FWSC Carefree Victory (AGS-3172)
Winterfell, Westeros, FSC-29294 III
21 August 391 UEC

Dear Mom, Mama, Dad & Everyone,

Kongou is just about close enough that I can finally start sending compressed text over subspace and not have it come out as garbage. That means I can write you directly and know that you'll get the letter, instead of having to trust to some random First Federationer I'll never actually meet face to face. At least now if the message gets corrupted I can blame the Fleet's censors. (As an aside to the censors, assuming you're reading this, please don't wield the markers of doom on this letter. I'll get you all ice cream and beer when I get back to Federal space, promise!)

I'm writing to you from Winterfell this time. You remember Winterfell from my first letter, the gigantic castle sitting out in the middle of a boreal forest? It's kind of become my center of operations since the last time I had a chance to write you. It's been a weird couple of months, let me tell you.

For the record, I'm still alive (obviously). I'd say "and well" but... well, it's a long story. I'm neither on fire nor on the run, which is about as well as I can be at the moment. Things out here are escalating in ways I didn't expect seven months ago when a hunting party stumbled over me and the ship. I finally found out what happened to Victory to cause me to crash-land here, and that's opened some pretty big cans of worms.

Remember the trees I wrote about? That's pretty much where it starts and ends. The notes on the Tanis Map entry I followed all the way out here were about the trees. It turns out they're a Builder project, or part of one at least. I'm still putting it together—psionic gestalt images are a real pain in the ass to sort through—but apparently the trees were here but pre-sophont before the Builders arrived, part of a symbiotic pair with a local humanoid species. Anyway, I guess the Builders saw the potential in the trees and their symbiotes and decided to uplift them. That thought just... wow, right? We've uplifted all sorts of animals in our time, primates, parrots, sehlats, but uplifting plants? I don't think even the maddest genetic engineers from the bad old days would've thought of doing something that crazy! I suppose the trees' psionic potential made it a little easier but still, wow.

The tree uplift wasn't the whole of the project, either. According to the trees, Planetos (and no, I didn't name it!) is close to something they call "the Shroud." I think that's the dimensional brane where psi energy originates? It's hard to tell—the trees obviously don't speak human, and they're given to poetic metaphor as a matter of course. I think they might've picked that bad habit up from the Builders. Anyway. So the source of all psi energy is, like, half a degree away on the zorth axis from normal space-time around Planetos, which is why the place feels like it's crackling with psi all the damn time. Mama, you'd love just soaking up the psi around this place. I've gotten used to it over the last couple months but if I stop and concentrate I can feel the energy just sort of coating everything like mist. It's... there's no good way to put it into words, really.

But (and there's always one of those) therein lies the problem: the proximity of this Shroud to Planetos is why the Builders set up shop here, and they managed to provoke something on the other side. I'm still not sure exactly what it is when it's at home, to be honest. The Builders called them "the Unbidden," the human locals call them "the Others." They didn't seem interested in giving me their names the first-and-so-far-only time I've talked to them. At this point all I know is that they're psionic (naturally), they're hostile, hungry and really interested in leaving Planetos. According to the trees, the Builders fought them, managed to trap their scout force in some kind of prison in the northern polar regions... and then they abandoned the planet not long after.

I know, right? I guess they decided the locks were secure and the trees, the symbiotes and the humans could handle the situation if they needed to. And I suppose they weren't... wholly wrong? According to my research and the trees, about eight thousand years ago the Unbidden started to slip out of their cages and ran riot and a coalition of the species managed—barely—to shut the whole thing down before everything got too far out of control.

But that was a long time ago. The trees' numbers have dwindled, the original symbiote species seems to be all but extinct and the human populations have forgotten pretty much everything they need to know. All the relevant information's changed into myth, legend and religion. And the Unbidden are starting to break free again. Some of them already are free, but not (yet, I think) in enough numbers to push south from the poles. The trees were desperate; they needed a Builder, and they've been gone for who-knows-how many years.

Enter yours truly and her trusty ship. Victory entered the system at just the right moment. I'm no Builder, at best I know what their stuff looks like and how to maybe make it safe for study, but I guess any old doofus in a starship is going to look like a Builder if you're desperate enough. They brought me down using a focused psionic strike to the engines, in just the right place that I'd put enough of the pieces together that I'd initiate contact and we'd be off to the races.

