Magnus would have to propel himself beyond the boundaries of the ship's shield and force field before it would be safe for him to activate the suit. Catarina and Ragnor had a quick whispered conversation with him, but before Magnus could put the suit's helmet on, Jace gave Alec a hard shove forward towards him, and Magnus looked up at him expectantly.
"Magnus." The words caught in Alec's throat - too many words, none of them adequate or appropriate, and the memory of being the one who had personally beamed Magnus on board Valentine's ship resurfaced. "Be careful."
Magnus smiled. "Don't worry. I remember telling you that I'm no hero," he said lightly, and Alec huffed, shaking his head wordlessly.
"Ah." Admiral Lucian looked between the two of them with new understanding. "Love and reason keep little company together. Isn't that what Shakespeare says?"
"Klingons read Shakespeare?" Jace said in bewilderment.
"You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon," Admiral Lucian replied very seriously.
Magnus pulled his helmet down as they all moved out of the docking bay, and gave them a thumbs-up gesture. The airlock opened to the deadly emptiness of space; Magnus crouched low and sprinted towards the opening, then leapt out of the airlock, the propulsion jets on his suit spurring him forward and past the aft shields, which flickered out for a few seconds, just enough time for Magnus to pass through. It got harder to see him in his dark suit in the darkness, but there was a sudden flare of red as the wings at the back of the suit spread out to their full wingspan and lit up. For a moment, the image lingered, then Magnus vanished in a burst of red light - a red angel burned into Alec's retinas.
"We shall give them the fight they are asking for, and we will make the Dominion sorry they ever set foot in our side of the galaxy," Admiral Lucian said to them, then turned to his warriors and bellowed, "Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!"
His cry was picked up by every Klingon on the ship, and even Maia raised her voice to join them.
"What does that mean?" Jace whispered.
"It's a Klingon battle cry, sir," Underhill replied. "It means, 'Today is a good day to die.'"
P/S: Allyangel, sorry about the Ceti eels 🙈
Knowing theoretically how a thing was supposed to work and actually operating it were two very different things, especially when the thing in question was as complicated as the red angel suit. Thanks to Alec sharing his memories with him and triggering the return of everything he had lost, Magnus knew where all the controls were, but nothing could have prepared him for the stomach-churning sensation of being pulled through a micro-wormhole. The pressure was immense, like he was stuck in a great cosmic bottleneck of space and time. The place he had left was reluctant to relinquish its hold on him and the destination he was trying to arrive at was trying to push him back out, and if Jonathan Morgenstern hadn't clearly survived the trip several times, Magnus would have been certain that he was going to die.
The trip through the wormhole took no more than a few seconds, and deposited Magnus right above the USS Archer. Magnus quickly deactivated the red matter powering the suit so that it went dark, and took a moment to reorientate himself before using the suit's propulsion jets to manoeuvre himself under the starship, riding the warp bubble produced by the Archer to give him the boost he needed to keep up. Outside the visual distortion caused by the warp bubble, Magnus could see a horde of small fighter ships that must have been the Jem'Hadar, travelling in a swarm ahead of the Federation starship. The rounded top of their hulls reminded Magnus of scarab beetles, and they were lit on the underside with a purplish glow. Magnus hoped they were too far ahead to have noticed his appearance, but he was aware that the tell-tale burst of radiation from the suit would have been picked up by the ship's sensors if they knew what to look out for. He had a matter of minutes, if not seconds, to complete his task. Raising one hand, Magnus shot a targeted blast of energy from a coin-sized mechanism held in the palm of his hand, towards the spot Maia had shown him from her memories.
Like the Klingon ships, the frequencies used by the Federation starship's deflector shields were not designed to block out the energy-based weaponry Magnus had developed. The override console, a spot no bigger than his palm that was sheltered under the disc at the front of the ship and would have otherwise gone unnoticed, shorted out in a shower of sparks as the entire system was overloaded. The Archer slammed to a stop, and its shields rippled as if the ship was shuddering before winking out completely.
