Embers of the Fire - ST: Gibraltar

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
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    As far as I can remember, I never posted my freshman fanfic story, Embers of the Fire, to the TrekBBS fanfic board. In order to rectify that omission, as well as perhaps introduce a few new people to my series... I thought I'd post it now.

    Synopsis: The aging starship Gibraltar is brought out of mothballs to assist in Federation humanitarian relief operations within Cardassian territory in the immediate aftermath of the Dominion War. The crew quickly discovers not everyone shares the Federation's vision for Cardassia's future.
     
  2. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
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    Chapter 1

    Point Station Epsilon
    Sector 21504
    Allied Occupied Cardassian Territory


    Point-Station Epsilon was an insignificant speck against the majestic backdrop of the violet-hued McAllister C-5 Nebula. It was an unlikely structure for this locale, a region of space that had been firmly in the possession of the Dominion and their Cardassian allies just nine weeks earlier.

    In stark contrast to the great majority of Starfleet’s thoroughly planned, exactingly constructed space installations, Epsilon was a small, hastily assembled conglomeration of prefabricated components and salvaged equipment. Derisively referred to as a 'cookie-cutter outpost' by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, the facility was underpowered, under staffed and inadequately defended. The official nomenclature was, ‘Minimally operational.’

    The station was the physical embodiment of Starfleet's presence in occupied Cardassian territory. Thoroughly half-assed, all good intentions aside. Epsilon and four other sister-stations of equally questionable pedigree had been established by Starfleet Command to help officiate over the Federation’s hard won spoils of war.

    In the wake of the chaotic conclusion of the Dominion War, much of the Cardassian Union’s infrastructure had collapsed. Seething over the last-minute betrayal by their reluctant Cardassian allies, the Dominion’s fearsome Jem’Hadar soldiers had exacted a terrible toll on the worlds of the union prior to retreating from the Alpha Quadrant. Orbital bombardment had been a favorite amongst the Vorta administrators, second only to the application of exotic bio-toxins and radiation poisoning. Those considered ‘fortunate’ among the Cardassian victims of these assaults had died quickly. They were unmercifully few in number.

    The Cardassian core worlds and outlying colonies where survivors still clung to life amidst the rubble of their once great civilization were in desperate need of assistance. Despite the fact that many Federation member worlds had also suffered catastrophic damage during the war; the Federation Council had decided that some effort at aid, however token, must be rendered.

    The United Federation of Planets and their Klingon allies had agreed to co-administrate fully three quarters of the territory formerly occupied by Cardassia. The remaining territory had fallen under the control of the Romulan Star Empire, the third party in the victorious Triumvirate Alliance of the Alpha-Quadrant.

    True to form, the Romulans had once again suspended diplomatic ties with the other great powers, focusing their energies on pacifying their new holdings and solidifying their grip on these systems.

    And so, Epsilon and her sisters had been built. Strategically located throughout Federation-administrated space, these stations served as the backbone of the Starfleet and civilian relief task forces that now labored to perform triage on a planetary scale.

    *****

    The indigo-tinged tendrils of the McAllister Nebula were playing hell with the attention of newly minted Captain Donald Sandhurst. With some effort, the middle-aged man pulled his eyes away from the spectacular panorama on display through the viewport of his cramped guest cabin aboard Epsilon station. Despite the Spartan nature of the small quarters, his rank had merited single-occupancy accommodations, a luxury aboard so overcrowded an outpost. His only complaint about the view was its intoxicating ability to divert his focus.

    He stifled a yawn and forced his attention back to the computer terminal atop his otherwise empty desk. Behind him, resting atop his bed was a cylindrical carry-all case containing a few holograms of friends and family, and an assortment of trinkets and memorabilia collected during his twenty-two years of Starfleet service. The diminutive closet contained a half-dozen outfits of seldom worn civilian clothes that had been long neglected during the recent conflict. These were the sum total of Sandhurst’s worldly belongings. Two years of warfare had instilled in him the necessity of packing lightly, and the importance of valuing people over possessions. It hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time not so long ago when Donald’s reputation as a pack-rat had bordered on the legendary.

    He was of average height, and as more than one medical officer had helpfully noted, he was carrying a minimum of twenty-five unneeded pounds. The extra weight had settled on his once rail thin midsection, but Sandhurst liked to think that he carried it better than he might otherwise, due to the broadness of his shoulders. His hazel eyes looked out from under neatly trimmed black hair. During the last year, a hint of gray had begun to appear at his temples, his body’s concession to the stresses of war coupled with the inexorable march of time.

    Sandhurst tapped at the computer terminal and scrolled through a seemingly endless catalog of Starfleet service records. He had been studying these files for more than six hours, trying to familiarize himself with the officers and enlisted personnel who would soon be assigned to his command. My crew, he thought with trepidation.

    The idea still seemed alien to him. In the middle of the night he would awake with a start from a dead sleep, his mind fixated on the incredible responsibility that he had assumed. The fourth pip on his collar, affixed less than a week ago, weighed heavily on him. Over a hundred people who will live or die based on my decisions and judgment. Unable to focus any further on the terminal’s scrolling text, his weary mind reflected back on the unlikely path that had led him to this place.

    Two years ago, Sandhurst had been the chief engineer on the starship Venture. He was acknowledged as one of the finest engineers in the Fleet, and he found his work both challenging and fulfilling. As he had earned his command school qualifications, Sandhurst had been content to oversee the occasional late-watch bridge duty, but had no interest in pursuing the command track.

    Then the Dominion War had swept over the Alpha Quadrant like a savage tide. Lieutenant Commander Sandhurst found himself thrust into the position of first officer, after the ship’s exec was killed by a Cardassian anti-personnel mine while on an away mission.

    Sandhurst hadn’t wanted the job, but had assumed the post out of a sense of duty. He had been as surprised as anyone to discover that he had an affinity for command. The same skills that had made him an effective and popular department head also served him well as XO. His had been the soft touch, the counterpoint to Captain Ebnal’s taciturn command style.

    The joy he felt at the war’s ending was matched by the comforting knowledge that he could now return to his trade. After all, the fleet would have to be rebuilt, and engineers of his caliber were in short supply. It was, however, not to be. As the war had dragged on and casualties mounted, the available pool of command qualified officers had dwindled. Post-war Starfleet was spread thin, and had been given an impossibly long list of critical tasks to accomplish.

    Sandhurst had been hesitant the day Rear Admiral Covey had approached him. Covey had been his captain earlier in his career, and her encouragement and advice had led him to take up the challenge of becoming a department chief. This time she had come offering him a captaincy.

    His reluctance had been short-lived. She knew the right words to say, the correct strings to pull. Duty… honor… service. Fifteen minutes after their conversation ended, he had been promoted. Two hours after that, Sandhurst was on his way to Epsilon station by way of warp courier.

    His combadge chirped, heralding an incoming message. “Ops to Captain Sandhurst.”

    He tapped the pin reflexively, jolted from his reminiscence. “Sandhurst. Go ahead.”

    “Captain, the Gibraltar is on approach. ETA is thirty-seven minutes, sir.”

    Sandhurst pursed his lips, “Acknowledged.” He stood, stretched, then took a moment to straighten his uniform. Just enough time to pack up his belongings and grab a quick bite at the station’s replimat. Then it would be time to meet the crew.

    His crew.

