Passing of the Torch

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Dec 21, 2019.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Amsterdam Orbital Shipyard, Earth

    “Sagan to Shuttle-pod One, you are cleared to approach port-side for docking. Welcome aboard, Captain.”

    “We copy, Sagan, thank you. We’ll see you shortly.”

    The shuttle-pod that approached along the port beam of the Constellation-class NCC-9417 contained four old comrades, the captain and three senior officers formerly of the starship Prokofiev. They were all somewhat the worse for wear, having stayed up far too long the previous night and having imbibed far too much alcohol as they raucously reminisced about their times together, good and bad.

    Captain Abidemi Tinubu set her hand on the shoulder of Commander th’Skaar as she squinted against the hangover-aggravating glare of the drydock’s enormous lighting arrays. “I’m glad you agreed to this, Scar. Trusting middies at the helm always gives me indigestion, no matter how reliable the safety overrides.”

    The tall Andorian grinned, his antenna waving in amusement. “I only signed on to this hitch because you agreed to buy the good stuff, Captain. ‘Will work for Aldeberran whiskey,’ that’s my motto.”

    This elicited a groan from Captain Evgeni Morozov, Tinubu’s former first officer and now a semi-retired academy instructor in interstellar diplomacy. The diminutive Russian held a hand to his mouth and shook his head theatrically. “Don’t mention the whiskey. I should have stuck to tequila.”

    “I still can’t believe you don’t drink vodka,” Doctor Irene Cavanaugh offered, fiddling with a hypo-spray she’d pulled from her medical satchel. “That seems so wrong somehow.”

    “Kak ty smeyesh?” Morozov snapped in feigned insult, having successfully fought back a wave of nausea. “That’s a stereotype, Doc,” he continued. “Fermented potato juice made by Russian peasants will never come close to the blissful nectar of the blue agave.”

    Cavanaugh laughed lightly and moved to press the hypo to Morozov’s neck with a quiet hiss. “Scar seems fine, but you and Adi are definitely going to need this if you want to look presentable for the kids.”

    Morozov grunted sourly as his hangover began to abate. “Cadets and all that raw enthusiasm. Deities preserve us.”

    “Careful now, Evgeni Vladimirovich, once upon a time that was us,” Tinubu chided, taking her turn at the receiving end of Cavanaugh’s hypo-spray. “We survived five years in the Tyresian Expanse, I think we can handle a little training cruise.”

    “But of course, Captain. Though, shouldn’t Clarden have whipped them all into shape by now?” th’Skaar inquired, tongue firmly in-cheek.

    This produced a genuine smile from Tinubu. “I’m sure the senior chief has them spit-polishing the plasma relays as we speak.”

    “Here we go,” the Andorian observed suddenly, slewing the shuttle-pod into an abrupt approach to Sagan’s airlock. He initiated the retro-thrusters at the last possible second so that the pod’s aft end gently kissed the magnetic clamps, turning what had looked like impending disaster into a text-book docking approach.

    The other three officers, caught unawares, had sprawled awkwardly throughout the pod’s interior.

    “Ass!” huffed Morozov as he moved to disentangle himself from Cavanaugh. “Sorry, doc.”

    Cavanaugh resisted being moved off of him for a long moment, holding eye contact. “You weren’t complaining last night.” With that she ducked in for a brief kiss that while being unexpected was most certainly welcome.

    Tinubu and th’Skaar shared a disbelieving look as they clambered to their feet.

    “What the hell?” Tinubu blurted. “When did this happen?”

    The green light next to the hatch lit up, and the four of them came scrambling awkwardly to a semblance of order as the hatch doors hissed open to reveal a welcoming party comprised of two rows of cadets flanking the airlock.

    A bosun’s whistle trilled and Tinubu, her head now spinning with revelations rather than dehydration, stepped forward.

    “Company, atten-shun!” barked Senior Chief Desmond Clarden.

    Fifty cadets, twenty-five to each side, snapped smartly to attention as Tinubu crossed the threshold. "Permission to come aboard?" she asked by rote.

    "Permission granted, sir," Clarden offered the traditional reply.

    She approached Clarden and extended a hand, smiling warmly at Prokofiev’s former senior enlisted man. “Senior Chief, how good to see you again.”

    “And you, Captain Tinubu,” Clarden replied, shaking her offered hand.

    “Of course you remember Captain Morozov, Dr. Cavanaugh, and Commander th’Skaar.”

    “Indeed I do, sir. A pleasure to see all of you again.”

    Tinubu stepped past the chief, seeming to notice the assembled cadets for the first time. She walked down the line, noting the faces and bearings of the midshipmen selected for the five-week training cruise that would cap their plebe year at Starfleet Academy. More senior cadets on the command track would serve as supervising officers and department heads as the experienced academy instructors kept careful watch over the lot of them.

    “I know that you’re all eager to begin this assignment, but it’s important to remember that for most of you this will be your first real taste of shipboard life. The classroom is one thing, but as important as it is, nothing can match the experience of being only meters away from naked vacuum. This is where you’ll learn that you will have to rely on the people standing across from and on either side of you to keep you alive, just as they’re depending on you for the same. I and your other instructors will be here to guide, observe, and mold you as you take these first steps into this new paradigm.”

