December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
This is a posted entry in the December 2012 Writing Challenge 'I have imagined this moment for so long' by Cobalt Frost. The next post will give an abstract of the story. The story begins in Post #3.
Two points I must acknowledge immediately:
1. I am over 10,000 words. If Cobalt is 'frosty' over this, please let me know! I will heat things up until the story is molded in its proper density. :lol:
2. I took the theme/prompt a little off the beaten track, but I believe I brought it back at the end. Again, if I am out of bounds in the opinion of the referee I won't throw a challenge flag asking for a review! :klingon:
As a bonus for your entertainment:
I have written two Endings to the story, each hidden in the final posts of the story. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on which one is better for the story and the subject. I have my favorite, let me know which one you prefer and why.
Please give me your opinions and comments.
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
Abstract: Gift of a Lifetime
Setting: Late in the Dominion War, original timeline. One epilogue spans many years after the war ends, using the setting in late TNG novels
Location: Centered on the Beelinger system, a pre-warp civilization on the Federation frontier far from the main theater of the Dominion War. The system became a major secondary battlefield in the war, ignored by most historians and studies on the confllct.
Plot: The Beelinger System had one significant attribute to the warring sides in the conflict. By researching captured Federation databases, the Dominion found the habitable planet of the system, Beelinger III, was perfect for the production of Ketracel White. An independent facility away from harm or the control of outside groups appealed to the Dominion, who conquered the system, enslaved the inhabitants, and started production.
In desperation the Beelie sent their brand-new fusion powered space ship on a one-way mission to find out if anyone could help them. Miraculously, a Federation vessel finds the craft, and the Dominion's secret came to light.
Starfleet immediately sets up a blockade of the system to keep the White and the Jem'Hadar in the system, and keep any Dominion ships trying to collect the narcotic out. The scratch-built task force enforcing the blockade made up of older and second-line ships of varying quality are mostly successful in their task, but pay a heavy price for doing it.
A veteran Starfleet Captain recently pulled off the line is assigned an experimental ship, a follow-on to the Defiant-class warship. Under orders to take his new command to reinforce the blockade of Beelinger, his life changes forever as does the situation in the system. How it changes is another matter.
Eric Lysander, Starfleet Captain assigned the starship Basingna.
Akili Bona, Starfleet Commodore, commander of the task force blockading Beelinger. His force is stationed at Starbase 339, a pre-fabricated, modular starbase built for short-term habitation.
Jel-Leleik, Starfleet Admiral, the first Arcadian Starfleet admiral and senior project manager of Basingna.
Phoebe McKizer, Starfleet captain, assigned to the Excelsior-class refit starship Trafalgar.
Skeller, Starfleet commander, Andorian Senior Tactical Officer (Tactical Boss) of Basingna, immediate supervisor of Lieutenant Commanders Yettle, Hollingshead, and others.
Phillip Leeds, Starfleet Commander, First Officer of Basingna.
Rindi Moss-Morman, MD: Starfleet commander, and CMO of Basingna.
Prefect of Beelinger, Hereditary ruler of Beelinger III, with a mixture of political and military responsibilities.
Stewart Keely, Starfleet rank Lieutenant Commander, and assistant Tactical Officer on Basingna. After involuntary transfer to Trafalgar, is promoted to XO.
Alstopus Blaine, Starfleet Captain, commander of Defiant Wings 22 and 23 after death of Fleet Captain Velencie during attack into the Beelinger system.
Lt. Dana Myers, Senior Communications officer Basingna.
Lt. Mason Cromadie, Lead helmsman, Basingna
Yeoman Matthew McDemott, Starbase 339 Senior Officers' Mess supervisor.
Commander Jenny Roper, Chief Engineer and second officer, starship Trafalgar
Captain Qxiille, Chief Engineer, Starbase 339.
Captain John Ryder, Commander starship Merrimack
Ensign Trell, Starbase Engineering Starbase 339
Unnamed Transporter Operators, security chief
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
Gift of a Lifetime:
Eric Lysander still couldn’t believe the atmosphere around him on Starbase 339. The brightly colored lights fit in perfectly with the loud and rowdy celebration all around him. He hated every moment of it.
The news broke over a week ago when Starfleet Command announced the final victory of the Alpha Quadrant over the ‘Damn Dominion’ as he called it. The massive fleets of allied ships crushed the Dominion and their stupid allies around Cardassia, ejecting the xenophobic outsiders and their enablers back to their own worthless space. Each night he prayed for forgiveness to God for his attitude; he hoped the Federation showed the sense to leave the Cardassians in the rubble of their so-called ‘Union’ and let them stave. As for the Breen, he’d gladly lead the fleet himself to crush that species of scum into dust.
Far away from the center of action his ‘private little war’ ended as well. He’d walked through the fire of combat with nothing but carnage in his ships’ engine emissions. Only at the end it was he who sat on the sidelines and got burned.
II. Death of the Innocents
Basingna (Andorian for ‘Freedom’)and her 600 member crew served as the big hammer in an ever-changing task force of ships assigned to a peculiar mission in the war. The Dominion found a gorgeous little Class M world named Beelinger, buried in a large 18 planet system in an out of the way spot on the Federation frontier. The planet and its inhabitants were known to Starfleet and the Federation Exploration Directorate; being a pre-warp civilization they were checked on every so often to see if they were ready for a First Contact.
Nobody knew of the deep infiltration into Federation space until a Mirada-class refit running as a science/scouting vessel found a ‘Beelie’ in a one-man capsule launched from his home planet. Once Aorrra opened the capsule, examined the Beelie’s body and ship Starfleet wondered why they did this. The answer: Ketracel White. Beelinger’s ecosystem made it a perfect place to grow the narcotic for the Jem’Hadar; away from the war, ignored by their opponents, with a ready-made race of slaves to grow and refine it.
The Beelie military survived the Jem’Hadar just long enough to protect their first nuclear fusion-powered space ship. Totally unknown to the Federation, the Beelie were about to launch a solar-system exploration program. Once conquered, in desperation they stripped their first exploration vessel of everything but a database of the system, one man, and as many supplies as they could fill it with and launched it into space hoping for a miracle. Several came their way as Beelies died by the millions.
The Dominion rapidly turned the Beelinger System into a fortress. With the system favored for defense the planets bristled with defense systems, warships, and troops to protect the White production.
Starfleet Command capitalized on the golden opportunity. They could tie up a significant Dominion force by simply blockading the system and keeping the defense and the White there. Stretched to the breaking point already Starfleet threw almost anything that could fly and fire a weapon at the system. A modular-designed starbase grew up in open space a light hour away from the system to support the blockaders.
By sheer numbers of hulls and the ability of Commodore Akili Bona to manipulate his forces to intercept shipment vessels away from the system he fought the Dominion to a draw. In a strategic situation much like the Western Front in Earth’s First World War, Bona and his scratch force sealed up the Dominion forces in the system, except for those times a large force would run the blockade to take a shipment out.
Starfleet’s paid a price for the stalemate; a constant bleeding of ships and people keeping the blockade. The second-line ships were expendable, their crews were not. The affable commodore rapidly built up the undeserved reputation of being an incompetent commander by supposedly wasting ships to try and stop the Ketracel White. ‘Butcher Bona’ became universally hated by his command, and anyone who survived it long enough to go somewhere else.
Then one day the ‘sheriff’ showed up.
III. The New Sheriff in Town
Basingna and her skipper were a perfect match; both born and bred for combat. Eric spent his career as a tactical officer on starships. Nobody understood the fire in him that made him so good, except for the Personnel Directorate at Starfleet Command. Having your family and home planet turned to a burned out rock can put a fire in your belly, and he never lost it. Every day he swore to himself he wouldn’t allow what happened to him to happen to others, no matter what the cost.
