TUE: Contact Point, Part I - Union of the Snake

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, May 24, 2020.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Author's note: This story will be a cooperative work between at least two (and possibly as many as four) TUE writers.

    * * *
    Chapter One

    USS Reykjavík - October, 2320


    Federation Ambassador Riehj Metruka and his retinue materialized atop the transporter dais in columns of bluish light. He was a heavy-set individual, of medium height for a humanoid, dressed in the kind of bulky ceremonial tunic favored by many of the Zakdorn species. Metruka took a moment to glance around the transporter room with an air of the studiously unimpressed.

    The three thick, fibrous pouches of skin on each of Metruka’s cheeks made it appear to Captain Trujillo that the ambassador’s face had been molded from candle wax that was beginning to melt. It was an uncharitably xenophobic thought, she knew, certainly not one worthy of the commanding officer of a Federation starship.

    “Welcome aboard Reykjavík, Ambassador,” Trujillo offered, stepping forward from where she’d stood with her executive officer and chief of operations.

    Metruka made reticent sounds, the sort of cooing, humming noises typically associated with many of the hypercritical Zakdorn. He stepped gingerly off the dais, accompanied by two of his aides. “Hmm, yes, thank you, Captain. I believe this should prove a most interesting exercise.”

    Trujillo fought to maintain a neutral expression. “Exercise, Ambassador?”

    “Yes, hmmm. These Cardassians are an expansionist-imperialist power with technology roughly comparable to that of your people in Earth’s mid-22nd century. It should prove telling whether we’re able to convince them to cease their hostilities and withdraw to their established borders. One wonders if Johnathan Archer would have accepted such an ultimatum from the Klingons or the Xindi?”

    Metruka shook Trujillo’s offered hand, clasping it with a limp, perfunctory jiggle.

    “My apologies, Ambassador. That comparison escapes me, as Earth wasn’t an expansionist power,” Trujillo parried, wondering if it were possible to dislike someone only moments after meeting them.

    The ambassador winked at Trujillo’s XO, the Tellarite Lt. Commander Glal. “Tell that to the Vulcans, Tellarites and the Andorians, Captain. They and the Romulans certainly saw Humanity’s venturing into the stars as problematic.”

    Trujillo bit off an acerbic reply, and instead turned to introduce Glal and Lieutenant DeSilva. After pleasantries had been exchanged, she guided the group into the corridor and they began making their way to the ship’s guest accommodations.

    Their conversation continued in the corridor, with Trujillo offering, “Ambassador, it was my understanding that this wasn’t to be a negotiation but rather a cultural exchange. An opportunity for we and the Cardassians to start over diplomatically on a more favorable footing.”

    Another diffident coo from Metruka presaged his reply. “Ostensibly that is the case. However, we’re fooling ourselves if we believe the Cardassians see this as anything other than an opportunity to mine us for information on our technology and determine our willingness to defend our territory. I asked for a tactically capable starship for this mission specifically because I anticipate that the Cardassians may have malicious intent.”

    Trujillo digested that. “None of those facts were included in the brief from DiploCorps, Ambassador.”

    “The Diplomatic Corp and I rarely see eye-to-eye, Captain,” Metruka said, waving his hand expressively. “Nonetheless, I was selected to lead this envoy mission. I have experience negotiating with the Klingons, Romulans, Tholians and a host of others. I believe it was that experience that recommended me for this assignment.”

    The Diplomatic Corps, Starfleet Command, Starfleet Intel and the ambassador all have different ideas about how this mission should be conducted, Trujillo thought sourly. Why am I surprised?

    And with that, Trujillo decided that for the moment at least, she was done with Metruka. Looking to Glal, she said, “Commander, please see the ambassador and his staff to their guest quarters. I’m sure they’ll also wish to inspect our diplomatic facilities in preparation for the meeting with the Cardassians.”

    “Captain…” Metruka began to object, only to be cut off by her.

    “My apologies, Ambassador, I have other duties to attend to. You and your people are in good hands.”

    She wheeled abruptly on one heel and stalked off down the corridor towards the nearest turbolift.

    * * *

    “Your situation is definitely… unenviable,” Captain Wolfgang Müller offered in his distinctly Germanic accent over their subspace comms-link.

    Trujillo grunted dourly in response as she leaned forward in the chair behind her ready room desk. “Far too many chefs in the kitchen on this one, Wolfgang. The ambassador is an officious bastard, but that may be what’s called for here. He certainly has an impressive CV.”

    Müller laughed lightly. “I’ve worked with Metruka before, back when I commanded the Gandhi. He’s a pompous ass, to be sure, but he knows his business. Metruka really stuck it to the Romulans after Tomed, wrung concessions out of them I didn’t think were possible.”

    She took a sip of tea, then offered Müller a lukewarm smile. “That’s actually comforting. I was afraid going into this that we might be saddled with some flower-bearing peacenik from the DiploCorps convinced that the Cardassians were simply misunderstood. Metruka at least appears to understand the utility of standing on the deck of a gunboat while negotiating.”

    “The real reason I called,” Trujillo explained, shifting topics, “is that I know Exeter’s on her way back from that area. What can you tell me about these Cardassians?”

    “Not much, really,” Müller confessed. “We had one skirmish with them after they attacked the Glaav, and despite their best efforts, they barely depleted our shields. They’re operating with outdated tech by our standards, fielding low-yield disruptors and first generation photonic torpedoes. Their ships don’t even have shields, only polarized hull-plating.”

    Trujillo frowned, clearly perplexed. “Then help me understand how they’re a threat to us?”

    “Because they never attack alone,” Müller said. “There’s always a pack of them laying in wait. Additionally, their weapons have improved dramatically since our First Contact with them eight years ago. From what little of their subspace chatter our signals-intel people have been able to decrypt, it appears they’ve annexed a number of inhabited worlds in their territory, either making them client states to their regional hegemony, or conquering them outright.”

    Trujillo offered a resigned shrug. “So do the Klingons, the Romulans, and honestly just about everyone else. Imperialism in the Alpha and Beta quadrants is the rule rather than the exception.”

    Müller inclined his head. “Just so. However, we have encountered the Cardassians at a point in their expansion when they are most vulnerable to Federation influence. If we play our cards right, a gentle nudge in the right direction now could save us from having to fight them years or even decades from now when they’re much stronger.”

    A frown creased Trujillo’s face. “Begging your pardon, but targeted Starfleet Intel operations or cooperative trade agreements can provide a gentle nudge. Reykjavík and I are more an anvil and hammer. We really don’t do subtle.”

    Müller grinned. “That fact is well established, Nandi. You’re providing the muscle. Remember, you won’t be alone out there. When Exeter left, I handed over command of Task Force Hadrian to Captain ch'Vanos of the Gettysburg. He’s an old hand at this sort of flag-flying, saber-rattling demonstration. We don’t have a lot of ships out there, but the ones we do have pack a punch.”

    Trujillo nodded her understanding. “That’s good to hear.” An icon flashed on her screen, her XO requesting her attention for something. “I’ve got to go, Wolfgang. Thank you for your input, it’s greatly appreciated.”

    “Any time, Nandi. Good luck out there, and give the ambassador my regards. Exeter, out.”

    * * *
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

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    Nice work so far.
     
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  3. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Interesting reading about early encounters with the Cardassians. While this diplomat seems to be short on people skills (interesting, for a diplomat), he at least seems to be a realist as to their intent. Somehow, I feel this mission will be anything but a cakewalk.
     
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  4. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    This guy irritates me, Glal can deal with him. Bye. Oh, the perks of being the Captain :bolian:

    Müller is mentor to all, if he can't help you solve problems with advice he brews his own select range of beer.
     
