Star Trek: Fortitude Season Four, Episode One - “Unleashed, Part Two” By Jack D. Elmlinger PROLOGUE Last time on Star Trek: Fortitude.... Captain Ewan Llewellyn and the crew of the USS Fortitude, NCC-76240, have survived a troubled year. Dogged by the persistent menace of a Tah’Heen spy, Llewellyn had fought at every turn to find answers. Who does this Tah’Heen attack? Who is behind him, ordering these attacks? What are they designed to accomplish? Along the way, the Fortitude crew has evolved. Lieutenant Commander Sollik had revealed his superhuman genetic abilities to his shocked friends, an echo of a long-past mistake in Suliban history. Lieutenant Arden Vuro and Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Brodie have clashed on numerous occasions over a long-standing rivalry that has roots in their shared Starfleet Academy experiences. Forced to mature, thanks to the tragic loss of his boyfriend, Ensign Jason Armstrong continues to maintain his position. Commander Valerie Archer, First Officer to Captain Llewellyn, is unaware of how close her Captain had come to revealing his true love for her. It is a love that she shares… and a love endangered by the volatile temper and dark outbursts experienced by Llewellyn himself. The pacifist within Llewellyn has been kept in check by nurturing a beautiful new alliance with the Shurvun. A friendly race of explorers, they promise to become an outstanding member of the United Federation of Planets. Tano Jmara, Llewellyn’s opposite number aboard the Shurvun exploratory vessel Vunara, has proven to be a valuable ally and a warm reminder of what the Fortitude crew is in the Beta Quadrant after all. But when an away team led by Rear Admiral Edward Blackmore uncovers the truth behind the Tah’Heen attacks and all hope of a peaceful resolution is shattered… … and now the conclusion. ACT ONE “This waiting is killing me,” Valerie Archer admitted. She sat with her legs crossed and her head slumped forward, resting in her palm in the First Officer’s chair, just staring at the viewscreen. Upon it, the jungle planet below them rotated blissfully through space as if mocking her impatience. It had been almost twenty minutes since the Rear Admiral had taken Captain Llewellyn, Lieutenant Commander Brodie and Ensign Armstrong down to the surface with the Tah’Heen. Surely that slimy good-for-nothing spy should have uncovered something by now? Surely there was something to report, an answer, an indication towards an answer… a hint, anything! “Commander,” Arden Vuro called out from the helm, his blue head rotating slightly to direct his words behind him,” I’m picking up a vessel on the other side of the planet. They’re just entering sensor range. It’s the Vunara!” “Tano Jmara’s ship,” Archer mused aloud. “Hail them, Lieutenant.” “I’m getting an automated reply,” the Bolian helmsman read aloud from his display. “It must be from the robotic crew. They’re saying that Tano Jmara is unavailable but they’re in the sector conducting their mapping survey when they detected Fortitude. Apparently, they’re offering assistance.” “Good old Tano,” smiled the First Officer in ignorance. * * * * Tano Jmara was definitely unavailable. Clicking his silvery fingers, the Shurvun summoned a circle of ten deadly machines to stand around the traumatized Starfleet away team. The dank structure that played host to their impromptu meeting was suddenly alive with technology. The deathy-white skeletons of the robotic soldiers showed no emotion as they leveled their plasma rifles at their Human prisoners. With a short jerk of his fingers, Tano silently ordered his four former friends to drop their phasers. They had no other choice. First Blackmore, then Armstrong, and then Brodie and Llewellyn together. All of their sidearms clattered to the cold stone floor. They had been defeated by the element of surprise. “Thank you, gentlemen,” Tano grinned wickedly. “Anything to help,” Ewan growled sarcastically. “You son of a bitch, Tano,” Blackmore picked up, finding his voice again after the gut-wrenching shock had worn away slightly. “You’ve been playing us all along! You’ve been behind everything! This Tah’Heen works for you!” “Quite right, Boxer,” the Shurvun chirped delightfully, his imbalance quite obvious and his previous friendly tones discarded. As he spoke, he moved the circle of robots to stand alongside the proud-looking Tah’Heen. “This gentleman has proven to be quite useful in my little tests. He works for a reasonable fee and has kept you guessing for almost a year. I’m very proud of how all of this turned out.” Turning, Tano addressed the Tah’Heen spy directly. “You’ve been most helpful.” “Thank you, sir,” hissed the Tah’Heen. “No… thank you.” A bright flash of a muzzle