TUE: USS Pugnacious - "Hide and Seek"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by TheLoneRedshirt, May 2, 2020.

  1. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
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    TUE: USS Pugnacious – “Hide and Seek”

    Stardate 2356.9 (16 May 2325)
    USS Pugnacious NCC-487


    Star Station Echo – Berth 7

    Lt. Commander January “Jan” Sylvest, C.O. of the Patrol Cutter, USS Pugnacious, surveyed Engineering with hands on hips and a smile of satisfaction on her face.

    “Nice work, 'Zed,'” she enthused to her Chief Engineer. “I wager Engineering didn't look this good when it first left the Copernicus shipyards back in the day.”

    “I would say considerably better,” boasted Lt. Zora Duntov. Humility was not one of the Chief Engineer's strong points. “Warp performance is the best it's ever been. Sytems are operating at peak efficiency. There's no question that engineering is much improved since I took over.”

    Sylvest had learned to ignore Duntov's hyperbole. The fact was, the cramped engine room was immaculate and the horizontal warp core which occupied much of the space thrummed softly in standby mode. Everything appeared squared away. While she would not test the theory, she could probably eat off of the deck, it was so clean.

    Main Engineering on the Pugnacious echoed a design dating back to the venerable NX-class. An arched ceiling loomed closely overhead, festooned with conduits and pipes. Captain Sylvest fought the urge to duck every time she entered the space. The twin catwalks that lined the horizontal warp core cut into the clearance even more. The ratings that manned those consoles probably had sore necks after a shift of monitoring the intermix chamber.

    CPO Relek Torv Torsk, the Tellarite Chief of the Boat wore a disgruntled scowl. Since that was his default expression, it could signify anything from disdain to intense interest. At 61 standard years of age, Torsk was the oldest of Pugnacious' crew. He was also the longest serving member, having joined the Pug some 26 years earlier as a Petty Officer, Third Class. Despite his dour outlook on officers in general and the Chief Engineer, in particular, he was an excellent NCO and knew the ship's systems better than anyone, including Lt. Duntov.

    “Too much time and effort going into spit and polish when that time would be better spent running the boots through their paces,” groused Torsk, referring to the ten brand new crewmen who had just arrived from Mars.

    Sylvest stifled a sigh. “It's not everyday that we have a visit from Admiral Odegaard, Boats. I have every confidence that you'll bring our new crewmen up to speed.”

    “Yes ma'am,” grunted the Chief, obviously not mollified in the least. “Just remember, I was here when we went through this same frelp when the old man turned 100. Days wasted on scut-work for the Admiral to wander around my ship for twenty minutes.

    Admiral Lars Odegaard (ret.), was considered the Father of the Border Service. He was scheduled to visit the Pugnacious the very next day, on the occasion of his 125th birthday. The Pugnacious was his first command, and the Border Service brass seldom passed up an opportunity for some positive P.R. Accordingly, Commodore Munson, Commander of the 7th Border Squadron, had strongly impressed upon Lt. Commander Sylvest the importance that the 97 year-old patrol cutter be “ship shape, from bow to stern and from bridge to bilge.”

    Sylvest was unsure what a “bilge” was until she looked it up. She was relieved to learn that Pugnacious did not actually have a bilge and that Munson merely had an affinity for anachronistic nautical terms.

    Satisfied that Pug was ready for Admiral Odegaard's visit, whether that be a quick walk-through or formal inspection, Sylvest made her way back to Deck One.

    The bridge of Pugnacious was a virtual replica of the original Constitution-class bridge layout, with the exception of being about 25% smaller. Even the red, black, and gray colors were a throwback to that era. It was functional but certainly not spacious. The ring-shaped control center had a large main viewscreen, multiple stations around the perimeter, and the helm/ops twin station just forward of the command chair.

    As Captain Sylvest stepped off the turbo-lift, Lt. Pasqal, the cutter's Executive Officer, quietly rose from the center seat, eschewing the standard “Captain on the bridge” announcement. Sylvest felt it to be a needless interruption for the bridge personnel.

    “Status, Mr. Pasqal?”

    “Quiet as a mortuary and still docked in berth 7 with no sign of Orion pirates or Nausicaan raiders,” he replied. “Petty Officer Hayes reported one minor injury when Crewman DeLauney slipped coming down a ladder and sprained his ankle. He is expected to live.”

    "Thank goodness for small miracles," she replied, accepting a data slate from the XO and scanning it. PO1C Maggie Hayes was their Nurse Practitioner / Paramedic, as the cutter was too small to rate an M.D. Hayes was very good at her job and brave to the point of sometimes being reckless.

    Sylvest settled into the command chair, turning it to regard the Denobulan. “One more day, XO, and we can get back to the real work.”

    The Denobulan's bushy eyebrows rose a fraction. “As opposed to applying saliva and rubbing compound?”

    “Spit and polish,” she corrected, “but, yeah. I am more than ready to repair a subspace relay, tow a disabled transport, or defend the Federation against carnivorous Tribbles.”

    “Ah, sarcasm,” he beamed. “Very good, ma'am, I'll add that one to my collection.”

    Smiling, she shook her head. “I relieve you, Mr. Pasqal.”

    “And I stand relieved. Perchance there is still some leftover pizza in the ward room.”

    “Good hunting,” she replied as the XO moved to the turbo-lift.

