UT: Refugee Crisis / Bluefin - "Trajectory"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by TheLoneRedshirt, Feb 21, 2012.

  1. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    United Trek: Refugee Crisis

    As Task Force Vanguard forms to intercept the vast number of alien ships approaching the Alpha Quadrant, a few strange ships begin to arrive well ahead of the wave, some in clusters, a few alone.

    Operation Vanguard is commanded by Admiral Saban Brandies, to include TFV, Starbase Bastion, and all (so-far) classified refugee/nomad contacts near or within Federation space.

    This story is about one of the first refugee contacts.

    United Trek Refugee Crisis – Tales of the USS Bluefin: “Trajectory”

    Chapter 1: Contact

    Stardate 54655.5 (28 August 2377)
    Border Service Cutter USS Bluefin
    Near the U’ulrnth Cluster, Molari Sector

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 54655.5. “Two weeks into patrolling the U’ulrnth Cluster have produced zero results. Whatever pirates Fleet Intel thought were hiding in this vicinity have long-since packed up and moved on. We have yet to find the faintest ion trail to indicate any other ships within our scanning range. Either Fleet Intel passed along bad information, a distinct possibility considering the lack of intelligence in Fleet Intelligence, or perhaps someone simply tipped off the pirates that we were coming. Regardless, this has been a waste of time and assets.”

    Akinola paused a moment, considering. He grimaced and spoke again. “Computer, delete phrase, ‘a distinct possibility considering the lack of intelligence in Fleet Intel.’”

    “Acknowledged. Phrase deleted.”

    The Captain took a sip of his coffee and continued. “Scamp and Kittewake have already resumed their normal patrols. This morning at 0620, Admiral Bateson has likewise released us from this assignment. I’m sure the crew will be glad to return to the Molari Badlands to tangle with ion storms – anything to relieve the monotony of fruitless patrolling. I must confess I’m ready for a change myself.”

    He saved and closed the log entry, then stood from behind his desk – rolling his neck and yawning expansively. Grabbing his coffee mug, Akinola made his way to the bridge.

    * * *

    Inga Strauss, Bluefin’s Executive Officer, sat cross-legged in the command chair, engrossed in a PADD displaying crew shift rotations. A job she generally enjoyed was now more challenging with the addition of new personnel and the departure of others. It was akin to solving a puzzle – making sure all the pieces fit properly.

    Akinola stood behind the command chair and took a moment to take in the sight of the U’ulrnth Cluster. The desolate region was located away from the major space lanes and lacked any planets of note. The vast gas clouds of the cluster offered a spectacular view, though it was devoid of populated worlds and mostly empty except for a few ancient star systems and barren planetoids. Akinola had to admit that it seemed like an ideal haven for pirates, despite their lack of success in finding any.

    Strauss looked up, suddenly aware of the Captain’s presence just behind her left shoulder.

    “Oh! Sorry, sir. I wasn’t aware you were on the bridge.”

    The Nigerian C.O. smiled as he sipped his coffee. “No problem, Commander. You were busy and I was just enjoying the view of the cluster. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

    Her gaze followed his to the viewscreen. She shivered slightly.

    “I’m not sure I would call it beautiful - ominous, perhaps. It’s no wonder we didn’t find anyone out here. I doubt even pirates would want to call this home.”

    She vacated the chair, turning it slightly to offer Akinola access. He settled in with a slight grunt as a twinge of pain from his side momentarily caught him. Old scars occasionally taunted him - a reminder of reckless acts from his youth.

    Well, most of them came during my youth, he mused. Aloud, he announced, “I have the bridge. Rest well, Commander.”

    “Thank you, sir. Enjoy your day,” she replied as she stepped out of the pit and rounded the rail toward the turbo-lift.

    Akinola glanced at the chronometer. Two minutes until the beginning of Alpha shift. His eyes moved toward the Ops station where Lt. (j.g.) K’lira Rune waited for her replacement. She caught the Captain’s gaze and shrugged.

    An expression of annoyance crossed Akinola’s face. Lt. Nigel Bane might be a top-notch operations officer but he was notorious for arriving on duty at the last possible second. The day he crossed the line and was one second late, Captain Akinola would have his pound of flesh. A small, feral smile appeared as the former NCO contemplated a suitable remedy for the Australian officer’s cavalier attitude toward punctuality.

    A steady beep from the sensor suite drew Rune’s attention back to her station. “Captain, I’m picking up a transient contact entering extreme sensor range, bearing 114 mark 52, range is 19 point 6 light hours.”

    “Track the contact and designate as Tango-one. Helm, how soon can we intercept?”

    Lt. Bralus tapped a panel on the helm controls. “Thirty eight minutes at warp 8, sir.”

    “Get us underway. Lt. Rune – can you identify the transient?”

    “Negative sir, not at this range. Whatever it is, it’s big – my guess would be a rogue comet or asteroid.”

    Akinola grunted. “Best we check it out to make certain. Looks like our return home will be delayed slightly.”

    * * *

    Commander Strauss stepped off the turbo-lift onto deck four, only to nearly collide with a fast-moving Lt. Nigel Bane.

    “Nigel! Good God, you nearly gave me a heart attack.”

    Bane flashed a brilliant smile. “Sorry, Inga – got to get to the bridge before Alpha shift begins.” He stole a quick kiss from the petite XO. Inga playfully pushed him aside.

    “Uh-uh, Mister. I’m not going to be the reason you’re late. You’re going to push your luck one too many times and the Captain is going to have your butt.”

    “The Skipper can have m’ arse, but m’ heart belongs to you.” He winked as the lift doors slid shut.

    Inga smiled and shook her head as she turned to head to her quarters. Though fatigued, she absently hummed a little tune.

    * * *

    With twenty seconds to spare, Bane tapped Lt. Rune on the shoulder. “I relieve you,” he said, grinning.

    “What? So soon?” replied K’lira, sarcastically. She indicated a monitor at eye level. “We’re chasing down a transient contact, designated Tango-one. Try not to lose it, Nigel.” She patted his hand and vacated the chair.

    Nigel favored the green Orion woman with a cocky smirk as he settled in at the station, cracked his knuckles and logged in. The smirk quickly faded and his brow furrowed as he called up various sensor sub-routines to try to glean more data from the contact. A dizzying amount of data poured across three display panels. As he pondered the significance of the data flow, he sensed someone standing behind him and he swallowed.

    “Glad you could join us, Mr. Bane,” remarked Captain Akinola, dryly. “I do hope your duty shift isn’t keeping you from more pressing matters?”

    “Ah, no sir, not at all.”

    “Good, good. I’d hate to think that bridge duty is cramping your style. If it is, I can always arrange for you to spend your duty shifts in auxiliary control. Perhaps a couple of weeks of double-shifts there would help you to sort out your scheduling issues?”

    Bane cleared his throat. “Message received sir. I, ah, shall endeavor to arrive earlier.”

    Akinola clapped the Operations Officer on the shoulder, just a bit harder than necessary. “A prudent response, Mister Bane. Glad we had this little chat.”

    The Captain made his way back to the command chair, settled in and gazed serenely at the viewscreen as stars trailed by while the cutter sped through subspace.

    At the helm, Lt. Bralus tried very hard not to grin.

    Bane quietly blew out a relieved breath. Just two hours in auxiliary control, aka “the hole,” was bad enough, but pulling doubles of 16 hours down there? He’d go stir-crazy in three days, four tops. Best to behave and show up a bit earlier for duty tomorrow . . . say half an hour.

    The energy reading from the transient contact took his mind off of his time management issues. Frowning, he adjusted the sensor return filters and began muttering to himself.

