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Old December 22 2012, 04:55 AM   #3
Lieutenant Commander
Re: December 2012 Writing challenge: Gift of a Lifetime

Gift of a Lifetime:

I. Introduction:

Eric Lysander still couldn’t believe the atmosphere around him on Starbase 339. The brightly colored lights fit in perfectly with the loud and rowdy celebration all around him. He hated every moment of it.

The news broke over a week ago when Starfleet Command announced the final victory of the Alpha Quadrant over the ‘Damn Dominion’ as he called it. The massive fleets of allied ships crushed the Dominion and their stupid allies around Cardassia, ejecting the xenophobic outsiders and their enablers back to their own worthless space. Each night he prayed for forgiveness to God for his attitude; he hoped the Federation showed the sense to leave the Cardassians in the rubble of their so-called ‘Union’ and let them stave. As for the Breen, he’d gladly lead the fleet himself to crush that species of scum into dust.

Far away from the center of action his ‘private little war’ ended as well. He’d walked through the fire of combat with nothing but carnage in his ships’ engine emissions. Only at the end it was he who sat on the sidelines and got burned.

II. Death of the Innocents

Basingna (Andorian for ‘Freedom’)and her 600 member crew served as the big hammer in an ever-changing task force of ships assigned to a peculiar mission in the war. The Dominion found a gorgeous little Class M world named Beelinger, buried in a large 18 planet system in an out of the way spot on the Federation frontier. The planet and its inhabitants were known to Starfleet and the Federation Exploration Directorate; being a pre-warp civilization they were checked on every so often to see if they were ready for a First Contact.

Nobody knew of the deep infiltration into Federation space until a Mirada-class refit running as a science/scouting vessel found a ‘Beelie’ in a one-man capsule launched from his home planet. Once Aorrra opened the capsule, examined the Beelie’s body and ship Starfleet wondered why they did this. The answer: Ketracel White. Beelinger’s ecosystem made it a perfect place to grow the narcotic for the Jem’Hadar; away from the war, ignored by their opponents, with a ready-made race of slaves to grow and refine it.

The Beelie military survived the Jem’Hadar just long enough to protect their first nuclear fusion-powered space ship. Totally unknown to the Federation, the Beelie were about to launch a solar-system exploration program. Once conquered, in desperation they stripped their first exploration vessel of everything but a database of the system, one man, and as many supplies as they could fill it with and launched it into space hoping for a miracle. Several came their way as Beelies died by the millions.

The Dominion rapidly turned the Beelinger System into a fortress. With the system favored for defense the planets bristled with defense systems, warships, and troops to protect the White production.

Starfleet Command capitalized on the golden opportunity. They could tie up a significant Dominion force by simply blockading the system and keeping the defense and the White there. Stretched to the breaking point already Starfleet threw almost anything that could fly and fire a weapon at the system. A modular-designed starbase grew up in open space a light hour away from the system to support the blockaders.

By sheer numbers of hulls and the ability of Commodore Akili Bona to manipulate his forces to intercept shipment vessels away from the system he fought the Dominion to a draw. In a strategic situation much like the Western Front in Earth’s First World War, Bona and his scratch force sealed up the Dominion forces in the system, except for those times a large force would run the blockade to take a shipment out.

Starfleet’s paid a price for the stalemate; a constant bleeding of ships and people keeping the blockade. The second-line ships were expendable, their crews were not. The affable commodore rapidly built up the undeserved reputation of being an incompetent commander by supposedly wasting ships to try and stop the Ketracel White. ‘Butcher Bona’ became universally hated by his command, and anyone who survived it long enough to go somewhere else.

Then one day the ‘sheriff’ showed up.

III. The New Sheriff in Town

Basingna and her skipper were a perfect match; both born and bred for combat. Eric spent his career as a tactical officer on starships. Nobody understood the fire in him that made him so good, except for the Personnel Directorate at Starfleet Command. Having your family and home planet turned to a burned out rock can put a fire in your belly, and he never lost it. Every day he swore to himself he wouldn’t allow what happened to him to happen to others, no matter what the cost.

