TUE: USS Pugnacious - "Hide and Seek"

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

  1. CamSPD

    CamSPD Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    I am loving the crew here, and the mystery -- though dang it, I wanna know what the heck is going on!
     
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  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

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    Baby Gralt? Now that's an image that I can't get out of my head. LOL!
     
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  3. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Here and now.
    Cerberus-class Patrol Cutter by Mr-Wistan at Deviantart. This is the basis for the USS Pugnacious. I'm still working on the next chapter, so I thought I'd post this in the interlude. There are several other renderings of the cutter you can view, as well other works by this artist. He does excellent work!
     
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  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Wow, now that's an old-school design! :techman: Love the articulated phaser turrets.
     
  5. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, it's an interesting design, to be sure. I figure Pugnacious has been in service for 91 years as of this story, so she's in her twilight days. Four decks (counting the bridge) in the saucer, and two in the engineering hull for six decks total. I figure a max crew of 80, with Pug having a manifest of 72. One of my favorite aspects is how you can see the wardroom through the large windows, giving a great sense of the (cramped) scale.
     
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  6. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Chapter 5

    Stardate 2358.2 (17 May 2325)
    MV Roba


    CPO Torsk stopped abruptly as he entered the ore tug's engineering section, puzzled to find Ensign Gralt sitting on the deck, his back pressed against the wall opposite the Master Systems Display.

    Then his eyes followed Gralt's gaze, and his breath caught.

    “Blessed mud-baths of the third demi-whore of Lanthrus,” he breathed, a curse fused with a sort of prayer as he gazed upon the canisters of Ultritium 342 packed under the console.

    Torsk had a background in demolitions, and quickly figured there was enough of the high-yield explosive to vaporize the ship and everything within a thousand kilometers.

    But how was it to be triggered? Had the boarding party already activated a triggering device?

    He tapped the comm switch on his chest plate. “Torsk to Pugnacious . . . we have discovered explosive charges on the Roba. Recommend you immediately move away, at least 5,000 kilometers, and raise shields.”

    Chief, this is the Captain. Get your people off of that ship, now!”

    “Negative, Skipper. We may have activated a triggering device when we came on board. Leaving might detonate it. There's enough Utritium here to take out both ships. Let me check it out; if it's okay, I'll call you for a retrieval.”

    * * *

    On the bridge of the Pugnacious, Sylvest grimaced, torn between her desire to get the boarding party safely aboard and her greater obligation for the safety of the ship and 68 other members of the crew.

    “Very well, Chief. But no heroics. If you are confident that the device is not active, sing out and we'll get you off that ship.”

    You can count on it, Skipper. I'll keep you posted. Torsk, out.”

    “Mr. Kel, release docking clamps and raise shields once we're clear of the Roba. Move us off 5,000 klicks. Ensign T'Las, call up everything we have in the computer about Ultritium, how it might be triggered, and if there's a way to render it inert.”

    To their credit, neither officer reacted, other than acknowledging their orders and turning to their tasks.

    Pasqal moved closer to the Captain's chair and spoke softly. “Ultritium's the explosive used in mining operations and terraforming. The good news is it's relatively stable. It won't go off just because its dropped or exposed to heat.”

    “I'm guessing there's bad news?”

    “It's a favorite with terrorist groups and assassins because it's easy to obtain and any idiot can create a triggering device. All it takes is a microwave pulse and . . .”

    He didn't have to finish. “Noted, XO,” she replied.

    It seemed that the mystery of the drifting ship had turned into a deadly trap for four of Pug's crew.

    * * *
    MV Roba

    Ensign Gralt's Academy transcript would have revealed barely passing grades in tactics and diplomacy, superior grades in warp-theory and system dynamics, and excellent grades in higher mathematics, quantum theory, and design.

    Gralt's Academic Advisor, Commander Peter M'burta, wrote, “It is unlikely that Cadet Gralt will ever command a starship. He does, however, show tremendous promise as a problem-solver and innovative thinker. I would normally recommend him to the Corps of Engineers or as a line engineer at a starbase or starship. However, his lack of confidence and introverted nature would make a fleet posting challenging at best, and overwhelming at worst. A billet with a Border Service vessel would allow him to grow in his abilities and gain valuable experience, while providing a less stressful environment.

    It should be noted, that Commander M'burta never served with the Border Service, nor did he ever serve on a ship assigned to any border or frontier region.

    “Mr. Gralt, what in the frelling keeper of the burning mud pits made you open that console?” queried Chief Torsk, torn between irritation and admiration.

    His initial panic set aside to focus on the problem, Gralt pointed out the small transmitter secured to the main power bus bar.

    “I thought I could restore main power so we would at least see what we were doing,” he explained. “That's when I spotted the transmitter, which I figured had no business being there.”

    Torsk peered at the small device. “So, if you had closed the bus bar to the mains . . .”

    “It would have completed the circuit, activating the microwave transmitter, and . . .”

    “We would have lit up this dust cloud like a super-nova.”

    Gralt swallowed. “Um, yeah, we would. So, now what, Chief?”

    They were interrupted as Petty Officer Hayes and Security Specialist I'nar entered.

    “Hey Chief, did you know the Pug . . .” I'nar began, but her voice trailed off as she spotted the explosives jammed beneath the MSD.

    Slis'jaka jo'me sa,'” she muttered in Orion, “Are those what I think they are?”

    “I'nar, you and Hayes take Mr. Gralt and put him in one of the escape pods and then . . .”

    Gralt looked up sharply. “No way, Chief. I can help.”

    “No offense, Ensign, but I've been a qualified demolitions specialist since before you were a pup. Now, go on with I'nar so I can get this disarmed.”

