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Old December 31 2010, 06:18 AM   #1
Cobalt Frost
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December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

CAPTAIN SAVALYA IRINA RAMIUS, her shapely backside perched on an unsteady, timeworn barstool, motioned to the equally-timeworn bartender for another Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. This would be her third, but oddly, she didn’t feel even slightly buzzed. Time to ask for something stronger. Is there anything stronger? Oh Hell, I’ll finish this off, she thought, as the wizened barkeep shoved the drink at her. No point in letting good booze go to waste. Hell, I’ve never let bad booze go to waste. Savalya took a long pull on the tall, chilled earthenware that her drink came in. Like everything else in the bar, it had obviously seen better days.

Just like me, Savalya thought bitterly. No point in asking where it all went wrong, because I know exactly where and when I sent a quantum torpedo squarely at my shuttle-train wreck of a career. Savalya was half Sao’Xan, and had inherited that race’s almost pathological need for physical intimacy. Thanks, mom. Savalya’s behavior at the Academy had raised a few eyebrows, but she’d been able to keep her drive under control. Once she’d graduated, it had gotten worse, the constant need. Frequent holodeck use had helped, and she channeled any unspent ‘urges’ into her career. Savalya’s rise through the ranks was nothing short of meteoric, if not without a few hitches of the sexual variety. Still, her indiscretions proved to be temporary hindrances, and in short order she found herself promoted to captain. Not only that, but she was at the top of a very short list to command one of Starfleet’s crown jewels.

Until she slept with the wrong man.

Oh, she’d dallied with married men before, and even got caught once. This time, though, not only was she caught in flagrante delicto, but the man’s wife was the aide-de-camp to the admiral who ultimately decided which captain got which ship. Rather than demote Savalya as punishment, she was assigned captaincy of the USS Gorky Park, an aging, neglected Block II Excelsior-class retrofit. The irony of putting Savalya, whose father was of Russian descent (and who could trace his family line to before the last tsar, Nicholas II, thank you very much) in command of a ship named for a Russian amusement park was not lost on her. The Gorky Park’s duty patrol consisted of babysitting automated ore-carrier drones from the mining colony on Nuar V to the outsystem point where they were retrieved by the warp tug that hauled them to distant processing centers. The Nuar system was referred to as ‘Nowhere’ by anyone with enough sense to never want to go there. Not only was it in one of the most remote corners of the Federation, but it was a career dead end.

There were two kinds of people on board the Gorky Park: those who had the misfortune of drawing her as their first billet, or those who requested assignment to the ship because they just didn’t care anymore. Capt. Ramius put a pre-approved transfer request in every crewmember’s service jacket; these were known throughout the fleet as ‘get out of jail free’ cards. Those poor souls who through some cosmic joke were assigned to duty on the Gorky Park served their time and left the ship as fast as possible. Most of the others just deleted their ‘get out of jail free’ cards outright and got busy doing just enough to avoid getting cashiered out of Starfleet but not much else.

Eventually, the ship got to a point where the spit, bailing wire, and prayers that had been holding her together just didn’t cut it, so Capt. Ramius ordered the Gorky Park to Starbase 283 for repairs. Starbase 283 was in orbit of a dusty little frontier world whose seemingly sole purpose for even existing was to provide a shore leave venue to passing and visiting starships. There were some incredible shopping malls, boasting wares from every corner of the galaxy, five-star hotels, even a few museums and an exquisite Art Deco-style theatre. Mostly, though, there were casinos, less-than-savory holo-palaces, and bars. Lots and lots of bars.

Leaving the ship in the hands of the gamma-shift helm officer, Savalya headed to the surface along with nearly the entire crew. She bar-hopped for a while with some of the engineering staff (those guys know how to party, she thought), but then remembered something she’d heard about a place called the Captain’s Table. Bidding her fellows farewell, she set out to find the fabled tavern.

After two hours of wandering the streets, Savalya decided to just stop at the next bar she found at get absolutely sauced. As if in response to her unvoiced resolution, a neon sign (wow, do they still make those?) cut through the twilight gloaming: Dereliction of Duty. As she got closer, the building revealed itself, styled apparently after an old Earth bar circa mid-twentieth century. What a dump, Savalya thought; that thought was followed by a barely-audible voice in the back corner of her mind. You don’t belong here. The voice, as usual, was promptly and resoundingly ignored.

Savalya finished her drink and took a minute to look around the bar. There was a haze in the air, almost like tobacco smoke but thicker and ever-so-slightly oily, with a smell like burned shuttle lubricant. It made the faces of the bar patrons difficult to distinguish, though she could easily see that most of them were wearing Starfleet uniforms from varying eras. There was a smattering of beings from other races, all of them apparently ship commanders of one sort or another.

