UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Aug 5, 2012.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Actually, the Ferou fleet is warping toward a cloaked Romulan minefield. The Romulans hope to sift through the resulting wreckage to recover bits of their advanced weapons systems.
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Ah, ok, I didn't read into the subtext. Good thing Pava did. Well, I suppose we're soon going to find out if it was good or not.
  3. Tribble puncher

    Tribble puncher Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2012
    Washington, OK
    You could almost call this chapter a lull considering how things have been going lately...
  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 8 continued)

    Chapter 8 <cont'd>

    Lar’ragos drove a high knee into the sternum of one of the hulking Reman, forcing the soldier backwards as the El Aurian slashed out to the side with a knife-hand strike to the escorting centurion’s throat. The gagging arrain stumbled back into the other oncoming Reman soldier, tangling him up for the brief second Lar’ragos needed to get some breathing room.

    Lar’ragos vaulted over a nearby console, while kicking out at its operator. He landed awkwardly, fell and rolled beneath another console abutting the outer bulkhead. Having thus unintentionally caged himself, he foot-swept the first Romulan who approached, sending the man crashing to the deck.

    An instant later as he tried to clamber out from under the station, a disruptor beam set to stun lanced into his defensive hidey-hole and incapacitated him.

    Sub-Commander Chalois holstered her weapon as she gestured for Lar’ragos to be collected and brought to her. A moment later, Lar’ragos knelt before her, held upright by his arms, his head lolling.

    “Just what were you hoping to accomplish by that?” she inquired acidly.

    Lar’ragos finally began to reassert control over his body, forcing his eyes to focus on the Romulan captain. “See—seemed… like a good… idea… at the time,” he rasped.

    “I rescue you and your people, and this is how you repay me?”

    “Can’t… can’t let you destroy the Ferou. They’ve done... nothing wrong.”

    “They’re a threat!” Chalois shouted. “Their intent is irrelevant. Their mere presence endangers the Alpha Quadrant. You warned them to change course, did you not? You told them there would be trouble ahead.”

    Lar’ragos had now recovered sufficiently to raise his head and glare up at Chalois. “If this is how your people intend to conduct themselves out here, then you might as well cast aside our alliance. We won’t have any part of it.”

    “Your own people have launched brutal attacks against the incoming aggressor species.”

    He nodded. “Yes, against those proven hostile and unwilling to negotiate. We were involved in active negotiations with the Ferou when you ambushed them without provocation.”

    Chalois sighed. “Enough of this. Take him back to MedBay. If he resists, kill him.”

    “Lar’ragos one-four-nine-zed-zed,” he blurted for no discernible reason.

    A computer interface tone chimed softly somewhere on the bridge. ‘Authorization confirmed.’

    Lar’ragos ordered, “Stun everyone on the bridge but me.”

    There was a near-instantaneous series of greenish flashes and everyone save Lar’ragos crumpled.

    He stood slowly and walked across the compartment to kneel down and retrieve his combadge from where he’d placed it beneath the console he'd been hiding under. "Thank you, Mister Shanthi. Very helpful indeed," he murmured.

    Shanthi had spent weeks working on the cybernetic-pathogen that had overwritten Vexam’s programming and given control of the ship over to the registered owner of the combadge. While Europa’s personnel had assisted Vexam’s crew with repairs some months earlier, they had covertly mapped the ship’s data pathways, defenses and neural substrate. The invasive program had been loaded into the combadges of all Europa's senior officers in case of just such an eventuality involving the mercurial Romulans.

    On his way to the command chair, Lar'ragos stepped over the unconscious form of Chalois. He looked down at her, a grim smile forming on his lips. "One of these days, people might just stop underestimating Starfleet. I hope not, though."

    He glanced up in deference to the omnipresent 'ship.' "Switch all systems over to emergency automation and flood all decks except the main bridge with… what’s the Rihannsu equivalent of anesthazine?”

    ‘Maroptacine’, the computer replied helpfully.

    “Right, flood all other decks with maroptacine and transport all Rihannsu life forms on the bridge to the nearest cargo bay.”

    ‘Confirmed. Orders executed.’

    Lar’ragos lowered himself into the command chair. “Set an intercept course with Europa and open an encrypted point-to-point comms channel to the ship. I’ll provide the cypher…” he entered the information by hand into the abbreviated console affixed to the command chair.

    “Initiate data-mining inquiry. I want to know what additional threats the Rihannsu have planned for the Ferou.”

    Last edited: Apr 21, 2013
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Not so sure about Starfleet but underestimate Pava Lar'ragos at your own peril. How did Chalois not realize this? Oh she going to be so mad when she wakes up.

    Too bad Pava couldn't find a more diplomatic solution here. But then of course he's playing to his strengths and nobody ever claimed diplomacy to be one of them.
  6. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths - Chapter 9

    Chapter 9

    Chalois opened her eyes slowly, stretching as though having awakened from a restful nap. Her eyes focused on Lar’ragos after a moment, and then widened as her memories caught up. “Not… what I was expecting,” she rasped.

    Lar’ragos passed her a water bulb and Chalois drank greedily, draining it. “Thank you.”

    The El Aurian sat atop a stool at Chalois’ bedside in the warbird’s MedBay. He looked down on her with a wistful expression. “Thank you for having your distruptor set to stun,” Lar’ragos replied. “And now we’ve arrived at the point where I ask if I read you correctly on the bridge?”

    Chalois blinked and sighed deeply. “I see that your people’s abilities are no exaggeration. However, I was expecting something a bit less…”

    “Dramatic?” he offered.

    “Permanent,” she finished. “How were you able to wrest control of our computers?”

    “My people engaged in a bit of unauthorized snooping while assisting with your repairs after Vexam was attacked by the En-Il-Que.”

    She smiled humorlessly in response. “How very cunning of you, Captain.” Chalois shook her head gently atop her pillow, as if trying to clear it. “I had been trying to convey to you, covertly, that the Ferou were still in danger.”

    “Yes,” he acknowledged. “The minefield. It took a bit of digging through your database, but we finally located the coordinates of that trap. I’ve spoken with the Ferou, and they’ve changed course to avoid it.”

    “Good,” she murmured, her gaze suddenly fixed on something terribly far away. “Good.”

    Lar’ragos sensed her train of thought, images flashing unbidden through his mind of Chalois’ long, arduous climb up the rungs of the Galae’s unforgiving rank structure. “I can offer you asylum, Sub-Commander. I’m not unsympathetic to what this good deed has cost you.”

