Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Starkers, Feb 16, 2006.

  1. captcalhoun

    captcalhoun Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2005
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    Undisputed February challenge winner on the theme 'dirty politics'

    Red Shirts: B’raken VII
    Honey Trap

    2268
    B’raken VII Colony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Vanessa buzzed the Councillor before showing Erek in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Thank you, Mister Van,” Bjorn replied.

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

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

    “Good,” Van said, smiling.

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

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

    The Triexian left. Bjorn returned to his desk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Both officers tore off their headsets and snatched up phasers.

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

    The three officers dashed in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Both men shook hands with her. “Good work, Ensign. I think you’ve got a promising career in front of you,” Adam informed her.
     
  2. Starkers

    Starkers Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Behind enemy lines
    It might have made more sense for the other missing entries to be placed in here first, just for chronology's sake!
     
  3. captcalhoun

    captcalhoun Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2005
    Location:
    everywhere
    am i bovvered though?
     
  4. Starkers

    Starkers Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2001
    Location:
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    ^Don't start that :devil:
     
  5. Juzam Djinn

    Juzam Djinn Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2005
    March 2007

    “Trading Up” by Juzam Djinn


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Can you identify them yet?”

    “No sir. Unknown ship design.”

    “Unknown? Can you give me a visual?”

    “Yes sir.”

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

    “No sir.”

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

    “No, ma’am. Unknown design.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Deneb IV. Starfleet Operations Centre, Farpoint Station.

    “Admiral Harnoncourt?”

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

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

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

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

    “You think?”

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

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

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

    “What’s that?”

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

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

    “I don’t know, sir.”

    “What was the name of the ship?”

    “The—uh—Enterprise.”

    Enterprise? Are you sure?”

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

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

    “Six months ago.”

    “Six months?”

    “Yes sir.”

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

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

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

    “What’s this?” said Admiral Harnoncourt.

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


    Earth. Starfleet Headquarters, City of San Francisco.

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

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

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

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

    “They traded starships? What for?”

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

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

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

    “Are they telling the truth?”

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

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

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

    “Some kind of temporal anomaly?”

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

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

    “Aye sir. The Ferengi.”


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

    “So where do we fit in?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ojukwu shrugged again. “Why do you think?”

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

    “Sundancer?” said Bael.

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

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

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

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

    “In a word: no,” said Ojukwu.

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

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


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

    “Commander Morikawa?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Why not?” said Bael.

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

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

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

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

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

    “Stadler here.”

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

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

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


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

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

    “Is that possible?” said the Andorian.

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

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

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

    “Is that unusual?” asked Vrank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ojukwu stopped rocking his chair. “Excuse me?”

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

    “Ah,” said Ojukwu.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    “DaiMon!” cried the Tactical Officer.

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

    The officer cowered. “Sorry… Captain.”

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

    “An unidentified starship is approaching.”

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

    “No sir. Captain.”

    “Are you sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    THE END
     
  6. sericali1

    sericali1 Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2005
    April 2007 Winning Entry by Ali

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

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

    Dawn by Ali

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

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

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

    With real eyes, Geordi La Forge waited to see his first sunrise.
     
  7. Juzam Djinn

    Juzam Djinn Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2005
    May 2007 Challenge: "Salvation"

    Supermax 109: "Shaheed" by Juzam Djinn.


    My name is Dawud Jaffar. I am a prisoner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “—ever,” said Peter, startled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “What about Hanif and Shoshanna?” said Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

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

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

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

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

    I said: “What?”

    “Shot up the raider.”

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

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

    “Why?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

    “Then I have an idea,” said Peter.

    ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Hassan cried: “What about the mortar?”

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

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

    ***

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

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

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

    Only, we didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

    Where’s my story now?


    THE END
     
  8. Dulak

    Dulak Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Location:
    Pacific NW
    Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries. (August 2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -end-



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

    USS Shepard

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

    Star Trek: USS Shepard; Vignettes

    For those who voted for my story, thank you!
     
  9. Starkers

    Starkers Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2001
    Location:
    Behind enemy lines
    Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries. (August 2007)

    My winning entry from June.

    Shades of Betty

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

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

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

    Until last week that is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ‘True enough.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ‘Chief?’

    ‘Nothing, crewman, just saying hello.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Robert actually screamed.

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

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

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

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

    ‘Of course,’ I said.

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

    Then again maybe his ordinariness was the point?

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

    ‘Who are you?’ said Luke the Purser.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ‘Wait,’ said Luke sharply.

    Robert looked at him. ‘Yes?’

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

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

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

    ‘Of course you are,’ muttered Robert.

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

    ‘Gotcha,’ he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

    ‘Who the hell’s this?’

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

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

    I introduced myself, and the engineer grunted.

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

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

    Scary thought.

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

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

    Markway grunted again then stalked back into the shadows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ‘I’m fine,’ I stammered.

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

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

    I ran.

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

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

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

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

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

    Because Robert flicked before my very eyes.

    ‘Oh no, no, no, no…’

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

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

    Still I had to say something, to Robert.

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

    * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And Robert Bean is with them…
     
  10. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries. (August 2007)

    My winning entry from July:

    SQUARE CIRCLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “A scapegoat?” Spock suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Kegek Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2007
    Location:
    Somewhere You're Not
    From yours truly. It originally featured a warning that it is mildly disturbing, that warning still stands.

    September 2007

    "The Big Bad Goodbye"


    The Bynars prized efficency. Treated their slaves pretty well if they co-operated and worked hard. They appreciated the value of a good investment, keeping the stock docile and well bred. Not like those idiots the Klingons, the Slavemaster thought to himself. He'd worked his way to the top of this sector by being more obsequious, genteel and efficient. When the Bynars said one string of numbers, he laughed. When they said another, he cried. He did such a good job they let him rule his fellow stock, and he did it well.

    He did it for the perks. Perks like the Holodeck. No other member world of the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance had anything like what the Bynars had in the Holodeck... it was a thing to die for. Or rather, to betray your blood for. Tonight was Friday night. Tonight he hung his gallows high and kissed sweet murder. Every other night of the week the Slavemaster was just a toady called Picard. Tonight... he was Cyrus Redblock.

    The doors opened. And he stepped inside - outside. Grimy, concrete buildings of a distant world half remembered crumbling like elegies. Cyrus smiled broadly; wondering how glorious those claustrophobic pillars must have been before Earth was reduced to a ruinous slave market. He strode through the paranoid streets, he gloated in the fear of holographic faces as they recognized him. To be feared, if only by things that did not exist... he delighted in it. He lit a cigar and let smoke billow from his nostrils into the dark shadow of the alleyways.

    But he'd tired of it after a while. So he'd asked for some... adjustments. Let living people in. The unruly, the sick. Whoever they didn't need anymore. Let them in to die. Finally the Bynars had agreed. They'd play their part, the Slavemaster would feel big, and he'd have the satisfaction of knowing he shed real blood each night...

    Cyrus patted the cold steel of his gun with his gnarled hand, and the other threw a dime to a dirty-faced kid. He yanked a newspaper from him, and read the newspaper, immersed himself... then he saw something he didn't want to see. "POLICE HAVE SEVERAL LEADS IN THE BRUTAL SLAYING OF MRS. ARTHUR CLINTON BRADLEY." And there was a photo there... of Tasha Yar. "Damn," mumbled Cyrus. What was it she'd said? He wondered. Oh, Slavemaster... if you weren't the Slavemaster... He grunted irritatedly. She was meant to be his, not some holographic homicidal -

    "Hey Boss." sneered a familiar voice. Cyrus looked over, disgusted at those dead, cold, fake eyes. That mannequin man, that blasted android. Picard didn't fear the Bynars, he knew how to work them. But this sick, twisted thing, this sex-crazed, bloodlusting maniac... The Bynars might have had brains like computers, but they hadn't been built by a crackpot delusional madman. Yet they'd bought this piece of hardware and whenever they wanted to make an example, they sent someone to this thing. Picard could only imagine what perversions it had sent Yar through, how long it had let her agonize... those abhorrent pleasures that Picard should have had....

    "Data!" spat Picard. The android flicked the spittle from its face, unperturbed. "The name's Leech, boss. Felix Leech." Leech sneered, the accent sliding off his inhuman tongue. Cyrus shoved the paper in his face. "My two-bits don't kill dames." barked Cyrus. "That's my affair."

    "Sure thing, boss." Cyrus regarded the thing cautiously. It was being submissive. If not fear - could that thing feel fear? - he had shown obedience. Yes, he could be... useful. The night was not wasted.

    "We're putting the heat on Dixon, Leech." The android smiled slyly. Cyrus nodded. "Yeah, the big heat. He's got something we want." And the rain came down. The hard rain that doused his cigar.

    ***

    He was a sniveling little wretch. A bookworm with a trenchcoat two sizes too courageous. He tried to light a cigar but he couldn't even keep his hand steady. At last, Cyrus gave him one of his. "What's your name?"

    "Dixon Hill, Private -"

    "I mean your name."

    "Whalen." He quivered.

    "Humph. Yeah, I remember you. Lit-historian, isn't it? Fancy title for a slave. Always held yourself so high, like you was invicible. I guess the Bynars don't have need of those anymore..."

    "Uh, Picard -"

    "Cyrus!" And it was true. In here there was no Picard, no Slavemaster. They existed all week so that Cyrus could come out Fridays and slake his thirst. "Somehow, Dix, I'd expected you to be taller. But it seems to me you are being uncooperative. This is unfortunate."

    "What are you going to do to him?" Demanded the woman. What a dish, thought Cyrus, glad I've brought a spare...

    "I'd be more worried about what I am going to do to you, Beverly." Cyrus leered gloatingly. To that pallor-faced Dix, he spat: "Where's the item?"

    "Item?" quailed Whalen. "There never was an item, don't you know that -" A yawn. A heavy yawn, a bored yawn. Cyrus' yawn. If anyone called it the yawn of death, nobody'd laugh. "Give him the works, Leech." Leech leaned over to Whalen, and began the slow kill. It wasn't about the item, Cyrus knew it was nothing. He even knew Whalen had no idea where it was. It was all about the death, the painful death, the beautiful torment. He might hate that android, but he had to admire its technique: Rumour said it'd kept its clinetele dying for weeks. And now to see such exquiste pulverizing in action... Cyrus felt he should be taking notes. He noticed Beverly's reaction - white as a corpse that didn't know it was dead yet. He chortled at the notion.

    When Leech was done, Whalen's body was a piecemeal pattern. Almost at once its sly, life-less eyes darted to Beverly. "You've had yours." Cyrus angrily reproached him. "Get out." Leech hesistated for a moment, but only a moment. The android left, and for all its amusement Cyrus felt a weight had been lifted: Now he was alone with a terrified moll. He was in his element. Billowing smoke in her face, Cyrus held her chin with his forefinger and thumb, leaned forward, and whispered with graveled assurance: "Let me have my way... and I'll get Jack out." Jack. He'd been the Slavemaster's friend for many years, but then he had the damn foolishness to lead a rebellion. He'd got imprisoned. And Cyrus knew Beverly loved him more than anything.

    But his promise was a lie. Jack was probably already dead. And even if he wasn't, there was nothing the Slavemaster could do to save him. And he knew Beverly knew that, but he knew she had no hopes and no dreams. He knew her total desperation would turn lies to truth if they sounded right. And so she gave herself to him.

    Aftewards, as they lay on the floor, Beverly asleep, Cyrus placed his gun to her temple. "Perfect postplay." The shot sounded, blood smeared itself across his face.
     
  12. Goliath

    Goliath Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2003
    Location:
    The Fifth Dimension
    October 2007 Challenge: The Hoary Cliché

    ST: VOY “Suture”


    Captain’s Log, Stardate 52104.7. The starless void is now seven days behind us. The ship’s crew—and its captain—seem to be recovering from their long ordeal. But I still think some shore leave would help us all forget the darkness of the void. We are presently passing through a region rich with main-sequence stars, and long-range sensors have detected a system likely to contain at least one M-class planet. We have altered course to investigate.

    The planet hung in the centre of the viewscreen, glowing blue and white, like a giant star sapphire on a field of black velvet dusted with diamonds. Sitting in her command chair, Captain Janeway felt a lump of homesickness in her throat.

    “It’s beautiful,” she said, finally.

    Behind her, Lieutenant Tuvok gave his full attention to the readouts on the Tactical console. “Definitely class M,” he said. “It seems to resemble Earth during the Paleocene epoch. That would fit the apparent age of the star—about sixty million years younger than Sol.”

    Janeway and her First Officer exchanged glances. The Captain took another sip from her coffee mug, and said: “What else can you tell us, Mr. Tuvok?”

    “The climate is warm and humid world-wide,” said the Vulcan. “Cool and temperate at the poles. Warm and temperate in the northern and southern hemispheres, with hot and arid zones above and below the equatorial region. Thick vegetation.”

    “Any dinosaurs?” asked Ensign Kim.

    Tuvok arched an eyebrow. “Impossible to tell at this distance.”

    Janeway smiled. “Set a course for that world, Mr. Paris. Full impulse.”

    “Full impulse, aye Captain,” said the Helmsman.

    Janeway had just lifted her mug to her lips again when she heard the familiar, unwelcome beeping behind her, to her left. “Captain!” said Ensign Kim. “Captain, I’m receiving a Federation distress call—priority one.”

    The Captain turned in her seat, looking back at Operations and frowning. “A Federation distress call?”

    “Yes, ma’am. It’s coming from the centre of the system—less than fifty million kilometres from the star.”

    With another glance at her First Officer, Janeway said: “On speakers.”

    The speakers crackled. At first, all they could hear was—music? French horns blared forth, followed by tubas and trombones, as the sound of woodwinds and violins rose and fell in the background, like the waves of the sea

    “Is that music?” said the Captain. “What is that?”

    “I’m not sure, Captain,” said Kim, baffled.

    “Computer,” said Janeway: “identify the music in this transmission.”

    THE OVERTURE FROM DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER BY RICHARD WAGNER, said the Computer. FIRST PERFORMED ON STARDATE....

    Then they heard the voice—panicked, staticky, desperate: “…calling Voyager. This is an emergency distress call—priority one! Voyager, come in! Voyager, please respond!”

    Startled, Chakotay looked over at the Captain. “Is that—”

    Janeway rose to her feet. “Onscreen,” she snapped.

    Up on the viewscreen, the starfield was replaced by a scene of horror: what looked like the badly-damaged bridge of an Intrepid-class starship, burning, littered with bodies. A female figure in the uniform of a Command officer stood at the Ops console, looking like—

    “Captain?” said Lieutenant Paris, his eyes widening. “Captain—it’s you! It’s—”

    Voyager!” cried the other Captain Janeway, on the viewscreen. Suddenly, Borg drones appeared on the ruined bridge, materializing out of swirls of green light. The music they had heard before still thundered in the background.

    Voyager,” screamed the woman onscreen: “Get out of this system! Get out of here now!”

    ***

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 52104.7. The starless void is now seven days behind us. The ship’s crew—and its captain—seem to be recovering from their long ordeal. But I still think some shore leave would help us all forget the darkness of the void. We are presently passing through a region rich with main-sequence stars, and long-range sensors have detected a system likely to contain at least one M-class planet. We have altered course to investigate.

    The planet hung in the centre of the viewscreen, glowing blue and white, like a giant star sapphire on a field of black velvet dusted with diamonds. Sitting in her command chair, Captain Janeway felt a lump of homesickness in her throat.

    “It’s beautiful,” she said, finally.

    Behind her, Lieutenant Tuvok gave his full attention to the readouts on the Tactical console. “Definitely class M,” he said. “It seems to resemble Earth during the Paleocene epoch. That would fit the apparent age of the star—about sixty million years younger than Sol.”

    Janeway and her First Officer exchanged glances. The Captain took another sip from her coffee mug, and said: “What else can you tell us, Mr. Tuvok?”

    “The climate is warm and humid world-wide,” said the Vulcan. “Cool and temperate at the poles. Warm and temperate in the northern and southern hemispheres, with hot and arid zones above and below the equatorial region. Thick vegetation.”

    “Any dinosaurs?” asked Ensign Kim.

    Tuvok arched an eyebrow. “Impossible to tell at this distance.”

    Janeway smiled. “Set a course for that world, Mr. Paris. Full impulse.”

    “Full impulse, aye Captain,” said the Helmsman.

    ***

    Voyager came down out of the sky, decelerating rapidly. It hovered for a moment over the headland, then touched down, settling on its landing struts. The roar and whine of its impulse engines died away, leaving only the screeching of native birds as they fled from the gigantic intruder.

    “The Eagle has landed,” said Lieutenant Paris, on the bridge.

    “Well done, Tom,” said the Captain. She tapped a button on her armrest. “This is the Captain speaking,” she said. “All hands, stand down from Blue Alert.”

    The picture on the viewscreen was gorgeous, reminding Janeway of an impressionist painting: a deep blue sky, and a deeper blue sea on all three sides of the headland. Deep green vegetation, and foamy white breakers on beaches of golden sand.

    “Looks like paradise,” Chakotay said. Janeway glanced at him and grinned.

    “Temperature twenty-eight point five degrees centigrade,” said Tuvok, at Tactical. “The native flora is… unremarkable. Trees resembling southern beeches, with numerous varieties of gymnosperms in the underbrush, along with flowering plants. The local fauna seem to be small and non-threatening—mostly birds and reptiles, with some primitive and non-specialized mammals.”

    “Perfect,” said the Captain. She stood up and stretched, arching her back. “All departments draw up repair and resupply schedules.”

    There was a chorus of “yes, ma’am’s” and “aye, Captains”. “Chakotay,” she continued. “Send out away teams to scan the surface—find out if there’s anything venomous or infectious out there. Then organize shore parties. See that everyone gets to spend one of the next three days on the surface.”

    “Aye, Captain,” said the First Officer.

    Janeway looked out at the alien world through the viewscreen. “Paradise,” she said, absently.

    “Captain,” said Lieutenant Paris, turning in his chair. “Captain, I have a suggestion.”

    “Go ahead, Mister Paris.”

    “Well, Neelix and I were talking about doing this on the holodeck, but this is even better,” said Paris. He paused, smiling.

    “Don’t keep us in suspense, Tom,” said the Captain, smiling back.

    “All right,” said the Helmsman. “Who here—has ever been to a clambake?”

    ***

    Tactical Officer’s Log, Stardate 52106.0. Against my objections, Commander Chakotay has ordered me to take a day’s leave, suggesting that I join the first shore party on the alien world. But since I do not eat clams, and the climate on the surface is uncomfortably humid for a Vulcan, I have requested permission from the Captain to take our new shuttlecraft, the Delta Flyer, on a grand tour of the star system—thereby putting my off-duty hours to good use. She has granted my request.

    I am particularly interested in the outermost eleventh planet. Long-range sensors detected faint, indeterminate life-signs: but this planet lacks an atmosphere, and its maximum surface temperature is a mere fifty degrees Kelvin. Any life forms thereon must be helium-II-based. Needless to say, such organisms are extremely rare. I look forward to studying them, and to spending some time in quiet meditation.

    Tactical Officer’s Log, Supplemental. Our Emergency Medical Hologram has requested permission to join me on my away mission. I happened to mention the possibility of superfluid life-forms on the eleventh planet, and he found the prospect fascinating. In addition, he says it will be a good opportunity for us to “get to know each other better.”

    Tactical Officer’s Log, Supplemental. The
    Delta Flyer is underway.

