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Old September 7 2012, 12:12 AM   #46
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 2)

Chapter 2 <cont'd>

Counselor’s Office, Deck 4


Counselor Liu sat comfortably in his chair, looking across the compartment at Donald Sandhurst who reclined somewhat listlessly on the couch facing him. Sandhurst had checked out medically, and intensive genetic analysis had conclusively identified him as being the genuine article, and not some kind of clone or shapeshifting doppelganger. However, it was apparent that something was still ‘off’ about the captain.

“I know you’ve been through all this before, Captain,” Liu began. “But before Starfleet Command is willing to even consider allowing you to return to duty, they want to make sure you’re not under the influence of any kind of external stimuli that might pose a threat to Federation security.”

Sandhurst nodded soberly. “I’m familiar with the many return-to-duty hoops I’ll have to jump through.”

“So, this is the part where I ask you how you’re feeling,” Liu said light-heartedly.

“Fine,” was Sandhurst’s concise response.

“Just fine?”

Sandhurst looked out the viewport for a moment, his eyes registering the passage of star-streaks as Europa warped towards her stricken comrades aboard Galaxy. “I don’t really know how I feel, Counselor. That’s the problem.”

“Can you elaborate on that?” Liu prompted.

“Being with the Amon, absorbing their ‘holy’ energy matrix… it gave me a feeling of complete and utter belonging, a peace I haven’t known in years. Hell, maybe ever.”

“You believe this energy source altered your perceptions and thought processes?”

“Absolutely,” Sandhurst confirmed. “That’s the most troubling part of it all.” He rubbed his forehead absently with one hand. “After my abduction and torture by the Baron, I felt lost and adrift because he’d intentionally altered some of my oldest and most fundamental memories. Despite that, I still managed to feel like myself, even as I was working on Betazed to recover my actual memories. The Baron planted false recollections in my head, and although they seemed absolutely real, they felt wrong because the actions I remembered carrying out were so fundamentally unlike me.”

Liu remained silent, allowing Sandhurst to continue at his own pace.

“But with the Amon, I had access to all my own memories, to my training, my sense of duty as a Starfleet officer the whole time. But despite all that, everything I’d held to be important… of value… it all seemed to matter less and less with each passing day. I felt such a deep kinship with the Amon that I’d have willingly joined them, left my life, my career, my family all behind without a second thought.”

Liu offered, “That has to be deeply unnerving.”

“Just a bit,” Sandhurst said, intentionally underemphasizing the point.

“Do you think the energy source you were exposed to is what the Amon believe it to be, actual life-energy from sentient beings?”

Sandhurst shook his head. “I can’t say, Counselor. They themselves refuse to speculate as to the potential religious implications of it. But based on what I felt, I could easily believe it’s true. It’s like being saturated with life itself. Physically I was stronger and faster, my thoughts were clearer and more intuitive. The artwork the Amon claimed to have infused with life-essence almost seemed to vibrate with a kind of consciousness, just below the surface of my perceptions. I could feel what I’d articulate as ‘life’ coming from them.”

“’I feel’, ‘it felt’,” parroted Liu. “It’s important you understand that people’s perceptions can be altered. You may well have been intentionally manipulated into feeling a certain way.”

“Oh, I understand that completely,” Sandhurst answered agreeably. “I’m just saying that while under the influence of the life-essence, I could rationally understand and acknowledge that I was being manipulated, and still not care.”

Liu’s eyes widened fractionally. “Potent stuff, then.”

“Very.”

*****
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Old September 8 2012, 05:58 PM   #47
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

I really enjoyed these 2 scenes. You've managed to take what might otherwise be merely "transitional" segments and add depth, excitement as well as your "patented" character development. It seems that every scene, every interaction between characters adds layers of depth to the characters' personalities. T'Ser's uncertainty and that telling pause when she needed to make her decision; Pell's reaction to learning that Donald was back; and, of course, Sandhurst's admissions/revelations with Counselor Liu all added to our insights and understanding of their respective personalities. I'm a little surprised how much I've come to look forward to the scenes between Sandhurst and Liu, and this session did not disappoint. I love the slight sense of uncertainty, and even unease, we're left with on Sandhurst's part regarding his time with the Amon. As always, very nice, and you've left me champing at the bit to see what comes next.
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Old September 9 2012, 12:42 PM   #48
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Sandhurst is back. And as Taiee has observed, seemingly none the worse for wear. However that it has affected him to a significant degree is without question. We'll have to wait and see if his abduction will have long-term implications.

