UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
United Trek: Task Force Vanguard
A Gibraltar / Full Speed Ahead Collaberation
by Sam Redfeather, Michael D. Garcia, and A.J. Gertner
* * *
Amon Homeship Transcendent
The crucible pod split open with a wet crack, spilling the naked form of Donald Sandhurst onto the floor in a flood of brackish fluid. For a time he lay still, seemingly lifeless, until his body was wracked with huge, heaving coughs that seemed to be torn from the very core of him. Wave after wave of liquid was expelled as he gasped and struggled for air.
Nestrala wanted desperately to go to him, to offer him comfort and support, but she dare not. This was his path to walk alone, under the appraising eye of the tribe’s BattleMaster and the Congress of Elders.
Finally, when his lungs had cleared, Sandhurst pulled himself to his feet. His body trembled with the effort, but he would not relent, just as he had refused to yield within the crucible despite the exquisite agonies visited upon him.
“I…” he rasped in a voice that began faintly, but gained in strength and volume as he continued. “I am Zeischt, of the Amon. Though not born to our people, I was chosen by our people.”
Once he was steady on his feet, Sandhurst gestured to Nestrala, who looked to the BattleMaster for permission. Her nod of assent prompted Nestrala forward, where the woman draped a cloak over Sandhurst’s shoulders.
The grand auditorium in which they stood was adjacent to the great forested arboretum at the center of the massive cube. Formerly belonging to the feared Borg Collective, the ship had been seized by the Amon and christened Transcendent.
The interior of the cube could not have been more different from the original Borg aesthetic. The ship fairly blazed with light, the great spaces adorned in stark whites with gold and silver accents. Artwork of every imaginable kind filled the open spaces, a brilliant melange of form, sound and light infused with an unprecedented energy, that of life itself. Plants from a hundred different worlds across three galaxies filled the open spaces, bathed in artificial sunlight projected from the holographic sky overhead.
Sandhurst moved into the center of the auditorium. The great tiered hall could seat tens of thousands, but only a handful of individuals had been called upon to witness this event.
BattleMaster Audwen gave the newest Amon convert a broad smile as she announced, “You are now Amon in both name and spirit, bound to us for eternity through your most fundamental essence. When you pass, your energy will be consumed by the tribe, and so you will live on in each of us. You have become part of the eternal expression of our species.”
Thus bestowed with membership in the tribe, Sandhurst pulled the garment tight around him, fastening it at his waist. He had sacrificed his future in Starfleet for this chance, this singular opportunity to capture and redirect the energy and attention of one of the most formidable species ever encountered by the Federation.
“Now that I have earned my voice among our people, it is of evolution I wish to speak, BattleMaster,” Sandhurst espoused.
The Amon warrior-priestess deferred to him wordlessly.
“There is no evolution here,” Sandhurst called out. “Only stagnation, the slow death that consumes all that refuse to adapt. The Amon are undeniably powerful, but we are bereft of purpose. We lack a core driving force to unify us, to concentrate our collective potential. This is why our fellow tribe turned on us, breaking the most sacred of all our laws, that no Amon should make war upon another.”
The tribe’s senior leadership stood in silence, taking in the words of their newest member, the first outsider to have joined their ranks in well over a millenia.
“We strive to collect, consume, and utilize the essence. It lengthens our lives, gifts us with remarkable strength and insight, but we use these miraculous abilities for no higher calling. We squander these talents, acting as scavengers, preying upon the powerless like some great swarm of carrion eaters. Think what our people might accomplish if we were to invest in the future of this galaxy, in the success of it’s intelligent species.”
“Pretty words, Zeischt,” spoke one of the elders. “We have heard the like before. However, the success of those species, and lasting peace between them would sound the death knell of our people. War and chaos, these are the states of being that keep us fed. It is the truth of our existence.”
“Death is a constant,” Sandhurst countered. “All corporeal species meet their mortal end, and we can feed just as easily on the essence of those who die peacefully in their sleep as we can those stricken down on the field of battle.”
“Who are you to question our ways?” came the accusatory reply. “You have only just donned the robes of allegiance, and yet here you stand calling upon the leadership to justify the tenets of our culture.”
Sandhurst answered without hesitation, “I am Zeischt. I am the one being in all the universe that the Amon sought out individually. I called to you from across the gulf between galaxies. I was bound to you before I knew you existed, and my departure from the tribe at our first meeting was aligned with our betrayal by our cousins.”
He turned a slow circle, his eyes beseeching those of the Congress of Elders for understanding. “There can be only one reason I was summoned at this precise moment in our people’s history. I was meant to lead our people into the next phase of our evolution!”
* * *
UT:TFV – Part III – Chapter 1
The dream had seemed endless, yet strangely ephemeral, as though his mind had lived a thousand different lifetimes which he couldn’t fully recall. Consciousness began to reassert itself, bringing with it a renewed self-awareness. A name. He had a name. And… a title? No, a rank. He had a name and rank. It was… ‘Dom’ he heard his mother’s voice call from some distantly firing memory neurons. That was it. Dominic. Dominic Leone, lieutenant junior grade, Starfleet.
“Easy, sir,” a kind voice said softly to him. “A bit of confusion is perfectly natural when reviving from cryosleep. You’re safe and in good hands.”
Leone tried to ask a question but all that came out was a hoarse squeak. He felt a plastic straw touched to his lips, and began sipping greedily, realizing only after the fact that he was drinking a sickly-sweet solution. Having expected water, he choked on the liquid.
“Sorry, sir. I know it tastes awful, but it’ll stabilize your electrolytes.”
“How--” he croaked. “How long?”
“You’ve been asleep for nine months, sir. Adamant has arrived safely in the Delta Quadrant. You’re at Galaxy Station.”
Adamant, he remembered. Intrepid-class. Captain Caldwell’s ship. And... Vanguard… that’s right, Task Force Vanguard. He’d gone toe-to-toe with his own grandmother to secure a posting to the hazardous mission, whose first contingent had suffered a nearly thirty-percent casualty rate.
He’d been sent out on the second wave of ships from the Federation’s corward frontier, dispatched some thirteen-thousand light-years distant into the nearer reaches of the Delta Quadrant. There, an armada of starships dispersed over dozens of parsecs in various intercept groups was attempting to stem the tide of an influx of nomadic alien fleets bound for the Alpha Quadrant.
Unlike the first wave of starships in the task force, Adamant and her sister ships had been dispatched under their own power, carrying their crews in stasis. This added three months to the journey, but allowed Starfleet to outfit a more robust third wave with the same high-warp carrier sleds that had conveyed wave one. That tertiary relay of ships would arrive in another three months.
The medic helped Leone up into a sitting position as he struggled to get his bearings. He dimly recognized Adamant’s main shuttle bay where dozens of cryotanks were arranged in rows. Several of the other tanks had medtechs attending to their occupants as well, with the crew being revived in groups according to rank and function.