discharge briefly blinded the chamber. As the combat-green figure of the Tah’Heen slumped to the ground, Tano holstered his small pistol and gave the corpse a slightly raised eyebrow. The four Humans recoiling with the stench of ozone and twisted flesh in the air being almost overpowering. Rear Admiral Blackmore got over it first. “Why, Tano?,” he breathed, shaking his aging head in dismay. “Because assumption is the first step towards defeat” Jmara replied. “I have been planning the invasion of the Federation ever since I saw Fortitude stand up against the incredible forces of the End space fleet. Two years ago, you destroyed an enemy that we had struggled to weaken. You are far too powerful to remain unchallenged, and thus I plan to challenge you.” “Who are you,” Ewan asked from behind Blackmore,” really?” “I am Tano Jmara, leader of the Third Shurvun Empire, ruler of seven intergalactic civilizations and soon to be the ruler of you. Each attack by my unfortunate Tah’Heen spy was designed to test different aspects of your tactical response. A virus, to see how biological warfare would pan out, was the first step. Then I had Fortitude cut off, to monitor how best to go about dividing your Federation. Wiping out the database on Starbase 499 showed me how you coped with ignorance, perhaps a war of disinformation. By far, the best and most ingenious part of my scheme was presenting himself as an ally.” “It’s certainly done the most damage,” Boxer growled in defiance. “Emotions make you weak,” Tano smirked. “Don’t be a sore loser, Boxer.” “Your diplomatic staff,” Jason Armstrong suddenly blurted out,” back in the Santrag system… they’re not really there to sign up for Federation membership, are they?” “At my command, they’ll turn their weapons onto Starbase 499 and obliterate you,” the Shurvun leader boasted as his silver features morphed into yet another diabolical grin. “It will be the first step in the invasion of the Federation. You can’t possibly fight a war on two fronts, and I hear that the Alpha Quadrant is rather tied up with the Dominion.... Leaving the Beta Quadrant nicely undefended. It’s back door diplomacy at the point of a gun, my friends… my gun. You will submit to our invasion forces. You will surrender without a single shot ever having been fired, for we know all about you and we will use that knowledge to devastate and destroy you. You will accept our new position of ultimate authority.” Rear Admiral Blackmore had heard enough of this self-important garbage. “Over my dead body,” he objected through gritted teeth. “If that’s what it takes,” Tano simply said,” then so be it.” Mercilessly and without any remorse, Tano Jmara unleashed his plasma pistol and shot Boxer squarely in the chest. The black material of his Starfleet uniform dissolved, along with several layers of flesh, leaving a smoldering wound that reeked of burning hair and melted skin. Acting entirely on instinct, his mind racing to catch up with the horror of seeing his best friend shot, Captain Llewellyn pitched forward and caught the falling body of the Rear Admiral. “You sick bastard!,” the Welshman hissed. “Take them to their cell,” Tano ordered his robotic soldiers. As he was carried away by his friends, Blackmore tasted blood in his mouth. ACT TWO Gabriel Brodie grimaced as he watched the cell door come crashing down with a chirp from the locking mechanism. Behind him, Captain Llewellyn and Ensign Armstrong were tending to the serious wound that was dominating Rear Admiral Blackmore’s heaving chest. Their surroundings matched the style of the structure. It was worn and made of rough-hewn stone covered in hits of jungle moss thriving in the damp and vines creating gigantic green webs. It was a hardly ideal place to treat a patient, and with absolutely nothing on hand, not even a tricorder, there was little that the Captain or the operations officer could do. “Don’t die on me, Boxer,” Ewan said. “I’ll… I…,” the older man spluttered from behind his gray beard. “Good God… this hurts…” “I don’t think that plasma pistols are supposed to tickle,” Ewan said, managing a weak smile. “Brodie, what can you see out there?” “Two of those robotic creeps are on guard,” the Tactical Officer reported back after a quick glance through the tiny window in the cell door. “Tano seems to have left with the rest of them. I don’t know where. This place is pretty dark.” “I don’t think this wound is that bad,” Jason observed, mostly to reassure his fellow officers and not out of any practical experience. “All of your major organs were missed and the plasma dispersed without hitting anything, but if we don’t get you back to Doctor Pulaski aboard Fortitude soon, you may suffer from an extensive plasma infection.” “And how the hell do you propose how we do that?!,” Brodie yelled in frustration. Llewellyn rose to his feet, joining him at the cell door. “Calm yourself, Mister Brodie,” he stated in even tones.. “Some of us came prepared…” Suddenly there was a terrible cacophony from outside their cell. One of the Shurvun robots went down, the rifle that it had been carrying was torn from its metal claws and turned around for devastating effect. The other robotic guard reacted quickly, but not quickly enough, seeing nothing visible to shoot at. Before long, it joined the scrap metal on the cold stone surface of the corridor. The plasma rifle used to shoot them both hovered slightly. It took Brodie a second to realize what had happened because a Suliban male appeared suddenly, dressed in a Starfleet uniform and frowning deeply. “Sollik!” “Reporting as ordered, sir,” the Fortitude chief engineer hissed, dropping the plasma rifle as he worked on the cell’s locking mechanism. Within seconds, he had defeated it, causing the cell door to rise up into the shadows and reunite him with his shipmates. “It took a great deal of resolve to remain invisible when that fool Tano shot Rear Admiral Blackmore. Is he all right?” “Not for long,” Ewan said, shaking his head. “Signal Valerie for an emergency transport.” “Sollik to Fortitude,” the Suliban barked, tapping the only remaining combadge in the room,” five to beam directly to Sickbay!” “Acknowledged, Sollik,” came the reassuring tone of Commander Archer. “Stand by.” * * * * Captain Llewellyn, without his combadge, was a sight for sore eyes. One of his hands was covered in blood and sweat glowed on his forehead. “Ewan,” Valerie gasped,” what happened down there?” He wasn’t listening. The first thing that he saw when walking onto the Bridge was the image on the main viewscreen. There, hanging before his ship, was the glistening chrome shape of the Shurvun exploratory vessel Vunara. Before today, he would have been impressed by her beauty and excited at her appearance. Now it fueled his empty stomach and pumped his heart twice as fast, filling him with rage. “Blackmore is in Sickbay with Pulaski,” the Welshman finally answered her. From the turbolift behind him, the other three members of his away team emerged and took their stations. Sollik instantly began typing away on his LCARS display, working on the prearranged plan that had been discussed on the way up. Ewan turned to his First Officer, giving her an icy look that hammered home the seriousness of his words. “Tano shot him.” “Tano Jmara?” “He’s the enemy, Valerie. He’s behind the Tah’Heen. Or, at least, he was.” “But… but…,” stammered the Commander,” I’m about to speak to him!” “It’s all right,” he reassured her. “I’ll take it from here.” When Tano Jmara’s face appeared on the viewer, it took a second for the false expression of kindness and honesty to crack. The eyes that first locked onto Valerie Archer quickly shifted, noticing that Ewan Llewellyn was standing there… on his Bridge?! How was this possible? He was in a cell on the planet below! Slowly, Tano’s silver cheeks began to vibrate as incredulous fury consumed him. “I know what you’re thinking,” the Captain began. “Still, I can’t blame you. I mean, you can’t be expected to look for somebody that you can’t see…” “What?!,” screamed Tano. “My Chief Engineer… Oh, you didn’t know? You didn’t test him, hmm?” “You… Well, it hardly matters. Your ship will be destroyed. I tested it with you in command and I know your command style. You will be a simple conquest, a nice appetizer for my robotic forces to practice on.” Llewellyn held up his hand as if he were back in school, gaining his moment to speak. “I have to say that you were very clever… planning all of those tests. You’re right, of course, when you say that assumption is the failing of most armed conflicts. The thing is, though, that Starfleet never assumes anything either. If being out here in this corner of space has taught us anything… it’s to be prepared for the worst, Tano. “When Starbase 499 suffered that database wipe, you made a critical error by visiting us as our ally. You kicked an element of doubt into gear, played part in a coincidence… and I don’t like coincidences. To that end, I’m afraid to inform you that in your mad scramble to avoid assumption, you managed to underestimate us.” “What do you mean?” “Let me show you. Sollik, fire at will!” Outside the ship, the relentless night of space was interrupted. The deflector dish on Fortitude’s ventral hull flared to life, cutting through the vacuum towards the Vunara with a single arc of crackling energy. Tiny sparks reeled and scattered as the energy struck the Shurvun shields, instantly collapsing them inward and opening up a clear line of attack. The single arc broke, turning into smaller arcs that danced along the chrome hull plating. They seemed to play like excited children, bouncing off one another and running the full five-hundred meter length of the vessel. By the time that they finally dispersed, Tano Jmara knew what had happened. It was the oldest trick in the book. An electromagnetic pulse blast had disabled every piece of technology on his ship. That included, of course, the entire robotic crew. The viewscreen on Fortitude’s Bridge started to flicker. With a nod from Llewellyn, Sollik stabilized the connection to compensate for the severe power failure on Tano’s end. Soon the image returned to normal and the Captain could continue speaking. “I asked my Chief Engineer to quietly design a weapon capable of defeating a robotic crew,” the Welshman explained briefly,” after I started to suffer from some good old fashioned paranoia. It looks like I was justified in my decision.” “Fuck you, Llewellyn!,” Tano howled in defeat. “Don’t swear at me yet, you bastard,” Ewan went on. “Boxer Blackmore is in my Sickbay in critical condition, thanks to you. You’ll drift here while we return to the Santrag system and knock out your invasion force. When we’re done, I’ll come back for you… and your fate depends on whether or not Boxer lives.” Tano Jmara believed him. Everybody did. ACT THREE Captain’s Log, Stardate 51425.8; The EMP weapon designed by Lieutenant Commander Sollik has worked. Upon returning to Starbase 499 and Santrag II, the battle with the Shurvun vessels lasted only minutes. While Steamrunner and Katherine Johnson tow the crippled hulks out of orbit, I have beamed over to the 499 medical level with Doctor Pulaski and Rear Admiral Blackmore to make use of their more extensive facilities. So help me if Boxer doesn’t pull through from Tano Jmara’s cowardly attack…” It was hard to escape from his loathing of Sickbays when the Sickbay was an entire deck. Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Ewan Llewellyn struggled with an image that kept looping over and over in his mind. It was that of the Shurvun exploratory vessel Vunara, in all of her technological glory and interstellar might, being destroyed. Using the striking visual of the EMP weapon as a starting point, he began replacing the blue energy arcs with plumes of flame and smoke, the sparks now chunks of debris… culminating into a gigantic explosion plucked from the stock footage of his memory. He hadn’t been bluffing when he threatened Tano before. If Boxer didn’t pull through to survive that plasma bolt to his chest… A door swished open somewhere nearby and the sound of footfalls approached him. “I thought you could use some company.” Llewellyn looked up to see the dark, compassionate eyes of Station Master Erica Martinez. “It’s okay,” he replied with a weak smile. “You’re allowed to worry about him rather than about me. We should be getting some news any minute now.” “Oh, good,” Erica said, breathing a sigh as she took a seat beside the Captain. There was a silence between them. It was no secret. The potential romance between these two officers had simply not worked out. Erica used to pine away, stuck on the space station while Ewan dashed about the unknown, but it happened less and less over the past stressful year. As a woman, the Station Master had also recognized the feelings inside of Valerie Archer even if Ewan Llewellyn hadn’t. Deciding to rather avoid complication than cause it, she had simply moved her emotions aside and let them burn out, concentrating on her work as an escape, strengthening her friendships to compensate for the loss. Friendships like the one that she shared with Edward Blackmore. When Katherine Pulaski emerged from the main operating theater, both of them stood. “Is it over, Doctor?,” Erica asked her. “Has he made it?,” Ewan added. “I’m not sure about the answer to either of those questions,” Pulaski said, sighing. Her own friendship with the Rear Admiral was at stake too. “After the transfer from Fortitude to here, I started an operation to cleanse the wound of plasma energy infection and found extensive plasma burns punching a hole through his internal organs. None of them were irreparably damaged but some of the plasma managed to strike his spinal cord.” “Endgame, Doctor,” Llewellyn pressed on. “What does it mean? How is he?” “He’s in a coma. Plasma energy shot up his spine and into his cerebral cortex. I’m amazed that he managed to stay conscious for the hours that he already has. There are several experimental regenerative treatments that I can try, but…” There was a pause. Seconds felt like hours. “... people in his condition tend to go one of two days,” Pulaski concluded, crestfallen in his inability