VGA Planets Super Site

Veteran and female

My story is not nearly as impressive as many of these will be. I have not coded any of the many wonderful add-ons. I have not hosted or designed any of the very impressive websites that are out there. I have not written any strategy guides (although I am in the process of writing one for my race of choice). So why should I be considered to write for this "who's who in VGA Planets"?

Well, I started playing VGAP with v2.2, so for the last 9 years, I have gained quite a lot of experience, and met many players. I have never played on any of the major hosting sites, but I have played against some of the people who are considered among the best in this community. Some of my past opponents include J-Mac, Quaz, Mr_Spaz, `Ratt, Leary, BANE, and I played as a substitute player for two turns in a game with bovonoid1 himself, plus many others.

I first got on the internet when I entered college in 1987. I had access to the educational networks before that because I was lucky enough to have two parents who were professors at a major university in Illinois, USA. My first venture onto IRC was in 1990 where I went by a number of different nicks because a novice female on IRC is just asking to be harassed (more on that later). And I was. A lot. It's not right, but it is reality. In 1992, I was introduced to a game called VGA Planets.

Late one night, I was in the meteorology department's radar room looking through peoples files on the schools network and ran across a folder that was cross referenced in about 50 peoples accounts. I looked at one of the text files in the directory and it was a help file for a game. I called one of my friends. He and I had been friends in high school and were in the same group who played Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. I asked him what the game was, and he told me all about it. As it turned out, there were about 50 or so people that played over the schools network. I have no idea how many weekends were totally burned up playing VGAP, but it was enough to cost me a semester of being on the deans list. One thing was for sure though, this game was very addicting. I am not sure how many others were playing games over the internet at that point, but I wasn't, because there was no need to. There were enough players on campus to compete with.

I continued playing through my undergraduate work, but when I went to graduate school, things were a bit more difficult and I had to cut back the amount of planets that I played. The one thing that amazed me though was that the amount of people playing in our group stayed pretty stable. We had as many new people starting as we had people leaving, but most of the new people had heard of the game from outside the school which meant there were a lot of people playing this game.

It wasn't until 1994 that I played in my first internet game. I got my ass kicked all over the place. I wasn't eliminated from the game, but I was used to finishing in the top 3 and quite often winning the game. I guess this was sort of when I went from the minor leagues to the big leagues. My next few games went a bit better though once I started reading what others had posted to the web. This was also the year that I started working on my PhD.

In 1996, I finally upgraded to the registered version of WinPlan. I had been given a copy (legitimate) of DosPlan earlier, but I guess I wanted to start throwing money at Tim. Unfortunately, by this time, many of the regular players at school had either graduated or flunked out. This was also about the time I met BANE. His insight into the game, and life in general really helped me a lot. Although I never would have admitted it then, and still wouldn't, I probably had some sort of crush on this person I had never met. A lot of that was probably because much of our conversation was totally unrelated to VGAP. There were a few others on the channel that I talked to about non-VGAP things. This was quite refreshing actually. The IRC channel was really a great place to meet people and just talk about anything. The time I spent on IRC led to perhaps one of the most terrifying moments of my life, and forced me to take a long vacation from IRC and VGAP.

It was a dark and stormy night. The lone woman sat crouched on her chair, wearing nothing but her long white dress shirt, and a yellow ribbon in her long, slightly unkempt brunette hair. She was bathed in the pale blue light from her computer screen, and smiled slightly as another bolt of lightning flashed outside her window. She turned towards the window in anticipation of the rolling thunder that was sure to sound soon. It's loud boom came much quicker than the last one meaning the lightning was getting closer. When she turned to face her screen, she had a message from someone she had never met before, but he seemed to know her.

'Hi Kate' it read.

Thinking nothing of it, she replied cheerfully 'Hey there, do I know you?'

'Doubt it' came the reply. 'But I do remember you. You were on the university television station doing the weather'

'Wow' was all she could think to type. That was over five years ago, and only for half of a semester. She had briefly considered going into broadcast meteorology, but then realized that she wanted to do more research-oriented meteorology, so she decided to quit the television station as soon as a replacement could be found. That happened after the end of the first nine weeks was over. She had continued to work on the forecasts for the station but did not appear on air.

'So, are you curious as to how I know you?'

'You just said you saw me on TV, but that was a long time ago.' she replied nervously. She jumped as the lightning flashed and the immediate thunder report shook the windows. She was plunged into darkness when the power went out. As she fumbled around for a lighter to light her cigarette, her phone rang. She picked up the phone and heard the stressed voice on the other end.

'Kate?' he said

'Hey, what's up?' she replied, knowing what he was going to say. She was already moving towards the bedroom to get dressed. On nights like this, it is only a matter of time before she was going to be called out to go spot for hail and tornados and other storm related things. Normally, the call came in well before the storm even got close, but tonight, things were not supposed to get this bad.

'The radar is showing some possible rotation about 10 miles west of town. We already have spotters there, but thought you may want to go too.'

'Would I miss a chance to play in the rain?' she teased as she hung up the phone and headed out the door.

She returned later that night, and her power was restored. Her thoughts drifted back to that very strange encounter on IRC earlier. She had dealt with many people whom she did not know messaging her. Most of the time it was an accident, thinking she was someone else, or either that or they would come on to her and she would tell them to get lost, and they would. Such is life she thought. Unfortunately, she did not have the chance to add this person to her ignore list before the power went out. No harm, she thought as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

She woke suddenly to the beep of her communicator. 'Commander R'Laucke,' came the disembodied voice 'sorry to wake you, but you have a priority communication. Audio only. The senders identity is unknown.'

It took her a few seconds to reorient herself. The night before, she had been reading through old terran histories on communication. Using wires and keyboards to communicate seems so primitive to her. *Indeed it was* she thought to herself. 'Send it through sub-commander.'

'Hello R'Laucke' said the voice.

Unable to place the voice, but thinking she may just still be too tired to think, she replied 'Yes? And you are?'

'You would not know me. We have never met. I watched your presentation at Karhammur. It seemed as if you were speaking directly to me. Your hair, worn so differently from that of other Romulan command, you were talking to me, and I have finally found you.' The voice echoed through R'Laucke's quarters as she tried desperately to place this voice. The conference at Karhammur was many years ago, before she had been given her command. Who was this person and what did he want?

'Who are you?' She demanded, as she thought about how this kind of behavior was supposed to be gone from this day and age. This is the kind of stuff that happened in terran history, not in the Romulan present.

Before he could reply, the transmission was cut, and a very urgent voice broke in. 'Commander R'Laucke to the bridge, we are picking up a Borg star base which appears to have a Firecloud class cruiser orbiting.'

When she arrived on the bridge of the Dark Wing class warbird Talbok, her officers were in full focus as they stared down the small Borg vessel from the safety of their cloaked position. 'Bring us into close standard orbit. Maintain transporter range to the vessel. This would be a great prize for the Empire. It could really help bring balance to this war. Sub commander K'Tain, could you join me in my ready room?'

She turned to her ops officer 'Keep me informed of any change in status of either the base or the Firecloud.' With that, she left the bridge and headed to her ready room followed closely by her security officer K'Tain.

'K'Tain, what do you know about that message I received earlier? Who was it and where were they sending from?' demanded the commander nervously. Ever since she gained the command of this ship, her chief of security had been there for her, almost like the counselor onboard those Federation starships. She could talk to him about almost anything. This was a very rare relationship on a Romulan Starship. There were always things to be looking out for when deceit and treachery were not terribly common, but were almost an accepted way to gain ground. Having and giving a person your trust was a thing to be cherished here, and she took refuge in her security officers way of always listening and being very supportive in both command and personal matters. She liked to think that she gave back the same, but sometimes was not sure. This was one of those times. 'K'Tain, this is really making me nervous. The person who was on the other end of that transmission knew about my speech from over 5 years ago. There were maybe 50 people there and it was not covered by any media. He tracked me down here.'

'What did he want?' asked K'Tain.

'He didn't say. He just said that he knew who I was, and that he had finally found me.' she replied. His next question, which was more like a statement was exactly what she expected.

