Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

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

  1. Elias Vaughn

    Elias Vaughn Captain Captain

    August 2009 Challenge Winning Entry - There Can Be Only One

    Kang's Summit

    2371

    General Martok, head of the aptly named House of Martok, reveled in the hunt. He stood still, listening to the sounds of the forest, focusing every one of his senses on the goal.

    Leaves rustled in the gentle night breeze.

    Nearby, Martok could hear the buzzing of a glob fly and the babbling of a small brook.

    Nothing else.

    Martok muttered a few select curses under his breath, making sure his voice was low enough that only he could hear them.

    The trip to Kang's Summit had cost Martok a veritable Ferengi's ransom in favors. Time away from his duties on board the Hij'Qa. Promises to Lady Sirella, Martok's bride, that his next rare leave would be spent romancing her. Convincing the caretaker of the summit that there were more than enough Sabre bears to warrant a week's worth of hunting by a lone Klingon warrior.

    That last favor had hurt the most. It had cost Martok a rare vintage bottle of bloodwine, one of the last from a well-known winery on Praxis before its destruction. Martok had been looking forward to finally opening it on the day Sirella's mother took her voyage on the Barge of the Dead.

    However, the opportunity to hunt Sabre bear was far too good to pass up. It would be worth the bloodwine, the loss of training time, and enduring Sirella's...

    Enduring Sirella.

    Martok twisted, reversing direction as he closed his eyes and listened intently into the murky darkness of Kang's Summit. He ignored the brook, the leaves, and everything else that wasn't what he planned to insert his d'k tahg into, repeatedly if at all possible.

    Nothing.

    Martok sighed in frustration, opening his eyes and preparing to mutter another curse, when he heard it.

    This time, the rustling of leaves wasn't due to the wind. Something large was lumbering through the forest. Martok knew that the only beasts on this part of the planet large enough to create such a ruckus in the comparatively quiet forest was his intended prey.

    Martok drew his d'k tahg, although he didn't extend the secondary blades for fear of scaring off the creature. Not that scaring off a Sabre bear was a large concern; the large predatory beast would be far more likely to attack the source of a random noise in animalistic rage than it would be to retreat. It was one of the many reasons that Sabre bears were so prized as game, and hunted to near extinction.

    Martok willed his beating heart to slow, lessening the pounding in his ears as he tried to pinpoint the beast's exact location. A few seconds later, Martok heard the telltale crunch of a dry twig snapping under the animal's paw.

    South from here. Upwind.

    Martok crept slowly through the foliage, gently pushing branches out of his way, making his way toward his prey. In the moonlight ahead, Martok saw the silhouette of the Sabre bear lumbering toward a clearing. Martok didn't have to check his map to know where the beast was heading; there was a small pool of water fed by the creek, and the bear obviously wished to quench its late night thirst.

    This would be its final drink.

    A bush separated Martok from the clearing and his prey. He crouched behind it silently, holding his breath as he watched the silhouette of the Sabre bear lean down for a drink.

    It was a magnificent creature. The Sabre bear towered nearly three heads above Martok, and was probably triple the general's body weight. The bear's arms were nearly as thick as Martok's torso, and a bony protrusion resembling a straight blade extended from each of the beast's forearms.

    A magnificent creature, and worthy prey.

    Martok burst from the bush, brandishing his d'k tahg and roaring mightily. He was halfway to the pool of water when he stopped in his tracks.

    The Sabre bear was gone.

    A lifetime of training prevented Martok from verbalizing his surprise and perhaps betraying his position, never mind the fact that he had already roared at the top of his lungs barely a handful of seconds before. Martok looked to the right, and then to the left.

    Something the size of a Sabre bear couldn't just disappear. Martok's senses were all honed for the hunt; had the bear left, there was no way Martok could have missed it. It was... unthinkable, to say the very least.

    He could hear Sirella's laughter echoing mockingly through his skull, and swore to himself that he would never tell her.

    "Martok."

    The voice, seemingly from out of nowhere, startled Martok, and he cursed himself yet again for his lack of attention to his surroundings. Martok simultaneously backed away from the sound of the voice and twisted his body to face the source of it, gripping his d'k tahg even tighter.

    He then came a hair's breadth from dropping it in surprise.

    No amount of hunter's training could have prepared Martok for the shock of turning around only to face himself.

    The other Martok grinned, baring his teeth in the traditional Klingon greeting.

    "What the devil?" Martok cursed himself yet again. When faced with a foe, a Klingon warrior never betrayed surprise. Any sign of weakness could potentially lose a battle before it even began.

    Martok's twin, however, seemed utterly uninterested in Martok's surprise. The other's eyes were fixed on Martok's d'k tahg. Curiously, the other Martok unsheathed his own d'k tahg, comparing it to Martok's.

    Martok found himself just as curious. The impostor's d'k tahg was identical to Martok's own, so far as he could tell from several feet away in the darkness. The shape of the blade, traditionally unique to each weapon's crafter, matched Martok's perfectly. Martok even thought he could make out a copy of his family's crest on the hilt.

    After a moment, the impostor returned his gaze to Martok himself, staring the general in the eye. "Martok."

    Martok harrumphed, despite himself. "Is that supposed to be a greeting or an introduction?"

    The impostor cocked his head to the side, in a manner more evocative of a Vulcan's inquisitive stare than any stance Martok himself might take. He briefly wondered if he should correct his twin's stance, but decided against. This was a sign of weakness, and Martok knew that correcting an enemy's weakness would lead only to folly.

    Another few moments, and the impostor spoke again. "General Martok. IKS Hij'Qa. House of Martok."

    Martok laughed now, the absurdity of it all finally getting to him. "Friend, anyone can read my official biography on the Imperial Comnet. If you're planning to impersonate me for some reason, you'll-"

    "Wife, Sirella. You demanded marriage from her the night you earned your commission to general. She accepted seven months later. Son, Drex. Conceived on the eve of the Kot'baval Festival while you and Sirella were compromised by your first sips of Romulan ale."

    These were things not on Martok's official biography. As far as the general knew, no one outside of Sirella herself knew these things about their courtship. Martok grinned, baring his own teeth. "Sirella. Of course. She hired you to fool me, to play games with my mind. Less direct than she usually-"

    Martok's words were drowned out by the impostor's roar, startlingly similar to Martok's own from a few moments ago. The impostor swiped at Martok with his d'k tahg, giving the general merely a fraction of a second to jump back to avoid the blade.

    Martok's eyes only now widened in surprise as his other advanced on him. Martok, never one to shy away from a fight, grinned. Defeating himself in combat was a far worthier challenge than hunting a non sentient Sabre bear. Songs would be sung about this day.

    Martok returned the impostor's swipe with a slice from his own d'k tahg, but his foe leapt backward, mirroring Martok's own dodge. However, Martok pressed the attack, advancing on the impostor and alternating between swipes and thrusts with his blade, hoping to catch his opponent off guard.

    However, the other Martok seemed to move with a preternatural agility and speed, able to avoid attacks that Martok knew he himself would have fallen before. Martok's eyes narrowed in suspicion, but there was no time for interrogation in the heat of battle.

    After a particularly savage swing of Martok's d'k tahg, the impostor twisted to the side, ending on Martok's left and grabbing the wrist holding the d'k tahg. It was a simple maneuver to counter, requiring only that Martok also twist his own body away from his foe, wrenching his arm free and following with a downward thrust of his dagger. The added speed and momentum from the maneuver would likely allow Martok to plunge his blade into the impostor's ridged forehead.

    However, despite the perfectly executed maneuver, Martok's twin stood fast, gripping Martok's wrist like a duranium vise. The impostor tightened his grip, and Martok lost enough feeling in his hand that the dagger fell to the ground. With his other hand, the impostor grabbed Martok's throat, lifting the general a good foot above his dropped dagger.

    Martok struggled valiantly, attempting to force the hand off his throat, and kicking at his twin's legs and lower torso, but to no avail.The impostor grinned once more, and for the first time during the encounter, Martok wondered if he'd ever see Sirella again.

    The impostor threw Martok, as easily as if he'd been a mere baby targ. Martok flew through the air, grunting in pain when he slammed against a thick tree trunk at the edge of the clearing. Martok slumped to the ground as the impostor advanced.

    "I had thought that a Klingon warrior would put up more of a fight," Martok's twin said, mockingly, as he walked casually toward the fallen hunter.

    The impostor's voice, combined with the sudden flow of blood to his muscles, spurred Martok to rise. He roared once more, and his impostor's eyes widened in surprise. Martok leapt toward his foe, fists at the ready. Two quick jabs landed perfectly on the impostor's midsection, followed by a mighty uppercut into the enemy's chin. Martok's foe, however, didn't seem in any way injured by this attack. On the contrary; as Martok's fists found their target, his impostor seemed more bewildered than anything else. However, the impostor didn't fight back, instead allowing Martok to unleash wave after wave of Klingon martial fury onto him.

    Martok was only one Klingon, however, and exhaustion soon began to set in. Martok's punches and kicks, while still more powerful than most, began to slow and weaken in power. The impostor, presumably tiring of humoring Martok, caught one of the general's punches in the palm of his hand. The impostor used Martok's own momentum to flip the general over his head, tossing him several yards. Martok might have slipped into unconsciousness as he landed, had his head not fallen halfway into the pool of water.

    "Are you quite done?" the impostor asked, sounding almost bored.

    Martok rose, spitting out the half mouthful of water that had somehow found its way into his mouth. He rose to his feet shakily, but his eyes betrayed none of the weakness his body was now feeling. He gazed defiantly at his impostor. "A Klingon warrior does not give up so easily. Perhaps you should have busied yourself learning that lesson, instead of wasting your time on the minutia of my own life."

    "Easily? Look at you. Bruised and bloodied, and still you don't give in." The impostor snorted. "In a way, I suppose you're much like the Jem'Hadar. Defiant, powerful, unwilling to surrender even when it's plainly obvious that it would be in your best interest."

    Martok's eyes widened in sudden understanding. "Jem'Hadar. You're from that empire in the Gamma Quadrant." Martok, in his role as general in the Klingon Defense Force, had long been privy to intelligence briefings about each of the major Alpha Quadrant powers. The recent references to the Dominion, a considerable power in the Gamma Quadrant, had especially caught Martok's eye.

    The impostor glowered. "You weren't supposed to know that, but in the end, I suppose it doesn't matter. I should probably just kill you now, but... I think some of the Jem'Hadar might enjoy pitting themselves against a warrior who was able to hold their own in battle against one of the Founders of the Dominion."

    "Founders? What are-"

    However Martok was going to finish that sentence, he suddenly found he could not. The impostor raised his arms, and before Martok's eyes, they transformed into a pair of shimmering amber tentacles. Martok found himself at a loss for words. He reflexively backed away, but he was too slow.

    The impostor - the Founder - whipped his arms downward. The amber tentacles extended in length, crossing the gap between Martok and his impostor. Martok opened his mouth to speak, to demand further explanation, but one of the tentacles forced its way into his mouth and down his throat. The tentacle seemed to melt into some sort of viscous fluid as it forced its way into his body, filling each of his airways and preventing Martok from catching his breath. Meanwhile, the second tentacle wrapped itself around Martok's body, forcing him to his knees and preventing any hope of escape.

    Martok's impostor cocked his head to the side, and his entire body transformed into a mass of amber goo, matching the tentacles that kept Martok helpless. The mass of goo further transformed into a pale, smooth-faced humanoid. Martok thought he recognized the species from another intelligence briefing, but he was too focused on staying conscious to place the features.

    The dark night was starting to blacken even more, and Martok knew he wasn't long for this world. As he finally began to slip into sweet oblivion, Martok briefly wondered whether he'd be going to Sto-vo-kor, of if he'd find himself on the Barge of the Dead, destined for Gre'thor.

    Martok's second to last waking thought was of Sirella.

    Martok's last waking thought was of how happy he was that she would never know that.


    *****


    "Wake, Klingon."

    Martok sputtered as he was splashed with an urn full of tepid water. He shot upward into a sitting position, staring up at his apparent tormentor.

    A green, reptilian humanoid stared down at Martok with disdain. Martok rose slowly, noting as he did so that he lacked his d'k tahg.

    "Welcome to Internment Camp 371. You will, of course, be spending the rest of your natural life here."

    "Of course," Martok muttered sardonically as he took in his surroundings. Nothing here was familiar - the coloring, the architecture, it was all very different than that used by any race Martok was familiar with.

    The reptilians, however, he recognized from his intelligence briefings as the Jem'Hadar, which spoke volumes about where Martok was now.

    The Gamma Quadrant.

    Over seventy thousand light years from Qo'noS.

    A prisoner.

    Martok cursed his luck. A Klingon warrior was supposed to die before being taken prisoner. There was no greater humiliation.

    "You will fight."

    The Jem'Hadar who'd spoken gestured toward a small fighting ring set up in the middle of the room. Martok apparently waited too long in responding, as the Jem'Hadar guard roughly pushed him toward the ring. Martok took a position on one side, flexing his muscles and fighting to overcome the lingering effects of his recent unconsciousness, while the Jem'Hadar readied himself on the other.

    "I am First Ikat'ika. I have never been defeated in single combat. I would not blame you if you chose to surrender immediately."

    Martok grinned ferally. "Then, my friend, you do not know Klingons."

    No, Martok would not die this day. The briefings from the Federation described the Dominion as a formidable power in the Gamma Quadrant, a force perhaps even mightier than the entirety of the Klingon Empire itself. He would fight, learning all about the Dominion and these Jem'Hadar. He would escape, and he would teach his fellow Klingons how to defeat the Dominion army in combat.

    The Klingon Empire would know the glory of conquering the Dominion, and Martok would earn his rightful place in Sto-vo-kor.

    It was a good day to die.
     
  2. PSGarak

    PSGarak Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    Location:
    PSGarak takes candy from babies.
    September 2009 Challenge-A Mystery Tale Winning Entry

    The Hound of the Baskervilles?

    [LEFT](Note that the basic plot outline, the characters and certain dialogue at the beginning of the holosuite program come from the serialized crime novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.)

    Dr. Julian Bashir admired his reflection in Garak's shop mirror. The tailor had outdone himself with the Sherlock Holmes costume. Bashir felt like Holmes as he put an empty calabash pipe into his mouth and gave a playful puff. “Elementary, my dear Watson,” he said, turning to the Cardassian attired as Dr. Watson.


    Garak let out a small put upon sigh and called into the dressing room, “Chief, are you dressed yet? I'm not entirely certain how much longer I can wait.”


    “Just give me a minute,” Chief O'Brien's gruff voice called back to him, sounding annoyed.


    Bashir rolled his eyes. “You'd think I asked the two of you to attend a Klingon opera holoprogram,” he said. “This is supposed to be fun, remember? Besides, Garak, I think this will give you a much better appreciation of Earth mystery novels.”


    O'Brien shoved the red curtain aside and stalked out, digging the fingers of both hands under the high stock collar of his costume. “Bloody uncomfortable is what it is,” he groused. “How'm I supposed to breathe?”


    “You'll get used to it,” Bashir said, already regretting asking both of them to participate together. The Chief's dislike of Cardassians combined with Garak's haughty disregard of his favorite mystery novels was making him feel defensive, not the best frame of mind for enjoying a good mystery. He hoped that both of them would settle into it once they reached the holosuite and they could see how detailed the program was.


    He enjoyed the looks they got in Quark's, knowing that he cut a dashing figure in the houndstooth cape and hat. If Garak and the Chief hadn't been acting like leashed cats in his wake, he might've suggested they have a couple of drinks at the bar before starting the program. Instead, he sent O'Brien, playing the role of the young Sir Henry, in ahead of them, telling him they'd meet up with him later.


    “Now remember, Garak, we'll want to pay attention to all the clues, even things that may seem innocuous. You didn't read the book ahead of time, did you?” he asked.


    Garak held up both hands. “Doctor, believe me, the furthest thing from my mind was reading another of these Holmes books of yours.”


    Bashir pressed his lips together in a frown. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered with the infuriating Cardassian. He had to admit it was likely for the challenge of it. So few people truly managed to challenge his intellect. “All right, then. Let's go,” he said, sweeping one shoulder of the cape back with a flourish. He was going to enjoy himself in spite of his companions.


    The doors swept open, and the two stepped through. When the doors shut behind them, they shut out the noise and lights of Quark's Bar and encased them in a late morning scene of a Victorian era sitting room. A cheery fire burned in a grate, and a breakfast table was set with a silver coffee pot and service. Bashir took off his coat and hat, hanging them on pegs near the door, and then took a seat at the breakfast table with his back to Garak. “You'll find a walking stick by the hearth,” he told the Cardassian. “What do you make of it? Tell me of the man who left it, since we have missed his visit.” He knew it wasn't an exact quote, but he also knew Garak needed to be coaxed into this. Being verbose wouldn't help.


    Garak obliged and picked up the thick stick, reading the inscription on its silver band aloud, “To James Mortimer, M.R.C.S., from his friends of the C.C.H. 1884. Our visitor is named James Mortimer,” Garak said, feigning shock. “Who would've imagined?” He hefted the stick in both gray hands and eyed it critically. “He doesn't care well for his things. This stick is just five years old and looks as though it's at least three times that. He has allowed some sort of animal to chew on it. He walks in mud. Really, D—Holmes,” he corrected himself, “he can't be all that old and is very absent minded. I'm sorry I can't tell you a thing about the abbreviations as I don't have the proper cultural references.”


    Bashir scowled. He was playing Holmes, not Garak! With difficulty, he asked, “Why do you think he's young and absent minded?”


    Garak tutted and shook his head. “Because an old man who actually needed this stick would never leave it behind, and only an absent minded individual loses track of a nice gift.”


    The doctor sighed inwardly. This wasn't turning out nearly as fun as he hoped it would be. The sight of a tall, thin man accompanied by a curly-haired spaniel took his mind off of that. He stood and crossed to the recessed window, delivering one of his favorite lines from the book as he then went to answer the door. “Now is the dramatic moment of fate, Watson, when you hear a step upon the stair which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for good or ill. What does Dr. James Mortimer, the man of science, ask of Sherlock Holmes, the specialist in crime? Come in!"


    The gentleman in question came inside, taking the stick from Garak's hand with earnest joy and allowing “Holmes” to introduce him to “Dr. Watson”. He then began a study of Bashir's skull, commenting upon the shape and size of it and running a finger along the top of it.


    Garak stared with open confusion. “What is he doing, Doctor? Is this some odd human courtship behavior?”


    “Computer, freeze program,” Bashir said, irritated. “No, Garak, it's called phrenology. It was a popular study during the Victorian Era of Earth's history. They believed that the shape and size of the skull indicated all sorts of things, from personality to intelligence, even indicating a proclivity for criminal behavior.”


    “I wonder what they'd have made of a Cardassian head,” Garak mused. “I'm sorry, Doctor. I won't break character again.” He smiled that bland smile that drove Bashir halfway insane with frustration.


    He gave him a long, hard look before starting the program again. The three of them retired to seats around the hearth, and Dr. Mortimer produced a manuscript detailing the lurid legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles as it related to the Baskerville family. Much to Bashir's relief, Garak finally seemed to be taking this seriously, listening very intently to every word.


    Bashir dismissed the manuscript as Holmes did in the novel, prompting Mortimer to read a more recent newspaper article detailing the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville from apparently natural causes. After the doctor read the article, he gave private details he had not shared with reporters when interviewed, revealing Sir Charles' obsession with the Baskerville legend, his declining health, and lastly the discovery of suspicious footprints near the body.


    “A man's or a woman's?” Bashir recited the line, glancing over at Garak, eager to see his reaction to the imminent revelation.


    “Mr. Holmes,” the man whispered, “they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”


    The Cardassian covered a yawn behind his hand. Sighing quietly, Bashir continued with the tale, prompting Mortimer to speak of his fear of supernatural involvement, describe the crime scene in detail, and express his concern for the safety of the last remaining Baskerville heir, Sir Henry, who was to be arriving from Canada in less than an hour. He convinced him to pick Sir Henry up and return with him in tow at ten o'clock the next morning.


    After Mortimer left, he said, “Why don't you go out, Watson, and leave me to think on this?”


    “Go out and do what?” Garak asked skeptically.


    “Enjoy the setting,” Bashir said. “It's not every day you'll have the opportunity to explore Victorian London. You and I aren't scheduled to have another significant encounter until tonight. Take advantage of it.” He had an ulterior motive. He wanted the chance to explore Holmes' study without the tailor there to cast a damper on everything he enjoyed.


    “Very well, Holmes,” Garak said, shaking his head and letting himself out of the house. He called back before shutting the door, “Are you aware it's raining out here...and cold?”

    (cont' next post)
    [/LEFT]
     
  3. PSGarak

    PSGarak Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    Location:
    PSGarak takes candy from babies.
    Welcome to London, Bashir thought dryly. He took full advantage of the time, poking and prodding into every nook and cranny. The designers of the program spared no expense or detail. He read through fascinating letters and manuscripts, discovered Holmes' drug stash, which he of course didn't touch, and had an enjoyable conversation with Holmes' landlady, Mrs. Hudson.


    By evening, he was seated on the couch with pipe smoke heavy in the air and a large map in his lap. When Garak came in, the Cardassian immediately began to cough and wave his hands about. “Is this necessary?” the tailor asked testily.


    “Open the window if you must,” Bashir said, enjoying the near identical reaction to Watson's in the book. At least some things weren't off script.


    “I think not,” Garak retorted. “I'm done with being cold and wet.” He immediately backed up to the fire and put his hands behind him, trying to get warm.


    “Here, come look at the map I've drawn of the area,” he said, “and tell me what you think of the account of our good Dr. Mortimer.”


    Garak obliged reluctantly, taking a seat beside him and making the couch cushion and Bashir's right leg damp with rainwater. “Nicely drawn, Holmes,” he said. “Obviously, this Sir Charles person was running for his life. Nobody just walks around on tiptoe for no reason, and if they do, it doesn't leave deep enough impressions in the earth for any layman to observe accurately. His heart failed him due to the exertion. What I can't understand is why a man with so many health problems would be standing around in the dark and the damp smoking near an area that terrifies him, this moor Mortimer kept mentioning. Then a big dog came along and chased him. His imagination, already feverish with the ludicrous legend, drove him to a heightened state of agitation and terror. Now, was the dog owned by someone and set on him deliberately, or is this a feral beast roaming the countryside? Is that what we're to determine? If so, I vote the former, someone after the estate, probably a family member, as they'd be the only ones entitled to the inheritance if my understanding of Earth law of the time is accurate.”


    Bashir ran his hand down his face. “Maybe I should've let you play Holmes,” he said with annoyance. “You keep drawing his conclusions. Are you quite certain you haven't read the book?”


    “I'm very sorry, Doctor,” Garak said, sounding anything but. “You didn't tell me to behave as idiotically as Watson. Shall I dumb it down? I already told you I haven't read it. I didn't want to spoil the 'fun'.”


    “Just...try to pace yourself, all right? There's a lot of story left. We haven't even met the Chief's character yet.”


    “I can hardly wait,” Garak said drolly.


    “Would you bring me my violin, Watson?” Bashir requested pointedly.


    Garak did so but immediately moved toward the staircase. “I'm dreadfully sorry, Holmes, but the sound of that particular instrument reminds me of the piercing cries of hunting honges on Prime. I simply cannot bear it. I shall see you in the morning, hmm?”


    Bashir was glad to be rid of him for the night, even if on some level he was amused. He wondered what Garak would make of an actual holographic Holmes and if the two would get along or find themselves at loggerheads. He entertained himself playing the violin for a time before retiring to the decadently comfortable feather bed.


    The next morning, as they sat at the breakfast table awaiting Dr. Mortimer's return with “Sir Henry”, he wondered how the Chief had been enjoying his side of the program so far. He determined to ask him after it was all over. Garak sat across from him, reading yesterday's paper. He smiled slightly at the sight, so strangely homey and yet contextually odd. At precisely ten, Mortimer rang.


    Bashir admitted him and the Chief, allowing himself another private smile at the sight of O'Brien in a country man's stout tweed suit. It suited him and his bluff Irish features all too well. He could imagine some distant forbear of O'Brien's looking exactly that way as he went about his business.


    “I would've come anyway, even if my friend here hadn't told me,” O'Brien said. “I've got something for you.” He reached into his pocket and dug out an envelope, tossing it on the table. It was addressed to the hotel where he had been staying the night before and postmarked for that night.


    “Did anyone know you'd be staying there?” Bashir asked, now paraphrasing both for Garak's and the Chief's sake.


    O'Brien shook his head. “Only Mortimer here.”


    “I was staying with friends,” Mortimer added, “so no one would have seen me at the hotel previously.”


    “Someone is very interested in your movements,” Bashir said. He pulled a folded letter out of the envelope and laid it out on the table for all of them to see. The text, most of it cut out and pasted to the paper, read, “As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.” The word “moor” was hand written in ink.


    “Any idea what that's supposed to mean?” O'Brien asked, “Or who would send it? Is it some sort of bad joke?”


    “It's no joke,” Bashir said. “As to what it tells us, well, that's another matter. Watson, do you have a copy of yesterday's Times?”


    Garak pushed the paper toward Bashir. “The words were cut out of the article on the front page,” he said. “Not our copy, of course,” he added with an insouciant wink at Mortimer.


    “Astonishing!” Mortimer said, glancing wide eyed from Garak to Bashir. “Mr. Holmes, I had no idea your companion was every bit as astute as you. You make a formidable team. How did you know, good sir?” he asked Garak.


    “I was just reading the article,” Garak said modestly. “If you look at the words that are clipped together in the letter, you'll see them here, here, here, and here.” He pointed at each for Mortimer.


    “Yes, well, fascinating, Watson,” Bashir said through gritted teeth. He steered things back on script until they came to the point where O'Brien talked about how one of his new boots had gone missing from the hallway the night before.


    “Why did you put brand new boots in the hallway?” Garak asked. “Weren't you concerned someone might steal them?”


    O'Brien glanced at Bashir questioningly, not sure how to answer that, as he had been following Bashir's prior instructions. Mortimer seemed appalled. “Who would steal a pair of boots?” he asked Garak. “It's a very indecent thing to do. Besides, they stole just one, not both.”


    “I'm sure we'll see the boot again,” Bashir said firmly. “Not to worry.” He shot a warning look at Garak who shut his mouth in mock contrition. They conversed a bit more about the situation with O'Brien announcing he needed some time to decide whether he wanted to continue to the manor or not. Mortimer suggested they meet up at the hotel at two o'clock, and O'Brien agreed to the idea, insisting they walk back as the weather had turned nice.


    No sooner had they left, than Bashir jumped up. “Your hat and boots, Watson, quick! Not a moment to lose!” He started to rush toward his dressing room but stopped cold at a sound that didn't fit the program, the sound of a gunshot.


    Garak was in the process of getting his boots on and glanced up at Bashir when he stopped. “Is something wrong, Holmes?” he asked.


    Ignoring the question, Bashir ran out the front door in his dressing-gown. The Chief lay in the street, blood coursing between the cobblestones and spreading from beneath him. Mortimer knelt at his side, his face contorted in distress. “Someone shot him!” he said. “I didn't see where it came from, or who did it!”


    “Move aside,” Bashir said as he ran to the two and dropped to his knees. The rough cut stones bruised him, but he hardly felt it. He reached a hand to O'Brien's neck, feeling for a pulse, but felt nothing. “Computer,” he said, “end program!”


    “What are you talking about?” Mortimer asked him, wide eyed.


    Bashir ignored the holographic doctor. “Computer!” he said more sharply. Receiving no reply, he said, “Open doors, override code Bashir zeta three one two.”


    “Have you lost your mind, Holmes?” Mortimer asked. “Sir Henry is dead! We must summon the police!”


    Shoving the man aside, Bashir did his best to revive Chief O'Brien, performing CPR. “Come on, Miles,” he murmured. “Please!”


    He had no idea how long he tried before Mortimer pulled him back, dizzy and close to fainting from the exertion. “It was a valiant effort, Holmes,” he said, “but I'm afraid he truly is dead.”


    He looked up to see Garak standing off to the side, looking grim. “I take it we've moved off script, Doctor?” he asked.


    “Bring me my comm badge. It's in my coat pocket at the door. I'm going to try to contact Ops and see if we can have him beamed out of here. I...I don't understand what's happening,” he said. Mortimer's panicked and confused expression mirrored how he felt inside. What could have possibly gone wrong? How were the program's failsafes deactivated? Why wasn't the computer responding?


