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Old May 2 2006, 07:50 PM   #16
Admiral2
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

trampledamage said:
admiral2's on his own when it comes to summarising the April challenge!
Not a problem.

April's Challenge:

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

April's Winner:

Starkers!

The Winning Entry:

Salus Populi Suprema Est Lex


He’d been back on Cardassia several months, but still hadn’t gotten over the thrill of being home.

Yes home was still a burned out wreck of a planet since the end of the war, with more hungry children on every street corner than even Starfleet replicators seemed capable of feeding, but still…

It may have looked Cardassian, but DS9’s architecture was illusionary, a painful torture designed to remind him of home, whilst never letting him forget he was an exile.

The lack of fellow Cardassians was disturbing enough, but the cold only amplified his pain. Even turning the heat up in his quarters hadn’t helped; it had merely left him a choice of tortures. Stay in the warmth of solitude, or mingle in the cold comfort of alien company.

None of that mattered now. He was home, and the naturally warm Cardassian air was something Garak never tired of.

The park was his favourite haunt. He liked the Prekem plumage that grew in purple clumps by the lake, and the mathematically precise walkways that ran through the park, testament to the rationality of the Cardassian heart.

It was unlike a human park. There was more stone here than grass, although since the end of the war he’d noted many of the statues dedicated to the unity of society had been toppled. A brave new Cardassia, though one that still needed heroes it seemed. A new statue stood by the entrance. It showed Damar, charging towards his fate, the inscription simple, yet powerful.

“For Cardassia!”

Garak smiled, Damar had been such a dour individual, but he had to hand it to him, the man knew how to make an exit.

All the heroes in the galaxy wouldn’t be enough to save Cardassia now though, which was why Garak needed the help of men like the one waiting by the lake’s edge. An alien, but a good man, one who’d made those years of exile more bearable.

‘My dear Doctor, I’m sorry I’m late.’

Julian Bashir was stood by a pair of stone chairs, leaning nonchalantly against one of them. Behind him was the murky water of Lake Lomak. On the opposite shore a group of three silhouettes stood by identical seats.

‘Garak,’ said Bashir. ‘I have to admit, I was disappointed when you didn’t meet me at the spaceport, but this,’ and he gestured around him ‘is so much more Cold War.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘Should I ask you about the weather on Cardassia?’

‘Ah, Doctor, still seeing spies everywhere, trying to turn even the most innocent of meetings into an espionage drama.’

Bashir smiled. ‘I’m sorry, but can you blame me after all those years of you dangling titbits of intrigue before my eyes?’

‘I suppose not,’ said Garak. ‘You know, some of them even had a grain of truth to them,’ he nodded innocently.

‘So, what was so important that I had to miss attending the Levinson symposium with Ezri?’

‘Ah the delightful Miss Dax, you know I’m so glad you two finally got together…’

‘Garak…’ Bashir was playfully stern now.

‘Does there have to be a reason for friends to meet and reminisce about old times?’

Bashir was about to reply, but instead his body stiffened as two Romulan soldiers, disrupters at their hips, walked by with the practiced arrogance of an occupying power.

‘Pay them no heed, Doctor. They are no threat to us.’

‘You seem awfully glib about having them here?’

Garak shrugged. ‘Irrespective of my people’s change of heart, we were still the enemy, and technically we were on the losing side. It was inevitable that we would be occupied, and Romulan troops,’ he face darkened, ‘like their Federation brethren, are a part of everyday life now.’

‘Not for too much longer, if the reports are right.’

‘Ah yes. Coalition troops will start to evacuate Cardassia within the next six months, and the planet will be returned to our control.’

‘You don’t sound too hopeful.’

‘Oh I am, Doctor, believe me I am. But Cardassia, beautiful though it is,’ and he gestured to the greyness about him, ‘was merely the hub of a much larger entity.’

‘You mean the Union?’

‘Exactly.’ Garak smiled. ‘You always were quick to pick things up, perhaps a quirk of your genetic manipulation,’ he looked wistfully off to one side.

‘Garak…’

‘I’m sorry. Perhaps it’s the onset of old age, but my mind does seem to wander more and more of late.’ It was a lie of course, but he liked keeping Bashir off balance.

Bashir turned to the lake. ‘Garak, you can’t expect us to just return the Cardassian Union to its former glory.’ Now he turned to look him in the eye. ‘I’m sorry, but there was always going to be a price for siding with the Dominion.’

‘I realise that, Doctor, and I for one am happy for Cardassia to pay, but almost fifty percent of our former colonies divided up amongst the allies?’ His grey skin paled. ‘Some of them are planets we will need if we want to rebuild our society,’ he paused. ‘Like Kelliss.’

Bashir’s nose wrinkled. ‘Kelliss,’ he muttered. ‘I know the name…’ He snapped his fingers. ‘Of course, we passed it on our way in. Fifth planet of a binary system, fifteen point four light years away from Cardassia. The planet is just one big ocean but it used to supply Cardassia with the Leocite necessary for the construction of navigational deflectors. If I recall correctly fifty percent of your Leocite came from Kelliss.’

‘You are indeed correct. Your memory for facts and figures is as astonishing as ever,’ said Garak.

Bashir shrugged. ‘Ezri says I remember too many dumb facts.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Garak with a nod. ‘But you are a talkative fellow, Doctor, and as such you need to have a lot of facts close to hand, dumb or not. What?’

Bashir was grinning. ‘I just realised why you invited me here.’

Garak played the innocent. ‘You have? Please do enlighten me.’

‘You want me to use my influence to ensure that Kelliss remains a part of the Cardassian Union.’

‘Can you do that?’ Garak tried to inject surprise into the question.

Bashir chuckled. ‘I’m afraid your opinion of my importance is over inflated. I can put a good word in,’ he smile grew sadder, ‘but I doubt I will be listened too.’

‘Perhaps Admiral Ross could be of help?’ asked Garak.

Bashir shook his head. ‘We’re not really on speaking terms anymore.’

‘Really? Why ever not?’

‘I can’t say.’

‘Ah,’ said Garak. ‘Secrets are so very addictive, aren’t they?’

Bashir sidestepped the comment. ‘What’s so important about Kelliss anyway?’

‘As you yourself so adroitly pointed out, it was our greatest source of Leocite. If Cardassia is to prosper once again, under more amenable leadership of course, then we’ll need ships capable of defending us.’

Bashir shrugged. ‘But with a smaller Empire you won’t need as many. Besides, part of the treaty stipulates that the powers in control of all your former colonies are duty bound to ensure that necessary supplies reach Cardassia.’

Garak snorted. ‘Perhaps, but such supplies could be cut off in an instant if the Cardassian government did not “play ball”, as you humans put it. Already many of my fellow Cardassians are forecasting a bleak future, one where we are held at the mercy of the major powers, punished for our actions for centuries to come.’

Bashir frowned. ‘You don’t really believe that.’

Garak’s mood darkened. ‘I believe that we should learn from history. The military originally rose to power on Cardassia because the people were starving. Hunger and fear can be powerful recruiting sergeants for the more radical of voices.’

‘Are you saying that if Cardassians go hungry…’

‘Then we might see the rise of another Dukat, yes.’

Bashir looked glum. ‘I can’t help. I can try, but men like us,’ he shrugged, ‘they aren’t really listened too anymore. ‘

‘Of course,’ said Garak, allowing a smile to brighten his face. ‘Decisions like these are always made by people of power, men and women with no concept of the realities on the ground.’

‘Do you really think there’s another Dukat out there?’ Bashir was genuinely concerned now. Garak almost felt guilty.

‘There are rumours of groups forming, insurgents who want to accelerate the coalition pull out, but they’ve little support. I was merely speaking hypothetically. You are, as always, quite right. With a smaller empire our space fleet must, by necessity, be smaller too. Although…I really do like the Limum fish from Kelliss.’

‘I’m sure there’ll still be plenty of Limum fish to go around.’

Garak checked his chronometer. ‘Doctor, I am afraid another appointment beckons, perhaps we can continue this delightful conversation over supper?’

‘That would be nice, yes. The Director of the local field hospital was a lecturer of mine, I promised I’d stop by and see him.’

‘Just so long as I’m not leaving you to wander the streets of Cardassia alone, I would hate for something bad to happen to you.’

‘I’ll be fine.’

‘Excellent. Shall we say nine?’ Bashir nodded. ‘Very well, until then.’ He let Bashir turn away before he spoke again. ‘There was one other thing, before you go.’

‘Yes?’

‘I was hoping you could clear up a rumour I’d heard, you know how soldiers like to prattle.’

Bashir nodded. ‘If I can.’

‘I have heard that, during your visit to Romulus, you became embroiled in real life espionage. Some people even say you know the identity of a Federation spy at the very pinnacle of the Romulan government.’

Bashir’s expression never wavered. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Garak.’

For the first time now, Garak felt a twinge of doubt. Could he have been wrong? There was only one trick left up his sleeve. ‘Why Doctor, I never knew you could be so duplicitous, it’s nice to know not all my lessons were wasted.’

Bashir laughed. ‘Now who’s seeing spy stories everywhere?’

Garak laughed. ‘That is the trouble with rumours; they are so often mere flights of fancy. I shall see you later.’

He watched him go. Bashir had indeed learned to hide his true feelings, but not completely. Before he laughed there was a moment; a flicker of pride as Garak stroked his ego. Many men would have missed it, but not Garak.

* * *

He walked slowly around the lake, giving his second visitor time to ponder what he’d seen. If the three Romulans were annoyed at this delay, they didn’t show it. Not that Garak cared about the bodyguards; it was the man in the centre he was concerned with, the man whose visage betrayed less emotion than the average Vulcan’s.

‘Chairman Koval,’ he said brightly, extending a hand that was ignored. ‘I’m glad you could come.’

Koval, Chairman of the Tal Shiar, newly elected member of the Continuing Committee sneered. ‘Spare me your pleasantries. What do you want?’

‘That’s the trouble with our business,’ said Garak. ‘No one takes the trouble to observe the niceties anymore.’

Koval’s eyes narrowed. There was a rumour he was dying, but Garak saw no hint of weakness. ‘Garak,’ he said, the word spat like an epithet. ‘I came here because of a disagreeable scrap of information you possessed about me, now I find I have cause to regret that decision. In truth the information you had was of no real threat to my position, I suppose it was curiosity that drew me here. Curiosity at meeting the fabled Elim Garak. Legend held that you were the best agent Cardassia ever possessed. Now that I stand before you, however, I can see that that doesn’t mean very much.’ He flicked a glance to his guards. ‘We will be leaving now.’

‘So soon?’ said Garak. ‘We haven’t even discussed the price of my silence.’

Koval was unmoved. ‘Garak, the information you have is worthless. Before I left I informed the Praetor about my mistake on Tevane. It was a long time ago, and Romulans can be most forgiving.’

‘I wasn’t talking about Tevane,’ said Garak. ‘You saw who I was talking to didn’t you?’ There were binoculars slung around Koval’s neck.

‘Yes. Doctor Julian Bashir. What of it?’

‘I believe you two are old friends.’

Koval looked bored. ‘I met with the Doctor on Romulus. But I do not have any human friends.’ He sounded disgusted at even the suggestion.

Garak smiled smugly. ‘Only human paymasters?’

‘I see that minor infringements are not the only hold you feel you have over me. Now you are inventing imagined betrayals.’

‘Am I?’ said Garak. ‘Doctor Bashir seemed quite specific.’

Koval smiled as if addressing a child. ‘Garak, we have both lived and worked in the shadows. Do you really believe that if this ludicrous accusation were true, I would have allowed Bashir to live? ’He didn’t wait for an answer. ‘Now I will be leaving this cess pool of a planet.’ He made to barge past Garak.

‘I am sure Admiral Ross ensured the good Doctor’s survival as part of the price for his complicity.’

Koval froze. He sneered at Garak, but he made no further attempt to move past him. Instead he flicked a glance at his guards; they moved away. ‘You have a theory, nothing more,’ he said, his voice cold.

‘If you say so,’ said Garak. In truth he had no proof, just the hunch that the most obvious spy was always the least obvious, and who was less obvious than the head of the Tal Shiar? The fact that they were still talking suggested he was right.

They stared at each other for a minute. In the end Koval broke first. ‘If this were true, you realise you have signed your death warrant, and Bashir’s.’

‘Of course, but should anything happen to either of us, I have made arrangements. What I know will reach the Praetor’s ears. Posthumous revenge is never as sweet, but it can still be quite potent.’

Seconds passed. The wind coming off the lake sheared through them, but neither man faltered.

‘What would your price be for keeping this disagreeable falsehood a secret?’ Koval said at last.

Garak’s eyes sparkled. ‘Kelliss.’

There was no bargaining, no negotiation. Koval merely nodded, then spun on his heels and stalked after his men.

Garak watched him go. If Cardassia were to rebuild it would need the deflectors Kelliss would provide- not to mention the dilithium deposits buried deep and unseen beneath the oceans.

Koval was a problem though; one who served multiple masters was never a reliable long term asset. Garak decided he would have to kill him, always assuming Koval didn’t see though Garak’s flimsy hold over him, and kill both he and Julian first of course. Garak felt guilt for putting the Doctor in danger, but, as Cicero had said, the welfare of the people was the ultimate law, and above even friendship.
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Old June 6 2006, 04:09 PM   #17
Starkers
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Location: Paddling...
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

May 2006- Subject 'Heart'.

Winner:

Dark Territory-The Heart of the Matter by DarKush

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

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

The Heart of the Matter


The Khemet Sector
Klingon Empire
(2367)

Lt. Commander Terrence Glover gave a low whistle of appreciation. This was the closest he had ever been to a D’Kora-class marauder. Its graceful curvature and soothing orange metallic finish seemed totally at odds with the rapacious bent of its crew.

His commanding officer, Captain Borte, daughter of Goragh, wasn’t as impressed. The sinewy woman leaned forward in her seat, her voice an eager hiss, “How much longer until we are in firing range?”

“One hundred kellicams,” Lt. Krastil, sitting beside him at the navigation console replied. “This is going to be good,” she said under her breath for his ears only. When Glover looked at her in response, she winked before flashing him a sharp toothed grin.

Terrence gulped his acceptance, his fingers wrapping tightly around the ship’s controls. One of the things he loved best about his assignment to the IKS Dorna was piloting the K’Vort class cruiser.

With its archaic steering column, the power of the ship was literally in his hands, at his whim. He felt every twist and turn of the steering controls, each judder. In addition, his fairly expert flying skills had also helped him win respect on the Klingon warship.

It had been a long, hard struggle to be seen as member of the Dorna’s crew first, Borte’s Executive Officer second, a Starfleet officer third, and last a human.

He had thrown himself into disproving the critics and doubters on all counts, earning a multiple contusions and several broken bones along the way.

He suffered the occasional pangs and twinges of agony in silence however, though sometimes he counted down the days until he could return to Federation space to get them properly reset.

“Commander Pragh, power the disruptor cannons, prepare to de-cloak on my order!” The fierce captain snapped. Terrence glanced back to see Pragh glowering at him.

The tall, muscular Klingon was standing at his upper level console right behind Captain Borte. When the Dorna had been selected to host Terrence as part of Starfleet and the Klingon Defense Force’s joint Officer Exchange Program, Pragh had been temporarily demoted. Though he maintained his usual station as the ship’s Weapons Officer.

Unwilling to assassinate Borte and take command, Pragh instead had skulked around for weeks after Glover’s arrival, seeking to bully Terrence out of the Executive Officer’s position.

Even though Glover wasn’t blessed with a naturally ridged, thick skull or a bodily system of redundant organs, he was tougher than he might’ve appeared to Pragh.

And his ambition and dedication to the task at hand might’ve even rivaled the Great Kahless; Though Glover kept that comparison to himself, not wishing to offend any of his crewmates’ religious sensibilities.

A month ago, the two men had met in battle in the Mess Hall. To his credit, Glover had been able to bust the larger man’s nose, take out a few of his teeth, and had only received two cracked, and badly attended to, ribs for his efforts.

The fact that he had left a fight with Pragh still tied to the mortal coil had impressed his colleagues. And it had even spurred Krastil to begin teaching him Mok’Bara, a Klingon martial art form, upon his recovery.

Their sessions had even led to her instructing him in the arts of seloh. And the injuries incurred during those tussles didn’t bother him one bit.

“We are now within firing range,” Krastil said, her voice husky with excitement.

“Sowee TAH!” Borte was on her feet now. The image of space on the rhombus shaped main viewer wavered as the cloaking field that had enveloped the ship dropped.

“Fire!” The captain commanded. Seconds later, a succession of red beams erupted from the two cannons mounted at the ends of the Dorna’s wings. They stitched across the rounded aft section of the marauder, leaving scorched and twisted metal in their wake.

“Direct hits,” Pragh gloated. “Their defensive shields and engines are gone. Life support is failing. They are at our mercy.” Gouts of quickly vanquished flames were spouting all over the ship’s hull, as the marauder spun madly.

“The Ferengi were so confident of their escape that they didn’t even have their shields raised,” Borte remarked in astonishment. “The fools,” her spittle splashed loudly on the deck in front of her.

