Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

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

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  1. Goliath

    Goliath Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2003
    Location:
    The Fifth Dimension
    June 2008 Challenge: Adaptation


    "The Combadge" by Camelopard


    Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Captain Robert Charlebois, Starfleet Security.

    Four months ago, Admiral Ross asked me to take command of the south-central district of the city of Sanjal, here on Cardassia Prime. Since the end of the Dominion War and the beginning of the Occupation, South Central has been one of the most violent and dangerous areas of the city. Some reporters have even suggested that the south-central district was a “no-go zone” for Starfleet personnel.

    Today, with the release of an independent study of Cardassian security statistics, I am proud to announce a steep decline in the frequency of insurgent attacks in this district over the past six months.

    With the continued help of community leaders and ordinary citizens, we will continue to make the south-central district a safer place for all of us…”

    ***

    The predawn darkness was nearly total: the sky was cloudy, and the power had failed again the previous afternoon, blacking out South Central. The air was thick and warm, promising more thunderstorms later in the day. The city streets were deserted, and silent, except for the chirping and clicking of insects.

    Quickly, quietly, the SURGE teams moved in, surrounding the house. They wore black Starfleet combat uniforms, and black balaclavas to hide their sweating faces. Their type-3 phasers were optimized for close-quarter battles, with tactical flashlights and forward pistol grips. They gathered at the front and back doors and waited for the signal.

    “Knock, knock,” said a voice on the communicator.

    Raiders at both doors swung battering rams. The doors crashed open. Weapons at the ready, the team at the back rushed into the kitchen, moving to clear the first floor and basement. The team at the front door charged into the front hall and up the stairs.

    A New Order terrorist appeared at the top of the stairs, running out of a bedroom on the left, a disruptor rifle in his hands. The leading raider lit him up and fired twice.

    The first shot hit the Cardassian in the chest. The second hit him in the face. He collapsed like a rag doll. His disruptor clunked on the floor, unfired.

    Someone was shouting in Cardassian downstairs. There was a burst of disruptor fire, the snap-snap of the tactical phasers, and a dying scream.

    The leading raider went left at the top of the stairs, into the dead Cardassian’s room. The man behind him kicked open the door to the second bedroom, on the right. A shrill female scream came from inside.

    A third man hit the top of the stairs, turned right, and right again, to face the last bedroom door. “Starfleet!” he shouted, and kicked at the door. The door didn’t open.

    Shit! he thought. “Open the door,” he shouted, and kicked again. This time the door crashed open, and he rushed in.

    ***

    Warak had been sleeping, in the nude, on a mattress upstairs, when the house’s doors were breached.

    What was that? he thought. Then shouts and screams, gunfire, boots pounding on the stairs. The enemy!

    He scrambled to his feet, grabbed a can of liquid fuel off the floor, uncapped it, and started splashing it all over his desk and workstation.

    He heard a bang at the door, and a human shout. He had to destroy the files! But where was his lighter?

    He turned to look—but someone was behind him, dressed all in black, and the butt end of the phaser rifle hit him in the face.

    ***

    “Wake up, snakehead.”

    Warak woke up. For a moment, he was confused. Where was his lighter? Then he remembered.

    His head ached. He was tied to a chair, still naked, with his hands bound behind him. The chair was in the middle of a large, empty room, dimly lighted. There were three figures in front of him—human, all dressed in black. The one on the right had a fire extinguisher. The one on the left had a can of liquid fuel. Briefly, Warak wondered if it was the same fuel can.

    There—on the floor, under a sheet—was that a body?

    “Hey there,” said one of the black-uniformed humans—the one in the centre. “How’s your head?”

    “It hurts,” Warak said.

    “That’s a shame,” said the human. “Do you know who we are?”

    The Cardassian thought for a moment. Then he said: “Federation death squad.”

    The human nodded. “That’s right,” he said. “I’m Lieutenant-Commander Mack Vickers. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”

    Warak felt a chill. “No,” he lied.

    “Yeah,” said the human. “You’ve heard of me.” He gestured to the man on his right—the one with the fuel can. “This is my second-in command, Lieutenant Nash Delvern.”

    “Hey,” said the man with the fuel can.

    Then Vickers gestured to the man on his left—the one with the fire extinguisher. “And this is Junior Lieutenant Russ McKinley.”

    “Just call me Rusty,” said the man with the fire extinguisher.

    “The rest of my team is outside,” said Vickers. “Now that we’ve been introduced, I’m going to ask you a few questions.”

    “I won’t answer,” said Warak.

    “No?” said Vickers.

    “No. You can torture me all you want. I’ll never talk.”

    “Torture?” said Vickers. “Who said anything about torture?” He looked to his right and gestured at the Cardassian. “This guy thinks we’re going to torture him.” The man with the fuel canister shrugged.

    Vickers turned his attention back to Warak. “You’ve got the wrong idea, pal. I don’t torture people. It’s against Federation law. Besides, I’ve got my own way of getting information.”

    “What’s that?” said Warak.

    “Answer my questions, or we’ll kill you. Like we killed your friend here.” He gestured at the body under the sheet nearby. “You want to see?”

    “No,” said Warak.

    “Sure you do,” said Vickers. He turned to the man on his left. “Let him see.”

    The man with the fire extinguisher—Lieutenant McKinley—bent down, and pulled the sheet back. The sight and smell made Warak gag, but he couldn’t look away. The dead Cardassian’s body was burnt black, but still recognizable. It was a member of his resistance cell—Imskel.

    “I’m surprised all that screaming didn’t wake you up,” said Vickers. “Rusty must have hit you pretty hard.”

    “Federation murderers!” Warak said.

    “Who’s your handler?” said Vickers.

    “Ratunka!”

    “Give us the name of your handler, and we’ll let you live.”

    “Nu ka breyet’U, human scum! For Cardassia!”

    The Starfleet commander shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said. He turned to the man on his right. “Do it.”

    The man on his right—Lieutenant Delvern—stepped forward, uncapped the fuel can, and started pouring fuel on Warak’s head. The liquid stung the Cardassian’s eyes, burned in his nostrils, made him cough and retch.

    “Oh, I’m sorry,” Delvern said. “Did I get some in your eyes? Here—let me wash them out.” He splashed more fuel in Warak’s face.

    Warak spluttered and gasped. “You can’t do this!”

    “Why not?” said Vickers

    “I am a prisoner of war!” cried Warak. “I have rights!”

    “You’re a terrorist piece of shit,” said Vickers. “You’ve got nothing.”

    “Done,” said Delvern, his fuel canister empty.

    “Okay. Step back,” said Vickers. He took out a flare. Then, to Warak, he said: “Tell us your handler’s name.”

    “Ratunka!” cried Warak, struggling against his bonds. “You can’t—”

    Vickers lit the flare. Warak froze. His eyes widened in terror.

    “Is that your final answer?” said Vickers.

    ***

    Two Type-15 shuttlepods were parked on the abandoned factory’s roof. The two remaining members of the SURGE team stood nearby, their balaclavas rolled up into caps. Ensign Coriander Koenig chewed gum and watched the sun rise, her face expressionless. Ensign Greg Mathers sweated and fidgeted nearby, glancing over at the building’s roof exit.

    “Relax,” Koenig said, finally.

    “Sorry,” said Mathers. Then: “What if he doesn’t talk?”

    “He’ll talk,” said Koenig.

    Mathers looked unconvinced. A few seconds later, the door to the roof banged open. Vickers came out first, followed by Delvern and McKinley, dragging their prisoner between them. The Cardassian was still naked, except for a black hood over his head, and the plasticuffs that held his hands behind his back.

    Koenig went over to the nearest shuttlepod and opened the cargo hatch. Mathers said: “Did he talk?”

    “Of course he talked,” said Vickers, pulling off his balaclava, using it to wipe the sweat from his heavy brow, shaved head, and thick neck.

    Delvern and McKinley shoved the Cardassian into the shuttlepod’s cargo space. McKinley chuckled. “You should have seen his face when we showed him the body,” he said. “Or when Mack lit the flare.” He hit the button to close the hatch. “I thought for sure he was going to piss himself.”

    The hatch closed. Delvern said: “Later, scumbag.” Then, to Vickers: “When are these buttonheads going to figure out, the guy was dead before we set him on fire?”

    Vickers grinned, shrugged, tapped his combadge. “Vickers to Lewis,” he said.

    “What if he’d called your bluff?” said Mathers.

    Delvern and Mackey were pulling off their own headgear. They paused, looked at each other, then back to Mathers. “What bluff?” said Delvern.

    “Lewis here. Go ahead, Mack.”

    “Hey, Lew,” said Vickers. “Have I got a TIP for you. Our prisoner gave up his handler. You ready?”

    “Go ahead.”

    Vickers recited a name and address. The name was Cardassian. The address was in different part of South Central. “Hit that place as fast as you can, and arrest everybody. This intelligence is getting colder by the minute.”

    “I’m on it,” said the voice on the combadge. “Anything else?”

    “No, that’s it. Thanks, Lew. Vickers out.”

    “You think they’ll get him?” said Koenig.

    “Maybe,” said Vickers. “The target personality has a day job and a family. If we’re lucky, they’re either still asleep, or just getting up.”

    “So what do we do now?” said Mathers.

    Vickers went over to the second shuttlepod. “You and Connie take the spoon back to civilization,” he said. Then: “You two with me.”

    “Shotgun!” said Delvern.

    “Aw,” said McKinley.

    “Where are you going?” said Mathers.

    Vickers paused at the pilot’s hatch. “You don’t need to know that, new guy.”

    Koenig said: “Come on, Mathers, move your ass.” She climbed into the first shuttlepod, took the pilot’s position, and started the impulse engines. After a moment’s hesitation, Mathers joined her. The pod’s gull-wing hatches closed

    “Where are you taking me,” the hooded Cardassian whined, from the back.

    “Shut up,” said Koenig.

    ***
     
  2. Goliath

    Goliath Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2003
    Location:
    The Fifth Dimension
    Two Starfleet officers watched as the shuttlepods took off.

    Captain Charlebois said: “Follow Vickers.”

    The picture on the viewscreen zoomed out and panned right, following one of the two pods across the skies over south-central Sanjal.

    Captain Brownridge, Starfleet Intelligence, blew on his coffee, sipped, and said: “Tell me more.”

    Charlebois shrugged. “There’s not much more to tell,” he said. “Over the past six months, the Phalanx has become the largest, most powerful faction in the city. Forty per cent of the south-central district is under their control.”

    “And you suspect Vickers of leaking classified information to the Phalangists?”

    “Yes. Along with his racketeering, and other illegal activities.”

    “Why would he do that?”

    “Because they hate the New Order almost as much as they hate the provisional government. Dozens of known and suspected insurgents have been killed in this district since Vickers and his team arrived. I suspect they’ve been passing Target Information Packages to the Phalanx, and letting its death squads do the rest.”

    Brownridge drank more coffee and considered. Finally, he said: “That’s pretty rough justice.”

    “It’s cold-blooded murder,” said Charlebois, flatly.

    ***

    The shuttlepod landed in a deserted parking lot, near an improvised armored vehicle and a small group of Cardassians. The pilot’s hatch opened, and Vickers got out. One Cardassian stepped forward to greet him.

    “Commander Vickers,” he said.

    “Gul Yurat,” said Vickers. He motioned for the Cardassian to follow him. “Come on around back. I’ve got something for you.”

    Yurat followed Vickers around to the back of the shuttlepod. Vickers looked around, then banged on the cargo hatch with his fist. The hatch opened, revealing Lieutenant McKinley holding out a Cardassian disruptor rifle.

    “Just fell off the truck this morning,” said Vickers.

    Yurat accepted the rifle and examined it. “Excellent,” he said. “How many?”

    “Six pistols, twelve rifles,” said Vickers. “Compliments of the New Order.”

    Yurat looked up, smiled. “I look forward to thanking them for their generosity.” He waved his men over to the shuttlepod.

    While Delvern and McKinley distributed weapons, Vickers held out a folded piece of paper. “I need a favor in the meantime,” he said. “A couple of black marketeers who think they don’t have to pay tax.”

    Yurat accepted the paper, unfolded it, read it, and nodded. “These men are known to us,” he said. “We will remind them of their civic duty”

    “I appreciate that,” said Vickers.

    Gul Yurat slung his disruptor rifle and offered Vickers his hand. “Shoulder to shoulder, Commander Vickers.”

    The Federation officer shook the Cardassian’s hand. “Shoulder to shoulder,” he said.

    ***

    The shuttlepod on the viewscreen took off again, heading for district headquarters.

    “What do you think?” said Captain Charlebois.

    Captain Brownridge finished his coffee. “I think it’ll take a lot more than this to prove that Vickers has been colluding with Phalangist death squads.”

    “I’ll get more,” said Charlebois. “I’ve got an informant, on the team.”

    Brownridge’s eyes widened in surprise. “Are you serious?” he said. “Who?”

    ***

    “Lewis to Vickers.”

    “Vickers here.”

    “The cat is in the bag.”

    “Nice work, Lew. We’re on our way back to civilization right now.”

    “No problem. One thing: the target personality has a wife and young son. I brought them all in, like you said.”

    “Good to hear it. I owe you one, buddy. Vickers out.”

    ***

    The occupation authority’s district headquarters was a step pyramid of grey stone. Starfleet personnel called it “civilization.” They were discouraged from calling it that in official correspondence, for obvious reasons.

    The interior lighting was low, the walls close and oppressive. The interrogation rooms were converted offices on the first floor. The detainees were in room 101. Vickers opened the door and walked in, followed by Delvern and McKinley.

    There were three Cardassian civilians inside. The target personality was a mature male, sitting handcuffed to a metal table. A mature female and a very young male—the target personality’s wife and son—were sitting at the table as well. All three looked at the door when it opened. They looked scared, confused, and a little angry.

    Vickers gave them a cold smile. “Mr. Atwar?” he said

    The target personality said: “Yes—I’m Atwar.”

    Vickers nodded. “This is your wife Rayal and your son Rishkat?” he said.

    Warily, the handcuffed Cardassian said: “Yes.”

    “I’m Lieutenant Commander Mack Vickers of Starfleet Security. We just need to ask you a few routine questions.” Vickers looked back at McKinley and Delvern. “Why don’t you guys take Mr. Atwar’s family next door?”

    “Sure thing,” Delvern said. He opened the door, looked at the wife. “Ma’am?”

    The female looked at the target personality. When he nodded, she took the child by the hand, and led him out of the room. Delvern and McKinley followed them out. The door closed behind them.

    Vickers took a seat across from the target personality.

    “I want to speak to a nestor,” the Cardassian said.

    “In a moment,” said Vickers. “First, I want you to tell me the names and addresses of all your associates in the New Order.”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the Cardassian.

    Vickers sighed, lowered his head, rubbed his scalp. Then he raised his head and looked the prisoner in the eye. “Why do you do make me do this?”

    The Cardassian looked back. “Do what?” he said.

    “You’ll talk,” said Vickers. “You know you’re going to talk. I’m going to make you talk. I always make you snakes talk. So why do you do this? Why?”

    “I want a nestor,” said the Cardassian.

    Vickers shook his head, then tapped his combadge. “Vickers to Delvern,” he said.

    “Delvern here.”

    “Go to work on the wife,” said Vickers.

    “Acknowledged.”

    The Cardassian’s eyes widened. “What are you doing?” he said, uncertainly.

    There was a moment of silence. Then, in the next room, a woman screamed.

    “Rayal?” said the Cardassian. There was another scream next door. “Rayal!”

    “Names and addresses, Mr. Atwar,” said Vickers.

    The Cardassian shouted, swore, jumped to his feet, fought against the handcuff.

    “Names and addresses.”

    The Cardassian started to weep. “Stop it!” he cried, still struggling to pull his hand loose. “Stop it! Rayal! Rayal!

    The screaming continued. “Give me some names, and the pain will stop,” said Vickers.

    “Bastard!” the Cardassian shouted. “Federation bastard! Rayal!

    Then, suddenly, the screaming stopped.

    After a moment, Vickers’ combadge chirped. “Delvern to Vickers.”

    “Vickers here.”

    “Mack…Mack, I’m sorry man…the guy’s wife…”

    Vickers frowned. “What happened?”

    “She’s dead.”

    The Cardassian looked stricken. Vickers jumped to his feet. “Dead?” he shouted. “You idiot—you weren’t supposed to kill her! What the hell did you do?

    “I didn’t do anything, I swear! I was giving her electroshock, and she just…she just died!

    “Ah…shit!”

    “She must have had a weak heart, or something. I’m sorry, sir.”

    The Cardassian collapsed back into his chair. “Yeah, okay,” said Vickers, disgustedly. “It’s not your fault. Go to work on the kid. But be carefull this time.”

    “What?” said Atwar.

    “Acknowledged.”

    “No!”

    “Vickers out.” The Starfleet officer sat back down and eyed his prisoner.

    “Does your son have any medical conditions we should know about?” he said.

    ***

    Vickers and his teammates walked out of the detention area, laughing and joking. At the security station, Lieutenant Barbara Hardcastle scowled and lowered the force-field gate. “Vickers,” she said, “what the hell were you doing in there?”

    Vickers grinned and waved his hand dismissively. “Relax, Hardcastle,” he said. “No animals were harmed in the making of this film.”

    “Are you kidding?” said Hardcastle. “I could hear the screams from here! You guys are going to get me court-martialled!”

    “Nah,” said Vickers. He held up an optolythic data rod. “What you heard was a recording of an old Obsidian-Order interrogation. We put the prisoner in one room, and played this in the next. Made him think we were torturing his wife and kid.”

    Hardcastle stared, open-mouthed. Finally, she shook her head and held up her hands. “You guys are sick,” she said.

    The three SURGE officers laughed. “Let’s go, sickos,” said Vickers, pocketing the data rod. “We’ve got work to do.”

    The group started to walk away when Hardcastle called after them. “Vickers!” They stopped, and Vickers looked back.

    “Yeah?”

    “I almost forgot. I have a message here for you. Your eyes only.”

    Vickers looked back at his teammates, shrugged, and said: “Go on ahead, I’ll catch up.”

    Delvern and McKinley left the detention area. Vickers went over to the security station, where Hardcastle was raising the force-field gate once again. “Who’s it from?” he said.

    Hardcastle held out a padd. “Captain Brownridge, Starfleet Intelligence,” she said.

    “Brownridge?” said Vickers. He took the padd, tapped a button on the screen, and read the message that came up. Then, for a moment, he just stood there.

    The message read: MATHERS IS A RAT. HE’S WORKING FOR CHARLEBOIS. WATCH YOUR ASS. BROWNRIDGE.

    “What does Intelligence want?” said Hardcastle.

    Vickers glanced up, smiled. “Nothing,” he said. He blanked the screen, and handed the padd back. “Just a TIP. See you later, Lieutenant.”

    ***

    It was another hot, humid night in the south-central district of Sanjal. Sheet lightning flashed and thunder rumbled in the distance. The power had not yet been fully restored, so the streets were dark, deserted.

    Swiftly, silently, the SURGE team closed in on their objective—another nondescript house in one of the district’s poorest neighborhoods. Koenig and McKinley set up a ladder in the back yard, beneath a second-floor window. As they began to climb, Vickers, Delvern and Mathers crept around to the front of the house and stacked up next to the front door.

    Vickers held up his left fist. Delvern hefted the battering ram. Mathers readied his weapon. Behind their balaclavas, their faces were tense with excitement.

    They heard the sound of glass breaking in the rear of the house. Vickers pumped his fist. Delvern shouted “Starfleet!” and swung the ram. As the door splintered inward, Mathers charged in and moved left.

    Vickers went in, moving right, Delvern close behind him. As they rounded a corner, a Cardassian opened fire with a disruptor pistol.

    Vickers ducked back, under cover. Then both Delvern and Vickers leaned around the corner and returned fire. The Cardassian was hit and fell.

    The Starfleet officers advanced into the room, covering the Cardassian on the floor. Vickers reached down and carefully removed the disruptor from the dead alien’s hand. Behind them, they heard Mathers say “Clear!”

    Delvern and Vickers exchanged a look. Mathers entered the room. He lowered his weapon.

    Then Vickers raised the disruptor, took aim, and shot Mathers in the face.


    (Adapted from The Shield, Episode One: “Pilot”)
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2008
  3. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    July 2008 Challenge - Second Person

    “The Nightmare” by TheLoneRedshirt

    Stardate 06857.8 (11 November 2329)
    Independent Freighter SS Eku
    Near the Lesser Riven Nebula, Sector 0552

    You awake suddenly, heart hammering and your body clammy with sweat.

    Blinking to clear your eyes in the darkness of your cabin, you are aware of a familiar voice. Your mother – she is calling out to you. Something in her tone fills you with a sudden chill of apprehension.

    “Joey! Quick, get out of bed! I need you to take Melody and get in one of the life pods.”

    You frown, and your lip curls in a churlish manner – typical for a sleepy twelve year old boy. “Aw, Mom! Those pods are cold and dark and they smell funny. Can’t you and Dad run drills another time? I wanna sleep!”

    Your mother’s tone tightens. There is no ignoring the urgency.

    “Joseph Barrabas Akinola! Get out of that bunk and move your tail end – Now!

    You grumble but toss the covers aside, your initial fear momentarily forgotten as your puerile adolescent nature over-rides good sense.

    “Okay!” you say in a voice that is not quite a whine. “If it’s the stupid Orions, why not just jump to warp? The Eku can outrun a dog-gone raider!”

    Your mother switches on the cabin light, causing you to blink as your eyes adjust. Squinting, you hold up a hand to block the light as you reach for the jumpsuit that hangs over the back of a chair.

    “No time for that,” chides your mother. “Hurry up, Joey! I don’t think there’s much time!”

    You look at your mother’s face for the first time and you are startled to see the fear in her wide eyes. You’ve never seen your mother like this before. Your stomach clenches as you sense that maybe this is not a drill – that this may be more serious than dodging an Orion raider.

    “Mom?” Your pubescent voice cracks in betrayal of your sudden fear. Your mother forces a smile on her face, but the look of apprehension remains in her eyes.

    “Shhh, baby, just come on. Your Daddy is probably being over-cautious, but better safe than sorry.”

    You pad bare-foot after your mother, still clad in your pajamas. Without thinking, you snatch up your new pocket knife off your bedside table – a recent birthday gift from your father. Your mother is now moving at a brisk walk, not quite a trot. Both of you enter your little sister’s cabin and your mother sweeps the sleeping girl from her cot, still wrapped in her pink blanket. Melody doesn’t stir, except to grasp her yellow stuffed bear more tightly and to place her thumb in her mouth.

    Ahead, you see your father and uncle trotting forward. Both of them are carrying pulse rifles. You only catch a brief glimpse of your father – a mix of determination and fear on his broad, dark face. It is how you will always remember your father.

    “Joey! Come on!” your mother hisses in impatience. You realize that you’ve stopped dead in your tracks, staring after the retreating forms of your dad and his brother. Blinking, you quickly catch up with your mother.

    As you enter the alcove containing the escape pods, you hesitate. Your mother turns, an imploring look on her face.

    “Joey? Baby, come on – get in the pod!”

    Something hot and wet is on your face. You taste the salt of a tear that traces by your nose to your lips. You begin to shake your head in sudden determination.

    “No, Mama – I can help! Daddy has shown me how to operate the laser battery – I can do it, just . . . Please! Don’t make me go in the pod!”

    Suddenly, your mother engulfs you in a tight embrace. You feel her breath on your ear as she speaks quickly.

    “Joseph – I’m counting on you. Take care of Melody. I love you!”

