Passing of the Torch

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

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    * * *​

    Sandhurst’s hotwired a-grav farm truck came to a stop at the defense line’s assembly area after passing through a properly manned security checkpoint on the roadway.

    As he and Votor assisted a pair of med-techs with removing the unconscious Rennenger and Lar’ragos from the vehicle, Sandhurst mused that given the appropriate security cordon they’d encountered, if not for Votor’s impulsive attempt to incapacitate Pava, it might not have been necessary to stun the man.

    Fortunately for the both of them, given the circumstances nobody even thought to ask what had happened to either of the insensate men, and neither he nor Votor were volunteering any information.

    Despite the darkness and open light prohibitions, it took only a few moments for them to locate Cadet Bartolo. The older midshipman was coming from a small conference of squad leaders that had just broken up.

    “Mister Sandhurst, you survived!” Bartolo exclaimed, sounding genuinely relieved.

    “Only four of the ten of us that went up the hill, sir,” Sandhurst replied acidly, unable to filter the bitterness from his to voice.

    “I’m sorry, Donald,” Bartolo offered. “For what it’s worth, your efforts up there allowed everyone you see here to retreat from the commercial complex. We’d likely all have been dead or captured otherwise.”

    Sandhurst absorbed the words but did not react.

    “What is our situation, sir?” Votor asked.

    “We’re establishing a skirmish line to meet the Cardassians main thrust towards the colony proper. The civilians behind us are building defensive fortification for us to fall back to. This is Line Alpha. Behind us is Line Beta, and Line Charlie is our final stronghold at the water reclamation center. We’re going to try and blunt their advance by falling back in stages, causing them as many casualties as we can while we stall for time.”

    “Time for what?” Sandhurst asked.

    “For Starfleet to get reinforcements to us,” Bartolo replied, letting Sandhurst’s incredulous tone pass.

    Sandhurst challenged, “And if they don’t?”

    Bartolo stepped forward to make out Sandhurst’s features in the dim moons’ light. “Then we fight as hard as we can for as long as we can to protect the colony. That’s our duty.”

    Again, Sandhurst’s expression was impassive, something Bartolo recognized as the cumulative shock of the situation finally descending upon the younger cadet.

    “Mister Sandhurst, we’ve got some damaged phaser turrets we brought with us when we fell back and a couple of crates of replacement parts. Do you think you can get to work repairing them?”

    “Sure,” he replied distantly. Then, he seemed to remember protocol and answered more forcefully, “Yes, yes sir. I can.”

    “Good. Mister Votor, please take Mister Sandhurst to get something to eat and then report in to Ensign Singh. She’s in charge of this sector of the defense line and she’ll get him set up. Then come back to me.”

    “Aye, sir,” Votor said, placing an arm around Sandhurst’s shoulders to direct him away.

    * * *​

    There was a brief exchange of plasma and phaser fire from almost point blank range as Var’s squad stumbled into a formation of defenders in the dark who had somehow masked their life-signs.

    Var discharged a burst into a humanoid silhouette rising from behind a nearby bush in the dim light. There was a groan and the silhouette collapsed. Another form advanced quickly towards Var, yelling savagely, its rifle raised like a club.

    Without thinking, Var parried the blow with his own weapon, directing the attack downward and then smashing the buttstock of his own rifle into the figure’s face. The attacker cried out as he collapsed, giving Var the opportunity to take two steps back and fire into the man’s prone form.

    The firefight had been brief, with one of Var’s squad killed and another slightly injured. Five of the enemy had paid for the poorly coordinated ambush with their lives.

    Var’s defensive reaction had not required thought, only reflexive response honed by endless hours of training. Var had fought other children in his age cohort, both in organized competitions at school and in the streets. He had wielded both wooden weapon replicas as a child on the youth practice fields and the genuine articles during intensive military training provided even the most basic Cardassian conscripts. Despite the grinding poverty of Cardassia, they had been raised in a martial culture where the individual was subordinate to the state, a state which only rewarded the strong.

    Urtrim had been right, he reflected. The Humans of the Federation were softer than his people. However, their technological superiority still made them a dangerous foe. Their losses thus far attested to that. Var would not allow himself the luxury of overconfidence.

    Arvik stepped forward to examine the enemy dead. “Starfleet?” he asked.

    Var knelt next to one of the defenders, a female garbed in a dark uniform worn under a tactical carryall vest. “No,” he said, gesturing to the insignia patch on her shoulder. “Local defense force.”

    He moved to the man who had attacked him with the rifle, finding the weapon had exhausted its power-cell despite the man having additional power-cells visible in vest pouches. It was obvious that he had simply neglected to check the weapon’s charge before the ambush. Not even the most raw Cardassian recruit would make such a mistake.

    “They may be fighting as best they can,” Arvik acknowledged, “but they are not bred for such things. We will crush them, my friend.”

    Var grunted in response, standing. “The Bajorans were peaceful farmers before we seized that blighted world. How many of our soldiers have spilled their blood on Bajoran soil since?”


    Var looked back at Arvik in the dim light. “Underestimate your enemy at your peril.”

    “Message from So’Dal Urtrim, sir,” reported one of Var’s soldiers. “The enemy is establishing a defensive line just ahead. He is coordinating an attack with our three remaining gunships.”

    “The final push,” Var noted with satisfaction. “Fates willing, this should all be over soon.”

    * * *​

    Lar’ragos woke with a start, his first instinct being to lash out at a perceived enemy before he was fully aware of his surroundings. Instead of connecting with his intended strike, he flailed helplessly against a force securing his limbs to his torso.

    “And that,” a male voice sounded from above him, “is why I always carry a portable restraining field. You notice how his EEG readings in his cerebellum were elevated? You tend see that a lot with people who are more apt to lash out when regaining consciousness.”

    Lar’ragos opened his eyes to see an older male Human wearing a medical smock looking down at him. Beyond him, stars twinkled in the night sky overhead. “It’s okay, I’ve just finished tending to your injuries,” the man said. He held up a small device in one hand. “I’m going to deactivate the restraining field now. Please try to remain calm.”

    The man thumbed a button on the device and Lar’ragos felt the barrier binding his limbs release. He took a deep involuntary breath, then nodded his thanks to the medic.

    “You had three fractured ribs, a low-grade concussion and your right hip was partially dislocated. I’ve fixed all that to the best of my ability, given the uh- austere conditions here.” The man swept his arm around expansively, gesturing to the makeshift encampment that surrounded them.

    “Thank you,” Lar’ragos answered, his head still feeling fuzzy. “How… how did I get here?”

    “I haven’t the faintest,” the man replied. “Someone brought you in on a litter and asked me to help you.” He looked to his assistant, “You remember who brought him in?”

    She nodded. “Yes, Doctor. It was a couple of Starfleet cadets in a farm truck. Someone said they were the last people to make it back from the fight at the Galleria.”