Starfleet believed tactical officers had no place on modern starships until the Borg visited and met the welcoming committee at Wolf 359. Later the wormhole, the Gamma Quadrant, and the miserable wretches of the Dominion showed up. Eric Lysander killed local Federation enemies in droves; when the Founders and their stooges he hated showed up, he killed them in larger bunches.
Brought back to Earth midway through the war, Eric didn’t even step off the transport ship at Starbase One before a couple of admirals picked him up, escorted him to the fleet yards at Jupiter Station and introduced him to Basingna. The ship originated as the follow-on to the Defiant-class starship program. The brains behind Defiant (and their supporters in Starfleet Command) doubled-down on the idea of a pure Starfleet warship with a larger version of Defiant. For her first captain it wasn’t love at first sight.
The difference between the classes started with the powerplant, or better put, powerplants. The first radical idea for Basingna: Incorporating two warp cores in the ship, one for the engines, and one for the defense systems. Told about it as Eric looked Basingna over on his first inspection he joked, “What’s its name, Massive Explosion?” Nobody laughed.
Next, the Defiant designers fixed their second error on the vessel, not enough weaponry. Basingna carried more of everything, 6 full phaser mounts on turrets, ten phaser cannons, seven forward and three aft, and a dozen torpedo launchers along the midline of the ship. After designing the power systems and weaponry, they built the toughest hull around it they could. As Eric took the tour he couldn’t believe his ears or eyes. The monstrosity sounded to him like a ‘fanboy’ machine, something a little kid would build on his home computer system to conquer his schoolmate’s planet.
“What’s your impression Captain?” Admiral Jel-Leleik asked him.
“Sir, are the designers insane?” He listed everything he knew couldn’t work in detail. The Arcadian quietly listened to him and responded in two sentences.
“She can’t fly long distances, and she’s cramped. You have enough brass to make it work Captain?”
She knew him too well; Eric Lysander had the brass, and agreed to make it work. Six months later Basingna left Earth for Beelinger.
Eric hadn’t been in church for a long time, partly caused by guilt, partly for lack of opportunity. The recent past did for Starfleet what crises did for thinking beings all over the Federation, starting a ‘great awakening’. ‘Why you lived while your friends blew up?’ was an obvious question for many in Starfleet as war casualties mounted. Evil seemed to rule the universe; did it? In spite of the image of modern society, God still existed in many people’s hearts and souls. You can’t explain away what you don’t know or understand as random chance all the time and Eric found his peace believing in God. He lived his belief, and following the ancient texts of his family and church, he found God as his own. It was in church he found the gift one day.
St. Dominic's in San Francisco had survived and been rebuilt often, with the same love as the first church on the site built in Earth year 1863. Away from the smoking ruins of Starfleet Command, not many Starfleet ended up there, and it suited him perfectly. One day he wondered in late for Mass and sat in the back. To his amazement a most wonderful sight met his eyes; a tall, blonde-haired female in Starfleet uniform sat on the other side of the church, so far in front of him she had no idea of the inspection she received during mass. Much to Eric’s irritation she never looked around to let him see her face.
When Captain Phoebe McKizer walked out the main doors of St. Dominic’s her jaw dropped to the sidewalk, matching the jaw of the captain waiting to introduce himself. Phoebe and Eric hadn’t seen each other since their Academy graduation years before.
‘Pee’ McKizer and ‘Farmboy’ Lysander swallowed their nicknames throughout their academy days; both were the butt of jokes in most social circles. But unlike most of their classmates they made a career out of the Service, she by the helmsman chair, he by a tactical console. The years were kind to them and they rose to command starships.
Phoebe wasn’t the same person Eric knew. She’d almost washed out of the Academy because her very thin build would break down under the stress of the Academy physical training program. Years of effort, working out and legal drug therapy transformed her body. Now a ‘head turner’, most bodies the heads were on didn’t interest her.
Phoebe only remembered ‘Farmboy’ as a recluse. Lysander was as quiet and shy as a Vulcan after kolinahr, especially around females whatever the species. Few people knew why, most didn’t care. An arm’s length from others emotionally was just fine with him, even as his career led him all over the galaxy.
Until mass at St. Dominic's and lunch at The Happy Vulcan just down the street changed them.
The afternoon overlooking the Pacific Ocean turned into a long evening’s walk along the shoreline as they talked about command, people they knew, careers, the places they’d seen, and their experiences. After touching Phoebe’s hand and not being rejected Eric opened up about his fear as the sun set over the ocean.
At his office on Jupiter Station the next morning she left him a message thanking him for the great day, and telling him goodbye as her Excelsior-class Trafalgar headed out again to war.
A month later Basingna left Earth with two new Defiant cousins, USS Akkadeck and Cheron. Once away Captain Lysander posted orders; the task force was assigned to free Beelinger from Dominion occupation. The long trek to Starbase 339 filled Lysander with dread; his new ship and crew had more problems and breakdowns than the population of a mental hospital. At one point he told his CMO Dr. Moss-Morman he decided to abort the mission and check into the psych ward at Starfleet Medical himself.
The trip wasn’t easy on anyone; Basingna’s crew were engineers or weapons specialists. Operations and Science didn’t exist; the medical staff consisted of one nurse, 4 doctors, and cross-trained assistants. Basingna’s bridge held twelve stations: Captain, helm, communications, three for engineering, Senior Tactical officer, a weapons officer for each weapons system, and one defense/shields officer. The chief tactical officer ran the sensor unit. The auxiliary bridge had the same layout. The food, the water and coffee seemed barely fit for consumption, but nobody had the time to fix it.
Every night Eric prayed for three things; to wake up in the morning, have a working ship by docking time at Starbase 339, and somehow Phoebe McKizer would live long enough he could see her again. Two prayers were answered quickly. Basingna’s long transit allowed the crew to work out the kinks while the senior officers poured over data on the Beelinger System and Intel reports on Dominion hardware and tactics. The work allowed the task force commander to keep his sanity as the task force finished their journey.
Once Basingna entered the war zone her crew found out how lucky or blessed they were. Before his ship threw umbilicals to the base the boss pulled the welcome mat from under their feet.
“Captain, priority message from the Starbase, Commodore Bona.”
“On screen” The first thing he noticed were the bags under the eyes of his boss. The commodore looked exhausted. Even with a smile on his face a blind man could see his burdens weighing on him.
“Don’t get comfortable Lysander. When can you leave here?”
“If you put it that way sir, right now. Who do we kill?”
“Two heavily escorted Dominion ships filled with Ketracel White. Possibly four heavy escort vessels with them. Looks like they need the stuff badly Captain. Am transferring data to you now.”
Tactical Boss Skeller nodded a few moments later when the data showed up on his screen.
“Got it commodore, how long before they leave?”
A voice called out across the com link “Sir, I would guess an hour.”
Lysander did the math in his head. They could make it if they hurried. “We leave now Commodore, please clear us out of here.”
“Captain, your orders are to return in one piece.” Bona told him “If they are too big for you let them go.”
“Aye sir, Basingna out.” Looking over to Commander Skeller he smiled. “I’ve never been one to take those types of orders seriously have you?”
The Andorian smiled back, “In your language captain, hell no!”
“Order them up com! Akkadeck and Cheron on us. Pass the word to the crew; free beer on the starbase to every man who comes back home if no Dominion ships live.”
Helmsman Cromadie turned around and stared at his captain. “Sir, there’s 600 people on board and you don’t drink.”
“Details Lieutenant, just details.”
Ten minutes later Captain Phoebe McKizer woke up to the insistent sound of her com unit. Wiping the sleep out of her eyes she took a look at the monitor and the face of her boss. “When can you leave Feeb?”
“We are the ready ship sir. Give us 30 minutes.”
“You have 20 Captain; we have our new ships here and the captain running the task force is an idiot or a fool. He’s going to take on a White convoy with four heavy escort ships. Get out there ASAP and pick up the pieces.”
