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Old December 18 2012, 09:45 PM   #121
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Captain’s Log, SD 55442.3 – (June 11th, 2378)


Following our successful rendezvous with Valiant, we have continued the field test of our new drive system by returning to our original warp-sled for resupply. Utilizing the replicatable matter stores aboard the sled, our engineering staff has begun repairs to the sled’s warp drive as we offload the stasis-units containing Galaxy’s survivors.

High-warp cargo pods containing replacement crew in stasis arrived at the sled weeks ago, and we have revived one-hundred and fifty personnel. Some of these will replace losses to Europa’s crew contingent, while the majority will go on to staff Galaxy as it serves as a forward operating outpost for the task force.

Once we have disassembled the sled’s industrial replicator and stored it aboard Europa, we will complete repairs to the sled’s nacelles and send it back to Federation space so that Galaxy’s surviving crew may receive the best medical care possible. Lieutenant Lightner estimates that the parabolic course we’ve set for the sled will carry it above the galactic plane and return it to Federation space in twenty-seven months, avoiding the Federation’s tumultuous coreward border where the first of the refugee formations are due to arrive within months.

The new drive (some are calling it ‘transwarp’ though I’m not sure that’s strictly correct) is the first bit of good news we’ve had since undertaking this mission some nine months ago. Vanguard is now receiving ‘new blood’ in the form of additional ships and personnel, assigned to fill the gaps that attrition has left in our ranks.

We are waiting to see if Starfleet Command agrees with the recent decisions we’ve made regarding our command and control of Vanguard, but seeing as we are so far removed from direct control, any attempt by them to circumvent what we’ve established will only serve to detract from our efficiency. Here’s hoping Command comes to the same conclusions.

It has been decided that TFV will no longer attempt to engage the Kothlis’Ka, and that it will be left to Starfleet and the Romulan Galae to organize a defense against the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Even if IG-4 hadn’t been wiped out, the Kothlis’Ka Armada has now moved outside of TFV’s area of operations.

We are taking this opportunity to catch our breath before moving to intercept the next two incoming nomadic formations. Thus far, of the three fleets TFV has studied and subsequently engaged, two are still on course for the Alpha Quadrant and only one has stopped, and then only because the En-Il-Que chose to attack and occupy an inhabited star system.

Nevertheless, because of our presence the Alpha Quadrant has a much better idea of what’s heading their way, and how to potentially defend against those threats. I can only hope the results are worth the blood we’ve spilled thus far, and of the blood that has yet to be shed in the name of the Alpha Quadrant’s safety.

End Log entry.
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Old December 20 2012, 06:40 PM   #122
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

So, Gibraltar. Any chance we can get the rest of the story posted before the impending end of the world? Haha
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Old December 21 2012, 10:19 PM   #123
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

theonering wrote: View Post
So, Gibraltar. Any chance we can get the rest of the story posted before the impending end of the world? Haha
How's that?
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Old December 21 2012, 10:36 PM   #124
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Ready Room, USS Europa.


Sandhurst appreciated that T’Ser hadn’t redecorated the ready room in his absence, yet another reflection of her loyalty to him, albeit a subtle one. A model of Gibraltar stood atop a display stand, next to another representing Venture. He took a brief moment to focus on the commemorative decorations, giving his eyes a rest from the hours of exhausting reading he’d been buried under.

Outside the viewport he could see work-bees and EVA-suited engineering personnel completing repairs to the warp-sled’s nacelles. Meanwhile, the remaining emergency supplies stored on the sled were being transferred to Europa for distribution back at what remained of In’Drahn station.

Europa would make a quick stopover at In’Drahn to resupply their relief effort and rotate out their exhausted personnel before returning to the nebula where both Europa and Valiant would jointly tractor Galaxy’s saucer section back to a position near In’Drahn. The great debris field surrounding the station would serve as bulk matter that could be easily reconditioned into all manner of usable repair materials and foodstuffs.

Adding the sled’s industrial replicator to Galaxy’s other two would give the new cobbled together outpost a significant fabrication output, more than enough to conduct repairs to the saucer and portions of the heavily damaged former-Husnock installation.

What would otherwise have been days wasted at maximum warp between the various destinations would now be only hours thanks to their extraordinary new drive system. The multiple jaunts would also give them time to further study the drive, as well as the newly discovered sub-dimensional plane through which the mechanism propelled them.

As he’d completed Ra-Havreii’s groundbreaking design while in the throes of a neural fugue, Sandhurst was hesitant to trust it fully, despite its fault-free performance thus far. TFV had already lost the experimental starship Xu Fu to a supposedly miraculous faster-than-warp drive, and Sandhurst was determined not to follow in their unfortunate footsteps.

His door chimed and Sandhurst elicited a small sigh. This was to be the talk. The outcome of this discussion would decide Europa’s command structure for the foreseeable future.

