Pava Lar’ragos sat quietly in the outer office of newly arrived Vice Admiral T’Cirya, an unused padd held in one hand as his eyes did their best to burn a hole in the opposing bulkhead from the power of his thousand-meter stare. If he’d cared to, Lar’ragos now had the ability to analyze the far bulkhead in excruciating detail, thanks to the cybernetic ocular implant that had replaced his ruined right eye.
The cabin had formerly served as VIP living quarters aboard the starship Galaxy
. All that remained of that ship now was it’s saucer section, which had been integrated into an existing alien space station to create the bizarre amalgam ironically dubbed ‘Galaxy Station’ by the task force.
Lar’ragos had no desire to test the capabilities of his new optics, nor did he have a taste for much conscious introspection for that matter. Instead, he waited in silence to be summoned before the admiral, who’d been rumored to have already demoted Isaac Gareth back to captain from his field promotion to flag rank. Lar’ragos felt like a man waiting to mount the steps to the gallows.
The vice admiral's flag lieutenant moved his eyes back and forth from his desk to Lar'ragos. His stolen glances at the man punctuated only by the various calls he fielded from other officers aboard the station. When silence prevailed, he resumed his behavior as before.
The doors leading to the inner office slid open to allow a tall, muscular woman with short brunette hair exit. She nodded quickly to the flag lieutenant, who stood up out of respect, and turned to exit when she paused to look at Lar'ragos. A flicker of recognition appeared before she stopped and nearly snapped to attention. "Commander, sir," she said, as though she were a midshipman once more.
Lar’ragos stood reflexively, nodding deferentially to the woman. "I believe that’s my line, sir.”
Commander Marcia Caldwell, commanding officer of the starship Adamant
, blushed lightly. "No, sir. If you'll permit me that, considering that I owe you my life, it's the least I can do until I can return the favor." She turned toward the flag lieutenant, who appeared to be listening in and doing nothing else. "Let the admiral know Commander Lar'ragos is waiting," she ordered softly.
As though he were launched from a rubber band, the small lieutenant scurried quickly to enter the inner office. The doors had barely cleared his width to let him in before they closed behind him.
Lar’ragos gave Caldwell a smile that stopped well short of reaching his eyes. "I appreciate the gesture, Captain. By all means, please pay it forward.”
"Always, sir," she replied.
The doors opened once more and the lieutenant stepped outside. "Commander Lar'ragos? The admiral will see you, now."
She turned back from the announcement and smiled. "When you're done in there, you should drop by. I brought some hooch with me that I think you'll like."
Lar’ragos actually seemed tempted. "I’ll do that. I could use a stiff drink right about now.”
"It'll be waiting for you," she promised with a grin before walking off and entering the main corridor into the rest of the station.
The El Aurian turned back to the lieutenant, nodding to him as he passed into the office beyond.
Vice Admiral T'Cirya gestured with her left hand toward the open seat in the modest reception area as she addressed an officer on the main viewscreen within the office. "I understand, Captain. I will attend to those matters, however, I will require you to immediately make your report of able officers to fill in any necessary berths left vacant by those who have fallen in the line of duty. That will be all. T'Cirya, out."
Lar’ragos came to stiff attention just before the seat, awaiting the termination of T’Cirya’s conversation before stating, "Lieutenant Commander Lar’ragos, reporting as ordered, sir.”
T'Cirya turned to fix him with an expression of stereotypical Vulcan dispassion. "I trust that your injuries have been tended to, Commander?"
"They have, sir.”
Her interest in his well-being concluded, she moved to a seat adjacent to his and took it. "I have informed Captain Gareth that I've assumed command of the task force. I will be utilizing USS Yorktown
as my flag," she said matter-of-factly, whilst scanning through the display of a padd. "I have a preliminary report from the engineering section that Europa
will be undergoing repairs for the next three weeks."
Still standing, Lar’ragos replied, "That’s correct, Admiral. Repairs to the ship’s superstructure and interior volume will require some significant work before she’s mission ready again.”
"Stand easy, Commander, and please seat yourself," she said, not looking up from the display. "Your latest report indicates that you are among those ships with significant losses of life. I am ordering a reconfiguration of personnel incoming from the latest arrivals, to shore up any gaps in coverage. Before we are through, my flag lieutenant, Mister Tau, will see to your requirements with my authorization."