    With strength that astonishes you, she picks you up (even though you are now nearly as tall as your mother, though still slender as a reed) and places you inside the cramped life pod. Your eyes lock for a moment, and you think she is going to change her mind, that she will pull you and your five year-old sister from the life pod.

    But your mother forcefully slides the hatch to. You hear the snick-click, snick-click, snick-click of the locking mechanism as the hatch seals. Your ears pop as the pressure in the pod increases slightly.

    Pressing your face against the small window in the hatch, you see your mother for the last time. She’s smiling, but her face is very sad. She touches her fingers to her lips, then touches the other side of the viewport. Suddenly she stands, turns and she is gone from view.

    Blinking back your own tears, you tend to your little sister. Melody is still sleeping the sleep of the innocent. You strap her into her couch and she snuggles against her bear. You strap into the next couch, which affords you a view through the small window.

    You wait, still hoping that this will be like all the other times you and Melody have been ensconced in a life-pod, to spend a boring few hours in the dark until either your mother or father retrieves you after the threat of danger passed.

    Blaang! The sudden acceleration throws you against your harness, nearly knocking the wind from you. Melody whimpers in her sleep, but her eyes remain tightly closed.

    Emergency lights flicker on, emitting a putrid yellow glow that add no cheer to the life pod. Ignoring the many hours of instruction from your parents, you release the harness and slowly float free from your seat. The small pod has no artificial gravity and only minimal inertial dampeners.

    Still, the dampeners are enough to prevent you from being slammed against the curved wall of the pod. You guide yourself toward the small viewport in the hatch, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Eku.

    You are surprised by the degree of darkness you see. The nebula in the background blocks out most of the starfield, but you manage to see the running lights of your family’s old L-Type freighter. And you see something else.

    Your mind is unable to fully comprehend the sight. It is massive – far bigger than the Eku. Bigger than anything the Orions have. You make out right angles and a mass of conduits and other metallic textures, all in deep shadow. The object is hanging in space, moving slowly toward the freighter.


    A green glow erupts from the cube – engulfing your family’s ship. It is all more than your 12-year old mind can handle. You faint, and dream only of darkness and bone-chilling cold.

    * * *

    Stardate 54214.08 (20 March 2377)
    USS Bluefin
    Molari Sector – Routine patrol

    You awake suddenly, heart hammering and your body is clammy with sweat.

    Sitting up, you throw back the covers of your cot and sit on the edge in the darkness, willing your heart rate to slow. Momentarily, it begins to slow to normal. You breathe deeply and exhale shakily. Although a sheen of perspiration covers your body, you are inexplicably cold.


    “Lights – one quarter,” you announce to your cabin in a hoarse voice. The ship’s computer obeys, and the darkness is pushed back by the soft glow of the cabin lights.

    You sit on the edge of your bunk for several minutes, a frown on your face as you try to recall . . .

    But as always, the memory of the recurring dream eludes you. Like trying to grasp smoke, the tendrils slip away. All that remains is your memory of a cold, dark place and . . .

    You sigh in frustration and stand, momentarily still, trying to remember. Walking barefoot to the sink, you splash cold water in your face and look in the mirror. Your 60 year-old visage stares back. Your hair is nearly white and your dark face is lined from years and harsh experience, but your brown eyes seem timeless. And you think you see fear in them.

    As you straighten, your eye catches the corner of the mirror – a perfect right angle. You feel the hair at the nape of your neck rise.

    You shake your head sharply. “Damned stupid dreams,” you mutter, and turn toward the head and the sonic shower, the nightmare forgotten.

    For the moment.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2008
  4. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    AUGUST 2008 CHALLENGE - An Unexpected Guest

    The Lost Kingdom by Mistral


    Captain Hans Moffat sat in his office, checking cargo manifests. A cup of coffee sat, steaming, on the corner of his desk. The latest load that Hermes carried was a mixed bag at best. A pair of deuterium tanks trailed the load that was strung out behind Hermes, followed by two Starfleet stasis chambers filled with vaccine for Rugalan fever destined for Beta Hydroxi Six, Kelvan’s World. After that were five standard cargo carriers with an assortment of luxury trade goods. Each container was held to the next by a “belt and suspenders” system of force locks and duranium cables. Moffat had to figure his course after the drop-off at Kelvan’s World so as to maximize his profits and minimize his fuel loss.

    “Captain, uh, sir?” Terrence Lagos sounded a bit disturbed, even over the intercom.

    Yeah, Terry, what is it?” Hans was more than a little distracted and didn’t hear the catch in Terry’s voice.

    “Sir, I have a very strange object on the long-range sensors. It’s … um, biological.”

    Hans dropped the padd he’s been reading. “It’s alive? In space?”

    Now Terry sounded uncertain. “Not exactly, Captain. It shows up as a biological entity, but it lacks all of the usual life signs one would expect. I guess it could be a corpse but its kind of big, y’know?”

    Hans sat and considered his reply for a moment. Terry wasn’t the best operational officer in the galaxy but he’d been with the Hermes for over fifteen years. Hans trusted him enough to wonder what he’d found. “Terry, let’s set a course that will allow us to get a tighter scan, as long as it doesn’t cost us too much time. Who knows, maybe we can sell whatever it is to Starfleet.”

    “Yes, sir, we’ll do that. We should have something more in an hour or so.”

    “Thanks, Terry.” Hans picked his padd back up and began to read. His now forgotten coffee sat there growing cold.

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

    Forty-seven minutes later by the ship’s chronometer Terry hailed Moffat. “Captain, um, we have the object on the screens. You might want to come up here.”

    Moffat had been so immersed in his graphs and charts he’s forgotten the earlier call and it took him a moment to respond. “Uh, yeah, I’ll be right up.” He got up and headed for the turbo lift.

    On the bridge the navigator, Mercedes, and the head engineer, V’Shanti, were staring at the screen. Terry got up from the central chair as Moffat entered. “What the hell is that?” Moffat asked. Everyone was looking up at the peculiar brown object tumbling through space.

    V’Shanti spoke, and his antennae bobbed a bit, signifying his agitation. “Hans, what ever it is, it’s coated with a biological organism. Sensors say there is a fusion generator under all of that, as well as a number of commonplace materials. I think,” and here his blue face scrunched up a bit, “that it is a machine but the outer surface is alive. It draws power from solar and cosmic background radiation to sustain itself. Without a closer examination I can’t tell you anything else. I’m sorry,” he apologized, “but Hermes’s sensors don’t have the refinement to tell us more.”

    “Do you think that it might be dangerous?” Moffat looked at Terry as he spoke.

    “The scans aren’t detecting any kind of viral agent or anything like that. I think we can take it aboard the shuttle deck if we run it through a decontamination cycle.” Terry didn’t sound overly worried so Hans made his decision.

    “Go ahead and bring it in, then. Maybe Starfleet will be interested. V’Shanti, see what you and Bill can learn about it. If we give them a preliminary report the ‘Fleet boys will be thrilled.”

    The Andorian engineer left the bridge as Terry began manipulating tractor beams to drag the unknown item on board. Moffat took the center seat and watched through the viewscreen until the strange object was out of sight.

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

    Moffat was back in his office, monitoring the price of deuterium on Halifax Five when V’Shanti paged him. “Captain, we have finished a preliminary analysis.”

    Moffat pulled himself away from the subspace feed in a distracted fashion. “Analysis?” he asked.

    V’Shanti sighed. “Of the object we found, Hans.”

    Moffat visibly shook himself free of his current activity. “Oh, right, the thing we found. So what is it?”

    “Well, we still don’t know what the biological sheath is made of. Underneath it is a Terran fusion reactor, a few square yards of transparent aluminum, about forty kilos of duranium and an assortment of metals and plastics that would seem to be mechanical wiring.” V’Shanti paused for a moment, then continued, “Hans, we’re also picking up what would seem to be a human corpse in the center of it all. Oh, and the whole mess is between three and four and a half centuries old. That’s all I know.”

    Moffat rocked back in his desk chair, stunned. “Thanks, V’Shanti,” he said, in a weak voice. Switching channels, he said,” Terry, contact the closest Starfleet vessel and tell them we have something they may be interested in.” Shaking his head, he returned to his reports. “Problem solved,” he said to himself. He just didn’t realize how wrong he was.

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

    When the call from the Hermes came in Captain Niklesh Sanjay of the Oberth-class science vessel Cochrane was deep in meditation in his quarters.

    “Captain to the Bridge.” T’Mon’s voice was devoid of emotion as always but the strength of its tone penetrated Sanjay’s mantra.

    “On my way, Commander,” Sanjay replied. Sighing, he uncrossed his legs and rose, tugging at the hem of his tunic. It was a short walk from his room to the Bridge.
    “Commander, what do we have?” His first officer turned from the main sensor and communication console.

    “The cargo ship Hermes has taken aboard an unusual find. They are requesting that we take possession of it.” As Sanjay opened his mouth, T’Mon anticipated his question. “It was a bit unusual in its composition and when I heard the description it reminded me of a report filed by the Enterprise.” T’Mon stopped speaking and Sanjay was about to open his mouth again when the Vulcan continued, “Although I am relying on the Hermes’s engineer’s report, it would seem that they have found a cryogenics tube dating from Earth’s late twentieth or early twenty-first century. The person encapsulated is apparently dead but the historical value of such a find…” His voice trailed off.

    Sanjay knew that Earth history was, not a passion, but certainly an area of extreme interest to the Vulcan. “Very well,” he said, “Make course for the Hermes, warp six.”

    “Thank you, Captain,” T’Mon responded.

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

    “Well, I’m just glad to contribute to the Federation’s base of knowledge,” Captain Moffat said from the viewscreen. From Sanjay’s perspective, his face filled the screen completely. The sweat on his brow was quite apparent.

    “Is something wrong, Captain Moffat?” Sanjay asked. Moffat shook his head emphatically.

    “Not really, Captain. I just want to get on my way. We’re carrying vaccine for the outbreak on Kelvan’s World and I’m in a hurry to get back on course.” Something about his demeanor raised warning bells in Sanjay’s mind but he acted as though nothing was wrong.

    “Of course, Captain. We’re transporting the object to our cargo bay now. You should be on your way in a few minutes.”

    “Thank Go-I mean, that’s great. Thank you, Captain.” The viewscreen reverted to a starscape with the Hermes sitting in the center of the screen. Sanjay and T’Mon exchanged curious glances.

    “Captain,” Chief Engineer Korlu had an eager tone to his voice, “The package has been delivered. My men are working on it now.” When Sanjay opened his mouth to reply the Hermes dashed to warp. T’mon’s eyebrows climbed high.

    “Very good, Chief. Let me know when you’ve found something.” Sanjay glanced at the navigator’s panel. Hermes was leaving at warp seven, a dangerous speed with the cargo she carried. With a sinking feeling, Sanjay turned the Bridge over to T’Mon and headed for the cargo bay. This just didn’t seem like it was going to work out well.

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

    Sanjay hadn’t gotten very far when the inter ship hail whistled and the voice of Lt. Burke, Head of Security, echoed through the corridors. “Burke to Sanjay.” Sanjay slapped his combadge.

    “Sanjay here.”

    “Um, Captain, I’m at the rec deck. Sir, I haven’t had a drink. I just got here.”

    Trying not to sound exasperated, Sanjay replied, “That’s just fine, Lieutenant. What seems to be the problem?”

    “Sir, uh, well…” There was a pause and then the security officer continued, “I’ve been talking to an …intruder, I guess.”

    Sanjay paused to consider for a moment. “You guess?”

    Burke was decidedly uncomfortable. “Well, he’s about four feet tall and he’s wearing a tuxedo jacket and a pair of red shorts with big yellow buttons. And he’s a mouse.”

    Sanjay didn’t say a word. He began running tactical situations through his head for re-taking the Cochrane’s recreational facilities from a deranged security officer.

    “Captain?” Burke sounded sane but seriously distressed.

    “Mr. Burke, why don’t you, ah, ask our visitor where he or she came from.”

    “Uh, yessir,” Burke replied. Sanjay switched off and began making his way towards the rec room. As he rounded the corner of deck four, seven very short men with picks and shovels walked past him in the other direction, whistling. Sanjay just gaped at them as they went by. He was reaching for the nearest communication panel when T’Mon’s voice sounded through out the corridor. “Captain Sanjay, please respond.” Sanjay slapped his combadge again.

    “Sanjay here.”

    There was a pause and then T’Mon said, “Captain, it is my duty to inform you that two apparently intelligent Earth chipmunks have engaged the ship’s computer in an argument about our current course. They are utilizing the secondary navigation station to do so.” Sanjay almost had a chance to respond before T’Mon cut him off. “One of them is wearing what I believe is called a ‘pith’ helmet, sir, as well as a khaki vest.” Sanjay sat down in the corridor, oblivious of the stares of passing crewmembers. Time passed. “Captain?” T’Mon asked.

    “Tell the computer to ignore the chipmunks’s commands and…just keep an eye on them for now.” Sanjay stood back up and walked briskly towards the cargo bay. “Korlu, what’s going on down there?”

    The Tellarite engineer sounded perplexed. “Sir, whatever this thing is, the report from the Hermes supports what we’ve found so far. It’s definitely an old-fashioned cryogenic unit. The bio-sheath around it will need some study. We’re having problems taking readings, though. There’s some kind of flying animal swooping on my technicians and they have to keep aborting their scans to duck. What kind of crap is this? Uh, sir,” he added.

    Sanjay pinched his nose. “Could you describe the creature, Chief?”

    “Well, it’s got four legs, it’s kind of fat and grey and it has the largest ears I’ve ever seen.” Sanjay remembered a trip he’d taken as a child to Paris and sighed.

    “Chief, it probably won’t hurt you or your technicians. Just find out all you can about the object.”

    “Aye, Captain,” Korlu replied.

    Sanjay headed for the turbolift. It opened and he stepped inside, his head still whirling from the reports he’d received. He barely noticed the other person in the lift until after the doors had closed.

    “Hi, there!”

    Sanjay’s head jerked up at the figure next to him. And up. And up. The bear was scratching his head and smiling down at Sanjay.

    Eyeing Sanjay’s uniform, the bear said, “Sorry, pal, I seem to be underdressed for this occasion. I guess you could say I’m wearing.” And he gestured with one meaty paw, “the bare necessities.” The turbolift doors opened and Sanjay fled into the corridor.

    ***************************************
     
  5. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    The Lost Kingdom (cont.)

    Entering the cargo bay, Sanjay stopped and looked up at the flying elephant cruising the top half of the bay. Shaking his head, he made his way over to Korlu and his techs. “What have you got?” he asked.

    “Korlu shook his porcine head. “It’s a bio-mimetic coating of some sort.” A large snake slid past the techs, whispering to itself. Korlu absentmindedly side-stepped it as he continued his report. “Whatever is happening, the sheath becomes thinner whenever one of these things appears. Then it grows in the real sense of the word and gets thicker again. Then something else spawns off of it and wanders out the door. I’ve seen at least three young, human females, a fish with a crown that didn’t last too long, a dragon and an old woman who insisted we eat the red fruit in her hand. We had to stun her,” he said, gesturing off into a corner. Sanjay could see an old lady in a black robe splayed out on the deck, unconscious. An apple lay near her hand. “Captain, what the hell is going on?”

    Sanjay grimaced. “I don’t know, Chief, but I think it has something to do with whatever that thing is that you are working on. I want your team armed with phasers. If this is what I think it is, there could be some fairly dangerous creatures, uh, ‘spawning’ from that bio-mimetic sheath. And contact Mr. Burke’s second. Tell her to find that snake that just left here. I’m not worried about someone getting bitten but I don’t need a mutiny on my hands.” Korlu looked at him oddly for a moment and then began shouting out orders. Sanjya exited the cargo bay and headed for the turbolift. He reached for the control pad and then hesitated for a moment, his hand poised in midair.

    Shaking his head, he tapped the ‘OPEN’ button. When the lift opened he waited long enough to check the car out before stepping in. “Bridge,” he said. The turbolift shot off to the Bridge and spit Sanjay out in time to see two squirrels, a mouse, a skunk and a rabbit make a beeline around his feet and into the turbolift before the doors closed. A pair of bluebirds were flitting around the top of the dome ceiling. Sanjay sighed and took his seat.

    “T’Mon, do we have the traced projection of the object’s path? Can we backtrack it to the point of origin?”

    The First Officer consulted his records screen. “Yes, Captain. We have a possible trajectory out to forty light years, based on the Hermes’s original sensor records.”

    Sanjay thought for a moment. “Very good. Take us to the last known point of origin, maximum warp.”

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

    Twenty-seven hours later Sanjay had slept and returned to the Bridge. The Cochrane was approaching the object’s point of origin. The navigator, Ensign Byrd, looked up.

    “Sir, we are as far as we can go. The Hermes’s sensors weren’t strong enough to penetrate beyond this point.” When Sanjay didn’t answer Byrd looked back at him. “Sir, what do you want me to do?”

    “We’ll wait here,” Sanjay replied, stroking his beard. “Chief Korlu, cut the bio-mimetic sheath off of the object. Use whatever you need to make it happen, short of destroying the machinery underneath.”

    “Aye, Captain,” came the reply. “Uh, sir, a large, striped, feline spawned off of the sheath. We had to kill it-it was aggressive beyond belief. I’m sorry, sir.”

    “There’s nothing to be sorry about. You did what you had to do,” Sanjay replied.

    Korlu opened the circuit but hesitated before he spoke, “Sir, it talked to us as it attacked.” He paused and then, “I’m sorry, sir, we had no choice.”

    Sanjay contemplated Kipling and the vagaries of the universe. “Chief,” he said, his face a mask, “Don’t worry about it. You did the right thing. Take my word for it, that cat was a sheer killer. Sanjay out.”

    The Bridge was quiet, except for the two bluebirds dancing around the ceiling. Sanjay waited for Korlu’s next report.

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

    “Captain, we’ve cut the sheath free of the, well, thing. It looks like a coffin, sir. Mostly transparent aluminum. The design is so antiquated, I’m surprised it’s still working. Definitely Human technology but very old. Sir, we tossed the sheath aside. Something is trying to spawn but…,” here the Chief sounded puzzled, “It’s like it’s struggling.”

    Sanjay looked at T’Mon. “Captain,” the Vulcan said, “It may have something to do with proximity to the inhabitant of the cryogenic capsule.” Sanjay nodded.

    “Chief,” Sanjay said, “Move the sheath as far as you can away from the capsule. That might alleviate the spawning problem.”

    “Captain…” The tone in T’Mon’s voice made Sanjay focus. “We have two large vessels…Captain, I’m not sure what they are doing but they are coming into proximity with us.” On the view screen the two ships, easily the size of a standard Starfleet space station, shimmered into view. A voice boomed through the ship’s communication system.

    “Why have you stopped the dreaming?” A figure appeared on the screen. It lacked a neck, although it seemed to be humanoid. A half-dome composed its head. It had only a mouth and what passed for eyes. The skin was grey, and it wore no clothing that could be discerned.

    “The dreaming?” Sanjay asked.

    “You have stopped the dreaming. Why? We found this Dreamer drifting and gave it the means to feel it’s dreams. Why have you interfered?” The figure showed no signs of emotion but the universal translator conveyed anger.

    “Uh, if you could give us a little bit of time to evaluate our data I will give you an answer. There are many unknowns here.”

    The figure on the screen contemplated for a moment and said, “Do not waste time as this state is difficult for us. We must soon return to the dreaming.” It vanished abruptly.

    Sanjay looked at T’Mon in astonishment. “T’mon, this has been a very weird day. My brain is dead. What did he just say?”

    “Sir, I believe that what he is saying was a statement about his race. Perhaps they live in a dream state and functioning on a level that allows them to interact with us is unnatural to them.” T’Mon looked intrigued.

    “Is that possible,” Sanjay asked, “to perceive reality from a dream-state?”

    “It would not be impossible. Many beings that we refer to as mentally ill perceive their reality in a fugue or dream-like existence but if that was the natural way for your race, adjusting to our way of consciousness would be…like making yourself intentionally insane. We should hurry with our analysis of the current situation-I doubt these beings can communicate with us for long.”

    Sanjay slapped his com badge, “Korlu, what do you have for me?”

    “Sir, I don’t know much about Human history. I’m going to let Ensign Sanderson explain what we have found.”

    Ensign Sanderson began to speak in a hesitant way. ”Captain, the cryo unit has a plaque welded to it. Sir, have you ever been to Disneyland over in Paris?”

    Sanjay thought of a warm summer day with his parents, a day he had wished would never end. “Yes, Ensign, I’ve been there.”

    “Sir, the plaque says: ‘Walter Elias Disney, 1901-1966’. Sir, I thought he was a myth.”

    “I guess there really was a Disney, Ensign. Chief, has one of the doctors examined the, um, body?”

    “Korlu cut back in. “Yessir. This guy is totally dead. His body didn’t survive the cryogenic procedure. It was pretty primitive technology, sir.”

    T’Mon interrupted. “Captain, the dead brain of some humanoids, including Humans, can retain engrams beyond death if they are cryogenically suspended. It is possible that these people have used a technology that taps into that.”

    Sanjay looked at him. “So you think all of these manifestations are the dead dreams of a dead man?”

    T’Mon gestured at the bluebirds pinwheeling around each other near the ceiling. “That is a possibility, sir.”

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

    After Sanjay contacted them and explained that the Dreamer they had ‘helped’ was, in fact, deceased, the Dreamers had vanished the bio-mimetic sheath and all traces of the manifestations from the Cochrane. They did not use a transporter. Their ships shimmered away soon after.

    Sanjay went down to the cargo bay. When he entered, Ensign Sanderson was standing near the cryo unit.

    “Hello, Captain,” he said. His hand rested on the sarcophagus.

    “Ensign,” Sanjay responded. “I went there, too. I’ve seen the Magic Kingdom.” His voice sounded wistful. “I can’t help but wonder what he might have created with the tools we could have given him. It’s a shame the technology wasn’t good enough to save him. I would have liked to have seen the castles he would have built.”

    Sanderson just watched him as he rubbed his hand on the sarcophagus, touching the plaque with a reverence.
     
  6. trampledamage

    trampledamage Clone Moderator

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2005
    Location:
    hitching a ride to Erebor
    September Challenge - Write a saga in 20,000 characters (the maximum amount for one post) or less

    Link to challenge thread with all other entries

    Winning Entry: Mayflies
    2724 words (12200 characters)


    Heat 275
    I am JaevenNemeth, record-keeper for the Actotrill (as all 274 JaevenNemeth before me have been). This record holds the start of the plan decided by the Council from the generation before mine to expand the requirements of these records. From now on, we will not only record what this generation has achieved for the education of our children. The records will also serve as an introduction to the Actotrill for our neighbours in the stars like those who live in the castle in the sky that the astronomers found in heat 263.

    Time taken for record-keeping is necessarily brief. We all have many duties perform to maximise our time alive, before we return to the laying fields. The nutrient link between our bodies and the eggs only provides our children with ancient knowledge. Newly learned information and experience have to be read and re-learned by each new generation until it becomes fixed. The recording of this generation's learning must therefore always be of the highest priority for the record-keeper. Any additional information will be added as time allows.

    The main plan for this lifespan was to continue work on building the generational ship that we want to send into space to explore the galaxy. The scientists have been working on methods to recreate the cycle of cold and heat that we live by (see appendix A for the details), while the rest of us have been building the ship itself (see appendix B). The architects and Council estimate that the building of the ship should be complete within five generations.

    The cold is coming. It is time now for me to go back to the laying fields to die and nourish the next generation. They will return with the heat.

    Heat 276
    Half way through this heat cycle, the sky burned with fire. The astronomers say a meteorite hit the other side of our planet and we saw it fall (see appendix A for their explanation). Scientist Marecka took time out from helping design the generational ship to investigate the consequences of the meteorite. it has written up its findings in a separate paper, its child will continue the work.