“Enter,” he called out.

Pava Lar’ragos strode into the compartment, nodding to Sandhurst with the merest hint of a knowing smile.

“Take a seat, Pava.”

Lar’ragos did so, his expression all seriousness now.

“Since you’ve known why I called you here since… well, probably before I’d even done it, I’m going to spare you the lead-in. To put it succinctly, I need to know if we can work effectively together as captain and XO.”

“I’m fine with it, sir,” Lar’ragos stated plainly.

“We’ve had… problems before,” Sandhurst offered, avoiding the unpleasant details as he moved to take a sip of his pungent Rigellian spice coffee.

“I presume you are referring to the occasion on which I kicked my captain’s ass all over the inside of a turbolift, sir?”

Sandhurst’s cool, studied command persona evaporated in a fit of coughing as he choked down the little bit of coffee he hadn’t spit out. “Shit,” he remarked. “And to think I’d almost forgotten how direct you could be.”

Lar’ragos smiled. “No sense dancing around the giant purple sloth in the room.”

“Pink elephant,” Sandhurst corrected.

“Whatever,” Lar’ragos said, waving a hand dismissively. “So long as you don’t ask me to beam down to a planet and run amok again, I don’t foresee any problems.”

Sandhurst set his cup down, his demeanor suddenly downshifting to something more somber, altogether darker. “We both know that’s a possibility on this mission, Commander. We may, in fact, be called upon to do a great many reprehensible things.”

“I’ve drawn a line, sir,” Lar’ragos said, sounding a confessional note.

“Yes, I know,” Sandhurst countered. “Apparently that line includes refusing to kill me.”

Despite himself, Lar’ragos blanched at that.

“You disobeyed a direct order from Captain T’Ser and tried to physically countermand her will in front of the entire bridge.”

“I did, sir.”

“That can’t happen again, Pava. Not ever. Not even if my life hangs in the balance.”

The muscles in Lar’ragos’ jaw worked furiously as he studiously avoided eye-contact with the commodore.

“You’re stronger than me,” he said finally. “On Velkohn, when you killed Liana, if that had been me beside the generator instead of her, you’d have done the same thing.”

“Yes,” Sandhurst acknowledged simply.

“If it had been you down there, I couldn’t have done it.”

A long moment of silence followed as Sandhurst struggled to form a cogent response.

“I’m not sure what to say to that,” he said finally. “I realize you’ve made many difficult decisions in your life, some of which you regret enormously. Regardless, if you want to be my executive officer, I need to know that you’re capable of carrying out that order, should it become necessary.”

Lar’ragos finally looked up at him.

“We’re all expendable on this assignment,” Sandhurst continued. “Entire worlds hang in the balance.”

Lar’ragos took in a deep breath, nodding slowly as he exhaled. “Neither of us are the men we were, sir. I’m ashamed of my previous behavior. I acknowledge that life is change.” He directed a confident gaze at Sandhurst as he said, “I understand and accept the responsibilities of XO, up to and including sacrificing your life should it become necessary for the sake of the mission.”

Sandhurst continued to observe him for a few seconds longer, judging Pava’s bearing as though probing for any sign of duplicity. “Okay,” he said, rising to his feet and extending a hand, “Lieutenant Commander Lar’ragos, I hereby appoint you executive officer of Europa. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Commodore,” Lar’ragos replied, shaking the hand warmly.

“Gods but I hope we don’t find a way to screw this up,” Sandhurst said with a chuckle.

*****

Ganopus System, United Federation of Planets, Alpha Quadrant

The civilian cruise liner SS Rosh’iba-Hu, namesake of the ancient Tiburonian explorer, dropped out of warp just outside the farthest reaches of the star Ganopa’s gravity well.

This was a routine stop along the ship’s twice-monthly circuit, a brief layover at Ganopus V’s massive casino and entertainment complex on the artificially engineered continent of Arcadia. The entire world, more popularly known as Blue Horizon, was a terraformed paradise, with a multitude of successively more outlandish ‘natural’ wonders to delight and astonish even the most jaded travelers.

Captain Oliver Bernd frowned, the worry lines in his weathered face standing out more so than usual. “Any response?” he inquired from his communications officer.

“None, sir. Blue Horizon and all orbital installations are emissions quiet.”

“Something is terribly wrong here,” Bernd uttered ominously. He glanced back at the sensor station. “I want detailed scans of Blue Horizon and the Urskine mining outpost on Delaport’s second moon.”

Seconds groaned past as sensor beams swept the targeted areas.

The young sensor officer’s voice trembled slightly as he announced, “I’m seeing only sporadic life signs returning from Blue Horizon, Captain. There are massive fires burning in locations corresponding with all major settlements. All three orbital facilities and all orbiting satellites appear to have been completely destroyed, and I’m reading multiple debris fields throughout the system that…” he gulped, “that are probably the remains of spacecraft.”