What is this place?
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Old December 31 2010, 12:23 PM   #2
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

Ramius is an intriguing character and so is her bottom-of-the-barrel assignment. I wouldn't mind reading more about her and her ship.

The story in itself seems to be missing an ending though.
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Old December 31 2010, 03:12 PM   #3
Gul Re'jal
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

Oh, a captain that is not a superhero. That doesn't happen often.

I hope to see the ending soon
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Old December 31 2010, 07:59 PM   #4
mirandafave
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

Certainly serves as a great hook into this character and I echo CeJay in the desire to see more of her and her misfit crew - but then I am a sucker for misfit crews! LOL.
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Old January 1 2011, 04:32 AM   #5
Cobalt Frost
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

“YOU DON’T BELONG HERE.”

Savalya was about to tell herself to shut up when she realized that the voice had come from outside of her head. About two feet to her left, in point of fact, and accompanied by a hand resting gently on her left shoulder. Despite the lightness, the apparent friendliness of the touch, an ice-cold lightning bolt ran up Savalya’s spine. Suppressing a violent shiver, she turned to see the source of the voice and the owner of the hand; Savalya fervently hoped they were one and the same.

Standing next to Savalya was a petite woman, apparently human, wearing a circa 2367 command-branch uniform. As she moved her hand from Savalya’s shoulder, Savalya got a good look at her face. Bright green eyes, flaming red hair, and a scar on her right cheek… Savalya’s eyes widened with the shock of recognition. Her? But-but how? What the Hell’s going on?

A sad smile crossed the other woman’s face. “I see you know who I am, or at least, who I appear to be. Always just a little skeptical, eh Captain?” Savalya could only stare, unable for the moment to find words. “It’s really me.”

Captain Liz Metcalf, commander of the USS Athena, famous for all the wrong reasons. What she’d done, and what happened to the Athena, were required study at the Academy; the section where this was taught was titled simply ‘What Not To Do.’ The Aegis-class was even now considered an unwelcome posting, and the Athena herself was still…

“But you, you… you’re dead!”

“In your time, perhaps. In this place…” Liz looked around and shrugged. “Limbo, Purgatory, Sheol, call it what you will. In this place, we live forever, reliving our shame over and over.” She focused her laser-bright green eyes on Savalya. “But you, you don’t belong here.”

“So I’ve heard,” Savalya retorted, trying desperately to rebuild her coolly uncaring façade in an attempt to deal with whatever was going on. Some of the faces of the other patrons became clear to her, all of them studies in, well, dereliction of duty. She didn’t recognize them all, but the “big ones” were certainly here. Waitaminnit, someone actually made him a captain?

“That catastrophe you call a career would have landed you here eventually,” Liz said, “but – and I don’t understand how – you never should have been in a position where you would even come close to belonging here.”

“Not time travel again,” Savalya said. “I hate time travel.”

“No, not time travel. Just… well, I can’t explain it. But you need to trust me.”

Savalya laughed out loud. “Trust you? After what you did?” She tossed back the last of her drink. “That’ll be a cold day in Hell.”

“You know nothing of Hell,” Liz whispered, more to herself than to Savalya. “Look, Captain Ramius, there’s not much time. A couple months from now, you will find yourself back here, and unable to leave. Like I said, I don’t understand it, I mean, why you? But you’re being given a choice, a second chance.” Liz gestured towards the front of the bar, and the oily haze thinned enough to reveal two doors. Liz tugged Savalya’s sleeve and led her away from the bar. Behind them, a snarl of frustration crossed the barkeep’s face.

Liz reached out and opened both doors, revealing not the street beyond but two scenes from Savalya’s life. Liz shrugged again. “Well, OK, there’s a little time travel involved.” Savalya rolled her eyes.

“The door on the left leads to the party – you know the one – where you flirted shamelessly with a certain married man. And yes, the sex may have been great, at least before you got caught, but you know where that path leads.

“The door on the right takes you up to the Gorky Park, to your ready room, right before you decided to come planetside and ‘get sauced’.

“Or you can stay here, with us. If you do, this is what lies in store.” A vision opened in Savalya’s mind, showed her what exactly it would be like to join this ‘crew’. She had to fight not to vomit. Liz turned to face Savalya, her green eyes seeming to bore right into Savalya’s soul. “Whichever you choose, choose quickly.” Liz glanced nervously over Savalya’s shoulder at the barkeep. “Hurry.”

Savalya considered what was being offered, and took two steps towards the door on the left. To avoid that mistake… what she could have made of herself, the ship that should have been hers… her mouth almost watered at the thought of sitting in that center seat.