    The Doctor is enjoying himself. He is very…talkative.


    ***

    “So,” said the Doctor, sitting at one of the aft stations in the Delta Flyer’s cockpit. “How about some music to pass the time?”

    Up front, in the pilot’s chair, Tuvok continued to study the controls. The Flyer was on course for the outer system. All systems were nominal. “What did you have in mind?” he said finally.

    “Oh, I don’t know… how about Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto?” said the Doctor. “It has a wonderful aria in the third act—La donna è mobile.”

    Tuvok flipped a switch and checked a gauge. The shuttle’s controls were absurdly crude. Lieutenant Paris had designed them to resemble a 20th-century aircraft instrument panel.

    “An opera,” said the Vulcan.

    “Of course!” said the EMH.

    “I see,” said Tuvok.

    “Well,” said the Doctor, frowning. “That was a ringing endorsement. You don’t like human music much, do you, Mr. Tuvok?”

    “Forgive me, Doctor. But I am a Vulcan. I find most human music very…”

    “Emotional?”

    Tuvok raised an eyebrow, and looked back over his shoulder. “On Vulcan, music serves to sober and quiet the mind.” He returned his attention to the controls. “Most human music does quite the opposite.”

    “Well—there must be some human music you enjoy.”

    Tuvok looked up for a moment, staring out into space and considering. Finally, he looked back down, and flipped another switch. “I have heard some compositions from the twentieth century that I found quite pleasing.”

    “Oh?” said the Doctor, brightening. “Like what, for example?”

    “‘Four minutes, thirty-three seconds.’ For any instrument or combination of instruments. By John Cage,” Tuvok said.

    “All right,” said the Doctor. “Is there an instrument you prefer?”

    Once again, the Vulcan Tactical Officer glanced back briefly at the Emergency Medical Hologram. “I have always been partial to T’Lir’s transcription for Vulcan harp,” he said.

    “Splendid,” said the Doctor, beaming. “Computer, play ‘Four minutes, thirty-three seconds’ by John Cage, transcribed for Vulcan harp.”

    The computer chirped. Then, for a moment, nothing happened. The Doctor looked around the cabin. Finally, he asked: “Is this how it starts?”

    “Yes,” Tuvok said.

    The Doctor waited another moment. “I don’t hear anything,” he said.

    “Listen closely, Doctor,” Tuvok said.

    The Doctor frowned, and listened closely. Finally, he said. “I still don’t hear anything. Are the sounds outside of the normal human range of hearing?”

    “No,” Tuvok said.

    After another moment, The Doctor said: “The computer must not be responding. Computer,” he said: “play ‘Four minutes, thirty-three seconds’ by John Cage, transcribed for Vulcan harp.”

    Once again, there was an electronic chirp, followed by silence. His frown deepening, the Doctor turned back to his control panel. “Computer,” he said: “show me the score for this piece of music.”

    Obediently, the screen displayed a musical score. It read:

    I
    TACET

    II
    TACET

    III
    TACET


    “‘Tacet’?” said the Doctor.

    “Doctor,” said Tuvok.

    “But that means—You tricked me! This is just four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence!”

    “Yes,” Tuvok said.

    “But—”

    “Doctor, please,” Tuvok said. “I am trying to listen.”

    ***

    Captain Janeway stood in her quarters, examining herself in the mirror. Not bad she decided finally. Not bad at all, for a woman of a certain age.

    She picked up a terry-cloth swim robe from a nearby chair. “Seven,” she called, looking over at the entrance to her bedroom. “Are you ready? We should go.”

    There was no answer.

    “Seven? Come on out, let’s have a look at you.”

    Still no answer.

    “Seven, come out here.”

    “No,” said Seven, from the bedroom.

    “That’s an order, Seven.”

    “I will not comply.”

    The Captain put her hands on her hips and frowned. “Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One, come out here this instant!”

    Seven emerged from the bedroom and stood there, looking awkward. Like Janeway, she was dressed in a black one-piece swimsuit.

    “There,” said the Captain, smiling. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? You look fine.”

    Seven of Nine scowled. “This garment is not satisfactory,” she said.

    “Why? That’s a Starfleet uniform women’s swimsuit, the same as mine. What’s wrong with it?”

    “Over sixty percent of my surface area is exposed.”

    Janeway stared. Was Seven of Nine embarrassed? Impossible. “Seven,” said the Captain. “I don’t understand. Your everyday outfit is a dermaplastic body stocking that leaves very little to the imagination.”

    “Irrelevant. My body suit covers eighty-eight percent of my surface area.”

    She was embarrassed. Unbelievable, thought the Captain. “Seven, a man’s swimsuit is much more revealing than a woman’s. Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim will be exposing far more of their surface area than we will, and they don’t mind.”

    “Irrelevant. I cannot participate in this recreational activity. I will return to the Astrometrics Lab.”

    “Oh, no you won’t. You’re coming swimming with the rest of us, and that’s final.”

    Janeway had a sudden inspiration and walked over to the replicator. “Computer,” she said, “a Starfleet women’s racing swimsuit, to fit Seven of Nine.”

    There was a shimmer of light, and Janeway picked up a small bundle of slick black cloth. “Here you are,” she said, offering it to Seven. “This will cover everything but your face, hands and feet. Plus, the low-friction fabric will help you swim more efficiently.”

    Seven looked at the suit sceptically, but nodded and went back into the bedroom to change. Captain Janeway slipped on her robe, tied the belt, and waited. “Well?” she said finally.

    “This is acceptable,” said Seven.

    ***

    On the outer edge of the star system, the Delta Flyer was in a geocentric orbit around the eleventh planet. In the shuttle’s cockpit, Tuvok pointed to a display screen. “There,” he said.

    Standing behind the pilot’s chair, the Doctor frowned and looked closer. “Are you sure?”

    “Watch closely,” said the Tactical Officer, turning a knob. The screen zoomed in on what at first appeared to be a pool of liquid helium. As the two Starfleet officers watched, the pool began to flow slowly, across the frozen surface, like a giant amoeba.

    “That’s incredible!” said the Doctor.

    “Helium-II contaminated by complex molecules,” Tuvok said.

    “But—how could such a creature evolve here?”

    “Unknown,” said the Tactical Officer, leaning back in the pilot’s chair and steepling his fingers. “Some type of panspermia, perhaps. When we return, we should examine the M-class planet for evidence of ancient asteroidal or cometary impact…”

    An alarm went off.

    “…craters,” said Tuvok, leaning forward.

    “What’s that?” said the Doctor.

    “An unidentified ship is approaching from astern,” Tuvok said. “Take your station, Doc—”

    Suddenly, the Delta Flyer lurched sickeningly, flinging the Doctor against the wall of the cockpit. “Tractor beam!” shouted Tuvok. He looked around, above, behind…

    There. The giant cube-ship was behind them, at twelve o’clock. Tuvok jammed the Flyer’s throttle forward, attempting to break free from the tractor beam. No effect. Then the cockpit speakers came to life:

    “WE ARE THE BORG.”

    “Oh, no,” said the Doctor.

    “We cannot break free. Mayday,” said Tuvok, activating the subspace radio. “Mayday, Mayday. Delta Flyer calling Voyager. Come in, Voyager.”

    “YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED.”

    “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Delta Flyer to Voyager. Come in, Voyager.”

    “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.”

    “They are jamming our transmission,” said Tuvok. He took down a hand phaser from a bulkhead rack and got out of the pilot’s chair. “Doctor—prepare to repel boarders.”

    The Doctor had a horrified expression on his face. “My mobile emitter!” he cried.

    Tuvok looked down at the Doctor’s mobile emitter, then up, into the Doctor’s eyes. “You must deactivate yourself,” he said. “We cannot allow the Borg to capture you.”

    “But—we lost my backup module!”

    “Doctor,” Tuvok said, looking down, tapping a button on his phaser, increasing its power setting. “Deactivate yourself. That is an order.”

    The Doctor tried to say something, failed, tried again. “I understand,” he said, finally.

    Tuvok looked up again. “It has been an honour to serve with you, Doctor.”

    The Doctor nodded, and pressed a switch on his mobile emitter. As he dematerialized, the 29th-century device fell to the deck with a clatter.

    Tuvok took aim with his phaser, hesitated, then switched the weapon to his left hand, took one, two steps forward, crouched down, and snatched up the mobile emitter with his right hand. He closed his fist around it and shut his eyes.

    Remember,” he whispered, fiercely.

    The sound of the Borg transporter beams filled the cockpit. Opening his eyes, Tuvok stood up, shoved his phaser forward, and shot a Borg drone in the face at point-blank range. The creature tumbled to the deck. There were others behind it, but the Delta Flyer’s cockpit was too narrow for them to maneuver. The next drone tried clumsily to step over the body of its dead comrade. Tuvok shot that one as well, and took aim at a third drone, in the rear.

    Behind him, a drone raised its prosthesis, and jammed it into the Vulcan’s back. Tuvok stiffened. His eyes rolled back in his head, and his body jerked convulsively. Then he collapsed.

    ***

    It was late afternoon, and about fifty members of USS Voyager’s crew had left the ship for the nearby beaches. A few of them were riding personal watercraft out in the bay, while a few more were surfing, closer inshore. The majority were swimming, playing volleyball, or just sunning themselves. Neelix had examined the local sea life and pronounced most of it not just edible, but delicious: he was tending a large covered firepit, steaming large quantities of shellfish and crustaceans, along with what passed locally for potatoes, corn, carrots, and onions.

    Some of the bridge crew were playing tag in the water when they saw the Captain and Seven of Nine walk up the beach in their swimming robes.

    “Here she is, folks,” shouted Tom Paris, “the reigning Miss Delta Quadrant, Captain Kathryn Janeway!” There was a chorus of cheers, hoots, and whistles.

    Janeway gave them a withering look as she took off her robe. “At ease, gentlemen.”

    “And let’s not forget,” said Tom, laughing, “Starfleet’s new fifty-metre freestyle champion, Seven of Nine!”

    Seven removed her swimming robe and took a few tentative steps into the surf. “I will adapt,” she muttered.

    “Hey, Seven,” called Harry Kim, “what’s with the racing suit? Did you assimilate a seal?”

    “No,” Seven said, crossly. Behind her, Captain Janeway stifled a laugh.

    It really is like paradise, thought the Captain.

    ***

    Tuvok! Help! Tuvok, wake up! What’s happening? Where am I?

    Tuvok!

    Tuvok awoke to the sound of the Doctor’s panicky shouting. “Doctor?” he said, hoarsely.

    Tuvok! Thank goodness! What’s going on?

    Something was wrong. The Doctor’s voice…it was inside Tuvok’s head.

    Have we been assimilated? Tuvok wondered.

    Assimilated? said the Doctor, his voice filled with alarm. Oh, no! No!

    But wait—where were the other voices? Seven of Nine had spoken of billions—but Tuvok could only hear the Doctor’s. What has happened, he wondered.

    Tuvok, I don’t want to be a drone! Help me, please!

    There was a gap in Tuvok’s memory. The Borg had been preparing to board the [/i]Flyer[/i]. He had told the Doctor to deactivate himself. And then… Let me think, Doctor, he thought.

    Help! Help me!

    “Doctor,” Tuvok said, aloud. “Be quiet!

    Tuvok heard a whirring noise, followed by the clumping of heavy boots on metal. A Borg drone appeared above him, leaning over him, looking down, its pallid face dead, expressionless. The Vulcan realized that he was lying on his back, on a table, with his wrists and ankles restrained. The compartment around him was only dimly, greenly lighted, but he could see enough to know that he was onboard the Borg cube.

    The drone turned and clumped back to its workbench. As Tuvok watched, he saw the creature call up three-dimensional images of sophisticated holographic circuitry. It was examining the Doctor’s mobile emitter. Other drones either stood or walked back and forth in the background, engaged in tasks only they could comprehend.

    Doctor.

    Tuvok!

    Doctor, listen. We may not have much time. Are you listening?

    Yes.

    At the last moment, before the Borg boarded the Delta Flyer, I tried to mind-meld with your mobile emitter.

    There was a pause. Are you listening, Doctor?

    Yes, the Doctor replied. I didn’t know that was possible.

    Nor did I, Tuvok admitted. But I have read about an incident where Spock, son of Sarek, mind-melded with an intelligent machine—the Nomad probe. And again, later—with the V’Ger entity. So I decided to try.

    Why?

    To save your soul, Doctor. To transfer your katra from your mobile emitter to my mind.

    I have a katra?

    Yes. Think of my brain as an organic EMH backup module.


    But…but now we’re part of the Collective! Oh, Tuvok, why? I’d rather be dead! I’d rather be nothing!

    We are not yet part of the Collective, Doctor.

    We aren’t?

    No. The Borg have not yet assimilated me. I am not sure why. But this conversation is taking place inside my mind. Use my senses, Doctor. See through my eyes. Feel through my skin.

    I…I’ll try. There was another pause.

    Do you see, now, Doctor?

    I think so…but this is hopeless! We’ll be assimilated for certain!

    There are always possibilities, Doctor. Now, please—be quiet. Let me think.

    But—

    Doctor!

    All right.

    ***

    Janeway was impressed. Seven was a powerful swimmer. She splashed a lot, but she got where she was going.

    Tom and Harry swam over. “So,” said Tom, “how’s the little mermaid?”

    “You mean me?” said Seven. “Clarify.”

    “It’s a fairy tale,” Tom said. Briefly, he explained the story of the mermaid princess who became human.

    Seven considered. “I see. An appropriate allusion. I am well. I am mastering this activity.”

    “Oh, yeah? Well, let’s see,” said Harry, tapping her on the shoulder. “Tag. You’re it.”

    “It,” she said.

    Treading water nearby, Janeway laughed. “It’s a game, Seven. It’s called tag. The player who’s ‘it’ must touch another player. The other players try to avoid being touched. A player who’s touched becomes ‘it’, and so on.”

    Seven frowned. “A strange game.”

    “Come on, Seven,” said Tom, “we’ll go easy on you.”

    Seven raised an eyebrow. “Very well. I will participate.” Suddenly, she lunged to the side and touched the Captain’s shoulder. “Tag. You’re it.”

    ***

    Tuvok. Who—or what—is that?

    A Borg that had once been female had entered the chamber, not long after the drone had heard Tuvok speak. She too stood at the workstation, examining the mobile emitter. Her head, neck, and shoulders appeared mostly organic: but despite her feminine shape, the rest of her body seemed robotic.

    “Fascinating,” she said. “A miniature holographic emitter. Far in advance of any technology the Federation currently possesses. Where did you obtain this?”

    I believe that is the Borg Queen, Tuvok thought, as he tugged at his restraints. Seven of Nine has mentioned this creature to me. The Queen’s place in the Collective is not entirely clear: Seven could only say that, ‘she brings order to chaos’. She seems in some way to...embody, or personify, the Collective.

    The Borg Queen turned and looked at Tuvok, the light glittering off her metallic eyes. “It’s from the future—isn’t it?” she said. “What century is it from? The 28th? 29th? How careless of you to leave it so lightly guarded, Security Chief Tuvok.” She turned back to the workbench.

    Doctor, Tuvok thought. I have a plan. I will require your assistance.

    What do you want me to do?

    The Borg have made an error. My restraints are just slightly too loose. I am going to attempt to slip my right hand through its cuff. To do that, I must completely relax its muscles and tendons. You must assist me, with your knowledge of Vulcan anatomy. Visualize my hand. Create a three-dimensional image of its structure, in my mind, to help me concentrate.

    But...what good will that do?

    Doctor, please.

    All right. A detailed three-dimensional image of his hand appeared in Tuvok’s mind: bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels; perfect.

    Is this what you need?

    Yes. Now: help me visualize the soft tissues of my hand relaxing, becoming shapeless, formless and flexible.

    Like this?

    Yes.

    Are you sure this will work?

    Concentrate, Doctor. As the tendons and muscles in his hand went limp, the Vulcan began to pull with all his strength, working his hand back and forth back and forth in its cuff, pulling it through its restraint a millimetre at a time. The pain was intense. Tuvok ignored it, and kept pulling.

    “I know you’re awake,” said the Borg Queen, her steely gaze turned once again to her captive.

    Tuvok glanced at her, then turned his attention back to the ceiling. “Yes,” he said, making every effort to conceal the pain and effort of pulling his hand through its restraint.

    “Perhaps you’re wondering why we haven’t assimilated you,” said the Queen.

    “The question had occurred to me,” said Tuvok.

    “There is no further need for assimilation,” said the Queen. “Assimilation is obsolete. The flesh is obsolete.”

    Tuvok frowned, and looked at the Borg Queen once again. “What do you mean?” he said.

    “Once we have assimilated this new technology, molecular imaging scanners will take the place of nanoprobes,” the Queen said. “We shall convert living organisms into holographic data streams, and remove their imperfections merely by rewriting their programs. And once a creature has been scanned, rewritten, and stored, there will be no limit to the number of copies we can create.”

    The Queen spread her arms and looked upward, exultant. “We shall transcend the flesh, and exist as beings of light and thought. What were once implants will instead serve as mobile emitters. The Collective will become one vast holomatrix. We—shall—be—perfect!

    Almost there, thought Tuvok

    The Queen lowered her arms once more, and walked over to the table where Tuvok lay. Weirdly, green spotlights appeared to follow her wherever she walked. “And you, Lieutenant Tuvok—you will be the first.” Standing on his left side, she stroked his hair with her black-gloved hand: the sensation made the Vulcan’s flesh crawl. “You will serve as the model for the first generation of holo-drones. After all—what better species than your own—Species 3259?”

    “Should I be flattered?” said Tuvok.

    “Yes.”

    Quick as a striking snake, Tuvok’s right hand flashed out, across his body, and caught the Borg Queen by the throat. The creature made a gurgling noise. All around the room, Borg drones abandoned their work, turned toward the table, and advanced in their slow, zombie-like fashion, raising their prostheses.

    “Release me,” Tuvok said, “or I will kill you.” He squeezed, tightly, brutally. The Queen’s eyes bulged. Her tongue protruded from between her lips. “I have the strength,” the Vulcan said. “You know that.”

    The nearby drones halted in their tracks, looking on impassively. “Back them away,” said Tuvok.

    The drones retreated as slowly as they had advanced. Tuvok relaxed his grip slightly. “Release my restraints,” he said.

    Tuvok’s remaining arm and leg restraints clicked open. Slowly, carefully, he shifted to a sitting position, then got up off the examining table. Then, moving quickly once again, he released his grip on the Borg Queen’s throat, spun her around, and put her in a choke hold, wrapping his right arm around her neck, and shoving his left forearm up against the back of her head.

    “Now,” he said. “If you do not comply, I will break your neck. You will die, and the Collective will be thrown into chaos. Do you understand?”

    “Yes,” she gasped.

    It’s working! said the Doctor.

    Quiet, thought Tuvok. “Move over there,” he said, to the Queen.

    Tuvok and the Borg Queen shuffled over to the workbench where the mobile emitter sat. “Pick it up,” he said.

    The Queen complied. “Activate it,” said the Vulcan.

    With a trembling hand, the Borg Queen activated the futuristic device. The Doctor materialized. “Please state the nature of the medical emergency,” he said. Then, looking around in astonishment, he said: “What—”

    “Doctor,” Tuvok said. “Listen carefully. We have been captured by the Borg.”