    “Anything you’d care to share with the rest of us, Mr. Bane?” queried Akinola. Bane had not realized he was muttering so loudly.

    “Skipper, Tango-one is putting out an impressive amount of radiation; far more than should come from a natural body. Probability is high that our contact is a ship of some kind.”

    “Yellow alert,” ordered Akinola, instantly. Maybe that intel about pirates wasn’t entirely bogus, he thought.

    * * *

    Inga Strauss had just stepped out of the sonic shower and slipped on her pajamas when the yellow alert announcement came over the ship’s comm system. Uttering something between a sigh and a groan, she began to unbutton her pajama top as she reached into her closet for a fresh uniform.

    * * *

    Senior Chief Solly Brin stepped off the turbo-lift and headed towards the tactical station. He nodded to Akinola who inclined his head in return. They had known each other so long that words of instruction were generally superfluous.

    The red Orion NCO activated the cutter’s defensive array – purely precautionary but standard procedure for yellow alert status. A faint glow surrounded the cutter as the defensive shields came on line. Massive phase capacitors charged amidships, should the ship’s main batteries be required. On decks three forward and five aft, photon torpedoes were loaded into launch bays.

    “Shields up, weapons on standby,” announced Solly. “All I need is a target.”

    “Very well. Helm, drop us out of warp 2 A.U.s from the contact. I want room to maneuver until we get a firm I.D.”

    “Aye, sir,” replied Bralus.

    The turbo-lift doors opened and the ship’s new assistant engineer stepped onto the bridge. Lt. T’Lyr was a young Vulcan female, recently transferred from Star Station Bravo and the Second Squadron. Unlike their old comrade, T’Ser, Lt. T’Lyr was traditional to the core in her Vulcan upbringing and demeanor. Without a word, she took her seat at the engineering station and logged in.

    Akinola suppressed a smile. He had served with Vulcans all his life but never one who tried so hard to be the ‘ideal’ Vulcan as this young woman.

    “Good morning, Lt. T’Lyr,” greeted Akinola, “Where is Commander Gralt?”

    T'Lyr made a graceful turn in her chair and fixed Akinola with an accusatory stare. “The Chief Engineer ordered me to get my ‘skinny butt’ to the bridge,” she replied with affronted dignity. “He then said he needed to watch the mains, lest the Captain pull, and I quote, ‘some Yarliq-assed stunt.’ . . . Sir.”

    Akinola cleared his throat. “I see.” He stifled a sigh. Sometimes Gralt pushed the boundaries of propriety too far - even for a crusty Tellarite engineer.

    “I’ll have a word with Gralt,” he promised.

    “I would appreciate that, Captain,” T’Lyr replied, turning back to her station.

    The lift doors opened again, heralding the arrival of Commander Strauss. She stepped down into the pit and stood by Akinola. He glanced at her askance.

    “Couldn’t sleep, Commander?”

    “Never got the chance, sir. I thought I might as well come back in case we go to red alert.”

    “This may just be a wild-comet chase, XO.”

    “I’ll hang around. There’s no way I could get to sleep now anyway.”

    The Captain nodded. “We should know something shortly. Status report, Mr. Bane.”

    “Tango-one is 18.7 kilometers long, tapered with a maximum circumference of 1,730 meters at the fore. The mass readings are odd – it has to be hollow on the inside.”

    “It’s sounding less and less like an asteroid. It could be a comet,” observed Akinola.

    “Not many comets traveling at point two-two cee, Skipper,” replied Bane. “And that radiation trail is strong enough to peel the paint off our hull at a thousand klicks without shields. I’ll wager Tango-one is a ship or I’ll eat Senior’s boots.”

    “The hell you will,” grumbled Solly. “I like these boots.”

    “I won’t take that bet, Mr. Bane,” replied Akinola. “Can we get a visual yet?”

    Bane adjusted the resolution controls. “It will be grainy at this distance, but here goes . . .”

    The main viewscreen shifted from a streaming starfield to a dark patch of space. At first, Akinola couldn’t see anything recognizable as a ship.

    “Half a sec, Skipper,” announced Bane, “I need to compensate for the lack of starlight.”

    Gradually, a long, dark object appeared on the screen. Strauss cocked her head to the side. “Looks kind of like a long mushroom that someone uprooted.”

    Akinola had to admit that the XO’s description was about as good as any he could conjure. A large, flattened section like the cap of a mushroom made up the bow of the ship, if indeed it was a vessel. The rest of the mushroom-ship tapered aft in irregular fashion. Whoever built it wasn’t much on straight lines.

    “Sure doesn’t look like a ship,” muttered Brin.

    “Well, whatever it is, it’s not from around here,” said Akinola. “Mr. Bane, start hailing it as soon as we’re in range.”

    “Captain? We’re coming up on 2 A.U.s from the object,” announced Lt. Bralus from the helm.

    “Drop us out of warp, Mr. Bralus – ahead three quarters impulse, bring us to a parallel course with the contact. Keep us clear of that radiation trail.”

    “Aye sir, ahead three-quarters. Adjusting course now.”

    “Maximum image on the viewscreen, please.”

    The strange craft grew both in size and detail on the screen. It was primarily dark brown in color, thought streaked in places with lighter hues. Whether this was a design element or caused by dust or meteorite collisions, no one on the bridge could tell. Prominent structural ribs surrounded the craft, providing some sense of symmetry that the earlier view lacked. There were no running lights, no obvious viewports or landing bays, and nothing recognizable as identifying marks. There were, however, numerous gouges and craters along the hull along with the obvious scars from energy weapons.

    “Whatever it is, look like someone has used it for target practice,” murmured Strauss.

    “Solly – threat assessment?” queried the Captain.

    “They’ve got no shields and I’m not reading any kind of energy weapons. No signs of external weaponry of any kind for that matter. They might have internal missiles but there are no obvious launch-points. For now, threat level is low.”

    “Mr. Bane, any life-signs?”

    “That hull is denser than a Loosehead Prop’s skull, Skipper,” Bane replied, referencing his love for Australian rules football. “Get us in closer and I might be able to get a better reading.”

    “You heard the man, Mr. Bralus. Let’s get within 2,500 kilometers but be ready for evasive maneuvers if they suddenly change course. That beast outweighs us a bit.”

    The Bolian helmsman dutifully adjusted the cutter’s heading, bringing the Bluefin closer to the behemoth. From an outside perspective, the cutter looked like a minnow swimming alongside a whale.

    “Any response to our hails?”

    “No sir, not yet – no transmissions of any kind ‘cept for the radiation its trailin’. Seems that’s from their sublight drive, but I’d bet my boxers they’ve got engine troubles.”

    “I always took you for a tighty-whitey guy, Lieutenant,” remarked Brin.

    “Just on even days, Senior,” replied Bane. “On odd days I wear the boxers. Then on Saturdays, I like to go comman . . .”

    “Mind your stations!” ordered Strauss stiffly, her face reddening slightly.

    “I’ll second that, XO,” replied Akinola, failing to suppress a grin. “Lt. T’Lyr – any thoughts on what’s driving that ship?”

    The Vulcan engineer turned and peered at the image of the massive vessel. “I tend to agree with Mr. Bane. Radiation levels are consistent with a damaged spike-drive, a primitive but sturdy system, usually fusion powered. There are no obvious warp nacelles but it’s possible that an annular warp drive ring is located in the periphery of the bow section. If so, it’s off-line and has been for some time.”

    Akinola rubbed his chin as he considered this. “Perhaps it’s a derelict. A generational ship or . . .”