    Tinubu paused to inspect one particular cadet, a young man standing ramrod straight, eyes focused like lasers, expression taut with anticipation. There was always at least one. The young person wound so tightly that you could shove a stellar-mass up their backside and within an hour they’d produce neutronium.

    “And you are?” she inquired coolly.

    “Midshipman Fourth Class Donald Sandhurst, engineer’s mate, sir.” He almost kept his voice from cracking when he replied. Almost.

    “First training cruise, Mister Sandhurst?”

    “Yes, sir!”

    Tinubu nodded soberly, only her decades of experience enabling her to keep a straight face. “I see.” She leaned in and whispered, “You might want to ease up just a bit before you strain something.”

    It seemed to take a determined effort on Sandhurst’s part to relax ever so slightly while still remaining at attention.

    Tinubu turned back to Clarden. “Have our personal effects been beamed over, Senior Chief?”

    “They have, sir.”

    “Then let us begin the pre-flight inspection.”

    “Company, at ease and dis-missed!” Clarden barked, freeing the cadets to resume their previous duty posts. The senior chief joined the officers as they made their way towards main engineering.

    The cadets scattered in all directions and as Sandhurst moved towards the nearest corridor, a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

    “Sandy,” called Midshipman Second Class Bartolo, using his hated nickname. The larger man towered over Sandhurst, all muscle and swagger, his hair shaved high-and-tight in the tradition of those cadets pursuing the security/tactical track.

    Sandhurst swallowed the acid reply on the end of his tongue and resumed his at-attention stance. “Sir?”

    “That was just downright adorable, Sandy. I think you’ve made an excellent first impression with the captain, don’t you?” Bartolo sneered.

    “I wouldn’t presume to know, sir,” Sandhurst replied stolidly.

    “Riiiight,” Bartolo drawled. “Just a housekeeping note, Mister Sandhurst. I’ve made some adjustments to the cabin assignments on deck six. I’ll be bunking with Votor, and I’m assigning the non-trad to bunk with you.”

    Sandhurst had winced before he realized he was doing it, giving Bartolo exactly the response he’d been hunting for. “May I inquire why the change, sir?”

    “As a matter of fact, yes, you may. To be blunt, he gives me the creeps and I’d rather not have to cohabitate with him for five weeks.”

    It was uncharacteristic of Bartolo to be so forthcoming, but he was apparently feeling generous as he’d just found out that on this cruise he would be the de-facto chief security officer aboard.

    “Understood, sir,” Sandhurst replied dutifully. In truth, he was furious. Non-traditional cadets were those who joined Starfleet later in life, bringing a variety of life-experiences with them that the typical eighteen-to-twenty two year old cadets often lacked. However, this usually meant the non-trads felt the need to share their accumulated wisdom with their younger comrades, whether it had been asked for or not. They were generally seen by more mainstream midshipmen as being smarmy know-it-all's who brown-nosed the instructors and tried to dominate their younger fellows with varying degrees of success.

    In this case, the non-trad wasn’t an over-sharing kiss ass. On the contrary, he was quiet and kept mostly to himself. It was simply the way the man looked at you, as though he could see right through you. Like he was studying an insect in a microscope, and you were the insect.

    Bartolo snapped his fingers and waved over the other cadet. “You… what’s your name? Lagos?”

    The other cadet was smaller than Sandhurst, and his uniform bore the blue highlights of the science division. He had closely cropped wavy black hair and appeared to be in his early thirties.

    “No, sir,” he corrected as he stepped forward and came to attention in front of Bartolo. “Lagos is a city on Earth. My name is Lar’ragos.”

    “You being smart with me, Lar’ragos?” Bartolo snapped.

    “I would hope so, sir,” Lar’ragos replied without hesitation. “Being a Starfleet cadet, I doubt I’d be here if I were stupid.”

    The man’s expression was carefully neutral, and Bartolo continued to stare at him, trying to divine whether he was being subjected to insubordination.

    Sandhurst struggled to maintain a straight face, gratified to see someone giving back to Bartolo what he was legendary for dishing out.

    “Fine, whatever,” Bartolo said. “This is Sandy, your new bunk-mate. I’m sure you two will get on famously.” With that, Bartolo strode out of the compartment, undoubtedly set on spreading hate and discontent elsewhere.

    Lar’ragos gave Sandhurst that bug-under-the-microscope stare as he extended a hand. “Call me Pava, roomie.”

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2019
  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
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    Vancouver, WA
    I love this! Seeing Sandhurst and Lar'ragos when they first met?! It's awesome! I can't wait to read more. :)
     
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  3. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Wow. Heh. This has all sorts of possibilities . . .
     
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  4. SLWatson

    SLWatson Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2008
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    NE Ohio
    OMG. Baby!Donald and-- not!Baby!Pava?? Oh, this is going to be deeeeelightful, isn't it?
     
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  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Wait, you're telling me we're getting another new Gibraltar story? And this one's a Lost Era tale with an bright-eyed yet uptight Donald 'Sandy' Sandhurst as a cadet? And it's about the first time he met Pava before they became close, life-long friends?