    “But—”

    Listen, Doctor. I have taken their Queen hostage, and we are attempting to escape. Keep quiet, and follow my lead. That is an order.”

    Then, to the Doctor within, Tuvok said: Can you deactivate the Queen’s transponder?

    I...I believe so, said the Doctor’s katra. Yes.

    Excellent, thought the Vulcan. Then, to the Borg Queen: “Is the Delta Flyer intact?”

    “You cannot escape us!” said the Queen.

    “We shall see,” Tuvok said. “Answer my question. Is our ship intact?”

    “Yes,” she said, reluctantly.

    “Good,” Tuvok said. “You will direct us to it. We will board it, together, and leave this vessel. If any of your drones attempt to interfere, I will kill you. If any Borg ship tries to follow us, I will kill you. Do you understand?”

    “Yes,” she said, sullenly, hatefully.

    “Then comply,” said the Vulcan. Then, to the EMH: “Follow us, Doctor. Stay close.”

    ***

    The local sun had set, and the planet’s two moons had risen. The beach was lit by lantern light, and by the glow of campfires. At the head of the main picnic table, Captain Janeway took a last sip of her synthahol punch, set it down, and said: “Mr. Neelix, that was delicious. Thank you so much.”

    A chorus of compliments followed the Captain’s. The Talaxian stood blushing, beaming. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m just glad you all enjoyed it so much. And don’t forget—it was Mr. Paris’s idea.”

    “Mmm. Well done, Mr. Paris,” said B’Elanna, still sucking the meat from the legs of something that looked like a lobster. Tom smiled broadly, and placed his hand lightly on the back of her neck.

    “More fruit, anyone?” said Neelix, holding up a platter. “Captain?”

    “No, thank you—I’m full,” the Captain said. “Don’t forget to save some of that for Mr. Tuvok—especially those blue stone-fruit. Those were wonderful.”

    “I wonder how Tuvok and the Doctor are getting along,” said Harry.

    There was a ripple of laughter. Tom shook his head. “Poor Tuvok.”

    “Well, I for one am sure they’re having a wonderful time together,” said the Captain, picking up her drink and stirring it with her straw. She was about to take another sip when her communicator chirped.

    “Chakotay to Captain Janeway”

    The Captain tapped her combadge. “Don’t worry, Chakotay,” she said, smiling, “we’re saving some for you as well.”

    “Captain, we’ve just received a message from the Delta Flyer. They’re on their way back at maximum impulse. Tuvok said they’ve had an encounter with the Borg.”

    Janeway’s smile vanished. “Red alert,” she said, standing quickly. “Beam me directly to the bridge, Commander.”

    ***

    Janeway stared at the female figure sulking behind the force field, in the Brig. The Captain listened as both Tuvok and Seven of Nine explained the significance of their prisoner. Finally, the Captain turned to her Chief Tactical Officer.

    “You kidnapped the Borg Queen,” she said.

    “Yes,” said Tuvok.

    Janeway turned, looked at their prisoner again, then turned back to Tuvok. “The Borg Queen,” she said. “The Queen of the Borg.”

    “Yes,” said Tuvok, looking uncomfortable.

    “You kidnapped her.”

    Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “It seemed like the logical thing to do, at the time.”

    Once again, Janeway looked at the Queen. The Queen stared back, her metal gaze full of hatred. “What are we going to do with her? Won’t they come looking for her?”

    “I do not believe so,” said Seven of Nine. “Her transponder has been disabled, like mine. The Collective will not know where to look. In any case, they were certainly thrown into chaos when they lost contact with her. They are surely assembling a new Queen to replace her, as we speak.”

    “Then we may have a chance to get away undetected,” the Captain said. “Before the Hive gets itself organized again.”

    “Correct,” said Seven.

    Janeway tapped her combadge. “Captain to Lieutenant Paris.”

    “Paris here.”

    “Tom, prepare to leave orbit and resume course for the Alpha Quadrant. Janeway out.”

    The Captain considered their prisoner once again. Their prisoner glared back. Finally, the Captain spoke. “We seem to have three options. We can leave you here, in the Brig. We can put you in stasis. Or we can beam you down to the planet, and leave you behind. Do you have a preference?”

    “You will all be assimilated,” the Borg Queen snarled. “Resistance is futile.”

    “Very well,” said the Captain. She tapped her combadge again. “Transporter room. Beam the Borg Queen down to the surface of the planet.”

    The Queen dematerialized and vanished. As Tuvok turned off the Brig force-field, the Captain spoke again: “Captain to Paris.”

    “Paris here.”

    “Tom, take us out of—”

    “Ensign Kim to the Captain!”

    “Captain here.”

    “Captain, long-range-sensors have detected a Borg cube heading insystem, moving fast, on an intercept course for this planet.”

    “What?” said Janeway. She looked at Seven and Tuvok. “How did they know where we were?”

    “I don’t know,” said Seven of Nine.

    Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “They must have assimilated the Doctor’s database. He knew that Voyager had landed here, before we left for the outer system in the Delta Flyer. This would be the logical place to begin their search.”

    “Captain,” said Harry, over the comm system.

    “Yes, Harry,” said Janeway.

    “The Borg are hailing us, Captain.” There was a pause. “He says he wants to talk to you personally.”

    “‘He’ wants to talk to me? Who is ‘he,’ Harry?”

    “I…I think you’d better come see for yourself, Captain.”

    ***

    Moments later, on the Bridge, Captain Janeway took her seat. Her senior staff-members were in their places, and Seven of Nine was at the workstation on the arch behind the Captain and First Officer. “Tactical update,” the Captain said.

    “The Borg cube is standing off, just outside of weapons range. Shields are at maximum. Phasers are fully charged, and photon torpedo tubes are loaded.”

    “They’re hailing again,” said Ensign Kim.

    Janeway looked around, then said: “Put them onscreen.”

    The image of the Borg cube was replaced by the deathly pale, grey-veined face of a drone. Like the Queen, it was bald, with metallic eyes. Its—

    With a shock, Janeway realized that the drone looked like a Borg version of the Emergency Medical Hologram.

    “What the…” said Tom.

    “We are the Borg,” said the drone. Then, it smiled slightly. “But I’m sure you know that already.”

    “To whom am I speaking?” said the Captain.

    “I am...well...to tell the truth, I haven’t been able to decide on a designation for myself,” said the drone. “‘Finitio,’ perhaps—the end, and the beginning. Or ‘Multiune’—the one who is many. In any case—I am the Borg.”

    “You’re the new Queen.”

    “If you like,” it said diffidently. “I prefer to think of myself as the new...Maestro.”

    “Very well...Maestro. Why do you look like our Emergency Medical Hologram?”

    “Ah, yes—that. Well. You can blame your Mr. Tuvok for that. Our analysis of the Doctor’s mobile emitter was not yet complete when your Tactical Officer escaped with it. We were forced to use the Doctor’s holomatrix as the pattern for the first generation of holo-drones.”

    The view shifted abruptly, to another location within the Borg vessel. A small army of drones were at work building an incomprehensible machine. Aside from their various prosthetics, all of them looked like assimilated versions of the Doctor.

    The face of the Maestro reappeared. “But as you can see,” he said, “the operation was a complete success.”

    Janeway looked appalled. “Is you entire ship’s crew holographic?”

    “Not yet,” said the Maestro. “But we’re working on it. Give us time, Captain.”

    “All right,” said the Captain. “What do you want from us?”

    “I want to thank you, Captain Janeway.”

    “Thank me.”

    “For making all this possible. In just a few days, your mobile emitter has brought the Collective closer to perfection than all the technology it has assimilated in the past few centuries. This is an epoch—the year zero. Nothing we plan to do will be impossible for us. Nothing.”

    “So...how were you planning to thank us?”

    “By assimilating you, of course. Once we complete our analysis of the mobile emitter, we can take molecular imaging scans of your bodies, and use them as the holographic data patterns for the next generation of drones. The scanning process is...destructive. But you’ll hardly miss your physical bodies, I assure you.”

    “And if we refuse this...reward?”

    “Refuse? Captain, don’t be silly.”

    “They’re moving in!” said Harry Kim. Suddenly, tractor beams lanced out from the Borg cube and splashed against Voyager’s shields. The bridge trembled, throwing the crew off-balance as the inertial dampeners struggled to compensate.

    “And now,” said the Maestro, “some music to assimilate by. La resistenza è inutile—‘resistance is futile’—an operatic aria, sung to the tune of Giuseppe Verdi’s La donna è mobile.”

    The familiar music from Verdi’s Rigoletto began to play, oom-PA-PA, oom-PA-PA, and soon, the Borg Holodoctor began to sing:

    L’assimil-AZI-on’
    È ’nevi-TAB-ile!
    LA resistenza—È inutile!

    Aggiunger-E-mo
    le vostre CAR-atter-
    IS-tiche distintiv’—AI nostri proprie!

    L’assimil-AZI-on’
    È ’nevi-TAB-il’!
    La resis-TENNN-za—è inutil’!
    È inutil’!


    “Shields down to seventy-four per cent,” said Tuvok.

    “Tom!” the Captain shouted. “Break us free! Maximum impulse!”

    “I can’t, Captain. Their tractor beam is too strong.”

    “Tuvok! Return fire, all weapons! Target their emitter!”

    “Firing.”

    Phaser beams and photon torpedos blasted the closest side of the giant cube-ship. Suddenly, the Borg tractor beam failed. Voyager turned hard about, and flew away at maximum impulse.

    Onscreen, the Maestro laughed theatrically. “Ha ha ha! Well, done, Captain. Well done.” Then, he continued:

    L’assimil-AZI-on’
    È ’nevi-TAB-ile!
    Vi adatt-ER-ete—PER assisterli!


    “Helm—evasive maneuvers! Tuvok—shut that off!”

    Quindi aggi-UNG-en-
    Do alla NOS-tra
    Perfezi-ON-e—PER-fezione!


    “Unable to block the Borg transmission, Captain.”

    Quindi aggi-UNG-en-
    Do alla NOS-tra
    Perfezi-ONNN-e—Perfezion’!
    Perfezion’!


    Using Voyager’s superior maneuverability, Tom Paris managed to keep the ship away from the Borg cube, banking and turning, diving and climbing. Still, the cube clung to their tail, as if attached to Voyager by some kind of elastic band.

    “I don’t know how long I can keep this up, Captain,’ said Paris.

    “Tuvok. Can we lose them?”

    The Vulcan shook his head. “Negative. The Cube is faster, and far more powerful than Voyager. We cannot run. We cannot hide. We can fight, but the Cube will defeat us, eventually.”

    “Even if we could escape,” said Chakotay, “the Borg would still have the mobile-emitter technology.”

    The Captain’s face twisted with anger. “Damn that thing! I should never have brought it onboard.” She thought furiously. Then, to the Helmsman: “Tom. Do you remember how to perform an Immelmann?”

    Tom glanced back at the Captain, surprised. “With Voyager?”

    “You heard me.”

    “Yes, ma’am!”

    “Continue evasive maneuvers for now,” said Janeway. She rushed up the stairs to Operations. “Seven,” she said, snapping her fingers. “Come over here.”

    The former drone complied, and the three humans huddled around the Ops console. “Do you have a plan, Captain?” said Harry, hopefully.

    “Yes,” Janeway said, keeping her voice low. “Do you remember the whale-probe incident, in 2286?”

    “Sure,” said Kim.

    “Captain Kirk and his crew used a gravitational-slingshot maneuver around the Sun to send their ship back in time three hundred years. The course they followed should be in our memory banks.” She paused briefly. “The local sun is almost identical to Sol. Do you think you could plot a similar course that would take us back just three days, instead of three centuries?”

    “Three days?” said Kim, startled.

    “It doesn’t have to be exact, Harry. Just get us back before we arrived in this star system.”

    Seven frowned. “You are attempting to prevent these events from happening.”

    “That’s right. If we can warn Voyager away, the Borg will never get their hands on the mobile emitter. Can you do it?”

    Harry and Seven of Nine looked at each other. “Can you?” said the Captain.

    The two looked back at the Captain. “Yes,” said Seven.

    “I think so,” said Kim.

    “Then do it. And do it quickly. We’re heading into the system toward the star.”

    Seven and Kim set to work. “Tuvok,” said the Captain, returning to her command chair. “We’re about to perform a half-loop with a half-roll. Ready the aft torpedo launchers, and prepare to fire with both the dorsal and ventral phaser arrays.”

    “Aye, Captain.”

    “Tom—are you ready?”

    “Yes, ma’am!”

    “Really, Captain,” said the Maestro, reappearing onscreen. “This is getting tedious. Why don’t you just make it easy on yourself. Whatever you’re plotting, you know as well as I do that resistance really is futile.”

    Now, Tom!”

    ***

    In his control centre, the Maestro watched, startled, as Voyager suddenly looped upward, scouring the surface of the Borg cube with its dorsal phasers. The Cube slowed, but overshot, its greater mass preventing it from matching Voyager's course change. At the top of the loop, the Federation starship rolled over, and opened fire with its ventral phaser banks. As it sped away at maximum impulse, back toward the centre of the star system, its aft tubes released a full spread of torpedoes that blew huge holes in its enemy’s hull.

    “Oh, nicely done, Captain,” chortled the Maestro, delighted. He reversed the Cube’s course and followed Voyager toward the star. “Nicely done, indeed. But that won’t save you. Nothing will.”

    ***

    “The cube is pursuing,” said Tuvok. “It is closing rapidly.”

    As the cube ate up the distance between itself and Voyager, music began to play over subspace again. Woodwinds and violins thrilled, and brass instruments blared: the rhythm reminded Janeway of a galloping horse.

    “What now?” said the Captain.

    “I’m not sure, Captain,” said Chakotay, baffled.

    It’s the Ride of the Valkyries, by Richard Wagner, said the Doctor’s katra.

    “The Ride of the Valkyries,” Tuvok said. “By Richard Wagner”

    The Captain did a double-take over her right shoulder, toward the Tactical station. Then, she turned to her left. “Harry! Seven! Are you ready?”

    “I think so, Captain,” said Kim.

    “Are you ready, or not?”

    “Yes,” said Seven of Nine.

    “Course plotted,” said Kim.

    “Tom,” said the Captain. “Take us in—maximum warp.”

    ***

    The Maestro watched as Voyager deployed its warp nacelles and shot away. “Ha ha ha-ha!” he laughed. “Run, rabbit!”

    As the cube engaged its transwarp drive, the Borg Holodoctor began to sing again: “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit[/i], kill the wabbit!

    ***

    Voyager plunged toward the star, its Borg pursuer following closely.

    Tom said: “Entering the star’s corona. Pericentre in ten…nine…eight…”

    “Shields at forty-seven per cent,” said Tuvok. “Outer hull temperature climbing quickly.”

    “Seven…six…five…”

    “The Borg vessel is closing. Outer hull temperature critical.”

    “Four…three…two…”

    The Captain said: “Hang on, everyone.”

    “One…”

    ***

    ERROR

    INPUT FAILURE

    RETRY

    011101000110010101100011
    011010000110111001101111
    011000100110000101100010
    011000100110110001100101

    REACTIVATING...

    The Maestro blinked, looked around the cube’s control centre, confused. What had just happened? The Borg ship had been following Voyager into the star’s corona. Then, at the pericentre… everything had gone…blank…

    No matter. They were still in pursuit. There was Voyager, up ahead, flying away from the star once more.

    Like a conductor, the Maestro raised his hands. As the overture for Der Fliegende Holländer swelled up, the Borg Holodoctor waved his hands and cried: “Arise, storms! North winds, blow! South winds, blow! Flash, lightning! Strike the wabbit!

    ***

    On Voyager’s bridge, Captain Janeway shook her head, trying to clear it. “Harry,” she said thickly. “Harry!”

    “Here, Captain,” said Kim.

    “Did we make it?”

    “I’m not sure.”

    “Tuvok?”

    The Vulcan examined his tactical console. “Yes, Captain. Judging from the positions of the system’s planets—the stardate is approximately—52105. The other Voyager should be just on the edge of the star system.”

    “Then there’s still time,” said Janeway. “Open a—”

    The deck tilted and bucked under their feet as the Borg weapons hit their target. Captain Janeway was thrown out of her seat. Someone screamed. Tuvok clutched at his Tactical console, trying to keep his feet. Then the console exploded like a grenade, hurling him backward against the bulkhead, into blackness.

    ***

    Tuvok? Tuvok!

    Doctor…what…

    You’ve been wounded, Mr. Tuvok. Badly. Don’t try to move. Keep still

    Tuvok tried to focus. The pain was…intense. But bearable. Just.

    Finally, he thought: Am I dying?

    Save your strength, Mr. Tuvok.

    Doctor.

    There was a pause. Then: Yes, Mr. Tuvok. If you don’t get medical attention very soon, you’ll die.

    I see, thought Tuvok. He struggled to maintain his self-discipline, as bitterness and sorrow welled up within him. He had come so far, and waited so long. Now he would never see his wife and children again—and all that he was would be lost, forever. There would be no one to carry his katra to the temple on Mount Seleya, to join the spirits of his ancestors.

    I’m sorry, said the Doctor.

    Remembering that he was not alone helped the Vulcan compose himself. No, Doctor, he thought. I am the one who is sorry.

    For what?

    For tricking you, earlier…on the Delta Flyer. I was being… selfish…

    It’s all right, Mr. Tuvok. I understand now.

    You…do?

    Yes. The point was to listen to the sounds in the silence—to the music of the world around us.

    Yes.

    Would you… like me to play it for you now?

    Had he been human, Tuvok would have smiled. Yes, Doctor, he thought. Thank you.

    ‘Four minutes and thirty-three seconds,’ by John Cage, said the Doctor’s voice. Transcribed for Vulcan harp.

    And then…

    Silence.

    ***

    Slowly, painfully, Captain Janeway grabbed on to the arm of her chair and dragged herself to her feet. She looked around wildly. The bridge was a wreck. The rest of the bridge crew was either dead, or too badly wounded to move. Fires burned out of control, and electrical sparks flashed and sputtered. Someone was sobbing in pain. On the bridge viewscreen, through the static, she saw the Borg cube coming up fast, blotting out the stars like the shadow of death itself.

    As quickly as she could, the Captain limped up the steps to Operations. Ensign Kim lay sprawled nearby, his face bloody and scorched, his dead eyes open wide. Janeway hit the button for the subspace communicator’s emergency channel. “This is the Federation starship Voyager calling…calling Voyager!” she said. “This is an emergency distress call, priority one! Voyager, come in! Voyager, please respond!”

    Please, she prayed. Please, please…

    Desperately, she repeated her hail. Then, miraculously, the image on the viewscreen switched to a view of the Voyager’s bridge, undamaged, its crew unhurt. Up on the screen, snowy and distorted, another Kathryn Janeway stood in front of her command chair, coffee-mug in hand, a startled expression on her face. Sitting at the helm, a wide-eyed Lieutenant Paris said: “Captain, it’s you. It’s—”

    Voyager!” Janeway screamed. Weird green lights flickered and swirled around the Bridge as Borg drones beamed aboard—all of them looking like sick, twisted versions of the EMH. “Voyager, get out of this system! Get out of here now!”

    One of the Doctor-drones stuck its prosthesis into her side. Janeway stiffened. Her eyes rolled back in his head, and her body jerked convulsively. Before she lost consciousness, she heard a voice—familiar, yet twisted, sinister:

    “La resistenza,” it hissed, “è inutile!

    ***

    The image on the viewscreen disappeared abruptly. “Get her back!” said Janeway. “Mr. Kim, get her back!”

    “I can’t, Captain. Transmission terminated at the source.”

    “Are we within sensor range?”

    “Yes, Captain,” said Kim. On the viewscreen, a Borg cube appeared, holding Voyager in its tractor beams like a monstrous, bloated spider cocooning a fly. As the Bridge crew watched, horrified, cutting beams lanced out, and began to slice the Federation starship into pieces.

    “Helm!” shouted the Captain. “Hard about! Get us out of here! Maximum warp!”

    “Yes, ma’am!”

    Voyager heeled over, banked into a tight turn, deployed its nacelles for warp speed, and shot away, moving faster than light. A moment later, Lieutenant Paris reported: “We are clear of the star system, proceeding at maximum warp.”

    Still tense, the members of the Bridge crew looked around at each other.

    Finally, Ensign Kim said: “What the hell was that?


    THE END

    NOTES

    1. The clichés used here are:

    --Voyager defeats the Borg;
    --time travel (especially via gravitational slingshot);
    --the reset button
    --and lots of “pepper jack cheese”--lame details included in fanfic because they’re peculiar to the author—in this case, details about classical music and opera.

    2. If anyone is unfamiliar with the pieces of music mentioned above, you can click on the following links:

    --the late, great Luciano Pavarotti performing La donna è mobile;

    --a performance of Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries;

    --and the classic 1957 Warner Brothers cartoon What’s Opera, Doc?. The overture from Wagner’s Die Fliegende Holländer plays over the stormy scenes at the beginning, and the end.

    If you want to hear a performance of John Cage’s 4’33”, just sit quietly and listen to the noises around you for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. “Tacet” means “do not play your instrument.”

    3. Assuming that babelfish has done its job properly, the Maestro’s aria translates roughly as follows:

    Assimilation
    Is inevitable!
    Resistance is futile!

    We will add
    Your distinctive
    Characteristics to our own!

    Assimilation
    Is inevitable!
    Resistance is futile!
    Futile!

    Assimilation
    Is inevitable!
    You will adapt to serve us!

    Thereby
    Adding to our
    Perfection—perfection!

    Thereby
    Adding to our
    Perfection—perfection!
    Perfection!
     
  13. TimmyWl

    TimmyWl Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu Hawaii
    November 2007 Challenge: Bad Faith
    Time/Place Immediately Post-War Cardassia


    Two men are walking the street. The shadows from the buildings do not match with their uniform. The buildings do not match with their uniform. Their species do not match with the hard forged metal, grotesque in all the blasted shapes, the ruble, and the odd mixture of those who survived.

    It is of the shorter one that stops at a block. Over there in the distance lies the rest of the magnificent brand new city. That part of the metropolis is brand new. It is plastic. It is white. It is of that imprint that the shorter one wears – the red turtleneck clashing with the gray shoulder ‘pad’, the one strip to earmark his lower rank, finally of the shape of shuttles that do not set easily with the projected might that this city once had.

    The taller one has a variant on the costume. There is a strange angled eagle merged with the UFP signal underneath. The pips on the collar do not match with his smaller companion.

    He is armed as well. The weapon – fashioned in the style of an ancient pistol or revolver – is strapped to his side. He keeps an eye out. Out in the distance there are green skinned people aiding Cardassians – an odd sight to see – in their actual existence set amongst the other peoples of other origin.

    It is not unusual to see duplicate signs set beneath their elder brethren, translating Cardassian into English. The Cardassians can translate it. To the taller one they seem almost runic; incomprehensible babble to their newly found occupants.

    Suddenly it is his shorter companion that walks through the ruins of a lot.

    “Davis –” trails the taller one.

    “Relax – I’m getting a better view” comments the shorter, his feet upon the bones of the structure, ignoring the other walls around him.

    “Davis –” repeats the taller one, yet again. There is no edge to the lot. It is empty. It is a void within other holes. The taller one takes a good glimpse around his surroundings. His brown eyes catch a work detail with the newfound colors of the New Cardassian Militia – the alien graft of their uniforms to pseudo-Starfleet colors.

    “Jeez Pat - you should really stop being paranoid” replied Davis, after coming back, “It’s not like any Obsidian Order’s going to step out with guns a blazing”

    “You should really watch what you say” added the taller one, already putting some distance away from that watcher and the rest of the caved out houses.

    Davis snorted. “Who’s going to stop me – them?” he nodded towards the work detail, the sound of their shovels reverberating into the graveyard silence.

    “Davis – this isn’t the place”

    “What is then?” openly challenged Davis, wisely keeping pace, but stopping next to a crater that could have held an entire city block, “I mean don’t you dream of getting off this rock? It’s their fault that they were killed. If they hadn’t gone off the deep end – we would still be Starfleet – Captain Kirks every one of us – stretching the bounds of the Prime Directive to everyone and everything…”

    “Have you even read anything of Captain Kirk?” retorted Pat.

    “Of course – who hasn’t? Him and that other guy – they all got bogged down by this …stuff. Tell you what Pat – just once I want a call from people like him – perhaps Riker – saying that he needs more people on the Titan or perhaps Admiral Janeway. I mean – she defeated the Borg with one hand tied behind her back and she was moving all the while – none of this plant the whole fleet here and dry-dock any people who want to be in the Delta – Beta – and everywhere else but here Quadrant….Pat - Are you listening to me?”

    Pat did not stare at the theatrics of his younger friend. There was that singular presence of that certain woman at the edge of his vision. Previously she was part of that silent stream of people going down the open roads and spaces. She had stopped from the usual course – off towards the local Starfleet base.

    She had followed them. Her uniform was of the same artificial hybrid pair that he had seen earlier – with the exception of that same design that Pat wore on his jacket. She was somewhat human – had it not been for her green skin with the facial distortions that culminated with that singular skin mutation above her nasal bridge.

    “Sir –” she said to Pat, giving him a salute, the heels crisp, “I’m sorry for interrupting – but I was wondering if you – sir – could ask your friend to repeat what he just said.”

    “You mean Admiral Janeway? I don’t have the pad on me but I can share” interrupted Davis, a grotesque smile upon his lips, moving towards the girl in general. “She managed to convert this Borg drone into this stunning model – and saved a couple of kids as well. She’s really popular with the guys that I work with….” he added, coming even closer to her.

    The woman stood there. Her mouth was open. Then it was crisp. “Sir – excuse me – I meant the insinuation that the Cardassians deserved their genocide-”

    Davis shrugged. “I said nothing wrong. It’s all Starfleet issues ma’am– nothing more.”
     
  14. Count Zero

    Count Zero Welcome to the Danger Zone! Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    Procrastination Plaza
    December 2007 - A New Era (after Dominion War)
    Winner: DavidFalkayn


    ABSENT FRIENDS


    USS Sutherland: Stardate 56982.2

    Watching silently as the last, but one, of her senior officers filed out of the banquet room, the very youthful—thanks to a strange incident that took place three years ago in the Perdita Expanses involving alternate universes and dimensions—Captain Elizabeth Shelby, looking alluring in a pastel green formal evening gown, turned to her executive officer, Commander Sam Lavelle, also looking dashing in his formal dress uniform.

    “Well, Sammy…” she remarked in a pensive, reflective tone, her familiar form of address indicating to her first officer that this was to be a private and personal discussion, “…another year…another remembrance dinner…”

    “Yeah, but this one’s special, Betts.” The dark haired Lavelle noted as he filled both of their champagne flutes with the genuine Cristal champagne that Liz had brought out for the occasion. “This is the last one we’re going to have on the old girl.”

    “I know.” Liz sighed mournfully, “When she goes into the yards in a few weeks, we move over to the Horizon.”

    “I guess a Sovvy’s a move up—isn’t it?” Sam asked, half jesting. “Too bad they won’t let us rename her like they let Sintina rename her ship the Indy.”

    “It’d be nice…” Liz remarked, “But, since they’re only refitting and not decommissioning the Sutherland…”

    “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” The roguishly handsome Canadian agreed as he sipped the bubbly wine, and then quipped in a teasing voice, “That’s what you get for keeping your ship in one piece instead of trashing it like Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and Aurelia did theirs…”

    Chuckling, Liz riposted, “Better not let Sintina hear you mention her and Picard in the same sentence. I think she’s still pissed off at him over that command codes incident a few years ago. Still…” she reminisced as, standing up, she patted the banquet room wall, “…we made some memories here…both good and bad.”

    “That we did.” Lavelle agreed in a somber voice, “I only wish…”

    “I know…” Liz replied, nodding her head, “Caernarvon IV still hurts…even after all these years.”

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

    USS Sutherland: Stardate 50982.2

    Her lips a thin straight line, Captain Shelby listened intently, along with the rest of her bridge crew, to the words being spoken by the stone-faced visage of Admiral William Ross on her main viewscreen.

    “Captain Shelby…Liz…I don’t have to tell you that things have been going poorly for us the past few weeks—you’ve seen enough of it yourself.

    “Aye, Sir.” Liz reluctantly agreed, tacitly acknowledging that even the morale on her ship had dropped significantly as a result of the continual retreats in the face of the Dominion-Cardassian onslaught. “So…when are we going to strike back?”

    “Not yet, I’m afraid.” Admiral Ross answered back in a grave voice, “That’s where you come in.”

    Leaning forward in her seat, Shelby impatiently, yet politely, prompted, “Go on, Sir. You’ve got my attention.”

    “I thought I would.” Ross briefly chuckled, “The Cardassians and Jem’Hadar are threatening to overrun one of our outpost colonies—Caernarvon IV. If they succeed in overrunning that outpost before we firm up our defense lines…” shaking his head, the admiral noted morosely, “…well…let’s just say that we might as well go on ahead and unconditionally surrender right now.”

    “It’s that strategically important?” Shelby inquired her adrenaline beginning to pump.

    “Yes it is.” Admiral Ross definitively replied. “Added to that, there are civilians on that planet. If at all possible, we need to evacuate as many of them as possible before the Cardassians and Jem’Hadar get their hands on them.”

    “So…” Liz conjectured, “I assume that the Sutherland will be part of the fleet tasked to hold on to the system?”

    “Not exactly.” Ross answered back, shaking his head. “You’ll be in command of an ad hoc task force consisting of yourself, the Renown, the Bozeman, the Scamp, and the Belize.”

    “Sir?” An incredulous Liz questioned, “You’re sending me in command of a task force consisting of an Excelsior, two outdated border cutters, and one armed transport. If the Cardassians and Jem’Hadar send any sort of significant force…”

    “I know, Liz.” The admiral nodded his head, “But we don’t have a choice. What we have left are either already tasked to other operations, are in repairs, or are otherwise unavailable. I’m giving you the best I can give you at this time, Captain. You have to hold Caernarvon IV until you are either relieved or instructed to withdraw. Regardless of the cost.” Fixing Shelby in his gaze, Ross asked in an emphatic tone, “Do you understand, Captain?”

    “Aye, Sir.” Liz replied in a soft voice, realizing that her, her ship and those other ships under her command had probably been all given death sentences, “I understand. Don’t worry, Sir. We’ll get the job done.”

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

    As the four ship captains took their seats and their first officers and tactical chiefs took their seats around the conference table, Captain Shelby and Commander Hobson, accompanied by Manuele Atoa, the Sutherland’s tactical chief and his assistant, Lieutenant Nyota Dryer, entered, the two security officers each bearing a stack of padds in their hands. After distributing the padds to each of the officers present, Manuele and Nyota took their seats as Hobson and Shelby made their way to the head of the table.

    “Gentlemen…” Liz began, addressing the gathered beings seated before her, “We’ll reach Caernarvon IV within twenty four hours and I wanted to go over our plans one last time. If any of you have any ideas or alternatives—now’s the time to put them out.”

    “I think we’ve pretty much hashed out all the possible…and impossible…options, Captain Shelby…” Captain Morgan Bateson of the Bozeman declared with his trademark avuncular grin, “But it probably wouldn’t hurt for us to review the plan once again. Just to be sure we’re all on the same page.”

    “That would be prudent.” Captain T’mas of the Renown concurred, her Vulcan features betraying not a whit of emotion.

    “All right.” Shelby responded, “The way I see it, we’re going to have to fight this as a series of delaying actions, taking advantage of the unique terrain within the system to try to channel the enemy advance while we attempt to take them out in detail. There’s no way we can hold on to everything…” she asserted, so we’re going to have to prioritize as situations develop. However, as you can see on your padds, I have designed a few…gadget…plays that will hopefully at least temporarily confuse the opposition.”

    As he read the information on his padd, a sly grin appeared on Captain Rodenko’s face. “While I like the idea of hiding photon and quantum torpedoes along with Mk 23’s within the planet’s ring system and using them as mobile mines, you are aware, of course, that the Mk. 23’s will probably have no effect on the Dominion and Cardassian warships—they’re too heavily shielded.”

    “I’m aware.” Liz nodded her head, “What I’m hoping the Mk. 23’s will do is take out or at least temporarily incapacitate their smaller assault transports and shuttles and possibly any other small scout craft. Which will allow you and Captain Bateson to carry out parts two and three of the plan.”

    “The one thing I don’t like about this, Captain Shelby…” Morgan interrupted, “Is the fact that if this goes off the way you’re planning, you’re putting yourself and the Renown through a meatgrinder. You’re setting yourselves up as the anvil here…”

    “I know.” Liz sighed, “But we don’t really have a choice. Because we’re the largest ships, we’re the natural targets. But…” she said, smiling a sad smile, “…the good news is that if all goes well, while they’re tying themselves up with us, you’ll have a much freer hand to do what you have to do to hold on to the planet.” Turning her attention towards Lieutenant Dryer, the blonde captain asked in a grave voice, “You understand what you have to do, Nyota?”

    “Yes, Sir.” The ebony skinned security officer promptly replied, “Our people, along with security teams from the other ships, are to cover the civilians’ withdrawal and hold on as long as possible.” Pausing for a moment as the full implications of her statement sunk in, Lieutenant Dryer added in a confident tone, “Don’t worry, Sir. We won’t let you down.”

    “I know.” Liz responded in an equally confident voice before once again addressing the assembled officers, “Well…if there are no further questions, I’ll let you get back to your ships now.” Pausing for a moment as the officers stood up, Liz turned to the time displaced captain seated on her left, “Morgan…if you could stay for a moment? Chris, Manuele, Nyota…I’ll see you later.”

    “Sure, Liz.” Bateson immediately replied, resuming his seat as the others, taking the hint, silently filed out. Waiting until the last of the group had departed, Morgan turned to his old friend, “What is it, Liz?”

    “I have a feeling this is going to be a rough one, Morgan…” Shelby began haltingly only to be stopped by the older man’s gentle voice.

    “I know what you’re about to say, Liz and don’t.” He gently admonished, “You can’t blame yourself for anything that might happen or not happen tomorrow. You’ve got a good plan and good people to carry it out with. You can’t worry yourself about that now. Just do the best you can, we’ll do the best we can, and if all goes well, we’ll give the Cardies and the Jemmies a day to remember.”

    “Thanks, Morgan.” Liz beamed as, standing up, she wrapped her arms around the older man’s shoulders, hugging him close. “You’re a good friend.” A sad smile crossing her lips, the petite captain advised, “You might want to see Denise before you beam back to your ship. I’m sure she’d like to see you.”

    “Yeah…” Bateson replied, his lips also turning up into a sad grin as he stood up, “I think that would be a good idea.” Giving the younger woman a chaste kiss on her cheek, he smiled once again, “I’ll see you later, Liz.”

    Watching as the time displaced starship captain left the room; Shelby sat down in her chair. Picking up her padd, the newly appointed task force commander once again analyzed her battle plan, trying for the last time to tease out any possible weaknesses or holes that she didn’t account for earlier. After what seemed like hours, Shelby heard the door slide open, looking up, she saw her first officer at the threshold bearing two cups of coffee. “I thought you could use this.” Commander Hobson said as he offered one of the cups to his commanding officer.

    “Thanks, Chris.” Liz replied gratefully as she sipped the warm brew. “You’re right, I did need this. So…what are you doing here?”

    “I just wanted to report that everything is in readiness for tomorrow.” Hobson replied in his normal patrician voice. “Systems are at optimal and the crew is ready—and resting.” Pausing for a moment, the first officer added in an admonishing tone, “As should the captain be.”

    “Reprimand duly noted.” Liz chuckled as she stood up. “I’m going to take a bath and turn in for a few hours.” Her smile vanishing, she added ominously, “Tomorrow is going to be a big day.”

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

    “All right everyone…” Liz announced, speaking from the center chair of her starship, “Sound out…”

    Speaking from his concealed position in the outer asteroid belt along with the runabouts Loire and Rhone, Captain Rodenko declared in a deeply Russian accented voice, “Chase One in position.”

    From a point near the north magnetic pole of Caernarvon IV, Captain Bateson called out, “Bozeman ready.”

    “Renown is in position.” T’Mas’s emotionless voice declared from the speaker.

    “Belize is beginning transport of evacuees.” Captain Leland Richards announced.

    “Good.” Liz responded, “Remember, Captain. Once the Dominion attack transports draw within transporter range, we’re going to have to activate the transporter buffers on the surface. You’ll have to conduct the evacuation from then on by shuttlecraft.”

    “Aye, Captain.” The white bearded former merchant captain replied, “I understand. We’ll get as many off as we can.”

    Nodding her head at Richards’ response, Liz once again activated her comm, “You ready, Nyota?”

    “Aye, Sir.” The lovely security chief responded, “We’re in position. Don’t worry, Sir…we’ll give ‘em hell when they come.”

    Before Liz could respond, Ensign Django called out in a voice that barely concealed her excitement, “They’re here. At least four Galors…several Keldons…assault transports…and some Bugs.

    “All right, everyone.” Liz announced, “It’s showtime!”

    “You heard the lady!” Boris Rodenko declared to his crew from the center seat of the Scamp. “Now, let’s show these Regular Fleeters that we Border Dogs can rumble with the best of them!”

    A somber Morgan Bateson let out a deep breath as he turned to his executive officer, speaking in a quiet voice, he simply requested, “Take us to Red Alert, Gabe. Looks like we’ve got some shooting to do.”

    “Here they come!” Maria cried out as the first elements of the Dominion assault force pierced the Oort Cloud.

    “Wait for it…” Shelby uttered in a flat, low voice as the enemy armada drew nearer, “Wait until the transports get in.” Seeing that the main enemy fleet had passed, leaving the more vulnerable transports alone in the cloud, Liz dropped her right arm in a slashing motion, “Now!”

    The Mk. 23’s set out in the Oort Cloud, activated by the subspace signal sent to them by the Sutherland, homing in on the assault transports and shuttlecraft of the Cardassian fleet, exploded in unison, their proximity fuses triggered by the nearness of the intruding vessels. Smiling in satisfaction as several of the enemy transports and shuttles drifted powerless in the cloud, Shelby activated her comm, “Now, Boris…eat ‘em up.”

    “Da.” The Scamp’s skipper acknowledged as he signaled his squadron, “Chase One...attack!” Springing out of the concealment of the far asteroid belt, the antique Albacore-class border cutter, flanked by the runabouts Loire and Rhone, slashed through the disabled transports. “Fire all weapons!” Rodenko bellowed, the adrenaline flowing through his body as red beams lanced from her weapons turrets and photon torpedoes crashed into the still forms of the enemy assault ships.

