View Single Post
Old January 18 2010, 09:41 PM   #2
Gibraltar
Rear Admiral
 
Gibraltar's Avatar
 
Location: US Pacific Northwest
Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

Chapter 1

Point Station Epsilon
Sector 21504
Allied Occupied Cardassian Territory


Point-Station Epsilon was an insignificant speck against the majestic backdrop of the violet-hued McAllister C-5 Nebula. It was an unlikely structure for this locale, a region of space that had been firmly in the possession of the Dominion and their Cardassian allies just nine weeks earlier.

In stark contrast to the great majority of Starfleet’s thoroughly planned, exactingly constructed space installations, Epsilon was a small, hastily assembled conglomeration of prefabricated components and salvaged equipment. Derisively referred to as a 'cookie-cutter outpost' by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, the facility was underpowered, under staffed and inadequately defended. The official nomenclature was, ‘Minimally operational.’

The station was the physical embodiment of Starfleet's presence in occupied Cardassian territory. Thoroughly half-assed, all good intentions aside. Epsilon and four other sister-stations of equally questionable pedigree had been established by Starfleet Command to help officiate over the Federation’s hard won spoils of war.

In the wake of the chaotic conclusion of the Dominion War, much of the Cardassian Union’s infrastructure had collapsed. Seething over the last-minute betrayal by their reluctant Cardassian allies, the Dominion’s fearsome Jem’Hadar soldiers had exacted a terrible toll on the worlds of the union prior to retreating from the Alpha Quadrant. Orbital bombardment had been a favorite amongst the Vorta administrators, second only to the application of exotic bio-toxins and radiation poisoning. Those considered ‘fortunate’ among the Cardassian victims of these assaults had died quickly. They were unmercifully few in number.

The Cardassian core worlds and outlying colonies where survivors still clung to life amidst the rubble of their once great civilization were in desperate need of assistance. Despite the fact that many Federation member worlds had also suffered catastrophic damage during the war; the Federation Council had decided that some effort at aid, however token, must be rendered.

The United Federation of Planets and their Klingon allies had agreed to co-administrate fully three quarters of the territory formerly occupied by Cardassia. The remaining territory had fallen under the control of the Romulan Star Empire, the third party in the victorious Triumvirate Alliance of the Alpha-Quadrant.

True to form, the Romulans had once again suspended diplomatic ties with the other great powers, focusing their energies on pacifying their new holdings and solidifying their grip on these systems.

And so, Epsilon and her sisters had been built. Strategically located throughout Federation-administrated space, these stations served as the backbone of the Starfleet and civilian relief task forces that now labored to perform triage on a planetary scale.

*****

The indigo-tinged tendrils of the McAllister Nebula were playing hell with the attention of newly minted Captain Donald Sandhurst. With some effort, the middle-aged man pulled his eyes away from the spectacular panorama on display through the viewport of his cramped guest cabin aboard Epsilon station. Despite the Spartan nature of the small quarters, his rank had merited single-occupancy accommodations, a luxury aboard so overcrowded an outpost. His only complaint about the view was its intoxicating ability to divert his focus.

He stifled a yawn and forced his attention back to the computer terminal atop his otherwise empty desk. Behind him, resting atop his bed was a cylindrical carry-all case containing a few holograms of friends and family, and an assortment of trinkets and memorabilia collected during his twenty-two years of Starfleet service. The diminutive closet contained a half-dozen outfits of seldom worn civilian clothes that had been long neglected during the recent conflict. These were the sum total of Sandhurst’s worldly belongings. Two years of warfare had instilled in him the necessity of packing lightly, and the importance of valuing people over possessions. It hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time not so long ago when Donald’s reputation as a pack-rat had bordered on the legendary.

He was of average height, and as more than one medical officer had helpfully noted, he was carrying a minimum of twenty-five unneeded pounds. The extra weight had settled on his once rail thin midsection, but Sandhurst liked to think that he carried it better than he might otherwise, due to the broadness of his shoulders. His hazel eyes looked out from under neatly trimmed black hair. During the last year, a hint of gray had begun to appear at his temples, his body’s concession to the stresses of war coupled with the inexorable march of time.

Sandhurst tapped at the computer terminal and scrolled through a seemingly endless catalog of Starfleet service records. He had been studying these files for more than six hours, trying to familiarize himself with the officers and enlisted personnel who would soon be assigned to his command. My crew, he thought with trepidation.

The idea still seemed alien to him. In the middle of the night he would awake with a start from a dead sleep, his mind fixated on the incredible responsibility that he had assumed. The fourth pip on his collar, affixed less than a week ago, weighed heavily on him. Over a hundred people who will live or die based on my decisions and judgment. Unable to focus any further on the terminal’s scrolling text, his weary mind reflected back on the unlikely path that had led him to this place.

