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Old February 3 2010, 08:05 AM   #19
Gibraltar
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

The Glanisuur refugee camp had been rapidly constructed less than three kilometers from where the city of the same name used to stand. Situated at the base of the breathtaking Avendra mountain range, the growing city had been a monument to the creative spirit of the Cardassian people. Renowned throughout the Union as a haven to their culture’s young and disaffected, Glanisuur had become a hotbed of political activism and artistic expression.

Even during the tenuous alliance with the Dominion, the Cardassian Central Command had frequently turned a blind eye to the wide-eyed innocence and hopeless egalitarianism that was allowed to run rampant in this small corner of their empire. Secretly, many of the military’s commanding officers had once attended Glanisuur’s universities, allowed to savor a brief flirtation with idealism before being submerged into the cold, linear universe of Cardassian military service.

The Breen torpedoes that had impacted here instantly vaporized most of the city. The three universities, the museums and art galleries, the sporting arena, and the community’s beloved outdoor market, all were laid waste in the blink of an eye. The architecture that had been so determinedly free of the characteristic blades and spires of most Cardassian structures had been reduced to mere rubble.

The Federation relief effort for Lakesh’s northern continent was concentrated here, among the sun dappled meadows and forests surrounding this provincial capital. The once serene hills were now spotted with domed survival tents and prefabricated buildings housing temporary hospitals and schools, and storing various relief supplies.

Gibraltar’s first away team to Lakesh materialized into a crisp autumn morning, their collective breath rising as steam into the air. Ramirez turned in a slow, three-hundred and sixty-degree arc to take in the view of the Glanisuur camp as her body adjusted to the slightly higher gravity and atmospheric density.

“I guess we could have picked a worse spot,” the exec noted. The sun still shone brightly here, but if Starfleet’s meteorological predictions were accurate, smoke from the fires raging in the southern hemisphere would reach this far north in a matter of weeks.

Lar’ragos checked his phaser setting for the fifth time in as many minutes. His compact Type-III phaser rifle was clipped to a sling on his tactical vest, whose pockets had been filled with stun grenades, sensor-masking smoke canisters, and spare energy magazines for his rifle and phaser pistol sidearm. He turned to his two security men, “Ten meter spread, stay sharp. Our fellow personnel have been here for weeks. This may have become routine for them. Try to see what they may have missed.” The two specialists nodded and moved out to flank Ramirez, Lar’ragos, and Taiee.

Ramirez caught herself on the cusp of chiding Lar’ragos for being paranoid. She had read those sections of his service record that weren’t classified, and was well aware of his many decorations and citations. If he thought equipping himself and his security staff like an assault team was prudent, who was she to argue? She was determined not to let her anger with her present circumstances blind her to her duty, or to the precarious nature of their current assignment. Ramirez oriented herself, and headed out towards the Starfleet command and control center with the away team in tow.

En route to the heavily fortified C-&-C, the team was assailed with a variety of smells more appropriate to a pre-industrialized civilization than a warp-capable one. Food cooked over open fires in front of makeshift shelters for those not yet fortunate enough to have warranted a Starfleet survival tent. Raw sewage trickled through drainage channels hastily carved from the earth with phasers, which added a pungent tinge to the mixture of wood smoke and the ozone generated by portable power generators.

The Starfleet command center was a blocky two story pre-fab, surrounded by a grid of forcefield pillars that produced a skin-tingling hum as Ramirez’s team approached. A security guard stepped forward. His voice carried across the shielded barrier with a tinny echo, “Identification, please.”

“Lt. Commander Ramirez and company, starship Gibraltar. We’re here to help coordinate the offloading of relief supplies.”

As the guard glanced down at his padd to verify this, Lar’ragos appeared distracted and squinted off into the distance as if searching for something. Taiee gazed longingly towards the camp's medical facilities located approximately a hundred meters away, eager to begin assisting the staff there.

A series of muted thumps could be heard in the distance, followed by a strange, warbling yowl that seemed to increase in volume. Ramirez looked around, perplexed, and was completely unprepared to be thrown bodily to the ground by Lar’ragos.

“Incoming! Take cover!” The El Aurian flung the XO down, then moved to shove Taiee down beside her. Lar’ragos dove on top of the two to shield them as best he could with his body.

