Sutherland: Shakedown Cruise

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by DavidFalkayn, Jan 29, 2018.

  1. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    For those who've never read my Sutherland series, I have a different take on Elizabeth Shelby than Peter David does in his novel series. First, I wrote this without even knowing David's work, so my take on her is dramatically different. Liz is a sensualist and a hedonist as well a hard-charging, take no prisoners person who will not let anyone or anything stand in her way. In many ways, she's reminiscent of ancient Roman generals such as Drusus and Germanicus or Napoleonic French field marshals such as Marat in that she's a demon in the center seat of her starship and an utter hedonist when off duty. She's also an incredibly complex character as I hope you'll come to find out through my series. I originally posted this over a decade ago, but I'm revising and re-editing all my old series as well as making new ones. While there is no graphic sex, there is innuendo in much of this series and adult situations (ie: the pajama party in "Messages to Earth") and while I generally use euphemisms for the more blunt four letter words (lots of frinxing and fraking and a few made up words the meanings of which are pretty obvious in context, every once in a while, someone will say something blunt--but it is rare. I hope you like Liz and her crew and friends and will read more. I'm also posting my stories on Ad Astra and you should be able to find them on the United Trek website. So, I hope you enjoy the story.
     
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  2. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part One

    Bajoran Sector—Subsector 310


    It didn’t know how old It was because It didn’t think that way. During Its life It had seen stars form and come to life…planets coalesce from the swirling matter left over from when those stars formed…and on some of those planets, It witnessed the birth of life. And on a precious few of those worlds—It saw the emergence of intelligence. Rarer still, on some of those worlds It had seen that life venture forth into the unknown. Yes, It had seen much, but now, It felt the stirring…the hunger that signified the beginning of The Change. It was about to Become.

    Soon.

    *********************************

    Starfleet Command—San Francisco, Earth Stardate 48875.3

    "I’m telling you…" Admiral J. P. Hanson said as he ran his left hand through the unruly mane that was what was left of his hair while simultaneously striking the mahogany conference table with the flat of his right hand for emphasis, "…with everything that’s happening out there, Elizabeth Shelby is the one you want in the center chair of the Sutherland."

    Shaking her head in a gesture that vividly displayed the fact that she wasn’t convinced, Admiral Shanthi demurred, "I’m not so sure, J. P. First, there’s this matter of how she handled the crisis on Mizar…"

    Taking a sip of water, Admiral William Ross, his avuncular smile hiding a fiercely stubborn streak, quickly rose to Shelby’s defense. "As far as I can see, she handled things on there very well…"

    "Your definition of ‘very well’ is an interesting one, Bill." Admiral Owen Paris, his poker face in place, disputed with just the barest hint of sarcasm in his voice.

    "Well…let’s look at how things ended up." Admiral Ross, rising to the challenge, responded. "The Kalen ‘Toth are happy—their claims to that system have been recognized—Captain Shelby—through her successful diplomacy—not only averted a possible war, saving countless lives in the process, she also ensured that they have a good impression of the Federation—a fact that we shouldn’t take lightly when we look at the strategic significance of the Mizar sector…"

    "But what about the Denobulans?" Admiral Shanthi interjected. "They’re not at all pleased with Shelby’s ‘solution’ to this matter."

    "Denobulan claims to that system were questionable at best." Admiral Hanson remarked in his gravelly voice, "And they know it…that’s why they backed down and that’s why in the end all they’re going to do is grumble and suck it up. Shelby did a damned good job skippering the Reed before Mizar, and she did as good a job in defusing that situation as anyone else would have—including someone with the experience of Jean-Luc Picard."

    "That maybe so…" Admiral Richards, who had previously been silent, interjected, adding his weight to the conversation, his hard and lined face reflecting a sternness and punctiliousness that had earned him the reputation as being both a martinet as well as being one of the best combat admirals in the fleet. "And I agree she is a very gifted officer—she’s a creative diplomat and an uncanny tactician—albeit one prone to taking what amounts to foolish risks at times.” Then, his jaw clenching, he qualified, “But what I’m concerned with isn’t so much how she handled either Mizar or the Reed, rather it’s how her…ahem...extracurricular…activities reflect on the Service."

    Coughing to hide his discomfort with the subject matter that had just been broached, a blushing Admiral Ross replied, "While it’s true that Captain Shelby has a certain…zest…for life…"

    "Captain Shelby…" Admiral Paris interrupted testily, "Has the morals of an alley cat in a constant state of heat."

    *************************************

    At a holosuite in San Francisco near Starfleet Command

    Liz danced frenetically a 1970s era disco tune, one called, I Will Survive as the strobe lights played upon her body, her creamy white thigh peeking out thanks to the slit in the slinky black dress that she had chosen to wear tonight. Flashing a brief leer, she rubbed sinuously against a well built man wearing a leather jacket and pants dancing next to her, who responded with a bump and grind of his own; and then brushed her fingers sensuously down the arm of a curvaceous blonde, who, smiling returned the gesture by rubbing up against Shelby’s back.

    "Live fast…die young…and screw ‘em all!" Liz cursed under her breath as her dancing grew even more frantic. Now dancing in between the man and woman, Liz’s movements grew even wilder and more sexual as primal lust began to triumph over the anger and worry that had been her closest companions only recently. As the song came to an end, Liz extended her middle finger in the direction of Starfleet Command and cursed, "Bite me, Paris!"

    "Feel better now, Liz?" The blonde woman asked as she, Liz, and the man dancing with them all sat down at a table near a bar.

    "Yeah." Grinning, Shelby took a cigarette out of her purse and lit it into life. Exhaling a steady plume of smoke, she laughed. "Only thing that would have made it better would have been if that old bastard were here to see it."

    "You don’t really mean that, Liz." The man said with a grin as he took a sip from his drink. Then, seeing Shelby take another drag from her cigarette, he asked, curious, "How can you stand to put that stuff in your lungs?"

    Chuckling, the hedonistic captain answered, "It’s just a holographic cigarette, Jason."

    "I’ve been meaning to tell you, Liz…" The blonde, sniffed, "…this is a really neat program—what is it again?"

    "I got it from Felix." Shelby said as she took another drag from her cigarette. "He says it’s a place called ‘Studio 54’—it was supposed to be this really popular night club in New York City back in the late twentieth century—the 1970s he said—where just about everything went."

    Glancing at a corner booth where a man and woman were busy having sex, Jason chuckled, "I guess it did." Then, flashing a leer, he propositioned, "So…you two want to go find a booth of our own?"

    "Definitely later…" Liz smiled back, placing a hand on each of her companion’s thighs. "But for right now I just want to mellow out a bit—ok?"

    "Sure thing, Liz." Jason smiled back.

    "Yeah, Liz." The blonde added as she gently brushed Shelby’s arm, "We’ve got plenty of time. Then, curious and concerned for her friend, she asked, "So...what happens to you now?"

    "Now that they yanked the Reed out from under me, Sandy?" Shelby replied with more than a touch of bitterness. "It all depends…Hanson, Ross, Shanthi, Richards, Paris, and Leyton are all probably sitting in a conference room right now trying to make up their minds."

    "Well…" Jason said consolingly, "You know Hanson and Ross are in your corner."

    "Yeah." Liz said, feeling warmth towards the two admirals whom it seemed had always had her back. "And Shanthi and Paris hate my guts…"

    "What about Richards and Leyton…" Sandy then asked.

    "I think Richards is on the fence…but in the end I believe he’ll go with Ross and J. P." Liz conjectured, "Old Leadbottom might not like me personally, but he knows I get the job done and that’s what really counts in his book. As for Leyton—since he’s head of Starfleet Operations, his is the vote that really matters…" She then shook her head, "I just don’t know…"

    Then, her mood shifting, she stood up. "But I’ll deal with all that tomorrow when I meet with Admiral Ross. Right now I just want to forget all the BS and dance some more…" Then, flashing a leer, she kissed both Sandy and Jason, "And after that…how’s about us going back to my quarters where we can party by ourselves the rest of the night."

    ***********************************

    "Come on now, Owen!" Admiral Hanson snorted, "You’re still pissed off over what happened between her and your son when she was still my aide."

    His face now a brilliant crimson, Owen Paris sputtered, "That’s not the reason and you know it, J. P." Taking a long drink of water as he collected his thoughts, Admiral Paris then continued in a much calmer voice, "It’s just that we’re talking about sending her to a very sensitive area of space—you know how the Bajorans are, and let’s not even bring up the Ferengi, the Dominion, and the others…"

    "Hell, Owen." J. P. grumbled. "You make it sound like the Bajorans are religious fanatics and that Shelby’s going into an old time tent revival of theirs wearing nothing but a negligee and a smile. The Bajorans aren’t moral puritans and they’re not Tavnians who believe in the segregation of the sexes either. The Ferengi have gotten used to dealing with female Starfleet and Federation captains and diplomats by now—they might not like it, but by and large they’ve learned to suck it up—so they’re not going to be a problem. And as for the Klingons, the Cardassians and the Dominion—neither one of them could care less what Shelby does when she’s not flying a ship."

    "J. P.’s right." Admiral Ross interjected. "In any event, it’s not like we’re asking her to take over an extremely politically sensitive post such as Deep Space Nine—is it? She’ll just be one of many other starship captains out in the Bajoran Sector…"

    "A sector that has taken on increased importance in recent years…" Admiral Shanthi pointed out.

    "Which is why you want an officer of Liz Shelby’s caliber sitting in the command chair of a starship out there." Ross said. "Whatever you might think of her off duty…activities…"

    "Some would say sexploits…" Paris interrupted sarcastically.

    "Don’t you think you’re exaggerating things just a little bit, Owen?" Ross retorted with just the barest veneer of civility. "Look—I’m not going to say that I approve of her off duty lifestyle—but it is her life and how she lives it is her choice—so long as it doesn’t affect her duties as a Starfleet officer or violate the rights of or cause harm to others—and to date it hasn’t. Her off duty activities remain just that—off duty—and she’s very careful to keep it that way."

    "Look…" Admiral Hanson then added, "I’ve known Captain Shelby since she was a cadet taking my course in Operational Strategy, not to mention a few years ago having had the good fortune to have her as my aide. She’s smart…ambitious…tough and resilient…and she’s not afraid to use her head or act on her instincts when she has to. Oh…" He added, cracking a sly grin, did I forget to mention that she’s the one who wrote most of our tactical manual where fighting the Borg is concerned." Taking a deep breath, he then concluded, "So what if Liz has a wild side that you don’t like—that’s not the issue here. If you want the best person for the job—then you’ll give command of the Sutherland to Liz Shelby."

    Admiral Ross then turned towards Admiral Leyton, the head of Starfleet Operations, who had been listening quietly to the discussion. "Well, Admiral…what do you say—do you think Shelby should get command of the Sutherland?"

    Taking several moments to read the information on his padd, Leyton, setting it down, announced to the great pleasure of both Hanson and Ross, "She’s got the job." Then, standing up, he flashed a brief smile, "Unless there’s anything else, that’ll be all, gentlemen."

    However, as the admirals began to pick up their padds and depart the conference room, Admiral Leyton turned towards Admiral Ross, "Bill—if you could stick around for a moment or two—I need to talk to you about something…"

    *********************************

    The Next Day

    As she waited in the antechamber to the Admiral’s office, Captain Elizabeth Shelby barely repressed a yawn. It had been a long, yet pleasurable, night for the former captain of the USS Malcolm Reed. While the synth-hol and synth-coke that she had consumed in fairly large quantities last night didn’t have the harmful effects of their full strength counterparts, they, and the rather exuberant night that she had spent with Jason and Sandy in her quarters after they’d left the holosuite, did take their toll on her body as her bleary eyes, slightly red nose, and various aches and pains attested to. Getting up to stretch, Shelby turned quickly as she heard her name. "Captain Shelby? Is that you?"

    "Erika?" Elizabeth, recognizing the ramrod straight form, dark hair, and humorless eyes of her former lover and now fierce rival, Erika Benteen, plastered a polite, yet insincere smile on her face. "I hear that Admiral Leyton made you his aide."

    "You heard correctly." Benteen confirmed, flashing an equally insincere smile. "I started last week."

    "Well…" Liz said, attempting to make small talk, "Take it from me, being an Admiral’s aide is one of the best experiences you can have—all goes well, you should have your fourth pip inside a year." Just then, the intercom sounded, notifying Captain Shelby that the admiral was ready for her. "Oops…that’s my call." Liz exclaimed, inwardly grateful for the opportunity to make a graceful exit. "Best of luck, Erika and I’ll see you later."

    "Yeah." Benteen replied, plastering an equally phony expression on her face. "Good luck to you too."

    "Captain Elizabeth Shelby to see Admiral Ross." Liz announced in a matter of fact tone to the young dark skinned Security officer sitting behind the receptionist desk.

    "Just one moment, Sir." The officer replied politely as he pressed a button on his desk and then spoke into the comm. unit. After a brief exchange, the receptionist looked up at the Starfleet officer standing before him. "Admiral Ross will see you now, Captain."

    "Thank you." Shelby replied as she entered the now open doorway.

    Standing up from behind his desk as he saw the youthful captain entering his office, Admiral William Ross smiled broadly. "Mornin’ Liz." Then, noticing her eyes and nose, he flashed a wicked grin. "Big night last night?"

    "You might say that." Shelby smiled back. "Ran into some friends and we checked out a new holo-program."

    "Must have been some program." Ross remarked as he motioned towards a chair in front of his desk. "You look like you could use a cup of coffee or three," He said in a commiserating voice as he made his way to the replicator station on the far side of his office.

    "Thanks, Sir." Shelby, used to Admiral Hanson occasionally getting coffee for her, smiled gratefully as she took her seat.

    "Cream…no sugar…right?" The Admiral asked, smiling as he received the younger officer’s gentle nod. Bringing over both cups, Ross reclaimed his seat. Then, picking up a padd, he spent several moments reading the information on the screen as both he and his guest silently sipped their coffees.

    Finally, after what seemed an eternity to the normally impatient Shelby, Admiral Ross, setting down the padd and raising his head, looked directly into the eyes of the woman sitting across from him. "Well, Captain…it seems that your solution to the Mizar Crisis was quite…unorthodox…to put it mildly."

    Trying her best to keep from fidgeting in her seat, Shelby cleared her throat. "Something had to be done immediately, sir, or millions…possibly billions…of lives could have been lost…there wasn’t enough time to run things through channels…"

    "So…" The expression on Ross’s normally genial face suddenly turned harsh, "The only solution you could come up with not only resulted in your walking a fine line—some in Command and on the Federation Council say that you crossed that line—as regards violating the Prime Directive, you also felt that you had to risk alienating the Denobulans—charter members of the Federation and one of Earth’s oldest friends from before the Federation…"

    "Yes sir." She acknowledged in a soft voice.

    "This isn’t the 23rd century, Shelby…your name isn’t Kirk and you’re not your grandfather." Ross growled and then, shifting to a gentler tone of voice, he allowed a brief smile to cross his features. "Fortunately for all concerned, it worked." Then, the sharp edge returning to his voice, he added, "You know, your little escapade started a major row here—half the admirals in Command want pieces of your hide hanging on their walls, while the other half want to give you the Pike Medal of Valor." A smile once again crossing his face, he quipped, "So…in order to keep the peace…a compromise was arrived at."

    "Compromise, sir?" Shelby asked as she mentally steeled herself for the worst while hoping for the best.

    "Yep." Ross grinned as he handed her the padd. "Here’s your new marching orders."

    "The Sutherland, sir?" She asked, knowing the Nebula class starship’s mixed reputation. "Am I being rewarded—or punished?"

    "Both, actually." The Admiral flashed an ironic grin. "Sutherland’s currently undergoing a refit at Starbase 375 following the completion of her latest mission. Its captain and a good chunk of the crew have been reassigned—so, while you’ll be getting a bunch of new people, there’ll be enough old hands to keep things running smoothly." Then, his gentle laughter dying, he added. "I’ll be following you in a few weeks." Smiling as he saw the surprised look on the young woman’s face, he explained. "Keep this under your hat for now—although everyone will know soon enough—Admiral Nechayev is being recalled to Starfleet Command and I’ll be taking over the Bajor Sector—don’t ask why, although knowing you—you’ll find out soon enough on your own. Anyway, I’ve decided to make my headquarters at Starbase 375—so you see—you’re not the only one being both rewarded and punished."

    "Yes, sir." Shelby chuckled softly as she finished her coffee. Then, all business, she inquired. "Who’ll make up my senior staff?"

    "You can get acquainted with their personnel records on the way to Starbase 375, Captain—but I will tell you this—from what I’ve read, they’re a colorful crew—but they seem to know their jobs. Sounds to me like they’re going to be a perfect fit for their new captain," Ross responded with a half grin as he stood, indicating that their interview was at an end. "I hate to be rude, Liz, but unfortunately, I have a meeting with Starfleet Intelligence in twenty minutes that I have to get ready for." Squaring his shoulders, the Admiral offered the Sutherland’s new captain his hand, "Good luck, Liz--and do us both a favor--watch yourself out there."

    "I will, Sir." Shelby replied with a quick smile and then, as she turned towards the door, she added, ""Thank you, sir."

    "Don’t thank me, yet, Captain." Ross replied with a half grin that quickly turned into a frown. "If Starfleet Intelligence confirms what I think it is, I have a feeling that neither one of us are going to be in for a pleasure cruise."

    *******************************

    Subsector 310 Bravo—Bajoran Sector

    Waiting in the void, It hungered. Soon would be time and It would need all the sustenance It could obtain. Food fueled The Change and without The Change, It would cease to be.

    *******************************

    Subsector 310 Bravo—Bajoran Sector

    "Financial Log Entry 333, Pursuit of Commerce, Daimon Quorak, owner and operator, commanding." The Ferengi Daimon paused momentarily to stuff a handful of tube grubs into his mouth, and then, after washing them down with a draught of Sluggo Cola, continued, "Have fined Crewman Zukal two weeks wages for failure to properly keep the deck swept—I nearly slipped and fell because he failed to pick up a dyshil peel that was lying in plain sight. If all goes well, we should meet up with our contact and off load our cargo in four standard days—the profits from this run will be most welcome. With them I can finally get the FCA off my lobes and maybe get even get some ummox from that Trill Starfleet officer on DS9 I saw at Quark’s last week."

    "Daimon!"

    "What is it Kulat?" Quorak snapped, irritated at his concentration being broken by his helmsman, "This better be important or I’m docking your pay…"

    "Look!" The helmsman said as he pointed excitedly at the viewscreen.

    "By the Great Exchequer…" Quorak said in a low voice, his mouth agape in astonishment.

    *******************************

    Starfleet Command, San Francisco, Earth, Stardate 48876.5

    "Believe me, Mr. Fullerton…" Admiral Leyton said, addressing the image of Pascal Fullerton, the head of the New Essentialist Movement, now currently on his monitor, "…I understand and appreciate your views regarding this issue, but right now, my hands are tied. Decisions of this sort must be approved and ratified by President Jaresh-Inyo and the Federation Council. I’m merely the head of Starfleet Operations…"

    "I understand that, Admiral Leyton…" Fullerton, putting on his most unctuous appearance, responded, "All I’m asking is that you express our views to the President. I’m sure you’ll agree that with the many dangers now facing the Federation—the Dominion…the Borg…the Romulans…and…if I’ve heard the latest news reports correctly, a renewed Klingon threat—we need to bring back to the fore those values that made the Federation great."

    "I won’t disagree with you there, Mr. Fullerton." Admiral Leyton replied with genuine sincerity. "I’ll make sure that the President knows your concerns."

    "Thank you, Admiral." The New Essentialist leader said as Leyton cut off communications.

    "Hmmm." Leyton mused as he jotted down a few notes on his padd. "He and his people could be useful if I can’t convince the President of the danger we face from the changelings." Then, hearing the door chime, he answered, "Yes."

    "Admiral Leyton?"

    The admiral smiled paternally as Commander Benteen entered the room, bearing a padd, "Come on in, Erika. What have you got for me?"

    "Captain Shelby’s orders to take command of the Sutherland, Sir—they need your signature." Benteen replied, her tone carefully neutral.

    "You don’t seem too terribly pleased at the prospect of Captain Shelby taking the Sutherland, Commander…" Leyton remarked as he placed his thumbprint on the padd, electronically signing the document. "Is there a reason why?"

    "I’m just curious, Sir…" Benteen answered, careful to keep her facial expression and voice tone as neutral as possible.

    Chuckling, the Admiral, walking to the replicator, ordered a scotch and soda for himself, and then, seeing his subordinate shake her head at his unspoken offer, picked up the drink and, taking a sip, spoke very deliberately, "First, although the Denobulans will have to grin and bear her solution to the Mizar Crisis, it wouldn’t be politic to leave Shelby in command of the Reed in their sector. Second and more important…" His facial expression then took on a stern look, "Regardless of your personal feelings concerning her, Captain Shelby is a good starship captain—she’s proved that more than once on the Reed. We need good captains out on the Bajoran Sector and she’s just what the doctor ordered." Third…and what you don’t need to know yet, Erika…Leyton thought to himself, is that I don’t want her near Starfleet Command if I should have to do what I might need to in order to protect the Federation.

    Then, a smile returning to his face, Leyton said, "Don’t worry, Erika—you’re not going to lose any ground on Shelby." Grinning broadly, he presented his aide with the padd he’d been working on, "I’m just about to send this off to President Inyo for his approval…"

    Reading the padd, Erika’s lips turned up into a smile. "My promotion?"

    "You’ve earned it." Leyton replied and then cautioned. "It probably won’t go through until after you’ve finished your tour as my aide.” Then, flashing a broad grin, he consoled, “But don’t worry—like they say, good things come to those who wait. When the time comes, you’ll be getting the Lakota." He then extended his hand, "So…if you don’t mind, I’d like to offer you my congratulations in advance."

    "Thank you, Sir." Benteen beamed as she shook the admiral’s hands. "I won’t let you down."

    *********************************
     
  3. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part Two

    Bajor Sector—Star Base 375

    "Repair crew 33 to the Dunkerque…57 to the Tschell’n…and 15 to the Sutherland."

    The space dock orbiting Star Base 375 was a hubbub of activity as Operations dispatchers sent repair crews in pressure suits jetting in and about the starships while tugs and shuttlepods flitted to their various assignments among the various ships moored with a good many of those dispatched work crews destined for one ship in particular—USS Sutherland. The man responsible for much of this intense activity around the Sutherland, its new First Officer, Commander Christopher Hobson, grimaced as he looked out the picture window in his quarters. It took constant badgering, nagging, and even a few well targeted threats to get it done, but, he did it—he had managed to push Sutherland’s repairs to the top of the list, while at the same time pushing his own crew even harder. All in order…Hobson morosely thought, …to have the ship ready for its new commanding officer—a woman whom, just from what I had heard through the rumor mill and from I had read from the unclassified sections of her personnel file, I have already grown to dislike.

    "Another Admiral’s pet," Hobson muttered as he checked the repair crews and schedules on his padd. "I wonder which one she slept with to get this ship." Then, seeing something on the padd that he most definitely did not like, the first officer frowned. "That incompetent jackass! He promised that there would be a repair crew for the port nacelle by 0600—it’s now 0730 and no crew." Clenching his teeth as his frustration with the station’s operations officer mounted, Chris growled, "This won’t do at all. Perriere knew it was vital to get a crew there first thing."

    Jabbing at the monitor, he directed the computer to put him in touch with Star Base Operations. Plastering on his best poker face as the fat face of Commander Roland Perriere appeared on the screen, Hobson greeted, "Commander."

    "Ah…Commander Hobson." Perriere replied in a fake cheery voice. "What can I do for you this Alpha Watch?"

    "You could tell me where my repair crew is." Hobson replied in a neutral tone.

    "Oh…" Perriere frowned. "I’m sorry…this is embarrassing. You see…the Tschell’n came in needing repairs on its nacelle—and seeing as how Captain Gart had just came back from a difficult mission in the Gamma Quadrant…"

    "You figured you would do Gart a favor and bump him up over my ship—a ship that has been here for over three weeks and is scheduled to depart in less than forty eight hours…" Hobson finished, his face not revealing any of the anger boiling beneath the surface.

    "It’s a lot more complicated than that, Commander." Perriere huffed. "In any event, it’s not like I cancelled your crew—it’ll be there in no more than two standard hours—I promise."