    The doctor sighed, his expression suddenly morose. He looked back down at Lar’ragos. “I don’t suppose you saw a Bolian restaurant there during all that? I’d dearly love to know if it’s still standing. Bolarus Bloom, it’s called.”

    “Uh, no,” Lar’ragos replied lamely. “Soon as we arrived my team and I were sent to the top of the hill overlooking the commercial development. There wasn’t much down there that wasn’t on fire when we retreated.”

    “Ah, well. Que sera, sera, eh?”

    Lar’ragos sat up with effort, which elicited a soft groan.

    “Normally I’d tell you to take it easy for a while,” the doctor offered with a fatalistic smirk. “But under the circumstances…”

    “Do you know where the Starfleet contingent is?” Lar’ragos pressed.

    “All around you,” the doctor said. “They’re setting up to fight the Cardassians, and the rest of us support types are going to be falling back to the water reclamation center.”

    Lar’ragos reached down, comforted by the presence of his 23rd century-era phaser pistol still strapped to his thigh-holster. “I’ve got to get back on the line,” he muttered, more to himself than to the medics tending him.

    “Well, take it easy, so—” the doctor caught himself in midsentence and chuckled. “Almost called you ‘son.’ Sorry, bad habit for a codger like me. From the looks of your scans, you’re a damn sight older than I am.”

    He and his assistant helped an unsteady Lar’ragos to his feet. Civilian comm-links on both their persons began to chime simultaneously, prompting the doctor to note, “That’s the alert for us to fall back. I wish you the best of luck out there, soldier.”

    “I’m not a—” Lar’ragos’ voice fell away. He turned to look at the doctor and held the man’s gaze for a moment before nodding silently. He drew himself up, took a breath and pulled his phaser from its holster. “Are you a spiritual man, Doctor?” he asked.

    “After a fashion,” the man allowed. “You want me to say a prayer for you?”

    “For the Cardassians,” Lar’ragos said flatly, before striding off into the gloom in search of his comrades.

    * * *​
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2021
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    It's time to get dangerous, me thinks. Is this where this battle turns? Is this where Pava remembers who he is? Who he'll always be no matter how much he tries to run from his past?

    If so, I feel sorry for the man. On a purely selfish note, though ... Let it begin!
    Gibraltar likes this.
  3. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    As Darkwing Duck would say," Let's get dangerous!"
    Gibraltar likes this.
  4. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Jul 9, 2001
    The Hub of the Universe
    Ya don't tug on Superman's cape, ya don't spit into the wind, ya don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger, and ya don't mess around with Lar'ragos. ;) Your portrayal of the anxiety, fear, resignation and inevitability of war is very realistic and compelling. And, as always, I really appreciate your ability to make your reader empathize with your characters, even - especially - "the bad guys".
    Gibraltar likes this.
  5. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    * * *​

    It was difficult for Donald Sandhurst to focus on the task at hand. Usually, when confronted with a technical challenge, Sandhurst could lose himself in the work, his hands moving almost independently. Not today, though. In the here and now Sandhurst kept losing track of what he was doing, which step was next, being too preoccupied with thoughts of all he had experienced in the past few days.

    He had seen people die, far too many people. He had witnessed confusion and indecision from superior officers. He had visited violence upon a fellow cadet. The clear, unambiguous ideals he had been taught in academy classrooms did not mesh with the uncertain, chaotic reality he’d discovered on this mission. Nothing here was clear cut, nothing made sense.

    Sandhurst swapped a new isolinear chip into the command processor of the phaser turret that he had just reassembled, igniting a series of green tell-tails. Despite his woolgathering, he’d managed to bring another array online. He stood up from where he had been kneeling, his legs feeling wobbly from exertion and abating adrenaline.

    He tapped his combadge, “Sandhurst to Ensign Singh.”

    “Go ahead, Mister Sandhurst.”

    “One more up and running, sir. Should I leave it here or bring it to Mister Saffley?”

    “Saffley can come and get it, he’s good for hauling heavy objects. You, on the other hand, have valuable skills. Keep doing what you’re doing, Cadet.”

    Sandhurst acknowledged the order and set to work on the next turret, this one’s outer casing dented and mud-spattered, one of its support legs having buckled.

    “Hello, Donald,” Lar’ragos’ voice sounded from behind him, causing Sandhurst to start and spin around as the turret toppled to the ground again.

    “What do you want?” Sandhurst snapped defensively.

    The older man held up two hands in a placating gesture. “I’m not here to start trouble. In fact, I owe you and Votor an apology for my behavior back there.”

    Somewhat mollified, Sandhurst stooped to remove the outer casing from the turret. “What was all that about? Why attack our own people?”

    Lar’ragos shook his head. “Outrage at their foolishness, I think, coupled with some misplaced aggression. This… it was all supposed to be different this time. I’m a science officer, or I was supposed to be. I shouldn’t be fighting anyone.”

    Sandhurst disassembled the emitter and began to scan the pre-fire chamber components one at a time. “This time?”

    “I was a soldier before, long ago. I swore I’d never do that again, but I had few other skills. When I first reached this quadrant, I became a mercenary for people I believed would accept and appreciate my abilities. I settled down and tried to start a family there, but it all blew up in my face. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, I was always the outsider. So, I came to the Federation looking for a fresh start.”

    Having identified a few damaged components, Sandhurst quickly swapped them out with replacements. “Starfleet occasionally has to fight,” he noted sourly, sparing one hand to make a sweeping gesture. “Case in point.”

    “Unfortunately, that is all too true,” Lar’ragos agreed. He issued a long sigh. “I’m sorry. I’m angry at the situation. I’m angry that Starfleet has forgotten how to fight this kind of battle, and I’m angry at myself for getting into such a mess.”

    Sandhurst glanced up. “That actually makes sense.”

    Both men’s combadges chirped and then emitted Captain Morosov’s voice, “All Starfleet, Home-Guard, and constabulary units, be advised that the Cardassian advance is only two kilometers out. There is a high probability they’ll scramble some or all of our communications as they approach. We are the colony’s last line of defense, and we must hold that line until reinforcements arrive. May all of us do our duty to ensure the colonists’ survival.”

    The two men shared a look before Lar’ragos said, “I’ll leave you to it. Good luck, Mister Sandhurst.”

    “You too, Pava,” Sandhurst answered.

    * * *​

    The Cardassians’ three surviving transport gunships screamed in towards the colony’s defensive line, jinking wildly to throw off the enemy’s targeting sensors. Rather than assaulting the defenders head on, the gunships strafed down the length of their entrenchments. They disgorged their remaining rockets and sent streams of plasma bolts into the defender’s prepared positions.

    Select knots of defenders were fortunate enough to shelter beneath the bubbles of the few remaining portable shield emitters, but the majority of the colony’s Federation forces took the full brunt of the attack. A scant few phaser beams lashed out at the gunships, but only one struck home and that was limited to blistering an empty rocket pod.