    “No,” she replied in a distant voice. “I will live, or die, with the consequences of my actions. I knew accepting help from Europa might come with a price, and if the lives of the Ferou have been purchased at the cost of my life and career, I consider that a bargain.”

    Lar’ragos slid off the stool, nodding toward Taiee as she gave Chalois’ vital signs a final check. “I hope you’ll reconsider, Sub-Commander. You’re good people, and there are far too few good people manning ‘the wall’ out here in the Delta Quadrant.”

    She turned her head to keep her gaze on Lar’ragos, allowing a single stray tear to arc from the corner of one eye into the folds of her pillow. “I cannot,” she replied.

    He inclined his head in response, as if to acknowledge her sacrifice. “We’re departing in a few minutes. Once Europa is safely away, we’ll return control of Vexam to you.”

    “May good fortune find you on your travels, Captain,” Chalois said by way of farewell.

    “May you die well, Sub-Commander. I sincerely hope that will be thousands of light-years from here and centuries from now.”

  7. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Oh boy, did I ever read this whole situation wrong, or what? Nicely played by both Pava and Chalois.

    Considering what Chalois has done however, the chance that she will enjoy a long and rich life seems unlikely. I could of course be wrong. Clearly wouldn't be the first time.
  8. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 9 continued)

    Chapter 9 <cont'd>

    Acting Captain’s Log, SD- 55683.4 (September 7th, 2378)

    Europa has set a return course for Galaxy Station to undergo further repairs to the battle damage suffered in our encounter with the Romulans and Ferou. Our casualties from that engagement are eight dead, nineteen injured, six of whom are still recovering in Sickbay.

    The last vessels and resupply modules from Vanguard’s second wave have arrived at Galaxy Station, and I will be requisitioning additional security and Marine personnel, given the conflicts we’ve experienced thus far.

    The Ferou have, surprisingly, agreed to continuing negotiations with Federation representatives via subspace, despite the horrors of the Romulan ambush. They’ve set a course for Federation space, although it remains to be seen if they’ll allow themselves to be settled on an available world, or simply transit UFP territory on their way to the far-spinward galactic territories.

    The Ferou might be cautiously categorized as TFV’s second success story, counting the peaceful if glacial Buntai, who themselves are scheduled to arrive at the Federation’s outermost border in another nine months.

    Even now, Captain Lobanov and the
    Giacobini are en route to scout a potential First Contact with yet another approaching nomadic fleet. I wish them better luck than we’ve had.

    There has been no further contact with the Romulans since our last encounter, and word will only now be reaching Starbase Bastion and Starfleet Command regarding the unfortunate circumstances surrounding that battle. I have no idea what the fallout may be for me, Lieutenant Juneau, or any of the other crew as a result. I can only hope those powers that be understand the context of what occurred.

    In the meantime, I’ve asked Lieutenant Ashok to look into the possibility of reinstating Sandhurst’s transwarp modifications to the engines and navigational deflector, while excising whatever elicit back-channel access routines he’d established. It will be long, tedious work to comb through that much code line by line, but if the end result is making
    Europa the fastest ship in the task force again, it will be worth the effort.

    End Log Entry.


    It was approximately twenty minutes after Lar’ragos had finished his log entry when the annunciator to his quarters chimed.

    Juneau entered at his beckoning, the woman glancing around his quarters curiously as she stepped across the threshold. “Did I wander into Verrik’s quarters by mistake?” she joked.

    Lar’ragos stood from where he’d been kneeling in front of a single candle flame, deep in meditation. He was clothed in a Vulcan robe and Juneau noted that a stylized IDIC symbol was displayed prominently along one bulkhead of his cabin. “I’ve adopted a more ascetic existence of late,” he revealed, giving his XO a warm smile as he gestured for her to take a seat in a cushioned chair near the viewports.

    She seated herself, nodding thoughtfully in response. “I remember your quarters from Gibraltar. They were full of all kinds of souvenirs and knickknacks from across the galaxy. For you this is positively Spartan.”

    Lar’ragos removed the robe, revealing his red command shirt and uniform pants underneath, and draped the garment over a chair at the dining table. “Sorbak’s third rule of existential equilibrium, ‘embrace what enhances your life, discard that which does not.’”

    Juneau looked impressed. “You’re really taken Vulcan philosophy to heart, haven’t you, sir?”

    “Let’s just say that I’ve found it works to keep me centered, First,” he replied, using his new nickname for the executive officer. Some captains called their first officers ‘Number One’ or ‘XO’, and Sandhurst had always favored ‘Exec.’ Lar’ragos had settled on ‘First’ as an appropriately unique compromise.

    Lar’ragos stopped briefly at the replicator to get himself a glass of water. Juneau demurred from anything for herself. He sat down across from her, raising his glass in a mock toast. “If I haven't said so before, that was damned fine work with the Romulans, Lieutenant.”

    She inclined her head in response, seemingly ill at ease with the compliment. “That’s what I wanted to speak with you about, sir.”

    “Be my guest.”

    “I… I’m concerned about what… about the tactic I was forced to use on the Romulan ship, Captain.” Juneau appeared uncomfortable, and Lar’ragos detected an undercurrent of guilt in her voice.

    “The Romulan ship was on an attack course, correct?” he asked.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “You’d warned them off, and you had no remaining conventional weapons at hand,” he assessed.

    “Again, that’s correct.”

    “If the level of force is justified, the means by which that force is delivered is of no consequence, Lieutenant,” Lar’ragos advised by rote. “It wouldn’t have mattered if you’d hit them with two dozen quantums, sling-shot them into the nearest star, or… in this case, cooked them with our sensor array. Lethal force was necessary, and you employed the only means at your disposal to deliver that force.”

    In response Juneau nodded slowly as she absorbed the implications of that. Without warning, she blurted, “Is there something wrong with me that I don’t feel worse about what I did, sir? I’ve spoken with Counselor Liu, and he and Taiee and everyone else are handling me with kid gloves, but I’m sleeping just fine.” Her eyes searched out his own. “Shouldn’t I be waking up at night with sweats and nightmares?”

    “Not everyone does, Olivia,” he said softly. “You did what you had to do, and it’s okay to be fine with that. Don’t let anyone talk you into being traumatized over something you’re at peace with.”

    Juneau grimaced slightly, still looking uncertain. “So… I’m okay?”

    “That’s for you to decide, but from where I’m sitting, I’d say yes, absolutely.”

    She appeared to relax a bit at that. "What happens to us when we get back to Galaxy?"

    "How do you mean?"