    Amazing progress has been made on the design of the artificial laying field that will go inside the first Actotrill space exploration ship. They are now ready to begin building the field (see appendix B for design schematics). The scientists had hoped to get everyone started on the building within this heat, but the sky-fire distracted us and we fell behind schedule.

    A small note for any space visitors reading this. Our life cycles come in two halves, the heat where we are active and the cold where the eggs of the next generation wait for the heat to return. If you have visited while this planet is cold, it will appear lifeless. Please wait, or return when there is heat.

    Heat 277
    Very little work has been done this heat cycle. We did all try, but we were distracted by the discussions being held between the scientists and the astronomers. Astronomer HalladenNaret has shown that the sun is now in a slightly different part of our sky. Opinions on what this means differ greatly among all the scientists and astronomers. Their arguments are all detailed within Appendix A.

    Heat 278
    Scientist Marecka has shown that the previous cold cycle was longer than standard. It believes that this is directly related to the meteorite hit, but is not yet able to say what long-term effects there may be.

    Council spoke to everyone impressing upon us all that now is not the time for dithering panic. Now is the time for hard work. If there are to be changes to our planet because of the meteorite then having a working space ship may be our salvation.

    Everyone worked diligently on starting to build the laying field for the ship. Schematics and progress reports are in Appendix A.

    The change in cold cycle scares me, I'm only the record-keeper, I don't understand most of the science that I write, but the idea of a long cold frightens me like nothing else. what if we never come back?

    Heat 279
    Well, that's that. The decision has been made. All work on the space exploration ship is to be halted. All our time and concentration is to be directed at discovering a way to fix the change in our cold and heat cycles. When I review the previous record entries, I can see that the Heat is noticeably shorter. We managed so much more in a lifetime before the meteorite. I don't know if anyone else will have noticed, but I spend so much of my time with the records organising the learning schedules. I can see the difference. These last two heat cycles it is clear in the records that they did not achieve what they aimed for because they ran out of time and then more time is lost in the next generation in learning and discovering how much more work is to be done.

    I hope the scientists figure it out soon. Or our way of life is going to be very different.

    Heat 280
    The worst eventuality possible is beginning to come true. Something that the scientists didn't even dare mention in the official records, they kept separate records for each generation to study.

    We are losing our memories.

    It is believed to be because our bodies and the eggs are in the cold in the laying field for longer. The nutrient link runs slowly in the cold passing along physical nutrition. The memory link is triggered by the heat and it seems too long in the cold means that our bodies degrade before the memory link is activiated and some of the information is lost. See Appendix A for the full description.

    Now we have two crises to deal with. The heat cycle is shorter leaving us less time to get work done and with the nutrient link no longer as effective we have so much more to learn.

    If this continues, we will run out of time. We are dying as a race. We need help. There is no way we can fix this ourselves, we just don't have time.

    The council has made the decision, we will send a message to the castle in the sky and hope they can help us.

    Heat 281
    This will be the last record produced by the JaevenNemeth line. I will not return to the laying fields to pass on my experiences to my egg. I cannot. I have to stay here to write up the records for sending the message to the castle in the sky. I cannot leave it for the next generation, because I cannot be sure they will remember enough to write it.

    It has taken me such a long time to complete the details of the message and how it was recorded and sent. I am forgetting so many things, I had to keep searching through the archive to find the technical details. But it is done. This record holds all the details for the next heat cycle - they will know what was done and how to do it again if they need to.

    But it is too late for me to make it to the laying fields, I can feel the cold seeping into my limbs, I am already dying. This record is my goodbye to my child. It will live, the egg will be nourished by all the others at the laying field but my own experiences will not be passed on, it will be the start of a new line.

    Heat 1
    I am JaevenNemethStrantor. I have taken on the name of JaevenNemeth in memory of its sacrifice in not returning to the laying fields. JaevenNemethStrantor will be the new line of record keepers.

    Thanks to its sacrifice we know what was done last heat cycle to contact the castle in the sky. JaevenNemeth may well be the saviour of the Actotrill because things have got much worse. The cold cycle was much longer this time and very few of the memories came through from our parents, we have only these records to teach us what we used to know from birth.

    There is no longer any time to do anything but re-learn how to survive and fix the machines in the city. And no-one knows how long we will even be able to manage that.

    All our hopes lay in that message to the Castle in the Sky.

    Heat 2
    These records may be all that is left of us. They must be kept safe. What little we can figure out, the cold is continuing to get longer. There are not many generations left to us.

    * * *

    Deep Space Nine

    Dr Julian Bashir had been working late in the medical lab on an experiement which he hoped would improve the early detection of Klingon Crontok syndrome. Bashir hoped his work would eventually lead to the eradication of the syndrome which caused so much pain to the children born with it.

    Deep in thought, he nearly passed by the science lab without noticing that the light was on. He had walked beyond the door before the fact of the light registered in his consciousness and he retraced his steps to see who else was working this late. He saw Dax sitting at her computer, she seemed to be intently listening to something. Curious, he went inside.

    "Burning the midnight oil, Dax?"

    Dax jumped in her seat, "Julian! I didn't hear you come in."

    Bashir blushed, "Sorry. I saw you through the window, I was wondering what you were doing."

    Dax welcomed the distraction and turned to face Bashir, offering him the seat next to hers. "It's a puzzle Kira gave me to solve."

    Bashir was intrigued, "I like puzzles! What is it?"

    As always, Dax found Bashir's enthusiasm infectious, "A high frequency signal that was sent to us from what was thought to be an uninhabited asteroid. The contents of the signal look to be deliberately created becaue they repeat at regular intervals. And as far as I can tell it was directed straight for us. Every instinct I have says it's a message."

    "But?"

    "Computer, play recording Dax05 time index 1"

    A loud high pitched squeal sounded out of the speakers.

    "Ah." Bashir commented. He thought for a minute. "Which asteroid?" he asked.

    "Reusa's Rock" Dax told him.

    "Oh, that tiny asteroid that speeds round Bajor's sun?"

    "That's the one." Dax sighed, "I don't know Julian. I was just about to call it a night. I think I'm hearing things that aren't there. It's probably just a degraded signal artefact."

    "Not necessarily." Bashir said slowly, thinking.

    Dax watched him patiently.

    "Have you tried slowing the signal down?" Bashir asked.

    "Slowing it down? No I haven't. Why?"

    "Because if there is anyone native to that asteroid, they'd most likely have incredibly fast metabolisms as a result of evolving on such a fast moving planet."

    Dax considered his words. "Computer play Dax05 time index 1. This time lower the freqency by 50 percent".

    The signal played again,but the sound was deeper and it began to sound like speech although still too fast to understand.

    "Computer, replay, lowering the frequency by another 25 percent." Dax ordered.

    This time the signal came through loud and clear and the Universal Translator was able to translate the language.

    This is an urgent distress signal. We need your help. There was a fire in the sky and now our cold and heat cycles are changing. It is killing us, we need the heat to live. Help us. Please.

    Bashir looked at Dax who looked back at him.

    "I guess there's someone living on Reusa's Rock." Bashir said finally.

    "Yes," said Dax thoughtfully, "And I think I may know what that fire in their sky was. I was updating the stellar cartography records the other day, and there were reports on a comet in that area and it may have..."she trailed off as she turned back to the computer. "Computer, please display stellar cartography records for the Bajoran system, from stardate 50054.6 up to the present."

    Dax angled the computer screen so Bashir could see. "Yes," she said, "watch - there it is. A comet came through the Bajoran system. Historically it has passed untouched through the system and continued on its way, but this time it hit Reusa's Rock. Srandac's Horde!"

    Dax whispered the Trill curse as she watched the screen, and Bashir could see why. The impact of the comet sent Reusa's Rock off its orbit sending it on a new path away from Bajor's sun.

    "Our heat and cold cycles are changing." Bashir repeated.

    Dax nodded, transfixed by the screen.

    Bashir tapped his comm-badge, "Bashir to Captain Sisko."

    * * *

    The next morning, Dax summarised her findings at the Ops meeting. When she had finished, Sisko spoke.

    "Putting aside any questions about how there could be a race of beings living on that asteroid, I think we have to take this distress call as genuine. The path seems quite clear." He looked over at Chief O'Brien, "Chief, would the Defiant's tractor beams be able to move the path of Reusa's Rock."

    O'Brien nodded. "It's certainly within tolerance. We'll need to run some models to calculate the optimum position for the beam."

    Dax nodded her agreement,

    Sisko stood up, "All right then, Dax and O'Brien plot the requirements, Major, you prepare the Defiant to launch. I want this mission underway as soon as possible."

    * * *

    Four days later, Bashir was sitting in Quarks when he realised he hadn't seen Dax all day. He didn't need the computer to tell him where she was, he went straight to the science lab. Dax was inside sitting staring at her computer screen.

    "Jadzia?" Bashir called out softly, "Are you okay?"

    Dax looked over to the door and smiled, "Come on in Julian. No, I'm not okay. When we finished the mission, there were going to be three days before Reusa's Rock came back into direct line with the sun. I figure that causes the heat cycle the message talks about. In any orbit, seven days are spent in view of the sun and for ten days the heat is blocked by other planets in the system. If they need the heat to live, then now that they're in a heat cycle there should be movement, life signs... something! I've had the computer scanning since we came back and there's nothing."

    Dax rubbed her eyes in tiredness and frustration. "We find new life in the most unexpected place. A race of people completely unknown to us, who must be so different from us - I mean, if they need the heat to live then that's only seven days! What must they be like? But they saw us in the sky and wanted to communicate. They came to us for help when they needed it." She sighed, "We were too late."

    Bashir touched her shoulder,"Give them time Dax. It's likely that they are dormant during the cold, and if they've had extended time in the cold it'll take them longer to warm up. Give it another day, Dax."

    * * *

    Heat 3
    I start the count at three, and I call myself JaevenNemethStrantor, to provide a connection to the old lives. Really, I have no idea of either. We all woke up with only enough knowledge to bring us to the city and find the records. Luckily the machines and the city survived the cold much better than we did.

    Thanks to the records, and to JaevenNemeth's detailed description of sending the message to the castle in the sky, we have been able to figure out how it was done. So now we send our message of thanks because if it wasn't for them we would surely never have hatched.

    The new Council have asked me to record the text of the message. It is short so I'll put it here in the main text.

    We are the Actotrill. We give you our thanks for saving us. With luck, in a few generations we will have built our explorer ship and we can thank you in person.
     
  7. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    October 2008 Challenge - Ghosts!

    "Don’t Feed the Clowns
    "

    “A clown is funny in the circus ring, but what would be the normal reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there in the moonlight?”
    Lon Chaney, Sr.


    Stardate 53826.6 (29 October 2376)
    USS Bluefin
    Routine Patrol, near the Molari Badlands

    “A circus?” asked Commander Inga Strauss, incredulous, “We’re going to escort a circus to Klaamet IV?”

    “That’s right,” replied Captain Joseph Akinola, grinning, “What’s the matter, Commander – didn’t you ever go to the circus when you were a kid?”

    “Well . . . sure I did,” she replied, folding her arms defensively. “I just never cared for them much. And I don’t see why a circus troupe requires an escort!

    Akinola leaned back in his desk chair. “Apparently the ‘Celestial Circus’ has some friends among the Starfleet brass that pulled a few strings for them. This circus has performed on several starbases and a few of the larger ships of the line. In light of the recent events in our sector, I can understand the request, even if it seems like overkill.”

    Strauss nodded, but she appeared distracted. Akinola noticed that her expression was more troubled than perturbed.

    “XO, you okay?” he asked.

    “Hmm? Oh, yes sir, sorry, I was just figuring how we would have to adjust our patrol grid when we finish with escort duty.”

    The Captain sensed that there was more to it than that, but he didn’t press the issue. “Very well, have Ensign Bralus bring us to 228 mark 9 and keep us at warp 6. That will give us about four hours to intercept the Calliope. It’s only a day and a half to the Klaamet system, so this won’t throw us off schedule too badly.”

    * * *

    At the end of her shift, Strauss made her way to her quarters, and then sat on the edge of her bunk for several minutes staring blankly at the bulkhead. With a sigh, she rose and walked to the sink and splashed cold water on her face. She frowned as she noticed the slight tremor in her hands.

    * * *

    Stardate 31368.5 (15 May 2354)
    Circus Krone
    Munich, Germany – Earth

    Eight year-old Inga Strauss watched the high-wire act with rapt attention as she sat by her father, Captain Dieter Strauss. Inga was excited to spend time with her Papa as he was home on leave, particularly since she had him all to herself this day. Her little brother was sick, so he and Mama stayed at home. She only felt slightly guilty about having Papa to herself.

    Circus Krone was the largest in Europe, enjoying something of a revival after the decline of most circuses following the third world war. Though captive animals no longer provided entertainment, there were still stunning displays of acrobatics and, of course, the hilarious antics of the clowns.

    Inga giggled as several clowns raced around one of the rings, tripping over one another to gain entry into an impossibly tiny car. Somehow, they all managed to squeeze in. Her smile faded, however, as one clown stood apart and looked into the crowd.

    The clown was staring directly at Inga.

    She tried not to look back, but he continued to gaze at her. Certainly, it looked friendly enough with its blazing orange hair, white face and brightly painted smile, but something about its eyes made her shiver slightly.

    “Papa, I need to use the restroom,” she whispered to her Father.

    Captain Strauss cocked an eyebrow at her, then smiled. “Alright, Ladybug. Do you want me to go with you?”

    Inga rolled her eyes and sighed. “Papa! I’m almost nine years old. I can go to the restroom by myself!”

    Dieter Strauss chuckled, “I’m sure you can. Just hurry back – the trapeze act is beginning shortly.”

    Inga moved quickly down the aisle, stepping past other on-lookers and quickly made her way down the ramp, past the concession stands of popcorn, peanuts and other tantalizing treats (Maybe Papa would buy her some cotton candy!), until she came to the corridor that led to the restrooms.

    The lighting was somewhat dim, but not enough to cause Inga to hesitate. She made her way down the hall, turning left toward the ladies’ facilities . . .

    . . . and was very surprised to see the same clown that had stared at her from the floor of the circus. She was certain the corridor had been empty when she started this direction.

    “Oh, hello,” said Inga, startled but not really afraid.

    The clown smiled down at the young girl. “Well, hello young miss! Are you enjoying the show today?”

    “Yes sir,” she replied, dutifully, though she really needed to use the restroom. “It’s been a lot of fun!”

    “Oh indeed, indeed!” said the clown, “Fun, fun, dum-dee-dum! A clown’s work is never done!” His grin broadened, revealing an exceptional number of bright, white teeth.

    Inga giggled in spite of herself. “You’re funny!” she exclaimed, forgetting the pressure in her bladder. Why had she been nervous about this clown before? He seemed very nice! His voice had a very reassuring quality, as did his broad smile, and his eyes . . .

    . . . his eyes . . .

    The clown’s eyes began to glow – a soft, silver-white light that began to pulsate. He produced a red balloon, as if by magic.

    “And here’s a pretty, red balloon for lovely little Inga – do you like balloons, little Ladybug?”

    Inga frowned inwardly at the use of the pet name only her father used, but the frown did not extend to her mouth, which continued to stretch out in a broad grin.

    “How did you know my name?” she asked in a far-away voice. The sounds of the crowd and the circus seemed miles distant. The scant light in the corridor began to dim - seemingly absorbed by the clown looming over her.

    The clown chuckled, a laugh which morphed into the sound of broken glass sliding over rocks. The glow in his eyes intensified and his grin, already impossibly huge, grew even wider, revealing rows of long, sharp, serrated teeth.

    “WE KNOW MANY THINGS, INGA, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE ARE HUNGRY, OUR KNOWLEDGE EXPANDS AND WE EXPAND AND, YES, WE ARE HUNGRY, INDEED, LITTLE LADYBUG, VERY, VERY HUNGRY!”

    Inga’s eyes followed the rising balloon as it bumped against the curved ceiling of the corridor. The balloon popped, drenching her with a sudden deluge of blood.

    NOW, LITTLE INGA, WE MUST SATISFY OUR HUNGER AND ADD YOUR BLOOD TO OUR ESSENCE . . .WE MUST FEED, YOU SEE, FOR WE ARE HUNGRY. CLOWNS ARE ALWAYS HUNGRY!”

    Inga stood transfixed, wanting to run, to scream, to get away from the clown-thing, but she was frozen in place – covered in blood, a painful smile still affixed to her face. A tear streamed down one cheek, cutting a channel through the red gore.

    The clown’s head began to grow larger and its jaws seemed to separate, revealing additional rows of jagged teeth. Something deep within the dark maw seemed to writhe and wriggle. The fly-blown smell of rotten meat and ancient corruption wafted over her. He-It began to move toward Inga . . .

    “Inga? Inga, are you still in there?” The voice of Dieter Strauss suddenly caused Inga to break out of her trance. She stood, trembling and still for a moment, unable to speak or remember what she was doing in the corridor. She finally lost control of her bladder.

    The clown-thing was gone, as was the blood and the awful smell. Captain Strauss rounded the corner and stopped abruptly when he saw his daughter.

    “Inga, what took you so long? I was beginning to think you got lost!” The chiding note in the elder Strauss’ voice suddenly caught as he saw Inga’s face and the dark, spreading wetness at the front of her pants.

    “Ladybug?” he asked, suddenly concerned for his little girl.

    Inga’s lips trembled, though out of embarrassment and not fear, for she had no recollection of the clown.

    “Papa – I’m sorry! . . . I didn’t make it to the restroom in time.” Tears spilled over her cheeks and she began to cry.

    Dieter Strauss gently scooped up his daughter and moved out of the corridor, preparing to take Inga home. “Shhh, it’s alright, Ladybug. I think you’re just tired. We’ll go on home so you can get cleaned up and we can see about dinner.”

    Inga clung tightly to her father, feeling an unexpected sense of relief and security. Already she felt better, despite her shame over her 'accident.' All that mattered to her now was that she felt safe and loved in her father's strong arms.

    Neither noticed the red balloon that floated languidly in the dim hallway behind them.

    * * *

    Stardate 53828.9 (31 October 2376)
    USS Bluefin
    Standard Orbit – Klaamet IV

    “You sure were quiet tonight,” observed Lt. Commander T’Ser as she accompanied Inga Strauss and Nigel Bane to the ward room from the transporter room. They had just returned from a performance by the Celestial Circus in the city of Montosa, the capitol of Klaamet IV. The director of the circus had invited the entire crew of the Bluefin as a gesture of appreciation. Of course, not all the crew could attend but better than half did, including a reluctant Inga Strauss.

    “Hmmm? Oh, sorry – I’ve just never cared much for circuses,” replied Strauss, absently.

    “Blimey! I never heard of anyone who didn’t like a circus!” exclaimed Nigel, grinning.

    Inga frowned slightly, “I went when I was a child, I just . . . you know, don’t find them particularly entertaining.”

    “While I prefer other forms of entertainment, I do find a certain charm in the circus,” said T’Ser.

    The trio came to the wardroom. Inga stopped in the corridor and yawned.

    “If it’s all the same to you guys, I’m going to turn in – I’m tired,” she said.

    Nigel and T’Ser nodded their understanding and wished Inga goodnight. She moved toward the turbo-lift and entered the small compartment.

    “Deck four,” she said, leaning against the cool wall of the lift car. She rubbed her neck, trying to alleviate the tension that had built up in her neck – she had been inexplicably on edge during the entire performance and, truth be known, she had been very close to a panic attack when the clowns came out.

    Clowns, she thought with an involuntary shiver, why do they always give me the creeps?

    She exited the turbo lift and rounded the corridor until she came to her quarters. As the door slid shut behind her, she said, “Lights.”

    As the darkness in the room was pushed back by the lights, Inga froze in place, her breath caught in her throat. Eyes wide and mind numb, she stared at the object that had not been in her cabin when she left.

    Tethered to a yellow string, a bright red balloon floated silently in the middle of the room.

    * * *

    END (with apologies to Stephen King)
     
  8. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    Nov'08-Survival


    Days Of Future Passed by Mistral

    Ensign Jorge Ruiz looked out at San Francisco Bay. The water was less than knee deep for as far as his eyes could see. Reeds grew higher than the water was deep. Bird-like creatures with spectacular plumage and glistening scales flashed amongst the plant-life, diving for their dinners. He glanced back at the wrecked shuttle he’d just crawled out from where it sat, smoking, on a moss-covered hill that should have been Starfleet Command. “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” he said.

    The heat was intense, more appropriate for the tropics than San Francisco. If Jorge hadn’t gotten a glance at the coastline before impact he would have thought he was in his native Puerto Rico. He thought back over the accident as he gathered what supplies he could from the wreckage. There wasn’t much to be found. He’d been on his way from McKinley Station to Mojave Spaceport with a Mark IV shuttle when a round craft or probe had flashed by him. A moment later, a starship had followed and then both had vanished in a ribbon of energy. Jorge thought he caught the name Enterprise on the larger craft. Sadly, Jorge’s shuttle had been caught in the wake of the starship’s plasma exhaust and had struck the energy manifestation on an oblique angle. A few seconds later the engines had all but failed and Jorge had to fight to keep the crash from being an explosive one. That he had walked away was a miracle in itself.

    He sat on a hill that should have been the Admiralty and assessed his supplies. A knife, a tricorder, a partially crushed phaser and three days worth of emergency rations were all that he had found that hadn’t been burned or spoiled by chemical leaks. He glanced around at the landscape and saw clumps of giant ferns off in the distance. A weird howl echoed out over the grasslands that made up most of the surrounding countryside. He glanced again at his limited rations and then eyed the bird-like creatures speculatively. “Well, a man’s got to eat,” he said to no one in particular. Picking up the knife, he waded out into San Francisco Bay, a grim expression on his face.

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

    Jorge sat as far from the fire as he could reach with his fernwood spit, slow-roasting a lizbird for dinner. Even though the tricorder claimed it was after six in the evening, the sun still lit the sky. He pushed the reed hat back a little off of his forehead and tapped the ‘RECORD’ button on the tricorder.

    “Well, today is Day 365 and I’ve been here for a year.” He turned the lizbird slightly. “I’m still not sure when here is but judging by the bits of garbage I’ve dug out of Admiralty Hill, it’s been a long time since anyone Human has lived on Earth. At least, in my little corner of it.” He checked his dinner and, satisfied with its progress, continued his log entry. “Although there are bits of masonry under the hills, the ruins I’ve uncovered are ancient. I fear that, like the Time Traveler in Well’s story, I’ve somehow come to a point in Earth’s history when time is ending, so to speak. None of the wildlife I’ve encountered resembles what I knew. Except that rat I encountered a few months ago.” He traced the scar on his leg with a fingertip. “It looked just like the rats from my own time only three times bigger. And the claws had evolved towards a more finger-like shape. Some day they may be the top dog around here and launch their own starships-but I’ll be long gone by then.” He pulled the lizbird out of the fire and began brushing the burnt scale-feathers of the carcass. When the detritus was clear he devoured it in a perfunctory manner. Afterwards, he extinguished the flames and adjusted his reed skirt. The sun was finally trying for the horizon. He sat in front of his reed hut until long after dark, staring up at the stars that were now forever out of his reach. The ruins of the moon, now a ring around the Earth, flashed bits of light at him as it circled.

