November challenge entry:
“And In The Quiet Heart Lies Hidden”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Counselor Lorien Ari stretched as she stood, setting the PADD with notes from the day’s appointments into its usual spot on her precisely organized desk. Time for a little break
, she thought. Lorien retrieved a stonecraft zhord
mug – a gift from the D’haan Iron Conclave – from a shelf and set it in the replicator. The feel of the laser-precise (though handcrafted) angles of the mug reminded her of her recent ‘adventures’ on Corva’los, homeworld of the dwarven D’haan. The mug was a pleasant reminder; the scars Lorien bore on her legs and stomach were otherwise. Adventures, indeed…
tea,” she said. “Seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit, with natak
shavings and a pinch of cinnamon.” The replicator chirped in response, followed by its ubiquitous hum as the tea appeared in the bowl-like mug. Lorien retrieved the mug and took a sip, savoring the rich, earthy tastes of the tea. Before long, the tea’s aroma, not unlike that of freshly-turned earth after a rainstorm, hung lightly and pleasantly in the air.
Lorien took another sip and sat back on the couch she’d recently vacated, tucking her legs under her as she reached for the PADD on her desk. Before she could activate the PADD, however, there was a knock at the office door.
, she thought wryly. Then again, she was
the head counselor on a Starfleet ship of the line, which meant that she was on-call – officially or not – all the time.
“Yes?” she said, setting the PADD and the tea on her desk as she stood (again). Her office door slid open, and Commander Taylor poked her head in.
“Connie! Come in, come in.”
Connie stepped forward, but kept most of herself in the corridor. “I’m sorry to bother you; I know it’s past your office hours, but…” She paused, taking a calming breath. “…do you have a minute?”
“Of course, Commander.” When Connie hesitated, Lorien repeated “Come in”, her voice half coaxing and half ordering. “Have a seat, and relax.” Lorien retrieved her mug and took a long sip. “Tea?” she asked politely.
“No, thank you.” In one smooth motion, Lorien sat and tucked her legs back under her; Connie sat at the opposite end of the couch, somewhat stiffly. Connie’s eyes, though, belied the agitation that Lorien had sensed some time ago, before Connie had even headed down to Lorien’s office.
“So, what’s going on?” Lorien asked, using a practiced, warm yet professional tone.
“I… I’ve been having the dreams again, Ella. Only, they’re different this time.”
Lorien took a second to make sure the door was locked and the ‘in session’ indicator in the corridor was lit. “When did they start again, and different? Different how?”
“Um, they started up again about a month ago, after the incident at Takkin Gauto.” Connie’s voice went quiet. “When he… I mean, when the Captain was...”
A knowing smile crossed Lorien’s face. “Stabbed? Yes, I remember. You were, shall we say, distraught. But Captain Frost was alright; it was only a flesh wound.”
“Stabbed?” Connie protested. “He was run through with a Tseruntai claymore! He…”
“Was back on his feet in no time. But we’re getting off-topic. You said the dreams were different.”
“It’s like… It’s like they’re memories
, Ella. Memories from a life I have yet to live; memories of a life with… with him
. They’re comforting and disturbing at the same time.”
“I suppose they would be,” Lorien replied thoughtfully. “I’ve never heard anyone describe their dreams like that before.” The corners of her mouth turned upwards. “So what do you think it all means?”
Connie groaned. “You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you.”
“I think it would be… helpful… if you’d finally admit it to yourself, Connie. And saying it out loud can’t hurt.”
“I love him,” Connie said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I love him,” she said again, a little louder, the words spoken as if they were a new shirt and Connie was testing the fit. She looked over at Lorien, and a small but growing smile crossed her lips. “Blessed hell, I’m in love with Gabriel Frost.”
“It’s about time you figured it out,” laughed Lorien.
Connie blushed. “Was it that obvious?”