    It must be Xmas. Sign-me up. I'm here for all of it!
     
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  6. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    I agree with the others, a "lost era" episode like this is awesome! But is this the beginning of another tale or a one and done short?

    Hopefully it's the former!

    BTW, I'm just waiting for someone to call Bartolo "cupcake". :)
     
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  7. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
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    Nice read. Minor point: a Midshipman First Class (4th year) should outrank a Midshipman Third Class (2nd year). If you meant them to be 1st and 3rd year, they'd be Fourth Class and Second Class, respectively.
     
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  8. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Whoops! I inverted the cadet ranking system. :o Thank you, I'll fix that!
     
  9. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    The streaking star-field fell behind them as Sagan made her way at a stately Warp six towards sector 21502. Tinubu turned in her chair, drawn from her reverie as Dr. Cavanaugh arrived early for their first senior staff meeting.

    The physician gave the compartment an approving nod as she assumed roughly the same seat at the conference table she had back aboard Prokofiev half a decade earlier. “Nice digs,” she assessed. “Beats our ratty old conference room all to hell.”

    Tinubu mock glowered. “You’re casting aspersions upon my former command, Doctor. She wasn’t pretty, and she wasn’t fast, but Prokofiev was ours.

    Cavanaugh shrugged. “Maybe so, but I certainly don’t miss the old girl’s Sickbay. Five years of fiddling and Dewaro’s upgrades and it still wasn’t to my liking when we debarked.”

    The captain’s answering shrug was her only response.

    “So…” Tinubu changed the subject, “…you and Evgeni? How long has that been going on for?”

    Cavanaugh actually blushed, covering her face with one hand as she collected her thoughts. “A couple of months now. We’d been so good at keeping it under wraps, and then I go and mess everything up!”

    Tinubu shook her head, smirking. “Not at all, Carol. It just took us by surprise. The two of you are actually rather a lovely couple.”

    Cavanaugh peeked out between her fingers. “You’re not mad?”

    “We’re all adults,” Tinubu said with a laugh. “I’d just never seen any sparks between the two of you in ten years.”

    “We ran into each other at a conference on Alcent,” Cavanaugh revealed, happy to be able to talk about it with someone finally. “We went out for dinner, just two old friends, and that led to drinks… which eventually led to him telling me that he’d had feelings for me ever since we served together. Obviously, he’d kept that to himself because of my being married at the time, but now I’m long divorced and… well…”

    “Sparks,” Tinubu provided with a smile.

    “Yeah,” Cavanaugh agreed with a sigh. “And how.”

    The doors parted to admit the rest of Sagan’s actual senior staff, including her executive officer Evgeni Morozov, now wearing the three pips of a commander after a temporary reduction in rank for the duration of the assignment. These were the real department heads, proctors, and instructors who would teach and monitor the progress of the crew of cadets and non-commissioned recruits during the cruise. The senior cadets acting as department heads would have their meeting with the captain later in the shift.

    Tinubu listened to their readiness reports and updates on lesson-plans and simulated emergencies that would test the cadets’ systems knowledge as well as their level of stress-inoculation. It would be another week and a half until Sagan reached the planet they’d been assigned to survey. Until that time, they would run the crew through their paces.

    She kept the meeting short, which was her habit, and returned the assembled officers to their duties. Morozov remained behind, looking somewhat sheepishly at Tinubu as Cavanaugh exited the compartment at the tail end of the exodus.

    “How’s your head?” she inquired.

    “Better, thank you. As my body is constantly reminding me, I’m no longer a young man.” He gestured towards the doors, “Captain, I wanted to expl—”

    Tinubu waved him off. “Evgeni, I just had that conversation with Carol. I’m happy for the both of you, and you two are adorable together.”

    He smiled, still embarrassed but visibly more at ease. “Thank you for saying so, sir.”

    She leaned back in her chair. “I do have questions, but not about that.”

    Morozov looked curious and spread his hands in a gesture of candor. “By all means.”

    “What I really want to know is what happened on the T’Pol? I pulled a lot of strings to help get you that command, and you were barely there a year before you jumped ship for a teaching billet at the academy.”

    He winced, nodding his head fractionally. “Yes, I’m sorry. I realize you stuck your neck out for me, and my giving up T’Pol must have seemed a betrayal of that effort.”

    “No, never a betrayal. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I tried to reach you in San Francisco, but your replies to my messages were always brief and matter-of-fact. I got the distinct impression you didn’t want to talk about it. That’s why I was so surprised when you called me out of the blue and offered to serve as my exec on this cruise.”

    He offered her a wan smile that did little to mask the discomfort in his eyes. “It just wasn’t the same, Adi. I thought I could create that same atmosphere that you forged on Prokofiev, that same sense of belonging… of family.” He issued a resigned sigh. “I don’t know if it was me, or them, or both. Perhaps we just didn’t have the right collective chemistry. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t build that bond with them. We had our successes, our high points, but regardless of what we accomplished professionally, I’d never felt so completely alone and isolated.”

