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Old September 1 2011, 05:46 PM   #106
Admiral2
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Re: June Challenge 2011 - "Liberty"

Re: August challenge: "Dramatis Personae"

Unfortunately, however, it seems we are going to have to wait… until the show premieres. As the director is taking us to yet another part of the seemingly endless Challenger set (seriously, it seems like they built the whole ship here), an obviously flustered assistant comes running, waving an iPad. The director excuses himself, and the two engage in a whispered but furious discussion. After a few minutes, the director sends the assistant scurrying in the direction of the wardrobe department before coming back to our group.

“I’m really sorry,” he starts, looking simultaneously angry and embarrassed. “A scheduling conflict has come up, the details of which I can’t discuss; suffice it to say, we can’t have any visitors on set for the rest of the day.” There are some disappointed groans, but considering the studio paid for our trip and hotel, most of us grin and bear it.

“I’ve got to send you all back to your hotel for a few hours, but assuming we can overcome this problem – knock on wood – a studio van will be back later tonight to bring you back, when you can take pictures. Also, in order to make up for the situation, you each have a choice: you can get tickets to the pilot’s premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theatre, or when we bring you back, there will be someone in wardrobe to take your measurements and we’ll get a Challenger uniform made for you in the branch color you’d like. Once again, I apologize.” He waves at the assistant from earlier, who’s headed back in our direction. “LaTonya will take down your choice and contact information.” He moves off as if heading for the bridge set, but takes a step back in our direction.

“On your way out, you might notice a table with some props on it. Just phasers, actually, the non-light-up stunt versions.” The director winks conspiratorially. “It’d be a shame if some of them went missing, hmm?” And with that, he’s gone, and LaTonya is dutifully recording our information.

About six hours later, the studio van does in fact come back to the hotel, and we get unlimited access to the fully-lit, all-monitors-and-sound-effects-running sets of the USS Challenger. Good thing I brought extra batteries and memory cards. I can’t wait to put the pictures up on the site, which I do on the flight home, as the airplane has excellent wi-fi.

Pictures and set visit report posted, I lean back and watch the deep blue of the night sky through the 737’s tiny windows. Man, what a trip…
[FONT=Calibri][SIZE=3] [/SIZE][/FONT]
Re: August challenge: "Dramatis Personae"

Oh, and me, I picked the uniform. I figure I can watch the premiere on TV with my friends back home, sporting my unquestionably authentic uniform. Which, when Star Trek: Flight of the Challenger premieres, is exactly what I do.

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

USS Challenger

“May I remind the captain,” Connie said as the turbolift sped towards the bridge, “that we are overdue in the Gateway Sector? We should have Transitioned into the Corridor a day and a half ago!”

“I know, Commander. But since we’re already late, a few more hours won’t matter, hmm?”

“Admiral MacAllister won’t be happy, and I suspect you could care less, but there are also the crews of two starships waiting for us to relieve them, crews that haven’t been home in over three years.” Gabriel met Connie’s pleading gaze with a neutral expression. She shook her head in frustration.

“I might as well be talking to the bulkhead,” she muttered. The rest of the short trip to the bridge passed in silence.

“Helm,” said Gabriel, sliding in front of Connie as they stepped on to the bridge, “set your course for the Ranieri system, warp six.”

“Set my course for the Ranieri system, warp six, on your word, Captain,” Lt. Mokul said, his fingers moving deftly over his console.

“Execute.” Challenger pivoted lightly on her axis and jumped to warp in a burst of silent thunder.

“Estimate arrival in three hours, Captain,” stated LCDR K’kon, from his position at Ops.

“Very well. Once we arrive, helm, set your course for the Vidshi Drift, orbiting the fifth planet of the system.”

“On your word, sir”.

Connie gave Gabriel a concerned look. “The Vidshi Drift, sir? Starfleet is persona non grata there.”

“There’s someone there that I need, that the ship needs.”

“And it doesn’t bother you that the last Starfleet ship to visit the Drift barely made it out of the sector in one piece?” Gabriel looked at Connie, and a half-smile crossed his face. I really hate that smile, Connie thought darkly.

“Commander, we’ll be fine. You just have to know how to talk to those people…”

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

En route to the Vidshi Drift

Gabriel stepped into the dimly-lit section of the ship that housed the Black Seven commando team. Nestled in the lowest decks of Challenger’s engineering section, the commandos’ enclave looked more like part of a Medieval dungeon than a Starfleet vessel. Torches guttered in wrought-iron sconces, ancient-looking tapestries fluttered in a wind of unknown origin, and weapons of exotic make hung from the dark metal walls. Though no-one was visible, Gabriel knew he was being watched.

“Major T’sera?” Gabriel called. Shortly, the Vulcan commander of the Black Seven appeared as if coalescing from the shadows. She wore a form-fitting body glove, specially designed for the commandos’ armor and other gear to attach to. The body glove left nothing to the imagination.

“Yes, Captain?” T’sera’s voice was quiet and matter-of-fact, though it carried a decidedly un-Vulcanlike menace. Despite having known her for as long as he had, or perhaps because of it, she still gave Gabriel chills. She knew it, and he knew that she knew it, and that she took a most definitely un-Vulcanlike pleasure in the fact.

“We’ll be arriving at the Vidshi Drift shortly, and I need to go aboard. I need two, ah, volunteers to accompany me and the away team.”

T’sera considered Gabriel’s request for a moment, then barked: “Makto, Kyu-Syubi, front and center!” At her command, Sgt. Makto, the Seven’s heavy weapons specialist, and Sgt. Kyu-Syubi, their tracker, appeared and stood at attention, three steps behind T’sera. They were both shirtless; by the look of them, Gabriel had interrupted a workout of some sort. He looked at Makto’s deep bronze skin and Kyu-Syubi’s blubber-like flesh, and noted that both had amassed several new scars since…

Gabriel shivered imperceptibly, deciding not to follow those memories any further. Time to focus on the task at hand.

“You probably know that Starfleet personnel aren’t exactly welcome on the Vidshi Drift,” Gabriel said. “It can get a little rough.” At this, Makto and Kyu-Syubi smirked; ‘a little rough’ was a cosmic understatement. Both men were already anticipating busting a few heads. “But there’s someone there who I need, and we’re going to go get him, whether he likes it or not.” Gabriel’s gaze fell on Sgt. Makto. “We’re going to find your father, Kromm.”

“I have no father,” rumbled the Klingon.

“Then you won’t mind if I insult him.”

“Pfah. Words. Do as you wish. If I have the chance, I will gut him like the spineless peta’Q that he is.”

“I would prefer you didn’t, Sergeant. As I said, I need him… and unmolested, mind you.” At Makto’s glower, Gabriel added, “that’s an order, Sergeant.” Makto bared his teeth, and his hands tightened into rock-solid fists.

“I. Have. No. Father,” he repeated. “Nor do I have a House. The female that bore me was a gutter-dwelling whore, the weak-blooded coward who sired me is an honorless dog who forgot his oaths and vows to his wife whilst rutting with any woman who would spread her legs for him. I do not take his name as my own; he is not my father.”

“Whether you claim Kromm as your father or not, you are bound by the negh’Ch’taL blood debt that he swore to my family.” Gabriel’s voice grew icy. “And Sergeant… I am your commanding officer, and if you question my orders again, you and I will have more than words. You’ve seen me fight, or do you need a reminder?”

A long, tense moment passed. “I obey,” said Makto, grudgingly backing down. Gabriel nodded at the two commandos.

“Gear up. The stinger leaves in ten minutes.”

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

Gabriel, Connie, Lt. Erika Priest, and Lt. D’negel arrived in shuttlebay two just before Makto and Kyu-Syubi. Lt. Mokul was already in the stinger’s cockpit, running down the pre-launch checklist, and several enlisted crew were busy loading ordnance in the stinger’s weapons bays. Gabriel had his Celvani thrustergun strapped to his hip, while Connie displayed a brace of (circa 2371) type-II phasers. D’negel was wearing his traditional Tas-Bestonian battle armor; he and the two commandos bore a variety of close-combat weapons. Together, they looked more like a pirate raiding party than a Starfleet away team.

“The Drift is heavily scan-shielded,” said Gabriel as they took their seats in the stinger’s troop compartment, “so we were unable to pinpoint Kromm’s exact location. This was not unanticipated.” A hologram of the Drift’s layout appeared in the center of the compartment.

“Mokul will put the stinger down here, in this cargo transfer bay. From there, we head for the commons deck, and we start asking questions.” At this, Makto and Kyu-Syubi shared a knowing grin; this was the part where they’d be able to ‘flex their muscles’. “If Darozan the Skug is still tending bar, he’ll be our best source of information.” The hologram winked out of existence. “Weapons on heavy stun; don’t kill anyone unless you have to.” Gabriel paused. “You may have to.”

“That’s a lovely thought,” Connie snarked.

“I want everyone paired up,” said Gabriel, ignoring Connie. “Sgt. Makto with Commander Taylor, Sgt. Kyu-Syubi with Lt. Priest, and Lt. D’negel, you’re with me.” Gabriel paused to adjust the fit of his ma’asti leather holster. “While we’re on the Drift, no one goes anywhere alone.”

“We are cleared for launch,” said Lt. Priest, from the gunner’s position in the stinger’s cockpit. Gabriel nodded his consent, Erika nodded to Lt. Mokul, and the heavily armed strike craft shot out of the shuttlebay and described a gentle arc towards the Vidshi Drift.

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

The away team made their way from the cargo transfer bay to the so-called ‘commons deck’ – which was basically one very long, very wide corridor that ran the entire length of the Drift’s x-axis – with minimal difficulty. To say they stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb when they appeared on the commons deck would be quite an understatement; it seemed like the entire deck, from end to end, went silent for a long moment before the normal hubbub resumed. Most of the beings looked at the Starfleet away team, figured ‘their funeral’, and went back to whatever they’d been doing. A few of them, however, began actively planning said funeral.

Gabriel navigated the commons deck with a familiarity and a bold stride that surprised Connie, who wouldn’t have expected him to exude such an aura of command. She stayed close to Sgt. Makto, taking a measure of comfort in the Klingon’s presence, but she was hard-pressed to suppress her explorer’s instincts; there were beings here from races that Starfleet hadn’t even encountered yet, or who were the stuff of starfarer legend.

After walking for about five minutes, the away team reached their apparent destination. It was a bar, impossibly seedier than the rest of the Drift. Neon-like signs displayed advertisements for drinks from all across the known galaxy, morphing every few minutes or so to hype the drink in a different language. Connie thought she recognized the logo for the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, but she couldn’t be sure; her eyes were watering from the stench emanating from the bar. Lt. Priest seemed to be in the same boat, but the others were apparently unaffected.

Behind the bar itself, which was an odd amalgam of duranium, wood, and bone, was perhaps the ugliest being Connie had ever seen. His four eyes caught sight of the away team, and particularly Gabriel, and they widened in… surprise? No, more like terror. Connie had to take another look at Gabriel. The barkeep was scared of him?

“Darozan,” said Gabriel lightly, as he stepped up to the bar. “Long time no see, as they say.”

“My left knee still hurts when it gets cold,” the Skagganak burbled. “Come back to ‘adjust’ the other one?”

“Just need some info, ‘Zan. That’s still what you do, hmm? Of course it is. Because people tell you things, and you take that and find a way to profit from it.” Gabriel leaned close. “You should be glad I stopped with the knee, ‘Zan. The info from that sale – you remember the one – led to some kids getting hurt.” Gabriel gave Darozan a dirty look, then stepped back.

“Just need some info, ‘Zan,” Gabriel repeated. “Here’s the deal: in my left hand, I have three Misiak sovereigns. Three. They’re yours if you tell me what I want to know. In my right hand, I have a Celvani thrustergun. I think you know what a weapon like that can do, especially in a place like this.”

Darozan was suddenly interested in the glasses on the bar in front of him, rubbing each vigorously with a permanently soiled towel. But greed got the better of him, and he asked, “What do you want to know?”
“Kromm.”

“Haven’t seen him,” Darozan said quickly. “Been months, maybe years. Heard he drank so much bloodwine, he pickled himself.”

“Kromm, Darozan.” Gabriel flashed the Misiak sovereigns, the coins’ obsidian-black finish glinting in the bar’s dim lighting. Connie thought she could see the Skagganak drool at the sight, and it wasn’t pretty. That’s going to keep me up nights…

Two of the Skagganak’s four eyes glanced to his left; Gabriel traced the line of sight to a booth on the bar’s south wall. From what Gabriel could tell, the comment about Kromm being pickled wasn’t too far from the truth; even so, the once-proud Klingon warrior was unmistakable. Gabriel tossed one of the black coins in Darozan’s direction before heading for the booth.

“You said three,” Darozan whined.

“You get the other two if we get out of here without being shot at,” replied Gabriel over his shoulder. Makto caught the subtle signals in Gabriel’s tone of voice: get ready, things will likely get ugly soon. Gabriel stopped in front of the booth, paused for a moment, then grabbed the tankard of bloodwine out of Kromm’s hands and took a swig that he promptly spit onto the floor.

“You call this bloodwine?” Gabriel grimaced. “Weak. No fire.” He leaned closer to the inebriated Klingon. “Just like you.”

No response.

“I have come with a chance for you to redeem your honor, Kromm. I need you on my ship.”

Still nothing. Gabriel had to look for a moment to make sure the Klingon was even still alive. He pitched his voice for Kromm’s ears alone.

“Do you honor your blood debt, do you stand and join me, and serve on my ship? Or do I stand and tell everyone, including your son…” At this, Kromm’s eyes flicked upwards. “…how you fled and lived while a woman, a human woman…”

“No…”

“… how my mother gave her life so you could save your miserable skin?”

Kromm’s eyes moved slowly over to Makto, then back to Gabriel. “He must not learn of it,” he slurred.

“Secrets have a way of coming out,” Gabriel said flatly.

“If he is to hear it, it will be from my lips.” Kromm stood, unsteadily at first but with growing resolve. “I will honor my oaths; I will serve you.” Gabriel and Kromm walked over to where the others in the away team had been waiting.

“Let’s blow this joint,” said Gabriel, taking a step towards the exit. A gravelly voice piped up from behind them.

“Oh, I think not. Kromm I came for, but ah, Frost, you I find as bonus. Leaving? In body bags only.” Gabriel turned around, though he’d recognized the voice instantly.

“You…”
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Old October 1 2011, 06:48 AM   #107
Gul Re'jal
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Location: Gul Re'jal is suspecting she's on the wrong space station
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

The winner of September 2011 Writing Challenge "Stars' Fall"


___


I would like to thank my beta readers, kes7 and Lil Black Dog, for their valuable suggestions


Story note: Nokar and Eheen are continents on Cardassia Prime.


Where Stars Sank



Rafgan, a small island near the east coast of the continent of Nokar, Hebitia One, the Third Hebitian Republic



Fisherman Kodir Matassan woke up and at first he wasn’t sure what had happened. Had it been noise or a tremor? It took merely a few seconds to know that it had been both. Kodir’s wife sat up and gave him a scared look. “What’s happening?” she asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” he answered shaking his head and getting up.

Sanit got up, too. “I’ll check the kids.”

He nodded, not even sure if she could see him in the faint light that was falling through the only window into their bedroom and followed her out, passing by the children’s room, though, and heading for the main exit.

Barefoot, he stood outside their small house, which he had built seven years ago with his own hands, and looked up at the dark sky.

But the sky was not completely dark. Beside the familiar blinking spots of distant stars, it was marred by golden lines. He knew what it was: more fragments of what used to be the planet’s only natural satellite.

Not long time ago a comet or another meteorite—Kodir was never good at that scientific terminology—had hit their moon and caused its destruction. Not only the satellite had been pushed off its orbit but also small debris had broken off and now they were littering Hebitia’s surface, causing unimaginable damage and countless deaths. The fisherman understood little of the scientific babbling from news broadcasts, but he understood one thing: this was just the beginning. Without their moon, the planet’s tilt would not be as stable as it used to be and that would bring some disastrous changes to its inhabitants—the Hebitians.

Smart brains had calculated where the debris that used to be the dark side’s surface of the moon would fall and the most endangered regions had been evacuated, but it still was not enough. Rafgan was one of those high-risk places, though it was not in the top ten, just merely in top twenty, but almost everyone had refused to leave, hoping that Oralius would steer the moon’s fragments away from them.

Now, looking at the sky, for the first time Kodir wondered that maybe the decision to stay hadn’t been such a good idea. The points of impact were beyond the island, but he knew how dangerous the sea could be if not treated with due respect and hitting it with huge rocks of a celestial body was not respect.

He felt Sanit’s hand on his shoulder. “What’s going on?”

“I am not sure,” he answered, realising that he didn’t feel any more tremors. “But it doesn’t look good,” he added, pointing to the sky.

She raised her head and squinted her eyes. “So they were right when they said that one of the ‘moon rains’ was going to hit us.”

“How are the kids?”

“Sleeping.”

Kodir’s eye ridges shot up. “It didn’t wake them up?”

“It would appear that yester—” Sanit didn’t have a chance to finish when another tremor moved the land under their feet. Kodir thought he heard an explosion somewhere in the distance, but his ears were more susceptible to crying coming from the house now.

Without a word, Sanit returned inside, leaving her husband in the cool air of the night in his pyjamas, standing barefoot in mud.

The crying subsided but another explosion-like noise sounded and Kodir had no doubts this time—something had blown up. But what could that be? He looked toward the sound and reflections of flames cast shadows on his suddenly pale face. “Sweet Oralius,” he muttered. He turned and ran back into the house, not paying attention to all dirt he brought in on his feet. “Sanit, get the kids and leave the house! Now!”

“Daddy!” Nakor pulled his hands toward his father and Kodir raised the boy, who immediately wrapped his hands around his dad’s neck. “I’m scared. Did the moon monster come to eat us?”

“The moon monster?”

“The moon monster that ate the moon and now will eat us?”

“No, my sweet Soldier. No one will eat us,” his father assured him, praying to Oralius that he hadn’t just told a lie. He turned to his wife, who carried their younger son. “To the boat.” She nodded and followed him outside.

The government representative had come to them some time ago and suggested to evacuate to another place, to a city in Nokar, but Kodir had refused. He had been born on this island, he had learnt his profession from his father on this island and he always thought he would die on this island. What could he, a fisherman, do in a big city? Though, he had hoped he would die on this island many years in the future, not now!

They arrived on the beach and Kodir led his family to his boat. Then he headed back down the gangplank.

“Where are you going?” The panic in Sanit’s voice was palpable.

“I must get the others, I must get the guide.” He knew his boat was a fairly safe means of escape from the island, but he couldn’t just run leaving literally everyone behind. He had to try to get as many people on the boat as possible, as he was certain that the air transportation wouldn’t suffice to take everyone to Nokar in time.

His wife was just about to say something, but her mouth shut without a sound and she looked beyond her husband. He turned to see a group of people running to them. Someone stumbled and fell, as the ground shook again.

“Fisherman Matassan, we must leave the island!” someone shouted.

“What’s going on?” Kodir asked, trying to locate the owner of the voice in the crowd.

“The orchards are on fire and it spreads quickly.” It was Rafgan castellanis called Fagor. Kodir noted that he was unbelievably calm under the circumstances.

“Castellanis Fagor, but...” Kodir didn’t understand anything. “Where’s the point of impact.”

“The west coast of our island,” Fagor explained. “Some rocks fell into the sea, some hit the trees. They have already reached and destroyed all transportation shuttles. Support troop emergency boats are also gone, as for some reason the sea level lowered and the fire reached the boats, spreading on the dried bottom on the sea.”

