Star Trek: Fortitude - Season Four

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by admiralelm11, May 1, 2021.

  1. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    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.
     
  2. Cobalt Frost

    Cobalt Frost Captain Captain

    Joined:
    May 22, 2004
    Location:
    Cobalt Frost in Phineas & Ferb's backyard
    Holy SH#T that was good!! Did NOT expect the puppetmaster behind the Ta'Heen to be who it turned out to be. Simply outstanding, good sir.
     
  3. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    I was going to put the puppetmaster as either CeJay or Gibraltar... Just kidding.
     
  4. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Star Trek: Fortitude
    Season Four, Episode Two - “Hijack”
    By Jack D. Elmlinger


    PROLOGUE

    It was nearly the end of another day.

    As the powerful light of the Santragan sun tucked itself away behind the second planet that it continually nourished, Starbase 499 entered the night shift. Across the enormous superstructure, pinpricks of artificial light died away, fading in the shadow cast across the hull.

    At work terminals on almost every deck, systems were being powered down. Tired officers and enlisted crew members stretched and yawns, stepping aside for their night shift replacements. As usual, they were annoyingly alert and refreshed. A few stories were swapped, a few nods in the direction of things to keep an eye on but there was nothing out of the ordinary today… which made for a nice change.

    Floating peacefully alongside the massive outpost, the Intrepid-class starship USS Fortitude, NCC-76240, did the same. Despite the bleak ice of space, the dimming lights and the mechanical sigh of the ship seemed almost contented.

    Jason Armstrong would be serving as this evening’s Bridge Watch Officer. Command was handed over with nothing to report at nineteen-hundred hours as a satisfied and unusually placid Ewan Llewellyn walked towards the turbolift. It had been a nice, slow day, and a nice end to a slow week. They had needed it and so had he. There was much to come to terms with since recent events had shaken up the very fabric of the Federation’s presence in this remote corner of the Beta Quadrant.

    The Captain thought to himself that he would grab some dinner before heading to the holodeck with Valerie Archer. She had won the battle this past afternoon and after chipping away at his resolve, she had succeeded in getting him to play a nine-hole round of golf with her. The only reservation left hanging in Ewan’s head had him worried.

    Was this a date?

    It didn’t matter. Regardless of that question to himself, he was looking forward to it.

    Smiling, he ran a hand through his dark hair and let out a deep sigh.

    It was nearly the end of another day.

    Nevertheless, across from Fortitude on Starbase 499, a pair of humanoid hands worked frantically at a small console with obvious sinister intent. They would soon endure that the day would still hold a surprise for the Starfleet officers of the Santrag system.


    ACT ONE

    “Hole Three: completed in three shots. Score: par.”

    An appreciative grin spread across the beautiful and sharp features of Valerie Archer as she heard the computer automatically confirm her achievement. Slinging her putter confidently over her shoulder, the First Officer turned her attention to her golfing partner for the evening.

    Despite the aching natural beauty of his holographically simulated surroundings, Ewan Llewellyn still managed to wear a scowl. It was a simple putt and the golf ball at his feet wasn’t doing what he wanted it to do.

    “Well done, Valerie,” he still managed to growl as he prepared to take his own shot, lining up from the edge of the putting green. “That’s three to my… what am I even on? Ten or something, right?”

    “Nothing so dramatic, Ewan,” Valerie chuckled, flicking her cascading blonde hair away from her polo shirt as she approached the Captain slowly. “You’re on seven, which isn’t all that bad. I mean, that dogleg back there was tricky…”

    “I can comfort my own ego later, thank you.”

    “I’m sorry. Take your time.”

    Ewan did, taking a deep breath as he steadied his locked elbows. The enjoyment of the evening was coming from the company and the vista, not the activity itself. Here stood a man who had strived to impress a girl at Starfleet Academy by succeeding at self-defense and being all manly and skilled. And now here he stood again, faced with a woman that he loved and a sport that he would rather not undertake.

    The major difference was clear.

    At the Academy, he had managed to do well in his self-defense class. Today, on the golf course, he was doing anything but well. Feeling his forehead crease evermore, he attempted to putt.

    It missed, predictably, by a good two meters.

    “Oh, bad luck.”

    “Luck has nothing to do with it, Valerie.”

    “You know what they say,” Valerie teased him, her wicked sense of humor breaking her otherwise compassionate and understanding exterior. “Ninth shot’s the charm.”

    “Actually,” the Welshman retorted with a cocked eyebrow,” I’ve never heard that one.”

    “You have now. Go on, and knock it in. I don’t mind…”

    The distance between Hole Three and Hole Four on this particular course was a short stroll along the bank of a wide crystal lake. Out of uniform, with the orange sunlight warming their backs and two holographic caddies keeping a respectful distance, Ewan and Valerie slowly meandered so as to enjoy the break in the game.

    Waist-high grasses and reeds intermixed to create a miniature jungle to wade through, an obstacle of no actual obstructive properties. As they walked, the two officers found themselves appreciating the silence. There was no need for words. A day running a starship was filled with enough of those.

    Carefully, without much conscious thought, Ewan felt himself close the short gap between his right arm and Valerie’s left arm. It was an awfully schoolboy thing to wish for, to hold her hand, but he knew that it was what he wanted. There had been enough hints for him to deduce the same of her.

    Funny… He had always heard that love was a tricky business.

    This evening, it seemed perfectly natural and devilishly simple.

    “Bridge to Captain Llewellyn!”

    Damn it. There was always something, wasn’t there?

    “Go ahead, Jason,” Ewan replied, ignoring Valerie’s crestfallen expression.

    “Captain, we’re getting an emergency alert from Starbase 499. With all due respect, sir, I think you had better get up here… quickly.”


    * * * *


    Cramped inside a Jefferies Tube junction, Station Master Erica Martinez was blissfully unaware of the emergency alert issued from her own starbase. The stunning Latina woman had been trying, for the last hour, to repair a broken EPS relay deep within the bowels of the Steamrunner. As the ranking officer responsible for all of the starships permanently anchored to Starbase 499, she often found herself taking on such responsibilities personally. It kept her from becoming one of those boring base commanders that one heard about so much about. With a staff of thousands under her command, she could easily issue orders from a comfortable chair and not move around all day. How boring that would be, and so here she was, lying on one side, a bulkhead inches from her dark hair.

    Besides, she thought to herself, with Rear Admiral Blackmore in a coma, all of her non-busy moments were racked with worry. At least this kept her distracted.

    From between her polished boots came a cry of anguish. Reacting with a smile instead of shock, Erica parted her feet to see Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Brodie a few meters further down the Jefferies Tube. He was also fighting with an unruly systems error, although judging from his outburst, he was having less luck.

    “Problem, Gabe?”

    “Just the latest in a long line,” the Fortitude’s tactical officer grumbled, twisting his folded arms and legs in a new direction as he attempted to get at something deeper inside of the Steamrunner’s innards. “Why does Starfleet design its ships with such crucial systems tucked away in the worst places?”

    “You tell me,” Erica chuckled. “I brought you over here because you know your old command the best, save for Captain Llewellyn, of course, and digging around in a Jefferies Tube is hardly the work of a Captain. But if you’re having trouble, I could always call for Sollik. I’m sure his flexible arms could --”

    “I wasn’t complaining," Brodie protested quickly.

    “It sounds like it from where I am.”

    “I’m perfectly capable, Erica. Thank you.”

    Dropping her own tools and sliding down the length of her workspace towards her colleague, the Station Master decided that it was time for a break. They were both glistening with a fine layer of sweat that they were both reaching the point where a nice stretch and a cup of something hot would do them both a world of good.”

    “Come on, Mister Brodie,” she suggested. “Break time just kicked in.”

    Together they emerged from the Jefferies Tube and let out short, sympathetic groans of relief. Muscles flexed under their uniforms, gray shoulders writhing and black torsos rotating as several slight clicks were heard.

    Erica recovered first, brushing her hair away from her smooth features as she approached a replicator and ordered two drinks. Behind her, Brodie was massaging his aching arm. He winced as he worked it, feeling it cry out in protest as it remembered the loving care that was usually placed upon it at the gym and longed to never return to the cramped conditions that it had just survived.

    When Erica returned with the drinks, his mind was elsewhere.

    “What’s up?,” she asked innocently.

    “Erica,” the black man mumbled,” look out the window.”

    She looked outside, her eyes following his. It took a moment for her to realize what was wrong with the stars outside the ship.

    “Where’s Starbase 499?”


    ACT TWO

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 51486.3;


    For some unknown reason, the
    Steamrunner forced her way out of Starbase 499’s docking bay and went to warp, just under thirty minutes ago, and headed into unexplored space. I’ve ordered a pursuit course. All signs point to a hijacking by the violent severing of her umbilical cords, and the deserted nature of the ship, thanks to the time of day. I just hope that we can close the distance and reason with whoever has control of one of the deadliest starships in the region.


    “What do you mean that we have people aboard?,” Ewan asked. “I thought you said that the ship was shut down for the night. Who's over there?”

    “Our very own Gabriel Brodie,” Lieutenant Commander Sollik reported, standing in the middle of Fortitude’s Bridge as the Intrepid-class starship blasted through space at maximum warp. “He came by Engineering, just before my shift ended. I gave him some tools that he wanted to borrow. Apparently, Station Master Martiez called him and said that there was a problem that needed fixing aboard the Steamrunner. Given his experience with the ship --”

    “Okay, I get the picture,” the Captain interrupted him with a wave of his hand. “So what? He’s alone over there? With God knows who?”

    “Brodie’s a fighter, Captain,” Valerie Archer pointed out from her seat to Ewan’s left. “If he is aware of the situation, you can bet that he’s already working on a way to regain control of the ship. Either that or… well… if he’s the only person that we know to be over there, then it’s not entirely impossible that he’s stolen the Steamrunner.”

    “No,” Ewan immediately snapped,” that’s out of the question.”

    “It’s just a thought,” Valerie emphasized with him. “I don’t believe it for a second, but the facts are the facts.”

    “Gabriel Brodie is an honorable man. He may be a little brash, a little too eager to shoot first and ask questions later, but his loyalty to Starfleet is both powerful and enduring. He would never do anything to damage or jeopardize the Federation. That will be the end of it. I won’t hear any more on that subject.”

    Any other officer would have recoiled at such a blunt dismissal but not Valerie Archer. She understood her Captain, more so than anybody else aboard Fortitude. Sollik and the other senior staff officers present all felt a pang of sympathy for the First Officer’s blow, not recognizing the bond between her and Ewan Llewellyn.

    As the Suliban chief engineer retreated to the engineering console on the starboard side of the Bridge, Lieutenant Arden Vuro spun his chair away from the helm to deliver a status report. “Speed is holding at Warp Nine-point-nine,” stated the Bolian.

    “Jason,” Ewan called out,” where are they?”

    “Dead ahead, Captain,” Ensign Jason Armstrong confirmed, his gaze locked firmly on the sensor display before him. “They’re just touching the edge of our sensor range. If they hadn’t gotten the drop on us back at Starbase 499…”

    “Let’s just focus on the situation as it stands,” Commander Archer suggested wisely.

    “Yes, ma’am,” he acknowledged. After a pause, the young operations officer had more to report. “I’m getting a signal from 499. They confirm that Station Master Erica Martinez logged herself and Commander Brodie aboard the Steamrunner to undertake maintenance at nineteen-thirty hours this evening. They never left, Captain, so that means that they’re both aboard!”

    Llewellyn felt his eyes narrow.

    The stakes had just doubled.


    * * * *


    “Computer,” Erica whispered,” where are we?”

    “Ship’s status is on a heading of zero-four-one, mark two-eight, at a speed of Warp Seven.”

    Gabriel Brodie sighed as he cocked his head towards the Latina Station Master. He had wasted little time in securing a phaser from a nearby weapons locker since the Steamrunner was covered in them being the type of ship that it was. He also made sure that the cabin that they were standing in now was properly locked.

    “Why are you whispering?,” he asked, his arms folded over his chest.

    “Isn’t it the done thing in such situations?”

    “Not unless you’re standing in the same room as your hijackers. We’re going out into deep space and whoever has control of Steamrunner is making a break for it. It’s no doubt that we’re being chased, right?”

    “Probably,” Martinez had to admit, nodding.

    “So the question that you have to answer is a simple one. Do we sit tight and wait for rescue? Or do we take action and try to retake the ship? I know what answer I’d choose but we’re in this together… so what will it be?”

    Erica thought for a moment before turning away from her colleague. “Computer, internal sensors,” she asked, louder this time. “How many non-Starfleet personnel are aboard at this precise moment?”

    “There are eight lifeforms aboard.”

    “Where are those eight lifeforms?”

    “Five are on the Main Bridge. Three are in Main Engineering.”

    Brodie pulled himself away from the bulkhead that he had been leaning against. In a flash, he was armed with a phaser tightly in his grip. Erica looked at the tall, imposing black man and wondered if eight-versus Brodie was a fair fight.

    Probably not.

    There would probably have to be twelve hijackers, at least, to make it a fair fight.

    Picking up her own phaser, she acknowledged that the idea of fighting for the control of Steamrunner was more appealing than simply sitting by and waiting for a rescue that might never arrive or arrive and be defeated. After all, this vessel was designed for combat.

    “Main Engineering, Mister Brodie,” she decided. “Shall we?”

    “Lead on!”


    * * * *


    Legs… Well, they were humanoid.

    Crouched inside another Jefferies Tube together, Erica and Brodie were peering out of a tiny crack in the opened access hatch. They were situated directly behind the throbbing warp core, their faces at ankle level while they desperately tried to assess the situation. While the odds were favorable with two against three and the element of surprise, more information was needed to mount an attack than just leather-clad legs.

    One of the hijackers paused, entering commands into a console.

    Erica saw his face before Brodie did.

    Her gasp startled the Fortitude tactical officer into breaking silence.

    “What is it?”

    “The hijackers,” she told him. “They’re Santragan!”
     
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  5. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    ACT THREE

    “Why the hell are Santragans hijacking the Steamrunner?”

    “Why don’t you go out there and ask them?,” Gabriel Brodie retorted to the query voiced by Erica Martinez. The Station Master shot the Lieutenant Commander a dirty look before he continued. “Regardless of who they are or what they want, they have illegal control of Federation Starfleet property. It’s our job to stop them!”

    The man had a point.

    “On three,” Erica whispered. “One… two…”

    Nobody even had to say three.

    Bursting out from the Jefferies Tube, Brodie performed a perfect roll along with the durasteel deck plating of the Steamrunner’s engine room. Upon coming to a rest, he lifted his phaser and blasted on the closest hijacker directly in the chest. Behind him, Erica managed a more graceful exit from their cramped quarters. Standing tall, she fired her own phaser and took down a second Santragan, leaving one behind.

    He had time to react, lifting some kind of weapon.

    Both Erica and Brodie fired simultaneously, their phased energy beams meeting in the center of the Santragan’s abdomen. He crumpled like tissue paper underneath the force of twin stun blasts. All that remained was for the two Starfleet officers to share a triumphant smirk and Main Engineering was theirs.

    “You’re a good shot,” Brodie noted, impressed.

    “Why, thank you, Mister Brodie,” she smiled, cascading black curls playing across her dark features. “We don’t have time to stand around mutually admiring one another. Come on, let’s get to work.”

    As he joined her at the central command console, he had to grin.

    “I wasn’t aware of any mutual attraction there… unless… of course…”

    “There they are,” Erica interrupted him, shifting attention away from her Freudian slip and pointed at a LCARS display readout of the Bridge. “Fire humanoid biosigns that we now know to be Santragan.”

    “They’re trying to rewrite the command codes.”

    “Heh… good luck to them.”

    “I wouldn’t be so quick to laugh, Erica. Santragan vessels are technically similar to Starfleet vessels. These are a race that know their way around isolinear circuitry. Trust me.”

    The Station Master of Starbase 499 fixed the tactical officer with a glare. “How do you know so much about Santragan vessels?”

    “I like to be prepared,” Brodie growled,” for the unexpected.”

    Shaking her head at the overblown macho drama of that particular statement, she continued to read the display in front of her. While the hijackers were unsuccessful in their attempts to rewrite the Steamrunner’s command codes, they were making great progress… and casting her eyes around Main Engineering, she realized that they have been making great progress down here too. Isolinear chips were strewn about everywhere. Access panels were open and circuits were scattered across the deck.

    Suddenly the communications system chirped to life.

    “Grak, report!,” a Santragan male snarled from the Bridge. “Grak, we’re preparing to override the tactical systems. Report your status! Have you been able to rewrite the tactical command codes yet? Grak, come in!”

    There was a moment of silence… Foreboding silence…

    Slowly, the biosigns on the LCARS display started to move. All of them clustered into a turbolift which sped downwards into the main body of the ship… towards Main Engineering… and towards Erica and Brodie.

    Erica swallowed hard. “Something tells me that they’re going to know that we’re not Grak.”


    * * * *


    The owner of the angry voice stormed into Main Engineering, moments later. His fellow hijackers, four-strong and well-armed Santragans, covered his flanks. He was a powerful presence with his physicality matching the imposing tone with which he had snarled over the comms system from the Bridge. In his muscular arms, an ugly-looking plasma rifle refused to budge, being waved around the corners of the Steamrunner’s heart as it was.

    He noticed the bodies of the other Santragans in short order.

    Gabe Brodie was watching all of this happen from his hiding place. Having bathed his crouching form in the shadows, he waited for the rushed plan of action to begin.

    On the opposite side of the warp core, Erica Martinez was in a similar position. Her hand briefly left the comfort of the darkness to tap at a control board, her slender fingers making as little noise as it was possible. That was until they were meant to.

    The alert was nicely misplaced. The central console let up with a system error warning.

    It caught all of the fuming Santragans by surprise.

    All Brodie had to do was tap his combadge which was the signal.

    He waited until all five of the hijackers were clustered around the central console before doing so. Erica immediately sprang from cover, shooting the two hijackers that were the closest to her. As she did, Brodie added to the confusion by shooting his own two targets, leaving the fifth and final Santragan, the leader of the pack, wide-eyed with astonishment.

    “Drop your weapon!,” barked the Lieutenant Commander.

    “Starfleet…,” the hijacker hissed, his every syllable laced with venom.

    He wasn’t complying with the tactical officer’s order.

    Gabe stepped closer, his phaser raised towards the hijack. “I said ‘drop it’,” he pressed on. “You would be able to shoot either of us!”

    Another step… another step…

    “No, I won’t,” the Santragan growled,” but I can shoot one!”

    He raised his plasma rifle towards Erica Martinez.

    Brodie felt his body react before his mind even hoped to engage.

    Leaping forward, the athletic black man dropped his phaser and seized the towering frame of the lead hijacker. It was a ridiculous move. Why not just stun him from a safe distance? The primal instincts of the natural fighter within him had taken over, destroying all hope of logical thought. This bastard had threatened Erica with a weapon that was most definitely not set to a stun setting. He had to stop him.

    The plasma rifle went off but thanks to the reckless lunge from Gabe, the discharge blew a hole in the ceiling. It missed any vital systems just by sheer luck.