    *****

    USS Sojourner
    Crolsa System
    Allied Occupied Cardassian Territory
    In orbit of planet Lakesh


    USS Sojourner had been in orbit of Lakesh for less than a week. A dedicated science vessel, the Nova-class starship had been designed for long-term scientific surveys. Aside from making a detailed analysis of the widespread environmental damage suffered by the planet and its populace, Sojourner was woefully ill-suited to the emergency aid assignment to which it had been tasked. With a crew of forty-two, the ship had neither the personnel nor replicator capacity necessary to make any significant contribution to ongoing relief mission on the surface.

    Commander Taun’Ma had tired of looking at the battered greenish-brown sphere on the main viewer. The planet’s atmosphere was occluded by dark gray cloud formations, lit from within by flashes of lightening. They were the result of the firestorms that were consuming the vast forested areas on the larger of two southern continents. Science officer Rainert had determined that the Breen, apparently lacking the Jem’Hadar taste for creative mayhem, had simply bombarded the surface of Lakesh with conventional weapons.

    The effort had been adequate. Conservative estimates were that seventy-two percent of the population had been killed immediately, some two and a half million souls.

    Those hundreds of thousands that remained were increasingly desperate for basic necessities such as clean water, food, and shelter. As the weeks since the disaster turned into months, the survivors’ patience with the aid effort had deteriorated, and violent confrontations between locals and relief workers were on the rise.

    Now, nearly half of Taun’Ma’s crew were planet-side, assisting with a water purification project in what remained of an urbanized area on the northern peninsula. She worried about their safety, and cursed her inability to provide more than a handful of security personnel for their defense. As tenuous as the Starfleet position was on Lakesh, it was widely acknowledged that it would get worse.

    Villalobos, the Operations officer, called over his shoulder, “Shuttle Aberly on approach, Captain.”

    The Saurian nodded in response, her reptilian eyelids blinking laterally in quick succession. “Acknowledged, Albert. Initiate standard landing protocols.”

    The exchange was routine, and if truth be told, unnecessary. This was the twenty-first shuttle sortie of the day. Nonetheless, she wanted to keep her people sharp. This was no cushy berth on a survey ship. As some of her human crew insisted on saying, Sojourner was in ‘Indian country.’ She understood the gist of expression, and marveled once again at the humans’ ability to romanticize the persistent danger they faced.

    The senior chief at the Tactical station intoned, “Security scan complete, no anomalies. Aberly is cleared to land, sir.”

    The Aberly vectored for final approach to the ship’s aft shuttle bay. The shuttle had just dropped off a supply of replacement components for the overworked industrial replicators being used by relief parties on the surface. By order of the chief medical officer, the shuttle was returning with two seriously ill Cardassian civilians in need of immediate medical care aboard Sojourner.

    As she rolled ninety degrees to align with the parting shuttle bay doors, Aberly suddenly accelerated and veered hard to port. The shuttle crashed directly into the ship’s port warp nacelle. The resulting impact and explosion sheared away the forward third of the nacelle and exposed the warp field coils which began venting super-heated drive plasma into space.

    On the bridge, the crew felt the jolt of collision, followed by the near instantaneous blare of alarm klaxons as the ship yawed wildly to starboard. At Helm, Lieutenant S’Von called out over the clamor of alert sirens and startled crew, the Vulcan's voice supernaturally calm as he announced, “We have lost attitude control. Attempting to recover.”

    Taun’Ma engaged the safety restraints on her command chair, “Report!”

    From behind her, the duty engineer shouted from his station, “Showing critical failure in the port nacelle’s structural integrity!”

    The scene on the main viewer had become a crazed mélange of spinning planet and swirling stars. As damage readouts flashed across his console, the engineer assessed their plight, “We’re venting drive plasma! Inertial dampeners at one-hundred seventeen percent of rated output-- “

    The commander cut him off, “Quench block plasma to that nacelle; route emergency power to thrusters and inertial dampeners.”

    The engineer grimaced as he was slammed against his console, his affirmative response lost in the din of wailing alarms. As main engineering scrambled to transfer all available power to the designated systems, the duty engineer attempted an emergency cut-off of the plasma flow from the reactor core to the nacelle. It became apparent that the control valves in the nacelle itself had been critically damaged or destroyed. “Captain, I can’t stem the flow at the nacelle, we’re going to have to shut down the reactor.”

    The Saurian replied immediately, “Initiate emergency core shutdown.” She glanced at the Tactical officer, “Send out a distress call, let Phoenix know we’re in trouble.”

    As Sojourner’s crew struggled to regain control of their stricken ship, three small meteorites on seemingly random trajectories around Lakesh changed course. As they moved out of their slowly decaying orbits, they accelerated towards the starship.

    Each of the ersatz meteorites was less than three meters in diameter, and was equipped with a subspace jamming emitter. Utilizing these, the gravitic mines had gone undetected during the orbiting starships’ routine sensor sweeps. Now, each of them increased the power to their jammers, in hope of scrambling any attempts at getting an accurate sensor scan or targeting lock during their final approach to their objective. Within each, an anti-matter charge armed. Optical sensors identified predetermined target points on Sojourner, and the three mines spiraled in to impact.

    Almost unnoticed in the confusion on the bridge, a proximity alarm warbled at the science station. Ensign Rainert struggled to read the display as the ship’s constant bucking jostled him in his seat. “Captain, I’m reading three unidentified transients inbound!”

    Taun’Ma swiveled in her chair to face him. “Identify.”

    Rainert checked his readings. “I can’t, sir. I’m getting interference, but I can distinguish three separate sources, and they’re closing.” He blinked, “Impact in… six seconds.”

    Suddenly, Taun’Ma realized with a cold certainty that she and her crew were not victims of an accident, but the targets of an attack. She had just started a non-recoverable shutdown of the matter/anti-matter reactor, and knew full well that it would take ten seconds or more to re-route emergency power from the thrusters and inertial dampers to the shield grid. Not enough time, she thought desperately.

    It was too late, but she gave the order anyway. “Shields!” Taun’Ma then toggled the intraship, “All hands, brace for impact!”

    The first of the mines detonated ten meters from the underside of the secondary hull. Structural integrity was instantly breached, and main engineering was opened to space. Those few crew who survived the initial explosion in the engine room died seconds later as they were blown into the airless void.

    The second mine exploded only meters away from the top of the saucer section, obliterating the main bridge and causing multiple hull ruptures along the ship’s dorsal axis. Commander Taun’Ma and the others on the bridge were dead before they had fully registered the initial blast.

    The last of the three mines finished the job started by Aberly, detonating just aft of the ship, shredding the nacelles, punching through the retracting shuttle bay doors, and killing every living thing in the rear half of the secondary hull. Crippled and without power, Sojourner drifted helplessly in a cloud of her own debris as she tumbled end over end in a slow death roll.

    The starship Phoenix arrived just moments later. Her scans revealed only eight life signs left aboard the smaller ship. She was tractored in tow, and rescue and emergency engineering parties were sent aboard to attempt to stabilize her remaining systems. As her attackers had intended, Sojourner hadn’t been destroyed, only badly maimed. The care of her surviving crew and the salvage of the vessel itself would be a further burden on the already over-extended Starfleet presence in orbit.

    *****
     
  3. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Embers of the Fire - Chapter 2

    Chapter 2

    The Constitution-class starship Gibraltar had begun her career some ninety years earlier as USS Yorktown, a contemporary of James Kirk’s Enterprise-A. Constructed from the keel up as an upgraded variant of the venerable Constitution series ships, she served with distinction for three decades before being decommissioned. Her name and its accumulated prestige were stripped from her and bequeathed to a newer class of vessel, and she was exiled to the Dalashni V Long-term Storage Anchorage.

