June/July Challenge Entry: "Quagmire"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by DarKush, Jul 27, 2019.

  1. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 18, 2005


    USS Nehsi

    Time had become meaningless. Hamilcar Glover had long given up checking the chronometers that still worked. He marked time by the rending of metal, and then the screams. After that it was the sharp screeching of laser fire, and then time would become meaningless again, as they checked the wounded and picked up the dead.

    Hamilcar also couldn’t remember how long they had been inside the star desert. They had first thought what they were flying into was a nebula. In his nightmares-there were no dreams now without them-he remembered how Captain Holm had thought the nebula would be a refuge, a place for them to evade the Sheliak.

    Glover, like so many others had come to express, wished they had stood their ground against the Sheliak ships. Even if they had been turned into space dust, it would’ve been preferable.

    “Maintain present course and speed Mr. Glover,” Commander McGrath rasped as she placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze.

    Hamilcar turned around to gaze up at the older woman. “Aye captain.” Unkempt strands of lank red hair hung over her face, almost shielding her hazel eyes, but not hiding the dirt or lacerations. They all were roughed up, with the Federation blue of their uniforms often matted with grime or blood.

    There had been little time, or much use, to change clothes, and the thought of wasting power to materialize fresh uniforms was unthinkable. Always on guard against the next incursion, the bridge crew, and other survivors on the ship, had taken to even sleeping in the same rooms. For the bridge crew, food had been placed in the captain’s ready room, which also was the only place with the closest refresher. But even when relieving themselves, they had a chaperone. As the days piled up, Hamilcar wasn’t sure whether it would be the creatures or the smell from the ready room that would take him out first.

    “First speck of starlight you see, you take us toward it,” McGrath was now saying, softly now, almost as if talking to herself, more than him. Glover knew the woman was talking mostly to feel like she retained a modicum of control. With the warp engine offline, all the vessel could do was putter along on impulse, and that was slow going, especially when you didn’t know where to go.

    McGrath was captain now, a role the woman had never sought, and from what Hamilcar had heard of her tempestuous history, Command would’ve never given her. Yet Captain Holm had given her another chance, perhaps her last chance, and now she was committed to seeing this ship home, if for no other reason, to honor the faith the Zelonite had placed her. She had blurted all of that during one of the few respites.

    Dottie McGrath wasn’t much for standing on ceremony. Her openness had both pleased and vexed Hamilcar.

    He had only been back in the Fleet for six months, and only aboard Nehsi for two of those, and was still get reacquainted with Fleet life. So much had changed since he had resigned shortly after graduating the Four Years War ended to raise his nieces and nephews, orphaned by the war with the Klingons. A war that had took their parents, his older sister Claudia. That damnable war had also taken his older brother Hannibal.

    He had had to squelch his own desire for vengeance, to join the war effort to avenge Claudia, Hannibal, and his stepbrother, in order to be there for his family. It had been a hard lesson for him to learn, but one he eventually saw the necessity of.

    Now that the children were older, and his nephew Evander was a freshman at the Academy even, Hamilcar had resumed his dream to serve in Starfleet. Old friends, including classmate, Robert Wesley, had helped him. He had returned after the war with a new, enigmatic enemy, the Sheliak Corporate, had ended. From the last Federation News Service article, he had read, Federation diplomats were still haggling over details of the peace with Sheliak counterparts.

    He thought the embers were almost doused. But then a Vulcan survey ship went missing in space once contested between the Federation and the Corporate. When Nehsi had been ordered to investigate, they had encountered three Sheliak warships.

    The battle had been fierce and devastating. Hamilcar recalled it all, each move he made, each order that had been given. The nebula had appeared out of nowhere, and Holm had ordered the ship to go in it, in an attempt to evade the Sheliak. Hamilcar had voiced reservations, but the captain, or Commander McGrath could not be swayed.

    Hamilcar didn’t know if the Sheliak had followed them in. He wasn’t heartened by the thought that even their enemies had faced the same trials they had.

