Cogs of Fate: The Origin of Sera

Cogs of Fate: The Origin of Sera

Solaris1989

GFIR Ticonderoga CG-47A, Thirty-Six Days into Exodus

Exiting from slipspace, the GFIR Ticonderoga slowly continued its course at sublight speeds. Heavily damaged, the ship was not capable of making long distance trips through the mysterious realm of slipstream space. Forced to drop out of slipspace every few hours to allow the drive cores to cool, Captain Elizabeth Farrow, formerly of the Galactic Federated Imperial Republics, monitored the progress of the repair crews as they breathed new life into an ailing ship.

Elizabeth Farrow, an auburn haired woman with emerald eyes, stood at the Master Systems Display at the rear of the bridge in an imposing image of leadership. She wore a black uniform with two captain's insignia on both sides of her collar, and a long black cane she used for support and in some cases a weapon. Hidden inside the cane, was a thin, long, and sharp blade made of a light but extremely strong alloy that could cleanly slice off a man's arm in one fluid swipe.

Turning from the MSD, Farrow walked around the twisted remains of one of the bridge's internal support struts. The twisted strut, hanging loosely from the ceiling was darkened by fires that had burnt only weeks ago. The beam was only a small sample of the trials endured by the crew. Arriving at the tactical station that now doubled as the ship's navigation station, Farrow met eyes with her Executive Officer Commander Mitchell Carter who was one of her only surviving senior officers.

Carter was a man with sandy blonde hair and sapphire blue eyes. Farrow gave him a small smile before she posed him a simple question, "What do you hear?"

"Nothing but the rain," he replied.

"Crap, grab your gun and drag the cat in." A few seconds passed in silence before the duo burst out in laughter.

"You've been waiting to say that for hours haven't you?" Carter asked wiping his eyes with his sleeves.

"You know it. So, I take nothing promising this jump either?"

Shaking his head, "No, I'm afraid not. We need to find something soon. Hoffman is barely able to keep the engines together, and Richardson is concerned that we may burn out the primary slipspace drive soon."

Nodding in acknowledgement, Farrow sighed. "I wonder if we should have taken Admiral Parino's offer to join the Federation."

"Captain, with respect," Carter said placing his right hand on her left shoulder before continuing, "You know as well as I do that we would have never fully been accepted into their fold, even after helping defeat Solaris. You know as well as they do we wouldn't adapt well to a republic. Our society was the antithesis to theirs. What we called home is forever gone, and now it's up to us to make a new one."

When the man they knew as Emperor Solaris left the Federation, he used his now stolen flagship, the USS Singularity to travel into the past before the founding of the Federation. In the past, he overthrew Earth's governments and established himself as Supreme Emperor.

Before the Singularity fled the present, several Federation ships including the USS Bozeman, Arrow of Apollo, and the USS Legacy were pursuing the former Fleet Admiral's ship. The Singularity sent out a burst of chronoton particles that opened a window in time. As the Singularity escaped the present, the pursuing ships ran into the Singularity's temporal wake, which protected them from the changes in the timeline.

In this timeline, the Federation crews found themselves in a timeline where the democratic republic government of the United Federation of Planets completely replaced with an imperialist nightmare under the guise of republic. It was in this timeline that Captain Elizabeth Farrow and her crew aboard the Ticonderoga hailed from.

They eventually gained the attention of Solaris, who launched the Ticonderoga to dispose of them. After confronting the Federation ships, Fleet Admiral Miriam Parino of the USS Bozeman was able to convince Farrow and her crew that this timeline was wrong.

Joining the remainder of the Federation fleet, Farrow assisted them in infiltrating Solaris's stronghold: a massive space station built around the Singularity. Once aboard the Singularity-station, they found and accessed one of the ship's original computer cores for information regarding when the ship arrived in the past. Finding the information they desired, Farrow and Parino used the method that Solaris had pioneered and traveled back in time to a point before the arrival of the Singularity.

When the Singularity arrived, the ships immediately ambushed it. After a long and grueling battle, they captured Singularity along with Solaris. Returning to the now restored present, the Federation ships and crews returned home. However, homecoming was more bittersweet for the crew of the Ticonderoga.

Feeling that the best course of action was to depart Federation space and find their own destiny, Captain Elizabeth Farrow now found herself wondering if she had inadvertently doomed her crew to their deaths.

Looking to the starscape on the bridge's primary screen, Farrow nodded. "I know your right Mitch, but I hope we find it before we go too far up shit creek and break our paddle," Farrow said referring to their helm officer's worries about losing their faster-than-light capabilities. Fuel was not the problem, the damage the ship had sustained was.

Before they could continue their conversation, Lieutenant Viktor Hoffman and Master Chief Petty Officer Galen Fenix stormed onto the bridge. Crossing the distance to the Captain and the XO, Hoffman and Fenix both wore faces of extreme concern. Speaking first, Hoffman saluted the Captain and Commander. "Sirs, we have a new problem."

***

Standing inside the inner bowels of the ship, Farrow and Carter listened to Hoffman and Fenix's explanation of their new problem. "…probably happened during the temporal shifts and the battle with the Singularity, but I think the continuous jumping through slipspace has exacerbated it to the point it is now," replied MCPO Fenix.

Staring at one of the primary structural support members, Farrow saw the micro fractures illuminated throughout the metal via the ultraviolet lamp in Hoffman's hand. "How extensive is the structural damage?"

"We've found micro fractures like this throughout most of the ship's primary support members and about forty percent of the secondary members. I've already got teams doing what they can to reinforce the worst areas, but we're fighting a losing battle. Sooner or later, this ship's gonna collapse in on itself if we continue jumping like kangaroos through slipspace," Hoffman answered in a gruff manner.

Carter reached out, placed his hand on the support beam, and sighed. "Why did this happen? This ship isn't exactly old."

Fenix opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by Hoffman. "This ship was built during the height of the war with the Separatists. When Emperor Solaris ordered more ships built to counter the Seps, the engineers most likely cut corners to keep production rates up so not to anger the Emperor. Solaris was a man who wanted results, no matter the costs.

"The Tico is no exception. Put frankly, the reason this ship is so badly damaged is because of shoddy craftsmanship." Farrow felt herself go numb at Hoffman's explanation.

