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Old December 9 2012, 01:42 AM   #106
Tribble puncher
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Wow...is the first word that springs to mind...

That being said, this is trek fiction of the highest order, been reading your work, and have been far more impressed than I have with alot of PUBLISHED work. I check this forum twice daily for new additions. Hopefully our Wayward romulans make a helpful apperiance soon, and hopefully Captain Scott lives to command again another day! If you ever put these stories to paperback they will have a place of honor on my bookshelf...again...awesome work...
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Old December 9 2012, 07:05 AM   #107
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

CeJay wrote: View Post
Ah, man, this is just so unnecessarily evil. You're not writing for Dark Territory, you know?

This really makes me wonder what is going to happen to Ramirez before all this is over. Before I was hoping that she would eventually find her way back to the light with the help of Sandhurst and company. Perhaps there'd even be a rational explanation which would explain this sudden turn to villainy.

But truthfully it will be extremely hard to rationalize what has happened so far. And even if she does snap out of whatever it is that has her acting like this, there is no amount of counseling in the galaxy sufficient enough to get her over what she's done.

I'm saddened to think that for Ramirez, this can only end one way.
Liana is a dying man's last gasp of vengeance, the knife in the Baron's hand. There'd be no sense in attacking with a dull knife, would there?

Tribble puncher wrote: View Post
Wow...is the first word that springs to mind...

That being said, this is trek fiction of the highest order, been reading your work, and have been far more impressed than I have with alot of PUBLISHED work. I check this forum twice daily for new additions. Hopefully our Wayward romulans make a helpful apperiance soon, and hopefully Captain Scott lives to command again another day! If you ever put these stories to paperback they will have a place of honor on my bookshelf...again...awesome work...
Thank you for the kind words, Tribble puncher! Sub-Commander Chalois and her crew are still out there, somewhere, and Captain Scott's fate still remains to be decided.

Thanks for reading.
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Old December 9 2012, 10:29 PM   #108
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Wow, just... Wow! Forgot fan fiction, forget science fiction, this has to be one of the best works of fiction I've read in the past few years PERIOD!

They way you have been able to keep raising the stakes without resorting to the usual clichés has been nothing short of remarkable. I'm especially impressed with the scene you just posted about Europa's recovery teams returning from Galaxy. I can't help being reminded of the scene in Band of Brothers, where EZ company liberated the nazi concentration camp. The raw emotion of having to experience such cruelty and horror subjected upon people is hard enough to convey in the world of film, but I felt the same chills reading about the aftermath of the attack on Galaxy as I did watching the concentration camp scene. Kudos!
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Old December 9 2012, 11:40 PM   #109
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

theonering wrote: View Post
Wow, just... Wow! Forgot fan fiction, forget science fiction, this has to be one of the best works of fiction I've read in the past few years PERIOD!

They way you have been able to keep raising the stakes without resorting to the usual clichés has been nothing short of remarkable. I'm especially impressed with the scene you just posted about Europa's recovery teams returning from Galaxy. I can't help being reminded of the scene in Band of Brothers, where EZ company liberated the nazi concentration camp. The raw emotion of having to experience such cruelty and horror subjected upon people is hard enough to convey in the world of film, but I felt the same chills reading about the aftermath of the attack on Galaxy as I did watching the concentration camp scene. Kudos!
Thank you for the terrific feedback and the generous compliment!

I’d wanted to convey the horrors aboard Galaxy without narrating the specifics directly, and I thought showing the reactions of those involved as they returned would be a better way to handle it. I’m glad it came across as I’d intended.

I hadn’t thought of the Band of Brothers scene from the camps, but as I’ve seen it previously (and was just as affected as you) perhaps that was percolating in the back of my mind someplace.

Thanks again for reading.
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Old December 10 2012, 03:51 AM   #110
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Another thing I can't help but wonder....

Worf. If it hadn't been for being surprised by an Android, He stood a very good chance of disabling that device and foiling Ramirez's plans for Galaxy. Once he was rescued, and realized the scope of what happened, and what caused it. I suspect he will blame himself. How will he deal with this if that is the case? One thing is certain though, Ramirez no doubt angered the wrong klingon. I'm sure he will take things VERY personally.
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Old December 10 2012, 05:26 AM   #111
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 4 continued)

Chapter 4 <cont'd>

Observation Lounge, USS Europa


T’Ser and Lar’ragos arrived a full five minutes late for the senior staff meeting, which was unusual enough. A recon probe dispatched outside the nebula to relay Europa’s mission logs to Command had returned barely a half hour earlier, and the bridge officers speculated something gleaned from the comms probe might be the reason for their tardiness. When the two officers entered together, the carefully neutral expressions they both wore stoked further curiosity, albeit of the silent variety.

T’Ser opened the staff meeting and immediately deferred to Verrik for a report on the results of his team’s forensic investigation into the attack on Galaxy. Sandhurst sat quietly at the far end of the table, watching and listening, but having apparently decided not to actively participate in the exchange. It was the first time anyone had seen him in his duty uniform since his abduction by the Amon. Though he wore a command red undershirt, the collar was noticeably absent any rank insignia.

“The impact patterns on Galaxy’s dorsal saucer surface are indicative of the pulse phasers of a Defiant-class starship, and the warhead that detonated near their engineering section was, by all indications, quantum based. Given that we’ve confirmed the presence of the rogue starship Masada operating in this region, it is reasonable to assume it was responsible for this attack. We also have reason to believe that the ship was boarded, as there were evident small-arms related casualties on the main bridge.”