As she acknowledged the orders she hit the alert button on her desk. 10 minutes later Trafalgar slipped her moorings, with a couple of destroyers escorting her.
“Got them sir!” Skeller roared “At least six targets, two Dominion battle wagons, two transports and two smaller ships. On course 28 mark 330 from the system star.”
“Battlestations Mr. Skeller. Commander Leeds, the small ships are suicide vessels?”
As the alert sirens went off and the lights changed the atmosphere on board, Eric’s XO gave his two cents from the auxiliary bridge. “Confirm sir. They will show up when we are engaged, at least that seems to be their recent practice. Recommend Akkadeck and Cheron take them.”
“No Phil, I want to hide our strength. Com, order our cousins to hide in our wake. Attack pattern three.” Dutifully the two Defiant-class ships closed up close behind and in the power emissions of their big companion, with Captain Wu and Captain Shotak joining Basingna’s XO in shaking their heads. The formation was a bad choice.
Eric Lysander disagreed with them. “Alright boys and girls we will toy with our supposedly invincible friends. Yettle, shields to 80%, hold until the big ships get hot. Hollingshead, you kill the suicide ships, then join in the main party. Fire on my order. Skeller, find the magic spot and kill the near ship. Com, order Akkadeck and Cheron to take on the second battle wagon and feed them the tactical map. Tactical on screen.”
As if on cue the Dominion ships reached the system limit; if they wished they could avoid battle. The Jem’Hadar commander decided otherwise with the concurrence of his Vorta supervisor; one weak Starfleet ship is no problem to kill. The two Dominion units formed up and made a run at the unknown vessel keeping themselves between the fools and their transports. The tactical officers scanned the ship and saw its obvious weaknesses’; lack of speed and shields. The small Dominion warships moved to attack, just as Eric had foreseen as he considered how to fight his ship.
Basingna sprung the trap. Eric got on his com unit so the crew could hear. “Skeller kill the bastard to starboard, shields to full. Hollingshead make ‘em die! Helm course 350 mark 295, battle speed.”
Just outside of the Dominion’s firing range, the two big ships saw the error of their ways. Basingna exploded as she fired up her weaponry. Three suicide ships exploded as they rushed Basingna by swallowing phaser cannon shots. Two full volleys of photon torpedoes accurately hit after the phaser turrets pounded the starboard front shield. The second volley of torpedoes broke the shield down and two impacted on the hull. Carrying on the attack the phaser cannons switched targets to the damaged ship while half the torpedoes switched to cover Eric’s surprise.
Feeling the next volley of torpedoes leaving the ship the inevitable report came from the defense officer: “They are firing sir, both ships on us.”
“Helm evasive to port, go captains!” Watching the Defiants leave for their attack he braced for the inevitable impact of the massive ships’ broadsides. The first impact pushed the ship sideways with the hit continuing to stitch down the starboard shields. Commander Yettle came back on with the only thing he feared during the battle: “Sir, new emissions from the lead ship, the Breen beam. “
“Engineering Breen shields now!” Eric shouted as he stood in front of his command chair. All weapons on that emitter Skeller.” The impact of another weapons volley knocked him to the floor. Com officer Myers ran over to pick him up. “Ok sir?”
“Thanks Dana, that knocked the silliness out of me. Damage?”
“None yet, light casualties sir.”
Yettle shouted next “Shields to 70% sir. Breen weapon sort of neutralized, but we’re still losing shield strength.”
The tactical display revealed Akkadeck and Cheron were holding their own against the second battlewagon, but the lead ship hadn’t died yet. The display told him it was dying, just not quickly enough. As he considered the tactical screen he noticed four more Jem’Hadar coming to support their brothers, obviously a ready force to make a run at the Starfleeters. He decided to force the issue.
“Helm direct course to the transports, hard as you can go. Skeller, finish the lead ship.”
Basingna adjusted course to portwith the damaged and leaking battleship moving to defend the transports. The point of the battle was to destroy the shipment of White, not kill massive ships the Dominion could replace easily. Eric took a big risk; if he couldn’t destroy the battlewagon in front of him the transports would get away or the Jem’Hadar commander could make a suicide run on Basingna herself.
He rolled the dice anyway. The lead battle wagon started to slow as Basingna poured fire in it. As Dominion shields fell one by one the excellent Tactical Boss moved weapons to target more specific areas of the enemy. The closer the two ships got, the more accurate Starfleet fire took its toll, with Basingna receiving less and less. The display on the main screen told the tale; the projected intersection of the two ship’s courses showed they were not going to meet as the Dominion ship lost power and started drifting on inertia. Others saw it too.
“Recommend switching to the transports.” Basingna’s XO called up from below. The Tactical Boss looked at his boss and Eric nodded his head. Keeping a set of phasers and the rear torpedo tubes pounding the dying ship now behind them, both transports started running evasive courses as Basingna poured fire into them.
Eric noticed a new problem; the remaining Dominion battle wagon started chewing up the Defiants as Akkadeck and Cheron kept running complicated attack patterns on it, closing to even 100,000 kilometers before pounding the enemy with everything they had. The ready force of Jem’Hadar took notice of the situation and moved to defend the active battleship.
Without orders Commander Skeller took off the remaining systems on the hulk behind them and concentrated everything on the two transports. He could feel the sweat under his uniform starting as the ship couldn’t finish off the tough hulled transport vessels. A few meters away, his captain felt his uniform being soaked through from the pressure. Eric Lysander realized he was losing control of the battle.
The transports ran evasive courses away from each other and Basingna, shortly at least one of the transports could be free to leave. Akkadeck and Cheron were hurting and in a few moments he needed to break off the assault to come to their aid. He and their captains seriously misjudged their effectiveness against the big metal. The data pouring on to the Tactical screen confirmed his fears; the White would have to escape.
“Alright, break off the transports, helm course 120…”
“No sir, not yet!” Skeller pleaded. The tactical screen gave Eric a gift with a big red bow; Excelsior and two Centaur-class destroyers entered the free-for-all on the side of the good guys. Exactly as he would draw it up, the destroyers ran at the small Dominion ships while the old starship pounded the Dominion battlewagon from a third vector. He never said a word to them, why mess up a good thing?
“Belay it helm, get the far transport Skeller, then we’ll finish off the near one.” Complying with razor-sharp precision, the tactical team turned the two transports into exploding fireballs shortly thereafter. A short trip ended the battle in style when the four major Starfleet units teamed up to dispatch the second battleship in a massive explosion and a demand for surrender caused the flagship to blow itself up before capture.
“Keep alert status people. Myers, get in contact with that Excelsior over there, the most beautiful ship in space! We owe him a big thank you for making this easy.” The Andorian Tactical Boss looked at him with a drooping ear.
“You call that easy sir?”
“A lot easier than if we had to tow two carcasses home because upgraded Defiants can’t kill a well-handled battle wagon. I’d kiss that captain on the lips right now for what he did, he timed everything up perfectly.”
“Captain, got the Excelsior captain.”
“Put him on, we have a lot of work to do.” Eric turned from his com officer’s station and started talking before looking at the screen. “Captain, thanks for your help I’m--”
“I know exactly who you are Eric. You owe me for this, I just lost a night’s sleep.” Phoebe McKizer’s smile permeated Basingna’s bridge.
“I think I’d kiss him on the lips too” one of the weapons officers whispered as he observed the main screen.
A few minutes later Trafalgar had the crippled Cheron under tow, and the winners turned for home under cover of Basingna. However, the large Starfleet ship wasn’t quite done; instead of just watching out for pursuit the ship shaped a course in-system. As Trafalgar’s bridge crew watched in horror, Basingna took a hunting trip. Good work by Leeds and the auxiliary bridge crew allowed Basingna’s master to take her to the nearest planet in the system to them more or less free of any threat from the system defenders. On the way in the tactical people shot up every Dominion piece of equipment they could find from defense stations to sensor posts to com sats. Once in orbit of the 13th planet of the system, the ship leveled the small base there.