    "Are we going to be replaced, you and I? As the command staff on Europa, I mean."

    Lar'ragos took another sip of his water. "Not that I've been apprised. The task force is short on command officers as it is. Remember, despite the Romulans' actions, we still managed to make successful First Contact with the Ferou." He set the glass down, giving her his full attention. "I can't guarantee what Command will or won't do, Olivia, but I'm pretty good at reading between the lines, and so far I haven't sensed anything that would suggest either of us is bound for the chopping block."

    The young woman smiled at that. "I hope I still have your confidence as XO, sir."

    Lar'ragos looked surprised. "You saved the ship, First. You did everything in your power to rescue our away team, and that only failed because Chalois had already beamed us away. Everything you did while in command of the ship only served to strengthen my opinion of you and your abilities."

    She sprang up from the chair and started for the door, pausing just long enough on her way past to place a quick kiss on his cheek. “Thanks, Captain. You’re the best.” And with that, she was gone.

    Lar’ragos touched a hand to his cheek, chuckling to himself. “Silly old man. You did not see that coming.”

    Last edited: Apr 29, 2013
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Neither did I.

    The gesture was really more befitting a school girl than a first officer on a Starfleet vessel. Having said that, it made her strangely endearing. Never mind that she killed hundreds of Romulans in one sweep and not even loses one night's sleep over it. It's all part of her enigmatic charm.
  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    I'm hazarding a guess that living for years with a sociopath renting space inside your own head might lead to some interesting personality shifts... :vulcan:
  11. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 9 continued)

    Chapter 9 <cont'd>

    Sickbay, USS Europa

    Lar’ragos entered Sickbay’s cryo-stasis ward to find Taiee standing next to Marine Lieutenant Tiedermeyer, who was himself flanked by two of his security specialists.

    “What have you got, Doc?” Lar’ragos inquired. Taiee’s request for his presence had been brief and of the get-the-hell-down-here variety.

    Taiee gestured towards the bio-readouts displayed on the hatch to the Baron’s stasis unit. The stasis tanks were very similar in design to those utilized in the ship’s morgue, sliding out from recessed housings in one bulkhead. “Something’s going on with the Baron’s metabolism,” she said. “I’m not certain what, precisely, as it’s been a very gradual increase. Essentially, his metabolic rate is nearly double what it should be in full cryonic suspension.”

    Lar’ragos made an appraising sound and busied himself for a moment scrolling through various biometric displays. “What are you doing in there?” he murmured, mostly to himself.

    “Whatever it is,” Taiee hissed under her breath loudly enough for Lar’ragos to hear, “it can’t be good.”

    Tiedermeyer leaned in to speak quietly to Lar’ragos. “Respectfully, Captain, I think we should eject the cryo-capsule. Based on this individual’s record to date, he’s proven incredibly dangerous as well as highly resilient. Allowing whatever process is underway here to come to fruition while he’s aboard the ship jeopardizes everyone’s safety.”

    Lar’ragos cocked his head to one side, considering the Marine officer’s words. He glanced at Taiee. “Would that be your assessment as well, Doc?”

    “Absolutely, sir,” she confirmed.

    Lar’ragos pursed his lips thoughtfully. “You realize, of course, that this could well have been his plan all along in case he was captured.”

    “You think he might actually have someone waiting to pick him up if we eject his capsule?” Tiedermeyer asked, his skepticism evident.

    “Only one way to find out,” Lar’ragos mused.

    Taiee shot him a cautious look. “Bait?” she asked.

    “Bait,” he confirmed.

    “Sir,” Tiedermeyer offered, a noticeable strain in his voice as he fought the urge to raise the volume of his objections. “He’s an enemy combatant, responsible for the deaths of dozens of people…”

    “Billions, actually… perhaps more,” Lar’ragos corrected.

    “Then why don’t we just dematerialize him, Captain, and scatter his atoms? It’s humane, painless, and far less violent a death than he deserves.”

    Lar’ragos heaved a sigh that seem to emanate from deep within. “Because, Lieutenant, we’re better than him. That’s why.”

    “And if his friends successfully rescue him, Captain, what then? The blood of any others he harms will be on our hands.”

    Lar’ragos turned to face Tiedermeyer, and for an instant Taiee feared Pava would give the earnest young Marine a dressing down for his persistence. Instead, Lar’ragos’ expression somehow managed to convey both resignation and empathy.

    “There was a time, Lieutenant, when I’d have been all too happy to do just that. I’d have vaporized the Baron with a smile and a spring in my step. But… we’re Starfleet, we don’t get to act as judge, jury, and executioner. The Baron is accused of many crimes, but convicted of none. Until such time as he stands trial, we are honor-bound to keep him safe from harm.”

    Tiedermeyer stiffened, though not as one might after having been reproached. Instead, he reacted like one suddenly reminded of his oath and higher duty. “Yes, Captain,” he replied.

    “Lieutenant,” Taiee said quietly, her gaze focused intensely on Lar’ragos, “could you give the captain and I a few minutes?”

    Tiedermeyer nodded and motioned to his security personnel to follow him out into the corridor.

    After the doors had closed Taiee said simply, “The kid’s not wrong, Pava.”

    “I know,” he answered heavily. “Despite that, we’ll tow the line.”

    “This monster’s well beyond ‘the line’ and we both know it!” Taiee blurted accusingly. “He’s his own special category of devil. He’s a Hitler, a Khan Singh, and we have the ability to end his reign of terror right here, right now.”

    Lar’ragos stared at her for a long moment, unaccustomedly speechless at her outburst. “I’ve never seen you like this, Issara.”

    “You weren’t the one who had to piece Donald Sandhurst back together after the Baron was done with him.”

    In actuality, he had been, but Lar’ragos thought better of pressing that point. Instead, he voiced reasonably, “Donald’s the one who put him in stasis, and Donald had more reason than anyone to want the Baron dead.”

    “He kills people because he can, he tortures for sport,” she continued. “Someone else sure knew him well enough, because they put something in his head that’s eating his brain neuron by neuron.” Taiee slouched tiredly, spent by her tirade, moving to rest her back against the nearest bulkhead. “At this point, permanent dematerialization would be a mercy to him.”

    “That’s irrelevant, and you know it. If we kill him, we’re responsible, regardless of whatever his medical condition may be.”

    “That sounds just like something Sandh—“ Taiee trailed off, then cocked her head, a look of realization alighting in her eyes. “That’s what this is really about, isn’t it? You’re trying to step into Donald’s boots, do things they way he would have wanted?"

