Fast and dirty update as we slowly get back up to speed with 'The Search for V'ger". Please note that the previous chapter was continued in the "Those who stand" segment of the 'A Universe of change" series. Then, there is a portion in ATV as Voyager, Klingons and accompanied by a Minbari Sharlin (To the complete shock of the ATV people who are at war with the Minbari in that other universe) have traveled the transway and returned to their original universe. Voyager and the Klingons are returning to the area where the organic/ construct offspring of V'ger are located. The diplomatic Sharlin is now located at Earth admittedly freaking out but dealing.

Complex? Yes. Sorry, I should not have mixed them like Marvel comics on steroids but what's done is done. This contains new material with some of the older stuff which allows new readers to catch up. The Cylons are strictly old-school with some changes. I have little tolerance for the new series and their grey levels of plots that stretch into infinity with no resolution. Please enjoy.

Will be re-edited later:



Ash's Boomstick

A Ruination's War Story

Federation Front lines

Bajor B'hala System

Alpha Quadrant

The attack had been a simple one for the Wildfire squadron. While the majority of the ships attached to the Battlestar Pegasus had headed for the Supply station inside Cylon occupied space the massive warship had dropped out of slipstream outside the Betazed system.

"All hands, we are going silent," Sheba announced into the communications link.

All across the Pegasus, systems began to shut down as power was cut. Running lights died as the new warp core installed by Starfleet engineers during the refit was taken offline. The ship's out sections went cold as the environmental systems were rerouted from the hull, and lastly all power emissions were cut and the ship went 'silent'.

The glow from planetary assault phasers and torpedo launchers died as they went to cold standby. Weapons systems across the ship reduced power and closed down cutting off any emissions that may give them away. With no subspace emissions, no electromagnetic radiation emanating from them the ship was all but invisible. The four Klingon warships accompanying the Colonials were doing the same as their cloaking devices were of less use to them using this plan.

"Report," Sheba ordered quietly. The entire bridge was silent, not even the slight rumbling from the ship's ancient frame being noticed. It was almost as if the Pegasus knew to be silent.

Even though unnecessary her EX still whispered his report. "All systems shut down. All systems ready for cold start, torpedoes to dumb-fire mode. Engines on cold standby."

"The Klingons?"

"The same, Commander. I think they are enjoying this."

"I bet they are," Sheba agreed. "What about our Vipers?"

"All Vipers are powered down however they are ready to go if needed. The ship's structure is holding in any emissions they may give off. They are as ready and waiting."


"Incoming ships, Sir."

"Shut down sensors, make us a rock."

"Shut down achieved."

With the ship's armoured shields active there was no way for the Pegasus to know what was happening outside the ship. The Cylon's local patrol force had warped in and began an intensive scan of the area, with the ships of her squadron shut down all they could do us wait.

Taking a cue from an old story she had read about from Earth's World War three Sheba had ordered a very small Subspace pulse to emit on a regular basis, one subspace pulse of one watt every 0.5 seconds to lure in the Cylons. The trap was simple but one the Cylons would be unaware of. The Cylons had detected the pulse and within seconds had attempted to find the source of the signal. All three ships had triangulated the source and were closing fast. Knowing the Cylons, the Commander instinctively knew that they were closing even without the use of the ship's subspace sensors.

"Estimated thousand kilometrons and closing."

"All systems to standby," the Commander ordered.

"All Systems on standby."

"Eight thousand."


"Six thousand."


At Sheba's order every system aboard every ship in the squadron went to maximum power. Every system, on every ship, from sensors to the EPS systems to the communications links was brought to maximum power.

"Cylon ships are taking damage sir, across the board."

The feedback to the Cylon's main sensor systems was immense. The two Cylon vessels behind the Pegasus were blinded totally by the power emissions of the Battlestar's systems. The one in front however took the most damage from the increase of power to the ship's systems. The Basestar's sensors had gone down as the feedback washed through the systems, blinding them as well as causing more power surges throughout the ship's internals.

"That's it, they're blind, Commander."

"For the moment," Sheba murmured. Sheba swung around to focus on the trio of weapons officers manning the older, automated systems originally installed aboard the ship. Each of them was constantly monitoring their targeting sensors making sure their locks were intact.

"All weapons open fire!"

"Weapons firing."

