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Old January 28 2010, 07:21 PM   #16
unusualsuspex
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

And into the fire they head!

Once again, your painting of the scenes in words works wonders. This is the kind of writing that draws me into a story. I need to believe in more than just the characters when I 'escape' for an hour or two and this shows exactly how it's done!

More nice character development as well. Conflicts and combines abound here!
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Old January 29 2010, 08:44 AM   #17
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

unusualsuspex wrote: View Post
And into the fire they head!

Once again, your painting of the scenes in words works wonders. This is the kind of writing that draws me into a story. I need to believe in more than just the characters when I 'escape' for an hour or two and this shows exactly how it's done!

More nice character development as well. Conflicts and combines abound here!
Much obliged for the kind words. I'm pleased you're enjoying the tale so far.
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Old February 2 2010, 12:43 AM   #18
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

Oh, this is just fun! I've probably read this story 3x before, but I keep coming back for more.

I've got a fever and the cure is more Gibraltar!
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Old February 3 2010, 08:05 AM   #19
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

The Glanisuur refugee camp had been rapidly constructed less than three kilometers from where the city of the same name used to stand. Situated at the base of the breathtaking Avendra mountain range, the growing city had been a monument to the creative spirit of the Cardassian people. Renowned throughout the Union as a haven to their culture’s young and disaffected, Glanisuur had become a hotbed of political activism and artistic expression.

Even during the tenuous alliance with the Dominion, the Cardassian Central Command had frequently turned a blind eye to the wide-eyed innocence and hopeless egalitarianism that was allowed to run rampant in this small corner of their empire. Secretly, many of the military’s commanding officers had once attended Glanisuur’s universities, allowed to savor a brief flirtation with idealism before being submerged into the cold, linear universe of Cardassian military service.

The Breen torpedoes that had impacted here instantly vaporized most of the city. The three universities, the museums and art galleries, the sporting arena, and the community’s beloved outdoor market, all were laid waste in the blink of an eye. The architecture that had been so determinedly free of the characteristic blades and spires of most Cardassian structures had been reduced to mere rubble.

The Federation relief effort for Lakesh’s northern continent was concentrated here, among the sun dappled meadows and forests surrounding this provincial capital. The once serene hills were now spotted with domed survival tents and prefabricated buildings housing temporary hospitals and schools, and storing various relief supplies.

Gibraltar’s first away team to Lakesh materialized into a crisp autumn morning, their collective breath rising as steam into the air. Ramirez turned in a slow, three-hundred and sixty-degree arc to take in the view of the Glanisuur camp as her body adjusted to the slightly higher gravity and atmospheric density.

“I guess we could have picked a worse spot,” the exec noted. The sun still shone brightly here, but if Starfleet’s meteorological predictions were accurate, smoke from the fires raging in the southern hemisphere would reach this far north in a matter of weeks.

Lar’ragos checked his phaser setting for the fifth time in as many minutes. His compact Type-III phaser rifle was clipped to a sling on his tactical vest, whose pockets had been filled with stun grenades, sensor-masking smoke canisters, and spare energy magazines for his rifle and phaser pistol sidearm. He turned to his two security men, “Ten meter spread, stay sharp. Our fellow personnel have been here for weeks. This may have become routine for them. Try to see what they may have missed.” The two specialists nodded and moved out to flank Ramirez, Lar’ragos, and Taiee.

Ramirez caught herself on the cusp of chiding Lar’ragos for being paranoid. She had read those sections of his service record that weren’t classified, and was well aware of his many decorations and citations. If he thought equipping himself and his security staff like an assault team was prudent, who was she to argue? She was determined not to let her anger with her present circumstances blind her to her duty, or to the precarious nature of their current assignment. Ramirez oriented herself, and headed out towards the Starfleet command and control center with the away team in tow.

En route to the heavily fortified C-&-C, the team was assailed with a variety of smells more appropriate to a pre-industrialized civilization than a warp-capable one. Food cooked over open fires in front of makeshift shelters for those not yet fortunate enough to have warranted a Starfleet survival tent. Raw sewage trickled through drainage channels hastily carved from the earth with phasers, which added a pungent tinge to the mixture of wood smoke and the ozone generated by portable power generators.

The Starfleet command center was a blocky two story pre-fab, surrounded by a grid of forcefield pillars that produced a skin-tingling hum as Ramirez’s team approached. A security guard stepped forward. His voice carried across the shielded barrier with a tinny echo, “Identification, please.”

“Lt. Commander Ramirez and company, starship Gibraltar. We’re here to help coordinate the offloading of relief supplies.”

As the guard glanced down at his padd to verify this, Lar’ragos appeared distracted and squinted off into the distance as if searching for something. Taiee gazed longingly towards the camp's medical facilities located approximately a hundred meters away, eager to begin assisting the staff there.

A series of muted thumps could be heard in the distance, followed by a strange, warbling yowl that seemed to increase in volume. Ramirez looked around, perplexed, and was completely unprepared to be thrown bodily to the ground by Lar’ragos.

“Incoming! Take cover!” The El Aurian flung the XO down, then moved to shove Taiee down beside her. Lar’ragos dove on top of the two to shield them as best he could with his body.

A chain of explosions rippled through the encampment, most of them centered in the vicinity of the Starfleet command building. The impacts were deafening to Ramirez and her team as the photon mortars detonated in quick succession. The Starfleet C-&-C had not yet been reinforced against an assault from above, and the building was heavily damaged in the opening salvo. The guard on the other side of the forcefield was launched into the barrier and slumped unconscious amidst the chaos.

Lar’ragos scrambled awkwardly to his feet. His ears rang and he fought against an overpowering sense of disorientation. He could see frantic movement from among the shanties and survival tents, figures moving and grappling and falling. Something other than the attack itself was amiss, but in his muddled state he couldn’t quite grasp what it was. He glanced down and saw one of his two security officers struggling to rise, but what remained of the other man lay still.

Lar'ragos reached down to help Ramirez and the security specialist to their feet. Taiee scrambled over to the motionless security man as her tricorder confirmed what Pava already knew. Lar’ragos tapped his combadge, but was unable to hear the buzz of the device’s null-function alarm. “Lar’ragos to Gibraltar, the encampment is under attack. We’re taking mortar fire. The camp appears to have been infiltrated. Send down the standby security team. We can’t hear right now, so route all responses through our tricorders in text.”

Ramirez drew her phaser pistol as Lar’ragos brought his rifle up. Ramirez shouted orders to him, but the security chief simply shook his head, still unable to hear. The four remaining officers looked to the C-&-C, but behind the still active shield barrier the burning structure was collapsing in on itself. If they could deactivate the shield they could attempt a rescue of any survivors, but without the access codes they were helpless.

Before Ramirez could decide on a course of action, she saw Lar’ragos raise his rifle at a group of three armed Cardassian men who were rushing towards them. Lar'ragos judged by their dress and demeanor that they were not local police allied with the relief effort. He elected action over indecision as he took aim and pulled the trigger. The weapon refused to fire. Ramirez followed suit, but her phaser also inexplicably malfunctioned.

The muzzles of the Cardassians’ rifles flashed, and Taiee grabbed her side and pitched forward onto the ground.

Lar’ragos let go his rifle, and in a fluid motion drew a black gun-like device from a holster on his vest and fired it at the approaching men. A small puff of gas was all that heralded the flight of a dozen tiny flechettes that turned the closest of the Cardassians into a pink spray of blood and tissue.

Another burst from Lar’ragos’ weapon felled the second Cardassian, as the third man raised his rifle and aimed at Pava. The man’s weapon jammed, and he slid to a stop as he frantically tried to clear the gun.

Ramirez rushed him and hurled herself at the assailant in a body check that sent the both of them to the ground. She struggled with the attacker and moved to straddle his chest while she threw focused palm-heel strikes at the Cardassian’s head. Her opponent warded off her blows with a ferocity born of desperation. She realized as she grappled with him that despite his considerable size, the man was really no more than an adolescent, a teenager. That failed to matter, however, as he landed a solid punch and drove his fist up and into Ramirez’s chin.

She blacked out momentarily and rolled off the Cardassian. Ramirez regained consciousness seconds later and tried to clear her head as she rallied herself to continue the fight. However, her foe was no longer moving. The youth lay still and his head rested at an impossible angle. Lar’ragos crouched over him, flechette gun at arms length as he scanned back and forth for additional targets.

The surviving security man knelt over Taiee and held a pressure dressing to the medical officer’s wound with one hand while he attempted to restore function to his phaser rifle with his other. Ramirez clambered to her feet and tapped her compin, “Ramirez to Gibraltar. Requesting immediate beam out. We have casualties.” Her hearing was beginning to come back, although sounds were faint and muffled. She pulled the compin from her uniform and held it to her ear. Hearing no response, she tapped it again and the no-signal buzz confirmed her worst fears. “Lar’ragos, comms are being jammed!”

Lar’ragos now had his tricorder in hand and held it up beside his weapon so as to maintain situational awareness. He shouted back to the exec, “Aye, and scans are limited to five meters. We’re getting some kind of broad spectrum jamming, but I can’t pinpoint the source. Whatever they’re using is also affecting our phasers.”

Ramirez almost wished her hearing hadn’t returned, as the shouts and screams of those fighting and dying drifted towards what remained of her away team. She reached down to take up the Cardassian’s projectile rifle. She studied it for a moment, then pulled sharply back on the bolt which ejected the spent casing that had jammed the weapon.