    Meanwhile, Erica held her phaser in place.

    She couldn’t get a clear shot, but even if she could, she doubted her ability to fire.

    Gabriel Brodie was risking himself to save her. To say the least, it was an emotional moment.

    The fight lasted for only a short time. After his third punch to the hijacker, missing his cranial horns by inches, Brodie felt the internal will of his opponent subside. Stumbling backwards, dropping his weapon, and raising his hands in defeat, the Santragan gasped for air as he had been soundly defeated by the Starfleet officer.

    “Okay… okay…,” he winched. “I surrender…”

    “Oh, no,” Gabe corrected him with fire in his veins,” you don’t.”

    The next punch was the hardest yet. It floored the hijacker, knocking him unconscious.

    Gabe shook his painful hand aside, admiring his handiwork. It felt good.

    “Are you all right?,” a familiar voice broke into his tunnel vision.

    “What? Oh… yeah, thanks, Erica. I’m fine.”

    “You were a damned fool for doing that,” the Station Master noted, stepping over the defeated Santragan to stand beside her savior. “A damned fool… but it didn’t go unnoticed. Thank you, Mister Brodie.”

    Gabe felt the beautiful Latina woman draw in close.

    “This is the Federation starship Fortitude calling the Steamrunner,” the communications system interrupted them with impeccable timing. “To those in control of this ship, you have stolen Federation property. Prepare to be boarded. You are under arrest.”

    They couldn’t help themselves.

    They just had to laugh.


    EPILOGUE

    “He gave you absolutely no idea?”

    Captain Ewan Llewellyn confirmed his answer as he and Erica Martinez walked through the corridors of the USS Fortitude. They were halfway between Sickbay, where Doctor Pulaski had carefully examined her for any injuries and found none and the docking arm that connected the Intrepid-class starship the Starbase 499. Steamrunner was home and safely tucked away in another docking bay. The Santragans responsible for the hijacking were on a Santragan transport heading for the surface of their homeworld. The Captain had finished handing them over to Ambassador Veth Ka’Gerran before checking up on Erica, who was shocked at the lack of answers, to say the least.

    “Absolutely none,” Ewan lamented. “He just asked me to trust him and to hand over the prisoners for an immediate return to Santrag II. I guess we won’t be finding out why they hijacked the Steamrunner anytime soon.”

    Dos Mios, that’s annoying,” Martinez seethed. “I really thought that Veth, of all people, would…”

    “Look, pondering this won’t do either of us any good. I’m heading over to see Boxer, and tell him about this turn of events. Maybe a good adventure will snap him back to us, or at least, I’m hoping so… Will you join me?”

    “Ah,” Erica paused for a moment. “No, not right now. I’ll join you later, okay?”

    With a slightly puzzled crease across his forehead, Llewellyn nodded and parted ways, leaving the Station Master standing alone in the corridor. After a quick moment to establish her bearings, she turned and headed in the direction of the crew quarters. Finding the appropriate door, she let the doorbell chime patiently, waiting only a few seconds for a response.

    The door slid open to reveal Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Brodie.

    “Erica,” he said, smiling,” what can I do for you?”

    “I just wanted to drop by,” she said, returning the smile,” and finish saying thank you…”



    The End.
     
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  6. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Star Trek: Fortitude
    Season Four, Episode Three - “Mind Over Matter”
    By Jack D. Elmlinger


    PROLOGUE

    One relay… Another… crossover.. So precise… and so tricky…

    He was working with a technology that wasn’t made for this world. It had never been seen before by his species, nor even comprehended before. Somehow, according to his scans, this gigantic green prism could reach out and touch countless other people… Perhaps every single person on his planet. What power, what magnificence… what glory!

    With his mind distracted, he let the screwdriver slip an inch out of his claw.

    The relay sparked.

    “Rendana!,” he howled. “Narata rendana…”

    His other claw quickly leaped into action, bringing in another tool. It moved it to rectify the damage, moving with a precision and grace that few of his species possessed. It made him special, he told himself. It made him worthy. It made him the only person who could repair this green prism, get it working… and harness its power…

    There! Damage repaired. The relay hummed again.

    It only took a few more tweaks before the prism towering above him began to glow. The few scorch marks on its otherwise smooth surface were eclipsed by the raw energy flowing inside of it. The ugly black circuits and workings bolted around it juxtaposed the beauty of the moment. With a satisfied smile that was completely in awe of the achievement that he had just undertaken, the alien responsible took a step backwards.

    Vazai,” he whispered. “Vazai… Vazai!

    Soon, yes, everybody would understand. Soon they would follow.

    Soon they would be chanting for Vazai.

    How right it was.


    ACT ONE

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 51647.9;


    Encountering a world that is incredibly similar to Earth, Fortitude has successfully made First Contact with a race known as the Oxeeni, and therefore, we have made a new friend out here. Accepting their gracious hospitality, I have given my crew the chance to explore the Oxeeni homeworld. It only goes to show that we deserve a little rest and relaxation from time to time…



    The levels of excitement had mounted with each passing day. The Intrepid-class starship had propelled them through the parts of the Beta Quadrant already marked on the map at maximum warp, let the regulations be damned. The Eastleans, the Korleenaq system, and Heowei Prime had all been smartly bypassed after their previous encounters. His crew had been anxious and eager to get moving once more, their thirst for the unknown driving their actions.

    Then, three days ago, it happened! Fortitude had hit unexplored space once again. Three days and already another First Contact!

    Ewan Llewellyn let the grin that he had been wrestling with break free. He was all alone in the turbolift after all. What was the harm?

    Currently, there were almost sixty of his people on the surface of Oxeeni. He had already been down there twice, meeting with world leaders from the three separate continents. It was an intriguing setup down there. While the planet had yet to unify under one government, the act of space travel was an undertaking shared by representatives from all over. It wasn’t like they were at war or anything.

    Far from it, Ewan thought.

    He had only heard lavish praise come from each leader about the other continents. It would seem that the near future held the possibility of a union for them. What an exciting time to be Oxeeni.

    Valerie Archer’s away team was reporting a cracking marketplace on the second continent that was ‘to be seen to be believed, or so she had claimed. Ewan chuckled to himself, thinking it was just another excuse for his First Officer to spend some time with her Captain. It was funny but, without it actually being said, they seemed to be engaging in a series of dates… except they weren’t.

    Ah, who cared? It was all good.

    The turbolift arrived on Deck Four, just outside of Transporter Room One. Ewan made the transition eagerly.

    “Good morning, Chief,” he greeted the transporter technician warmly.

    “Uh, good morning, sir,” the chief replied, taken aback by his good mood.

    “At ease,” Ewan smiled, winking at the younger officer. “Go on, and energize.”

    With a shimmer and a swirl of blue energy, a single humanoid form began to materialize on the transporter pad. It took a few moments for any recognition to be made but when the facial features started to appear, the Captain frowned with concern. This was highly unusual. What was she doing in the transporter?

    After beaming had completed, Katherine Pulaski stepped forward.

    “Doctor? You transported?”

    “Yes. is there a problem?”

    “No, no problem. Although what happened to the shuttlecraft down on Oxeeni?”

    “Shuttlecraft?,” Pulaski repeated slowly. “Oh, the shuttlecraft! Somebody else will bring that back to the ship. Another crew member… I made arrangements.”

    “Okay,” Ewan nodded, his good mood still intact, if a little shaken. “Does this mean that you’re finally over your technophobia?”

    “I’m sorry,” Pulaski said, blanking on the question. “Excuse me.”

    She left… simply left the transporter room.

    Ewan felt his frown intensify. Katherine Pulaski could be blunt, but just plain rude?

    Something was wrong.


    * * * *


    Sickbay was deserted. No medical emergencies today. So much the better.

    She was on autopilot. Her surroundings registered as familiar. It was obvious why she would come here to a familiar place but the comfort of that familiarity hardly mattered today. It took a moment to access the memory of what to do next. That moment was annoying but unavoidable. She hoped that whoever that was back in the transporter room hadn’t suspected anything. Whoever that… Oh, the Captain! What was his name? Ewan Llewellyn… that was it. She would remember it quickly next time.

    Onwards with her task. What happened next?

    Oh, yes.

    “Computer, seal the doors. Authorization: Pulaski-Delta-Seven-Delta.”

    “Doors sealed.”

    Excellent. Now she could proceed…


    * * * *


    It was only an hour before the Captain returned to Fortitude.

    Valerie had protested when he had met her and immediately promised to cut the shopping trip short. When he explained his exchange with Pulaski in the transporter room, she had understood. There was no actual evidence to go storming in with a bunch of questions. She hadn’t broken any rules or done anything against regulations. Despite her well-documented technophobia, her use of the transporter was hardly enough evidence to warrant an investigation. Leaving things for an hour and then going back as concerned friends, it was the right call. It was the diplomatic call.

    Arriving back in his Ready Room, Llewellyn was preparing to leave right away again and track down the good Doctor. Archer hovered for a moment, letting the Captain check up on ship’s business, light as it was, upon his return.

    Suddenly, the Welshman noticed his desktop monitor flash. “I’ve got a message,” he noted. “It isn’t private. Take a seat, Valerie.”

    As she did, Ewan played the message.

    Katherine Pulaski appeared on the monitor screen.

    “Captain Llewellyn,” she said in calm and even tones,” I have had an experience down on the surface of Oxeeni that had affected me deeply. I believe that I have found my spiritual calling. To this end, I am resigned as Chief Medical Officer of Fortitude and from my Starfleet commission. I am returning to the surface to better serve the creator of the universe, the all-powerful Vazai. This action is well within my rights as a Federation citizen and I ask you to respect those rights. That is all.”

    “I’m sorry,” Valerie gasped,” but what was that?”

    “Exactly what it sounded like,” Ewan said, shaking his head with the creeping feeling of being gutted by a Klingon overwhelming his body. “She just quit.”

    “That’s… that’s…”

    “You’re right, Valerie. That’s not Katherine Pulaski.”


    ACT TWO

    It wasn’t needed anymore. It would only be a reminder of her former life. That was forbidden.

    Walking away from her discarded combadge, Pulaski headed away from the village that had ended her Starfleet career and began her new existence as a loyal servant of Vazai. The more that she thought about it, the more that it made sense. With each passing step outside of the village boundary and towards the rolling foothills of the second continent’s mountain ranges, she felt her newfound faith grow. It quashed out any shred of doubt in her mind.

    The entrance was up ahead. She wasted no time in entering.

    He was there, waiting for her.

    The claws were only frightening to the less-enlightened interstellar visitors to Oxeeni, to those who made judgments based on appearance, and to those with primitive instincts. Evolved from the sea, the Oxeeni were essentially humanoid shellfish, powerful, with almost unbreakable yellow exoskeletons covering a fleshy interior maintained by a complex balance of water and salts. The closest thing that Pulaski could call to memory was a pair of Antedean delegates… no, terrorists… that she had once observed aboard the Enterprise. That memory, along with many others, were now fading as she locked eyes with her new spiritual leader.

    “Welcome, Pulaski,” he greeted her softly. “I trust that you left everything in order?”

    “Exactly as the teachings dictate, Leader,” she replied in a low drone.

    “Wonderful. Come… we have new followers to meet.”


    * * * *


    “Come in,” Ewan called out.

    The door to his Ready Room slid open to reveal Lieutenant Arden Vuro. At his commanding officer’s request, the Bolian entered and waited for him to finish working on one of the numerous PADDs strewn across his desktop. When the moment came, Ewan rose to his feet and led his helmsman over to the comfortable sofa beneath the panoramic window, beneath the spinning beauty of Oxeeni and the depths of unknown space.

    “I wanted to ask you a few questions about your faith, Lieutenant,” he began to ask slowly, trying his best to be diplomatic,” if you don’t object, of course.”

    “Not at all, Captain,” Arden smiled in his usual accommodating way.

    “You’re the only member of my senior staff with any strong religious conviction. Well, you were until today. Doctor Pulaski had resigned her Starfleet commission and traveled down to the surface based on a new faith that she has discovered. Since I’m not a religious man, I wanted to try and understand the concept of faith before I decide whether or not to go after her.”

    “Captain,” a shocked Vuro emphasized,” that’s entirely unlike the Doctor!”

    “I know, but damn it, she’s within her rights!”

    “Could she be some kind of imposter? Could she have been taken over or…?”

    “She used the transporter to return from Oxeeni earlier,” Llewellyn said, shaking his head,” and I ran her transporter trace through the main computer. She is Katherine Pulaski. There’s no question about that, and if she had truly found her God, I am in no position to beam down and demand some answers. So, please, Arden, as a man of faith, do you believe that this kind of behavior is possible?”

    Vuro took a deep breath. Tilting his bald, blue-skinned head toward the stars above him, he considered the question with great care.

    Time had changed.

    No longer was father a tool of governments or political organizations.

    Ever since races like Humans and Bolians had achieved warp flight, people had begun to realize that the heavens weren’t filled with fluffy white clouds and angels. Despite new and diverse religions compensating for scientific advancement, there was simply too much evidence on one side of the argument to blankly ignore. He had to start from the beginning and he had to explain why some people still believed in a higher power.

    “Captain, have you heard about the Q Continuum?”

    “I have been extensively briefed and warned to instigate a Red Alert if we should ever encounter one of their members,” Ewan revealed to him,” so yes, I guess I have.”

    “They have an incredible power,” Vuro pointed out to him. “It’s a power beyond humanoid comprehension. They can travel to different dimensions, to different universes, and it’s all at the wave of a hand or a finger snap. When the Q have proven to be a mischievous, almost devil-like example of this power, they still prove that power exists. The power to create worlds… and to create life…”

    “... and if it rested in the hands of a being with a higher conscience…”

    “... they would be seen as divine,” Vuro concluded, appreciating the fact that the vocal assistance from the Captain meant that he understood where he was going with his explanation. “Sir, the First Church of Bolaris IX offers acceptance, tolerance, and guidance. While these elements are wrapped up in stories from thousands of years ago, they are still elements worthy of devotion and praise. My faith isn’t blind, nor it is ignorant of certain truths.”

    Ewan sighed. “So, in other words, you believe that Pulaski could have found her calling?”

    “No. Absolutely not.”

    “I don’t understand. You just said…”

    “Captain, I told you about my concept of faith. Religion is a personal thing and different for everybody involved. I know Doctor Pulaski. She is not a religious person, nor is she given to making rash decisions. This is entirely not within her nature, sir. Something is deeply wrong with this situation and you must save her from whatever is happening.”

    Llewellyn was about to thank his helmsman for his honesty when a voice interrupted him.

    “Bridge to Captain Llewellyn,” the panicked tones of Ensign Jason Armstrong called out into the Ready Room. “Sir, you’d better get out here!”

    Beckoning for Vuro to follow him, he stepped out onto the Bridge in seconds.

    “Where's the fire, Ensign?”

    “I was running scans of the area that Doctor Pulaski beamed down to,” the young operations officer reported, the terror in his eyes peering out from underneath his blonde fringe. “Sir, I’ve detected an energy signal coming from the mountain region to the northwest of the village. You have to see this to believe it.”

    “Put it on the main viewer,” Llewellyn ordered, turning to face it.

    The terror was justified, and Ewan couldn’t believe his eyes.

    “Oh my…,” he whispered in denial. “The Borg!”


    ACT THREE

    Captain’s Log, supplemental;


    While searching for the AWOL Doctor Pulaski on the surface of Oxeeni, we have detected an energy signal coming from what appears to be Borg technology. A more detailed scan has revealed that the Borg device is emitting a low-level neurological disruption field, operating on a similar frequency to the carrier waves that link drones and their ships to the Hive Mind. Given the proximity to Pulaski’s last known position, I have no choice but to draw a connection and beam down with an away team…


    “I would still feel better if you took Brodie with you,” Valerie Archer said.

    She was watching her Captain mount the transporter pad as she was pleading with him to bulk up his away team. Turning around once in position and shaking his head, Llewellyn felt safe enough with Lieutenant Arden Vuro and Lieutenant Commander Sollik flanking him, for they were the logical choices. Whatever this Borg technology turned out to be, it would need an engineer’s touch, and while Sollik got to work, he needed the diplomacy and understanding of Vuro to try and rescue Doctor Pulaski from whatever trap had ensnared her.

    No, beaming down with a security team would be wrong.

    “Sensors didn’t detect any drones, Valerie,” Ewan said, dismissing her caution. “I’m willing to bet that whatever is down there was stolen or even accidentally picked up. Whatever that thing is generating, it has Pulaski and it could be potentially interfering with the six other lifeforms that we detected down there. I won’t shoot the place up just yet.”

    “I’ll have the transporter keep an emergency lock on all of you,” confirmed the First Officer.

    “Thanks, and don’t worry. We’re coming back from this.

    “I know you are. Good luck, Ewan.”


    * * * *


    They were his test subjects.

    Katherine Pulaski had been the first. This offworlder had proven that the machine’s power stretched beyond the three continents of Oxeeni. The more time that she spent in suggested meditation, the less of her life that she remembered and the more devoted she had become. The others, natives and villagers, some of them from important social positions and one even from another religious background… they were the beginning. The five people that he had collected so far would soon multiply. With each passing hour, the range of the green prism increased. Soon it would reach the outskirts of the village and soon the five Oxeeni would before fifty… then five hundred… and then, who knew?

    He clicked his claws together with glee.

    Before him, the five Oxeeni and Pulaski were kneeled around a fire. All of them were murmuring the teachings of Vazai that had been programmed into the green prism. They were all at his command.

    “Nobody move!”

    Wheeling around at the intrusion, the cult leader felt his facial tentacles flex with a fit of furious anger. Who dared to burst into his sanctuary? Who dared to interrupt their meditation? Who dared to bring weapons into his holy place?

    Three of the intruders stepped forward. One of them was blue-skinned and the other one was covered in green scales. The final one… was fleshy and pink, just like Pulaski. Just like Pulaski, they all wore gray-shouldered uniform jackets over various colors of undergarments.

    They were her shipmates! Curse them!

    “My name is Captain Ewan Llewellyn of the Federation Starship Fortitude,” the fleshy one spoke, his Universal Translator morphing his Federation Standard words into Oxeeni. “You have one of my crew members here. It seems that you’re using stolen technology to influence her thoughts, along with the thoughts of everyone else.”

    That was a point. They should be affected by the prism….

    “How are you shielding your minds?,” the cult leader snapped at them.

    By this point, Pulaski and the others had risen to their feet. With their meditation interrupted, all of them stood behind the cult leader, glowing in the hue of the fire.

    Ewan recognized the Doctor and when he took a step towards her, there was no reaction. She wasn’t herself and not even the appearance of an old colleague, an old friend, was enough to break through the low-level telepathy being produced by the Borg technology.

    “Sollik,” he whispered to the Suliban to his right,” where is it?”

    “Approximately one meter behind that wall, Captain,” the Chief Engineer pointed out to him.

    “A holographic shield,” Vuro mused.

    “Indeed. Relatively sophisticated, given the surroundings.”