Now Kodir understood what kind of explosions he had heard: the shuttles. Rafgan had regular shuttle connection with the mainland and three of shuttles were parked on the island, while the other three on the other side of the strait, on the continent’s shore. With them gone and with the military boats destroyed there was no other way of leaving the island...except for his boat.

He started calculations in his mind: what kind of cargo the boat could manage to take and how many people lived on the island. He didn’t need any computer-like skills to know that there was no way for everyone to get on board.

However, Fagor seemed to have everything planned. “Gostan, didn’t I tell you to bring the guide?”

A young man, whom Kodir didn’t know, said, “She refused. She said she wanted to stay in the temple and pray to Oralius for our safe escape.”

The castellanis rolled his eyes. “Tell her Oralius would hear her from anywhere. Bring her by force, if you have to, damn it, but I won’t leave her here!”

Gostan ran back toward the village in the middle of the island, while Fagor looked at Kodir. “Can we use your boat?” he asked.

The fisherman was surprised at first; such a dire need and the castellanis was asking him for permission to use his boat? “Naturally,” he replied, hoping that no one took his surprise for hesitation. “First, we’ll need to remove any non-necessary items from the boat, so that it could carry more people.” He looked toward the small crowd. “I need ten people to help me,” he said louder. He chose volunteers and told them to follow him.

They threw out the whole cargo, all pieces of sparse furniture and everything else that was not really needed. Some people brought food, while the castellanis returned to his office in an attempt of notifying someone in Bavosal, the nearest Nokarian city, where to look for the boat with the survivors.

Kodir also noticed that some people sailed from all around the island in their small recreational boats. They weren’t able to take many people and they would not be able to sail far, but they would keep people alive while the whole island were to be consumed by fire.

People were slowly gathering on the beach and Kodir’s heart started to slowly sink. His fishing boat was a big one—after all his business was not only for the local market but also for Bavosal and other villages along the coast—but far from sufficient for that kind of crowd. When disassembling the crane that carried nets with caught fish, he glanced at the gathered people—in spite of his own promise not to do that for he didn’t want to see how many there were...going to be left—and noticed that the guide was among the others now. He was glad to see that the young man had managed to convince her to join. She was too important and too wise to let her die. He also noticed the inquisitor, who tried to control a group of young teenagers. With a startle he realised that most of the people on the beach were below twenty years of age. Where were their parents? A second later an explanation shot through his head—the parents had decided to make sure their children would survive even if they wouldn’t themselves and sent them alone to the beach to spare the kids the horrors of farewell—so he refused to dwell on it and returned to his work, trying to concentrate on it and not anything else.

The castellanis called him, so Kodir returned to the beach. On his way down the gangplank he noticed orange light above the island had become brighter—the fire was consuming more and more of the small land. He also realised that the gangplank was now in a bit different position than it had been when he had boarded the boat the last time. Had the sea level lowered?

“Matassan, we will try to fit all younger children on your boat plus the guide and the inquisitor. All kids know them, so they wouldn’t be so scared. You also must go, as you are the only one you can drive that thing.”

“Steer,” the fisherman corrected him.

Fagor nodded. “Steer that thing. The older children will get on smaller boats, since they are big enough to understand how to behave on such a small craft not to fall overboard.”

“I understand.” And he did, but it felt awfully wrong to escape while so many others couldn’t.

Everyone who had helped to clear the boat of the unnecessary stuff left the boat and the inquisitor led the children of all ages aboard. Kodir stood near the gangplank, making sure no one fell into water and he did his best not to panic. From the corner of his eye he observed his wife, who stood on the shore with a solemn look on her face. It hadn’t been said yet, but he knew what it meant—she had to stay. He had to leave her behind. But how could he leave, knowing that his beloved would...he felt tears filling his eyes and wiped them away with a sleeve, realising that he still was in his pyjamas. He looked toward the village again and then toward the sea. He saw that some of small boats floated very near the beach and wondered why people pulled them that far into the sand. He knew it would make it much more difficult to sail away if a boat was in shallow water. He looked at his own boat and with a start realised that the fire wasn’t the only problem that threatened the inhabitants. Not only the boats were in shallower water now, but also his fishing vessel. He had not moved it, but it didn’t change the fact that the water level was different: lower. No natural tide would behave like that—and he knew it was not the time for this kind of tide—so there had to be another reason. His heart almost stopped beating when he understood what it was: a drawdown. If he had any hope that they would survive, it was gone now, as his practised eye of a man of the sea interpreted the sign: a drawdown meant that a tsunami was coming. One of moon rocks had to be big enough to cause giant waves, which were now closing to the island to consume it.

He shot a glance at all the small boats near the shore and closed his eyes, trying not to burn in his memory all those faces, because he knew that there was no chance the boats and their passengers would withstand a hit of a giant wave. He was torn between telling them it was hopeless and letting them fight for their lives. Which was less cruel, Oralius, tell me, please!

He glanced at the immersion sensor installed on the hull of his boat and instinctively raised his hand. Normally it meant that the boat was full and the load of cargo should be stopped, but in this case the meaning of this simple gesture hit him like a hammer. No one else could board or they would all die. He realised that the surprisingly calm so far crowd grew nervous, as parents of the left-out children started to panic. Someone started to cry and beg to let her child board the boat. Some voices joined her, some tried to hush her and some scolded her. Someone intoned a prayer to Oralius—Kodir guessed it was the guide—and many people joined the singing.

His brain started making a new calculation. He looked at his thin wife; she had helped him to fish many times before and she had some knowledge of sailing. But what was more important—she was half his weight. If he meant four kids, she meant eight. That’s the only thing he needed to know. One of them had to stay aboard to steer the boat, but it had to be the lighter one.

He waved for her to approach the gangplank and left the boat. “You will take them,” he whispered to her and before she had time to protest, he raised his hand with four fingers stretched and shouted, “Four more kids!” Her eyes opened wide, as she fully understood what he was doing. She shook her head, speechless and he wrapped his arms around her to give her the strongest and warmest hug of her life...and the last one from him. “Remember,” he whispered to her ear, “remember and never forget.” She nestled her face in his chest, but she didn’t sob. She was the bravest person he knew.

One of teenagers pushed his younger sister toward the gangplank and the inquisitor helped the girl to board the boat. Due to their young age—and low weight—they managed to save four more in addition to the girl. Five in total.

He gave Sanit the last kiss and gently pushed her toward the gangplank. Instead of goodbye, he said, “Take them all under deck. Tsunami’s coming—don’t let them see that.” Don’t let them see the huge wave washing us all off the shore into the sea. Don’t let them see how scared we were and don’t let them hear how loud we screamed in fear and pain. Don’t let them remember their parents as fragile, dying and terrified people; make sure they remember brave mothers and fathers who sacrificed their lives for their safety. He didn’t say all that but he knew she understood him well.

Tears shone in her eyes. “I won’t,” she said bravely, but she didn’t look brave.

“And make sure the boat is at the correct angle to waves not to be turned upside down,” he continued instructing her, but she grabbed his head, neared her face to his and kissed him, stopping his fast speech. She was shaking and for a second he feared that she wouldn’t manage, but a moment later, seeing her climbing up the gangplank and instructing the inquisitor to take the kids under the deck, he knew that he had underestimated her.

She leaned over the board toward him. “I won’t let anyone forget what you did here today,” she said.

The boat unmoored and then left.

Kodir turned to the people in small boats. Some had already left and were to far to hear him, but he called them anyway. “Return to the shore! Return now, tsunami is coming and those boats—”

“We’ll take our chances,” someone shouted back.

“The boats are too small, the run-up will destroy them.”

A few faces expressed doubt and looked uncertainly at others.

“Get on the boat!” the local grocery clerk yelled at his wife. “We won’t be any safer on the island and this way we at least have a chance!”

“No, you don’t,” Kodir whispered resigned.

The clerk’s wife followed her husband’s instruction and got into a small boat, in which there were already too many people and water was getting inside.

Kodir wished he could do something more, but he knew he was helpless. He looked toward his boat and prayed for its passengers and their survival. It brought him some relief to see that the boat had been steered correctly not to be turned upside down by the run-up. The position didn’t guarantee complete safety, but it maximised their chances.

As the boats disappeared in the darkness of the night and the sea, the sounds on the beach faded away. Many people left—Kodir was guessing—in a futile attempt to find a way to survive the disaster. Many stayed, though, and fell almost completely silent, unless counting soft singing. Kodir couldn’t believe how quiet it became. All they could hear was the song to Oralius, hum of the black sea and crackling of orange flames behind them. He sat on sand and closed his eyes. His duty as a Hebitian was fulfilled—he had sacrificed his life for the good of others. Oralius should be satisfied and he hoped she’d accept him in her kingdom.
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Old October 1 2011, 06:49 AM   #108
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Lakat, the continent of Eheen, Cardassia Prime, the Cardassian Union


Laran put his finger on a blue part of the map. “Mommy, why is this part of the ocean called ‘Where Stars Fell’? There’s no star here. There’s nothing here, just water.”

“Come here, Droplet, I’ll tell you a story.” Atira, a native of Nokar, sat in an armchair and pulled her arms toward her five-year-old son. The big map on the floor forgotten, he ran to her and with her help climbed up her knees.

“I like stories,” he declared.

“I know. But this story is special.”

“Why?”

“Because it really happened.” Little Laran’s eyes opened wide as she started to say, “Long time ago there was a small island near the east coast of Nokar—”

“That’s where you are from, Mommy, isn’t it?” he interrupted.

“That’s right,” she confirmed with a smile and then continued. “And on that island there was a small village. And in that village lived a wise fisherman. He was the leader of his people and very, very smart. And he knew what the sacrifice was.

“One day a big rock from the outer space hit the Hebitian moon, and little pieces of the moon fell on the planet and the moon itself was pushed out from the orbit.”

“And moon people died?”

She smiled. “There were no moon people on the moon, Droplet.”

“Okay.”

She went on. “But there were people on the planet. And they were very scared, because the planet moved. Nokar was not warm and pleasant any longer, since it moved to the north.”

“What about the island and the fisherman?”

She was glad to see that her son listened carefully. “A rain of stars fell on the island and everyone had to run away. But there was no escape, because all air shuttles and all ships had been destroyed in fire. The only way to leave the island was the fisherman’s boat.”

“Was it big enough?”

“No, it wasn’t.” Laran’s facial expression changed to great sadness, as his mother kept saying, “There were many parents on the island, many mommies and daddies who loved their children as much as I love you. And they wanted their children to leave the island on the boat.”

“And how did they leave the island?”

“They didn’t.” She gave the boy a moment to digest it and then continued, “The fisherman did all he could to take as many children as the boat could carry; he even decided to stay on the island himself so that a few more children could take his place. No one asked him to do that, because it was his boat, but that was his choice.”

“His sacrifice,” Laran said and his mother smiled, glad that he understood the story. “Where is that island now?”

“It’s gone. The sea took it and buried it. But we didn’t forget about the brave fisherman and his friends and how they all saved all children from the island. His wife cried for many days for she missed her husband and his children cried with her for they wanted to be with their daddy, but they knew that his sacrifice was sacred and they would never dare to reject it. They appreciated it and they spread the word about the brave fisherman who saved all children from the island from the falling stars.”

“They were like you, and me, and daddy.” Laran didn’t ask a question; it was a statement.

Atira smiled. She’d never thought about it that way, but there indeed was some similarity: her husband had also risked and lost his life to protect her and other Cardassians. He’d paid the highest price, but thanks to his decision she was alive and so was little Laran. Tears shone in her eyes as she felt for the fisherman’s wife—they were separated by five hundred years and different culture, but they certainly mourned their loved ones the same way and treasured what was left. She hugged her son, putting her chin in the top of his head and he didn’t resist.

Mourn him, cry and miss him every moment, but also be proud of him and don’t let people forget that he was a hero. They both were: her husband and the fisherman.



Lakat, the continent of Eheen, Cardassia Prime, the Cardassian Union



“Story time!” Laran ran toward his uncle, who had just sat with a padd in an armchair. “Story, story, story!” The boy kept jumping in front of the man, his small heels making a lot of noise on the floor.

Arenn, a native of Eheen, looked at his padd, which contained a novel he was reading, and then at his nephew. He had no heart to disappoint the boy, so he put away the padd and patted his thighs. “Jump on.”

The five-year-old climbed up and sat comfortably between Arenn’s arms.

The uncle began. “Long time ago there was a small island in the hot region of Hebitia. And on that island lived a fisherman with his family: his wife and two boys, one just like you. One day a rain of stars fell on the island and evil fire wanted to eat everything and everyone. But there lived a very smart prefect on the island, who had an idea of saving many, many people. He asked the fisherman if he would agree to take all children from the island on his boat and take them to safety.”

“The fisherman agreed because he knew what was sacrifice,” Laran interjected.

Arenn smiled. “He agreed, yes. But the boat was too small and not everyone could board it. So the prefect asked him if he had any ideas how to make the boat better and able to carry more people, but the fisherman didn’t know how to do it, unless he himself would not board it. But who would steer the boat?” Laran shook his head, not knowing the answer. “He quickly taught his wife how to steer the boat and she boarded it. She was smaller and lighter than he, so more than one person could replace him.”

Laran frowned. “Mommy told me this story but it was different.”

Arenn grinned. “Was it?”

“She told me that it had been the fisherman’s idea to use his boat, not prefect’s. There was no prefect at all! Are you lying to me?” The boy’s suspicious look was adorable and the uncle did his best not to laugh.

“I would never lie to you, Laran, you know that.” Arenn paused, wondering how to explain that to the boy. “Mommy and I told you the same story, it’s just that...no one really knows what exactly happened, so we try to tell it the best we can.”

“So which one to real?”

“Both. And none.”

Laran gave Arenn such a look that the man again almost burst into laughter: disbelief mixed with scepticism on the tiny face. “Explain,” the boy demanded.

“I cannot. I do not understand it myself.”

Thin eye ridges frowned. “Hmmm...who was the first to tell this story?” he asked

Arenn felt nothing less than pride of the clever boy. “The fisherman’s wife and his children.”

“And what did they say?”

“That told everyone what had happened. And then those people told other people what had happened. And so for over five hundred years people told and re-told this story...and the truth blended with imagination.”

Laran grew even more suspicious. “Why? Didn’t they remember?”

Accusing a Cardassian of forgetting was offensive and Laran knew that. Arenn had to do something not to let the boy get the wrong impression from the story. “No, my Soldier, they did remember. But the story is so sad that everyone feels sad when telling it. And many people added something to make the story even more important, to make sure that everyone understood how brave was the fisherman, his wife and everyone else on that little island.” The uncle realised that it was very difficult to explain it to the inquisitive boy. He felt like sinking under scrutinising him sceptic eyes. “People told the story the best they could, trying not to omit anything important, trying not to omit the lesson it teaches us.”

“The sacrifice if the greatest good and a duty of every Cardassian,” Laran intoned.

Arenn nodded. “Yes, you know the words and you repeat them as you were taught. But do you feel them,” he said, placing his hand on the boy’s chest.

Laran’s facial expression changed and all doubt vanished. “Tell me the story again,” he asked and Arenn granted his request with delight.


The End
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Old November 3 2011, 06:11 AM   #109
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

October 2011 Challenge: "Star Trek: Section 31--'Of Mastery And Fate'"

Submitted for the Challenge theme: "Reconciliation" (Special Thanks to Gul Re'jal, for this opportunity.)

By Rush Limborg


Author's note: How far is one willing to go, to gain what is, arguably, rightfully theirs? What is the line one will establish, to never cross--or is there a line?

What are they willing to give up--and what does it say about them, the decision they ultimately make?

This tale is about a certain individual from Deep Space Nine's final season...and how he came to answer those questions for himself. But was it worth it?

It's been a while since I've done a tale consisting of only one scene--a dialogue between two characters. That was my first-ever Ezri tale, "Of Power And Passion".

It was fun--though I personally found myself almost psychologically drained, by the end--it was rewarding, but exhausting. Such, I think, is what happens when you write a tale with no chapter breaks, no scene breaks...no breaks, period. Thus, I haven't done it since...until now.

I hope you guys love it!

Note: this tale heavily references the events of Mike and Andy's Section 31 novel, Rogue. This tale is, in part, my attempt to reconcile how the Bureau was depicted in that book (frankly incompetent) with the disturbingly efficient organization they were frankly supposed to be, from the beginning.

Word count: approx. 3,509.

Enjoy!


Star Trek
Section 31

"Of Mastery And Fate"



Romulus

Federation Standard Year 2374

* * *

Koval looked out from his office, upon the night skyline of Ki Baratan, capital of the Romulan Star Empire. Standing there, he considered all he had achieved…and all he had yet to achieve.

He was the chairman of the Tal Shiar—truly, as far as he was concerned, the most powerful position in the Empire. And yet…there were those who failed to acknowledge that simple fact. For he, with all his power—all his influence—he had been so insultingly overlooked by the Continuing Committee.

What was the reason again? That he was “too unorthodox”?

As though that should be a valid argument, considering what he commanded.

Unorthodox, indeed.

It was so…so very exasperating, to find one’s influence curbed by lesser Romulans. His service had been such that it would clearly overshadow the record of each and every one of the Committee—each and every one of the Senate, in fact. Especially the record of…

He forced down what emotion arose within him, at the mental invocation of the name: Kimara Cretak.

The woman, now a Senator, to whom he had once given his heart. But then…her maddening idealism—her unbridled patriotism—it had led her to condemn him, and to dismiss him. Thus, she had made it a point to push for a veto to his every appeal for appointment to the Committee.

Not that she was the only voice, of course. There was the failure concerning Chialos IV—and how that which he had hoped to attain for the Empire had been lost, through the somehow unanticipated meddling of one Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The scenario worsened, of course, when it had become apparent that Koval’s handing over of the list of Tal Shiar agents working within Federation space to that human agent…was therefore all for naught.

Such had given Cretak’s arguments further credence, among the Committee—and had severely diminished any chance he possessed of attaining that which was rightfully his.

Such was his career. Such was his fate…to be forced to submit to the will of lesser Romulans.

“Nice view, isn’t it?”

Koval turned—and fought to reveal no reaction.

A man—human, it looked like—sat at the desk, leaning back in the chair, the tips of his fingers pressed together. He was dressed completely in a black material. His face was filled with lines…his hair blond, and cut short.

He did not appear threatening, as of yet. Thus, Koval did not bother to pull his disruptor. The chairman was curious, however, as to how this man had managed to evade all the security measures in place to prevent exactly this sort of thing.

And so, Koval said, “I would ask how you managed to enter this office.”

The man smiled. “You would ask. I wouldn’t answer.”

“I suppose not. In that situation…my next action would be to ask who you are.”

“And that, I would answer.”

“Who are you, then?”

“The name is Sloan, Chairman Koval,” the man replied.

“Sloan?”

The man nodded. “Sloan.”

Koval walked over to the desk, looking down at the man, staring at him without words.

The man—Sloan—stared back at him, showing no fear…no sign of intimidation whatsoever. Koval admired that, as he admired the man’s audacity in somehow entering the premises without detection…and in choosing to sit in Koval’s own chair. Nonetheless…

“Mr. Sloan,” Koval finally said, “I would assume that your appearance involves…important matters of serious concern.”

Sloan nodded. “Correct.”

“Therefore…I would also assume that propriety demands that you relocate yourself to another seat.”

Koval leaned forward. “I also demand it.”

Sloan replied with a silent chuckle, which to Koval’s sensitive hearing would signify contemptuous amusement. But he then rose to his feet, in a pace indicating he was in no hurry…and walked over to a seat on the opposite side of the desk, where he sat, returning to his former posture.