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  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

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    Feb 5, 2006
    I dig this premise. The early days of Federation-Cardassian contact. Interesting to see how far behind the Cardassians are at this point and how quickly they must have caught up over the next few decades.

    I wonder, is this the story about how Cardassian-Federation relation went all to hell? If so, I'm excited to find out exactly how that all went down since, as we know, Muller's concerns will eventually come to pass.
     
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  6. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    * * *​

    Trujillo met Ambassador Metruka as he exited his guest cabin, once again clad in his people’s idea of formal wear. The eight-day journey from the Federation’s closest outpost, Station K-21, had given Trujillo the opportunity to interact with Metruka and create a game-plan for their encounter with the Cardassians. While the two had not become fast friends, a mutual respect had taken hold. Yes, the man was arrogant, but even Trujillo had to admit that arrogance had been earned. Despite her initial misgivings, she’d found herself beginning to like the man.

    “Good morning, Ambassador. We’re due to arrive in the Kalandra system in about a half-an-hour.” She gestured to the beckoning corridor.

    “A fine morning to you as well, Captain,” Metruka replied, falling into step next to her.

    “Long-range sensors indicate that ionic storm activity in the system is at a low ebb, though it’s impossible to predict when that might change,” Trujillo explained as they walked.

    “Hmmm, yes… selecting a star system with chronic ionic storms where they could hide a squadron of undetectable ships is yet another suspicious choice on their part,” Metruka observed.

    Trujillo grunted in reply. “Indeed. This has all the hallmarks of a fiasco like Station Salem-One. At the very least, we know what we’re potentially walking in to.”

    They moved into a turbolift alcove and Trujillo toggled the panel, calling the lift.

    “Thankfully, Captain, your ship and crew seem most capable of extricating us from any ‘unfortunate’ encounters.”

    She offered him a confident smile. “We play to our strengths.”

    Metruka cooed approvingly. “I believe the Human aphorism is, ‘blowing people up and breaking their shit?’”

    Trujillo barely contained a surge of laughter behind her hand as the lift car arrived and they stepped inside. “Bridge.” She cleared her throat, casting a sidelong glance at the ambassador. “I’m not going to ask where you picked up that little gem.”

    “I’ve been doing this for decades,” he replied with a like smile. “Which is why I try to leave as little to chance as possible. Always have an exit strategy.”

    “Amen to that, Ambassador,” she agreed as the lift doors parted to reveal the ship’s command center.

    “Captain on the bridge,” Glal announced as he rose from the captain’s chair.

    “As you were,” Trujillo replied, moving to assume her seat.

    “We’re twenty minutes out from the Kalandra system, Captain,” Glal advised. “No sign of any Cardassian activity nearby, though there are a few sporadic sensor returns near Kalandra IV which could be one or more of their ships parked in the LaGrange point between the planet and it’s largest moon. While there are no large-scale ionic storms present, the higher-than average ambient ionic-radiation levels in the system make sensor sweeps problematic.”

    “Acknowledged. Thank you, Commander.”

    Glal moved to show Metruka to an auxiliary station where the ambassador could observe the coming exchange.

    Trujillo gestured to the Communications station. “Open a channel on the designated frequency, please.”

    “Aye, sir. Channel open.”

    “This is Captain Trujillo of the Federation starship Reykjavík. We are on final approach to the Kalandra system bearing the Federation ambassador to the cultural exchange agreed upon by our respective governments. Please respond on this channel.”

    Moments of silence passed, and Trujillo turned in her chair to face the ambassador, giving him an inquisitive look.

    Metruka gave her a wan smile. “Hmmmm, merely posturing, Captain. Making us wait for a reply gives them a warm feeling of being in control.”

    “They’re responding, sir. Audio only.”

    “Let’s hear it.”

    “This is Legate Parmek Sadar of the Cardassian Third Order. We await your arrival in orbit of the fourth planet, where we are establishing a colony. We will meet with you on the surface in five of your hours.”

    Glal leaned in toward Trujillo, whispering, “That’s not what we agre—”

    She silenced him with a raised hand, nodding in accord with his objections. “Legate Sadar, the agreement was that the exchange was to be held aboard Reykjavík. Your proposed change to the venue is not acceptable.” Trujillo cast another glance at Metruka and saw him nodding his consent.

    Trujillo made a cutting gesture at her neck.

    “Channel closed, sir.”

    “Now they can wait,” Trujillo said.

    DeSilva turned in her chair at the Ops board to face the captain. “Sir, if they’ve established a colony in that system, this whole mission just became significantly more complicated.”

    “From your mouth to God’s ear, Lieutenant,” Trujillo remarked dourly. She turned to engage Metruka. “And if they refuse to respond, Ambassador?”

    “There will be a response one way or the other, Captain,” Metruka replied. “If they don’t call us back to amend their venue demands, we can predict some kind of military response. In that case, I’d suggest your ship join Task Force Hadrian and wait for the Cardassians to initiate their gambit. Once you’ve put paid to whatever scheme they’ve launched, I’ll be on hand to open negotiations.”

    She nodded approvingly, liking Metruka’s line of reasoning.

    “Incoming signal from the Kalandra system, Captain.”

    “Put it through.”

    “Captain, this is Legate Sadar. I… apologize for the misunderstanding. We will, of course, come aboard your ship to begin the exchange. I will transmit our itinerary requests on this channel.”


    Trujillo and Metruka exchanged a knowing look before she replied. “Understood, Legate. We will arrive in orbit of Kalandra IV in one hour, seventeen minutes. Reykjavík, out.”

    The channel closed with a chirp, and Trujillo sat back in her chair, ponding their situation. “Ops, send a transcript of that conversation and all of our updated scan information to Gettysburg. I don’t foresee needing to call in the cavalry, but better safe than sorry.”

    "Aye, sir."

    “Okay, people,” Trujillo announced to the bridge at large. “Let’s get ready to make nice with the Cardassians.”

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2020
  7. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Even with their limited technology they're still trying to one up the Federation, some thing definitely never change. In the words of almost every Star Wars character, I've got a bad feeling about this.
     
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  8. David.Blue

    David.Blue Commander Red Shirt

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    I find it so interesting how similar in some ways the Cardassians are to the Romulans. Both will simply try and take as much as they think they can get away with, but Romulans are so much more secretive, and even more devious. I suspect this comes in part from a different origin. In effect the Cardassian Union arose out of failure coupled with a lack of resources, a ruthless determination that everyone would pull together for the common good. Romulans on the other hand are exiles, nomads who eventually found a home, but along the way developed habits of secrecy and routine guile. (I like how PIC gave us so much more insight into Romulan culture)
    This story reminds me of this. I imagine the Romulans in the exact same situation would present the Federation representative with a fait accomplit. The Ambassador would already be down on the planet, and the ship's transporters would be temporarily be non-functional due to the ionic activity. They would then invite Starfleet personnel to come and visit the colony, have a tour, etc. A much more elaborate little scheme, offering a carrot and seeking to hide the stick as much as possible.
    Heh heh...I feel involved.
     
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  9. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Classic inferiority complex - bluster and bully until called on it, then back down. Obviously, the Legate had to run to someone up the chain. His rather weak response and apology are telling.
    Still, most Cardassians are brave and loyal to their masters and shouldn't be underestimated. It's good that the Ambassador and Captain Trujillo are pros. Let's see how this plays out . . . I have a feeling things may go off the rails before too long.
     
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  10. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
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    Feels like the opening gambit of what could turn out to be a lengthy chess game. That is until the Cardassians get inpatient and decide to let their phasers do the talking instead. Me thinks that cavalry is like Chekov's gun, it will have to come into play sooner or later.
     
  11. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Gettysburg scenes written by: Orbing Master

    USS Gettysburg - October, 2320


    Mark Jameson was missing his darling Annie, something terrible.

