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Old December 21 2012, 10:36 PM   #124
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Ready Room, USS Europa.


Sandhurst appreciated that T’Ser hadn’t redecorated the ready room in his absence, yet another reflection of her loyalty to him, albeit a subtle one. A model of Gibraltar stood atop a display stand, next to another representing Venture. He took a brief moment to focus on the commemorative decorations, giving his eyes a rest from the hours of exhausting reading he’d been buried under.

Outside the viewport he could see work-bees and EVA-suited engineering personnel completing repairs to the warp-sled’s nacelles. Meanwhile, the remaining emergency supplies stored on the sled were being transferred to Europa for distribution back at what remained of In’Drahn station.

Europa would make a quick stopover at In’Drahn to resupply their relief effort and rotate out their exhausted personnel before returning to the nebula where both Europa and Valiant would jointly tractor Galaxy’s saucer section back to a position near In’Drahn. The great debris field surrounding the station would serve as bulk matter that could be easily reconditioned into all manner of usable repair materials and foodstuffs.

Adding the sled’s industrial replicator to Galaxy’s other two would give the new cobbled together outpost a significant fabrication output, more than enough to conduct repairs to the saucer and portions of the heavily damaged former-Husnock installation.

What would otherwise have been days wasted at maximum warp between the various destinations would now be only hours thanks to their extraordinary new drive system. The multiple jaunts would also give them time to further study the drive, as well as the newly discovered sub-dimensional plane through which the mechanism propelled them.

As he’d completed Ra-Havreii’s groundbreaking design while in the throes of a neural fugue, Sandhurst was hesitant to trust it fully, despite its fault-free performance thus far. TFV had already lost the experimental starship Xu Fu to a supposedly miraculous faster-than-warp drive, and Sandhurst was determined not to follow in their unfortunate footsteps.

His door chimed and Sandhurst elicited a small sigh. This was to be the talk. The outcome of this discussion would decide Europa’s command structure for the foreseeable future.

“Enter,” he called out.

Pava Lar’ragos strode into the compartment, nodding to Sandhurst with the merest hint of a knowing smile.

“Take a seat, Pava.”

Lar’ragos did so, his expression all seriousness now.

“Since you’ve known why I called you here since… well, probably before I’d even done it, I’m going to spare you the lead-in. To put it succinctly, I need to know if we can work effectively together as captain and XO.”

“I’m fine with it, sir,” Lar’ragos stated plainly.

“We’ve had… problems before,” Sandhurst offered, avoiding the unpleasant details as he moved to take a sip of his pungent Rigellian spice coffee.

“I presume you are referring to the occasion on which I kicked my captain’s ass all over the inside of a turbolift, sir?”

Sandhurst’s cool, studied command persona evaporated in a fit of coughing as he choked down the little bit of coffee he hadn’t spit out. “Shit,” he remarked. “And to think I’d almost forgotten how direct you could be.”

Lar’ragos smiled. “No sense dancing around the giant purple sloth in the room.”

“Pink elephant,” Sandhurst corrected.

“Whatever,” Lar’ragos said, waving a hand dismissively. “So long as you don’t ask me to beam down to a planet and run amok again, I don’t foresee any problems.”

Sandhurst set his cup down, his demeanor suddenly downshifting to something more somber, altogether darker. “We both know that’s a possibility on this mission, Commander. We may, in fact, be called upon to do a great many reprehensible things.”

“I’ve drawn a line, sir,” Lar’ragos said, sounding a confessional note.

“Yes, I know,” Sandhurst countered. “Apparently that line includes refusing to kill me.”

Despite himself, Lar’ragos blanched at that.

“You disobeyed a direct order from Captain T’Ser and tried to physically countermand her will in front of the entire bridge.”

“I did, sir.”

“That can’t happen again, Pava. Not ever. Not even if my life hangs in the balance.”

The muscles in Lar’ragos’ jaw worked furiously as he studiously avoided eye-contact with the commodore.

“You’re stronger than me,” he said finally. “On Velkohn, when you killed Liana, if that had been me beside the generator instead of her, you’d have done the same thing.”

“Yes,” Sandhurst acknowledged simply.

“If it had been you down there, I couldn’t have done it.”

A long moment of silence followed as Sandhurst struggled to form a cogent response.

“I’m not sure what to say to that,” he said finally. “I realize you’ve made many difficult decisions in your life, some of which you regret enormously. Regardless, if you want to be my executive officer, I need to know that you’re capable of carrying out that order, should it become necessary.”

Lar’ragos finally looked up at him.

“We’re all expendable on this assignment,” Sandhurst continued. “Entire worlds hang in the balance.”

Lar’ragos took in a deep breath, nodding slowly as he exhaled. “Neither of us are the men we were, sir. I’m ashamed of my previous behavior. I acknowledge that life is change.” He directed a confident gaze at Sandhurst as he said, “I understand and accept the responsibilities of XO, up to and including sacrificing your life should it become necessary for the sake of the mission.”

Sandhurst continued to observe him for a few seconds longer, judging Pava’s bearing as though probing for any sign of duplicity. “Okay,” he said, rising to his feet and extending a hand, “Lieutenant Commander Lar’ragos, I hereby appoint you executive officer of Europa. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Commodore,” Lar’ragos replied, shaking the hand warmly.

“Gods but I hope we don’t find a way to screw this up,” Sandhurst said with a chuckle.

*****

Ganopus System, United Federation of Planets, Alpha Quadrant

The civilian cruise liner SS Rosh’iba-Hu, namesake of the ancient Tiburonian explorer, dropped out of warp just outside the farthest reaches of the star Ganopa’s gravity well.

This was a routine stop along the ship’s twice-monthly circuit, a brief layover at Ganopus V’s massive casino and entertainment complex on the artificially engineered continent of Arcadia. The entire world, more popularly known as Blue Horizon, was a terraformed paradise, with a multitude of successively more outlandish ‘natural’ wonders to delight and astonish even the most jaded travelers.

Captain Oliver Bernd frowned, the worry lines in his weathered face standing out more so than usual. “Any response?” he inquired from his communications officer.

“None, sir. Blue Horizon and all orbital installations are emissions quiet.”

“Something is terribly wrong here,” Bernd uttered ominously. He glanced back at the sensor station. “I want detailed scans of Blue Horizon and the Urskine mining outpost on Delaport’s second moon.”

Seconds groaned past as sensor beams swept the targeted areas.

The young sensor officer’s voice trembled slightly as he announced, “I’m seeing only sporadic life signs returning from Blue Horizon, Captain. There are massive fires burning in locations corresponding with all major settlements. All three orbital facilities and all orbiting satellites appear to have been completely destroyed, and I’m reading multiple debris fields throughout the system that…” he gulped, “that are probably the remains of spacecraft.”

“The lunar outpost?” Bernd pressed.

“There’s a glowing crater where the outpost was located,” came the disbelieving reply.

“Receiving a comms query from the border cutter Santiago, Captain,” the communications officer said. “They advise that the Federation comms network lost contact with the Ganopus system a little over three hours ago. They’re requesting we transmit all sensor information to them immediately.”

Bernd was former Starfleet, and had been a senior lieutenant aboard the old Constellation-class explorer Inouye. That ship had been fated to miss the Battle of Wolf 359 by a mere half-parsec due to a microfracture in their warp-core sustained while redlining their engines to make it to Starfleet’s last stand in time.

As it was, the Inouye had arrived too late to do anything but assist the Border Service with the grim task of combing through the fleet’s wreckage for humanoid remains. That near-miss with the reaper had convinced Bernd that a career in Starfleet would likely end badly for him, and so he resigned his commission at the first opportunity.

Now, a decade and a half later, Bernd found himself thrust once again into the shadow of death. He straightened, ordering, “Transmit Starfleet our sensor logs and prepare to jump to warp. Come hard about and set course back to Argelia. Engage at full emergency speed.”

“But sir!” cried out one of the junior-most officers, “regulations demand that we render whatever assistance we’re able!”

“Blue Horizon had a level-three defense grid,” Bernd said matter-of-factly. “There are roughly two-point-seven million people on that planet at any given time… and they’re all gone. Whatever did this could snuff us out in an instant.”

“Do you think it was one of the refugee fleets?” asked another bridge officer.

As the giant cruise-liner came slowly about, Bernd flashed a grim look at the other man. “We’re over three-hundred light years from the coreward frontier. There’s no way a refugee fleet could reach Ganopus without Starfleet knowing about it.”

“Then who the hell did this?” the man practically screamed.

“We’re not waiting around to find out,” was Bernd’s caustic reply.

*****
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Last edited by Gibraltar; December 22 2012 at 01:50 AM.
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