    As the roar of their engines faded, screams, shouts and pleas for medical aid could be heard. The colony’s first defensive line had been decimated before the advancing soldiers had even come within the range of their phasers.

    * * *​

    Sandhurst looked up from where he had dove for cover despite being some hundred meters behind the savaged defensive line. He spied Lar’ragos sprinting back towards him from the direction of the front, backlit by secondary explosions.

    “Set those turrets for air-interdiction!” Lar’ragos bellowed, skidding to a stop beside Sandhurst as the younger man clambered to his feet.

    “Just these, or all of them?” Sandhurst gawped, staring up into the darkness at where the gunships had vanished into the gloom.

    “You have control of all of them?” Lar’ragos asked.

    “Yeah, Ensign Singh gave me the command override codes in case I needed to debug any of the units remotely.”

    “All of them!” Lar’ragos urged.

    Sandhurst hesitated a moment, on the cusp of asking about the surviving forces in the path of the Cardassian advance. He deduced that if the gunships weren’t stopped, their comrades wouldn’t live long enough to have to worry about the oncoming foot soldiers. He looked around and found the padd he’d dropped during the strafing attack and proceeded to set the automated phaser turrets to sweep for and engage any aircraft not broadcasting a Federation IFF transponder.

    “What now?” he asked of his fellow cadet.

    “We fall back to the next line of defense.”

    “Shouldn’t we go up there and… I don’t know… help?” Sandhurst pressed, despite wanting to do anything other than that.

    Lar’ragos shot a longing look behind them towards where the next defensive line lay some two kilometers distant, obscured by darkness. He heaved a sigh. “You’re right. Let’s go help.”

    The pair picked their way towards the shattered remains of the trenchworks, stumbling over obstacles in the dark but refusing to draw attention to themselves by using lights.

    They heard voices ahead speaking Fed Standard and Sandhurst spared a quick look at his tricorder to identify three people approaching, two Humans and a Bolian. Lar’ragos called out to them and led the stragglers to their position with his voice. One of the three was limping, supported by the other two.

    A roar sounded overhead, and multiple phaser beams lanced skyward from the surviving auto-turrets. A brilliant flash announced the destruction of one of the gunships as the craft exploded and rained flaming debris across a wide swath. Volleys of plasma fire answered, streamers of fiery bolts from the dark sky that tore into the earth near the remaining defensive fortifications.

    “We need to keep going,” a male voice that Sandhurst recognized as Bartolo’s said. “The Cardies were almost on top of us when we fell back. I don’t know how many others made it out.” Bartolo turned on his rifle’s light on its lowest setting, identifying his two fellow cadets. “Sandhurst and Lar’ragos, help Aquino get Kalmar back to the next strongpoint. I’ll cover you.”

    Lar’ragos grabbed Bartolo’s shoulder. “Let me do it,” he said hoarsely.

    “No,” Bartolo countered. “Just before they hit us, Captain Morozov got word that a Starfleet task force had entered the system and was engaging the remaining Cardassian ships. Reinforcements are close. You’re the best chance the rest of these people have to stay alive, Pava.”

    Lar’ragos opened his mouth to protest, but he found he couldn’t argue with Bartolo’s reasoning. “Aye, sir,” he answered smartly. He extended a hand to the senior cadet. “Good luck, Mister Bartolo.”

    Bartolo shook his hand firmly, then clapped Lar’ragos on the shoulder. “Get them to safety.” He turned away abruptly and vanished into the gloom.

    Even in the dim light provided by Bartolo’s phaser, Lar’ragos has seen the tears brimming in the young man’s eyes. Bartolo was brave, but terrified. He had yearned to have a long and illustrious career in Starfleet, had desired to prove himself a worthy successor to both his parents and his grandmother who had all served before him. By virtue of his people’s gifts, Lar’ragos heard the anger in Bartolo’s voice at the sheer injustice of it all. Bartolo had believed he was destined for greatness, but now his legacy would be dying in what Federation history would doubtless record as a minor skirmish on a border colony of middling significance.

    Lar’ragos moved to help support one side of the limping Bolian as the quartet made their way clumsily toward the hastily fortified defensive positions along Line Beta.

    * * *​

    Discharges from his squad’s plasma rifles snapped downrange towards the retreating Federation forces.

    Var could see the glowing heat signatures from the defenders in his sight’s thermal setting, allowing him to trigger short, well-aimed bursts into the backs of his fleeing foes.

    Var took no pleasure from the slaughter, but he knew that if their gunships hadn’t broken this defensive line, it might well have been he and his men being cut down in waves instead.

    He ducked involuntarily as one of the heavily armored transports exploded almost directly overhead, the flash from its detonation casting eerie, distorted shadows across the briefly visible foliage and grasses.

    “Run!” he shouted into his headset. “Debris incoming!”

    He sprinted forward, tripping over low branches, clumps of grass, and the other impediments barely glimpsed in the gyrating light given off by the burning wreckage that now rained down behind his squad. Just as he cleared a line of low shrubs abutting a copse of stunted trees, Var’s foot caught under an exposed root, causing him to sprawl awkwardly into the grass and dirt, tumbling to an undignified stop.

    Var lay there for a long moment, catching his breath and assessing any injuries to his leg. A foot kicked at his shoulder pauldron. “If you’re dead, can I lead the squad?” Arvik’s voice sounded from above him, the humor in his tone unmistakable.

    Arvik extended a hand down and assisted Var to his feet. “I’m beginning to see your point, my friend,” Arvik confessed. “Even if we take the damned colony, there won’t be enough of us left to hold it.”

    Var grunted his agreement. “Not our place to say,” he offered instead.

    “Yes, of course,” Arvik chuckled darkly, “for Carda—”

    A soldier next to them suddenly raised his rifle and began to say something, only to be disintegrated, the very air howling as it rushed to fill the void he’d just occupied.

    Var released his grip on Arvik’s hand and stumbled backwards just as Arvik’s leathery chest armor seemed to explode an instant before the man vanished in a swirling corona of energy. Var landed hard on his back, his vision clouded with the after-image of the searing phaser beam that had vaporized his friend.

    Another beam sizzled over where he lay, a mere thirty centimeters above him, close enough to feel the superheated air displaced by the discharge.

    He flicked a switch on his rifle to allow fully automatic fire and proceeded to spray plasma bolts indiscriminately in the direction of the beam’s origin.

    A voice cried out briefly in the darkness and Var scrabbled to his feet and charged forward towards the source. He found a young male Starfleeter on his side, cradling his abdomen where multiple plasma bolt impacts continued to sizzle. The man had dropped his rifle and lay gasping, clearly not long for this world or any other.

    He should have been enraged, given that this man had just killed his friend and comrade, yet Var felt no hatred for him. Var found himself owing the man a grudging respect, a soldier’s regard for someone who had remained behind to fight while his fellows fled.

    Var moved on from the dying man, activating his comms to his remaining squad. “Continue the pursuit but be prepared for them to turn and fight. Overwatch detected more defensive fortifications some kilometers ahead.”