'Have you contacted you husband yet? He should probably know about this.' said K'Tain, fulfilling the mental prophecy of R'Laucke.

'No. I am the commander of one of the most powerful ships in the fleet. I am not going to let this upset my command. I have many people here that will help protect me if need be, and this is probably just some mental deficient with a little bit of knowledge that is trying to rattle me. What I would like is for you to try and find the source of this, and also, I give you permission to monitor all subspace activity to and from this ship. Hopefully we will never have to speak of this again. So K'Tain, how is he courtship of your new lady friend going...'

Later that day, R'Laucke's door chime rang. She looked up from the charts she was going over. It looked like there was going to be war soon. Tensions with the Federation were growing again. The Klingons were moving war ships close to the neutral zone. They claimed it was for training purposes only, but R'Laucke had been through this many times before, and knew better. 'Come' she called, as she laid down the data pad she was holding.

'Commander, you asked to be informed of any changes in the Borg status. Well, we have done a complete passive scan of the area and we have determined that the Firecloud has no fuel. This would appear to be the perfect time to capture one. Intelligence has been looking forward to getting one of these ships to see how it works. If we can take this one, it would be a huge victory for the Empire and could very well turn the tide in this conflict.'

'Why did you come here personally sub-commander? Are the intership communications having problems?' she asked sarcastically, knowing there were no problems.

'No commander! To be quite honest, the security chief sent me. He thought it would be best for you to hear this in person, and for me to escort you to the bridge.' he said.

This is strange thought R'Laucke. Why hadn't K'Tain come down here and gotten her. Had he known of the latest subspace transmission that had been sent to her? Certainly he didn't yet. *What are you doing R'Laucke* she asked herself. You are becoming paranoid. This is your own hand picked operations officer, you can trust him. 'Of course. Forgive my sarcasm. Things have been a bit stressful for me.'

With that, they proceeded to the bridge of the Talbok. Upon entering the bridge, R'Laucke relaxed a little and as the ops officer returned to his post, she noticed that K'Tain was nowhere to be seen. 'Status' she ordered.

'The Borg ship is still just sitting there without fuel...cloaking status is nominal...maintaining close standard orbit' came the various responses from the bridge officers.

'Excellent. Prepare to lock a tractor beam onto the ship and set course for the Mirak star base, warp nine.'

'Tractor beam ready sir.' replied the crewman at the engineering console.

'Prepare to decloak, lock tractor beam and engage warp on my mark. We need to make this as clean as possible. We don't have any support in this area, and any failure could mean our deaths. All right now...decloak and engage NOW!'

With that order, a flurry of activity took over the previously tense calm of the bridge. The maneuver went off without a hitch, and soon they were at warp nine heading for Mirak. It was going to take quite a while to reach the base, and that fact make R'Laucke relax a little bit. She could go back to her quarters and not do anything or think about anything or anyone. With those thoughts still in her head, she left the bridge and returned to her quarters. She laid down on her bed and was soon in a deep but restless sleep.

Kate awoke with a start the next morning. *Who is using a damn chainsaw this early in the morning? * She thought. Remembering the storm from the night before, she slid over to her bedroom window and looked out. Only half seeing the downed tree across the street that was why there was a blasted chainsaw going this early, she was thinking about her husband. It was pretty difficult being away from him for so long. It had only been a few days, but he was going to be gone for over a month. Ahh well, she thought, I have a lot to do here to keep me busy. Once I meet with Professor Fujita one last time, I should be ready to start the final drafts of my dissertation.

She quickly threw on some old jeans and a t-shirt and headed outside to see if the storm did any damage to her house and yard. The bright sunlight greeted her face. She was still rather tired from the restless night, but her spirits brightened as she saw that other than a few sticks blown out of the trees, there was no damage. When she got around to the front of her house, she saw her neighbor busy cutting the fallen tree and she waved. He waved back and went on cutting. Fortunately, the tree had fallen in such a way that there was no damage to any houses or cars. This was amazing really considering the tree was nearly 40 feet tall, and probably older than any of the houses in the neighborhood.

After returning to her house, Kate ate a quick breakfast, checked her email, and then headed up to campus. She spent most of the day pouring over statistical data regarding minor topological changes and their effects on super cell thunderstorms. She worked through lunch as she did most days, not bothering to eat, and finally around dinnertime, she headed home.

When she got home, she made a quick bite to eat and called her husband. After talking for an hour or so, she hung up, changed into something more comfortable and logged onto her computer. She checked her email and she had the VGAP rst file she had been looking forward to. This game was going to be one of the toughest yet. She was just beginning to engage the Borg. Fortunately, she had managed to take the battle to the Borg territory. Her rst indicated that her instincts were correct, and the Firecloud she had just towed off of the star base did not have any fuel, as there was no combat. After looking at her rst, she decided she would play the turn later, but now, she would jump onto IRC and see if any of the guys were there.

It was a full house tonight, as it usually was. She greeted everyone and started in with her merciless teasing of one of the other regulars. This had become their routine. She would slam him; he would take it and come back with some equally taunting remark. This was a lot of fun, but often times they would carry on serious discussions about either VGA Planets, or some totally unrelated subject.

Then the messages started. 'Hey baby...','You're daddy must have been god...he put stars in you eyes...','Nice shoes, wanna f***?' and so on. This had become routine, but Kate was very thankful for the community she had found in the VGAP channel. These people here were great. Appreciated her for who she was, made her feel comfortable, and were just all around nice people.

After an hour or so, and 20 unsolicited messages later, the one message she had dreaded popped up. 'Hello Kate' it said again. Stunned, she quickly added this person to her ignore list. Minutes later she received an email. All it said was 'I like your car. I saw it today.' She quickly deleted the email and went back to the channel. The discussion had shifted to the upcoming Generation Wars game. It was to be a team game, with the teams divided up by ages. There were no more slots open in her age group, but she managed to sweet talk herself into the next age group, after all, she was only 2 years away. She briefly explained the situation with this anonymous messager to one of the regulars on the board that she had talked to quite often. They talked mostly about his relationship problems. The one thing she did bring to this channel was the unique perspective of the female mind. As was pointed out from time to time, female minds are indeed quite unique. Anyway, his advice was to basically ignore it, and the guy will go away. He did urge her to tell her husband, but she was a 28 year old woman who was just short of receiving her PhD. Certainly she should be able to handle this. With that, she said her goodnights and left. She chatted a bit more on the IRC channel that was used by meteorologists then logged off. After watching a bit of television, she went upstairs to bed. She laid awake for what seemed to be an eternity, thinking about how could this person know what her car looked like or anything else. Yeah, her friends on IRC were probably right. He was probably just some freako getting off messing with a woman's mind. With that, she drifted into a deep but uneasy sleep.

The next day passed without incident onboard the Talbok. All attempts to enter the Borg vessel had failed. R'Laucke wondered why, for a ship the size of a Dark Wing, that it did not carry a boarding force for situations just like this. Her security team was simply not large enough to capture the vessel, but since it was without fuel, there would be no way it could fight or cause trouble, so she would have to wait until they arrived at Mirak.

'Commander R'Laucke to the bridge!' came the voice through her communicator. *What now? * Thought R'Laucke as she left her quarters. She had spent most of the time since finding the Borg ship in her quarters. She kept telling herself that she was doing work, accomplishing things, but in reality, most of the time was spent unconsciously dwelling on the mysterious person at the other end of the transmissions. When she stepped out of her quarters, two guards immediately flanked her. She had told K'Tain that she thought this was totally unnecessary, but he insisted, and she did not argue because he was really looking out for her best interests.

She walked silently and swiftly to the bridge. Upon arrival, she noticed it was dim and bathed in yellow light. 'What is wrong?' asked R'Laucke in a way that was more a statement than a question.

'Sir, sensors have detected two Klingon ships, one bearing 225 z-plus 45, and the other is at bearing 45 z-minus 45. They are moving on an intercept course. They are D-7 class ships sir. No threat to us.' reported the tactical officer.