    The space around them was so black that Lt. Unggoy had likened it to being inside a womb. The too garrulous Ursinoid navigator had been ripped apart protecting Dr. Fugeman, who had been attending to one of the downed crewmen. The man’s sacrifice had ultimately been for naught, since Fugeman and even the wounded crew had since been slaughtered.

    Hamilcar regretted rebuffing the talkative Unggoy now, but he didn’t even attempt to warm up to his replacement, certain that Ensign Leifer wouldn’t last long. Glover only figured he only had a matter of time, seconds, minutes, maybe even hours, before it would be his time.

    Glover piloted the ship into the unknown. It was complete darkness outside, as thick and oppressive as it had become inside the ship. At this point, Science Officer Amador didn’t have to be prompted to inform McGrath of what the ship’s sensors were not telling them. The longest-lived survivors from the bridge crew-McGrath, Glover, and Amador-all had achieved a strange simpatico.

    “Captain,” Amador said, her voice tight, her expression controlled. The dark brown woman had the steeliness of a Vulcan. “There are no new readings.” While Glover latched onto the theory they had entered a star desert, the science officer had also proposed that Nehsi was trapped inside a subspace node, a bubble of curved spacetime, like the infamous Barrens where Emory Erickson had undertaken sub-quantum transporter experiments. The Barrens was an area of space where no stars could be seen within one hundred light years. Hamilcar wasn’t the only one to hope that their journey to salvation wouldn’t be as long.

    McGrath huffed before she sat down. The woman scrunched her face and immediately got out of the chair, as if allergic to it. Before she had confessed that she didn’t like sitting in the center chair. That she felt it still belonged to Holm.

    Pacing in front of the chair, hands clasped firmly behind her back, McGrath let loose her frustration. “We send a probe, they come! We shoot phasers or Great Bird knows a torpedo, they come! These bastards are relentless. And I thought the Klingons were our greatest threat!”

    Like Hamilcar, McGrath had also fought in the Four Years War. With a grim, humorless smile, he recalled how some younger officers scoffed at the idea. Most bought into the idea that the four-year conflict was an intense series of terror raids and not a full-blown war. Hamilcar had witnessed it up close and personal and knew the truth. He would never downplay the horror and tragedy of those years.

    The captain threw up her hands. Snorting, she blurted, “We might as well just stop running, and let the bastards finish us off!” Their scrape with the Sheliak had made the ship fair pickings for the creatures inside whatever this expanse was. Once they had crumpled the shielding around the perforations in the hull, they had swarmed. They moved so quickly; their gleaming rows of teeth were surely the last thing most of their victims saw.

    Hamilcar had survived long enough to piece together a nightmare recreation of them. They were long, cylindrical in shape, oil-black bodies writhing and contorting as if they felt the pain they inflicted on others. Tentacles emerged and then retracted into their bodies. What he took for eyes moved throughout the black mass. The only thing that seemed permanent was the gaping mouths they all had, mouths that always were looking for sustenance.

    “Captain,” gasped one of the newbies at the communications terminal.

    “Maybe if we did activate the auto-destruct, at least we could take many, or all of them down with us,” opined the burly Rigelian at the weapons station. The navigator’s complexion took on an unhealthy green sheen. Hamilcar’s stomach twisted at the thought.

    “You can’t be serious,” the Ayt communications officer said. “Bour, I mean, come on? Suicide is the answer? Really? From you of all people?!” She shook her head, ruffling its feather-like pate.

    The formidable Rigelian slowly looked at the exasperated avian. “Enough Ensign Suletu,” McGrath said.

    “But sir,” Suletu protested.

    “Don’t make me repeat myself,” McGrath said. The other reeled back whatever her next words were going to be.

    “I don’t see us having much of a choice here,” the captain said. Glover hated to agree, but they had tried communicating with the creatures, then attempted to capture one for study, but had failed each time. If they continued doing what they had been doing, they were mincemeat. At least, destroying Nehsi would hopefully be a lot of payback.

    “Even if we make it out of this…quagmire,” Suletu pointed out, “There could be an armada of Sheliak out there waiting for us.”