    Var’s face was the last thing Sebastian Bartolo saw before succumbing to his wounds.

    * * *​

    “Allies incoming!” Lar’ragos shouted as their small group approached Line Beta.

    An assorted group of constables and Home-Guard reservists sprinted out to help them carry the wounded Cadet Kalmar into their lines.

    Lar’ragos was horrified to discover a barely waist-level trench with intermittent fortifications constructed from actual lumber, assorted scrap metal and a some hastily poured quick-drying cement. Upon closer inspection, nearly a third of the defenders in these trenches appeared to be civilian volunteers.

    This did not bode well.

    He pulled Sandhurst down into the shallow trench, whispering, “This line isn’t going to hold for more than a few minutes. We need to fall back to the final strongpoint at the water reclamation center.”

    “Won’t this line hold longer if we stay to help them?” Sandhurst asked.

    “By a minute or two,” Lar’ragos retorted. “It isn’t enough.” He turned and stood, shouting to the other defenders, “Do we have any photon grenades?”

    A handful of others visible in light from the fires still raging at Line Alpha raised their hands in response.

    “Set them for sixty-second delay, then proximity detonation at max yield. They’ll act as mines to cover our retreat to the water reclamation center.”

    A Starfleet officer emerged from the gloom, crouched low as he approached. “I’m Lieutenant Faber, cadet. I’m in command of this position. Who authorized you to give orders?”

    “I’m Pava Lar’ragos,” he answered calmly. “I’m El Aurian, over four-hundred years old, and I have decades of combat experience. It is my opinion that this line won’t even slow the Cardassians down. We need every person here added to the defenses at the reclamation center if we want to have even a slim chance of preventing the enemy from overrunning the colony before reinforcements arrive.”

    A series of phaser beams from the surviving auto-turrets arced skyward from behind them to explode another enemy gunship in midair.

    As the lieutenant looked back to Lar’ragos from the fiery spectacle, Pava said, “You can die here, needlessly, making a purely symbolic stand, or you can fall back with me and hold the line when and where it matters. The choice is yours.”

    Faber held Lar’ragos’ gaze for a moment longer before turning around to yell, “Do as he says. Set your grenades and leave them in the trench and then fall back, double-time!”

    They fled towards the last remaining defensive barrier safeguarding the colony beyond.

    * * *​

    Var paused just shy of the now-abandoned defensive trenchworks, taking a knee and pulling out his hardened data tablet. He raised a mast antenna topped with a laser comms node from his pack and sent a test signal to see if So Dal Urtrim was in line-of-sight. With comms now scrambled on all channels, a laser-link was his only hope of raising the grizzled old veteran. The link showed a solid orange light, indicating that Urtrim was in a position that allowed for a signal laser interlink.

    Var patched his comms into the link and opened a channel to So Dal Urtrim. “So Dal, this is Dal Var. It appears the defenders here are falling back to what on the map looks to be some kind of sanitation center.”

    “Affirmative,” Urtrim replied brusquely, “we’re seeing the same here to your east.”

    “That facility is multistory and built into a hill. The enemy will hold the high ground.”

    “What of it?” growled the old sergeant. Var could hear the snap of Urtrim’s plasma rifle over the comm-link.

    “No disrespect, So Dal, but would it not be better to stage a diversionary attack on that location with a smaller force while we bypass the strongpoint with the bulk of our troops and seize the colony?”

    Var heard a grunt of assent from Urtrim before the man replied, “I’ve argued the same point with the gul. I have been informed that due to our heavy losses, all remaining troops that had been making diversionary attacks have been recalled to fill the ranks of this assault. We have no one left to pin the defenders in that facility down. If we bypass their fortification and move on the colony, they’ll rain fire on us the entire time we’re skirting around the hill and then attack us in the rear as we’re entering a defended urban center. There’s nothing for it, Var, we’re going to have to take that bastard in a frontal assault.”

    Var sighed. “Understood, So Dal.

    “You’re thinking above your pay-grade, soldier,” Urtrim chided him. “You’re smart and intuitive, Var. If we survive this you’re sure to get a promotion, but right now I need you commanding your squad and following orders.”

    “Yes, So Dal. End-comm.” Var terminated the link and was retracting the antenna when a string of brilliant explosions ahead blinded him while knocking him onto his back. He lay there, trying to collect himself as dirt and rocks pattered down all around him. He stood shakily, trying to blink away the after-images of the searing detonations.

    Suddenly, one of his soldiers was at his side. “Dal,” she said, “our people tripped proximity explosives in the trench. We have many killed, many more wounded.”

    Var grimaced, convinced that the coming assault would be even bloodier than any of them had anticipated. “Leave the seriously wounded behind to be cared for by the less wounded. We need every able soldier for what’s to come.”

    * * *​

    Captain Morosov looked out upon the retreating defenders as they fell back individually and in small groups towards his position at the water reclamation center. His binoculars were linked to his tricorder, and he could detect the first of the Cardassian units approaching the now-abandoned defensive Line Beta.

    “How many of our people left?” he asked Ensign Singh who stood next to him helping to coordinate their defensive scheme.

    “Hard to tell, sir. Between officers, non-comms, and cadets, perhaps thirty. It’s hard to be exact, though. Some of them have lost their combadges, and others might just be jammed by the Cardies’ scramblers. Our survivors are mixed in with the constables and Home-Guard.”

    “Photon mortars?” Morosov inquired.

    “None left, I’m afraid,” Singh replied. “And no further word from our taskforce entering the system.”

    Morosov sighed. “We’re jamming them, they’re jamming us, it’s no wonder comms are a mess.”

    There was a series of strobing lights followed by the crumps of explosions as the Cardassian troops reached the grenades in the Line Beta trenches. Morosov could actually see soldiers being vaporized by the rippling detonations through his optics as others were blown skyward.

    “Not so eager now to be in the vanguard, are we?” he murmured to the enemy. He turned to look at his stoic adjutant. “Ensign, spread the word. As soon as the last of the stragglers are through our forward defensive line, open sweeping fire across the front.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    Morosov returned to his observations. He had been forced to quench his near overwhelming desire to keep his crew and cadets safe from harm. That was no longer possible. It was probable that he and they would all have to sacrifice themselves, regardless of whether the colony was spared or not. It would be a kindness for him to die here, he decided, rather than having to live with ordering so many promising young people to their deaths.

    * * *​
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2021
    CeJay likes this.
  6. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    * * *​

    The sounds of the exploding grenades behind them that briefly lit the night spurred the retreating personnel towards the illusory safety of the water reclamation center.

    Sandhurst was gasping now, halting every dozen meters or so to try and catch his breath. Lar’ragos pushed, prodded, and half-carried him forward. “Donald, we have to move. I know you’re tired but staying here isn’t an option and falling behind means dying.”

    The younger man nodded in the twilight, gasping, “O—okay. Let—Let’s go.”