    “You want to know,” Ewan continued speaking, addressing the cult leader once again,” how are we shielding our minds? Well, I’ll show you.”

    Drawing his phaser, he fired at the wall. The holographic rock flickered and disappeared.

    There it rested… the green prism.

    It was the vinculum from a Borg cube.

    “You have no right!,” the enraged cult leader blurted out.

    “No, sir,” Llewellyn countered him. “You have no right to use this technology in the first place, and you have no right to use it to brainwash innocent people into… whatever this little gathering of yours is. A new religion, an army, I don’t know. All I know is that you are breaking your own planet’s laws and mine. You’re finished.”

    Behind their so-called leader, Pulaski and the others turned towards the vinculum. They blinked hard, perceiving the device for what it was. This newcomer spoke of brainwashing… low-level telepathy… of illegality…

    Suddenly, their minds cleared like a tidal wave.

    “Captain,” Pulaski frowned,” what’s going on?”

    “It’s good to have you back, Doctor.”

    The cult leader was snapping his claws, incredulous at his defeat. “How are you able to resist?!,” he shrieked at the Starfleet officers.

    “Like all magic tricks,” Llewellyn told him,” once you know the secret of how it’s done, it fails to impress a crowd. Sollik, if you wouldn’t mind doing the honors? That thing is giving me a niggling little headache.”

    Getting a clear line of sight, Sollik drew his own phaser and fired. The vinculum exploded in a shower of sparks. The green prism ceased to glow.

    Pulaski moved to join her fellow crew members. “Thank you, Captain. It’s a little hazy… but it’s all coming back to me.”

    “It’s just another case of mind over matter, Doctor,” Ewan said, smiling. “I formally deny your request to resign your Starfleet commission and recommend that you return to your Sickbay for a full checkup on the double. Sollik will join you. Arden and I are going to take these innocent Oxeeni back to the village and make sure that they’re home safe.”

    With an arm of assistance, the Suliban took the doctor away from the cavern.

    As she left, a thought occurred to her. “I hope I can remember where I parked my shuttle…”

    That only left the cult leader himself.

    “What… what will become of me?,” he stammered, terrified of reprisals.

    “You’ve still got your faith,” Ewan told him blankly while keeping a level head. “Be thankful that you haven’t lost more. It’s people like you who destroy the concept of religion. There are those, like my helmsman here, who understand what religion is for. Moral guidance, lessons in virtue and tolerance… not cults forcing blind adherence or a tool to brainwash unsuspecting innocents into following your rules. It is there to comfort and console, not dominate and dictate. Above all, it is freedom and choice. You corrupt the very thing that you seek to preserve… the very thing that you hold dear.

    Disgusted the Captain turned away.

    “Come on, Arden. Let’s get these people home.”

    The cult leader was left behind in the cavern.

    Behind him, the fire died away.

    Defeated, he stood alone.


    EPILOGUE

    He found her enjoying a steaming bowl of chicken soup.

    “Taking your own medicine, Doctor?”

    Smiling broadly, Katherine Pulaski motioned for Ewan Llewellyn to sit down opposite her at the mess hall table. Pausing in her self-prescribed therapy, she shared a moment of quiet reflection with the Captain. For almost a minute, not a word was spoken between them. They just used that moment to think and to organize their thoughts. The topic of conversation was, after all, a weighty one.

    “It was strange,” Pulaski finally began saying. “I can remember it all now. At first, it was confusing, having the vinculum’s hold broken but now, when I think back, it was strange.”

    “Did you actually believe in the teachings of Vazai?”

    “Yes… I believe I did…”

    “Well, then, I have to apologize. After speaking to Arden, I understand how a person’s faith, artificially induced or naturally discovered, can be as vital as a limb. If, by destroying the vinculum, I caused you any emotional distress…”

    “Please, Captain. You did the right thing.”

    “Did I?”

    Pulaski frowned, not quite understanding what her superior officer meant.

    “He was never supposed to have that Borg technology. Our long-range scans detected the remains of a small Cube on a nearby moon. He probably picked those remains clean, long ago. It could explain the holographic wall too… and I suppose that the upside was that he didn’t implant Borg technology into your bodies. Otherwise, the vinculum’s hold over you would have been much stronger…”

    “Then why do you doubt yourself?,” Pulaski inquired, picking her spoon back up.

    “I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. Religion is a tricky subject, Doctor.”

    “You don’t have to tell me, Captain. I believed in Vazai. The loss of that belief is something that I have to learn to deal with on my own. But I’ll make it because regardless of religion or faith, I’m still Human.”

    Ewan nodded, a lopsided smile of understanding on his face.

    That was something that he could grasp.



    The End.
     
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  7. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Star Trek: Fortitude
    Season Four, Episode Four - “The Fire”
    By Jack D. Elmlinger


    PROLOGUE

    “So… is there anything new on your heading?”

    Gabriel Brodie flashed a perfectly-aligned grin at the monitor. He was in full womanizing mode, calling on his extensive experience with the opposite sex. Knowing that Erica Martinez would call as her duties wrapped up to a close, lightyears behind the speeding Fortitude aboard Starbase 499, the athletic black man pretended to be caught off-guard. From his waist up, he was completely naked. The towel around his shoulders was unrequired, thanks to the sonic shower but it added a playful, boyish edge to his otherwise imposing broad shoulders.

    “Remind me why you’re not out here with us again?”

    “Somebody sensible has to stay behind and hold down the fort,” the Station Master replied over the subspace communications link. “Not that I wouldn’t love to be exploring with you. That is… one day, maybe… for a laugh.”

    “I look forward to it,” Gabe smoothed into his seat, fixing his dark eyes on the beautiful Latina woman’s image. “I think that it goes without saying that I’d love you to be out here with us. Between the Captain’s softly-softly approaches and Lieutenant Vuro at the helm, I could use the release.”

    “I thought that you and Arden were amicable, at least…?”

    “We are… but it’s like treading on eggshells. I guess we’ll never be true friends.”

    Erica chuckled, covering her parted lips with the back of her hand. Brodie frowned, wondering what was so funny and what she had chosen to laugh at the comment about a long-standing personal dispute. Letting the laughter die away, he let his expression ask the silent question.

    “I’m sorry… but there was a time that I thought that you would never serve under Ewan Llewellyn. There was a time that you never thought you would want to go exploring. There was a time that I wanted to be at Ewan’s side. Gabe, you have to realize that things change.”

    Ironically, the starfield outside the window pitched as Erica ended her sentence.

    She had a point. Things had changed.

    “Erica,” Gabe concluded,” you’re damn right… so I have to call you back.”

    “Oh?”

    “It looks like we’ve altered course.”


    ACT ONE

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 51847.2;

    Despite the lateness of the hour, I have decided to stop by a nearby B-Class red giant for a spot of scientific research. An activity that we haven’t indulged in for quite some time and it should also give me the chance to grant some further downtime.



    The graceful lines of the Intrepid-class starship shone with the deep orange hue of the gigantic star that it approached. Angling the pointed arrowhead nose of the saucer section towards the equator, Lieutenant Arden Vuro headed towards the point of greatest interest on the burning surface. Guided by Ensign Jason Armstrong’s sensors and suggestions, he pulled Fortitude short of the harmful radiation belts that surrounded the red giant. His blue hands moved across the helm as he set the auto-pilot and turned towards the operations console behind him.

    “Good spot, Jason?,” the Bolian asked him.

    “Wonderful view from here, sir,” answered the Kentuckian.

    Choosing to stand for a moment, Captain Ewan Llewellyn let his hands find one another behind his back. He locked eyes with the Class-B star displayed on the viewscreen before him.

    Red giants were dying things, short on hydrogen and desperately fusing helium to stay alive and keep from collapsing. Ewan felt the corners of his mouth rise. He always viewed stars as the guardians of the universe. They stood far longer than anybody could hope to see, giving life to those worlds lucky enough to orbit them.

    It was a Human trait… giving characteristics to lifeless objects. Here was nothing more than a large ball of burning gas, chemicals held together by a gravity well. Yet, staring into it, he felt a presence that he respected.

    “Okay, so everybody knows their jobs, right?,” he finally asked aloud to the Bridge crew, gaining an approving nod from Lieutenant Commander Sollik. The Suliban chief engineer began to divert power to the sensor arrays as Llewellyn turned to Armstrong. “Keep me posted on any developments, Ensign.”

    “Aye, Captain,” came the enthusiastic reply,” will do!”

    Pausing for a brief moment before his planned walk to his Ready Room, the Welshman returned to his command chair and leaned over towards his First Officer. Mirroring the move and dipping her head close to his, Commander Valerie Archer gave a brief flicker of a smile, pleased to see Llewellyn relaxing for once. This red giant was such a simple thing and yet, it was such a healthy thing… for a starship and crew that was so used to danger and excitement. A few days of mapping wouldn’t hurt anybody.

    “I guess we should name this thing,” Ewan whispered under his breath.

    “What did you have in mind?,” Valerie responded with curiosity.

    “I don’t know. I was thinking about holding a little competition, see if -- “

    Suddenly, there was an interruption from Tactical. Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Brodie, his brow deeply furrowed with concern, barked Ewan’s rank without apology. Turning towards him, the Captain saw the expression on his face and felt butterflies starting their assault on his stomach. It was a rare thing to see a panicked Gabriel Brodie.

    “What is it?”

    “There’s a fire on Deck Thirteen. Junior Officers’ Quarters!”

    “You’re kidding me,” Ewan gasped, dashing from his chair, and walked over to lean over the tactical console, matching Brodie’s frown. “How did that happen? Oh, never mind! Extinguish the damned thing, Mister Brodie!”

    “Activating suppression force field… Damn…”

    “Well?”

    “The force field isn’t responding, sir. I’m going to have to get down there and tackle it manually. With your permission, Captain?”

    There was only one answer that Llewellyn could give him as a responsible Starfleet officer. “Go, for goodness sake!”


    * * * *


    Upon his arrival, Gabriel Brodie received curious looks of apprehension.

    The two crew members sharing the quarters in question were standing outside in the corridors, their arms were around each other in support. Smoke was seeping from underneath the door which was sealed.

    If the doors were working, why wasn’t the fire suppression force field? It hardly mattered at that moment because standing directly square to the crew cabin, the black tactical officer lifted the heavy fire extinguisher that he had replicated and aimed it ahead of him.

    He reminded himself that before entering any situation, he should get a situation report.

    “Crewman,” he asked one of the cabin residents,” what happened in there?”

    “We don’t know, sir,” the shaken Bajoran answered truthfully. “I was studying and Alice was eating. Then it just, sort of… happened. The bulkhead fell away and the relays behind it burst into flames. We didn’t stick around to run any scans.”

    “It’s okay,” Gabe reassured the Bajoran. “You did the right thing.”

    “Why didn’t the fire suppression force fields kick in, sir?”

    “One thing at a time, Crewman. Listen, if I’m not back in one minute, call in a medical emergency and get Doctor Pulaski down here. Understood?”

    The Bajoran nodded quickly. “May the Prophets watch over you, sir!”

    Gritting his teeth, Brodie hoped that he wouldn’t need it. With a command override, he opened the door and braced himself against the wall of heat and smoke that washed over his senses. It took a few hard blinks to shake and then suddenly, he was walking into the fire with the determination to annihilate it.


    * * * *


    “Internal sensors read that the fire is still raging, Captain.”

    Llewellyn felt a sour expression emerge on his face as he heard the words leave Sollik’s lips. Mister Brodie had entered those quarters, fifty seconds ago. Rather than wait for the crew members to realize that something wasn’t right, he had ordered Katherine Pulaski to be waiting outside the cabin with a medical kit. She would be arriving any moment now and upon finding Gabriel Brodie still inside, tackling the blaze, she would be anything but pleased.

    Beside her Captain, Valerie Archer grew impatient. “Bridge to Lieutenant Commander Brodie,” she called out. “Status report?”

    There was deathly silence. No reply was forthcoming.

    “Are communications down too?,” Ewan asked. “What’s going on down there?”

    At the back of the Bridge, working feverishly across two LCARS displays, the blonde fringe of Jason Armstrong was brushed aside to reveal panic-stricken eyes. This was insane… but no, it was confirmed.

    By three separate sensor arrays.

    Twice…

    Crap… and with communications down, there was no way to warn him… to stop him…

    With no other choice, the Ensign left his station and bolted for the turbolift.

    “Jason,” Valerie quizzed him immediately,” where are you going?”

    He gave her no answer.

    As the turbolift door slid shut behind him, nobody had been close enough to physically stop him. Vuro turned from the helm and shot a worried look towards Captain Llewellyn, who himself was hardly a picture of understanding.

    “That certainly got my attention,” admitted the Bolian.

    “Mine too, Lieutenant,” Llewellyn agreed with him. “You’re with me! Valerie, the Bridge is yours!”


    ACT TWO

    By the time that Jason Armstrong arrived at the scene of the fire, Doctor Katherine Pulaski was waving her tricorder over a panting and coughing Gabriel Brodie. His face and uniform were covered in dark stains. Combat with the fire had taken a toll on his senses, his muscles, and his spirit. Glaring at the pair of his superior officers, he got an answer before he even had a chance to ask the question.

    “Just under two minutes,” Pulaski said, shaking her head. “You’re lucky to be here.”

    “You can tell the Captain that the fire is out, Ensign,” Brodie told the new arrival.

    “Damn it!,” cried out the Kentuckian, his fists balled up in anger.

    “Whoa… hold on there. It sounds like you wanted me to fail…”

    “You don’t understand!,” Jason continued to protest.

    “Ensign,” Pulaski chipped in,” are you all right?”

    Before he could give her an answer, Jason heard his name echo along the corridor behind him, and he turned around to see the Captain and Vuro racing towards the aftermath of the situation. For abandoning his post without either an explanation or permission, the operations officer should have been bracing himself for a stern reprimand but he knew that Ewan Llewellyn wasn’t that kind of a commanding officer. The expression on his face wasn’t full of rage or giving away hints of a forthcoming punishment. Instead, it was an expression of concern.

    “What’s going on?,” the Welshman asked him with a lower vocal tone.

    “Yeah, Jason,” Vuro added to the conversation,” you took off pretty quick back there.”

    Jason opened his mouth to give them an answer when the intercom interrupted it. It was almost as if some higher power didn’t want him to say anything today. With a frustrated roll of his eyes, he allowed the voice of Valerie Archer to continue.

    “Bridge to Captain Llewellyn,” she said. “There’s another fire! Cargo Bay Two this time!”

    “You’re kidding me. When did this happen?”

    “Just as Mister Brodie defeated the first one. Fire suppression force fields are offline again!”

    “We’ll get down there and put it out ourselves,” Ewan vowed.

    “No, Captain!,” Jason blurted out. “Stop, please!”

    Everybody turned on the young Ensign. The pressure was almost tangible.

    “Out with it,” Ewan snapped at him,” before my ship is burned to a cinder!”

    “Sir, well… you’re not going to believe this but that fire… it’s alive!”


    * * * *


    Captain’s Log, supplemental;


    The remarkable claim of my operations officer has been confirmed. The fire in Crew Quarters, along with the fire that is now burning in Cargo Bay Two is definitely alive. A submolecular lifeform signature resides within the chemical reaction. Sensors also confirm that the fire that was previously extinguished by Gabriel Brodie is now the very same fire burning in the Cargo Bay.


    I am now faced with a difficult decision. After all, these fires are destroying my ship.


    “Sollik, what’s the status?”

    The Suliban chief engineer slid into his seat in the Briefing Room. his green scales were smeared with a shadow of smoke, a lingering fingerprint of the fire that he had been fighting to contain in Cargo Bay Two.

    Sharing a knowing look with Gabriel Brodie, he addressed the Captain’s question with his usual dedication to duty. “Cargo Bay Two is now a completely self-contained environment,” he hissed. “The atmospheric controls are pumping twice the oxygen and at Ensign Armstrong’s request, mild concentrations of hydrogen into the fire. Emergency force fields had locked down the surrounding area. There’s negligible risk of the fire spreading any further than it already has, as long as we can keep feeding it.”

    “I’m sorry,” Doctor Pulaski interrupted from the opposite side of the table,” but hydrogen?”

    “This is where you come in, Ensign,” Llewellyn said, nodding at Armstrong.

    “Thank you, Captain,” the Kentuckian nodded briefly before turning to address the assembled senior staff with a superiority of voice beyond his years. “The beginning of my research on the red giant flagged an interesting anomaly. At a depth of one hundred meters underneath the surface of the star, I picked up trace amounts of submolecular organic material. Life, sentient or otherwise. When the fire broke out on Deck Thirteen, I switched to internal sensors and found the same material.”

    Standing from his chair, Jason walked over and activated the wall monitor. “My readings indicate that they are sentient… and hungry.”

    The monitor switched to various sensor data information on the fires, running alongside a live feed from the burning corner of Cargo Bay Two. Another image, the red giant sitting outside the briefing room window, appeared with enhanced resolution burrowing far beyond what any crew member could see.

    “As we all know, a star becomes a red giant when it runs out of hydrogen. It switches to fusing helium, which is absolutely fine in itself, but when you’re home to lifeforms that feed off of hydrogen? That’s when things take a turn for the worse.”

    “So you’re saying that we’ve been visited by a submolecular lifeform that is searching for a new source of hydrogen?,” Valerie Archer asked for confirmation, getting a nod in response. “Okay, I can buy that… but why the fires?”

    “Without extreme heat,” Jason replied,” they die.”

    “In other words, they’re transforming Fortitude into a habitable environment,” Brodie observed in his own unique way. “I’m assuming that they’re responsible for the fire suppression force fields not working? They managed to leap a few decks after I beat them once. It sounds a little like an invasion to me.”

    “You believe them to be hostile?,” Pulaski quizzed him instantly.

    “Doctor, I fought that first fire. Yes, I most certainly do.”

    “Typical…,” Vuro whispered under his breath. The Bolian couldn’t help himself, professionalism of a Briefing Room meeting be damned. Here was a new lifeform that found its way aboard the Intrepid-class starship, struggling to survive. He knew what all good Starfleet officers would do. They were out here to meet new life, whatever unusual circumstances prevailed. But, no, Gabriel Brodie was gunning to kill these visitors from the start. Arden wanted to say more but he hit his tongue.

    “All right, look,” Llewellyn cut in with authority,” Sollik, as long as your barricade against the flames holds, we have some time to think. I don’t want to send the lifeforms back to the red giant if hydrogen is their food source. That would be the same as a death sentence. I’m sorry, Mister Brodie, but I can’t agree with you. If it were an invasion, they would be all over, burning up half of the ship, but they’re not. Ensign Armstrong had confirmed that we’re dealing with stray entities here and not the whole lot of them.”

    “Is there any way that we can help them?,” Valerie ventured to ask.

    “That’s what I want you and Jason to think about,” the Captain told her. “Doctor Pulaski, I want you to monitor the fires. Keep them happy, but keep them from spreading beyond Cargo Bay Two. Dismissed.”
     
