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Old January 16 2012, 02:58 AM   #20
Lieutenant Commander
Re: Star Trek: Pathfinder #1 - The Siren's Call

Star Trek: Pathfinder
The Siren's Call - Part Seven

USS Pathfinder
en route to Sector Nineteen
May 7, 2163

Pathfinder ’s designers had tried a new approach to a space for crew briefings. Instead of a ‘situation room’ set just behind the bridge like in the NX-class, they had created a completely separate room at the rear of A-Deck, complete with a large table, chairs instead of stools, and even a pair of viewports that offered a spectacular view of the ship, all the way from the center of the saucer to the tips of the nacelles. Captain Teague stood there, sipping at a mug of coffee, looking out at his ship from this vantage point for the first time, but certainly not the last.

The ship had been outbound for almost a full day - enough time for Teague’s senior officers to size up their responsibilities and delegate any necessary tasks to their subordinates. Only one thing remained - the most important thing.

Telling the crew exactly what the mission was.

Over the next few minutes, the senior staff found their way to the chairs evenly spaced around the table, most bearing their own morning beverage of choice. Teague’s nose wrinkled at the sour aroma of Andorian r’reghla that Lt. Marakis carried, but he hid the expression before anyone caught the reflection. He kept his face turned toward the stars passing by, occasionally nodding in reply to someone telling him ‘good morning’. The last one to enter was a tall, dark-skinned human with close-cropped black hair. Teague saw his silent nod reflected in the transparent aluminum of the viewport, and only then did he turn around to look at his friend.

Lt. Cmdr. Tarik Amara took a seat at the far end of the table, his customary spot no matter what ship he and Teague served on together. Amara had been his chief engineer on the Icarus during the Battle of Hell’s Gate, had saved the ship half a dozen times during the Romulan War. For nearly five years Teague and Amara had served together, in war and now peace, each a natural balance for the other. Where Teague was a military man from a long line of such, Amara was an explorer, a scientist who happened to specialize in subspace dynamics and also had an affinity for understanding what a starship was capable of - and squeezing it for every last drop of that potential. Starfleet had tried to reassign Amara twice, and both times Teague had called in favors to keep his friend close. In a way he felt Amara to be his good luck charm, though he could never admit it openly.

Around the table were T’Vril, Kassin and Beaumont on his right; Sarria, Webb and Marakis sat on his left, along with the ship’s doctor, a Tellarite named Ranik. Teague waited for the idle chatter to die down before he spoke. "I know you’re all curious as to why we departed spacedock in such a hurry," he began, taking his seat. "For the time being, what I’m about to share with you does not leave this room. All information will be shared on a need-to-know basis. Am I understood?"

He pressed a button on the small control pad set into the table and the overhead lights dimmed. Behind him, the wallscreen lit up with an image of a sector of space divided by grid lines. "This is Sector Nineteen, recently opened for colonization by the Federation Colonial Authority," Teague said. "The region contains a multitude of star systems with terrestrial bodies, half a dozen of which are suitable for habitation by various Federation member species. A dozen more are already in the preliminary stages of terraforming to render them likewise. Add to that an abundance of raw materials, and you have an ideal zone for expansion."

"Or the Wild West," Amara said. "A lawless new frontier. Somebody could do a lot of damage."

"That’s why the Federation dispatched a dozen ships to patrol the sector, to establish secure trading routes and ensure the safety of the colonists, both before and after reaching their destinations. The Federation intends for this to be our first unified effort at expanding our boundaries."

Lt. Webb whistled. "That’s a lot of traffic going into the sector. Anybody with a ship that can make Warp Three will be trying to get a piece of this."

"They already are, Lieutenant. There are three colony fleets already bound this way, with twice as many getting prepared. And that doesn’t even count the corporate concerns - the mining companies, the merchant fleets, the independents. This is the first test of if Starfleet can keep the peace."

Teague pressed another button, and several red dots appeared. "Over the past five months, seventeen deep space vessels have disappeared from or very near to Sector Nineteen. Not a single one broadcast any sign of trouble beforehand - they all just vanished."

"What about debris or lifepods?" Kassin said. "Surely there was some trace."

"Not a one. Of course, by the time the transports were declared overdue and search vessels sent out, any energy traces had dissipated. But one would have expected to find some sign of hostilities - vaporized duranium, traces of fusion weaponry. Like I said, not a trace."

"Could be pirates," Beaumont offered. "The Nausicaans keep having problems with their people going rogue."

"None of the cargo has turned up anywhere close enough to make it worth their while. Besides, pirates wouldn’t be so brazen with what happened next. Three days ago, the Roosevelt broadcast a distress call from here." Teague pressed a switch and a larger red light appeared and began blinking. "A T’Raal -class cruiser was less than six hours away, but by the time they arrived the Roosevelt was gone - vanished, like all the others. But this wasn’t a civilian transport, this was a state-of-the-art Daedalus-class cruiser. This was a direct assault on Starfleet."

"Which would explain why Starfleet is reactivating the Defense Fleet," T’Vril said, sharing a look with Beaumont. "They believe someone may be attempting to trigger another war."

Teague nodded. "And war is the last thing the Federation needs. Half the members still don’t trust the other half," he said, looking from T’Vril to Marakis, fully aware of the lingering distrust between the Vulcans and Andorians that was unlikely to fade anytime soon. "A war could tear it apart before it gets the chance to take root. We don’t even know who’s behind this - it could be anybody at this point. Or it might be something else altogether."

"So what can a single ship do?" Sarria said quietly, then flushed almost purple when she realized she had spoken aloud. "I - I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t..."

"It’s all right, Ensign. It’s a valid question," Teague said. "We’re Starfleet’s newest, most advanced ship, bound for hostile territory. We’ve got no escorts, no fleet, no backup. We’ll be days away from any kind of support. In short, we’re on our own."

At the far end of the table, Amara smiled, realizing what Teague had in mind. "You wily cuss," he murmured.

Expressions of confusion settled on every face but Teague’s and Amara’s. "I’m sorry, Commander?" Beaumont said.

Teague shared his friend’s grin. "He’s already guessed what I have in mind. That’s okay, he’s got an unfair advantage - years of experience," Teague explained. "Go on, then. Tell them."

Amara sighed. "We’re the bait."

To Be Continued...
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