    "I’m going to hold you to that promise, Perriere." Hobson replied. "Because if that crew isn’t there, you can rest assured that I’ll be on the line to Admiral Nechayev herself."

    "It’ll be there." Perriere grimaced, remembering the last time that Hobson had went over his head. "I swear."

    "That’s all I wanted to hear, Roland." Hobson said magnanimously, permitting the slightest of grins to cross his features as he cut off the transmission, "Hobson out." Talking to himself he mused as he meticulously placed his padd exactly in the niche he had taken it from, "Well…we’ll see whether Roland keeps his word or whether I get to plant my boots on his head again." Then, taking a quick look around his quarters to make sure that everything was in its proper place, the commander prepared to meet the day.

    Exiting his quarters to make his normal morning rounds, Chris brushed away a tiny piece of lint on the shoulder of his otherwise spotless command uniform as he made his way to the turbolift. The doors sliding open as the lift reached the bridge, Hobson cleared his throat. "Operations…" He called out in a clipped tone as he strode on to the bridge. "Report."

    "The level four computer diagnostic is 75% complete sir." Acting Operations Chief Ensign Derek Smithurst reported. "Transporters have been brought up to full operational status and the overhaul on the ship’s replicators and holodecks should be completed by the end of the next shift."

    "Very good." Hobson acknowledged, the nasal quality of this voice lending it a patrician tone. "Helm. What’s your status?" He then inquired; turning his attention to the dark haired lieutenant currently crouched over the ship’s helm.

    "Systems should be ready to go in twenty four hours, Sir." Lt. Lavelle, the newly appointed chief helmsman, just transferred from the Enterprise, responded.

    "Unacceptable." Hobson replied, looking down his nose at the young officer. "The new captain is expected by 2000 tomorrow, so I expect your repairs to be completed no later than 1200 hours tomorrow, Lieutenant."

    "But…" Lavelle stammered, then, seeing the implacable look on his superior’s face, the helmsman exhaled a deep breath as he contemplated yet another watch without sleep, "Yes, sir—by 1200."

    "Very good, Mr. Lavelle." The Commander replied, now satisfied with the junior officer’s answer. Then, turning towards the officer manning the tactical station, he asked, the faintest touch of irritation in his voice, "Mr. Atoa…have you received word as to when Lieutenant Rysyl and Lt. Commander Varok will be reporting aboard?"

    "Yes sir." The bulky tactical officer from New Kauai, knowing full well how touchy the Sutherland’s First Officer could be when procedure was not meticulously followed, immediately responded in a crisp voice. "Lt. Rysyl reported in via subspace thirty minutes ago and said that their runabout will be docking at Starbase 375 in two standard hours and that after docking they will immediately beam over."

    Hobson nodded his head. Now… he thought with just the faintest trace of sarcasm, All we need is the Captain. Addressing the entire bridge crew, the Commander stated as he turned back towards the turbolift, "I’ll be in Engineering should you need to reach me."

    ********************************

    Waiting until the turbolift doors had shut and the car had safely left with its passenger, Lavelle looked up from his station. "What’s his problem?"

    "You mean ‘The Iceman’"? Atoa grinned, referring to the Sutherland’s First Officer by the nickname the crew had given him. "He’s always been that way."

    "Yeah." Smithurst chuckled. "Haven’t you read up on the ship’s recent history?"

    "No…" Lavelle admitted. "I haven’t had the time! Hobson’s had me busy ever since I’ve reported aboard."

    Well…" Smithurst replied, "This isn’t the first time the Iceman’s been here." Taking a breath, the acting operations officer then continued with his story. "He was assigned a few years ago to supervise a refit of Sutherland—rumor had it that he was going to be up for the First Officer’s slot then. But—the Klingon Succession Crisis happened."

    "Oh yeah…" Lavelle interjected. "I was still in my senior year at the Academy then, but I heard about it from some of the Enterprise officers who were involved in it."

    "Right," Smithurst acknowledged, and then went back to his story. "I’m sure you heard that Picard put Lt. Commander Data in charge of the Sutherland."

    "Yeah…" Lavelle nodded his head. "So…"

    "So…" Smithurst repeated, almost as if he was explaining an especially difficult mathematics problem to a child, "Hobson was already a Lt. Commander and in charge of the Sutherland and was already slated to be its first officer…"

    "Ok…I get it." Lavelle grimaced slightly. "So, he felt that Picard and Data robbed him of what he felt he’d earned with the end result being you get one very pissed off Hobson."

    "Exactly." Atoa interjected, joining the conversation. "I’m sure you also heard that Hobson and Data didn’t exactly...get along too well with each other…"

    "Not really." Sam replied, "I mean—I heard bits and pieces from Alyssa…Alyssa Ogawa…she’s a nurse on the Enterprise I’m friends with…" He clarified, "She said that she’d heard Commander Data and Captain Picard talking about it once…but I got the impression that she didn't know everything."

    "She probably didn’t." Atoa agreed. "Anyway, the way I heard the story was that the Iceman felt that because Data was an android, he wasn’t qualified to be Sutherland’s commanding officer and said so—loud and clear. Well…you know how it ended up…the two of them did get the job done… but…Hobson still didn’t like it. So…instead of getting the First Officer’s post he thought he was going to get, he gets transferred to Star Base 210 where he flew a desk for a while before finally getting a billet on the Rutledge. "

    "Ouch." Lavelle exclaimed, feeling more than a little sympathy for his new First Officer. "What happened—I can’t believe Data or Picard would submarine him in their after action reports…"

    "Five strips of gold pressed latinum they did…" Ensign Maria Django, a recent transferee from the USS Ulysses known for being a discipline problem muttered. "Wouldn’t be the first time Picard played favorites…"

    "Excuse me?" Lavelle interjected as he rose up from his console, his face reddening as he heard his former captain’s name being besmirched.

    "Stow it, Django." Atoa commanded, giving the navigations officer a stern glare.

    "Don’t take it personally." Smithurst said to Lavelle in a consoling voice. "It’s just that…okay…we all know about Enterprise’s reputation and that it’s earned it—and no one here begrudges the Enterprise’s crew that." Smithurst then turned his head in the direction of the sullen Django, daring her to challenge his statement. Seeing that the young ensign had apparently learned her lesson, he then turned his attention back towards the helmsman. "Hell…if you ask me, I think Captain Picard is an excellent officer."

    "It’s just that sometimes the rest of us in Starfleet feel that the people on Enterprise forget that they’re not the only ones out here putting it out on the line." Atoa contributed, adding a smile to take the venom out of his reply.

    "Exactly." Smithurst agreed. "We’re all part of the same team, you know."

    "Yeah…" Atoa said, nodding his head. "And it would have been nice had Picard recognized that back then and kept Hobson in command of Sutherland where he belonged and made Data his first officer or something like that."

    "Okay…" Lavelle grudgingly admitted, "I guess I see your point." Then, seeking to redirect the conversation back to its original topic, he asked, "So…like I was asking earlier, why didn’t Hobson get the first officer’s billet here like he was supposed to?"

    "No one really knows." Atoa admitted, happy to see the discussion returned to its original track. "Except maybe Lt. Cmdr. Tol, he’s probably the closest thing Hobson has to a best friend on this ship—if Hobson even has a friend." Shaking his head, the ship’s tactical officer continued, "So, what we have here now is history more or less repeating itself. Instead of Hobson getting his fourth pip and command of the Sutherland like he thinks he deserves, we have a new captain—as far as he’s concerned, another favorite—someone who got her job because she was an adjutant to Admiral Hanson and knows quite a few admirals back at Starfleet Command. And, to make matters worse for Hobby, she’s also got a rep for being something of a…"

    "Wild card?" Smithurst suggested.

    "Diplomatically put." Atoa grinned.

    "So Hobson feels like he’s getting the shaft again." Lavelle replied, shaking his head feeling more than a little sympathy for the diffident first officer.

    "Couldn’t have said it better myself." Smithurst quipped with a wry grin.

    "Should make for an interesting tour…" Lavelle groaned, not looking forward to the next several months.
     
  4. Tribble puncher

    Tribble puncher Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2012
    Location:
    The Future
    Good start so far, looking foward to more.
     
    DavidFalkayn likes this.
  5. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 3

    "Thank you Starbase Control." Lieutenant Anara Rysyl’s gentle voice sang out, acknowledging the instructions she had just received. "Reducing speed to one-quarter impulse and turning over computer control of the Loire to you." Then, turning towards the Vulcan officer seated next to her, she smiled, "We should arrive at the Starbase in approximately thirty minutes, sir."

    "Thirty minutes, forty nine seconds, Lieutenant." Lt. Commander Varok corrected with typical Vulcan exactitude. "I remind you that as Operations Officer, you must strive for precision in all your readings."

    "Aye, sir." The Deltan responded, sighing inwardly. One week cooped up on a runabout… The frustrated Anara thought …and it had to be with a Vulcan who’s even more repressed than his species usually is! Then, willing herself to relax in her seat, she recalled the pleasant memories of her last evening on Delta IV—before she left to report to her new duty station.

    ***************************

    Delta IV—Two Standard Weeks Earlier

    The bed was especially soft…the covers of the finest Andorian spider-silk…the wine the best that Delta IV offered. The music that she had requested was an especially gentle piece by the Vulcan composer Sotan and the fragrance of Deltan phyloroses filled the air. It was everything that Anara could hope for in a ceremony of Leave-Taking. The personal lover she had chosen for the private ritual and the festivities later in the evening, an old and close friend of hers, Doran, asked curiously as he gently massaged Anara’s bald pate, "Are you really going to take that assignment?"

    "Of course I am." She chuckled gently and then sighed as her lover’s caresses struck an especially erogenous zone.

    "But…the Bajor Sector?" Doran exclaimed, disbelievingly. "It’s so far away from home and the inhabitants there…Cardassians…Bajorans…Ferengi…I mean…besides being even more sexually primitive than humans…” Doran shuddered, “…the Cardassians are incredibly brutal and puritanical…while the Bajorans are a race of religious fanatics…and the Ferengi…well…you know what the Ferengi are like…and then there’s the Dominion…"

    "Doran…" Anara gently chided as she returned her lover’s caresses. "You know how much I love you…but…you’re like so many of the rest of our people…you need to get off Delta IV and see some of the rest of the universe." She then gently laughed as her lover, his lips wandering down her body, gently tickled her with his breath. "Did you know that the Bajorans produce some of the most beautiful artwork and music in this quadrant? And they have a gratitude festival once a year and…well…it’s kind of like our Festival of Lights. I’m really looking forward to seeing it."

    "I’m sure." Doran chuckled as he continued to shower his companion with kisses. "And you’re right, of course." Pausing for a moment to admire his friend’s beauty, he asked, "So…do you have to take that Oath?"

    "Yes." Anara, one of an increasing number of younger Deltans vigorously opposed to the Oath of Celibacy, replied, repressing a scowl. Then, aware that her lover would pick up on her emotional state, she relaxed her mind and grinned. "But it’s not the same as it was even fifty years ago. We have holotechnology now…so I don’t have to really be completely…" She then barely repressed a shudder, "…celibate…like those Deltans who joined Starfleet used to have to promise to be…"

    "Yes…" Doran, picking up on his lady’s earlier irritation, gently caressed her upper body, encouraging her to relax, "I know. But a hologram isn’t a living breathing person." Then, first kissing Anara’s throat, and then working his way down her body, he whispered, "Can a hologram do…this?"

    "Yessssss…" Anara sighed, giving in to her lover’s ministrations.

    "But can it do this?" He further inquired as he stimulated yet another of Anara’s many erogenous zones.

    "Oh yeah." Anara cooed.

    "All right then…" Doran chuckled warmly, smiling inwardly as his mind received the waves of pleasure coming from his lover and as his body reacted to the pheromones her Deltan physiology was producing, "Can it do THIS?"

    "Oh…" Anara sighed as a shiver ran down her spine. While a hologram could give her physical stimulation, there was no way a collection of photonic impulses and energy could duplicate the sheer ecstasy she was getting from picking up through her empathic talents her lover’s feelings of pleasure he got from the simple act of pleasing her. Nor could a hologram match the erotic joy her mind and body felt as it reacted to Doran’s pheromones.

    Relaxing afterwards, Anara smiled as she gazed upon her dear friend. "Thank you, Doran…for giving me a cherished memory for my Leave Taking."

    "And I thank you…" Doran replied, carrying out his part of the ritual. "…for giving me this most precious gift." Then, producing a silver anklet, he completed the custom. "Take this as a token of my affection and of my wishes that you return soon to your home and family."

    "I accept this gift..." Anara replied as she slipped the anklet on her right ankle, finishing the traditional Deltan ceremony. "…as a reminder of where I come from and of whom and what I leave behind." Then, slipping on a diaphanous gown, she poured an opaque fluid into two amber colored goblets. "Here." She smiled as she offered one of the goblets to her lover. "Saurian brandy."

    "Thank you." Doran smiled as he took a sip from his cup. "I guess the next time I see you, you’ll be wearing one of those hideous Starfleet uniforms."

    "Yes…I guess I will." Anara said as she flashed an ironic grin.

    "How can you stand them?" Doran asked, curious. "They’re so…bulky…and…heavy. They show little of the beauty of the wearer—either inward or outward…"

    "You get used to them." Anara’s grin then turned into gentle laughter. "Anyway…I’m sure they’re better and more comfortable than Klingon uniforms."

    Doran then laughed. "I guess that’s why Klingons are the way they are—if I had to wear what they wore—I’d be constantly angry and ready to fight too."

    "So…" He then asked, barely repressing a shudder as he tentatively broached yet another hot button topic for his long time friend. "Are you going to take the inhibitor injections?"

    "No." Anara replied her distaste for the treatments that both block the production of pheromones and deaden the empathic abilities of Deltans obvious in her voice, her facial expression, and in the emotions her lover was picking up from her. "I will not allow anyone to turn me into a shell just so that I can freely have sexual relations. I’d rather take the damned oath and rely only on holograms to keep me from feeling detached."

    "I’m glad. Those drugs can’t be healthy—no matter what Starfleet says." Doran replied softly as he took on an apologetic demeanor. "And I’m sorry for distressing you at this happy time. Please forgive me."

    "No apologies are necessary." Anara smiled gently as she calmed the tumult of her emotions. "You were concerned for me and my well being." Then, laughing once again, and finishing her drink, she gave her companion another kiss. "Now…we have to go…everyone else is waiting to share the rest of the night with us and it would be most rude to keep them waiting."

    *****************************

    Starfleet Runabout USS Loire

    As Lt. Commander Varok glanced sideways at the Deltan woman sitting next to him, he silently chanted a mantra as he focused his concentration on a distant star. During his lengthy time as a Starfleet officer—seventy of the hundred standard years of his life—he had seen, heard, and experienced much. He knew of the Starfleet legend that Vulcans were immune to Deltan pheromones. But, unfortunately, that was all it was—a legend. Vulcans, just as any other humanoid species, were indeed affected by the powerful sexual attractant that all Deltans produced—and he had been exposed for an entire week in the relatively limited confines of this runabout to Anara and her pheromones. Thankfully though, Varok thought, as with all other distractions, the effects of Deltan pheromones could be warded off through strenuous mental discipline.

    However, the Vulcan science officer had to admit, Lt. Rysyl did manage to surprise him by her dedication to her duty—he found her concentration on piloting the Loire and on keeping its systems performing properly to be almost Vulcan in intensity, not to mention the fact that her seeming familiarity with Vulcan art and music had produced more than one intellectually satisfying conversation.

    "Mr. Varok?"

    Realizing that his attention had wandered, the Vulcan turned his head back towards his fellow crewman.

    "Yes, Lieutenant?"

    "We were discussing Sotan’s Lyric Poems for the Vulcan Lyre… Anara prompted with a smile.

    "Ah…yes…" Varok replied, recalling their prior conversation. "You must realize that Sotan’s work, while mathematically precise, suffers from too much emotion which detracts from the work as a whole. Unlike that of Valar, whose epic poem, Mount Celiyah, is both mathematically precise and conforms to the standards of the Vulcan Classicist Movement."

    "But you see…" Anara grinned, warming to the subject, "That’s what makes Sotan so much more attractive to non-Vulcans—it’s the way he does break through all his training and conditioning to allow emotions to peek through his work."

    "But to compare him to Valar…" Varok rejoined, "Is most illogical."

    "Not really." Anara disagreed. "You’re thinking in Vulcanocentric terms here. While it is true that Valar is by far the more respected composer on Vulcan, I would argue that Sotan is the better liked and much better known figure outside Vulcan."

    "True." Varok conceded. "But widespread recognition does not necessarily equate to higher quality work…" And so their discussion continued, much to the mutual enjoyment of both parties, moving from music to an analysis of the mosaics of T’Ren, until Anara cleared her throat.

    "I’m sorry…as much as I’m enjoying this discussion; I have to step to the back for a moment."

    "Understood, Lieutenant." Varok replied, familiar with the humanoid code used by some species, including Deltans, to indicate that she needed to use the waste facilities. Although…He reflected as he gazed through a window at the stars, shaking his head at the antics of the more emotional races he had encountered in his long career, I cannot understand the necessity in using such euphemisms for a simple biological procedure.

    Allowing his attention to wander momentarily during his traveling companion’s absence, Varok recalled his parting with his mate, Saliya. As always, it was a dignified and honorable separation—as befitting a good mate and proper Vulcan, she understood and respected the logic of his calling. Naturally, there was none of the emotional embarrassment that marked the separations of humans and other emotional species, but Varok couldn’t help but notice that this parting was different. It seemed somewhat more difficult for him to leave as the logic of remaining on Vulcan with Saliya began to assert itself over the logic of his duty to Starfleet.

    While the Vulcan did not regret his service to Starfleet—to the contrary, it had been a most fascinating experience for him, he began to think that it would be…good…to remain at home with Saliya…perhaps to take a position with the Vulcan Science Academy. Partially on the advice of his mate, he had submitted an application to the Academy as a guest lecturer—maybe, should he find the experience a rewarding one, he might request a more permanent tenure. Also, he admitted to himself, it would be an interesting experience to start a new family—while he felt a natural sense of accomplishment as regards the success of his son V’lar and daughter T’prel, the thought of having a new son or daughter was not an unattractive one, and both he and Saliya were still relatively young. He would have to consult with Saliya about this, of course, but he was sure that she would agree with the logic of it. However, Varok noted, his companion returning to her seat, there would be plenty of time to consider life choices at a later date. For now, Star Base 375 beckoned as did his new duty assignment. Tomorrow would have to wait for its time.

    ********************************

    USS Sutherland

    "Double check those figures, Ensign." The Sutherland’s Engineering Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Jadon Tol, a dark haired joined Trill with five lifetime’s of experiences, instructed, pointing at his young protégé’s calculations, "I know a deviation of 0.0005 in the matter—anti-matter flux doesn’t sound critical—and under normal situations it wouldn’t be—but what if our new captain were to order immediate acceleration to warp 9 while at the same time calling for full power to weapons and shields and structural integrity fields?" Grinning, the Trill engineer explained, "That’s right—that 0.0005 deviation could become very critical! Granted, it’s only one chance in 10,000 that it blows up, but if it does…if we’re lucky—all that would happen is that we’d drop out of warp—our dilithium crystals fused. If not—BOOM—core breach and we’re all gone!" Then, handing the padd back to the junior officer, Tol instructed. "Recheck your calculations and come to me when you get that matter—anti-matter flux deviation down to 0.00005 or lower."

    "Aye, Sir." The ensign, with a look of utter chagrin on his face, replied as he went back to his calculations.

    Seeing the look of embarrassment and despondency on the junior officer’s face, Tol slapped the younger man on the back. "Don’t feel bad, kid! It’s an easy mistake to make—and like I said, in about 9,999 times out of 10,000 it wouldn’t matter—it’s just that you never know when number 10,000’s going to roll around and bite you on the ass."

    "Yes Sir. Thank you, Sir." The ensign replied with a smile as Tol’s pep talk had its desired effect.

    "Kids." Jadon chuckled as Commander Hobson entered the Engineering section, nodding his head in approval as he saw the bustle of activity; the ship’s engineering officer at the center of it.

    "How’s everything going, Mr. Tol?" The Sutherland’s Executive Officer asked, his lips turning up into a rare smile.

    "We’ll be ready before our new boss gets here, sir." Tol replied with a wry grin, the tacit meaning of his statement being, You know I’ll have my department in order, so why don’t you just relax and trust us. "By the way…" He asked, dropping his voice. "Is it true what they’re saying about her?"

    "Is what true?" Hobson asked, his smile vanishing.

    "That the real reason they’re sending her all the way out here is to get her the hell away from the Denobulans—that they’re still fuming over what she did at Mizar." Tol explained, his smile disappearing as well.

    "I wouldn’t know about that." Hobson replied and then added, with just the faintest trace of bitterness in his voice, "Starfleet doesn’t explain its personnel decisions to me."

    Knowing the real reason for his friend’s quiet irritation, Jadon said quietly, making sure that no one else could hear their conversation, "It’ll come, Chris. Wait for it just a little longer. You’re a good officer and Starfleet knows it—it’s just that sometimes it takes a while for those duranium bottoms back at Command to get their act together."

    "Thank you." Hobson simply replied, quietly grateful for his friend’s efforts to cheer him up. "Well…I see that everything is going according to schedule here. If anything should happen…"

    "You'll be the first to know." Jadon grinned, finishing the other man’s thoughts. "Now…why don’t you go get some rest?"

    "I like to…but I can’t." The First Officer sighed. "Our new Science and Operations Officers should be arriving almost any time now."

    "Oh…" Tol then dropped his voice to almost a whisper. "I hear one of them is a Deltan…"

    "Yes." Hobson sighed. "The Operations Officer—Lieutenant Anara Rysyl."

    "You know…" Tol smirked, "Rena—one of my prior hosts—knew this Deltan—they spent an entire week together on Risa…talk about your jamaharons to end all jamaharons."

    "Yes…" Commander Hobson, pushing away the picture forming in his mind, quickly interrupted. "Well…I had better be on my way."

    "Yeah…" Tol, seeing an opportunity to get in a parting shot at his old friend, chuckled, "Don’t forget Chris, once you go bald you never go back!"

    Quickly, before Jadon could fire off any more zingers, the First Officer turned about and left Engineering, his friend’s gentle laughter following him as he made his way to the turbolift.

    *******************************

    As the two figures materialized on the main transporter pad, Hobson took a deep breath. Vulcans he was used to; he understood them and generally, due to his own reserved nature, got along quite well with them. But Deltans—they were another matter entirely. Like many in Starfleet, he’d heard all the stories and rumors, had laughed at all the sly innuendoes and dirty jokes, but truthfully, he had met only a very few. As a rule, those few Deltans that did go into Starfleet preferred to remain in the Sciences or Medical, frequently occupying positions as ships’ counselors where their natural empathy served them in good stead. Not so many served in either the operations or command tracks, and the Deltan beaming over was the first one he had known of to occupy the position of Operations head. Remembering a confrontation many years ago with Commander Data of the Enterprise in which he had said that certain races weren’t fit for certain occupations, Chris thought, making a solemn promise to himself, I’ll just have to try to keep more of an open mind here…

    "Lt. Commander Varok reporting for duty, sir." Varok, as senior officer of the two, spoke first, presenting a padd with his orders as he stepped off the transporter pad.

    Following immediately behind the Vulcan, Anara then presented her orders, "Lt. Anara Rysyl, reporting for duty, sir," she stated, the lyric tone of her voice turning the standard formula into music.

    Visually appraising his two new department heads, Hobson saw a Vulcan male of average height and weight. His tanned weathered skin, craggy face, and graying temples revealing his years of experience. His record indicates that he should be a most valuable addition to the crew. Chris surmised approvingly as he read Varok’s orders before placing his thumbprint on the padd. "Welcome aboard, Mr. Varok."