    Sylvest returned her attention to the data slate, wishing someone would bring her a cup of Gwin'tja tea. But the Border Service did not have stewards or yeomen, so she set that thought aside, noting wryly that, with few exceptions, the morning brief was virtually unchanged from yesterday, and the day before. Stellar meteorology indicated some low-level ion storms in the Molari Badlands, and gravitic waves were creating massive swirling dust clouds in the sector, but that had little to do with a cutter docked at a star station.

    Something intruded on her thoughts. She heard a slight cough and looked up.

    A young Tellarite stood to the side of the command chair, black eyes peering at her either balefully or in abject terror. (She had a terribly difficult time reading the expressions of Tellarites.) His crisp uniform and shiny rank flash indicated he was a newly minted Ensign.

    She placed the slate on her lap and studied the Ensign, waiting.

    He continued to stare.

    She stared back.

    Do say something, Ensign. Your projected life-span is twice mine, and I have a head start. I would hate to die of old age before you make jay-gee.”

    That made him blink. “Uh, Ensign Maonkarv Gav Gralt, reporting for duty, sir.”

    This time, it was Sylvest's turn to stare blankly. “Ensign Gralt? I don't believe you are assigned to Pugnacious.”

    “I wasn't, sir. My original assignment was Albacore. The transport from Tellar Prime was delayed and Albacore was already underway when I arrived. They won't return for six weeks.” He paused. “The Squadron Commander assigned me TDY to Pugancious, sir.” His voice lacked the gravelly timbre of a mature Tellarite. This one was barely out of adolescence.

    “So you quite literally missed the boat,” she responded with a wry smile.

    “Sir, Albacore is a ship. A boat can be placed aboard a vessel, as a shuttlecraft could be carried in this ship. A ship cannot be carried on a ship, thus Albacore cannot be a boat, sir.”

    Sylvest rested her chin on her fist, continuing to study the young Ensign. Tellarites were masters of sarcasm; it was part of their cultural identity. CPO Torsk, for example, had a tongue sharp enough to shave Tritanium.

    Thank you, Mr. Gralt, I bow to your superior knowledge,” she replied, in her best sarcastic tone, inter-species understanding and all that.

    He blinked. “Sir?”

    My God, she thought, a Tellarite in whom is no guile.

    “Ma'am,” she corrected, absently wondering where the Border Service found this kid.

    “Sir?” he replied, clearly confused.

    Sylvest rubbed her eyes, feeling the first tingle of a headache. “Mr. Gralt, you may refer to me as 'Captain,' 'Skipper,' or 'Ma'am.' I prefer that over 'Sir.' Is that understood?”

    “Yes si . . . ma'am.”

    “Now, what to do with you, Ensign Gralt . . . ,” She noted the gold at his neck. Why did they change the engineering color from red to gold? . . . oh, yeah . . .redshirts . . . 'deadshirts' . . . Heh . . . Good Lord, I'm a horrible person . . .

    Deciding this was no longer going to be her problem, she toggled the comm switch for the ward room.

    “Mr. Pasqal, are you finished scarfing pizza?”

    Oh, yes. And there's a lovely cheesecake in the stasis box. I saved you a piece.”

    “Nice. When you've brushed the crumbs from your jacket, please come to the bridge. We've a poor little lamb who has lost his way.”

    On my way,”

    Looking back at Gralt, she asked, “Do you have your personal gear, Ensign?”

    “Yes ma'am, I left it at the airlock.”

    “Our Executive Officer, Lt. Pasqal, will assign you quarters and get you on the duty rotation. I presume engineering is your specialty?”

    “Yes ma'am, it is.”

    “Very well.” Pasqal stepped off the turbo-lift, so she stood, finding she was considerably taller than the young Tellarite. “Welcome aboard the Pugnacious, Mr. Gralt. I will leave you in the XO's capable hands.”

    * * *

    Wayward ensigns aside, the morning shift moved along with a sort of numbing monotony. Sylvest was counting the hours until the arrival of Admiral Odegaard and his entourage (27 hours, 33 minutes), and was seriously contemplating cheesecake, when the comm officer spoke up.

    “Skipper, we're receiving an incoming message from Squadron Command.”

    Sylvest frowned. Was it too far for Munson to walk? “On screen.”

    The image of Commodore Arlen Munson, C.O. Of the 7th Border Service Squadron, loomed from the viewscreen. He did not look happy.

    Captain Sylvest, sorry as hell to do this to you, but I need Pugnacious ready for departure within the hour for a rescue mission. I'm transmitting details as we speak . . .”

    Sylvest managed to keep her face impassive while she did an internal happy dance.

    “Just say the word, sir.”

    * * *
    To Be Continued . . .
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2020
  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Great story! I love the fact that Gralt is aboard, young, and not so embittered yet. :)
     
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  3. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Oh. My. God. BabyGralt! He's adorable! And so completely unlike the yelling, cursing, crusty old engineer we know and love. Him staring blinkingly at Sylvest had me in stitches. :guffaw:

    Loved the interpersonal dynamics on the ship, especially the CO/XO relationship. More, please!
     
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  4. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Thanks! Yes, even Gralt was once young and innocent.
     
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  5. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    "BabyGralt" - I just spit coffee! :guffaw:Fortunately, CPO Torsk will make a fine tutor. :evil:

    Thank you! More on the way.
     