“Additionally,” Lar’ragos cut in, “it seems that whatever device was used to mutilate the crew only worked on living tissue. Those killed in the initial attack were located below decks, unchanged from whatever condition they died in.”

Verrik resumed his assessment, giving no indication of annoyance at the interruption. “Which brings us to the matter of Vice Admiral Jellico. We found three personnel in close proximity to his office that had been killed in close-quarters combat, one of whom was his adjutant. There was no sign of Jellico found aboard, and his combadge was located in the office, which had been ransacked.”

“Couldn’t he have been one of those hundreds that were…” Lightner struggled to find a suitable word, “…turned inside out?”

“Negative,” Verrik answered. “All living crew members on board that were recovered have been positively identified by DNA profile, regardless of their level of deformity.”

“He’s been abducted, then,” Counselor Liu stated matter-of-factly from farther down the table. “That’s the only alternative explanation.” He shook his head as a heavy sigh escaped him. “The task force’s highest ranking officer is now in the hands of someone unafraid to butcher Voranti and Starfleet alike.”

“So it would seem,” Verrik agreed.

“Forgive me for not knowing this already,” Ashok rumbled from the far end of the table where his hulking form towered over the others, “but who does that leave in command of the task force?”

Tellingly, T’Ser almost winced at the question. Lar’ragos shot the captain an expectant look, the two of them clearly aware of something the others weren’t.

She sat forward in her chair, placing her elbows atop the table. “It would have been Rear Admiral Kevard, but the comms buoy we sent outside the nebula to check in with the task force has returned with more unfortunate news.” T’Ser pursed her lips briefly, her reluctance evident. “A joint Starfleet and Romulan force attempted to intercept and destroy the Kothlis’Ka Armada approximately fifty light-years from the empire’s border. Though the attack squadron did succeed in causing moderate damage to two of those enormous ships, four starships and nine warbirds were destroyed with another half-dozen seriously damaged. Kevard’s missing and presumed killed in action.”

Around the table, faces fell and expressions hardened as yet another catastrophe befalling Vanguard was brought to light.

T’Ser sought to change the subject by looking towards an exhausted looking Taiee. “What’s the condition of Captain Scott and Commander Worf?”

Taiee fixed her bleary eyes on T’Ser, stifling a yawn as she did so. “Captain Scott has been stabilized, but remains in a medically induced coma. She sustained severe cranial-neural trauma from shrapnel on the bridge during the attack. I’m going to give her a week to heal sufficiently that she’s able to handle being placed in cryo-stasis until we can get her back to Bastion.” She paused to take a sip of coffee, the only thing keeping her awake after spending the past twenty hours in back-to-back surgeries and autopsies.

“Commander Worf is still alive, though I’m not sure how. He took a direct disruptor blast to the abdomen and suffered some kind of high-velocity impact with a bulkhead that broke nearly a quarter of the bones in his body. Leave it to those redundant Klingon autonomic systems to keep a person breathing long after they should have expired. He’ll be able to return to duty, but he’ll need months of physical rehabilitation before he can walk unassisted again.”

“Captain,” Sandhurst spoke up from the far end of the table. “Admiral Jellico left contingency plans in case he was killed or incapacitated. All the captains in the task force would have access to those as soon as he was officially listed as missing in action.”

T’Ser held up a hand. “Respectfully, Commodore, I think there will be time for that lat—“

“I disagree,” Sandhurst said insistently. “Please make an official entry to that effect so that we might have clear guidance as to the admiral’s wishes for the task force.”

An uncomfortable silence followed as T’Ser and Sandhurst stared at one another down the length of the table. “Captain,” T’Ser said in a consciously measured tone, “you’ve not yet been officially returned to duty. I will take your suggestion under advisement.”

Sandhurst looked to Taiee and Liu. “What are your recommendations regarding my fitness for duty, Doc? Counselor?”

The two officers glanced at one another before looking to T’Ser for guidance. She gave them a minute nod of approval, her eyes still fixed on Sandhurst.

Taiee cleared her throat before saying, “Physically, Captain Sandhurst is ready to resume his duties. His biometrics have all returned to normal, and his tissues no longer show any signs of exposure to the Amon energy pattern.”

“I’d concur in respect to the captain’s mental health,” Liu offered. “He’s quite self-aware in regards to the effects on his psyche from his time with the Amon, and he’s able to place the experience in the proper perspective and context. I’d have no objections to his resuming his duties as a Starfleet officer.”

“Captain,” Sandhurst said, mustering his most diplomatic tone. “I’d very much like to continue this conversation in private, if you’d be so inclined.”

T’Ser held Sandhurst’s gaze for an achingly long moment before ordering, “Clear the room, please.”

The senior staff rose as one and filed out of the compartment, exchanging a flurry of worried glances with each other.

Leaning forward to brace her elbows atop the table again, T’Ser massaged her temples and closed her eyes briefly. “Sir… what the hell?”

“You’re not seeing the big picture, T’Ser. You’re too focused on the trees to see the forest.”

She gave him an exasperated look. “Meaning… what?”

“Vanguard’s second wave is due to arrive within a matter of weeks. So much has happened since they departed Federation space six months ago that they’ll be behind the eight-ball already, playing catch-up in a dynamically evolving crisis. We can’t compound that with a leadership vacuum, too.”

“Fine,” T’Ser replied, throwing up her hands. “So why push declaring Jellico missing right this moment?” She inspected him carefully for a few seconds, then her eyes widened. “Wait… do you think Jellico would have recommended command of Vanguard fall to you in the absence of a flag officer?”