    His ship shuddering under the impact of weapons fire, the Russian captain heard his tactical officer report, “A squadron of Keldons is closing on our position.”

    The border cutter shuddering once again as lights flickered, Rodenko ordered, “Time for phase two—hard evasive—NOW!” Watching somberly as the Rhone exploded, Boris rushed to the helm as the console lit up in a shower of sparks, causing both officers manning the station to fall screaming to the deck. Sparing just a moment to look on sadly at their mangled corpses, the Russian border skipper took the pilot’s position at the helm. “Divert power to impulse engines and shields! I’ll shake this pack of sobla-ebla! Now move!”

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

    Watching as the Galors grew larger in her viewscreen, Liz once again touched her comm, “Captain T’Mas? Are you ready?”

    “We are ready.” The Vulcan responded laconically.

    “Let’s do this then.” Liz grimly announced as she addressed her helmsman, “Mr. Lavelle. Take us into action. Tactical, fire on my orders.” As the two capital ships moved closer to their Cardassian counterparts, Captain Shelby gritted her teeth. “Now!” As both ships unleashed hell in the form of phased and quantum energy at the lead Galor, Liz watched in grim satisfaction as the Cardassian ship, her shields collapsing under the onslaught, twisted under the continued weapons impact until, its hull unable to take anymore, it died in a slow motion explosion.

    “For what we are about to receive…” Lieutenant Lavelle remarked as he saw two of the remaining Galors, along with a pair of Keldons, turn their attention towards the Sutherland. Moments later, the Nebula-class cruiser shook under the violent impact of the enemy ships’ bombardment, knocking Lieutenant Rysyl off her seat. Wiping the blood off her brow, the Deltan operations officer reported, “Shields at seventy percent. Weapons and engines still operational.

    “Return fire.” Liz ordered as the Sutherland once again unleashed death, this time at a Keldon. Gritting her teeth as the Cardassian destroyer drifted aimlessly in space, Liz, seeing a second wave of attack transports pierce through the defenses, addressed her tactical officer, “Manny… tell Nyota to get ready, ‘cause they’re coming.”

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

    “All right, you heard the Boss!” Nyota Dryer called out from her position at the first defense line. They’ll be landing soon.” Addressing the medtechs and others helping with the civilian evacuations, she yelled, “Get a move on! We’ve got to get those shuttles spaceborne ASAP!”

    “Shuttles are filled!” Dr. Murakawa called back as she helped the last of the first wave of evacuees on to the tiny craft.

    “All right, get ‘em up!” Nyota replied, saying a silent prayer as the shuttles took off.

    “That’s it, Gabe.” Captain Bateson said quietly as his scanners picked up the shuttlecraft climbing out of the atmosphere. “We’ve got to make sure those shuttles get to where they’re supposed to.”

    As the old Soyuz-class ship slipped out of its hiding place, the alert skipper spotted a pair of the smaller Jem’Hadar pursuit craft zeroing in on the shuttles. “Catch those bugs.” Bateson ordered tersely as the Bozeman lurched into warp. Accelerating quickly, the border cutter caught the Jem’Hadar just as they were drawing within range of the evacuees. “Fire!” Phasers and photon torpedoes lanced from the obsolete warship, impacting the bug to the left. The gunner’s aim true, the purple and white craft exploded in a brilliant fireball as its partner veered away, turning towards its pursuer.

    Watching dispassionately as the much more advanced bug launched its weapons at the Bozeman, Morgan turned to his first officer, “Gabe. If I don’t get the chance—it’s been nice knowing you. Now…all power to shields and brace yourselves for impact!”

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

    “Oh hell…” Sam uttered in a hushed, agonized tone as the Renown exploded under the concentrated fire of a severely damaged Galor cruiser and four Keldons. No one had time to mourn though, much less offer a prayer for the dead as the bridge of the Sutherland shook under the impact of fire from the other two Galors.

    “Our shields are down to twenty percent.” Lieutenant Atoa reported, and we’ve lost phasers three and four.”

    “Concentrate fire on that limping Galor.” Liz ordered as she saw the ship that had destroyed the Renown turn away from the battle. “If nothing else, we can avenge T’Mas and the rest of her people.”

    “Firing.” Atoa grimly replied, nodding his head in silent satisfaction as the Galor exploded. The ship shaking under yet another barrage, Manuele announced in a grave tone, “Shields down.”

    “Right.” Liz acknowledged, “Find me another Galor, Manuele. If this is it—then we’re going to go down fighting.”

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

    “They’re landing.” Nyota announced to her troops. Tapping her comm badge, she inquired of the chief medical officer, “Doctor? How many more left?”

    “We’re loading up the last of ‘em now.” Denise answered back as she helped a family of four into a waiting shuttle. “Can you buy us the time?”

    “I’m going to have to.” Nyota grimly replied as Cardassian soldiers and Jem’Hadar warriors approached. Addressing her men, Lieutenant Dryer cautioned, “Wait until they get into the minefield.” Waiting until as many enemy troops as possible had entered the kill zone, the ebony skinned security officer flashed a toothy grin as she pressed the red button on the small device she held in her hand. “Now!”

    Phaser fire erupted simultaneously with the explosions of photonic mines as Cardassians screamed while Jem’Hadar quietly died. The explosions dying down, Nyota gritted her teeth as fresh waves of troops replaced their fallen compatriots, their deliberate walk now turning into a pell-mell charge. “One more burst and then fall back to line two!” Nyota ordered as the skull of the Andorian next to her exploded, spattering the New Kenyan’s face with his blue blood.

    Barely maintaining her cool, Nyota waved her arm, ordering, “Fall back,” as Jem’Hadar scaled the makeshift wall, jabbing their blades into the flesh of the retreating Starfleeters.

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

    The bridge a smoking ruin, Liz helped an injured Varok up, his green blood staining her uniform jacket. “Auxiliary control room…” the captain ordered, “Now!” Helping Maria to her feet, Sam guided the groggy ensign towards the turbolift as Hobson assisted Anara. Watching as the last of the survivors withdrew; Liz barely maintained her footing as the ship shook once again under the impact of the sole surviving Galor and its accompanying Keldons. “Come on, Varok…” Liz urged as she helped the elderly Vulcan into the Jeffries tube. “We’ve still got some fight left in us.”

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

    “We’re loading up the last of ‘em now!” Dr. Murakawa called out as Lieutenant Dryer and her surviving troopers prepared for a fresh onslaught from the Jem’Hadar and their Cardassian allies. “Get back here!”

    “Not enough time.” Nyota grimly replied, “If we withdraw, they’ll be on us before we could load up and dust off. You and your people get out—we’ll cover for you.”

    “Lieutenant…” Denise began only to be cut off by Nyota’s fierce retort.

    “Doctor! I’m in charge planetside and I’m ordering you to get the hell off this rock—NOW!”

    With a mournful sigh, Dr. Murakawa quietly replied, “Order reluctantly acknowledged. God bless you, Nyota…” the faithful Neo-Catholic finished, crossing herself as she said a silent prayer for her friend.

    Looking first to the right and then to the left, Nyota Dryer looked on grimly at the advancing Cardassian and Jem’Hadar soldiers. “All right, people…” She said in a quiet, level tone, “Let’s make this a fight they’ll remember for a long time.” With that, she pressed another button, this one causing music to come out of a set of speakers to the rear of the Starfleeters. As the enemy soldiers closed in, Nyota and her remaining compatriots sang along at first softly and tentatively and then in a loud resounding voice:

    “This bloody road remains a mystery.
    This sudden darkness fills the air.
    What are we waiting for ?
    Won't anybody help us ?
    What are we waiting for ?
    We can't afford to be innocent
    stand up and face the enemy.
    It's a do or die situation - we will be invincible.

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

    “The last of the shuttles have landed.”

    Nodding his head at his first officer’s report, Captain Richards addressed his helm, “All right, get us out of here…maximum warp.”

    “Aye, Sir.” The helmsman acknowledged as the Belize warped out of orbit, disappearing from the carnage in a flash of light.

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

    “Belize has successfully warped out of orbit, Sir.” Commander Hobson, his arm in a sling, reported as he handed his commanding officer an extra phaser. “We’ve lost communications with Captain Rodenko and Captain Bateson and Lieutenant Dryer…”

    “I know, Chris…” Liz replied in a soft voice. “They’ll be coming for us soon.” She grimly declared as she shoved the spare phaser in her belt. “I want all hands ready to repel boarders. I won’t let this ship fall into their hands. If need be…”

    “Understood, Sir. They won’t take the Sutherland.”

    “Captain!” Lieutenant Rysyl, her head hastily bandaged, called out in an excited tone, “The enemy…they’re falling back…”

    “Allied ships entering system.” Mr. Varok declared, “Klingons. Captain K’Temoc is hailing us.”

    “Put him on.” Liz replied as she faced the small viewscreen, “It’s time for us to count our dead.”

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

    USS Sutherland: Stardate 56982.2

    “That was a bad day.” Sam reminisced, “We lost over three hundred souls—including Nyota—in that battle.”

    “And Morgan lost a quarter of his crew and Boris half of his.” Liz replied in an equally grim tone.

    “But we held the line.” Sam pointed out. “And eventually we won the war.”

    “Yeah…but we paid a price—and we’re still paying a high price.” Liz noted. “You and I, Sam…” she smiled as she refilled both their glasses, “We’re from a very special generation. You see, we’re not like Picard, DeSoto, and the other ‘Old School’ captains and admirals. They had the luxury of being explorers first and foremost and only secondarily—and grudgingly—soldiers. They couldn’t—and still can’t really—adapt to how things have changed. They want it to go back to the old days, where they could just go out and explore, but that’s impossible.” She noted ruefully, “Too much has happened…too much blood spilled for us to ever forget that we are soldiers.” Taking a moment to catch her breath, Liz sipped her champagne and then continued, “The younger captains who came out during and immediately after the war—they’re soldiers first and foremost. They were rushed through the Academy and haven’t had the advantage of the courses that emphasized the exploration mission of Starfleet. They’re quick on the trigger…sometimes...too quick.”

    “So…” Sam asked, “…where does that leave us?”

    “We’re the bridge between old and new.” Liz replied. “We’re the ones who have to remind the ‘Old Guard’ that we’re living in a different galaxy now and that our days of complacent naiveté are gone forever, while at the same time shepherding the new generation—showing them that there’s so much more to what Starfleet does than maintain the peace—that there’s a galaxy out there just waiting to reveal itself to us. We have to give back to those officers and captains something of that sense of wonder that they haven’t really had the chance to experience yet.”

    “Sounds like we’ve got quite a job ahead of us then, Betts.” Sam joked as he sipped his drink.

    “Yeah…” Liz laughed, “But, I think we’re up to it, Sammy.” Her laughter disappearing as she gazed down at the half empty glass in her hand, Liz raised her champagne flute, “To absent friends.”

    “To absent friends.” Sam replied as the glasses gently clinked together. “They’ll always remain in our memories.”
     
  15. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    January 2008 - Officers Behaving Badly
    Winner - TheLoneRedshirt


    “Shore Patrol!”

    Stardate 53575.3 (29 July 2376)
    USS Bluefin
    Star Station Echo – Berth 14

    “Commander Strauss, Commander T’Ser, please have a seat,” said Captain Joseph Akinola, CO of the Border Service cutter, USS Bluefin. Akinola had a bemused expression on his face. Lt. Commander T’Ser and Commander Inga Strauss exchanged wary glances.

    “I’m afraid our shore leave plans have been shelved for the moment. Admiral Bateson has assigned us to shore patrol duty on the station for the next 48 hours.”

    “Shore patrol?” asked Strauss, a surprised expression on her face. “I thought the station had its own security detail.”

    Akinola nodded. “They do, but . . .” He squirmed in his seat with an uncomfortable expression on his face. “It seems that most of the station’s security detail has a case of Orion mega-clap.”

    T’Ser winced. Strauss still looked puzzled. “Orion mega-clap? I’ve never heard of it.”

    Akinola appeared to struggle with how to phrase his response. T’Ser rescued him. “Orion mega-clap is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease. It affects Humans, Rigellians, Denobulans, Klingons, Andorians, Ferengi, Cardassians, Bajorans, Betazoids, Gorn, Hortas and Orions – green and red. Vulcans, however, are immune,” she said with a slight air of smugness.

    “Hortas?” asked Strauss, amazed.

    “You really don’t want to know.” T’Ser continued. “It is characterized by itching, high fever, hair loss, nausea, bad breath, extreme flatulence, blurred vision, running sores, projectile vomiting, hallucinations, temporary hearing loss, heavy nasal discharge, excessive ear wax production, and, in some cases the male genitalia can quite literally shrivel and fall off . . .”

    “That’s . . . quite enough information,” said Akinola, a pained expression on his face. “Thank you. The point is, station security has been infected and is out of commission for at least a week until the station’s medical personnel can get a handle . . .”

    T’Ser smirked.

    “I mean a grip . . .”

    Strauss giggled.

    “ . . .can treat it,” the Captain concluded. “In the mean time, the Admiral has tasked the three in-port cutters to provide security until the . . . situation has stabilized.”

    Strauss and T’Ser smiled innocently at Akinola’s discomfiture.

    The Captain then offered a broad smile of his own, which caused the two women’s smiles to fade somewhat.

    “With all that in mind, I’m putting the two of you in charge of shore patrol duty.”

    T’Ser’s face fell. Strauss looked intrigued.

    “Sir, couldn’t Gralt or Lt. Bane head this up? They enjoy playing cop,” protested T’Ser.

    “It sounds kind of exciting to me!” piped Inga, enthusiastically.

    “You’ve never done it before,” pointed out T’Ser.

    “All the more reason for the two of you to head it up. T’Ser, you have the experience and Inga, you need the experience. Of course, you can enlist Senior Chief Brin and Chief Deryx to help. But I expect you both to be a visible deterrent on that station!”

    “Can I keep my phaser set on “hide me, please?” muttered T’Ser.

    “Oh, T’Ser – this will be fun!” said Strauss.

    “It most certainly will,” said Akinola, beaming at his two officers.

    “Why don’t you tell Commander Strauss about the last time you handled shore patrol duty, Captain?” challenged T’Ser.

    “Oh. That,” said Akinola, sheepishly. “Perhaps some other time. . .”

    * * *

    Six hours later . . .
    Star Station Echo – Deck 16 (Merchant’s Alley)

    Lt. Commander T’Ser and Commander Strauss walked through the throng of people in the retail shop area of the station. Both wore dark blue shoulder bands with the letters “SP” emblazoned in gold. Each wore a type-2 phaser and carried stun batons. Inga was twirling her baton and whistling a jaunty tune.

    Must you do that?” hissed T’Ser. “People are staring!”

    “What?” asked Strauss.

    “That incessant whistling and twirling your stun baton like you’re some kind of majorette!”

    “I saw it done by a beat cop in an old holo-vid once. It seemed to put the locals at ease.”

    “It’s more likely to get us put out an air-lock!” whispered T’Ser as they shouldered past two tall Nausicans. “Let’s just . . . get through this, okay?”

    Strauss shook her head sadly. “Do you know what your problem is?”

    “I wasn’t aware . . .” Both of their comm badges came to life, interrupting them.

    “Echo Control to team one, acknowledge.”

    Strauss tapped her comm badge, “Team one, go ahead.”

    “Be advised, we have a report of a fight at Sloopy’s Saloon. A group of Federation Marines are trashing the place. Back-up’s en route, but you’re the closest team available.”

    “Acknowledged, we’ll handle it, Control. Team one, out.” Strauss began to move in the direction of the altercation. T’Ser grabbed her arm.

    “Whoa! What are you doing?” asked T’Ser, incredulously.

    Inga frowned. “You heard the call. There’s a fight – we need to go break it up.”

    “Inga those are Federation Marines! They’re trained to break things and hurt people. And they’re good at it! We need to wait on back-up!”

    Strauss gave her a side-long glance. “We’re Starfleet officers, T’Ser. And we’ve been tasked to provide security for this station! Now, I for one, take my responsibility seriously. I’m sure, once we get there and explain things to these Marines that they’ll see the error of their ways and stand down.”

    T’Ser blinked. “You’re certifiable, you know.”

    Inga started trotting in the direction of the Saloon. “Last one there is a mangy Targ!” she said with obvious glee.

    T’Ser sighed and trotted after Inga. “We’re going to die . . .”

    * * *

    Three minutes later . . .
    Star Station Echo - Sloopy’s Saloon – Deck 16

    “WHAAAAAAAA-HOOOOO!” shouted Marine Lance Corporal Bobby Joe Lee as he twirled the howling Bajoran over his head and tossed him across the bar into a rather expensive looking mirror.

    About a dozen burly Marines were involved in altercations throughout Sloopy’s bar. Sloopy himself was hunkered down behind his bar, loading stun rounds into his pulse rifle, and muttering to himself about retirement on Risa. Taking a deep breath, the portly Human stood from behind the bar in an effort to restore order. Before he could fire off a round, a burly Tellarite PFC grabbed the rifle and Sloopy’s collar, dragging him across the bar, across two tables and out the double doors of the establishment. He found himself looking at two pairs of boots. Looking up, he was surprised to see two Starfleet officers – a Vulcan woman and a petite human woman.

    “I would say this is the place,” said the Vulcan. Sloopy could swear he detected sarcasm in her voice.

    “Right!” said the smaller woman. “Let’s go in and put a stop to this!” Her pretty face beamed with excitement.

    The Vulcan sighed and muttered, “Riiiight behind ya . . .” Her voice trailed off as she followed the other woman.

    Sloopy stood, brushed himself off, tossed the pulse rifle aside, and strode toward the nearest travel agent’s office.

    “Alright, everyone! Shore Patrol! Everyone just settle down and we . . .” Strauss found herself being tugged down roughly by T’Ser as a chair flew overhead and crashed against the front wall.

    “Hey!” shouted Strauss, incensed. T’Ser grabbed her by the shoulder and stared into her eyes.

    “Inga – these Marines are drunk. And they’re in a mood to fight – which tends to make them dangerous!”

    “We’ve got a job to do, T’Ser. Now, are you going to help or not?”

    T’Ser closed her eyes and began counting to ten. She could feel a vein pulse in her temple. Inga popped back up, jumped on a table and stuck two fingers in her mouth.

    “PHWEEEEEEEEETT!!!” Inga’s shrill whistle caused everyone to freeze. Some were in mid-punch, or breaking bottles. In one corner, a Marine was holding a Ferengi by the ears. They all stared at Inga.

    “Thank you!” said Inga, reasonably, “Now that I have your . . .”

    The pause was only momentary as the melee’ broke out with even greater intensity. T’Ser came up from under the table in time to see a Centauran gunnery sergeant grab Inga by the waist and throw her over his shoulder. T’Ser pulled her phaser pistol, only to have it knocked away by a stray bottle. Shaking her bruised hand, T’Ser watched helplessly as the Marine carried Inga off like a duffle bag.

    T’Ser tapped her comm. badge. “Echo Control, Unit one. We need reinforcements here and we need them NOW!”

    * * *

    “Put me down! PUT ME DOWN!” demanded Inga as the Centauran moved back into the fray, pushing aside and punching patrons and fellow Marines alike.

    “Sure thing, short-cake,” slurred the inebriated Marine with a leer on his face. He placed her in the middle of the floor, giving her tush a pinch as he did so.