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

    Jorge had been taking the reed boat out everyday for five years. He didn’t even think about the necessary steps anymore, he just did it. Grasping the pole he’d fashioned from a giant fern, he poled out into the bay. Lizbirds wheeled above his head. He’d gone out to the edge of the reeds to a special spot he’s found where fish-like creatures swam. Wrapping the fern rope around his wrist and tying it off, he grasped the spear with his precious knife on the end and waited. Eventually, a ‘fish’ swam too close and he launched his spear. It flashed into the water, missing the ‘fish’ by a hair and struck something hard. Swearing, he reeled the spear back in with the fern rope and examined the knife. The tip was bent a tiny bit. Jorge had split soft rocks with his survival knife. He dumped his rock anchor overboard and tied the spear to one of the spars in the boat. Tossing his reed skirt aside, he carefully slipped into the water and dived down to see what his blade had hit. The water was murky and he couldn’t see very well but his hands found…a smooth surface. Probing, he found a seam and then a very familiar latch. After going up for more air, he dived back and pulled the latch. The door took all of his strength and two more dives but eventually he pried it open. He realized it was a Starfleet shuttle of some sort, mostly encrusted in coral and anemone-like creatures. The fourth time he dived, he went in and grabbed whatever his hands found. Coming to the surface, he discovered he had an emergency survival kit. He chucked it onto his boat and dived again, but there was nothing else that his hands could pry loose. His lungs gasping for air, he surfaced again.

    Once he got back on the boat, he used the knife to worry the kit open. Most of the contents disintegrated and rushed out with the water that spilled from it. The only thing that remained was a phaser of an unknown design and what looked like a hypospray. Taking the phaser out, he checked its readout. It was dead. He glanced back, speculatively, at his hut where the remains of another phaser, its energy cells still charged, sat. A smile creased his face.

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

    The hurricane had come with some warning and Jorge had used a plentiful amount of the giant ferns to reinforce his hut. While the wind howled outside and the rain pelted his home he huddled beneath the furs of the giant rats he’d killed. Water threatened to roll in past the breaks he’s built in the doorway. He reluctantly pulled his phaser out and steamed off a few cubic meters of it to keep his hut from flooding. In the ten years since he’d cobbled the weapon together out of the parts at hand he’d avoided using the power cell as much as possible but now it was on its last few shots. He prayed to a God he no longer believed in that he would survive the night. The water rose again over the next few hours and he was forced to deplete his remaining power reserves to half of what he’d started the day with. He shivered under the giant rat furs.

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

    Jorge looked into the tiny reflective surface of the tricorder. He could see the grey in his beard and the lines in his face. Sighing, he collected the walking stick he’d fashioned from the piece of honest-to-God wood that had been left behind by the hurricane so many years ago. Slipping the spear he’d made from the same piece of driftwood over his shoulder, he collected his knife, now relegated to its original purpose, into the sheath on his hip. He glanced at the painting on the inside wall of his hut. It was an image of a starship chasing a Borg sphere into some kind of energy ribbon. He’s painted it during one of the periodic times of madness that swept over him as an explanation for his presence. Someone might someday find it, but he had his doubts. The wall was organic and a hundred years after he died it would be gone. Grasping his net bag in hand, he made his way down to his boat, the Excelsior. He’s taken to naming the reed barks he made after famous starships. It was his conceit, his way of remaining a member of Starfleet after all of these years. It was time to fish.

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

    He was watching one of the regular meteor showers that came in the night. He had long since decided that they were caused by bits of the broken Moon being pulled down by Earth’s gravity. Suddenly, for the first time in forty years, he saw something different. His long-dead Starfleet instructors would have been proud of him as he swiftly gathered his net bag and the bone tools he’d made from his hut. He collected his spear and knife, placed his hat upon his head, and gathered all of the dried fish and lizbird meat he had. Carefully securing his phaser and the few precious shots that still remained within the pocket of his ratskin cloak, he slung the tricorder that contained his log entries over his shoulder and took up his walking stick. Facing south towards what had once been Los Angeles, he began to hike, never looking back at the hut that had been his home for so many decades. He had a goal. He’d watched the meteors come down so many times over the years but tonight had been different. One of them had changed course! He headed out in the direction it had come down. The ache in his bones that he’d felt for some time didn’t bother him tonight and he walked vigorously off into the darkness.
     
  9. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    December Challenge--Christmas symbols/AU/Time travel
    ---------------

    Star Trek:
    Sigils and Unions​

    Catacombs of Oralius: Captives’ Ransom​

    Author’s note: This story takes place in what I’ve termed the “Catacombs of Oralius” universe—the same one from last month’s entry, “Sacrifice,” as well as in the TNG episode “Parallels.” In this universe, the Bajorans, under the influence of the Pah-Wraiths, have violently occupied their neighbors of a rivaling faith…the Cardassians, believers in the Oralian Way. This story takes place a few months after “Sacrifice.” Readers of Sigils and Unions may well recognize one Hirhul Mendral…


    USS Enterprise-D
    December 6, 2370—Second Sunday of Advent

    Journal of Ensign Sam Lavelle

    I never really understood the meaning of Christmas until now. I mean, I knew the history just like any other kid raised in a traditionalist family—how the holiday is preceded by four Sundays of Advent, which represents the waiting for both First and Second Coming…but it never really sank in just what that meant until now. And of all the people to teach me…



    Sam couldn’t help but smile at the sight before him. His friend grinned back, finally comfortable in the heavy winter coat Sam was sure he had no intention of removing once inside the sanctuary. He wore a red knit cap over his thick black hair, pulled down just far enough to reach the ends of his grey ears. A red-and-white scarf encircled the neck—one of the old-fashioned, home-knitted kind from the looks of it, and with a bold snowflake print, no less…this had been the best solution Lavelle could think of, since getting Mendral into a turtleneck would have bordered on the impossible.

    “And what about the tip of my nose, Sam?” Mendral pleaded, great big doe eyes peering out from equally widened hooked ridges.

    “Well, if it starts to turn black and it falls off, I’ll think about raising the temperature,” Sam quipped.

    The Cardassian reached just behind Sam and scooped a pile of snow into his gloved hands from a bush just outside the sanctuary. Quick as a phaser bolt, he grabbed the hair at the back of Sam’s head to lock it into place. There was no escape. With his other hand, Mendral shoved the snowball into Sam’s face.

    Owww!” Sam burst out as the cold sting hit him square in the nose. Only the fact that they were about to walk up the church steps—and everybody was already staring at them—stopped Sam from sentencing the helmsman to forced snow angel creation.

    That did not, however, stop Mendral from resuming his place in line, hands tucked into his pockets as the nearly-freezing water soaked into his gloves—serves him right! Sam thought—and with a very innocent look on his face, glancing over and then quietly whistling something that sounded suspiciously like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

    As the bell rang from inside the sanctuary, everyone else around them assumed a reverent silence—including Mendral. Still, Sam could have sworn that just a faint hint of a self-satisfied smirk traced its way across the Cardassian’s face: victory, it said. Hirhul and his eidetic Cardassian memory! I should never have taught him all those Christmas carols last night, Sam silently groused as they ascended the steps. The tip of his nose still stung—and probably was virtually aglow.

    He had to admit Mendral was being more than a good sport about this whole thing…it was only fair, considering Lavelle had just last week toughed it out with Ensign Mendral and the three other Cardassians on the Enterprise in the simulated heat of an underground recitation chamber where the faithful of the persecuted Oralian Way gathered to pray and read from the Hebitian Records.

    Lavelle had never donned the recitation mask, and Mendral abstained from Communion, but this exchange of presence was enough to show the kind of friends Sam and Hirhul had become. The truth was that for all the differences between their faiths, Sam found it much easier to understand the Cardassian’s way of thinking than that of the vast majority of his own people aboard the Enterprise. There was a similar core of principles, a similar conviction that there was more to this vast and wondrous universe than that which the eye could see and the sensor could detect, and that no matter what the struggles of their lives, no matter how much chaos and death seemed to dominate, that they lived with purpose and that purpose was good. That was what they affirmed by their mutual respect for each other’s traditions.

    Sam and Mendral passed into the holographic replica of the old, small-town church. The ornate, turn-of-the-twentieth-century style stained-glass windows threw the remnants of the day’s dimming light onto the pews in shades of orange, yellow, and pink. The original sanctuary back in Tennessee had seen two world wars and known its zenith years in the first few decades of the twenty-first century...then witnessed the near-collapse of everything it had been built for in the wake of the Third World War and the rise of humanity into the stars. Thankfully, its place on the historic register and reputation as a favored wedding spot had saved it from destruction, allowing the holographers to give this simulation nearly the fidelity of real life.

    The congregants, Mendral included, all wore clothing from those glory years of the twenty-first century. He knew all thirty-seven of the other official members of the Enterprise fellowship, as well as Mendral and the other five to ten non-member guests who showed up from time to time on any given Sunday. Interestingly, nearly a third of them, pastor Sandik Fitzpatrick included, had at least some blood from another world, with a few, like Rigellian chief Inkudi Varysh, having no blood tie to Earth whatsoever. Sam appreciated the tight-knit feeling of the small community, but the rows of empty pews to their sides and to the back couldn’t help but remind Sam of all they had lost.

    Advent candles sat in a wreath at the altar, three of them purple, the fourth—the Christ candle—in pink. Sam smiled. He couldn’t wait to see all four lit just two weeks from now. This was always an exciting time of year for him, a time of joyous anticipation. In his house growing up, his parents had kept one of the old-style Advent calendars, the kind where each evening the family gathered to open a little door marked just for that date, and behind it find a piece of chocolate or some other treat. And of course it was the countdown to Christmas morning, when everyone—early risers or not—got up at 8:00 AM sharp for reasons no one, to this day, could ever remember, and gathered around the tree to open presents.

    Sam had well understood, ever since adolescence, that it wasn’t about the receiving so much as it was about the giving—nothing warmed him more than the look of surprised delight when his parents or his sisters tore off the packaging to discover one of his unexpected and very often non-replicable gifts. There was no great commercial season in the 24th century—such things had fallen by the wayside with the rise of replicator technology and post-scarcity economics, not to mention the consensus among the majority of the population that the commercial reasons were the only reasons left for the holiday. The Lavelles, however, had retained the holiday, and it had always been a time for family gatherings, and yes—gift-giving, though within reason. In some ways, the lack of a public bonanza made the holiday that much more sacred…but, he had to admit, also a tad bit isolating.

    Just then, Brother Sandik stood and called the Enterprise ‘parishioners’ to worship with a beautiful, basso rendition of “Surely the Presence of the Lord Is in This Place.”

    They didn’t have anywhere near enough members to form a choir…there was always someone who suggested conjuring up a holographic one, but the majority always came to their senses very quickly about the idea: there was something disingenuous about it. It hadn’t surprised Sam that on his visit to the holographic Oralian catacombs, Mendral had expressed the same sentiment.

    Instead, the musical duties fell to the half-Vulcan minister, and to those in the congregation brave enough to volunteer for a solo or small ensemble. Sam, for his part, was quite happy to let his voice blend into the general congregation.

    Once Sandik finished singing, he greeted the assembled worshippers. “In the name of the Son I welcome you—as it is written, ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ We may be few in numbers, but let that be no reason to stop offering our praise and gratitude to the Lord—especially now in this season of hope.”

    Next came the lighting of the Advent candles…two this time—just two left until Christmas. Following this, Sandik said, “Let’s turn in our hymnals to ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.’”

    Both ensigns reached down into the pockets on the back of the seats in front of them and grabbed the old-fashioned, hardback books that sat there. Mendral might be of another faith, but he certainly loved music and took great delight in singing along. He’d even taken the time to learn the basics of Earth musical notation for the purpose…not much, but enough for a basic grasp on pitch and timing. The Cardassian quickly scanned over the lyrics as Chief Hakizimana picked out the first few bars on his guitar.

    Sam loved this hymn—to him, it all boiled down to the refrain: Rejoice, rejoice--Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
    O come, O come, Emmanuel,
    And ransom captive Israel,
    That mourns in lonely exile here
    Until the Son of God appear…
    Something sparked crystalline in Sam’s peripheral vision as he sang, something falling in a blur of movement almost too fast to see. His eyes darted sideways. It was gone now—but what he beheld now was unmistakable.

    Spreading out from its focal point on the open page of Mendral’s hymnal was a tiny liquid dot, soaking into the page.

    His Cardassian friend, who just a few minutes ago, had been sparring and laughing with him in the snow, was in tears.

    Sam’s first instinct was to tap Mendral on the arm—but he restrained himself: especially in times of emotional distress, Cardassians didn’t react well to being touched without warning. Instead, Sam leaned over and whispered in Mendral’s ear. “Hirhul…are you all right?”

    Rejoice, rejoice…” everyone else sang—but Hirhul Mendral, a child of the Cuellar refugee camps, could not. Nor could he answer Sam. Sam’s grey-scaled friend had fallen silent, his face a stony mask except for the shining rivulet of water that traced its way down from his eye to the ridge below, and from there to his cheek where it had fallen.

    Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel…

    Every scale and ridge on Mendral’s face telegraphed one aching plea: When…?



    “I’m so sorry, Hirhul…”

    They sat alone in the sanctuary’s choir loft, just behind the altar. Everyone else had left the holodeck but Lavelle and Mendral.

    “I didn’t even think,” Sam stumbled. “I mean, I know the history, but it didn’t even occur to me what it would mean to you…”

    Hirhul spoke in a low, rough voice. “You’ve been fortunate, Sam.”

    Ensign Lavelle’s cheeks reddened as though he’d been slapped.

    Seeing the unintended effect of his words, Mendral mustered up a faint smile. “I don’t say that to demean you—I don’t mean it that way. I say it because it’s factually true. The worst your Way has ever brought you is scorn. For me…my parents risked everything to flee Cardassia Prime when they had me. The Cuellar camps were bad, but at least the Bajorans were spread too thin to really consolidate their hold on the place. Mother and Father had a chance to send me and my brothers away, and they took it. That’s why I’m here.

    “I’m grateful for the opportunity…don’t get me wrong. But I want so badly to go home. I want to be with my people. I want to know that someday we’ll be free. But just a few days ago…I got word that the Resistance found the bodies of Skrain and Ziyal Dukat, dumped out in the middle of the Fireplains of Revakian. They were our brightest hope—and now they’re gone. I don’t know what’s going to happen to us, Sam. Some of the Bajorans…as far as they’re concerned, we’re just ‘slope-necked freaks with scales instead of flesh and blood like real people.’” Lavelle had little doubt, from the bitterness in Mendral’s voice, that the helmsman was quoting something that had been spoken right to his face—maybe even aimed right at him. “I think someday, they’re going to tire of the Occupation. They’re going to realize they can conquer our people but they can’t destroy our faith…and when that day comes, they’re going to kill us all.”

    “I don’t know what to say, Hirhul…” Sam mumbled. “I had no idea about the Dukats. If I had…” What a terrifying time it must’ve been for the ancient Israelites, he thought. There they were under the thumb of Earth’s strongest empire, with no idea if they’d ever be free. That’s what the Advent really was. That's what's meant by the hopes and fears of all the years, that's the kind of world where the Nativity unfolded...

    “It’s all right,” Mendral suddenly declared. “You didn’t know. Don’t regret it. You couldn’t have…news out of Bajoran-occupied areas is spotty at best. It took months even for me to find out. You can’t beat yourself up over something you had no way to know.”

    The Cardassian helmsman paused, deep in contemplation. Sam held his own silence as Mendral’s eyes stared out over distances untold. Finally, he straightened slightly. “Maybe…maybe,” Mendral mused, “that’s why it had to be you.”

    “To do what?”

    “To remind me to have hope. I believe. And as long as I have that…there is hope. There has to be.”



    I never really understood the meaning of Christmas until now. I mean, I knew the history just like any other kid raised in a traditionalist family—how the holiday is preceded by four Sundays of Advent, which represents the waiting for both First and Second Coming…but it never really sank in just what that meant until now. And of all the people to teach me…it had to be Hirhul Mendral, a man who professes a faith from a world so far from my own.

    But maybe that’s exactly what it took—eyes capable of seeing the meaning without all the baggage that comes with it back home. There’s no doubt. Hirhul gets it. And now, through him…so do I.
     
  10. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    January 09 Challenge: Write a story inspired by a song. No more than 5000 words. The title must be derived from the song's lyrics but cannot be the same as the song's title.


    I’ll Never Look Into Your Eyes Again

    A Star Trek Short Story Inspired by the Song ‘The End’ by The Doors



    The Presidio
    San Francisco
    July 27, 17:32 FST


    If it hadn’t been for his crisp white dress uniform, he would have easily blended in with the many other Starfleet officers who were making their way across the scenic green landscape.

    He stood alone, just about fifty meters from the large bronze statue that had been erected on the small hill a couple of years ago. Three Starfleet officers, a human, a Vulcan and a Bolian stood around a Federation flag, each with one hand firmly gripping the tall pole and with their heads cranked upwards to watch it waver in the wind.

    Just beyond it a few children were enjoying the warm summer breeze, playing on the neatly trimmed grass. Most of them too young to understand the significance of the monument nearby.

    A young boy spotted the Starfleet officer as he reverently watched the statue. And the officer saw him too. The child, with a large grin plastered on his bright face, waved to the man, impressed by his shiny uniform.

    The man looked at the boy for a moment and then waved back. But only hesitantly as if it was an altogether foreign concept to him. What the boy couldn’t see and probably wouldn’t have been able to comprehend were the tears in the man’s eyes.

    Finally the boy gave him a serious looking military-style salute and then turned around to join his playmates again.

    The man watched him leave.

    Then he knelt down and retrieved an amber, pistol shaped device from a bag he had brought. He stood and raised the weapon.

    The many civilians around him where at a loss at what this Starfleet officer was doing, the device in his hands mostly alien to them. Some ignored him entirely, some just watched him curiously.

    Most of the other Starfleet personnel however knew exactly what he was holding in his hand and after a few seconds of stunned hesitation they jumped to action, yelling or shouting at him to drop the weapon even while they carefully approached.

    It was all way too late.

    And it was all over in an instant.

    People screamed in terror when the phaser went off and the white-clad Starfleet officer fell face first into the soft grass.


    * * *​


    Department of Internal Affairs, Starfleet Headquarters
    San Francisco
    July 28, 08:32 FST


    “Would you mind removing your boots from the furniture?”

    Lieutenant Junior Grade Stanley Colburn turned his head to see his partner, Lieutenant Maxine Bernhardt enter the office and a large smile formed on his lips. She didn’t appreciate that he had put his feet up onto the desk again, a pet peeve which apparently really bothered her.

    “And a good morning to you,” he said and left his boots exactly where he had placed them.

    She sat down on her side of the desk with a fresh cup of raktajino in hand. “Pretty early for you,” she said.

    “It’s this suicide from yesterday. Did you hear about it?”

    “Of course,” she said. “It’s on every newsfeed in the city. Damn shame.”

    Colburn nodded absentmindedly. His entire focus was concentrated on a padd he was studying.

    “The boots.”

    He peaked over the padd and looked into her stern visage which gave no doubt that Bernhardt had been a fighter once. Much unlike Colburn. “Yes, ma’am,” he said and put them down.

    Bernhardt rolled her eyes. She hated to be called ma’am. It made her feel old. And judging from Colburn’s boyish grin, he knew it all too well.

    “Lieutenant Commander Varnado Goodspeed. Distinguished Starfleet career, more medals than I got fingers. And one day he just decides to walk right into a public place and fry his brain in front of hundreds of people,” said Colburn and looked out of the window. He couldn’t see the spot where Goodspeed had decided to take his own life but it was within walking distance.

    “They say he was on extended leave for medical reasons. He’d been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sadly a rather common occurrence since the war. Some people just didn’t deal with it well. I’ve seen it myself.”

    “We need to look into this, Max.”

    “Trust me, nothing gets to me more than to see a fellow officer die like this but this isn’t anything that hasn’t happened before. If there is anything to look into here, it’s why the counselors didn’t catch the warning signs sooner.”

    “What about his note? ‘Remember Alteres VI’. I looked at his service record. In ’75 he and his crew responded to a distress signal from a small research outpost near the Cardassian border in the Alteres system. They were too late. By the time they arrived everybody was dead.”

    “Well, yeah, seeing something like that will mess with your mind for years to come.”

    “But the outpost was on Alteres III. Alteres VI is a small and uninhabited Y-class planetoid. There is nothing there, I looked it up.”

    Bernhardt took the padd off him. “A mistake. The guy is about to kill himself, clearly he wasn’t thinking straight.”

    “What about the fact that he used a Cardassian phaser? Doesn’t military tradition demand that you shoot yourself with your service weapon?”

    She glared at him. “There is no military tradition for suicide. At least not in Starfleet.”

    “Whatever. All I’m saying is something doesn’t add up here and we should look into it. I think something happened to him and the Von Braun in the Alteres system during the war.”

    “The Von Braun? Under Koster?”

    “You know him?”

    “William J. Koster. He’s a war hero. Great man. I served under him shortly before the war. I think he’s an admiral now.”

    “A war hero, huh? Like Goodspeed. Like you. Let’s see where this takes us. Let’s do it for the war heroes out there.”

    “I’m not a hero, Stan. I just did my duty.”

    “Sure. Modesty suits you much better anyway. Come on, let’s go,” he said and was already on his feet.

    “Go where?”


    * * *​


    Sanders Beach
    Pensacola
    July 28, 10:12 FST


    “The Von Braun was lost with most of her crew at the Battle of Cardassia at the end of war,” said Colburn as he walked alongside Bernhardt on the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood. “I’ve already tried to contact the handful of survivors but I’m getting the distinct vibe that they don’t really want to talk to us.”

    “Must be your charming personality.”

    “That, or they’re hiding something.”

    “People don’t like to open up about things like that. It’s painful to think of it especially after losing your ship and all those friends and comrades.”

    “I tried Koster. Surviving the Von Braun’s demise must’ve really flown into his face. Not going down with the ship and all that jazz.”

    Bernhardt glared again. She did this quite a bit.

    “Anyway, he’s apparently way too busy with conferences and the like to meet with us. But I’ve tracked somebody down who also lives on Earth,” he said and looked at the padd he had brought. “Chief Petty Officer Lesley Medina. He has since retired and settled down right here in sunny Florida.”

    “Does he know we’re coming?”

    Colburn stopped in front of a plain, white two story house. “Here we are.”

    He walked up to the door but before he could knock a middle aged man approached from behind the house, wearing a straw hat and holding large hedge cutters for garden work.

    “Who the hell are you?”

    “Ah, you must be Chief Medina,” said Colburn.

    “I say again, who are you?”

    Colburn nervously glanced at the cutters. The blades gleamed in the sun. They were sharpened to a hilt.

    “This is Lieutenant Colburn and I’m Lieutenant Bernhardt. We’re with Starfleet’s Internal Affairs and we were hoping we could speak to you about –“

    “I’m not in Starfleet anymore and I’ve nothing to say to you. Go away.”

    “Maybe if we could just come in and –“

    Medina harshly interrupted Colburn. “I know your kind. Always sticking your noses into other people’s business. I had to put up with you for a long time. But not anymore. You will leave my property or I’ll call the Sheriff. He’s a good friend of mine and he doesn’t like Starfleet officers either.”

    “Of course. We’re sorry for disturbing you,” said Bernhardt and walked away.

    Colburn didn’t. “How well did you know Vernado Goodspeed?”

    “Stan.”

    Medina walked to the door. “None of your business. Now, if you’re still here by the time I reach the com system, you’re going to get real well acquainted with the Pensacola jail.”

    “Did you know he killed himself yesterday?”

    Medina froze.

    “Publicly. Right in front of the War Memorial in San Francisco. It’s because of what happened in Alteres, wasn’t it?”

    He turned around very slowly. “Goodspeed’s dead?”

    Colburn nodded.