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” Sandhurst replied evenly.

“There are other more senior captains in the task force. Hell, even in IG-3, Captain Lobanov of Giacobini is senior to you by nearly a decade.”

“Lobanov’s never commanded a task force before,” he countered.

“Captain Endilev of Ascendant, Hobson of Perseus,” she rattled off. “Shall I continue?”

“Thus far, despite incredible heroism on the part of thousands of our comrades, Vanguard has been an unmitigated disaster. Counting Galaxy, the task force has lost eight starships, nearly a third of Vanguard’s original number. You tell me anyone who’s going to want to jeopardize their career by stepping forward to take charge of that sinking ship?” Sandhurst stood, placing his hands atop the table as he mustered every bit of conviction he could into his next statement. “All the captains you’ve mentioned are damn fine officers or they wouldn’t be out here. Nevertheless, only one of us has first-hand knowledge of the Amon, experience leading an operational task force in a war zone, and has the added advantage of being politically expendable.”

T’Ser had no answer for that.

Sandhurst made his way over to the briefing room’s replicator and typed in a series of commands, reaching a hand into the delivery slot to retrieve a collection of newly materialized rank pips. He turned a serious expression on T’Ser as he began affixing the insignia to his collar. “I’m back in the game, Captain. I’m sorry if you’re not completely comfortable with that, but it is what it is.”

She stood as well, her own expression pinched. “You’re asking me to surrender my captaincy?”

“Not at all,” he corrected. “Valiant will arrive here shortly to join IG-3, and the woman who was supposed to command her is now dead. You’ll take the Valiant commission, and I’ll keep my flag aboard Europa. Besides, they’ll need me here to finish building this damn ingenious drive I can’t remember designing.”

T’Ser blinked, clearly falling behind the curve of the conversation. “Your… flag?”

He turned to face her as he finished attaching the fifth pip to his collar. “You’ve all been calling me commodore for a while now. Time to make it official.”

“But…” she stammered. “There’s no such rank. Not anymore.”

“There is now,” he replied with an enigmatic smile as he headed for the door. “Carry on, Captain.”

“Aye… sir,” she replied automatically as the doors hissed closed behind him.

*****
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Old December 10 2012, 07:31 AM   #112
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Tribble puncher wrote: View Post
Another thing I can't help but wonder....

Worf. If it hadn't been for being surprised by an Android, He stood a very good chance of disabling that device and foiling Ramirez's plans for Galaxy. Once he was rescued, and realized the scope of what happened, and what caused it. I suspect he will blame himself. How will he deal with this if that is the case? One thing is certain though, Ramirez no doubt angered the wrong klingon. I'm sure he will take things VERY personally.
Absolutely, Worf could easily have upset Ramirez’s entire plan if it hadn’t been for Parlans’s unexpected presence.

Ramirez has made any number of enemies thus far (though they might not know it yet). Worf would certainly be among the most dangerous. It may be a long while, however, before he’s in any condition to entertain paybacks.
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Old December 10 2012, 09:46 PM   #113
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

What an amazingly unexpected power grab. And so brazenly executed as well. Not to mention Sandhurst reviving a no longer existing rank without any approval from Starfleet Command. I love it.

The question is will others simply follow his self-appointed leadership? I'm not so sure.
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Old December 11 2012, 06:38 PM   #114
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Why do I have the feeling that having the Baron on board Europa is a Bad Idea(tm)? For some reason, I get a sneaky suspicion that the crew (as Starfleeters are wont to do) are going to try and help him by fixing his brain...

And Sandhurst's "coup"... I'll be interested to see how that plays out.
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Old December 11 2012, 07:03 PM   #115
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Hmmm....Honestly, not quite sure what to think of this installment, would have been cool to see Worf back in action, but "real-life" (at least in the context of this story) seldom gives us what we want. My main Issue is just with Sandhurst suddenly promoting himself, using a (nonexistent) rank. Seems a bit of a stretch, Kinda detracts from the cliche busting experience you've managed to deliver so far. I can only assume you and Sandhurst know something we the readers (and the folk's in vanguard) don't.
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Old December 12 2012, 08:29 AM   #116
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5)

Chapter 5

Consensual Shared Holographic Environment, Subspace, Delta Quadrant


The holographic 'room' they occupied was a large meeting table, surrounded by a dozen chairs and illuminated by an unspecified light source from above. Not all the commanding officers making up Task Force Vanguard had been available to attend, but the majority were present. The topic for discussion was what course of action the task force should take in the light of the loss of both their flag officers. Moreover, who, if anyone should take overall command of the intercept groups until Starfleet Command could advise them further was up for debate.

The time delay between TFV and Starbase Bastion was eight days for one way communication, meaning it would be sixteen days at least until Command could issue new orders. Sixteen days in their present circumstances might well have been an eternity.

From IG-3, Captain T’Ser was present, as was Captain Lobanov of Giacobini. IG-2 was represented by Captain Hobson of Perseus, Captain Endilev of Ascendant, Captain Farouk of T’Plana’Hath, and Lt. Commander Robards of the escort Scimitar. From IG-5 Captains Gareth, Braxos, Duparc and Iss’Stola were in attendance. The commanders of IG-1 were out of real-time communications range, and could only be spectators to the event after the fact.

No one remained from IG-4, which had been annihilated by the combined might of the Kothlis’Ka Armada.