“The lunar outpost?” Bernd pressed.

“There’s a glowing crater where the outpost was located,” came the disbelieving reply.

“Receiving a comms query from the border cutter Santiago, Captain,” the communications officer said. “They advise that the Federation comms network lost contact with the Ganopus system a little over three hours ago. They’re requesting we transmit all sensor information to them immediately.”

Bernd was former Starfleet, and had been a senior lieutenant aboard the old Constellation-class explorer Inouye. That ship had been fated to miss the Battle of Wolf 359 by a mere half-parsec due to a microfracture in their warp-core sustained while redlining their engines to make it to Starfleet’s last stand in time.

As it was, the Inouye had arrived too late to do anything but assist the Border Service with the grim task of combing through the fleet’s wreckage for humanoid remains. That near-miss with the reaper had convinced Bernd that a career in Starfleet would likely end badly for him, and so he resigned his commission at the first opportunity.

Now, a decade and a half later, Bernd found himself thrust once again into the shadow of death. He straightened, ordering, “Transmit Starfleet our sensor logs and prepare to jump to warp. Come hard about and set course back to Argelia. Engage at full emergency speed.”

“But sir!” cried out one of the junior-most officers, “regulations demand that we render whatever assistance we’re able!”

“Blue Horizon had a level-three defense grid,” Bernd said matter-of-factly. “There are roughly two-point-seven million people on that planet at any given time… and they’re all gone. Whatever did this could snuff us out in an instant.”

“Do you think it was one of the refugee fleets?” asked another bridge officer.

As the giant cruise-liner came slowly about, Bernd flashed a grim look at the other man. “We’re over three-hundred light years from the coreward frontier. There’s no way a refugee fleet could reach Ganopus without Starfleet knowing about it.”

“Then who the hell did this?” the man practically screamed.

“We’re not waiting around to find out,” was Bernd’s caustic reply.

*****
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Old December 23 2012, 05:17 PM   #125
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

A lot of great things happening here. Transwarp? Ok, sure. I always wondered what happened to that. I mean if it hadn't been for Scotty, shouldn't that already be the norm by now? And on the plus side ... nobody turned into lizards.

Sandhurst's heart-to-heart with Pava was revealing and finally addressing his rather surprising shortcomings of late. And after this little chat I'm still not convinced he's the man for the job. He practically just admitted that he won't be able to make the tough calls. If it were up to me, I'd like to see Pell back in the XO position. Now that lady really left an impression. Having said that, I do look forward to a Sandhurst/Lar'agos team. It feels kinda right.

And, uh, did the Amon just arrive in the Alpha Quadrant? Things just went from bad to off-the-scale, it's-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, run-for-your-lives, worse.
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Old December 25 2012, 09:23 AM   #126
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

USS Europa
In Proximity to In’Drahn Station


Pell Ojana and Olivia Juneau had taken their first showers in over two weeks, and although they were freshly scrubbed and dressed in clean uniforms, the exhaustion in both women was evident as they sat in front of Commodore Sandhurst’s desk.

A flotilla of ships was arrayed outside the ready room’s viewports, evidence of the coalition of local species that had gathered in response to the devastation visited upon In’Drahn station. Although the meager Starfleet presence at the station had little more than a handful of shuttles and life-pods to offer up to the recovery effort, it had quickly become clear that Starfleet was highly experienced at managing diverse workgroups in critical situations.

Pell and her people eschewed the longstanding political squabbles between the various local species, and were immune to threats or bribes by those who might seek to use the tragedy to their advantage. Thus, it was as much due to the mistrust between these competing races as it was Starfleet’s obvious management experience that resulted in Pell’s small group being awarded authority over the recovery mission by default.

“You’ve both done tremendous work under some of the most demanding circumstances imaginable,” Sandhurst said. “I’ll be recommending your entire team for commendations.”

“Thank you, sir,” Pell replied, trying to force some enthusiasm into her voice past the waves of fatigue threatening to overwhelm her.

“We’re rotating out your personnel, and assigning additional medical staff and more equipment, along with fresh survival supplies,” Sandhurst advised. “I can bring you two back aboard for a respite as well, if you wish?”

“No, sir.” both women answered in concert.

Pell looked askance at Juneau, giving her a tired smirk before turning back to Sandhurst. “We both know the players, the politics involved, and we’ve developed strong relationships with the Habertaem and the other former Husnock vassals that inhabit the station.”

Sandhurst nodded in response. “Okay, then. You and Olivia can stay with the mission here until such time as Galaxy’s saucer arrives on station.” He shifted his gaze to his computer display for a moment, calling up the established mission plans. “Did you have a chance to read over the brief I sent you on the new plan involving Galaxy?”

