A Matter of Faith

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Dec 22, 2018.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    “While I can empathize with your hesitation to bring this up the chain given recent events, Donald, I’m still disappointed. I thought I’d taught you better than that.”

    Rear-Admiral Monica Covey’s rebuke stung, no matter how Sandhurst tried to rationalize it.

    “You’ve denied us valuable time to try and head this off behind the scenes, and with that delay even the limited help I’m sending may arrive too late.”

    “I understand, sir, and again, I apologize,” Sandhurst answered, voice tinged with resignation. “And if Zadra refuses to cooperate, Admiral?”

    Covey pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment. “Our concern is more with the Bajorans and their ship. If Zadra and her people voluntarily surrender to the Yelnar, the situation largely resolves itself. However, the Bajoran nationals and the freighter are off limits. If the Cardassians or their allies try and seize the ship or its crew, you are authorized to use whatever means you deem necessary to prevent it.”

    “Understood, sir.”

    “If she or any of her people ask for asylum, you will grant it and offer them the same protection as the Bajorans.”

    Sandhurst nodded his compliance.

    “You’ve put yourself behind the eight-ball here, but I have every confidence that you and your people will get the job done, regardless,” Covey added with just the barest hint of a grudging smile. “You’ve a proven knack for beating the odds.”

    “Thank you, Admiral.”

    “Good luck, Captain,” Covey offered in parting as she terminated the transmission.

    Sandhurst sank back into his seat with an audible sigh, knowing that he was luckier than he deserved. Had it been any sector-commander other than his former captain, Sandhurst might have been raked over the coals.

    He turned his chair to gaze out the large circular viewport behind him, at the deep blues and purples of the McAllister C5 Nebula that engulfed his ship and the freighter they were safeguarding. He reflected that since accepting this command, he had been thrust into turbulent situations time and again, but this was one occasion where his own hesitation and mistrust had only made matters worse. Now, he feared, his crew and that of Rushaan might end up paying the price for his own failings.

    Sandhurst tapped his combadge and summoned Ramirez, Pell, and Lar’ragos to his ready room.

    In response to their expectant looks, Sandhurst apprised, “I’ve spoken with Command, Admiral Covey to be specific. She’s issued orders that under no circumstances are we to allow the Rushaan, her passengers or her crew to be taken into custody by either the Cardassians or the Yelnar. We are to attempt a negotiated settlement, but failing that, we have full authority to defend them and ourselves with force.”

    Ramirez smiled grimly in response. “Good ol’ Monica. I’d hoped she’d be the one to make the call.”

    Pell nodded approvingly, the tension in her posture ebbing noticeably at that revelation.

    “Tell me they’re sending us backup, sir,” Lar’ragos prompted. “That Keldon-class out-guns us nearly two-to-one. Throw in those two Yelnar attack skiffs, and we’re at a significant disadvantage.”

    “DS9 is dispatching Defiant and the border cutter Onadaga, but they won’t arrive here for another thirty-two hours,” Sandhurst provided with a fatalistic shrug.

    Lar’ragos cocked his head in response. “Too little, too late.”

    “How many quantum torpedoes do we have?” Sandhurst asked.

    “Five,” Ramirez and Lar’ragos answered in unison before sharing a resigned look.

    “We’ll have to employ them judiciously. For now, we and Rushaan are hidden in the nebula tendril, and I’d like to maintain that advantage for as long as possible.” Sandhurst faced his senior officers, hands out in a gesture of receiving. “I’m open to ideas.”

    “Gravitic mines,” Lar’ragos suggested. “Low yield, just enough to rattle their deck-plates and scorch their hulls. They’ve been used here before, and to good effect. Once they’ve stumbled across a few of those, they’ll reduce speed and will have to deploy a sensor picket with small-craft. That should slow down any search for us in the nebula considerably.”

    Sandhurst nodded approvingly.

    “We could modify some of our shuttles to mimic our power signature and that of Rushaan. Keep them chasing through the nebula after ghosts. That might give us the opportunity to lure them into some of Pava’s mine-fields.”

    That actually brought a smile to Sandhurst’s lips. “Spoken like a former guerilla fighter.”

    “This tendril is only fifty-thousand kilometers in diameter, sir,” Ramirez advised. “I recommend taking Rushaan in tow and moving deeper into the nebula. That’ll mean heavier concentrations of gasses and a lot more volume for them to cover.”

    "Okay, all are excellent ideas. Please coordinate with engineering to make them happen.”

    They collectively affirmed their orders and turned for the door, only to pause and turn back as Sandhurst amended, “One moment…”

    He stood from behind his desk. “I know I’ve made this harder than it had to be, and put our backs against the wall in the process. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. You all counseled me against doing this alone, and I didn’t listen.”