    His long-developed survival instincts howled at him to deny it, but instead Lar’ragos replied, “Someone has to, Doc. He’s gone off to play… interstellar warlord, or whatever the hell it is he’s doing.”

    She frowned with confusion. “What’s that have to do with you?”

    “Donald picked me, Doc. Me! He didn’t pull this stunt with T’Ser as his XO because he knew she’d never have allowed it. He transferred T'Ser off the ship and replaced her with me because he knew I’d be blindly loyal, that I’d ignore the signs until it was too late to stop him!”

    She took a step closer to Lar’ragos, reaching out to put a comforting hand on his upper arm. “Don’t you have more than enough guilt already without adding that to your burdens?”

    “I’m different… better than I was,” he insisted, his eyes shining with conviction. “I have to be. And if doing this in Donald’s memory is what it takes to make the changes stick, so be it.”

    “Okay, Captain,” Taiee said gently. “Okay.”

    Lar’ragos stepped into the corridor, nodding to Tiedermeyer. “We’ll use the stasis tank to draw in his conspirators, and then we’ll strike.”

  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    What a terrific and poignant character revelation for Pava Lar'ragos. Here we see a man genuinely trying to change his ways and aspiring to be more than he used to be. Transform himself from a stone-cold killer to a starship captain and a man steered by his morales instead of his impulses.

    And yes, of course, the easiest thing to do here would be to get rid of the Baron for once and for all. It would spare everyone from a great amount of heartache later. A true leader knows that the easy way is not always the right way. Kudos to Pava.
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 9 continued)

    Chapter 9 <cont'd>

    Europa sunk slowly into the meteoric debris and ice crystals of Iasobel VI’s planetary rings. Amidst the flotsam they’d left a host of fist sized passive sensor drones in their wake, disguised as chunks of ice or accreted heavy metals. The drones would send sensor telemetry to the ship via highly encrypted, very discrete point-to-point transmissions, giving the starship ‘eyes’ while allowing the vessel to remain hidden from cursory detection.

    The cyro-chamber was slaved to a durable sarium-krellide power cell and had been left to drift in a high orbit, unwilling slave to the gas giant’s gravity well.

    Then the wait began.


    Juneau ducked under the top lip of the hatch, levering herself out of the Jefferies tube and into the junction. A few meters beyond, down what should have been another section of maintenance crawlway, was welded a tritanium plate. The section beyond had ceased to exist when the powerful Ferou phaser beam had struck Europa amidships. It had blasted through the vessel’s ablative armor and pierced the hull, consuming both metal and flesh with equal ferocity.

    “The plating has been reinforced with internal shielding, feeding off the structural integrity field,” Ashok noted from behind her as the giant somehow managed to slither out of the access tube which seemed altogether too small to have contained his frame.

    Juneau scooted as far over as possible to make room for the enormous Bolian. “So, if we end up in another fight with someone before we get back to Galaxy Station, how much more vulnerable does this make us?”

    Ashok’s expression remained as inscrutable as ever, but his deep voice carried an unusual timbre of concern. “The ablative armor in this section was burned away, and the hull patch we’ve put in place is rated at only twenty-two percent of the ship’s nominal structural strength.”

    Juneau bobbed her head appraisingly. “So… pretty damn vulnerable, then. Got it.”

    “There will be another battle, count on it,” Ashok announced, shifting topics unexpectedly.

    Juneau turned to face him. “Probably,” she agreed.

    “The last time we fought the Baron’s allies, they ran amok aboard Gibraltar practically unopposed. True, Europa is far more formidable, but I’m willing to bet his friends are even better prepared than last time.”

    “Maybe so, but we can’t just allow the Baron or anyone working for him to operate out here unopposed. Look at how much trouble the Romulans started, and they’re supposed to be our allies.”

    Ashok grunted disconsolately.

    “I’ll second that,” Juneau added bleakly.

    “Are you ever sorry you signed on to this mission?” Ashok asked.

    Juneau nodded her head, chuckling, “There are days…”

    “I never thought I’d leave Gibraltar,” Ashok confessed. “And yet, here I am, thousands of light-years from the Federation, working on an engine design so advanced that the people who built it didn’t really understand it.” An actual smile graced his lips, an event so rare Juneau couldn’t remember ever having seen it before. “And you, you were the little girl always speaking out of turn on the bridge and getting chewed on by Commander Ramirez. Now, you’re the XO.”

    She cocked her head to one side. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, my friend.”

    “Not desperation,” he countered. “We’ve come into our own out of necessity. Adapt or perish.”

    She looked up at him, her expression caught somewhere between hope and fear. “You really think people can change?”

    He raised his eyebrows in a gesture of grudging appreciation. “Have you seen the captain lately? If Lar’ragos can choose to walk a different path after all he’s seen… all he’s done, then any of us can.”


    Captain’s Quarters, USS Europa

    Counselor Liu moved a rook down onto the second level, seizing one of Lar’ragos’ pawns in the process. “Is this the wisest course?” he asked casually.

    Lar’ragos sat back, taking in the entire board at a glance and mentally moving the pieces around in a dozen different variations as he studied his options. “Perhaps not, but then I’m not overly attached to this particular bishop,” he deadpanned, deftly sidestepping the question.

    Liu brought his eyes up to meet Lar’ragos’ over the three-dimensional chess board. “You want to play evasive word games with a psychologist?”

    “And you want to play twenty questions with an El Aurian? Perhaps I enjoy living life on the edge,” Lar'ragos parried, leaning forward to move a knight from the second level to the third, fleeing the onslaught of Liu’s advancing rook.

    “I’m under no illusions about you fearing death yourself, but how much risk are you willing to defer onto the crew?”

    The captain’s brown eyes grew flinty and his expression hardened in some immeasurable way, although Liu could have sworn not a single muscle had moved in the man’s face. “I thought this was a friendly game of chess, Counselor, not a psychological exam.”

    Liu shrugged. “It can’t be both?”

    “There’s more at stake here than one life, or all our three-hundred forty-seven lives. You don’t know this enemy the way we do.”

    “The Baron you mean?”

    “Precisely,” Lar’ragos acknowledged with a curt nod. “Unchecked this one man can destroy entire civilizations. He’s as frighteningly intelligent as he is unpredictable, and he is burdened by no moral or ethical constraints whatsoever.”

    “You make him sound like an arch villain from some holo-novel,” Liu chuckled.

    “You think I’m exaggerating,” Lar’ragos offered in a voice that carried such raw sincerity that it sent chills up Liu’s spine. “I assure you I’m not.”