Careful observation over the next few days, maybe even weeks or months, would be more than warranted.
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Old September 15 2012, 06:51 AM   #49
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 2)

Chapter 2 <cont'd>

USS Galaxy
Nebula NGC-7492, nicknamed ‘Scott’s Maelstrom’
Delta Quadrant


Wisps of pink and purple gas curled and undulated past the viewport in Captain Tryla Scott’s ready room. With the ship operating on battery reserves as repair crews tried to resurrect the failing warp core and the compromised impulse fusion generators, the much reduced lighting in Scott’s office seemed appropriate to her dark mood.

Galaxy had taken her fair share of damage during her sixteen years of service, most notably during multiple fleet-size battles in the Dominion War. However, the ship had suffered far more damage on this occasion than at any other time, at least according to Lt. Commander Divrask, Galaxy’s Saurian chief engineer who’d been serving aboard since the vessel was commissioned.

In her desperation to escape pursuit, Scott had utilized one of their Alpha Weapons, a modified subspace charge that erupted between Galaxy and her attackers, leaving nearly a quarter parsec of space/time riven with short-lived quantum singularities and patches of extreme gravimetric shear.

Scott had intentionally avoided using the weapon directly against the Voranti, instead employing it as a firewall that gave Galaxy time to escape into the nearby nebula where the crew now lay low, licking their collective wounds.

She still held out hope that they might yet discover what had initiated the unprovoked attack by what had appeared to be a non-aggressive species. Something they had said or done must have triggered them a the last moment, but Scott had gone over their communications records with the Voranti and all sensor telemetry from just prior to the ambush. The captain had proved unable to find anything that suggested a diplomatic misstep capable of incurring the response they’d been subject to.

Now their hopes resided with Europa, a ship with failing engines being commanded by a rookie captain. The situation was less than optimal, but as Tryla Scott reminded herself, I have survived worse.


*****


USS Europa
Guest Quarters, Deck 6


Lar’ragos sat up from where he’d been reclining on the couch when the door chime sounded in his guest quarters.

He beckoned his guest to enter, and T’Ser stepped through the parting doors, allowing Lar’ragos a brief glimpse of the two security personnel posted outside his cabin.

Lar’ragos stood in deference to his guest. “Captain.”

“Commander,” she answered. “I’m still deciding what to do with you, based on your earlier actions. I thought that before I make my decision, I’d ought to give you a chance to speak for yourself.”

“I appreciate that, sir,” he answered politely as he motioned for her to take a seat on a chair opposite the couch.

T’Ser settled into the seat, regarding the El Aurian with a wary expression that acknowledged his potency in the arts of violence.

Lar’ragos’ insides twisted anxiously at the sight of a superior officer watching him with all the circumspection one might give a venomous snake. Though he had worked tirelessly while on Vulcan to strengthen his own emotional control and reign in his baser impulses, at his first moment of real crisis, he’d cracked. No one was more aware of that fact than he.

“No more head games, Mister Lar’ragos,” T’Ser warned. “You so much as drop Dale’s name again, and you’ll spend the rest of the mission to the Delta Quadrant in the smallest, most austere cell I can find.”

He inclined his head in a gesture of understanding.

“What was it that you intended to do when you charged me on the bridge?” she asked succinctly.

“I don’t know,” he replied candidly. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I only knew that I had to stop you from killing Donald.”

T’Ser accepted that silently before following with another query. “As you’re still functioning as the task force’s Strategic Operations Officer, what’s your impression of the present situation after the events of the past day?”

He responded instantly, obviously having already given that question significant thought. “The attack on Galaxy makes no sense. An entire refugee fleet has gone off course to pursue a single starship. That’s a tremendous expenditure of fuel and resources for a desperate people to chase down a ship that’s done nothing provocative to them that we can comprehend. There has to be something more at work here.”

As the captain digested his assessment, she asked, “And what of the Amon and In’Drahn station?”

“I wasn’t sure if what we’d witnessed was a weapons malfunction on the part of the station or the beginnings of a civil war until Counselor Liu filed his debriefing notes from his session with Sandhurst.”

“And?” she prompted impatiently.

“He reported that the Amon on board the cube interpreted In’Drahn’s attack as an intentional assault that they were drawn in to. The other Amon tribe knew their destination, and were the ones controlling the Habertaem’s weapons.”

