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Old January 18 2010, 10:01 PM   #3
Gibraltar
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Location: US Pacific Northwest
Embers of the Fire - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The Constitution-class starship Gibraltar had begun her career some ninety years earlier as USS Yorktown, a contemporary of James Kirk’s Enterprise-A. Constructed from the keel up as an upgraded variant of the venerable Constitution series ships, she served with distinction for three decades before being decommissioned. Her name and its accumulated prestige were stripped from her and bequeathed to a newer class of vessel, and she was exiled to the Dalashni V Long-term Storage Anchorage.

Encased in a protective sheath of durapolymers, she was set adrift and quietly forgotten. Twenty-five years later, in the aftermath of the Tomed Incident, she was towed out of the bone yards and hastily refit to serve as a hospital ship. Rechristened Gibraltar, she was assigned to humanitarian relief missions along the Romulan Neutral Zone. Fourteen months later, having once again fulfilled her duty, she was returned to the Dalashni system to resume her hibernation.

At the outset of official hostilities with the Dominion, the Federation Starfleet was already desperate for ships. Two Borg incursions in the last decade, coupled with the brief yet punishing war with the Klingon Empire had sapped Starfleet’s material strength. Classified estimates early in the Dominion conflict gauged that at the current rate of attrition, Starfleet would lose approximately forty-four percent of its operational starships in the next eighteen months. Facing those projected losses, Starfleet Command ordered the vessels mothballed at Dalashni and other such facilities to be refit and reactivated, Gibraltar among them.

Thus, the grand old girl had been given a new lease on life. An intensive eight-month refurbishment at Starbase 234 succeeded in replacing or upgrading Gibraltar’s primary systems, though her refit was finally completed three weeks after the end of hostilities. She was faster and better defended in her new 24th century incarnation, but Gibraltar was still no match for more modern ships of the line. She and her resurrected brethren had been intended to fill support roles, such as routine patrol, diplomatic missions, and escort duty. In this way, they were to have freed up more battle-worthy vessels for combat duty on the front lines.

*****

Epsilon’s transporter room was a converted office module, one not terribly well suited to the extensive modifications necessary to accommodate the transporter dais and its ancillary systems. Like Sandhurst’s guest cabin, it was cramped, and like his cabin, it afforded a fantastic vista through its view ports. It wasn’t the McAllister Nebula which transfixed the young ensign at the window, however, but the presence of the starship Gibraltar holding position less than a thousand meters away.

The ensign whistled softly to himself and remarked, “That is something you don’t see everyday.”

The quiet swish of the doors marking Sandhurst’s arrival was masked by a series of computer tones from the transporter chief’s console. The chief, clearly amused at the young man’s demeanor, asked, “What’s that, Ensign?”

“A museum piece, Chief. There hasn’t been a Constitution-class ship in service for a half century.” He shook his head in disbelief. “We’re going to pacify the Cardies in that thing?”

The transporter chief looked towards Sandhurst and gave the captain a devious smile as she blatantly baited the younger man, “Oh. Is that what you’re out here to do then, Ensign?”

Still mesmerized by the graceful yet all-too-vulnerable lines of the starship, the ensign nodded distractedly. “Absolutely, Chief. Those people need to be put in their place. We’ve fought two major wars with them in the last twenty years, and heaven knows how many border skirmishes. We’d be fools to leave them in a position to stab us in the back again.”

As the chief looked at him expectantly, Sandhurst paused for a brief moment before announcing his presence. The captain found himself hard pressed to disagree with the young man. The treachery of the Cardassian government, and that of Gul Dukat in particular, had cost the Federation dearly. Regardless, such thoughts were not worthy of a Starfleet officer, and Sandhurst knew that he could not let such ideas foment among his crew if their upcoming mission was to have any chance of success.

“We’re here to help the Cardassian people, Ensign, not to subjugate them.”

Ensign Brett Lightner laughed coolly. “Yeah, let’s hope they’re capable of discerning the difference.” The sandy haired youth glanced over his shoulder, but his smirk evaporated as he realized the source of the rebuke. He stiffened, pivoted neatly on one heel and came to rigid attention.

“I’m sorry, Captain. I didn’t realize…”

Sandhurst cut him off and waved a hand dismissively, “Its okay, Mister… Lightner, isn’t it?” The captain continued in response to the ensign’s nod. “I can’t tell you how to feel about the Cardassians. God knows there are enough of us with sufficient reason to hate them. Nonetheless, we’re here to help them recover as best we’re able. If we leave them to suffer or try to rub their noses in this defeat, there will be another war with them. Count on it.”

Lightner nodded curtly. “Yes, sir.”

Sandhurst turned to the transporter chief. “All set, Chief?”

“Aye, Captain. Gibraltar is standing by.”

Sandhurst stepped up onto the dais. “Shall we, Ensign?”

Lightner followed, his face still flushed with embarrassment. Sandhurst glanced out the view port at his new command and quietly savored the sight for the briefest of moments before he uttered, “Energize.”

The two officers vanished in a cascading field of bluish energy.

*****

Lieutenant Pava Lar’ragos came to attention as his commanding officer materialized on the pad. The El Aurian security chief had joined Gibraltar at Deep Space Nine, the last stopover before Point-Station Epsilon, and was just settling in himself. His last posting had been to Starfleet’s elite and covert Special Missions Teams and he had spent the majority of the war ‘sneaking about and blowing things up,’ as he liked to describe it. Lar’ragos was enjoying his transition back to shipboard duty, and had been looking forward to his impending reunion with Donald Sandhurst, a former academy classmate.

