DISCLAIMER: Star Trek and all related characters are the property of Paramount Pictures, Inc. and CBS-Paramount Television. Queen's Blade and all related characters are the property of Hobby Japan. No copyright infringement is intended. This work of fiction is for entertainment purposes only and no money has changed hands. The original characters and events are the sole property of the author and may not be used without permission.


by Darrin Colbourne

Emilie Vance stared down her opponent with steely-eyed determination. Her golden eyes looked across the battlefield at the enemy's face and saw fear. I have the advantage and you know it, she gloated in her mind. With a smirk, she delivered the two words that would bring devastation, ruin and chaos:

"Go Fish."

"Awww!" 7-year-old Claudia Vance groaned as she went to pluck a card from the deck resting between them on her mother's bed. As she added the card to her hand, she muttered, "Stupid Earth game..."

"Oh, so now it's a stupid Earth game," Emilie said. "Because that's not what you said when I got home today. You were all like 'Mommy! Mommy! My friend Kenny showed me a great game Earth kids play with cards! I only learned it today and I already won twice! Let us play this wonderful game, Mommy! Oh, let us play after dinner so that I may show it to you!' That's how you were."

Claudia shrugged and said with complete honesty, "Yeah...but then I was winning."

Emilie giggled. "Got any fours?" she asked.

It didn't take long for Claudia to check her hand, after which she groaned again and turned over her four of diamonds. Before Emilie could say anything else an electronic chirp drew her attention, then a disembodied voice said, "Bridge to Captain Vance."

Emilie slid off the bed - taking her cards with her so Claudia couldn't peek - and walked over to the nightstand where she'd laid her commbadge. She picked it up and activated it. "Vance here," she said.

The voice - Her First Officer's - said, "You wanted to be notified when we arrived, Captain."

"Thank you," Emilie said. "I'll be right up. Vance out." She put the commbadge back down and turned to Claudia. "Okay, you, time for bed."

Claudia sighed and made a huge dramatic show of climbing down off her mother's bed and gathering up the cards. She handed them to Emilie and trudged off. Emilie rolled her eyes at the theatrics. It wasn't like the girl had to go far.

Spacious as they were, Captain's Quarters was merely a suite with a sitting room and one bedroom. Adding another bedroom for Claudia would have disrupted the other quarters on the deck, so Emilie had simply had a second bed added...which Claudia reached in five over-dramatic steps and climbed into.

Emilie tucked her in and kissed her on the forehead. "I have to go up to the bridge, but I won't be long. You'll be okay till I get back?" A brave nod was Claudia's response. "That's my girl. Try to get to sleep, okay?" Another nod and Emilie smiled and left the bedroom, calling out "Dim lights" as she walked out the door.

As she crossed the sitting room she contemplated putting her uniform back on, but she was comfortable now and didn't want to dress just to spend two minutes on the bridge. Of course, "comfortable" to her meant she was wearing nothing but a pink, short-hemmed bathrobe at the moment. Ultimately, she just closed the robe tight around her curves and slid on some matching slippers, then used her fingers to arrange her short blonde hair a little as she stepped into the corridor.

It was short walk to the nearest turbolift and a short ride to Deck One. As she stepped onto the Bridge she did turn a few heads, but since most of the bridge crew - in fact, most of the ship's complement - was female, there wasn't much of a fuss made about her appearance...at least, not until she stepped down onto the command level and stood next to her First Officer.

"Look at you," Commander Lenora Petersen said under her breath, "you're all tan and pink and jiggly down there. I have half a mind to replicate a mess of baby oil, slick you up and have my way with you in the center seat."

Emilie blushed and tried to close up the bathrobe a little more. She looked up at the much taller Commander Petersen's face and hissed, "Lenora! You're not supposed to say things like that to me! There's got to be a regulation against it somewhere!"

The statuesque officer casually ran her fingers through her long red hair and stated, utterly deadpan, "Oh, I checked with our JAG officer on that very subject. It would fall under 'Unlawful Fraternization' if you chose to press charges, so to avoid court martial and brig time I'd either have to be promoted or resign my commission." She suddenly grinned. "I'll have my resignation on your desk first thing in the morning. I'll have you on your desk immediately afterward."

Emilie blushed harder. Lenora had been flirting with her like this since they'd met at the Academy, but since nothing ever came of it she was never sure if her friend was serious, and Emilie had never been with another woman before. Lenora had a collection of lovers from both genders and several races.