    A sudden, ominous rumbling reverberated through the Bluefin’s hull. Numerous warning alarms sounded from the helm, ops and the engineering stations.

    “Report!” barked Akinola.

    “We’ve plowed into a massive gravity wave,” replied Bralus tightly as he fought with the controls to stabilize the ship.

    “Confirmed,” added Bane. “128 standard gees and falling.”

    “Structural integrity fields holding,” announced T’Lyr, her fingers flying over her LCARS interface. “No structural damage to the ship.”

    “Increase our stand-off distance to 4,000 kilometers,” ordered the Captain. Even as he spoke, the shaking diminished and the Bluefin once more smoothly paced the massive, silent vessel.

    “What just happened?” asked Commander Strauss, cautiously relinquishing her grip on the pit rail.

    “My apologies, Commander,” answered T’Lyr. “Apparently the ship utilizes attenuating gravity fields for navigation. The spike-drive merely provides thrust. I regret my oversight.”

    “Not your fault, Lieutenant,” replied Akinola quietly as he gazed at the alien vessel on the screen. “We’re all still in the dark about that ship.” He paused a moment in thought. “Mr. Bane, can you plot its origin?”

    “Workin’ on it, Skipper. It’s left a bonzer track to follow, but it will still be a guess. She might have made several course changes from wherever she started. One other thing – while we were getting shaken like a rabbit by a wild Dingo, I detected faint life-signs on board.”

    “Life signs?” pressed Akinola.

    Bane wore an apologetic expression. “Sorry, Skipper. We moved off before I could get a focused reading. Someone or something’s alive on that ship, but I can’t tell you what or how many. Just a definite bio-electric signature.”

    Strauss turned to him suddenly. “What about the ship’s heading, Nigel? Assuming they remain on their current course, where are they going?.”

    “Easy enough to plot,” he said. “It seems they shifted a couple of degrees to starboard when we got a bit close. Might have been an evasive maneuver.”

    “Or it may have been a planned course change,” pointed out Akinola.

    “Or that – right enough, Skipper. Okay, got a course projection – assuming they don’t turn again. I’ll put it on the screen.”

    Superimposed over the image of the ship appeared a stacked grid representing the Borderland region. A red line curved through the grid, straight through an undulating border marked with Imperial trefoils.

    “Damn,” muttered Strauss.

    “Damn indeed,” agreed the Captain.

    Unless the alien vessel made a radical course change, it would head straight into the heart of the Klingon Empire.

    * * *
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2012
  2. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Damn but I've missed this crew, TLR! It's so good to see the Bluefin crew in action again, and their exchanges on the bridge had me in stitches, most especially Bane's little admission about 'Commando Saturday.' :lol:

    As for the course of the Great Star Shroom, I can only imagine the Klingons will be especially accomodating hosts upon its arrival in their territory. :klingon:
  3. mirandafave

    mirandafave Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Apr 26, 2008
    Wicked! A new Bluefin tale! This was going to be a fanfic mana day regardless with the number of new UT stories - but it is always a sheer delight to read a Bluefin tale. Like comfortable old shoes, no matter how long it has been, you just slip right back into things - bliss.

    And just what a treat we got too. A great opener that promises a lot of intriguing story to come. Who are these aliens? What is their intent? How will the Klingons react? (OK we might guess not too favourably on this front) What trouble has the Bluefin landed itself in now? And will Nigel show up to his next shift early? So many questions! So few briefs!

    As always, I love the ease with which you paint the characters, the details of shipboard life on a cutter, and how the crew react to given situations - from arming photon torpedo bays and raising shields, to the routine of approaching and identifying the unknown ship. Absolutely on the nail details that give it an air of authenticity (I know - how ridiculous a word to use when talking about Trek Sci-fi but you know what I mean) and all of the details are so fitting to the tone of the story, to the Bluefin/Border Dog setting and none jar the narrative.

    As always, the characterisation is just sweetly done, and delivered in spades with the quick one liners, the barbs, the off-the-cuff remarks, the sheer sparkling witty dialogue of their engrossing interactions. The comedy is brilliant, neatly judged to not be OTT but befitting the character relationships so as not to be an obvious gag, and yet just hilarious. Fantastically done. As always, I love it and eagerly await more.
  4. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Gibraltar - Thank you! I've missed the Bluefin too. This was kinda like a family reunion for me, getting to write familiar character and introducing a few new ones.

    You know what they say about strange mushrooms - best leave them be. :evil:

    Miranda Fave - Thank you for your kind words! I hope I continue to meet your expectations with the rest of the tale. It is fun writing these characters that I know so well. Much more to come very soon. :)
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Well, what is there left for me to say besides welcome back, Bluefin. You've been missed.

    Looking forward to find out where you take this one. Something tells me changing these refugee's mind about where they are headed, isn't going to be as straight forwarded as pointing them into a different direction.
  6. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    CeJay - Thanks! Yeah, it's going to take more than a gentle nudge and a star chart to resolve this. Back to the story . . .

    Chapter 2: Rumors

    Stardate 54655.7
    USS Bluefin
    Near the U’ulrnth Cluster, Molari Sector

    Captain’s Log: Supplemental – For the past two hours, we have kept pace with a massive alien ship of unknown origin. So far all attempts at communication have failed. While the vessel does not appear to present a direct threat to the Federation, its projected course into Klingon space is problematic at best. Considering the recent tensions that have arisen between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, I doubt they will be amenable to allowing any spacecraft to traverse their territory unchallenged.

    The good news is that the ship is currently running at sub-light speed, so it will take decades for it to reach the Klingon border. However, Lt. T’Lyr believes the vessel has warp capability – should they jump to warp, the situation could turn very quickly.

    For now, we will maintain our parallel course with the ship and continue our attempts to contact anyone who might be on board. I hope that we might persuade them to alter their course away from Klingon territory. I also plan to confer with Admiral Bateson regarding possible contingency plans.

    Akinola saved his log and tapped the comm stud on his desk.
    “Akinola to Lt. Bane.”

    The image of the Australian Ops manager appeared on his screen.

    “Bane here, Skipper – go ahead.”

    “Nigel, open a channel to Star Station Echo – direct to Admiral Bateson.”

    “Yes sir, I’ll get right on it.”

    “Good. Put him through to my terminal when you reach him. Akinola, out.”

    The Nigerian captain turned in his desk chair to look out the viewport at the mysterious alien ship that glided silently through space.

    “Who are you?” he murmured softly, “and where did you come from?”

    * * *

    Commander Strauss was too wired to attempt sleep, so she made her way to the wardroom for a cup of tea. There, she found Lt. Commander Delta Simms holding a mug of coffee, a distant expression on her face.

    “Delta, are you okay?”

    Simms started slightly and blinked. She turned her head to face Strauss, a wan smile on her face. “Oh, Hi Inga – sorry, I must have been wool-gathering.”

    Strauss went to the replicator and ordered herbal tea. She glanced at the auburn-haired woman. “You’re up at an odd hour,” Inga observed.

    Simms shrugged. “I heard the yellow alert announcement and couldn’t go back to sleep. I always find myself waiting for red alert to sound . . . you know, kinda like waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

    Inga took a seat across from her friend. “Same here. I wasn’t quite in bed, so I went back to the bridge for a while.”

    “Everything okay? Felt like we hit some gravimetric shear at one point.”

    “Close. Actually, we found a ship. A really big one. It looks like it’s traveled a long way, but they aren’t answering our hails. Seems harmless enough, but it’s headed for Klingon space.”

    Delta’s eyes widened. “Uh-oh.”