His last coherent memory was of falling to sleep in Starbase Bastion’s cryo-prep ward in the station’s MedCenter.
The medic pressed a hypospray to Leone’s neck, injecting a metabolic stimulator along with vitamin and mineral supplements. “You’re going to undergo an exam, sir, and then you’ll be escorted to your quarters to rest and recuperate.”
“I haven’t had enough rest already?” Leone asked groggily.
* * *
Europa limped into the system, slowing to sublight from a leisurely Warp Four, the best speed the battered starship could safely maintain.
“Secured from warp speed, Captain,” Lightner addressed Lar’ragos from the Helm.
“Galaxy Station within visual range, sir,” the rating at Ops advised.
“On screen,” Lar’ragos ordered, interested to see how much had changed since their last visit.
The hodge-podge space station appeared on screen. Significant construction had taken place in the past few weeks, though still in the same haphazard fashion that had become the sprawling complex’s hallmark. This time, however, the structure was accompanied by a number of new ancillary drydocks and over a dozen unfamiliar starships.
“Looks like reinforcements have arrived,” Liu observed from beside the captain.
Ops announced, “We’re being directed to a mobile drydock facility, sir.”
“Bring us in, one-eight impulse on docking approach.” Lar’ragos said tiredly. “Gods know we’ve earned some respite.”
Lightner shot Lar’ragos a darkly ironic look from his seat. “And which gods are those, sir?”
Lar’ragos’ reply was expressionless. “Whichever capricious deities oversee this horrid little tract of the universe, Lieutenant.”
* * *
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
So Sandhurst has gone completely native. But has he done so to change the Amon for the better? Regardless, Starfleet Command will likely see this as treason. Last time I checked he hasn't resigned his commission. This could have very interesting repercussions.
And some desperately needed fresh-blood arrives including a Leone. I hope they've put their affairs in order. The way things have been going for Starfleet out in the Delta Quadrant, not many people are going to come home from this assignment.
UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound (Chapter 1 cont'd)
Pava Lar’ragos sat quietly in the outer office of newly arrived Vice Admiral T’Cirya, an unused padd held in one hand as his eyes did their best to burn a hole in the opposing bulkhead from the power of his thousand-meter stare. If he’d cared to, Lar’ragos now had the ability to analyze the far bulkhead in excruciating detail, thanks to the cybernetic ocular implant that had replaced his ruined right eye.
The cabin had formerly served as VIP living quarters aboard the starship Galaxy. All that remained of that ship now was it’s saucer section, which had been integrated into an existing alien space station to create the bizarre amalgam ironically dubbed ‘Galaxy Station’ by the task force.
Lar’ragos had no desire to test the capabilities of his new optics, nor did he have a taste for much conscious introspection for that matter. Instead, he waited in silence to be summoned before the admiral, who’d been rumored to have already demoted Isaac Gareth back to captain from his field promotion to flag rank. Lar’ragos felt like a man waiting to mount the steps to the gallows.
The vice admiral's flag lieutenant moved his eyes back and forth from his desk to Lar'ragos. His stolen glances at the man punctuated only by the various calls he fielded from other officers aboard the station. When silence prevailed, he resumed his behavior as before.
The doors leading to the inner office slid open to allow a tall, muscular woman with short brunette hair exit. She nodded quickly to the flag lieutenant, who stood up out of respect, and turned to exit when she paused to look at Lar'ragos. A flicker of recognition appeared before she stopped and nearly snapped to attention. "Commander, sir," she said, as though she were a midshipman once more.
Lar’ragos stood reflexively, nodding deferentially to the woman. "I believe that’s my line, sir.”
Commander Marcia Caldwell, commanding officer of the starship Adamant, blushed lightly. "No, sir. If you'll permit me that, considering that I owe you my life, it's the least I can do until I can return the favor." She turned toward the flag lieutenant, who appeared to be listening in and doing nothing else. "Let the admiral know Commander Lar'ragos is waiting," she ordered softly.
As though he were launched from a rubber band, the small lieutenant scurried quickly to enter the inner office. The doors had barely cleared his width to let him in before they closed behind him.
Lar’ragos gave Caldwell a smile that stopped well short of reaching his eyes. "I appreciate the gesture, Captain. By all means, please pay it forward.”
"Always, sir," she replied.
The doors opened once more and the lieutenant stepped outside. "Commander Lar'ragos? The admiral will see you, now."
She turned back from the announcement and smiled. "When you're done in there, you should drop by. I brought some hooch with me that I think you'll like."
Lar’ragos actually seemed tempted. "I’ll do that. I could use a stiff drink right about now.”
"It'll be waiting for you," she promised with a grin before walking off and entering the main corridor into the rest of the station.
The El Aurian turned back to the lieutenant, nodding to him as he passed into the office beyond.
Vice Admiral T'Cirya gestured with her left hand toward the open seat in the modest reception area as she addressed an officer on the main viewscreen within the office. "I understand, Captain. I will attend to those matters, however, I will require you to immediately make your report of able officers to fill in any necessary berths left vacant by those who have fallen in the line of duty. That will be all. T'Cirya, out."
Lar’ragos came to stiff attention just before the seat, awaiting the termination of T’Cirya’s conversation before stating, "Lieutenant Commander Lar’ragos, reporting as ordered, sir.”
T'Cirya turned to fix him with an expression of stereotypical Vulcan dispassion. "I trust that your injuries have been tended to, Commander?"
"They have, sir.”
Her interest in his well-being concluded, she moved to a seat adjacent to his and took it. "I have informed Captain Gareth that I've assumed command of the task force. I will be utilizing USS Yorktown as my flag," she said matter-of-factly, whilst scanning through the display of a padd. "I have a preliminary report from the engineering section that Europa will be undergoing repairs for the next three weeks."
Still standing, Lar’ragos replied, "That’s correct, Admiral. Repairs to the ship’s superstructure and interior volume will require some significant work before she’s mission ready again.”
"Stand easy, Commander, and please seat yourself," she said, not looking up from the display. "Your latest report indicates that you are among those ships with significant losses of life. I am ordering a reconfiguration of personnel incoming from the latest arrivals, to shore up any gaps in coverage. Before we are through, my flag lieutenant, Mister Tau, will see to your requirements with my authorization."
Lar’ragos seated himself. "Thank you, sir.”
T'Cirya placed the padd atop the small end table and informed him, "I have gone over your records since Captain Gareth stood down from his temporary command, and I found your command of Europa to be laudable. I believe it is in the best interest of the task force for you to continue in your current capacity."
There was a slight pause before Lar’ragos replied, "I appreciate that, sir. That being said, I trust you do realize the danger inherent in Ramirez knowing me as well as she does, Admiral?”
"I believe that your next mission may preclude another encounter with the former Captain Ramirez," T'Cirya intoned. She located another file on the same padd, and then offered it to Lar'ragos. "Our most recent tracking information on the Amon should prove interesting, Commander."