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  8. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    ACT THREE

    Two hours had passed by since the meeting in the Briefing Room. Hunched over the operations console, Valerie Archer and Jason were furiously trying to cram every single fact from the sensor array into their heads. They now ached as a result but the coffee beside them helped. Periodically, Sollik would walk the width of the Bridge from his Engineering console, floating an idea or two past them and they would either nod encouragingly or dismiss him entirely. Dealing with a complete and utterly unknown… creature... was part of the excitement of being a Starfleet explorer but it was also part of a frustrating trial and error process.

    Gabriel Brodie watched them work from his tactical console. He was keeping one eye squarely on his LCARS display which showed the same live feed from Cargo Bay Two that Jason had used to champion the fire’s case. It still burned brightly, sustained by the nourishing chemical mixture being piped into the room. The glow from the image reflected in Gabe’s dark pupil.

    For goodness’ sake, this thing was a danger to Fortitude! There are one hundred and forty people aboard a ship carrying fire! Not only that but it was a smart fire, capable of circumventing systems and traveling throughout the ship. This was deeply wrong. If only he was the Captain…

    “Yes,” a voice cried out,” we’ve got it!”

    Brodie turned to his left, joining all of the other officers on the Bridge in staring at the operations console. There, a beaming Jason Armstrong was accepting a literal pat on the back from the First Officer. Even Sollik was nodding in agreement.

    “It sounds promising,” Ewan noted, standing up from his chair. “What do you think?”

    “Sollik and I have just finished designing a super-heated containment module,” Armstrong explained quickly,” that will keep it from detonating the high levels of combustible elements within it… including hydrogen. The lifeforms will consume most of it anyways, but it was just that tricky balance that -- “

    “Give us the upside of it, Ensign,” Llewellyn pressed at him,” before my ship gets any hotter!”

    “We can transport the lifeforms to another star… one with plenty of hydrogen.”

    Archer walked away from Operations and moved down towards the helm. When she arrived, she dipped her head close to Vuro’s blue scalp and started typing into the navigational sensor array. The Bolian lieutenant caught on and did the same thing on a separate screen, and soon enough, a pleasing result appeared before them.

    “There is an uninhabited star system, one-point-eight lightyears from here with suitable readings,” Valerie reported, turning to smile at her Captain. “It looks like we’ve found them a new home after all!”

    “Sollik,” Llewellyn asked,” how long until the containment module is ready?”

    “Thirty minutes, tops, sir.”

    “We’ll test it on the residents of Cargo Bay Two before we bring up the others from the red giant. Hopefully, they won’t mind the relocation, especially since it will be saving their lives. Jason, work with Mister Brodie on the transporter reconfigurations. The confinement beams will need some tweaking.” Llewellyn shifted his gaze towards Tactical with a knowing eyebrow cocked up. “Any objections?”

    Brodie shook his head.

    Orders were, after all, orders.


    * * * *


    “Five minutes, sir.”

    “Huh?”

    Armstrong stopped walking, halfway between the transporter pad and the control console, fixing the dark-skinned tactical officer with a knowing look. Gabriel Brodie had been leaning against the bulkhead with his muscled arms folded, staring into middle-distance, for almost the entire time that they had been working together in Transporter Room One on the confinement beam modifications. At every stage of the work, he had tried to involve his superior officer, and at every stage, Gabe had made his objections clear.

    “Five minutes until the transfer,” Jason repeated, indicating with his tricorder towards the large silver canister resting on the transporter pad. “We’ll be ready to beam up the rest of the lifeforms and get underway.”

    “Oh… five minutes… sure…”

    A sucker for hard-luck cases, the Ensign pushed a little further. “If I may, sir, what’s the big problem?”

    “You’re out of line,” Brodie growled, just wanting this insane operation to be over.

    “My apologies, sir, but you didn’t answer my question.”

    Brodie let out a long, deep sigh. There was no escaping from this young man’s persistence, and as much as he wanted to retort back at him with yet another reprimand, he stopped himself before he could even think. After all, there was a history between their positions. He was the replacement, stepping in for somebody so dear to the operations officer… and despite his attitude, there was respect for that inside the older man.

    Deciding that there was nothing better to do,” Gabe answered him. “These little bastards start fires to survive and we’re beaming them aboard? Forgive me if I don’t jump up and down with enthusiasm, Ensign. I would rather keep my distance from such volatile lifeforms.”

    “Is it a matter of trust,” Jason continued,” or is it something else?”

    “It’s a matter of my gut… and my mother teaching me never to play with fire.”

    “Engineering to Transporter Room One,” the intercom spoke with the voice of the chief engineer. “The test was a success. Cargo Bay Two is now free from the lifeforms and their fires. Are you ready to begin beaming the others from the red giant?”

    “Stand by, Sollik,” answered Brodie. “Okay… it’s all yours, Ensign.”

    Jason dashed over to the control console, making his final preparations and pushing aside the doubts raised by Gabriel Brodie. Right now, his job was to carefully scoop up these precious little lifeforms and deliver them to a new home. He had the responsibility of an entire race on his shoulders. He neither relished or wanted it for long, but at the same time, a twinge of excitement ran through his body. Standing alongside him, Gabe also felt something, a pang of trepidation.

    “I’ve got a lock.”

    “Lord have mercy on us all.”

    “Energizing.”

    The containment module on the transporter pad glowed briefly as the familiar whine of the ship’s transporter beam gently placed the lifeforms inside their superheated hydrogen home. The once-dull transparent aluminium viewport on the side of the shining silver canister burst forth with a brilliant orange light. It wasn’t like the fire from the crew cabin and it wasn’t as fierce as the fire from Cargo Bay Two.

    It was almost peaceful.

    It bathed both officers in a warm light as the transfer completed.

    Jason tapped his combadge and signaled Sollik and the Captain simultaneously. “We’ve got them!”

    It was only then, with his job complete, that he noticed Gabriel Brodie.

    The tactical officer was walking forward towards the canister. His eyes were transfixed on the viewport as if drawn to the warm glow by some invisible hold. Try as he might, he couldn’t explain his desire to get closer but he got closer. When he was within a few steps, he kneeled down and let his desire indulge itself in a long gaze of serenity, soaking up the sight of the lifeforms’ habitat.

    “Sir?,” Jason asked with a frown. “Are you all right?”

    “I had no idea.”

    “No idea of what, sir?,” the young Ensign asked, smiling. “No idea that it would be so peaceful? Or so beautiful? Or so innocent, perhaps?”

    Brodie turned his head back towards his colleague. “Let’s not push things, but… well… yeah, I guess so. Maybe… I was wrong.”


    EPILOGUE

    “Awww… you did some growing today!”

    “Don’t get all psychological on me, Erica,” Gabe growled, running a hand down over his tired face before looking towards the monitor where, once again, a subspace link had been established with the Station Master’s Office on Starbase 499. “Anyways, we transferred them to their new star in the uninhabited system, an hour ago. It’s just the end of another day to me, nothing more… but an eventful day nevertheless.”

    “Well, thanks for sharing,” Erica Martinez grinned from lightyears away.

    “It’s my pleasure…”

    The door chimes to his quarters rang behind him.

    “It sounds like you’ve got some company,” the woman on the monitor observed. “I’ll let you answer it. Shall we say the same time, tomorrow evening?”

    “We shall. Goodnight, and sleep tight.”

    Killing the subspace transmission, Brodie rose to his feet and walked over to the door. Opening it, he was surprised to see the face that greeted him.

    “Lieutenant Vuro, what can I do for you?”

    “Nothing much,” retorted the Bolian who was standing motionless in the corridor. “Look, I know that this really isn’t my place, but well… Jason told me what happened in the transporter room earlier. It takes something to admit that you were wrong, and while our issues might never see that same something emerge from either of us… Well, anyways, some of the senior staff are having a celebratory barbecue in Holodeck One, and I wondered if you wanted to … you know, come along… Have a drink or two?”

    Brodie couldn’t believe his ears. Was this actually happening? Was Arden being nice to him?

    “Uh… sure, okay,” he said, stammering out his reply.

    Together, he and the helmsman walked away down the corridor.

    Gabe just had one final question.

    “When you say barbecue…?”



    The End.
     
  9. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Star Trek: Fortitude
    Season Four, Episode Five - “Politics”
    By Jack D. Elmlinger


    PROLOGUE

    Veth Ka’Gerran had never seen such destruction before and he had survived a revolution.

    However, the tragedy of this destruction was different. This wasn’t a body of people rebelling against their state with disruptors and hover cars. No, today, the destruction wrought upon the capital of Santrag II was natural. The most powerful storm front on record was sweeping through the streets, claiming innocent lives and upturning property with ruthless abandon.

    Today, the enemy was the weather.

    Crying out in terror, Veth cowered behind his desk as the towering relic of a window above him shattered under the force of a stray branch. Leaves accompanied shards of glass as they showered over his trembling form. Something cut him close to his aging, gnarled horns. Turning out to be a large piece of the window, it stuck in his matted gray hair as he grasped for the wound. Around him, his office was transformed into chaos. The weather was inside now.

    Lightning crackled outside. A nearby building was on fire.

    Veth couldn’t take much more of this catastrophe. When was that blasted shield supposed to be raised?

    If Santrag II was still ruled and governed by a single authority, the defensive shield that protected part of the capital city would have been raised, ages ago, long before the storm had ever hit. Not now, though… Now, there was the glorious new age of the Santragan People’s Freedom Democracy and every decision had to be weighed by the People’s Council and that simply meant more paperwork. Veth would have chuckled at the thought if his situation were less bleak. That paperwork would now be flying around in that cyclone outside, lost forever.

    The fools… What nonsense!

    Turning on the shield would draw power and that power was regulated. Everybody had a say.

    Today, Veth Ka’Gerran wanted his say, too.

    “Just get the infernal shield up!,” he screamed towards the heavens.


    ACT ONE

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 51962.9;

    Our latest return to Starbase 49 and the Santrag system had been unintentionally timed to coincide with a terrible natural disaster on Santrag II. Sensors have monitored one of the most destructive and powerful storms that we have ever witnessed assault the capital and three other cities before subsiding over the northern oceans. While there is no official word from the surface, probably thanks to communications being wiped out by the storm’s aftermath, I am left to sit on my hands… waiting for their cry for help…



    “My God,” Captain Llewellyn said, fuming,” why not?”

    Station Master Erica Martinez was attempting to explain the situation to the red-faced Welshman, pausing with every sentence to allow him a chance to vent his anger. Feeling the handful of officers working in the Station Master’s Office of Starbase 499 watching the exchange, the Latina woman had begun to have enough. With this latest interjection, she landed a flat palm on the bulkhead and got the attention that she wanted.

    “Calm down, Ewan! There’s nothing that we can do! Despite the Federation membership status of Santrag II, as you well know, we can’t just go marching down there unless we’re invited! That’s sovereign soil!”

    “Erica, people may be dying down there!”

    “That’s true, and my heart goes out to them, but you must understand that the political situation down there is tricky. They’re in the formative years of a new government, one that was nearly ushered into office with the blood of Starfleet officers, in case you’ve forgotten. The sight of Starfleet shuttlecraft landing on top of the debris would be. Volatile. Besides, I have standing orders from Rear Admiral Blackmore.”

    “How can you,” Llewellyn snapped back his reply,” if he’s still in a coma?”

    “Standing orders, Ewan. After the revolution, he gave them to me personally. I’m to ensure that no personnel from Starbase 499 or any of the starships assigned to her are deployed down to the surface of Santrag II.”

    “What kind of order is that? They’re Federation members!”

    “They’re not just any member… and we’ve got history. At best, it’s delicate.”

    Captain Llewellyn reeled at this news with his nostrils flaring. He had spent the morning, watching sensor feeds of the aftermath. Half of the capital city was torn up, carried nearly a mile away, and thrown back down to the ground in a matter of minutes. Annoyingly, all interplanetary communications from every major city on the planet ran through the capital as well, and that meant that even the undamaged sections of Santragan society were silent.

    In his frustration, he had even revisited the Prime Directive, searching for that one piece of legislation that would allow him to take Fortitude down through the atmosphere and to the disaster area. As he had found out before, the Prime Directive was deliberately vague on matters of sovereignty, especially when it came to Federation member worlds. Apparently, the policy of non-interference was supposed to do… Yeah, right…

    “We can keep trying to contact the surface, right?,” he finally asked Martinez.

    “We haven’t stopped.”

    “When did you last speak to Ambassador Ka’Gerran?”

    “Just before the storm hit… and he said that they would all be fine.”

    “And you believed him?”

    “Absolutely not,” the Latina woman said, shaking her head, her dark hair falling across her eyes. “Then again, I don’t think that he believed it either. He used to be a great leader… and now he’s been reduced to being the mouthpiece for that bureaucratic mess that they’ve replaced him with. It pissed him off and it pisses me off.”

    Ewan suddenly felt a little immature for his outbursts. “I’m sorry, Erica,” he said, lowering his tone. “I know that this must be tough.”

    “I just wish Boxer were awake…”

    “Yeah… me too…”


    * * * *


    Hours passed by. They were hours that were difficult to get through. Hours filled with worry, dread, and speculation enhanced that worry and dread. They were hours that Ewan Llewellyn just wanted to get through. Rubbing his weary features to keep them awake, he watched as eight of those hours finally ticked away until the LCARS display to the left of his Captain’s chair showed that it was 1800 hours. The day shift was over. It was time to replace those crew members who needed to eat, drink, and rest.

    Commander Archer walked onto the Bridge of Fortitude with three other officers wearing gold collars. Spotting the Captain still slouched over in his seat, she wasted no time in joining him and taking her own position on his left side.

    “Still no word from the surface?,” she asked gently.

    “Silence is deafening,” Ewan told his First Officer with a grunt.

    “Dinner and an early night says that I’m a pro.”

    Llewellyn smiled. Bless her. She was always looking out for him. What a true First Officer…

    “Is that an offer, Valerie?,” he observed with a lopsided grin.

    “As tempting as it is, you’ve got to get some sleep. You’ve spent a full day worrying about the situation down on Santrag II. That kind of day takes its toll on a man, no matter how strong that man may be. I’ll take the Bridge for the night watch. Go on, get to your quarters, get some food, and some sleep.”

    “All right,” he agreed,” you’ve convinced me. I surrender.”

    “Wise move,” Valerie smiled. “Otherwise, I would have carried on like that for ages.”

    “My goodness, there’s a threat.”


    * * * *


    Leaving the Bridge sharing the Commander’s smile, Llewellyn made his way below decks to his quarters, genuinely impressed that she had managed to put him in a fairly good mood, especially after the day’s events or lack of them. During the turbolift ride and slow meandering through the ship’s corridors, the Welshman tousled his dark hair into haphazard spikes and thought about what he would ask the replicator for. Pasta, maybe, or a nice salad… Something light, at the very least.

    Twenty minutes later and the plate was empty on his table. Feeling the regenerative energy of the meal flow through him, Ewan allowed the music that he had been enjoying before he stood up. A powerful end to the soundtrack, he thought, and it made him wonder what watching the 20th Century motion picture that it came from would be like. The downside of being the captain of a starship was that he would probably never find out.

    The window caught his attention. Walking over and staring outward, he allowed Santrag II’s glistening Class-M surface to be soaked up into his eyes. His mind instantly filled with the images of the day’s sensor reports. All of those buildings, those streets, those structures… all of that architectural history destroyed, and underneath it, all of those potential bodies and all of those people who were still in need of rescue…

    Damn it!

    Damn that new government!

    Damn the storm severing all communications!

    And damn Rear Admiral Blackmore’s standing order!

    Ewan knew that his old friend had done the right thing. That was what hurt the most. It was the right thing to do and yet it hurt so much.

    It was times like these that he wished that he had no morality.

    That way, such things wouldn’t bother him.

    He was just about to call it a night and turn away when something caught his eye. It was small, but growing… and growing fast. The trajectory looked like it was incoming from the far side of Santrag II, and as more details came into view, recognition spread across Llewellyn’s face. Shining blue bodywork… taped, dark-like nose… tri-winged engine array propelling it away from the atmosphere…

    Ewan felt his heart skip a beat.

    A Santragan vessel was incoming.


    ACT TWO

    Captain’s Log, supplemental;

    Requesting emergency permission to dock, a Santragan vessel was finally approaching Starbase 499 after the terrible devastation of the storm. I have been summoned by Station Master Martinez to attend a meeting that she is holding with Ambassador Veth Ka’Gerran… who is apparently rather flustered about something…



    “What do you mean that you’re not supposed to be here?”

    Both Erica and Ewan fixed the Santragan with a confused frown. Veth Ka’Gerran looked older with each visit to the Federation outpost and it had nothing to do with the passage of time. It had been only months since Captain Llewellyn had shared a banquet with the Ambassador.

    The bandage didn’t help.

    Apparently, even dermal regenerators were in short supply in the chaos caused by the storms. A large, bloody swath of material covered the wound on Ka’Gerran’s cranium and it was obvious that he had been lucky not to lose one of his horns since they never grew back.

    Scratching at his feral hairstyle, their guest answered his friends as best as he could. “The Santragan People’s Freedom Democracy believe themselves to be strong enough to handle the natural disaster on Santrag II without the need for external assistance from our allies, most notably the United Federation of Planets,” he said, apologizing. “Thankfully, one of the privileges that I was allowed to keep after being ousted as Prime Minister was my starship. I can’t just sit down there and nod along with this government. I simply can’t… and I’m sorry to bring this to you. I don’t know what else to do! My people are suffering! Dying!”

    “It’s okay,” Erica soothed him diplomatically. “Don’t apologize.”

    “We understand completely,” Ewan added with real compassion in his voice. “What I’m not sure that I understand, however, is what you would like us to do. Ambassador, is this a formal request for assistance?”

    “It can’t be,” Ka’Gerran said, sobbing as he was close to his breaking point with the emotional strain of the storm’s effects, and his illegal actions. “I can’t make an official plea without ratification from the People’s Council. I don’t even know why I’m here…”

    “We’ve helped you before,” Erica remembered, thinking back to the revolution and thinking back to her strong objections. Despite it being a breach of the Prime Directive, at least in her eyes, she could see the argument in favor of such an action. In retrospect, she also knew that it was one of the bravest things that Rear Admiral Blackmore and Captain Llewellyn had ever undertaken. Besides, her feelings back then were clouded. With the help of a certain tactical officer, that cloud had recently been lifted.

    “What about those standing orders of yours?,” Ewan asked her instantly.

    “I know that it’s betraying the Rear Admiral’s trust,” the Latina woman admitted,” but you’re right. I did some thinking. They’re stupid orders and he’s in a coma. We’re here and this is now, and something needs to be done here!”

    “What exactly can that be?,” Ka’Gerran blurted out, confused as to the discussion going on around him between Starfleet officers covering orders that he had heard nothing about. “The instant that anybody on the surface sees a Starfleet uniform, they’ll contact the People’s Council!”