“To everyone but you, apparently. I don’t know what was more amusing: your reactions whenever you saw him, or your attempts to disguise said reactions. I usually had to bite my tongue to keep from saying anything.” Lorien took another sip of her tea. “Or to keep from laughing.”
“You’re my friend, Ella. Why didn't you say something?”
“As your friend, Connie, and also as a trained counselor and doctor of psychology, I knew that you needed to sort out your feelings for Capt. Frost by yourself. I thought you’d manage it sooner, though.” Lorien smiled. “Looks like Lt. K’kovr wins the pool.”
“Your department had... “Connie was interrupted by a chirp from her chronometer. “Why am I not surprised?” she said, smiling as she stood. “I’m due on the bridge.”
“For gamma watch?” asked Lorien. “That’s unusual.”
“Lieutenant Rio picked up a bug of some sort when we visited Ceresia VI, so Doctor Holliday has her on bed rest. I’m covering for her until she gets better.”
Lorien got up, set the empty zhord
mug back in the small sink next to the replicator and ran some water into it. “I’ll come up to the bridge with you,” she said. “I need to stretch my legs, get a little ‘fresh air’, so to speak.” Before the door slid open, Lorien put her hand on Connie’s shoulder. Connie stopped and turned to face her friend.
“What is it?”
“You’ve neither asked nor answered the most relevant question, Connie.”
“You mean, whether this sort of thing would be appropriate behavior between a ship’s captain and first officer?”
Lorien put her hands on her hips, expectantly, as Connie’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Not that question, huh? You’re going to make me say this out loud also, hmm?” At this, Lorien just cocked an eyebrow. “Fine, fine,” said Connie.
“Should I tell him?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Captain,” said Connie, as she and Lorien stepped on to the bridge, “alpha watch ended nearly eight hours ago. Shouldn’t you be off-duty?”
“Telemetry from the buoys we’ve dropped so far came in faster than expected, and it’s been giving the nav software the fits, so I…”
“Was doing work that is the specialty of our very capable Astrometrics department,” Connie chided. “Work that Commander Nowar and hir team are specifically trained to do.” Connie sat in the command chair, clearly staking her claim. “Gamma watch is about to begin. No offence, Captain, but get the hell off my bridge.”
Gabriel caught the smile in her voice, and saluted smartly. “On your word,” he said as he headed for the turbolift. Lorien had, in the meantime, settled into the first officer’s station behind the command chair. When Gabriel was gone, Lorien leaned forward, speaking to Connie in a low, conspiratorial tone.
“Smooth, Connie,” she said with a chuckle. “Nice way to avoid having to talk to him.”
“Figurative middle of the night or not, Ella, I’m not going to have a discussion with him about that
in the middle of the bridge,” Connie whispered back. Lorien leaned closer.
“He is really cute, isn’t he?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A few hours later
Lieutenant Avallios passed through the Stardome doors and stepped onto the freshly-swabbed deck of the pirate frigate Black Falcon
, taking a moment to admire the breathtaking night sky. So clear… It was just such a sight in the skies over his hometown that led him to his destiny amongst those selfsame stars. Avallios gave the sky one last longing glance before moving aft to the ship’s wheel, where the captain was holding the frigate on course. The captain’s face showed the strain of steering the vessel, but also displayed an exhilaration borne from the struggle. Avallios couldn’t help but feel that Gabriel Frost would be at home and in command no matter the type of ship beneath his feet. There was however a – rightness, for lack of a better word – of seeing Gabriel on the bridge of Challenger
, as if the one could not exist without the other, and the universe was somehow the better for their union.
“Thanks for joining me,” said Gabriel as Avallios stepped up beside him. “I know this is cutting into your canasta game.”
“I am Oathsworn to the Traveller,” replied Avallios with a slight bow. “What is it you require?”
Gabriel had to smile at Avallios’ earnestness, though the Celvani’s religious, nigh-fanatical dedication to Gabriel, as the prophesied Third Traveller, still made him somewhat uncomfortable. “Just a friend to talk with, Covan.”