Lar’ragos accepted the proffered device, studying its contents for a long moment. "They’ve departed the Beta Quadrant.” He looked up at T’Ciyra. "If that’s the same group that obliterated Blue Horizon and the Klingon colony, they could be headed back into the Alpha Quadrant for another attack.”
"Excalibur assures us that this is the most recent intelligence," said the vice admiral. "At least, as recent as they can make it, given the three-week delay. I will have this sent to you, and you will be included on all future briefings when they're scheduled. I suggest keeping your mornings free while in port."
"As you say, sir,” he answered distractedly. Lar’ragos glanced in her direction. "Am I to surmise you’ll be sending us to look for Sandhurst and his wayward Amon tribe, Admiral?”
She nodded once. "That is the intention, Commander."
"Might I ask to what end, sir?”
"Strategically, it is logical to attempt to make contact with Captain Sandhurst, given his relationship with the Amon," she replied candidly. "If he could be persuaded to see reason, perhaps he can do the same with his... allies. Given what we know about the Amon thus far, we will require the assistance of an equal or more powerful party. Your own reports show that Starfleet is at a severe tactical disadvantage."
"I’m gratified to hear that, sir. It’s my belief that Sandhurst’s return to the Amon was prompted by his desire to draw them over to our side, against their fellow tribesmen.”
She inclined her head. "I would agree."
"And Ramirez, sir?” Lar’ragos pressed. "She’s now in possession of TFV’s accumulated data on the incoming refugee fleets, as well as the Amon. She also has two of Europa’s Alpha Weapons, in addition to whatever advanced chronometric weaponry we witnessed her using against the Romulans.”
T'Cirya rose from her seat. "I have been kept abreast of your latest encounter, Commander." She paused when she reached the desk and placed her hand on the controls of the desktop terminal. "As I'm sure you're aware, given your high clearance as part of the SMT's, that Starfleet illegally developed a phase cloak a number of years ago?"
"I’ve heard rumors to that effect, but nothing solid.”
She tapped the control to place a new device on the screen. "The Starfleet Corps of Engineers, under the direction of your previous admiral, Krystine Leone, has been working to develop a temporal shield using the phase cloak technology as its base. The cloaking device utilized chronotons to phase the ship out of normal space-time. As it were, her mother, Vice Admiral Angelina Leone, has ordered me to make use of any technology at my disposal, including this shield technology." She turned to fix him with a stare. "It should prove sufficient against her attacks."
He studied the diagrams for a few minutes, scrolling through various graphics. "And with the cloaking field employed outwardly, it serves as a chronometric shield rather than as a prohibited cloaking device.” He offered his first genuine smile of the day. "It serves its purpose and doesn’t violate the Treaty of Algeron. Brilliant.”
"It was never my intention to send you into harm's way without outfitting your vessel with appropriate defenses," the vice admiral admitted. "Furthermore, I have directed our engineers here to determine, what if any offensive capabilities could be derived. They intend to have options to present shortly."
"I look forward to reaping the benefits of their creativity, Admiral,” Lar’ragos confessed. "May I also assume that I’ll be keeping Sandhurst’s new warp propulsion system intact?”
"Captain Gareth mentioned your reluctance to employ that system any further aboard Europa."
"The engine seems inseparable from Sandhurst’s complex equations, and so long as we’re using his programming, we’re vulnerable to any hidden code he may have left behind.”
"I understand how that may prove troubling," she considered aloud. "Have the yard engineers determine if it can be removed for a conventional system within the time allotted."
Lar’ragos countered, "Lieutenant Ashok assures me that to do so would add an additional three to four weeks to our layover, sir.”
She opened a channel. "T'Cirya to Captain Lo," she said.
"Lo, here, sir," came the reply.
"Europa's requirements have the highest priority on resources and personnel," she ordered. "I'm sending their lead engineer to confer with you as to their dilemma regarding the propulsion systems."
"Aye, sir," Lo's compliance was stressed, to betray his slight annoyance with the sudden change. "I will see to it, personally."
"That will be all, Captain. T'Cirya, out." She closed the channel and noted, "Do you have any other problems, Commander?"
"Only a few hundred, Admiral, though none that require your attention. Thank you.” Lar’ragos offered wryly.
"Then allow me one more item to tend to. I wanted to make mention that Europa is a light cruiser, requiring at least a full commander in command. Therefore, I am ordering a battlefield promotion to ensure you meet those minimum requirements. Congratulations."
Lar’ragos actually managed to look surprised. "I... ah- thank you, Admiral. This is unexpected.” He offered T’Cirya a bemused expression. "I’d anticipated being relieved of command when I stepped in here, sir. Europa is seriously damaged, dozens of her crew are dead or wounded, and a rogue Starfleet officer is now in possession of two experimental weapons of mass destruction.”
T'Cirya said nothing in response, merely fixing him with an expectant stare as she sat back down behind the desk.
"Not the most auspicious conclusion to my first starship command.” He returned her stare evenly. "I am curious, Admiral. By what metrics do you judge success?”
The Vulcan vice admiral pursed her lips together only slightly, enough for Lar'ragos to pick up on it; her hesitation so miniscule that a less observant person would not have noticed. "The completion of mission objectives against the interests of the Federation, as well as the impact or loss of life of both personnel and civilians. Metrics are at times an intangibility starship commanders must deal with, Commander... as I'm certain you have become recently aware."
The statement elicited a reluctant nod from Lar’ragos. "Only too well.” He stopped for a moment, distracted by a glimpse through the viewport of Europa cocooned within her drydock, linked to the station by a single narrow gantry. "When Ramirez died, or rather when we thought she’d died, I told Captain Sandhurst it was just such situations that prevented me from pursuing any rank greater than that of lieutenant.”
T'Cirya acknowledge him with a succinct nod. "I understand. Circumstances clearly override expectation." She continued quickly. "Is there any other business we need to discuss, Commander?"
Lar’ragos considered that. "Only one, sir. Is there any truth to the rumor that the Klingons are expected to arrive out here sometime soon?”
"May I ask how you came by that information?" she questioned coldly. Colder than before.
"I have... friends in the Sotaj. They stopped talking to me about nine months ago. Given the High Council’s somewhat justified anger over our keeping TFV secret from them initially, my guess is that they’ve got a battle fleet outbound.”
She paused to activate a new screen, which she then transferred to the larger screen upon the bulkhead. "Starfleet Intelligence, namely Admiral Nechayev, believes that the Klingons have an inbound fleet. Based on tracking data supplied by the Hubble Array, a fleet of cloaked vessels should arrive in the next three weeks."
"Shit,” Lar’ragos summarized succinctly. "I hope they’re in a mood to talk when they arrive.”
"Captain Ebnal and Venture arrived with this wave to provide on-site assistance in dealing with the Klingons," she informed him. "I will be meeting with him and his executive officer later today."