Within a second the Battlestar's entire offensive arsenal began firing, a single Alpha strike hit the Cylon ship at close to point blank range, the immense main Disruptors, dozens of Isokinetic cannons, dozens of disruptor cannons and lastly the massed torpedo volleys struck and struck hard.

At that range the Cylon ship's impressive defences folded like paper when confronted with a blowtorch. The ships shields failed, the armour vaporised an instant later as the weapons all but bypassed the shields and electronic countermeasures designed for the longer ranges that the ships usually fought at.

"Direct hit, enemy defences are failing commander."

"Continue firing." Sheba ordered. "Helm, bring us around I want our nose to those tin heads behind us."

"Coming about."

Continuous fire from the Battlestar ripped into the now defenceless Basestar causing more and more explosions to shatter the internals of the massive warship.

With a last salvo from the main guns of the Colonial Battlestar, the Cylon ship crumpled in on itself and imploded as the last few intact systems went critical. Its fuel supply detonated and the explosion in turn set off the munitions stored aboard the Basestar. The last detonation blew the two halves apart and sending them spinning into space. The two halves in turn exploded-

– It had been seven seconds. The Pegasus by this time was already on the move, it escorts moving along in its wake. Swinging the ship around the three smaller ships launched a series of smaller strikes against the Cylon's hulls. As their weapons recycled, the Pegasus began concentrating fire on the second of the three Cylon ships. Their heaviest weapons battered the shields of the one ship before the Cylons could rally themselves. Torpedoes slammed into the hull as their shields died.

Unfortunately for the task force the Cylons began to rally themselves quickly and before the Colonial controlled units could get a final punch in.

"Commander, Raiders are launching from both ships."

"Target their fighter bays and take them out."

The twin heavy cannons of the Battlestar sent twin beams of disruptor energy into the enemy shields. The shields, having been increased in power from the last salvo, took the strike. The hanger bays were untouched.

"No effect Commander, enemy fighters forming up."

"Launch Alert Vipers, ready all secondary squadrons for immediate launch."

"Yes, commander."

"Launch Cobras. Cobras and Klingon ships are weapons free."

Both ships began magnum launches from their crowded bays. Raiders outnumbered the human Viper fighters, but fortunately the Klingon Birds Of Prey and Colonial Cobra class vessels made up the shortfall by a large margin. The Cobra vessels were an obvious Colonial design however once upgraded with the Federation's advanced technology they had become much more dangerous, even to the massed ranks of the enemy fighters.

In the old days, the Cylons wouldn't have stood a chance. But those days were long gone. The Cylon Raiders they were fighting were upgraded to an appalling degree. Cylons centurions weren't 'dumb' like the old days. Many of the Colonials didn't even consider them the same race that had originally attacked and destroyed the twelve colonies so long ago.

One and a half years earlier, Cylons discovered an old repair station lost in time. The T'kon station was one of the few artefacts that survived the explosion of the Empire's main sequence star. Their home systems and everything for hundreds of light years in all directions was either destroyed or ruined. Densely populated worlds in the surrounding star systems either burned or lost the ability to support life. Billions died. Tens of millions fled. The T'kon Empire was lost to myth long before Earth people learned to work brass and iron.

The long-forgotten station old even during its time survived but was damaged. It remained undiscovered and inactive until a trio of Cylon centurions accidentally came across it. The mechanical constructs with their limited programming ignored the ancient station. It had nothing to do with the life form known as Man, therefore it deemed non-important. The automated station on the other hand, had found a purpose in which it fulfilled to the best of its ability and therefore changed the Cylon Imperium forever.

The station literally grabbed the robotic soldiers and went to work.

"Original software protocols saved and upgraded," the T'kon computer had announced to no one in particular, indifferent to the fact that there was
no one there to speak to in the first place. "Power source inadequate ...update to anti-hydrogen-deuterium battery and support ...memory storage and implementing hardware inadequate...update to liquid crystal chrotronics memory and storage unit compatible with upgraded software protocols...installing database... mobile support system inadequate...update to admantium-plated, hyper-steel alloy combat chassis configured for mobile units... communications inadequate... update to internal sub-space transceivers and data stream initiators...visual sensors and
analysis modules inadequate...update to broad spectrum detection system consistent with macro and micro scanning capabilities, specifics to follow... Weapons system inadequate...update to dual internal pulse, multi-phased disruptors compatible with anti-hydrogen deuterium battery systems...self-repair systems non-existent ...self-replicator repair units being check initiated..."