"You're telling me that our lives are in serious danger because a few fleet yard construction crews and engineers wanted to save some credits and time by building warships with serious structural flaws. Goddamn them, Goddamn them all." Farrow could feel the anger coursing through her like a river of magma. She knew it was futile to place blame because their timeline never happened, but felt the need to blame them nonetheless.

Hoffman watched her look up; her emerald eyes dulled by the recent events, pleading him to come up with a solution, a solution to a problem they both knew nearly impossible to fix. "I'm sorry Captain, but there's little we can do. We can reinforce the structure, but it's only a stopgap measure. Sooner or later we will have to abandon the Tico."

Turning to face them, Carter walked over to the railing of the walkway they were standing on. "How long?"

Fenix shrugged. "If we can reinforce all of the critical areas, then five…maybe six jumps into slipspace before we risk critical structural failure."

"Can we make it back to the Federation?" Hoffman asked.

Farrow shook her head, "That would be a negative. It would take us more than a dozen jumps to make it to the outer fringes of Federation space. Hoffman, can you repair the slipspace drives enough so we can have longer jumps?" Farrow knew that traveling in slipspace, as traveling in normal space did not strain the ship's super structure much. What caused the majority of strain were the sudden accelerations and decelerations in and out of slipspace. If it were possible to repair the slipspace drives, they could prolong their stay in slipspace with their remaining jumps and cover more distance.

"Perhaps, but they took some pretty bad hits during our last battle. I won't be able to repair them fully, but I might be able to squeeze you another hour or two of slipspace travel per jump, or about another hundred to one-fifty light years per jump. However, if we are going to find a habitable place other than this ship to live, we need to find it soon. That estimate about five or six jumps is just that: an estimate. We may not make one more jump. Statistically, with…" Farrow cut him off.

"Never tell me the odds," was her only warning. Turning to Carter, "I want you to use what shuttles we have left and send them on scouting missions. Tell them to go out as far as their fuel reserves will allow them. I want each ship running on fumes when it returns."

"Aye Captain," Carter said and turned to leave before Farrow called to one more time.

Allowing herself to smile, Farrow added. "Oh, and by the way, tell whoever finds a habitable rock first gets my prized bottle of Parrot Bay."

***

Eighty-Seven Hours Later, Shuttle 501, Mission, Find a New Home

Lieutenant Nicolas Baird rubbed his eyes for the umpteenth time as he looked over at his navigator, Lieutenant Junior Grade Cameron Santiago. "Hey Sant, you got anything on sensors or just more dust and echoes?" He asked as he eyed the shuttle's fuel reserve. They were rapidly approaching the red line, or the point where they would run out of fuel before the made it back to the Tico.

"I'm not certain. Look over at this star in grid three-five," Santiago replied pointing to a star just below the center of the screen. "Looks like this star may have a system of planets, but it could be a sensor ghost. What do you think? Wanna try it?"

"How far is the target Sant?"

Santiago tapped a few commands into his terminal. The terminal zoomed in on the system and displayed the distance relative to the shuttle in a small pop-up window. "Approximately two light years give or take. We have enough fuel?"

Nodding, Baird thumbed the slipspace drive's spool up sequence. "Yeah, but we'll be burning fucking fumes by the time we get back to the ship. This better not be a Goddamn dry well."

Santiago and Baird re-strapped themselves into their chairs as the FTL drive spooled. Baird keyed in the remaining coordinates into the navicomputer as he announced their departure window in his usual sarcastic style. "This is your captain speaking, make sure that all trays are in their locked and upright position, please make sure to put out any cigarettes you are smoking," he said as he lit a cigarette and took a long drag. "And one more thing, no barfing on the pilot."

"Dammit Baird, I don't get that sick when we jump. Besides, I only barfed once."

"Jump in five, four, three, two, one…hold onto your butts!" Baird yelled as the shuttle's FTL discharged, creating a slipspace window, and allowing shuttle 501 to enter.

Seconds later, the ship exited from slipspace in the upper atmosphere of an earthlike planet. Alarms went off throughout the cockpit as the ship bucked and jerked violently. "FUCK ME! We're in atmosphere! Sant, I thought you weren't certain!" Baird yelled as he fought the shuttle's stick to smooth out their course and bring them into a low orbit.

Santiago, holding on for dear life, managed to spare a glance at Baird. "Don't fucking blame me! You know damn well at that range it's Goddamn hard to see anything with these shitty sensors!" Santiago yelled in unison with Baird as the shuttle bounced and skipped over the upper atmosphere.

"Shut up Santiago, I can't concentrate!" Baird yelled as he continued to fight the stick.

"Don't tell me to shut up, you're flying is going to get us killed."

"Oh yeah, well watch this," Baird said calmly, throttling up the sublight engines. Shuttle 501 bounced a few more times as its ventral section began to glow orange-hot before smoothing out and gliding back into space just above the planet.

Both breathing hard, Santiago looked over at Baird who was fumbling with another cigarette. "Don't…ever…do that…again," was all he could manage.

"Oh my God," Baird said now finally being able to concentrate on something else than not dying, "Look Sant, just look!"

"I hear you man," Santiago said as tears threatened to form as he looked on the site below.

Baird inverted the shuttled so they could get a better view of the planet, "Look, oceans, continents, islands…green."

Santiago tapped furiously at the sensors. "Let's see, atmosphere reads as nitrogen, oxygen, and numerous trace elements. I think we just won Captain Farrow's bottle of Parrot Bay."

"Yeah and I'm buying. We have just enough fuel to do a couple of passes then we've really gotta get back to the ship. Make those pictures count." Baird said, as he took them around the northern hemisphere once and then around the southern hemisphere.

***

GFIR Ticonderoga CG-47A, 4 Hours Later

Farrow and Carter looked at the photos taken from Baird and Santiago's gun camera, as the two pilots poured themselves each a glass of water. "There's more Captain," Santiago said as he handed her an optical storage disk. "We had enough time that we were able to do a preliminary scan of the system. Our planet is the second in the system, and orbits closely to a third with an asteroid belt between them. The asteroids are rich in various metals including the key components in producing duranium."

Carter could not stop himself from laughing. "You've just found a planet suitable for human life, and you're concerned about an asteroid field."

Baird snuffed a cigarette before looking at the XO. "I think that Sant is trying to say that we can use the asteroids for material to repair this ship while we settle the planet. We don't know how much raw materials exist dirt side yet, so this belt may be our best bet."

"I know that Baird, but I think that this planet is a much more important find than a belt of rocks." Carter retorted before Farrow raised her hand to silence the discussion.