"Lucian Ebnal,” Lar’ragos remarked with a vaguely surprised look. "Well, then, God help the Klingons.”
She tilted her head. "We do not intend to engage the Klingons, Commander, but Admirals Nechayev and Leone felt it prudent to have a highly experienced commander on scene. Of course, your own expertise will be welcome when the time comes, but Europa may be tending to matters elsewhere."
He inclined his head, conceding the point. "Perhaps so, Admiral, but I hadn’t expected to engage the Romulans, either.”
"Vice Admiral Leone is providing further updates on the Rihannsu incursion into this quadrant regularly." T'Cirya deactivated the screen and asked, "Will there be anything else?"
"I’ve arranged to fill all my open senior officer posts with the exceptions of XO and Security/Tactical chief, sir. If you have any recommendations, they would be appreciated.”
"I will inform Personnel as to your vacancies, including those key positions," she assured him. "The right persons for those jobs will be selected."
* * *
Since their arrival at Galaxy Station, the corridors of Potemkin slowly filled with personnel as they checked out of the medical section fresh from the long cold sleep. Among the first to awaken was Lieutenant Commander Iris Wu, the ship's executive officer.
"Good to see you, Commander," said her Deltan commanding officer, Captain Erz Damore. He did not look up from the desk within his ready room; he scribbled furiously with a stylus upon the input sensor tied to his desktop terminal. "I trust that all is in order."
Wu replied with a padd in her hand. "Nearly all crew are awake, sir, though a quarter still have their medical checks to complete. We will sail with no complications, thus far, according to the medical staff."
Damore completed his motions without responding to her report. She thought nothing of it, as it was his custom to focus more on his writing. Wu did not look at the screen; she knew the computer was recognizing his handiwork and inputting the words automatically. Over meals, he admitted his penchant for the written word prior to his entry into Starfleet. He never let it go.
The slap of the stylus against the desk preceded his gaze upon her. "Excellent news, Iris. I suppose that it is a miracle that we managed to make it all the way here, considering that at least one ship fell out of formation and another returned to rescue her."
She maintained her stony expression. "Yes, sir," was her only response.
Damore allowed a small smirk to appear. "One of these days, someone's going to let you know that you're human, not a Vulcan. It's okay to express emotion."
"Yes, sir," she repeated. Her gaze dropped to her now-beeping padd. "We're receiving flash traffic from Galaxy Station, sir. Eyes only."
"I see it," the captain said quickly. His fingers tapped the terminal input once, then he spoke his access code aloud. "We're being assigned to an Intercept Group. We depart as soon as our crew is ready to go."
Wu nodded once. "I'll see to our departure. By your leave?"
He raised a hand. "Not so fast. There's some additional... orders." Damore reached for his stylus once more and it flowed across the desk. "Looks like someone is in need of your services more than I."
The screen on her padd flickered to present the incoming orders. Wu read them quickly and then returned her attention to Damore. "Sir."
"Effective immediately, Commander," he said, rising from his seat. He extended his hand. "Good luck to you, Iris. They're lucky to have you."
She leaned forward to accept it gingerly, keeping their contact brief. "Thank you, Captain. It has been an honor to serve under your command."
Demore returned a wry grin. "Aw, Iris... I think you might mean that." He relished that last moment of watching her squirm slightly under his light joviality. "You're dismissed."
Wu took a step back before spinning on her heels to exit the ready room.
He whispered to no one, "Damn, Europa... look out."
* * *
Dominic Leone made his way through the exotic alien bazaar within the commercial district of what had been In’Drahan Station until an Amon attack had wrecked over half the orbital facility. What remained of the former Husnock battle fortress had been hastily repaired in a cooperative effort between Starfleet and a half dozen local species dependent upon the outpost for interplanetary commerce.
The former USS Galaxy’s saucer section had been joined to this growing assemblage, along with sundry alien docking gantries, environment modules, and portable cargo pods. A variety of native Delta Quadrant species walked, scurried, loped, or slithered about the station, many of them horrifically disfigured through deliberate genetic mutation by the infamous and imperialistic Husnock.
The end result of all this energy was a makeshift starbase that made Deep Space Nine look like a model of efficiency and intuitive design aesthetics.
Within the souk were all manner of shops, storefronts, and kiosks. Their owners hawked foodstuffs, clothing, consumer datatronics, and a thousand other kinds of goods in demand amongst the local spacefaring cultures.
Leone found the smells of some of the foods very appetizing, while others caused his stomach to lurch alarmingly.
This, he reflected to himself, was indeed the final frontier. Tens of thousands of light-years separated himself from his relatives at Starfleet Command. Before him not only lay the breadth of the Delta Quadrant, but the oncoming waves of alien refugees bearing down on their task force and its frontier fort.
Taking in the sights of the station, Leone mentally cataloged each one so he could reference them in his first letter to Teelis. He absent-mindedly fingered the isolinear optical chip in his uniform's inside pocket as though it would conjure her from the Alpha Quadrant instantly to share the experience with her first-hand. The very nature of the station and its location is why he joined Starfleet; why he used every ounce of his will to ensure his assignment to the task force.
Leone proceeded to the docking gantry for the starship Europa, reporting early for his meeting with the ship’s captain, Commander Pava Lar’ragos.
* * *
UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound (Chapter 1 cont'd)
Master-at-Arms Chief Petty Officer Saihra Dunleavy checked Leone’s identification card against his biometric profile and retinal scan displayed on her console. "Everything appears to be in order, sir. Welcome aboard." She gestured to a nearby security specialist. "Sharpe, Lieutenant Leone has an appointment with the captain. Please see him to the ready room, straight away."
Sharpe led Leone through the ship, skirting areas filled with engineering personnel where welding teams attended to structural damage. Some of the corridors they passed through were blackened and pitted, obviously of lower priority on the repair schedule.
At one point, Leone slowed his pace, his eyes drawn to the silhouette of a humanoid figure burned into the bulkhead. He looked back down the corridor and saw the evidence of heavy phaser fire, where bolts and beams had scored the duranium plating. "What did this?" he inquired.
"Combat android, sir," Sharpe replied conversationally, as if such a thing were perfectly natural aboard this ship.
"I, uh... see," Leone observed with widened eyes. "You guys see that kind of action out here in the Delta Quadrant?"
"Yes, sir," Sharpe agreed. "More than our fair share, Lieutenant." It was all Dom could pry out of the man during the brief ascent.
Sharpe led Leone onto the bridge, pressing the annunciator button on the ready room door before taking his leave of the lieutenant. "Good luck, sir."
An unremarkable voice bade him to enter, and Leone stepped through the parting doors to find an unimposing man seated behind the desk. "Lieutenant, junior grade, Dominic Leone reporting as ordered, sir," Dom rattled off.
