From the Necro-files, a story thought long dead and buried . . .
"It's A L I I I I I V V V E !!!" (insert maniacal laughter)
Sorry for the long delay (over a year, in fact). Personal matters have interfered with my writing, but circumstances have improved and it's time for me to continue "Trajectory."
So, here we go . . .
Chapter 8 – Countdown
Every starship has its idiosyncrasies and crew members, in time, comes to recognize the unique traits of their ship – a vibration at certain speeds, the soft-gravity areas, even the odd creaks and groans from age and stress. These quirks vary from ship to ship and are obviously more pronounced in older vessels.
was no exception. The cutter was over 70 years old and showing her age after countless excursions into the Molari Badlands and decades of navigating ion storms, not to mention the abuse of combat with hostile vessels. She had a decided lurch when transitioning from half to full impulse. There was an audible rumble in her hull that resonated underfoot when exceeding warp six. And, there was a miniscule delay in her inertial dampeners that accompanied that rumble. The crew of Bluefin
had learned to brace themselves when they felt the warning rumble, lest they lose their balance and their dignity by ending up ass-first on the deck. Steadying themselves against the inertial shift was a small thing for the cutter crew, usually done without conscious thought.
Unfortunately for Captain Samantha Franklin, it was not an expected occurrence as Bluefin
was not her home. Had she been seated, or merely standing still, she likely would have felt only a brief moment of vertigo and perhaps taken a step to steady herself.
But as fate had it, the ship transitioned to warp six just as she was stepping off the turbolift to return to the ward room. At the same moment, another gravity wave from the alien ship struck the cutter and the deck swayed precariously beneath her feet.
Franklin attempted to cradle the PADD she was carrying, lest it be damaged, and tried to stop her fall with her shoulder. Instead, her head slammed against the edge of the open turbolift door, causing an explosion of stars in her vision. She crumpled to the deck as darkness overwhelmed her.
* * *
The Borderland – Klingon Territory
Klingon Forward Station Ke’PucH
Captain Mertok, Second Son of the House of Pogh and Commander of Forward Station Ke’Puch
, poured a sizeable dollop of prune juice into his Kef
. The prune juice was a gift from Admiral Morgan Bateson of the Federation Border Service. Mertok had a soft spot in his liver for the Earther - he was a shrewd and honorable warrior, even if he did hold to peculiar Human notions.
Mertok smacked his lips in appreciation as he slammed the now empty goblet on the desk. He was resigned to his fate as caretaker of this leaky, cold, miserable tin can that floated near the Neutral Zone. Without a war to fight, the Imperial Council had relegated the one-legged warrior to the station built nearly 100 Earth years ago for an invasion from the Earthers that would never come. The old captain would do his duty without complaint . . . well, he would do his duty.
Belching loudly, he folded his hands across his midsection, the leather in his gauntlets creaking loudly. The feedback from his prosthetic leg - primitive by Federation standards - offered just enough pain to be satisfactory. If he had to hobble around on the infernal thing, it should at least hurt enough to remind him of the glorious battle in which he lost it (plus an ear, his second liver, and both spleens).
Perhaps it was the accumulation of years or perhaps it was the tedium of overseeing the aging and irrelevant outpost that prompted him to wax philosophical. Pondering life’s vagueries was not the typical pastime for a Klingon, particularly one of the warrior class. Yet Mertok was a thoughtful being. Glancing at the nearly empty bottle of prune juice, he considered the perplexing nature of the Starfleeters he had encountered during the recent war. They had proved to be fierce in battle, brave in the face of death, and honorable as allies. Yet he could not understand why they now sought to aid their mutual enemies, the Cardassians, when they could crush the remnant and share the spoils with their allies.
He shook his craggy hear in consternation. Bateson had once tried to explain the concept of ‘mercy’ to Mertok, but the concept was so . . . alien, that Mertok’s head hurt for days.
As he reached for the bottle of prune juice, a junior sub-lieutenant appeared at the open hatch and brought a fist across the breastplate of his ill-fitting armor.
“Honored Captain, I bring a report,” the youngster spoke rapidly, obviously excited and still holding the salute.
Mertok glared balefully at the young subordinate, trying to recall his name. “Then report and be gone,” he replied in a slow, rumbling voice. “And lower your hand, or does your armor chafe you?”