"Look," Emilie whispered, "I don't want you to resign and I don't want you in the brig. I need you where you are, in my crew, right under me."

Lenora shrugged. "I have no problem with you being on top."

Emilie actually giggled, which did attract the attention of the other bridge officers, which made the Captain turn beet red and focus her attention on the forward viewscreen. "Could we just get to why you called me up here?"

Petersen indicated the screen and continued in a normal tone of voice. "Yes, Captain. As you can see we're approaching the fourth planet. We should be in standard orbit in a few minutes, but the close space around the planet is crowded. Aside from the usual interstellar trading traffic, there appear to be no less than a dozen spatial anomalies in random near-planet orbits."

"Shaped like spheres?"

"Yes, and the size of small natural satellites."

"Dimensional force-fields. There's a battle going in each one, isn't there?"

"We determined that with long-range sensors. Spacecraft of various types are engaging in one-on-one combat inside the dimensional fields. We've confirmed everything you briefed us about."

"Yeah...it means the competition is already underway." She turned to Lt. Commander Cilia, her Deltan Tactical Officer. "Concentrate sensors on one of the spheres. We should be able to get a good view of what's going on inside." Then she turned to Lieutenant Liana Grushavoy, the Rigellian helm officer. "Take us into a close orbit with the sphere Cilia picks out." Both women acknowledged and carried out their orders briskly.

The battle scene was much clearer as the Federation Starship approached. Inside the dimensional field, two raider-sized ships were trading directed energy and projectile fire. The larger ship, ironically, was suffering the greater damage, and the ruthlessness of her opponent would soon end the battle decisively. This moment came a few moments after Lt. Grushavoy settled the ship into orbit. There was a massive energy blast that exploded half the larger ship and darkened what was left.

Then three strange images replaced the ships in the sphere. The first was the torso of a cute young woman with angel's wings, and suddenly her voice was heard on the bridge speakers as she proclaimed, "And the winner is the Cosmic Dragon, Akira!"

The next image was another woman dressed gaudily - and scantily - in a modified skinsuit and freakish make-up. She was grinning madly as she screamed, "At last! I've defeated you, teacher! My first step to becoming Queen!"

The final image showed another woman, defeated, wounded and covering her breasts with her arms, since what clothing she was wearing was in tatters. "I stand defeated. Go, my student, and make your name in the competition." Then the field disappeared, leaving Akira's ship to fly off and the other ship stranded.

Emilie sighed. "Cilia, contact the defeated ship and offer them our assistance. Then contact Starfleet Command and tell them that Io has arrived on station." She turned to Petersen. "You can handle this?"

"Of course, Captain."

"Then I'm in for the night." Without another word, Emilie returned to the turbolift. As the lift doors closed, she thought, Gynos and Queen's Blade...welcome home, Em.

Gynos, fourth planet in the Sheath star system, homeworld of a race of humanoids living in a matriarchal society, ruled absolutely by a Queen chosen every four years in the most brutal selection process in the galaxy. Even the Klingons didn't have anything like the Queen's Blade competition, which intrigued them enough for the Ruling Council to send a delegation to observe the last one four years ago.

It was the competition that brought Captain Vance and the Starship Io to Gynos this year. The morning after their arrival Emilie, now in her full uniform, beamed down to the Royal Palace in the Capital to speak with the reigning Queen. "Her Majesty will be with you shortly," an aide said when Emilie materialized in the anteroom outside the Royal Office. Five minutes later, that same aide conducted Emilie into the opulent chamber and announced her arrival to Queen Claudia, who was standing by her antique desk at the far end of the room.

As the aide departed, Emilie took note of the fact that Queen Claudia was wearing her battle gear, which consisted of little more than an armored halter and briefs and armored gauntlets and boots. The ensemble showed off a tall, taut figure, and the gold finish of the armor offset skin as tan as Emilie's and flowing hair the color of straw. Claudia was the epitome of what the Queen was supposed to be: The most beautiful and fierce warrior in all the world.

Emilie approached to within a few feet of Claudia and bowed respectfully. "Thank you for seeing me, Your Majesty," she said. When she straightened up, the Queen was looking down at her impassively.

Finally, after several interminable seconds, Claudia smirked and said, "So they sent you."

