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Old December 12 2012, 08:29 AM   #116
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5)

Chapter 5

Consensual Shared Holographic Environment, Subspace, Delta Quadrant


The holographic 'room' they occupied was a large meeting table, surrounded by a dozen chairs and illuminated by an unspecified light source from above. Not all the commanding officers making up Task Force Vanguard had been available to attend, but the majority were present. The topic for discussion was what course of action the task force should take in the light of the loss of both their flag officers. Moreover, who, if anyone should take overall command of the intercept groups until Starfleet Command could advise them further was up for debate.

The time delay between TFV and Starbase Bastion was eight days for one way communication, meaning it would be sixteen days at least until Command could issue new orders. Sixteen days in their present circumstances might well have been an eternity.

From IG-3, Captain T’Ser was present, as was Captain Lobanov of Giacobini. IG-2 was represented by Captain Hobson of Perseus, Captain Endilev of Ascendant, Captain Farouk of T’Plana’Hath, and Lt. Commander Robards of the escort Scimitar. From IG-5 Captains Gareth, Braxos, Duparc and Iss’Stola were in attendance. The commanders of IG-1 were out of real-time communications range, and could only be spectators to the event after the fact.

No one remained from IG-4, which had been annihilated by the combined might of the Kothlis’Ka Armada.

Captain Gareth, the most senior ranking captain, opened the meeting. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger down the sides of his salt and pepper beard as he announced, “I’ll presume you’ve all read the brief that accompanied the invitation to this gathering. We’re here because our chain-of-command has been decapitated, and a three-week delay from Bastion is far too long for effective command and control of this task force. Additionally, Captain Sandhurst, formally of the Europa, has tendered a… shall we say, innovative leadership plan for our consideration.”

“He’s insane,” Braxos replied, the loquacious Bolian unwilling to mince words.

T’Ser was in the company of her fellows for the first time since being granted her field promotion to captain, and felt torn. The urge to keep her head down and mouth shut was nearly overwhelming, but upon hearing the indelicate assessment of Sandhurst, she felt a defensive reflex kicking in.

Farouk laughed at Braxos’ blunt assessment. “Perhaps he is, but if he wants to assume command, I say we let him. IG-3 has arguably demonstrated better results than any of the other groups so far.”

“That’s a testament to Jellico’s leadership, not Sandhurst’s,” the Andorian Endilev offered.

Hobson raised a hand, a completely unnecessary gesture in present company, but one that fit his reputation as the, ‘Iceman.’ “I don’t mean to sound indelicate,” he began after Gareth acknowledged him with a nod, “but we’re talking about someone who less than a month ago was a prisoner of a little-known threat species believed responsible for the destruction of In’Drahn station, as well as an entire Klingon colony back in the Alpha Quadrant. I’ll grant that his idea has merit, but he could very easily be acting as a conduit for other interested parties.”

“I don’t believe that’s the case, sir,” T’Ser blurted out, cringing internally as all eyes turned towards her.

“We’re all captains here, T’Ser,” Gareth reminded her gently.

She blushed fiercely. “Of course… captain.” T’Ser sat up a little straighter in her chair. “Sandhurst’s as clear-headed and rational as I’ve ever known him to be. Yes, he’s nominating himself for a leadership role, but I don’t feel there’s any ulterior motives behind it. He wants what’s best for Vanguard and the Federation.”

“It’s a power grab,” Braxos’ countered, “and he didn’t even make an effort to disguise it.”

“How is it a power grab if he’s putting it up for a vote?” Robards said, entering the conversation.

“This isn’t a democracy,” Lobanov noted caustically.

Gareth glanced in her direction with a mischievous smile. “It certainly appears to be at the moment.”

Iss’Stola, a tall, willowy Daverite, spoke from behind her rebreather mask, “It’s true that Sandhurst has firsthand experience with the Amon. That’s more than can be said for any of us.”

Braxos brought a hand down upon the table top with a resounding crack. “What of it?” he barked. “The Amon are one species out of dozens that comprise the incoming waves.”

Iss’Stola’s unreadable mask turned towards the Bolian. “The Amon are the largest unaccounted for variable we’ve encountered thus far. They are enormously powerful, undeniably predatory, and possess technology we don’t come close to matching, Alpha Weapons notwithstanding.”

