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Old October 24 2007, 09:13 PM   #1
Gibraltar
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Location: US Pacific Northwest
Treacherous Waters - Gibraltar/Intrepid Crossover

This story will be a crossover work between myself and Galen Holcomb, who writes ST: Intrepid (his work can be found here: Galen Holcomb )

The story begins in February 2377.


Chapter 1 <by Gibraltar>

Captain’s Personal Log, Stardate 54115.1

“The Gibraltar is en route to Point Station Alpha, following our third uneventful convoy escort mission in as many weeks. The new year has been merciful to us so far. Insurgent attacks in occupied Cardassian space have dropped off significantly, and the neo-Maquis movement seems have taken the opportunity to lay low and lick its collective wounds. I know it won’t last, but I’m determined to enjoy the lull for as long as it continues.

On the down side, Starfleet Command’s repealing of the Fleet wide stop-loss orders has led to a significant reduction in available personnel at nearly every level. Dozens of my crew have been reassigned in recent weeks, and we’re back down to a compliment of one-hundred and eight from a high of one-hundred forty-three just two months ago. This means most departments are pulling double-shifts a couple times a week, but overall we’re making do with less. Fortunately, I’ve been able to hold on to my bridge officers and senior-most NCO’s. This, of course, is going to make finding a new first officer that much more difficult.

At 16:00 hours, I’m meeting with Commander Ramirez to sort through executive officer applications in order to select both her replacement aboard
Gibraltar as well as her own first officer when she assumes command of the Yassim next month. It’s going to prove an interesting collaborative effort, and as the time for her departure gets closer, she’s actually becoming more relaxed and significantly easier to work with. I have to admit that I’m going to miss having as capable and formidable an exec at my side. I can only hope to find someone as accomplished, but I’ve a feeling anyone I might end up with will only pale in comparison.

As one might guess, Ojana and I are the talk of the ship. Her quarters go practically unused, and she’s already begun changing the arrangement of furniture in my… our cabin. I don’t want to push things too quickly, but propriety is nudging me towards making an honest woman of her. Well… propriety, and the fact that I’m as madly in love with her as I’ve ever been. I’m still trying to figure how she might react to an actual marriage proposal; the memory of Soyam still haunts her deeply. On second thought, as we’re quickly coming up on the anniversary of her husband’s death, maybe marriage is a discussion to reserve for another time.

End log.”


Captain Donald Sandhurst closed the personal log entry, turning back to his ready room desk from where he’d sat, gazing out the circular viewport situated immediately behind his chair. A half dozen ungainly civilian cargo ships polluted his usually unobstructed view of the stars. The freighters were his charges on this latest mission in what seemed like an endless string of escort assignments.

He caught sight of his reflection in the transparent aluminum. Sandhurst had been noticeably heavy as little as six months ago, but a traumatic episode from Sandhurst’s recent past had resulted in substantial weight loss that he’d since maintained. Now lean but still of average height, his once prodigious mane of hair was shaved close to his scalp, giving him a crest of white stubble. Sandhurst thought his hazel eyes still gave away too much, hinted too compellingly at some of the horrors he’d endured since taking command of his ship just eleven months earlier.

Rising and moving for the door, Sandhurst stepped out onto the bridge of the Constitution-class USS Gibraltar. The aging starship had been resurrected from the Starfleet boneyards in the waning days of the Dominion War. An eight month refurbishment had updated many of the ninety-year old ship’s systems with 24th century technology, but she was still noticeably slower and less well defended than her more modern counterparts. Thus, the once heavy-cruiser was now classed as an escort, spending the majority of her days guarding humanitarian relief convoys to the beleaguered Cardassian colonies now under Federation and Klingon supervision.

Sandhurst moved for the command chair, prompting Lt. Commander Pell Ojana to stand and relinquish the seat to him. Sandhurst smiled, beckoning her to resume her place, “I’m just checking in, Commander.” The auburn-haired Bajoran woman, the ship’s second officer and diplomatic specialist, nodded in response and settled back into the chair.

“ETA to Point Station Alpha is seven hours, five minutes, sir.” She offered a padd to him, meeting his smile with one of her own. “I was just about to send this in to you, Captain. We’ve received new orders.”

Giving the padd a brief glance, Sandhurst tucked it under one arm without reading it, “And where’s the next convoy off to?”

Smirking, she replied, “The Gamma Quadrant, actually. It’s less a convoy than it is a diplomatic honor guard.”

Raising an eyebrow at the unexpected news, Sandhurst retrieved the padd and scrolled through its contents. “Well, I’ll be damned. This’ll be a welcome break from convoy duty.” A wary frown suddenly found him, “But why us? I can think of a dozen ships in this theater better suited to an intra-galactic diplomatic mission.”

“Continuity,” Pell answered. “There will be a half dozen starships involved, and Command wants a vessel representative of the Federation’s 23rd century exploratory campaigns. The idea is to display the Federation’s longevity and commitment to exploration to our new friends, the Velk.”

“Velk?” Sandhurst looked puzzled, “I’ve never heard of them.”

“A Gamma Quadrant species that we’d only had fleeting contact with prior to the war. Their delegation is just completing preliminary talks on Earth, and we’ll be rendezvousing with their diplomatic party at DS9 to escort them back to their homeworld on the other side of the wormhole.”

Looking wary, Sandhurst posited, “And how does the Dominion feel about this?”

“Apparently, they have no opinion one way or the other. They’ve been allowing Federation starships to operate in the GQ again, so long as we’re careful to avoid their established territory.”

Sandhurst held up the padd, “Sounds good, I’ll look this over in a bit. I’m almost late for my meeting with Ramirez.”

Pell nodded, “Dinner tonight?” she asked discretely.

The captain leaned in, his voice just above a whisper. “Of course. Any chance you could make your hasperat soufflé?”

Making a sour face, Pell remarked, “You know the replicator doesn’t do my recipe justice.”

Smiling shrewdly, he noted, “I guess it’s a good thing I picked up the ingredients for the genuine article from that Bajoran trade ship last week at Sheva II.”

She laughed lightly, drawing a few knowing smiles from the nearer officers manning their duty posts. Blushing fiercely, she said for public edification, “That’s all I have to report, sir.”

His eyes twinkling, Sandhurst moved for the turbolift. “Understood. Carry on, Commander.”

*****

The briefing room table was littered with padds and the large viewer set into the interior bulkhead displayed service file headshots of sixteen applicants who’d made the final cut.

Sifting through the assortment of data tablets, Commander Liana Ramirez picked one up, scanning it for a moment. “Okay, I’ve got Khilnani. She’s neck and neck with Curbeam, with Robards coming in third.” The diminutive woman had undone her customary utilitarian bun that usually confined her long black hair, and the onyx tresses now cascaded down over one shoulder. Though physically unimposing, she was undeniably beautiful. However, her physical attractiveness played a distant second to the aura of strength and calm she radiated and upon which her subordinates had come to rely. Because of her stature, more than one opponent had made the error of underestimating Ramirez, to their immediate regret. She had a reputation for being both tenacious and ferocious, and the captain could attest that it was well earned. Glancing up at him, she asked, “And you?”

A former engineer, Sandhurst’s padds were arrayed in front of him with linear precision. “I’ve narrowed it down to two. T'Shanir from the Soval, and Atoa of the Sutherland. T’Shanir’s an engineer, and Atoa was chief of security for Captain Shelby.”

Ramirez considered that. “I’m not sure having another engineer as XO is going to be particularly helpful, Captain. I think we’ve worked together well, with my strategic and tactical knowledge supplementing your technical expertise. With Atoa, you’d have a similar setup to what we presently enjoy.” She leaned back in her chair, wincing at a knotted back muscle. “Now, I’m not accusing all Vulcans of being slavishly linear in their reasoning, but especially coming from a ship like the Soval with an all Vulcan crew I can foresee T’Shanir having some difficulties with as eclectic a crew as we’ve assembled here.”

“That’s a very diplomatic way of phrasing it, Exec,” Sandhurst chuckled. Reading over Atoa’s padd, he noted, “Manuele’s just completed his stint at Command Officers’ Training, and it sounds like he’s ready to sink his teeth into his first XO’s billet.” Shaking his head in disbelief, the captain remarked, “I’ll admit to being a bit astonished that he’s pursuing a posting with us.”

Frowning, Ramirez asked, “Why is that, sir? Perhaps you haven’t been paying attention, but Gibraltar’s begun to develop a reputation for taking on difficult assignments and getting results. Not to mention that we’ve seen more than our fair share of action.”

Sandhurst shrugged, “Fine, you’ve sold me. I suppose I’m just pleasantly surprised by the caliber of applicants seeking to sign on with an old escort.”

She grinned broadly, “Well, you are replacing the best…”

Raising his half empty cup of Rigellian spice coffee in a toast, Sandhurst beamed, “Of that I have no doubt.”

*****

The pre-mission briefing at DS9 had been refreshingly short, as Sandhurst and his crew were latecomers to the diplomatic escort mission. Four of the six ships participating in the diplomatic escort to the Velk home system had escorted alien delegates from DS9 to Earth and back again. The Velk ambassadorial party had traveled in the incomparable safety that only a Sovereign-class starship like Nagasaki could provide.

Captain Braener, DS9’s current strategic operations officer had been tasked with briefing the captains and first officers from the task force in DS9’s wardroom. With practiced efficiency, Braener recited the requisite navigational, tactical and logistical briefs on the region of the Gamma Quadrant the task force would be transiting.

Opening up the briefing to questions, he nodded to Sandhurst as the Gibraltar’s captain indicated he had a query. “I’d like some clarification as to the political situation on the other side of the wormhole at present,” Sandhurst asked, arms crossed in an unconsciously defensive posture. “Do we have anything in writing from the Dominion that promises they won’t be descending upon our group like a plague of locusts?”

This brought some muted chuckles from others with a similarly grim mindset. Braener smiled patiently, “Negotiations with the Dominion are on a hiatus right now, but the terms of the armistice allow us unhindered access to those areas in the Gamma Quadrant not presently claimed by the Founders. And as we’ve just covered, the nearest Dominion holdings are some twenty lightyears from the wormhole’s exit point into the GQ. Though it’s true the Dominion once controlled the Velk’s home system, currently, the Dominion has relinquished its territorial claims to anything within thirty lightyears of the Velk homeworld.”

“And if they change their minds without sending us a memo?” posited Captain Entenbe of the Suleiman.

Braener’s tolerant smile faltered. “The Diplomatic Corps assured Starfleet Command that the Dominion won’t present a problem on this mission. The Dominion and the Velk enjoy good relations.”

“Good for the Diplomatic Corps. They won’t be the ones getting shot at if they’re wrong.” Etenbe murmured sotto vocce to her fellows within earshot.

Referencing the padd in his hand, Captain Zorek spoke in a resonant yet precisely modulated tone. “I would request further information on this navigational hazard listed on the star charts as, ‘the Bog.’” The senior Vulcan captain and accomplished negotiator would serve as task force commander from aboard the Nagasaki, leading his all Vulcan crew on a mission certain to earn another feather in his already substantial diplomatic cap.

Pleased at the sudden change of topic, Braener replied crisply, “The Bog is something of a dead zone in space, approximately five lightyears from the Velkamis system. It’s comprised of sixteen separate star systems, most notable for their complete lack of Class-M planets. The Bog has been traditionally recognized as an important acquisition for a succession of conquering powers, as the numerous planetary bodies contain large amounts of heavy metals and dilithium deposits.”

“And who is presently in control of the Bog?” Zorek asked, his bearded visage as stoic as that of a statue.

Glancing down at a padd of his own, Braener looked momentarily uncertain. “We don’t seem to have much information about that. The Velk made some veiled references to organized crime syndicates and piracy when the Diplomatic Corps asked them about the Bog, but we have no confirmed information regarding territorial claims over that region.”

Zorek raised an eyebrow only slightly, the gesture analogous to a derisive eye roll from a Human. “And this does not concern you?”