She hefted the rifle and called out to the lieutenant as she moved to assist the security officer with Taiee. “Mister Lar’ragos, let’s find a more defensible position.”

*****

Gul Dien examined the machine with a sense of satisfaction. The great majority of the weapons developed in this facility had been based on Dominion designs. The Dominion’s technology was more advanced, to be sure, but this particular gem had been a result of Cardassian cunning and determination.

“Magnificent, isn’t it?” Dien remarked to the chief technician.

“It is indeed, sir.” The engineer was deservedly proud of the work she and her team had accomplished towards perfecting the device.

“It will strike a victorious blow against our enemies. Even the Klingons will think twice before attacking us, once its sting has been felt.”

The technician merely smiled in mute agreement and hoped that her silence would stem the flow of rhetoric spilling from the gul. Over time she had discovered that Dien spoke often, but actually said very little.

The dimensional-shift transporter unit was not especially large, but the energies it harnessed were substantial. The Obsidian Order had uncovered intelligence regarding such a device used against a Federation starship some ten years earlier. That particular device had been used by the Ansata terrorist group in an attempt to destroy the starship Enterprise. It was capable of transporting objects or people over great distances, and no known shielding or defensive system could thwart it. Starfleet Intelligence had tried desperately to safeguard the knowledge that such a weapon existed, but the Order had obtained the information, albeit at a high price.

The Dominion had even arranged the abduction of the scientist originally responsible for the creation of the Ansata’s device, but the man had suffered a mysterious death just prior to the execution of the mission. Rumors regarding the scientist having been assassinated by some ultra-secret Federation agency circulated widely within the Order, but no confirmation of this had ever materialized.

Thus, Cardassian and Vorta engineers had been forced to reverse engineer the device from the rough plans obtained from the Federation. Fortunately for Legate Urlak and his men, the DST had finally been completed just before the Cardassian rebellion against the Founders. The Ansata’s device had the highly undesirable side-effect of warping genetic material in living subjects, fatally altering a person’s DNA after an unspecified number of trips through the machine. Although the Dominion researchers had been unable to solve that problem, the DST had proven capable of reliably delivering explosive devices in limited field tests. Now, it would carry out that function, and much more.

As miraculous a device as the DST was, the bio-engineered pathogen it would deliver to the orbiting starships was the product of fiendish genius. Dien had no doubt that the Federation would have to seriously reconsider their continued occupation of Cardassian space following the deployment of their new weapon. Legate Urlak, scheduled to be smuggled back to Lakesh through the laughably porous Starfleet cordon in orbit, had given Dien the honor of carrying out the next attack in their continuing campaign against the Federation.

*****

On the bridge of Gibraltar, Juneau passively monitored the progress of their away team on the surface. Her concentration was divided between various tasks, as she also observed departmental allocations of sensor capacity and power usage. An alarm began to trill at her station and she quickly toggled her surface scan to active mode. A surge of adrenaline coursed through her and Juneau exclaimed too loudly, “Captain, I’m detecting explosions at the refugee camp!” Then her surface scans became a flickering kaleidoscope of random colors and patterns.

“Red alert. Shields up, standby weapons.” Sandhurst stepped down into the bridge well and moved to Juneau’s side as he examined the readings for himself.

The lieutenant’s hands danced across her console as she tried in vain to increase resolution and cut through the interference. “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what happened. Suddenly it’s just garbled.”

Sandhurst placed what he hoped was a calming hand on her shoulder and frowned. “It’s all right, Lieutenant. The signal’s being jammed. Keep trying.” The captain moved back to the command chair and resumed his seat as he looked to the duty security officer at the Tactical station. “Mr. Ellis, have the standby security team report to transporter room one. If they’re unable to get a lock on the refugee camp due to the interference, have them report to the shuttle bay.” He turned to an ensign at the auxiliary station, “Hail Phoenix and let them know what’s happening.”

*****

<cont'd>
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Old February 3 2010, 08:06 AM   #20
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Captain Banti Awokou sighed as the red alert klaxon began blaring aboard Phoenix. The Nebula-class starship had been the first relief vessel to arrive in orbit around Lakesh two and a half weeks earlier, and had been selected as the task force command ship. As such, Awokou bore the added burden of ultimate responsibility for all Federation vessels in orbit, and all personnel on the surface.

Awokou roused his weary frame from the day bed in his ready room, and tugged his uniform straight as he headed for the bridge. He had tired of the persistent tension of the assignment, the endless hours of boredom punctuated by occasional insurgent attacks like the one that had crippled Sojourner. Even before the assault on Taun’Ma’s ship, Awokou had requested further support from Starfleet Command. However, in lieu of sending real help, they’d saddled him with a rookie captain and a crew of misfits flying a ship suitable for little more than academy cadet cruises around the Sol system.

The exec barked, “Captain on the bridge!” as Awokou strode into the command center.

He smoothly assumed his seat as the first officer vacated it. “Report.”

“Sir, sensors have detected what looks to be a firefight at the Glanisuur camp. Someone has also begun jamming all communications and sensors in the vicinity of the settlement. We’ve lost contact with our surface teams.”

Ops reported, “Gibraltar is signaling, sir. They confirm our readings. They say they’d just sent down an away team when this started.”

Welcome to Lakesh, Captain Sandhurst, Awokou thought dryly. The captain looked to the exec. “Commander, scramble the assault shuttles, and beam our ready response teams to the surface. Put them down outside the enemy sensor blind; they can close with the enemy on foot.”

His staff quickly set about carrying out his instructions, and Awokou prepared himself to oversee what might their first stand-up fight with their frustratingly elusive opponents. After weeks of suffering hit-and-run tactics, he relished the thought of fixing the enemy in place and crushing them with superior firepower.

As he watched the first of Phoenix’s heavily armed shuttles depart on the main viewscreen, the captain’s musings were interrupted by a brilliant white flash of light that briefly filled the bridge and caused spots to dance in front of his eyes. “What the hell?” He shot to his feet as he instinctively drew a small hand phaser from its concealed housing in the command chair. Other bridge crew reacted similarly; some stood with weapons drawn while others remained manning critical stations. He heard the XO call for a security team to the bridge, but Awokou saw nothing out of place.

He looked to the science officer. “Was that a scan of some kind?”

The lieutenant checked her readings and turned to the captain. Just as she opened her mouth to answer, the woman began to convulse and collapsed to the deck. Captain Awokou barely had time to comprehend that others around him were exhibiting similar behavior before his head was filled with a searing agony that wrenched an involuntary scream from him, as he too fell to the floor. Darkness enveloped him and Awokou awaited the final seconds of his life. To his horror, he discovered that despite his inability to move or otherwise access his senses, he remained fully, appallingly conscious.

*****

“Damn!” The projectile rifle bucked in Ramirez’s hands as she squeezed a three round burst at the darting form of a Cardassian insurgent. The bullets cracked ineffectually into a sheet of metal covering the wall of a refugee shanty. The exec made a number of disparaging comments about the Cardassian species as she waited for the last of their retreating group to clear the smoldering pre-fab they had been using for concealment. She then sprinted after them.

The fight for the refugee encampment had dissolved into a hundred separate engagements. Individuals and groups stumbled into one another among the smoke and confusion, which resulted in brief but vicious clashes where surrender was not an option.

Their group had grown to nine members, including three other Starfleet personnel and two civilian aid workers. Lar’ragos had the lead, and he moved silently but quickly ahead to scout for trouble. The group dashed from building to building to avail themselves of whatever cover was present as they attempted to avoid further contact with the insurgent death squads. Taiee was carried along with them, still unconscious and clearly in need of more medical attention than they were capable of providing.

As she brought up the rear of the formation, Ramirez cursed the inaccuracy of the projectile rifle. She had trained exclusively with energy weapons since the academy, and had only a passing familiarity with the operation of antique small-arms. Although a part of her struggled with the relative indignity of assuming the rear guard position, she had decided that Lar’ragos was the best choice for guiding them out of their current predicament.

The El Aurian was leading them towards a rock outcropping to the east of the refugee settlement. From what Lar’ragos could tell through his binoculars, the area offered a more defendable position, as a narrow gulley cut by a stream snaked through the jutting escarpment. This would give their attackers a single avenue of approach, and Lar’ragos hoped to hold them off until reinforcements arrived on scene.

Lar’ragos had come to the conclusion that none of the enemy were using remote sensing devices. He guessed that the dampening field surrounding them affected the death squads just as efficiently. Thus far he had been unimpressed with the capabilities displayed by the Cardassian aggressors. They appeared to lack fundamental training in everything from marksmanship to small unit tactics, and had attacked the camp more like a poorly led mob than a disciplined military unit.

Their sole advantage had been the dampening field that neutralized Federation weaponry. As far as he could tell, the young Cardassian men and women who were attacking had likely been recruited only weeks earlier. He very nearly felt sorry for them, impulsive and impressionable youth being used as someone else’s cannon fodder. His empathy ended, however, where their attempts to kill him began.

Lar’ragos stopped cold as he sensed something beyond sound. He measured the brutal intent of another sentient being. He held up one hand to stop the progress of the others behind him as he took aim at a Starfleet issue cargo container some fifteen meters away. Lar'ragos pulled the trigger and let fly another salvo of flechettes just as the armed Cardassian female began to rise from behind the container. The youth and all her living potential ended abruptly as the tiny missiles found their mark.