    Llewellyn felt his face fall into his cupped hands. With the analytical precision of 499’s central computer, his mind raced over all of the possible options. It took a second but one was forthcoming. Could it work? Maybe, given the scale of the obliteration down there, nobody would stop to look at it too closely. It was a risk, but nothing came without risk in this job. Definitely not in this corner of the Beta Quadrant.

    “Ambassador,” he finally asked him, breaking the silence between them,” who knows that you’ve left the surface?”

    “No more than ten people could have seen my vessel leave, and they all work for me.”

    “The launch was unregistered?”

    “You can count on it. What are you getting at, Captain?”

    Ewan simply smiled.


    * * * *


    “Now you’re sure that these are removable afterward?,” Jason Armstrong asked with some very real concerns, his Kentuckian accent trembling ever-so-slightly. “Being stuck with these for the rest of my life, I don’t know… I don’t want to roll over in the middle of the night and tear a hole through my pillow or anything.”

    With a practiced hand, Katherine Pulaski was carefully applying the final in a series of artificial Santragan horns to the young ensign’s scalp. The blonde hair that usually adorned that section of his head was already swept back and stimulated to double in length, creating the promising beginnings of a Santragan hairstyle. She simply dismissed Jason’s irrational worry with a ‘stop-being-a-baby’ look and completed her work, adding the finishing touch. She stepped back and handed a mirror to her patient, her eyes casting a satisfied look over the Santragan version of Jason Armstrong.

    Behind her, Valerie Archer and Gabriel Brodie sported similar surgical alterations and they were quite enjoying the wild differences in their appearances. Standing alongside Pulaski, Llewellyn was the only other person that was present to retain his outer humanity. He was busy staring at the change in his First Officer. She looked menacing with horns and feral hair, being almost beast-like… and a small part of him found it exciting.

    “All finished, Captain,” Pulaski broke into his dream-like distraction. “I give you three away team members who will pass for Santragan nationals. It will take a medical tricorder to tell anyone otherwise, so steer clear of any physicians down there.”

    “Don’t worry, Doctor,” Brodie assured her. “Hopefully, we won’t have any need for them.

    The doors to Sickbay swished open and another Santragan male entered the room.

    “All set, Sollik?”

    “Ka’Gerran is preparing to depart,” the Suliban chief engineer replied, devoid of any prosthetic enhancements. Thanks to his genetic shapeshifting abilities, he made an utterly convincing Santragan without Doctor Pulaski’s help. “I’ve loaded all of the supplies that we’re going to need into his cargo bay. I’ve also got our emergency transport beacons. If you’re uncovered, the transporter beam has been reconfigured to look non-Starfleet.”

    As Sollik handed out the tiny devices to the away team, Ewan concluded the briefing. “At least, it will keep them scratching their heads for a while. Just see what you can do, okay? Keep your technology discreet and watch out for one another’s backs. Draw up cover stories for your otherwise-miraculous rescues and what-have-you. Remember, these people are our allies. Just because they’ve refused our help, it doesn’t mean that we should treat them with suspicion. I’m looking at you, Mister Brodie.”

    Gabe made a face but Valerie had it covered. “Never fear,” she reassured Llewellyn,” he’ll stay in line.”

    “Well, then… good luck. Off you go!”
     
    Orbing Master likes this.
  10. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    ACT THREE

    Starbase 499’s Sickbay Facility was pleasingly quiet. One nurse was attending to Crewman Ishihara, who had sprained his ankle playing American football on the holodeck, and another nurse was trying to make herself busy, despite the absence of work. Captain Llewellyn watched her rearrange hypospray vials, at least, for ten minutes before she finally turned towards him and gave him the nod. It just added to the Welshman’s dislike of hospitals.

    Edward Blackmore hadn’t moved an inch. Even his beard hadn’t grown. His gray and white hairs were still regulation-length and neatly presented. Of course, Ewan thought to himself that this wasn’t really the case. Somebody had been making house calls. Pulaski or Martinez… it could have been either of them. What was it with women and tidying things? Anyways, such questions were not the reason for his visit.

    Slowly, as he found himself doing more and more these days, he moved the chair that he always moved over to the side of the biobed and slumped down into it. Every single time, he secretly hoped to see the Rear Admiral open his eyes and smile at his presence. Every single time, he waited those few seconds, watching with his fingers crossed. Once again, he was disappointed.

    “Hey, Boxer,” he finally whispered,” it’s me, Ewan.”

    Nothing, no response whatsoever.

    “I guess I’m here to apologize,” Llewellyn continued. “Erica and I broke your standing orders and I’ve sent a four-person away team down to the surface of Santrag II. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t completely necessary, but Boxer… Damn it, there are people dying down there and we’re all Starfleet officers! I think you would have done the same thing. I mean, I don’t want to sound big-headed but I know you trust me. I hope you trust me, anyway, and when you’re finished taking this little nap of yours, I hope you’ll understand my reasons for sending Commander Archer and the others down there.”

    The life-support monitor droned out the steady beeps of a reply.

    “We actually got a request,” the Captain revealed to his motionless friend,” from Veth, even though it wasn’t a formal one. You know him better than anyone else, Boxer. I wish you could tell me what’s going on in that mind of yours. Last time that I saw him, he was taking those Santragan hijackers into custody and he wouldn’t say a word. Now he’s illegally asked for and received humanitarian assistance? So much for Santrag II being a member of the United Federation of Planets. I’m damned if I don’t know what’s going on down there, and neither does anybody aboard 499.”

    Time was up, or so the not-so-busy nurse indicated when she waved from the corner of Sickbay.

    Ewan lifted himself up to his feet, moving the chair back to where it belonged. “I say it every time,” he finished,” but wake up, okay?”

    Edward Blackmore gave no answer.


    * * * *


    Captain’s Log, Stardate 51965.7;


    It had been two days since Commander Archer’s undercover away team left for the surface of Santrag II. While our sensors still have a lock on their biosigns, they also have a lock on the capital city. The Santragans have repaired their communications, putting in a polite thanks-but-no-thanks call to Station Master Martinez. They’re also close to repairing their planetary sensor net, meaning that if Ambassador Ka’Gerran wants to return my people, he had better do it soon.



    “Sir, I have Veth Ka’Gerran’s personal vessel approaching,” Lieutenant Arden Vuro reported from the helm, delivering the first bit of good news… hell, the first bit of news all day. “I’m getting a request from the Ambassador. He wants to beam the away team back to Fortitude immediately. He says that there’s no time to dock before the surface realizes what he’s up to.”

    “Or what we’re up to,” the Captain mused, rising to his feet. “Do it, Arden, Transporter Room One!”

    “Aye, sir,” answered the Bolians, leaving a gap of a few seconds. “We’ve got them, sir, in Transporter Room One. Four biosigns: three Humans, and one Suliban. Ka’Gerran is breaking away and returning to the surface.”

    “Signal our gratitude and wish him a safe journey. You have the Bridge.”


    * * * *


    The Away Team was a sight for sore eyes. Upon entering Transporter Room One, Llewellyn actually failed to recognize his senior officers for several minutes. The Santragan prosthetics that he was expecting and used to seeing, but their clothes were torn and dirt smeared across every surface.

    Valerie Archer hobbled towards him to deliver her report, almost falling into his waiting arms but nothing so dramatic or romantic would be happening today. At least, not until she had a shower.

    “Bloody hell!,” Ewan gasped.

    “That bad, huh?,” Jason Armstrong groaned from the background.

    “What a couple of days…,” Valerie sighed, glad to be home. “We did some good work down there. Ambassador Ka’Gerran told everybody that we were friends of his from another province. We kept our phasers hidden but we managed to disintegrate the rubble in seconds that would have taken hours to move otherwise. He found and rescued over one hundred and fifty people between us. Sollik holds the record.”

    “Cheat,” Gabriel Brodie winked with obvious sarcasm.

    “We saw that the planetary sensor net was about to come back online,” Llewellyn noted, still taken aback by the disarray of the away team. “Was that why you got rushed back? How is Veth Ka’Gerran anyway?”

    “Yeah, he didn’t want us to get stuck down there… and, well, he’s… quiet.”

    “Can you blame him?,” Sollik hissed, cleaning grit away from his face.

    “Not really, no,” Valerie agreed with an exhausted nod.

    “Well, the important thing is that you’re all back safe,” Ewan admitted,” and while you probably shouldn’t have gone in the first place, Prime Directive permitting, I’m glad that you did. Make your personal logs about that, everybody. Make them about how you helped people in need… and full disclosure, okay?”

    Four tired heads acknowledged the request. Eight tired legs then began to move towards the door. Sickbay awaited them with horns needing to be removed and hair needing to be reset to normal.


    EPILOGUE

    It was a sight that Veth Ka’Gerran would remember forever.

    Three of the assistants in his ambassadorial office were working to remove the bits of tree and shards of glass that festooned the desk and cabinets. The smashed computer terminal would take longer to replace, but there was an entire city-wide infrastructure to rebuild out there, and given the People’s Council and their aversion to assistance from Starbase 499, there was little need for the Ambassador to be at the top of that list.

    The sight that preoccupied Ka’Gerran was outside the window/ buildings in ruin, streets in disarray… and bodies underneath white sheets.

    The relatively young Santragan People’s Freedom Democracy was not equipped for a recovery operation of this magnitude. The Starfleet officers had been excellent. Valerie Archer was a real leader of her own people and their technology had been a great asset. That chief engineer, Sollik… what skills he had! If he was a drinking man, he would have put him down to an alcohol-induced hallucination, but no… he was real. He really had slid through gaps that were no wider than an inch and climbed up walls when nobody was looking. He was truly remarkable.

    While the Starfleet officers had been excellent, it infuriated the old statesman that he had to be clandestine in his recruitment. If only the People’s Council realized their own shortcomings!

    There was a knock on what remained of his office door.

    Veth Ka’Gerran turned to see a young man climbing over the wreckage. He was wearing the uniform of a local law firm and he was probably their errand boy. With no money left on Santrag II, lawyers were a dying breed. The errand boy finally made it to Veth’s side and his hand was outstretched with a data block in his hand.

    “Ambassador Ka’Gerran?”

    “Yes,” came the reply. “What of it?”

    “I’m just the messenger, sir. Please take this and wait to be called.”

    Ka’Gerran took the data block. On the polished screen, there was a short message that was accompanied by an image of a starship leaving the surface. What little script that they gave was launch times, return times, and possible destinations. He felt his heart leap into his throat as the inevitable conclusion was reached.

    He was facing charges of unsanctioned representation of Santrag II.

    He was facing a tribunal.

    All for just helping his people and saving their lives…



    The End.
     
  11. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    ooooh! lovely to see Fortitude back! I've missed it!
     
  12. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Star Trek: Fortitude
    Season Four, Episode Six - “First Date”
    By Jack D. Elmlinger


    PROLOGUE

    He wasn’t quite sure how it had happened…

    It had been another normal day. Fortitude was at high warp, cutting through space while sensors looked for interesting things to explore. There was nothing special about the day. Nothing unusual. Nothing critical even happened… which, even he had to admit, made a nice change. When he leaned over the operations console and asked Jason if anything was coming up in the next few lightyears, the answer was a resounding no. Engineering was running at peak efficiency and Sickbay was satisfyingly empty…

    It was just another normal day. Nothing more and nothing less.

    Then it happened. It had happened and he wasn’t sure how.

    “What are your plans for tomorrow night?,” she asked him.

    “Tomorrow night?,” he repeated. “Uh… status reports and paperwork, I think.”

    “I’ve got the holodeck booked for two hours.”

    “That’ll be nice. What are you planning to do?”

    “I think I’m all golfed out at the moment. Maybe something new… I don’t know…”

    “I know an Ensign with a library of 21st-century action adventures,” he said with a smile.

    “Hmm…,” she pondered playfully. “That doesn’t sound very date-like.”

    There was a pause. Had she just said that she was going on a date? He blinked his eyes, letting the word sink in a little before he considered giving her a reply. Well, good for her, he felt like saying but maybe that would be too obvious… Damn, and they had been getting so close! Was it his fault? Had he waited too long? Wasn’t he supposed to make the first move? No, this was the 24th century. Those rules had been long since forgotten.

    “Oh,” he finally settled upon,” a date? Then you’ll want something calmer?”

    “What do you fancy?”

    “Pardon me…?”

    “What do you fancy doing on the holodeck for two hours?”

    “You mean… for a date?”

    “Yeah… I wouldn’t want you to get bored after all.”

    Ewan Llewellyn was speechless.

    “Give it some thought,” Valerie Archer grinned. “You can pick me up at seven.”


    ACT ONE

    The Mess Hall echoed with laughter. Katherine Pulaski rarely let herself go in such public displays of extreme mirth, but there was just something about the story being told to her that removed her inhibitions and forced the laughter out. Sitting across the table from her, Valerie Archer was responsible for the effect and she was laughing along with the Chief Medical Officer, her drink shaking in her hand. Only after a few choice expressions were directed towards their table did they finally manage to breathe.

    “I would have loved to seen his face,” she eventually smiled.

    “We shouldn’t laugh, really,” Valerie replied, nevertheless wiping a tear away from her cheek with her right index finger. “I sprung it on him rather suddenly… but still, I knew that actually talking to him about a possible date would have been awkward. I guess the element of surprise worked in my favor!”

    “It’s funny that you should say that,” Pulaski observed,” but I always thought that the Captain was a rather straightforward guy.”

    “On most things, sure… but you know men and their feelings…”

    “Three ex-husbands can confirm that for you.”

    The two friends finished their drinks and moved from the Mess Hall into the maze of corridors deep within Fortitude. Valerie felt comfortable talking to Kate about all of this. They had found each other to have much in common away from their vastly different shipboard positions. While one of them spent their days shuffling duty shifts and the other one healed wounds, both of them had roughly the same sense of humor. Over the occasional drink, they had found an openness and honesty that was refreshing. It wasn’t professional practice to ask the Captain out on a date and then brag about it to a member of the senior staff but Pulaski could be trusted.

    Besides, Valerie had to tell somebody!

    “So what do you expect he’ll decide to do?”

    “I have no idea,” admitted the First Officer. “Thinking about it, he is the perfect gentleman. Maybe some old-fashioned dinner and dancing? Of course, that is if I can dance after having shot myself in the foot with this approach.”

    “Oh, how so?”

    “I have no idea what I should be wearing!”

    Pulaski felt another laugh bubbling to the surface as she entered the turbolift for her quarters and held her arm out, stopping the door before it could cut her off from her friend and the conversation. Archer paused, about to turn away and bid the Doctor farewell for the time being but she saw that there was more to be said.

    Her expression suitable, giving the day’s change in tone from the regular crisis and chaos that surrounded Fortitude, Pulaski had an offer to make.

    “I’m at your disposal for the next two days,” she beamed.

    “Nothing better to do…?”

    “On the contrary, I’ve always been interested in the social sciences.”

    “Great,” Valerie joked,” I’m a lab rat!”

    “Oh, absolutely, and I expect regular reports, please,” Pulaski shot back at her through a grin.

    “You’ve got it, Kate.”


    * * * *


    In the meantime, the shockwaves of Valerie Archer’s bombshell were still being felt.

    A date?

    And she had asked?

    Had he made a huge mistake? Wasn’t it supposed to be considered gentlemanly to ask the lady on a date? Oh, sure, he had been in a few relationships before. One of them had been at the Academy but those were different. Those had been because he was young and adventurous, nothing else. No, this was Valerie Archer, a commander in Starfleet and First Officer of a starship.

    His starship!

    There was so much emotion tied up in their relationship already. What if he blew it? What if he made a mistake? What if in taking the next time with her, he, Ewan Llewellyn realized that he wasn’t really cut out for dating a fellow officer?

    What if?

    What if?

    All of these internal questions were putting a permanent frown on his forehead. It was just visible through the gaps in his dark hair. Loaded with self-doubt, he was heading through the bowels of Fortitude when a curious Jason Armstrong noticed him and, also noticing the frown, stopped to offer him his assistance.

    “Captain,” the Kentuckian called out along the otherwise-empty corridor,” are you…?”

    Llewellyn stopped and turned around. Was this a subject that one shared? Of course, there was nobody else aboard that was more qualified to share it with.

    “Ensign, uh,” his stilted reply finally emerged,” I think so… Have you got a minute?”

    “Honestly, sir, you decide whether I’ve got a minute or not. Do I?”

    “You do now. Follow me.”

    As they walked towards Llewellyn’s quarters, the situation was explained. Despite trying to keep his professionalism intact, Ensign Armstrong couldn’t stop himself from displaying his perfect white teeth for the entire journey. He found it sweet in a way and when the Captain finally ushered him into his quarters and ordered two cups of coffee from the replicator, he was deeply flattered at the request put forward.

    “I need your help, Jason. I understand that I’m probably way out of line here…”

    “Captain,” the young man interrupted him,” permission to speak freely?”

    “I think that’s a given today, Ensign.”

    “The past is the past, and I have no regrets. I would be honored to help.”

    “Thanks… So, what do you think?”

    “Well, for starters, I think I never expected this to be part of my job!”

    Ewan chuckled at the joke. His stomach, which had been feeling as if it were full of live gagh all day, had settled down. It was true, after all. Nowhere in the Starfleet Officer’s Handbook did it ever mention and Captains asking the rank of file for dating advice. There was no regulation for the occurrence and no rules to follow. When Zefram Cochrane talked about ‘strange new worlds’, he wasn’t just talking about the Galaxy, was he? It was funny, though. For all of the irregularity of this moment, he didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, and clearly, neither did Jason. The reason was clear.

    “This isn’t part of your job, Jason,” the Welshman said, smiling. “This crew is a family and we’re good friends. I’m asking in that capacity today.”

    “In that case,” Jason replied,” may I say that it’s about freakin’ time?”

    “I’m sure you may… but why?”

    “Captain, I’m not the only person aboard who has noticed. Commander Archer is crazy about you and so are you! The biggest shock, for me, is that it’s taken all of this time, dodging alien attacks and surviving nefarious plots for somebody to make a move. Trust me on this when I say that you’ve got to seize these moments.”

    Bless him. Jason had grown up.

    “Oh, believe me,” Ewan nodded. “I trust you on that.”


    ACT TWO

    All of the angles were analyzed with methodical precision.

    Placing the fourth pair of empty coffee cups back into the replicator and ordering them to be refilled, Ewan Llewellyn stretched his arm muscles in a desperate attempt to inject some life into them. The conversation between the Captain and his Operations Officer had been bouncing back and forth for almost two hours now. They talked in a frank manner unbecoming of the usual male stereotypes. Stereotypes that both men shattered. The age gap was much shorter than it would have been otherwise, given Ewan’s relative youth in his important position as Commanding Officer of an Intrepid-class starship. They could relate. They could laugh, and above all, they could share.

    “I really appreciate this, Jason,” Ewan told him. “Normally, I would be in Rear Admiral Blackmore’s office right now, discussing and panicking over this subject with him. Alas, that conversation will have to wait.”

    “Hopefully not for long,” Jason asked, taking his fresh cup of coffee and raising it gently skyward. “Here’s to the Rear Admiral, and his speedy recovery.”

    “Good man,” Ewan smiled, appreciating the gesture. “Now, where were we?”

    “Talking about your plan of attack…”

    It had been decided, in the two hours and in between all of the meandering topics of discussion that had been touched upon, that he needed to take back the initiative of the date concept and have some input of his own. Valerie had given him the perfect angle too, asking him to give the holodeck destination some thought.

    Well, even better, Ewan was going to access her booked holodeck time and pre-prepare a program to start as soon as they arrived. With any luck, it would be a nice surprise. Now all that was required was an actual venue.

    Having been part of the scheme’s foundation, Jason was prepared to undertake the technical legwork himself, leaving the Captain fire to distract his date for the evening. If it was left up to his imagination, the couple would be dodging bullets in a terrorist shootout all night.

    No, Llewellyn needed to issue the orders here.

    “Class,” the Welshman muttered slowly. “Class and good food and … hmmm… I don’t know. If I got over the top with a romantic venue, will it look like I’m overcompensating? I mean, Valerie and I have occupied my Ready Room and the Bridge for nearly four years and developed these feelings. Would candles kill them?”

    “I’m not sure,” the Kentuckian admitted to him. “I would guess that the Commander doesn’t care about what’s around you. As long as you can hear yourselves talk because… Well, that’s what a first date is all about, isn’t it? Besides, you two can talk up a storm.”

    “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

    “I would as it was meant to be one. Okay, so… let’s think about this…”

    Several PADDs started to clutter the glass-topped coffee table in the center of the living area. There were numerous holographic programs on each of them. Many of them were a running theme and some of them just thrown in for good measure. Placing one of the more unusual options, a concert of Klingon opera, outside of Jason’s field of vision, Ewan found something of interest and raised an eyebrow accordingly. The little noise that played alongside his discovery made the operations officer sitting opposite of him look up.

    “Got something?”

    “I man have… Do you think that this will be easy to replicate?”

    The PADD was turned around and Jason glanced down at the data on the screen. He had to grin.

    “Maybe not,” was his response,” but it’ll definitely be worth it!”

    “I think I’ve just found our destination…”


    * * * *


    He encountered her in the doorway to the Gymnasium.

    As Lieutenant Arden Vuro provided an impressive backdrop, hauling weight far above and beyond the normal limits up to his toned blue chest, Valerie Archer couldn’t stop the smile that she enjoyed. She didn’t even care that she was dressed in her slacks. Nor did she give a second’s thought to the layer of glistening perspiration on her forehead. She was standing in front of Ewan Llewellyn and that made her happy.

    Fortitude had been a peaceful, quiet place for several weeks and she was starting to get used to it. With nothing to fight, nothing to dodge or pursue, she was getting used to her feelings and letting them run free. Hence the dastardly, yet brilliant, fun date proposal.

    Llewellyn was about to enter the Gymnasium. With this run-in with his First Officer seemed harmless enough, the Captain had engineered everything. Casually casting his towel over his shoulder, a boyish grin answered Valerie’s smile.

    “Commander,” he played.

    “Captain,” she played back.

    “Good workout today?”

    “I’d say so. I hope you get one too.”

    “Thanks,” Ewan said before he finally stepped aside. “Oh, one other thing, check your messages.”

    A flicker of excitement crossed Valerie’s face. She knew what it would be. “Will do. See you tomorrow, sir.”

    “Always a pleasure, Commander,” Ewan nodded, bowing professionally.

    It was all that he could keep from laughing.

    Walking away from the Gymnasium, Valerie let Ewan enter and explain to the confused Vuro what had just transpired. Besides, she had a message to read! Nearly jogging back to her quarters, she underwent the fastest sonic shower in the history of Starfleet and threw on the red undershirt of her uniform as the replicator worked to provide her with a cup of coffee. As soon as her combadge was back on her chest, she tapped it eagerly.

    “Archer to Pulaski.”

    “Go ahead, Commander,” came the Chief Medical Officer’s reply.

    “Report to my quarters at once, please.”

    “Medical emergency or personal visit?”

    “Whichever gets you here quickest, Kate!” Valerie chuckled, her tone indicating the absence of any danger. Pulaski immediately understood and she soon found herself ringing the door chimes outside.

    Beckoned in with excited haste, a cup of coffee was thrust into her hands and a seat was offered. When the monitor was turned around to face her, the Doctor found her curiosity satiated.

    Valerie was grinning from ear to ear. “What did I tell you? He’s the perfect gentleman. This looks great!”

    “How did he know to do this?,” Kate asked, wide-eyed.

    “He knows me, Kate. That’s enough!”

    “It looks like you’re getting exactly what you wanted.”

    “That it does.”

    Pulaski would have felt a pang of jealousy… if she were the jealous type.

    “You’re a lucky girl…”


    ACT THREE

    Jason had been right. Replicating it had been tricky.

    Adjusting the black tie wrapped around his neck, Ewan Llewellyn made a mental note to thank the designer of the simple Starfleet duty uniforms if he ever met them. Wearing a full 20th-century tuxedo, three layers building up to the ridiculously impressive image, he nevertheless had to admit that the end result did look rather nice. He was man enough to admit to the joy of dressing up.

    It made him laugh, standing in front of his mirror. Reflecting not only on the reflection but on the past two days, the Captain made a mental note to remember his age. Ever since Valerie had proposed the date, he had been acting like a schoolboy. His head was filled with too much oxygen or so it felt. His thoughts were of the holodeck and of her, not of his ship or his crew. While that would do no good in the long run, it served a purpose here. It had rejuvenated him.

    With the final adjustment made, Llewellyn took a second to admire the reflection staring back at him. The tuxedo fit perfectly, hugging his torso and broadening his shoulders to the right degree.

    It wasn’t bad.

    It wasn’t bad at all.

    Of course, the face was a different matter. Almost four years had passed by and it looked as though it had aged ten. Stress was the culprit. Tiny lines had begun to form at the corners of his eyes that were deeper and held the sorrow of so many memories that they would rather forget.

    The boyish grin was still there, still flashing to devastation effect from time to time, but it was a job to do. Before Starbase 499, Fortitude, and the Santrag system, it had been naturally easy. The smile planted on Ewan’s lips began to waver as his thoughts explored that avenue.

    The difficult, the challenges, and not just professional either… Personal betrayal, personal loss, and personal sacrifice… Each of them had taken his toll on his appearance. Inwardly, he coped, dealing with them and trying to move on, but outwardly?

    There was no escaping them.

    Enough of them. Today wasn’t about this. Today was a new beginning.

    It was time to pick up Valerie Archer.


    * * * *


    “You look… absolutely beautiful…”

    She stood in the doorway to her quarters, a vision in a deep crimson velvet dress replicated exclusively for the evening. Her normally-neat hair cascaded over her bare shoulders, curling around one another to frame her perfect features. There were no rank pips and no combadges. Tonight, she was not the First Officer, but rather a gorgeous woman waiting for her handsome date. Naturally, she eyed him with just as much excitement and awe. The tuxedo was a nice surprise and not included in the message that he had sent her. It suited him, and for a moment, they just swam in the details.

    “Quite the dashing figure, Ewan,” Valerie breathed. “I definitely approve!”

    “Well,” Ewan replied,” dinner awaits. If you’ll do me the honor?”

    An arm was extended. Valerie locked with it immediately.

    “Lead on…!”

    It took merely minutes before they were passing into the holodeck. The large sliding doors didn’t go unnoticed either. Valerie even directed a knowing smile at Ewan, her eyes sparkling with recognition.

    It was far before them and soon, they were standing at another door, a smaller door that led to the evening’s setting. Punching in the unlock code, the Welshman waited for the familiar sight of his own quarters.

    “Who did you give the two hours to?,” Valerie had to ask him.

    “Jason,” came the answer as Ewan stepped inside and shielded the view with his tailored torso. “He was my sounding board for a while, and although the idea was mine to begin with, he ushered it along somewhat. Are you hungry?”

    Valerie gasped with delight as he stepped aside.

    The dining table in his quarters was laden with a service beyond anything that was reserved for admirals, ambassadors, or any kind of dignitary. Everything sparkled with the glow from the cluster of candles that formed the centerpiece. The lighting was otherwise low-key, helping to accentuate the flames, and soft jazz echoed from the computer. The whole arrangement was overseen by the largest window in his quarters, the stars outside being restful and motionless.

    Fortitude had been ordered to a full stop for the evening, her Captain making a command decision that a warp-stretched starfield didn’t look as romantic as it could when it was viewed from a fixed point.

    As Valerie gravitated towards it, the proverbial moth to the actual flames, Ewan just watched her.

    “Of course,” he noted with a cheeky edge to his voice,” all of this is just like those holodeck hours if you think about it. We don’t really need it, not us, but I thought it went well with the outfit. Besides… you deserve it.”

    Valerie felt her cheeks flush, flattered by his emotional freedom. “I don’t know what to say,” she whispered. “It’s perfect. Although I’m not sure you’re right. I’m not sure if I deserve perfection.”

    Ewan shook his head. He had rehearsed this bit already.

    Showtime…

    “I can’t think of anybody more deserving, Valerie… seriously. Ever since I took command of Fortitude, you have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep me from looking like the young, inexperienced captain that I was and that I still am to a degree. Not only that, but you’ve recognized the darker aspects of my personality, and yet, somehow, you’re still as supportive and as sympathetic as ever… if not more so, and that’s without being able to relate since there isn’t a dark bone in your body. You have the patience of a saint, the strength of a goddess, and despite that, you are the epitome of what makes Humanity… well, Human.”

    Valerie opened her mouth to speak but Ewan was on a roll.

    He had opened a gate that was not so easily closed.

    Reason told him to stop talking but his heart wouldn’t let him.

    “Why I’ve never told you this before,” he continued,” I have no idea. Damn it, there have been moments… moments that I came within inches of telling you. Moments that I didn’t think that we would make it. This life of ours, exploring the unknown, is hardly free of danger and there isn’t a day when I don’t wake up wondering if I’ll see it through or not. One hundred and forty of us sit on top of an antimatter reactor and throw ourselves at the stars and if I ever dare to take another feeling or emotion for granted, then I officially give you permission to hit me. I guess what all of this boils down to…”

    Here it comes…

    Inside his chest, his heart went into overdrive.

    Ewan took a deep breath.

    “Valerie Archer,” he said, smiling,” I love you.”

    The response was a long time coming.

    It was new ground for both of them. Admittance was the hardest thing.

    However, she couldn’t keep the silence running.

    “The hell with dinner,” she gasped, rushing forward and planting the most passionate kiss that either of them had ever experienced on his lips. Her hands ran through his black hair, destroying the carefully-prepared style.

    Despite being caught off-guard, Ewan reacted quickly and gathered her velvet-clad body in his arms. Together, they kissed and embraced for what seemed like an eternity. Only upon parting did either one of them bother to remember to breathe. As they did, as they locked eyes once more, everything about their lives seemed to fit.

    The Galaxy was just fine that night.

    It owed it to Ewan Llewellyn and Valerie Archer.


    EPILOGUE

    “The time is oh-six hundred.”

    The sound was familiar, but upon opening his eyes, Llewellyn found the sight that accompanied it to be new. Stirring beside him, trapping his left arm beneath her peaceful figure, was Valerie Archer. Cutting through the fog of morning, the Welshman felt his memory return to him in waves.

    First that tuxedo, that was strewn across the floor in various discarded pieces, and then the dinner preparations, that had gones completely untouched, the candles burning themselves out long ago before finally the entirely unplanned yet meticulously rehearsed speech that he had given…

    Which had led to…

    Ewan closed his eyes and enjoyed the memory. The smell of the evening’s activities still lingered in the air. His free hand rubbed at his tired face, wondering if he could justify deactivating the alarm and returning to sleep.

    “The time is oh-six hundred.”

    Damn… Maybe not.

    “Turn that stupid thing off, will you…?”

    Valerie had opened her eyes and it was obvious that she was not a morning person. It didn’t matter. There was a smile on her lips, despite the complaint. Ewan grinned and touched the silencer control before touching her cheek and tenderly rolling into her.

    “Morning,” he whispered to him.

    “Morning,” she echoed.

    “Duty calls, I’m afraid. The curse of being a starship captain.”

    “The curse of being your First Officer,” she pointed out to him. “I have to brief you on the ship's status in one hour, get you up to speed on anything that happened overnight…” It took a second for the laughter to start. “Well, maybe there’s no need today.”

    He nodded in agreement, holding her close. “Whatever happens,” he chuckled,” I’m going to need my arm back!”


    The End.
     
  13. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Orbing Master, here's another installment that should make everyone gush. LOL!
     
    Orbing Master likes this.
  14. Cobalt Frost

    Cobalt Frost Captain Captain

    Joined:
    May 22, 2004
    Location:
    Cobalt Frost in Phineas & Ferb's backyard
    That was great!
     
  15. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Thank you, Cobalt Frost and Orbing Master. I have this season and Season Five to finish. :)
     
  16. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Star Trek: Fortitude
    Season Four, Episode Seven - ‘Isolation, Part One’
    By Jack D. Elmlinger


    PROLOGUE

    “They are a primitive people.”

    “Indeed, but they are a species inhabiting an important planet.”

    “I doubt that they even realize the resources that are at their disposal.”

    “They are resources that we need. Don’t forget that.”

    “I still say that we should attack.”

    “I still say that we shouldn’t. Don’t forget your place.”

    “My apologies, but this charade is… irritating.”

    “It irritates me too. Nevertheless, we are but one vessel. We have limited manpower, and they number in the millions, planet-wide. If we destroy their village, others will come to investigate and soon, we will have made another enemy. Regardless of their lack of space flight, the ground assault alone would set us back for weeks… maybe more…”

    “Weeks? With all due respect, they fight with rocks and spears.”

    “Never underestimate the desire to fight for one’s home.”

    “I underestimate nothing.”

    “Good. Then we are agreed. We shall use peace as a weapon.”

    “Against my better judgement, I will adhere to your plan.”

    “When we return victorious with our cargo holds overflowing with dilithium and every single crew member still alive, my plan will be celebrated and our superiors can send a fleet of ships to return and annex the planet. If you would like, I can have you assigned to them as a reward for biting your tongue.”

    “I thank you. That would be most… gratifying.”

    “It’s settled. Prepare to transport down to the surface.”

    “Coordinates are locked on the center of their village.”

    “Remember to smile.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Well, we are their new gods, after all…”


    ACT ONE

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 52447.9;


    As we enter the second week of our duckblind mission in System X77 observing the preindustrial humanoid culture calling themselves the L’Raka, my crew is preparing to test the final upgrades to the new Starfleet isolation suits. In seven days, we have learned a great deal about the L’Raka.

    Lieutenant Commander Sollik, having completed his extensive work on the isolation suits ahead of schedule, believes that we can learn even more by sharing his unique ability to walk among them, invisible to the naked eye. I am eager to partake in this mission and I am heading down to our hidden observation outpost.



    Commander Valerie Archer watched her Captain mount the transporter pad with a smile. Leaving her in command while he went off on an exploratory adventure had been difficult for Ewan Llewellyn. After all, his new relationship status with his First Officer made him want to ensure her eternal happiness. Meanwhile, she felt exactly the same way about him but with the added official responsibility of worrying about the welfare of her commanding officer. As the Welshman had stammered through his excuses for going, she had just grinned and let him finish before logically and compassionately making the case for his departure.

    Beside the Captain, Sollik hauled a Starfleet container towards the center of the transporter pad without even pretending that it was a struggle. With his enhanced strength making the job simple, the Suliban was nevertheless careful with his three brand-new isolation suits; red garments with matching helmets that practically cloaked the wearer. Until today, he was the only crew member aboard Fortitude with the ability to turn invisible. Part of him welcomed the prospect of it becoming a shared ability. At least, it would make for an interesting talking point, after hours while off-duty.

    Doctor Katherine Pulaski and Ensign Jason Armstrong completed the away team preparing to beam down to the L’Raka village. Hidden behind a sophisticated holographic shield on top of a precarious rocky cliff overlooking the village, a prefabricated Starfleet observation outpost awaited them. Four trusted Fortitude science officers would be working hard down there, like they had been for the last seven days and for several more days to come. The arrival of their Captain and three other senior officers hardly threatened to stop them. There were no standing orders on ceremony when there was the exploration of an entirely new culture to be undertaken.

    “Keep the ship over the polar ice cap,” Llewellyn told Archer. “I don’t want us being spotted by some eager young stargazer.”

    “Don’t worry,” she reassured him. “There’s nowhere else for us to go.”

    “Well, then… I guess I’ll see you in a few days.”

    “Yeah, I guess so.”

    They skipped the parting kiss. While it was the worst kept secret aboard, it was still a secret nonetheless, and a kiss before the away team and the transporter chief would have ended that in a hurry. A shared smile would have to make do.

    “All right,” Llewellyn finally ordered. “Energize!”


    * * * *


    It was a gray box. Nothing more… just a simple gray box.

    It still managed to impress Captain Llewellyn.

    The observation outpost had been installed with the tightest of regulations and the most sincere secrecy to avoid possible contamination to the L’Raka who were living forty feet below it, and yet it still managed to be an engineering marvel. Most of it stuck out from the rough-hewn rock. The section of the floor hanging over the village was constructed of transparent aluminium, causing the away team to look down and feel their stomachs do a backflip. The vertigo was only natural.

    Ewan allowed Sollik to unpack the isolation suits as he checked in with the science officers assigned to the duckblind, gaining a few more facts since the regular morning update that he had received in his Ready Room, hours ago. As he scanned the PADD, Ensign Armstrong picked out a pair of red knee-high boots and passed them over to Doctor Pulaski.

    “What’s your target, Doctor?”

    “Naturally, I’m going to visit the village physician,” she told him as she swapped her regular footwear for the crimson boots. “Just because these people are pre-industrial doesn’t mean that they can’t teach me a thing or two about basic medical care. In fact, I prefer the hands-on approach. It should be exciting!”

    “What about yourself, Ensign?,” inquired the Captain now that he was finished with the PADD.

    “Ah, a comparative study for me, sir,” answered the eager Kentuckian. “I’ll be finding out if the L’Raka are anything like Humans at this stage of their development in several key areas. A little more in-depth view than the overall picture.”

    Sollik handed out the isolation suit helmets to their designated wearers. Ewan fixed the Chief Engineer with a frown as he took his.

    “Something wrong, Captain?”

    “Not that I’m complaining… I was just expecting it to be heavier.”

    “Nor I,” Pulaski, the oldest of the group, noted with relief. Beside her, Jason slid himself into the red jumpsuit and shrugged his shoulders into place. “Nice fit, Ensign. Sollik, are these suits tailored?”

    “Yes, Doctor,” replied the Suliban.

    “Okay, well, if you tell anybody my size… you’ll make my enemies list!”

    “You have an enemies list?,” Jason asked, chuckling with mock-fear spread across his young face.

    Pulaski’s expression said it all. Everybody, even Sollik, had to laugh. The suits worked so perfectly that Llewellyn considered promoting his chief engineer.