    The three of them shared a look between themselves before Ramirez answered for the group. “Thank you for saying so, Captain.”

    Lar’ragos hung back as Ramirez and Pell stepped out onto the bridge. “Yes?” He had a way of knowing when Sandhurst had something additional for him alone.

    “This is going to get ugly,” Sandhurst observed.

    “Almost certainly,” Lar’ragos agreed.

    “Stay sharp,” Sandhurst said, more plea than order.

    Lar’ragos vowed, “As tempered steel, captain-my-captain.”

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2019
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  2. Warp Rider

    Warp Rider Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    May 1, 2009
    Location:
    1138 Another Galaxy, Canada.
    Talk about lucky that he and the Admiral knew each other. Still though, given the situation I still feel it could have gotten a lot worse if they delegated this to diplomats. Alas, that's bureaucracy for ya. lol

    Also liked the plan they came up with to help improve their odds when it goes into a firefight. Nicely done.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2019
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  3. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Really enjoying Sandhurst's humility here. The man is only human and humans make mistakes. Even starship captains. So, things look grim now, but let's face it. This is barely the first time that Gibraltar was up against the odds.
     
  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Bajoran Transport Rushaan

    The parishioners filed out of the makeshift Yelnar temple as Zadra and L’Osh busied themselves boxing up a number of religious artifacts used in the ceremony that had just ended. One of the nameless military officers on guard duty stiffened noticeably and moved forward to block the arrival of an entrant.

    Both women turned to see Donald Sandhurst, his hands raised at his sides in a gesture of benevolence. He was dressed in civilian garb, a simple short sleeved shirt with vest and pants. “I’ve only come to talk, if that’s permissible?” he said.

    Zadra turned to L’Osh. “I would speak with him alone, please.”

    After the older woman took her leave, Zadra sat down on a shipping container and bid Sandhurst to do the same. “What brings you back here, Captain?”

    “I haven’t come as a Starfleet captain,” he replied, taking a seat across from her. “Just a man, seeking answers.”

    “My stock in trade,” Zadra rejoined with a smirk. “Very well, then, what wisdom do you seek?”

    “I wish to know how I might help someone who does not want my assistance?”

    “You don’t,” she answered. “If your offer is rejected, you must accept that and move on. Our scripture teaches us that to force your viewpoint or beliefs on others is a transgression of the first order.”

    He nodded fractionally. “Our ‘scripture’ as well. In that case, please help me understand why someone would reject the help I and my people can offer. The danger is so real, and so close, I can’t wrap my mind around what prevents you from accepting sanctuary.”

    “The greater good,” Zadra said simply.

    Sandhurst held his hands out, “I don’t understand.”

    “If I were to accept your offer on behalf of my people, you would be honor-bound to defend us. The force coming for us outmatches your ship.”

    “That’s true. However, we don’t plan on giving them a fair fight.”

    “’Always cheat, always win,’” she quoted, “’the only unfair fight is the one you lose.’ Isn’t that what Pava always says?”

    It took Sandhurst a moment to realize that his mouth was open. He closed it before offering, “I’m surprised he told you that.”

    “You might be even more surprised to know that he didn’t. You may choose not to believe in my gifts, but I do have them. I can see potentials, the near-infinite branches of possibility that spring from each moment and extend into the future.”

    Sandhurst frowned. “You’re saying that accepting sanctuary with us would lead to a negative outcome?”

    “That’s a strong probability, yes.” Zadra leaned forward and took Sandhurst’s hands inside her own smaller ones. Her grip was firm, authoritative, and somehow strangely reassuring. “From my perspective, the path forward that results in the least loss of life, the least suffering, is for I and my people to yield to the Yelnar authorities.”

    “You will be at their mercy,” he countered. “You could be exploited, tortured, or worse.”

    “Almost certainly. It is of no consequence. The greater good will be served.”

    “Your teachings, all that you and L’Osh and others of your church have suffered and sacrificed for, all that might be lost,” Sandhurst pressed.

    “My teachings have already spread beyond their ability to control or suppress them. If I and the others are martyred, our words and ideas will only grow in strength.”

    “We can help, we can save you,” he insisted. “It’s as if every fiber of my being is pushing me to try.”

    Her answering smile radiated compassion. “That’s simply who you are, both as a person and as a trained protector. They are admirable qualities, Donald, but even the instinct to protect can be perverted if it overwhelms all other considerations.”

    He had no response to that.