Starfleet believed tactical officers had no place on modern starships until the Borg visited and met the welcoming committee at Wolf 359. Later the wormhole, the Gamma Quadrant, and the miserable wretches of the Dominion showed up. Eric Lysander killed local Federation enemies in droves; when the Founders and their stooges he hated showed up, he killed them in larger bunches.

Brought back to Earth midway through the war, Eric didn’t even step off the transport ship at Starbase One before a couple of admirals picked him up, escorted him to the fleet yards at Jupiter Station and introduced him to Basingna. The ship originated as the follow-on to the Defiant-class starship program. The brains behind Defiant (and their supporters in Starfleet Command) doubled-down on the idea of a pure Starfleet warship with a larger version of Defiant. For her first captain it wasn’t love at first sight.

The difference between the classes started with the powerplant, or better put, powerplants. The first radical idea for Basingna: Incorporating two warp cores in the ship, one for the engines, and one for the defense systems. Told about it as Eric looked Basingna over on his first inspection he joked, “What’s its name, Massive Explosion?” Nobody laughed.

Next, the Defiant designers fixed their second error on the vessel, not enough weaponry. Basingna carried more of everything, 6 full phaser mounts on turrets, ten phaser cannons, seven forward and three aft, and a dozen torpedo launchers along the midline of the ship. After designing the power systems and weaponry, they built the toughest hull around it they could. As Eric took the tour he couldn’t believe his ears or eyes. The monstrosity sounded to him like a ‘fanboy’ machine, something a little kid would build on his home computer system to conquer his schoolmate’s planet.

“What’s your impression Captain?” Admiral Jel-Leleik asked him.

“Sir, are the designers insane?” He listed everything he knew couldn’t work in detail. The Arcadian quietly listened to him and responded in two sentences.

“She can’t fly long distances, and she’s cramped. You have enough brass to make it work Captain?”

She knew him too well; Eric Lysander had the brass, and agreed to make it work. Six months later Basingna left Earth for Beelinger.

Eric hadn’t been in church for a long time, partly caused by guilt, partly for lack of opportunity. The recent past did for Starfleet what crises did for thinking beings all over the Federation, starting a ‘great awakening’. ‘Why you lived while your friends blew up?’ was an obvious question for many in Starfleet as war casualties mounted. Evil seemed to rule the universe; did it? In spite of the image of modern society, God still existed in many people’s hearts and souls. You can’t explain away what you don’t know or understand as random chance all the time and Eric found his peace believing in God. He lived his belief, and following the ancient texts of his family and church, he found God as his own. It was in church he found the gift one day.

St. Dominic's in San Francisco had survived and been rebuilt often, with the same love as the first church on the site built in Earth year 1863. Away from the smoking ruins of Starfleet Command, not many Starfleet ended up there, and it suited him perfectly. One day he wondered in late for Mass and sat in the back. To his amazement a most wonderful sight met his eyes; a tall, blonde-haired female in Starfleet uniform sat on the other side of the church, so far in front of him she had no idea of the inspection she received during mass. Much to Eric’s irritation she never looked around to let him see her face.

When Captain Phoebe McKizer walked out the main doors of St. Dominic’s her jaw dropped to the sidewalk, matching the jaw of the captain waiting to introduce himself. Phoebe and Eric hadn’t seen each other since their Academy graduation years before.

‘Pee’ McKizer and ‘Farmboy’ Lysander swallowed their nicknames throughout their academy days; both were the butt of jokes in most social circles. But unlike most of their classmates they made a career out of the Service, she by the helmsman chair, he by a tactical console. The years were kind to them and they rose to command starships.

Phoebe wasn’t the same person Eric knew. She’d almost washed out of the Academy because her very thin build would break down under the stress of the Academy physical training program. Years of effort, working out and legal drug therapy transformed her body. Now a ‘head turner’, most bodies the heads were on didn’t interest her.

Phoebe only remembered ‘Farmboy’ as a recluse. Lysander was as quiet and shy as a Vulcan after kolinahr, especially around females whatever the species. Few people knew why, most didn’t care. An arm’s length from others emotionally was just fine with him, even as his career led him all over the galaxy.

Until mass at St. Dominic's and lunch at The Happy Vulcan just down the street changed them.