The sub-altern looked down at his fist and lowered it quickly. “Sir, Lieutenant Korch requests your presence in the control center . . . as soon as possible,” he added.
The old captain regarded the bottle before setting it back down on the desk. It rocked precariously before settling. Mertok stood, grunting as the artificial leg protested, then straightened. He wished the cursed leg hurt more to distract him from the annoying child pretending to be a Klingon Warrior. Where did they get these sucklings, anyway? Poets and minstrels, and not a blooded soldier in the lot.
“Very well. I will attend the Lieutenant.” He glared at the sub-lieutenant. “You may go. Now.”
The sub-lieutenant saluted again, eliciting a warning growl from the captain, before scurrying quickly out of sight.
Captain Mertok coughed raspily and cleared his throat. He would proceed at a dignified pace to the control center. After all, what was the rush? It wasn’t like the Federation was about to invade.
* * *
Captain Franklin awoke, surprised to see three faces peering at her. It took a moment for her to realize she was lying on a bio-bed, apparently in Bluefin’s
sickbay. Two of the faces she knew – her husband of course, Commander John Vanboerner, and Captain Akinola. The third was a balding man wearing a blue lab coat. He peered at her with professional interest as he waved a medical device over her.
Franklin cleared her throat. Her mouth felt like she had been chewing on cotton. “What am I doing here?”
“It seems you took a nasty blow to the head,” replied the physician, as he tapped the overhead readout with a frown. “The biometric sensor in your combadge alerted us when you lost consciousness and we beamed you directly to sickbay.”
She tried to lever herself up on her elbows but a wave of dizziness caused her to sink back on the bed.
“Whoa, hold on,” admonished Dr. Castille, “You’re not going anywhere yet, Captain. You’ve got a nasty subdural hematoma and an impressive concussion. In a couple of days you’ll be perfectly fine but for now you stay put. Doctor’s orders.”
“A couple of day? No way – I’ve got to . . .” She began to rise again but Castille gently but firmly pushed her back onto the bio bed. He glanced sharply at Akinola.
“Honestly, do they teach you to be bad patients in command school?”
Akinola ignored the jibe. “Doc, we’re at a critical juncture. Can’t you give her a shot or a pill so she can get back to her ship?”
Castille shook his head. “Absolutely not! I’ve repaired some of the damage but you cannot rush a brain injury. Her body needs time to heal on its own and I still have some work to do with the protoplaser or she could suffer a brain bleed that might kill her.”
“Look, Doctor . . .” began Franklin, trying to get sound reasonable.
“Not a word from you. And it’s Dr. Castille.” He turned back to Akinola and Vanboerner. “You two – out. I have work to do.”
“Doctor Castille – may I have just a moment with Captain Akinola and my husband . . . please?”
The CMO glowered, then threw his hands up. “Fine. Sure. Whatever. But if you so much as sit up, I will sedate you so deeply you won’t wake up until the 25th century.”
Castille left the cubicle, muttering to himself.
“Are all CMOs like that?” wondered Franklin.
“How are you feeling, dearest?” asked Vanboerner.
“Like an idiot,” she replied. “Good Lord, a plebe on a cadet cruise wouldn’t have done something this dumb.”
“It seems you’re going to be our guest for another few days,” said Akinola.
She shook her head and stopped as dizziness and a wave of nausea washed over her. “Uh, no – I must get back to the Resolute
“Sam – you heard the doctor,” said Vanboerner as he took her hand. “The trip back on a Stallion is going to be rough going. You could risk permanent harm or worse. Xyrel and I can take care of whatever you need done.”
She smiled at her husband. Akinola thought it a sad smile. “No, John . . . you can’t.” She glanced at the Nigerian cutter commander. “I need a moment with Captain Akinola – in private.”
Only a slight twitch of an eyebrow indicated any surprise on Vanboerner’s part. “Certainly. I’ll return to the wardroom.”
She squeezed her husband’s hand and Vanboerner gave an encouraging smile before leaving the two captains in private.
Franklin’s smile faded. “I hate keeping secrets from him.”
“It goes with the job sometimes,” replied Akinola.
“Yeah. It does.” She turned and fixed Akinola with an appraising stare. It was so intense that he actually felt a bit uncomfortable.
“Since your CMO has seen fit to incarcerate me in this bed, I am going to turn operational control over to you, Joseph.”
He nodded. “I appreciate your trust.”
“Don’t thank me. You’re probably going to hate me when I tell you everything.” She glanced around him. “Please slide that door shut.”
Akinola complied and took a seat on the stool by the bed. “Alright, you have my attention.”
“I’ll bring you up to speed, but you will need this.” She removed her combadge and handed it to Akinola. “After we talk, take it to your ready room and place it on an encrypted PADD. You have one, don’t you? Good. It will activate a Captain’s eyes-only subroutine. The access code is Zed Omicron 34992. Can you remember that?”
He nodded. “Zed Omicron 34992. Got it.”
“It will then ask you for your command code, which you must enter.”
“What will that do?”
She turned her gaze away. “It will provide you release codes for the Alpha weapons that will be transferred to your ship from mine.”
His mouth went dry. “Alpha weapons? You mean . . .”
Her gaze returned to his. “I mean you will have the ability to make a sun go nova or take out an entire planet.”
Akinola slumped backward, momentarily speechless. He felt as if he’d taken a punch to the gut. “My God . . .”
She remained silent for a minute, allowing the gravity of this revelation to sink in. “You cannot share this with anyone else, Joseph. Not your First Officer, not your Tactical Officer – no one.”
“What about Xyrel . . . or your husband? Don’t they know?”
“No. And I despise keeping secrets from them - especially something like this. But those orders come from the very top and are inviolate. As for my crew – and yours –they will be told that those are quantum warheads we're transferring to Bluefin
. If accidently launched in a mixup, they will appear to be duds unless the release codes are entered, either by me or you.” She paused, a look of concern on her face. “Can your ship handle quantum torpedo casings?”
“Yeah, we had the mods at the first of the war. Never used them and we don’t have any on the ship.” He fixed her with a hard stare. “And I’m not sure I’m ready to start firing off planet busters without a damn good reason.”
She smiled faintly. “Well, that’s good to know. And they are weapons of last resort. I hope to God they are never used.”
“Why would they be used?”
“When I told you that my orders are to prevent that ship from entering Klingon space . . . it means at all costs.”
His eyes flashed with anger. “That’s insane!”
“Maybe so. But before you pass judgement, hear me out.”
Akinola glowered but nodded curtly. “Okay.”
Her eyes appeared drowsy. “Not sure how long I can stay awake. You can access all the official stuff when you access the release codes. But let me tell you about Task Force Vanguard . . .”
* * *
Captain Mertok stomped into the command center of the Klingon forward station, his annoyance evident by the scowl on his face.
“Well?” he barked. “Did you find another comet, Lieutenant? Or some previously undiscovered pocket of space gas farted out by an ancient space dragon?”
Korch, one of the few actual combat veterans on the station, took the sarcasm in stride. “No sir. We found this.” Lt. Korch indicated one of the myriad sensor screens that monitored the Federation side of the Neutral Zone.
Mertok frowned as he observed the data flow. “So, it IS another comet.”
“Comets do not travel at warp velocities, Captain.”
Mertok turned sharply. “A ship?”
“Yes sir, it must be. And it is headed for our space. On its current heading it will cross the Neutral Zone in less than one standard cycle.”
“Whose ship is it?" he demanded, "Federation? Romulan? Cardassian?”
“Unknown, Captain. It is still on the edge of our sensor range. But it is massive – almost 20 kellicams long.”
Mertok stared at the lieutenant. “Your sensors must be wrong!”
“I have checked and cross-checked. That ship – wherever it’s from – is more than 20 times the size of this station.”
The captain rested his knuckles on a console, considering. “You say we have a day until it enters our space?”
“As long as it holds its present course and speed, yes sir.”
Mertok stood, his decision made. “Then we shall intercept it before they reach our border. Sound alert status and prepare my ship for launch. I want to see this monster up close.”
Korch frowned. “Cross into Federation space? Sir, since the incident at Fo’Puk . . .”
“Incident?” roared Mertok. “Speak plainly, Lieutenant! It was a debacle, an embarrassment to the Empire, and the Starfleeters are angry! We poked the Targ and any incursion into their space will provoke a response. But before we call out our fleet and possibly start a war, I will see with my own eyes what manner of ship threatens our borders. Now see to my ship and if that jh’nost
cloaking device fails again, you will be the first casualty should I return alive.”
Korch inclined his head. “Yes sir – at once!” he turned and hurried to carry out his orders.