“Ah, I see.” Avallios paused as if deep in thought. “How long have you had the ring?”
“How did…? Oh, never mind.” Gabriel smiled a bit sheepishly. “I’ve had it for a while now; had a set made not long after I received the Gift of Five.”
“And you have loved her since first you met.”
“I… sensed the possibility,” Gabriel said hesitantly. “But my relationship track record is less than stellar, and the two times I opened my heart completely… Let’s just say they didn’t end well, for them.
“Betsy Snowden and Jessica Bridger.” Betsy and Gabriel had been involved at the Academy; she had killed herself as a result of John Perceval's machinations. Jessica had died on the USS Spitfire
as they were fighting Nassin raiders off of a colonial convoy. After all this time, the wounds left by these two women in Gabriel's heart were still raw.
“Yeah, thanks for the reminder,” said Gabriel under his breath. “You know as well as I the stories, myths, and truths of the difficulties the Traveller must face, and moreso the one who walks the path as his Companion.” Gabriel fell silent for a long moment. “I love her too much, Avallios. I can’t put her through that.”
“The choice to walk at your side as Companion must be hers, Third Traveller. You cannot deny her the opportunity to choose. Recall the doom of Seric Tirian, A’he’a’ulho Second Traveller.” At this, Gabriel shivered involuntarily.
“You’re right, Covan. I need to tell her, let her make the choice. But gods above and gods below, it scares me…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Two and a half days later
Connie and Gabriel stepped out of holodeck five, wearing pre-Starfleet “NX-era” uniforms with Challenger NX-03
patches on the left sleeve. They were, as was their recent wont, engaged in a rather spirited yet friendly (and not-so-subtly flirtatious) debate.
“My point is,” said Gabriel, finally able to get a word in edgewise, “they didn’t allow time for the plan to work. They abandoned her too soon.”
“The phase inducers were critically overcharged,” Connie replied. “When
they blew – not if, when
– the ship would have been blasted into its constituent atoms.”
“I’m not saying the phase capacitors wouldn’t have popped; that was inevitable.” A victorious smile crossed Connie’s face. “What I’m saying is, the polarization grid of the NX-class ships was a lot more robust than you or they realized. The assistant engineer’s plan was sound: enough energy would have been bled off through the grid so that when the phase capacitors blew, the explosion would’ve only taken a chunk out of the saucer. She would have been damaged but flyable.
“She would have made it home.”
Connie had a rejoinder poised to fly when Challenger
’s avatar rezzed up next to Gabriel.
Captain, Commander Nowar has a status update.
“Put hir through, please.” The avatar was replaced by Commander Nowar’s holopresence.
,” s/he said tiredly, “we’ve finally got the kinks ironed out, and are ready to deploy the rest of the buoys
“Excellent. I think we can still finish this assignment on schedule. Connie, have Lt. Mokul draw up a flight plan to make up for the time we’ve lost and execute as soon as he’s done.”
“On your word, sir,” replied Connie. As she turned to head for the nearest turbolift, something in the look on Gabriel’s face made her hesitate. “Was there anything else?”
“When we get back to Gateway, I was wondering… Well, I have reservations at The Avari…”
“Are you trying to ask me to dinner?”
“Yeah.” There was a long moment of silence, then Gabriel asked expectantly, “So?”
Connie had to suppress her smile, though it was obvious that she was enjoying Gabriel’s discomfiture. “In order to get a proper answer, Gabriel, one must propo… put forth a proper question.”
“When we return to Gateway, Connie, would you like to have dinner with me?”
“Why, Gabriel Frost… Are you, captain of the starship Challenger
, asking me, her first officer, on a date?” Though Connie’s voice held a hint of teasing, her expression was impassive, perhaps even imperceptibly disapproving.
“Yes,” Gabriel said, “yes I am.”
A warm smile spread across Connie’s face. “I would be delighted. The Avari, you say? I’ve heard reservations there are harder to come by then that Milliway’s restaurant at the so-called ‘end of the universe’.”