On the way out of the system Eric had one more surprise for the Dominion, a couple probes launched toward Beelinger III. Hours after launch, a young Beelie female from a small village made it out past the Jem’Hadar enforcing the dawn-to-dusk curfew and collected a few items from the small hole where a strange piece of metal landed.
It took a month for the message disk to get into the hands of the living Beelies on the planet that could do something with it. The piece of paper that came along with the disk everyone could read. In their native language Eric sent a simple message: “Help is coming.”
Eric sat with his senior staff in the Officers’ Mess as the taste of victory filled the room. Skeller had the needle out. “You enjoyed yourself too much Captain. The probes were a nice touch. Are you part Andorian?
“No, I’m too violent for you Skeller. Just wanted to leave a message of hope for those poor beings down there while killing Vorta and their lap dogs. The new sheriff arrived in town today ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to clean up this place.” Later he regretted saying those words.
Back at the starbase the ‘morning’ after everyone else returned Basingna docked and Eric took the reaming out of his career by Commodore Bona. The post-mortem made it sound like they’d lost the battle instead of won it. In many ways he was correct; Basingna, Akkadeck and Cheron were too important to lose, and without the intervention of a second force he could have easily lost the two Defiants. Bona needed working ships with competent crews to keep the blockade going, and losses of trained people were much worse than the damaged hardware. He saw no room for anyone to take risks and made sure Basingna’s master heard it with both ears. Shooting up marginal bases and insignificant parts of the Dominion defense network were not worth losing his ship to a surprise.
The commodore laid out the real cost: 118 precious souls killed or wounded. Akkadeck and Cheron would each spend three weeks in repairing battle damage, while bringing replacements up to speed and wounded made whole.
When Bona finished Lysander made the biggest mistake of his career by opening his big mouth again. “Commodore, we won, we stopped the shipment. Why not liberate the planet and end the need for the blockade? Let’s start killing them here. How many more people will we lose trying to keep the status quo?”
Bona responded like he just got hit with a phaser blast. He’d lost so many people and ships under his makeshift command he felt in his bones the anger his people had at him over it. Seeing the casualty counts piling up exponentially in Starfleet reports his captains weren’t allowed to see told him what he’d been doing was all he could do.
Now a veteran captain came in with no clue about his situation and dropped a bomb on him. He’d fallen in a rut, and his staff did too. Was keeping a lid on a leaking bottle the best plan for his situation? The captain sitting across from him saw he’d scored on the boss. Aggressive action might work better than this.
“Captain see to your command. For the next two weeks you are the ready ship.” Lysander looked back with a questioning stare and sinking feeling in his stomach as Bona continued. “I need you ready to leave on 30 minutes notice starting right now.”
Once back on board he passed along the good news: Repairs on the run, crew always on board ship, and no promised beer. Now Eric had both sides mad at him; his superior officer and his crew. Eventually both got over it, the next two weeks were so busy they spend more time working issues than sitting at the starbase anyway.
Eric considered it a blessing. Being out in action without any action to speak of allowed him to meet his peers via subspace and find out what was really going on. The aggressive Jem’Hadar kept things hot by constantly attacking vulnerable ships, but never enough to risk losing control of the system. It made perfect sense to him, they liked the status quo. The Starfleet captains he talked to didn’t; while they liked living longer than those on the front, good friends were dying anyway for no purpose. Eric didn’t want to die, but if he was to die out here he wanted to die for something that mattered.
Clashes increased in number with inferior forces taking on Starfleet ships on ground of Starfleet’s choosing, with predictable results. The sacrifices were made so more and heavier units could make their way into the Beelinger system and the system defenses could be upgraded without interference. Of course Starbase 339 saw everything going on even if they couldn’t stop all the reinforcements.
Commodore Bona took a few decisions of his own in those two weeks, starting with a long conference with his senior staff. After the long one-day session a subspace call to Admiral Ross became a negotiating session. The overall war commander made his dissatisfaction with the situation at Beelinger clear; one of his few current pressure points against the Dominion was the fact Starfleet had their thumb on the Ketracel White supply in the Alpha Quadrant except for two places; Cardassia and Beelinger. He couldn’t do anything about the former. The latter was a whole different story.
The plan they agreed to satisfied neither party. Instead of enough ships to force the issue once and for all, Ross gave Commodore Bona a rotation of ships. On the way to the front lines new and refit ships would stop by Beelinger to work the kinks out and Fleet would add ships to make good Bona’s recent losses. The commodore’s orders were simple, take the Beelinger System now.
The ‘two weeks as the duty ship’ became a month on patrol. The Jem’Hadar only made one run at Basingna herself, and Lysander’s crew tore the attack apart from a Dominion battlecruiser and a couple attack/suicide ships. The report the system had heavy units shook up everybody at the starbase and tripped warnings further up the chain of command. Taking Beelinger just became much harder.
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
IV. Flowers Among the Weeds
Commander Jenny Roper, Trafalgar’s chief engineer, looked up from a trunk line at her boss while holding a welding torch. “Captain, remind me never to bad mouth a station engineer again. These people are geniuses. We ought to be whole tomorrow.”
“Can we fight at 100% efficiency?”
“Yes. Phaser One is ready, we are 75% fixed at Phaser Two, assuming we need Phaser Two. We are running out of bodies to run it.”
“One monster at a time Jenny, I’ll be selling my soul at Bona’s office tomorrow.” A com call got her attention. Out of sight and sound of her engineer she took the call, only to come back a few moments later with a smile on her face.
“What did you hear Captain?”
“Maybe another miracle Commander. I‘ll find out shortly.”
One quick shower later Phoebe walked down the docking bay to the station main deck. Waiting patiently stood Captain Eric Lysander, ready to pay his debt. Her first glimpse of him unsettled her, his eyes inspected her with every step. Finally reaching her dinner companion she stuck out her hand in a professional greeting.
“Good evening Captain Lysander, a pleasure to see you alive.” She didn’t get the expected response as he grasped her hand.
“Your ship is a wreck Phoebe, what happened to you?” The worry on his face looked genuine, all the more reason to tread carefully.
“Not as lucky as you I guess.”
“Then let me change your luck. Dinner’s on me. Where to?”
“The Senior Officer’s Mess Captain.”
Lysander frowned. “Really?”
“Not unless you want our beer drinking crew members to think you’re romancing me in the middle of the Starbase. Your call.”
“Lead on Captain.” Eric carried himself as a professional as they walked to a lift, much to Phoebe’s relief they traded small talk.
The lift ride made Eric feel he’d moved to another part of the galaxy, the peaceful one he once knew. The lift doors opened to a fairly small dining room with a set of outside windows offering a view of the station and the stars around it. The mess happened to be empty except for the yeoman responsible for taking care of the diners who showed up.
Showing the ancient courtesy of seating the female first before sitting, Eric received a nod of approval from the yeoman. Quickly reaching the table with a carafe of coffee and water for both of them he announced the menu and left them alone. Now Lysander’s face turned. He had no idea what to say or do next. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence Phoebe started talking.
“You act like this is a first date captain. Do I scare you more than the Jem’Hadar?”
“I’m sorry Phoebe, I was trying to remember where we left off in San Francisco. I didn’t expect to see you out here, and it’s a pleasant surprise. You still haven’t told me about your ship.”
She admired his cover story for being tongue-tied. “Then I’ll make you a deal Captain. As long as we’re here I’ll talk about anything but my ship, the damn Dominion and the war. I’m interested in talking about anything else for a while.”
“You have a deal Captain McKizer. You are more beautiful than the stars outside tonight, let’s start there.” She decided she wanted to talk about her ship instead! After the rocky start the conversation continued for hours, as if they were still walking on the beach in San Francisco. Finally glancing at the chrono on the wall, Phoebe realized her time for talk had ended and she got out of her chair.