Captain Gareth, the most senior ranking captain, opened the meeting. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger down the sides of his salt and pepper beard as he announced, “I’ll presume you’ve all read the brief that accompanied the invitation to this gathering. We’re here because our chain-of-command has been decapitated, and a three-week delay from Bastion is far too long for effective command and control of this task force. Additionally, Captain Sandhurst, formally of the Europa, has tendered a… shall we say, innovative leadership plan for our consideration.”

“He’s insane,” Braxos replied, the loquacious Bolian unwilling to mince words.

T’Ser was in the company of her fellows for the first time since being granted her field promotion to captain, and felt torn. The urge to keep her head down and mouth shut was nearly overwhelming, but upon hearing the indelicate assessment of Sandhurst, she felt a defensive reflex kicking in.

Farouk laughed at Braxos’ blunt assessment. “Perhaps he is, but if he wants to assume command, I say we let him. IG-3 has arguably demonstrated better results than any of the other groups so far.”

“That’s a testament to Jellico’s leadership, not Sandhurst’s,” the Andorian Endilev offered.

Hobson raised a hand, a completely unnecessary gesture in present company, but one that fit his reputation as the, ‘Iceman.’ “I don’t mean to sound indelicate,” he began after Gareth acknowledged him with a nod, “but we’re talking about someone who less than a month ago was a prisoner of a little-known threat species believed responsible for the destruction of In’Drahn station, as well as an entire Klingon colony back in the Alpha Quadrant. I’ll grant that his idea has merit, but he could very easily be acting as a conduit for other interested parties.”

“I don’t believe that’s the case, sir,” T’Ser blurted out, cringing internally as all eyes turned towards her.

“We’re all captains here, T’Ser,” Gareth reminded her gently.

She blushed fiercely. “Of course… captain.” T’Ser sat up a little straighter in her chair. “Sandhurst’s as clear-headed and rational as I’ve ever known him to be. Yes, he’s nominating himself for a leadership role, but I don’t feel there’s any ulterior motives behind it. He wants what’s best for Vanguard and the Federation.”

“It’s a power grab,” Braxos’ countered, “and he didn’t even make an effort to disguise it.”

“How is it a power grab if he’s putting it up for a vote?” Robards said, entering the conversation.

“This isn’t a democracy,” Lobanov noted caustically.

Gareth glanced in her direction with a mischievous smile. “It certainly appears to be at the moment.”

Iss’Stola, a tall, willowy Daverite, spoke from behind her rebreather mask, “It’s true that Sandhurst has firsthand experience with the Amon. That’s more than can be said for any of us.”

Braxos brought a hand down upon the table top with a resounding crack. “What of it?” he barked. “The Amon are one species out of dozens that comprise the incoming waves.”

Iss’Stola’s unreadable mask turned towards the Bolian. “The Amon are the largest unaccounted for variable we’ve encountered thus far. They are enormously powerful, undeniably predatory, and possess technology we don’t come close to matching, Alpha Weapons notwithstanding.”

“Bah, they’re not the Borg!” Braxos thundered.

“No,” Iss’Stola replied with measured restraint, “the Amon kill Borg and fly their hijacked cubes around the galaxy with impunity.”

Captain Duparc of the Istandbul noted, “Let’s not make the mistake of dismissing such an area expert out of hand. How many fewer people would we have lost during the second Borg assault on Earth if Picard had been put in charge of our defense at the outset?”

“The man has too much on his plate right now, regardless.” Lobanov observed. “Europa’s engines are failing and he’s got some kind of shape-shifting nemesis onboard, a threat that none of the rest of us have security clearance enough to know anything about!”

T’Ser threw out, “The Baron’s safely contained, and our newest engine design appears very promising.”

Endilev’s antennae twitched with irritation. “While I can see the advantages to a local nexus of control over the task force, Sandhurst is hardly the most experienced officer in our midst.”

“Europa has the best sensor capability of any of our ships,” Hobson offered, “and Commander Lar’ragos, our chief Strategic Operations Officer is serving as the ship’s pro-tem XO.”

Lobanov scowled across the table at Hobson. “Oh, switching sides now, Chris?”

Unfazed by her venom, Hobson replied calmly, “I’m not on anyone’s side, Irenea Lyudmilavich.”

“The man’s already calling himself ‘commodore!’” Braxos fumed.

“He put on a fifth pip for show,” T’Ser corrected. “We can’t have two captains wandering around the ship if we want to maintain any kind of unit cohesion. If you’ve ever met the man you know he could give a damn about rank or station. He’s about one thing and one thing only, getting the job done.”

“It’s true,” Robards confirmed. “I served under Sandhurst’s command during Operation Indemnity. He’s reasonable and even handed, one of the most non-rank-conscious officers I’ve worked with.”

Duparc said, “Lucian Ebnal sings his praises, and Lucian doesn’t praise anybody, living or dead.”

“He’s Ebnal’s protégé,” Braxos complained. “That’s hardly an unbiased endorsement!”

Gareth watched the debate flitter around the table and back again, weighing the various observations and opinions.

As Braxos appeared to be preparing to launch another salvo, Gareth held up a hand in a gesture of restraint. “Not that this hasn’t proven enlightening, but I move that we log Vice Admiral Jellico as Missing, Presumed Captured, and Rear Admiral Kevard as Missing, Presumed Dead in order that we might have access to Jellico’s posthumous recommendations regarding Vanguard’s leadership succession.”