    “We don’t know how long we’ve been here,” McGrath retorted, “And right now, I would rather face whatever the Shellies threw at us than spend one more nanosecond in the belly of this beast!” The ship had taken so much punishment it was barely holding together as it was. The shields were now only strong enough to keep the ship’s atmosphere in, but with each new assault they grew weaker. If the creatures didn’t kill them all, the vacuum would claim them.

    “Belly,” Amador said the word slowly, “Beast.”

    “Yeah,” the captain shrugged, “Like Jonah and the whale.”

    Amador looked at her askance. “I guess you never read the Bible then?” The captain asked.

    “I did not,” the science officer replied, her voice distracted.

    “What’s up Najeeba?” McGrath asked. “I know you well-enough now to know you’re thinking about something.”

    “It’s…it’s just,” the woman paused, at a loss for words.

    “Go on, spit it out,” McGrath coaxed. Turning to the communications officer, she added, “It can’t be worst than my idea to turn Nehsi into a Roman candle.”

    “That’s just it Captain,” the science officer replied, her eyes now alit, “That’s just what we should do.”

    “Blow ourselves up?” McGrath sounded skeptical, even though it had been her idea.

    “Not. Exactly,” the younger woman was now cryptic.

    “You’re going to have to give me than that Lt. Amador,” the captain said.

    “I understand Captain,” the scientist sighed. She checked her terminal, made a few calculations, and then swiveled back to look at the captain, but she made certain to gaze around the bridge. While looking at Hamilcar, Amador added, “You are not going to like this.”

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  2. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 18, 2005

    USS Nehsi

    Conference Room

    Sometime later…

    Leaning over the polished table, McGrath joked, “Well, I can say this isn’t the craziest idea I’ve heard today.”

    The room was surprisingly intact. Fortunately, the room hadn’t been filled whenever the creatures attacked, and the monsters only sought out living beings. Each time, they scoured the ship, looking for prey. About the only other place they no longer invaded was Main Engineering.

    That news hadn’t been a boon since the first incursion had damaged the warp core, leading to a deadly neutron radiation buildup. The neutron radiation had cut off the warp engines power flow, leaving them only impulse propulsion.

    The assistant chief engineer had been thrown from the engineering room by Chief Pomoroy, seconds before the door had closed him in, to die with all the rest of his team. Blake had been pelted by leaking plasma, but the sacrifice of her colleagues had left greater marks.

    The tan woman, one side of her face uncomfortably reminding Hamilcar of Swiss cheese, cleared her throat before speaking. “I object to this course of action,” Blake said. “Flooding the ship with neutron radiation not only would kill every living thing aboard this vessel but make it highly combustible.”

    “Basically, a slower, more painful death than what the captain proposed,” Hamilcar said, with a wincing smile at McGrath. The woman winked at him.

    “Yes,” Blake answered, wincing, but not in jest.

    “Chief Pomoroy and a few other engineers are still alive,” Amador said. Blake winced again. “Though he is running out of EV suits to sustain him. Those creatures have not attacked them since, and the one factor to consider is the neutron radiation buildup. Perhaps it gives them an adverse reaction.”

    “Like a stomachache,” Suletu was still disbelieving. Bour silently nodded in agreement with the communications officer.

    “Call it what you will,” the science officer was unperturbed, “but the one possibility we had not considered was that we were inside a living being, and what happens when an alien object enters a host body?”

    “It seeks to eject it,” Glover said, grasping the idea, though he still didn’t buy it fully.

    “Those creatures, are what, antibodies?” McGrath was less accepting. “You mean to suggest we are like a splinter, or some infection that this creature is trying to get rid of?”

    “We know so little about space and its phenomena even after exploring the stars for over a century now,” Amador explained. “It is not outside the realm of possibility that there are forms of life that are very alien to us, that might even consider us as nothing more than a virus.”

    “So, you’re saying this thing has a cold now?” The captain shook her head.

    “My theory was more along the line of the stomachache,” Amador said, nodding at Suletu. “I think we’ve given a colossal spaceborne being a bad case of indigestion.”


    USS Nehsi
    Main Bridge

    “I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that this isn’t a subspace node, star desert, or even a nebula,” Glover admitted. He knew the helmet’s microphone was transmitting his words to the shuttle bay where the captain was. McGrath had ordered every other living soul aboard into the escape pods. They had enough shielding to protect them, for a time, from neutron radiation.