*****
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Old February 3 2010, 09:57 AM   #21
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

And the innocents suffer again. A dark and foreboding period with not just Starfleet lives on the line.

More development of character as we see Lar’ragos and Ramirez battle the Cardassian dissenters. Nice touch with Lar’ragos sensing the evil intent lurking in ambush BTW!
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Old February 4 2010, 12:50 PM   #22
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Captain Sandhurst tried not to fixate on the pulsing crimson red alert lights that flared in perfect time throughout the bridge. His people were on the surface, under attack, and he was virtually helpless to assist them. Ops had been unable to cut through the sensor jamming at the settlement, and Plazzi had proved equally incapable of pinpointing the source of the interference.

So this is command, he thought soberly. Sandhurst sat in a compartment full of people and felt as lonely as if he was on a solitary trek across the Vulcan Forge. Now he began to understand why officers like William Riker were loath to give up the first officer’s position. Better to be in the thick of the action than to sit and wait in impotent silence.

“Chief Towsend to Captain Sandhurst.”

The transporter chief’s voice seemed to boom from the overhead speakers on the tension filled bridge.

“Go ahead, Chief.”

“No go on the transporter lock, sir. Do you want me to put them down outside the zone of interference?"

“Negative, Chief. Send them to the shuttle bay.”

“Aye, sir.”

An alarm began to sound at both the Science and Operations consoles simultaneously. Plazzi acknowledged it first. “Sir, we’re detecting an anomalous energy signature. It…” he paused, his screen flickering as he struggled to divine meaning from raw data, “…it appears to be some kind of subspace disturbance, localized to several sections of Gibraltar’s hull, Captain.”

Sandhurst sat forward. “Our hull? Explain.”

Plazzi scratched at his beard. “I’d love to, sir. However, all the sensors are telling me is there’s been some kind of highly localized subspace disruption. It was restricted to within one-one-hundredth of a millimeter of our hull plating.”

At Operations, Juneau announced, “Sir, I’m getting a distress call from the Phoenix.” She frowned. “It looks like their automated disaster beacon, Captain.” The junior lieutenant took some measure of comfort from not having yelled her observations like a panicked cadet this time.

Sandhurst stood. “Put Phoenix on screen.” The image on the main viewer shifted and centered on the starship, a tiny silver point holding position above Lakesh’s day side. “Magnify.” Another shift in the display revealed the Nebula-class ship under her own power with running lights cycling normally. “Any information on the nature of the emergency, Mister Juneau?”

She accessed the encrypted subtext of the signal. “Aye, sir.” Juneau quickly scanned the content, “It appears internal sensors detected a viral contaminant that was identified in several areas of the ship simultaneously. The crew in the effected areas collapsed, and the ship’s computer automatically initiated ship wide quarantine protocols.”

Sandhurst gripped the back of Juneau’s seat headrest with such force that his knuckles began to whiten. He forced himself to relax his hands as he called to Plazzi, “Elisto, can you confirm that?”

From the Science station, Plazzi reported, “Confirmed, sir. Scans of the ship show negative internal movement by the crew, although I’m getting normal life sign readings. Emergency forcefields and bulkheads are in place. I’m also reading… a residual energy discharge.” Sandhurst turned to look at Plazzi, the older scientist’s eyes betraying a flicker of momentary terror. “It looks to be the same kind of subspace anomaly we just encountered.”

The bridge fell totally silent for a full five seconds. Sandhurst then realized all eyes were on him. He managed to ask in a reasonably conversational tone, “Any sign of pathogens aboard?”

Another ten seconds of silence followed as Plazzi conducted internal scans. “Negative, sir.”

Sandhurst turned and favored the rest of the bridge crew with a faint smile. “We’re apparently fine, people. Let’s mind our duties and make sure we stay that way.”

The captain looked to Ops. “Lieutenant, what’s the status of Phoenix’s shuttles?”

“The three assault shuttles are entering the atmosphere, on course for the Glanisuur camp, sir. They don’t appear to have been effected.”

He nodded. “Hail them. Let their people know what’s happened. I’ll leave it up to them whether or not they want to continue their mission or divert to Gibraltar.” Sandhurst resumed his seat in the center chair. “Move us to within transporter range of Phoenix. I want medical and engineering teams standing by in environmental suits for rescue operations.”

Plazzi stepped over to the captain’s chair to whisper as discretely as possible, “Sir, I’d strongly recommend calling those shuttles back and having them hold position in orbit. If the crews were exposed before leaving Phoenix they could spread the viral agent to the planet’s population. We’ve no idea how virulent this pathogen is, Captain.”

Sandhurst winced almost imperceptibly, and silently admonished himself for not having thought through the problem sufficiently. “You’re right, Elisto.” He leaned forward in his chair as he called out to the Operations station. “Lieutenant, belay my last. Have Phoenix’s shuttles break off and form up with us. They are to observe quarantine protocols until further notice.”

*****

Lieutenant Jonin Faltyne piloted the shuttle Xodor through the buffeting winds of Lakesh’s upper atmosphere. He was fixated on reaching the target zone as quickly as possible, retribution foremost on his mind. The attack on the encampment had been bad enough, but now Gibraltar was telling him there had been a nearly simultaneous strike against Phoenix. The Andorian’s antennae twitched with impatience as he vectored towards the Glanisuur camp. He had projected his course to carefully avoid the region in which sensors and weapons systems had been mysteriously neutralized. He hoped to set his cargo of heavily armed security officers down at the edge of the interference, take off again and then loiter on station, utilizing the shuttle’s optical systems to direct long-range phaser fire in support of the security team.

Ensign Robards in the co-pilot’s seat emitted a grunt of surprise as a text message flashed across his monitor. “Gibraltar’s ordering us back to orbit, sir. They’re afraid we might contaminate the surface if we were exposed to whatever bio-weapon those bastards used on Phoenix.”

Faltyne hissed, “Not a chance. The snake-heads owe us blood vengeance. Don’t acknowledge the message.”

“Uh… too late. I already did, sir.”

“In that case, I’ll note in my report that you had nothing to do with this whatsoever. Hang on and enjoy the ride, Ensign.”

*****

Juneau looked back at the captain, clearly perturbed. “The lead shuttle acknowledges receipt of the message, but is refusing to comply, sir.”

Sandhurst stifled a sigh. He had been afraid of this. Given the circumstances, he’d expected some resistance from Awokou’s crew. Outright insubordination, however, was more than he would tolerate. “Put me on with them, Lieutenant.”

“Aye. Channel open, sir.”

“This is Captain Sandhurst to Phoenix shuttle squadron. You are hereby ordered to return to orbit and take up station alongside Gibraltar. If you land on the planet, you might infect countless people with whatever was introduced to the crew of Phoenix. As much as I know you want to help your crew mates on the surface, I also know you’d never willingly endanger the lives of all those innocents.”

A moment passed. Then two. “Still no response, sir.”

Sandhurst turned to the Tactical station. “Have our security team board a shuttle and standby. I’ll relay orders shortly.” To Ops he said, “Have the transporter room begin sending emergency teams over to Phoenix as soon as they’re ready, and have Sickbay standing by for casualties. We’ll need anyone from the crew who has any kind of medical training there to assist.”

“Mister Lightner, move us into position over the Glanisuur site. Tactical, get a firing solution on those shuttles and lock targets.”

The ensign at the Tactical station blinked, clearly startled. To his credit, he complied with the alarming order without question.

Sandhurst sat back in his chair and felt a vague sense of disassociation, as if watching his actions from outside his own body. He observed himself toggle the comms. “Phoenix shuttle squadron, you will stand down or I will open fire on you. I don’t want to do this, but I won’t risk contamination of the planet’s populace.” Dear God, please don’t make me do this, he thought desperately.

*****

Aboard the Xodor, Faltyne watched in disgust as the other two shuttles in their flight peeled off and began gaining altitude, rising to meet Gibraltar in orbit. Sandhurst was bluffing; Faltyne could hear it in his voice. If the crew of Phoenix had been incapacitated in a matter of moments, it was obvious neither he nor the others aboard the shuttle had been infected. He refused to leave good men and women to die on the order of a man who was not half the captain Banti Awokou was.

“Ah’m thinkin’ he’s serious, L-T.” The feminine voice behind him belonged to Senior Chief Filkins, the assault squad leader.

“I don’t, Chief. Our people are in trouble down there, and Sandhurst has a poor grasp of the situation.” Clouds whipped past the shuttle as the craft descended into the troposphere and the gauge on his flight controls counted down the kilometers to their destination.

“Maybe so, suh, but ah’m not willin’ to bet our lives on that.”

Faltyne immediately recognized the sudden pressure against his neck as a phaser emitter. His antennae began to tic spasmodically. “We can do this in one of two flavahs, suh,” Filkins drawled. “You can bring us back up… or ah will. Personally, ah’d like to spare you the headache.”

*****

Juneau looked up from her console as a relieved smile spread across her face. “The last shuttle has broken off and is returning to orbit, Captain.”

Sandhurst simply gave a curt nod, and it took every ounce of self control he possessed to reign in the deep sigh of relief that threatened to escape him. The most immediate crisis having passed, it dawned on him that much needed to be done in the next few minutes to mitigate the damage suffered by Starfleet forces. He also realized with a hardening resolve that with Captain Awokou dead or disabled, he was now in charge.