“The Ferengi are hailing,” Communications Officer Lochem announced. The portly man sat on the left row of banks on the upper deck behind Pragh. “They wish to surrender and are requesting immediate assistance.”

Borte sat slowly back down in her seat, a contemplative look on her face. Instead of replying to Lochem, she said, “Terrence, son of Samson, what do you suggest?” Both Glover and the captain ignored Pragh’s audible groan.

“Well…I think we should help them.”

“Typical Starfleet,” Pragh spat. “That ship invaded Klingon space, and made off with personal cargo bound for the Imperial Governor of Kredak! For their insolence alone, they should be blasted into atoms!”

Borte didn’t respond. She merely continued looking at Glover. The man quickly realized it was another test, another challenge, but he didn’t know the right answer, or what the captain was looking for from him.

So, he decided to speak truthfully, “Was it insolence or courage-kajanpak’t-on the part of those Ferengi? Despite the consequences they dared challenge the Klingon Empire, pilfering items no less than from Governor Lorath, one of the most opulent officials in the realm. Shouldn’t that be worth a reprieve?”

“Or sentences at Rura Penthe?” Krastil added. Glover shivered. The horror stories he had heard about the infamous, ice bound penal colony during his days reading Academy texts about Jonathan Archer and James Kirk, had only been confirmed by his crewmates on the Dorna.

“Your heart will never be Klingon human,” Pragh sneered, stepping from behind his station. The man flexed his massive arms.

“No matter how many tolerate you here, or use you as a toy, you will never understand the warrior’s spirit that courses through a true Klingon’s veins. If you did, you would know that no higher honor can be bestowed, no greater mercy than to fall in battle at the feet of a superior’s blade.”

“I doubt those Ferengi over there would understand your brand of kindness.”

“My point at exactly hew-mon,” Pragh drew out the word in imitation of the Ferengi oft-mispronounced of Terrence’s species. Though his body screamed in protest, Glover jumped to his feet, prepared to face another challenge. He cracked his knuckles.

“Perhaps it’s time I rearranged your nose again Pragh.” The Klingon threw back his head, long, thick dreadlocks flying in every direction. Clutching his stomach, he roared with laughter.

“Stay where you are Commander Glover!” Borte bellowed. She smiled devilishly. “I have made my decision.”
***

(Several Hours Later…)

Krastil slammed a goblet of steaming Bahgol tea in front of him, most of its contents splashing on his lap. The woman roared in laughter, clamping a hand down on his shoulder, squeezing it painfully.

He bit back the burning pain as the liquid soaked into the crotch of his breeches. Glover was glad that he long ago ditched his red and black Starfleet uniform for more durable Klingon attire. The Bahgol might’ve eaten through his old suit like acid. Terrence gave her a grimace-laced smile. “Thanks.”

Still chuckling she leaned down, her lips at his ear. “Tonight,” the woman said, biting his earlobe, just hard enough to remain pleasurable. She clapped his shoulder again and then sashayed out of the mess, her lithe frame drawing several lustful glares, and a few leering sneers in Glover’s direction.

After she was gone, he took a sip of the rich red tea still in the goblet. Despite their hardened martial image, the Klingons found a way to celebrate the most mundane events. Their dinners were often elaborate affairs, highly ritualized, and filled with songs and stories of battles and victories past.

And dinners were even more raucous after a great victory, as Captain Borte, sitting at the head of the long officer’s table, was spinning their confrontation. Or more so, a great haul. A golden diadem adorned the inebriated woman’s head.

The Ferengi had offered little resistance, and seemingly more afraid of the unexplained streak of mercy on the parts of the Klingons had revealed all of the secret caches littering their ship.

The treasures had been so great that after scuttling the D'Kora, Captain Borte had allowed the Ferengi to limp back to whatever recess they had slithered out from in several of the craft's life boats.

Terrence hadn't totally agreed with the captain's decision of letting the raiders go free, but at least he had helped prevent their wholesale slaughter. He hoped, but doubted, that their near brush with death would teach them the error of their felonious ways.

The riches looted from Governor Lorath were only the tip of the iceberg of revelations. After Glover did some cross-referencing with Starfleet, he had discovered that they had thwarted DaiMon Drux, one of the most notorious privateers in the Beta Quadrant.

Despite Drux’s meticulous planning for the heist, he hadn’t anticipated the sudden reassignment of the patrol ship Kaj, and its more indolent Captain Chitagh with the younger, more aggressive Borte.

The captain had remained tight-lipped about the new mission, though Krastil had speculated that it had much to do with Borte’s open displeasure with Chancellor Gowron’s regime. Captain Borte and her crew were being placed out in the sticks as punishment. Glover hoped that Gowron wasn’t so petty, but after spending months aboard Dorna, he wouldn’t be surprised.

“I misjudged you,” Pragh crowed, placing another crushing hand on Glover’s shoulder. He could see the glint from the man’s jewel encrusted fingers out of the corner of his eye.

Pragh settled down beside him, placing a dish with a bloody, raw hunk of meat in front of him. The meat’s rancid smell made Glover’s eyes water. He pushed his own plate of pipius claw to the side.

“Not hungry tonight Terrence, son of Samson?” Pragh asked mockingly. “No matter,” he pounded Glover on the back.

“Your foresight will keep all of our families fed for several years, no matter the storm brewing between Gowron and the Duras. Your heart might be Klingon after all,” he paused, wrapping a massive arm around Glover’s shoulder and pulling him close. Pragh smelled like he had showered in bloodwine. “There is one way to find out for sure though.”

“And that would be?” Glover wasn’t certain how much of Pragh’s camaraderie was alcohol induced, but he wanted to seize on any opportunity to bury a hatchet between them, before Pragh or one of his cronies slid a dk’tahg in his back. “I’ll do it,” he said before thinking about what it might entail.

“That’s the spirit!” Pragh roared again, his hand clapping like thunder against Glover’s back, the force of it almost throwing Terrence halfway across the wooden table. With one paw on his back, Pragh used the other to slide the plate of bloodied meat over to Terrence.

Glover restrained himself from pinching his nose or gagging. “What’s that?” He said only after he was certain he could keep the pipius claw he had ingested earlier in his stomach.

“A delicacy,” Pragh said, his face darkening slightly, “Something that grunts like us never get to experience. But because it was your leniency that won us these prizes, it is only honorable that you partake of the bounty first.”

“What is it?” Glover repeated, his nose hairs curling.

“Raw heart of targ of course,” Pragh answered, smacking his thick lips, “How do you humans say it,” he paused, his ridged brow furrowing, as he pushed Glover toward the plate. “Dig in.”
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Old July 12 2006, 04:06 PM   #18
DarKush
Rear Admiral
 
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.


June 2006-Subject: Birth of the Federation

Winner:

One Small Step by Starkers

Well here's mine...

* * *

By the time the ship’s engines finally gave up the ghost, it had been travelling for almost two hundred years.

It is a great fallacy that once an object starts to move in space it will move forever. Even in a vacuum there are forces that will work to slow a ship down, rob it of inertia. There’s gravity for one, and each time the ship passed within even a few million kilometres of a planet or a star, it was slowed down, just a fraction. Sometimes the process was reversed, and the ship gained impetus from its close passage to a planetary mass, but in the grand scheme of things the universe was against it, and it lost much more headway than it ever gained in this manner.

Then there were the multiple meteorite impacts, and collisions with other cosmic detritus, as if some higher power were tying to stop the little ship from going onwards.

Impossibly though, she did. Yes she slowed down, and yes she covered less distance in the hundred years following the death of her engines than she’d managed in the first five years of her flight, but even as one power strove to stop her, it was as if another urged her onwards; even going so far as to deposit a wormhole in her path, one that existed for less than twelve hours, yet threw the little ship more than a thousand light years further along and into the outer edges of the Tn Sway.

* * *

The Tn were an old race, one almost human like in their general appearance. The Tn Sway had been growing for five millennia, and showed no sign of halting, and each Fln that passed, each Pnm traversed saw more and more sentient species join the Sway.

Now a Tn scout pairing hung in space beside the little ship. There were two of them, a male and a female, resplendent in crimson vacuum suits that more resembled the chitinous exoskeleton of an insect rather than any conventional space suit.

Eager eyes peered out from within amber tinted visors made from triple layered resin, drinking in the sight before them.

‘What is its scale?’ Asked the male.

The female’s suit contained the pairing’s sensor array, and with a thought she activated these to answer her colleagues question. ‘Two hundred metres in length,’ she replied.

He nodded within his helmet, though he did not know why. His suit contained no sensors, only weaponry, and while her job was to understand the alien ship, his was to destroy it should it prove a threat.

He doubted this would be difficult.

‘Are those its propulsers?’ he asked, a gloved hand gesturing to the four tubes that hung apart from the ship, attached by spindly arms that made the ship resemble a bird’s skeleton.

‘Yes, I believe so. It looks like the ship is propulsed by a simplistic matter/anti-matter engine. She has two matter/anti-matter reactors.’

He laughed at that. The Tn Sway had outgrown such technology a thousand yeas ago.

‘I don’t think they’ve functioned for a long time though, the ship’s power signature is very low.’

‘What is it made of?’ he asked, his gloved hand reaching out but stopping just a fraction away from touching the bronzed hull.

‘Some duranium composite. Again it is simple, but effective.’

The suit’s computer poured thoughts into his mind. ‘We are running low on gel; our air will be gone in less than five units. What else can you detect?’

She didn’t move, her lithe form merely hung there in space beside the mysterious craft. To an observer she might have seemed dead, the abandoned corpse of a space farer who came to grief in this solar system years ago and had remained here, frozen in time, ever since.

He had worked with her for over a million units though, and he knew she was reliable. Separately they were formidable, together they were held in high regard within the Sway. Though her body was motionless he knew her mind would be racing as she analysed every scrap of data.

‘That’s unusual,’ she said after a moment.

‘What?’ suddenly he was alert, the suit’s plasma thorns primed to fire at a moment’s thought.’

‘The vessel’s main computer is an open mind, there are no plasma walls, no passwords…and it was designed that way. It’s like we were supposed to probe its data stores.’

‘So probe away, but make it fast,’ he replied. He relaxed but kept the thorns’ launch protocol on high.

‘Fascinating,’ she said at last. ‘The ship is named the USS Pax.’

‘What is a pax? And what is USS?’

‘Pax means Peace apparently, and the USS is some kind of identification prefix for ships belonging to something called the Federation?’

‘Federation?’

She shrugged inside her suit, forgetting for a moment that he wouldn’t perceive this. ‘I have no…wait!’
He almost launched the thorns then, only the flimsy nature of the alien ship making him stay his thoughts.

‘It’s ok, nothing threatening.’

‘Stop doing that,’ he admonished her. ‘At this range the plasma thorns might damage us as well. If I am to use them I’d rather it was to counter a genuine threat.’

‘Sorry,’ she replied, chastised. Technically they were of equal rank, but everyone knew the warrior’s word counted above the scientist’s. ‘There’s a message playing, continually repeating. When I first linked with the computer it detected us, and the message tried to reach out.’

‘So what did it say?’ he grunted. Absently he noted they had 4.62 units of air left.

‘I don’t know, I disconnected the link the moment I spotted it.’

‘Well reconnect it, words cannot harm us.’

Her face safely hidden beneath a visor, she smiled. He never used to be so inquisitive- she liked to imagine that some of her own personality was rubbing off on him, both in work and at leisure. It was the way with Sway scout pairings- two individuals who lived and breathed each other’s lives so completely that they became almost one. A third of Scout Pairings ended up retiring as mates, another third usually ended up killing each other.

This pair occupied the final third- a pairing who complemented each other so well that they were able to merge sex, violence, and science without their egos getting in the way, each of them able to separate their real existence from their existence as part of the pair.

‘Ok, I am prepared to initiate the link once more,’ she turned her helmet to look at him. ‘Ready?’

4.5 units. ‘Do it.’

For a moment nothing happened- then a new thought entered his mind, an alien thought.

In his mind’s eye the warrior saw a white walled room, and in the centre of that room stood a man, at least it looked like a man. He seemed almost Tn like, more fragile, paler, but the resemblance was there all the same. He wore a uniform of some kind, blue with red stripes across the shoulders. He had the bearing of a warrior, but was obviously not- the close cropped hair was more befitting of a child than a fighter.

When the man spoke he smiled, and the warrior Tn was even more repulsed. What kind of way was that to start a greeting with another race?

‘Greetings to you who have found our little ship.’

Even the man’s voice, the language he used, sounded weak. The Warrior’s mind was well trained, and he heard the voice both in its originality, and translated simultaneously. He checked the gauge, 4.49 units left. He decided he’d give the message till 3.3 before abandoning the mission and returning to their shuttle.

‘My name is Admiral Andrew Dupree, and I represent the United Federation of Planets. It still seems odd to say that. By our calendar the year is 2161 and just a few days ago the inaugural UFP charter was signed. We have entered a new era of cooperation between races. Twelve different species signed the charter. Twelve unique cultures, many of whom were enemies in the past, but who have now agreed to work together in harmony. This ship, the USS Pax, was launched to celebrate the formation of this union. The ship is unarmed, and contains information about each Federation member world, it is our hope that many new races will learn about us, learn that as we move out into the galaxy we are not something to be feared, that as we reach out it is with inquisitive eyes rather than clenched fists. Mine is the first of many messages that will be beamed via subspace to this ship, hopefully the goals and beliefs of the Federation will grow even as this ship travels further than any of us have gone before.’

And then the man in his minds eye was gone. The Tn warrior grunted.

‘Does that mean you liked it?’ asked his partner.

‘Spare me, the man seemed weak, the notion of this Federation though…it is intriguing.’

‘Reminds me of the first cheln of the Sway, back when only four other races had joined.’

He nodded. ‘He spoke of further messages, are they there?’

‘You are worried their little club did not survive?’ she asked

‘Curious,’ he replied.

She resisted the urge to laugh. ‘Yes there are, do we have the time to see them?’

He didn’t look at the gauge. ‘We have time.’

Another white room appeared in his thoughts. This time though it was a female who stood before him. Strangely she seemed stronger than the male from earlier. She was obviously of another race, the sharply tapered ears and skin colouring told him that. She looked old, wise with it but mainly old, and she wore dark trousers and a tunic of gold. Her right hand was raised in some curious gesture.

‘Live long, and prosper all who encounter the Pax,’ she said, her voice like an androids. ‘I am Captain Ch’nar of the Starship, Explorer. It is my honour to be the latest bearer of news to this fine vessel.’

The Tn frowned. She talked about honour yet expressed no emotion. He decided he didn’t like her.

His feelings did little to stop her talking though.

‘It is stardate 4981.5, and at this time membership of the United Federation of Planets stands at 94. The Federation has grown further than any of us thought possible when the charter was signed. To those this ship encounters, be advised, our message is still one of peace and understanding.’

Even as she vanished he snapped his head towards his partner. ‘The next one,’ he said.

Another white room- but a man this time, a tiny frail man, his head devoid of hair. The Warrior almost laughed at him, until he spoke, suddenly the Tn warrior heard strength there. This man was a leader…

‘This is Captain Jean Luc Picard, of the starship, Enterprise, and it is my great honour to address you, to speak to all those races and civilisations that the Federation has not yet encountered. I sometimes envy the Pax, odd to empathise with a creation of metal and circuits, but the things the Pax must have seen…more than I ever shall.

It is stardate 56125.8. The Federation has survived a war that cost us dearly, yet still we grow. Today the Kel’net’lop’sun joined the Federation, the 275th race to do so. We are at peace with the Dominion and the Romulans, and the Borg have not been seen in some time. Truly I feel we are on the verge of a golden age, and I am sure the Pax has played a part in that…’

He was gone.

‘There’s one more,’ said the female scout, pre-empting the question she knew was coming.

‘Excellent. Play it.’

She smiled. She had already triggered the message.

The white room was gone now, and instead the messenger was stood by a lake, twin suns burning brightly in a a pink sky above him.

He was a curious creature. Tnlike, but also strange, like a humanoid hedgehog. He looked soft, weak…

‘Hello!’ he shouted, his enthusiasm jarring. ‘I’m Feenix, Delta Quadrant Federation President. You can’t believe how happy I am to be here today, how happy I am to talk to the beloved Pax, a legend within the Federation, and still going, at the edge of our strongest scanners, but still there!’

‘This creature is annoying.’

‘Shush, he’s still speaking.’

‘….date AX/254.L, and today it is my honour to tell you that Federation membership stands at 487 species! The Federation has not been at war in 65 years, life expectancies are up and Quinex flu has finally been eradicated. This will likely be the last message able to reach the Pax, and so my final message is to those races who are yet to encounter our most long lived of emissaries. Already 13 member races had their first encounter with the Federation through the USS Pax, and it is my hope that I now speak to future Federation members.’ He grinned. ‘I look forward to meeting you!’

And then it was over.

For a moment the two Tn Scouts hung there in space. Finally the scientist spoke. ‘It’s amazing. Such…such…’

‘Arrogance.’ Said the warrior

‘Yes, arrogance. 487 species and they think they rule the universe, think we will be grateful to join their Federation.’