    “I’m so sorry, Evgeni. I’d have moved heaven and earth to help if only I’d known.”

    “I should have called. I almost did a dozen times over, but I always stopped myself. It was my own ego, of course, that conceit that I could somehow fix it myself. Calling you for help would have seemed like I couldn’t stand on my own two feet.”

    She nodded slowly, her expression conveying sympathy. “I understand. That damned fourth pip adds more weight and responsibility than most ever realize. But I’ll tell you a secret. Sometimes, that magic formula doesn’t exist. I’ve served with senior officers that never gelled into a functional team. What we had aboard Prokofiev was very special, and I’ve not experienced the same before or since.”

    He gave a small, long-suffering chuckle. “You see? Just knowing that right there might have helped.”

    “There are other commands,” she noted. “You still have decades ahead of you, should you choose.”

    Morozov sounded a confessional note, “I honestly don’t think so. I’ve loved my time at the academy. I feel like I’m contributing, making a difference in the lives of these youngsters. It’s not what we had, but it’s the closest thing to it that I’ve found. Perhaps I’m just not cut out for the center seat?”

    “We all bear our own truths,” she replied.

    * * *​

    Lar’ragos looked on from his bunk as Sandhurst painstakingly arranged a series of baubles and curios on the shelving above his own bunk.

    He struggled to repress a grin as he asked, “Did you bring everything from your academy dorm room for a five week training cruise?”

    “Not everything, no,” Sandhurst replied, situating a small replica of Johannesburg’s New Hillbrow Tower amid the other collectables. “Just the important things.”

    Arms behind his head, Lar’ragos shrugged, the gesture lost to Sandhurst’s back. “So, you’re specializing in Ops?”

    “Engineering,” came the laconic reply. More fiddling with knickknacks. “You a medic?”

    “Science,” Lar’ragos corrected. “Xenobiology is my major, or it will be after I complete all these damn prerequisites. I’m still trying to figure out what the relevance is of my knowing the finer points of ancient Terran Greek philosophy.”

    “Probably it’s similarity to Tellarian First Dynasty metaphysics or Denobulan existentialism; the idea being that most sentient life is relatable, regardless of planet of origin.”

    This prompted an appraising look from Lar’ragos at the much younger man as Sandhurst continued turning and moving the various items until he was satisfied with their placement.

    “I suppose,” Lar’ragos mused. “It’s just been a long while since I studied philosophy.”

    “It wasn’t a required subject where you grew up?” Sandhurst cast a curious glance over his shoulder at Lar’ragos as he began unpacking civilian clothes into the drawers under his bunk. He sounded surprised, “That was basic curriculum in my province back home.”

    “Oh, it was. In fact, art, philosophy, poetry, what on Earth used to be called ‘the humanities’ was almost exclusively my education from the time I could walk.”

    Now it was Sandhurst’s turn to cast an appraising eye towards Lar’ragos. “And you’ve already forgotten all that? You’re only what… thirty? Thirty-two?”

    The El Aurian gave him a saccharine smile. “I look young for my age.”

    “Thirty-five?”

    “Sure. Something like that,” Lar’ragos lied.

    “Well, if you can bear to muddle through the more tedious classes, you’ll eventually get to sink your teeth into your major. That’s why I’m glad that engineering has some of the fewest of the ‘soft science’ requirements. Give me a spanner and a torch and I’m happy.”

    “A tinkerer, eh?” Lar’ragos laughed. “I’ve known a few of those in my day. Your type comes in handy in a pinch.”

    Sandhurst offered the first smile from him Lar’ragos had witnessed. “We’re miracle workers.”

    “All hands, now hear this,” blared the all-call. “Beta shift, report to your duty posts. Alpha shift, when relieved from post, report for classroom instruction. Gamma shift is off duty until 1400 hours.”

    Lar’ragos sat up, stood, and straightened his uniform. “Back to the salt mines.”

    Sandhurst frowned at him, confused. “The what?”

    * * *​
     
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  10. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    This is an enjoyable story, with a good A and B sides to it.
     
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Really enjoyed the senior officer's chat here and the acknowledgement that those tight-knit bonds among starship crews aren't always a given and in fact not nearly as common as one might think. That makes a great amount of sense. As with everything else, it takes time and a very specific group of people to forge that kind of trust and camaraderie. And with some crews, it probably never happens.

    Interesting also that Pava starts off this relationship with a lie. Good thing this isn't a rom-com or you know that would come back to bite him in the end.
     
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  12. SLWatson

    SLWatson Captain Captain

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    Oh God, Pava. Love the whole thing, but his interaction with Donald is the icing on everything, every time.
     
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  13. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Here and now.
    The El Aurian gave him a saccharine smile. “I look young for my age.”

    “Thirty-five?”

    “Sure. Something like that,” Lar’ragos lied.

    Interesting interchange. Perhaps Pava didn't want to get into a lot of questions about El-Aurians in general, or his rather complex history in particular. Donald may not yet realize that Pava isn't Human. This is a cadet cruise, after all, not a long-term assignment. At this point, they just want to do their best, survive the rigors of Academy coursework and training, then move on to "real" ship assignments. Being besties is probably not on their current short-lists. Sooo . . .