Lar’ragos seated himself. "Thank you, sir.”
T'Cirya placed the padd atop the small end table and informed him, "I have gone over your records since Captain Gareth stood down from his temporary command, and I found your command of Europa
to be laudable. I believe it is in the best interest of the task force for you to continue in your current capacity."
There was a slight pause before Lar’ragos replied, "I appreciate that, sir. That being said, I trust you do realize the danger inherent in Ramirez knowing me as well as she does, Admiral?”
"I believe that your next mission may preclude another encounter with the former Captain Ramirez," T'Cirya intoned. She located another file on the same padd, and then offered it to Lar'ragos. "Our most recent tracking information on the Amon should prove interesting, Commander."
Lar’ragos accepted the proffered device, studying its contents for a long moment. "They’ve departed the Beta Quadrant.” He looked up at T’Ciyra. "If that’s the same group that obliterated Blue Horizon and the Klingon colony, they could be headed back into the Alpha Quadrant for another attack.”
assures us that this is the most recent intelligence," said the vice admiral. "At least, as recent as they can make it, given the three-week delay. I will have this sent to you, and you will be included on all future briefings when they're scheduled. I suggest keeping your mornings free while in port."
"As you say, sir,” he answered distractedly. Lar’ragos glanced in her direction. "Am I to surmise you’ll be sending us to look for Sandhurst and his wayward Amon tribe, Admiral?”
She nodded once. "That is the intention, Commander."
"Might I ask to what end, sir?”
"Strategically, it is logical to attempt to make contact with Captain Sandhurst, given his relationship with the Amon," she replied candidly. "If he could be persuaded to see reason, perhaps he can do the same with his... allies. Given what we know about the Amon thus far, we will require the assistance of an equal or more powerful party. Your own reports show that Starfleet is at a severe tactical disadvantage."
"I’m gratified to hear that, sir. It’s my belief that Sandhurst’s return to the Amon was prompted by his desire to draw them over to our side, against their fellow tribesmen.”
She inclined her head. "I would agree."
"And Ramirez, sir?” Lar’ragos pressed. "She’s now in possession of TFV’s accumulated data on the incoming refugee fleets, as well as the Amon. She also has two of Europa’s
Alpha Weapons, in addition to whatever advanced chronometric weaponry we witnessed her using against the Romulans.”
T'Cirya rose from her seat. "I have been kept abreast of your latest encounter, Commander." She paused when she reached the desk and placed her hand on the controls of the desktop terminal. "As I'm sure you're aware, given your high clearance as part of the SMT's, that Starfleet illegally developed a phase cloak a number of years ago?"
"I’ve heard rumors to that effect, but nothing solid.”
She tapped the control to place a new device on the screen. "The Starfleet Corps of Engineers, under the direction of your previous admiral, Krystine Leone, has been working to develop a temporal shield using the phase cloak technology as its base. The cloaking device utilized chronotons to phase the ship out of normal space-time. As it were, her mother, Vice Admiral Angelina Leone, has ordered me to make use of any technology at my disposal, including this shield technology." She turned to fix him with a stare. "It should prove sufficient against her attacks."
He studied the diagrams for a few minutes, scrolling through various graphics. "And with the cloaking field employed outwardly, it serves as a chronometric shield rather than as a prohibited cloaking device.” He offered his first genuine smile of the day. "It serves its purpose and doesn’t violate the Treaty of Algeron. Brilliant.”
"It was never my intention to send you into harm's way without outfitting your vessel with appropriate defenses," the vice admiral admitted. "Furthermore, I have directed our engineers here to determine, what if any offensive capabilities could be derived. They intend to have options to present shortly."
"I look forward to reaping the benefits of their creativity, Admiral,” Lar’ragos confessed. "May I also assume that I’ll be keeping Sandhurst’s new warp propulsion system intact?”
"Captain Gareth mentioned your reluctance to employ that system any further aboard Europa.
"The engine seems inseparable from Sandhurst’s complex equations, and so long as we’re using his programming, we’re vulnerable to any hidden code he may have left behind.”
"I understand how that may prove troubling," she considered aloud. "Have the yard engineers determine if it can be removed for a conventional system within the time allotted."
Lar’ragos countered, "Lieutenant Ashok assures me that to do so would add an additional three to four weeks to our layover, sir.”