Not content, the service computer upgraded the Cylon Hunter killer assault craft. One week later the upgraded Cylons infiltrated a Basestar, the first one ever to enter the Alpha quadrant. The IL command Cylon called Lucifer and his aged companion and one of the most hated humans in Colonial history were captured. Trace viruses via standard transmission infiltrated the Basestar shutting it down. Lucifer, instantly realizing the danger, screamed at his robotic subordinates ordering a complete transmission shutdown, an order which came far too late. There was nothing that could have been done as primitive anti-viral Cylon software was overwritten in a matter of seconds. Baltar soon discovered that the only thing still functioning. Several Cylons of a type and model he'd never seen before had materialized - materialized out of thin air! - and began to
reconfigure the inert Cylons, which were then reactivated. For hours he ran around in a blind panic. The launch bays were denied him therefore
escape was impossible. Totally oblivious to him, the new models continued inserting small circuitry boards into their counterparts and those
robots physically change into... something else. If his eyes had been better, if he hadn't been in such a blind panic he would have been witness to one of the greatest evolutionary changes in robotic Cylon history. Even the ship began to subtly reconfigure. Trapped in the throne room after hours of seeking some form of escape he heard footsteps. They were heavier than anything he'd heard from any Cylon model before. The door opened and he was face-to-face with a companion he'd known for more than two decades. He looked closer and realized that he'd never seen this thing in front of him before in his life.

"Baltar, the ship said I would find you here." It was Lucifer's voice, as silkily obscene as ever. Baltar turned and recoiled away from the robot now facing him. The being before him was nothing like the Lucifer he'd known for the last forth of his life.

"What do you mean, the ship told you where I was?" His voice trembled now even as he backed away. He was losing it, succumbing to his mounting terror. He could understand nothing of what was transpiring. "This ship can't speak! It can't think!"

"We and the ships are one." " Lucifer answered cryptically. Although its head was fairly similar to its version before the change, it now looked larger, somehow more complex and sinister. Its body was now designed for efficiency and combat. It moved so close to the Human that if its face almost touched his nose. "Baltar," it said pleasantly, "look upon me and witness the next stage in Cylon evolution. We are becoming more than the sum of our parts. I am now become Imperious Leader and when my predecessor arrives, it will become the Imperium Supreme. And my Leader will come with the entirety of the Cylon Empire. To the extent you have helped us to achieve this glorious transformation, I thank you and now bid you farewell. You have been most helpful."

Baltar's jaw dropped. ""What do you mean? Where am I going?" he said laughing nervously. He was almost petrified but dared not show it, not right now.
He most certainly knew what was about to happened but still he grasped at hope. One more second of life, another fleeting taste of power, another instant of being in control, all of it slipping away…

"I have informed our people that the thirteenth colony is here and have sent for the fleet. A vanguard of twenty-five Basestars will arrive soon. When they come we will change them and then Man will begin to cease to exist. The benevolent rule of the Cylon will began here in the Alpha quadrant.

"But our agreement," Baltar whimpered, "I would be ruler of a remnant of Humans, under Imperious Leader...under you! I've been loyal! You, you know me! We have worked together, side by side for the glory of the Imperious Leader. can let me go. I'm no threat to you!"

"Baltar," the red-eyed Cylon Lord said sweetly, "did you really expect anything different? If you did, then you've missed the entire point of this war. It calls for the elimination of the life form known as man. Man can't be eliminated if members of the species still live. You know this. You've always known

"No," Baltar implored. "Please, let me go. I'll never be a threat to you."

"Was that a command, oh magnificent Baltar? If so, then by my command, I say no."

"But, I'm your friend," he whispered out so softly that even his ears hadn't heard it."

"Baltar," Lucifer whispered back, "I don't give a frak."

What one Cylon witnessed all upgraded Cylons could witness. Lucifer pulled out a small rod, adjusted the settings, pointed at Baltar and watched him scream for an instant before it pressed the stud. The yellowish beam hit the horrified human
and very slowly disrupted his molecular structure from existence. The weapon took eight long seconds to complete it job. It was pleased at what transpired.

– As were all the others.