Koval took his own seat, and leaned back, pressing his fingertips together in a posture which may have been a mirror image of Sloan’s. Whether it was or not…it was of little concern to him.

“Well, then, Mr. Sloan,” he said, “What brings you here, to Romulus?”

“First, let me ask a question, to help answer yours,” Sloan replied. “Are you aware of what I am?”

“A human.”

“Beyond that, of course.”

“Of course. Assuming you are referring to your occupation…I would assume you are an agent of Starfleet Intelligence?”

“Close…but no cigar, as we humans say.”

Koval resolved to show no frustration at the man’s evasiveness. “What, then?”

“Come now, Chairman—I’m sure you are aware of our existence. You’ve dealt with us before, haven’t you?”

“Have I?”

Sloan waved to the desk table…and Koval noticed for the first time that there was a standard Federation Starfleet padd in front of him. Curious, the chairman picked it up, looking at the face of the man on the screen.

It was another human—but his hair was of a more red shade. He was dressed in the uniform of a Starfleet officer, with the rank of commander.

And Koval recognized the man right away. Not that he would reveal that to this man sitting across from him.

He looked up. “Who is he?”

“Cortin Zweller.”

“Oh?”

“He conducted an exchange between the Tal Shiar…and our organization. I seem to recall…it involved your handing over a list of your agents in Federation space, in exchange for our organization ensuring that the Chialos system would join the Romulan Empire.”

The man paused for a moment, as if to let the information settle, and asked, “Now, do you recall?”

Koval set the padd down as if it were irrelevant to him.

“What if I did?”

“If you did…you would know what I am. But—I’ll save you the trouble of continuing this little game which would get us nowhere. I am part of the organization of Section 31. As you are no doubt aware…we are effectively the Federation’s counterpart to your Tal Shiar—or to the Cardassians’ Obsidian Order.”

“The obvious difference being, of course…that your organization cloaks its own existence.”

Sloan smiled. “Now, you’re catching on. As to why I’m here…let me ask you another question, Chairman.”

“Yes?”

Sloan leaned forward. “How long has it been since a Romulan of your position has been denied a position on the Continuing Committee?”

Show no reaction
. “What is the purpose of your question?”

“Oh, just…if it’s not too bold of me to notice, I…understand you’ve been, for lack of a better word—snubbed. Disregarded by the Committee…by the Praetor himself…and for what? They don’t trust you? Oh, come now—when has that ever stopped the Tal Shiar?”

“What is the purpose of your question?” Koval asked again.

Sloan stared at him for a moment, and asked, “You know what your problem is, Koval?”

Koval decided to ignore the man’s use of given names. “Enlighten me.”

Sloan leaned back again. “You assume too much—about yourself.”

“Oh?”

“You think—as so many others in your position of power tend to think—that you’re the master of your personal universe.”

“What do you mean?”

“You think you are—or should be—the one in control over your position…your fate…your life….”

“Are you threatening me, Mr. Sloan?”

“Oh, not at all, Chairman. I wouldn’t…dream of threatening a man so…comfortably seated in his own position.”

“Then what is your intent?”

“My point, Chairman, is simply this: no one is the master of their universe—personal, or otherwise. Regardless of how high your position is…you will always have to rely on someone for that kind of power. In fact…” he smiled again, “I would say that the higher one’s position…the more dependent one becomes—on people, on circumstances…or in this case, on fate.”

He stopped there, the smile still on his face. His eyes seemed to be watching Koval…as if judging his reaction.

Koval met his gaze, and asked, “Fate, Mr. Sloan?”

“That’s right.”

“I assume, Mr. Sloan…that you are referring to yourself.”

Sloan spread out his hands. “Perhaps I am. Let me put it this way, Koval…the moment you cease to think of yourself as the master of your universe—the moment you finally begin to understand the scope of your dependence…is the moment the power you imagined yourself to have…becomes real.”

“Oh?”

“Once you truly understand the nature of dependence—how powerful it really is…that’s when you can use it, to your advantage.”

Koval leaned forward, slightly. “A most…interesting point, Mr. Sloan.”

“It’ll become even more interesting, Chairman, when I prove it to you—with the help of our…mutual friend.” Sloan waved a hand in the direction of the padd, and the face of the red-haired human.

“Zweller?”

“Zweller.”

“What of him?”

Sloan’s smile turned bitter, as he replied, “He put himself into a situation where…he became a liability to the Bureau, and the Federation.” He shrugged. “He became, to be honest…an employee we had to let go.”

Koval raised an eyebrow at this. “As it seems to be relevant, at present…what was his crime?”

“Crime? No, it wasn’t a crime, per se. Suffice it to say we simply removed him from any opportunities to…exercise his incompetence.”

“Incompetence?”

Sloan leaned forward, growing serious. “You remember the Chialos system, of course—and the deal?”

“You informed me, yourself, a short time ago.”

“So I did. And to be blunt…that was a bad deal. For the Bureau, I mean.”

Surprising…
“Indeed?”

“Oh, we certainly got…‘bailed out’, by one Jean-Luc Picard, and his ilk, but…the truth is, Koval, Mr. Zweller hastily agreed to a deal which gave us far less than it would have given you—had Picard not interfered.”

“And yet Picard did interfere. Unless, of course…you are simply attributing such to good fortune.”

“No, as a matter of fact, I’m not. The only reason Picard—and an admiral lady friend who’s long since proven herself to be…irrelevant—the only reason they kept you from your reward…was because they stumbled upon our existence. Because someone—” Sloan tapped the padd with Zweller’s image, with his forefinger, “—had assumed himself to be the master of his own universe. He thought he knew more than he did. And so…his assignment was compromised—in more ways than one.”

“I see,” Koval replied. “However…I find it most interesting that he would confess to such a mistake—assuming his superiors would take it as you do.”

“I was his superior, Chairman. And he didn’t confess. But do you really think I wouldn’t have looked at all that happened concerning Chialos…or put two and two together?”

“I would imagine not.”

“Of course not. And if you knew Zweller…you’d know he isn’t the kind of man to admit to a mistake like that—because, like I said…he considered himself the master of his universe. And if you know that…you’d also know that there was no chance he was going to let himself learn from that mistake…because, like I said, he wouldn’t admit to himself that it was his mistake. And do you really think I’m going to allow that kind of liability to remain out in the field?”

“I see. Quite an interesting tale, Mr. Sloan.”

“Then you understand my point.”

“I suppose. I believe, as your race would say, ‘Pride goes before destruction…’.”

Sloan nodded. “‘…a haughty spirit, before the fall.’ Which brings us back to you. That incident damaged the Bureau, to be sure—albeit temporarily—but from what we’ve seen, it’s damaged you even more…because you didn’t get what you wanted.”

“Go on.”

“Because you, as far as the Praetor was concerned, failed…it prolonged your ascension to the Committee even more…am I correct?”

Koval resolved not to satisfy him. “Go on.”

“Let me ask you this, Chairman…what are your chances of gaining that position now…without outside help?”

Koval paused, staring at him. Sloan met his gaze, his face unreadable.

At last, Koval spoke. “What do you propose?”

Sloan’s smile returned. “An alliance, Chairman—of sorts. It will take time, but…well, I have some contacts here, on Romulus—some in the Tal Shiar, in fact. They inform me that the greatest obstacle to your desired position is…being considered to become the Romulan representative for the Alliance fleet at Deep Space Nine.”

“You propose an assassination?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Chairman—nothing that overt. I’m just saying that puts her out of the way, for a while. In the meantime…the Bureau can arrange things, so that it’ll be easier for you to attain that position—against what objections she might have.”

Koval leaned back in his seat. “Mr. Sloan…your proposal is most intriguing. However…what motive would I have to agree to your proposal—to, as you would put it…place my ‘fate’ in your hands?”

Sloan’s smile grew, as he leaned back in turn. “Two things, Chairman. First…you wouldn’t have tried to deal with us before, had you not been aware of our standards of efficiency. In fact, I’d wager you were amazed at what Zweller was allowing you to get away with.”

“Perhaps. And the second?”

Sloan steepled his fingers. “Let me put it this way…you didn’t really expect us to believe that Vice Admiral Fujisaki died of food poisoning—did you?”

Show no reaction.
“I beg your pardon?”

“The deputy chief of Starfleet Intelligence—dying of something so…trivial? On Earth, mind you.” Sloan chuckled. “Very clever, Chairman, I’ll give you that.”

No…reaction
…. “I am unsure whether to be amused or honored, Mr. Sloan—that you would attribute such an occurrence to my efforts.”

“Of course. Let me add, though…it wasn’t too hard to narrow down the list of suspects—for the Bureau, anyway—once we knew what to look for.”

Koval said nothing.

Sloan leaned forward once again. “Now, Chairman…if you truly want that position on the Committee—and if you’re willing to accept that we may be your only chance to achieve it—you’re going to have to be prepared…to go all the way.”

“All the way…?”

Sloan nodded. “Because if you think we’re going to let you make a mockery of the Bureau a second time…you’d better think again. If you try—we will expose your involvement in Fujisaki’s death. Then, you can bid any hopes of achieving your rightful place in the Empire a fond farewell. Do you understand?”

Koval’s fight to show no reaction somehow became more difficult. If this man really did have the evidence he claimed…than Koval would have no choice but to comply.

How humiliating. The chairman of the Tal Shiar, submitting to
blackmail? This is unheard of! It is almost insult added to injury, this promise of “reward”. Even were he to succeed, and were I to attain the seat I so desired—the threat would still exist…and always would exist.

But on the other hand, were Sloan deceiving him about the “proof”…the insult would be far greater.

The audacity with which he came—as if he truly
did hold an advantage over me, of such a magnitude…but then, perhaps such was merely to sell the deception. What would it mean?

Whatever his decision may be…it would bring with it, a significant risk. The question was…which risk would be greater?

He met Sloan’s gaze…and it was in that moment—when he saw the look of satisfaction in the man’s eyes, that the chairman realized that, by his hesitation alone—whether Sloan had possessed proof beforehand or not—Koval had given him what confirmation he needed.

But if he has no proof…he could not use my reaction alone.


And yet…

Sloan rose to his feet, nodding. “I understand, Chairman. It’s quite possible that, were I in your place…I might have made the same decision. I don’t blame you. As I said…it’s very difficult to admit that you’re not the one in control.”

Such audacity…but this is as if he
is deceiving me.

However…
regardless of my decision, he would be victorious over me, were he in possession of such evidence. Thus, he simply could not care, either way…hence, his rampant self-confidence.

Sloan shrugged, and said “Take care, Chairman.”

You must make a decision. Let him leave—or shoot him, whichever you prefer—and leave yourself to fortune. Or submit to whatever demands he will make—and reap the benefits…and the curse.


Sloan turned to go, heading for the door—

“Mr. Sloan.”

Sloan stopped. He turned to Koval, his face expressionless. “Chairman?”

Koval rose from his seat, meeting the gaze of the human clad in black. They stared at one another, for what seemed like an eternity. Koval felt his hand hovering near his holstered disruptor. It would be so simple…Sloan was so clearly unarmed—helpless.

The human was composed…relaxed, as if the disruptor meant nothing to him. The look on his face was one of serene acceptance—acceptance of whatever decision Koval would make.

It would have been far easier, had Sloan been tense…afraid.
Koval’s eyes scanned the human for a moment longer. And then…he relaxed his arms, and sat down. When he opened his mouth to respond, the words that he spoke…were words that he had never, in his darkest nightmares, allowed himself to imagine uttering.

“What do you want from me?”
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Old November 3 2011, 06:12 AM   #110
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Sloan nodded, a small smile forming. As he returned to his own seat, he said, “You did the right thing, Chairman. Not that it matters—but I’m being monitored, as we speak. Were you to try and shoot me…I’d have been beamed away, and you wouldn’t have known.”

“I see.”

“Now…as to our deal…”

“Yes…our deal,” Koval replied, allowing the contempt he was feeling to manifest in his voice.

“All we want, Chairman—in return for your achieving what is rightfully yours…is information.”

“Information?”

“That’s right.”

Koval frowned. “What sort of information?”

All sorts of information. From this day forward…you are to be our chief ‘mole’. Do you know what a ‘mole’ is, Chairman?”

Koval nodded. “A permanent spy…to report on the activities of the organization in question.”

“Essentially, yes. You will regularly report to us the information we so desire about the goings-on in the Romulan government…and the activities of the Tal Shiar.”

Koval’s featured hardened. “You do not honestly expect me to betray Romulus so thoroughly—”

“Don’t be so melodramatic, Chairman. All we want is to maintain for the Federation what you want to maintain for Romulus—stability, peace…and order.”

“I will not—”

“Let me put it this way: we want this alliance to work. It needs to work, if the Dominion is to be defeated. The last thing we want is for something to happen in the Romulan government to threaten our…relationship. Therefore, by working with us, you won’t be ‘betraying’ your people…you’ll be preserving them.”

Koval paused for a moment longer. Finally content that he had regained his composure, he replied, “Assuming, of course…an alliance with the Federation is the most effective means to that end.”

“You don’t think so.”

Koval permitted himself a smile. “Mr. Sloan…if you are as aware of my activities as you claim—”

“I would know you’ve been an outspoken opponent of the alliance since it was first brought to the table—yes, I know. And as far as everyone else is concerned…that won’t change—until after you secure your seat on the Committee. Given time, you’ll announce your change of heart. Should make it more effective.”

Koval felt his smile vanish.

“Good,” Sloan replied. “I’m glad we understand each other.”

He rose to his feet, and announced, “I’ll send a contact to you, at regular intervals—a Romulan. A Tal Shiar agent, as far as everyone else is concerned. You’ll know it’s them, when they come. They’ll tell you what information we want at that given time—and you’ll provide it, when they come back for it. They’ll also provide you with the proper instructions.”

“Instructions?”

Sloan’s smile finally grew. “For your rise to power, Koval.”

He extended his hand. “Chairman…it is a pleasure, doing business with you.”

Koval stared at the hand, a feeling of sickness churning within.

Perhaps he is right. Perhaps…I never
was in control. Perhaps, in order to manipulate others…you must allow yourself to be manipulated, in turn—and to accept the truth, with no denials from base emotion.

And so…Koval, Chairman of the Tal Shiar—the most feared, revered, respected man in the Romulan Star Empire…rose to his feet, suppressed what remnants of his pride remained in his soul—

—and clasped the hand of the human agent Luther Sloan, of Section 31, who from that day forth, held Koval’s fate within his grasp.

Sloan gave the hand a firm shake. He then released it, gave Koval a nod, and said, “Until next time, Koval….”

And then he turned…and walked out of the room. The door closed behind him.

Koval didn’t know what force compelled him to follow—to rush to the door.

All he knew was that, when the door opened, and Koval looked out into the hall, which contained no doors for a significant distance…that it was empty.

Luther Sloan was gone.

And Chairman Koval…was alone.

* * *

It is only beginning
….
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Old December 4 2011, 09:03 PM   #111
Cobalt Frost
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

November Challenge, themed "...with a Grateful Heart"
winning entry


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

"Thus Far I Am Got On My Journey; Reader or Traveller: Canst Thou Inform Me What Follows Next?"

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

“Come in, Cadet.”

The knock had been timid, but then, that wasn’t unusual. Despite the small brass plaque with precise black letters that read ‘PLEASE KNOCK’, people seemed hesitant to do so, or to do so with any significant force. Perhaps it was the nature of the door itself, lacquered Japanese cherry wood – the real thing, not replicated – with bright brass hinges and a well-worn but equally bright round brass doorknob. Such a door was rather unusual in any location, doubly so in the Rachel Garrett Faculty Office Annex on the campus of Starfleet Academy. Perhaps it was the larger brass plaque above the ‘PLEASE KNOCK’ that read, in equally precise black letters, ‘PROFESSOR SATO TATSUYA, XENOLINGUISTICS’, and the reputation for unyielding strictness that the name carried around campus. After all, nearly everyone who came to Prof. Sato’s door was a cadet, always young and often ‘wet-behind-the-ears’, as the saying went, and intimidated to one degree or another by the Professor.

The door opened slowly, revealing an attractive though somewhat mousey humanoid female, wearing a uniform so crisp the creases could cut solid neutronium. A single silver bar graced the collar that the woman tugged at nervously.

“Actually, um, it’s Ensign, sir, Ensign Rio Duran.”

“Ah, that’s right, graduation was last week. Please forgive me; the days seem to blend one into the other. So you are the first Celvani to attend and graduate from the Academy! Chose the long way in, as opposed to those few of your fellow countrymen that opted for the officer exchange program. Well then, Ensign Riovantra Durand’hal,” Prof. Sato began, using her full name; Rio bristled slightly at the familiarity, but remained silent. He was one of the Academy’s most respected and longest-serving professors, after all. “Come have a seat.”

Rio picked her way through the outer office; it was overflowing with books, stacks of actual paper, some papyrus, and various other media. Texts and literature from all across known space, in every known language and several extinct ones, caught her eye. Miraculously, she managed to find a path to the proffered chair, sitting quickly before she destabilized any of the stacks.

“Do you know, Ensign” he continued, “your home province of Crystelliar Trye and my home country of Japan share the convention of family name first, then given name? Well, the Bajorans do too, and a dozen other races that I can think of. Although, in your case – where you’re from, that is – it’s only the female names that follow the convention. Most unusual. So, what can I do for you?”

“Sorry to, sorry to bother you, Captain, but…”

“Ensign Duran,” he said, his voice cooling abruptly and his eyes taking on a hard flint, “I can count on one hand the number of people who have earned the right to call me ‘Captain’, or whom I tolerate doing so, and you are not one of them.”

“I, ah, I apologize, I mean, I didn’t mean to offend, I just… I’m, I’m very sorry, sir.”

Inwardly, Tatsuya sighed, and his demeanor softened. “You weren’t the first, Ensign, and you certainly won’t be the last. I can’t count how many newly-minted young ensigns come to see me after graduating, having done a little research, finding out that I commanded a starship some time ago and imagining that the replicator-fresh uniform they’re wearing creates some sort of camaraderie between us. If the uniform stood for what it used to, I might not have a problem. Well, not so much of a problem, anyway.”

“Used to?” asked Rio.

“Used to, you say? Ah, but you wouldn’t remember what Starfleet was like back then, before Adm. Durham and his little flock of cronies rose to power. Not too long ago, really, but it seems like lifetimes. Before, we didn’t need a Starforce or a Starguard; Starfleet defended the Federation and explored, often at the same time. But then came the Dominion, and the Borg, and the Decade Wars, and for our ‘security’ we suddenly needed a standing force-in-arms. Suddenly, battleships and dreadnoughts plied the starlanes where explorer cruisers once flew, and Starfleet just didn’t seem to mean much anymore.” Prof. Sato went silent for a long moment, lost in memory.

“But you didn’t come here for a lecture, Ensign,” he said, snapping back to the here-and-now. “I’m quite sure you got enough of my pontificating as a cadet. Back to the matter at hand, then. What can I do for you?”

“I’m on my way to my first, first posting,” Rio said, “but I had to stop by before I left. I needed to come by to thank, to thank you.”

“Thank me, Ensign?”

“Yes, sir. For, well, to thank you for that.”

“If the that you’re referring to is what I think it is, Ensign Rio, I can’t imagine why you’d possibly want to thank me. As I recall, I very nearly got you drummed out of the Academy.”

“Yes, yes you did. But it, it was, what’s the expression, a ‘wake-up call’?”

“I suspect it was, Ensign. I suspect also, however, that you knew ‘it’ was wrong before, during, and after.” Rio studied the floor in embarrassment for a moment.

“To my, my shame,” Rio admitted. “None of us thought it would go so far… or so wrong.” She shivered. “At least no one was killed.”