    Methinks something is going to change all that. :evil:
     
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  14. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Many thanks for all the kind words. I'm having fun exploring their first adventure together, under the watchful supervision of Captain Tinubu and company.
     
  15. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Chapter Two

    “It’s the EPS waveguide modulator,” Sandhurst explained, his arms elbow deep inside a service hatch within Sagan’s xenobiology lab.

    Midshipman Lar’ragos stood by with his arms folded across his chest, looking distinctly unamused. “This is the third systems failure to take this lab offline in the past four days. Did the academy liberate this ship from the scrap yards?”

    Sandhurst snorted with stifled laughter as he briefly scanned an isolinear chip before replacing it into its housing. “No. These are simulated systems failures designed to give my fellow engineers and I something to do.”

    “You’re kidding? I have to stand here twiddling my thumbs while you make repairs to imaginary systems outages?”

    “Looks like,” Sandhurst replied dryly.

    “Well,” came Lar’ragos’ acid retort, “at least I get to take a break from my cellular analysis of decades-old tissue samples from exhaustively documented species. Nothing like re-inventing the wheel for the millionth time to make you appreciate the scientific process.”

    “Do you know what I like so much about machines?” Sandhurst asked innocently.

    “No,” Lar’ragos fumed. “And I’m guessing that whatever I say at this juncture, you’re goin—”

    “They so rarely ever complain,” Sandhurst finished, slotting the last of the replacement iso-chips and closing the access hatch with an exaggerated bang. He turned, picked up his tool kit, and gave Lar’ragos his best approximation of the man’s own most disingenuous smile.

    The El Aurian waggled a finger at him in response. “I see what you did there. Don’t think that I didn’t.”

    “Is there anything further I might assist you with, Mister Lar’ragos?”

    “Not until the next simulated systems glitch, no.”

    The smile grew fractionally wider. “Then I’ll be on my way.”

    * * *​

    Commander th’Skaar found Tinubu in the conference room, staring intently at a map of the Federation’s closest border sectors.

    “You’ve got your serious face on, Captain,” he noted.

    She grunted quietly, running a hand over her shaved head in a gesture he’d long since come to recognize as one of concern. “Captain Anson just sent me a copy of Intel’s latest activity report for the border region. Our Cardassian friends are making noises about our settlements in the Pleiades Cluster.”

    “Again?” he sighed as he took a seat across from her. His antennae twitched with irritation. “It’s only been what… eighteen months since we signed the treaty with them? I thought that was supposed to have put an end to all this knife waving.”

    “Saber rattling,” she corrected. “And yes, it was supposed to. However, it appears Cardassian politics are somewhat mercurial. A significant power block in their Detapa Council is now pressuring the Central Command to demand more concessions from the Federation, to include a half-dozen settled star systems.”

    Th’Skaar gave the Andorian equivalent of a shrug. “Let them complain. They know better than to pick a fight with us. As far as I know, they’ve yet to win a skirmish with one of our ships one-on-one.”

    “I’m less concerned with a stand-up fight than I am with the possibility of them attacking our lightly defended colonies along the border. The Federation Council appears to be of the opinion that a mere piece of paper is going to safeguard tens of thousands of settlers.”

    “Starfleet wouldn’t allow that to happen,” he announced confidently.

    Her answering look was withering as she gestured towards the viewer. “Would you care to wager on that, Commander?”

    He reached out a hand to toggle a tactical overlay onto the existing sector display. “Who else is out here if something pops off?”

    A list of starships and Border Service patrol vessels appeared on the screen, but their numbers were distressingly meager. “Oberon, Stargazer, Thevid, and a handful of border cutters.” He shot her a wary look. “That’s it?”

    Her mouth was drawn into a hard line. “Obviously, a treaty is better than an orbital defense grid or a robust patrol schedule.”

    “Should we turn around and find another planet for the kids to survey?”

    Tinubu blew out a long breath. “No. If things go wrong, they’ll need every ship they can get out there.”

    “I’m not excited about the possibility of taking a boat-load of kids into battle.”

    “Nor am I. However, these cadets chose to serve and they’re sworn to the same oath we are. Those colonists out there have no one else to protect them.”

    He nodded slowly, already spinning plans within plans.

    “If a shooting war does start, Scar, I’ll be grateful to have your steady hand on the trigger.”

    He gave her a toothy smile. “My blue blood burns for battle, sir.”

    Despite the circumstances, Tinubu laughed at his martial alliteration.

    * * *​

    “What economic forces generated the growing militancy of the Cardassian state?” Lieutenant Jarad Petrich queried the cadet class.

    Votor raised his hand, as was his wont. The Vulcan was relentless. He raised his hand for every question asked, regardless of subject.

    Petrich had learned quickly to ignore him. The young Vulcan was absolutely without any social awareness whatsoever, completely oblivious that his effusive display of his own genius had alienated all of his classmates.

    The lieutenant scanned the midshipmen’s faces. Some were earnestly interested, others assiduously bored, while still others like the young man in his sights were struggling to stay awake.

