Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Sgt_G, Aug 6, 2013.

  1. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    This is a work in progress. I haven't touched it in several years (that in itself is a long story), but it's time for me to reconnect with it. I'm at twenty-six thousand words, and the ship hasn't left Starbase yet. The idea that this is a "short story" went out the window a long time ago.

    I was writing this story to fit in ADB's Star Fleet Battles universe, but they had little interest in a story this long and with little combat scenes. I guess I kind of got bogged down in character development.
  2. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    By: GLG
    © 2005-2013​

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Life in the service is full of adventure where the routine can become exciting and excitement becomes routine, and people are rarely what they first appear to be.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    “Unidentified civilian freighter, this is the Federation Police Cutter Magnum. I say again, lower your shields and stand by for a boarding party. We wish to make a health and safety inspection.” Lieutenant Commander Thomas Isenberg pressed a button on the arm of his command chair to turn off the transmitter. “They’re not listening, Chief, let’s give them a love-tap.”

    “Aye, sir. Targeting one phaser. Range one hundred and sixty thousand kilometers and closing,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Roger Guzman responded from the Operations console. It was normally an officer’s duty station, but as the Chief of the Boat with nearly twenty-two years of experience, Guzman was more qualified than any commissioned officer in the squadron. He looked over at the helmsman -- oh how glad he was Star Fleet had finally decided to drop that stupid ‘helms-woman’ title, “Don’t run over their wake, Ensign. They might have laid an egg.”

    “An egg?” She gave him a quizzical look. “What are you talking about, Chief?”

    “A mine, Stephanie,” Isenberg explained, “A transporter bomb rolled out the shuttle hatch. Not as big as a nuclear space mine, but it’ll still rock your world.”

    “Ah. I see.” She turned to look at the ship’s captain, still puzzled. “This is a civilian trader ship. If memory serves, they don’t carry such weaponry.”

    Isenberg suppressed a little chuckle. “They’re pirates, Stephanie, smugglers and thieves. Do you really expect them to play by the rulebook?”

    “Ah. Valid point.” She made a minor adjustment to the Cutter’s course. Isenberg noted, not for the first time, her lack of using ‘sir’ when addressing superior officers. Ensign Tillman’s a good troop, though lacking in proper military bearing. The commander filed that away to deal with later.

    Chief Guzman noticed the absence of protocol as well, but he wondered if he had earned enough of the commander’s trust yet to talk to him about it. Isenberg had assumed command only a month ago, and although it was his first official command, he seemed comfortable enough already. He might not be the best skipper the chief had ever served under, but he’d do okay in the long run. Still, it might be too early to broach such a delicate subject with him.

    “Any reply, Chief?”

    “Negative, sir. But sensor replay analysis confirms they did squirt off a microburst transmission right after we made contact. Range now one-fifty; phaser crew standing by for your order, sir.”

    “Tag him.”

    They heard and felt the whine of the Number Two phaser as its lethal energy reached across the void to wash across the tramp freighter’s aft shield. At point-blank range, it could have ripped most of the shield away; at this range, it barely dented it. Still, it was more than enough to get the crew’s attention.

    “They’re charging weapons, sir.”

    Isenberg opened the channel again, “This is the Cutter Magnum. Strike your colors and prepare to be boarded. We can outrun you and outgun you. Chief, max load to the photon torpedo.” He closed the channel again, intentionally waiting until after he ordered the cutter’s primary weapon charged. He wanted the freighter’s captain to hear that he was fully prepared for combat, if needed.

    “Bridge; Science Officer here. I’m reading on an asteroid field up ahead. Volume is approximately one point six cubic light-seconds, density class-eight. There’s very little iron or other heavy metal, but I’m showing concentrations of aluminum, titanium and magnesium.”

    “Acknowledged, Ben. Isenberg out. If he goes in there, Chief, we’ll never dig him out.”

    “Aye, sir. I’ve been in worse. Although, with all that titanium ore, it’d be near impossible to keep a lock on his hull. Might even give Shimmer some pause.” Memories from half a lifetime ago flooded the chief’s thoughts of his love-hate relationship with then-Petty Officer Third Class Sahani, possibly the best sensor tech ever to wear a Star Fleet uniform. Many a pirate accused her of being a witch; some of her crewmates had a rhyming-word to describe her. Chief Guzman recollected the longest five hours of his life when, as helmsman on the J. Wilson and as green as the ensign beside him now, he piloted that Cutter through a class-eleven asteroid field. In a nerve-racking game of cat-and-mouse, they hunted down a Privateer-class convoy raider. Were it not for Sarisha Sahani playing the cat, that mouse would have gotten away.

    He didn’t want to lose this one, either. “We’re closing range at thirty thousand per minute ... make it four minutes to intercept, and six minutes thirty to the field. Not a problem, sir, we’ll get him,” the chief declared with satisfaction. “I just hope he doesn’t have friends waiting for him inside.”

    Isenberg considered this for a moment. “Let’s hope we don’t find out the hard way. Give him a double-tap, Chief.” He opened the channel again. “Civilian freighter, this is your last warning. We know you’re smuggling at least two hundred kilos of zap. I have no qualms about blowing drug runners out of the sky. Your choice.” He saw a shocked look on Ensign Tillman’s face: obviously, she didn’t play poker. Yet another thing he’d have to correct.

    “Phasers ready, sir.”

    “Fire.” Again, they heard and felt a whine of phaser fire, then another a half-second later.

    “They’re slowing, sir. Weapons are off line. Slowing ... slowing ... full stop. They’ve dropped forward and starboard shields. Guess they don’t trust us enough to drop the facing shield.” The chief grinned.

    “Bring us to twenty thousand kilometers off their port quarter, Stephanie. Stand by on the tractor beams, just in case they try to bolt. And keep an eye on the asteroid field; I don’t want any surprise visitors. Sergeant McKendrey, are your Marines ready to go?”

    “Ooh-rah!” The Marine posted by the door snapped from parade-rest to the position of attention. “They were born ready, sir!” Isenberg ran a hand over his face to hide the grimace. Jarheads. For better or for worse, they’ll never change.

    “So what are you waiting for, Sergeant? You’re leading this team. Get over there and find that contraband.”

    If that surprised the Marine, it never showed on his face. Isenberg knew his predecessor required an officer lead all boarding parties. “Aye aye, sir!” McKendrey executed a parade-field perfect about-face and marched off the bridge.

    The commander shook his head as watched the Marine NCO depart. His attention turned back to the main view screen, as they were now close enough for a visual of the freighter. Wide and squat, it was designed for rough landings onto planets without modern spaceports. He recalled the specifications and layout: eighty-two meters bow to stern, including the twin fifteen-meter warp drive units extending aft, fifty meters abeam and ten meters top to bottom. The bow was a blunt curve designed for atmospheric entry, and save for the main propulsion nacelles, the ship was devoid of wings, fins or other major protrusions.

    Internally, the forward two-thirds consisted of three decks of living areas and other ship functions. The forward cargo bay on the lower deck was a customizable fifteen by twenty-five meter space that could be converted to passenger quarters, troop barracks or facilities for specialized missions. During his last year of Star Fleet Academy, then-Midshipman Isenberg served on just such a ship configured for ore processing and assaying searching for new dilithium sources. The aft third of the ship, split into two over-height decks, was dedicated to cargo storage, the shuttle bay and engineering. In total, the ship had over seventy-five hundred cubic-meters of cargo room, if packed to the rafters, though a typical load only required three- to four-thousand cubic-meters.

    “Incoming message, sir,” Chief Guzman said. “Priority Two, encryption level gamma, from Star Base Thirteen. And the freighter is hailing us.”

    “Decode it. Put him on main viewer.” A moment later, the image of space dissolved and was replaced by that of a strikingly beautiful woman with an olive complexion, jet-black hair and deep brown eyes. She did not look happy.

    “I am Madre Rosalina Chavez del la Casa Serena-Domingo, of the Free Trader Santa Maria. You are?” Isenberg knew this wasn’t the Santa Maria; he already had the ship identified as the Harmony, which Star Fleet Intelligence knew to be wholly owned and operated by the Daven Cartel, one of a dozen crime syndicates operating throughout known space.

    “As I announced in our first two hails, Madre,” he was polite enough to use her proper title, even if it might not be hers to rightfully claim, “I am Lieutenant Commander Thomas Isenberg of the Federation Patrol Cutter Magnum. Please stand by to receive a health and safety inspection team.”

    She frowned, which did not detract from her beauty. “Health and safety inspection,” she said dryly. “So you lied when you said you believe we’re carrying drugs. I am surprised at you, Commander. I had thought such deceitfulness was beneath the police.”

    “Of course it is,” he smiled at her. God, she was beautiful. Just his luck she was on the opposite side of the law. “But I didn’t lie to you. We have information that a shipment, including a dozen crates of rare artwork stolen from the historical museum and enough zap for an army of addicts, left Cygnus six days ago on a ship just like yours, right down to the noisy impulse drive.”

    “I may be many things, Commander, but I am not a thief.” She was seething. “And I am certainly not a drug runner! You’re more than welcome to come over here and look for yourself. I’ll accept red wine or chocolate with your apology. Santa Maria out,” and with that, the connection closed. Thomas Isenberg told himself he just had to meet this woman.

    “She’s dropped her shields, sir.” Well, her ship’s shields were down, Chief Guzman thought, but her shields were firmly in place. Which was more than he could say for his skipper. “Looks like two people on the bridge, three in engineering, and nineteen on the lower deck, in the forward cargo hold. That message is decrypted and on your display.”

    “Very well. I’ve got it.” Isenberg pressed a button, “Sergeant, you may beam over whenever you’re ready.”

    Over the speaker, they heard the Marine reply, “Aye aye, sir, energizing now. Semper Fi!” followed immediately by the whirl of the transporter in action.

    “I should have known they’d be standing on the pads,” the commander said to no one in particular. He quickly read the message, then read it again to make sure he understood it right. “They have got to be kidding! Open a secure channel to Sergeant McKendrey.”

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
  3. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Ten humanoid-forms materialized in the freighter’s main cargo hold: McKendrey and seven other Marines, and a corpsman and a forensics technician both wearing Federation Police uniforms. The sergeant made a single hand gesture, and the team fanned out in a well-rehearsed choreography. Within seconds, the Marines had secured the room. The techie scanned the area, then shook her head to indicate that she found nothing suspicious.

    McKendrey pointed to the label on the nearest crate; the techie scanned it and nodded that the contents were as marked: field rations, boots, blankets, emergency medical supplies, portable shelters, and short-ranged communications gear. Just about everything needed for a Boy Scout camping trip ... or ground-combat support for a small army.

    The NCO held up two fingers then pointed towards the engineering compartment. Four Marines moved to the door: two took up positions to cover the door; the other two stood on either side of it. One hit the control, and the door slide open. When nothing happened for a five-count, two marines entered. After a moment, one of them gave a thumbs-up signal. Then he pointed two fingers to his eyes, held up three fingers, then turned his palm down and waggled his fingers as if typing on a keyboard: ‘All is okay, I see three persons working.’

    Their team leader gave them a thumps-up, and then indicated for the rest of the team to move to the forward cargo hold. It was like an instant replay of the previous scene, except that the entire team (less the two left in engineering) entered the compartment two at a time. There they found, to McKendrey’s surprise, the freighter’s entire crew lined up like Boot Camp recruits waiting for a Commandant’s inspection. Most were human, though there were a few other humanoid races represented: a Vulcan, two Brecon (almost always found in pairs off their home world), an Andorian and two from inside the Klingon Empire. At least there weren’t any ethnic Klingons in the bunch.

    A woman of apparent Hispanic descent, a total knockout in this Marine’s opinion, took one step forward. Her arm flinched as if she started to salute. The Marine marched up to her, came to the position of attention, and saluted. “Ma’am, Sergeant McKendrey of the Federation Marine Corps reporting. My team and I are under orders to perform a health and safety inspection of your ship.”

    She returned his salute. “I invited your Commander Isenberg to come aboard.”

    “Yes, ma’am. I’m sure the Skipper’s looking forward to meeting you in person.” The Marine figured that was a safe bet. She was being overly cooperative, so it was also a fair bet that she was hiding something. He toggled his comm-unit and reported to his ship, “Magnum, Magnum, this is Colt One-Five,” he waited for the reply before continuing. “All secure, beginning inspection, request you send over the technical support team. I believe the lady was expecting you to come over personally, sir.” He listened to his ear-bug for half a minute then said, “Understood, sir, will do. Colt One-Five out.”

    The forensics tech caught his eye. She was intently scanning the many crates filling three-quarters of the hold. He checked his own tricorder; its warning screen indicated the presence of nearly fifteen hundred metric tons of chemical explosives. He stepped over to read a label: ammunition, chemical propellant, small arms, 6.23 mm. Most of the crates were marked as such; some contained 11.5 mm handgun ammo, fragmentation grenades, and anti-personnel mines ... all low-tech by modern standards but still quite effective. There were even two crates of 41-millimeter armor-piercing rounds.

    Before he could fully consider the implications of the find, his thoughts were interrupted when one of the Privates exclaimed, “Hey, El-tee!” The sergeant turned around to see what caused the outburst. His eyes flicked from his subordinate to the line of civilians and back. He hoped he hid his own surprise well.

    “The lieutenant is on leave, DeWitt. Pay attention.”

    “Oh, right, Sarge,” the team’s newest member replied sheepishly. McKendrey checked his desire to rip the kid’s head off. ‘L.T.?’ ‘Sarge?’ Just who did he think he was -- a Star Fleet engineer? No wonder some of the other Marines had taken to calling him ‘Dimwit,’ something he’d better put a stop to before Gunny Thorns finds out. “Wha'd we do with 'em?”, DeWitt asked. McKendrey didn't know if he was serious, or actually covering up his mistake.

    Sergeant McKendrey turned to face the civilian crew, put his hands on his hips in an unconscious imitation of his old Drill Sergeant, and turned his head to slowly look from one end of the line to the other. “Cuff them,” he ordered. “And make sure you search them.”

    “Is that necessary?”

    “Yes, Ma’am. For their safety as much as ours.” She shrugged and held out her arms, wrists together.

    “Not you, Ma’am. Just your crew.” That might not be the wisest decision from a purely tactical point of view, but McKendrey had learned to weigh political etiquette against tactical considerations. Nevertheless, he wasn’t going to take undue risks. “Watch her,” he ordered the one female Marine on the team, “Don’t let her out of your sight for any reason.”

    “Aye aye, Sergeant,” she responded and smiled sweetly at the civilian. Although she was ‘just’ a female, she was also the tallest, most intimidating member of the entire platoon. If the lady had any ideas of causing trouble, she forgot them at the sight of that predatory smile.

    Five more of the Magnum’s personnel materialized near the door to the main cargo hold. One of them, a Marine corporal, stood only about four feet tall but looked to be about as wide at the shoulder. If he wore a beard, he’d be mistaken for a dwarf straight out of a fantasy legend. In actuality, Corporal Ackar was a Prellarian, a native of a high-gravity planet. The other four new arrivals were Police Force crewmen; two of them were Petty Officers Second Class, equivalent rank as a Marine Sergeant, but Legalman First Class Foster outranked him and could, technically, assume command of the mission. McKendrey wondered how this would play out. He didn’t know Foster very well and had never worked with him before, so he wasn’t sure what to expect.

    “You’re up early, Corporal.”

    “Couldn’t sleep,” his voice rumbled like a tuba, “Figured you could use a hand.”

    “Take over here. I want them all searched and cuffed. You two,” he pointed to Private DeWitt and Lance Corporal Porterfield, “Go up and secure the bridge.”

    “Where do you need me, Sergeant?” asked the Legalman.

    “Would you go to the bridge and check the ship’s records and manifest, please?”

    “Sure thing.” He followed the two Marines out. That went well, McKendrey thought.

    “Okay, you know the drill. Pair up and scan the rest of the ship,” he ordered the four Police personnel. Each pair had a techie to do the scanning and a Boatswain’s Mate from the maintenance department who would know where to look for hidden compartments. He turned back to the lady captain, “Ma’am, I can’t wait to see what’s in the upper cargo holds. Please escort me there.” He had a pretty good idea what he’d find there.

    They left three marines and the corpsman behind to guard the crew and climbed a spiral staircase up to the port side hold. As McKendrey suspected, they found more field rations, more medical supplies, and more ammunition ... and weapons to fire the ammunition from. He opened a crate, retrieved an assault rifle and examined it with professional interest. He was impressed with the simplicity of the design that would fit the hands (or what passed for hands) of nearly any sentient being in known space.

    The civilian took it from him and slid the action back. “Always make sure a slug-thrower is clear when you handle it,” she admonished him. “This weapon fires six point two-three millimeter rounds, propelled by either a chemical explosive or hyper-compressed gas. The slugs are usually copper, lead or depleted uranium, and I can get soft-stun, tracer and explosive rounds, too. Seeker rounds aren’t worth the price. But if you’re trying to take a ship or space station, you’d want to use frangible rounds.” McKendrey already noticed she didn’t have any, which told him these were being sent dirt-side. “A thirty-five round clip or a two hundred round drum goes in here. Or you can break the weapon open to fold this down and feed a belt in through this slot. This selector sets it to safe, single shot, four-round burst, slow-auto at a hundred and fifty rounds per minute, or full-auto at over nine hundred per minute.”

    She hefted its three point eight kilogram mass to a firing position, with its butt firmly against her shoulder and her cheek rolled on the side of the stock. “Even with the iron sights, I can knock down a humanoid-size target at four hundred and fifty meters. The specs claim a maximum effective range of about two klicks, but in real world use, the killing range is only half a kay. Less for the average shooter. There are a variety of scopes available, including IR / UV and E-M scanner, but I only have a couple dozen ten-power optical scopes and a handful of light-enhancing sights.” She put the weapon back in its case.

    “Impressive.” The sergeant ran some mental calculations: five weapons per case, stacked five cases high, in two rows of ten stacks each. Whoa. Five hundred rifles -- that’ll arm a pretty fair-sized army. Or a revolution. He found three crates of 11.5 mm automatic handguns, fifty per crate, and a dozen 20-mm bolt-action long-guns with variable-power sniper scopes. An expert marksman could reach out and touch someone three or four kilometers away with one of those. But the real treat was the pair of 41-mm anti-tank guns. Tripod-mounted and over two meters long, they looked like it’d take two men and a boy, literally, to carry them. The freighter captain proudly demonstrated those as well.

    She really knew how to handle her weapons, and the NCO said as much. “Why, thank you, Sergeant. That’s high praise coming from a Marine.” Her tone was filled with humor, so he wasn’t sure whether she meant that sincerely, or sarcastically. “You are Marines, no? You’re not in the Police Force, right?” He nodded. “So, is the Corps taking over police duty ... pirates getting too rough for the real cops?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

    He didn’t answer.