“Phoebe, sit for just a minute longer.”
“Make it quick Eric; I have to get back on board.”
Eric took a small box out of his jacket pocket and set it in front of her. “Happy birthday Phoebe, even though it was last week.”
Totally shocked at the box and the words she eyed him warily. “How did you find out?”
Eric grinned “It’s not hard using the starbase computer system. You should tell your family to keep it out of the public domain. If you look hard enough someone will find it. Open the box.”
“What’s in it Eric?”
“Open it and you’ll know. Does the box scare you more then the Jem’Hadar?”
Admitting defeat, she opened the small jewelry box in front of her and discovered the remarkable gift, a cross blessed by the priest at St. Dominic's. Eric smiled as her eyes got big and shock crossed her face as she saw the Rutanium-made necklace reflecting the lights of the mess.
“You told me at The Happy Vulcan you lost yours. After you left I stopped by the church and the priest told me a jeweler down the street sold them. Goes to the church so he cuts people who serve a deal. I got one for you in case I ran into you again. It’s the least I can do for a friend.”
“Thank you Eric! I can’t believe this. You didn’t spend a fortune on it did you?” She took the necklace out of the box and studied it. “What’s it made out of?”
“Don’t know Phoebe, I bought it months ago. It will look good on you though.” He stood up and clasped the necklace around her neck as she opened her uniform jacket to tuck it in. He didn’t want to tell her the truth; it cost a ton of credits and he didn’t care. He didn’t have anyone else to buy anything for.
Once she straightened her uniform she stood with him and they headed for the lift. Once inside he ordered the lift down to the main deck of the station. Instead; “Computer, belay that. OC3 please 4593. You do have a moment Eric? I need to make a stop there.”
“Sure, what’s ‘OC3’?” The lift quickly moved them to the password-protected office.
“Step outside and find out. It’s easier to show than tell.”
OC3 wasn’t an office; it was an unused optical control room used to help Starfleet Engineering complete the construction of the starbase. As Eric took in the magnificent sight of the universe the clear dome above their heads gave them Phoebe put her arms around him. He enthusiastically responded.
“This is my place to get away from the war Eric. Hostetler’s XO told me about it before she died. You’re turning into more than a friend Captain Lysander, and I’m not sure what to do about it.”
“How about this to start Phoebe?” Tipping her chin he took a deep drink from her lips under the stars.
“Captain, I know it’s a problem, but Trafalgar is going out and Captain McKizer needs a weapons crew.”
“How many are needed sir?”
Commodore Bona looked back across the table at Phoebe McKizer, who blurted out “3 officers and 17 enlisted.” Basingna’s captain tried mightily to hide his irritation. He’d run an Excelsior-class weapons array from one phaser room before. Her tactical people had to be incompetent at their jobs to demand two fully crewed Phaser rooms.
But he wanted to be charitable about this. Trained people were very valuable commodities these days in Starfleet. Everybody was short-staffed, and he’d already donated engineers and tactical hands to Akkadeck and Cheron to make their crews whole.
Phoebe looked as uncomfortable as he sitting in Bona’s office, obviously it wasn’t her idea to raid his crew for replacements. At least the Commodore asked for the transfers from him instead of making a com call and ordering them.
Eric’s ego blew up: If Phoebe’s people were in over their heads anyway, what better place to get help than from people trained by the best? “I’ll send them over when I get back to Basingna Commodore. Are the transfers permanent?”
“No captain but don’t expect them back for a while. I’ll let you in on a secret; soon the phony war here will end. Command wants the Dominion ejected from here, and sending us reinforcements to get it done are coming. You got what you wanted Eric, we will find out if you’re right.” At that moment he wanted to brush his teeth with anti-matter.
Walking back to their ships together Phoebe didn’t say a word. He didn’t know what to say anyway. She knew in her bones any offensive against the Dominion would be bloody beyond belief, and the man walking next to her started it. At Trafalgar’s docking port she turned to Eric with a grim face. “Thank you for the crew people Eric, you have some explaining to do.”
“Bring them back alive Phoebe, and I’ll be happy to explain myself personally. In the meantime how do we communicate?”
“OC3 please 4593. Good day captain.”
Fours hours later a disgruntled Captain McKizer took in a disgruntled Lieutenant Commander Keely and 19 others from a disgruntled Tactical Boss and XO on Basingna and warped out of the station. Eric still had the words of Commander Leeds ringing in his ears:
“Captain, Keely is the first man off the bench for us. He’s got center seat experience, can run any tactical station, and you had him in the Aux. Why him? We have a dozen senior lieutenants good enough for them.”
“You just said it Phil. He’s exactly what Trafalgar needs. We have enough quality people we can spare him for a while, with his experience in Excelsior ships he will fix up their problems and get back here.”
“If he survives serving on that wreck Captain. You know most of these people won’t make it back to us we’re sending out, and now you’re moving some of the best people we have. Losing Keely compromises us. Please sir, don’t kill us to help somebody else live.”
V. Waves of Destruction
Like so many commanding officers in history, Commodore Akili Bona stood in front of a large body of officers and handed out death warrants. Briefing books and computer disks sat on long tables where ship captains could look them over along with the briefing. A large system plot appeared in back of him as he started.
“The goal is simple, free Beelinger an end the production and shipment of Ketracel White. To reach the goal we will destroy their ships and bases in-system, one at a time if necessary. First we destroy the base on planet 10 of the system…”
Fleet Captain Velencie led the attack. His two wings of enhanced Defiants heading out to the front joined ten New Orleans-class cruisers newly assigned to the Starbase along with Basingna, Akkadeck, Cheron and several other cruisers. In a surprise they attacked into the system from a vector opposite the Starbase. Totally unknown to Starfleet the Vorta commanding the system defenses ordered a direct attack on the Starbase with 45 attack ships to try and destroy it. The Starfleet attack went in first and bogged down almost immediately in the defense systems of the large base. In short order six Dominion battle cruisers and 25 more attack/suicide craft responded to the incursion.
The moment the Jem’Hadar left the system Starbase 339 saw them coming, giving a light hour of warning to the defenders. Everything that could fight met them 5 minutes from the base. 31 starships, led by the commodore himself sitting in Trafalgar tore into the attack ships and turned the attack into a slaughter. Only four Starfleet vessels died.
The attack in-system morphed into a brutal slugfest. Fleet Captain Valencie’s Defiant-class Agular was second to blow up, but the remaining ships followed his orders; split into three ship elements and pounced on the Jem’Hadar capital ships. The long running fight spread over a significant part of the system, with the New Orleans cruisers attacking the small ships aggressively only losing two of their own for almost the whole force of attack craft. All six opposing battle cruisers died, taking six more Defiants with them to eternity. The result: 20% losses for the cruisers and almost half the twenty the engaged Defiants died just to reach the first objective.
The base died quickly after Basingna lead the penetration of the station defenses, whetting the appetite of her commander for more than this at the cost of so many lives. Eric argued for a deeper penetration into the system with so little left to oppose them. As he argued, Regal, the picket ship for the attackers reported two more battle cruisers and two battleships heading their way. “All the better” Eric pushed, “let’s kill them too!” His plea fell on deaf ears, the surviving senior Defiant captain ordered withdraw to the Starbase. His command had orders for DS9 and the front, not to die at Beelinger.
Eric Lysander couldn’t believe it. Almost 1000 Starfleet crew died for nothing with victory staring them in the face. Killing those ships could gain Starfleet access to the Beelinger III. Even if military necessity demanded the destruction of the planet it would have ended the miserable existence of the Beelie and save thousands of Starfleet lives.
Commodore Bona couldn’t believe the withdraw order either. With the decision of the Defiants to die around Cardassia instead of fighting at Beelinger, the best chance for victory died. The post-battle meeting in the Commodore’s office started with a bang.
