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Old February 3 2010, 08:06 AM   #20
Gibraltar
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Location: US Pacific Northwest
Embers of the Fire - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Captain Banti Awokou sighed as the red alert klaxon began blaring aboard Phoenix. The Nebula-class starship had been the first relief vessel to arrive in orbit around Lakesh two and a half weeks earlier, and had been selected as the task force command ship. As such, Awokou bore the added burden of ultimate responsibility for all Federation vessels in orbit, and all personnel on the surface.

Awokou roused his weary frame from the day bed in his ready room, and tugged his uniform straight as he headed for the bridge. He had tired of the persistent tension of the assignment, the endless hours of boredom punctuated by occasional insurgent attacks like the one that had crippled Sojourner. Even before the assault on Taun’Ma’s ship, Awokou had requested further support from Starfleet Command. However, in lieu of sending real help, they’d saddled him with a rookie captain and a crew of misfits flying a ship suitable for little more than academy cadet cruises around the Sol system.

The exec barked, “Captain on the bridge!” as Awokou strode into the command center.

He smoothly assumed his seat as the first officer vacated it. “Report.”

“Sir, sensors have detected what looks to be a firefight at the Glanisuur camp. Someone has also begun jamming all communications and sensors in the vicinity of the settlement. We’ve lost contact with our surface teams.”

Ops reported, “Gibraltar is signaling, sir. They confirm our readings. They say they’d just sent down an away team when this started.”

Welcome to Lakesh, Captain Sandhurst, Awokou thought dryly. The captain looked to the exec. “Commander, scramble the assault shuttles, and beam our ready response teams to the surface. Put them down outside the enemy sensor blind; they can close with the enemy on foot.”

His staff quickly set about carrying out his instructions, and Awokou prepared himself to oversee what might their first stand-up fight with their frustratingly elusive opponents. After weeks of suffering hit-and-run tactics, he relished the thought of fixing the enemy in place and crushing them with superior firepower.

As he watched the first of Phoenix’s heavily armed shuttles depart on the main viewscreen, the captain’s musings were interrupted by a brilliant white flash of light that briefly filled the bridge and caused spots to dance in front of his eyes. “What the hell?” He shot to his feet as he instinctively drew a small hand phaser from its concealed housing in the command chair. Other bridge crew reacted similarly; some stood with weapons drawn while others remained manning critical stations. He heard the XO call for a security team to the bridge, but Awokou saw nothing out of place.

He looked to the science officer. “Was that a scan of some kind?”

The lieutenant checked her readings and turned to the captain. Just as she opened her mouth to answer, the woman began to convulse and collapsed to the deck. Captain Awokou barely had time to comprehend that others around him were exhibiting similar behavior before his head was filled with a searing agony that wrenched an involuntary scream from him, as he too fell to the floor. Darkness enveloped him and Awokou awaited the final seconds of his life. To his horror, he discovered that despite his inability to move or otherwise access his senses, he remained fully, appallingly conscious.

*****

“Damn!” The projectile rifle bucked in Ramirez’s hands as she squeezed a three round burst at the darting form of a Cardassian insurgent. The bullets cracked ineffectually into a sheet of metal covering the wall of a refugee shanty. The exec made a number of disparaging comments about the Cardassian species as she waited for the last of their retreating group to clear the smoldering pre-fab they had been using for concealment. She then sprinted after them.

The fight for the refugee encampment had dissolved into a hundred separate engagements. Individuals and groups stumbled into one another among the smoke and confusion, which resulted in brief but vicious clashes where surrender was not an option.

Their group had grown to nine members, including three other Starfleet personnel and two civilian aid workers. Lar’ragos had the lead, and he moved silently but quickly ahead to scout for trouble. The group dashed from building to building to avail themselves of whatever cover was present as they attempted to avoid further contact with the insurgent death squads. Taiee was carried along with them, still unconscious and clearly in need of more medical attention than they were capable of providing.

As she brought up the rear of the formation, Ramirez cursed the inaccuracy of the projectile rifle. She had trained exclusively with energy weapons since the academy, and had only a passing familiarity with the operation of antique small-arms. Although a part of her struggled with the relative indignity of assuming the rear guard position, she had decided that Lar’ragos was the best choice for guiding them out of their current predicament.

The El Aurian was leading them towards a rock outcropping to the east of the refugee settlement. From what Lar’ragos could tell through his binoculars, the area offered a more defendable position, as a narrow gulley cut by a stream snaked through the jutting escarpment. This would give their attackers a single avenue of approach, and Lar’ragos hoped to hold them off until reinforcements arrived on scene.

Lar’ragos had come to the conclusion that none of the enemy were using remote sensing devices. He guessed that the dampening field surrounding them affected the death squads just as efficiently. Thus far he had been unimpressed with the capabilities displayed by the Cardassian aggressors. They appeared to lack fundamental training in everything from marksmanship to small unit tactics, and had attacked the camp more like a poorly led mob than a disciplined military unit.

Their sole advantage had been the dampening field that neutralized Federation weaponry. As far as he could tell, the young Cardassian men and women who were attacking had likely been recruited only weeks earlier. He very nearly felt sorry for them, impulsive and impressionable youth being used as someone else’s cannon fodder. His empathy ended, however, where their attempts to kill him began.

Lar’ragos stopped cold as he sensed something beyond sound. He measured the brutal intent of another sentient being. He held up one hand to stop the progress of the others behind him as he took aim at a Starfleet issue cargo container some fifteen meters away. Lar'ragos pulled the trigger and let fly another salvo of flechettes just as the armed Cardassian female began to rise from behind the container. The youth and all her living potential ended abruptly as the tiny missiles found their mark.

*****
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