    It was a question he was tired of answering. Everyone knew that all Patrol Cutters belonged to the Federation Police Force, which, unlike the Merchant Fleet, Marine Corps and other such agencies, had yet to be absorbed into Star Fleet Command. Indeed, most people knew that it was very unlikely that Star Fleet would ever absorb the Police -- at least, not without a drastic shift in the political climate at the upper echelons of the Federation. However, few people realized the level of cooperation between Star Fleet and the Police, or that many Cutters have a Star Fleet liaison officer or two assigned. On the other hand, it was unusual to find Marines serving on a Police boat, and never a whole platoon before.

    She persisted, “Perhaps Klingons are too tough for Marines, so you decided to try something easier.” That twinkle faded as she realized, from the look on McKendrey’s face, that was the wrong thing to say. “Then again, I can’t think of anything you guys won’t tackle. So, what is this ... purgatory? Don’t tell me you’ve been a bad little soldier and got sent to the screw-up squad.”

    “No, Ma’am, this is a special duty assignment. We were hand-picked for it.” That wasn’t the whole story, of course. McKendrey didn’t know the whole story; all he knew is four months prior, his company was broken up into three detached platoons, each assigned to Patrol Cutters based along the Klingon border. No reason was given, and nobody asked for his opinion back then, of course; if they had, he would have told them it was the dumbest idea the Corp ever came up with -- probably another great idea dreamed up by some Major someplace bucking for Lieutenant Colonel. Today he’d admit, however grudgingly, the experience was well worth the hassles. If nothing else, his team got more combat experience then they could have in a year’s worth of sims.

    “I see. And what about Thomas Isenberg -- he’s still in Star Fleet, no? Or did they kick him down to the minor leagues?” referring, of course, to the fact that nearly a third of the command officers in the Police Force transferred over from Star Fleet, usually straight out of Academy.

    The Marine gave a little shrug, “I thought the Skipper’s always been a cop, Ma’am.”

    An impish little smile crossed her lips “No, he wasn’t. I know that much for a fact.” She rubbed her chin thoughtfully, “So, what we have is a Police Cutter commanded by an ex-Star Fleet officer, with a company of Marines instead of a Police Tac-Team, looking for high-value Orion Syndicate targets. Let me guess: Special Ops. You’ve got a PRIME TEAM onboard, don’t you?”

    McKendrey sighed. True, rumor had it Prime Central had its own secret little fleet (or not-so-little, depending on the rumor), including four or five Cutters, several tramp freighters like the one they were on now, and even a Light Cruiser or two. Or so rumor had it. Funny how everyone talking about said mythical ships was always ‘a friend of a friend of a friend’ of somebody that was served on one -- never a closer link than that. “No, Ma’am ... but even if we did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

    “Oh, is it one of those ‘I can tell you, but then I’d have to kill you’ deals?” she smiled.

    “Something like that. I’d rather not have to, though,” he returned her smile, “the paperwork is a royal pain. Shall we continue the inspection?” McKendrey gestured forward as he noticed some equipment that, on closer inspection, turned out to be a trio of ammunition reloading machines. Someone was planning for the long-term. But who? They crossed through the shuttle bay into the starboard cargo hold. Its contents were an exact match to that in the portside hold. He wondered where this arsenal was heading for. With any luck, Petty Officer Foster will have turned something up in the ship’s log. The sergeant led the two women back down to the forward cargo hold.

    One pair of inspectors was back already; they reported that while they found nothing of interest in the starboard half of the ship, they did see the other team discussion something with Legalman Foster on the middle deck. However, the Corporal reported that one of the civilian crewmen had a dagger hidden on him, and the corpsman’s medical scans found traces of both zap and flash in his system.

    Zap had been around for about twenty-five years; flash was the newest in a growing list of xeno-narcotics to hit the streets. Xeno-narcotics are a class of synthetic bio-chemicals that, unlike traditional drugs, affect most sentient races with similar, and often tragic, results. McKendrey wondered again for about the millionth time why an obvious genius would spend so much time and effort creating something that could do nothing but destroy lives.

    The civilian captain’s reaction surprised and shocked the Marines: she was absolutely livid. They had to physically restrain her from carrying out her threat to throw the crewman out the air lock. She’d have to be an award-winning actress to fake that much passion. They barely had her under control -- McKendrey threatened to put her in cuffs -- when Foster returned with the other inspection team.

    The techie’s scan picked up zap residue in the laundry facility, and she had a possible indicator coming from one of the crew quarters. When the sergeant asked what they found on a search, Foster told them they didn’t have enough probable cause to go into the compartment.

    “Excuse me? If the tricorder shows contraband, what more probable cause did you need?”

    “Not my call to make, Sergeant, it’s yours,” Foster explained. “If it was a clear-cut case, I would have gone in on my own authority. It wasn’t, so I’m bringing it to you as the team leader. The thing is, we couldn’t tell how old the residue was. Remember, officially we’re on a health and safety inspection, so we don’t have a search warrant to open locked compartments. We don’t need one, legally, if we have a reasonable suspicion that will hold up in court. In this case, we’d need to establish a timeframe to prove the drugs were put there recently. Either that, or we’d need some other corroborating information to suggest the presence of drugs on this ship.

    “So, it’s your call, Sergeant, but I figured you’d want a good search so the evidence is admissible in court,” the Legalman continued. He’s not being condescending, McKendrey thought: he’s actually trying to keep me from screwing up the mission. “Another option is to ask Madre Chavez for permission to search her crew’s private quarters. Of course, we might not be able to prove which of the three crewmen that share that quarters owns the drugs.”

    “Let me guess: the port side forward quarters, by the nav-deflector, right?”

    “Yes, Madre.”

    “That one there,” the sergeant pointed with his thumb to a sandy-hair slip of a boy that looked like he belonged on a farm on some back-water world, “popped up on med-scan for zap and flash. His bunk?” Chavez nodded.

    “That’s enough probable cause for a good no-warrant search,” Foster confirmed.

    The team leader turned to the techie, “How much do you think is in there?”

    “A hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty grams, Sergeant.”

    “We’re looking for a couple hundred keys.”

    She shook her head. “No way. That much zap would have lit up on the scans like a supernova as soon as we beamed over.”

    Sergeant McKendrey considered this. “Does he have a record?” The Corporal shook his head no. The Marine looked at the Legalman; their eyes locked, and he wondered if the Petty Officer had a psi-rating. Perhaps it was just the depth of his own thoughts, but McKendrey felt like he could hear Foster’s voice in his head. He made up his mind.

    “Who bunks with him?” he asked the civilian crew. He pointed to one of the two that moved. “Un-cuff that one. You three; go with him to his quarters. Find the zap; if there’s less than two hundred grams, jettison it out a trash shoot. Then pack his belongings,” he indicated to the suspect, “and bring it back here.”

    “My stuff? What do you want that for?” asked the suspect.

    “Well, it can stay here if you want, but you’re coming with us.”

    “What? No! You can’t! Don’t do this to me,” the suspect pleaded, “Oh, please, I don’t want to go to jail!” He dropped to his knees, sobbing.

    “Oh, knock it off! You’re not under arrest,” Petty Officer Foster replied in disgust, “We’re taking you in under protective custody. If we leave you here, she’ll probably kill you.” That wasn’t a small risk. “Of course, our chief medical officer will recommend a compulsory rehab treatment.” Thank heavens they found a way to wean zap addicts off it. Star Fleet Medical Command spent nearly a decade developing a therapy regiment that didn’t include a lifetime of controlled daily doses of the narcotic, with all the inherent risks of psychological damage. “Hope you don’t have any plans for the next four to six months.”

    “Six months? But ... but ....”

    “Shut up already! Save your tears for the judge.”

    “Who bunks with this one here?” the sergeant pointed out another crewman. “Help them pack up his junk, too,” he ordered.

    “Hey, you can’t waltz in here and start taking all my crew!” Chavez exclaimed. “What do you want him for?”

    “You’ll have to ask the Skipper, Ma’am. All I was told is he’s a material witness for a case, but that usually means they haven’t figured out what charges to file yet.” Obviously, that didn’t satisfy the Madre, but she didn’t argue. She just folded her arms across her chest and glared daggers at him. McKendrey sighed and turned to the senior Petty Officer. “What did you make from the ship’s log?”

    Foster handed him a data-pad. “Here’s their itinerary, which matches the nav-log thus far. If someone sliced into the nav-comp, they’d have to be a real artist to fake these logs. And the manifest is right here ... interesting cargo but nothing blatantly illegal. I took the liberty of transmitting all this over to the Magnum already.”

    “Good,” the Marine said absently, not looking up from his reading, “that’ll save some time. Thanks.” The manifest appeared to match what he had seen with his own eyes. Hmmm, grenade launchers ... he missed those. And the body armor, too. Diapers? Baby food? What gives? He checked the nav-log for the past six months: the Santa Maria had a regular run between Shiloh at the edge of the Federation to the disputed planet Zursk between the Klingon Empire and the Kzinti Hegemony, with occasional trips to the Klingon colony on Farlin or the Kzinti world in the Lumien system. And frequent stops at Mad Jack’s Hole -- what a pit that place is! It’s nothing more than a safe-haven for thieves, smugglers and other assorted scum. He searched for the shipping contract entry listing where they were heading with their current cargo.

    And the winner is ... Rio Verde. Well, hello! Named for its numerous river systems and lush swampy jungles, Rio Verde was an illegal Earth colony of approximately eight thousand people on the edge of Kzinti territory. The Hegemony fought two wars against the United Federation of Planets over perceived territorial expansion, not to mention the massacre at Allen’s Planet, and the presence of humans on Rio Verde was on the verge of setting off yet another confrontation regardless of the current treaty. So that’s what the pretty lady was trying to hide. He toggled his comm-unit on.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
  4. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Thomas Isenberg drummed him fingers impatiently. Lieutenants Bin-Yi Xiong and Benjamin Franklin Dupree, the ship’s Intelligence Officer and Science Officer, respectively, were still poring over the log files Petty Officer Foster had extracted from the freighter’s computers. In addition to their current duty responsibilities, the first was an expert computer programmer and database management, and the other held degrees in criminal and inter-planetary trade law. Between the two of them, they could mine useful data even from the most creatively forged document; there wasn’t a better information-forensics team in the squadron. That did not mean, however, that they were the fastest data miners around.

    Finally, Lieutenant Dupree turned to his commanding officer, “Either this is the best fakery I’ve ever seen, sir, or Captain Chavez doesn’t believe in cooking the books.”

    “Or Foster was able to locate her private copy,” interjected the Intelligence Officer. Some freight masters would keep two sets of books: a real set they kept hidden and a doctored-up set to show the authorities. “At any rate, the logs appear reasonably accurate, although there are a few gaps where someone might have deleted some data. Give me a couple hours with their computer and I should be able to reconstruct it.”

    “We don’t have time, Bin,” Isenberg dismissed the idea, “I have to make a decision now whether let them go or to take them back to Star Base with us. Ben, is there any evidence of illegal activity?”

    Lieutenant Dupree took a thoughtful moment before replying. “No, sir. Nothing that would hold up in court. There’s a lot of cross-border trade into both Klingon and Kzinti space. That usually implies a smuggling operation, but in this case it appears more like a black market trade. Since they can’t take cargo directly from the Klingon Empire to Kzinti space, or vice versa, what they’re doing is shipping cargo into the Federation, repackaging it, and shipping it back out to dealers on the other side. Mostly, they’re running luxury goods, exotic items and personal technologies, but there’s no evidence at all of drugs, animals or slaves.”

    It takes forever to get an answer out of him, Isenberg thought, but once he starts talking he doesn’t know when to stop. And he didn’t really answer the question at hand, “So, what do we have on them? What’s their destination this run? And what happened to the crates missing from Cygnus?”

    Before the lawyer could formulate a response, the speaker activated. “Magnum, Magnum, Colt One-Five.” Isenberg told the Marine to report. “Sir, negative contraband found, except for a personal-use weight stash of zap. I had it jettisoned and am holding the addict for medical treatment. Have eyes-on confirmation of cargo manifest: over a thousand low-tech small-arms weaponry bound for the Rio Verde colony. Also, we have your material witness in custody. Standing by for your orders, sir. And Madre Chavez wishes to speak to you.”

    “Acknowledge, Sergeant. Wait one. How about it, Ben? The Kzinti aren’t too happy to have ‘plant eaters’ settling in their space; they’ll have a conniption fit if it turns into an armed camp.”

    “Well, sir,” Dupree started slowly, “a single shipping document won’t hold up in court, especially since the cargo hasn’t been delivered yet. Also, Rio Verde is technically outside Federation jurisdiction, and we don’t enforce Kzinti import regulations. Captain Chavez doesn’t need a dealer’s permit because slug-throwers are classified as collector items ... it’s a loophole in the law, but only energy weapons are controlled. We can charge her for aiding and abetting illegal exploitation of planetary resources, but the odds of successful prosecution are very low.”

    “In other words, even if we do haul them in, we have no legal grounds to impound the cargo. The colonists on Rio Verde will get their hands on the weapons, or some other weapons, no matter what we do.” The commander rubbed the back of his head, noting that little bald spot was getting a bit bigger. “And just where the blazes is the zap we’re supposed to be looking for?”

    Bin and Ben looked at each other, then the Intel Officer said, “On the Harmony, sir, several hundred light-years on the other side of Cygnus, bound for the planet Meva.”

    “What!” Isenberg bolted out of the command chair as if stuck by a needle. “But ... isn’t ...” he sputtered, “That is the Harmony right there!” He pointed at the main view screen, “You said so yourself, Ben, that the ship was last seen leaving Cygnus six days ago. We homed in on her noisy impulse drive like a beacon.”

    “No, sir, that’s the Santa Maria,” Lieutenant Dupree said apologetically. “They put another baffle plate in the propulsion manifold to alter the sub-space resonance field. We’ve been ‘had’, sir.”

    “You’re sure this time?”

    “Yes, sir. We cross-checked the registration on file to her Brass Plate and all the serial numbers.” It would have been nice to have that bit of information earlier. “According to Captain Chavez’s comm-logs, she received a sub-space signal from the Harmony two days ago requesting she pick up some Kzinti spiced rum. They talked business plans for twenty minutes. We have Harmony’s tentative schedule for the next three months.”

    The commander sat back down with a perturbed harrumph. Yes, they had been had. He re-opened the channel to contact the boarding party, “Sergeant, stand down and come back home. We found what we needed to know. Pass my regards to Madre Chavez, please.”

    “Aye, sir. The lady would like a word with you. We’re beaming over now. Colt One-Five, out.” Isenberg closed the link, and then indicated to the main viewer when the hail came in.

    Rosalina Chavez’s image appeared on the screen, as beautiful as before even though she was on a tirade. “Are you quite satisfied, Commander? You chase my ship down like a band of pirates; then you force a platoon of apes on board. They harassed my crew, tore the place half apart, invaded my personal ....”

    “Harassed your crew?” the Cutter’s captain interrupted. “Was there a problem in the way my Marines conducted themselves, Madre?”

    She was obviously taken aback with that question. “And if there was?” she asked with a devious little smile.

    “If there was, I shall have a nice, long talk with Sergeant McKendrey,” he told her with all seriousness.

    After a long pause, she replied with a smile, “No, Commander, they were perfect gentlemen, every single one of them. Unlike yourself, what with making a lady wait forever. Don’t you know that the man should wait for a woman, not the other way around?” She put her hands on her hips in mock indignity. “I invited you to come over personally, and instead you send a bunch of storm-troopers.”

    “Well, you know how it goes, Madre -- procedures and all. A ship’s captain has the least amount of freedom of any of the crew, you know.”

    “Only in Star Fleet, which is why I got out,” she answered, which surprised Isenberg to no end. “Well?”

    “Oh, you’re free to go. But you should know that your impulse drive is out of whack. I’m going to file an RPI on it, so you’ll have to have it back into factory specs by the next time you dock at any Federation facility.” Just as with Health and Safety Inspections, the Police took the relatively minor regulation covering Repair and Present for Inspection tickets and turned it into a useful tool to combat smuggling and other illegal activity. With the RPI on file, the Federation Police had a legal reason to inspect this ship any time it should dock at a Federation facility for the next three years. And of course, any evidence that they might find ‘in plain sight’ would stand up in court.

    “What? No chocolate bonbons? Or a bottle of wine? Not even a rose for the fair lady?” She pouted. He melted.

    “No. I’m sorry, but we don’t keep alcohol onboard. And I try to stay away from sweets,” he patted his belly. “Besides, we must be on our way. We have to go hunt down some real criminals. Perhaps some other time?” He really hoped there might be another time.

    “Oh, Thomas, you didn’t apologize for stealing two of my crewmen,” she said with a devious smile, “that’s going to cost you dinner.” She blew him a kiss, and the screen went dark.

    Commander Isenberg felt like every pair of eyes on the bridge were staring at him. “Shall I plot a course for Meva, sir?” He thanked the Maker for Chief Guzman.

    “No, Chief, we’ve been recalled to Star Base Thirteen. We have to be there by noon tomorrow.”

    “Aye, sir, plotting the course now.” It took a minute or so to finish the calculations. The transporter operator reported in: all personnel had safely returned to the ship. “Wow. We’ll have to hustle to get there in time. I make it Warp Factor eight point eight-five, sir.”

    “Shouldn’t we contact the authorities on Meva to be on the lookout for the other freighter?” asked Ensign Tillman.

    “No, Stephanie, it’s not going to Meva,” Isenberg replied. “Take us to Warp, please.” She nodded and worked the controls.

    “They’re not?” asked Lieutenant Xiong. Then he thought about it. “No, I guess they wouldn’t, would they? Meva is in the Dragon Cartel’s territory ... there’s no way the Daven Cartel would risk a turf war for such a small shipment of drugs.”

    After a long moment of silence, Lieutenant Dupree spoke, “Well, perhaps we should send out an All Points to be on the lookout for that ship. Someone else should be able to home in on that noisy engine.”

    The commander sighed. For such smart people, they don’t think things through sometimes. “Ben, the Santa Maria’s impulse drive was rigged intentionally, no? I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that there are at least three other freighters out there rigged up the same way, and not one of them is the Harmony.”

    Dupree made a silent “oh” as he thought about it. Ensign Tillman leaned over and in a quiet voice whispered, “Chief, what’s a dollar?”

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  5. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Some say a transporter feels like being in a room full of gnats or having bugs crawl all over you, others say it’s like getting a mild electrical shock. For Marine Sergeant McKendrey, it was more like being buried under a dozen heavy quilts: warm and soothing, but suffocating. As the machine’s whine faded to an echo and the sparkling stopped, he took a deep breath and stepped off the platform.

    As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t relax just yet. He had to do a head-count to make sure everyone returned okay, inventory all equipment and weapons, check that no one brought any ‘souvenirs’ back, and counter-sign all the initial field reports. He thanked the transporter operator and lead the other six members with him to the ready room, where the first ten to beam over should be waiting. All of a sudden, things weren’t going as smoothly as they had over on the freighter.