    “Mister Sandhurst, if you please?”

    Donald jerked from a half-dozing state to panicked alertness, eyes darting. “I… uh—what?” He caught himself. “Could— could you repeat the question, sir?”

    “The Cardassians,” Petrich said again. “What social and economic forces transformed a largely spiritual, agrarian society into a near-monolithic expansionist military state?”

    “I—uh… poverty… sir? They had an… uh… economic collapse.”

    “An ‘economic collapse’ suggests a limited upheaval in an otherwise stable resource-scarcity driven paradigm,” Petrich replied. “The catastrophic socio-political breakdown of the Hebitian civilization was far more complex.”

    He quizzed a few of the others, finding some correct responses. However, it was evident that the cadets had studied a variety of other local space-faring species that they’d thought more likely to be encountered during this cruise.

    He targeted an equally uninterested looking cadet who’d situated himself in the back row of the class. “Mister… Lar’ragos, isn’t it? Can you explain the rampant militancy that followed the collapse we’ve identified? In a beans-or-bullets equation, what draws the average citizen into the arms of a police-state?”

    The older man sat up, his eyes narrowing as he gave the question due consideration. “When you’re starving, you’ll sacrifice everything for a crust of bread and a warm place to sleep for the night.”

    Petrich paused, the unexpected phrasing of the man’s answer piquing his curiosity. “You’re saying the people surrendered their civic freedoms in favor of the state’s largess?”

    Lar’ragos pursed his lips, his expression conveying distaste. “No, sir. I’m saying that when you’re starving to death, when you’re watching your children starve, you have no time for the luxury of political ideals. The people with the guns control the resources, and you’ll salute their flag and mutter their oaths of allegiance if it means living to see another sunrise. In this situation, the Cardassian military used food, energy, and shelter as tools to control the population in a planetary crisis. Those who would not kneel either starved to death or met their end at the barrel of a gun. Worship of religious icons were discarded for worship at the altar of the state.”

    “You sound like you were there,” Petrich remarked.

    “No, sir, but I’ve seen it played out in other places.”

    “Have you now?” Petrich smirked. “Was this a failed colony, like Turkana IV?”

    “No, sir. I’ve only recently been granted Federation citizenship.”

    Petrich sat back on the edge of the lectern. “And you’ve seen such circumstances first-hand?”

    “I have, sir,” Lar’ragos answered simply.

    Petrich waved a hand to encompass the class. “Please, enlighten us, then.”

    “Respectfully, sir, no thank you.”

    “And why not, Mister Lar’ragos?” Petrich’s patient smile faltered. “You profess to have observed just the kind of social and political chaos that we’re discussing. Perhaps your experiences can enrich all of our understanding?”

    Lar’ragos paused, struggling to formulate an answer that wouldn’t see him cashiered out of the academy. “Permission to speak candidly, Lieutenant?”

    “By all means.”

    “With respect, sir, for me this isn’t an interesting intellectual exercise. I’ve lived this. I’m a refugee from this type of horror, and I’m not the only one.” He glanced over at the class, knowing with his special insight that there were others among them with similar experiences. “I find it… discourteous to be lectured to about this subject by someone who’s never gone to bed hungry in his life.”

    Petrich blushed fiercely. “That’s a bold assumption you’re making about me, Mister Lar’ragos.”

    “My apologies, Lieutenant. I neglected to take into account that one time when you were twelve and you stole your friend’s antique pocket-watch and your mother sent you to bed without supper.”

    Now the color promptly vanished from Petrich’s features. “Clear the deck,” he said quietly, as though from a distance.

    The other cadets got while the getting was good, with Sandhurst throwing a last glance in Pava’s direction as he egressed the compartment.

    “Would you care to explain just how you know that little detail, Mister Lar’ragos?” Petrich frowned as he appeared to examine the cadet. “I don’t remember having a Betazoid aboard.”

    Lar’ragos sighed. “I’m not a telepath, if that’s what you’re worried about, sir. I get… flashes, images from people’s past, mostly when I’m talking to them. My people are renown as ‘listeners.’ That’s our cheat. When people are talking to us, we get all kinds of little tidbits from them.” He took a deep breath. “I apologize if I embarrassed you, sir.”

    Petrich’s hard expression softened after a moment’s consideration. “Okay, fair enough. I owe you an apology as well. I was being flippant about your experiences. I thought you were having me on. You’re correct in that I assumed that you were just a run of the mill non-trad cadet trying to blow smoke up my backside.”

    “No, sir. I’m a distinctly non-traditional cadet who needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut.”

    Petrich smiled ever so slightly at that. “I’m sorry for making light of your suffering.”

    “Thank you for saying so, sir.”

    What Lar’ragos neglected to add is that he hadn’t suffered so terribly in those particular circumstances, seeing as he’d been the one holding the gun.

    * * *​
     
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  16. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    It just occurred to me that Pava started his Starfleet career with a focus in science rather than security or tactical as you would expect from a man who is such and efficient killing machine. I wonder if his dark past played a role in him trying his hand at something very different. We know it won't last since I don't remember a Science Officer Lar'ragos serving in Starfleet.