    Strauss smiled. “Relax – at its current speed, you and I will be long retired before it ever hits the border. Assuming it doesn’t speed up or simply change course and move off in another direction. It certainly doesn’t appear to be hostile.”

    Delta nodded, though her eyes still seemed distant. “That’s good.”

    Inga frowned. “Delta, is something wrong?”

    The Second Officer’s hazel eyes locked briefly with Inga’s before she forced a weak smile.

    “This coffee – I think the replicator gave me decaf by mistake.”

    “Cookie probably has some fresh coffee in the galley,” pointed out Strauss, though she continued to peer carefully at Simms.

    Sensing Inga’s continued scrutiny, Delta changed course. “How’s Her Majesty handling bridge duty?”

    “Lt. T’Lyr is doing just fine, Delta. I don’t get why you don’t like her - you get along fine with Sarnek.

    “Sarnek doesn’t come across as a condescending ice princess. I can handle the logic and the repressed emotions, but it just ticks me off that she acts so stinkin’ . . . superior.”

    “She’s young, Delta - especially considering the life-span of a Vulcan. How about cutting her some slack?”

    “Is that an order, Commander?” Simms asked, her tone surprisingly cold.

    Inga blinked. “No - just a suggestion from a friend.”

    Delta sighed. “Ah dammit. I’m sorry Inga, that was bitchy of me, wasn’t it?”

    Strauss nodded. “And that’s unlike you, Delta. Come on - what’s really bothering you? And don’t tell me it has anything to do with Vulcan engineers.”

    “It’s nothing, really.”

    “Hmm. Must be something to turn a sweet Southern Belle like you into a royal bitch.”

    Delta snorted with stifled laughter. “Oh, so now I’m a royal bitch? That bad, huh.”

    Inga shrugged and took a sip of tea. “Out of character, definitely. Come on - spill it, Lt. Commander Simms. That is an order,” she added gently.

    Delta twirled a spoon in her now-cold coffee. “I heard from Mom and Dad earlier today. They said Tommy, my younger brother, was sent out on a five-year deep space mission a few weeks ago.”

    “Hey, wow! That’s quite a feather in his cap.” She noted the somber expression on Delta’s face. “Only you don’t think so.”

    Simms was quiet a moment before nodding. “‘Only I don’t think so. Haven’t you heard the rumors, Inga?”

    “Rumors? What are you talking about?”

    Delta leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. “I’m talkin’ about starships disappearing from their regular patrol routes. Big ships of the line. Ships like Istanbul, Galaxy and Ascendant.”

    Strauss frowned. “So? Ships get pulled off patrol routes all the time. I was regular fleet most of my career, remember? When I served on Thunderchild before the war we were often pulled off patrol to ‘show the flag’ or handle some diplomatic nonsense. Happens all the time.”

    “You’re not hearing me, Inga. No one seems to know where any of those ships are. These aren’t simple TDY assignments. It’s like they all took off at the same time and no one seems to know where or why. And no one can talk to them either - they’re incommunicado.”

    Realization struck Inga. “Tommy is on Ascendant, isn’t he?”

    A nod. “We talk every week, Inga. Every week. Now, I haven’t heard from him goin’ on three solid weeks. And no matter how I try to send a message to him, it gets bounced back each time.” Her eyes glistened with sisterly concern. “I’m worried about him.”

    “Well, there’s bound to be a reasonable explanation. It could be they’re involved in a war-games exercise with comm blackouts . . .”

    “An exercise that lasts five years?” Delta shook her head. “No way. Something else is goin’ on. And whatever it is, Fleet Command has clamped a Neutronium lid on it. Some of my Fleet friends who were tryin’ to help me contact Tommy now won’t even return my comms. It's like I'm a leper all of a sudden. And, there’s one more thing.”


    “T’Ser and I have kept in touch ever since she left for Gibraltar. Not every week, but twice a month on average.”

    Strauss felt a chill on her neck. “And now . . .”

    Delta fixed Inga with her large, hazel eyes. “No one seems to know the whereabouts of Gibraltar either. All my attempts to contact T’Ser just bounce back without response. It’s like they dropped into a black hole.”

    Inga frowned in consternation. “The Gibraltar? She’s no explorer. What the hell is going on?”

    “I’ve got a friend at Starbase 317 that works in Operations - one of my few Fleet buddies who will still talk to me. He’s also noticed these ships dropping off the grid and he has a theory that fits. I just hope to God he’s wrong.”

    “Go on.”

    “The secrecy, the communications black-out, the rush to send capital ships off to who knows where - it’s the Borg all over again.”

    “Oh come on, Delta! There would be a Fleet-wide alert, including the Border Service. If the Borg were heading our way, we would know.”

    “Would we? Think about it - Fleet strength is way down since our last face-off with the Borg, what with the war and the Talarian incursion. The civilian population is still on edge. Do you think Fleet Command would want that to get out? There would be mass panic.”

    Inga shook her head. “I’m not buying it. Maybe a media black-out, but to keep most of the fleet and the Border Service out of the loop? That makes no sense.”

    “So how do you explain it?”

    Inga thought about the dark alien ship that was off their starboard bow. “I can’t. But, maybe it’s something else.”

    * * *

    In the comfortable confines of his ready room, Captain Akinola gazed at the image of Admiral Morgan Bateson on his terminal screen. Bateson wore a pensive expression on his face.

    “That’s an amazing find, Joseph. There’s nothing in our ship database that even remotely resembles it. It would appear that you’ve made a first contact.”

    Akinola smiled. “Morgan, I believe they actually have to respond before we can count it as a first contact.”

    Bateson chuckled. “Point taken. Still, kudos to you and your crew for the discovery. If you weren’t out in the cluster, chances are it would have passed by and we would have never known about it.”

    “At least not until it reached the Klingon border,” Akinola replied, dryly. “What are your orders, Admiral?”

    “Maintain pace with the vessel and continue your attempts to communicate. I’ll check with Fleet Command to see if they can spare a science vessel to relieve you. Keep me apprised, especially if there are any new developments.”

    “Will do.”

    Bateson’s expression grew wistful. “It’s times like these I wish I were still out there instead of piloting a desk. I envy you, Joseph. Don’t be quick to accept a promotion to flag rank.”

    “We both know that’s not likely to happen.”

    “You never know . . . the universe gets stranger every day. Bateson, out.”

    The Admiral’s image was replaced with the Border Service insignia. Akinola stood and returned to the bridge.

    * * *
  7. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Heh, there's nothing like Border Dog scuttlebut to dredge up worst-case scenarios in an officer's imagination. Only in this case, the reality may be closer than her overactive imagination would like to know.

    I'm itching to know who or what is aboard that monstrous ship, and whether or not they'll finally answer the doorbell before setting off at warp and making the Klingon Empire a big grumpy Guss. :scream:
  8. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    Oh, man, I have missed the Bluefin crew so bad!! There's just nobody like these guys.

    I'm also glad to see what all of this looks like from the outside. I also can't wait to see what happens when this hits the media. No matter what infosec procedures they're following, I just know it'll get out.
  9. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 28, 2009
    The glorious Shetland Isles!
    Seriously excellent work TLR.

    I too have missed the Bluefin. The blend of professionalism and banter is unique and really makes them come alive as a crew.

    Actually had to laugh at Bane's little admission in chapter one. I feel sorry for his better half sometimes :)
  10. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 12, 2006
    In the illusion, but not of it.
    I can only echo what others have said. The group dynamic on Bluefin is amazing. You make writing it look so easy.

    I like the rumor mill too. I mean you can't have a couple dozen ships just disappear and not have some speculation around. It may be time for Starfleet to make a cover story.