The plan had originally been for Magnus to return to the safety of the Klingon vessel once he had sabotaged the Archer, but it was a plan Magnus had decided to disregard. There were only that many spare Klingon fighter vessels, and anyway since he was already here, he should try to find out how Alec's crew were faring and get them ready for evacuation while waiting for the reinforcements to catch up. Magnus went up to the hangar door before the Jem'Hadar ships noticed something was amiss with the Archer and doubled back, and placed a palm on the smooth metal of the ventral plating. He closed his eyes, concentrating, and teleported himself inside the ship.
The hangar was thankfully empty, but the engineering department of the Archer was all abuzz with activity as the crew ran around frantically trying to get all systems back online without their chief engineer. But none of them were showing the sort of panic that might indicate that they knew there was an invincible shape-shifting alien on the ship, which strengthened Magnus' suspicions that the Changeling was posing as Alec. Magnus got rid of the angel suit, stashing it in a corner, and waited for an unsuspecting crew member to walk close enough to where he was hiding. Clapping a hand over the mouth of his target before he could cry out, Magnus dragged the crew member into the darkness of the hangar and hit him in the pressure point in his neck just hard enough to knock him out. Magnus stripped him of his red uniform shirt quickly and squeezed into it, thankful that it was made of stretchable material, and quickly stepped out into the noise and bustle of the engineering department. He strode through the confusion like a man on a mission - he'd found that people often left you alone if you looked like you knew what you were doing.
Magnus had been provided with a blueprint based on this particular class of starship when Valentine Morgenstern had forced him to build his illegal warship, and he recalled that there was a path running adjacent to the engine room that was a shortcut to the bridge. After a few wrong turns, Magnus finally found what felt like the correct corridor. He had only taken a few steps when he became aware of someone following him. He hid in a corner, waiting for his shadow to catch up, but to his surprise, he heard a female voice whispering his name.
"Magnus! It's Izzy, Captain Lightwood's sister!" she called out softly.
Magnus stepped out of his hiding place cautiously, weapon primed and ready to fire, but Izzy just smiled at him in relief.
"I thought I recognised you. Were you the one who sabotaged the ship? Is Alec with you?" she asked.
"Prove that you're who you say you are," Magnus replied. "I know that there's a Changeling on board this ship, and they can take the shape of anybody."
Izzy's eyes widened. "That explains so much," she murmured. "Alright, I'll prove it, just tell me how. But you should have to prove that you're really Magnus as well."
"Blood will tell. A Changeling can only mimic the external form of a human, but if you cut them, any wound will bleed with their true liquid state." At least, that was what Jonathan Morgenstern had said under the influence of the worm.
Magnus made a small cut in his arm first, offering it to her for her inspection. Izzy nodded and drew a surgical blade she had tucked away in her own belt and made a small slice in her arm, then showed him that she bled red.
Magnus smiled at her. "It's good to see that you're safe. Your family will be relieved."
"Then they're safe as well? Where are they?" she asked.
"They should be here soon, but we must evacuate the crew," Magnus said, and quickly linked hands with her so he could show her the plan.
Izzy shook her head. "The crew won't leave, not when they think my brother is still at the helm. The Changeling is pretty convincing at pretending to be Alec, but I know my brother - besides, he would never leave Jace behind. I just didn't know if Alec was still in there, if he was somehow being controlled. The imposter announced that the Vulcans were the ones who had ordered the attack on Klingon and Genesis, which is why we're headed there now."
"Then we'll just have to prove to the crew that this Alec is an imposter. Come on," Magnus said, and the both of them hurried down the narrow corridor together.
"So do you remember everything now?" Izzy asked him as they walked.
"I do, but most of it makes little sense to the person that I am now," Magnus replied brusquely. That wasn't quite true; if there was one thing that really made any sense to him at all, it was how he felt about Alec. But Magnus wasn't going to take advantage of Alec's grief to step into the shoes of a man who was essentially dead, only for Alec to regret it and come to resent him. Besides, if Magnus' newly-restored memories served him right, he'd already taken advantage of Alec once before.
"Ah," Izzy said, no doubt disappointed on her brother's behalf. "Do you already have someone special, someone from your own people?"
Magnus shook his head. "No. There hasn't been anyone else for centuries, man or woman, even before my people left Earth."
"Anyone else?" Izzy asked shrewdly.
Before Magnus could respond, the Archer was jolted from the impact of being hit by something - perhaps a torpedo from an ally ship that had missed its mark and slammed into the defenceless ship. Both of them stumbled, and Magnus reached out to steady Izzy.