    Also, I feel everybody is going to get real-well acquainted with Murphy's Law here before long. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. And ... with Cardassians involved. Nice continuity shout-out to Stargazer who we know was involved in skirmishes with the Cardassians.
     
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  17. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2001
    Location:
    The Hub of the Universe
    Wow. Fantastic. As I've said to you before - likely repeatedly - I love the characters and world you've so carefully created and, among them all, Sandhurst and Lar'ragos are perhaps my favorites. You always portray their relationship in such a realistic way, and the detailed backgrounds you've constructed for them enhances not only their characters individually, but also the dynamic between them. I love getting to see this glimps into their first meeting and the initial development of their friendship. Of course, I also always enjoy the new characters you introduce and continue to marvel at your ability in just a few short paragraphs - sometimes a few short lines or even words - to convey detailed personality traits and relationships. I also cannot forget to mention that the Trekkie fanboy in me enjoys reading an adventure set aboard a Constellation Class starship, although it leaves me wondering at the state of repair of the Prokofiev given Dr. Cavanaugh's description of the vessel in contrast to PIcard's description of the Stargazer in "Relics". I'm left imagining no small amount of bailing wire, chewing gum and duct tape. :lol: And, as always, your writing style deftly blends drama, humor and pathos to craft a wonderfully compelling tale. I did not want this installment to end, and I cannot wait for the next. :techman:
    p.s. - may I assume that Captain Tinubu's first conversation with Sandhurst was a not unintentional homage to Midshipman First Class Peter Preston in TWOK. :cool:
     
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  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Well spotted, sir! Yes, it was my intent to pay homage to the scene where Admiral Kirk and Co. come aboard the Enterprise.

    Thank you for the kind words, and I'm very pleased you're enjoying the story.
     
  19. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    I wonder what the ghosts whisper in Pava's ear while he slumbers?
     
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  20. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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

    “Helm, come to bearing three-three-seven, mark one-five-nine. Accelerate to point-seven impulse. Tactical, ready photon torpedoes for a barrage salvo. Reserve phasers for anti-missile point defense.” Morozov’s instructions were given quickly, the clipped cadence of a starship commander in the heat of battle.

    The response, executed by the cadets, was sluggish in comparison to a seasoned crew. Morozov fought the urge to criticize too harshly. After all, they weren’t the ones who’d chosen to enter what may well become a combat zone in the next few days.

    “Target… target acquired!” announced the Midshipman Bartolo at the weapons console as he struggled to lock the targeting sensors on one of the multiple aggressor ships.

    The bridge simulator was an exact replica of Sagan’s command center and was equipped with a complex gimbal system to allow the simulator to shake with the impact of weapons fire. A dedicated gravitational system had been installed that mimicked the minute delays in inertial dampening when the sim-Sagan executed evasive maneuvers.

    “Helm, hard over to port, get us a firing angle.”

    The viewscreen image slewed as the ship swung about, and suddenly the enemy ship was directly ahead.

    “Fire torpedo spread, maximum yield.”

    At the Engineering station, Sandhurst couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. In all the holo-dramas from his youth the order to fire by a Starfleet captain was something shouted on a burning bridge, the captain’s fist clenched defiantly in the air. It was supposed to be dramatic and inspiring. Morozov had given the order in the same calm voice as he used to ask for a routine status report.

    “Multiple impacts,” Lar’ragos reported from the Science station. “Significant damage to their engines and power distribution systems. Detecting some residual debris.” He glanced towards Morozov. “They’re losing power to weapons and shields, sir.”

    “That one’s out of the fight,” th’Skaar noted from the Helm station.

    “From Ops, Cadet Triadi called out, “The other vessel is firin—"

    The bridge lurched as the torpedo impacted and the LCARS display at an auxiliary console fizzled and died.

    That’s more like it! Sandhurst thought.

    “Bartolo, I told you to fire on any incoming ordinance!” Morozov barked.

    “Yes, sir!” Bartolo blanched, “Sorry sir. It just happened so fast—”

    “They’re coming around again,” Lar’ragos observed. “Threat vessel is initiating a high-resolution scan of our starboard shield generators.”

    “Route auxiliary power to the starboard shields and structural integrity field,” Morozov instructed.

    “Aye, sir,” Sandhurst acknowledged from the Engineering station. “Shields at one-hundred-sixteen percent of rated output for the next thirty seconds.”

    “Let’s draw them in, Mister Bartolo. Hold fire until I give the command. Mister Sandhurst, prepare to cut ancillary power to the starboard sections after they fire, but leave the shields up.”

    A chorus of acknowledgements greeted his commands.

    The attacking ship leapt forward at maximum impulse, disgorging a torpedo spread that slammed into their starboard grid. Even with the additional power to shields and the SIF, Sagan’s simulated EPS network was overwhelmed with bleed-over energy. Consoles sparked and Sandhurst’s engineering console sent a few hundred volts into his hands and arms, throwing him out of his chair second before the workstation exploded.