The faintest hint of a smile tugged at the captain’s lips as his eyes settled on Lar’ragos, “Permission to come aboard?”

Lar’ragos’ smile, in contrast, was ebullient, “Granted, sir. Welcome aboard, Captain.” He stepped forward, hand extended, as Sandhurst moved off the pad.

Sandhurst clasped the proffered hand, pumping it vigorously. “Good to see you, Pava. It’s been too long.” He turned and inclined his head towards the still blushing junior officer who’d arrived with him. “Lieutenant Lar’ragos, this is Ensign Brett Lightner. He’ll be driving the ship.”

Lar’ragos nodded to Lightner as the ensign stepped down from the dais. “A pleasure, Ensign.” Lar’ragos appeared to take measure of the younger man and his smile faded slightly. “First tour, Mister Lightner?”

The newly minted officer had regained some of his composure and replied, “Aye, sir.” His eyes quickly swept the unusually configured compartment and finally settled on the transporter operator’s console. The control panel was sequestered behind a transparent aluminum partition, a throwback to the days when transporter systems produced mildly hazardous levels of theta radiation. To Lightner, it symbolized everything that was wrong with this assignment. The ensign’s focus drifted back to Lar’ragos, and he directed a smile at the lieutenant that didn’t seem to reach his eyes. It was a dead giveaway to someone from a race of listeners. “I’m excited to be here, sir. I’ve heard a lot about this ship.”

The captain directed a curious look at Lar’ragos. “Not that I’m not delighted to see you, but I was expecting Commander Ramirez.”

At this, Lar’ragos’ smile vanished completely. “She was unavoidably detained, sir.” The nuances of Lar’ragos’ words were sufficiently subtle that only Sandhurst, with his years of experience with the El Aurian was able to read into the statement that the ship’s executive officer had been anything but.

Sandhurst nodded, his expression carefully neutral. “I see.” The captain turned back towards Lightner. “Ensign, would you be so kind as to confirm that arrangements have been made to beam our personal effects over from Epsilon?”

“Aye, sir.” Lightner looked relieved to have something to do and the ensign moved towards the transporter control cubicle where he began speaking quietly with the chief manning the console.

Sandhurst and Lar’ragos moved out into the corridor. The captain glanced over his shoulder as the doors hissed closed behind them to confirm that the two were alone. “I take it she’s angry?”

Lar’ragos chuckled. “I see your gift for understatement remains intact, sir.” He gestured to their right. “The turbolift is this way.” As he fell into step beside the captain, Lar’ragos offered, “She’s been the epitome of professionalism, at least since I’ve been aboard. She’s furious, but thankfully she’s keeping it to herself.”

Sandhurst sighed. In many ways his introduction to the ship’s first officer, Lieutenant Commander Liana Ramirez, was going to be the biggest obstacle of the day. “I guess that’s to be expected. I’d hoped she might take this better, but I can’t say I’m surprised.” He scratched absently behind one ear as Lar’ragos led them into a turbolift alcove and pressed the call button.

The narrow corridors here were paneled with burnished gray plating, and carpeted in a bland tope that did little to lessen the severity of the decor. Sandhurst reminded himself that this ship was designed decades before Starfleet had adopted policies mandating generous personal space allowances in all common areas, hallways included.

The turbolift arrived, and they stepped aboard. Lar’ragos deferred the choice of destination to his captain. Sandhurst looked pensive for a moment, before trying to submerge his unease beneath a calm, studied command persona. Lar’ragos wondered whether Sandhurst’s apprehension would be as apparent to the average human crew member as it was to him.

“Bridge.” Sandhurst resisted the urge to slouch casually against the wall, despite his fatigue, and stifled a yawn as the turbolift began its ascent. “Your impressions of the crew?”

Lar’ragos shrugged with his hands, which were clasped in front of him. “About what you’d expect. Aside from a gaggle of newly commissioned ensigns, we’ve become the dumping ground for some of the Fleet’s problem children. We’ve also got more than our share of activated reservists and career dead-enders just waiting for Starfleet to rescind the stop-loss orders.” The deceptively youthful looking El Aurian shook his head slightly. “I’m more worried about our green junior officers. Most of them are products of the academy’s accelerated war-time curricula. Many have only three years of academy training, some even less.”

Due to the appalling personnel losses suffered during the war, Starfleet Command had been forced to call up the service’s reserve units for the first time in more than a century. In addition, Command had elected to reactivate the commissions of tens of thousands of retired fleet veterans. People who hadn’t worn a Starfleet uniform in decades found themselves involuntarily returned to service. Active duty personnel who had been on the cusp of retirement just prior to the war were barred from departure or resignation by a Federation Council mandated stop-loss order that had yet to be repealed.

Sandhurst mock winced. “That good, eh?”

Lar’ragos attempted an apologetic smile. “Don’t get me wrong, sir. I don’t mean to paint the entire crew with the same brush. There are some standouts, mostly among the senior staff and higher NCO ranks.”

The El Aurian glanced at the turbolift’s control panel as the car shifted from vertical to horizontal travel briefly, then resumed its climb. “The rest of them will do their duty. Most just feel they’ve done their part and are ready to go home.” For career officers like themselves in an organization that prided itself on being a meritocracy of the willing, the idea of serving with discontented or unmotivated people was almost unthinkable.

<cont'd>
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