    A switch flipped somewhere in Inga’s brain. Her eyes narrowed and she twisted the power setting on her stun baton to maximum.

    “What . . . did . . . you . . . call me?” she asked, her face a mask of fury.

    The huge Centauran leaned forward, his breath reeking. “I called you short-cake, little sweet-ass.” He turned from her roaring in laughter. His fellow Marines joined in with him with hoots, whistles and cat-calls.

    Inga nodded. “That’s what I thought you said!” as she jammed the charged baton into the posterior of the Centauran with all her might.

    Everyone in the Saloon froze. A chorus of “oooOOOooHHHH!” rose from the horrified Marines. Even T’Ser winced.

    Through gritted teeth and a red haze clouding her vision, Strauss hissed, “Don’t . . . call . . . me . . . SHORT!”

    Senior Chief Brin and six armed security crewmen rushed in just in time to witness the awful sight. Brin shuddered. “Aw, that’s not right!” he said in a shaky voice.

    * * *

    Two hours later . . .
    USS Bluefin – Star Station Echo – Berth 14
    Captain’s Ready Room

    Captain Akinola had a habit of rubbing the bridge of his nose when under stress. He had been rubbing his nose for five minutes as he read Commander Strauss’ and Lt. Commander T’Ser’s after-action report. Both Inga and T’Ser stood at attention in front of his desk.

    Finally Akinola stopped rubbing his nose and looked at the two women with an incredulous expression.

    “So. There was a fight at Sloopy’s?” he asked quietly.

    “Yes sir,” they replied in unison.

    “Station control dispatched you to check it out.”

    “Yes sir.”

    “There were Marines fighting in there.”

    They nodded.

    Akinola also nodded, albeit very slowly. He pursed his lips and picked up the padd. “You attempted to break up the fight.”

    Again, Strauss and T’Ser nodded and offered verbal agreement.

    The Captain tossed the padd on his desk and folded his hands before looking at them. He cleared his throat and spoke softly and slowly.

    “And at what point, Commander Strauss, did you shove your fully charged stun baton up the gunnery sergeant’s ass?”

    Strauss blushed and maintained her focus on a point about eighteen inches above Akinola’s head. “Well sir, we were in the heat of a pitched battle and out-numbered. Lt. Commander T'Ser had saved me from serious injury by pulling me from the path of a flying chair before she herself was disarmed and injured. The gunnery sergeant acted in a threatening manner, so I felt justified in using extreme, but non-lethal force against a larger, stronger opponent. . . Sir.”

    Akinola continued to nod slowly. “Is that what happened, Lt. Commander T’Ser?”

    T’Ser’s left eye had developed a slight twitch. “Yes sir. Just like that.”

    “Ah,” said Akinola. “Very well then. You might be glad to know that the Chief Medical Officer on the USS Tarawa believes that Gunnery Sergeant Krovecki should recover nicely, following surgery to remove the baton from his . . . body. In fact . . .” Akinola reached beneath his desk and produced a stun baton which he tossed to Strauss. She caught it, regarding it as if someone had tossed her a dead hamster. “The doctor was kind enough to return it to you, Commander.”

    Strauss held the baton gingerly. “Yes sir. Thank you. Eww.” She looked slightly ill.

    “One more thing. In light of today’s . . . incident, I’ve decided to relieve you two of shore patrol duty. Commander Gralt and Lt. Bane will take your places.”

    Inga’s face fell in disappointment. T’Ser’s mood lightened considerably. She positively beamed.

    “Now Commander Strauss – about the way you charged in today . . .” began Akinola.

    “Rigel IV . . . Stardate 49832.6 . . . Th’rev’s Tavern,” T’Ser said softly, by way of reminder.

    Akinola frowned at T’Ser, but did not complete his sentence. “Um, as I was saying, it was a new experience for you. I hoped you learned the importance of waiting for back-up to arrive.” He maintained his glare at T’Ser who was intently studying some of Akinola’s wood carvings.

    “Alright. Dismissed, both of you.” Strauss and T’Ser quickly exited the ready room. "And for God's sake - stay out of trouble!" he called after them.

    Akinola picked up the padd and re-read Strauss’ and T’Ser’s report. Soon, his features softened and he began to chuckle. The more he read, the harder he laughed. By the time he finished, he was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his face.
     
  16. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2006
    Location:
    In the illusion, but not of it.
    February 2008 Winner
    Challenge: The Newbie - a character faces a new situation
    Written by: DarKush

    DEATH VALLEY:
    A DARK TERRITORY TALE

    Invarrak V
    Dominion-Occupied Space
    2375

    Ensign Amber Faisal ran on instinct, no longer cognizant of the harsh commands bellowed before and behind her, urging her and the survivors from the Starship Sadat to press forward through the deep ravine.

    Her mind was still reeling from the tidal wave of horror that had upended her life several hours ago. Her fear and doubt had been growing ever since the Special Missions team had been assigned to their vessel. She was too low on the totem pole, an assistant engineer, fresh out of the Academy, to be in the inner loop. But Amber had learned about the gist of the mission from Lt. Plax, the Alpha-shift helmsmen.

    She had taken a liking to the handsome Bolian instantly. Captain Stuart had ordered Plax to transport her, and the other new officers, from the Academy’s Beta Ursae Minor II campus, via shuttle while the Sadat was undergoing repairs.

    During the three months she had spent aboard the ship, Plax had been someone she could talk to about the war and her growing concerns. He had always been a calming influence on her. And he had worked his magic on her after she ran to him with rumors of the Invarrak mission.

    Plax had told her everything would be okay, that Special Missions teams comprised the best soldiers in Starfleet. After spending time around them, or hearing from second or third hand sources about Special Missions Team-17, Amber had begun to believe that the Bolian had been right again.

    The small team, led by Lt. Lar’ragos, a stern, hardened El Aurian, had comported themselves with a reassuring, almost inspiring confidence. And initially it appeared that they would carry off the mission to destroy the Dominion listening hub without a hitch. Then everything went wrong.

    There was klaxons, smoke, fire, screams, burning flesh. The deck had trembled beneath her feet as if the ship rested on tectonic plates, forcing her to grab onto her console to remain upright. And then out of the fire and horror, the Chief Engineer, her face half melted off had pushed Amber into the hallway, the emergency containment doors slamming shut before the ensign could resume her post.

    She had banged on the door, shouting and pleading for the chief to let her back in. Eventually, she had noticed the surge of crewmen running through the halls, and took note of the mechanical countdown echoing over the din.

    “That’s a self-destruct countdown,” she muttered.

    “No shit,” quipped a passing Andorian, wearing the blue shoulder strip of the Sciences Division. He grabbed her arm roughly by the elbow and tugged her forward. “Come on, this ship’s about to blow!”

    Confused, terrified, but overall numb, Amber had followed him into an escape pod. Unable to contain the scream building inside her, she had wailed as the pod was ejected and feel in a mad, tumbling freefall to the planet below.

    Both she and the Andorian, Nurse Farad, had survived, but far too few others had, among them the captain and Lt. Plax. She held out hope that they had reached escape pods or beamed to the surface, somewhere on the dust bowl planet. Lt. Lar’ragos and his adjunct Corporal Adeel had done a decent job of rounding up almost two dozen of survivors.

    Lar’ragos had even informed them that help was on the way. But they had to reach a designated evacuation point, which meant traversing quite a bit of treacherous, rocky terrain. Amber’s hopes had been dampened by concern about other potential survivors. Lt. Bates, from ship’s Security, had vocalized those concerns.

    “We shouldn’t go anywhere without insuring the whereabouts of the captain and the rest of the senior staff,” he declared, his face eerily caked in dried blood.

    “There’s no time for that,” Lar’ragos said, with only a hint of annoyance in his voice. “Once I’ve made sure you’re all safely aboard, we’ll try to sweep the planet and pick up any more survivors. But I can’t make any promises. The Jem’Hadar are hot on our trail right now.”

    “If that’s the case, then we should be trying to help our people,” Bates countered. “To be honest, I’m a little skeptical about the ability of Special Missions to get an evacuation team to Invarrak now that the listening post has been destroyed. I’m sure that Dominion patrol ships are on the way.”

    “Don’t you think we planned for this eventuality?” Corporal Adeel huffed. The tall, massively built Capellan towered over everyone. The flak jacket she wore and the large machine gun she carried made her look even more intimidating. Lar’ragos motioned for the woman to be silent.

    “I understand this might be the first actual combat situation many of you have experienced,” Lar’ragos gently said. “But now is not the time to come apart at the seams. We have achieved our objective, which is the most important thing. Now we have to rescue as many of you as possible. Sometimes in war there are casualties. We will do the best we can to minimize any more of them for you and your crew, but that requires your cooperation.”

    The El Aurian pinned Lt. Bates with a hard stare. “Everybody understand?” The dazed survivors began to look at each other for answers and affirmation. After Lt. Bates grudgingly offered his support, Amber found herself falling in line with everyone else.

    Lar’ragos nodded, his expression grim. “We have one hour to make the rendezvous point, and we’ve got five, rocky miles to overcome to get there. Let’s get going.”
    **************


    Ketracel infused blood roared in Seventh Kamta’iklan’s ears, blocking out the fierce war cry of the First. His heart pounded as he joined his unit, his brothers, in raising his kar’takin up to the burnt sky in praise of their gods.

    Kamta’iklan had only been birthed two weeks ago, and he had spent each day of his life maturing, training, and learning everything he needed to know about the inferior, infidel species that defied the Founders. Today would be his first taste of actual combat, and he was quaking with anticipation.

    He tensed as a gruff hand clamped down on his shoulder. “You’re too eager,” Third Yak’Tazan muttered. Kamta’iklan glared at the elder warrior. “Stoicism is the mark of a true warrior.”

    Kamta’iklan fought the urge not to pull away from the Third. For one it would be insubordinate, and two, Yak’Tazan had almost neared Honored Elder status, nearing ten years of service to the Dominion. But his respect was rankled by the distaste of First Toran’talak and Second Amar’itan had left an impression on him and the other young Jem’Hadar. Like them, both the First and Second had been bred in the Alpha Quadrant, and Yak’Tazan had been part of the original invasion force.

    A force that had so far failed to conquer the Federation and their allies and because of that many of the Alphas looked at the older Gammas with disdain. Kamta’iklan bit back a retort, and tersely nodded. Yak’Tazan replied with a wizened smirk, a most unsettling gesture. Perhaps the First and Second had truly been correct about the weakness of the Gammas after all.

    Before he could ponder it further, First Toran’talak stepped to the ledge overlooking a deep chasm. “Shroud,” he commanded. With a thought, Kamta’iklan could feel the natural invisibility cloak he possessed cover him. “Now, let the hunt begin,” the First commanded.
    *************


    Seventh Kamta’iklan now found himself grinning as he speared his first infidel. A corpulent Tellarite, the creature squealed as he pushed him back against a wall of rock, twisting the kar’takin. He pulled it out with a wet rip and the porcine creature slumped to hell.

    Turning around to look for another victim, he found himself taken off his feet. A feline alien, which he quickly identified as a Caitian, had slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. The Caitian was smaller, but extremely powerful. She fell on top him, forcing him to fall painfully on the pulse rifle strapped to his back. With sharp claws, she began slashing his face. Kamta’iklan didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or enlivened that the alien was providing such a challenge from him.

    He placed his kar’takin on the ground after not being able to angle it to stab the woman. He wrapped his hands around the alien’s furry throat and began to squeeze. He closed his eyes and turned his head as the feline went for his eyes.

    The woman pulled up, trying to break his hold. He opened his eyes only after his face was splashed with blood and bone. He quickly opened his eyes, and saw he was now choking a creature without a head. He threw the body to the side. His ears pounded with the sound of rapid fire. The Starfleeters had opened fire in the enclosed space, striking friend and foe alike. It was a disgusting lack of discipline. Recovering his kar’takin, Kamta’iklan held it close to him. Staying low, he began slicing into the Starfleeters’ legs.
    **************


    I’m so going to ream her ass, Lt. Lar’ragos steamed as he drove a knee into an attacking Jem’Hadar. Corporal Adeel had thankfully stopped unloading her magnetic gauss rifle into the throng after she had begun firing without his authorization. Unfortunately it appeared that she had done so not because of his orders to stop shooting, but because she was now facing down two Jem’Hadar soldiers.

    After his attacker bent over, Pava yanked the shunt pumping ketracel-white out of the creature’s neck, disorienting the warrior while he grabbed his head two-handed to snap his neck.

    It’s all about precision, economy, Lar’ragos thought, with a dispassion that was almost disquieting even to him. He had seen so much death in his centuries of life, and he had administered much of the death he had witnessed. However, the El Aurian didn’t think he had ever seen such wholesale slaughter as he had during the Dominion War.

    At times it had even given him pause, so he knew he shouldn’t look to harshly on many of the green officers from the Sadat. Their skittishness and palpable fear were only natural. This was the first time many were seeing the dreaded Jem’Hadar up close, with their bestial, scaly horned faces; their strength and speed, their bloodthirstiness.

    The only way they were going to survive was to match the Jem’Hadar in viciousness. He didn’t think that was possible from this bunch, but he was heartened to know that they would at least go down trying.

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

    The Seventh spied his newest conquest: a slender, human female pressing herself against a wall, the phaser she held shaking in her hand. This kill should be quick, he said, moving toward her with predatory speed. Before he reached her, a strong hand grabbed by the back of the neck and threw him to the ground.

    Kamta’iklan hissed when he saw a lithe, smallish, dark haired human standing above him. He snarled before slashing at the man’s midsection with his kar’takin. With admirable speed the man stepped back, receiving a vicious wound, but avoiding being gutted which had been the Seventh’s intent. A scarlet line appeared on the man’s stomach. The human grinned. “What was that? A love tap?” Kamta’iklan paused, he sensed no fear from this human and he was doing a commendable job suppressing his pain. He wasn’t like the others.

    “Lt. Lar’ragos!” The female screamed. “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah kid,” Lar’ragos said. “Just hold position. I’ve got this.” Kamta’iklan tried to spear the man again, but he grabbed the kar’takin and twisted it, ripping it out of Kamta’iklan’s grasp. The young Jem’Hadar couldn’t believe it.

    “What manner of creature are you?” Kamta’iklan had to ask.

    “El Aurian, we’re listeners, care to tell me a story,” Lar’ragos asked, as he held the kar’takin in one hand, preparing to stab the spellbound Jem’Hadar.

    Before the El Aurian could strike, he was thrown off his feet. The human female screamed again. “On your feet soldier!” The Third’s gruff voice broke the spell weaved by Lar’ragos. Kamta’iklan stood up. He looked away in shame.

    “There is no time for such immature emotions Seventh,” Yak’Tazan said, “that one was a worthy foe. I had hoped you were not infected with the same arrogance that your Alpha brethren was. If so, this battle should teach you that these Federation types have mettle. And you haven’t even faced off against the Klingons yet,” the older warrior gave a raspy laugh.

    “But what of him,” Kamta’iklan asked. The human female was now by his side, using her body to shield him. Perhaps she was braver than he originally thought, the Seventh pondered.

    “Leave them, the female is no threat, and I shot the male in the shoulder. If he doesn’t bleed to death we’ll save him for last,” Yak’Tazan said wisely. “Now, let us finish this battle the proper way.” He cradled his pulse rifle.

    “But the First ordered us to use our kar’takins,” Kamta’iklan protested.

    “I am First now,” Yak’Tazan said, with no glimmer of satisfaction. “Look at the mistake the previous First made,” he gestured. The ravine was littered with Starfleet and Jem’Hadar bodies. Many still fought on though.

    Kamta’iklan thought it would be an easy victory, a rout that would allow them to dispense their rage at the destruction of the listening post on AR-776, but it had devolved into nearly a stand off. He could see that both the humans and Jem’Hadar were starting to find advantage points from which they could better pick off their opponents.

    The rout had turned into a stalemate. War wasn’t supposed to be so disorderly, he thought. Or at least that is what he had been taught. But maybe what he had been taught was wrong? He couldn’t even fathom the idea.

    An energy blast zinged between the Third and the Seventh. Both men tried to find cover. He took the pulse rifle hanging from his back, checked it to see if it still worked and began firing rounds. His satisfaction waned as his frustration grew. His attention shifted to the human and the El Aurian.

    The hapless female was still trying to stop the man from bleeding. But Kamta’iklan knew it was of no use. Jem’Hadar energy weapons contained an anticoagulant.

    He needed an outlet to channel his anger, and she was as good as any. She was still full of the fear he had found so succulent at first. “What are you doing?” Yak’Tazan rasped as Kamta’iklan stepped out into the open, walking slowly towards the human female. He knew if he walked slowly, her dread would increase.

    The human looked up, saw him approaching and shrank back. She held up her phaser. It shook in her grip even worse than before.

    “Shoot him,” Lar’ragos ordered, his voice faint. “That’s…an order.”

    “I can’t,” she wailed. “I’m not a killer.”

    “You’re….you’re a…soldier,” Lar’ragos replied. “It’s you….your duty.” Kamta’iklan grinned. He held his rifle aloft. He pulled the trigger slowly.

    “You’re pathetic,” he smirked, ignoring the pain that exploded in his side. He glanced down to see a large chunk of his body missing, with blood and ketracel white pouring down his leg to the ground below. He fired, happy to give his life for the Founders if he could take two more infidels with him.

    He roared with displeasure as his two intended victims disappeared before his eyes. Kamta’iklan stumbled to his knees, unable to stand any longer. With draining strength he crawled to the spot where the two Starfleeters had just been. He dug at the hard earth, unable to believe they had disappeared, had escaped justice.

    Kamta’iklan heard the roar of repulsor engines above. He looked up, and saw the silvery white bulky shapes of Starfleet runabouts streaming over head. The Starfleeters began disappearing. “Fire at those vessels,” he heard Yak’Tazan shout, but he was unable to comply. All he could do was stare up at the sky, and watch the pulse rifles discharges ping futilely off of the shielded hulls of the runabouts.

    Seconds later, the runabouts unleashed a rain of their own plasma into the chasm. As the river of fire reached him, Kamta’iklan had a final regret. “Victory was life”, First Toran’talak had declared. Kamta’iklan had been dead since he left the birthing chamber, and now he would never know what life was like; just more death.
    ***************

    Starbase 86
    Recreation Lounge
    September 2375

    Lt. Plax reluctantly let go of her hand. “I think you two need time alone,” he said. He nodded at Nurse Farad, who quickly got up from the table. “We'll get another round.” Ensign Faisal meekly nodded. Lt. Lar’ragos solemnly nodded. Faisal took stock of the man. Despite the nearly life threatening wounds he had received on Invarrak V, Lar’ragos looked spry.

    “May I have a seat Ensign,” he asked. She gestured for him to take the seat Plax had just vacated. “I want to thank you,” Lar’ragos said.

    “For what,” she asked, incredulous. Faisal was still ashamed at disobeying the El Aurian’s orders, of not being strong enough to shoot the Jem’Hadar, of almost dooming them both.

    “Standing by me,” he said. “And standing up to me too.”

    “But I-I could’ve gotten us both killed,” she replied, completely surprised and confused by Lar’ragos’s gentle response. She had thought the man was going to rip into her, and had been avoiding him since the survivors had been transferred to the starbase.

    “Yeah,” Lar’ragos shrugged. “Death is a natural occurrence, especially during wartime. But there are worse things than dying, like being stripped of your decency, of your conscience, of being reduced to a survival instinct only…” he let the sentence die and he looked away, his expression hardening.