There were nods from around the table, some more reluctant than others. Gareth shouldered the unwelcome task, entering the data by hand into a padd. The computer acknowledged the official status entry for both flag officers, and then unsealed Jellico’s recommendations for he and Kevard’s replacement.

The information came up simultaneously on all the captains’ padds and the simulated room fell quiet as they read in concert.

An awkward silence followed, broken finally by Braxos throwing his padd down onto the tabletop with a clatter. He uttered something vulgar in Bolian that the UT did the courtesy of letting pass un-translated.

“It would appear,” Hobson said dryly, “that Admiral Jellico had a high opinion of Captain Sandhurst’s command potential, as well as his knowledge of and experience with the Amon.”

“Fortunately,” Lobanov added, “his practicality and good sense won out.” She turned in her chair to face Gareth. “I suppose congratulations are in order, Rear Admiral.”

Gareth shook his head. “No, I won’t accept congratulations for stepping into a fallen officer’s boots in a time of crisis.” He looked to T’Ser. “Please call Captain Sandhurst in, I’d like to hear his proposal directly from the source.”

T’Ser bobbed her head as she rose. “Yes, sir.” This time he did not correct her.

A moment later, Sandhurst entered the holographic environment, nodding to the assembled command officers. He acknowledged Gareth with a soft smile. “Admiral, sir.”

“Captain, please tell us what you propose be done in regard to IG-3.”

“Aye, sir,” Sandhurst replied. “I’d like to continue repairs to Galaxy’s saucer section until its stable enough to survive being towed back to In’Drahn station at warp. Once there, the saucer will serve as an outpost and communications hub, as well as a resupply and repair facility, given the two industrial replicators aboard. We'll have to extract the second unit from the wreck of Galaxy’s stardrive section. My team back at In’Drahn reports at least a quarter of that facility is still habitable, and I’d like to assign Lt. Commander Pell as a liaison to the Habertaem and their allies. She can supervise our assisting them in rebuilding their habitats and continuing the medical research we’d been working on with them.”

“You believe Pell is ready to command such a mission?” Endilev inquired, his skepticism evident.

“In fact, I don’t,” Sandhurst answered candidly. “She’ll be more than sufficiently occupied with diplomatic matters. I’d intended to place Commander Worf in charge of the Starfleet presence at In’Drahn, commanding the overall mission there from aboard Galaxy’s saucer.”

Almost in spite of himself, Endilev looked satisfied with that response.

“How do you expect to tow the saucer back to In’Drahn with your engines in distress?” Braxos asked pointedly.

“My engineer estimates it will take two weeks to reinforce the saucer’s structural integrity sufficiently for the trip. In that time, I plan to construct our new warp engine, using materials scavenged from Galaxy’s abandoned stardrive as replication matter.”

Braxos scowled. “You think you can do it so quickly?”

“I do,” Sandhurst replied confidently, failing to rise to Braxos' implied challenge.

“IG-3 has three inbound starships that will be joining your group,” Hobson offered. “How would you utilize them most effectively?”

Sandhurst didn’t hesitate in his response. “I’d assign Captain T’Ser to command Valiant, and utilize that ship as an advance scout to reconnoiter the incoming refugee fleets. Khandahar and Saavik would be assigned to patrol nearby populated star systems, building on the good relationships Captain Lobanov has already established with the locals. When needed, both could be diverted to assist Europa, Giacobini, and Gallant in confronting any of the alien formations that resisted diplomatic contact or our requests they divert to another destination.”

There were guardedly optimistic looks shared around the table before Lobanov queried, “What do you feel should be done in regards to the Amon, Captain? Are they a threat?”

Sandhurst replied seriously, “Indeed they are.” He paused to look at each of the other captains individually. “They’re the most serious threat we’ve encountered out here yet, but the fractured nature of their society may present an opportunity to further divide them to our advantage.”

Lobanov appeared genuinely curious. “Please explain.”

“The various tribes of the Amon do not, under any circumstance, make war on one another. It’s taboo in their culture, an offense of the highest order. The tribe responsible for the attack on the Klingons ambushed the tribe that had abducted me, using In’Drahn station’s weapons to launch their assault. I don’t know what provoked it, but the tribe I was associated with was in shock. Provided we’re able to contact them again, we might be able to pit them against one another.”

“How would that help us?” Farouk asked.

“I’d much rather have them fight one another than turn their attention on us. If the other tribe could wipe out a Klingon colony, there’s nothing stopping them from destroying one of ours. And I doubt one of the Federation core worlds would have any better luck defending against them than an outlying settlement.”

Gareth fixed a appraising gaze on Sandhurst. “Do you think you can do this, Captain? Provoke a civil war among the Amon?”

“I don’t know, sir.” Sandhurst answered. “I’m willing to try.”

Gareth sat back in his chair, craning his neck to look down the table at the others. “Does anyone else have an equally developed plan?”

Silence greeted his question.

“Does anyone have any plans whatsoever?”

Sullen expressions and averted gazes were his only responses.

Gareth turned back to Sandhurst. “You want to be a commodore, eh?”

Sandhurst smirked. “I’d like to have my authority formally recognized in any new chain of command, Admiral. I’m going to have to make some controversial decisions before I’m done. I could care less as to what the actual title is.”

Gareth chuckled in reply. “You can call yourself Field Marshall, Grand Vizier, or Khan for all I care.”

“Commodore would be fine, sir,” Sandhurst demurred.