The warrior shook his head sadly. ‘The ship’s databanks contain full details of its route?’

‘Yes, if we wish the Sway will be able to travel back along that route.’

‘The Sway will wish to,’ said the warrior with conviction.

‘But they’re so small.’

He laughed, a deep throaty sound. ‘You have forgotten your tenets- the Sway did not come to encompass a million peoples by ignoring a hundred.’

Within her helmet she nodded. ‘Of course, you are right. Goddess forgive me.’

‘We should return to the shuttle. I will bring the Pax.’

And with that the warrior reached out and grasped the Federation ship, the vessel nestling delicately in his palm as the two scouts turned back towards their small shuttle.

A shuttle that- had the Pax been sentient- would have appeared to it as large as a Borg cube…

--------------------
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Old August 20 2006, 01:16 AM   #19
TimmyWl
Commodore
 
Location: Honolulu Hawaii
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

July/August Challenge: What Lies Beneath
Winner: me! (the poster)


-> If no one gets the reference, this is set in an alternate universe of Doctor Who.....

-> Also, spoilers are...mentioned...if no one has not seen the "new" series of the re-launched series...but beyond that - nothing really major [i.e. Borg attacking DS9 in Season XX] really is revealed....


I am telling this story as it was told to me.

Some time ago, before Paregoric became what it is today, there was a village called Parse. It had been founded along the Penn Stream, slowly ebbing along Hooker’s Run, and pooling in Critic’s Corner. The village was a simple one. There was a blacksmith, a mining shaft, marketplace, and fields of nothing but farms.

In a sense, it was farming country, complete with the obligatory trees at every foot one makes going any direction.

It was after Farmer Nark had established the first mill on Penn’s Stream that the Doctor came. It is said that Farmer Nark had thought he had come from the capital. The Doctor never really gave him his name; just that he was looking for a place to stay with his paramour.

The Doctor, as Farmer Nark said to Steven Soot, the smithy at that time, had the trappings of the City upon him. He was bright. He was chipper. He even wore a suit with a tie around his neck.
The only thing that really stood out was his commoner’s shoes and the eyes. Farmer Nark made it his mission to tell everyone in the village that the Doctor had a sage’s eyes. There was just something about him that belayed the youthful countenance to him.

His paramour made even more ripples, for she was considerably older, too old for the young Doctor. At best guess she was about midwife’s age, streaks of blonde fading into white, the beauty taunt upon the trappings of age, a motherless sage was the words that lay upon the lips of those that peopled the market. Her name, as it came to be known, was Renee or Rennet – some higher lord’s name that clearly branded her – but she was so graceful in her ways that what story that made her fell upon the road.

The Doctor and his lover, a Renee, elected to stay the fortnight in the village. He had chosen the pub and prattled on in an alien tongue. Sage Wend did talk to him and found out that the Doctor had known more about the Stars Themselves than his forefather and his forefather before him.

They elected, after a fortnight of helping the villagers, to make their own hearth beneath Dagger Rock. It was quite unusual for he had chosen to build a blue shack of sorts with glass windows set inside underneath Dagger Rock. How it came to be, cast in the neat setting that no man could ever aspire to, lay unsolved, even to this day.

Yet they chose to make their own hearth. The building still stands to this day, lying beyond the shadow of Dagger Rock, near Penn Pool. The Doctor had given into his paramour’s suggestion that the villagers would welcome him. She spoke with a strange accent that lay many miles away from the capital, perhaps even farther, as Sage Wend did say.

For three years they lived there. The Doctor presided over the burial of Sage Wend, creating the massive Tomb of Wend, far grander than what Jack Carver could do. For those three years the village was blessed, a thousand times over, and naught a single deed of misfortune ever visited any doorstep.

Three more passed and people started to call the area Rose Meadow for Renee always grew them. She started to teach her own language. Youth always shown in her face far beyond any child could bear. She said that it was the music she was told when she attended her own fireplace as her years only accounted no more than six seasons.

They were the blessed years.

Then, one day, they vanished. They vanished in a storm, they say, where the lightning scalded the trees into blackened skeletons of horror. Everything was wet, muddy, and desolate. It was a time of great flood and sorrow.

At the same time, the Lords came on by, claiming that they had suffered a great loss in the West, and needed help. Farmer Nark, aged that he was, went to the Doctor only to find the stone cottage abandoned and the blue windowed shack gone. The vines that had conquered it over time lay in a great heap, as if God Himself, had plucked it away.

Farmer Nark called forth the Doctor in the house. In there he saw that everything had been set as the Doctor wished it to be. There was a fallen cup on the floor. The Doctor had run out, it seemed, in a moment of weakness visited by the Fiends Below upon his paramour. The Lords themselves did affirm that what they saw was blood upon the ground. They had seen war themselves.

In honor of the Doctor, it was decided by the village that bore his absence as they did so honorably in that time, the area he occupied was forever stated as holy. Farmer Nark himself made it his mission to forever guard the legacy that the Doctor had made upon the people. It was Steven Soot that made the fence that surrounds the area as his last gift to the Lord on High for the mercy of the Doctor.

This is the reason why what lies beneath Dagger Rock is the only place where the dead lay outside the gate, outside the rose garden, and outside the stone cottage was the Doctor’s Home.
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Old October 9 2006, 12:09 AM   #20
Gold Grizzly
Vice Admiral
 
Location: The Heavenly Midlands, England
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

August/September Challenge: Alternate Universes

Winner: Gold Grizzly

*****

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING WESLEY

Stardate 48720.2

“You must let go of your guilt, Wesley”.

Ensign Wesley Crusher sullenly regarded the visitor to his quarters on the USS Intrepid.

“Why do you care what I do? Don’t you have more important places to be? You’re meant to be a Traveller, remember?”

The alien gave his by now familiar enigmatic smile.

“Wesley, I have been to places you can barely imagine, seen life forms of a variety that your Starfleet can never show you, but I have seldom encountered anyone with your talents. It is worth a great deal of my time to ensure that your gifts are not squandered, but your current path leads that way”.

“Don’t you get it? Everyone I’ve ever been close to is dead or lost. If I’d been there then it might never have happened”!

“You don’t know that. It isn’t your place to say what would or should have been. All you can change are the present and the future”.

“Fine, then! Let’s change the future! With your abilities, we can find my mother; she might still be alive, needing our help!”

“No. Her path has taken her away from you. Only time will tell whether it leads back to you again. We cannot interfere in such matters. Come away with me, and you shall be taught to understand why”. Wesley merely shook his head. The Traveller regarded him with a resigned sadness in his eyes.

“Very well. I am unable to reach you, so I shall take my leave of you. If you ever change your mind, then you will know how to contact me. Until we meet again, Wesley”.

The young man barely glanced up as his mysterious visitor vanished. As so often was the case during his off duty hours, his thoughts were turned towards the past. Somewhere along the line, something had gone seriously wrong. He just wasn’t sure of exactly when.

Stardate 48020.3

Dr. Beverly Crusher glanced around her quarters on the Enterprise, wanting to ensure that she not forgotten anything. The familiar rooms seemed completely empty, as they should be; the bag slung loosely over one shoulder contained the last of her possessions to be transferred off ship.

As always when she examined them closely, the quarters slightly unsettled her. They were, in theory, identical to her quarters on the original saucer section, but there were subtle differences which few but she could ever notice. She had lived in this place for over a year, but it had never felt like home. Her home had been destroyed long ago.

Perhaps she should have shipped out on another vessel straight away, but she and Geordi had agreed that they should both remain, to keep alive the spirit of their own crew on this new vessel. Losing Geordi had only strengthened her resolve. When the new ship was completed, she was ready and waiting to reclaim her place.

But almost from the first day, she had clashed with the new captain. She found Jellico rigid and inflexible, more concerned with the rulebook than with the spirit of what Starfleet stood for. After a string of bitter arguments, in which she invariably found little support from her shipmates, his brutal handling of the community of Native American descendants on Dorvan V had pushed her too far, and she had taken her objections to Starfleet Command … only to find that he had beaten her to it.

She was to be reassigned, and a new doctor would take her place. Jellico was severing the last major link to the past, to the crew who had set out to explore the galaxy seven years ago.

Shaking her head sharply, she strode from her quarters without a backward glance. Negative an experience as this had been, perhaps it might yet work out for the best for her. She had already had one bit of good news: the Captain of a new vessel had expressed an interest in recruiting her into her crew. She had been afraid that only the more tedious jobs would be available to her given the manner in which she was leaving the Enterprise, but this would be a true ship of exploration, with the most up to date technology available.

It was time to leave the past behind ... and the USS Voyager might be just the place to do that.

Stardate 44700.4

Crusher surveyed the bleak landscape of Tarchannen III, hoping that her eyes would succeed where her Tricorder had failed. But there was no sign of La Forge, nor anything to indicate that intelligent life had ever bloomed on this obscure planet.

If only she had paid more attention the last time she had spoken to him! He had called by her temporary residence on Earth a month ago, to tell her that he was taking a break from overseeing the construction of the new Enterprise. An old friend of his, Susanna Leitjen, had contacted him with some wild theories about the recent disappearances of some old shipmates of theirs, and the two of them were taking a small ship to investigate.

Geordi had seemed unconcerned by the whole thing at the time, but in retrospect he had been edgy, and not quite himself. She should have insisted on coming along as well; perhaps, with her medical expertise, she might have done something about … whatever it was that had happened.

When La Forge and Leitjen had failed to check in, she had managed to get passage on the Hood, which was sent to investigate. They had arrived to find an empty ship in orbit, and two discarded uniforms on the planet. No humans. There were log entries and medical records indicating that both officers were experiencing some unusual medical symptoms, but that was all they had to go on.

She looked at the empty yellow and black garments in her hands. Perhaps, in time, the mystery of what had happened to their owner would be solved. But she knew in her heart that her friend would not be coming back.

Stardate 44002.4

Commander Data (temporarily holding the rank of Captain) was, as ever, dispassionate as he regarded the Borg cube in orbit around Earth. On the main view screen, the Enterprise’s phasers and photon torpedoes could be seen bombarding the intruding vessel. It was a futile attempt, but he had felt compelled to try; it was, after all, the human thing to do.

The time for such indulgences had now passed, however. The Enterprise had sustained heavy damage already; if he delayed any further, they might not be able to make the necessary sacrifice. He addressed the Conn officer.

“Mr. Jackson, lay in a collision course with the Borg vessel”.

He had no sooner spoken the words than a particularly savage strike from the enemy vessel rocked the ship. The Conn station exploded in a shower of sparks, and the operator was flung from his seat.

“Re-routing Navigation controls through this station!” barked a deep voice from behind him. “Collision course laid in, Sir”.

Data turned to see Worf regarding him with the joyous intensity found only in a Klingon about to die in heroic combat against a superior force. His own expression was unreadable, but many thoughts passed through his mind in that instant.

He thought of Captain Picard, aboard that vessel somewhere, and pulling the strings as the Borg Locutus. He thought of Geordi and Dr. Crusher, evacuted by escape pod along with other non-essential personnel. Ironically, the injuries La Forge had sustained during their previous abortive attack on the Borg would now save his life, as he would surely have remained on the Enterprise if fit to serve. Perhaps his friend would now have a long and happy life.

He recalled his own actions since Captain Picard’s abduction. Would a human officer have found a better way to stop the Borg? He would never know.

He replayed every significant experience he had had since his activation 30 years ago; every lesson learned, every triumph achieved and every defeat suffered.

To those watching him, he did not seem to pause at all before giving his final order.

“Engage”.

Stardate 43938.1

“If you were human, I might think that you were somewhat preoccupied, Mr. Data”.

“I believe that that assessment would be accurate, Captain”. The new first officer touched the third full pip on his collar. “This celebration is in my honour, but I do not believe it to be deserved. My promotion would never have occurred if I had performed my duties adequately”.

“Commander, the loss of the Will and Deanna was a tragedy all of us were helpless to prevent. What do you think the Commander would say to you in this situation?”

“I believe that he would offer his congratulations, sir”.

“And he would also tell you that he believes, as I do, that there is no one on this ship better qualified than you to do the job of first officer”. Picard’s expression spoke volumes of the sincerity of his words. But still, Data was plainly quite troubled.

“I appreciate the confidence in me, Captain, and I do not doubt that Commander Riker would approve. However, the fact remains that there might have been no lives lost aboard DaiMon Tog’s vessel if we had arrived there sooner. My failure to recognise the code used in the Commander’s signal straight away cost us precious hours, and may have made the difference between life and death for our friends”.

Picard shook his head ruefully. He had been over and over this himself as well, of course. It was difficult to accept that the absurd little Ferengi had cost him two such outstanding officers – and friends, yes. But they all had to accept the situation, and move on.

“Data, I wish I could say for certain that it didn’t make a difference, and put your mind at rest. But it is not our privilege to know such things. I’ve lost many friends in my years in Starfleet, and perhaps I could have saved them, if I had played my cards a little differently; but the important thing is that I performed my duties to the best of my abilities … and so did you. You made every effort to decode that signal, and we did get there in time to save one life, at least. After all, if not for you, would we ever have understood the message at all? I can think of no one aboard with more skill at such matters”.

Stardate 41417.2

“I can’t get it”.

Wesley was engrossed in his own Dynamic Relationships test, but still could spare a thought for his friend, who seemed to be finding it a real struggle.

“Don’t fight it, Mordock. Just relax into it and let it come automatically … you can do it”. Wesley tapped a few more of his controls; just a few more seconds and he would be there …

“No... it is going too fast”! Mordock seemed to be on the verge of giving up.

Wesley felt sympathetic towards the Benzite: perhaps if he took a glance at his screen he could offer some crucial piece of advice to help him out. There weren’t any rules against it. True, it might hurt his own chances, but wasn’t it worth it to help a friend?

But then he remembered that he had resolved to take a less idealistic approach to life. Much as he liked the Benzite, if he couldn’t do this test without help then maybe he didn’t belong in Starfleet. At least, not at Wesley’s own expense.

“Keep at it”, he said without turning around. A few seconds later, the pattern on his own screen aligned. He had passed the test. T’Shanik also finished before the time ran out, but Oliana and Mordock both failed the test.

Wesley felt slightly ashamed as he watched the Benzite’s shoulders slump in defeat, but that didn’t detract much from his excitement when Lieutenant Chang returned to the room, and gave him his warm congratulations for posting the second best time ever recorded for the test. If he could just make it through the Psych test in one piece, then that place in the Academy would surely be going to him. He was within touching distance of his dream.

Stardate 41257.3

Wesley sat alone in Ten Forward, and gazed thoughtfully out of the window. A month had passed since his close call on the planet of the Edo, and he had bounced back quickly from the fright of nearly losing his life on his first experience with Away Team duty.

His mind kept returning to the events of the mission, however. The entire ship had been placed in jeopardy because of him … and not for the first time. Was he doing something wrong? Did he really have what it took to make it in Starfleet?

He was so caught up with his thoughts that he hardly noticed Commander Riker approaching his table until the First Officer was settling into the chair opposite him.

“Is something on your mind, Mr. Crusher? You seem a little preoccupied lately”. Wesley outlined his concerns.

“Can you give me your honest opinion, sir? Am I cut out for this life”?

“My honest opinion? Yes, but you’ve got a lot to learn.” Riker smiled to take the sting out of his words. “You’re a smart kid, Wes; but you are still a kid just the same. You’re full of confidence about who you are and what you can do, but that attitude can lead to careless mistakes. I think that you need a little less idealism and a little more realism”.

“Realism”?

“Yes … not just about yourself, but about the galaxy you live in. On the Edo planet, you said: ‘I’m with Starfleet: we don’t lie’. The reality is, you’re going to face situations where lying, or cheating, or hurting someone is necessary for the greater good, and it would be naïve to imagine otherwise”.

Wesley’s expression was pensive. Riker felt saddened at having to shatter the boy’s innocence, but it was necessary if he was going to make it in the career he had chosen. He rose to his feet.

“Don’t take this too hard. You’ve done better these past few months than most children your age could ever dream of. But Starfleet is for adults: if you really want to make the grade, then you’ve got to leave your childish notions behind”.

He walked away, taking a glance at Wes’ face before striding through the doors. Most fifteen year olds would have let advice like that slide right off them, but the boy’s thoughtful expression showed that he was taking it all in.

Riker smiled. He was sure that his words would make a difference.
__________________
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Old March 9 2007, 08:10 AM   #21
captcalhoun
Admiral
 
Location: everywhere
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Undisputed February challenge winner on the theme 'dirty politics'

Red Shirts: B’raken VII
Honey Trap

2268
B’raken VII Colony

Councillor Bjorn Halvorsen entered his office on the most important day of his political career yet. He was smiling to himself as he walked in, the sun was shining, his mistress had visited him the night before, and now he was going to seal the deal at last. His smiled broadened at the sight of his secretary’s tight backside where she was bent over the desk. She straightened up and turned around. Bjorn’s smile vanished.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “Where’s Louisa?”

The woman looked flustered for a moment, “Oh, Councillor Halvorsen. I’m Vanessa, Louisa called me and asked me to cover for her today, she didn’t feel well.”