    They continued forward, hearing more and louder detonations from behind them as the remaining gunships strafed the retreating Starfleet personnel.

    The defenders stumbled over rocks and shrubs, slogged through knee-high water in places, and flinched at the sporadic weapons fire that randomly flashed past them, compliments of their pursuers.

    People fell behind, unable to continue the pace necessary to outrun the advancing Cardassians. Many of these accepted weapons from their comrades, laying low to ambush the invaders as they passed in an effort to buy a little more time for their friends and shipmates.

    Eventually, the survivors reached the water reclamation plant. The large facility was set into the side of a hill, comprised of stepped concrete reservoirs holding water in various stages of decontamination. Stairways allowed access from the ground level, branching onto lowered walkways between holding tanks. The setup had unintentionally made the reclamation center into a defender’s dream, where the terraced reservoirs allowed multiple groups of defenders to hold the high ground against an advancing enemy in a surfeit of firing positions.

    In defiance of Lar’ragos’ expectations, the situation at the reclamation center was not chaotic. The survivors were quickly rearmed and folded into the existing defensive scheme even as snipers began engaging the vanguard of the Cardassian assault. Lar’ragos insisted he and Sandhurst remain together, and the pair were placed on the ramparts of the lowest tier, both armed with Home-Guard style phaser rifles, a Starfleet design from some thirty years earlier.

    Lar’ragos and Sandhurst lay on their stomachs on the concrete lip of a filtration pool, gazing out across the battlefield as grass fires blazed near the Line Beta trenches and where the fiery debris of the two Cardassians gunships had landed. In the east, or what the locals called east, the sky had begun to lighten perceptibly. Dawn was approaching.

    The El Aurian glanced over at his much younger Human companion. Sandhurst’s hair was unkempt and littered with dirt and debris, while his face was likewise caked with dirt and sweat.

    “How are you?” Lar’ragos asked.

    Sandhurst snorted, turning his head to meet Lar’ragos’ gaze. “Hell of a time to ask.”

    “Well, yeah,” Lar’ragos conceded, “but to be fair we’ve been a bit rushed.”

    “Tired, hungry, terrified, angry and in pain,” Sandhurst replied heatedly. “Not necessarily in that order.”

    “That is a pretty fair summation of combat in general,” Lar’ragos remarked. He squinted into the fire-lit distance towards where the snipers’ phaser blasts were terminating.

    “Do you think Bartolo survived somehow?” Sandhurst asked.

    “No,” Lar’ragos answered after a moment. “The Cardassians don’t have a stun setting, and they haven’t shown any tendency towards mercy.”

    Sandhurst released a slow breath. “He was a jerk, but he deserved better than that.”

    “He’s a good man, Donald,” came Lar’ragos reply. “He was tough on you on for a reason. Bartolo wanted you to be able to stand up the actual bullies at the academy and those in the ranks after you went out into the fleet. Hell, he asked me to keep an eye on you after he graduated.”

    Sandhurst gave him a scathing look in response. “I’m not some fragile crystal in need of a containment field. That’s presumptuous and insulting on both your parts.”

    Lar’ragos conceded the point with a fractional nod. “Yes, but how were we to know that until now? Honestly, you came across as a coddled little Earther.”

    “Kiss my—”

    The rest of his sentiment was drown out in the roar of engines as the last of the Cardassian gunships made a low pass overhead, it’s cannons inscribing patterns of carnage across the multiple tiers of the reclamation plant. Splinters of concrete and metal whistled through the air, scything down scores of defenders not already sundered by the streams of plasma bolts themselves.

    The attack was so sudden and devastating that there was no return fire at all until the craft swept around for another pass. Then a flurry of phaser beams reached for the gunship, most missing due to its speed and angle of descent. One beam snatched away a piece of a weapons pylon, while another phaser discharge blasted a hole through an engine mounting and yet another scored across the ship’s cockpit. The cockpit windows blistered outward as the flash of multiple internal explosions lit the craft from within.

    Trailing flame, the mortally wounded gunship rolled onto its back and dove directly into the upper terraced levels of the reclamation center. Its exploding power cells and remaining ordinance sent a fireball hundreds of meters into the pre-dawn sky.

    Momentarily blinded and deafened by the nearby detonation, Lar’ragos and Sandhurst lay covering their heads as bits of smoldering debris rained down around and atop them.

    A battered Home-Guardsman nudged the prone men with his boot toe. “They’re coming!” he shouted, rifle at the ready. Sandhurst and Lar’ragos stood, rifles momentarily forgotten as a cascade of debris slid off of them.

    Seemingly from nowhere, a formation of Cardassian soldiers scrabbled up the low hill and broad stairs to assault their position.

    Outgoing phaser beams snatched a handful of these attackers off their feet, but the majority of them boiled into the midst of the colonists’ bulwarks.

    A Cardassian barreled out of the twilight, his plasma rifle blazing as he fired indiscriminately into the knot of defenders. A constable and a Home-Guard reservist next to Sandhurst went down, while a plasma bolt tore into Sandhurst’s shoulder in an impact that erupted in a gout of sparks and sent the young man tumbling backwards over a waist-high railing to plunge into a reservoir pool some meters below.

    Lar’ragos blasted the offending Cardassian off his feet with his anachronistic phaser pistol, the beam punching a smoking hole through the alien soldier’s chest.

    Another Cardassian surged forward from Lar’ragos’ blind side, but Pava dropped and rolled just as the soldier fired, the bolts intended for the El Aurian tearing instead into a Starfleet petty officer behind him. Laying on his side, Lar’ragos fired again, his beam catching the soldier’s rifle and blasting it apart and out of the man’s hands. The soldier’s momentum carried him forward though, and he landed hard atop Lar’ragos, the impact knocking the phaser pistol from the cadet’s grip.

    The two men rolled, locked together, each grappling to get a secure hold on the other. The Cardassian reared back and delivered a head-butt to Lar’ragos’ nose, breaking it and sending a cascade of blood down the smaller man’s mouth and chin.

    Lar’ragos managed to roll to his left, then reversed hard and used the Cardassian’s mass and momentum to send the enemy soldier tumbling away from him. He leapt to his feet and sent a kick towards the rising soldier’s head. The man turned just enough to absorb the blow in his shoulder and upper chest instead as he carried forward and tackled Lar’ragos to the ground.

    Lar’ragos rolled backwards, grasping the larger man’s upper arms and placing a foot in the man’s midsection. He then kicked out to push the soldier up and over him at the top of the arc. The Cardassian landed heavily on his back with a grunt as Lar’ragos scrambled back to his feet and began looking for his dropped phaser.

    Other Cardassians had arrived, scrabbling over the bulwarks and into the firing position. Individual fights had broken out between they and the remaining Federation defenders. Plasma bolts snapped to and fro and phasers replied, their trajectories ending in concrete, metal, or humanoid flesh.