  6. CamSPD

    CamSPD Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Space, the final frontier.
    Omg, BabyGralt! I love it! And so much love for more of your Border Service stories. Glad to see you in the game again.
     
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  7. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Chapter 2

    USS Pugnacious NCC-487

    Captain's Log, Stardate 2357.1

    We have received orders to undertake a search and rescue mission near the Molari Badlands. No other ship in the squadron is in range, so we got the call. I could tell Commodore Munson was reluctant to send us out as we're preparing to receive Admiral Odegaard tomorrow, but emergencies take priority. Additional assets are hours or days away.


    Information is scant. Echo Station received a distress call from the ore-carrier S.S. Roba. Her warp nacelles were depolarized and she cannot make headway. We do not know the number of souls on board nor if the vessel has suffered any other damage.

    Currently, we are at warp factor 8, but even at that speed it will take us six hours to reach the area from where the distress signal originated. Ionic radiation is interfering with our ability to communicate with the Roba.

    Kudos to Lt. Duntov for having the ship ready to get underway quickly. I know he's disappointed that the ship will not be pristine should we return in time for the Admiral's visit, but he's a professional and is focused on our current mission.

    In the meantime, Chief Torsk and Petty Officer Hayes are preparing rescue teams. Best case scenario – we can beam over a team to make repairs and get Roba underway. Worst case, well . . . I have a vivid imagination. I'm always reminded of the old adage, 'We have to go out; we don't have to come back.'

    Computer, end and save entry.

    * * *

    Engineering

    “You there, Ensign . . . oh, blast, what is your name?” queried Lt. Zora Duntov

    “Ensign Gralt, ma'am.”

    Duntov scowled. “Are you trying to be funny, Ensign? Because if you are, I don't appreciate your humor.”

    Bewildered, Gralt stared back at the Chief Engineer. “I was just following the Captain's orders, ma'am.”

    “You, what? Well, now, doesn't that just take the biscuit! We'll see about this.” He began to storm out of Engineering, then turned and paused.

    “Two things, Gralt . . .”

    “Ma'am?”

    “Mind the intermix ratios. Pug is temperamental at speeds above warp six. And the other thing . . . stop calling me ma'am!” Duntov, left muttering Belgian obscenities.

    Gralt went to carry out his orders, grateful to do something useful and relieved that the strange Human was gone, if only for a time.

    “Mis-ter Gralt.”

    Gralt turned to stare into the face of a grizzled Tellarite, whose dark expression clearly portrayed none-to-patient contempt.

    “Ma'am! I mean, sir! . . . He noted the CPO tabs and his heart fell. “Oh, frak,” he finally breathed.

    Torsk nodded. “Better, young sir. We non-coms work for a living, so no 'ma'am,' or 'sir' for us. If the Ensign could spare a moment of his valuable time, I'd like to pass along a bit of advice to prevent him from further disgracing the mange-ridden, whore-mongering, unworthy, clans of his fore-sires. . . Sir.”

    Gralt sagged. “Deities.”

    * * *

    Captain Sylvest couldn't help herself. She started laughing. “He didn't.”

    “He did! Three times! It's insubordination, I'm telling you,” cried Lt. Zora Duntov, his pride wounded.

    Sylvest quelled her mirth. “Oh, get over yourself, Zed. He's just a nugget and nervous as hell. Didn't you screw up on your first cruise?”

    The Chief Engineer snorted. “Never!” He paused, and his expression softened. “Well, almost never,” he allowed.

    “Shall I review your personnel file to refresh your memory?”

    “Not necessary,” he replied. “I believe I can overlook it . . . this time.”

    “You're his Department Head,” Sylvest reminded him. “That means teach him the right way to do things, the 'Pug Way.' It's part of your job, Lieutenant. Make it your mission to turn him into a top-notch engineer. Do you hear me, mister?”

    Duntov nodded. “I hear you, Skipper.” He hesitated. “Look, I've always had to work at cross-species cooperation. . . it doesn't come naturally for me.”

    “I've noticed,” she replied in a dry tone. “Keep working at it, Zed. That's an order.”

    “Aye, Skipper.”

    “Dismissed.”

    As Duntov left, Lt. Pasqal remarked, “He should have come to me with that, Jan. I'm sorry he bothered you with it.”

    Jan nodded. “Yes, he should. And as XO, I expect you to make that expectation clear to our officers. I don't want any turf wars on Pug. Lt. Duntov is a hell of an engineer, but he has trouble seeing beyond his little kingdom. Make it your job to integrate these new officers, okay?”

    “I'm in like Flynn,” he replied.

    She blinked. “What?”

    “Terran idiom . . . mid 20th century, North America.”

    She rose from the ward room table. “Pasqal, I'm 24th century, South Mars. Make it happen, Lieutenant.”

    “Aye, aye.”

    “And speaking of junior officers, I'd better get back upstairs before the bridge crew notices I'm gone and think they don't need me.”

    * * *

    “Report.”

    Lt. (j.g.) Heath (Sparky) Tatum, the cutter's Operations Officer, turned in the command chair. “Still on heading to last known position of the Roba at warp 8. Hailing on all frequencies but no reply.”

    He rose, allowing Captain Sylvest to retake her seat. “Thanks, Sparky. What's the latest on ionic activity?”

    “Good news . . . no ion storms within our vicinity. Bad news . . . dust clouds are fritzing up sensor returns, and show a build-up of Magnesite particles.”