    Encased in a protective sheath of durapolymers, she was set adrift and quietly forgotten. Twenty-five years later, in the aftermath of the Tomed Incident, she was towed out of the bone yards and hastily refit to serve as a hospital ship. Rechristened Gibraltar, she was assigned to humanitarian relief missions along the Romulan Neutral Zone. Fourteen months later, having once again fulfilled her duty, she was returned to the Dalashni system to resume her hibernation.

    At the outset of official hostilities with the Dominion, the Federation Starfleet was already desperate for ships. Two Borg incursions in the last decade, coupled with the brief yet punishing war with the Klingon Empire had sapped Starfleet’s material strength. Classified estimates early in the Dominion conflict gauged that at the current rate of attrition, Starfleet would lose approximately forty-four percent of its operational starships in the next eighteen months. Facing those projected losses, Starfleet Command ordered the vessels mothballed at Dalashni and other such facilities to be refit and reactivated, Gibraltar among them.

    Thus, the grand old girl had been given a new lease on life. An intensive eight-month refurbishment at Starbase 234 succeeded in replacing or upgrading Gibraltar’s primary systems, though her refit was finally completed three weeks after the end of hostilities. She was faster and better defended in her new 24th century incarnation, but Gibraltar was still no match for more modern ships of the line. She and her resurrected brethren had been intended to fill support roles, such as routine patrol, diplomatic missions, and escort duty. In this way, they were to have freed up more battle-worthy vessels for combat duty on the front lines.

    *****

    Epsilon’s transporter room was a converted office module, one not terribly well suited to the extensive modifications necessary to accommodate the transporter dais and its ancillary systems. Like Sandhurst’s guest cabin, it was cramped, and like his cabin, it afforded a fantastic vista through its view ports. It wasn’t the McAllister Nebula which transfixed the young ensign at the window, however, but the presence of the starship Gibraltar holding position less than a thousand meters away.

    The ensign whistled softly to himself and remarked, “That is something you don’t see everyday.”

    The quiet swish of the doors marking Sandhurst’s arrival was masked by a series of computer tones from the transporter chief’s console. The chief, clearly amused at the young man’s demeanor, asked, “What’s that, Ensign?”

    “A museum piece, Chief. There hasn’t been a Constitution-class ship in service for a half century.” He shook his head in disbelief. “We’re going to pacify the Cardies in that thing?”

    The transporter chief looked towards Sandhurst and gave the captain a devious smile as she blatantly baited the younger man, “Oh. Is that what you’re out here to do then, Ensign?”

    Still mesmerized by the graceful yet all-too-vulnerable lines of the starship, the ensign nodded distractedly. “Absolutely, Chief. Those people need to be put in their place. We’ve fought two major wars with them in the last twenty years, and heaven knows how many border skirmishes. We’d be fools to leave them in a position to stab us in the back again.”

    As the chief looked at him expectantly, Sandhurst paused for a brief moment before announcing his presence. The captain found himself hard pressed to disagree with the young man. The treachery of the Cardassian government, and that of Gul Dukat in particular, had cost the Federation dearly. Regardless, such thoughts were not worthy of a Starfleet officer, and Sandhurst knew that he could not let such ideas foment among his crew if their upcoming mission was to have any chance of success.

    “We’re here to help the Cardassian people, Ensign, not to subjugate them.”

    Ensign Brett Lightner laughed coolly. “Yeah, let’s hope they’re capable of discerning the difference.” The sandy haired youth glanced over his shoulder, but his smirk evaporated as he realized the source of the rebuke. He stiffened, pivoted neatly on one heel and came to rigid attention.

    “I’m sorry, Captain. I didn’t realize…”

    Sandhurst cut him off and waved a hand dismissively, “Its okay, Mister… Lightner, isn’t it?” The captain continued in response to the ensign’s nod. “I can’t tell you how to feel about the Cardassians. God knows there are enough of us with sufficient reason to hate them. Nonetheless, we’re here to help them recover as best we’re able. If we leave them to suffer or try to rub their noses in this defeat, there will be another war with them. Count on it.”

    Lightner nodded curtly. “Yes, sir.”

    Sandhurst turned to the transporter chief. “All set, Chief?”

    “Aye, Captain. Gibraltar is standing by.”

    Sandhurst stepped up onto the dais. “Shall we, Ensign?”

    Lightner followed, his face still flushed with embarrassment. Sandhurst glanced out the view port at his new command and quietly savored the sight for the briefest of moments before he uttered, “Energize.”

    The two officers vanished in a cascading field of bluish energy.

    *****

    Lieutenant Pava Lar’ragos came to attention as his commanding officer materialized on the pad. The El Aurian security chief had joined Gibraltar at Deep Space Nine, the last stopover before Point-Station Epsilon, and was just settling in himself. His last posting had been to Starfleet’s elite and covert Special Missions Teams and he had spent the majority of the war ‘sneaking about and blowing things up,’ as he liked to describe it. Lar’ragos was enjoying his transition back to shipboard duty, and had been looking forward to his impending reunion with Donald Sandhurst, a former academy classmate.

    The faintest hint of a smile tugged at the captain’s lips as his eyes settled on Lar’ragos, “Permission to come aboard?”

    Lar’ragos’ smile, in contrast, was ebullient, “Granted, sir. Welcome aboard, Captain.” He stepped forward, hand extended, as Sandhurst moved off the pad.

    Sandhurst clasped the proffered hand, pumping it vigorously. “Good to see you, Pava. It’s been too long.” He turned and inclined his head towards the still blushing junior officer who’d arrived with him. “Lieutenant Lar’ragos, this is Ensign Brett Lightner. He’ll be driving the ship.”

    Lar’ragos nodded to Lightner as the ensign stepped down from the dais. “A pleasure, Ensign.” Lar’ragos appeared to take measure of the younger man and his smile faded slightly. “First tour, Mister Lightner?”

    The newly minted officer had regained some of his composure and replied, “Aye, sir.” His eyes quickly swept the unusually configured compartment and finally settled on the transporter operator’s console. The control panel was sequestered behind a transparent aluminum partition, a throwback to the days when transporter systems produced mildly hazardous levels of theta radiation. To Lightner, it symbolized everything that was wrong with this assignment. The ensign’s focus drifted back to Lar’ragos, and he directed a smile at the lieutenant that didn’t seem to reach his eyes. It was a dead giveaway to someone from a race of listeners. “I’m excited to be here, sir. I’ve heard a lot about this ship.”

    The captain directed a curious look at Lar’ragos. “Not that I’m not delighted to see you, but I was expecting Commander Ramirez.”

    At this, Lar’ragos’ smile vanished completely. “She was unavoidably detained, sir.” The nuances of Lar’ragos’ words were sufficiently subtle that only Sandhurst, with his years of experience with the El Aurian was able to read into the statement that the ship’s executive officer had been anything but.

    Sandhurst nodded, his expression carefully neutral. “I see.” The captain turned back towards Lightner. “Ensign, would you be so kind as to confirm that arrangements have been made to beam our personal effects over from Epsilon?”

    “Aye, sir.” Lightner looked relieved to have something to do and the ensign moved towards the transporter control cubicle where he began speaking quietly with the chief manning the console.

    Sandhurst and Lar’ragos moved out into the corridor. The captain glanced over his shoulder as the doors hissed closed behind them to confirm that the two were alone. “I take it she’s angry?”

    Lar’ragos chuckled. “I see your gift for understatement remains intact, sir.” He gestured to their right. “The turbolift is this way.” As he fell into step beside the captain, Lar’ragos offered, “She’s been the epitome of professionalism, at least since I’ve been aboard. She’s furious, but thankfully she’s keeping it to herself.”