A chain of explosions rippled through the encampment, most of them centered in the vicinity of the Starfleet command building. The impacts were deafening to Ramirez and her team as the photon mortars detonated in quick succession. The Starfleet C-&-C had not yet been reinforced against an assault from above, and the building was heavily damaged in the opening salvo. The guard on the other side of the forcefield was launched into the barrier and slumped unconscious amidst the chaos.

Lar’ragos scrambled awkwardly to his feet. His ears rang and he fought against an overpowering sense of disorientation. He could see frantic movement from among the shanties and survival tents, figures moving and grappling and falling. Something other than the attack itself was amiss, but in his muddled state he couldn’t quite grasp what it was. He glanced down and saw one of his two security officers struggling to rise, but what remained of the other man lay still.

Lar'ragos reached down to help Ramirez and the security specialist to their feet. Taiee scrambled over to the motionless security man as her tricorder confirmed what Pava already knew. Lar’ragos tapped his combadge, but was unable to hear the buzz of the device’s null-function alarm. “Lar’ragos to Gibraltar, the encampment is under attack. We’re taking mortar fire. The camp appears to have been infiltrated. Send down the standby security team. We can’t hear right now, so route all responses through our tricorders in text.”

Ramirez drew her phaser pistol as Lar’ragos brought his rifle up. Ramirez shouted orders to him, but the security chief simply shook his head, still unable to hear. The four remaining officers looked to the C-&-C, but behind the still active shield barrier the burning structure was collapsing in on itself. If they could deactivate the shield they could attempt a rescue of any survivors, but without the access codes they were helpless.

Before Ramirez could decide on a course of action, she saw Lar’ragos raise his rifle at a group of three armed Cardassian men who were rushing towards them. Lar'ragos judged by their dress and demeanor that they were not local police allied with the relief effort. He elected action over indecision as he took aim and pulled the trigger. The weapon refused to fire. Ramirez followed suit, but her phaser also inexplicably malfunctioned.

The muzzles of the Cardassians’ rifles flashed, and Taiee grabbed her side and pitched forward onto the ground.

Lar’ragos let go his rifle, and in a fluid motion drew a black gun-like device from a holster on his vest and fired it at the approaching men. A small puff of gas was all that heralded the flight of a dozen tiny flechettes that turned the closest of the Cardassians into a pink spray of blood and tissue.

Another burst from Lar’ragos’ weapon felled the second Cardassian, as the third man raised his rifle and aimed at Pava. The man’s weapon jammed, and he slid to a stop as he frantically tried to clear the gun.

Ramirez rushed him and hurled herself at the assailant in a body check that sent the both of them to the ground. She struggled with the attacker and moved to straddle his chest while she threw focused palm-heel strikes at the Cardassian’s head. Her opponent warded off her blows with a ferocity born of desperation. She realized as she grappled with him that despite his considerable size, the man was really no more than an adolescent, a teenager. That failed to matter, however, as he landed a solid punch and drove his fist up and into Ramirez’s chin.

She blacked out momentarily and rolled off the Cardassian. Ramirez regained consciousness seconds later and tried to clear her head as she rallied herself to continue the fight. However, her foe was no longer moving. The youth lay still and his head rested at an impossible angle. Lar’ragos crouched over him, flechette gun at arms length as he scanned back and forth for additional targets.

The surviving security man knelt over Taiee and held a pressure dressing to the medical officer’s wound with one hand while he attempted to restore function to his phaser rifle with his other. Ramirez clambered to her feet and tapped her compin, “Ramirez to Gibraltar. Requesting immediate beam out. We have casualties.” Her hearing was beginning to come back, although sounds were faint and muffled. She pulled the compin from her uniform and held it to her ear. Hearing no response, she tapped it again and the no-signal buzz confirmed her worst fears. “Lar’ragos, comms are being jammed!”

Lar’ragos now had his tricorder in hand and held it up beside his weapon so as to maintain situational awareness. He shouted back to the exec, “Aye, and scans are limited to five meters. We’re getting some kind of broad spectrum jamming, but I can’t pinpoint the source. Whatever they’re using is also affecting our phasers.”