“Very well,” Gareth announced. “You may keep your fifth pip, Commodore Sandhurst, at least insofar as my ultimate authority is supported and verified by Starfleet Command sixteen days from now. Until and unless my order is countermanded, you are hereby the acting deputy commander of Task Force Vanguard, and the primary operational authority for Intercept Group 3.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

“Don’t thank me, Sandhurst. We’ve got a hell of a lot to do in short order to make ourselves ready for the next waves of refugee fleets. Meanwhile, let's see if you can’t light a fire under the Amon before their cousins go and do something stupid in the Alpha Quadrant again.”

*****
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Old December 15 2012, 10:31 AM   #117
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Somewhere...

Edward Jellico wasn’t familiar with the specific species of carnivorous beast that was tearing him apart, and given the circumstances, that hardly seemed to matter. However, for some strange reason, it did matter, at least to him. If he were to die at its hands –jaws – whatever – Jellico felt he should at least know what to call it. The violence and intensity of its attack seemed so personal, so intimate, that it practically demanded they be on something akin to a first name basis.

He kicked at it with his legs and beat its snout with his bloodied hands to no avail. The creature tore gaping holes in his side with its massive, knife-like teeth. Jellico screamed and struggled, but eventually weakened by blood loss, his flailing defense slackened and he lay there, helpless, as the ravenous monster savaged his abused body.

Life was restored to him, and once again Jellico found himself hanging, naked, suspended above the floor in a shaft of white light. He cried out in agony, only to realize the grievous wounds he’d suffered were gone. The mental anguish, the pure horror and psychic trauma remained. That, Jellico had realized some time ago, was entirely the point.

“Did you enjoy that more or less than yesterday’s sinoraptor?” Ramirez inquired as she approached Jellico’s hovering form.

“The sinoraptor was quicker about it,” Jellico admitted.

Ramirez chuckled. “Gods but you’re a tough old bastard, aren’t you Ed?”

He grimaced. “The Cardassians found that out the hard way, didn’t they?”

"You always gave them cause for caution," she confirmed.

"I taught you to watch your back in their presence," he reminded her.

“Not going to work,” she responded cheerily. “Highlighting old times and shared experiences in an attempt to forge an emotional connection with your captor. Come on now, I took all the same survival courses you did, Admiral.”

Jellico grunted, “Had to try.”

“And so you have.” She stood watching him, her arms folded across her chest as she appeared to appraise his mental and physical condition.

“Are you through playing with your prey, Liana?” Jellico asked crossly. “There’s no tactical advantage to this, and you know it. All my access codes would have been changed as soon as they realized I was missing.”

“You know the numbers and disposition of the incoming Starfleet second wave,” Ramirez pointed out.

“What of it?”

“You’re going to tell me all you know.”

He laughed hoarsely in response. “Really? You think so? If what you’ve subjected me to so far is the best you’re capable of, you’re in for a disappointment young lady.”

Ramirez’s eyes narrowed. “You actually think taunting me is in your best interests?”

“When I was second officer aboard the Königsberg, I was captured by the Cardassians during a intel team extraction. I spent three months as a ‘guest’ of the Fourth Order, interrogated daily by Gul Rusko. Now that man was an artist with pain, a master of neural-synaptic induction. You? You’re a fucking amateur!”

A slow smile spread across Ramirez’s face. “Now, Edward, that sounds like a challenge.”

Jellico’s eyes flamed as he looked down at her from within the suspensor field. “As intended, bitch.”

*****

USS Europa

T’Ser caught up with him as Sandhurst was dispatching an engineering team to begin dismantling the main warp reactor. Dozens of specialists from other departments had been put to work sealing up Galaxy’s hull breaches and shoring up the saucer’s structural integrity while the majority of Europa’s engineering compliment worked to rebuild the propulsion system.

She waited until the team had exited the corridor before turning to face Sandhurst with a dark expression. "Permission to speak freely, Commodore?"

"Granted," he answered distractedly.

“Respectfully, sir, don’t ever put me in that position again.”

Sandhurst turned his attention from the schematic flimsy in his hands to his former XO, looking genuinely perplexed. “Captain?”

“I had to sit there and defend you to the others, after you went and pulled the most ridiculous, infantile stunt I’ve ever seen!”

“Stunt?” Sandhurst’s face colored. “That was no stunt. The whole lot of them were wringing their hands and stalling instead of taking appropriate action to restructure an operational chain-of-command.”

T’Ser wasn’t backing down, however. “They were in collective shock, Commodore. It happens on occasion, even to people of their caliber.”

“Shock?” Sandhurst crowed incredulously. “Shock is losing over two-hundred ships in one day trying to retake Betazed from the Jem’Hadar. Today some of the finest captains in the fleet curled into a ball and started sucking their collective thumb because two senior officers fell in the line of duty within twenty-four hours of one another!”

“So you anoint yourself grand high chieftain of the tribe and call all of them on the carpet? How did that help our situation? In five minutes you singlehandedly destroyed all the credibility you’ve established over the past two years.”

“I can’t abide hesitation, not with so much at stake,” he replied, his voice fairly trembling with conviction. “They had no plan!”

“They would have made the appropriate notifications and accessed Jellico’s orders in less than a day,” she countered. “There was no need for all the theatrics.”

He looked at her with eyes that hinted at something that hadn’t been there before the Amon. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m the man I was, Captain,” he breathed softly. “I’ve seen things you can’t imagine, accessed mental faculties unreachable by even the kolinahr masters.” He raised his right hand, holding it aloft with fingers outspread. “Push my hand down.”

T’Ser’s stare was equal measures skepticism and concern. “What?”