    Staring at his wife's beautiful face on the small wall-screen, he drank in every detail. Her hair was up in an untidy bun, with a few stray strands caressing her forehead. He was thankful she had decided not to use a colouring agent to cover the tell-tale streaks of gray that had started appearing. During his all-too-brief leave at their home on Benencia Colony, he’d seen how she was a little self-conscious about her blonde hair losing its luster.

    She doesn't see just how amazing she really is. Annie, with the golden hair; that was what he had always called her. But it was her soul and heart that he loved the most. How warm and caring she was, how she brought a light into his life, especially the first few months after Morden IV.

    [I'm finally managing to get back into the garden,] Annie continued on, the latest in a series of private messages she'd sent him since his leave had ended and he'd been recalled and reassigned to his current posting on the Starship Gettysburg. She offered one of her dazzling smiles, made all the more humorous thanks to the tiny streak of dirt on her nose, [It's going slower without you to help, but it will all be worth it when the crystilia and Andorian roses bloom.]

    Jameson grinned. His help consisted of passing her the seeds or tools when required. He was a highly trained Starfleet officer, but when it came to gardening, his skills were incredibly limited. Personally, he was just thankful when any plants under his care didn't die.

    Annie's smile faded just enough for Jameson to feel the familiar pang of guilt at leaving her alone again while he went back out into the stars, [I miss you, Mark. We never seem to have long enough.] Her eyes had a glint of amusement, [But I will not be the one to deprive Starfleet of Commander Mark Jameson.]

    She reached out and touched the screen, [I'll see you soon, my love.]

    Jameson automatically responded in kind, his fingers tracing the outline of her slender lips. "Goodbye, darling," he whispered. As the message ended, and the screen reverted to its default state, his gaze fell on the angry scar on his wrist. A permanent reminder of Morden IV. Of Karnas. Of the deal he'd made to save Federation lives.

    Of the cost in blood it had wrought.

    [Yellow Alert. All hands to battle stations. Senior officers to the bridge]

    Jameson quickly toggled the intercom switch on his desk, "Jameson to bridge. Report."

    The voice of Lieutenant, j.g., Anysa Yeoh, the Gettysburg's Chief Communications Officer, answered, [Sir, we're picking up a garbled distress call from an unidentified ship 2 light-years away.]

    "I'm on my way. Jameson out." Standing from his chair, pulling on his uniform tunic and securing the clasp on his shoulder, the First Officer of the Gettysburg made his way out of his quarters. Thankful to have a reason to once again ignore the gnawing guilt that resided within the pit of his stomach, Jameson did what he did best.

    He focused on the job.

    * * *​

    USS Reykjavík – Kalandra System

    The diplomatic welcoming party consisted of Ambassador Metruska and his aides, Captain Trujillo, and Lieutenant DeSilva. An honor guard of security personnel, outfitted in torso-armor and helmets, stood at attention as the Cardassian shuttle breached the forcefield and settled down to land within Reykjavík’s shuttlebay.

    The circular hatch on the copper-colored Cardassian shuttle irised open and a party of eight reptilian humanoids stepped out, most of them squinting slightly at the bright lights of the bay.

    Trujillo tapped her combadge, “Trujillo to shuttlebay control, lower the illumination in the bay by twenty percent.”

    The overhead lighting grew more subdued, and a look of relief could be seen on the faces of a number of the Cardassians.

    The group consisted of five males and three females. All were clad in a bulky, padded leather-like armor, clearly some kind of military uniform. The others appeared to defer to one of the males, who bore an intricate sigil on the breast of his uniform which appeared to Trujillo like some manner of elongated manta-ray. She thought it likely a status or rank identifier.

    This officer walked down the line of security personnel, studiously ignoring them as he presented himself to Metruka and Trujillo. “I am Gul Visek of the Cardassian Third Order. I will be representing the Cardassian Union in this… exchange.” He’d almost bitten off the last word, his distaste for it readily apparent.

    “A pleasure to meet you, Gul Visek. I am Ambassador Riehj Metruka, representing the United Federation of Planets.”

    Brief introductions were exchanged with Trujillo and DeSilva before Visek and his entourage were escorted to the diplomatic conference facilities.

    As they entered the large, oval shaped conference compartment, Trujillo asked Visek, “Legate Sadar won’t be joining us?”

    “No,” Visek replied formally. “I report directly to the legate and am authorized to interact with your people on behalf of the state.”

    This statement produced a shared look between Trujillo and Metruka.

    The visiting delegates seated themselves around the table, prompting the Federation representatives to do the same. Trujillo’s wrist-comm vibrated, indicating a text message. She checked the device and read, ‘Scans complete. No weapons or sensor devices detected on the Cardassians,’ sent from her security chief Lieutenant Jarrod.

    The meeting proceeded largely as planned for the next two hours, with each side conveying basic information about their respective cultures and governments, laying the groundwork for the claims to the disputed space that were sure to follow. The Cardassian information offered was very general, and was clearly surrendered only reluctantly.

    Trujillo watched closely as Metruka revealed the true size and resource-base of the Federation. He informed the Cardassian delegation that the Federation comprised one-hundred and seven member worlds and thousands of associated colonies spread across over five-and-a-half thousand light-years. She had expected some kind of response, be it incredulity, surprise, or even outright shock. Strangely, the Cardassians did not seem to react at all to this revelation.

    They have excellent poker faces,
    she surmised, unless they were already aware of the Federation’s size and capabilities?

    Her wrist-comm vibrated yet again, and she looked at it to read a priority message from Glal. ‘Comms just picked up Gettysburg challenging Cardassian vessels crossing our border, transmissions made in the clear approximately three-point-seven light-years from our position. Long-range sensors picking up weapons fire.’

    Trujillo tapped at the device, forwarding a copy of the message to Metruka’s data-padd. The ambassador glanced down, then frowned.

    Visek touched a hand to his ear, his expression hardening as he received a report over his transceiver earpiece. He stood abruptly. “One of your warships has just fired on Cardassian vessels in pursuit of a stolen Cardassian ship!” he announced accusingly.

    “We have detected transmissions that suggest an incident has occurred nearby,” Metruka allowed. “However, we don’t yet know the full scope of the situation.”

    “I can tell you the scope,” Visek fumed. “You have lured us here with sweet words of peace and friendship, all the while preparing an attack upon the Cardassian people!”

    Metruka rose to his feet as he motioned for patience. “Gul Visek, I assure you that we have no hostile intent. Let us resume our talks and try to establish what has happened. We might yet salvage something from this opportunity.”

    At a gesture the entire Cardassian contingent was on their feet. “We are done here,” Visek seethed. With that, they filed out of the conference room, leaving Metruka, Trujillo and DeSilva behind. Trujillo motioned to the head of their security contingent in the corridor beyond, wordlessly ordering him to join the escort detail shepherding the Cardassians back to their shuttle.

    Trujillo then tapped her combadge and notified the bridge of their guests’ departure.

    Metruka huffed, “What could Gettysburg’s captain have been thinking?”

    “Give us the room, please, Mister DeSilva,” Trujillo ordered, allowing the uncomfortable looking lieutenant the opportunity to escape the compartment.

    As soon as she’d departed, Trujillo fixed a guarded expression on the ambassador. “Captain ch’Valos is a highly experienced starship commander.”

    Metruka hummed doubtfully. “You know him?”

    “By reputation only,” Trujillo replied. “He’s commanding Task Force Hadrian and rumor has it he’s on the short-list for promotion to commodore. Ch’Valos isn’t someone given to acting rashly, especially in situations as delicate as these.”

    “It sounds like he’s just stepped right in the middle of an internal Cardassian dispute while potentially instigating further hostilities with them.”