The afternoon overlooking the Pacific Ocean turned into a long evening’s walk along the shoreline as they talked about command, people they knew, careers, the places they’d seen, and their experiences. After touching Phoebe’s hand and not being rejected Eric opened up about his fear as the sun set over the ocean.

At his office on Jupiter Station the next morning she left him a message thanking him for the great day, and telling him goodbye as her Excelsior-class Trafalgar headed out again to war.

A month later Basingna left Earth with two new Defiant cousins, USS Akkadeck and Cheron. Once away Captain Lysander posted orders; the task force was assigned to free Beelinger from Dominion occupation. The long trek to Starbase 339 filled Lysander with dread; his new ship and crew had more problems and breakdowns than the population of a mental hospital. At one point he told his CMO Dr. Moss-Morman he decided to abort the mission and check into the psych ward at Starfleet Medical himself.

The trip wasn’t easy on anyone; Basingna’s crew were engineers or weapons specialists. Operations and Science didn’t exist; the medical staff consisted of one nurse, 4 doctors, and cross-trained assistants. Basingna’s bridge held twelve stations: Captain, helm, communications, three for engineering, Senior Tactical officer, a weapons officer for each weapons system, and one defense/shields officer. The chief tactical officer ran the sensor unit. The auxiliary bridge had the same layout. The food, the water and coffee seemed barely fit for consumption, but nobody had the time to fix it.

Every night Eric prayed for three things; to wake up in the morning, have a working ship by docking time at Starbase 339, and somehow Phoebe McKizer would live long enough he could see her again. Two prayers were answered quickly. Basingna’s long transit allowed the crew to work out the kinks while the senior officers poured over data on the Beelinger System and Intel reports on Dominion hardware and tactics. The work allowed the task force commander to keep his sanity as the task force finished their journey.

Once Basingna entered the war zone her crew found out how lucky or blessed they were. Before his ship threw umbilicals to the base the boss pulled the welcome mat from under their feet.

“Captain, priority message from the Starbase, Commodore Bona.”

“On screen” The first thing he noticed were the bags under the eyes of his boss. The commodore looked exhausted. Even with a smile on his face a blind man could see his burdens weighing on him.

“Don’t get comfortable Lysander. When can you leave here?”

“If you put it that way sir, right now. Who do we kill?”

“Two heavily escorted Dominion ships filled with Ketracel White. Possibly four heavy escort vessels with them. Looks like they need the stuff badly Captain. Am transferring data to you now.”

Tactical Boss Skeller nodded a few moments later when the data showed up on his screen.

“Got it commodore, how long before they leave?”

A voice called out across the com link “Sir, I would guess an hour.”

Lysander did the math in his head. They could make it if they hurried. “We leave now Commodore, please clear us out of here.”

“Captain, your orders are to return in one piece.” Bona told him “If they are too big for you let them go.”

“Aye sir, Basingna out.” Looking over to Commander Skeller he smiled. “I’ve never been one to take those types of orders seriously have you?”

The Andorian smiled back, “In your language captain, hell no!”

“Order them up com! Akkadeck and Cheron on us. Pass the word to the crew; free beer on the starbase to every man who comes back home if no Dominion ships live.”

Helmsman Cromadie turned around and stared at his captain. “Sir, there’s 600 people on board and you don’t drink.”

“Details Lieutenant, just details.”

Ten minutes later Captain Phoebe McKizer woke up to the insistent sound of her com unit. Wiping the sleep out of her eyes she took a look at the monitor and the face of her boss. “When can you leave Feeb?”

“We are the ready ship sir. Give us 30 minutes.”

“You have 20 Captain; we have our new ships here and the captain running the task force is an idiot or a fool. He’s going to take on a White convoy with four heavy escort ships. Get out there ASAP and pick up the pieces.”

As she acknowledged the orders she hit the alert button on her desk. 10 minutes later Trafalgar slipped her moorings, with a couple of destroyers escorting her.

“Got them sir!” Skeller roared “At least six targets, two Dominion battle wagons, two transports and two smaller ships. On course 28 mark 330 from the system star.”

“Battlestations Mr. Skeller. Commander Leeds, the small ships are suicide vessels?”

