Categories > TV > Stargate: SG-1 > Stargate: Thirdspace

Chapter Three

by andrewjameswilliams 1 Reviews

In the 26th century a group of Tau'ri warships is sent to a newly discovered galaxy, triggering a war that could see the extinction of all life in the universe.

Category: Stargate: SG-1 - Rating: PG - Genres: Action/Adventure, Sci-fi - Characters:  - Published: 2007/01/01 - Updated: 2007/01/01 - 5098 words

<<
>>

Stargate: Thirdspace

Chapter Three

Bridge

TFS Jutland

An Hour Later

Captain Aaron McKenzie stepped onto the bridge of his starship and made his way to his command chair. He wasn't strictly happy about leaving the fleet while most of the ships only had limited or no defensive capabilities, but he knew there was no choice. The situation that Rivendell was in with a failing zero point module meant that he had no choice but to go. Not leaving to check the planet Arwen had found would put twenty five thousand people on the cityship in unacceptable peril.

"Status report," he ordered.

"We have received the coordinates of the planet from Rivendell sir," Ensign Michelson reported from the helm.

"Hyperdrive online and ready to go sir," the officer manning the bridge engineering station reported.

"Tactical: status report?"

"Shields are back online and are standing by sir," tactical reported. "Secondary weapons arrays are back online as are the point defence systems. Primary pulse particle cannons are back online though our particle slicer beams remain offline. Engineering estimates we'll have them back in four hours."

"Pulse weapons and drones should be enough if we run into trouble," McKenzie replied. "Communications advise the Achilles that we are ready to depart."

"Aye sir," communications responded and relayed the message to the Achilles flag bridge. Almost instantly there came a response. "Sir the Achilles has acknowledged we are about to depart. Admiral Robyns says good luck and good hunting."

"Acknowledged," McKenzie replied. "Okay Ensign Michelson take us to the system in question."

"Aye sir," Michelson responded before pressing the command to execute the precision jump to the system all the while hoping the navigational system worked correctly. Eighty light years as a ridiculously short distance for a starship, whose hyperdrive was capable of crossing between galaxies in a period of weeks, they would be relying on precision computer guidance for the trip. Even with interactive controls that could to a degree read the console operators thoughts it would be to short a jump for a human being to control.

Instantly an up-scaling humming sound could be heard throughout the whole of the Agamemnon-class heavy cruiser as her mighty hyperdrives began powering up. Captain McKenzie turned his full attention to the high definition screen at the front of the bridge as ahead of them a hyperspace window formed. With a momentary surge of acceleration the Jutland crossed the distance and entered hyperspace. For a moment they saw nothing but the shimmering soft nebulous blue slipstream of hyperspace then almost to fast to blink, it was over. Hyperspace once more gave way to stars glowing brightly against the blackness of space.

"Report," McKenzie ordered. "Michelson where are we?"



Ensign Michelson checked his sensor readings and smiled at what he saw and the information the console fed into his mind. The navigational computer had not failed them, they had emerged from hyperspace exactly where they had intended to emerge.

"Right where we expected to be sir," he replied. "Sensors are reading seven planets in this system, three terrestrial planets, one in the liquid water zone and four gas giants."

"Excellent. Set a course to orbit the planet in the liquid water zone. Sensors being your scans to determine planetary viability."

"Aye, sir," Michelson and the officer at sensors replied in unison, before setting to their respective tasks.

Captain McKenzie sat back in his command chair and watched the front screen as the Jutland began moving towards the planet that had teased Rivendell's sensors. The planet came into view and immediately it looked promising. The planet was quite large almost twice Earths mass, with three large contents separated by broad blue oceans. Contents and oceans alike were sheathed in thin whiffs and banks of clouds. A set of rings surrounded the planet and in orbiting it were two moons.

Silently the Jutland's sensors reached across space and began gathering information on the planet ahead of them, searching for a variety of factors. The most important being the presence of sentient life, they would not intrude on a planet where there was an intelligent race no matter how primitive it was, no matter how great there need was.

"Primary scans completed sir," sensors reported. "No sentient life of any kind present on the planet. We are detecting ruins on the eastern continent but their heavily overgrown, looks like they've been abandoned for sometime. Biosphere of the planet is viable. We're reading large veins of naquada and trinium present on the planet. Principle scans have also located a probable landing site for Rivendell."