“True, very true,” mused Tatsuya. “What became of the others who were involved?”

“Cadet Miller-Jones is serving a five, a five year sentence at the New Zealand penal facility. Cadet Hxu got a one hundred year sentence; I don’t know where he is.”

“Probably for the best. He’s a Kyourne, a very long-lived race. And one hundred years is a long time to nurse a grudge.”

“He is not worthy of his blood,” Rio said forcefully, her eyes flashing before her timid demeanor returned. “He never, never could take me hand-to-hand anyway.”

“Those weren’t the only ones involved in your little mess.”

Rio studied the floor again. “Cadet V’ren got augmetic replacements for his leg… and his shoulder… and his left eye. I heard he got assigned to the USS Diligent as a helmsman. Um, Cadet Encros will never hear again without a subaudio isoplexor. And Cadet Wu…” Rio laughed despite herself. “Cadet Wu will never get that color out of her hair.”

“You know, I almost didn’t submit my report to the Commandant. I almost let it slide. I saw such promise in you, such potential, I didn’t want to derail that. But I realized I’d be cheating you, and myself as well, by not honoring the ideals I held true.” Tatsuya chuckled quietly. “I presented a very vigorous argument on why you should have been dismissed, but you know, I was actually glad to learn that I was unsuccessful.

“Not to mention, I was pleased to learn that when called to task for your actions, you took responsibility, you didn’t try to excuse yourself or lay the blame on others. In fact, I understand you took it upon yourself to present yourself to the disciplinary board for judgment, and before I’d even filed my report.” Rio blushed slightly, but said nothing. “If those others who’d been involved had done likewise, or at least had been honest about what had happened, they’d be where you are now, graduates from the Academy and posted as Starfleet officers.”

“I’m sure, sure you know the terms of my punishment,” said Rio. Tatsuya shook his head.

“I was surprised that you weren’t expelled, but other than your having to repeat the year, the details were quite honestly none of my business. Though I suspect the price of your penance was rather high.”

Rio blushed again, nodding slightly in agreement. “The whole experience taught me, taught me a valuable lesson.” Rio studied the floor for a minute. “It taught me a lot about, a lot about myself as well. Things I didn’t want to learn, but, but needed to. There is a saying on my world: between the hammer and the anvil, the sword is forged.”

“A very appropriate saying, Ensign. I suspect in your case, the next few years will serve to temper that sword. Just make sure you don’t lose your edge. You know, I’d love to learn the origin of the saying. But as you’ve been glancing at your chronometer repeatedly over the last couple of minutes, I suspect this is not the time to ask. I will have to remember it, though. Definitely appropriate.”

“I’m sorry,” Rio said, suddenly self-conscious. “And I’d love to, to tell you; it’s quite a story. It’s just, just that I don’t want to be late for the shuttle. I received my first posting, to a, to a starship. I want to make a good, good impression.”

“Why not beam up?”

“The ship’s duty assignment is deep space, very deep space, and I don’t know when I’ll be, when I’ll be back this way, so I wanted to see this world from the, the air one last time.” Rio stood up and extended her hand to Prof. Sato. “Thank you, sir, for everything.”

“Honor that uniform, Ensign, and that will be thanks enough.” He paused, cocking his head to the side as if the Ensign’s standing revealed a previously unseen aspect. “You know, Ensign, I think command red would suit you more than operations yellow.”

“I’ll take, I’ll take that under advisement,” Rio smiled. Prof. Sato waved her towards the door.

“Well, run along then. Can’t have you late for that shuttle.” Rio snapped off a crisp salute and closed the door quickly behind her. Tatsuya sat in silence for a few minutes before curiosity got the better of him.

“Computer, display Starfleet personnel file for Ensign Rio Duran. Authorization delta-bravo-three-stroke-seven. Holographic presentation, please.” The terminal on his desk chirped to life, calling up Rio’s file before projecting it a comfortable reading distance from the Professor’s face. Tatsuya perused the data leisurely.

“What is Ensign Rio’s current duty billet?”

Ensign Rio Duran is assigned to USS Challenger NCC 86128; department: operations.

“Display USS Challenger, three-view and specs.” The hologram changed instantly, and Tatsuya found himself whistling in appreciation.

Pellucidar-class, eh? Named for Edgar Rice Burrough’s mythical kingdom at the center of the earth. Nice lines, very nice. And being posted to a ship of the line for her first assignment? Ensign Rio is certainly lucky.

“Computer. What is Challenger's command roster?”

Command roster for USS Challenger NCC 86128 as follows: Commanding officer, Captain Gabriel Frost; executive officer: currently unassigned; Operations officer: LCDR K’kon; chief engineer: Commander R’riel; tactical officer…

Tatsuya waved a hand dismissively, and the computer stopped its recitation. “USS Challenger patrol assignment, please.”

USS Challenger NCC 86128 is scheduled for final fittings at Starbase 136, after which she is ordered to proceed to Gateway Station, Gateway Sector, to join the Expeditionary Fleet there. Gateway Sector Expeditionary Fleet commander is Rear Admiral MacAllister.

Gabriel Frost, Tatsuya thought. Gabriel Frost made first contact – singlehandedly, if the stories are to be believed – with the Celvani. And, he’s apparently some sort of figure of prophecy to them. Tatsuya frowned slightly. They made him a captain? And assigned Challenger to the Gateway Sector; that’s Celvani space. Their home space, even. Very interesting, very interesting indeed...

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

The title is an epitaph (slightly modified by me), supposedly for a Mr. Godfrey Hill. Ensign Rio Duran is portrayed by the singer Norah Jones, while Prof. Sato Tatsuya (a distant descendant of Enterprise's Sato Hoshi) is played by Ken Watanabe.
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Old January 3 2012, 05:07 AM   #112
Rush Limborg
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

December 2011 Challenge: "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine--One Night On Terok Nor..."

Submitted for the Challenge theme: "Don't Look Back" (Special Thanks to Cobalt Frost, for this opportunity.)

By Rush Limborg



Author's note: Here, dear readers...I turn my attention to a character I haven't tackled until now: everyone's favorite tailor, Plain, Simple, Garak.

The framing story is set shortly after "Afterimage"--when, you may remember, Ezri helped him with a serious claustrophobic attack--which had been motivated by guilt over his having, in his mind, betrayed Cardassia.

There's also an interesting oddity I wanted to tackle: remember the cranial implant Garak had been using, up to "The Wire"? What was it that had driven him to that--especially considering how, in his "biography", A Stitch In Time, it is claimed that he relished his work as a tailor...in order to not let Dukat break him?

(There's also references to Garak's uncle--also information from A Stitch In Time)

Note: the climax has a nod to a classic scene from Tony Scott's film True Romance (written by Quentin Tarantino)...with some Casino Royale thrown in.



Hope you all like it!

Word Count: approx. 10,000.
Special thanks to Cobalt Frost, for this opportunity!

Enjoy!



Star Trek
Deep Space Nine

"One Night On Terok Nor..."



2375

* * *

Elim Garak was vulnerable—open to whatever attack may come. And he was to be so, voluntarily…for however long it took.

He lay on the couch, wondering how in the name of Cardassia he had agreed to this. Lying down is decidedly not the best position to engage in, when one is not in private. He was not in the Infirmary—there were no restraints, and he was not ill. Still…it was requested of him to be vulnerable. And regardless of the circumstances…that was not something easily acceptable, for him.

And so, he asked, “Counselor, if I may—is there a particular need for me to lie down like this?”

He could hear the slight hint of amusement in the voice of Counselor Ezri Dax. “Aren’t you comfortable, Garak?”

She is enjoying this, isn’t she? This is her concept of revenge…for my unfortunate treatment of her a week ago, isn’t it?

If so, then it was doubtless deserved. However…this girl never struck the former agent as particularly sadistic. Not intentionally, anyhow.

“Forgive me, Counselor,” Garak replied, “But you must understand…this suit is designed for comfort when one is upright.”

“Uh-huh. Garak, didn’t you design that suit yourself?”

“Of course.”

“In that case, I’d say it’s your own fault.”

Garak frowned, turning his head to her in curiosity. “My fault?”

Ezri shrugged, a look of complete innocence on her face. “For not designing your own suit to work for you, whatever you were doing.”

Garak smiled. “Perhaps, Counselor, I didn’t see the need to design my public attire as though it could be used for nightwear.”

Ezri returned the smile. “I can lie down in my uniform just fine—that doesn’t mean I’ll sleep in it.”

“Perhaps. However—my work rarely requires, or even allows me to position myself this way.”

“Right. Okay, Garak—what’s the real reason?”

“Counselor?”

The girl’s smile grew. “You didn’t have a reason not to make it comfortable for lying down. And I know for a fact that that’s it’s not the suit.”

“Do you?” Garak felt his own smile grow. “Perhaps you could explain.”

“You haven’t been fidgeting—you haven’t adjusted your posture that much, since you lay down. You’re tense—but it’s not your back.”

“Indeed? Then, perhaps you were to tell me what my true intentions are…?”

“That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

“Counselor…why would I have reason to lie?”

Ezri shrugged again. “Practice, maybe? If you can fool a trained psychologist, you can fool anyone.”

Garak tilted his head, still smiling. “Forgive me,

Counselor…you hardly strike me as a woman of that sort of ego.”

“Oh, it’s not ego, Garak. It’s just part of my job to not let my patients off the hook.”

“The hook…?”

Ezri sighed, in what looked like amusement. “Okay: you’re not sitting up until you tell me why you need to sit up.”

“With all respect, Miss Dax—what was the purpose of my lying down in the first place?”

“What’s wrong with it, Garak?”

Garak paused for a moment. Finally…he replied, “If I may say, Counselor…you would make a wonderful interrogator.”

Ezri blinked, as if the thought momentarily unnerved her. “Come on, Garak—what’s wrong?”

Garak moved his hand, resting it on his stomach. “If you insist…I surrender to your force of will, then.”

Ezri nodded slowly. “I insist.”

Garak shook his head. “It is…difficult…for a former member of the Obsidian Order—to leave himself…”

“Vulnerable?”

“I am lying down, without a means of defending myself—and I am forced to be in this position when I am not alone.”

“You’ve been in the Infirmary like this.”

“But this is not the Infirmary. There, it is the lesser evil. Here…” Garak frowned, “Counselor—do you always demand this of your patients?”

Ezri shrugged. “It depends. It’s supposed to relax them…help them ease up their mental barriers—that sort of thing.”

“I see. But I just informed you, that it has the opposite effect for me—”

Usually, relaxation helps the patent trust me more…and be more honest with themselves. You, on the other hand…”

“Ah,” Garak nodded. “So, then, you are intentionally causing discomfort—”

“Well, that wasn’t my plan. But you admitted it, and I saw an opportunity.”

“Indeed. May I sit up, now?”

Ezri chuckled. “Sure, Garak.”

He did—and felt his tension ease…a smile coming with it.
“Thank you, Counselor,” he said. “Now…perhaps we can continue?”

“Well, let’s see…” Ezri looked down at her padd, apparently reminding herself of the agenda for the day. At last, she looked at him, and said, “How’s your claustrophobia?”

“Oh—I barely notice it, thank you.”

Ezri held his gaze, tilting her head.

Garak looked around, his smile vanishing. “Is—is there something wrong with the walls of your office? They seem a bit closer than they were a minute or so before now.”

His smile returned, as he looked back to the girl. “No. I can assure you, Counselor—it has been under control…thanks to you.”

Ezri smiled, as she lowered her gaze. “Flattery won’t get you anywhere, Garak.”

“Flattery? Not at all!”

Ezri looked back up, growing serious. “Any more flashes of guilt?”

“Guilt, Counselor? Why—I am but a plain, simple tailor! What could I possibly feel guilty over?”

Ezri laughed, again. “You know, you’re very charming, Garak—I’ll give you that.”

Garak beamed, and inclined his head. “A trait of mine, since my youth.”

“I’m sure. But, look—you’re my patient. There’s a rule of confidentiality. If you want to keep something secret—I won’t tell a soul.”

“Ah…” Garak said, “But you see—that is something no one can truly say with assurance.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, simply that there are many ways to glean information from another—not necessarily involving interrogation.”

“Maybe. Now—you knew what I was talking about. You’re claustrophobia increased as a subconscious reaction to guilt over having betrayed Cardassia. You’ve been separated from your people—you’re an exile. You told me you were afraid that…well, if the Dominion were to be defeated, it’ll only mean the annihilation of your people.”

“Yes, I recall all of that, Counselor—I lived through it, as you recall.”

Ezri smiled. “So you felt alone in the universe—and that loneliness, mixed with helplessness, was personified by intense claustrophobia.”

Garak stared at her, unsure of her point.

She leaned back in her seat. “You know…I’ve got a lot of notes, about that. I think I’ll publish something—it’s not every day you discover a new syndrome.”

Garak tilted his head. “Discover?”

“I’m thinking of calling it ‘Garakosis’.”

Garak beamed again. “I’m honored, Counselor!”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Well, in answer to your question—no, I have no sudden bouts of a heavy conscience. I have accepted the possible consequences of my actions…and I will continue, regardless.”

Ezri nodded slowly…and she seemed more solemn, now.

“Counselor—if I may?”

“Hmm?”

Garak felt his voice turn solemn, as he spoke, “I must admit, I have been nostalgic for the thought of returning to my beloved Cardassia, from the moment my exile began. However…I’ve long accepted the unfortunate fact that I may never return to the world I once knew. As it stands…if such pain is of no consequence, neither should any guilt be. Matters of conscience were never allowed to enter the equation for me, in the Order. I cannot simply lapse into them, in civilian life.”

Ezri looked a little sad for him. “Why not?”

“Should my abilities be required again…I’d best not allow them to weaken. As it were, Counselor—they are needed now, by Starfleet Intelligence. Hence…my conscience must be numbed for them, as it was for the Order.”

“Mm-hmm…” Ezri muttered, as she consulted her padd again.

After a moment, she looked back to him. “It says here that for two years, you had a cranial implant activated, which you used as a narcotic, to cope with the pain of your exile.”

“Yes?”

“When it malfunctioned, you went through a severe period of withdrawal.”

“Of course.”

Ezri shook her head. “Garak…I’d call the addiction—any addiction—a weakening of your abilities.”

“Counselor…I admit, I found my exile to be initially…quite painful. However, as Dr. Bashir will attest, I recovered quite gracefully.”

Ezri snorted. “Right….”

“I assure you, Counselor…once the implant was removed, I came to discover I possessed no need for it. It was a minor inconvenience, nothing more.”

“Really? So…why did you turn it on, in the first place?”

“As I said, my initial years in exile were most unpleasant—particularly under Gul Dukat.”

“Unpleasant?”

“He could be quite…demanding.”

Ezri pursed her lip for a moment. “From what I’ve heard, the implant was supposed to help an agent withstand…torture. I don’t think—”

“As I said, Counselor…Gul Dukat could be quite…demanding.”

Ezri leaned forward. “Did…did he torture you?”

“Not in the direct sense, no.”

“Direct sense…?”

Garak smiled. “Counselor…I hardly think you’re unaware of the fact that the gul and I were…never on the most ideal of terms.”

“So he went out of his way to make life hard for you.”

“Naturally.”

“And that caused you to turn to a narcotic?”

“Counselor…agents of the Order were subjected to immense training, in regards to discipline. I would hardly think myself so pathetic as to find solace in a mere drug, simply because my employer was difficult.”

“But you did.”

“I did…but Counselor, don’t assume it was merely due to Dukat’s treatment of me.”

Ezri pulled up her seat, so that she sat right near the couch.

As a rule, Cardassians have a greater sensitivity than most races to the presence of other beings…particularly when they are quite close. Garak had often wondered whether that had been a contributing factor to his claustrophobia. As it stood…the counselor’s proximity to him was not particularly unnerving. However…it was clear she was trying to provoke some sort of reaction.

“Garak,” she said, in a soft voice, “What was it?”

Garak thought for a moment. Finally, he smiled, and shrugged. “A great deal of things, Counselor. I would hardly ascribe one particular cause to my…torment.”

Ezri reached over, and took his arm, in a gentle grasp. “Garak…you can tell me. Tell me everything….”

Garak felt his smile grow. For a non-Cardassian, this girl was quite cunning…using an “innocent” personality to her advantage—conveying an image of trustworthiness.

“As I said, Counselor,” he said, “You are quite an interrogator. I could easily picture a session where you smile gently at the suspect, hold his hand…speak softly to him—and in little time, he will submit to your every whim.”

“Garak,” Ezri’s gaze hardened with her tone, “I’m not joking.”

“Neither am I.”

“This is important, Mister. We need to make sure you won’t do something like that, again. We need to know the limits of what you can handle. Obviously, something caused you to break. Whether it was the pressure of a lot of different things, or one specific event that made you just…give up on yourself—we have to find out.”

Garak chuckled silently…and lay his free hand on hers, where she held his arm. “And I feel confident we will, Counselor,” he said. “In time. As of this moment, however—I doubt I could help you on that…or you, me.”

Ezri sighed…and let him go. “Fine…fair enough.”

Garak frowned. “We’re done, Counselor?”

“For today. See you tomorrow.”

Garak rose to his feet, and nodded, his smile returning. “I look forward to it, Miss Dax.”

Ezri looked up at him, and returned the smile…but to Garak, she clearly looked quite deep in thought.

Interesting…how she is still trying to understand me. When I told her once that it was impossible…she responded with, “I’d like to try.” Either she didn’t believe me—or she simple enjoys the challenge of a complicated soul like mine.


It was probably the latter. Such was something Garak respected…although her efforts probably would leave her with nothing.

“Good day, Miss Dax,” Garak said. And he turned, and left the counselor’s office.

* * *

Tailoring had long since been a means of relaxation for Elim Garak. As he had told the good counselor Dax, before his…most unfortunate outburst…throwing himself into this work—trivial though it was, in the grand scheme of events—tended to be sufficient to distract him from whatever pressures affected him.

Of course…he had no particular need for distraction, as of now. He was not so sensitive that a session with Counselor Dax would, as humans would say, “send him over the edge”. Not any longer, as it were.

As of now, he was at last attending to those costumes Dr. Bashir and Chief O’Brien insisted on wearing to the holosuite—what was it, again? The “Alamo”?

At any rate, Garak did not understand in the slightest their fascination with the so-called “honorable defeat” the program was said to entail. Honorable or not, a defeat was a defeat. Surely better to bide one’s time—live to fight another day—then to pay for one’s stubbornness with one’s life…dying for no purpose whatsoever. Defense? Gather your forces until you can strike in a strategic manner! Honor? What good will that do, when you are dead? Renown by your people? Surely your senseless death merely costs them of what they truly require of you—your service!

Humans can be most bewildering
….

“Mr. Garak?”

Garak looked up with his “customer service” smile. “Ah—Plain, Simple, Garak will do. How can I be of service?”

The young man—a Bajoran, of apparently modest means, if his clothing was any indication—returned the smile. He was carrying a set of trousers. “Well—I’ve been told you could fix…?”

“Ah, yes—say no more!” Garak’s smile grew. “I am always delighted to be given an assignment requiring my…considerable abilities.”

And so it stands. Amid an all-to-necessary betrayal of my own people…I remain so low, as to mend the region of clothing with which my clients sit. All in all, quite tolerable, considering my alternatives.


He took the trousers, and looked over the split seam. And it was quite a split!

Garak looked at the client in amusement. “If I may ask…what in Oralius’s name possessed you to impose damage like this?”

Indeed. Now I’m invoking that forbidden religion. Am I reveling in my rebellion, now?


The man chuckled nervously…as if embarrassed by a memory. “A…long story.”