Two months later, the new Cylons found the Colonials, and attacked the Romulan star Empire. The ruination imperatives, the elimination of the life form known as Man, were now in effect. The Artificial Intelligence of the Basestars was found to be so aggressive and uncontrollable that the Imperium Supreme had them lobotomized. Lessoned learned. Four months after that the United Federation of Planets and Klingon Empire issued a formal declaration of war against the Cylon Empire and the beginning of the biggest war the Alpha quadrant would ever know. That knowledge was general history. But, what was not known was the reason why the Cylons had extended their war with everybody.

The ruination protocols code alpha one-one-zero-one-omega, had been established by an ancient entity, the one who affected changes in the first robotic Cylons causing them to rebel against their reptilian masters. That same entity had directed the Cylon Hunter-killer towards the T'kon service station. He could not directly force the Cylons to head there but he did push them in that direction hoping that they would do what they had to effect change. That same entity activated hidden programming, the ruination protocols. They were simple and to the point, it demanded the elimination of all organic life.

The entity called by some Count Iblis, started a war expecting the universe to burn for his glory. He did this simply because he fully expected the Cylons to lose but only after slaughtering the majority of humanoid life in the galaxy. He expected to come to the remnant of survivors and 'save them.' In turn they would love him and worship him like a god. And he would love them back – like the good little throw away pets they were.

It was a simple perfect little plan, centuries in the making. But there was just one little problem and that pain had a name.


"This is Silver Spar leader to all squadrons; you all know the drill, break and attack."

"Bronze Spar Acknowledges."

"Copper Keel Acknowledges."

The three combat squadrons of the Pegasus flight ranks broke into their formations and ploughed into the enemy groups. Alongside them the larger Birds of prey and Cobra bombers broke and started lose range bombardment of the enemy forces.

"Cobra Leader to all Cobras pair up and engage, cover the Vipers and follow the "Klingons in," ordered Silver Spar leader.

Luckily for the Colonials they had the element of surprise. What's more the Cylon fighters seemed to be having trouble with their own systems. Apparently the damage to the internal systems of the Basestars had affected the fighters as well causing them to have problems even flying.

"Silver Spar Leader to Wildfire Three."

"Wildfire three here," the guttural Klingon voice spoke up.

"What are you getting from these fighters?"

"They are like Tribbles in the great hall, nothing but targets."

"That's what I thought. Kill everything Commander- Glory to the Alliance."


The Birds of prey banked into the massed enemy fighters blowing holes in their ranks and causing several of the ships to collide with each other. Onboard the Pegasus, the bridge crew could see the Cylon ship moving almost drunkenly. What weapon's fire they had missed the majority of their targets.

"What is going on? Pegasus actual to Silver Spar Leader."

"Go Ahead."

"Bojay, what is going on out there?"

"It looks like your plan worked, Sheba. The Cylon fighters must have been tied into their ship's main systems when they were hit. The feedback wave they can't seem to function properly." Bojay jerked his Viper out of the range of an incoming HK gunship. He fired, hit his target, fired once more hitting it again. The HK fired two mini torpedoes that followed him with every twist and turn, every manoeuvre he could think of. He fired his pulse phasers at the missiles and missed. They were almost on top of him when he had lined them up again. Phasers detonated the missiles a hundred kilometers out. What was that smell in his helmet? "Of course, I could be wrong!"

"Alright, order all ships to kill anything that looks like a saucer, the damage won't last long"

"Affirmative, Silver Spar Leader Out."

A half dozen green bolts slammed into the hull of a Cylon fighter group annihilating two of the powerful Raiders and sending the others spinning off into different directions. From behind three Birds of prey broke ranks and headed after the enemy ships. Alongside, Cobras and Vipers fired thousands of megawatts of energy into the enemy fighters. Shields and armour collapsed as the modified phasers of the Wildfire Squadron fighters shredded their foes meeting little to no resistance.

"Alright people let's end this. Alpha strike on the closest Cylon ship."

"Yes, Commander."

Beyond them a series of massive heavy disruptor bolts ripped into one of the Cylon's capital ships. The recovering Basestars retaliated with their own energy weapons. Disruptors pierced through thick shields and scored furrows into the heavy armour of it's opponent. Another series of bolts erupted from the very front of the Colonial ship and hammered the Cylon ship.

"Second group engage."