    “Then why make a stand here and now while we’re all alone? We could continue back towards Galaxy Station and call for assistance. Wouldn’t having backup make more sense?” He reached out to send a pawn upwards to the first level, probing Pava’s defenses.

    Lar’ragos inclined his head towards Liu. “Normally that would be the best course, but the Baron’s allies, if they exist, won’t follow us to a place of strength where we hold the high ground.” Lar’ragos ended Liu’s advance on the first level with a capture by one of his knights.

    “What if they smell a trap?”

    A smirk flitted across Lar’ragos’ lips. “Of course they’ll sense the trap, but if they want the Baron back, they’ll have no choice but to take the bait.”

    Liu held up his hands in a helpless gesture. “Strategy and tactics aren’t my strength, so I’ll have to take it on faith that you know what you’re doing.”

    “Thank you,” Lar’ragos replied with gallows humor. “That’s the nicest backhanded compliment I’ve received all day, Counselor. And as to your supposed lack of tactical acumen, your chess play suggests otherwise.”

    “Beginner's luck, I assure you, Captain.” Liu chuckled.

    The activation of the yellow alert lighting effectively ended the game. Both men stood simultaneously.

    “Are we going to pick this up later?” Liu asked.

    “Certainly,” Lar’ragos replied, heading for the door. “I’m actually not losing this one to you.”

    “Yet,” Liu added, following him into the corridor.

  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Another nice little interlude with the crew of Europa. I especially liked Ashok's remarks regarding Juneau's development. Very accurate indeed.

    Is this the calm before the next storm?
  15. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 9 continued)

    Chapter 9 <cont'd>

    Lar’ragos stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge with Liu in tow, both men assuming their seats in the command center as Juneau surrendered the captain’s chair and stepped over to seat herself at the XO’s post.

    “What’s our situation, First?” Lar’ragos prompted.

    “Sensor contact, Captain,” Juneau reported. “A minor gravitational flux that’s out of the ordinary for this class of gas giant. It may be indicative of a cloaked vessel proximate to the stasis capsule.”

    “And here we go,” Lar’ragos murmured. “Engineering, bring the mains back online. Standby to reroute primary power from the structural integrity field to the shields. Bring phasers and torpedoes to hot standby.”

    Shields had been deactivated and Europa’s mains had been taken offline to suppress the ship’s energy signature. The vessel started to come alive around them.

    From behind him at the Tactical arch, 2nd Lieutenant Tiedermeyer acknowledged the order, warming up the weapons systems.

    At the XO’s chair, Juneau turned to cast a glance in Shanthi’s direction. “Science, stand ready to use our sensor array to blind them.”

    Shanthi nodded grimly in response. “Aye, sir. Standing by on sensors.”

    The visual feed from the mini-probes laced throughout the rings centered on the area where the gravimetric disturbance had been detected. There was a distortive shimmer and then the silhouette of a Defiant-class escort took shape as the compact craft skirted just above the plane of the rings.

    “They’re scanning the stasis tube,” Shanthi observed.

    “Hull markings identify the ship as Masada,” the petty officer at Ops announced.

    Juneau turned to Lar’ragos, her expression wary. “A coincidence, or do you think they’re linked to the Baron? They could just be shadowing us,” she postulated.

    Lar’ragos’ eyes narrowed as he sensed… something… that seemed very wrong, very out of place here. “No. This is them.”

    She knew better than to question his instincts, and instead sought to glean as much information as possible from the passive sensor readings being relayed from the probes.

    “Nominal energy readings being emitted from their power systems, but I’m detecting a significant increase in chroniton radiation,” Juneau alerted.

    From Science, Shanthi assessed, “Chronometric particles are a byproduct of most cloaking technology.”

    “Agreed,” Juneau said, “but not at these levels.”

    Masada is changing course,” Ops noted.

    Shanthi’s eyes bore into his sensor window. “Looks like they’re heading for the capsule.”

    “Steady,” Lar’ragos said in a calming tone. “Make ready. As soon as the fight’s on, they’ll try and bloody our nose before jumping to warp. Mister Tiedermeyer, I want our first volley targeted on their engines and shields.”

    Juneau leaned in to Lar’ragos to whisper, “Not their weapons, sir?”

    Lar’ragos mirrored her gesture, replying in kind, “I don’t want them escaping again. If they’re still shooting at us, at least we know where they are.”

    Ops gave a steady stream of updates on Masada’s proximity to the cryogenic stasis capsule. “Half-a-million klicks and closing at one-fifth impulse.”

    The tactical overlay on the main viewer showed Masada’s approach to the capsule, the small warship scanning the stasis tube repeatedly. “Two-hundred thousand K and continuing to close.”

    “As soon as we spring the trap, Z-plus-fifteen hundred meters. Once our sensor pod is free of the ice field, fry every sensor node on that ship,” Lar’ragos ordered.

    Masada’s inexorable advance continued, until the escort was a mere five kilometers from the capsule.

    “They’ve dropped their shields and are engaging their transporter, sir,” Ops advised.

    Lar’ragos toggled the detonator on his armrest console, sending the encrypted triggering code to the quantum warhead encased within the stasis capsule.

    Miniature thrusters on the capsule activated, causing it to move into a proper firing position relative Masada. The battery pack at the base of the capsule blasted free an instant before a quantum warhead ignited within and flashed downrange to slam home dead center of Masada’s navigational deflector.

    “Direct hit, sir!” Tiedermeyer crowed from the Tactical station.

    “Execute,” Lar’ragos instructed, his controlled voice conveying an air of clinical detachment.

    From the helm, Lightner called out, “Z-plus-fifteen hundred meters, aye.”

    As Europa surfaced from out of the rings, her monstrously powerful sensor pod turned its full fury against Masada, bombarding the smaller ship with overwhelming energies designed to deny its crew all referents to the outside universe.

    “Open fire,” Lar’ragos ordered as the starship cleared the ice slurry. Photon torpedoes and scorching columns of phaser energy lashed Masada’s shield emitters and her reinforced nacelles. The escort’s ablative armor buckled and fractured under the onslaught, but the tough little ship still managed to return fire towards Europa’s last known coordinates.

    Europa shuddered in response to the photon impacts but her shields held firm as the cruiser unleashed a second barrage that darkened one of Masada’s nacelles and sent her limping away on partial impulse power.

    “Engage pursuit course,” Lar’ragos commanded, “and continue fire.”


    USS Masada

    “God damn it!” Liana Ramirez raged as consoles sizzled and sparked around her on Masada’s compact bridge. “Shields! Give me shields!”