“You’re Vulcan, Captain. Your muscular density is twice my own, your overall physical strength three times that of the average human. So… push my hand down.”

She pressed her hand against his, and moved to drive it towards the floor.

It didn’t budge.

T’Ser pressed harder, widening her feet to increase her leverage, but still Sandhurst’s arm could not be moved.

“Taiee’s medical scans all came back baseline normal, so there’s no way I should be able to do this,” he observed as T’Ser’s arm began to tremble with the effort to displace his own. “That’s enough, Captain,” Sandhurst said finally.

Her arm fell limply to her side as she glared at Sandhurst with suspicion. “You said you were fine.”

“I am, T’Ser. Better than fine, actually.”

Her expression was accusatory. “How can I believe that, sir?”

“Your belief isn’t necessary. I have faith enough for the both of us. I’m the right person at exactly the right place at precisely the right time, and I’ve been gifted with the tools we’ll need to overcome what’s ahead.” He stared past her, as if looking into the abyss. “What we’ve experienced so far is only the first squall of the coming storm.”

“And you know this how?” she asked.

“I can feel it in my bones, T’Ser,” he said faintly. “In my bones…”

*****
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Old December 15 2012, 02:05 PM   #118
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

So now, whose going to be more creative with their torture techniques? The Cardassians or a Baron-controlled/inspired Liana Ramirez? My money is on Ramirez. After all the Baron majored in creative torturing at Crazy Mad Man University.

And what the heck is Sandhurst turning into? T'Ser is right to be worried. Yes, maybe he's exactly the kind of man they need for this situation. But then maybe not. And what happens when and if this situation is resolved.

It's been said already. Terrific story.
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Old December 15 2012, 08:55 PM   #119
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

These last two segments demonstrate what I've said all along: Donald Sandhurst is the best captain out of all the ones created by the UT authors here. Period, no argument, end of discussion.

I mean, seriously. What he did was a power grab? The rest of the captains called a fucking meeting to try and figure out something that the concept of chain of command settles every time it's applied: All your admirals are gone? Then the most senior captain takes over. All that was needed was checking the records and finding out who's been captain longest. They called a meeting? To find out what the missing VADM wanted? And they have to confirm it with the REMFs in Starfleet Command? Really? Do they need a Deltan wet nurse to wipe their asses for them too?

Donald Sandhurst tried to assume ultimate responsibility for the mission when no one else had the balls to, and even though someone else was named heir apparent - and I question THE MAN's judgment in that instance - it just means Sandhurst's little corner of the mission will get the job done and the rest of Vanguard is screwed. I don't feel sorry for them.

BTW - since Starfleet follows US Navy rank structure - the rank of Commodore still exists. It was renamed Rear Admiral (Lower Half). That means Sandhurst should have replicated a Rear Admiral pin.
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Old December 17 2012, 08:07 AM   #120
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Commanding Officer's Quarters, USS Europa


Sandhurst looked up from his computer terminal as the doors parted at his summons to admit T’Ser to his quarters.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable back in your ready room, sir?” she asked.

He smiled patiently in response. “It’s your ship and your ready room until we rendezvous with Valiant, Captain.” Sandhurst leaned back in his chair and took a swig of lukewarm coffee as he gestured for T’Ser to take a seat across from him. “You have the status on the Voranti I requested?”

“Yes, sir,” T’ser confirmed, holding a padd aloft before accessing its contents. “Long range sensors indicate the Voranti fleet has reassembled outside the nebula and has resumed their original course. They’ll be limited to Warp 3 until they’re able to affect repairs to their most heavily damaged ships.”

“Threat assessment?”

“Their repeated skirmishes with Galaxy and our battle in the nebula destroyed nearly three-quarters of their dedicated warships, and seriously damaged many of the remaining ones. Their larger personnel carriers aren’t nearly as well armed. Lar’ragos and Verrik agree that at least for the time being, the Voranti have been defanged.”

Sandhurst nodded slowly, digesting that. “Make sure IG-5 is supplied with all pertinent information and assessments on Voranti capabilities. Captain Duparc will attempt another contact with them as they approach five's area of operations.”

T’Ser registered a skeptical look. “Do you think they’ll have any better luck?”

“I can only hope so. The tragedy here is that they’re not a malicious or expansionist people, they’ve just been provoked into being someone else’s pawns in a proxy war against Starfleet.”

She seemed to appraise his facial expression and body language. “And we still don’t have any idea who’s operating Masada?”

“None,” he sighed. “Realistically, it could be any one of a number of potential players. We now know thanks to the intel gathered by Gallant that the Romulans have an quasi-stable wormhole from their territory leading to very near our sector of operations. Size limitations on craft passing through it have restricted them to using smaller scout craft and their Valdore-class warbirds. A captured Defiant-class ship could easily pass through that fluctuating aperture.”

“To what end, sir? They’re our allies out here.”

“They’re not a monolithic power, T’Ser, no matter how much they might pretend to be. Hell, they’ve got more secret organizations than their own senate likely even knows about. It’s entirely conceivable that the Galae doesn’t even realize the Tal Shiar or someone else is operating Masada out here.”

“Could be the Dominion,” she offered. “Masada went missing in a battle with Dominion forces.”

Sandhurst shrugged in response. “The Klingons participated in that battle, too. Perhaps it’s the Klingon Sotaj. The point is it could be anyone. We didn’t exactly win a lot of hearts and minds by keeping our knowledge of the mass migration a secret for four months. More than a few governments would like to see the Federation bled dry in the process of thwarting the incursions.”