“I see!” Garak nodded. “Well—this shouldn’t take too long. I have an order or two to finish, first—but by the end of today, I should have this mended. Perhaps if I were to have your name…?”

“Oh—my name’s Taren Mal.”

Garak felt himself internally freeze. Fortunately, he was not so careless as to allow it to show externally.

“Taren”…I know that name…


He kept his smile. “Well, Mr. Taren…when I finish your order—I’ll contact you. Expect a message…tomorrow morning, at the latest.”

“Oh—of course! How much?”

“Oh, a seam mend—not too expensive; standard rate should suffice.”

The man nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Garak—”

Garak raised a finger, “Ah-ah-ah! Plain, Simple, Garak….”

The man nodded, “Yes—Garak. Thank you….”

Garak nodded, beaming. “I am glad to be of service.”

As the youth left…Garak returned to his work, his mind filled with a single train of thought: Where had he heard that name, before…?

“Taren”…doubtless someone who made an impression on me. Not
him, per se—a parent, perhaps…?

“Taren”…“Taren”…


* * *
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Old January 3 2012, 05:08 AM   #113
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

2368

* * *

Garak stood in the Prefect’s Office on Terok Nor, staring into the face of Gul Skrain Dukat.

“You sent for me, Gul?” he asked…sure to provide a tone of amusement, not the fear or even the bitterness his enemy—and, due to locale, superior—would prefer.

Dukat smiled, steepling his fingers. “Garak…it’s been too long.”

“Too long?” Garak asked, frowning. “Forgive me, Gul…but if you truly missed my company, I’ve only been a com line away. Understand, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to converse with…such a noted representative of our people—”

“Garak, Garak, Garak…” Dukat shook his head, “One could swear—your lies are becoming increasingly pathetic. As it were, it’s amusing how well your…little business is faring, considering its owner.”

“Well—we may trade insults at another time. In the meantime—”

Dukat’s tone hardened. “Know your place, tailor. You are on my station…and I will determine ‘when’ it is time for ‘what’.”

Garak nodded, with a faint smile. So…still peeved at your inability to kill me, Skrain?

“Of course,” he said. “Forgive me, Gul. However…I am still bewildered at your motives for summoning me.”

Dukat chuckled. “Well, now…isn’t this rewarding? I’ve succeeded in bewildering a member of the Obsidian Order? Oh,” he added with a dismissive gesture, “Forgive me, Garak. Former member….”

Garak nodded, keeping the smile. He knew all too well…Dukat’s agenda, from the moment Garak had arrived, had been to gain a simple pleasure through socially tormenting him. (Personal vengeance—a petty motive that Garak, for one, considered himself far too…mature…to fall prey to—for the all-too-timely demise of one former Chief Justice, Procal Dukat….)

Garak, naturally, had seen through this childish intent immediately…and therefore had made it a point to throw himself into his new career (station tailor—how quaint), and to actually enjoy it. Such, he knew, would infuriate Dukat…although Garak also knew that he would probably never see such expressed externally.

But now Dukat grew serious, and said, “The reason I’ve called you here, Garak…is quite simple: I want you to do something for me.”

Indeed? I suppose humiliate myself as your jester, for your officers. If such is the case, Dukat…you had best prepare yourself for a considerable helping…of
satire….

Garak threw his head back a bit, letting his amusement show. “You need my help, Dukat?”

Dukat kept his composure, “Much as it pains me…yes.”

Garak thought for a moment, and replied, “I would imagine, this is in a…somewhat more significant role than as a simple tailor. Am I correct?”

Dukat seemed to stiffen in his seat. But he nodded. “You are.”

Garak allowed his smile to grow. “In that case, Gul…what can I do for you?”

Dukat stared at him for a time, in silence. Finally…he rose to his feet, and a faint smile of his own appeared.

“An interrogation,” he said.

* * *

2375

* * *

“Garak?”

Garak looked up from mending the Bajoran’s trousers…to see a certain lovely young counselor standing in the doorway, hands casually clasped behind her back.

He smiled. “Counselor Dax! I don’t suppose you’d have something for me to mend…have you?”

Ezri smiled, and shook her head. “No…not today.”

Garak frowned. “Then…did you remember something we—neglected to discuss, earlier?”

Ezri shrugged, as she stepped forward. “Not really. I just got off duty, and…I guess I wanted to see how you’re doing.”

“Really?” Garak asked, forcing mild astonishment.

Ezri tilted her head, looking amused as she stopped a few steps away. “Is it that annoying, Garak?”

Garak threw his head back. “Annoying, Counselor? No, not at—”

Ezri laughed. “Don’t worry, Garak—I’m not offended. If I don’t annoy my patients that much, I’m not really doing my job.”

Garak smiled. “Counselor…I can assure you, you’ve been a great help to me. Oralius forbid I allow discomfort to prevent you from continuing to be.”

Ezri nodded thoughtfully, peering deep into his eyes. “Oralius?”

Garak blinked. Did I say it, again? By Cardassia’s sun—what is happening to me?

He found himself stiffening. “A…mistake, Counselor. Pay it no—”

“Now that’s very interesting,” Ezri said. “You know, Garak, my profession has a term for ‘mistakes’ like that.”

Garak frowned. “Oh?”

“A ‘Freudian slip’. Basically, it’s whenever you accidently come out and say what’s on your subconscious mind. It’s often something you weren’t even aware you were thinking about.”

Garak felt his smile return. “Well! Are you suggesting I’m…subconsciously a follower of the Oralian Way?”

Ezri narrowed her eyes, still smiling. “I don’t know. I didn’t say it—you did.”

Garak raised his hand. “So…by my suggesting it—it’s possible that I am—‘subconsciously’, is that the term?—”

Ezri nodded.

“—subconsciously admitting to such?”

Ezri shrugged. “You could be. It all depends on what we can dig up.”

“Dig up, you say? About…me?”

Ezri looked off for a moment. “Maybe…. Are you up for it?”

“Well, that depends. Unlike you, Counselor—I am not off duty.”

“Oh—don’t worry; we can do it right here, right now. In fact…” she gave a nervous chuckle, “I’m—pretty sure that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Garak smiled. “I suppose.”

“So!” Ezri said, “Do you, by any chance, have a history with the…Oralian Way?”

“One might say that…although, it would be quite a stretch of reasoning.”

“Go on….”

Garak looked off to think for a moment, and continued, “My…uncle was a follower of the Way.”

Ezri frowned. “Your uncle?”

“His name was Tolan Garak. In fact, Counselor,” Garak chuckled, “As a child, I’d been under the admittedly mistaken impression that he was my father.”

Ezri tilted her head. “When did you find out he wasn’t?”

“On his deathbed—but…” Garak tilted his own head, “That’s—a different story entirely. The point, I suppose, is that—though my true father was certainly a force in my upbringing—Tolan was…quite influential, as well.”

Ezri frowned. “Wasn’t the Oralian Way forbidden?”

“It is. Naturally, my uncle was sure to be secretive about such things. However…he had made it a point to encourage my…”

Ezri smiled—not in amusement, but in something more accepting, and sympathetic, “…your spiritual growth?”

Garak shrugged. “One might call it that.”

“But I take it, nothing came of that.”

“Not particularly. However…I admit, I’ve always been—quite amused at the reasoning behind the ban of the Way. As far as I’m concerned…it is hardly a threat to the Cardassian way of life….”

He looked off…and he felt his face harden. “Not as great a threat as the Dominion, in any case,” he said.

He felt Ezri place a hand on his arm again. Despite himself, he found he welcomed it.

Garak turned to the girl, and smiled. “I suppose the answer to our question is: the ‘slip’ is my inner child coming out, with my uncle’s teachings intact…wouldn’t you say?”

Ezri returned the smile. “Maybe. To be honest, Garak…I think a case could be made that, if that’s the case, it’s a good sign.”

“Oh? And what would it signify?”

Ezri shrugged. “Basically, that you’re trying to come to a new acceptance of yourself—who and what you really are, in your heart. Self-awareness, if you will.”

Garak nodded slowly, his smile fading as he pondered this. “Indeed. Perhaps this was initiated by my acceptance of the…pain over what might be considered…”

“…betrayal of your people,” Ezri nodded. “I think that’s a good argument. Once you admitted it to yourself—you opened a doorway into more self-reflection.” She shrugged. “All things considered…we’re making progress, after all!”

Garak felt his smile return. “Perhaps, Counselor.”

Ezri frowned. “But…I have to warn you, Garak.”

Garak blinked, looking at her in amusement. “Warn me? Is there a danger, Miss Dax?”

“Not…exactly—just be careful.” Ezri paused for a moment, and went on, “If you’re going to go down that road, Garak…it means you’re going to have to face a lot of memories—memories you’ve been able to handle before now…but only because you’ve been able to detach yourself from them, emotionally.”

“Due to…my lack of self-reflection.”

“Exactly. And, in some cases,” Ezri’s gaze fell, “Your…addictions.”

“Naturally. Of course, I won’t be able to seek that sort of refuge.”

Ezri met his gaze. “No, you won’t. Look—I’m not saying you won’t be able to cope with those memories now…but you’re going to face them with new eyes—emotions that you suppressed with your training. The trouble is…you training won’t be able to help you, this time.”

“And—what will, if I may ask?”

“Acceptance, Garak. And to be honest—I’m supposed to help you, with that.”

Garak nodded. “Thank you, Counselor. I will…heed your warnings.”

Ezri nodded, looking satisfied.

Garak resumed his mending of the trousers.

He heard—and felt—Ezri take another step to him. “Finishing an order?”

“Yes—I…was approached by a certain young man—a Bajoran, named Taren Mal. As you can see,” he showed her, “The…seams were quite…undone.”

Ezri’s eyes widened. “What was he doing with them?”

“He said it was, and I quote, ‘a long story’. He seemed quite embarrassed.” Garak smiled at her. “Perhaps a potential client for you, Miss Dax.”

Ezri chuckled. “I doubt it. Now…why is his name important?”

Garak frowned. “I beg your pardon, Counselor?”

Ezri titled her head, peering at him again. “You made it a point to say his name. Is it important to you, for some reason?”

Garak shrugged. “It—seemed familiar, somehow. His family name, anyway. I…suppose I’ve been reflecting on it, for the past hour or so….”

Ezri nodded. “Have you come up with anything?”

Garak smiled. “When I do…I will let you know.”

Ezri nodded again, in apparent acceptance…but her eyes held a firm look which seemed to say, Make sure you do.

She left…and Garak returned to his work.

* * *

2368

* * *

Garak was not one to burst out laughing. He was far too controlled for that. A smile…a silent chuckle—that was enough.

Such was his response to Dukat’s “assignment”.

Dukat stiffened again…and his smile looked a bit forced. “Do you find something amusing, Garak?”

“Oh, not at all. Simply…can’t your own subordinates interrogate for you? Why come to me—the one Cardassian on this station whom you know, with ever fiber in your being, that you can’t trust to serve your agenda?”

“My dear Garak,” Dukat replied…somehow managing to remain calm, “It has little to do with trust. If that were it…I would sooner turn to a comfort woman to do this for me.”

“Well, now, wouldn’t that prove interesting.”

“The point, Garak,” Dukat said—clearly reaching the limits of his patience, “Is that I cannot at this time access the resources of the Obsidian Order.”

“But—as you so graciously pointed out—I am no longer with the Order.”

“That is precisely my point.” Dukat leaned forward, pressing hands down on the table, as he peered into Garak’s eyes. “Garak…perhaps you don’t understand the situation. I do not want the Order interfering in my affairs, at this particular time.”

“Ah!” Garak nodded. “Having a bout of wounded pride, are we? Does this…suspect I am to interrogate—does the revelation of its existence run the risk of insulting you, in some way?”

“I suggest you remember your place, Garak!”

“I suggest you remember yours, Dukat,” Garak replied, his elation at this verbal battle increasing by the moment. “You forget, sir, that matters of intelligence within the Empire are the jurisdiction of the Order. Regardless of any embarrassment you might face upon…admitting a defeat—”

“Garak—let me explain it to you in this way: due to the increased frequency of attacks conducted by that infernal Resistance—” the last word he spat out like a curse—“The Central Command is beginning to give very serious thought to abandoning Bajor—completely.”

Well, now…this was most interesting. Garak tilted his head. “Abandon it?”

Yes.”

“At the order of the Detapa Council, I take it?”

“Command feels it is only a matter of time. We must find a way to crush the Resistance—strike a killing blow to one cell after another. Only then can we prove that we can afford to remain.”

Garak nodded slowly. So…here it was. “And you believe this…suspect—may hold the key to such?”

“He may. He is a high-ranking member of one of the more prominent cells. Were we to break him—on our own, without crawling on our knees to the Order—and crush the cell, it would send a message to Command, and the infernal Council, that we can remain—and that we must gain more support, to crush this rebellion once and for all.”

Dukat tilted his head, his eyes blazing. “Does that satisfy you…Garak?”

Garak stared at him, saying nothing. At last…he brought up both his hands—and applauded, slowly and pointedly.

“Well said, Gul Dukat!” he said. “You may well become a credit to your rank, sooner or later. So, as far as you are concerned, you want me to give you your salvation: you have the efficiency of the Order, in me…without asking for the Order, itself. Inspired, and brilliant—assuming, of course…that I would have an incentive to accept your offer.”

Dukat’s teeth clenched. “Garak—”

“Oh, come now, Dukat—we’ve established you can’t kill me; Tain himself saw to that. It seems to me that you need my services, far more than I need your assignment. What reason do I have to accept?”

At this…Dukat actually relaxed. He sat back down in his seat, and said, “I was hoping you would ask.”

Garak nodded. “Well?”

“Garak…as you’ve said, I am going to you because you are efficient. You are the closest to a guarantee that this man will be broken. You will be able to do…what the methods at my disposal proved unable to do.”

“Is there a point to this flattery, Dukat?”

“Only this, Garak,” Dukat said, leaning forward. “If you do this for me—if you break this man, and bring me the information necessary to destroy his cell…I will promote you from your position of tailor—and appoint you as my chief of intelligence on Terok Nor.”

Garak chuckled. “You—appoint me—as your chief of intelligence?”

“Yes…ironic, isn’t it? Amazing, what necessity can force one to do. In this case…I see myself forced to abandon our past…animosity. Unfortunate—but should this succeed, we certainly will need your services again—and again, until we find and crush every last cell in the Resistance.”

“Forgive me, Dukat,” Garak replied, “But I would imagine a great many individuals who would not take kindly to my being appointed to such a high position.”

“You won’t be…officially. Officially, you will remain as ‘station tailor’. However—” Dukat’s lip tightened, “You may take solace in the fact that, from this point forward, it would only be a cover…for your true position under me.”

Dukat leaned back in his seat, folding his hands across his chest. “Do we have a deal, Garak?”

Garak stared at him for a time. This was no trick—it smacked too much of desperation and revulsion on Dukat’s part. And as it stood…Garak had nothing to lose.

His smile grew. “Where is this terrorist, now?”

* * *
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Old January 3 2012, 05:12 AM   #114
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

2375

* * *

Garak chuckled in triumph, as the last thread was put into place. The seam was sealed. Taren’s trousers were intact.

Now, to send him the fortunate news.

He went to his console, and opened a link to the man’s quarters. “Taren Mal, this is Garak—your tailor.”

The young man’s face appeared on the screen. “This is Taren. Are the pants ready?”

Garak nodded, beaming. “As I said…it wouldn’t take a day!”

“Thank you. I…won’t be able to pick it up, tonight. Could—you hold it for me, and I’ll pick it up in the morning?”


“Why—of course! I will see you then.”

“Thank you.”


The line closed.

Garak carried the trousers to the back…as the nagging feeling occurred to him, again.

Taren…who
are you? I pride myself on my memory—it’s frustrating not to remember: where have I heard your name…?

When the day was over, Garak returned to his quarters, the question still unanswered.

What was it she said: “If you’re going to go down that road, Garak…it means you’re going to have to face a lot of memories—memories you’ve been able to handle before now…but only because you’ve been able to detach yourself from them, emotionally
….

“I’m not saying you won’t be able to cope with those memories
now…but you’re going to face them with new eyes—emotions that you suppressed with your training. The trouble is…you training won’t be able to help you, this time.”

As he entered his rooms, he wondered.

Could it be the
name that is traumatic? A Bajoran name…a Bajoran who had such an effect on me. Someone I assassinated, perhaps…? But why would I wish to suppress that? The name—perhaps someone I developed a bond with, of some sort?

No…a bond with a Bajoran? Of course not—not during my days in the Order.


But perhaps…perhaps I assassinated an innocent man, with that name? Taren…Taren…


No—I don’t recall that name—at least not from my years as an operative.


A Bajoran…perhaps in my years on Terok Nor? Under Dukat—

Yes…yes, that must be it! But a Bajoran…did they ever make use of my shop?

A collaborator, then?


Taren…a collaborator named Taren? No—as the humans would say, it fails to ring a bell.


Perhaps…


Hmm. Garak sat down at the console in his quarters. Some of his time in exile was a blur—probably due to the narcotic effect of that cranial implant.

The implant…the good counselor had wondered about what had caused him to break, and to use it. To be frank…Garak had often wondered, too. He had, after all, taken a kind of pleasure in failing to provide Dukat with the satisfaction of a broken soul. Garak had made it a point to enjoy his work as a tailor—a challenge!

But what had happened?

Oh, come now: I know full well. I came to realize that the “challenge” would be eternal—that my exile would
not end, if Dukat would have anything to say about it. And the thought of never being able to return to my home…it became too much for me.

But…but what had brought about that realization? His memories, his recollections of what had brought him to that point…a blur.

No—perhaps I could simply look this man up. Who is Taren Mal? Who were the members of his family? Perhaps I could remember more, were I to see a face…


He spoke up, “Computer…could you access the record behind a name, for me?”

“Please state name of subject.”


“Taren Mal…a Bajoran.”

“Stand by.”


After a moment, the computer responded, “Records found: Taren Mal. Bajoran national, born in Federation Standard Year 2352, on stardate—”

“Oh, don’t bother me with stardates—just state the names of his…his immediate family.”

“Mother: Taren Lisem. Father: Taren Korel. Sister—”


“Hold.” Garak leaned forward, staring at the name on the screen. “The father—access his records.”

“Stand by
…. The computer paused for a moment—and a new face appeared on the screen…a face Garak knew.

“Taren Korel: Bajoran national, born in Federation Standard year 2325. Joined the Bajoran Resistance in the year 2341, enlisting in the Eldon Resistance Cell. Highly regarded by leader Eldon Ralin, and became successor to leadership of the cell upon the death of Eldon in battle against a Cardassian force, in the year 2359. Led many successful campaigns against the Cardassians, including the liberation of the labor camp at—”


“Yes, well and good—what was his fate?”

“Reported to have been killed while attempting to evade capture by Cardassians in the year 2368.”


Garak nodded. “Thank you, Computer. That is all.”

As the screen turned black, Garak sat still…feeling nothing.

So…I
did recognize a face, after all….

* * *
[/QUOTE]

[QUOTE=St. William of Levittown;5489011]
2368

* * *

“His name is Taren Korel. He led one of the older—and more effective—cells in the Resistance…until his alleged ‘death’ at our hands.”

Garak nodded at the glinn. “I see. I take it he’s proven most…resistant to your normal forms of interrogation.”

“That is correct.”

As they walked down the dark hall, to a room isolated from the rest of the station’s activities, the glinn continued, “He seems to have developed a most…notable level of internal strength. Many of my colleagues have suggested he cannot be broken.”

Garak stopped, turning to the glinn with a smile. “Indeed?”