    Garak returned and offered him the small, metallic shield. He tried to activate it. “Bashir to Ops,” he said. Nothing. “Bashir to Security!” Still nothing.


    “Perhaps someone is jamming the frequency?” Garak suggested.


    “I don't know!” he said, springing to his feet. “Look, Dr. Mortimer,” he turned to the holographic character that wouldn't go away, “there's nothing you can do at the moment. I'd rather you didn't contact the authorities just yet. They'll...they'll contaminate the crime scene, you understand,” he said, thinking quickly. “It's best if you find somewhere safe to go. I'll...I'll contact you in the morning, first thing and tell you what I've found, all right?”


    “All right, Holmes,” the man whispered, his face very pale. “I feel as though I'm to blame. I should have told him to leave the country the moment he arrived.”


    Bashir's head still felt light, as much from stress as the failed CPR. “No,” he said hollowly, “you mustn't blame yourself. You should go now. The shooter could still be afoot.”


    The man nodded, took a final sad look at O'Brien and hurried away. Bashir watched him go and turned wide eyes to Garak. “Help me get him into the house. I don't know who or what might come along out here. We're not safe.”


    Garak nodded and moved to take O'Brien by the ankles. Bashir grabbed him under the arms and hefted the dead weight. The Chief's head dropped forward bonelessly. Did he not have his clinical detachment to fall back on, he thought he might be ill. What was he to tell Keiko? What of poor Molly!


    They shuffled him inside the house. Mrs. Hudson saw the bloody body and fainted outright. He couldn't think about her at the moment. He reminded himself she wasn't even real. They laid the Chief's body atop the breakfast table. “Find...get me a knife from the kitchen,” he said, his voice sounding far away in his own ears. “I need to cut his clothing off of him so I can see what killed him.”


    While Garak was out of the room, he allowed himself a moment of grief, squeezing tears from the corners of his eyes and letting them run unchecked down his cheeks. Miles was his friend, and somehow, he had just gotten him killed. He wiped his tears away quickly at the sound of the Cardassian's footsteps and took the sharp knife from his hand. It was difficult slicing through the tough, well made shirt beneath the unbuttoned tweed coat and vest. The bullet hole gaped right over O'Brien's heart slightly left of center. It seemed to have gone clean through.


    He heard a soft hiss off to his left and glanced toward the door just in time to see a small, folded note come sailing under the gap between the door and the floor. Exchanging a glance with Garak, he rushed forward and picked it up. The envelope seemed to be the same kind as for “Sir Henry's” letter and was addressed not to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, but Doctor Julian Bashir. With shaking hands, he tore it open and pulled out the folded paper. The message was composed of newspaper clippings, the same as the other. “What moor could you want?” he read aloud. The word “moor” was written in splotchy ink. “'More' is misspelled,” he told Garak, holding the letter out to him.


    Garak took the letter and examined it, turning it over to be sure there was nothing else on the back. “Correct me if I'm mistaken, Doctor,” he said, “but nothing like this is supposed to happen in the story? Sir Henry doesn't get shot?”


    “No,” he said firmly. “Not at all. We were supposed to catch sight of somebody following him in a cab. Besides,” he added bitterly, “I don't show up anywhere in the novel, and the envelope is addressed to me.” He showed that to Garak as well.


    “What do you make of this?” Garak asked, looking concerned.


    “I don't know! I wish you'd stop asking me questions and just let me think. Obviously, somebody wanted Chief O'Brien dead, but who? And why? Why use a holoprogram? There are much easier ways to go about it. Also, who else knew we were coming here besides Quark?”


    “You're joking, right?” Garak asked him incredulously. “You've been talking about this nonstop for nearly three weeks to anybody who would listen. Listen to me, Doctor. I understand you're upset about Chief O'Brien, but you have to let the emotion of that go. It's clouding your thinking.”


    “How can you be so cold?” Bashir asked. “I know the Chief wasn't your favorite person on the station, but he's dead! For all we know, one of us could be next.”


    “Exactly,” Garak said. “One of us could be next. We can do nothing else for the Chief, at least not until we can get out of here. Thrashing about this way and that because you're upset serves no purpose but to make you vulnerable.”


    “As though you care,” he retorted. “You're just worried about yourself, aren't you, Garak? Isn't that how it always goes when push comes to shove? I'm not like you, and frankly, I don't want to be.”


    He thought he saw a flicker of hurt in the Cardassian's eyes before he turned away from him. “Suit yourself, Doctor,” he said airily. “Tear your clothes and smear ashes on your face. I'm sure it will accomplish something, although I'm sure I don't know what.”


    He sighed, feeling somehow defeated. “I'm sorry for what I said,” he offered. “I didn't mean it.”


    “We both know that's not true, but thank you for saying it,” Garak replied.


    “All right,” Bashir said, starting to pace. “Let's think this through.” As much as he hated to admit it, he knew Garak was right. Now wasn't the time to grieve for Miles. They might not be the only ones in danger. The entire station could be for all he knew. “Someone knew we were coming, and I admit, I wasn't exactly prudent with how many people I told about the program. I was just so excited about it.” He sighed. Had his enthusiasm gotten his friend killed? “Whoever it is, they have access to the programming or an ability to override it somehow. They've locked me out of the computer completely, or shut it down, and somehow, they're blocking comm transmissions.”


    Garak nodded encouragingly as he listened. “Yes,” he said. “Now, who do you know that could do that?”


    “Quark could alter the program, but he has no motive. Besides, he likes the Chief. He'd never do something to kill him, and he wouldn't be able to block me from accessing the computer. How can you be so sure it's someone I know?” he asked. Garak simply stared at him in reply. “The envelope addressed to me,” he answered his own question. “At least someone who knows of me, and someone who knew where I'd be at this point in the program.”


    He felt a small shock move through him, shooting a harder look at the Cardassian. “You could alter the program, easily,” he said.


    “How very paranoid of you, Doctor,” he said approvingly. “But could I lock you out of the computer and block your comm transmissions? Do you think I'd murder Chief O'Brien?”


    He wiped shaking hands down his mouth, torn between fury and relief. “No, but Chief O'Brien could lock me out and jam the badge.”


    At that moment, another note sailed under the door. Dr. Bashir stalked past Garak and picked it up, tearing open the envelope. In pasted newsprint, it read, “Isn't it moor fun when you don't know what's going to happen?” Again, the word “moor” was written in splotchy ink.


    He jerked open the door only to see Chief O'Brien standing there, still in his Sir Henry costume, and grinning sheepishly. “I know it was in bad taste,” he said, “but you have to admit, it was a lot more interesting than acting out some old book you've already read dozens of times, wasn't it?”


    “I've got just one thing to say to both of you,” Bashir said very severely, eying each in turn. “Paybacks are Hell.”


    Chief O'Brien laughed, and Garak said, “Oh, my dear Doctor, I wouldn't have it any other way!”
     
  4. Count Zero

    Count Zero Welcome to the Danger Zone! Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    Procrastination Plaza
    October 2009 - Don't go it alone!


    Scary Monsters

    by _r_ & Count Zero


    “Today, Praetor Shalin expressed his confidence that the Romulan people will exceed the quota of verithium output devised earlier this year. The Praetor said he expected an exceed of at least 2%. Verithium is a rare resource needed by the Defense Force to manufacture new weapons which will keep the barbarian hordes of Earth in check.
    In response, Marik Chal, the Governor of Kratak, one of the Empire's most reliable sources of verithium, vowed to exceed the output quota by at least 5%.

    The Statistics Commission released their annual report...”



    Governor Shelbeth switched off the news, feeling anger surge up inside him. Of course, Chal had to go and make that vow, just to be on the Praetor's good side. Where did that leave him? His world, a peaceful and insignificant agricultural colony until recently, had been picked to become the Empire's main source of verithium. Chal's imprudent vow bound him, too. They would have to up their output considerably. If only he knew how.
    Sighing, he got out of his chair and walked over to the window, which offered a splendid view over the outskirts of town and the lovely surrounding countryside. They weren't yet visible – and they might never be from his window – but from the reports he received and his own tours all over the planet Shelbeth knew what effects the mining and processing of verithium were having on his planet.
    In a patriotic fervour, many farmers had left their fields to 'do their share for the Empire' by working in the mines, while the hastily set up processing stations were operated with little regard for the environment, poisoning fields and pastures beyond recovery. He dared not think about it, but deep in his heart he knew that all this would end badly. Chal's vow and the verithium quota were really the least of his worries. Something had to happen or people would start dying, soon, starving on a planet once considered the region's bread basket.
    The Governor walked over to a small cabinet on one of the walls and took out a bottle of Romulan Ale which promised a special kind of oblivion. When the prospectors had first told him of the planet's richness in verithium, he had felt elated. He downed a quarter of the bottle's content in one go, not even bothering with a glass. All the possibilities. It had sounded so good.

    ***

    Shelbeth couldn't quite decide how to feel. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he had finally come up with a plan, like a true Romulan, which filled him with modest pride. The plan was simple, really, but the details not yet worked out did little to abete his anxiety. Hearing footsteps in the corridor, he tried to compose himself as much as he could. This is it. Time to look your very best. Gods, this was so much easier when this was just a boring backwater planet.

    A tall, brown-haired man entered the Governor's office, his footstep so elastic it almost inspired Shelbeth to smile. The elegantly clad man greeted him cheerily before taking his seat in the cushy chair in front of the Governor's desk.

    “Jolan tru, Mr. Debure. Well, it seems you have quite the reputation concerning your skills as a trader. I've heard it said you could obtain a bottle of water in the middle of the Sari desert.”

    The middle-aged trader grinned. “I like that. It is a gross exaggeration, though.”

    “A drink, maybe?”

    At his nod, Shelbeth got up and fetched the half-empty bottle of Ale and two glasses. As he poured the drinks, he noticed his hands were trembling. But Debure smiled politely, either not having noticed or pretending he hadn't.

    Back in his seat, Shelbeth continued, “I require your services in a rather delicate matter. You see, the Commission for Economic Planning wants us to stock up on our food reserves. I know it sounds absurd, I told them myself it wasn't necessary. Apparently, it's a part of their emergency response system.”

    “I'm sure it's a prudent decision.”

    Unable to tell whether Debure meant it or whether it was just a phrase, the Governor carried on, “As you can imagine, this is a matter that requires the utmost discretion. If word got out, the people might start to worry and believe we have a food shortage on our hands.”

    The best way to hide the truth is in plain sight. He had read that somewhere.

    “I understand.” Debure replied, simply.

    Did he? Shelbeth wondered. His doubtful look must have registered with the trader, who added, “Don't worry, Governor. I'll be discreet. I have just the idea where to acquire what you need. But the trading post lies beyond our borders.” Smirking, he added, “For now.”

    Shelbeth let out a nervous laugh. “I have the permit here, of course.”

    He made a show of getting the unwieldy laminated paper from one of his desk drawers and putting it on the desk. The various holograms printed on it for verification shimmered in the colours of the rainbow.

    “What do you think you'll need as payment for the goods?” he asked. Now came the hard part. Surely, this free trading post Debure mentioned only dealt in precious resources. And he didn't have much to offer besides rotting grain and verithium he needed himself.

    The trader thought about it for a moment. “The easiest way would be latinum, of course.”

    “Mmh. I can't provide that, I'm afraid. Let me think about what we've been allocated.”

    He grabbed a random padd on his desk and stared at its screen, thinking hard. What could he come up with that wouldn't be missed and at the same time wouldn't raise any suspicions with Debure about the legitimacy of his mission? Suddenly, it hit him.

    “How about two containers of dilithium?”

    He saw the trader's face light up. The stray containers had been sitting in a hangar outside town for months. No one would miss them, but apparently, many primitive nations needed them for their ship's engines. He really should have remembered that earlier. Maybe he wasn't such a good Romulan, after all. Well, that much is obvious, isn't it?

    “That will do, too.” Debure said.

    “Good.” Shelbeth said matter-of-factly, as he filled out the forms that would allow Debure to take the dilithium. First forgery, now theft and fraud, and all in a day's work.

    “Are you sure this will work?” he couldn't help asking, though it probably sounded suspicious. After all, his life depended on it.

    Debure replied evenly, “I promise you I'll get the food.”

    ***

    A certain restlessness had taken hold of him, the reason of which Debure couldn't quite discover. Was it the job at hand? Earlier, he had inspected the dilithium and found it to be of low quality, which would make his job considerably harder. However, he was confident it would work out, so that couldn't be it.
    His conversation with the Governor still lingered in his head. For a Governor, he had been uncharacteristically nervous. And to some degree, this deal seemed odd, though it was nothing obvious. Debure got up from the bed in his apartment and walked the few steps to his desk to once again examine the permit and papers he'd received. They were perfectly legitimate.
    The Governor's story might not quite add up but he decided he didn't need to know whatever was happening in the background. In fact, it was better not to. Life was much simpler that way. He had the permits and that was all that mattered.
    That settled, he realised what really had him worried – the Commission ordering food reserves to be stocked up, more precisely what this order implied. They expected something bad to happen. Maybe a war? Lately, the news were full of subtle hints. Probably the Earthers again. Why couldn't they just leave the Empire alone? As if they hadn't already done enough damage.
    Debure thought about his father, that confident, maybe slightly too happy man he had hardly known, murdered at Cheron. Slaughtered like the rest of the fleet by Archer. At least, that barbarian had received his own serving of ironic justice, killed by gangrene. Served those humans right for rejecting science and progress.
    No one even knew what they looked like, only that they despised everything the Empire stood for so much they were hellbent on destroying it anyway they could, despite their primitivity. When he had been younger, he had imagined them as hideous monsters, half-beasts even. But what if they looked just like us? The idea made him shudder. They could be among us everyday.
    He sighed. These scenarios were silly. He should just concentrate on his mission, leave these worries to the military and the politicians. Should the Empire call upon him in case of war, he'd be ready to do his duty.

    ***

    “Ki'Balan, you're cleared for landing. You're assigned to docking bay C 2. Please follow the instructions of flight control at all times.”

    The metallic voice of the station's translation software sounded like music to Debure's pointy ears. After losing a lot of time at the border check point, he was eager to get this transaction over with as soon as possible. As usual, the travel and trade permit was only valid for a short period of time, leaving little margin for unforeseen incidents. Fondly, he remembered that one time where he'd needed to make the route to Draken and back in an impossible four days after a lengthy engine repair.
    He was still reminiscing about his travels when he stepped out of the airlock. The corridors leading to the core of the station were tight and low, filled with the smell of food and the effects of wildly differing views on personal hygiene. As soon as he left the crampy corridor, he was surrounded by a bunch of brawny Bolians.

    “Hey, Mr. Pointy Ears, have some fun with us.” One of them yelled.

    Debure refrained from making any remarks about head bulges and blue skin after sizing them up and determining he wasn't a match for them.

    Another one lay his arm around the trader's shoulders, saying in a softer voice, “Yeah, come party with us. We've just made the deal of our lifetimes.”

    Debure decided it would be easier to go with the flow for now and slip out of the party later. Any resistance now might be met with rash actions on the side of the Bolians, judging from their breaths reeking of alcohol.

    “What kind of deal?” he asked politely.

    “Ah, you know, we're miners...”

    “Were!” the first Bolian interjected, grinning wildly and lifting the bottle in his hand.

    “On Crucis IV no less!” a third miner mumbled from behind.

    “Yeah, it's a horrible place, fucking cold and you have to wear a breathing mask whenever you go outside because of the damned storms.” the Bolian with his arm around Debure said, almost in a wistful tone.

    They arrived at several benches and tables outside a bar, apparently the Bolians' destination. He was gently pushed on one of the benches while one of the miners went to get their drinks.

    “I presume you found something of value, then.” Debure said, after their drinks had arrived. Out of the corner of his eyes he noticed he had been served Vulcan brandy, which was mildly disconcerting.

    “You can say that out loud.”

    The miner who had urged him here leaned over to him and whispered in a confidential tone, “I'll show you what we found.”

    He held out his hand in a fist, then opened it. Debure gasped. A dilithium crystal of a quality he had never seen before.

    “I kept that one as a souvenir.” the Bolian said. “We've mined 20 tals of it.”

    Debure blanched. His possible deal had just evaporated.

    ***

    The Roz Havash was probably the seediest bar on the whole station. But that didn't matter to Debure anymore. There was no way he could make it anywhere else to trade the dilithium in time. Stuck in a dead end. After all these years, it had finally happened to him. Failure.
    What's worse, he had given his word to the Governor. What a disgrace. He could imagine all too well what his father would have said, the disappointed look on his face. He would bring shame to his family, to his name. The prospect of returning home – something he always looked forward to – now seemed horrible to him, something he couldn't bear to face.
    The bartender just dumped a grimy brown bottle in front of him, its content smelling like the detergent he sometimes used on his ship. Oh well, what does it matter, now?
    After having downed the bottle, he got another, then another. He thought of getting yet another, but he felt as if his intestines were slowly dissolving.

    “Rough day, huh?” a bald, red-skinned alien suddenly popping up next to him asked. Debure just stared at it, bewildered.

    “And not much of a talker. I see. You know, I don't want to say anything against this fine establishment, but you really should reconsider your choice of drinks.”

    It looked at him expectantly, but he still had no idea how to react properly. The alien sighed, turned to the bartender and said something in an incomprehensible language. After a few moments, the bartender came back with two big glasses filled with a sparkling, thick, red liquid.

    “There you go.” the alien said.

    He nodded and managed a polite smile, while he desperately tried to figure out what insidious designs the alien could have. The golden-eyed being lifted its glass in his direction before drinking from it. Still confused, Debure chose to mimick the gesture. The bubbling beverage, despite its exotic appearance, tasted pleasantly and somewhat familiar, like alal juice mixed with something else he couldn't place - and alcohol, of course.

    “So, what's your story?” the alien asked. When he hesitated, it went on, “I'm the only one of my kind here. You can imagine how boring and lonely that can be. So I couldn't help noticing you. There isn't anyone else like you on the station, that's fascinating. So I'm just curious, I guess. My name's Krk'khana, by the way.” After a few moments, she added, “You do understand me, do you?”

    “Yes, I do.”

    “Thank God, this would have been pretty embarrassing otherwise.”

    They both laughed.

    “Krk'khana,” he struggled with the pronunciation. “Is that a female name?”

    “Yes.” the alien answered, smiling brightly.

    “We have these enemies, bent on destroying us,” he heard himself say, unable to stop himself. “And I promised to buy food here but no one wants to trade for my dilithium and now I don't know what to do.”

    He chastised himself for being so foolish, but Krk'khana just smiled gently at him.

    “Can't you go somewhere else to get the food?” she asked sincerely.

    “No, I... it's complicated, I have to be back soon.”

    She sighed. “What's this galaxy coming to? People start giving their stuff away for free, no wonder it's destroying the market.”

    He blinked at her, confused. “What do you mean?”

    “There's this new organisation, called 'United Planets' or something, they passed through here a few days ago, and they just gave away food, blankets, tents and stuff to the people on Rebiko.”

    “Why?”

    “Because the Rebiko...ans, Rebikans, the Rebiko guys asked them for help. I mean, it's a regular hellhole, but still... They said they don't use money and only work to better themselves and the rest of society. Which means they're probably crazy.”

    She grinned but was met by Debure's stare, who was struck by an unexpected surge of hope. If he could reach those people they might be able to help him.

    “How exactly were they called? When did they pass through here and where did they plan to go next?” he asked urgently.

    “Um...” she was obviously thinking hard. “It was a pretty silly name, mmh, something with 'Federation'... Ah! United Federation of Planets. They left here the day before yesterday, in the evening. As far as I know, they were headed home, but I have no idea where that is.”

    Debure sprang up from his bar stool, thanked her effusively, even hugged her and was out the door before she could say anything.

    Turning back to the bar, Krk'khana shook her head and muttered, “You're welcome.”

    ***

    (continued below)
     
  5. Count Zero

    Count Zero Welcome to the Danger Zone! Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    Procrastination Plaza
    It had been easy to get the relevant information out of the station personnel, by just appearing threatening enough. He wouldn't be able to go back there for a while, but that was irrelevant now. He'd been following the Federation ship's direction at maximum velocity for hours, while broadcasting a message asking them for help.
    Waiting had never come easy to him. In the situation he found himself in at the moment it was almost unbearable. The mix of hope, anxiety and nervousness hadn't allowed him one second of rest.
    He stared at the chronometer on the dashboard, watched the seconds melting away. Time was running out.

    The ship's comm device beeped and made his heart skip a beat. With a trembling hand, he hit the receive switch.

    “Ki'Balan, this is the Ti'Laren, we're representing the United Federation of Planets. Please respond.”

    “Oh, thank the gods. My name is Vrelek Debure and I need your help.” Begging wasn't the Romulan way, but he really didn't have a choice.

    The cold, emotionless voice on the other side of the line was replaced by that of a man, sounding strangely familiar.

    “What kind of help do you need?”

    “I heard about how you helped the people of Rebiko. I was sent to stock up our food reserves, I'm running out of time and I was unable to find a trading partner for the dilithium I have. We have relentless enemies who threaten us, it's urgent.”

    He wasn't sure whether mentioning the war threat was a good idea in terms of the Empire's security but he thought it would make them more inclined to help.

    “Mr. Debure, are you Romulan?”

    He didn't like the sound of that. As a rule, his people tried to stay as anonymous as possible, to avoid detection by the humans. And the voice..., the way the man had said the word Romulan, Debure was sure he had heard it before. Only now it occurred to him to call up 'additional information' on the screen that displayed the translation.

    That man spoke in the language of Earth.

    The terrible truth dawned on him. He had begged the enemy for help! Fooled by a simple name change! They had probably annexed several planets in the meantime, whose peoples were inferior to the Romulan race and therefore didn't put up as much resistance.
    Angry with himself and the universe, he decided to make the best of his situation, put a data stick into the slot on the dashboard and pressed the 'record' button. Maybe he could at least gather some information.

    “Are you still there?”

    Now it made sense. Of course, he had heard the voice before, hundreds of times. All Romulans had. Normally filled with arrogance, it was the voice of the man that had dictated the terms of the humiliating peace treaty after Cheron. But it couldn't be...

    “Yes and yes. And who are you?” Debure answered in a demanding voice. It was a stupid question, but he had to know.

    “My name's Jonathan Archer. Please don't cut the channel, Vrelek – can I call you Vrelek? - it's important that...”

    “No , you can't!” Debure yelled into the comm. “Don't you dare! You murdered my father.”

    Several seconds passed in silence.

    “How so?”

    He slammed his fist on the dashboard.

    “Don't play innocent. You know exactly what I'm talking about. My father was the Commander of the Audure at Cheron.”

    “I'm sorry.”

    He was surprised by the gentleness of the voice and taken back by the simple apology.

    “I wish there had been another way, but there was a war on. I lost many of my friends, too.”

    Debure felt a certain satisfaction as he heard the last sentence.

    “It really is you, then. But how is that possible? We were told you died of gangrene.”

    He heard a slight chuckle over the comm.

    “Seems like no one told me. I don't know about the state of medicine in the Empire, but here, nobody dies of gangrene these days.”

    “So you're telling me my government has been lying to me?”

    “Well, I'm here, talking to you.”

    “What did you really do to the people of Rebiko?”

    “We supplied them with food, blankets and emergency shelters. You can check for yourself.”

    “Why? Did they agree to fight for you?”

    “No. They asked for help, so we did what we could. That's what the Federation is all about. To make this part of the universe a better place.”

    “Like you tried to force us to become a better place? By fighting progress, enlightenment and science?”

    “That's not what happened. We were only defending ourselves. We're not a threat to you and we never were. I know you'll find it hard to believe but I used to be an explorer, not a soldier. I never thought I'd have to fight a war.”

    It almost sounded convincing. How was that possible? This man didn't sound at all like the monster he had always imagined him to be.

    “This may sound silly, but what do you look like?”

    “You know, I could ask you the same question. What races close to Earth do you know? It's simpler if I just describe the differences.”

    “Vulcans.” It was a risk revealing that he knew how they looked, but he was sure that Archer wasn't sophisticated enough to pick up on it.

    “We look almost like them. Our ears aren't pointy, but round. We have more variations in hair and eye colour and our eyebrows are round, too.”

    Debure was stunned to find his suspicion that humans might look like Romulans turn out to be close to the truth. No monsters, then.

    “If you're as peaceful as you claim to be, why are you moving against us?”

    “We aren't. We're happy to stay on our side of the Neutral Zone so long as you stay on yours.”

    “That's a lie!”

    “Look, all those things you told me about what we're supposedly like, they don't really add up. If we're so backwards, how were we able to defeat you?”

    “By sheer ruthlessness and barbarism.”

    He heard Archer sigh. “And how did we get out here in the first place? How did we manage to build ships?”

    “I don't know.” he said weakly.

    “You said you heard about the Federation. Do you think the stories you heard are lies?”

    It was highly unlikely Krk'khana had lied to him. And theoretically, he could check up on Rebiko to verify the story, if he had more time.

    “You don't have to go back, you know.”

    “Oh yes, I do. I made a promise.”

    The least he could do was to face the consequences of not keeping it.

    “I see. We might be able to help you with your problem.”

    What? Debure couldn't believe the audacity. Did Archer think he was stupid? What better way to harm them than with poisoned food?

    “I know you don't trust us but we don't have to stay enemies. Vulcans and Andorians used to be. And so did Tellarites and Andorians. Now they're all part of the Federation. All it takes is someone to make the first step and some courage. No tricks, you have my word. And you can always scan it if you don't believe me.”

    For what seemed like a long time, he just stared straight ahead, paralyzed. Should he accept the offer? The prospect of being able to fulfill his promise to the Governor was tempting. But it was unthinkable to accept anything by them. He thought about Archer's words. Some courage. Easy for him to say. It would be the greatest risk he had ever taken. But then again, what did he have to lose?

    “Ok.” he replied, simply.

    ***

    On the way back to the Empire's border he had been as restless as on his chase after the Federation ship. He didn't know what to think, what to believe anymore.
    So far, all of the Federation promises were holding up. They had beamed the food into his cargo hold – emergency ration bars with their labels meticulously peeled off. This could be explained away easily enough with the shadiness of the trading post and the low quality of the dilithium he had dumped along the way. Extensive scans hadn't revealed anything out of the ordinary about the bars.
    All this should have filled him with joy or contentment at least. Only it didn't. Because it heavily suggested Archer had been truthful to him. While his own government hadn't. He might have been able to file Archer's alleged death away under bad intel – such things did happen – but now a lot of what he'd been told about the war didn't make sense anymore. He realised that he really didn't know anything about the war, not for sure, anyway.
    If his government had been less than truthful about the Earthers and the war, what else wasn't true? Was everything he ever believed in a lie?

    “Ki'Balan, this is border checkpoint 15. Proceed to inspection on pad 4.”

    The commanding voice took him out of his thoughts. Not again. The last inspection had taken hours, and after all he'd been through on this trip, he didn't have the nerve for it. All he wanted was to deliver his cargo to Shelbeth and take a long time off afterwards.
    After landing smoothly on the pad, he stepped from his ship, his papers ready, and found himself facing a squad of soldiers pointing their disruptors at him.
    A woman dressed in the darker uniform of the Tal 'Shiar stepped forward.

    “Vrelek Debure, you are under arrest for conspiracy and treason.”

    “What?” he stuttered. “I assure you I can explain everything.”

    “I highly doubt that.” the woman replied coldly as he was led away by the soldiers.

    ***

    By the time he was brought to his last abode in this life, tired, bruised, his clothes crumpled, he had figured it all out. They didn't even know about his conversation with Archer and they didn't care where he'd gotten the ration bars.
    The guards pushed him into a grey, dirty cell, where Shelbeth was already waiting for him, standing up and looking sheepishly at him, as much as that was possible with a face as swollen and bruised as his. The Tal'Shiar hadn't been kind to him. Debure noticed the bloodied bandages around the former Governor's right hand. Apparently, they had cut off a few of his fingers. No wonder he'd been so talkative.
    After all that had happened to him, Debure had landed here only because of the forged permits Shelbeth had given him. It would have been funny if it didn't mean his death.

    “I'm sorry.” Shelbeth said sadly.

    “Don't. I don't want to hear it.” he retorted angrily. What good was any apology to him, now?

    “But... I only did it because...”

    “Oh, spare me the explanations! It doesn't make any damned difference!”

    Shelbeth sat down, resigned. For a while they sat in silence.

    “It almost worked, too.” Shelbeth said softly.