As the alert sirens went off and the lights changed the atmosphere on board, Eric’s XO gave his two cents from the auxiliary bridge. “Confirm sir. They will show up when we are engaged, at least that seems to be their recent practice. Recommend Akkadeck and Cheron take them.”

“No Phil, I want to hide our strength. Com, order our cousins to hide in our wake. Attack pattern three.” Dutifully the two Defiant-class ships closed up close behind and in the power emissions of their big companion, with Captain Wu and Captain Shotak joining Basingna’s XO in shaking their heads. The formation was a bad choice.

Eric Lysander disagreed with them. “Alright boys and girls we will toy with our supposedly invincible friends. Yettle, shields to 80%, hold until the big ships get hot. Hollingshead, you kill the suicide ships, then join in the main party. Fire on my order. Skeller, find the magic spot and kill the near ship. Com, order Akkadeck and Cheron to take on the second battle wagon and feed them the tactical map. Tactical on screen.”

As if on cue the Dominion ships reached the system limit; if they wished they could avoid battle. The Jem’Hadar commander decided otherwise with the concurrence of his Vorta supervisor; one weak Starfleet ship is no problem to kill. The two Dominion units formed up and made a run at the unknown vessel keeping themselves between the fools and their transports. The tactical officers scanned the ship and saw its obvious weaknesses’; lack of speed and shields. The small Dominion warships moved to attack, just as Eric had foreseen as he considered how to fight his ship.

Basingna sprung the trap. Eric got on his com unit so the crew could hear. “Skeller kill the bastard to starboard, shields to full. Hollingshead make ‘em die! Helm course 350 mark 295, battle speed.”

Just outside of the Dominion’s firing range, the two big ships saw the error of their ways. Basingna exploded as she fired up her weaponry. Three suicide ships exploded as they rushed Basingna by swallowing phaser cannon shots. Two full volleys of photon torpedoes accurately hit after the phaser turrets pounded the starboard front shield. The second volley of torpedoes broke the shield down and two impacted on the hull. Carrying on the attack the phaser cannons switched targets to the damaged ship while half the torpedoes switched to cover Eric’s surprise.

Feeling the next volley of torpedoes leaving the ship the inevitable report came from the defense officer: “They are firing sir, both ships on us.”

“Helm evasive to port, go captains!” Watching the Defiants leave for their attack he braced for the inevitable impact of the massive ships’ broadsides. The first impact pushed the ship sideways with the hit continuing to stitch down the starboard shields. Commander Yettle came back on with the only thing he feared during the battle: “Sir, new emissions from the lead ship, the Breen beam. “

“Engineering Breen shields now!” Eric shouted as he stood in front of his command chair. All weapons on that emitter Skeller.” The impact of another weapons volley knocked him to the floor. Com officer Myers ran over to pick him up. “Ok sir?”

“Thanks Dana, that knocked the silliness out of me. Damage?”

“None yet, light casualties sir.”

Yettle shouted next “Shields to 70% sir. Breen weapon sort of neutralized, but we’re still losing shield strength.”

The tactical display revealed Akkadeck and Cheron were holding their own against the second battlewagon, but the lead ship hadn’t died yet. The display told him it was dying, just not quickly enough. As he considered the tactical screen he noticed four more Jem’Hadar coming to support their brothers, obviously a ready force to make a run at the Starfleeters. He decided to force the issue.

“Helm direct course to the transports, hard as you can go. Skeller, finish the lead ship.”

Basingna adjusted course to portwith the damaged and leaking battleship moving to defend the transports. The point of the battle was to destroy the shipment of White, not kill massive ships the Dominion could replace easily. Eric took a big risk; if he couldn’t destroy the battlewagon in front of him the transports would get away or the Jem’Hadar commander could make a suicide run on Basingna herself.

He rolled the dice anyway. The lead battle wagon started to slow as Basingna poured fire in it. As Dominion shields fell one by one the excellent Tactical Boss moved weapons to target more specific areas of the enemy. The closer the two ships got, the more accurate Starfleet fire took its toll, with Basingna receiving less and less. The display on the main screen told the tale; the projected intersection of the two ship’s courses showed they were not going to meet as the Dominion ship lost power and started drifting on inertia. Others saw it too.

“Recommend switching to the transports.” Basingna’s XO called up from below. The Tactical Boss looked at his boss and Eric nodded his head. Keeping a set of phasers and the rear torpedo tubes pounding the dying ship now behind them, both transports started running evasive courses as Basingna poured fire into them.

Eric noticed a new problem; the remaining Dominion battle wagon started chewing up the Defiants as Akkadeck and Cheron kept running complicated attack patterns on it, closing to even 100,000 kilometers before pounding the enemy with everything they had. The ready force of Jem’Hadar took notice of the situation and moved to defend the active battleship.

Without orders Commander Skeller took off the remaining systems on the hulk behind them and concentrated everything on the two transports. He could feel the sweat under his uniform starting as the ship couldn’t finish off the tough hulled transport vessels. A few meters away, his captain felt his uniform being soaked through from the pressure. Eric Lysander realized he was losing control of the battle.

The transports ran evasive courses away from each other and Basingna, shortly at least one of the transports could be free to leave. Akkadeck and Cheron were hurting and in a few moments he needed to break off the assault to come to their aid. He and their captains seriously misjudged their effectiveness against the big metal. The data pouring on to the Tactical screen confirmed his fears; the White would have to escape.

“Alright, break off the transports, helm course 120…”

“No sir, not yet!” Skeller pleaded. The tactical screen gave Eric a gift with a big red bow; Excelsior and two Centaur-class destroyers entered the free-for-all on the side of the good guys. Exactly as he would draw it up, the destroyers ran at the small Dominion ships while the old starship pounded the Dominion battlewagon from a third vector. He never said a word to them, why mess up a good thing?

“Belay it helm, get the far transport Skeller, then we’ll finish off the near one.” Complying with razor-sharp precision, the tactical team turned the two transports into exploding fireballs shortly thereafter. A short trip ended the battle in style when the four major Starfleet units teamed up to dispatch the second battleship in a massive explosion and a demand for surrender caused the flagship to blow itself up before capture.

“Keep alert status people. Myers, get in contact with that Excelsior over there, the most beautiful ship in space! We owe him a big thank you for making this easy.” The Andorian Tactical Boss looked at him with a drooping ear.

“You call that easy sir?”

“A lot easier than if we had to tow two carcasses home because upgraded Defiants can’t kill a well-handled battle wagon. I’d kiss that captain on the lips right now for what he did, he timed everything up perfectly.”

“Captain, got the Excelsior captain.”

“Put him on, we have a lot of work to do.” Eric turned from his com officer’s station and started talking before looking at the screen. “Captain, thanks for your help I’m--”

“I know exactly who you are Eric. You owe me for this, I just lost a night’s sleep.” Phoebe McKizer’s smile permeated Basingna’s bridge.

“I think I’d kiss him on the lips too” one of the weapons officers whispered as he observed the main screen.

A few minutes later Trafalgar had the crippled Cheron under tow, and the winners turned for home under cover of Basingna. However, the large Starfleet ship wasn’t quite done; instead of just watching out for pursuit the ship shaped a course in-system. As Trafalgar’s bridge crew watched in horror, Basingna took a hunting trip. Good work by Leeds and the auxiliary bridge crew allowed Basingna’s master to take her to the nearest planet in the system to them more or less free of any threat from the system defenders. On the way in the tactical people shot up every Dominion piece of equipment they could find from defense stations to sensor posts to com sats. Once in orbit of the 13th planet of the system, the ship leveled the small base there.

On the way out of the system Eric had one more surprise for the Dominion, a couple probes launched toward Beelinger III. Hours after launch, a young Beelie female from a small village made it out past the Jem’Hadar enforcing the dawn-to-dusk curfew and collected a few items from the small hole where a strange piece of metal landed.

It took a month for the message disk to get into the hands of the living Beelies on the planet that could do something with it. The piece of paper that came along with the disk everyone could read. In their native language Eric sent a simple message: “Help is coming.”

Eric sat with his senior staff in the Officers’ Mess as the taste of victory filled the room. Skeller had the needle out. “You enjoyed yourself too much Captain. The probes were a nice touch. Are you part Andorian?

“No, I’m too violent for you Skeller. Just wanted to leave a message of hope for those poor beings down there while killing Vorta and their lap dogs. The new sheriff arrived in town today ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to clean up this place.” Later he regretted saying those words.

Back at the starbase the ‘morning’ after everyone else returned Basingna docked and Eric took the reaming out of his career by Commodore Bona. The post-mortem made it sound like they’d lost the battle instead of won it. In many ways he was correct; Basingna, Akkadeck and Cheron were too important to lose, and without the intervention of a second force he could have easily lost the two Defiants. Bona needed working ships with competent crews to keep the blockade going, and losses of trained people were much worse than the damaged hardware. He saw no room for anyone to take risks and made sure Basingna’s master heard it with both ears. Shooting up marginal bases and insignificant parts of the Dominion defense network were not worth losing his ship to a surprise.

The commodore laid out the real cost: 118 precious souls killed or wounded. Akkadeck and Cheron would each spend three weeks in repairing battle damage, while bringing replacements up to speed and wounded made whole.

When Bona finished Lysander made the biggest mistake of his career by opening his big mouth again. “Commodore, we won, we stopped the shipment. Why not liberate the planet and end the need for the blockade? Let’s start killing them here. How many more people will we lose trying to keep the status quo?”

Bona responded like he just got hit with a phaser blast. He’d lost so many people and ships under his makeshift command he felt in his bones the anger his people had at him over it. Seeing the casualty counts piling up exponentially in Starfleet reports his captains weren’t allowed to see told him what he’d been doing was all he could do.

Now a veteran captain came in with no clue about his situation and dropped a bomb on him. He’d fallen in a rut, and his staff did too. Was keeping a lid on a leaking bottle the best plan for his situation? The captain sitting across from him saw he’d scored on the boss. Aggressive action might work better than this.

“Captain see to your command. For the next two weeks you are the ready ship.” Lysander looked back with a questioning stare and sinking feeling in his stomach as Bona continued. “I need you ready to leave on 30 minutes notice starting right now.”

Once back on board he passed along the good news: Repairs on the run, crew always on board ship, and no promised beer. Now Eric had both sides mad at him; his superior officer and his crew. Eventually both got over it, the next two weeks were so busy they spend more time working issues than sitting at the starbase anyway.

Eric considered it a blessing. Being out in action without any action to speak of allowed him to meet his peers via subspace and find out what was really going on. The aggressive Jem’Hadar kept things hot by constantly attacking vulnerable ships, but never enough to risk losing control of the system. It made perfect sense to him, they liked the status quo. The Starfleet captains he talked to didn’t; while they liked living longer than those on the front, good friends were dying anyway for no purpose. Eric didn’t want to die, but if he was to die out here he wanted to die for something that mattered.

Clashes increased in number with inferior forces taking on Starfleet ships on ground of Starfleet’s choosing, with predictable results. The sacrifices were made so more and heavier units could make their way into the Beelinger system and the system defenses could be upgraded without interference. Of course Starbase 339 saw everything going on even if they couldn’t stop all the reinforcements.

Commodore Bona took a few decisions of his own in those two weeks, starting with a long conference with his senior staff. After the long one-day session a subspace call to Admiral Ross became a negotiating session. The overall war commander made his dissatisfaction with the situation at Beelinger clear; one of his few current pressure points against the Dominion was the fact Starfleet had their thumb on the Ketracel White supply in the Alpha Quadrant except for two places; Cardassia and Beelinger. He couldn’t do anything about the former. The latter was a whole different story.

The plan they agreed to satisfied neither party. Instead of enough ships to force the issue once and for all, Ross gave Commodore Bona a rotation of ships. On the way to the front lines new and refit ships would stop by Beelinger to work the kinks out and Fleet would add ships to make good Bona’s recent losses. The commodore’s orders were simple, take the Beelinger System now.

The ‘two weeks as the duty ship’ became a month on patrol. The Jem’Hadar only made one run at Basingna herself, and Lysander’s crew tore the attack apart from a Dominion battlecruiser and a couple attack/suicide ships. The report the system had heavy units shook up everybody at the starbase and tripped warnings further up the chain of command. Taking Beelinger just became much harder.


Last edited by CaptainGold; December 23 2012 at 02:03 AM.
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