    Turning towards the Deltan, Hobson, much to his inner consternation, found that his heart had involuntarily skipped a beat. She stood about five foot, ten inches—tall for a Deltan, he realized. Her gold operations shirt and black uniform pants did little to hide her striking figure, while her olive skin and smooth hairless head, combined with her musical voice, lent an exotic quality to her that threatened to crack the air of reserved detachment that the first officer liked to put forth as his public persona. Taking her padd, Chris felt a brief shudder as his fingers grazed hers. Stepping back almost as if he had been struck by a static electrical charge, Hobson took the opportunity provided by his brief retreat to quickly compose himself. Reading her orders and attached documentation, the first officer nodded his head. "Everything seems in order. Oath of Celibacy duly logged in and notarized." He stated, doing the best he could to maintain a diffident posture.

    "Yes, sir…Thank you, sir." Anara replied demurely as she looked up at her new superior, seeing a not unattractive man with brown hair, steel grey eyes, and a strong, confident face. Standing as close to him as she was, her empathic senses couldn’t help but convey to her the inner battle of wills being waged within the human’s mind, nor could she deny the electricity she had felt at their brief contact. Thankfully…She thought, Deltans don’t blush as humans do…but we do put out an increased amount of pheromones. She then cringed inwardly, thankful that Starfleet vessels possessed excellent air filtration systems that took Deltan pheromones into account.

    Clearing his throat nervously, Hobson then repeated, "Welcome aboard, Lieutenant." He then added, addressing both officers, "As soon as you are certified as fit for duty by Medical, I require your services immediately at your departments."

    As his two newest officers left the transporter room, Hobson allowed himself a brief moment’s relaxation before leaving the room. Careful, he admonished himself as his mind wandered once again to that brief physical contact with his new operations officer.

    "You know…if I hadn’t of seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it." The transporter tech, an old hand on this ship, told the engineering crewman working on the replicator unit on the far wall.

    "What?" The crewman, new to the Sutherland asked.

    "I do believe that is the first time that I have ever seen the Iceman melt—even a little bit." The technician laughed, shaking his head in disbelief as he did so.
     
  6. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 4

    "Well, Lieutenant…" Dr. Denise Murakawa, also a lieutenant, and the chief medical officer on board the Sutherland, smiled as she passed a medical tricorder over the body of her patient, recording the results of the scan for the ship’s medical logs. "You’re in perfect health."

    "Thank you, Doctor." Anara smiled back as she slipped off the examination table and stretched. "I’m sure that will please our First Officer." She then added with a sigh. "He wants me at my station practically the moment that I’m released from here."

    "Hobson?" Denise laughed, brushing back a lock of jet black hair. "Don’t let the Iceman get to you."

    "Iceman?" Anara asked, then, her curiosity getting the better of her, she further inquired, "Why do you humans almost always bestow these rather…colorful…epithets rather than simply referring to each other by your proper names?

    "You almost sound like a Vulcan." Denise chuckled, taking the sting out of her remark. "But yes, I guess it could be confusing to someone not used to us." Taking a deep breath, she then attempted to explain, "There are all sorts of reasons—sometimes it’s a mark of affection…at other times, nicknames are intended as ridicule. In a way, I guess you could say that they help us to categorize those we work and live with. That and they serve to break down social and class distinctions—at least a little—so you could say they serve as something of a safety valve." Then, tilting her head slightly to the left, Denise asked, "Does that help any?"

    "A little." Anara nodded her head slightly. "It’s still a little confusing though." Then, remembering what prompted her question, the Deltan asked, "So…why ‘Iceman’?

    "Oh…Hobson…" The doctor replied, flashing a crooked grin, "He got his nickname because nothing…and I mean nothing…ever seems to rattle him. He never raises his voice…and a Vulcan would be proud of how well he hides his emotions."

    "Yes…I noticed." The Sutherland’s new Operations Officer smiled slightly. "When we met earlier…I mean yes…I picked up on…well…when you’re Deltan you get used to heightened emotional responses coming from others…but I do admit that he did a much better job hiding his impulses than most humans." She remarked, closing her eyes briefly as she remembered her own reaction to his touch.

    "It must be a pain in the rear for you sometimes…" Denise remarked sympathetically, misreading Anara’s gesture. "Having to deal with other beings’ reactions to your pheromones…"

    "It’s not as bad as all that." Anara smiled, and then grimaced momentarily as the doctor injected her with a broad spectrum vaccine. "You get used to it—and really—it’s not so much the pheromones or our natural empathic abilities that cause the reactions. Unless you’re in a confined area for an extended period of time without an adequate air filtration system, you belong to a species especially susceptible to them, or you’ve been intimately involved with a Deltan, the pheromones really aren’t that powerful. They can’t make you do anything you do not wish to."

    "But what about the established fact that Deltan pheromones can produce an effect that resembles a psychological—and in some cases even physical—addiction?" Murakawa asked, curious.

    "True." Anara reluctantly admitted. "The pheromones do enhance the sexual experience for us and also those of other races with whom we become involved. But again—extreme cases of…" The Deltan then grimaced with distaste as she said her next several words, "…what some have described as ‘sexual’ or ‘pheromone’ withdrawal are few and far between and generally involve individuals who have been intimate with Deltans for months—if not longer. For the most part, so called cases of ‘pheromone addiction’ resemble what humans might call a ‘mild hangover’ more than anything else where the so-called ‘addicted’ party makes a full and complete recovery fairly quickly."

    "Interesting." The Doctor replied, finding Anara’s perspective on the legend of Deltan sexuality an intriguing one. "But what about Deltan empathy?"

    "What about it?" Anara asked, "Deltan empathic senses require physical contact or very close proximity." Taking a deep breath, the operations officer then flashed an ironic grin, "To be brutally honest Doctor, in my opinion, the reactions of other species towards us is probably due more to the reputation we Deltans seem to have acquired because we embrace sexuality as an integral part of our culture than anything else."

    "I think I see…" Dr. Murakawa replied. "You know—that actually makes a great deal of sense. I’ll admit…I don’t see that many Deltans, but we’re in close proximity and you’re not taking the inhibitors, and I don’t feel much in the range of sexual attraction towards you…"

    "If your sexual preferences leaned more towards female, the pheromones probably would have a slightly greater effect, Doctor, due to our close proximity—but not enough to force you to do something you might—or might not—regret later. But yes…as I said earlier, the effects of Deltan pheromones are often somewhat…overstated. In any event, they’re definitely not the inhibition on our abilities to carry out our duties as Starfleet officers that some have declared." Rysyl concluded with more than a touch of derision in her voice.

    "I see…and the Oath of Celibacy…" Denise ventured.

    "Let’s just say that I have some very strong views regarding that oath." Anara replied with a frown, "And leave it at that for now." Then, tilting her head slightly in the direction of the door, she continued, "If you want, I’d be happy to discuss the subject with you some more at a later time…for now though…I’d like to report for duty—if that’s all right with you…after all, it wouldn’t do to keep the ‘Iceman’ waiting."

    "Of course, Lieutenant…" Denise began, only to be interrupted.

    "Anara…please." The new operations officer said with a smile, warming up to the doctor in spite of, or perhaps because of, all of her inquiries.

    "Anara it is, then." Dr. Murakawa amended, returning her patient’s smile. "I look forward to talking to you later."

    **********************************

    "Sir?" Lt. Atoa said, trying to get the attention of his first officer who had just arrived on the bridge.

    "Yes, Lieutenant?" Hobson acknowledged as he approached the tactical station where Atoa stood.

    "Starbase operations just informed me that Captain Shelby’s shuttle has just docked at the station." The burly tactical officer reported. "She should be here in approximately two standard hours."

    "Very good, Mr. Atoa." Hobson remarked tersely. "Have the senior officers and all non-duty personnel report to the hangar bay in one hour for the change of command ceremony. Oh…and senior officers are to wear their dress uniforms." He added, almost as an afterthought.

    "Aye, Sir." Manuele acknowledged, dreading the idea of having to put on his dress uniform.

    ***************************

    Observing the massive saucer section of USS Sutherland, its running lights gently blinking, as her shuttlepod approached the Nebula Class starship; Captain Shelby allowed herself the luxury of a brief self-satisfied grin. Although it didn’t quite carry the prestige that being posted to a Galaxy class ship would have entailed, Nebula class vessels such as the Sutherland were still highly desired commands. With roughly three quarters the crew capacity of a Galaxy class ship, the new captain of the Sutherland was responsible for over 750 lives—a trust not to be taken lightly, Shelby thought as her smile temporarily vanished.

    Taking in the sight of its powerful twin warp nacelles lying beneath the saucer section, Liz nodded her head approvingly. Those warp engines allowed the Sutherland to easily match the speed of a Galaxy class ship and its weapons arrays permitted it to handle itself almost as well in a fight. To be honest… Liz thought, her smug grin returning to her face as she noticed the newly installed weapons pod, Sutherland could probably handle itself better than a Galaxy with that weapons pod attached instead of the general purpose pod that it usually comes with.

    “I’m glad… Liz said in a soft voice, “…that pod’s there.” Taking a deep breath, the youthful captain continued her reverie. “Out here”, Liz mused, “I’ll have the opportunity to make my own decisions…” Her eyes took on a faraway look for a moment “…just like Archer, April, Pike, Kirk, Poppy, and all the others.”

    Not for the first time Shelby, a wistful look in her eye, wished that she had been born in the last century. If she had been, perhaps she might be taking command of a Constitution class starship like her grandfather’s. But then, she thought ruefully, her lips turning up into a crooked grin, back then, Starfleet Command was dominated for several years after the Four Years War by an entrenched and very conservative core of admirals who made it incredibly difficult for women to advance to command rank. It was difficult enough for women to secure posts as first officers in those days—Captain Pike’s Number One was very much the exception that proved the rule—much less serve as captains on Constitution class starships. As far as she knew, it wasn’t until Grace McAfee and Marietta DeVeers before women managed to break that iron ceiling. But then, Shelby thought with a sly grin, the Starfleet back then had never met me.

    A chime then sounded as the onboard computer announced the pod’s docking with Sutherland, breaking the spell. Brought back to the present, Captain Shelby, her mind now concentrated solely on business, pulled down on her dress uniform tunic. "Well, Liz." The captain said, talking to herself as the hatch opened, "Time to get to work."

    **********************************

    The boson’s pipe announcing her arrival, Captain Shelby stepped confidently down the ramp of the shuttle towards the large body of beings that made up her crew. In front of the general assembly, and behind a raised dais, stood five individuals in dress individuals whom she immediately identified as her department heads. Standing in front of them, in the center, also clad in his full dress uniform, stood a tall, distinguished looking man who, Shelby thought, had to be Commander Christopher Hobson, the ship’s first officer.

    Approaching the dais, Shelby then heard Hobson call out in a clear voice, "Crew! Attention to orders!"

    "Thank you." Liz responded, nodding her head at her first officer. "You may stand the crew at ease."

    "Aye, Sir." Hobson acknowledged, and then, turning smartly about, he commanded the crew to stand easy.

    Setting her padd on the dais and taking a deep breath, Liz recited the time honored formula that established her as the commanding officer of the ship. "Captain Elizabeth Shelby: Effective Stardate 48876.7 you are hereby requested and required to take command of the United Federation of Planet’s Starship, USS Sutherland, NCC-72015…signed, Admiral Richard Leyton, Starfleet Command."

    Clearing his throat, Commander Hobson addressed the computer, “Transfer all command functions to Captain Elizabeth Paula Shelby effective immediately.”

    Turning toward her first officer, she ordered, "Commander Hobson. Dismiss the assembly."

    "Aye, Sir."

    As the gathering dispersed, Liz addressed Hobson and the department heads. "Gentlemen," she said with a polite smile on her face, "I look forward to the opportunity to get to know each and everyone of you better—beginning with the reception in a couple of hours. For now though, I would like to confer with my first officer." Then, turning her attention squarely on Chris, she requested, "Commander Hobson, if you would accompany me, please."

    "Yes, sir." Hobson replied politely, yet with more than a hint of coldness in his voice.

    Raising an eyebrow at the tone of voice her Number One used, Shelby decided, for now, to let it slide as she slipped her padd into its carrying case. Then, giving the other senior officers a brief nod, she headed for the hangar bay doors, Hobson keeping pace at her side.

    "Not smart, Chris…" Jadon muttered under his breath as soon as he felt that he was out of earshot of his captain and first officer.

    "Tell me about it." Dr. Murakawa agreed.

    "What is the matter with Commander Hobson?" Anara then asked with a note of mild concern in her voice. "Why does he seem so…cold…towards Captain Shelby? Have they met previously?"

    "No." Tol replied with a smile and shake of the head. "It’s not Captain Shelby’s fault." He then added somberly, "Chris has some issues that he needs to work out—issues that go back a few years."

    "I see." Anara, not really seeing, replied, her concern for the first officer again returning. "Has he…"

    Before she could say anything else, Jadon interrupted her with a gentle shake of his head. "Not now, Lieutenant. I know you mean well, but sometimes the best thing one can do is just stand aside and let things work out on their own."

    "Yes, sir." Anara said, acknowledging the truth and the experience behind the joined Trill’s words without really liking it.

    **********************************

    Shelby bombarded her number one with questions concerning all aspects of the ship and its recent overhaul as she and her first officer walked the corridors. While Hobson answered her questions politely enough, Liz's irritation with her first officer mounted as it felt to her that she had to struggle to extract anything beyond the barest minimum of information. Between that and the icy exterior put up by the diffident Hobson, it was proving to be a frustrating experience for the normally impatient Shelby.

    "So…" Liz, trying once again to break through her first officer’s ice wall, ventured, "I understand that, even with all the obstacles, you’ve managed to get the refit done in record time and that we’ll be ready to depart a good seventy-two hours ahead of schedule." She then smiled as she offered genuine praise, "I’m impressed."

    "I’m just doing my job, Sir." Hobson replied, maintaining his poker face.

    "Ok…" Rebuffed, Shelby tried again, "I think we’ve gone over just about every inch of the ship’s hardware and software, now it’s time to turn our attention to the crew. Can you give me a rundown on your perceptions of the senior officers starting with Engineering and working your way down?"

    "Very well, sir." The taciturn first officer responded, "Lieutenant Commander Tol…" The slight warming of voice tone as Hobson mentioned the name of his friend was immediately picked up on by the alert captain "…is a most capable engineering officer—as I’m sure you’ve noticed in your perusal of his service record."

    "Yes, I have." Shelby confirmed, "But a service record is nothing more than dry dates, events, and notations. It doesn’t really tell me anything about the person—that’s why I’m talking to you."

    The frost creeping back into his voice, Hobson rejoined, "Then wouldn’t it be more effective for you to speak directly with Mr. Tol?"

    Barely restraining her temper, Liz countered, "Oh…rest assured, Commander, I will speak to him—and to the rest of my senior officers as well—just as I am getting an idea on the man behind the service record as regards you by the conversation we’re having right now."

    "Oh?" Hobson interjected, raising an eyebrow, "And what sort of perception have you formed of me?"

    Motioning for her first officer to join her in an empty conference room, Shelby wheeled on the taller man immediately after the door closed. Looking up straight into his eyes, she threw down the gauntlet. "All right, Commander Hobson, are you sure you want my honest appraisal of you just from the few brief words we’ve exchanged?"

    Maintaining his icy demeanor, Chris retorted, "By all means, Sir."

    "Very well…" Shelby replied with a crooked grin. "On the positive side, you take your job very seriously and put the ship and its crew first—and that’s one thing I require from my first officer. Also, you’re not easily rattled under pressure and I like that." The smile then vanished, "But…"

    "But…" Hobson prompted.

    "There’s something eating at you." Shelby said flatly. Her hands now clasped behind her back, she stated in no uncertain terms, "Whatever your problem is—deal with it. If you want to talk to me about it—my door is always open. If you need to talk to a counselor—that’s ok too. Talk to a friend if that helps. Do whatever you have to do to resolve whatever this problem is—and do it soon."

    Barely maintaining his cool, Chris then asked, "Permission to speak freely, Sir."

    Finally! Shelby sighed inwardly in relief, we’re getting somewhere. Nodding her head as she removed her communications pin, she assented, "By all means, Commander…"

    Removing his pin as well, Hobson took a deep breath before speaking. "To be brutally honest, Sir…I’m not sure that you have…earned…this command…"

    "Oh…" Shelby, fighting back her initial impulse to bite back at this attack on her professionalism, settled instead for quietly asking, "And how do you base this opinion of yours?"

    "This is off the record sir?" Hobson then asked once again, making sure of his ground before proceeding.

    "Most definitely, Commander…" Shelby confirmed with a sigh, "Say what you want—nothing will leave this room—you have my word."

    "I feel sir…" Hobson began, his courage buttressed by Shelby’s promise, "…that you gained this command as a result of the patronage of various Starfleet admirals such as Admiral Hanson."

    Hearing Hobson’s words, Shelby couldn’t resist the impulse to chuckle. "Excuse me, Commander…" She apologized as she saw his eyes flare in anger at her apparent ridicule of his last statement, "I didn’t mean to laugh at you…it’s just that you obviously don’t know Admiral Hanson. The Admiral…" she explained, "…pampers with a very heavy hand. I and the rest of his staff spent an average of eighteen-hour workdays for about a year—year and a half…first getting ready for the Borg attack…then…" Remembering the horrors that she had seen at Wolf 359 when she had been temporarily assigned to the Enterprise, Shelby’s voice became more somber, "…afterwards trying to repair the damage that was done."

    "And Mizar…" Hobson ventured.

    "What about Mizar?" Shelby retorted. "Were you on the Reed?" Were you on the ground there? Seeing Hobson’s shake of his head, Liz steamrollered, "Then unless and until you reach flag rank or Federation Council status or all of a sudden gain Ultraviolet Clearance, don’t be so quick to believe rumors. A lot more went on at Mizar than you’re aware of Commander."

    "And the Denobulans?" Hobson further inquired.

    "Are big boys and girls," Shelby replied, "They’ll get over it." She then took a deep breath. "I wish I could tell you more, Commander.” Taking a deep breath, she continued, “Since we’re clearing the air, is there anything else you want to bring up about me that might make you feel that I’m not competent to command this vessel?"

    "It’s not just Admiral Hanson or Mizar, Sir…" Hobson began, "There are also rumors of other admirals…of how you…" Chris, not sure whether he should continue, trailed off.

    "Go ahead, Commander…" Shelby prompted, "Like I said, this is the time for total honesty."

    "Very well, Sir." Hobson replied, "There’s more than one rumor going around as to how you gained your first command on the Reed and then the Sutherland…"

    Hearing this, Shelby couldn’t help but laugh outright. "Get a reputation for being ambitious and also for having…fun…" She chuckled, "And soon every pip…every command…every decoration or citation…you earn comes from the "fact" that you’re sleeping with everyone with admiral’s stars…"

    Then, her laughter disappearing as her face took on a serious demeanor, she continued, "Like I said, Commander—everything we say here and now stays within these walls." Seeing him nod his head gravely in agreement, Shelby explained. "You might or might not have heard some rumors about my rather hedonistic lifestyle—especially from some of the more…shall I say conservative…colleagues of ours."

    "Yes sir." In spite of the current situation, Chris barely repressed showing a grin. "One captain—who shall remain nameless, described you as a…please understand I’m just quoting what he said…

    "Go ahead, Commander." Shelby grinned, "Probably nothing I haven’t already heard said to my face."

    "Very well, Sir." Hobson said as he cleared his throat. "The captain in question described you as ‘A green Orion slut disguised as a Starfleet officer who is a disgrace to both her uniform and her family.’ He then went on to say that…"

    "Ok, Commander Hobson…" Liz chuckled, "I get the idea…" Shaking her head, she then continued, "Even though there’s quite a few of us in Starfleet, word and gossip gets around fast in our service thanks to subspace communications and, once you’ve been in a while—especially once you get command rank—it seems that everyone knows everyone else…"

    Cracking a slight smile, Hobson remarked dryly, "So I’ve noticed…"

    Grinning at his rare smile, Shelby quipped, "I think there might be hope for you yet, Commander." Then, her smile vanishing, she continued, "What I do in my off duty time—and I emphasize those words off duty—is my choice and no one’s business but mine and the person or persons I’m with at the time." Flashing a crooked grin, she remarked wryly, "I guess you could say I’m something of a sybarite and that’s probably as good a description of me as any other—although I’ve also been called everything from what that captain called me to a scheming backstabbing whore with the morals of an alley cat to a cold hearted bitch to…well…use your imagination—odds are someone has called me that at one time or another."

    Her normally placid blue eyes taking on an icy hue, all humor disappeared from her next words. "The one thing I have never done and never will do is sleep my way to the top. Like it or not, Commander, I earned this post and the rank that comes with it, and I’m here to stay until and unless I either decide to resign my command, get killed or incapacitated, or Starfleet Command decides to relieve me."

    Pausing momentarily so that her words would have the opportunity to sink in, the captain then issued her ultimatum. "Look, if you don’t want to be my first officer, let me know and when we return from our shakedown cruise I’ll approve your transfer off—no hard feelings. Hell, the captain of the Arix is a good friend of mine and I know that he’s looking for a good first officer—if you want, I’ll speak to him about taking you on."

    "I take it sir…" Hobson then stated, barely maintaining his own calm, "…that you would rather I transfer off?"

    Sighing in frustration, Shelby replied tartly, "Then you take it wrong, Commander. Haven’t you heard a single word I’ve said? You’re a good man and I want you as my first officer." As she gazed into his steel gray eyes, she shook her head, "Look…I can’t and won’t with fight you. We don’t have to like each other to work together—but we do have to communicate with each other and we have to trust each other. I know that you’re an excellent first officer and, from what I’ve read of your service record, I think that one day soon you’re going to make a damned good captain—but if you’re not going to work with me, then I don’t want you here. It’s not good for morale and it’s not good for the ship’s and crew’s survivability if the captain and first officer are constantly butting heads. I need you one hundred percent by my side on my team. If you can’t give me that, then you need to tell me."

    The door sliding open, she proclaimed as she left the now dumbfounded Hobson, "Think about what I said and about what you want to do and let me know."

    ***********************************
     
    CeJay and Tribble puncher like this.
  7. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Awesome blast from the past here. I'm enjoying revisiting this story and the beginnings of the Sutherland saga. It's particularly fascinating to re-explore these characters after knowing where they'll all end up eventually.
     
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  8. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Thanks, Cejay, It's fun to go back over the stories again. I've got plans for Hobson and Liz and Lavelle will be spotlighting a short story I should have ready for beta reading soon--a post Caernarvon IV short.
     
  9. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    I really enjoyed the character interactions. Fun to see Hobson again as well. For me, this is a first look at Sutherland's characters, other than what I read regarding Liz's academy days. I admire anyone who can fully embrace canon characters and make them their own. Great job all around.

    Also, this is the best attempt I've seen at trying to explain the blatant sexism that permeated TOS. I'm glad you didn't go too far by fully crowning "Turnabout Intruder"'s idiocy---stating women were excluded from starship command posts---but you did acknowledge a "boy's club" culture existed. And you laid the blame at the feet of a few influential, misogynistic admirals. While still a stretch, at least plausible and a great shout out to ST's past.

    I'm glad you'r back with a vengeance, my friend!
     
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  10. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Thanks, Galen. Yeah, I didn't want to completely retcon the sexism that did exist in the 60s when TOS aired--what I want to try to do--especially in my stories set in the TOS era is to look at women who are fighting to break that ceiling--Marietta DeVeers, Cilla Oudekirk, and a few others who are determined to bring down that iron ceiling. Also, social and political cultures can shift dramatically--look at how the introduction of the horse totally changed the cultures of the Plains Native Americans for example and did so in less than 150 years. It's not beyond the realm of probability for a group of hidebound admirals from more conservative cultures to gain a stranglehold on an institution like Starfleet for a period of time. Their days are numbered though not only because of women like Marietta and Cilla, but also because of new planets coming in to the Federation such as Betazed and Trill who won't put up with it. It's a very narrow time frame--only about twenty years or so--but what I want to do is show the frustrations of these women who deserve to sit in the center seat, but have to fight for it.
     
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  11. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 5

    ‘What a day.’ Sam Lavelle sighed inwardly as he walked down the corridor towards his quarters. Barely noticing the people in the corridor, Lavelle was all but lost in his thoughts. By sheer dint of will, he had completed the repairs to the helm well before the deadline set for him by Commander Hobson. Then, he was actually able to take a couple of hours for a quick nap before having to don his dress uniform for the change of command ceremony. And now, he had just enough time to grab a quick sonic shower before having to put the dress uniform back on again for the reception.