    Sandhurst sighed. In many ways his introduction to the ship’s first officer, Lieutenant Commander Liana Ramirez, was going to be the biggest obstacle of the day. “I guess that’s to be expected. I’d hoped she might take this better, but I can’t say I’m surprised.” He scratched absently behind one ear as Lar’ragos led them into a turbolift alcove and pressed the call button.

    The narrow corridors here were paneled with burnished gray plating, and carpeted in a bland tope that did little to lessen the severity of the decor. Sandhurst reminded himself that this ship was designed decades before Starfleet had adopted policies mandating generous personal space allowances in all common areas, hallways included.

    The turbolift arrived, and they stepped aboard. Lar’ragos deferred the choice of destination to his captain. Sandhurst looked pensive for a moment, before trying to submerge his unease beneath a calm, studied command persona. Lar’ragos wondered whether Sandhurst’s apprehension would be as apparent to the average human crew member as it was to him.

    “Bridge.” Sandhurst resisted the urge to slouch casually against the wall, despite his fatigue, and stifled a yawn as the turbolift began its ascent. “Your impressions of the crew?”

    Lar’ragos shrugged with his hands, which were clasped in front of him. “About what you’d expect. Aside from a gaggle of newly commissioned ensigns, we’ve become the dumping ground for some of the Fleet’s problem children. We’ve also got more than our share of activated reservists and career dead-enders just waiting for Starfleet to rescind the stop-loss orders.” The deceptively youthful looking El Aurian shook his head slightly. “I’m more worried about our green junior officers. Most of them are products of the academy’s accelerated war-time curricula. Many have only three years of academy training, some even less.”

    Due to the appalling personnel losses suffered during the war, Starfleet Command had been forced to call up the service’s reserve units for the first time in more than a century. In addition, Command had elected to reactivate the commissions of tens of thousands of retired fleet veterans. People who hadn’t worn a Starfleet uniform in decades found themselves involuntarily returned to service. Active duty personnel who had been on the cusp of retirement just prior to the war were barred from departure or resignation by a Federation Council mandated stop-loss order that had yet to be repealed.

    Sandhurst mock winced. “That good, eh?”

    Lar’ragos attempted an apologetic smile. “Don’t get me wrong, sir. I don’t mean to paint the entire crew with the same brush. There are some standouts, mostly among the senior staff and higher NCO ranks.”

    The El Aurian glanced at the turbolift’s control panel as the car shifted from vertical to horizontal travel briefly, then resumed its climb. “The rest of them will do their duty. Most just feel they’ve done their part and are ready to go home.” For career officers like themselves in an organization that prided itself on being a meritocracy of the willing, the idea of serving with discontented or unmotivated people was almost unthinkable.

    <cont'd>
     
  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    <cont'd>

    A subdued chime announced their arrival on Deck 1. Sandhurst straightened and gave an unconscious tug at his uniform top before the doors slid open to reveal Gibraltar’s command center. The captain had to admit to being a bit surprised. He had almost expected the parting doors to open onto an unmodified 23rd century starship bridge, with subdued lighting and pre-LCARS control consoles studded with buttons and switches. This bridge, however, was every bit as modern as he could have hoped.

    Laid out in the more traditional circular pattern that was seen with less frequency in more recent Starfleet designs, the main bridge was detailed in soft whites and muted grays. The color scheme gave the impression of a larger compartment than was actually present. The lower well area of the bridge housed a single semi-circular console bank which supported multiple work stations. The Operations and Helm posts were side-by-side, facing forward towards the main view screen. Flanking them on either side were stations for the Executive Officer and a mission specialist, respectively.

    Ringing the upper level of the bridge were the Engineering, Science, and Security/Tactical stations, as well as two auxiliary consoles which could be configured for a variety of functions. At the aft-most section of the bridge was a small recessed entrance to the captain’s ready room, next to a large master situation monitor which displayed a cutaway silhouette of Gibraltar and her major systems. A small stand-alone Tactical console stood immediately behind the captain’s chair, which was currently occupied by a petite, raven-haired, olive-skinned human woman who seemed engrossed in the contents of the data padd she held in her hand.

    As Sandhurst stepped from the turbolift with Lar’ragos in tow, Lt. Commander Liana Ramirez glanced up from her padd. She stood from the command chair in a smooth, deliberate motion as she announced, “Captain on the bridge!”

    Standing just a fraction over five feet, Ramirez was not the most imposing specimen of humanity ever to don a Starfleet uniform. However, despite her diminutive size, she projected an aura of confident authority that left little doubt that she was not one to be trifled with.

    In response to the executive officer’s announcement, all activity on the bridge ceased simultaneously as crew members turned to get their first look at their new commanding officer. Sandhurst responded with a slight smile, designed to convey an easy self-assurance that he most certainly did not feel. “As you were.” He turned to Ramirez, who remained standing as ramrod straight as a cadet on review, her eyes locked on some indeterminate point on the far bulkhead. Sandhurst sighed inwardly, So this is how it’s going to be, then.

    “Computer, log the following exchange as an official transfer.”

    The computer accepted the command with a three-tone chime, and Sandhurst continued. “By order of Starfleet, I hereby assume command of this vessel.”

    Ramirez responded formally, “As of this time, seventeen-thirty-seven hours, I stand relieved. Computer, transfer priority-one command authorization codes to Captain Donald Sandhurst, authorization Ramirez tango-sierra-charlie one-oh-six-four.” The computer verbally acknowledged the transfer of command authority, and Ramirez stepped aside as she swept her arm dramatically over the captain’s chair like a game-show host presenting a contestant with a prize. “She’s all yours, sir.”

    Sandhurst nodded approvingly, but made no move towards the center seat. “Commander, please join me in the ready room.” He looked to Lar’ragos and intoned, “Lieutenant, you have the conn.” Sandhurst moved to the small hatch leading to his new office and triggered the door to slide open. He stepped back and motioned for Ramirez to enter, and then followed her inside.

    The compartment that now served as ready room was, on the old Yorktown, an airlock situated behind the bridge. Though small, it easily accommodated a medium-sized work desk opposed by two sitting chairs, a couch, and a replicator station recessed into one wall. Where the airlock hatch had once stood was a circular transparent aluminum view port, just behind the desk.

    He strode into the room behind Ramirez and walked past her, then turned around and leaned against the front of the desk, arms folded across his chest. Before she could speak, he launched a preemptive, “Permission to speak candidly granted, Commander.”

    Caught momentarily off guard, Ramirez blinked, and took a moment to consider her next statement. Finally, she asked, “Respectfully, Captain, what am I doing here?”

    Sandhurst frowned, “I’m going to need you to be a bit more vague.”

    Ramirez ran one hand through her hair in a gesture of exasperation. “I’ve put in my Fleet time, sir. Fourteen months as exec on the Tempest. I worked damn hard for Captain Berkhalter’s recommendation, and my posting as Admiral Covey’s adjutant was going to be my ticket to a first-line ship, maybe even my own command!”

    Sandhurst contemplated taking a conciliatory tack with her, but only for an instant. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep affecting his judgment, but he’d been primed for a confrontation with his new XO since he stepped aboard. Best to have it out here and now, he decided, to clear the air.

    “I’m terribly sorry if your being posted here has inconvenienced you, Commander, but I requested your transfer because I need you here. You’ve spent a good portion of your career assigned to ships along the Cardassian border, serving under CO’s like Jellico and T’Sur.” He paused but refused to look away from Ramirez’s piercing gaze. “You’ve faced the Cardassians on the battlefield as well as over the negotiating table. You understand them in ways that I don’t, and to be perfectly blunt, I desperately need that insight.”

    Ramirez broke eye contact first and looked away angrily as she bit back a reply that she was sure would constitute insubordination.

    Sandhurst felt himself building momentum and continued, “You know perfectly well what we’re up against here. Starfleet’s attempting to render aid on a multi-planetary scale despite inadequate resources and too few people to do the job. We’re going to meet with resistance, if not outright hostility. I want to have someone by my side who understands their culture, their mindset, how they’re likely to react in a given situation.”

    Still refusing to back down, Ramirez seethed, “Don’t think I’m unaware that you and Admiral Covey have a history together. I object to being traded between the two of you like a commodity. My career isn’t someone’s marker.”

    Sandhurst smiled humorlessly. “If this post doesn’t jibe with your career plan, that’s too bad. I require you to do your duty, Commander. You can either be an asset to this crew, or a hindrance. I’d much prefer to have your cooperation. Either way, you’re staying until our mission is accomplished.”

    He walked around the desk and took a seat. “Following the successful completion of this assignment, I might be willing to entertain the option of returning you to Admiral Covey’s staff, based on my assessment of your performance as XO on this ship.”

    Ramirez seemed to deflate somewhat at this potential olive branch. She looked at least partially mollified as she inquired, “Will that be all, sir?”

    Sandhurst activated his desktop computer terminal and deliberately turned his attention to the screen. “Oversee our immediate departure as soon as all remaining crew and supplies are aboard. Inform the senior staff we’ll be having a mission briefing at oh-seven-hundred hours tomorrow. You are dismissed.”

    "Aye, sir.” Ramirez spun smartly on one heel and marched out.

    As he called up the ship’s personnel roster, Sandhurst picked up where he had left off aboard Epsilon station. To no one in particular he remarked, “Yeah… that could have gone better.”

    *****
     
  5. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    This was one of the first Trek fan-fic stories I remember reading on-line (before I discovered Trek BBS.) I was struck then, as now, by how very well-written it was and how you portrayed a bruised and battered Starfleet with hand-me-down ships and characters who were in way over their heads. I was hooked by the Gibraltar saga and still am. This series in large part inspired me to write my own series about an elderly border cutter and its eclectic cast of characters.

    Glad to see you repost this first story of Captain Sandhurst and "The Little Ship that Could." In the words of the immortal Bob Hope, "Thanks for the memories!" :)
     
  6. unusualsuspex

    unusualsuspex Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2009
    Location:
    Norfolk UK
    I'm so glad you're posting this here Gibraltar! I keep meaning to get over to Ad Astra to catch up with it and simply run out of time! :(

    Now it's here though I have no excuse!

    As I've said before (and echoing the LoneRedShirt's comments) I found this a wonderful read that to my mind certainly rose way above fanfic status due to the professional way in which it's written.

    The characters, plot line and overall feel are so believable and (perhaps more importantly) so 'Trek' that its sometimes difficult to believe that its not a POCKET product!

    (BTW that IS meant as a compliment Sam! :rommie:)

    The other thing is that the author is generous in the time he spends reading and commenting on the efforts of those somewhat less talented, so for that, extra kudos!

    Well done mate, and keep posting here please?
     
  7. kes7

    kes7 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2008
    Location:
    Sector 001
    Isn't that the truth? Yay, Gibraltar! :adore:

    I loved this story when I read it on Ad Astra, and it definitely hooked me right into reading the others. Gibraltar's only gotten better with time, but this story was pro-quality, too. The nice (or horrible, depending on how you look at it) thing about Gibraltar's universe is that .... how do I put this? Um, very little is sacred? Events are free to happen as they happen, and his characters are allowed to experience the full consequences of the choices they make. The "holodeck safeties" are off, so to speak. You truly don't know how things will end up until the last word!
     
  8. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Glad you're posting this. This is one of the first Trek fanfic stories that I read, and I enjoyed it immensely. I'm sure that many people on the board who haven't read it will enjoy it as well.
     
  9. Dulak

    Dulak Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Location:
    Pacific NW
    I know I owe my thanks to SR for sparking the idea that we could continue enjoing Star Trek, even when the series and movies are making less and less sense.

    It's a testament to his writing skill that he brought me back into the Star Trek universe seamlessly and with less suspension of disbelief than I need to apply to most of the recent "canon" trek stuff made my paramount.
     
  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Thanks for the terrific comments, folks! :D I appreciate the support.
     
  11. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Embers of the Fire - Chapter 3

    Chapter 3

    After the choking dust-filled air of Lakesh, the recycled atmosphere of the Ferengi Marauder Greel was a pleasant respite. Clad in nondescript civilian clothing, Legate Mintof Urlak sipped at the tall glass of kanar his host had provided. Urlak held the glass up to the light as he marveled at the color and consistency of the amber liquid. The tiny sensor device concealed in the legate’s signet ring, linked to the tricorder under his jacket, had determined that the liquid was in fact the 30-year old vintage DaiMon Inish had claimed it to be. More importantly, the sensors had detected no signs of any additives which could have increased his pliability in the forthcoming negotiations. That in itself was a testament to the DaiMon’s confidence in his own bargaining position.

    Urlak looked across the table at the perpetually sneering DaiMon. “It’s quite good, thank you.”

    The Ferengi bobbed his head obsequiously. “I’m glad you approve.”

    The large lobed DaiMon dismissed the server with a flick of his wrist. When they were alone, Inish activated the holo-emitter in the center of the table. The symbol of the Ferengi Alliance flared to life in the air above them and rotated slowly as if it were some garish corporate logo. “Now that the pleasantries are concluded, Legate, in what way may I be of assistance?”

    The Cardassian leaned forward to lower the now empty glass slowly to the tabletop. He began without preamble, “I need ships; both warp-capable corsairs and trans-atmospheric shuttle fighters. I am additionally interested in purchasing shielding for capital ships. I had heard you could possibly obtain regenerative shielding of Son’a design.”

    The Ferengi offered a mouthful of sharpened teeth in a hideous smile. “Planning on starting a war?”

    Urlak’s only response was an icy stare, his gray eyes burrowing into their darting blue Ferengi counterparts.

    Inish deduced that he had stepped over some unspoken line with the Cardassian general, and so the Ferengi reached out to toggle a series of commands into his interface. A succession of images appeared and cycled one every few seconds. They depicted numerous vessels of various sizes and capacities, each represented the industrial output of a certain planet or coalition.

    Inish cleared his throat then launched into a well rehearsed litany, “I’ve found that many of our clientele have reported favorably on the maneuverability and sturdiness of the Tzenkethi raider. It’s an excellent platform. The ship’s power grid is easily compatible with a wide range of Alpha Quadrant weaponry and defensive systems...”

    *****

    Inish regarded Urlak cautiously as the Cardassian scrolled through the various craft listings. He would pause an image occasionally to make a notation on a padd. The legate would intermittently nod or offer only a non-committal grunt in response to something Inish had said. Eventually, the Ferengi fell silent.

    Moments later, Inish caught himself drumming his fingers atop the table. For want of anything else to say, he asked, “Might I inquire as to the means of payment, Legate? Knowing the exchange rate in advance will help expedite our dealings.”

    His attention still on the task at hand, Urlak replied without looking up, “Three-hundred liters of bio-mimetic gel.”

    Despite his attempt to suppress it, a shiver of excitement ran through Inish’s compact frame. Bio-mimetic gel was an incredibly rare and extremely valuable substance. A closely guarded secret of Federation medical science, the gel could be used for a variety of purposes, cloning, genetic research, and bio-warfare among them. It was rumored that the Federation so tightly restricted the production of the substance that less than two-thousand liters existed at any given time.

    The Ferengi could barely contain his curiosity. He desperately wanted to know the source of this unlikely currency, but knew better than to ask. What little Inish hadn’t already known of Legate Urlak by reputation, he had researched prior to their meeting. The Cardassian’s name was synonymous with ruthlessness, his proclivity for creative acts of vengeance legendary, even among a race of people renown for that trait.

    Formerly an operative with the notorious Obsidian Order, the empire’s intelligence and covert operations directorate, Urlak had proved sufficiently cunning to warrant advancement without standing out so much as to pose a threat to his superiors. He had deftly avoided the infamous joint Cardassian/Romulan attack on the Founders that had gutted the ranks of the Order. However, the ill-advised operation had inadvertently given Urlak his chance to ascend to a position of power.

    His calculations complete, Urlak slid the padd across the table to the DaiMon. “That will suffice.”

    The Ferengi took a moment to absorb the order. His eyes widened as he processed the sheer volume involved. He had miscalculated. This man didn’t want to start a war. He intended to finish one.

    Inish looked up to find Legate Urlak watching him. The cold, reptilian passivity of the stare caused Inish to wonder, despite the room’s automated defenses and his own personal forcefield, whether he was actually safe in the Cardassian’s presence.

    Urlak then spoke with a quiet intensity born of zealotry, “Our movement prefers to have a single supplier for these resources, as it decreases our vulnerability to discovery. Once our attacks have begun, the Federation and Klingons will begin gauging who might be capable of providing such assets in these amounts. Your name will undoubtedly be near the top of their lists. The Federation will put pressure on your new ‘more enlightened’ Ferengi government to curtail your operation. Not wanting to upset the victorious powers in the quadrant, they will comply. You’ll face censure and financial liquidation, at the very least. I personally believe they will simply move to have you killed. In either case, if you intend to do business with us, you would do well to sever your ties with the Ferengi Alliance immediately.”

    The color drained from Inish’s face as he, too, calculated the most likely outcome of this series of events and drew the same conclusion. Urlak continued in the same intense, almost hypnotic tone. “Make no mistake, DaiMon, you stand to make an astonishing amount of profit in this venture. However, the risks you run will prove considerable. The choice is yours.”

    Inish weighed his options. Nearly unimaginable wealth on one hand, or a quick, vicious death on the other. He was not so foolish as to believe that Urlak would allow him to live, knowing what he did, if he did not procure the man’s requested items. It wouldn’t be today, of course, but soon. In some nameless port on some backwater planet, a bomb, or a dart, or a collimated beam of energy would settle the matter.

    The DaiMon shrugged inwardly. The reforms enacted by Grand Nagus Rom did not sit well with him, and the subsequent changes in Ferengi financial policies had resulted in a dramatic downward spiral of Ferengi markets.

    The truth of the matter was that this was potentially the most lucrative deal he had encountered since before the beginning of the war. Inish would be hemorrhaging latinum while his peers sat back and bemoaned the collapse of the Ferengi way of life. It beats a face-saving death dive from the top of the FCA tower on Ferenginar, he thought.

    His face contorted into a grinning, saw-toothed deaths head as he chortled, “I’m in.”

    *****

    Urlak stepped back aboard the Cardassian Hideki-class corsair,. The airlock cycled closed behind him as his ship quickly decoupled from the larger marauder. The trip back to Lakesh would take four days, and though he hated to leave his nascent rebellion for such a time, this trip had been worth the effort.

    As he made his way to his cabin he fought off a vague sense of vertigo that seized him as the ship shifted into warp. The legate guessed something in engineering must be out of alignment, but surmised that it was not sufficiently troublesome to warrant immediate repair. As he undressed, he allowed himself the luxury of recalling a time when the Cardassian military was afforded the best of everything their society could offer. Now that society was in ruins, and under threat from the insidious influence of the Federation.

    The democratic freedoms that the Federation had promised to bring to Cardassia were anathema to men like Urlak. A strong Cardassia had always been dependent upon firm, centralized leadership, unencumbered by the petty bickering and endemic uncertainty of public opinion.

    The legate believed that although both Dukat and Damar had acted in what they thought was the best interests of the Union; they had each left the destiny of the Cardassian people in the hands of others. Urlak was determined that Cardassia’s future would be determined by Cardassians. He refused to be spoon-fed the righteous pabulum of their would-be Federation conquerors, who undoubtedly wished to see Cardassia de-fanged, a compliant little client state existing in the shadow of the mighty Federation’s hegemony.

    However, unlike other survivors of the Cardassian military with dreams of insurgency, Urlak was uniquely positioned to turn such ideas into a practical reality. The legate had been a supervisor of a secret Dominion military research complex on Lakesh, responsible for the creation of special weapons systems to be used in a last ditch offensive against the Federation.

    The weapons had never been fielded, as Urlak’s Cardassian forces had surprised and overwhelmed their Jem’Hadar counterparts at the outset of Damar’s rebellion against their ‘allies.’ Following the Cardassian betrayal of the Founders, it had been a squadron of Breen vessels assigned to carry out retaliatory strikes against the population centers and military facilities on Lakesh. Fortunately, the Breen had been unaware of the hidden facility’s existence, and Urlak’s cache of armaments had gone unscathed in the assault.

    In recent weeks, he had set about recruiting the remnants of the Cardassian military on Lakesh. The small force Urlak now commanded was meager in numbers, but they were well-trained and fanatically dedicated to driving the alien occupiers from their territory. With success would come greater support, both in men and matériel. Their plans had already been set into motion, and the first strike against their oppressors would take place before Urlak had even reached home.

    *****
     
  12. unusualsuspex

    unusualsuspex Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2009
    Location:
    Norfolk UK
    I truly love the location descriptions. It really paints an authentic picture, a real feeling of "theatre of the mind".

    Character development is gradual and realistic and the interaction is always revealing! Loving it Gib! :bolian:
     
  13. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2006
    Location:
    In the illusion, but not of it.

    Here! Here! Not to embarrass him, but Gibraltar really was my mentor when I started writing.
     
  14. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Aaaaannnnd... you've made me blush. :o

    Thank you for the kind words.
     
  15. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Embers of the Fire - Chapter 4

    Chapter 4

    The stars streaked past the large curving view ports in Gibraltar’s briefing room. In her previous incarnations, this compartment had been an officer’s lounge. From the windows, the primary hull curved away below to terminate at the aft edge of the saucer where the impulse engine housing was located. Beyond that lay the warp nacelles on their pylons; their midline transparencies glowed blue from the warp plasma flowing through the coils.

    Captain Sandhurst took a moment to enjoy the view before the senior staff arrived. He had allowed himself seven hours of uninterrupted sleep, and felt like a man reborn. The anxiety and doubt that had crowded his mind before arriving onboard remained, but the concrete reality of his circumstances had mitigated them somewhat. Though it was an admission he would make only to himself, it had taken him an hour after his first conversation with Ramirez to work up the courage to seat himself in his own command chair. The moment had been equal parts pride and terror, and Sandhurst found himself hoping that for the sake of his crew, he proved equal to the challenge.

    Gibraltar had been underway for twelve hours, on course for the Crolsa system and the Cardassian colony on Lakesh. News of the attack on Sojourner had arrived, and Sandhurst couldn’t tell if he was more disturbed by the attack itself, or by the fact that he didn’t feel worse about it. Before the war, the loss of a starship crew would have been a tragedy. In the face of the war’s losses, Sojourner’s demise was merely… regrettable. He knew that Taun’Ma and her crew deserved better, but the wellspring of sorrow at his center had run dry long before.

    Attacks on Federation personnel were occurring with greater frequency throughout occupied Cardassian space, though the insurgents had concentrated their strikes primarily against Starfleet. The rebels had yet to antagonize the Klingons to such a degree, as those who had lived under Klingon occupation before the war knew that their retribution would be both swift and total.

    The doors behind him hissed open to admit Lieutenant Lar’ragos. Pava made his way around the table where he claimed a seat. He was a thin man, lithe in movement, and although in peak physical condition, he was not overly muscular. His brown eyes were set beneath bushy black eyebrows, and his short-cropped black hair was tightly curled. Lar’ragos appeared to be in his early thirties, yet if his service record was to be believed, he was well over four-hundred.

    Lar'ragos took a moment to gauge his captain’s mood, then offered, “Are we having fun yet, sir?”

    Sandhurst shook his head slowly and turned to face his old friend. “No, and I doubt we’re going to have much to celebrate in the coming weeks.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, then looked pointedly at the El Aurian. “Remind me again how the hell you’re still a lieutenant after two decades?”

    Lar'ragos shrugged expansively. “My nature omits ambition.”

    Sandhurst snorted derisively. “Bull.”

    Lar’ragos cocked his head to one side. “Okay, how about this. I don’t have to be ambitious; we’re not running in the same race.” He settled back into his chair as he steepled his fingers over his lap. “And need I remind you, a few years back you were an engineer with no aspirations other than coasting to retirement on a nice long tour at Utopia Planitia.” The older man grinned and his voice took on an exaggerated, theatric quality. “I assure you that I’ve spent my fare share of time calling the shots, my captain. I’ve led men in battle, I’ve bled and killed for my kings. I swore I’d never be a soldier again…” he gestured to his uniform, “…and yet, here I am.”

    Sandhurst walked over to the replicator station to order a cup of Rigellian spice coffee. “Oh, please, not again with the ‘I’ve seen and done too much.’ I endured enough of that at the academy." He reached for the mug as the materialization process concluded. "Yes, yes, I mourn for your long suffering soul."

    Lar’ragos merely chuckled as Sandhurst assumed his chair at the head of the table. The captain sipped at the cup of steaming liquid, then bobbed his head favorably before he set his gaze back on the lieutenant. “Now you can explain why you passed up one of the most prestigious posts in the fleet in favor of this assignment.”

    “Enterprise?” Lar'ragos looked momentarily thoughtful. “Picard’s a good man, and I was honored to have been offered the job, but he and his people are a bit too high profile for my taste. Also, they’re a tight crew. Most of his senior staff have served together for more than fifteen years. Easing into a social dynamic like that isn’t my idea of fun.” He gave Sandhurst a wry smile. “Anyway, I’d rather be here, on this floating anachronism with my old chum.”

    The doors parted and Lieutenant Commander Elisto Plazzi entered. Gibraltar’s chief science officer, Plazzi had retired from Starfleet sixteen years earlier. He had been one of those whose commissions were reactivated during the war, despite his status as tenured professor of planetary geology at UC Berkley. At age sixty-four, he was a heavy-set man with thick white hair and a closely cropped beard of the same hue. Sandhurst recalled that the commander’s previous supervisors had noted that Plazzi was a good-natured officer, well liked by his peers, with a quick wit and no apparent allergies to hard work or away missions. Plazzi already had a large beverage mug in one hand and cradled a data padd in the other. He nodded deferentially to Sandhurst as he plopped down beside Lar’ragos. “Captain, Lieutenant.”

    Sandhurst favored the older man with a smile. “Good morning, Commander.”

    “Call me Elisto, please, sir. “ He raised a curious eyebrow. “That is, unless you insist on a strict formality?”

    “In fact, I don’t.”

    Plazzi smiled appreciatively. “That’s good. Makes things simpler.”

    The next two senior staff members entered together. Chief Engineer Lieutenant Ashok was a towering blue Bolian. His lack of hair accentuated the bifurcated ridge that bisected his facial features. Standing well over a foot taller than Sandhurst, precious little of Ashok’s well muscled body was given over to body fat. The captain had observed in Ashok’s service record that the officer had served twice before on the older Miranda-class starships, and so was very familiar with the peculiarities of 23rd century Starfleet designs. Ashok had also been noted as something of an introvert, practically a pariah among a species known for their persistent effusiveness. According to his supervisors’ reviews, Ashok would never be one of those engineers elevated to the pantheon of miracle workers. The Bolian was steady, reliable and effective, and on a purely selfish level, Sandhurst was secretly relieved not to have been saddled with someone whose engineering talents rivaled his own.

    Lieutenant (junior grade) Olivia Juneau, Chief Operations officer, followed Ashok through the door like a moon orbiting a gas giant. She was of medium height with strawberry blonde hair, and was perhaps a bit more full figured than she would have liked. A light dusting of freckles covered her cheeks and seemed to subtract at least five years from her age. Her service jacket had identified her as a chronic under-achiever, consistently setting unrealistic goals and then failing to fulfill them. She was clearly one of the crew that Lar’ragos had earlier identified as falling under the problem children heading. Juneau’s wartime posting had been to a heavily fortified communications relay station in the Angarsi system, where she had apparently made something of a nuisance of herself. Her last commanding officer had been more than happy to transfer Juneau to the newly re-commissioned Gibraltar.

    Ashok squeezed into the seat farthest from the captain, after the most cursory of greetings to the other senior staff. He looked vaguely uncomfortable and clasped his hands atop the table as though he regretted not having brought at padd or similar distraction. Juneau traded polite introductions with the others, then sat down across from Plazzi, next to the seat commonly reserved for the XO.

    Sandhurst looked to Ashok and asked conversationally, “So, Lieutenant, how are the refit nacelles holding up?”

    The Bolian glanced up, apparently startled to have been addressed prior to the start of the meeting. In a deep basso voice, he replied awkwardly, “They are… doing fine, sir.” After a moment, he added, “The intermix ratio is still a bit rich, but I’ll have it figured out before we reach Lakesh, sir.”

    Sandhurst stopped himself on the threshold of offering a helpful suggestion about adjusting the base programming of the primary injectors to attenuate the problem. He reminded himself that there were few things a Starfleet engineer hated more than having another engineer as their commanding officer. Shortly after taking the XO’s post on the Venture, Captain Ebnal had pulled Sandhurst aside and chastised him for meddling in the new chief engineer’s business. Sandhurst had thought he was merely being supportive, but apparently having the exec constantly poking around the engine room was, as Ebnal so delicately phrased it, “Pissing in another man’s pool.”

    With a few moments to spare, the ship’s Chief Medical officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) Issara Taiee stepped into the room. She was a short, compact woman, whose brown hair was cut into a low-maintenance bob. A nurse practitioner and emergency medical technician, Taiee was not a fully qualified doctor or surgeon. Her file indicated that she was not without experience, however, and had most recently served in a frontline mobile military hospital unit during the war. Sandhurst had noted that unlike most of Starfleet’s physicians, Taiee had no qualms about liberally utilizing a ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram to assist in her duties. She welcomed anything or anyone which could supplement her already formidable skills and knowledge.

    Last to enter was Ramirez, who passed through the doors and seated herself next to the captain mere seconds before the chronometer reached zero-seven-hundred. By way of greeting she nodded to the assembled staff, all of whom she was already familiar with.

    Sandhurst took a sip of his coffee, than sat forward to search the faces of his senior staff. “For those of you whom I haven’t officially met yet, I’m Donald Sandhurst. This is, according to the command officer’s guidebook, where I’m supposed to tell you all how proud I am to be serving with you, and how we can all look forward to distinguishing ourselves on this assignment, while endeavoring to meet or exceed the levels of professionalism established by previous generations of Starfleet officers.”

    This elicited a few chuckles from around the table.

    “Now that that’s out of the way, I do indeed want to tell you I’m happy to be here.” Sandhurst scanned his officer’s faces again, his gaze lingering on each for a brief moment before moving on. “I’m especially glad to have you people on board. Without putting too fine a point on it, I’ll be relying on each of you, as will the entire crew, to ensure that your individual departments are running smoothly.” The captain gestured out the window, referring to Gibraltar as a whole, “I’m not harboring any illusions about our ability to fight our way out of trouble, or to easily outrun it. We’re going to have to work together to predict trouble before it happens, whenever possible. When, on occasion, despite our best efforts the situation goes sideways, we’re going to have to scheme and cheat and claw our way out of it.”

    Sandhurst noted a few smiles, a nod or two, and Ashok doing a passable impression of an Easter Island statue.

    “I’ve only a few rules and expectations of my senior staff. First, if you’re having personnel or resource issues, you’ll take those up with Commander Ramirez. She’ll make the final decisions in those areas, and I intend to give her wide latitude in making those judgments. Second, if you’ve got a disagreement with a course of action I’ve taken, you’re more than welcome to discuss it with me, in private. We’re fairly swarming with recent academy graduates, and I won’t undermine their confidence by having their senior officers arguing on the bridge. Now, if you’re absolutely certain I’m about to get us all killed, I’ll have to rely on you to use your best judgment on how you’re going to address that with me, and when.”

    The introduction complete, Sandhurst allowed himself to relax slightly and settled back into his chair. “I’m not going to try and convince you we’ve pulled a plum assignment, because we haven’t. To be blunt, we’re getting the short end of the stick. But, I’m guessing that none of us signed up for Starfleet expecting a Risan sunrise every day.” He looked to Ramirez, who returned his gaze impassively. “The situation is simple. We’re going to do our best to help stabilize the Cardassian Union, and give them at least a fighting chance of establishing a functioning democracy. If we allow this region to spiral into anarchy, it’s going to destabilize the entire quadrant, and the Federation doesn’t have the resources for yet another round of border skirmishes with the Talarians, or the Tzenkethi, never mind the Romulans.”

    Sandhurst paused to take a long sip from his mug as he mulled his next statement. “The commanding officer for this region of allied-controlled space is General K’Vada. Based on his reputation, I don’t have to tell you what the Klingon response will be if we can’t get Lakesh under control, and soon.”

    Ramirez apparently refused to acknowledge the rhetorical nature of his statement and spoke up. “The empire will come in here and finish what the Breen started, and we won’t be in any position to offer more than a spirited objection.”

    The faces around the table reflected the seriousness of the topic. Good, Sandhurst thought, we’re on the same page. He continued, “I’m not alone in thinking that the attack on Sojourner was somebody’s opening gambit. This wasn’t a handful of desperate thugs planting a makeshift explosive. It was a well planned, precisely executed attack designed to hurt us in a very specific way.” The captain turned to Lar’ragos, “Lieutenant, has Phoenix determined how the initial shuttle collision happened?”

    Lar’ragos shook his head, “No, sir. The forensic examination of the shuttle wreckage hasn’t turned up any leads as yet. However, we’re operating under the belief that the collision was part of the attack. Unless Lakesh is encircled by a cloud of thousands of those gravitic mines, the odds that three of them just happened to be in close enough proximity to take advantage of a freak accident at that particular moment are astronomical.” He added, “Phoenix and the civilian ships in orbit have initiated a comprehensive scan for more of those fake meteorites. No more have been located.”

    Sandhurst addressed the Bolian engineer, “Mister Ashok, I want damage control teams running simulations in the holosuites on fire-control and repair utilizing the warhead yield on those mines as a baseline.”

    Ashok’s reply was a terse, “Aye, sir.”

    Looking to the medical officer, Sandhurst asked, “Lieutenant, how are we set up for the treatment of mass casualties?”

    Taiee smiled, “Very well, actually, Captain. As I’m sure you already know, the last time Gibraltar was refit, she served as a hospital ship. During this latest overhaul, somebody decided she should retain some of that capability. A sizeable portion of deck four has been dedicated to medical related services. We’ve got forty biobeds, four surgical suites, two medical laboratories, and two independent fully functional emergency medical holograms.”

    “Very good, Lieutenant. Thank you.” He turned next to Pava. “Mister Lar’ragos, we’ll undoubtedly be required to bring up any number of sick or injured civilians for treatment. I want a thorough security screening of each and every one of them on the surface, prior to being beamed aboard.” He glanced back to Ashok, “And make sure the transporters’ bio-filters are set to maximum. I want your people looking for any signs of bio-toxins, explosives, anything a clever enemy might want to try and sneak aboard.”

    The two lieutenants replied, “Aye, sir,” almost in unison.

    Sandhurst then addressed Juneau. “Ops, how long will it take to offload our relief supplies once we arrive?”

    The young lieutenant responded without hesitation, clearly having studied up for her first senior staff meeting. “Twenty-seven hours if we rely exclusively on cargo transporters, sir. Twenty-one hours if we combine transporters with shuttle transfer to the surface, Captain.”

    Ramirez cleared her throat and spoke up only after Sandhurst had nodded his assent. “Sir, I’d suggest using just the transporters. I’ve read reports from a security team on the surface that found a cache of arclight shoulder-fired missiles. One of those could easily bring down an unshielded shuttle. Three or four in concert could destroy one of our shuttles, shields or no. And we still don’t know what caused Sojourner’s shuttle to collide with the ship.”

    “I agree.” Sandhurst looked to Juneau. “Transporters only. We’ll limit shuttle flights to emergency situations, on command approval only.”

    He focused on Plazzi and the captain inquired, “Elisto, do we need to make any modifications to our sensors to better detect the orbital mines?”

    “No, Captain.” The older man frowned slightly. “From what I’ve gathered from Phoenix’s sensor logs, the mines’ disguise was sufficient to fool routine navigational scans of the planet’s orbital region. Now that we know what we’re looking for and are using more intensive sweeps, I don’t foresee any difficulties.”

    “Very well, then.” Sandhurst looked around the table. “Any further questions or comments?” There were none. Again he surveyed the faces at the table. “I know this is going to be a challenging assignment. In a perfect world, we’d have had time to get to know one another, to learn to trust in each other’s abilities. As it is, we’re going to have to muddle through anyway. I have faith that despite whatever Lakesh has in store for us I can rely on each of you to do your duty.”

    Sandhurst rose from his seat and caught the others by surprise. Before the senior staff could decide whether to stand as well, the captain called the meeting to a close. “Alright, people. We’ll reach Lakesh in thirteen hours. I want cargo offload operations prepped, sickbay facilities standing ready for casualties, and security teams on hot standby for immediate deployment. Dismissed.”

    *****
     
  16. unusualsuspex

    unusualsuspex Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2009
    Location:
    Norfolk UK
    And into the fire they head!

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

    More nice character development as well. Conflicts and combines abound here! :techman:
     
  17. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Much obliged for the kind words. :) I'm pleased you're enjoying the tale so far.
     
  18. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Oh, this is just fun! :lol: I've probably read this story 3x before, but I keep coming back for more.

    I've got a fever and the cure is more Gibraltar! :evil:
     
  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Embers of the Fire - Chapter 5

    Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    *****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    *****

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

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

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

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

    *****

    <cont'd>
     
  20. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Embers of the Fire - Chapter 5

    Chapter 5 <cont'd>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    *****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    *****