Bjorn frowned. “She seemed fine last night.” Bjorn realised what he was implying. “When she left, I mean. We were working late.”

“I wouldn’t know, Councillor,” Vanessa replied. “She called me about an hour ago. I work in Councillor T’pas’s office. The Councillor didn’t mind me working here, so I came over to catch up on your schedule.”

Bjorn took a moment to study Vanessa, she was a petite woman, but curvaceous. Her long red hair cascaded in curls to her shoulders. For a second he imagined her in his bed, it brought a smile to his face. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. I appreciate you covering for Louisa, especially at short notice.”

Vanessa watched as Bjorn stepped past her and into his office. She sat back down at the desk. “Asshole,” she muttered. In her ear she heard laughter as the comment was relayed via the hidden microphone she wore to the rest of the team on this case.

“You’re doing fine,” Lieutenant Adam Griffiths assured her. “You ought to be an actress. You had the right mixture of surprise and nervousness.”

She smiled at the voice coming through the small earpiece she wore. “That’s because I was surprised and I’m nervous as hell. I’ve never done this before,” she muttered.

The intercom buzzed. “Vanessa, could you come in here please?” the councillor asked.

Vanessa collected the data slate she would use to take notes and went into the luxurious office. A large picture window dominated the wall behind the councillor’s desk and showed the magnificent view of the B’raken VII colony city. She tried to ignore the view, but couldn’t quite manage it.

Bjorn glanced around. “It is impressive isn’t it?” he commented. “Of course, T’pas doesn’t have an office on the exterior walls, does she?”

Vanessa tore her eyes from the sprawling city. “No, she makes do with a large painting of The Forge on Vulcan for a view,” Vanessa said, remembering her briefing.

“You know, I’ve visited the Councillor’s office and I don’t think I’ve met you, which is odd, because I’m sure I’d remember a beautiful woman like you,” Bjorn continued.

“Oh, I only started working there last week, I’m an intern really,” Vanessa said, trying not to blush.

Bjorn smiled and glanced down at the computer screen on his desk. “I’ve got a very important meeting later today, I hope you’ll be able to help me out with it.”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” Vanessa said, watching Bjorn as he worked the computer’s controls.

Bjorn looked at her and smiled again. He was actually quite good looking, Vanessa reflected, for a guy nearing sixty-five. She knew all about the councillor’s extra-marital affair with his secretary Louisa, as well as the shady dealings he had with the freighter captain Erek Ki Iss and the Rigelian contractors. She just hoped he wasn’t going to ask her to bed with him.

“Before my visitors arrive, I like to be relaxed. Would you help me with that?” Bjorn asked.

I think I’m going to throw up, Vanessa thought. She smiled. “If I can, sure.”

“Good, there’s a café down the street that sells these amazing doughnuts. Can you run down there and get some?” Bjorn said.

Vanessa nodded, relieved. “Sure,” she said cheerfully.

“Thanks. I’ve got some paperwork to catch up on. The visitors are supposed to arrive around 10:30, so if you could pop down there about ten, that’d be peachy,” Bjorn said smiling.

Vanessa nodded. “Okay, I’ll get back to that report Louisa left.” She quickly hurried out of the office, leaving Bjorn to regret not having asked her to help relax him in a different way, but he didn’t quite trust her. Not yet, anyway.

Ten o’clock soon rolled around and Vanessa left the building housing the offices of the colony’s ruling council members and walked down the street to the café Bjorn had mentioned.

As she entered, she saw Adam standing at the counter. Pretending to study the various cakes, buns and pastries on offer, Vanessa stood near him as he added cream to his coffee.

“I’m really nervous,” she said quietly.

Not looking at her, Adam smiled, his white teeth standing out from his dark skin and dark goatee. “You’re doing fine,” he replied. Pretending to concentrate solely on stirring his coffee, he added, “I thought he was going to ask for something other than doughnuts.”

Vanessa nodded as a young man came over and asked for her order. After asking for the councillor’s doughnuts and a slice of apple pie for herself, she finally spoke. “I thought he was as well. I felt sick. He creeps me out. He seems so charming but reading the briefing on him, it makes me feel ill, just being around him.”

“You’re doing fine,” Adam repeated. “I know this is your first UC assignment, but we’re all in the building as well, backing you up. Smooth, that’s how we do it.”

Vanessa smiled at his mantra. “See you later then,” she said, taking the bag with her order in.

Adam watched her leave. He felt strangely confident in the young ensign, despite the fact that she was on her first undercover assignment. Somehow, he knew she was going to be a good officer.

Vanessa was back at her desk, finishing her apple pie when Captain Erek Ki Iss, the Triexian freighter commander arrived. The three-legged alien entered the office using his species' odd locomotion. He smiled.

“You’re new. What happened, Bjorn get bored of his last secretary?” Erek asked.

Vanessa frowned. “Louisa’s ill. I’m covering for her.”

Erek merely smiled. “I’m Captain Erek. Here to see the Councillor.”

Vanessa buzzed the Councillor before showing Erek in.

“Thank you, Vanessa,” Bjorn said. “I don’t think I need you for this meeting.”

She nodded and walked towards the door. As she left, she carefully dropped the stylus she’d been carrying and kicked it under a display cabinet.

In another part of the building, Adam Griffiths was dozing in a chair when his partner Lt. Ka-Lahetri, an Efrosian, snapped his fingers. “We’re on,” he snapped. “Stylus mic is active.”

Adam immediately leapt to his feet and snatched up the spare headset to listen in.

“Did you have any trouble landing, this time?” Bjorn’s voice asked.

“No, no trouble at all,” Erek replied as he stood by the window. Humanoid chairs didn’t go well with his tripedal anatomy.

Bjorn handed him an Altairian water. “Good, I told you that bribe we paid the port controller was worth it.”

Erek nodded, “Well I’ve got the goods the Rigelians wanted. Orion whisky, Romulan Ale and Klingon Raktajino. Damned if I know why they got to be so picky about what they drink.”

Bjorn shrugged as he drank some of his own water. “Who cares? They pay us well enough and you don’t get any trouble crossing the border, being from a neutral world and all.”

The Triexian nodded. “Fair point, but I seem to be taking all the risks here,” he complained.

Bjorn sighed. “Alright, I’m meeting them in another hour, I’ll try to get them to pay you another two thousand. Okay? Besides, they fronted you the money for the repairs to your ship didn’t they? And they got you that Orion girl.”

Again Erek nodded. “True.” He smiled. “That secretary of yours out there is something. Had a taste of her yet?”

Bjorn smiled. “I’d love to, but she’s only been here this morning, I don’t quite trust her yet.”

“I can understand that,” Erek said. “It’s so hard to get help you can trust.”

In the other room, Adam and Ka-Lahetri were intently listening to everything the pair said. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to give them much information they didn’t already have. Erek was already being investigated for smuggling contraband into the colony as it was.

“This is the big day though, isn’t it?” Erek asked Bjorn. “The day we finally close the deal and those Lanak-Gar fighters become ours to sell to that mercenary group.”

Back in his office, Bjorn frowned at Erek. “Become mine, you mean. I get to sell them to whoever I want.”

Erek flicked his middle hand in dismissal. “Yours, mine, ours. Whatever. As long as I get my commission for introducing you to the mercs, I don’t care.”

The intercom buzzed. “Councillor Halvorsen, your Rigelian visitors are here,” Vanessa said over the intercom.

“Thank you, show them in,” Bjorn replied.

The door opened and four Rigelians entered behind Vanessa. “That’s all, thank you, Vanessa,” Bjorn said. She nodded and left.

The four green-skinned, pointy-eared aliens were all male. Two were very obviously hired muscle. One was carrying a small portable computer. The fourth strode forward to shake Bjorn’s hand.

“Councillor, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” he commented.

“Thank you, Mister Van,” Bjorn replied.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Van continued, “But I’ve already had my men start unloading our goods from your freighter, Captain Erek.”

A dark look flickered across the Triexian’s face. “No, that’s fine,” he lied.

“Good,” Van said, smiling.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Erek said. “I’d better be getting back to my ship.”

Van nodded in dismissal. Bjorn shook his middle hand. “A pleasure as always, Erek.”

The Triexian left. Bjorn returned to his desk.

“Well, Mister Van, if you’d just provide me with the account number, I can transfer the credits for my merchandise,” Bjorn smiled.

Van smiled again. “Certainly. We’ve left them in secure storage on an asteroid in the system’s Oort cloud. My assistant will provide the co-ordinates, there’s an abandoned mining complex there.”

Bjorn nodded. “Thank you. I look forward to inspecting them.”

Van’s assistant set to work with his mini-computer.

In the room where Adam and Ka-Lahetri were working, they watched the computer that was linked to Bjorn’s thanks to a tap Vanessa had set up when she’d arrived in Bjorn’s offices.

“There’s the money transfer,” Adam said.

“And there’s the co-ordinates, including a notation that the goods are six brand-new Lanak-Gar class Starfleet fighters,” Ka-Lahetri added.

Both officers tore off their headsets and snatched up phasers.

Minutes later, the two red shirts arrived at Bjorn’s offices. Vanessa was waiting for them, a phaser in her hand. Adam nodded to her and she activated the door.

The three officers dashed in.

“Councillor Bjorn Halvorsen, you are under arrest. You Rigelian gentlemen too,” Adam snapped.

One of the musclemen leapt to his feet, pulling out a small pistol. He’d barely got it clear of the holster when Vanessa stunned him.

Adam pulled out his communicator as he covered Halvorsen, and the others covered the Rigelians. “Griffiths to Alpha. Go, go, go!”

Seconds later, a group of ten more security officers charged in and began handcuffing the Rigelians.

“I don’t understand, what’s going on?” Bjorn demanded as a Saurian security officer came over and handcuffed him.

“Don’t bother denying it,” Adam said. “We’ve got the information from your computer and we’ve heard everything you’ve said.”

“Vanessa?” Bjorn asked, as she pulled open her jacket to reveal a Starfleet uniform beneath it.

“Ensign Vanessa North, actually,” she said. “Louisa won’t be seeing you again, sunshine.”

The men were all bundled out, leaving Ka-Lahetri, Adam and Vanessa.

Both men shook hands with her. “Good work, Ensign. I think you’ve got a promising career in front of you,” Adam informed her.
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Old March 9 2007, 10:22 AM   #22
Starkers
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

It might have made more sense for the other missing entries to be placed in here first, just for chronology's sake!
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Old March 9 2007, 09:25 PM   #23
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

am i bovvered though?
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Old March 10 2007, 11:56 AM   #24
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

^Don't start that
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Old April 11 2007, 02:52 PM   #25
Juzam Djinn
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

March 2007

“Trading Up” by Juzam Djinn


(Inspired by Murray Leinster’s classic 1945 short story “First Contact”)


The Alpha Quadrant. USS Phoenicopter, outbound from Deneb IV.

“Captain,” said the Operations Officer. “We’re ready to begin our survey of the Sigma Tituli system.”

Captain Edward Leeson, a tall man whose brown moustache clashed with his prematurely white hair, looked back over his shoulder, then back to the viewscreen, where the alien sun was shining brightly. “Proceed,” he said.

The bridge of the Intrepid-class starship began to bustle as telemetry from sensors and probes began streaming in. “Tactical,” said the Captain. The picture of Sigma Tituli, a friendly-looking yellow dwarf, disappeared from the viewscreen: in its place, the ship’s computer drew a three-dimensional schematic of the system, showing its eleven planets in their orbits: gas giants, gas dwarfs, terrestrials—at least one potential class-M. Leeson’s World.

This is the life, thought Captain Leeson. This is why people join Starfleet. To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new—

“Captain!” said the Tactical Officer. “Long-range scanners have detected another spaceship on the other side of the system.” A ship icon had appeared at the top of the tactical display, moving downward.

The Captain leaned forward, fingering his moustache, glancing sideways at his First Officer. “What type of spaceship?” he asked.

“It’s too far away, sir. No way to tell at this distance.”

“All right. Continue the survey. Alter course to—”

“Sir—the unidentified ship has changed heading. They are now on an intercept course. Approaching fast.” Onscreen, the unknown ship icon began to flash. Its projected course intersected with the Phoenicopter’s own icon, at the bottom of the screen.

“Can you identify them yet?”

“No sir. Unknown ship design.”

“Unknown? Can you give me a visual?”

“Yes sir.”

The viewscreen switched from tactical to visual. The unidentified ship was a sphere, with two smaller spheres attached to pylons projecting from the sides. Warp propulsion, thought Leeson. Not completely alien. “Are they readying weapons? Raising shields? Polarizing hull plating?”

“No sir.”

Leeson looked to his right again. His First Officer was on the edge of her seat, leaning forward excitedly. “Can we be this lucky?” she asked. “Science—is that ship design in the Cardassian database?”

“No, ma’am. Unknown design.”

The First Officer looked over at her captain, her eyes shining with excitement. “First contact!” she said.

“Everybody keep calm,” said the Captain, tugging at his moustache. “Lieutenant, open a channel to the—”

“Sir, the alien ship is hailing us. Audio only.”

“Oh? Well.” Unconsciously, Leeson sat up straighter in his chair. “Put them on speakers.”

An alien voice filled the bridge speakers. “Greetingsss, Federation ssstarship! The Great Hive will danssse with joy at the newsss of your return!”

“Greetings,” said Captain Leeson, frowning. They know us, but we don’t know them? How is that—

“Isss that my dear friend, Captain Jamesss Tee Kirk? How are you, my friend?”

“Uh,” said the Captain. “Ahem. No. This is Captain Edward Leeson of the…uh… Federation starship Phoenicopter. To whom do I have the honour of speaking?”


Deneb IV. Starfleet Operations Centre, Farpoint Station.

“Admiral Harnoncourt?”

The Admiral looked up from his paperwork, thankful for the interruption. “Yes?”

“Sir, we’re receiving an urgent subspace transmission from the Phoenicopter.”

“Put it on screen.” Harnoncourt turned to his desk viewer. “Captain Leeson,” he said. “How goes it?”

Onscreen, the white-haired ship captain looked more than a little confused. “Very well, sir. I think.”

“You think?”

“We’ve just made contact with a friendly spacefaring species, in the Sigma Tituli system. They call themselves the Znon.”

“Well—that’s wonderful! Congratulations, Captain!”

“Yes sir. Thank you. There’s—uh—just one problem, sir.”

“What’s that?”

“This wasn’t first contact, sir. I mean—for them. They say they’ve already been contacted by a Federation starship.”

The Admiral frowned. “Already? How is that possible?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“What was the name of the ship?”

“The—uh—Enterprise.”

Enterprise? Are you sure?”

“Yes sir. USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A. Constitution class. Captain James T. Kirk commanding.”

“Captain Kirk? How is that—when did these people say they were first contacted?”

“Six months ago.”

“Six months?”

“Yes sir.”

“There must be some mistake. Are you sure you understand their dating system correctly?”

“Yes sir. I spoke with the captain of a Znon starship. She claims to have spoken with Captain Kirk personally, six months ago, when first contact was made. She showed me this.”

The picture on the Admiral’s viewer changed. The face of the white-haired captain of the Phoenicopter was replaced by the picture of an old Constitution-class heavy cruiser, in orbit around an alien world.

“What’s this?” said Admiral Harnoncourt.

Leeson’s face reappeared. “It’s the Enterprise-A, sir. Orbiting the Znon home world.”


Earth. Starfleet Headquarters, City of San Francisco.

“I don’t understand,” said the Chief of Staff. “How did a hundred year-old Federation starship wind up in orbit around an undiscovered alien world? A hundred years ago the Alpha Quadrant was practically unexplored. We hadn’t even made contact with the Cardassians then.”

“Admiral,” said the Chief of Starfleet Intelligence. “We think we have part of the answer. According to Captain Leeson’s report, the Znon flew the Enterprise-A back to their home world after first contact near Theta Rectricum.”

“What,” said the Chief of Staff, frowning. “Are you saying they captured it?”

“No sir. At least, that’s what the Znon claim. They say they exchanged one of their own starships for it.”

“They traded starships? What for?”

“According to the Znon, their encounter with the Enterprise was one of their first contacts with another spacefaring species. They were concerned that the Federation might be hostile, and that the Enterprise might be able to trace their ship back to the Znon home world. So Captain Kirk offered to trade ships. Each crew would disable their own ship’s weapons and scanners, and remove their own star charts and records, before the exchange. That way, both sides could be sure they couldn’t be harmed or followed.”

“Hmm,” said the Chief of Staff, rubbing his chin. “You know, that sounds like something Kirk would come up with.”

“Yes sir,” said the Intelligence Chief. “The Znon were quite impressed by Captain Kirk’s wisdom, and accepted his offer. The two ships parted company, and the Znon crew took the Enterprise-A back to the Znon home world. They don’t know what happened to their own ship: they assumed that Kirk and his crew took it back to Federation space.”

“Are they telling the truth?”

“Captain Leeson of the Phoenicopter believes them. Vice-Admiral Harnoncourt trusts his judgment. I don’t see why they would lie.”

“Well,” said the Chief of Staff, leaning back in his chair and drumming his fingers on his desktop. “That explains the ship. Now all we have to do is explain how these people were contacted by a Federation captain who’s been dead for ninety years.”