    “I’m not in the habit of second-guessing my fellow captains, Ambassador. Especially when I’m not in possession of all the facts,” Trujillo remarked curtly. She tapped her combadge. “Trujillo to bridge. Commander Glal, please contact Gettysburg and ascertain if they need assistance. If so, set course for their position and make best speed as soon as the Cardassian shuttle has cleared the bay.”

    “Aye, Captain,” came Glal’s prompt response.

    “You’re going to abandon this diplomatic mission?” Metruka asked, his voice tremulous with anger.

    “With respect, Ambassador, the Cardassians are the ones who walked out. I’m more than willing to host them again, should they wish to resume this process. If, however, a shooting war is beginning, my place is alongside Gettysburg.”

    Metruka snorted derisively and stalked out of the compartment.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2020
  12. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    We all knew the talks weren't going to end well, though hadn't expected it to fall apart quite so succinctly.
     
  13. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

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    "Never trust a Cardassian who sees a knife in your back.'
    A quote that Captain Shantherkitt ch'Daahl of the USS Nelson has been known to say when word of this summit reached him. Trust an Andorian to state the obvious. :)
     
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  14. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Diplomacy only works when both parties sincerely want it to work. It is certainly preferable to war, but often only delays the inevitable.
     
  15. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, my money is on the Cardassians playing games, although it doesn't seem like a smart move to start up trouble while you are in the middle of a diplomatic mission. The absence of their chief diplomat is a big red flag though.
     
  16. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Gettysburg scenes written by: Orbing Master

    * * *​

    One hour earlier...

    Captain's Log, supplemental: Our planned survey of the Merak system has been interrupted due to picking up a distress call from an unidentified ship within the nearby Solarion system. The system is currently uninhabited, but work on a colony support outpost is due to start in the next few months as a precursor to full colonization.

    As Jameson stepped out the turbo-lift onto the aft deck of the Gettysburg's bridge, he immediately felt the almost electric charge in the air as Alpha Shift manned their stations. The viewscreen showed a warp-distorted starfield, with a quick look at one of the monitors on Master Situation confirming they were speeding along at Warp 8. Wherever we're heading, we're pushing the engines to get there as fast as we can...

    He nodded a brief greeting to Lt. Commander Patricia Paris as he passed her free-standing Security station along the outer railing that separated the upper aft deck from the lower command well. Stepping up to the command chair, Jameson found himself facing the stern countenance of his commanding officer, Captain Zahevian ch'Valos.

    "Good of you to join us, Commander." The Andorian's words were laced with the usual mild irritation that he seemed to harbour for his Executive Officer. Jameson, though, had come to expect it in the months since his posting to the Constellation-class starship. For whatever reason, ch'Valos had decided to take an instant dislike to Jameson, but had not yet deigned to explain why.

    But, in all honesty, it didn't really bother him that much anymore. He's stared down plenty of antagonists in his almost decade and a half of Starfleet service, from rogue Klingons and Romulans, the odd Gorn or Nausicaan, even an Orion with a pet mugato. Ch'Valos may think he was intimidating, and to most, he probably was. Not to Jameson, though.

    That said, the Gettysburg's XO was also acutely aware that ch'Valos controlled what kind of posting Jameson would receive next, when his tour was completed. If he would move up the chain of command and back into the center seat once again.

    Previous to his re-assignment, he'd been post-captain of the U.S.S. Magdalena, a small Oberth-class mission scout operating out of Starbase 105. She'd been a small ship, with a small crew, and their work had been nothing to write home about, but it had been Jameson's command. His first. He'd loved every minute, despite being away from and out-of-contact with Annie.

    Until Mordan IV. Then everything had changed. While his mission there had been a success, with the hostages freed, for whatever reason, Starfleet Command had essentially 'demoted' him, taking the Magdalena away from him. That harsh blow had been softened by the extended leave back to home to Annie, but it still smarted.

    A quiet voice in the dark recesses of Jameson's mind would occasionally make itself known with the concern that somehow, someone at HQ knew what he'd done. The deal he'd struck with Karnas, the measures he'd taken to even out the devil's bargain he'd bled for. But he quashed it quickly with the harsh reality of truth. If they knew what really happened... I'd already be in a cell on Jaros II.

    From the Helm, Lieutenant T'Vel spoke up with typical Vulcan calm. "Now passing the outer boundary of the Solarion star system, Captain."

    "Take us down to impulse, Helmsman," ch'Valos ordered crisply.

    "Coming out of warp, sir," replied the Vulcan officer. On the screen, the warp-field effect faded to a normal view of interstellar space. "Now cruising at one-half impulse."

    Realizing he had allowed his mind to wander, Jameson quickly focused his attention back on to the matters at hand, as a concerned Lt. Yeoh turned to look at ch'Valos and him from her Communications board, "Captain, the SOS call is coming from a ship positioned between the fourth planet and the system's inner asteroid belt." She shook her head, "Still no details beyond the call for help. No response on any frequency." She gently pulled the transceiver from her ear, wide eyes full of worry, "It could be their comm. system is damaged and they can't pick up our signal."

    Jameson turned his attention to the Science station, where Lieutenant Sarah-Beth Wyszynski consulted her myriad of sensor screens, "Full scan of the craft, Lieutenant."

    The dark-skinned science officer nodded briskly, her eyes never wavering from the data readouts, fingers dancing over her touchpad console, "Aye, sir. Initiating active sweep."

    The Gettysburg's recently-refit sensor arrays were the most advanced to come out of Starfleet Research and Development, as befitting exploratory star cruisers like the Constellation-class. Alongside her quad-nacelle arrangement, the Gettysburg and her sister-ships were pushing beyond the edges of the Federation frontier further then almost anyone before.

    Yet, here we are wasting our time on colonial surveys and watching out for the local boogeyman, Jameson mentally griped. While we should be doing what Zefram Cochrane had talked about at the dedication of Warp 5 Complex; 'go where no man has gone before...'

    "Sir..?" Wyszynski sounded worried and concerned, "The ship appears to be a class of cargo shuttle used by the Cardassian Union."

    The Gettysburg's XO felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Cardassians. They still knew very little about the race, despite repeated attempts at making polite and friendly overtures towards, over the past few years. Instead, Union warships had started picking fights with smaller Federation and Starfleet vessels that moved regularly around this and the adjacent sectors. Not to mention causing trouble with many of the non-aligned civilian cargo transports that passed too near the space they claimed as their own.

    In essence, they were a bunch of playground bullies. Bullies that the Diplomatic Corps had only recently made progress in successfully opening a dialogue with, to prevent those fights from becoming anything more serious.

    So why had a beat-up old cargo ship crossed into Federation space into an uninhabited system?

    "Show me."

    In response to the captain's order, Yeoh touched a control. The main screen's view of the immediate area ahead of the Gettysburg was replaced by one of their quarry. Paris let out a low whistle of disbelief from behind Jameson, before speaking, "That ship's seen better days."

    The security chief's comment was on the nose. The stubby looking vessel, boxy and angular with little elegance, looked like it hadn't been in for anything resembling a maintenance overhaul in years. What running lights were still active blinked erratically. Most of the hull plates were worn, damaged and pitted, if not missing completely. Signs of taking a beating, certainly, but not too recently, would be Jameson's guess.

    Wyszynski soon confirmed his belief, "The damage to the hull is months, if not years, old, Captain." She looked over at the screen, looking at the ship for herself, nose wrinkling in distaste, "All systems appear to be running on reserve power."

    There was a series of chirps from her console, which Wyszynski quickly silenced, frowning, "Picking up indications of an emergency shutdown of the warp core. Both matter and antimatter reserves appear drained and the core's matrix compositor is completely fused."

    Jameson grimaced. They must have been pushing their engines well past the red-line to end up with that kind of damage. They've been running hard and fast.

    But what from?

    Before Jameson could push the science officer for more details, Patricia Paris called out in alarm, "Sir, picking up three ships coming in fast!"