"Where?"

"A large inland sea on the southern continent on visual now sir."

The front view screen changed showing a close up of the planet and a massive sea that was almost completely landlocked. Only a single wide valley connected it with the ocean, the sea was huge. The data scrolling down the side of the screen indicated that it was two hundred and fifty miles long by one hundred miles wide. Seeing it McKenzie smiled inland seas or large lakes were perfect locations to land cityships, sheltered but still easily deep enough for the massive spaceships.

"Excellent," he said. "Communications signal the /Achilles/. Tell Admiral Robyns that the planet passes all initial scans and should be safe for Rivendell."

"Aye sir," communications replied and turned to the task. A moment before the sensors bleeped and chimed for attention.

"Captain sensors are picking up a disturbance forty five thousand kilometres to port approximately three light minutes out," sensors reported. "A spatial rift of some sort is opening, from the energy readings its being artificially generated."

"Show me." The screen view changed to show open space and a strange glowing blue vortex that unfolded before their eyes. "Sensors what do you make of it?"

"Its almost reading like a wormhole sir but there are overtones of a hyperspace window. Sensors are picking up evidence of another space beyond the vortex. My guess is it's a portal either to another dimension or a very deep subspace layer. Sir something is coming through, a ship. It's huge."

McKenzie nodded he could see it himself. The dark aperture in the centre of the vortex flashed once then a massive, strangely primitive looking ship emerged. The vortex folded closed behind it indicating that the ship had been responsible for its creation. McKenzie studied the ship carefully; it was massive easily bigger than the Achilles or anything this side of a cityship. But it looked very primitive, with two rotational gravity sections spinning around its centre sections and aft of them a pair of solar panels ran one going straight up the other straight down.

"Tactical analysis," he ordered as the ship came to a halt.

"Unknown vessel is six point one kilometres long sir," sensors reported. "However mass is considerably lower than what I would have thought for a ship that big. The ship generates artificial gravity by centrifugal force. Minimal armament present, I show only two laser cannons and four plasma cannons of some type. Ship is powered by eight nuclear fusion reactors that are putting out barely half the power of even one naquada fusion reactor. Reading over nine hundred life forms onboard, life signs... sir life signs are Human."

"What! Confirm that."

"Confirmed sir. Life signs are unmistakeably Human." McKenzie frowned slightly, more than a little confused. Humans as far as he knew didn't build vessels that size very often and certainly not vessels so primitive that they didn't possess even basic artificial gravity. Even the first Tau'ri built vessel the Prometheus had had artificial gravity from the word go. But we are in another universe Aaron, he told himself, Human technology in this reality might be a lot less advanced than what you are used to.

"Sir the vessel is bombarding us with tachyon particles," tactical reported. "From the frequency I'd say it's some kind of scan. Passive ECM systems are automatically blocking their scans. Shall I raise our shields?"

"No. Don't override the passive ECM either lets see what they do."

"Aye, sir."

***

EAS Cortez

A Few Moments Earlier

Captain Jack Maynard sipped some of the synthetic crap that passed for coffee on Earth Alliance starships and gazed at the front screens as his massive explorer ship made for the final system on their mission schedule. This latest mission for the Cortez had gone very well indeed, even better than had previously been thought of. They had charted a number of new star systems, some of which were suitable for settlement and one of whom had turned out to rich in the valuable Quantium 40 ore, and built a number of new jump gates to access the sectors.

Now the Cortez was bound for System NL-24, the farest the bold exploration ship had been from home. Once they were done charting this system they would turn around and begin the long journey back home to Earth. Long range probes had indicated the possible presence of an Earth-like planet and large mineral resources in the system, the habitable planet alone would qualify this system for investigation. Ever since the end of the disastrous war with the Minbari ten years before Earth had been seeking out new systems with a vengeance, determined to prove to the galaxy at large that while they had all but lost the war with the Minbari Earth was far from out of the interstellar game. Maynard knew it was really necessary to colonise as many systems as could be found but EarthGov felt that it was important for some reason and he wouldn't complain. It afforded him many chances to see things that no Human eyes had ever seen before.

"Captain we've reached the co-ordinates," his XO reported.

"Very good. Navigation stand by to jump to normal space," Maynard ordered.

"Jump engines standing by," navigation replied.