    On the initial head-count, four people were missing: two of his Marines and the two from the civilian freighter. Next, the Prellarian corporal, having beamed over with the first group, had already started the equipment check, and Petty Officer Foster was uploading the field reports to the ship’s computer. To top it all off, Private DeWitt had sliced his thumb open playing with the dagger they’d confiscated.

    “Ahem. Isn’t that my job, Corporal?”

    “Nope. You’re the team leader now, Sergeant. You’ve got other things to do. Go do them and let me do this.” That was about the longest string of words anyone had ever heard come from the Prellarian at one time. He motioned for McKendrey’s pistol-gripped Type-Two phaser and other equipment. The NCO shrugged and handed it over, checking the weapon to make sure it was on SAFE setting first. He still had his smaller Type-One hand-phaser attached his belt, as well as his personal communicator.

    The junior non-commissioned officer noticed this and commented, “That’s not a bad idea.” McKendrey remembered back to when he was issued the hand-phaser, just after his own promotion to Corporal ... as an NCO, he was authorized to carry a weapon even when not on watch. A couple weeks later, his platoon raided a slaver ship. Combat was inevitable. In his excitement, McKendrey forgot to put his hand-phaser in the armory locker, as was standard procedure, when he signed out a phaser rifle. It was a simple, honest mistake that turned out to be rather fortuitous.

    Soon after they boarded the slaver, things went to hell in a hand basket. His squad walked into a trap. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Marines desperately fought the criminals at close quarters. In the struggle, one of the enemy, an ethnic Klingon, swatted McKendrey’s rifle away and knocked him down, ready to cleave him open with a very nasty looking sword. Something dug into the small of his back. He reached instinctively to rub the injury and discovered the hand-phaser still attached to his belt. He rolled and fired: the look on the Klingon’s face was priceless. Limited to heavy stun, the little phaser was still enough to save his live and the lives of his squad, and earned McKendrey a medal for valor.

    “Yeah, it saved my butt more than once,” he grinned. He didn’t bother to mention that he had never checked to see what the regulations said about carrying two weapons. Three, if you count the ancient K-Bar knife strapped to his boot. It probably wasn’t legal, but sometimes it’s just easier to bend the rules and plead ignorance later. “So, where’s the zap-head?”

    “Medical. Under guard.”

    “And El-Tee Zee?”

    “His office, in with Gunny Thorns.” McKendrey raised his eyebrows. “Wants to see you.”

    “Alright, carry on,” the sergeant acknowledged his subordinate, then turned to the corpsman working on DeWitt’s hand. “Is he going to live?”

    “Yeah,” the Petty Officer replied, “This cut’s pretty deep, but I think it’ll heal up without loss of mobility.”

    “It wasn’t my fault, Sarge!” DeWitt complained. “The knife just fell out of....”

    “I don’t want to hear it,” McKendrey snapped, “and the word you’re looking for is ‘Sergeant’. If I hear the word ‘Sarge’ come out of your mouth again, it’ll be followed by some teeth. Got it?”

    “It wasn’t his fault, Sergeant,” a soft soprano interjected. McKendrey looked up at the female Marine, always amazed at the contrast between her Amazon appearance and the honey-sweetness of her voice. “It just popped out of its sheath when Jason gave it to him to log into the property room.”

    “Jason? You mean Lance Corporal Blueberry?” She nodded. “I should have known he’d have something to do with this,” McKendrey said, more to himself than anyone else. He picked up the offending weapon and examined it. Hold the sheath by the belt-clip, he pushed in on the hilt ... and the sheath popped open, split lengthwise along the edge, to allow the dagger to swing free. DeWitt’s blood was drying on the blade. “Where is he?”

    “Sick Bay, with the prisoner.”

    McKendrey stepped over to the comm unit and requested to be patched through to Sick Bay. “Blueberry, do you want to come up here and explain how you nearly cut another Marine’s thumb off?” It wasn’t really a question, or even a request ... it was an order, and anyone hearing the sergeant’s tone of voice knew it. He expected to hear “Aye aye,” following by the sound of running feet.

    Instead, he heard Blueberry’s sarcastic response, “So he got a little paper cut? Can I help it if Dimwit is a klutz?”

    “You’re the only dimwit around here if you think I’m going to buy that load of elephant dung!” The sergeant felt the heat on his face. He knew this wasn’t the proper way of handling the situation according to the textbook, but since he’d already started he might as well finish it. “Only a dimwit like you would hand a knife to someone blade first. And I know you know what a quick-draw sheath is, so don’t tell me it was an accident. You contaminated evidence. You better hope the prisoner isn’t wanted for cuttin’ on somebody, because now we can’t tie this dagger to the victim.

    “One more thing, and this goes for everyone here: his name,” he pointed at the wounded Marine, “is DeWitt. Private DeWitt. Dee Eee Double-you Eye Tee Tee. Understood?”

    He heard a bunch of “Yes, Sergeant” and a few “Aye aye”, but over the speaker he heard Blueberry say, “He ain’t a cohort,” which made his blood really begin to boil.

    The concept of a cohort unit predated Star Fleet Marines and even the United Earth Space Forces. In fact, it traced its roots back to the Roman Empire, but the modern version is more akin to that developed by the United States Army before the Global War on Terrorism. The basic idea was to form up an infantry squad, platoon, or even a whole company during boot camp and keep them together through their first enlistment. This allowed for increased unit moral and esprit de corps, thus improving overall combat effectiveness. In that regard, the concept was a total success.

    However, like the dagger in McKendrey’s hand, it was a two-edged weapon. Because everyone in the unit would end their four-year hitch at the same time, the entire unit would evaporate. Also, because everyone was at the same experience level, it would take eight months or so before a new cohort company wasn’t “green” anymore. This meant Manpower and Assignments had to carefully stagger cohorts and pair them up with a “big brother” unit, like they did with the two cohort squads on the Magnum. But that was for the bean counters to deal with.

    The real problem with cohorts, from McKendrey’s point of view, was their attitude. They acted as if they were somehow special, thinking of themselves as an elite unit like a PRIME TEAM. The fact that their training was no more than and no different from that of non-cohort units didn’t stop some of them from treating their fellow Marines with an air of superiority and even outright contempt. And there are a few that simply refuse to accept replacement troops like Private DeWitt, Private Jimenez and Lance Corporal Porterfield into their little club.

    “Neither am I,” McKendrey retorted through clinched teeth, “but we’re all Marines here. If you all don’t start acting like Marines, and I mean like right now, I’ll recommend to Gunny Thorns we break up the cohorts as soon as we get back to Star Base. Is that understood?”

    Every person in the room, including the Police Force personnel, snapped to attention and responded in unison with a loud “Aye aye, Sergeant!” Disbanding a cohort was rare but not unheard of, and right now no one wanted to test to see if Sergeant McKendrey would do it.

    “Blueberry, thanks to your stupidity, we’re a man down for at least a week. DeWitt was scheduled for K.P. duty. Guess what ... you’re taking his place. See you in the mess hall. McKendrey out.” He clicked off the comm unit and turned back to the corpsman. “Have Doc take a look at that.”

    “It’ll be okay, Sergeant, in a day or two, there won’t even be a scar.”

    “I said I want Doc to check it out,” McKendrey repeated. The corpsman gave him an annoyed glare. “Just do it.”

    DeWitt gave the sergeant a confused look, which quickly turned to surprise. He reached over with his good hand, grabbed the medical scanner and passed it over his wounded thumb. “Awe, man, I got zapped! I gotta go through de-tox. This sucks!” As McKendrey suspected, the addict used the blade to measure out his drugs.

    The corpsman was contrite, “Sorry, Private, I should have caught that. Doesn’t look like you got too much in there.” Then again, ‘too much’ is a relative term; a dose of just fifteen milligrams of zap is enough to get most people hooked for life if they didn’t go through detoxification.

    Sergeant McKendrey laid a sympathetic hand on the younger Marine’s shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, DeWitt.” Sure, he’d be okay, but he’s in for some vivid dreams -- or nightmares -- for the next several nights.

    McKendrey walked over to Foster and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Two more to upload, Sergeant, and you can sign off on them.” After each away mission, the recordings made by every tricorder, comm-unit and phaser-rifle scope had to be downloaded into the ship’s computer files. It was an insane amount of data, and McKendrey doubted that anybody would ever look at it again.

    “Shouldn’t I be signing off as they’re uploaded?”

    “No,” he replied as he started another upload. “Well, you can do that, but this way is easier.”

    The Marine shrugged, then he leaned over and in a quiet voice, “You know, a couple minutes ago, I didn’t expect ‘aye aye’ from you, too.”

    “Force of habit. Once a Marine, always a Marine,” Foster quipped.

    McKendrey had meant from any of the Police crew, not just the Legalman, but that response totally blew him away. He waited for the last upload, then reviewed the data before signing the reports off. Then he announced, “Good work, everyone. We’re enroute to Star Base, so I doubt we’ll do another boarding before then. Stand down and grab some chow. Carry on.” He turned and left to room.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  6. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Less than a minute later, he knocked on a door, then stepped through and announced himself, “ Sir, Sergeant McKendrey reporting as ordered,” as he came to the position of attention. He expected to be told to ‘stand easy’, but the two people in the room ignored him. So he stood for what seemed an eternity with his posture upright and rigid, heels together so his feet formed a forty-five degree angle exactly, hands slightly cupped with the thumbs at the seam of his pants, and his eyes fixed at a spot on the wall some six inches above his own height.

    In his peripheral vision, McKendrey could see a woman in her mid-thirties, wearing a Marine Corps-issued physical fitness uniform with Gunnery Sergeant insignia on the sleeves, sitting on the couch to his right. Her relaxed poise, with one foot folded up under her and the other leg held to her chest with both hands behind the knee, belied the fact she was examining the Sergeant as closely as if during a formal inspection. On the desk exactly thirty inches in front of him lay a Marine officer’s standard duty uniform with the silver bars of a First Lieutenant pinned to the collar. The nametag on the breast read ‘Zychowski.’ To his left was an open door, through which he could almost see one of the men he took off the civilian freighter.

    The man stepped out, stripped to the waist and his face lathered up in an attempt to shave a month’s growth of beard off. “Damnit! Damnit all, this just isn’t going to work,” he exclaimed as he threw a razor in the trash bin. “Linda, you wouldn’t happen to have a straight razor, would you?”

    “No, but I understand one of the troops has a K-bar you could shave the fuzz off a peach with.”

    The man looked at McKendrey and made him feel as if he were under a microscope. “Sergeant,” he said slowly, and he walked all the way around the Marine until he was standing directly in front of him, nose to nose, “You wouldn’t happen to know of whom Gunnery Sergeant Hawthorn speaks, would you?”

    “Sir, yes, sir!”

    “Do you think I might be able to borrow said K-bar?”

    “Sir, yes, sir!” With a quick motion, he lifted his foot just high enough for his hand to pull the antique knife from its sheath and presented it, hilt first of course, to the man. From the corner of his eye, McKendrey watched as the other man tested the blade’s edge with his thumbnail, then disappearing through the door. For several minutes, he heard the man’s humming over the sound of running water.

    When he came out, toweling his face, shaved as clean and smooth as a newborn baby, he handed McKendrey back his K-bar, then picked up the uniform and disappeared again. Moments later, Marine First Lieutenant Zychowski reappeared. “Sergeant, why am I here? Why am I not still on the freighter, working undercover?”

    “Sir, I didn’t know until my team was on board. Sir, when I ....”

    “So when DeWitt nearly blew my cover, you took it upon yourself to pull me out, is that it? Do you think I needed your help, Sergeant?” Zychowski roared. “I was this close,” he held his thumb and fore-finger a millimeter apart, “this close to locking in on who’s been selling Star Fleet secrets to the Klingons!”

    “Sir, no, sir!” This wasn’t the first time McKendrey had seen his platoon leader lose his temper, but it was by far the worst. “It was on Commander Isenberg’s orders, sir. He said to bring you home immediately, sir.”

    “So you came looking for me, then? And how did you ... he ... know which ship I’d be on? I didn’t transfer to the Santa Maria until five days ago.”

    “No, sir, I didn't know anything about it until after we beamed over and I reported in; that's when Commander Isenberg told me to pull you, sir. I don’t know how he knew you were onboard, sir.”

    “Really?” He stepped over until they were nose-to-nose again. “You have no idea? Perhaps the Skipper’s clairvoyant -- is that what you're saying?”

    “Sir, no, sir!”

    “Do you think he might be a psychic? How else would he have known when I was? I sure didn't pick up a communicator and call him! Maybe he's some sort of God -- have you thought of that?”

    “Sir, no, sir! He’s not a Marine, sir!”

    Gunny Thorns snorted a laugh and put her forehead on her knee to hide her face. A slight smile broke, for just a second, on LT. Z’s face. “So, out of the clear blue sky, he told you I was onboard and that you should put me under arrest?”

    “Sir, no, sir! I mean, yes, sir, he told me you were onboard, and to bring you home. Actually, all he said was ‘there’s an under-cover Star Fleet officer onboard; find him and pull him out,’ so I don’t believe the Commander knew that you were the one under cover, sir. The arresting part was my idea. I just didn’t know whether you’d have to go back under cover, so I wanted to preserve your cover story as best I could, sir.”

    “Your idea? And you enjoyed it, didn’t you, Sergeant?”

    “Sir, no, sir.”

    “Really? I would have, if I’d been in your place.” He stepped back and walked around to his desk. “And where was the Officer of the Watch? Don’t tell me Commander Isenberg put you in charge of the boarding action.”

    “Sir, yes, sir. He did, sir.”

    “Really? I’m going to have to talk with him.” He picked up the civilian clothes he’d been wearing and took something from the shirt pocket. It was the wad of cash Madre Chavez put there, saying it was his pay due to him. There was a slip of paper in it, and something else the Sergeant couldn’t see. The Lieutenant stared at it for several seconds, then slowly sat down. “Stand easy, Sergeant,” he ordered in a much calmer tone.

    “Aye aye, sir,” responded McKendrey as he relaxed -- slightly -- to parade rest, with his feet shoulder-width apart and hand together in the small of his back.

    “So, tell me, how’d you like being in charge of a boarding action?” Gunnery Sergeant Hawthorn spoke up for the first time; her voice was quiet yet husky, almost sexy. But McKendrey knew, from personal experience, she could make it crack like a whip, and although she was slim and petite no one thought of her as soft, especially not during hand-to-hand combat training.

    “It was fine, Gunny. Rather interesting. I think I learned a lot.”

    “You think? You don’t know?” she snapped. “Give us a run down, and we’ll decide if you learned anything.” McKendrey spent the next several minutes detailing, in short concise bullet-statements, the events of the past half hour. When he finished, she said, “Very well. See any mistakes?”

    McKendrey thought about that for a moment, then responded, “A few, I think.”

    “Have a seat, Sergeant,” Zychowski motioned him to the hard, straight-backed chair. McKendrey found it more uncomfortable than standing. “Now, let’s talk about some of those mistakes. Name one.”

    “DeWitt, sir. I should have handle him better.”

    “How so?” the Gunny asked. He offered a couple possibilities. “I disagree. I think you did fine. And so did he ... he’s not dumb, you know. Actually, he’s pretty smart, just uneducated, coming from a back-water planet and all. But what’s this I hear about the others taking to calling him Dimwit?”

    “I put an end to that, Gunny. I may have to sit on Blueberry, but I think everyone else got the message.”

    “Good,” Zychowski said. “Speaking of Blueberry ... he called down here to complain just before you knocked. I understand you handed out some punishment to him?”

    McKendrey started to say ‘yes’, but checked himself. “No sir. You’re the only one that can issue punishment, sir. I had a hole in the duty roster to fill, so I filled it, sir.”

    Gunny Thorns chuckled, “Good answer, Sergeant.”

    “Yes, good answer. Gunny took his call, so I’m staying out of it for now. Just don’t overdo it. Now then,” the Lieutenant opened his PADD -- prompting McKendrey to think ‘he took notes?’ -- and started at the top of the list, “let’s start with your first mistake. You told the Skipper, and I quote, ‘All secure, beginning inspection’, but you had not secured the bridge yet.”

    For the next hour or so, Zychowski and Hawthorn dissected the junior Marine’s performance. To his credit, McKendrey did not squirm; in fact, most of his responses were “No excuse, sir.” Just when he thought he hadn’t done a thing right, Gunny Thorns asked why he didn’t cuff Madre Chavez. He explained his rationale. The Gunny commented that she would have put her in cuffs, too.

    Lieutenant Zychowski gave her a strange look. “No, Linda, that would have been a mistake. He was absolutely right on that call. In fact, Sergeant, it wasn’t all bad.” And he proceeded to list the things he did right.

    At the top of that list was how he’d let Corporal Ackar handle the prisoners. That was something McKendrey liked about L.T. Z: the way he let his NCOs run the team while he handled the mission. All his previous platoon leaders wanted to micro-manage everything. As a young corporal, McKendrey promised himself he wouldn’t do that should he find himself in charge of a mission.

    The officer finished reciting his list. It was longer than the NCO expected but shorter than he hoped for. “Well, Sergeant, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your performance today?”

    McKendrey mulled this over for a moment. “A five, sir. Maybe a six.”

    Zychowski nodded. “Gunny?”

    “At least a six. For a first time, a seven.”

    He nodded again. “Definitely a seven. Not bad for a first go, but I expect better next time, Sergeant.”

    “Next time, sir?”

    “Yes, next time. Did you think this was a one-time deal? Here,” he took a book off the shelf behind him, “read this. Now, go grab some chow.”

    McKendrey looked at the book. Lincoln On Leadership. He handed it back. “Thank you, sir, but I have a copy.” He stood up at attention and saluted. The Lieutenant returned his salute and dismissed him.

    “So, what do you think?” Gunny Thorns asked after the door closed.

    “You’re right ... lots of potential in that one. He’ll be a fine Gunny some day.”

    “No, he won’t.”

    Zychowski looked at her incredulously, “He won’t?”

    “Thinks fast on his feet, putting you under arrest like that. Handled the mission but didn't micro-manage the troops. Knows when to give a pat on the back or a kick in the pants." She paused for dramatic affect. "I think he’ll make a fine Lieutenant some day.”

    He gapped at her in disbelief. “Damnit, Linda! That’s the fifth one. The Corp needs good Top NCOs more than it needs another junior officer.”

    “I’m already working on Ackar and Porterfield ...they’re your future top dogs. Blueberry, too, if he’ll grow up. But when you’re a Major or a light Colonel, you’re going to want Lieutenants like O’Neil and Carlson and Nakamora ... and McKendrey ... under your command. You’re just ticked because I pushed you over to the dark side, too.” She let that sink in for a moment. “And your count is all wrong. You were number seven, and McKendrey will make eighteen. Now, let’s go grab some chow, sir.”