Emilie sighed. "Yes they did. They felt that my having been born here would make it easier for me to accomplish The Federation's goals here."

"And I'm sure they took the fact that you're the Queen's little sister into consideration."

Emilie winced inwardly. She hated it when Claudia emphasized the word "little." "Yes, they did."

"How delightfully opportunistic of them," Claudia said, then she took a close look at Emilie's rank pips. "And they made you a Captain! Aren't you a little young?"

Emilie huffed, but was completely honest. "It was decided that I would best be able to carry out my assignment if I had the authority and resources available to a Captain."

"I see," Claudia said. "Well then, Captain Vance, you may tell your masters that I will not cancel nor diminish Queen's Blade just to satisfy their wishes."

Emilie sighed. And here we go... Emilie thought. "Claudia, no one is asking you to cancel the competition, and reducing the scope of it is a safety issue. I'm sure the problems were explained in detail in the communique..."

"They were, and I have determined they are not Gynos's problems, or mine."

"As a Federation member world..."

Claudia held up her hand. "I was not the Queen who made Gynos a member world."

"Nevertheless, our world is part of the interstellar community, with all the trade and space traffic that comes with it. That trade and traffic is jeopardized every time Queen's Blade participants shoot at each other with disruptors in near-orbit."

"And I repeat, that is not my problem. First, this is only the third Queen's Blade to take place since we joined the Federation. Each time we've issued the proper notifications and travel advisories and stated clearly that it was up to the visiting starship crews to see to their own safety."

"But that's not always possible! There were several incidents of non-Gynosian ships being caught in the battlespaces and taking damage during Queen's Blade battles four years ago, the majority of them on the first day!"

Claudia went on as if she hadn't heard. "Second, our ancient law is clear: any young woman may participate in the competition and use whatever weapons she chooses. If her weapon of choice is an armed spacecraft, that is up to her, not the Federation. Which brings me to Third: I was given to understand that how we choose our own leadership was to be our business and not subject to Federation edict."

"No one has issued any edicts, and Gynos is free to choose its leaders without interference. Again, all the Federation asks is that the competition be reduced in scope. Limit the battles to one-on-one combat on the planet's surface, the way it was originally structured when the law was written."

"The methods of battle have evolved with our technology and society. A contestant may consider other warriors her weapons if said warriors are so inclined to help her. We have aircraft and spacecraft and other machines to add to our arsenals..."

"But that shows the rules of Queen's Blade aren't set in stone. They can be changed."

"In ways that adhere to the spirit of the ancient law. There are some things even a Queen may not change, even if she were inclined to."

"Are you saying you personally prefer the way things are?"

Claudia smirked. "Absolutely. I intend to be the first contestant in history to win three times in a row, and I would be a fool to actively limit the tools available to me to defend my throne. You may relay that to your masters as well."

Emilie's face took on a resigned look. "In case you refused, I've been instructed to remain in the system to look after non-Gynosian Federation citizens until the competition is concluded."

"I won't object to that. It leaves you no excuse to avoid visiting your family. How is my little namesake?"

Emilie blinked at the abrupt change of subject. "She's...fine. I brought her with me."

"Your ship carries children to such dangerous worlds?"

"The Io is big enough to accommodate the families of anyone who wishes to bring them and powerful enough that I don't fear for her safety."

"In that case, you must bring her with you the next time you visit."

Emilie got the hint. "I'll consider it. Thank you for seeing me, Your Majesty."

"Thank you for coming, Captain Vance." With that, Claudia Vance, Queen of Gynos, left through a door in the back of the office.

Instead of just beaming out, Emilie left the office the way she came, walking through the anteroom and through the palace until she came to a hall with a window. She took a moment to look outside.

There was a time, centuries ago, when the palace was the tallest building in the Capital, and only the city it was in was called Gynos. Now, the Capital was a skyscraper-filled, bustling city that managed the affairs of an entire world which had taken on its name. Things had changed considerably over time...but Queen's Blade had been ancient back then, and it had changed only in the amount of collateral damage it had the potential of causing.

Emilie doubted Queen Claudia was the only one who wanted the competition to continue without much modification. The skyline was dotted with electronic billboard displays where Queen's Blade contestants were idolized, sold products as spokesmodels and were generally worshipped by the adoring public. During the competition contestants received all manner perques and, of course, gamblers bet heavily on battles that people around the world could watch for free. The spectacle of it was disheartening, yet the locals took it for granted. Every four years, half-naked goddesses battled for ultimate power, and their potential subjects got to see everything live and in color in the viewing spheres that currently filled the sky like monstrous raindrops.

Emilie was about to reach for her commbadge when she heard a high-pitched squeal approaching her from behind, but before she could turn around something slammed into her back and pressed her body into the window pane, squishing her face and breasts against the glass as a boa-constrictor-like grip squeezed her ribcage.

"Emilieeeeeeee!" A squeaky voice whined in her ear. "You're here and you didn't come see me!"

"Mel...can't...breathe..." was all Emilie could manage in response.

"Oh," the voice said, then Emilie was free to pull away from the window and turn around and find herself face-to-face with her little sister, Melanie. "Hi, Big Sis! Did you miss me?"

"Of course, I did," Emilie said as the sisters shared a more sedate hug, "but one of these days you're going to break something attacking me like that." When they pulled away Emilie noticed that Melanie was wearing armor and clothing similar to Claudia's. "What are you wearing?"

"Oh! When I turned eighteen last year Claudia made me her Captain of the Guard! isn't that cool?!" She was beaming, then her face changed as she regarded Emilie. "What are you wearing?"

"Mel, you've seen me in my Starfleet uniform before. The only difference is I'm a Captain now."

"Ugh, you're a Captain now, but your uniform is still boring! It doesn't show off your boobies at all!" To emphasize the point, Melanie reached out and started playing with the objects in question.

"Melanie...!" A red-faced Emilie growled.

Melanie just kept on as if they were her personal exercise equipment. "I'm so jealous! Nature gave Claudie all the muscles and you all the curves, and I'm still waiting for my boobs to grow a decent size!"

Finally Emilie grabbed Melanie's wrists and pulled her hands away from her chest, then said, "I promise I'll ask my Chief Medical Officer about replicating you a new pair if you would just stop fondling me like that!"

Melanie pouted a little, then she smiled sweetly and said, "Pinky Promise?"

Emilie sighed. "We could go ask right now if you want. I was just heading back to the ship."

"Awesome! Can I also talk to My Little Claudie?"

"You can do better than talk. She's traveling with me."

"Has Queen Serious-Pants seen her yet?"

"No. She didn't even know I'd brought her until a few minutes ago."

"Yes! I get to see her first! Claudia will be so Jealous! So what are we waiting for?"

Emilie rolled her eyes and tapped her commbadge. "Vance to Io: Two to beam up."

Commander Petersen had just entered the Transporter Room when the transport was complete. She was mildly surprised to see Emilie had brought a native back with her...and greatly surprised to see that the native was a slim, slightly younger version of the tan and blonde captain...wearing an armored bikini and pigtails.

She smirked as she considered the possibilities, then said, "I was going to beam down to lend you some support, but I guess the negotiations didn't go well?"

"They didn't go anywhere," Emilie said as she stepped down off the platform. "We'll have to wait till the end of the competition to try again. Hopefully Claudia will be feeling more generous if she wins a third time."

"And if she loses?"

"Then we have a new Queen to ask about the next competition..." Melanie cleared her throat conspicuously. "Oh...Lenora, this is my other sister Melanie. Melanie, this is Commander Lenora Petersen, my First Officer."

Petersen extended her hand. Melanie stepped down haughtily and rested her hand gently in Petersen's, waiting for the officer to kiss the back of it. Petersen obliged, having been reminded that the Vances were nobility on Gynos. "A pleasure to meet you, Milady," she said.

Melanie nodded regally. Words weren't necessary. Petersen, after all, was merely her Dear Big Sister's servant, and would say anything to curry favor. Instead, she turned to walk out with Emilie, but Emilie stopped her.

"I have work I need to do and Claudia won't be out of school for a few hours, so Lenora's going to show you around the ship and then take you to my quarters." She turned to Petersen. "Make sure she sees the holodeck. That should be endless fun for her."

"I'll be sure to," Petersen said, then she opened the Transporter Room door and swept her hand past the threshold. "If you please, Milady?"

Melanie pouted a little, but allowed Petersen, to escort her out of the room and down the corridor. She noticed that Emilie was headed in the other direction.

It was time to demonstrate who was "boss." Without looking up, Melanie said. "My Big Sis told me about you in her letters, you and your flirting. Get this through your head: She's mine. Only I get to do fun things with her, and I'll punish you if you get in my way." Gone was the childlike girl she'd initially been in Emilie's presence, and in her place was a Gynosian warrior.

Other people might have been flustered by such a speech. Petersen wasn't "other people", and she grinned evilly as she said, "I love a challenge."

Emilie spent the bulk of her day in her Ready Room filing reports and catching up on paperwork while the Bridge crew monitored the space around Gynos. A half-dozen violent space battles took place without any collateral damage, while the rest of the day's competition events took place on the planet's surface. She returned to her quarters at the end of a mentally draining day intent on a long, hot bath and the trashy novel already uploaded onto her PADD.

She could hear Melanie speaking as she crossed to the bedroom. "...and the Goddess sent her angels all over the world to deliver the message: 'You shall no longer pit armies against armies for control; The world shall be ruled by a beautiful and powerful Queen, and she will be chosen by contest of sword, and thus shall it be every fourth year.'"

Emilie entered the bedroom to find Melanie and Little Claudia sitting on her bed. Melanie was braiding the little girl's hair as she talked. Claudia lit up when she saw Emilie. "Mommy! Aunt Melanie was here when I got home from school!"

"She came back from the planet with me," Emilie said. "So, Mel, should I bother replicating dinner or have you been plying her with sweets since she walked in and saw you?"

Melanie smiled smugly. "I cannot tell a lie...so I offer 'No comment.'" This set her and Claudia to giggling, then Melanie composed herself and said, "It's no big deal, Em. Just have one of your servants bring up some light meals for dinner."

Emilie sighed. "They're not my servants, Mel. They're my crew, and we put replicators in these things so that I don't need people to feed me."

Melanie shrugged and just kept braiding. "You say so, but my way's more fun."

Emilie shook off the thought and said, "And you were telling Claudie about Queen's Blade."

"It's her heritage, Big Sis! She should know what kind of female bad-asses she's descended from."

"I'd prefer not to celebrate it that way, and I especially don't like the glorification that comes with saying it was decreed by 'goddesses' and 'angels.'"

"But...angels are cool!" Claudia protested.

"Sweetie, they're not real. Yes, there is an advanced race of beings sharing the planet with our people, and they help administer Queen's Blade, but angels are mythical creatures, and the advanced race on Gynos has simply taken on that myth identity." Emilie took off her commbadge and her shoes and turned toward the bathroom...then she yelped in surprise.

Standing in her path was a young girl in a short dress with short blue hair, a pair of mismatched wings and an ethereal glow. Her arms were crossed in front of her and she was glaring at Emilie. "How dare you call me a myth?!" She exclaimed. "I'll have you know that I'm a genuine, one hundred percent angel, missy, no matter what your blinky dohickeys tell you otherwise!" She looked away and muttered, "Miss Big Shot Space Traveler spends a couple minutes in Starfleet Academy and she thinks she knows everything..."

"Whoa..." was all Claudia could manage.

"Hi, Nanael!" Melanie said cheerily.

"Nanael...!" Emilie growled.

"Mommy, you know an angel?!" Claudia said. "Do we all get one?!"

Nanael grinned and hovered around Emilie and flew to answer Claudia. "You certainly do, cutie! You all get me, the Angel of Light, Nanael! Why, I'm practically a sister, too! I've been..."

"...annoying Vance Sisters since Queen Reina's time?" Emilie deadpanned.

Nanael huffed. "I'm not speaking to you! You called me a myth!"

"No, I didn't! What I said was...Y'know, never mind. Just tell us what you're doing here."

Nanael turned to Emilie and straightened up. "Oh! When I realized you were back I wondered if you'd changed your mind about joining Queen's Blade."

"Well, I haven't, so if that's all you wanted you can go now."

"Leave? Come on, I'm not going anywhere! We have to catch up! Reminisce! Pass the old gossip about everybody!"

"Nanael...leave now or I'll call a Security Team here and we'll see if 'angels' are immune to phaser fire."

Nanael gasped, then suddenly made a big show of looking at a watch she wasn't actually wearing. "My goodness! Look at the time! Gotta go! Gotta...show battles...and stuff! Bye-nee!" Then she disappeared with a wave and a shower of sparkles.

It was silent in the bedroom for a minute, then Claudia said, "Mommy, how come you don't like angels?"

Before she could answer, Melanie said, "That's because the angels are most associated with Queen's Blade on Gynos, and your Mom hates Queen's Blade so much she ran away from home."

Claudia's eyes went wide. "You ran away from home?!"

Emilie rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Mel. I did not run away from home, Claudie. When I was young, the Federation representatives that made First Contact offered to take several of our people out to see the wider galaxy. I was just one of the people who took the offer..."

"...and the only one who didn't want to come back." Melanie said softly as she finished a long braid.

Emilie glared at her. "I am not having this conversation again. I don't hate Queen's Blade and I don't hate angels and neither had anything to do with why I left. Now, I'm going to take a bath, and when you're done with her hair I'll have someone escort you to the transporter room..."

"Awww, can't Aunt Melanie stay?" Claudia whined.

"Yeah, can't I stay?" Melanie whined. "We can have a slumber party!"

"Yayy! Slumber party!" Claudia said. "I get to sleep with Mommy!"

"No!" Melanie protested. "You can do that any night! I get to sleep with Mommy!"

Emilie hoped Claudia hadn't picked up on how Melanie said that, then said, "Tell you what." She pointed at Claudia. "You get to sleep in your own bed." She pointed at Melanie. "You can sleep in my bed." Melanie started to cheer, until Emilie finished with, "And I will sleep on the couch outside." She then dashed into the bathroom before either of them could protest further.

Two days later, Emilie was in her ready room when worse came to worst. Commander Cilia had the Bridge, and this time it was her voice that summoned the Captain. Emilie walked out immediately and found Cilia standing near the center seat, watching the main viewer. "A Mirrian freighter was pulling out of orbit when of those 'gates' opened nearby," Cilia said. "A moment later the ship lost power and couldn't avoid the opening. It drifted in a moment before the combatant did."

"Damn," Emilie said. "The EM discharge of the gate might have affected the Mirrian's systems. Ship class?"

"It's a dry goods freighter, carries up to 100,000 tons of cargo, operated by a complement of 20."

"And the combatant?"

"One of those big frigates we've been seeing since we got here." An alarm sounded, and Cilia turned to the officer at Tactical, who nodded. "Another gate opened on the far side of the planet. A new dimensional field should be opening soon..." Another alarm. "That must be it. Tactical, relay the coordinates to the Helm. Helm, take us toward it at one quarter Impulse."

"Yellow Alert!" Emilie added.

After the alarm sounded throughout the ship, Cilia said, "We've been monitoring the frequencies of those 'angel' referees. We should be hearing the start of the contest..."

Then suddenly a familiar voice boomed on the bridge speakers: "You who wish to enter Queen's Blade: May everyone witness your competition!"

"Nanael!" Emilie growled through her teeth. Of course! That stupid, clumsy...

Nanael went on. "On this side, we have The Noble Navigator, Wendy!" A random projection to the left side of the screen showed a tall, buxom redhead in a scanty naval dress uniform. "And on this side, we have the Cosmic Dragon, Akira! Another random projection showed the woman that had won the first battle Io's crew had witnessed. The two captains traded trash talk for a few moments, then the projections disappeared as the battle commenced.

Petersen had arrived on the Bridge while Emilie was watching. "Another battle? What makes this one special?" Emilie explained, and Petersen said, "Do we have a visual on the combatants?"

"Coming up on the battlespace now," Lt. Grushavoy said. She had just taken over the helm. A moment later, the crew got a good look at the contenders in this match.

Petersen whistled. "The Cosmic Dragon's had an upgrade. That thing's bigger than the ship she was flying before."

"It's on a par with her opponent's ship," Emilie said, "but I'm more concerned with the freighter." She could see it now, a small reflective spot in the distance, drifting along as the two frigates traded shots.

"Are you sure we can't break through those fields, Captain?" Cilia asked.

"The scientists who first studied them are sure. No one's exactly sure what the angels do to generate them, but they're like very solid subspace fields. We might need something like an Omega particle to break into them."

"I don't think we have any of those handy..." Petersen muttered.

The bridge crew watched the rest of the battle in silence as they monitored the vital signs of the freighter. For twenty minutes the two Gynosian frigates pounded each other, oblivious to the stranger in their arena. Then, Akira's ship let loose a devastating beam weapon which broke Wendy's ship apart on impact, sending large chunks of the superstructure flying in all directions...

...including straight toward the freighter.

"No!" Emilie said.

The fragment slammed into the Mirrian freighter with the force of an impulse ram, crashing through the hull in the crewed areas of the ship and burying itself deep. Explosions then tore the fragment apart and further rent the freighter's hull. What emergency power the freighter's crew had managed to generate was lost immediately. When it was all over, the cargo ship was a drifting husk.

Which Nanael didn't seem to notice at all. She seemed to be too busy announcing with a flourish: "And the winner is, The Cosmic Dragon, Akira!" This time there was no gloating from Akira, and soon the field collapsed.

"Red Alert!" Emilie called out. "Prepare for Search and Rescue Operations!"

The next day Emilie went to see Queen Claudia again. This time she beamed directly to where Claudia was: the Throne Room. Melanie was there, too, at the head of several ranks of women in armor similar to her sisters'. They were most likely the Queen's Guard.

Emilie didn't know why they were gathered and didn't care. She simple marched around the assembled troops and ignored Melanie as she approached the dais and tossed a PADD up to where Claudia sat regally on an ornate throne. "Nine dead!" She yelled. "Nine dead, all the other crew injured, a non-combatant wrecked!"

Claudia stood, reached down and picked up the device. "And you literally lay these casualties at my feet?"

"At yours and at the competitors' for such callous disregard of sentient life!"

"The competitors were merely doing what was expected of them. Queen's Blade is supposed to be a life-and-death struggle..."

"For the contenders! Not for people whose only goal was to trade goods with our race!"

Claudia sighed. "It seems we've returned to old business. Will you now demand that I suspend Queen's Blade space combat until you feel it's ready to be resumed?"

"Federation citizens have died, Claudia. I'd be well within my rights..."

"Don't lecture me about rights!" Claudia thundered. "Gynos is supposed to have the right to self-determination! We accept Queen's Blade and all its risks because its institution saved this world from worse conflict!"

"Those Mirrians weren't given a choice in the matter!"

Claudia walked down the steps of the Dais. "They had the choice not to come. They came. The Federation also has a choice. If we offend you so much, you may leave at any time."

"So that's it! Are you seriously being this pigheaded about the competition in the hope that the Federation will just pack up and go?!"

"It's not like you don't have an agenda as well, Little Sister. You've taken up Father's cause."

"I have not! This has nothing to do with..."

"This has everything to do with Queen's Blade! You fled this world because you hate it, for the same reason Father did, and it terrified you that you might be expected to participate in it someday! And now you've come back with your alien friends and your massive gunship with the purpose of ending the competition by degrees."

Emilie stared at Claudia, a look of rage on her face. She couldn't bring herself to deny the accusation. "It consumed our mother..." she said through her teeth.

"It did nothing of the kind," Claudia said. "She simply lost, and you would do greater honor to her memory by entering the contest and winning in her stead."

"Like you?"

Claudia smirked. "Exactly like me." She turned and started back up the stairs. "So I will make amends to the families of the freighter crew. I might even venture to their world to say prayers over their tombs, but Queen's Blade will continue as it has since it began."

Emilie lowered her head and gritted her teeth, forcing herself not to give in to emotion, but a single tear flowed down her cheek before she managed to say, "Fine, I'll do it."

Claudia turned. "What did you say?"

Emilie looked up at her. "If it's the only way to get through to you, then I'm entering Queen's Blade!"

Claudia did something Emilie didn't expect. She threw her head back and laughed out loud, filling the throne room with the sound of it. When she was done she rushed back down the dais to look Emilie in the eye. There was a maniacal look on her face.

"I've dreamed about facing one of my sisters in the final battle," she said. "I always assumed it would be Melanie, but she seems content to command my guard and has never challenged me. But that's all right. It had to be you, didn't it? The prodigal sister returns to challenge her elder and become queen. This fight will be remembered for ages!" She turned again and returned to her throne. "Very well, Captain Vance. Your first battle will take place tomorrow morning. Fight hard." She laughed out loud again.

Emilie was suddenly struck by what she'd just done. She turned to look at Melanie, who stared back for a second, then grinned and offered two thumbs up.

Emilie sighed. At least somebody's happy about this...

Others were less enthusiastic. "Are you out of your mind?!" Admiral Ross screamed from the terminal in her Ready Room.

"Admiral," Emilie said, "If you'll just let me explain..."

"What is there to explain? You're not doing this! I sent you there to cool down this Queen's Blade nonsense, not to join it!"