“There is a bit of a waiting list,” agreed Gabriel, returning Connie’s smile. “But I’m sure it’ll prove to be worth the wait.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Avari restaurant hung, suspended by invisible gravimetric anchors, in the middle of the cavernous space that ran nearly the length of Gateway Station’s vertical axis. Accessible only by a small launch, the restaurant afforded a spectacular view of the station’s inner workings and, thanks to strategically-placed (and impossibly large) transparisteel viewports, the planet Celvanos and her moons.
Gabriel and Connie, in traditional Celvani formalwear, had enjoyed a pleasant meal. Their dinner conversation was equally pleasant, though it was obvious they were both dancing around the subject that was foremost on their minds.
After a particularly long pause in the conversation, Connie said, “You’re a soft-spoken man, Gabriel, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at a loss for words.” She smiled encouragingly.
“There is something I want to tell you,” Gabriel said quietly, though with the little grin he got when he made a reference to some obscure bit of old Earth ‘pop culture’. “But I’m afraid of what it might mean if I do.”
Connie reached across the table hesitantly, taking Gabriel’s hand in hers. Even knowing what Gabriel was, she was still surprised at the coolness of his flesh. She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “Just say it.”
“I beg pardon, Third Traveller,” said the maître d’, “you asked to remain undisturbed, but she was rather quite insistent.” His face apologetic, the maître d’ produced a small communication tablet. Gabriel tabbed the ‘receive call’ button. Admiral MacAllister’s face appeared; she wasted no time launching into a tirade.
“I don’t know why I bother contacting Challenger, anymore, Captain, because you’re never aboard. And what’s with that ridiculous costume you’re wearing?
“Always a pleasure, Admiral,” said Gabriel facetiously. “I do apologize; I must have missed the memo that said I had to be on the bridge and in uniform even during my off hours.”
“As much as I’d love to trade insults, Captain, I need you to shut up and listen. A pack of Kethurian battle-barges is pursuing a Jyothai ship through the Orpheus Salient. Reports indicate the Jyothai ship is one of their royal junks, and the Kethurians seem to be herding it towards the Huuro Inclusion Zone
“That’s not good.”
“Ah, the legendary situational assessment skill of Gabriel Frost. You’re goddamned right it’s not good. The Barcelona and her battle group are en route, but they’re coming from the Outbound sector. Even with slipstream, they won’t arrive in time. Challenger needs to interdict the Kethurians until the Barcelona can get there. I know you just got back from a deployment , and laying those buoys was such strenuous work,”
she sniped, unable to resist taking a dig at Gabriel. “But Challenger is the only ship available. You are of course authorized to use slipstream for this mission
“Because we had to make room for the buoys for the mission you ordered us on, Admiral, our torpedo stores are dangerously low.”
“You’re being rearmed right now
,” said Adm. MacAllister, “but I need Challenger gone as soon as you get back on board. I hope for your sake that you’re not too late
.” The comm tablet went dark as MacAllister unceremoniously cut the channel.
“No rest for the wicked, eh?” remarked Connie.
“Guess we’ll have to finish our conversation later, Commander.” Gabriel used the tablet to contact Challenger
“Commander K’kon, I need you to recall all personnel and prep the ship for launch in ten minutes.”
“We’re currently loading torpedoes and other consumables, Captain
,” replied Challenger
’s K’krothan Ops officer.
“I know. Torpedoes are the priority, but get what you can on board. And please have Commander Taylor and I beamed aboard.”
“On your word, sir
.” A moment after Gabriel had settled the bill for dinner, transporter beams from Challenger
grabbed him and Connie, whisking them back to the mighty starship. As soon as they materialized, they headed for the bridge.
“I don’t understand,” said Connie. “The Kethurians and the Jyothai have sworn to annihilate each other. If those barges destroy the royal junk, it’ll mean war. If they penetrate the Inclusion zone, we can’t pursue?”