    ***

    Ereleth supposed there were better jobs out there, more prestigious ones certainly. But he was happy with what he did. Repairing space ships was his boyhood's dream come true. The only thing he despised about it was the paperwork that sometimes came with the job. At the moment, he was working his way through all the forms needing to be filled out before the confiscated cargo ship they were supposed to overhaul could be returned instead of working on the ship itself, like Rakitha.

    “Hey, Ereleth.”

    Speak of the devil.

    “What is it?”

    “Look what I've found in that confiscated ship!” she said excitedly and held up a data stick.

    Ereleth looked around carefully, but they were alone.

    “Uh, Rakitha, this could be evidence.”

    “I know. How exciting. Right?”

    He couldn't help but smile warmly at her.

    “Don't you want to know what's on it, Eri?”

    He sighed. Whenever she used his nick name, he found himself unable to refuse her anything.

    “Ok, put it in.”

    She did and pressed 'play' in a dramatic fashion. The old speakers on Ereleth's desk came to life.

    “Are you still there?”

    “Yes and yes. And who are you?”

    “My name's Jonathan Archer...”
     
  6. Garm Bel Iblis

    Garm Bel Iblis Commodore

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2009
    Location:
    Des Moines, IA
    November Wrting Challenge: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

    "Into that good night," by Garm Bel Iblis

    “Regeneration cycle complete,” the computer stated flatly.

    The former drone stepped out of her alcove and touched her combadge. “Daily log, Seven of Nine, Stardate 51995.4. It has been fifty seven hours since Voyager’s foray back into Borg space to rescue Captain Janeway and myself from the Dauntless. In that time I have finally come to the realization that while Borg, I have no place there. Voyager is my collective now. Today’s activities include my standard shift in Astrometrics, assisting Lieutenant Torres with the slipstream diagnostics and a social lesson with the Doctor. End log.”

    As she terminated the connection she heard the voice in her mind.

    You are Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

    Seven staggered, grabbing a cargo crate to keep from falling to the deck. “Seven of Nine to the Bridge,” she snapped, slapping her combadge.

    “Go ahead, Seven,” Chakotay’s voice reverberated off the cold walls of the bay.

    “Commander, the Borg are near. I recommend holding this position until we can find them.”

    - - -

    Chakotay looked to Tuvok at Tactical. The Vulcan consulted his board then looked back to the first officer, shaking his head.

    “We’re not picking up anything on sensors,” Chakotay said. “What makes you think they’re close by?”

    “I can hear them,” Seven said.

    Chakotay glanced back to the tactical officer. “Head down to Astrometrics. Run some scans and get back to me. We’ll hold her for the time being. Chakotay out.” When the com line terminated, he turned to Knowels at the conn. “All stop, Ensign. Chakotay to the captain. Please report to Astrometrics.” As he headed for the lift, he gave the bridge to Tuvok.

    - - -

    Seven operated the master display of the Astrometic imaging array with a grace and skill that Kathryn Janeway envied. The former drone had, with the help of Harry Kim, designed this lab from scratch several months ago. Using the center of the galaxy as a focal point, the deep space imaging system scanned all visible stars in range, creating a more accurate representation of space ahead.

    Seven zoomed into quadrant 01465. “Here,” she said. A virtual representation of a Sato-Class Nebula took shape. “The Astrometic array has detected a series of triquantum waves converging on this nebula.”

    “Triquantum waves?” asked Chakotay.

    “The residual charge of energy expelled by a transwarp conduit,” Seven sad. “Given the number of waves that I am detecting, there could be as many as eleven hundred Borg vessels in the nebula.”

    Janeway stood up straight. “How far away is the nebula?”

    “Forty seven light-years,” Seven stated. “I recommend proceeding along this course.” A red line extended from Voyager’s current position to a galactic south direction. “It is a significant detour and there are a large number of obstacles in our path. Ion storms, asteroid belts, particle fountains.”

    “Sounds a lot better than the hive,” Chakotay muttered.

    Janeway looked over the course correction. “Transfer the coordinates to the helm,” she said. “Chakotay, let B’Elanna know to cut our outgoing power emissions as much as possible. I don’t want to show up on that Borg armada’s long-range scanners.”

    Chakotay acknowledged and headed for the engine room. The captain turned back to Seven. “Any idea why they’d be massing out here and hiding their presence?”

    “No,” Seven said calmly. “The Borg never have reason to hide their activities.”

    “Maybe the war with Species 8472 has them spooked.”

    “Perhaps.” It’d been barely ten months since the year-long conflict that had ravaged the Collective had ended. “However, the Borg only mass in such numbers when they are encroaching on a civilization that spans thousands of light-years.”

    “Have we picked up anything like that?”

    Seven consulted the astrometric charts of the region ahead. “The largest concentration is twenty five light years distant. Species 558, the Xentari. They were first encountered by the Borg two hundred thirty seven years ago. They’re reach spans seven thousand light-years encompassing eight five planets. They have resisted all attempts at assimilation.”

    “Looks like their time’s about up, we’re going to miss the party this time. Keep an eye on them as long as we’re within range.”

    “Aye, Captain,” Seven replied.

    The captain left and Seven was once again alone. The voice of the Collective still echoed in her mind. They were so close… She staggered again, overwhelmed. “Seven of Nine to the Doctor. Please report to Astrometrics immediately.”

    - - - -


    Passing the tricorder over Seven, the Doctor grimaced. “How long have you been experiencing this disorientation?”

    Seven was now seated on the short steps leading up the main astrometric viewscreen looked visibly shaken. “Since the Borg armada was first detected.”

    “It’s to be expected,” the Doctor said. “You’re still as much Borg as you are human. Your cranial transceiver is still capable of detecting the Collective at short distances. I can give you a neural inhibitor that will block out the strongest of their transmissions.” He extracted a circular device from his medkit and attached it to Seven’s parietal bone behind her left ear. He tapped the device and then touched a few commands on his tricorder

    Seven’s face immediately returned to it’s normal stoic self. “Thank you, Doctor.”

    Smiling, the Doctor stood. “It’s my job. Which reminds me, our next social lesson, Witty Barbs and Cocktail Repartee is still scheduled for eighteen hundred hours this evening. I hope you’re feeling up to it.”

    “Yes,” Seven said. “When I finish my astrometric scans, I am scheduled to assist Lieutenant Torres. I will meet you in Sickbay afterwards.”

    “I can’t wait,” the Doctor said sincerely and left the lab.

    Watching him go, Seven closed her eyes for a moment and centered herself. The voice of the Collective was gone for now. But with such a massive fleet gathering so close, she knew it was only a matter of time before a confrontation occurred.

    - - -

    Tom Paris kept a firm grip on the helm as he led Voyager through yet another spiral maneuver through the tachyon fields. He’d been at it for more than an hour. According to Seven’s scans, the eddies would hide them from that Borg armada as well as shave a few days off their course out of this sector.

    Tom was a good pilot, hell he was a great pilot, but this was getting to be a little much. Course corrections were being sent up to him by Seven every twenty or thirty seconds. Dropping the impulse drive down to one quarter, he entered in a new course and came hard to port, rolling the ship ninety degrees then burning through at maximum impulse.

    The inertial dampers, which up until this point had been strained but holding, suddenly kicked into a lapse of about a quarter of second, sending everyone on the bridge lurching backwards in their seats.

    “Sorry,” he said over his shoulder with a sheepish grin. “Seven’s course is a little tricky, even for a pilot of my skill.”

    Janeway grabbed their arms of her chair. “Another little maneuver like that and you’ll be scrubbing plasma filters,” she said with a teasing grin. “Time to the outer boundary?”

    “Another minute or two,” he said. “The eddies are thinning out and I’m picking up clear space ahead.”

    “Janeway to Astrometrics. Seven, once we’re clear, do you have a course for Mister Paris?”

    “Yes, Captain, the next leg is a five hour journey at high warp. It will take us to the Maurisko Expanse. It will provide us cover for the remainder of our time within range of the Borg sensors.”

    “Coming into normal space,” Paris said. His panel beeped. “New course 215 mark 48. Ready for warp.”

    “Engage,” Janeway said. She stood up, stretched her legs and was suddenly thrown to the deck by a massive impact.

    The bridge darkened to red alert and all hands went to battle stations.

    “REPORT,” she shouted.

    “A vessel dropped out of warp fifty kilometers off the port bow,” Tuvok reported from tactical. “Sensors did not detect their approach. They opened fire as soon as they emerged from subspace.”

    “Identify,” Chakotay snapped.

    Kim was the first to report. “It’s Borg.”

    “On screen,” Janeway ordered, her stomaching tying itself into a knot.

    The forward screen hissed with static and cleared with an image of small oblong-shaped vessel.

    “It’s a scout probe,” Seven said from her post.

    “They’re powering weapons again,” Tuvok said.

    The ship rumbled again. “Shields are holding at eighty percent,” Harry reported.

    “See if we can shake them up a bit,” the captain ordered. “Phasers to random nutation: fire.”

    “We’ve collapsed their starboard shields,” Tuvok said. “Their engines are have been damaged.”

    “Tom,” Janeway ordered. “Let’s get moving. I don’t want to hang around when this little guys big brothers show up.”

    “Warp nine point seven,” Paris confirmed as Voyager raced away from the battle site. “We’ll hit the Maurisko Expanse in four hours fifty six minutes.”

    “Any sign the other Borg ships detected us?” Chakotay asked.

    “Nothing on sensors,” Kim said. “Seven?”

    “Negative,” she replied. “It is possible that the scout’s link to the Collective was hampered by the tachyon field. I recommend launching a class-five probe to act as a relay for the sensors.”

    “Do it, Harry,” Janeway said. “Tom, hold this speed as long as we can. You have the Bridge, Chakotay, I’ll be in Astrometrics.”

    - - -

    B’Elanna Torres didn’t like pushing the engines this hard. The antimatter injectors were running at one hundred forty percent over capacity. Ensign Vorik and Crewman Chell were constantly applying new filed equations and reducing the strain manually by purging the antimatter waste at a faster clip through the secondary filters.

    Torres would’ve ordered full stop an hour ago if they hadn’t been running for cover from the Borg.

    She pushed away from her station and rubbed her eyes. She’d not slept well the night before. Hell, she hadn’t slept well in about four months. Ever since Chakotay had come down to engineering with that damned letter from Sveta.

    “Vorik,” she called out. “You’re in charge. I’m going to check the structural integrity field generator on deck six.”

    Without waiting for the Vulcan’s response, Torres was out of the engine room and into the nearest turbolift. “Holodeck Two,” she ordered.


    - - -

    Seven stood at the master display console in Astrometrics.

    “The tachyon field did in fact block communication between the scout ship and the rest of the Borg armada. However, a second vessel was dispatched forty nine minutes ago, they will most likely discover the debris from the scout ship within the hour. We are still eighty-six minutes from the Maurisko Expanse.”

    “Odds are they’ll send more than a scout this time,” Janeway said.

    Seven said. She input several commands. The image changed to show the cluster of Borg ships within the nebula. A small sphere was on a direct course for Voyager’s previous coordinates where they’d engaged the scout ship. “A Class-II long range tactical vessel. Their weapons are far superior to the scout. They pose a significant threat.”

    Glancing at a display, Janeway read the engineering status reports. “We’re holding at nine point six-five. Provided they find the debris, analyze it and detect our warp trail, how long will it take them to intercept us?”

    “Les than one hour.”

    - - -

    She’d assembled the troops.

    The senior staff had been called to the briefing room immediately upon Seven’s announcement. All but one…

    The doors hissed open and B’Elanna entered and took her seat. She was haggard looking, her hair a tangled mess, her face flushed with sweat. A dark bruise had formed on her right cheek, and deep cut had crusted with dried blood across her cranial ridges. “Sorry,” she said. “I was on Deck 15 fixing a faulty regulator. Took a tumble.”

    Janeway smiled faintly and pressed on. “We have a problem. There’s a Borg ship out there, sent to investigate the probe that attacked us. Based on Seven’s assessment we have less than fifty minutes before the sphere figures out what happens and intercepts us. Suggestions?”

    “We could polarize the nacelle couplings,” Harry said. “Put out a field of ionizing radiation that’d fool their sensors.”

    “The Borg sensors would penetrate the radiation field easily,” Seven said.

    “Can we boost engine power?” Chakotay asked. “Punch us up to warp nine point nine, get into the Expanse as fast as possible?”

    “We’d never be able to hold that speed long enough,” Torres said. Her voice was rough, her throat dry. “We’d blow out the warp coils and kill ourselves before the Borg had the chance to.”

    “The Borg do not kill,” Seven said harshly, “they assimilate.”

    “Some would say that’s worth than death,” Torres said, her voice like ice.

    “All right,” Janeway said. “We’re not here to debate that. What else? B’Elanna?”

    “What about the slipstream drive?” Torres ventured.

    “Are you crazy?” Harry said. “The last time we used that, we almost melted the hull.”

    “Yeah,” the engineer snapped back, “but we flew all the way to Borg space and back. If we’re going to escape this particular group of Borg, we only need to jump a couple of hundred light-years.”

    “How long will it take the bring the drive online?” the captain asked.

    “The specs are still in the database. The deflector’s the tricky part, modulating all those phase variances.”

    “Get on it,” the captain ordered. “Use whatever resources and crewmen you need. Dismissed.”

    - - -

    “Deflector output at maximum,” reported Kim from ops. “Field output at ninety seven percent.”

    The ship rumbled as the main deflector’s charged particles were continuing to manipulate normal matter at the quantum level in preparation for the creation of a slipstream vortex.

    “Red Alert,” Chakotay said, taking his seat. He looked over his shoulder at the auxiliary control board. “How’s it look?”

    Seven activated the main sequence. “Quantum field is constant. The threshold is forming directly ahead.”

    “What about the Borg ship?” Janeway asked from the starboard side of the bridge. She was watching the readouts on the engineering station over Vorik’s shoulder.

    “One minute to weapons range,” Tuvok reported.

    “It’s gonna be tight,” Paris said. “I’ve got the first set of phase corrections; waiting for Seven.’


    “Triggering the manifold now,” Seven said.

    “Confirmed,” came B’Elanna’s voice over the com. “See you in a few hundred light-years.”

    “Engage,” the captain ordered returning to her own seat.

    The forward screen shifted from the streaks of warp to the swirling blue-green mass of a slipstream vortex.

    The ship was pounded port to starboard and back again. “Phase variances are coming up faster than the computer can decipher them!” Paris shouted. “I’m having trouble holding us steady.”

    “How far have we traveled?” the first officer demanded.

    “Approximately fifty light-years,” Seven responded.

    “Hold us together Tom,” Janeway said. “I want to put as much distance as we can.” She tapped her combadge. “B’Elanna cut the deflector on my mark.”

    “Hull integrity at fifty percent,” Kim reported. “Forty five. Thirty nine.”

    Janeway counted to five then said, “All stop!”

    Voyager snapped like a rubber band and tumbled into a relative stop.

    “Damage reports are coming in,” Chakotay said, consulting his console. “Micro fractures on deck 15, the port nacelle’s been de-polarized and the shields are down.”

    “Any sign of Borg?” Janeway asked.

    “Negative,” Tuvok responded. “However, sensors are detecting no spatial bodies within range.”

    “None?” Harry asked, checking his own board. “Confirmed. There are no stars out there. In fact…he’s right. Nothing.”

    Janeway felt a headache coming on. “On screen.”

    Nothing but total blackness filled the forward screen. “Seven?” the captain asked.

    “The Borg have not encountered this region as I far I know. Astrometic scans do show stars and normal space behind us at a range of two hundred light-years, but nothing ahead.”

    “How far did we travel, Tom?” Janeway said.

    “Three hundred two point five light-years ma’am.”

    “If there’s space behind us,” Chakotay said, “there’s go to be something ahead.”

    “You’re right,” conceded the captain. “You heard him, Tom, resume course towards the Alpha quadrant, all ahead full.”

    With the captain’s order, the Starship Voyager plunged into the dark of night…
     
  7. CaptainSarine

    CaptainSarine Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2009
    Location:
    Lyon, France
    December 2009 Writing Challenge: A Single Act

    The Second Foundation by Joel Brown

    (40 years after the events of Sacrifice of Angels)

    Commandant's Log, Dominion Date 178567.9

    We are now seven weeks into our exploratory mission of the Delta Quadrant. My ship and most members of my crew have proved themselves admirably in the various tasks I have assigned them, all to the glory of the Founders.

    Although so far we have done little except record gaseous anomalies and confirm the location of various M-class worlds, last night our long range sensors picked up an interesting anomaly. A Federation-type transponder signal coming from over 50 light years away. As far as we are aware, no Federation ships have ever travelled this far and it is a mystery we are intrigued to resolve.

    I have thus ordered my navigation’s officer to plot a wormhole jump to the location of the signal so that we can investigate.

    xxx

    Bridge
    Dominion Ship 89010
    Somewhere in the Delta Quadrant

    The ship hummed beneath Vorta Peekar as they sped through the artificial wormhole.

    His ears thrummed softly as he glanced around his bridge. All around the circular bridge module stood Alpha Jem'hadar, their genetic structures improved after the war with the finest warrior DNA from the now extinct Klingon and Gorn races. Peekar smiled at the sight - a true testament to the greatness of the Dominion. Take the best from your enemies... and then destroy them ruthlessly.

    The rest of his crew, taken from other, more amenable Alpha and Beta Quadrant races, remained concentrated on their tasks. The pilot was an Orion, the weapons officers were a Romulan and a Cardassian, while a Ferengi manned the sensor station. Peekar himself was the result of an experimental Dominion program aimed at better integrating the Alpha and Beta Quadrants into the Greater Dominion - his genetic code was a mingling of Vorta, human and Vulcan, providing him with the greatest possible genetic code to carry out his duties.

    The human side of him was currently highly excited. Exploration had always been a major part of the human psyche, something that the Founders - in their wisdom - had harnessed to expand the Dominion into unknown territories. While the Delta Quadrant remained a key part of those plans, great fleets of ships had also been despatched beyond the galactic barrier itself, carrying order to the void.

    His thoughts were interrupted suddenly by the sound of a harsh beeping coming from the sensor station behind him. Peekar turned, calling up the readout from the station on his viewfinder as he did.

    "What is it?" he asked.

    The Ferengi - whose name Peekar was still unable to pronounce correctly - kept his eyes fixed to the console. "We are detecting weapons fire coming from our destination."

    Peekar frowned. "Why did we not detect this earlier?"

    "It may be a new battle or we may have been too far away to pick it up."

    Grunting, Peekar turned away. The Vorta side of him wished to dispose of the Ferengi for his failure, but the human side held him back. It was hard, sometimes, balancing the different impulses. Not that he would ever question the Founder's wisdom in making him this way.

    "How long until we arrive?"

    The Orion pilot did not turn from his station. "Two minutes, thirty five seconds."

    "Raise shields, arm weapons. I don't want us to be taken by surprise."

    The tension on the bridge rose a few notches and even Peekar felt it. He closed his eyes, accessing the calming waters of his Vulcan heritage, bringing his emotions under control. After a few moments, he opened his eyes again, knowing that their violet hue would have taken on a lighter, blue tinge. Much better.

    The next two minutes passed in silence, and then the Ferengi spoke up. "Sensors confirm two ships engaged in a battle. One definitely has a Federation transponder signal, though the configuration is unknown. The other..."

    Peekar turned, frustrated at the hesitation, allowing his anger to momentarily escape his Vulcan control. "What?" he snapped.

    "The other ship is Borg."

    All three parts of his genetic heritage suddenly felt very, very cold. The Borg. They hadn't been heard of in the Alpha, Beta or Gamma Quadrants since the Dominion swept the last flames of resistance aside at the Battle of Sol. Still, Peekar held the memories of every Vorta who had come before him and he knew exactly how dangerous those deranged cyborgs could be.

    "Ten seconds to aperture," the Orion pilot said.

    Peekar gripped the console in front of him until his hands turned white. Then the wormhole collapsed around them, propelling them out into the middle of a firefight.

    Through his viewfinder, Peekar could clearly make out the cubic form of a Borg ship. The other ship was much less identifiable. Though the nacelles were clearly of Federation origin, the body of the ship held the distinctive markers of at least five other races - Peekar recognised Hirogen, Kazon and even Krenim technology.

    "Unidentified ship's transponder signal claims it is the CSS Enterprise."

    Enterprise? Peekar knew the name, very well in fact - a large part of his human heritage had been stolen from the deceased Federation captain Jean-Luc Picard and he shared some of the man's memories, a graft that it was believed would increase his command capabilities. Picard had long been a thorn in the Dominion's side, one of the last to fall at the end of the war.

    Peekar was about to order his ship into the fray when the Enterprise fired a massive particle weapon from its forward hull. The beam struck the side of the Borg ship and a massive explosion shook the cube. Before Peekar could say anything, the Borg vessel exploded entirely, leaving nothing but a debris field behind.

    "By the Material Continuum," the Ferengi swore. Normally Peekar would have punished him for blaspheming against the Founders, but he was too shocked by what he had just seen to react.

    "What was that?" he asked.

    The Romulan weapons officer checked his screens before answering. "It seems to have been some kind of chroniton based weapon, Vorta."

    Chroniton-based? That was impossible.

    Before he could take the thought any further, though, the Ferengi spoke again. "Vorta, we are being hailed."

    "Put it through."

    The view of the debris field and the strange ship was replaced almost immediately by a darkened bridge, red lights flashing amidst thick smoke. A female humanoid stood in the middle of the battle scarred bridge, dressed in what Peekar instantly recognised as an old style Starfleet uniform, complete with the pips of a Captain.

    "Unidentified ship, this is the Confederation Starship Enterprise. State your intentions."

    "This is the Dominion vessel 89010, Vorta Peekar in command. We were on an exploratory mission in the Delta Quadrant when we picked up your transponder signal and decided to --."

    "The Dominion?" the female captain cut him off. "The Dominion has no jurisdiction in Confederation space."

    "I wasn't aware that there was a Confederation, Captain..?"

    "Wildman," the woman said. "Naomi Wildman. And you're right in the middle of Confederation space, Dominion. You're not welcome."

    "Captain Wildman, we are not an invasion force," Peekar said firmly. Not yet anyway, he thought to himself. "Our only intent is to meet new friends and open dialogue with them. As such, I would be very interested in meeting and discussing with a representative of your ruling council."

    "I'm sure you would,” Wildman responded, voice dripping with irony. “Well, I can't make that decision myself, Dominion. Hold station here, let me contact headquarters, and I'll get back to you."

    Before Peekar could say anything else, the communication was cut. Both his human and Vorta instincts railed at the cavalier way he was being treated, while his Vulcan heritage told him to remain calm.

    There really was nothing else to do but wait.

    xxx

    Captain Wildman was as good as her word. An hour later, Enterprise hailed them again and Wildman informed him that the ruling council of the Confederation had tendered an invitation for the Dominion ship to accompany Enterprise back to the capital world.

    "I assume from your arrival that you have some kind of slipstream or wormhole technology?"

    "We have the capability of creating artificial wormholes, yes," Peekar said with no little pride.

    To his surprise, Wildman snorted. "Big deal, Dominion. Here are the coordinates."

    Peekar glanced at the Orion, trying to hide his discomfort at Wildman's lack of reaction to news of their technology. His pilot checked his viewscreen, then nodded. Peekar looked at Wildman again.

    "We have the coordinates. If you would like us to open a wormhole for you..."

    "Don't bust a gasket, Dominion. We have our own way of getting around. See you on the other side."

    The screen went blank, leaving Peekar looking at the strangely shaped Confederation starship. To his utter astonishment, the whole ship began to glow, light seeming to emanate from every particle. Before Peekar's rapidly widening eyes, the whole starship suddenly vanished in a flash of bright, white light.

    "May the Founders forgive me," Peekar whispered. "How did they do that?"

    "Our sensors didn't pick up any kind of energy reading," the Ferengi said. "We... We have no idea."

    By the Founders, Peekar thought. What exactly are these people?

    New Earth

    A sparkling jewel of a world, all blues and greens and whites when viewed from orbit, the capital planet of the Confederation lay on the outskirts of what Dominion galactic maps identified as Hirogen space. It took the ship a good half hour to arrive through the artificial wormhole, while a rapid calculation made by his genetically enhanced mind informed Peekar that at maximum possible warp it would have taken them at least a day.

    Enterprise, though, had made the flight much more quickly. She was already in orbit around the planet, along with at least two dozen other Confederation ships, ranging in size from vast cruisers twice as large as Enterprise to tiny tugs zipping in and out of the larger vessels.

    Wildman hailed them the moment they dropped out of their wormhole. She wore an insufferable smile on her face.

    "Nice of you to finally show up, Dominion," she quipped. "Sorry to have left you behind like that."

    "How did you--" Peekar began.

    "I'm afraid that's classified, Dominion," Wildman replied. "I've received instructions to have you beam over to Enterprise and then to accompany you down to the surface. The President is looking forward to meeting you."

    "The President?"

    "Yes. Is that a problem?"

    Peekar swallowed. "No, no, not at all. I did not expect to be dealing with your president directly..."

    "He has taken a personal interest in this situation, Dominion. I'm transmitting the coordinates for beam over."

    Again, the viewfinder went dark. Peekar was astonished to discover that he was sweating. It must be his human glands. It certainly wasn’t his Vulcan heritage.

    "Vorta, I have received the coordinates," the Ferengi said from his post.

    "Good. First Tlameraktaklan?"

    One of the Jem'hadar, his brow slightly furrowed like a Klingon’s, stepped forward and snapped to attention. "I live to serve, Vorta."

    "Choose three of your men to accompany me to the Confederation ship."

    "I shall accompany you personally, along with my Second and my Third."

    "Very well." Peekar waved a hand dismissively. He turned to the Ferengi. "Drop our shields and beam us over."

    "Yes, Vorta."

    Moments later, the transporter effect surrounded him and the three Jem'hadar, throwing them across the gulfs of space to the waiting Confederation ship.

    Republic Plaza
    Parish City
    New Earth

    The President met them in the main reception hall of Republic Plaza, the chief government building.

    Peekar was surprised to see that the man was dressed in a military style uniform. An ageing human - his Picard memories identified him as being of asian heritage - he walked with a cane, but Peekar could tell there was hidden strength in those arms and legs.

    "Vorta Peekar, welcome to New Earth."

    Peekar felt a slight shiver run down his spine. For a moment, he had a flash of his Vorta race-memory, specifically those of the now defunct Vorta Weyoun. He had stood on the bridge of the Dominion cruiser that carried out the burning of Earth six months after the fall of Bajor and the taking of the wormhole. Earth had since become a symbol of the delusional resistance cells in the Alpha Quadrant. To hear this place referred to as New Earth...

    "The Founders send their greetings and their wishes to the peoples of the Confederation," Peekar said, repeating the message that Founder Odo had taught him before his departure.

    The President smiled slowly. "I imagine you were surprised to find remnants of the Federation so far away from the Alpha Quadrant," he said.

    Peekar could not resist nodding his head. "It was... unexpected."

    "I'm sure it was. Come, I will explain as we walk."

    With the three Jem'hadar trailing behind, Peekar followed President Kim, with Captain Wildman at his side, out of the reception room and into a large corridor. Everything was made of the finest marble and metals - this Confederation seemed to be a wealthy stellar nation. Peekar also noted a large number of armoured guards stood along the walls and hidden in the balconies that lined the upper walls. They all held very large weapons and their eyes followed Peekar and the Jem'hadar with intent.

    "The Confederation exists thanks to an accident," the President began as they walked down the vast hallway. "You see, two years before the Dominion-Federation War began, a Starfleet ship was thrown across the galaxy to the far edge of the Delta Quadrant. That ship, the USS Voyager, started on a generation-long trek across space in an attempt to get home."

    The President glanced at Peekar. "I was a young ensign onboard that ship when the accident happened. Working together, we fought our way past Kazons and Hirogen, Borg and Vidiians, all in a desperate flight home. We shaved days, then months, and then finally years off our journey. We saw things..." He shook his head. "We saw things that no one has ever seen and will never see again."

    "And then, three years into our journey, we came across a huge and powerful array. That array allowed us to communicate with our home, with the worlds we had left behind. And what did we learn?"

    While they had been talking, they had reached the end of the hallway and stepped out onto a massive balcony. The President led them to the edge of that balcony and Peekar peered down into a vast open space, filled with trees and fountains. In the middle of the square stood a ship. It seemed tiny compared to the ones that the Dominion built now. Peekar's genetically enhanced eye-sight picked out the writing on the top of the saucer section.