“Ops, access Phoenix’s command codes. Route their helm control to Ensign Babbit at the auxiliary station. Mister Babbit, plot a course for Phoenix to the planet’s LaGrange point with its largest moon and execute. Helm, match the ship’s course and speed.”

Sandhurst settled into the captain’s chair. He felt for the first time since he’d assumed command that he might actually belong there.

“Sandhurst to transporter room one.”

“Transporter room one, go ahead, sir.”

“Are our rescue teams ready?”

“Yes, sir. On the pad and standing by in full EVA.”

“Energize.”

“Acknowledged, Captain. Team One is away. Team Two preparing for departure.”

“Thank you, Chief. Bridge, out.”

Juneau turned from her station to address the captain. “Sir, the security team has assembled in the shuttle bay. Master Chief Tark informs me that their pilot has been tapped for emergency medical duty in Sickbay.”

Sandhurst unconsciously rubbed at his chin, a memory tickling him with the spark of an idea. “Ensign Lightner.”

Lightner stiffened in his seat, glancing back. “Sir?”

“You were on the academy’s flight team, weren’t you?”

“Yes, sir. During my plebe year. The team was disbanded when the war started, Captain.”

“You’re a qualified shuttle pilot, correct?”

Lightner nodded, unable to suppress a slow grin from taking shape. “Yes, sir.”

“I have a job for you, Ensign.”

*****

<cont'd>
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Old February 4 2010, 12:50 PM   #23
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 6

Chapter 6 <cont'd>

Ramirez crouched next to Lar’ragos in a spot at the mouth of the gully, their position shrouded by dense undergrowth. The rest of their party had moved farther up the ravine to a location of greater relative safety.

She passed the binoculars back to the security chief. “Nothing so far. Maybe the Cardies won’t be coming.” The crackle of gunfire from the direction of Glanisuur had become progressively more sporadic, and had now ceased almost entirely.

Lar’ragos grunted noncommittally and slid the optics back into a pocket of his tactical vest.

“You disagree?”

“I think that when they’re done with our people at the encampment, they’ll come looking for us. I’m not so naïve as to believe nobody saw us sneak out of there. They simply had other targets of opportunity at the time… the kind that weren’t shooting back.” He gestured over his shoulder at the gully behind them. “The problem is that if we go back up in there and help doesn’t arrive promptly, we’re going to be trapped with no back door.”

Ramirez gave him a sour look. “You led us here, Lieutenant. Are you saying that was a mistake?”

Lar’ragos shook his head. “Not at all. This was our best choice for a defensible fallback position, Commander. I’m simply giving you my professional assessment of our situation. If you’d prefer I dance around throwing rose petals and declare us safe from harm…”

She cut him off and snapped, “Stow the sarcasm, Mister Lar’ragos.”

He inclined his head apologetically. “Sorry, sir. I’m just bent at having to watch our fellows butchered while we crept out of there.” He leaned back and rested against the rocks. “This war was supposed to be over.”

Ramirez’s brief flash of anger subsided and she allowed herself a moment to mourn the dead and dying. “Yeah. That’s what we get for trying to help.” She glanced at Pava’s flechette gun, now holstered. “That’s not exactly standard issue.”

Lar’ragos chuckled darkly, “Not quite.” He brushed his finger across an inert button on his still defunct phaser rifle. “I learned a long time ago not to depend on energy weapons. They’re incredibly effective, providing they work. But if they’re all you’ve got…” He let the sentiment hang as he leaned forward and picked up the projectile rifle Ramirez had liberated from the enemy. After he examined it for a moment, Lar’ragos located a small port in the butt of the rifle containing some rudimentary cleaning equipment. He removed the magazine from the rifle, ejected the round in the chamber, and began to field strip the weapon.

Ramirez scooted back and settled against the opposite side of the narrow channel as she observed him. “I don’t remember them teaching that in tactical training at the academy.”

“You wouldn’t. I picked this up in Hekosian army basic field survival.”

She frowned. “Hekosian? Never heard of them.”

He smiled. “I wouldn’t expect that you had. The Hekosian Empire was in the Delta Quadrant.”

“Was?”

Lar’ragos shrugged as he scoured the barrel of the rifle with a cleaning rod. “It’s nearly four-hundred years past. Fates willing, the empire should have fallen ages ago. It‘d be no less than we deserved.”

Ramirez looked confused. “Were you a conscript?”

His laugh was a short, sardonic bark. “No, I volunteered.” He held the barrel up to the light and looked through it to examine his progress. “I’ve identified our Cardassian friend’s problem. I don’t think this rifle’s been cleaned in months. Lucky me.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but from what little I know of your people I’ve always thought El Aurians were pacifists.”

“Peaceful, to be sure. Pacifist isn’t entirely accurate, though. Our ability to hear between the lines makes us natural negotiators; we can more easily identify the other party’s motivations. We’re simply more inclined to settle a disagreement through dialogue than force of arms. It wasn’t that my people couldn’t fight. Our abilities precluded us from having to.”

“So how’s that explain you?”

Lar’ragos began to scrape at the receiver and worked to clear away the accumulated residue that had jammed the weapon in his favor mere hours earlier. “The Borg had just annihilated my world. Those of my people who weren’t dead or assimilated were scattered across the quadrant as refugees. I was young, stupid, and angry. I was looking for a fight, and the Hekosian Royal Armed Forces were happy to oblige me.”

Ramirez appeared thoughtful. “Did you serve long?”

“Seventeen years and four conflicts. They called them the Korsian Wars. Your basic empire building brush warfare. Encroach, infiltrate, disrupt and conquer. We were pretty good at it, too. I served with the 507th Royal Fusiliers.”

Ramirez shook her head. “Hard to imagine. I’m guessing it wasn’t the best experience for you?”

His brush fell silent and a far-away look descended across his features. “The best of times, and the worst of times. I made some incredible friendships… but, we were called upon to do some terrible things.” Lar’ragos seemed to return to the here and now and shrugged wistfully. “That’s war I suppose.”

He gestured to the XO with the cleaning rod, a less than subtle attempt to change the subject. “How about you, sir? Where are you from?”

Ramirez had appeared largely unaffected by their running firefight and their present dire circumstances, but now she looked genuinely uncomfortable. “I… I grew up in the Barisa system, a stone’s throw from Tzenkethi space.”

He smiled in response, “I know the region well. I pulled a tour out there with the diplomatic corps. I should have figured you for a colonist from the provinces.”

She shook her head absently and pretended to study the rock strata Lar’ragos was leaning against. “Not a colonist, a miner.”

“Oh, really?”

“Gas mining,” Ramirez said quietly, lost in thought. “My family owns the Acheron heavy element extraction consortium. It’s been in the family for three generations. I grew up on an orbital station, surrounded by some of the toughest, hardest working people in the galaxy.”

As she spoke, Lar'ragos fell victim to his people’s unique gifts. Images suddenly flitted unbidden across his mind’s eye as Ramirez described her childhood, visions pulled from the woman's past. It was not telepathy, at least not in the way that ability was conventionally understood, though not even the El Aurians themselves could explain the whys and wherefores of it.

He saw a gargantuan gas-giant, black as night. A distant and unavailable father, obsessed with his family’s legacy. A vain and selfish mother distracted by the trappings of wealth. An accident… a death. An embittered young woman fleeing home for Starfleet Academy at age seventeen…

Lar’ragos closed his eyes briefly to drive the angst-ridden visions out and spoke without intending to. “I’m sorry.”

Her reverie broken, Ramirez looked at him curiously. “For what?”

As Lar’ragos searched for some cogent response, both of them heard voices nearby. Guttural shouts in Cardassian, someone issuing orders by the sound of it. The universal translators in their compins had been affected by the disruption field, so Lar’ragos couldn’t determine what was being said.

The two officers moved to crouching positions as Lar’ragos handed the binoculars to Ramirez. He quickly reassembled the rifle, loaded it and racked a round into the chamber before handing it back to the exec. He whispered, “Remember, it’s going to kick up every time you fire. I’d suggest using the single shot setting to conserve ammunition.” Lar’ragos drew his flechette gun and checked the action and propellant pressure.

Ramirez nodded, still scanning the vicinity through the high powered optics. She whispered back, “Mister Loudmouth is ordering a grid search of the area, teams of three. Don’t know how many people he’s talking to, though.”

Lar’ragos quirked an eyebrow. She speaks spoon-head; that’s helpful, he mused appreciatively.

After she handed the binoculars back to Lar’ragos, Ramirez sighted in the rifle. “Take that non-regulation gun of yours and fall back to the others.”

He hesitated. “Commander, I’m a better choice to remain behind.”

She took aim at the head and upper torso of a Cardassian insurgent as the man pushed noisily through a copse of small trees. “We’re not having a debate, mister. Go.”

“Aye, sir.” Lar’ragos holstered his pistol and scrabbled up the dry creek bed as quietly as possible, already formulating ideas for successive lines of defense if Ramirez were to be overwhelmed.

Ramirez waited until she was certain the rebel patrol was about to stumble across the mouth of the gully. Taking a deep, steadying breath, she squeezed the trigger, accepted the recoil, switched targets and squeezed again.