“We think we have the answer to that question as well,” said the Intelligence Chief.

“Some kind of temporal anomaly?”

“No sir. Captain Leeson asked the Znon to describe Captain Kirk. They said Kirk was short, and hairless, with dark skin, very large ears, and pointed teeth.”

The Chief of Staff stared in astonishment. “The Ferengi?

“Aye sir. The Ferengi.”


New Maryland (Beta Virginis IV). Starfleet Building, City of New Baltimore.

“So where do we fit in?”

Commander Ojukwu leaned back in his chair. A smile creased the dark brown skin of his broad, flat-nosed face. He steepled his fingers across his ample midriff and shrugged. “You’re the detectives. You tell me.”

Inspector Vrank raised a Vulcan eyebrow. “Starfleet Command wants to know how the Ferengi got their hands on a Constitution-class starship.”

The Commander nodded. “Yes,” he said. “But why ask us?”

Inspector Bael tapped at a padd, his antennae twitching as he followed the results on the screen. “According to Starfleet records, the Enterprise-A was decommissioned in 2293.”

Commander Ojukwu’s smile widened. “And what happened to the Enterprise-A after it was decommissioned, Inspector Bael?”

“It was placed in long-term storage at the Starship Graveyard—the Starship Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, in orbit around 61 Virginis V. According to Starfleet records, it should still be there.”

The Commander nodded. “So, gentlemen: one of our starships is missing.”

Bael handed the padd to his partner, leaned back against the wall, and crossed his arms. “All right. But why us, Commander? Why doesn’t Starbase 8 Security handle this? They’re in the same system as the SMRC.”

Ojukwu shrugged again. “Why do you think?”

“Starfleet Command wants this matter investigated by outsiders,” said the Vulcan. Bael and Ojukwu turned to look at him. Vrank looked up from the padd in his hands. “They are concerned that personnel from Starbase 8 may be involved. There is a maximum-security penal colony on 61 Virginis II.”

“Sundancer?” said Bael.

“Sundancer,” said Ojukwu. “The Federation built the colony on the dark side of 61 Virginis II thinking that Starbase 8 would provide additional security. Nobody thought about protecting the Starfleet personnel from the prisoners.”

“Indeed,” said Vrank. “Some of the colony’s inmates could offer an entire planet as a bribe.”

“And some of its inmates will kill for a whole lot less,” said Ojukwu, leaning forward, resting his forearms on his desk. “The penal colony’s below the surface. They were digging three new cellblocks, but work was recently suspended after two undercover officers from Starbase 8 were killed—murdered. Those officers were investigating allegations of corruption among the Engineers involved in the construction job.”

Bael nodded slowly. “Vice-Admiral Townsend doesn’t trust her own people.”

“In a word: no,” said Ojukwu.

“Logical,” said Vrank. “When do we depart?”

The Commander leaned back once more and looked from one Inspector to the other. “Are you still here?” he said.


61 Virginis V. Starfleet Starship Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, in orbit.

“Commander Morikawa?”

Commander Morikawa looked up, startled. Two male Starfleet officers were standing at his desk, looking down at him. Their shirt collars were gold, with a lieutenant’s pip. One was an unusual-looking Vulcan, with coffee-coloured skin and a shaved head. The other was Andorian, with typically blue skin and white hair, cut short. Disconcertingly, the Andorian’s antennae were pointing right at Morikawa.

The Commander turned his computer monitor away from the two strangers. “Yes?” he said.

Both men held up their credentials. “Starfleet Intelligence, Criminal Investigation Division,” said the Vulcan. “I am Investigator Vrank. This is Investigator Bael.”

“Uh—okay. What can I do for you, officers?”

The two men glanced at each other, pocketed their identification, then turned their attention back to Morikawa. The Andorian said: “We’re here to investigate a report that a starship is missing from this facility.”

“Missing?” said Morikawa. “Which one?”

The Vulcan took out a padd and pecked at it with his index finger. “USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-A,” he said. “According to our information, this vessel was last seen orbiting an alien world in trans-Denebian space, approximately 3300 light-years from here.” He turned the padd so that Morikawa could see the screen, where the Enterprise-A was orbiting the Znon home world.

“But… that’s not possible,” said Morikawa.

“Why not?” said Bael.

“Computer,” said Morikawa, looking toward the ceiling, “locate the Enterprise-A.”

“USS Enterprise NCC 1701-A is in long-term storage,” said the computer. “Section 2, row 9, column 11.

“There—you see?” said Morikawa. “There must be some mistake. The Enterprise-A is in long-term storage, here, at the SMRC.”

The two Investigators glanced at each other, again. The Vulcan pocketed his padd. “Do you mind if we take one of your shuttlepods and look for ourselves?” he asked.

Morikawa hesitated, then shrugged. “Be my guest,” he said. He tapped his combadge. “Morikawa to Chief Stadler.”

“Stadler here.”

“Chief, ready a shuttlepod. I have a couple of officers here who want to take a look at a ship in long-term storage. Section 2, Row 9, Column 11.”

“Section 2, Row 9, Column 11, aye sir. I’ll have Shuttlepod Three ready in five minutes.”

“Thank you, Chief. Morikawa out.” The Commander switched off his computer and stood up. “This way, gentlemen,” he said.


61 Virginis V. Starfleet Starship Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, in orbit.

Vrank and Bael watched with interest as row after silent row of empty starships drifted past the shuttlepod’s portside window. Chief Stadler, a bulky, bearded man with long hair in a ponytail, worked the shuttlepod’s controls. “Welcome to the Elephant’s Graveyard,” he said. “Long-Term Storage. You really think someone stole one of these ships?”

“Is that possible?” said the Andorian.

Stadler shrugged. “I suppose. If it was intact.”

“Was the Enterprise-A intact?” asked the Vulcan.

“Let me check,” said Stadler. “Computer, show me the work log for USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-A.” After a moment’s reading, he said: “Well, there’s no record of any components being removed. It’s just been sitting there for the past eighty-seven years.”

“Is that unusual?” asked Vrank.

“Not really. We have a lot of intact starships from that period. The fleet was downsizing, after peace broke out between the Klingons and the Federation. And a lot of those ships were old already—they’d been modified and upgraded several times. Plus, a whole new generation of starships was being launched in the 2290s. So the supply of old components far exceeded the demand.”

The Chief turned the shuttlepod to port, sailing it into the middle of the ghost fleet. “Now, the Enterprise-B,” he said. “That’s a different story. During the war the Mirandas and Excelsiors were all recommissioned or stripped for parts. So all that’s left of the Enterprise-B is the spaceframe—I worked on it myself. But we still have a lot of 23rd-century ships floating around out there, intact.”

“So,” said Vrank, “theoretically speaking, someone could have flown the Enterprise away from this facility, under its own power?”

“Sure. All they’d need is some antimatter for the warp core, and some dilithium crystals. But I’m sure there’s been some mistake. Here we are—Section 2. Column 9…Row 13…12… what the hell?”

There was a noticeable gap in the ranks. “Let me guess,” said the Andorian. “It’s gone.”

“It’s supposed to be right there.” The Chief tapped his combadge. “Stadler to Morikawa. Stadler to Morikawa—come in, Morikawa. That’s odd,” he said.

“I suggest we head back to the centre,” said the Vulcan.


New Maryland (Beta Virginis IV). Starfleet Building, City of New Baltimore.

“We got lucky,” said Bael, standing in front of Commander Ojukwu’s desk once more.

“Better lucky than good,” said Commander Ojukwu. “What happened, exactly?”

“Morikawa panicked and tried to escape in a runabout,” said Vrank. “He was intercepted by Starbase 8’s patrol ships.”

“Once we got him back here and put him in the Box, he couldn’t wait to roll over on his accomplices,” said Bael, disgustedly. “How does someone that cowardly get a commission in Starfleet?”

Ojukwu shrugged. “Not everybody lives up to their youthful potential. 61 Virginis is where careers go to die. Most of the personnel are dead-enders and screw-ups. Who stole our starship?”

“As we suspected,” said Vrank, “a Ferengi prison gang has been pulling the strings. They have been operating undetected for years, stealing starship components and selling them, bribing Morikawa’s men to loot the ships, and the Commander himself to cover up their activities. It will require a detailed inventory to determine exactly how much material is missing.”

Ojukwu nodded and rocked back and forth slightly. “What about the Enterprise-A?” he asked.

“There seem to be six intact starships missing from long-term storage: one Constitution-class—the Enterprise—three Soyuz-class, and two Constellation-class. The ships were stolen one at a time over the past three years.”

“What for?” said Ojukwu. “What would the Ferengi want with old Federation starships?”

Bael smiled. “To put the ‘con’ back in first contact,” he said.

Ojukwu stopped rocking his chair. “Excuse me?”

“Consider,” said Vrank. “A Ferengi crew takes a Federation starship into unexplored space. They meet an alien species, and pose as a Federation crew—but the aliens are concerned. How do they know the Federation’s intentions are friendly? To lay their fears to rest, the Ferengi captain suggests an exchange of ships.”

“Ah,” said Ojukwu.

“Ah-hah,” said Bael. “So they swap ships, and everybody goes home happy. The Ferengi get an alien starship, and possibly some highly marketable new alien technologies. The aliens get a hundred year-old piece of junk.”

The Commander smiled broadly. “Ingenious,” he said. “How many times have they pulled it off?”

“Morikawa doesn’t know,” said the Andorian. “The Ferengi have lawyered up, and they’re not talking. But the Enterprise was not the last ship they stole. That was the USS Stargazer, NCC-2893, Constellation class, just a few weeks ago.”

Now the Commander was half-smiling, half-frowning. “Jean-Luc Picard’s old ship?”

“The same,” said the Vulcan. “It was lost in 2355, after a battle with a Ferengi Marauder near Maxia Zeta. But it was recovered in 2364. Once it was repaired at Xendi Starbase 9, it was taken to the SMRC. When there was no demand for parts, it was put into long-term storage.”

“I guess the Ferengi couldn’t resist the chance to steal it back,” said Bael.


The Delta Quadrant. USS Stargazer, outbound from 61 Virginis.

“DaiMon!” cried the Tactical Officer.

DaiMon Shostak whirled in his seat and bared his teeth. “Call me Captain, you fool!

The officer cowered. “Sorry… Captain.”

“What?” said the Captain. “What is it?”

“An unidentified starship is approaching.”

“Unidentified?” said the DaiMon, clutching the arms of his chair. “Is it in the Federation database?”

“No sir. Captain.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. It’s a species the Federation has never encountered before.”

“Are they arming weapons? Raising shields? Polarizing hull plating?”

“No, Captain,” said the Operations Officer, grinning. “They seem quite…friendly.”

The bridge filled with dirty Ferengi chuckles. “Quiet,” said Shostak. “Places, everyone.” The DaiMon stood, unconsciously tugging on the hem of his Starfleet uniform jacket, and stepped out in front of the viewscreen. “Open a channel,” he said. “Audio only.”

“Channel open,” said the Communications Officer. “Audio only.”

“Ahem,” said DaiMon Shostak. “Unidentified alien vessel. This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Stargazer. We come in peace, and greet you in the name of the United Federation of Planets.”

For a moment, the channel was silent. The nervous Ferengi looked around in wild surmise. DaiMon Shostak was about to give the order for emergency warp when the channel crackled back to life. “Federation vessel,” it said. “We come in peace as well. Captain Picard, I am Captain Llanvabon. I greet you in the name of the Ovnian Interstellar Community.”

DaiMon Shostak grinned. This is the life, he thought.

THE END
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Old May 1 2007, 07:42 PM   #26
sericali1
Lieutenant Commander
 
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

April 2007 Winning Entry by Ali

The challenge for this month was to write a drabble of 100 words, not including the title, author commentary or notes of reference.

This is taken directly from one of my favorite moments in "Star Trek Insurrection"...

Dawn by Ali

He had beamed down to a silent hillside just outside of the Ba’ku village.

It was early, with a stillness that could only be found in those few precious moments as the cold of night surrendered to the warming glow of dawn. This was something he had never experienced before, except through poetic descriptions or casual anecdotes.

His breathing slowed, the anticipation growing as he took in every detail and color. The new day spilled over the mountaintops, coming to life with a vividness that exceeded his expectations.

With real eyes, Geordi La Forge waited to see his first sunrise.
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Old June 1 2007, 11:28 AM   #27
Juzam Djinn
Commodore
 
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

May 2007 Challenge: "Salvation"

Supermax 109: "Shaheed" by Juzam Djinn.


My name is Dawud Jaffar. I am a prisoner.

I got a letter from my wife today. Not a recording—a real, hand-written letter. Kalila’s a very traditional woman, in some ways.

Since her letter came, I’ve just been sitting in my cell, thinking about my life, and the story of my life. About things I’ve done, and things I should have done instead. For the past hour or so, I’ve been thinking about Butrus ibn Yusuf Shaheed, and something he told me, not long before he died.

Of course, his name wasn’t Shaheed when I knew him: he wasn’t dead yet. And I never heard anybody call him Butrus ibn Yusuf. Everybody just called him Peter, or Pete, or, jokingly, the Rock.

Peter was one of my fidayun, during the New Palestine intifada. He was a member of the colony’s Christian community. That’s one reason why they called him the Rock.

When the Cardassians occupied New Palestine, the Muslims were the first to fight back. The Jews and Christians had counselled patience and compromise. But once blood had been spilled, the People of the Book lined up solidly behind the Believers.

Ibn Ibrahim would have been proud. Muslims, Jews, and Christians—united by his memory, and by his vision of a new, pluralistic Palestine rising Phoenix-like from the radioactive ashes of the old. Together, they gave the Cardassians hell.

That’s where I came in. Six years ago, Starfleet Intelligence assigned me to infiltrate the New Palestine Maquis. As an Arab Muslim, I should have been perfect for the job. My home world, Minaret, is a fundamentalist backwater: its inhabitants have turned their backs on the cosmos, and see themselves as the whole dar-al-Islam. When I was old enough to think for myself I rebelled, embraced the secular ideals of the Federation, and finally got off Minaret by joining Starfleet. My mother eventually forgave me, but my father never has. We haven’t spoken since.

I was able to get inside the New Palestine Maquis without any difficulty. But there was one contingency for which nobody planned: I met the love of my life—Kalila. She told me why she had resigned from Starfleet, gave me her copy of Ibn Ibrahim’s book, and explained the parts I didn’t understand.

Before long, I was in love—partly with Ibn Ibrahim’s dream, but mostly with her. I deserted from Starfleet, married Kalila, and formed my own resistance unit. That’s how I met Peter, and how he became Butrus ibn Yusuf Shaheed.

Before the resistance began, Peter had been a graduate student at the University of New Jerusalem, writing a dissertation about the history of Old Palestine, back on Earth. He was ordinarily pretty quiet, and steady under fire, but once an operation was over, he couldn’t stop talking. It was his way of releasing tension. That’s how I wound up walking behind him, on Aldalia Prime, that day, listening to him go on and on about narrative theory.

We had just finished a successful raid on a small Cardassian military installation. Nine of us had flown to the system in our Maquis raider, the Altair, and landed in some nearby mountains, below the tree line. We’d crept down to the base, levelled it with a heavy photon mortar, and then retreated. The Cardassians had pursued us, but they were too slow. By the time we got close to our landing site, they were out of tricorder range.

The raider was just over that next ridge, and everyone was beginning to relax—especially Peter. He was explaining how people need stories to give their lives meaning. “The events in our lives have no meaning in themselves,” he said. “It’s the stories we make up to explain those events that give them meaning.”

I looked back over my shoulder. Peter was off in his own world, waving his arms, lecturing to a phantom audience. Behind him, Moshe was rolling his eyes and making a jerk-off gesture. I turned back so Peter wouldn’t see me smile. “Really,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” he said. We had just crested the ridge.

“Intelligent beings require stories to give meaning to their existence.” The ship was just up ahead, through the trees.

“A story provides a structure for our perceptions; only through stories do facts assume any meaning whatso—”

I heard a meaty ‘thud’. Our point man, Hanif, was flung backwards, like he’d been hit by an invisible car.

“—ever,” said Peter, startled.

There was a loud ‘crack’ as Hanif sprawled out on the ground. I hit the dirt, and shouted: “Sniper! Get down! Get under cover!

The rest of them scattered and went prone—except for Shoshanna. I saw her crouching behind a boulder, leaning her back against the rock. “No!” I shouted. “Shoshanna, get down! Get—”

There was a small explosion behind her back, and a larger, wetter explosion out the front of her tunic. Blood and rock fragments flew everywhere. Shoshanna flopped onto her face and lay still.

Shit! I thought. “Fall back!” I shouted. “Back down below the ridge! Move!

I got up and ran, crouched over, zigzagging back and forth. I had just turned sharply to the right when a tree trunk exploded close by, to my left, showering me with splinters. My skin crawled. If I had kept going straight, the sniper would have hit me between the shoulder blades.

Once we had all scrambled back down below the ridge, Marid said: “What the hell—”

“Hold on,” I said. I did a quick head count: Kalila, Marid, Yasmin, Ali, Moshe, Hassan—and me. Only two down—and we still had the mortar.