The glinn hesitated, as if remembering who he was talking to. “Of course…”

“Yes…of course, your colleagues have never witnessed the Obsidian Order, when they glean information,” Garak said dryly. “Naturally…they’d be ignorant.”

“Yes, sir.”

Garak resolved not to allow the newfound respect being shown to him to go to his head. “However, they may be somewhat justified in thinking so—to an extent. How old is the man?”

“At least sixty years, sir.”

“I see…. Then, as he has doubtless fought Cardassians all his life…he certainly must have developed the sort of bitterness which would not allow him to break easily—regardless of…” Garak chuckled inside, “…the amount of brute force imposed upon him by military methods.”

“Yes, sir. Shall we go inside?”

“Is all the equipment ready?”

“Yes, sir—as you requested.”

“Very good. Now…” Garak raised a finger, “One more thing: This terrorist—does he have any family?”

“He has one son and one daughter.”

“I see. They’re both accounted for, I imagine?”

“Of course.”

“And the wife?”

“She died in a retaliatory strike by our forces.”

“Oh, that is excellent,” Garak said, as he resumed his walk. “Hardly left him much to lose, did we?”

“He still has the children, sir.”

“Yes, indeed he does,” Garak sighed. “Well, we’ll have to make do….”

They arrived at the entrance of the room. The glinn pressed the controls on the wall’s panel…and the door opened.

The Bajoran was sitting on a chair…his legs and torso strapped to it. His hands were free—as Garak had requested.
He was an older man—his hair greying, his face filled with lines. Still, there was a certain strength to his features…and contemptuous determination in the set of his jaw.

Quite a respectable fellow. I can see why he would be a leader of his own cell.


Garak turned to the glinn. “You and the guards must wait outside. Understand…our methods are not for the observation—or the mimicry—of the military.”

The glinn nodded, and gestured to the two guards standing on either side of the Bajoran. All left—the door rolled shut…and Garak and his new assignment were alone.

Garak sat down in a chair of his own, a small table between him and the Bajoran. He observed the other man…and consulted his tricorder. Yes…all was ready.

He reached down to the floor…and pulled up a bottle of kanar, and two glasses.

“Would you care for a drink, sir?” he said.

The terrorist didn’t respond.

“As you wish,” Garak said, as he poured himself a cup. He took a sip…and smiled. “Quite an excellent vintage,” he said, “Should you change your mind…I highly recommend it.”

He returned his gaze to the Bajoran…and leaned forward, a smile on his face, as he set the drink down. “Do you know who I am, Taren Korel?”

The terrorist stared at him for a long time, and shook his head. “No….”

“I am your Khost Amojan—the Dark Lord of the fire caves,” Garak replied, internally chuckling at his own cleverness.

The man stared blankly, saying nothing.

Garak shrugged. “They say that you never see evil personified so much, as when you look into the eyes of the man who holds the rest of your life within his grasp…. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Still nothing.

“Well—if you wish to remain silent, that is your choice. I sincerely hope you will not regret it. My name is Elim Garak, of the Obsidian Order. I am sure, as you are old enough to have fought in the Resistance for some time…you have at least heard of us?”

The man nodded. “I’ve heard of the Order, yes.”

“Good. Then you know that we are relentless and without mercy, in our quests for what we want. Thus—at the risk of sounding redundant…kindly answer my questions with nothing less than complete accuracy—if you please…?”

The man chortled.

Garak tilted his head, smiling. “You find my words amusing?”

The man shook his head, saying nothing.

“Well…” Garak said, as he pressed a control on his tricorder.

The man let out a gasp—and pressed his lips together, as if desperate not to allow any noise to escape.

Garak pressed the control again…and the man let out another gasp, panting for breath…but he finally relaxed, as the burst of pain had been shut off.

“Perhaps you would find that amusing,” Garak said. “Frankly, I have never understood methods involving beatings, or…elaborate combinations. Neither has the Order—we prefer simplicity. You see…with simplicity, comes efficiency. What you’ve just encountered was an electromagnetic pulse sent directly to one of the more sensitive pain receptors in your body. I have a control here for each such receptor—and in case you’re wondering…yes, I do know them all.”

The man clenched his teeth, his eyes blazing.

“Oh, that’s good…from what I’ve been told, you have made it a point to say nothing to your previous interrogators—give no expression, no reaction whatsoever. You’re quite strong, Taren—your will, as well as your body. Nonetheless…there are things that even the strongest will cannot possibly endure. And I can assure you, Taren: what you have just experienced…is the least painful setting.”

Garak pressed the control. The terrorist clenched his teeth, and a grunt escaped.

Garak turned off the pulse. “As you could feel, that was in a different place. This will be in random sequence, so you will have no defense against it. And of course…that was more painful than the first.”

The Bajoran said nothing.

“Frankly…we’ve heard of the self-righteousness of so many intellectuals—in the Federation, mostly, but there are those on Cardassia who say it, too. Their mantra is that interrogations centering on causing pain—‘torture’, if you will—has…has never been an effective means of gaining information.”

Garak chuckled. “Naturally…my experience tells me otherwise. You see, the key is not the amount of torment…so much as its proper application. You apply it, so that the barriers of the mind—including creativity…or ‘lying’, if you will—all break down…until the information the subject possesses is all he has left. Understand—creativity requires mental energy, either to lie, or to merely resist. Once a will is drained, so is one’s creativity.”

The Bajoran bit his lip.

“Now,” Garak said, “You will kindly tell me…the identities of all the members of your cell. You will tell me your cell’s hideaway locations, their attack strategies…”

The man spat. It missed.

Garak didn’t bat an eye. “Charming…and noble. I admire your resolve, Taren. However, it is also pointless. Furthermore…you are not the only one whose well-being you should be concerned about.”

No reply.

“You see…I don’t think a brilliant tactical mind such as yourself would be unaware of the weakness you possess. Yes, your wife has been killed—by Cardassians, which would naturally fuel your rage toward your…Occupiers, as you’d call us. However, you committed a great tactical error, good sir—an error which you committed while fighting in the Resistance. Namely…you gave your wife sufficient nights of passion, to culminate in her bearing for you a son and a daughter.”

The Bajoran’s face gave no reaction…but Garak could see the rage in his eyes, as the man understood all too well.

Garak shrugged. “Regardless of your feelings for her—something I can imagine, family being absolutely central to Cardassian culture—still, that was a great mistake. Otherwise, with your wife’s passing, you would have had nothing to lose in your resisting to the bitter end. As it stands…we know who and where your offspring are. So, perhaps your heroic silence becomes less noble, now…wouldn’t you say?”

“You’re lying!” the man shot back.

Garak smiled. “Am I?”

He pressed the control—and the man grunted again, but it was clearly becoming more difficult to suppress the scream.

Garak let it run for a moment longer…and pressed another control. A second pulse shot out…and thus, the pain was doubled. The man tightened the clench of his teeth…and his grunts became louder.

I must give him credit…most of my victims would have been weeping for mercy, by now.


At last…Garak turned it off.

“Whether you believe me or not, is of minor importance,” he said. “What is important is whether I believe you…and what you tell me.”

The Bajoran shook his head, breathing heavily. “I…I knew the risks, all right? My children are old enough—they know the risks. They don’t want you here—I don’t want you here. They’re…they want to fight, too. They want to fight every one of you, like I do. So, if you send your spoonheads to kill them, they’ll take it. They…they understand. They’d rather fight than live under spoonheads, all right?”

Garak chuckled silently, nodding. “A noble sentiment, Bajoran. However…saying you can live with your children’s death is one thing. It is quite another…to actually undergo such a tragedy.”

The man smiled, with no small amount of effort. “You think I can’t take it?”

Garak sighed in amusement, with a smile. “If I may,” he said, “It’s quite ironic you should accuse me of lying. Cardassians are absolutely superb in the skill of deception—the best in the galaxy, if I say so myself. In fact…my mentor, the great Tain, is renowned among the Order as the galactic champion of Cardassian liars—and so, of course, he is now our leader. From studying under him…I learned the art of the pantomime. Do you know what that is?”

The Bajoran frowned, and shook his head.

“Well…allow me to explain: regardless of race, there are seventeen different things a man can do when he lies, to give himself away. A man has seventeen…‘pantomimes’, if you will. A woman has twenty, in fact—you should consider yourself fortunate that it is you we have, and not your wife. Anyhow…if you know these ‘tells’, like you know your own face—they become lie detectors of the highest degree. Thus, what we have is what humans refer to as a little game of ‘show and tell’. You don’t intend to show me anything, but…you tell me everything. As is stands, the more pain you experience, the more pantomimes your face will give away. Now…kindly tell me what you know, before we cause damage which…physically or socially, you will not recover from.”

“I told you…Spoonhead…you can do what you want—”

“Strong words, Taren…” Garak said—as he pressed the control.

He set it for three bursts…adding to one another, in sequence. The man struggled to maintain control, with everything he was…but at last, it clearly became too much for him. The scream escaped his mouth—more one of frustration than despair.

Garak shut it off—and the man slumped, weakened.

“…but to be frank,” he continued, “You’re protesting too much. You were far more impressive before…when you remained silent. The fact that you’re so expressive now, by its very nature, indicates that your mental barriers have been weakened. I’m getting close,” Garak leaned forward, “Quite close, Taren.”

The terrorist’s hand rose a bit. “A…a moment…please….”

Garak spread out his hands. “We’re in no particular hurry.”

The man gathered himself…and at last, he straightened up. He asked, “Could…could I have some of that kanar?”
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Old January 3 2012, 05:13 AM   #115
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Garak smiled. Things were proceeding as planned. Yes…it would dull the pain the man already felt…however, it would also loosen his lips, a good deal. Garak had taken a counteracting agent, so it would not loosen his own…but this Bajoran had no such luxury.

“Of course,” he said, as he poured some into the other glass. He pushed it to the Bajoran’s side of the table. The man took it…and drank, without a break.

When he finished, the man set the glass down. He looked at Garak…and gave a light smile.

“So…you’re different from most spoonheads I’ve met.”

Garak chuckled. “Indeed…I am not under the Central Command. The Order prides itself on being more…clean than the military. We’re somewhat more civil, and less brutal.”

“Yeah, I gathered that. You know…Spoonhead…how much do you know about history?”

Garak shrugged. “Cardassian, or Bajoran?”

“Cardassian.”

“Oh, I know my share of history. The Hebitians…the rise of the Union…the formation of the Empire…” Garak grinned. “You know…I find it most fascinating: the ancient Bajorans had a rich culture. The Hebitians did, as well. Now…Cardassians rule an empire. And the Bajorans? They are one of our many subjects.”

“Yeah, well…maybe spoonheads are just more aggressive.”

Garak snorted. “It would seem so.”

“Yeah—that’s actually what I’m getting at. See…I read a lot of stuff about ancient cultures—pretty fascinating.”

“Oh? Do you have time to research, between killings of…‘spoonheads’?”

“No, not really…I got less time to do all that, since I joined the Resistance. But anyway…something you probably don’t know about Cardassian history.”

Garak leaned back in his seat. Trying to establish trust, is he? Or else simply trying to distract himself from the pain he still feels…and the guilt he will feel, from betraying his comrades.

At any rate, it would probably be most interesting.

The Bajoran smirked, and said, “Well…you look up the most ancient ruins…of Hebitian culture, and um…well, they look a lot…like Bajorans.”

Garak chuckled. “Indeed?”

“Yeah. Probably something none of you spoonheads want to talk about. But if you want to, you can go home and look, for yourself…if they’ll let you. So, back then, the Hebitians—well, maybe they had the rough skin, or whatever, but…none of those bumps on the forehead, huh? They had it on the nose, like we do…and who knows, maybe on the neck, but…” Taren shook his head. “No spoonheads.”

Garak shook his head in amusement. “Really?”

“Yep. And…you want to know what changed all that?”

“Enlighten me, sir.”

“Well…” the man leaned forward, and said, “Cardassians…were spawned by Klingons.”

Garak blinked. “Klingons?”

“Yeah. See…many centuries ago, the Klingons came in, and conquered the Hebitians. And…well, you know how…how aggressive the Klingons are, right? So…the Hebitian women? They got so smitten…with Klingon men…that nature took its course. Long story short, they’re all having children. And they did it so much…that they changed the bloodline.”

Garak snorted, grinning.

“No, no—this is real history. So…you’ve got it on the head, because your ancestors are Klingons!”

Garak burst out laughing. He was suddenly feeling quite giddy, somehow.

He shook his head. “My dear Taren…I doubt you have a firm grasp on Cardassian anatomy.”

“No, no—really. I mean, your girls probably got the blue thing on their own, or something, but…the ridge is the ridge. It’s not as thick as a Klingon’s, because only half your blood’s theirs. Still—hundreds of years later, you’ve still got that gene. Hence…you’re a spoonhead.”

Garak chortled. “Well!”

“That’s not all—” the man grinned, “Where did you all get that rich black hair? I’ll bet if you all let it, it’d get long and airy…like those Klingons, huh?”

Garak nodded, laughing.

The man joined in …and when it died down, he said, “So, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother…she fell for a Klingon…and they had a half-Klingon kid! And it stuck—so, the Hebitians…well, they became the spoonheads.”

Garak raised his hands, and applauded. “Inspired, Taren!”

“Well, I thought so. But…” the grin on the Bajoran’s face became less innocent, “In a way, it explains a lot. You were wondering what made you spoonheads more aggressive than we are, right?”

Garak nodded. “Of course….”

“Well, that explains it all.”

“I suppose so.”

But…do you know what it also explains?”

Garak leaned forward. “Enlighten me.”

The terrorist’s smile lessened…and he said, “You said the Hebitians had a rich culture, so…so what happened to it?”

Garak felt his smile fade.

“I’ll tell you what happened, Spoonhead: you’ve lost it all—you lost your Hebitian side, for your Klingon side. Now that’s ironic, isn’t it? You all hate the Klingons, right? You think they’re a bunch of savage killers whose code of honor is a fake. But…who are you more like: Hebitians…or Klingons? Klingons are militaristic…they’re bent on conquest…they treat the races they control as second-class citizens…. And the Hebitians—what were they like?” Taren shrugged. “They were a lot like us…weren’t they?”

Suddenly, Garak was enjoying this conversation less and less.

The grin on Taren’s face returned. “So, Spoonhead…I told you what made you people…what you are. Now, I’ve been telling you that it’s all true, right?”

Garak nodded. “You have.”

“And you told me you can spot lies…right?”

“Of course.”

“So, tell me…am I lying?”

Garak said nothing, keeping what remained of his smile.

The Bajoran pointed at him, and said, “Because I say, Spoonhead…that you’re part—turtlehead.”

Garak burst out laughing once again. And then he rose to his feet, and shook his head. “You’re not going to tell me anything…are you, Bajoran?”

The Bajoran spread out his hands…and returned the laugh.

Garak shrugged, amid the man’s guffaws. “Well, perhaps I will give you the benefit of the doubt…and assume your antics are due to drink. So—”

Garak adjusted the settings on his tricorder…and pressed the control.

The laughter of the imbecile turned to screams, as one pulse connected—then another—and another again. The sequence would continue, for as long as Garak would wish.

And he felt like “wishing” a great deal. Whatever was necessary, to exorcise that nonsense from this comedian.

“I know you can hear me, Bajoran,” Garak shouted above the screams, “So I advise you to tell me what I need to know…before we finish with you.”

At last, he pressed the control. The man gasped and wheezed…and let out a cough.

“Now,” Garak said, “I suppose I must advise you again of the danger you’re imposing, not merely to you…but to your children. Tell me everything I want to know…and I assure you, they will be treated with the best care the Empire can provide. Refuse…and I am not the one to be concerned with a possible Klingon heritage. Or perhaps you can take solace in the fact that they will…oh, ‘die with honor’, as they say?”

The man raised his head, meeting Garak’s gaze…and smiled.

“See you in Gre’thor…Spoonhead!” he whispered.

Garak smiled…and pressed the control.

The man writhed—

And suddenly…nothing.

Garak froze…and his blood ran cold.

He checked the tricorder. No…everything was as it should be. The pulses were working, just…no response.

No…


He turned it off, walked over to the Bajoran…and checked his pulse.

Nothing.

No!


But it was true. The man was dead, due to strain on his heart.

And it was Garak’s own fault—he had no one to blame, but himself. He had allowed the terrorist to enrage him…
But why? What was it he had said—amid all the absurd, asinine nonsense about Klingon ancestry—what was it that had distracted Garak from his duty?

Was it the words about the culture Cardassia had lost? The richness of the Hebitian era…lost…allegedly due to the militarism of the rising Empire—

Did Garak, in some sense…find himself agreeing with that?
Well—it was of no consequence. He had failed. He had failed in his assignment…in his chance for restoration, such as it was.

More importantly…in a momentary rage, he had failed Cardassia—a home which he was now certain was closed to him, forever….

* * *
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Old January 3 2012, 05:13 AM   #116
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

2375

* * *

In her quarters in Deep Space Nine, Counselor Ezri Dax stirred at the chime of the com link—and the desperate voice on the other end.

“Garak to…Garak to Counselor Dax.”

Ezri sat up in her bed. “Garak? Garak, I’m here—are…are you—?”

“Counselor…I can’t…I—help—


Ezri shot to her feet, grabbing a robe, putting it on, tying it securely around her waist. “Don’t worry, Garak, I’ll call Julian—”

“No…don’t bring…anyone else into this.”
His voice still sounded weak…but she could hear the resolve in his voice.

Ezri nodded, and gently said, “Don’t worry, Garak—I’m coming. I’ll be right there, okay?”

“Thank…thank you. I’ll
I'll be here. Garak…out!”

Ezri nodded, grabbing her combadge—and rushed out into the hall, praying that he was right…that he needed no one else.

* * *

She found him on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. He wasn’t writhing…his head wasn’t jerking—he didn’t show the desperation of a claustrophobic attack. But…

Ezri knelt beside him. “Garak…?”

The Cardassian swallowed, his eyes still fixed upward. But he said, in a calm, low tone, “Counselor…thank you for coming.”

Ezri nodded. “What happened?”

He smiled ironically. “A memory.”

Ezri shook her head. “How bad?”

“Enough that…that a name drove me to…” his smile grew, “to this.”

“A name?”

“Taren Korel.”

Ezri froze…and nodded slowly. “I take it, the man with the order—”

“—was Korel’s son…the son of a man—man that I…interrogated. For Gul Dukat.”

“Dukat? I thought—”

“Counselor—you remember when you asked me…what had caused me to…to drug myself?”

Ezri nodded.

“I…Dukat had—he had assigned a Resistance leader to me. To interrogate. Didn’t want…to humiliate the Occupation further. Needed—a victory.”

Garak turned to her…the pain in his eyes showing. “I…failed to give it to him.”

Ezri frowned. “You, working for—”

“A…a long story, Counselor.”

Ezri put a hand on his shoulder, smiling warmly down at him.

“Don’t worry, Garak,” she said. “I’m here. Tell me everything.”

Garak smiled…and did.

* * *

2368

* * *

Dukat shot to his feet, anger burning in his eyes. “Dead?”

Garak nodded. “Apparently…his heart wasn’t in it.”

“You were supposed to question him, not kill him!”

“Frankly, Dukat…you failed to provide me with his medical records. Had I known of the strength of his heart—or lack thereof—he would still be alive. Of course…you would have still slandered me, for not pressing him hard enough.”

What?”

“Isn’t it obvious? He was a man with nothing else to lose. Now, if your brainless minions had done the intelligent thing—capturing his wife, instead of killing her—”

“You think you can excuse your incompetence with that?”