*****

The shuttle Heyerdahl plummeted toward the planet; its shields glowed a bright orange-red with the accumulated heat of a high velocity atmospheric entry. In the pilot’s seat, Ensign Lightner handled the controls with a skill that belied his age. Behind him in the rear compartment was an ad-hoc security team made up of personnel from various departments with prior combat experience. Master Chief Tark, a stout Tellarite security NCO led the team. Prior to their departure, Tark had familiarized the group with the newly replicated projectile rifles and pistols. Plazzi had cautioned Tark that the effects of the null field on the surface might extend to interfering with collimated energy weapons, and so Tark had ordered these produced as a contingency. Now they loaded their weapons and prepared for a high speed landing and tactical deployment.

Lightner called back to the team, “Two minutes!” A proximity alarm began to wail as two shoulder-launched missiles targeted on Heyerdahl flashed up from the surface within seconds of one another. Lightner smiled as he increased power to the inertial dampeners and threw the shuttle into a corkscrewing dive. The shuttle’s phasers vaporized one of the missiles just seconds from contact as the second projectile raced past and detonated well behind the wildly maneuvering craft.

Lightner observed the surface rushing up to meet them far faster than he had intended. He threw the engines into reverse and pulled up violently. The shuttle’s hull groaned in protest as the small craft flared out for a landing. The rear hatch slammed open, disgorging the now thoroughly rattled security team.

Tark gathered his wits about him and switched off the safety on his rifle. He tapped his compin to signal Lightner. “Stay on station. We’ll be out of communication once we enter the disruption field. We will be back with our people.”

Lightner waved vigorously in response as the cargo door closed behind them.

*****
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Old February 5 2010, 02:58 PM   #24
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

I like the fact that we're seeing som El-Aurian background emerging with Lar’ragos' ability to "sense" Ramirez's memories. Nice touch, it explains their inate ability to listen and understand a little better.

Ramirez knows her job and her respnsibilities it would appear. A strong woman without any macho tendencies.

They're in a tight corner though, even if it's against inexperienced cannon fodder.
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Old February 6 2010, 08:36 AM   #25
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Sandhurst ducked through the small hatch and eased himself into the maintenance crawlway. Despite never having been this far into the bowels of his new command, he felt immediately familiar with his surroundings. He had spent countless hours in similarly cramped Jefferies tubes on a variety of starships during his career. At times Sandhurst still felt like a visitor on the bridge. But here, surrounded by the vibrations from the pulsing heartbeat of the main reactor, this was home.

The captain reached junction room D-3 and found Ashok inhabiting most of the volume of this tiny compartment. As he squeezed in beside the Bolian, Sandhurst grinned despite himself. “They couldn’t find you a smaller ship?”

“Negative, sir,” Ashok rumbled. “I suffer from acute claustrophobia.”

A second passed, then two. Ashok gave no indication that he’d been joking. Sandhurst opened his mouth to say something meaningful, but nothing came to mind. The lieutenant gestured down the adjoining crawlway. “It’s down there, sir. I sent my scans of the device topside to Commander Plazzi. He confirmed my suspicion.”

Sandhurst levered himself into the narrow passageway and crawled on hands and knees to get into position. He rolled onto his back to gaze up at a decidedly non-Starfleet mechanism affixed to the plasma flow regulator for the structural integrity grid. It was a featureless black ovoid about five inches long and three inches wide. Sandhurst fumbled for his tricorder and scanned the device for a full three minutes before he called back to Ashok. “So, you believe this thing is siphoning power from the EPS regulator?” He felt he already knew the answer, but wanted to hear if from his chief engineer.

Ashok’s deep voice echoed down the crawlway, “No, Captain. Plazzi and I think it is phasing a portion of the plasma energy into the subspace range, around one-hundred seventy milli-cochranes.”

“To what end?”

“We’re not entirely sure. One of the effects it’s having is a fourteen percent reduction in overall structural integrity field strength.”

Sandhurst pondered that. “It’s an awfully ineffective form of sabotage, Lieutenant. Why didn’t we detect the drop in field strength?” By ‘we’ of course, he meant Ashok and his staff, and the lieutenant knew it.

The Bolian replied, “The apparatus has tapped into the ODN feeds for this plasma conduit and the flow regulator. It appears to be sending false power readings that have been fooling our monitoring and diagnostic systems. “

The captain nodded appreciatively. “Clever.” He craned his neck to look down the crawlway to where Ashok squatted uncomfortably in the junction. “Opinion, Mister Ashok. Why is this here?”

“Commander Plazzi and I believe that the device is causing a minute subspace harmonic effect in our structural integrity field that is being transmitted to the hull plating. That effect is what appears to have spared us the fate suffered by Phoenix and her crew.”

Sandhurst sighed. “I don’t suppose Bolians believe in guardian angels?”

“We do not,” was the terse reply.

“Yeah. Me neither.”

*****

Glinn Trevar monitored the slaughter at the Glanisuur encampment from atop a nearby hill through a pair of sturdy Cardassian combat oculars. He was flanked by five men, all seasoned veterans of the Dominion War. Trevar himself had fought the Federation many times over the decades, beginning his career as an enlisted foot soldier in the border skirmishes that foreshadowed the first Cardassian/Federation war.

Vuram, his lieutenant, noted with disdain, “Had we been allowed to participate, Glinn, none of them would have escaped.”

Trevar knew that the logic behind the plan had been explained to Vuram numerous times; the man was simply irritable at having to sit out this engagement. Trevar gave the grizzled non-com his most saccharine smile. “If I’d let you take part, old man, I’d have to suffer through the screaming and begging from one of your impromptu ‘field interrogations.’ We haven’t time for such luxuries.”

This brought muted laughter from the others as a grinning Vuram clapped Trevar on the back.

The ‘volunteers’ that Trevar had sent against the Starfleet and civilian personnel at Glanisuur had acquitted themselves as well as could be expected. Experienced soldiers were in short supply, and it had been decided that the most recent converts to the insurgency would be blooded in this attack. What these young men and women lacked in experience, they made up for in enthusiasm.

Starfleet had fought harder than anticipated, however, especially given their severe tactical disadvantage. Trevar had also been appalled to see Cardassian citizens fighting and dying alongside Starfleet in a vain attempt to thwart the attackers. He had ordered that the Cardassians in the encampment be spared, except if they tried to resist or otherwise aid the off-worlders. The glinn wouldn’t have believed so many of his own kind could have bought into the Federation’s lies, and so quickly.

The sound of someone moving through the underbrush caused Trevar’s comrades to turn in unison, weapons raised. It was the runner, who moved to the glinn’s side as he fought to catch his breath before relaying his message. “Sir, three assault teams beamed down from Phoenix just before we attacked the ship. They attempted to penetrate our perimeter on foot, but our combat teams successfully repulsed them. The survivors have fled back out of the field area and appear to be reassembling. Glinnsed Oko’s team is ranging a mortar attack on their coordinates as we speak.”

“Excellent.”

The man’s labored breathing slowed, and he continued, “We’ve detected a shuttle from the other Starfleet ship. We think it may have crashed just outside the zone. Glinn Weluss is dispatching a scouting team to locate any survivors from the shuttle.”

“Understood. Tell the other team leaders that we have nearly finished here. We will withdraw to assembly point three in ten minutes. There we will join with the other returning teams, and then make our way back to the bunker. Is that clear?”

The runner nodded as he gulped air in preparation for his return trip. “Yes, Glinn.” He turned and scrambled back down the hill.

Trevar peered through the oculars again to watch a burly young Cardassian insurgent pulling a screaming human female in civilian clothes across the ground by her hair. Tactically speaking, he knew it would be wise to pull his team out immediately, but Trevar felt it important for these raw recruits to experience the full extent of their blood lust. He was pleased to see that the dehumanizing nature of their indoctrination was paying off handsomely.

*****

Ramirez spared a quick glance at the rifle’s translucent magazine. Five rounds left. Another bullet whip-cracked past her head and glanced off the rocks next to her, sending up a spray of particles that stung her face and neck. The surrounding walls of the gully were now pocked with dozens of such small craters, the result of the poorly aimed fire directed at her from the attacking insurgents.

She had fallen into a comfortable rhythm. She allowed her combat training to take over while she observed idly from a disconnected part of her mind. In what she fully expected to be the last minutes of her life, she combed through her memories to savor the successes of her career even as she mourned the lost opportunities to reconcile with her estranged family.

Upon graduating the academy, Ramirez’s career had become her most prized possession. She felt she had risen through the ranks through sheer determination, by making sacrifices and taking chances that other more cautious officers would or could not. That was all the more reason that dying here and now, cut down by ill-trained Cardassian conscripts on some remote colony offended her sense of justice. Ramirez was destined for greater things. Her own command, a chance at a real relationship unencumbered by her substantial personal baggage… maybe even happiness, for heaven’s sake! she raged silently. Ramirez vowed that if this was where she was going to meet her end, she would take a great many of the enemy with her.

She held her fire and waited for a clear shot. She had lost track of the number of Cardassians who had fallen in the crosshairs of the rifle’s scope. How many bullets had she started with? Twenty-five? Thirty? Not every shot had been a kill, but there had been precious few misses.

The battle had ebbed and surged. There had been brief periods of silence, which she’d intentionally broken by calling out in the Cardassian tongue. She’d harangued the young militants, mocking them and insinuating she’d been a Bajoran resistance member, doubtless responsible for the deaths of some of their relatives. That had worked out well for her, with two young men provoked into a screaming charge towards the mouth of the gully.

They hadn't made it even halfway to her hiding spot.