    Sylvest grimaced. Ion storms were a major concern, potentially deadly, particularly for poorly shielded ships, but Magnesite particles could render their transporters unusable.

    “Do we have a schematic of the Roba?”

    “Yes ma'am. The Vesuvius Mining Consortium provided us schematics and the name of the Captain, a Rigellian by the name of Krav 'nor Elan. He's an independent contractor; the consortium does not have a crew manifest, but typically the ship, an Anatov AN-880-TR, has a crew manifest of 8, 12 max.”

    “Good work,” remarked Jan. “Can you put it on the viewscreen?”

    “Sure, Skipper . . . just one moment.”

    Multiple images of the MV Roba, or at least the type vessel, appeared. It was a sturdy looking ship, designed to tow ore barges at up to warp five over vast distances. They were common in the Molari sector, due to the mineral wealth in the primary system.

    “Unladen, they can make warp six for twelve hours,” explained Tatum. “Triple Duranium hull, so it's able to handle radiation well for a non-military vessel. Single warp core feeding two nacelles, dual fusion reactors, ion mass drivers can push it to one-quarter light speed. About as maneuverable as a crippled cow, and not the most robust sensor suite or comm system.”

    “A mixed bag, for sure,” replied the Captain. “Anything on their Captain . . . 'nor Elan?”

    “Let's see . . . native of Rigel VII, earned a level 3 commercial pilot's license 15 years ago . . . no citations or suspensions . . . clean record.”

    “Does he have a family?” Maybe not relevant to the situation, but she always liked to know. It mattered to her.

    “Two spouses, seven children.”

    A typical Rigellian family unit. She wondered if he kept images of his family in his quarters. It was a Human thing, but she had learned it was common among many of the space-faring races.

    She wished they knew about the rest of the Roba's crew, but if wishes were Dilithium, she'd retire to Risa.

    Sylvest considered the situation. The Roba was robust and the captain had experience and no run-ins with the Border Service. He was unlikely to be a smuggler and less likely to panic. The odds were looking better. But there had been no contact in nearly 24 hours, and they were about to enter a maelstrom of dust particles that could create havoc with their own sensors, the transporter, and potentially depolarize the Pug's warp coils.

    “Sparky, prepare to launch a sensor buoy before we enter the cloud. Maybe we can use it to get a signal out to Echo if this stuff gets too thick.”

    “Yes ma'am, good idea!”

    “How many class-3 probes are we carrying?”

    “Four.”

    “Program them for spiral search patterns, 45 degrees from our heading. Launch on my mark.”

    “Aye, ma'am.”

    The main viewscreen now revealed an irregular, black and gray cloud, blocking the stars behind it. The friction of the fast-moving particles created electrical discharges . . . "star lightning," the old timers called it. The cloud was foreboding, millions of cubic-kilometers in volume, large enough to swallow a star system.

    And somewhere in that cosmic miasma, an ore-carrier was living on borrowed time.

    * * *

    To be Continued
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2020
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  8. CamSPD

    CamSPD Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    I love a good mystery!
     
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  9. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Way to build the tension while maintaining some levity aboard. I'm really enjoying the interpersonal dynamic with your characters. It's searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack, except it's a really big, really dark, and really dangerous haystack! :eek:
     
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  10. pio1776

    pio1776 Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2017
    Def a good mystery here.
     
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  11. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Chapter 3

    Stardate 2357.2 (16 May 2325)
    USS Pugnacious NCC-487


    Captain Sylvest absently stirred her Gwin'tja tea, feeling the slight pressure at the base of her skull indicating the onset of a tension headache.

    She glanced up at the portraits of Pug's past commanding officers and lifted her mug.

    “Cheers,” she began, “Any of you guys have a suggestion on how we find a grain of sand on a beach?”

    If the hall of old commanders had any ideas, they kept their own counsel and merely gazed back impassively at January Sylvest.

    Bridge to Captain.”

    She rose and approached the comm station on the wall .

    “Sylvest here, go ahead.”

    Ma'am, we're in position to launch the probes.”

    “Good. How much effective sensor coverage can we anticipate in that cloud of dirt?”

    Best guess . . . 20 percent, max. Ensign T'Las suggests we boost their output by augmenting with power from their drive systems. It might give us 25 percent coverage, but we'd lose at least one hour of life from the probes.”

    Sylvest winced. Still, better than nothing. “Very well, I'll approve Ensign T'Las' modifications. On my way.”

    * * *

    As Pugnacious entered the massive dust cloud, the cutter rocked slightly as high-velocity compressed particles slammed against their shields. The main viewer revealed a swirling, sparking mass of dust and inert gases, the decayed remnants of a long dead planet or the detritus of colliding asteroids.

    The vista was beautiful and terrible to behold.

    Engineering to Bridge.”

    “This is the Captain. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

    Recommend we shut down the Bussard collectors. The coil temps are already rising.”

    Sylvest frowned. “Meaning, we can't go to warp.”

    Yes, Skipper. Sorry, but if we depolarize our coils . . .”

    “Meaning taken, Mr. Duntov. Very well, secure and shutter the collectors.

    Acknowledged.”

    Sylvest gazed at the viewscreen, willing the Roba to appear, with her crew safe and her systems operational. The rumble of the deck and occasional jolt as a pocket of volatile gases were ignited by the impulse engines dissuaded her of that likelihood.

