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Old May 25 2013, 05:37 AM   #229
Gibraltar
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Location: US Pacific Northwest
Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Chapter 10 <cont'd>

Two days following the departure of their attackers, a broken man made his way painfully down a soot stained and battered passageway aboard a damaged ship whose crew had fared no better.

Lar’ragos walked the corridors of his command with the assistance of a cane, an exacting replica of one he’d used as a younger man after having been grievously wounded during his journeys in the Delta Quadrant. He moved with a pronounced limp from a piece of shrapnel in his right leg judged too close to a major artery to risk removing in the absence of trained surgeons. A standard eye-patch covered the now cauterized socket where his right eye had once been.

Crew members nodded deferentially to him as he passed, and he returned the gesture by force of habit, not really seeing them individually, but conscious of them as an aggregate. They were ‘The Crew’, the collective body that he had failed. He had been entrusted with their safety, and in his arrogance he had placed them squarely in the jaws of a mortal enemy.

Ramirez and her jolly little band of mercenaries had left Europa after emptying the ship’s magazines of quantum torpedoes, as well as seizing the contents of their armory and making off with their last two remaining Alpha Weapons.

Total casualties from the attack had been twenty-nine killed, with an additional thirty-four injured. Five of the fatalities were persons who likely could have been saved, had the starship’s entire Sickbay facility not been consumed by fire. Three of the ship’s senior staff had been killed within minutes of one another; Taiee, Juneau, and Marine 2nd Lieutenant Tiedermeyer.

Tiedermeyer and Shanthi had been between Decks 5 and 6 in a vertical access shaft when Ramirez had unleashed anethsazine gas via Europa’s own intruder control network into the ship’s ventilation system. The two men were rendered unconscious and fell sixty feet to the bottom of the shaft, with Tiedermeyer breaking Shanthi’s fall with his own body. Shanthi himself was being kept in an induced coma due to the severity of his injuries, which included multiple bone fractures, internal bleeding, and significant cranial trauma that only Galaxy Station’s MedCenter could cope with.

Most of the bridge crew caught in the wave of explosions were themselves recovering in makeshift medical wards retrofit from guest cabins and one of their cargo bays. Lightner, Dunleavy, Liu, and a host of others had endured serious wounds from the scything shrapnel.

“Captain,” called a deep and unmistakable voice from behind him.

Without turning around, Lar’ragos replied, “Mister Ashok, how are your engines?”

The chief engineer and now acting-XO stepped forward into Lar’ragos’ limited line-of-sight, appearing even grimmer than usual. Before the recent attack, Lar’ragos would have bet that was impossible, but no longer. “We’re holding at Warp Four, sir. That’s as hard as I can push them without risking overloading the injectors or destabilizing the core itself.”

Lar’ragos resumed his stilted pace, with Ashok forced to take baby-steps alongside him to keep from outpacing him. “Understood. What’s the situation with the wound?”

‘The wound’ was the crew’s shorthand for the two-and-a-half deck, section-and-a half-wide gap left in Europa’s superstructure where Sickbay had once been.

“We’ve sealed it off as best we’re able, under the circumstances. All EPS and ODN lines that ran through those sections have been capped and diverted, and we’ve installed network bypasses to compensate for all the relay nodes and conduit junctions that were destroyed.”

“Excellent work, Lieutenant.” Lar’ragos said with genuine appreciation. To himself, he observed dourly, At least someone is holding this ship together.

“One other matter, sir,” Ashok added. “You’ve been ordered to contact Galaxy Station prior to our arrival, something to do with the admiralty.”

“Of course,” Lar’ragos noted with a hint of resignation. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Carry on.”

*****

The comlink wavered for a moment as the transmission rotated through various encryption ciphers before solidifying into the image of provisional Rear Admiral Issac Gareth aboard the heavy-cruiser Helios.

Lar’ragos glanced at the ship-relative time stamp in the corner of the image, which indicated that for Gareth, it was oh-nine-hundred hours.

“Good morning, Admiral. What can I do for you?”

Gareth looked up at the screen, prying his eyes from the padd he’d been engrossed in. “Captain, I just wanted to call to check in on your progress and keep you in the loop regarding some personnel developments.”