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  7. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    Taking a break from the story for a moment, some readers may wonder what the Patrol Cutter is. It's a ship from the game Star Fleet Battles. After I stopped writing the story, ADB and Mongoose Publishing began a joint-venture project that created a whole new 2500-series of gaming miniatures. I can't find a good on-line photo or clip-art of the original design, but here's a photo of the new mini:

    For a better idea of scale, see these images: 2500/Federation/Fed_POL_2_-_top.jpg 2500/Federation/Fed_POL_2_-_side.jpg

    The old version is very much the same, except the engine pylons were not swept back and the warp engines were smaller. They are functionally identical within game-terms.

    Here's the Ship Systems Display (SSD) card from the game: 2 Ships/FC_Federation_Police_Sqaudron.png

    Note the way the engines are mounted. This was how the ship looked when I started writing my story.
  8. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    The star field blurred on the main view screen as the Patrol Cutter Magnum dropped out of high-warp. Lieutenant Commander Isenberg watched as Star Base Thirteen came into focus in the distance. “Magnify,” he ordered. The screen wavered, then steadied. A cluster of little dots clouded around the base. “Again.” This time the dots became a fleet of ships.

    There were two Star Fleet Destroyers, or perhaps they were Scouts -- it was impossible to tell from this range -- along with a Light Cruiser and a Tug docked to the base. A flotilla of about twenty civilian craft orbited nearby. The three largest were bulk-cargo freighters: cylinders forty meters across by two hundred meters long with impossibly tiny warp engines attached to the sides near one end. There were several tramp freighters, much like Madre Chavez’s Santa Maria, and similar sized Armed Priority Transports.

    “My, my, my. Looks like we’re having a convention,” commented Lieutenant Ryan Kingsley, Magnum’s second-in-command. Isenberg followed his gaze and noted four Police Cutters, sister-ships to his own, looking small and vulnerable close in by the base. The cutter had two distinct halves: the aft portion was a lengthwise cylinder roughly twenty-seven meters in diameter with warp drive engine mounted to either side, the forward section was as wide but only dozen meters thick, with beveled sides and pointed bow. End to end, the entire ship was a little longer than the saucer-shaped Burke-class Frigate but had half the deck space.

    Isenberg had forgotten how awkward they appeared on the outside, looking like a roll of paper with a garden tool sticking out one end. It was often described as ‘the ugliest ship you’ll ever love’, but he’d been the skipper of this one long enough to know that while one might grow to love the ship, it was the people that made the assignment special. Close quarters and a small crew made conditions ripe for forming close friendships.

    A voice came over the speaker, “Patrol Cutter Magnum, this is Star Base Approach. Please stand by for vector and parking instructions. Message for Commander Isenberg follows: your meeting with Captain Littleton has been moved up, see her in one hour.”

    “Approach, Magnum. Message acknowledged, standing by for vector.” He clicked the control off, then stood up and announced, “Well, it's a good thing we're early. Pat, you have the con. Let’s grab a quick bite to eat before we go, Ryan.”

    Thirty minutes later, Isenberg, Kingsley and Chief Guzman beamed over to the base’s central command section. Isenberg asked directions to where he might locate Captain Littleton, then led them down the indicated corridor. On the way, someone shouted, “Hey, Kingsley! Ryan Kingsley, is that you?” They turned to see two men and a woman, all wearing Police uniforms, several meters down a side hall. The two men wore the same rank as Kingsley; the woman was a full Commander. “Jake, you old dog!” Ryan responded, walking towards them with his hand extended.

    Isenberg shrugged, then continued to his destination with the Chief in tow. “He’ll catch up.” They found Captain Littleton’s officer vacant, so they stepped across the hall to another office. There was a woman in a Star Fleet Captain’s uniform standing behind the desk, sorting through stacks of files and papers. Isenberg knocked once and entered, “Excuse us, Ma’am, but we’re looking for ... Lieutenant Jones?”

    “Not here,” she replied without looking up.

    “No, Ma’am, that’s not what I meant. Aren’t you, weren’t you Lieutenant Amanda Jones? You were my Company Commander at Boot Camp.”

    She paused and looked up, “It’s Littleton now, Commander. And if you’ll forgive me, I have a briefing in ... twenty minutes. I don’t have time for old home town reminiscence.”

    “Of course not, Ma’am. I’m Thomas Isenberg, commander of the Cutter Magnum. We have a meeting scheduled for noon.” He cocked his head to one side. “I didn’t know you married into the Littleton clan.” There were several families that were legendary within Star Fleet. If you asked for Chief Norwood or for Commander or Captain Littleton, you had to be sure to specify which one. It was even getting to the point you had to specify which Admiral Littleton you wanted to see.

    She shook her head as she continued sorting, “I didn’t ... I divorced back into it.”

    “Huh? I don’t understand, Ma’am.”

    She started to say something, then a smile crossed her face. “Chief Guzman can explain it to you. Good to see you again, Chief. And it’s a briefing, not a meeting, Commander, down in Room Five Alpha dash Thirty-two in ... eighteen minutes. Now, if you’ll please excuse me.”

    “Aye aye, Ma’am.” They turned to leave the office.

    “Wait. You’re from the Magnum? Didn’t you stop a tramp freighter on a drug bust yesterday?”

    They turned back around. “Yes, Ma’am. The Santa Maria, Madre Chavez commanding. It was a red herring, but her cargo is several tons of small arms and ammunition bound for Rio Verde.”

    “Ah, yes. I read your report. Good work. So, how is Rosalina Chavez doing these days?”

    “Fine, I suppose,” Isenberg replied. “She seems like a ... rather interesting lady.”

    “Yes,” Captain Little said slowly, “Yes, she is at that. Were you able to pull the undercover out safely?”

    It surprised him a bit that a senior Star Fleet officer would be in the loop on what he presumed was a Police operation, and he wondered if it had anything to do with the sudden recall. “Yes, Ma’am. Turns out, he’s my own Marine Lieutenant. A small world, isn’t it?”

    “Yes, it’s smaller than you know,” she replied with hidden humor.


    “Briefing. Sixteen minutes. Go,” she pointed towards the door, “Get out of here. We’ll talk later, if there’s time.”

    “Aye aye, Ma’am,” as they turned and departed, side-stepping as a pair of enlisted entered the room.

    A moment later, a full Commander entered the office. “What are you doing to my desk, Ma’am?” she asked, her South-Asian complexion darkened as she forced her temper down.

    “Trying to get ready for our briefing in fifteen minutes. How the hell do you find anything in this mess, Risha?”

    “I have a system, Ma’am.” Well, she had a system, she thought, until the good Captain attacked it.

    “Well, if your system is so damn good, why can’t I find the briefing folders?” The Commander pointed to the table at the side of the room. The two Yeomen were gathering up the prepared folders. “Oh,” Captain Littleton said contritely.

    The Commander changed the subject, “I thought I just saw Roger Guzman.” She started restoring her filing system.

    “You did,” Littleton replied as she sat down, relieved that the crisis with the briefing material was over. “Do you know who that was with him?” Risha shook her head. “You know Rosalina Chavez, right? Do you remember me telling you about the day I met her?”

    Risha paused, then nodded. “Was that him?”

    “Yeah, that’s him. Thomas Isenberg. He’s commanding a Cutter now. Yesterday, he pulled Rosalina’s ship over.”

    “Oh, I’ll bet that was fun.” She stopped, turned around and looked at the Captain. “He didn’t remember, did he?”

    “What do you think?”

    “Men.” She said it as if it was a swear word, but in all the years they’d known each other, Amanda had never once heard Risha curse.

    “You say that like you’re some sort of expert on the subject.”

    “Me? I’m not the one that’s been married and divorced five times, thank you very much, Ma’am.”

    “Risha, we’ve known each other for over twenty years now. How many times have I told you: you can call me ‘Amanda’ in private, you know?”

    “Yes, Ma’am. I’ll get right on that, Ma’am.” She moved a couple more stacks around. “Okay, done. Ready to go, Ma’am.”

    Littleton looked at the desk. “That was fast.”

    “I told you, Ma’am: I have a system.”

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  9. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Isenberg found his second-in-command right where he left him, in the corridor talking with his old friends. In a way, Isenberg envied Lieutenant Kingsley. Ryan seemed to have friends everywhere. Then again, he’d been an Advanced Tactics instructor at the Police Force Academy and so had met a lot of other cops.

    The lady Commander stopped in mid-sentence of whatever she was talking about when they approached. “Well, Chief, I thought you were going to give up on this Mickey Mouse outfit. Just can’t let go, can you?”

    “No, Ma’am. They caved in and gave me what I wanted to stick around for a few more years.” Roger Guzman hooked his thumb under his collar to show off his Senior Chief rank insignia. “And the Magnum’s all mine now. It’s not the Wilson, mind you, but it’s a good enough boat.”

    “That’s great! I told them to get you off planet and back to a ship where you belong.” She looked at Isenberg, “I don’t think we’ve met, Commander. I’m Yvonne Christensen, currently in command of the station on Cygnus. Before I promoted myself out of the job, I had the dubious pleasure of being Chief Guzman’s commanding officer on the Magnum.”

    He took her hand and found it to be slim and soft. She was probably of Swedish decent and very pretty by most men’s standards -- tall and slender with a soft soprano voice. Some men he knew would view her as the perfect trophy wife. He didn’t. That wasn’t to say he didn’t find her pleasing, but he preferred women who were a bit more athletically built. And he simply wasn’t attracted to blondes as a rule.

    “Thomas Isenberg,” he replied, releasing her hand, “and I now have that dubious pleasure of having him as my Chief of the Boat.”

    She cocked her head to one side. “Isenberg? I don’t ever recall seeing your name in the blotter.”

    “I had a break in service,” he said, not wanting to go into a long explanation. “And thank you for the wonderful ship,” he followed up to change the subject.

    “Ah,” she replied, understandingly. “Yes, the Magnum’s a pretty good boat; she’ll serve you well. Although I must warn you that I’d take her away from you in a heartbeat if I could,” she said, smiling. He was sure she meant it. “I’m forgetting my manners. This is Lieutenant Stableford, also formerly of the Magnum, now on the Gendarme. And I just met Lieutenant Flynn, also of the Gendarme.”

    Isenberg shook their hands. “Any relation to William Dexter Stableford?” he asked the younger of the two. He’d met Mr. Stableford only once, a couple years ago, but he was sure the sandy-blonde hair and bright blue eyes were the same.

    “Yes, sir. I’m William the Third,” he made it sound like a royal title. And why not? Billy D. was called the King of Casinos by some. Interesting that his son should be on the Police Force.

    “So, I presume your here for the same meeting we are. Any idea what it’s all about?” Isenberg asked as he began leading the way.

    The question was directed at Commander Christensen, but Flynn was the one that replied, “Nope, just that the que-bee summoned us.”

    The other two Lieutenants wore the same puzzled expression that Isenberg felt on his own face. He took a sideways glance at Guzman and saw the Chief had clinched his mouth shut in anger. Christensen stopped and turned to the junior officer, “Lieutenant, I would really appreciate it if you did not refer to high-ranking Star Fleet officers in that manner.”

    Flynn opened his mouth in what was probably some smart-assed retort, but then he thought better of it as the icy chill of her tone reached his brain. “Aye aye, Ma’am.” It was the only safe reply.

    Kingsley leaned over towards the Chief. “Que-bee?” he whispered. Isenberg didn’t quite hear the reply: all he could make out was “Queen,” but it wasn’t hard to figure out what the “B” stood for.

    Stableford still had a confused look. “You’re not talking about Captain Paxton, are you? Hardly the way I would describe her.”

    “I believe that’s exactly who he meant,” Commander Christensen answered as she began walking again, “although I hear she just got divorced -- again -- so I suppose she’s changed her name back to Jones.”

    “Actually, it’s Littleton now,” Isenberg corrected. “I’m guessing she’s a chief’s brat, but I’m not sure which one she belongs to. You seem to know her, Chief; care to enlighten us?”

    “Aye, sir, Jones was her mother’s maiden name,” Guzman explained. “Her father is David Littleton. Maybe you’ve heard of ‘Big Guns’ Littleton.”

    Who hadn’t heard of the former Command Master Chief Petty Officer of Star Fleet, the top policy maker for all enlisted affairs, Isenberg thought? “Sure, I’ve heard of him. Never met him in person, but I heard many a story.” He chuckled. “In fact, my dad had several old Chiefs, including a few Littletons, over to a private send-off for me before I left for the Academy. It’s parties like that are why I don’t drink.” As he recalled, David’s fame began with his exploits as a Petty Officer Third Class during one of the many border disputes the Federation had against the Kzinti. It was during that time he picked up the nickname ‘Big Guns’, although there were two versions to the story -- there’s the one told in polite company and then there’s the unvarnished truth.

    The polite story goes tells of a young Machinist Mate capturing an entire Kzinti strike team single-handedly without firing a shot from his pulse rifle. In that story, he supposedly said ‘the one with the biggest gun wins’. The truth, as told by Marine Sergeant Major ‘Little John’ Littleton, Gunnery Sergeant Rebecca Littleton-Andrews, Fleet Master Chief Michael Littleton and Senior Chief Timothy Isenberg, eyewitnesses all, was that the young hero didn’t have a weapon (not in the standard sense) at the time, and in fact didn’t have a stitch of clothing on -- nor did a certain freighter captain’s daughter.

    Young David Littleton met the young lady while rebuilding the settlement on Endeara Prime. He went with her to help get the water turned back on in the housing complex, and one thing lead to another. After he -ahem- checked out her plumbing, he heard a noise below the fifth-story balcony. He looked down and saw several Kzintis preparing to raid the compound. Having no other method of warning the camp, he did something rude to the feline warriors -- he guessed correctly that they wouldn’t like getting wet -- to get them to fire a couple shots at him, thus warning the rest of the defenders. The only weapon in that story was his soon-to-be father-in-law’s antique double-barreled shotgun.

    And that was just one of many, many stories attributed to the Littleton clan. There were four brothers named Littleton -- James, Peter, Anthony and Richard -- in the Pathfinders that surveyed much of what is now the Federation under the banner of the United Earth Space Agency. Their exploits were legendary. As was the number of children they sired, most of whom (along with children from three other Littleton brothers and a few cousins) found their way into Star Fleet or one of the other services. And so did their children’s children.

    All totaled, there were thirty-six second-generation Littletons that made it to Chief Petty Officer or higher, and well over a hundred third-generation Littletons were now moving up through the officer ranks, and now the next generation was old enough to enter the service, too. The running joke was that if the Littletons should stay so prolific, they’ll take over Star Fleet in a few more generations. With a family history like that to live up to, it’s no wonder the Captain went by her mother’s name when she was an Ensign and a Lieutenant. No young officer could truly make a career for herself under that shadow without undue influence, or even the appearance thereof. There would always be someone who questioned whether a promotion or choice assignment was earned on merit, or simply due to nepotism.

    Christensen nodded. “That makes sense. Wonder why she decided to change her name now.”

    “Probably too hard to keep up with the Joneses,” quipped Stableford.

    The Commander grimaced. “I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor, Lieutenant.”

    “No, seriously, Ma’am. Considering whom the Captain’s mother is, it’s probably easier to hide out in the Littleton clan anymore. I thought you knew: she’s the daughter of Samantha Jones, and grand-daughter of Emanuel Jones, one of the co-founders of Smith & Jones Shipping.”

    Wow. She didn’t need to be in the service, Isenberg thought, with that kind of money. Even at a typical three-percent family share, he figured her trust fund was worth more than her Star Fleet pay for her entire career.

    “I’m curious how you know that, sir,” Chief Guzman commented. “That’s not something she goes around advertising.”

    The junior officer shrugged. “My father ships exclusively with S & J; it’s the only way to keep the Cartels out of his casinos.” That was an interesting statement, for everyone always assumed Billy D. was mobbed up. “I met the Captain while dealing with her sister, Katherine Jones-Smith, who’s now the V.P. in charge of operations for the company. In fact, she told Katherine to hire me for their security team.” The way he said that last part, it sounded like he was still tempted by the offer.

    They rounded the corner and saw several people outside the briefing room. Two armed guards stood beside the door, and a Star Fleet Ensign was checking ID cards of those waiting to enter the room. It was a rather eclectic mix with a couple Star Fleet officers, a few more Police (whom Kingsley seemed to know, of course), some Merchantmen and from other services, and even a few wearing S&J company uniforms. The Merchantmen were under Star Fleet command, of course, so it made sense that they’d be here. But Isenberg found it odd that the S&J freighter masters should be involved with whatever was going on. Obviously, Captain Jones / Littleton had a hand in that. So much for the rules against conflict of interests, he mused.

    Senior Chief Guzman, following protocol that enlisted should enter before / leave after officers, jumped in line and handed his ID card to the Ensign. After he was cleared, he went in and shook hands with two other Police Force Chief Petty Officers. Ryan Kingsley followed suit and was cleared, but when Lieutenants Flynn and Stableford presented their IDs, the junior officer turned them away. “I’m sorry, sirs, but you’re not on the list.”

    Stableford shrugged and turned to leave. But Flynn berated the Ensign, “What do you mean, we’re not on the list? Of course we’re on the list! The Exec ordered us to be here! Check it again!” He handed his ID card back to -- threw it at -- the Ensign, gathering the attention of the two armed-guards in the process.

    “The Exec, sir? Do you mean Captain Hunt, the base’s executive officer? He’s at Star Fleet HQ for a conference.” He checked the ID again, knowing full well that the name wasn’t on the list. He tried not to make a big show of it, but he did go down the list to manually verify the name -- just in case there was a typo.

    “No, the X.O. of my ship, of course! Why do you think that I would know this Captain Hunt?” Flynn asked in disgust.

    “Well, sir, I’m afraid you’re not on the list,” the Ensign handed his ID back, “and your exec doesn’t have the authority to get you on it, sir.” He turned away to check the IDs of the other Star Fleet officers.

    Stableford turned back, “Come on, Jake.” But Flynn just stood there, his whole body shaking with his fists clinched white-knuckle tight. Stableford grabbed him by the arm. “Jake, let’s go grab a drink or something.”

    Flynn pulled away and glared at him angrily. After a moment, he noisily let out a deep breath and forced his body to relax. “They let the Chief in,” he hissed.

    “Well, obviously, the Chief’s on the list,” Stableford responded with patient annoyance. “Now, quit being a jackass and let’s get out of here before you do something stupid again.” He grabbed his friend by the arm and led him away.

    The group watched as the two disappeared around the corner. Commander Christensen shook her head. “That young man has issues.”

    “Yes, Ma’am. Jake’s always had some issues,” Lieutenant Kingsley confirmed unhappily, “but that’s a new one, even for him.”

    The Ensign finished checking the rest of the IDs without incident. He then asked Commander Christensen, as the ranking officer, to take control of the room until the briefing started. They entered the room; it was typical of a mass briefing room with several rows of barely-comfortable chairs each equipped with a small desk that folded down along one side. A low-rise stage was at the front of the room, complete with a speaker’s podium and a pair of flags. The front wall was actually a large viewing screen, currently displaying the United Federation of Planets logo. She checked her timepiece and noted they had about three minutes left. She gave them enough time for last minute social greetings, then ordered them to take their seats at the thirty second mark

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  10. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    A note from the author here: I let someone read the next couple of parts, and they said it "got a little too technical" for them and wanted to know if I could skip over it to get to the good parts. This is the mission brief, so it's important if one wants to understand the plot-line. I do get a little bogged down in some character development, but I have some action coming up. We are getting to close to the end of what I have written, so I'd better get cracking if I want to keep posting it, shouldn't I?
  11. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    “Room! Ten-HUT!” a deep baritone voice boomed. Sixty-five sentient beings stood, though it’d be generous to say that more than half actually came to the position of attention. The few Star Fleet personnel did by Pavlovian-reflex, of course, as did those wearing Federation Police uniforms. However, those in various other uniforms and civilian attire obviously had a more relaxed definition of ‘attention’.

    Three people entered and marched down the aisle to the front of the room. The two human women wore Star Fleet uniforms; the handsome man wore an expensive tailor-made suit that complemented his pale-blue complexion, a stereotypical example of the Deian race. The symbol affixed to his lapel denoted he was a senior official in the Diplomatic Corps.

    “Take your seats,” one of the women ordered. Once everyone complied, she continued. “My name is Captain Amanda Littleton, special assistant to Vice Admiral Littleton ... Charles, for those without a current directory of my many cousins.” There was a smattering of laughter in the audience. “This is Commander Sarisha Sahani, tactical coordinator for the Fourth Fleet. She will give you the specifics of your mission. And this is Mister Blake.” Of him, Littleton offered no more introduction. “This is a classified briefing. Please turn all tricorders and communicators off.”

    She picked up a remote control device and dimmed the lights. The wall screen changed to show a map of the United Federation of Planets and surrounding empires. The Milky Way’s Shapely Center was someplace off the top of the map. The Federation, a circle ninety-five hundred parsecs across, dominated the center of the map. Four major empires bordered it: the reptilian Gorn to the ‘northeast’; to the ‘east’ and ‘southeast’, the Romulan Neutral Zone; next, the Klingon border, the longest, extended from ‘south’ to ‘west-northwest’; and finally, to the ‘northwest’, the feline Kzintis.

    It was that border region the Fourth Fleet and Star Base Thirteen were responsible to protect. Some in the Federation Assembly questioned the need to keep a dozen or more warships stationed there; after all, the Federation and Kzinti were allies now, were they not? However, that relationship was less than two years old, and ‘allies’ is not the same as ‘friends’. There were still several issues of contention, the human colony on Rio Verde one of the biggest, that could spark another war between them.

    “We’re here, of course,” a mark appeared highlighting Star Base Thirteen’s location about fourteen hundred parsecs from the border. “As you may know, the Kzintis are at war with the Lyrans,” another feline race somewhere off the left side of the map. Little was known about them, not even their true name. “About three months ago, the Lyran fleet crossed the border in mass -- with perhaps as many as forty-five warships in the initial attack, so this isn’t just another border raid. In fact, we believe it’s more than just a land grab. This time it’s for real.”

    The image changed, zooming the map in to display roughly twenty-five hundred parsecs of the Klingon-Kzinti border region with Star Base Thirteen near the right edge. “Intelligence reports indicate the Klingons have upwards of thirty ships along the Kzinti border, and Star Fleet believes they can mobilize at least that many more on short notice without weakening their other borders. Should they invade, too, the Kzintis could very well find themselves pushed back to their home world. We have reason to believe,” she glanced over to Mr. Blake, who shook his head imperceptibly, “that they will not do so for perhaps the next two or three months. But if they should ....”

    “The Four Powers War, round two,” someone quipped. A decade prior, war broke out along the Klingon-Kzinti border and soon ensnared the Lyrans and another mysterious race known only by their codename, the Hydra, someplace ‘southwest’ of the Klingon Empire. That war lasted nearly four years and ended ‘with inconclusive results’ ... inconclusive if one only looked at a map showing the before-and-after borderlines. It proved rather conclusively that modern logistics and Warp technology made interstellar warfare possible on a grand scale. It proved that the Klingons, for all their aggressiveness, were not invincible, and it should have also proved to them the folly of fighting a two-front war.

    “Yes, quite possibly,” Littleton agreed. “But if the Klingons do invade ....” she paused again, staring at the remote in her hand. She pressed the button hard, slapped it against her palm, and tried it again. “Yeoman, can you fix this damn thing?” she asked as she tossed it to the enlisted man standing off to the side of the room.

    Taking advantage of the delay, someone in the front row asked, “Why would they wait, Ma’am? The Klingons, I mean -- why do you think they won’t attack for several weeks?” Isenberg was sure he knew the man, but just couldn’t place him. Where had he heard that (obviously fake) French accent before? That was going to bug him all day if he couldn’t remember.

    She looked over at Mr. Blake before saying, “Who knows for sure?”

    “Perhaps,” interjected Commander Sahani, “they want the Kzintis to commit their defenses to the Lyran front; perhaps they want to see how long and how far the Lyrans are willing to push forward; perhaps they’re already in a fight against the Hydra; perhaps they want to see what we’ll do first; or perhaps it’s just the wrong holiday. We don’t know whether they’ll wait or not, just as we don’t know whether they’ll ever invade at all. But our best guess is they will attack, ten weeks from today. Twelve at the latest.” She never looked at Blake and therefore didn’t see the ‘Shut up!’ look he was giving her.

    “Before that happens,” Captain Littleton accepted another remote from the Yeoman, “we have to deal with the issue at hand. There are over twelve hundred Federation citizens in harm’s way.” She pressed a button on the remote. This time it worked, and numerous green dots lit up across the map in both Klingon and Kzinti territory, and a few in the neutral zone between them. “Doctors and scientists, merchants and missionaries, sociologists and archaeologists ... your mission is to evacuate them. Gather them up and bring them safely home.”

    This prompted several comments from the stunned audience: “You’re kidding, right.” “Why? They knew the risks, let’em live with it.” “No way!” “Isn’t that Star Fleet’s job?”

    “Quiet,” Littleton said, holding her hand for silence. “Okay, quiet down, people.” The chatter continued. “ENOUGH!” she roared. “Quiet. Alright, now then ... I heard one valid question in all that: why aren’t we sending Star Fleet ships in? Quite simply because the Klingons won’t let us. If we send so much as a single Frigate over the border, even into Kzinti space, they’ll view it as an act of war. Ergo, we’re limited to utilizing civilian craft.”

    The man in the front row interrupted again, “The Klingons, Ma’am ... they’re going to be okay with this? They’re going to let us simply sail across the border unimpeded and fly all over the Empire picking up these people?” This time, Isenberg recognized him as Lieutenant Commander-select Pierre Faucheux, the First Officer from the Cutter Gendarme ... and the biggest pain in the posterior one could imagine. Hard to imagine that Pierre would be getting his own command soon.

    “Not quite as simple as that, but essentially yes.” Again, she glanced to Mr. Blake, “In fact, it was their idea. Their demand ... the Emperor’s decree, to be more precise. We expect no more, and no less, trouble from the Klingons than normal. The Kzintis, however, may be more problematic. They are at war and are not in a position to be all that trusting. We’ll get into the specifics and details next, but this is important: do not, under any circumstance, cross from Klingon space into Kzinti space, or vice versa. To do so may initiate war prematurely, and drag the Federation into it as well. Understood? Good. Risha, the floor is yours.”

    Commander Sahani took the stage. Isenberg watched her with fascination -- so this was the famous Sarisha Sahani from Roger Guzman’s past. He stole a glance at the Chief and found his face implacable. Never before had he seen a poker face so unreadable. He turned his attention back to the woman standing at the front of the room. She was petit yet athletic, much like Gunny Thorns only a little taller, with a medium-dark South-Asian completion and jet-black hair streaked with silver highlights. Time was not at all unkind to her. He found himself comparing her to Rosalina Chavez, and surprised himself for wanting to see the freighter captain again.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Commander Sahani,” she began. She had a slight British accent, Isenberg noticed, and not the singsong cadence so common to South-Asians. “This will be your mission prep brief for Operation Cougar Roundup. If I didn’t know the computer picked it, I’d suspect it’s so named because by the time you gather up all these civilian refugees, you’ll feel like you were herding cats.” The audience laughed dutifully. “We’ll issue written orders before the end of this brief, so there’s no need to take notes. Please keep your tricorders and PADDs turned off.

    “Today, your ships will be prepped for the mission. You’ll receive all the supplies you need -- food, both standard meal packs and emergency rations, medical supplies, extra bedding and clothing, passenger-grade E-suits, and so forth. We’ll flush and fill your water and air tanks, and refuel your ship if it’s below fifty percent.

    “Any of your crew that wishes to leave personal items behind will be issued a standard deployment locker free of charge. That includes civilian personnel. Given the nature and risk level of the mission, we request that some items be left behind. A listing of said items is in attachment seven of the op-order.

    “Also, as a security measure, we will also dump your ship’s entire computer core, to include all official and personal logs, into secure storage then purge your computers to take them down to level two baseline. We’ll upload navigation charts only to the level of detail that we know the Klingons and Kzinti know we have, and nothing of Federation territory deeper than fifteen hundred parsecs from the neutral zone. While it’s not what your used to, the map detail should allow for safe passage around any significant hazard.” Some members of the audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats, but no one complained. At level two baseline -- factory settings plus all current software upgrades and patches -- there would be no sensitive data for anyone to steal. The precaution was a wise one. Even with the altruistic nature of the mission, there was nothing to stop the Klingon authorities from ‘inspecting’ their ships.

    “Tomorrow, you will depart Star Base on a staggered schedule. That schedule is flexible; you may depart early if ready, or delay if you need more time. However, we would like all ships off station by twenty-hundred hours. We do not want everyone to scatter at the same time, as that would bring undue notice to your departures, so please don’t wait until the last minute to leave. You will then proceed by circuitous routing to the border station designated in your specific orders.”

    “Border station, Ma’am?” Lieutenant Faucheux interjected, “They haven’t been called that in years.”

    Commander Sahani looked at him as if examining an alien insect. It was a peculiar mannerism, almost Vulcan-like, with her head tilted slightly to the side and one eyebrow raised. “So I’m old school. Border station, base station, battle station ... whatever we call it now, it’s still a space station near the border. Now please don’t interrupt again.” Faucheux was obviously unhappy with the admonishment, but wisely held his tongue.

    “You will then have between six and twelve hours to top off your fuel tanks and run a complete systems check on warp drive, weapons and life support. That will be your last opportunity to make any last minute repairs at a Federation facility.

    “Next, you will make sub-space radio contact with the foreign customs officials, using code phrases and counter-signs you’ll find listed in your orders, and request permission to cross the border. They will probably send a security skiff or a police gunboat to escort you. In fact, for those of you going into the Klingon Empire, you can count on having an escort for everywhere you go. The Kzintis also might insist on escorting you while in their territory, but possibly not. Even so, I would strongly suggest you stick to the mission plan and don’t go off exploring.”

    She paused to change the view screen such that several planets were color-coded. “You will then proceed to your designated pick-up points, as listed in your specific orders. The bulk-cargo freighters will go to these seven planets,” the blue dots on the screen began to blink, “with the highest concentration of Federation citizens. Happily, these are also some of the planets closest to the border, so it’ll be in and out for you. That will account for nearly two-thirds of the folks we want to bring home.”

    Isenberg noticed that Rio Verde wasn’t among the color-coded planets and mentioned that fact. Mr. Blake gave him that same sort of ‘Shut up!’ look, and Captain Littleton told him not to worry about it, as they “had other plans for dealing with the Rio Verde colony.”

    “The smaller freighters will go to the planets within twelve hundred parsecs of the neutral zone,” Sahani continue as if the interruption had never happened. Now thirty or more yellow dots blinked. “You’ll find people in groups of a few dozen at most on any one planet, so you won’t have time to dilly-dally. Pick ‘em up and move on. If they give you any lip, remind them of what a Klingon prison is like ... anyone still in the Empire after the deadline is subject to arrest. Their only other option is to make their own way to someplace safe like Mad Jack’s Hole.” Obviously, ‘safe’ was a relative term.

    One of the civilian freighter masters raised his hand, “What about those in Kitty space? What threat do we use on them?”

    Sahani bit back her first retort to the derogatory slang, and before she could formulate a proper response, Mr. Blake answered, “Tell them that if the Klingons invade, any humans they capture in Kzinti territory will be considered spies.” No one had to explain what the consequences of that were.

    “Exactly so,” the Commander nodded. “That includes you, too, so get in, get the job done and get out. Now, you can expect some of them will want to pack up their whole house or business. There’s not enough time for that, nor do you have the cargo room for it all. Tell them they can bring whatever they can carry, and to sell the rest or hire a local contractor to ship it later. The bulk-cargo freighters might have room for more personal belongings, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide if you have the time to load it.

    “Now then, to the last two groups of ships. The Express boats,” she referred, of course, to the tiny but super-fast mini-freighters designed for courier duty and for transporting small but high-value, high-priority cargo, “have very specific targets, mostly diplomatic staff and their families. You will pick them up and no one else. And the Police Cutters will evacuate the planets beyond the freighters’ reach.” Red dots blinked on the map. “The Cutters Mazza, Gendarme and W. Stuart will go into Kzinti space; LaMagne and Magnum will work the Klingon Empire. Again, you will find our people in small clusters. However, instead of businessmen, these are mostly archaeologists and other scientists. If you’ve ever dealt with these types of people, you know how stubborn they can be -- surely the evacuation orders don’t apply to them. Their work is too important to interrupt,” she finished with a thick layer of sarcasm.

    Several members of the audience nodded and some chuckled. Isenberg sighed. Yes, he knew the type all to well. He once worked with a botanist that tried to pick flowers during a forest fire, totally oblivious to the danger around her. And talk about absentminded! On another occasion, she had a sudden thought while in the shower and forgot to dress before going to the lab to test the idea.

    “Go to the planet farthest away first and work your way back -- no sense in taking refugees along for the ride. Also, you may have to pick up any strays the freighters leave behind on your way out.”

    For the next ten minutes, Commander Sahani covered the Rules of Engagement in great detail. Isenberg thought they should be called “rules of non-engagement” considering how limiting they were. Basically, they could only fire if fired upon and then only to the degree required to make their escape. Even if the Klingons (or Kzintis) should suddenly declare war against the Federation, this was still a humanitarian mission and thus the rescue ships were “non-combatants.” If need be, they should surrender for internment rather than fight and risk being destroyed.

    Even more interesting was the R.O.E. that said they were not allowed to fire on any civilian ship for any reason unless absolutely required to save themselves -- not even if said civilian ship was a pirate raider from one of the Orion Syndicate cartels. When asked about this, Blake gave a cryptic reply that left Isenberg suspecting that this wasn’t the only mission the Federation had going on in foreign territory.

    “Okay,” Commander Sahani continued, “Before the Cutters leave here, we’re going to supplement your crew with a thirty-man detachment of Marines. Actually, they’re going to replace your Tac-Teams, which will be temporarily reassigned elsewhere. If any of your people is due for leadership or technical school, now is the time to have the Chief of the Boat do some body swaps between the Tac-Team and regular crew. For that matter, if someone has a bunch of leave they want to burn up, now might be the time to let them go. Except for the Magnum, you’re all suddenly over manned by about twenty people.”

    Lieutenant Faucheux raised his hand just high enough to get her attention. “Marines on a Police vessel, Ma’am? Why? And why would either the Klingons or Kzinti allow them in?”

    “We’ve had a Marine detachment on the Magnum for a few months,” Isenberg responded, “and the Klingons know about it. My guess is either they forgot when they agreed to this mission, or they just don’t care. As to why you want or need them should be obvious: we have no idea what we might run into, and some extra firepower might come in handy. Besides, citizen evacuation has always been a Marine mission, historically speaking; somehow I doubt they’d let us leave them out of this.”

    “Yes. Exactly so, Commander,” Sahani confirmed approvingly.

    “Thank you, Ma’am. The question that’s running through my head,” Isenberg continued, “is why were those Marines assigned to us back then in the first place? Is this all just a happy coincidence now, or did someone plan it this way so the Klingons would get so used to the idea that we have them onboard that they’d forget about them now?”

    The three briefers looked at one another before Mr. Blake said, “My word, what a Machiavellian mind you have there, Lieutenant Commander.”

    “What about the freighters ... will we be getting any extra security detail?” someone from the back of the room asked.

    “I was just getting to that. Yes, if you want them, you can have a team of five to ten men, either Police Tac-Team or Marines. The bulk-cargo freighters will get twenty-man teams. You don’t have to take them, but I’d recommend it. We don’t expect trouble, and we expect you to run away from any that you find. On the other hand, as Commander Isenberg said, you never know when you’ll need the firepower. If nothing else, you’ll want them to keep your passengers out of trouble.”

    The Commander pause long enough to take a folder from the Yeoman. “Before we pass out your orders and Intel briefs, let me show you this.” She opened the folder and flipped it forward until it was nearly upside-down. Several ribbons about fifteen centimeters long dangled from it. “If you’re boarded and/or expect to be captured, destroy the documents in these folders. Flip it open like this, pull the safety pin,” she indicated the metal pin in the spine of the folder, “grab the ribbons and yank. Oh, and don’t look at it when you pull those.”

    She took one loose page from the Yeoman and demonstrated by pulling the ribbon then dropping the sheet. There was a bright flash and a puff of smoke, and nothing remain of the paper or its protecive cover before it hit the floor. “That was one page. You can imagine what forty going off together is like. Don’t look at it,” she warned. “If you cut or tear the protective cover, it will ignite, so be careful with them.”

    She retrieved the folder from the Yeoman again. “You’ll receive two folders. The first contains your orders, either a certificate showing that you were deputized into the Federation Police Forces or a copy of the contract showing that your civilian company was hired for the mission, a statement of diplomatic immunity, your basic itinerary and so forth. This folder does not have the destruct feature. The second folder, which is rigged for quick destruction, has intelligence data regarding the authorities you’ll likely deal with, the planets you’re going to and the Federation citizens you’re to pick up. There’s also a listing of safe havens, contact data, radio frequencies, code phrases, and such to cover any anticipated contingencies. Lots of important information ... don’t lose it, but don’t let it fall into the wrong hands either. So, are there any more questions before we pass these out? Yes, Yvonne?”

    Commander Christensen stood up. “This has all been fascinating, Sarisha, but I don’t understand why I’m here. It’s not like I can take Cygnus Police Station on this mission.”

    “I believe I can answer that,” a male voice said from the back of the room. Christensen turned to look, then started to call the room to attention, but he waved her off. “As you were. Keep your seats.” The man walked the front of the room and stepped up on the stage. He towered over Commander Sahani. His skin was as dark as night; his hair might have been in years long past but was now a distinguishing silver. Upon his Police uniform, which he filled out with a bodybuilder’s physique, he wore the rank insignia of Commodore.

    “Sorry for the interruption; I just stopped in to have a word with the Captain. But since I’m here, let me introduce myself. I’m Dennis Hammerstrom. One of my many hats is that of District Commander, Fifty-First Cutter Group. Since most of the Five Two Eight Cutter Squadron is here, I thought I might recall the rest of the boats and have a Commander’s Call. I wanted to have it at noon, before this briefing, but the schedule was overcome by events. I was going to make this announcement there, Commander, but I need you to take command of one of the boats for this mission. Can you do that for me?”

    “Aye aye, Sir,” Christensen barely contained her glee. “Might I ask which one, Sir?”

    “I’m sorry, Commander, but you’re not getting the Magnum back ... I need you to take over the Gendarme, please.” Faucheux was obviously unhappy with the Commodore’s announcement, but managed to contain his reaction. “Commander’s Call will be at sixteen hundred hours in the main auditorium, followed by dinner and a reception for officers and chiefs at the O-Club.” He turned to Sahani, “My apologies again for the interruption, Commander. Please, carry on. Captain, might I have a word with you outside?” The two of them started for the door. “Keep your seats,” he ordered on his way out.

    Sahani resumed her place on the stage again. “That pretty well covers everything. Make sure you read the contingency plans carefully. Mister Blake, do you have anything for the group?”

    “Yes, thank you,” he stepped up beside her on the stage. “While your mission is to evacuate our people, please remember that it does not supercede the Prime Directive. Believe it or not, there are still many un-contacted worlds in both the Kzinti Hegemony and the Klingon Empire. These are clearly marked on your navigational charts. You are to avoid all contact with said planets, save for the most dire of circumstances. Don’t even think about trying to recruit the natives to fight against the Klingons ... the last time we tried something like that, it backfired spectacularly.

    “As the Commander mentioned during the Rule of Engagement brief, the Klingons will not allow any active scans. They are deadly serious about this. Nor will they let you near any military installations. You’re not there to spy, of course, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your eyes open. Make note of anything unusual, including any areas they won’t let you see that aren’t marked on the charts. Star Fleet Intelligence will debrief you upon your return.

    “One more thing: war appears inevitable, but let’s not invite it early. As heartless as this might sound, we’d rather see you captured and interned in a forced-labor prison than get the Federation involved in a war we might not be ready for. Should the worst happen, we will do everything in our power to obtain your release. We’ll avail ourselves to every diplomatic avenue first, so it may take some time. But one way or another, we will bring you home. The Federation never leaves anyone behind.”

    He returned to his seat. Commander Sahani gave him a very curious look. Isenberg glanced over to see the same sort of look on Senior Chief Guzman’s face, and he wondered what was being left unsaid. As the Yeomen began passing out the folders, Sahani reminded everyone that this had been a classified briefing and that the material they were now receiving was also considered classified and needed to be safeguarded.

    Captain Littleton returned and asked if there were any more questions. One of the civilian freighter masters asked about fuel costs: were they to pay market prices or government contract prices? She answered that Star Fleet would top them off for free for the mission. Another asked about refueling and other supplies once on the other side. Mr. Blake replied that, as clearly stated in their contract, they would be fully reimbursed for any legitimate costs they might incur and were therefor authorized to buy supplies from anyone available, including pirates and smugglers (though he recommended against that). However, as they would be topped off before departing Federation space, he didn’t see why they would need to purchase anything while in foreign territory. That said, the mission plan did allow for contingencies, of course.

    There were no further questions once these few minor concerns were taken care of. Littleton dismissed the briefing but asked the police officers to stay for a few extra minutes. She also asked the S&J captains to stop by her office in one-half hour for some “important company business.”

    Isenberg was still pondering Sahani’s reaction to Blake’s last comment while he scanned the documents when he found something else to ponder. He was checking the list of refugees, looking to see what type of scientists he’d be rescuing, when a name halfway down the page brought back a flood of memories. Ensign Kallie Miller, the airhead blonde botanist from the Destroyer Sargon. Girl, just what had you gotten yourself into this time?

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    I'm a big fan of TOS era, original characters stories so naturally I was eager to give this a read.

    I must say I didn't expect this at all. Probably because I am not familiar with the Star Trek Battles series and therefore much of this was fairly new to me. Overall this reads almost more like a military story set in space rather than Star Trek tale. Certainly the militaristic influences are undeniable. That's alright though, I do like military stories.

    It is obvious that you take great care in being very detailed in your prose, explaining processes and procedures carefully which I thought was a mixed blessings. It was great to help understand everything that's going on but it also really slows the pace.

    You also seem to have a tendency to introduce an almost staggering amount of characters with their own histories and backgrounds which gives your universe a very tangible almost epic feel even if it got a little tricky after a while to keep track of all these people.

    Not to give the impression that I'm not enjoying this story, I am, and I'm quite eager to read more of it, especially now that the real mission has been announced and the Magnum and others are ready to ship out into danger.

    By the way, the Federation Police Force reminds me a great deal of United Trek's Starfleet Border Service and you may enjoy reading The Lone Redshirt's terrific Tales of the USS Bluefin or Bry Sinclair's Silverfin stories which you can find right here on the TrekBBS.
  13. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    CeJay, Thanks for the feedback. And yes, I do agree with everything you said. My writing style does have its flaws (who's doesn't?). I'm afraid the back-story will continue for a couple more postings, but I'm setting up for some action that might take the readers by surprise.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2013
  14. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    After the rest of the group cleared out, Mr. Blake addressed the fifteen Police Officers. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are a couple extra issues to discuss that we didn’t need to bring up in front of the others. First, there’s the matter of fugitives from law. According to Justice Department reports, there are at least fifty-eight wanted felons living freely in the Klingon Empire, not counting pirates. As you probably know, we do not have a formal extradition treaty with either the Klingons or Kzintis. There is some debate regarding recent Supreme Court rulings suggesting that an unlawful arrest can be grounds for dismissal of charges. Taken to the logical conclusion, if you extradite any of these criminals against their will, they may walk on all charges.”

    “That’s insane,” Commander Christensen responded. “These scum have been duly charged and skipped bail. Hell, some of them were tried and convicted before they escaped custody! No judge would dare let them off on such a ridiculous technicality.”

    “Some might. We’d fight it, of course. However, as the Supreme Court has always ruled in favor of the bail-bondsmen and their hired bounty hunters, we shouldn’t need to.” He paused and smiled for dramatic effect. “The day after tomorrow, the President is giving a speech on fighting crime. In it he will announce, as an initiative to get criminals off the street, the Federation will double the repayment of withheld bail if the fugitive returns to court within ninety days. We’re also offering a reward for escaped convicts, no matter where they’re hiding.”

    “Wow. Hunting season is open,” Lieutenant Commander Isenberg commented in awe.

    Blake nodded. “Yes. Isn’t it great? Okay, here’s where things stand for you. As officers of the court, it’s your duty to arrest criminals. But if you arrest them in foreign territory, you could be charged with kidnapping. Ergo, you are not allowed to do your duty. However, if the fugitive voluntarily gives himself up, then it’s legal. Also, if they return on their own free will, the bail refund will be paid to them, but if their bail-bondsman brings them in, he’ll get the money instead. Tell them that. Make sure you record the conversation for the court.”

    Blake waited for any more comments on that subject. As there wasn’t any, he continued, “The other issue is spies. We expect the Klingons will attempt to smuggle some spies in with the refugees. In fact, we’re hoping they do.”

    “You want them to sneak spies into the Federation? In God’s name, why?”

    “That is none of your concern, Lieutenant Faucheux. All you need to know is they might try it. You will make an obvious attempt to locate any such agents. If, by chance, you do identify one, you will do nothing. Act as if you failed. Other than taking standard precautions against sabotage, you will take no action against any suspected spy. Inform Star Fleet Intelligence during your debriefing, of course.”

    “We should just space them,” Fauchex muttered. Christensen gave him a hard look and shook her head in disgust.

    Lieutenant Kingsley had a thoughtful look on his face. “You know, speaking of spies,” he began slowly. After a long moment, Ryan realized everyone was waiting for him to Finnish the thought. “Never mind. It was a stupid idea.”

    “That never stopped you from opening your mouth before,” Lieutenant Commander DeCosimo, the LaMagne’s skipper, ribbed him.

    Kignsley glanced at Isenberg before he hem-hawed, “Well, ah, I was going to say, ahem, why don’t we try to plant our own spies in while we’re in the Klingon Empire. But that’s a dumb idea ... we can’t very well leave humans behind while we’re evacuating them.”

    Isenberg looked at his First Officer. Good recovery, he thought. He knew Ryan was about to say something about the spy Zychowski was looking for. The Marine Lieutenant had briefed them of his mission last evening and asked them to keep it under wraps for now. Both of the Police officers felt he was holding something back.

    “No, we can’t,” Blake said, “but don’t think we didn’t consider it. One last item. The Kzintis know their backs are against the wall. They had to mobilize everything they have. Including the Yellow Squadron.”

    “The Yellow Squadron?” DeCosimo asked. “What are they -- a group of cowardly cats?”

    “Hardly. They’re actually pretty fierce warriors. And very anti-human; their feelings for us goes beyond loathing,” Blake explained. “They fell out of political favor a few years back, during the initial peace talks that led to the current treaty. We never thought we’d see them onboard warships again. We think they’re all on the Lyran front, but be very careful if you run into any of them. Well, that’s all I have for you. If there aren’t any other questions,” which there wasn’t, “I must be going. Good luck and bring them home safe.”

    After the diplomat left, DeCosimo mussed, “The Yellow Squadron. I never heard of them. Wonder why they’re called that.”

    Captain Littleton chuckled. “That’s a long story, Commander. Goes back about fifty years to Endeara Prime ....” and she sat down as she launched into the story.

    Chief Guzman got up quietly and wandered away from the group, having heard the story from Big Guns himself, and sauntered up next to Commander Sahani. She was standing in front of the view screen with her arms folded across her chest. “Commander.”

    “Senior Chief.” Her eyes never left the screen. “You’re looking well.”

    “As are you.” He waited for nearly thirty seconds. “What’s wrong, Shimmer?”

    “You know I don’t like to be called that.”

    He glanced over his shoulder at the group. “You never liked to be called Risha, either.”

    She gave a little shrug and a sigh. “I’ve learned to make allowances.”

    “Will miracles never cease?” They stood in silence for several moments. “So, are you going to answer my question?”

    “One must believe in miracles before one can determine whether they’ll continue,” she replied. There was no inflection in her voice, no sarcasm or other emotion whatsoever.

    He pursed his lips. “Now you’re being evasive. I’ll bet you found yourself another Vulcan mentor. So, what’s wrong?”

    She didn’t move or even blink. The group behind them erupted in laughter. “What makes you think there’s anything wrong, Chief?”

    “Because I know you, Commander.” Guzman stated matter-of-factly. “We’ve known each other too long and too well to try to hide things from each other.” He studied the map. “You think you’ve missed something, don’t you? If you have, I sure don’t see it. Nobody in this room would find it.” Commander Sahani was the most meticulous person he’d ever met. If she developed a plan for something, she tried to cover every detail and predict every contingency no matter how trivial or far-fetched it seemed. Given the constraints she was working with, this was a wonderful plan.

    She shook her head slightly. “It’s not that. I’m always worried I’ll miss something. You know why, of course.” Yes, he did. The same painful memories haunted his dreams, too. “We’ve run this through the sims a hundred times, and the best outcome was at least two ships lost.”

    He tilted his head slowly to one side, then the other and back, as if changing the perspective of the map would reveal a hidden clue. “That’s only what the computer says. Sims only go so far; real life has too many variables to calculate. Trust your people to do the right thing when the time comes. It’ll all turn out just fine.”

    Sahani sighed again. “I hope you’re right, Chief. I’m praying that you’re right.” There was more laughter from the group. Their joyfulness did little to dispel her melancholy. “Speaking of real life, how’s Susan?”

    “Susan? You mean Cathy. Susan was before Kim-Yi. Both of them want more alimony.”

    She shook her head as if to clear the cobwebs. “Donna, Julie, Cassandra, Amy, Nicole, then Julie again, Susan, Kim-Yi, and now Cathy. Did I miss any? You’re worse than Amanda. So, how’re things going with Cathy?”

    “Circling the drain. My going back to a ship was a trial separation. I suspect we’ll be seeing some lawyers when I get back from this mission.” He sighed heavily. “By the way, Julie and I never tied the knot.”

    “Really? I thought you had. I’m sorry to hear about Susan. And Cathy. I think I know her, don’t I?”

    “Yep. You introduced us, as a matter of fact, right after Susan and I got married. Guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

    She nodded absentmindedly as she pointed a finger at the screen, drawing invisibly in mid-air. The longest Roger Guzman was ever married to any one woman was three years, to his first wife, before he came into the service. “Well, I hope that you meet the right woman one of these days.”

    “I did, once, a long time ago.”

    “And what happened?”

    “She took a commission.”

    After a long moment, she allowed herself to acknowledge his meaning. She turned to face him and looked into his eyes. Memories flooded her mind; emotions flooded her heart. She reached a hand up to cup his cheek, then pulled it back as if to brush his neatly-trimmed beard with the back of her fingers. A crooked smile tugged at her lips as she remembered how she teased him so when he first attempted to grow it. “Oh, Roger.” Grey had crept into his beard and laugh-lines surrounded his eyes, yet when she looked into those eyes she saw the same man she’d met oh so long ago. It seemed like a million years ago and yet only yesterday. They had served together onboard the J. Wilson for nearly two years in their younger days.

    Two years that was a lifetime. He told her he loved her; he told her he hated her. He threatened to kill her once, and he saved her life a dozen times over. He defended her honor and expressed his desire for her. They laughed together and they cried together. They cried for each other. He was the shoulder she leaned on more than once; she rocked him like a baby when his first son died. He knew her secrets, her heart and her soul better than she knew herself. And she knew him better than any of his ex-wives ever could. She never lied to him but often lied to herself. She never told him that she loved him. She told herself she didn’t love him, but yet she knew she did and always would.

    She was suddenly aware of her hand lightly touching his chest over his heart. She pulled it back and crossed her arms over her chest. “Roger, we’d never be able to make it work,” she stated firmly. Of course, she could never tell him, never tell anyone, the real reason they could never be together.

    “I don’t know about that,” he replied, “but either way, it’d be one hell of a ride.”

    A little smile crossed her lips. “That ... is putting it mildly.” The Commander turned back to the map. “What if we moved a Light Cruiser and a pair of Destroyers to here,” she pointed to a base near the Klingon border, “as a show of force? That way, they’d be ready for a rescue mission in case there’s trouble. What do you think?”

    Chief Guzman considered the proposal. He wasn’t near the tactician Commander Sahani was, not by a long shot, but he was better than most junior officers. “I think you’re over-thinking it, Sarisha. A show of force like that could be all the excuse the Klingons need to impound all our rescue ships. Take a break and let it go. It’s a good plan -- quit trying to make it better.”

    “I can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried, but I just can’t get it off my mind. If I could get the sims to come out with all ships recovered just once, maybe I’ll be able to get some rest.”

    Guzman mulled this over. “How about a puzzle? I’ve got one for you: a Patrol Cutter follows a tramp freighter into a medium-large sized class-eight asteroid field. How do you track it?”

    She waved her hand as if batting the idea away. “Easy. We’ve done that before, more than once. You know that.” She gave him a sideways look. “What’s the catch?”

    “Heavy concentrations of aluminum, titanium and magnesium ore in the field. Mining grade deposits. But very little iron.”

    “Wow. That would be ... interesting. How much titanium?” she asked. He recited the rough values from memory. “Wow,” she repeated and blinked several times. After a moment’s thought, she said again, “Wow. That might be difficult.”

    The Chief looked at the map, pleased with himself for finding a way to take the Commander’s mind off the mission, if only for a little while. He considered her idea again. “What if you put one ship here, here and here?” he asked as he pointed to three different locations near the Neutral Zone. “It’s not the show of force you wanted, but it gives you your reinforcements.”

    Sahani’s mind was elsewhere, working on the problem Guzman had presented, so she asked him to repeat his idea. She pinched her lower lip. “Brilliant. You’re a genius, Chief.” She activated the comm unit on the side wall and contacted her aid. She asked the Ensign on the other end to prepare to run some more sims, this time with warships factored in per Guzman’s proposal. She suggested several variations on the theme -- it was amazing how fast her mind worked sometimes. Then she asked him to schedule her some time in the training simulator. She looked at Guzman, “That tramp freighter wouldn’t happen to be the Santa Maria, would it?”

    “This is only a hypothetically scenario.” The Commander nodded knowingly, then asked her aid to download the Magnum’s sensor logs for the past three days to the simulator room’s computers. She told the Chief she had an idea she wanted to test out, and that she’d see him at dinner.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  15. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Guzman walked back over to the group just as Captain Littleton finished with yet another story about her father. He’d heard it before. Still, he laughed at the punch line. “Well, people, I’ve got people waiting for me in my office,” Littleton said after the laughter died down, “and you all have a mission to prepare for. I’ll see you at dinner tonight.” Everyone stood up as she left the room.

    People were already filing out of the room when Guzman looked around the room for a familiar face he thought he saw in the back of the room. He shrugged to himself, thinking he must have been mistaken. He took a moment to chat with Master Chief Andrew Norwood, of the LaMagne, before joining the Magnum's captain and First Officer in mid-conversation. “Any reason we can't cut the crew loose for liberty?” the Exec was asking the Skipper. “Sounds like Star Fleet's going to do most of the prep work for us.”

    Lieutenant Commander Isenberg thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know, Ryan. We can’t let everyone go, so how do you make it fair to those manning essential duty positions? What do you think, Chief?”

    “Well, sir, I don’t mind Star Fleet helping out, but it’s still our boat, and I think we should do most of the grunt work. Still, I have a list of about thirty troops that have earned a few extra hours liberty. Might I suggest this: we’ll call a full-crew briefing to give them the cover story about the mission; then release those on my list until Commander’s Call. That will thin out the herd so we’re not stepping all over each other while loading supplies. Then we’ll let everyone have liberty after Commander’s Call until twenty-two hundred hours.”

    “Hmmm,” Isenberg considered it, “Sounds like a plan. We still need to a seven-man skeleton crew and a security detail left onboard. You got a list, or do I ask for volunteers?”