    However, in what was now becoming an all too familiar ritual, the moment Sam began to feel sorry for himself the specter of his good friend, Ensign Sito Jaxa appeared before him. As always, he could almost hear her gentle laughter that almost always accompanied her words, "What are you complaining about this time, Sam? At least you’re alive…" Then, as he imagined her fiery death, she added, a trace of mockery in her voice, "Some of us can’t say that, you know…"

    Walking in the opposite direction, Ensign Maria Django was also preoccupied, ignoring everyone else in the corridor, who, for their part, gave the ill-tempered ensign as wide a berth as possible. Cursing under her breath every Starfleet officer beginning with the Commander in Chief of Starfleet Command and working her way down to her section head, she was also returning to her quarters to grab a quick shower before the reception.

    Added to the irritation of having to wear a dress uniform and suck up to a bunch of Starfleet brass, Django had just received the results of her annual performance evaluation and she was not at all pleased. Oh yes, her marks for her work and knowledge were outstanding—as always, but once the evaluation got to her interpersonal skills…that’s when things went south for the young officer. "Very proficient in technical skills, but unfortunately, Ensign Django frequently exhibits what can only be described as a confrontational disposition…" Django muttered under her breath, quoting Hobson’s comments. "Regrettably, she is not a fit candidate for promotion to Lieutenant, Junior Grade at this time," She grumbled to herself, spitting out every word. "However, if her attitude can be changed…" Django continued, her sotto voce voice tone now taking a turn towards the sarcastic, "…perhaps through extensive counseling, it is my opinion that Mr. Django has the makings of an excellent officer."

    As Maria walked briskly down the corridor, her mutterings ensuring that her fellow shipmates maintained their distance from her, the inevitable happened as she impacted square into the chest of Lavelle. "Watch where you’re going jackass!" Django snapped to the amusement of the bystanders watching.

    "Excuse me." Sam apologized as he backed away from his victim. Taking in the dusky complexion of Ensign Django, Lavelle gritted his teeth. That’s all I need. The hapless helmsman groaned inwardly. Another set to with the Sutherland’s bitch in residence. Turning on what Sito used to call the Lavelle charm, his lips turned up into what he felt was his winningest smile as he confessed, "I wasn’t paying attention."

    "Oh…" Django’s lips curled up into a quick sneer. "It’s you, Enterprise," She remarked with a snort, bestowing then and there upon Lavelle his new nickname.

    Exhaling quickly, Sam after briefly considering turning away, decided to make one final effort at establishing at least cordial relations with the temperamental navigator. "Look…" He began, speaking in as conciliatory a voice as possible, "We’re going to be spending a great deal of time with each other and…”

    "And what, Enterprise?" Django icily interrupted.

    "Hey…" Lavelle said, still trying to make peace, "Give me a break…can’t you see I’m trying here…"

    "I don’t have time for this." Django growled as she pushed past the totally flummoxed Lavelle, her lips turning up into a slight grin as she made her way down the corridor past any prying eyes.

    Shaking his head in bemusement as he admired the retreating form of the petite, yet athletic, as well as lovely and irritating, Ensign Django, Lavelle shrugged his shoulders in response to a sympathetic look given him by a fellow crewman. Then, recalling once again how well the ensign filled out her tight uniform, Sam rejected a vibro-shower in favor of a cold shower with real water, using up his shower water allowance for the rest of the month in the process.

    "And I’m going to have to see her at the reception…" He groaned as the cold water cascaded over his body. "I’m not going to live through this cruise—I just know I’m not…"

    ************************************

    As she mingled amongst her command staff and the Star Base brass at the reception, Captain Shelby, now that she was finally able to place individual personalities with dry personnel records, allowed herself a wry grin. Admiral Ross was as good as his word—while they did seem to her, at least at first glance, to be a competent staff—they were also most definitely a lively one. As the chief engineer approached, flashing an ironic grin of his own, Liz nodded in his direction.

    "Captain." The engineer hailed as he took a sip from his champagne flute.

    "Mr. Tol." Shelby grinned as she recognized her engineering officer. "I trust you’re enjoying yourself…"

    "It’s not as boring as most of these things." Tol acknowledged with a chuckle, but I’d rather be at one of Lt. Atoa’s parties."

    "Oh?" Shelby interjected.

    Maintaining his grin, Tol explained. "Lt. Atoa throws some of the best parties in the quadrant—you should see him do his fire dance."

    "Fire dance?" Shelby then asked, genuinely curious.

    "Uh Huh." Jadon laughed merrily. "It’s a sight to behold." He clarified, "He says that his ancestors brought it with them from Earth when they colonized New Kauai." Curious about his new superior officer, the engineer inquired, "You’ve never been to New Kauai, have you Captain?"

    "No…" Liz replied ruefully. "Although I’ve heard a lot of good things about it—it’s something of a vacation planet as I recall--settled mostly by Polynesians from Earth fairly early in the 23rd century."

    "I see you did your homework." Tol nodded approvingly. "You’re right. You really ought to go when you get some extended leave." He added, "It’s quite beautiful, with some truly striking scenery…" The Trill smiled, remembering a group of hula dancers he had seen there once.

    "I’ll do that." Liz replied. Then, seeing an opportunity to get something of an inkling as regards her difficult first officer, Shelby ventured, "You’ve been on this ship for quite a while, haven’t you?

    "Yes sir." Tol replied, taking a sip from his glass.

    "And how long have you known Commander Hobson?" Liz then asked.

    "Well, I met Chris a couple of years before he came on board the Sutherland the first time—we were both on board the Livorno at the time." Tol recalled and then got to the point, "What do you want to know about him?"

    "Well…" Shelby probed, "I was wondering what exactly is eating at him.”

    "I take it you had a talk with him earlier…" Jadon then asked, probing as well.

    Nodding her head, Shelby confirmed, "Yes…I don’t want to discuss it in detail—let’s just say that we both expressed ourselves on some stuff…"

    "I understand, sir." Tol said with a warm smile. "Look—I’m not going to ask you to tell me what you two talked about, nor am I going to volunteer any personal information I’ve gotten from talking to Chris…"

    "Nor am I asking you to." Liz quickly interjected, "Unless it involves the safety of the ship or its crew."

    "It doesn’t." Jadon said with a shake of the head. "What I would suggest you do, sir is to read the ship’s logs made during the Klingon Succession Crisis a few years back—I think you’ll find most of your answers there."

    "Thank you, Mr. Tol, I will." Liz replied with a grin. Then, after several more minutes of engaging in small talk, she spotted her new science officer standing alone by a view port. "Well, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Tol, I see another member of my crew I haven’t met ‘up close and personal’ yet…"

    "Of course, Captain." Tol smiled back as he spotted the Deltan operations officer currently trying politely, but with growing frustration, to fend off a small group of young Starfleet ensigns and cadets—mostly males, but with a few females mixed in as well. "I see a damsel in distress that could definitely stand for a bit of rescuing."

    *******************************************

    Clearing his throat as he approached, the normally genial appearing Jadon put on his most stern demeanor. "Excuse me, gentlemen." He rasped, chuckling inwardly as the now terrified young officers parted, clearing a pathway for him towards his goal. "Lt. Rysyl, isn’t it?" Tol asked, the grimace on his face now turning into an urbane smile.

    Nodding her head gently in the Trill’s direction, the Deltan smiled slightly at her rescuer.

    Giving the junior officers and cadets yet another glare to send them scurrying off, Tol remarked with a chuckle, "Is it my imagination or do all Deltans have this effect on young officers…"

    Laughing in return, Anara replied, "And what about Trill engineers?"

    Flashing a brief playful leer, Tol responded, "Why don’t we discuss that back at the bar?"

    Shaking her head gently, Anara demurred, "You’re forgetting my Oath of Celibacy…"

    "Hey…I’m not asking you to have sex with me…" Tol quipped, then added with a chuckle, "Although…now that you mention it…Rena did have a good time with a certain Deltan male that week on Risa…"

    "Rena?" Anara asked, tilting her head slightly to the left in query.

    "A former host of mine…" Tol replied, gently placing his arm around the Deltan’s waist. "I’ll tell you all about her…" He promised as he chivalrously squired Anara in the direction of the bar.

    ****************************************

    Chuckling as he saw the crowd of young officers gathered around his Deltan colleague, Sam motioned for the bartender to refill his drink. Taking a sip of his bourbon and coke, the young helmsman sat back to watch the show as Tol approached the assembly.

    "Looks like I’m just in time for the ‘Parting of the Red Sea’." A voice remarked as the engineering officer scattered the young cadets and ensigns, mostly wearing either the cadet issue gray and red or red shirts indicating that they were on the command track.

    "That, or the ‘Lifting of the Siege of Delta IV.’" Sam quipped in return as he turned towards the source of those words, the wide grin that was forming on his face quickly disappearing as he made out the form of Ensign Django.

    "What, Enterprise?" Maria flashed a rare grin. "You look like you’re not pleased to see me…"

    "Well…" Sam said, flashing a smile of his own. "It seems that whenever we…run into…"

    "You just had to say that, didn’t you?” Django remarked with a lopsided grin.

    "Ok…let’s try this then…" Sam said, "Whenever we’ve talked previously, you’ve always bitten my head off."

    "I was in a bad mood at the time—you’ll learn to deal with it." Maria quipped as she downed the rest of her drink.

    Glancing at her drink and then at the bartender, Sam picked up on the young ensign’s nod. Gesturing for the barman, he placed his order, "The ensign will have a…”

    "Antarean Sunrise." Django supplied, and then chuckling as she saw the nonplussed look on Lavelle’s face, added, "Like I said, I’m in a good mood right now."

    "So…" Sam ventured, "What do you think of all this…"

    "My tunic itches, my pants are riding up on me, and all there are here is brass, ass, and sass…"

    "And where do I fit in?" Lavelle asked flashing his most impish grin.

    "I haven’t figured that out yet." Maria riposted with a mischievous smile of her own. "When I do I’ll let you know."

    ******************************************

    Zoë System; Subsector 310 Bravo—Bajoran Sector

    The graceful, slender form of the Oberth Class USS Hypatia orbited the blue green globe circling an otherwise average G class star. Her commanding officer, admiring the swirling white clouds over the oceans and continents through the viewscreen in his quarters, lay back on his bed as he recorded his latest log entry.

    "Captain’s Log…USS Hypatia…Captain Gregory Forrest recording. We have just about completed our survey of Zoë III and, from all appearances; I’d say it looks like a prime candidate for colonization—provided the political issues in this sector can be settled. According to Lt. Commander Vreela, the planet is rich in plant life that can be harvested for pharmaceutical purposes, as well as possessing a rich and diverse biosphere. No signs of sophontic life have been found, and mineral analyses indicate that there is an adequate supply of the minerals needed for modern industry. If all goes according to plan, we will have our survey completed in two standard days and then it’s to Deep Space Nine for refit and leave—something I and my crew are looking forward to."

    Adjusting his position on his bed, Captain Forrest took a bite out of the apple sitting on a small table by the head. Setting the ruby red fruit down, he took a deep breath, but, before he could continue his log entry, the intercom beeped. "Captain?"

    Recognizing the voice of his on duty bridge officer, Forrest responded, "Yes, Lieutenant Saavar?"

    "Your presence is requested on the bridge sir…" Although to the casual listener, the lieutenant's voice seemed as flat and emotionless as any other Vulcan’s, Forrest couldn’t help but flash a brief smile as he recognized the slightest hint of enthusiasm coming from the young officer whom he had taken under his wing as a cadet a few years ago. "There is an anomaly approximately fifty A.U.’s away that appears most…fascinating."

    "I’m on my way, Lieutenant." Forrest immediately responded as he jumped off his bed. Putting on his new black and red duty jacket, the captain then instructed the computer, "Computer, end captain’s log."

    ******************************

    If It had human emotions and sensations, one could say that It felt…anticipation…as the shiny object approached It. As It felt its prey coming closer, It reached out and touched the tendrils of life within the silvery shell. Sensing the life forces within, Its hunger grew. While the shell did not possess enough energy to completely fuel The Change, the life forces of those within would help to get it started, and for now, that would have to do. But, It knew It would need more—much more.

    ***************************************

    "Captain’s log, USS Hypatia, Captain Gregory Forrest recording. We are approaching the anomaly. It appears, more than anything else, to resemble a dark hole—there are no stars at all within the area of effect. Sensor scans have been unable to penetrate the anomaly, nor have we recovered any data from the probes we’ve launched into it. We’ve hailed it using all standard hailing frequencies, but so far, no joy…"

    "Captain."

    "Yes, Ensign?" Forrest inquired, turning towards his communications officer.

    "We’re being contacted sir…" The young officer replied enthusiastically, "…by the anomaly."
     
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  12. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 6

    Setting foot on the bridge, Captain Shelby heard a voice she recognized as that of Ensign Django’s utter the time-honored formula, "Captain on the bridge."

    "As you were." Shelby directed as she approached the center seat. Taking the command chair, she prepared to issue her first command as the new captain of the Sutherland. "Helm…take us out."

    "Aye, Sir." Lavelle replied, "Thrusters at one-third forward."

    "Moorings cleared." Anara announced from her station.

    "Very good." Hobson acknowledged. Then, turning towards the captain and seeing her nod, he commanded. "Helm…once we clear space dock, increase speed to one half"

    "Aye, Sir." Sam responded. "Space dock cleared. Accelerating to one-half thrusters."

    "All weapons systems and shields at optimal." Atoa reported from his tactical station.

    Tol’s voice then came in from the intercom. "Everything working smoothly in Engineering."

    Lt. Atoa interjected. "Star Base control has our departure course set, Sir. We are to proceed on course mark zero-three-niner at one quarter impulse until we clear the star base’s control radius."

    "Very good." Hobson nodded his head. "Acknowledge Control’s instructions." Directing his attention to the navigator, he commanded. "Download the course into the navigation computer."

    "Aye, sir." Django, her voice all business now, acknowledged. "Course mark zero-three-niner laid in.”

    Standing up, Shelby’s eyes swept the bridge before landing on those of her first officer. "Nicely done, Mr. Hobson," the captain’s gentle praise seemingly producing no reaction from the poker faced first officer. Barely restraining herself from gritting her teeth, Shelby instead turned her attention to the navigations officer and directed, "After we clear Star Base, set course for Subsector 310 at Warp Five." Then, putting on a tone of levity, she quipped, "Let’s go chart us some stars boys and girls…"

    "Aye, Sir." Django replied as her fingers flew over the console. "Course for Subsector 310 prepared." She then muttered under her breath so that only Sam could hear, "Oh boy…Star charting…Order for wakey-wakey pills confirmed…"

    Nodding her head in satisfaction as she saw the retreating form of the star base on the view screen, Captain Shelby turned her attention back to Commander Hobson. "Commander, the bridge is yours—I’ll be in my ready room if you need me."

    *******************************

    Zoe System; Subsector 310—Bajor Sector

    Disgorging the silvery shell and the husks within, It rested. Temporarily sated, It knew that it would need more energy—and soon. So…It set Its bait…

    This is the USS Hypatia to any vessel…Mayday…assistance needed immediately…please respond.

    *******************************

    As she stepped into the captain’s office, Liz beamed with pride. The office was comparable in size and luxurious furnishings to that of Enterprise and the other Galaxy Class vessels, and far and away more sumptuous than that of her previous command, the New Orleans Class Malcolm Reed. Sitting down on the comfortable high-backed chair, Shelby took a few moments to allow it to conform to her body form. Letting out a brief sigh of relaxation, the Sutherland’s new captain ran her fingers along the smooth finish of the desk as her eyes swept the room until they came to the wall where the portraits of the previous vessels to carry the Sutherland name resided.

    The first vessel, a wooden ship, was a 54-gun ship of the line that had served in the early 18th century; the second, also a wooden ship of the line, served in the mid-18th century; the third and most famous was a 74 gun ship of the line commanded by the legendary Horatio Hornblower. Hanging on the wall over the picture of this Sutherland was a portrait of Captain Hornblower. Letting out a breath as she took in the handsome features of the celebrated captain, Liz allowed a few brief lascivious thoughts to enter her mind before returning her attention to the other vessels carrying the Sutherland name. Her eyes first focusing on the last Sutherland to carry the designation HMS, a late twentieth century Type 23 frigate, she took a few moments to admire the smooth lines of this water borne vessel before turning her attention to the space vessels of which there were two. The first, an Enterprise class Warp Five Project vessel and the second, a Soyuz class ship. Finally, a painting of the current Sutherland stood, its size easily dwarfing that of its fellow vessels.

    Seeing additional space on the wall, Liz smiled. "I think I’ll put the Reed next to my Sutherland, and then next to that I’ll put grandfather’s ship and portrait," referring to the Constitution class vessel, USS Lexington, and her maternal grandfather, Robert Wesley. Leaning back in her chair, Shelby called up the ship’s duty assignments and work schedules on her padd. Hmmm…She thought …first thing we need to do is set up a four watch rotation instead of the three standard shifts. Second, Suthy’s got more than her fair share of first timers on board. I think it’d be a good idea to set up an unscheduled drill so I can get an idea as to how they might perform. Activating the intercom, she spoke, "Commander Hobson? Please see me in my ready room at your convenience."

    "Aye, Sir." Hobson’s monotone acknowledgement came through the intercom. Well…he doesn’t have to love me. Elizabeth mused, So long as he does his job, he can stick all the pins in his Shelby doll that he wants.

    ******************************************

    Liz sighed contentedly as she slept, her head resting on a genuine goose down feather pillow that she had bought on Earth before shipping out, the fine pale blue Rigelian satin sheets deliciously tingling her naked body as her hair flowed about her shoulders. Turning in her sleep, her motion caused a single leg to peek out through the sheets, goose bumps forming on the creamy white bare skin as the cool air struck it.

    The chiming of the alarm, however, put an end to her luxurious rest, the internal lights to her quarters immediately coming on. "Red Alert." The computer intoned, its female voice indicating urgency. "All hands to General Quarters. Captain to the bridge."

    "Hobson! You’re a dead man!" Shelby all but shouted as she leapt out of bed, quickly throwing on a white terry cloth robe that lay draped over a chair. "When I catch up to him…" She muttered as she tied the belt around her robe, slipped on her communications pin, and then rushed out of her quarters, "I swear I’ll flush him out the nearest airlock…"

    As she dashed purposely towards the turbolift, Shelby saw the rest of the crew in various states of dress and undress rushing to their duty stations. Frowning, she noticed that while several of them moved in a purposeful, direct manner to their positions, far too many were moving in a hectic, pell-mell rush—running into each other…stumbling…all marks of a crew not used to handling itself in a crisis. “Not good!” The captain grimaced as she vowed, “This is going to change real quick”.

    Exiting the turbolift, Shelby’s eyes quickly adapted to the red lighted bridge. Glancing at her first officer, Liz swore that she saw the beginnings of a smile forming. Go ahead…She wanted to say …give me one good reason to knock that smirk off your face…Instead, she settled for inquiring, "Response time, Commander."

    "Overall response time three minutes twenty seconds, Sir." Hobson reported, the taut expression on his face indicating his displeasure at the results.

    "And my response time?"

    "One minute fifteen seconds, Sir." Hobson replied.

    "Not good enough." Shelby said with a frown, "On either count." Then, turning rapidly towards her first officer, she snapped, "I want a minimum of one unscheduled drill a day—and don’t be afraid to have two or more until we get those response times down to where they’re supposed to be." Pulling down on her robe, she instructed, turning her attention towards her senior officers, "Departmental heads will meet in my ready room in fifteen minutes." She then warned as she strode towards the turbolift, "And get ready to have your asses handed to you."

    "Yes, Sir." Hobson acknowledged, feeling, for the first time, a measure of respect for his commanding officer. Then, turning towards the senior staff at their bridge stations, he remarked tartly, "You heard the captain…"

    "Aye, Sir." A chorus of voices responded somberly, not looking at all forward to the coming meeting.

    *******************************************

    The next couple of weeks were a flurry of drills, inspections, and even more drills mixed in with the obligatory star charting for the crew as Captain Shelby proved to be as good as her word. The departmental heads, chastened by the stern dressing down they received from their commanding officer worked both themselves and their subordinates almost as hard as the captain worked herself. Seeing the vastly improved efficiency of her ship, Liz allowed a slight smile to cross her features as she strode on to the bridge two hours into the beta watch. "Ensign Django?" The captain called out as she approached the command chair rapidly vacated by Lieutenant Lavelle who was currently sitting bridge watch.

    Upon hearing her name called out by the captain, Maria responded, "Aye, Captain?"

    "What’s our position?" Shelby asked as she made herself comfortable in her command chair, a sly grin slowly crossing her face.

    "Approximately ten light years from the Zoë system." Django promptly replied.

    "Ok. Keep your eyes and ears open and let me know the moment you spot something unusual."

    "Yes, Sir." The young ensign acknowledged.

    Shelby chuckled evilly as her finger hovered momentarily over the alert button. In the process of getting to know her senior officers' routines, Liz had discovered that Commander Hobson invariably took his shower at this time. She had also determined, thanks to the eager assistance of her chief engineer, who was even now grinning as he stood at his bridge station that Hobson was planning on taking one of his water showers now. Couldn’t ask for…Liz grinned slyly, a better time for a drill.

    "Here it comes…" Lavelle whispered to Django as he spotted both Shelby’s motions out of the corner of his eye and Tol all but standing on tip toes in anticipation.

    Payback’s a bitch…Shelby thought, a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she pressed the alert button. And so am I.

    As the alarm klaxons sounded, Hobson, already immersed in his shower, turned his eyes skyward and sighed. The normally fastidious, but now dripping wet, first officer quickly wrapped a towel around his waist and rushed out of his quarters, manfully ignoring the barely repressed sniggers and snickers as well as his captain’s self-satisfied grin when he exited the turbolift on the bridge. Taking his position next to Shelby, he called out with as much dignity as he could muster, "Section heads…response times."

    "Engineering—one minute fifty seconds." Jadon announced with what sounded like malicious glee coming through his voice.

    You’ll get yours Tol…Hobson immediately thought, then and there making a promise to extract his pound of flesh from his old friend.

    "Operations—one minute fifty-five seconds." Anara reported, her lilting voice reflecting her pride in her section.

    "Helm—one minute thirty seconds." Lavelle stated, referring to the manning of the auxiliary control station as well as his own and Django’s already manned consoles.

    "Sciences—one minute forty-three seconds." Lt. Commander Varok announced in his normally precise Vulcan voice.

    "Tactical—one minute thirty-two seconds." Atoa then reported as he relieved the current tactical officer, pleased at his people’s response time.

    Then, in answer to Hobson’s unstated question, Shelby stated, her smile now one of genuine pleasure, "First Officer’s response time—forty-eight seconds. Very good, but you’re still three seconds behind my best time." Then, activating the ship-wide intercom, the Captain announced, "Congratulations everyone. The crew’s over all response time was less than two minutes. Nicely done! Daily drills will cease effective immediately; however, the ship will still be subject to unscheduled drills." She then added a note of warning. "Should response times slip—I’ll reinstitute the drills. That is all."

    Turning towards Tactical, she ordered, "Take us off Red Alert, Mr. Atoa." Then, as she glanced at the dripping wet form of her first officer, Liz grinned, "And you, Commander Hobson, have my permission to return to your shower."

    "Thank you, Sir." Hobson replied, and with head held erect, he strode back towards the turbolift.

    ********************************************

    “I hate star charting!” Liz grumbled to herself as she sat in her office working her way through the updated charts from astrometrics. “Three weeks of mapping and more mapping and what have we achieved--updated star charts!” Smirking inwardly, Liz recalled an old Starfleet recruiting vid…'Adventure...Excitement...Join the team and go where no one has gone before!'

    Of course...Shelby thought, an amused grin coming to her face...they never tell you about the great fun you can have charting stars. Oh well... we can't spend all our time discovering new life and contacting new civilizations.

    "Captain?" The voice of Lieutenant Atoa rang out, "There’s a message for you from Deep Space Nine."

    "Great!" Liz exulted, almost leaping out of her seat. "Put it through—I’ve been looking forward to this."

    Activating her desk monitor, Shelby smiled broadly as the grinning face of Jadzia Dax appeared. "Hey, Liz! Congratulations! I heard the good news about the Sutherland. So…when are you coming by the station?"

    "Not for a while yet." Elizabeth replied somewhat ruefully. "We’re in Subsector 310 star charting right now. Maybe after we finish. I have a feeling we’re going to need a few days of R and R after all that charting."

    "Subsector 310?" Jadzia then asked, worry furrows appearing on her brow. "Have you heard anything from the Hypatia?"

    "No…" Liz replied, her business side now taking charge. "Why? Is there a problem"

    "I’m not sure…" Dax responded her voice reflecting her uncertainty. "It was supposed to have arrived at DS 9 a few days ago…"

    "Maybe they found something interesting and went in for a closer look?" Shelby offered as a solution.

    "Perhaps…" Jadzia conceded. "Gregory has always been a curious one—if there’s something that he hasn’t seen before…"

    "There you go…" Liz chuckled, "He found something—and probably hasn’t been able to get through to you on subspace yet. I’ll bet he’s having the time of his life."

    "That’s probably it." Dax remarked, somewhat more cheerily. "Still…I was wondering if I could ask you to…"

    "Keep an eye and ear open…" Shelby interrupted, "Sure…not a problem…"

    "Thanks." Jadzia sighed in relief, and then gently probed, "By the way, have you met Captain Forrest of the Hypatia yet?"

    "No." Shelby, knowing what her old friend’s game was, replied with a crooked grin, "Why…is he a cutie?"

    "You could say that." Jadzia responded with a lopsided smile of her own. "If you like ‘em tall, blond, and well built. I have a feeling the two of you’ll hit it off…"

    "Well…" Liz said, maintaining her smile, "If we’re on the station at the same time, I guess it couldn’t hurt to check him out…"

    "Great!" Dax exclaimed, but before the conversation could shift to another topic, Liz saw Jadzia twist her body in the direction of a figure that Shelby recognized to be that of the station commander, Benjamin Sisko. Turning back, the Trill science officer smiled ruefully, "That was Ben…" She explained, "I’m afraid I have to go—he’s called a senior staff meeting."

    "I understand." Liz acknowledged, "I’ll talk to you later. Take care, Jadz."

    "You too, Liz." Then, as an afterthought, the Trill added, "Oh—by the way—give my regards to Tol, and tell him I said that he had better keep his spots out of trouble…"

    ********************************

    Taking her position on the bridge, Liz swiveled her seat in the direction of the science officer’s station, cringing slightly at the audible squeak created by the chair’s motion. Momentarily ignoring the noisy intrusion, she inquired, "How much longer before stellar cartography finishes charting out this grid, Mr. Varok?"

    "Two hours, forty-three minutes, Sir." The Vulcan responded.

    Swiveling her chair towards the tactical station, Shelby gritted her teeth as it seemed to her that the squeak appeared to be gaining both in volume and irritation. Barely mastering her impulse to pound the arm of her chair with her fist, Liz asked, "Any signals from the Hypatia?"

    "No Sir." Lt. Atoa responded apologetically. "Nothing yet."

    "How about you, Mr. Rysyl?" The captain then requested, her fingers gripping the arms of her chair as once again, that agonizingly horrible squeaking sound appeared to increase its volume.

    "I’m sorry, Sir." The Deltan operations shook her head. "Sensors are not picking up anything as yet."

    "Damn." Shelby cursed. "Well…keep your eyes and ears open and let me know the moment either of you pick up the first traces."

    "Aye, Sir." Both officers responded as they turned their attentions back to their instruments.

    Swiveling her chair to once again face the viewscreen, Liz, finally losing control as the squeak returned, apparently even louder than the last time, let out an incredibly foul curse, "That’s it!" The captain spat out as she turned towards her first officer, the expression on her face tacitly asking him if this was payback for her recent prank on him. Receiving his answer to her question in the form of an amused, yet negative, shrug of his shoulders and shake of his head, Shelby sank back into her seat and pouted. Then, calling out to Anara, she ordered, "Mr. Rysyl! I want a crewman sent up here pronto to repair my seat. I don’t care if he has to take it apart and put it back together again, I want my seat fixed and I want it fixed ASAP!"

    Fighting vainly to keep her lips from turning up into a smile, Anara responded crisply, "Yes Sir."

    Nodding her head in satisfaction, Shelby, fighting back her own impulse to smile at what was obviously a prank, sank back into her chair. Five’ll get me ten it’s Tol…Liz concluded with an almost definite certainty. Then, seeing the smiling faces and repressed snickers amongst her crew—even her taciturn first officer, Shelby gave in and permitted that smile that she’d been fighting down to appear. I’ve got to talk to Jadzia about my chief engineer. A wicked gleam in her eye, she then made a mental promise to herself. Maybe between the two of us we can cook up something special…

    Barely repressing a snicker, Django leaned over to whisper in Lavelle’s ear, "If she’s like this about a squeaking chair, I’d hate to see what she’d do if someone stole her strawberries."

    "What was that, Mr. Django?" The captain interrupted with a twinkle in her eye while at the same time putting on as testy and irritable an appearance as she could muster.

    "Nothing, Sir." The young ensign replied with a start. "We were just discussing…" she stammered until rescued by the man sitting next to him.

    "We were just discussing the best course to take that would get us to the Zoë system, Sir." Sam supplied, hoping the captain would buy his answer.

    "And what would you suggest?" Shelby inquired, curious to see how well her two officers thought on their feet.

    Moving quickly, both Django and Lavelle worked their consoles to arrive at a suitable solution.

    "Well…gentlemen…" Shelby interrupted, tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair for emphasis, "I’m waiting…"

    Nodding her head in triumph, Django responded, "I would suggest that we take a course that will bring us in under the ecliptic. That should permit us to avoid the majority of any Kuiper belt objects while at the same time allowing us to reach the last recorded position of the Hypatia with minimal time."

    "Very good." Shelby replied, nodding her head with approval. "After Mr. Varok says that stellar cartography has finished its survey of this grid, then execute the course."

    "Yes Sir." Both officers acknowledged in unison.

    "Captain." Lieutenant Rysyl then interrupted as she looked up from her sensors.

    "Yes, Mr. Rysyl?" Shelby replied, turning her attention to the Deltan woman.

    "Sensors indicate a ship at the far limits of their range—on a heading of 145 mark 13." Anara reported. "It appears to be drifting, Sir."

    "Can you identify it?" Captain Shelby then inquired, the hairs on the back of her head standing up with anticipation.

    "No, Sir." Anara shook her head ruefully. "It’s too far away at this time."

    Turning towards the helm, Liz then ordered, "Take us in closer, Mr. Lavelle."

    "Aye, Sir." The helmsman responded as he set the Sutherland in motion towards the mysterious intruder. "Within half a million kilometers, Captain," Lavelle then soon indicated.

    "Very good, Mr. Lavelle." Shelby acknowledged as she cupped her chin with her right hand. "All stop." Then, looking at the viewscreen, Liz let out a deep breath as she saw a bulky rust red form amongst the stars. "So that’s our guest—a Ferengi merchant ship…"

    "Yes, sir." Lieutenant Atoa confirmed as he initiated hailing procedures. "Transponder signals indicate that it’s the Pursuit of Commerce owned and operated by a Daimon Quorak." The tactical officer then checked the computer databanks, "No known Federation or other warrants out on either him or his ship."

    "So he’s clean?" Lavelle then asked, somewhat surprised.

    "More like he just hasn’t been caught yet," Django responded with a smirk.

    Shelby then addressed her first officer. "It is somewhat odd that a ship of this type is here. This area is far off the normal shipping routes and this isn’t the sort of vessel most Ferengi would prefer to use for either scouting or trade pioneering."

    "True, Captain." Hobson replied, agreeing with his superior. "But it is plausible. If Daimon Quorak had come across a possible opportunity…"

    "Rule Number Sixty-Two…" Shelby remarked dryly, "The riskier the road, the greater the profit."

    "And a ship of this class being all the way out here is very risky." Hobson acknowledged.

    "Have they acknowledged our hails, Mr. Atoa?" Liz then inquired, turning her attention back towards her tactical officer.

    "Negative, Sir." The New Kauaian replied. "Nothing on any channels."

    "Bring us within active scanning range, Mr. Lavelle." Shelby then ordered as the helmsman’s fingers flew over his console.

    The gap between the two vessels growing closer, the Ferengi ship grew ever larger in the viewscreen until it blanked out all but a few of the stars on the edges. "Sir," Lieutenant Rysyl then looked up from her sensors, a note of disquiet on her face, "I’m picking up a dozen Ferengi—but no life signs."

    "None at all?" Liz asked in as level a tone as she could muster.

    "None, sir." Anara replied sadly, shaking her head. "Ship’s systems are all functioning properly—including life support—but no indication that anyone is alive there."

    "Sir?" Lieutenant Commander Varok interjected. "I believe I have found something interesting." He then pointed towards what appeared to be slight circular shaped discolorations all along the freighter’s hull.

    "What do you think they are?" Shelby asked, curious.

    "There is not enough information to form an adequate hypothesis at this time, Sir." The Vulcan replied clinically.

    "Then get the information." Shelby directed. After seeing her science officer nod his head briefly in acknowledgement, she turned her attention to her first officer. “Commander Hobson. Form an away team to beam over to that freighter—let’s see what you can dig up."

    "Yes, sir." Chris acknowledged, and then turned towards the tactical officer. "Mr. Atoa—you and two of your men are with me—have them report to transporter room one with standard equipment immediately." Then tapping his communicator, Hobson spoke, "Dr. Murakawa—you are to report to transporter room one immediately with a full med kit."
     
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  13. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 7

    The telltale sights and sounds of Federation transporters filled the bridge of the derelict Ferengi vessel as five shimmering human shapes took form. As soon as the Sutherland’s away team materialized, Atoa and his two security officers, positioned in front of and on either side of Dr. Murakawa, immediately drew their phasers, their eyes sweeping the bridge, now bathed in a dull red light livened up only by the flashing display of instrument consoles as Hobson, along with the doctor, carried out tricorder scans.

    Greeting the away team was a sight that chilled every one of them—six Ferengi, all at their stations, the captain occupying the center chair—each of them nothing more than withered husks, their appearance resembling, more than anything else, caricatures of Egyptian mummies—or of fantastic monsters from Earth’s medieval mythology.

    "What the hell?" Atoa exclaimed, barely repressing the nausea building up inside him as he approached one of the corpses.

    "Careful, Lieutenant," Denise quickly warned, putting a restraining hand on the security officer’s wrist. "We’re not sure what caused this yet."

    "Any contaminants in the air?" Hobson asked as sweat, not all of it from the ship’s humidity, beaded on his brow.

    "None, sir." Dr. Murakawa replied as she wiped the sweat forming on her forehead as well, "But that doesn’t rule out the possibility of contamination being spread by contact—we’re all going to have to undergo extensive decontamination when we return to Sutherland."

    "Damned humidity." One of the security guards, also relieved at the news that there appeared to be no risk of air borne contamination, swore as he pulled at his uniform.

    "Don’t you remember your basic Academy planetology?" Atoa quipped, seeking to break the tension, "Ferenginar is mostly swamp—of course the humidity level is going to be high."

    Turning to the New Kauaian, Hobson ordered, "Take your men and do a sweep of the ship, Mr. Atoa. And don’t forget what Dr. Murakawa said—avoid contact with any crew remains."

    "Yes, sir." Atoa acknowledged smartly as he and his men departed.

    Turning his attention to the doctor, the first officer inquired as he pointed at the withered corpse of what appeared to be Daimon Quorak, "Any ideas on what caused this?"

    "Not without a proper autopsy." Dr. Murakawa replied as she scanned first the captain’s body, and then the others with her medical tricorder. Reading the results, Denise mused, "That’s curious…"

    "What is doctor?" Hobson interjected quietly, keeping his curiosity well concealed by the poker face that he generally presented to the outside world.

    "While Ferengi aren’t normally a telepathic species…" Denise explained, "They…like almost all sophontic species naturally possess certain levels of the serotonin hormone—partly it’s the concentration of the hormone that determines whether a species can be capable of telepathy or not…"

    "That much I remember from my basic biology, Doctor." Hobson interrupted, "The point, please…"

    Exhaling quickly, Dr. Murakawa picked up from where she left off, "Even Ferengi possess a minute level of this hormone. But, when I did my scans on these bodies—there were no traces of serotonin at all."

    "None?" The first officer asked, raising an eyebrow.

    "None at all." Denise shook her head. "They also all show signs of massive endorphin production, and…" She then pointed excitedly at the Ferengi captain’s fore lobes and at his sides. "See those…"

    Looking closer, Hobson noted circular discolorations. "Those look similar to the discolorations on the hull of the ship."

    "Exactly!" Denise exclaimed.

    "So…do you have any ideas as to what caused this to happen to them?" Chris then inquired.

    "Not yet." Murakawa shook her head ruefully. "I need to get the bodies in stasis and back to the ship where I can conduct a proper autopsy."

    "Risk to the ship?" The first officer asked.

    "I don’t think there’s any—provided we follow proper precautions." The doctor replied after careful thought. "Once the bodies are in stasis tubes, they’ll be protected by the tubes’ decontamination fields; and I’ll work inside a decontamination field when I perform my autopsies."

    "Very well then." Hobson replied, satisfied with the chief medical officer’s answer, "I’ll inform the captain and pass on my recommendations."

    "Thank you, sir." Denise responded, flashing a brief smile, before returning to the corpses.

    "Commander Hobson?"

    Responding to the voice of his tactical officer, the first officer activated his intercom, "Go ahead, Mr. Atoa."

    "Sir…I think you ought to come down to the cargo bay—there’s something you’re going to want to see."

    "I’m on my way." Hobson replied, already on his way off the bridge. Minutes later, entering the cargo bay he found Lieutenant Atoa and his security officers standing before what looked like containers of yamok sauce. "Yamok sauce, Mr. Atoa?" Hobson asked with a raised eyebrow.

    "Not quite, sir," The New Kauaian replied with a smug grin, "Watch." As his fingers played over his tricorder, the containers began to shimmer, and then vanish, and in their place stood several crates and containers.

    "A holographically generated image." Hobson stated in a matter of fact tone. "So…what did you find in the containers?"

    "Plenty sir." Atoa replied as he guided his superior officer towards an already opened box. Reaching the box, the tactical officer pulled out a Klingon disruptor. "The whole crate’s full of ‘em, sir." Then, pointing towards another opened container, Atoa explained, "And that one contains Starfleet issue photon grenades…and over here…" He said, motioning towards another box, "We have phaser rifles."

    "Well…" Hobson drawled, "It looks like we’ve discovered what the Daimon was doing out here."

    "Yes, sir," Atoa agreed, "Nothing like a bit of gunrunning to bring in the profits." He then asked, "So…who do you think he was selling them to—the Maquis or the Cardassians?"

    "Probably both." Hobson replied, his lips turning up in a wry grin. "The 127th Rule of Acquisition—Stay neutral in conflict so that you can sell to both sides." Activating his comm badge, Chris then informed the captain about both Dr. Murakawa’s and Lieutenant Atoa’s findings.

    "Sounds like you got a handle on the situation, Commander." Shelby remarked. "Tell Dr. Murakawa she can go ahead with her plans to beam over the bodies in stasis tubes, but I want all decontamination procedures strictly followed. And as for the cargo, set up a confinement field around Cargo Bay Number One and beam it there." She then addressed her helm officer, "Mr. Lavelle—set up a marker buoy to mark the freighter’s location—once we finish our mission, we’ll return and tractor it back to Deep Space Nine."

    "Yes, sir." Lavelle responded as he launched the buoy.

    Shelby then turned her attention back to her away party. "Commander Hobson—finish up what you need to on the freighter as soon as you can."

    "Yes, sir." Hobson acknowledged and turned to his tactical officer. "Mr. Atoa, have your men prepare the cargo for transport to the Sutherland. Then I want you to download into your tricorder all the data you can from the ship’s computer—but don’t upload any information on to Sutherland’s computer."

    "It’ll take a lot more time to do any decryption work and data analysis if we’re not able to tie into the main computer, sir." Manuele complained.

    "Let it take time." Hobson replied. "I’d rather take a few more hours getting the data than have some unexpected surprise dropped into our computer—it’ll take longer to clean up the mess afterwards than it would if we were to just forgo the risk entirely."

    "Understood, sir." Atoa acknowledged as he turned away to carry out his assignments.

    ***************************

    Striding on to the Sutherland’s bridge immediately after beaming back from the Ferengi freighter, Commander Hobson made his report to his captain. "The cargo has been secured in Cargo Bay One, sir; and Dr. Murakawa reports that the Ferengi bodies have all been safely beamed aboard in their stasis tubes and she’s beginning the first autopsy."

    "Very good, Commander." Shelby replied with an approving tone in her voice. Turning her attention to her science officer, she inquired, "Any luck in figuring out what might have caused those discolorations Mr. Varok?"

    "No luck, sir…" Varok replied, arching an eyebrow, "But, I would like to consult with Dr. Murakawa about a possible working hypothesis."

    "By all means, Mr. Varok." Shelby urged, "Do so." Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she further inquired, "Can you at least lay out the basics of your hypothesis now?"

    "I’d rather not at this time, sir." The Vulcan demurred. "However, if I find what I think I shall find, I should be ready to give you a much more solid theory."

    "I guess that’ll do for now, Mr. Varok." Liz replied, for now willing to give her science officer the additional time he needed.

    Immediately after the Vulcan had left the bridge, Shelby then turned her attention to the helm. "Mr. Lavelle, take us to the Zoë system—Warp 5."

    ****************************************

    "Mr. Varok!" Dr. Murakawa called out excitedly from her medical station to the Vulcan science officer currently concentrating on another monitor display. "Come over here and take a look at this—I think you’ll find it interesting."

    "Hmmm…" Varok vocalized as he cupped his chin. "Most fascinating…and this is from your autopsy of one of the Ferengi?"

    "Yes." Denise acknowledged. "Now…compare it with a later autopsy…" The monitor then displayed a split screen showing almost exactly the same details.

    "If I may…" Varok interjected as he worked the monitor’s controls, causing the monitor’s display to split even further. "This is a zoom display of one of the discolorations on the freighter’s hull." He then called up another display, "And this is the molecular formula of the atoms within that discoloration as compared with the rest of the hull."

    "Ok…" The ship’s doctor, drawing the lines in between the dots, interjected excitedly, "Now…let’s do the same thing with the Ferengi. Here…" She said, pointing at one display, "...is the discolored area and the molecular formula…Now this…" She remarked, pointing at a second display, "…is taken from healthy tissue…"

    "As I thought." Varok concluded as he activated the intercom. "Captain? Thanks to the assistance of Dr. Murakawa, I am ready to present my hypothesis."

    "Excellent!" Captain Shelby exclaimed. "You and the Doctor report immediately to my ready room."

    *********************************

    As her medical and science officers entered her office, Captain Shelby sat closer to the edge of her seat, her facial expression one of barely restrained excitement as she awaited their report. "All right, Mr. Varok…Dr. Murakawa…" Liz prompted, motioning for the two officers to each take a seat in front of her desk, "What have you got for me?"

    "It appears that something essentially displaced the atoms of both the freighter’s hull and the Ferengi crew." Varok said, laying out his theory.

    "Ok…" Shelby drawled, "How?"

    "Perhaps the easiest way to think of it, sir…" Denise interjected, "...would be like this—when you put your hand in a container of water, it displaces the water molecules, but it doesn’t really destroy them, and once you withdraw the hand, the molecules return—except for the ones that accompany your now wet hand."

    "What about the discoloration?" Shelby then asked.

    "I would hypothesize that the discoloration came about as a result of prolonged contact with whatever penetrated the ship and crew." Varok ventured.

    "In that sense, it would be as if you’d have first dipped your hand in paint and then in the water—the paint would diffuse into the water, discoloring it." Dr. Murakawa explained.

    "Ok…" Shelby, seeking clarification, further queried, "But when I stick my hand in red paint and then in clear water, all of the water in the container turns red—not just a small portion of it."

    "True…" Varok, warming up to role of instructor, intoned, "…but this diffusion is a gradual process dictated by the volume of water and the amount of paint. Given a large enough body of water, a considerable amount of time could elapse before the entire mass was discolored."

    "And you think something similar holds true here." Liz remarked, finishing her science officer’s thoughts.

    "Yes, sir." The Vulcan confirmed.

    "Interesting." Liz remarked, cupping her chin. "And given what we’ve discovered so far—as good an explanation as any. However, Mr. Varok, I’d like you to keep on digging and working with Dr. Murakawa. We need to know more about what the hell happened to that crew and what did it to them."

    "To test this theory, Captain…" Dr. Murakawa ventured, "I’d like to keep one of the bodies out of stasis—within a confinement area, of course…" She quickly added as she saw Captain Shelby prepare to mount an objection. Then, seeing the Captain nod her head as her concern was addressed, she continued, "…in order to monitor whether we see this sort of diffusion or not as time elapses."

    "You have my permission—for now—Doctor." Liz replied, giving her assent. "Both of you keep me updated on your research."

    "Understood, sir." The Vulcan acknowledged for himself and the doctor as they got up out of their seats and left the ready room to return to their stations.

    *********************************

    If It could feel emotions, it would have felt relief as the large silver shell approached. Surely this one would have far more entities from which it could draw sustenance. But still, even with the renewed energy obtained from those creatures, It would not have enough energy to complete The Change. It needed more energy…more life force. Thankfully, as it drew the life energies from the other shells, it had discovered the perfect source—a place teeming with life essences—enough to easily support The Change. The source was called Deep Space Nine.
     
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  14. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 8

    “Captain’s Log…Stardate 48973.6…Captain Elizabeth Shelby recording. Thanks to the efforts of Lt. Commander Varok, ship’s science officer, and Lieutenant Denise Murakawa, chief medical officer, we now have a working hypothesis as to what happened to the Ferengi freighter, Pursuit of Commerce. Hopefully, something similar did not happen to the Hypatia. As regards the weapons cache Lieutenant Atoa found on the Ferengi vessel, I have confiscated it per Starfleet regulations and have sent a message to Star Base 375.”

    Taking a deep breath, Captain Shelby gazed into the viewscreen at the yellow G class star that is Zoë Prime growing rapidly in brightness. Seeing that the Sutherland was now within the Zoë planetary system, Shelby ordered, "Take us out of warp and reduce speed to maximum impulse if you’d please, Mr. Lavelle." Then, turning towards her operations officer, Liz inquired, "Anything on your sensors, Mr. Rysyl?"

    "Affirmative, Sir." The Deltan replied, looking up from her display. "Object bearing 240 mark 7…25 AUs distant."

    "Mr. Lavelle…" The Captain then directed, "Take us there, best possible speed."

    *********************************

    As the form of the USS Hypatia filled the Sutherland’s viewscreen, the bridge crew all felt, to one degree or another, emotions of fear, anger, sadness, and disappointment as they saw the tell-tale circular discolorations on the ship’s hull.

    "Damn!" Liz cursed, speaking not only for herself, but her crew as well. "Life signs?" She then inquired, dreading the answer.

    "Sir…" Anara reported, her voice tone reflecting her sadness at the loss of life, "No life signs from the crew…wait…" Her heart skipping a beat, she then exclaimed excitedly, "…there are life signs from a single Vulcan…" eliciting a raised eyebrow from Lt. Commander Varok and an enthusiastic response from Captain Shelby.

    "Commander. Hobson…" Shelby quickly ordered, "Get your away team together and get to that Vulcan at once—I want him back here and I want him here alive!"

    "Yes, sir." Hobson, motioning for Atoa to join him, dashed off the bridge, hitting his communicator to alert the doctor as he moved.

    "Bring the ship to Yellow Alert." Shelby then ordered Atoa’s relief as the away team beamed over to the Hypatia. "Operations, keep your sensor sweeps going—I want to know the moment something comes up on your display."

    Much to their dismay, the away team was greeted with a similar sight to that they had witnessed earlier on the Ferengi vessel as they materialized on the bridge of the Hypatia. Officers and crewmen at their posts—but all of them withered husks—with the notable exception of the Vulcan lieutenant hunched over a sensor panel. Rushing quickly to her patient, Dr. Murakawa ran a medical tricorder over his body. Activating her communicator, she ordered, "Requesting a decontamination field be set up around examination area one immediately—I have an emergency transport."

    "Acknowledged, Doctor." Shelby quickly confirmed. "Transport."

    As the Vulcan’s body shimmered and then disappeared, Dr. Murakawa turned towards Commander Hobson. "Sir, I’d like to beam back to the ship so that I can treat my patient. I’ll send over a couple of medical personnel—they’ll be able to conduct any necessary scans of the crew on the Hypatia and prep them for stasis."

    "Very good, Doctor." Hobson acknowledged. "You have my permission." He then quickly added, "Best of luck with your patient." Activating his communicator, he made his initial report to the Captain. "Sir…it appears to be a repeat of what happened on the Pursuit of Commerce. Whatever attacked the Ferengi attacked the Hypatia as well." Then, seeing Lieutenant Atoa making his way towards the captain’s station, Hobson added, "Mr. Atoa is accessing the Captain’s log—perhaps we’ll find something there."

    "Very good, Commander." Shelby replied, "I’ll beam over engineering and operations personnel to see if we can prep the Hypatia for travel."

    "Understood, Sir." Hobson acknowledged, then, turning towards Atoa, he questioned, "Anything from the log, Mister?"

    "Maybe, Sir." Atoa replied. "Listen…"

    "Captain’s log, USS Hypatia, Captain Gregory Forrest recording, Stardate 48965.5. We are approaching the anomaly. It appears, more than anything else, to resemble a dark hole—there are no stars at all within the area of effect. Sensor scans have not been able to penetrate the anomaly, nor have we recovered any data from the probes we’ve launched into it. We’ve hailed it using all standard hailing frequencies, but so far, no joy…"

    ****************************************

    "Captain!" Anara exclaimed, "Object approaching us at warp velocities—38 degrees, 6 minutes…

    "Away team—prepare for immediate beam out." Shelby commanded, then, addressing Lavelle, she ordered, "Mr. Lavelle, put the intruder on the viewscreen."

    As Hobson and Atoa rematerialized on the bridge, the anomaly appeared on the main viewer.

    "There’s nothing there…" Django remarked as the crew stared into the void.

    "Unable to obtain sensor readings…" Anara then reported.

    "Just like the Hypatia’s log reported." Atoa remarked in a somber tone.

    "Shields up and charge weapons." Liz then ordered.

    "Weapons online and shields up, sir." Hobson acknowledged just before his mind went numb.

    "The emptiness…it seeks to…it has invaded…" Anara whispered moments before collapsing.

    "Captain…" Both Lavelle and Django then slumped over their console.

    Varok, feeling the intrusion of the other in his mind, immediately steeled himself for the mental battle…but the entity was powerful and he, merely one Vulcan. As the science officer slipped into unconsciousness, Varok knew that he had to win this fight or all was lost. Drawing on all his mental resources, he girded himself for the coming struggle…

    Seeing her command crew collapse all about her, until finally the crewman who had arrived on the bridge to fix her chair, his cutting beam in his hand, had fallen by her side, Liz looked defiantly at the viewscreen. "You mother…" She began before the darkness finally overcame her.

    *******************************

    It was pleased. With one exception, the entities within the silver shell were now ready to be devoured. Extending its tendrils, It prepared to feed.

    *******************************

    "Captain?" Lt. Atoa repeated, raising his voice just a touch.

    "Yes?" Captain Shelby replied groggily as she shook her head in an effort to clear her thoughts.

    "We’re being hailed, sir." The tactical officer reported, his voice tone now reflecting growing excitement, "It’s a ship in the anomaly."

    "Put it on!" Shelby then ordered with a note of anticipation as the dark image of the alien entity on the viewscreen became replaced by that of a very attractive humanoid male, apparently in his mid thirties in human standard years, wearing a close fitting white jumpsuit with gold trim open at the collar. Golden haired, he possessed three small circular recesses, one on top of the other on his forehead.

    "Greetings…" The being exclaimed, "My…designation…" He began, looking quizzically at Shelby as if to ask whether his words were being translated properly. Seeing the human captain’s nod of the head, the alien continued to speak. "…is…Jessan. My…people? The…Coromoran. I…we…come in peace…as…explorers."

    "I am Captain Elizabeth Shelby…" Liz replied, introducing herself with a smile. "And this ship is the USS Sutherland from the United Federation of Planets, and we also are explorers and come in peace." Then, taking a deep breath, she gently probed, "If I might ask, from where did you come?"

    "I…come from…" Jessan began, "…the grouping of…stars…that exist just outside this…galaxy."

    "Maria?" Lavelle whispered softly to the ensign sitting next to him, "Is he saying that he’s coming from one of the Magellenic Clouds?"

    "I think so…" Django replied, her whisper not concealing her awe at the distance traveled by the alien.

    "You’ve traveled quite a long distance." Shelby, more than a little impressed at the alien’s feat, told Jessan.

    "I am…" The alien stammered, "…the…first…of…my people…to travel so far. We…are shy…we seek…only peaceful contact. But…all our probes…indicated that…this…galaxy…is war torn…"

    "I understand." Shelby replied sympathetically. "But please know that the Federation shares your people’s views. You will find nothing but friendly contacts with us…and…should you, for whatever reason, wish no further contact with us, then we will respect that and leave you alone. But…" The captain then added with as winning a grin as she could muster, "…I hope that you will wish to have further dealings with us."

    "I…would…like that." Jessan replied, his lips turning up into what Shelby interpreted as a smile. "I…apologize?" He said, his facial expression now showing regret, "For any…damage…caused your ship by my vessel’s…automatic…defenses…I…apologize." The alien said, showing open hands in what Liz took to be a gesture of regret."

    “No harm done,” Liz replied.

    “Thank you…” The alien responded and then added, “I…would like to…make…amends. Perhaps…" He offered, "…you and your friends would join me on my ship for…sustenance…"

    “Could I ask you to wait for a moment, Jessan?” Liz asked, maintaining her friendly demeanor.

    “Of course…” The alien agreed as Anara, at Shelby’s signal, muted communications.

    Turning towards her Operations Officer, Liz then asked, "What are your scans picking up Lieutenant?"

    Closing her eyes to block out a momentary pain in her forehead, the Deltan responded, "All appears to be in order, sir. The only being on board is Jessan, and no weapons systems appear to have been powered up. Engines, however, appear to be powered differently from our warp engines—I am unable at present to determine the power source.

    "Well…" the captain grinned, "That’ll give Mr. Tol something to do…"

    "Yes, sir." Anara agreed, a slight smile crossing her features at the mention of the Trill engineer.

    Turning to her Science Officer, Liz was momentarily taken aback as she saw what appeared to be a shadowy presence possessing Vulcanoid features standing in front of the console. Shaking her head, she was happy to see Lt. Commander Deshar, her Andorian science officer. "What are you picking up, Mr. Deshar?"

    "Life form readings are humanoid, sir. The ship has an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and its temperature appears to be at a comfortable level for humanoid life."

    "Opinions?" Liz then asked, turning to each of her senior staff in turn.

    "I would recommend caution, sir." Hobson replied in his usual patrician voice. "While he appears peaceful, we don’t know anything about Jessan or his people. I think it’s too risky to chance a face to face meeting on his ship.

    "I think we should go." Deshar enthusiastically chimed in. “After all…” He added as his lips turned up in a grin while his antennae moved excitedly, “…we wouldn’t want to offend him.”

    "What about you, Mr. Lavelle?" Shelby then asked, turning towards the youthful helmsman.

    Excited at being asked his opinion on such a weighty matter, Sam blurted out, "I think we should go, sir. Just imagine—this being came from one of the Magellenic Clouds—think of what we can learn from him."

    Chuckling at her young officer’s thirst for the unknown, Liz then turned towards her tactical officer. "What’s your opinion, Mr. Atoa?"

    "I agree with Commander Hobson, sir." Manuele said. "We really don’t know anything about this being and I would prefer a meeting to be here where we know the territory and can set the terms.”

    Nodding her head thoughtfully, Liz then queried, “What about you, Mr. Rysyl?"

    Placing her hand over her forehead, Anara grimaced. "I say no." Seeing the puzzled look on her captain’s face, Anara explained, "Something…I’m not sure what…isn’t right. Sir, I recommend we leave here—now.”

    "Are you sure you’re ok?" Liz asked solicitously, "You don’t look well."

    "I…will be fine, sir." Anara responded with a shaky grin. "It’s just a headache."

    "All right." Shelby replied, not completely convinced. "But I want you to report to Dr. Murakawa at the end of your shift." Then, activating her communicator, Shelby polled her engineer and doctor about the possibility of a face to face encounter with the alien.

    "Hell yeah!" Liz chuckled as Tol’s reply came loud and clear through her communicator.

    "I think I’m going to go with Commander Hobson on this one, sir." Denise said. "I’d like to know a little bit more about what’s going on here first.

    "Thank you, everyone." Shelby said, arriving at a decision. Returning to the alien on her viewscreen, Shelby reopened communications. "Jessan…" She smiled, offering a counter to the alien’s proposal “Perhaps you would allow us to be your hosts on the Sutherland…” She then added in an encouraging voice, “I’m sure we can accommodate any extraordinary life support needs you might have.”

    "That would be…acceptable.” The alien replied with a gentle roll of his head. “I…understand your…reluctance…to…come on board…my vessel. I…look forward…to…dining…with you."

    **************************************

    Almost. Varok thought as it appeared for the briefest of moments that Captain Shelby had recognized his intrusion into her dream state. But, the entity’s control was too powerful. I shall have to redouble my efforts. Varok stated both to himself and the entity as he renewed the tasking mental struggle.

    Why do you resist? It, appearing as Saliya in Varok’s mind, asked. It is not logical.

    Because it is necessary. Varok replied. And appearing as my mate will not alter the situational parameters. I will still resist you.

    The other one failed. The simulacrum of Saliya remarked in a matter of fact tone, as will you.

    He was young..., Varok countered, referring to Lt. Saavar of the Hypatia...and inexperienced. I am neither. The Vulcan declared without a single element of either pride or boastfulness.

    I am sorry that you insist on making this so difficult, husband. The image of Saliya then melted away, to be replaced by a Klingon warrior. You will die! It bellowed as it jabbed It’s knife deep into the Vulcan’s skin.

    ************************************

    As Jessan materialized on the Sutherland, Captain Shelby and the rest of her senior staff were immediately suffused by a warm white glow. "Do not be alarmed." Jessan announced. "It is merely a…side effect…of my…material transportation…device…"

    "We understand." Shelby replied with a smile. "Thank you for joining us."

    "May I?" Dr. Murakawa then asked as she approached with a medical tricorder.

    "Please…" The alien responded, permitting her to conduct her scan.

    "Thank you." Denise said with a smile. Then, turning to Liz, she reported. "Humanoid. A slightly higher temperature than human normal and lower rate of respiration, but otherwise, remarkably compatible with most humanoid life in this quadrant."

    Turning towards her science officer, a chill ran up Shelby’s spine as she thought she saw a Vulcan standing where Deshar stood. "Is everything all right, Captain?" The Andorian asked.

    "Yeah." Liz replied, shaking her head. "It must be all the white in here—I thought I saw something."

    "If you are unwell…" Jessan offered, "…we can meet later?"

    "No…I’m fine." Shelby said with a smile as she took the alien’s hand in hers. "Amongst my people…" She said, maintaining her gentle demeanor, "…this is a token of friendship."

    "Then…" Jessan replied, his lips imitating the captain’s smile, "…let us be friends. I think there is much that we can share."

    **************************************

    Still in the form of a Klingon warrior, It backhanded Varok, drawing green blood from his lips. You will cease this useless waste of energy immediately! It blustered as it delivered a kick at the Vulcan’s side.

    Dodging the kick, the science officer, using a Vulcan martial arts move, struck It in the chest, causing It to stagger backwards.

    It shifted form once again, this time to that of Varok’s daughter, T’Prel, when she was age eight. Father? Why are you hurting me? I must do this to live…to Change…

    Seeing an opportunity to learn more about his foe as well as to catch his breath, Varok asked as if he were really talking to his daughter, What do you mean…Change?

    The Change…the image of T’Prel replied …is The Change. It happens at this time.

    But what is involved with this Change? Varok persisted.

    This one ceases to be what It is and becomes what It will be, the likeness of the little girl responded.

    A metamorphosis. Varok concluded. You are preparing to go into a pupa state.

    It is The Change. The entity responded as it shifted into yet another form, this time that of Jessan. And you cannot resist. You and the other life forms will be consumed and will provide the energy I need to find other sources of sustenance. An image of Deep Space Nine immediately flashed into Varok’s mind. There I will be able to consume enough energy for The Change.
     
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  15. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    All caught up with this. Still as exciting as I remember this all those years ago. A great introduction to the Suthy and her crew, as well as an interesting mystery which has now turned into a full-blown and serious threat to our heroes with only a few able to prevent the aliens's dark designs.
     
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  16. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 9

    "I…understand that your species is…limited…because of your…pheromone…production?" Jessan inquired of Anara as they sat at a sumptuous buffet.

    Ignoring the throbbing pain in her head, Anara replied somewhat weakly, "Yes. All Deltans are required to take an Oath of Celibacy where we promise to abstain from sexual relations during our term of service in Starfleet."

    "But…you say that…sex…is…a vital element…of your…cultural ethos?" Jessan further probed, "Doesn’t this…restriction…imposed on…you…limit you…as a species?"

    "Yes, it does." Anara emphatically agreed.

    "There is an alternative for Deltans to taking the Oath." Dr. Murakawa interjected, though not very forcefully.

    "The inhibitors are no alternative." Anara retorted, her distaste for the injections obvious in her voice. Then, turning towards the alien, she explained, "Starfleet does provide Deltans with another ‘option’—we can choose to be injected with drugs that inhibit the production of our pheromones. If we agree to take the injections, then we are not bound by the Oath and can engage in sexual relations with others."

    "But…" Dr. Murakawa, giving Anara an apologetic look, took over, "…because their pheromones play such an important role in Deltan intimacy, removing them would be like deadening the sense of touch in humans. It doesn’t remove the capacity to engage in intimate relations—but it does take away from the experience."

    "It turns us into shells." Anara spat out. "The inhibitors and the Oath are both wrong and unnecessary—they’re holdovers from an earlier, less enlightened time."

    "Perhaps…" The alien offered, "I can help." He then explained, "It…should be possible…to regulate the effects of your…pheromones…without taking away…the…completeness?" Seeing Anara nod her head at his word choice, Jessan continued, "The…completeness…of your sensations."

    "That would be excellent!" Denise exclaimed. "What is it? A drug? A series of treatments? Hormones?" Excited, the doctor continued, "We’ve tried for years to find some means of controlling Deltan pheromones without robbing them of the beneficial effects they produce…"

    "It’s a nice dream…" Anara interjected, her hand going momentarily to her forehead as another impulse of pain struck, "…but I’d have to see this…whatever it is…first."

    "I…understand." Jessan replied, acknowledging the Deltan woman’s concerns. "I…hope…you will find…that…what I have to offer…will…be of use." Then, turning towards the doctor, he proffered, "And…I ask that you…feel free…to examine my medical files. If there is…anything…that you think would be useful…then…feel free to…take it."

    Feeling as if she’d struck the mother lode, Denise’s eyes grew wide at the prospect of accessing the alien’s medical database. "That would be…terrific!" She all but leapt from her seat at the prospect of the Federation being able to jump at least a century, maybe more in medical and biological knowledge. Turning towards Captain Shelby, she asked, her plaintive expression resembling more than anything else a little girl’s, "When can I start."

    "Perhaps tomorrow." Shelby, sharing her chief medical officer’s enthusiasm for discovery, responded. "But for now I think we’ve imposed enough on Mr. Jessan." Then, getting up from her chair, Liz once again extended her hand to the alien. "Thank you, Jessan, for joining us." Captain Shelby grinned as she made her sales pitch. "So we are in agreement then." She said, "You will come with us to Deep Space Nine and open formal negotiations with the Federation?"

    "Yes." The alien replied. "I…look forward…to our peoples getting to know each other better."

    "As do I." Captain Shelby said as she turned motioned in the direction of her tactical officer, “If you’d like, Mr. Atoa would be glad to show you to the VIP quarters and help you get settled in for the night. Then tomorrow you can return to your ship and we’ll go together to Deep Space 9."

    “That…” Jessan replied, his lips turning up in what looked at first to Shelby to be a predatory grin, causing a momentary chill to run up and down her spine, “…would be…most…acceptable.”

    ******************************

    Still appearing in the form of Jessan, It continued to confront the unyielding Varok. This one can feel the energy from all these life forces here flowing into it! You cannot stop The Change…nothing can…so why do you continue to resist?"

    The needs of the many…Varok replied, quoting the famous Vulcan axiom…outweigh the needs of the few…He then looked the entity directly in the eyes ...or the one.

    Survival is the prime imperative. The alien, now taking on the form of the legendary Vulcan T’Pol, countered. What this one does—this one does in order to survive—to grow—to Change. Who are you to say that this one cannot?

    As you said…Varok responded, Survival is the prime imperative. Then, the Vulcan offered, But there is no need for either you or us to die in order for you to undergo your metamorphosis. Allow us to help you…

    Changing now into the form of Varok’s wife, It replied, The Change is the Change…it is the way it must be.

    Steeling himself for the next round in their struggle, Varok replied, Your choice is illogical. It is not too late to reconsider.

    Morphing now into the form of a Borg drone, It declared, Resistance is futile! You must submit!

    ********************************

    "So…what do you think?" Sam asked Ensign Django as they reached the door to her quarters.

    "About what?" The young ensign answered coyly.

    "About…Jessan…about what happened…about…"

    "I don’t care about Jessan." Maria replied as she grasped the collar of Sam’s shirt, pulling his head down close to hers. "And the only thing I’m thinking about right now is…this…" She declared just before kissing him hungrily on the lips as she dragged him into her room.

    ***********************************

    Entering her ready room, Liz’s eyes wandered, stopping as they caught sight of the portrait of her grandfather. Smiling warmly, she imagined him standing next to it, a wide grin on his face. "So…Poppy…what do you think?"

    It sounds too good to be true, Spitfire. Her grandfather seemed to reply. You know what they say about Greeks and Romulans and strange aliens bearing gifts.

    "I guess…" Liz acknowledged, clutching the edge of her desk as she felt a wave of vertigo. Looking up, Shelby saw what looked like a shadowy figure standing next to where her grandfather was standing. "Who are you?" The captain demanded as she saw the gray figure trying to mouth a word, "I said who the hell are you!"

    Before the image could either answer her question or take on a more solid form, Shelby’s concentration was broken by the ship’s intercom. "Captain?" Lt. Atoa interrupted, "Admiral Nechayev is on subspace."

    "Put it on here." Shelby directed as both ghostly images vanished.

    "This is a momentous event!" Admiral Nechayev, who had been listening patiently to Shelby’s briefing, practically beamed as she addressed Liz over the monitor. "This is a major coup for you, Captain—if everything goes as we hope it does, it will more than make up for any bad feelings caused by Mizar." Then, cupping her chin, she asked, "And you say that this Jessan can speak for his people?"

    "Yes, Admiral." Liz replied. "He says that he was sent as an emissary and has carte blanche to negotiate treaties and arrangements."

    "And he is open to sharing technology with us?" Nechayev further inquired as she leaned closer into the viewscreen.

    "Yes, sir." Liz acknowledged. "In fact, Lt. Commander Tol is planning on beaming over to his ship to study his engines while we are on route to Deep Space Nine."

    "That’s good to know, Captain." Nechayev grinned. "This could be a vital breakthrough as regards our political situation with not only the other Alpha Quadrant powers, but also with respect to the Dominion. The technology provided by Jessan’s people would place the Federation in an unassailable position—the Founders wouldn’t dare attack through the wormhole. You know…" She added with a wink, "This is going to put you on the fast track towards your admiral’s stars—better not get too comfortable in the Sutherland’s center chair."

    "Yes Sir…thank you, Sir." Liz replied an element of doubt creeping into her mind as she remembered her imaginary conversation with her grandfather—beware of Greeks and Romulans—and unknown aliens—bearing gifts.

    "Well, Captain…" Admiral Nechayev then said, ending the conversation, "I look forward to meeting Mr. Jessan on Deep Space Nine. Keep him happy. Nechayev out."

    ***********************************

    Returning to her quarters, Anara once again clutched her head as another burst of pain made its presence felt. Only, unlike the other times, this headache refused to go away. Staggering down the corridor, she begged her fellow crewmembers to help her, but every time she approached someone, they vanished. "What is happening to me?" She cried as she collapsed to her knees, the pain finally overcoming her as she slowly faded away.

    ************************************

    Entering sick bay, Dr. Murakawa went immediately to the examination area where her Ferengi test subject was supposed to be only to find an empty examination bed. Taken aback, she then went to where the stasis tubes containing the remains of the rest of the crew of the freighter were being kept only to find all of them empty as well. Quickly scanning the room for intruders and finding none, Denise’s heart began to beat even more rapidly as she approached the stasis tube containing the sole survivor of the Hypatia. Seeing the young Vulcan lieutenant standing before her, she stepped back, her hand over her mouth, and gasped.

    "Your thoughts…your emotions…your life force…" He said weakly, "It feeds…"

    But at that moment, the form of a Jessan appeared beside him. Morphing into a Borg drone, It extended its nanoprobe injectors into the neck of the hapless Vulcan as Denise stood frozen with fear. As the lieutenant crumpled to the floor in a heap, the Borg turned towards the stunned doctor and advanced.

    Denise screamed.

    *************************************

    Lt. Commander Tol returned to his beloved engines, his psyche in a state of turmoil as he, the four previous Tol hosts, and the Tol symbiote itself held what amounted to a mental conference in an effort to sort out recent events.

    "This is an opportunity!" Tesa, the third host who was a dilithium speculator, yelled, trying to make herself heard over the din of voices. "We’d be foolish to pass this up."

    "I agree." The second Tol host, Moran, who once owned and operated a mining conglomerate on Trill, said, supporting Tesa's position.

    "I don’t know…" Rena, the fourth host and a biologist, demurred. "It’s too easy…too straightforward…"

    "Rena has a valid point." Eolan, the first host and a former politician, spoke, his great experience giving him added weight in the discussion. "What do we really know about this Jessan?"

    "He gave us full access to his files." Jadon pointed out, maintaining a neutral stance amongst the cacophony of voices.

    "Yes…but how much did they actually tell us about him and his people?" Eolan countered.

    "Well…" Jadon began, carefully considering his answer, "We haven’t had the opportunity to really analyze his data very closely as yet—there’s an awful lot of it."

    "Exactly!" Eolan exclaimed triumphantly. "He’s given us an information overload. It’ll take us months…years…to adequately piece together all that raw data—and by then…if he isn’t what he says he is…it’ll be too late."

    The Tol symbiote, appearing as an androgynous figure, then joined the discussion. "It might already be too late." It remarked dryly as it directed the attention of its hosts towards Jessan who, to the astonishment of Jadon as well as the former Tol hosts, had suddenly transformed into a Borg drone who, upon extending its nanoprobe injectors approached.

    "Oh hell!" Jadon swore as he and his fellow hosts as well as the Tol symbiote, prepared to meet the intruder.

    ************************************

    Entering his quarters, Commander Hobson immediately recognized the flashing light on his monitor indicating that he had an awaiting message from subspace. "Computer, play message," he commanded, sitting down in his chair before the monitor. Coming to life, the screen displayed the image of Admiral Ross. "Greetings Commander Hobson. I’ve got some good news for you—your promotion to captain has been approved and you are to be given command of the USS Tecumseh effective Stardate 49000.01. Congratulations, Commander—or rather, Captain—this has been a long time coming."

    Shaking his head in disbelief, Hobson played the message again and yet again. "Computer," The first officer directed, "Check source of this message—is it legitimate?"

    "Source is from Starbase 375, sent on Stardate 48985.7 and is authentic." The computer confirmed. "The message is from Admiral William Ross, Chief of Starfleet Operations, Bajoran Sector, to Commander Christopher Hobson, First Officer, USS Sutherland.”

    "That’s odd…" Hobson mused, "I thought Admiral Nechayev was in charge of this sector. Well…I’m due to meet the captain…maybe she knows something I don’t…"

    *******************************

    "Sir…" Chris began as he entered the ready room.