Standing up and grasping her cane, she walked over to briefing room's window and gazed out onto the stars for a moment before turning to face the other men. "First, I would like to say good job boys, that's one hell of a find, and as promised my bottle of Parrot Bay is yours.

"I have to agree, Santiago's right. This planet is the most important find, but until we have enough resources to establish ourselves on this new world, this ship is all we have. We need a more thorough scan of the asteroid belt to ascertain what resources we have access to." Farrow walked over to the table and grabbed one of the aerial photos taken of a plateau near an ocean. "I think that the best course of action is to jump the Tico near the asteroid belt and use our shuttles to fly down to the planet here," she said pointing at the plateau, "and set up a base camp to scout out possible locations to set up a population center."

Turning to Hoffman and Fenix, Farrow walked over to the two engineers. "How long will it take to finish reinforcing the ship's superstructure," she asked as she pulled out a bottle of pain medication for her knee. Taking a pill from the bottle, she swallowed it with a generous amount of water from a flask she kept in her breast pocket.

Handing her a report detailing their progress, Hoffman replied. "We have about fifteen more primary support beams to reinforce. I'd say about ten to twenty hours Captain."

"Very well, Carter please notify Lieutenant Commander Kayla Richardson to prepare for a jump in twenty-two hours. Have Baird and Santiago give her all the data she needs to plot and accurate course." With a wave of the hand, Farrow dismissed the men from the meeting.

Farrow spent a few moments looking at the photos left behind of their new home, wondering if their find was merely coincidence, or if there was some divine hand at work. Either way, she felt it did not matter. At least, she had not failed her crew.

***

Galen Fenix stepped off the lift and proceeded down the corridor toward his quarters. Hoffman had told him to get a few hours of rack time, and that he would oversee the final stages of repair himself. Fenix found himself feeling grateful to his superior officer because he had had very few chances to sneak a moment's rest over the past days.

Entering his quarters, he sat his folders with the engineering reports on a small table next to his bed along with his PDA, which was for communicating with other crewmembers as well as a diagnostic tool. Sitting on his bed, he removed his boots and outer shirt. Lying back on the bed, he soon sat back up. Deciding to update his personal journal, he took a small book from one of the table's drawers. Opening the book to the nearest blank page, he began to scribble down the events of the past several days.

15 March 2434

Since finding that the ship's superstructure is on the verge of collapse, I've spent the past several days with the engineering staff making repairs and reinforcing the primary and secondary support beams. The work has been tough, but I feel that with our efforts we've managed to breathe a little more life into the Tico. However, I am thankful that the scouting parties were able to find a habitable planet.

I can't begin to imagine what would happen if we had to abandon the Tico without somewhere to go. This ship has over 1,500 souls aboard, and it would be impossible to survive long term in shuttlecraft and escape pods. If that scenario were to occur, I would hope that I would be among those who didn't make it off the ship. At least then, it would be a quick death instead of sitting in a shuttle or pod waiting to run out of air or the fuel to run out and freeze to death. Thankfully, though, that won't happen.

I'm very happy that we found another place to live, but I'm a little sad too. I'm glad that we now have a place to call home other than the Tico, but I can't help but feel remorse for all those people in our timeline that won't have this luxury. People like Sophia. I don't know if she exists in this timeline, but it doesn't matter because the Sophia I loved and cared for never existed. I just wish that I could have seen her one more time…

The repairs we made to the Tico should hold until we get to the planetary system. There, as the Captain said, we can repair the ship with the raw materials we dig up in the asteroids while we settle the planet. It would be nice to be able to construct another ship so it wouldn't be just one lone carrier to face off against any perceivable threats, but I guess we'll figure that out as we go along.

I just wish that the Captain had taken Admiral Parino's offer to repair our ship at the Federation fleet yards in Mars orbit, but I don't blame her for our current situation. There would have been no way we could have known how extensive the damage was. I will say that it will be a bitch replacing most of the support struts when we are able to refine what ore we find in the asteroids. By the time we're finished, we'll pretty much have a whole new ship.

Anyway, I need to get a few hours of rest like the LT said, so until further notice this is Master Chief Petty Officer Galen Fenix signing off.

He always found it humorous to finish his entries like that; he mused as he closed the journal and stuffed it back in the drawer. Taking a photo of a woman with blonde hair, he looked at it for a long moment before laying it aside. He reached over, turned off the room's lights, pulled the sheets over his body, and allowed the thrumming of the ship's sublight engines to lull him to sleep.

***

Twenty-Two Hours Later

Farrow walked through the automated doors onto the bridge, which was a flurry of people working at their stations and giving orders and instructions to people throughout the ship as they prepared for the slipspace jump. She looked over to Richardson as she spun around in her chair.

"Captain, coordinates are entered in the navicomputer and the drives are spooling up as we speak. We'll be ready steady in five minutes."

"Good work," Farrow said nodding to her. "Carter, open a line throughout the ship. I'd like to speak to my crew."

"Aye ma'am, channel open."

Throughout the ship, speakers crackled to life as Farrow began to speak. "To all hands, this is the captain speaking. I just want to say before we go to our new home that you have been the finest crew I have ever served with. You have stood behind me 110 percent and given me your all, even when things were at their darkest. I can proudly say that I trust every one of you implicitly with my life, and that words can never accurately say how proud I am to say that I am your captain.

"I know that it's been a rough go these past months, and we've made and endured some hard decisions, but now we can rest. As I speak, our slipspace drives are spooling up to take us to a home we have only dreamt of, a home without the oppression of the Empire, a home without the higher than mighty Federation, a home that we can truly call our own.

"I want to end by saying that regardless of the outcome in next few minutes, hours, and days, there is nowhere else I'd rather be than with you. A captain is only as good as her crew, and I can rest easy knowing that I and the Tico are and always have been in the best hands."

With that, she closed the link and the crew resumed their duties now with a slightly lighter step. "Captain, drives are spooled up." Richardson said with her back turned as she adjusted their course. "Ready when you are."

Farrow nodded as she took her seat in the command chair. "Take us home Commander."

"With pleasure," Richardson said as her mouth turned up in a large grin. "Jump in five, four, three, ready, steady, Go!"

The Ticonderoga's slipspace drives discharge their pent up energy allowing for the formation of stable slipspace window as the massive ship accelerated into it. Instants after the ship had departed normal space; the window collapsed leaving the surrounding space just as it had been before with the exception of a temporary spike in background radiation levels.