    “Steady as she goes, helm, maintain one-half impulse.”

    “Steady at one-half impulse, aye,” replied Lt. (j.g.) Olen Kel, the helm officer. The tall, broad-shouldered Deltan provided quite a contrast with the petite Vulcan seated next to him.

    “Ensign T'Las, inform me if you note any shield degradation.”

    The young Vulcan turned from her station at Ops. Her blonde hair and pale blue eyes set her apart from the typical dark hair and olive or darker skin tones of her race.

    “Captain, I recommend we reconfigure the shields, tapering and elongating the shield envelope. Our standard configuration, suitable for travel at warp, is creating drag as we encounter greater concentrations of particles. Such a reconfiguration will allow us to use less fuel as we navigate through the cloud.”

    Sylvest chuckled and shook her head. “Aerodynamic streamlining in space. Good thinking, Ensign. Get on it.”

    T'Las inclined her head fractionally as she turned back to her console, almost as if embarrassed by Sylvest's compliment. The young Vulcan was reserved to a fault, making other Vulcans of Sylvest's acquaintance seem gregarious by comparison.

    Navigating a cubic search pattern is both tension inducing and monotonous. There is the stress of knowing time is against you and the cosmos is working to thwart your efforts. But there are also hours of mind-numbing tedium, navigating by stacked grids, analyzing sensor returns, checking and rejecting anomalies, and repeating, hoping to whatever deities you embrace, you didn't miss anything. Intermixed are shift changes, hastily eaten meals, rest periods, and perhaps snippets of conversation or a move in an ongoing game of 3-D chess. It's not glamorous, and it won't make the recruiter's script, but it's the job.

    Underlying the routine is the knowledge that a ship and crew has yet to be found. To fail in a search and rescue mission is soul-rending for Border Dogs.

    And Border Dogs hate to lose.

    * * *
    Ship's Time: 2311 hours

    January Sylvest started, momentarily disoriented by the sound of the comm-terminal chime. She quickly sat up on the edge of her bed and checked the chronometer . . . an hour's worth of sleep. It would have to do.

    Blinking to clear her eyes, she hurried to the desk and tapped the display. Lt. Pasqal appeared on the monitor, appearing fresh and not at all fatigued.

    Sorry to wake you, Skipper, but we may have something.”

    “The Roba?” she asked, hope rising in her heart.

    Nothing definite, but extrapolating the sensor data from the probes and our main sensors indicate a solid mass at 12 degrees above our current bearing at . . . 32 degrees to port. It could be a ship or simply a large chunk of rock.”

    “Adjust our course along that bearing. Time to intercept?”

    Forty minutes at our current speed.”

    Sylvest donned her jacket as she spoke, leaving the flap unclasped. “Increase speed to three-quarter impulse. Notify Chief Torsk to get the rescue boarders ready.”

    * * *

    Twenty five minutes later . . .

    “Target dead ahead, 150,000 kilometers” announced Lt. (j.g.) Kel.

    “Reduce speed to space standard,” ordered Sylvest. She frowned at the swirling dust storm on the main display and gestured toward it. “Can we get a clearer image?”

    “Negative.," replied T'Las. "The image is already at full magnification and maximum resolution.” .

    “It's as thick as potato soup,” remarked Pasqal.

    “Pea soup,” corrected Sylvest, although the analogy fit. “Ops, can you get an I.D. on the object?”

    The Vulcan allowed a hint of a frown. “Nothing positive, although mass readings are within the margin of error for the class ship, factoring in sensor degradation and background radiation.”

    “Bring us in closer, Mr. Kel. Comms, keep hailing.”

    Within five minutes, the Deltan announced, “We should be right on top of it.”

    “All stop,” ordered Jan. “Ensign T'Las, anything?”

    “Definitely reading Duranium alloy, but I cannot determine if the vessel is still intact.”

    “External lights,” ordered Sylvest. “Helm, approach, maneuvering thrusters only.”

    Little changed on the main viewscreen as the swirling particles diminished the output of the high-intensity lights.

    “Full power on sensors, I want their hull to vibrate.”

    “Full power, aye,” replied T'Las. A pause. “Definitely a vessel, Captain. We are at 100 meters and closing.”

    Suddenly, through the gloom, the distinctive shape of an ore tug appeared. The vessel appeared to be intact, but no running lights were visible.

    “No energy output from the Roba, shields are down and engines off-line. She is adrift.”

    “Life signs?”

    T'Las hesitated. “Indeterminate. Perhaps . . .”

    Perhaps?” challenged Sylvest.

    “I . . . apologize for being imprecise, Captain. We are picking up a low-level energy reading from within the vessel, but I cannot determine if it is a life sign. If so, it is faint. It could also be emergency batteries that are failing.”

    “Only way we're going to know is to get over there. Can we use transporters?”

    The Vulcan shook her head. “The concentration of Magnesite particles exceeds the safety threshold. I do not recommend it.”

    “Damn.” Sylvest glared at the indistinct outline of the ore tug. “Helm, circle that ship, keeping lights on it. I want a complete visual scan with Mark I eyeballs. Where do they put the docking port on these things?”

    “Amidships, port and starboard,” replied T'Las. “However, we will have to drop our shields to attempt docking with the Roba.”

    “I'm aware of that, Ensign,” replied Sylvest, a bit more sharply than she intended.