"Jump," Maynard ordered and the lights dimmed slightly as the explorer ships power was shunted into her mighty jump engines. Ran through purified Quantium 40 the energy flow generated the field that applied immense pressure to a region of hyperspace directly ahead of the ship, opening a doorway between the red and black marbled realm of hyperspace and normal space. With a familiar jolting sensation the Cortez cruised through the open jump point into normal space. Almost instantly the sensor console chimed for attention.

"Unknown contact bearing two one zero mark, distance three light minutes," sensors called out. "One ship unknown configuration."

Instantly Maynard was fully alert his eyes fixed on the display screens as the forward optical sensors pulled in a blurred outline of a starship. A starship that was roughly about the same size as a Hyperion-class heavy cruiser though the configuration that could be observed did not match anything on record. The ship was sleek and powerful looking made of a silvery grey metal, its design like the design of Minbari warships seemed to convey a frightening combination of elegance and predatory fierceness. Precise details were impossible to make out over distance however. Maynard knew that the Cortez had just stumbled into what was the most dangerous of interstellar meetings, first contact with another spacefaring race and from the distant look of the ship a very powerful one.

Maynard felt butterflies of nerves beginning to flutter about in his stomach even as he was unconsciously aware of the rest of the bridge crew looking at him, waiting for his orders. He knew an awful lot was riding on him now; he had to get this meeting right. Earth was all too aware of the consequences of a botched first contact meeting; it was a meeting botched by that trigger happy fool Captain Jankowski that had started the war with the Minbari.

"All stop," he ordered after a moment. "Bring us to a dead halt then stand by to broadcast standard Interlac first contact protocols."

"Aye, sir," came the replies from the respective stations. A moment before the lights and consoles seemed to flicker. The screens washing with static for a few seconds before firming back up though the flickering lights continued.

"What's going on," the XO asked.

"The alien ship is scanning us sir," operations reported. "The EMP from their scanners is tremendous, far greater even than Minbari scanners. It's playing hell with our systems." Abruptly the lights stopped flickering and all the displays returned to normal. "Scanners have stopped."

"What's the alien ship doing," Maynard asked.

"Nothing sir there just sitting there, not turning towards us or anything."

"There waiting to see what we're going to do," the XO hazarded as a guess.

"Possibly," Maynard agreed. "Try scanning but be gentle about it we don't want to spook them."

"Aye, sir," sensors replied and for a moment was silent. "Scan's are not getting through sir we're encountering some sort of stealth field similar to that used by the Minbari but different. We are getting some energy emissions from the ship, sir these energy readings are off the scale."

"They must be shy," the XO said.

"Or just merely cautious about meeting a new race," Maynard replied. "Communications try and open a channel to the alien starship. Transmit Interlac first contact codes."

"Aye, sir."

***

TFS Jutland

Captain McKenzie kept a cautious eye on the primitive looking starship belonging to the Humans of this universe. It was quite surprising that there were Humans here at all besides themselves, knowing that they weren't strictly alone that there were others of their kind here, made him feel a little easier. Though he was also a little concerned, if their were Humans here were any of the other races known to them here as well, especially the troublesome ones. What are they waiting for, he wondered looking at the primitive ship that their optical scans had revealed to be called the Cortez at least according to the nameplate on her side.

"Sir the Cortez is directing a coherent tachyon beam at us," sensors reported. "I'm picking up a digital radio signal imbedded in the tachyon stream." Interesting, McKenzie thought guessing that tachyons were their method of instantaneous communication. While not as efficient as the subspace signals they were used to tachyons did have the potential to be used in that way.

"Communications can we tap into the signal?" he asked.

"Yes sir I believe so," communications replied. "I'll just have to reconfigure one of our short range comm. arrays to decipher the message. Stand by."

McKenzie rotated the command chair slightly to watch the officer manipulating the controls with one hand while his other was pressed against the crystalline control surfaces of the console forming the link between the computer and his mind. After a few moments of diligent work the officer looked up with a smile.

"I've got it sir," he said. "The signal is repeating constantly and is a simple series of universal mathematical concepts along with a very basic language. Similar to our own standard first contact packages, they obviously think that we are aliens."

"Well to them we are lieutenant," McKenzie replied. "It would be well to remember that though there Human as well they are alien to us."