    “He was always a coward. A damn coward. Bastard thought he could get out of it by killing himself. Doesn’t change anything. Doesn’t make a bit of a difference either way. And you, you get the hell out of here and leave things that don’t concern you alone.” And with that he went inside and slammed the door shut behind him.


    * * *​


    Main Promenade
    McKinley Station
    July 28, 18:48 FST


    “I must say I was surprised when I heard that Internal Affairs wanted to speak to me. I’m not in trouble, am I? Is this about me taking those two extra R&R days? My CO is still bouncing off the walls about that. To be fair, she gets a panic attack if I’m two minutes late to my shift. She’s a real ice queen, that one.”

    Petty Officer Hugh Turner sat with Colburn and Bernhardt at a replimat on the busy promenade, nurturing a cold beer. He had an easy smile on his lips when he spoke, indicating that he wasn’t really that concerned about his superior.

    “It’s not about your shore leave,” Colburn assured him.

    “Good. I don’t need the extra aggravation. Oh and about the ice queen reference. If that could stay between us, I’d appreciate it.” He glanced towards Bernhardt who apparently hadn’t appreciated the comment. Maybe because she wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with it herself.

    “Our lips are sealed,” said Colburn. “We’re here to talk about the Von Braun. The Alteres incident, to be precise.”

    Turner nearly dropped his glass. “Alteres, huh?” he said, clearly much more nervous all of a sudden. “I’ve heard about Goodspeed. Damn, what a mess. I guess I should’ve known somebody was going to look into that. But listen, I was just a lowly crewman back then. I wasn’t kept in the loop much. You should try to talk to somebody who was higher up on the food chain.”

    “We tried to talk to Chief Medina but he wasn’t exactly forthcoming,” said Bernhardt.

    “Medina? Yeah, I bet he wasn’t. There’s a reason we used to call him Chief Crusty back on the Von Braun.”

    “What do you know about what happened in the Alteres system?” asked Colbun.

    “Not much. I mean I was just a crewman, right. Nobody told me much of anything. We answered the distress signal and the away team found the crew dead. Massacred, I guess.”

    “By the Cardassians?” asked Bernhardt.

    “Who else? We were about a stone’s throw away from the border. You have to understand the mood on the ship was low. Real low. We’d just heard about the attack on San Francisco. People were angry. That outpost was just a little research station with a crew of a dozen. They weren’t soldiers or anything.”

    “So what happened after you found the outpost?”

    “The captain wanted to find the ones responsible. But I don’t think we ever did. We ran some combat drills to let out a bit of the frustration and soon after we joined our fleet again. But as I said, I was just a –“

    “Lowly crewman,” said Bernhardt. “Yes, so you’ve been telling us.”

    Turner nodded and stood. “I’m awfully sorry I can’t be of more help. My shift is about to start. I have to get back. Maybe if you can track down Redera, you can talk to her. She was pretty close to the command staff. I really have to go now.”


    * * *​


    Department of Internal Affairs
    San Francisco
    July 29, 11:08 FST


    “Turner said to talk to me?”

    Colburn nodded to the Bolian lieutenant he was talking to over subspace from her ship, the Venture which was currently deep inside the Beta quadrant. “Yes. He said that you might know more about what happened in Alteres.”

    “I’ll be honest with you, Lieutenant. Alteres is a name I hoped I would never hear again. The truth is, hardly a day goes by that I don’t feel devastated over what happened there. You have to believe me I wish for nothing else than to be able to go back to that moment in time and do things differently. Be stronger this time.”

    “There is nothing to be ashamed of, Lieutenant,” said Bernhardt who sat next to Colburn. “It would have been difficult for anyone to see something like that.”

    Redera’s sad eyes focused on the investigator and she slowly shook her head. “No, we have much to be ashamed about. In a small way I envy those who never got off the Von Braun alive. Sometimes I think they didn’t try. I know Goodspeed didn’t. He was perfectly content to blow up with the ship. I found him and carried him to the lifeboat. He never forgave me for that.”

    “Why?” asked Colburn. “What could have happened to drive him to that?”

    Redera looked away from the screen, contemplating carefully. “I can’t talk to you about it. Not over an open line,” she said. “I’ll contact you again tomorrow once I’ve been able to make some precautions. Speak to Turner again. If he thinks he can get out of this by claiming ignorance he’s got another thing coming. He was one of the pilots. He saw it all first hand. Redera out.”

    Her image vanished from the screen.

    “Pilots?” said Bernhardt. “Why would they have needed pilots? And why does she need to make precautions before talking to us?”

    “I don’t know,” said Colburn and activated his computer. “But Alteres III has no atmosphere, they wouldn’t have needed pilots to get down to that planet. Alteres VI on the other hand is loaded with high-energy storms and interference which prevent the use of transporters to beam down. What if Goodspeed didn’t make a mistake? What if he did mean Alteres VI?”

    “But there is nothing there.”

    “Nothing we know of. I’m going to send out some inquires. Maybe a mining company or a local government operates on that planet. In the meantime we should talk to Turner again. I had a feeling he wasn’t being straight forward with us.”


    * * *​


    [continued]
     
  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Shuttlebay Eight
    McKinley Station
    July 29, 16:23 FST



    “Transferred? What do you mean he’s been transferred?”

    The ensign sighed audibly. She was halfway buried under a shuttle, performing maintenance work. “Exactly what I meant, sir. He received new orders this morning for a transfer to a different post.”

    “This is important, Ensign, what exactly happened?” asked Colburn.

    The young woman stopped what she was doing and emerged from underneath the shuttle. “Let me spell it out for you, sir. He wasn’t particularly good at his job, alright? Nobody much cared for him, he was never on time and recently he pretty much went AWOL for two whole days. I’d asked for him to be transferred before,” she said. “This time my prayers were answered and he was taken of my hands. Good riddance.”

    “Did he say anything about the transfer orders?” Colburn asked.

    She looked at the junior lieutenant suspiciously. “I don’t think so. What is there to say?”

    “Do you know where he was transferred to?”

    “A new outpost in the Gamma Quadrant, I think. Very, very far away from me. Now, I’m quite busy here. If there is nothing else I –”

    “Do you know who authorized the transfer?”

    Another sigh. “Personnel, the station commander, some top brass officer at headquarters. How should I know?”

    Colburn turned to Bernhardt.

    “Transfers are not unusual in Starfleet. They happen every day,” she said.

    “A bit convenient though.”

    “What are you suggesting? That he got himself a transfer to avoid talking to us? He’s a Petty Officer. He wouldn’t be able to pull off something like that.”

    “That’s right,” Colburn said. “Somebody wanted him gone and I’m not talking about Miss Congeniality over here.”

    “Hey,” the ensign protested.


    * * *​


    Department of Internal Affairs
    San Francisco
    July 30, 08:35 FST



    “I’m really starting to worry about you. You’re never here this early,” said Bernhardt as she stepped into the office, finding Colburn sitting at his desk, loaded with a myriad of padds.

    But Colburn was way too distracted to even notice her approach. Only when she placed the mug of raktajino loudly on her desk, did he snap out of it.

    Her smirk turned into a frown. “What’s that smell?” she said and gave him a suspicious look. His uniform looked wrinkled and he had a prominent five o’clock shadow on his face. “Wait a minute, did you stay here all night?”

    “I was waiting for responses from my inquiries.”

    “Really?”

    “Yeah,” he replied. “Listen to this, the Venture is no longer within com-range. I can no longer reach Lieutenant Redera.”

    “The Venture was assigned to a deep space survey mission. That’s what Starfleet does, in case you had forgotten.”

    “First Turner gets reassigned to the other side of the galaxy and now Redera is out of reach too. You don’t find all this a bit concerning?”

    Bernhardt sipped her coffee. “I think you are getting paranoid which by the way is very concerning. Some more sleep should help with that.”

    “See if you think this is paranoid,” he said and dropped a padd right onto her desk.

    “What’s this?”

    “The Cardassians replied to my request,” he said. “They had a civilian mining outpost on Alteres VI. They lost contact with it at some point during the war. Apparently nobody took much notice of it as they had bigger things to worry about. And after the Dominion wiped out half of Cardassia Prime most of the records were destroyed. However, I tracked down a Klingon survey vessel which visited the Alteres system two years ago. They found absolutely nothing on that planet.”

    “Nothing?”

    “They’re Klingons, they probably didn’t do an in-depth analysis but there were no signs of an outpost or of the sixty-five civilian workers plus families who reportedly lived there.”

    “So what do you make out of this?”

    “I think Koster snapped after finding the Alteres III outpost raided. They looked for somebody responsible, anybody they could let their anger out on. They found the Cardassians on a nearby planet and –“

    Bernhardt stood up, fiery anger in her eyes. “Be careful of where you’re going with this, Stan. You’re talking about a Starfleet crew here. A decorated captain who has served the Federation with distinction. Those people don’t just snap.”

    “You mean like Goodspeed?”

    “I know Koster.”

    “You served under him once. As a starry-eyed ensign fresh out of the Academy. You weren’t on the Von Braun with him. Don’t try to make excuses for somebody just because you fought in the same war.”

    “It’s easy for somebody like you to start pointing fingers and making accusations. You never fought a Jem’Hadar, you were never on a battlefield with just a phaser rifle between you and a battalion of Cardassian soldiers trying to kill you. You’ve never seen your friends blown to pieces around you. So don’t start besmirching their memories because of a theory.”

    “If I’m right people need to know about this. And there is only one person who can tell us for certain.”


    * * *​


    Office of Rear Admiral Koster, Starfleet Command
    San Francisco
    July 30, 12:35 FST


    “Nobody was more affected by his death than me. Varnado was one of the best officers I’ve ever had the pleasure to serve with. I still can’t believe what he did. It’s not a way for a Starfleet officer to die.”

    Koster stood by the window, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge as he spoke.

    He turned to face his two guests. “I wish he had tried to speak to me. He knew he could trust me. He could have talked to me about anything. Together we would have found a way to get passed whatever it was that bothered him.”

    “Apparently it had to do with what happened in the Alteres system,” said Bernhardt.

    He looked at her. “Maxine Bernhardt?”

    She nodded.

    “I know you, don’t I?”

    She smiled. “Yes you do, sir. Actually I’m surprised you remember me. I served under you on the Constantinople.”

    “Of course. You’d just come aboard. Security, right?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “I never forget a face or a name, Lieutenant.”

    “Alteres, sir,” said Colburn.

    “Yes, of course. It was horrible. We saw a lot of atrocious things during the war but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to ban the images of those bodies on Alteres III out of my mind. They were tortured before they were killed, did you know that? Some had all their fingers cut off, some entire limps. Goddamn Cardassians.”

    “Goodspeed’s suicide note mentions Alteres VI not III. Can you explain that?” asked Colburn.

    “God knows what he was thinking in those last hours before his death,” he said and sat down behind his large, wooden desk. “It was a handwritten note, wasn’t it? Maybe his hand slipped. Maybe he wasn’t thinking right anymore.”

    “Did you know that there was a Cardassian outpost on Alteres VI. A small mining station. It apparently disappeared,” Colburn continued.

    “No, I didn’t know that, Lieutenant,” said Koster. “Most of the system if I remember correctly was uninhabitable and so we didn’t go around looking for other outposts.”

    “But wouldn’t the ship sensors have picked it up? After all you had just founds a Starfleet station attacked and were looking for the people responsible.”

    “Lieutenant, Alteres VI is a Demon class planet. Completely hostile. It’s certainly not someplace where we would have looked.”

    “So you remember it was a Y-class planet?”

    “Yes, I do, Lieutenant. I have a good memory. Now is this going anywhere because I’m quite busy.”

    “We understand this Admiral and we appreciate you taking the time to speak to us,” said Bernhardt and stood. “I think this is all for now. Lieutenant?”

    Colburn stood and followed Bernhardt to the door but before he had reached it, he turned around again. “Did you know that Petty Officer Hugh Turner was transferred yesterday?”

    “Who is Petty Officer Turner?”

    “He served under you on the Von Braun, sir.”

    “A lot of people served on the Von Braun.”

    “Yes, but you never forget a name.”

    The admiral stood. “Lieutenant, I wasn’t familiar with all the enlisted crewmembers on the Von Braun. The ship had 600 people onboard.”

    “I think you know Turner, I think you had him transferred to the Gamma Quadrant so he couldn’t talk to us.”

    Bernhardt made an about face and quickly stepped next to Colburn. “Lieutenant, we’re done here.”

    “Why would I want to do that?” the admiral asked.

    Colburn stepped closer. “Because you did find the Cardassians on Alteres VI. You found their outpost and you decided that they had been responsible for the attack. And then you exacted your revenge on them by making them disappear. After all who would miss a small civilian settlement in the middle of war?”

    “How dare you? How dare you come into my office and throw these preposterous accusations into my face. Who the hell do you think you are, Lieutenant?”

    “Sir, I apologize. This is not what –“, began Bernhardt.

    “I’m the one to bring this whole thing to light. I’m going to expose you Admiral and what you’ve done. The entire Federation will know once I’m through.”

    “You’re already through, you just don’t know it yet. Get the hell out of my office before I have you carried out here by security.”

    Bernhard put a firm hand around Colburn’s arm.

    “You were mad as hell, weren’t you, Admiral? To see all those people killed that way. And they weren’t even soldiers. Just a couple of scientists, massacred for nothing.”

    “Your damned right I was mad!”

    “And you needed somebody to take responsibility for it, didn’t you? And then you found that Cardassian outpost practically hiding right under your nose. You went down there with an armed team in shuttles. Maybe you were just going to talk to them first. Find out if your suspicions were right but it didn’t quite work out like that, did it?”

    “Get out!”

    Bernhard tried to pull Colburn away but he wouldn’t budge.

    “We were at war. The Cardassians were the enemy. And who knows, maybe they did do it. And if not, they still had plenty to answer for anyway. Chin’toka, Betazed, San Francisco. They were butchers, all you did was give them a taste of their own medicine.”

    “THERE WERE BUTCHERS!”

    Koster let himself fall back in his chair, deflated.

    “Of course they were,” said Colburn. “And you did what was necessary. You made them pay for what they did.”

    The admiral looked up. “You have no proof of anything.”

    “I don’t need proof, Admiral. All I need to do is put the story out there and sooner or later it will catch up with you. You cannot hide from your past. Goodspeed couldn’t.”


    * * *​


    Department of Internal Affairs
    San Francisco
    July 30, 15:51 FST



    “Well, now you’ve done it.”

    Colburn was packing up his desk.

    “Suspended indefinitely for gross misconduct. You should have listen to me, Stan. Confronting Koster achieved nothing.”

    “I wouldn’t say that. At least now he knows who I am. And you’ve heard him. He never forgets a face.”

    “This isn’t funny, Stan. He might have you drummed up on charges for a full court martial.”

    “I doubt that very much. He’s too scared about his dirty secret to come out. He wouldn’t dare to try and get any more attention.”

    “So what are you going to do now?”

    Colburn removed his combadge and placed it on the desk. “I’m not sure but I’m through with Starfleet. But I’m not done with Koster. I’m going to keep digging until I find some proof of what he’s done. I can’t let him get away with it, Max.”

    She looked skeptical.

    “You don’t think he did it, do you?”

    “I just don’t know what to think anymore. I’ve always looked up to the man and no matter what you say it’s difficult to put all that aside. It’s hard for me to believe he could be capable of something like this. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation.”

    “I guess it’s different for you,” said Colburn. “You were right, I wasn’t in the war. I didn’t experience what you and Koster and Goodspeed went through. But there is a difference between fighting a war and killing out of revenge. There is a fine line there somewhere and Koster crossed it and he needs to pay for that otherwise he’s no better than the Dominion. If we don’t make him pay than we are no better.”

    Colburn took the box with his personal belongings and walked towards the exit. “Take care, Max, I’m going to miss your motherly concern. It was touching.”

    “Motherly? I’m five years older for heaven’s sake.”

    “And so sensitive.”

    But before Colburn could reach the doors a man stepped inside to block his way.

    “Chief Medina?” Colburn said surprised.

    The man looked unsure of himself now, the complete opposite of how he had presented himself a few days ago when he had thrown them off their property. “We need to talk.”

    Colburn shook his head. “Not with me. I’m retired, like yourself. Any good places in Florida you’d recommend?”

    Medina was irritated.

    “Look, talk to Lieutenant Bernhardt.”

    “It’s about Alteres VI.”

    Colburn exchanged a glance with his former colleague.

    “Alright, Chief,” she said, sit down and tell me everything you know. Start at the beginning.”

    Medina did as he was told.

    Colburn remained by door.

    “I suppose you want to hear this too?” she asked.

    He nodded eagerly, placed down the box and took a seat.

    “It was a massacre,” Medina began. “A goddamned massacre. It wasn’t supposed to be but somebody started shooting and then some of those Cardies started shooting back and all hell broke loose. We killed them all. Men, women, children, every last one of them. And after it was all done, Koster told us that we could never talk to anybody about what had happened. He said that we had to take it to our graves because people back home wouldn’t understand. He told us that the Cardassians deserved what they got but that Command would never see it that way. He wiped out what was left of the outpost from orbit and then altered the logs.

    But he couldn’t alter our memories. By God I wish he could have. I wish it would have been that easy. I suppose that was our punishment. To spend the rest of our lives with the knowledge of what we’ve done.

    Goodspeed tried to stop it but Koster had him overruled. In the end he managed to convince him, convince us all, that we didn’t have a choice. That there was nothing we could’ve done differently. Oh, we had a choice, alright. We could have turned around and left them all alone. We could’ve taken prisoners. Instead, we butchered them like animals.”

    And then Medina began to cry.

    __ __ __​


    For links to the other great challenge entires visit the voting thread.
     
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    February 2009 Challenge: The Lower Decks. Write a story about non regular crewmembers/characters of an established Trek series or fan fiction series in 3,000 words or less.

    Winner:

    Star Trek: USS Shepard, Tennison
    by Dulak​



    Stardate 53340.96, (2130 hours)
    Starbase 214
    Berth 6, Hub 2
    Fifteen minutes following the departure of Starfleet warp tug
    Persepheron

    With the last of the shore supply gear stowed awaiting the eventual return of the little but critically useful vessel, boot heels clicked away on the deck plating with finality. Echoing faintly in the void left at the docking berth, a boisterous voice carried from the direction of the departing boots, “Hey Beecham, we still on for that holosuite tonight?” Any answer was swallowed by the clanging of a manual hatch being swung shut, a finality leaving the docking bay quiet except for the faint hum of air circulators and other far away sounds carried through the structure of the station itself.

    After several minutes, one of the few examples of truly advanced technology functioning fully in this somewhat neglected part of the huge starbase activated itself and adjusted the lighting to lower reserve levels to conserve power pending the return of station personnel. In the dim light a single cleaner bot detached itself from its charging nook and began a slow systematic scouring of the decks, not only vacuuming up loose particles but also scrubbing gently with small spinning brushes. Not a complex device, it merely followed a simple programmed algorithm, completely unaware of the other occupants of the compartment.

    Twenty-forth century Federation starbases do not have rats, at least not in the literal sense. What scurried, or more correctly trickled out from beneath storage pallets and from small holes unobtrusively etched through bulkheads behind large freestanding machinery, were not rats. At first, numerous indistinct blobs oozed and poured along the deck, but they came together, adding mass and volume as they joined into several larger creatures. After several such mergings, all that remained were two smooth-skinned and distinctly tailless hexapedal beings with rounded lamprey-like mouths at the end of their prehensile necks.

    In an oft repeated pattern, the creatures raced ahead of the cleaning bot, darting around one another in an intricate dance as they scrounged along the deck. Occasionally, one would seem to find something and stop briefly, its mouth sucking at the deck before moving on.

    A table and a set of benches to allow the docking bay workers occasional efficient breaks on site proved the best feeding spot in the creatures’ small world. Invariably there was food to be found and today was no different. Near the middle of the area under the table was a large, square mound of food with but a single bite from it. They would feed well, possibly well enough to allow them to create another of their kind.

    With excitement, the first moved in and began eating without even waiting for the other. Even the thud that followed and the sudden quietness did not deter the creature as it began devouring the sandwich. Only after several seconds when it noticed the faint scraping sounds around it, did it stop eating to examine its surroundings. Attempting to reach the neck of its companions for a reassuring touch, it bumped its head soundly on a clear barrier.

    More alarmingly, the barrier extended completely around and over its head. It was trapped. While the one left outside endeavored to find a way in, or even to lift the barrier unsuccessfully, the trapped one broke down into its components and attempted to squeeze them underneath the edge of the barrier. It was no use, the gap was too small.

    Resigned, it reassembled and sat disconsolately near the center of the trap, all though of food forgotten. The other sat briefly, unsure of what to do when the sudden sound of footsteps startled them to action. Moving as quickly as it could in the opposite direction, the untrapped creature took shelter in the space between the coils of a power cable that sat nearby.

    Whistling as he came, the man in dingy coveralls walked slowly yet purposefully. Strangely, the lights in the compartment had not registered his presence. In reality nothing was amiss, he had merely deactivated the sensory device prior to entering, to avoid startling the creatures prematurely.

    Stooping, he picked up the box trap from the deck, creature and all. “Don’t you worry none, little’un. You’ll soon be getting more food than you know what to do with. I just can’t let you keep lurking around here, it’s not safe.” Speaking in a soothing tone, the man carried the creature with him, through a small access hatch into a narrow maintenance corridor that made the already cramped main hallway look spacious.

    As he walked, he actually had to stoop in several places to make his way. He was not technically in Starfleet. In fact, he was not technically on the station at all. Technically being a term which here means that no official record of his presence existed in any Starfleet database. It did not mean however that no such record had ever existed, but that is another story, as is how Tennison Richard Jenkins III happened to be on the station in the first place.

    It is true that Tennison was a bit of a loner, and tended to keep to himself, but he was more of a fixture on the starbase than anything else. Starfleeters came and went, those assigned to the bowels of the station met him, and frequently ended up asking him questions about how to repair this machine or that, how to get to access panel 243.355.786.458B, etc. If it involved the back corridors, ventilation ducts, maintenance tubes, or in general the less-than-glamorous areas of the station, Tennison was simply the one to seek out.

    As he never went anywhere offstation, asked for credits in exchange for his work, or bothered anyone, the slight power drain made by the jury rigged replicator in his cobbled together quarters was ignored. Ignored that is until a certain Vulcan Admiral had been assigned to the station. In his initial establishing himself as head of the station, Admiral Selak had made it a point to increase the efficiency of the station. The .0000000034% drop in the station power grid caused by Tennison’s replicator was deemed unacceptable, and despite efforts at keeping the strange, but ultimately useful man a secret from the admiral, Tennison was discovered.

    That would have been the end of it, had not Tennison requested a personal meeting with the Admiral and soundly trounced him at not one but two rounds of Go, an obscure Earth strategy game of Asian origin that the Admiral favored as more esoteric than chess. As no non-Vulcan had beaten him, and only three Vulcans ever had won a match against Selak, Tennison “made a deal.” The two gamed at least weekly, and although he would not admit to keeping score, Selak knew quite precisely that out of two hundred thirty-seven games, he had won exactly four, and had managed to draw twice.

    Tennison reached the end of the corridor, the cramped passage opening into a quaint little room, complete with a cot, a small bookshelf and a practically archaic replicator. A storage compartment along one wall completed the sparse décor. Tennison set the clear cage down on a small table, the creature within now remembering its hunger and prodding curiously at the remaining food enclosed with it.

    Washing his hands carefully in a small sink, Tennson then opened the twin doors of the storage compartment/closet. Reaching inside, he pulled on something behind his clothing and effortlessly the back panel slid away, revealing a passageway behind. Reacquiring the cage and creature, Tennison stepped through into a place few others had ever seen. Once Tennison stepped through to the other side, the panel slid back into place, leaving the lonely little apartment in quiet.

    While careful not to over-utilize station power or material resources, Tennison had nonetheless over time, created quite an inner sanctum for himself. Built on multiple levels, in an out-of the-way area below a major structural juncture alongside the lower hub of the starbase, it was an impressive apartment. Ladders led up and down in the mostly open area, although it contained several rooms. It was decorated with salvaged, yet in their own way tasteful, remnants from ships and cargo that no one else desired, or had abandoned for one reason or another. Obscure sculpture, the occasional painting, even out dated mechanical parts lined the walls and open spaces on the overhead of Tennison’s world.

    On more than one occasion he had sacrificed some knick knack or other to revitalize a passing ship, or even the station itself. While not a pack-rat type, he would have been surprised to know that amongst the obscure items he had collected were a few highly prized and quite valuable artifacts from one lost civilization or another. He valued them for their aesthetics alone, carefully selecting replacements for anything he actually used.

    The apartment even contained a viewport, salvaged during an upgrade from another part of the station, through which he could view the starscape, ship traffic, and even a distant but beautiful nebula, depending on the station’s rotation.

    Into this sanctuary, Tennison brought his new companion. He carefully walked down a narrow stairway that was so steep it bordered on being a vertical ladder. Walking through one of the few doors in his apartment, this one a functional power door that slid open at the touch of a button, he stepped inside and waited for the first door to close before opening an inner door, a twin to the outer one, except that this door contained a clear windowed section.

    Sliding smoothly open, the door revealed an area that Tennison relished the most, his garden. In actuality, it was more of a habitat, containing several animals in addition to the lush plant life. The most ingenious thing about the garden, and in fact the rest of Tennison’s secret apartment was that as a whole it used significantly more power than was routed to the little replicator in his ‘front’ room, but the power was so carefully pulled of the station’s grid and in such minute amounts from drastically different systems that the power drain appeared like little more than normal transmission loss.

    Walking onto the soil, which was covered by green grass-like groundcover, Tennison set the clear cage down near a large boulder and sat down himself. He did not have long to wait. Less than a minute following his arrival, several small creatures made their way from nearby undergrowth and approached.

    Two of them were actually the same type of creature as the one in the cage, but two more were taller and looked like nothing so much as small piles of twigs. Far more intricate than the stick-like insects of Earth origin, these creatures mimicked a much more complex bushy pattern, complete with small green leaves that were actually hard scales.

    The twig creatures approached more slowly than the other two, who circled the cage excitedly, but they approached nonetheless. Tennison produced a small morsels from a pocket and tossed them gently at the animals. Eaten quickly and with relish, the morsels of food were expired emergency rations. The animals scarcely seemed to care.

    The twig creatures even produced a noise by rubbing a number of their rigid limbs against one another, not unlike a cicada or cricket. Tennison smiled and reaching down, opened the cage. He knew there would be no problem. Grinning as the three newly introduced members of the same species skittered away into the undergrowth, Tennison actually burst out laughing when the two twig creatures took advantage of the situation and began finishing off the food left in the cage by its prior occupant.

    There were several automatic feeders scattered throughout the enclosure and Tennison made sure to feed his pets enough so that they would not overgraze on the vegetation. It also meant that if he was busy with some job or other, he did not need to make daily trips to his garden.

    Later, after several hours away fixing a waste reclamation diverter, he returned. Looking through the window casually upon arriving, Tennison’s jaw dropped in amazement. In his brief absence the trio of creatures had somehow turned themselves into several dozen.

    Moving about the plant filled enclosure, the creatures seemed agitated. Instead of their normal food scrounging movement, their paths along the ground were erratic and seemingly random. At first Tennison thought they had simply outstripped the auto-feeder’s food production, but seeing several of his twig creatures moving unhindered to one of the feeder ports alleviated that fear.

    On the verge of entering the garden Tennison paused, watching intently through the windowed inner door. A group of six or seven of the six legged creatures had stopped wandering aimlessly and had gathered in a tight group. Strangely, they seemed to lose cohesion briefly, their shapes becoming indistinct before they abruptly merged together into a larger animal.

    As the process was repeated with the other smaller creatures until three of the larger versions eventually replaced the numerous small ones. Looking similar to their prior appearance, there were differences. The six leg-like appendages had morphed slightly into four much longer legs and two manipulators, complete with three fingered hands at the end of each. They now stood almost a meter tall, hands able to reach higher.

    More surprisingly, however, Tennison noted that the end of the prehensile neck now contained a distinctly larger head, with an obvious brain cavity and three dark eyes, all above the mouth. The central, smaller eye was set slightly above the other two eyes and below it, Tennison thought he could see nose-like breathing holes.

    Suddenly, one of the three creatures darted to the window where Tennison stood, startling him. As it looked up through the glass, it made a gesture, holding one of its three fingered appendages against the glass and leaving it there. Somewhat in shock, Tennison could think of nothing to do except repeat the gesture with his own hand on his side of the glass.

    Almost casually, the creature reached slowly and quite deliberately with its other hand towards the door button, pressing it. As the door swished open, Tennison stepped back in a panic. Unsure of what to do, he froze, hands held up and open towards the creature. “Please don’t hurt me,” was all he could say, lamely.

    Again, slowly and deliberately, but without obvious malice, the creature raised a single hand towards Tennison, as it had through the glass. It was so much like a handshake, that Tennison touched his own palm to it without thinking. The skin was smoother than he would have imagined, but felt roughly the same temperature as his own skin or a bit higher, although admittedly his hand was at the same time both cold and sweaty from nervousness.

    As quickly as it had moved to the window, the creature abruptly left Tennison and approached the others of its kind. Regaining his composure, Tennison quickly closed and locked the inner door to his garden, stepping out and doing the same to the outer door before leaning against it in relief. “What have I done?” he said to himself as he slowed his breathing, calming himself as best as he could.

    Any further pondering was cut short by a faint but pervasive chime, alerting him that someone was approaching his outer apartment. Moving quickly, he climbed a ladder and towards his secret closet door back to the outer room.

    Behind him, left alone in the garden, the three creatures, in a repetition of the merging activity Tennison had witnessed of the smaller versions, melded together. Working more slowly this time, it took several minutes before a distinct form took shape. Almost two meters tall, the single figure remaining was humanoid, female, and quite naked.

    The only characteristics distinguishing her from an Earth human were that she retained three eyes, the third remaining smaller and above the other two. Also were her hands, which still contained three digits. One of them was opposable, a thumb. Her hair, while short, grew in normal human patterns and was light blond, almost white.

    Looking around briefly, she walked towards the door, holding one arm over her two completely human-like breasts as she did so. Seeing the access button at the side of the door, she pushed it. It buzzed annoyingly, but the door did not open. Nonplused, she moved off to explore her surroundings.

    USS Persepheron
    Cargo Area

    Ensign Dulak, a newly minted Starfleet officer of uniquely Cardassian origin, opened another storage crate and began unpacking its contents. On his left, two of his fellow officers, one male one female, both Lieutenants, Junior Grade, were also unpacking supplies. Suddenly startled, both Ajal Brak, a non-joined Trill, and Tara, another rarity in Starfleet being a Green Orion female, stepped back from the open crate.

    Arjal, clearly the more upset of the two exclaimed, “What the grend is that?” and pointed towards the storage container, maintaining his distance. Lieutenant JG T’Noor, the forth officer in the area and a Vulcan peered into the crate, raising one eyebrow. “I am unfamiliar with that lifeform,” she said as Dulak approached, curious.

    Looking into the crate, Dulak’s mild expression quickly turned to one of concern. Inside the crate was a small six legged animal with a prehensile neck, and a round, lamprey-like mouth, a copy of the creature Tennison had captured. “We must destroy it at once!” Tara, a puzzled look on her face asked, “Why, it doesn’t look dangerous? Other than the mouth, it’s kind of cute.” Dulak shook his head, answering, “They are quite harmless in this form, but in greater numbers can merge into things larger and incredibly dangerous.”

    Still confused, Tara continued her questioning, “Merge, I don’t understand, there is only one.”
    Dulak, not taking his eyes from the animal as it split into its smaller ooze-like parts and moved around inside the crate attempting to hide, answered in a somber tone. “Let me explain…”
     
  13. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    my entry was the March Cliffhanger challenge:

    First Contact by Mistral

    PART ONE-We Just Have To Keep Our Heads Here

    The starship hung like a jewel in our sky. The news feeds were full of speculation on whom they might be. I’m sure Dr. Sful was upset at the arrival of people from another world upstaging his landmark voyage to the stars, yet I had a feeling that these people and their appearance in our star system, coming so close with our first flight to another solar system, were related.

    I was reading another report on the micrometeorite abrasion of the Leaper during his manhood flight when the news feed interrupted me. As the early stories came in of a mysterious, artificial light in our sky I couldn’t help but wonder. What had Dr. Sful brought back with him? Many of the feedcasters speculated on the same thing. Dr. Sful was adamant in his belief that nothing within the range of his scanners had been detectable. Since Leaper had traveled across three light years the scans had been cursory at best but in the interest of preserving the public peace the government had supported his statement wholeheartedly. A bit of time passed before the repetition of the newsfeeds finally broke. Channel 2 had gotten an exclusive with the great man himself.

    “Dr. Sful, what do you believe this is?” The caster waved an arm at the graphic of the mystery light behind her.

    Sful cleared his thorax and scratched his chiton in that pompous manner that drove most of us junior researchers insane. “It stands to reason that going out into space and the interstellar void would increase our chances of encountering another star-faring race.” He paused to suck nectar. “I am not surprised that they have arrived here, not surprised that they came to make contact. It stands to reason,” and here he stroked his melan to emphasize the point, “that they have, possibly, been watching us. Maybe they need to see that we can come to them before they will come to us.”

    “But Dr. Sful, what if their motives are something less than benign?”

    He looked into the camera directly and said, “Well, I would guess that we would be dead about now, wouldn’t we?” and he used that awful chuckle that he thought people appreciated. The feedcaster focused all of her eyes on him for a moment, as if unsure of how to react. Then she chuckled too.

    “I guess you’re right, Doctor. Since we’re still here I’d have to speculate that they come in peace.”

    Sful turned several eyes at her. “And you have no training to decide such a matter. Why don’t you leave it to the experts?” There was the Doctor I admired and hated, slashing his chances of any further media exposure.

    I looked up as the computer signaled that the test results were finished. That’s why I missed the single most momentous event in our history, the First Moment as the aliens arrived.. The abrasion factor was exactly as predicted and I was about to enter a simple “Approved” mark on it when the feedcast caught my eye.

    “…and we have eyewitness accounts of aliens in Markeesin, right in the city courtyard! According to the reports, they just appeared out of thin air!” The feedcaster was all but drooling on her chiton. Dr. Sful looked confused.

    “Re-entry, even with heat shielding much better than our own, would take minutes if not hours! There is no possible way these,” Sful sputtered, “whatever they are, appeared. It must be a group of local yokels dazzled by the aliens’ high technology!” He appeared quite happy with his pronouncement, his hunting arms clacking with approval.

    The feedcaster hadn’t been given her job. She brought an amazing sense of focus to her next question. “Then you’re saying the Presidia and the Council are nothing more than ‘local yokels’ who have mistaken the suddenly-appearing aliens who materialized in front of the Presidium Fntoss a few moments ago for a fast re-entry?” Her sub-arms were crossed in a confident manner. Her hunting arms clacked once, with an ending emphasis.

    Dr. Sful was very uncomfortable, and I noticed that some of the lab assistants had gathered around the ‘caster to watch him squirm. “Well, no, I mean, yes, they may have arrived suddenly, I mean, they had to get here somehow.” He gazed down at his lap and I heard a few of the now, rather large, crowd around me snicker, hunter arms clicking loudly. The feed switched to the Presidium courtyard. Back legs scratched in surprise as the camera zoomed in on the aliens.

    They were soft beings, that much was obvious. Although upright like us, they lacked any form of chiton. Their skin reminded me of the younglings before their exterior fluids hardened, soft and pink. They wore rather more garments than we did, covering most of their bodies. There was hair upon the parts of their bodies that were exposed, similar to the rugat or fnex that roamed the woods beyond the capital. I wondered if they were warm-blooded. Obvious machines, portable in size, were attached to their mid-sections or carried in their hands. I assumed they were recording or scanning devices, although some of the junior technicians speculated as to the possibility of weapons. I noticed that the leader was readily apparent, for the others returned to him after waving their machines around. It seemed obvious that they were reporting to the lone being that lacked hair upon his head. I scratched an itch on my second-knee and saved my analysis to moly-cube. The feedcaster was going on in a rather silly way about how unusual they were. Since they were from another world, I had accepted that they looked different from us long before she did. My business was other worlds. The concepts came easily to me.

    As the feeds followed the official greeting of the aliens, I spent a little time checking on my brood and then went to my quarters to pumice myself. After a quick plate of grubs, I felt ready to return to work. I figured Dr. Sful would be getting back from his interview soon and would need his ego soothed, so I made haste as best I could. The public transportation system was a mess and I got back to the Super-luminal Research Institute much later than I’d planned. The good doctor was present ahead of me and had worked himself into a fine snit. When I walked in he was raving to anyone who would listen.

    “There are aliens but they can’t be hostile!” He was trying to shout above the din of computer chimes announcing new results from the analyzers and the incessant tolling of the com net. What seemed like a thousand grad students were answering the multitude of inquiries, shouting between themselves. I saw T’rl standing in a corner of the vast Central Synthesis Room looking interested but removed from the events around him. I sauntered over casually, ducking what, to me, were mere children to reach his side.

    “Anything new?” I asked.

    T’rl glanced at me with his head cocked. “Rubbish. They are trying to second guess what is going on in there.” He waved a forearm at one of the primary feedcasters, which showed the aliens stepping into the seat of government. “Our visitors are probably going to arrange trade agreements and mutual defense treaties. It’s what I’d do in their place.” He stroked his melan before he continued. “I really doubt anyone out there,” here he lifted his forearms high, “Would look at interstellar conquest as a viable option. Space is just too big.” I nodded at him but withheld my judgment. Just then, the com net buzzed for the thousandth time and one of the grad students waved every arm he could spare at me.

    “Excuse me, T’rl, it seems that one of these babies needs my attention.”

    T’rl laughed with his legs and said, “Of course. Don’t torture the …” he squinted his left eye, “Boy too much!” I grinned and walked over to the kid. When I arrived, I used my best Professor voice.

    Yes,” I asked. The poor child wilted.

    “I have the Presidia wanting to talk to you, Madame Professor.” He held out the com to me as if he thought I would bite his head off. I took it graciously.

    “Thank you, child,” I responded. “The Presidia! Why me and not Dr. Sful?” I thought to myself. Gathering my wits, I took a deep breath and lifted the com to my mouth.

    This is Dr. Sra. How may I be of assistance?” I was surprised to realize that I was trembling with nervousness at addressing our leader.

    The voice in my hearing aperture was known the world over. “Doctor, I understand you’ve been heading up the analysis of Dr. Sful’s flight. Is that correct?”

    “That is correct.” I could hear my own voice coming from somewhere. I knew it couldn’t possibly be from me-I was too shocked and nervous to speak.

    “I’d like you to come and meet our visitors. I suspect your insight would be useful.”

    I could feel the room moving, and an idle part of my mind wondered if there had been some kind of tectonic shift.

    “I would be honored to help in any way I can,” I replied.

    “Of course you would, dear. If you could come to the Presidium now?” She left the question dangling in front of me. “There should be a groundmover outside the Institute in a few moments.” The connection ended and I handed the com back to the nervous young male in a daze.

    “I guess I’m going to advise the government,” I commented idly to the boy. I wasn’t even sure why I spoke to him. I snapped to and headed for the cloak room. Tossing my lab coat onto a hook, I grabbed the cloak I’d worn to work and headed for the steps out in front of the Institute. The groundmover was waiting for me, and I suspected it had been there when the Presidia called. The driver had the Presidium livery painted on his chiton and he only nodded as I slipped into the vehicle. The drive was eerie, with few people out on the streets. I realized that the population, world-wide, had watched the aliens arrive and were even now nailed to their feedcasters. Then I realized that in a few moments I might very well be in front of those same cameras, broadcasting to millions. I prayed that I would comport myself accordingly.

    The mob scene in front of the Presidium stretched across a number of streets, the crowd larger than the one that had assembled for Leaper’s launch. It took us forever to get through, our vehicle moving barely above walking speed. When we finally arrived, crowd control people had to hold back the masses as I exited. It was quite overwhelming, my hunter arms clacked in and out of their sheaves, I was more nervous than I’d ever been. Entering the Presidium Fntoss did not help put me at ease. The receiving hall was jammed with feedcasters and their crews. The mercury lights blinded me over and over again. My escort formed a phalanx around me to get through the press of bodies. We eventually pushed through to the main anteroom. The situation wasn’t much better there. Assistants to the Council scurried about and lesser politicos clumped in bunches, discussing the latest turn of events. My escort led me to the Audience Chamber without letting anyone near. I was glad for that, as my hunter arms kept sheathing and unsheathing involuntarily.

    The peace of the Audience Chamber was a welcome relief, but I hadn’t been there for a moment before the Presidia, herself, called attention to me. As she spoke, I could see the little cluster of aliens standing in front of her Chair. They looked on curiously at my intrusion.

    “Dr. Sra, I am so glad you are here! Please, come and meet our new visitors!” One did not refuse the Leader. I walked forward as the leader of the aliens walked back towards me. It took a moment in this overwhelmingly massive room for us to reach each other. Finally, I could see him/her up close. The bare scalp I’d noticed earlier radiated a bit of heat that was perceptible to my eyes. There was a noticeable air of softening of the outer…whateveritwas that he used in place of a chiton. I noted it as he approached and wondered, was it the effect of some change in diet that he was given as a leader or was it, perhaps, a relaxation of his outer covering brought on by the passage of time? Then he /she was there, in front of me.

    The light from the immense, painted windows that lined the room cast a spectrum of color upon the floor. As the alien leader stepped close he bowed as a signal of respect. I knew this, intellectually, but when the light from the right arm window glanced upon his pink exo-covering the blend of colors on his neck touched an instinctive reaction. That is the best I can say it, the best way to explain what happened next. My mind was screaming, “Czir!” even as my hunter arms lashed out.

    “Hello, I’m Captain Jean-Luc Pi-“and his head rolled upon the floor of the Audience Chamber while blood pumped a shocking scarlet onto the tiles from his twitching torso.
     
  14. Count Zero

    Count Zero Watching Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    European Union
    April 2009 - "The Glitz and the Glory"


    Behind the Glamour


    by Count Zero​

    A bunch of shiny happy people stretched out over several light years in every direction, that's what the Federation was. Being happy and content was almost like an obligation. Poverty vanquished, a just, peaceful and prospering society plus plenty of leisure time for everyone – what's not to like? But Malakin hated his job, hated his life.

    Once he'd been heralded as the greatest talent since God knows when, renowned critics praising the brilliance of his writing and the stunning vision of his direction. For a while he had ridden on a wave of success, invincible, untouchable. But it was still a fast moving business and he hadn't had a hit in years. Sometimes he feared that maybe everyone just had a certain amount of stories to tell and brilliance to give and that he had used up all of his. But he couldn't keep himself from trying, from chasing after that last big success. And thus he was at the mercy of petty producers and their whims, all of which had brought him here.

    “So this is what it has come to?” he wondered, while he blinked absent-mindedly at the bright blue sky outside the office window, the perfectly clear sky and the warm sun mocking him. All day he had been forced to listen to Achilleas Asimo endlessly babbling on about trivialities. It wasn't his fault, of course, all actors were like that, just empty shells to be filled with substance and meaning, afraid of their own inner emptiness. And if they were good, they could bring out something fundamentally true about life and let people forget it was all just make-believe. Asimo was supposed to be one of the best, a superstar, hailed by critics as a younger incarnation of George Melas, idolised by legions of fans allegedly for his talent, but more likely for his extraordinarily good looks, and favoured by the press for the glamour he brought to parties. In short: he was rubbish.

    Across the office, the famed actor chuckled, locks of shimmering brown hair falling into his face.

    “I hear Starfleet Command is not pleased with your depiction of Archer,” he said, pleased with himself.

    Of course, they wouldn't be. That was the whole point.

    Leaning forward in the creaking fake leather armchair, he continued, “I personally think it's pretty obvious he's gay.”

    A hack piece. That's what it is. That's what he had come up with after all this time. At first, it had seemed like a good idea to do a film about Archer. Malakin vividly remembered the looks of anticipation and excitement on people's faces when he had first spoken of the idea, all of them wondering what a sophisticated writer and director like himself could do with such a subject matter - Archer was a legend, after all – expecting him to shed light on a profound truth about the human condition along the way. But truths were eluding him these days. At times, he would get a glimpse at this clear vision of what Archer and his life were really about but whenever he would try to grab it, it would fade away. Growing ever more desperate because this whole thing was taking so damn long, he eventually fell back on the oldest trick in the book, creating a scandal. So far, it was working well. And if he was lucky, no one would notice how utterly poor and pointless this script was. But he knew.

    When he had been a teenager, Malakin used to frequent Monsieur Chang's Little Cinema, a replica of a cinema of old with cushy red velvet seats situated in the basement of an unremarkable grey building, in which classic films selected by Monsieur Chang himself would be shown. It was here that Malakin discovered the films of neorealismo. Made in the 1940s and 50s, they were two-dimensional, black-and-white and accompanied by a hissing and blaring audio track, all those technical flaws each adding a level of abstraction. Yet they felt so real, so authentic, like something that could happen any day.
    His film wouldn't feel like that, at all. Because it's not true. And all the layers of technical finesse and stunning visuals wouldn't deceive the keen perception of a kid such as he himself used to be. But above all, they wouldn't deceive him.

    Malakin thought of footage he had seen of Archer, already a few grey traces in his hair, standing on a Vulcan mountain and cheerily chatting with T'Pau, seemingly oblivious to her stern, unforgiving glaze. It were always the small things he remembered. What he had written wouldn't do Archer any justice.

    Asimo's voice snapped him out of his thoughts. “I think we should be going. Don't want to keep the producers waiting,” he said, smiling warmly at the distracted looking writer.

    “Of course not.” Malakin replied thinly.

    He knew what would happen once they left the office building. A group of reporters and more or less hysterical fans would swarm around them, shouting unintelligible questions and demands, and surround their hover car, only reluctantly getting out of its way once it threatened to run them over.
    Sure enough, that was what happened. As they passed through the crowd, Malakin looked out of the car window, thoughtfully, unaware that the picture of him taken at that exact moment would later become iconic.

    Somebody please put me out of this misery.
     
  15. Kaziarl

    Kaziarl Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2007
    Location:
    Portland, OR (Kaziarl)
    I would like to put together an E-Book, kind of our own little SNW, with all the previous entries. Of course I would only use the ones that I get permission from, and I would assure you that I'm not interested in selling them. Just a sort of souvenir for all of us here. Let me know if you would be interested.
     
  16. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    Post a new thread on the topic. I'm in!
     
  17. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    [LEFT]May 2009 Writing Challenge

    Inspired by the new Trek movie and by my misguided love for Enterprise, this month's challenge will be to write a story set in the earlier days of Star Trek. In terms of date, your story should take place not later than the first few weeks of the first five year mission (or not long after the events of the new movie if you decide to write in the Abramsverse).
    The Challenge will end at midnight on May 30th CET.