    USS Voyager NCC-74656

    The President turned to look at Peekar and his eyes were blazing. "We learned that our friends had been killed. People we loved, we cared about, had been slaughtered by a new enemy. The Dominion."

    Lifting his cane, the elderly statesman pointed it towards Peekar. First Tlameraktaklan took a step forward, growling, but Peekar lifted a hand, stopping him. Diplomacy, he thought. Diplomacy is the only way.

    "This Dominion," and he spat the word, "had killed millions. We learned that they had come sweeping through the Bajor wormhole, that they had torched the planet and destroyed Deep Space Nine, before launching a brutal assault on the rest of the Federation. We learned that Earth was gone. Vulcan reduced into slavery. Andor, Orion, Ferenginar - burned and subdued. We learned that there was no hope."

    Peekar could remember all of those events, both through the eyes of the Vorta and the eyes of the Federation Captain Picard. He felt a strange sensation in the pit of his stomach as he stared into the President’s eyes.

    "The last act of Starfleet Command was to order us not to continue home. Instead, they ordered us to find a suitable M-class planet and to take refuge there. To build a new home for ourselves."

    The President swept out his arm, seeming to encompass not only the palace, not only the planet, but all the planets of this Confederation. "We built a new Federation out here amongst these stars. We found allies and we integrated their technology into our own. We found enemies and..." His voice broke. "And we used that technology to subdue them. We did things that we had never dreamed ourselves capable of doing. All to make sure that we would be strong when the day eventually came."

    Peekar felt his heart began to beat faster. "When what day came?"

    The President smiled. "This day, of course. When the Dominion would reach out into the Delta Quadrant. We knew that one day, you would come this way." He took a step closer to Peekar. "And we made sure we would be ready."

    He heard a sudden sharp intake of breath from behind him. The First. He began to turn, but the President moved with sudden speed. Before Peekar could react, a blade snapped out of the old man's cane and tore through his clothes and his flesh. The pain flared for a moment, then faded.

    President Harry Kim reached out and pulled him near. "The pain has already gone, hasn't it?” He smiled. “Poisoned blade. You'll be dead within seconds."

    "My... my ship."

    "Gone," President Kim said. "Destroyed. We were able to use our scanners to get clear sweeps of your technology. We know your defences, now, Vorta."

    The darkness began to rush in around Peekar's vision. He could hear rushing in his ears. The last words he heard were the words of the President of the Confederation.

    "If your gods are waiting for you on the other side? Tell them. We're coming."

    The End
     
  8. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    January 2010 challenge: Myriads and Myriads

    Star Trek:

    Sigils and Unions AU​

    “The Nature of the Beast”​

    Author’s Note: This story is written in an AU based on my main Sigils and Unions universe, and looks at a possibility of what could’ve happened if the Dominion had won—however, I envision the turning point in the war as being something else in “Sacrifice of Angels”: a life spared (Ziyal), and a life ended (Odo). Whether the Sisko lives, I do not know…but if he has died, it could explain a lot as well. I was inspired in this challenge by Captain Sarine’s descriptions in his entry from last month of the conflict in her hybrid Vorta Peekar’s mind…I wondered what would happen if a conflict like that spread over an entire race. With his gracious permission, I submit this stream-of-consciousness remembrance to you as my entry for January. Without the author’s note, I have a word count of 4936.


    We won.

    We finally won.

    The question now is how we live, in our victory.

    Unlike the Klingons and Romulans, who were hunted down across the galaxy and devastated to the point that their species are without hope of survival, we actually lived with most of our population intact, once they broke Starfleet. Some worlds weren’t so lucky, even in what used to be the Federation. The Andorians, too, were destroyed, as well as other species deemed ‘too militant’ to be allowed the privilege of existing. The Bajorans…they lived in conditions worse than the Cardassian Occupation, in revenge for one of their number killing the “renegade Founder,” Odo, for treason against the resistance back on Terok Nor—I mean Deep Space Nine.

    As for us…as for humanity, or whatever we are now, they wanted us alive. We found out in recent years why it was…the Dominion had been suffering incursions along its furthest borders for years, and besides them, we had the best record of defeating the Borg of any other known race. Of course, all of Starfleet had a part in it, but they saw Picard and Data, designed by a human, and decided that we, specifically, were what they needed.

    Lucky us.

    We were supposed to be their innovators, our minds given over to the effort against the Borg. So they had to control us somehow—but it was thought that too much would destroy the very trait for which we had been cultivated. That ruled out the outright Founder-worship genes installed in the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar; it was thought that degree of control would destroy whatever it was they sought in us.

    Some people call it the Graft, or the Change. Some people with a particularly ironic sense of humor call it the Cataclysm, after the climate shift on Cardassia Prime. Unlike the worship-gene, the Graft was supposed to have been an investment in time, its efficacy the combined effect of the new genetic inheritance and indoctrination techniques developed for it by the Cardassians. It wasn’t our generation, the one that fought the war all those years ago and remembered the way we used to be, that they were counting on…it was our children, and the generations after that in perpetuity.

    The vector for the Graft was a virus, tailor-made for the human race. Its genetic payload was carried in a shell much like the common cold, except it had an extremely long dormancy period…over a year, in some cases. The Dominion may have successfully contained our military, but there were so many worlds where we lived that they had to be sure the virus would spread before we realized what was happening to us…because, the fear was, without the Graft, humanity was quixotic, unpredictable, and there was no telling just how hard we’d fight. And if we did that…well, the Dominion would be forced to destroy their precious anti-Borg resources.

    Oh, so sorry!

    By the time the symptoms and the genetic alterations started showing up, it was too late—we’d already had a year of “free” travel between our worlds: heavily monitored by the Vorta, of course, and likely engineered to ensure the spread of the Graft. What we’d thought was a token show of “benevolence” for the end of hostilities was instead the tool by which they thought they’d hold us hostage forever.

    In some ways, I was fortunate. Being on the front lines at the end of the war, I had no way to know what was about to happen to me, no idea—as some later knew—of what I was spreading everywhere once I got back to Earth. I also can’t remember the night they say I went into seizures as the new neurological structures that had been weaving themselves in my brain decided they were ready to come online. It seems sudden now, talking about it, but the brain has no pain receptors; only excess pressure or cognitive and sensory abnormalities could tip you off. Or, of course, seizures.

    When I woke up, I didn’t really know at first what had changed. I didn’t feel that different—it was only when I started to really interact with people as I was about to be released from the hospital that I realized what had happened. I thought I was insane at first…it felt logical, but not human as we defined it then. I felt this force…something like a compulsion but not quite that, this nagging sensation of when to submit, to obey, when to command, how to show these in barely-conscious ways and how to read it in others.

    You should’ve seen the clamor when I reported all of this. The human doctor in charge of my care was horrified…he knew what this represented, or at least he strongly suspected. He was raising Cain around the hospital—he wanted a quarantine, he wanted to treat me, to do something, but the Vorta wouldn’t let him. No…this was what they wanted. I, and the others like me, who were starting to emerge all around our worlds—some in obvious fashion with seizures like mine, and others, who were just waking up changed…the Vorta were clear: we were humanity’s future. I was to return to my life, knowing that if those around me weren’t infected already, they would be. Because of me.

    I thought about killing myself as soon as I got home, rather than serve as their willing carrier. But the Vorta—who now devoted his personal attention to me, as one of his experiments—seemed to know what was running through my mind, and warned me against it. Your children were admitted this morning; you can see them as soon as they wake up. Have you ever seen a Cardassian family, human? If you have, then you’ll understand: they will need you, look up to you, as they never have before.

    It nearly brought me to my knees. My daughters, aged four and six—sick because of me? Changed, cursed with this strange guiding knowledge because of me? I raged inside, though I dared not show it to the Dominion servant: for now I knew, too, what they had done to us. What, as more people flooded into the hospital that day, I realized they had done to all of us.

    The Cardassians call it the hierarchical instinct. If you’ve ever seen dogs, or wolves, interact with each other, then you’ll get the idea. And if you’re one of us…you understand this for yourself. But if you’re not, then imagine that you have a need to be part of the ‘pack,’ for its social structures around you and as part of you. Your family is the most central part of it; your neighborhood, your co-workers…all of this figures into it, too. That acceptance and that harmony…they were important before the Graft, yes, but now the effects have been magnified. Disrupt that structure, that companionship, and the psychological stress is immense, and can affect your body as well as just your mind. And to rebel…some individuals will inevitably still do so, but it’s that much harder for a widespread rebellion to crystallize. It requires…well, I’ll get to that later.

    So for a moment, the Vorta actually wore an expression that resembled compassion, as I came to the understanding that what had woven itself into my brain, been grafted into my very DNA and that of so many others around me, was not human, and it was not going to be coming out. Don’t blame yourself, he said. You have just ensured their survival. It will go easiest on the young; their minds are so incredibly resilient at that age, and they can adjust to almost anything.

    Believe me when I said it didn’t make me feel any better. I just wanted to see my children. I needed to see them wake up, hold them in my arms, try…try to tell them it was going to be okay. Or at least, if not that everything was okay, that I had walked this path before them and that I was all right and I would be there for them. I needed this on every level I’d ever known and was coming to know.

    And thank God for my children. If not for them, I probably would have been among the many who died that year by their own hands as the Graft swept across Earth and its colonies, seized hold of the human race and made us into something else.
     
  9. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    The Dominion made a grave mistake, though. They had looked at the Cardassians and their long history, far less troubled by rebellions or disobedience than ours, and they made the one critical assumption that they should never have made. They assumed it was impossible. They assumed that once they had established themselves as our masters, just as Central Command and the Obsidian Order had established themselves as the masters of Cardassia, that our trajectory too would fall into line, one long march of never-ending sacrifice to the state.

    It looked like they were right, at first. Combined with the relentless indoctrination in the media and in the schools, as our generation aged and our children, who had no memories of anything different in or around them, grew up and began to assume more and more responsibility, acts of visible rebellion slowed to a trickle…almost to nothing. The part of me that remembered what I had been before the war—that still held that precious connection to the history and heritage we humans built before the Graft—was greatly dismayed. The other part of me…it wanted order, and obedience was an acceptable price.

    For our generation, the Founders counted on the fact that we would have too difficult of a time coming to terms with the change in us to look outward: forming our society again, in a way that could both survive the Dominion and survive the shift in our beings was our most pressing concern. Our longing for the days of old, they figured, could never again translate into action.

    But like I said…the Founders made a serious mistake. The precedent they used—and the source of the Graft they installed in us—was not one of a race without free will. They never expected that when they started bringing the Cardassians to Earth to meet their newly-fashioned cousins that it would be some among them who would teach us how to rebel again. That just as we in the former Federation had grown up learning to look past each other’s skin, the Cardassians would do the same thing when they recognized the engineered kinship between us and they saw that in spite of how we looked to them, and the languages that we spoke, that we were so strangely familiar to them.

    Because of my combat experience, both as infantry and shipboard, I was assigned to the weapons research center the Dominion set up in the Arizona desert. Outright sabotage wasn’t an option: we were constantly watched by Dominion servants…but mostly by the Cardassians, whose physiologies this center had been set up to accommodate above all else.

    The Dominion had been very careful about the introduction of Cardassians to Earth, and maybe this caution proved their undoing. Knowing very well how the Cardassian military had behaved on Bajor and their own worlds, the last thing they wanted to do was to let us humans think we were in for the same sort of brutality. To that end, they maintained a very tight rein on how the Cardassians were and weren’t allowed to exercise their authority on Earth and the numerous other worlds where their soldiers were deployed…with the exception of Betazed and Cairn, where their mental shielding abilities meant they could do what even the Vorta could not.

    The irony of their caution was that in selecting the Cardassian liaisons for their restraint, they ended up selecting people we could actually form ties with. And the more we started to learn about each other…it wasn’t just the commonality created by the Graft that tied us together. I even started to get the feeling there were dissidents among them, all the way up to the facility’s commander...a wounded veteran that as I came to find out, had eventually been forced from command by the Vorta put in charge of his ship because of the Dominion belief that the disabled had no place in military service. Somehow, the unusually genial gul was able to call in a number of favors to avoid being discharged completely, and was assigned here to Earth as head of the Maricopa Research Center.

    Yes…we developed weapons that the Dominion could and did use…some against the Borg and other Delta Quadrant threats, and yes—some against those few who still tried to resist in the Alpha Quadrant. Sometimes, in the designs we did release, we engineered flaws into them—nothing that would gain notice right away, but that sometimes, if we were lucky, just might fail in the right place at the right time and save lives. But we didn’t share the best designs. Those we kept for ourselves…never written down, maintained only in the minds of those who worked on them.

    Forty years passed. My daughters grew up, got married, and had their own children. And the human species seemed to settle down into its new pattern, now that the initial crisis had passed, though there is another vague sense of loss in addition to the mourning of those lost in the war, and of those who took their own lives or otherwise did not survive the Cataclysm of Earth. It is a sense of disconnection from our history and from the memories of those of us who remember the time before.

    The thought of rebellion should have been invigorating. But it wasn’t...not at first. The sensation of upsetting the strange social order that had evolved on Earth in the wake of the Graft, however artificial, however unwelcomed, was disquieting…much more so than it would have been before. And it wasn’t even just the threat to family—it was the loss of order, of certainty of place…even a thoroughly unpleasant place. It demanded so much from me, and from the rest of us, and that only exacerbated the horrid, overwhelming sensation as the physical response to the thought further alarmed the mind and the disgust at said reaction turned into a self-feeding cycle until the mind tired of the subject.

    But I’ll never forget that day, twenty years before our victory, when we were finally alone outside in the desert with the gul and we finally spoke of rebellion openly. By then, enough years had passed that friendships among the humans and Cardassians on the staff seemed natural even to the Dominion supervisors, and in some ways, it seemed to lull them—or at least the Vorta—into complacency. They never questioned the gradual shift from coldness to closeness in our group.

    That night the Leonids were coming, and I suggested a number of us get away from civilization and set up telescopes the old-fashioned way and watch the meteors come in. You’d be surprised how much Cardassians enjoy stargazing; their eyes see better at night than ours, and it’s a common tradition on Cardassia Prime. On Earth, they especially enjoy eclipses; the way the Cardassia system is set up, it lacks the exact ratios and distances between celestial bodies to create total eclipses, so even with their eidetic memories, they never seem to tire of seeing it. That meant we didn’t have to worry about word going all over the research center on what we were doing; no one would question the interspecies gathering.

    The only challenge, you’d think, would’ve been to avoid party crashers, but thankfully Vorta can barely see in front of their noses, Jem’Hadar think it’s a waste of time, and for the most part the humans and Cardassians we didn’t want had become apathetic over the long two decades of a conquered Earth and altered humanity. And there were, of course, those nearly subconscious signals that we all knew how to send on our shared human and Cardassian wavelength, that made it clear to a few suspect individuals that they might be coworkers, but they weren’t part of the social group.

    Once we were well out into the desert and certain we had not been followed—the gul had long since developed a means of detecting shrouded Jem’Hadar, we got out of our landskimmer and left it a kilometer behind us, the better to prevent any listening devices that might be aboard from picking up our voices. At last, I had a chance to pose my question to the gul, who seemed quite unaffected by his dissident status, even when you would think the nature of his injuries would reveal his stress whether he wanted it to or not.

    How do you do it? I finally asked. How do you get around this damned thing in your mind? And how are we ever going to get enough people to follow us? The later generations—that of my children and grandchildren—I worried about especially…many of us who remembered the Graft as opposed to being born with it had tried to counter the Dominion’s conditioning as best as we could without getting ourselves and our families killed, but we feared that just like the old Cardassian Union, before the Dominion absorbed them, that it was too well entrenched now in mind and instinct for them to find any way to rise up en masse.

    You have to be very certain, he said. If you are the one at the top, the idea itself must become your leader and you have to remind yourself of that time and again, to help you block out the voices of everyone else around you—and especially those above you. If you have a family…remember them. Call upon that duty to provide, upon your position as a mother or father...it’s a world we need to provide for them. Remind yourself of every authority you know that is greater—more legitimate—than the ones who say they’re in charge right now, and instead of fighting your instincts you’ll find you’re following them right into what you need to do.

    Over time, it worked. I tried not to let the change happen too quickly, lest my demeanor shift too fast and alert anyone that something about me was different, but it worked. It became easier to contemplate rebellion, and soon, to act. And after two decades of apathy…I remembered my faith.

    Like I already said, we never had handed all of our designs over to the Dominion; some of them existed only in our memories. Now, we started working in earnest, and when we could, finding ways to build and test our systems either here on Earth, or through the gul’s contacts, on some of the uninhabited worlds deep in the territories once known as the Cardassian Union. For the longest time, it seemed like no matter what we did, nothing we invented would ever be strong enough to take on the Dominion. Even the Romulans had turned to them ten years after the end of the war for salvation when a supernova threatened to blow open a spatial rift that could swallow their entire empire whole…and for just a few minutes, the Dominion actually generated an artificial wormhole to absorb the energy of the blast and shunt it out into the space between the galaxies. Having that fact in the back of our minds was pretty daunting, to say the least.

    But the Dominion had grown too used to fighting only on the Delta front, as they called it, in sporadic bursts, and never on the Alpha front. And when we finally perfected the interphasic cloaking technology, retooling it over years of hard work to use it on whatever scale we wanted, from the size of an entire ship to small enough for just one person, we had it…a weapon that would allow us to fight the Dominion unseen and untouchable. It was even better than a cloaking device. Better than a Jem’Hadar shroud. And at my suggestion—one that the gul quite readily adopted—we put to use the lesson of the Graft. We, too, could be patient in our planning; just as the long dormancy period of the virus ensured its spread before we realized what was happening, if we played this right, we could have all the pieces in place before the Dominion had any idea they were on the edge of destruction.

    Every cloning facility we could find.

    Every shipyard.

    Every place they manufactured the white.

    As many ships as we could get to.

    Our agents, over the years, even crossed into the Gamma Quadrant to leave whatever bombs we could on the other side, too.

    All of our explosive devices were set for the same day and hour, three years out from the day we started placing them. Set just out of phase with the universe, you could walk right through one without even disturbing it, without ever picking it up on scanners or knowing it was there, without knowing very, very specifically what you were looking for. Any bomb whose cloaking device failed was set to detonate immediately upon decloaking; all of them lay either next to a warp reactor or a munitions depot, their casing made to disintegrate upon explosion so that if one did go off prematurely, it would look like an accident.

    We had a couple of close calls, one on a Jem’Hadar dreadnought in the Gamma Quadrant—thankfully, for no one thought to look our way for something that distant—and another one at the shipyards in orbit of Kora II when another dreadnought detonated in its berth and took half the shipyard with it. We didn’t exactly lay low after that—we didn’t want to change our behavior patterns—so we took a couple of stargazing trips after that incident, where we did nothing but…look at stars.

    After a month or two had passed, and we were sure no one was looking our way, we entered the final stage of our plans: preparing a number of Cardassian vessels with loyal commanders, and whatever ships we could get our hands on in the former Federation territories—mainly fighters like what the Maquis used to use—to go under cloak. The fighters we went ahead and cloaked, and moved into position; the Cardassian ships would vanish the instant of the explosions and start a series of lightning raids on whatever Dominion targets they could quickly hit and escape from before they had a chance to figure out what was going on. And we’d have to hope like hell that our example of massive, active resistance…our leadership…combined with the chaos of being hit on all fronts at once, would give the human and Cardassian species the anchor they needed to rebel.

    It came in the middle of the night, Phoenix time: December 31st, 2419…a decade that would end in a rain of fire. Our group had left the Maricopa Research Center ostensibly to view a total lunar eclipse—but this time, once we reached our campsite, we jumped back in our skimmer, and sped off for Ashfork as quickly as we could, staying offroad to avoid attention from the police. We pulled up at Cathedral Caverns, knowing we wouldn’t have long; the groundskeeper who lived there was one of ours, but once that eclipse went total, every bomb from here to the Omarion Nebula was going to blow, our part of the Cardassian fleet would fall off the grid, and we had to be under cloak and heading off-planet before we were traced.

    It was a mad scramble, but we made it…and for the first time then, I felt the full force of what the Cardassians called synchronicity. It took hardly any speech, hardly any overt orders—we each knew what we were there for, who we reported to, and in a way even beyond my memories of Starfleet, everything just flowed. Just as we cleared atmosphere and hit full impulse, even our wake trail just out of synch with the rest of the universe…D-Day.

    With the Dominion still reeling from the first wave of destruction, our fleets hit them with everything we had before they could muster a coordinated response. The people saw this and finally, finally, they rose up, knocking the Dominion even further off balance. Everything around them was a threat. And then, just as they started to gather strength once more, we delivered the coup de grace—we threatened to hand the technology we’d used to pull off our sweeping attack to the Borg.

    I don’t even want to think what would’ve happened if they’d forced our hand, and we really had had to make contact with the Borg.

    Thankfully that never came to pass. While they contemplated our warning, we blew up a few more targets—some with bombs we’d put in place for a second wave, others with the fleet that in this glorious moment, roamed with impunity. And for the first time, someone had given the Founders a taste of the fear they’d inflicted on world after world: the terror of enemies lurking unseen right before your very eyes, capable of ripping the rug out from under an empire in an instant. They had used what had been done to them in the past as an excuse for inflicting their own brand of pain on others…and finally, we had reminded them of what it really meant to be hunted.

    We had the technology, too, to detect shapeshifters far more effectively than any blood test ever had; our work with the interphasic cloak had also given us a window into the extradimensional areas that Changelings always had just a little of their mass anchored in. This tether, without which a Changeling could assume no other form but their natural one, was a telltale they could never be rid of. We didn’t tell them how we could do it, of course. But we told them where a few of their covert number were located—just enough to give them the idea of what we could do if we got a mind to do it.

    And with that...the circle closed around them. Crippled and surrounded by enemies on all sides as they had done to “solids” for millennia, they signed the Treaty and withdrew. The threat is still out there, of course, though we’re monitoring their world for any signs of trouble. If they’re ever willing to approach us in the open, to deal with us as being to being instead of superior to inferior, to celebrate their nature without using it for fear, then perhaps this galaxy can be made whole once more. For now, though, they hide on their world as a lake of protoplasm, showing no signs of movement. The Jem’Hadar are dead from lack of ketracel white; as for the Vorta…most of them have killed themselves, though a few are trying to live with us now that they have no more word from their dormant gods.

    One last specter hangs over us: the Borg…unchecked by the Dominion now, we have to hope we’ll be strong enough to fight if and when the time comes for them to try to destroy those who brought their most powerful enemy to their knees. Right now intelligence suggests they’re caught in an interdimensional clash of the titans, but if their attention on these adversaries should ever wane…there’s no doubt: we’ll be next, and the recovering Confederation will know war once more.
     
  10. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    Now, though…in this first year of our freedom, we of human descent have one final question to answer. What is to be done about the Graft?

    The debate puzzles our cousins, to some extent, sometimes even seems to as though we have passed judgment on them—but it makes sense. They have lived this way for as long as their species has ever known existence. What we have only come to experience in the past…nearly fifty years…was never an intrusion to them. They would no sooner alter themselves than cut off a hand or a foot.

    I have lived half my life with the mind of a human and the instincts of a Cardassian—I am much more used to it now, and have even seen the positive sides of it, but many of my generation want nothing more than for the human race to repair itself, to become what we used to be. Part of me yearns to spend my retirement years…summit years, as the gul would call them…as fully human, and to die that way.

    The trouble is this. How do we look our children and grandchildren in the eyes and tell them that what they have known all their lives, the way that they had always been when we told them we loved them, the society they have always known, is corrupted…inferior? They have a basic understanding now of what the Dominion did…but many of them were also part of the rebellion. They made the hard choices, even if they arrived at it differently than their ancestors would have.

    Are we human now, or did the Graft forever mould us into something else? Is this the Dominion’s last laugh at us, or should we instead take what was done and continue to prove with every day that they could touch the body and the mind…but never the soul?

    We finally won.

    The question now is how we live, in our victory.

    ------------

    The eclipse date is real. Also, I offer you the song that also acted as an inspiration while I wrote--"E for Extinction," by Thousand Foot Krutch. The lyrics, while not the best, are still very, very appropriate: [COLOR=#bbccff]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuN1kB9IGp4[/COLOR]
     
  11. KobayashiMaru13

    KobayashiMaru13 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Location:
    358/2 Days
    February Challenge- First Contacts :: In this challenge, you had to create your own choose-your-own-adventure story. Be sure to read this post first, or it won't be much of a choose-your-own-adventure! ;)

    In this third-person story, you will be playing the role of Jethro Tannings, as you try to make a successful and peaceful first-contact with the indigenous species of Nelantus I. Good luck.

    The USS Neverland Chronicles:
    First Contacts
    Jethro Tannings let his eyes wander over the trees around them, all clawing and strangling each other in an attempt to win the sunlight. Nelantus I was a deftly unforgiving place—or at least, that was what he thought.

    Nelantus I was a lush jungle world, inhabited by its indigenous, hominid species. But what gave Jethro the suspicion that there was something amiss, was that none of those indigenous people were anywhere outside of their huge, well defended camps. And there must have been a reason. That was specifically why he, and his team where there.

    Their plan was to try and enter one of those camps.

    Now, First Officer Suroth had hypothesized that each of the encampments was home to a separate “clan” of sorts, due to the great difference in architectural styles, and observed behaviors of the people. Captain Nairvet proposed that they try to contact one of them. Thus, as advised by Suroth, Jethro and his team where heading to the encampment of one of the “clans” that seemed (or at least as well as they could tell from their long-range spying) the most peaceful. But things would have been so much easier if the jungle didn’t have a habit of interfering with tricorder readings with all of its various chemicals.

    In short, they were lost.

    Growwnarlashten swung down from the trees, flexing his long muscles under his leopard fur. “I say we ought to go due east,” he said in a low growl. “The last readings we had said that encampment was in that direction.”

    Vexenterani shook her head at him, the sunlight bouncing off of her iridescent skin in a cascade of rainbow light. “No, Growl,” she said. “That was a different camp. The one we want would be to the west.”

    “Your both wrong,” Herran called from where he was behind, bringing up the rear. “We already passed where we should have turned, but nobody listened to me. And then we ended up turning in a circle! There’s no telling what direction we should have gone in.”

    Jethro sighed, and looked over to Yera’sy for help. Yera’sy only looked back at him helplessly.

    Head east. Growl’s a bipedal leopard after all; he knows the forest better than anyone.
    “We’re going east,” Jethro sighed, earning a livid look from Vexenterani. “Growl’s right. That was where we got our last reading from. Even if it is the wrong camp, it still is a camp.”

    Growl made a soft, throaty noise, which Jethro had no doubt was a smug growl as they followed Growl as he swung off in the direction he had indicated.

    “With our luck, we’ll be walking into the camp of the most vicious of these jungle clans,” Herran said.

    “I think I’ve told you before,” Jethro scowled as they continued walking. “Don’t be so pessimistic all of the time.”

    Vexenterani laughed lightly at that—a jangle of chimes—despite her obvious irritation.

    After hours of trudging and kicking their way through tangles of weeds and grass, Growl let out a whistle above them, then dropped back down to the jungle floor.

    “I was right,” Growl said with a feral grin. “There’s a camp right up ahead in a large clearing.” Vexenterani scowled.

    Jethro nodded. “Good then. Herran, bring it up here!” he called, and Herran trotted up to stand beside him. “Alright,” Jethro said. “I want us to keep our phasers away and out of their sight. I don’t want anything to end up going south, and I don’t want you pulling them unless its absolutely necessary, understood?”

    They all nodded agreement.

    As they passed out from their cover of trees, the large sun above, which dominated the sky, met them in all its fury. Jethro wasn’t sure which was more blinding: the sun in the sky, or Vexenterani next to him, who was reflecting the light in a violent flurry of color.

    Ahead, it appeared that Growl had indeed been correct. There was a huge camp, at least the size of two San Francisco’s, surrounded by a barbed and savage looking fence, cornered by guard towers covered in shrapnel—no doubt to keep unwanted visitors from climbing up the sides. It was from one of those guard towers that, only seconds after they emerged from the trees, an alarm was sounded—a shrieking crescendo of some sort of animal. It didn’t take long from there for a platoon of the indigenous people to come from within the camp, armed to the teeth with vicious looking swords, spears, bows, and chains.

    Jethro and his team froze.

    Oh, God, here they come! FIRE!
    Jethro cursed under his breath as they charged at them. There would be no reasoning. “Draw your phasers!” he ordered, and they obeyed without question. Then the arrows began to fall.