    “Allow me to explain,” she continued. “Down one path, I see your ship fighting a desperate battle to stop the Cardassians and Yelnar, resulting in hundreds of deaths aboard their ships. You win, but in so doing you violate your own rules of engagement and stain yourselves with the weight of your deeds. Another path shows me you and your crew overwhelmed by a sneak attack from an unseen quarter, resulting in the destruction of your ship and the Rushaan. The only avenue I can perceive that results in the fewest deaths and the least suffering is our voluntary surrender to the Yelnar.”

    Sandhurst offered a reluctant nod, forcing himself to concede the point. “I think I understand, though it’s still difficult for me to accept.”

    “That’s because you’re trying to dissect the decision rationally. You can’t. It’s simply a matter of faith.”

    “I’ve never been much for faith,” he admitted. “Too much of a pragmatist, I suppose.” He withdrew his hands from hers. “Thank you for clarifying your position. May I ask what you intend to do with your Bajoran followers?”

    “The Bajorans will remain with their ship. I have no desire to be the spark that ignites another conflict between Bajor and Cardassia. Besides, our Bajoran brethren will help spread the word about what happened here, to reveal the truth in contrast to the stories the state and it’s officially sanctioned church acolytes would have our people believe.”

    Sandhurst stood. “I wish you well, Zadra. Your bravery is a credit to you and your people. I have a lot to do, and not much time in which to do it.”

    She rose to her feet. “Thank you for hearing me out, Captain. If I may offer one bit of advice in parting?”

    “Yes, please.”

    “My support of the Dominion was based on the same reasoning as the present circumstances. Dominion occupation of the Alpha Quadrant would have led to peace, an imposed peace, but peace nonetheless. It was the path forward with the least suffering. The war’s aftermath, and the tribulations that are coming will bring destruction and death on a scale that Dominion control could have avoided.”

    His eyes widened at the decidedly unwelcome prophetic revelations.

    “Right, wrong, or indifferent, that was my belief, based on what I was shown. I say this because in time, you also may come to know the burden of this sight. If that comes to pass, I would ask you to reflect on what constitutes the greater good, and for whom.”

    Sandhurst looked befuddled. “And… I’m lost again.”

    “Farewell, Captain,” Zadra said in parting. “I wish you good fortune on your journeys.” With that, she stepped back behind the altar into the living quarters beyond.

    He stood alone there for many minutes, contemplating her words before he turned to resume his duties.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2019
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Man, it's hard to argue against destiny. And ordinarily I would write Zadra off as a well-intentioned religious fanatic or maybe the type of ultra pragmatists we met among those genetically enhanced outcasts who were so convinced how the Dominion War would turn out that they tried to force a Federation defeat.

    But this young woman has the benefit of us already knowing how things will turn out in the future and she just seems to be so right about everything. What a pickle for Sandhurst and company.
     
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  6. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    A string of tiny communications satellites had been strung from just outside the nebula to Gibraltar’s hiding place some fifty-thousand kilometers within the cloud. This would enable Sandhurst to speak with the approaching Cardassian ship without giving away Gibraltar or Rushaan’s positions.

    Sandhurst initiated the transmission from his ready room, toggling the channel open as soon as Juneau had confirmed the link was stable and secured. He used an allied frequency, one of the ones used by Starfleet to communicate with the Cardassian military on joint operations throughout occupied Cardassian territory.

    He had coded the message ‘personal’, an indication that he wished to speak privately with the Cardassian commander, rather than parlay in front of the gul’s entire bridge crew.

    After a few moments, the image of a Cardassian officer wearing the traditional carapace-armor appeared on his screen. The man was clearly older than most Cardassian officers Sandhurst had interacted with, as he had streaks of grey in his hair, an unusual indulgence for someone of that species. Cardassian vanity typically demanded that older men in their society, soldiers especially, color their hair to maintain the jet-black hue of their youth.

    “This is Gul Voret of the warship Dokel. To whom am I speaking?”

    “Donald Sandhurst, starship Gibraltar.

    Voret inclined his head. “And how may I help you, Captain?”

    “We’ve monitored your approach alongside your Yelnar allies, Gul. I understand that it’s their intention to take custody of their citizens from the Bajoran freighter.”

    “It is,” Voret confirmed. “May I presume you are shepherding them within the nebula?”

    Sandhurst nodded.

    “Is my assigned mission going to present a problem for you, Captain?”

    “Not as much for me as it will be for the Yelnar priestess and her retinue,” Sandhurst replied dryly. “Would there be any point in my asking you to try and intercede on their behalf with the Yelnar captains?”

    It was almost difficult for Sandhurst to believe, but Voret actually appeared somewhat discomfited. “Unfortunately, it seems that the Yelnar soldiers accompanying me are religious zealots, and they’ve rejected all of our attempts at moderating their more vengeful impulses.”

