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Old November 4 2012, 08:47 PM   #136
Angry Fanboy
Lieutenant Commander
 
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Angry Fanboy

This is the winning entry for the October 2012 challenge "Your Darkest Nightmare"

***










Majestic














The USS Majestic was a dead ship.

Lost in the darkness of some future age, all alone on the wrong side of a wormhole that bored its way through time and space very nearly to the end of everything - a hundred trillion years into a future where most stars had turned to ashes and the universe was filled with the corpses of galaxies.

Thousands of kilometres beneath the broken Majestic lay the blasted, airless surface of a world that had been dead for eons. The planet orbited a black dwarf, the shrunken, frozen remnant of a once bright and burning star whose furious death had long since stripped away any vestiges of atmosphere.

Sigrid Hellum had been the starship's officer, the sole survivor from a crew of forty men and women. Virtually everyone had perished when the Majestic had been swallowed up by the wormhole that had brought them to this place - to the end of the universe. Only one other had survived, a young engineering cadet named Simon.

Together, they had done what they could to stabilise the crippled science vessel, through the damage wrought by the Majestic's encounter with the wormhole had been so extreme that nothing of any real consequence could be done. The starship was unable to generate her own power and most of her interior was open to space.

Only one small emergency bunker, located in the centre of the spacecraft and intended as a last refuge for survivors, still held atmosphere. Artificial gravity had bled away in the twelve hours following the ship's emergence into this dark galaxy.

Both survivors had worked in silence for days to gather up the corpses of their fallen comrades, working in microgravity inside uncomfortable environmental suits that had to be worn outside of the emergency bunkers. Many of the crew displayed horrific wounds as the result of the ship's violent passage, making the gruesome task of bringing them all to the Majestic's small shuttlebay even more unpleasant.

Though she was not a woman of faith herself, Sigrid had floated in solemn silence as Simon read a number of passages from the Bible he'd brought with him from Starfleet Academy, blessing the crew's journey into the arms of whatever god they might have believed in.

For a long time Sigrid had struggled with how best to deal with the bodies of her crewmates, unsure of the most dignified course of action given that burial on a planet was clearly impossible. The difficulty of converting torpedo and probe casings to act as coffins seemed prohibitive given that she and Simon were struggling just to stay alive, and mindful to the unpleasantness of simply allowing so many corpses to float forever in the shuttlebay, Sigrid eventually found herself picking her way through the maintenance deck below the hanger to detonate the last-resort explosive bolts that would blast the bay door away into space, trailing with it what little atmosphere remained and the bodies of the Majestic's fallen crew.

Strangely, Sigrid found herself almost pining for those first few weeks of her exile to this far future. As horrific as the immediate aftermath had been, at least there had been plenty of work to take both hers and Simon's mind off their hopeless imprisonment aboard the broken, powerless starship.

They had run what was left of the Majestic's catastrophically-damaged computer for an hour a day to conserve their only source of power - the ship's emergency batteries - and used it to slowly calculate how far into the future they'd travelled. Emergency subspace messages refused to transmit, leading Sigrid to conclude that the subspace medium through which the signals propagated had somehow dispersed or become unreachable this far into the future. Though it seemed doubtful there was anyone left to hear it, disaster beacons carrying the tale of the ship's demise were launched, more than anything to make them both feel like Starfleet officers again by carrying out these familiar operating procedures of an organisation from trillions of years in the past.






***






But nothing could keep the inevitable depression at bay for long. Looking back, Sigrid realised that Simon had begun to lose his mind some time after the eighth week. She had done what she could for the young man, but the enormity and hopelessness of their situation was understandably too much for him to bear. While Sigrid hadn't been close to her family and had few friends, in that respect Simon had been her polar opposite.

Even as she watched him deteriorate and begun to feed him stories that she was working on a plan that would allow them to home, Sigrid had known how it would end. On a purely selfish level, she was painfully aware that without Simon she would be completely alone.

During the eleventh week the pair had been working in their environmental suits in what remained of the Majestic's engine room. The reactor itself was missing from the centre of the facility, having been automatically ejected into space where it had exploded harmlessly following their passage through the wormhole.

Ironically, allowing it to explode inside the ship and reducing the Majestic to dust would have been far more humane than the slow death the survivors would inevitably endure.

"I've come to believe," Simon had said via the communications link between their suits, "that God must have abandoned this universe long before this time period."

Sigrid had regarded him in silence, experiencing the usual sinking feeling she had when he began one of these soliloquies.

"And I can't help but wonder what," he had continued, an edge of desperation in his voice, "in the absence of God, happens to our souls when we die."

It hadn't been a conversation Sigrid had wanted at that moment, nor at any moment.

"Our souls?" she sighed.

"This far beyond our own time, the universe is dark," Simon went on, his eyes wide and fervent. "No new stars are being created. Most of the galactic clusters have retreated so far from each other that they're no longer visible to each other, and most galaxies themselves have been swallowed up by the black holes at their centre."

"I know all this, Simon," she had said.

"Yes, but if God is no longer here, what happens when you die here?" he had demanded, his voice full of anguish. "Where do you go? There's only one conclusion."

"Simon..." she had pleaded.

"Hell is, by its very nature, the absence of God, is it not?" he had persisted.

"Listen, you need to calm down a little, okay?" Sigrid had told him, turning from the flickering control console she was working at and placing her gloved hands on his shoulders.

"I'm sorry," Simon had said after a moment. "Sometimes..."

"I know," she'd replied with as much sympathy as she could muster. "But we'll be home in a few more days. I've got a plan, remember?"

"Yes," Simon had said. "A plan. Of course."

"You just need to hold it together a little while longer, okay?"

"Yes," Simon had said again, and Sigrid had sensed that the young man was a little calmer.

"Good," she'd replied, turning back to the console.

A moment later a piercing alarm had exploded through her helmet speakers and she'd spun to see Simon thrashing around, his own helmet still in his gloved hands where he'd pulled it free of his environmental suit.

Sigrid could only watch in horror as what could be the only other person who shared this future universe with her had died in her arms. She had cradled Simon's lifeless body for what felt like hours before returning to the emergency bunker.






***






The feeling of dread and loneliness she'd experienced in the preceding weeks had been nothing compared to what she'd felt following Simon's death.

On an intellectual level she understood that she may well be the only living being left in existence, though the very concept was so overarching that her brain struggled to comprehend the enormity of it.

The next few weeks had been Sigrid's very own personal hell, feeling like the one Simon had spoken of, all alone aboard a lifeless starship in a dead, black universe. She had remained in the bunker during that time in a near catatonic state, subsisting on a few sips of water and dry emergency rations.

It had been during her first excursion outside the bunker for nearly a month when she'd discovered the planet where the Majestic's story would end. She had been in the engine room, the only place remaining aboard the ship where some scant remnant of control remained, working at the console where Simon had chosen to end his life all those weeks before.

The ship's few short-range sensors had detected a planetary mass a few million kilometres away, through this was as much information as they could provide. With her food and water rations beginning to dwindle after nearly four months, Sigrid had seized upon the discovery, and concentrated on adjusting the Majestic's course to bring it to this world.

Using short bursts from the two emergency thruster packs that remained operational, Sigrid had been able to stop the ship's slow tumble through space and set it on a new heading towards the planet.

Another month had passed as the Majestic drew nearer its final destination, when Sigrid had exhausted what hydrazine fuel remained in the thrusters to bring the shattered spacecraft into a high orbit.

The barren, airless rock that had greeted her seemed to mock the struggle she'd endured in the previous months. The journey to this world had been four weeks of maddening loneliness and silence as the ship had crept gradually nearer.

The world was long dead.

Sigrid had known that the inevitable end had come. Even though they'd been used sparingly, nearly five months after its encounter with the wormhole the ship's emergency batteries were drained. In the coming weeks, the Majestic's orbit would decay until she finally impacted with the rocky surface below.

For days she contemplated suicide with a newfound , often feeling for the release tabs of her helmet so that she may take the same way out as Simon had.

But always she managed to pull herself back from the brink, whether it be through fear of how horrific those last moments of suffocation would be or the nagging echo of Simon's words about where her soul, if such a thing existed, would end up in this dark universe.

As the starship continued its inexorable descend toward the planet, Sigrid had decided that after almost five months of floating in microgravity, she wanted to die with solid ground beneath her feet. Collecting up what few possessions she wished to take with her and the few remaining rations from the bunker, Sigrid headed for the one remaining escape pod still capable of being ejected from the crippled vessel.

Before departing the starship, she recorded a last message.

"This is the final log entry of the Federation starship USS Majestic. It has been five months to the day since we were brought to this place, a point in time that I estimate to be over a hundred trillion years from where we belong. This is Lieutenant Sigrid Hellum, the last survivor of the Majestic, signing off."

The escape pod explosively had jettisoned itself away from the shattered hull of the small science vessel, spinning away so that the Majestic may continue on her way alone.

Sigrid had watched tearfully from the viewport as the battered starship slipped silently away into the night.

The pod's landing sensors had flickered to life as it began to descend, probing the inhospitable surface below for the a suitable landing site. As she watched sensor data begin to stream past the compact display, Sigrid had gasped as the sensors pinpointed something beneath her.

An artificial construction!

Sigrid urgently punched override commands into the panel, manually adjusting the pod's trajectory to bring it down as close as possible to the object the sensors had found and ignoring the preprogrammed warnings about deviating from the suggested landing site.

Minutes later, the pod touched down amongst the rough-hewn mountains of a desolate and airless landscape, the retro-rockets that had slowed its descent unable to fully prevent the jarring impact that knocked Sigrid unconscious.






***






When Sigrid awoke her entire body was in agony.

As consciousness came flooding back to her, she realised that she was experiencing gravity for the first time in nearly half a year.

She drew in a long, wheezing breath as she released the straps of restraint webbing that had held her in place during the descent from high orbit and the subsequent impact with the surface.

Groaning under the unfamiliar strain of gravity, Sigrid pushed herself out of the acceleration seat, grasping for the handholds positioned around the compact escape pod to aid her ascent.

She knew that the six months spent floating in microgravity had had a detrimental effect on her body, aware that her muscles had atrophied and she had lost a small percentage of her bone mass.

For the first few months both she and Simon had engaged in a physical regimen designed to prevent such degradation as much as possible, coupled with regular hypospray injections using supplies from the ship's sickbay, but these precautions had soon fallen by the wayside as depression had taken hold.

Sigrid's legs trembled as she attempted to stand before falling heavily against the side of the pod. After so long being weightless, standing would be a struggle wearing just a Starfleet uniform, but attired in the heavy fabric and helmet of the environmental suit it felt virtually impossible.

Minutes passed as Sigrid struggled to find her balance, but eventually she decided she was stable enough, and popped the hatch open to take her first look at her new surroundings.

As she climbed out of the pod she was confronted by the same desolate, barren landscape that she had observed from orbit. Everything appeared to be hewn from hard, gray rock. Mountains and valleys stretched away into the distance.

It was not a welcoming sight.

Sigrid slid down the surface of the pod to land on the rocky surface, her legs aching with the exertion as she surveyed the forbidding planetary surface.

The small holographic indicators projected onto the faceplate of her helmet changed from green to amber, warning of her increased heart rate and adrenalin.

A hundred metres away was the object that had brought her here.

Sigrid pulled the specialist, vacuum-hardened tricorder from her equipment belt. The enlarged device was designed to be used by the gloved hands of someone wearing an environmental suit, and she held it up as she began scanning.

The object itself was a torus, perfectly circular, fifteen feet in diameter with a thirteen foot diameter opening in the centre. The external side was three feet in height, whereas the sunken interior was four foot deep.

Sigrid narrowed her gaze at the sensor returns being displayed on the device's screen, amazed at the information that the device was providing.

According to the limited sensor suite of the tricorder, the torus was billions of years old, meaning that it had stood for longer than the entire lifespan of the universe as it had been measured in her own time.

Cautiously, Sigrid began to walk forward on unsteady legs, scanning as she went.

Whatever material the torus had been constructed from all those eons ago, it defied any attempt at analysis by the tricorder. Despite a near eternity of standing here on this world, subject to the ravages of whatever weather system had once been present and the bombardment of debris drawn into the planet's gravity well since it had formed, the exterior of the torus appeared as smooth and pristine as if its construction had just been finished.

Perhaps the full sensor suite of the Majestic could have once provided some clue as to the torus' construction, although somehow Sigrid doubted it. Absently, she likened the relationship as being akin to an amoeba attempting to understand how a starship's warp reactor had been built.

As she reached the torus, she glanced back at the escape pod sitting at an odd angle in the distance, subconsciously looking for reassurance that it was still there, before reaching out and touching the glassy surface of the object with a gloved hand.

"Who the hell built you?" she whispered, peering over the wall of the torus to look into the empty interior, all constructed of the same unknowable material that had defeated the tricorder's analysis.

Sigrid pulled herself up and into the torus, straining slightly as she lifted one leg over the edge, then the other. She traced the interior with her hands, baffled by how such an object could exist in such a flawless state from virtually the beginning of time to the end.

Faced with such a mystery, her exile at the end of the universe was momentarily forgotten.

Suddenly the tricorder began flashing a warning.

Sigrid glanced down, gasping as she saw the viscous, oil-like substance begin to gush out of tiny indentations along the bottom of the torus interior that she hadn't noticed before, flooding the space with astonishing speed.

The liquid was already covering the top of her boots as she grasped desperately for the wall of the torus.

The oil appeared to defy gravity, racing up the sides of her suit to swallow her up in a dark tide, congealing around her and pulling her down.

The environmental suit's alarms began to sound, warning Sigrid of the icy liquid that she could feet entering her boots as the tough material began to dissolve under the sudden onslaught.

The oil flowed up through her suit, covering her legs and abdomen as she fought the downward suction in a final, desperate attempt to free herself.

Sigrid screamed in the moments before the liquid reached her face, flowing into her nose and mouth.

Then she knew nothing.






***
__________________
Angry Fanboy
"Majestic"
"Home"

Last edited by Count Zero; November 4 2012 at 09:35 PM. Reason: added challenge theme
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Old December 1 2012, 02:09 PM   #137
Cobalt Frost
Captain
 
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Location: seduced by The Coolness in Phineas & Ferb's backyard
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

November challenge entry:

“And In The Quiet Heart Lies Hidden”

challenge topic: Trek cliches

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Counselor Lorien Ari stretched as she stood, setting the PADD with notes from the day’s appointments into its usual spot on her precisely organized desk. Time for a little break, she thought. Lorien retrieved a stonecraft zhord mug – a gift from the D’haan Iron Conclave – from a shelf and set it in the replicator. The feel of the laser-precise (though handcrafted) angles of the mug reminded her of her recent ‘adventures’ on Corva’los, homeworld of the dwarven D’haan. The mug was a pleasant reminder; the scars Lorien bore on her legs and stomach were otherwise. Adventures, indeed…

“D’hann rajvosa tea,” she said. “Seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit, with natak shavings and a pinch of cinnamon.” The replicator chirped in response, followed by its ubiquitous hum as the tea appeared in the bowl-like mug. Lorien retrieved the mug and took a sip, savoring the rich, earthy tastes of the tea. Before long, the tea’s aroma, not unlike that of freshly-turned earth after a rainstorm, hung lightly and pleasantly in the air.

Lorien took another sip and sat back on the couch she’d recently vacated, tucking her legs under her as she reached for the PADD on her desk. Before she could activate the PADD, however, there was a knock at the office door.

Never fails, she thought wryly. Then again, she was the head counselor on a Starfleet ship of the line, which meant that she was on-call – officially or not – all the time.

“Yes?” she said, setting the PADD and the tea on her desk as she stood (again). Her office door slid open, and Commander Taylor poked her head in.

“Connie! Come in, come in.”

Connie stepped forward, but kept most of herself in the corridor. “I’m sorry to bother you; I know it’s past your office hours, but…” She paused, taking a calming breath. “…do you have a minute?”

“Of course, Commander.” When Connie hesitated, Lorien repeated “Come in”, her voice half coaxing and half ordering. “Have a seat, and relax.” Lorien retrieved her mug and took a long sip. “Tea?” she asked politely.

“No, thank you.” In one smooth motion, Lorien sat and tucked her legs back under her; Connie sat at the opposite end of the couch, somewhat stiffly. Connie’s eyes, though, belied the agitation that Lorien had sensed some time ago, before Connie had even headed down to Lorien’s office.

“So, what’s going on?” Lorien asked, using a practiced, warm yet professional tone.

“I… I’ve been having the dreams again, Ella. Only, they’re different this time.”

Lorien took a second to make sure the door was locked and the ‘in session’ indicator in the corridor was lit. “When did they start again, and different? Different how?”

“Um, they started up again about a month ago, after the incident at Takkin Gauto.” Connie’s voice went quiet. “When he… I mean, when the Captain was...”

A knowing smile crossed Lorien’s face. “Stabbed? Yes, I remember. You were, shall we say, distraught. But Captain Frost was alright; it was only a flesh wound.”

“Stabbed?” Connie protested. “He was run through with a Tseruntai claymore! He…”

“Was back on his feet in no time. But we’re getting off-topic. You said the dreams were different.”

“It’s like… It’s like they’re memories, Ella. Memories from a life I have yet to live; memories of a life with… with him. They’re comforting and disturbing at the same time.”

“I suppose they would be,” Lorien replied thoughtfully. “I’ve never heard anyone describe their dreams like that before.” The corners of her mouth turned upwards. “So what do you think it all means?”

Connie groaned. “You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you.”

“I think it would be… helpful… if you’d finally admit it to yourself, Connie. And saying it out loud can’t hurt.”

“I love him,” Connie said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I love him,” she said again, a little louder, the words spoken as if they were a new shirt and Connie was testing the fit. She looked over at Lorien, and a small but growing smile crossed her lips. “Blessed hell, I’m in love with Gabriel Frost.”

“It’s about time you figured it out,” laughed Lorien.

Connie blushed. “Was it that obvious?”

“To everyone but you, apparently. I don’t know what was more amusing: your reactions whenever you saw him, or your attempts to disguise said reactions. I usually had to bite my tongue to keep from saying anything.” Lorien took another sip of her tea. “Or to keep from laughing.”

“You’re my friend, Ella. Why didn't you say something?”

“As your friend, Connie, and also as a trained counselor and doctor of psychology, I knew that you needed to sort out your feelings for Capt. Frost by yourself. I thought you’d manage it sooner, though.” Lorien smiled. “Looks like Lt. K’kovr wins the pool.”

“Your department had... “Connie was interrupted by a chirp from her chronometer. “Why am I not surprised?” she said, smiling as she stood. “I’m due on the bridge.”

“For gamma watch?” asked Lorien. “That’s unusual.”

“Lieutenant Rio picked up a bug of some sort when we visited Ceresia VI, so Doctor Holliday has her on bed rest. I’m covering for her until she gets better.”

Lorien got up, set the empty zhord mug back in the small sink next to the replicator and ran some water into it. “I’ll come up to the bridge with you,” she said. “I need to stretch my legs, get a little ‘fresh air’, so to speak.” Before the door slid open, Lorien put her hand on Connie’s shoulder. Connie stopped and turned to face her friend.

“What is it?”

“You’ve neither asked nor answered the most relevant question, Connie.”

“You mean, whether this sort of thing would be appropriate behavior between a ship’s captain and first officer?”

Lorien put her hands on her hips, expectantly, as Connie’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Not that question, huh? You’re going to make me say this out loud also, hmm?” At this, Lorien just cocked an eyebrow. “Fine, fine,” said Connie.

“Should I tell him?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Captain,” said Connie, as she and Lorien stepped on to the bridge, “alpha watch ended nearly eight hours ago. Shouldn’t you be off-duty?”

“Telemetry from the buoys we’ve dropped so far came in faster than expected, and it’s been giving the nav software the fits, so I…”

“Was doing work that is the specialty of our very capable Astrometrics department,” Connie chided. “Work that Commander Nowar and hir team are specifically trained to do.” Connie sat in the command chair, clearly staking her claim. “Gamma watch is about to begin. No offence, Captain, but get the hell off my bridge.”

Gabriel caught the smile in her voice, and saluted smartly. “On your word,” he said as he headed for the turbolift. Lorien had, in the meantime, settled into the first officer’s station behind the command chair. When Gabriel was gone, Lorien leaned forward, speaking to Connie in a low, conspiratorial tone.

“Smooth, Connie,” she said with a chuckle. “Nice way to avoid having to talk to him.”

“Figurative middle of the night or not, Ella, I’m not going to have a discussion with him about that in the middle of the bridge,” Connie whispered back. Lorien leaned closer.

“He is really cute, isn’t he?”

“Quiet, you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few hours later

Lieutenant Avallios passed through the Stardome doors and stepped onto the freshly-swabbed deck of the pirate frigate Black Falcon, taking a moment to admire the breathtaking night sky. So clear… It was just such a sight in the skies over his hometown that led him to his destiny amongst those selfsame stars. Avallios gave the sky one last longing glance before moving aft to the ship’s wheel, where the captain was holding the frigate on course. The captain’s face showed the strain of steering the vessel, but also displayed an exhilaration borne from the struggle. Avallios couldn’t help but feel that Gabriel Frost would be at home and in command no matter the type of ship beneath his feet. There was however a – rightness, for lack of a better word – of seeing Gabriel on the bridge of Challenger, as if the one could not exist without the other, and the universe was somehow the better for their union.

“Thanks for joining me,” said Gabriel as Avallios stepped up beside him. “I know this is cutting into your canasta game.”

“I am Oathsworn to the Traveller,” replied Avallios with a slight bow. “What is it you require?”

Gabriel had to smile at Avallios’ earnestness, though the Celvani’s religious, nigh-fanatical dedication to Gabriel, as the prophesied Third Traveller, still made him somewhat uncomfortable. “Just a friend to talk with, Covan.”

“Ah, I see.” Avallios paused as if deep in thought. “How long have you had the ring?”

“How did…? Oh, never mind.” Gabriel smiled a bit sheepishly. “I’ve had it for a while now; had a set made not long after I received the Gift of Five.”

“And you have loved her since first you met.”

“I… sensed the possibility,” Gabriel said hesitantly. “But my relationship track record is less than stellar, and the two times I opened my heart completely… Let’s just say they didn’t end well, for them.

“Betsy Snowden and Jessica Bridger.” Betsy and Gabriel had been involved at the Academy; she had killed herself as a result of John Perceval's machinations. Jessica had died on the USS Spitfire as they were fighting Nassin raiders off of a colonial convoy. After all this time, the wounds left by these two women in Gabriel's heart were still raw.

“Yeah, thanks for the reminder,” said Gabriel under his breath. “You know as well as I the stories, myths, and truths of the difficulties the Traveller must face, and moreso the one who walks the path as his Companion.” Gabriel fell silent for a long moment. “I love her too much, Avallios. I can’t put her through that.”

“The choice to walk at your side as Companion must be hers, Third Traveller. You cannot deny her the opportunity to choose. Recall the doom of Seric Tirian, A’he’a’ulho Second Traveller.” At this, Gabriel shivered involuntarily.

“You’re right, Covan. I need to tell her, let her make the choice. But gods above and gods below, it scares me…”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two and a half days later

Connie and Gabriel stepped out of holodeck five, wearing pre-Starfleet “NX-era” uniforms with Challenger NX-03 patches on the left sleeve. They were, as was their recent wont, engaged in a rather spirited yet friendly (and not-so-subtly flirtatious) debate.

“My point is,” said Gabriel, finally able to get a word in edgewise, “they didn’t allow time for the plan to work. They abandoned her too soon.”

“The phase inducers were critically overcharged,” Connie replied. “When they blew – not if, when – the ship would have been blasted into its constituent atoms.”

“I’m not saying the phase capacitors wouldn’t have popped; that was inevitable.” A victorious smile crossed Connie’s face. “What I’m saying is, the polarization grid of the NX-class ships was a lot more robust than you or they realized. The assistant engineer’s plan was sound: enough energy would have been bled off through the grid so that when the phase capacitors blew, the explosion would’ve only taken a chunk out of the saucer. She would have been damaged but flyable.

“She would have made it home.”

Connie had a rejoinder poised to fly when Challenger’s avatar rezzed up next to Gabriel.

Captain, Commander Nowar has a status update.

“Put hir through, please.” The avatar was replaced by Commander Nowar’s holopresence.

Captain, Commander,” s/he said tiredly, “we’ve finally got the kinks ironed out, and are ready to deploy the rest of the buoys.”

“Excellent. I think we can still finish this assignment on schedule. Connie, have Lt. Mokul draw up a flight plan to make up for the time we’ve lost and execute as soon as he’s done.”

“On your word, sir,” replied Connie. As she turned to head for the nearest turbolift, something in the look on Gabriel’s face made her hesitate. “Was there anything else?”

“When we get back to Gateway, I was wondering… Well, I have reservations at The Avari…”

“Are you trying to ask me to dinner?”

“Yeah.” There was a long moment of silence, then Gabriel asked expectantly, “So?”

Connie had to suppress her smile, though it was obvious that she was enjoying Gabriel’s discomfiture. “In order to get a proper answer, Gabriel, one must propo… put forth a proper question.”

“When we return to Gateway, Connie, would you like to have dinner with me?”

“Why, Gabriel Frost… Are you, captain of the starship Challenger, asking me, her first officer, on a date?” Though Connie’s voice held a hint of teasing, her expression was impassive, perhaps even imperceptibly disapproving.

“Yes,” Gabriel said, “yes I am.”

A warm smile spread across Connie’s face. “I would be delighted. The Avari, you say? I’ve heard reservations there are harder to come by then that Milliway’s restaurant at the so-called ‘end of the universe’.”

“There is a bit of a waiting list,” agreed Gabriel, returning Connie’s smile. “But I’m sure it’ll prove to be worth the wait.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Avari restaurant hung, suspended by invisible gravimetric anchors, in the middle of the cavernous space that ran nearly the length of Gateway Station’s vertical axis. Accessible only by a small launch, the restaurant afforded a spectacular view of the station’s inner workings and, thanks to strategically-placed (and impossibly large) transparisteel viewports, the planet Celvanos and her moons.

Gabriel and Connie, in traditional Celvani formalwear, had enjoyed a pleasant meal. Their dinner conversation was equally pleasant, though it was obvious they were both dancing around the subject that was foremost on their minds.

After a particularly long pause in the conversation, Connie said, “You’re a soft-spoken man, Gabriel, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at a loss for words.” She smiled encouragingly.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Gabriel said quietly, though with the little grin he got when he made a reference to some obscure bit of old Earth ‘pop culture’. “But I’m afraid of what it might mean if I do.”

Connie reached across the table hesitantly, taking Gabriel’s hand in hers. Even knowing what Gabriel was, she was still surprised at the coolness of his flesh. She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “Just say it.”

“Connie, I…”

“I beg pardon, Third Traveller,” said the maître d’, “you asked to remain undisturbed, but she was rather quite insistent.” His face apologetic, the maître d’ produced a small communication tablet. Gabriel tabbed the ‘receive call’ button. Admiral MacAllister’s face appeared; she wasted no time launching into a tirade.

I don’t know why I bother contacting Challenger, anymore, Captain, because you’re never aboard. And what’s with that ridiculous costume you’re wearing?

“Always a pleasure, Admiral,” said Gabriel facetiously. “I do apologize; I must have missed the memo that said I had to be on the bridge and in uniform even during my off hours.”

As much as I’d love to trade insults, Captain, I need you to shut up and listen. A pack of Kethurian battle-barges is pursuing a Jyothai ship through the Orpheus Salient. Reports indicate the Jyothai ship is one of their royal junks, and the Kethurians seem to be herding it towards the Huuro Inclusion Zone.”

“That’s not good.”

Ah, the legendary situational assessment skill of Gabriel Frost. You’re goddamned right it’s not good. The Barcelona and her battle group are en route, but they’re coming from the Outbound sector. Even with slipstream, they won’t arrive in time. Challenger needs to interdict the Kethurians until the Barcelona can get there. I know you just got back from a deployment , and laying those buoys was such strenuous work,” she sniped, unable to resist taking a dig at Gabriel. “But Challenger is the only ship available. You are of course authorized to use slipstream for this mission.”

“Because we had to make room for the buoys for the mission you ordered us on, Admiral, our torpedo stores are dangerously low.”

You’re being rearmed right now,” said Adm. MacAllister, “but I need Challenger gone as soon as you get back on board. I hope for your sake that you’re not too late.” The comm tablet went dark as MacAllister unceremoniously cut the channel.

“No rest for the wicked, eh?” remarked Connie.

“Guess we’ll have to finish our conversation later, Commander.” Gabriel used the tablet to contact Challenger.
“Commander K’kon, I need you to recall all personnel and prep the ship for launch in ten minutes.”

We’re currently loading torpedoes and other consumables, Captain,” replied Challenger’s K’krothan Ops officer.

“I know. Torpedoes are the priority, but get what you can on board. And please have Commander Taylor and I beamed aboard.”

On your word, sir.” A moment after Gabriel had settled the bill for dinner, transporter beams from Challenger grabbed him and Connie, whisking them back to the mighty starship. As soon as they materialized, they headed for the bridge.

“I don’t understand,” said Connie. “The Kethurians and the Jyothai have sworn to annihilate each other. If those barges destroy the royal junk, it’ll mean war. If they penetrate the Inclusion zone, we can’t pursue?”

“It would mean a devastating war,” Gabriel replied. “But if we violate the Inclusion zone by so much as a picometer, it would mean Armageddon. The Huuro are not a species we want to antagonize any more than we already do.”

“Already do? How”

“By existing.” Stepping on to the bridge, Gabriel wasted no time, asking K’kon for a sit-rep.

“All crew accounted for, sir. Umbilicals have been withdrawn; we are presently at station keeping with the RCS quads. Torpedo magazines report twenty percent loadout.”

“It’ll have to do. Lt. Mokul, one-half impulse until we reach the outer markers, then engage slipstream drive at max. Plot your course for Beacon Point Bravo-Three in the Orpheus Salient.”

“Plot my course for Beacon Point Bravo-Three, maximum slipstream velocity aye…”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

About half an hour later, Challenger’s senior staff was assembled in the conference room behind the bridge for an ad-hoc briefing.

Barcelona should arrive within two hours of our encountering the Kethurians,” Gabriel was saying. “We just have to hold the battle-barges off until then.”

“Hold them off?” asked Connie. “It sounds like you’re expecting to go straight into battle.”

“Unfortunately, I am. The Kethurians usually just sling rhetoric and vitriol at the Jyothai, but if they’re slinging photon bolts, it means the game has changed and we don’t know what the rules are.

“We’re not going in phasers blazing. I do plan on telling the Kethurians to stand down, I just don’t think they’ll be inclined to listen.” Gabriel turned to Lt. Priest. “Tactical analysis, Lieutenant?”

Lt. Priest tabbed at the controls in front of her, and a hologram of a Kethurian battle-barge appeared above the conference room table. “Kethurian ships don’t employ torpedoes or missiles of any sort, and their photon cannons are equivalent to a type-6 phaser bank. The three main issues we’ll have to deal with are: one, those barges mount a lot of photon cannons; two, their ships are ridiculously armored; and three, their sublight drives produce copious amounts of Minckler particles. The Minckler particles disrupt communication and transporter signals, and make torpedo targeting a bit squirrely.”

“A ‘pack’ of battle-barges usually comprises six ships,” added Gabriel. “We have our work cut out for us…”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Encounter plus one hour

True to Gabriel’s prediction, the Kethurians let their photon cannons speak for them. Challenger had so far managed to keep the battle-barges occupied and away from the drifting royal junk, but she was taking a pounding, and there was no way the Barcelona could get a signal through.

“We’re finally getting clear sensor readings on the Jyothai junk, Captain,” said CDR K’kon. “There is only one life-sign aboard, out of a crew of over 200. Also, we’ve identified the markings; the junk is the royal transport for Princess Nairi Thelas Th’elasa.”

“Damn,” said Gabriel softly. “Mr. K’kon, I need you to modify the deflector to create a ‘tunnel’ of sorts between Challenger and the royal junk. The antiprotons in the deflector beam will hold off the Minckler particles long enough for me to beam over.” Gabriel got up and headed for the turbolift.

“Commander Taylor, you have the Conn.”

Connie motioned to CDR K’kon to take over as she followed Gabriel into the turbolift. “Let me guess: you’re a figure of prophecy to the Kethurians, and if you’re on board the junk they won’t shoot at you.” Connie’s sarcastic remark belied her anger and growing concern.

“Actually, the Kethurians believe I’m the devil incarnate. I’m betting, however, that their fear of retribution from the Celvani is greater than their hatred of me.”

“I don’t like those odds, and you said yourself we don’t know the rules anymore. And blessed hell, Gabriel, how did you manage to piss off half the known galaxy?”

Gabriel’s combadge chirped as he and Connie entered the transporter room. “Deflector modifications ready,” reported CDR K’kon.

“Do it.” Gabriel strapped on his Celvani thrustergun and pulled a portable shield generator from a storage locker before stepping up to the transporter pad.

“Captain,” said Connie angrily,” I cannot condone this course of action!”

Gabriel flashed the half-smile that Connie found so damned annoying. “Not your call. Energize.”

“Captain!” Connie yelled as Gabriel dematerialized. “Gabriel, I lo…”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

On board the Jyothai royal junk

“Hello again, Princess.”

“So, it is by a beloved hand that my death will come this day? You may wear the face of someone dear to my heart, but I will not sell my life the more cheaply for it.”

Gabriel dodged the dagger that flew at his head and placed the shield generator against the bridge doors. “I’m trying to save you, if you don’t mind.” The shield generator activated with a chirp, sealing the bridge from the Kethurian death squads that beamed aboard just before Gabriel.

“You lie! I shall…”

“You shall let me work, please. I swear, your people have elevated paranoia to an art form. The drama queen act gets old really fast, though.” Gabriel dodged another dagger and found the engineering console, calling up the junk’s status on the main screen.

“Let’s see… Propulsion: RCS only, sublight’s shot, warp core is functional and warp plasma is flowing, but the nacelles are practically scrap.” He started to type furiously at the console. “Got to be a way out of this mess… yes!” Gabriel entered a string of commands that triggered a high-pitched alarm.

“What in the name of the Allmother are you doing?” the princess asked incredulously.

“Triggering an imbalance in your warp drive,” Gabriel replied as he continued to type. “If I’m right…”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Simultaneously, on board Challenger

Challenger’s holographic avatar rezzed up abruptly, appearing right in front of Connie. Commander, I’ve lost the Captain’s signal.

“That’s not unexpected,” said Connie. She turned her attention to Tactical for a moment. “Fire torpedoes, spread pattern delta-one-three.” Then, to the avatar: “We knew the interference from the Kethurians could do this. Keep trying to reacquire.”

You don’t understand, Commander, said the avatar as she stepped closer. Connie noticed the avatar’s voice carried an almost overwhelming tone of fear, and it made Connie’s stomach curdle. I’ve lost his beta-wave signal.

Connie felt her legs suddenly go numb, and she would have collapsed to the floor if the avatar hadn’t gently steered her into the command chair. The beta-wave signal, the intimate (for lack of a better word) connection between Gabriel and Challenger, was for all intents and purposes unblockable. The only thing that would disrupt the beta-wave was Gabriel’s death.

“Captain!” called Lt. Priest, from the tactical pit. “We’ve lost the Jyothai ship. No visual, no sensor returns.” Connie heard the Lieutenant but found herself unable to reply. The activity on the bridge seemed to devolve into dim sights and sounds on the periphery of Connie’s perception.

After what seemed an eternity, Connie found her voice. “Challenger,” she whispered, “initiate Protocol Zero.”

Initiate Protocol Zero, aye. Challenger’s holographic form blurred for a second; when it regained focus, she was wearing a void-black suit of armor instead of her usual Starfleet uniform. She began speaking in a coldly clinical voice.

Parsing tactical subroutines. Initializing alpha-strike systems. Initializing omega-strike systems. Engaging hull plating polarization. Deploying limited ablative armor. Engaging crew protection subsystems.

At her last phrase, forcefields and armored bulkheads snapped into place across the ship, and all computer terminals were locked down. The monitors still displayed information, however, and what Challenger’s crew saw there chilled them to their very bones.

“Multiple firing solutions,” said Lt. Priest, her voice heavy with alarm. “Commander, we’re not aiming to disable…” A pause, then: “Holy God. Weapons systems coming on-line.”

“Which ones?” asked CDR K’kon.

“All of them.”

“All of…?”

“Outside of phasers and photorps, I don’t recognize any of these. Where the hell have these systems been hiding?” Lt. Priest could barely comprehend what she was reading. “Neutrino injectors, plasma lances, phaser blades, mass-pulse mines… void torpedoes? What in the name of all that's holy are void torpedoes?”

Protocol Zero fully engaged, said Challenger. Awaiting final code key for activation.

A dark fire burned in Connie’s eyes as she looked up at the avatar. “Code key…”

Gabriel.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
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Old January 4 2013, 08:47 PM   #138
Chanukahjes
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

December challenge entry:

The Further Adventures of Porthos - The Stilton Fulfillment

challenge topic: Ironic Wish Fulfillment
************************

Good smell good smell good smell good smell Alpha pet me pet me pet me. Thank you {tail wag}. First Hoshi then other humans make noise on magic box with no smell. Alpha speaks back. “Blah blah visitors blah blah DINNER blah blah.” Alpha answers again, “Blah blah beagle blah blah.” Door opens, T’Pol is here! {wag tail} Pet me pet me pet me I know you’ll pet me when you think no one else is looking. T’Pol says, “Blah blah DINNER,” and then leaves.

Captain Jonathan Archer sat in his Ready Room on the NX-01, occasionally petting his pet beagle, Porthos, who often wagged his tail in what seemed, at times, to be genuine gratitude.

There was a Communications chime. “Sir,” said Ensign Hoshi Sato, “I have the Caitian Ambassador for you. His name is, er,” she checked a display, “Gopalahr.”

“Put him through. Ah,” the captain said as the image on his computer screen switched from the Communications Officer to the Caitian Ambassador, a rather felinoid person with light brown fur and whiskers. “Good to hear from you.”

“Likewise,” replied the Ambassador. “We will be docking soon.”

“We’ll have dinner ready.”

“Might I bring my family aboard? They have never seen humans before.”

“Of course. My, uh, my beagle will probably be very interested. I hope you don’t mind him attending; he’s my pet.”

“I have a few fairly young children,” replied the alien, “I’m sure they would be delighted – particularly my youngest, Parenelsa. She is a shy child, and has some difficulty in speaking.”

“He’s a gentle dog. Looking forward to it. Archer out.” There was a door chime. “Come in.”

It was First Officer T’Pol. “I have the duty roster for tomorrow. And Chef Slocum reports that the Food Service staff is ready with tonight’s dinner.” A display on the captain’s computer showed the date – March the twelfth of 2155. She continued, “Lieutenant Reed is anxious to meet with Ambassador Gopalahr as there are some questions about security, given the fact that there seems to be some increased Romulan activity in this sector.”

“Right. Uh, and thanks,” replied the captain as T’Pol departed.

I wait and then Alpha says it’s time to go! Everywhere with Alpha is good! It must be good! I know it will be!

Good smells are all over the hallways. Crewman Nyqvist had a hot dog at lunch four days ago. Doctor Phlox let the Derellian bat out by mistake yesterday. Crewman Porter and Private Ryan kissed in this very spot the day before yesterday. And I can smell it all!

Good smell good smell Alpha sees Hoshi. Oh Hoshi, I love Hoshi! Hoshi! Hoshi! {wag tail} I get my ears scratched oh that’s the spot don’t stop don’t stop don’t ever stop. Nobody scratches my ears like Hoshi.

Hoshi says, “Blah blah Caitians blah blah children blah blah DINNER.”

Alpha says, “Porthos blah blah children.”

We go into the Observation Lounge. DINNER!!!!! The smells are so good!!!!


Jonathan and Porthos walked together in the starship’s hallways. The dog was sniffing almost constantly, his nose practically glued to the deck plating. It could, at times, be slow going, but the captain was indulgent – perhaps overly so.

Ensign Sato met them at the entrance to the Observation Lounge. She bent down to briefly scratch the dog behind an ear, and then straightened up. “The Caitians are settling in. The Ambassador and his wife have six children – it looks like the oldest two are teenagers. The youngest one stutters a bit, and seems to be painfully shy. She’s a little bit difficult to engage in conversation and is very timid. They’re already waiting at dinner.”

“Good,” replied the captain. “Porthos here is great with children. Maybe she’ll come out of her shell, and at least talk to him. Shall we?” He hit the controls and the door slid open.

=/\=

Inside the Observation Lounge, the Ambassador got up quickly, and he and the captain exchanged pleasantries. The alien then introduced his family, ending with Parenelsa being presented last. She was very young, with fur in a kind of tortoiseshell pattern. She hid behind Gopalahr. “I’ve brought a friend with me,” Jonathan said kindly. He knelt down so that he could get to Parenelsa’s level. “This is Porthos. He is a dog. He’s very friendly and would love to meet you.”

The dog tilted his head and wagged his tail. The child tentatively put her furry hand out and petted his shoulder once. “Oh!” she whispered. “W-why does his t-tail move so m-much?”

“He does that because he likes you,” the captain replied.

New smells good smells cats cats cats lots of cats, cats wearing clothes? Odd cats. One is very small, very afraid. {wag tail} Come closer. Will not hurt little scared one. Will never hurt little scared one. Little scared one Parenelsa. Pet me pet me. Little scared one not so scared now. {wag tail}

The captain straightened up, knees cracking a little bit. He nodded to Hoshi and she went to sit with Lieutenant Reed, who had been engaging the Ambassador’s wife in some conversation.

The Ambassador and the captain talked and talked, with Reed chiming in as he felt he could. Hoshi sat there, a bit afflicted with ennui and engaging the older children in conversation. She was a bit taken aback when Gopalahr’s wife asked her how long she and the captain had been married.

The meal was served. Chef Slocum had decided to feature anything he could think of that a feline might like. There were tuna steaks, and there was only milk to drink. But there were also salads, and there was a grain dish on the side, with snow peas. Malcolm leaned over to speak with the server, Lili O’Day. “Where does this grain come from?”

“Hmm? Oh, uh, it’s bulgur. I figured you’d want a counterpoint on your plate. Otherwise there’s an awful lot of protein flying around. Want some Stilton? We’ve got at least a good eight different kinds of cheese. Confidentially,” she said quietly, and he had to strain to really hear her, “I’m glad we don’t have cat grass on board. Otherwise, Chef would have insisted, and we’d’ve made a salad out of it.” Reed shuddered. “Not to worry,” she said, serving him a huge slab of tuna steak.

Malcolm blanched at the huge selection of dairy products on display, and put his hand over his plate to prevent her from giving him a serving of the Stilton. “Is there anything to drink but milk?”

“I, oh, I can’t grab anything else; too busy here, sorry,” Lili said. “You okay?”

“It’s nothing, Ensign,” he replied, and she went back to serving the others and making sure the tumblers were filled with milk. He stared at his tumbler and frowned.

“Well, this is kind of an unconventional dinner,” Hoshi said.

“Perhaps there’s a spot of catnip in the salad,” he quipped under his breath. He peered over. “I do believe the little one’s made a friend.”

“Long as she keeps feeding Porthos cheese, she’s got a friend for life,” Hoshi agreed.

Good smell good smell fish good milk good oh and there’s CHEESE! Cheese! CHEESE!

Parenelsa gives me cheese! Oh cheese! Oh Parenelsa! More please! {wag tail} More! Yes! Cheese! Can’t have too much cheese! This is what I’ve always wanted! UNLIMITED CHEESE!!! {rapid tail wag}

Humans say, “Blah blah dinner blah cheese blah territory blah treaty blah security.”

Who cares? Parenelsa is giving me CHEESE! {wag tail wag tail wag tail}


By the time the captain knew what was happening, Parenelsa had twice filled her plate with cheese and had set it down on the floor for Porthos to eat. The dog was inhaling it.

And then they all knew the consequences, as the dog’s digestive tract really wasn’t equipped to handle all that dairy.

The expulsion of methane nearly cleared the room.

Uh, oh. BAD SMELL.

“I’d like to apologize,” the captain said, “Uh, Ensign Sato, could you please take Porthos to Sick Bay?”

Parenelsa looked on in horror, a furry hand put up to her face.

“Uh, I’ll do it, sir,” Malcolm volunteered and got up quickly, a Jack in the Box on springs. Hoshi glared at him – she had wanted to get out of the remainder of the dull dinner.

“Don’t you want to speak with our guests?” the captain inquired.

Malcolm cast about, trying to figure out how to put things. “Sir, I have, well, I have some minor food allergies of my own,” he said quietly.

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Archer.

“Come along now, little chap,” Malcolm said to Porthos. With the plate taken away, the dog had nothing to do but follow him.

Once the door had closed, Parenelsa tugged on the captain’s sleeve. He bent down so that he could hear her. “Is, is P-Porthos very s-sick?” she asked, her eyes welling up.

“No, he’ll be fine,” said the captain. “But that was too much for him. He’s going to have a bit of a bellyache.”

“I’m, I’m s-sorry,” she whispered, scared again.

“Do you want to visit him later? Your whole family can come. Would you like that, Parenelsa?”

“Y-yes. I d-don’t want him t-to be in p-pain.”

“I know you didn’t mean it,” Jonathan said.

“Th-thank you.”

Good taste good taste CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE Parenelsa I LOVE YOU!!! Ohhhh. Pain in belly. Not so good.

Reed takes me to Doctor Phlox. Reed has different aftershave than Alpha and smells differently. Good smell.

Halls smell good but belly HURTS. Travis and Shelby stood here three nights ago but did not kiss. She wanted to. He wasn’t sure. Private Hodgkins was angry right at this spot four hours ago; I can smell his sweat, a little sour in the air. He was with Crewman Parsons and Crewman Tanner and they were nervous.

Reed says, “Blah blah dairy blah blah Phlox.” We get to Sick Bay. Phlox Phlox I love Phlox!


It was a quick walk to Sick Bay, but the dog, even in his condition, was not moving that quickly. Malcolm considered just picking up the dog and carrying him, but he was mindful of the odors that the dog was, still, occasionally emitting. Fortunately, no one else was in the hallway. He took advantage of the quiet and softly said, “Not to worry, little chap. I, too, have an aversion to dairy. It’s called lactose intolerance. Only the doctor knows and, I suppose you do, too, now. And if I was a bit, well, earthier, I suppose I’d allow myself to openly have the same physical reaction as yourself. Of course I don’t. I’ll allow there’s a difference between you and I, eh? Ah, here we are.” He pushed the panel and the doors to Sick Bay opened.

Doctor Phlox looked at them and shook his head. “Ensign Sato contacted me. She said there was an overabundance of cheese digested. Was that by you or Porthos? Or both?”

“Both, I think. But he’s far worse off than I. We, uh, we had a bit of an incident.”

As if to punctuate the Lieutenant’s words, the dog let loose again. In its nearby cage the Derellian bat shrieked. “Oh my,” said the doctor, his eyes tearing a bit, “that is, uh, it’s unique, let’s just say. Perhaps Commander Tucker can harness these emissions if we run low on dilithium, or if the matrix has any, er, issues.”

“Doctor, if you please.” The Lieutenant’s urgency was justified, as the dog let loose again. “My God, it’s like Stilton, the MACO unit’s laundry and Klaang, all combined.”

The doctor prepared two injections. He gave the larger one to Reed, who injected himself, as the doctor took care of the dog. “There,” said the Denobulan, straightening up. “a bit of lactase for both of you, in a neutral suspension. We shouldn’t have too many more, er, gaseous anomalies.”

“I hope you’re right, Doctor.”

Bad smell oooh bad smell. The Derellian bat doesn’t like that. Reed says, “Blah blah.” Then Phlox says, “Blah blah dilithium blah blah.” Bad smell. Oooh. Shot don’t like shot don’t like shot don’t like shot. Aaah. Belly feeling better.

=/\=

“Right, sir. And my apologies, Ambassador. The little chap is all right. I shall return soon. Reed out.” Malcolm flipped his communicator closed. “I really should return to that supper. It’s just so damnably dull.” The ship was suddenly rocked. “Bloody hell!” yelled Malcolm. He ran out.

Phlox turned to Porthos. “Let’s get you secured.” He brought out a larger crate and the dog obediently entered it. The door was shut as the Enterprise was rocked again. Phlox went to the wall communicator, which was chirping. He banged it. “Sick Bay; Phlox here.”

“Doctor!” It was Ensign O’Day. “I have the Ambassador and his family. We’re coming to Sick Bay, under the captain’s orders. O’Day out.”

Sour smell danger coming, ship is pushed HARD. I almost fall. Reed runs out. I smell fear I smell warning I smell wrong things. The Derellian bat is scared.

Phlox says, “Blah blah secured.” I go into secondary den, but it is not safe. Big bang, big push. I smell the Derellian bat’s fear. The Edosian slugs and the tribbles are panicking, and I am terrified.

I hear Lili in the magic wall box for a second. I lie down and make myself small. I fear for Alpha more than I fear for myself.


=/\=

Lili arrived with the Caitian guests as quickly as possible. “Do you know who’s attacking us?” she asked the doctor.

“I have no idea. We, I need to be prepared and have this area cleared in the event of any casualties.”

“Right. Those kids, they really shouldn’t see that,” Lili replied. “Huh. Could they go into decon?”

They were rocked again. “Good thinking. Uh, maybe take Porthos with you. I don’t know what I might end up having to deal with.”

“Right.” She unlatched the dog’s crate, but he didn’t come out immediately. “C’mon, fella,” she coaxed, “let’s pretend I have a steak, or something.”

Phlox herded the Caitians into decon and Lili was finally able to get the dog to follow her. Phlox shut the door behind them.

Fear smell scared scared Lili’s here I love Lili. She always has food. Lili works with Chef. Comes to get me. I am afraid to go. I should stay and wait here for Alpha. But she says, “Blah blah steak,” and I know she doesn’t really mean it, because I can’t smell it. And she is afraid. But the ship is moving too hard and Parenelsa is there and she is very, very scared and so I follow.

Little room decon old smells. Old planet place smells. Places with trees or ice or deserts. I smell Risa very faintly, smell of Rhylo, smell of Tandaran prison, smell of Xindi spheres. I smell all who have been in here, even those who are no more. I smell Crewman Cutler, who used to give me belly rubs. I smell Private Hawkins, who gave me half of his ham sandwich once. And I smell Major Jay Hayes, who called me Spike sometimes but I think maybe he was thinking of another dog whenever he said that.

Human cats say, “Blah blah danger blah blah Parenelsa blah blah treaty blah blah security.”

I feel the ship turning, hard.

Lili says, “Blah blah dinner blah blah dessert.”

Parenelsa cries and hugs me. I am as scared as she is.


In decon, Ambassador Gopalahr said, “I had no idea there would be danger here. I never would have brought my family. I don’t want anything to happen to them. Parenelsa, do come and sit here with the rest of us.”

The little girl had a spot on the floor, near Porthos, and did not give it up. Her father shrugged. “We’ve been trying for a treaty with the Romulans for months. Lieutenant Reed and the others will have to work harder to ensure our security, I am sure.”

Lili said, “I dunno. It’s not my bailiwick. All I do is make the dinner and serve it. Seems kinda rude of them to interrupt it like that. They didn’t even wait for you to have dessert! It’s a carrot cake, by the way. I made it myself.” She paused. “Sorry. I know nobody’s up for levity.”

“That is all right,” Gopalahr said. “As you yourself stated, this is not your area of expertise.”

Parenelsa, scared, was not comforted by any talk of desserts. Quietly, she cried a little, reaching out to the dog, which was also shaking a little.

=/\=

On the Bridge, Captain Archer did his best to stay seated as the ship took smaller hits and dodged the worst of it. “T’Pol!” he yelled. “What are you seeing?”

She peered into a scope. “It would appear that the vessel or vessels that are attacking us are cloaked. My readings are similar to when we were in that cloaked Romulan minefield.”

“Quantum beacons, sir!” Malcolm yelled. “That’s what we used the last time!”

“Get me Tucker,” the captain said to Hoshi, who quickly complied.

“Tucker here,” the Chief Engineer’s voice was tinny through the Communications speaker. “What’re ya doin’ to me? I got small fires in here!”

“Can you get a quantum beacon up and running again?” Archer asked. “Mount it on the grappler like we did the last time.”

“Gimme ten minutes. Torres, Rosen, Crossman!” he yelled to the people working nearby. “This is a priority. Porter, you’re on the containment field. Uh, Tucker out!” The connection was closed.

“Hull plating is down to seventeen percent,” Malcolm reported. “That cannot come fast enough.”

“Keep trying evasive maneuvers, Travis,” the captain said to Ensign Mayweather. The ship turned, hard, again.

=/\=

In ten minutes, there was a Communications chime on the Bridge. “Cap’n,” Commander Tucker said, “have Malcolm try the quantum beacon now.”

The captain nodded at Lieutenant Reed. He flipped a few switches. “There.”

The fuzzy outline of two ships appeared on the main view screen. “Target their engines – on the one on the port side,” Archer commanded.

“Yes, sir.” A pause. “Firing torpedoes.”

The image on the left became sharper as, perhaps, the cloak was weakened. “Do you recognize the configuration?” the captain asked Commander T’Pol.

“I believe it may be Romulan. But I am uncertain.” The two ships warped out of there before she could check them more closely. She looked up from her scope. “I cannot get a more accurate reading than a guess.”

“That’s okay,” the captain sighed. “It’s an act of aggression, to be sure. But without a positive, clear and convincing ID, we can’t exact pin it on any particular species, can we?”

“It would not further the Coalition’s agenda if we were to accuse a species without being absolutely certain,” replied the Vulcan. “The evidence is inconclusive at this time.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” conceded Captain Archer.

=/\=

It seemed like forever before they were let out of decon. “What happened?” Gopalahr inquired.

“I’m unsure,” Phlox admitted. He had a patient on one of the bio beds. The man was sitting there, holding his left arm and cringing a bit as Phlox returned to him.

“You okay, Josh?” Lili asked, coming over.

“Doc says he thinks I broke my arm. I don’t disagree.”

“You know anything about what happened out there?” she asked.

“All I know is; Engineering is okay. We were getting a quantum beacon ready but then I got knocked over too hard. But the engine’s all right, and all of that, and I figure we got the quantum beacon out. But I dunno who hit us.”

“What is such a beacon used for?” the Ambassador inquired.

“To check for cloaked stuff, mostly.”

“Romulans,” concluded Gopalahr, pacing a little.

Lili said to Josh, “I’ll make you potato latkes, even though I know it’s the wrong time of year. Just a little something to help you feel better.”

“Well, thanks,” he said, as Phlox ran a scanner over the affected arm.

There was a communications chime. Lili hit the wall unit, and the intercom could be heard. “All hands, this is the captain. We think we were hit by Romulan fire. But we don’t really know. This was another one of those quick sorties that we’ve been observing for a few months now. Enough of these, and we may be going to war with these people. So I think today’s meeting with Ambassador Gopalahr was even more important. If the Romulans are going to be a threat, then we’ll need good allies. And I’m sure the Caitians are, and always will be. Thank you to everyone; you all performed above and beyond today. Archer out.”

Better smells recovery smells Josh is hurt I like Josh he threw a ball for me lots and lots and lots of times five days ago. He is hurt I don’t know how but I smell his pain. Parenelsa is a little less scared, we hear magic box. Alpha is on the magic box! Oh joy! Oh boy! Pure joy! ALPHA IS ALIVE!!!! {thump thump wag tail wag tail wag tail}

Alpha says, “Blah blah fire blah blah threat blah blah Caitians blah blah everyone.”


“We’d better go,” Gopalahr said. “If I am right, then, oh,” he sighed, “I fear we will be at war with them soon. We’ll make our good-byes and return to our ship.”

“Very well,” Phlox replied.

The captain entered Sick Bay. “Well, you heard it. You know what to do.”

“I agree with you,” Gopalahr said, “We may very well be at war soon. Our home world will stand with yours, and with Tellar and Vulcan and Andoria. I believe the Lafa System will also support whatever you do. As for the Xindi, I am certain that they are sick of war. So they may not be so eager to join in. But it could be of value for them to remain neutral in the conflict that, I am afraid, is sure to come.”

“I don’t know,” Jonathan said, kneeling down to pet Porthos. “I guess we’ll work out the details later, if we need them. I wish it wasn’t coming to that. You think of all of the little things of this day – a dinner, a chance to get acquainted. You made a new friend,” he said to Parenelsa.

“But he got s-sick.”

“It wasn’t bad. I bet you gave him everything he thought he ever really wanted. He just didn’t think through the consequences,” said the captain.

Parenelsa sits with me some more, and then bigger cat human says, “Blah blah war blah blah war.” And then Alpha comes and he stays with me, too! She is a little less afraid, and Alpha speaks with her. “Blah blah dinner blah blah friend.” They make their good-byes. I thought the greatest thing I ever wanted was unlimited cheese. And I got it today. But it hurt my belly.

And now Alpha is worried, and something else is going on. I know war. It is the worst of the bad smells. For Alpha to be all right is better than any cheese, but Alpha is so worried. For everyone to be all right, and stay all right, it is better than cheese.

I love Parenelsa even though she did not have any more cheese. And that is the best thing. I had enough Stilton today. I had enough cheddar. And brie. And camembert. But I can never have enough of making someone like Parenelsa happy, or at least a little less afraid. But it may take a while for Alpha to be happy. He is so worried.

I will never have enough of Alpha. It is more than I could ever wish for, even when times are troubled. It is the best of the good smells.

Good smell good smell good smell.
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Last edited by Count Zero; February 8 2013 at 10:26 PM.
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Old January 10 2013, 09:35 PM   #139
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Re: Angry Fanboy

AFB,
I just discovered your "Majestic" entry and was drawn in right away.
Great piece of concise, yet descriptive writing. The created a dark, hopeless feeling in a short amount of space and kept me hooked all the way through.

I really wish we had found out what that bizarre structure was, though. You left me hanging.

Angry or not, your writing style is engaging. I'll have to make time to check out more of your work.
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Old February 8 2013, 10:30 PM   #140
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

January's challenge theme was "Ethnicity and Culture":

jespah wrote: View Post
Hence the challenge is to show characters engaging in something that show off their ethnicity or culture, whether it be a rite, a recipe, a bit of clothing or something else.

The Question
by Count Zero

As much as he had hoped to escape her, on the penultimate landing of the stairs Bishop Nevala finally caught up with him. Slowing down, he nodded respectfully in her direction. Intended as a greeting in passing, the grey-haired woman took it as an invitation to stay by his side on their way down the worn-out marble stairs whose once splendid white had turned into grey a long time ago.

“What are you really doing here, Yokeen?” She finally asked after a few steps.

“What? I mean, what do you mean?... Uh, respectfully.”

Nevala sighed. “You're only ever half here whenever I teach, that's what I mean. You don't seem to particularly care about our faith, no offense.”

Yokeen stopped abruptly, and so did the Bishop, turning to him.

“So, why are you here?” she continued. “Is it because of your uncle? Because of a lack of other options? It's the question you will have to answer for yourself, eventually, you know, for your own sake. Why are you here, Yokeen?”

She looked at him with a piercing glance that shattered his illusion of being able to provide a half-arsed answer that would satisfy her. The honest answer certainly would not do. After all, he couldn't really tell her that it was because he was interested in philosophy and writing but attending a regular university always came with the usual propganda, brain washing and oppression, could he? So he chose to say nothing and endure the feeling of having been exposed as a fraud instead that her unwavering stare caused him.

Suddenly, she chuckled. “Oh, don't look at me like that. I'm not your enemy, I was just asking. It's your decision how you want to spend your life, after all.”

With that, she turned, descended down the stairs and disappeared in one of the numerous corridors, leaving him alone to ponder her words, looking slightly forlorn on the wide old steps.

Still disconcerted by the conversation, Yokeen Var arrived in the narrow square in front of the university building a little later where some of his fellow students had already taken to socialising now that classes were over. Tradition demanded all of them to wear white draped robes with black ribbons around the collar not just during classes but also upon arrival and leaving which meant they had to wear this outfit that not only Yokeen deemed ridiculous practically the whole day. Needless to say, it never failed to attract glances ranging from amused to disgusted and sometimes even comments when they were on their way to and from university.
On three sides the walls of the building bore down on them, the finer details of its intricate masonry hidden under the black layers of the soot and dirt of centuries. On the fourth side a two metre high fence made out of a black metal alloy separated the square from Broadstreet which despite its name was not very broad according to today's standards but had been considered such when the city of Rostovar and with it, the Empire, had been young. Across the street, the grey and faceless facade of a large modern building twice as high as the university filled the view from the square. Being thus at once reminded of the centuries old tradition they were obligated to and the anachronism it and they themselves represented the students put extra effort into making their conversation especially light-hearted.

“There you are!” T'Mara exclaimed jovially as she spotted Yokeen. “I see you escaped unscathed, after all.” Someone else laughed.

“Yeah, I did.” Yokeen answered, deciding to go along with the tone of the conversation.

“I told you you should have read up on Solymar,” the brown-haired, fairly pale-skinned and brow-ridged woman said.

“Yeah, that's like basic stuff, man,” Jorok, standing next to her, chimed in. It stung Yokeen a little to get condescending advice by the group's uncrowned party king but he figured that he deserved it, considering how he had stumbled through the Bishop's questions in class. Working up the motivation to read the musings of an old guy from 500 years ago wasn't easy, though.

“Before everything, below everything and above everything there is submission. Scholars will argue about the intricacies of our teachings until the Empire ends. One thing they can't argue about is this: submission is at the heart of our faith.”

Those were the first sentences of Solymar's work which had instantly killed off any interest Yokeen might have had to read on. He would never submit to anyone or anything, certainly not to some vague supernatural he didn't even believe in.

“Yeah, well, basic and boring.” he quipped in the hope of sounding casual.

Just then, out of the corner of his eyes, he saw someone approaching their group quickly from the street. He turned around and felt his heart jump when he realised it was a Reman – taller than most, lanky as many, looking angry as all of them. A thousand unsorted thoughts were racing through his mind as he watched the Reman march on towards him, most of them involving grim scenarios. About a metre away from him, the Reman stopped abruptly – too close for Yokeen's comfort but he resisted the urge to flee from this man who so closely resembled the demons from his childhood stories.

“Are you a cleric?” the man asked in his otherworldly voice.

Yokeen turned around in search of whoever the Reman must have been addressing as he certainly didn't think of himself as a cleric. Seeing only his fellow students who had backed off a few metres he realised that the man had asked him.

“Well...,” he started to say, in an effort to give a detailed explanation of his status, then thought better of it. “Yes.”

“Your assistance is urgently required.” the Reman stated. “Please accompany me.”

“Okay.” Yokeen replied simply, not knowing why.

Before he could ask any of the many questions he had, the Reman was already on its way back towards the street, gesturing for Yokeen to come along, while setting a brisk pace Yokeen had some difficulty keeping up with.
Out they went onto Broadstreet, right into the crowd of pedestrians on their way home or to one of the many shops lining the street. Not losing his enigmatic guide in this chaos would be a challenge, Yokeen thought at the sight of all those people bustling about. Just then, he noticed how a passage was opening up before them as they moved along because everyone carefully evaded them – or rather, the Reman in front of him. They rushed by unremarkable new buildings housing offices, shop windows displaying clothes in muted colours, toys and old books, the ominous Black Tower and the famous Praetor Grimlek school, accompanied by stares and whispers.

When they arrived at Imperial Square the Reman slowed down considerably, shielding his eyes from the sudden onslaught of an early summer day's sunlight now that they had left the dimness of the narrow, tunnel-like street behind them. This allowed Yokeen to finally get beside him.

“So, what's your name? Mine's Yokeen,” he said and extended his hand.

“Olik.” the Reman grumbled, ignoring Yokeen's gesture.

“Where are we going?”

Olik's answer consisted of a frown, followed by an irritated look.

“All right, that was a stupid question.” Yokeen mumbled to himself. There was only one place where Remans could live in the city, the old Varmur district. The thought of walking there – which would take them at least half an hour – didn't appeal to him, though. The open space of the square with its low-rise buildings of red brick around them, the blue sky and the sea birds circling above them made him feel exposed. And he was still wearing his robe which clearly marked him out as an aspiring pastor of that weird up-start religion the authorities found quite suspicious. Now he was also accompanied by an even more suspicious Reman.

Weakly, he asked, “Are we going to walk there?”

“No,” Olik replied, pointing in the direction they were heading anyway.

“Oh, right, the rail station...”

The station was located on the fourth floor of a ten-storey high building from two centuries ago, built in the dominating style of that time which favoured rectangles above all else.
Although the station was open on one side it was awash with the yellow light from the globe-shaped lamps hanging from the curved ceiling.

“We will have to get off at Hiren alley,” Olik said.

“Yes, I know.” Yokeen replied, slightly puzzled. Why would Olik feel the need to tell him that? After all, they would be taking the train together. Then he realised.

“That's not a problem. I'll get on the same carriage as you. There's no law against that, just the other way around. I usually do that, anyway, if it's not too crowded.”

“Why?” Olik asked, the surprise evident in his voice and eyes.

“Solidarity, I guess. I think the way we treat you is wrong. There is nothing I can do about the law but I can show you my support.”

Olik looked at him thoughtfully but didn't say anything. He remained silent for the whole train journey so Yokeen spent it smiling at the other Remans in the only carriage they were allowed to use in what he hoped would come off as a friendly gesture, feeling wistful when they passed the station he would normally get off and wondering about what would await him once they got to Varmur and why a cleric was required.

Although no one could tell with certainty it was generally assumed that Varmur had started out as an ordinary district of the city, just like any other. Over the centuries it had first become the go-to place for new arrivals many of whom were and stayed poor, then the ideal place for shady entertainment in dimly lit cellars and illicit business deals in gloomy backyards and finally the home of the city's Reman population due to zoning laws preventing them from living anywhere else.
The adjacent districts had long ago built walls around it to prevent the vice and filth from spreading so the only way to expand had been up and in between. That's why Varmur resembled a giant more or less lofty building consisting of smaller buildings which had grown ever closer together over time and connections between them starting from the first floor up.
The only free space was a small strip beyond the fence whose openings served as the main entrances on the side Varmur bordered on Hiren alley. Yokeen was no stranger to the district, he came here fairly often for a certain kind of party and other things he didn't really like to think about in any detail. As he crossed the open space by Olik's side he sincerely hoped that they wouldn't encounter anyone he knew. Quite unlikely in daytime, he figured, but it still made him feel uneasy.

The space between the houses was just big enough for two people so Olik took the lead. After a few turns, crossing several buildings at the ground level they were soon approaching the Reman part of the district, an area completely unknown to Yokeen. They went down steps and entered a complicated system of pathways that would have been completely unlighted were it not for random spots of pale sunlight finding its way through the many levels of connecting structures above them. Most of the time, Yokeen stumbled through the dark from which Remans seemed to appear out of nowhere, passing them with grim expressions on their faces. Sometimes he would stop to catch a glimpse of their daily lives through openings in the buildings' walls they passed or admire the merchandise in the small shops located in nooks and niches.
Olik had noticed this erratic behaviour of his guest right away which only affirmed his long-held opinion that Romulans were weird people. With a heavy sigh, he turned around.

“We don't have time for this and you might get lost.” He grabbed the cleric's hand who smiled in response. Weird people, Olik concluded and turned back around to continue on their way.

The absurdity of the situation didn't escape Yokeen. It was an odd feeling to hold a Reman's hand and be led by him. He should have been the one to direct him and tell him what to do. At least, that was what Romulans were taught from childhood. Strangely enough, he appreciated Olik's grip which was firm but not tight. A few turns later they stopped in front of a rusty metal door.

“Here it is.” Olik declared and opened the door.

They entered a small room dimly lit by a dirty lamp of the kind used to light mining tunnels which was taped to the low ceiling with a small kitchenette to the side. Two older Remans, one of them a woman, with anxious looks on their faces and a younger man whose expression Yokeen couldn't quite read were awaiting them. None of them spoke a word but the woman motioned for Yokeen to go to the adjacent room whose door had been replaced with a filthy grey curtain and followed him in.
In there, a Reman whose skin looked leathery and especially pale, lay on a bed that occupied most of the room. Shivering under a woolen blanket, the man breathed heavily, his eyes closed. Yokeen knew then why he had been so urgently needed. Despite all the physiological differences he knew that this man was about to die. There was an intricate liturgy for the dying but Yokeen remembered it only fragmentarily. For a few moments, he felt utterly helpless and useless. Then he remembered that for most complicated things a simpler alternative existed.

He kneeled down by the bed, looking at the man's face.

“What's your name?”

The man opened his eyes, looking back at Yokeen. “Elim,” he whispered.

“What's your favourite aspect, Elim?” he asked gently. No reply came forward. Instead, Elim groaned.

“What colour?”

According to the prophet all of reality consisted of a finite number of aspects. They could be represented by colours. But Elim remained silent.

“It's blue.” the older man who had entered the room in the meantime, answered on his behalf.

“Loyalty,” Yokeen said, smiling. “That's my favourite, too. It has all the best songs.”

Normally, he would have given Elim the figure representing this aspect to hold in his hands. But he hadn't brought any with him. Instead he gave him his ribbon to hold. There were prayers, incantations and songs associated with every aspect. As prayers weren't his strong suit Yokeen mostly stuck to the songs, starting with the simple ones from his childhood and improvising some of the lyrics of the more complicated ones. Sometimes he could hear Elim humming faintly along and then he stayed with that particular melody a while longer. When he felt that Elim's last moments had come he stopped and made room for the two older Remans whom he assumed were his parents. Elim died and everyone stayed silent. There were no tears. Yokeen wasn't sure whether Remans could even cry and felt ashamed that - although he had lived his whole life next to them – he didn't even know such basic facts.
The two older Remans turned to him and he offered his condolences – heartfelt – but realised that this ritual was unknown to them. The two filed out of the room but before Yokeen could follow he was confronted by the younger Reman.

“Why did you have to bring up loyalty of all things?”

Yokeen lifted one eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“He poisoned himself, that's not very loyal, is it? Way to rub it in.”

“I didn't know that! It was his favourite aspect.”

At that, the Reman laughed hoarsely. “His favourite aspect!” he tried to mimic the way Yokeen had said it but failed. “It's his favourite colour. It's not like anyone follows your childish religion down here. Did you actually believe that?”

“Well...” Yokeen's voice trailed off because he couldn't think of a good answer.

“It's only because our stupid religion prohibits suicide. There's nothing but eternal damnation for those who do it. They thought that maybe they could prevent this from happening if they called you in, you know, another stupid religion to counter the stupid religion.”

He stared angrily at Yokeen who thought it wiser not to answer.

“If you ask me,” the young man continued in a calmer voice, “there is nothing happening after death. What do you think?”

“You know, actually, I agree. My religion allows for this possibility. Maybe it isn't that stupid, after all.”

Olik appeared in the doorway and threw an angry stare at the other Reman.

“I'm sorry, Yokeen.”

“It's all right.”

In fact, it was more than all right. Despite everything, he felt oddly exalted. He had finally figured out the answer.
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Old April 2 2013, 06:22 PM   #141
Chanukahjes
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

February/March 2013 Independence challenge -

Bread

Independence begins and ends in early 2192, for Leah Benson and her counterpart as they face challenges in both universes.

Chapter 1

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

The ancient words were like a talisman, but Leah Benson had learned to never, ever say them out loud. It wasn’t that prayer was illegal – for it wasn’t. At least, it wasn’t strictly illegal – but rather it was because, to pray openly, one would make the mistake of admitting that one might not be thinking of the Empress Hoshi Sato 24/7.

Someone was always watching, and listening. As the Empress had aged, her secret network had grown, and changed. First, it was Mayweather and his cronies. But he’d gotten himself killed during a slave uprising on a rock called Lafa II. Torres would have been next up, but he had met his end there, too.

Their children had grown up – four of them. One from Mayweather, another most likely from Torres – or maybe Ramirez – a third from the disgraced Tactical Officer, MacKenzie, and one from a time traveler named Ritchie Daniels. There were two other royal children, but they and their father, Chip Masterson, were gone, and it was forbidden to ever speak of them. Leah – or anyone else – would be facing the agony booth if Takara or Takeo Masterson was ever mentioned.

But the others were adults, and were being groomed to take over. Jun, who was the son of Daniels, had learned communications. Arashi, who was either the son of Torres, or maybe of Ramirez, he ran the treasury. MacKenzie’s son, Kira, ran the science station. And Mayweather’s own, the youngest, Izo, ran the secret police.

None of them were pilots, though, and so that was one reason why Leah had a job at all. But she was also kept on because, being a lesbian, she was not in competition as the Empress, in her sixties, continued to try to make conquests of younger and younger crew members. This all happened despite the fact that there was an official royal consort, Andrew Miller, a guy who had been a guard and had then been in science, before he’d been, eventually, tapped for his current, somewhat earthier role. Leah was not in competition for Andrew or any of them.

But Leah still knew enough not to pray in public.


=/\=

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

“And now I will recite the blessing over the bread in English,” announced the Starfleet Rabbi, Leah Benson. She stood at the front of a large room, full of dignitaries. There were two challahs in front of her. One was traditionally made. It was braided and its shiny crust meant that it had been brushed with an egg wash before baking. The other was more of a loaf and did not have a shiny crust – it was vegan. “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

“Thank you, Rabbi Benson,” President Jonathan Archer nodded and Leah sat down with other Earth religious representatives. “Today is an auspicious occasion, for today marks a day of complete cooperation among our species. When we created the Coalition of Planets, back in 2155, we hoped that eventually it would begin to accept new member states. And then when we signed the Federation Charter in 2161, that hope was renewed. But it wasn’t until now, on April fourth of 2192, that that hope has finally come to fruition. Distinguished guests,” he smiled at his audience, “I am pleased to announce that, by unanimous vote, we are admitting three new worlds.”

Tellarite Representative Gral caught Leah’s eye for a moment. He had an impressive beard which reminded her of ancient rabbis. Then again, his wife was also bearded.

“The three new member worlds are,” Archer continued, “the Caitian home world, Denobula, and the Xyrillian home world. Please join me in welcoming them to the United Federation of Planets!”

Ambassador Soval of Vulcan led the applause, gesturing slightly to Jonathan’s aide, a young Vulcan man.

The Andorian representative, T’therin, stood. “With nearly twice as many member worlds, the work will not be halved, I fear. But I welcome the added burdens, as they are shared. Let us break bread!”

He took a hunk of the challah from a server and ate it with gusto. The vegan version was served to the Vulcan delegation and they, too, ate as did everyone else.

Other representatives of Earth’s many religions performed blessings over other parts of the meal and the banquet, including a Wiccan blessing over the gathering itself, a Catholic prayer over the wine and a Hindu verse was recited over nuts and sweets that were also passed around.

The Starfleet Imam was sitting near Leah. “You are wearing a most agreeable outfit today.”

“Oh, this old thing?” she joked, for she was in a modest evening gown. “You look good, too, Mahmout.”

“My wife picked out the tunic.”

“My wife dressed me, too,” Leah admitted.

The Buddhist monk, resplendent in saffron robes, gave a thumbs up. “Both women have good taste,” interjected the Starfleet Protestant Interdenominational Chaplain.

=/\=

On the ISS Defiant, there were neither coalitions nor official alliances or federations. Your allegiance could only, openly, go one way.

Leah ate her modest meal in the mess hall. At least there had been bread. For so long, there hadn’t been any. Their meals had often been little more than gruel, unless the MACOs had gone out hunting.

“How ya doin’?” asked one of the older Security guys – Josh Rosen.

“All right,” she replied quietly.

“This seat taken?” She waved at it as she ate, barely looking up. “We’re gonna go hunting again soon,” he told her. “Rumor has it; we’re taking a detour before we head into Romulan space. I hear the Empress wants us all hopped up on protein before we conquer ‘em.”

“Oh.”

“I could get you some of whatever we bring down,” he offered.

“I got nothing to trade you for it,” Leah pointed out.

“C’mon,” he coaxed, “look, there aren’t a lotta honeys on board, yanno.”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

“So, you and me?” She was a good fifteen years older than him – already in her mid-seventies – but the Defiant had a horribly skewed gender ratio. Less than one-tenth of the crew was female. In part, that was the fault of the Y Chromosome Skew, a genetic mutation that assured that about three-quarters of all pregnancies would result in the births of sons. But the other reason was the Empress herself – she didn’t want a lot of bedroom competition. Keeping other women off meant that even very young fellows would follow her around like trained Rottweilers. “Well?” he persisted after a while. Anything seemed better than absolutely no one.

She looked up from her food. “I got nothin’ for ya.”

The light dawned. “Oh. I guess all you pilot honeys are. I remember Madden, that old night shifter, she was. And Pike, she’s still the day shifter, I think it don’t matter to her,” he opined.

Leah raised an eyebrow but kept on eating. Pike had been on her radar for a while, but that woman always seemed to be busy, or working it.

“Listen,” he said softly, “even if you can’t or won’t trade, uh, that,” he looked around furtively, “I’m sure you got other stuff.”

“Stuff?”

“You know, intel. Or maybe you could get a lead on something or other. You pilot the shuttles sometimes and do recon, right? And you were in Tactical for a while there, too. You’ve got more going on upstairs than most.” She nodded in acknowledgement and tore off a hunk of her bread and dipped it into her food. “Well,” Josh continued, “you get the lay of the land before most people, right?”

“And?”

“And you know this, and you could tell me. And in trade, whenever I bring down game, I’ll make sure you get some. And you know I can help you out in case anyone gets too, er, frisky.”

“Why me?” Leah finally asked. “And don’t tell me it’s ‘cause of the lack of honeys, ‘cause there’s Porter, and there’s Socorro, too. Balcescu, even. All of ‘em are a lot younger than me. I’ll be eighty in less than half a decade, if I should live so long.”

He looked both ways before speaking. Izo Mayweather Sato, the Empress’s youngest, was a little too close for comfort. He came over. “Hey, Rosen, you’re on the next hunt, right?”

“Uh, yeah, Izo.”

“Better not screw it up.”

“Never, sir,” Josh spat out the second word. Izo and his siblings were little more than privileged brats.

“Just don’t. And Benson?”

“What?” Leah snarled. She had no love lost for the Sato clan, either.

“Come to my quarters and I’ll give you a job to do.”

Leah knew what kind of a job that would be. “I have to do checks on the shuttles,” she lied. “Rosen here is going to assist.”

“That can wait,” Izo commanded.

“Your mother,” Leah played the trump card, “insisted that we do the checks. It’s in preparation for the Romulan invasion.”

“I’ll see about that.” Izo flipped open his communicator.

“You don’t wanna do that,” Josh cautioned.

“Oh?”

“Your mother’s off with Miller and I think Crewman Tiberius Kirk. You know what happens when she gets disturbed in the middle of those kinds of goings on.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Izo bragged, “I’m her son.”

“And you’ve got three older brothers, in case you’ve forgotten,” Leah reminded him even though, technically, he actually had four older brothers and a sister.

“So?”

“So if she gets royally pissed off enough,” Josh cautioned, “She’s got three other choices for the succession.”

Leah shot him a look.
Don’t lay it on too thickly, her brain screamed. Outwardly, she maintained a veneer of calm. “I gotta go do those checks. This is all fascinating, but those shuttles won’t check themselves.” She got up. “Coming?” she asked Rosen.

“Uh, sure.”

They left the loud, dirty, crowded mess hall as Izo stood there, wondering what to do next and wondering if maybe his dear old mother didn’t need him so much after all.


Chapter 2

“For our allies,” President Archer stated, “I suppose it’s a little strange to be showing you some of our many faiths. But we decided on this for a reason.”

Ambassador Soval rose. “Unlike in many other cultures, humans do not have just one belief system. Rather, there are several, some of which are represented here this evening. Wars have been fought over these religions. Yet they survive.” He sat back down.

Representative Gral got up. “These faiths – many of which are conflicting – have made peace. Let us hear from them.”

“In my faith,” stated a representative Catholic priest, “we were originally persecuted for our beliefs. When the religion was very young, it was nearly wiped out, as Christians were thrown to lions.”

The Caitian representative asked, “Lions?”

President Archer smiled a little. “They’re felines, Representative Gopalahr.” A nod to his aide and the young Vulcan man showed a PADD to Gopalahr.

“A few centuries after we were persecuted, we turned around and did it to others,” the Catholic priest confessed. “During a time period referred to as the Inquisition, heretics, both real and imagined, were often burned to death. Jews and Muslims were slaughtered for our view of piety.” He sat down.

The Imam got up and picked up the thread of the narrative. “My faith,” began Mahmout, “it was also both the persecuted and the persecutor. It depended, often, upon location and the date in history. We conquered much of a continent called Europe. In part, the Inquisition was in response to that. And there were innocents, too, who were killed during the Christian Crusades. Those were brutal times.” He sat down, shaking his head a little.

Other representatives of the Earth’s religions stood and offered what was essentially testimony of how they had treated other faiths, or they had been treated. Finally, it was Leah’s turn to speak. “The Jewish people have often been a paradox. We refer to ourselves as the Chosen People, yet that seems to have created so much resentment over the millennia that we often wonder whether this being chosen business is at all positive. And we have been conquerors, and slaveholders, and annexers of territory. We have neither a monopoly on suffering, nor on causing it. Our hands are far from clean.” She, too, sat down.

President Archer again spoke. “I know that this may seem strange, but we are showing you our many faiths, warts and all, as a way of demonstrating to you that we understand differences. And we understand ideologies and even a bit of fanaticism. As we have gone into the greater community of space, we have learned that that fanaticism, and those kinds of ideologies, and certainly there are differences, and all of these things are out here. They are all magnified when we have misunderstandings. It is painfully easy to lose our way.”

He paused and cleared his throat a bit. “But these faiths also do an enormous amount of good. They were the first of our philosophies, and often were the very beginnings of our sciences. They were our first charities, and our first governments at times. Even during the harshest of times, such as during our Third World War, they were often our only social safety net. They offer comfort to the bereaved and can provide a basic moral path for the unsure. And they have even adapted over time, and have learned to embrace not only each other, but even the skeptical agnostic and the fervently nonbelieving atheist.”

He paused again briefly. “We offer then as a snapshot of our evolution as a civilization and as a symbol of our adaptability as a people.” He looked around the room, as there were not only the member states’ representatives, but there were even people there who represented other species that had not yet joined their new alliance. “We also offer them up as a means of communicating to you that we are open to working with people at all stages of development. We want you to know that space is not a monolith. It is not all about humans, or Vulcans, or Andorians, or Tellarites. The Federation is not in the business of making the galaxy just like the Alpha Quadrant. Daranaeans aren’t going to be chastised for not being Caitians. Enolians are not going to be persecuted for failing to be Xyrillians. And the Xindi will not face destruction because they just aren’t Denobulans. We have set aside our internal differences, but we also celebrate them. We have not forgotten them. And we feel, truly, that they should be celebrated rather than swept aside.”

His eyes scanned the room, taking in a Calafan representative, a Takret, a Tandaran, a Vissian and more. “Our differences are our strengths. Together, I am certain; we will be greater than the sum of our parts. On behalf of all of us – on Earth, on Denobula, on Tellar, on the Xyrillian home world, on Vulcan, on the Caitian home world and here on Andoria, we offer a myriad of opinions and cultures. All are important, and all are to be maintained. We are strong together, as we celebrate infinite diversity in infinite combinations. And I thank you.”

=/\=

The shuttle bay was quiet. The two of them worked together, with Leah on her back, working on the underside of one of the shuttles. “Hand me that spanner,” Leah commanded as Josh stood nearby and pretended to take notes on his PADD.

“Uh, sure. Listen,” he began, “I wanna thank you for including me. Izo is, well, let’s just say of the four of them, I put him at number three for my choices to become the next Emperor.”

“I take it Arashi is number four,” she murmured as she worked.

“You got it. I bet he’d set up listening stations and hidden cameras. About the only reason we don’t have those now is the Empress doesn’t like a record of when she makes her conquests.”

“Right. You got a preference between Kira and Jun?”

“Not particularly,” he admitted. “Kira is at least a little bit influenced by MacKenzie, but he’s a bit of a wimp. If the Empress gets her hooks into the Romulan Star Empire, I doubt he’d be able to hold it.”

“Perhaps. Hand me the magnetic wrench.”

“This thing?”

“No, to the left. Your other left.”

“Oh, uh, yeah. As for Jun, he’s kind of a wild card. I think he’d –”

The door swished open and he immediately stopped talking.

There were two people coming in – the day shift pilot, Shelby Pike, and the Chief Engineer, Frank Ramirez. They didn’t see Josh and Leah, and looked around furtively, and then kissed.

From their hidden vantage point, Leah and Josh exchanged a look.

“I wish we could meet more openly,” Shelby breathed.

“C’mon,” Frank encouraged, “the shuttles are clear. We can do it in one of ‘em.”

“They aren’t clear,” Josh announced, showing himself and drawing his phaser.

“Oh!” Shelby exclaimed. “We didn’t know.”

Leah got up and came over. “Listen, you’re not exactly being careful about this.”

“Don’t tell her,” Frank requested. Nobody had to be told who that was.

“You owe us,” Josh declared, resheathing his phaser.

“What is it that you want?” Shelby inquired, stepping a little closer to Frank and putting a hand on his arm. Frank was taller than Josh, but Josh was armed.

Leah thought quickly. “I, I wanna get out of here. We’ll stay quiet, but I’ve gotta get off this boat. I don’t wanna be eighty and have Izo Sato leering at me. I hardly know why he’s bothering.”

“I think he’s looking for someone who’s easy. He seems to need a success,” Shelby mused. Leah shot her a look, so she added, “Hey, I’m not the one who’s really thinking this.”

“And you?” Frank asked Josh. “You looking to head out, too?”

“I dunno. But I’m not getting any younger, either. At some point, I will probably get dumped on some rock. I’d rather at least get my choice of rock. Maybe this can be a test run for that.”

Shelby and Frank moved over to the side. He quietly said to her, “This might be a way for us to figure out our own endgame. I’m not interested in dying here.”

“I feel the same,” she replied. “But I say we only do it if we can learn something, and turn it to our advantage. If we get in trouble, I’m not taking the fall for either of ‘em.”

“Agreed,” He murmured, “I’ll take a risk, sure, but I’m not sticking my neck out for them.”

“A practice run, huh? Well it might not just be a practice run for you. Huh. None of that’ll be easy,” Shelby said more loudly as she and Frank returned to where the others were. She paused for a moment, and then added, “But it’s not impossible.”

“A shuttle could, I dunno, crash. It could be cover for all sorts of things. There are all kinds of ways for things to … fail,” Frank thought out loud.

“Where are we going next?” Josh asked.

“Orders came down today,” Shelby reported, “We’re going to Andoria for a hunt before heading to the Romulan Star Empire.”

“We can work with this,” Leah decided. “Let’s get there – I’d estimate two days?”

“One and a half if we go full-tilt,” Shelby stated. “And we all know she’d rather go full-tilt.”

“Okay,” Josh said, “we got less than two days to plan this.”

“Why are you two working together, anyway?” Shelby inquired.

“We’re members of the same tribe,” explained Josh. “There aren’t a lot of us left. My, heh, my mother sent me a last message last week, before she died. She said I should look out for anybody in the tribe.”

“That explains it, then,” Leah murmured to herself. Josh had never taken an interest in her well-being before.

“The Empress’ll put it all together, you know,” Frank cautioned. “Well, don’t look at me. Even if Shelby and I stay quiet, someone else is bound to figure all that out.”

“Then we’ll have to create a diversion, or some sort of a pretext,” Leah mused.

“The hunt,” Josh decided, “that’ll be the cover. Plus it’s cold there. That’s gotta be good for something.”
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Old April 2 2013, 06:24 PM   #142
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Bread, continued -

Chapter 3

Two days after the banquet had ended; Leah got her coat and walked outside to get some air and take a break after days of meetings and social gatherings. They were on Andoria, and the surface was frigid. “May I ask you a question?” came a voice.

Startled, Leah turned. It was a person she had not spoken with for the past few days – the Daranaean ambassador. He was grey and as furry as a Caitian. The Daranaeans were the only sentient marsupial canid species in the galaxy, so far as anyone knew. “I do not believe we were ever actually introduced,” he began, “my name is Boestus.”

“I’m Leah Benson. What do you wanna know?”

“I recall from a few days ago, most of the human religious leaders were males. But you are a human female, are you not?”

“I am.”

“On my world, we have three feminine castes. We take a wife from each of these castes.”

“I see.”

“But our women are, well, they are of course citizens of Daranaea. But their rights are limited. They can neither vote nor hold property. A woman, not even a Prime Wife, cannot testify in open court without male corroboration. Third caste females cannot venture out of their homes without male escorts, even a male infant Daranaean can be an escort, and that seems absurd as I tell it to you. But it has, during my lifetime, there have been some changes. We used to refer to them as last caste females. And we would euthanize them when they became menopausal.”

“That’s awful.”

“It was our tradition,” Boestus informed her, “but it was wrong. It took some doing, some understanding that the remainder of even a third caste female’s life, it can have value. And the remainder of the galaxy, you are not like us.”

“No, I don’t believe we are. You had a question?”

“Yes. You see, I was wondering, about your faith, and the other faiths, are any of them, or were any of them, were they unfairly biased in favor of men, ever?” He tilted his grey furred head slightly, and that emphasized his canid appearance.

“There is a Hebrew prayer, actually,” Leah admitted, “It’s out of favor, but it still exists, as a daily prayer for men. It is only used by the most traditional.” She sighed.

Shelo asani goy, shelo asani aved, shelo asani isha.

“Here’s what it means in English – I thank God who did not make me a non-Jew, who did not make me a slave, and who did not make me a woman,” Leah explained.

“I can understand the first two parts,” Boestus stated. “I suppose most can. You would be grateful to be a member of your own faith, as opposed to another. And you would of course be grateful for freedom. Our wives, they are not so free, I think. You see, I was the Alpha of my people for a while there. That is what we call our leader. And I was the conservative standard-bearer, thundering from a podium in favor of traditions and the old school. I was brought up in a household where the women served the man faithfully, and without question. And being the man, anyone can see that that is an easy way to be. It would make a great deal of sense, I suspect, for a male Daranaean to thank a supreme being for being born male, it would be logical, as the Vulcans say. What does your husband say?”

Leah smiled at that. “I don’t have a husband, I have a wife.”

He cocked his head again. “How is that possible?”

“Aren’t there male Daranaeans who prefer other males? Or females who prefer other females?”

“I, I do not know,” he admitted. “Perhaps they are secretive.”

“Maybe.”

“This has been a most interesting few days,” he allowed, “but I would like to return to my home. I am the Daranaean ambassador to Vulcan these days. I am an old man and it is much warmer there. This is not so easy for my old bones.”

“Why wasn’t the Daranaean ambassador to Andoria sent to this meeting?”

“He has been taken ill, it seems. Are you a resident of this planet?”

“Me? Oh, no. My wife and I live in the Sol System, on Io. It’s also a chilly place, but not as cold as here.”

“I suppose you are ready to return home as well.”

“I am,” Leah admitted.

=/\=

The ISS Defiant orbited Andoria. Except for a few people on the Bridge, like Shelby, as she was piloting, and Jun Daniels Sato, who was trying his hand at command, most of them were in the mess hall. In order to be safer, Frank, Josh and Leah were in the mess but were not standing anywhere near each other. The Empress stood at the front of the room and spoke. “You are gonna need protein before we go into the Romulan Star Empire! I have handpicked only a few to go along with Izo. I expect a successful hunt, in preparation for a successful conquest. Do me proud, and the rewards will be great. Fail, and find yourselves on a rock. I trust I make myself clear.”

Everyone on the crew, even her sons, saluted the Empress. A salute was made with a closed fist, held at chest level and then the arm was extended out in front of the body as, simultaneously, the fingers of the hand were spread out and into a straight configuration. You made a delta with your hand.

Leah was standing near one of the few other women, Tara Balcescu. Tara did the salute incorrectly for some reason, and seemed to have forgotten to splay out her fingers into the delta shape. The Empress saw, and hopped off a small riser she’d been standing on.

The Empress sauntered over. The years had not been kind to her. The uniforms still looked the same – they were still midriff-baring little numbers. But these days, the Empress’s uniform waistband was a little higher and stretchier than it had been, as there was a secret that wasn’t so much of a secret anymore – there was an ever-growing muffin top.

She stood in front of Balcescu. “Do it again.”

“Do what again, Empress?”

“The salute, you dolt.”

Tara repeated herself and, again, was wrong. Leah and the others looked over in horror.
Did Tara not know what she was doing? Did she not give a damn anymore?

“You will do it right.” Insisted Empress Hoshi.

“Or what?”

“Or you’ll learn how to do it right in the agony booth.”

“Yes, Empress. A thousand apologies.” The salute was correctly performed by a rather cowed Tara Balcescu as the rest of them watched but said and did nothing.


=/\=

“It was good chatting with you,” Boestus stated, “It is a bit encouraging, frankly, to see a civilization that started out, perhaps, more like ours than it would care to admit.”

“I don’t know.”

“As I have aged,” the furry man admitted, “I have gone the opposite of many of my peers. Instead of becoming more conservative, I have turned a bit more liberal. I think there is hope for us Daranaeans yet.” They shook hands and he departed.

Leah flipped open her communicator. “I’d like to talk to Diana Jones, on Io.”

“Connecting you now,” replied the relayer.

“Huh, oh, hi,” said Diana, her voice tinny in the device’s little speaker. “Who is this?”

“It’s me.”

“Who?”

“It’s Leah.”

“Oh! Oh! Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you. There’s a strange woman here.”

“Don’t you remember?” Leah asked, “I told you that I would be on Andoria for a few days. Tallinaria has been there at home with you, taking care of you. You know her.”

“I do?” Diana’s tone was one of confusion.

“Can I talk to her?” Leah asked.

“You mean the Andorian?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Uh, okay. Miss?” Diana yelled. The communicator on that side was, evidently, handed over.

“How are ya doing there?” Leah asked.

“She knows me less and less, and has looked all over for you. I’ve told her that you’re coming home tomorrow, but she either doesn’t believe me, or she just forgets.”

Leah sighed. “I bet it’s both. So she’s worse?”

“Definitely,” reported the Andorian. “I wish that wasn’t the case. I had hoped to give you good news when you returned.”

“These are the cards we’ve been dealt. I wonder how long I can go on trips like this, and have some measure of independence. I think that, as Diana’s world gets smaller, so does mine.”

“Until she is completely forgetful, and utterly fearful of me, I suppose you can maintain some independence. But I must tell you, that may not be long from now.”

“Thanks, Tallinaria; you’ve been amazing.”

“It is my job, I suppose. Is my planet is one piece?”

“Absolutely. It’s flurrying here.”

“I miss that a bit. I’ll get her for you again.” There was a pause. “Diana?” The communicator, again, changed hands.

“Who am I speaking with?” Diana inquired.

“It’s me, Leah.”

“Leah! I have to tell you, there’s a strange Andorian woman here.”

“Don’t worry,” Leah assured her, “she’s friendly. Do you remember how we got together?”

Diana thought for a moment. “I remember your parents thought it strange, that a rabbi would take up with a non-Jew. Your brother thought I was not a good match for you.”

“That was, uh, that was my father, actually.”

“Oh! Really?”

“Yeah. Look, Diana, I don’t think I’ll be going away anymore.”

“But I think you love going away. And you value your independence.” For once, in a long while, Diana was suddenly coherent and perceptive.

“I – my independence needs to take a back seat to you, I think.”

Just as quickly as it had come, the coherence and the perception were both lost. “Did you know there’s a strange Andorian woman here?”

“She’s harmless. I’ll be home tomorrow. I love you.”

“I love you, too. See ya.”

=/\=

“Do you know anyone on Andoria?” Josh asked. They were walking down a corridor, heading for the shuttle bay. Fortunately, they were alone.

“One person, if she’s still there at all.”

“Can she help us? Uh, you?”

“I dunno. Our relationship was, uh, it was kinda rocky. I was much more of a tequila drinker then. She convinced me to quit, cold turkey.”

“Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“Withdrawal stinks,” Leah stated unequivocally. “But she also found out what had happened to my last honey before her, and she ended it between us.”

He stopped for a second. “So, what did happen? With that other honey, I mean.”

“Like I said, I was a boozehound. The previous honey was Leonora Digiorno. I made her go out and get me more. When she refused, I offed her.”

“Oh. Holy cow.” He gulped. Leah Benson had seemed like a harmless enough choice for an ally. He’d have to rethink his judgment of her.

“It was maybe a year later when I met Diana. She was in the Science Department, back when the royal children were small. We hit it off, you know, that sorta thing. Then she found out, and got herself dumped on Andoria. That was after Mayweather was fragged.”

“Lotsa stuff happened then.”

“Sure. By that point, I think just about everyone on the old NX-01’s senior staff was dead except for the Empress. Tucker and Cutler and Hayes, I remember, they were gone somehow, and now I wanna be gone, too. I know my history as well as anyone.”

“Right,” Josh grunted. They had arrived at the shuttle bay. Together, they looked around. “Okay, one last time,” he reminded her, “Let’s go over the plan.”

“Ramirez rigged the shuttle”, Leah stated. “You and I go to the surface alone – everybody else takes the other shuttle. The pretext is that the carcasses will be flown up by me.”

“And she’ll buy that?”

“Beaming can be tricky, or at least that’s what Ramirez will confirm as the cover. You and I fly down.”

“Right. You land and we get out, to a safe distance away, going in opposite directions. You make sure the others don’t see you.”

“Uh huh,” Leah confirmed. “Then I hit this remote, and the shuttle goes boom. You claim I was in it, make a big show of trying to find me, you get the picture. I head underground – there are tons of subterranean passageways on Andoria.”

“Exactly,” Josh agreed, “and depending on how well this goes, maybe I’ll get my turn on the next rock.”

“Now, are you sure they won’t check for a body after you’ve done your thing?”

“I am. Sorry to say it, Benson, but the Empress mainly sees people like you and me as being expendable. Plus Pike’ll be flying the other shuttle. She’ll turn it and provide whatever cover she can, and so will I, but otherwise you’re on your own. If you’re caught, we don’t know anything about it.”

“Right,” Leah nodded, “and –”

The door swished open, and the remainder of the hunting party, including the other pilot, Shelby Pike, walked in. Izo was with them. “Why are we all crowding on the one shuttle?” he demanded to know.

“This one needs to be clear for game,” Leah explained.

“Plus its environmental controls are on the fritz,” Josh lied, “Andoria’s cold, and this one’ll be almost as cold as that.”

“I can take the cold,” Izo decided.

There were a few MACOs ready for the hunt. “I wanna ride with Pike,” declared one of them. He got closer to her, “And then afterwards?”

The younger woman glared at him. “I don’t think so.”

“See, that’s the problem with the hotter ones,” Izo explained, “they’ve all got attitudes – sticks where the sun don’t shine. But Benson here? Nice and compliant, right?”

“I’m here to fly the shuttle,” Leah stated, staring straight ahead. “Nothing more.”

Quietly, Josh dialed the control on his phaser to the lightest possible stun setting. That one would be quiet. “Well, I’m ready to go in the cold shuttle,” he announced.

“Ramirez had some reason why we weren’t all just gonna beam down,” Shelby announced, flipping open her communicator.

“What are you doing?” Izo snarled.

“I am asking him. I wanna confirm it.”

“Forget it,” Izo looked at her, menacing, “I say we just go.”

“Suit yourself,” she shrugged. “But it’s on your head if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.”

He grabbed her arm roughly. “It’ll work out just fine. Now Rosen, you get on the other shuttle.”

Sir,” Josh spat out the word, “you said we shouldn’t all just crowd onto one shuttle. If you just switch places with me, that doesn’t even out the numbers at all.”

Izo narrowed his eyes and stared at Leah. “He better not be your man.”

“I don’t have a man,” Leah answered.

“Then we go together. Just you and me.”

Rosen again made as if to get onto Leah’s shuttle. Izo gave Josh a look. Leah stepped between them. “There are always bad storms on Andoria. That’s why we’re taking the shuttles in the first place. At least, that’s my understanding.”

“That’s right,” Pike interjected, “I remember the details now. Ramirez says it interferes with the transporter somehow.”

“Exactly,” Leah confirmed. “So autopilot is a very bad idea. One could crash. Hell, a shuttle could crash, even without it.”

“Then it’ll be during the hunt,” Izo told her, coming close and looking her up and down.

“Why me?” Leah finally asked.

“You should feel honored,” Izo sneered. “I don’t have to explain myself to the likes of you.”

The doors to the shuttle bay swished open. It was the Empress Hoshi Sato herself, with her consort, First Officer Andrew Miller. She surveyed them all haughtily as Miller stepped back and looked uncomfortable. “Today will be a glorious day!” she enthused. “For this is just the start of our conquest of the Romulan Star Empire! Bring back the tastiest and choicest cuts! Consider them a kind of spoils in advance.”

“Yes, Mother,” Izo bowed to her.

“You will succeed,” she told him, sounding a little menacing, even though he was one of her own. “You’ve been rather short on successes lately.”

“I, I am trying, Mother.”

“Then try harder!” She commanded. “Even you should know that there’s a limit to how many times you can fail me. Now go!”

They all saluted her, and she and Miller left.
Well, that explains Izo, Leah thought to herself, he must think he can’t possibly lose. “Check with me one last time, Rosen,” she ordered, and then her voice turned more pleasant as she added, “and why don’t you go ahead and get in, Izo?”

He got into the shuttle and then turned to face them from its opened hatch. “I will not fail.”

“Don’t you worry about a thing,” Josh stated, following Leah to the front of the shuttle. He drew her attention to his phaser and its setting. “It’ll be quiet,” he murmured softly, hoping she’d understand what that meant.


Chapter 4

Leah watched the snow falling, and it began to get a bit more unpleasant, so she ducked under an eave. She flipped open her communicator again. “I’d like to see President Archer. It’s Rabbi Benson.”

The Vulcan aide replied, after checking something or other, “You may see him right away. He is in his office.”

She thanked him and headed to Archer’s office, a place she knew well. He stood up when he saw her. “What brings you here? I’d’ve thought, after the last few days, you’d be sick of all of us.”

“Not quite yet,” she smiled. “Sir, you know I married Diana Jones, right? She was on the NX-01, in the Science Department.”

“I remember her not only from there, but also from the Cochrane. I think she may have been on Captain Reed’s ship, too. How is she?”

“Uh, not so good.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do? I’m in touch with all sorts of doctors.”

“I don’t know. We – it’s a kind of senility, or at least it seems that way,” Leah sighed. “She’s just slipping away. It’s very hard to watch. You know how smart she, she was.”

“Do you need to take time off? I don’t think we’ll be doing a big production like this again anytime soon,” he offered.

“I think maybe I should leave entirely,” Leah stated. “It’s, well, I see her world shrinking. It seems only fair that mine should shrink, too.”

“Take as much time as you need to,” Jonathan suggested, “but you don’t have to just up and quit.”

“I, I don’t know.”

“You have been affiliated with Starfleet about as long as I have,” he reminded her.

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“And do you remember, we launched the NX-01, and there was the thought that, in deep space, people might need a little spiritual guidance.”

“I imagine a part of that was to give Dr. Phlox a break as well,” she opined, “I didn’t have much to do for the first few years.”

“That’s right, I remember now,” he agreed, “and then, after the Xindi probe hit Earth, we got four Jewish crew members. Three were fresh out of school, and the fourth was a little older, and he was commissioned as a Science Ensign. Do you recall their names?”

“I sure do,” Leah confirmed, “They were Ethan Shapiro, Karin Bernstein, Josh Rosen and Andrew Miller. I recall a few long talks with Ethan, about Karin. I was so pleased when I learned they had decided to get married,” she sighed. “It’s a partnership, you know, and it can color every other piece of your life. But that runs both ways. And I’ll tell you,” Leah admitted, “it’s so much harder when you can see and feel that partnership is crumbling.”

President Archer thought for a moment, and then offered, “You can have someone help you, all right? And that person can do all of the traveling, and anything else that’s too involved, or that you just plain don’t want to do.”

“I dunno.”

“Stay, at least in an abbreviated capacity. Because there’s one thing I know about caregiving – you may find you want to escape into work sometimes. My father suffered from Clarke’s Disease. I was only a kid, but I could see how my mother’s mood changed on the days she went to work. She never wanted to admit it, but I think she was somewhat relieved on those days.”

“Diana’s only going to get more and more dependent on me.”

“Cross that bridge when you get to it. For right now, though, you’re still independent. And, at least a little bit, so is Diana.”

=/\=

The shuttles took off and approached the surface. “Once we’ve landed,” Izo commanded, “you need to get lost, Rosen. Go hunt whatever the hell they got here for game.”

“We’ll have to load up this shuttle with the kills,” Josh pointed out.

“You can delay that,” Izo put a hand on Leah’s knee. “We’ll be busy.”

“I am busy right now,” Leah stated slowly. “I need to concentrate on the approach vector. Look at that snow.”

“So?” Izo was uncomprehending as the storm worsened.

“It’s looking bad,” Josh observed. “What’s the wind speed out there?”

She checked a display. “Huh. Man oh man, this is not good.” She flipped a switch. “Benson to Pike, are you getting a handle on the weather?”

“I am,” came the somewhat staticky reply from the other shuttle. “There are gale force winds, ah, there’s a gust to hurricane strength. This is one ugly little snow squall. If it keeps up for a few hours, we can call it a blizzard.”

Izo asked, “Is this a dangerous landing?”

“Yes!” Shelby yelled from the other shuttle.

“Turn back,” he commanded Leah.

“What?”

“You heard me. Now turn back.”

Josh unsheathed his weapon. At point blank range, he fired at Izo’s back. The Empress’s youngest fell forward. “We’ve got less than a minute before he wakes up,” he cautioned.

“Then stun him again and heavier this time. We’re goin’ to the surface.” She descended at a steep angle and got the shuttle nearer to the surface. Just before getting there, she opened the channel back up to the other shuttle. “May day! May day!” she called out, lying, “I’ve got engine failure!”

Pike looked back at the MACOs in her shuttle. “I can’t be going after them. You see what it’s like out there.”

One of the MACOs – E. Hamboyan was on his uni patch – looked at her grimly. “We are all gonna end up in the agony booth if we just leave Izo down there. You better do whatever you can to land this thing.”

She sighed. “Okay, but don’t blame me if we can’t get back in the air.”


=/\=

On the other shuttle, Josh stunned Izo again, just to be sure. “He’ll be dead weight. Here, you gotta help me get him out.”

“Right.” Together, they lifted him out and deposited him on the snow-covered landscape. “I better make it look like I’m going back in. Then I’ll hit the remote.”

“And then boom,” he confirmed.

Leah nodded. “G’bye, Josh, and thanks. Your time will come, and Shelby’s and Frank’s times, too. You’ll get out.”

“Say the prayers,” he told her, “you’re a member of the tribe and I know we can’t say ‘em openly on the Defiant. So say them on Andoria, okay? You keep alive now, ya hear?”

“I will.” She smiled. She raced back to the shuttle and entered it briefly to grab the first portable thing she could see. It was a medical kit. She had no extra clothes, no food and barely any money, but at least this was something to trade if necessary.

She didn’t even bother to close the hatch, and could see the landing lights for the shuttle that Shelby was piloting. “You better not get too close,” she murmured as she dashed away from the shuttle. Seeing a small snow-covered embankment, she got behind it and hit the remote. As Frank Ramirez had promised, the shuttle exploded in a mass of flame.

Leah glanced around for a second and saw a gateway to a subterranean passage. She dashed in, not knowing what she’d find on the other side.


=/\=

Once the shuttle had gone up in flames, Josh noticed Izo stirring a bit, and did not stun him again. Groggily, Izo asked, “What the hell just happened?”

“The, the storm, man. Benson lost control, and it was a hard landing. She and I got you out here – you musta hit your head, or something. She ran back to get the med kit, but it looks like the fuel tank must’ve ruptured. I, I think she must be dead.”

“Where’s Pike?”

“Uh, she’s landing now.” Josh got up and helped Izo up. They walked over to Pike’s shuttle as Izo roused himself.

The snow was falling even more rapidly. Pike opened the hatch to her shuttle. “I think we’d better just head back to the ship,” she suggested.

“I said we were going on a hunt,” Izo commanded angrily. It seemed that he had changed his mind. “One shuttle is gone, and a pilot is dead. I’m not going back empty-handed, long as we’re all here.”

“Somebody needs to stay behind and help me shovel snow,” Pike said. “Otherwise, we could be frozen here all week.”

“I’ll shovel snow,” Rosen volunteered.

“Suit yourself,” Izo sneered. He and Hamboyan and the others departed.

Once they were out of earshot, Shelby asked, “Do you think she got out?”

“I guarantee it.”


=/\=

Leah entered the subterranean tunnel and was immediately accosted by Andorian security personnel. She put the med kit down and raised both hands over her head. “I’m defecting,” she declared. “My dagger is in a sheath on my left side. This case I’m carrying is a medical kit. I am a trained pilot and I know the Empress’s defenses and her next destination.”

An Andorian security guard eyed her. “We’ll be very displeased if you’re lying. General Shran doesn’t like that.” He relieved her of her dagger as his partner opened up the medical kit and displayed its contents. “You will need a sponsor. We can’t just have everybody and his brother defecting from the Terran Empire.”

“I only know one person on Andoria. And she might be gone, anyway.”

“Give me her name.”

“Diana Jones.”

He flipped open his communicator. “Get me Diana Jones.”

There was a pause, and a voice could be heard through the device’s small, tinny speaker. “My name is Tallinaria. Miss Jones can’t be disturbed right now.”

The guard looked at Leah. “Start talking.”

“My name is Leah Benson. I knew Diana years ago. I’m sure she’ll remember me.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Tallinaria replied, “for she knows nearly no one these days.”

“Come to the main tunnel,” the guard suggested, “and you can meet in the main security office. Give us a few minutes to get there.”

“We’ll be there. Tallinaria out.”

“Why are you doing this?” Leah inquired.

“If you know what you claim to, General Shran will be most interested. And if you don’t, well, at least we’ll know.” He tapped out a quick message on his PADD –
General, we have a defector who claims to know Empress Sato’s next moves. Meet us at the main security office.

=/\=

“You may be right,” Leah admitted to President Archer. “But I don’t know how long I can even be on limited duty. It’s, well, it takes a lot out of you.”

“I remember my father, in the final stages of Clarke’s Disease. He had hallucinations about all sorts of things – giant rabbits, aliens with pointed teeth, a barrier at the edge of the galaxy, composed of pure energy. If he’d been at all coherent and organized, I suppose he could’ve even written a book. I can get you the names of the neurologists we used. I can’t say if any of them are still practicing medicine, but they might have people they can recommend to you.”

Leah thanked him. “I think I should start heading home today. I would just feel better about things.”

“Don’t stand on ceremony,” he told her, “I’m sure you can get a ride with Ambassador T’therin or anyone else who’s heading out. And Rabbi?”

“Yes?”

“I do know quite a bit about what you’re going through. If you ever want to talk, I am happy to do so. You’re not alone.”

=/\=

Diana and Tallinaria arrived, but they weren’t alone. General Shran came in right after them.

Diana was a woman who had once been lovely, but her illness was robbing her of everything. She eyed Leah cautiously. “Do I know her?” she asked Tallinaria, who was a middle-aged Andorian.

“You tell me,” replied the Andorian woman.

“Years ago,” Leah explained, “You and I were together. We were on the Defiant. You convinced me to quit drinking. And in return, I taught you the secret prayers of my faith.”

“Faith?” Diana was still not comprehending.

“Yes,” Leah nodded encouragingly. “I am a Jew, and you aren’t, but we got together anyway, and I taught you my prayers because, well, because I wanted you to know that big secret about me. There were prayers over candles, and vegetables, and wine. And there was a prayer over bread. Can you, Diana, can you say that prayer over the bread with me?” She looked Shran in the eye. “That should prove it, right?”

“Agreed, pink skin.”

Baruch …” Leah began.

But it was as if a switch had been flipped, and Diana finished the prayer for her, intoning and ending with, “
min ha’aretz.” She looked up. “I haven’t said those words in, in, I don’t know how long.”

“She knows me,” Leah insisted, “so can I stay?”

Shran looked at them. “You will tell me all you know, about the Defiant and the Empress Hoshi Sato and anything else that can assist the Independent Andorian Government in Exile.”

“Yes, sir.” Leah finally let out the breath that she had been holding for how long? Perhaps it had been held for all of her life.


=/\=

On an Andorian ship, Leah walked out of a small guest bunk. “It pays to know the President,” she murmured to herself. She walked along the ship’s corridors. Her destination was the vessel’s small mess.

When she got there, she stood in front of a replicator, not understanding the printed directions, which were written in Andorian script. “Here, let me help you,” came a familiar voice.

“Ambassador Shran?”

“I don’t mind,” he said, “Now, here, it’s set to a voice command, but if I change it to touch screen, I can put it in your language.” He fiddled with keys until the screen changed. “Ah, that’s it. Now, there aren’t too many human foods programmed in.” He stepped back.

Leah scanned the list – there were pictures with print under them. Orange juice, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, vanilla ice cream, sour cream, butter, a plain salad, vinaigrette dressing, oatmeal ….

Finally, she found what she wanted. She hit the key under the picture of bread and then, when a symbol of a flame came up, she hit it. “I guess that’s wheat toast.” A few more images were offered, such as the ones for butter and jam, but she bypassed them. There was a brief flash as the machine fulfilled her request.

She took her toast and sat at an empty table. She flipped open her communicator. “I’d like to talk to Diana Jones, on Io.”

“Connecting you now,” replied the relayer.

“Leah! There’s a strange Andorian woman here.”

“Uh, she’s friendly. Listen, do you remember when we first started going out?”

“A little. Your family wasn’t sure they liked you being with a non-Jew.”

“That’s right,” Leah confirmed. “But we won them over, in part, because I had taught you the prayers. Do you remember the prayers? Because I’m about to have some bread, and I’d really love it if you would pray with me. Okay?”

And, together, they recited.

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

THE END
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Old May 28 2013, 12:57 AM   #143
Cobalt Frost
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

April/May challenge theme: Obsession

"A Tall Ship, and Fair"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Everyone just has to meet Captain Kirk,” said DTI Agent Gariff Lucsly, casting a fatigued glance at his longtime partner, Agent Marion Dulmur. “If the man isn’t violating every temporal regulation we have – and a few we don’t – it seems half of Starfleet is violating those selfsame regulations to meet him.”

Dulmur gestured at the starship captain he and Lucsly had come to – well, interview is a good a word as any, thought Dulmur – regarding the temporal incursion to which Lucsly was offhandedly referring. “Maybe, partner, we should give the offending officer the chance to explain what happened.”

Luscly muttered some Kirk-related invectives to himself, then gestured for the aforementioned ‘offending officer’ to continue his account.

“From the beginning, Captain, if you please.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Admiral James T. Kirk, Chief of Starfleet Operations, was not a happy man. Oh, he was a busy man, with an enviable assignment for someone of his age, and his duties were fulfilling – the practical applications of his experiences had seen Starfleet grow and improve by quantum leaps – but he just wasn’t happy. Not to mention, he couldn’t recall an actual good night’s sleep since he accepted the promotion. He slept, of course, when he was able, but it wasn’t good sleep, not like he got on the Enterprise. Last time they’d gotten together, he tried to explain to Dr. McCoy how he thought he’d gotten too used to the imperceptible vibrations and ubiquitous sounds of a starship’s operations, and that his new home or the small room in the Starfleet HQ’s Bachelor Officer’s Quarters that he used on occasion just didn’t feel right. Bones had taken another snort of whiskey and reminded Kirk that he’d advised against Jim taking the promotion, but since Bones’ advice had been ignored, Kirk needed to Deal. With. It.

That had been… Kirk found he couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d seen his friend. Bones was busy with his civilian practice, and one thing after another required Kirk’s attention. Kirk resolved to at least leave Bones a message before he left his office. When Kirk would actually leave his office, however, was an uncertainty that not even Spock would have been able to calculate. Kirk wondered offhandedly how Spock was faring in his efforts to master the ancient Vulcan discipline of Kolinahr.

At least Kirk saw Scotty on a relatively regular basis, since Scotty’s task of refitting the Enterprise required Kirk’s authorizations. Scotty would also ask Kirk’s opinion on some of the new systems that the Enterprise would be fitted with, though Kirk suspected that, more often than not, Scotty did so in an attempt to make his former CO feel happy.

Kirk appreciated the gesture, but it didn’t help. Kirk was quite adept at torturing himself with thoughts of the Grey Lady. About six months after taking over as CSO, Kirk had several new monitors installed in his office wall; there were now nine of them, and three or four (depending on the day’s workload) showed different views of the Enterprise in her orbital drydock. Kirk kept up with the refit as often as his duties allowed, watching as his noble ship was taken apart, stripped practically down to the bare spaceframe and rebuilt with cutting edge technologies from across the Federation. He’d studied the design plans, noting the Art Deco influences on the new hull geometry. Furnished with all the resources he could dream of having, Scotty was indeed working a miracle.

Someone else’s miracle.

So Kirk would work ridiculous hours, pretending that leaving the Enterprise had been the right choice, and dreaming of nothing but her during the fitful few hours of sleep he managed to get here and there. And deep within his heart of hearts, James T. Kirk would wish that somehow, some way, he could get her back.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Incoming transmission, marked priority alpha-one,” said Ensign D’Agostini tiredly. It was 5 am at the Starfleet Communications center, located across the San Francisco bay from the main Starfleet Headquarters campus. Ensign D’Agostini was due to get off shift in one hour, and the transmission, due to its priority tag, had triggered an annoying alarm that had interrupted his nap.

“Transmission origin?” asked the other poor soul on the night shift, Ensign Holland. He’d just returned from the cafeteria with two steaming mugs of coffee. Handing one to Ensign D’Agostini, Holland sat down and prodded his console back from sleep mode. At least something around here gets sleep, he groused to himself.

“Epsilon IX,” D’Agostini replied, rolling his eyes. The station’s commander, Branch, had been posted to Epsilon IX for some time and had lately developed a knack for over-dramatizing the importance of his transmissions. Many of the staff at Starfleet Comms figured Branch was just way overdue to get laid, though nobody said so out loud.

Holland rolled his eyes as well. “Shunt it to the buffer, and we’ll look at it when we get really bored.”

“You mean we can be more bored than this?” said D’Agostini, as he moved to key the sequence that would route the transmission to the ‘answering machine.’

“Belay that, Ensign.” The voice had come from behind the two ensigns; it was unfamiliar and delivered in a soft-spoken tone that nevertheless carried a weight of command that froze D’Agostini’s hand. “If the two of you find your assignment here to be less than challenging, there are open billets on the Pluto Comms Relay station, and I understand Starfleet Janitorial is always looking for help.

“Bring up that transmission from Epsilon IX, if you please.” Both men snuck a quick look in the shadows behind them; the source of the voice had his face hidden by them, but the captain’s braids on his uniform cuffs were clearly visible.

“Aye, Captain.” A moment later, and Commander Branch appeared on the large monitor set between the two ensigns’ workstations.

“Go ahead, Commander,” said the unseen captain.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The annunciator on Kirk’s desk chirped, startling him. He had been knee-deep in a report of recent Klingon activity that was about thirty pages longer than it needed to be, so the desk chime actually made him jump slightly.

“Yes?”

“There is an officer from Starfleet Comms here, sir. He has an alpha-one priority transmission from Epsilon IX.”

“Send him in.” The door slid open and an unfamiliar officer stepped in, bearing a data cartridge.

“I apologize for the interruption, sir, but this transmission just came in from Epsilon IX. You are the ranking officer on duty.”

“Thank you, Captain..?”

“Frost, sir. Gabriel Frost.”

“You’re not posted to the Comms center.” It was not a question, but stated in a friendly manner.

“No sir. I’m just… passing through.” Gabriel proffered the data cartridge. “Sir, you really need to see this.” Kirk took the cartridge and snapped it into the reader on his desk. As it was playing, Gabriel’s attention was drawn to the wall of monitors, particularly to the four displaying the very nearly completed Enterprise.

“She always was my favorite Enterprise,” said Gabriel to himself.

“What’s that, Captain?” asked Kirk, pausing the recording.

Gabriel turned to face the Admiral. “I was just saying that you’ve got quite a ship there.”

“She’s not mine,” Kirk said with more than a hint of regret. “Not anymore.”

“Things change,” Gabriel answered, a knowing smile quickly crossing his face. “If there’s nothing else, sir?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Dismissed, captain.” Gabriel nodded and stepped out of Kirk’s office. As the door slid shut, Kirk finished viewing the transmission. He replayed it, sitting silently for a long moment after the second viewing to absorb the import of the message. His eyes found the wall monitors, and Kirk stared at the reborn Enterprise as his fingers opened a comm channel to Admiral Nogura.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“It was absolutely necessary to deliver the data personally?” said Lucsly.

“I believe so,” Gabriel stated. “The agent of the… what did you call them?”

“The Bodoni,” Dulmur filled in.

“The Bodoni, right,” said Gabriel. “Seriously though, a group of trans-temporal terrorists named themselves after an eighteenth-century typographer?”

“It’s a long story,” Lucsly stated flatly. “You were saying?”

“Ensign Holland had been co-opted by the Bodoni; I didn’t want to risk him interfering any further, so I felt the wisest course was to take the data directly to Admiral Kirk. He needed to be in command of the Enterprise when she faced V’Ger. I saw the reality where the Bodoni were successful in keeping the V’Ger data buried until after the Enterprise had launched with Decker in command. It was… disturbing.”

“Did you have any further interactions with Starfleet personnel, or any civilians?” asked Dulmur.

“After I left Kirk’s office, I beamed back to the Comms center. Ensign Holland was still there; my tricorder revealed that he’d been ‘possessed’, if you like, by one of the Bodoni’s noncorporeal operatives.”

Lucsly closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. “You confronted him?”

“In private, Agent Lucsly. I advised him that Starfleet would brook no further interference from his faction, and suggested the noncorporeal being remove himself forthwith to his place of origin or the next convenient parallel dimension.”

Dulmur groaned. “You and your movie quotes, Captain Frost…”

“The Bodoni operative left,” continued Gabriel, nonplussed, “with Ensign Holland none the worse for wear. I sent him home, then proceeded to rendezvous with Commander Taylor for beam-up to Challenger. We made our way home, with the timeline none the worse for wear.”

“Fortunately for you, Captain,” said Lucsly. “Fortunately for you.” He and Dulmur stood up and headed for Gabriel's ready room door. Just before they reached the door, a thought occured to Lucsly, and he turned back towards Gabriel.

"Captain, where exactly was Challenger during all this? She is significantly larger than the ships of the era, with a rather unique power signature."

Gabriel smiled sardonically. "You gentlemen should probably sit back down..."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
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Old June 6 2013, 09:22 PM   #144
Vulcan Logician
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Wow! Lots of good Fan Fiction here. Especially you, Starkers. I'll have to comb through the threads to find more stuff by you. I am just dipping my toes into the fan fiction universe, and I must say, so far it's awesome.
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Old March 13 2014, 05:10 AM   #145
SonOfTed
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Starkers wrote: View Post
January 2006

Too Much by RevdKathy

He remembered back to the beginning: his Father. And the woman he’d called ‘Mother’. In a way it was their fault. The time factor was not something they’d considered.

He remembered his early days at college. He hadn’t fitted in then, despite his best efforts to blend. No-one had treated him as ‘normal’ until his first posting.

He remembered that, too. His first Captain: a warm, brave, serious-minded man who’d taken the young lieutenant under his wing, and helped him come to grips with his basic humanity. Dead now, of course. Long, long ago.

He remembered the bright enthusiastic engineer. They’d worked together to solve so many problems: one with the spark of genius and inspiration, the other with a limitless capacity to process information and sift through data. They’d had some brilliant times on that first posting.

And others, too: the fierce Klingon, who’d actually respected him for his physical prowess. Respected him! Maybe the first person who had.

And the gentle, empathic counsellor, who had been the first to try to understand the huge issues of his identity and strange collection of responses.

And the girl. Tasha. Funny that after millennia she still mattered.

When they admitted him to Bethlehem, they’d taken all his belongings ‘for your own safety’. He wasn’t sure what they’d thought he’d do with a desktop hologram, but he resented that loss. He’d like to see her again.

Of course, Bethlehem had to exercise their ‘duty of care’. The place was carefully constructed so there were no ligature points, though he doubted he could hang himself. And no sharp objects, though cutting his skin would not make him bleed. He was a ‘risk’, carefully assessed after his so-called ‘attempted suicide’.

...

And finally, he’d run out of things to think. So he’d turned himself off.

They didn’t understand. To them, that was ‘suicide’, sign of a disturbed mind. They deactivated his ‘off’ control, and tried to ‘treat’ him. But you can’t medicate a mechanical body. And talking therapies come to an end when there’s nothing left to say. He couldn’t make them understand: he’d simply lived enough.
A very short story (edited a bit by me for space concerns).

But what a HUGE debate could rage from this!

If someone is immortal, or virtually immortal, as TOS Flint character was, do they have a right to give themselves mortality? After all, a random date was programmed into Data's mother to make her lifespan more 'human', so does that make her 'death' okay and Data's not okay?

'The Measure of a Man' is still one of my absolute favorite TNG episodes, because they really tried to dig at and get to the core truths about the concept of artificial, sentient life. You've just added to the discussion and I enjoyed the experience immensely.

I realize this is just a one shot, but seriously, there is room to explore precisely why Data ended up here. Even if he left Starfleet, I would think that he would continue meeting new friends even as they old ones aged and passed away. What might have happened to quell his natural curiosity to investigate the grand wonders of the universe?

A bittersweet, wonderful read!
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Old March 13 2014, 05:22 AM   #146
SonOfTed
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

trampledamage wrote: View Post
March challenge - stories up to 2,000 words on the theme of "Misunderstanding"

Winner:

Inflection
by Admiral2
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!
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Old March 14 2014, 05:01 AM   #147
SonOfTed
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Location: North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

April's Challenge:

It's the Cold War in the Alpha Quadrant, and our heroes attempt to gain strategic advantage without triggering a quadrant-wide conflict!

April's Winner:

Starkers!

The Winning Entry:

Salus Populi Suprema Est Lex
From my perspective, you absolutely NAILED Garak.

The Dominion war was the only time he ever, truly allied himself with his 'friends' on Deep Space Nine, and even then he was still fully capable of betraying them at any time. I think the fact that he didn't had a lot to do with the fact that his primary opponent was Dukat.

Your not-so-chance meeting between Garak and Bashir is exactly how I would expect Garak to behave... the war is over and Cardassia needs what it needs. So he's essentially working to look out for its best interests. And he's Obsidian Order to the bitter end... never mention anything you don't absolutely have to, and manipulate people whenever possible.

Recently I rewatched the entire series and was surprised, even in early episodes from season one, seeing how hard Garak worked aboard DS9 to protect Cardassia's best interests... even after they had exiled him.

Nice read!

Last edited by SonOfTed; March 14 2014 at 05:27 AM.
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Old March 15 2014, 01:03 AM   #148
Count Zero
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Uh, this is meant to be a thread to collect the winning entries of the monthly challenges. It's not supposed to contain commentary. Besides, posting several times in a row in the same thread can be considered spamming according to the board rules, so please don't do it (posting a story is exempt from this, of course).
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Old March 15 2014, 03:36 AM   #149
SonOfTed
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Winner:

Dark Territory-The Heart of the Matter by DarKush

Heart of the Matter predates DT: The Crucible, which is still being posted. You don't have to read the Crucible to understand this story...I hope.

Historical Note: This story takes shortly before the Klingon Civil War shown in the TNG eps. "Redemption 1 & 2"

The Heart of the Matter
This one has a moral!

How to stay alive by walking the tightrope between cultures!
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Old March 15 2014, 03:51 AM   #150
SonOfTed
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Location: North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

June 2006-Subject: Birth of the Federation

Winner:

One Small Step by Starkers
I love it!

1. It's truly unique to see the Federation through the eyes of a completely alien race. You invented quite a bit of background given the shortness of the piece. A larger story would be a welcome adventure, quite possibly an entire trilogy.

2. The odd details of the Tn that do not conform to the standard humanoid species we've seen in Trek were also interesting.

3. Have you read "The Galactic Whirlpool" by David Gerrold? That's what this story kind of reminds me of... it has a similar theme except the ship that Earth sends out is a colony vessel, long thought lost. If you haven't read it I highly recommend the story. It was one of the first TOS novels to really take Trek to the next level!
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