(Admittedly, I don't think they intended to kill the ansible along with the warp drive. That was probably a mistake, but I'm not 100% sure of that. I know that if I needed Builder assistance I wouldn't want to stop with just one. But that's just me.)

That in and of itself would be bad enough. Actually no, there's no reason to pussyfoot around it: this is exactly bad enough that I've declared a Section Three intervention over the whole clusterfuck. Like, formal record of intent before the court martial and everything. This is some industrial-grade shit I've found myself in. And to make things worse, I stepped in a big pile of it that isn't covered by Section Three guidelines.

I've been making friends since I've been here. I told you about some of them in my first letter. They're good people, they really are. Primitive compared to anybody back in Federal space, yeah, but you don't have to have some kind of advanced space-brain to have a good heart. Besides, you know how I always end up collecting strays, right? Some—well, most—of these friends move in Planetos's upper class, and they have enemies. I'm not trying to offend anyone, but I admit that I haven't been as diplomatic as a Starfleet officer ought to be in situations like this. I've done my best to maintain a certain level of distance from the ruling class, no loaning the ship or anything in my toybox out to help maintain the status quo or anything, but that in itself is considered mildly impolite by my hosts. And in the end my tendency to make friends screws me over more than anything else; in a feudal society who you know defines you almost as much as what you can do, and my landing zone locked me into a space in local politics I didn't really grok until it was way, way too late.

Long story short, the king of Westeros died about a month ago. His heir... isn't one of the best people in the world, if I'm going to be honest, and he either wanted my total loyalty as a vassal or my head on a stick for treason, depending on the time of day. And while I was gallivanting about talking to the psionic trees and learning about the Unbidden, it turned out that members of the nobility had concerns about the crown prince's legitimacy and were moving to unseat him. He moved faster.

One of the people I'd befriended was one of the people he had imprisoned, her and her father. For various reasons she had one of my communicators and called for help. I've never, never been able to refuse a damsel in distress. After all the times you had to bail me out in primary and secondary you know that more than anyone else. When she called, it didn't matter to me that I was potentially about to blow a huge hole in General Order One and the other contact regulations. I was on autopilot: the only thing that mattered to me was making sure she was safe. So I did what I do best, I went in, saved the damsel and blew a hole in the contact regs big enough to fit Canaveral in.

My heroic rescue set things in motion I didn't understand in the moment, but the longer this goes on the bigger and uglier it gets. There's a civil war in the offing; I console myself that the civil war was probable even if I hadn't gotten involved, but that's cold comfort. I'm a known associate and counsellor of one side, which limits my ability to move and get things done in the middle of the Section Three intervention.

I'm... not okay. I'm almost completely alone here and this thing with the Unbidden is bigger than anything I've ever had to deal with. If I screw this up, it's not impossible that these things will get out and threaten the entire galaxy, and until Kongou gets here it all falls on me. At the same time I have to try and diplomance my way through a bouncing baby civil war, try and get everybody on the we-don't-want-to-all-die page and hopefully do it without smashing down any more Federal laws in the process. There's no way in this world or any other that I am anywhere near "okay."

But I'm coping. I'm not completely alone: I have Al, and Thoros, and Mel and a small gaggle of kids who look at me like I'm the biggest, baddest hero in the whole world. I still have Victory and most of the toy chest. Kongou and her squadron are on the way, even if I can't stop it myself all I have to do is hold the line until she gets here.

This thing is huge and it's scary and if I spend too much time thinking about it I kind of want to curl up in my bunk and wait for it to go away... but I will be fucked sideways with a cactus before I let this goddamn thing beat me. I am a Starfleet Ranger, and this is the sort of thing they trained us for at the academy. Well, not this exactly but this kind of scenario. Mostly. They covered it in a couple third-year seminars, at least.

I think I'm gonna be okay. Eventually. Someday.

I love all of you. I'd tell you not to worry but I know better than that, so just remember that I've got every intention of coming home alive and intact, and if these Unbidden bastards are going to stop me they're gonna have to work for it. Give all the littles a hug from me and tell them I'll be home as soon as I can.