    I believe Gibraltar coined the phrase 'Star Shroom.' :lol: Anyway, I wonder how long until the Klingons detect it, that should make things more interesting for Bluefin.
  11. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Yeah, Delta is worried about her baby brother, and she's nothing if not tenacious when she gets the run-around. Looks like the "Five Year Mission" cover won't hold up long. And yeah, the Klingons are bound to take note of the Star 'Shroom before long.

    Thank you, NG! Yeah, something this big is hard to keep contained for long. When and how the truth gets out is yet to be determined.

    Thanks, Bry. Yeah, Nigel can be a bit rough around the edges, much to Inga's consternation. ;)

    I like 'Star Shroom' too. I may have to borrow it for the story. I'm sure the rumor mill is cranking up across the fleet and the 'five-year-mission' excuse won't hold up long. Let's see how Gibraltar handles the rumors in TFV. :devil: (The ball's in your court, Sam!)
  12. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Chapter 3 - Cross Purposes

    Stardate 54655.9

    Star Station Echo
    Office of Rear-Admiral Morgan Bateson
    Commander – 7th Border Service Squadron

    Morgan Bateson stroked his beard thoughtfully while studying a display showing the locations of Border Service and Starfleet assets in the Molari Sector. Unfortunately, there were no dedicated science vessels currently operating within the sector. Still, there were two nearby Starfleet ships on routine patrol he could possibly pull.

    With the promotion of Edward Jellico to Vice-Admiral and his subsequent departure from Starbase 500 to Earth, Bateson found himself (at least temporarily) as the senior officer in the sector and the de-facto Sector Commander. The downside was that his workload as an administrator had nearly doubled. The upside was that he could now pull regular Fleet ships for special duty assignments.

    Like now.

    The USS Brulsk, a Miranda-class ship was closest to Bluefin,a mere six hours away at maximum warp. The Akira-class USS Resolute was also in range, though considerably farther away.

    He called up details on both vessels and saw that Brulsk had a fully staffed science department on board. Though not technically a science vessel, Brulsk was already on a research mission and seemed a good candidate to investigate the mysterious alien ship. Besides, an Akira-class ship was overkill. They didn’t need a battleship for this situation.

    A quick subspace message to Captain V’Nish had Brulsk underway to rendezvous with Bluefin and the mystery ship. That task completed, he turned to a stack of PADDs with reports for his review.

    His desk terminal chimed, interrupting his work. Sighing, he tapped the reply stud.

    “Go ahead, Varnosh.”

    The face of Bateson’s Andorian aide appeared on the screen. “Incoming message from Starbase 27 – it’s Admiral Terrence Glover.”

    “Glover? Huh. I didn’t know he’d been promoted. Patch him through, Lieutenant.”

    “Aye sir – channel is scrambled and secure.”

    Bateson’s brow furrowed at that – it was an indication of something serious and/or secret. The image on the viewscreen shifted from the blue-skinned Andorian to that of a dark-skinned Human with broad shoulders and a somber expression.

    “Admiral Bateson, Terrence Glover.”

    “Yes, Admiral – it’s been a while. Congratulations on your promotion!”

    Glover frowned slightly. “Yes . . . thank you. We picked up the communiqué from the Bluefin regarding the UTV . . “


    “Unidentified Transient Vessel. I have dispatched the Starship Resolute to handle the situation. Please recall your cutter.”

    For a moment Bateson stared blankly at the image of Glover, dumb-struck by the sheer audacity of Glover’s demand.

    “Admiral,” Bateson began in a tight but controlled tone, “I have no desire to get in a pissing contest with you, but that isn’t your call to make. You do realize I’m both senior to you and acting Sector Commander? I just dispatched the Brulsk to assist the Bluefin. Brulsk is better equipped to deal with the situation than Resolute, plus she’s closer.”

    “Admiral, no disrespect intended, but this is not a request. My orders from Starfleet Command and Admiral Saban Brandies supersede your authority in this matter. I am not at liberty to discuss details, only to direct your queries to Admiral Brandies. Resolute is already underway and Brulsk has been ordered to stay clear.”

    Bateson’ jaw tightened and he could feel his face flush as his temper threatened to erupt.

    “Glover, I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I don’t appreciate being treated like a goddamned plebe! You might have countermanded my order on the Brulsk, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pull my cutter off this until I get some straight answers.”

    Glover’s face remained impassive. “As I said, Admiral, you may contact Starfleet Command and speak with Admiral Brandies regarding the situation, though it will change nothing. As far as my orders, you do not have ‘need-to-know.’ Glover, out.”

    Before Bateson could reply, Admiral Glover’s image was gone. He glared at the terminal as if it were somehow at fault before angrily stabbing the comm stud on his desk.

    “Varnosh!” he bellowed, “Get me through to Admiral Saban Brandies at Starfleet Command, I don’t care who you have to wake up or threaten, just do it!”

    * * *

    One hour later, Morgan Bateson sat in his office, a glass of Port mostly untouched in his hand. His conversation with Admiral Brandies had been brief, mostly pleasant and utterly fruitless.

    “I do wish I could go into more detail, Admiral Bateson,” Brandies had said with an apologetic smile, “but we’re keeping our investigation close to the vest for now. We’ve had one or two instances of nomadic vessels traversing the quadrant that contained dangerous contagions. It’s possible that this ship might carry a plague of some sort and we want to keep unnecessary personnel away for their own safety . . . I’m sure you understand.”

    Bateson, of course, did not understand, but Brandies had the unnerving ability to deflect and deflate any of Morgan’s protests or arguments. He was the polar opposite of Glover in temperament and personality but the end results were the same. He was totally in the dark.

    Yet his stubborn side was loath to give up so quickly.

    He heard someone clear their throat and looked up. Lt. Varnosh stood at the doorway, an expression of concern on his face.

    “Are you alright, Admiral?”

    Bateson snorted. “Capital! Tip-top. Hunky-dorey.”

    Varnosh blinked. “Sir, I have no idea what any of that means.”

    Morgan chuckled darkly. “Neither do I.” He glanced up at Varnosh. “What’s up?”

    “Something was bothering me about the transmission from Admiral Glover. The comm-tag indicated Starbase 27, but I have a kinsman who serves on that base and he’s never mentioned Admiral Glover.”

    Bateson frowned. “Go on.”

    “So I back-tracked the comm-signal. It came through Starbase 27 but it did not originate there.”

    “What are you going with this, Lieutenant? I’m not following you.”

    “The signal was routed through the subspace array of Starbase 27 to hide its origin. On a hunch, I checked your comm-link with Admiral Brandies also. It took a bit of work, but I discovered that your subspace transmission merely bounced from Fleet Command on Earth to an array in the Rigel system. From there, it was scrambled and relayed to parts unknown.”

    Bateson merely gazed quietly at Varnosh before speaking. “You have a suspicious mind, Varnosh, with just a hint of paranoia. I’ve always admired that in you.”

    The Andorian inclined his head. “Thank you, Admiral.”

    “Lieutenant, I believe it would be prudent for me to contact Admiral Bouvier. The woman has an ego the size of the Outland Expanse. If I can appeal to her twisted sense of vanity, she might actually go to bat for us. One thing she hates more than me is losing face before the rest of the Admiralty.”

    Varnosh’s antennae twisted in distaste. “Allow me to remind the Admiral of your preference of having your eyes gouged out with a hot poker rather than speaking with Vice-Admiral Bouvier.”

    “Sometimes sacrifices must be made for the good of the service, Varnosh. Open a channel to Bouvier and while you’re at it, stoke the coals in the forge and prepare the instruments of torture.”