“It would mean a devastating war,” Gabriel replied. “But if we violate the Inclusion zone by so much as a picometer, it would mean Armageddon. The Huuro are not a species we want to antagonize any more than we already do.”
“Already do? How”
“By existing.” Stepping on to the bridge, Gabriel wasted no time, asking K’kon for a sit-rep.
“All crew accounted for, sir. Umbilicals have been withdrawn; we are presently at station keeping with the RCS quads. Torpedo magazines report twenty percent loadout.”
“It’ll have to do. Lt. Mokul, one-half impulse until we reach the outer markers, then engage slipstream drive at max. Plot your course for Beacon Point Bravo-Three in the Orpheus Salient.”
“Plot my course for Beacon Point Bravo-Three, maximum slipstream velocity aye…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
About half an hour later, Challenger
’s senior staff was assembled in the conference room behind the bridge for an ad-hoc briefing.
should arrive within two hours of our encountering the Kethurians,” Gabriel was saying. “We just have to hold the battle-barges off until then.”
“Hold them off?” asked Connie. “It sounds like you’re expecting to go straight into battle.”
“Unfortunately, I am. The Kethurians usually just sling rhetoric and vitriol at the Jyothai, but if they’re slinging photon bolts, it means the game has changed and we don’t know what the rules are.
“We’re not going in phasers blazing. I do plan on telling the Kethurians to stand down, I just don’t think they’ll be inclined to listen.” Gabriel turned to Lt. Priest. “Tactical analysis, Lieutenant?”
Lt. Priest tabbed at the controls in front of her, and a hologram of a Kethurian battle-barge appeared above the conference room table. “Kethurian ships don’t employ torpedoes or missiles of any sort, and their photon cannons are equivalent to a type-6 phaser bank. The three main issues we’ll have to deal with are: one, those barges mount a lot of photon cannons; two, their ships are ridiculously armored; and three, their sublight drives produce copious amounts of Minckler particles. The Minckler particles disrupt communication and transporter signals, and make torpedo targeting a bit squirrely.”
“A ‘pack’ of battle-barges usually comprises six ships,” added Gabriel. “We have our work cut out for us…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Encounter plus one hour
True to Gabriel’s prediction, the Kethurians let their photon cannons speak for them. Challenger
had so far managed to keep the battle-barges occupied and away from the drifting royal junk, but she was taking a pounding, and there was no way the Barcelona
could get a signal through.
“We’re finally getting clear sensor readings on the Jyothai junk, Captain,” said CDR K’kon. “There is only one life-sign aboard, out of a crew of over 200. Also, we’ve identified the markings; the junk is the royal transport for Princess Nairi Thelas Th’elasa.”
“Damn,” said Gabriel softly. “Mr. K’kon, I need you to modify the deflector to create a ‘tunnel’ of sorts between Challenger
and the royal junk. The antiprotons in the deflector beam will hold off the Minckler particles long enough for me to beam over.” Gabriel got up and headed for the turbolift.
“Commander Taylor, you have the Conn.”
Connie motioned to CDR K’kon to take over as she followed Gabriel into the turbolift. “Let me guess: you’re a figure of prophecy to the Kethurians, and if you’re on board the junk they won’t shoot at you.” Connie’s sarcastic remark belied her anger and growing concern.
“Actually, the Kethurians believe I’m the devil incarnate. I’m betting, however, that their fear of retribution from the Celvani is greater than their hatred of me.”
“I don’t like those odds, and you said yourself we don’t know the rules anymore. And blessed hell, Gabriel, how did you manage to piss off half the known galaxy?”
Gabriel’s combadge chirped as he and Connie entered the transporter room. “Deflector modifications ready
,” reported CDR K’kon.
“Do it.” Gabriel strapped on his Celvani thrustergun and pulled a portable shield generator from a storage locker before stepping up to the transporter pad.
“Captain,” said Connie angrily,” I cannot condone this course of action!”