    That, in contrast, was not hard for Sandhurst to believe at all. “I was afraid that might be the case,” he responded. “As it happens, Zadra has decided to surrender herself and her followers upon your arrival, so it appears we may avoid any unfortunate interstellar incidents.”

    “And the Bajorans?” Voret inquired.

    “What about them?”

    “The Yelnar are demanding that they be taken into custody as well, along with their ship. The Yelnar are charging them with the destruction of their gunship and the murder of its crew.”

    Sandhurst frowned at that, considering his words carefully before replying. “You realize that the Yelnar attacked first, and the Bajorans were merely defending themselves?”

    “I understand that, yes, but the Yelnar fail to appreciate that distinction.”

    “Now, that does present a problem for me,” Sandhurst rejoined. “Bajor is not only our ally, it’s on the cusp of Federation membership. I won’t allow any Bajoran nationals to be seized by the Yelnar. I have orders to use any means necessary to prevent that from happening.”

    Voret absorbed that silently for a moment, as if giving the words the consideration they were due. Finally, he replied, “I have no interest in sparking a new conflict with either Bajor or the Federation, Captain. However, my influence with the Yelnar is limited. I have decided that if they enter the nebula to seize the Bajoran ship, they will do so alone. I will hold position outside the nebula with Dokel. If the Yelnar wish to risk their lives to capture the Bajorans, they are free to do so.”

    “I appreciate your restraint, Gul. I hope it won’t come to our trading fire with the Yelnar.”

    “I hope for that as well, Captain, but I fear that hope is a forlorn one. They seem intent on provoking a battle.”

    “There’s an old human aphorism, ‘be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.’”

    Voret allowed the smallest hint of a smile to tug at the corner of his mouth. “My people have a similar saying. May fortune favor you and your crew, Captain.”

    * * *​
     
  7. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    An understanding Cardassian Gul... fascinating. I loved this addition.
     
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  8. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Fortunately for Sandhurst, it seems the Cardassian Gul was not only a seasoned veteran, but a wise one at that. Pity the Yelnar did not heed the Gul's counsel. Now to see if this will play out peacefully. Somehow, I do not think that is likely.
     
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  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    I love aliens cast against type and Gul Voret certainly qualifies. Too bad he's not going to be much help for Sandhurst and company, having resigned himself to the fact that there's no point in arguing with zealots and deciding to sit the whole thing out instead. Things are going to get interesting ... in a bad way.
     
  10. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Just got caught up on this. This has all of those ingredients I love in a Trek tale; a delicate and volatile mission to complete in which the stakes are high. A fallabile CO who's broken from procedure, familiar aliens like our Cardassian Gul who behaves in surprising ways, not to mention an exotic visionary who can see the future.

    Glad to see there's at least one more classic Gibraltar story out there. And I seem to recall there's a few others waiting to be finished...so, great!
     
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  11. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
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    Location:
    USA
    To quote the orphan child: Please, sir, I want some more.
     
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  12. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    THis! Damnit, Gibraltar-what happens next???
     
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    ***​

    “Energy spike at two-two-three, mark zero-seven-nine,” Shanthi observed, fixed to the sensor returns displayed on his console. “Reads as an anti-matter detonation.”

    “Confirmed,” Lar’ragos agreed from behind Sandhurst. “Somebody tripped one of our mines.”

    “The game’s afoot,” Lightner muttered from the Helm station.

    Juneau cast a glance over at him from her Ops station. “They’ll never make it past our mines. Besides, it’s just two combat skiffs. This won’t take long.”

    “Lieutenant,” Sandhurst called to Juneau in mild reproach, “how many people have made the mistake of underestimating us in the past? We’re dealing with fanatics who aren’t afraid to die for their cause. If we let our guard down, they’ll make us pay for it.”

    “Yes, sir,” she replied in grudging apology.

    On the main viewer, all that was visible were the dark blue and black swirls and striations of the McAllister Nebula. It was the perfect place for an ambush. Whose ambush remained to be seen.

    “Helm, set a course for that explosion, ahead at five-hundred kph. I want to skirt the z-axis of minefield L-Four to protect our port flank as we approach. Ops, send one of our probes to that location to scout ahead. They may be trying to bait us with our own hook.”

    Tense moments passed as Gibraltar maneuvered towards where their enemy was believed to be lurking.

    Four bluish lights appeared ahead, emerging from the nebular gloom one after the other in one-second intervals. Before Sandhurst could muster a warning, Lighter blurted, “Inbound torpedoes ahead!”

    Sandhurst did not have to order evasive action as Lightner had already thrown Gibraltar hard over into a wide, corkscrewing arc in an attempt to throw off the incoming missiles.

    “Warhead yield is tri-cobalt infused thermonuclear in the five-isoton range,” Shanthi offered from the Science station.