T’Ser inclined her head, silently conceding the point.

Her combadge chirped, and Ashok’s booming voice intruded into the conversation. “Engineering to Captain T’Ser. We’re ready to bring the new warp core online.”

Sandhurst and T’Ser stood in unison. “Let’s go check in on my little science project, shall we?” the commodore said as he made his way for the exit.

*****

The trio stood at the railing looking down on the new reactor core from Engineering’s second level. Where technicians had been swarming like ants just hours earlier was now an unconventional looking reaction chamber. It appeared like two squat cone-shaped chambers arranged point-to-point, contained within a largely transparent outer casing.

Ashok looked troubled, though Sandhurst had reassured him repeatedly that his team had executed the complex schematics flawlessly. The hulking Bolian’s voice carried throughout the entire compartment, though he’d only intended to address the captain and commodore. “Considering the drive utilizes standard dilithium crystals and fuel components, the projected maximum velocity factors would appear…” he struggled to find a polite descriptive, “…significantly over-enthusiastic.”

“Not at all, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst said with a confident smile. “In fact, I expect they’re actually rather conservative.” He reached down to touch a finger to the padd held in his other hand.

The LCARS displays throughout Engineering flickered for a brief second and the core hummed to life, the inverted cones beginning to glow as they spun in opposite directions. Each of them contained a carefully sculpted dilithium crystal whose harmonics had been predetermined through a painstaking crystallization-compression process.

Ashok clearly hadn’t expected that, and appeared alarmed. “What was that?”

“The engine is calibrating itself,” Sandhurst announced.

“Did Ra-Havreii intended for it to do tha—“

“No,” Sandhurst said, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Ra-Havreii designed the engine. I designed the control architecture and operating systems.”

“While under the influence of a mind-altering alien energy source,” Ashok added helpfully, somehow managing to keep his voice free of sarcasm.

Sandhurst beamed. “Yes indeed, Lieutenant.”

Ashok’s disconsolate grumble seemed to vibrate in time with the new core as T’Ser looked on, thinking wryly that now might not be the worst time to take command of another vessel.

*****

Galaxy’s saucer section was ringed with proximity mines and surrounded by a squadron of armed shuttlecraft for protection as Europa departed the nebula to conduct speed trials of her new engine. T’Ser remained behind to oversee the final repairs to the saucer in Europa’s absence, awaiting the arrival of Valiant, whose sled had just decelerated from high-warp some twelve light-years distant.

*****

“Warp nine, nine-point-two, nine-point-four,” Lightner called out as Europa raced up the acceleration curve.

“We’re on course for Valiant, correct?” Sandhurst inquired from the captain’s chair.

“Yes, Commodore,” Shanthi confirmed from the Science station. “They are, however, twelve light-years out. Even at maximum warp, it will take—“

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst said, extinguishing the rest of the young scientist’s assessment.

“…nine-point-nine, nine-point-nine-two…”

“Lieutenant Lascomb,” Sandhurst said, addressing the petite blond woman staffing the Engineering console. “Execute the new deflector protocols I uploaded on my mark.”

“Aye, sir,” she replied obediently, sparing a nervous look towards the Flight Control station as Lightner continued his unbroken cadence.

“…nine-point-nine-seven-five, nine-point-nine-eight…”

Sandhurst dropped his gaze to the padd in his lap, idly toggling various interfaces as he monitored the activity of the warp core. A crewman stepped onto the bridge from the fore turbolift, an object cradled in his hands as he approached the captain’s chair.

From behind him, Verrik had his phaser halfway out of its holster before he realized the enlisted rating was carrying what appeared to be a bottle of Champaign. Sandhurst looked up with a smile. “Ah, that’s the ’52 Dom Perignon from stores?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Excellent,” Sandhurst reached out to take the bottle in hand. “I thought it would be a lovely way to welcome Valiant’s crew to the Delta Quadrant.”

“…nine-point-nine-nine-one.” Lightner cast a disbelieving look back at Sandhurst. “Sir, we’ve now exceeded the maximum speed of the warp-sled that brought us out here!” He knew that a Sovereign-class starship would be tearing itself apart by now, yet there wasn’t even a noticeable vibration in the deck plates yet.

Rather than respond to the excited helmsman, Sandhurst gestured toward Lascomb at Engineering. “Execute.”

She touched a single interface at her console and the ship lurched unexpectedly.

There was a collective gasp from many of the bridge crew, most of who were already on a razor's-edge of tension at the astounding acceleration Europa had demonstrated. However, after an anxious second devoid of any further turbulence, all appeared calm.

Lightner let loose the most unexpectedly random string of creative profanity as he stared at the main viewer. There, rather than the streaking starscape he had long ago become accustomed to, was a swirling tunnel of light closing to a bright point some indeterminate distance ahead. He glanced down, checking his readings, “We’re showing as holding at Warp nine-point-nine-nine-three.”

“Yes,” Sandhurst affirmed, his tone devoid of surprise. “That would be our velocity in normal space.”

“Normal sp—“ Shanthi sputtered. “Where are we?”

Sandhurst’s reply was that of an Academy professor reciting dry facts by rote, “We’re tunneling through subspace, approximately point-four millicochranes beneath our dimensional plane.” He frowned, taking exception to his phrasing. “Or… beside. Above maybe?” He shrugged. “Past… whatever.”

“Son of a bitch,” Shanthi breathed in astonishment. “It’s transwarp!”

“For want of a better term,” Sandhurst allowed, “sure.”

*****
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