    * * * *


    It was slightly unnerving to look down upon one’s own hand and see right through it. Only the gravel where one walked could be seen, including their footprints but not the foot that had made it. The first ten minutes of the walkabout was spent getting to grips with the concept of invisibility. They were breaking new ground with these isolation suits. Starfleet Academy had trained Ewan for every kind of suit, environmental, zero-gravity, and even heavy loading… but this was something else.

    What made the whole experience even more unsettling was the sheer beauty of the world around him that he desperately wanted to reach out and touch. It was coming to the end of a L’Rakan day. The powerful orange sun melted into the natural horizon, long shadows cast from every wooden building and every pair of legs… except his, of course. Approaching a small group of villagers, Ewan listened to their conversation piped in through his suit’s Universal Translator.

    The L’Raka were a handsome race. The main feature that distinguished them from Humans came in the shape of a triangular cranial ridge. Both males and females had their hairstyles constructed around the tip of the triangle, their eyes resting at the lower corners and forming symmetry with the mouth and chin. Oblivious to his presence, the four middle-aged men finished chatting and separated.

    More voices caught the Welshman’s attention. Turning, he followed them.

    His tranquil evening was shattered by what he saw.

    The L’Rakan identified as the village elder by the previous duck-blind reports was there, standing in the central courtyard of the community. He was deep in an apprehensive and clearly stressful conversation with a woman. She was dressed entirely in black and flanked by two towering soldiers… who were entirely not of this world and armed with weapons that were way beyond L’Rakan technology.

    Ewan recognized the woman immediately and anger flooded his very soul. “Llewellyn to away team. Converge on my position at once.”

    “Understood, Captain,” came the replies of his team.

    “Is everything all right?,” asked Pulaski.

    “No, Doctor. It most certainly is not. The village elder is talking to Naketha.”


    ACT TWO

    Naketha… What the hell was she doing here?

    Unlike the Starfleet presence in the village, Naketha and her Centurions were anything but covert in their actions. Clearly, the Romulan Star Empire had no equivalent of the non-interference rules solidified in the Prime Directive. Ewan felt his anger grow with each passing moment. The Tal Shiar agent’s vicious facial features were twisted into one almighty sneer. Whatever was being discussed was pleasing her and terrifying the village elder.

    Slowly, Llewellyn tried to take steps forward, aching to know what the conversation was about. To him, the duck-blind had already been transformed, regardless of the circumstances. Exploration had been replaced by yet another round with Naketha.

    Tunnel vision set in. Cloaked to the naked eye, he moved forward. He was so focused that he forgot his surroundings. It was a tragic mistake to make in an isolation suit. Completely missing the L’Rakan walking across the central courtyard, the Captain managed to step directly into his path. The resulting collision was awfully baffling to both participants and the L’Rakan cried out, hitting someone invisible and fearing the worst, falling to the gravel.

    Ewan tumbled, his mind disorganized in confusion as the revelation of Naketha’s presence was overcome with the sudden shock of impact. Despite being over in seconds, it failed to go unnoticed.

    Naketha and her Centurions darted over. One of the male Romulans reached for a tricorder off of his belt and gave the area a cursory sweep. Showing his results to his commander with a scowl, he pointed directly at Llewellyn’s cloaked form.

    He had been discovered.

    As the Centurions hauled him to his feet, their rough actions caused the isolation suit to flicker and fail, a new prototype that it was. Soon they were holding a red-clad humanoid for Naketha’s inspection. Ewan tried to avoid her as she reached for his helmet but he had been in the grip of Romulans before. There was no escape.

    Naketha removed the helmet with a gasp.

    “Captain Llewellyn!”

    “Naketha,” Ewan snarled, sweat beading on his forehead.

    “What are you doing here?”

    “I was about to ask you the same question.”

    Before their exchange could continue, Naketha became aware of the small crowd forming around them. The villagers were getting curious with a man having appeared from nowhere right in front of their primitive eyes. Comprehension alone was a serious challenge and primal fear took over. Low background muttering began to swell, building to a crescendo of uneasy tones.

    “Commander,” the Centurious with the tricorder interrupted,” I have two other Human biosigns closing on our location. They appear to be wearing some kind of stealth suit. I am also reading a Suliban heading towards us from due east.”

    “You’re not alone,” spat out Naketha, glaring at Ewan. “Where is Fortitude?”

    Llewellyn gave her no answer. Not even a hint of recognition as he resisted her with everything that he had.

    “Scan for Federation technology,” Naketha ordered her Centurion.

    “No vessels,” the Romulan informed her, a second later,” but I am detecting faint readings from some kind of obscured structure on the outskirts of the village. The power for the stealth suits is linked to it somehow.

    The calculating mind of the Tal Shiar agent cobbled together the facts and added a characteristic dash of paranoia to the mix. Invisible Starfleet officers were running all over this village from some kind of hidden base and Captain Llewellyn was in command. It was exactly the kind of behavior that she had come to expect from her old adversary. He always reminded her, no matter how honorable or moral that he was, of a Romulan.

    Fortitude was here, somewhere, probably after the same thing that she was after. Unwilling to lie or cheat, they simply chose to sneak around instead.

    How pathetic…

    It was time to twist this development to her advantage.

    “Villagers,” she shouted overhead,” this demon hides himself from you, but I have exposed him… and if you follow me, I shall expose more of them! I shall expose to you these duplicitous beings and eradicate them from your settlement, saving you from their wicked evil. Who’s with me?!”

    A cheer rose from the assembled crowd of L’Rakans.

    Whatever number that Naketha had pulled on them, Ewan thought, it had worked.

    As they headed for the duck-blind observation outpost, the captive Welshman was manhandled into the grip of one of the Centurions. Naketha pulled the other one aside, whispered a new set of orders into his pointed ear.

    “Round up the other Starfleet officers and bring them to me.”

    “Understood,” her subordinate said, nodding.


    * * * *


    Soon all of them stood at the foot of the rocky cliff. A throng of almost one hundred people was made up almost exclusively of L’Rakans. Children were held by their mothers, the unpredictable and unbalanced danger of Naketha being unknown to them. To them, she was something to be respected and praised. She had appeared to them in honesty and truth with fantastic powers and the promise of a brighter future. Not like this newcomer, the man in the strange red suit who had hidden from them with some kind of dark magic.

    Naketha’s tricorder-wielding Centurion pointed forty feet into the air and towards the top of the cliff where Llewellyn knew the observation outpost rested behind a holographic generator. With as much grandiose gesturing for the benefit of the villagers as she could muster, the Romulan operative took hold of her disruptor pistol and fired. The holographic field dissipated and the gray box shimmered into view. Orange sunlight reflected from the windows, making it impossible to see inside.

    “Stand back, villagers!,” Naketha cried, aiming once more at the sky.

    “Damn it, no!,” Ewan protested, leaning forward as best as he could despite the hands locked around his arms. “Naketha, there are four science officers in there!”

    “Casualties of war,” sneered the merciless agent of the Tal Shiar.

    Curse here… She was actually enjoying this.

    The hundred-strong crowd edged back towards the relative safety of the wooden structures that they called home. Dragging Llewellyn through the gravel and dirt, Naketha and the Centurion made space for the forthcoming landing. There was a horrible, heartbreaking second of inevitability before two disruptor pistols were pointed towards the outpost’s sturdy duratanium supports. If he could have thrown himself into the fire line, he would have done it. There was no question about it.

    Pulling their triggers, the Romulans watched the supports vaporize.

    Tearing from the rock underneath its own weight, the four gray walls and transparent floor of the Starfleet building buckled and twisted as it became a falling tomb for the four Starfleet officers inside. The cacophony was deafening with the gathered L’Rakans screaming in both triumph and terror. Metal fused with stone, nature seemingly rejecting the artificial structure, and as the mangled wreck thundered down the cliff, it became engulfed in plumes of smoke and fire. Ewan screwed his tear-stained eyes shut, not even wanting to risk seeing a corpse amidst the destruction.

    Turning around, Naketha accepted a smattering of applause from the L’Rakans before she noticed her second Centurion leading a crestfallen Doctor Pulaski, Ensign Armstrong, and Lieutenant Commander Sollik onto the scene. Satisfied that she had turned surprise into support, she returned her attention to the captain Ewan Llewellyn.

    “Well, well, Captain,” she chuckled with menace.

    “I guarantee you,” Llewellyn said, battling through his emotions to growl at her,” that whatever you’re doing here, you won’t get away with it!”

    “On the contrary,” Naketha retorted,” I find Starfleet officers wearing cloaking suits on a pre-warp world, and not only breaking their own Prime Directive but also the Treaty of Algernon, regarding cloaking experiments? Your plans, Captain, not mine, are the ones that will not succeed… and my guarantee is that I’ll find out what you’re up to!”
     
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  17. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    ACT THREE

    Dejected, the away team sat under heavy guard.

    Night had descended upon the village. It had been almost two hours since the total obliteration of the observation outpost and the death of four Starfleet science officers. It took that long for the tragedy to sink in. Before anybody could succumb to the emotion of the loss, Llewellyn reminded them that the situation wasn’t over.

    When all was said and done, when Fortitude failed to get a regular report from the duck-blind and come looking for their missing personnel, then they could grieve. Stripped of their isolation suits and sporting the regular Starfleet uniforms of their departments, they sat alone in a small wooden hut near the center of the village.

    “What I don’t understand,” Sollik hissed,” is that I was detected. Those Romulan tricorders must be sophisticated. So we were running the isolation suits at low power and we didn’t even bother with sensor suppressors, but me… I guess we don't know everything there is about Romulan technology.”

    “That’s not my main concern,” Doctor Pulaski said. “Aren’t we supposed to be allies with the Empire at the moment, fighting the Dominion?”

    “Half a galaxy away,” Llewellyn reminded his chief medical officer. “Besides, Naketha had always been a force unto herself. Working for the Tal Shiar had that advantage. The fact that she only has two Centurions with her means that she can’t be here with an invasion fleet. Damn it, just what is she playing at here?”

    “I think we’re about to get the chance to find out,” whispered Jason Armstrong.

    The young Ensign had been keeping tabs on a small hole near the rustic door, with one eye closed as the other eye held a vigil over the central courtyard outside. As his Captain joined him, he explained what he had been watching.

    “Naketha just sent all of the L’Rakans away, save for the village elder and a small handful of official-looking men. They’ve lit a large fire in the middle of the courtyard. One of the Centurions is heading towards us.”

    Seconds later, the door burst open and the Centurion pointed at Ewan. “You,” he growled,” with me!”

    “Give her hell, Captain,” Sollik whispered.


    * * * *


    “Ah, Llewellyn… do join us.”

    “It doesn’t look like I have much of a choice Naketha,” Ewan observed dryly as the disruptor leveled at his back waved him forward. Slowing to a halt, he stood directly before his nemesis. The village elder and his associates looked on, panic and guilt dominating their expressions. He sympathized with them. “What do you want?”

    “I want to know what you’re doing here,” Naketha asked him, slowly.

    “We’re on a purely scientific mission. Observation only with complete non-interference.”

    “Liar! Do you want to know what I think? I think you’re here on a secret reconnaissance for the Federation. I think you detected the same dilithium deposits beneath this village and you’re heard to claim them for yourselves. With the Alpha Quadrant busy fighting the Dominion, I think you are sizing up the Empire for a second front. I think you’re planning to defeat the Dominion and then defeat us, and I think this dilithium is your starting point!”

    “You can think whatever you like,” Llewellyn snapped back at her,” but we’re not interested in the dilithium. We detected it upon arrival but we’re more interested in the culture of the L’Raka and scientific discovery!”

    Naketha made a nose like an enraged cat.

    Spinning on the right steel heel of her knee-high leather boots, she walked over to a motionless Centurion on the other side of the roaring fire. The Centurion held something that was long and rectangular. With her back to Ewan, Naketha kept whatever she was doing hidden from her prisoner. It was only upon her return to her previous position that he saw what she had collected. He suddenly felt rather frightened.

    “These are Aleh Terrh,” she explained to him, holding one of the two lethal-looking silver swords, letting the flickering firelight dance across the blade. “The name means ‘blade of darkness’. Romulan military personnel are trained in all types of combat, Captain, including swordplay. These particular weapons are used for honorable disputes regarding secrecy and distrust.”

    “Why do I get the feeling that this isn’t an educational presentation?”

    “You and I will duel, Captain. The winner can make any demand of the loser.”

    “What if I don’t feel like duelling today?,” Llewellyn asked her as calmly as possible.

    “Put it like this,” Naketha answered him, ruthlessly, throwing one of the Aleh Terrh to the dusty ground at his feet. “I’m going to attack you. Either you defend yourself and stand a slim chance of beating me… or I will not hesitate to cut you down.”

    The Centurion holding the Welshman’s arms let go and retreated from the scene.

    There was no choice in the matter.

    Slowly, Ewan crouched towards the sword and wrapped his fingers around the hilt.


    * * * *


    Above the polar ice cap of L’Raka, the starship Fortitude hung blissfully unaware of the nightmare bestowed upon the duck-blind mission. The next report was due in almost fifteen minutes. Eagerly anticipating the Captain’s unbridled joy at getting some real exploration done, Valerie Archer sat on the Bridge, thinking of her lover. Ahead of her, the bald blue head of Lieutenant Arden Vuro dipped towards the helm.

    “Commander,” he reported,” I’m picking up some residual polaron particles on my navigational array. They’re in a low orbit synchronous to the village where the duck-blind mission is taking place.”

    “Hmm… strange,” Valerie mused, standing from the command chair. “Mister Brodie, can you see them?”

    “Confirmed,” Gabriel Brodie’s deep voice resonated from Tactical.

    “Speculation, what could be causing them?”

    It took a second for everyone to think. While Gabe focused on his encyclopedic knowledge of tactical systems, Valerie and Arden began to remember an incident, two years ago, involving polaron particles. When it finally clicked, the First Officer glared at the helmsman. They had both arrived at the same conclusion with an answer that spelled disaster for the peaceful mission that they were undertaking.

    “Red Alert!,” Archer ordered. “Set a course and engage at full impulse!”

    “What’s the matter?,” Brodie asked innocently.

    “Romulans…”


    EPILOGUE

    Despite having entertained more than a few fencing lessons at school, Ewan Llewellyn was no match for a lifetime of practice that Naketha could call upon when it came to handling the Aleh Terrh swords. Each parry was answered with a brutal new swing that he had never seen and therefore, he had no idea how to react. Yelling with adrenaline, he moved around the courtyard, dodging and countering her attacks as best as he could. The duel went on for almost four minutes, but despite his defiance, he finally lost his grip of the hilt.

    The blade flipped through the night air and dug into the embers of the fire.

    Sweat poured down his face as he caught his breath, defeated and unarmed.

    Naketha pointed the tip of her sword at his throat. “Rules are rules, Captain,” she said, grinning. “So I’ll ask you again. What are you here?”

    “I told you,” Ewan said, panting and not knowing what else to say to her.

    “Wrong answer…”

    Snapping her slender fingers, she summoned the two Centurions forward. They seized Llewellyn’s arms, pushing down upon them and forcing him brutally to his knees. In vain, he tried to wrestle against their muscles but it was nothing more than token resistance.

    The Romulan to his left grabbed his wrist and yanked it, holding his exhausted limb horizontal to the surface of the central courtyard. As all of this was happening, Naketha discarded her sword and headed for the crackling fire. With purposeful speed, she took hold of the hilt sticking out of the flames and withdrew the white-hit blade. Turning around, she approached her prisoner, the burning Aleh Terrh gradually rising above her head.

    With his left arm extended and at the mercy of the Romulans, Ewan knew what was coming. His heart slammed into the walls of his chest. His breathing increased as the panic attack overrode his entire body.

    His head nearly burst with a painful surge of pressure. “No,” he gasped between breaths. “I yield! I yield…!”

    “You forfeit your combat rights,” Naketha stated coldly.

    The Centurion tightened his grip, pulling the trembling appendage tight. The sword’s superheated blade paused for an eternal moment. Time seemed to freeze.

    Ewan swallowed hard. His jaw clenched in preparation with his eyes tightly closed…

    … and then the sizzling blade sliced right through his arm.


    To be Continued.
     
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  18. Cobalt Frost

    Cobalt Frost Captain Captain

    Joined:
    May 22, 2004
    Location:
    Cobalt Frost in Phineas & Ferb's backyard
  19. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Star Trek: Fortitude
    Season Four, Episode Eight - ‘Isolation, Part Two’
    By Jack D. Elmlinger


    PROLOGUE

    Last time on Star Trek: Fortitude…

    Captain Ewan Llewellyn and his crew are studying a pre-industrial race calling themself the L’Raka by undertaking a duck-blind mission. Keeping themselves hidden to avoid contaminating their culture, the duck-blind involves setting up an observation outpost cloaked by a holographic rockface and the testing of brand-new Starfleet isolation suits that makes the wearer completely invisible. Captain Llewellyn arrives at the observation outpost with Ensign Jason Armstrong, Doctor Katherine Pulaski and Lieutenant Commander Sollik to undertake the first isolation suit test.

    While walking around the L’Raka village chosen for their duck-blind mission, Captain Llewellyn discovers his old adversary Naketha, the Romulan Tal Shiar agent, talking openly with the village elder. Through an unfortunate accident, he is exposed and she takes him hostage before rounding up the rest of the away team and mercilessly destroying the hidden observation outpost. This action kills four science officers, but when thrown into captivity with his away team, the Captain vows to mourn them later. Their mission is now to discover why the Romulans are here.

    As
    Fortitude, under the command of Commander Valerie Archer, breaks orbit to investigate the possible detection of a Romulan Warbird in orbit, Llewellyn is challenged to a swordfight by Naketha, who has ingratiated herself as some kind of goddess to the L’Rakan village but, in reality, is after a rich dilithium deposit beneath the surface. Believing that Captain Llewellyn is after the same thing and preparing for a possible incursion into nearby Romulan space, Naketha emerges victorious. Without remorse, he takes a white-hot blade and slices his left arm clean off…

    … and now the conclusion.



    ACT ONE

    “Helm, distance?”

    “Ten thousand kilometers ahead,” Arden Vuro reported quickly. “The polaron particles keep phasing in and out of my sensor resolution, but they’re keeping a steady position. I don’t think they know that we’ve detected them.”

    “They must have seen us already,” Gabriel Brodie noted all the same, his own tactical sensors tracking the evidence of cloaked Romulan vessels while he worked to pull up every shred of data that he could find about Romulan weapon systems, preparing himself for the battle that he foresaw. “Should I charge phasers?”

    “Not yet,” Valerie Archer warned him from his place in the command chair. “Just act like we’re nosing around, nothing aggressive. You’re right, Mister Brodie. They must have seen us already but if we start acting hostile, then they’ll know that we can see them. Arden, get as close as you can without tripping our hand. Standard orbital flight path. Just make sure that you don’t fly into them or anything. I don’t feel like trading paint today.”

    “Green wouldn’t go with our own colors,” the Bolian helmsman mused, trying to inject a little humor into a tense situation while trying to avoid becoming bogged down with stress and trepidation. “Standard orbit, aye.”