    As the enemy vessel flashed past, it’s disruptors and aft torpedoes savaged Sagan’s port side, causing the bridge to buck and yaw wildly. Cadets went sprawling, crying out and scrambling to retake their posts as main power died and the bridge was illuminated by blood-red emergency lights.

    “Report!” Morozov called.

    Sandhurst would have thought this turn of events was more like the holo-dramas of his youth, if he hadn’t been curled up on the deck clutching his singed arms to his chest.

    Bartolo was desperately trying to acquire a target lock on the last threat ship as Lar’ragos abandoned the Science station and moved to reconfigure an auxiliary console for engineering. “Multiple hull breaches along our port quarter, Captain. Our shields there were only at fifty percent. Warp power has failed and auxiliary power is just barely holding.”

    “Helm, turn us into them. I want our forward shields towards the enemy ship until we can get main power bac—”

    There was another powerful blow that shook the assembled crew and then the lights reset and the darkened workstations came back to life. The main viewscreen bore the unwelcome assessment: SIMULATION FAILURE. SHIP DESTROYED BY ENEMY WEAPONS. BRIDGE CREW PERFORMANCE ASSESSED AT 47%.

    Th’Skaar turned a mock accusatory glance at Morozov. “I come out of retirement for this, and you get me killed?”

    Morozov’s expression was emphatically unamused. He turned to where Sandhurst was now sitting up, rubbing his forearms. “Cadet, what happened to our port shields?”

    Sandhurst appeared perplexed as if he didn’t quite understand the question. He turned his hands over, expecting to find serious burns, but instead found them untouched. Neural induction, he realized. Tricked my pain receptors into thinking I'd been burned. He clambered to his feet, coming to a semblance of attention. “I rerouted shield power from the port grid to bolster the starboard shields, just like you asked, sir.”

    “Auxiliary power, cadet. I ordered auxiliary power to be used to increase the starboard shields and structural integrity. That means any spare energy from our secondary fusion reactors, life-support systems, tertiary backup battery sources. Not any of our other shields.”

    “All our auxiliary power was already allocated to other critical systems, sir,” Sandhurst explained. “So I took it from the port shields. I thought that was what you’d meant.”

    “You assumed, Mister Sandhurst. The old expression is ‘you robbed Peter to pay Paul.’ Meaning that you stole from one grid to give it to another, without considering that in dynamic, close-quarters ship-to-ship combat, the enemy can and will attack any section of the ship at any given moment.”

    The young man blanched. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t realize that.”

    This had been the fifth battle simulation of the shift, and Morozov was tired. A smoldering starship bridge buffeted by repeated weapons impacts dredged up too many bad memories of the real thing. Too many friends and comrades killed and wounded in the line of duty.

    “Okay, that’s enough for now. Commander th’Skaar, please see to the cadets’ post-sim briefing and performance review.”

    As the cadets abandoned their posts and began to filter towards the exit, Bartolo waited at the hatch for Sandhurst. He stopped the younger cadet with a hand on his upper arm. Sandhurst looked up at him, clearly crestfallen at his failure.

    Lar’ragos, too, had hung back, wanting to have an encouraging word for his roommate. However, Bartolo jerked a thumb towards the exit. “Give us the room, Mister Lar’ragos.”

    The El Aurian hesitated, but then nodded and followed the senior midshipman’s order.

    “For the record,” Bartolo said in a quiet voice once he was gone, “this is my third year participating in these sims. You are probably the fifth engineering cadet I’ve seen make that error. My first time, I screwed up the targeting programming on one of our torpedoes and hit our own ship with it.”

    Now Sandhurst appeared even more confused. “Why are you telling me this?”

    “I’m simply suggesting you don’t beat yourself up too badly over your mistake, Donald. We all make them. That’s precisely why we’re here.”

    Sandhurst nodded, still awaiting the other shoe to drop, or an insult to be offered. However, Bartolo merely turned and strode out.

    Out in the corridor, Bartolo found Lar’ragos leaning casually against the bulkhead, still awaiting Sandhurst.

    “Don’t worry,” the security cadet called. “I didn’t bite Sandy’s head off. That’s the commander’s job.”

    Sandhurst exited after Bartolo, giving the two men a guilty glance before scampering off in search of the rest of the group.

    Bartolo sized up the smaller man. “Awfully protective of someone you just met, Mister Lar’ragos.”

    “I don’t like bullies,” was Lar’ragos’ retort.

    “And I don’t like underclassmen who don’t know their place,” Bartolo shot back.

    “Oh, I know my place, and I know yours,” Lar’ragos answered softly.

    Bartolo took a step towards Lar’ragos, glowering down at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “It means that I can walk away from the academy any time I want, with no repercussions. There are literally hundreds of other things I could do instead. You, on the other hand, are third generation Starfleet. You’ve got a metric ton of family obligation and expectations riding on your shoulders.”

    Bartolo squinted at him. “Where are you going with this?”

    “Go easy on Sandhurst, and you won’t have to find out.”

    “Is that a threat?” Bartolo sneered.

    Lar’ragos’ face brightened. “See, you are smarter than you look!” He patted Bartolo on the arm and walked away in search of their de-brief.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2020