to act. “Either the damage naturally repairs itself over a period of time, weeks, months… or years… or they stay in their comatose state indefinitely.” Erica Martinez broke down with tears stained her cheeks. Ewan simply stared a hollow, empty stare into middle-distance. What happened now? * * * * “We’re approaching the fifth planet, Captain.” He braced himself against the arms of his command chair. This would be the moment of decision on the uncertainty surrounding his mental state. Was Ewan Llewellyn a killer? Would he have given the order to have Tano Jmara and the Vunara destroyed? Could he even do such a thing? With Rear Admiral Blackmore in a coma, he was technically the highest ranking officer in the sector. He could do whatever he wanted. What if Tano wanted to put up a fight? What if he resisted? Would that even allow for the order to be carried out? That point of no return where he would instruct his tactical officer to lock phasers and open fire? Feeling his head cloud with a mess of confusion, Llewellyn screwed his eyes shut and tried to get a clear line of sight. Beside him, Valerie noticed, gently placing her hand on his. “Stupid question,” she whispered,” but…” “Yes,” he answered all too quickly. “I mean, not really, but yeah… I’m not sure.” “Just remember something. Edward Blackmore is still alive, and I think that you and I both know what he would do in this situation. Think carefully, Captain. Think really carefully before you start to issue orders.” The Welshman turned his head to the left, losing himself in her gaze. “A man is only the sum of his friends,” he replied. “Not this man,” she disagreed. “This man is far better.” Suddenly the tender moment shared between the Captain and the First Officer was shattered when an alert signal went off from Jason Armstrong’s operations console. Instantly another alert sounded at Tactical, much to the confusion of Gabriel Brodie. Charging to stand, Llewellyn asked the most obvious question with a mere look. The answer that he got was the last thing that he was expecting to hear. “The Vunara,” Jason reported. “She’s gone, sir.” “No ion trails, no residual warp signatures,” Sollik added from the engineering console. “Nothing,” Brodie said, finalizing the report,” simply nothing.” Ewan resumed his seat and ordered a return to Starbase 499. Tano Jmara had escaped. In doing so, he had saved the young Captain from the decision that he had been dreading. He had also etched a permanent question mark over Fortitude’s future exploratory voyages… and over the future of the Beta Quadrant itself… EPILOGUE “Hey there, Boxer.” The lights were low. It was insanely late, but with no other patients and no objections from the comatose Edward Blackmore, visiting hours were flexible aboard Starbase 499. Still, for some reason, Ewan Llewellyn was keeping quiet. As he slid into a chair over to one side of the biobed, he winced as it made a slight scraping noise. Maybe it was simply the atmosphere of the ward or the feeling that he had snuck down here after hours against some kind of unspoken rule. “He wasn’t there,” Ewan whispered to the motionless features of the Rear Admiral. “I went back to get him and he wasn’t there. It’s probably a good thing. For what he’s done to you, old friend… Damn, I was going to make him pay…” No change. Just the faint, even tempo of the heart monitor replied. “You’re going to get through this,” Ewan continued. “We’ve got a blank slate ahead of us now. The Tah’Heen is dead and Tano Jmara is probably hiding behind a rock somewhere, licking his wounds. It’s over now, Boxer. We can get back to doing what we came here to do. We can explore, meet new people, and be Starfleet again. You’re going to get through this, Boxer because you won’t want to miss it.” Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. “I’ll drop in from time to time, I promise. I’ll keep you updated on the news and let you know of any exciting developments. I’ll even bring a deck of cards and some chips, even though I think that my victory will be a sure thing! Well, not if I drag Doctor Pulaski over for the odd hand, it won’t.” Somewhere, probably in one of the nurses’ offices, the computer automatically chimed the time as zero-two-hundred. It echoed around the ward, snapping Ewan out of his one-sided conversation. Zero-two-hundred? Really? Slowly and carefully, trying to make a sound, he stood to leave. Maybe that was it. Maybe, to avoid the anguish of seeing his best friend in a coma, he was simply telling himself that Boxer was asleep. On that reflective note, he turned to say goodbye. There were no tears. There didn’t need to be. He was going to make it. He was Rear Admiral Edward “Boxer” Blackmore. “Come back soon, my friend.” The End.