“Not overly much, no.” Braener said with more conviction than he felt. “The ecological and infrastructure damage to the Velk homeworld is similar to what the Cardassians left behind on Bajor when they pulled out. The Federation’s cooperation in helping them rebuild their economy will invariably lead to the re-establishing of rule of law over local sectors as the Velk begin policing neighboring systems.”

“So, as the Velk stand up… we’ll stand down, is that it?” Commander Ramirez asked incredulously.

“That’s an over-simplification,” Braener replied, looking ready for a verbal jousting match, “But the premise is accurate.”

“Pulled any patrols in occupied Cardie space recently, Captain?” Ramirez asked, the hint of challenge in her tone unmistakable. Once upon a time, Sandhurst would have admonished her for such an outburst, but no longer. They had both seen too much to hold their tongues. “The Cardassians aren’t doing such a good job of living up to our expectations in that regard. What makes us think the Velk will be any more reliable?”

Stiffening, Braener’s voice was tinged with indignation, “The Federation Council and Starfleet Command have deemed this an important diplomatic gesture to the peoples of the Gamma Quadrant, Commander. If you object to the assignment, I suggest you take it up with them.” Looking to the assembled group, he said, “Now, are their any further pertinent questions?”

None were voiced, and despite the other captains’ subdued reservations, the meeting concluded and the various officers rose from their seats, moving for the exits.

Captain Fendro of the Leeds, a regal looking Andorian officer, approached Sandhurst with a wry smile. “You can thank Captain Aubrey of the Intrepid later, Sandhurst.”

Appearing confused, he queried, “How so?”

“The Intrepid was originally supposed to represent the 23rd century in our little piece of historical pageantry. Unfortunately for you, Aubrey got caught up in some classified mission or other, and you and your crew were tapped to replace him.”

“Remind me to send him a fruit basket,” muttered Ramirez from beside Sandhurst.

Fendro laughed, “After all the fun you had with Picard in the Briar Patch last year, this should be old hat to you.”

Sandhurst was in no mood to joke. “You’ve got a Nebula, Captain. You can fight if need be, and run if you’re forced to.” Taking a sidelong glance at his exec, Sandhurst fumed, “Our options are more limited.”

Suddenly serious, Fendro grasped Sandhurst’s upper arm lightly, “That may be so, Captain, but I can promise you one thing. So long as the Leeds is intact, you need not fear on that account. Like you, I don’t leave our people behind.”

Taken aback slightly by Fendro’s gesture, Sandhurst smiled gratefully. “And the same in return, Captain. Let’s pray we never have to put that to the test.”

*****

15 hours later…

USS Nagasaki
Gamma Quadrant, Sector 7800913-G
Diplomatic Reception Lounge


Pell grabbed Sandhurst’s arm, smiling beatifically up at him as he sipped at a glass of champagne. “Care to dance, Captain?”

Examining the glass closely, Sandhurst demurred, “Maybe later.” He reached up to tug in annoyance at the stiff collar of his dress-whites jacket. “Sorry, Ojana, I’ve never been much fun at these diplomatic soirees.”

Ojana was clad in a low cut, emerald green gown that the tailor Garak had assured her was all the rage in the Federation’s core systems. Sandhurst thought it flattered her slim figure, and amused himself for a moment by imagining removing it later that night.

“I have been apprised of your engineering difficulties, Captain.” Captain Zorek’s confident timbre jarred Sandhurst from his illicit reverie. Blinking, Donald turned to address the task force commander as the esteemed Vulcan added, “Is there anything my engineering staff can do to assist?’

Sandhurst cleared his throat, “Ah… no, thank you, Captain. It appears that transiting the wormhole induced a minor fluctuation in Gibraltar’s intermix ratio. It’s a problem that crops up from time to time with the older classes of starships passing through the phenomenon. We’re attenuating the injectors to compensate and trying to correct the issue without having to drop out of warp.” Finishing his champagne in a single quaff, he smiled weakly, “We wouldn’t want to interrupt the mission, after all.”

Zorek examined him with a dispassionate élan, “There is sufficient leeway in our current timetable for the task force to drop to impulse and allow you to effect repairs.”

Waving away the suggestion dismissively, Sandhurst replied, “Thank you, Captain, but that won’t be necessary. My chief engineer has the situation well in hand.”

“Very well,” Zorek intoned, inclining his head in acceptance. The Vulcan turned, his sensitive ears alerting him to the approach of the Velk ambassador, Envoy Jivin Sharm. “Envoy, may I introduce you Captain Donald Sandhurst, commanding the starship Gibraltar, and his diplomatic officer, Lt. Commander Pell Ojana.”

Having paid sufficient attention at the briefing, Sandhurst knew the Velk eschewed physical contact with outworlders who had not yet undergone a religious cleansing ritual. Instead, the captain bowed at the waist. “A pleasure, Envoy.”

The squat reptilian, his face mottled with thorny protrusions, generated his people’s approximation of a smile, which looked more like a painful rictus to the other humanoids present. “The honor is mine, Captain. Your people’s assistance in stabilizing our ecosphere and restoring our economy engenders a gratitude that defies your universal translator’s ability to express.”

Turning on the charm, Pell acknowledged the ambassador with a bow of her own. “Your world and mine have much in common, Envoy. Only a decade ago, the Cardassians left Bajor a devastated planet after a half-century of occupation. The Federation has helped us to restore our world, heal our sick and injured, and rebuild our society. Your people are in good hands.”

Sharm’s toothy smile widened, the gesture somewhat unsettling due to his species’ similarity to the ferocious Jem’Hadar. It had been obvious from the Federation’s first contact with them that it had been Velk stock the Founders had genetically altered to create their cloned army. “I’m pleased to hear the Federation’s generosity has born such welcome fruits among your people, Commander, as I hope it does among my own.”

As Pell and Sharm continued talking, Sandhurst took the opportunity to excuse himself and wandered in the direction of the beverage tables. Claiming another flute of champagne, he turned to find himself face to face with Captain Altwell of the Hornet. Wearing a mischievous grin, Altwell cleared his throat, “Having trouble keeping up, Captain?”

Sandhurst sipped at the bubbling liquid, “Beg pardon?”

“Keeping up...” Altwell seemed to be enjoying the moment a bit too much. “Rumor has it your engines are having trouble and here we’re only limping along at Warp 6.”

Forcing a weak, humorless smile onto his features, Sandhurst replied dryly, “Verteron particles within the wormhole have been known to play havoc with the nacelle field balance of older classes of starships.”

“Really?” Altwell feigned surprise. “Hornet is nearly fifty years old herself, and we seemed to have weathered the wormhole just fine.”

“How nice for you,” Sandhurst turned to leave.

“If you like…” Altwell offered quickly, “I’d be more than happy to take Gibraltar under tow and see you safely back to DS9.”

Turning back towards the unctuous captain, Sandhurst kept his tone carefully neutral. “That won’t be necessary, thank you.”

Altwell stepped forward, speaking in low tones, “Oh, it would be no problem at all, Captain. After all, we wouldn’t want anything untoward happening to such an important diplomatic conference.”

Sandhurst leaned in, feeling a tightness in his temples as his blood pressure began to rise, “Meaning?”

“Meaning that you and your ship have gained… how shall I put this… a reputation for being present when unpleasantness erupts. More than a few people are convinced you’re something of a bad luck charm.” The self-satisfied smirk on Altwell’s face might have set Sandhurst off some months before, but Donald had been learning the value of reigning in his more impulsive responses.

Taking a long sip from his glass, Sandhurst appeared to give Altwell’s statement some thought. “You’re mistaken, Captain. You see, unlike you, I’m confident enough in my ship and crew to take them into harm’s way when it proves necessary. In the past year we’ve fought Cardassian insurgents, Orion raiders, the Alshain Starforce, the Son’a, the Maquis, and even a band of Bajoran religious extremists. It’s very apparent that you, on the other hand, have gone out of your way to keep the Hornet deep within the Federation’s core sectors while other, braver captains and crews are manning the ramparts and helping to ensure the survival of our civilization and our way of life.”

Altwell’s face colored, and Sandhurst cut him off as the man began to reply. “So, if I must decide between cantankerous engines or a sturdy backbone, I’ll take the backbone.” Sandhurst thrust his now empty glass into Altwell’s hand as the man’s mouth hung open in lieu of forming a cogent comeback. “Take care of this for me, won’t you?” Donald patted him on the shoulder, “There’s a good man,” before abruptly turning and walking back towards Pell.

Ojana had just finished her conversation with Envoy Sharm, and glanced up as Sandhurst approached. Giving him an appraising look, she asked, “Something wrong, Donald? You look a bit irritated.”

“No, nothing,” he said, jerking a thumb back over his shoulder towards where Altwell stood, glaring at Sandhurst’s back. “Just having a lovely little chat with the welcoming committee.”

“There’s a committee?”

Sandhurst grinned, “Always is.”

*****
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Old October 24 2007, 09:42 PM   #2
Gibraltar
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Location: US Pacific Northwest
Treacherous Waters - Chapter 2

Chapter 2 <by Galen Holcomb>

Captain’s log, USS Intrepid
Stardate 54114.0


Our classified diplomatic visit to the Gambis home world has taken a turn for the worse. My chief engineer, Lieutenant Cal Benjamin, is being held hostage in retaliation for his inadvertent damage to their nursery. I’ve documented the circumstances and exact details of this incident in a separate report

From my prior contact with them I know that the Gambis take offense easily. I’d therefore like to note that every precaution was taken during our mission to avoid creating a diplomatic SNAFU. I made sure that my away team was thoroughly briefed on all data from our first contact. They took pains to observe proper cultural etiquette and adhere to all social norms specific to Gambis society.

I must reluctantly say for the record that the accident at the nursery was due to Lieutenant Benjamin overtly disregarding my orders from the mission briefing and acting of his own accord.

His good intentions not withstanding, this incident has damaged relations with the Gambis to the extent that our progress here is on the verge of unraveling. To say nothing of Benjamin’s safety.

If our mission here fails and this species becomes distrustful of the Federation, it could create friction with their nearest neighbors, the Velk, who are deeply invested in Federation aid to rebuild their own world. If these two powers become adversaries, the hoped for stability in this sector would be jeopardized. This is a real threat if the Velk support us and the Gambis do not.

Since it was I who first made contact here in the Gamma Quadrant a year ago, I’m the defacto “expert” on their culture. This means there are no social models on this society for me to access for guidance-----no protocols to look up other than the precious few already known to me. And Starfleet is several days away by subspace radio.

After making repeated attempts to resolve the issue through negotiation, the Gambis Elder has finally extended an offer to talk. He has made it clear that as the “head of my family“; I’m to undergo a trial of some sort to win back his confidence. The details were purposely left vague.

Within the hour, I’ll transport to the surface alone to complete talks with the Elder and verify that Lieutenant Benjamin is unharmed. Afterward, I’ll be allowed two officers to join me.


*****

Captain Jason Aubrey stared into the abyss. He shifted his feet on the gravely precipice, sending a loose rain of pebbles over the edge. Below him, two hundred and forty three meters straight down, lay a ruined and broken landscape. It was a sea of rocks, rendered harshly by the light of a bloated red sun.

For an instant, as Aubrey looked out over the empty space beneath him, he felt the sickly embrace of vertigo. He concentrated on holding the disorientation at bay, before his faltering balance could send him tumbling into a lethal fall.

It was a childhood memory that tethered him to the ground once more. It had surfaced from nowhere, as most of his newly restored memories so often did these days. He recalled one of the countless incidents in which his best friend had talked him into mischief. His father had admonished him for his bad judgment with that time-honored analogy: Well, if your friend Jeff jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too?

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

The two Starfleet officers, who stood a dozen or so meters behind him, didn’t share his amusement.

Lieutenant Commander Adol, an Andorian man, valued his commanding officer’s safety more than his own. He kept leaning in the captain’s direction, his mouth set in a tight grimace. He looked very much like a boxer who was eager to leave his corner and begin pummeling someone.

The other, Commander Shantok, was an attractive Vulcan woman who was having a devil of a time containing her emotional Betazoid half-----although this was a struggle she advertised to no one.

“Commander,” Adol groused under his breath, “we can’t permit this. It’s too much. It’s too much.” He took a hesitant step forward, then backed into place again. “Do they really expect him to die over this?”

Shantok considered the stony ground at her feet and weighed the options before her. The captain had already agreed to the trial, so she could easily make things worse by trying a last ditch effort to talk the Gambis out of this. Her attempt may not sit well with Aubrey either. But finally, she decided that the endeavor would be worth the risk. It could very well save the captain’s life.

She looked out over the assembly of beings that surrounded them. All five creatures sat atop stone pedestals set in a half circle. The Gambis were bipeds, but a meter taller, and a several kilograms heavier than the average humanoid. Their large reptilian wings were crossed behind their backs in a gesture that equated to a human folding his arms over his chest. Horns and claws adorned much of their rough, dark hide. Cat-like eyes peered from beneath heavy brows. Had these beings arrived on Earth a thousand years ago, they would have easily been taken for mythical gargoyles.

She moved slowly away from Adol, taking carefully measured strides towards the gathering. She stopped just close enough to suggest assertiveness, but just far enough away to impart a veneer of respect.

“Honored Father, we have concerns.” She was careful to address her remarks to the elder Gambis, who occupied the pedestal directly in front of her. As head of the family, he was always first to be addressed and his decisions, once made, were uncontestable.

His dispassionate stare wasn’t inviting, but neither did it forbid her from speaking.

“You have said that this action will restore your trust, if carried out honestly and in good faith. You have also given your word that our captain will not be harmed.” For emphasis, she inclined her head over her shoulder in Aubrey’s direction. “Yet, there is no logical way that we can see for him to avoid death once he steps from the ledge. Can you tell us how you will ensure his survival?”

The elder Gambis said nothing in response at first. Then, he slowly raised a clawed hand in the air and drew it horizontally in front of his chest. He responded in a rumbling baritone. “There will be trust in what I have imparted, or there will be no trust in what I have imparted.”

Shantok tilted her head respectfully, as if in full agreement with the ambiguous remark. “I understand the meaning of this trial. It will re-affirm the captain’s integrity, and therefore the Federation’s integrity, in your eyes. However, revealing the means of his rescue won’t diminish the significance of his actions. In fact, it will only strengthen our own trust in you. Trust is something that both parties must earn.”

From his vantage point, Aubrey turned in time to see Shantok speaking to the Elder. He couldn’t make out what she was saying, but she was no doubt either trying to talk them out of this ritual, or demanding proof that he wouldn’t be harmed. Or both.

Pointless and risky, no matter how you saw it. He had himself tried every argument in the book and all of it had fallen on deaf ears.

But moments later, he became alarmed at the sudden change in the assembly’s body language. Even from a distance it was becoming apparent that Shantok had already progressed into shallow water. The elder had spread his pterodactyl-like wings to a half open position; a gesture that Aubrey knew signified offense.

He slapped his combadge. “Commander,” He whispered urgently. “Back off, that’s an order. I already-----“

But the Elder’s bellow reverberated like a thunderclap.

You must give your trust again to us?” He stormed at her. “It was your family that committed the betrayal! Your family that caused harm to my clan!” To the Gambis, the family structure was paramount. It defined their entire social-political make up. Therefore, they interpreted all hierarchies they encountered in the same manner.

“It is not your place to demand from us!” The elder Gambis was now standing fully erect, his wings stretching outward like an immense bat. “You can ask for nothing!”

Adol sprinted towards her, cursing the absence of his phaser. All of the imposing aliens were now rising to full height, their heavy wings rustling open.

The Andorian stooped low and snatched a large rock from the ground without breaking his stride. Almost in the same movement, he hit his combadge. “Adol to Intrepid! Stand by for emergency beam-out!”

Intrepid, belay that order.” Aubrey interjected over the communicator. “Mr. Adol, Commander, stand down and return to your positions.”

The security chief came to a skidding halt at the sound of his captain’s confident voice. He reluctantly dropped his makeshift weapon, but only after satisfying himself that the first officer was not in immediate harm.

Shantok uttered some amiable words of apology to sooth the Gambis’ frayed tempers before walking back to join Adol.

Her effort was moderately successful. The creatures huffed and growled and continued to unfurl and close their wings in agitation-----but the situation was now simmering rather than boiling.

Walking beside her, Adol heeded the call to sarcasm.

“Well, I can see why the Federation council wants a relationship with the Gambis. They’re so peaceful and open-minded.”

Her comeback was so immediate it caught him unprepared. “I seem to recall that the Vulcan High Command once made the same observation about the Andorians.”

They walked near the edge of the cliff upon which Aubrey stood.

She began making her case at once. “Captain, with more time I’m certain we can-----“

He raised his hand gently. “Commander, I appreciate your efforts on my behalf. But I’ve already explored all the options. This is the only way to regain their faith and free Lieutenant Benjamin.” He took in a deliberate breath, and looked out over the great vista. “Unfortunately, this is all we have. So I’m ordering both of you not to pursue it any further.”

Stepping back to the ledge, he removed his combadge and tossed it to Adol. Once he jumped, there would be no rescue from the ship without his communicator. Nor had their scans revealed any power sources between him and the ground. There were no tractor beams, anti-grav fields, transporters, or force fields-----nothing at all to slow his decent once he left his perch. He would live or die entirely upon the word of the Gambis.

It was, quite literally, a leap of faith.

Adol considered tackling him before he could jump. Instead he decided on reason as a blunt instrument. (Even if he had to stretch the facts to suite his objective.) “Captain, the universal translator has trouble with the Gambis language. And they use a lot of metaphors in their speech. How do you know you’re not interpreting what they’re saying too literally? You could die over nothing more than a miscommunication!”

Commander Shantok raised an eyebrow just slightly, favoring the security officer with a look of approval. She seemed to be saying, nicely done.

“They were pretty direct on this point. So I sincerely doubt it.” Aubrey replied, almost sounding apologetic.

He turned and took a telling step forward.

At this point, Shantok decided to dispense with subtly and debate. She simply would not stand by and watch her commanding officer commit suicide.

“Captain, I can’t allow this. It’s an unacceptable risk and indicates to me that your reasoning may be in question.” She tensed, ready to spring forward like a cat. “If you don’t abandon this course, I’ll be forced to relive you on those grounds.”

“Sorry.” He stated with finality.

And with that, he pivoted and leaped out into the void before him.

The Vulcan woman was strong and fast-----but not fast enough. Even as she dove forward, Aubrey had already escaped her outstretched hand. She felt her fingertips brush the fabric of his pant leg just before she hit the gravel in a skid.

And then he was gone.

The fall itself wasn’t so bad. Aubrey used to enjoy high altitude air diving, where a person falls from a strato-car or hovercraft only to halt their decent with an anti-grav harness, just a few hundred meters short of the ground.

This was different of course. He was just high enough to see the ground rushing to meet him and the fall was just long enough that one could contemplate the unhappy conclusion to the journey.

At the halfway point, he realized that Adol’s hasty excuse to keep him from leaping might have been correct after all. Perhaps he really had just extinguished himself by misunderstanding a metaphor.

His mind shut down in anticipation, seeking the comfort of shock.

And because of shock, Aubrey never saw the blur from overhead. He failed to hear the leathery beating of large wings. He didn’t feel the talons clamp around his forearms. He was oblivious to his body being pulled taught, like a piece of rubber, before bouncing high into the air.

At some point he came to and thought he was still falling.

Wow, this is taking forever, he mused drunkenly.

As his senses returned, he became aware of painful pressure in his shoulders, and realized that he was now hanging from something that had him in a vice-like grip. It soon became apparent that a Gambis was holding him aloft, speeding him through the air and back up to the towering spire he had descended from. It occurred to him that this was what a squirrel must feel like when captured by a hawk.

Aubrey was lowered to the rocky plateau with a controlled gentleness, before the creature touched down next to him.

Adol and Shantok were at his side immediately. The security chief stole a moment to spread his withering glare over the assembled aliens, before tending to his captain.

“Sir, are you all right?” He queried.

The captain nodded stiffly, and then sat up. “I think so. Just a little shaky.”

“You should return to the ship at once.” Shantok said stiffly.

The Gambis who had affected the rescue spoke. Shantok noticed its voice was attuned to a higher pitch than the others. Also, it had a smaller build. She concluded it was female, perhaps the Mother of the family. She must have remained hidden in one of the many caves that honeycombed the tower, only to emerge at the last moment.

“Captain Aubrey, we return our trust to you.” Standing beside him, she stretched her wings vertically over her head then folded them behind her back once more. The rest of her family followed suite, repeating her gesture exactly.

Aubrey got to his feet, testing each trembling leg before putting his full weight on it. He dusted himself off while speaking to the Elder. “Then I respectfully ask that my officer be returned.”

“And so he shall.” The elder replied.

Before them, one of the many rocky outcropping that littered the plateau began to shimmer and become indistinct. When the holographic image disappeared, Lieutenant Cal Benjamin was revealed in its place.

The young man was smudgy and disheveled, but otherwise looked no worse for the wear. He shuffled towards them like a criminal who had just been extradited to his home world.

Adol did a superficial evaluation of his health after Benjamin stood among them.

“No damage that I can see with the tricorder.” He reported.

Aubrey dipped his chin in acknowledgement. “Thank you.” He said. Stepping in front of the young engineer, he placed a hand on his arm. “Are you sure you’re not hurt?”

Benjamin’s sorrowful eyes roamed everywhere, evading his commanding officer’s face. “Yeah, I’m ok.” He replied in a low tremor. “I got a little scratched, but mostly…” his voice trailed off when he became aware that Aubrey’s hand was not upon his arm to offer solace. He winced at the tight grip.

“Good,” the captain said. “then listen closely.”

Knowing that he was expected to look up, Benjamin willed his face to rise.

With a frigid smile, the captain continued. “Once you’ve checked in at sickbay and been debriefed, you’re confined to quarters for the remainder of this assignment. And I’m placing a level three reprimand in your file.”

“Aye, sir.” Benjamin whispered.

“You came very close to derailing the Federation’s efforts in this sector. Rest assured, you and I will be discussing that subject at great length.”

“Captain.”

Aubrey realized Shantok had been trying to get his attention. The elder Gambis had glided from his platform and was now walking towards them, moving in that oddly comical shuffle-hop that was reminiscent of a bird.

“We are pleased that you have mended the rift between our families.” The Elder rumbled. “We look forward to the day long Festival of Reconciliation aboard your star-craft.”

Four sets of eyebrows went up.

“Festival?” The captain ventured cautiously. “On our ship?”

“Yes. Our two families will now celebrate our new kinship.” He spread his wings vertically in the air. “We are now one family.”

“It would be a great honor for us to celebrate here,” He countered, making a wide gesture that encompassed the rocky plateau. “On the surface of your beautiful world.”

The Gambis brought his wings to a half folded position. He cocked his head to one side. “You have seen our world. We have not seen yours.”

Aubrey kept his eyes on the creature’s half folded wings-----body language that foreshadowed more trouble. He decided to concede, hoping it wouldn’t be perceived as weakness. “Then…we are honored to have you aboard. Of course.”

“Stay with us for a short time, Father, while your family attends to the details aboard your star-craft.”

Was there a just hint of mischief in the Elder’s eyes, or had the captain only imagined it?

A few minutes later, the officers stood alone, as the Elder had returned to the assembly to give the captain time to confer with his crew.

“We have a problem.” He said at once.

“I concur.” Shantok added. “We’re due to rendezvous with the diplomatic convoy in three days. This…function will put us too far behind schedule to participate.”

Adol rubbed his chin. “I don’t understand. This “festival” we’re supposed to host is only for a day, right? We’re only a few light years from the Velk home world. I don’t see a problem with the time table.”

Aubrey was bemused. “A Gambis day, Mr. Adol. Not a Federation standard day.”

“And a Gambis day lasts 78.4 hours.” Shantok supplied.

The Andorian grinned as a new thought surfaced. “Well, it at least we have a great excuse to not participate in that diplomatic procession. It would have been a waste of our time anyway.” He stopped and shrugged at Aubrey. “In my opinion, sir.”

“Considering how particular Admiral Jellico is, it’s likely that he’ll pick another ship to replace us.”

“Six ships to do the work of one. It’s a waste of personnel and resources.” Adol scoffed. “

“The Federation Council considers the gesture an important one-----to demonstrate our commitment to the hostile governments in this sector.” Shantok lectured.

Aubrey looked back at the Gambis assembly, who were now gathering on the ground, making exited snorts and growls. “As much as I’m enjoying this compelling dialogue, I need both of you to return to the ship and begin making arrangements for our guests.”

Shantok gave Adol a visual cue that she wished a moment alone with the captain. In silent understanding, he collected the sullen engineer and made a smooth exit. After they had left, she stood without speaking, observing Aubrey as though she were no longer sure of his identity.

“I take it, Commander, that you’re about to express your dissatisfaction.”

One look at her face told him that he had misjudged her mood. Shantok was not merely exasperated with him; she was in a state that for a Vulcan was close to fury.

“I have served with you for some time.” She began coldly. “I have great respect for what you have accomplished as a starship commander. I know that on occasion, you’ve made decisions that could have ended your career or caused great harm to others. However, I’ve always supported you because invariably, your decisions turn out to be correct.”

“I appreciate that. I know that-----“

“Lately, your actions have forced me to re-evaluate that opinion.”

He blinked in surprise. “Oh?”

“I will be recording a formal protest in my log regarding your decision to follow the demands of the Gambis. It was a needless, unconscionable risk.”

His blue eyes cooled. “I believed otherwise. Every risk I take is a calculated one, commander.”

“I know that is what you believe.”

“No,” he corrected. “That’s what I know. I explored other options first. I told you that already.”

Shantok was certain that Aubrey had tried other options. There was no doubt that he had tried to talk the Gambis out of their bizarre test.

But just how hard had he tried?

Since the end of the Dominion War, she had noticed a deviation in his behavior. Lately, too many situations like this had arisen-----scenarios where Aubrey was mysteriously required to place his life in grave danger to either complete a mission or save the ship. Officially, there were always good reasons to support his actions-----at least, they were good reasons to anyone who didn’t know the captain as she did.

She didn’t think it was a martyr complex or self-loathing. This was something more complex, a concept whose identity lay just out of her reach.

She had mind melded with him twice in the last few years. Each time, she had tread carefully to avoid violating his privacy. But during those experiences, she sensed that he was guarding a secret that was weighing heavily on him. It was a dark knowledge that he believed he had long ago come to terms with. Like most humans, he had obviously made the mistake of too hastily dismissing something without properly reconciling it. Because of this, the pain was all but invisible to him now-----lurking in plain sight, driving him to seek out personal hazards.

These thoughts cycled through her mind in the span of two seconds.

“My intention was to express my concerns to you. If I may be dismissed, I’ll return to the ship and communicate our delay to Admiral Jellico.” She was cool and aloof.

Aubrey wanted to pursue the subject. He was uneasy at Shantok’s displeasure. They had had disagreements before, but their working relationship had always benefited in the end.

Not this time. Damage had been done here today. How much, and how permanent, he would soon find out. But as always, he was forced to put off the discussion because of time constraints.

“Very well, Commander. We’ll table this for now. But I’d like the opportunity to follow up on your…concerns.”

She nodded, offering no commitments.

He watched her back recede away, as she walked off to join Adol and Benjamin at the beam down sight.

He considered her waning trust in him. He thought about his impulsive engineer who had just tarnished a brilliant career. Then there was his security chief who, it seemed, was becoming more bitter and cynical every day.

The Gambis think of us as a family, he thought wirily. If so, we’re quickly becoming a dysfunctional one.

The attempt at gallows humor fell flat. He straightened his uniform and moved away from his crew, once again embracing the unknown by himself.

*****
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Old October 25 2007, 02:24 AM   #3
Gibraltar
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Treacherous Waters - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 <by Gibraltar>

USS Gibraltar
Gamma Quadrant, Sector 7800913-G


Sandhurst tread purposefully into Engineering, his displeasure as evident in his stride as it was upon his face. “Let’s have it, Lieutenant.”

The enormous Bolian engineer turned from the master system’s display, his response succinct and taciturn, as the captain had come to expect. “We’ve tried everything, sir. There’s no way to correct the imbalance without dropping out of warp.”

Moving to warp field monitors, Sandhurst quickly assessed the situation, “No success with attenuating the injector sequencing, Mr. Ashok?”

Demonstrating the patience of a Vulcan Kolinahr master, Ashok answered stolidly, “No, sir. The problem has remained determinedly vexing.”

The next ten minutes turned into a fruitless series of questions and answers, with Sandhurst postulating various avenues of corrective action, only to have Ashok inform him they had already been attempted. It became apparent that there could only be one solution to this impasse.

He stepped into a secluded alcove, tapping his compin as he wrestled with his anger and frustration. “Sandhurst to Ramirez, contact the Nagasaki and inform Captain Zorek that we’re going to have to drop to impulse in order to affect repairs to our warp drive.”

“Captain…” Ramirez replied, sounding particularly reticent, “…Zorek just notified us that Nagasaki has received word from the Velk homeworld that some kind of civil unrest has broken out there. It may be related to the task force’s impending arrival. The envoy has been ordered home immediately, and all ships have been instructed to increase speed to Warp 8.”

Rubbing his temples as he fought to control his breathing, Sandhurst exclaimed, “Great. Just… great.” Taking a moment to center himself, Sandhurst ordered, “Understood, Exec. Send our message to Zorek, and inform him that we’ll catch up as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir.”

Stepping out onto the main floor of Engineering, Sandhurst removed his dress uniform jacket, draping it over an auxiliary console as he pushed up the sleeves of his undershirt. “Okay, Lieutenant, engines all stop while we get to the bottom of this.”

*****

Ramirez sat patiently in the command chair, awaiting news from the engine room on the status of the ongoing repairs. She knew Sandhurst was embarrassed and angry at having to fall behind as the convoy proceeded to the Velkamis system, but some things were simply unavoidable. Ramirez prided herself on taking a more pragmatic view. If nothing else, at least she’d be able to say she’d been to the other side of the galaxy.

Despite the fact that the wormhole’s existence had been common knowledge for nearly a decade, it still seemed surreal to Ramirez that she was now some seventy-thousand lightyears from home. She tried to imagine what it must be like to be lost at such a distance, like the crew of the starship Voyager who even now struggled to find a way back to Federation space from their imposed exile deep in the Delta Quadrant.

She banished the thought after a moment, finding it too harrowing to contemplate. Ramirez brought herself back to the task at hand, glancing at the bridge’s chronometer with growing irritation. Lieutenant JG Olivia Juneau, the ship’s chief operations officer was late, again. It would be the second time this week.

With Ramirez’s time aboard Gibraltar winding down, she was determined to settle the matter of Juneau’s lackluster performance prior to her departure. For nearly a year Ramirez had coached, encouraged, and cajoled the younger woman, trying to prompt Juneau into turning the proverbial corner and taking her career more seriously.

Indeed, Juneau had demonstrated moments of brilliant service, once taking command of any away team under attack by nightmarish monsters created by a delusional member of the Q Continuum and proving so effective she’d merited a citation for bravery. Regardless, Juneau’s sporadic examples of heroism could not compensate for her sub-par performance on a day-to-day basis. Her written reports and personnel evaluations were sloppy and her department was the least organized aboard ship despite Ops being the primary administrative and logistics post. Morale in the operations department was at an all time low, as Juneau’s subordinates felt adrift and without guidance or leadership.

‘One way or the other,’ Ramirez vowed silently, ‘I’ll fix this before I leave. I’m not leaving this mess for the captain’s next XO to fix.’

The sound of the turbolift opening prompted Ramirez to glance over her shoulder, where she spotted a disheveled looking Juneau stepping onto the bridge, looking very self-conscious. She was of medium height with strawberry blonde hair that was presently an unkempt mess, as if she’d just awakened. Juneau was known to be self-conscious about her weight, being as she was fuller figured than she would have liked. Her freckled complexion made her appear much younger than her twenty-six years, and they stood out more prominently at times like these when she was blushing fiercely.

“Mr. Juneau,” Ramirez said, her tone ominous. The XO stood, motioning towards the captain’s ready room. “Let’s talk, Lieutenant.”

*****

USS Nagasaki
Gamma Quadrant, Sector 7800913-G


Lieutenant S’Vel at Operations was the first to notice the irregularity, which he dutifully brought to the captain’s attention. “Sir, sensors indicate the presence of a small spacecraft that has just appeared five hundred meters off our ventral axis. I’m also reading a transporter signature.”

Zorek sat forward ever so slightly in the command chair, “Red alert, raise shields.” Addressing the officer at the science station, the captain prompted, “Location of the transporter beam?” To S’Vel he inquired, “Did the vessel decloak?”

“Negative, sir. We have detected none of the customary energy signatures associated with cloaking technology.” S’Vel looked momentarily perplexed as his board warbled another warning. “The vessel has vanished, Captain.”

The deceptively elfin looking female tactical officer announced from the back of the bridge, “Sir, security personnel outside the Velk accommodations sa—“

Without warning, the multi-layered fabric of subspace intruded into the plane of the physical universe in a spherical shape measuring five AU in diameter. The phenomenon was centered on the Starfleet task force, engulfing the five starships instantaneously. The shearing stresses caused by the sudden warp velocity penetration of the ships into the chaotic subspace geometry was far in excess of anything they’d been designed to withstand.

Alarms howled on Nagasaki’s bridge, sounding the proud ship’s death knell. Witnessing the approaching maelstrom on the viewer, Zorek stood, determined to meet his end on his feet. His impressive intellect quickly assessed the odds of survival upon impact with such a tempest at hyper-relativistic speeds, concluding that there was no hope of escape. As the starship’s rending superstructure shrieked around him, Zorek of Vulcan announced in a voice free from fear or regret, “It has been an honor…”

Nagasaki and her fellows slammed into an eddy of twisted subspace, it’s density many times that of a neutron star. Within milliseconds all five starships and the two-thousand, three-hundred and seventeen crew contained within them were reduced to subatomic components racing away on random trajectories.

*****

Ramirez was about to step across the threshold into the ready room when the voice of Kuenre Shanthi caught her attention. The newly promoted junior lieutenant served as Gibraltar’s science officer, and at present he was staring into his sensor display with evident disbelief. “Commander… the task force.”

A sheepish looking Juneau slid past Ramirez through the narrow doorway and entered the ready room as the exec glanced back at the young science officer, “What about it?”

It took Shanthi a moment to find his voice, “It’s… it’s gone, sir.”

Ramirez rolled her eyes, misunderstanding. “Now we’ve lost sensors? What the hell is the matter with this ship?” Her anger with Juneau in abeyance, Ramirez approached the science station. “Have you run a diagnostic?”

Prying his eyes away from his display, Shanthi looked up at Ramirez, his face a mixture of incredulity and horror. “The sensors are fine, sir. There’s been some sort of massive subspace rupture at the task force’s coordinates. The ships are gone. Destroyed.”

The setting of her jaw and the darkening of her expression were the only outward signs of Ramirez’s distress. Looking to the petty officer manning the Ops board, she ordered, “Confirm that.”

Less than ten seconds had passed when the man’s reply came. “Confirmed, sir. Sensors indicate a large-scale subspace disruption measuring some five AU in diameter. It appears to be subsiding, but there’s no sign of any of the other vessels.”

Glancing back at Lieutenant Lar’ragos manning the stand-alone Tactical station just behind the captain’s chair, Ramirez instructed, “Hail the task force, Pava.”

The El Aurian nodded in response, hands moving across his console. A look of consternation flickered across his features briefly before he looked up at Ramirez. “Whatever just happened out there has caused massive subspace communications interference, sir. We can’t get a signal out.”

“Red alert,” Ramirez ordered in a subdued voice, her mind reeling with the sudden and senseless loss of so many lives. “Captain Sandhurst to the bridge.”

*****

The somber silence that filled Gibraltar’s briefing room was finally broken by Sandhurst’s query. “So, now I have to decide whether to turn around and head back to DS9, or carry on and continue the mission as best we can.” He scanned the solemn expressions of his senior staff, “I’m open to suggestions.”

Just as Ramirez appeared about to speak, Juneau blurted out, “Continue the mission? What mission? Nagasaki is destroyed, the Velk envoy is dead, the Federaton’s diplomatic team is dead, Captain Zorek is dead. There’s no mission left to complete!”

Ramirez appeared about to jump down Juneau’s throat, but Sandhurst held her in check with a raised hand. “I did ask for opinions, Commander. She has a valid viewpoint.”

“Fine,” Ramirez countered, giving Juneau a scathing look. “I vote we proceed with our mission. Our holds are full of medical and relief supplies for the Velk homeworld. Granted, we’re only carrying a fraction of what the rest of the task force had, but under the circumstances every bit helps.”

Raising two fingers from where his hand rested atop the table, Pava Lar’ragos indicated his desire to speak. The youthful looking lieutenant was, in actuality, more than four hundred years old. Despite being relatively small in stature, Lar’ragos was agile and deceptively strong, advantageous attributes in a security officer. His jet black hair was tightly curled and cut short. The cast of the man’s dark brown eyes hinted at the struggles endured during his centuries long journey from the Delta Quadrant to Federation space.

Sandhurst acknowledged his old academy classmate with a nod, prompting Lar’ragos to speak. “Respectfully, sir, if we’ve just witnessed the deployment of a new Dominion weapon, it’s our responsibility to return to report this incident to Starfleet Command.”

“If this was the Dominion,” interjected Issara Taiee, the ship’s chief medical officer, “Why are we still here?”

“We’re the witnesses to the effectiveness of their weapon,” Lar’ragos answered. “No sense in putting on a successful demonstration like this if there’s no one left to report it to your enemies.”

Science officer Shanthi cleared his throat, drawing the gathering’s eyes to him. The tall African seemed disconcerted with the attention, but pressed on. “Once we’ve restored warp capability, we could send a message buoy at warp back to the wormhole to report the loss of the task force. That would allow us to notify Starfleet while moving forward with our assignment.”

Ramirez nodded in silent agreement and Sandhurst appeared thoughtful. Juneau spoke up once again, her expression incredulous, “You’re actually considering this?” She gestured to the viewports, “They just wiped out five starships without breaking a sweat! They’re not going to hesitate to destroy us, too, if we don’t turn around and run back to Federation space.”

Sandhurst’s hazel eyes met Lar’ragos’ brown counterparts. “Is this your assessment too, Pava?”

Lar’ragos appeared bemused, “I can’t believe I’m actually agreeing with Juneau, but speaking from a tactical standpoint, I think her appraisal is correct. Odds are the Dominion is counting on us to turn tail and head home. If we forge ahead, they wouldn’t even need to employ this new weapon of theirs again. A handful of their heavy fighters would be sufficient to finish us off.”

“Are there any other Starfleet vessels assigned to the Gamma Quadrant at present?” Sandhurst asked.

Ramirez shook her head fractionally, “No, sir. Our convoy was the sole Starfleet presence on this side of the wormhole.”

Sandhurst nodded, placing his hands palms down atop the table. “So, once again, we’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.” An ironic smile graced his lips, “And here I was afraid we’d get out of practice.” He took a long look around the table, surveying the tension evident in his officer’s faces. Sandhurst’s gaze finally settled on Pell Ojana, seated at the opposite end of the table. “Commander, are you sufficiently up to date on the players to take the lead on the diplomatic front?”

Pell met his stare evenly, “I always prepare for just such an eventuality, sir. Although I lack the background experience and established relationships of Captain Zorek and his team, I’m confident I can convey the Federation’s position and goals.”

“Very well.” Sandhurst put on his most confident face, knowing that in all likelihood he wasn’t fooling anyone. “We’re going to notify Starfleet of our circumstances by warp probe while Gibraltar proceeds to the Velkamis system. Thank you all for your input. Dismissed.” As the senior staff began to file out, Sandhurst motioned for Ramirez to remain behind.

“Sir?”

Standing and moving to the viewport, Sandhurst gazed out at the stationary stars, recognizing not a single constellation in this far flung corner of the galaxy. Reaching out with a hand, he braced himself against the transparent partition. “Tell me this isn’t ego, Liana.”

Looking perplexed, Ramirez remained standing a few paces behind him. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, Captain.”

“My wanting to stay and complete the mission. We’ve just seen one of the Federation’s most accomplished explorers and diplomats snuffed out in an instant along with his crew and those of four other vessels. What the hell am I thinking?”

“That’s easy,” she replied, the timber of her voice resonating confidence. “You’re doing your duty and fulfilling the mission we’ve been assigned. We don’t back down from challenges. That’s the bar you’ve set for this crew.”

“And the Dominion?”

She smiled fiercely, “Let them come.”

*****
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Old October 25 2007, 02:38 AM   #4
DarKush
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 3

The collaboration is flowing very smoothly. This is a great beginning. Looking forward to unraveling this new mystery.
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Old October 25 2007, 03:56 AM   #5
Dnoth
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 3

You've (you two) have got me very intrigued by this 'unseen hand' that wiped out the task force. My mind is abuzz with possibilities.

I also love how the Gambis are described. They could make a formidable ally...or enemy.

Eagerly awaiting more!
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Old October 25 2007, 01:30 PM   #6
DavidFalkayn
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 3

I like the universe building in this story so far. To echo Dnoth, the Gambis are a very well described race with an unique culture and outlook. Also, the character work on both Sandhurst and Ramirez in this part by Gibraltar and on Aubrey, Benjamin, and Shantok by Galen were very well done--I got a very good feel for the Intrepid's captain and command staff in a fairly short time. It'll be interesting comparing and contrasting the two crews as this story evolves. Added to that, we have a fascinating--and dangerous--mystery. All in all, an excellent beginning.
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Old October 25 2007, 02:16 PM   #7
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 3

I'm enjoying the chance to begin at the beginning, for once, Gibraltar.

Good job so far. Now we know why subspace weapons were banned by the Khitomer Accords.

Looking forward to reading more!
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Old October 25 2007, 06:29 PM   #8
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Treacherous Waters - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 <by Galen Holcomb>

USS Intrepid
Gamma Quadrant, Orbiting Gambis home world
Stardate: 54114.3


Artificial wind rustled the trees and bushes around him, and Jason Aubrey inhaled deeply, thriving off the scent of honeysuckle and pine. It was the first time in three days that he had a moment to himself, and he couldn’t have picked a better place to spend it then amongst greenery.

Real greenery, no less. This was no holodeck he was sitting in. “Sherwood Forest” covered most of deck 18 on the Excelsior class vessel. It was one of the few hydroponics parks left on any starship-----a landmark whose revered status had been stubbornly preserved by each of the ship’s commanding officers, stretching back 40 years. Her current master was no exception. (Although how it came by the moniker of “Sherwood Forest” was a historical enigma.)

It had all been worth it. The “Festival of Reconciliation” had finally ended and the Gambis had departed the ship two hours ago. It had been three exhausting days spent mostly in the ship’s main hangar bay, located beneath the secondary hull. The sizable chamber had been the most practical choice to entertain the large and awkward creatures, with their long wings and sharp claws.

Ultimately, the occasion had been a success; the Elders had left the ship happy, stuffed with all the raw meat and fruit juice the replicators could produce in a 78-hour period.

When it comes to gratuitous consumption, He reflected; the Klingons have nothing on these people.

He shook his head ruefully at the memory of being coerced into singing in front of his senior officers. He had learned too late that the Gambis liked to sing. A lot. In fact, it was one of their main pastimes. They accented all parties and social gatherings with a chorus of howls and woops whose beauty was directly proportionate to one’s level of inebriation. And it was an activity that they insisted Aubrey participates in-----even to the point of him doing a solo.

Thus, bottles of Saurian Brandy had been passed around to make his audience more receptive-----and then he had sung. Or bellowed, to be more accurate. His ruthless repertoire had possessed all the charm of grinding metal. It was likely that his crew would be recounting the harrowing details to their grandchildren.

But any personal embarrassment had been worth the sacrifice. Because as of today, a formal relationship now existed between the Gambis and the United Federation of Planets.

Despite being flushed with this success, his musings turned to Shantok once more. As he sat upon the marble bench in the park, he thought of the rift that was now between them-----a gulf that he had carelessly allowed to widen over the last year. He decided that he would find a way to resurrect her faltering respect in him. No matter how thorny the effort.

But for the time being, he knew of one way to cheer her up. Tapping his combadge, he said, “Aubrey to Shantok.”

“Go ahead.” Came the neutral response.

“Commander, now that our responsibilities here have been discharged, I think it’s time we got underway.”

“Understood. Shall I set course for the wormhole, captain? Or do you have new orders in hand?”

“Actually,” He said with relish. “we’ll be stopping next door to the Velkamis system on our way back. Captain Zorek and his team will be there by now. He might like to see you again.

There was a minute trace of hesitation in her voice. “I wouldn’t presume to know what Captain Zorek might wish,” She commented. “Nor would I want to distract him from his vital assignment.”

“I think your revered mentor will make the time for you.” He quipped.

Only Aubrey knew what the elderly captain meant to his first officer. Shantok’s mother, a well-respected Priestess on Vulcan once had a torrid affair with a fugitive Betazoid criminal. Shantok had been produced by this act of infidelity. As a young woman, her community had quietly and subtly ostracized her for it.

Her family was regarded with shame, despite outward gestures of civility and acceptance. In a way, this silent disapproval was harder for her to bear, for her duel heritage gave her formidable telepathic abilities-----and before she mastered those abilities, they had ruled her. The disdain and intolerance of her peers had been both seen and felt by the young Shantok. The merciless onslaught of other people’s thoughts and emotions had nearly broken her. More than once, she had discarded Surak’s philosophy of non-feeling.

It wasn’t long before her mother found a barely plausible excuse to live off world, leaving Shantok the burden of her shame.

Then Zorek had begun tutoring her. He was both wise and tolerant. He schooled her in the mental disciplines she would need to master her own mind. But more importantly, he held no disapproval of her. He was adamant that she should demand the best from herself-----forcing her to earn every bit of respect he gave her. And demanding that she make others treat her in the same regard.

He was the only father figure, the only real parent she had ever known. She had wanted desperately to emulate his dignity and self-assuredness. So it was that, although Zorek never voiced his expectation, she acted on it, following his footsteps into Starfleet.

“He will have the opportunity of my presence, should circumstances permit it-----and should he desire it.” The response was too stereotypically Vulcan, which Aubrey knew was an overcompensation to mask her excitement.

“Very good. Lay in a course for the Velk home world. And relay a message to the Nagasaki that we’re on the way.”

“Acknowledged.”

He stood from the bench and stretched. Fatigue was fast approaching. He thought about stretching out in the grass, but he didn’t fancy the image of snoring under an elm tree in front of off duty crewmembers.

“Uh, Captain?”

A young man of pale complexion had just stepped through two large bushes. His jet-black hair was immaculately groomed.

Aubrey barely contained his surprise. Lieutenant Cal Benjamin had only just been allowed back to duty today. And yet, here he was, seeking out his captain.

The kid’s got guts. He observed silently. “What can I do for you, Lieutenant?”

Benjamin’s jaw muscles worked furiously, the only outward sign of his distress. “Sir, may I have permission to speak freely?”

“By all means.” Aubrey agreed. He waited patiently for the young man to begin.

“I just wanted to say thank you.” He announced solemnly. “For what you did. For what you did down there for me. Despite my stupidity.”

The captain sat down again. “Mr. Benjamin, as long as we’re speaking freely…you’re welcome.”

The engineer nodded and immediately started eyeing the far side of the park, anxious to make a dignified exit while he still could.

He never had a chance.

“But let’s clarify a few things.” Aubrey continued. “First of all, you’re not ‘stupid’. You just made an impulsive decision down there. You wanted to show our good will by trying to repair the Gambis’ hatchery. Unfortunately, you didn’t bother to ask if they wanted your help first. Your intention was a good one, but your incorrect assumption about how their technology worked nearly destroyed two of their eggs.”

Benjamin paled further, as he braced for an unprecedented ass chewing.

“You’re one of the best engineers in Starfleet. You just need to understand that running a department on a starship takes more than technical skills. It takes leadership skills. And part of leadership is knowing how to set a good example. Understand?”

“I do sir.” He said rigidly.

“It occurs to me that I might have pushed you into the chief engineer role before you were ready. So I’m at fault as well.”

Benjamin’s throat clicked with a loud swallow. “Sir…I…I just wanted to know if this was it for me. Sir.”

Aubrey drew his eyebrows together. “’It’ for you in what regard?”

“Will you be…appointing a new chief of engineering?” It was a Herculean effort to for him to ask and the expenditure cost him most of his composure. He spat out the rest in a flurried rush. “I just wanted to know in advance, I hate waiting for bad news. You know. With all respect. You know. Sir.”

Aubrey climbed to his feet and took a long, absorbing look at the younger man. “If I was going to demote you, I wouldn’t make you wait three days to find out.” A faint grin came to life. His eyes softened. “And just where the hell would I find someone who can clean up the mess you made over the last year?”

His combadge chirped to life at that moment.

“Shantok to Aubrey.”

Keeping his weighted gaze upon Benjamin, Aubrey tapped his badge absently.

“Go ahead.”

“Captain, I have an…oddity to report.”

“I’m listening, Commander.”

“Sir, I ordered a message be sent to Captain Zorek, as you requested, to inform him of our pending arrival at the Velk home world. However…the Nagasaki has not responded to our transmission.”

Pulling his focus back from the conversation with Benjamin, he digested the news. “Interference? Or a problem with our transmitter?”

“Neither,” Shantok said. “Our subspace transmitters are fully functional. And no interference signatures have appeared on the chambers coil spectrum.”

“Maybe they’re the ones having communication problems. Try one of the other ships from the procession. Maybe the Leeds or the Griffin.”

“We have. We attempted individual contact with all five ships assigned to the detachment. None have responded to our encoded hails.” Here she paused for added urgency. “It would appear that the Nagasaki and her escorts are not in the Gamma Quadrant.”

“Could be the mission got postponed.” Benjamin volunteered, eager to become useful again.

“Doubtful.” The first officer said through the communicator. “Starfleet would have notified us.”

“Maybe they were recalled at the last minute.” He persisted.

Appearing lost in thought, Aubrey countered his explanation. “Knowing the timetable they were on…a ‘last minute’ change would have occurred hours ago, or they wouldn’t have had time to leave the quadrant already.” He chewed his lip for a moment. “Which means we’d have received an update by now in either scenario.”

“I suggest a general hail, to ensure we’ve pursued all avenues of communication.” Shantok ventured.

As he walked out of Sherwood Forest with Benjamin in tow, the captain furrowed his brow. “Let’s hold off on that for right now. Our mission was classified. A general hail would advertise our presence in the area-----and I’d like to keep a low profile for the time being.”

“You suspect trouble.” Shantok made this into a statement rather than a question.

Benjamin was aghast. “Sir, are you saying the Dominion broke the treaty and went after our ships?”

The pair emerged into a short access hallway that led to a turbolift. “At ease, Mr. Benjamin. More than likely this will turn out to be nothing more sinister than a communication faux pass. I’m just taking precautions until we get some facts.”

“But sir, how do we get facts in a situation like this? It would take hours to hear back form Starfleet.”

In answer, Aubrey directed his next order through his combadge to Shantok. “Commander, please contact the Velk Senate on a secure channel. When I get to the bridge, I want to speak to someone in charge.”

As the turbolift sped him up to Intrepid’s saucer module, Aubrey silently argued against his instincts, instincts honed from dozens of life and death conflicts during the Dominion War. His common sense told him that what he had just said to Benjamin was absolutely correct. The odds favored an oversight by Starfleet resulting in a missed update.

His instincts on the other hand, had just caught the first whiff of danger in the air.

And the trouble was…his instincts were seldom wrong.

*****
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Old October 27 2007, 11:19 PM   #9
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Treacherous Waters - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 <by Gibraltar>

“It worked!” the man practically squealed with enthusiasm.

“That was never in doubt,” the fixer replied patiently. “However, we are still charting the various after-effects of the discharge. It appears we may have been correct in our assessment of its effect on subspace geometry in our spatial contour modeli—“

The squat reptilian clapped his hands eagerly, “Save your explanations for the technicians. All that concerns me is that it worked as promised. Five of the mighty Federation’s starships swatted from existence as if by the hand of a god!” Regaining some of his composure, the man took a long drink from a liquid bulb. “How soon until you can deliver another of these?”

The fixer stared at him, masking the disbelief and disdain that threatened to spill forth from his mouth. “We have already discussed this topic… repeatedly. It took seven months to acquire sufficient quantities of trilithium and to generate the polaric isotopes necessary to construct the device.”

“But you’re building more of them right now, yes?”

The fixer briefly fantasized about breaking the bulbous neck of the infuriating little man, but he gave no outward indication of his growing irritation. “No, we do not. The Cartel does not invest in theoretical weapons systems. With the success of the prototype we now possess concrete proof of its effectiveness. They may be willing to bankroll more of the devices.”

The man waved his soft hands in a dismissive gesture, “I will pay whatever you ask, but I’ll need more of these if we are to make a realistic bid to control access to the Bog.”

“You realize,” the fixer said, attempting to underscore his point, “that in all likelihood the device will have created a subspace dead-zone out that extends out to a maximum of three lightyears from the point of detonation. Spacecraft will be unable to traverse that area at warp, and further use of additional weapons in close proximity might prove cumulative in their effect.”

“Meaning?”

The fixer stymied the sigh that threatened to escape him. “Meaning that if you set off too many of these weapons near the Bog or anywhere else, you may inadvertently leave entire regions isolated, beyond the reach of warp travel.”

“Yes,” the man hissed, his smile wider than ever. “I certainly hope so.”

*****

Lieutenant JG Kuenre Shanthi, chief science officer of the starship Gibraltar and son of Fleet Admiral Thousana Shanthi, stared at this display screen as he issued directions to Ensign Lightner at the helm. “Another two minutes on this heading and we’ll be clear to resume course for the Velkamis system.”

Lightner nodded, the sandy-haired youth uncharacteristically solemn as he navigated their way around the region of rent subspace left by whatever had annihilated the task force. The thought that Dominion warships could pounce on their aging escort at any moment filled him with a gnawing anxiety.

Lightner had graduated from the academy early; the product of Starfleet’s accelerated wartime curricula that churned out junior officers after three years, sacrificing subjects such as philosophy, history, and exo-sociology in favor of tactical skills that would hopefully keep them alive in a dynamic battlefield environment.

The war had ended by the time Lightner received his ensign’s commission. Despite that fact, Lightner had survived many close scrapes during his first year of service aboard Gibraltar. Peacetime had not proved so terribly peaceful within the powder keg that was occupied Cardassian territory.

Lightner would have to have been blind not to notice the fear that clouded the eyes of the senior officers whenever the subject of renewed Dominion aggression came up. Some of them had even confided to him, usually on leave and when plied by strong drink, that they had fully expected the Federation to lose the war.

Glancing over his shoulder at Lar’ragos, who occupied the command chair, Lightner offered, “So, do we have a plan if the Dominion attacks, sir?”

Lar’ragos didn’t bother to look up from the padd he was studying. “Yes. We run. If we’re lucky, we get far enough to find someplace to hide.”

Lightner grinned nervously, “What, no genius tactical gambits guaranteed to overwhelm Dominion warships? C’mon, sir, didn’t you ever take the Kobayashi Maru test?”

Looking up from his padd, Lar’ragos scowled. “If I’m not mistaken, you aren’t supposed to know about that exercise until you’ve taken it, Ensign. And afterwards, you’re sworn to secrecy about it.”

Blushing, Lightner cleared his throat, “Then why does everyone seem to know about it, sir?”

Shaking his head amusedly, Lar’ragos went back to his padd. “The Dominion is the personification of the no-win scenario, Mr. Lightner.”

“But we won, sir.” Lightner emphasized.

“Only because Captain Sisko walks with the gods, Ensign,” came the El Aurian’s enigmatic response. “And even then, it was a very near thing.” Glancing up, Lar’ragos nodded his head in the direction of the viewscreen. “Mind your post.”

Lightner turned back to his console just in time to change their heading. “Now on course to the Velkamis system, Lieutenant. ETA fourteen hours, six minutes, present speed.”

Lar’ragos turned towards the science station, “How long until we’re out of the zone of comms interference?”

Shanthi shook his head, “I still can’t determine that, sir. The subspace radio blackout zone is significantly larger than the area that interferes with warp travel, but we probably won’t know where the interference actually terminates until we’re out of it.”

The lieutenant absorbed the response without comment, resuming his personal correspondence on the padd.

*****

At the one hour mark to Gibraltar’s arrival at the Velk homeworld, the senior staff took up their posts, Sandhurst electing to keep the ship at yellow alert rather than arrive at their destination in what might be considered an aggressively defensive posture.

“Comms continuing to clear, sir.” Shanthi announced. “We could probably punch a signal through to the Velk planet from here, sir. It’ll be a bit garbled, but we’ve routed as much auxiliary power to the transceiver array as we can.”

“Acknowledged,” Sandhurst looked to Ramirez as she slid into her seat in the lower bridge well, holding up his crossed fingers accompanied by a wistful smile. She smirked and inclined her head in response.

“Something of note, Captain,” Lar’ragos spoke up from Tactical. “Velk military craft are not on the assigned patrol routes we’d been told to expect. Also, the orbital traffic around the Velk homeworld is approximately forty percent higher than what we anticipated.”

“Any clues as to why?” Sandhurst asked.

Nagasaki indicated the Velk envoy had been warned of civil unrest at home,” was Pell’s portentous rejoinder. “We could be seeing their response to a planetary security crisis.”

Sandhurst pursed his lips thoughtfully, attempting to divine how a world on high military alert might react to their solitary arrival and the news that their envoy had been killed. “Open a channel, Mr. Juneau.”

“Aye. Channel open, sir.”

“This is the Federation starship Gibraltar hailing Velkohn orbital control.”

They waited in tense silence as the seconds ticked by. When the warbling, static filled audio response finally came, more than one person manning the bridge started. “—altar, we read you, but your ---nal is garbl------e advised that a state of emer------xists on Velkohn due to terro-------ions against our infra---------an-- poli--------dership.”

Gesturing to Ops, Sandhurst inquired, “Can you clean that up?”

Juneau tapped at her board, “Trying, sir.”

“Gibraltar, we read you, but your signal is garbled. Be advised that a state of emergency exists on Velkohn due to terrorist actions against our infrastructure and political leadership.”

“We understand, Velkohn. I regret to inform you that our diplomatic convoy was also the target of an attack. Five Federation ships were destroyed by an unknown weapon. Envoy Jivin Sharm was among of the victims.”

This time Juneau buffered the response through the computer before broadcasting it. “Our grief embraces your own, Gibraltar. We request you hold position once you reach the system boundary. Our military and rescue craft are taking priority at this time in the orbital zone.”

Sandhurst’s worry lines grew accentuated, “On behalf of the Federation, I’d like to offer our assistance. We have medical and emergency supplies onboard that could be of help.”

Moments passed, the quiet on the bridge growing until it became a palpable presence. Sandhurst broke the silence by tapping his compin. “Sandhurst to Taiee, start preparing your people for disaster triage and mass casualty operations. Have your staff familiarize themselves with everything we know about Velk physiology.”

“Right away, Captain,” came the nurse practitioner’s prompt response. “We’ll be ready when needed.”

Finally, the Velk replied, “Gibraltar, we accepted your offer of assistance. Please assume geo-synchronous orbit above the capital city and await further instructions.”