“Bah, they’re not the Borg!” Braxos thundered.

“No,” Iss’Stola replied with measured restraint, “the Amon kill Borg and fly their hijacked cubes around the galaxy with impunity.”

Captain Duparc of the Istandbul noted, “Let’s not make the mistake of dismissing such an area expert out of hand. How many fewer people would we have lost during the second Borg assault on Earth if Picard had been put in charge of our defense at the outset?”

“The man has too much on his plate right now, regardless.” Lobanov observed. “Europa’s engines are failing and he’s got some kind of shape-shifting nemesis onboard, a threat that none of the rest of us have security clearance enough to know anything about!”

T’Ser threw out, “The Baron’s safely contained, and our newest engine design appears very promising.”

Endilev’s antennae twitched with irritation. “While I can see the advantages to a local nexus of control over the task force, Sandhurst is hardly the most experienced officer in our midst.”

“Europa has the best sensor capability of any of our ships,” Hobson offered, “and Commander Lar’ragos, our chief Strategic Operations Officer is serving as the ship’s pro-tem XO.”

Lobanov scowled across the table at Hobson. “Oh, switching sides now, Chris?”

Unfazed by her venom, Hobson replied calmly, “I’m not on anyone’s side, Irenea Lyudmilavich.”

“The man’s already calling himself ‘commodore!’” Braxos fumed.

“He put on a fifth pip for show,” T’Ser corrected. “We can’t have two captains wandering around the ship if we want to maintain any kind of unit cohesion. If you’ve ever met the man you know he could give a damn about rank or station. He’s about one thing and one thing only, getting the job done.”

“It’s true,” Robards confirmed. “I served under Sandhurst’s command during Operation Indemnity. He’s reasonable and even handed, one of the most non-rank-conscious officers I’ve worked with.”

Duparc said, “Lucian Ebnal sings his praises, and Lucian doesn’t praise anybody, living or dead.”

“He’s Ebnal’s protégé,” Braxos complained. “That’s hardly an unbiased endorsement!”

Gareth watched the debate flitter around the table and back again, weighing the various observations and opinions.

As Braxos appeared to be preparing to launch another salvo, Gareth held up a hand in a gesture of restraint. “Not that this hasn’t proven enlightening, but I move that we log Vice Admiral Jellico as Missing, Presumed Captured, and Rear Admiral Kevard as Missing, Presumed Dead in order that we might have access to Jellico’s posthumous recommendations regarding Vanguard’s leadership succession.”

There were nods from around the table, some more reluctant than others. Gareth shouldered the unwelcome task, entering the data by hand into a padd. The computer acknowledged the official status entry for both flag officers, and then unsealed Jellico’s recommendations for he and Kevard’s replacement.

The information came up simultaneously on all the captains’ padds and the simulated room fell quiet as they read in concert.

An awkward silence followed, broken finally by Braxos throwing his padd down onto the tabletop with a clatter. He uttered something vulgar in Bolian that the UT did the courtesy of letting pass un-translated.

“It would appear,” Hobson said dryly, “that Admiral Jellico had a high opinion of Captain Sandhurst’s command potential, as well as his knowledge of and experience with the Amon.”

“Fortunately,” Lobanov added, “his practicality and good sense won out.” She turned in her chair to face Gareth. “I suppose congratulations are in order, Rear Admiral.”

Gareth shook his head. “No, I won’t accept congratulations for stepping into a fallen officer’s boots in a time of crisis.” He looked to T’Ser. “Please call Captain Sandhurst in, I’d like to hear his proposal directly from the source.”

T’Ser bobbed her head as she rose. “Yes, sir.” This time he did not correct her.

A moment later, Sandhurst entered the holographic environment, nodding to the assembled command officers. He acknowledged Gareth with a soft smile. “Admiral, sir.”

“Captain, please tell us what you propose be done in regard to IG-3.”

“Aye, sir,” Sandhurst replied. “I’d like to continue repairs to Galaxy’s saucer section until its stable enough to survive being towed back to In’Drahn station at warp. Once there, the saucer will serve as an outpost and communications hub, as well as a resupply and repair facility, given the two industrial replicators aboard. We'll have to extract the second unit from the wreck of Galaxy’s stardrive section. My team back at In’Drahn reports at least a quarter of that facility is still habitable, and I’d like to assign Lt. Commander Pell as a liaison to the Habertaem and their allies. She can supervise our assisting them in rebuilding their habitats and continuing the medical research we’d been working on with them.”