Kalila had her tricorder out. “Anything?” I said. She shook her head.

Okay, I thought. This is bad. But not hopeless. We can make it through this. I took a deep breath, to steady myself, got everyone’s attention, and explained the situation:

Somewhere, up on the mountainside, out of tricorder range, probably between one and two kilometres away, there was a Cardassian sniper with a standoff rifle.

Standoff rifles are projectile weapons—man-portable railguns. They have a muzzle velocity of two thousand metres per second and an effective range of six kilometres. They fire 4.4mm spoon-pointed bullets—just pellets, really. But those little pellets are made of delanium-310: they weigh fifty-six grams apiece, and when they’re moving faster than sound they’ll penetrate almost anything. I’ve seen a Starfleet marksman use a captured weapon to shoot holes in a starship hull plate. Shoshanna’s boulder was no protection at all.

The Cardassians designed the standoff rifle for use against materiel—vehicles and installations. But it’s effective against personnel targets as well. The spoon-point on the bullet makes it tumble through soft tissue, dumping all its kinetic energy at once. That’s why Hanif went flying backwards. I’ve been told that some people do back flips and cartwheels, flopping like rag dolls, when they’re hit by standoff-rifle rounds.

No energy beam. No muzzle flash. No recoil, and no report—just the sonic boom as the bullet leaves the barrel at Mach 6. The standoff rifle sounds like a military sharpshooter’s wet dream, and it is—but it’s not perfect. It started life as a part of a computer-controlled multi-barrelled anti-missile point-defence weapon, and it’s too much gun for most shooters. It comes equipped with electro-optical sights and computer-assisted targeting, but even expert marksmen can’t realize more than a fraction of its potential. On most M-class planets, for example, at ground level, six kilometres is over the horizon. In practice, Cardassian snipers engage their targets at ranges of less than three kilometres.

In addition, the rifle generates a lot of heat, both from the current flowing through the rails, and from the friction between the hypersonic bullet and the barrel. Standoff riflemen who fire too many shots too quickly will give away their positions on thermal scans. The Cardassians train their operators to fire slow, deliberate aimed shots and ignore fleeting targets of opportunity.

Even so, the standoff rifle is a formidable weapon. During the Border Wars, when they were first used in action, Cardassian snipers massacred entire landing parties who never knew what hit them. Even if his Federation victims could figure out what was happening, the sniper could use his weapon to disable their landing craft, and stop them from escaping. It was ugly there, for a while, until Starfleet developed effective counter-sniper tactics.

“Dawud,” said Kalila, holding up her tricorder. “I’m picking up something. Back down the valley—the way we came.”

Our pursuers. Damn. There wasn’t much time. “Okay,” I said. “Listen. Everybody still have their smoke grenades?”

They did. We hadn’t needed them during the attack on the base. “Good,” I said. “This is what we’re going to do. The raider’s not far from here, so we’re going to smoke our way forward. We’ll throw a grenade over that ridge, and then move up. Then we’ll throw another, and move up again. Once we reach the raider, we’ll get the hell out of here. Clear?”

“What about Hanif and Shoshanna?” said Peter.

“They’re gone,” I said. I stood up, took out my grenade, clicked the button with my thumb, and threw it. Within a minute, the ridge was blanketed with a dense cloud of chemical smoke. I gripped my phaser rifle. “Move up on the left edge of the cloud,” I said. “Fifteen metres. Then throw another, straight ahead.”

We moved up into the cloud. After about fifteen metres, we stopped, and Marid threw his grenade in the direction of the raider. We waited another minute. At last, I said. “Okay, let’s—”

There were two noises: a loud thunk, off in the direction of the raider, followed by the crack of the railgun’s bullet. I stopped.

“What in God’s name was that?” said Moshe.

After a second, I knew. “Fall back,” I said.

***

Once were back down below the ridge, I told them: the ‘thunk’ we heard was the sound of a railgun bullet hitting our starship. The sniper was letting us know that our plan wasn’t going to work. The raider wasn’t going anywhere.

I thought hard. Like I said before, I knew the drill—but unfortunately, for us, the drill wasn’t all that useful. Those counter-sniper tactics I mentioned exploit the standoff rifle’s one remaining serious weakness: it shoots bullets. A battlefield scanner can track a bullet’s flight trajectory back to its point of origin. If that point is within range of your phasers, you can shoot back, and assault by rushing from cover to cover—preferably with help from a friendly sniper. If it’s out of range—and it usually is—you can either envelop it on the ground, or bombard it with heavy weapons. I personally favour calling down a photon torpedo from orbit.

We had our phasers, and we had the mortar: according to the tactical manual, we should have been able to deal with a standoff rifleman. Our problem was, we didn’t have a battlefield scanner—just a few tricorders. We could use those to find the direction of incoming bullets—but not the range. Without that last, critical piece of information, the sniper could be anywhere on a straight line all the way to the mountaintop.

We could have used the sensors on the raider—if we could reach it. But our unseen friend had made it clear that if we tried to reach the raider, he was going to shoot it full of holes. A hole through the crew cabin, and we might be able to patch it before we lost our entire air supply. A hole through the warp sponson, and we might still be able to create a warp field. A hole through the avionics bay, and—well, I’d never tried to fly a raider without instruments. I wasn’t even sure it was possible.

Kalila said: “Why hasn’t he done that already?”

I said: “What?”

“Shot up the raider.”

Good question. I thought about that for a minute. Then it came to me.

“He wants to keep our hopes up,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“So he can kill us all,” I said. “He’s probably in contact with the pursuit force, from the base. He knows how close they are, and how little time we have. He wants us to try to take him out, so he can shoot us all himself.” Cocky bastard, I thought. Still, that was information we could use.

“They’re getting closer,” Kalila said, scanning for our pursuers. “Are we going to rush him?”

“I don’t see any other choice.” Maybe we could divert him—get him to shoot in one direction while we charged him from another. The trouble was—

Just then, Peter spoke up. “Sir,” he said, “Do we have any photon grenades left? For the mortar?”

I looked at Hassan. “Yeah,” he said. “Six. Why?”

“Then I have an idea,” said Peter.

***

Once he was done explaining, I said: “That’s brilliant. That’s what we’ll do.”

I gave the orders. Kalila went out wide on the left flank, with her tricorder. Moshe went out wide, with another tricorder, on the right. When they were about a hundred meters apart, they took up their positions, and I linked my tricorder to theirs. Marid and Hassan set up the mortar, set their six remaining photon grenades for maximum yield, and linked their fire-control computer to my tricorder. I called up a topographic map of the area, and put it onscreen.

When everybody was in position, I said: “Now we just need a way to tempt him into shooting. I’ll take the remaining smoke grenades, and make it look like—”

“There’s no time,” said Peter, firmly. With his phaser rifle at the ready, he stood up, ran up the slope, and vanished over the ridge into the rapidly-thinning smoke.

Yasmin screamed. I shouted: “Peter! Peter!” But it was too late. I never did see what happened. But when I heard the crack of the rifle shot, I knew, in my heart, that Peter was dead.

“Oh, God! Oh, my God!” said Yasmin, her hands over her mouth.

For a second, I just stood there, in shock. Then I looked down at my tricorder screen. An obtuse triangle had appeared over the map of the mountainside. The bottom of the triangle was a straight line between A and B’s positions. At the bottom left corner it said 64 DEGREES 1.29 KILOMETRES. At the bottom right corner it said 112 DEGREES 1.33 KILOMETRES. At the peak of the triangle the word TARGET flashed.

Peter had said: “We can triangulate. Take two tricorders and put them in widely separate spots. When the bullet leaves the barrel, it’ll create a sonic boom. The tricorders will pick up the direction of the boom, and plot a straight line in that direction.”

“Where the lines intersect—that’s where the sniper will be.” He paused, looked apologetic. “That’s how they found hidden artillery batteries, on Earth, during the great European wars of the early twentieth century. It’s called sound-ranging.”


I uploaded the map to the mortar’s computer and snarled: “Fire!”

Once the mortar’s computer had a firing solution, it adjusted its aim and elevation automatically. When the adjustments were complete, Marid and Hassan loaded and fired their six photon grenades as fast as they could.

I saw the flashes first, as each grenade hit. Then the sound of the concussions came rolling down the mountainside. After the sixth explosion, I stood up and shouted: “Run! Run to the raider! Move!

Hassan cried: “What about the mortar?”

“Leave it!” I shouted, stopping to look over my shoulder. “Come on!

We ran to the raider through the lingering haze left by the smoke screen. I don’t know if the sniper was dead, or merely stunned, but we got onboard the raider, got the engines powered up, and got off the ground without any further incident. That one bullet went right through the cabin, drilling two neat little holes through the hull, port and starboard. We managed to find them both and patch them before we lost our entire air supply.

***

That’s how Peter became Butrus ibn Yusuf Shaheed. Shaheed means ‘martyr.’ He sacrificed his own life, to save ours. He saved us all.

Now, six years later, in my cell aboard the prison hulk USS Lilienthal, with Kalila’s letter open beside me, I find myself thinking about what Peter said—about the stories we tell ourselves, to make sense of our lives.

Peter was the hero of his own story. His death was rich with meaning—for him. Greater love hath no man than this. He laid down his own life for his friends, for his world, and for Ibn Ibrahim’s dream. The rest of us would survive. New Palestine would survive.

Only, we didn’t.

My wife and I were lucky. A few months after the raid on Aldalia Prime, we were caught by Starfleet, and sent to prison. A few months after that, Cardassia joined the Dominion, and the Maquis were exterminated. Marid, Yasmin, Ali, Moshe, Hassan—all dead.

To make matters worse, the Dominion decided to make an example out of New Palestine. The colony was bombed out of existence, from orbit. After the Dominion War, the Federation sent relief and rescue ships to the former DMZ, looking for survivors from the Maquis colonies. They didn’t find any survivors on New Palestine. Ibn Ibrahim’s New Jerusalem is dust. I threw away my Starfleet career for nothing.

I could handle that. I could even handle being in prison, for years, without Kalila, because I knew that one day they’d have to let me out, and we’d be together again. Love conquers all. Right?

Right. That letter I got today? It’s a “Dear John” letter. Kalila is divorcing me. She wrote it in her own hand. Like I said—she’s very traditional, in some ways.

So now everything I’ve worked for, fought for, sacrificed for—it’s all gone. There’s nothing left. Nothing means anything.

Where’s my story now?


THE END
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Old September 4 2007, 12:04 PM   #28
Dulak
Lieutenant Commander
 
Location: Pacific NW
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries. (August 2007)

Broadleafed trees covered most of the open courtyard in a rich, dense canopy. Between the leaves, sunlight from Zanel the bluish farther star in the binary Orion system shined, illuminating the manicured ground in a gentle light.

Danel stood quietly next to the inner gate that led into the yard. It had been a difficult day at the market, haggling constantly for the best price on the hand-carved Obnurite charms his family of green skinned Orions had crafted since before his great-great grandfather was born. Danel often stood thus, gazing into the quiet peace inside and calming his spirit before entering. This day, he smiled at the special joy of seeing Tara, his daughter and only child at just fourteen, playing gracefully with her pet Unchat.

Putting on a jovial smile, he clanked the gate open, and walked to greet his daughter. Tara smiled when she saw him, running to him with the Unchat it tow. “PatPat!” She greeted him, still using the affectionate child-name she had called him since she could first toddle around.

Danel gave her a quick hug. “How is the day treating you, Daughter?” He asked, still smiling. Tara answered. “Oh Father, today has been wonderful. Mother made griddle cakes for first meal.”

Tara continued speaking, “And, one of your friends stopped by, a Mr. Gardak I think he said his name was. He seemed important. He talked to mother.”

The smile vanished from Danels face as he stood suddenly. “Did you say Gardak?”

Confused, Tara answered, “Yes, Father, he said he had a proposition for you.”

Danel spoke through clenched jaws, “Where is Mother?”

“The last I saw her, she was in the greeting room. Are you angered, Father?”

“No, no. You just keep playing. I am going to talk to Mother.”

Danel strode quickly into the house, past the heavily decorated entryway into the first main room in most Orion homes, the greeting room.

The greeting room was used to receive visitors and entertain them without having to open the private area of an Orion home to guests. It also served as a meeting place for distant family members claiming hospitality, while background checks verifying their identity were done.

This greeting room was lavishly furnished. Drapes hung along the walls, and billowed from the ceiling. Antique fire lamp holders hung suspended from metal brackets bolted into the stuccoed wall, several burning dimly and adding a flowery smell to the room.

Couches, designed to allow occupants to recline on one side, while sampling food from trays set on low central tables, lined the outside of the room. At the rooms’ center, an indoor fountain trickled panjat, a blue liquid refreshment, over three central discs. Each disk was smaller than the one below it and off-centered slightly. It wasn’t the typical greeting room fountain featuring an unclothed female figure in a seductive pose with the flowing blue panjat her only covering, but both Danel and his wife were of the same mind on that issue.

Danel found his wife, Zalia, sitting quietly on one couch with a cup of panjat in one hand. “Husband.” She rarely used the formal greeting, but the serious look on her smooth featured green face would have told Danel something was amiss even if she hadn’t.

“A man named Gardak came here today. He said that Tara was nearly of age for someone to make a claim on her, and that he was thinking about submitting one himself. A claim! Not only that, the way he leered at her, he was disgusting. I thought we paid off that technician to disguise her genetic screening. No one was supposed to know she has the pheromone trigger gene.”

Danel put his hand on Zalia’s shoulder. “We did pay him, but apparently, someone is paying him more for un-disguised reports. We will have to report him to the Underground as unreliable.” He stood silent for a moment, thinking. Unfortunately, no grand solution came to him. Instead, he merely said, “We’ll think of something,” before sitting down next to Zalia, who began to cry quietly.

The gate bell, rung only by official visitors, startled both Tara and her parents above. As her parents moved to the gate to greet the unknown visitor, Tara ran the opposite direction, making her way quickly, from experience, through the cramped passageways to her room. She had to be immediately available should her mother or father summon her, or risk her secret place being discovered.

Danel reached the gate first, only to discover that his fear was substantiated. Flanked by two goon-like “witnesses,” stood Brindon moc’Gardak, number four in the Syndicate hierarchy of two towns that Danel knew of. He had hoped, in the brief time since his wife mentioned the name Gardak, that this was not the Gardak of which she spoke. Upon seeing the grinning Orion, flanked by his two henchmen, Danel’s hopes were dashed.

With a hungry grin starting on his face, Gardak stepped to the gate and spoke. “Danel, son of Minta and father of Tara, I Gardak, a rank twenty Syndicate member, hereby give notice in front of the two required witnesses of my claim to your daughter Tara, who by genetic testing has shown to be worthy of Jak-reb status.” Jak-reb, or Orion slave girl.

Zalia sunk against Danel’s side, unbelieving. Someone of Gardak’s rank could not be denied, not by them. The chances of someone of higher rank making a claim were slim, and besides, her fate would be the same, genetic manipulation and a lifetime of slavery. Whether she was used to gain control of weaker men by Gardak or not, she would still be forced to submit to him ultimately.

Danel knew he was supposed to invite Gardak in, to share panjat with him in the greeting room, and to thank Gardak for bestowing on his humble family the honor of such a high-ranking Syndicate members attention. He could not bring himself to let that grinning lecher into his home. Consequences and decorum forgotten, all Danel could say was, “Gardak, Tara has a year and a half until she is required to submit to your claim. Come back then.” With that he turned his back on the high-ranking Syndicate member and led his wife back to their house.

If Gardak was offended by the snub, he showed no outward sign, but the meaning of what he said next was clear, his voice smooth yet somehow slimy as his words drifted across the courtyard after the couple. “Danel, I had hoped you would not hold me to that old formality. In any case, I sincerely hope that the Obnurite shortage does not harm your family business. Please, feel free to contact me if it does. I’m sure we could work something out that benefits the both of us.”

Danel made no response as he walked inside and closed the door behind his wife. For the second time that day, Zalia began to cry. This time, she did not cry quietly.

The Orion Underground had existed for generations upon generations. When several notable families realized some fifty thousand years ago that Orion culture was on an inevitable collusion course with decadence, debauchery, and a loss of respect for honor both personal and societal, it’s seeds were sown.

At first the families tried to overtly influence the downward spiral, but those growing to power held little tolerance for the now passé ‘men of quality.’ Repercussions were harsh, and those who wished to preserve some of the traditional greatness of Orion culture were driven underground.

Relegated to furtive meetings in out of the way places, and secret teachings to family members, the Underground developed a structure not unlike that of twenty-first century terrorist groups on Earth. Isolated cells or pods were developed out of necessity to spread out the power base and make total eradication unlikely.

While effective at maintaining the groups’ existence, the spread-out structure made actual useful action by the Underground rare.

Thus it was when Danel held a meeting with his local pod. After weeks, then months of banter and useless deliberation, it was decided that nothing could be done to help his Daughter.

One of the frustrating facets of being under claim was that Tara and all of her immediate family had their travel passes rescinded. Any travel attempted outside the city would send up immediate red flags and they would be confined thereafter until Tara reached the age of induction and had been taken.