    Jameson spun around to look at her, as the strawberry-blonde tactical officer glared at her console display with anger, "They were using the radioactive properties of the asteroid belt to mask their approach."

    She looked up. Met his inquiring gaze. "The design shares similarities with known Cardassian Union destroyers, but there's no exact match in our database."

    Is it too much to hope that maybe they're just here to offer aid to a fellow Union ship? Jameson quickly dismissed the optimistic thought - if it were true, why did they try to disguise their entry into the system? "Vessel origin and status?" He stepped forward, but managed to resist the urge to actually go to the tactical console and check for himself. The crew knows their jobs. Let them do it.

    It took only seconds for Paris to reply, "Coming in weapons hot, Commander."

    "Hailing frequencies," ordered the captain. After a confirmation from Yeoh, he continued, "Attention, Cardassian vessels. You have entered Federation space without clearance demonstrating hostile intent. If you are here to retrieve your cargo shuttle, we are more then willing to lend assistance. Please acknowledge."

    There was a pregnant silence for a long moment, until the communications officer shook his head. No response.

    "They are approaching in a triangle formation," reported T'Vel, her back perfectly straight as she hung over her console, "A standard attack pattern commonly reported by ships that have encountered Union forces."

    Jameson felt a familiar shiver of anticipation. As a Starfleet officer, he strived to meet situations in as peaceful a manner as possible. But the Academy also prepared future officers for the fact that sometimes, combat was going to happen no matter what.

    Three against one? I'd bet on the Getty any day. With what he knew about the level of Cardassian technology, as well as the recent overhaul to the Gettysburg's photon launchers, phaser banks and shield generators, even three of their warships would not prove much of an opponent.

    "Are we being targeted?" Ch'Valos's voice remained steady, almost casual as he made his inquiry. Jameson found himself a little envious. On the screen, the three ships approached the drifting shuttle. Like Paris had reported, they were a design that Jameson didn't recognize. Surprising, considering all of the pre-mission intelligence briefings the Gettysburg senior staff had been given.

    Paris replied quickly, "No, sir. In fact..." She looked up at both Jameson and ch'Valos is surprise, "They're targeting the cargo shuttle!"

    What the..?! Streaks of bright fuschia energy shot from the lead Cardassian warship, and slammed into the unprotected hull of the shuttle, leaving behind an angry scorch mark. Seconds later it was followed by shots of similar intensity from the two companion vessels, which blasted away several sections of hull plating from the weakened surface.

    "Those are definitely not phase cannons!" Paris remarked, sounding impressed and yet appalled at the same time. "They're reading as some kind of spiral-wave disruptor. That's a hell of an improvement in a short period of time."

    "Lieutenant, open a channel to the Cardassians," ch'Valos barked, turning his full attention back to the screen as he resumed his seat. "Open broadcast. I want to make sure they hear me."

    Yeoh nodded, working her part of the board. After a moment, she indicated for the captain to speak.

    "Attention, Cardassian vessels. You are in Federation territory engaged in hostile intent. We cannot allow this. Stand down, before we are forced to engage."

    Blinking in surprise, Jameson shot a look to Paris and saw the chief of security was caught just as off-guard as he was. "Captain?" Jameson leaned in closely, lowering his voice in what he hoped would be seen for what it was, a gesture of respect by keeping his misgivings private, "Is that wise? This is an internal matter for the Union, isn't it?"

    Ch'Valos looked him dead in the eye. His own voice in reply was just as hushed, but laced with steel, "A matter that has carried over into Federation space, Exec. I have no intention of allowing these vessels to believe they can simply waltz into our territory and fire upon a helpless ship."

    Jameson allowed himself a small grin. This was a side of the Andorian he'd yet to see in action. He liked it. "Understood and agreed with, sir."

    It may have been wishful thinking on his part, but Jameson could have sworn he saw ch'Valos's lips twitch into the barest hint of a smile. But the gleam of excited anticipation he saw in his captain's eyes was very real before he faced the screen again. He straightened up, feeling the familiar buzz of adrenaline in his veins, "Red Alert! Shields up. Make phasers and photon torpedoes ready."

    The main bridge lights dimmed, making the the blood-red alert lighting all the more brighter as the crew took the necessary actions to prepare the Gettysburg for possible weapons-free engagement.

    "Why the hell are they firing at one of their own?" Jameson found himself asking aloud, not that he expected any of the bridge crew to answer him.

    "The energy signatures of the Cardassian vessels is highly unusual," Wyszynski reported. "The power distribution curves are much more efficient than previously encountered."

    On the screen, the small, beleaguered shuttle did what it could to outmaneuver the shots that battered at it, but wasn't going anywhere fast. "The shuttle's maneuvering capability is severely hampered by damage to remaining propulsion systems," confirmed T'Vel.

    "Captain!" Yeoh blurted out in a rush, holding her ear transceiver close as she listened intently, "The cargo shuttle is hailing us." She looked around in total shock, "They're using a Federation carrier wave, and a Starfleet encryption key!"

    This time, Jameson didn't push down the urge to work the problem himself. He made his way over to join Yeoh at her station. He took in the signal readout display with growing confusion and bewilderment, "Confirmed, Captain. But the encryption is outdated, it hasn't been used in years."

    "Decrypt it, Commander." Jameson nodded, then input the necessary codes and comm protocols to decode the message. Yeoh listened intently to her transceiver, eyes narrowing, mouthing a silent 'oh' as she made sense of it, "It's mostly in a language I don't recognize, sir, but there are a couple of words in Federation Standard thrown in. 'Starfleet'. 'Federation'." She looked at him in shock, "The last words are 'Help us'."

    "Get the Universal Translator working on the rest of it, Lieutenant." Jameson turned to face ch'Valos, quickly relaying what they'd learned. The Andorian's antennae twitched slightly, "This situation is becoming much more complex than it initially seemed."

    Jameson noticed how the Andorian set his shoulders back, head held firmly, the picture of confidence and command poise. "Take us in, Helm. I want the Gettysburg to provide cover for the cargo shuttle."

    "Still no response to your order to stand down, Captain," offered Yeoh.

    "Very well, then." Resting his elbows on the arms of his command chair, ch'Valos gently steepled his fingers together. "Commander Paris," he ordered calmly, "Fire a series of warning shots. Try to keep the crusiers away from the cargo shuttle."

    Paris nodded curtly, nimble fingers working her targeting controls. Jameson did the only thing he could for the moment - watched the screen and waited...

    * * *​

    From the forward-most phaser array on the Gettysburg's saucer, mounted in front where her name was emblazoned boldly, shot four bursts of fiery-gold light.

    They lanced through space, cutting through the empty space between the fish-like amber-hued Cardassian destroyers and the chunky little cargo shuttle that the three larger vessels were ganging up on.

    Although none of the phaser fire came near enough to scorching their hulls, it was close enough to make the ships pause on their advance. A pause that gave the smaller ship a needed opportunity to pull away from the weapons range of their attackers.

    As the destroyers hung back, the shuttle inexorably closed the distance between itself and the Gettysburg with what speed it could muster, overtaxed impulse engines barely capable of making half-impulse.

    For a moment, it looked as it the Cardassian ships were simply going to allow their prey to escape into the safe embrace of the Federation ship--

    --until each ship launched a volley of torpedoes. Each volley, consisting of three projectiles, bypassed the shuttle, instead finding their target in the Gettysburg's shields. Then, each destroyer followed through with a blast of disruptor fire that impacted on the already weakened spot that their torpedoes had made.

    The Constellation-class ship rocked to port and starboard as the shield bubble around it flared with energy at the multiple concussive impacts...

    * * *​
     
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  17. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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

    The bridge of the Gettysburg was a scene of utter chaos.