“You believe Pell is ready to command such a mission?” Endilev inquired, his skepticism evident.

“In fact, I don’t,” Sandhurst answered candidly. “She’ll be more than sufficiently occupied with diplomatic matters. I’d intended to place Commander Worf in charge of the Starfleet presence at In’Drahn, commanding the overall mission there from aboard Galaxy’s saucer.”

Almost in spite of himself, Endilev looked satisfied with that response.

“How do you expect to tow the saucer back to In’Drahn with your engines in distress?” Braxos asked pointedly.

“My engineer estimates it will take two weeks to reinforce the saucer’s structural integrity sufficiently for the trip. In that time, I plan to construct our new warp engine, using materials scavenged from Galaxy’s abandoned stardrive as replication matter.”

Braxos scowled. “You think you can do it so quickly?”

“I do,” Sandhurst replied confidently, failing to rise to Braxos' implied challenge.

“IG-3 has three inbound starships that will be joining your group,” Hobson offered. “How would you utilize them most effectively?”

Sandhurst didn’t hesitate in his response. “I’d assign Captain T’Ser to command Valiant, and utilize that ship as an advance scout to reconnoiter the incoming refugee fleets. Khandahar and Saavik would be assigned to patrol nearby populated star systems, building on the good relationships Captain Lobanov has already established with the locals. When needed, both could be diverted to assist Europa, Giacobini, and Gallant in confronting any of the alien formations that resisted diplomatic contact or our requests they divert to another destination.”

There were guardedly optimistic looks shared around the table before Lobanov queried, “What do you feel should be done in regards to the Amon, Captain? Are they a threat?”

Sandhurst replied seriously, “Indeed they are.” He paused to look at each of the other captains individually. “They’re the most serious threat we’ve encountered out here yet, but the fractured nature of their society may present an opportunity to further divide them to our advantage.”

Lobanov appeared genuinely curious. “Please explain.”

“The various tribes of the Amon do not, under any circumstance, make war on one another. It’s taboo in their culture, an offense of the highest order. The tribe responsible for the attack on the Klingons ambushed the tribe that had abducted me, using In’Drahn station’s weapons to launch their assault. I don’t know what provoked it, but the tribe I was associated with was in shock. Provided we’re able to contact them again, we might be able to pit them against one another.”

“How would that help us?” Farouk asked.

“I’d much rather have them fight one another than turn their attention on us. If the other tribe could wipe out a Klingon colony, there’s nothing stopping them from destroying one of ours. And I doubt one of the Federation core worlds would have any better luck defending against them than an outlying settlement.”

Gareth fixed a appraising gaze on Sandhurst. “Do you think you can do this, Captain? Provoke a civil war among the Amon?”

“I don’t know, sir.” Sandhurst answered. “I’m willing to try.”

Gareth sat back in his chair, craning his neck to look down the table at the others. “Does anyone else have an equally developed plan?”

Silence greeted his question.

“Does anyone have any plans whatsoever?”

Sullen expressions and averted gazes were his only responses.

Gareth turned back to Sandhurst. “You want to be a commodore, eh?”

Sandhurst smirked. “I’d like to have my authority formally recognized in any new chain of command, Admiral. I’m going to have to make some controversial decisions before I’m done. I could care less as to what the actual title is.”

Gareth chuckled in reply. “You can call yourself Field Marshall, Grand Vizier, or Khan for all I care.”

“Commodore would be fine, sir,” Sandhurst demurred.

“Very well,” Gareth announced. “You may keep your fifth pip, Commodore Sandhurst, at least insofar as my ultimate authority is supported and verified by Starfleet Command sixteen days from now. Until and unless my order is countermanded, you are hereby the acting deputy commander of Task Force Vanguard, and the primary operational authority for Intercept Group 3.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

“Don’t thank me, Sandhurst. We’ve got a hell of a lot to do in short order to make ourselves ready for the next waves of refugee fleets. Meanwhile, let's see if you can’t light a fire under the Amon before their cousins go and do something stupid in the Alpha Quadrant again.”

*****
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Last edited by Gibraltar; December 13 2012 at 07:06 AM.
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