"What was that?" Izzy asked.
Magnus frowned. "I think the calvary has arrived to rescue us - provided they don't accidentally blow us up first!"
"Where's Magnus? The Archer is dead in the water, that should mean that he's succeeded, right?" Jace said as they hurried to the little shuttlecraft they'd come in on.
"He's probably on the Archer right now, trying to face-off the enemy on his own," Alec replied grimly.
"That wasn't the plan we agreed on," Underhill commented.
"And since when does Magnus ever follow the plan?" Lorenzo said sourly as he shoved past them to enter their shuttlecraft ahead of them.
The Klingon engineers and the engineers from the augment colony were working together to recalibrate the deflector shields on all the Klingon vessels as well as Alec's shuttlecraft to better equip them against the energy-based weaponry used by the Jem'Hadar, and Maia had already beamed away with Dot to board the other four Federation ships in turn to make the necessary adjustments. Admiral Lucian had observed that the Jem'Hadar ships' only other advantages lay in their sheer volume and the fanaticism of their pilots; an individual ship could be taken out quite easily with just one or two solid hits, so the recalibrated shields should help them secure a victory. Alec schooled himself to be patient as Lorenzo tinkered away, nodding his thanks when the augment engineer emerged, and quickly settled into the pilot seat.
"Crap. I hope you know what you're doing, Alec," Jace muttered, looking warily all around them.
The fleet of Klingon fighter ships were in position and ready for battle, their shuttlecraft laughably small compared to the ships surrounding them. Someone was counting down in Klingon, and thankfully Alec had enough understanding of the language to understand that, at least.
Once the door of the docking bay opened, Alec pushed the shuttlecraft into gear, and it took off like a shot together with the Klingon vessels. As they drew closer to the Archer drifting in space, they saw the silvery swarm of Jem'Hadar ships turning back and hurtling towards them. While his shuttlecraft was weaker in terms of weaponry and defence, it was also more agile and a smaller target to hit compared to the vessels surrounding them. Alec punched forward, full speed ahead, right into the heart of the swarm and going straight for the Archer. Jonathan had told them that the Jem'Hadar were unquestioningly loyal to the Founders, and sure enough a dozen of them immediately zoomed in on the tiny shuttlecraft as a common target, but none of them dared to fire for fear of accidentally hitting the defenceless USS Archer. It soon became clear that their strategy for taking out the shuttlecraft was to attempt to crash into it.
"Are you out of your fucking mind?!" Jace yelled, doing his best to shoot at the ships that came too close for comfort even as Alec piloted the craft in a nausea-inducing course, veering left and right abruptly while still going at a break-neck speed.
"Captain, we're on a collision course," Underhill pointed out nervously, eyes darting between the craft's navigational instrumentation and the forward view of the rapidly approaching bulk of the starship ahead.
"Don't worry. I've got this," Alec said.
At the last moment, Alec wrenched the controls upwards, narrowly missing one of the impulse engines. The Jem'Hadar ships were small and swift, but their pilots obviously weren't very bright - the ones that had almost caught up to Alec's shuttlecraft seemed to have only just realised that they would crash into the ship containing their precious Changeling themselves. They swerved away from the Archer in a panic and crashed into each other, a trail of destruction forming in the wake of Alec's little shuttlecraft.
"That was fucking insane," Jace said when he'd finally found his voice again, then turned to Alec and grinned. "Let's do that again."
Magnus and Izzy burst through the doors of the turbolift that led to the bridge with weapons at full blast - Magnus with his energy-based blaster, and Izzy with her phaser set to kill. Strange as it was to attack someone who wore Alec's face, Magnus didn't even hesitate before firing at the imposter, but he dodged their shots easily. For a moment the crew on the bridge were paralysed with shock, but Simon was the first to recover, standing up in front of the imposter to shield him.
"Woah! Izzy, what's going on? And isn't that... didn't this guy get blown up and become part of a planet?" Simon yelped.
"Stand aside, Simon. That isn't Alec," Izzy said, her phaser still trained on the Changeling.