    The diminutive Gormarian at the Tactical station called out, “All available power has been diverted to the impulse drive! Shields and cloak are offline.”

    The heavily scaled Prelanite at the Engineering board added its gravelly voice to the chorus of bad news. “The chronometric canon and primary navigational deflector have taken catastrophic damage, sir.”

    “All sensors are offline,” someone else announced. “We’ve lost target lock and our situational awareness is compromised.”

    “Evasive pattern Ramirez Three,” Ramirez barked from the command chair. “Fire aft torpedoes in a blind suppression pattern, and modulate our SIF to refract as much of their sensor energy as possible.”

    “I was correct,” Parlan upbraided Ramirez from where he stood beside the captain’s chair. “The Baron was not in the capsule. Obviously, they used a sensor ruse to falsify the readings.”

    “How very helpful,” Ramirez snarled. “Perhaps you could employ your obviously superior intellect to finding a way out of our predicament?”

    “The temporal torpedo,” he replied without hesitation. “The chronometric sheath will circumvent their shields and its warhead will be more than sufficient to destroy their ship.”

    Ramirez spun in her chair to face him. “I don’t want them obliterated outright! That’s the whole point! The Baron wanted Sandhurst to know the intent behind this, to savor the agony of my being the avenue of his destruction.” She shook her head with frustration. “The torpedo is still a prototype, anyway, untested in combat conditions.”

    “I lack your creativity in such matters, Liana,” Parlan answered truthfully.

    Though the Baron’s neural reprogramming of Ramirez had dulled certain aspects of her personality, her ingenious knack for tactical creativity under duress had been unaffected. Her eyes widened ever so slightly as inspiration struck her. In a brief moment of clarity, Ramirez saw through the fog of battle to glimpse a potential course of action.

    “Send the final signal,” Ramirez ordered the tentacled alien manning the Ops console.

    “It is not yet time,” Parlan countered as the ship bucked again from another weapon’s impact.

    “Time enough,” she answered in a cadence reminiscent of the Baron. “He could have no better ending than one that cements his final vengeance.” Her eyes cleared and focused back on Parlan once again. “And you, my cybernetic friend, are going for a ride.”


    USS Europa

    “They’re coming about, Captain. Looks like they’re heading for the planetary rings.”

    Lar’ragos marveled at the punishment the Defiant-class ship was absorbing. Layers of ablative armor trailed behind the little ship as it swooped and jinked madly in an attempt to spoil Europa’s target lock. A storm of inaccurate torpedo fire lashed out in a brilliant but ineffective display of pyrotechnics.

    "Talk about swinging in the dark," Lar'ragos muttered to himself. “Increase speed by one-eighth,” he ordered. “We can’t let them get to the rings or we’ll lose them.”

    Masada’s broadcasting, sir,” noted the petty officer at Ops. “Some kind of encrypted transmission on a low-band carrier frequency.”

    “They calling for backup?” Juneau asked from the XO’s spot.

    “The signal appears to be directed…” the Ops chief spared a glance over his shoulder at Lar’ragos. “…directly at us.”


    Sickbay, USS Europa

    Given the discovery of whatever bizarre metabolic processes were going on within the Baron’s body, Lar’ragos had ordered that all possible measures be taken to safeguard the ship and crew from any tampering from within the man’s stasis capsule. The cryogenic unit had been moved to its own secured compartment in Sickbay and placed within a Level-Ten containment field.

    That precaution is what kept all of Decks 4, 5, and 6 along Europa’s starboard/aft section from being completely destroyed when the Baron’s body erupted in an inexplicable surge of roaring energy. Instead, the violent energies unleashed were funneled first through the stasis capsule and its containment field, both of which yielded almost instantly to the inferno. The shielded ward was awash in flame for a fraction of a second, before it spilled down the adjoining access corridor when the compartment’s sealed door vaporized under the onslaught.

    Taiee was treating an environmental systems technician who had been thrown off his feet during the first exchange with Masada moments before, causing him to dislocate his shoulder. She was passing a Feinberger sensor wand over the man’s upper arm when the deck beneath her feet trembled. Taiee glanced up just in time to witness a wall of fire surging up the corridor and into the main Sickbay ward.

    She gained an extra few seconds as a forcefield snapped to life to try and bar access to the river of superheated gasses and molten metal, but it was overwhelmed and began to fail almost as quickly. Her last conscious act was to pull her startled patient off the biobed and shove him through the main Sickbay doors into the corridor. Taiee heard the forcefield collapse behind her as she finished locking the doors from the inside and triggering Sickbay’s fire-suppression systems and another Level-Ten containment field over the door.

    Though inadequate to save the lives of those still within Sickbay, in conjunction with the sealed bulkhead doors and the containment field, the conflagration was stopped there and limited to the Sickbay complex.

    Taiee and four other medical personnel were consumed by fire, but thanks to her actions, dozens, perhaps hundreds more were spared a similar fate.

    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  16. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    I can't believe we've lost Taiee. It's sad to loose anyone but you'd think after surviving the Gibraltar, she'd survive anything. I can only imagine what this will do to the new and improved Pava Lar'ragos, especially considering that it was her who recommended getting rid of the Baron. Irony can be devastating.

    And it appears as if Ramirez hasn't played her last card yet. Which means nobody on Europa is safe.

    You're not pulling any punches. Truly excellent stuff.
  17. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 10)

    Chapter 10

    USS Europa

    The rumble through the deck plates was different than that of a conventional weapons impact, but that made it no less troubling. Alarm klaxons began to wail in protest as telltales at the Engineering panel and Master Systems Display began flashing red.

    “Report,” Lar’ragos called in a purposely steady voice.

    “Explosion in Sickbay,” came the reply from Lieutenant(j.g.) Lascomb staffing the Engineering console. “Containment fields are in place around the periphery on Deck 5, but power levels are dropping. Whatever’s causing this is still generating additional destructive power in the kiloton range.”

    Juneau called up a damage control display on her interface. “We’ve…” her voice caught in her throat for an instant before she could vocalize, “we’ve lost all of Sickbay, including specialty wards and surgical units.” Juneau immediately toggled the intraship, announcing, “This is the XO. Damage control teams don protective gear and stage on Deck Five, sections Fifteen and Sixteen-Baker. Be advised, Sickbay has been destroyed, so all casualties will need to be brought to secondary medical staging areas for treatment.”

    On the main viewer, Masada was making a last ditch sprint towards Iasobel VI’s rings, still firing torpedoes sporadically in her wake.