    “Of course, ma'am,” replied the Vulcan, puzzled by Sylvest's emotional reaction. It was her job to point out important data, after all.

    Pugnacious pirouetted slowly around the Roba, her powerful spotlights playing over the ore tug's hull.

    Sylvest's eyes narrowed. “Correct me if I'm wrong, XO, but don't those look suspiciously like impact points from an energy weapon?”

    Multiple dark streaks marred the hull of the Roba. “No evidence of a hull breach or out-gassing of atmosphere,” remarked Pasqal. “Whoever fired on them wanted to disable but not destroy the ship.”

    “Mission accomplished,” murmurred, Sylvest. “Ops, any signs of other vessels? Ion trails?”

    “Negative, Captain. If there were any other vessels in the vicinity, they departed many hours ago.”

    “Go to yellow alert,” ordered Sylvest. She doubted they would be ambushed in this murk, but best to be ready. “Helm, take us around and prepare for docking on that ship's starboard side.”

    “Aye, Skipper,” replied Kel in his serene baritone. The Deltan would appear calm if the cutter was maneuvering into a black hole.

    “Mr. Pasqal, meet the boarding party in our port airlock. Make sure they are fitted out with hard EVA suits and weapons. There's a remote possibility of hostiles on board.”

    The XO nodded, his usually animated features somber. “Understood.”

    “And impress upon them it will get rough with our shields down, so they need to get in and out quickly. T'Las, best estimate on how our hull will hold up to cosmic sand-blasting?”

    “Minor damage within five minutes, hull plating will begin to degrade within thirty minutes.”

    “So much for not scratching the paint,” murmured Sylvest.

    * * *
    To be Continued
     
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  12. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Yeesh, they've found her, but it took groping on hands and knees in the dark to do it. I fear for what's happened to the hauler's crew, and I'm sure Pug's personnel shares in that concern.

    More excellent character work here, as we're getting to know some of the ancillary players. I'm holding my breath on this one...
     
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  13. CamSPD

    CamSPD Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2011
    Location:
    Space, the final frontier.
    I agree with the above -- excellent character work here. I love meeting a ship's crew. And boy, did the mystery ever get more confusing!
     
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  14. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2009
    Location:
    Orbiting Urectum
    No matter what Fleeters might disparagingly say about Border Dogs, they're damn efficient and worth their weight in gold pressed latinum!
     
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  15. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Man, I was on pins and needles about that upcoming inspection (pretty much like the skipper). But more important things took precedence.

    Nothing quite as exciting as boarding an adrift ship without having a clue as what to find aboard. Hey, she ain't the Event Horizon, so how bad could this be?

    Well, we know Captain Trujillo of the Reykjavik would have some stories to tell on the subject. Let's hope things work out better here.
     
  16. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    @TheLoneRedshirt .... Nicely written. Makes me ashamed to post my meager attempts at story-telling..
     
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  17. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Chapter 4

    Stardate 2358.1 (17 May 2325)
    USS Pugnacious NCC-487


    Airlock 1

    Lt. Pasqal gazed around at the gathered boarding party. All wore the hardened EVA suits designed primarily for hard vacuum and working on the hull of the ship. It was probably overkill, but if the Roba had lost atmosphere or if a pathogen were present, the suits should protect them. There was also a degree of protection against weapons, but no one was under the illusion that they could survivor a blast from a phaser or disruptor set to kill.

    Chief Torsk checked the loadout of each member of the boarding party, tugging straps, checking weapons, and muttering as he did so. Torsk carried a set of tools attached to his suit, plus a laser torch and phaser pistol. Petty Officer 1C Maggie Hayes had her med-kit while Security Specialist 1C Tej I'nar, a tough-as-nails Green Orion female, carried a phaser carbine to complement her phaser pistol and a wicked-looking combat knife.

    Rounding out the boarding party was Ensign Gralt, carrying a tool kit similar to Torsk. Pasqal, who was quite adept at reading the facial expressions of Tellarites, could tell the youngster was terrified.

    The XO stepped up to Gralt, giving his loadout a perfunctory check, then locked eyes through the Ensign's faceplate and spoke in a low tone only the Ensign could hear.

    “By virtue of your rank, Ensign Gralt, you might assume you are in command of this boarding party. You would be mistaken in that assessment. Understand?"

    Gralt swallowed and managed to squeak, “Yes sir.”

    “This is your first boarding mission. All those simulations you went through at the Academy . . . you might assume that they prepared you for this, the real thing. You would be mistaken. Are you reading me, Ensign?”

    The young Tellarite swallowed. “Yes sir.”

    “Chief Torsk is in charge. Follow his lead and do exactly what he says. He's been on hundreds of these missions. Pay attention, be aware of your surroundings, and you'll be fine.”

    “Aye, sir. Thank you.”

    Pasqal gave a nod, smiled, and patted the Tellarite on the arm. Turning to Torsk, he asked, “Ready, Chief?”

    Though muffled through the helmet speaker, Torsk's raspy growl was evident. “Frakking A, Mr. Pasqal.”

    Pasqal tapped the comm panel on the bulkhead. “Pasqal to bridge. Boarding party ready and standing by.”

    * * *
    Bridge

    “Very good, Mr. Pasqal,” replied Captain Sylvest. “Wait for my command.”