In practice, actual claims on unwilling families were rare, as plenty of poorer ones frequently sold off daughters far younger than Tara. The younger the girls started training, the higher value their eventual sale at market would bring. Danel and many others in the underground found the practice revolting, but Orion society as a whole accepted it.

The only way Danel would get Tara away would be to bypass local channels completely. Planning in secret, he sent out feelers to every off-world trading vessel to avail itself of the local starport facilities. Anonymously approaching traders, always cautious, he nonetheless was almost exposed twice. To him, the risk didn’t matter. The only way he could fail was if Gardak claimed Tara in the end.

Then, fortune of fortunes shined on Danel. One of his contacts proved willing to transport Tara off world to a Federation colony. She would be a stranger in a strange land, but at least she wouldn’t be hunted for the rest of her life as a runaway slave. Well, technically she would be, but the fingers of the Syndicate didn’t reach far into the Federation, and with any luck she would have a normal life.

Seated in the private part of their house, Danel addressed his daughter. “Tara,” he said gently. “I need you to listen to me one last time and not interrupt. This will be difficult for you to hear, but you must do as I say, and not tell anyone what I am about to say to you.”

Tara nodded as she looked at her father and mother with trusting, but confused eyes. “I will do as you say.”

Danel nodded, “Good. I don’t know if you even remember a visitor who came here almost a year and a half ago. His name was Gardak and he is a very powerful Syndicate member. While he was here he declared claim on you, and your sixteenth birthday is days away. He will be coming back soon.”

Tara dropped her head disconsolately, “I will prepare myself Father, do not worry.”

Danel actually managed a laugh, “No! No, little one, your mother and I would never allow you to be taken! But to refuse a claim is very dangerous. He could take you by force, so we need to get you out of here, secretly.”

Tara thought she understood, but hadn’t grasped the magnitude of her father’s statement yet. “Of course, we will go to Uncle Jeminon and stay with him on the south continent. I have always wanted to go there.”

Danel grew serious once again, “Wait Tara, what I am saying is that you must leave the planet. I have arranged transport to a Federation colony.”

Tara, ever hopeful, said, “Well, at least we will be together!”

Shaking his head, fighting the emotion welling up inside him, Danel held up his hand. “Stop, you must wait until I am finished. This is difficult for me. In order for you to be safe, you must leave Orion space completely. Only you. Your mother and I must remain to ensure that you are not hunted. We will never see you again...” Danels voice broke and he sat, silent, tears welling in his eyes.

Zalia stood and walked over to hug her daughter, reassuringly. “You will make a new life Tara, away from the Syndicate, away from slavery and corruption. We will be fine.” Her last words, We will be fine rang hollow, in her ears and in Tara’s.

The actual leaving was silent. It went smoothly, and by the numbers. Danel and Zalia stayed to watch the ship launch. With their daughter away safely, that risk had seemed miniscule.

The next day, Tara’s sixteenth birthday, was an empty pit in their souls. Zalia lit the ceremonial lamp for her daughter’s coming of age. The two waited in silence for Gardak.

Gardak arrived at precisely confluence, when both stars were visible, one at each horizon. “Danel, I grow weary of waiting, send out your daughter, my claim is valid.” The Green skinned one had seemingly gotten even more slimy and revolting in the year and a half since Danel had seen him last.

Danel stood on the steps at the back of his house, Zalia behind him. He felt ill that he had not prepared his wife for what must happen next, but there was no way he could have. She would never have accepted it, she could never understand.

“Go away Gardak, Tara is not here and she will not be claimed by you.” Danel yelled back.

Barely a second passed when the courtyard gate flew open and Gardak, enraged, stomped towards Danel. Two bodyguards strode menacingly at Gardak’s side. “What is the meaning of this? There has not been a refusal in ten thousand generations!” Gardak was so incensed that spittle flew as he talked. Then he noticed Zalia. He knew he could flatten this man’s whole estate and it would not faze him, now that the daughter was seemingly gone, but here was a way to get to him. He uttered the words that proved his death sentence, gesturing towards Zalia. “Fine, then I will take her instead.”

What Gardak had not counted on was that while the claiming of a daughter could not be challenged, the taking of a wife could. Overconfident perhaps, with two bodyguards in a small craftsman’s house, Gardak just stood grinning.

He never saw the thin blade that appeared as if out of thin air in the smaller man’s hand and embedded itself at an inward angle beneath his chin. As he fell stiffly backwards onto the ground, Gardak briefly wondered why breathing seemed impossible. His last sight before blackness engulfed him was a small avian, chirping in a tree above him. It chirped once more, but Gardak was gone.

The stunned bodyguards considered reaching for their jewel encrusted ceremonial swords, but before they could decide Danel spoke. “I have challenged Gardak’s lust for my wife. As Syndicate protocol demands, I now submit myself for judgment.”

Zalia realized what was about to happen and screamed, “No Danel!”

With sad eyes, he turned towards her, smiling, “We saved Tara, that is all that matters. Now I have saved you as well, my wife.”

The larger of the two bodyguards shook his head as he drew at last the ceremonial blade. He didn’t get to use it much, but he kept the blade adequately sharp. “Kneel for judgment then.” He pointed the tip of the blade at Danel.

As the second guard drew his blade as required, Danel began to kneel. Zalia stepped in front of him and placed her arm gently on the guard’s sword hand. “I offer myself freely to save his life. It is permitted.” As she looked down at the ground, Danel saw clearly a tear fall from her face and land on a single blade of grass, bending it, before rolling off the tip onto the ground.

The guard began to grin stupidly at the beautiful woman in front of him, when he noticed Danel move.

Danel dove forward between the two men, pulling the Kanut from Gardak as he rolled to one side of the body. The first guard had not even turned fully around when Danel severed his brain stem, the thin Kanut sliding cleanly between bone and cartilage before finding the delicate nerve tissue between.

As he pulled the Kanut out and faced the last Guard, who unceremoniously shoved Zalia to the ground to get her out of the way, time slowed.

He heard the man inhale as he stepped forward, drawing his sword back for a clumsy thrust aimed at Danel’s heart. A child could have sidestepped out of the way. He watched in mild amusement as the blade inched closer.

Reversing the grip on his Kanut, holding it so the blade pointed inward, Danel stepped into the oncoming blade. To anyone outside of the fight, it would have appeared that he had simply failed to get out of the way. That is how Danel wanted it.

The guard hadn’t expected such a quick fight, but he was even more surprised as Danel fell towards him, impaling himself even farther onto the blade. The surprise turned to shock as he felt the pinprick of Danel’s Kanut enter his skull below his ear and a white pain engulfed him as he died.

Danel released the Kanut and turned, letting the man fall. He took a few staggering steps towards Zalia who was just rising from the ground. Blood had already begun running down his chest, welling from the protruding sword blade. Danel made no attempt to pull the blade out. He focused only on his wife.

She futilely looked around for something to staunch the flow of blood, but knew deep down, that it would be no good.

Danel shook his head. “My family is safe.” He croaked. “I......I......Love you.”

Zalia began to cry, “I love you too,” and reached out to take Danel’s hand.

Danel looked over his wife’s shoulder and blinked in a dreamy haze. He saw Tara running around the yard, playing with her pet, and laughing. He smiled and was gone before his body fell to the ground.

-end-



This story is also part of the Star Trek: USS Shepard series, and is a vignette giving some background to Tara, one of the main characters in the series.

USS Shepard

The story here is a shortened version of the full vignette located in the Vignettes thread for the Shepard, here:

Star Trek: USS Shepard; Vignettes

For those who voted for my story, thank you!
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Old September 4 2007, 12:23 PM   #29
Starkers
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries. (August 2007)

My winning entry from June.

Shades of Betty

My name is Miles Edward O’Brien, and I am of sound mind. Or at least I used to be, after last week I’m not so sure anymore.

She was an Oberth class starship, and for sixty years she had served the Federation well as the USS Elizabeth. As with all things though, her time eventually passed, and she was decommissioned, stripped of all weapons and shields she quickly fell into the hands of a group who organised luxury cruises to far off planets for bored Federation citizens. The Elizabeth was retrofitted with all the fixtures a 24th century person could want on a long voyage, even down to holo-emitters throughout the ship, allowing holographic staff to tend to any passenger’s need, no matter where they were. She was also re-christened the Betty.

Two years ago the Betty embarked on her first voyage, with a handful of real crew and a dozen VIP passengers. Three days later she vanished with all hands.

Until last week that is…

We approached slowly, and I left the piloting to crewman Bean. In part because this was always supposed to be a training mission, but also because I wanted to take a clear look at her as we moved in.

I hate to say it now, and you can believe me or not, I don’t much care, but even then I knew there was something wrong with the Betty, and it wasn’t just the lack of a Starfleet registry on a familiar ship, or the garish colour scheme her new owners had forced upon her. No, it was something else, something about the way she hung there…ever so slightly off kilter. I can’t even explain it to myself so how can I explain it to you?

‘Were there really no survivors?’ my earnest young colleague asked.

I looked at him, but didn’t answer right away. They say you know you’re getting old when the people serving under you start looking ever younger, and it was true. Robert Bean was just a few weeks past his nineteenth birthday. I can barely remember being that young, and I can’t remember being that innocent, Setlik Three saw to that.

Now as I looked at the fear in Bean’s dark, wide eyes, I knew that he was already readying himself for his own Setlik Three, and his first brush with death.

It felt good to disappoint him. ‘There are no bodies on board, at least not according to the freighter crew, though they said they weren’t able to do a thorough job.’

‘Why didn’t they take her in tow?’ he asked me as we drifted ever closer to the Betty.

I shrugged. ‘They’re a small ship, they don’t have the capacity to tow another vessel at warp.’

Bean frowned. ‘Neither do we though, right? That’s why the Defiant’s coming?’

‘True enough.’

‘Then why are we boarding her? Shouldn’t we wait?’

He looked so earnest that I couldn’t help but smile at him. ‘The Defiant won’t be here for three hours. Now I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see the look on Worf’s face if we had the Betty manoeuvring under her own power by the time he showed up.’

My young comrade gave a nervous titter at that. Worf had been riding him pretty hard of late, so the notion of getting one over on the surly Klingon was enticing.

Of course he might have felt differently if he’d realised it was me who put Worf up to it.

Robert was a good engineer, but he had a natural laziness that basic training hadn’t been able to knock out of him. I liked him, but I couldn’t cover for him much longer. Sooner or later Captain Sisko was going to stop turning a blind eye and demand accurate evaluation reports, and on that day Robert Bean would find himself reassigned to the lower decks of a deuterium tanker. That’s where lousy crewmen go to die.

I’d tried a lot of tactics, but none had worked, hence the recourse to playing Good Cop/Angry Klingon Cop with Worf. So far it was actually working.

He was still behind on his studies though, still needed a bit more hands on experience if I was going to justify keeping him on as part of my engineering team. I figured monkeying around with an old Oberth class starship would be just the thing.

Which is why, God help me, I ignored my gut instincts and let Robert dock the runabout with the Betty.

* * *

There’s a certain smell common to all abandoned ships, a scent that crosses all boundaries of race or technology. Even Klingon ships smell the same if they’ve been abandoned long enough. It isn’t a bad smell, isn’t a strong smell, but it’s there. The smell that comes from an absence of people.

Life-support keeps running, but no one is breathing in or exhaling the air. No one’s skin cells are sloughing off into the atmosphere; forgive my coarseness but no one’s belching or farting either.

Robert noticed it right away. ‘She smells new,’ he muttered as we stepped through the airlock onto the Betty.

I smiled at that. ‘Trust me, by the time Worf gets here she’ll smell her age again.’

If the exterior paint job had turned my stomach the interior almost made me heave. Pale pink walls? Amber strip lighting?

I patted the corridor wall nearest to me. ‘What have they done to you, girl?’ I muttered.

‘Chief?’

‘Nothing, crewman, just saying hello.’

Robert looked at me like I was mad, I didn’t mind. In his shoes I’d have thought I was a little crazy too. But when you’ve served aboard as many ships as I have, you start to realise they’re all alive, in a certain way.

The corridor was empty, no bodies I was pleased to see. The freighter crew hadn’t been aboard long, so I wasn’t sure how much faith I put in their tale of no corpses.

‘Life support’s running at 87 percent,’ Robert said now, staring intently at the tricorder.

I chuckled. ‘Glad you’re here to point these things out. I mightn’t have noticed.’
I checked my own tricorder. ‘The main reactor seems to be online, funny I almost expected emergency power,’ I frowned, than slapped the tricorder against my palm. ‘Bloody thing’s getting interference from somewhere. Must be an ionic leak, nothing to worry about.’

The tricorder was on the fritz, but it was able to confirm that there were no life signs aboard the Betty except for Robert and me.

Which is why I was more than a little shocked when a figure appeared out of a nearby doorway.

‘Jesus!’ I muttered staggering back against the wall, my right hand snaking towards the phaser at my hip.

Robert actually screamed.

The intruder stepped back, hands raised in surrender, a friendly smile on his lips. For a second I just looked at him, then I actually laughed, and I left my phaser where it was. There really weren’t any other people aboard the Betty. I figured this out in two ways. Firstly was the fact that, rather than enter from a doorway as I first thought, this interloper had actually walked through the bulkhead. The second was that the image of him flickered as he stood there.

‘It’s ok,’ I said to Robert, then gestured to the ceiling where two emitters covered the corridor like machineguns covering a beachhead. ‘He’s a hologram.’

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone so relieved. ‘Thank God for that,’ he said hand resting over his heart. I wondered if his was pounding as fast as mine?

Our new friend frowned. ‘I’m Luke,’ he said. ‘Chief Purser.’

‘Of course,’ I said.

He was a funny looking fellow, kinda reminded me of me. Oh yes, I know I’m not the handsomest of fellows, no matter what Keiko says, and neither was Luke. That in itself was odd. Holographic characters come in all shapes and sizes, but aboard a luxury liner I’d have expected someone more…I dunno, more Dax like I suppose. Someone beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, rather than a curmudgeonly middle aged guy with red hair. His white uniform, on the other hand, was impeccably clean, even down to the cap upon his head.

Then again maybe his ordinariness was the point?

The tricorder was still in my hands but I folded it up and slipped it to my belt without looking at it, it wasn’t much use at the moment anyway. Robert did likewise.

‘Who are you?’ said Luke the Purser.

‘I’m Chief Petty Officer Miles O’Brien,’ I said, adding ‘from Deep space Nine,’ quickly afterwards.

‘Ah,’ he said, almost as if he understood.

‘What happened, to the ship I mean?’ It felt odd questioning a hologram, but as far as we could tell he was the only witness.

He frowned again. ‘Happened? Nothing happened? We are continuing on our course to Risa.’

‘Risa?’ said Robert. ‘Risa’s thirty light years in the opposite…’

‘That’s ok, Crewman,’ I said, I didn’t want to perplex the purser too much. ‘Where are the crew, the passengers?’

At this Luke Smiled. ‘Oh they’re about, the crew are keeping the ship running, and the passengers are having a lovely time.’ He leaned towards me. ‘If you have the time I recommend Lois, she gives the most amazing massages.’

I gave half a laugh. ‘Maybe later. Tell me, is there anyone on the bridge? Or in engineering?’

He nodded. ‘Both. Would you like me to take you there?’

‘Yes please,’ I said. ‘Engineering that is.’ I could have found my own way of course, but it always pays to be polite to the locals, even when they aren’t real. ‘Robert, why don’t you take the bridge?’

Robert hefted his tool kit. ‘Sure thing, Chief.’

‘Wait,’ said Luke sharply.

Robert looked at him. ‘Yes?’

Luke beamed. ‘You’ll need a guide,’ he said, and clapped his hands. A moment later another figure stepped through the wall.

This one was more like it, a tall willowy blonde with just the right amount of curves showing beneath her uniform. I couldn’t help but grin as Robert’s eyes threatened to explode out of his head.

‘Hi,’ she said, her voice soft, seductive. ‘I’m Theo.’

‘Of course you are,’ muttered Robert.

I clapped him on the back. ‘Have fun,’ I said, then wagged a finger in his face. ‘But not too much fun. I want the navigational systems back online in an hour.’

‘Gotcha,’ he replied.

‘The navigational systems are working perfectly,’ said Luke as we headed towards the engine room.

‘I’m sure they are,’ I lied. ‘But Starfleet needs to confirm the ship is running at full efficiency.’

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘An inspection tour, why didn’t you say.’

I didn’t correct him. I couldn’t believe I was telling white lies to a hologram.

It didn’t take long to reach engineering; it was a small ship after all, but though the space was familiar I was instantly struck by the fact that the warp core was dead, the familiar glow associated with a functioning core absent. This made the room seem darker than usual, and I felt a shiver course along my spine as I took in the shadows that seemed to inhabit every corner of the room.

‘Who the hell’s this?’

At the sound of the shout from behind us I spun fast on my heels. ‘You people have really got to stop doing that!’ I said as a figure appeared out of the shadows.