Lar’ragos glanced up at Leone over his padd, then set the device down as he stood and offered his hand. "Pava Lar’ragos. Please, relax and have a seat, Lieutenant." Lar’ragos moved for the replicator. "Can I get you something, Mister Leone?"
Leone took his seat. "No, thank you, sir."
An Altair water in hand, Lar’ragos moved around the desk and resumed his seat. He gestured offhandedly to the padd on the desktop. "You received high marks in your tactical training, Lieutenant. Your instructors indicate that you’re able to think quickly and correctly in dynamic situations."
As it was not a direct question, Leone remained silent before the desk. His eyes briefly drifted toward the padd before returning to Lar'ragos.
"I’m in need of intelligent, resourceful people, Lieutenant," Lar’ragos continued. "Is that you?"
Leone smiled sagely. "How do I answer that without sounding arrogant, sir? I received high marks, as you said, so I suppose my instructors believe that to be true. I worked very hard to get where I am, and I burned a couple of political bridges to join the task force." He scratched at the back of his neck as he continued, "If you disagree, then I'm sure another ship could use me. I like to go where I'm needed, sir."
Lar’ragos sipped at his drink, gazing at Leone appraisingly. "There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance, and you’ve yet to cross it, Mister Leone. You’re good and you know it, there’s no shame in that. My question to you would be how you’d run a combined department? Two thirds of the security staff are Starfleet, and a third are Marines. Historically, the two haven’t always gelled well."
"I've served aboard a starship with a Marine contingent for a little under three years before I attended Starfleet Academy," Leone replied quickly. "My best friend's older brother is a Marine colonel, and I respect him and his opinions. I feel I have a proper handle on Marine leadership and their... shall we say, unique style of command."
Lar’ragos nodded slowly. "This crew has gone through three commanding officers in the past six months, and the security department has cycled through two department heads. Building trust under combat conditions isn’t easy. If you were to undertake this challenge, you’d have to win their trust as you’re earning their respect." He turned his gaze and his formidable listening abilities on the young man, giving Dom his undivided attention. "Are you up to it?"
"Actually, sir, if I may so bold, I think combat conditions with Marines are the best time to build up trust. Marines naturally trust the uniform, even if I am a 'squiddie.' Idle time with them means they have time to think, but they... and I... feel that actions speak much louder than anything anyone could say about their abilities. Speaking strictly as an officer, I judge someone by how they perform... not how they boast or perhaps their repute prior to my time with them." Leone paused, then grinned. "Oh, that was good, sir. Very good. Let me say that in short, yes. I'm up to it."
The captain’s next statement was blunt and unapologetic, obviously designed to elicit a reaction. "Your mother’s best friend died on a mission under my command. Is that going to be a problem for you?"
"If it was, I wouldn't be here, sir," Leone affirmed. He lowered his voice from the confidence it held earlier; it softened significantly. "Might I have your permission to speak freely on that subject?"
"Be my guest, Lieutenant."
"Ariel Elannis was my godmother. She treated me more like a kid brother, and I spent a lot of time with her when I was on Farragut," he began on the heels of Lar'agos' words. "No matter what anyone else thinks of her or how she lived her life, I know for sure that she died doing what she wanted most in the universe. As much as I loved her, and as much as I'll miss her... if I end up going out the way she did, I'll be very lucky." He lifted his eyes up to meet Pava's. "As you were to have served with her."
"I agree wholeheartedly," Lar’ragos affirmed before falling quiet, leaving them in a moment of silence where both men reflected on the woman who’d changed both their lives. "I very nearly passed on your application," Lar’ragos confessed suddenly. "After what’s happened to this ship recently, I didn’t want to risk your mother losing another loved one under my command. But... that’s not fair, to you or the admiral. You both wear the uniform, as did Ariel, and you both know the risks."
Since his permission to speak freely had yet to be revoked, Leone took another chance: "I think she would have liked the idea of us working together, sir. If she couldn't be here herself... this is the kind of thing she would have loved to do."
Lar’ragos stood slowly, extending the same hand he’d offered when Leone had arrived. "You’re my first choice for this post, Lieutenant. It’s yours if you want it."
"I accept, sir," he said at the same time he grasped Lar'ragos'. "Feel free to call me Dom."
Lar’ragos stepped out from behind the desk, walking his glass back to the replicator where he initiated a matter recycling. "I’ll do that, Dom." He tapped a command into the device, eliciting another gentle hum that produced something small enough that Leone couldn’t make it out before Lar’ragos had scooped it up out of the delivery slot. He turned to present the younger man a full rank pip. "You’ll need the rank to fit the post, Lieutenant."
Leone eyed the pip and frowned at first. "I... thank you, sir," he corrected himself with the pleasantry. With a firm nod, he said, "I will not disappoint you."
"I’ll hold you to that, Dom. You already know who and what I am, so I’m guessing you have an inkling of what it means for me to put my personal safety and that of my crew in the hands of another."
"Yes, sir, I do." Leone asked, "May I have some time to say goodbye to Captain Caldwell before they ship out?"
"Certainly," Lar’ragos replied. "We’ve got another three weeks at least in dock before we’ll be ready to set out again. Celebrate your promotion with your friends."
Leone nodded. "Thank you, sir. I owe them a lot."
"Welcome to Europa, Lieutenant. Report aboard in forty-eight hours, ready to assume command of your department. You are dismissed."
* * *
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
Why does the expression, "cannon fodder," come to mind? Poor Lt. Leone - I'm not sure he really grasps he's just joined the Ship of the Damned, Mk II. ;) Good Lord, and I thought the good ship Gibraltar was jinxed.
Glad Pava retained command of Europa - despite his scars and mistakes, he has acquitted himself well. I doubt Sandhurst could have done better. (Okay, maybe Donald would have jettisoned the Baron into a sun, but other than that? . . .)
And speaking of Super Donald, it will be interesting to see how his role plays out.
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
It's nice to see everybody during some down time for a change, Europa probably deserves it as much as any ship if not more. Although.... I'm sure this is just the calm before yet another storm. :)
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
Pava gets unexpected commendations from a Vulcan admiral of all people. But his promotion to commanding officer of Europa didn't come as a big surprise to me. I mean, who else is left?
Looking forward to the new blood. But Wu and Leone better read the fine print before signing onto that ship.
The Leone/Pava/Ariel connection was interesting. Small galaxy.
UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound (Chapter 2)
Lar’ragos took another sip of Caldwell’s potent brew. He was far drunker than he’d allowed himself to get in quite some time, decades at least. “So, he tells me he’s the imperial governor, that I’ve overstepped my authority, and that I’m wearing my medals in the wrong order on my dress uniform!”
Caldwell snorted once before releasing a deep belly laugh. Her arms went to her sides quickly until she regained control of her voice. While wiping at her eyes, she shot her former comrade-in-arms a toothy grin. "I can't imagine the look on his face."