“Of course, Dukat! The man behaved as if he didn’t have much regard for the well-being of his children. Or, more likely…he felt we wouldn’t keep our word not to kill them anyway. And to be blunt, Dukat…I hardly blame him for thinking so.”

Dukat bit his lip, staring into Garak’s eyes. Garak held firm, meeting his gaze.

At last…Dukat said, “Due to…the Obsidian Order’s demands, I cannot punish you as I would anyone under my command. Remember that.”

“Of course.”

However…I won’t forget this. You will remain a tailor—and only a tailor. And I promise you, Garak: I will do everything in my power…to ensure you will never exceed that. Is that clear?”

Garak gave a smile he wished he could feel. “Perfectly.”

And he turned, and left the Prefect’s office…all too certain about the future ahead.

* * *

2375

* * *

Garak closed his eyes, his story complete. When he opened them, he looked up into the soft, kind face of Ezri Dax.

She sighed, and shook her head. “I…I’m sorry, Garak.”
Garak felt a smile. “Counselor…as far as Dukat was concerned, it was on my account that he left Bajor in disgrace.”

“And…you think he was right?”

“In a sense. I couldn’t…I allowed my rage to overcome my better judgment.”

Ezri looked off for a moment.

Disgusted, aren’t you, Counselor? I tormented a man…and it’s not for
that that I feel remorse.

When she looked back to him, she said, “Well…you didn’t have them killed.”

“Who…Taren’s children?”

“They’re still alive, aren’t they?”

“Counselor, what need would be served by killing them? He was already dead.”

Ezri smiled…and Garak felt her hand tighten on his shoulder.

“Garak,” she said, “You’re going to be all right.”

“Am I?”

Ezri nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “You are.”

She…she
does understand, doesn’t she? For all the repulsive things I’ve done…she’s still able to…to bring comfort to me….

Garak nodded his thanks…as the calm of sleep reassured his tortured soul.

* * *

Garak’s journey is only beginning
….
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Old January 21 2012, 06:52 AM   #117
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

amazing stuff
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Old February 6 2012, 06:33 PM   #118
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

"Beginning Again"


by The Lone Redshirt

January 2012 Challenge Theme – A New Day is Dawning

7,283 Words

Stardate 53376.7 (17 May 2376)
Deep Space 3

Lt. Daniel Norden peered through the transparent aluminum viewport at his new (though temporary) billet – the USS Kearsarge (NCC-21507), a space-worn Block II Miranda-class frigate – one of the lucky few of her class and vintage that had survived the Dominion War relatively unscathed.

Relatively, for there were obvious patches on her – shiny Tritanium plates that contrasted with the dull finish on her original pitted and streaked hull like fresh bandages over grimy and blistered skin. As with many of her sister ships, the rushed repair work was slap-dash, the seams rough and uneven. The yard workers had not even bothered to repaint her name and registry, so the lettering read:

U. .S. KE RS GE
NC - 21 07

Norden wondered how hard it would have been to paint on the missing letters and numbers? It was a sobering reminder of the depleted state of the fleet that ships were sent back into service in such a shoddy state, particularly since the war had been over for nearly six months. The war had been won but the peace apparently was still in jeopardy.

He absently flexed and clenched his left hand – the synthetic skin still tight and the regenerated nerve endings still tingled. His personal repair work was necessitated by plasma burns he suffered when the Horatio had been ravaged by a pair of Cardassian frigates. At least the Starfleet surgeons had managed to match the pigmentation of his new skin with his old – down to the reddish hair and freckles. His real scars – unlike those of the Kearsarge – were hidden within.

Three weeks in a Starbase hospital (two in a drug-induced coma) were followed by a month in therapy, then accumulated shore leave back home on Earth.

That had been the worst.

His fiancé, Amy, had broken off their engagement (she needed time to ‘think things over,’ as if four years had not been enough.) Then he had learned that a board of inquiry was investigating the loss of Horatio, with pointed questions aimed at the engineering department – of which he had been assistant chief. He had thus been passed over for promotion to lieutenant commander, even though Captain Tarkalian had assured Dan that he was on the short list.

And now, he was being assigned as a “Mission Specialist” to the Kearsarge. Officially, he was not even part of the command staff of the ship – he was a glorified passenger with one job – to oversee a modification to the warp drive that would supposedly allow the ship to safely traverse a black cluster.

A very, very bad idea to Norden’s way of thinking. Not that he’d had much choice in the matter. Still, serving as Mission Specialist for Project Athena beat sitting in an office on Earth or some Starbase.

Lt. Norden picked up his clamshell case and cast another look at the Kearsarge. It would probably be the last he would see of her exterior for several weeks – a thought assuaged by the fact that Kearsage was uglier than sin.

As he turned to make his way to the airlock leading to the ship, he felt a sudden sense of unease – a vague feeling of deja vu. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine and he suddenly had a strong urge to turn and walk away.

Yeah – that’s the ticket. Add desertion to your list of woes. Get your ass on the ship, Dan old boy.

He shook his head fractionally, angry at his momentary anxiety attack and walked briskly to the airlock.

* * *

“So you’re Norden. Welcome aboard, Lieutenant.” Captain Francis “Hokie” Poiroux, C.O. of Kearsarge, gave Lt. Norden a perfunctory handshake and indicated a vacant chair across from his desk. Poiroux settled into his own chair with a grunt and folded his hands across his middle, regarding Norden with hooded eyes.

Captain Poiroux was in his early sixties, his thick, wavy hair – once dark –was now a dull slate gray. Bags hung under his eyes like sagging hammocks and a thick mustache obscured his upper lip. A toothpick hung from his lower lip, ticking up and down as Poiroux gave Norden the once-over.

Norden didn’t mind the scrutiny. The board of inquiry back on Earth had been more thorough than a Proctologist.

The Captain glanced at the PADD then back at Norden. “Mission Specialist, huh? I ask for a new Tactical Officer and they give me a frickin’ Specialist. ” Poiroux tossed the PADD on his desk with asperity.

Norden gave an apologetic shrug. “Sorry sir. I just go where I’m told.”

Poiroux grunted. “Don’t we all.” His Cajun accent, though muted, was distinctive. “Hell, it’s not your fault that Command still can’t figure out what to do with everyone coming off busted starships.”

“No sir.”

The Captain sighed. “Relax Lieutenant,” he said, noting Norden’s clipped answers and defensive posture. “I’m not pissed off at you. My problem is with this modification to the warp drive. We spent the better part of two months getting patched up only to be pulled back into space dock for ‘classified upgrades.’ My people are getting antsy and bored – a bad combination – and now we learn we get to be part of some half-assed experiment? I don’t like it Lieutenant, not one bit.”

Lt. Norden had no response to that other than, “No sir.” Truth be told, he had limited knowledge of the “modifications.” Someone up the ladder had decided that he, being an engineer, was somehow qualified to oversee the test of the upgrades.

Poiroux eyed the taciturn officer. “You’re a quiet one, Norden. At least you’re not trying to blow smoke up my ass – I’ll give you credit for that.” He stood, signifying that the meeting was at an end. “Just see that your ‘experiment’ doesn’t hurt my ship or anyone on it – clear?”

Norden nodded. “As crystal, sir.” He sounded more confident than he felt.

The Captain held Norden’s gaze a moment longer. “One other thing – I know that technically you’re TDY on my ship, but we are still short-handed and both my XO and Chief Engineer are new to the ship. Hell, the XO doesn’t have combat experience. He spent the war as some admiral’s aide. From your file I know you’ve got a lot of solid experience and your previous commanders thought highly of you. And, reading between the lines, it looks like you got the shaft when you were passed over for promotion. I may not be able to help much there, but if you’ll help out with engineering and bridge duty – – I’ll see if I can put in a good word for you; maybe see that you get a fresh start.”

It wasn’t much of a promise and the praise was damnably faint, but Norden appreciated the gesture nonetheless. For the first time, he smiled.

“Thank you, Captain. I would appreciate being . . . useful.”

Poiroux nodded. “Good. Go see the XO, Lt. Commander nor’Ykan – he’ll get you assigned to a cabin and on the bridge rotation. We depart in three hours and it will take us three days to get to the Black Cluster. According to our orders, this experiment should last about a week to ten days, then we return, download our telemetry, run a systems diagnostic, inspect the hull and do it again, right?”

Dan nodded. “Yes sir – that’s my understanding.”

Poiroux grunted. “Yeah it all sounds so simple. Too simple.” He jerked his head in the direction of the door. “Off with you, Mr. Norden. I’ll see you on the bridge at 1600.”

* * *
Lt. Commander Nilyas nor'Ykan was typical of his race. Like most natives of Rigel VII, he had iridescent bronze skin, golden eyes and unruly brass-colored hair that branched out in seemingly random directions. Nor’Ykan was a friendly sort and talked in a rapid-fire manner which could be perfectly normal for Rigellians or a sign of nervousness.

“Where did you last serve, Dan?” asked the XO as they took the turbo-lift to deck 5 and Norden’s new quarters.

“I was assistant engineer on the Horatio, at least until the battle to retake Deep Space 9.”

The XO paused before a cabin door and keyed in a security code. “What happened?”

Norden shrugged. “I don’t remember much. When I woke up almost a month later, I was in a hospital bed on Starbase 356. Horatio was destroyed in the battle along with over 300 of her crew. I was one of the lucky ones that survived.”

“I see,” replied the XO. It was obvious that the Rigellian felt awkward, so Norden let him off the hook.

“Thanks for showing me to the cabin, Commander. I understand I’m to report to the bridge at 1600 hours?”

Nilyas nodded, grateful for the change of subject. “That’s right. If it’s alright with you, I’ll put you at the engineering station. We’re short-handed and Lt. Hawser, our engineer, would prefer to be in main engineering when we launch.”

Norden almost pointed out that his own feelings in the matter were irrelevant. But the Rigellian XO was going out of his way to make him feel welcome, so he merely said, “That sounds fine sir.”

“Good. Well, I’ll let you get settled in. See you at 1600.” Lt. Commander nor’Ykan beat a hasty retreat.

Dan didn’t blame him. In his experience, those who did not see combat during the war became uncomfortable around those that did, particularly those who had been injured.

Or, as in Norden’s case, had their ship destroyed and hundreds of friends and colleagues killed.

He entered the cabin, dismissing the XO from his mind. “Lights,” he called out.

The computer dutifully complied, revealing a cabin similar to tens of thousands like it on thousands of starships across the quadrant. It provided adequate space and comfort and was almost completely lacking in charm. Blue-gray walls curved upward to a ceiling festooned with light panels, environmental vents, and subtly lettered access panels. There was a standard sized bed, a desk with computer terminal and chair, a small bedside table and a sofa. Thankfully, the cabin was devoid of the insidiously awful artwork common to many ships.

He tossed his clam-shell case on the sofa and checked out the head. No surprises there – a sonic shower, sink and toilet. Everything looked clean – sterile actually.

Norden returned to the main room. He considered ordering a beverage from the replicator, but he wasn’t thirsty. There was no point checking the computer for messages since there was no longer anyone in his life to send one. His parents were dead and as for Amy, well . . .

He walked to the oval-shaped viewport and stared out. His cabin faced away from the station, affording him a view of the stars. A Steamrunner-class ship glided slowly by but otherwise the vista was still and silent.

Once more, that vague sense of disquiet ran soft tendrils through his mind. He closed his eyes, as if to grasp a fragment of memory or dream . . .

. . . to no avail. With a sigh, he turned from the viewport and began to unpack his carry-all.

* * *

The bridge module of the Kearsarge had been upgraded, whether as a result of battle damage or scheduled refit, Norden neither knew or cared. He’d served on Miranda-class ships before and actually preferred the older, classic bridge design. Sometimes progress wasn’t really progress. The new design seemed more cramped, less crew-friendly. Even the captain’s chair seemed less prestigious, smaller somehow upholstered in a non-descript brown.

He sat idly at the engineering console – a seldom used station at the rear of the bridge. Captain Poiroux sat in the command chair, scowling silently to himself as the crew prepared for departure stations. Norden wondered if something was troubling the Captain or if surliness was his normal state.

Ahead of the Captain sat the helm officer – a Vulcan female, and the Ops officer – a dark skinned jay-gee by the name of Warren Rainer.

The XO stood near the Captain. Hovered might be a better word, for he continually glanced at Poiroux, posing questions and making comments. For his part, Captain Poiroux replied in a series of short grunts. Dan could imagine Poiroux fitting in well on the bridge of a Klingon ship.

Immediately behind the command chair were the tactical and sensor stations – both unoccupied at the moment. Opposite Norden’s station was environmental control – likewise vacant. It seemed that Captain Poiroux did not like a crowded bridge.

“We have clearance for departure, Captain,” announced Rainer from Ops.

“’Bout time,” groused Poiroux. “Ensign Vynaar – thrusters at station keeping. Mr. nor’Ykan – the ship is in your hands. Give the order.”

Norden thought he saw a sheen of perspiration on the Rigellian’s face. Or perhaps it was the play of light on his iridescent skin. Regardless, his orders, though somewhat quiet were precise, providing maneuvering orders to the helmsman in a timely manner.

Kearsarge backed away from her docking point and turned gracefully away from Deep Space 3.

“Ahead one-quarter impulse until we reach the outer markers,” ordered the XO.

The Vulcan helm officer complied and the ship began to surge forward as the ion-mass drivers kicked in. As the Kearsarge picked up speed, a low rumbling noise reverberated through the hull. Norden could feel intermittent vibration in the deck plates. Frowning, he turned to the engineering panel.

“Temperature spikes in the starboard exhaust manifold are creating the harmonics,” he announced. “Nothing serious, but I would recommend that we don’t exceed our current speed.”

Poiroux grunted an acknowledgment and tapped his combadge. “Bridge to Engineering.”

“Engineering - Lt. Hawser here.”

“Mr. Hawser, why are my engines running rougher than a Klingon’s backside?”

“We’re working on the problem, Captain. It looks like sediment in the Deuterium feed lines. Apparently the dock-workers didn’t flush the new tanks after they installed them.”

Captain Poiroux muttered something in his Cajun dialect that didn’t sound complimentary. “Can you flush them while we’re underway?” he asked, his annoyance apparent.

“Yes sir, we can switch to the auxiliary tanks for the time being. The ride should smooth out shortly.” A pause. “Captain, it would help if we could have a proper shake-down cruise.”

“You’re already on it, mister - three days to the Black Cluster. You have that long to work out the bugs, so get on it. Poiroux, out.”

Norden felt some sympathy for the Chief Engineer. Three days was not nearly long enough for a thorough shake-down. Yet he also had to wonder why Lt. Hawser and his engineering team had not discovered the sediment in the Deuterium tanks before launch. An old adage was to never trust the inspection report from a civilian dock worker. Always go back and check the work yourself.

From the expression on Poiroux’s face, Dan was pretty sure the Captain had the same thought in mind.

* * *
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Old February 6 2012, 06:37 PM   #119
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

"Beginning Again" (Continued)

The rest of the shift proceeded smoothly, as did the impulse engines. Lt. Hawser’s back-flushing of the tanks proved successful and Kearsarge proceeded quickly out of the system before jumping to warp.

With all systems functioning normally, Norden fell back into the role of passenger. He called up the notes on the briefing he would have to provide to the senior officers about the experiment. The words were confident, comforting and vague.

Frustrated, he closed the file. And once again, that sense of unease crept upon him.

You’ve just got a case of nerves, he chided himself. It’s been months since you logged a star hour. Just do your job, keep out of trouble, and you’ll be off to your next assignment in six weeks, tops.

The fact that he had no idea what his next assignment might be did not trouble him so much. What did bother him was that the idea he would be moving on after six weeks rang false.

Dan had no idea why he felt this way. He was more annoyed than troubled, and forced his attention back to the engineering station. He could at least review the Miranda-class tech manuals to re-familiarize himself and shift his thoughts away from fanciful nonsense.

* * *

The officers’ mess was nearly deserted when Lt. Norden entered. He made his way to the bank of replicators on the far wall and ordered a chicken sandwich on wheat and a side of cole-slaw. A cup of coffee rounded out his evening meal and he took his tray to an empty table.

Across the room, two junior officers ate and conversed in quiet tones. At another table, a Bolian female wearing the blue trim of science/medical perused a pad and sipped at her drink.

Dan glanced idly around. On the walls were vintage photos of Kearsage’s predecessors. Two ocean-going vessels from Earth’s past were displayed – an Essex-class aircraft carrier and a later LHT. There was a painting of a sailing ship and an early Starfleet vessel that looked to be at least a century old. He did not know the history of the Kearsarge name, but it apparently had a storied past.

As he absently chewed his sandwich and pondered the lineage of Kearsarge, the doors to the mess slid open and a tall Denobulan entered. He wore a blue lab-coat and lieutenant commander’s pips on his collar. Norden guessed (correctly) that this was Dr. Jurnux, the CMO.

The surgeon spoke briefly with the Bolian woman before getting his dinner from the replicator. Turning, he spotted Lt. Norden and began moving his way.

“You must be our Mission Specialist,” he began. “I’m Dr. Jurnux, may I share your table?”

Norden gestured for him to take a seat. “Dan Norden, Doctor. Nice to meet you.”

The CMO smiled. “Thank you. I make it my business to get to know the crew – it helps should I ever need to provide medical treatment.”

“I’m TDY, Doctor. I probably won’t be here long enough to visit sickbay.” At least, I hope not, he amended, silently.

Jurnux tucked a napkin into his collar – something that Norden recalled his grandfather doing at Thanksgiving meals. “Nonetheless, I’m pleased for the opportunity to get acquainted. I’ve already reviewed your medical records – do you mind?”

“Mind wha - ?” Without waiting for permission, Dr. Jurnux took Dan’s hands and carefully examined them – turning them over and back, making small noises of satisfaction.

Norden dutifully allowed the exam, suppressing a sigh.

“Very nice work,” murmured the CMO. “Whoever did this must have used the new Mark IV dermal regenerator.”

Dan smiled. “I couldn’t tell you, Doc. I was unconscious for most of my hospital stay.”

“Indeed. Any pain or numbness?”

“None,” lied Norden. He didn’t think the tingling sensation worth mentioning and he really didn’t want to get into a medical conversation. He decided to change the subject.

“How long have you served on Kearsarge, Doctor?”

“Just over five years. There aren’t too many of us left on Kearsarge from the pre-war days.”

“Casualties?”

“Some. Mostly transfers after the war ended and the ship was laid up for repairs. Off to bigger and better things, I suppose.” He popped a piece of raw meat into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “Besides Captain Poiroux, Lieutenant Sybok and myself, all the senior officers are new to the ship.”

“Lt. Sybok?”

“Our Chief Operations Officer. He usually has bridge duty during Gamma Shift. Typical Vulcan – reserved, logical, highly intelligent – a very competent Ops manager.”

Dan decided to go out on a limb. “Has Captain Poiroux always been so . . .”

“Crusty?” finished Jurnux with a smile. “I’ve always liked that Terran euphemism – yes, he’s always been somewhat rough around the edges, but he’s a fine C.O. and a fair man. I think he’s showing more signs of stress regarding this mission, though.”

“Oh?”

Jurnux hesitated. “Really, I should not say too much. It’s not doctor-patient privilege, exactly, but . . .” He leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper. “Captain Poiroux is angry that Starfleet is using his ship as a . . . how did he put it? ‘A goddam guinea pig for dangerous and unnecessary experiments.’”

Norden snorted. “Between you and me, Doc, I don’t blame him.”

The CMO looked troubled. “Do you believe it is dangerous and unnecessary?”

Dan shook his head. “Dangerous? No, not really. 90% of the modifications are software upgrades. The hardware changes mainly involve links between the navigational array and the warp-field generators. We should know pretty quickly whether we can maintain a stable warp-field as we enter the Black Cluster. If we can – the experiment is a success and we collate a lot of arcane data for future tests. If not, we drop to impulse and limp out of range of the energy fields before heading back to Deep Space 3.”

Doctor Jurnux looked relieved. Lt. Norden sounded more confident than he felt as he reassured the CMO. In truth, he had no idea what the worst-case scenario might be.

Nor did he really want to know.

They chatted for several minutes more. Jurnux was quite personable and seemed genuinely interested in Norden. Dan found that he liked the talkative Denobulan – a surprise, since he had become somewhat gun-shy around medical types.

The surgeon excused himself to return to sickbay. Dan put the remains of his sandwich in the ‘cycler and returned to his cabin for a night’s rest.

* * *

Dan sat bolt upright in bed – his heart hammering and sweat pouring profusely from his body. He gasped for air as the remnants of the nightmare began to fade.

“Lights,” he whispered hoarsely. The darkness was pushed back, dazzling Dan’s eyes. “Half intensity,” he ammended, squinting. The lights dimmed to a less painful level.

He threw his legs over the edge of the bed and waited for his pulse-rate to recede. Norden had suffered from nightmares for a time while recovering from his injuries, but nothing this intense or frightening.

Although the dream was fading rapidly, he could still hear the sound of alarms and the strident voice of the Captain ordering, “Eject the warp core, eject the warp core!”

His gut clenched and he hurried into the head. He collapsed before the toilet just as his stomach violently ejected the remnants of his meager supper. He gagged twice more, producing only dry-heaves before his mid-section finally relaxed.

He sat on the cool floor, waiting for the wave of nausea to subside before standing at the sink and splashing cold water on his face and rinsing the foul taste of bile from his mouth.

As he straightened and glanced into the mirror, his eyes widened in shock at what he saw.

The wall behind him was gone. So was his cabin. Instead, there was only blackness – an inky, featureless void that seemed to go on forever.

Norden tried to scream and . . .

* * *

Dan sat bolt upright in bed – his heart hammering and sweat pouring profusely from his body.

He blinked in terror, his body still shaking violently.

What just . . .

His stomach lurched and he raced to the head, just making it to the toilet to empty the contents of his stomach.

As the commode automatically dispatched the remains of his sandwich, he rose and went to the sink, splashing cold water in his face and rinsing the foul taste of bile from his mouth.

Another wave of terror washed over him. He kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut and gripped the edge of the sink so tightly his knuckles turned white.

No, no, no, no, he thought. This isn’t real.

Forcing himself to breathe deeply and slowly, Norden eased open one eye.

He saw his reflection in the mirror – pale and wet, but otherwise normal. More important, he saw the reflection of the wall, the door and his cabin beyond.

Dan sagged with relief. He began to giggle but clamped a hand over his mouth as the sound was jagged and unsteady.

Regaining control even as the memory of the nightmare faded, he moved back into the main room and sat at the desk.

“Computer, what time is it?”

“Ship’s time is 0352 hours. Stardate 53377.48”

“Thanks,” he said, unnecessarily. He laughed at himself for doing so, but at least the sound no longer had a hysterical quality to it.

He sat in the dim light, trying to recall the dream – a mostly futile effort. He vaguely recalled the order to eject the warp core. That was common enough to his nightmares following the destruction of the Horatio, but there was something different . . . a detail had changed.

Dan closed his eyes, trying not to remember the details – just to listen. There was only a slight echo of the dream left in his conscious memory. He tried not to think, just to allow his mind a chance to grasp the small thread.

His eyes flew open in sudden realization. The voice in his dream – it was different.

In all his previous dreams, Captain Tarkalian’s voice had invaded his sleep. But not this time.

In tonight’s nightmare, it had been the voice of Captain Poiroux ordering the warp core’s ejection.

* * *

Stardate 53377.6 (18 May 2376)
USS Kearsarge
En route to the Black Cluster

Fortified with several cups of coffee, Lt. Norden entered the briefing room just before 0800. Most of the senior officers were already present, including Captain Poiroux, who somehow managed to project an aura of boredom and annoyance simultaneously.

A Vulcan male with atypical blond hair nodded in greeting before returning his attention to a PADD. Dr. Jurnux sat across the table from the Vulcan and grinned broadly upon spotting Dan. Lt. Philo Hawser, a broad-shouldered Centauran with a shaved head and bushy eyebrows glowered at Norden. Dan had the feeling that the Chief Engineer did not like him or his mission.

The XO strode in, looking somewhat harried. He took a seat at the far end of the table, opposite the Captain. Dan choose a chair in the middle, by the Vulcan Ops officer.

An Andorian female entered last, favoring the gathered officers with a bright smile.

Poiroux glanced at the woman, but his expression did not change. Clearing his throat, he placed his elbows on the table and clasped meaty hands together.

“Okay, Lt. Norden – this is your show. Tell us what we need to know about this ‘project,’” ordered the Captain.

“Yes sir,” replied Dan, turning his attention to his PADD and trying to collect his thoughts. His head was still a bit muzzy, courtesy of sleep deprivation. “Computer, begin presentation of Project Athena.”

The large wall display came to life, displaying various views of the Kearsarge and graphic overlays of warp fields.

“The goal of this experiment is simple. To enable starships to traverse unstable areas of space such as the Black Cluster in a safe and efficient manner. As you know, the cluster was created by the collapse of several protostars, creating an area that absorbs energy and destabilizes warp fields. The upgrades to Kearsarge will allow the warp field generators to quickly adapt to these areas of instability, allowing the ship to ‘flex’ in subspace without losing the warp field entirely.”

Norden continued for several minutes. He stuck to the script he had been ordered to present, pausing to answer a few technical questions, before he ended his presentation.

“Are there any other questions?” he asked.

Lt. Sybok spoke. “Lt. Norden – eight years ago, two months and three days ago, the USS Vico attempted to traverse a similar black cluster in Sector 97. The Vico – a Miranda-class vessel similar to ours, was destroyed and the Enterprise was damaged when they attempted to investigate the fate of the ship. If these modifications do not work, what is to prevent us suffering a similar fate?”

Norden had anticipated this question. “The cluster that destroyed the Vico is the largest in the Alpha Quadrant and fully seven times more massive than the Black Cluster we will attempt to navigate. While it is possible that we could lose our warp field should the modifications fail, all computer models indicate that our hull would remain intact and we could move away under impulse power.”

“Computer models?” sneered Lt. Hawser. “You mean there have been no unmanned probes to test this out?”

“No,” admitted Norden, “It was determined that it would take the power of a full-size starship for the equipment to work properly. Probes were not an option.”

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room as this sunk in. Norden thought his explanation sounded weak to his own ears.

“So why not take a full-size ship and run it via remote?” pressed Hawser, leaning forward. “Hell, it’s not hard to slave the navigation systems to another ship.”

Surprisingly, Sybok came to Norden’s rescue. “Because,” he began calmly, “the crew is part of the experiment. Our ability to react and make adjustments to the equipment or interpret sensor input is critical if these modifications are to become standard equipment for the fleet. Am I correct, Lt. Norden?”

“Yes, exactly right,” nodded Dan, relieved and appreciative of the Vulcan’s intercession.

Hawser was not convinced, however. “So we’re rats in a maze. If we succeed, we get a nice piece of cheese – or in our case, we come out of this alive?”

“That’s right,” growled Captain Poiroux. “And we will all do our damndest to make sure we do succeed.”

He glared around the table, ending the discussion. “I’m not crazy about this either, but we have our orders. I expect each department to be ready to proceed with this in 24 hours. If you’re not up to it, let me know and I’ll send you back to DS-3 on a shuttle.” He made eye contact with each of the assembled officers. All met his gaze, though the Chief Engineer managed to stare daggers at Norden before nodding curtly to the C.O.

“Then let’s get this done right the first time. Address your questions to Lt. Norden and your griping to me. Dismissed.”

* * *
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Old February 6 2012, 06:38 PM   #120
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

"Beginning Again" (Continued)

Dan had not intended to visit Sickbay while on this mission, but he dreaded the thought of another sleepless night hounded by bad dreams. The medical ward seemed somehow familiar, but then, the same design was common to hundreds of ships.

Dr. Jurnux seemed pleased to see him. “Ah, Lt. Norden – I hope Mr.Hawser wasn’t too rough on you in the meeting.”

Dan shook his head and smiled. “Not at all. If I were in his shoes, I’d have the same concerns.”

“Regardless, I thought you did an excellent job explaining the process, though I know about as much of Black Clusters as I do animal husbandry.”

“Thanks – I, uh, hope I didn’t catch you at a busy time.”

The Denobulan lifted an orange eyebrow and glanced around at the empty bio-beds. “I take it your visit to sickbay is not just a social call.”

“Bad dreams, Doc. I’ve had them since – well, since I was put out of action during the war. I was hoping you might be able to give me something to help me sleep.” He did not go into detail, avoiding the very strange nature of his most recent nightmare.

The CMO regarded Norden thoughtfully for a moment. “Let me do a quick work-up and see what I can do for you.”

Reluctantly, Lt. Norden submitted to a few minutes of Dr. Jurnux’s scanning, prodding and poking.

“You’re in good health, Mr. Norden, although I can tell you are under stress – no surprise considering the experiment you must oversee. As I’m sure counselors have told you, the nightmares are a normal response to emotional trauma and should fade in time. That being said . . .” He walked over to a medical replicator and inputted a series of commands. A small vial of capsules shimmered into existence. He held them out to Norden.

“It’s a concoction of herbs and natural ingredients from three planets – completely safe for Human use, non-habit forming, and quite effective. It has a tendency to suppress dreams, which should be a bonus feature for you. Take one about an hour before you go to bed. Come back to see me if you’re still having difficulty sleeping.”

Dan glanced at the vial with a degree of skepticism. “I figured you’d just give me a shot or something.”

“Nonesense. There’s nothing physically wrong with you, Lieutenant. I prefer not to administer sedatives to my patients unless absolutely necessary – even the mildest can have side effects.”

Norden forced a smile. “I’ll give them a try. Thanks, Doc.”

“Don’t mention it. Sleep well, Mr. Norden.”

* * *

The CMO’s concoction worked as advertised. Dan enjoyed sleep untroubled by dreams the next two nights.

On the third day our from Deep Space 3, the Kearsarge dropped out of warp.

“One half impulse,” ordered Captain Poiroux. “Maintain course. Ops, what do you get on sensors?”

“No other vessels in scanning range. Reading energy fluctuations ahead – range, 278 million kilometers.”

“Maximum magnification on viewscreen.”

The image shifted and wavered. What was initially a small, dark smudge amidst the stars became a massive area of swirling gasses against a field of utter darkness.

Once more, Dan felt an inexplicable sense of dread – his anxiety level rising almost to the level of panic. He swallowed hard at the beautiful/terrible sight on the screen.

It took a moment for him to realize that Captain Poiroux was speaking to him.

“Norden – quit gawking and get with the program!”

“Sorry, sir. You were saying?”

“I asked how close we’re to get before we try this hare-brained stunt.”

Glad for the chance to avert his gaze from the viewscreen (and the smoldering glare of Captain Poiroux) he turned to his console and entered a series of commands.

“Our first run should be at 10 million kilometers. We should make a warp-one burst across the event horizon of the Cluster, then run a diagnostic of our engines before moving in closer.”

“How close to you intend for us to get?”

“If each test goes well, we should attempt a run through the Cluster.”

The Captain grunted. “That’s what I was afraid of. Very well. Helm, take us to the 10 million klick point and hold station.”

“Aye, sir,” replied the Caitian helm officer.

Dan kept his focus on the engineering console. It wasn’t necessary for him to do so, but he wasn’t quite ready to face the intense darkness on the main viewscreen.

You’re nuts, Dan, you realize that, don’t you? It’s just a natural phenomenon created by collapsed protostars billions of years ago. There’s nothing to fear.

The internal pep-talk helped some. He forced himself to turn and face the viewscreen.

The Black Cluster did not seem quite as threatening, though Dan’s anxiety level was still high.

In short order, the Kearsarge arrived on station – ten million kilometers from the Cluster.

“All stop,” ordered Poiroux. He tapped his combadge. “Engineering, are you ready for phase one?”

“As ready as we ever will be,” replied Philo Hawser. “Warp core is running at 100%. Navigational deflectors are synchronized with the warp field generators. If Lt. Norden’s computer subroutines are running properly, we’re good to go when you say the word.”

“Stand by.” The Captain turned and lifted an eyebrow at Norden. “You heard the man. Well?”

Dan re-checked all the readouts at his station. Everything appeared to be operating smoothly. He gave Poiroux a nod. “We’re a go, sir.”

Captain Poiroux turned back to the viewscreen. “Helm, input course for phase one.”

“Course plotted and laid in, sir,” replied Lt. H’Raahn. The Caitians ears were laid back on his head – indicative of his own nervousness.

“Engage.”

Kearsarge, jumped to warp.

“Thirty seconds,” announced Norden, as he watched a stream of data flow across the display. “Warp field holding.”

The brief warp jump was smooth and uneventful. As Kearsarge dropped out of warp, Dan felt a wave of relief wash over him.

“All systems report as normal,” announced Lt. Sybok from Ops. “No reports of damage or injuries.”

“One down, four to go,” muttered Poiroux. “Helm, move us to five million klicks for phase two. Sybok, run system diagnostics. Norden, do the same with the engines.

The two officers complied and turned their attention to the stream of data collected from their first run. After an hour, the results were in.

“During our 30 second run, we encountered 1,642 energy anomalies. The Athena system worked flawlessly, adapting our warp field and preventing any subspace eddies,” reported Norden.

The Captain nodded. “In other words, so far – so good. What would have happened without the system?”

“We would have been forced to drop out of warp,” replied Sybok. “However, none of the energy bursts were severe enough in output or duration to have caused serious damage to the ship.”

Poiroux chewed on his ever-present toothpick. “So you’re saying we haven’t really done much yet?”

“It’s a good start,” allowed Norden, “but we haven’t really faced the heavy stuff.”

The Captain nodded. “I thought as much. Okay, prepare for phase two.”

Over the next few hours they proceeded with phase two and phase three, each time enjoying smooth warp jumps with no damage or malfunctions. For the first time, Norden actually felt optimistic about the test.

“On to phase four,” ordered Poiroux. Even the crusty Cajun was sounding chipper. “Helm, bring us to 500 thousand klicks and hold station.”

The Black Cluster now filled the viewscreen. But Norden’s exiliration over the positive results thus far dampened his sense of unease. He actually grinned as he checked the data-stream.

The ship rocked slightly. “Gravimetric shear,” announced Sybok. “Level four. Shields and structural integrity fields holding.”

“Now the fun really starts,” muttered Captain Poirou,. his brief display of good humor fading. “What about it, Mr. Norden? Ready to tempt the Devil again?”

“Yes sir.”

Poiroux chuckled. “That’s what I like about you, Lieutenant. You don’t mince words. Helm, stand by for my order to go to warp one.” He tapped his combadge.

“Bridge to Engineering.”

“Engineering, go ahead.”

“Ready for the fourth phase, Mr. Hawser?”

“Yes sir. Ready when you are.” Even the normally dour Lt. Hawser sounded upbeat.

“Good. We’re about to commence phase four. Bridge, out.”

Poiroux adjusted his frame in the command chair. “Helm – take us to warp one for thirty seconds.”

“Warp one, aye,” replied H’Raahn. He brought a hairy finger down on the control panel.

Kearsarge jumped to warp.

And all hell broke loose.

* * *

Klaxons sounded frantically while warning lights flashed from nearly every station.

The ship was not merely vibrating, she was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. Several of the bridge crew including Norden found themselves sprawled on the deck. The engines wailed like banshees, and the lighting on the bridge began to distort, leaving ghostly trails that put everything out of focus.

Over the din, Dan could hear the Captain shouting for the helmsman to bring the ship to a stop. But Lt. H’Raahn was either unable to hear or unable to comply. If anything, it seemed the ship was accelerating.

With a surge of strength fueled by adrenaline and fear, Norden clawed his way up from the deck and back into his seat at engineering. Sure enough, the power indicators were off the charts. The warp factor reading was . . .

His eyes widened in shock. “No,” thought Norden, “that’s not possible.”

The noise had grown so loud he could no longer understand the Captain, though it was apparent Poiroux was shouting at the top of his lungs. Kearsarge lurched violently to starboard, over-stressing the gravity coils and sending most of the bridge crew flying.

“Emergency . . . shut . . . down . . .” Dan could just make out the gasped words of the Captain. The increasing g-forces made speaking and breathing difficult.

Norden tried to focus on his panel but his vision was blurring. He finally called up the over-ride protocols and keyed in his command code.

But nothing happened. The over-ride failed. He turned back to Poiroux. The Captain saw the stricken look on Norden’s face and understood.

“Can’t . . . over-ride . . . failed . . .,” Dan gasped. The pressure on his chest was unbearable, making breathing almost impossible.

On the viewscreen, an explosion of light burst from a pinpoint in the middle of the darkness, twisting and morphing into impossible shapes and colors. Dan averted his gaze before the barage lest his senses become overwhelmed.

He wondered how the ship was holding together. Surely the structural integrity fields were already beyond the point of failure.

The cacophony increased to an impossible level, as if all the demons of all the hells were shrieking in chorus. Dan desperately tried to call up other sub-routines – anything to shut down the raging engines and slow this maddening ride. He wondered why no one in Engineering had shut down the mains? Perhaps they had tried and failed. Maybe they were all dead down there.

Darkness began to close in on the periphery of his vision as the g-forces crushed him. As though from a great distance, he heard Captain Poiroux give his final order:

“Eject . . . the . . . warp . . . core . . .”

The words from his dreams. They were the last words Lt. Norden heard before the darkness closed in.

All sensation of sound and motion stopped. The Starship Kearsarge ceased to exist.

Yet Lt. Daniel Norden was still alive and aware on some intangible plane of existence. He had the strange feeling that he was traveling without moving. The cacophony of noise had ceased as had the hellish shaking.

Dan felt a sense of peace settle over him – the darkness was warm and comforting, not cold and frightening. A part of him found this interesting.

From an infinite distance, a pinpoint of light appeared. It remained stationary for what could have been a nano-second or a thousand years. Dan did not know. Time, for the moment, had lost all meaning to him.

The light began to grow. Slowly, almost imperceptibly it expanded. He did not see the light as such (for he was no longer sure he had eyes or a body, for that matter) but knew it was there all the same.

Time passed (or he supposed it did) and the light began to push back the darkness with a cold glare that was painful (even though he doubted he could actually feel pain).

The silence was broken by a sound. Distant and indistinct at first, it slowly grew in volume. It was a voice.

His own voice. Inside himself. He heard it say . . .

“This is a very, very bad idea . . .”

* * *

Stardate 53376.7 (17 May 2376)
Deep Space 3

. . . a very, very bad idea to Norden’s way of thinking. Not that he’d had much choice in the matter. Still, serving as Mission Specialist for Project Athena beat sitting in an office on Earth or some starbase.

Lt. Norden picked up his clamshell case and cast another look through the viewport at the Kearsarge. It would probably be the last he would see of her exterior for several weeks – a thought assuaged by the fact that Kearsage was uglier than sin.

As he turned to make his way to the airlock leading to the ship, he felt a sudden sense of unease – a vague feeling of deja vu. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine and he suddenly had a strong urge to turn and walk away.

Yeah – that’s the ticket. Add desertion to your list of woes. Get your ass on the ship, Dan old boy.

He shook his head fractionally, angry at his momentary anxiety attack and walked briskly to the airlock.

* * *

The End . . . and The Beginning . . .
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