T’Ser frowned at the implication. “What does that mean for us?”

“Off hand, I’d say it means we have two incredibly powerful predatory sects vying for ‘hunting rights’ in our galaxy, right in the midst of all the social and political chaos caused by the mass migration.”

“Starfleet Command agrees with you,” T’Ser said, producing a small padd from within her open command jacket and handing it to Lar’ragos. “If it can be believed, it gets worse. We just received that news via our comms chain from the Alpha Quadrant.”

Lar’ragos’ eyes widened as he absorbed the information contained on the padd. “An unknown species comes out of nowhere to obliterate a Klingon colony?”

T’Ser gestured towards the padd. “They used some kind of subspace schism to launch their attack, and rode in on what appears to be a probe like the one that attacked Earth a century ago.”

Lar’ragos scanned through the images taken by a Federation rescue team of the dozens of alien bodies discovered in the aftermath of the life-and-death struggle for the colony world. “Amon,” he assessed.

“Yes,” T’Ser confirmed. “Also corroborated by Captain Sandhurst’s debriefing.”

The El Aurian seemed caught off guard at that revelation. “I didn’t read that in th—“

“I deliberately redacted it from the transcript of his debrief,” T’Ser revealed. “We don’t want that tidbit of information falling into Klingon hands just yet. I’ve sent that news under the highest level encryption we have back to Starbase Bastion.”

Lar’ragos offered T’Ser an admiring look. “A wise precaution, sir.”

“I need your expertise, Mister Lar’ragos,” T’Ser said abruptly, catching him off guard once again.

“You have it, Captain.”

“I need your expertise, free from any egotism or divided loyalties,” she clarified.

“Captain, I—“

“I know you’re a super-death-commando, Lar’ragos, but that isn’t what I need right now. I need the man who crossed the Delta Quadrant on his own centuries ago. I need that man’s perspective, his intuition, and most of all, I need his unwavering loyalty.”

“I can only assure you that you already have it, sir,” Lar’ragos protested.

“I’ve served with dangerous people before,” T’Ser continued, ignoring his reply. “The trick to controlling them is to understanding their needs, to perceive what fundamentally drives them.”

Lar’ragos’ demeanor shifted ever so subtly, his eyes narrowing. “You think I need to be controlled?”

“Absolutely you do,” she underscored. “Only with you it’s very hard to find anything substantial to threaten you with. You’re immune to threats against your career, and even a long stint of incarceration would only be a mere inconvenience to someone with your longevity.”

“Oh, do tell,” he smirked dangerously.

“But you’d crawl across this floor on your belly and kiss my boots to get back in Donald Sandhurst’s good graces again,” T’Ser assessed coldly.

His smirk vanished and his mouth opened just a fraction in utter shock.

“The only way that will ever happen is through me, Commander. I have Sandhurst’s implicit trust, while you’ve disappointed him repeatedly.” With that, T’Ser stood and walked towards the exit. “Think about it before you give me your answer, Lar’ragos,” she called back as she stepped through the doors.

*****
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Old September 15 2012, 01:24 PM   #50
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Wow, T'Ser is more wily than I realized. Brilliant move there with Lar'ragos. I didn't think anyone could get the upper hand on him - not really - but, it looks like she may have just found the one chink in his armor. Nicely played.

Again, I really enjoy the way you give us such interesting and progressive character development as you move your story along.

Never a dull moment, even in a simple conversation between two people.
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Old September 16 2012, 01:05 AM   #51
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Pava leashed? I didn't think I'd ever see the day. After stumbling somewhat earlier, both when dealing with Pava and also as the rookie captain of Europa, it seems T'Ser has found her legs.

I'm curious to find out what impact Sandhurst's return will have on the command structure on Europa.
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Old September 23 2012, 09:23 PM   #52
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

TrekkieMonster wrote: View Post
I really enjoyed these 2 scenes. You've managed to take what might otherwise be merely "transitional" segments and add depth, excitement as well as your "patented" character development. It seems that every scene, every interaction between characters adds layers of depth to the characters' personalities. T'Ser's uncertainty and that telling pause when she needed to make her decision; Pell's reaction to learning that Donald was back; and, of course, Sandhurst's admissions/revelations with Counselor Liu all added to our insights and understanding of their respective personalities. I'm a little surprised how much I've come to look forward to the scenes between Sandhurst and Liu, and this session did not disappoint. I love the slight sense of uncertainty, and even unease, we're left with on Sandhurst's part regarding his time with the Amon. As always, very nice, and you've left me champing at the bit to see what comes next.
Much obliged, sir! I'm pleased that even the smaller interactions are holding the readers' attention.