“Then try and imagine the look on his face when I shoved him over the balustrade, that smug son-of-a-bitch!” Lar’ragos mimed the shove, forgetting he had a half-full glass of Aldeberran Whisky in his hand which sloshed out onto the cabin’s carpet. “And we were only five-hundred stories up! It took me a good minute to find a pair of binoculars, and I still had time to focus in on him before he met concrete!”
She widened her smile. "Tell me you watched him hit the ground, sir. That's always the best part," Caldwell said nothing about the spilt drink, as she had slammed her glass down on the desk hard enough to spill hers. "Remember that wannabe-assassin from Arcturus that was chasing our units on Rigel?"
“The guy you gelded with that Orion pig-sticker of yours? Oh, yeah... I remember him. Mostly his high-pitched screaming after you tossed his ass out of the flyer.” Lar’ragos’ legs gave out and he stumbled backwards, falling against the front of the couch and sliding onto the floor on his butt. “Damn, you’d have enjoyed the Hekosian army, Marcia. Your team would get assigned a mission, given six months to carry it out, and that was it. As long as you got it done, there were no after-action reports, no hand-wringing.”
Caldwell reached for her glass and drained it nearly dry. She gasped loudly, wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her uniform and said, "Starfleet's not so bad, once you figure out how to delegate the paperwork. I actually delegated mine to a shavetail who managed to make it out of hell week with his ass in one piece. I turned over my unit to him when he made light commander. You know, before Otex and Grazer told me to take this assignment."
Lar’ragos chuckled as he clumsily poured himself another glass of the murky green liquid. “That’s what you get for listening to one of those damned Marine officers. Join Vanguard and see the ass end of the universe.” He took another draught of the bracing spirit, which made his eyes water. “Me... I’m the fucking stand-in. Sandhurst stabbed me in the back and left me behind to clean up his mess.” He shook his head dejectedly. “You have any goddamn idea how long it’s been since I had to care? I swore I’d never leave myself open to that again... and here I am, in command of a fucking starship!”
She grunted and grabbed the bottle for herself. However, her pouring only filled the glass to just below the midway point as they had finished it. Caldwell looked inside to see if there was anymore, but dejectedly tossed it against the bulkhead with enough force to shatter it on impact. Her toss appeared effortless. "Fuck that, sir. Fuck being a ship driver, too. The best days were when we would ride fire and take lives like it was nothing. I-"
The door chime interrupted her thought, to which she angrily snarled. "What?!"
A timid voice on the other side replied, "Security, sir. Just checking to make sure everything is okay."
"I'm fine," she tried her best not to slur her words. "You may carry on."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Satisfied that they were alone once more, Caldwell continued, "This mission is the only reason I said yes. With the Romulans practically bed-buddies with the Federation, and everyone else worrying about their own backyard... there was nothing to do anymore. I wanted this one." She reached into the open case and pulled out another green bottle. "I needed this."
He nodded with exaggerated gusto. “I miss killing Jem’Hadar. Dear Gods but they were the perfect enemy. Bred for war. Better even than killing Klingons.” He sighed. “Now I’ve got a boat load of kids out here deep in the black, and I have to keep them alive. Oh,” he laughed darkly, “and I have to do it while following their goddamn rules!” He drained the rest of his glass and then stared at the empty vessel angrily.
Lar’ragos reached into his uniform jacket to produce a metal flask. He fumbled with the cap, finally unscrewing it and carefully pouring an amber liquid into his glass before offering the flask to Caldwell. “Saurian brandy. The lizards’ only worthwhile contribution to the metaculture of the Federation.”
Her whiskey-filled glass emptied immediately upon the sight of the new hooch. She pushed it toward Lar'ragos lightly, and it slid all the way to him. "Speaking of lizards... Grelk is here. He has Yorktown. I would love another shot at that Gorn bastard sometime."
Lar’ragos filled her glass, and then slid it back to her with exaggerated care before raising his own in an inebriated toast. “That is one tough fucking lizard. Credit where credit is due. Cold-blooded, egg-hatched, ensign-eating endotherm!”
Caldwell smirked. "I didn't know he was that strong when he held me down after that little side-trip to Yault for that stupid ass farming dispute? His ship was the one that gave us a ride back to base, and we got a little sauced up in their lounge. Fucker nearly broke my arm."
“He’s three meters tall and from a one-point-eight g planet! Of course he’s fucking strong!” Lar’ragos chortled.
She grabbed the brandy and sipped it . "This is the good stuff, here." She knocked back another quaff before staring into the amber briefly. "I... is it..." Caldwell hesitated, losing her confidence from just a moment before. Suddenly, she regained and spoke clearly, "I heard about Indemnity. The general brought us up to speed when we thought we were going to be your backup."
He closed his eyes briefly. “Can’t believe we really pulled that off. I thought Leone was running the show, and then to find out she stepped back and let Sandhurst step up to the plate. Never knew he had it in him to be that damned cold...” his voice faltered and he fixed his eyes on the liquid swirling in his glass. “I wanted Galmesh. I wanted him so bad that I let myself get complacent. Lost two-thirds of my Team to that ridge-headed bastard.”
"Damn, I wish they'd let us reinforce you for that one." She silently cursed thinking about how close they'd come to convincing the general to let them launch. Until Admiral Coburn issued his orders to send the fleet, instead. "We hung the stars for your crew at the base, sir. And sir...?"
He met her gaze with glistening eyes. “Yeah?”
"The general ordered us to hang one for her. Because she was with your team when it happened." Caldwell continued, "She'd chewed up enough of the same dirt with yours, mine, three others while she was doing her bit for Intel. He said it was only fair."
Lar’ragos had to look away, unable to trust himself not to lose his composure. “Thank you, Marcia. She died like a Nightstalker.”
Caldwell raised her glass in respect, and then drained it unceremoniously. "She was one of the good spooks, sir. I was happy to have her with me." Her cheeks colored suddenly. "With us, I mean."
Lar’ragos wiped at his his eyes, chuckling. “Don’t worry. Few of us proved able to resist her charms. I certainly didn’t try.”
She looked away. "She... uh, she... it was different, I think. Convenience." Caldwell coughed and sniffled. "It was pretty obvious she had it bad for someone else, but she couldn't deny who she was. I talked to her kid brother about it a little bit."
“She was a complicated woman,” Lar’ragos confirmed.
* * *
UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound (Chapter 2 cont'd)
The Miranda-class starship Ascension came hard about, her sublight engines kicking the vessel up to full impulse in a matter of seconds. On the bridge’s main viewer, an ankh-shaped Cardassian cruiser followed suit, falling into a tight tactical formation with Ascension.
The two ships pulled out of their geosynchronous orbits around Sarpedion V, one of the most heavily defended planets in Cardassian territory. Home to the Twelfth Order, the Sarpedion system’s defenses boasted fields of interlocking fire from orbital weapons emplacements and manned battle-stations. A well guarded shipyard and multiple squadrons of heavy fighters and corsairs also girded the ramparts of this formidable military base.