"Admiral, it's the only way. Queen Claudia won't budge and only the Queen can make the changes to Queen's Blade we want to see."

"So you're going to try to become Queen?! Do you know how many ways the very notion violates the Prime Directive?"

"Actually, not at all. I checked. I'm a citizen of Gynos and eligible to enter the contest, so I'm not actually altering the cultural or sociological development of the planet."

"Even if you use the power of a starship to win?"

"I can use any weapon at my disposal...um, Io is still 'at my disposal', isn't she?"

"I haven't decided yet," Ross grumped. He looked away from the screen to think, then turned back. "Let's say I go along with this and we don't both get court-martialed along the way. What will you do if you win it all?"

"My first act as Queen will be to institute the limits we want to make to the competition. My second act will be to turn over the governing of the planet to my sister Melanie."

"And your people will accept that?"

"They'll have no choice. The Queen is an absolute monarch. I could rule however I want, even if it's by proxy."

"And you can trust Melanie not to screw the place up in your absence?"

Emilie was taken aback by that question. "Um...I'll leave her a 'To-Do' list."

Ross turned away to think again. This time it was almost a minute before he turned back. "I have to sell this to our mutual superiors. In the meantime there's one thing you'd better do, Captain: Win, and keep winning!" He signed off then, leaving the UFP emblem staring back at her.

Emilie sat back and breathed a sigh of relief.

The next morning Emilie order all the families aboard into the Emergency Shelter, a heavily armored and shielded sanctuary in the center of the Saucer Section. Once that was done, she waited in her Ready Room for the start of the battle. The ship was at Yellow Alert, but the crew was calm for the most part.

Petersen summoned her to the bridge two hours later. "There's some kind of spatial distortion that just appeared off to starboard," she said.

Emilie saw it on the viewer. It looked like a wormhole entrance inside a red ring filled with ancient glyphs. "Fly straight into it," she told Grushavoy.

"Yes, ma'am," Grushavoy said. The Io made a leisurely turn and headed for the center of the wormhole.

"I've been thinking," Petersen said. "Is your sister the vindictive type?"

"I don't think I know my sister anymore," Emilie said sadly. "I don't remember her being so cold. Why do you ask?"

"It's just...she's the Queen, so one of her privileges is that she gets to choose contest match-ups right?" Emilie nodded. "Well, if I were her, and the vindictive type, I'd use this first match to humble you immediately."

"I wouldn't worry, Captain," Cilia chimed in. "I've analyzed the capabilities of all the combatant ships we've seen since we arrived. Though there are some surprises, considering the planet's level of development, it's doubtful we'll be pitted against anything that matches our capabilities." She followed this by tapping her bald head three times, the Deltan version of "Knock wood."

Emilie smiled at the gesture, then turned back to the screen to see they had arrived in the orbit set aside for her battle. "There's another gate opening," Grushavoy said.

"Confirmed," Cilia said. "Our opponent's coming through...I'm having problems scanning the other ship. It's almost as if..." Her eyes went wide. "Enemy ship decloaking! It's a Jem'Hadar battleship!

"It's a what?!" Petersen said.

"How the hell could anyone here get their hands on a Jem'Hadar battleship?!" Grushavoy asked in disbelief.

"I guess we'll find out," Emilie said, light-years more calmly than she felt. "You were wrong, Cilia...and I guess you were right, Lenora."

"I'm not happy about it," Petersen said.

Before anyone else could speak, Nanael's voice sounded throughout the Bridge. "You who wish to enter Queen's Blade: May everyone witness your competition! On this side, we have the Prodigal Star-Sister, Emilie!"

Emilie grimaced when her image flashed on the viewer. Great, now I have a nickname. I HATE the nicknames!

"And on this side, we have the Privateer Princess, Anara!"

Emilie's image was replaced by that of a tall, buxom, raven-haired woman dressed like a sexy pirate. She sneered at Emilie and said, "So the Queen sends one of her baby siblings to challenge me? And the pacifist besides? This will be a good workout...unless you'd like to forfeit now, deary, to save you and your Big Sis the embarrassment?"

Emilie looked around the Bridge, looking to see any signs of doubt. There were none, and she didn't see them in herself, so she stared down her opponent with steely-eyed determination and delivered the two words that would bring devastation, ruin and chaos:

"Battle Stations!"