CeJay wrote: View Post
Sandhurst is back. And as Taiee has observed, seemingly none the worse for wear. However that it has affected him to a significant degree is without question. We'll have to wait and see if his abduction will have long-term implications.

Careful observation over the next few days, maybe even weeks or months, would be more than warranted.
That will a serious consideration both for Starfleet Command as well as Captain T'Ser. How 'safe' is Sandhurst upon his return to Europa?

TrekkieMonster wrote: View Post
Wow, T'Ser is more wily than I realized. Brilliant move there with Lar'ragos. I didn't think anyone could get the upper hand on him - not really - but, it looks like she may have just found the one chink in his armor. Nicely played.

Again, I really enjoy the way you give us such interesting and progressive character development as you move your story along.

Never a dull moment, even in a simple conversation between two people.
Pava is old, clever, and dangerous, but everyone has weaknesses that can be exploited. T'Ser appears to have found his, and isn't afraid to use it.

CeJay wrote: View Post
Pava leashed? I didn't think I'd ever see the day. After stumbling somewhat earlier, both when dealing with Pava and also as the rookie captain of Europa, it seems T'Ser has found her legs.

I'm curious to find out what impact Sandhurst's return will have on the command structure on Europa.
T'Ser has been backed into a corner. She's in command of a partially crippled ship deep in hostile territory where powerful threats lurk behind every nebula. She's done being the Delta Quadrant's squeak toy, and not even Pava Lar'ragos is going to stand in the way of her accomplishing her mission.
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Old September 23 2012, 09:26 PM   #53
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Cobalt Frost wrote: View Post
Damn! This is like the tension at the end of "Best of Both Worlds Part One". You've got us on pins and needles here, man...
Yes!

TrekkieMonster wrote: View Post
Cobalt Frost wrote: View Post
Damn! This is like the tension at the end of "Best of Both Worlds Part One". You've got us on pins and needles here, man...
I had the same thought. And I'm certain that's not a coincidence.
Yes.

Blip wrote: View Post
I swear I could almost hear the BOBW cliffhanger music at the end there!!
And... Yes! That was my intent, and I'm glad it came across as I'd hoped.
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Old October 4 2012, 08:08 AM   #54
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3

USS Galaxy
Nebula NGC-7492, nicknamed ‘Scott’s Maelstrom’
Delta Quadrant


The first blast brought Captain Scott staggering onto the bridge from her ready room as she called out, “Report!”

Worf’s already ferocious mien was made all the more menacing by the blood-red emergency lighting bathing the bridge. “They’ve found us,” he stated in his deep voice. “One Voranti cruiser, bearing two-eight-seven, mark forty-three.”

The Ops officer reported, “We’ve taken additional damage to the ventral side of our saucer, multiple hull breaches. Short-range sensors have been compromised. Shields are holding, though just barely.”

Worf silently thanked whatever deities oversaw this tract of space that the nebula they’d been hiding in didn’t adversely effect their shield integration, though it had made a hash of their sensors.

Scott settled into her chair, glancing briefly at the damage report readouts on her command console. “Helm, initiate an evasive course of your choosing. Tactical, aft photon torpedoes, target their weapons emplacements and shield generators.”

Their flight of six torpedoes impacted and overwhelmed the attacking ship’s shields. The final two warheads detonated with devastating flashes that sent the cruiser spinning off course, its powerful impulse engines flickering weakly as power surged and waned throughout the vessel.

“Threat vessel neutralized, Captain,” the officer at the Tactical station assessed.

“Take us deeper into the nebula,” Scott ordered.

She had hoped that the Voranti would eventually give up on whatever vendetta they seemed to have against Galaxy. The expenditure of time, fuel, and other precious resources was enormous on their part, and Scott couldn’t fathom the source of their seeming obsession with her ship.

This had been their second contact with the Voranti since they’d taken to hiding in the nebula, and given the size of the gas cloud, it was nearly impossible that the contacts were random happenstance. They evidently had some way of detecting Galaxy at medium-to-close range, despite the sensor-scattering properties of the nebula.