    Lar’ragos sensed his opponent’s impending attack, forewarned by his perversion of his people’s gifts. He turned to block the Cardassian’s strike, only to have his arm batted aside by the sledgehammer blow of the incoming strike. The staggering punch snapped his head back and caused black spots to swim across his vision.

    He sensed a follow-on kick coming and dropped to a crouch, covering his head with a bent arm. When it landed, however, the kick carried so much force that it sent him sprawling. Lar’ragos slid to a stop, pondering the irony of being able to sense an attack before it came, yet being unable to defend against it. In the heat of battle, part of him reflected mordantly that he had allowed himself to become soft and complacent, losing the edge that had enabled him to him survive his many ordeals in his travels across the Delta Quadrant.

    Regardless of his many years, his experience and his knowledge, he sensed the man opposing him was stronger, faster, and quite possibly a better fighter. Lar’ragos’ cheats were of little use here.

    Dal Durak Var advanced on Lar’ragos, drawing his knife from its scabbard. Their fight had gone on too long and was interfering in his ability to lead his squad. Var was determined to end it.

    Lar’ragos regained his feet, spying a length of tritanium pipe blown free from a pump station. He picked it up and prepared to meet the Cardassian’s attack.

    Var rushed him and feigned throwing the knife, prompting Lar’ragos to raise the pipe defensively. Var kicked out instead, driving a solid boot toe into Lar’ragos’ thigh and then slashing out and down with the blade, which sliced across Pava’s chest and abdomen as the El Aurian attempted to back-peddle.

    Lar’ragos felt himself beginning to fall backwards and swung the pipe wildly to try and force separation from his attacker. His clumsy swings did drive Var back a pace, but as Lar’ragos lost his footing the Cardassian lunged again and slashed towards Pava’s neck, missing just slightly but managing to slice open the El Aurian’s cheek.

    Lar’ragos collapsed heavily, holding the pipe above him in both hands like a polearm as Var advanced. He felt the warm wetness on his chest and coursing down his neck, felt the searing pain of the facial wound but mused idly that he could hardly feel the damage to his chest at all. His arms trembled and his right thigh had cramped with the impact of the Cardassian’s boot. This was not going at all as he’d predicted.

    He rolled onto his side and then rose as far as his knees, swinging the pipe at Var again with the last of his dwindling strength. The Cardassian stepped into the blow, catching the pipe just above Pava’s hands between Var’s padded chest-piece and his left arm. Lar’ragos released his grip on the pipe and delivered a punch to Var’s midsection that caused the larger man to grunt, but he did not fall and surrendered no ground.

    Lar’ragos saw the glint of the knife in Var’s hand as the man brought it around and up in a killing blow aimed to catch its victim between chin and Adam’s-apple.

    Four hundred years, Lar’ragos thought numbly, and this is how it--

    A brilliant phaser beam flared to life above him and enveloped Var, driving the Cardassian backwards into another of his comrades who was locked in a struggle with a Home-Guard soldier. All three of them collapsed in a tangle of limbs.

    Lar’ragos recognized from the sound of the beam that it was set to stun and craned his neck around to see a dripping wet Donald Sandhurst holding a phaser in his hand. The younger man stumbled forward, grabbing Lar’ragos by the back of his uniform sweater collar and began dragging him awkwardly backwards.

    A bout of choking, gurgling and cursing from Lar’ragos finally convinced Sandhurst that Pava was fit to stand and move on his own. A limping Lar’ragos threw his arm over Sandhurst’s shoulder and allowed his friend to assist him.

    As the two retreated from the ongoing melee in the defensive position, the brightening sky was filled with dozens of streams of collimated light stabbing downward. Countless impacts scored the landscape, some discharging swaths of stun energy, while others sent flaming founts of earth skyward.

    A transporter beam flashed into existence three meters in front of the pair and Sandhurst raised his phaser, only to have Lar’ragos push his arm down so that his stun beam discharged into the cement.

    “Starfleet Marines!” barked a humanoid figure wearing bulky combat armor, her face hidden behind a protective visor extending down from her likewise armored helmet.

    Lar’ragos drug Sandhurst down onto the ground as Marines in teams, squads, and platoons began to beam in all around them.

    The wounded Lar’ragos began to chuckle as he covered Sandhurst’s head while hundreds of Marine phaser carbines began to sing in unison, “Cavalry’s here!” he shouted above the din, laughing maniacally.

    * * *​
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2021
  7. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    They got saved in the nick of time. To the victors go the spoils and to the losers, still living, a life in a Federation prisoner of war camp. Great work, Gibraltar. You write ground battle and ship battle scenes really well. I felt like I was actually there. :)
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  8. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Jul 9, 2001
    The Hub of the Universe
    That was ... intense. I don't know that I've ever read a more vivid, compelling, or better written battle scene. I'm literally shaking a little, myself. Very well done.
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  9. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Boy, this sure was gritty. Thank God for Pava, doing Pava-like things. Although I appreciate the fact that this wasn't a one-man show. Everyone here did their part, laying it all on the line. It's actually the good old marines who save the day. Can I get an Oorah?
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  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    USS Sanctuary
    In orbit of Arandis IV

    Sandhurst started awake for the fifth time in as many hours. The quiet of the medical ward with its soft beeps and the chimes of various diagnostic equipment was in stark contrast to the bedlam of his troubled dreams. Whenever he closed his eyes, all he could see were explosions and exchanges of searing fire, the snap and whine of weapons competing with the screams of the wounded.

    The images seemed to replay as if on a loop, regardless of how hard Sandhurst tried to focus on other, less troubling things as he drifted off.

    The large, semi-circular ward was but a sole treatment compartment, a portion of one deck among several aboard the Starfleet hospital ship Sanctuary. The ship was filled with survivors of the fighting on Arandis IV, Starfleet and civilian alike. It was even rumored that one whole deck had been dedicated to the treatment of wounded Cardassian prisoners, under heavy Marine guard, of course.

    Sandhurst looked down at his shoulder, admiring the synthiskin graft that was helping the wound to heal. He had been shot. The very idea of it still boggled his mind. As a boy he’d always imagined that he would have time to dodge such an attack, but that had been mere youthful fantasy. The reality was that he had been hit and flung over the railing and into the containment pool before he’d even had time to realize what had happened.

    The doors to the ward swooshed open to admit Doctor Cavanaugh. Despite her participation in the bloody surface battle, she had insisted on treating the surviving Sagan crew herself. She made her way down the row of biobeds ringing the outer bulkhead, checking charts and conversing with those who were awake.

    She arrived at Sandhurst’s bed, referencing her padd and checking his vitals on the headboard monitor. “I’d ask how you’re doing, but these readings say you haven’t been sleeping much.”

    Sandhurst shook his head. “Can’t.”

    “Nightmares?” she asked.

    “Can you call them nightmares if they really happened, Doctor?”