She opened a channel. "T'Cirya to Captain Lo," she said.
"Lo, here, sir,"
came the reply.
requirements have the highest priority on resources and personnel," she ordered. "I'm sending their lead engineer to confer with you as to their dilemma regarding the propulsion systems."
Lo's compliance was stressed, to betray his slight annoyance with the sudden change. "I will see to it, personally."
"That will be all, Captain. T'Cirya, out." She closed the channel and noted, "Do you have any other problems, Commander?"
"Only a few hundred, Admiral, though none that require your attention. Thank you.” Lar’ragos offered wryly.
"Then allow me one more item to tend to. I wanted to make mention that Europa
is a light cruiser, requiring at least a full commander in command. Therefore, I am ordering a battlefield promotion to ensure you meet those minimum requirements. Congratulations."
Lar’ragos actually managed to look surprised. "I... ah- thank you, Admiral. This is unexpected.” He offered T’Cirya a bemused expression. "I’d anticipated being relieved of command when I stepped in here, sir. Europa
is seriously damaged, dozens of her crew are dead or wounded, and a rogue Starfleet officer is now in possession of two experimental weapons of mass destruction.”
T'Cirya said nothing in response, merely fixing him with an expectant stare as she sat back down behind the desk.
"Not the most auspicious conclusion to my first starship command.” He returned her stare evenly. "I am curious, Admiral. By what metrics do you judge success?”
The Vulcan vice admiral pursed her lips together only slightly, enough for Lar'ragos to pick up on it; her hesitation so miniscule that a less observant person would not have noticed. "The completion of mission objectives against the interests of the Federation, as well as the impact or loss of life of both personnel and civilians. Metrics are at times an intangibility starship commanders must deal with, Commander... as I'm certain you have become recently aware."
The statement elicited a reluctant nod from Lar’ragos. "Only too well.” He stopped for a moment, distracted by a glimpse through the viewport of Europa
cocooned within her drydock, linked to the station by a single narrow gantry. "When Ramirez died, or rather when we thought she’d died, I told Captain Sandhurst it was just such situations that prevented me from pursuing any rank greater than that of lieutenant.”
T'Cirya acknowledge him with a succinct nod. "I understand. Circumstances clearly override expectation." She continued quickly. "Is there any other business we need to discuss, Commander?"
Lar’ragos considered that. "Only one, sir. Is there any truth to the rumor that the Klingons are expected to arrive out here sometime soon?”
"May I ask how you came by that information?" she questioned coldly. Colder than before.
"I have... friends in the Sotaj
. They stopped talking to me about nine months ago. Given the High Council’s somewhat justified anger over our keeping TFV secret from them initially, my guess is that they’ve got a battle fleet outbound.”
She paused to activate a new screen, which she then transferred to the larger screen upon the bulkhead. "Starfleet Intelligence, namely Admiral Nechayev, believes that the Klingons have an inbound fleet. Based on tracking data supplied by the Hubble Array, a fleet of cloaked vessels should arrive in the next three weeks."
"Shit,” Lar’ragos summarized succinctly. "I hope they’re in a mood to talk when they arrive.”
"Captain Ebnal and Venture
arrived with this wave to provide on-site assistance in dealing with the Klingons," she informed him. "I will be meeting with him and his executive officer later today."
"Lucian Ebnal,” Lar’ragos remarked with a vaguely surprised look. "Well, then, God help the Klingons.”
She tilted her head. "We do not intend to engage the Klingons, Commander, but Admirals Nechayev and Leone felt it prudent to have a highly experienced commander on scene. Of course, your own expertise will be welcome when the time comes, but Europa
may be tending to matters elsewhere."
He inclined his head, conceding the point. "Perhaps so, Admiral, but I hadn’t expected to engage the Romulans, either.”
"Vice Admiral Leone is providing further updates on the Rihannsu incursion into this quadrant regularly." T'Cirya deactivated the screen and asked, "Will there be anything else?"
"I’ve arranged to fill all my open senior officer posts with the exceptions of XO and Security/Tactical chief, sir. If you have any recommendations, they would be appreciated.”
"I will inform Personnel as to your vacancies, including those key positions," she assured him. "The right persons for those jobs will be selected."