“Yes, sir,” Lar’ragos responded agreeably. “We’re maintaining Warp Four at present, but that’s as fast as we dare go without overtaxing our engines. That pushes our ETA to Galaxy out to a little over ten days, sir.”

Gareth checked some figures on his padd, nodding absently as he did so. “Actually, we’ll have one of our drydocks available by then, so that works from our end. It’ll be Berth 4. From the D/C report you sent ahead, projections are that you’ll be in port for three weeks or better.”

Lar’ragos cocked his head to one side, crunching numbers. “Can I infer from that, sir, that my request to have Sandhurst’s transwarp drive stripped out has been denied?”

The admiral sat back in his chair, appearing to study Lar’ragos for a moment. “That would add a minimum of five additional weeks to your layover. We need that drydock for other ships, and we need Europa in the field. Besides,” he added curiously, “weren’t you the one who was pushing your chief engineer to reinstate Sandhurst’s original propulsion equations to get transwarp back online?”

“Yes, I was,” Lar’ragos answered. “But given recent events, I’ve had a change of heart. Sandhurst’s formula is so complex that I don’t trust that Lieutenant Ashok, or anyone else for that matter, would be able to disable whatever backdoor accesses he’d written into the programming.”

Gareth held up his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “If you want to gut your engine room, you’re going to have to take that up with my superior, Captain. That’s the second matter I wanted to address with you. Vice Admiral T’Cirya is outbound aboard Adamant, and will be assuming the permanent flag post at Galaxy Station.”

“So you’ll take over… what, sir, the taskforce operations slot?”

A slow shake of his head accompanied Gareth’s response. “I’ve really no idea. I know that T’Cirya is no fan of Jellico’s, and rumor has it that she was being sent out here on a fact-finding mission relating to Jellico’s command of Vanguard. It’s quite possible that she’ll strip my brevet rank entirely and put Helios back in the field.”

Lar’ragos raised his one visible eyebrow. “So, it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to happen to any of us,” he assessed grimly.

“Yes, indeed,” Gareth agreed. “In the meantime, we’ll start pulling service jackets to see who’s available to fill the gaps in your senior staff.”

“XO, Ops Chief, Chief Sec/Tac, and CMO,” Lar’ragos rattled off without a hint of emotion.

“Wait, I thought you lost your head nurse? We can just give Dr. Multorlo back to you, though I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t serving brilliantly with us here at Galaxy. There was an outbreak of something similar to Livonian flu among the Habertaem two weeks ago, and Multorlo got it under control in the matter of a few days.”

“Multorlo’s a figurehead CMO,” Lar’ragos admitted. “Sandhurst brought him aboard with the promise of his being able to continue his viral research, while Lieutenant Taiee ran the show from behind the scenes. Multorlo doesn’t want to run a shipboard department.”

“Then you’d have no objection to our keeping him?”

“None whatsoever, so long as you assign us someone who knows what they’re doing. No snot-nosed kids straight out of Starfleet Medical. Not on this ship.”

“I’ll do my best,” Gareth insisted. “We’ve got some bigger ships coming in with the last relay of the second wave, so between those and the replacement personnel already on hand, we should be able to find you some qualified people.”

“Here’s hoping,” Lar’ragos said, offering a weak smile.

Gareth watched him closely for a moment. “Lar’ragos, you of all people have to realize that what happened wasn’t your fault. You set a brilliant trap, and it very nearly worked. How were you to know you were fighting someone who knows us as well as we know ourselves?”

“If I’d taken my people’s advice, Admiral, the Baron’s body wouldn’t have been aboard ship for Ramirez to exploit. Sickbay wouldn’t have been destroyed, and we wouldn’t have had to divert power from weapons and shields to contain the fire.”

The younger man shook his head reluctantly. “If you’ve already decided you’re at fault, I doubt there’s anything I can say that’d be compelling enough to change your mind, Captain.”

“Respectfully, sir, I was leading men in battle before the Federation’s founding. I know only too well the price of a failure of leadership, and it’s one my crew has just been forced to pay.”

Gareth’s expression shifted to one of grudging resignation. “Very well, Lar’ragos. Regardless, you’d better make peace with your situation sooner rather than later. I can’t afford to have to replace you, too.”

The wistful smile Lar’ragos offered him suggested that he’d survived worse in his long life. “I’m in it for the long haul, Admiral.”

*****
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