“In my command judgment we had no choice Commodore, many of my ships were damaged and we’d waste more people for no purpose. I—“
“You’re a coward Blaine, that’s why you withdrew.” Eric’s fist banging the table in front of him emphasized the point. Blaine went off like a torpedo exploding.
“You’re an ass Captain Lysander. We’ve been through this already.”
“I’d rather be that then the Ferengi you are Blaine. How many more people will die because of your failure of nerve?” That started the fistfight. Eric considered the black eye Blaine left the starbase with vindication of his position.
“OC3 please 4593”. Eric waited until 0220 Starbase time to make sure he could find an empty lift. Entering the abandoned station he found gold in the form of a message disk. Picking it off the transparent walls of the station he took one breath and started laughing.
“It’s been a long time since someone scented a letter to me Phoebe.” In the midst of a brutal war a senior officer received from another senior officer perfume scented correspondence. Most women stopped doing in the late teens or early 20’s. He loved it. He loved the message the disk had on it more than the smell; she was still alive and hoping to see him soon. He left a disk in the control room for her.
A wing of Galaxy-class ships made the next appearance at the Starbase. Five fully militarized hulls paid a visit, assigned one task by Admiral Ross personally: To join with Basingna to rid the system any heavy Dominion ships. In support Bona sent a large force of ships to make a rush for Beelinger III.
Combat was joined in the asteroid belt between planets seven and eight of the system. One Galaxy limped out of the field moments after combat began missing a nacelle; the ship ran into a mine and caught the attention of battlecruiser at the same time. For minutes after the first casualty neither side scored a hit as five large Starfleet vessels plus escorts hunted three battle wagons and two battlecruisers among the rocks.
It was a good plan by the defenders, having mapped the field they knew the places they couldn’t go and tried to lead the Starfleeters into them. In a short time all the Federation ships were damaged, but the quicker Galaxy ships were fast learners with better sensors. Yamato ran a battlecruiser right into Basingna’s waiting weapons array, which quickly dispatched the Dominion ship. The hunt continued on both sides for the next victim.
The next victim became Basingna. Two Dominion Battleships pulled the same trick on her Eric did moments before. Orbiting a large asteroid to pounce on a battlewagon on an opposite course Basingna got bounced from behind by another battle wagon. The Dominion ships trashed the port side shields, opened 100 meters of the ship to space and destroyed half the phaser cannons on the ship. Akkadeck and Cheron responded to the distress call and with the Galaxy class Yamato chased one ship away and killed the other under a hail of fire.
Patching up damage Eric insisted on rejoining the battle. Orders from the fleet captain on Yamoto running the operation forced his slow and painful withdrawal from the asteroid belt. He didn’t know it, but the battle turned as he tried to save his massively damaged ship. Surprisingly, once the battle wagon attacking Basingna blew up the remaining heavy Dominion ships tried to withdraw to save themselves for defense of the inner planets. As they left the belt, the strike force joined the three remaining Galaxy ships in pursuit and killed the Dominion ships before support could reach them.
The defeat ended the life of the Vorta controlling Beelinger. His replacement saw the horrendous losses the aggressive overseer of the Beelinger system cost the Jem’Hadar. He had a different plan, implemented the moment his predecessor bled out on the floor of the battle station overlooking Beelinger III. The new Vorta chose only to defend the White supply. He controlled many attack ships, the inner planet defenses rivaled Chin'toka in depth, and he believed Starfleet couldn’t force the defenses. As long as the White supply existed his only job was to protect it and produce more of it. The Founder had to order other assets to collect it.
As Basingna retreated Eric got the full picture of the damage his ship suffered. One nacelle trailed sparks behind it as it hung from its pylon. The open hull and weapons damage led to a small explosion in the buried Auxiliary Bridge killing two officers and trashing the station. Exiting the worthless command center Commander Leeds started directing damage control efforts until a plasma conduit blew above his head, killing him and a repair crew.
Most ships couldn’t handle the damage Basingna took. Luckily because of her construction and the presence of many engineers to work damage control the ship drug itself out of the system gravity well and into the waiting arms of several combatants set aside for towing and SAR. Once safe from battle Eric rushed down to see the damage for himself; there Dr. Moss-Morman gave him the human toll, 207 dead or missing crew. The number made him ill.
Basingna’s tow back to the starbase took over a day. The broken starship could fall apart at any time, working the short-staffed crew to exhaustion keeping the ship and themselves alive. Eric earned a lot of respect that day by being everywhere when his crew needed him. One moment he worked with the repair crews, next he covered issues in engineering, moments later he visited the wounded. A warning from Moss-Morman sent him on a sprint to a weapons station to stand with a crew member as a SAR unit removed his new wife’s corpse from the station. The young crewman’s grief left an indelible impression on his captain.
Finally reaching the starbase Eric ordered off the wounded and non-essential personnel as fast as he could move them. The starbase staff took care of his crew as fast as they came off with food, drink, medical attention and comfort for them as repair specialists swarmed on for repairs. The whole operation worked like a smoothly oiled machine, which it was. Starbase 339 saw so many broken ships and people come their way the station had a well-used protocol for emergency returns.
Eric met the Starbase Chief Engineer at the main hatch to start the inspection. He’d been in this situation before and had every intention of walking step for step with the boss of the repair crews to fight for his ship’s survival. Having been down that same road too many times Captain Qxiille had no intention of hand-to-hand combat with a ship captain today with the damaged Galaxy ship Tsushima next door.
“Captain Lysander, I’ll be damned if I have to put up with you telling me how to do my job. Now get the hell out of here.”
“No way Quxi, I have every right to be here. It’s my ship.”
“You’re right Lysander, and if you ever want to fly it again you’ll join your crew dirtside, or my inspection will be a post-mortem.”
Biting his tongue before he lit up the Silian, Eric walked off his ship into the presence of Trafalgar’s captain. He could feel Phoebe’s emotions from 5 meters away. She couldn’t hide her feelings from him, though she tried.
“Captain Lysander, Commander Keely sends his regards, told me to tell you if you still had him on board it wouldn’t have happened to you.”
“Well then I want my Talisman back Captain McKizer.” Grabbing his arm she led him to a lift. “Where are we going?”
“I told my new first officer I’d only be gone a minute. He’s mine now and working out well. My first officer blew a gasket, she’s in hospital. My chief engineer didn’t want the position and Stewart is perfect for the job. You trained him well.”
Two stops later the crowd cleared out of the lift, and Phoebe said the magic words “OC3 please 4593.” Surprisingly the tears started flowing from both of them as she wrapped herself around him. He held her tightly before and after they walked onto their private retreat.
Eric flew thought the details of the fight. “I’m in trouble Phoebe, my ship is in pieces and I lost a third of my crew.”
She looked him right in the eye and told him the truth. “You’re not in trouble Eric, you have me, and I wouldn’t know what to do if you weren’t here.” They were the best words he ever heard.
Dread filled Eric walking into Commodore Bona’s office a few days later. Phoebe took Trafalgar out an hour after she left him on the next mission to pound the Dominion defenses in the system. Repairs to his ship were proceeding slowly. Everyone worked on a repair crew, including himself, to get Basingna back in the fight. Unwrapping himself from a damaged Jeffers tube he was repairing, he didn’t take the time to clean up before hurrying to Bona’s office.
“Sit down Captain. Wine?” Eric passed as he took a very comfortable seat across from Bona.
“Eric, you’ve done a hell of a job since coming here, but everything’s changed. I have an emergency call from Admiral Ross. It explains a lot that’s going on here. The Founders made the biggest mistake in the history of warfare. Once the Breen Beam stopped working they retreated to Cardassian space to protect their industrial base. Command believes they want to rebuild and rearm to crush us. Instead they handed us the chance to crush them once and for all on a silver platter.
“Everything Ross can get his hands on is going in. Tsushima has to go now; we are taking your good nacelle and putting it on her. I authorized the work before meeting with you.”
Alert sirens went off in his head “When will our replacement parts show up?”
“When they show up.” Instinctively Eric knew what came next. “Those ships are leaving with full crews Captain.”
“Who is going? Can I take a ship out there?”
“No. You have a ship here to repair. Everything from Trafalgar on up leaves in 24 hours or less, except Biakl’s cruisers.”
“You want my crew sir?”
“The list is on your terminal right now Captain Look at it this way, you’ve been through hell. You were on the front lines while everything disintegrated. You survived the liberation of DS9, and God knows what else. You fought with great distinction here, take a breath. We’ll need you again.”
“Doesn’t feel that way sir.”
“I know Captain but we all have our duty. This is yours, get moving.”
Gathering his remaining senior staff he ran through the list with them, placing them on ships they wanted to go to before assigning the rest. He hoped nobody noticed the best people he had usually ended up on Trafalgar.
Phoebe whispered the passcode for the last time on the lift. Disk in hand at 0130 station time she planned to quickly leave her last message to Eric. She couldn’t do it any other way. It hurt too badly.
She knew in her soul she wasn’t coming back. Over the years she heard shipmates talk about the ‘death vision’, now she experienced it for herself preparing to leave. What could she do? Duty called. She’d had a good life in Starfleet. The days and discs with Eric brought her more joy than she experienced in years. She hoped leaving her final goodbye on disc could lessen his pain on her death.
The lift door opened and she took one step in before she heard the familiar and comforting voice whisper “Surprise!”
“What are you doing here Eric?” she demanded in her captain’s voice.
“You know as well as I do Phoebe, you’re not sneaking out on me tonight, I thought you knew better than to try. I know where your going, what you’re doing, and I can’t stand being left behind without a goodbye.”
“You’re a jerk Captain Lysander, and I love you anyway.” She didn’t resist as his arms embraced her. He didn’t waste time.
“Phoebe, you’re a gift from God to me I don’t deserve, and it hit me right between the eyes the last few days. I can’t live without you. It’s stupid to say, but promise you’ll come back. Swear it.”
“You know I can’t say that Eric, we’re walking into a deathtrap.”
He ignored her. “Phoebe, when you come back I want to make this permanent.” Alert sirens went off, she couldn’t believe it.
“You know I can’t do that either. I’m going to die Eric, don’t do this to me!” Shoving herself away she called the lift.
That wasn’t acceptable. Jumping in front of her Eric pulled her away from the lift door and made eye contact. Now he used the voice and persona of a command-level officer.
“Don’t you dare leave now Captain McKizer! I’ve walked in your shoes, and you’re dead already if you believe it before you start. Why surrender now? What about that cross made of Rutanium you wear? When did you stop believing?”
He grabbed her lightly by the shoulders to make his point. “I believe in God and in you Phoebe. He’s not taking the gift of you away from me unless you choose to. You’re too important to let you go like this. Now, promise me.”
“You really believe that Eric? You really want me that much?”
“YES! Do I need to spell it out for you?”
“No.” Now he let walk onto the lift. “I believe you Eric. Goodbye.”
Once the doors closed he knew the score. She didn’t believe anything he said. He took his best shot and failed miserably. Taking a lift to an observation deck he watched Trafalgar join the death march to Cardassia.
Eric reckoned the transit would take two weeks, giving him two weeks to stew over Trafalgar. Instead he found himself boiling over the next morning. The Commodore intended a mercifully short meeting. “Captain, Qxiille and I made a decision. Merrimack lost her warp core yesterday and there’s only one place I can get one. We have several other ships needing parts and upgrades. We have one source, your ship. Basingna is being decommissioned. Your remaining crew transfers to the starbase on a temporary basis until they’re needed somewhere else. I’m sorry captain.”
Eric stood “I request you reconsider…”
“Why not sir? Your engineering department could have us up in days!”
“Because I need every damn ship I have to work now Captain! I just sent everything that has half a chance in hell to survive Cardassia over there and sent what’s left of your crew on the same damn suicide mission. I can put your weapons on other ships here and use them to keep my people alive. I can use your hull metal to patch up a damaged ship and get them back into the fight in hours if needed. Or I can put everything I have into your ship, and have you fly it with half a crew. Now ask me again so I can kick your ass out of my office in style.”
Two bitter hours later Basingna died.
So what do I do now?
The question haunted Eric for days. His ship rapidly disappeared into other vessels, his crew spread all over space, and Phoebe traveled to her execution while he sat around doing nothing. Being a spare part allowed old habits to return. He stayed out of everyone’s way; walking around the station, working out in the gym and reading reports.
Eating in the mess one evening he overheard a couple of Commodore Bona’s staff officers discussing mutual worries. They noticed the same thing he’d seen in recent reports; morale had sunk badly, with all the problems that came with it. He leaned over and entered their gripe session.
“Well stop complaining and do something about it.”
A lieutenant commander committed a grave error. “What do you suggest sir?”
“It’s almost Christmas Commander, time for a party.”
The Arbazan also involved in the conversation tilted her head at him. “I’ve never heard of this Christmas.”
“Unless you’re a Rommulan puke every culture has something like it. It’s a religious and family celebration in human culture. Joyful, fun, and your staff will enjoy working it. It’s good therapy.” Having started Eric didn’t stop there, and the Arbazan took notes.
As Eric left she told him “We don’t have such a thing. It sounds like a good idea.”
Under the pressure of constant combat, grinding repair schedules and the oppressive fact of life/death in a combat zone, the Starbase staff forgot that humans and most other beings needed an escape. The passivity of the Dominion in-system gave the blockaders the chance to take a breath; their fate would be decided in other places. Working quickly the Starbase staff took a look at Eric’s ideas and got busy.
After his lecture to Bona’s staff members, he retreated even further from others. But circumstances always change in Starfleet service, for him change came the night his food processor in quarters quit working. Deciding another Intel report could wait until his stomach stopped growling, he climbed a ladder up to the mess, hoping for a quiet late evening meal. The mess sounded empty until a voice boomed out:
“Eric Lysander, The Quiet Man himself. You ought to watch the ancient movie and audition for the lead. Sit down.”
“Thank you commodore. Eat here often?”
“Not really, only when I want to talk to hermits. Sorry your food processor died.”
The smirk on Bona’s face got a rise from his guest. “All you had to do is call me sir. I don’t commute daily from the system to work.”
“True, but I’d rather lift a glass in private with a man who cares as much as I do about our lost sheep at Cardassia. Trafalgar sent me a message an hour ago, ‘We’re going in’.
May God bless ‘em.” Eric joined the toast with enthusiasm.
“You and McKizer make a great couple.”
“It’s as obvious as the transfers you made. It took a while for the rumor mill to start on it, that’s an accomplishment on this station. Our yeoman actually respects other’s privacy, making it hard for stories to start.”
“Thank you for the compliment sir” the yeoman said as he put dinner on the table. “I hope they all make it out alive.”
“So do we Matthew. That decision’s above my pay grade.” After taking a bite Bona got down to business. “Eric, I won’t have you around here for long, once everything ends at Cardassia one way or the other you’ll be in a command seat. Until then I have an assignment for you.”
“Good. It’s at best a 50/50 chance any native survived on Beelander III. If they did they are slaves producing White, and if we win the Jem’Hadar will kill them all. If they survive, I need a first contact officer. You’re my best man.”
“’Best man’ sir? I doubt that. There are dozens of captains here with more experience.”
“Don’t forget Eric, I have your personnel file. You know the hell awaiting them because you went through it. Captain, you are my best man for the job. I’ll release you when Personnel comes a calling, but until then I need you.”
“You have a deal sir, on one condition.”
“When Phoebe comes back here you conduct our wedding.”