    “Tactical,” Sandhurst called out. “Defensive phaser spread.”

    Lar’ragos unleashed a barrage of phaser beams that lanced out towards the targeted ordinance, annihilating two of the four missiles in flight.

    One of the torpedoes struck home, slamming into Gibraltar’s forward shields as the other flashed past harmlessly. The ship lurched but power systems remained stable. The crew, old hat at this by now, evidenced negligible reaction to the assault.

    “Forward shields at ninety-four percent and holding,” Lar’ragos noted.

    Ever the tactician, Ramirez followed a hunch and trained sensors aft, detecting a subtle signature prowling through the nearer layers of gasses behind them. “I’ve got the other one,” she announced. “Bearing one-nine-zero, mark one-eight-three.”

    Sandhurst cast an appreciative glance towards her at her station in the well. “A pincer maneuver?”

    “In this configuration it’s more anvil and hammer, sir, but yes.”

    “Pava,” Sandhurst jerked a thumb aft-ward. “They’ve been naughty. Spank them.”

    “Aye, sir. Aft torpedoes away.”

    Three photons rifled towards the lurking skiff, which didn’t detect them until it was almost too late. A wild evasive maneuver saved the craft from total destruction, but the impact of one torpedo and the nearby detonation of another left the corsair spinning off into the murky cloud, atmosphere boiling away into vacuum from multiple hull breaches.

    “One threat vessel neutralized,” Lar’ragos noted dispassionately.

    “Now where’s the other one?” Sandhurst inquired as he shifted his weight in his seat, his agitation beginning to show with being restricted to the command chair.

    Shanthi reported, “No firm sensor returns. I see some slight disruption to the gasses at two-one-seven, mark two-eight-two; might be an impulse turn.”

    “Pava, fire a spread of torpedoes that way, maximum dispersal.”

    “Rattling their cage, aye,” Lar’ragos acknowledged.

    The missiles detonated, leaving the target area awash in explosive energy.

    Unwilling to wait for Shanthi’s report, Sandhurst studied the abbreviated display on his chair arm. He found nothing.

    “Helm, bring us around to course one-five-zero, mark zero-four-five. Twenty degrees down-bow and port roll thirty degrees. Five-hundred kph.”

    Ramirez gave Sandhurst a curious look from the well. “Something up your sleeve, sir?”

    “Maybe,” he allowed. “Playing a guess.”

    An insistent chime at Shanthi’s post prompted him to announce, “Captain, we’ve lost telemetry from the surveillance probe at Rushaan’s position.”

    “Damn it,” Sandhurst muttered under his breath, standing. “The other Yelnar skiff?”

    Shanthi stared disbelievingly at his telemetry returns. “No… no, sir. Rushaan fired on the probe themselves.”

    “Zadra!” Sandhurst barked the name like a curse. He forced himself back into the command chair, eyes set intently on the viewscreen ahead. “Science and Tactical, find me that other skiff. Ops, activate the transponder we affixed to Rushaan’s hull. I want to know where she’s headed.”

    Ramirez cast the captain a surprised look. “We tagged their ship, sir?”

    He pursed his lips in response and fumed, “Insurance, Exec. Zadra’s playing us.”

    “Here and I thought we were getting along so well,” she replied with a fatalistic shrug.

    The Yelnar ship emerged suddenly from a nearby eddy of gas as Gibraltar came about, the smaller ship’s weapons ports blazing. Disruptor bolts and missiles savaged Gibraltar’s starboard shields from near point-blank range as the starship heeled over in response to the unexpected assault.

    The bridge tilted wildly to port and many of those not secured to their chairs were sent sprawling with a chorus of surprised yelps.

    The Ops board avulsed a gout of sparks, and Juneau was just able to jerk her hands back before a streamer of electrical current surged across the surface if the dying panel.

    “Pava,” Sandhurst croaked as he struggled to pull himself back into his chair, “shoot back.”

    As he worked the weapons station, Lar’ragos acknowledged the order and noted laconically, “There’s a reason your chair has safety restraints, sir.”

    A single phaser blast from the ship’s ventral phaser array was Gibraltar’s sole reply as the skiff shot past them and ducked into another concealing nebular tendril.

    Juneau unstrapped herself and squeezed past Lightner at the Helm as she made for an auxiliary console on the upper level of the bridge. As she did so, Lightner mocked her quietly, “This’ll be easy.”

    Her response, though non-verbal, was unmistakable.

    Sandhurst activated the command chair’s shoulder restraints and looked to the specialist at the Engineering station. “How are we looking?”

    “Moderate power systems disruptions, sir, and we’ve overloaded one shield generator on the starboard quarter. Shields are holding and structural integrity is nominal.”