    Apart from that, there are no rules. 100 words or 100.000, alternate Universes or canon obsession, anything goes. :)




    Well...this is experimental in a lot of ways, but I really hope you enjoy it! Be sure to read both versions...[/LEFT]


    Star Trek:

    Sigils and Unions
    Point of Divergence​


    This story takes place on Cardassia Prime five hundred year s before the events depicted in any of my Cardassian tales, during the first few years of the great Cataclysm that devastated the planet’s climate and agriculture. But how shall history tell it? This is your adventure—and your choice will determine what shall be remembered for posterity.


    The great red orb of Verkoun hangs low in the sky of Hebitia Prime—Cardassia, you sharply correct yourself, as you stare at the setting sun through haze-filled air for as long as your eyes can bear. This isn’t long, for the same reflective coating of cells at the back of your retinas that enhances your night vision causes extended exposure to more intense light sources to glare painfully in the eyes and blur the details away. You dip your head, and even as hooked ridges shield your eyes once more from the direct gaze of Verkoun, you still see spots for the first few moments.

    Still, temporary pain aside, this act gives you comfort: Verkoun wasn’t the traitor…this planet was, this world that in your hard-won defiance you call Cardassia. It was almost three years ago to the day, mere months after you first set foot on the planet, when the first eruptions started—a horrific increase in volcanism never fully anticipated by your people’s best scientists. The refugee crisis on continental Hăzăk and its surrounding islands is horrible enough as eruptions have forced the evacuation of ancient cities built dangerously close to known and new-formed volcanoes…but the blow to crop yields around the world has been severe, between the haze and the acid rain. The famines started in Hăzăk…but are now spreading to the rest of the world.

    Now global temperature is on the rise, thanks to increased carbon dioxide and methane hydroxide content in the atmosphere. It doesn’t feel any worse to you—warmth is comfort to your people, whose metabolisms only do so much to maintain temperature, especially when you sleep. But there has been troubling evidence that if this keeps up, the world’s oceanic ecosystems could collapse…and that means a rough future ahead, perhaps even for as long as the Cardassian race lives.

    “I am a Cardassian,” you whisper defiantly to yourself as you focus your attention on your weapon—a projectile rifle you bought in the first few months of crisis. For almost as long as your people’s history records, most nations and tribes called your species something meaning the same thing as Hebitda—those with souls. But you are not an Oralian believer…nor a believer in any other faith, and the blatant assumption inherent in the term ‘Hebitian’...it rubs your scales the wrong way. You were never particularly devout—but the conduct of the clerics during the climactic crisis has destroyed whatever belief you might have had until then. So you, like most followers of Kelor Vetar, former advisor to the Castellan, call yourself Cardăsda instead: a term that derives from the same root used for the word ‘person'—cirdas.

    Right now, you are busy scoping out your target: a small prehistoric cave-dwelling taken over by squatters in recent months. Ordinarily you would never contemplate such an attack…but these are no ordinary squatters: your reconnaissance suggests the refugees to be led by a Guide and the pack that follows her. And they are unarmed…trusting, no doubt, in the difficulty of raising one’s hand to someone in such a woman’s position to defend them.

    “What gives them the right?” you hiss angrily to yourself as you train your binoculars upon them. These, as Vetar has emphasized over and over again, are the very same people who, from the halls of temple and government orchestrated the agonizingly slow, piecemeal response to the crisis now coming to be known as the Cataclysm. And even now, they pontificate at each other in the halls of the legislature on the ethics of compelling the colony worlds to submit to emergency rule—their status as independent states in the Hebitian Legislature revoked, wholly subordinated to the sustenance of the ailing homeworld. And you have every right to say this: you were born on the colony world of Ventani II.

    The majority of the Guides and clerics oppose this measure…but this same weakness, this same diffidence is what let the situation deteriorate so badly in the first place, as far as you’re concerned. And too long they’ve used your people’s instincts to stifle objections, to keep those who opposed their policies and theologies from uniting into a force to be reckoned with. Only when Vetar, through a great act of courage, shattered the loyalties imposed on him both by nature and culture and challenged the administration that had appointed him had the disaffected found a leader to transfer their allegiances to.

    Your party has tried peaceful dissent: Vetar has led protest after protest, yet the Oralian hierarchy retains its grip over the people of the world they still call Hebitia. But you see what even Vetar cannot bring himself to admit: words will not be enough to shatter the status quo. What Cardassia needs is action, bold and swift. You may lack age—you have only twenty-two years to your name—and you may lack status, but you have the vision: you will be the one to deliver the first blow.

    You scramble down from the rocky promontory you’ve used for your reconnaissance. Then you click the safety off of your rifle. The area is isolated enough that you needn’t worry about stealth, but you are cautious nonetheless—disciplined. In this moment, as you stalk closer and closer to the entrance to the rock dwelling that Guide has claimed for herself and her followers, you hear nothing but the pounding of your heart and the burning anger at what the Guides have allowed to happen to Cardassia. Neither animal nor nature, nor even the sound of your footfalls break the silence.

    You freeze just around the corner from the threshold. Not a one of them stirs; they have no idea of your presence.

    Line up and sit down!” you shout as burst into the ancient rock dwelling. There are ten of them—one of you—but you were right: they’re unarmed. The lavender-robed Guide, still wearing her recitation mask, whirls around suddenly, but complies. “Drop everything—hands up where I can see them!

    You have an automatic weapon—more than enough bullets for the entire group.

    Your finger tightens on the trigger.


    The Guide and her followers are at your mercy. This is your moment of decision. What do you do?

    —To shoot her, click the button for Future #1.
    —To spare her life, click the button for Future #2.


    Future #1

    You shake your head at the pathetic sight, coolly squeezing the trigger. The pastel-robed, masked Guide spasms and emits a rattling gasp as death comes to claim her. “You weak fool,” you whisper. “Where is your mythical woman now? Look at where her ‘Fate’ has led you! The only fate is that which we Cardassians—” You spit the name with a twisted grin, and the dying woman can do nothing to shake her head numbly, mutely moving her lips in one last futile attempt to object…to win my ‘soul’, you think with contempt you make no attempt to disguise. “Which we Cardassians reach out and wrest from the grasp of the universe with our bare hands!”

    The Nevotda Guide surrenders her last rasping breath. Her followers stare at you with wide-ringed eyes; even at this distance the fear sparking from their bioelectric fields like from the torch of an arc welder is almost palpable. For just a moment you feel a flash of regret at what you’ve done—even in all the years of Cataclysm, this is the first time you’ve killed a person in cold blood, who never even brandished a weapon at you.

    But then you turn your back…her followers scatter to the arid winds and you claim the space they’ve vacated. They’re helpless without their leader…spineless, undisciplined, weak. Your Cardassian friends will be so proud…for indeed, you have struck a blow for the promise of Cardassia—a world that will never again allow itself to be distracted and manipulated by the purveyors of ethereal wares. Hoping and praying for the situation to get better hasn’t restored the farmlands or put food on the table. These people need focus and direction: and you and your compatriots will step in where the religious authorities have failed to properly tap into it.

    Your name is Tret Akleen, First Son of Cardassia and Father of the Union. And as you get older, your personal charisma only increases—and by the time you’re thirty, you command entire armies large enough to sweep away the remnants of the dying theocracy and usher in your vision of a Cardassian Union: strong, proud, and tightly disciplined beyond the clerics’ wildest dreams. You once despised how they used your people’s innate hierarchical instinct to quash debate on the validity of their doctrines…but once you see the effectiveness of your people once that instinct has turned towards a true, reality-based leadership—you abandon that old principle of yours with hardly a qualm.

    Your army takes its place at the halls of Central Command, and your personal cadre of spies root out the most vocal of the dissenters—and their silent sympathizers one by one. Veiled in the darkness of the night, sharp as flint-arrow spears, they soon acquire the dreaded moniker of ‘Obsidian Order.’ In the end, this ruthless force will be the only group strong enough to stand against the all-consuming will of Central Command. You call it a Union, but the truth is that you stand at the head of an empire.

    For a time after your death, your world will be strong just as you envisioned it—but as the resources of the colonies dwindle, the days of privation revisit Cardassia until your people expand first to worlds claimed by others…and then those inhabited by others. And by now your people act without hesitation, for their schooling and conditioning is unparalleled and they understand the need to seize whatever Cardassia needs, no matter the sentiments of the weak. It is control, pure and absolute. And they seem to think it will last forever…even to the day when one of their own betrays them to a foreign power and nearly leads them to their genocide.

    You know nothing of this future on your dying day, of course. But something seems to have vanished from your people’s eyes under their lean, hungry gaze towards the stars, leaving a hole in your own chest almost as wide as the one in Nevotda Guide’s chest in that cave all those years ago, as you let go of life, old, powerful, feared, and utterly alone. And for one second, unrecorded for posterity, you wonder just how high of a price you and the people of Cardassia have paid—and how much they will continue to pay—for the sake of the resources they so desperately sought after.

    You have founded the Cardassia of the canon and Sigils and Unions universes.

    Future #2

    You shake your head, suddenly lowering your weapon, and trembling progressively more at the thought of what you have nearly done. You curse yourself as you lean back against the cave wall, your hand releasing the gun of its own accord: “You weak fool,” you mutter to yourself. “So much for strength and discipline…you’re just as pathetic as they are.” The instinct you so despise has aroused itself with a vengeance, with the aid of your conscience: that deep drive innate to all of your people, whether you call yourself Hebitian or Cardassian, that gives you your sense of place in society, how and when to lead or follow. And thanks to that damned hierarchical instinct, you could not raise your hand against this Guide, the instant your final reservations about shedding another person’s blood gave it an opening to reassert itself before you could take your defiance of authority—even despised authority—to its final conclusion.

    You feel hunted, trapped within yourself. And part of you fears the next moments will bring about your demise. The Nevotda Guide, however, is not angry: you may be a mere youth in her eyes, and lack any of her authority or standing, but she chooses to assert herself gently in this vulnerable moment. “Please…come sit by me,” she says, removing her recitation mask to reveal a face with warm brown eyes and shapely, prominent, and gently smiling lips. “When was the last time you ate?”

    Resentment flares in your breast at first: she has seen that weakness in you as well. But you numbly comply with her understated command, the strength gone out of you to do much of anything else. What would your Cardassian friends think, to see you in such a state? But you’re hungry, tired…and you really wonder about the rightness of your methods even if your convictions are strong. “I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning,” you admit.

    “We don’t have much,” the pastel-robed Guide tells you, “but we’ll share. Sosot çad mekot-ra edikouv-ra edek,” she warmly adds. And to think you just tried to kill this woman! You’d hardly know it, with the way she has just given you the formal welcome to her ‘table,’ such as it is on this cave floor. “And please…let’s talk.”

    The Guide’s name is Yavenn Pretam, First Guide of Cardassia, as some will call her—some in admiration, and some in disdain, for she makes good on her word and listens to you: the ostracisms of non-believers, the religious rule of the courts, the misuse by some of the religious authorities of the hierarchical instinct to suppress debate on their doctrines…all of these she takes on as her own cause, as she rises in popularity, eventually to the office of Guide to the Castellan.

    Though for this part of your life, your name is never as well-known as Pretam’s, history will remember you by the nickname she bestows on you: Rhirzum Akleen. The rhirzum is a contrary animal known for its venomous defiance of even the largest predators. And though your manner progressively grows less abrupt the longer you know her, Pretam never ceases to accept your constant prodding and challenging. Even though you and Pretam will never see eye-to-eye on beliefs, your relationship becomes one of deep mutual respect. And on the day of her death, it is you she honors with the privilege of çriytal, entrusting her life and her memories to you so that her dreams may live on among the people.

    And Cardassia—which has begun to adopt this new name though the majority never sheds the beliefs that once occasioned the name of Hebitia—will never forget the speech you give the following day, exhorting all of the Cardassian people to pull together in facing the climatological crisis that eighty years later, has shown no signs of abating and is beginning to look permanent, or at least multigenerational in duration. You are a tireless advocate of the colonization of new worlds: rough, uninhabited places that demand much backbreaking work from their new residents, and much patience before your beleaguered homeworld begins to reap the rewards. But you’ve come over time to support Pretam’s prohibition on subordinating the colonies to the will of Cardassia Prime without their fair voice in the legislature: it was hypocrisy, you realized, to decry the abusive application of the hierarchical instinct on the individual yet demand the right to do the same to entire worlds settled by Cardassians.

    In the meantime, Cardassia manages to open trade relations with its neighbors, the Xepolites, Lissepians, and Kobheerians, and that helps to alleviate the immediate problems while the colonies grow in strength. And as you died all those years ago, surrounded by family and friends, believers and non-believers alike, you may not have known the future hardships to come, but a strange assurance came over you that even though the course your world had taken wasn’t what you had envisioned that day in a cave all those years ago—even though your world was still resource-impoverished by the rest of the galaxy’s standards, they were rich in what really mattered.

    You have founded the Cardassia of the Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius universe.


    NB: Please note that the narrator is not an objective historian, but a sharply opinionated individual right in the thick of it. Also, this story predates the Star Trek XI timeline split, and therefore should be assumed true of all Sigils and Unions realities unless stated otherwise.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2009
  18. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    June 2009 Writing Challenge - "A Foreign Perspective"

    "To Simply Exist" by TheLoneRedshirt

    Stardate 53693.3 (10 September 2376)
    Orion space, near the Federation border


    Ondo Karthani slowed his vessel, an old and battered ex-Klingon transport, bringing the sub-light engines to idle and firing braking thrusters. As the ship came to a relative stop, still a few thousand jilats inside Orion space, he gazed across the border at the stars of Federation space. The elderly red Orion rubbed his scarred face with the remaining finger and thumb of his left hand. The other three fingers were lost long ago, removed by an Orion Ahmet who felt that Ondo had failed to show proper deference.

    Ondo had lived his entire life under the thumb of the Syndicate. He was of the Sundija, the “under-people” who made up most of the Orion population. Most citizens of the Federation assumed wrongly that all Orions were either members of the Syndicate or pirates. In fact, those were simply the two extremes of the Orion population. The vast majority of the green and red races lived at the whim of the Syndicate clans, providing food, services and labor for the Syndicate families in the ancient feudal society. Ondo’s family had eked out a meager existence for centuries, tending livestock for the Elix clan. Ondo himself had often been pressed into service for the Elix family, sneaking into Federation space to smuggle illicit goods or, worse, living cargo to the pleasure districts in the Vega and Rigel systems.

    Occasionally on these smuggling trips, Ondo wondered what life in the Federation might be like. Though his exposure was limited (he was in Federation space illegally, after all) he could not help notice how well-fed and healthy the denizens appeared. He found the vast number of different species to be quite overwhelming. On Verex III, he generally only encountered other Orions. Their Syndicate Ahmet’sur, Tranji Elix, had told them that these were simply conquered races that served the Humans, Vulcans and Andorians. He had heard all his life how the Federation was a corrupt and cruel society – their amazing technology stolen from the conquered races.

    Yet Ondo had wondered if this were true. He knew that the Syndicate itself was cruel and corrupt – he bore the physical scars to prove it. Also, if the Federation were intent on conquest, why had they not conquered the Orion homeworlds? Ondo wasn’t quite sure what to believe.

    He turned slightly in the pilot’s seat and glanced back at the sleeping form of his Cahn-cahdoi, his great-grandaughter. As part of his clan-debt to the Elix cartel, the first-born of each Sundija family was given to the Syndicate, either as a fledgling apprentice or as a slave. Fasal was the first daughter of Ondo’s grandson, Naydon. Ahmet Lortho Elix had decided that little Fasal would fetch a good price in the sex-slave market. Naydon had objected. Now Naydon was dead, his head decorating one of the gate spires that led into the Elix compound.

    To appease Ahmet Lortho Elix, Ondo had begged for the life of the rest of his family. Lortho had relented, only after Ondo had agreed to personally deliver Fasal to the Vega system and to one of the slavers with which the Elix clan conducted business. Lortho found the irony amusing. Sickened at the thought, but left with no option, Ondo had agreed.

    The old Orion looked back out at the stars. He remembered the words of his father when his own older brother was led away to live out the rest of his days in service to the Syndicate. His father had said, “It is not for us to live, my son, but to simply exist.” Ondo had not seen his brother since that day, nearly 90 standard years ago.

    Ondo checked the nav-computer. The only way to reach the Vega system was to traverse the badlands. The old Klingon ship had made the run many times, but even its durable construction was showing signs of wear and fatigue. Ondo wasn’t sure the vessel could make it to Vega, much less survive the return journey.

    You could allow yourself to be captured by the Border Guard. The thought crept, unbidden into the forefront of his mind, surprising him. He had been taught that to be caught by the Federation Border fleet was to suffer certain torture and death. In truth, he had never met anyone who had returned from such an encounter. The Ahmet’sur had instilled in him a visceral fear of the Federation.

    I am not afraid to die. This thought, too, surprised the old Orion. He had lived in fear all his life. Fear of the Elix clan, fear of losing family members to slavery or worse, but more recently, he feared living. Echoing his own father, he had once admonished his youngest son for criticizing the Syndicate. When Talhu had argued that their lives could be, should be better and have meaning, Ondo had replied, “Sometimes you just exist.”

    Yet, mere existence had become a waking nightmare for Ondo. Perhaps the Federation Border Guard would torture him. What torture could be worse than delivering your own Cahn-cahdoi into the hands of a slave-master? Might the Border Guards kill him? It would be a relief. There was even a chance that they might treat Fasal well. A life as a servant was better than existing as a sex-slave.

    Better uncertain hope than certain despair. He thought, wanly.

    He tapped in a new course into the nav-comp, and advanced the power settings on the impulse engines. The old vessel vibrated ominously, then settled into its guttural rhythm and moved across the border – not toward the badlands but into open Federation space. He glanced again at the small girl, still sleeping peacefully – curled up on a pallet on the hard deck. She was a beautiful thing, her hair dark as night, her large eyes as green as fire-gems. The old man smiled at the peaceful child.

    Maybe they will simply blow us out of space. She’d never know what happened.

    He activated the ship’s scanners. Nothing appeared in range, though he knew the sensors were limited in range and accuracy.

    I wonder how long I will have to wait?

    The vessel moved deliberately into Federation space at a leisurely .25 c. No sense in being in a hurry, he thought.

    The com-link speaker suddenly crackled to life, startling Ondo.

    “Unidentified vessel, this is the USS Bluefin. You are in violation of Federation space. Please power down your vessel, lower your shields and prepare to be boarded.”

    So soon, he mused. He glanced back again, relieved to see that Fasal was still asleep. He briefly considered making a run for it, inviting the Federation ship to open fire and send them both to the afterlife, but some spark of intuition quelled that action. Hope, perhaps? He could not say. He had never experienced hope.

    Ondo obediently slowed the ship to a stop and waited. He idly wondered if he would feel anything when they opened fire. More likely, they would board the vessel and take him for interrogation and torture. He would plead for Fasal’s life. He was quite adept at groveling – it was as natural as breathing for him. Ondo had managed to stay the hand of the Ahmet’sur on more than one occasion. Of course, he had not always succeeded.

    “Please keep your shields lowered. A boarding party will transport to your ship momentarily. Do not display any weapons and you will not be harmed.”

    Through the obsolete translation matrix, Ondo could tell the voice belonged to a female. That gave him no sense of relief. In his experience, some of the more ruthless Syndicate clan leaders were green Orion women.

    The distinct sound of transporter effect filled the control cabin. Ondo remained seated – not afraid now, merely curious. He was glad that Fasal remained asleep. Perhaps she would never awake.

    Three figures in dark uniforms materialized a few meters away. Ondo’s breath caught in his throat and his eyes widened as he saw the central figure was a very large red Orion male. For a moment, he feared that a Syndicate vessel had found him.

    The uniformed Orion held a phaser carbine, but kept it pointed at the deck. Beside him stood a Human male and a smaller Human female that held some sort of device. The Humans glanced around the control cabin but made no threatening moves.

    The burly Orion glanced down at the sleeping girl before fixing his gaze on Ondo.

    “I am Senior Chief Solly Brin of the Border Cutter, Bluefin. Are you lost, Ahm’suka?” The last word was a term of respect for an old man. Ondo was confused by the gentle tone. He was more accustomed to bluster, threats and ridicule.

    “Do you mock me, Ahmet’?” Ondo asked quietly.

    “Not at all. But I have to wonder how you found yourself in Federation space. Did your navigational computer fail?”

    Ondo fixed his gaze on Solly. “I am here of my own accord, Ahmet. Do with me as you will, but please – take pity on the little one. She would make a fine house servant – she has served the Elix clan well since she could walk.”

    Something dark passed over Solly Brin’s face and for a moment, Ondo was sure he would die. He quickly realized that the Orion Border Guard was not angry at him, however.

    “The Elix clan,” Solly spat, and made a gesture of contempt which elicited a look of surprise from Ondo. Brin’s voice softened. “What is your name?”

    “I am Ondo Karthani, bond-servant of the Elix clan,” he replied.

    To Ondo’s surprise, Solly squatted before him, placing the phaser carbine on the floor. Brin turned to the two Humans.

    “Rice, why don’t you check on the girl – make sure she’s okay. Sandy – do a quick walk-through of the ship.”

    “Sure Senior,” Corpsman Sanders stepped through the hatch while Corpsman Rice ran a medical scanner over the sleeping girl. She smiled at Ondo. “She’s in decent shape, but some food would probably help. She has a severe vitamin deficiency.”

    “That’s something we can handle,” replied Solly, still looking at Ondo. “Tell me, Ondo – why are you here?”

    Ondo was still confused. He had expected harsh treatment, interrogation, abuse – not the gentle, quiet words he was hearing. Perhaps they were trying to keep him off-balance. He glanced suspiciously at the female who ran the scanner over Fasal.

    The old Orion turned his gaze back to Solly. “I am here because of her,” he gestured to Fasal, “my Cahn-cahdoi. I am supposed to take her to the Vega system. I will not do that.” He gave Solly a defiant stare.

    A look of sadness came over Brin’s face. He laid a hand gently on the old man’s bony shoulder. “You think we want to hurt you . . . to enslave her?” it was not really a question.

    Ondo again felt off-balance, but kept up his front of bravery. “Of course,” he said simply. “But if you will kill me and allow Fasal to serve as a house servant instead of a pleasure-slave, you could send my body back to the Elix compound for a bond sum. Please . . .” His voice began to quaver.

    Solly understood. He pushed down the anger and rage he felt toward the Syndicate, particularly toward the Elix family, and spoke quietly.

    “I promise you, on the memory of my father that no harm will come to you or your Cahn-cahdoi. If you wish, you can apply for asylum in the Federation. I will be glad to sponsor you. You’ll both be free – no slavery, no servanthood, none of that. You will have food, clothing, a place to live . . . but you must request it of your own free will. If you don’t you’ll be returned to Orion space.”

    For a moment, Ondo’s mind could not process what he heard. Of all the possible scenarios his mind had created, he had never dreamed of this.

    He searched Solly’s face for any hint of guile and saw none. Finally, Ondo rasped, “I have never had free will before . . . I do not know what to do.”

    Brin swallowed. “Why don’t we go to my ship? We’ll let our doctor check you both out, get you some food, and give you some time to think. Then, we can talk again and you can ask me anything you want. Alright?”

    Ondo continued to stare at Solly, his eyes wide in wonder. Finally, he extended his mangled hand to the Senior Chief.

    “I . . . we will go with you.”

    A small smile formed on Solly’s face and he nodded. He tapped his combadge. “Brin to Bluefin.

    “Bluefin, go ahead Senior Chief,” came the voice of Inga Strauss.

    “Everything is secure here. Suggest we take the ship in tow. Five to beam over.”

    “Acknowledged. Stand by for transport.”

    Ondo hesitated and spoke before the transporter took them. “We’re going to live?”