    "Come in and take a seat, Commander." Liz instructed as she motioned in the direction of a plush black chair in front of her desk.

    "Thank you, Sir." Hobson replied formally as he sat down. Then, slowly, he related his recent message regarding his promotion to the captain.

    "Well…" Liz responded with a smile upon being told the news about her first officer’s promotion. "Didn’t I tell you it was only a matter of time before you got your promotion?"

    "Yes sir." Chris affirmed, still maintaining his stoic exterior. "But, to be honest, I didn’t think it would occur this quickly."

    "Starfleet Command moves in mysterious ways." Shelby remarked with a wry expression on her face. "Anyway…you deserve it." Then, taking a deep breath, she asked, "So…did they tell you what ship you’d be getting?"

    "Admiral Ross said that I would be getting the Tecumseh, sir." Hobson replied with a slight grin.

    "Admiral Ross?" Liz questioned, raising an eyebrow.

    "Yes Sir." Chris responded. "I was confused too, but I checked the message’s authenticity and the computer said that Admiral Ross was now head of operations for the Bajoran sector." Then, as he saw the thoughtful look on his commanding officer’s face, he added, "I was under the impression that Admiral Nechayev is in command of this sector."

    "She is…" The captain confirmed. "Admiral Ross isn’t supposed to take over here until after Stardate 49000.01…"

    "But the message was sent on Stardate 48985.7…" Hobson remarked, his ears pricking up as he began to sense that something was seriously wrong.

    "Exactly." Shelby agreed as once again, uncertainty filled her mind. As the doubts of the two officers increased an image began to take shape. Wavering and fading in and out, Shelby and Hobson both gasped as it finally took shape, revealing itself to be that of a Vulcan.

    "Varok!" Liz, her thoughts clearing, exclaimed.

    "We do not have much time, Captain…Commander Hobson." The Vulcan quickly stated. "It will be here soon. If we are to survive we must act now and in unison."

    "Tell us what we have to do." Shelby replied decisively as Hobson nodded his head in agreement.

    "Clear your thoughts." Varok directed. "Allow nothing to distract you from our purpose. We must together overcome the entity—it is the only way to save ourselves." Then, looking up, he announced as the image of a Borg drone began to take shape. "It is here. We must flee now."

    **************************************

    "Is this like the time when the Melkotians made Captain Kirk and his people think they were at the OK Corral?" Shelby asked, catching her breath as the trio took cover inside a nearby Jeffries tube from the pursuing Borg simulacrum.

    "Not quite." Varok replied in a low voice. "While this is similar in that we now inhabit a world shaped by our group consciousness, it is different in that in the case of the Melkotians, they merely set up a world which served as a vehicle for Kirk and the others to harm themselves—but otherwise they did not interfere. In this case the entity is directly interacting within the environment and is feeding upon our thoughts, emotions, and life force while our physical bodies are still unconscious on the Sutherland."

    "So…how do we stop it?" Hobson, asked his normally icy façade momentarily cracking as the drone drew ever closer.

    "We stop it by giving it a really bad case of heartburn!" Shelby answered back. "What we have to do is stall it long enough so that our physical bodies can wake up and retake control of the ship," she explained, her mind racing to formulate a plan. "Ok…the critter’s using our thoughts to bring out the maximum amount of emotion and mental energy, right?”

    Seeing Varok nod his head in assent, Liz continued to outline her scheme. "A frontal attack is out—it’ll know how to adapt to whatever we do. So…we have to confuse it…force it to react in several places at once."

    "Hence the indigestion." Hobson said, picking up on his commanding officer’s plan.

    "Right." Shelby acknowledged with a grin, but, before she could explain how, the loud and grating sound of the metal covering of the Jeffries tube being ripped from its place immediately forced the three officers to turn their heads in the direction of the noise.

    "Break time’s over!" Shelby called out as she and her companions immediately scurried in the opposite direction of the Borg drone rapidly closing on them. "Move!" Liz urged as the creature closed almost to within a meter of the trio.

    Pressing the interior emergency release button, Hobson kicked the exit plate out into the ship’s corridor hurriedly clambering out. Taking his captain’s hand, he quickly helped her out of the cramped tunnel and then reached for the other member of their party. But, just as he grasped Varok’s hand, the Vulcan was jerked violently away as the entity took hold of him.

    "Go!" Varok urged. "I will try to buy you the time that you need—but you must hurry—I do not know how long I can occupy It."

    Lunging impulsively towards her struggling science officer, Liz felt a pair of strong arms around her waist restraining her. Turning towards the source and scowling, she saw her first officer gently shake his head. "He’s right, Captain." Hobson said softly as they both heard the sounds of violent struggle coming from deep inside the Jeffries tube. "We have to go now if we are going to save this ship."

    "You’re right." Shelby said, regaining her composure. "Now—let’s get back to our bodies—I’m in the mood for a little payback."

    "Agreed." The Iceman acknowledged, his poker face now firmly in place. "So…where are we going?"

    "Engineering first." Shelby replied, determination in her voice. "Then—holodeck one."

    "Holodeck one?" Hobson, confused, asked.

    "Yeah," Liz replied with an icy grin. "That critter’s been messing with our minds—now we’re going to mess with its."
     
    CeJay and Tribble puncher like this.
  17. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 10

    This is a waste of energy.
    It said simply as It pulled Varok back into the Jeffries tube.

    Resistance is not futile. Varok replied as he grappled with the entity in the tight quarters. Your presence is known by the others now. He said as he tried and failed to break free. Once again, the science officer offered an olive branch to the entity. We can help you—you do not have to continue as you have been.

    What is—is. It responded as It tightened Its hold on Varok’s neck. Submit to the inevitable.

    *****************************

    As Shelby and Hobson rushed into Engineering they were greeted with an odd sight—what appeared to be six Trill engaged in a battle with the entity in its Borg form.

    "What the hell?" A startled Shelby exclaimed as a female Trill flew past her and Hobson to crash into a bulkhead.

    "Welcome to the party!" Jadon called back over his shoulder as he ducked a roundhouse blow delivered by the Borg. "By the way…" He asked, scampering back to where his captain and first officer stood. "What the hell is going on here?"

    "According to Varok, we’re in some sort of shared group consciousness." Liz explained as an androgynous appearing Trill joined the trio.

    "This is Tol—my symbiote." Jadon said by way of introduction.

    Seeing the puzzled looks on the human’s faces, the symbiote explained, "I’m not sure if I’ve adopted this form or the entity has for me—in any case, it’s probably a lot easier for you to relate to me this way than in my actual form."

    "So, what’s the plan?" Jadon asked as another host, this one Moran, screamed.

    "Whatever it is." Tol said dryly, "We better hurry—I’m running out of hosts."

    "Very funny." Jadon quipped, "Anyone ever tell you that you should have been a comedian?"

    "Yeah." Tol riposted, "Rena."

    "She would." Jadon fired right back as he turned back to the captain, "Well, boss?"

    "Does this go on all the time inside you?" Shelby asked idly before turning to the crisis at hand. "Ok…we need you to trigger a warp core breech."

    "What!!?" A shocked Jadon cried out. "Ok…I understand this is all going on in our minds but still…if we all think the ship’s blown up won’t that…"

    "Kill us?" Tol interrupted. "Probably."

    "The entity’s not going to allow that to happen." Shelby explained. "It needs our mental and emotional energies to feed off of—it’s not going to let us die before it finishes its dinner. What we have to do is distract it long enough so that our physical bodies can wake up. While you and your buddies are tying it up here, Varok is hopefully distracting it where he’s at and we’re going to be doing some distracting of our own in the holodeck and elsewhere on the ship."

    "Ok…got you." Jadon replied as Tol nodded his head. "You guys get going and…do me a favor…hurry!

    **********************************

    Even though he was reeling from the blows the entity had been repeatedly landing on his face and body, Varok stubbornly refused to surrender. Even in the midst of this desperate struggle though, a small part of the Vulcan’s mind was busy analyzing with fascination this entire scenario. A shared group consciousness on this large a scale—and all created by a single entity so that it could undergo a metamorphosis—but into what? It is…regrettable…that the entity appears to be unwaveringly single minded in pursuing its goal—there is so much we could learn from it.

    Why? Varok croaked as the entity had its hand around the Vulcan’s throat, slowly choking the life out of him.

    The Change is all. It replied as it tightened its grip on its victim’s throat. Submit. The entity then momentarily shifted to the form of Saliya. If you do so husband, I promise that there will be much less pain—it will be as if you went into a deep and gentle sleep.

    Submission is not an option. Varok replied, immediately rejecting both the entity’s call to surrender and the method used to obtain it.

    *********************************

    Racing down the corridor alongside his captain, Hobson was struck by a sudden burst of inspiration. "Sir?" The first officer called out as he placed a hand on his superior’s arm.

    "Yes, Commander?" Liz, stopping for a moment as she turned in Hobson’s direction, asked, and then, with a note of impatience in her voice commanded, "Make it fast."

    "If we’re trying to distract the entity, sir…wouldn’t we have better success if we were able to recruit more people."

    "Yeah…" Shelby agreed, the shook her head ruefully, "Problem is…we’re running short of time."

    "I can reach the crew quarters from here fairly quickly, Captain." Hobson assured, "And while you’re preparing your distraction in the holodeck, I and anyone else I find can help create other disturbances the entity will have to cope with." Then, looking directly into Shelby’s eyes, he pleaded, "Sir…you said that we have to trust each other…now, the question you have to ask yourself is…do you trust me?"

    Flashing a lopsided grin, Liz nodded her head, "Go."

    Turning towards the turbolift, Hobson said over his shoulder as he started to run, "Thank you, sir."

    "Good luck!" Shelby called back before taking off herself for her goal.

    **********************************

    Well…Hobson surmised as he trotted down the corridor after exiting the turbolift, …as everything else in this group consciousness seems to be working almost like it normally would, then I should be able to locate the rest of the senior staff through the computer. Activating his breast communicator pin, he then spoke, "Computer—what are the locations of Lieutenants Rysyl, Murakawa, Atoa, and Lavelle and Ensign Django?"

    "Lieutenant Rysyl is unable…correction…can be located…in the main corridor, Deck 37…" The computer responded, "Lieutenant Murakawa is in sickbay, Lieutenant Atoa is on the main bridge, and Lieutenant Lavelle and Ensign Django are both in her quarters."

    "Lieutenant Murakawa?" Receiving no response, Hobson then tried Anara, "Lieutenant Rysyl?" He called, his face clouding momentarily with worry when he once again received no response, he tried Lavelle and Django. Receiving no answer from them, he made one last attempt. "Lieutenant Atoa?"

    "Yes sir." The tactical officer replied to the great relief of Commander Hobson.

    "What’s your current location, Lieutenant?" Hobson, testing his theory as to the workings of the ‘computer’ in this shared consciousness, asked in his usual patrician tone.

    "On the bridge, sir," Atoa, slightly confused, responded, "At my station."

    "Very good, Mr. Atoa." Then, his voice now taking on a grim tone, the first officer commanded, "I don’t have time to explain right now, but I want you to have the ship’s weapons and shields ready to be deployed the moment I or Captain Shelby say so."

    "Yes, sir." The New Kauaian acknowledged as his fingers flew over his control console.

    ***************************************

    Entering holodeck one, Shelby, touching base with her first officer, sighed. "Well, at least you were able to contact Mr. Atoa. Lieutenant Rysyl is closest to you, then Dr. Murakawa—retrieve them. As soon as I finish here, I’ll fetch Lavelle and Django."

    Yes, sir." Hobson confirmed, inwardly relieved that he was given the task of fetching Anara.

    Upon her first officer signing off, Liz then immediately commanded, "Computer, scan and record my image. On my orders, execute Shelby Alpha-1 in holodeck one…Beta-1 in holodeck two…and Alpha-2 in holodeck three populating each holodeck with multiple holograms of my image."

    "Scanning." The computer announced as a beam of light quickly traversed the captain’s body. "Scan completed. Awaiting orders."

    *************************************

    The…effort…of combating me… Varok gasped, momentarily breaking free from the grasp of the entity, while at the same time fighting the others…is already taxing your abilities. Unfortunately, the close quarters of the Jeffries tube allowed no room for the Vulcan to break free, and so, very quickly, once again the entity had a stranglehold over its prey. While you might defeat me…Varok defiantly uttered, you cannot defeat all the others and at the same time maintain the energy reserves you need for your Change…

    The Change will proceed. Nothing can stop it. It simply said in response as it flung the Vulcan against the tube wall, causing green blood to flow from the back of Varok’s head as it impacted the duranium wall.

    ************************************

    "Roll call!" Jadon called out from behind the cover of a console in Engineering.

    "Rena!" The last Tol host before Jadon called out from behind another console as she fired a phaser at the entity, still in the form of a Borg drone, hitting it, but without doing any damage.

    "Tol!" The symbiote called out, its gracile androgynous form ducking and weaving from the roundhouse blows launched by the entity.

    "Tesa!" The third host shouted as she ran for cover behind a bulkhead.

    "I think that’s all of us that’s left!" Rena hollered. The others look like they’re out for the count!”

    "It’ll have to do then." Jadon muttered and then called out. "When Captain Shelby gives the word, you all know what you have to do."

    "Yeah…we know." Tol called back. "I just hope she gives it soon—I don’t know how much longer we can hold on."

    "Hurry up, Liz…" Jadon softly whispered as he shifted his position, making ready for his mad dash to the warp core controls.

    ********************************

    "Lieutenant Rysyl!" Chris Hobson called out as he reached the coordinates the computer had indicated was her last known position. "Where are you?" His eyes scanned the entire corridor, but could not find her until, suddenly, she appeared ten meters in front of him on her knees, sobbing and screaming, her face lined and wrinkled. Rushing towards her, Chris joined her on the floor, and placing his hands on her shoulders, gently shook her, "Anara!"

    "It’s devouring me!" She cried, turning transparent once again. "Don’t let it take me!"

    "Focus, Lieutenant!" Hobson snapped, causing her head to jerk up in response. Seeing that he’d gotten her attention, Chris softened his voice as he looked deep into her tear filled blue eyes. "You’re an empath, Anara…use me as your anchor." Taking her hand in his, he nodded his head, permitting the young Deltan woman to touch his emotions.

    As her mind reached out, she initially ran into the hard exterior put out by her first officer, but soon realized that the ‘Iceman’ exterior was a carefully projected image—that beneath the surface there was a tumult of emotions. Seeing the figure of a beautiful dark-haired woman, Anara felt deep loss as the shuttlecraft she was on exploded. Then, the scene shifted. She was on the Sutherland’s auxiliary control room and she saw the emotionless face of the android Commander Data. She felt Hobson’s shame at being summarily replaced by the Enterprise officer, understanding his bitterness and anger while at the same time feeling his pride in his determination to do right by his crew, his oath, and his duty. Anara then felt even more anger and bitterness as she saw Chris tied to a desk, passed up for one promotion after another all on the recommendation of a counselor who truly did not understand what his patient needed. But, throughout all of the reverses faced by the man kneeling in front of her, Anara picked up on a quiet, firm determination to hold on. Seizing on this determination as a lifeline, she held on tight, using it to pull herself back to the man giving her his strength.

    "Thank you." She said in a soft voice as she gently let go Chris’s hand. Then, maintaining her gaze into his steely gray eyes, she asked, "What is happening to us?"

    "We appear to be in some sort of group consciousness set up by an entity." Hobson began to explain until Anara interrupted him.

    "It needs our life energies to sustain it." She finished, Chris nodding his head in agreement. "I could feel it sucking everything out of me," She sobbed, "And there was nothing I could do about it but watch."

    "I know." Hobson commiserated. "But we have a plan…" He smiled in an effort to cheer up his subordinate. "We’re going to give it the worst case of heartburn it’s ever had in its life."

    "Sounds like a good idea to me." Anara chuckled through her sobs. "So…when do we begin?"

    "First, we get Dr. Murakawa, and then we’ll get the ball rolling." Chris said, a slight smile crossing his features as he helped Anara to her feet. "Ready to go?"

    "Let’s." Anara, her confidence restored, replied with a smile as the duo took off down the corridor.

    ************************************

    Opening the door to Lavelle’s quarters, Captain Shelby found them encased in darkness. Hearing the sound of grunts and groans coming from the bedroom, Liz shook her head, a sly smile crossing her face. Approaching the bedroom, she ordered the computer to turn on the lights as the couple in the bed rapidly pulled up the covers over their bodies.

    "Captain!" Lavelle blushed as he recognized the figure standing in the doorway.

    "Hurry up and get dressed, you two." Shelby ordered. "We’re in a big mess here and there’s not a lot of time.

    "Uh…Sir…" Lavelle stammered, staying within the safety of the covers while Django, almost without a second thought, got out of bed and began dressing.

    "Oh hell!" Liz snorted as she turned her back. "It’s nothing I haven’t seen plenty of times before Lieutenant."

    A few minutes later, dressed and ready for duty, Lavelle and Django reported to Captain Shelby in the corridor. "What’s going on here, sir?" Maria, confused, asked.

    "Jessan isn’t what he seems to be.” Liz replied and then explained, “Short version: We’re in a shared group consciousness right now and Jessan—or whatever he is—is consuming our life forces. The plan is to distract him by coming at him from a multitude of directions. Hopefully that will shake his hold on us long enough for our physical bodies to wake up.” Taking a deep breath, she then asked, “Do you understand?”

    “I guess…sir…” Lavelle replied somewhat dubiously.

    “Look, Lieutenant!” Captain Shelby barked in her most assertive voice, “We don’t have time for doubts here—we have to move and move quickly.” As if to emphasize her point, the entity, in its form as a Borg drone, materialized at the far end of the corridor.

    Seeing the oncoming threat, Django swore in a low voice, “Oh hell…”

    “Damn.” Shelby cursed, “We’ll split up—I’ll draw him off. Report to Commander Hobson in the hangar deck; he’ll give you your marching orders.” She commanded, and then added as she took off at a trot for the turbolift, “Hurry!”

    ***************************************

    As they entered the medical bay, Anara and Hobson were immediately greeted by the figure of Dr. Murakawa, slumped down on the floor, oblivious to their presence. Rushing to her side, Anara called out her name, "Denise!"

    "Huh?" The doctor replied groggily as she looked up at the Deltan woman standing in front of her.

    "Doctor Murakawa." Commander Hobson then spoke. "Pull it together. We need you and we need you now."

    "Y…y…y…yes…sir…" She stammered as Anara, taking the oriental woman’s hand, shared with her the emotional strength that the Deltan woman had just recently received from the first officer.

    "Better?" Anara smiled as she looked down kindly on the doctor.

    "Much." Denise replied, regaining some of her composure. Then, turning her attention to Commander Hobson, she said, "Sir…there’s something seriously wrong going on here."

    "We know." Chris acknowledged. "We’re in some sort of shared group consciousness." He said, explaining to the doctor about the entity and how it had been attacking the entire crew.

    "Oh…that’s what it is." Dr. Murakawa, staggering to her feet, remarked as she explained what she had discovered earlier. "It must have attempted to hide the presence of the Ferengi from my consciousness to keep me from possibly figuring out what was going on."

    "But what about the Vulcan lieutenant from the Hypatia?" Anara asked. "Why was he able to show himself to you?"

    "I think it’s the same reason that Varok was able to finally show himself to me and the captain—he was finally able to do it after we’d begun to question aspects of this…reality." Hobson surmised.

    "There must be something about Vulcan telepathic abilities that gives them a greater resistance to the entity’s attacks." Denise speculated. "In any event, how are we going to stop this thing?" She then asked.

    "We’re going to overload its capacity to maintain the group consciousness." Hobson replied.

    "I think I see." The doctor responded her confidence restored. "By hitting it enough times in enough places, we should be able to shake its control long enough for our physical bodies to awaken."

    "Exactly." Chris affirmed. "Now…what I need you and Anara to do is try to find some means of hitting it from your end while I prepare a surprise of my own."

    "I think I might have an idea…" Denise exclaimed as she rushed over to her medical console. "Forced electro-biofeedback." She said, grinning triumphantly.

    "What?" Anara then asked, turning towards Hobson in confusion.

    "Explain yourself, Doctor." Chris urged.

    "As you probably remember from your Academy biology courses…" Dr. Murakawa patiently explained, "The neural system of most humanoid species relies on electrical impulses that travel between neurons…"

    "Yes…" Commander Hobson remarked his icy exterior now once again firmly in place. "I remember. So…what does this have to do with this forced electro-biofeedback?"

    "Since…" Denise said with a sigh, "…we’re all in a shared group consciousness with the entity acting as something of a central nervous system; we should be able to use it to transmit electrical impulses that will affect the central nervous systems of our unconscious bodies."

    "In other words…" Hobson, seizing upon her idea, continued, "we’ll use it to basically jump start us into consciousness."

    "You got it, sir!" Dr. Murakawa cried out triumphantly and then turned towards Lieutenant Rysyl. "Anara…I’m going to need you to help me set things up."

    "Tell me what to do." The Deltan replied while Commander Hobson, seeing that everything here was under control nodded his head in satisfaction.

    "I’ll leave you to prepare things on your end." He said as he turned towards the door. "You’re to act on either mine or the Captain’s signal—good luck!"

    ******************************

    Arriving on the hangar deck, Commander Hobson nodded in satisfaction as he saw both Lieutenant Lavelle and Ensign Django awaiting him. “Excellent. I assume Captain Shelby has informed you of our situation?”

    “Yes sir.” Sam replied.

    “We saw it.” Django added, a cold chill running up and down her spine. Then, a defiant look on her face, she asked, “What do you want us to do, sir?”

    “You’re to take the Chaffee,” Hobson ordered, pointing towards one of the shuttlecrafts sitting on ready launch status, “While Lavelle takes the White and I take the Gagarin.” Flashing a smug grin, he explained, “While we’re distracting the entity out there, Captain Shelby and the others will be giving it even more things to think about.” Taking a deep breath, he then ordered, “Right…let’s get moving—tempus fugit.”
     
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  18. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 11

    Swinging by the armory, Captain Shelby picked up several forcefield confinement posts, then, placing them on an antigrav sled, took them with her, carefully placing the posts in position in each holodeck. Activating her intercom, she then touched base with her people.

    "Commander Hobson?"

    "Ready, sir." Hobson replied from his position in the Gagarin. “Lavelle and Django are in position as well.”

    "How about you, Jadon?"

    "Better hurry up, sir." The Trill replied, "We’re down to just me and Tol. Rena just went down."

    "Just a few seconds more." Shelby answered back in a calm voice. "We’re almost ready." She then addressed the next team, "Report Dr. Murakawa?"

    "Just give the word, sir." The Doctor replied from her medical console.

    "Mr. Atoa. Are you ready?"

    "Yes sir." The burly tactical officer replied from his station. All weapons systems ready to go."

    "Mr. Varok…" Shelby then called out. "I don’t know if you can hear this or not, but if you can—just hold on!"

    The Vulcan, near collapse, upon hearing the captain’s voice prepared to summon his last vestiges of strength for what would be the climax of his long struggle with the entity.

    "All right boys and girls…" Shelby said taking a deep breath. "It’s party time! Mr. Atoa—get the ball rolling—open fire on Jessan’s ship with everything you’ve got."

    "Yes sir. Firing all weapons." Atoa replied as phaser fire lanced from the Sutherland’s arrays impacting directly on the graceful alien ‘ship’. Immediately after the phaser struck their target, Manuele then launched a spread of photon torpedoes which also found their mark. "Multiple impacts, sir. No visible effect." He reported as the alien vessel appeared to pivot in place. Then, green beams seemed to lance out from the vessel, striking the Sutherland.

    Feeling the ship shake under the impact, a small grin crossed Captain Shelby’s face. "Well…that got his attention." Feeling a momentary sense of vertigo, Liz hoped that that meant that the hold of the alien on her mind was weakening. Ok…time to pour on more gasoline, she thought grimly as she prepared to put the next part of her plan into action. "Alright Commander Hobson—it’s your turn."

    "Django…Lavelle…” Hobson ordered, “Attack!” With that, Chris, taking the controls of the Gagarin, led his makeshift squadron on a strafing run of Jessan’s ‘ship’. Smiling grimily as phaser beams from all three craft found their mark, Hobson contacted his wingmates. “Very good, gentlemen. Now…we do it again.”