"Izzy, you've been hoodwinked. I know how persuasive Magnus can be. Put the weapon down before you hurt someone," the imposter said. Magnus noticed that the Changeling remained safely behind Simon, and even if Izzy hadn't told Magnus her suspicions, that would have been a dead giveaway that it wasn't Alec.
The crew on the bridge were closing on them with their own phasers out, clearly intending to separate him from Izzy, and while Magnus could easily have taken all of them out, he didn't want to hurt Alec's crew. Besides, they'd expected the Changeling to do something like this. Izzy suddenly let out a loud gasp and dropped her weapon, then backed away from Magnus while pretending to be frightened, and ran towards the imposter. Simon stepped aside to let her through, and everyone else's attention was on Magnus, but the imposter knew they were just bluffing. He was prepared for Izzy's attack when she lifted her arm to stab him, and viciously twisted Izzy's wrist, snapping the bone.
But Izzy didn't falter, stabbing the Changeling in the side of the neck with her other hand - the one that actually did have a blade. "Gotcha," she said through gritted teeth.
The Changeling didn't seem to feel any pain, but the wound in his neck where Izzy's blade had gone in was oozing a metallic orange substance. Coupled with his attack on Izzy, the Changeling knew that he had given himself away. Magnus fired off another blast at the Changeling, but in trying not to hit any of the sensitive instruments on the consoles around them, he missed his shot and the Changeling reverted to its fully liquid state before escaping through an air vent.
Magnus cursed. "He could be anywhere on the ship now, looking like anything or anyone."
Another wayward blast rocked the ship, and Raphael shook his head as he looked grimly at the readouts. "We need to evacuate everyone."
"Hail the other Federation ships, they are primed to receive all of you. I'm going to find the Changeling - I suspect that he's hidden the last canister of red matter somewhere on board this ship, and he won't leave without it."
"Magnus, we're not leaving you behind," Izzy protested.
"Don't worry, I'll get off the ship the same way I got on," Magnus lied through his teeth. The hangar and the angel suit were far away, and he had a feeling he wouldn't be able to get there in time.
"Go! Don't let the Changeling sneak past you," Magnus said, already getting into the turbolift, deep in thought. If he were impersonating the captain of a ship, where would he have hidden the red matter? The captain's quarters seemed too obvious, but it was a good place as any to start.
Over the ship's intercom, Magnus could hear Raphael's voice, calm and clear, "Attention all decks, this is your acting captain speaking. Evacuate this ship now. Report to Dr Lightwood-Roberts and her medical staff for clearance before making your way to the transporter room. I repeat, this is a general evacuation order..."
Most of the crew were on duty either on the bridge or in engineering since this wasn't a long-haul mission, so all the corridors in the living quarters were empty. Magnus kept his ears out for the sound of anything moving inside the walls, mindful of vents and other unusual places where the Changeling might emerge, and swept the entire living quarters, but the Changeling was nowhere to be found.
"Magnus!" Izzy's voice came over the ship's internal comms. "The officers from the bridge are about to leave, we're the last batch. Did you find him?"
"No," Magnus replied, cogs in his brain whirling. Oh, he'd been very stupid. The best place to hide something where you could also keep an eye on it when you were impersonating the captain of a ship was of course the place where the captain was always supposed to be - the bridge, which had just been vacated.
"Magnus, just leave it and come with us."
Magnus shook his head even though nobody could see. "I have to make sure the Changeling is dealt with. Don't wait for me. Just go!"
Magnus ran towards the bridge as fast as he could, but when he finally reached the bridge, the Changeling was already sitting in the captain's chair with the canister of red matter in his hands, once again in Alec's form. The battle going on outside the ship could be seen clearly in the forward view behind him, Klingon and Federation ships working together to wipe out the Jem'Hadar effortlessly now that the recalibrated shields could block out their attacks. As they looked on, several other Federation ships dropped out of warp all around them. The battle was as good as won.
"Jonathan Morgenstern was right, you have an unfortunate habit of messing up the plans of your betters," not-Alec said.
"If he told you there was more of that, he lied. That canister in your hand is the last of the red matter," Magnus said. "You should use it to go back to your homeworld. I know that you can't direct the destination of the wormhole with the red matter alone, but I would be happy to use the angel suit to guide you home, as Jonathan has been doing, as long as you promise that the Dominion will stay in your quadrant of the galaxy after that."