    Sylvest hit the inter-ship communications stud on the arm of her chair. “All hands, we are about to drop shields. It's going to get rough, so brace yourselves.” She closed the inter-ship channel and turned her attention to the viewscreen.

    “Helm, activate tractor beam and stabilize the Roba, standby to dock.”

    As originally built, all Cerebrus-class patrol cutters had three warp nacelles. At some point in her service-life, the ventral warp nacelle was removed from Pugnacious, and a sensor pod containing an upgraded graviton beam emitter installed in its place. It cost little in warp performance and by augmenting the tractor beam with energy from the warp core, Pugnacious could tow ships five times her mass with relative ease.

    Kel acknowledged Sylvests orders and activated the tractor beam. “Good capture,” announced the Deltan, “Roba is stablized . . . we can maneuver to dock.”

    “Very well,” she hesitated before giving the order she dreaded. “Drop shields.”

    The cutter rocked as billions of particles ranging in size from dust motes to fist-size rocks pounded the unprotected hull.

    When January Sylvest was seven years old, she traveled from Mars to Earth for the first time to visit her grandparents. They lived on farmland in the old state of Nebraska in North America. The farmhouse itself was at least two centuries old, with a corrugated metal roof and clapboard siding. It absolutely fascinated young Jan, or it did, until the night she experienced her first thunderstorm.

    She was awakened by a cacophony of sound in the middle of the night. Terrified, she fled to her grandparents' bedroom, where her Nana tried to comfort her, explaining, “It's just the rain, baby.”

    As the tempest of dust and rocks pelted the Pug, Sylvest closed her eyes and whispered, “It's just the rain.”

    “Ma'am?” Kel turned his head slightly.

    She opened her eyes. “Commence docking, Mr. Kel.”

    Finessing the thruster controls, the Deltan maneuvered the cutter alongside the ore tug, aligning the docking ports, then bringing the two ships together in a delicate kiss. The procedure was so flawless that Sylvest did not realize it was completed until Kel announced, “Docking maneuver completed, showing green indicators on lock and hard seal.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Kel, well done.” She tapped the comm stud. “Sylvest to Pasqal, boarding mission is a go. We're on the clock. Tell Chief Torsk I want them back in 20 minutes.”

    Acknowledged. Pasqal, out.”

    * * *

    The Denobulan turned to the boarding party. “You heard the Skipper . . . 20 minutes, then get back on board. Searching for survivors is top priority. If the ship can be salvaged and safely powered up, we can put a prize crew on board. Questions? No? Chief Torsk, take over.”

    The NCO's voice was tinny but firm through the helmet speakers. “Keep a sharp eye out for live conduits; stepping on one even in these suits could ruin your day. Mr. Gralt, stay close to me. I'nar, you have point. Hayes, scan for life signs. Let's go.”

    They entered the airlock, and Ensign Gralt felt a moment's panic as the inner door closed and atmosphere was pumped out in a fading hiss. He had struggled with a sense of claustrophobia during the simulations. Now . . .

    Torsk nudged him.

    “Hey, Ensign. Eyes on me and breathe normally.”

    Gralt nodded, a Human gesture he learned at the Academy.

    Petty Officer I'nar activated the Pug's exterior hatch, revealing the outer airlock door of the Roba. She inserted a small card into a slot adjacent to the ore tug's airlock, but nothing happened.

    “No power,” said the Orion. “I'll have to override it.”

    “Just do it, I'nar,” grumbled Torsk, “We don't have time for speeches.”

    The Security Specialist allowed a moment to extend a middle finger toward the Chief, before producing a slender tool with a handle and inserting it into a small receptacle marked “override.” She began to turn the tool rapidly. At first, nothing happened. Then, the door moved inward several centimeters before silently sliding open.

    The airlock chamber of the Roba was dark and empty.

    “Frak,” muttered Torsk. “Emergency power has failed. Activate your helmet lights.”

    The team did so, though Torsk had to help Gralt. Entering the airlock, I'nar reversed the procedure and closed the outer lock door. There was a pressure gauge by the inner door.

    “They have atmosphere,” announced Hayes. “No way of telling if it's breathable or not until we get in.”

    “No way to pressurize this chamber,” observed Torsk. “Brace yourselves, or you'll end up on your ass when she opens that door."

    I'nar repeated the door-opening procedure again. Sure enough, the door had barely begun to open when the inner atmospheric pressure rushed in, equalizing the small chamber. Thanks to Torsk's warning, they maintained their footing. Small bits of debris swirled at their feet and settled.

    “Let's go,” ordered Torsk as he checked the chronometer on his arm. “We've got eighteen minutes.”

    “Atmosphere is breathable,” announced Hayes. “CO2 levels are a bit high . . . auto scrubbers must be down . . . no signs of pathogens or harmful gases, so the crew wasn't asphyxiated.”

    “Yeah,” rumbled Torsk, “but where are they? If it were my ship, I'd sure as the seven hells check out someone coming through my airlock without knocking.”

    Hayes unsealed and raised her helmet visor, earning the ire of Torsk.

    “Dammit, Maggie! What are you thinking?”

    “Hard to smell corpses with the helmet sealed, Chief,” she replied, sniffing the air.

    “Well?” growled the Chief.

    “Musty . . . a little sour, like dirty socks, but nothing like dead bodies.”

    Torsk raised his helmet visor, nodding for the others to do likewise. “Fan out and search for survivors. Mr. Gralt, stick close to me.”