    Fortitude swooped low over the L’Rakan homeworld. This side of the Class-M planet was in darkness as night had befallen the village. Aside from the glowing red and blue of the warp nacelles and the shimmering topaz of the main deflector dish, the Intrepid-class starship remained a shadow. It was nothing compared to the stealth ability of the Romulan Warbird that they were tracking, but it added a sense of danger to the proceedings, a sinister edge to the peaceful ship of exploration. The ten thousand kilometer gap between them began to shrink but Fortitude kept her pace steady.

    Someone would have to blink first… and Valerie Archer never blinked.

    Any moment now…

    “Commander,” Brodie barked,” I have a D’Deridex-class Warbird decloaking ahead!”

    “All stop! Charge weapons and lock on target!”

    “Answering all stop, ma’am!”

    “Phasers and photon torpedoes locked!”

    The main viewscreen showed the Warbird emerge from nothingness. It was a beautiful green behemoth with a hawk nose arching forward from a pair of expansive wings, the tips radiating with the power of warp drive. It was almost twice the size of Fortitude, looming over the Starfleet vessel with the menace of an outstretched claw. Although nobody knew as they watched it appear above the L’Rakan homeworld, it was the Chuketh, the secret Tal Shiar Warbird commanded by Naketha. Valerie felt her hands ball up into fists.

    “They’re preparing to fire!,” Gabe warned her.

    “Brace for impact!”

    Two flashes of emerald-colored energy passed between the Warbird’s nose and Fortitude’s shields. The deck below Archer’s feet rocked with both impacts. Wasting no time, she turned towards Tactical.

    “Return fire!”

    “Initiating phaser spread…”

    Beams of crimson energy spewed forth from Fortitude, tearing into the Warbird’s own shield bubble without a single miss. At this range, it was difficult not to score direct hits. Slowly, the Romulan vessel began to peel away, shifting position after the phaser volley caused their defenses to weaken.

    Arden kept with them.

    Before another attack could be exchanged, the viewscreen showed the verdant hull of the Warbird lose cohesion. They were cloaking again, disappearing from view and forcing their opponent to search for them once more.

    “Maintain Red Alert,” Valerie ordered. “They’re still out there.”

    “What were they doing over the village?,” Vuro asked nobody in particular.

    “Mister Brodie, hail the observation outpost. I want to let the Captain know about this.”

    A serious frown came across Gabe’s face. Valerie saw it and frowned herself. “Problem?”

    “Commander, I’m not picking up the observation outpost,” the black man reported with grave concern. “There are faint traces of debris in the area, but… damn it, sensors are being reflected from the whole village! I can’t get a lock on anything. I can’t even get a signal through… Damn it!”

    “The Romulans must already be down there,” concluded the Commander.

    “Jamming us,” Vuro added,” but why?”

    “That’s what I intend to find out, Lieutenant!”


    * * * *


    He was dumped to the floor with little care.

    As the Centurions locked the wooden door behind them, Ewan Llewellyn opened his eyes to see his away team surrounding him. He was back inside the hut that kept them restrained as prisoners of Naketha and the villagers that she had somehow managed to persuade into doing her bidding. Fighting the urge to sleep and retreat into a world where nothing would matter… where the pain would go away, Ewan heard gasps of horror.

    “Captain,” Doctor Pulaski cried out, rushing forward to cradle him into a seated position and getting help from Ensign Armstrong. “Oh, my God… Captain? Captain!”

    Llewellyn was in a terrible state. His usually-tanned complexion was almost pure white with his eyes being bloodshot and weak. Shock was keeping him eternally shaking, vibrating at a rate that made holding him steady a challenge. Sweat covered every inch of his body… or at least, what remained of his body.

    Feeling her jaw literally drop, Pulaski extended the Welshman’s left arm and examined the extent of the damage. She had seen some nasty wounds in her time as a physician, but this was something else. Just below Ewan’s elbow, a mutilated stump was all that remained of his forearm. It reeked of burning flesh, wisps of smoke still escaping the charred uniform that surrounded it.

    Not quite believing the sight of his Captain brutally amputated like this, Jason thought he was going to vomit.

    Pulaski found a positive and shared it with the away team. “Whatever did this must have been super-heated,” she observed. “The wound has been cauterized. You’ve lost some blood but not much. I guess I should be saying that you’re lucky, Captain. Curse that wretched woman!”

    Jason overcame his sour stomach long enough to remove his uniform jacket and tear several stripps of black material from the waistband. With a nod of approval from the Doctor, who was seconds away from suggesting the same logical thing, he wrapped them tightly around the stump to protect it. The agony that this caused was enough to star Ewan from his shock-induced stupor. He whimpered, his wide eyes looking helplessly at Pulaski like an injured puppy.

    “It’s all right,” she attempted to soothe him, but blatantly lying.

    “Naketha… sword… dilithium.”

    “Don’t try to speak. We’ll get you out of this, Captain. Don’t worry.”


    ACT TWO

    Naketha surgeyed the operation with maniacal glee.

    There were three of them being erected. The construction team from the Chuketh had worked all through the night. Now, with dawn breaking in less than an hour, the sensor blanket was being reinforced. Three ugly green towers, almost fifteen feet high, surround the village. They would keep the forthcoming mining operation a total secret to any starship in orbit… especially that meddling Fortitude. They would probably come looking for their Captain later today but she would be ready.

    Twenty further Centurions had beamed down with the construction team. They lined the streets with disruptor rifles and marched in perfect formation around the central courtyard. The simple pre-industrial village was becoming a fortress.

    A Tal Shiar fortress…. How right it was. How wonderful it would be.

    Beside her position overlooking the village, footsteps approached her. Turning aside, Naketha laid her emotionless eyes upon the L’Rakan village elder. He wore the same pathetic expression as before, subservient, weak, ignorant… and foolish. Still, she had to entertain him, for want of avoiding a full-scale war.

    “Lady Naketha,” he spoke in low, trembling tones.

    “What is it?”

    “The two children that I mentioned earlier… they have spread their infection.”

    “How many more are ill?”

    “Now there are five. We have supported you in your quest against the demons, Lady Naketha. I beg of you, please, the help that you offered us… Soon they will start to die and with the harvest closing…”

    The Romulan woman rolled her eyes with frustration. “The demons have a skyship,” she revealed in an attempt to strike fear back into the elder’s heart to try and get him to quit begging. “They test the limitations of my powers and I cannot guarantee that they won’t return to your village. Would you rather that I focused my attention on the sick? If the demons return, there will be more than sickness.”

    “No, Lady Naketha, I… I apologize…”

    “You are a man looking after his people,” she pointed out, building on her ruthless deception even further. “You no longer have the burden of worry. I will take care of your village from now on. Go and give thanks for that.”

    “Yes, Lady Naketha…”

    He moved away, leaving her alone once more.

    The noise of the construction efforts filled her ears. On the horizon, the faint glow of the sun began to show itself.

    Naketha’s plans were taking shape.


    * * * *


    The village elder was filled with doubt.

    Returning to the central courtyard, he dodged marching Centurions and felt the growing desire to weep for his people. Of course, they were blinded by the magnificence of the Lady Naketha’s feats and powers. The lightning that she had summoned to destroy the demon structure last night had been an incredibly effective demonstration… but to the wise village elder, she had been wicked and vicious. Such qualities were not divine. They were more aligned with demons.

    Rubbing his triangular cranial ridges, he paused across from the small wooden hut that held the so-called demons. The Lady Naketha fought them, speaking about fighting them before and fighting them again. If she was at odds with them, perhaps they would approach things from the opposite angle. Perhaps they would not fill his head with false hope and confusion. Perhaps they could help.

    As Village Elder, he had no difficulty in getting past the guards on duty.

    Inside the hut, he saw the demon that she had wounded, cradled by two of his kind. He was asleep in the corner, tended to with gentle hands. The female demon seemed to be in charge now. The green-skinned being standing nearby and the young demon had discarded some of their own clothes… to form a bandage?

    They were remarkably compassionate for one so supposedly evil. Trying to ignore the sorrow and defeat that filled the atmosphere, the L’Rakan stepped closer to the female and met her gaze.

    “I am to fear you,” he began.”

    “No,” Katherine Pulaski answered him. “No, you have nothing to fear from us.”

    “The Lady Naketha calls you demons. She says you are responsible for our suffering.”

    “What suffering?,” Pulaski asked him, carefully placing the restful head of Ewan Llewellyn on the floor and standing to face the village elder with a quizzical frown. “Your village seems to be thriving… or, at least, it did until yesterday.”

    “We keep the sick separate from the others. They are in isolation.”

    “Sick? You mean some kind of virus?”

    “The Lady Naketha appeared, one day after the first victim fell ill. She promised us a cure.”

    “Let me guess,” hissed Sollik, joining the conversation that he had been merely observing up until now. “She’s going to cure you once she’s completed her mining operation and stolen all of the dilithium out from underneath your fleet.” The village elder looked baffled at some of his world. “The towers that they’re building, they dig into the ground. She claims that once they’re finished, your village will be cured and she will vanquish us… The demons, correct?”

    “Yes,” gasped the village elder. “How did you know?”

    “It sounds like Naketha is playing on your deepest fears,” Pulaski concluded.

    “The virus is her doing?,” Jason Armstrong asked for clarification. “Scheming, manipulative… It fits her character profile, wouldn’t you say?”

    It was all beginning to add up to an atrocious picture. Regardless of Naketha’s paranoia concerning the Starfleet duck-blind mission, what she was subjecting the L’Raka to was downright criminal. While there was no concrete evidence on hand to support their theory, the away team didn’t need it. They had tangled with Naketha before, hearing stories of what the Tal Shiar considered to be viable tactics.

    No, this had to be stopped. Before any of the L’Raka died from this illness or before Naketha could achieve her objective. This had to be stopped.

    “Will you help us?”

    Pulaski drew a sharp intake of breath. The voice that had just asked the question had a Welsh accent. Turning around, she saw Captain Llewellyn leaning awkwardly against the rear wall of the hut. He had awoken and he had been clearly listening to the entire conversation. He still looked worse than death itself with pale skin bathed in sweat. What remained of his left arm was flailing helplessly… but it wasn’t going to impede him. Not today.

    The village elder nodded slowly.

    “My people are convinced of the Lady Naketha’s powers,” he added with caution. “If anybody is to see you, they will kill you. My influence… I apologize, but I am nothing more than a figurehead to them now.”

    “You remind me of somebody that I know,” Ewan growled as he stumbled forward.

    “Captain, you are in no shape…,” Pulaski started to object.

    “No objections, Doctor. We’re getting out of here.”
     
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  20. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    ACT THREE

    “Demons! Deeeemons!”

    It was a young L’Rakan girl who couldn’t be no more than thirteen or fourteen years old.

    Before her piercing cry filled the early morning air, the escape attempt had been going rather well. As the village elder had left the wooden hut, Sollik had used his genetic ability to camouflage himself and follow one step behind him. The two L’Rakan guards on duty stood no chance against the Suliban’s pin-sharp reactions.

    Soon he was joined by Ewan Llewellyn, Jason Armstrong, and Katherine Pulaski. Leaving the village elder behind to cover their escape, the away team darted from shadow to shadow, corner to corner, and building to building. Upon spotting one of the ominous sensor blanket towers, Sollik made some mental calculations and deduced how far they would have to travel before they could escape the blinding effect and be seen by Fortitude’s artificial, all-seeing eyes.

    That was until the girl screamed.

    A Centurion came running right around the corner with his disruptor drawn. He was mere steps away from the crouched chief engineer, who instantly lashed out and defeated the hapless Romulan with a single strike. Picking up the disruptor, he turned towards his colleagues.

    “We should continue.”

    Even in his severely weakened state, Llewellyn nodded in agreement.

    More Centurions poured out from various areas of the villages where they had been patrolling. While the main bulk of the force was back at the central courtyard, there were enough of them scattered about to make life difficult for the Starfleet officers. Sollik took the lead, blasting two of the enemy soldiers with the stolen disruptor. It wasn’t long before more green arcs of reddish energy tore past them, but the edge of the village was in sight.

    “Not long now,” Jason whispered hopefully, ducking behind a crate.

    “Good,” Pulaski grumbled, as she was not one for combat. “This is intolerable!”

    Beside them, Ewan collapsed from exhaustion.

    More weapons fire screamed over their heads.

    The Centurious closed in, and it was more than Sollik could handle.

    The situation appeared bleak.

    “Listen,” the Suliban chief engineer suddenly paused,” do you hear that?”

    “Er… no, I don't,” Jason denied. “Wait… hold on… Yes! It sounds like…”

    In a shocking cataclysm of fireworks, one of the Romulan sensor blanket towers unexpectedly exploded. As it thundered into the ground, split into hundreds of tiny pieces, the two remaining towers abruptly joined it. Twisted metal alloys sparked and died as the roaring discord reverberated across the village. Screams could be heard as the noise faded. They were from the L’Rakans who were terrified of the sudden destruction raining down on the area… but they had nothing to fear. It was only Romulan technology that was being targeted and selectively obliterated by the Type-9 Starfleet shuttlecraft soaring overhead.

    It was the Domtar.

    They were here to rescue them..

    “Not a moment too soon,” Pulaski realized, her attention focused on her Captain. The complete lack of a reaction from him was enough to tell the others that something was wrong. Sure enough, his eyes were closed and his mouth was lolling open. She checked his pulse and opened his eyelids to see nothing but white. “He’s going into shock! I need to get him to Sickbay now!”


    * * * *


    Naketha was distraught. Why was this happening?

    The Chuketh was supposed to prevent this! Where were they?!

    Curse Starfleet… Curse Fortitude

    Around her, chaos engulfed the village. The three towers had been relentlessly wiped from existence with all of the technology inside of them vaporized. They were nothing more than utterly useless piles of garbage now. The mining operation hadn’t even started now, for Elements’ sake! What kind of glorious victory was this turning out to be? There was nothing to take back to Romulus. No dilithium. No defeated Starfleet officers to accuse of illegality. Nothing at all.

    She would get her revenge for this humiliation.

    “Naketha to Chuketh,” she screamed into her communicator. “Explain!”

    “Apologies, Commander,” the voice of her Subcommander replied. “The Starfleet vessel remained hidden under the polar ice cap, masking their presence from the planet’s magnetic field. They must have launched a shuttlecraft from the same position. Do you wish for us to engage them and send down more Centurions?”

    Naketha looked around her at the fires, the chaos and the disarray. There was nothing to be salvaged from this and nothing to be gained anymore.

    “No,” she sighed. “Prepare for an emergency beam-out.”

    “Understood… standby.”

    At least, there was some small consolation to be had from all of this. As the glistening transporter beam enveloped her leather-clad body, she remembered the look of abject terror spread across the face of Ewan Llewellyn as she had amputated his left arm. It was an image that she would cherish… for the day that she had her revenge.


    * * * *


    First Officer’s Log, Stardate 52448.7;


    After rescuing the away team and returning them to the ship, Mister Brodie and I found no trace of Naketha’s Warbird in orbit. Unfortunately, the damage caused to the L’Rakan village, not to mention the injury caused to Captain Llewellyn, won’t be easy to chase away. I am returning one final time to the surface to ensure that no trace of the incident is left behind and to ensure that the L’Rakans know the full story.



    It was a big decision to make. Full disclosure to the village elder was certainly not recommended by the Prime Directive. Of course, the Prime Directive failed to offer any assistance in this most unusual case.

    The L’Rakans had already been interfered with, albeit in this one small corner of their society. Valerie Archer stood by her decision and seeing the reaction of the village elder for herself, she didn’t regret it for one moment. As they walked and talked, life seemed to be returning to normal for the pre-industrial people. Glimpses of shuttlecraft, or huge technological towers, of hidden bases, and suits that made the wearer invisible… of aliens… It was as if it had never happened. On the whole, they were just thankful that gods and demons weren’t using their village as a battleground anymore.

    Only the village elder knew everything.

    “Will you ever tell them?,” Valerie asked him.

    “Some things are best left to myth,” was the wise reply.

    “Gotcha… Just don’t treat your people like fools. There are bound to be those who have the ability to leap beyond their own ignorance. As long as you’re careful with how you tell them, I wouldn’t be so secretive with the truth.”

    “It was keeping secrets that started all of this, after all.”

    “Once again, you have our deepest apologies.”

    Laughter approached them. It was coming from a pair of young children, their cranial ridges barely showing on their smooth foreheads as they ran across the sunny central courtyard towards the village elder with their arms outstretched. Clearly pleased to see them, the old man shared in their smiles and picked one up, the boy, in his arms.

    Valerie didn’t need to be told that they were obviously the victims of Naketha’s insidious virus. The cure that she had brought down from Fortitude, moments ago, had clearly worked.

    “You,” the village elder said, smiling once more at the Commander,” have nothing to apologize for. I understand your actions.”

    “You are most gracious, sir. Thank you.”

    “No… thank you.”

    Archer turned to leave, heading away from the main populace of the village in order to discreetly beam back to Fortitude. Before she could get out of earshot, there was one last parting comment from the village elder. As she heard it, her heart physically ached, wrought with guilt and sorrow for the man that she loved. It was something that she would have to face as soon as she returned.

    “Your captain,” the L’Rakan said. “Wish him well.”


    EPILOGUE

    He awoke to the lights of Sickbay.

    It came back to him in broken, disjointed fragments. His mind was obviously trying to repress the memory.

    The first image was of Valerie Archer stepping out of the Shuttlecraft Domtar, the shock on her face conspicuously overt. She had rushed over to him, making no effort to conceal her emotional reaction to seeing her lover in such a state.

    He and the image changed. Now it was of another woman with features that sent him into a pit of hatred and loathing.

    Naketha…

    She was holding something. It was long, silver… and being raised over her head. She was preparing to strike out…

    He blinked again. Romulan Centurions rushed towards him, filling his mind’s eye. They were firing wildly at his position, missing with every blast of disruptor energy. Then another frightening image, the image of the duck-blind observation outpost tearing down from the cliff that it had once called home and breaking apart.

    Four dead science officers…

    Four innocent men and women… just trying to do their jobs… ruthlessly murdered… It assaulted his senses and filled him with anxiety.

    Slowly, he heaved his torso upright. He was sitting on a Sickbay biobed, half-naked and covered in scars from the swordfight… the duel with Naketha. He remembered it once more, flashbacks of fragments returning to him. Parry, riposte… None of it had done him any good. He had lost the fight. He had lost his arm.

    Almost frightened to look, Ewan Llewellyn turned his head to the left. Several inches below the elbow, the realization set in.

    There it was, fused to the skin and bone and clearly incomplete, was a cybernetic appendage. The wrist was a robotic joint and the hand sporting fingers that reminded him of icicles. Long, sharp claws that would happily inhabit any child’s nightmares. Try as he might, he couldn’t even move it. The fingers were unresponsive. Was he even supposed to see this? Was he supposed to be awake?

    Rolling to one side, Ewan allowed the tears to flow freely.

    What had he become?


    The End.
     
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