'Why are they not under cloak, and why are they moving to intercept? Surely they know they are no match for us.' pondered R'Laucke aloud. 'I want a tactical analysis of all Borg and any other vessels in our long-range sensor area. I want to meet with all senior officers in ten minutes. If anyone needs me, I will be in my ready room. K'Tain, join me.'

Once they were in her ready room, R'Laucke turned to K'Tain. 'What have you found out?'

'Nothing so far, commander. We have not been able to trace the messages or the communications. They seem to be changing locations and routing through anonymous nodes. They are fairly clever. We do have limited resources onboard to track this, but perhaps when we reach Mirak, and can use the bases resources, we will be able to better.' replies K'Tain. His frustration at not being able to solve this was very evident on his face.

'Thank you. You do give me peace of mind. I know you will do what ever you can.' said R'Laucke to hopefully allay some of his sorrow and frustration.

In the meeting room, there was a very uncomfortable energy that R'Laucke picked up on immediately. She took her seat at the head of the conference table and said 'So what have we found out?'

The tactical officer stood and moved over to a large display screen. 'Sir, we have analyzed many possible scenarios here. The most glaring fact is that we will not be able to evade the Klingon ships. Their position, course and speed indicate that they are intentionally trying to ambush us. As I said, there are several possibilities here, but the most likely scenario is very unsettling, and will limit our options. Our sensors have not detected any threatening Borg activity in our sensor area; however, we took the liberty of contacting several of our scout ships that are in Borg territory. All Fireclouds are accounted for, but there is one that is about 300 LY from here in the BD-12 system that has three Biocide and three Annihilation class ships less than one month away from it.'

'The Klingons are allied with the Borg.' stated the commander. Her face was stone cold and unflinching as she thought about what this meant. 'Continue sub-commander.'

'I think you are correct in thinking the Klingons and Borg are allied. Our analysis also indicates that we have placed ourselves in a win-win situation for the Borg, or rather a win-way out of losing a Firecloud situation.' said the tactical officer. He continued after a short pause. 'Since the Firecloud is without fuel of any kind, we will be unable to effectively destroy it. If we are able to get it back to Mirak, we will be able to capture it, tear it apart and build our own. The Borg cannot let that happen. Given the location and course of the Klingon ships, we have no way to evade them. They will intercept us. Their plan appears to be that they uncloaked so we would see them, and one of two things would happen. First, we believe they have no intentions of engaging us unless they absolutely have no other choice. Either we would continue to Mirak, and they would not engage us, but rather than go back into cloak and still intercept us. When they arrived at the same point in space, they would transfer fuel over to the Firecloud, and the Firecloud at BD-12 would be ready to open a subspace conduit and arrive at our location with six warships, easily enough to destroy us and there would be a Borg fleet in our territory. We believe that this is really their secondary plan. We think that their primary plan was to have the D-7's uncloak, to force us to transfer fuel to the Firecloud, and destroy it. The Borg are not ready to engage us with their full force, and having to allocate a fleet of six warships to this would leave them vulnerable. They can not let us capture this ship, and they are prepared to back up that position.'

'What are our options?' asked R'Laucke.

'Well sir, we really don't have any options. We must transfer the fuel and destroy the ship. It we keep it, we will have a Borg fleet on top of us and at our base on Mirak. We do not have the reinforcements to repel such an attack. Either way, we will fall right into what ever trap the Borg have laid for us.' said the tactical officer very solemnly.

'Very well then. The sooner we get this done the better. When we are ready, call me to the bridge. I will be in my quarters.' and with that, R'Laucke stood, turned, and left the room without a glance ant anyone or anything but the tops of her shoes.

Her door chime sounded two hours later. She ignored it. Seconds later it chimed again, and again she ignored it. The third time it chimed, she yelled 'What do you want?'

'R'Laucke,' came the voice of K'Tain. 'I would like to speak to you.'

The door slid open and K'Tain entered cautiously. It was very dark, and he called to the computer to increase the lighting level. The computer complied, and what he saw was very troubling to say the least. Her quarters were a mess. Things thrown all over, pottery broken, data pads on the floor, and there on the bed lay R'Laucke. Her face was very red, and her eyes were puffy. 'Don't look at me' she sobbed.

'Commander, I understand your frustration at this situation, but it could not be avoided. We...' began K'Tain, but he was cut off in mid sentence as R'Laucke turned to face him with venom in her watering eyes.

'Sub-commander,' she began with a fierceness he had never seen before. 'Do not say you understand my frustration. You never could. I am the commander of this vessel, and I almost got us all killed. I should have seen this. It was laid out to be so brilliantly obvious, that I should have seen it. I had an idea, and went with it before thinking about it, and we almost paid for it with our lives. I have been thinking since then though. I am not sure I am fit for command any longer.'

'Commander, things could be much worse. This is something that was not as obvious as you would like to think. I also sensed that as things were being explained in there, that you were thinking one step ahead of the tactical officer. You do have the ability to command. You need to keep remembering that.' he said.

'K'Tain, my friend, I am becoming quite distressed about the messages. They keep coming. The transmissions have stopped but I can't help thinking that maybe this person is closer than any of us think. I did not see what was happening with the Borg until it was almost too late. What if this is not figured out until it is too late?'

'R'Laucke, you are surrounded by people who care for you deeply and respect and admire your strength and presence, and you can rest assured that we will be using every resource we have to solve this. This person will not go unpunished.' stated K'Tain. He continued 'The reason I am here is to let you know that we think this will be the best time to destroy the Borg ship. After that is done, I think we should proceed at best possible speed to Mirak to get you away from all of this for a while, and to try to get to the bottom of the problem with our mutual 'friend'.'

R'Laucke forced a small laugh and cracked a halfhearted smile. ''Friend', what an interesting way to put it. Go ahead with the plans to destroy the Borg ship, and best possible speed to Mirak. I do not want to be up there at the moment. I just want to be alone.' she said with some finality and turned her back on K'Tain, and threw herself on her bed. K'Tain turned and left the room.

Kate woke early the next morning. Getting up for work had never been an easy thing for her. She had been operating on about 5 hours of sleep every night for the last, well, she couldn't remember how many years, but it was a lot. She really should stop drinking literally half of a gallon of Diet Coke per day. She should also not stay up so late chatting online, and watching Star Trek and Discovery Channel.

As she rolled out of bed, she flipped on the news and began to get ready. She got dressed, pulled her hair back, and went into the kitchen to grab some breakfast. As she left her house and approached her car, she thought back to what the emails had said 'I like your car', 'It's color certainly becomes you', 'what do you like to do in the back seat Kate?' She stood holding her keys for a moment before unlocking the door. She tried to focus on her day and push the other thoughts out of her head. 'That will be easier said than done' she mumbled aloud before getting into her car and driving to the forecasting office.

Her day went rather quickly. This was going to be her last day at work for a few days. She was going to meet with Professor Fujita the day after tomorrow, and she had a three state drive to get there. Several of her colleagues told her some things they wanted her to be sure she asked one of the most famous and sought after meteorologist in the world. After all he was the one who developed the Fujita scale for assessing tornado damage.

When she got home, she dropped onto the couch and thought about how she really had to get to sleep early tonight because she was leaving very early in the morning. She was excited about the drive ahead. She really enjoyed driving. Even if she had not driven a silver Jaguar XJ8, she would have been happy just to get away for a while. She had not told anyone at work about what was happening with the anonymous emails and messages, but they had noticed her stress. She was a bit moodier, and more short-tempered than normal, and was sure that some of the people in her office were a bit relieved to see her go for a few days. Maybe this will be just the break I need she thought.

After a few minutes sitting on the couch, she got up, turned on The Simpson's, and made dinner. After dinner was finished, she cleaned up and turned on the computer. She had several emails waiting. Her rst from the game she was in was there. She opened it and looked at it. Thank god she had made the connection between the Borg fleet massing near BD-12 and the Fascists. It was quite a brilliant move on the part of the Borg, and they almost pulled it off. They probably anticipated Kate towing the Firecloud back to Mirak, which Kate was now almost positive, has a cloaked Fascist ship around it. They probably knew this was her most productive base, and she had almost stepped right into the trap. She closed out her rst. She would play her turn when she got back as the host was taking a week off. She looked through her other emails and read and replied to several. Then she came to the one she was really interested in. She was going to be allowed to play in Generation Wars on the older team. The game was going to start when she got back from her meeting. After replying to the invitation, she logged onto IRC.