Gabriel flashed the half-smile that Connie found so damned annoying. “Not your call. Energize.”
“Captain!” Connie yelled as Gabriel dematerialized. “Gabriel, I lo…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
On board the Jyothai royal junk
“Hello again, Princess.”
“So, it is by a beloved hand that my death will come this day? You may wear the face of someone dear to my heart, but I will not sell my life the more cheaply for it.”
Gabriel dodged the dagger that flew at his head and placed the shield generator against the bridge doors. “I’m trying to save you, if you don’t mind.” The shield generator activated with a chirp, sealing the bridge from the Kethurian death squads that beamed aboard just before Gabriel.
“You lie! I shall…”
“You shall let me work, please. I swear, your people have elevated paranoia to an art form. The drama queen act gets old really fast, though.” Gabriel dodged another dagger and found the engineering console, calling up the junk’s status on the main screen.
“Let’s see… Propulsion: RCS only, sublight’s shot, warp core is functional and warp plasma is flowing, but the nacelles are practically scrap.” He started to type furiously at the console. “Got to be a way out of this mess… yes!” Gabriel entered a string of commands that triggered a high-pitched alarm.
“What in the name of the Allmother are you doing?
” the princess asked incredulously.
“Triggering an imbalance in your warp drive,” Gabriel replied as he continued to type. “If I’m right…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Simultaneously, on board Challenger
’s holographic avatar rezzed up abruptly, appearing right in front of Connie. Commander, I’ve lost the Captain’s signal.
“That’s not unexpected,” said Connie. She turned her attention to Tactical for a moment. “Fire torpedoes, spread pattern delta-one-three.” Then, to the avatar: “We knew the interference from the Kethurians could do this. Keep trying to reacquire.”
You don’t understand, Commande
r, said the avatar as she stepped closer. Connie noticed the avatar’s voice carried an almost overwhelming tone of fear, and it made Connie’s stomach curdle. I’ve lost his beta-wave signal
Connie felt her legs suddenly go numb, and she would have collapsed to the floor if the avatar hadn’t gently steered her into the command chair. The beta-wave signal, the intimate (for lack of a better word) connection between Gabriel and Challenger
, was for all intents and purposes unblockable. The only thing that would disrupt the beta-wave was Gabriel’s death.
“Captain!” called Lt. Priest, from the tactical pit. “We’ve lost the Jyothai ship. No visual, no sensor returns.” Connie heard the Lieutenant but found herself unable to reply. The activity on the bridge seemed to devolve into dim sights and sounds on the periphery of Connie’s perception.
After what seemed an eternity, Connie found her voice. “Challenger,” she whispered, “initiate Protocol Zero.”
Initiate Protocol Zero, aye. Challenger
’s holographic form blurred for a second; when it regained focus, she was wearing a void-black suit of armor instead of her usual Starfleet uniform. She began speaking in a coldly clinical voice.
Parsing tactical subroutines. Initializing alpha-strike systems. Initializing omega-strike systems. Engaging hull plating polarization. Deploying limited ablative armor. Engaging crew protection subsystems.
At her last phrase, forcefields and armored bulkheads snapped into place across the ship, and all computer terminals were locked down. The monitors still displayed information, however, and what Challenger
’s crew saw there chilled them to their very bones.
“Multiple firing solutions,” said Lt. Priest, her voice heavy with alarm. “Commander, we’re not aiming to disable…” A pause, then: “Holy God. Weapons systems coming on-line.”
“Which ones?” asked CDR K’kon.
“All of them.”
“Outside of phasers and photorps, I don’t recognize any of these. Where the hell have these systems been hiding?” Lt. Priest could barely comprehend what she was reading. “Neutrino injectors, plasma lances, phaser blades, mass-pulse mines… void torpedoes? What in the name of all that's holy are void torpedoes?”
Protocol Zero fully engaged
, said Challenger
. Awaiting final code key for activation.
A dark fire burned in Connie’s eyes as she looked up at the avatar. “Code key…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *