Star Trek: Gibraltar - The Road Not Taken

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Jun 5, 2020.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    …seven weeks later

    Kathleron Anchorage, Ceti Antudros System

    The Hakod species were not Federation members, but their hospitality was renown throughout the quadrant and their remarkable ring station was a popular free port and a bustling hub of interstellar commerce. The starships Gibraltar and Klamath had made port here after escorting a Banoth refugee convoy to what might charitably be called a minimally Class-M planet.

    It had been nothing less than an intentional marooning by order of Starfleet. The crews of the two starships had established a makeshift settlement for the Banoth constructed of prefabricated shelters before leaving them with primitive protein synthesizers and sufficient supplies to keep the impoverished species alive for a standard year. They had then consigned the Banoth’s decrepit fleet of colony ships to the fires of the system’s sun, giving them no hope of leaving that bleak world.

    The scenario was an abandonment, in a literal sense for the Banoth people and figuratively for the Gibraltar crew’s collective sense of integrity. They were Starfleet, trained to help those in need, not leave them stranded on a forsaken planet where the conditions at their equatorial encampment rivaled mid-winter Northern Siberia on Earth.

    The crew’s morale had plummeted in response. This layover at Kathleron Anchorage was the first R&R Gibraltar’s compliment had enjoyed in over four months of grueling escort and interdiction work, and an undisguised effort by Command to reward the crew for suffering the burden of conscience from this latest hateful assignment.

    Sandhurst was dressed in conservatively colored civilian garb, greys and browns that seemed to match his mood, while Lar’ragos sported clothing in riotous, clashing colors as if flagrantly defying the crew’s malaise. Taiee hadn’t bothered to change out of her uniform and was busy craning her neck to gaze skyward at the opposing side of the gargantuan ring structure that comprised the anchorage.

    The far side of the ring was bathed in sunlight, while the side on which they’d disembarked the ship was cloaked in night.

    “There’s supposed to be a tropical island chain on that side,” Taiee murmured in wonder. “This thing makes our biggest stations look like toys in comparison.”

    As alien denizens thronged around them along the port concourse, the captain paused to look up, the engineer in him surrendering to the thrill of such a mighty structure despite his dark mood. “It’s well over three-thousand years old, Doc, and it took five-hundred years to build. The only structure larger that we know of in the galaxy is the Scott Dyson Sphere. The Hakod are justifiably proud of it.”

    Lar’ragos clutched a flimsy sheet, data scrolling along the plasticized page. “We’ve only got six days, and our itinerary is quite frankly, a little boring.”

    Sandhurst favored him with a confused frown. “We’ve got a day at the beach, and a day at the casino complex in…Ver—Ves…”

    “Vethlis,” Taiee finished for him. “That’s where we’re meeting up with Pell and the others.”

    “It’s hundreds of millions of square kilometers, Pava,” Sandhurst chided. “We can’t see even a fraction of it in six days.”

    “An entire afternoon in a museum?” Lar’ragos exclaimed. “You could just as easily visit that place in our holosuite. I’m here for fresh air, sunshine, and—”

    “Copious amounts of alcohol,” Sandhurst cut in. “I’m familiar with your priorities.”

    “I could use a drink myself,” Taiee agreed mordantly. “Anything to get the look on their faces out of my head—”

    Sandhurst silenced Taiee with a sharp look. “We agreed on no shop talk, especially about the Banoth.”

    The CMO held her hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Aye, aye, Captain, sir!” she snapped. It was unlike Taiee to be bitingly sarcastic, but as a healer the abandonment of the Banoth had struck her harder than most.

    Lar’ragos cocked his head towards Taiee and then gestured to a nearby establishment. “That looks like a bar, or what passes for one hereabouts. First drink’s on me, Doc.”

    The two of them melted into the crowd, leaving a dour, frustrated Sandhurst behind.

    * * *​

    Sandhurst wasn’t a drinker, and his vice of choice had traditionally been Rigellian spice coffee. This particular evening, however, he found solace in a bracing bottle of Romulan ale. Though still of dubious legality within the Federation, kali-fal was merely another of the seemingly limitless alien spirits available throughout the anchorage ring.

    Well into his second glass he had finally started to feel the neutronium weight in the pit of his stomach begin to ease. It was the fourth day of their shore leave at the ring, and he had not yet felt himself begin to relax.

    He sat alone at a raised table situated on a balcony overlooking artfully terraced gardens and buildings that descended like massive stairs towards a bay far below. The sunset had been breathtaking, illuminating the city in a riot of reds and oranges until the light of the local star had vanished behind the edgewall of the ring. He thought the city and its environs vaguely reminiscent of a Greek island town in the Aegean, though no island in that region had ever towered as high as the supporting cliffs on which the city anchored.

    Taiee, Lar’ragos, Pell and Shanthi had gone on a para-gliding excursion earlier in the afternoon and would not return for a few hours yet. It had given Sandhurst the time and space needed to reflect on these past few months and on the growing sense of dislocation that plagued him.

    Sandhurst knew this version of the future was not his own, or what should have been his own. He believed he had come to peace with that fact, most especially because Lar’ragos had told him that in that other divergent branch of reality there had been much death and misery for he and his crew. Here, yes, there was sadness and a growing despair as the Federation staggered under the weight of tens of millions of refugees, but at least his crew were alive and together.

    “Drinking alone, Captain?”

    Sandhurst started from his reverie at the unexpected intrusion, turning to see a stunning human woman clad in a slim black cocktail dress. She had a mocha-hued complexion, accented by striking emerald eyes and dark hair pulled back into an ornate braid.

    He felt his eyes lingering on her for too long and forced himself to speak to break the awkward silence. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

    “No, not yet.” She nodded toward the chair across from him. “May I?”

    Still off balance from the Romulan ale and the woman’s unexpected arrival, he gestured uneasily at the seat. “Uh… sure.”

    She seated herself gracefully and reached into a small clutch purse to produce an ovoid shaped device that she placed in the center of the table. There was a brief hum and Sandhurst felt his skin tingle as a wave of ionization swept over him.

    Normally, Sandhurst would have interceded. He might have grabbed at the device, or bolted from his seat to get away, or perhaps even tried to knock the woman over in her chair to gain advantage or upset an impending attack.

    He did none of these things. Instead, to his chagrin, Sandhurst discovered that whatever her nefarious plan, he simply didn’t care. Due to the ale he’d imbibed, general apathy, or a combination thereof, he merely eyed the device curiously and took another sip of ale. “Cute toy. What’s it do?”

    Sandhurst’s voice seemed to have taken on a slightly tinny quality. He wiggled a finger in one ear.

    “Privacy field,” she replied, “for discrete conversations.”

    “Is that what this is?” he asked.

    She shrugged delicately with her hands. “If you’re amenable, Captain?”

    He sighed. “What the hell. Why not? Is this where you tell me that you’re working for some super-secret black ops outfit? Starfleet Intel? Tal Shiar? Klingon So’taj?

    The woman smiled prettily. “None of the above, Captain. I’m simply here to ask a few questions posed by curious parties.”

    “Well, now,” he said into his glass, quaffing the last of his ale, “you’ve piqued my curiosity.” He set the glass down and gave her an amiable wave. “Proceed.”

    “Do you know you’re not supposed to be here, Captain?”

    He made a point of looking around the restaurant. “I was of the understanding that the anchorage is a free port. Was I mistaken?”

    “Don’t be coy,” she said, her voice lowering an octave and assuming an edge. “You’re not supposed to be here. You shouldn’t be aware of that fact, but somehow you are. How is that?”

    “My friend told me,” Sandhurst answered too quickly, raising his glass to signal the serving drone that he wanted another.

    “Lieutenant Lar’ragos knows, certainly,” she agreed. “But it’s more than that. You know it, too. That shouldn’t be possible.”

    He gave an exaggerated shrug. “It’s a galaxy of wonders. Why, did you know that the Kathleron Anchorage is one of the catalogued Twenty Wonders of the Milky Way?”

    She held his gaze impassively, as if examining an insect under glass. “You’re jeopardizing billions, Captain Sandhurst. The Amon were never supposed to abduct someone else. It was always supposed to have been you.”

    The drone floated up to the table, another glass of ale balanced atop the gold tray held in its manipulators. Sandhurst grasped the drink gingerly, saying, “But it wasn’t. I don’t know why or how things shook out differently than they were originally meant to. Doesn’t seem to matter much now.”

    “Captain Nekvasilová won’t be able to tame the Amon. She won’t be able to pit them against the Skorrah as you did. She can’t because she was never meant to.”

    “Pity,” he grunted before taking a sip of the new drink. “How is it that you know so much? You with Temporal Investigations?”

    “I’m with the organization DTI eventually becomes,” she confirmed. “So, in a way, yes.”

    Hey eyed her skeptically. “Should you be telling me that?”

    “Why not? You already know a great many things that you shouldn’t.”

    He raised his glass in acknowledgement. “Fair point. So, where do we go from here?”

    “I…” she began, then paused. “We would like you to contact the Amon, to make yourself known to them.”

    He swished a mouthful of Romulan ale around as he considered that. “You presume they aren’t already aware of me.”

    “Are they?” she asked, appearing to study him.

    “To be one of them is to have always been one of them.”

    “We’re aware of their predestination beliefs,” she countered. “Are you saying that the Amon are aware of your presence, but have intentionally forgone contact with you?”

    “You tell me,” he riposted. “You, Pava and my own gut are telling me that all this…” his wave was all encompassing, “…all this isn’t right. But nobody can explain to me why that is. How did this happen? If time has been changed, someone or something must have changed it, right? To know it’s wrong means all this has played out at least once before.”

    “Correct.”

    “Then why don’t you flit back to whenever this divergence occurred and watch to see where everything went catawampus?”

    Her mouth tightened into a rueful pout. “That’s the first thing we tried. We couldn’t.”

    Another swallow of ale burned as it descended. “Couldn’t?”

    “Something’s preventing us. We can’t explain it and none of our models can account for the interference.”

    He waggled the fingers of his free hand towards her. “Spooookey.”

    “You’re drunk,” she observed dryly.

    “And getting drunker by the minute.”

    She leaned forward, locking eyes with him. “Captain, some great intellects, both organic and artificial, have tried and failed to solve this mystery. The best we can come up with is for you to try and ‘remind’ the Amon that you’re here. Perhaps convince them that they very much need to come to you.”

    He looked at her disbelievingly. “What would possibly motivate me to do that? Why would I sacrifice myself to a species of… of soul-eaters, energy-vampires, or whatever the hell you want to call them? Pava tells me everything on that side of reality went to shit. I want nothing to do with any of it.”

    The woman to a moment to look out across the bay, drinking in the lights from the descending cityscape below. “As bad as things get for your and your friends on that side, there is still hope.” She gestured to the panorama on display before them. “The Amon are the key to deciphering the weaknesses of the Skorrah. Without that knowledge, the Skorrah could sweep out from the Large Magellanic Cloud and lay waste every civilization in your own galaxy and those surrounding it.”

    He rolled his eyes theatrically. “Another all-powerful scourge fated to kill us all? So were the Xindi, the Borg, the Dominion, and the Inth. We’re still here.”

    Her responding stare could have extinguished a supernova. “How comforting that you’re willing to bet the life of every sentient being in five galaxies on your finely honed bravado.”

    She reached out and plucked the glass from his hand, downing the contents in a single draught. She brought the glass down on the table with a resounding crack. “It’s true what they say,” she offered in a husky voice raw with emotion and ale. “Never meet your heroes.”

    With that she snatched up her device, whirled and stalked away leaving Sandhurst gazing after her.

    A hand alighted on Sandhurst’s shoulder, making him jump.

    “It appears you’ve started the party without us,” Lar’ragos announced, sliding into a chair next to Sandhurst. Taiee, Pell, and Shanthi joined them, still abuzz from their earlier excursion and apparently heedless of their captain’s distant expression.

    "You're back early," he remarked numbly.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2021
  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
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    Vancouver, WA
    Fascinating..
     
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  3. SolarisOne

    SolarisOne Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    A giant ring, huh? Like this?
    [​IMG]
     
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  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Pretty close, actually. A bit larger diameter, but that's the idea.
     
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  5. SolarisOne

    SolarisOne Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    I like the idea of more megastructures--especially from extant, non-godlike, civilizations--in Trek.
     
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Gotta say, drunk Sandhurst is a blast. Especially when faced with existential threats to all known life in the galaxy.

    Something tells me he'll come around sooner or later. I mean, this is still Sandhurst we're talking about, right? Right?

    Great "the fate of the galaxy rests on your shoulders" moment. Hope you won't keep us waiting too long for the next installment
     
  7. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    What the hell is going on here? The timeline has been altered but people in the know are unable to correct it? This clearly is not your run of the mill reset story, is it?

    Looking forward to the next one!
     
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  8. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2001
    Location:
    The Hub of the Universe
    I absolutely love where this story is going. The fact that the future DTI resources are stymied is a wonderful twist, and the woman's last comment about meeting your heroes is brilliant, pregnant with implications and possibilities. This installment has made my year already. ;) Thank you. Can't wait to see where you take this. :techman:
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2021
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  9. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2001
    Location:
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    p.s. - and I have to ask, am I getting a little "It's A Wonderful Life" vibe due to the season, or is it intentional? ;)
     
  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Alas, that wasn't one of my motivations. Must be the season. :angel:
     
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  11. Airmandan

    Airmandan Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    May 30, 2017
    I need this in my veins!
     
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  12. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Donald Sandhurst had often wondered what it would have been like to participate in the Battle of Wolf 359, or the engagement above Earth during the Borg’s second incursion into the core of the Federation.

    He had fought seemingly hopeless battles before, but nothing on that scale, where the fate of worlds hung in the balance.

    Now, it seemed, Sandhurst would have his chance to discover firsthand what such a desperate struggle was like.

    He didn’t have to ask for an updated ETA, for as was his tradition, Lieutenant Lightner at the helm had placed a chronometer countdown in lower corner of the main viewscreen. It was his way of preventing an impatient Sandhurst from asking for continuous updates.

    The tense silence on the bridge was broken by Olivia Juneau’s observation from the Ops station. “They killed every living thing on Ferenginar eight days ago, and now here they are again, nearly thirty-thousand light-years away. How do we defend against someone who can strike anywhere at any time?”

    Sandhurst opted to interpret her query as rhetorical and looked over to T’Ser at her position in the bridge well. “Any change in sensor interference?”

    “Some, sir,” T’Ser allowed. “I’m picking up significant subspace comms activity, but it’s garbled by the probe’s interference field. Sensor readings are…” she sighed in evident frustration, ”…still indeterminate.”

    Pell turned in her seat, directly across from T’Ser to look from the XO to the captain. “There’s twenty-three ships on scene with four more arriving within the hour. I have to believe that’s enough.”

    Sandhurst pursed his lips, unwilling to voice the thought that against the Skorrah, even twice that number might not be sufficient. Rather than reply to Pell, he glanced over to the Engineering station, staffed by a senior petty officer from that division. Many of the engineering displays were tinged with red, a clear indicator that they had been redlining the warp engines for too long.

    Ahead of them, only minutes away, the Beta Zeta star system lay under siege for the second time in five years. The homeworld of the Betazoid species had been conquered and occupied by the enemy during the Dominion War, and both it and its people still bore the scars of that invasion.

    Now the Skorrah, the predatory cousins of the enigmatic Amon, had descended upon that planet using an alien probe identical to the one that had neutralized Earth’s defenses in the late 23rd century. The overwhelming energy emissions from that enormous cylindrical craft had disrupted the power systems of all spacecraft and defense satellites in orbit of Betazed and had disgorged a host of energy-siphon arrays around the planet. Those arrays, it was believed, were designed to collect the energetic signatures of humanoid neural patterns after death, essentially harvesting what some might describe as the ‘souls’ of the recently slain.

    While the Amon consumed the same energies to survive, they were scavengers who placed their arrays around worlds or interstellar civilizations at war. The Skorrah had evolved along a more rapacious track and were content to cause the deaths upon which they fed rather than seek out species in active conflict.

    Utilizing a method of unknown travel, the Skorrah could seemingly appear in any system at any time through some manner of portal. Eight days earlier the giant probe, encrusted with Skorrah habitation modules, had laid waste Ferenginar and sewn chaos through the far-reaching financial markets of the Ferengi Alliance. Now it was Betazed’s turn.

    “Admiral Glover’s in command of the task force,” Pell continued. “If anyone can find a way to defeat the Skorrah and that damned probe, it’s him.”

    Again, Sandhurst held his tongue. He and Terrance Glover had served together many years earlier, and there was no love lost between the two. Glover and Pell, on the other hand, had been childhood friends. Still, Sandhurst had to concede that Glover was a natural leader, the kind of person you would want leading a last-ditch defense.

    He accessed the abbreviated interface on his chair’s armrest, scrolling through decades old intelligence analysis of what Starfleet had come to call the ‘Whalesong Probe.’

    “You can’t tell me that after ninety years of study and technical advancement nobody’s come up with a defense against those transmissions,” Sandhurst practically growled.

    Shanthi looked over from the Science station. “They have, sir. We can modulate our shields to prevent the transmission from overwhelming our systems. It’s simply that the power level of the carrier wave is so ridiculously strong that our shields will fail in a matter of seconds. Then we’ll lose the warp-reactor, the impulse generators, and our auxiliary power cells.”

    Shifting his gaze to Lar’ragos at the Tactical console behind him, Sandhurst asked, “And how much damage could we do to that thing in those few seconds?”

    Lar’ragos glanced up from his display, shaking his head morosely. “Negligible, Captain. The outer shell of the probe is believed to be comprised of neutronium alloy. Ferenginar was one of the most heavily defended planets in the quadrant, and their defense grid hit that beast with everything they had. As far as anyone can tell, they didn’t make so much as a dent.”

    T’Ser referenced her console before reluctantly dragging her gaze up to meet Sandhurst’s. “Sir, among the ships in Admiral Glover’s task force are Sovereign, Galaxy, and Prometheus-class vessels, some of our most formidable ship designs. If they’ve all been neutralized...” She paused, her expression pinched as if speaking her next words elicited physical pain. “If we go in there, we’ll simply become one more derelict in need of rescue.”

    In a low voice, Sandhurst asked, “What’s the projected yield from an impact with the probe from a ship of Gibraltar’s mass traveling at warp eight-point-five?”

    All extraneous conversations on the bridge ceased in response to the question.

    Shanthi glanced to T’Ser then back to Sandhurst. “Captain, what makes the probe’s signal so overwhelming is that its bandwidth extends into the subspace range. This means that the geometry of subspace in the Beta Zeta system has been distorted, though to what degree we can’t be sure. Even under normal circumstances, a starship driving into the system at warp could potentially destabilize the system’s star. With all the subspace volatility generated by that carrier wave, any attempt to warp in-system on a collision course might result in a stellar collapse or a supernova.”

    “Progress, sir,” Juneau advised from her station. “Our sensors are having more success at burning through the interference as we approach. We’re now getting some limited sensor returns from inside the system.”

    “Tactical display on main viewer, please,” Sandhurst ordered.

    The two-dimensional tactical overlay snapped to life on the viewscreen, showing a string of starships strewn haphazardly across the system. Each of the craft were adrift where the probe’s emissions had neutralized their power systems, spoiling their valiant attempts to reach Betazed’s orbit.

    Holding position above the planet was the probe, a dark cylinder measuring just over eight kilometers in length and nearly two-and-a-half kilometers in width.

    Sandhurst frowned at the display. “Give me a close up of the planet, that doesn’t look right.”

    The tactical overlay was replaced by an enhanced image of Betazed wreathed in clouds. What should have been an idyllic blue-green world dominated by vast oceans was instead a swirling mass of storm activity.

    Shanthi’s face assumed a grim mien. “Sir, the probe is vaporizing Betazed’s oceans and ionizing the atmosphere, just as they did at Ferenginar. Cloud cover is one-hundred percent and if these readings are correct, in another five hours the air will be superheated to the point that it will kill any unprotected life.”

    Sandhurst gestured to Juneau at Ops without looking away from Shanthi. “Olivia, what’s Betazed’s population?”

    “Three-point-two billion, sir.”

    “Betazed cooks in five hours.” Lar’ragos looked up from his tactical board, his jawline rippling with barely contained anger. “We have to do something.”

    Their collective silence was his only answer.

    “Incoming signal from Agamemnon, sir.”

    Sandhurst appeared perturbed at the interruption, but he waved to the viewer. “Put it up.”

    Captain Amaya Donners, commander of the Akira-class cruiser leading two other starships an hour behind them, stared intently at Sandhurst from her command chair. “Captain Sandhurst, it appears you are only moments away from the system boundary. Might I inquire as to your intentions?”

    “We’re discussing options at present, Captain. Did you have something in mind?”

    “We’ve already lost enough ships in there,” Donners said coolly. “Rescuing the crews of those ships when this is all over should be our highest priority.”

    “Really, Captain?” Sandhurst was astonished at this pronouncement and didn’t bother to hide it. “The lives of three-billion Betazoids are at risk.”

    Donners could be seen taking a steadying breath before replying. “May I remind you, Captain, that there are four-hundred million other people living on a dozen orbital stations and on two Class-M moons in the Beta Zeta system. From what we saw in the Skorrah strike on Ferenginar, once they’ve destroyed the planet’s viability and collected their arrays, they’re apt to leave.”

    “I’d been leaning towards a high-warp collision with the probe launched from outside the system,” Sandhurst relayed, clasping his hands in front of him to keep from fidgeting.

    Donners nodded. “Something every starship captain approaching the system today has also considered. You know, of course, that there’s a high probability of destabilizing their star and annihilating the entire system. Additionally, even if that particular disaster was avoided, hitting the probe with a starship at high-warp in orbit of Betazed could do catastrophic damage to the planet itself. A neutronium sheathed ship or it’s remains raining down onto the surface would be an extinction level event.”

    “There are possible dangers in acting, versus the very definite consequences of doing nothing, Captain Donners,” Sandhurst answered frostily.

    Donners frowned, further accentuating her already reluctant expression. “As senior captain of the surviving ships of the Betazed response effort, I am ordering you to stand down, Captain. We can’t risk millions of additional lives with reckless actions.”

    His protest died in his throat, despite his anger at being put in check in front of his senior officers. Donald Sandhurst was a creature of duty, his personal motto having long been, ‘Birds fly, fish swim, and Donald follows orders.’

    “Understood, Captain. We will hold position here until you arrive,” he answered, keeping his voice carefully neutral.

    Donners inclined her head, acknowledging his acquiescence to her orders. “We’ll see you in forty-seven minutes. Agamemnon, out.”

    The viewer returned to the image a cloud-choked Betazed slowly dying in the clutches of the Skorrah.

    Lar’ragos leaned over the tactical board behind the captain’s chair to mutter, “Ready room.” Then, as if an afterthought, “Please, sir,” at a volume for Sandhurst’s ears only.

    “Helm, drop us out of warp, all stop. Hold position here until the others arrive. Commander, you have the bridge.”

    With that Sandhurst rose from his chair and made for the ready room with a visible angry Lar’ragos hot on his heels.

    “What the hell? We’re going to sit here and do nothing?” Lar’ragos said the instant the hatch door had closed behind them.

    “You just heard our orders, Lieutenant. As far as we’ve seen, there’s nothing to be done.”

    “That’s bullshit and you know it!” Lar’ragos raged. “You and Donners wouldn’t be so sanguine about this if that monstrosity was hovering above Earth. You’d do everything you could think of to try and save the planet.”

    “We can’t risk killing everyone in the system!”

    Lar’ragos leveled an accusatory finger at him. “That’s not it. You’re relieved Donners pulled rank because you don’t want to have to make the call. It’s easier just to absolve yourself of responsibility and play the good little soldier.”

    “Rather than risk killing an entire star system? You’re damned right!” It wasn’t until the words had left Sandhurst’s mouth that he realized the truth in them.

    For his part, Lar’ragos merely stared back at him with evident disgust.

    “There’s nothing I can do here, Pava,” Sandhurst repeated in a tone that pleaded understanding.

    A look of slow realization settled across Lar’ragos’ features. “You’re playing it safe…”

    “It’s called following ord—” Sandhurst trailed off as it was evident Pava wasn’t listening.

    “…because you’ve mostly played it safe here. You never volunteered to follow Picard back into the Briar Patch, and you never had to kill Ramirez.” He blew out a shaky breath and seated himself on the ready room’s couch.

    “Kill Ramirez? You mean Liana? I killed Liana in that universe?”

    Lar’ragos rested his elbows on his knees, staring down at his hands. “Many of the events that forged you into the captain you were there, they either didn’t happen here or happened so differently that they affected you to a lesser degree.” He shook his head, emitting a sad little chuckle tinged with irony. “How could I expect you to buck orders and do what has to be done if you’ve so seldom ever had to.” He cradled his head in his hands.

    “We fought the Cardassians at Lakesh,” Sandhurst offered, suddenly feeling as though he had to defend himself. “I was… captured, tortured by the Baron…”

    “Aye,” acknowledged Lar’ragos, “those events happened in both timelines. But after those experiences, you made a point to steer away from trouble here.”

    “So, you’re saying that other me, he’d have warped straight in to try and destroy that probe?”

    “Yes… maybe, I don’t know,” Lar’ragos sighed with frustration.

    “Guarantee me that if we do that, we won’t snuff out Betazed’s star. Promise me that we won’t kill everyone in the system, Pava!”

    Lar’ragos deigned to look up at his captain. “You know I can’t.”

    “Then I can’t violate my orders,” Sandhurst replied with genuine regret.

    The El Aurian’s eyes glistened as he stood, “And so Betazed dies today.”

    * * *​
     
  13. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Not the Whalesong Probe again. That thing used to give me the hibby jibbies whan I was younger. I wonder if going back in time and finding some long extinct ocean-dwelling mammals is in the cards.

    Continue to enjoy the alternate universe angle. The things you do, and the things that happen to you, are what define the person you become. Sandhurst is coming to realize this. Perhaps at the cost of an entire planet.

    Also, awesome Donners cameo.
     
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  14. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2001
    Location:
    The Hub of the Universe
    Powerful scene, both in the devastation of 2 planets, and the interactions between Sandhurst and Lar'ragos. I'm loving the "butterfly effect" premise, or homage to "Tapestry". Interesting that Pava has unearthed such detailed memories of the other timeline. Curiouser and curiouser.
     
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  15. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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

    “Because of Starfleet’s inaction at the Beta Zeta system, the Skorrah behemoth was allowed to escape to continue its campaign of annihilation across the galaxy. Its next attack after Betazed fell upon our glorious homeworld, the center of our cultural and historical identity. Dozens of ships were destroyed trying to slow its approach to orbit. Ultimately, Admiral Donatra was forced to use the same zero-point implosion device our people employed to stop the Kothlis’Ka Armada, martyring herself and her soldiers in the process. The detonation of this device destroyed the Skorrah probe-ship, but in so doing it obliterated our entire home system, taking over eight billion Romulan and Reman lives.

    “The Romulan Senate has weighed the Federation’s cowardice at Beta Zeta along with their delay in alerting our people of the oncoming refugee fleets from the Delta Quadrant. That delay denied our military months of preparatory time to meet that threat and directly contributed to the disaster of the Kothlis’Ka Incursion. That tragedy combined with the destruction of Romulus has resulted in the deaths of over twelve billion of our citizens.

    “We have determined that the Federation is complicit in both these appalling crimes and our people have collectively demanded the Right of Vengeance in response. A state of war now exists between The Romulan Star Empire and the peoples of the United Federation of Planets.”

    ~ Excerpt of Romulan Ambassador Tolak’s address to the Federation Council

    * * *​

    Sandhurst gratefully fitted the rebreather mask onto his face, cutting off the stinging, smoke-laden air that had caused uncontrolled fits of coughing. He felt the tingle of ionization around his eyes as the mask erected a forcefield to protect his vision from the corrosive particulates.

    “I’m—” he coughed a final time to clear his lungs. “I’m on deck nineteen at junction Twelve-Baker. Emergency forcefields are in place and the pressure door to the engine room has been sealed.”

    Sandhurst moved aside as a crewman limped past in the narrow corridor supported by one of his fellows, both also wearing emergency masks.

    He opened a small access hatch next to the pressure door to scrutinize the readings from sensors mounted to the other side of the engineering bulkhead. “Damn…” he murmured without meaning to over the open comm-link. “Main Engineering is flooded with radiation. I can confirm the reactor shutdown, but it looks like the failsafe system had to vent the excess pressure into the main compartment.”

    “That confirms what we’re seeing up here, sir,” T’Ser replied, her voice sounding tinny through the mask’s comms receiver. “Ashok reports the containment fields held until everyone got out; everyone’s accounted for. He’s put together a team and they’re on the way back to vent the engine room and begin repairs.”

    Sandhurst breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s good to hear.” He turned to find an engineering crew clad in radiation hardened EVA suits approaching. He stepped aside to let them pass and retreated to the nearest turbolift. “Have we figured out what the hell they hit us with?”

    “Lar’ragos and Shanthi believe they were some kind of multi-modal missiles, possibly experimental. Fortunately, most of the warheads’ yield was dissipated punching through our shields.”

    “Hence why we’re still here,” Sandhurst concluded.

    “Yes, sir,” she replied.

    A few moments later and Sandhurst emerged onto the bridge where several consoles remained inoperative, having overloaded during their brief skirmish. Through a haze of static on the main viewer he could just make out the striated layers of the gas giant’s rings in which Gibraltar had holed up.

    He peeled away his mask and directed a questioning look at Lar’ragos. The Chief Security/Tactical officer had abandoned his small stand-alone station behind the captain’s chair for the larger seated console on the bridge’s upper level. “Are they still out there?”

    “The reconnaissance probe we dropped on the way in here indicates the Romulans are holding position outside,” the El Aurian replied.

    “They’re not cloaked?”

    Lar’ragos shrugged. “It’s an older ship. They’ve taken a lot of vessels out of mothballs for this offensive, sir. It might not be equipped with a cloak.”

    “Well, good,” Sandhurst assessed. In response to his bridge crew’s surprised expressions he added, “If they’re parked here waiting for us than they’re not chasing down the rest of our convoy.”

    “I can’t believe they just left us to tangle with a warbird by ourselves!” Juneau fumed.

    Thermopylae and the other escorts have a duty to get those Marine transports to Draken IV, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst rejoined coolly. “Need I remind you that there’s a Federation colony desperately in need of reinforcements. I don’t put too much stock in civilians with hand-phasers trying to hold off Reman shock troops.”

    Lar’ragos grunted his agreement, sharing a look with Sandhurst. “Yeah, the captain and I have lived that particular scenario, Mister Juneau. It’s not pretty.”

    “Besides,” Lightner added sarcastically from the Helm, “it’s an outdated warbird design. It’s not like they abandoned us to fight off a D'deridex. I’ll bet that old Rommie bucket is nearly as old as The Rock.”

    “Whatever class it was, those torpedoes of theirs were enough to cripple us,” Pell offered from her station in the well.

    Sandhurst’s gaze remained fixed on Juneau. “Are there any of our ships in the vicinity that could come to our aid?”

    “None, sir. Vostok was ambushed by a Romulan squadron near the Calder system and hasn’t been heard from since, and Kumari was attacked by a Romulan mining ship while trying to assist our outpost on Yadalla Prime.” She shook her head in disbelief. “A damned mining ship, the thing was kilometers long!”

    “It’s an all-out war effort,” Sandhurst observed sadly. “Their homeworld is gone, and they’re experiencing rebellions on several conquered planets in their territory. The Romulans don’t expect to survive this as a cohesive nation, only to hurt the Federation as badly as possible as their empire crumbles. They’ve thrown everything they have left into the fight, civilian ships included.”

    Sandhurst moved to stand beside his command chair, addressing everyone on the bridge. “That ship out there wants nothing less than to see us destroyed, and they’re willing to sacrifice all their lives to do it. We can’t give them that chance. We’re going to have to be sneakier and deadlier than they are, and we’ll have to find a way to hit them first, cloaking device or no. I need each and every one of you focused on that goal.”

    There was a chorus of affirmative responses amongst a few reluctant nods.

    “Good, then. Let’s get to work.”

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2021
  16. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    It's about time that Sandhurst decided to kick ass. You can't stay on the sidelines and let others die in your stead forever. Great work with this addition, Gibraltar. I hope you're inspired to add more soon. :)
     
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  17. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Looks like we're getting a good dose of old-fashioned Trek here. Constitution vs Bird of Prey. I'm getting Balance of Terror flashbacks here.

    How come these alternate universes are always bad news? Nobody ever lands in one where everyone just gets along.
     
  18. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2001
    Location:
    The Hub of the Universe
    That's more like the Sandhurst we know and love. Still, the consequences of the road not taken are becoming more and more dire. One can only wonder where this all will lead. Oh, and thumbs up to the reference to the Romulan mining ship. ;)
     
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  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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

    “Enter.”

    T’Ser stepped through the hatch into Sandhurst’s ready room, her expression uncharacteristically neutral.

    “What can I do for you, Exec?”

    She stopped in front of his desk and while not quite at attention, T’Ser held herself more rigidly than normal. “Sir, it’s been ten hours since you decided that we would be taking offensive action against the Romulans.”

    Sandhurst spared a look at the chronometer on his desktop display. “That’s correct. And?”

    “I’ve heard nothing regarding tactical preparations, Captain. Actually, Ashok says we’re nowhere near ready to get into a shoot-out with anybody. Our aft torpedo launchers are still offline, he’s still reassembling our shield-grid, and—”

    “We’re not shooting our way out of this one, Commander,” Sandhurst interrupted quietly, his demeanor subdued.

    T’Ser took a moment to absorb that admission. “Sir, I’m… confused.”

    “You’ve just come off a sleep-cycle, correct?”

    “Yes, sir. I stopped by engineering on my way to the bridge after coming on duty.”

    Sandhurst nodded his understanding. “I see. While you were sleeping, I set a plan in motion to neutralize the Romulan ship shadowing us while attempting to gain access to their fleet’s battle plans. I’ve made only a few of the senior staff privy to this plan due to its... controversial nature. I intended to fill you in after you came on shift.”

    "A tactical strike team, sir?" she asked, her curiosity piqued.

    "Something like that," he allowed. Sandhurst gestured to a chair opposite him. “Please. I’ll bring you up to speed.”

    * * *​

    Subcommander ch’Laran strode down the passageway of his new command, the aged warbird Kavrek. He navigated the narrow corridors, returning the salutes of his subordinates, a mix of active military personnel and reservists forcibly returned to service for the senate’s ill-advised offensive against the Federation. As he continued towards his quarters he tried to ignore the flickering lighting from some of the overheads, or the rattle of poorly maintained atmospheric conditioners, all glaring examples of his ship’s unfavorable condition.

    He was tired, as were his crew. They had all had precious little time for sleep during the fleet’s breakneck invasion of their enemy’s territory. However, due to the age of their ship, its outclassed armaments, and the inexperience of ch’Laran’s crew, they had not yet engaged in one-on-one combat with a Federation starship before today. Most of their time and energy to this point had been spent keeping the warbird space-worthy.

    Kavrek’s participation in the ambush of the Starfleet relief convoy had been their first opportunity to fire their weapons at a worthy opponent rather than contributing a paltry few disruptor blasts to the fleet’s collective annihilation of an enemy world from orbit.

    A V-7 cruiser of the Whitewind-class, Kavrek was a museum piece that had been plucked from a high orbit above the Comrin’hau breaking yards a mere month earlier. In the buildup to the invasion, the ship had been given a hasty and clumsily performed refit which left the ship with countless systems malfunctions, to include a temperamental cloaking device that only deigned to function half the time.

    Ch’Laran himself had been a mid-level logistics officer assigned to a small installation in the empire’s hinterlands. He had no overarching drive to promote, as his post allowed him not only the luxury of taking a spouse and starting a family but unlike so many others in their society, he had the ability to actually provide for that family. However, ch’Laran had inadvertently committed the sin of being efficient and had caught the attention of someone up the chain of command. His name had been put forward as a prospective commanding officer for one of the older ships being rushed back into service to support the Wings of Vengeance Campaign.

    When the Twin Tragedies struck, the destruction wrought by both the Kothlis’Ka Armada and the Skorrah probe-ship had ignited a cult-like suicidal drive in the military’s upper echelons. The fleet’s most powerful assets had spearheaded a drive into Federation space some four sectors wide and three sectors deep. It was less a military offensive than an all-out reprisal assault. Federation worlds were scoured, their populations incinerated. The Romulans seized no territory, took no prisoners, they merely destroyed every Federation member planet, colony, starbase, installation, outpost or vessel they came across.

    Starfleet, meanwhile, had been occupied with the onslaught of Delta Quadrant refugees that had poured into the Alpha Quadrant over the past eighteen months. Federation defenses along the Romulan Neutral Zone had been stripped of ships-of-the-line, with smaller support vessels, scouts, or automated drones taking up the duty of patrolling that once fortified border.

    The opening drive into their territory had been nearly unopposed, with Starfleet seeing the attack as a standard offensive and falling back to set up successive lines of defense. Only too late did Starfleet Command see the Romulans’ true intent as everyone and everything in their path was put to the torch.

    Ch’Laran’s wrist-comm chimed and he only just avoided heaving a sigh at yet another intrusion. “Proceed,” he said in a painfully patient tone.

    “Subcommander, I regret to inform you that we’ve detected another systems anomaly. The EPS waveguides on levels three through six on the port/forward quarter have failed and we’ve had to switch to auxiliary power in those areas. Some comms systems and short-range sensors are also being affected.”

    Ch’Laran glanced up, realizing his quarters fell within the compromised portion of the ship. The overheads gave off an anemic light that flickered randomly. “Understood,” he said, reaching the hatch to his cabin. “Estimated time to repair, Centurion?”

    “Unknown at this time, sir. Engineer Shvel is presently attempting to recalibrate the cloaking device… again.”

    This time a sigh did escape him as ch’Laran rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “Keep me apprised of the progress on both matters.”

    “Immediately, sir!” his subordinate barked with forced enthusiasm before terminating the link.