    "Helm, evasive maneuvers! Tactical, lock weapons and return fire!" It was the sheer indignation in his captain's voice that allowed Jameson to come back to his senses, having suddenly found himself face down on the deck. His head was pounding.

    The unexpected strength of the Cardassian weapons fire that had struck their shields had sent almost all of the bridge crew flying, Jameson included. As he pulled himself up using the railing, he gingerly touched the jagged cut on his forehead he'd received after striking it against the deck. His fingers came away bloody.

    "Shields strength down to 72%!" Jameson barely heard Paris yelling the status report over the din of the klaxons. He looked around as the personnel that could pulled themselves back up and retook their positions, or moved to assist those that still lay on the deck. "Remodulating shields. That might mitigate further--"

    The bridge shook again, but nowhere near as hard as the last time. "The Cardassian ships are firing again," T'Vel reported calmly. "They are breaking formation. Initiating their own evasive patterns.

    "Shields are holding at 70% now, Captain," Paris commented with clear relief.

    "The disruptor intensity has also dropped off," Wyszynski said. "The Union vessels don't seem capable of sustaining their previous level for long."

    "Then, will someone kindly silence that infernal alarm!"

    Yeoh quickly pressed a control, killing the discordant screech of the klaxon, as ch'Valos spun around to look at Wyszynski, "What in name of Uzaveh the Infinite did they hit us with?!"

    Having never heard ch'Valos speak with such anger and ferocity before, Jameson had a hard time believing his ears for a moment. The Gettysburg's commanding officer was now out of his chair, feet planted securely, as he turned to glare at the viewscreen with unbridled fury.

    "High-yield antimatter warheads, sir." Wyszynski's matter-of-fact reply got everyone’s attention. The science officer was sporting a nasty cut on her cheek, and her normally perfectly coiffed hair was now in disarray, as she read more data from her sensor boards. "A marked upgrade to their previous torpedo technology."

    T'Vel spoke up once more, "The Cardassians seem to now be ignoring the cargo shuttle. Focusing on us instead/"

    Oh great,
    Jameson realized. The bullies have a bigger, more promising target to gang up on now. Us. While ch'Valos ordered a continuing barrage to keep the destroyers off-balance, Jameson moved to the Master Situation monitor, needing to do something useful. At this station, he was able to keep an eye on all key primary systems while also watching the sensors relay the effect their counter-attack had on the enemy.

    The tactical plot showed him the Gettysburg's phasers lashing out again, but instead of striking the Cardassian ships naked hulls, they instead splashed against an energy screen, "What the hell..?"

    Wyszynski soon confirmed what he'd seen, "Cardassian vessels are employing a form of defensive force fields." She sounded just as surprised as Jameson felt, "It's not as effective as our own shield generators, but enough to offer some protection from our phasers."

    "Not as much as they'd like," Paris added with snide satisfaction, "I'm picking up major power fluctuations in the lead destroyer, and the other two have taken damage to their propulsion systems."

    "Picking up increased chatter between the three ships, Captain," Yeoh reported, "They're not best pleased that we've been able to keep them at bay." She turned around suddenly, grinning in relief, "The lead ship is calling for a retreat!"

    Jameson looked at the viewscreen. On it, the three destroyers, almost fish-like in their design, in the same amber-hued colour as the shuttle and other Cardassian ships he'd studied, moved away sluggishly. From the looks of it, their impulse maneuvering systems had taken some damage. Seconds later, each ship made the jump to warp, vanishing from sight.

    "They shouldn't have underestimated this old girl," ch'Valos commented with a scornful smirk. "They picked the wrong ship to pick a fight with." The Andorian tugged on his uniform jacket, standing a little straighter with pride, "Stand down from Red Alert and have all section heads issue damage reports." He looked to Jameson, and for a moment, the X.O. saw just how tired and drawn his commanding officer was, "Mr. Jameson, begin rescue operations with the--"

    "Sir!" Wyszynski looked around in horror, "The shuttle's hull integrity is at less than 3%!" The science officer's words were practically a pronouncement of death for whoever occupied the embattled craft. "I estimate 2 minutes before it suffers total collapse!"

    Jameson reacted as his training and experience dictated, slapping at his communicator, "Bridge to Transporter Room 2, get a fix on any and all life-signs aboard the cargo shuttle and beam them aboard!"

    As standard protocol for a starship answering a distress signal, both of the Gettysburg's personnel transporter rooms had been brought into stand-by and manned by experienced operators. Even with the ship being pulled into battle, the technicians on duty would still be at their posts, until told to stand down.

    However, the response from Chief Parsons, the senior non-comm of the division, wasn't the confirmation Jameson hoped for, "Having trouble getting a solid lock, Commander! All that weapons fire has ionized the shuttle's hull!"

    "Increasing sensor resolution and gain," Wyszynski responded, fingers furiously dancing over her console surface. She finally shook her head in disappointment, "Only registering life-signs within the aft section. Indistinct. I cannot confirm how many targets there are to transport."

    "Chief, can you do a blanket beam-out? Grab what you can?" All traces of weariness gone, ch'Valos didn't sound happy with the suggestion he was putting forward. Jameson understood why all too well.

    The chief's reply underscored it, "I can do it, sir, but with readings this fuzzy..." The non-comm hesitated just enough, "...I can't guarantee I'll get everyone in the ship over in one go."

    "The shuttle's hull is breaking up!" Wyszynski yelled in an uncharacteristic but understandable display of panic.

    "Do it, Chief. That's an order."

    "Aye, aye, Captain," replied Chief Parsons, unable to keep the slight tremble from his voice, "Energizing now."

    * * *​

    The pain, panic and fear that filled the heart of Caros Tarrin was almost overpowering.

    The Betazoid chief medical officer of the Starship Gettysburg took a steadying breath, steeling himself with a gentle but firm reminder. These emotions are not your own. They deserve to be acknowledged, but they do not control you.

    Feeling himself coming back to his senses, he picked up the hypospray from the small dispenser unit he'd retreated to in order to collect his thoughts and emotions, to reinforce the mental barriers that had taken a beating in the last few minutes. He then quickly made his way across the Sickbay's main triage and treatment ward to tend to his current patient.

    Normally, an orderly or nurse would have retrieved the necessary hypo for him, but every member of his staff was currently busy with their own work. He and the three other medical officers each worked on the major cases, while nurses and medtechs treated the less-severe injuries of patients that had flooded the medical facility. Normally quite spacious and spread out, it was now close to being overwhelmed, with his staff spread thin across the ship dealing with on-site treatment in badly damaged areas like Engineering.

    Still, Tarrin knew he had work to do and it wouldn't make it any easier, complaining about it. So, instead, he offered what he hoped was a supportive smile to the petite Xyrillian officer on the bio-bed, as he gently pressed the hypo to her scaly neck. "That should help, Ensign. Just lie still," he reassured her softly.

    As she closed her eyes, he saw her breathing even out as the drugs took effect. A quick look at the overhead patient monitor confirmed her heart arrhythmia had eased while she had slipped into a sedative-aided sleep. It would help with her recovery from second-degree plasma shock from being too close to an exploding EPS wave guide in the Exo-Botany lab.

    Breathing a sigh of relief and enjoying the momentary respite before moving onto the next patient, he also jumped in surprise at the chirp of the intercom. It was followed by the voice of Lt. Yeoh, the communications officer, "Bridge to Sickbay. Prepare to directly receive possible wounded from a ship in distress."

    Great Sceptre, I'd almost forgotten about that... In all the confusion of suddenly having to deal with the casualties of battle, Tarrin abruptly remembered that the Gettysburg had been on course to investigate a distress signal. As standard procedure dictated, Sickbay had been informed and made ready for possible injured, which had made all the difference when the shooting had unexpectedly started. Well, as unexpected as it could be in that kind of situation, anyway, Tarrin reasoned.