Two years ago, Sandhurst had been the chief engineer on the starship Venture. He was acknowledged as one of the finest engineers in the Fleet, and he found his work both challenging and fulfilling. As he had earned his command school qualifications, Sandhurst had been content to oversee the occasional late-watch bridge duty, but had no interest in pursuing the command track.

Then the Dominion War had swept over the Alpha Quadrant like a savage tide. Lieutenant Commander Sandhurst found himself thrust into the position of first officer, after the ship’s exec was killed by a Cardassian anti-personnel mine while on an away mission.

Sandhurst hadn’t wanted the job, but had assumed the post out of a sense of duty. He had been as surprised as anyone to discover that he had an affinity for command. The same skills that had made him an effective and popular department head also served him well as XO. His had been the soft touch, the counterpoint to Captain Ebnal’s taciturn command style.

The joy he felt at the war’s ending was matched by the comforting knowledge that he could now return to his trade. After all, the fleet would have to be rebuilt, and engineers of his caliber were in short supply. It was, however, not to be. As the war had dragged on and casualties mounted, the available pool of command qualified officers had dwindled. Post-war Starfleet was spread thin, and had been given an impossibly long list of critical tasks to accomplish.

Sandhurst had been hesitant the day Rear Admiral Covey had approached him. Covey had been his captain earlier in his career, and her encouragement and advice had led him to take up the challenge of becoming a department chief. This time she had come offering him a captaincy.

His reluctance had been short-lived. She knew the right words to say, the correct strings to pull. Duty… honor… service. Fifteen minutes after their conversation ended, he had been promoted. Two hours after that, Sandhurst was on his way to Epsilon station by way of warp courier.

His combadge chirped, heralding an incoming message. “Ops to Captain Sandhurst.”

He tapped the pin reflexively, jolted from his reminiscence. “Sandhurst. Go ahead.”

“Captain, the Gibraltar is on approach. ETA is thirty-seven minutes, sir.”

Sandhurst pursed his lips, “Acknowledged.” He stood, stretched, then took a moment to straighten his uniform. Just enough time to pack up his belongings and grab a quick bite at the station’s replimat. Then it would be time to meet the crew.

His crew.

*****

USS Sojourner
Crolsa System
Allied Occupied Cardassian Territory
In orbit of planet Lakesh


USS Sojourner had been in orbit of Lakesh for less than a week. A dedicated science vessel, the Nova-class starship had been designed for long-term scientific surveys. Aside from making a detailed analysis of the widespread environmental damage suffered by the planet and its populace, Sojourner was woefully ill-suited to the emergency aid assignment to which it had been tasked. With a crew of forty-two, the ship had neither the personnel nor replicator capacity necessary to make any significant contribution to ongoing relief mission on the surface.

Commander Taun’Ma had tired of looking at the battered greenish-brown sphere on the main viewer. The planet’s atmosphere was occluded by dark gray cloud formations, lit from within by flashes of lightening. They were the result of the firestorms that were consuming the vast forested areas on the larger of two southern continents. Science officer Rainert had determined that the Breen, apparently lacking the Jem’Hadar taste for creative mayhem, had simply bombarded the surface of Lakesh with conventional weapons.

The effort had been adequate. Conservative estimates were that seventy-two percent of the population had been killed immediately, some two and a half million souls.

Those hundreds of thousands that remained were increasingly desperate for basic necessities such as clean water, food, and shelter. As the weeks since the disaster turned into months, the survivors’ patience with the aid effort had deteriorated, and violent confrontations between locals and relief workers were on the rise.

Now, nearly half of Taun’Ma’s crew were planet-side, assisting with a water purification project in what remained of an urbanized area on the northern peninsula. She worried about their safety, and cursed her inability to provide more than a handful of security personnel for their defense. As tenuous as the Starfleet position was on Lakesh, it was widely acknowledged that it would get worse.

Villalobos, the Operations officer, called over his shoulder, “Shuttle Aberly on approach, Captain.”

The Saurian nodded in response, her reptilian eyelids blinking laterally in quick succession. “Acknowledged, Albert. Initiate standard landing protocols.”

The exchange was routine, and if truth be told, unnecessary. This was the twenty-first shuttle sortie of the day. Nonetheless, she wanted to keep her people sharp. This was no cushy berth on a survey ship. As some of her human crew insisted on saying, Sojourner was in ‘Indian country.’ She understood the gist of expression, and marveled once again at the humans’ ability to romanticize the persistent danger they faced.

The senior chief at the Tactical station intoned, “Security scan complete, no anomalies. Aberly is cleared to land, sir.”

The Aberly vectored for final approach to the ship’s aft shuttle bay. The shuttle had just dropped off a supply of replacement components for the overworked industrial replicators being used by relief parties on the surface. By order of the chief medical officer, the shuttle was returning with two seriously ill Cardassian civilians in need of immediate medical care aboard Sojourner.

As she rolled ninety degrees to align with the parting shuttle bay doors, Aberly suddenly accelerated and veered hard to port. The shuttle crashed directly into the ship’s port warp nacelle. The resulting impact and explosion sheared away the forward third of the nacelle and exposed the warp field coils which began venting super-heated drive plasma into space.

On the bridge, the crew felt the jolt of collision, followed by the near instantaneous blare of alarm klaxons as the ship yawed wildly to starboard. At Helm, Lieutenant S’Von called out over the clamor of alert sirens and startled crew, the Vulcan's voice supernaturally calm as he announced, “We have lost attitude control. Attempting to recover.”

Taun’Ma engaged the safety restraints on her command chair, “Report!”

From behind her, the duty engineer shouted from his station, “Showing critical failure in the port nacelle’s structural integrity!”

The scene on the main viewer had become a crazed mélange of spinning planet and swirling stars. As damage readouts flashed across his console, the engineer assessed their plight, “We’re venting drive plasma! Inertial dampeners at one-hundred seventeen percent of rated output-- “

The commander cut him off, “Quench block plasma to that nacelle; route emergency power to thrusters and inertial dampeners.”

The engineer grimaced as he was slammed against his console, his affirmative response lost in the din of wailing alarms. As main engineering scrambled to transfer all available power to the designated systems, the duty engineer attempted an emergency cut-off of the plasma flow from the reactor core to the nacelle. It became apparent that the control valves in the nacelle itself had been critically damaged or destroyed. “Captain, I can’t stem the flow at the nacelle, we’re going to have to shut down the reactor.”

The Saurian replied immediately, “Initiate emergency core shutdown.” She glanced at the Tactical officer, “Send out a distress call, let Phoenix know we’re in trouble.”

As Sojourner’s crew struggled to regain control of their stricken ship, three small meteorites on seemingly random trajectories around Lakesh changed course. As they moved out of their slowly decaying orbits, they accelerated towards the starship.

Each of the ersatz meteorites was less than three meters in diameter, and was equipped with a subspace jamming emitter. Utilizing these, the gravitic mines had gone undetected during the orbiting starships’ routine sensor sweeps. Now, each of them increased the power to their jammers, in hope of scrambling any attempts at getting an accurate sensor scan or targeting lock during their final approach to their objective. Within each, an anti-matter charge armed. Optical sensors identified predetermined target points on Sojourner, and the three mines spiraled in to impact.

Almost unnoticed in the confusion on the bridge, a proximity alarm warbled at the science station. Ensign Rainert struggled to read the display as the ship’s constant bucking jostled him in his seat. “Captain, I’m reading three unidentified transients inbound!”

Taun’Ma swiveled in her chair to face him. “Identify.”

Rainert checked his readings. “I can’t, sir. I’m getting interference, but I can distinguish three separate sources, and they’re closing.” He blinked, “Impact in… six seconds.”

Suddenly, Taun’Ma realized with a cold certainty that she and her crew were not victims of an accident, but the targets of an attack. She had just started a non-recoverable shutdown of the matter/anti-matter reactor, and knew full well that it would take ten seconds or more to re-route emergency power from the thrusters and inertial dampers to the shield grid. Not enough time, she thought desperately.

It was too late, but she gave the order anyway. “Shields!” Taun’Ma then toggled the intraship, “All hands, brace for impact!”

The first of the mines detonated ten meters from the underside of the secondary hull. Structural integrity was instantly breached, and main engineering was opened to space. Those few crew who survived the initial explosion in the engine room died seconds later as they were blown into the airless void.

The second mine exploded only meters away from the top of the saucer section, obliterating the main bridge and causing multiple hull ruptures along the ship’s dorsal axis. Commander Taun’Ma and the others on the bridge were dead before they had fully registered the initial blast.

The last of the three mines finished the job started by Aberly, detonating just aft of the ship, shredding the nacelles, punching through the retracting shuttle bay doors, and killing every living thing in the rear half of the secondary hull. Crippled and without power, Sojourner drifted helplessly in a cloud of her own debris as she tumbled end over end in a slow death roll.

The starship Phoenix arrived just moments later. Her scans revealed only eight life signs left aboard the smaller ship. She was tractored in tow, and rescue and emergency engineering parties were sent aboard to attempt to stabilize her remaining systems. As her attackers had intended, Sojourner hadn’t been destroyed, only badly maimed. The care of her surviving crew and the salvage of the vessel itself would be a further burden on the already over-extended Starfleet presence in orbit.

*****
__________________
ST: Gibraltar - The complete series at Ad Astra: ST: Gibraltar
Proud member of United Trek
Gibraltar is offline   Reply With Quote