    The hatch to ch’Laran’s cabin hissed open about halfway, forcing the ship’s commander to squeeze past it and then forcibly close it behind him. He took a step back with his head down, shoulders shaking in silent, mordant laughter at his predicament. It was telling that the fleet had chosen not to return Kavrek to service during the Dominion War. Only now, when they had literally nothing else, was she resurrected.

    A voice said something behind him in an alien dialect, almost immediately translated into Rihannsu. “Something amusing, Subcommander?”

    Ch’Laran turned slowly to see a Human male clad in a Starfleet uniform seated in a chair in the far corner of the cabin, a phaser in the man’s hand directed at him. In the center of the room where his small dining table should have been was instead the menacing specter of a photon torpedo casing.

    “Don’t bother calling for help,” the man said, waving the phaser in a gesture for ch’Laran to move farther into the compartment. “We’ve neutralized your internal comms.”

    The Romulan officer emitted a wry laugh. “I’m surprised they were operable enough for you to neutralize.”

    “Face away from me and slowly withdraw your disrupto—” the man paused, realizing ch’Laran wore no holster on his belt and was unarmed.

    Ch’Laran turned as instructed and looked back over his shoulder at the intruder. “I’ve never got into the habit of wearing one.”

    The man sighed and appeared almost disappointed. “I’m here to threaten you and your ship. I was going to be all sorts of menacing. I even prepared a little speech about blowing you out of the stars.”

    Ch’Laran turned back around slowly, hands raised. “If you’ll forgive the observation, that phrase is a rather tired one. Commander Ja’Var in my childhood holo’s always used to say that before dispatching his enemies.”

    The man smiled at that. “Did you know that Tales of the Deathwing is pirated in the Federation? Alas, I’ve only been able to watch the first two series.”

    “Honestly, it doesn’t get any better in the latter series. State sponsored propaganda for the consumption of children.” Ch’Laran gestured to a decanter of liquid sitting atop a cabinet surrounded by a quartet of glasses. “Would you mind fixing us a drink? I could really use one. I was having a rather awful day before you and your torpedo beamed into my cabin.”

    After a moment’s consideration the man stood, holstered his phaser, and moved to the cabinet, pouring each of them a measure of the greenish liquid. “Aldebaran bitters? How the hell does someone in the empire get their hands on this?”

    “Before being saddled with this sorry excuse for a warship, I was a logistics officer,” ch’Laran replied.

    “Ah,” the man said with a chuckle. “Say no more. Even in the Federation, the abilities of logistics officers to procure the impossible is accepted as universal law.” He handed a glass to ch’Laran. “Our ships seem to be at an impasse.”

    The Romulan drank first, a long draught of the alcohol that caused him to wince. “Not from my perspective… Lieutenant?” he offered, eyeing the man’s rank insignia on his gold undershirt collar. “We chased you into these rings, certainly, but now we merely sit here, plagued with systems failures and hoping desperately that you won’t notice.”

    “Well, some of those systems failures are our work,” the man confessed. “Not as many as you’d think, though. Damned thoughtful of your fleet yards to fail to upgrade your computer system’s grossly outdated defense algorithms.”

    Ch’Laran offered him a grim smile. “I’ve been more worried about a core containment failure swallowing the ship, actually.”

    “Those torpedoes of yours,” the man inquired after taking an appreciative sip of his drink. “I’m assuming they’re new?”

    “Yes,” ch’Laran acknowledged. “But we were only issued three of them. Two of them struck your ship, and one of them malfunctioned. You fled out of range of our other weapons before we could finish you.”

    “Your first battle?”

    “As a centurion, no. As a ship commander, yes.”

    The Starfleet officer gestured to the computer panel set into the wall above the commander’s desk. “Access to your fleet’s command and control network? We can’t seem to dig into there from our ship.”

    “It’s hardened against external intrusion. It requires the ship commander’s access privileges.”

    “Voice-print? Retinal scan?” the intruder asked casually.

    “Disagree with my government and military leadership though I may, I will not betray my people,” ch’Laran informed him. “I am Romulan.”

    “And what happens to your people when this offensive finally runs dry?” the man asked. “Right now Klingon fleets are moving to support core Federation sectors and our defenses are hardening. It may be a matter of days or weeks, but your advance will eventually stall and then be turned back. Your people have killed billions…”

    Ch’Laran finished his glass, setting it aside. “I’m aware of our crimes and my government’s justifications for them. Regardless, I would destroy this ship before I allowed you to use it or it’s data-systems to compromise our fleet.”

    “Of course,” the man replied evenly, draining his own glass and putting it down. He appeared troubled as he allowed, “I’d very much hoped to avoid this part.”

    The Romulan gave him an exaggerated frown. “Pity. We were getting along so well.” He tensed, sensing an opportunity as the smaller man suddenly turned away from him. Ch’Laran paused however as he saw the man draw his phaser from its holster and set it on a side table. The man then stooped to draw a knife from a boot sheath before standing and turning to offer it to ch’Laran, handle first.

    “It’s only fair, Subcommander,” the man advised. “You are at a… disadvantage. My name is Pava Lar’ragos, and I am going to kill you today. Before you die, I will make you suffer to the point that you will beg to tell me everything I wish to know.”

    Ch’Laran took hold of the offered knife, sensing it's weight and fine balance. It was a utilitarian killing tool, devoid of the style or ceremonial flourishes of Klingon or Romulan weapons. He looked deep into the Starfleet officer’s eyes, recognizing that this man was of a kind with the knife. Ch'Laran sensed no braggadocio from him, no arrogance, only icy resolve. Despite his superior Romulan strength and stamina, despite the knife in his hand, ch’Laran accepted that the outcome had already been decided.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2021
  20. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Wow, I don't remember teaching this kind of diplomacy at the Academy. I like it!
     
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