Movement in the scope caught her attention. Three insurgents crept slowly and deliberately though the underbrush trying to get themselves into an advantageous firing position. The thick scrub around Ramirez made it difficult for the enemy to get a bead on her exact whereabouts.

The fighters had finally begun firing single rounds in her direction, rather than spraying bullets blindly as they had in the beginning. Ramirez guessed they had expended nearly all their ammunition in the orgy of violence that had consumed the Glanisuur camp.

Just as she was about the pull the trigger, something dropped into the bushes beside the three Cardassians with a metallic clink. An explosion sent a fount of dirt and shrubbery skyward, along with remains of the rebels. As the echoes of the detonation reverberated off the surrounding rocks, she could discern a flurry of muffled gunfire, then silence.

A quiet keening broke the stillness, a sound torn from the very soul of someone whose demise was near. It was silenced by a barely perceptible pop. A gruff voice from somewhere nearby called out, “Omicron!”

Ramirez’s body began to tremble involuntarily as she realized that, in defiance of Klingon tradition, today was not going to be a good day to die. She sat back hard, her knees having held her in a crouch for far too long. Suddenly, the rifle seemed to weigh a metric ton. She cleared her throat, and with careful precision, gave the proper countersign. “Beta-four-seven!”

The bushes to her front rustled, and then parted to reveal the beaming, pugnacious face of a Tellarite. “Someone called for a taxi?”

*****

Working in an environment suit was something every Starfleet officer trained for, yet simulations had done nothing to prepare medical technician Kasmu Yoichi for the frustration that five long, chaffing hours in the sealed garment had produced. Despite the much vaunted comfort controls built into the suit, Yoichi was sweating like a pig. The improperly fitted helmet rubbed against his neck and forehead, and delivering medical care in the supposedly tactile-friendly gloves made him feel as clumsy as a raging Targ in an Andorian ice cathedral.

He moved from one bio-bed to another as he checked readings, dispensed injections, and generally tried to stay on top of the casualties that now threatened to overflow Gibraltar’s substantial Sickbay complex.

The most disconcerting thing was the utter stillness. Kasmu had served aboard a Federation hospital ship during the war, and was not new to treating wounded on a mass scale. He was used to the sights and sounds of a disaster scenario: the moaning, crying, pleading, and the occasional patient trying to argue his or her way out of Sickbay.

Not here.

The casualties transferred over from the starship Phoenix were as silent and motionless as corpses. Their autonomic systems continued to function. Heartbeat, respiration, digestion all uninterrupted by the viral contagion visited upon them. But all neural paths to their voluntary muscle groups had been destroyed by the pathogen. They were unable to move their heads or limbs, their eyes could not focus, they could not speak.

A Vulcan engineer practiced in the mental arts had determined that the effected personnel were still conscious and aware of their situation. She had been forced to cease her efforts after the second mind-meld almost overwhelmed her with the fear and panic of the victim she had telepathically contacted.

Fully two thirds of Phoenix’s crew had been neutralized by the contagion. Four-hundred seventy-three people had been struck down in seconds, and were now totally reliant on constant medical care for their lives. Gibraltar’s teams were helping the survivors to decontaminate the larger ship deck by deck, but the process was projected to take days.

Kasmu looked at the chronometer on his suit’s forearm display. Another hour until he rotated to a non-quarantine ward. He tried not to look too closely at the faces of his stricken comrades, as he could not bear to dwell on what they must be experiencing.

*****

Sandhurst walked into the crowded surgical suite, one of the few compartments in Sickbay not operating under strict quarantine procedures. Taiee lay atop the exam table, the clamshell surgical support frame raised over her. The EMH worked tirelessly to heal the grievously wounded officer as nurses and medical technicians attended to the other away team members.

Ramirez stood, arms crossed, her eyes fixed on Taiee. She appeared oblivious to the med-tech who swept a dermal regenerator over the cuts and shrapnel punctures on her face and neck. Sandhurst suppressed a smile as he noticed Lar’ragos, unable to sit idle, as the El Aurian assisted the busy medical personnel by readying hyposprays for injection. As bad as things are, Sandhurst thought, there are still come constants in the universe. The captain approached the exec, “Report, Commander.”

Ramirez blinked and seemed to notice Sandhurst for the first time. She gathered herself together, stood straight and answered crisply. “Sir. The camp was attacked shortly after our arrival. The enemy used some manner of disruption field to knock out our weapons and communications. We managed to take a few weapons from the attackers, and along with some other survivors of the ambush, we exited the area. Lieutenant Lar’ragos identified a defensible position, and we held out until the rescue party located us.”

Sandhurst nodded. “I spoke with Master Chief Tark. You all did very well under difficult circumstances.” He glanced at the doctor, but the hologram was utterly absorbed in his task. Sandhurst turned back back to the away team. “Unfortunately, the Master Chief’s team only recovered twelve other survivors of the attack on Glanisuur. The Cardassians were brutally thorough.”

Ramirez’s jaw muscles rippled with repressed anger, and for want of anything better to do she abruptly waved off the med-tech who’d been assisting her.

The captain continued, “I wish I could give you the break you deserve, but the situation on Lakesh is getting worse. There have been over a dozen separate attacks on relief missions in the past six hours. Owing to the insurgents’ new bio-weapon, I’m ordering the withdrawal of all Federation personnel from the surface until we can put together a plan for a workable defense.”

He looked to the exec and security chief as he somberly intoned, “Pava, I need you back on the bridge as soon as you’re cleaned up. This is going to get worse before it gets better.” Sandhurst focused on Ramirez, “Commander, you’ll be getting your first command billet. I only wish the circumstances were better. Report to Phoenix as acting CO.”

*****
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Old February 6 2010, 10:07 PM   #26
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

Nothing like saying hello to some old friends once again! Ramirez, Larragos, et al, coming together in a classic story.
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Old February 7 2010, 12:39 PM   #27
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 8

Chapter 8

What little remained of the Nausicaan raider drifted lazily past the Klingon battlecruiser Kang. The vessel had been shredded by Kang’s forward disruptors during the final seconds of a last-ditch suicide run at the imperial warship. General K’Vada marveled at the audacity of their Cardassian foes, to attack a Vor’cha-class cruiser with only a handful of corsairs, fighters, and shuttles in support of a modified Talarian cargo vessel outfitted with capital weapons.

The insurgents here in the Esob system were not lacking in courage, K’Vada would grant them that. They had not picked their battles wisely, however. In a single engagement, the Klingon forces had destroyed a contingent of vessels that might have harried Federation and Klingon aid convoys for weeks had they not been so carelessly committed.

Cardassian rebel assaults on allied military and relief forces had been on the rise since the end of the war, but thus far they had been scattered and of inconsistent intensity. Thankfully, no single figurehead had risen up to accept the mantle of leadership and coordinate the efforts of all those Cardassians who hungered for freedom from the occupation that, in K’Vada’s opinion, they so richly deserved.

The general would be hard pressed to admit it, but he was glad that the resistance was being so quickly overwhelmed. When he looked into the eyes of his comrades, he no longer saw the call of the hunt, the warrior’s spirit. The war had exhausted them; it had actually managed to sate the previously unquenchable Klingon desire for battle and conquest.

These men and women wanted to return home to their families, to share their stories of courage and honor with their loved ones and carve their names into their Houses’ ancestral histories.

He stood from the command chair as he nodded to Captain Yejokk. “The ship is yours. Proceed to Quedis Prime and carry out retaliatory bombardment. We’ll see if these insolent back-births can be taught to heel before we’re forced to expunge them entirely.”

K’Vada strode off the bridge to walk the dimly lit and echoing corridors of the Kang. He was treading in dangerous waters, and he relished the sensation. The High Council had not given the general permission to conduct reprisals on such a large scale, but neither had they forbade it. Doubtless, the Federation would howl indignantly and insist that the many could not be made to pay for the crimes of but a few. So be it. Mercy was not the Klingon way; victors subjugated the vanquished. The conquered could not be allowed the indulgence of armed rebellion, lest others see their impudence as a sign of Klingon weakness. The Cardassians had proved too dangerous to be allowed to exist as anything other than a servitor race to the Empire and its allies.

At last, K’Vada reached his destination, the ship’s strategic intelligence center. In this spacious compartment, dozens of warriors and assorted technicians hunched over computer terminals as they compiled and analyzed all manner of data collected by subspace transceivers, remote spy drones, and intelligence agents in the field. All potentially relevant information collected from throughout the sectors of space that K’Vada’s Eighth Allied Task Force was responsible for was routed to this room.

Commander Vurdis held the duty watch officer’s post at this hour and maintained a vigil over all SIC operations from a large console atop a raised dais in the center of the room. She stood as K’Vada ascended the steps to the platform, then executed a formal Klingon salute which brought a bemused grunt from the general. “Status?”

“Nominal, sir. Units in all sectors have reported in on schedule.”

“Anything of note?”

Vurdis handed a data padd to her superior. “Yes, General. We’ve had some interesting subspace traffic from the Crolsa system. Decrypted intercepts indicate the Starfleet task force there is apparently experiencing difficulties with the Cardassian colony world of Lakesh. From what we’ve been able to gather, they’ve lost one starship in the past day, and suffered serious casualties on another. It looks as if they’re also facing stiff resistance from insurgent forces on the surface.”

K’Vada scowled as he scrolled through the report. “Why is this the first I’ve heard of it?”

Vurdis replied, “It appears as though Starfleet has been careful to keep this information restricted to their chain-of-command, sir.”

The general snarled, “You mean they’ve kept this from us intentionally?”

“It would appear so, General. Either they are genuinely embarrassed about their inability to control the rebellion on Lakesh, or they fear what Klingon retaliation would mean for the population of the planet.”

K’Vada growled with disgust, “Fools! Resistance must be met with overwhelming might, not words.” He leaned forward and pounded his fist on the comms switch. “Bridge, new orders. Inform the Yaku and Vaj’la to continue with the present mission. Set course for the Crolsa system immediately, best speed. Tell the Grolkam they will escort us.” He abruptly severed the channel and then looked to Vurdis. “It was a mistake to entrust Cardassian worlds to Starfleet supervision. Better that we had conquered the Union ourselves four years ago. The Dominion would never have gained a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant.”

The general jabbed at the control interface to call up an image of Lakesh on one of the room’s master view screens. “Whoever is responsible for these attacks must not be allowed to capitalize on their success.”

He turned and stormed back down the steps as he headed for the exit. “If we must save Starfleet from their own incompetence, then that is how it shall be!”

*****

Vice Admiral Salk’s stern countenance filled the viewer on Sandhurst’s desktop terminal. The Vulcan flag officer was stationed on Starbase 375, the closest major Federation outpost other than Deep Space Nine. The captain had just spent the last half hour updating Salk on the perilous Federation situation on and around Lakesh.

At Sandhurst’s insistence, the seven Federation supply ships and four other non-aligned relief vessels in orbit had withdrawn to positions at the LaGrange points between Lakesh and the planet’s two moons. The personnel wounded by the bio-warfare attack on Phoenix had been transferred to some of the recently emptied civilian cargo ships and had been placed in medical stasis chambers. The industrial replicators on the surface had been reprogrammed to produce the components necessary for the stasis tanks, before Gibraltar and Phoenix’s retreating security teams destroyed the invaluable devices to prevent them from falling into insurgent hands.

Salk was, to put it mildly, unimpressed with Sandhurst’s strategy. “I am curious as to the logic behind a complete retreat from the surface of the planet, Captain.” The Admiral’s vocal inflections were irritatingly precise, and Sandhurst wondered if they were intended to produce the level of frustration he was currently experiencing. The Vulcan’s unwavering gaze continued to bore into the captain from lightyears away.

Sandhurst made sure to keep his tone calm and even as he formed his rebuttal. “With respect, Admiral, the security situation of our forces in orbit had been compromised. Even without the bio-weapon used on Phoenix, we’d have been hard pressed to maintain an effective peacekeeping presence on the ground. I can’t say for certain that the enemy has us outnumbered, sir, but I am sure they are fielding advanced weapons and sensor countermeasures that we haven’t encountered before, not even at the height of the war. Given the losses suffered in the past twenty-four hours and our enemy’s apparent ability to strike us at will, I felt the only sensible recourse was to pull back, study the situation, and reconstitute our assets.”

Reconstitute our assets? Sandhurst felt as if he were making a cadet’s presentation in an academy strategic command course.

The admiral appeared unmoved by Sandhurst’s argument. “You would have me believe your only option was to evacuate the entirety of the Federation presence on Lakesh, leaving control of the planet in the hands of what is assuredly a tiny, militant minority? I presume you realize that such action will only encourage similar uprisings among other like-minded groups?” Without waiting for a reply, Salk admonished, “I would caution you that historically speaking, a single such event can be the proverbial spark that ignites an inferno.”

The captain held an exasperated sigh in check. “I understand your concerns, sir. In fact, I share them. We’ve been on the defensive since Gibraltar arrived in orbit. Right now, we’re in an untenable tactical position. We’re fighting the enemy on their terms and time table. As acting on-scene commander, I believe our best hope of success under these circumstances is to gather intelligence on our enemy while making ourselves as difficult a target as possible.”

“So noted. I have documented my objections for the record, Captain," Salk returned dryly. "I will not attempt to micro-manage this mission from here. However, in the eventuality that your conduct on this assignment results in further review by Starfleet Command, I have logged my formal opinion of the decisions you have made to date.”

Abruptly changing tacks, the admiral held up an isolinear optical chip, which he then inserted into his terminal. “We have analyzed the information gathered by your sensors during the attacks on your ships, and Starfleet Intelligence has made some interesting discoveries. It appears Phoenix has fallen victim to what we’d hoped to be a peculiar technological dead end.”

Still on the defensive, Sandhurst remained silent, waiting for his superior to elaborate.

The captain’s monitor now displayed a split screen, with Salk on one half and technical schematics overlaid with text on the other. “More than a decade ago, a little known terrorist organization on the planet Rutia IV created a device utilizing a spatial fold as an alternative to standard matter/energy transport…” The admiral went on to explain how the device had been used, and how Starfleet Command had ordered all data regarding that particular line of research classified.

Well, the captain mused, that explains why Elisto couldn’t find anything similar in the Federation database. I’d almost begun to doubt his competence.

Salk finished his brief, then raised an eyebrow in an expression tantamount to a look of complete incredulity on a human. “Captain, can you explain how a device that seems to have no other purpose than to create a defensive barrier against just such a dimensional shift has simply appeared aboard your ship?”

Sandhurst answered without hesitation. “I cannot, Admiral. Lieutenant Ashok assures me that he inspected every meter of maintenance conduit in the ship prior to leaving drydock. He personally oversaw the final phase of Gibraltar’s refit. If he tells me it wasn’t there when she left Starbase 234, it wasn’t there.” Sandhurst clasped his hands together and rested them in his lap to prevent a bout of nervous fidgeting. He didn’t like where this was going.

“In which case you have a saboteur on board. I trust you are taking appropriate measures to identify the culprit?”

“Yes, sir. My chief of security is conducting interviews as we speak. However, I’m not so sure the intent was sabotage. Had the person or persons in question planted a bomb on that same flow regulator instead of the mystery device, it would have seriously compromised our structural integrity field. As I see it, whoever did this appears to have saved my crew from a debilitating bio-warfare attack.”

Admiral Salk paused to digest the captain’s comment before he delivered his acerbic reply. “Your conclusion is based on defective reasoning, Captain. The presence of the device aboard your ship indicates a fundamental collapse in your onboard security and safety protocols. To trust in the intentions of parties whose objectives are unknown is illogical in the extreme.”

Sandhurst rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Be that as it may, sir, that’s my decision.” He raised his eyes to the screen again and forged ahead. “I could use any assistance you could provide by way of more ships or resources.”

Salk consulted a padd. “I have routed the starship Soval to your coordinates, but it will not reach you for another five days. I regret that no other Starfleet assets can currently be diverted from ongoing assignments."

Terrific, the captain thought bitterly. Nothing from command but criticism and empty promises. I guess we go this alone.

*****

Banti Awokou’s ready room aboard Phoenix was a comfortably outfitted office, meticulously decorated with cultural artifacts from dozens of worlds which, despite their divergent origins, somehow managed to compliment one another. Taguan death masks hung alongside Hutu tribal idols. A replica of a pre-Surak Vulcan sand sculpture sat next to detailed model of humanity’s first lunar base. The captain’s forceful personality was stamped into every book, tapestry, picture, and bauble in the compartment, and their presence only served as a reminder to Liana Ramirez that she was trespassing here.

As she sat at the desk reviewing progress reports on Phoenix’s ongoing decontamination operation, she mused that this was not precisely how she’d envisioned her first command experience. The crew was still in shock from the severity of the attack, and the grotesque nature of the injuries inflicted on the victims. The pathogen had effectively decapitated the vessel’s command structure and had infected the entire senior staff with the exception of one person, the chief operations officer, Lieutenant Faltyne.

The crew’s distress at their collective loss was only magnified by the perceived indignity of being placed under the command of Gibraltar’s XO. Ramirez was tempted to wonder if Sandhurst really needed her here, or if this was pay back for her attitude upon his taking command of Gibraltar. Considering the meeting she was about to have, the irony was thick enough to choke on.

The door chimed, and Ramirez sat a little straighter in her chair. “Enter.”

Faltyne, the Andorian lieutenant responsible for the abortive mini-mutiny among Phoenix’s shuttle flight to Lakesh, walked in and came to attention, flanked by two security officers. “Reporting as ordered, sir.”

His statement was clearly meant as sarcasm, but Ramirez let it slide. She could not help but feel a certain kinship for the man. In many ways, Faltyne’s career had mirrored her own. Beginning his service in the Security/Tactical branch, he’d demonstrated a gift for leadership early on. Each of his service evaluations had contained greater praise than the one before, and in preparation for an eventual rise to the command division, he’d transferred to the Operations branch. He had been pegged by higher-ups a rising star, one of the up-and-coming young officers destined to one day captain his own ship. His fit of temper and blatant insubordination following the attack on Phoenix had called all those assumptions into question, however. Now, his future as a Starfleet officer was hanging by a fragile thread.

Ramirez motioned to the chair facing the desk, and Faltyne sat. She dismissed the two guards, who took up station just outside the doors as they hissed closed. “Lieutenant, I want you to hear me out before saying anything. Captain Sandhurst has authorized me to drop all charges of insubordination and conduct unbecoming that you’re currently facing, providing you agree to his terms.”

Faltyne looked intrigued, but maintained a defiant posture.