Eric offered his hand and Bona took it with a smile. “Deal. You gotta believe captain.”
Belief only gets you so far. Trafalgar’s last message was the final message coming from Cardassia. Starfleet enforced a news blackout on the battle; even on DS9 nobody knew anything. The appointed leader of Beelinger III’s burial detail spent the time reviewing the Federation database on the planet and tried not to think about anything else. Silence filled subspace for days.
Several days of anxious waiting later Eric attended a senior staff meeting in Bona’s office, on the way he noticed the change. Colored lights showed up along deckways and docking bays. Out of nowhere crew people suited in red and green were passing out information on a series of recreation events planned for the next few weeks. His workouts were hard to finish, the gyms were filling up with people.
Another week passed filled with lots of nothing for him but colored lights. The staff accepted his plans for a First Contact with the Beelie, leaving him simply to wait. The tactical reports of significance were read and digested. Sitting in his quarters one evening the very rare ‘All Hands Call’ echoed through the station. His desk terminal opened up automatically with Commodore Bona talking from behind his desk. Eric ignored it for only a moment.
“Attention all hands in this command. We received the following message 15 minutes ago.” The push of a button on Bona’s desk replaced him with the tired face of Admiral Ross.
“Fellow beings in Starfleet, at great sacrifice of ships and personnel from us and our allies, the Jem’Hadar, Breen and Cardassian forces were utterly destroyed in battle around Cardassia. The Founder in charge of the Dominion military in the Alpha Quadrant surrendered her remaining forces to us unconditionally. She is in Federation custody to stand trial for war crimes.
“Victory was achieved by those of Starfleet who sacrificed their lives so the Alpha Quadrant can live free. We have much to do to win the peace now that we’ve won the war. Ross out.”
Commodore Bona returned to the screen. “The Vorta in charge of the Beelinger System is required to contact us and arrange their withdrawal from our space shortly. Until I receive that communication and the system is clear we are in Condition Red. I will contact you again when the peace comes.”
The Vorta’s call a few minutes later touched off a wild celebration and put Eric back in the center of action, this time to try and salvage the planet of Beelinger III and its living survivors. The first contact, like every first contact, had unique circumstances attached.
It took a week to even get to the planet after wending through the debris and mines left from the defense installations destroyed by the Jem’Hadar. The Beelies welcomed him to the planet with a dozen weapons pointed at him. Two days later the bridges of trust were built personally between Eric and the Prefect of Beelinger when Eric led an honor guard down to the planet to return the body of the Prefect’s son to his father. Instead of hiding with the rest of his family the Prefect’s oldest son, a military officer, volunteered for the suicide mission to nowhere to bring attention to his people. His sacrifice brought Starfleet to Beelinger, and he came home escorted by the man who gave them hope months before.
On returning to the Starbase he immediately headed to the commodore’s office to report on the breakthrough with the Prefect. It had been the best day in weeks for Eric until he saw the grave face of Commodore Bona. The words weren’t needed.
“She’s gone Eric. Trafalgar’s missing and presumed destroyed. The other surviving ships in her battle group saw her take on a Dominion Battleship to try and save a few severely damaged vessels trying to escape the bastard.” Bona offered him the chance to quit the first contact. Eric refused with a quivering jaw, finished his report, and upon dismissal slowly walked to his quarters and locked the door for two days.
A week later the Prefect visited Starbase 339 to see for himself the ships and people who liberated his planet. Eric led him and his small party of advisors on the tour, starting with the engineering spaces and the docks.
“What is that Captain?” The Prefect’s first question opened an old wound.
“That is the remnant of my ship Prefect. Her name was Basingna, meaning‘Freedom’ in Andorian.”
“What is Andorian?”
Eric flicked his communicator and made a call. An engineer showed up a moment later. “Prefect, this is Ensign Trell, from the planet Andor, a charter member of the Federation.” The Prefect couldn’t believe his eyes. After a short conversation Eric released the ensign and once out of hearing range the Prefect asked a perfectly normal question:
“Captain, what were those blue tubes on top of his skull?”
“His ears Prefect.” The twitters and noises from the Beelies overwhelmed his translator and Eric just smiled as he waited for them to quiet down.
“I considered you a strange and exotic species Captain Lysander. My people have a lot to learn about the galaxy.”
“We will help you learn prefect, just like we will try and help you save your planet. Commodore Bona wishes to meet you for midday if you are ready.”
By the time lunch and the tour completed a half-day meeting turned into an all-day event. The Beelie were a very independent race, the idea of a ‘Federation’ conjured up for them an image of slavery or dependence as opposed to a free association of like-minded peoples. Eric’s frank speaking and relationship with the Prefect greatly moved along the process. It ended up being a good day.
As Eric escorted the Prefect back toMerrimack for the trip home, the Prefect organized a private chat. “I am impressed Captain, your people sacrifice much for us, and not only for your own aims. My people will join your Federation one day, to stand and fight with you so evil as befell us will not befall others.”
“I am gratified to hear it Prefect. I look forward to serving with your people soon. They have a great leader, and I say that whether you join us or not.”
“Yet you act lost in grief today Captain. So many of your fighters emote differences than you.”
Eric tried to deflect the statement or question; he wasn’t sure what it was. “You carry much grief Prefect, it is one reason I respect you so much. You carry your planet on your shoulders and your grief over your son with great strength. If I can help lift your burden I am honored.”
The Prefect made eye contact with him. “No Captain, you misunderstand. You have already done this ‘lifting’ by your message months ago. The message you sent us kept us from a suicidal revolt against our enslavers. We thought we were alone. You told us we were not. You will always be welcomed in our world Captain, even to try and lift your load.”
Eric’s com unit chose that moment to go off. “Excuse me Prefect.” Once he nodded Eric answered the call.
“Commodore Bona. Where are you and what are you doing?”
“I’m escorting the Prefect to Merrimack sir. We are at Bay 18, Merrimack is at Bay 37.”
“You’re needed at Bay A immediately. Get the prefect on his way then get over here. Better yet, I’ll authorize an intra-station beaming. Use Transporter Room 5, that’s closest to your location.”
“Aye sir. Lysander out.”
Turning back to the Prefect Eric smiled and acknowledged the words. “We have no idea what tomorrow brings Prefect, but I will return to your world one day after I leave here.”
“Then remember this Captain: We cannot grieve forever, to honor what we have lost we must make the future a good monument to their sacrifice, so all can see its meaning.”
The reminder of the conversation concerned the next visit of Beelie to the station; a military and scientific delegation to consider how to deal with the cleanup of local space around the planet. The nuts-and-bolts discussion promised to bore him to death.
Merrimack’s captain met the party at his main hatch. After the traditional bow of parting Captain Ryder tried to be nice: “We’ll take good care of him Captain. Merry Christmas!”
Eric nodded and spoke quietly to himself. “Yeah, Merry freaking Christmas.”
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
Well, there you go!
I am still in process of finding and correcting errors, feel free to pass any you see along. Posting these stories is a pain in the neck with a word processing program :evil:
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
While I like the "B" epilogue, I think epilogue "A" is more well-written and more fitting compared to the rest of the story. Nicely done!
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
Is the forum usually this dead?
Please note the rewrite is completed and posted.
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
Please remember to post a link to your story in the December challenge thread, otherwise it won't be counted. (Never mind me if I just overlooked it.) I hope I'll get to reading the entries this weekend, I've been away and had some catching up to do.
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime
I though I'd done that already!!!!:scream:
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime, A short Aplog
After going back to reread my story I must ask your forgiveness for lack of writing and editing skill. I do my work on standard word processors as opposed to something that makes the transfer of stories easy. There are at least 10 separate places in the story when I had to make edits change word wrap and the like an either took words out, erased commas and periods or didn't finish the edit right. As of now I can't change these things, but if you want a clean copy of the story I'll drop you one. Thanks!
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