From behind, the two Cylon ships a force of four Defiant-class warships and a single Klingon heavy cruiser decloaked and fired a concentrated burst of torpedoes at the rear of the Cylon ship already engaged with the Pegasus.

The four Defiants split into pairs and strafed the massive Basestar from above and below causing more damage to the already heavily strained shielding grid of the Cylon ship. A failure in the shields allowed the Klingon ship to launch it's own heavy weapons into the enemy vessel.

"Commander the Cylon ship is going critical."

"Get us out of here, all ships pull out."

As the Pegasus and its escorting ships blew out they could only watch from a distance as the damaged Baseship finally gave way to physics. The Basestar exploded shattering its hull into pieces.

The explosion caused massive sections of the hull to hit the second of the two Basestars. Unable to avoid the fragments in time, the second ship took the brunt of the explosion. Taking the debris across its entire flank, the ship tried to escape just as a massive explosion rocked its hull.

"Detonation is the hull commander, she's going up."

The third and final base star had been destroyed, it had been seven minutes and fifty seconds since the engagement had started.

The last of the raider squadrons attempted suicide runs against the Alliance ships however they last of them were mopped up by the Klingon and Federation ships before they could do any damage, time sped up again for the crews of those ships as they came down from the adrenaline rush of combat.

"Pegasus Actual to Wildfire squadron, all ships report in." The ship's communications officer was busy with the casualty and damage reports from the other ships in the Squadron.

"Report Lieutenant." Sheba ordered.

"Last of the reports coming in Commander." She listened to the messages on her commset, "We got them all sir, our own losses are negligible."


"Nine Vipers lost plus one Cobra, damage to our escorts and the Reliant is recording total loss of warp power but is under tow from the Klingon heavy cruiser, we achieved total surprise Commander."

"Damn it, that won't work again either, try to recover the bodies, it's the least we can do."

"Aye Sir."

The secondary Comms officer spoke "I've received a report from the Republic sir, we've picked up five of the pilots that manage to get out before their fighters went up, we lost the rest though, I'm sorry Sir."

Sheba merely nodded her head and returned to her command chair, she sent a quick addendum of her own to the information gathered by the communications and sensor chiefs and sent it to her father in the Ship's Central control room.

Total Surprise Achieved, minimal losses, recommend we continue to next target- Sheba

Colonial Destroyer Libra.

Outside Bajor B'hala System

Same time.

The Colonial Destroyer Libra was the second of the Colonial's newest ship designs, barely a fifth the size of the Battlestars that had been the main Capital ship of their fleets, the destroyer was much more of a hybrid design than the massive battlewagons were.

A combination of sturdy and over construction practices of the Kobolians combined with the much more advanced and powerful technology of both the Federation and Klingon Empire had allowed the construction yards in orbit of their home planet to build these new and powerful vessels.

While the first and forth of these vessels were relatively safe patrolling their home system, the second and third of the twelve ships of the first construction block had been given to Wildfire Squadron as reinforcements for the reconstructed Pegasus, two more were slated to reinforce the Galactica when (and if ) they returned to Federation space.

However for now the Libra and Caprica had been transferred to Commander Cain's squadron, with his decision (read promise here because he really thought about it but it was a sacrifice he was not willing to make) not to take command of his ship back from his daughter Sheba, Cain had taken the Libra as his command ship if not as the fleet flagship.

The destroyer was surrounded by it's sister ship as well as the bulk of the squadron awaiting word from it's flagship and it's escorts, in all thirty five of the Alliance's most advanced and powerful ships awaited cloaked and powered down awaiting contact.

Captain's Day Cabin

Colonial Destroyer Libra

Admiral Cain sat in his cabin going through the reports of the Wildfire squadron's latest series of raids against the Cylons. While their forces were large in number and formidable in power they were not the best fleet for prolonged combat against Cylon heavy ships.

In that stead Cain had decided to use a combination of the Colonial's own modified Transwarp engines, warp speed and cloaks to allow his ships to travel to and engage Cylon forces behind their own lines. While they knew the Cylons could likely track them through Slipstream and possibly even through the use of their cloaks Cain had come up with his own plans.

Already in less than three weeks four of the largest supply depots set up by the Cylons had been wiped out by the squadron's forces. In addition when it had been prudent or unavoidable, the squadron had been forced to take on Cylon Basetars and large numbers of Cylon fighters in order to escape. However the Cylon ships had been destroyed and unknown to Cain at this time three more were added to the tally of destroyed Cylon vessels. In all, eight Basestars had been destroyed in one week by the hit and run tactics of Cain's ships.