    “The more Najeeba laid out her case, the more it made sense to me,” the captain admitted. “I think her idea’s worth a try,” the woman said. “I mean, what’s the alternative?”

    “Good point,” Glover nodded.

    “I just wonder which orifice we entered when we came into this thing?” McGrath admitted. “I’m going to hate ordering someone to clean the hull if we came in the way I think.”

    Hamilcar laughed at the joke, or what he hoped was one. After the captain finished chuckling, she said, “Ham, I got faith in you. I’ll know you’ll get us home, one way, or another.”

    Being the chief helmsman, it was up to Glover to be ready to pilot the ship once they had broke free, or if Amador was correct, been expelled from the superorganism.

    Hamilcar ignored the light blinking on his console warning him of the toxic levels of neutron radiation now filling the bridge. It was odorless, colorless, but that didn’t make it any less deadly.

    He hoped Amador’s plan wouldn’t take so long that he ran out of air inside the EV suit. Though he imagined suffocating at his station was better than attempting to make a dash to an escape pod without the suit. The science officer had been very explicit in describing what neutron radiation did to organic tissue. She had wanted him to know the risks.

    Glover had appreciated it, while it still made his stomach churn. He stilled his nerves. “Captain, neutron radiation has filled the bridge.”

    “Chief Pomoroy, you hear that?” McGrath said. The engineer had been waiting for just that announcement.

    “Aye,” he said, his voice faltering.

    “You alright Quincy?” The captain was concerned.

    “I-I’m fine Mac,” the man replied. McGrath had shared that she and Pomoroy had both served on a starbase together, years before the war with the Klingons.

    “We’re going to get home, Quincy, I promise,” the woman said. It had become her mantra. “Mr. Glover, it’s time to give this whale a bad case of gas.” The captain had taken to calling the creature “The Whale” and Hamilcar thought it was as good an appellation as any.

    “Aye, aye, sir,” the man said as he dropped the ship’s shields and opened every cargo bay door to quickly expel the radiation.

    The convulsions came seconds later. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered as he felt the pulsing running beneath his boots.

    “Me either,” McGrath added. The convulsion grew in strength. They soon became so forceful that Glover had to grab hold of his console to remain at his station.

    “Is it working Mr. Glover?” The captain asked.

    “Something’s happening,” was all he could say. He looked out into the still starless sky. “What I don’t know.”

    “Any sign of our friends?” McGrath asked.

    “Thankfully no,” Hamilcar said.

    “Well, that’s one small victory,” the captain said. “Keep it going Ham.”

    “Yes sir,” Glover replied. He tried to keep himself occupied, but soon found himself hanging on for dear life. The ship rattled so fiercely around him, he thought it might shake apart.

    “What the hell is going on up there?!” The captain asked.

    “Still don’t know,” Hamilcar said, “But whatever it is, our friend doesn’t like it.”

    “Neither do I at the moment,” McGrath said, “If I wasn’t strapped into my damn chair I would be bouncing around like ball. How are you holding up?”

    “Had to activate the suction on my boots,” Glover said.

    The captain chuckled, “Good thinking that was.”

    “It was either that, or be a splat against the wall,” Hamilcar replied.

    “Please don’t make yourself one more thing to clean up,” the captain said.

    “I’ll do my best,” Glover replied. Though he wasn’t sure if he could live up to that.

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  3. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 18, 2005

    USS Nehsi

    Main Bridge

    The ejection was violent. Glover was almost ripped from his seat, despite the magnetic boots. Nehsi turned over and over as he sought to regain control and literally right the ship.

    The helmsman’s own stomach was doing flips, but he kept at his job. The sooner he could right the vessel, vent the leftover radiation, and bring the working ship’s systems back online, the better.

    While he was doing all that he couldn’t help but look out the main viewer and gasp as the starfield. It was so good to see stars again, to feel truly at home again.