    * * *

    Stardate 54656.1

    USS Bluefin
    Molari Sector

    Lt. Bane stifled a yawn as he continued to monitor the progress of the alien ship from ops. After hours of crawling along at sub-light speeds, the novelty of the strange vessel was wearing thin. Bane half-way wished it would take a shot at them, just to make things interesting. But thus far, the vessel remained silent, slow and steady.

    He turned as Captain Akinola came out of his ready room onto the bridge. From the expression on his face, the Skipper did not look happy. He stepped down into the pit, hands on hips and glowered at the viewscreen.

    “Trouble, Skipper?”

    “Yeah, but not the kind I expected. Damn ‘Fleeters are sticking their noses in and want to send us home.”

    “Crikey! They can’t do that . . . can they?”

    “I don’t know. For now, we stick with our mystery ship until Admiral Bateson tells us otherwise. He managed to buy us some time through Vice-Admiral Bouvier.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    Akinola settled into the command chair, pondering the situation. It made little sense to him - why was Bateson countermanded by a junior flag officer? For that matter, how did Terrence Glover make it to rear-admiral? He’d met Glover a few times - cocky as hell and full of himself. Sure, he had a reputation for bravery but there were other stories floating around too. Akinola didn’t put a lot of stock in scuttlebutt, but he knew that rumors could hurt a fellow when it came to promotions.

    Then there was the “help” that Starfleet was sending their way - an Akira-class starship. Not exactly the science vessel that Bateson had intended. He wondered if there was anyone on board the dark ship, what they would make of an approaching battle-cruiser.

    At least he was acquainted with the captain of the Resolute. Captain Samantha Franklin and her crew played an important role months earlier when the Queen Elizabeth VII was hijacked by Maquis terrorists bent on starting a war between the Federation and the Tzenkethi. He knew she was level-headed and good in a fight, but he wondered what her role was in this current mystery.

    The silent ship on the viewscreen provided him no answers.

    * * *

    Stardate 54656.2

    USS Resolute
    Molari Sector
    Captain’s Ready Room

    Commander John Vanboerner, Chief Engineer of the starship Resolute, settled onto one of the long couches in the ready room and cocked a quizzical eyebrow at his wife, Captain Samantha Franklin. The lovely C.O. was engrossed in a report but he could tell she was distracted.

    “Sam, what’s wrong?”

    Captain Franklin glanced up from a PADD she was reading and smiled. Vanboerner could tell it was forced.

    “Nothing, babe. I’m just a little tired.”

    “I understand we’ve been pulled off patrol duty to check out a derelict ship?”

    This time the smile was more genuine, though still subdued. “I’m glad to know that the ship’s backdoor communications channels are working as effectively as ever.”

    He regarded the love of his life for a moment. “You’re deflecting. What’s going on, Sam?”

    She sighed and slumped back in her chair, rubbing her eyes. “John . . .”

    “Okay, love, I get it. You can’t tell me. Won’t be the first time.” He stood and walked around behind her and began to knead her shoulders.

    “Mmmm. You can’t make me talk, Commander . . . though I’m open to anything else you have in mind.”

    He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “Uh-uh, you’re deflecting again. How about you fill me in on what you can talk about?”

    She reached back and squeezed the hands that kneaded her shoulders. They were rough, strong hands - yet so gentle.

    “You remember Terrence Glover, don’t you?”

    John’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Remember? Sure I do - we were at the Academy at the same time. He was a year ahead of me. Brilliant mind, athletic - thought he was the second coming of James T. Kirk as I recall. Why do you ask?”

    “Rear-Admiral Terrence Glover issued our orders.”

    Vanboerner spun Sam’s chair so they could face one another. “Rear-Admiral, you say? Well, well. Guess Terrence is following in his old man’s footsteps.”

    Captain Franklin was quiet for a moment. “John . . .”

    “Yes, m’love?”

    “You were right - I've been ordered not to reveal the nature of our mission . . . at least, not yet.”

    He kissed her hand. “And I would never ask you to violate such a confidence. You know that.”

    She smiled again, a bit sadly he thought.

    “I take it you’re not exactly thrilled with our orders?” he asked.

    “Let’s just say, what I do know makes me uneasy. I get the distinct impression that Glover is holding back a lot.” She paused. “And I absolutely despise the thought of keeping Joseph Akinola in the dark.”

    * * *
  13. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    And so the games begin. Secrecy, need-to-know, and classified intel aplenty with the BS, Bluefin and Akinola right in the middle of it.

    It ain't right and it ain't fair, but whoever said life is fair, right?

    Let's just hope all this secrecy won't make a tricky situation worse. In my experience nothing good has ever come of keeping starship captains in the dark.
  14. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    Oooh, I love Bateson here. He actually gives a damn about his soldiers and is willing to fight for them. It's not about ego--it's about doing what's right.

    It's hilarious that he was willing to use Bouvier against Glover, though. Talk about fighting fire with fire!
  15. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Sep 14, 2004
    The interesting thing here is that Admiral Glover is about to learn a lesson that has plagued special operations for ages. No matter how many secrets you manage to keep there's always smart people on the periphery who can put enough things together to figure out your whole plan.

    Or maybe he won't learn. 'Cause he's a douche.

    I like this angle on the Vanguard story, TLR.
  16. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 12, 2006
    In the illusion, but not of it.
    I know there are good intentions all around, but I hope the right hand doesn't mess up what the left hand is doing.

    ...though, it probably will.:evil:
  17. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Chapter Four – Issues

    Stardate 54656.5

    USS Bluefin
    Molari Sector

    Lt. T’Lyr stood from her station so quickly that her chair fell over with a clatter, causing heads to turn around the bridge.

    “Anything wrong, Lieutenant?” asked Akinola, turning his chair to face the Assistant Engineer.

    “No sir - my apologies. I think I may have discovered something significant.”

    She righted her chair with as much dignity as she could muster before moving quickly to Ops. She quickly took in the data feed from Bane’s displays, her eyes flicking from one read-out to another with quick movements. Her lips moved soundlessly as she assimilated the data in her mind.

    Akinola stood and walked over to Ops, intrigued by the young Vulcan’s sudden animation.

    “I have been analyzing the gravity wave we encountered when the alien ship made its course change. I assumed that the wave was merely an aspect of their navigational steering system.” She shook her head with barely suppressed annoyance, “I was in error.”

    “Whoa, slow down,” exclaimed Bane. “What are you goin’ on about?”

    T’Lyr settled into an adjacent chair and rapidly tapped into Nigel’s display, tying into the engineering station. A complicated series of wave-lines cascaded across the screen.

    Akinola frowned at the complex readings - there was definitely a pattern there. Nigel whistled and began to rapidly input figures into the communications interface. He paused, and muttered in an awestruck tone, “Whip me like a stray dog, Matilda.”

    “Would you two care to fill me in?” queried the Captain, his patience wearing thin.

    Bane and T’Lyr looked at each other. “Go ahead,” urged Bane, “you found it.”

    She turned to face Akinola, her Vulcan reserve fully restored. “Captain - the gravity wave burst that emanated from that ship - it was an attempt to communicate with us.”

    “What? How?”

    T’Lyr turned to Bane. “Can you display it on the main viewscreen?”

    “Coming right up!”

    They turned to face the main screen. A sudden cascade of zeroes and ones flowed down the viewer.

    A small smile formed on Akinola’s face. “It’s binary code,” he murmured.

    “Right!” agreed Bane. “But there’s more - a secondary signal that appears to be looped. I’ve run it through linguacode and I think I have something.”

    The stream of numbers disappeared. Instead, large block letters began to slowly appear.

    W . . .H . . . A . . . T . . .

    “What,” breathed the Captain.

    The letters continued: Y . . . O . . .U . . .

    “What you? Are they asking what we are? Is there any more, Mr. Bane?”

    Bane shook his head. “No sir, that’s all there is - at least for now. It simply repeats.”

    “What you,” Akinola repeated. “What are you?”

    “Perhaps,” agreed T’Lyr. “Or possibly the series was interrupted and there is more.”

    “Nice work - both of you,” said Akinola. “At least we know someone over there is listening.”

    “That’s true,” replied Bane, “but how do we get them talking again?”

    “Move in closer,” suggested T’Lyrt. Akinola and Bane stared at her. “It worked the first time,” she added, reasonably.

    “Yeah, and about shook the hull plates loose,” Bane reminded her.

    “I’ll keep that in mind as an option,” said the Captain.

    A soft beeping from Bane’s station drew their attention. He turned to check the comm status.

    “Incoming message, Skipper. It’s from the Resolute.”

    Akinola retook his seat in the command chair. “On screen, Mr. Bane.”

    The view shifted to the bridge of an Akira-class starship. Sitting in the center seat was an attractive Human woman with sandy blonde hair pulled back in a pony-tail. Her face was somewhat thin and Akinola noted tell-tale circles under her eyes.

    You’ve not been getting much sleep, have you Captain Frankin? mused Akinola. I wonder why?

    A smile formed on Franklin’s face. “Greetings, Captain Akinola. It’s good to see you again.”

    Akinola nodded in return, his expression neutral. “Captain Franklin. I trust you have been well.”

    Franklin caught the reserved tone in Akinola’s voice.

    He’s angry, she thought. Hell, I’d be angry too if the circumstances were reversed. Aloud she replied, “Quite well, thank you. I understand you are sitting on quite a find.”

    “You could say that. Although apart from its size it’s not a terribly intimidating vessel. I have to wonder why Starfleet Command saw the need to send an Akira-class ship to take over. We weren’t planning on damaging it.”

    The barb stung because it was true. But Franklin could not afford to take the bait.

    “I’m simply following orders, Captain Akinola. You’ve been in the service a long time, you know how it is.” The excuse sounded weak and she knew it. She continued.

    “I look forward to speaking with you in person when we arrive on station in . . .” Franklin checked the chronometer, “fourteen hours.”

    “I’m very much looking forward to that,” replied Akinola, cooly. “I’m sure we have much to discuss.”

    Franklin gave a slight nod. “Until then. Resolute, out.”

    The viewscreen shifted back to the image of the ship the crew was now calling the “Star ‘Shroom.” Solly walked over to Akinola.

    “You know she’s holding something back, don’t you?” the Orion observed quietly.

    “Yeah, I got that. Maybe she’ll tell me more in private.”

    “Maybe,” agreed Solly, “and maybe there’s more to this than just one weird ship in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been hearing stuff.”

    Akinola gave his old friend a reproachful stare. “Since when did you buy into scuttlebutt, Solly? I thought you had a well refined bullshit detector,” he said, sotto voce.

    Brin snorted. “Yeah. I do. But someone up the chain is sending an Akira-class battle-cruiser our way. That’s not rumor – that’s a fact.”

    The Captain could not argue with that.

    * * *

    Stardate 54656.9

    USS Resolute
    Molari Sector

    Samantha Franklin sat up in bed, awakened by troubled dreams. In them, she was reliving the events nearly six months earlier when she had nearly been forced to fire on a civilian star liner hijacked by Maquis terrorists. The Queen Elizabeth VII was hurtling toward Tzenkethi space, a border violation that could have led to war.

    As during the actual event, Franklin found herself sitting at the tactical station, having ordered Lt. Fadjak aside. If Resolute was to destroy a civilian ship, she would own the responsibility.

    In reality, boarding parties from the Bluefin had managed to halt the runaway star liner by retaking the ship and jettisoning the warp core.

    But in her dream, she watched helplessly as her hands touched the launch controls that sent a quartet of torpedoes into the QE VII, destroying the ship and killing all on board.

    This was the third night she experienced the dream since being briefed on Operation Vanguard.

    Her husband, John, snored softly on his side of the bed. She smiled, grateful to share her life with such a strong, intelligent and caring man. If only she could share this burden with him.

    But that relief was forbidden to her. Vanguard fell under the same security restrictions as the Omega Particle – Captains only.

    She understood the need for secrecy, though she could not fathom how such a secret could be kept for long. More troubling were the rules of engagement under which she and Resolute had been placed.

    No transient vessel was to be allowed to enter Klingon or Romulan territory.

    Left unsaid were the obvious implications of that order. She had instructions to contact and board, if possible, any such transient vessels. That sounded fine in theory.

    But what if communication failed? What if they could not board the alien ship?

    No transient vessel will be allowed to enter Klingon or Romulan territory. She could still hear Admiral Glover’s sonorous voice echoing in her head. There really was no wiggle-room in those orders. It was the QE VII scenario all over again, only with a ship exponentially larger than the famous star liner.

    She wondered what she had done to cause the Fates to deal her the same hand twice.

    Franklin quietly got out of bed, slipped on a robe and exited the bedroom so as not to disturb her sleeping husband. In the anteroom, she ordered hot cocoa from the replicator and curled up on the couch, staring out the viewport at the streaming stars.

    For that moment, she felt alone in the universe.

    * * *

    Stardate 54657.0

    USS Bluefin
    Molari Sector

    The Bluefin continued to pace the alien behemoth at a sedate three-quarter impulse. Subsequent attempts to communicate with the vessel had yielded no results. No other massive gravity bursts emanated from the ship. It continued to glide along its path, silent and steady. Whoever or whatever had sent the brief message was either unwilling or unable to repeat the effort.

    On the cutter’s bridge, the lighting was subdued, per the norm for Gamma Shift.

    It matched Delta Simms’ mood.

    The Second Officer brooded in the command chair of the quiet bridge, her thoughts shifting back and forth from the alien ship to her little brother serving on another starship, God knows where.

    Something was up and her gut told her this strange vessel was somehow involved. But try as she might, she could not come up with any scenario that made sense.

    Hell, maybe Tommy was on a five-year mission. Maybe Starfleet made contact with some distant alien race that was shy about publicity.

    Maybe Senior Chief Brin would don makeup and break out into show-tunes.

    She suppressed a giggle, swallowed the wrong way and began snorting and coughing into her balled up fist and hoping no one noticed.

    “Commander Simms?”

    Ah, dammit. Busted. Delta cleared her throat and managed to rasp, “Yes Maya?”

    Ensign Maya Vashtee turned from her station at Ops, a puzzled frown on her face. “Ma’am, I was just checking our fuel consumption. Our Deuterium stores are down 15%.”

    Delta frowned and moved to join the Sri Lankan officer.

    “Helm, what is our current speed?” Simms queried.

    Lt. Sarnek checked his board. “Holding steady at three-quarter impulse.”

    Delta leaned over Vashtee’s shoulder and peered at the relevant display. Her brow knit with confusion.

    “That doesn’t make any sense,” Simms muttered. She reached over and tapped the interface.

    “See what I mean?” asked Maya. “It’s like we’ve been running at maximum impulse for a solid month.”

    Delta, an engineer by training and trade most of her career, tapped her combadge. “Bridge to engineering.”

    “Engineering, Ensign Tanaka here.”

    “Mr. Tanaka, this is Commander Simms. From up here it seems we’re burning a hell of a lot of Deuterium. Are you having any problems with the impulse engines – a hot manifold or excess pump pressure?”