    Faisal reached out to him, but the El Aurian pulled away. “Don’t change,” he told the woman before sliding out of the seat. He walked away without looking back.

    THE END
     
  17. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2006
    Location:
    In the illusion, but not of it.
    March 2008 Winner
    Challenge: The Others - write a story from a non-human/Federation perspective.
    Written by: Dnoth

    Author’s Note:
    This short story shows the direct consequences of Captain Archer’s decision to steal the warp coil from the Illyrian’s in ENT: “Damage.”

    If you don’t recall the Enterprise was crippled by a Xindi attack and unable to go to warp. An Illyrian ship happened to be nearby and was damaged by a spatial anomaly. The Illyrians asked for assistance. Archer wanted to trade trillium, which would protect the Illyrian craft, for their warp coil. The Illyrian captain, of course, refused. Later, Archer took the radical step of raiding the Illyrians.

    To my knowledge, it was never mentioned in canon what happened to Archer’s victims. I vaguely recall it being brought up when Archer was being de-briefed by the Vulcans, once the Xindi threat was over, but that’s all.

    The following is the chronicle of the Illyrian’s fate.

    Final Word Count: 2,763

    “By stealing their warp coil, we could be condemning them to death!”

    “We’re going to leave them a supply of trillium and some extra food. I’m not saying it’ll be easy for them, but they’ll have a decent chance of getting home.”

    ~T’Pol and Archer, ENT: “Damage”

    *****

    Illyrian Science Vessel The River of Stars
    Day 0 (12 Jan 2154)

    “The Earth ship is firing!” reported Defense Specialist Kolum of Tanara.

    The ship’s manager, Mochana of J’bel, rushed into the command center just in time to hear the unfortunate news, “Evasive maneuvers!”

    An explosion in the back of the control center gave an indication of their adversary’s might. An engineer manning a nearby station fell to the floor, screaming in agony. He had been severely burnt by the blast.

    Mochana ran to a medical storage locker and knelt down to the injured woman. He was about to begin treatment when he heard, “Manager, they’ve disabled our warp engine! …maintenance crews are reporting intruders!”

    ‘So much for peaceful exploration,’ Mochana morbidly thought. He gestured for a crew member to tend to the engineer. He knew exactly what the Earthers were after. Then, he strode to another locker; this time, a weapon’s locker. He tossed an electroshock gun to everyone. “They’re using their matter/energy transporter to steal our warp coil. Set up a forcefield around it!” He looked to Kolum, “Stay here and return fire. I’ll lead the team to capture the Earthlings.”

    *****

    One of The River of Star’s defense personal, Nam, reported as he found his manager in the corridor, “Two engineers have been shot. Three more defense officers are down.”

    “Are they dead?” questioned Mochana.

    The officer shook his head, “It doesn’t appear so, Manager. They are using a type of non-lethal weapon.”

    The manager dryly quipped, “So they’re not murders, just thieves.”

    Nam added, “We have them pinned down in the auxiliary maintenance room.”

    “Tell your teams to advance,” began the ships commander, “I want to try to flank them and create a…”

    A strong jolt rocked the ship. Mochana and Nam had to steady themselves against the bulkhead. For a moment, total darkness took them. A moment later, blue emergency lighting initiated.

    Nam stated the obvious, “We’ve lost main power.”

    Mochana fumed, “We don’t even have the repairs from the anomalies complete! Damn the Earthlings!” As an afterthought, he realized, “…and the forcefield around the warp coil is down.” He turned to Nam, “Join the main force. I’ll try to sneak up behind them.”

    “Alright,” the defense officer agreed and strode down the corridor.

    Mochana was nearly at his target. Suddenly, Archer and two soldiers rounded the corner. They immediately leveled weapons at him. The manager was armed, but realized they had taken him by surprise. Out of disgust, he spat, “What you can’t have, you take by force?”

    The Earth commander weakly replied, “We beamed three containers of trillium into your cargo hold…as compensation. There’s also food and supplies.” It was the terms of their original failed trade offer.

    Anger, disappoint, and disbelief filled Mochana’s voice, “You’re stranding us three years from home! Why are you doing this?”

    Archer offered, “Because I have no choice.” He raised his communicator, “Energize.”

    The Earthlings disappeared in a soft light. They were gone. Mochana looked at his electroshock gun. Rage boiled within him. It crept up steadily until he made a primal scream and threw his weapon.

    *****

    Day 4

    The blue emergency lights in his cabin taunted him. Thanks to the Enterprise, primary power was still off-line. They were defenseless. The ships weapons were undamaged, but with the fusion power plant disabled, they were useless. The River of Stars was still in the red giant star system, the Earthlings called it Azati Prime.

    Captain Archer also warned Mochana about a hostile race in the system, the Xindi. The manager reasoned, if the Earthlings treated the Xindi like they treated his people, the Xindi might have good reason to be hostile against Humans. Hopefully, the same would not be true of the Illyrians.

    Their top speed was now 0.2 the speed of light. The nearest Illyrian colony, Kesa, was only 0.675 light years away. ‘Only…,’ the manager darkly mused, ‘it might as well be across the galaxy without warp drive.’

    He now realized how naïve his people were. The Illyrians invented warp drive 17 years ago. They had colonized three habitable planets outside their home system since then. In their haste, a critical technology had not yet been developed, subspace radio. Without it, Kesa would get his distress call in about seven deciyears. Ironically, rescue would come six days after that.
    Mochana was very weary now. He knew contacting the Xindi was an option. But if they decided to be aggressive…he and his crew would be at their mercy. ‘Let’s at least wait until we have weapons back on-line,’ he thought.

    *****

    Day 6

    Manager Mochana, being a former engineer, often dwelled in the heart of the ship. It had been especially true ever since they entered this star system.

    He looked at Head Engineer, Ishmara of Rulla, she was one of the most gentle people he had ever encountered. She smiled as he entered. It was a reassuring, hopeful smile.

    “Mochana, how are you feeling?” she greeted.

    He forced a smile as well, “That will depend greatly on your progress.”

    She sighed, “I can get the cold fusion reactor on-line in a few decidays…”

    Mochana’s face exploded with a genuine grin, “That’s great!”

    Ishmara, however, was more reserved as she continued, “When the Earth ship destroyed the power junction, much of our deuterium oxidesupply escaped into space.”

    The manager’s expression immediately revealed his understanding, “So our heavy water, our fuel source, is mostly gone.”

    She offered, “We have 28% left.”

    “How long will that last us?” questioned the demoralized manager.

    Ishmara considered. After a moment she estimated, “Assuming we don’t have to divert power to weapons or shields too often…about half a year.”

    The Illyrian captain found a nearby stool and sat. He shook his head, “Not nearly enough time.” After a time of grief, he asked, “Is the laser communicator still working?”

    “Yes.”

    He stood, attempting to regain his composure, “It’s about time I make a call.”

    *****

    Xindi-Reptilian Warship AP-2

    Weapon’s controller Gonin spun his seat, “Commander Bik, I’ve detected an alien vessel.”

    Bik stood from his throne, “Another intruder in our system.”

    “It appears so…and Commander, it is near where we left the Earth ship.”

    The reptilian commander grimaced as Enterprise was referenced. His ship was one of four that attacked the Earth ship only six days ago. Their enemy destroyed an Insectoid vessel in the battle. And on the cusp of victory, they were ordered to stand down by the Primates, Aquatics, and Arboreals. All the Reptilian commanders in the system were severely berated by Commander Dolim, the Reptilian representative on the…now waning…Xindi Council, for not detecting and destroying the intruder fast enough. “Perhaps the humans had help in infiltrating our security grid,” he conjectured. The commander ordered, “What is their tactical status?”

    Another Xindi reported, “Low energy levels. It appears they…wait! I’m reading a large relative energy spike!”

    Gonin assumed, “They’re powering defenses!”

    The commander stepped forward, “Raise shields; disable them!”

    *****

    A beam of energy slammed into the dorsal side of the manta-ray shaped Illyrian science vessel. A hull breach was immediately created on the ship. Due to the explosion and venting atmosphere, it began to spin helplessly in the void.

    *****

    Normal lighting appeared only for a moment when the ship once again shook with a frightful force. Again, the Illyrians were plunged into darkness.

    Mochana fumbled to a companel, “Report!”

    Defense Specialist Kolum’s voice was heard, “Manager, We’re under attack by another alien ship!”

    “Is it Xindi?”

    “I don’t know. Sensors are off-line!”

    The manager punched the wall several times in frustration. Why had the One abandoned him and his crew! He wanted to break down, but he wouldn’t let himself. There was only one choice to save as many lives as possible. He activated the com again, “Kolum, signal our surrender.”

    *****

    Xindi-Reptilian Warship AP-2
    Day 12

    Mochana fell to the grated, metal deck. His face was covered blood. His clothes were tattered. He had soiled himself several times over the last few days. His captures refused to clean him. As he lay, he convulsed slightly.

    Commander Bik made a lap around the broken, defeated creature. A few of the other aliens allowed themselves to die during their interrogation. Bik felt a strange sense of pride for the Illyrian commander. Mochana had endured the pain well.

    The reptilian squatted down, “Good news Mochana! My superiors and I have decided to believe your story! You were a victim of the humans!”

    The Illyrian manager made some type of vocalization…more of a grunt than anything.

    “And I have more good news!” Bik continued, “We’ve decided to tow your ship to just outside the system…and in the direction of your colony!” He stood and looked at a subordinate, “Clean him up. Return the Illyrians to their ship, whether they are dead or alive.”

    “Yes sir.”

    *****

    The River of Stars
    Day 15

    Mochana’s eyes opened. He found himself on the floor of The River of Star’s cargo bay, along with what looked like the rest of his crew. He thought of moving, but unconsciousness overwhelmed him again.

    *****

    Day 16

    “Sir…Manager…sir?”

    The manager woke again. This time, he discovered Kolum kneeling over him. “Kolum,” Mochana absently said.

    The Defense Specialist was relieved to see his boss alive, “Yes sir.”

    Slowly, Mochana became aware of his surroundings again. He propped himself up on his elbows. He grimly inquired, “How many?”

    Kolum helped up the manager as he responded, “Four, I know are dead.” He slightly changed the subject, “A few people have been up for a couple of decidays. Most everyone else are beginning to stir now.”

    The manager fought back the still lingering pain of his torture. He assessed the situation as best he could. ‘At least the doctor is alive,’ he noticed. There was one person he didn’t see, “Where’s Ishmara?”

    Kolum examined the deck for a moment before responding, “We already moved her to the morgue.”

    Mochana’s eyes began to water. He did his best to suck up the tears; not because he was ashamed of them, but because there was work to do. He began to limp to the exit, “Let’s get to the control center.”

    *****

    Day 27

    Kolum had become the de facto manager, since Mochana had taken over engineering duties. The blue emergency lights had become a symbol…a symbol of their misery. Suddenly and without warning, they were replaced by normal lighting. It took a moment for Kolum’s eyes to adjust. He moved to touch the companal on the manager’s chair, “Kolum to Mochana…did you just do that?”

    The voice over the intercom was one of jubilation, “Yes I did!”

    *****

    Day 29

    All 41 remaining crew members were gathered in the cafeteria. On each long table was a feast. For the first time in a month, there was reason to celebrate…the lights were on and had stayed on.

    For a few meager decidays, the crew forgot their worries and enjoyed themselves. Ironically, they feasted on the food stuffs provided by the Enterprise.

    *****

    Day 44

    Mochana closed an access panel. He had finally finished a repair caused by one of the spatial anomalies they encountered as they entered the system. …Damage that precipitated his decision to contact the Earth ship.

    In the back of his mind, he understood how irrelevant the repairs were. In the fifteen days the engines had been back on-line, they traveled all of 0.008 of a light year. Add to that, the fact that the ship’s power source would run out of fuel in another 140 days or so. Not to mention, the trillium-D still hadn’t been applied to the hull. The possibility existed…they could run into yet another spatial anomaly.

    He leaned back for a moment, ‘At least the Xindi ignore us now.’ Despite what they had done, he would contact the Xindi in a second if he thought there was any chance of them helping his crew. ‘If only they would send a message…a simple subspace message…’ His thought was squashed, however. Even if the Xindi sent a subspace message, the Illyrians lacked the technology to receive it.

    *****

    Day 103

    Kolum was a masochist. He looked down at the flight control display, as he did everyday. It indicated they had traveled 0.064 light years from Azati Prime.

    Manager Mochana entered the control room. He had a look of defeat on his face. He whispered into Kolum’s ear, as not to fuel already widespread rumors, “Even with minimal life support and all non-vital systems deactivated, the deuterium oxide will be gone in two and one half deciyears…at best.”

    The defense spec. soaked in the information. “So what do we do?”

    Mochana took a deep breath in contemplation, “We have three options: wait for assistance…”

    “You mean hope for assistance,” Kolum interrupted.

    The manager nodded and continued, “…contact the Xindi, or die.”

    The fatalist options struck Kolum like a hammer, “The last two choices might prove to be the same thing.”

    “Maybe,” Mochama admitted, “but I still believe there is some good in this galaxy. They might help us.”

    “How can you say that about the people who killed six and tortured all of us!”

    The manager had a lot of time to think about how to respond to that. He said, “You forget the lessons of the One. We shall not lose compassion for others, like the Earthlings and the Xindi have. Fear compels them.” He concluded, “I refuse to let fear dictate to me.”

    Kolum shook his head, “I wish I had your faith, friend.”

    His decision made, Mochama ordered, “Send a distress call back toward Azati Prime.”

    His subordinate slowly nodded, “Yes sir.”

    *****

    Day 104

    An alert came from the defense station. The crew had become rather casual about manning their posts, Kolum included. Luckily, a lower officer was in the control center. She walked to the station…it was a proximity alarm! She tapped the com, “Mochana, Kolum, get up here, quick!”

    A few moments later, the duo entered. The officer reported, “There is a massive vessel out there and got us in a tractor beam!”

    Mochana questioned, “Is it Xindi?”

    Kolum took his station, “I’m not sure, it’s very different than the ones we’ve seen before.” He added, “It’s pulling us into a hanger bay.”

    The manager asked, “Can we disable the beam?”

    The defense specialist offered, “Maybe,” he made eye contact for affect, “but sir, we could never get away from this thing.”

    Mochana accepted their fate, whatever it may be.

    *****

    “Manager’s log: We’ve been in the clutches of this vessel for nearly a deciday now. I have no idea where they are taking us. Our captors refuse to communicate with us, which makes believe they are either slavers, or perhaps the Xindi are going to punish for communicating with them. Either way, I’d like to make it known how proud I am of the crew’s action over the last…nearly three deciyears. Despite our situation, they have performed admirably. If any Illyrian ever hears this, know that we did our best…and we never wavered from our principals.”

    Kolum burst into his office, “You’re not going to believe this!”

    Both ran on to the command deck. The main viewer was a sight to behold. The large, bay door had just finished retracting…and beyond was a habitable planet. The ship began to be ejected by the larger vessel.

    The defense officer double checked his readings. “Sir…it’s Kesa. It’s home!”

    Again, Mochana’s eyes watered. His heart felt alive. An immense feeling of gratitude flowed through him. He ordered, “Reverse view, I want to see who helped us.”

    The screen switched to a large, smoothly designed vessel. It had, what looked like, forward swept ‘wings.’ It almost looked like it belonged in the water. Their silent savior glided around and set a return course.

    Mochana looked at the majestic ship. He uttered, “Thank you.”

    *****

    Two Xindi-Aquatics floated in an amber liquid. They communicated in their high-pitched song.

    “Had the Reptilians informed us about this vessel to begin with, things would have been much better for them,” one said.

    The other added, “The Reptilians are not the only ones that share the burden of responsibility for them. The Illyrians will not soon forget what the humans did.”

    THE END
     
  18. trampledamage

    trampledamage Clone Moderator

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2005
    Location:
    hitching a ride to Erebor
    April 2008 Challenge - Real Science
    Joint Winner
    RevdKathy

    Author's note: I warned this was a silly little vignette in the challenge thread. I hope it may raise a smile.

    All characters are property of Paramount - or whoever owns Trek these days. No infringement is intended, and no money is being made. No animals were harmed in the writing of this story.

    The Experiment

    Spot turned gracefully around and curled up, his paws tucked under his chest. This really was a very cosy place. Like most cats, he was delighted in nothing quite so much as a Nice Box. Somewhere secure and enclosed. Just cat sized. And this particular box was perfect. It even had a soft, velvety cushion in it for him to snuggle on. He purred gently.


    To be honest, it was a very strange box. It had just sort of ‘turned up’ in his quarters this afternoon. It wasn’t there yesterday. And unlike the average box, it had all sorts of strange bits wires attached to it. And a big glass vial of something.


    But then, Spot was no ordinary cat, so why should he expect an ordinary box? He really was in a super position!


    He licked one paw in quiet meditation. It really was a lovely place to be, though he didn’t quite know why Data had closed the lid. He would have preferred to be able to look out occasionally. And pop out when he fancied a kitty-snack.


    Spots purr rose in volume as he heard Data’s voice in the room. He was talking to Uncle Geordie. Spot was almost as fond of Geordie as he was of Data. Though being a noble cat, he naturally took care not to show it.


    Geordie seemed to think that Data had done something wrong.


    “What are you thinking of!” His tone was one of outrage.


    “It is my understanding that the experiment has never been tried in reality” Data explained calmly.


    “But this is Spot!” Geordie yelled.”He could be dead!”


    The lid of the box lifted, letting light in to Spot’s cosy peace.


    “Not unless I open the box!”
     
  19. trampledamage

    trampledamage Clone Moderator

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2005
    Location:
    hitching a ride to Erebor
    April 2008 Challenge - Real Science
    Joint Winner
    trampledamage


    Oranges and Lemons

    2835 words


    USS Enterprise Stardate 41450.7 Chief Medical Officer's log, Beverly Crusher recording. The Enterprise has been tasked to provide emergency medical aid to an undercover first contact team on Rendalla V. I can only hope that the message has been garbled in some way because we've been told they have some sort of local plague.

    It would be six hours before the Enterprise got to Rendalla V, even at high warp, so Beverly Crusher settled herself at her desk and resolved to spend that time researching as much as possible about Rendalla and its native species.

    * * *

    As soon as the Enterprise entered orbit of Rendalla V, Captain Picard contacted Captain Kitchener, captain of the USS Telford. The Corps of Engineers’ ship had brought the first contact team to Rendalla V and had remained in orbit ever since. Picard invited Kitchener over to the Enterprise to lead the initial briefing on their mission.

    Worf, La Forge, Riker, Data, Troi and Crusher were already in the briefing room when Picard entered with Captain Kitchener. Very tall and rake thin, Kitchener walked slightly stooped, probably from constantly having to duck through doorways - the rumour was the Telford had been specially outfitted with taller corridors to fit him. Picard introduced his crew and then handed the briefing over to Kitchener.

    Kitchener sighed, "It's been a mess from the start," he spoke with a deep voice, hoarse from lack of sleep. "The Tellarite Cruiser Ma'Roq crashed into Rendalla V. They're an agrarian pre-warp society. We were called in to clean up the wreck of the ship and a First Contact team went in to the closest village - Tanda-Streq, High Hill in the local language - to see if anyone had seen the crash and if they were affected by it." Kitchener yawned, "Sorry, we've been pulling double shifts to clear this up as quickly as possible."