Moments later, the Tico reappeared in normal space just outside of the asteroid belt. On the bridge, Lt. Richardson turned to face the Captain. "Jump complete." With that, everyone erupted in cheers.

"Very good Lieutenant, park us in a stable orbit around that large asteroid there." Farrow said referring to a massive asteroid to the ship's port side as she stood up wiping an intrusive tear from her left eye.

The Tico slowly advanced through the asteroid field toward a large asteroid surveyed as having an exceptionally large concentration of titanium, bauxite, and iron ores. Farrow mused as she watched the asteroids drift by on the view screen. Unlike old science fiction movies that depicted asteroids as these fast moving objects that would pulverize any unsuspecting ship into dust, in reality asteroids were slow moving objects, which gave a navigations officer plenty of time to adjust their course and prevent any collisions. The only real danger was when jumping out of slipspace in extreme close proximity to one or more free floating objects.

Easing the ship into a slow orbit around the large asteroid, Richardson tapped a few more commands into her console, which were jump coordinates that would allow the ship to jump rapidly out of the asteroid belt in the event of an extreme emergency. "Orbit achieved ma'am. Ready to offload survey crews for the belt and planet at your command."

"Excellent, tell Fenix and Cole's team that they are a go for asteroid survey." Farrow ordered as she looked over to Carter. "Get Baird and Santiago on the horn and tell them that their shuttle group is clear to jump to the planet at their discretion."

Carter opened a channel to Baird. "Your team is a go, good luck."

"Roger that Commander. By the way, any thoughts on what to call this little jewel we found. I was thinking Bairdairia, but if that's too egotistical then I understand," said Baird as his shuttle cleared the primary docking bay.

"Actually, I was thinking Sera," Farrow said. "It was the name of the colony most of us hail from."

Santiago took this moment to chime in over the COMM, "Yeah I think Sera is good. It kinda gives us something of home to hang onto."

"Oh fine, but Bairdairia sounded better to me. Anyway, Baird out."

"Roger that shuttle 501, good hunting and Godspeed." Carter said as he closed the channel. Shuttle 501 along with five other of the small craft rapidly departed from the asteroid belt and engaged their slipspace drives to make an intersystem jump. As they jumped to Sera, the shockwaves their drives created knocked a small asteroid off its course.

On the bridge, Farrow joined Carter over at the tactical station to observe the movements of both teams. The tactical station housed a small table, which housed a holographic projector that displayed a three-dimensional representation of the star system in real-time. On the table, the Tico, represented as a small green three-dimensional wireframe version of the ship orbiting a large blue wireframe model of the asteroid. Cole and Fenix's shuttle shown as a yellow dot labeled S17 that was trailing from the Tico down to the asteroid's surface. The other side of the table depicted Baird and Santiago's group as they made their way down to the landing site on Sera's surface.

A few moments later, they heard Baird's voice crackle on the bridge speakers. "We've just landed. Stroud and Carmine are in shuttles three-four and five-five-six orbiting the planet to give us some better aerials. Five-oh-one, two-nine-two, and eight-nine are on station dirt side to survey and set up base ops."

"Roger that Baird," Carter replied. "How's the weather?"

"Overcast and eighteen centigrade, but hey I'm not complaining. It's a helluva lot better than that stale shit we have been breathing. No offense Commander." Baird said over the speakers.

Smiling as he shook his head, Carter answered Baird. "None taken. Just don't have too much fun down there. Remember, you've got work to do."

"Roger that command, no need to worry about me, but I can't say the same about Santiago. He's already trying to go for a swim in the ocean."

"Just tell him not to go skinny dipping, Tico out."

"Looks like their having a blast," Farrow said leaning against the table to relieve pressure from her knee, "I bet Cole is barfing all the way down to the asteroid."

"Sirs," Richardson called out, "I'm tracking an asteroid that will come into close proximity to us. NAV projections say it won't strike Fenix's team or us. However, it will pass close enough to trigger the proximity alarms in about thirty-seven minutes. Do you want me to alter our course?"

Farrow considered it for a moment, "How close and where did it come from?"

"The asteroid will come within twenty meters of the ship. I believe it to be an asteroid knocked off course when Baird's group jumped to Sera." Richardson rechecked her monitors. "I don't think it is a threat, but I can reorient the ship if you wish."

Farrow shook her head. "Negative, if it's not going to impact us don't worry about it. Just keep tracking it for any course changes and keep me apprised."

"Aye captain," Richardson acknowledged as she returned to her duties.

"Captain," Carter called as Farrow turned back around. "I just got off the horn with Fenix. He says that they've landed on a crater in the northern hemisphere. He also says that Cole chucked all over the copilot station and that they are about to go EVA."

***

Asteroid 325Delta, MCPO Galen Fenix Commanding

"Dammit Cole, haven't you ever heard of barf bags. There're plenty of them on the shuttle." Fenix said as he finished securing Cole's environmental suit. "You know as well as I do that it's impolite to chuck on the shuttle's controls. Now Private Kim has to stay behind and clean that shit up."

Suppressing a laugh-groan, Corporal Aiden Cole wiped his mouth for the umpteenth time. "I'm sorry sir, but you know I hate flying."

"Then why the hell did you join the navy," Fenix said. Motioning to Kim, Fenix whispered, "Kim, keep the engines hot just in case."

Kim shook his head, "Roger that sir. Just tell Cole that he cleans it next time."

"I heard that," Cole called out from the airlock as he sealed his helmet on.

Fenix joined him and sealed his helmet on similarly. "Cycling in five seconds," he said as he closed and sealed the inner door. When the airlock finished sucking the air out of the compartment, the outer doors slowly opened. Stepping onto the naked surface of the asteroid, Fenix contacted the Tico to apprise them of their situation, which included Cole's incident.

"Damn man, the Tico looks so tiny all the way up there," Cole commented looking up at the carrier several kilometers above.

"Yeah, it does doesn't it." The two walked across the surface, each with a pack that held several survey tools to check the composition of the asteroid and take samples back to the ship. "Cole, you see that small cavern there?"

"Yeah."

"Let's check it out. We might get a better idea of what this rock's made of in there than out here."