    "Good work." Liz said with satisfaction as she imagined Hobson and his companions launching yet another attack run on the alien. Once again feeling a sense of vertigo, this time much more pronounced than the last, Shelby remarked, "Hope to God this means that everything’s working and not that I’m ready to end up in that thing’s gullet." Taking a deep breath, she then contacted her next team. "Ok, Jadon…you’re on!"

    "It’s about time!" Jadon swore as he and Tol both rushed for the warp core controls. The entity, still in the form of a Borg drone, seeing their purpose, moved rapidly to intercept, but Tol, seeing it out of the corner of his eye, quickly threw himself at it, the force of his impact staggering the creature. Jadon, seeing his opportunity, reached the console and, activating the sequence, set into motion a warp core breach.

    "Warp core imbalance at 10 percent and rising." The computer announced as red light flooded the Engineering section. "Warp core imbalance at twenty percent and rising." The computer said, continuing its countdown as the entity rushed towards the console, Jadon quickly dodging to the side.

    "Ok, sir. I did my part." Jadon said, speaking into his communicator. "Whatever you’re going to do, you better hurry, ‘cause if we don’t wake up by the time that warp core goes boom—then we’re all goners."

    "Yeah, but at least we won’t be entity crap." Shelby said grimly as, for a brief moment, she felt as if something had yanked at her…pulling her away from…no…pulling her towards…something…

    Shaking the cobwebs clear from her head, Liz, realizing that now it was her turn to play her part, spoke to the computer, commanding, "Activate emergency program Shelby Alpha Alpha One."

    Immediately all three holodecks sprang to life. Holodeck number one taking on the appearance of the Roman Coliseum with throngs of cheering spectators in the stands and gladiators parading around the arena surrounded by legionaries, their armor and spear points gleaming in the sunlight. Holodeck number two took on the shape of a mid twenty first century corporate pleasure palace, the air filled and scented with a mixture of jasmine and mood altering chemicals; multicolored lights flashing on the bodies of the nude men and women wearing brightly hued and lavishly decorated body paint, all dancing to the loud beat of the computer generated digi-pop music that was briefly popular during that period. Finally, in holodeck number three, a 1970s era disco appeared, complete with loud booming music, flashing strobe lights, and crowded dance floor. And, in each room, there were multiple images of Captain Shelby—one wearing her Starfleet uniform…another in the Emperor’s box dressed as a Roman noblewoman…yet another dancing sensuously wearing nothing but bright orange and rust red hued body paint decorated to resemble a brilliant fire, and yet another image wearing a black dress slit up to her thigh sitting at a bar nursing a drink.

    Activating her communicator from her location, and broadcasting on all frequencies, the ‘real’ Shelby issued her challenge. "Hey! Jessan or whoever or whatever you are! Come on out and show yourself!" After a few moments of no action, Liz taunted, "Just what I figured, all show…no go…"

    Just then, an image of Jessan appeared. "Why…are…you…doing this?" The attractive alien asked, raising its voice to make itself heard amidst the din.

    The image of Captain Shelby sitting at the bar then shouted, "’Cause I don’t like it when beings try to take over my ship and kill my crew! I kinda take that sort of thing personally!"

    Shifting into the form of a Romulan centurion, the entity fired its disruptor at the Shelby image sitting at the bar, disintegrating it.

    "Oops…wrong Liz!" Another image of Shelby, this one wearing a Starfleet uniform, called out from a second-floor balcony overlooking the dance floor. After disintegrating that Shelby, the entity was challenged by yet another Liz, this one on the dance floor.

    "Blew it again, dumbass!" She taunted. "Of course, the real me might not even be here…"

    "I could be over here!" The Shelby dressed as a Roman Empress challenged from her royal box in the Coliseum to the entity, now appearing as a Borg, standing in the middle of the arena. "Watch out for that lion!" She called out as a holographic lion charged the entity. Disintegrating first the big cat, the entity then fired on Empress Shelby, disintegrating her as well.

    "Blew it again!" Another Liz, this one sitting in the stands, called out. "Like I said …the real me might be somewhere else."

    "I’m the real deal!" The twenty first century body paint wearing Liz then shouted out.

    "Nope! I’m the real one!" Another Shelby, this one dressed as a well healed corporate executive called out from a divan.

    "Over here!" Yet another Liz, in holodeck three this time, called out from an upper floor table where she sat with two other Shelbys.

    "Uh Oh…" One of the Shelbys in the Coliseum, watching as the Borg image faded in and out momentarily, called out. "I think you’re in trouble—Is Hobby and his pals giving you a hard time, or was that a hit from one of Manuele’s photon torpedoes?

    "Warp core imbalance at forty percent and rising," the computer announced as one of the Shelbys, this one wearing tight jeans with a halter top, taunted the entity. "I wonder what’ll happen if the ship goes boom while you’re in this little mental group playpen you set up for us. I’m betting if it goes while you’re still here, you’ll be in the same boat we’re in," She then challenged, "So…You up for a game of chicken?"

    In each of the holodecks Shelbys taunted different avatars of the entity—in holodeck one it was the Borg, in holodeck two—a Jem‘Hadar soldier, while in number three, it was the Romulan. The avatars would kill a Shelby only to find two others taking its place. This continued until the avatars had finally maneuvered themselves into the position the real Shelby wanted them to be in. Taking out a small remote control unit from her pocket, she then pushed the button. The confinement fields in each of the holodecks then sprang to life, temporarily trapping the avatars within.

    Activating her communicator, Liz then called out, "Now!"

    ***********************************

    Hearing his captain’s call, Varok, summoning up his last vestiges of strength, rose from the deck where he lay slumped and charged the now staggering avatar of the entity that had been facing him for so long. The force of his charge knocking the two of them to the deck of the tube, the Vulcan, for the first time the aggressor, grappled his opponent, not giving it the opportunity to react.

    ********************************

    "Warp core imbalance at ninety percent." The computer announced as Dr. Murakawa turned towards Anara.

    "Ok, we’re on." The doctor said as she pushed the button on her console. "I hope this works." Immediately, the two women, along with the others, felt a strong electrical current run through their bodies as the entity howled its rage.

    "No!" The entity, now appearing to the entire crew as Jessan, called out as it faded in and out. "Please…"

    "It’s working!" Liz called out as the tugging within her grew stronger. "I can feel it!"

    ************************

    Opening her eyes, Captain Shelby found herself on the bridge of the Sutherland. Looking down, on the deck next to where she sat, she saw the withered body of the crewman who had been sent to fix her chair, his cutting laser still in his hands. Moving her hands to her temples, she felt the suction from the entity’s tentacles. Quickly grabbing the laser from the crumbling hand of her hapless crewman, Shelby attacked the tentacles with it, severing them. Then, yanking the remnants from her body, she stood up. Next to her, at his station, Commander Hobson also stirred to life. Rushing to him, she repeated the procedure with the cutting laser, cutting the tentacles connected to him. Nodding his head in gratitude, he then moved towards Anara while Liz ran over to the helm to free Sam and Django.

    In short order, the bridge crew was freed from the entity’s bindings. Activating her communicator, Liz contacted Engineering. "Mr. Tol, are you with us?"

    "Yes Sir." The engineer responded.

    "Great. What can you do about those tentacles coming after us?" She asked as she dodged a tentacle trying to affix itself to her while Hobson fired his phaser at another one, this one trying to target Anara.

    "I have an idea…but it’s kind of screwy…" Jadon answered as his fingers flew over his console.

    "Right now, Mr. Tol…" Liz remarked dryly, "I don’t care how flaky your idea is—as long as it works."

    It’s an old trick." Jadon said, "But it just might work. In the old days…before Starfleet vessels were equipped with deflector shields…" he explained, "…the only defense starships had was to polarize their hull plating."

    "Ok…" Shelby interjected impatiently, “I think I’m beginning to see where you’re going…”

    "I think sir…" Tol continued, elaborating on his thoughts while one of his engineering officers fired his phaser at an oncoming tentacle, "…that the excited state of the ions that occur when we polarize the hull will disrupt the phasing ability of the entity’s tentacles—giving us the chance to warp the hell out of here."

    "All right." Liz exclaimed, "Let’s do it!"

    "Hull plating polarized, sir." Tol announced as Liz and the rest of the crew cringed, covering their ears in an effort to protect themselves from the high pitched squeal emitted by the injured and enraged entity as its many tentacles, now severed, fell harmlessly to the decks.

    "Warp 9, Mr. Lavelle…Now!" Shelby ordered.

    "Course, sir." Django asked.

    "180 degrees about!" Shelby quickly replied as Lavelle engaged the engines. As the dark shape of It receded from their viewscreen a stony look took over Shelby’s visage as her anger over the loss of life caused by the entity began to take over. "All right, Mr. Lavelle…” Liz ordered, “Bring us about and execute Attack Pattern Sigma.” Catching her breath, she then addressed her tactical officer, “Mr. Atoa. Prepare to fire a spread of photon torpedoes at that thing on my orders."

    “Aye, sir,” Lavelle acknowledged as he carried out the course correction.

    The New Kauaian then stated, "Photon torpedoes ready to fire."

    “Fire!” Shelby ordered as the missiles launched towards their target, impacting it.”

    “No effect sir.” Manuele reported grimly.

    “Phasers.” Liz then ordered only to grit her teeth as the beams lanced out to their target to no effect.

    “How do we kill that damned thing?” Django growled as the entity closed on the now fleeing starship.

    “I have a suggestion, sir,” Lieutenant Commander Varok said, his recent mental exertions visible in the lines on his face. “The forced electro-biofeedback technique that Dr. Murakawa utilized while in the group consciousness should logically work in reality…”

    “I see…” Shelby drawled, “But how do we project it?”

    “We should be able to do so through the deflector dish.” Varok replied and then cautioned, “Of course, that will also result in damage to the dish which will mean that we will not have access to our shields until it is repaired.”

    “Sir?” Lavelle interjected, “That thing is gaining on us…”

    Observing the rapidly growing form of the entity, Liz exclaimed, “Well whatever we’re going to do, we need to do it soon.” Then, deciding immediately, she turned towards Varok, “Go for it. Get with Mr. Tol and Dr. Murakawa and get it done.”

    “Yes sir,” Varok acknowledged and then, activating his communicator, explained his idea to the Chief Engineer and doctor.

    “It’s risky…” Tol demurred, “…but we don’t really have a choice do we?”

    “No…” The Science Officer replied, “We do not.”

    Drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair as she saw through the main viewscreen the entity gradually closing the distance between it and her ship, Liz’s heart skipped a beat as her intercom chirped.

    “Captain?”

    Sighing inwardly in relief as she heard the engineer’s voice, Liz managed to quip, “Tell me you and the doctor got it done, Mr. Tol…”

    “It’s ready sir,” Tol replied and then cautioned, “But I’m not making any promises.”

    “It’ll work, sir.” Denise interjected, her voice sounding more confident than she felt.

    “If it doesn’t work…” Liz rejoined with a wicked grin, “Then before that critter eats me, I’m going to kick both your asses all over this ship.” Taking a deep breath, she signaled Mr. Varok, “Do it.”

    With a single nod of the head, the Vulcan pushed a button on his console, releasing the stored energy from the deflector dish towards the entity. As it impacted the alien, the anomaly expanded momentarily and then began turning into a kaleidoscope of colors before contracted until finally it imploded, releasing Its life force back into the universe with a deafening, ear-splitting screech far more painful to the crew than the one they had endured earlier.

    Clutching their hands to their ears, the captain and crew of the Sutherland were driven to their knees by the anguished death shrieks of the entity until finally, all was silent. Slowly regaining her footing, Liz massaged her forehead, unsuccessfully willing the pain to go away. Seeing the rest of her crew on the bridge in similar straits, she managed a shaky grin, “Well…I see that we’re all going to have migraines for a while…”

    “At least we’re alive…” Hobson replied as he assisted Anara to her feet.

    “We are at that, Commander,” Liz agreed, favoring her XO with a playful wink, “We are at that.” Turning her attention to the helm the captain then ordered, "Mr. Django…lay in a course for the Hypatia. After we put a skeleton crew on board her, we’ll take that freighter in tow and then we’ll head for Deep Space Nine. After what we’ve been through, I think we could go for a bit of R and R.”

    **************************************
     
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  19. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Shakedown Cruise: Part 12

    Hearing the sound of drums beating from the other side of the door, Captain Shelby grinned broadly. Lieutenant Atoa had asked for permission to have a luau before the Sutherland had arrived at Deep Space Nine as a way to reduce stress following the recent unpleasantness with the entity and she had readily agreed. Besides…Liz thought, flashing a momentary leer, I’ve heard so much about his fire dance that I just couldn’t miss it. Adjusting her floral print bikini top and wrap around skirt that barely concealed the matching string bikini bottom, Liz opened the door and joined the party.

    "Aloha!" Lieutenant Nyota Dryer, one of Atoa’s security officers, dressed as a hula dancer, smiled as she slipped a flower lei around Shelby’s neck while Jadon, wearing a blindingly bright Hawaiian print shirt, swim trunks, and a planter’s hat, pressed a drink in her hand.

    "Mai tai!" Tol said in answer to Liz’s raised eyebrow. "And it’s none of that synth-swill—this stuff’s made with real rum. You look like you could use one." Then, gesturing in the direction of the party, he asked, "So…what do you think?"

    Seeing several of her crew sitting at a long table illuminated by the fire from several nearby tiki torches, laughing, drinking, and talking with each other as they ate from dishes of poi and other foods, a whole roast pig with an apple in its mouth serving as the centerpiece, Liz smiled warmly. "I think it’s great." She said in a soft voice, genuinely touched by the resilience showed by her crew, as she took her engineering officer’s arm, allowing him to escort her to her place at the head of the table.

    "Commander Hobson…" Liz offered in greeting as she smiled at her first officer’s attire for the gathering—surfer baggies and a floral print Hawaiian shirt that, while garish, was nowhere near as bright as Jadon’s shirt.

    "Sir." Chris acknowledged, a slight smile crossing his features as he made room for his commanding officer to sit.

    As she took her seat next to her first officer, Liz said in soft voice. "I just wanted to let you know that I’ve put in a commendation for both you and Lieutenant Commander Varok along with Mr. Tol and Dr. Murakawa. I’m not sure we’d have gotten out of this mess without you four."

    "Thank you, Sir." Hobson, his Iceman persona still in place, replied, "But I was just doing my duty as your first officer."

    "Speaking of which…" Liz ventured tentatively, "Have you given any thought to the conversation we had before we left the starbase?"

    "Yes, sir." Lowering his voice as well, Commander Hobson replied. "I have—and I believe I’ve reached a decision." Taking a deep breath, he then announced, "I think I would like to remain here, that is if it's acceptable to you…"

    "You bet your ass it is!" Shelby, buoyed by the good news that her first officer was remaining, smiled broadly as she took a sip of her drink. "I’m glad to have you aboard…Chris." Then, flashing a wicked grin, she added, mock threateningly, "But when…not if…WHEN…Starfleet Command finally gets its act together and gives you a command, so help me—if you try to pull a ‘Riker’ on me—you’re going to be wearing my footprints on your ass when you take command of your new ship—you got that, Mister?"

    "Aye aye, Sir." Hobson replied, permitting a rare genuine smile to cross his features.

    "Good!" Liz grinned, taking another sip from her drink as she turned her attention back to the festivities.

    *********************************

    Seeing Sam Lavelle seated at the table, Ensign Django took a deep breath as she adjusted her grass skirt. Steeling herself for the coming confrontation, she approached the handsome lieutenant, "It didn’t happen—you got that, Enterprise?"

    Hearing Maria’s voice and her use of his nickname, Lavelle, with a nervous gulp, looked up. "Yeah…" He replied as his face flushed a deep crimson. "Nothing happened. It was the entity…"

    "Yeah…" Django agreed as she took the seat next to him. "It was all in our heads—it was the entity that did it…"

    "Right." Sam agreed. "It was the entity."

    "Still…" Maria quipped, flashing a wicked grin, "I bet it was the best mind fu…" Just then a loud cheer drowned out her next word, "…you ever got!"

    "You won’t hear any complaints from me…" Sam muttered into his drink as he glanced out of the corner of his eye, noting the sly smile crossing the face of the fiery woman seated next to him.

    *****************************

    "So…" Liz asked, addressing Anara who was wearing a brilliant maillot swimsuit and seated in between Tol and Hobson, "…where is Dr. Murakawa?"

    "Denise is at the ‘family friendly’, I believe she called it, party next to us." The Deltan woman, basking in the obvious and showy, in the case of Tol, and the much more reserved and subtle in the case of Hobson, attention she was receiving from the two men to either side of her, answered back.

    "I see…" Captain Shelby replied. Then, flashing a wicked grin, she teased, "You look like you’re enjoying yourself…"

    "Yes…" Anara smiled back, referring both to the party and to the attention she was receiving from her fellow officers, "This is most…enjoyable…"

    "I’m sure it is…" Liz remarked wryly as Ensign Smithurst took the stage.

    "Can I have everyone’s attention!" He hollered, trying to make himself heard over the noise of the party. "This is what you’ve all been waiting for—ladies and gentlemen—the Sutherland’s very own fire dancer—Manuele Atoa!"

    Running on to the stage, wearing nothing more than a loin cloth and bearing two lighted torches as the drummers beat their tune, Manuele began his dance. Liz and the rest of the crew, seeing him juggling the torches, passing them in the air and catching them, and then, swallowing the fire, clapped, their hands, stomped their feet and cheered wildly as he extinguished the last torch with a flourish, bowing to the audience as he enjoyed its thunderous applause.

    Now that was worth watching! Liz thought as she appraised her tactical officer’s firm body. Too bad he’s under my command. She cursed as she once again regretted her iron clad ‘no screw the crew’ rule. Why is it that the really hot ones are always assigned to my ships? First, there was that dish of weapons officer on the Reed—talk about nice curves on her…and now Mr. Hard Body Atoa! Oh well…I guess it’s back to look and don’t touch until we get to DS 9. Hopefully Jadzia will have the lowdown on the local talent there…

    ********************************

    "Don’t you dare tell me you had parties like this on the Enterprise, Lavelle!" Maria teased good-naturedly as Atoa finished his dance.

    "I hate to say this…" Sam said, still feeling some loyalty towards his old ship and crew, but you’re right." Taking a deep breath, he remarked somewhat sadly, "You know…we almost never even called crew get-togethers parties—they were always ‘socials’ or ‘mixers’ or ‘receptions’…there was almost always a restrained air about them—kind of like what we had back at the starbase."

    "That’s because Picard is a stiff prick…" Django cursed, then seeing the look on Sam’s face, she quickly apologized, "Hey…I’m sorry, Sam. Believe it or not—I really don’t want to fight with you tonight."

    Accepting Django’s apology, Sam relaxed. "It’s ok, Maria. Anyway, he’s really a pretty good guy once you get to know him." Lavelle remarked, remembering the warm words Captain Picard had said when delivering Sito’s eulogy and then how the captain of the Enterprise had come to him, Taurik and Alyssa Ogawa to offer his condolences on the loss of their friend. "He can surprise you sometimes."

    Then, willing the dark cloud that had begun to form over him to vanish, Sam grinned, "But I guess he really isn’t what you’d call a loose guy," he conceded as he got a glimpse of his current captain laughing and joking with Jadon and Anara, and even getting a slight smile out of the usually stony faced Hobson. "I guess it’s true what they say about a captain stamping their personality on a ship and crew."

    ****************************

    "I see Mr. Varok couldn’t make it." Liz said with a note of regret in her voice.

    "Chris and I invited him." Jadon replied, "But he declined—said he didn’t think that his presence would be welcome here…"

    "That’s just rubbish!" Liz answered back, rolling her eyes. Then, a wicked grin crossed her face as sudden inspiration struck. "Well…if he won’t come to the party—we’ll bring a little bit of the party to him." Catching Anara’s eye she then asked, "Anara? You want to help me out over here…" The captain asked as the two began putting together two plates of fruits and vegetables—pineapple, kiwi, oranges, breadfruit, coconut, various greens and other fresh vegetables—all artistically arranged on two plates by the captain and her Deltan assistant. Shelby then took two flagons, filling one with pineapple juice and the other with coconut milk.

    "We’ll just take this to him…" She said with a wink, "…on our way to the other party, ok?"

    Then, standing up, Captain Shelby banged on the table with a large soup ladle to get everyone’s attention. All eyes now riveted on her, she lifted her glass and toasted, "Ladies and gentlemen! To the USS Sutherland! While we might not be the ‘Flagship of the Federation’, one thing’s for damned sure—we ARE the rowdiest ship in the Fleet!"

    "The USS Sutherland!" The crew cheered, enthusiastically answering their Captain’s toast.

    "All right, everyone!" The Captain then waved as she and Anara picked up the plates for Varok, "Your orders for the rest of the night are to party hearty—but you better have your asses sober and ready for work in the morning! Good night!"

    ***********************************

    "Enter." Varok, working on a subspace message, called out as the door chime announced that he had visitors.

    "Captain…Mr. Rysyl…" The Vulcan greeted, surprised at the two women at his door, both bearing plates of food and flagons of drink.

    "Mr. Varok…" Liz said politely and with a gentle smile, "I understand why you wouldn’t have felt…comfortable…at the luau."

    "Thank you, Sir." Varok replied, somewhat surprised at his commanding officer’s solicitude.

    Anara then added, "But we didn’t want you to…get the idea…that you aren’t a part of us…so we…"

    "We thought that you might enjoy a little bit of the party." Shelby finished, the two women placing the plates and flagons on a table. Then, turning back to the door, Liz flashed another warm smile, "Thank you, Mr. Varok—for standing up to the entity. I’m glad you’re with us."

    "Thank you, Sir." The Vulcan simply said and then remarked in what, to Shelby’s ears almost seemed to have been a mournful tone, “However, I must admit that I am somewhat…disappointed…in how our encounter with the entity turned out.”

    “Oh?” Shelby interjected as she and Anara took seats at the table with the Vulcan.

    “Yes, Captain,” Varok replied and then explained, “The entity was a sentient being…albeit a dangerous and very single minded one. I find myself asking, did we have the right to take it upon ourselves to destroy it?"

    “I understand what you mean, Mr. Varok,” Liz acknowledged sympathetically, “But it really didn’t give us any choice.”

    “The Captain is right,” Anara chimed in. “It saw us as nothing more than prey.” Shivering momentarily, she continued, “While we were in the group consciousness with the entity, I couldn’t help but pick up on its background emotions—there was no love, no hate, no regret…nothing but one over-riding purpose…”

    “To survive.” Varok interjected, finishing the Deltan’s thoughts. “I accept the logic of what had to be done…still…”

    “It would have been nice if it had been open to reason…” Shelby uttered, her lips turning down into a frown as she then asked, “So…do you have any ideas as to what we should do if and when we encounter another one of these entities?”

    Raising an eyebrow as he took a sip of the pineapple juice that the two women had brought him along with the food plate Varok replied, “Yes, Captain, I have. We now know how to prevent the entity from entering ships through polarizing the hull and also how to combat it through Dr. Murakawa’s forced electro-biofeedback technique. This knowledge should minimize the risk of this entity or any others preying on vessels and might also encourage it to make peaceful contact with us so that we can help it to safely metamorphose into what ever form it takes."

    "That sounds…logical…" Liz’s lips then turned up into a grin, "Mr. Varok. I’ll enter it into the ships log and will pass it on in my recommendations to Starfleet."

    “Thank you, sir.” The Vulcan replied as the two women departed. Then, turning back to his monitor, he finished his message: "And so…" He dictated, "I must regretfully inform you that my duties aboard the Sutherland preclude my lecturing at the Vulcan Science Academy at this time. Perhaps…once this tour of duty has ended, and should you still desire my services…then I would be honored if you would consider my application for a permanent position on the Academy faculty."

    Taking another sip of pineapple juice, Varok nodded his head as the sweet taste filled his mouth. He then took a bite out of a kiwi fruit, Were I to allow my emotions to show…the Vulcan thought in the safety and privacy of his own quarters, I would feel…contentment…now.
     
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  20. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Well, I hope you all enjoyed Shakedown Cruise, the first Sutherland story. Next revision up will be Shore Leave: When the captain and crew of the Sutherland come to take their shore leave on DS9, they will leave an indelible mark on that station and some of the people there.