Each confrontation resulted in more damage and casualties to her ship, and Scott understood all too well that the clock was quickly counting down for her and her crew.

*****

USS Europa

The senior officers were seated around the conference table, the mood appropriately serious as Europa struggled to maintain speed in order to make her rendezvous with the beleaguered Galaxy.

Many of those in the meeting had been surprised to see Lt. Commander Lar’ragos among their number, seated in the place usually reserved for the XO. The last time most of the senior staff had seen him, Lar’ragos had been drooling into the bridge’s tastefully understated carpeting.

T’Ser opened the gathering with, “In light of Commander Pell’s assignment to the In’Drahn relief mission, I have reluctantly selected Mister Lar’ragos as the most qualified candidate to temporarily replace her as first officer.”

If Lar’ragos was troubled by this less-than-enthusiastic endorsement, he gave no indication. The others appeared to accept this unexpected announcement with admirable composure.

T’Ser gestured off-handedly towards their young Science Officer. “To start us off, Lieutenant Shanthi has updates regarding the Amon and the Voranti.”

Shanthi tapped at the LCARS interface in the table top at his seat. A hologram of a warp-signature trail arced across the sector from near In’Drahn station to an unremarkable system some four light-years distant. “We’ve tracked the Amon cube to where they’ve apparently gone to ground in the rings of a gas giant. All the clutter of the ring debris has occluded our scans. We’ve launched a long-range probe, but it won’t arrive on station for another four days.”

Lar’ragos addressed Shanthi, his eyes still glued to the holographic image. “Have we projected an estimated repair time for them?”

The Zulu officer answered promptly. “Based on Captain Sandhurst’s debrief, if the Amon source of propulsive energy is as powerful as he believes, they could affect repairs in a relatively short span of time.”

“Especially if they have access to Borg drones as expendable repair crew,” Ashok added morosely.

Counselor Liu’s eyes widened. “They have those?”

Ashok looked to Liu, his expression even more dour than usual. “According to Sandhurst, they do.”

“As for the Voranti,” Shanthi said, shifting topics before Ashok could dominate the discussion. A wire-frame cross-section of a Voranti refugee carrier appeared in the air above the table. “Galaxy performed the standard pre-First Contact research into their culture, socio-economic systems, and technological capabilities, including in-depth scans of their vessels taken by one of our advance recon probes two weeks before they initiated communications with the species.”

The image of the ship enlarged, and the wire-frame construct was overlaid with sensor reading analysis.

“Part of their pre-contact survey would have been a technology assessment, to include a metallurgical analysis of the Voranti’s shipbuilding constituents.” A graphical representation expanded to occupy one half of the screen, with molecular models taking shape to denote various alloys comprising the alien vessel’s superstructure.

“As we are able to judge the age of their spacecraft as being somewhere in the vicinity of one-hundred sixty years old, it’s logical to presume that the Voranti have seen their share of conflict between here and their point of origin.”

Lar’ragos failed to see the point behind this presentation and cast a dubious look towards T’Ser before turning his attention back to Shanthi. He knew that his revelation that Europa's crew had missed the disappearance of the Amon probe in the system where they’d come to the Romulans’ rescue had embarrassed Shanthi deeply. The El Aurian’s specially attuned Listener’s senses told him the young man was now feeling a rush of vindication accompanying his upcoming revelation.

“The answer was here the whole time,” Shanthi continued, a hint of pride creeping into his tone, “but it’s so counter-intuitive that it would have been painfully easy to miss.” He touched a series of controls that highlighted various sections of the Voranti ship’s hull. “Look at the energy signatures and impact patterns of the most recent damage they incurred before their encounter with Galaxy.”

Lar’ragos sat forward with a sharp intake of breath as Verrik quirked an eyebrow, nearly the Vulcan equivalent of a gasp. The two officers shared a look before T’Ser prompted them, “What is it?”

The newly appointed pro-tem XO deferred to the Tactical officer, and Verrik answered, “Those blast patterns and energy signatures are indicative of Federation weaponry, Captain.”

T’Ser sat in silence for a moment as the implications of that statement sunk in. “Holy Hell,” she breathed.

“You mean… like Voyager, or another starship stranded farther out in the Delta Quadrant?” Lightner posited.

“The damage reads as being less than two months old,” Shanthi replied, dismissing the notion.

“Someone from the task force, then,” Liu offered. “An unreported hostile contact?”