Walking farther from the shuttle, the two entered the small cavern. The cave's structure suggested that a glancing impact from another asteroid created it. Unlike terrestrial caverns, this one did not have the characteristic stalactites and stalagmites that created by mineral deposits left by dripping water. The cavern's structure was consistent with a natural pocket formed when the asteroid formed some eons earlier, and opened from a collision with another large body. Fenix mused that if the cavern were stable, then they would be able to set up a mining operation inside the asteroid, protected from the elements outside.

As they proceeded deeper into the cavern, they noticed their surroundings becoming brighter. "Fenix, you thinking what I'm thinking?" Cole asked, as the cavern grew bright enough to see without the aid of their suit lights.

"Yeah, like it should be darker in here rather than brighter."

They looked around the cavern, which with the exception of the entrance they just came from was glowing in a bright golden light. "Cole, check your scanner and tell me this is not what I think it is."

Cole took a small PDA from his suit's utility belt and held it up to their surroundings as it scanned the rock formations around them. He then brought it back down and checked the readout. "Yeah, definitely imulsion."

"Shit," Fenix hissed as he looked at the glowing rock around them. "How the hell did the sensors on the shuttles and the Tico not detect this?"

Placing the sensor back in his belt, Cole shrugged. "The various ores probably masked the imulsion's signatures since we weren't actively scanning for the stuff." That statement made Fenix go cold with fear.

How many of these rocks had imulsion in them? He remembered everything he learned on the material, and how dangerous it was.

Imulsion was a naturally occurring material, however, as to how it was made is still completely unknown. In an environment that is between -15 degrees and thirty-seven degrees Celsius, imulsion is a liquid with low viscosity. At temperatures below -15°C, imulsion existed as a solid and at temperatures over 37°C it was a gas. GFIR scientists discovered the substance on Earth in the late 22nd century and later discovered it on many other planets.

Scientists soon found that imulsion, when refined, was a stable and usable clean burning energy source. However, in its natural state imulsion is highly unstable and poisonous to the human body, which is why the GFIR never adapted it as a major energy source. Imulsion also has mutagenic effects on living tissues because of how easily it is absorbed through the skin, which usually results in cancers, but in rare cases, it changes its victim in a cellular level into something else altogether.

When frozen, imulsion becomes considerably denser than in its liquid form, which makes the material even more unstable. Any spark, jolt, or impact could set off the material like nuclear bomb, which is why imulsion soon found its way onto the battlefield. An army with imulsion-based weapons could destroy and entire city without the negative effects of using a nuclear weapon. No city, no radiation, no problem, is what many generals said regarding imulsion warheads.

In its gaseous form, imulsion is a stable compound, but when inhaled, imulsion destroys humans on the cellular level and causes many forms of rapid moving cancers. Cole shook him and snapped him out of his thoughts. "Dude, I think we should seriously think about getting the hell out of Dodge."

"You're right; we've got to warn the Tico." Fenix said as they began to run back the way they came. This asteroid field could be a ticking time bomb for all they knew. Moments later, they exited the cave, and found the starlight darkened. They looked up and saw another asteroid coming in very close to the Tico.

Fenix opened his comlink with the Tico, but found the signal was not going through. "Dammit, I can't hail the Tico. We better get back to the shuttle and dust off."

"You said it boss," Cole said as the duo ran back to the shuttle.

As soon as they had cycled through the airlock, they entered the main cabin and threw their helmets to the ground. "Kim," Fenix ordered, "have you been able to get through to the ship?"

"Negative sirs," Kim said nervously at their urgency, "but they contacted me and said that the asteroid may screw with the COMMs while it passes overhead."

Cole strapped himself into the copilot seat. "Great," he said sarcastically. "Kim, this asteroid is a mountain of imulsion just waiting to blow us all to kingdom come."

Kim's face went completely pale as Fenix strapped himself into the pilot seat. "You can't be serious; you know what this could mean."

"Yeah, this is probably not the only asteroid that has a mountain of solid imulsion in it." Fenix replied as he fired up the engines and boosted off the ground.

***

On the Ticonderoga's bridge, Farrow sat at her command chair watching the asteroid close in on the ship. "You sure that rock is going to miss us?"

"Yes ma'am," Richardson said as she placed her hands on the manual controls out of habit. The asteroid began to pass over the Ticonderoga, just a mere twenty meters above the massive ship. Farrow stood up as she watched the asteroid pass over the ship from the main view screen.

When it was roughly halfway over the ship, the internal speakers crackled to life. "This petty officer Fenix to Ticonderoga actual, do you read, over?"

Tapping the send/receive command into the COMM array, Farrow replied. "This is Ticonderoga actual, what's up? Why have you left the surface early?"

"That asteroid is a mountain of imulsion that could go up any moment."

Farrow looked back at Carter, "How'd we miss it?"

Before Carter could reply, Fenix answered her question. "Sensors wouldn't pick it up unless you were scanning for it. Imulsion's a tricky bastard like that."

"Roger that Fenix, get aboard ASAP. I suddenly want out of here."

As the asteroid slowly advanced toward the rear quarter of the Ticonderoga, Fenix piloted the shuttle into one of the port landing bays. Exiting the shuttle, they all ran for the nearest lift to take them to the bridge.

Farrow sat back in her command chair. "Richardson, spool up the slipspace drive and get us out of here."

"Aye captain," Richardson replied, "drives spooling now. Plotting a course now, engines online." Richardson took hold of ship's sublight controls and powered up the engines just as the asteroid passed over the rear of the ship.

Most modern starships utilize micro-fusion reactors to power their sublight engines. This results in superheated plasma as exhaust, which under normal circumstances cools within seconds. However, when dealing with an unstable material like imulsion in its solid form, seconds are all it takes to heat the unstable material enough to explode violently.

Unlike the large asteroid the Ticonderoga was orbiting, the small one did not have a thick crust of iron, titanium, and various other materials to absorb and radiate the heat of the plasma emitted by the Tico's engines. Within seconds, the imulsion contained inside of the small asteroid superheated and exploded.

The explosion shook the ship as large chunks of debris struck the Ticonderoga. Within seconds, the ship's hull suffered numerous breaches as many crewmembers were sucked into the vacuum of space before emergency bulkheads could slam shut and seal the breached compartments. The Tico pitched down as debris peppered the ventral section of the ship. One especially large chunk crashed into the port ventral sublight engine with enough force to rip it from the rest of the ship. As it drifted away from the Tico, the micro-fusion reactor in that engine pod lost containment as the magnetic containment fields failed, allowing the superheated plasma to consume the engine pod in a violent nuclear explosion. The explosion sent out a shockwave that rocked the ship causing armor plates to break from the ship's superstructure.

On the bridge, sparks flew as several consoles exploded filling the room in with smoke as the ship shook and jolted violently from the impacts. "Report!" Farrow yelled over the blaring alarms.

"We've lost engine three; one and five show critical systems failure!" Richardson called back from her station. "Slipspace drives are still spooling, but the coolant systems are fluctuating."

"Captain," Carter called from tactical, "I'm seeing severe structural buckling along our lateral lines, she's gonna tear herself apart if we jump."

Richardson called back, "I'm picking up seismic activity on the asteroid below. I think it's gonna blow!"

When the shockwave from the explosion of the smaller asteroid struck the larger one, it set off a chain reaction of smaller explosions inside the large asteroid that would set it off like a multiple gigaton nuclear explosion. While it would not have the radioactive fallout of a nuke, it would have the kinetic energy of a warhead of similar proportions.

The static filled view screen in the bridge displayed cracks and fissures forming over the surface of the large asteroid. In only moments, it would detonate violently enough to destroy the nearly crippled carrier.

"If we stay here, we'll die anyway," Farrow yelled. "Richardson, jump the ship!"

Richardson nodded her head in acknowledgement, "Aye ma'am, brace yourselves!" She slammed her fist down on the jump controls. The slipspace drive cores discharged their stored up energy, forming a stable slipspace window. The Ticonderoga rapidly jumped through the window as the large asteroid erupted in a massive explosion, consuming the asteroids around it and starting a chain reaction. The surrounding asteroids that contained imulsion similarly detonated causing others to erupt, and so on, violently consuming the entire field.

Seconds later, the Ticonderoga reappeared in normal space above Sera. However, the rapid acceleration and deceleration had taken its toll on the weakened superstructure. As the ship slammed to a stop, most of the lateral support beams failed. Outside, this caused the ship to warp in odd angles, bending and warping at failure points along the ship's lateral line. The warping and twisting wrenched hull plates into space, as they broke free of the ship, the structure continued to twist and warp like taffy.

Inside, the violent structural failures threw crewmembers to the floor from their stations as lights and glass partitions shattered, raining debris down on them. Computer consoles and electrical panels and conduits erupted in sparks and fire. Beyond the chaos they were feeling and seeing, the ship was groaning all around them as support beams continued to twist and buckle. Corridors collapsed, raining debris on those trapped there. Windows and viewports cracked and shattered, venting atmosphere and sucking more crewmembers into the vacuum as emergency bulkheads began to slam down, many failing due to being warped or warped frames preventing the doors from sealing.

After what seemed like an eternity, the rumbling and shaking subsided. However, the ship continued to groan as the semi-stable structure settled. Farrow; face down on the floor found herself brought to her feet by Carter. "Are you…"

"I'm fine, Mitch," Farrow replied before he finished. The bridge was filled with smoke and the acrid smell of burnt electronics. She could hear the coughs and groans of the crew as they pulled themselves off the deck. Some were not moving, however, and would never move again. Richardson lay on the floor staring into eternity, her neck bent in an angle too steep to be natural. The helm officer had sacrificed herself to save the ship.

Before allowing herself to be caught up in sorrow for those who died, Farrow looked sharply at Carter. "Damage report," were the only words that escaped her mouth.

"Aye, ma'am," Carter replied as he ducked under a support strut. The tactical station was all but gone, but the holo-table had miraculously survived the jump. He tapped several commands into one of the table's keyboards. The holo-table flickered a few times and brought up a green wireframe of the ship; however, this time the model was grossly distorted. All along the ship, sections glowed red indicating severe structural failures. The failure points trailed the lateral support lines, lines of horizontal members that stretched across the entire ship. These members served as the ship's backbone, which had now been broken. Over ninety percent of the lateral members pulsated an angry red.

Carter looked up from the glowing display. He was sure that Farrow could see the rotating nightmare too, but she needed to hear it from him. "We're mostly intact Captain. Life support is still online and engines are at forty-five percent," he paused long enough to walk back to her. Peering into her emerald eyes, he continued. "The lateral support members are showing red lines, she's broke her back. She'll never jump again."

Nodding grimly, Farrow sighed. "Then here's where we stay."

Forcing the lift doors open, Fenix and Cole climbed out of the lift tube. "Damn," was the only word that they could come up with to describe the scene before them. On the flickering view screen, they saw a bright, narrow band of golden light spanning the width of the screen.

"So much for the mining ops," Fenix said as the band of light slowly began to fade.

Cole shook his head, "That all you have to say after all the shit we just went through."

Fenix shrugged. "What do you expect me to say?"

"I dunno, just show a little more emotion than 'Oh well, the shit just hit the fan, but I'm still going shrug it off all nonchalant like."

Carter shook his head at their comments. He knew they were just using the dry humor to cope with what just happened. He watched Fenix's face tense when he saw Richardson's body and walked over to what remained of their former helm officer. He carefully removed his outer shirt and draped it over her, stood, and saluted her.

"Good officer," was all he said as he walked over to the holo-table where Farrow and Carter stood. As he reached the table, the speakers crackled.

"What in the nine levels of hell just happened Tico!?" Baird's voice boomed over the speakers. On the view screen, his shuttle moved into range of the remnants of the forward sensor array.

Sighing, Farrow responded. "We found a shitload of imulsion in the belt. We didn't find out till it was too late. We probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for Cole and Fenix."

"More like ten shitloads," Fenix mumbled under his breath referring to the belt.

"Indeed Fenix. Captain, I'm picking up a lot of bodies floating out here; not to mention the hull plates you flung off."

"How many Baird?"

"Sensor's are picking up at least a hundred, but your number five engine's spitting out a ton of radiation that's fucking with my sensors."

"Shit." Farrow cursed.

"You're also out gassing a lot of oh-two. I'd say from the amount you're losing that half of your tertiary bulkheads didn't seal. I'd evac anyone in those sections ASAP."

"Roger that Baird. Our internal sensors are shot, so I want you to stay on station and do some flyovers of us to paint a better picture of the damage we've sustained."

"Aye Cap'n, Baird out"

Carter popped his knuckles looked to Farrow and Cole. "Well let's get to work."

GFIR Ticonderoga CG-47A, Twenty-Eight Hours Later

Farrow, Carter, Fenix, and Baird stood at the tactical holo-table in the now deserted bridge. The room was eerily quiet, as they stood around the floating holographical image of Sera sprawled out as a topographical map. Areas surveyed displayed as colored sections while non-surveyed sections displayed as gray.

"So, what's the plan Cap'n?" Baird asked as he lit a cigarette and took a long drag.

"That shit's gonna kill you Baird." Fenix said waving smoke away from him.

"News flash Fenix, I don't think I'm gonna have access to these little jewels much longer so let me enjoy it while it lasts."

Farrow cleared her throat as she took a drink from a pouch of instant self-heating coffee. "We're abandoning the Tico. The crew will use the ship's escape pods to evacuate and land on what we've identified as the San Jacinto Plateau," she said pointing to the plateau on the map. "When everyone is dirt side, we'll divide the remaining crew members into four groups of three hundred." Looking up to face Baird, Farrow continued.

"Then I want you and your team of pilots to use the shuttles to bus the three groups that aren't staying at Jacinto to those locations. After that's done, pick a site to live at and enjoy the rest of your life."

"Fenix, I want you to catalog the supplies we're offloading from the ship when you get dirt side so we can divide it up evenly among the four groups and assist with loading them onto the shuttles."

Fenix nodded, "Aye Captain."

"Carter has made several hard copies of the maps and all the documented intel we've gathered about Sera. I will distribute them out to the team leaders of each site before we abandon ship."

Carter tapped a few commands to make the image reappear as a planet again with the Tico in a high orbit above Jacinto. "So, what're we gonna do about the ole' girl?"

Farrow bit her lip. "The ship's sustained too much damage to be useful. While she's content to orbit herself around the plant for now, eventually the ship will run out of fuel and her orbit will decay. I don't want the ship falling down on our heads, so I've programmed the navicomputer to fly the ship into the Sun. After everyone else has abandoned ship, I will initiate the ship's final burn and evac in one of our remaining fighters.

"I've also loaded two mark twenty-five probes with the entire contents of our main computer: history, technology, everything about us. One, I will have sent down with the shuttles to be buried as a time capsule for our descendants, and one I'm going to launch to the closest moon for the same reasons."

"So this is it, huh?" Fenix said. "I always thought that I'd retire to a life of luxury after leaving the fleet, funny how life works isn't it." It was more a statement than a question.

Main shuttle bay, 7 Hours later

Farrow stood in the main shuttle bay as the last shuttle out prepared to launch. Carter hefted the last of the supplies onto the shuttle as Hoffman checked it off on a clipboard.

"Well that's it Captain. Ready to depart." Carter stepped down from the shuttle. "Sure you don't want us to wait for you?"

Farrow smiled. "No, I'm afraid this is something I've got to do on my own. I'll meet you on the surface in a little while. Besides, a Captain has the right to walk down her ship before she leaves doesn't she?"

"True, very well captain with your permission I'd like to go pick a place for my tent before all the good spots are taken." Carter said as he stood to attention and saluted her.

Farrow returned his salute. "Very well then Commander, permission to depart." It was the last time she would exercise this routine.

"See you on the other side, Captain," Carter said as he closed the shuttle's hatch.

She stood there as the shuttle lifted off and taxied to the launch bay. Moments later, it was gone and on its way to the surface. Farrow lingered a moment before she turned and exited the bay. Making her way through the maze of debris and bent and broken corridors, she entered the bridge.

The bridge was a shattered, broken, and burnt shadow of its former self. Farrow crossed the distance from the rear of the room to helm console in the middle. Seating herself where Richardson had been so often, she brought up a list of commands on the navigation console. She initiated her flight plan and tapped the execute command. The screen changed and displayed, Warning, fail scenario//override of safety protocols enabled//. A countdown appeared and began counting down from thirty minutes, which would give her enough time to make it to the fighter launch bay.

Farrow stood, took one last look around at the one place she had called home for many years now. In her mind, she remembered the first time she came aboard the ship.

"Is this your first time aboard a Kilimanjaro class ship?"

Farrow put her PDA down and looked over at Lieutenant Kayla Richardson. "Actually, yes it is I believe."

"Well I think that you'll be impressed Captain. The Ticonderoga is one of the most advanced starships the empire has ever built. She has twenty-seven phased energy turbophaser cannons, fifty-two photonic torpedo launchers, and ten nuclear warheads ranging from one kiloton up to our big boy: GODHAND. That one's a nice little five-gigaton surprise to shove up some Seppy Asses."

"I have no doubt that the isn't lacking in armaments. However, I'm more concerned with the crew. A ship without a good crew is nothing more than a hunk of duranium with a fusion reactor." Farrow paused to let her words set in. Richardson simply grinned.

"I don't think you'll need to worry about the crew Captain. I served with most of them aboard the Alexi Leonov under Sam Isaacs's command before he retired," Richardson said as she piloted the shuttle into the Olympus Mons Fleet Yard in Mars orbit.

Farrow nodded. "Isaacs was a good captain. I hear his XO was a bit overzealous though."

"Yeah, you mean Mitch. He takes his job quite seriously, but he's a good guy. Saved my life a few times. I remember that time he stood right in front of Isaacs and refused to allow him to accompany the away team when they went in to capture or kill Matt Addison and his separatist terrorist cell."

It was all Farrow could do not to laugh. The image of anybody trying to stop Captain Isaacs from doing anything was humorous. Earlier that day, Isaacs had called her to congratulate her on her commission to the Tico and to warn her about Carter. However, it was not Carter's overzealous nature that worried her; it was his taste in women that concerned her. She did not want to boast, but she had been told on more than one occasion that she was quite an attractive woman. All she needed was a lecherous womanizer for a first officer. "I'm sure he and I can come to an understanding."

"Just don't give him any opportunities and you'll be fine." Richardson said flying past a cruiser under construction off the starboard side. As the shuttle cleared the cruiser, the Ticonderoga became visible. "There she is, a beauty isn't she?"

"Quite," Farrow replied. The ship was docked at one of the numerous orbital facilities and was swarming with activity. Smaller worker pods scanned over the ship ensuring the hull was completely airtight and free of defects as other shuttles ferried in the remaining crew and supplies. She had seen other Kilimanjaro class ships before, but this was the first time she had seen a ship that was hers. It was her ship. She was in command and that made the view all the more spectacular.