    Lightner called back over his shoulder. “Captain, they looked like they were egressing towards one of our minefields.”

    In response, Sandhurst looked to Shanthi who nodded in consensus. “If they stay on the same course, they’ll run right into field L-Seven.”

    Sandhurst crossed the fingers of both hands. “Here’s hoping. Lay in a pursuit course and engage, but not too quickly. We’ve one too many black eyes as is.” He threw a glance to where Juneau had ensconced herself at an auxiliary station, reconfiguring it for Operations. “Tell me we have a signal from Rushaan.”

    “We do, sir. Strong and clear. They appear to be heading back towards the last known position of the Cardassian cruiser.” Juneau was flabbergasted. “They have to know the Cardies are there, right?”

    “Zadra’s trying to martyr herself and her followers, and we keep getting in her way,” he answered grimly.

    “What the hell for?” Ramirez asked, exasperated.

    “That’s the question, Commander. If she survives this, I intend to ask her.”

    “No, Captain,” Ramirez parried. “I mean why do we keep trying to stop her?”

    Sandhurst’s answering glance was tinged with judgement. “Some of the ship’s Bajoran crew aren’t her followers and don’t deserve to be offered up in sacrifice.”

    “Fair point, sir,” she conceded, suddenly embarrassed to have voiced her unflattering question.

    Shanthi’s clenched fist shook above his head as he crowed, “Got him!” In response to the bridge crew’s attention, he elaborated, “Two of L-Seven’s mines just detonated in succession.”

    “Take us there,” Sandhurst directed to Lightner.

    A tense minute passed as Gibraltar eased through the miasma, wary of another ambush. There they found the drifting remains of the Yelnar skiff, surrounded by a cloud of shattered hull plating and leaking radiation into the void.

    “Helm, get after Rushaan. Set an intercept course that will reach them before they stumble into Gul Voret. I don’t want to test the man’s resolve.”

    “The survivors on the skiffs, Captain?” Ramirez inquired.

    “As ye sow, so shall ye reap, Exec. We’ll come back for them after we’ve settled up with Zadra and her merry band.”

    ***​
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2019
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Yep, you're definitely still at the top of your game making space combat intense, atmospheric and most of all entertaining.

    And although Ramirez was somewhat embarrassed, she does have a point. How far is Sandhurst willing to go to save somebody who so desperately doesn't want to be saved?

    Man, I'm loving this.
     
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  15. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    I agree with CeJay. You're pretty good at space combat and making expert pew-pew sounds.
     
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  16. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    “You lied to me.” Sandhurst uttered the words from behind his ready room desk, his expression set in a mask of parental disapproval.

    If Zadra was at all impressed with his façade, she didn’t show it. “You had no right to abduct me from my ship, Captain.”

    “Considering that we intercepted you on your way to surrender to the Cardassians, I’d say neither your rights or your own personal safety are a high priority for you at the moment.”

    “Release me, my ship, and my people. Allow us to go about our business.” It was a demand, but she voiced it as if by rote, utterly without conviction.

    Sandhurst sat back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “No.”

    She stared at him for a moment, seemingly at a loss for what to do next. “Why?”

    “You’re asking me why I should release an apparently suicidal religious leader and her followers to surrender themselves to the Yelnar so that they can be imprisoned, tortured and very probably killed? How the hell is that even a question?”

    “You don’t understand,” she pressed. “You couldn’t.”

    “Even if I were willing to release you and your fellow Yelnar citizens, which I’m not, I wouldn’t release your Bajoran followers. Their imprisonment would create an interstellar incident between the Yelnar and Bajoran governments. As you might imagine, the Bajorans are rather sensitive to their people being mistreated. If that abuse were to come at the hands of a Cardassian ally, that would be a guaranteed recipe for war.”

    Zadra opened her mouth to reply, but Sandhurst continued over her.

    “And what do you think the odds are that a Bajoran/Yelnar conflict wouldn’t draw in Cardassia and the Federation?”

    Again, she moved to speak, and again he cut her off.

    “Zero. Nil. Whatever the Yelnar word for ‘zero’ is. That’s the likelihood. So, to recap, I’m not inclined to allow a selfish child, no matter how revered, to spark a war while committing ritual suicide. If that makes me a villain in your eyes, so be it.”

    “I’m not a child,” she snapped back, showing the first real emotion since she’d been summarily beamed away from the freighter and marched to the ready room by a phalanx of security personnel.

    “Yes, you are. Absolutely you are. Regardless of your high station, you are biologically an adolescent. You have the hormones and the incomplete neurological development of a teen.”

    “You don’t understand!” she shouted, lunging forward to slam her hands down atop his desk.

    Sandhurst didn’t react, and instead he held her gaze passively. “Explain it to me.”

    “I see the future, Captain.”

    “So you’ve said,” he replied neutrally.

    “No, not just days or months ahead, but centuries. I’ve seen what will happen if I and my followers successfully escape this nebula. We never make it to the Nybarrite Alliance. Rushaan experiences engine failure that forces us to shelter on a barely viable planet in a distant system. There we establish a colony that attracts other Yelnar expatriates over the coming decades.”

    He cocked his head, battling his skepticism as her story unfolded.

    “Three hundred years from now, the descendants of those colonists stage a return to Yelnar. My teachings will have been perverted by a series of self-serving acolytes into a monstrous parody of everything I believe. My ‘followers’ find a Yelnar at peace, enjoying prosperity and good relations with their neighbors, and they fall on them like a swarm of keth’tha. Our world is wracked by conflict, a bloody religious war lasting decades that kills tens of millions.”

    She touched a hand to the symbol sewn upon the breast of her robe. “Genocide. All in my name, flying flags emblazoned with my sigil.”

    He sat back in his chair, exhaling a breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in. “That’s a lot,” he said finally.

    Zadra didn’t reply. She merely gazed into the distance, paralyzed by horrors that would not occur for centuries.

    “You believe that if you surrender to the Yelnar now, are tried as apostates and executed, that all those horrors will never happen?”

    She drew herself out of her reverie and focused on Sandhurst. “That is my desperate hope.”

    He shook his head slowly, looking down as he searched for the right words. He raised his eyes to hers. “I understand your dilemma. As a starship captain I’m entrusted with the lives of my crew and with an enormous arsenal at my command. I make life and death decisions far more often than I’d like. You bear the same responsibility for the welfare of your people. Your followers have dedicated their lives to serving the faith you profess, the ideology you teach. You can’t condemn them to death, or worse, because of something that might happen hundreds of years from now.”

    “It’s for the greater good!” she pleaded. “The lives of a few dozen people now to save untold millions later.”

    “You can’t quantify morality with mathematics, and you can’t justify an immoral act with sophistry.”

    “It happens, I’ve seen it.”

    “Young lady, the future isn’t written in stone. There are countless individual thoughts, actions, and decisions between now and this jihad you say you’ve witnessed. I know you perceive a bright line linking the two, but there are far too many variables to account for. Everything we know about temporal mechanics conflicts with what you’re saying.”

    She closed her eyes and her face twisted with frustration. “Say what you will, I know this will happen.”

    “Change it.”

    Zadra blinked uncomprehendingly.

    “Take whatever steps are necessary to prevent that future from coming to pass. Write and preach your vision of peace so prolifically that no one centuries from now could ever hope to distort your message for their own ends.”

    “Impossible…” she muttered, turning away. “I’ve tried that already. Nothing in my visions of the future changed.”

    “You’re young,” Sandhurst offered. “You’ve tried to alter that future for what… months, a year or two at most? You have the rest of your life to build your legacy, to steer your faith towards peace and compassion.”

    “I’ve seen myself try,” she pleaded. “It didn’t work. No matter how many times I preached peace and the sacred status of our homeworld, in the end the message is always twisted and Yelnar’s fate remains the same.”

    “So, you’re certain your only alternative is to betray your followers’ belief and trust in you? You can’t see any other path?

    “Only one,” Zadra said finally. “I will surrender to them alone.”

    “And will that alter the future you’re trying to avoid?”

    “We will see.”

    * * *​
     
  17. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Zadra has a death wish. Why does she have to drag anyone else into it?
     
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  18. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Zadra is one determined young woman, isn't she? You cannot help but wonder about her marvelous prescience but something tells me that she hasn't quite thought of everything.

    I'm curious to see what this self-sacrifice will get her if she's able to follow through with it. Well, if she is right, nobody will know for a very long time. That's the problem with playing the long game.
     
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  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    * * *​

    Zadra had surrendered her religious vestments and was now garbed in a simple shift and pants. She walked down the corridor at a deliberate pace, clearly in no hurry to reach her destination.

    Sandhurst escorted her towards the transporter room, keeping step with her. He had exhausted every argument he could think of to dissuade her from her goal, to no avail. Pressing her further, he felt, would dishonor the sacrifice she sought to make, however much he disagreed with it.

    So he kept companionable silence, trying to offer support merely by his presence.

    They reached the transporter room, stepping through the parting doors to reveal Pell and Lar’ragos standing by with the transporter specialist.

    “So, you’re just going to let her do this?” was Pell’s biting welcome.