But…

Savalya Ramius turned and strode purposefully through the right-hand door, leaving the ramshackle bar behind and emerging in her slightly-less-ramshackle ready room. The voice in the back of her head started to say something, then stopped for fear of getting shut down. When no rebuttal came, it ventured a comment.

And Savalya agreed.

I got a second chance, but what kind of captain would I be if I didn’t at least try to share it? That’s why I didn’t take the door on the left. That, and I really don’t want another visit from the Department of Temporal Investigations. She sat back in her chair and fiddled with an isolinear chip that had been laying on her desk. Some of the crew might be irredeemable, but she hoped not. There was a spark in each of them – Hell, there was a spark in the ship, she could feel it – that just needed a bit of attention.

But how to start, how to start? A smile crossed her face as an idea crossed her mind…

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

Some time later...

“We’ve retrieved several escape pods, Captain, but…”

“But what, Mister Vincent?”

“Out of a crew of over seven hundred, there are only thirty-two alive. Each one is in such a state of psionic shock that they may never recover. In addition, the captain's yacht is not among the wreckage, and parts of the debris are phasing in and out of the K-layer.”

“See that each one is made as comfortable as possible. We’ll tend to them presently.” Captain Sovan tapped his combadge. “Cloudsplitter to away team, please report.”

“The computer cores are fried, Captain." Commander Yuval Tamaron's voice was tinny, coming as it was from the bulky EVA suit. "Absolutely fried. I’ve never seen this level of damage. I was able to retrieve one data-track, sir, and I think you should see it.”

“Transmit now, Commander Tamaron.” There was a slight pause, then the Cloudsplitter’s main viewscreen filled with static as it played what the away team had found. Flashes of people in Starfleet uniforms mixed with the static and the unmistakable white glare of exploding EPS conduits. Fragments of voices cut through the frying-bacon hiss, though it was impossible to conclusively identify the speakers. One of them, however, sounded very much like Captain Savalya Ramius.

“My God, it’s huge…”

“…not possible…”

“…torpedoes… torpedoes!”

The video cleared just enough to get a visual of what had prompted the call for torpedoes: some sort of lifeform, glowing and metallic at the same time, matching nothing in the LCARS database. Static consumed the image again, and before the data-track ended there was a voice, impossibly speaking through the vacuum of space, high enough to make consoles and screens crack but low enough to make the guts of all who heard it twist unnaturally. It said just one word.

Free…

Captain Sovan struggled to maintain his composure. “How old is this data?”

“Less than a standard week, sir,” Commander Tamaron replied, his voice wavering.

“Get me a channel to Starfleet Command,” Sovan ordered. "Now.

“Now!”

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

Author's note: The title of the story is a lyric from the song "Ghost Riders in the Sky", which also inspired the story.
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Last edited by Cobalt Frost; January 1 2011 at 04:16 PM.
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Old January 1 2011, 04:54 AM   #6
Gul Re'jal
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

So, there's never too late for a change, it just requires a decision--and perhaps someone to tell what the price would be if you wouldn't make that change happen--to do something and not be damned. IF one makes that decision.

I enjoyed the story, however I am confused by the ending. Don't I understand it, or it indeed is a mystery?
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Old January 1 2011, 04:04 PM   #7
Cobalt Frost
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

Yeah, it's a mystery. I don't want to give too much away; suffice it to say that the ending is a glimpse into the future of the path that Savalya chose. Seems pretty bad...
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Old January 1 2011, 04:57 PM   #8
Gul Re'jal
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

Aaaaaahhhh...

I would seem that for many participants in the Challenge, those new characters would not be dropped and forgotten after this Challenge Almost everyone thinks of some continuation.

(Sometimes, when I don't get something, I wonder if it's my English that is too poor to read between lines, that's why I asked.)
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Old January 2 2011, 02:51 PM   #9
Cobalt Frost
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Re: December Challenge: "Or With Us You Will Ride"

For those of you who may not be familiar with the song my story's title came from:

"Ghost Riders In The Sky"

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day,
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way,
When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw,
Plowin' through the ragged sky and up a cloudy draw.

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel,
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel,
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky;
He saw the riders coming hard, and he heard their mournful cry:
Yippie-ai-aaay, yippie-ai-ooh, ghost riders in the sky.

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred and shirts all soaked with sweat,
They're riding hard to catch that herd but they ain't caught ‘em yet,
'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky,
On horses snortin' fire, as they ride on hear them cry.

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name,
"If you want to save your soul from hell a-riding on our range,
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride,
Tryin' to catch the devil's herd across these endless skies."
Yippie-ai-aaa, yippie-ai-ooh, ghost riders in the sky.
Yippie-ai-aaa, yippie-ai-ooh, ghost riders in the sky.
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