Farrow turned and left the bridge for the last time. Once she was back in the main shuttle bay she crossed the deck to a lone waiting fighter. Fenix had been kind enough repair and prep one of the Tico's remaining fighters for her to fly down to the surface. She wanted all shuttles groundside before she departed. Fenix had moved the craft to the launch tubes and went of the preflight checklist before he left. All Farrow had to do was suit up in her G-suit, strap in, power up, and launch.

It had been years since she last piloted a Cobra, but for her piloting one of these was like ride a bicycle: once you learned to ride one, you never forgot. She may be a little rusty, but it wasn't like she was going be flying into combat. Farrow only wished she had access to one of the old Mark III Cobras instead of the newer Mark XV fighters. The Fifteens were newer and more agile, but you had to know what you were doing to grab the stick of a Three.

Farrow removed her uniform's outer jacket, shoes, and pants. She folded them neatly and placed them into a small storage compartment on the Cobra's port side. Farrow then suited up in the G-suit left behind for her. The suit served a duel purpose of protecting the wearer from the high G-forces of combat maneuvers and served as an environmental suit in the event the cockpit was breached or the pilot needed to eject out into space. The suit also contained two small hyper compressed oxygen tanks that supplied up to forty-eight hours of emergency oh-two. Sealing the suit's helmet, Farrow walked over to the launch tube's manual override controls.

She opened the console's cover and tapped the tube's inner door overrides. The inner door slowly slid shut, sealing her in the compartment. As the doors slid home, she tapped the command to tie the outer doors and the magnetic accelerator catapult into the Cobra's computers. While a technician would normally operate each launch tube manually, Farrow was forced to do the job herself since she was alone.

She climbed into the cockpit ignoring the pain in her left knee as she slid into the cockpit. Her knee injury was what had forced her out of the cockpit and onto the bridge. During a battle against the separatists when she was still a Lieutenant, her Cobra was hit by enemy fire and she was injured. She managed to limp the damaged fighter back to one of the carriers in the fleet, but her injuries had been too severe to prevent her from crashing on the flight deck.

The doctors told her when she regained consciousness in the medbay that she had miraculously survived a crash landing that should have killed her. Before she could ask how long it would take for her to get back in the fight, the doctors dropped the bomb on her. They told her that the shrapnel that hit her when her fighter was hit had all but shredded her left leg. While they had managed to save the leg, the damage was too severe to allow her to ever pilot a fighter again.

"Screw the doctors." Farrow said as she slid the cockpit home. It didn't matter anymore if she was cleared for flight status or not. It wasn't like those doctors would be able to ground her anyway.

She keyed the outer doors to the launch tube. Hundreds of meters ahead of her, she could see a faint light appear as the outer doors opened. One hand on the control stick, Farrow brushed her hand on the launch command that would power up the engines initiate the magnetic accelerators that would launch the fighter into space. Her finger made contact with the launch key, but she hesitated. For a moment she was tempted to abort the launch sequence and hurry back to the bridge and stop the ship's autonav protocol. However, she steeled herself and pressed the button and instantly felt herself pushed back into the seat as the fighter rapidly accelerated through the tube. She could see the tube's lights above her ticking away the seconds as she passed under them until finally all she saw were stars.

The Cobra exited the tubes going nearly two thousand kilometers per hour. Farrow used her left foot to slow the fighter as she pulled back on the stick and guided the craft to her port to come around the rear of the Tico.

Banking around the rear of the massive ship, Farrow stared out the port side of the cockpit at the ship as she came along its starboard side. This would be the last time her eyes would see this ship and the stars from space. She wanted to savor the moment for as long as it would last.

As she crossed the starboard side of the Tico the damage the ship had sustained was readily apparent. Outer hull and armor plates had been wrenched free leaving areas exposed and vulnerable, the super structure had been compromised leaving the ship warped and twisted along its lateral line. Parts of the structure were crumpled and compressed, others stretched and torn leaving areas completely open to the vacuum and death of space. Along the starboard side, a massive tear in the hull stretched across starboard docking bay rendering it completely useless. As she cleared the bow of the she caught one last glance of the bridge before she turned to face the planet ahead of her.

On the bridge, the Tico's computers continued to countdown to zero. When the seconds finally ticked away, the navigational computer sent a signal through the ship's optical data network to the remaining operable engines. The engines fired in accordance with the navicomputer's instructions deorbiting the ship as she turned to face the Sun. As Farrow was beginning to enter the atmosphere, the Ticonderoga slowly flew off into the distance until it was impossible to distinguish from the Sun.

On the surface, the primary base camp had been assembled quickly and the supplies were being sorted as evenly as possible for each settlement. Carter had just finished setting up his tent as he heard the sound of a Cobra fighter and looked up. As the fighter passed overhead, he waved his hands in the air to the pilot. The Cobra responded by rocking its wings up and down before banking left and coming to a soft landing just outside of the camp. Carter ran to the fighter as its pilot slid the cockpit open and pulled off her helmet.

"Nice entrance Captain." Carter said catching her cane as she threw it to him before helping her down.

Farrow brushed a few strands of hair out of her face as she straightened the G-suit. "It's been a while since flew one of those. Too bad I won't have chance to get used to it again."

"You know the old saying, all good things come to an end."

"True, here hold this," Farrow replied handing him her cane so she could unzip the torso section of her G-suit. Carter handed her back her cane as they slowly walked away from the fighter toward the base camp.

"So Elizabeth, if I can call you that now, what's your plan?" Carter asked slipping his arm around her waist. They stopped and Farrow looked at him.

"Without a ship, I'm no longer a captain," she said allowing a smile to creep onto her face. "I don't know. What do you have in mind?"

"Well Elizabeth," he said pausing to savor her name, "I was thinking about asking you if you wanted to have dinner and a movie."

"Dinner and a movie, eh? Know any good locations?"

Carter pointed to a tent on the fringes of the camp. "As a matter of fact, I do. I know a wonderful little camp that has some MREs that are absolutely delectable."

"Hmm, that sounds interesting. So we have dinner, but what about the show?"

"All taken care of," he said. Carter pulled his PDA out his left pocket. "Before I left, I took the liberty of downloading some choice movies from the Tico's database."

"Any chance you downloaded Fight Club?"

"If you agree to dinner, then I did." Carter grinned as they walked toward the tent.

"Why not, Mitch." Farrow said as she wrapped her left arm around him as they walked together toward camp.

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