    He tapped his communicator, "Acknowledged. We'll be ready." He quickly called on several orderlies to help move patients seated on the deck to somewhere out of the way. 'Directly receive' was short-hand to prepare for an incoming transport straight to Sickbay, skipping the need to assemble a medical response team and head to the transporter room.

    No sooner had the area been cleared when the air began to shimmer and glow with the tell-tale effect of transporter materialization. Within seconds it became clear to the Betazoid that instead of a group of wounded, something else was being beamed over. As the effect faded from view, Tarrin stared, genuinely confused at the sight before him. What in the name of the First House do we have here..?

    Instead of a group of patients, what had been beamed into Sickbay appeared to be, to Tarrin's experienced eye, a quartet of medical stasis chambers. They may not be exactly the same as previous examples of the devices he'd run across before, but the similarities were enough for him to recognize them for what they were.

    That said, he definitely didn't recognize the markings of what might have been alien text on certain areas of their surfaces. But he didn't need to be able to read it for the moment. Instead, he took the offered tricorder from a medtech and began a detailed scan.

    "Definitely stasis tubes," he muttered quietly, keeping his attention focused on his current task. He knew his team were more than capable of handling Sickbay's multitude of injuries while he worked out what this new twist in the story was. "Each containing a single humanoid carbon-based, oxygen-breathing, biological life form."

    He frowned in annoyance at the readings he was getting back from the tricorder. As his speciality was xenobiology, he prided himself on having at least a passing knowledge of all the known races encountered by the Federation. But as of right now, he found he could not identify the species of the occupants of the tubes, only that they were all of the same race. Beyond that, just that they were alive.

    When the tricorder began to emit a series of shrill beeps, though, Tarrin realized with mounting concern that they may not stay that way for long. "Dammit, the tubes are shutting down!"

    He slapped at his communicator again, "Sickbay to Engineering! I need an emergency repair team, stat! Have them bring a universal power cell!"

    He was thankful when Chief Engineer Lazoriin didn't question the reason for his rather odd order. He simply proclaimed that one was on their way and would arrive in minutes. Tarrin uttered a silent prayer to the Mighty Mother Goddess that the repair team would live up to the Bolian's word.

    Before he ended up with four dead bodies, instead of four living patients...

    * * *​
     
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  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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

    As Zahevian ch'Valos surveyed his five key senior officers sat around the rectangular conference table in Deck One's aft briefing room, he could see just how tired and exhausted each of them was. Just as he himself was. But in the few short hours since their clash with the Cardassian destroyers, the Gettysburg crew had done their commanding officer proud.

    Thankfully, his able yeoman and several stewards were dispensing needed caffeine to the assembled staff officers. His personal choice, an icy-cold rakjatino, sat in front of him, the only cold drink. Everyone else had either a steaming mug of Terran coffee or Vulcan spiced tea. Their loss, he reasoned. The Klingon drink provided the necessary kick to his tired brain and body for the moment, while he and his crew worked to bring the Gettysburg back up to her full fighting form.

    Because if the Cardassians are intent on making trouble, he considered privately with unease, we're going to need to be at tip-top shape for what might be coming.

    After everyone had taken a few ships of their chosen beverage, and Yeoman Standall had lead herself and the stewards out, ch'Valos brought the meeting back to order, "Dr. Tarrin, I believe you were about to explain what you've managed to learn about our guests in Sickbay?"

    The Betazoid nodded, exchanging his spiced tea for a data PADD before leaving his chair and moving to the small inset monitor in the wall. He worked the hand-held device for a moment, before several biological scan results appeared on the screen. "We've identified them as a race that the Federation has only the barest hint of passing knowledge about. Alternatively called the 'Bajora', or 'Bajorans'."

    Several physiological displays appeared. To ch'Valos, they were almost indistinguishable from humans. The only visible external difference seemed to be a series of cartilaginous nasal ridges. He listened with curious intent as Tarrin continued, "Each of the four is suffering from severe malnutrition, in general poor health, but they're in no immediate need of medical assistance."

    "Why were the Cardassians so damn determined to stop them?" Jameson asked, leaning forward onto the table. The Andorian could see the burning desire for answers in the dark eyes of his X.O. "Crossing into our space? Risking starting a shooting war for these people?"

    Off Tarrin's nod, Lieutenant Wyszynski joined him at the monitor screen. She pressed a control on the bulkhead, replacing the physiological data with a star-chart of the local region. It then zoomed into a particular area, several lightyears away from the churning miasma known as 'the Badlands'.

    "The Bajoran star system is just within the edges of Cardassian-held territory," she explained. "Warp-capable, but with little interest in exploring much beyond their own world. Several colonies and settlements across the system itself. Clandestine sociological and anthropological surveys have reviewed them as a genial race, caste-based and heavily influenced by the planet's predominant religion. A worship of beings known as 'the Prophets'."

    She paused, looking almost uncomfortable, "Any further scheduled studies were cancelled once the Cardassian Union made first contact with them two years ago."

    Ch'Valos saw the murmur of discontent that passed through everyone present. "Annexed?" Paris asked. putting forward the question that was on everyone's mind. The Union's ever-onward expansion was part of the reason Task Force Hadrian had been assembled.

    Wyszynski squirmed a little, so ch'Valos stepped in for her, "Not officially, Commander. At least, not according to the latest intelligence reports compiled by Starfleet Security. That said, I assume we have all read the dossier supplied by Starfleet Intelligence about worlds that have been 'approached' by the Union then later forcibly invaded and annexed?"

    There was a collective shudder and disturbed whisper in answer to his question, before Commander Paris offered a cautious idea. "Maybe our guests can give us more up-to-date information once they wake up?"

    Both Tarrin and Chief Engineer Hars Lazoriin shook their head emphatically. The diminutive Bolian lieutenant commander was the first to speak, "Cardassian technology might be not on par with ours, but it's still damn finicky, Commander." He let out an annoyed breath. It was somewhat disconcerting to see the normally ebullient and over-exuberant engineer acting so morose, "I am not sure I can properly decode the systems that are keeping the tubes running, and until we do, I wouldn't want to even attempt shutting them down.

    "As I said, there is no need to rush thing on that front," Tarrin added in support. "We have the time to study it before we try anything with it."

    Nodding in agreement, ch'Valos voiced his support as well, "Lt. Wyszynski can assist you as well, Mr. Lazoriin."

    The science officer nodded briskly, "Lt. Yeoh might also be of assistance, sir, given her understanding of the Cardassian language."

    Lazoriin smiled with a welcome glimmer of his usual warmth and eagerness, "As soon as I have repairs under control, we can get right into it!"

    Earlier in the meeting, the Gettysburg's chief engineer had given them a rundown on the damage they'd sustained in their brief fire-fight. They had been extremely lucky, given the extra punch the Cardassian destroyers had packed, both in overall damage and casualties sustained. Thankfully, Dr. Tarrin and his team had made sure they had suffered no fatalities.

    Naturally, it was the impatient Commander Jameson who chose to focus on the more negative aspects of their skirmish, "What I'd like to understand is how the Cardassians were able to cause so much damage to us in the first place."

    More then he'd like to admit to anyone but himself, ch'Valos understood the point his First Officer was making. The Gettysburg's primary EPS grid had taken a severe beating, which meant that the Constellation-class starship was now limping along at low warp back to their previous position.

    Jameson powered on, "The Union ships encountered before have never demonstrated the tactical ability to put up the kind of fight those destroyers did. Disruptors, improved torpedoes and force fields are a long way off the phase-cannons and polarized hull plating they had before."