    YOU ARE DEAD.

    Peace was our mission. Maybe we can reason with them.
    “Keep calm,” he said quietly, “and do as I do.” He put up his hands, the universal sign for “we surrender”. The others uncertainly did the same. “We mean you no harm,” he called to the natives who began shouting incoherently, alarmed by the motion. “We come in—”

    Suddenly arrows ablaze with fire began to rain from the skies as the natives charged them, weapons brandishing.

    YOU ARE DEAD.

    Nobody move…
    “Don’t move, anybody,” Jethro said quietly. “Just don’t move. That way, we can be certain we’re not doing anything that can be considered hostile.”

    The others didn’t answer, but their obvious stillness was answer enough.

    The natives slowed to a halt before them, obviously surprised that these foreign intruders were so calm, and Jethro was astounded to see how much these people resembled the Vulcans and Romulans. Brandishing their weapons in an attempt to be intimidating, the others stepped aside so that one could step forward. The man was taller than the rest, his whole body—of what that was not covered by armor of bone—tattooed in red, while the others had no such markings. The man leveled a long spear, crowned in brilliantly blue feathers at Jethro.

    Vah-udt?” the man said sternly. “Vah’ein mnave i aef khir-d’fiv?

    Jethro frowned, but Growl hissed quietly to him, “Sir, I think that’s Romulan.”

    The man turned with sudden speed and smacked Growl over the head with the shaft of the spear, commanding, “Qrie’hn, veruul!

    Best not to anger him. Maybe you could try and free-lance Romulan, if Growl’s right.
    Reh riha mne akh,” Jethro tried carefully.

    “Jethro, no, that means—” Growl cried, but the man took on a livid look, and faster than Jethro could react, he swung his spear and brought it down into Jethro’s throat.

    YOU ARE DEAD.

    Could Growl be right? But you’d have to challenge the man’s authority to let him speak…
    Jethro put a hand out in warning at the man, who stiffened angrily. “Ihl,” Jethro said, one of the only Romulan words he knew: no. The man frowned at him, and responded, “Nahi?”

    Jethro looked over at Growl for help.

    “He wants your name, sir,” Growl said, and the man looked over angrily at him again.

    Jethro returned his gaze to the man. “Tell him my name is Jethro Tannings, and that we mean him no harm,” he said, and Growl translated, “Hlui’a nahi hrras Jethro Tannings, u’mne i’hllan hwi ihla mnurhi.”

    “Jet’throhh Tahn’eegs,” the man repeated, his accent badly butchering the name. Jethro nodded slowly, and the man mimicked the gesture.

    “How can these people be Romulan,” Jethro asked quietly, glancing at Growl.

    “I’m not sure they are,” Growl said. “Their language isn’t exactly the same, though most of it is. Maybe they’re an off-shoot, perhaps as far back as when the Romulans first seceded from Vulcan and left on their generationships.”

    “And they settled here?” Vexenterani said, and the man looked over at her in surprise upon hearing her voice, which sounding much like wind chimes.

    “Only option?” Yera’sy suggested, and upon hearing a man-plant speak for the first, as it seemed that they hadn’t really noticed him, the natives went into an uproar.

    Hva sthe hwi th’anng au varuul i uri fvil,” the man demanded, as swords and bows and spears were leveled at Yera’sy.

    Growl looked worriedly over at Jethro. “They think Yera’sy is one of the plant predators of this planet, sir,” he said. “And I don’t think they’re going to be welcoming him with open arms.”

    RUN!
    The man swung his spear at Jethro’s head, who deftly avoided it. “Run!” he shouted to the others, who spread out in a sprint back towards the jungle. Arrows stalked them as they ran, dropping to the ground only inches from them. The natives gave chase up until the tree line, where they stopped and shouted catcalls, not wanting to enter.

    After a few minutes of running to put some distance between them, the landing-party managed to come back together.

    YOU ARE LOST AGAIN. RETURN TO THE BEGINNING.

    Maybe some good-ol’-fashioned Romulan chivalry is in order.
    Jethro shook his head. “Ihl,” he repeated, putting out a hand so that it was only inches from the point of the man’s spear. “Growl, tell him that Yera’sy is not from this planet. He is with us and he means no harm.”

    Growl translated, though apprehensively, but the man looked unconvinced.

    “Ask him his name, Growl.”

    Vah’hras nnearh nahi?” Growl interpreted.

    The crowd of natives began murmuring in shock at the question. Jethro looked over at Growl, confused. “What’s wrong?” he said.

    Growl shook his head. “I’m… I’m not sure,” he said, as the man said something in Romulan.

    “He says that names are power here. If you know a man’s name, you have control over that person,” Growl said. “He says that because of this, no one but the mate of the Leader may know the name of the Leader.” Growl shook his head. “But he says you may call him Ssaedhe, which is his ‘honor name’. It means ‘brave’.”

    “Very well then,” Jethro said, turning to face Ssaedhe, who asked something in Romulan.

    “He wants to know if the ‘plant-predator’ can be trusted.”

    Jethro gave Ssaedhe a bow, one of the length that would be required of one bowing to a Romulan praetor. “Tlhei, Ssaedhe,” Jethro said, which appeared to satisfy him, as Ssaedhe gestured for them to follow.

    The others looked at him uncertainly for instruction. But there was nothing else that they could do, so Jethro followed after Ssaedhe, Herran, Yera’sy, Vexenterani, and Growl only a step behind. The native warriors formed a circle around them, separating them from their leader. Whether it was because they didn’t trust them, or it was just a “guest welcoming” ritual, Jethro couldn’t be sure.

    As they passed through the gates, they snapped shut behind them, trapping them inside the alien camp.

    They came to a stop in a clearing lined with a sparse ring of spears pointing in towards the circles center. The warriors wandered away to the outside of the ring, leaving only the landing party and Ssaedhe. As they stood there, curious villagers began to gather around. Now that they knew roughly what language that these people spoke, Jethro had discretely tuned the translator hidden under his shirt to the appropriate setting. Because of this, he could understand what was being said when Ssaedhe began to speak.

    “It is to be known to you—and it is your duty to inform those of your brothers that are not present—that these hrull’niens—,” Jethro frowned when the translator refused to render the word, which must have been something native only to these people, “—are to be welcomed as guests of the Clan of Blood Warriors. They are to be treated as such, and any who disregard my decree of their guest-ship will be made to answer directly to me. I ask you to make room for them if there is room to give; food if there is food to give; and appropriate wear if there is wear to give. I ask nothing of you that you do not have or cannot give.” Ssaedhe paused, and a woman bowed forward, straightening from her kowtow when Ssaedhe stomped a foot.

    “House of s’Hunter would gladly take them,” she said, brushing back her long braided hair, “if You are so willing.”

    Ssaedhe nodded approval. “Yes,” he said. “Let that be so.” He turned to face Jethro and his company. “Follow t’Irhun to your lodging,” he said to them. “I will meet again with you shortly.”

    As Ssaedhe walked off, a handful of people breaking from the crowd to follow him, Herran bent over to Jethro. “I knew it would happen,” he said. “I told you we would end up with the savages. I mean, ‘the Clan of Blood Warriors’? It doesn’t get much more obvious than that.”

    Jethro shrugged him off. “Maybe so, but we did get here, and that’s enough. We have to make do with what we have.”

    “Please come,” t’Irhun motioned to them, then turned to lead them through the camp.

    Huts and tents and a few woodwork houses fanning out beyond the center clearing. Sure, most of them seemed somewhat ramshackle, and none of them at all matched another, but they were the homes of these people. Curious looking dogs whose bodies were slim, slick and wiggly such as a worm’s slithered in between their legs playfully as they walked, before they were called back by playing children or reproachful mothers. Perhaps they were savage, but from this inside view of things, it did not seem so to Jethro.

    T’Irhun brought them to a halt in front of one of a few mud-and-stone houses, big enough to keep at least twenty individuals. With a slight bow, she gestured them into her home—or at least that was what they thought at first. But then she put a hand out to Vexenterani to stop her. “No,” t’Irhun said. “This is the lodging of the men. The women are housed elsewhere.” This caused Vexenterani to protest avidly.

    You shouldn’t let yourselves be separated. Argue to keep Vexenterani with you.
    Continue in next post with Choice #1

    You’d best follow their customs. If the women have to be separate, well…
    Continue in next post with Choice #2

    Turn west. Vexenterani does always seem to know best.
    “Vexenterani’s right,” Jethro said, and Growl huffed irritably. “That wasn’t the reading from the camp we wanted. We should go west.”
    Vexenterani smiled smugly as they turned west, Growl lividly swinging back up into the tree branches, high enough so that they could hardly see him.
    “Look what you did now,” Herran called. “Growl’s throwing a temper-tantrum.”
    Jethro sighed. “Growl can throw whatever fit he wants. We’re still going west, and that’s final.”
    They walked for several more hours, trekking through the undergrowth until they finally reached a break in the trees. They began to thin more and more until they reached a small plain. Near them was a small herd of what looked most like short reptilian horses, which were grazing quietly. As they took their first steps into the open, the creatures heads flew up at once. When they spotted the landing party, their nostrils flared and their eyes visibly widened. They stamped their feet anxiously, their tails swished about, and the skin fold at their neck flared out in a crimson halo. But from in their midst, a small man appeared, cooing softly and calming them by pushing his hand along the neck-seam of their skin folds.

    After he had managed to relax most of them, he happened to notice Jethro and the others. He inclined his head curiously at them, and held out his hands, then gestured at his thin tunic—which Jethro figured was perhaps a sign that he had no weapon. At first, it appeared as if he was not going to do anything at all, but then Jethro felt a sharp tug on his mind, as if something was trying to get it to open up—but then upon finding it closed it moved away. He saw Herran, Yera’sy, Growl, and Vexenterani one by one flinch as they experienced a similar mental tug.

    The man looked a little sad then, but then lifted his hands, and tried to sign to them. When he found that they did not understand this either, he let out a whistling sigh and frowned, confounded.

    Now what?

    Try a verbal communication. Why bother with telepathy or sign-language?
    “We don’t mean you any harm,” Jethro tried, and the man looked absolutely shocked to hear his voice.

    And so did the reptilian horses, who screamed in fear and began to stampede wildly, trampling the man.

    The landing team scattered, but despite their size, the reptiles were fast in their fear, and Jethro suddenly found one upon him, stamping him to the ground. Frozen in shock on the ground, Jethro lay there. But two others came by, and one misstep caught Jethro in the head as he lay there unable to get up.

    YOU ARE DEAD.
    The man looks an awful lot like a Vulcan. Perhaps, “Live long and prosper?”
    For this option, continue with Choice #3 in the next post.

    Go straight ahead. You might just please everyone.
    “How about this,” Jethro said. “We’ll just keep going the way we are. Sooner or later, we’ll have to hit something.”

    Vexenterani scowled, and Growl huffed in slight anger, but neither could argue.

    “Always the mediator, eh, Jethro?” Herran laughed from behind.

    Jethro scowled back at him as they set back up their previous pace. With the sun beating overhead, the trees doing a very poor job of masking the heat, they trudged through the undergrowth.

    It seemed to have been hours, when suddenly, Growl let out a shriek above them. They froze, phasers drawn and pointed upwards, but all was still. They stood like that for several moments. Then suddenly, the giant jaws of a monstrous swarm of carnivorous plants came flying down from their cover of leaves---

    YOU ARE DEAD.
     
  12. KobayashiMaru13

    KobayashiMaru13 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Location:
    358/2 Days
    Click here to continue...
    “Excuse me, madam t’Irhun,” Jethro said, “but I would be much more comfortable if she could stay with us.”

    “That is not our way,” t’Irhun said, but without much conviction, as if she didn’t really plan on stopping him if he really demanded that Vexenterani stay.

    “But she will,” Jethro insisted, and t’Irhun sighed noisily.

    “Fine. Be as you will,” t’Irhun snapped. “I will you leave you, then.”

    The house was modest—most likely it was only a guest home. There were a few sleeping mats pushed into a corner, a flat table in the rooms center, and on the far wall an inlayed fire pit for cooking and heating the room at night. As they entered, small and thin-looking jars planted onto the wall began to buzz, then lit softly as the small little bugs inside began to dance at their appearance.

    They arranged their sleeping mats around the room with Growl and Yera’sy closest to the door, to guard just in case, Herran in the middle, and Jethro Vexenterani in the back. In a small attached room, they found that there was a store of food, jars of dried fruits, dried meats trapped in woven caskets so that animals and insects could not get at them, as well as utensils.

    When they had lain some of that food out on the table, t’Irhun returnedcarrying thin and sparse clothing for them to change into.

    When she had left, Growl held up the loincloth that she had given him and made a snarling laugh. Herran was looking very displeased by his outfit which was so sparse indeed, that it made him look like a pale, gangly giant, and Yera’sy looked very puzzled by the weirdly shaped piece of cloth he had been given, obviously having no idea what it was he was supposed to do with it—as it was not at all actual clothing. Jethro had been given significantly more, as no doubt Ssaedhe had surmised that he was the leader of the team, and Vexenterani had been given a breast band and something resembling a skirt.

    Less than an hour later, total darkness had fallen, illuminated only by the fire they had kindled and by the bugs on the walls, which had settle down to a dim glow. They had settled in well, waiting for the chat that Ssaedhe had promised them.

    YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY MADE FIRST-CONTACT. CONGRATULATIONS.

    Click here to continue...
    Jethro fixed her with a meaningful glare. They would follow these people’s customs as closely as they could for now—it meant their survival. With a loud sigh and an angry look, Vexenterani followed t’Irhun away.

    The house was modest—most likely it was only a guest home. There were a few sleeping mats pushed into a corner, a flat table in the rooms center, and on the far wall an inlayed fire pit for cooking and heating the room at night. As they entered, small and thin-looking jars planted onto the wall began to buzz, then lit softly as the small little bugs inside began to dance at their appearance.

    They arranged their sleeping mats around the room with Growl and Yera’sy closest to the door, to guard just in case, and Herran and Jethro in the back, as they were the most vulnerable. In a small attached room, they found that there was a store of food, jars of dried fruits, dried meats trapped in woven caskets so that animals and insects could not get at them, as well as utensils.

    When they had lain some of that food out on the table, t’Irhun returned—looking quite flustered, no doubt because of some trouble Vexenterani had caused—carrying thin and sparse clothing for them to change into.

    When she had left, Growl held up the loincloth that she had given him and made a snarling laugh. Herran was looking very displeased by his outfit which was so sparse indeed, that it made him look like a pale, gangly giant, and Yera’sy looked very puzzled by the weirdly shaped piece of cloth he had been given, obviously having no idea what it was he was supposed to do with it—as it was not at all actual clothing. Jethro had been given significantly more, as no doubt Ssaedhe had surmised that he was the leader of the team.

    Less than an hour later, total darkness had fallen, illuminated only by the fire they had kindled and by the bugs on the walls, which had settle down to a dim glow. They had settled in well, waiting for the chat that Ssaedhe had promised them, when there arose a sudden commotion of shouting and a loud snap, as if some sort of firearm had gone off.

    Jethro rushed out of the house, the others tailing him as they followed the noise that led them to an angry group of men. They were standing in front of a very long hut, out of which many women were looking curiously out of, or with fright. In the middle of the scene was none other than Vexenterani, pulling an arrow out of her arm—no doubt a product of the crossbow one of the men held, the source of the firearm-like sound they had heard.

    When she saw them approaching she appeared relieved. But Jethro was anything but.

    “What is going on,” Jethro demanded, and when the men looked at him blankly, Growl translated for him.

    “This woman was out after dark,” the one with the crossbow replied. “That is not allowed without the permission of a man. She fought back—,” he gestured to the bodies of three men around her who lay unconscious, “—and we are trying to subdue her.”

    “This is a concubine house, Jethro,” Vexenterani cried in exasperation, throwing her hands in the air, and startling the men. “A house for prostitutes! I refuse to stay in such a place!”

    “You will if you must,” Jethro pressed as he sidestepped around the men to her.

    As they argued, the man with the crossbow lowered it and stepped around them to feel the pulse of his fallen comrades. After a moment, he looked up accusingly.

    “This one is dead,” he said angrily.

    Jethro put his hands up. “I am sorry, truly I am, but there is nothing I can do about it,” he said, with Growl translating as he went.

    “No, apologies are not good enough,” he said, rising to face Jethro. “It is a serious crime for a woman to kill a man—and is punishable by death.” When Jethro narrowed his eyes and went to protest, the man took a step forward, so that they were inches apart. “That is our way, Jet’throhh Tahn’eegs.”

    She won’t be harmed,” Jethro said quietly.

    “That is not your decision to make, Tahn’eegs,” the man growled, thrusting the crossbow into Jethro’s stomach.

    Forcing himself not to double over, Jethro gritted his teeth. “It is, because she is not your property. She belongs with me.”

    From behind, the other men stepped closer, threateningly. “No. She is ours now,” the man said. “You cannot control her, so she will go to a man who can. That is our way.”

    Then, being the quick-tempered jock that he was, Herran came up and shoved the man away from Jethro. “Back off,” Herran snapped. At once, the other men were upon him.

    From there it erupted into an all-out brawl. Growl and Yera’sy came in at once to defend their man, and Vexenterani too. The Neverland landing party were all well trained fighters, but when more natives began to join in, they were far out-matched.

    Fighting to keep the men from cornering Vexenterani, Jethro swung an arm at one, catching him in the jaw and sending him sprawling, then ducked and drove a fist into the gut of another. But he was only one man, and out of nowhere, a spear came swinging into his head faster than he could move away from it.

    YOU ARE DEAD.

    Click here to continue...
    Jethro cautiously lifted up a hand in the Vulcan salute of “live long and prosper”. The man lifted his arched eyebrows at that and smiled, gesturing to them, then pointing to the camp that lay about fifty meters away. Taking it as a sign that they could enter, Jethro nodded thanks and led the party towards the encampment.

    It appeared to be roughly rectangular in shape, with only a short line of hedge encircling it, as if they did not believe themselves to be in any danger of invasion. At the gate, there were two guards, who looked rather bored. As they approached the guards straightened their blue tunics and helmets and stood to block their way. Before Jethro could say something though, they suddenly looked over past him at the man they had left with the reptilian animals. After a moment, as if the man had been silently telling them something, they nodded to the landing party, and stepped aside to let them in. They stepped past them uncertainly, and into the village.

    The village was well and logically built, limestone flats organized in straight rows and columns and separated by well-worn dirt streets. The people watched them curiously, and time again and again, they felt that mental tug, but none of them were telepaths, and had no way of answering.

    They stopped in what looked much like a town square, lined by small stalls of food and other things, as well as natives milling about, all in various shades of blue and white, and all watching them curiously. But the silence and obvious lack of voices was very disconcerting.

    A child approached them, dark hair hiding his large eyes. He inclined his head a them, and made a sign with his hands, then tugged Jethro down the street to one of the homes. A woman came out, looking surprised to see who was no doubt her son towing a stranger and foreigner to their home. It having worked before, Jethro shrugged, then made the Vulcan salute. She smiled to them, and returned it, then gestured them into her home. When they uncertainly entered, she shooed her son away and swung the cloth that covered the door closed. Gesturing them into seats, she whispered softly, “Qiuu la-hrull’niens?”

    Growl looked shocked. “That’s Romulan,” he said.

    “What?” Jethro turned to him.

    “I… Yeah. I know Romulan,” he said.

    “Well then ask her who she is, and why there is no sound here,” Jethro said.

    Growl interpreted the question, and the woman sighed and got up, walking away for a moment. In her absence, Jethro fumbled under his shirt for the universal translator and adjusted the settings for Romulan. When she returned, she had cups of water that she handed out to them.

    “I am sorry,” she said quietly. “We do not speak because it is easier—we avoid hostiles that way, when we speak only with our minds. Of course, there are some of us who still practice the language, to preserve our culture.”

    “But we could not, and yet you let us through,” Jethro protested, Growl translating.

    She smiled. “Yes. But you are not from here, I can tell that, just as tr’Yiullh the Herder-Gatekeeper must have. You must be from the planet’s other side, yes?”

    Jethro nodded uncertainly.

    “But you have come in a bad time,” she whispered. “There is another clan, the Clan of Blood Warriors. They have been threatening us for some time now—threatening to siege our village. I wish you had come earlier, when there is no danger of attack.”

    “Well, I—”

    Everyone started when warning horns began to shout. For the first time, there were voices outside—the shouts of warriors.

    “They’re here!” the woman cried. “You must leave!” She ushered them out into the streets where it was chaos, people running amok, amidst them tanned warriors swinging weapons.

    In only seconds, Jethro and the woman, who were in the lead, were cut down.

    YOU ARE DEAD
     
  13. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    March 2010 Challenge--What Makes a Man

    Author’s Note: As some of you may already be aware, the character of Tayben Berat actually originates in Lois Tilton’s novel, Betrayal, which comes from way back in the day of the numbered novel. If you want to read a summary of Betrayal, please visit this link; you may find it helpful. You may also be interested in my short story “A Stone’s Throw Away,” which is the first to bridge the gap between that Berat and my Berat. But this is the moment, above all, that created my Berat. If not for this, you’d be looking at a very different character.


    2371—The Time of the Maquis Uprising—24 hours remaining
    Volan III

    The 2305-series Starfleet Type-I hand phaser lay in pieces on the sixteen-year-old human boy’s desk. His dad had managed to hide the old weapon from the Cardassians when they’d beamed down for their first ‘security sweeps,’ but he hadn’t exactly managed to hide it from his own son. Hadn’t even noticed his prized phaser had been gone for three days already.

    It baffled the boy, as he installed the beam collimator he’d managed to scrounge up, how his father could complain about the Federation as they abandoned their people to politics, how he could complain about the Cardassian jackboots and do nothing about it. He couldn’t even be bothered to tuck tail and run when the Cardies took over, let alone stand up and fight like the Maquis were doing.

    And now, the boy marveled as he clicked in a power cell he’d tweaked so it could manage just one shot before powering the weapon down, his dad was actually falling for the Cardies’ hype.

    The Cardassians had a new ship parked in orbit over Volan III; they’d been trumpeting its arrival for the past two weeks, and given their near-takeover of colony media, it was inescapable. Everything was going to be different this time, they promised…just hold your fire and you’ll see: we can be benevolent overlords after all. That’s what it boiled down to, in the boy’s mind. Give the ghencardă’ăsthe—the sub-Cardassians—a few tasty treats and maybe they’ll figure out their job is to beg at their Cardassian masters’ table and play fetch for the Union when called upon.

    The boy didn’t want to get his dad in trouble. That was one of the reasons he’d doctored the phaser…the Cardassians were going to try and scan for the signatures, of course. He’d carry the old parts, put the weapon back to its old configuration as soon as it was done. Even if they got hold of it, the old phaser wouldn’t match the one they were after…not with the twitchy power cell and the replacement collimator. If they looked for a DNA trace, wondered why he’d been handling the weapon, he had a story for that, too: when he’d first swiped the phaser, he’d done a bit of sport shooting out in the woods beyond the colony walls.

    There…he slapped the cover back on the phaser and put the old weapon back into its case. According to the family legend, the phaser had served in the first border skirmishes with the Cardassians. Fitting, he thought, that it would soon serve again. If his dad wouldn’t carry on the tradition…then he would.

    And once the Maquis found out what he’d done, they’d have to take notice. They’d told him he was too young, when he’d volunteered. Wait until the summer—then we’ll talk. Well, the Cardies weren’t going to magically stay their hand until summer. They had to be dealt with now, decisively.

    And if no one else was willing to do it—he would.



    2371—2 hours remaining
    Cardassian Union Warship Sherouk, in orbit of Volan III

    A youthful Cardassian officer set down the padd he had been reading and stood, cautiously drawing his sidearm, lake-blue eyes scrutinizing the weapon with the piercing gaze of an engineer. A former engineer, in his case…and some habits died hard. Sometimes he still couldn’t believe he commanded this ship.

    Of all the guls in the Cardassian Guard, Tayben Berat had wondered as he read the mission intelligence, why was I chosen? The legates of Central Command never did anything without a plethora of reasons—contingency plans upon contingency plans, layers upon layers...and politics could never, never be divorced from their doings. Just six months ago, Berat had been a glinn, the chief engineer aboard the Vrokind. Now it was the complexities of Cardassian social systems he had to be the most concerned about, second to his ship’s mission performance.

    His superior, Legate Turrel, seemed to be a different sort of leader. The idea that the Federation expatriates in the Demilitarized Zone might respond to the offer of assistance—contingent, of course, on the cessation of Maquis attacks on Cardassian interests—was one that to Berat’s knowledge, no other legate had publicly entertained and gotten away with it. That someone could speak such things without prompt action from the Obsidian Order suggested that either they too were willing to give it a try, or that Turrel had consolidated a large enough power base that they dared not. At least, until the results of the mission were in.

    It wouldn’t be easy. Helping the colonists to understand that their interests were now those of Cardassia would be a long process—but when Berat thought about it, Cardassia had done very little to make its new denizens feel like…

    Like anything but an occupied people, Berat thought, lowering his head just slightly and casting his eyes beneath the shadows of their ridges as he finished his inspection and holstered his weapon. The burning in the Bajorans’ eyes aboard the former Terok Nor haunted him still…he’d known, when he saw that, that the ‘merciful’ hand of Gul Dukat had been unmerciful enough. And the enemies of the Cardassian Union—their hand had been merciful, even when he had deserved death for his actions aboard their station.

    And that was what gave Gul Berat hope that Legate Turrel was right: with the right incentive, and a sense that someone in the Union actually regarded them as fellow cardasdanoid beings, they might well be convinced to lay down their arms and turn against whatever diehards refused.

    There was still one question central in the gul’s mind. He was the youngest gul in the Cardassian Guard, and one of the least tenured…he’d even beaten Dukat’s record for an early ascension to power. And this, in a culture so reverent of years and so distrustful of youth, spoke of two possibilities: either Turrel wanted someone relatively uncorrupted by loyalty to other legates, someone less set in his ways—or he, and Central Command both, wanted a way to dismiss any failures as simply that of a young man.

    Berat wondered, as he entered the transporter room, who would suffer if the mission failed: its author, or its executor?

    He could only hope the same youth Central Command might hope to use as an excuse would protect him in that case. Autonomy within the Union was a function of age, and as long as the mission did not trigger a purge, he hoped he would be safe…for he had survived two such purges—just barely. Therefore he intended to keep an open commlink after he beamed down: his every word and action on-planet would become a formal part of his permanent documentation file as well as streamed live aboard the Sherouk for all officers ranked dalin and above to hear. There would be no room for accusations that he had not followed the prescribed preliminary negotiation tracks.

    And that was the best he could do.

    Berat stepped up onto the transporter pad. At his side was Riyăk Eret, a Federation specialist from the investigative crew—a bit too indispensable for the nature of the mission than Berat liked. That was the perverse thing about service in the Cardassian Guard: he needed the expertise of a woman like Eret, yet one always had to be suspicious of those assigned to study the enemy. The state, after all, would not risk exposing anyone less than perfectly loyal to detailed information on foreigners and their societies, so there was a strong chance in Berat’s mind that Eret was Obsidian Order.

    He trusted Gor Tebal and Garheç Mavrit from his deck patrol far more. Given his horrid experience with Gul Marak aboard the Ghedrakbre, one of Gul Berat’s first tasks upon assuming command of the Sherouk had been a bloodless purge of its former gul’s deck patrol, replacing them with more principled individuals loyal not just to the state and to their gul, but to the reasons the rules existed…people who wouldn’t just stand by while some young garheç belowdecks suffered beating after beating from the people who were supposed to be his comrades. These were men who had something left in their hearts, not just in their brains and their bodies. And at least while they remained on the Sherouk, no one would knock that out of them.

    Once the entire party stood on the pad, Berat glanced over at Riyăk Arvor, the transporter operator. “Ousighukum,” he commanded, his diction authoritative but his voice low.

    “I obey, Gul.” Arvor engaged the transporter, and for an instant dislocated the four Cardassians from space and time.



    The suspicion in Governor Soon’s eyes was regrettable, Gul Berat thought, but understandable. These people had not simply fought the might of the Cardassian Union and lost. No—for them there had been no battle, no hope that an aggrieved Federation might return someday to reclaim a conquered territory. Instead their own people had handed them over. There would be no rescue…and in their minds, what hope would they have but that which they created for themselves? That did not excuse the colonists’ terrorist sympathies, by any means…but it did at least provide an avenue through which Berat hoped he might be able to reason with them.