The Changeling cocked its head at him. "That's all? You would help me, as long as I give you a promise of peace?"
"Peace is always preferable to war. Besides, I know how exile feels like - and believe me, it's not pleasant, especially if you're going to live forever."
"Interesting," the Changeling said, looking at Magnus with a predatory expression that was very out-of-place on Alec's face. "I think you should come with me."
Magnus backed away, not liking where this was going. "Why would I ever do that?" he asked.
The Changeling took a step towards him. "When you become part of the Great Link, the drop becomes part of the ocean, and the ocean becomes part of the drop. You and your people have spent your lives running, never belonging anywhere. Won't it be a relief to finally have a place to belong to? Imagine what we could do together, when your people become part of us. I hear that you have the ability to manipulate space - come with me, and I am sure you will find a way to come back soon enough for the rest of your people, and together we could rule the entire galaxy."
In lieu of an answer, Magnus shot a blast of energy directly at the Changeling just as it reached out for him with an unnaturally long arm. The blast of energy forced it to revert into a puddle of shimmering orange protoplasmic liquid, but it was already reforming into a humanoid shape, and apparently had suffered no permanent injury. Magnus picked up the canister of red matter that had rolled onto the ground when the Changeling had lost its grip on it and escaped from the bridge, teleporting straight through the floor and hitting the ground running. The ship was big and he could move quickly, but Magnus knew it was only a matter of time before the Changeling caught up with him.
He couldn't allow the red matter to fall into the hands of the Changeling again, and he couldn't let the Changeling get hold of him or any of his people. Decision made, Magnus started running towards the bowels of the ship, but didn't go to the hangar. Instead, he made his way to the auxiliary engineering control panel that controlled essential systems like life support and artificial gravity and thus hadn't been hooked up to the maintenance control that he'd shorted out, hoping that the command codes he'd stolen from Morgenstern all those years ago would still work.
"Computer. Authorisation override protocol, code Section-3-1-Tango-Mike-India-3. "
Magnus let out a sigh - of relief, and regret. "Computer, initiate directive element addendum document General Order Thirteen," he said.
"General Order Thirteen," the computer repeated. "Please confirm initiation of self-destruct sequence."
With most of the Jem'Hadar ships destroyed and Federation reinforcements taking over, Alec had docked his shuttlecraft on the Federation ship that had received the refugees from the USS Archer. After some enquiries, he and Jace were directed to the med bay, where Izzy had been sent for treatment after apparently being injured by the Changeling. Maia was already there, sitting beside Izzy in the narrow bed and holding Izzy's good hand in her own as they whispered to each other.
"Alec! Jace!" Izzy said in relief when she saw them.
"What happened to you?" Jace asked.
"It's nothing, it'll heal," Izzy said, grabbing Alec by the wrist. "Alec, Magnus is still on the Archer."
"What? Why?" Jace exclaimed.
"The Changeling. He's trying to deal with it on his own," Alec said with a sort of resignation, and Izzy nodded.
"Raphael is up in the main transporter room, trying to get a lock on his position so we can extract him once he gives the signal," Izzy told him.
Alec hurried to the main transporter room, where Raphael was frowning as he worked the controls. "Any luck?" Alec asked him.
"He's moving too quickly all over the place, and according to the readings, I suspect he's currently in possession of the red matter," Raphael replied, then paused. "I'm detecting a voluntary antimatter containment breach."
"The ship is going to self-destruct," Alec said, heart sinking. "How much time left before the sequence completes?"
"Two minutes and forty-six seconds, sir," Raphael replied.
Alec stepped onto a transporter pad with determination. "Beam me onboard the Archer."
"I'll turn on my transporter relay, that'll make it easier for you to get a lock on me. I'm going to get hold of Magnus, and you can beam us both back together," Alec said. "Now, Mr Santiago!"
"I'm beaming you to the last known location that we managed to track Magnus to. Good luck, Captain," Raphael said as his fingers moved over the controls.
Alec was engulfed in the familiar swirl of transporter lights, and when the white glow around him faded, he found himself standing in one of the numerous corridors that led to the engineering room. The closest display screen, which usually showed the stardate and general information on the ship's distance from its destination, now just had a single, simple countdown sequence showing slightly over two minutes left.
"Computer. Point me to the location of-," Alec began, but was interrupted by a voice coming round a corner to his left.
"Oh there's no need for that, Alexander. I'm right here."
Alec turned to see Magnus walking up to him, a broad smile on his face.
"I knew you'd be back for me. Let's go, before this ship blows up," Magnus said.
Alec frowned. The man in front of him walked and sounded like Magnus, but... He drew his weapon. "You're not Magnus."
"Alexander, what are you talking about? It's me," Magnus said, holding his hands up placatingly. "If I were the Changeling, would I have known about the night we shared?"
"Yes, because Jonathan says your mimicry is perfect, and that you can glean the history of the person you've transformed into by contact with the things they've touched," Alec replied. "But Magnus wouldn't have wanted me to come back for him. He puts himself in the line of danger, even though he knows that there may be no hope of him surviving it, because he believes that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
The Changeling's face twisted into an ugly sneer. "That's sweet, but it's too bad that he doesn't have any feelings for you."
"Don't put words in my mouth," someone else said from behind Alec, and a jet of light shot out behind him to hit the Changeling squarely in the chest.
"Run!" the real Magnus said, grabbing Alec by the arm.
Alec glanced at the nearest display as they ran past it, and saw that the countdown on the nearest display was at fifteen seconds now... fourteen... thirteen... The ship started to tremble violently as they turned the corner, and Magnus must have heard something Alec couldn't over the din of creaking metal, because he tugged Alec out of the reach of a long orange tendril coming out of a vent even before Alec saw it.
"Captain, we have to pull you out soon. The interference from the antimatter may affect the transporter signal," Raphael's voice came from the communicator on Alec's belt, already crackling intermittently.
"Here, catch it if you can!" Magnus called out to the Changeling, flinging the canister of red matter and sending it rolling down the corridor.
"Raphael, now!" Alec barked out as he grabbed Magnus by the waist and pulled him close, a necessity because they would have to share the same transporter pad, and prayed that they would get through safely as the transporter lights finally appeared around them.
When Alec's vision cleared, they were safe and sound in the familiar surroundings of a Federation-standard transporter room. They both stumbled a little as a shockwave hit the ship, a result of the USS Archer tearing itself apart and the red matter detonating, and the engine of the ship they were on let out a sharp whine as the full power of its warp core was directed to escaping the black hole that was forming in place of what had been Alec's ship for six years.
Alec suddenly became aware that he was still holding Magnus in his arms. "Sorry," he said, quickly letting go.
"It's alright," Magnus replied softly, but didn't step away.
"We are safely out of the reach of the gravitational pull of the singularity, Captain," Raphael reported, breaking the spell.
Alec cleared his throat. "Thank you. Good work, Mr Santiago."
Just then, Jace burst into the room. "Sorry to interrupt, but you're needed on the bridge, Alec."
Alec nodded and stepped down from the transporter platform. Magnus was one step behind him, but Jace held out a hand to stop him. "Um, sorry. I think you should sit this one out. Catarina is handling it."
"Why?" Alec asked suspiciously.
Jace sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It's a meeting of all the captains of all the ships, including Admiral Lucian and the augments. And one of the captains of the Federation ships that came to help was Aline Penhallow."
"Penhallow. The Admiral's daughter?" Alec asked, and pinched the bridge of his nose when Jace nodded. "Fuck."
"Yep, you can say that again," Jace said.
The meeting was already well underway when Alec entered the bridge, and Alec supposed that it had gone as well as he could have expected. A number of charges had been levied against him, the worst of them being conspiracy against the Federation and false testimony in a court of law. The entire crew of the Archer had been put in lockdown in the living quarters of the ship they were on, but Alec and Magnus were escorted to the brig and placed in separate cells while they were brought back to Earth to face trial.
"I'm sorry," Alec said.
"It's not your fault. We both know that I'm only staying inside here as a sign of good faith," Magnus said with some amusement, his voice a little muffled coming from the other side of the wall that they were both leaning on. "I'm sure it'll be fine, Alexander. Admiral Lucian has agreed to vouch for you at the trial, and Jonathan Morgenstern is still in the custody of the Klingons. And I think they should take the circumstances into account. After all, you did save the Alpha and Beta Quadrants from being enslaved by the Dominion."
"I had a little help," Alec replied, and Magnus snorted.
Magnus was quiet for a while, then said, "Alexander, if your sister said anything to you that made you think you had to come back for me..."
"Izzy didn't say anything to me," Alec said, but a small hope was flaring to life. "Magnus, tell me the truth. Was the Changeling lying?"
"Yes," Magnus finally replied. "I won't deny that I have feelings for you, but it wouldn't be fair to you, or to me, if I'm just going to be a replacement for that other version of Magnus."
Alec turned a little to face the wall more fully, wishing that he could see Magnus' face. "Magnus, I know you're not exactly the same person, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I was drawn to you because you're brave, and incredible, and... there's a spark inside you, Magnus, and you're still the same in the ways that matter to me."
"Oh, Alexander," Magnus murmured.
"You said that maybe we could be something more, in another time and another place. Can it be now, and here?" Alec asked Magnus, then amended, "Well, not here. After we get out of this cell."
Magnus laughed. "I suppose we could give it a try," he said. Magnus let out a little sigh, and Alec could hear the smile in his voice when he said, "I must admit, despite the circumstances, it's nice to be going home."
Alec blinked awake. His bedroom was still dark, but it wasn't his alarm that had woken him up, but the feeling of lips pressing gentle kisses on his shoulder and fingers idly tracing unrecognisable symbols on his hip. Alec leaned backwards into the warmth of Magnus' embrace, and Magnus' hand moved from his hip to the flat of his abs, and a little lower still.
"Mmm. Are you finally awake?" Magnus whispered a little teasingly when Alec moaned and arched into his touch.
Alec didn't bother replying, twisting around to kiss Magnus firmly. It was still a novelty having Magnus in his bed; after both of them had stood trial, Magnus had needed some time to focus on his people, and they had tried to take things slowly. But if he was honest, Alec didn't think he would ever get used to or take for granted the feeling of waking up to find Magnus right there, real and solid, after four years of vanishing dreams and cold sheets. Alec let Magnus roll him onto his back and pin him down, and they rocked against each other between playful kisses and breathless laughter until the teasing gave way to urgency and laughter became gasps and moans, and they brought each other to climax with their hands intertwined and breaths mingling as they whispered each other's names.
Getting dressed took far longer than Alec was used to, what with Magnus' things being all mixed up with his and his apartment being more of a mess than usual while they both tried to work out the rhythm of living together, but they got onto the shuttle to the Starfleet spacedock in good time.
"Captain on the bridge!" Simon announced cheerfully when Alec walked in with Magnus.
"Stop smiling so much, Alec. You're scaring the crew," Jace said as he came up to them, and clapped Magnus on the shoulder in greeting. "Welcome to the family, Ambassador Bane."
"I think we're getting ahead of ourselves a little," Magnus replied, but winked at Alec before settling down at the science station.
"I guess you're not exactly devastated that you got demoted from Vice Admiral back to Captain as punishment for your terrible crimes against the Federation," Jace observed as he took the seat next to Alec.
"No, not at all," Alec agreed with a smile. "Mr Santiago, how are we doing?"
"All systems ready, Captain," Raphael replied.
"Then take us out, Mr Lewis," Alec said.
"Aye, Captain," Simon replied cheerfully, and took them into warp.
Captain's log, Stardate 2264.17
Only a year ago, I thought that it would be my last time sitting in the captain's chair. I miss the old Archer, but there is something exhilarating about commanding a brand new ship, the shine and polish on the consoles and monitors still intact. I feel the excitement of my crew as well, and it feels like the whole ship is coming alive as we prepare for a five-year mission, the longest ever attempted.
This spirit, this feeling of optimism and hope, isn't just something sweeping through the ship. For the first time, the Klingon Empire is our ally, and there are talks of reaching out to the Romulans, Cardassians, and Ferengi - to forge lasting relationships of peace before the Founders of the Dominion find a way back here. We are entering a brave new world.
It is with this new energy that I lead the crew of the newly-christened USS Alliance on our continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Alec Lightwood out.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the series (and sorry I took so long to write part 2, oops). As usual, you can come find me @tethysea on twitter if that's your thing.
Until next time, XOXO.