“No such animal,” T’Ser answered dully. “Every contact, whether friendly or hostile is comprehensively documented. All sensor readings, intel briefs, and communications logs from that event are included in those contact reports.”

“Who then?” grumbled Ashok.

“That,” T’Ser said heavily, “is the question.” She directed a nod towards Shanthi. “I want you and your staff going back through all of Vanguard’s sensor telemetry. Everything from the Hubble Array, the long-range recon probes, and the task force vessels themselves. I want to know if there’s anyone out here who’s not supposed to be.”

Liu appeared genuinely curious. “You have a suspicion, Captain?”

There was a telling pause before T’Ser answered, “There are… known extra-governmental entities that sometimes work outside official channels, ostensibly to safeguard Federation interests.” She cleared her throat, allowing, “Or at least what they perceive to be our interests.”

Liu looked even more engrossed now, but T’Ser held his next question at bay with a raised hand in a gesture of patience. “That’s all I’m willing to say on the matter right now, Counselor.”

He obligingly fell silent.

“Captain,” Ashok said hesitantly, “have you had the opportunity to speak with Captain Sandhurst yet?”

She shook her head fractionally. “No, not yet.”

The large Bolian’s anxiety was visible in his posture, a physical manifestation of his growing concern for the state of the ship’s engines. “May I ask why not, sir?”

T’Ser locked eyes with Liu as she replied, “We’re still not entirely sure what the captain was subjected to while he was with the Amon. He himself admits that something he encountered there had a dramatic impact on his perceptions and emotional states. Under the circumstances, I’m not prepared to risk exposing myself to anything Sandhurst may be carrying or emitting that might compromise my decision making.”

“A reasonable precaution,” Verrik assessed approvingly.

“Captain,” Ashok pressed, clearly working in reign in his growing agitation. “I cannot repair the warp drive. I’m barely able to nurse it along as is, and I’m unsure how much longer it will remain operational. Sandhurst designed that engine, and he’s the only one I know of that can possibly make the necessary modifications to restore it.”

T’Ser inspected Ashok for a brief time. “You helped him build it,” she remarked.

“Yes,” the engineer agreed, “working from his schematics. That design has proven… faulty.”

“Do we still have the components aboard to recreate an Akira-class engine?”

“No, sir. Those were left behind on our warp sled.”

Looking to Liu, T’Ser inquired, “Can you give me any sort of guarantee that Captain Sandhurst is safe for me to converse with?”

The counselor shook his head. “I can’t, sir. Given the significant differences in his biometric readings since his return, literally anything is possible. If you do decide to speak with him, I’d recommend doing so via remote.”

“Very well,” T’Ser acknowledged, calling the meeting to a close. “Looks like it’s time we had a chat.”

*****

Five decks below them, Donald Sandhurst started awake, his eyes darting wildly as they tracked the pulsing infusions of matter and anti-matter that had haunted his dreaming state and were now fading from his visual cortex.

His mind was racing with equations and calculations, both those painstakingly mastered during his years as a Starfleet engineer, as well as those gifted him during his time among the Amon. The inspiration had been birthed from his new, expanded understanding of warp physics.

Even as he was caught in the moment, Sandhurst recognized the epiphany for what it was, a higher level of comprehension that had been denied him without the mental acuity afforded by exposure to Amon life-essence.

There, he thought. Right there. For just a moment Sandhurst could see it all clear as day. The delicate symmetry of Ra-Havreii’s engine design was suddenly so obvious. As he struggled to memorize the intricacies of the theory behind it, another part of his mind admired the elegant balance between propulsive force, the FTL transition boundary, and the subspace realms across whose surface the vessel slipped while at warp.

He was shocked and humbled by the realization that Ra-Havreii’s design had been so ingeniously unconventional that he had conceitedly failed to grasp its significance. With absolute certitude Sandhurst now understood that the fault had not been in the Efrosian shipwright’s underlying theory, but in its application.

Given sufficient time, Sandhurst was sure that Ra-Havreii would successfully troubleshoot the accident-plagued engine design, but that was not time that the starship Europa and her crew presently had to spare. And so, he would have to fix it himself.

He staggered to his feet, making his way clumsily across the darkened cabin to his desk. Granted, his present limbo status had severely restricted his computer access, but basic functions still responded to his command.

“Computer,” he ordered, “open a new file under my voiceprint authorization. The title is 'Sandhurst, Luna-class engine design, version two.'”