"I understand sir. Shall we respond," communications asked a moment before the console chirped. "Sir message from the /Achilles/. The rest of the task force and Rivendell will be jumping to our co-ordinates in ten minutes."

"Advise Admiral Robyns of our situation, tell him to hold off until we signal him," McKenzie ordered. "Then sent a broadcast message in the language they provided to the Cortez/. Tell them 'This is the Tau'ri cruiser /Jutland. You are in our space please identify yourselves and state your intentions.'"

"Aye sir."

***

EAS Cortez



"Sir we're receiving a response in Interlac from the alien vessel," communications reported. At least there trying to talk to us, Maynard thought with a smile, it was much better than the alternative. Especially as the armament the Cortez had available was truly pitiful and barely adequate to protect the ship.

"What do they say," he asked.

"They say 'This is the Tau'ri cruiser /Jutland/. Please identify yourselves and state your intentions.'" Maynard's eyebrows shot up at the very Earth-style name of the alien starship that was very unanticipated, unless this species had been monitoring Earth radio signals for the last few centuries and had based some of the elements of their culture off them. It wouldn't be the first time that had happened, the Brakiri being a case in point.

"Reply that 'This is the Earth Alliance starship /Cortez/. We intend no aggression and only wish peaceful contact.'"

"Aye, sir." For a moment their was silence as the message was sent to the Jutland and they awaited the alien crews response. "Response 'be that as it may you have violated our territory. Please withdraw immediately.'"

"Advise them that we will comply when our jump engines have had sufficient time to recharge," Maynard ordered, mildly disappointed that they weren't going to really learn anything about these Tau'ri. "Also ask if they will allow an exchange of basic information. Even if they don't agree send them basic information on how to contact us in the future should they wish to do so." Maybe they'll come to Babylon Five and contact us there, he thought, it might make them more comfortable dealing with us if they have dozens of other species about as a witness. Hopefully Sinclair will be ready and willing to deal with them if they come.

"Aye, sir."

"It is a pity where not going to get a chance to talk to them and learn more," his XO said.

"I don't blame them for asking us to leave XO if we've violated their territory," Maynard replied. "At least they have asked politely, most species we know of would have asked by firing a shot across our bow."

"True sir. Our jump engines are recharging it will be another fifteen minutes before we can jump out of here."

"Understood XO."

"Sir the Jutland has acknowledged that we will leave as soon as we are able to," communications reported. "They thank us for the limited information that we have provided to them but say they are not comfortable giving us information about themselves yet."

"Fair enough. Send a final message to them that on behalf of the Earth Alliance we hope to hear from them again at Babylon Five."

"Aye sir." Communications was quiet for another few moments. "The Jutland acknowledges and say they will consider it."

"That's all we can ask of them," Maynard replied. "All right. Navigation move us off, as soon as the jump engines are online jump to hyperspace. Communications try and get Earth Force Command on stellarcom."

"Aye, sir," came the replies from the respective stations.

***

A Few Minutes Later


"Are you sure they won't accept contact," General Lefcourt asked from the communications screen in Captain Maynard's office.

"Yes I am sir," Maynard replied. "They did talk to us but only via Interlac and then only to ask us to leave the system. I did give them information about Babylon Five, they have indicated that they might go there but then again they might not."

"Hmm you did the right thing complying with their wishes, the last thing we need is another war at this time," Lefcourt said. "I will alert Commander Sinclair to the possibility that he might be getting visitors sometime in the future. Now then were you able to gather any intelligence at all about the alien vessel /Jutland/?"

"Very little I'm afraid general. They appear to have a stealth device similar to the one employed by the Minbari. However we were able to gather some energy readings from the alien starship, what we found is astounding. The alien vessels power signature was putting out no less than three times as much energy as a Minbari Sharlin-class war cruiser. But I think they probably wanted us to see those power readings, a way of saying how strong they are without firing a single shot."

"Three times a Sharlin," General Fefcourt repeated in astonishment. Maynard could well understand it, a Minbari Sharlin-class war cruiser was one of the most powerful starships in space, nothing other than a Vorlon dreadnought could compare to one. To encounter a much smaller starship that was pumping out a few times the energy of a Minbari warship was amazing and also a little disturbing. If a cruiser sized ship could pump out that much power then what would a battleship scaled vessel generate.