    “No ma’am, but we noticed the excess fuel consumption also. We’ve been running a check but everything is running at optimum – no back pressure to speak of, but the ion flow has increased for some reason. It’s like the engines are having to work harder to maintain speed.”

    “Very well. Keep checking, Ensign. If you come up with a cause, let me know. Bridge, out.”

    * * *

    Two hours later, a weary-looking Delta Simms entered the ward room, joining Captain Akinola, Lt. Commander Gralt and Commander Strauss. She gratefully accepted a mug of coffee from the Captain as she took a seat at the table.

    “We’ve been discussing the fuel consumption issue,” began Akinola. “Have you come up with any ideas, Delta?”

    “Ensign Vashtee has a theory that makes sense.” She glanced at Gralt. “My guess is the impulse engines are fine, right?”

    The Tellarite nodded. “We ran every test we could while remaining underway. Fuel feed, manifold pressure, compression sequencers – all are well within the norm. The ion flow is the only anomaly. It’s like we were towing a ship with the tractor beam – there’s some sort of drag causing us to burn more fuel.”

    “Yeah, that’s what we thought too,” continued Simms, “only Maya has figured out it’s not like we're pulling; it’s more like we’re pushin’ against something.”

    Akinola frowned. “Explain.”

    “Think of it like a headwind against an atmospheric vessel or surface ship. The engines have to work harder to maintain speed.”

    Inga smiled. “There’s no wind in space, Delta.”

    “True enough. But there are gravity waves that can affect us just like a headwind. It seems that ship is putting out some sort of low-level gravity wake. It’s not strong enough to shake us up like that strong burst that shook us up yesterday, but it is just strong enough to slow us down some – that’s why the engines are working harder and we’re burning more fuel.”

    “Why not move off more, get out of the wake?” asked Gralt as he dug into a mash of roots and berries.”

    “We tried that,” replied Simms. She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Seems like that ‘wake’ goes off in all directions a hell of a long way.”

    “How far?” queried the Captain.

    “That’s the weird thing about it Captain – it seems to be extending farther and farther. Last I checked it was at 3 A.U.s.”

    Gralt snorted. “In a Yarliq’s eye! There’s no way any ship could put out that kind of gravity wave.”

    Delta shrugged. “Before last night, I would have agreed with you.” She tried and failed to stifle a yawn.

    “Nice work, Delta. You and Maya have given us something to work with. Would you say this gravity wake is a threat to us?”

    She shook her head. “No sir, just an inconvenience at present. Unless we were to run at full impulse for three months, our fuel reserves should hold up fine.”

    Akinola nodded. “Thank you, Delta. Go get some rest.”

    “Gladly, sir. My brain hurts.” She rose and exited the wardroom.

    The Captain turned his attention to Gralt. “Commander, I want your team to work on a way to offset that gravity wake. It may not be dangerous now, but if it increases in strength, we might have a problem.”

    The Chief Engineer grunted in agreement. “Yeah, or if we were to lose one of the impulse drivers, we’d find ourselves going backwards. I’ll get to work on it.”

    “Good.” He glanced over at Struass. “XO, could you give me a moment with Mr. Gralt?”

    “Sure.” She retrieved her PADD and coffee mug and departed. Gralt fixed Akinola with a baleful stare.

    “I sense an ass-chewing coming on. What did I do?” asked the Tellarite.

    The Captain folded his hands across his mid-section and regarded the Chief Engineer with a bemused expression. “How long have we known each other?”

    “Is this a math quiz or are you serious?”

    “Humor me.”

    Gralt sighed and scratched his muzzle in thought. “I don’t know . . . forty years?”

    Akinola nodded. “Forty one, to be exact. I was a Petty Officer, third class and you were an Ensign fresh from the Academy.”

    The Commander snorted. “Deities, that was a long time ago. So where are you going with this?”

    “Just a reminder that things change, Gralt. The service isn’t what it was half a century ago. You’ve got your crusty side and I’ve pretty much let it go.”

    “Yeah, I got loads of charm,” groused the Tellarite. “Get to the point, Captain, if you think you’re going to hurt my tender feelings, remember – I don’t have any.”

    “Alright – I need you to watch your mouth around Lt. T’Lyr. No more remarks about her or to her, got it?”

    Gralt crossed his arms. “Did she complain?”

    “Not officially, but I think she might - and she has cause. Dammit, Gralt – you’re a millimeter away from a charge of conduct unbecoming an officer. And don’t give me any crap about Tellarite customs – we both know you’re rude even by your own people’s standards.”


    “That wasn’t a compliment, Commander. Hell, I don’t care about your language – I’ve used worse myself. But we’ve got a bunch of younger officers that came through Starfleet Academy, not a pack of mongrels from New London or the Dog Pound. I don’t want to see you end your career dealing with something you can easily avoid.”

    Gralt glowered but said nothing.

    “Do you hear me, Commander?” Akinola asked in his old NCO voice.

    The Tellarite lowered his gaze a fraction. “Aye, sir. I hear you,” he replied quietly.

    “Good. Get out of here. You have work to do.”

    * * *

    Two hours later, Akinola sat on the bridge reading the reports from Engineering and Operations. The good news was they concurred on the cause of the excess fuel consumption and the slim threat posed by the gravity wake.

    The bad news was they had still had no answer as to how to alleviate the affects. Lt. T’Lyr had suggested rotating frequencies of the navigational deflector, but that only created an annoying vibration in the hull. Bane had attempted to adjust the structural integrity fields, but that too failed to help.

    And the "Space ‘Shroom" continued on, apparently unconcerned about the Border Service cutter that tagged along like a small dog.

    The proximity alarm began to sound, drawing Akinola's attention back to the viewscreen.

    “Federation starship just dropped out of warp,” announced Bane. “Akira-class . . . it’s the Resolute.”

    The Resolute approached, shedding excess energy from the heat-sinks on her nacelles. She was an imposing sight, bringing more firepower with her than all of the 7th Border Service Squadron combined.

    Akinola opened his mouth, about to order Bane to hail the starship, when another signal sounded - this one more shrill and insistent.

    “I’m reading a massive power build-up on the alien ship,” said the Australian ops officer.

    “Shields!” ordered Akinola. “Helm, prepare for evasive maneuvers.”

    “No, not weapons,” interjected T’Lyr, “I believe it is going to . . .”

    On the viewscreen, the massive vessel suddenly disappeared in a flash of light.

    “ . . . go to warp,” finished the Assistant Engineer, quietly.

    * * *
  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Hmmm. Was the Star ‘Shroom’s hasty departure just coincidence or were they fleeing the arrival of Resolute?

    I don’t envy Captain Franklin the secrecy that she’s obliged to maintain or the mission orders she might have to execute. The fact that she’s having to keep Akinola in the dark is bad enough, but possibly having to fire on an alien ships that’s done nothing more provocative than drifting into Federation space is one of those acts that will keep you awake nights for the rest of your life.

    And now… things just got a great deal more complicated for everybody. :eek:
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2012
  19. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Aug 4, 2008
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    Heh...I KNEW sending in the Fleet was just going to make a mess. Another Border cutter probably wouldn't have been this provocative.

    And that kind of gravity wake...I wonder what it would do at warp? I bet that thing could rip up subspace. Even at impulse, I wonder how badly that could screw up a planet?
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    And matters just got a whole lot more urgent, didn't they? Where they had years before until the shroom ship hit the Klingon border, now they have what? Days? Hours?

    I feel for Franklin as well. History is about to repeat itself for her and this time the outcome may be far worse.