    “I’m sure you understand why something like that would take time,” the governor was saying of Berat’s proposal. “They’ll demand proof.” He nodded at the door where his fellow colonists gathered.

    “Conversely—so do we,” Berat countered. “Both Guardsmen and Cardassian civilians have died at the hands of Maquis insurgents, and we must have assurances that the attacks are going to stop. I really do want to help you become a fuller participant in the Union—a true rasgălor, with official recognition as a prefecture of the Union, not just a settlement. The Federation never granted you that status, did they?”

    Soon offered no direct answer. Instead, he raised a skeptical eyebrow far higher than any Cardassian’s eye ridge could ever go. “You would grant equality to aliens?”

    “All worlds within the Union must answer to Cardassia,” Berat clarified. “But in that, you would be no different. That said…if it’s Bajor’s situation you fear, I am authorized to tell you that if the violence stops, things will be different for you than that. We are even willing to assist you in solving the exchange problem and helping you enter the Cardassian economy.”

    This, according to Turrel’s analysis, was one of the greatest practical problems faced by the colonists. They still had no right to attack Cardassians—or their own people, for that matter—but the remnant of ‘currency’ in the Federation was nearly worthless in comparison to the Cardassian lek. Maybe barter would suffice on-planet for these early generations...but with the exception of the few colonists who might have a few strips of latinum to their name, they had no way to purchase goods off-planet, the things their small personal replicators could never make.

    Making matters worse, Federation attempts to interdict illicit arms shipments had proven ineffective—therefore the only option had been to deny all Federation ships entry if they refused to submit to Cardassian inspection. Few got through, and those that did were sorely delayed. The colonists were beginning to feel privation. And if allowing Federation shipments meant the flow of contraband—then the alternative was to give the colonists a means to purchase from a safe source…Cardassia…instead. If successful, a small outlay and some lessons in finance and fiscal responsibility could pay tremendous dividends for the Union—and the colonists as well.

    Soon appeared to consider it for a moment…but he hadn’t forgotten his concerns. “And if there is an attack?”

    Berat pressed his lips together, and fixed the governor’s eyes with his own. He took no joy in the words he now delivered and he hoped Soon could read his face well enough to discern that. “Then I will have no power to stop Central Command from reprisals. I really don’t want to see that—and that’s why I want to speak to your people directly. I want them to know that they have a real chance with us.”

    Maybe not the chance you would have had with your own people if they had been true to you, Berat thought, but it’s more than they ever really gave you in the end.



    2371—5 minutes remaining
    Volan III

    The boy had slipped out of the settlement at the light of dawn, taking up a position in the branches of one of the tallest trees. Fortunately for him, Volan III had no predators capable of scaling the tree and leaping out to the wall to menace the colony, so the settlers had seen no reason to trim back the long, high, sturdy branches that reached out towards the structure in a natural bridge of sorts.

    His chronometer vibrated against his wrist: beamdown time. Sure, something might go wrong, the meeting might be scrapped at the last minute…one never knew, but if there was one thing the Cardies prided themselves on, it was punctuality. The gul and his entourage had to be here. And for whatever conniving reason of theirs, they didn’t just want to speak to the governor. They wanted to speak to the people…no doubt insurance in case they failed to brainwash the governor into doing whatever he wanted against the will of the people.

    But if his dad was any indication, too many would fall for it.

    Gingerly he shuffled along the branch, gripping it with both gloved hands and between his knees until he reached the edge of the stone wall. His heart pounded as he prepared to drop down onto the wall itself and some small part of him remarked at the irony, that he so dreaded this when a far more dire act awaited.

    Slowly, he loosened his grip with his left hand, reaching for the cold concrete of the wall. It wasn’t far—he was right over the wall now. As he leaned, the world seemed to swoon for an instant, and he froze, letting his head settle enough for the next step. Finally, he clambered off the branch and after a few seconds curled atop the wall in something like a fetal position to regain his equilibrium, he allowed himself a flash of jubilation. He’d practiced reaching the top of the tree before, but never actually attempted the drop to the wall until now—and he’d actually made it.

    He reached for his rucksack, feeling for the shape of the phaser. Good…it was still there, and the safeties still engaged. His father always swore by these old-style weapons, before Starfleet had even started building miniature touchscreens into even their phasers—a true manual safety was far, far more reliable if you knew what you were doing. He definitely knew what he was doing…replicators were few and far between on Volan III, and it was customary to hunt in order to supplement the bland, synthesized fare. And he was a skilled hunter; his father had taught him well.

    A pang shot through the boy’s stomach at the sudden shift in tone towards his father—what had Orwell called it, in that book the teachers had had everyone old enough study right before the Cardies came? Doublethink. And then another word—crimestop. Well, this wasn’t a crime, exactly, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted. That meant failure.

    Now perched carefully on the wall, he eased his rucksack off and drew out the phaser. There was no more time for tests now—what if he tripped the spoonheads’ sensors? What if he drained the battery below the critical threshold? He’ have only one shot.

    He’d considered an eyepiece with a heads-up display, but dismissed the idea. He was well-practiced at hitting his targets at a distance. And what was a slow-moving Cardassian compared to a Volan summerbuck? He could do this.

    From on high he crouched in silence, watched the door to the governor’s residence, and waited.

    There—finally!

    Side by side the governor and gul emerged. Three Cardassians accompanied the gul—two men, one woman. As for the woman, she struck him as some sort of bureaucrat. The men looked like a couple of typical jackbooted heavies. Their hands weren’t on their weapons, but they easily could be in an instant. Coward, he sneered at the gul. Too afraid to face your subjects without an armed guard, are you? You send messages filled with words like peace and trust, but I see how you really feel.

    The gathered crowd watched and waited, appraising the Cardassian commander as he spoke a few more words with the governor.

    A smile, a flash of blue—the gul turned, presented his back—

    He would never truly recall the exact instant he pulled the trigger…only the instant when it all fell apart.
     
  14. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    March 2010 Challenge--What Makes a Man

    Author’s Note: As some of you may already be aware, the character of Tayben Berat actually originates in Lois Tilton’s novel, Betrayal, which comes from way back in the day of the numbered novel. If you want to read a summary of Betrayal, please visit this link; you may find it helpful. You may also be interested in my short story “A Stone’s Throw Away,” which is the first to bridge the gap between that Berat and my Berat. But this is the moment, above all, that created my Berat. If not for this, you’d be looking at a very different character.


    2371—The Time of the Maquis Uprising—24 hours remaining
    Volan III

    The 2305-series Starfleet Type-I hand phaser lay in pieces on the sixteen-year-old human boy’s desk. His dad had managed to hide the old weapon from the Cardassians when they’d beamed down for their first ‘security sweeps,’ but he hadn’t exactly managed to hide it from his own son. Hadn’t even noticed his prized phaser had been gone for three days already.

    It baffled the boy, as he installed the beam collimator he’d managed to scrounge up, how his father could complain about the Federation as they abandoned their people to politics, how he could complain about the Cardassian jackboots and do nothing about it. He couldn’t even be bothered to tuck tail and run when the Cardies took over, let alone stand up and fight like the Maquis were doing.

    And now, the boy marveled as he clicked in a power cell he’d tweaked so it could manage just one shot before powering the weapon down, his dad was actually falling for the Cardies’ hype.

    The Cardassians had a new ship parked in orbit over Volan III; they’d been trumpeting its arrival for the past two weeks, and given their near-takeover of colony media, it was inescapable. Everything was going to be different this time, they promised…just hold your fire and you’ll see: we can be benevolent overlords after all. That’s what it boiled down to, in the boy’s mind. Give the ghencardă’ăsthe—the sub-Cardassians—a few tasty treats and maybe they’ll figure out their job is to beg at their Cardassian masters’ table and play fetch for the Union when called upon.

    The boy didn’t want to get his dad in trouble. That was one of the reasons he’d doctored the phaser…the Cardassians were going to try and scan for the signatures, of course. He’d carry the old parts, put the weapon back to its old configuration as soon as it was done. Even if they got hold of it, the old phaser wouldn’t match the one they were after…not with the twitchy power cell and the replacement collimator. If they looked for a DNA trace, wondered why he’d been handling the weapon, he had a story for that, too: when he’d first swiped the phaser, he’d done a bit of sport shooting out in the woods beyond the colony walls.

    There…he slapped the cover back on the phaser and put the old weapon back into its case. According to the family legend, the phaser had served in the first border skirmishes with the Cardassians. Fitting, he thought, that it would soon serve again. If his dad wouldn’t carry on the tradition…then he would.

    And once the Maquis found out what he’d done, they’d have to take notice. They’d told him he was too young, when he’d volunteered. Wait until the summer—then we’ll talk. Well, the Cardies weren’t going to magically stay their hand until summer. They had to be dealt with now, decisively.

    And if no one else was willing to do it—he would.



    2371—2 hours remaining
    Cardassian Union Warship Sherouk, in orbit of Volan III

    A youthful Cardassian officer set down the padd he had been reading and stood, cautiously drawing his sidearm, lake-blue eyes scrutinizing the weapon with the piercing gaze of an engineer. A former engineer, in his case…and some habits died hard. Sometimes he still couldn’t believe he commanded this ship.

    Of all the guls in the Cardassian Guard, Tayben Berat had wondered as he read the mission intelligence, why was I chosen? The legates of Central Command never did anything without a plethora of reasons—contingency plans upon contingency plans, layers upon layers...and politics could never, never be divorced from their doings. Just six months ago, Berat had been a glinn, the chief engineer aboard the Vrokind. Now it was the complexities of Cardassian social systems he had to be the most concerned about, second to his ship’s mission performance.

    His superior, Legate Turrel, seemed to be a different sort of leader. The idea that the Federation expatriates in the Demilitarized Zone might respond to the offer of assistance—contingent, of course, on the cessation of Maquis attacks on Cardassian interests—was one that to Berat’s knowledge, no other legate had publicly entertained and gotten away with it. That someone could speak such things without prompt action from the Obsidian Order suggested that either they too were willing to give it a try, or that Turrel had consolidated a large enough power base that they dared not. At least, until the results of the mission were in.

    It wouldn’t be easy. Helping the colonists to understand that their interests were now those of Cardassia would be a long process—but when Berat thought about it, Cardassia had done very little to make its new denizens feel like…

    Like anything but an occupied people, Berat thought, lowering his head just slightly and casting his eyes beneath the shadows of their ridges as he finished his inspection and holstered his weapon. The burning in the Bajorans’ eyes aboard the former Terok Nor haunted him still…he’d known, when he saw that, that the ‘merciful’ hand of Gul Dukat had been unmerciful enough. And the enemies of the Cardassian Union—their hand had been merciful, even when he had deserved death for his actions aboard their station.

    And that was what gave Gul Berat hope that Legate Turrel was right: with the right incentive, and a sense that someone in the Union actually regarded them as fellow cardasdanoid beings, they might well be convinced to lay down their arms and turn against whatever diehards refused.

    There was still one question central in the gul’s mind. He was the youngest gul in the Cardassian Guard, and one of the least tenured…he’d even beaten Dukat’s record for an early ascension to power. And this, in a culture so reverent of years and so distrustful of youth, spoke of two possibilities: either Turrel wanted someone relatively uncorrupted by loyalty to other legates, someone less set in his ways—or he, and Central Command both, wanted a way to dismiss any failures as simply that of a young man.

    Berat wondered, as he entered the transporter room, who would suffer if the mission failed: its author, or its executor?

    He could only hope the same youth Central Command might hope to use as an excuse would protect him in that case. Autonomy within the Union was a function of age, and as long as the mission did not trigger a purge, he hoped he would be safe…for he had survived two such purges—just barely. Therefore he intended to keep an open commlink after he beamed down: his every word and action on-planet would become a formal part of his permanent documentation file as well as streamed live aboard the Sherouk for all officers ranked dalin and above to hear. There would be no room for accusations that he had not followed the prescribed preliminary negotiation tracks.

    And that was the best he could do.

    Berat stepped up onto the transporter pad. At his side was Riyăk Eret, a Federation specialist from the investigative crew—a bit too indispensable for the nature of the mission than Berat liked. That was the perverse thing about service in the Cardassian Guard: he needed the expertise of a woman like Eret, yet one always had to be suspicious of those assigned to study the enemy. The state, after all, would not risk exposing anyone less than perfectly loyal to detailed information on foreigners and their societies, so there was a strong chance in Berat’s mind that Eret was Obsidian Order.

    He trusted Gor Tebal and Garheç Mavrit from his deck patrol far more. Given his horrid experience with Gul Marak aboard the Ghedrakbre, one of Gul Berat’s first tasks upon assuming command of the Sherouk had been a bloodless purge of its former gul’s deck patrol, replacing them with more principled individuals loyal not just to the state and to their gul, but to the reasons the rules existed…people who wouldn’t just stand by while some young garheç belowdecks suffered beating after beating from the people who were supposed to be his comrades. These were men who had something left in their hearts, not just in their brains and their bodies. And at least while they remained on the Sherouk, no one would knock that out of them.

    Once the entire party stood on the pad, Berat glanced over at Riyăk Arvor, the transporter operator. “Ousighukum,” he commanded, his diction authoritative but his voice low.

    “I obey, Gul.” Arvor engaged the transporter, and for an instant dislocated the four Cardassians from space and time.



    The suspicion in Governor Soon’s eyes was regrettable, Gul Berat thought, but understandable. These people had not simply fought the might of the Cardassian Union and lost. No—for them there had been no battle, no hope that an aggrieved Federation might return someday to reclaim a conquered territory. Instead their own people had handed them over. There would be no rescue…and in their minds, what hope would they have but that which they created for themselves? That did not excuse the colonists’ terrorist sympathies, by any means…but it did at least provide an avenue through which Berat hoped he might be able to reason with them.

    “I’m sure you understand why something like that would take time,” the governor was saying of Berat’s proposal. “They’ll demand proof.” He nodded at the door where his fellow colonists gathered.

    “Conversely—so do we,” Berat countered. “Both Guardsmen and Cardassian civilians have died at the hands of Maquis insurgents, and we must have assurances that the attacks are going to stop. I really do want to help you become a fuller participant in the Union—a true rasgălor, with official recognition as a prefecture of the Union, not just a settlement. The Federation never granted you that status, did they?”

    Soon offered no direct answer. Instead, he raised a skeptical eyebrow far higher than any Cardassian’s eye ridge could ever go. “You would grant equality to aliens?”

    “All worlds within the Union must answer to Cardassia,” Berat clarified. “But in that, you would be no different. That said…if it’s Bajor’s situation you fear, I am authorized to tell you that if the violence stops, things will be different for you than that. We are even willing to assist you in solving the exchange problem and helping you enter the Cardassian economy.”

    This, according to Turrel’s analysis, was one of the greatest practical problems faced by the colonists. They still had no right to attack Cardassians—or their own people, for that matter—but the remnant of ‘currency’ in the Federation was nearly worthless in comparison to the Cardassian lek. Maybe barter would suffice on-planet for these early generations...but with the exception of the few colonists who might have a few strips of latinum to their name, they had no way to purchase goods off-planet, the things their small personal replicators could never make.

    Making matters worse, Federation attempts to interdict illicit arms shipments had proven ineffective—therefore the only option had been to deny all Federation ships entry if they refused to submit to Cardassian inspection. Few got through, and those that did were sorely delayed. The colonists were beginning to feel privation. And if allowing Federation shipments meant the flow of contraband—then the alternative was to give the colonists a means to purchase from a safe source…Cardassia…instead. If successful, a small outlay and some lessons in finance and fiscal responsibility could pay tremendous dividends for the Union—and the colonists as well.

    Soon appeared to consider it for a moment…but he hadn’t forgotten his concerns. “And if there is an attack?”

    Berat pressed his lips together, and fixed the governor’s eyes with his own. He took no joy in the words he now delivered and he hoped Soon could read his face well enough to discern that. “Then I will have no power to stop Central Command from reprisals. I really don’t want to see that—and that’s why I want to speak to your people directly. I want them to know that they have a real chance with us.”

    Maybe not the chance you would have had with your own people if they had been true to you, Berat thought, but it’s more than they ever really gave you in the end.



    2371—5 minutes remaining
    Volan III

    The boy had slipped out of the settlement at the light of dawn, taking up a position in the branches of one of the tallest trees. Fortunately for him, Volan III had no predators capable of scaling the tree and leaping out to the wall to menace the colony, so the settlers had seen no reason to trim back the long, high, sturdy branches that reached out towards the structure in a natural bridge of sorts.

    His chronometer vibrated against his wrist: beamdown time. Sure, something might go wrong, the meeting might be scrapped at the last minute…one never knew, but if there was one thing the Cardies prided themselves on, it was punctuality. The gul and his entourage had to be here. And for whatever conniving reason of theirs, they didn’t just want to speak to the governor. They wanted to speak to the people…no doubt insurance in case they failed to brainwash the governor into doing whatever he wanted against the will of the people.

    But if his dad was any indication, too many would fall for it.

    Gingerly he shuffled along the branch, gripping it with both gloved hands and between his knees until he reached the edge of the stone wall. His heart pounded as he prepared to drop down onto the wall itself and some small part of him remarked at the irony, that he so dreaded this when a far more dire act awaited.

    Slowly, he loosened his grip with his left hand, reaching for the cold concrete of the wall. It wasn’t far—he was right over the wall now. As he leaned, the world seemed to swoon for an instant, and he froze, letting his head settle enough for the next step. Finally, he clambered off the branch and after a few seconds curled atop the wall in something like a fetal position to regain his equilibrium, he allowed himself a flash of jubilation. He’d practiced reaching the top of the tree before, but never actually attempted the drop to the wall until now—and he’d actually made it.

    He reached for his rucksack, feeling for the shape of the phaser. Good…it was still there, and the safeties still engaged. His father always swore by these old-style weapons, before Starfleet had even started building miniature touchscreens into even their phasers—a true manual safety was far, far more reliable if you knew what you were doing. He definitely knew what he was doing…replicators were few and far between on Volan III, and it was customary to hunt in order to supplement the bland, synthesized fare. And he was a skilled hunter; his father had taught him well.

    A pang shot through the boy’s stomach at the sudden shift in tone towards his father—what had Orwell called it, in that book the teachers had had everyone old enough study right before the Cardies came? Doublethink. And then another word—crimestop. Well, this wasn’t a crime, exactly, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted. That meant failure.

    Now perched carefully on the wall, he eased his rucksack off and drew out the phaser. There was no more time for tests now—what if he tripped the spoonheads’ sensors? What if he drained the battery below the critical threshold? He’ have only one shot.

    He’d considered an eyepiece with a heads-up display, but dismissed the idea. He was well-practiced at hitting his targets at a distance. And what was a slow-moving Cardassian compared to a Volan summerbuck? He could do this.

    From on high he crouched in silence, watched the door to the governor’s residence, and waited.

    There—finally!

    Side by side the governor and gul emerged. Three Cardassians accompanied the gul—two men, one woman. As for the woman, she struck him as some sort of bureaucrat. The men looked like a couple of typical jackbooted heavies. Their hands weren’t on their weapons, but they easily could be in an instant. Coward, he sneered at the gul. Too afraid to face your subjects without an armed guard, are you? You send messages filled with words like peace and trust, but I see how you really feel.

    The gathered crowd watched and waited, appraising the Cardassian commander as he spoke a few more words with the governor.

    A smile, a flash of blue—the gul turned, presented his back—

    He would never truly recall the exact instant he pulled the trigger…only the instant when it all fell apart.
     
  15. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    “I thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen,” Gul Berat said to the gathered crowd of mostly terhăn colonists. Indeed, no one had ordered these people’s presence, as might have been done under other circumstances—they were all here by choice. He had just outlined the same proposal to the colonists, and now he was ready to do something that Cardassians rarely did before aliens. “Now…I’d like to hear from you.”

    His gut twisted. All of it was being recorded, of course. Allowances were to be made, if the violence subsided—their words would not convict them as they would a Cardassian citizen. Of course, that was contingent upon the cessation of violence…and based on what he’d seen aboard Deep Space Nine, he wondered if these people, accustomed to a much different society, truly realized what a fine line they and Berat treaded together.

    “What about the Cardassians who have been attacking us? What happens to them? You armed them!” one colonist accused, his finger stabbing at Berat as a representative of the Cardassian Guard.

    “We will only permit self-defense,” Berat evenly replied. Arming the Cardassian colonists had been a mistake, not to mention a treaty violation, but acknowledging it could be his death. “Unprovoked attacks by Cardassian settlers will be punished.” The questioner muttered something under his breath beneath the range of Cardassian hearing in reply, and Berat continued as though he hadn’t noticed. “We also want to see the abolition of terhăn zones and Cardassian zones on this planet.”

    “You want to kick us out of our homes!” a woman screamed.

    “You will not be dispossessed,” Berat clarified. “Some of us want to join your community instead of living separately. They are the ones who will move, not you.” Then he said it. “Your Federation has already asked that of you once. No one will ask it of you again.” He wasn’t authorized to say any more…to condemn the Federation’s part in the treaty would be to condemn the part Central Command played—but he hoped…how he hoped his tone would convey the truth…!

    Another voice drifted out over the crowd. “So you’d be giving us Cardassian credits…money,” she corrected herself. “That’s nice, but are your merchants actually going to sell to us?”

    “Yes,” Berat said. “You’d even be able to buy the most exclusive kănar straight from the fields of Ekidor in Nevot—” Looks of disgust flickered through the crowd. “I see we still have a little work to do. It’s all right…I still have to work on my taste for grayp-wine,” he admitted, flashing a sheepish, crooked grin at the governor and the gathered crowd.

    This time, he got a muted laugh.

    Progress! Berat cheered. Maybe, as they got to know each other more, this really would—

    A flash at the corner of his eye as he turned to address another question—

    Fire exploded from a spot on his back just below the right shoulder blade—a horrible scream—whose voice? His…!

    Every nerve jolted, every muscle rebelled, his breath came in gasps that couldn’t be called breathing, his heart galloped out of rhythm, out of control, and the flames burning inside him—it wouldn’t stop—it wouldn’t stop, why wouldn’t it stop…!

    He saw motion, heard the voices, some in words he understood, others he didn’t. He heard his name but couldn’t answer…his voice no longer worked even for screaming. His mind formed no words—just one shriek of agony as the lightning that had shot from shoulder to toes reversed course and ran through his body again and again—



    What the hell?!

    This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen! The beam was supposed to vaporize instantly, before the enemy even realized what was happening. Yet that terrible cry still rang in his ears, even after he was silent. He chanced one more look as he scrambled for the branches.

    Frak! The Cardassian gul convulsed now, one unending seizure…the woman crouched over him, shouting into her wristcomm, the bodyguards surged out into the crowd—

    He shot off the wall with an explosive leap, almost missed the branch.

    OHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!

    He caught hold with his gloved hands, scrambled down the tree, threw himself at the ground as soon as he could. He clambered up to his feet, running, running, running, his hands working even as he ran at the phaser. There was the swamp—he threw the replacement collimator and battery into the swamp, where any residual DNA traces would be erased, and then he ran some more until he found the cave where he’d planned to hide, and he collapsed into a heap.

    No transporters whined. No footsteps pounded. No voices rang out across the forest.

    He’d done it. No. He’d done…what?

    In the silence the Cardassian man’s agonized shriek rent through his mind again and again and again and in his mind’s eye there he was—dying, dying, dying by centimeters—

    And in silence he wept, his fingers wrapped around the dead phaser’s grip with the stiffness of rigor mortis, its minuscule weight turned to neutron star density as it seemed to pull him down, down into the planet’s core.



    Golden light paralyzes, seizes as storms of the consciousness rage, their fury frozen for one isolated moment and released again. His world is made of fire and knives. Everything is slipping out of alignment. A choked cry wracks his body as they draw near—even a bioelectric field is agony. The Sherouk…beautiful Sherouk—its power too is agony to his heightened bioelectric sense…too much, too much…!

    Frantic energy abounds—everybody who can stand is running, running in a strange and infinite loop…it wasn’t like this the last time. Last time the instant came, the fire ripped through him and cast him into oblivion. This time—everything is endless and wrapped in agony.

    Another current rips through his body, starting from within this time—a tiny moan escapes his lips and unbidden tears roll down onto his eye ridges.

    With a hiss by his ear, everything fades…



    2371—Two weeks after the shooting
    Volan III

    He had left a change of clothes, some food and water, and some Starfleet-style bath-in-a-bottle in the cave before…what he did. His parents had believed he was on a camping trip for the next few days; they hadn’t been expecting to see him at home the day—the day…that day.

    He had thought it would be easy. He hadn’t planned on the terrible ringing in his mind as the sun rose and set once more. He’d planned to return, report what he’d done to the cell leader, accept the Maquis membership he deserved…

    Instead, the boy had returned home in silence. The hollow horror in his eyes when his father informed him of the disaster with the Cardassian was real. So too was the dread…Gul Evek was inbound again, that bastard Evek, and God only knew what he planned to do when he got there. And it was all because of him.

    They said something really had been different about the other gul. He’d been young, enthusiastic…and he’d spoken with them, not just at them. Maybe things could have really changed—they’d been right on the cusp—and they would never know.

    That phaser—repaired now—was back in its case, locked away. And all he could hope was that if the Cardassians searched, the modifications would be enough. And that his father—revolted, disgusted by the shooter…by his own son, though he still didn’t know it…wouldn’t suffer for this. So many would suffer.

    He hadn’t just killed the gul. Killed a man. He had tortured him. He’d hated the Cardassians for that. For being what he was now.

    He still wanted nothing more than to get away from the life the Federation had condemned their people to, under the durasteel heel of the Cardassians. The difference was that now, he had no idea where to go—because even if no one else ever realized, he would always see that flash of blue…the man’s eyes, he knew now, eyes like the sky and the lake that now concealed the phaser parts. And that death cry would always echo between his ears.



    2371—Three weeks after the shooting
    CUW Sherouk

    Gul Tayben Berat collapsed onto the biobed, exhausted. Pain roared to life once again on impact—the deep neuralgic pain that had been his constant companion for the past two weeks since Dr. Hetalc finally brought him back to full consciousness. There was nothing Hetalc could give him for the pain that wouldn’t dull Berat’s mind beyond recognition…it would be with him forever. Hetalc was instructing him now in biofeedback techniques that might help him to function again—but it would be slow going.

    Today was the first day he had tried to walk again. The therapy he’d undergone the first time he was shot had nothing on this. It was as though his body had forgotten everything except, thankfully, how to breathe, eat, and speak. His tremor-wracked hands couldn’t keep a grip on the metal bars patients usually supported themselves on as they learned to walk again—Hetalc and one of the nurses had to support him instead as he’d struggled to his feet, tried to put one in front of the other. He would manage a few steps in this fashion—then his muscles would spasm or his nerves would flare and his legs would go right back out from under him.

    This part would get better over time, Hetalc had assured him—there was no reason he wouldn’t walk or even run again. But his hands…the tiny nerves had suffered too much damage, and he would never have full use of them again.

    Central Command had already sent the discharge orders. Dr. Hetalc had also informed him that his first officer, Glinn Drevot, had had the two young soldiers and the Federation specialist sent back to Cardassia for trial—for failing to protect their gul.

    Tebal and Mavrit don’t deserve that! Berat fumed. He had a feeling he knew how the attempted murderer had done his deed…that phaser, with its defective collimator and battery would have powered up for only an instant, and at partial power, before he fired, and then gone dead. No one could have detected it…no one could have stopped it. He had already sent a strongly-worded statement to Central Command about that, trying to save all three…not that he really wanted the Obsidian Order plant back, but if his attempt to save the young men was to succeed, he had to include the operative. He hoped against hope that they wouldn’t be announced in the docket soon, because the moment their trial was announced—that would be it. It was almost certainly a lost cause, but he owed them that much, even if his own appeal failed.

    The traitors of the Fist of Revenge had already tried once to disgrace him, to strip him of his rank and send him away to die…and they had failed. This Federation assassin had tried as well, and failed. And even if Central Command tried—he shuddered, this time not from the neuropathy, but at the startling, maverick thought taking shape. They’ll fail too, or I’ll die trying.

    He could go back to Volan III—he’d learned much about how terhăn-çăs thought, aboard Deep Space Nine, and to see him return and reach back out toward even with the tremors in his hands…he could do it. He could make peace. But Central Command had dismissed that idea out of hand. Gul Evek was already there, and that would scar the colonists far deeper even than the phaser beam that had seared him right down to his bones. Their own people had betrayed them, and now one of their own had betrayed them yet again and all of that hope he’d presented them was gone.

    Part of him offered up the sardonic remark that perhaps the hardliners in Central Command liked how this had gone—they had their excuse now. That had to be the only reason he hadn’t heard anything about a trial and execution for Legate Turrel.

    And there was something else he still hadn’t received word on. He hadn’t heard anything about his appeal for reinstatement. No shuttle had arrived from Cardassia Prime to take him back to the homeworld, nor had a summary execution order arrived for the failure of the mission.

    A faint smile traced across Berat’s face. No one had ever averted the automatic discharge that came with this sort of injury. No one had ever commanded a starship of the Cardassian Guard with any sort of disability. And challenging the edicts of Central Command, even in the best of times, carried stiff penalties to say the least. Still…

    Maybe someone’s actually listening.

    I just dare anyone to tell me that’s impossible!
     
  16. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    May 2010 Challenge - Ships Named Enterprise

    “NX-01 Tells All”

    First, I’d like to thank mari for this opportunity to speak my mind. I have a few things I need to get off my ventral plates that have been bothering me. If there are any small children in the room, you might want them to leave for a few minutes. I’m going to vent some plasma and someone might get burned.

    My name is Enterprise. The NX-01. The first and the baddest. ‘Course, to read the comments of some of the fanboys on this site, you’d think I was the starship designed in hell. Akiraprise? Please. The Akiras never looked this good on their best days.

    Yeah, I’ve heard the snide comments – deflector dish all wrong, too futuristic, funky engineering layout, azteked like a tramp. You’re breaking my containment chamber. Not. You think a few insults bother me? Ha! My plating is a LOT tougher than that – without polarizing. (Sniff.) What? No – I’m fine. Just give me a second. See that extended middle claw on my grappling cable? That’s for you, fanboys. Jerks. (Sniff.)

    Don’t forget! – mine was the only series named “Enterprise.” The show was about me, not those stupid carbon-based lifeforms that did their level best to fly me into a fluxxin’ planet. Don’t get me started. There would be no “Star Trek” without ships named Enterprise. What were those two-legged prima-donnas going to do – hitchhike to strange new worlds? I don’t think so. As if the crews mattered anyway. Any random group of Terran Chimpanzees could have done what these bozos did each week, probably without nearly destroying me and my sisters in the process. Do you know how many times I came close to a core breach? Let me tell you – my relays ached for days after each time.

    Oh, but I will say something about Captain Jonathan “Boy Scout” Archer. What a d******. The guy was the most ADD officer in Starfleet, and they put him in MY center seat. What the . . . ? And that stupid quadruped he brought on-board - Porthos. What kind of stupid name is that for a Beagle? My carpets still smell like dog pee. Thanks, Archer – thanks a lot! Moron.

    The rest of my crew was a mixed lot. “Trip” Tucker wasn’t too bad – at least when he wasn’t stoned. (What? you never wondered why he was called “Trip?”) At least T’Pol understood me. I have to agree with her – humans do smell funny. Every so often, I have to flush out my hydrogen collectors with deuterium to clear the odor. I was tempted on more than one occasion to open all the air-locks and clean house, if you know what I mean.

    What’s that? What do I think about my sisters? Okay – since you asked.

    Contrary to what you read in the tabloids (and the fan art boards) I have the utmost love and respect for 1701. Yes, she’s always been the pretty one and most popular – but I could deal with that. I was never jealous – she was such a sweet starship. But she was pretty messed up, you know? Having James “Testosterone” Kirk on board would drive any starship over the edge. And then she got a little older and the big shots decided, “Hey sweetie – how about a makeover? A little face lift?” She went along – what else could she do? But they turned her into a slut. Bastards. Finally, Kirk drove her over the edge. Sure, the movie showed him initiating the self-destruct sequence. I think she took her own life. It was so tragic. I hope Kirk burns in hell.

    What? 1701-A? Don’t make me laugh! That floozy was a second-rate stand in for my sister. Oh sure, she had the looks and lines – but it was always that bitch, Yorkie, under the makeup. Whore. Even that idiot Scotty couldn’t work with her. He was nearly as bad as Kirk. I remember 1701 used to cry about him. She would never go into detail but I knew he did things to her – awful, perverted things. Miracle worker? In his dreams. If he ever gets close to me, I’ll send a torpedo up his fat impulse vent!

    Enterprise-B never had a chance. Poor thing – she was always self conscious about her bust-line, if you catch my drift. Damned producers! Wanted her to be “enhanced.” She used to cry herself to sleep in space-dock. Captain “Cub Scout” Harrison was a joke! I have it on good authority that he was a bed-wetter. And who shows up for her debut but James “Teh Awesome” Kirk, the fat bastard! They claimed he “saved” her. Left her deformed, is what he did. She was never the same after that. I lost touch, but I think she joined a starship convent. If there is a Designer, I hope He sends Kirk to the deepest level of Sto'Vo'Kor where fat, sweaty Klingons practice docking maneuvers on him for eternity. What? Bitter? No, I'm not bitter.

    Enterprise-C was another sweetie, but she was always self-conscious about her weight. The other starships used to call her the Ham-bassador class. She wasn’t really fat, she just had big girders. But she was tough! God love her, she showed those harpy Romulan ships! Her Captain was really nice, too – one of the few humans I respected. Shame Captain Garrett died, but carbon-based lifeforms aren’t very sturdy. No offense. I miss C. She was a classy girl and a lot of fun at parties. She was really nice too – always made the Constellation-class ships feel welcome at get-togethers. (They were always self-conscious about having four nacelles. Honestly, that creeped me out, but hey! Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, etc, etc. I’m open-minded.)

    Now, I know you’ve heard that Dee and I didn’t get along. Sadly – that’s true. She thought she was all-that. The girl was nothing more than a cruise-ship with teeth. Oh, she was catty. The girl had a galaxy-sized ego to go with her galaxy-sized ass. “Flag-ship” of the fleet!” Huh! More like hag-ship. Did you see the big head on that girl? And those funky nacelles? She thought she was soooo sexy. Please. And that bald-headed Captain Jean “Lucky” Picard? What a pompous jerk. He abandoned that poor, sweet Stargazer. And when she finally shows up after all those years, what does he do? Pretends to go crazy? Riiight. What? Oh yeah – back to Dee. Do I miss her? What kind of question is that? She was my sister – I loved the girl, but she had issues galore. I do blame that bloated fool, Will “STD” Riker, for her death. I hope that Deanna Troi gets herself checked. Riker’s motto was to “explore strange new whores.” Jerk. Now he’s Captain of the Titan. Can’t spell Titan without t-i-t. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    The only sister I have left is E. She’s a sweetheart. We still talk from time-to-time, but I know she stays busy. I’m glad she had a chance to talk as well, so I won’t repeat what she said, except to say I agree 100%. E, I love you baby, and I’m proud of you! We Enterprisegirls have had a tough life. It hasn’t been all movies and glamour. But you keep the tradition going, girl. I love you baby sister! Come visit me at the museum when you get a chance, sweetie. I’m so proud of you! (Sniff.)

    Now I’m getting all leaky. Sorry about that. Are we done here? (Sniff.) I can’t talk any more. (Sniff.) Damn – now my registry is going to smear. Does anyone have a tissue? No, no, we're done here. Get out of my deflector dish before I go weapons hot on your ass!
     
  17. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Langley
    July 2010 Challenge: “Myth and Mayhem”, Part 1
    (4657 Words)


    Stardate 54533.33 (14 July 2377)
    Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
    En route to planet Xilien IV

    “Now entering system boundary,” announced the helmsman.

    “Take us out of warp and proceed at maximum impulse,” ordered Captain Lars Trondheim. He turned in his command chair and addressed the diminutive Asian woman at the Operations station. “Sinja? Any response?”

    Lt. Sinja Tarrawa kept her gaze within the sensor hood. “Negative, sir. No response to our hails – only the automated distress signal.”

    Captain Trondheim grunted and rubbed absently at his beard. It had been nearly two hours since they first received the frantic calls for help from the mining outpost on Xilien IV. The transmission had been garbled and disjointed but the underlying message was clear: The outpost was under attack.

    “Go active on sensors, Lieutenant, full power. No point trying to sneak up on the attackers – maybe we can scare them off.”

    “Aye, sir,” replied Tarrawa.

    “XO, sound Red Alert – its time to go weapons hot and shields up. I want one Mark 22 and one Mark 9 armed and ready in the forward tubes. Have transporter rooms standby to send down SAR teams. Make sure Chief Zuan has his team loaded out for possible combat.”

    “Already on it, Skipper,” replied Commander Jacqueline Porter. The tall, dark-skinned woman brought the cutter’s tactical systems on-line with cool professionalism. “Torpedoes loaded and armed. Targeting computer on stand-by. Chief Zuan has signaled that our SAR teams are ready and standing by.”

    “Very well. Helm? What’s our ETA?”

    “Twelve minutes, sir.”

    The Norwegian CO grimaced. Not fast enough. The attackers could be gone in twelve minutes.

    “Ops, what can you tell me about the planet and the mining outpost?” queried the Captain.

    “Xilien IV is marginally class M, currently experiencing a planetary ice age. Scans from the first survey vessels indicate a space-faring civilization as recently as 400 years ago, but apparently the inhabitants moved on when the climate changed. The planet is rich in dilithium and chromium - thus the mining operation. It’s run by a Rigellian consortium and there are 56 souls working the Xilien operation.”

    “Do they have any defensive capabilities? Shields? Weapons?”

    Lt. Tarrawa shook her head. “No sir. Xilien IV is pretty much off the regular space lanes. There haven’t been any problems with pirates out this way, so the company did not install defenses.”

    “I’m sure that made the bean-counters happy,” muttered the Captain. “Sinja, replay the original distress message before the automated beacon kicked in.”

    “Aye sir – it’s audio only.”

    Trondheim nodded. “Let’s hear it.”

    There was a momentary squeal of static before a man’s voice spoke. The fear and confusion was evident, even with the poor signal quality.

    “ . . . is the Xilien IV mining colony. We are under attack by . . . ,” Heavy static drowned out the frantic man’s next few words. “Please! Any ship in the vicinity . . . this is the Xilien IV mining colony . . . we have many casualties . . . please hurry! It may come back at . . .”

    The recording ended abruptly, cutting off the rest of the man’s message.

    It? Not ‘they’?” remarked the Captain.

    “Perhaps he was referring to a ship or aircraft,” said Commander Porter.

    “Perhaps.” But Trondheim did not appear to be convinced.

    “Captain? I have a visual on the mining complex,” announced Lt. Tarrawa.

    “On screen, Lieutenant.”

    The starscape wavered and rugged, snow-covered terrain appeared on the main viewscreen. Centered in the image were the remains of three geodesic domes that connected to a central power core. Two of the domes were utterly destroyed, the third damaged, snow and ice blasted away to reveal ugly black scars. Tendrils of thick, black smoke poured from an opening in the last dome. The remains of the sensor and communications array were scattered about. Whatever had hit the mining station had done so with devastating effect.

    “Any life-signs?” asked the Captain, quietly.

    Tarrawa winced slightly. “It’s difficult to tell, Captain. There’s considerable background radiation hampering our scans. It’s also possible the miners took refuge below surface in the mines.”

    “Let’s hope so. Any signs of whoever attacked them?”

    “No sir. There are no other vessels in the system and no life form or energy readings on the planet’s surface.”

    “Could be a cloaked ship,” pointed out the XO.

    “Yes, but to what end?” asked Trondheim. “We’re a long ways from Klingon or Romulan space. Besides, what would either gain by attacking a small mining operation?”

    “I didn’t say they were Klingon or Romulan,” countered Porter. “Someone else could have cloaking technology – the Maquis reportedly have a few class 4 devices. As to motive . . . maybe someone down there owes the Syndicate money. Or perhaps a Borg cube dropped out of transwarp for a little target practice.”

    “You’re just full of happy thoughts, Jackie,” said Trondheim, dryly. “Helm, bring us into geo-stationary orbit over the mining complex. Lt. Tarrawa, continue your scans and keep hailing the miners. Maybe someone down there will answer.”

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.39 (14 July 2377)
    Xilien Mining Complex
    Sub-level 4

    John Mason sat in the near-darkness as the emergency lighting began to fail. He shivered despite the warmth of the subterranean caverns that led down into the heart of the mine. It was fear, not cold, that caused him to tremble.

    The day had begun as a routine work shift for Mason. He had enjoyed a large breakfast in dome B and was suiting up for work when the first tremors hit.

    Ground quakes were not uncommon in the area. The entire continent was a major seismic event waiting to happen. But Mason and his co-workers had grown accustomed to the occasional rumbles and shaking. The surface domes were designed to absorb most of the shock from quakes and the special bracing and force-fields within the mine shafts provided generally good protection underground.

    What Mason and the rest of the mining crew did not realize was the quake that morning opened up an ice cave that had been sealed for nearly four centuries.

    The creature that had been trapped within came out of its period of hibernation, sensing the sudden rush of fresh air into the cave. It uttered a piercing shriek and spread massive wings, flinging aside heavy blocks of ice as if they were small pebbles.

    With surprising grace for so large a creature, it hurled itself upward and out of its frigid prison into the foggy air of Xilien. It gained altitude like a rocket, breaking the sound barrier with a sound like cannon fire.

    Some primordial instinct caused the creature to bank sharply and fly toward a point miles distant. Soon, its sharp eyes picked up three shapes on the ice that did not belong. It began its dive.

    John Mason was about to enter the turbo-lift that would take him into the mines when the creature struck dome B. The sudden blast of icy air and the sound of rending metal and collapsing duracrete jolted Mason. He stumbled backward as a light panel crashed to the floor before him. A section of wall a mere ten meters away suddenly crashed down, burying two of his friends under duracrete and aluminum. Then he saw . . .

    . . . Mason’s mind had difficulty comprehending what he saw next. A dark shadow fell over the opening where the wall had collapsed, then something darker still . . . dark but substantive and alive poked through the opening.

    It took a few seconds for the word talon to come to his mind. Part of him wanted to flee, but he was entranced – frozen in place with fear.

    The talons spread and grasped Glenda Ayers – the Beta Shift Foreman. She was dazed but began to scream as the talons tightened around her midsection until her breath was cut off.

    Their eyes met momentarily. She looked confused, her expression seemed to say, “This isn’t happening . . .” Then she was gone.

    Mason’s heart hammered within his chest. He glanced around for a way of escape. The turbo-lift doors were half-open and the lift car was dark. No escape there. Just ahead, though, was the ladder alcove that led down into the mines. If he could make it there . . .

    A blast of wind like a hurricane nearly took him off his feet. The sound that accompanied the violent tempest was louder than anything he had ever heard – perhaps the main reactor had exploded?

    The wind abated as quickly as it rose. The smell that lingered made his stomach twist. The acrid stench of blood and excrement was strong now – Mason did not require much imagination to figure out the source.

    He began to move toward the ladder alcove when something dark again appeared in the jagged opening of the corridor wall.

    It was an eye.

    The eye regarded him with a deadly reptilian coldness. Mason could see his own reflection in the dark orb which was easily twice his height. The elliptical pupil was surrounded by green and gold and tracked him as he tried to sidle past.

    With uncanny speed the eye disappeared to be replaced by a massive, gray beak – its edges serrated and deadly. Something hung limply from the monstrous beak.

    It was an arm.

    With a strangled scream, Mason hurled himself toward the ladder alcove as the monster began to work itself through the debris, widening the opening in the wall. He managed to slam the door behind him just as a deafening shriek reverberated down the corridor – a massive blast of wind nearly tearing the door from its supports.

    Mason, long-practiced in traversing the ladders, hurled himself at the twin rails and allowed gravity to pull him downward into the darkened caverns below, ignoring the pain as friction burned his hands.

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.41 (14 July 2377)
    Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
    Geo-stationary orbit over Xilien IV


    “We’re holding at 225 kilometers above the mining complex, sir,” announced Ensign Guaraldi from the helm.

    “Still no vessels within scanning range,” said Lt. Tarrawa. “Tachyon detection is negative for cloaking devices.”

    “That would seem to eliminate the Klingons and the Maquis,” observed Captain Trondheim as he turned toward Commander Porter.

    “But not the Romulans,” parried the XO.

    Trondheim shook his head. “It doesn’t fit, Jackie. The Romulans have enough problems of their own to raid a small outfit like this. There’s no strategic or tactical advantage to be gained.”

    “Maybe not for the Empire, but the Romulans have more factions than before the war. Any one might be willing to stir up trouble and blame it on the government.”

    The Captain smiled wanly. “Never one to pass up a good conspiracy theory, are you, XO?” He became serious once more. “Notify the SAR teams they are cleared to beam down.”

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.42 (14 July 2377)
    SAR Team 1

    The first Search and Rescue team materialized in the ruins of the dining hall. They held their defensive posture – formed in a circle with weapons facing outward – until Chief Zuan lowered his phaser carbine.

    “Fan out, people. Do not get out of sight of your partner. Check in every ten minutes – sooner if you find any survivors or any perps. Got it?”

    Each pair acknowledged and began to move out, carefully avoiding rubble from the collapsed dome and snow-covered debris.

    Corpsman First Class Rhijan ‘kel Vernas shivered and rubbed her arms. “Frak! It’s cold.”

    “Turn up the heat in your body armor,” replied Zuan as he scanned the devastation with narrowed eyes. “You can’t do your job if you freeze to death.”

    “Gee, Chief, I didn’t know you cared,” she replied, sarcastically.

    “I don’t.” Frowning, he stepped forward a few paces and knelt. He tapped the controls on the combat scanner strapped to his forearm, checked the reading, and grunted.

    Rhijan came up beside him. “What?”

    Chief Zuan pointed at the snow that lay before them. “That.”

    The Rigellian gazed where the CPO gestured, puzzled at first. Suddenly, her eyes widened as she realized what she was seeing.

    “Is that . . . a footprint?

    “Not a foot. More like a claw or talon. I’m reading trace amounts of blood and DNA in the snow . . . Human, Trill and Bajoran.”

    Rhijan continued to stare at the impression in the snow. She breathed a Rigellian oath. “That has to be . . . what? 5 or 6 meters across?”

    Zuan stood and nodded. “That’s about right.”

    “What could have made that track?”

    The Chief looked around once more at the devastated facility. “My guess? Whatever frakked this place up.”

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.43 (14 July 2377)
    Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
    Geo-stationary orbit over Xilien IV

    “Captain!” The urgency in Tarrawa’s voice caused Trondheim’s head to snap around. “I’m picking up a transient contact moving at Mach 1.5, altitude 2,644 meters, on a direct heading toward the mining outpost. It will be on top of them in less than two minutes.”

    “Hail that ship, Lieutenant! Warn them off.”

    Tarrawa continued to stare into the sensor hood, a perplexed expression on her face. She shook her head in disbelief.

    “Sir . . . I . . . I don’t believe it is a ship. It’s a biological.”

    “Impossible!” retorted Commander Porter. “No bird can fly that fast!”

    “Get me a visual, Lieutenant,” interrupted Trondheim, “and warn the SAR teams. Tell them they’ve got a fast-mover inbound and to take cover. XO, see if you can acquire a targeting lock on that thing . . . whatever the hell it is.”

    Both officers acknowledged his orders and turned to their stations. Captain Trondheim turned his gaze to the viewscreen. The dense cloud cover made it difficult to clearly see the rapidly moving object at first, but it broke through momentarily, allowing them to clearly see the creature.

    It was no ship – rather it was the stuff of nightmares. Trondheim was momentarily speechless as the massive creature spread leathery wings and soared, gaining altitude. It vaguely resembled a Terran pterodactyl from pre-historic times, but this thing was larger by geometric proportions. Dark brown scales surrounded horn-like spikes on its midsection while meter long claws protruded from massive talons. Its elongated head was more reptilian than birdlike.

    Whatever it was, it most certainly was a clear threat to the SAR teams.

    “Kaiju.”

    The Captain turned toward Lt. Tarrawa who stared at the creature’s image with rapt horror.

    “What was that, Lieutenant?” he asked sharply.

    She seemed not to hear him. She spoke another word.

    “Rodan.”

    * * *
    __________________
     
  18. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Langley
    Part 2


    Stardate 54533.45 (14 July 2377)
    SAR Team 1

    “Defensive positions, everyone! We’ve got an inbound target moving at Mach speed.”

    Chief Zuan’s team took up defensive positions best they could, but the veteran CPO knew they were too exposed.

    “There! Look!” Corpsman 'kel Vernas pointed skyward. Zuan looked up and caught a dark object moving back and forth across the sky with uncanny agility.

    “Stand-by on phasers,” he ordered over his communicator. “If that thing attacks, open up on it.”

    Zuan pulled the phaser carbine up and gazed through the targeting reticule. The carbine’s tracking system beeped intermittently, then emitted a steady tone. A cold smile formed on the Chief’s lips.

    “Come on, bitch – let’s dance.”

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.45 (14 July 2377)
    Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
    Geo-stationary orbit over Xilien IV

    “I have a lock, Captain,” announced the XO, “but atmospheric ionization will diffuse our phasers and we’re too close to the away teams for torpedoes.”

    “Stand-by phasers. Maybe we can scare it off.”

    Porter held her finger over a blinking control stud. “Just give the word, sir.”

    “Fire!”

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.45 (14 July 2377)
    SAR Team 1

    A sudden red flash dazzled Ruan’s eyes, causing him to blink furiously and take his eye off the targeting reticule. At the same moment, a raucous shriek – louder than all the demons in hell – elicited a gasp of pain from Ruan as sound and pressure combined to assault his ear drums.

    He was vaguely aware of a massive form passing overhead before the backdraft caught him and the rest of the SAR team – tossing them about like leaves in a gale.

    Zuan landed awkwardly, his breath exploded painfully from his lungs as his diaphragm took the brunt of his collision with a pile of debris. He tumbled down the pile, coming to rest against a bank of dirty snow. He gasped desperately for air, the wind knocked from him.

    He was vaguely aware that Corpsman ‘kel Vernas was leaning over him, shouting at him, but he could not understand what she was saying. All he could hear was a muffled roar that seemed to be gaining in intensity.

    A shadow loomed over them, blotting out the sky. Ruan caught sudden movement as the Corpsman was snapped up by a massive beak. Burgundy blood sprayed the CPO as the lower half of ‘kel Vernas’ body toppled aside.

    Screaming soundlessly, Chief Zuan opened fire with his phaser carbine – raking the monstrous creature across the face and eyes with bursts of concentrated energy.

    The creature staggered, apparently in pain, shaking its massive head from side to side. Other Border Dogs began to open fire. While the phaser bursts did not kill the creature or even wound it severely, they did accomplish one thing.

    They made it mad.

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.45 (14 July 2377)
    Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
    Geo-stationary orbit over Xilien IV

    From the Sturgeon, Captain Trondheim and the bridge crew watched as the cutter’s phasers caught the creature between its massive wings, sending it wheeling end over end toward the planet’s surface.

    Trondheim’s initial sense of relief turned to horror as the pteranodon regained control and dove toward the Border Dogs scattered in the debris of the habitat dome.

    He slapped at his combadge hard enough to leave a bruise on his chest. “Bridge to transporter room one – emergency beam-out of all SAR teams, NOW!

    There was a moment’s pause before the transporter technician replied. “Sir – I can’t get a transporter lock on the teams. Something is interfering with our tracking sensors.”

    Trondheim felt as if he had been punched in the gut. “Keep trying. Bridge, out.” He turned to Commander Porter.

    “XO, I want two Stallions launched and I want it done five minutes ago. Inform the pilots that they are to fire on the creature if it approaches.”

    “Sir!” interrupted Lt. Tarrawa. “Look!”

    Trondheim turned and stared at the viewscreen with incredulity. The monster was now in a steep climb.

    And he was heading directly for the Sturgeon.

    The XO shook her head in disbelief. “That’s not possible! There isn’t enough air to support that thing at that altitude.”

    “Nonetheless, it is doing so anyway,” replied Trondheim, fascinated with the sight. “Lt. Tarrawa – what is its altitude and speed?”

    The Japanese Ops officer tore her eyes from the viewscreen and checked her panel. She swallowed. “Already at 17,000 meters and climbing. Speed already exceeding Mach 1 and climbing.”

    “It can’t know we’re here,” whispered Porter, her voice tight.

    “And yet, it does,” replied Trondheim, his voice equally quiet but with a note of certainty. “At least it’s distracted from our people on the ground. Helm – prepare to break orbit. We may need maneuvering room.”

    The helmsman acknowledged then added. “Captain – the creature will intercept us before we can clear the planet’s gravity well.”

    “Of course,” thought Trondheim, “what else can go wrong today?” Aloud he said, “Just get us moving, Mister.”

    The pteranodon was now a living missile, hurtling toward the Sturgeon at impossible speed. It weighed more than a Star Stallion and a collision would devastate the cutter, possibly even destroy it.

    “Shields at maximum intensity,” announced Commander Porter. “Phasers charged and locked – torpedoes standing by.”

    The Captain acknowledged and regarded the approaching creature with a sense of dread and wonder. Part of him loathed the idea of destroying such a magnificent creature – perhaps unique amongst the stars. But his responsibilities lay with the safety of his crew and ship. The monster had proved to be hostile and they had already lost at least one crewman.

    “Target changing course,” announced the XO.

    “Where away?”

    “Veering sharply to 018 mark 80, mark 79 . . . its arcing around for an attack run, I think.”

    The viewscreen tracked the creature, dimming as the yellow sun came into view.

    “It plans to dive out of the sun,” murmured Trondheim. “It’s intelligent.”

    “Could be instinct,” replied Porter.

    Trondheim shook his head. “No, Commander, that beast knows what it’s doing. Prepare to fire phasers on my mark.”

    The filters on the viewscreen damped the intense glare of the sun, leaving the creature as a dark shadow that was rapidly growing in size.

    “Fire.”

    Twin beams of light lanced out from the cutter’s hull, converging on the monster. It thrashed wildly and banked away before circling around to reengage the Sturgeon.

    “Great, Now it’s pissed,” noted Porter.

    Trondheim kept his gaze fixed on the monster. Magnificent or not, the creature was hell-bent on their destruction.

    “Time to end this. Fire the Mark 9 torpedo.”

    “Torpedo away!”

    Now the pteranodon began to move evasively. It made twists and turns that would have been impossible for even a high-performance fighter to duplicate.

    But the photon torpedo was relentless – its on-board tracking computer making continuous corrections as it pursued its quarry.

    In a surprising move, the creature suddenly stopped and hung motionless – its massive wings spread to their fullest. Perhaps it was an indication of surrender.

    Trondheim somehow knew it was an act of defiance – its own way of extending the middle finger.

    The screen went white as the 12 isoton warhead detonated. Trondheim raised his hand against the glare before the filters had a chance to dampen the burst of light. The orb of light spread before fading away – leaving the distant sun and starfield on the screen.

    “Target destroyed,” announced the XO, her tone flat.

    The Captain let out a long sigh. “Very well. Give the order to launch the Stallions. Let’s get our people and any survivors out of there.”

    * * *

    Stardate 54533.91 (14 July 2377)
    Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
    En route to Star Station India

    Captain’s Log – Stardate: 54533.9. We have recovered our SAR teams and the lone survivor of the mining outpost on Xilien IV. I suppose we were fortunate to suffer only one casualty – Corpsman First Class Rhijan ‘kel Vernas. She was an outstanding member of Sturgeon’s crew and she will be missed. Chief Zuan suffered severe injuries, but Dr. V’Tel believes he will make a complete recovery.

    As to the creature that destroyed the mining outpost, its origins remain a mystery. One theory is that it was encased in the ice for centuries in some form of suspended animation and was released by tectonic activity. We will leave that to others to figure out. USS Rutledge is on station recovering the bodies of the miners and scanning for any other life-forms. Something tells me this creature was one-of-a-kind.

    The enunciator to the ready room chimed softly. Trondheim paused his log entry and said, “Come!”

    Lt. Sinja Tarrawa entered the office and stood before Trondheim’s desk. She stood at attention with her gaze fixed several centimeters above the Captain’s head.

    “Lt. Tarrawa reporting, sir. I am presenting myself for disciplinary action.”

    Trondheim suppressed a smile. “Lieutenant – please, have a seat.”

    Tarrawa stole a puzzled glance at the Captain before doing as he bade. She sat ramrod straight in the chair.

    He sighed. “Sinja – relax. You’re not on report.”

    Some of the tension seemed to leave her body, but her expression still showed dismay. “Sir – my actions on the bridge earlier today were inexcusable.”

    “Really? My judgment must be faulty – I thought you performed admirably.”

    She swallowed and lowered her gaze in shame. “My . . . outburst . . . they were inexcusable, Captain.”

    Trondheim smiled. “Considering what we were facing, I think your . . . ‘outburst’ as you put it, was rather mild. I’ve heard far worse from officers more senior than you under less stressful circumstances. I think you should cut yourself some slack, Sinja.”

    “Yes sir, if you say so.”

    He cocked his head to the side. “I do have one question, though.”

    She looked up. “Sir?”

    “The words you spoke, in Japanese I assume . . . what did they mean?”

    She looked down again, embarrassed. “It’s silly sir – something out of Japanese mythology. I was just startled when I saw the creature on the screen.”

    “The Norse are well-versed in mythology, Lieutenant. Please – I’m interested.”

    She nodded. “ ‘Kaiju’ – that means, ‘giant monster.’” Her face flushed slightly.

    “An accurate description, Lieutenant. And the other word?”

    “ ‘Rodan’ – that is the name of a monstrous flying reptile from our mythology. It supposedly terrorized the people of Japan and fought against other monsters until finally leaving Earth.”

    “I see. What became of Rodan?”

    “Forgive me, sir – I’m a bit rusty on my mythology – but as I recall, Rodan came under the control of an advanced alien race on planet X.”

    Trondheim’s eyes narrowed. “Planet X, you say?”

    A small smile formed on her face. “A bizarre coincidence, I agree.”

    He nodded and stood, signaling the end of the meeting. “Thank you, Lieutenant. And please, put your mind at rest. You performed your duties well today.”

    She stood, obviously relieved. “I appreciate that sir.”

    “Good. Dismissed.”

    Tarrawa turned to leave the ready room.

    “Oh, Lieutenant – one more question?”

    “Sir?”

    “Did this . . . Rodan . . . were there more of its kind?”

    “Honestly, sir – I don’t recall. It was a myth, after all.”

    “Of course. Thank you – that will be all.”

    As Tarrawa left the ready room, Captain Trondheim sat behind his desk and stared out the small viewport at the streaming starfield, a pensive expression on his face.

    * * *

    Stardate 54536.31 (18 July 2377)
    Xilien IV

    The ground quake measured 7.2 on the Richter Scale, or would have if anyone had been around to record it.

    The USS Rutledge had departed the day before, taking with her the bodies of the dead miners and what little equipment could be salvaged. All that was left was the debris of the habitat domes, and heavy snowfall was effectively erasing that from view. The Corps of Engineers crew had sealed the mine entrance until the company could come and assess whether future operations were viable.

    The quake lasted for nearly three minutes, causing localized avalanches. Without power for the force fields, two of the mine tunnels collapsed.

    The quake also opened a shaft to a cavern that lay some 300 kilometers west of the site of the mine and 80 meters below the surface. Air and light filtered down into the cave for the first time in four centuries.

    Two dark objects lay amongst the ice and rocks of the cave. Each was ovoid, about three meters in length and half that in circumference.

    One of the objects began to move and expand. A leathery membrane rose and fell, rose and fell.

    An eye opened for the first time, revealing an elliptical pupil surrounded by a gold and green iris. The eye hinted at intelligence and malevolence.

    The creature slowly unfurled and stretched, revealing razor-sharp talons and a serrated beak. It spread its wings and began to flap them, clumsily at first, then with real purpose. It emitted a high-pitched shriek before taking flight. It rose up through the opening of the cavern, slowly and unsteadily but quickly gained speed. It burst through a thin veil of snow and ice, soaring into the pale blue skies of Xilien IV.

    It realized it was hungry.

    * * *

    END
    __________________
     
  19. KobayashiMaru13

    KobayashiMaru13 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Location:
    358/2 Days
    August 2010 Challenge: TDY (Temporary Duty)
    (5000 words)

    THE VENTUS ROSE-FLOWER


    Spock stared at Captain Kirk with a look that Kirk faintly recognized to be something as near to disbelief as a Vulcan could get. “Captain, I beg your pardon,” Spock said, with a barely audible stutter, that only someone as close to him as Kirk was would have heard. “Starfleet ordered me to what?”

    Kirk gave him a wry smile. “It’s not like you to need to be told twice, Mister Spock,” he admonished. Spock did not look amused, so Kirk continued. “Starfleet Command has ordered you to take charge of a young boy. His name is Ventus, and he is our shot at making peaceful contact with the Valeriins, and establishing some sort of relationship. We—or at least, another Starship—located the boy in an alien shuttlecraft. It was badly damaged, as if someone had attacked it. The boy was the only one to be rescued that was still alive.”

    Spock shook his head. “Captain, the Valeriins have shown no signs of any technological activity pertaining to space travel. It seems doubtful that they would have managed to create some sort of shuttlecraft.”

    Kirk shrugged. “Starfleet is looking into the matter, and so far, it does appear that space travel efforts have been mobilized.”

    “What’s this I hear about Spock being in the ‘big brother program’?”

    Kirk and Spock both turned to see McCoy standing off to the side. Kirk looked at him dubiously, having not heard him approach them in the corridor. “How much did you hear?”

    “Pretty near all of it. But of all people to watch that boy…” McCoy shook his head. “Spock isn’t quite the caretaker type, I’d think.”

    “And you are, Doctor?” Spock replied.

    McCoy scowled at him. “I happen to have had a daughter of my own, thank you very much, Mister Spock. And considering I’m a doctor, I’m pretty sure I’d make a damn fine caretaker.”

    “Calm down, Bones,” Kirk grinned.

    McCoy turned to him. “And about what I heard… Why would the Valeriins send a boy out in an experimental shuttlecraft with a team of scientists?”

    “In Valeriin society, the children are the most valuable citizens, and the highest respected. With age, the respect for the person dies out, as does their power within society. It would be logical for the Valeriins to have sent a child with the experiment, Doctor.”

    McCoy shook his head and muttered something along the lines of “foolish”.

    “A more appropriate question would be, ‘how did the Valeriins skip to such a more advanced state of space travel development so quickly?’.”

    “That is why we need Ventus. Since the children are so highly valued, the Valeriins will want him back. But until that time, someone must look after him until we can return him. Since we are the ones who will return him, when the time comes, we must take care of him—or, Spock specifically must. Your exact orders and guidelines are already waiting in your quarters.”

    * * *

    Ventus stepped off of the transporter pad, marveling at the room around him. His society may have entered their space travel phase, but they still had nothing as sophisticated as the Federation. He was average height for a boy who, by Terran standards, appeared to be about fourteen. He was lean, with wiry muscle. He had sharply blonde hair swept upwards, and pale blue eyes that seemed oddly intelligent. He wore a black, form-fitted short-sleeved shirt adorned with the a Starfleet crest that bore no ornament of field. Whether that was the only shirt available at the time, or at least by Starfleet that would fit a child, or if it served some other purpose Spock did not know. His slightly flared pants were a lighter shade, though not by much being a dark grey, and his shoes were slightly clompy, as if they had tried to accommodate him by creating a shoe similar to his original pair, but they had been slightly too large. On his left arm was some sort of extra sleeve, wrapped around it, and his arm hung slightly limp, as if it was somehow injured. Whatever the case, Spock noticed that he looked very similar to a human.

    Most likely because he had had slightly more pressing matters to attend to, while Spock had read much of what was known about the Valeriins—who were hands-off because of the Prime Directive—he had neglected to look into exactly what their appearance was. Ventus was so human-looking, it was almost surprising. The only difference was his skin was naturally a little paler, his features a little more chiseled and clear-cut, and when he finally spoke, he clearly defined his vowel sounds, if not dragging them out a bit too long, and the vowel sounds were a tad more forced and high-pitched.

    “Ah… em… Hello, Mister, em, Spock, yes?” He asked, his Anglish a tad awkward. But that he knew any at all was a surprise to Spock.

    “Yes, I am he. And you are Ventus, I presume.” At the boy’s nod, Spock continued. “I must admit, I was a little taken aback by your at least minimal mastery of our language. How long have you been with us?”

    Ventus tilted his head slightly, the equivalent of a shrug. “Oiuh—,” the word sounded much like a sigh—, “Nearly a year.”

    Spock blinked in a small display of disbelief. “I beg your pardon. A year? How many days?”

    Ventus repeated the gesture of tilting his head. “Neh… Maybe thirty,” he finally replied.

    “That would be nearly a month.”

    Ventus shook his head. “Sure, as you say. This is a Starship, then?”

    Spock nodded. “Yes. Would you like a tour?”

    Ventus looked at Spock curiously.

    “Would you like me to show you around the ship,” Spock repeated.

    Ventus nodded then. “Yes, yes. Sure.” As Spock motioned for him to follow out of the transporter room, Ventus added, “I cannot believe how… amazing all of this technology is. It’s like nothing on Valerii.” Then he turned his icy blue eyes onto Spock and gave a small smile. “But we hope to catch up with you. Don’t think we haven’t seen your Starships before, orbiting our planet. You may not see them, but our telescopes have a far range.”


    Spock looked over his shoulder curiously at the boy as they walked down the corridor. “We have never detected the use of any such devices. However, Valerii is very rich with forests and mountains where such devices could easily be hidden.” He watched Ventus walk, and his left arm swung almost lifelessly at his side. But he made not mention of it.

    He made the tour brief, showing him the engine room, where Scotty eyed him with a mixture of surprise and nervousness at a kid being on his engineering deck; then the mess hall, the rec room, sickbay—where McCoy made a snarky comment about Spock’s babysitting abilities—and made a final stop at the bridge.

    While at first Ventus had seemed awkward and withdrawn, even throughout the tour Spock had noticed him growing a little more comfortable in the alien environment. As they exited the turbolift onto the bridge, Ventus shook his head and said, “I’ve been with this Starfleet a year, and have not seen anything like this before.”

    Kirk, who had been lounging in the captain’s chair, briefly without any paperwork or any other duties to attend to at the moment while on shift, glanced back at them in surprise. “Hello, Spock, Ventus—you’re telling me you’ve been here for a year and this is the first I’ve heard of you?”

    Spock folded his hands behind his back. “A month, Captain.”

    Ventus cocked an eyebrow at Spock. “A year. Thirty days is a year,” he insisted.

    “Explain,” Kirk interrupted, before Spock could again persist that thirty days was a month.

    Ventus shrugged. “It just is. The same reason sixty seconds is a minute,” he made a face. “How should I know why?”

    “How old are you, Ventus?”

    “One hundred sixty-eight,” Ventus said matter-of-factly, giving him a curious look.

    “Fourteen years of age,” Spock added.

    Ventus glared at Spock but didn’t correct him, obviously tired of doing so, and realizing it would be a fruitless effort. Kirk grinned.

    “Well, then, Ventus, have you ever played a game of 3D chess?” Kirk asked.

    “Captain, you are on duty,” Spock admonished.

    “I am the captain, on-duty while we do minor patrols—filler missions, waiting for further orders. I think Starfleet can spare me for an hour, Spock,” Kirk replied, sweeping out of his chair and guiding he and Ventus back into the turbolift, and then calling over his shoulder, “Mister Sulu, you have the bridge.”


    The rec room had its usual small clusters of off-duty and relaxing officers and crewman talking, playing holo-displayed tactical games, playing music, or otherwise enjoying their time off. “Spock, you can ref,” Kirk said wryly as he sat Ventus down at one side of the layered chess board. The Vulcan gave him a condescending look, but did not remind Kirk that there were no referees in chess, as he clearly looked like he wanted to.

    Ventus stared at him curiously. “Is this near the same as checkers?” he asked, confused.

    “In a way,” Kirk answered. “So you’ve got checkers on Valerii?” He quickly reviewed the rules before Ventus replied.

    Ventus made the same shrug-like gesture of inclining his head. “Yes, but it’s usually played with the adults, to entertain them.” He made the first move, as the captain had shown him.

    Nodding, Kirk moved one of his pawns. “Why only with the adults?”

    “The game isn’t fun enough to just play. But it’s enough for them,” Ventus replied as he moved a pawn down a level.

    “Why so?”

    “Because they aren’t capable of much other kinds of hands-on entertainment. By that age, they’ve lost all their life. They just go to the factories, do the menial tasks, build what’s needed, record what’s happened. Monotonous things, while we keep an eye on them.”

    Kirk moved his rook to another level, and out of harm’s way. “Aren’t capable? In most societies, it’s the other way around. The adults are in charge, while the kids are taught, and kept from being too mischievous.” He waited until Ventus had made his move, then took the boy’s knight. “Why would things be different there?”

    “Again, you ask the same type of question: the kind I can’t answer. I haven’t been around that long.” Ventus took Kirk’s queen. “You should’ve kept your rook there,” Ventus added.

    As Kirk moved another piece, Spock said, from where he was observing from a benched slope protruding from the sloping walls of the chess pit, “That would explain why you were on the experimental shuttlecraft.”

    “Correct. Check.”

    Kirk furrowed his brow. “Check? Feh. Well, I guess that does explain a bit. But still: why?” He took the intruding knight, and then suddenly noticed that more of Ventus’ pieces were missing then there should have been, meaning the boy had triggered them to reappear on a timer, a surprise, cascade assault.

    Spock watched carefully as Ventus moved another piece, gazing at his hand that shook ever-so-slightly, and was a little awkwardly placed, as if he was not accustomed to using his right hand. But he made no mention. Instead, he said, “Perhaps the Valeriins are a product of the Preservers.”

    “Now that—,” Kirk paused and scowled as, after he moved his king, Ventus’ pieces suddenly timed in, performing a kamikaze attack on any enemy piece that was already in its place, and putting his king in an uncomfortable position, “—would make sense, Mister Spock.”

    “The Preservers do often seem to have a hand in such things. While we have not yet seen any evidence of any Preserver technology, that does not mean there is not any on Valerii.” Spock shook his head as Kirk moved his last remaining rook into a perilous location.

    “Checkmate.”

    Kirk frowned. “Are you sure… that you haven’t played this before?”

    “Captain, we have many times before ascertained that chess, even the regular kind, is not your game,” Spock replied, standing up.

    Shrugging, Kirk did as well, with Ventus following. “Yes, I believe you put it as—”

    “ ‘Your maverick techniques and chaotic movements might prove useful elsewhere, but in a game of tact, precision, patience, and foresight, it is not nearly an ideal tactic’,” McCoy said from behind. “I believe that was it.”

    Kirk scowled playfully at him. “What is this? You have a habit of sneaking up on me all of a sudden.”

    “Not at all,” McCoy shrugged. “But I must say, this must be an all-time low. Beaten by a kid.” McCoy shook his head in false shame.

    “Regardless of the captain’s chess-playing abilities, Ventus is now required to retire to his quarters.”

    Kirk and McCoy both looked at Spock curiously. “Now? Isn’t it a little early?”

    Spock raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps. However, my orders were strict: that he be retired by 1600 hours.”

    Ventus looked away, obviously not going to give an explanation, and when Kirk gave Spock and inquisitive look, he shook his head—he did not know why, either. “Fine,” Kirk gave an exaggerated sighed. He offered Ventus an friendly smile. “I suppose we’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

    * * *

    Ventus’ quarters were not very large, though he did not require a whole lot of accommodations. The room was plain and simple: a single bed along the far wall, some shelves, a table, a small closet, and a bathroom through a doorway in the wall adjacent to the bed.

    “Clothes have already been provided in the closet,” Spock said, gestured to the closet.

    Ventus nodded, but didn’t make a move towards it. “Thank you, Spock. You may go,” Ventus suggested, not rudely, but making it clear that he wanted to be alone.

    “Very well. I have already shown you my quarters. If you need anything, you may come see me, or ask a crewman for myself, the captain, or Doctor McCoy,” Spock said, turning to leave.

    “And Spock.”

    He turned back to look at the boy.

    “Thanks.”

    * * *

    After an hour of private meditation while still off-duty, Spock found the captain and McCoy still in the rec room, discussing something. As he approached, they looked up.

    “Doctor McCoy, I require that you come with me to our guest’s quarters,” Spock said, without preamble.

    Kirk looked perplexed, and a little alarmed. “Why? What’s happened, Spock?”

    “Nothing has happened, Captain,” Spock assured. “I was ordered that a trusted doctor is to do a hands-off physical assessment every evening.”

    “But why, Spock?” Kirk shook his head. “I’m asking a lot of ‘why’ questions about this boy.”

    McCoy looked over at Spock. “Hands-off? And every evening? Is he infected with some disease?”

    “I do not know Doctor,” Spock sighed. “It is what was commanded.”

    Grumbling and complaining about Starfleet’s lack of information when giving commands, McCoy walked back to Ventus’ quarters with Spock. When they arrived, Spock pressed the buzzer next to the door.

    After a minute, and sounds like someone was hurriedly doing something, he heard Ventus call, “Come in!”

    Spock stepped forward, and the door opened to admit him and the doctor. As the door whispered closed behind them, Ventus emerged from the bathroom. He had changed into more casual nightwear. But Spock noticed that he still had the sleeve wrapped about his left arm.

    Walking over to the table, McCoy set a small medkit upon it and opened it. “Alright, boy. It wasn’t my idea, but come over here for a moment.”

    Ventus did not seem bothered by it at all, however, as McCoy reviewed his health with various hands-off tests, as he had been advised.

    “Your heart beat is a little erratic. I’m not sure exactly what that’s about, and I’m not confident enough that our medication wouldn’t have any ill effects on you to give you something for it,” McCoy finally said. “You also seem to have severe nerve damage to your left arm. Could you remove your—”

    “No.” Ventus turned away.

    “What?” McCoy demanded. “Your life may depend on it if you have some terminal disease that’s destroying your nervous system! Dammit, boy!”

    “Doctor, please, hands-off.”

    McCoy scowled at Spock. “Fine, but when he dies, don’t come crying to me,” he growled, storming out of the room.

    Ventus stiffened at that. But Spock could tell it wasn’t because he was shocked at the news that he could die. It was obvious that that wasn’t the case. It seemed more like the boy was alarmed that McCoy had known he might die, no matter how offhand that statement had been.

    “Ventus, if there is—”

    “No. It’s nothing. Please go,” Ventus said abruptly, turning completely away from him.

    Spock obliged, leaving him alone in his quarters. He found McCoy skulking about the turbolift, waiting and prowling like a predator.

    “Spock, you’d better damn well tell me what’s wrong with that boy!” McCoy demanded viciously, whirling around to face Spock as soon as he was within earshot. “I’m not going to have you let some boy die because Starfleet gave you orders.”

    “Doctor,” he said calmly, severely contrasting McCoy’s rage. “If I knew, and it may save his life, I might tell you, depending on the circumstances. However, I have no idea what is wrong with him. It is possible Starfleet Command figured it out, or that Ventus told them, but I was never informed by either.”

    That seemed to calm McCoy down, if only a little.

    “And regardless, it could very well be nothing at all. The orders may have been hands-off because such is the custom of the Valeriins, or perhaps there is fear that he may bring into the Federation diseases native only to Valerii.”

    “His nervous system is decaying, Spock,” McCoy insisted. “I saw it with my own eyes.”

    “Arguing again?”

    They both turned suddenly as the turbolift doors whooshed open behind them, and Captain Kirk emerged.

    “It is nothing, Captain, I assure you.”

    Spock looked at McCoy, but he was grudgingly silent.

    * * *

    For the next two days, Ventus refused to leave his quarters, as well as rejected McCoy’s at a medical assessment. Despite his orders, at the captain’s request that they let the boy adjust at his own pace, Spock had let him alone. But it had reached a point where he had begun speculating about whether or not McCoy had been correct. It was indeed possible that he would not allow anyone to see him because his condition—whatever it may be—was deteriorating.

    Finally, nearly twenty minutes after the boy’s curfew that second day, Spock let himself in, using his clearance to open the guest quarters. Ventus was sitting upon his bed, staring out into the blankness of the otherspace outside of his window. In addition to his casual nightwear, he wore a scarf over his neck. But by the warmth of the room, it was obvious to Spock that the garment was not to keep warm—he was hiding something.

    “I didn’t give permission for you to enter,” Ventus said, his bland tone implying that he didn’t really care either way, if Spock answered or not.

    “You have not left your quarters for two days,” Spock observed.

    “So? I don’t have to leave.”

    Spock sighed. “No. No, you do not,” he said, folding his hands behind his back. “But it may be conducive for you to interact with the crew and socialize with other beings.”

    “What does it matter,” Ventus muttered softly under his breath, Spock barely catching it. Ventus swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood. He walked into the bathroom and closed the door.

    Spock waited for twenty minutes. When it became clear that Ventus was not coming back out until he had left, he exited his quarters.

    * * *
     
  20. KobayashiMaru13

    KobayashiMaru13 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Location:
    358/2 Days
    Three more days came and went, and McCoy was becoming increasingly irritable by the hour. It infuriated him that he could not run tests on the boy who he believed was terminally ill. Spock had, every day, entered his quarters, and each time, Ventus had gone into his bathroom until he left, even waiting for two hours until Spock decided his other duties were more pressing and left.

    By the fifth day, even Spock began to grow anxious, though he would never admit it, even to himself. He did not know why the boy interested him so, or why it bothered him so much that he had completely shut them out so suddenly.

    While he was off-duty in his quarters, Spock looked over the records of the night watchmen, a task he had taken up to keep tabs upon the ship’s crew. He was intrigued to find that Ventus had been logged leaving each night around 0100 hours to socialize with the night shift, who were usually asleep during the day. Spock had not doubt he visited them because they were the ones least likely to say anything about his condition to a senior officer. As far as they knew, he was also out during the day, and the captain and himself were already aware.

    That night, around 0100, Spock waited in the corridor until Ventus emerged from his quarters. He had donned the same outfit he had worn the day he had arrived upon the ship. His scarf was now higher up, covering his chin and jaw.

    As Spock walked up behind him, Ventus asked, without turning around, “Why do you care so much?”

    Spock followed him into the turbolift. “Why do you hide?”

    Ventus was silent, no reply forthcoming. The turbolift doors opened on the engineering deck, and he walked out, Spock tailing him.

    “Have you ever been completely isolated and shunned, with people giving you big fake smiles and telling you stupid lies to keep you happy, when you know that it’s all a sham?”

    Spock stared at the boy’s back. “No, I have not.”

    “Then why should I tell you why I hide? You wouldn’t understand, anyway.”

    They entered the engine room, where several officers looked up upon their entrance, grinning, or offering Ventus a wave.

    “You have become well acquainted with this engineering shift,” Spock remarked.

    “You never answered my question. Why do you care so much about me?”

    “It is my duty,” Spock replied.

    Ventus finally turned and gazed at him. “No,” he said bluntly. “If that was all it was, then you wouldn’t have made such an effort. I would have known, after all those people who would check up on me out of obligation, not because they really wanted to. You genuinely cared enough to annoy me every day with your intrusions. I would have recognized false sincerity.”

    It was Spock’s turn to be silent. He had no response to that. That might have been it—why he had checked up on him so often. But he couldn’t explain why it had mattered so much to him. And it seemed illogical to have been emotionally influenced into checking up on him.

    “You don’t even know why you cared, do you?” Ventus asked, almost sadly. He looked over at the engineers, going about their work. “Not that it matters, really.”

    “I think, perhaps, you reminded me of myself,” Spock finally said after a few minutes of brooding silence. Ventus looked up at him in surprise. “You were a stranger in a place that was like your own world, yet so different. Perhaps I feared that you had decided to shut it all out, instead of adjusting to a place that seemed to go against what you are. And then you refused to acknowledge what is happening to you. Do not think that I have forgotten about your arm.”

    Ventus sighed and looked away again. “Ah yes, the cause of the big fake smiles and stupid lies.” Maybe it was that he had finally begun to trust him, or maybe just because Spock had listened, and he wanted to confide in someone. Whatever the reason, Ventus turned back towards the turbolift and said, “I want to show you something.”

    * * *

    In his quarters, Ventus awkwardly removed the scarf with his right hand. Easing off the extra sleeve, he removed his shirt, leaving his torso and his scars exposed. His left arm, most of the left half of his torso, and creeping about his throat as if to strangle him, was an intricate, decaying black pattern. It was intricate, and appeared to almost form rose-like shapes that were burned into his skin.

    “What is it,” Spock asked softly.

    Ventus gazed at the ground sadly. “On Valerii, it’s called Rose Flower. It is very rare, but it infects and destroys the body and mind. But it isn’t contagious, despite Starfleet’s worries. It’s caused by a certain type of spore from a rare tree occasionally found on my planet. We try to contain them, but by the time we realize another one has grown, it has already painfully claimed a life.”

    “And you had given up hope.”

    Ventus slowly donned his clothing once more, then sat down upon his bed before he replied. “Not a single person has ever survived Rose Flower. The tree mutates, and we couldn’t keep up with it. Each vaccine is outdated by the time it’s finished.”

    Spock didn’t know what exactly possessed him to do so, but he walked over and sat down next to the self-mourning boy, who made an odd, hiccupping noise, as if he was about to cry.

    “It’s why I was on that shuttle. The others on it were adults used as guinea pigs, and two other people who had contracted Rose Flower. They’d doubted the shuttle would work, and since we were already going to die, or were in the case of the adults, useless… ‘Why would it matter?’” He said the last part very bitterly.

    “It matters very much. No life should be so callously thrown away.”

    Ventus made another hiccupping noise and buried his head in his hands. “Tell that to the Planetary Committee.” Ventus’ shoulders shuddered.

    After a moment of hesitation, Spock put a hand on the boy’s back, fighting against reeling away from the assault of the boy’s emotions. Ventus leaned over against him, and Spock did his utmost not to stiffen at the touch. For several minutes, Spock sat and comforted the boy, listening to his ragged, emotion-racked breaths. Finally, Ventus straightened up. “I’m… I’m sorry,” he snuffled, wiping his face with his arm. “I shouldn’t have dumped all that on you.” He turned his head slightly away, as if embarrassed. But it was clear by his entire posture that he wasn’t anywhere near fine yet.

    Spock looked over at the personal computer on the table that was displaying the time. 0200 hours. His shift started in four hours, and he had gotten no sleep, not that he really needed any every single night. He looked back over at the boy. For once, he decided, it might be exceptional for him to be late for his shift. After all, it was his orders to take care of Ventus. And it would not be acceptable for him to just leave him now.

    * * *

    “Spock? May I come in?”

    Spock, Kirk, and McCoy looked over at the open turbolift from where they stood in discussion on the bridge. After a week, Ventus was reduced to limping to where he wanted to go, and it took some effort to move the joint of his right shoulder. The Rose Flower was creeping up higher upon him as well, starting to crawl out from under the scarf.

    “You know, you don’t need permission to come aboard the bridge, Ventus.”

    Ventus smiled faintly at Captain Kirk. “Yeah, well…” He hobbled down the step towards them.

    “Ventus, the Federation has made contact with Valerii, and has entered into the beginning steps towards accepting it into the Federation,” Spock informed him. “One of their requests is to have you back.”

    Ventus snorted, then cringed in pain. “Ach. Ow. Well, you can tell them—”

    Sensing where he was going by the tone of his voice, Spock gave him a pointed look, and Ventus quieted.

    “Well, I’m not going,” Ventus said adamantly. “What’s the difference? At least the people here genuinely care if I live or die.”

    Kirk, surprised by his bluntness, said, “It’s your home.”

    Ventus looked up at Spock. “No. You can tell them it was my choice, that you had nothing to do with it. I’ll record something, if you want. But I won’t.”

    Kirk and McCoy exchanged a knowing look. It was clear the he had taken a liking to Spock, and looked up to him. “Very well, then,” Kirk announced. “I’ll see what I can do. Until… then… you may stay here.”

    * * *

    Spock gazed almost sadly out at his family’s land. It was there, by Ventus’ request, that he was buried when, two weeks after he had decided to stay on the ship, the Rose Flower caused his brain to shut down. According to Ventus, it was a custom on Valerii for those who succumbed to Rose Flower be buried, not cremated, so that the memory of he or she who was taken too soon by the disease was not forgotten. He had asked his mother to, when she could, go out and remove the sand from the tablet he had placed over Ventus’ burial place. She had accepted, knowing exactly how much the boy had meant to him, even if he didn’t.

    He turned and walked away from the final resting place of the boy who had grown up on a world where a father hardly meant anything, but had in a short time, grown to respect another in the light of a father, and the tablet that read:

    VENTUS x
    ROSE-FLOWER

    After all, that is what Spock’s name meant, on Valerii.
     

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