* * *
Since their arrival at Galaxy Station, the corridors of Potemkin
slowly filled with personnel as they checked out of the medical section fresh from the long cold sleep. Among the first to awaken was Lieutenant Commander Iris Wu, the ship's executive officer.
"Good to see you, Commander," said her Deltan commanding officer, Captain Erz Damore. He did not look up from the desk within his ready room; he scribbled furiously with a stylus upon the input sensor tied to his desktop terminal. "I trust that all is in order."
Wu replied with a padd in her hand. "Nearly all crew are awake, sir, though a quarter still have their medical checks to complete. We will sail with no complications, thus far, according to the medical staff."
Damore completed his motions without responding to her report. She thought nothing of it, as it was his custom to focus more on his writing. Wu did not look at the screen; she knew the computer was recognizing his handiwork and inputting the words automatically. Over meals, he admitted his penchant for the written word prior to his entry into Starfleet. He never let it go.
The slap of the stylus against the desk preceded his gaze upon her. "Excellent news, Iris. I suppose that it is a miracle that we managed to make it all the way here, considering that at least one ship fell out of formation and another returned to rescue her."
She maintained her stony expression. "Yes, sir," was her only response.
Damore allowed a small smirk to appear. "One of these days, someone's going to let you know that you're human, not a Vulcan. It's okay to express emotion."
"Yes, sir," she repeated. Her gaze dropped to her now-beeping padd. "We're receiving flash traffic from Galaxy Station, sir. Eyes only."
"I see it," the captain said quickly. His fingers tapped the terminal input once, then he spoke his access code aloud. "We're being assigned to an Intercept Group. We depart as soon as our crew is ready to go."
Wu nodded once. "I'll see to our departure. By your leave?"
He raised a hand. "Not so fast. There's some additional... orders." Damore reached for his stylus once more and it flowed across the desk. "Looks like someone is in need of your services more than I."
The screen on her padd flickered to present the incoming orders. Wu read them quickly and then returned her attention to Damore. "Sir."
"Effective immediately, Commander," he said, rising from his seat. He extended his hand. "Good luck to you, Iris. They're lucky to have you."
She leaned forward to accept it gingerly, keeping their contact brief. "Thank you, Captain. It has been an honor to serve under your command."
Demore returned a wry grin. "Aw, Iris... I think you might mean that." He relished that last moment of watching her squirm slightly under his light joviality. "You're dismissed."
Wu took a step back before spinning on her heels to exit the ready room.
He whispered to no one, "Damn, Europa
... look out."
* * *
Dominic Leone made his way through the exotic alien bazaar within the commercial district of what had been In’Drahan Station until an Amon attack had wrecked over half the orbital facility. What remained of the former Husnock battle fortress had been hastily repaired in a cooperative effort between Starfleet and a half dozen local species dependent upon the outpost for interplanetary commerce.
The former USS Galaxy’s
saucer section had been joined to this growing assemblage, along with sundry alien docking gantries, environment modules, and portable cargo pods. A variety of native Delta Quadrant species walked, scurried, loped, or slithered about the station, many of them horrifically disfigured through deliberate genetic mutation by the infamous and imperialistic Husnock.
The end result of all this energy was a makeshift starbase that made Deep Space Nine look like a model of efficiency and intuitive design aesthetics.
Within the souk were all manner of shops, storefronts, and kiosks. Their owners hawked foodstuffs, clothing, consumer datatronics, and a thousand other kinds of goods in demand amongst the local spacefaring cultures.
Leone found the smells of some of the foods very appetizing, while others caused his stomach to lurch alarmingly.
This, he reflected to himself, was indeed the final frontier. Tens of thousands of light-years separated himself from his relatives at Starfleet Command. Before him not only lay the breadth of the Delta Quadrant, but the oncoming waves of alien refugees bearing down on their task force and its frontier fort.
Taking in the sights of the station, Leone mentally cataloged each one so he could reference them in his first letter to Teelis. He absent-mindedly fingered the isolinear optical chip in his uniform's inside pocket as though it would conjure her from the Alpha Quadrant instantly to share the experience with her first-hand. The very nature of the station and its location is why he joined Starfleet; why he used every ounce of his will to ensure his assignment to the task force.
Leone proceeded to the docking gantry for the starship Europa
, reporting early for his meeting with the ship’s captain, Commander Pava Lar’ragos.
* * *