    Paris let out a whispered expletive that sounded vaguely Klingon, before adding her own thoughts, "The warheads were very similar to early development photonic torpedoes, but with a much more significant payload." She grimaced, "On its own, a single one wouldn't have done that much damage. But each ship firing off a spread, then following through with that disruptor of theirs? Talk about maximising impact!" She shook her head, leaning back with arms crossed, "Who knows how many more of their fleet they've upgraded."

    Sensing the mood of the meeting was taking an unnecessary downward turn, ch'Valos sat up a little straighter and cleared his throat. Better to deal with this now, then let it fester. "What is important now is not speculating on how wide-spread these improvements are, but being better prepared for any and all further encounters the ships of Task Force Hadrian might have."

    He fixed his steely gaze first on Jameson, then Paris, "I want you two to go over the sensor records of our engagement. Analyze the data. See if you can ascertain any other 'improvements' that may have been made to these particular Union vessels."

    He stood. "That's all for now. Dismissed."

    Everyone began to file out. He watched as Lazoriin quickly cornered Lt. Wyszynski to discuss a 'plan of attack' for their work, following the slightly unnerved younger officer out. Jameson and Paris were the last to exit, and ch'Valos watched them go.

    Both were promising young officers. Paris was soon to earn her full commander bars, and move onto another assignment, especially in the current climate of needing battle-ready officers for the potential powder-keg this region was becoming. As for Jameson, it was no secret to the crew that their captain and his Number One did not exactly see eye-to-eye. Part of being a good X.O. was being a balance to the captain while still presenting a united front. The Andorian knew he was keeping Jameson on his toes, but he had his reasons.

    "Bridge to Captain ch'Valos."

    His private ruminations interrupted, ch'Valos tapped his communicator, He had a horrible feeling he knew what was coming, "Go ahead, Lt. Yeoh."

    The communications officer apologetic tone confirmed his theory, "Sir, you have an incoming transmission from the U.S.S. Reykjavík. Ambassador Metruka for you."

    Oh, joy...

    * * *​
     
  19. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Good story.
     
  20. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Combined segment written by: Orbing Master and Gibraltar

    * * *​

    Ambassador Metruka stared at Captain ch’Valos from light-years distant, his expression dour.

    “Captain, I’ve just read your initial after-action report, forwarded to me by Starfleet Command.” The Zakdorn emitted an acidic coo, fairly dripping with displeasure. “Can you please explain exactly what you were thinking? As the OIC of the task force, you had to know we had just opened negotiations with the Cardassians.”

    “I was aware of that, Ambassador, yes.” The Andorian refused to let his gaze waver, and kept his voice calm and controlled. If this arrogant bureaucrat thinks he can intimidate me, he has another thing coming.

    “However,” he continued on, “I am also aware that both Starfleet regulations and interstellar law require me to assist any and all vessels that are in need of assistance.”

    Metruka emitted an exasperated sigh, as though he were listening to the excuses of a petulant child.

    “Did it not occur to you, Captain, most especially given the timing involved, that you were being baited? There was no immediate threat to Federation lives or interests evident, only what appeared to be a strictly internal Cardassian security matter. It took us nearly a year to arrange this conference, and barely two hours into the exchange you provided them the perfect opportunity to walk away from the table with their righteous indignation intact!”

    “I believe the four Bajorans we rescued from the shuttle would beg to disagree, sir.” This time, he couldn’t keep all of his growing anger out of his voice. “Perhaps you would be happier if the Cardassians had simply waltzed into our space unchallenged and destroyed a helpless craft?”

    He pushed on before Metruka could speak, taking a certain degree of pleasure in cutting him off, “With all due respect, Ambassador, if you read my report in full, you would know the destroyers refused to answer our hails after crossing the border. Not only that, but they did not heed our warning shots and in fact returned fire directly with enough force to severely damage the Gettysburg.”

    “You are correct, Captain," Metruka countered, "in that the preferable outcome to the scenario would have been for you to resist taking their bait, and to have stood down. We both know that the border as it stands is in dispute. There are no boundary buoys, nor have we negotiated a strict demarcation line with the Cardassians. They crossed into territory claimed by us, yes, but they have yet to acknowledge those claims. They stuck a proverbial toe across a nebulous boundary and you immediately provoked a confrontation with them.”

    Metruka held up a hand to hold ch’Valos in abeyance as the Zakdorn appeared to collect himself. “Bajor lies deep in Cardassian territory, only a handful of light-years from the Cardassian homeworld, and is well within their sphere of socio-economic influence. It seems obvious that these Bajorans you ‘rescued’ were conveniently prepackaged in stasis for us, furthering my suspicion that this was all a ruse to give them a political advantage in any future negotiations. Like the Romulans, the Cardassians have obviously turned political and diplomatic intrigue into an art form.”

    Ch’Valos shook his head. Chess pieces, he thought with disgust. That’s all we are to him. Living chess pieces and if we don’t move according to the way he plays us, he isn’t happy.

    I’m no-one’s pawn.

    “Whatever the true reasons for that shuttle being across the border and in disputed territory, Ambassador, I will rest easy knowing that I did my duty to help them. Not only that, but I must point out that it appears the Union’s technology has undergone a significant developmental spurt. Was that something that came up in your talks?”

    “No, Captain, it wasn’t. We hadn’t progressed that far before your confrontation with them ended the whole affair. I really should be more understanding, of course. One must forgive the… passions of an Andorian, and not expect one of your kind to hold himself in check when so obviously provoked to join in battle.” Metruka appeared entirely too pleased with his observation. “I will recommend to Starfleet Command that perhaps someone with a more… constant disposition should be appointed commander of the task force. I’m sure more Cardassian incitements can be expected.”

    Try as he might, ch’Valos could not suppress his twin antennae from curling forward in response to the burn of outraged indignation he felt course through his blood. Metruka dared speak to him like that? By sheer force of will, he reigned in his anger. Instead, he decided to change tactics, and gently ‘remind’ the Ambassador who had the power here.

    “That is your right, Ambassador. However, it may take a while for another commander to be appointed. Starfleet Command is under no obligation to listen to your recommendation. While you may dictate a certain amount of foreign policy, you have no real sway with logistical deployment.”

    He made a deliberate point of looking away from Metruka, and instead focused on the Reykjavik’s commander, noticing the amused gleam in her eyes, “Would you not agree, Captain Trujillo?”

    “Indeed I would, Captain,” Trujillo replied, throwing a distasteful glance in Metruka’s direction that he was oblivious to. “I’ve explained to the ambassador that as the on-scene task force commander, I follow your orders in any situation that threatens Federation lives or assets.”

    “Which is what I believe the apparent upgrade to Cardassian starships could lead into.” Ch’Valos looked back to Metruka. “Given the evidence that the Bajorans were apparently fleeing for their lives, they may very well have useful intelligence regarding the matter.”

    Metruka emitted another aggrieved sigh. “Captain ch’Valos, I am going to attempt to restart negotiations with the Union’s delegation. In the meantime, I’d appreciate you using more… restraint, should the Cardassians try to incite another incident.”

    He dipped his head in a shallow attempt at a polite nod, offering a thin smile as well. “I will, of course, do my utmost to adhere to your request, Ambassador.” He offered a more genuine smile to Trujillo, “Captain, my communications officer forwarded me your offer for assistance. I appreciate that, but we can patch ourselves up well enough for now. You’re needed more in Kalandra.”

    “Understood, Captain,” she replied. “We are, of course, available should another round of hostilities break out with the Cardassians. Thank you for sending along your sensor records of their weapons upgrades. That will be very helpful in reconfiguring our shield frequencies to better defend against these new disruptors of theirs.”

    “Here’s hoping you won’t need to put it to the test,” ch’Valos remarked, “I’m not even sure a combat vessel like a Shangri-La-class starship could hold up against them for long. Not with the way the Cardassians fight.”

    “Gettysburg out.”

    * * *​