    His happiness was cut short after a klaxon blared. “Not now,” he said, through clenched teeth. He switched the viewer to see two Sheliak ships approaching. Both ships had the hammerhead-like prows and steel gray hulls of the three battle crusiers they had been battling.

    Where they the same vessels? If so, how long had they been here? Had they been waiting for them all this time? And where was the third one? Instinctively, Hamilcar looked over his shoulder, or as best as the bulky helmet allowed.

    His chagrin at his nonsensical reaction quickly turned darker. Anger and fear both welled up inside him, as he thought about the battle that had led them into the creature’s maw. He itched to bring the weapons back online and send some pain in the direction of the Sheliak.

    “What’s the problem now?” McGrath groused, her cutting voice doused his bloodlust.

    His console blinked. They were hailing the ship. Glover’s ideas widened. “I’ll get back to you on that Captain,” he said, before opening a channel to the Sheliak.

    There was harsh static and then a screech of language. “Starfleet vessel,” the voice speaking to him was cold, artificial. He doubted it was from a living being, but then again, after what they had just been spat from, one could never say. “Where is our vessel?”

    “Your vessel?” Hamilcar asked.

    “If you do not answer our inquiry we will destroy you,” came the reply.

    “Hey,” Glover said, “We don’t respond so kindly to threats.”

    “Damn right,” McGrath weighed in. “I’m Commander-Captain Dorothy McGrath of the Starship…”

    “Who you are and what vessel you command is irrelevant,” the Sheliak said. “We want to know what you did to our membership vessel and our battle cruiser?”

    “What did we do?” McGrath said. “What did you do to the Vulcan survey ship?”

    “The Corporate did not harm any Federation vessel, while treaty terms are still being discussed.”

    “Doesn’t explain what happened to that Vulcan ship,” the captain riposted.

    “Uh, Captain,” Hamilcar said, his eyes widening with surprise, “I think I can answer all these questions.”

    “Say that again Lieutenant?” The captain said.

    “Well,” He swallowed, “You would have to see it to believe it.” Streaks of green lit up the night before coughing up the Vulcan ship and the two Sheliak vessels. All looked the worst for wear after being inside the whale.

    Hamilcar used the few working sensors to scan the small, oval-shaped Vulcan vessel. It looked like the ship hadn’t just been punctured by the antibodies, but part dissolved. He shuddered at the thought of gestating inside the whale.

    “I’m reading no Vulcan life signs,” he announced. He smacked his terminal with a closed fist. “We were too late.” Five people had been lost.

    “Talk to me Mr. Glover,” the captain said. While he recounted the tragic discovery, Hamilcar shifted the ship’s sensors to the Sheliak vessels. What he assumed was the third Sheliak battle cruiser Nehsi had faced looked bad, but not as bad as the other, longer Sheliak ship. That vessel looked like as decomposed as the Vulcan survey ship.

    “Cease your investigation,” The Sheliak threatened.

    Hamilcar hesitated, before complying. Their hulls were as impenetrable as their builders were inscrutable.

    “What’s going on now?” McGrath asked, her frustration apparent. “And when the hell will it be safe to get out of this casket?”

    With death so close to them right now, Glover winced at that humor attempt. He checked his console. “Captain, it will be another thirty minutes before it’s safe to come out.”

    “I guess I don’t need to be on the bridge,” McGrath said. “I can talk to you, and our Sheliak friends, just fine from here.” She paused, and then chuckled. “You know, I never wanted to be captain. Never one for rules all that much. More than once I thought about leaving the Fleet period, but I never found anything remotely as fun. We have lived charmed lives Mr. Glover, even if they are about to be cut short.”

    Hamilcar was thinking of his nieces and nephews again, as he nodded. “Agreed.”

    “Starfleet vessel,” the Sheliak said. “Please lower your shields.”

    “Like hell,” McGrath declared, saying what Glover was thinking.

    “We can disable your shields, but we prefer not to do so,” the Sheliak replied. “Such an action would complicate treaty negotiations. We seek to use our tractor beams to transport your vessel to the closest Federation starbase in this system.”

    “What?” Glover beat the captain to it this time.

    “After conversing with the membership vessel and our battle cruiser, we surmise there has been a terrible mistake. When the membership vessel vanished, we thought you were at fault.”