    Lar’ragos knew he was about to surrender their single greatest advantage, but the alternative was potentially losing much of the ship to this inexplicable internal firestorm. “Reroute auxiliary power from the sensor pod to shoring up the containment fields surrounding the fire on Deck 5.”

    “Aye, sir,” came the immediate acknowledgement. “Containment fields are stabilizing, but the power drain is still enormous.”

    Lightner pitched Europa hard over to avoid the first of three photons that were now targeted directly on them thanks to Masada’s abused sensors clearing. The final two torpedoes of the salvo corrected course, slamming against Europa’s forward shields with a staggered double-jolt through the ship’s spaceframe.

    “Forward shields down to seventy-four percent,” Tiedermeyer advised as he continued to pummel the escort with phaser blasts.

    Another volley of torpedoes arced towards Europa, this time quantums, identified by their brilliant light blue radiance. Lightner attempted another evasive roll, duping the first missile into detonating prematurely, but again the other two reacquired their target and plowed into the explorer’s shields.

    Accompanying the crashing shield impact was a hollow thumping sound that veterans among the crew recognized immediately as a hull breach. An instant later, Lascomb corroborated it from the Engineering board. “Hull breach, port side. Deck 6, Gamma section. They hit us right where that Ferou beam pierced the hull, blew out the emergency patch.” She tapped through a number of diagnostic screens. “Explosive decompression only, no warhead detonation.”

    At Science, Shanthi glanced up from his console to say, “That second torpedo passed right through our shields, Captain. It was generating some kind of chronometric field, like it was in a state of temporal flux."

    A chill ran the length of Lar’ragos spine as his well-honed survival instinct shifted into overdrive. “Tiedermeyer, get a security team down there.” He looked over his shoulder. “Tell them to bring heavy weapons.”

    “Captain, Masada’s coming about!”

    Lar’ragos looked back to the viewer to see the Defiant-class ship completing a sharp half-impulse one-eighty spin to bring her forward phaser cannons to bear.

    “Load quantums,” Lar’ragos breathed. “We’re ending this now.”


    Deck 6, Gamma Section, USS Europa

    Parlan clambered free from where the torpedo casing had come to rest, paying no heed to the thin atmosphere that was still leaking through the now semi-permeable containment fields struggling to cover the re-breached wound in the ship’s hull.

    Despite their being purely decorative, he removed his gold-rimmed eyeglasses from their protective case and put them on, before running his hands over his 18th century shirt, vest and pants to smooth out the wrinkles.

    Once he was well away from the torpedo, cybernetic tubules snaked out from its casing to penetrate the surrounding bulkheads, searching out EPS conduits and ODN nodes. The tubules infiltrated both systems and began downloading hyper-advanced adaptive malware into Europa’s data and power networks.

    Self-replicating protein chains invaded the ship’s bio-neural circuitry, while cyberpathogens corrupted data files, rewrote secondary and tertiary power distribution command hierarchies, and began efficiently shutting down Europa’s weapons, defenses, and propulsion systems.


    The combined Starfleet Security and Marine squad approached the stricken area, trailed by a hastily assembled damage control team. Multiple tricorders trilled in concert as they scanned for any kind of anomalous signatures, such as the unexploded warhead of a quantum torpedo.

    Power waveguides sparked and sizzled as the corridor lighting flickered, casting eerie shadows and darting wraith-like reflections across the bulkheads.

    The sound of rending metal spurred the personnel ahead double time, where they carefully edged around the corner of a T-intersection. Their rifle mounted lights illuminated an unimpressive, bespectacled man in anachronistic clothing standing just outside a pressure door that had been peeled apart as though made of paper.

    “Don’t move!” the ranking officer shouted. “Get down on the deck!”

    The man removed his glasses and made a show of cleaning the lenses with the bottom corner of his shirt. “Well,” he asked in a soft voice, “which is it? I’ll have to move in order to get on the deck.”

    “Get down, now!” two of the security officers bellowed in unison.

    “You first,” the man replied with a mischievous smile.

    A stun bolt flared from the emitter of a Marine’s rifle, but the discharge was intercepted by some kind of forcefield scant millimeters from the man’s body.

    By way of reply, vent-like slits on Parlan’s neck opened soundlessly. These weapons ports disgorged a whistling flurry of tiny explosive flechettes. The micro-missiles swarmed towards the security squad so quickly that they had barely any time to react. Two errant phaser pulses were all they managed before the projectiles struck, piercing only areas of exposed flesh.

    The resulting explosions blasted bodies apart in a horrific spray of blood, bone, shreds of uniform and assorted organic tissue.

    Parlan sniffed with mock irritation, donned his glasses once again, and strode onward through the gore-spattered corridor which had contained a dozen men and women only seconds before.

    Last edited: May 14, 2013
  18. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Oh boy, there goes the body count again.

    This will not be pleasant for the crew of Europa. So maybe the Baron is gone but his underlings are just as deadly and relentless as he was. Perhaps even more so. I feel a Pava/Parlan show down in the works. Smart money would be on the El Aurian but in this story, nothing is certain.
  19. Tribble puncher

    Tribble puncher Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2012
    Washington, OK
    Forget the new movie...THIS is Star Trek into Darkness.....:lol:...I laugh yet am serious
  20. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 10 continued)

    Chapter 10 <cont'd>

    “Uh… what the hell?” exclaimed Shanthi as the display screens at the Science station began to waver and flicker intermittently. “I’ve lost automation and computer access.”

    “I’m losing tactical systems!” Tiedermeyer added. “Shields are failing, and I can’t access our weapons.”

    At the Helm station, Lightner slammed his hands angrily against the non-responsive surface of his console. “Shit! I’ve got no control over anything. We’re drifting.” He immediately slid out of his seat, dropped to the deck on his back, and jimmied open the maintenance access panel on the bottom of the console.

    Juneau moved to retrieve an engineering tool kit and joined Lightner under his workstation, the pair working side by side and talking in low tones as they tried to diagnose the problem.

    Lar’ragos stood, eyes searching the bridge as consoles began to wink out. He turned to address Shanthi. “Emergency shutdown of all computer automation, Lieutenant. Reboot the computer core from the protected archives.”

    Shanthi’s hands darted across his panel, every tap eliciting a null-function buzz from the console. “I can’t do it from here, sir. I’ll have to access the core directly.”

    There was an ear-piercing squeal from the overhead comms, then a frantic voice yelling, “—der on Deck 6! He’s using some kind of advanced weaponry! Containment fields have been compromised, he’s walking through them like they’re no—“ there was a startled yelp, followed by silence before the channel closed.