    "The First Contact team are reported to be suffering from a plague," Crusher interrupted. "Are any of your crew sick?"

    Kitchener shook his head. "My crew have been spending as little time as possible on the planet to minimize chances of being seen. We haven't felt any ill effects at all. I got our medic to run diagnostic scans on us when we heard the reports of sickness. He says we're all healthy. I'll get him to send you the scans."

    Crusher nodded her thanks and turned to Picard, "Captain I'm going to have to go down onto the planet to see the First Contact team."

    "What about the risk to our people?" Worf asked.

    "We won't be there long," Crusher reassured him, "and if no-one on the Telford has got this sickness then it's unlikely that we'll be affected in the time that we're there." She tapped her PADD on the briefing table, "I have to see them. We can’t just beam them out of there because of the Prime Directive, so I have to go to them."

    Picard nodded, "Agreed. You'll need to amend your appearance to look like a Rendallan native," he looked over to Worf, "which unfortunately rules you out for duty here Lieutenant."

    Worf growled in his throat but nodded. "Ensign Fraser will accompany the away team."

    Picard turned to Riker, "Doctor Crusher will be in charge from a medical standpoint, Commander, but I want you to lead the away team."

    Riker nodded, "Understood." He looked around the room, "We'll keep the team small; me, Fraser, Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi."

    Picard agreed, "Make it so Commander."

    * * *

    Down on the planet, the away team made their way slowly towards the village.

    "I sure would feel safer with at least a tri-corder," Fraser commented.

    Riker grinned, "Me too, but the rules are very strict - nothing on the planet that doesn't match their technology. Count yourself lucky, Rendallans are pretty similar to humans, only these brow ridges and the skin pigment needed adding, it could be worse... a lot worse."

    Crusher sighed, "I should be grateful that they've discovered a good level of medical tools. At least we aren't dealing with leeches."

    They were getting close to the village, Riker held up his hand to stop the conversation.

    "Okay everyone," he said quietly, "We're friends of Droanth - that's the name the leader of the First Contact team is using. We're from his village Matta-Hran. We've heard he was sick so have come to see him. The simple rule here is: if you're not sure of something, do nothing and say nothing until we are alone."

    Crusher, Troi and Fraser nodded. Riker led the way into the village. The main section of habitation was a collection of houses along a wide street. Riker saw signs hanging from the doors of the houses indicating they were businesses of various types. There were several people going about their day on the street, glancing at the away team but no-one seemed alarmed at the sight of strangers. Riker and Troi had already agreed that she would be the least threatening of the team so she should make the first approach to the villagers. He nodded to her.

    Troi went over to a woman who was walking close by. She smiled pleasantly and held her hand palm up under her chin as was the local custom for greeting.

    "Forgive me for approaching," Troi said carefully, "We are from Matta-Hran. Our friend Droanth is visiting here and we heard he was sick. Do you know where he is?"

    At Troi's use of the name Droanth, the woman's pale green skin went white and she took a step backwards. She pointed to a large building behind her, "Church" she said and then hurried off.

    Troi looked at Riker and shrugged, "I think she's worried we are also infected. There's a definite fear associated with Droanth and the town of Matta-Hran."

    "We need to get this sorted out soon before word really does spread," Riker said quietly.

    The away team walked to the church and saw that there was a single storey building next to it. Riker was about to enter the church itself when Crusher pulled on his arm, she pointed over to the other building. Entering there was a Rendallan man carrying a tray holding plates of food.

    "I bet that's the patients' lunch," she whispered. "They must be using that building as a hospital."

    Riker nodded, "Good spot, Doctor. Let's go."

    Troi once again led the way and when they caught up with the Rendallan man, she repeated the story about being friends from Matta-Hran. He nodded and looked them over speculatively.

    "Interesting," he said. "You all look healthy. But then so did Droanth and his friends when they first arrived"

    He led them over to the four beds. Fraser gasped when he saw the men lying in the beds, they had dark spots on their skin and inflamed wounds on their arms, blood was coming from their ears and nose and their breathing was ragged and strained. Riker, Troi and Fraser sat at the bedside of Droanth. Crusher hung back and spoke to the Rendallan man.

    "Are you their doctor?" she asked.

    The man sighed, "As close to one as they're going to get," he said. "I'm Hedrek Matupa, the minister here but I have a little medical training. It suffices for every day problems. Once these men started showing signs of some strange plague I knew there was little to be done. I've been keeping them comfortable as best I can."

    Crusher nodded, "And we thank you for it. I'm a doctor back in Matta-Hran. Could you tell me how they got sick?"

    Matupa rubbed his brow, "We don't know. They arrived three weeks ago and seemed perfectly healthy. Traders they said they were, looking for new business possibilities. They'd been here ten days when they started complaining of sickness."

    "Would it be all right if I examined them?" Crusher asked.

    Matupa nodded, "Go right ahead.” He waved his arm towards the beds. “We're not too proud to accept outside help when it's offered."

    Crusher smiled, "I hope I can help. Thank you for looking after our friends."

    Crusher went over to Riker, "I've got permission from the minister to examine the men," she said in a low voice.

    Riker nodded and stepped back to give her room. As she started to examine Droanth, Riker turned to Troi. "I'll stay here with Dr. Crusher, you two talk to the other patients. We'll meet up outside."

    Troi nodded and led Ensign Fraser over to the next bed.

    Crusher reached into her bag and pulled out a stethoscope. Putting the tips into her ears, she pressed the base to Droanth's chest and listened to him breathe.

    * * *

    Outside the hospital, the away team gathered for a meeting. Crusher and Troi sat on one of the benches by the garden, Fraser stood guard behind them, and Riker paced in front.

    Troi spoke first, "The first contact team are suffering a lot of stress. They feel very isolated. They cannot understand why they alone are sick and why it hasn't affected either the Rendallans or the Engineers team."

    Crusher nodded, "I can't figure that out either. My research before we arrived showed the Rendallans to be close enough in physiology to us that a disease that affects us should affect them too. And someone from the Telford’s crew should be affected for all that they didn't stay on the planet much."

    Troi looked at Riker, "Droanth's team believe they've been poisoned by the Rendallans, although they don't have any idea why. They think they are dying - which means they are losing interest in protecting the Rendallans from cultural contamination. We could have a real problem here soon."

    "We already do," Crusher interjected. "Commander, these men are dying and there's nothing I can do here. I need to get them back to the ship. Immediately."

    "Do you know what they are suffering from?" Riker asked.

    Crusher shook her head, "No, but I can tell that there's fluid in their lungs which is impeding their breathing, and going by the bleeding in their nose, ears and mouth, I'd guess it's blood in their lungs.” She paused, “If I don't get them proper care, they'll drown in their own blood."

    Riker stared up at the sky in thought. "How can we get them out without breaking protocol?" he mused.

    "Maybe the minister would lend us a hand cart?" Fraser suggested, "I've done historic recreations back home and we use them then. You can get them big enough to hold the four patients and the Commander and I could pull it out of the village. I wouldn't want to do it for long, but we could get them out of sight of anyone here easily enough."

    Riker nodded, "Good suggestion, Ensign. You go with Counselor Troi and arrange it with the minister. Dr Crusher and I will go and explain this to our patients."

    Riker led the way back into the hospital and, after checking that Matupa wasn't around, went with Crusher to speak to Droanth and the others.

    Speaking quickly and in a low tone, Crusher explained to Droanth what she had discovered so far and reassured him that they were going to take them all back to the Enterprise. Droanth sank back onto the bed in relief.

    "Thank God," he whispered. He started coughing and grabbed a cloth to cover his mouth. When the coughing fit finally passed and he set the cloth down, Crusher could see that it was speckled with blood.

    Crusher took his hand, "Just hold on a little while longer. We'll get you out of here."

    Crusher went to each man in turn and explained the plan to take them all back to the Enterprise. The overall weakness of the patients was alarming to her and she hoped she was convincingly hopeful to each of them when they asked her if she knew what was wrong with them. The truth was that she had no idea, but at least once they were all back on the ship she could run proper tests.

    * * *

    Once they were all back aboard the Enterprise, Crusher ran every test she could think of on the four men of the First Contact team. There were no viral pathogens, no alien bacteria, and no sign even of any antibodies to indicate their bodies were attempting to fight a disease. Crusher was stumped.

    Finally she gave up on the tests and went back to her office. "Computer," she said leaning back in her chair, "List all conditions that affect humans and carry these symptoms: spots on the skin, bleeding from the mouth and nose, internal bleeding into the lungs."

    Working

    The list that the computer provided was a long one, there was nothing particularly unique about any of the symptoms - what was strange here was how this team of Starfleet officers who were previously at the peak of fitness should get sick while no-one else did.

    Crusher rubbed her temples, the words were beginning to blur in front of her. She really did not want to believe Droanth's accusation that the Rendallans had poisoned them but what else was there?

    And there it was.

    At the bottom of the list:

    Scurvy.

    A condition so old that few people on earth had suffered from it in nearly six hundred years and yet it was very simple to succumb to and thankfully, equally easy to treat.

    Crusher tried not to get her hopes up too high. After all, she hadn't actually proved that it was scurvy, but it fit the criteria. Since it was caused by a lack of vitamin C rather than a disease, there were no pathogens for the scanners to detect. There was no disease for the engineers or the Rendallans to contract. And it explained why the Telford’s crew hadn't got sick - they were minimizing their time on the planet, which meant they would be eating aboard the Telford.

    Luckily, the cure for scurvy was simply to replenish the body's supply of vitamin C - something that was already happening naturally now that the men were eating ship's food, and something that wouldn't do them any harm even if it turned out they were suffering from something else.

    Crusher took a deep breath, time to see if she was right, "Computer. Access flora and fauna details from Rendalla V. Search for the presence of Vitamin C in the food chain."

    Working... There is no Vitamin C naturally occurring on Rendalla V

    That was it.

    Crusher knew that the human body needed regular doses of vitamin C from food. Without it, the body ran out of its supply very quickly and caused scurvy. The first contact team had been without the vitamin for three weeks.

    Crusher strode out of her office, calling for Nurse Ogawa.

    "Alyssa, start all of the patients on 6,000 mg of vitamin C immediately."

    Ogawa was bemused, but nodded and attended to the task. Crusher went over to Droanth, or Philip Samuels as she needed to get used to calling him.

    "When you were preparing to go down on to Rendalla V did you have time to do a full dietary analysis of Rendallan food?" she asked.

    Samuels shook his head, "There wasn't time. We needed to be planet-side as soon as possible, so I got the doc on the Telford to make sure nothing was poisonous and left it at that. We weren't going to be there that long, I thought we'd be okay."

    * * *

    Two weeks later, the first contact team was recovering well and the Telford had finished clearing the wreckage of the Tellarite ship. Samuels and his men had transferred back onto the Telford to go back to Starbase 45.

    Picard leaned back in his chair in the ready room and looked over at Crusher, "So, Doctor, tell me how they got sick?"

    Crusher sighed, "A classic case of trying to do something too quickly and not preparing well enough. The first contact team needed to get down into Tanda-Streq as soon as they could, so Samuels didn't wait for a full analysis of the food they'd be eating as natives, he settled for knowing nothing was actually poisonous. Well, nothing was. But there was also nothing that contained any vitamin C. Humans need vitamin C but our bodies can't produce it, we have to get it all from our food. Most animals on earth can produce their own, it's only humans, simians and a few others that can't. I guess the Rendallans can also produce the enzymes to create the vitamin in their livers or kidneys - we don't know enough about them yet to be able to say."

    "Are you saying those men almost died because they didn't eat enough oranges?" Picard said incredulously, he shook his head, "It sounds like something out of a pirate story!"

    Crusher laughed, "Luckily eating oranges is all it takes to cure them as well - they should all make a full recovery."
     
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    [LEFT]May 2008 Challenge - Mail Call
    by CeJay[/LEFT]


    Letters From Home

    The following is a log of recovered communiqués sent between a Cardassian woman named Senja of Avenal VII and her husband. They are presumed to have been sent during the final weeks of the Dominion War.


    Dear Beloved Husband,

    It is spring time here and I know your heart would warm with delight if you could see this year’s plentiful tirak harvest. Old and young are celebrating the end of our recent years of drought and famine with great excitement and spirit.

    I’m also filled with pride to be able to tell you that Hernas, your son, has not stopped to astonish his teachers with his insights in galactic events. Just the other day he proposed the idea of a united quadrant in which our people will lead as examples and without the need for violence or subjugation. I don’t think the Vorta commander likes his ideas too much. I know you don’t think much of our neighbor Trebus, but he told me that he can see our son to grow up to be a great philosopher some day.

    There are so many delightful news, my husband, which can only mean that the fates are smiling on us. The Vorta keeps speaking of our victory against the Federation to be close at hand and I for one cannot wait for that day to arrive so that I may welcome you back to your home.

    Your son and I miss you greatly. I understand the sacrifices you must make for Cardassia and I can only hope that my letters will continue to give you strength for what you must do.

    Love from your loyal wife and glory to the Union.


    * * *​


    My Dearest Wife,

    I cannot express in words the pride and satisfaction that I feel from serving here at Central Command and my part to help bring victory to Cardassia and our allies.

    The Dominion has become a most valuable friend to our people and with our new alliance with the Breen the Federation and their puppets will not stand a chance against us.

    It would be remiss of me if I didn’t praise Legate Damar who has become a formidable leader even if treacherous voices have emerged to suggest that the Vorta and the Changeling now hold complete control over Cardassia. But do not listen to these distracting tales, dear wife. Cardassia now is stronger than it has ever been before.

    I hope you remember the emergency shelter which I begun to work on before leaving for Prime. Please ensure you continue to work on it in the unlikely event that or enemies will strike against Avenal.

    As for Trebus, he is best advised to keep his wicked hands off the kanar bottle and mind his own business. As we have discussed on many occasions Hernas will join the Fourth Order and continue the legacy of serving Cardassia like his father and my father before me.

    I shall see you and our son again soon. Glory to Cardassia.


    * * *​


    My Beloved Husband,

    We had a bit of a scare a few days ago when we learned that a Klingon attack had taken place. Our soldiers and the Jem’Hadar fought valiantly however and completely destroyed the invaders. We celebrated their destruction until the early morning hours.

    But the Jem’Hadar and their Vorta leader are becoming more demanding of us by the day. Yesterday a Jem’Hadar patrol came into Hernas’ school and took away the teacher because they didn’t like his lessons. He had taught at the school for fifteen years! He had adamantly refused to teach that the changelings are gods and so the Vorta had him taken away. Nobody knows where they took him.

    I know I should not worry about these things but some of the people are getting anxious. The authorities won’t do anything and old Trebus is saying that they now take their orders from the Vorta as well.

    I would never dream of questioning the wisdom of Legate Damar or his policies, I know they are for the greater good of Cardassia. We are at war and I perfectly understand the need for sacrifice.

    Please watch out for yourself.

    With limitless love for you and Cardassia.


    * * *​


    Dear Wife,

    Times are difficult and I would be lying if I was to say that it will become easier before we have emerged victorious.

    The Breen have struck a decisive victory at the very heart of the Federation and some say that Cardassian commandos have destroyed their Starfleet Headquarters on Earth and will return to Cardassia with their president as a trophy.

    Do not worry about matters that are beyond your grasp of understanding. People much smarter than you or even myself have come together to ensure that Cardassia will once again rule the galaxy as their rightful masters with the Klingons, Humans and Romulans as our servants.

    Tend to my son with all your love and care and nurture him so that one day he will take his part in our glorious future.

    Glory to Cardassia.


    * * *​


    Beloved Husband,

    I’ve heard terrible rumors about Legate Damar having turned against Cardassia. I cannot believe that a man you have spoken off so highly would betray his people. Was he not a close associate of the great Dukat who made Cardassia great again?

    The news are very confusing and I’m not sure what to believe. Trebus has been suggesting that it is not Damar who has turned on us but the Dominion. We are all very afraid and I hope you would be able to provide clarity in these times of uncertainty.

    My eternal love for you and Cardassia.


    * * *​


    Dear Wife,

    Events have been unfolding quickly here on Prime and I cannot say much now. Damar is no longer our leader and I don’t know ---- I cannot speak now, I will contact you again as soon as I can.

    Be careful.


    * * *​


    My Beloved Husband,

    I haven’t heard from you in over two weeks and I’m greatly concerned.

    The Jem’Hadar have tripled their patrols and the Vorta has ordered a general curfew after dark. I’m too scared to leave the house since … I didn’t tell you but they raided Trebus’ place next door saying that he is a traitor for having sided with Damar’s rebellion. It all happened very quickly and I think may have killed him. You should be proud to know that I didn’t cry. I’m trying to be strong for you and for our son. He keeps asking when you’ll be back.

    We have began to work on the shelter which you told us about in case of a Federation attack. I now fear that it might not be the Federation we will have to hide from.

    I just wish you could come back soon. I need you.

    Forgive me for being weak.

    Eternal love.


    * * *​


    Dear Wife,

    I am proud to hear that you have weathered these confusing weeks with strength and wit. There is restlessness in the air here on Prime as well.

    You must have faith that our new leader Legate Broca has a handle on the situation. I hear that he along with the Vorta, Weyoun and the Changeling have managed to kill Damar and end this awful rebellion.

    We have paid a high price for Damar’s treachery. Lakarian City has been wiped out by Dominion forces which were forced into action after the rebellion sabotaged the planet’s power grid. I mourn for the millions of Cardassian’s lost but we cannot look back now. The Federation and its allies are knocking on our door and we must stand ready to defend what we love.

    Never before have I depended more on your strength than I do now, my wife. Tell my son that his father lived and died for Cardassia. Tell him of the sacrifices a man must make to defend his land. Someday he will understand and I hope so will you.

    My love to you and our son and to Cardassia. Shall it never cease to be great.


    * * *​


    My Dearest Husband,

    I do not understand what has happened anymore. They say Damar is alive and a hero, liberating us from the evil of the Dominion. There is fighting in our streets now, our fields are scorched and many houses in the city are on fire.

    The news from Prime is contradictory. Some says that we have fought back the Federation and that Cardassia is victorious while others say that the Dominion has turned against us and attacking our people.

    There is chaos here. I have retreated into the emergency shelter with Hernas but I don’t know how much longer we can stay here with power and supplies dwindling.

    Please, husband, will you not give us instructions of what we should do? I fear I have reached the end of my sanity.


    * * *​


    Dear Husband,

    Please respond if you can. There are voices crying on the streets that the Dominion has destroyed Prime but I cannot believe this. How could this have happened? Husband, please talk to me and tell me what to do.

    Hernas keeps saying we should go out and see about the Starfleet ships which they shout have arrived in the system. I am so scared. I do not know what to do. I think I will stay in the shelter and wait to hear from you.

    I love you, always and ever.

    Please, talk to me ….



    No further communiqués were recovered.

    The Cardassian planet Avenal VII surrendered two days later to a combine Starfleet and Klingon taskforce.

    Senja and her son Hernas were recovered one week later from within a sealed shelter underneath their home by Starfleet personnel and treated for exhaustion and malnutrition.

    Senja’s husband was identified as Glinn Rentrek stationed at Central Command. His fate has not been determined but he was presumably killed in the Dominion bombardment of Cardassia Prime in which an estimated 800 million Cardassians perished.
     

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