    Lieutenant Kingsley snapped his fingers. “All we need is one ship’s officer in command -- we could ask Star Fleet for some caretakers. In fact, let’s ask Commander Christensen.” He called her name just as she was heading for the door. When she came over, he gave her a brief run-down of the idea. She agreed it was an excellent suggestion and said she’s go ask Captain Littleton about it right now.

    “Good. It’s settled then,” Isenberg said as he pulled out his communicator. He felt a little silly when he tried to use it at first, having forgotten it was turned off. It took two seconds for the device to perform its self-check before it beeped to life. “Magnum, this is Commander Isenberg.”

    Magnum here,” a male voice responded. “Lieutenant McShannon speaking, Skipper.”

    “Pat, Star Fleet should be contacting you soon. They’re going to send some computer techs over,” Isenberg informed his subordinate. “Give them any assistance they ask for.”

    “Roger that. They already sent a couple geeks over to survey for whatever they need to do next.”

    “Oh, good. We’ll beam over in a few minutes, Pat. Have the crew assemble in the mess hall for a briefing in fifteen minutes.”

    “You got it. Anything else, Skipper?”

    “No, not at this time,” Isenberg replied.

    “Okay. Magnum out.”

    Isenberg closed his communicator and put it away. Christensen noticed the perturbed look on his face. “Something the matter, Commander?” she asked with concern.

    “Yes. I can’t put my finger on why it is, but protocol has gone to Hades in a hand-basket. And now discipline is starting to slip, too.” He noticed that Chief Guzman had opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again with pursed lips. “You look like you want to say something, Chief.”

    Guzman nodded slowly. “Well, sir, I wanted to talk to you in private about this, but ....”

    He paused, too long for Isenberg’s patience. “Come on, out with it, man!”

    “Well, sir, I think I can fix the problem,” Guzman stated, “but first I need to make two people change their ways: Lieutenant Kingsley and you.” The two men both raised their eyebrows, looked at each other and then at the Chief expectantly. Christensen nodded knowingly. The Chief turned to the First Officer, “Sir, you’re not an instructor anymore. You’re the boat’s Exec now, and you need to start acting like one. That doesn’t mean you have to turn into everyone’s worst nightmare, of course, but you can’t be everyone’s best friend, either. You’ve got to kick some butts when it’s called for, sir.”

    Since he was on a roll, Senior Chief Guzman decided to put his C.O. on notice, too. “Sir, with all due respect, the same thing applies to you. Give the Exec some free reign and let him do his job. I know you like to teach the younger troops, but that’s not your job now, sir. That’s mine and the Exec’s. We’ll run the boat; you run the mission. And as far as protocol goes: respectfully, sir, you’re the one that broke it.”

    “Now wait a minute,” Isenberg started, raising his hand to shake his finger in the Chief’s face.

    He stopped when Commander Christensen touched his arm. “Please, let him finish,” she said. As softly as she said it, the underlying tone made it an order. He clinched his jaw and motioned for the Chief to continue.

    Guzman considered how to say what he wanted next. “Sir, you’ve only been the skipper for about a month now; the crew has had time to get to know you. They like you. It’s time to end the honeymoon. The first thing you've got to do is stop calling everyone by their first name.”

    “I don’t do that.” He thought about it for a moment with his brows knitting together. “I don’t think I do that. Do I? Even so, what’s the problem with that? Protocol allows the senior ranking person to call those under him by their given name.”

    “Yes, sir, that’s true. In private or informal settings, not on the bridge during combat maneuvers. The problem is the junior officers are now all on a first-name basis regardless of whether they're an Ensign, Lieutenant Junior Grade or full Lieutenant. And now the enlisted are doing it, too. I caught Petty Officer Moss and Crewman Stevens calling Lieutenant jay-gee McShannon ‘Pat’ to his face last week. And he didn’t correct them. It’s contagious, sir. The only ones not infected yet are the Marines, and that’s only because of McKendrey and Gunny Thorns."

    Isenberg contemplated this for a long moment. “Okay, I can see that. But old habits die hard, Chief. Don’t expect me to change overnight. You said that was the first thing I’ve got to do ... so, what else do you want me to change?”

    Before Guzman could answer, Commander Christensen interjected, “Why don't you let me buy you a cup of coffee, Thomas, and let these two get back to your ship?” She took him by the arm and started leading him away. “Go brief your crew, Chief” she said over her shoulder, “and you can resume this conversation in private after everyone’s calmed down. Tell me something, Thomas ....” she began as they left.

    Kingsley was still watching them and didn't turn to Guzman when he said, “I think you struck a nerve there, Chief.”

    “If you don’t hurt, you don’t heal, sir.” The younger man looked at him and nodded in agreement. “My apologies to you, sir, if you think I was out of line.”

    The Exec waved him off. “No apologies needed, Chief. If anything, you were overdue with that. Come on, let’s go brief the crew,” he said as they turned into the transporter room and requested to be beamed back to the Magnum.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  16. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Down the corridor, the two Cutter captains talked. Rather, Christensen talked and Isenberg listened. He found it slightly ironic that she called him ‘Thomas’ after he was just chastised for using given-names too much. Still, the wisdom she imparted in a very few minutes was more than he had received in all the leadership classes he’d ever attended.

    They arrived at Captain Littleton’s office to find the door shut and locked, and the privacy sign lit. Across the hall, they found Commander Sahani busy at her desk. When they entered her room, Sahani came around the desk. “It’s good to see you, Yvonne,” she said as the two women greeted each other warmly, kissing each other on the cheek. They couldn’t have been more different, Isenberg thought, and yet were very much alike.

    “And you, too, Sarisha. Thomas here has a request.”

    Sahani turned to him and offered her hand. Her grip was firm, unlike Christensen’s. “Commander, I presume Chief Guzman has told you all about me.”

    “He’s had a few stories, Ma’am. All complementary, of course, although a couple were hard to believe. My sensor tech tells me you pioneered most of their procedures.”

    “It was a team effort,” she replied modestly. “So, what can I do for you, Commander?” He told her of the need for a caretaker crew for the evening. She agreed, commenting that she should have thought of it herself, and made a call to the Command Center requesting it. Vice Admiral Charles Littleton himself came on the line and approved the request. He said he’d have the duty officer make the arrangements and notify the Cutters. In hindsight, Isenberg considered the difficulty in coming up with sixty-plus crewmen plus thirty or forty Marines on short notice even on a station as large as a Starbase, and he felt a bit guilty for making the request.

    “Sarisha and I were roommates at the Academy,” Christensen informed him. “Everyone thought we were going to kill each other, but we sorted it all out and became friends. In fact, it was her stories that inspired me to transfer from Star Fleet to the Police Force.”

    “And here I thought it was so you could spend more time with what’s-his-name, the rugby player,” the shorter woman jested. “Wilhelm, wasn’t it? What ever happened between you two?”

    “Oh, he got out of the service after three years, and we got married,” she said, smiling.

    “Really? That’s great! And I’m sorry, I should have known,” Sahani blushed with embarrassment. “I’m sorry for not staying in contact with you. But after ... well, you know ... I took an assignment on Vulcan. I lost touch with a lot of people. I’m really sorry for that.”

    Yvonne wrapped her friend up in a hug. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “I understand. We all understood.” They stood there for a long moment; Isenberg found a spot on the wall that suddenly looked interesting.

    Finally, the two women separated. The Star Fleet officer wiped a single tear from her eye. “Thank you.” She gave them a crooked little smile. “So, you and Wilhelm. Who would have suspected? Things are well, I take it. Any kids?”

    “Three -- a boy and two girls -- and another daughter due in three months.” She laughed when they looked her up and down. There’s no way she's even six weeks pregnant, let alone six months, Isenberg thought. “My husband’s a sea horse,” she told them. She laughed again at their confusion. It was a light, tinkling sound fitting her image. “I can’t carry a baby to term -- I lost two, and the second one almost killed me. So Wilhelm had an artificial womb implanted.”

    Isenberg was almost stunned speechless. What came out of his mouth next made him wish he had been. “That’s ... different. How’s that make him a manatee?” In his mind’s eye, he had a mental image of a huge, wallowing pregnant man basking in the sun by a swimming pool.

    “Not a sea cow,” she laughed again, but with less humor this time. “A sea horse, like the tiny fish that looks like a horse’s head. The female lays her eggs in a pouch in the male’s belly, and he takes care of them until they hatch.” He felt silly. He should have remembered that. “Our first born was a test-tube baby; the other three were transplanted about a month after I became pregnant. He carried them to term, then had a C-section for obvious reasons.”

    Sahani shook her head in disbelief. “Amazing what modern medicine can do. I always knew you had Wilhelm wrapped around your little finger, but wow, that's incredible.”

    “Well, he’s an incredibly wonderful man. This was all his idea. There are times I wish I had never agreed to it -- the risks are just too damn high.” She wanted to pull the curse word back in; she knew her friend didn’t like it when people swore. Funny thing is she wasn’t overly religious and yet refused to swear or drink.

    Sahani simply ignored it. “I’m sorry we pulled you away from your family, Yvonne. You can turn the assignment down if you want.”

    “No,” she shook her head emphatically, “I had to get out of there -- Wilhelm is ‘nesting’ and it's driving me nuts. I’ll be home in time for the baby to be born. That is, unless this mission lasts longer than you’ve suggested.” She knew her ex-roommate would take the bait and put a word in on her behalf with the Commodore to let her keep the Gendarme. The comm unit interrupted the conversation; Commander Sahani’s aid informed her that the training simulator was programmed as she had requested. She excused herself, which was a polite way to ask her guests to leave.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  17. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    A few more posts, which needs a little editing first, and then I have to start typing again. I'm setting up for some action, with a surprising twist, but it's not the big event that the story eventually leads up to.

    I'm amazed by the number of hits I'm getting. Thanks for the support.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2013
  18. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    As they made their way down to the lounge, Christensen continued her leadership lesson. It all boiled down to trust -- give your people a reason to trust you and you’ll be able to trust them. And one of the first ways to get them to trust you is to trust them. It seemed like circular logic, yet it made all the sense in the world.

    Once at the lounge, which wasn’t overly busy, they found a table far away from the others to have a private conversation yet close enough to avoid looking like they wanted to be alone. Isenberg ordered coffee, black, and she ordered mint tea and crumb cakes. She asked him how Senior Chief Guzman was working out as the Chief of the Boat.

    "You mean besides that little chewing he just gave me and my Exec?" Isenberg said ruefully. "In some ways, he reminds me of my father. I suppose that’s a good thing."

    “Excellent. I figured he’d make a great CoB. I wasn’t sure they’d ever give him the slot after he locked horns with Renee Norwood.” She wagged a finger at him. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you the Norwoods don’t play the politics game. And don’t ever fall for the lie that they’re all God's gift to the service. Renee screwed up by the numbers and still got the job that should have been Roger’s from the word go. I hate to say it, but the best thing she ever did was get herself killed without taking anyone with her.”

    Isenberg’s eyebrows shot up at that. He knew several of the Norwood clan. Who didn’t? He knew that they had a couple bad apples, of course. What family didn’t? By and large, however, most of the Norwood family was highly regarded. Renee, on the other hand, was the blackest of the black sheep. Still, the Norwoods had a reputation to protect and thus tried to keep her problems very quiet. One simply didn’t go around talking about such things in public. Not without risking the famous Norwood wrath.

    The waiter brought their drinks over. “The hell of it is,” Christensen continued, “after she got the promotion -- over my objections, I might add -- she told Commodore al-Hafi there was no way she could work for my old Exec -- my highly-deserving, fully-qualified, hand-picked successor. So rather than give her the dirt-side job she was overdue for, they let her be the CoB and exiled Andy to a staff position at HQ. She suggested she ‘might be able to work with’ Lieutenant Commander Mark Wagner. That’s how he got the Magnum, and we all know how that turned out.”

    “Yes, ma’am.” Isenberg sipped his coffee. The investigation into Senior Chief Renee Norwood’s death revealed her illegal activities and co-conspirators resulting in six personnel arrested, including Wagner’s first officer, and five others forced to resign, including Wagner himself. “I missed most of that as I was stationed over on the Romulan border at the time. It sounded pretty ugly, from what I’ve heard.” Isenberg knew Mark Wagner. He was a good officer, just not fit for command. Mark’s only crime was getting promoted one time too many. That, and not being able to see how his senior staff manipulated him. He was simply too trusting, too gullible. Thomas remembered a poker game in which he bluffed Wagner into folding four deuces.

    Although not personally implicated, Commodore al-Hafi announcing he was taking an early retirement. One of his last acts was to give Thomas Isenberg command of the Magnum. His other was to reassign the patrol zones for all thirty-two ships in the Fifty-First Cutter Group. The dust was just now settling down, six weeks after the house cleaning ended. Isenberg wondered how much this new mission would stir back up.

    “Ugly doesn’t come close,” she replied. “The kick-backs and bribes were bad enough. Allowing smugglers to cross the border at will was worse. But they were using police forces to drive off competition for the Orion Syndicates and let them get an arm-lock on shipping in this region. Our reputation is shot to Hell -- there isn’t an independent freighter in this sector that trusts us right now.”

    Isenberg nodded. The damage was done and would take a long time to repair. He had seen that for himself, like with the Santa Maria the day before. He’d noticed that civilian vessels, even from highly reputable companies like Smith-&-Jones, were keeping a wide berth away from police boats. He didn’t think anything of it at first, until Lieutenant Xiong mentioned how unusually shy the cargo masters seemed around them. “Well, at least they weren’t dealing zap.”

    “There’s no proof they weren’t,” she retorted, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. Hell, Thomas, just last week someone stole over a metric ton of zap from the impound locker at Cygnus Station. It looks like an inside job -- I just haven’t been able to prove it yet. To give the Devil his due, though, they did pull off a nice heist. They had us looking for stolen artwork, which oh by the way, never existed in the first place -- it all looked like a simple insurance scam at first until we noticed the drugs were missing. The paperwork showed it was destroyed.”

    Isenberg shrugged. “Any reason to think it wasn’t?”

    She gave him a sour look. “Two reasons. Number one, our primary incinerator is down of an overhaul; the one we’re using isn't hot enough to completely burn zap without giving off toxic smoke. And number two, they forged my signature on the forms. I know I didn’t sign it, but now it looks like I’m covering something up.”

    “Hmmm, maybe it’s just my Machiavellian mind working overtime,” he said thoughtfully, “but you said you had a run-in with Renee Norwood. Perhaps some of her cohorts are still on the loose and are trying to get even with you, Ma'am.”

    “You think? I'm sure of it!” Christensen exclaimed. “I don’t think we got the ring-leader. There’s no way one Senior Chief, even one with the political connections of a Norwood, could have set this up. And I believe there's more to this than just the Cartels taking over all shipping in this region.”

    Isenberg thought about all the political data he had assimilated over the past month, including the tidbits Zychowski briefed him on last night that he’d picked up while undercover. Trade was the lifeblood of the Federation. Control the cargo flow and you’d someday control the government. And yet, that seemed too ambitious, even for the Orion Syndicate. But not for the Klingons. With war looming and much of Star Fleet's military shipping still handled by civilian freight companies, the Klingons were a logical suspect. On the other hand, it also seemed out of character for the Klingons; they tended to fight you head-on without a lot of subterfuge. This level of intrigue was something one would expect from the Romulans.

    There was another possibility. The very thought of it made Isenberg shudder. “You know, my first guess would be to say the Klingons are involved, but here’s an odd thought: what if it’s opposition politics in the Federation Assembly? The elections are coming up in about eight months. By making the President look weak on the whole Orion Enclave issue, they might be able to pick up a bunch of seats if not the presidency itself.”

    Commander Christensen had just taken a bite of crumb cake and almost choked on it. After taking a sip of tea to clear her throat, she said, “That’s a bit too Machiavellian, don’t you think, Thomas? My money's still on the Klingons. Although this whole Renee Norwood affair has resurrected the suggestion that Star Fleet annex the Police Force. It’ll never happen, of course, but in some ways it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Do you know what our biggest problem is, Commander?” He gave a thoughtful look then shook his head ‘no’. “We don’t have a pyramid.”

    “Excuse me, ma’am?”

    “A pyramid. Our rank structure is very linear. When you came up through the ranks, you started as a weapons officer, then moved up to intelligence, operations next, and then exec officer before becoming a ship’s captain, right?” He shook his head ‘no’. She gave him a puzzled look, “No? Did you come up from the back of the boat?” she asked, meaning that he was an engineer first.

    “No, I was Star Fleet,” he explained, “before I had a break in service. I just made the lieutenant-commander selection list when I was accused of something I didn’t do. I was given a choice of court marshal and five years in jail, or to resign my commission. I didn’t have the proof at the time of my innocence. So, I got out and went back to school to finish my law degree. It took two years and a ton of money, but a private investigator that I hired found the evidence I needed. I testified against the person who set me up, and then sued Star Fleet to let me back in. They had no way of keeping me out, but they said I lost my promotion slot and half my seniority. The police force gave me a better offer; I got my gold-leaf,” meaning the insignia of a Lt. Commander, “and an assignment as the opeations officer on the Sir Patrick Hasting.” The Sir Pat was a police flagship, a true jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none ship based on the Burke-class frigate design. “I had that job for about six months, and then two months ago, word came down they needed officers to fill a dozen command slots on cutters. I threw my hat in the ring for an exec job, and somehow got tagged to be the captain instead.”

    Christensen sighed at that. A good number of police force officers came from Star Fleet. There didn’t seem to be much middle ground; either they were among the best, the ones who wanted a challenging career, or among the worst, the ones Star Fleet didn’t mind letting go. Isenberg seemed like one of the former, thankfully. “Well, as I was saying, we don’t have a good base of junior officers to build into good senior officers. We end up filling the ranks by commissioning enlisted on an accelerated promotion track, or we have to take Star Fleet’s leftovers. No offense intended.”

    “None taken,” he assured her. “Star Fleet has the opposite problem. They have too many junior officers, so they eat their young. They drive young ensigns and lieutenants to the breaking point. A lot of good people get out, so too many narcissists make it to the mid-tier ranks. Can you image a ship full of people like your new exec, Pierre Faucheux? At least they weed out the incompetent ones.”

    The Commander gave him a dirty look. “It’s not nice to talk about another ship’s crew. But ... you’re right. I don’t like him. The question is, can I work with him?” Her communicator chirped. She took the call and learned that her luggage had been transferred to the Gendarme. “Well, I’d better go make sure they didn’t break anything. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Thomas. Why don’t you go finish that conversation with Senior Chief Guzman?”

    They shook hands and parted ways. Isenberg walked back to the transporter room, lost in thought. And boy did he have a lot to think about.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  19. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Roger Guzman beamed over to the Star Base thirty minutes before Commander’s Call. His meeting with Lieutenant Commander Isenberg went well. The skipper was fairly receptive to his observations and advice. Still, it looked like it would be tough to break some of his habits.