“I need someone to function as my first officer, and your name is at the top of the list. The crew knows and trusts you. However, before I make my decision, I want assurances from you that you’re done running off and trying to play by your own rules. I won’t have someone’s thirst for revenge jeopardizing the safety of the crew.”

Faltyne’s blue skin darkened with a blush as his antennae waved in short, frenetic bursts.

Ramirez had attended the academy with an Andorian cadet who had become a close friend, and knew from experience with their non-verbals that the lieutenant was wrestling internally with extreme agitation. “Permission to speak candidly?”

Ramirez nodded wordlessly.

“I should be sitting in that chair, not you.”

“You probably would be," she responded icily, "if you hadn’t violated Captain Sandhurst’s orders yesterday. Honestly, after your little performance, you should be in the brig instead of restricted to quarters. However, with so many of your crew out of commission, the captain felt we’d be better served with you doing your duty.” She leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table, hands intertwined. "You owe him, Lieutenant.”

Faltyne looked unconvinced. “You’re saying that if I tow the line and do my job, he’s going to forget about the whole thing?”

Ramirez nodded slowly to emphasize the point. “That’s what I’m saying. The man could end your career with a single incident report, but he’s not going to do that unless you force his hand.” She fixed the steeliest gaze on him that she could muster, but Faltyne met her eyes unflinchingly.

“The deal is this: You become my XO. You follow my orders, and we follow his orders. It’s a nice, cozy little chain-of-command.” She rested back in the chair to observe the lieutenant as his antennae now cut slow, thoughtful arcs through the air. “Does that work for you, Mister Faltyne?”

Faltyne’s expression was a mix of resignation and relief. In truth, despite his bluster he was grateful to have been given a second chance. His actions on the day in question seemed so alien now, so completely unlike him. He’d let his anger and his warrior ethos guide his hand, and his quest for vengeance had temporarily overridden his common sense and his dedication to duty. The Andorian was also thankful that Sandhurst wasn’t any more enthusiastic than he to publicize the incident.

“I agree, sir.”

Ramirez reached out and toggled the intercom to address the waiting security officers outside. “Gentlemen, thank you. You’re dismissed.”

She stood to extend a hand. “I’m looking forward to working with you, XO.”

Faltyne rose as well, and took her hand in a firm grip. It was less a mere handshake, he thought, and more the confirmation of a sacred clan pact. Having witnessed what he believed to be the end of his career, he found himself pulled back from the precipice, spared the indignity of a court martial and a return to Andoria in disgrace. “As am I, sir.”

*****

<cont'd>
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Old February 7 2010, 12:40 PM   #28
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 8

Chapter 8 <cont'd>

Legate Urlak looked on with approval as his captains put the finishing touches on the next phase of the insurgents’ resistance strategy.

Guls Dien and Panor had devised an impressive attack plan for the modest squadron of ships available to them. They would begin by confronting the depleted Starfleet presence in orbit of Lakesh, and would eventually move outward, taking their fight to the occupiers’ forces system by system.

For the initial attack, the Cardassian ships would emerge from a holographic sensor blind established in a crater of Lakesh’s largest moon. They had remained undetected there since before the arrival of Federation ships to the Crolsa system weeks earlier, protected by the same sensor dampening field that had been employed in the Glanisuur operation.

Urlak hoped the Klingons would soon appear on scene. More so even than the continued attrition of Starfleet forces, the Empire’s presence would serve to give the insurgency assured longevity. The legate believed that only when the inevitable Klingon reprisals began would the average Cardassian, already wearied and traumatized by war, understand the necessity of continued resistance. This was to be a fight for the very survival of their species.

A Klingon campaign of attempted genocide against the Cardassians would poison the Empire’s relationship with the Federation. At the very least, the alliance between the two powers would crumble as the Federation worked to distance itself from Klingon atrocities.

The most fortunate outcome in Urlak’s opinion would see the two governments going to war over the issue. The legate relished the idea of pitting the Federation’s sense of moral superiority against the Klingons’ codes of honor and tradition.

Holographic symbols that represented the insurgency’s three Hideki-class corsairs trailed thin lines through the air to join with the icon representing their single Galor-class warship. A cloud of Ordis-class fighters, small one-man craft, enveloped the image of the Federation starship Gibraltar. As the four larger craft concentrated their fire on Phoenix, Gul Panor continued his presentation, a running commentary on the battle strategy on display overhead. “While the fighters harass Gibraltar, we will focus our firepower on the Nebula-class ship, clearly the greatest enemy threat. We will utilize the dimensional shift transporter to beam photon torpedoes inside the ship’s shield bubble. If successful, this tactic should result in our disabling of Phoenix.”

Urlak knew that Panor had included the proviso ‘if’ because of the DST’s failure to successfully deliver the engineered virus onto Gibraltar. The technicians still had no definitive explanation. The best they could come up with was that perhaps the DST had delivered the pathogen off-target and had missed the ship entirely. The competing theory was that the virus had arrived on time and on target, but that the interdimensional transit had warped the virus’ DNA to such a degree that it was rendered inert. Regardless, Urlak now had serious doubts about what had been the movement’s most promising new weapon.

Panor continued, “Once Phoenix has been dealt with, we will make short work of Gibraltar. After we have neutralized both starships, our forces will attack the civilian relief vessels holding at the moons’ LaGrange points. We estimate these ships contain sufficient foodstuffs, medical and survival supplies to support our cause for the next year.”

That brought mutterings of approval from the assembled insurgent leadership. “We’ll take those ships we believe can be retrofit with weapons, and we’ll scuttle the rest.”

Urlak smiled. “Well done, gentlemen. Your plan is approved. How quickly can we implement it?”

Dien spoke up, “Twelve hours, sir. We only need to finish the installation of the DST onboard the Vintar.”

The legate rose from his chair. “Proceed.” He took a last look at the plan, then turned and walked away. Better not to over think things, he thought. Events will transpire as they ought to. The future of Cardassia depends on it.

*****

The maintenance bay was located just off main engineering. Captain Sandhurst, Lt. Commander Plazzi, and Lieutenant Ashok were gathered around the central work table, under the glare of lighting directed at the surface from overhead. Atop the table was a partially assembled device bearing a striking resemblance to the apparatus joined to Gibraltar’s plasma flow regulator.

Sandhurst was irritated. Reverse engineering the multi-phasic distortion generator, as they had come to name it, was proving more difficult than anticipated. They had detailed scans of the device’s internal components and structure, and Sandhurst had felt certain their understanding of how the mechanism operated was sufficient to enable the three of them to build a working reproduction. So much for his vaunted engineering skills, he thought soberly.

Plazzi examined the schematic displayed on the wall-mounted view screen. He scratched idly at his beard as he tried to puzzle out one of the more mystifying attributes of the device, namely how it managed to infiltrate the ship’s monitoring and diagnostic computer subroutines. He gestured at what they had all agreed was probably the central computational nexus, “You see these tubule looking structures here? I’m betting these are what the device extrudes in order to penetrate our optical data network. They appear very similar to Borg technology, both in design and function.” He traced a finger along a circuit pathway. “And this processor here, this is a Bynar design.”

Ashok spoke up, his voice booming unexpectedly in the confines of the work bay. “The programming that I managed to download from the original contained a series of complex algorithms. They were in a Vulcan programming language, if I am not mistaken.”

"I hate to say it, but if a foreign power built this, they based it on a great deal of Federation know-how.” Plazzi shook his head.

The captain frowned, as if having come to a difficult conclusion. “I think we built this.”

Plazzi gave the captain a sidelong glance. “And by ‘we’ you mean?”

“The Federation. This thing was constructed by someone using our techniques, utilizing technology only we have access to.” The captain sat down on a stool at the table and looked thoughtful. “Somebody who either knew or suspected that we’d encounter the dimensional shift transporter technology put this thing on our ship.”

Plazzi appeared confused. “Why not simply tell us? Why the secrecy? If we’d been notified, we could have more easily integrated the device into our systems.”

Sandhurst shrugged. “I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it’s damn troubling.” He shook his head sadly. “And why only us? If they’d placed one of these devices aboard Phoenix, we might not have four hundred plus people in cryo-sleep now.”

Ashok’s imperturbable visage cracked slightly, and the huge Bolian actually looked annoyed. He struck his sizeable fist against the top of the table, which rattled the assorted tools littering its surface. “Regardless, we need to finish this. Until we can safely maintain orbit of the planet, we are effectively useless.”

Plazzi quirked an eyebrow at the engineer’s outburst. He winked at the captain as he set back to the task at hand. “Right, Lieutenant. To work, to work.”

“No argument here, Mister Ashok.” Sandhurst raised his hands in a good-natured gesture of surrender.

*****
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Old February 9 2010, 08:35 PM   #29
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

Ooh a mstery device from a perhaps even more mysterious benefactor? Curiouser and curiouser.

And Ramirez gets a command, just not in the way she would have wished although she seems so far to be dealing with the unexpected posting commendably. But then, in the wings, waits trouble...
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Old February 10 2010, 12:17 PM   #30
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Re: Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

unusualsuspex wrote: View Post
Ooh a mstery device from a perhaps even more mysterious benefactor? Curiouser and curiouser.

And Ramirez gets a command, just not in the way she would have wished although she seems so far to be dealing with the unexpected posting commendably. But then, in the wings, waits trouble...
Yes, indeed. Thanks for the comments!
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