    “Oh, yes,” she said, nodding. “Those are flashbacks. That’s your mind trying to process those experiences. Because they’re so traumatic, it’s having difficulty categorizing and filing them away, so they continue to run like a background program, regardless of whether you’re sleeping or awake.”

    Sandhurst digested that. “Can you give me something to sleep dreamlessly?”

    “I can, but only for one sleep-period per day. That’s only treating the symptom, not the underlying problem. I’m going to have Doctor Regnard meet with you daily until the ship returns to Starbase 287. He’s a counselor, and quite a good one. He can teach you some relaxation techniques and take you through a trauma incident reduction series that will help you to process what you’ve experienced in a safe environment.”

    He glanced up to meet her gaze fully. “Are there, Doctor? Truly safe environments?”

    “I know in this moment that’s difficult to believe, Cadet, but yes, there are.”

    “I keep thinking of Cadet Waller,” he said suddenly, surprising himself. He hadn’t intended to speak of it. “She was wounded… lost her arm, and I couldn’t find my med-kit. I tried to find it, but I couldn’t. By the time I remembered she had one of her own I could have used, it was too late.”

    Unbidden tears streamed down his cheeks. “How could I be so stupid? I was digging in the dirt for something she had on her own belt!”

    Cavanaugh sat on the edge of his biobed, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You were in shock, Donald. Your emergency response training so far hasn’t prepared you for anything like what you experienced down there. When confronted with the unthinkable for the first time, Humans often freeze or can’t think clearly. Hard as it may be for you to believe, your reaction was perfectly normal.”

    He pulled himself together, trying to put on a brave face that didn’t fool either of them. “Did… did Captain Morozov survive?” Sandhurst asked hesitantly.

    Cavanaugh nodded soberly, though the corners of her mouth hinted at the smile she was keeping in check. “He most certainly did. He very nearly had a dropship crash right on top of him, but the man’s luck is legendary.”

    Sandhurst dropped his head. “Would that we could all have had such luck.”

    * * *​

    Morozov found him in Sanctuary’s physical rehabilitation gymnasium.

    The El Aurian strained atop a bench under the high-g weight bar, completing a series of chest-presses, his shirt soaked with perspiration.

    The doctor who had summoned the captain stood in the doorway, arms folded across his chest. He inclined his head towards Lar’ragos, then shook it in disbelief. “He’s in no shape to be doing any of this. His wounds have just begun to heal, especially the internal injuries.”

    Morozov nodded to the physician. “Thank you, Doctor. I’ll take it from here.”

    Lar’ragos had rolled off the bench and nearly doubled over from exhaustion and pain had staggered over to a leg-press station to begin using that apparatus.

    “Proving a point, Cadet?” Morozov asked as he approached.

    “Cor—correcting… deficits,” Lar’ragos huffed between reps.

    “Your doctors are worried you’re doing more harm than good,” Morozov said patiently.

    Lar’ragos finished a set and paused, looking up at him. “One of them beat me,” he said in a low voice.

    “It happens,” Morozov opined.

    “Not to me,” Lar’ragos countered.

    “That’s dangerously arrogant,” the captain observed, “and dare I say, you’re old enough to know that.”

    Lar’ragos finished another set, scowling at Morozov. “In my prime, I could have killed that man without much effort at all.”

    “And that’s a point of pride with you?” Morozov asked, voice tinged with disdain.

    “Those Cardassians would have butchered our colonists,” Lar’ragos countered. “So, yes, I believe my ability to defeat a lethal threat quickly is desirable. That is why you wanted me down there, isn’t it, sir?”

    Morozov sighed and leaned against the bulkhead, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “Mister Lar’ragos, you are training to become a Starfleet officer. Take it from someone who’s served twenty-five years, as horrible as this situation was, it’s a rarity. Combat is only a small percentage of Starfleet’s mission. I’d much rather have a science officer who can scrutinize a threatening stellar phenomenon than one who can cut a swath through hostile forces.”

    The El Aurian stood shakily from the apparatus, toweling off. “No, not sciences. Not anymore. I’m changing my focus to security and tactical.”

    Morozov felt a pang of regret, knowing that he had forced Lar’ragos into battle despite the man’s objections. “Don’t be too hasty, Mister Lar’ragos. You still have three more years at the academy. You needn’t decide this now.”

    “I won’t… I can’t allow myself to be that vulnerable again. You can’t know the things I endured to reach the Federation, the sacrifices I made. I’ll be damned if I’ll allow all of that to be snatched away from me in a moment because I wasn’t strong enough or prepared enough to meet the challenge.”

    “That’s paranoia,” Morozov argued.

    “Yes, sir, it is. Paranoia has kept me alive for four centuries.”

    Morozov dropped his head, issuing another sigh. He himself had nearly died during the attack. He had lost friends and comrades closer to him than family. He had been forced to sacrifice cadets, barely more than children, to stave off a merciless enemy. Morozov was emotionally and spiritually exhausted and had no more energy to give this troubled man.

    “So be it, Lar’ragos. I wish you good fortune and safe journeys.”

    Lar’ragos moved unsteadily towards another exercise apparatus. “And to you, sir.”

    * * *​
    Last edited: May 17, 2021
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  11. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    I hope Sandhurst gets some sleep before he reaches his captaincy and eventual elevation to being an Amon. I have always liked Sandhurst and Lar'ragos since I read the first Gibraltar story and I think you did excellently here with them in their Academy years during the Cardassian Border Wars. Keep up the great work, please.
    Gibraltar likes this.
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    You could make a halfway decent argument that Gibraltar and her crew (most of it at least) only lasted as long as they did thanks to the Cardassians and one specific incident that made on Pava Lar'ragos reconsider a Starfleet career in the sciences for sticking with what he does best.

    Whatever the case, this is a fascinating look into what made our heroes into the people we know and love.
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  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    * * *​

    The weather had not cooperated, but nobody appeared to give it much thought. The old Presidio parade ground at Starfleet Academy endured a light rain under misty San Francisco skies.

    The viewing stands were filled with a mix of dignitaries, Starfleet brass, and family members of Sagan’s crew, both those living as well as those fallen in the line of duty. Media drones darted about, selecting the best angles for holo-images of the event.

    A short line of officers, cadets, and enlisted personnel stood at attention. They were the twenty-seven survivors of the training starship Sagan, all that remained from that vessel’s compliment of four-hundred and thirty-nine souls. Behind them were arrayed forty-four flag draped coffins containing the remains of those of the crew killed on Arandis IV.

    Behind the coffins were rows of flag-shrouded photon torpedo tubes, representing the three-hundred sixty eight crewmembers killed aboard Sagan whose remains were vaporized in the destruction of that ship.

    The academy superintendent, Rear-Admiral Norah Satie ascended the dais and moved to the lectern.

    “All those arrayed here, both living and deceased, represent the best of Starfleet’s tradition of courageous service. You faced overwhelming odds with little hope of relief, yet you held your ground. Many gave their lives aboard Sagan to slow the enemy’s advance, and more fell defending the colony on the surface.