"Incredible," the general continued. "We must hope that these Tau'ri do indeed accept the offer to go to Babylon Five. We could certainly use an ally with their apparent level of technology. I expect to see a full detailed report of your first contact with the Tau'ri vessel when you return to Earth."

"You'll have it sir," Maynard replied. General Lefcourt smiled slightly.

"Thank you captain, have a safe journey home."

"Thank you sir." General Fefcourt nodded then broke the connection from his end, his image being replaced by the seal of the Earth Alliance. Maynard sighed and went to his desk to get started on some of the paperwork he had to do, knowing full well that his XO would handle the jump to hyperspace and the plotting of the long journey through that other space to Earth orbit.

***

TFS Jutland

Ten Minutes Later

Captain McKenzie watched on a tactical overlay as the Cortez moved away from them at a virtual snails pace, though their sensors confirmed that she was pushing her ion particle engines to maintain her speed. Clearly not only were Human ships in this universe a lot more primitive they were also a whole lot slower, even a puddle jumper could go quicker than the Cortez and they weren't really meant for long distance flight in space.

"Captain we're picking up an increase in energy emissions from the Cortez," sensors reported. "There is another spatial distortion opening in front of them."

McKenzie nodded; he could see it on the long range visual scan. A vortex that was almost identical to the one they had seen earlier when the Cortez arrived opened in space, the only difference was in colour, this vortex was orange instead of blue. The Cortez plunged into the vortex and vanished in a bright flash, the vortex closed behind her, leaving the Jutland once more alone in the system.

"About time they left," he said. "Communications: hail both Rivendell and the Achilles/, advice Admiral Robyns and Governor Shepherd that the /Cortez has now left the area and it is safe for them to jump in."

"Aye, sir." McKenzie smiled and sat back in his command chair to await the arrival of the rest of the task force and the cityship that they were escorting.

***

Rivendell

A Few Moments Later

Governor Alison Shepherd leaned on the guard rail of the balcony outside her office and stared at the starlit vacuum of space. She was completely unconcerned by the fact that only a thin force field that hugged the contours of every building in the city protected her from that cold airless environment. She often came out onto the balcony to think or when she just wanted some peace from her responsibilities. It was always relaxing, be it when they were on a planet or when they were in space.

"Excuse me Governor Shepherd," Arwen abruptly said from behind.

"Yes Arwen what is it," Alison asked not taking her eyes of the breathtaking view of the stars.

"We have received a transmission from the Jutland/," Arwen replied. "Captain McKenzie says that it is now safe for us to journey to the system, the /Cortez has left the area. Admiral Robyns has also signalled us saying we can leave whenever we are ready." Alison smiled softly as the avatar spoke. Finally, Alison thought.

"Excellent," she said standing up straight and starting to head back to Rivendell's control room. "Status report," she asked walking in, Arwen following a few paces behind not that the avatar really needed to. Like all cityship avatars Arwen was programmed to behave in that way.

"Hyperdrives are ready to go, coordinates for the planet have been locked into the navigational systems," one of the console operators reported. "We're ready to go ma'am."

"Understood. Communications hail the Achilles tell Admiral Robyns that we are about to make a hyperspace jump to the Jutland's location. All personnel stand by to begin landing procedures as soon as we arrive."

"Yes ma'am," came the response from a number of control consoles as an alarm sounded throughout Rivendell advising all twenty five thousand people onboard to prepare for landing procedures.

"Governor the Achilles has acknowledged that we're about to jump," communications reported.

"Very well then, navigation take us to the coordinates."

"Yes ma'am."

For a few more moments nothing happened then a familiar up-scaling whine was heard throughout the whole of the vast space vessel that was the cityship, the whine of the three mighty hyperdrives that propelled it powering up. Then with a slight almost imperceptible surge of acceleration the city vanished into hyperspace, to re-emerge seconds later directly over the planet where she was to land.

"We're secure from hyperspace Governor Shepherd. City power levels are holding."

"Very good. Manoeuvre us too directly over the centre of the inland sea the Jutland found and commence landing procedure."

"Yes ma'am."

***

TFS Jutland

Captain McKenzie smiled when he saw a massive hyperspace window open above the planet and disgorge the beautiful snowflake like shape of Rivendell. The window closed immediately and Rivendell began to move with easy grace even as another large hyperspace window opened and the rest of the task force with the Achilles in the lead arrived in the system.

"Captain we're receiving a hail from the /Achilles/," communications reported. "It's Admiral Robyns."

"Put him through," McKenzie ordered. Instantly the view screen changed to show the head and shoulders of Admiral Robyns sitting proudly on the flag bridge of the mighty Proteus-class dreadnought. "Yes sir what can I do for you?"

"Nothing captain. I just wanted to tell you and your crew that you have done very well indeed," Admiral Robyns replied. "You carried out your mission perfectly and handled the unexpected first contact with the Cortez very well indeed."

"On behalf of all of us sir thank you," McKenzie replied with a smile and feeling a little warm inside. It wasn't everyday after all that a full admiral like Jacob Robyns gave complements like that.

"As soon as Rivendell has safely landed on the planet captain I would like you to transport over to this ship and report directly to me," Robyns said. "I will be debriefing you myself."

"I'll be there sir," McKenzie replied slightly nervous at the prospect of being face to face with Admiral Robyns. It wasn't a common occurrence for a cruiser captain to meet and admiral face to face let alone be debriefed by one. It was very different to the normal all force meetings that took place between ship commanders in the Achilles war room. Something must have shown in his expression for Admiral Robyns laughed.

"Relax captain I don't bite," he said. "Often."

"I'll bare that in mind sir." Robyns smiled before nodding to someone not directly in line with the video pickups and the communications link with the Achilles closed down. The visual of Rivendell returned, just in time to see the cityship settling into orbit above the southern continents inland sea. And now the fun begins, McKenzie thought with a smile knowing they were all going to be soon treated to the rare sight of seeing a cityship land on a planet.

***

Rivendell

"Governor we are now in geosynchronous orbit above the southern continents inland sea," navigation reported.

"Very good. All power to inertial dampeners, antigrav thrusters and shields. Begin landing procedure."

"Yes ma'am. Beginning landing procedure."

On the surface of the city small panels opened and the landing thrusters fired and the city began to move down out of orbit. Within moments the lowermost point of the cities shields made contact with the upper atmosphere of the planet. The tenuous upper atmosphere ions began disintegrating where they encountered the powerful spherical shield surrounding the city, making the shield glow softly.

The glow increased as the city plunged deeper into the atmosphere and it got thicker and thicker around her. Glowing streams of superheated gasses raced across the shield spreading across the whole lower hemisphere of the shield even as more and more atmospheric atoms were annihilated on contact with the energy barrier. To anyone watching it from the ground it would have seemed like a meteor was streaking towards them, trailing flames as the plasma sheath grew hotter and hotter, putting more and more stress on the city shields. Shields that shrugged off the intense heat produced by the superheated atmospheric ions as if it was nothing.

Still the city descended and the plasma sheath began to evaporate as it entered ever thicker air, a shockwave of supersonic wind blasted through the atmosphere for hundreds of miles around the descending spacecraft. Wind that tore apart local weather patterns, blowing the tenuous clouds and even the odd thunderhead cloud apart as if they were nothing. Surface winds were whipped into a frenzy sending local animals running in instinctual panic, not understanding or even comprehending what was really happening.

When barely a mile remained between the descending city and the ground Rivendell decelerated sharply coming to a hover over the surface of the inland sea. A sea that had been whipped into a stormy frenzy by the winds generated by its descent through the atmosphere. Giant ripples abruptly replaced the stormy waves as the downward force of the cities ventral antigrav thrusters disrupted the wave patterns producing the same effect that stones dropped in water would.

With a soft flash the ventral shields of the city deactivated leaving only a very thin force field around the metal skin of the city. Then with the grace of a descending snowflake in a gentle flurry the city once more began to descend. A splash erupted as the largest of the cities underside, utility towers touched the water, or rather the force field that sheathed it did. Additional splashes erupted, culminating in a final massive splash as the underside of the cities piers hit the water.

Engines shut down and the force fields and main shields around the city deactivated and throughout its vastness a down-scaling humming sound could be heard as the propulsion and inertial dampening systems powered down.

Rivendell was down.
<<
>>
Log in to rate and review this story

Log in!




Register Lost password

Filter

You won't see stories with a lower score when you browse or search. Log in to adjust filter.
0

 

Featured Story

Site Stats

  • Authors: 610791
  • Stories: 40309

Recent Stories