    Lar’ragos turned to Tiedermeyer as Shanthi bolted for the turbolift. “Marine, escort Mister Shanthi to the core, and avoid Deck 6. Use the emergency access shafts and stay away from the ‘lifts. You are personally responsible for making sure he gets there and completes his work.”

    Tiedermeyer acknowledged the order with a curt nod, and turned to direct Shanthi to the bridge’s emergency egress ladder behind a hatch cover.

    Lar’ragos tapped his combadge. “Security teams, we have an intruder on Deck 6. He appears to be able to breach our containment forcefields. Use extreme caution when approaching him. Use of heavy weapons is authorized.”

    Liu, who’d remained a silent observer until this point, raised a skeptical eyebrow at that. He stood from his chair, muttering, “You’re going to let them light off photon grenades and tetryon cannons aboard the ship?”

    The captain spared him a grim look. “If the intruder is who I suspect, it still won’t be enough.”

    “Captain,” the Ops chief called out. “Communications has just come back online, but in a limited capacity. Local point-to-point laser transmission, only.”

    Lar’ragos looked to Chief Petty Officer Dunleavy who’d taken Tiedermeyer’s place at Tactical. “Can we launch an emergency buoy?”

    Dunleavy referenced her board, then shook her head. “Negative, sir. That function has been locked out.”

    “Incoming transmission from Masada, Captain,” Ops advised.

    Lar’ragos’ clenched his jaw, struggling to maintain control in the face of his utter impotence. “On screen,” he ordered brusquely, turning towards the viewer.

    The viewscreen crackled and a jumpy image began to coalesce, finally steadying and revealing the compact bridge of the Defiant-class vessel. Lar’ragos experienced a brief out-of-body moment as he stared mutely at Liana Ramirez seated in the captain’s chair of the battered escort. She was dressed in her duty uniform, not a hair out of place despite the obvious scorch marks across the bulkheads and the wrecked consoles visible behind her.

    “Hello, Pava,” she said brightly. “If it’s not too much trouble, I need to speak with Donald.”

    It seemed a thousand different thoughts fought to occupy Lar’ragos’ reasoning centers simultaneously, and it took him a long moment to realize someone was calling to him repeatedly.

    “Captain?” Liu asked again, placing a hand on Lar’ragos’ shoulder.

    Lar’ragos looked at the counselor, blinking away his dazed paralysis. “I — I’m good.” He turned back to the viewscreen. “You are in unauthorized possession of a Federation starship. I demand that you explain yourself.”

    “I’m here for the captain,” Ramirez replied, her expression darkening. “You aren’t part of this, and you don’t have to be. Just don’t get in my way.”

    “I am the captain,” Lar’ragos answered.

    Ramirez shook her head with amused exasperation. “I just knew you wouldn't give him up.”

    Lar’ragos raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “You’re apparently in control of our systems. If you don’t believe me, check our logs and database. Sandhurst went AWOL over a month ago, and his whereabouts are unknown.”

    Ramirez gestured to someone off screen, doubtlessly ordering confirmation of Pava’s assertion.

    “Who are you?” Lar’ragos asked.

    “You know very well who I am,” Ramirez replied somberly.

    Lar’ragos shook his head fractionally. “I know who you appear to be, but Captain Ramirez was killed in action. Vaporized, with no recoverable remains.”

    Her eyes widened just a fraction, but it was a dead giveaway to a Listener. “Captain Ramirez?”

    Lar’ragos silently counted down in the back of his head the time necessary for Tiedermeyer and Shanthi to reach the computer core as he sought to keep Ramirez talking. “She was posthumously promoted after the events at Velkohn.”

    “I see. No medal for you, then, after leaving me to die?” Ramirez asked, her tone deceptively benign.

    “Her sacrifice saved the away team,” Lar’ragos continued evenly. “She saved my life and the lives of the Velk hostages and the Changeling. It’s likely our returning that monster to the Dominion prevented another war, sparing countless lives.”

    “Me!” Ramirez snarled, leaning forward in her chair, her composure suddenly gone. “I saved you, Pava!”

    Lar’ragos’ expression was infuriatingly neutral. “Liana Ramirez was a hero and a patriot,” he noted in a matter-of-fact tone, as if giving an academy dissertation. “She would never knowingly participate in the murder of fellow Starfleet personnel, the theft of Starfleet equipment, or the crippling of her former crew’s vessel. Whoever or whatever you are, at best you’re only a pale imitation of the woman.”

    Ramirez came unhinged, stumbling out of the command chair to scream into the viewer. “You arrogant bastard! I’ve always hated your smug, self-centered superiority! I should come over there and tear your throat out myself!”

    He turned his back on the screen, calling over his shoulder, “If you want to talk, you know where to find me.” Lar’ragos resumed his seat in the captain’s chair, and glanced back up at the viewer an instant before severing the comm-link.

    In response to Liu’s dumbfounded stare, Lar’ragos said helpfully, “I think that might just provoke a response.”

    “You’re insane!” Liu assessed.

    “If she’s anything like the old Liana Ramirez, I want her angry. When she’s calm, that’s when she’s most dangerous,” Lar’ragos explained, reaching into a hidden compartment in the arm of the captain’s chair to extract a hand phaser.

    He attempted to adjust the beam intensity only to discover the phaser was completely inert. “And… it appears she hasn’t forgotten that particular little trick.” He tossed the phaser over his shoulder where it clattered off the face of the inoperative Tactical arch. “Peachy.”

    The hum of multiple transporter beams in concert filled the bridge. Lar’ragos had just enough time to realize that the objects regaining solidity were not humanoid sized, but were small and spherical. “Get down!” he shouted as he threw himself to the deck.

    Overlapping detonations tore the bridge asunder as the primitive chemical explosives and resulting shrapnel scorched, shattered, and flayed metal and flesh alike.

    Deafened by the blasts, his body riddled with shrapnel, Lar’ragos struggled to rise. Blood trickled or spurt from a dozen wounds in his torso and extremities, and he pressed one hand to his right eye to try and staunch the bleeding from the ruined socket. Through his remaining good eye he observed armed figures materializing throughout the bridge.

    Ramirez was standing in front of him before he could fully process her abrupt arrival. She delivered a staggering kick to his sternum, sending him crashing back to the smoldering deck. Just above the high-pitched whine of his wrecked hearing, he could just make out her shouted words. “Do I have your goddamned attention now?”