Ramirez almost wished her hearing hadn’t returned, as the shouts and screams of those fighting and dying drifted towards what remained of her away team. She reached down to take up the Cardassian’s projectile rifle. She studied it for a moment, then pulled sharply back on the bolt which ejected the spent casing that had jammed the weapon.

She hefted the rifle and called out to the lieutenant as she moved to assist the security officer with Taiee. “Mister Lar’ragos, let’s find a more defensible position.”

*****

Gul Dien examined the machine with a sense of satisfaction. The great majority of the weapons developed in this facility had been based on Dominion designs. The Dominion’s technology was more advanced, to be sure, but this particular gem had been a result of Cardassian cunning and determination.

“Magnificent, isn’t it?” Dien remarked to the chief technician.

“It is indeed, sir.” The engineer was deservedly proud of the work she and her team had accomplished towards perfecting the device.

“It will strike a victorious blow against our enemies. Even the Klingons will think twice before attacking us, once its sting has been felt.”

The technician merely smiled in mute agreement and hoped that her silence would stem the flow of rhetoric spilling from the gul. Over time she had discovered that Dien spoke often, but actually said very little.

The dimensional-shift transporter unit was not especially large, but the energies it harnessed were substantial. The Obsidian Order had uncovered intelligence regarding such a device used against a Federation starship some ten years earlier. That particular device had been used by the Ansata terrorist group in an attempt to destroy the starship Enterprise. It was capable of transporting objects or people over great distances, and no known shielding or defensive system could thwart it. Starfleet Intelligence had tried desperately to safeguard the knowledge that such a weapon existed, but the Order had obtained the information, albeit at a high price.

The Dominion had even arranged the abduction of the scientist originally responsible for the creation of the Ansata’s device, but the man had suffered a mysterious death just prior to the execution of the mission. Rumors regarding the scientist having been assassinated by some ultra-secret Federation agency circulated widely within the Order, but no confirmation of this had ever materialized.

Thus, Cardassian and Vorta engineers had been forced to reverse engineer the device from the rough plans obtained from the Federation. Fortunately for Legate Urlak and his men, the DST had finally been completed just before the Cardassian rebellion against the Founders. The Ansata’s device had the highly undesirable side-effect of warping genetic material in living subjects, fatally altering a person’s DNA after an unspecified number of trips through the machine. Although the Dominion researchers had been unable to solve that problem, the DST had proven capable of reliably delivering explosive devices in limited field tests. Now, it would carry out that function, and much more.

As miraculous a device as the DST was, the bio-engineered pathogen it would deliver to the orbiting starships was the product of fiendish genius. Dien had no doubt that the Federation would have to seriously reconsider their continued occupation of Cardassian space following the deployment of their new weapon. Legate Urlak, scheduled to be smuggled back to Lakesh through the laughably porous Starfleet cordon in orbit, had given Dien the honor of carrying out the next attack in their continuing campaign against the Federation.

*****

On the bridge of Gibraltar, Juneau passively monitored the progress of their away team on the surface. Her concentration was divided between various tasks, as she also observed departmental allocations of sensor capacity and power usage. An alarm began to trill at her station and she quickly toggled her surface scan to active mode. A surge of adrenaline coursed through her and Juneau exclaimed too loudly, “Captain, I’m detecting explosions at the refugee camp!” Then her surface scans became a flickering kaleidoscope of random colors and patterns.

“Red alert. Shields up, standby weapons.” Sandhurst stepped down into the bridge well and moved to Juneau’s side as he examined the readings for himself.

The lieutenant’s hands danced across her console as she tried in vain to increase resolution and cut through the interference. “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what happened. Suddenly it’s just garbled.”

Sandhurst placed what he hoped was a calming hand on her shoulder and frowned. “It’s all right, Lieutenant. The signal’s being jammed. Keep trying.” The captain moved back to the command chair and resumed his seat as he looked to the duty security officer at the Tactical station. “Mr. Ellis, have the standby security team report to transporter room one. If they’re unable to get a lock on the refugee camp due to the interference, have them report to the shuttle bay.” He turned to an ensign at the auxiliary station, “Hail Phoenix and let them know what’s happening.”

*****

<cont'd>
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