    Sandhurst closed his eyes briefly, dreading the impending confrontation with the stubborn Bajoran officer, with whom he was romantically involved. He turned to the console operator. “Chief, could you give us the compartment? I’ll handle the transport.”

    The man appeared to accept the dismissal gratefully, ducking into the corridor as Sandhurst turned to engage Pell.

    “I’m not allowing anything, Commander, and please don’t talk about Zadra as if she’s not in the room.”

    For her part, Zadra seemed unfazed by the exchange, her focus instead directed towards the transporter pad and all the significance it augured.

    Pell glanced to Lar’ragos. “Can I expect any help from you on this?”

    The El Aurian looked askance at her. “She’s made her choice, sir. Our interfering with her decision would constitute a violation of any number of Starfleet regulations and Federation laws. I would have assumed a diplomatic officer would be aware of that.”

    Her answering glare could have melted neutronium. She turned back to the captain. “At least have Taiee look at her to render a medical opinion of her ability to make such a decision?”

    “Taiee’s a nurse-practitioner, Pell, not a psychiatrist, and you know it.”

    Pell began to object anew but fell silent as Sandhurst raised a belaying hand. “This isn’t up for debate. I understand you have strong feelings about this, but it’s not your decision to make, nor mine.” He pointed to Zadra. “It’s hers.”

    Zadra seemed to find herself again and addressed Pell. “I appreciate your concern, Commander, I really do. I know of your mistrust of the Cardassians and their allies; it’s a fear I share. Believe me, if there were any other way I could see to prevent the future I’ve witnessed, I’d take that option.”

    Pell held the younger woman’s gaze. “I won’t pretend to understand, and I certainly won’t stand here and watch while you do it.” She stormed out of the compartment, flashing a parting glower at Lar’ragos.

    Sandhurst stifled a sigh and moved to the transporter console. “You know, Pava, I think she’s really starting to warm up to you.”

    This brought a mordant grin to his friend’s lips.

    “Zadra, I’m ready when you are.” Sandhurst double-checked the re-materialization coordinates and confirmed the Cardassian warship was awaiting transport.

    The young woman hesitated a moment before stepping up onto the transport pad. She turned to face the two as Lar’ragos moved to stand next to Sandhurst.

    “Thank you for all you’ve done, Captain, both for me and for my followers. I know L’Osh has fiercely opposed my doing this and caused you many headaches as a result.”

    “L’Osh cares deeply for you,” he replied. “You are her prophet, her teacher, and in many ways, her disciple. She should be distressed by your decision.”

    “We’ll make sure that she and your other followers make it to the Nyberrite Alliance,” Lar’ragos added hopefully.

    A single tear leaked from one of Zadra’s large eyes. “No sanctuary that, but the effort is appreciated nonetheless.”

    Sandhurst and Lar’ragos exchanged a puzzled glance.

    “I wish you well. I hope that our mutual fears don’t come to pass and that you are treated mercifully by your people.”

    She dipped her head. “Thank you, Captain.” Zadra took a deep breath and seemed to steel herself. “Please proceed.”

    “Energizing,” Sandhurst advised. A moment later, the woman vanished from the pad.

    “That is a brave young lady,” Lar’ragos assessed.

    “Agreed,” Sandhurst said after a long moment of wrestling with his emotions. “I hope to hell I’ve just done the right thing,” he divulged.

    “That makes two of us,” Lar’ragos answered. He tapped a series of commands into the console. “Transporter room two, our beam-over is successful. Please coordinate transport of the Yelnar prisoners from the skiffs over to the Cardassians.”

    Sandhurst made for the door. “I’ll be on the bridge. Alert me when the prisoner transfer is complete, and we’ll set course back to Rushaan. I want Ashok to give that old scow a complete stem-to-stern workover before we send them on their way.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    Eight meters further down the curving corridor, Sandhurst found Pell in a maintenance alcove, leaning against a bulkhead as sobs wracked her frame.

    He stepped in, gently wrapping his arms around her shoulders. He spoke no words as none would suffice. Pell had suffered greatly at the hands of the Cardassians, and knew full well what horrors were in store for Zadra.

    The universe was not fair, nor just and it would simply never be.

    * * *​

    END​
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2019
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  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Life ain't fair. Man, that may as well be the Gibraltar's official motto.

    Quite a story you put together here, and this somewhat open ending which mostly implies things aren't going to go well for the brave young lady is totally on brand. It's not the neat, feel-good ending anyone is hoping for, but then again, this is not that kind of story ... nor is it that kind of series. Most of the time, life gives you lemons and very little sugar, so whatever it is you get in the end, it's gonna taste sour.

    Great little throwback story featuring everybody's favorite ship and crew. Hopefully we get to see more like this or some of your other unfinished stories again soon.
     
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