Pell smiled apologetically. “I tried, three times, actually. Every time I’d get a page into it, I’d fall asleep.”

That elicited a chuckle from Sandhurst. “Understandable, given the circumstances. I’ll summarize for you. Galaxy will become our forward operating base in this sector, in conjunction with In’Drahn station. It will give our task force a base of operations and a central hub for personnel rotation and shore leave. Incoming additions to IG-3 will drop out of warp here, rather than in deep space, affording us more operational security at this end of their trip.”

“I see, sir.” Pell replied. “Who will be in command?”

“Galaxy’s former XO, Commander Worf, is being placed in command of the installation. I’ve selected you to be his XO.”

“Me?” Pell’s eyes widened, and her earlier weariness had vanished. “Is that a good fit, sir? He’s a warrior, I’m a diplomat.”

Sandhurst smiled patiently, clearly having anticipated Pell’s reluctance. “Worf was Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire for almost a year. He’s served on DS9 as well as the Federation flagship. I have every confidence in his ability to be appropriately diplomatic when the situation calls for it.” Pell moved to speak, but Sandhurst beat her to it. “And should he need any assistance in that department, he’ll have you and your abilities to call upon.”

Pell took a deep breath, and then nodded affirmatively, not trusting herself to mind her tongue in the depths of her fatigue.

Sandhurst looked to Juneau. “Lieutenant, you’re dismissed. Go and get yourself some well deserved rest. Again, congratulations on a job well done.”

“Thank you, Commodore,” Juneau muttered, beating a hasty exit.

“Ojana,” Sandhurst said softly as the doors to the bridge closed behind Juneau. “You’ve been instrumental not only in forging a trusting relationship with the Habertaem, but helping to create this new interstellar coalition. Worf is going to need your insight, your understanding of these peoples in order to keep the flame you’ve ignited here alive.”

“You don’t feel I’m needed aboard Europa any longer?” she asked pointedly, her hesitation having evaporated now that their conversation was private. "I'd thought... I'd hoped that we could revisit some personal ground between us, Donald."

“You are both wanted and valued aboard, but not nearly as much as you’re needed here,” Sandhurst confided. “Your experiences on Velkohn make you the perfect candidate for this position. Besides, I can detach you from Worf’s command whenever I have need of your skills.”

His eyes softened ever so slightly. "And there can be no 'us' for the duration of this mission, Ojana. We've seen where that leads."

Something in her expression hardened in response to that, like a door slamming shut somewhere behind her eyes. "Understood," she replied curtly. "Your exec?” she inquired in the same frosty tone.

“Lar’ragos,” he admitted with just a hint of reluctance.

Pell cocked her head. “Bad idea, sir. You two have exhibit some pretty spectacular group-think in the past. You need someone willing to call you out when you’ve convinced yourself that you’re right, despite all evidence to the contrary.”

“I’m confident that Pava’s up to the challenge,” Sandhurst offered blandly.

Her expression was one of pure skepticism. “Did Pava hit you so hard you don’t remember anything about Velkohn?”

Sandhurst held up a hand. “Now, hold on right there—“

“He’ll tell you what you want to hear, because he so desperately wants and needs your approval, Donald.”

His face tightened as he said slowly, “I don’t recall having given you permission to speak candidly, Commander.”

“Funny,” Pell retorted, “I don’t recall asking, Commodore.”

The two stared at one another for a long moment in an unspoken stalemate. Finally, Sandhurst broke eye contact first and sat back with a sigh. “As much as I know you’d be the better choice, Ojana, I need you here, now. Lar’ragos will have to do.”

“Just promise me you won’t let him get you all killed,” Pell asked sincerely.

*****
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Old December 27 2012, 08:06 AM   #127
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Captain’s Personal Log


We’ve just received word back from Starbase Bastion, where Admiral Brandies has thankfully thrown the weight of his influence behind the controversial decisions by Rear Admiral Gareth and I. Starfleet Command is understandably skeptical, but as Brandies has been given broad discretion in all Operation Vanguard matters, the Security Council is backing him.

We’re completing our resupply of the relief effort at In’Drahn station. Our final task has been expanding on the makeshift ‘Medical Hub’ that Pell and Juneau designed to serve as an operating theater and ICU from one of Europa’s ASRV survival craft. We’ve now built what amounts to a small space station, supporting three recovery wards, an ICU, and three separate operating theaters. Lt. Ashok has added a second EMH, and Lt. Taiee will be filling in for Dr. Multorlo for the next three weeks until Galaxy arrives on station. Taiee will begin familiarizing the medical personnel we took out of cryo-sleep back at our sled with the physiology of the Habertaem and the other former Husnock slave species they’ll be treating.

As for Galaxy, I’ve dispatched Giacobini in our place to assist Valiant with towing Galaxy’s saucer to In’Drahn station, while Europa proceeds to the DL-40637 system to conduct a hit-and-run strike against the En-Il-Que occupation of that system. Given our new found hyper-warp capabilities, I see no reason to saddle Europa with towing a saucer at Warp 5 when we could be more effectively exploiting this unexpected advantage.

Covert sensor probes left in that system have detected what might be preparations by the En-Il-Que to depart those recently conquered worlds. Should they resume their previous course and speed to the Alpha Quadrant, the En-Il-Que would enter Federation space near the Gamma-Proxima system in some sixteen months. From there, they could easily push on towards the heavily populated Deneva system, the Rudyard Colonies, Axanar or Cait.

All attempts by Starfleet to open communications with the En-Il-Que have met with failure. Based on the threat they pose and their refusal to talk, I have elected to take decisive action. Europa will drop out of transwarp in orbit of Akovos Prime, transporting down replicated stockpiles of advanced small-arms weaponry to the native Deobeen population to be used against their occupiers.

Following that, Europa will engage and destroy any and all En-Il-Que targets of opportunity utilizing both conventional and Alpha Weapons.

It is our hope that by dealing a severe blow to the En-Il-Que fleet while it’s effectively ‘at anchor’ in the system, we might dissuade them from departing for the Alpha Quadrant in the near-term. By arming the locals, it is our goal to further deplete the En-Il-Que’s military assets through sparking guerrilla warfare on the part of the subjugated Deobeen.

It’s time we got around to doing what they sent us out here to do. Protect our homes, through any means necessary.

End log.

*****

Vulcan, circa 153 BC, Terran Calendar

The great ships rose on pillars of fire as robotic drone fighters screened their escape, tangling savagely with their manned counterparts. Black blotches marred the sky, announcing the demise of some aircraft at the ends of missile trails as others exploded in the heat of high-energy laser discharges.

It had come to this, the final conflagration above the Plains of Gol as the separatists made their escape. The stubborn refusal of S’task’s followers to surrender to the word of Surak had threatened to plunge the world into a cataclysmic spasm of violence that could have extinguished all life on planet.

She had been there, watching the last, great battle with her own eyes, covering the escape of her brethren as part of the constricting circle of dwindling ground forces protecting the massive launch pads housing the vehicles of their exodus.

She’d fought from the turret hatch of a tritanium-sheathed battle tank, its cannon belching death towards her purportedly ‘logical’ enemies. For spiritless automatons they certainly fought with enough passion, she thought wryly as she sent a plasma round howling downrange to incinerate a Surakite personnel carrier.

There was no chance of her surviving this last engagement, and she’d made peace with her ancestors and gods as dawn broke above the parched ground which had seen so very many battles in the long history of their people.

The radio crackled with the coded message that indicated success, their ships had successfully clawed free from Vulcan’s atmosphere and fought their way through the planet’s orbital defense grid. She could have surrendered then and there, but she did not. She targeted an enemy scout cycle, fired, and set her sights on an opposing tank, depressing the trigger again before the first target exploded in a burst of flame and mushrooming debris.

She was scanning for yet another victim when a bright flash accompanied by a sudden screech heralded the arrival of an enemy anti-armor missile. She had a fleeting impression of being thrown through the air end over end and seeing the briefest flash of her own detonating tank before the blackness claimed her…

Verrik jerked awake suddenly, his breath coming in great, inexplicably panicked gasps. He clutched a hand to the gaping shrapnel wound in her… his… their chest, only to find healthy flesh beneath his sleeping robe.

It was then that he knew with certainty that these were not dreams, but actual memories. They were the recollections of someone who had lived those events, or in this case, who likely died from them. Such recollections in the proper context would explain his own recent memory gaps and correspondingly inexplicable actions, as well as his growing inability to meditate.

He carried the katra of another.

*****
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Old December 27 2012, 12:41 PM   #128
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

A Vulcan carrying... what essentially sounds like a proto-Romulan katra? Fascinating...

Belated happy christmas, Gibraltar!
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Old December 27 2012, 04:35 PM   #129
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

For some reason, I read Sandhurst's "decisive action" as "divisive action". I think his choices could generously be called questionable...

LOVING the story; keep it up!!
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Old December 27 2012, 06:46 PM   #130
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Cobalt Frost wrote: View Post
For some reason, I read Sandhurst's "decisive action" as "divisive action". I think his choices could generously be called questionable...
Again, the other guys called a meeting!

"Decisive" is the proper term...
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Old December 27 2012, 06:50 PM   #131
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

I'm not questioning his stepping up and having the brass to take charge whilst the other "commanding" officers dithered, I just have a sneaking suspicion that Sandhurst is not entirely in his right mind; either that, or something is lurking about that, due to his choices, is going to come back and bite him in the ass...
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Old December 27 2012, 06:54 PM   #132
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Cobalt Frost wrote: View Post
I'm not questioning his stepping up and having the brass to take charge whilst the other "commanding" officers dithered, I just have a sneaking suspicion that Sandhurst is not entirely in his right mind; either that, or something is lurking about that, due to his choices, is going to come back and bite him in the ass...
Maybe, but better to take that risk. To not have a proper chain of command already established in the face of the waves of refugee ships flooding into Fed space was inexcusable.

(But not surprising. Typical Starfleet officer-think really...)
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Old December 27 2012, 07:05 PM   #133
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Agreed. Plus, it all makes for some damn fine story...
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Old December 29 2012, 12:28 AM   #134
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

USS Valiant


T’Ser had to skirt around the as-yet unpacked crates that littered the floor of her new quarters in order to reach the door controls. She was wearing a loose fitting silken blouse and comfortable pants, as she’d become loathe to wear her uniform in her off-duty hours of late. Her hair was pinned up into an unkempt bun to keep it out of her way, leaving her pointed ears unaccustomedly exposed.

She triggered the doors to open, coming face to face with a smiling Dao Liu. “Good evening, Captain,” he said warmly. “I hope I’m not intruding.”

“Not at all, Counselor,” T’Ser replied, stepping back and gesturing broadly to the cluttered cabin. “You’re just in time to see my artistically interpretive, ‘Ode to In’Drahn station.’

Liu chucked at her gallows humor, his arms held behind his back as he patiently awaited an invitation to enter.

T’Ser stared at him for a brief moment before realizing her faux pas. “Oh, please,” she said, ushering him into the compartment, “come on in.”

He entered, gazing around at the stacked crates of clothing and personal belongings shipped over from Europa. “I just wanted to stop in and say hello before we depart on our little adventure to visit the En-Il-Que,” he said, a strained quality noticeable in his voice at his mention of the upcoming mission.

“Storming the castle, you mean?” T’Ser answered lightly.

“Actually,” Liu replied seriously, “I believe we’re storming a heavily fortified star system.”

“It’s a raid, Counselor,” T’Ser chided him gently. “In and out. Some shooting, some reconnaissance, but nothing worth getting to terribly worked up about.”

“And since you’ve been with this crew, how many of these missions have gone strictly according to plan?”

She shrugged in response. “Touché, Mister Liu.”

An awkward silence followed, finally broken when Liu admitted, “I’ve seen combat before, and though I’m not overly fond of it, I’ve never been outright terrified before a mission… until now.”

T’Ser turned toward him, quirking a curious eyebrow. “Here and I thought you were supposed to be the counselor, Counselor.”

Liu brought his hands around from behind his back, revealing a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other. “Who do I turn to in order to unburden my soul?” he asked.

She searched his face, looking for any sign of sarcasm or ulterior motive, finding none.

“I’m… I’m not sure this is appropriate. I’m—“

“No longer my captain,” he finished for her. Liu set the glasses down and drew the cork out of the previously opened bottle. He poured two measures into the glasses, offering one to T’Ser. “I’m scared, I’m lonely, and I want to share a glass of wine with a beautiful woman before a dangerous mission from which I may not return.”

T’Ser accepted the glass, eyes still laser-focused on Liu’s. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He took a sip from his glass. “Yes,” he answered truthfully. “You’re gorgeous.”

She blushed a deep green in response, taking a sip of her own as she tried to conjure some kind of reply. “You don’t trust Commodore Sandhurst’s abilities?” she said after a moment’s consideration.

“In fact, I do, and that’s the problem. The Donald Sandhurst I know, the one whose file I’ve studied, has always been caught between his brilliant intellect and the dictates of his humanity. Now it seems that humanity has been muted, censored somehow, allowing the dissociated intellect free reign.”

T’Ser cocked her head, frowning. “And you’re afraid of what he might do?”

“Yes,” Liu confessed. “He believes that he’s the right person at the right place and time in our history to make a difference out here, and I’m terrified he may be right.”

“He’s my superior officer,” she said unnecessarily. “Where he leads, I follow, whether or not I believe the course he’s set is the best of all possible options.”

Liu drained the rest of his glass, pouring himself another with a hand that shook ever so slightly. “Of course,” he said haltingly. “Do you believe this attack is in our best interests?”

T’Ser set her glass down on the table, moving closer to Liu. She interceded with a hand on his forearm, denying him the glass of wine he’d meant to raise to his lips. She pried the glass gently from his grasp and set it beside her own, before pulling him towards her as she breathed, “Fight them here, now… or fight them when they arrive on our doorsteps.”

He gazed upon her, his expression caught between genuine fear and wanton desire. “This mission may have been… bigger than I’d anticipated.”

“So many things are,” she replied, silencing any further recriminations with a tentative kiss that grew more passionate the longer it lingered.

“Uh… wow,” Liu stammered. “That was—“

“Yes,” she agreed, cutting him off. “It was.”

*****

USS Europa, en route to System DL-40637 at transwarp

“You’re sure they won’t see us coming, sir?” Lightner asked from the Flight Control station.

“Let’s just say my confidence hovers in the vicinity of the ninety-ninth percentile, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst replied evenly from the captain’s chair. “We had Valiant looking hard for us on our approach last week, and all they detected was a minute subspace disruption point-zero-zero-three seconds before we dropped out right on top of them.”

Lightner whistled appreciatively. “Almost better than a cloak,” he remarked.

Sandhurst looked back to make eye contact with Lar’ragos, who had taken Verrik’s position at the Tactical arch now that the security/tactical officer had removed himself from duty due to unspecified personal reasons. He briefly wondered if Verrik wasn’t experiencing a pacifistic Vulcan resistance to the planned attack on the En-Il-Que.

“Take me through our load-out again, please, Pava.” he requested.

“We’re prepped with standard photons for their ships, quantum torpedoes for their larger installations, and an Alpha Weapon on standby in forward tube two.”

Sandhurst nodded grimly. “What flavor of Alpha?”

“Zero-point singularity initiator,” Lar’ragos replied. “It’s supposed to open a quantum fissure lasting a fiftieth of a second that will cause a catastrophic distortion of any matter in a five-hundred kilometer radius.”

Sandhurst frowned. “How the hell did they get that by the subspace weapons ban?”

“It’s not technically a subspace weapon, Commodore,” Lar’ragos clarified. “And I’m pretty certain Admiral Brandies doesn’t give the proverbial ‘rat’s ass’ about weapons ban treaties.”

“Still, I don’t think that’s something I want to set off in the gravity well of an inhabited planet,” Sandhurst decided. “What else have we got?”

Lar’ragos called up an armory manifest, keying in his priority authorization codes so he could discern the warhead yields of their Alpha Weapon stores. “Well, the technical analysis of the En-Il-Que ships indicates your IFEW package would be effective against their warp drives.”

The IFEW, or Ionization Field Effect Weapon was a device previously designed by Sandhurst for use against Neo-Maquis raiding squadrons. Any lightly shielded vessel within the radius of the weapon’s discharge would have its warp coils depolarized, necessitating days or weeks of time-consuming repairs to return the vessels to operability.

“Okay, prep three of the IFEW warheads and have those standing by in forward tube two.” He turned back to face the viewscreen. “Mister Lightner, ETA?”

“Sixty seconds, sir,” the young pilot replied.

They were already at red alert, but Sandhurst keyed up the intraship to announce, “All hands, this is the commodore. Stand to battle stations. Medical and damage control personnel, rally to assembly points and stand by for further instructions from Ops.”

“Phasers hot,” Lar’ragos advised. “I’ve input target coordinates from our projected arrival point and have staggered photon and quantum torpedoes in forward tubes one and three. Aft tubes are loaded with photorp only.”

“Understood,” Sandhurst answered, eyeing a tactical graphic on his chair’s armrest display.

“Thirty seconds.”

“Once shields are up, I want them at full across all quarters until we can confirm threat vessel and installation locations,” Sandhurst ordered. “Route auxiliary power to the structural integrity grid to compensate for our sudden deceleration.”

Confirmations echoed his instructions and the bridge crew silently counted down the final seconds in time with Lightner’s cadence. “Three… two… one… dropping out of transwarp – now. Engines, all stop.”

The swirling tunnel on the main viewer vanished as Europa re-entered real space, appearing to the greater universe as though having just popped into existence some thirty-thousand kilometers above the surface of Akovos Prime.

“Standby shields,” Sandhurst said. “Energize transporters.”

“Cargo pallets have safely materialized on the surface, Commodore.”

“Raise shields.”

“We’re being illuminated by En-Il-Que tactical sensors, sir,” Shanthi advised from the Science board.

Sandhurst commanded, “Open fire on all available targets.”

White and red torpedoes rifled from Europa’s launchers, fanning out on independent trajectories to disperse death and destruction across the widest possible swath. The ship’s phaser strips pulsed and flared, disgorging brief bursts of collimated energy on smaller, more vulnerable targets, while firing concentrated beams against more hardened objectives.

Within fifteen seconds, two En-Il-Que destroyers were obliterated, along with four heavily laden cargo ships, two scout craft, eight defense satellites, and a Deobeen orbital station that had been turned into an enemy weapons platform.

“Initiate Picard Maneuver,” Sandhurst ordered, punching destination coordinates into his armrest display.

“Uh, sir,” Lightner interjected, the alarm in his voice unmistakable, “it’s suicidal to engage a warp drive in the gravity well of a planet.”

“Good thing we aren’t burdened with a warp drive then, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst retorted with admirable patience. “Engage!”

An instant later, Europa was several hundred-thousand kilometers from her former position as En-Il-Que beams and missiles tore through the spot she’d occupied only seconds earlier.

“Continue fire with conventional weapons,” Sandhurst directed, unlimbering his starship’s arsenal yet again. More of the boxy, inelegant En-Il-Que ships were snuffed out, and a fusillade of quantum torpedoes arced downrange to devastate the alien invaders’ primary drydock facility. “Deploy ten of our mines here,” he added.

The aft shuttlebay doors opened to spill the commanded number of cloaking, self-replicating mines in Europa’s wake. They were identical to the ones utilized by Starfleet to mine the entrance to the Bajoran wormhole during the Dominion War. The mines shimmered and then vanished as the ship pulled away.

“Commodore,” Shanthi spoke up, “I’m reading numerous Deobeen life-signs aboard the orbital installations and some of the larger threat vessels. We’re causing significant collateral casualties among the native population of this system.”

“Unavoidable in these circumstances,” Sandhurst countered. “It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected.”

Europa jumped again, this time to a point near a marshaling area occupied by nearly two dozen En-Il-Que ships, mostly cruisers and personnel carriers. It was the assembly of this formation that had prompted Sandhurst’s strike on the system in the first place.

He gestured toward the viewer. “Deploy additional mines and fire two of the IFEW warheads with overlapping detonation fields on that formation.”

As soon as the missiles were fired and the mines were safely away, Europa jumped again, this time to a point in orbit of the planet directly opposite that of their first appearance. The Deobeen’s largest space station lay before them, a beckoning target rich with promise. A salvo of torpedo and phaser fire flared impressively against the installation’s raised shields but failed to penetrate.

“It appears the En-Il-Que have substantially reinforced the station’s defensive grid, Commodore,” Lar’ragos noted.

“This would be considered a high-orbital position, correct?” Sandhurst inquired.

“Yes, sir,” the petty officer at Ops answered. “We’re one-point-two million kilometers from the planet’s surface.”

Sandhurst seemed to be lost in thought as a second wave of fire from Europa failed to collapse the orbital facility’s shields. “Safe enough,” he murmured before glancing back at Lar’ragos. “Load the zero-point Alpha Weapon and input our pre-established command permissions.”

Lar’ragos did not hesitate. “Done, sir,” he announced after a moment of inputting commands.

Europa shuddered from the first enemy weapons impacts. It was the first time they had remained in one position long enough to draw effective counter-fire.

Ops advised, “We’re taking fire from defense sats, and there’s one threat frigate and two scout craft on an intercept course. Shields holding firm.”

Rather than utter the order to fire, Sandhurst merely waved his hand at the viewer, prompting Lar’ragos to launch the device.

There was dead silence on the bridge as the Alpha Weapon casing engaged a randomized zig-zag course towards the station before vanishing in a distortive haze which caused many of the crew to blink involuntarily. The station appeared to collapse in upon itself, its constituent materials flexing and warping in ways never intended. An instant later, it exploded outward in a brilliant flash of scattering photons as the singularity vanished.

Two nearby enemy frigates also fell victim to the weapon, their mass drawn into that of the station during the brief existence of the short-lived singularity’s event horizon.

“I’d categorize that as an unqualified success,” Sandhurst noted dryly.

The rest of the bridge was silent as a tomb, the various officers and enlisted personnel warring silently with the crumbling ideals of their inner Starfleet cadets and recruits.

“Helm, engage transwarp. Take us back to In’Drahn.”

“Aye,” Lightner murmured, his voice thick with disbelief. “Course set and executed, Commodore.”

Europa appeared to vanish, leaving the En-Il-Que conquered system awash in ruin and confusion.

As the starship tunneled through the nearer layers of mid-space, Sandhurst stood from his chair, looking vaguely satisfied. “Exec, you have the conn. I’ll be in my ready room preparing my after-action report.”

Deities, Shanthi raged internally, is this what the Borg felt like after Wolf 359?

*****
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Last edited by Gibraltar; December 29 2012 at 05:30 AM.
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Old December 30 2012, 11:49 AM   #135
Galen4
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Well...so much has gone on.

Personally, I have to agree with the notion that Sandhurst isn't fully in his right mind. Nothing wrong with taking charge, but promoting himself to commodore seems more than a little odd, especially since no rule on the book calls for such an action, even if Sandhurst were next in line for command of the taskforce.

Pava is a terrible choice for XO. I like the character, but I don't trust his judgement where Sandhurst is concerned. I fully agree with Pell's reservations on this one.

Is the merciless attack on the En-Il-Que justified? I'll have to read more.

Thanks for keeping me guessing, great job all the around!
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