*****
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Old October 5 2012, 07:33 PM   #55
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

YAY! More Gibraltar/Europa (I will refrain from adding "finally").

Yet another great entry. I love how you build the anticipation - and import - of Shanthi's revelation indirectly, using Lar'ragos as the perspective. And the revelation, itself, has me very excited because I know it means we're getting close to what promises to be a very exciting (if not happy) reunion.



That is only going to make it all the more "explosive" and surprising when they discover the truth.

Also, I enjoyed how you're allowing the Amon "hangover" to continue affording Sandhurst certain extraordinary abilities. I'm very excited to see what he comes up with here but ..., am I merely projecting my own anxieties, or do I have reason to suspect (or fear) that his new found enhanced understanding may be a fleeting and fragile thing, not unlike McCoy's education from "The Teacher" in "Spock's Brain"? And yes, I'm as surprised as anyone to hear myself suggesting that any kind of literary significance or inspiration might be drawn by anyone from that episode. But, it would have the possibility of adding still more tension and drama.

As always, I'm very much looking forward to your next installment.
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Old October 6 2012, 12:00 AM   #56
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Brain, brain, what is brain? - It's a classic.

I'm pleasantly surprised by the turn of events surrounding the engine design of Ra-Havreii. I thought this was an alternate universe to the TrekLit one in which his design just failed but it turns out he was just too clever for his own good (for now, anyway).
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Old October 13 2012, 08:52 PM   #57
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

I'm suddenly quite concerned about Sandhurst. It's interesting that there hasn't been any conversation about him reassuming command upon his return to Europa. He wasn't gone that long. On the other hand, his sudden epiphanies appear to be brilliant/scary. Not sure which one yet. T'Ser is playing it overly cautious but it may turn out for good reason.

Looking forward to more.
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Old October 14 2012, 06:16 AM   #58
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 3 continued)

Chapter 3 <cont'd>

USS Giacobini
Delta Quadrant


The Nebula-class starship dropped out of warp close enough to her stricken sister to take detailed scans, but not so close as to expose the vessel to any unknown dangers that might be lurking in the vicinity.

The heavily armed and armored escort was adrift, surrounded by a cloud of debris, her running lights flickering weakly at random intervals.

Captain Lobanov maintained a vigilant watch on the main viewer as she called back to her Tactical Officer. “Commander Varro?”

The hulking Magna-Roman answered, “Gallant is operating on minimal auxiliary power, and they’ve nearly exhausted their battery reserves. Both warp and impulse systems are offline, and life support is failing.”

“Rutti’cha?” she said, inquiring with the ship’s insectoid Kaferian Science Officer.

Gallant is still broadcasting her automated disaster beacon, but at significantly reduced power. It’s a miracle we even managed to detect the signal at that distance.” The lieutenant’s antennae twitched with anticipation as she absorbed the returning scan results. “I’m detecting significant structural damage and power distribution disruptions onboard”

“Life signs?” the captain pressed.

“Indeterminate, sir,” Rutti’cha replied. “Their warp drive is giving off moderate levels of gamma radiation, but the radioactivity is infusing the layers of their ablative armor and making accurate life-readings impossible.”

“Any idea who or what did this?” Lobanov asked no one in particular.

“The weapons impact points on their hull conform to known parameters of Voranti weapons, sir,” Operations answered dutifully.

Lobanov repressed a sigh. “The Voranti again. First Galaxy, and now Gallant. I wish to hell we knew what set them off.” She cast a glance over her shoulder at what she jokingly referred to as her Wall-of-Centurion. “Varro, make the call.”

“No threats detected within a full light-year, Captain. No anomalous sensor contacts, no blind spots, nothing out of the ordinary except a battered Federation starship.”

“Okay, before we approach I want to launch a recon probe equipped with a transport module. Have it post up fifty clicks out from Gallant and beam over a remote sensor drone; I want eyes on the inside of that ship before we lower our shields to send over an away team.”

Her senior staff carried out their instructions, and within ten minutes they were watching only slightly garbled visual telemetry from inside Gallant. Bodies in Starfleet uniforms littered the narrow corridors as the drone drifted through the dimly lit passageways. Though her gestures were decidedly non-human, the Universal Translator did a passable job of conveying the bleak undercurrent in her tone as Rutti’cha announced, “Negative life signs, sir. All these people have expired.”

Lobanov shook her head sadly. “It must have been one hell of an ambush. Carolyn Kircheis doesn’t just blunder into situations blindly.”