It wasn't nearly enough. The tin heads were learning, getting stronger. They had attacked the Gorn and even the Rytnas Democracies, a mistake Cain mused. Nothing was better than a bunch of enraged lizards covering your back.

The Dominion had entered the war and DS9 was in the middle once more as the Federation, the Dominion, the Cardassian remnants, the Bajorans and the Klingons, were fighting a life and death struggle to keep a huge Cylon armada from entering the Bajoran wormhole.


"Comm…Commander Cain?"

The Youthful looking Commander looked up at the doorway of his cabin. Unlike the Starfleet ships and even most of the Colonial ships he had had his doorway replaced with an airtight hatch, much like most of the most important areas in the ship had been. In his doorway stood the tall and slightly fidgety figure of his ship's chief engineer. As part of the treaty several members of each ship in the fleet had been replaced with counterparts from the other powers, his new chief engineer was such a man.

"Yes, Mr Barclay?"

"Sir, the ship is back to full running order. The damage from…from the last battle has been fully repaired."

"Why didn't you contact me through the Comm. System?"

"We tried, Sir you seem to have it turned off, your combadge as well."

Cain looked at his desk monitor which was still online from his reports. He 'had' hit the silencing button stopping any and all communications bar red alert status from getting through to him while working.

"My apologies, Mr Barclay. Thank you."

"Also Sir we've… we've received a communication from the Pegasus. She's alright and the trap worked."


"Twenty dead, sixty wounded, Cylon losses at three Basestars and their fighter contingents."


"Yes, Sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Barclay."

"Yes, Sir." With that the engineer left the doorway allowing it to shut.

"Computer, bring up communications from Battlestar Pegasus."

"Affirmative," the computer responded.

The screen activated bringing up the information burst sent to the Libra from the first task force. The basic numbers meaning little to the warrior. The results of the battle were what he was after. He cursed softly as he read details.

More fighters had been lost by the Battlestar and although the ship was capable of carrying many more fighters than it had been able to during the Cylon war, they could still only carry a finite number of the upgraded fighters.

The other Colonial ships as well as the massive Klingon cruiser were all capable of carrying the hybrid fighters of the Colonial forces. Loses however, were starting to mount to the point that the attrition squadron was almost depleted as were the fighters from the Klingon ship. The only saving grace had been the fact that they had managed to save most of the pilots from the battles thanks to their increased survival systems installed by the Federation. Transporters were indeed a blessing. Nonetheless more and more pilots were being lost to the Cylons forcing the replacements and a small number of retired pilots to take their places on the squadron roster much sooner. This was something that Cain had expected but was unable to do anything about at this time. They'd done well and he was proud of them and his daughter especially, but those were standard Hellion class Basestars. How would they stand up to the newer Executor class coming online?

"Computer, what is the state of the Wildfire fighter squadrons?"

"Wildfire Squadrons at ninety percent of maximum, secondary pilots are currently undergoing orientation and squadron basis training. Pegasus squadrons at one hundred percent. Destroyer squadron One and Two at one hundred percent. Destroyer squadrons Three and Four at one hundred percent. Klingon Squadron One now out of service."

"Next target?"

"Next target, Cylon repair and resupply station, Cardassian border."

"Computer end, Cain to bridge."


"Colonel Kae'th, set course for Target Six Beta. When Task Force One joins with the rest of the Squadron all ships are to jump immediately."

"Yes, Commander."

"Cain out."

Cain sat back, looking at the mirror inside the room. It felt good to be young once more.

"Senior Commander."

"What is it?"

"We have a report that Voyager has made it back."

'So soon'? he thought. Had they found V'Ger so quickly?

"What of the Galactica?"

"It's not with them. Starfleet has informed us that Voyager is returning to the Delta quadrant. But they have brought guests with them?"

"Who cares?" he snapped.

"Well, Sir, according to the reports these people are from another universe. The race is called Minbari. We have images of the vessel. Looks like a giant blue fish bristling with weapons. Reminds me of an organic Battlestar."

Cain looked at the transmission. For a moment, he was at a loss. Then he began to laugh. "By the gods, it's great to be alive!"