Settling back into the command chair, Sandhurst let go a brief sigh of relief. He’d hoped this whole endeavor, with all its accompanying losses, wouldn’t have been for naught. Swiveling around to face Lar’ragos at Tactical, he spoke briskly. “Pava, put together a discrete security detail for the away mission.” Lar’ragos opened his mouth to speak, but Sandhurst got there first, “Phaser sidearms only, no rifles.”

His initial query preemptively answered, the El Aurian nodded curtly. “How many team members, sir?”

“Taiee plus one medic, you, Pell, and myself.”

Ramirez’s head snapped up at this bit of information, her eyes hooded. Sandhurst stood, heading for his ready room door. “Exec, let me know when we’re fifteen minutes out.” Moving across the room and taking a seat behind the desk, Sandhurst counted to ten, then triggered the door to the bridge open, revealing a startled Ramirez on the cusp of pressing the enunciator. “C’mon in, Commander,” he offered with the merest hint of a smile.

She obliged, preferring to remain standing behind the chairs facing the desk. “Bad idea,” she said simply.

“Probably so,” he conceded. “Nevertheless, security considerations notwithstanding, this is going to have to be one of those times the captain leads the away team for PR purposes.”

“Strong Federation leadership in the face of adversity?” she asked, voice tinged with cynicism.

He shrugged lightly, “You can be sure Zorek would have done it, were our positions reversed.”

“Zorek’s dead,” she said flatly.

Sandhurst scrutinized her briefly, a slow smile forming on his features. “God, I hope your first officer is just as big a pain in the ass as you’ve been to me.”

Her frown trembled, on the verge of crumbling in a bout of mordant laughter. “I’ve said my peace.”

He nodded, “So you have. Resume your post, Commander.”

Ramirez turned and strode out, leaving the captain to the stillness of his thoughts as he considered the challenges to come.

*****

Columns of black smoke towered above the capital city as multiple fires consumed entire boroughs, set to the cacophonous dirge of hovering fire suppression craft and the wail of emergency sirens. Sandhurst and his team arrived in the midst of the chaos and confusion, Lar’ragos’ security detail fanning out to take up defensive positions as a small Velk contingent approached.

Most of the stout, sturdy reptilians were clad in obvious battle dress, various weapons and devices attached to harness points. Another, dressed in what Sandhurst guessed were civilian clothes, stepped forward. “Welcome to Velkohn; would that circumstances were more favorable. I am Drugan Pos, adjutant to Civil Minister Wohar.”

“Likewise,” Sandhurst returned, looking past the man at the low ovoid constructs that looked to be the favored architectural style of the Velk. “I’m Captain Donald Sandhurst of the Gibraltar. We’re here to help in whatever capacity you’ll have us.”

“Our gratitude is yours, Captain.” The man gestured down an embankment to a waiting ground-car, an armored-looking heavy transport. “My instructions are to bring you to Wohar. He’s awaiting your arrival at a shielded location.”

Pell looked befuddled, “Doesn’t Minister Wohar lead the Ministry of Civil Affairs?”

Drugan Pos blanched, his eyes red-rimmed, “That was correct until twenty-one hours ago when the murderers decapitated most of our elected government. Now, Minister Wohar is the defacto head of state.”

Sandhurst and Pell exchanged a worried glance. Moving to where Lar’ragos stood, the captain asked, “Opinion, Pava?”

Lar’ragos looked less than pleased. “Their security situation is obviously tenuous at best, sir.” A muffled *crump* in the distance was followed by a mushrooming cloud of orange flame and dark smoke boiling into the sky from amidst a cluster of buildings some kilometers away. Raising a sardonic eyebrow, the El Aurian uttered softly to Sandhurst, “Saying our status is ‘vulnerable’ doesn’t quite do it justice.”

“Message received,” Sandhurst replied, turning back towards Pell. Pava’s hand on his bicep caused him to stop.

“Just so we’re clear, sir. If whoever is responsible for this makes an attempt on our team, I won’t be playing nicely with others. Expect a body count.” Lar’ragos underscored his statement by ramping his phaser to a lethal setting with the weapon still holstered.

Sandhurst stepped into him, glowering down at the smaller man. “At ease, Mr. Lar’ragos. You’re on the leash until I say otherwise. Are we clear?”

Lar’ragos just smiled that strange, creepy little smile of this that he saved for just such occasions. “As crystal, captain-my-captain.”

Approaching Pos, Sandhurst gestured to the waiting transport vehicle. “After you, sir.”

*****
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Old October 27 2007, 11:39 PM   #10
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Treacherous Waters - Chapter 6

Chapter 6 <by Galen Holcomb>

USS Intrepid
Gamma Quadrant, Orbiting Gambis home world
Stardate: 54114.3


Much to Lieutenant Commander Adol’s displeasure, it had taken no less than five attempts to establish communications with the Velk home world. His routine hail to the senate’s COMM network had been bounced around to every government branch save the one he wanted. On one occasion he had been disconnected.

Exasperated, the Andorian security chief had come very near threatening the last person to whom he’d spoken, and raising his voice to match. He was rewarded with yet another transfer, this time to a government office overseeing something he hadn’t clearly understood. It certainly had not sounded like it was under the auspices of the Velk Senate.

Captain Aubrey had walked onto the bridge just in time to hear part of Adol’s less than civil oratory. He cocked an eyebrow, but Adol only gazed back innocently, while gesturing at the main view screen with his antennas.

A chubby reptilian was waiting, looking out at the bridge officers with what seemed to be restrained excitement.

“Mr. Adol, who am I speaking with?” Aubrey asked, unhappy with the lack of introduction.

His jaw set, Adol stiffened with irritation. “I apologize sir. I’ve had trouble getting through to the senate. My inquiry has been re-directed all over the planet. I have no idea who they just connected me with.”

“I am Mileth, civilian Governor of Key-Aiph City.” The man readily volunteered. His voice was calm and evenly tempered, like most officials who schmoozed their way through public speaking. Only his body gave away his anxiety. His eyes scurried about, and he shifted constantly in his chair, as though preparing for a sudden exit.

“Captain Jason Aubrey, commanding the Federation starship Intrepid. Mr. Governor, it’s a great pleasure to make your acquaintance.” The captain intoned sincerely. “Perhaps you can help us. I’m trying to contact Toleth Vin, the senate over-seer.”

“Ahhh…I’d have thought someone would have told you by now.” Mileth replied quietly.

The captain took his chair. “Told us what, exactly?”

“Ahhh…the government assassinations.” He looked around nervously. “The Senate is ahhh…gone, you know. All of them, dead. Victims of a terrorist assassination. Social order has been momentarily lost.”

Shantok passed along a puzzled expression to Aubrey, who reflected it back to her.

“I’m deeply sorry to hear that. Do you know who’s behind these attacks?”

“We have suspicions. But we’re presently consumed with restoring order.”

“Then may I speak with the acting head of state? I’d like to offer humanitarian assistance. We’re only one ship, but we have some supplies aboard that could help.”

Mileth now seemed confused and a little suspicious. “But…I thought you we’re already working with Civil Minister Wohar. Isn’t that why you’re here? Has something happened to him as well?”

Fending off impatience, he forged ahead. “I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding. We’re not in the Velkamis system at present. However, if Wohar is the acting head of government, perhaps you can relay our offer to him.”

The governor gave one of those “your wish is my command” sorts of gestures with both hands. “Of course.”

Aubrey smiled, emoting a graciousness that he didn’t feel. “Thank you. Now, I have a question about our diplomatic convoy. It was-----“

“Terrible, terrible. I agree, yes.” Mileth interrupted. “I’m sure you know we’ll do everything in our power to punish those responsible.” He bowed his head in a perfect illustration of misery. “Your people and mine have suffered a grave loss this day.”

Aubrey tilted his head to one side, trying to sort through what he had just heard. “To what loss are you referring?” He asked carefully.

The governor’s eyes bugged open. “I meant no offense. Ahhh…maybe your culture sees sacrifice as a positive event.” He leaned toward the screen, as if he were now taking the bridge officers into his confidence. “But I want you to know that I will make my influence known for as long as it takes.”

The captain felt as if he was being asked to solve a riddle. “As long as it takes? To do what?”

“Why, to implement justice of course. Justice.” He hit his chest with a portly fist. “Let your Federation know that even if Wohar does nothing, I will see to it that your officers didn’t die in vain. I promise that the loss of your ships will be avenged. As will the murder of Jivin Sharm and his attaché.”

Silence descended like a shroud over the bridge. Then, hushed whispers began as crewmembers started to voice their apprehension to one another.

Jason Aubrey rose from his chair, feeling his stomach settle somewhere between his feet. “Are you saying our convoy was…destroyed?”

“Yes. As you well know.”

Lieutenant Douglas Pal, senior Operations officer, wheeled around from his post. “Captain, it’s not possible! There were five ships, some of our best officers-----!”

“As you were, Mr. Pal.” Shantok ordered. Her stern voice quickly extinguished all extraneous noise on the bridge, allowing the captain to continue his conversation.

In the brief exchange that followed, Mileth gave what little information he had on the attacks and the political upheavals now sweeping his world. He made only a vague reference to a subspace weapon when pressed for details of the cataclysm. Concerning the identity of the possible aggressors, he could only offer speculation, most of which focused on any number of unscrupulous agencies that allegedly operated from the Bog. His wild theories smacked of fiction.

“My deep apologies for seeming confused.” Mileth concluded. “At first I mistook you for----“

“Governor Mileth, were there any survivors?” Shantok interjected with uncharacteristic rudeness.

Mileth presented both hands in supplication. “No ahhh…our sensor net showed a complete loss. Well, except for that other ship of course. Please accept my grief as your own.”

Squinting in sudden surprise, Aubrey moved towards the screen. “’Other ship’?” He repeated. “You didn’t mention that before! Are you saying one of our vessels survived the attack?”

Abruptly, the screen began to waiver and sputter. “You know-----ready. Don’t-----ople-----unicate?”

He spoke over his shoulder to Adol. “What’s happening to the signal?”

“Interference.” Adol replied quickly. “Seems to be originating in another sector. I’ll try to compensate.” His hands moved over the tactical board.

“Governor Mileth,” He tried again. “Please let Wohar know that we’re on the way. And inform the other Starfleet ship of our presence.”

“Yes. Wo-----I can-----orm-----him. Int-----stand me?”

The screen crackled and a low hiss came over the speakers. Then the picture disappeared.

“Not what I would call an improvement.” The captain observed derisively. He walked back to Adol’s tactical station.

“Sir, the scope of the interference is extensive. It just came out of nowhere. And it’s increasing exponentially.”

“Can you regain contact?”

Adol frowned like a man handed an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. “I’m afraid not. The entire Velkamis system has been blacked out. Communication is impossible from this distance.”

“What’s causing the interference? The skies were clear a few minutes ago.”

Adol shrugged helplessly. “I’ve never seen this type of pattern before. It’s almost like…”

“Like what?” He prompted.

The entire room fixated on Adol as he took a moment to find the right word. “A storm. Like an ion storm, but this disturbance is propagating through subspace. It’s not a natural phenomenon-----in my opinion, sir.”

Aubrey spent a few moments studying a far corner of the room. His expression was nearly tranquil, as though he were enjoying a pleasant daydream. When he began to give orders once more, he did so almost casually. “Yellow alert. Adol, send an encoded Priority One message to Starfleet Command. Include my last six log entries. As a precaution, let’s mirror the data to a warp-capable log buoy. We’ll launch it when we get closer to the wormhole.”

“Aye, sir.”

Stepping down to the lower command well, he drew up behind his helm officer. “Ensign Sorna, lay in a course for the Velkamis system at full impulse. Take us to warp seven the moment we clear the Cochrane Boundary.”

The young brunette nearly jumped at the order. “Aye, captain. Laying in course and speed.”

He could feel it. He was no empath, but he might just has well have been. Anxiety and trepidation were now humming through his officers like a live current. They watched him expectantly-----ready to burst with questions and overwrought guesswork.

At the right time, he would solicit their ideas. But not just yet. He had learned the hard way that command officers often paid a heavy price for letting speculation run rampant on the bridge.

He dared a look at Shantok, who was unmoved by the electricity in the air. He wanted to offer her words of comfort. He wanted to tell her that Governor Mileth was not the most credible source of information-----and that even if what he had said was true, then the surviving Starfleet ship was likely the Nagasaki. (Their lack of response not withstanding.)

Captain Zorek was the most experienced of the procession, and his ship the most formidable. During the war, Nagasaki and Intrepid had briefly shared company as part of Tango Fleet. While fighting in the battle for Betazed Aubrey had seen first hand just what a redoubtable adversary the elderly captain was. Few members of that late task force were still around today, and it was no accident that Zorek’s ship was counted among them.

But he offered none of those thoughts-----because to a Vulcan, platitudes and statements of false hope were offensive. If Zorek were dead, Shantok would need her dignity now more than ever.

Instead, he raised his head defiantly at the starfield before him.

“Engage.”

Intrepid banked away from the Gambis homeworld and hurtled out of the system at one quarter the speed of light.
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Old October 28 2007, 03:13 AM   #11
Dnoth
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 6

I think this is going very nicely. I have a lot of questions. ...but that's always a good thing!
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Old October 28 2007, 06:58 AM   #12
Gibraltar
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Treacherous Waters - Chapter 7

Chapter 7 <by Gibraltar>

The last six hours had proved especially busy for the crew of Gibraltar, but aside from the bustle of cargo offloading operations, their time in orbit had proved blessedly incident free.

Ramirez entered the transporter room in time to see Sandhurst and the rest of the away team regain physical cohesion. Their faces were grim as they stepped down off the platform. “Bad?” she asked.

Sandhurst sighed, “Bad enough. Their government is in shambles, and the infrastructure damage has set their post-Dominion recovery efforts back nearly a year.” The away team members surrendered their sidearms, tricorders and other gear to the transporter chief and then stepped into the corridor. “We spoke with the nominal head of government, the former minister of civil affairs.”

“However,” Pell added, “there are at least a dozen different individuals or factions claiming leadership status at the moment. Figuring out who’s really in charge is going to be a frixing mess.”

“Any idea who’s behind the attacks?” the exec asked as Taiee trudged past, she and her assistant hefting a large trunk filled with Velk data crystals containing much of the species’ accumulated medical knowledge.

Pell frowned, “That depends on who you ask. Some parties are convinced it’s the Dominion, while others point to homegrown separatist groups or regional crime syndicates. Since no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, there are no definitive answers.”

The team members began to drift off, some heading to get something to eat, others returning to their duty posts. The captain halted Lar’ragos in his tracks, “Not so fast, Pava.” The El Aurian turned back, looking pensive.

Shifting his focus to Ramirez, Sandhurst inquired, “Status of our cargo transfer?”

“Ahead of schedule. We’ll be completed within the next three hours.”

“Excellent,” Sandhurst remarked without much enthusiasm. “When we’re finished with that, we’ll remain on station here while Pell and I work to try and cobble together some kind of governing coalition. I’m not holding out much hope, but we’ve got to at least make an effort.”

“Aye, sir.” Ramirez inclined her head in the direction of Taiee. “Once the lieutenant uploads the Velk medical database and syncs the information with the EMH program, we’ll be ready to start bringing up casualties from the surface for treatment.”

“Very well, keep me apprised, Commander.” Sandhurst pivoted on his heel, heading off down the corridor as he called back to Lar’ragos. “Walk with me, Lieutenant.” Appearing reluctant, Lar’ragos nonetheless moved to catch up with him as Sandhurst rounded the corner.

Stepping into a turbolift alcove and pressing the call button, Sandhurst took a moment to inspect his friend. “You want to tell me what’s going on with you? I haven’t seen you this keyed up in awhile.”

Lar’ragos spent a moment staring at the floor before meeting Sandhurst’s gaze. "I’m not sure, actually. I’m just… off.”

The lift car arrived and they stepped aboard, Sandhurst selecting Deck 5, senior officer’s quarters. “How so?”

“It’s difficult to explain. My abilities are… well, they feel scrambled somehow. I’m having trouble reading people and situations with my usual insight.” He looked uncommonly self-conscious. “And when I’m not in possession of my ‘cheats,’ I have a tendency to become a bit… edgy.”

Considering this for a moment, Sandhurst remarked, “That subspace weapon the Orions tried to use on us in the Pierosh system last year put you in a coma for three days. If I’m understanding Shanthi correctly, whatever was used to destroy our task force was several orders of magnitude more powerful. Do you think that might have something to do with it?”

Lar’ragos shrugged with his hands, “It’s the only thing I can think of that makes any sense.”

The lift arrived at its destination, but Sandhurst did not move to exit the car. “Pava, special perceptions or no, I need you at my side right now. More than that, I need you focused and steady. If we’re facing something the Dominion has set in motion, I’ll be counting on your experience and training to help guide us through it.”

The lieutenant nodded distractedly. “I understand, sir. I apologize for my outburst planetside.” He took a deep breath. “I’ll get my head on straight, Captain. I promise.”

Sandhurst gripped the smaller man’s shoulder, “See that you do.” With that, he walked out of the lift, leaving Lar’ragos to struggle with his doubts.

*****

The large viewscreen in the briefing room now contained live images of over a dozen ‘delegates,’ who claimed, some even legitimately, to have leadership standing among the Velk population. Sandhurst and Pell sat side-by-side, facing the viewer with assorted padds crowding the table top in front of them.

Sandhurst marveled at Pell’s patience with the squabbling factions, as well as her ability to cite fundamental similarities between some of the groups that had already led to more than one coalition being formed before their eyes. Time and again, Pell interrupted the delegates’ quarreling to remind them that their planet was in crisis, and that quibbling over minutia would be of benefit to no one.

“I would call attention to the fact that your military is rudderless at present,” Pell prodded an obstinate officer who held the analogous rank to a colonel in the Bajoran militia. “If an invasion of your world is forthcoming, your military must be united under a single banner in order to function.”

This, unfortunately, incited another barrage of claims, allegations, and arguments in regards to which civilian body would be placed in charge of the planet’s armed services. Sandhurst muted the audio pickup and leaned in to whisper to Pell, “I’ve got to take a break. Otherwise, I may start targeting their cities from orbit.”

“Fine by me,” she returned after an exasperated sigh, “so long as Prelate Voulst and his little band of constitutionalists are the first to fall.”

Suppressing a wry smirk, Sandhurst reactivated the audio. “Delegates, again we thank you for your continued cooperation and input. A brief recess is in order before we carry on this discussion.”

“How is it you get to decide when we break for a recess?” squawked one of the representatives, a disagreeable religious figure much reviled by the others.

“I’m the one with the starship,” Sandhurst deadpanned as he severed the communications link. “Oh… thank the Prophets” he breathed as the screen darkened. He rested his head on his folded arms atop the table. “Ojana, I don’t know how you do it.”

“Sedatives,” she replied. “You’d be surprised how much crap you can put up with when you’re floating on five cc’s of ambizine.”

He laughed. “I’m glad you can maintain a sense of humor.”

She reached over, rubbing his back with one hand. “Growing up in refugee camps helps a person distinguish importance from impudence. Most of the early rounds of negotiation are for show. Once they’ve postured sufficiently, they’ll start concentrating on where their individual groups will end up in this new leadership hierarchy.”

The door chimed, and Pell quickly reeled in her hand as Sandhurst sat up straight in his chair. “Enter.”

Ramirez stepped into the room, glancing at the deactivated viewer before moving over to the table. “Taking a break, sir?”

“Thankfully yes,” Sandhurst groused. “What’s going on?”

“Three issues that require your attention, sir. First, a Velk sentry outpost has reported what they believe to be a large warship inbound from the direction of a local stellar cluster. Their scans proved indeterminate as to specifics, due to the growing subspace interference in this region. That leads into the second subject, that being Shanthi believes the communications blackout zone is actually growing, radiating outward from the point of detonation. He estimates that in another two hours, we won’t even be able to contact the surface from orbit.”

Sandhurst’s expression darkened. “That makes sense. Destroy the Federation task force and simultaneously garble the region’s communications to mask an attack on the planet from the oncoming warship.”

“Lar’ragos agrees with you, Captain” Ramirez said, sharing that view herself. “He’s recommending going to red alert and moving to intercept the oncoming vessel.”

Blowing out a long breath, Sandhurst mulled that over. “Just us? If that’s a Dominion battle cruiser en route, that’d constitute the galaxy’s shortest intercept ever.”

“The Velk are offering to send a squadron of their patrol craft along with us,” Ramirez informed him.

“You said three issues,” Pell pointed out. “What’s the third one, Liana?”

Ramirez moved to the viewer, linking the screen to the ship’s memory database. “This newscast was sent to us from someone on the surface using an untraceable civilian transceiver array. Obviously, someone down there thought we’d find it interesting.” An image appeared there, overlaid with Velk text that the computer translated into Federation standard script. The scrolling undercarriage on the image read, Velk Envoy to Federation Spotted Aboard Matroba Trade Station. “This image was apparently taken sixteen hours after the destruction of our task force,” Ramirez elaborated. The jumpy, grainy image showed someone who certainly appeared to be Envoy Jivin Sharm being hustled through a crowded concourse aboard a bustling space station by two unnaturally large Velk.

‘Or…’ Sandhurst thought with a sudden thrill of recognition, ‘…two average sized Jem’Hadar.’

“Someone managed to abduct Sharm out from under our noses?” Pell asked, her voice laden with skepticism.

“That,” Ramirez countered, “or the Envoy Sharm we had aboard the Nagasaki was a Changeling.”

“Where is this Matroba trade station?” the captain solicited.

“It’s the primary trade outpost for commerce between Velkohn and the Bog,” Ramirez replied crisply. “It’s four lightyears from here. ETA at Warp 8 is thirty-four hours.”

Sandhurst rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly, “How many ships can the Velk assemble on short notice?”

“Given current circumstances, perhaps twelve. Their maximum speed is Warp 6, and their armaments are on par with late 23rd century Federation technology.”

Looking morose, Sandhurst weighed his options in silence as his XO and second officer looked on. Finally, he announced his decision. “Commander, set all hands to battle stations and make arrangements for the Velk squadron to form up with us. We’ll lead the intercept with the oncoming vessel. Provided we survive that encounter, we’ll set course for the trade station and investigate the possible sighting of Envoy Sharm.”

Pell appeared stymied, “And the delegates?”

Cocking his head apologetically, Sandhurst offered, “You’ve got thirty minutes to explain the situation and convince them to cooperate amongst themselves. Tell them that if whatever ship is bearing down on this system gets past us, it will quickly become their problem. That ought to underscore the severity of their situation for them.”

Nodding reluctantly, Pell made peace with that. “Yes, sir.”

Standing, Sandhurst headed for the door with Ramirez following in his wake. “Let’s go make nice with the neighbors, Exec.”

*****
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Old October 28 2007, 02:36 PM   #13
DarKush
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 4

Gibraltar,

More excellent work. You and Galen have done a great job blending your stories together. You've got a great eye for detail and world building, I liked the mention of the Velk ovoid buildings.

And you're developing a very nice mystery. Looking forward to more.
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Old October 28 2007, 06:31 PM   #14
DavidFalkayn
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 4

Echoing what DarKush has said, I'd also add that I like the plot twist with the Velkan envoy--are we dealing with a rogue element of the Dominion? One of the crime syndicates? A home grown group? Another player? The two of you are weaving a most intriguing mystery here.

Collaborations can be hard to do for a variety of reasons, but you and Galen are doing a good job here blending things together. I'm looking forward to the time when Gibraltar and Intrepid meet up.
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Old October 28 2007, 11:04 PM   #15
Galen4
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Re: Treacherous Waters - Chapter 4

Hi everyone,
Galen Holcomb here. I've just become a member of BBS. Looks like a great place. I've been a member of TWGuild and Trekfiction for several years. But since I've been working with Gibraltar, I became aware of this site. Anyhoo, I just wanted to say thanks for your time and interest in our project. It's quite a privlilage to team up with a writer of Gibraltar's calibar. I plan to stick around and post more work here as well. My best to everyone.
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