    As he walked through the lounge, he noticed two junior Star Fleet officers in a discussion, obviously some sort of disagreement. Both were using their hands as they spoke, often interrupting each other. For a Vulcan and an Andorian, neither species known for their display of emotions, they were positively animated. Guzman ignored them, or tried to.

    Just as he walked passed, the Vulcan was saying something about “logic dictates ...” when Guzman heard a somehow familiar voice interject, “You wouldn’t know logic if it bit you ...” followed by the Andorian cut him off with, “As if your opinion means anything to me, Tellarite.”

    Chief Guzman glanced over to see the Andorian making his point by jabbing the interloper, a Police Force ensign, in the chest with his finger. He changed course to intervene. “One would think that an Andorian should know the folly of arguing with a Tellarite, Ensign. But if you choose to do so, might I suggest you find someplace a bit less public before you make a scene?”

    “I fail to see how this concerns you, Chief Petty Officer.”

    “In my experience,” Guzman replied dryly, “Vulcans see what they wish, and do not see what they wish not to.”

    “That is not logical.”

    “Ah, yes. Logic. I have also found that Vulcans often make a discussion first, and then build a path of logic to support their desire. And my rank, Ensign, is Senior Chief Petty Officer,” he added coldly. Before the Vulcan could complain, he turned to his fellow policeman. “Your father knew the wisdom of watching an argument for a length of time before wading into the middle of it.”

    “How dare you speak of my father, human?” demanded the incensed Tellarite.

    “You are Saal, son of Gar Telko, are you not? I knew your father well.”

    “My father died over twenty years ago.”

    [LEFT]“Yes, I know. He saved my life, and the lives of many others, that day. I honor his memory, sir, and so should you. Have you read his books? Watched his videos?” Ensign Telko indicated he had not. “Which ship are you on? I’ll send you the files. In the meantime, might I suggest you three fine gentlemen move your conversation out of the middle of the traffic area?” He gestured to several empty tables. They grudgingly agreed to his terms. Ensign Telko said he was assigned to the Mazza as an assistant engineer.[/LEFT]

    “It’s like a high school reunion, isn’t it, Roger?” Guzman turned towards the female voice behind him. He wasn’t expected to run into her, although in retrospect he should have.

    “Hello, Julie,” he said as he took her hands in his, and then kissed her on the check. He stepped back, still holding her hands, to look her up and down appreciatively. Time had etched her face as it had his own, and her strawberry-blonde hair didn't have the same sheen it did twenty years ago ... but she was still as beautiful as the day he met her. "It's so good to see you again. How long has it been? Six ... seven years?”

    She led him to a table, on the other side of the lounge from the three ensigns, and he held her seat as she sat down. “Four, actually. At the indoctrination ceremony.” It was obvious from her tone that he should have remembered. He and Julie had run into each other off and on so many times over the years, it was hard for him to keep track. He wondered how she did so easily.

    “Only four years? Seems like longer. Then again, our time apart is always too long and our time together too short.”

    “You always did have smooth lines, Roger.” As much as she tried not to, she smiled. “Ever try any of them on the Commander?”

    “Didn’t work – she’s immune to my charms. Hey, what’s with this?” He tapped her Chief Petty Officer rank insignia. “I thought you were picked up on the supplemental list two months ago. Where’s your star?” he asked, referring to the additional feature on his Senior Chief insignia.

    “Some officers don’t believe in frocking,” she stated flatly, trying and failing to mask her annoyance with the situation. The tradition, dating back to the days of sailing ships, allowed those selected for promotion to pin their new rank on immediately upon notification even though the official date of rank (and corresponding pay raise) might be months away.

    Guzman was dumbfounded for a moment. “You’re kidding, right? Who's your commanding officer?”

    “Roger, don’t do anything stupid,” she warned him. “You’ll just make matters worse for me and my whole crew.”

    He set his jaw, and she stared him down. Finally, he raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I won’t do anything. I promise. I’m just curious who your skipper is.”

    “Do you mean the C.O. or the person actually running the ship?” Normally, Guzman would have had a snappy come-back to that: the CoB was the one that ran the boat -- the officers just borrowed it. But he knew that was the wrong thing to say. “I’m the Senior Enlisted Advisory on the Gendarme. And before you say it, the SEA,” she pronounced it ‘see-ah’, “is not the same as Chief of the Boat. As I understand it, ‘CoB’ is an antiquated and somehow derogatory term. At least, that’s what the Exec tells me.”

    “I heard some things about him. I had hoped they weren’t true,” Guzman said sadly. “Lieutenant Faucheux's reputation precedes him. I see it was well deserved.”

    “Yes,” she agreed unhappily. “Not that I’m complaining, but I’m surprised Commodore Hammerstrom didn’t make him the skipper now that Commander Gonzales is retiring. Then again, she’s been ROAD,” Retired On Active Duty, a derogatory slang for someone that spends more time planning for post-service life than doing the job they still have, “for the past year. Believe it or not, she’ll punch out on terminal leave next week and already has a position lined up to work for the Whitman and Associates Law Firm.”

    “I can believe it.” Roger Guzman had met the type many times in his twenty-plus years of service.

    “At any rate, Faucheux has been pretty much running things for a few months now. Everyone expected him to get the center seat. I don’t know Commander Christensen and haven’t heard much about her. Got any scoop on her?”

    “Oh, yeah. She was my skipper for three years before we both left the Magnum for dirt-side. She’s ... complex. Not really moody, but you need to learn to read her. It’s too hard to explain; you’ll just have to get to know her before you can predict how she’ll react to things.” A sly grin came over his face. “But if it’s any comfort, her first tour as an Ensign was on the Sam Franklin when Chief Rinehart was the CoB.”

    She perked up at that. “Really? I wonder what his assessment of her was.” Rinehart was notorious for making or breaking junior officers. A comment or two from the Chief always seemed to end up in their Fitness Report, even though he, being an enlisted man, didn’t have any official input to it. Unfortunately, his brutal honesty and inability to keep his opinions to himself also cost him any hope of making Master Chief.

    He shrugged. “We’ll never know for sure, since he died in the middle of that tour.” Although the man was dead, his legend and his legacy lived on in the many junior Petty Officers he mentored over the years. Roger Guzman treasured those memories. “But do you know who she asked for to be her CoB when she took over the Magnum?” Julie shook her head ‘no’. He smiled broadly. “Gruhn.” He laughed at her wide-eyed reaction. Master Chief Gruhn was one of Rinehart's best pupils -- the apprentice that surpassed the master.

    “Gruhn? Yager Gruhn?” She had a shocked, almost horrified, look on her face, which made him laugh all the more. “Why in God’s name would she want a Tellarite ....” she faded off into thought. Then a smile grew, oh so slowly, across her face until she was beaming. Tellarites was the most obnoxious, overbearing race in the Federation. To have one as your boss ... well, it was just best to keep them happy. It was very telling of Christensen’s leadership style by her choosing one to run her boat. “Roger, you just made my day.”

    He smiled back and said, “Oh, it gets better. She went to Star Fleet Academy, not Police Academy. Care to take a guess who her roommate was?” Julie just shrugged. “None other than our own favorite space witch, Sarisha Sahani.” Julie’s jaw dropped. “Yeah, she survived Shimmer’s wrath more than once, and that alone should tell you have tough she can be. In fact, word is, she gave as good as she got.”

    She looked over his shoulder and said, “Speaking of the devil, there she is now.” Guzman turned to see Commander Sahani and Ensign Tillman diverting their course towards their table. The two chiefs stood up as the officers approached.

    “Commander. Ensign Tillman,” Guzman greeted them, “This is Chief O’Hara of the Gendarme. Julie, the ensign is one of our shuttle pilots.”

    “We’ve met,” Chief O’Hara said, perhaps a little too quickly. Tillman crinkled her eyebrows in confusion. “I was at Stephanie’s graduation. In fact, I’ve known her father for years.”

    Sahani had that light-bulb-over-the-head look. “Roger, wasn’t your mother’s name ‘Tillman’? Maybe you two are related.” She could sense Julie holding her breath.

    “Nah, grandfather was the only boy with five sisters, and he tried nine times before giving up hope of having a son. If we’re related, it’s no closer than fifth or sixth cousins. Did you need to see me, Ma’am?”

    “No, actually, I need to speak with Chief O’Hara,” she explained. “Privately, if you don’t mind.”

    Ensign Tillman spoke up, “Chief, I’m scheduled for bridge watch. They want us to dock to the base.” She blushed with embarrassment. “I’d feel more comfortable if you were by my side when I bring her into the docking port, Chief.”

    “Of course, Ensign, by all means,” he smiled, “We’ll talk later, okay?” he said to the other two women. As they walked away, Stephanie gave them a discreet little wave behind her back.

    The commander turned to the chief and opened her moth to speak, but O’Hare blurted out, “She doesn’t know. And neither does he. And I want to keep it that way.” She had a very determined look on her face.

    Sahani raised her hands in surrender. “We all have our secrets. Yours are safe with me.” Lord only knows what she’d do if someone let her secrets out. “You know, earlier today, Roger and I were talking, and I listed all his ex-wives. He said you two never tied the knot. Now I wonder why you didn’t.”

    Julie waved towards a chair and took a seat herself. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t repeat this, especially to Roger, but I was married once for two years.”

    “Bad break up?”

    “Bad marriage. I was seventeen and didn’t know better; he was twenty-three and very abusive. He liked to hit me. A lot. He nearly beat me to death. Twice. You’d think I would have learned after the first time, but he always made me feel like it was my fault.” She stopped and took a deep breath before continuing. “So, the last time he started in on me, I hit him upside the head with a frying pan. I thought I killed him, so I turned myself into the police. As luck would have it, I only knocked him out. They ran a DNA check on him and found he was wanted in connection with the death of his first wife, and two girlfriends in high school.”

    Sarisha reached out and took the other woman’s hands into hers. “Julie, I’m so sorry. Look, I know we’ve never been friends, but I had no idea what you were living with. I would have helped any way I could have.”

    “Thank you,” she said quietly. “I appreciate that. So now you understand why I’ll never get married again. I can’t even live with a man, you know, shacking up. Roger and I tried it for a couple weeks, but I couldn’t keep my side of the bargain. I’ve been through counseling, and that helped, but my life is what it is. At least the nightmares went away.” She stopped and took a few breaths, and then pulled her hands back. “So, you said you needed to see me about something, Ma’am.”

    The commander pulled a data chip out of a pocket. “Here’s a list of people we need you to release when we add the Marines to your crew. Don’t ask why. I’ll explain it after the mission, but I can’t tell you right now. Just that I hope we’re wrong about them.”

    “I don’t know if I can help you.” The chief took the chip and inserted it into her PADD. “I gave my list to the Exec and Lieutenant Baku, our operations officer, and they edited the list.” She read at the list she was just given. “I had about half of these people on my list, but none of them are on the final list.”

    Commander Sahani sat for a long while, hands clasped together and index finger tips on her lower lip, in obvious deep thought. “We can’t cancel the mission based on a gut feeling. You can trust Christensen, and maybe Stableford. But that’s it.”

    O’Hara shook her head. “Stableford’s not coming with us. With the Marines onboard, we don’t need a tactical officer, so he’s going out on the LaMagne to fill in for their weapons officer.” Her communicator chirped. “Time for Commander’s Call. Gotta run.”

    “Jewels, just be careful. Watch your back.”

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
  20. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​

    Lieutenant Commander Isenberg and another man, who was wearing a Star Fleet uniform, stepped off the turbolift and onto the bridge. “Captain on the bridge!” barked Marine Sergeant McKendrey.

    Isenberg had told him, more than once, that it wasn’t really necessary to do that. It was proper protocol, but still, it got old real fast. “As you were,” he ordered. “Good morning, everyone. Say hello to Ensign Daniel Littleton. He volunteered for this mission, and I told his aunt I’d take him. Or is she your cousin?”

    “I believe we’re third cousins, once removed, sir,” the younger man corrected him. One look and it was obvious he belonged to one of Star Fleet’s ruling dynasties. He had the same chiseled jawline and unruly sandy-brown hair. He probably inherited his small nose from his mother.

    “I’m glad you know how to keep track of that sort of stuff. I never could figure out my family tree. At any rate, this is Ms. Maida,” he indicated to the lieutenant sitting in the command chair. He waved her back down when she started to vacate the seat. “She is our operations officer, third in command of the ship.” Littleton couldn’t help but notice that she was very attractive; tall, athletic, with platinum hair and bright green eyes. It was her eyes that suggested she was probably from Alpha Centauri. Isenberg continues the introductions, “Ms. Tillman here is another shuttlecraft pilot. Regardless of date-of-rank, I’m going to consider her senior to you.” He’d already checked, and Littleton had one month more time-in-grade than Ensign Tillman.

    “Of course, sir,” Littleton agreed, “That’s only fair. I’m only here for a few weeks, at most.” He was introduced to the four enlisted personnel currently on the bridge, and almost immediately forgot their names. It wasn’t that he felt so superior to them that he didn’t need to know their names; rather, he always had a problem remembering names. He so envied his older relatives for their ability to store such data away so easily. He often watched his father greet people he hadn’t seen in years, and not only remembered their names but also their spouse and children’s names as well.

    “The chief pilot is Lieutenant jay-gee Maes Roola. You’ll meet him later; can’t miss him, he’s the blue guy with antennae growing out of his head. Your chain of command is Mister Roola, Ms. Maida, then Mister Kinsley, whom you met last night, and finally, me.”

    “Yes, sir.” The ensign used a memory trick to file that away.

    “The Chief of the Boat is Senior Chief Guzman, whom I expected to be here by now,” he looked over at Maida, but she just shrugged, “and Chief Szczr runs the shuttle deck. I strongly advise you to listen to everything those two try to teach you.”

    “Yes, sir, I understand. Szczr, that’s Rigellian, right?”

    “No, I believe she told me her last name is Czech,” Isenberg correct him. “Yesterday, Ensign Tillman brought this ship into dock. Think you can take her out when we push off?”

    “No, sir,” Littleton blushed. “I’m a good shuttle pilot, sir, but I haven’t sat at the helm of a starship in over a year.”

    Isenberg sighed. “Pity. Well, we will just have to change that. Ms. Tillman, do you think you can take us out without scratching the hull?”

    “Yes, sir. If not,” Tillman gave him an impish smile, “I took art classes, so I do know how to touch up the paint job.”

    The commander was in a good mood, so he let her have a pass on that one. “Has anyone seen the CoB this morning?”

    Lieutenant Maida looked up from the report she was reading. “He reported in at oh-five-thirty, but he left the ship just before seven. I expect him back any moment.”

    “Very well. Did everyone else make it back on time?”

    “No, sir. Two persons are unaccounted for.”

    Isenberg rubbed his forehead. And it started out as such a good morning. Before he could ask, Chief Guzman entered the bridge. The commander turned to face him. “Well, good morning, Chief. You look in better spirits than last night.”

    Guzman opened his mouth then closed it, obviously engaging brain before tongue. “Last night, sir, I wanted to get drunk. It took every ounce of willpower I have to not order a single shot of whisky. Or the twenty I wanted.” He yawned. “Please note in the record that Petty Officer Hunter and Crewman Reese will not be joining us for this mission. Guajardo and McCormick will be staying on in their place.”

    “Okay,” Isenberg said, slowly. “Care to elaborate?”

    Guzman shook his head. “Later, sir, in private. ” He yawned again. “I need some coffee, and I need a shower. I’m not sure which one I need first. Maybe I’ll drink my coffee in the shower. I’ll see you in an hour or so, sir.”

    “No rush, Chief,” Isenberg told him, “We don’t leave port for another five hours.”

    After the doors closed behind the CoB, Maida said, “What’s eating him?”

    The commander sighed. “No idea, Ursula, but I don’t want any scuttlebutt about it.” Maida nodded curtly. They both looked around the bridge to make sure everyone got the message, loud and clear.

    Stephanie Tillman busied herself with the pre-launch checklist. She knew something happened yesterday, but she didn’t know what exactly. Right in the middle of the chief walking her through docking the Magnum, his wife Cathy and her lawyer called from a court house. At the time, it was kind of funny: the judge demanded Guzman talk to him ‘right now’. The chief asked if the judge had ever taught anyone to drive; the judge said he had twin teenage boys. Guzman then told the judge, ‘Sir, I am attempting to teach this young lady how to dock this twenty-five hundred ton, half-billion credit starship to a five-trillion credit star base. Can whatever this is about please wait ten minutes?’

    When the CoB came back from his office, something had obviously upset him. She’d never seen him mad before, and she sure didn’t want that fury aimed at her. The next time she saw the chief, it was at dinner. He was still in a foul mood at first, but after talking privately with Chief O’Hara and Commander Sahani, he seemed to lighten up back to his normal happy self. She noticed he left early with both of them, and wondered which woman the chief spent the night with. She wasn’t sure which one would make her angrier. She forced the thought out of her head; it wasn’t her place to judge him.

    Isenberg called up to the shuttle deck and asked for someone to escort Littleton to his new duty station. Chief Szczr herself came down. She was short, just shy of five foot tall, with dark brown hair pulled back into a bun. Her hazel eyes seemed to be smiling as usual; when they didn’t, look out. The way she filled out her uniform made her look like she was pushing her weight maximum. Nurse Campbell assured him that Amy-Lynn Szczr was well within regs, just that nature was “too nice” to her.

    Szczr and Littleton exited out one door just as Marine Gunnery Sergeant Linda Hawthorn entered through the other. “Good morning, Skipper,” she handed Isenberg a data PADD. She looked as McKendrey, “Sergeant, have you ever heard the old saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished?’ Gunny Fields was hurt last night and can’t go on the mission. We need you to take his place, if you think you’re up to the task. Grab your gear and report to the Gendarme, on the double.”

    Isenberg looked at the transfer request on the PADD. “I don’t know about this. A buck sergeant in a gunny slot, that’s some big shoes to fill.”

    “He’s got big feet, Skipper.” The commander shrugged and initialed the request. Who was he to question the Gunny?

    Lieutenant Maida turned to the junior Marine. “The Gendarme is pulling out in half an hour. Want me to call them so you have time to pack?”

    McKendrey smiled at her. “I’m a Marine, Ma’am; I’m always packed.” Of course you are, Isenberg thought. “By your leave, sir.” He saluted, and the commander returned it.

    Gunny Thorns retrieved the PADD and said, “Let me fill you in on the way,” as she ushered McKendrey out. Isenberg also left, saying he was going to walk the ship. Five minutes later, Ensign Tillman excused herself for a head call; Lieutenant Maida thought the young lady looked like she was going to burst into tears any second.

    The Gendarme left the star base right on schedule, with Sergeant McKendrey onboard. Fifteen minutes later, Star Base Control called and asked that the Magnum to expedite preparations and depart as soon as they were ready. Forty minutes after that, the Magnum undocked, with a re-composed Ensign Tillman at the helm and Senior Chief Guzman at her side. All seemed right with the universe.

    ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~​
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2013