    “Your efforts guaranteed the safety of thousands of Federation citizens. I dearly hope that the lives you’ve saved make the terrible sacrifices you were forced to make more bearable.

    “We know that you are wounded, some in body, many in soul, and that your recovery will take time. We know that words alone cannot mend those hurts, and so as you defended the lives of those colonists, we solemnly pledge to support you as you take the necessary steps to recuperate from those injuries.

    “To demonstrate our collective gratitude for your actions, I am honored to bestow upon each of you the Starfleet Decoration for Valor and Gallantry, so nobly earned in defense of the Federation.”

    Satie paused in front of each individual, shaking their hand and pinning the medal to their dress uniform tunic. Holographic versions of the decoration appeared atop the caskets and photorp-tubes of the deceased, signifying the posthumous receipt of the honors that would be awarded to their families.

    The admiral arrived in front of Sandhurst, and as she affixed the decoration to his tunic she murmured, “Well done, Cadet.”

    He stood ramrod straight, eyes forward. “Thank you, sir.”

    The admiral decorated Lar’ragos next to him, and as she moved on down the line, Sandhurst murmured to the El Aurian sotto voce, “I don’t feel like a hero.”

    “Good,” Lar’ragos replied in a similar subdued tone. “You’re not.”

    The formation was dismissed after a handful of other dignitaries finished prepared speeches, and the viewing stands began to empty as family members and Starfleet luminaries made their way down to the parade ground to mingle or pay their respects to the fallen.

    Sandhurst raised a hand, waving to his parents who began heading towards the pair.

    “But aren’t we supposed to be heroes? The admiral said we were.”

    Lar’ragos grunted sourly. “That’s public relations. The only heroes were those who didn’t return. They gave up their futures, everything they might have done, might have been. You and I, we simply did our jobs and were lucky enough to live.”

    Sandhurst glanced sidelong at the much older man. “A job, is that all this is to you?”

    “That remains to be seen.” He touched a finger to the decoration pinned to his chest. “They obviously appreciate our efforts, hence these shiny bits of metal they gave us.”

    The younger cadet shook his head. “I really don’t understand you.”

    Lar’ragos nodded sagely as he prepared to meet Sandhurst’s family. “Yeah, I get that a lot.” He ran his hands over his form fitting cadet dress uniform, finally fishing an isolinear chip out of a hidden pocket. “Oh, before I forget, here’s your housing info for next term.”

    “Mine?” Sandhurst gave him a suspicious look. “Why do you have my housing chit?”

    Lar’ragos clapped him on the back gregariously as Sandhurst’s parents approached. “Because we’re going to be roomies, my friend! Won’t that be grand?”

    Sandhurst’s mother and father found him speechless, and attributed it to the magnitude of the event.

    * * * END * * *​
    Last edited: May 26, 2021
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  14. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    I don't know whether to be happy or scared for Sandhurst to have Pava as a roommate. However, I will say that I enjoyed this story immensely and I wouldn't mind seeing more of your work, Gibraltar. You write some truly monumental stories as do all of the United Trek authors.
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  15. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Apr 16, 2008
    I second that! This was a fascinating glimpse into who Pava wanted to be and who he had to become, while also showing us some of the trauma that Donald had to deal with that would eventually lead him to take drastic measures later in his career as a commanding officer...
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  16. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Jul 9, 2001
    The Hub of the Universe
    That was just outstanding, as always. And, as always, you've left me wanting more. Fortunately, I foresee a wealth of opportunities to explore the adventures of Cadets Sandhurst and Lar'ragos in our future, The Prophets willing. :bolian:
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  17. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Not much else I can add that hasn't already been said. Another damned fine piece of Trek literature and a memorable exploration of the early lives of two of my favorite UT characters.

    I too would love to see more retrospectives of this type in the future. Who am I kidding? I'm here for any type of Gibraltar story I can get my mitts on.
  18. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Aren't we all?
  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    **It occured to me upon review that this story wasn't quite finished. In my haste to wrap up the tale, I'd neglected to give some fine characters their due. I've a few epilogues to write yet.

    Northern Alberta, Canada

    The flitter whispered to a stop at the end of the gravel road, the ten hectare farm spread out before them at the mouth of the valley. The pair exited the air-car slowly, as though savoring the moment.

    The wind blustered and Cavanaugh raised the collar of her coat against its intrusion. She walked around the vehicle to where Morozov was gazing into the distance, absorbing the seemingly endless Northern Canadian vista.

    She hugged him tightly and he returned the embrace.

    “So… this is it?”

    “Da,” he intoned playfully in his mother tongue. “A house, a barn and several outbuildings. It can be as automated or back-breaking as we wish. When we’re feeling lazy, we can let the robots do all the work.”

    “Where’s the fun in that?” she replied, nuzzling her face into his collar for warmth. “Are you sure this is what you want, Evgeni?”

    “It is,” he assured her. “It reminds me of where I grew up, though this place is not quite as unforgiving as Siberia.”

    “And me?” she asked, looking at him directly. “You’re certain this isn’t just a fling? We’re not just clinging to each other because we’ve survived yet another tragedy while our friends didn’t?”

    Morozov grunted, dismissing the idea. “This is our reward, Irene. Decades of service, countless years of sacrifice and delayed gratification for the sake of our careers. Here is where it finally pays off.”

    Cavanaugh threaded her arm through his, turning to share his view out onto what was now their land. The concept seemed so foreign to her after a lifetime of transient existence aboard starships and starbases, outposts and hospitals. Home. She shook her head at the alienness of the idea.

    “It is our duty to love this place, to work the land however we see fit. Not just for ourselves, but for all those who will never have the chance. We’re living for them, too.“

    Cavanaugh sighed, nodding. “That’s a beautiful way to look at it.”

    “Here,” Morozov said, breaking their embrace and kneeling. He withdrew a trowel from his jacket pocket and dug a small hole in the fertile earth at their feet. Into the hole he dropped their now deactivated combadges. He filled in the hole and stepped on the dirt to compact it.

    “There, at least they’ll know how to find us,” he chuckled.

    “So we’re done… officially?” she asked, grinning.

    “Barring an emergency reservist activation, which hasn’t happened in almost a century, yes.”

    “The University of Alberta Hospital has accepted my transfer, and I can start there following my sabbatical.”

    “And how long is that, my dear?” he inquired.

    “As long as I damn well please,” she announced, smiling broadly.

    Morozov moved forward, then turned and offered Cavanaugh his hand. She grasped it and fell into step beside him, walking towards their new future together.

    “Home?” she asked.

    “Home,” he affirmed proudly.

    * * *​
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2021
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  20. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    I was just about to feel happy for those two clearly tired veterans finally finding some peace but then you had to drop in the foreshadowing:

    Barring an emergency reservist activation, which hasn’t happened in almost a century, yes.

    At lest they'll have a few quiet years together first ...
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