    Solly nodded. “Yes, Ahm’suka, you are.”

    “I will have to learn how,” replied Ondo, as they disappeared from the old transport.

    * * *
     
  19. PSGarak

    PSGarak Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    Location:
    PSGarak takes candy from babies.
    July Writing Challenge 2009- Co-winner

    Our challenge theme for the month of July is "Major Malfunction."
    The challenge is to write a story where something goes terribly wrong: a ship suffers a major system breakdown, a character suffers a severe physical, emotional, or psychological breakdown, etc. In short - something gets broke! Whether or not it gets fixed is up to you. :devil:

    The rules: (Yada, yada, yada)
    Any Star Trek era is acceptable, whether canon or your own created characters. Word limit is 3000. A link to your entry must be posted in this thread to qualify. Please submit original work only, not a story that has been previously posted.


    His Strongest Weakness


    Enabran Tain sat in his home office, superficially occupied with some minor reports that weren't time sensitive enough to warrant his full attention at the Obsidian Order Headquarters. Less obviously he was waiting for his housekeeper, Mila. At his right hand sat one glass of rokassa juice. Across the desk directly in front of him sat another.


    Although he didn't glance up from the data pads, he was aware of her in the doorway the moment she arrived. Peripheral vision caught everything he needed to see, the way she ever so briefly hesitated at the sight of the rokassa juice, her firm step forward to cover the hesitation, the hand that protectively cupped at her belly beneath her loose shift before dropping back to her side with a small twitch of her fingers. He saw it all and found himself disappointed at her lack of subtlety. To punish her for it, he made her wait until he finished scanning two more reports.


    “Ah, Mila, I didn't hear you come in,” he said with a smile that never reached his dark eyes. “Please, have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.”


    The chair in question was anything but comfortable, lacking a cushion and straight backed, slightly too low, and positioned directly across from Tain. He had seen Guls tremble in that chair, an invitation to Tain's personal office neither honor nor privilege. He had a reputation for viciousness that gave even his superiors pause. Mila perched on the edge with her knees together and her hands folded in her lap. She met his dark gaze with her light one. Whatever hesitation she showed upon arrival was now subsumed behind a mask of calm curiosity.


    Tain took a sip of his rokassa juice and smacked his lips. Still holding the glass, he said, “Perhaps you'd like to drink with me?” He gestured at the glass closest to her.


    “I'm not thirsty at the moment,” she demurred.


    “Suit yourself,” he said, as though it were nothing more than a triviality. Setting his glass aside, he laced his fingers over his flat belly and leaned back in his seat. “How long have you been with me now, Mila? I confess the days escape me.”


    “I very much doubt that,” she said mildly, a brief spark of something defiant in her level blue gaze.


    Who else would I allow even that? Tain wondered. “Indulge me,” he said, his voice smooth and soothing. “How long?”


    “Three years,” she replied, “eleven weeks, and five days to be precise.”


    “In all that time, I don't think I've ever seen you dress in that fashion,” he continued, gesturing at her shift. “Indeed, you've hardly changed at all. Your food is still mediocre, your cleaning services adequate, your discretion impeccable. I'd say were it not for that last, you wouldn't still be here. Do you think that's a fair assessment?”


    “I think you know your own mind,” she replied.


    He dropped all pretense of cordiality. “How long did you think you could keep it from me?” he asked.


    She hesitated. He saw the protest trying to form behind her gaze, then the lie, both in less time than it took for him to draw a complete breath. Wisely, she chose neither course of action. “Until my body betrayed me,” she said, sounding resigned. “I take it you want me to leave.”


    “On the contrary. You're an asset. I never willingly part with assets. I don't want you to leave. I want you to get rid of that,” he said, this time gesturing at the gentle swell of her belly beneath the shift.


    Her gaze dropped from his and settled on the glass of rokassa juice. She swallowed thickly but made no move to reach for it. “Even though it's yours?” she asked in a low voice.


    “Especially because it's mine. Mila, of all people, I didn't think I would have to explain this to you. Make this easy on yourself. Drink the juice. The miscarriage will be painful, but you will live to see another day. I chose a drug that ensures that. Otherwise, more drastic measures will be necessary.”


    He watched her stand slowly and reach for the glass. He was taken off guard by the flood of relief he felt at the sight. The thought that he might actually be attached to this woman was intolerable. She lifted it and turned it so that glass and juice both caught the dim light then suddenly flung it to the floor, sending shards skittering.


    Tain reached her in two strides around the desk and seized her throat in a powerful hand, pinning her wrists with his other. “You idiot woman,” he hissed, so close to her face that he could feel her restricted breath flutter over his lips. “Do you think I'm giving you a choice?”


    “I'm giving...you one,” she gasped and glared at him with bulging eyes. “You want the baby gone...then kill me.”


    He tightened his grip until no more breath escaped. She jerked and shuddered, struggling in earnest. Her tongue protruded wet and pink between rapidly blackening lips. Tain stared deeply into her eyes, the bloom of subconjunctival hemorrhages darkening the whites. His hands began to shake.

    Do it, he thought. You can always find a better housekeeper. Do it! You can't afford this attachment. You're already too close, and you know it. Best to get it done with now!

    Despite his thoughts, his hands mutinied. He flung her backwards. She hit the chair and toppled over sideways, lying on the floor and coughing violently. As she spasmed, he backed up and startled himself by bumping his desk. Never in his life had he allowed himself to back down from what was necessary. Never? the insidious thought came, colored with amused contempt. Be honest with yourself now.

    Growling under his breath, he strode for the door. “Clean up this mess!” he bellowed at the prostrate woman without once glancing back.


    The next several days were tense ones in the Tain household. Neither spoke of the incident in the office, but every time Tain looked at Mila, her blood darkened eyes and bruised neck and wrists silently accused him, not of the assault, but of his failure. He avoided her as much as he could by day. By night he obsessively examined the memory from every angle. Each time he reached the point where his hands began to tremble and then betrayed him, he tried desperately to grasp exactly what impulse caused the breach of willpower.



    It can't possibly be love, he thought, and yet, how would he really know? He had closed himself off so thoroughly to such indulgences, he wondered if he would recognize one that managed to breach his defenses. It was a troubling thought for a man unused to being troubled. Most confounding of all, he could trust no one with his dilemma. His sole confidant was the source of the trouble.


    After another sleepless night, Tain descended the broad, curved staircase leading to his well appointed parlor. Mila swept the floor near the kitchen door close to the base of the steps, keeping her head down. “Why are you still here?” he growled, pausing on the third step from the floor.


    “You haven't sent me away,” she said simply, not looking up.


    He heard, or at least thought he heard, a silent accusation after the response, and you didn't kill me. “Nothing is keeping you here,” he flared. “I don't pay you that well. I don't need you that much. Why don't you just leave?”


    She stopped sweeping and leaned on the broom. Some of the spark of spirit he admired about her flashed in her damaged eyes. “Go where? Do what? I know too much to think for one instant you'd let me waltz out of here free to pursue other employment. If anything, it would just give you an excuse to kill me and feel justified. No. Enabran, if you want me gone, you're going to have to do it yourself, with no excuses and no justification other than what you can come up with on your own.”


    He felt himself grow deadly still. “What did you just call me?”


    Sighing, she leaned the broom against the wall and spread her arms. “I can't do this,” she said. “I'm pregnant. It's stressful enough without our playing these games. If you don't know how I feel about you by now, it has to be because you don't want to know. Precious little escapes your famous attention. I'm carrying your child. Decide what you want to do about it and stick to it. You owe me that much.”


    The trembling returned. He tucked his hands behind his back and clenched them into tight fists. She was right about one thing. He had to decide. I'm carrying your child. Family, the one thing those deep within the Order could never afford, was nevertheless a strong temptation. If he gave into this weakness, he wouldn't be the first of the Order to do so in secret, but oh, the costs if he was discovered! It could bring down everything he had worked his whole life to achieve, expose the secrets from his carefully obscured past, and destroy any chance he had of ascending to head the Order, unless....



    I could raise the child as my replacement, give it all of the advantages I never had, make it into what I could only hope to be. Yes, he thought, seizing upon this idea like a drowning man to floating wreckage. Sentiment already has me. I'm lost, but I could spare that child all of this. I could create the perfect operative, a fitting heir, an empty vessel filled with nothing but loyalty to Cardassia and the will to do anything necessary to protect it.

    He realized the truth of it as he looked at the woman confronting him more bravely than most with years of training could manage. He couldn't kill her that night because he loved her. His body knew it before his impressive intellect, a fact that was damning, crushing, and strangely freeing all at once. Nothing would ever be the same. He dropped his arms to his sides and descended the remaining three steps, still towering over Mila at floor level. “You know when it's born, it can't stay here,” he said, pausing and adding, “and neither can you. Cardassians can never know a child of Enabran Tain walks among them.”


    She reached a hand up, lightly brushing her fingertips across the ridge of his jaw. “They'll never learn it from me,” she said, letting her hand drop back to her side. “Now, will you be wanting fish juice this morning?”


    “Did you make it?” Tain asked.


    “No,” she said. “I bought it at the market yesterday.”


    “Then yes,” he said. “I do want fish juice.” Things were far from normal, far from routine, and yet life went on. Wasn't that the Cardassian way?
     
  20. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    July 2009 Writing Challenge Co-Winner (Irony of ironies...it was the "Major Malfunction" challenge where even the runoff couldn't decide a winner!)


    “A Stone’s Throw Away”





    Author’s Note: As some of you may already know, the character of Tayben Berat actually originates in Lois Tilton’s novel, Betrayal, which comes from back in the day of the numbered novel. Known there only as Glinn Berat, he suffered tremendously—and what we see there is a hunted, haunted, desperate and terrified young man that may seem to some readers to be a far cry from the strong, confident Gul Tayben Berat depicted in Sigils and Unions. This, then, represents my first chance to bridge the gap. (Please also note, Sigils and Unions readers, that this story takes place three years before Volan III. Therefore, if you see anything that seems as though it should be impossible for Berat—it’s not, not now.)

    Special thanks go to SLWatson, who did a wonderful fanart of Berat that inspired what I’m about to share with you. I’ll post that at the end of the thread.

    If you want to read a summary of the events Glinn Berat is remembering, please visit this link; you may find it helpful. Just beware: spoilers for Betrayal abound.

    PS: Not counting this author’s note, I'm under the limit by 49 words.



    2369—Two weeks after the end of the Fist of Revenge coup

    The moon shone silver over the city of Lakat, reflecting the light of the hidden star, Verkoun. This same light was reflected in turn by the eyes of the few people who were out now, less than an hour before curfew. A human walking along these city streets this late at night would have found them barely navigable, for the street lights shone up from the sidewalks at a level barely greater than that of the starlight above—but to a Cardassian, whose retinas had a reflective coating something like a cat might possess, this was just enough.

    Not very many people were about at this hour, and those who were generally resided in the immediate vicinity, for the curfew had been an unassailable fact of life for the past five hundred years. It existed for the good of Cardassia, of course…except for those who had a very solid reason—and usually a permit, those who felt the need to venture out when decent men and women slept generally did so for less than savory purposes. Therefore for the average citizen, the right to amble about at all hours of the night was a small point to yield for the comfort of knowing one need not fear the kinds of threats to property and security people on other, less civilized planets had to contend with.

    Given that fact, those who caught sight of Tayben Berat making his way across the Dra’amek Footbridge would have turned for a second look—he wasn’t one of the locals, at least not to this sector, and that meant he might risk a very long, unpleasant interrogation in the headquarters of the street patrol if he overstayed. No one would have ever guessed, to look at this thin, haunted, pale-eyed young man, that he was in fact a glinn in the Cardassian Guard...a man who ranked high enough to be just one step away from command.

    He wore a long, black overcoat that came up almost to the highest point of his neck ridges, drawing himself into it with an almost convulsive shiver. A steady breeze blew over the footbridge and through to the streets on the other side…and he’d already been out walking long enough that the wind had begun to perturb his carefully-arranged, state-regulation hair, blowing another strand out of place every time he took a step. It also chilled him right down to the very core of his body. Yes, it may have been 25 degrees Celsius, according to Federation reckoning, but for a Cardassian that was jacket weather.

    Especially a Cardassian who had only just started to gain back all the weight he’d lost from a month of malnutrition. He wasn’t all skin and ridges anymore, at least…but he still had some distance to go before he could be considered truly healthy again. Before the chaos of that week on Deep Space Nine, he had spent a month aboard the Ghedrakbre being beaten, overworked, and half-starved under the calculating eye of Gul Marak and the lean, vicious pack of hounds he kept aboard his ship. Before that, it had been two weeks in the lightless, hopeless hell of a Central Command prison, wondering when his trial and execution were scheduled.



    Hands grabbed roughly at his arms, trying, it seemed to wrench his shoulders out of their sockets.

    So, traitor, would you like to see the light again?

    He could see nothing. The neural blockers they administered every morning and every night made sure of that: there might be light a thousand times brighter than the sun flooding his cell now and his open eyes would never see it. Still, he remained silent at first.

    A steel-tipped boot connected just below his ribcage, knocking the wind out of him. The voice spoke again, harsher this time, an interrogative for which it was clear this time there could be only one answer permitted.

    I said, ‘Glinn’ Traitor, would you like to see the light again?

    He would be dead soon, he knew. What did it matter, this close to his end, to obey?

    Yes, I would, Berat hollowly replied, fixing his blinded eyes as well as he could on the source of his torment.

    Take him! snapped the lead guard to his subordinates. You know where to go. Once you get there, give him the reactivation shot…make sure he sees everything. Don’t let him miss even a second!

    With pleasure, dalin.

    Berat’s heart sunk down to the soles of his feet. He wasn’t entirely sure what they were planning to do, but a bitter, malevolent part of him whispered within the darkened milieu of his mind that it knew.

    I should have said ‘no’…!



    For just a moment, Berat leaned on the railing and pondered the river below, which bisected the city of Lakat. The Dra’amek footbridge was an ancient stone structure that predated the Cardassian Union, stretching from bank to distant bank of the Great Iyven River. Though sparing and contemplative in its architecture not unlike the austere architecture of modern day, the stone archways harkened back to a time before the Cataclysm, subtly depicting images of flora and fauna that no longer existed—images only visible if the sun or moon happened to reflect on the structure of the bridge just the right way. Seeming to sprout from each support pylon were three globe lights mounted like candles on a candelabra, made of orbs of twisted glass surrounded by six bands of iron tracing longitudinal lines across their surface.

    Fog rose around the bridge from the Great Iyven as the cooled nighttime air collided with the water, which still held remnants of the warmth of the day, creating an eerie fluorescent miasma between bridge and river as starlight and artificial light blended into one. Enshrouded thus, Berat felt very much like a wraith among the living. And two weeks ago, he thought grimly to himself, I might well have hurled myself into the river.

    He felt no such urge now, no matter how disconnected he felt, how far removed from everything and everyone he had ever known or cared about, even in the familiar surroundings of his home city. He no longer burned with the terror-fueled desperation that had kept him alive at first and then, like antimatter whose magnetic bottle had degraded to its critical threshold, had begun to leach out and corrode him from within until there had hardly been anything left but the cry of the captive animal within him—uprooted, degraded, surrounded, and caged.

    And every time he managed to break free, he had simply transferred from cage…to cage…to cage…until the Starfleet security officers burst in with the threat of Marak’s carrion-rippers not far behind them—and there had been no choice, it seemed, no choice but capture or death by his own hand, a death far better than the slow, pinprick bleeding of the life to which Marak and his cronies had condemned him. He had turned his weapon on himself then, and that it converged with the Starfleet officer’s stun beam as it did…

    I shouldn’t be alive, he thought. I shouldn’t be so close to healed. But he was…at least in body. And a softspoken voice within him acknowledged that on the most fundamental level, he was grateful that his heart still beat within him. And the memories of three faces, their eyes filled with kindness, floated to the surface: the Siskos—father and son, and the engineer, Chief O’Brien…for just a moment, his lake-blue eyes lit with their customary spark, and he smiled.

    But that smile quickly faded. Filling the vacuum left by the dissolution of his terror, remembering how to live again…that was a different matter entirely. That was why Gul Dukat had arranged for him to take a one-month leave of absence before assuming his next post, as chief engineer of the Vrokind, a Gălor-class cruiser whose own engineer was being promoted, and the man who ordinarily would have taken her place had been executed in the purge.

    Something had struck a false note in Berat about the boastingly magnanimous manner in which Dukat had proclaimed his new assignment, and his temporary reprieve—but he hadn’t been in any position to argue, and accepted anyway. For it wasn’t just his body that needed time to recover—and the neurostabilizer sessions he still endured daily, and probably would for the next two weeks if he maintained his current rate of progress, were going a long way towards that.

    There was somewhere he had to go, something he had to do, if he were to ever have any hope of finding some sort of peace. Time was short. He resumed his progress across the Dra’amek footbridge, two questions scrolling in a continuous marquee through his mind.

    How do you make peace with those who are dead and gone?

    How do you make restitution for that which can never be undone?

    Each leaden pace, once he set foot upon the opposite bank of the Iyven, was a progressively more daunting act of will. One more step forward…one more…one more…

    And then he was through the iron gates.

    The elliptical courtyard of the Memorial Square gaped wide before him, surrounded by the foreboding hulks of bespired government buildings, the lights in their windows still burning as a reminder to the populace that the forces of governance never slept. There might be far less activity here now, but never, never were they dormant. At least now, they were—insofar as one dared to presume—predictable now that the bloody unrest of the coup had subsided.

    But as his eyes locked upon Akleen’s Obelisk—a tall, thin structure topped by the Union sigil that reached like singleminded purpose towards the stars…oh, the raging cries like sonic waves through the crowd, which pulsed and undulated as one, united in one bloody purpose…



    The hastily-erected gallows flanked the Obelisk in a grotesque parody...and the ghastly sight—it had burned irrevocably into the very structures of his brain.

    His grandmother, his mother, his aunts, and sister…they were already dead, theirs the relatively cleaner, and far less public death granted to those who associated with traitors as opposed to those who were themselves traitors.

    The Union was not the Union. Its guardians were not guardians. Everything was twisted now…how else could they have erred so drastically? He had signed the denunciation, of course—they had forced him to it, and however grudgingly, he had done it…surely everyone would know, once order was restored, that this had been a perversion of justice. They were just words, just words…!

    Yes, his uncle Halav had been on the Detapa Council when they had demanded the withdrawal from the Bajoran sector—but how could Halav, or anyone else, have known about the wormhole? It was Dukat who should have known, Dukat and Kell both…they should have been the ones dangling from the noose, not his brothers Mesak and Varec, and Uncle Halav and Uncle Garuj…

    And not Father!

    Never him, that magnanimous soul!

    He could not shed a tear in the natural way: one tear and they took the life that no longer belonged to him. Three days it had been—three days of his kin hanging meters above the ground from steel cables. And the soldiers wouldn’t even allow him to collapse from exhaustion: one sign of fainting and they pumped him full of the same stimulants they did the condemned men on the gallows. Every second—indeed, they had meant every second. Watch! they commanded every second his eyes tried to seek refuge elsewhere, grabbing a fistful of his hair and wrenching his head around violently back to the gallows. Never forget! Never forget!

    And indeed…he would never forget.

    They struggled only weakly now despite the chemicals coursing through their systems, but they were strong men and they still would not surrender, would not die…!

    Acid rain began to pelt the crowd of sanctioned savages, itching wherever it crept between Berat’s microscales. And like a twisted version of the signs the Hebitian believers had spoken of, the executioners took nature’s shift as a signal to let the stoning begin. Soldiers materialized around the edges of the crowd and issued jagged rocks to the gathered crowd like rations to the famished.

    And indeed…all except for one, they were indeed hungry—not for the force of life, but for death…

    The chief guard grinned rapaciously, and thrust a particularly brutal-looking stone into the terrified young man’s hand. Its weight pressed down upon Berat’s hand like a mass of neutronium. For several seconds, Tayben Berat just stared at it, his eye ridges gone wide with frozen horror.

    Cast it!

    His plea welled up voicelessly from the very depths of his heart.

    No! ‘No son shall bring harm to his father…!’

    A lot of care he showed for his children when he sold the wormhole to the Bajorans—if you’d meant anything to him, he would never have betrayed Cardassia.

    Berat’s eyes darted around desperately, looking for any alternative, anything. YOU throw it! At least then it wouldn’t be him, at least then he wouldn’t have to carry this into the bowels of the Ghedrakbre for his final mission...!

    The guard leered hungrily. You’re not soft on traitors, are you?

    Everything in him went blank. White. The crowd screaming…

    He tensed…drew back...

    Snap—like a catapult…

    It sailed wide. His aim had been true.

    And that was the only part of him that had been. Acid rose to the top of his throat…he was going to throw up—he dared not throw up—he wanted to cry—he was choking—screaming at the top of his terrified inner voice: no—no—no, no, nonononoNONONO…!

    WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

    And burning raindrops drummed relentlessly as they fell from an iron sky.



    Silence reigned now—silence and picture-perfect memory. Glinn Berat shivered violently now, pulled his overcoat around himself like a toddler seizing at a blanket. He still could not kneel in this place, could not weep as was natural for a Cardassian man at the violent loss of kin, for even though the true government had been restored, he still dared not draw that sort of attention to himself, and something in him…had to survive, no matter how badly it hurt.

    How do you make peace with those who are dead and gone?

    How do you make restitution for that which can never be undone?

    He could never voice it lest the denizens of the offices that surrounded him condemn him once more for a traitor, but he envied few living believers their certainty. She would have known what to do then, what to say, even if only with the voice of her mind, how to atone. As for him…he had nothing but memory.

    Father… His silent voice shook tremulously like a child’s. There was no way he would ever be heard, he thought—and yet the words came anyway as he stared hollowly at the Obelisk. I failed horribly in my duty as your son…failed in the worst way possible. Did you know then? If you did…I would understand if you went to your grave despising me. I can say they made me, but I did it, I cast that stone! I don’t know how, I don’t know what went so wrong in me… I love you—I never meant it—I never meant it…!

    Forgive me!!!

    The scene before his mind’s eye shifted with no conscious volition to a place so incongruous with this horror, so unexpected…he was seven years old and he stood in the entryway to his family’s house. His father was just coming home from work, and Mother had commanded him to wait at the door for that dread moment when he would deliver his punishment in person for what he had done. Tayben had broken one of Mother’s heirlooms, recklessly disregarded the rules of the house, and above all, willfully disobeyed his parents in the act. He was guilty. He deserved his sentence and he knew it.

    He hung his head in shame as Father stepped through the threshold and immediately began the expected, stern sermon on filial duty and the terrible penalties that awaited those who did not answer to normal instinct and still disobeyed despite rules and breeding…

    But then, after it was all over, Father had knelt down and pulled Tayben into his embrace.

    I know you. I love you. You can be better; you are my son and I have every trust in that. Just go forward…and do it.

    Glinn Tayben Berat had had enough of this place and the dreadful, sickening pall it cast over his heart and mind. He turned his back and left, his pace brisk and purposeful now, for he had only thirty minutes to get back across the bridge and back to the boardinghouse where he was staying. He wanted to laugh, wail, prostrate himself, and leap in the air all at once; there was no rhyme or reason in what he felt now. There were answers, there were hints of peace to come…but for now, all he could do was keep his eyes to the ground just ahead of him and put one foot in front of the other until one day he could look up to find himself in a different place.

    How do you make peace with those who are dead and gone?

    How do you make restitution for that which can never be undone?

    What have I done?!

    I know you. I love you. You can be better; you are my son and I have every trust in that. Just go forward…and do it.




    The giftart drawn by SLWatson, that inspired this story:

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