Lieutenant Commander Judith Rigsby stepped onto the bridge in response to the red alert, still dressed in her workout sweats as she frantically toweled her long brown hair, trying valiantly to dry it. “This better not be one of Legate Vora’s damn readiness drills,” she said in a voice muffled by the towel.
“Negative, sir,” her XO called from where he stood looking over the science officer’s shoulder at their sensor returns. “Gedok Nor just sounded a priority scramble of all available ships to coordinates five-point-zero-seven AU out from defense perimeter Thet.”
Rigsby stopped toweling, leaving her hair looking like the afterimage of a warp-core breach. “And what’s at those coordinates that’s got our Cardassian friends so alarmed?”
“Their gravimetric sensor grid just detected some kind of subspace anomaly. Very localized, and very unusual for this area.”
Now the trill of a sensor alert sounded, prompting Science and Ops to lean over their displays in unison.
Science was faster on the draw. “Detecting a subspace fissure at those same coordinates, Captain.”
The towel brushed the deckplates as Rigsby’s hand fell to her side, eyes riveted to the viewer. “What kind of fissure?” she asked carefully as she slid into the vacant command chair.
“Uncertain, sir,” replied the science officer. “We’re seeing a moderate elevation in chronometric energy and Q-particle emissions, but thus far nothing in the visual spectrum.”
The specialist at Ops called out, her voice tinged with surprise. “Sir, both Grela and Sordiku are launching escape pods. Both ships are being evacuated.”
Rigby sat back in her chair, dropping her towel into her lap. “Let’s see.”
The viewer angle shifted aft, where ranks of life pods could be seen thrusting away from the two Galor-class warships that were now trailing Ascension.
The Tactical officer touched a hand to his comms earpiece. “Gul Dreilis is signaling that both ships are evacuating in preparation for a warp jump directly into the phenomena. They’re alerting us to move to a safe distance.”
Rigsby’s eyes widened even further. “Helm, give them the necessary space to complete their maneuver, and plot a course to collect their crews afterwards if our assistance is needed.”
“It’s a good bet they think this is the Amon,” the XO offered as he stepped over to the captain’s chair.
After sparing a glance at her first officer, Rigsby nodded numbly in response. “It’s an even better bet they’re right. The Cardassians have tasted annihilation too many times in the last decade to take any chances.”
With a crew of just over fifty souls, Ascension was hardly in the same league as her Cardassian escorts, but the little ship still had teeth. “Arm weapons, raise shields, and alert medical and damage control personnel to report to duty stations,” Rigsby ordered.
"Eruption,” called out the specialist at Ops. “Same location as the subspace fissure, now bleeding energy into the visible spectrum.”
“On screen,” Rigsby commanded.
It appeared as though something had torn asunder the very fabric of the universe, exposing a brilliant white light that penetrated through the rupture from whatever lay on the other side.
“That can’t be good,” someone remarked.
The Science officer’s voice had taken on a hard edge as she noted, “This phenomenon is very similar to the one identified by the Klingons. Computer estimates a ninety-four-point-four percent probability this is an Amon transit portal.”
Two orangish streaks appeared instantly, bracketing the anomaly. They joined with the flaring light of the eruption so quickly that it took Rigsby a second to realize those had been the Cardassian warships jumping to warp.
An explosion blossomed near the event horizon of the portal, the destructive wave partially obscured by the glare of the phenomenon.
Rigsby chose to add whatever they could to the effort. “Target those coordinates and open fire, all weapons.”
The Cardassian defense grid responded in kind, and suddenly that area of space was awash in weapons fire.
The white flare of the portal darkened as something extruded through it, an elongated black shape whose leading edge was awash in flame.
“Target confirmed as Amon warship,” Tactical advised. “Detecting probable Amon habitat structures slaved to a Whalesong probe.”
“Reinforce harmonic shielding to all critical systems,” the XO barked, calling into play Starfleet’s best guess for a defense against the alien probe’s incapacitating subspace transmissions.
The dark cylinder measured some seventy kilometers in length. It’s elegant symmetry was disturbed by hundreds of tumescent protrusions affixed to its neutronium shell; the habitats, docking bays, and weapons emplacements of the Amon were strewn across the probe’s surface like a parasitic infestation.
The foremost portion of the titanic craft was obviously damaged, with great gouges plunging deep into the neutronium shell to expose a soft blue light emanating from within. The radiant, vaguely organic looking spherical antenna that was lowered from the belly of the beast when it broadcast its overwhelming signal was nowhere to be seen.
Voluminous weapons fire converged on the enormous craft, with nearly one-hundred photon torpedoes impacting the probe in the first volley. Most struck the neutronium surface harmlessly, their destructive energies ineffective against the incredible density of the hull material. A handful, though, dove through the wounds created by the faster-than-warp impact of the Cardassian warships as the probe had transitioned from transwarp velocities.
Still other torpedoes hit the Amon structures studding the surface, blasting apart environment domes, weapons batteries, and launch gantries. The lighting within the Amon structures seemed to flicker randomly, and there were no shields in evidence.
“Target those hull breaches,” Rigsby called to the tactical officer. “Ready a tri-cobalt warhead and fire it into whichever breach is the largest.” A tri-cobalt device would create a self-sustaining wave of matter-to-energy conversion in any unshielded target, a process that typically progressed until the target suffered catastrophic structural failure.
“Direct phasers against the Amon structures,” she continued.
Another wave of torpedoes approached, this one numbering in excess of one-hundred fifty.
Fourteen more Cardassian ships of various classes and two dozen fighters were now inbound to join the fight.
As Ascension sent the tri-cobalt device plunging into the great probe’s innards, the XO looked to Rigsby with an expression of astonishment. “I can’t believe we’ve actually hurt them,” he said in a low tone.
Her grim smile hinted at grudging admiration. “Leave it to the Cardassians,” Rigsby noted. “Let’s not squander this opportunity.”
The Amon weapons which had remained silent until now, suddenly came to life with a vengeance. Beams, bolts, and a plethora of missiles flashed outward from the surface of the probe.
Scores of inbound Cardassian torpedoes were annihilated, and a powerful stream of collimated energy punched into Ascension’s ventral shields.
Bridge consoles sparked and flickered as a massive jolt raced through the ship’s spaceframe. The deck tilted alarmingly as inertial dampers were pushed beyond their tolerance. “How bad?” Rigsby called out, knowing there was damage without having to ask.
“Ventral grid at seventeen percent,” Tactical advised. “Hull deformation on the underside of the saucer, and engineering is having to reroute the feeds to the primary starboard power coupling.”
Rigsby grimaced. It wasn’t good, but it could have been much worse. “Helm, invert us. Engineering, auxiliary power to shields, reinforce our dorsal grid.”
Ascension was now racing down the starboard side of the probe, her phasers and torpedoes reaching out to lash various Amon structures, some shielded while others were inexplicably unprotected.
A third fusillade of photons from the Cardassian defense grid slammed home. This time, many of them had been targeted on the vulnerable cavities carved into the prow of the gargantuan cylinder. Amon return fire began to slacken as more of the predators’ guns were silenced by the blistering attack.
Three Amon missiles stuck Ascension in concert. While the first two were rebuffed by the shields, the third pierced the invisible energy curtain to strike the aft-dorsal section of the ship. The weapon tore into the superstructure and detonated inside the port shuttle bay. The hull buckled and rent as gouts of flame and atmosphere blossomed into the void.
The explosion obliterated main engineering, and only the ship’s faltering containment fields kept the core intact for scant few seconds as Ascension lost attitude control and tumbled towards the surface of the probe.
Rigsby clutched the armrests of her chair as the bridge spun around her. She dared release a hand just long enough to slap clumsily at her combadge. “This is the captain, evacuate the ship! All hands to esc--”
Ascension dove into the flank of the Whalesong probe, her detonating warp core scoring a five kilometer path of destruction directly through an Amon settlement. The clutch of industrial pods housed three of Amon bio-essence collection satellites that remained slaved to their launch gantries, unlaunched for want of power.
The great cylinder began a slow course change, coming about to flee the unrelenting onslaught from the Cardassian ships and weapons platforms. In the bowels of the juggernaut, great engines which drew their power from dimensional planes of pure energy struggled to repair themselves in the face of the unexpected damage suffered by the probe’s internal systems. Nothing had breached the neutronium shell of the device in over a million years, and those ferocious antagonists had long since turned to dust.
The mighty warship made good its escape moments later, vanishing through the convulsing aperture torn through the warp and weft of space/time.
In its wake the probe had shed a trail of debris, a mix of neutronium slag, technology, bodies, and other flotsam that represented the Alpha Quadrant’s first measurable success in the face of Amon aggression.
* * *
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
whoever made the decision to abandon those cruisers and ram them into the anon ship at warp, probably just saved an untold number of lives.
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound (Chapter 2 cont'd)
Ashok guided the structural support into place, directing the robotic anti-grav drones as they carefully released the duranium beam.
Lar’ragos watched the work as the engineering team painstakingly rebuilt the interior volume of the saucer where Sickbay had been. He monitored their progress via a visual scan he’d called up on the Master Systems Display board in main engineering,
He turned to examine Shanthi working at an auxiliary console, sorting through millions of lines of programming code with the assistance of several intuitive algorithms. “Any luck?” he asked, breaking the young officer’s concentration.
To his credit, Shanthi merely paused his analysis, and turned to address the captain. “I’m starting to make some headway, sir, but it’s slow going.”
Lar’ragos cocked his head. “Would a dedicated programming team be of assistance?”
Shanthi’s eyes widened a fraction, his gaze growing expectant. “Yes, sir. Tremendously. However, when I inquired with the station I was informed no experts were available.”
A thin smile alighted on Lar’ragos’ lips. “Admiral T’Cirya has granted us priority resource allocation for our refit. I’ve arranged for two programming specialists to report aboard in half an hour.”
“Thank you, sir. The extra hands will be helpful, but given the size of the task, it’ll only shave a fe--”
“They’re Bynars, Lieutenant,” Lar’ragos added.
“Oh,” Shanthi said, falling silent. A dawning expression of surprise blossomed. “Ohhh...” His subsequent smile was radiant.
“Bridge to captain,” his combadge called.
“Go ahead,” he answered reflexively.
“Commander Wu is scheduled to come aboard in five minutes, sir. Transporter room two.”
“On my way,” Lar’ragos responded, patting Shanthi on the shoulder with one hand as he deactivated his communicator with the other. “Make good use of them, Lieutenant. I’ve decided to keep the transwarp drive, provided we can get it to work. We’ll need every advantage we can get if we’re going looking for the Amon.”
* * *
Lar’ragos was standing by when Iris Wu materialized atop the transporter pad.
The blue-white beam dissolved as the petite Asian woman stepped down from the transport pad. She carried a large duffel over her left shoulder and wore the uniform vest rather than the full jacket. With a small isolinear optical chip clenched in her right hand, she came to an attentive stance and proclaimed, "Wu, Lieutenant Commander Iris Aileen Ming-Yue, reporting for duty, sir. May I have permission to come aboard?"
“Permission granted, Commander,” Lar’ragos responded, stepping forward to offer a firm handshake as Wu descended from the dais. “Welcome aboard Europa.”
She transferred the small chip to her left hand to accept the handshake with her right. Lar'ragos practically towered over her small stature, so that she needed to angle her neck up to meet his gaze. As a result, the black hair that tended to cascade around her face draped back to her shoulders. "Thank you, Captain."
Lar’ragos led her into the corridor, deftly side-stepping a repair team scuttling past with a bank of neural gel-packs atop an a-grav carrier. The El Aurian put on his best apologetic smile. “Sorry about the mess, we’re still picking up the pieces.”
Wu's eyes scanned the corridor in all directions before she followed him. Every noise given brief but silent investigation with a quick glance, every movement was accounted for. "Understandable, sir," she replied flatly, once she caught up to him. "I've taken the liberty of attending a quick technical briefing of our current status by Captain Lo before coming aboard, and I've absorbed the specifications and diagrams of the Luna-class once I learned of my transfer. I will use the next few days to gain some practical knowledge of the ship while I have this rare opportunity to do so."
Lar’ragos mused silently that Wu lived up to her icy but highly competent reputation. “Excellent, Commander. Unless I can assist you with anything further, we’ll have a senior staff meeting at oh-seven-thirty tomorrow, followed by the funeral service. The rest of my day tomorrow will be spent in strategic meetings with my replacement as StratOps. I have every confidence you’ll keep on top of our repair schedule.”
Wu nodded once. "Rest assured, sir, that we will meet or exceed expectations. With your permission, I would like to be excused from the memorial."
Lar’ragos quirked an eyebrow at the unusual request. "Unless you’ve something more pressing, I feel it’s important for the crew to see the new XO standing alongside the captain during the service. I’ll gladly let you skip the reception tomorrow night in the rec lounge.”
She pressed her lips together in a very slight expression before returning to her standard look. Lar'ragos had to observe closely to see if her mouth moved as she spoke, as it looked close to a ventriloquism act as she replied softly, "Very well, I will attend at your insistence, sir."
“Thank you, Commander.” Lar’ragos paused, allowing her wait there for just a second longer. “I’ll leave you to get settled in.” With that he pivoted smartly on one heel and departed.
* * *
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
Are you certain Commander Wu isn't a Vulcan? Because she sounds like she pushes herself like one. Of course, I'm curious to see what the new CMO is like.
Great work, Gibraltar. I always enjoy reading your work and that of the other United Trek writers. :)
Re: UT:TFV – Part III – Infinities Unbound
Thank you for the kind words!
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