“Your orders, Captain?” prompted her XO.

“Make ready to deploy recovery teams, Commander,” Lobanov instructed. “I want security, medical, and engineering personnel on each detachment. Move the contents of cargo bay three into the unused guest quarters on Decks three and four, and establish a morgue there for the recovered bodies.”

A flurry of activity followed as the crew made preparations for the unwelcome task of interring the remains of their comrades and effecting repairs to the still largely intact escort. Though her crew was dead, Gallant and her mission might still continue.

Lobanov was just about to order the shields lowered for transport when something on the viewer caught her eye. “Pan back,” she commanded. “That door tag…”

The image of the death-filled corridor paused and scanned back to a door-identifier tag.

“Zoom in,” Lobanov instructed as the first tingle of warning began sounding in the back of her skull.

The small lettering on the signage read 03>014 – Crew Mess.

“Move the probe inside,” Lobanov said as she stood from her command chair. A quizzical expression lit upon her features, as though she were playing a hunch.

The drone moved inside the compartment, only to find the darkened mess room being used as storage, littered with all manner of cargo containers, many of them obviously non-Starfleet.

“The ship’s standard,” Lobanov continued. “It should be on the interior bulkhead. Let’s see it.”

The drone slipped between stacks of crates to find a ship's crest emblazoned on the bulkhead. It read USS Masada - NCC-76750. Below the relief, which depicted the stalwart last stand against the Roman Empire, read the quote, ‘It is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.’

Masada?” Varro asked in a confused voice. “What’s that doing aboard Gallant?”

“This isn’t Gallant,” Lobanov muttered. “I was aboard Gallant last month and met with Commander Kircheis in the mess. I thought I remembered the ship’s interior color scheme as being different.” She moved back to her seat as she barked, “Boost power to shields. Back us off, half-impulse, and ready weapons.”

As Giacobini drew back, the battered Defiant-class came to life and the holographic façade disguising the ship’s true registry evaporated along with much of the ship’s exterior damage.

“Target her weapons and engines, I want that ship disabled.” Lobanov called out. “Fire!”

Giacobini’s powerful phasers impacted Masada before the escort’s shields were raised, but the compact battlewagon’s ablative armor absorbed the blasts. The crystalline infused monotanium matrix fractured under the assault, but it spared the vital systems beneath from damage.

Masada responded with a potent barrage of pulse-phaser fire that raked across Giacobini’s forward screens.

“Come to course zero-eight-seven, mark two-two-nine and increase to three-quarters impulse,” Lobanov ordered. “Keep them off balance. Hit them with everything we’ve got.”

Streamers of phaser energy as well as photon and quantum torpedoes savaged the escort’s shields as Giacobini sought to put distance between herself and her attacker.

Masada sent a final volley of torpedoes towards the larger ship before turning abruptly and retreating, her cloaking field seeming to erase the ship from space once the vessel was outside Giacobini’s weapons range.

“They’ve cloaked,” Varro growled, the centurion in him bristling as victory was denied him.

“Science, anything?” the captain asked.

“Negative,” Rutti’cha responded. “Would that we had Europa’s sensors.”

Lobanov looked to the Operations station. “Wasn’t Masada destroyed during the war?”

After a brief check of Starfleet records, the lieutenant replied, “Masada was listed as missing and presumed destroyed at the Battle of Tyra, early in the war.”

“Looks like she’s back with a vengeance,” Lobanov muttered. “Send a sensor log update to Starbase Bastion, and see if you can get me anyone above the rank of captain in one of our intercept groups available in real-time.” Presuming, she thought darkly to herself, there’s anyone of that rank left alive out here…

*****
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Old October 14 2012, 10:11 AM   #59
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Well done Lobanov.

The deception was obvious to us but she had no reason to believe this was a trap and she played it exactly right. For a while there I really thought the Giacobini would fall but thanks to her captain another crisis was averted.

And now perhaps the rest too the fleet may start to get an inkling of what is really going on here.
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Old October 14 2012, 11:40 AM   #60
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Obvious? I see no such indicators until the point where non-Starfleet containers were described...

I admit to having had a "Botany Bay.. Oh no!" feeling when Masada's plaque was revealed. Like the whole 'dead starship' scene isn't spine tingling enough already!

I'm curious to see what -if anything- you do with the probe now stuck onboard Masada, Gibraltar..
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