As always, most of the regulars were there. She immediately jumped into the conversation and quickly became absorbed in the discussion. They were all talking about Generation Wars, and her whole team was there. They began talking about strategy for the upcoming game, and before Kate realized it, it was way later then she had hoped to get to bed, so she started to say her goodnights.

Yet another message from a stranger popped up, and she was about to dismiss it when she saw whom it was from. She quickly messaged one of the people on the VGAP channel to let him know it was happening again. They had spent many long nights talking about everything one could imagine. He had been the only one she confided in to this point. He had asked others for help in finding out more about the person stalking Kate, but always without revealing exactly why he was asking. He knew and understood her reluctance to have this problem known. She was a strong and independent woman, who under these circumstances did not want to be treated like she was weak, or needed protection. She had always had a problem asking for help, or admitting that there were some situations she could not control.

Moments later, her friend messaged her back saying that he had messaged the other person, and asked him to stop harassing her, although it was in much stronger language. He had received no reply, but then moments later, he was disconnected from IRC. About two minutes later her friend was back. He told her that his IP address had just been pinged with 64k packets and it killed his socket. While this is a common prank, he explained to Kate, the fact that this person who has been stalking her is sitting on a connection with enough bandwidth to send out ping packets that large means he probably was at a place with a huge connection, like an office building, or a university.

When she saw the word 'university' on her screen, she felt a chill as she realized that maybe this person really had been watching her. She quickly got that thought out of her head. Goodnight, she said to all on the channel. She told them she would let them all know when she got back and how excited she was to be starting Generation Wars.

After about ten more minutes saying goodbyes, and general procrastination, she finally logged off. Just as she was about to shut down the computer, she got two new emails. The first one was from a team member wanting to know what her thoughts on the general strategy for the team should be, but the other email brought back the feelings she had just pushed back with a huge effort. 'Have a nice trip. I'll be waiting.' was all it said.

The communication from command had been very welcome. The crew of the Talbok deserved the shore leave they had been granted. Although many of the personnel had no idea how close they were to a very disastrous situation, mostly because of the carelessness of their commander, they had felt the tension among the command crew. Yes, this would be a good break. R'Laucke's computer chimed indicating an incoming message. When she turned on her monitor, she saw that there were two messages waiting. The first, she read with bittersweet emotion. The shore leave would be shorter than they had expected. Things had been happening much more quickly than anyone had anticipated, and the war was escalating. The uneasy alliances had actually solidified to a point where the many small skirmishes had become polarized to the point where there were now just two alliances and the quadrant was poised for war. She was advised to stand by for her orders. How was she going to break it to her crew that just days after returning from duty, that they would be called upon again. Oh well, they were one of the best crews in the fleet. They would do their duty, and the war would be over sooner or later, and they would get their break then.

She had been careful in opening her messages because of her growing paranoia over her stalker, but her thoughts were off in another place when she opened the other message. All it said was 'Enjoy your leave. I'll be waiting.'

She quickly erased the message, and forced down the fear that was building. Deep breaths, take deep breaths. We are close to finding him she thought. Just the night before, she had received a communication from him, and at K'Tains urging, she had not immediately severed the connection. When K'Tain had tried to trace and confront the sender, the feedback loop that was generated was enough to cause communications on the ship to go down for a few minutes. He had said that who ever had access to equipment capable of taking down a starships communications array was well connected. The type of equipment used could only be found in a few places. The research labs in several different sectors, and aboard a star base. When he said star base, she felt a chill go down her spine. He did not notice, or if he did, he did not give any indication that he had, as he continued talking about the imminent war.

Two days later, they arrived at the Mirak star base. She had ordered a communications blackout for the ship as she felt like she was on the verge of breaking. She knew that this was totally irrational. She had fine officers around her that would do anything they could to keep her safe. Her best friend since childhood was married to a man who was a Major in the Tal'Shiar. She had help around her. All she had to do was ask, but that was the problem. She couldn't bring herself to admit that things were probably out of her control. Losing control was not something she was used to. Ever since childhood, she would set a goal and reach it. She controlled every aspect of her life. This had caused problems at times, but in the end, it had allowed her to become one of the youngest commanders the fleet had ever had. Losing control...she could not think about it. She forced down all of her self-doubt and insecurities and transported over to the star base.

Almost immediately, Selar, one of the most accomplished commanders in the Imperial Navy, approached her. 'R'Laucke,' he said with warmth in his voice that she found very comforting. 'It is good to see you again. I hate to do this, but we will need to discuss your orders when you have rested. Would you care to join me for dinner this evening?'

'Oh, I would love to!' she exclaimed. 'When shall you be joining me?' she asked him.

It always tickled him the way she was able to turn things around to take control of any situation. 'How does 8 o'clock sound dear?'

'Very nice thank you. Will you be stopping by to get me?' she asked playfully. Their relationship was purely professional, but occasionally they engaged in playful flirting. To an outsider, they may find themselves asking what it was all about, but to anyone who knew them, they were very dedicated to their spouses, and would never dream of betraying their relationships. They had only met a couple of times before, but had great professional respect for each other, and enjoyed each other's company.

'Ahh, letting me think I am in control here? Well, very well then, I'll pick you up at 8 o'clock.' With a broad smile, he turned and left.

R'Laucke made her way to her quarters on board the station. She was looking forward to getting a few hours rest before meeting with Selar. She was ready to let someone else know about her stalker. She would probably break down totally, but she could not stand this any more. At least she was here on the base where security was tight, and since she had no official command status here, she could just have all of her communications rejected.

She was unable to sleep, but she did manage to lie down for a while and watch a holovid about ancient terra. The resources here on the base far surpassed what she had on the Talbok. Yes, she would enjoy her time here.

At precisely 8 o'clock, her door chime rang, and there stood Selar. He offered his arm, and she cheerfully took it. They went up to the officers lounge overlooking the star port and sat next to one of the windows. Looking out, she saw the Talbok. It wasn't very often that she was able to see her ship from this position. It was very beautiful, but the stress of the past several months was showing. There was a lot of scoring on the hull from various explosions and battles, but it still looked as strong and beautiful as the first time she had laid eyes on it.

'R'Laucke, you look troubled. Does it have anything to do with your last mission?' he inquired.

'Not really. I think I am just tired.' she said trying to hide her surprise at his question. The last several months of the Talboks mission was supposed to be classified. That was not normal, but given all that had happened, she thought it best, and command had agreed.

'Well, something must have happened. I looked through the mission logs, and the last month is classified. I don't even have access to it. What the hell happened?' he asked forcefully.

She knew that very few people would dare ask her something so directly and forcefully. She was the one who usually asked the questions. 'I really don't want to talk about it.' she said, casting her eyes down so Selar would not see them filling with tears.

He reached out and placed his hand on hers and very tenderly said 'Alright.'

That was all it took to make her completely break. With tears streaming down her face, she poured her heart out to him. She told him everything about the stalker, about her doubts in her ability to command, about how much she missed her husband, about everything. All of her insecurities, self-hatred, everything that had happened since childhood came pouring out. Two hours later, she had finally cried herself out, and when she looked around, she realized that they were still alone in the lounge.

She quickly tried to compose herself, took some deep breaths, and slowly raised her head to face him. 'I'm sorry.' is all she could manage to say.

He just held out his hand to her, and she took it. 'It will all work out. I promise.' he said.

After a few moments of awkward silence, R'Laucke snapped her head up as if the past two hours had not happened, and said 'Well what are we having to eat. I am starving.'

Selar smiled at her. She is going to be all right, he thought. She is going to be all right.

Kate arrived at home early in the morning. The few days away went by way too quickly. She had driven most of the previous day and through the night. Driving at night was one of her favorite things to do. Being all alone out on the highway, giving her time to think and just reflect on what ever was on her mind, was one of the best and most peaceful feelings she ever had.

She went upstairs, got undressed and collapsed on her bed. The feel of the cold sheets wrapped around her warm skin brought a very peaceful sleep.

Several hours later, she woke up and staggered down the stairs. That was just what I needed she thought. Looking outside, she could see that it was late. The last remaining streams of light had long since disappeared below the horizon, and now there were just the last remnants of twilight. She put on her shoes and went outside. Lighting a cigarette, and gazing up, she could not see nearly as many stars as when she was back at her childhood home. A gentle breeze blew through the trees, and for the first time in quite a while, she felt totally at peace. She almost laughed at herself for being so worried about things. With one last glance skyward, she went inside and turned on her computer.

It had been several days since she had checked her email. She had hundreds of messages to go through, but there was only one subject she was interested in now. She found several emails about the Generation Wars game that was going to be starting. Her team had been discussing strategy, and had selected her to play the Lizards because of her extensive background playing cloaking races. Her thoughts on strategy before she left had been passed around, and the players liked her overall strategy. Although she was not the team captain, the team had adopted her ideas. This put some pressure on her, but that is what she thrived on, and it was a good strategy, and it would be up to her as the Lizards to carry it out.

After catching up on some of her email, she hopped on IRC and like always, there were a ton of people on the channel. After all of the hello's and welcome back's they all picked things up right where they left off. Although she did not tell anyone about the breakdown she had had when she was at dinner with Professor Fujita, she did let some of the more concerned people know that everything was going to be all right. It was very nice to be back.

After several hours on IRC, she was getting tired again, and decided to call it a night. It was late by now, and she had not rested well while she was away. She went into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and headed upstairs to watch some television before settling into sleep.

Just as she got to her bedroom, her phone rang. She answered the phone, and all she heard was silence. She listened for a few more seconds, and finally hung up. Thinking nothing of it, she hopped into bed and soon she was asleep with the television on.

Once she was back onboard the Talbok, things started to feel normal again. The pressure of command started to force her back into her routine. This is where she felt most comfortable. There were times when she would complain that things were getting to be too much, but deep down inside she loved it. She would not trade it for anything. She was worried though that one day, she would become overwhelmed and not even realize it until it was too late. As she was walking the corridors of her ship, the ships communication system signaled to her that she was to report to the star base commandants office to receive her new orders.

This is strange she thought. Why couldn't they just send them to me on the ship like they always do? As she was making her way to the transporter room, she saw K'Tain. He was walking in the opposite direction, but stopped and said 'It will be good to be back in action again sir. I like taking time off, but it makes me feel like I am losing my edge.'

'I know how you feel K'Tain. It will be very nice to be back out there. I am on my way to receive our new orders, and then we will be off. See you soon.' she said as she continued towards the transporter room.

Once she had beamed aboard the star base, she was escorted to the commandant's office. Once inside, she saw the commandant, Commander Selar, another Romulan she recognized as a member of the high council, and two highly decorated Gorn officers. As the door closed behind her, she got the feeling that this was not going to be a normal mission briefing.

'Commander R'Laucke, please sit down,' said the commandant as he motioned towards a chair on the far side of the conference table. As she took her seat, the others sat as well. 'As you know, we have entered into an alliance that brings several empires together to face the largest threat we have ever known. Each of the alliance members has sent strategic analysts to a secret location to head the strategic planning for the alliance. However, we are in need of a field commander to help direct the plan in the field. We have selected you. You will be working with the Gorn, as they are the center point to our overall strategy. Because of this, you will be leaving this station under cloaked escort aboard the Gorn ship Monitor. You will rendezvous with the Gorn command and begin your preparations. The alliance will be working fully with the Gorn in supporting roles. Since the Gorn have a massive ground attack advantage, our plan will revolve around that, and your ability to infiltrate enemy territory and cripple their empires from within. More details will be given to you en route. You are set to leave immediately. Please gather any personal items you will need from the Talbok, and report back here in 30 minutes. You are not to discuss this with anyone. Is that clear?'

'Yes sir!' answered R'Laucke as she stood and turned to leave. Once aboard the Talbok, she hurried to her quarters to retrieve a few things. She checked her messages one last time as a commander in the Romulan Navy. Her commission was now a commander in the Gorn Navy. This was highly unusual, but because of different protocols between the two races, this was the easiest way to ensure R'Laucke's ability to lead to Gorn during this crucial time.

She was also thinking about her stalker. This will be a great way to be rid of him finally. Her orders were quite highly classified. While many would notice that she was no longer there, they would not know where she went. Perhaps when she retuned , the situation would be taken care of. K'Tain was still diligently working on it. With war seeming imminent, the amount of time he had to work on it was greatly reduced, but she knew him well enough to know that he would not rest until her stalker was caught.

She froze as she looked at her last message. There, in bold color before her, were several pictures of her doing various things. A picture of her walking across the promenade of the Mirak star base. A picture of her entering the holodeck on the base at Epsilon Indi, and various others. The words that went along with the pictures made her shiver. 'You are looking at me.'

As she saved the message, her mind was spinning. She did not know whether to feel fear, anger, or hatred. All of her thoughts were clouded with the events of the past few days. She would be in transit to the Gorn home world for the next few days, and that would give her some time to reflect, and decide on a course of action. It was clear now that this was more than just a passing thing. This stalker really was following her, and she truly had no idea who this person was.

She would be able to get a secure line to her spouse's friend who was a Major in the Tal'Shiar, the Romulan Secret Police, if she needed it. She was still not willing to give in to this quite yet. She only hoped she would be able to know when it had gone too far, and know when to ask for help.

With all of that still on her mind, she beamed directly to the commandant's office and from there, she was transported to the Gorn craft. The Gorn ship was cloaked, and had not been detected by anyone other than those involved. This would ensure her getaway to the Gorn home world. The secure transport of R'Laucke would be critical since she had by far the most experience in the alliance fleet working with cloaking tactics. The thought that some considered her the best was very intimidating yet exhilarating at the same time. She had worked very hard to learn what she had. However, her failure with the Borg that had led them directly into a trap, which she narrowly escaped, had caused her to question their faith in her.

Pushing those thoughts aside, she greeted the Gorn transporter technician, and was promptly led to the Gorn commander's quarters for an immediate briefing. *Nothing like getting the jump on things* she thought. When she arrived there, she saw the two she had seen earlier in the commandant's office. 'Greetings R'Laucke. Please accept our gratitude in coming to our aid.'

'No gratitude is needed Commander. We are on the same side here. Your survival means our survival. It pains me though that your people will be the central point in this conflict, and I will strive to do everything in my power to see as many safely through this as I can. I thank you for accepting me. Now shall we begin with the briefing?' said R'Laucke, and with that, they began laying the plans for the next several weeks.

The drive home from work seemed to be taking forever today. Her husband and son would not be coming home when planned. They were going to be gone for another several weeks. She missed them fiercely. Maybe next weekend she would fly out to the coast to see them, she thought as she approached her mailbox. Grabbing the mail, she headed inside, flopped down on the couch, and began sorting through the mail. Just what she needed, more credit cards. She came to an envelope that had her name and address typed on it, and no return address. She opened it and what she found inside made her freeze. There were several pictures. There was one of her getting out of her car, her walking into her building on campus, her sitting in her backyard smoking a cigarette.

She jumped off of the couch and locked her front door. She then went through the whole house, closing and locking all the windows, closing all of the blinds, and shaking the entire time. Perhaps it was time to tell someone. One of her husband's friends from college was a special agent in the FBI. His wife was a friend of hers from High School. Not that he would be able to do anything directly, but he certainly would know what can and should be done. She would keep that in mind, should she need it. Sometime Kate was way too stubborn for her own good. Thinking she could handle any situation, then getting in over her head before calling for help. She went up to her bedroom and curled up pulling her knees tightly into her chest. Tears trickled down her face. She was becoming very overwhelmed with everything at the moment.

She laid like that for what seemed like hours, and finally got up and made some dinner. She barely ate any of it, and went back upstairs and laid down. She fell asleep while watching the television.

For the next several days, she did not go onto IRC, or check her email. She had performed disappearing acts on the internet before, so nobody should really think much of this one. This one was very different however. Normally, her lack of sleep would catch up to her, and she would be asleep early in the evening, and not wake up until it was time to go to work. She would do this several days in a row, but she would always still follow her email. This time, she did not even look at that. It was fortunate in a sad way that the game she had almost lost her Mirak base in by towing the Firecloud was over. The host computer crashed and everybody agreed to end the game. This would allow her to devote her full time to Generation Wars.

This time, she was afraid. She was genuinely afraid. She had never really felt like this before. She was totally out of control in this situation, but unlike other times when she had been afraid, she felt totally helpless. There was a person out there who was watching her. Had been watching her for some time. He could see her, but she could not see him. It was like living her life in front of a two-way mirror. She could do nothing. She could do something actually. She could take control of the situation, but she was paralyzed with fear. She was frozen by her own indecision. This was perhaps what scared her the most. She had never before been unable to be decisive. She had always been able to make the decisions when they needed to be made. He had taken this from her. He had forced this change in her. She was alone in this, and it was up to her to get herself back.

The war was not going well for the alliance. The original strategy had been very simple and very sound. The Gorn would kick up their production of Lizard Class Cruisers to infiltrate enemy space and take out their home star bases quickly before their enemies had time to build up to full production. They would cut their enemies off at the knees very quickly. The other members of the alliance would gear their production towards supporting the Gorn effort by providing the minerals and manpower, while managing to produce moderate size home guards. This lightning strategy had worked in many wars through out history. The one thing R'Laucke had not taken in to account is the fact that it had failed many times in the past as well. Failure was never considered. In this respect, she had failed as a commander.

While the war was far from over, and things could still turn around in a hurry, the supply lines that had been promised were not established. The Gorn were still not getting the kind of production they needed to build the number of LCC's necessary to take out their enemy home worlds. The scouting parties had failed to find even one enemy home world, so the LCC's that had been built could do no more than run nuisance raids just over the enemy border.

'My how things change,' said the Gorn commander. It was about three weeks into the campaign, and things were starting to look a little less ominous than before. Things were still not good by any means, but the alliance had managed to regroup from several earlier failures and had a stable economy going, the transportation routes were finally established, and the ship production was at an accelerated pace. R'Laucke only hoped that this would be enough. If this failed, it would be two grand failures of hers in recent times. This was sure not to be forgotten.

'I only hope it is enough commander,' she replied. "I feel as though I have let the alliance and the Gorn people down.'

'We all agreed with your strategy. We all thought it was sound, and indeed it was. Do not count us out yet commander. We still have many resources. The only thing that has failed so far is the speed of our victory. While we may not yet be winning, your presence here has had a very stabilizing effect, and as long as you, and the other leaders remain strong, we will prevail.' said the Gorn commander with a note of finality. His confidence in her abilities was obvious, and he was right. They had all agreed on the strategy. It was not her decision alone, but the failure would certainly feel like hers. She had been sent to work with the Gorn to carry out the main offensive thrust, and so far, she had failed.

It was around the fourth week of the campaign that the most decisive blow to the alliance came. It had nothing to do with the military of any of the enemy. A single message sent from a totally unknown location started a chain of events that brought down the alliance.

It was several weeks since Kate had taken her brief leave from the internet, but she was back. Things were not going well in Generation Wars. It appeared that her strategy was not going to work. This was not her fault though, or so said the rest of the team. She still felt like it was at least her responsibility though. The strategy was so simple and elegant, and they all agreed to it. The one thing they all forgot about was a backup plan. They had several meetings on IRC discussing the problems, and engaged in the normal chest thumping that went along with rival players being in the same chat room. It was all in good fun.

For the most part, things had gone on as usual. Her days were still the same routine. She still missed her husband and son. Still, though, in the back of her mind, she was thinking about her stalker. He had sent a couple of emails, but nothing like what he had done with the pictures. Perhaps he was getting bored, or perhaps not. He seemed to be able to see into her mind and know just what buttons to push to drive her where he wanted her. He knew just how hard to push. He knew how to push her right to the edge without pushing her over. This was one of the most unsettling things about the whole situation.

Kate had just gotten off the phone with her friend from high school. Her friend, her friend's husband, and Kate were going out for dinner tomorrow night. She had been over to their house a lot lately with her husband and son out of town, but tomorrow night, they were going to go out for dinner, and then go dancing. Things had been rather hectic at work for all of them the last few days, and Kate knew she needed a good night out.

When she logged onto IRC, the whole gang was there. They immediately started in with the banter about Gen Wars. Kate started talking to one of the regulars about some decisions she had made concerning her stalker. She was finally ready to confront the situation. After several late night conversations with some of her friends on the channel, she finally started to realize that there were things that she had taken as a weakness, and tried to avoid, had turned against her and indeed made her weak. Things like this always made her feel very lucky. She had met a group of people who were genuinely concerned for her, not that there weren't already many people around her that cared for and loved her, but more certainly couldn't hurt. She was never judged, but at the same time, they were not afraid to tell her when they thought she was wrong, or acting in a self destructive way. That right there was the sign of true friendship. It is always easier to just agree with whatever someone says, but it is sometimes quite difficult to tell someone when you think they are wrong. When this can be done in a way that serves to build the person up rather than down, that is the sign of a true friend, and Kate had several of those here. It was because of those friends that she decided to take this situation back, and turn it around so she was no longer cowering inside herself. With what was about to happen, these people may have had a small part in saving her life.

Just before she logged off, she received a message that would prove to be the beginning of the end in Kate's confidence in anyone on the internet. It read simply 'You can't hide. Remember that Firecloud? It was a trap you fell into, just like the one you are about to fall into with me.'

With that simple message, to which there was no response to her replies, her world came crashing down. There was nowhere that she was safe. He watched her on TV, he watched her in her car, he watched her in her backyard, and now he was watching her in her own chat room. She had no idea how he had known about the mishap with the Firecloud. She had not discussed that with very many people, and then, it was only with those on the channel. This meant that he was someone who had been on the channel. Perhaps even someone who she had been talking to without even knowing. Perhaps it was someone whom she had confided in. Told some of her deepest feelings to.

That could explain why he always knew just how to push her. How he always seemed to know how her mind worked. Clearly, this last message was meant to shake the crumbling foundation she had uneasily maintained, and it had done its job.

She made her mind up then and there that she was going to talk to her friend's husband, and was going to start fighting this person. After she told him the situation, she was going find out how her confidence had been betrayed in her virtual haven. The place she always felt safe, where she could be herself, and at the same time, the person she could not always be.

If his message had been meant to scare her further into herself, it had almost worked. She was finally ready to break out of her self-imposed inner battles, and let those around her finally do what they had wanted to do for so long. She was going to ask for their help. She had finally accepted the fact that there were simply some things that one couldn't handle alone. Her only regret now was that it had taken her this long to realize it.

R'Laucke finished receiving the secured transmission that had been sent from the Talbok to her new home on the Gorn home world. As she started sifting through the messages, she quickly realized that she needed to let K'Tain know that she did not need to keep getting all of the routine status and personnel reports she had always just discarded anyway. These transmissions were a very special privilege, and she did not think they needed to be wasted with non-essential things.

As she read the last of the messages, another secured channel message came in on the same frequency. As she began to read the message, her blood pressure rose, and she felt hot, nauseous, and weak all at the same time. *How did he find me*, she thought. The message, though simple, was right to the heart, and brought her entire universe crushing down upon her. 'You almost killed them all for yourself getting the Firecloud.'

How had this person known about this? That mission was very highly protected. Very few people knew of it, and those that did were among some of her closest friends and allies. Since this whole thing began, her stalker had known just the right things to say to get reactions from her. He knew how to drive her down into her shell. He knew how to bring her out again, just to smash her back in.

After thinking for a few minutes, she opened a secure channel to her friend from childhood, and spoke with her husband. 'Hello, this is R'Laucke.'

'Hello R'Laucke. How have you been? We have not heard from you recently.' came his response.

'I am in a very classified location, and need to speak to you in person immediately. Please trace this transmission and find a way to get here. I do not ask this of you as a commander, I ask this of you as a friend.' she pleaded, trying desperately to fight back the tears that threatened to fall at any moment.

His response was exactly what she had hoped and expected. 'I am actually close to your location now. I will be there tomorrow,' he said, and seeing the distress in her face, he added 'Everything will be alright.' and with that, the Tal'Shiar major closed the transmission.

She fell back onto her bed in cold numbness, and fell into a stress forced slumber.

Kate got home from work the next day a bit later than usual. She quickly got undressed and hopped into the shower. The warm water relaxed her tense muscles in a matter of moments. She was feeling a bit more at ease with her stalker situation now that she was resolved to get the help she desperately had needed since the very beginning.

As she toweled off, she was thinking more about how this had begun. It would do her no good at this point to beat herself up over her indecision, and bad decisions. She would have to learn from this and never let it be repeated. She could do all the second-guessing in the world and it would do her no good. She had to face the here and now, and face it she would, with the help of those around her.

She could no longer trust those in the channel. Everything indicated that someone she trusted had betrayed her either directly or indirectly, or by someone who had been in her own personal domain. That thought saddened her deeply. She would miss them. They were her friends. Many of them knew her as well as anybody else. She would drop by every now and then, and would certainly finish Gen Wars, but right now, she had a dinner and dancing to get ready for.

She got dressed, and headed out the door, not knowing that this would be the last time she would feel totally comfortable using that door.

'R'Laucke to the command center' came the rough reptilian voice of the bases Gorn operations officer.

'On my way.' she said as she got up off of her bed and left the room. Little did she realize that this would be the last time she would exit that room with the same peace she was finally beginning to feel.

Thoughts of the last several days were still reeling through her head as she made her way to the command center. Things had indeed been looking up for the allies. They had located two enemy home worlds and there were already two fleets on the way. A third home world was very close to being discovered.

She had decided the night before that this would be her last command for a while. She was going to take a leave of absence that would be indefinite. She had no idea if she would ever come back, or ever be welcomed back. At this point, she did not care. She had discovered things about herself in the past several weeks that she had to face before they consumed her totally and before she lost more than just her position in command. She was having too many self doubts, and then the fact that she had been betrayed by someone who, although still unknown, was obviously close enough to her to know about some of her deepest feelings, and insecurities, to be an effective commander at this point. She felt she had enough to finish this tour, but not much more.

When she reached the command center, the retinal scanner verified that she had permission to enter, and the door opened. Standing off to one side of the center was her friend from the Tal'Shiar. The stations commander spoke first. 'Commander R'Laucke, do you know this person? He claims to know you. He was able to enter this room with apparently no authorization, there was no way that was detected that he could have even reached this world, who is he?'

'He is a member of the Tal'Shiar, the Romulan secret police. He is also my friend. I asked him here to help me with a personal problem,' she said as she glared over at the Tal'Shiar major's smirking face. 'I did not expect him to use such methods to gain entrance here. Please forgive him and me.'

'No forgiveness needed, I would just like to be informed of these things before I have strangers in the middle of my command center during a war. If you two have business, please get to it, as we will need you at your best R'Laucke. If you will excuse me.' With that, the base commander turned and went into the adjoining tactical room.

R'Laucke and her friend left the command center. 'Is there anywhere we can get any Gorn food? I have not had any since I was in the ambush on Organia. It was quite good.' he asked as they walked through the mazes of corridors.

'Sure. Let's beam up to my command ship. The mess hall there has a very good Gorn Chef. He does not believe in replicators, so all of the food is fresh.' she said as she led the way to the transporter room.

Once aboard the Monitor, they made their way to the galley, told the chef what they wanted and went and had a seat. Once they sat down, her friend asked 'So what is this all about R'Laucke?'

'Not one to beat around the bush are you?' she asked with a smile.

'Not when my friend is in trouble...' He made that statement with a wave of his hand as if to tell her not to even think about arguing with him. 'And you are in trouble aren't you? I saw it in your eyes, and heard it in your voice. What is wrong?'

She told him everything. For the first time, she was able to tell the whole story without breaking down. She had resolved earlier to take this problem and turn it around so that she was the master of it, so that she could control its outcome.

She had realized too late perhaps that the real problem here was her inability to make a decision on how best to deal with the situation. All of the messages and transmissions sent by the stalker had just driven her further away from being able to make any decisions. She was too worried about making the wrong one, when sometimes, making the correct decision is not nearly as important as just making a decision. The mess with the Borg had worked against her in this as she had made a decision, yet it had been the wrong one. She was scared to make another. She had made the decisions that were the corner for her alliances strategy, yet they were the wrong ones.

In both of those cases, things were still working though. She had survived the encounter with the Borg because, although she had made the wrong decision, she had many around her who were there to help her. The same thing could be said for the current predicament her alliance found them selves in. She was surrounded with top-notch people who would have questioned her if they had felt she was wrong. She needed to rely on those around her, and trust in them. If they did not agree with her, they would say so. She did not need to bear all of this herself, and from this moment on she would not.

After they finished dinner, her friend suggested that he walk her back to her quarters, and she get a good night sleep, while he figured out what he could do, and what would be her best course of action.

When they arrived at the restaurant, they were promptly seated. They ordered drinks, and began talking. They were talking about work, family and other things, when their waitress came to take their order. After they ordered, Kate's friend from the FBI asked 'Kate, what is wrong? You haven't been yourself for the last few months. We have been worried. Are you alright?'

'You know me too well, don't you?' she said with a slight smile. With that, she proceeded to tell them everything that had been happening. She managed to get it all out without crying, but as she was explaining the situation, she was also deep in thought. Focusing on every word that came out of her own mouth, Kate began to realize many things about herself and how she dealt with problems. The simple act of verbalizing her thought and fears were as much help as anything else would have been. Sometimes hearing your thoughts coming out of your mouth in the form of words can force you to see things in a different way.

Two hours later, after finishing a wonderful meal, they all got up headed to a local dance club. Kate laughed to herself at the irony of this situation. This is just like the internet. A woman can't walk into a place like this without getting hit on. She thought briefly about the VGA Planets channel on IRC. That is one place she could honestly say that nobody had ever seriously tried to pick her up. In defense of the men however, she thought, a woman who comes into a place like this has to know what to expect, especially if she is dressed in a way that is just begging to be noticed. This is definitely not right, but it is what happens, and anyone who is surprised by it is very naive. When things go past looking, then it is a problem. A woman in these situations needs to be strong and make good sound decisions or she will find herself in deep trouble in a hurry. It was Kate's inability to make decisions that was troubling her now.

They headed out onto the dance floor, and continued talking. The talking was more like shouting as the music was very loud. After a few minutes, Kate went over to the DJ's booth and went inside. The DJ tonight was a friend of hers from work. He looked over at her with a very surprised look on his face. He had been pestering her for almost a year to come down and hear him spin. Tonight, she was going to get a show. He had a four hour set lined up and would be spinning some deep trance, with a trance mix of one of her favorite songs. They talked for a few minutes, and she headed back out onto the floor.

After an hour or so, Kate and her friends went over to a corner and sat down and talked some more about things, and then around midnight, they said their goodbyes to some of the people they had seen there, and headed to drop Kate off at her house.

The drive was rather relaxing as they were all tired from their evening. They were in good spirits as they approached Kate's house. When they pulled into the long driveway, something was not right. As they got out of the car, they started walking towards her front door. Her FBI friend noticed it first, and stopped the small party. Kate's front door had been forcefully broken open.

As soon as he noticed the front door, he immediately turned them all around and headed back to the car. Once there, he told the women to call the police, and to wait there, and be ready to get out of there if need be. He took his gun out from under the front seat and proceeded back to the house. Cautiously, he approached the front door.

Once inside the house, he could not see any evidence of a burglary. Things were still in place, so he cautiously went from room to room, keeping his firearm ready. He methodically searched the basement, then the main floor. He carefully headed up the stairs Kate used every night to reach her bedroom. As he rounded the corner at the top of the stairs, he heard a noise in the bedroom. Quietly he approached. After a silent count to three in his head, he burst into the bedroom. He had obviously surprised his adversary, who tried to run. The FBI agent tackled the intruder to the floor. His gun went skidding under the bed as they struggled. The scuffle was over quickly as the agent prevailed.

About that time, the police arrived with lights and sirens blaring. Kate quickly informed them what was going on, and cautiously, the police entered the house. Kate's friend quickly identified himself as a special agent with the FBI, and turned over the captive.

As the FBI agent headed down the stairs and out the door, he saw his wife by the car alone. He asked where Kate was and she told him that she was out in her back yard, and needed a moment alone. They waited for a while before heading around back.

As they turned the corner to the hallway with her quarters, they both noticed something was not right. As they approached her quarters, he positioned himself as a shield in front of her as he peered through the obviously forced open door.

R'Laucke's friend from the Tal'Shiar drew his disruptor as he entered the room. He called for the lights. As the lights turned on, they noticed nothing out of place. He indicated for R'Laucke to leave her quarters and go get security. She left the room and staggered towards security totally dazed and overwhelmed with fear. This was the end. She could not take any more. She made up her mind right then and there that this was her last day in the Imperial Navy.

Back in her quarters, her friend began a room-by-room sweep, and finally in her sleeping room, he found what he was looking for. His prey was obviously startled and tried to run from the room. Her friend was too fast for the intruder and quickly wrestled him to the floor. During the struggle, her friend's disruptor got flung across the room, but thankfully he did not need it as his adversary quickly conceded defeat and was dragged to his feet.

About that time, security arrived at R'Laucke's quarters and led the intruder away to the brig. Not surprisingly, R'Laucke was not there. She was up on the observation deck staring out at the stars. She was about to take one of the most heart wrenching steps she had ever taken in her life. She was about to walk away from her command. She had been planning on taking some time off for a while now, but this was it. She had to get away now before she totally cracked and people died because of her inability to judge situations. Her inability to make decisions. Her inability to lead, to command.

She would see to it that her stalker was prosecuted and punished, but she was not sure whom she was angrier with. The stalker, or herself. True, he had broken the law. He had played mind games with her. He had terrorized her emotionally. She hated him for that, but what she hated him for most of all was how he had made her doubt herself, and her abilities. Perhaps she should thank him. He had made her realize things about herself that she never knew existed. How much more lay deep inside her unknown? She was going to find out soon. With one last look up, a grim smile crept across her lips as she activated her personal transporter and beamed onboard the waiting Tal'Shiar craft.

As she sped off toward a secret location, she began to think about what her disappearance would mean to the war effort. She figured she would be listed as missing in action, and a new commander would be found for this part of the war campaign. They would be better off without her in her current capacity. She had a lot of issues she needed to get worked out before she could ever take command again. She felt horrible for betraying the others who had placed their faith in her. The others who were counting on her, but she had to escape before she lost herself forever. Perhaps one day she would be able to apologize to them. She was sure that not a day would go by that she would not feel terribly guilty about leaving them, but the guilt she would be able to address later. Perhaps they will forgive her, perhaps not. She knew that one day, she would return, and would be much stronger than before. She would get her command back. She had no idea how long it would be, but when that day came, she would be ready.

With those thoughts running through her head, she laid down. She watched the stars go by her window, and for the first time in many weeks, her mind slowly cleared. She closed her eyes and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Kate spoke with the police officer briefly before heading around back for a minute. She climbed up on the rail around her deck, which was one of her favorite places to sit, lit a cigarette and gazed up at the stars. How had she let things get so out of hand she wondered. Thousands of what-ifs went through her head. What if she had not gone out this evening? What if her friends had not taken her home? What if her family had been there? What about her little boy?

It was too late to worry about those things now. What was done was done. The question now was how could it all be avoided in the future? Her thoughts were all jumbled, but they all kept coming back to the fact that she should have done something different. Anything. Her inability to take the matter into her own hands and turn it over to someone who could help had cost her. Sure, the door to the house could be fixed, but the fact that the door to her mind and soul had been torn from its hinges would be a lot more painful and, take a lot longer to fix.

She hopped down from her perch as she finished her cigarette and headed back to the front of the house. There she saw her friends, and a few neighbors who were wondering what was going on. She went to her friends, and her friend from high school took her into her arms and held her. 'It will all be ok Kate. Your husband will be home late tomorrow. I called him and let him know what happened because I knew you wouldn't'

Kate began to cry. The police officer she had spoken with briefly earlier was approaching her but he stopped and let the two friends console each other for a few minutes before he took a step forward 'Ma'am, we will need a statement. We would prefer if you came down to the station. Your friend can take you if you would like.'

Nodding, Kate and her friend climbed into her car. They left her friend's husband the keys to Kate's car as he was staying at the scene to help the police. The ride to the station was quiet as both of the women were deep in thought. Kate had already decided that she was done with the internet for a long while. She was not sure how she could explain her dropping out of Gen Wars so suddenly, but she was not any help in the game anyway. Her plans had failed miserably. One day she would have to apologize for it, but right now, she had many other things to worry about. When they got to the station, Kate took a deep breath and said 'Let's get this over with.' and with that they went into the station.

After that night, I did not get on the internet for about a week. When I got back on, I checked my email, and it made me realize that I couldn't keep taking weeks off like that. Not a day has gone by since then that I have not thought about what might have happened.

For the next year, I focused on my family, work, and schoolwork, and finally, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation. It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it.

It was some time later that I finally ventured back onto IRC. There had been many changes over the year or so that I was gone. Many of the regulars were no longer around. The channel bots were gone. Late one night, I joined the channel and there were a few of the old timers, and they remembered me and welcomed me back with open arms. This made me both happy and nervous. Happy because the people and atmosphere were the same. We were there because we enjoyed a game, but we also enjoyed each other. Nervous because many of the same feelings of insecurity came rushing back. I remembered too well that somehow I had been betrayed by someone familiar with the channel. I do not believe that there was any malicious intent, but still, the feelings lingered. Over the next few weeks, more and more of the regulars began coming back as word got around, and before long, things were getting back to normal.

Around the time things were getting back to normal, tragedy struck again. I was in a serious car accident, and almost died. I was in and out of the hospital for several weeks. This time, once again, I left IRC with no warning, and I was gone for nearly six months. When I got back, it was only intermittently until 2000 when I finally came back for good.

Since then, I have played in several games against some top quality players, and have been helping [Relic] with some testing on his new Tactical VCR system, and his even newer, and very promising play by email game called Aqualia. I am currently hosting a game with some very experienced players. The game has eleven players, and by my estimation, we have almost 70 years playing experience between us, and that includes one player for whom this is his first game.

As far as seeing the game through a woman's eyes...hmmm...I really don't have a reference frame to compare to, but I will say that there have been several games where certain other players were more than happy to ally with me, give me better deals, and generally help me out where they would not have helped other male players. I have found that I have been underestimated before, mainly by doing what [Devon], from the channel thinks I excel at...playing the dumb girl until it suits me to spring like the venomous spider that I am. I do not generally publicize the fact that I am a woman as it really does make others act strangely.

I have had many sexist remarks made to me, but none of those have ever come from anyone on the channel. They mostly come though game messages, or email. For the most part, I ignore them and just sit back with satisfaction as I reduce their empire to a heaping pile of crap. People who have sent me those types of messages are often surprised however when it gets forwarded to the other players, and it is great to see how quickly a person can become public enemy number one! (Special thanks to all of you knights in shining armor, ready to rescue the damsel in distress). I do understand that intimidation is part of the game, but not that type. Personally attacking and belittling a person in a way that is not related to the game is totally uncalled for.

I seriously urge everyone out there to stop by the channel and visit. There are several veteran players there, and we are always ready to help answer any questions, offer opinions, listen and talk about anything. Please feel free to contact me for anything.

Kate, a.k.a. Straha

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