    “So, you had nothing to do with the disappearance of the Vulcan vessel?” McGrath asked.

    Before the Sheliak spoke, Glover chimed in. “I think they were looking for their vessel, like we were looking for ours, and instead of talking things through, we both began fighting.”

    “Correct,” the Sheliak said. “An unfortunate turn of events.”

    “That’s an understatement,” McGrath said. “Lieutenant, lower our shields.”

    “Captain, are you sure about that?” Hamilcar knew the answer, but felt he had to ask.

    “Yeah,” the woman said after a sigh. “Let’s see if we can take the Sheliak at their word.”

    The helmsman hesitated only a few seconds before complying. The ship shook as the Sheliak tractor beams took hold, grasping the ship like gigantic hands. As they began nudging the ship along, Hamilcar thought the ask, “Sheliak vessel, did any of your…members, who were trapped inside that thing with us, did they discover what it was.”

    “A bioplasmic organism,” the Sheliak answered. Glover mouthed the words while McGrath repeated them. “We will transmit the data gathered on this lifeform.”

    “Najeeba’s going to have fun combing through that,” McGrath said. “Perhaps you could even assist her Lieutenant.”

    “I’m more into flying and shooting than theorems,” Hamilcar joked.

    “That’s not the kind of help I was talking about,” the captain said. He imagined the woman had a big smile on her face. “This encounter is just another example that life’s too short to sit on the sidelines. She would never say so, but if I know anything about people, if you ask her out, she won’t say no.”

    Glover blushed. Even though he thought the science officer was quite attractive, he hadn’t seen her give any hints that she felt similarly to him. Had she said something to the captain? Was there scuttlebutt going around the ship? Since coming aboard Nehsi, he had mostly kept to himself and hadn’t made friends. But now his actions made Hamilcar wonder, what had he been missing out on?

    “Now, that we’ve been given a reprieve, what say you Mr. Glover?” McGrath prodded.

    “Please Captain,” Hamilcar’s face felt hotter than the Cygniai Expanse. “Not in front of the Sheliak.”

    Last edited: Jul 27, 2019
  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Wow, the Nehsi had an experience on par with Voyager's Year of Hell or the travails of the Equinox. Throw in the always-problematic Sheliak Corporate and there's a whole lot of chaos brewing.

    You gave us some excellent characterizations in a short span of prose, outlining the survivors of an experience that would have destroyed lesser ships and their crews.

    Always terrific to see one of Terrance Glover's ancestors in the flesh. Trouble, like courage, runs deep in that family.

    An excellent story, DarKush. Well done!
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  5. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    One big misunderstanding leads to a lot of pain and suffering here. But hey, all's well that ends well, I guess. Maybe not for everyone.

    Liked the use of the Sheliak, that sounds like a race that could have been used more.

    Another solid entry in the long and illustrious history of the Glover clan. Nicely done
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  6. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 18, 2005
    Gibraltar & CeJay,

    Thank you both for reading and commenting. It's always good to hear from both of you. I'm glad you both enjoyed the story. Gibraltar, I hadn't considered "Year of Hell" believe it or not, but I did look at Voyager ("Night", "Bliss", and maybe a little "Equinox", etc.) for ideas which helped this story come together. CeJay, I agree with you about the Sheliak. I've long thought they were an interesting opponent and should've gotten more development (feel the same way about the Jarada). I was hoping that the Sheliak would at least get mentioned in Discovery, since their conflict with the Federation had to have been relatively recent. Maybe there will be a novel or comic about that conflict at some point.

    I wanted to do a story set in the Discovery era, but also a coda of sorts for my Four Years War stories. I also attempted to reconcile the UT Four Years War with the canon introduced by Discovery. Don't know if it worked, but I was okay with what I came up with. Hamilcar was a character I had created for a story I never finished, and maybe will one day return to that. That story established his friendship with Robert Wesley (a nod to the UT Lexington series) and happened during the Four Years War. Even though I didn't finish the other story I did get to give Hamilcar some life here. I also gave him a mention in the story "Conspirata".
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  7. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    I like it.
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