    But as they were beginning to separate, Torsk grabbed Hayes roughly by the arm of her EVA suit.

    “No more grand-standing, Petty Officer,” he hissed, keeping his voice low so that Ensign Gralt wouldn't overhear. “That was damned reckless and you know it!”

    She grinned. “It's part of the job, Chief.”

    He snarled. “Your job, Petty Officer Hayes, is to use the damn medical equipment entrusted to you. That tri-corder would have told you everything you needed without compromising your suit's integrity. The next time you show off, you're going on report! Understood?”

    Hayes eyes flashed with anger, but she nodded curtly. “Got it, Chief.”

    “You just wasted a minute, Hayes. Move your ass.”

    It became clear within five minutes that the crew was gone, yet the life pods were still in place.

    I'nar to Torsk.”

    “Go ahead, Tej.”

    Chief, I checked the transporter logs. No one has beamed on or off using this ship's equipment since they were docked at Vespa Station ten days ago.”

    Torsk wrinkled his muzzle in thought. “Someone could have beamed them off.”

    That, or another ship docked and they all left on it.”

    The grizzled Tellarite grunted. “True enough. Doesn't explain why they would abandon her.”

    Unless they were forced to leave against their will,” suggested the Security Specialist.

    “Copy that.” He turned to check on Ensign Gralt, who was studying the master control panel. “Find anything, Mr. Gralt?”

    “Someone opened all the main power busses. At least we know why the ship is dark. Reactor is okay, just in standby. It wouldn't take long to get power back on-line.”

    Hayes to Torsk.”

    Just a second, Mr. Fralk. Go ahead, Maggie.”

    I found something you need to see on the flight deck. Two things, actually.”

    “On my way.” He turned to Gralt. “You okay to stay here by yourself, Mr. Gralt? I need to check with Hayes.”

    “Yes, fine. I'm just going to study these controls.”

    * * *

    It took Chief Torsk less than thirty seconds to reach the flight deck.

    “What did you find?” he queried.

    Hayes turned and Torsk was surprised to see her holding an animal of some sort. It was somewhat small and covered in long gray and white fur. Green eyes glowed in the dimness.

    “What the frelling sons of Gragnar is that?” he demanded. His hand moved unconsciously toward his sidearm.

    “It's a cat, of course. Lots of freighters keep one on board. They eat rodents and other vermin that can ruin cargo. At least now we know the source of the life sign reading.”

    Torsk relaxed. “You said, 'two things.'”

    Hayes angled her helmet lights toward the deck. A dark, irregular stain covered a sizable area.

    The Chief knelt to get a closer look. “Is that . . .?”

    “Blood. Yep. Human, type O negative, according to the medical tri-corder of which I've been entrusted.” She paused, with an impish grin. “You'll be glad to know I didn't taste it.”

    He cast her a sharp glance. “Mind your tongue, Petty Officer; you're walking on cracked mud.”

    Torsk stood. “At least we know there was at least one other being on board, since the captain was Rigellian.”

    “Yeah, but victim or perp?” wondered Hayes.

    “Yeah. Good question.”

    * * *

    Ensign Gralt continued to examine the bus bars. Why would anyone shut down all the systems at the power distribution point? It made no sense. Much easier to power down from the flight deck.

    Even the air handlers were shut down. No wonder the air was stale.

    He figured he could be most helpful by restoring power. Working in the dark was difficult enough, but this ship gave him the krillas. Besides, if they were going to salvage the ship, it would be far easier with power restored.

    It was simple enough to figure which bus controlled what. The largest was the main power bar, which would allow them to restore power flow from the main reactor. Really, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with the ship they couldn't easily fix.

    He reached up and grabbed the bus bar, preparing to reset it, when his eyes fell on something odd. Reaching into the small tool compartment on his chest plate, he produced a smaller flashlight. It would be better for close-up work than the helmet lights.

    What the frell is that? He wondered, examining his find under the flashlight. He pondered it for a moment, before producing a non-conductive probe from the same compartment. Frowning, he examined the small object which was attached to the bus bar by some sort of adhesive. Gralt withdrew the probe, puzzling over his discovery. He knew what it appeared to be, but why would anyone . . .?

    On a hunch, he crouched beneath the console and began to work an access panel loose. It took only a few seconds as the panel was already loose. Setting the panel aside, he peered in, the helmet lights providing more than adequate illumination.

    What he saw made his blood turn cold.

    Gragnar's mangy pelt,” he gasped, scuttling away as panic threatened to overcome him.

    * * *
    To be Continued
     
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  18. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Okay, chills have officially gone down my spine. More, please.
     
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  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    A creepy start to this boarding action, and it appears this is has become a ghost ship. I'm very much hoping Gralt hasn't discovered a bomb, or something even more sinister.

    Pug's a long way from help of any sort (thought I'm pretty sure that's the way the Border Service likes it) so it's up to Sylvest & Company to solve the mystery and bring the responsible party (or parties) to justice. That's my hope, anyway. As we know, they have to go out... they don't have to come back.
     
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  20. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2009
    Location:
    Orbiting Urectum
    Even though this is a new crew to us, they have such a great 'lived in' feel that makes you know that they've been together for a while. Some great little character moments mixed in with this mystery.

    Whilst the mainstream media has Baby Yoda to go gaga over, we've got Baby Gralt :lol: