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Old December 29 2012, 12:28 AM   #134
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

USS Valiant


T’Ser had to skirt around the as-yet unpacked crates that littered the floor of her new quarters in order to reach the door controls. She was wearing a loose fitting silken blouse and comfortable pants, as she’d become loathe to wear her uniform in her off-duty hours of late. Her hair was pinned up into an unkempt bun to keep it out of her way, leaving her pointed ears unaccustomedly exposed.

She triggered the doors to open, coming face to face with a smiling Dao Liu. “Good evening, Captain,” he said warmly. “I hope I’m not intruding.”

“Not at all, Counselor,” T’Ser replied, stepping back and gesturing broadly to the cluttered cabin. “You’re just in time to see my artistically interpretive, ‘Ode to In’Drahn station.’

Liu chucked at her gallows humor, his arms held behind his back as he patiently awaited an invitation to enter.

T’Ser stared at him for a brief moment before realizing her faux pas. “Oh, please,” she said, ushering him into the compartment, “come on in.”

He entered, gazing around at the stacked crates of clothing and personal belongings shipped over from Europa. “I just wanted to stop in and say hello before we depart on our little adventure to visit the En-Il-Que,” he said, a strained quality noticeable in his voice at his mention of the upcoming mission.

“Storming the castle, you mean?” T’Ser answered lightly.

“Actually,” Liu replied seriously, “I believe we’re storming a heavily fortified star system.”

“It’s a raid, Counselor,” T’Ser chided him gently. “In and out. Some shooting, some reconnaissance, but nothing worth getting to terribly worked up about.”

“And since you’ve been with this crew, how many of these missions have gone strictly according to plan?”

She shrugged in response. “Touché, Mister Liu.”

An awkward silence followed, finally broken when Liu admitted, “I’ve seen combat before, and though I’m not overly fond of it, I’ve never been outright terrified before a mission… until now.”

T’Ser turned toward him, quirking a curious eyebrow. “Here and I thought you were supposed to be the counselor, Counselor.”

Liu brought his hands around from behind his back, revealing a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other. “Who do I turn to in order to unburden my soul?” he asked.

She searched his face, looking for any sign of sarcasm or ulterior motive, finding none.

“I’m… I’m not sure this is appropriate. I’m—“

“No longer my captain,” he finished for her. Liu set the glasses down and drew the cork out of the previously opened bottle. He poured two measures into the glasses, offering one to T’Ser. “I’m scared, I’m lonely, and I want to share a glass of wine with a beautiful woman before a dangerous mission from which I may not return.”

T’Ser accepted the glass, eyes still laser-focused on Liu’s. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He took a sip from his glass. “Yes,” he answered truthfully. “You’re gorgeous.”

She blushed a deep green in response, taking a sip of her own as she tried to conjure some kind of reply. “You don’t trust Commodore Sandhurst’s abilities?” she said after a moment’s consideration.

“In fact, I do, and that’s the problem. The Donald Sandhurst I know, the one whose file I’ve studied, has always been caught between his brilliant intellect and the dictates of his humanity. Now it seems that humanity has been muted, censored somehow, allowing the dissociated intellect free reign.”

T’Ser cocked her head, frowning. “And you’re afraid of what he might do?”

“Yes,” Liu confessed. “He believes that he’s the right person at the right place and time in our history to make a difference out here, and I’m terrified he may be right.”

“He’s my superior officer,” she said unnecessarily. “Where he leads, I follow, whether or not I believe the course he’s set is the best of all possible options.”

Liu drained the rest of his glass, pouring himself another with a hand that shook ever so slightly. “Of course,” he said haltingly. “Do you believe this attack is in our best interests?”

T’Ser set her glass down on the table, moving closer to Liu. She interceded with a hand on his forearm, denying him the glass of wine he’d meant to raise to his lips. She pried the glass gently from his grasp and set it beside her own, before pulling him towards her as she breathed, “Fight them here, now… or fight them when they arrive on our doorsteps.”

He gazed upon her, his expression caught between genuine fear and wanton desire. “This mission may have been… bigger than I’d anticipated.”

“So many things are,” she replied, silencing any further recriminations with a tentative kiss that grew more passionate the longer it lingered.

“Uh… wow,” Liu stammered. “That was—“

“Yes,” she agreed, cutting him off. “It was.”

*****

USS Europa, en route to System DL-40637 at transwarp

“You’re sure they won’t see us coming, sir?” Lightner asked from the Flight Control station.

“Let’s just say my confidence hovers in the vicinity of the ninety-ninth percentile, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst replied evenly from the captain’s chair. “We had Valiant looking hard for us on our approach last week, and all they detected was a minute subspace disruption point-zero-zero-three seconds before we dropped out right on top of them.”

Lightner whistled appreciatively. “Almost better than a cloak,” he remarked.

Sandhurst looked back to make eye contact with Lar’ragos, who had taken Verrik’s position at the Tactical arch now that the security/tactical officer had removed himself from duty due to unspecified personal reasons. He briefly wondered if Verrik wasn’t experiencing a pacifistic Vulcan resistance to the planned attack on the En-Il-Que.

“Take me through our load-out again, please, Pava.” he requested.

“We’re prepped with standard photons for their ships, quantum torpedoes for their larger installations, and an Alpha Weapon on standby in forward tube two.”

Sandhurst nodded grimly. “What flavor of Alpha?”

“Zero-point singularity initiator,” Lar’ragos replied. “It’s supposed to open a quantum fissure lasting a fiftieth of a second that will cause a catastrophic distortion of any matter in a five-hundred kilometer radius.”

Sandhurst frowned. “How the hell did they get that by the subspace weapons ban?”

“It’s not technically a subspace weapon, Commodore,” Lar’ragos clarified. “And I’m pretty certain Admiral Brandies doesn’t give the proverbial ‘rat’s ass’ about weapons ban treaties.”

“Still, I don’t think that’s something I want to set off in the gravity well of an inhabited planet,” Sandhurst decided. “What else have we got?”

Lar’ragos called up an armory manifest, keying in his priority authorization codes so he could discern the warhead yields of their Alpha Weapon stores. “Well, the technical analysis of the En-Il-Que ships indicates your IFEW package would be effective against their warp drives.”

The IFEW, or Ionization Field Effect Weapon was a device previously designed by Sandhurst for use against Neo-Maquis raiding squadrons. Any lightly shielded vessel within the radius of the weapon’s discharge would have its warp coils depolarized, necessitating days or weeks of time-consuming repairs to return the vessels to operability.

“Okay, prep three of the IFEW warheads and have those standing by in forward tube two.” He turned back to face the viewscreen. “Mister Lightner, ETA?”

“Sixty seconds, sir,” the young pilot replied.

They were already at red alert, but Sandhurst keyed up the intraship to announce, “All hands, this is the commodore. Stand to battle stations. Medical and damage control personnel, rally to assembly points and stand by for further instructions from Ops.”

“Phasers hot,” Lar’ragos advised. “I’ve input target coordinates from our projected arrival point and have staggered photon and quantum torpedoes in forward tubes one and three. Aft tubes are loaded with photorp only.”

“Understood,” Sandhurst answered, eyeing a tactical graphic on his chair’s armrest display.

“Thirty seconds.”

“Once shields are up, I want them at full across all quarters until we can confirm threat vessel and installation locations,” Sandhurst ordered. “Route auxiliary power to the structural integrity grid to compensate for our sudden deceleration.”

Confirmations echoed his instructions and the bridge crew silently counted down the final seconds in time with Lightner’s cadence. “Three… two… one… dropping out of transwarp – now. Engines, all stop.”

The swirling tunnel on the main viewer vanished as Europa re-entered real space, appearing to the greater universe as though having just popped into existence some thirty-thousand kilometers above the surface of Akovos Prime.

“Standby shields,” Sandhurst said. “Energize transporters.”

“Cargo pallets have safely materialized on the surface, Commodore.”

“Raise shields.”

“We’re being illuminated by En-Il-Que tactical sensors, sir,” Shanthi advised from the Science board.

Sandhurst commanded, “Open fire on all available targets.”

White and red torpedoes rifled from Europa’s launchers, fanning out on independent trajectories to disperse death and destruction across the widest possible swath. The ship’s phaser strips pulsed and flared, disgorging brief bursts of collimated energy on smaller, more vulnerable targets, while firing concentrated beams against more hardened objectives.

Within fifteen seconds, two En-Il-Que destroyers were obliterated, along with four heavily laden cargo ships, two scout craft, eight defense satellites, and a Deobeen orbital station that had been turned into an enemy weapons platform.

“Initiate Picard Maneuver,” Sandhurst ordered, punching destination coordinates into his armrest display.

“Uh, sir,” Lightner interjected, the alarm in his voice unmistakable, “it’s suicidal to engage a warp drive in the gravity well of a planet.”

“Good thing we aren’t burdened with a warp drive then, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst retorted with admirable patience. “Engage!”

An instant later, Europa was several hundred-thousand kilometers from her former position as En-Il-Que beams and missiles tore through the spot she’d occupied only seconds earlier.

“Continue fire with conventional weapons,” Sandhurst directed, unlimbering his starship’s arsenal yet again. More of the boxy, inelegant En-Il-Que ships were snuffed out, and a fusillade of quantum torpedoes arced downrange to devastate the alien invaders’ primary drydock facility. “Deploy ten of our mines here,” he added.

The aft shuttlebay doors opened to spill the commanded number of cloaking, self-replicating mines in Europa’s wake. They were identical to the ones utilized by Starfleet to mine the entrance to the Bajoran wormhole during the Dominion War. The mines shimmered and then vanished as the ship pulled away.

“Commodore,” Shanthi spoke up, “I’m reading numerous Deobeen life-signs aboard the orbital installations and some of the larger threat vessels. We’re causing significant collateral casualties among the native population of this system.”

“Unavoidable in these circumstances,” Sandhurst countered. “It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected.”

Europa jumped again, this time to a point near a marshaling area occupied by nearly two dozen En-Il-Que ships, mostly cruisers and personnel carriers. It was the assembly of this formation that had prompted Sandhurst’s strike on the system in the first place.

He gestured toward the viewer. “Deploy additional mines and fire two of the IFEW warheads with overlapping detonation fields on that formation.”

As soon as the missiles were fired and the mines were safely away, Europa jumped again, this time to a point in orbit of the planet directly opposite that of their first appearance. The Deobeen’s largest space station lay before them, a beckoning target rich with promise. A salvo of torpedo and phaser fire flared impressively against the installation’s raised shields but failed to penetrate.

“It appears the En-Il-Que have substantially reinforced the station’s defensive grid, Commodore,” Lar’ragos noted.

“This would be considered a high-orbital position, correct?” Sandhurst inquired.

“Yes, sir,” the petty officer at Ops answered. “We’re one-point-two million kilometers from the planet’s surface.”

Sandhurst seemed to be lost in thought as a second wave of fire from Europa failed to collapse the orbital facility’s shields. “Safe enough,” he murmured before glancing back at Lar’ragos. “Load the zero-point Alpha Weapon and input our pre-established command permissions.”

Lar’ragos did not hesitate. “Done, sir,” he announced after a moment of inputting commands.

Europa shuddered from the first enemy weapons impacts. It was the first time they had remained in one position long enough to draw effective counter-fire.

Ops advised, “We’re taking fire from defense sats, and there’s one threat frigate and two scout craft on an intercept course. Shields holding firm.”

Rather than utter the order to fire, Sandhurst merely waved his hand at the viewer, prompting Lar’ragos to launch the device.

There was dead silence on the bridge as the Alpha Weapon casing engaged a randomized zig-zag course towards the station before vanishing in a distortive haze which caused many of the crew to blink involuntarily. The station appeared to collapse in upon itself, its constituent materials flexing and warping in ways never intended. An instant later, it exploded outward in a brilliant flash of scattering photons as the singularity vanished.

Two nearby enemy frigates also fell victim to the weapon, their mass drawn into that of the station during the brief existence of the short-lived singularity’s event horizon.

“I’d categorize that as an unqualified success,” Sandhurst noted dryly.

The rest of the bridge was silent as a tomb, the various officers and enlisted personnel warring silently with the crumbling ideals of their inner Starfleet cadets and recruits.

“Helm, engage transwarp. Take us back to In’Drahn.”

“Aye,” Lightner murmured, his voice thick with disbelief. “Course set and executed, Commodore.”

Europa appeared to vanish, leaving the En-Il-Que conquered system awash in ruin and confusion.

As the starship tunneled through the nearer layers of mid-space, Sandhurst stood from his chair, looking vaguely satisfied. “Exec, you have the conn. I’ll be in my ready room preparing my after-action report.”

Deities, Shanthi raged internally, is this what the Borg felt like after Wolf 359?

*****
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Last edited by Gibraltar; December 29 2012 at 05:30 AM.
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