I almost laughed. They’d really gone for realism aboard this ship. The man looked like an engineer, even down to the smears of grease across his cheeks, and the fact that his sleeves were rolled up past his elbows.

I introduced myself, and the engineer grunted.

‘This is Markway,’ said Luke. ‘Our chief engineer.’

Chief engineer? Holographic pursers I could understand, but there’s something a little unsettling about holographic engineers. Now I know how Julian feels about EMH’s…not that that stopped him trying to become the model for one.

Scary thought.

‘There’s nothing wrong with my ship,’ said Markway running a hand through thinning grey hair. He was in his sixties I guessed, or appeared to be. Obviously the designers had gone for an experienced look.

‘I know,’ I said. ‘She’s a good ship, and she seems to be running fine. I just need to take a few readings and then I can be off.’

Markway grunted again then stalked back into the shadows.

Luke snorted. ‘He is such a snob,’ he said.

‘I won’t be long,’ I said and proceeded to move over to the nearest console.

For the next half an hour I ran diagnostic checks on the warp drive, the impulse systems, and life support. Everything checked out, even though the warp core was inactive there seemed no reason for it to be so. I smiled to myself. At this rate we’d be able to warp over and meet Worf coming.

Whilst I worked Markway kept striding past, grunting and muttering darkly under his breath. There was another hologram too, an elfin young woman called Nell, and of course Luke was never far away.

‘Tell me, chief, have you ever considered leaving Starfleet? The private sector has a lot to offer.’

I looked up from the console and shook my head. ‘No, I’m a lifer, wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t have this uniform to wear everyday.’ I nodded. ‘Almost finished,’ I said. ‘Just a few last things to check.’

‘About bloody time,’ said Markway pacing past once more.

The last thing I wanted to check were the holographic systems. All three of my ghostly companions kept flickering in and out of focus. Daft I know, but I wanted to fix them up.

I found the console easy enough, it was active, all systems running normally and…

No, that couldn’t be right. It couldn’t be…

According to my display the memory core was working perfectly, but the holographic network was fused, completely burned out.

I’ve been scared many times in my life, terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought, but nothing close to the horror I felt right then.

My mouth went dry and suddenly I was well aware of how small the engine room was, how close Luke was behind me.

I made a play of flipping my tricorder open and aiming it at the console. It just confirmed my fears.

Slowly I turned to face them. Suddenly Luke’s smile didn’t seem so warm. I looked down at the tricorder, willing it to allay my fears.

It said there was no one there, no living being, no hologram. I turned and aimed it at Markway, then Nell. The tricorder said the same thing about them. They weren’t there.

‘Are you all right?’ said Luke. Concern on his face. ‘Perhaps you should see the Doctor?

‘I’m fine,’ I stammered.

‘You don’t look fine. No we should see the Doctor,’ and he reached out for me.

Somehow, on some preternatural level, I knew that if he touched me, whatever he was, then I was doomed.

I ran.

I ran hard and fast, my feet pounding noisily against the deck as I retraced my steps, and with every step I had to fight the urge to look behind me, because I knew they were running after me.

Turning the corner towards the airlock I screeched to a halt as I saw a figure there, and this time I did pull my phaser- for all the good it would likely do.

‘Robert, thank God!’ I said as I realised who it was. I ran for the airlock door. ‘Come on, we have to get out of here,’ I said turning to sweep the corridor with my weapon.

Robert just stood there, a handful of paces away. He’d frozen, seized up. Terror filled his eyes.

‘Come on, Robert!’ I yelled. And then the blood in my veins froze.

Because Robert flicked before my very eyes.

‘Oh no, no, no, no…’

He reached out for me. ‘Help me, Chief,’ he moaned plaintively.

God help me I shrunk back from him. Suddenly the corridor was filled with flickering figures. Luke, and Markway, and Nell, and Theo, and a dozen more, and I knew that if I didn’t run then, that I’d never escape.

Still I had to say something, to Robert.

‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered. The words hollow, his cries shut out as I closed the door and ran for the pilot’s seat.

* * *

I met the Defiant an hour later, but it was another hour before they got any sense out of me. We searched of course, but we never did find the Betty again.

Dax was sweet, but though she humoured me she came up with nothing but plausible explanations. Julian talked about hallucinations, and blood chemistry. Only Worf came close to believing me.

‘Visions are a powerful force,’ he said. ‘And they cannot always be explained by science.’

‘I left him there,’ I said. ‘I left him behind.’

‘You did what you had to do,’ said Worf stoically, as if that made any difference.

Maybe they were an alien lifeform that existed as energy, that’s Dax’s favoured theory. Maybe I’ll even come to believe that myself one day.

For right now though I can’t think of them as anything but wraiths. Spectres, shades, spirits. The kind of phantoms my Nan used to tell stories about in Ireland.

The Betty is a cursed ship, crewed by ghosts, and it’s out there, somewhere, drifting between the stars on a voyage that will last for an eternity.

And Robert Bean is with them…
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Old September 4 2007, 01:17 PM   #30
DavidFalkayn
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries. (August 2007)

My winning entry from July:

SQUARE CIRCLE

Author’s Note: This story takes place shortly after the events of the TOS episode, “The Ultimate Computer” and takes place within my Star Trek: Lexington continuity.

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

The space station’s gym was packed—standing room only as crews from four starships crammed into the tiny facility, surrounding a twenty-four foot roped in square ring. Standing in one corner of the ring, wearing gold and white boxing shorts was James T. Kirk, the captain of the USS Enterprise, receiving last minute instructions from his coach, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, as his corner-man, Dr. Leonard McCoy stood by. “Dinnae take Commodore Wesley lightly, Sir.” The engineer warned in his thick Scottish brogue, “He may be ten years older than you, but he’s got a longer reach an’ he was the Academy boxing champion.”

“Yeah, Jim.” Dr. McCoy interjected, “Take advantage of your speed. Get in quick, hammer him with flurries, then get back and do it again. Wear him down.”

In the opposite corner, wearing black shorts with gold trim, Commodore Robert Wesley, the captain of the USS Lexington stood, jogging in place and loosening up, getting advice from his people: Commander Alexei Kuznetsov, the Lexington’s first officer, acting as his coach stood along with Captain Dodge of the Hood, who had volunteered to act as his second.

“Kirk’s an in-fighter.” Dodge warned, “He’s fast and agile too. But you’ve got him on reach and you’re a more powerful puncher. Try to keep him back until he begins to tire; then let him in and tag him.”

“Da.” Alexei agreed. “He will try to lure you in close so that he can pummel you with left hooks and uppercuts. Try to stay in a semi- or full crouch. Use your left jab to keep him away. If he gets through, cover and try to hit him with combinations.”

As the bell sounded, both fighters approached each other. Kirk, seeking to take advantage of his youth and mobility, darted in, trying to work his way past Wesley’s jabs, but with minimal success as the older boxer danced out of range, using his longer reach to keep the younger man at bay. Shrugging off a left jab to his jaw, Kirk retaliated with a right cross, landing a blow to the side of Wesley’s face, staggering the older man. Taking advantage of Wesley’s temporary loss of balance, the Enterprise captain launched a flurry of blows at his opponent’s face and stomach.

Reeling from the younger captain’s blow, a frightful image from just a few days ago forced itself into the commodore’s mind. Lexington’s bridge, consoles smoking and on fire, crew crying and screaming in pain as medical personnel rushed to treat them and damage control parties rushed with extinguishers to put out the fires. His navigator, Terrence Lawford, slumped over his console, motionless; Aliz Bathory, the lovely and pixie-like Hungarian helmsman, lying on the deck by her chair, crying out in pain, her head and face covered in blood from a horrible wound on her forehead, the jagged edge of her broken tibia poking out from her leg.

That horrible image firing his rage, Robert counterattacked. Jab…jab…jab…forcing the younger captain back. Right cross…left jab…staggering his opponent. Side stepping Kirk’s wild punch, Wesley connected with a left hook staggering the younger man just as the bell rang ending the round.

“You’re doing good, Sir.” Alexei announced encouragingly as he applied a wet sponge to Robert’s face and forehead, where a cut had appeared thanks to one of the punches that the younger man had landed. “Keep it up. You’re wearing him down.”

“Yeah…” Dodge added as he replaced the commodore’s mouthpiece with a fresh one. “But watch it. He almost had you there with that right cross. Don’t forget: crouch and cover.”

“You’ve gotta get inside him, Cap’n.” Scotty urged as McCoy applied a wet sponge to Kirk’s bleeding cheek. “Those left jabs of his are killin’ ye.” With one last pat on the back as the bell rang, both fighters once again circled each other, renewing their violent dance.

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

Working his way once again past Wesley’s jabs, Kirk drove back the more experienced boxer with a flurry of combinations: left hook…uppercut…another uppercut…right cross. Slipping some of the punches, Robert covered his face with his gloves, protecting his head at the expense of a painful uppercut delivered to his body. Ignoring the pain, the commodore bided his time, smiling inwardly as he noticed that the last flurry of blows were much less powerful than the previous ones. Driving his opponent back again with left jabs, Robert backpedaled, not permitting the younger man to clinch.

“Robert…” Lieutenant Aliz Bathory whispered inaudibly as she heard the cheers coming from the gym. Leaning on her crutches and fingering the medallion hanging around her neck, she and her two companions paused before the entrance to the gym. Speaking aloud, the Hungarian helmsman turned towards the man standing next to her and asked, “How’s he doing, Doc?”

“Pretty damned good.” Dr. Charles Vincent, Chief Medical Officer on board the USS Lexington replied with a grin, “Especially when you take into account the fact that Captain Kirk is ten years younger than him.”

“That’s not what I asked…” Aliz responded, “I asked you, How. Was. He. Doing?”

Sighing, the doctor answered back, shaking his head. “The Commodore’s had a hard few days, Aliz. He’s had to deal with the loss of over five hundred people—almost everyone on the Excalibur alone…and thirty on The Lady, not to mention the other ships…or the injured such as yourself. I think he needed to do this.” His visage now taking on a stern countenance, the doctor reminded, “And don’t forget our agreement, young lady. I said I would permit you to leave sickbay and come here only if you promised you would go back to your quarters after the fight. That broken bone of yours might be healed, but it needs time to strengthen and for it to do that you’re going to have to stay off it for a few days.”

Wiping her tears away as memories of the horrible battle, and of friends whom she had lost in it, flooded her mind, Aliz adjusted the crutches under her arms as she raised her head, turning first towards the doctor, and then her old roommate, Lieutenant Jennifer Watley, who had just requested reassignment back to the Lexington and was still wearing the Enterprise assignment patch on her dress. Cracking a slight smile, Aliz said as Jennifer pushed the button to open the door, “Let’s go. I want to see Kirk get his ass kicked.” Entering the gym, she hobbled towards the ring until she drew near Robert’s corner. Drawing closer, she was warmly welcomed by both Alexei and Captain Dodge.

“Kirk’s dropping his right, Lieutenant!” The big Russian remarked in a good humored tone, pleased that Aliz had been able to make it. “But it’s a feint.”

“The big Russkie’s right.” Dodge agreed, flashing a sly grin at the young lieutenant. “He’s setting Bob up—trying to get him to commit.” Calling out to the ring, the Hood’s captain warned, “Keep your right up!”

“Stay in your crouch!” Alexei shouted adding his caution.

Wesley’s eyes stinging from blood dripping from a cut just above his eyebrows, Robert saw her as she came in through the door, with Doctor Vincent and Jennifer Watley on either side of her. Smiling as she hobbled over to his corner, the tiring Wesley, immediately feeling reinvigorated, picked up on the slight movement of Kirk’s left shoulder as he ever so slightly dropped his right. Uh huh, Jim. Bob smiled, I’m not buying it. Slipping the Enterprise captain’s left hook just in time, Wesley countered with a quick jab, forcing Kirk back on the defensive. Jab…jab again…right cross…Kirk’s staggering against the ropes…left hook…backpedal as Jim tries to clinch…jab…backpedal again. His lips turning up into a grin as he saw a proudly smiling Aliz deliver an uppercut into the air with her fist, Robert put everything he had into his next punch: a vicious uppercut smacking right into the Enterprise captain’s chin.

Staggering from the blow, Kirk couldn’t stop the follow up left jab, nor the right cross that sent the younger man down to the canvas. The crowd cheering, Wesley moved quickly to a neutral corner as the commanding officer of the space station, acting as referee for the bout, counted: One. Two. Three. Four. The cheering grew louder for all except the Enterprise crewmen standing in stunned silence as the referee continued his count. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten!” Signaling with his arms the end of the bout, Scotty and McCoy rushed to the side of their captain staggering to his feet as the referee held Bob Wesley’s arm up, declaring him the winner to the wildly applauding crowd.

Walking over to the losing boxer’s corner, Bob Wesley and Jim Kirk touched gloves, “Good bout, Jim.” The older man declared as he held the ropes open for his fellow starship commander, “First round’s on me.”

“You’re on, Bob.” Kirk replied with a grin. “I’ll see you in a few.”

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

Entering the locker room, Mr. Spock watched with interest as Scotty unlaced their captain’s boxing gloves while McCoy administered a dermal regenerator to Kirk’s cuts. “I fail to understand…” The half-Vulcan science officer primly observed, “…the point behind this primitive display.”

“You would.” McCoy retorted sourly as he pressed a hypospray to Kirk’s neck, “It’s a mild analgesic.” The doctor declared.

Looking up at his first officer, the youthful captain of the Enterprise smiled, “You can’t kick a computer’s ass.” Seeing the blank look on his first officer’s face, Kirk chuckled, “Since Bob couldn’t kick the M-5’s ass; he had to settle for kicking mine instead.”

“Revenge…” Spock shook his head disapprovingly, “One would think that humans would have outgrown such atavistic…”

“Not revenge, Spock.” Kirk corrected, “It was never about revenge. It’s about…”

“Closure.” Dr. McCoy supplied as both his captain and Mr. Scott nodded their heads in agreement.

“You see, Spock.” Jim explained, his voice growing more somber, “Bob Wesley needed this. The crews of the other ships needed this. After what happened…there’s a lot of hurt…a lot of people lost friends…loved ones. Wesley…and the others…needed a resolution. His beating me just now gave them that resolution.”

“Jim’s right.” McCoy interjected. “Now, they can all begin to heal and move forward.”

“So…” Spock inquired in an effort to understand, “You allowed Commodore Wesley to win the bout…”

“No!” Kirk retorted forcefully, his face momentarily reflecting offense at his first officer’s unintended insult, “I went in there intending to win and I gave it everything I had.” Calming down, the young starship captain explained, “It’s just that today…this bout…I don’t think anyone could have beaten Bob Wesley—not even someone with a Vulcan’s enhanced strength and agility. This day belonged to Bob Wesley and the crews of the other starships. I was…I was…”

“A scapegoat?” Spock suggested.

“No.” Kirk replied, shaking his head. “A substitute. A substitute for M-5. In defeating me, Bob released all his hurt and anger at the M-5 system by redirecting it toward me and through him, the crews from the other ships got a chance to let go of their anger and pain as well.” Shaking his head sadly, James sighed, “I imagine I’d feel the same if I were in his shoes.” Looking up at Mr. Spock, the Enterprise captain flashed a sad smile, “Perhaps you’ll feel the same one day, Spock…when you get your own command.”

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

“Please…” Aliz begged as she stood, leaning on her crutches, along with Doctor Vincent and Jennifer Watley in front of the closed locker room door. “Let me see him first. Then I promise, I’ll go straight back to my room.”

“All right.” Charles Vincent conceded with a resigned sigh, “You’ve got five minutes and then it’s straight back to your room.” Turning towards the olive skinned Jennifer, the doctor further ordered, “And you’re going to make sure she gets there.”

Smiling, Aliz hobbled into the locker room. As the door closed behind her, she saw Alexei unlacing the commodore’s boxing gloves. Drawing closer, the Hungarian lieutenant asked, “Sir? May I please…”

Seeing his commanding officer’s slight nod of the head, Commander Kuznetsov, putting on a stern front, nodded his head, “Very well, Lieutenant. But don’t take too long. As I recall, Doctor Vincent has ordered you confined to quarters until you’re healed.”

“Aye, Sir.” Aliz acknowledged with a smile as the burly Russian exited the locker room. Sitting down next to her commanding officer, the petite helmsman smiled proudly, “You were great.”

“I was lucky.” Wesley replied modestly. “Jim almost had me there a few times.”

“But he didn’t.” Aliz countered, “You found a way to beat him, just as I know you would have found a way to have beaten the M-5.”

“No.” Robert responded in a dejected tone as he shook his head, “If Jim hadn’t talked that thing down; I would have had to have…”

“You would have found some other way to have stopped it without killing the Enterprise, your friend, and its crew.” Seeing the doubt on the older man’s face, Aliz pressed on, “I’ve served with you for over three years, Sir. I know you…and I trust you and I…” Leaving her sentence unfinished, the youthful pixie smiled a sweet, gentle smile as she stood up on her crutches. Bending over, she kissed the ruggedly handsome commodore on his cheek. “That was from all of us.” Her lips now gently brushing his, she uttered in an even softer and lower voice before turning around and leaving, “And that was from me.”
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