    “Frak that, Chief!' Gralt thundered, surprising the others. “I know power systems, probably better than you do. My sire worked on frelling starships and my littermates and I helped from the time we were whelped. I'll know if there's anything there that doesn't belong and you can disarm it.”

    Gralt paused, realizing he had been shouting. “You can disarm it, right?” he asked in a more subdued tone.

    Torsk's greying muzzle drew back in a snarl, but instead, a hoarse rumble came from his chest, the Tellarite version of a chuckle.

    “Yes, young sir, I think I can prevent us getting blown to the great celestial mudpits,” he replied with more confidence than he felt. He exhaled and peered at the Ensign for a long moment, coming to a decision.

    “Alright, Mr. Gralt, we'll do it your way. May the deities preserve our worthless pelts if we frak this up.”

    The old Tellarite glanced back at the paramedic and security specialist. “Maggie, can you use that fancy medical tri-corder to scan the ship for more of this Ultritium 342?”

    The Paramedic's eyes widened fractionally, but she nodded. “Uh, sure, Chief. If I scan the explosive canisters to calibrate, they won't, um, go 'boom' or anything, will they?”

    “No, but if there's more of this stuff on the ship, our odds of turning into a small sun go way up.”

    “Gotcha. Okay.”

    There was a tense moment as the tri-corder warbled and beeped, indicating it successfully completed a scan of the Ultritium packed under the MSD.

    “Tej, while Maggie scans for more explosives, do another walk-through. Make sure that whoever left this little surprise didn't leave something else to ruin our day.”

    “On it, Chief,” replied the Orion, glad to get away from the immediate presence of the explosives.

    * * *

    USS Pugnacious

    January Sylvest managed to maintain an aura of calm as she watched the dust maelstrom from the safety of her shielded patrol cutter, well outside the potential blast radius, should the Ultritium on the Roba detonate.

    Inside, she was seething with anger. . . with the ones responsible for setting this trap . . . and with herself for abandoning four of Pug's crew to fend for themselves.

    The rational part of her brain continued to make assurances that she had done the right thing. The emotional part told the rational part to shut the F up, go back, and retrieve her people.

    Pasqal had been the voice of reason as well. It was one of the few times she'd wanted to throat-punch the Denobulan.

    Damn him for quoting regs, anyway.

    Like all Academy graduates on the command track, Sylvest took the Kobayashi Maru test.

    She failed, miserably. Her approach was to damn the torpedoes, and full-speed rush into the Neutral Zone to rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru.

    Of course, that earned her a spread of torpedoes from three K'tinga-class battlecruisers and the destruction of her ship and crew . . . virtually speaking, of course.

    Her evaluation (which most definitely was NOT virtual,) was more brutal than the test itself. With sarcasm that only a Tellarite could wield, Commander Griv congratulated Sylvest for setting a new Academy record for most casualties incurred and quickest destruction of her ship.

    Yay.

    Somehow, she still passed the senior command course. Griv probably wanted to avoid giving her a second opportunity to totally trash the sim-chamber.

    Now, she was taking the other fork in the road. No mad rush to save the day, keeping the ship at a reasonably safe distance . . . prudent . . . wise . . . right thing to do . . . all that noble crap.

    But it felt wrong. Her gut and her head were at odds. Maybe that was why her head was pounding and the acid in her stomach churned.

    Some days, command sucked.

    “Skipper? We have results from the external scan of the Roba,” announced Lt. (j.g.) Tatum.

    “I'm all ears. Fire away, Sparky.”

    “Nadion particle residue . . . definitely phaser scoring on the hull. Resonance frequency indicates an Orion or Ferengi type weapon.”

    “We're a long way from Ferengi space,” observed Sylvest. “Considering we're close enough to throw rocks into Orion territory, I'd say we know the type weapon. Problem is, that still leaves a lot of low-lifes that favor Orion phasers . . . the Syndicate, Nausicaans, slavers, pirates, smugglers, really sucky cover bands . . .”

    “But who would want to take the crew, then rig it to blow up?”

    That question nagged at Sylvest. “The ship was running light according to the mining consortium, so it wasn't ore they were after. Someone or some-thing on the ship must have been the target. But why rig explosives? . . .”

    “Maybe the explosives were meant for someone specific,” mused Tatum.

    “Or, to send a message,” added the Captain.

    She stood, resisting the urge to stretch. “But we don't have enough information, so we're just blowing smoke. Mr. Tatum, you have the conn. A cup of tea is calling my name. Call me immediately when you hear from the away team.”

    Or, when the viewscreen lights up when the Ultritium detonates, she thought, hating herself for her lack of faith.

    * * *
    MV Roba

    “There, Chief . . . right there, see it?”

    “No, damn this frinxing helmet anyway. Hang on.” CPO Torsk unlocked his helmet and removed it, twisting and rolling his neck. “Frelling arthritis,” he grunted as Gralt looked at him questioningly.

    “You okay?”

    “Better than you'll be at my age, young sir. Show me again.”

    Gralt pointed out the third microwave transmitter they had discovered in half an hour. “There, just behind that large canister. I guess it was supposed to be the fail-safe in case someone discovered the Ultritium before they tripped the other transmitters and started to pull the explosives out .

    Torsk grunted in agreement. “Okay . . . now to find the corresponding detonator.”

    Using their small flashlights, it took only a minute to find the detonator. Luck had been with them thus far, from Gralt's discovery of the first transmitter, the fact that Ultritium was generally stable, and no other explosives were found on the Roba.

    I'nar to Chief Torsk.”

    Torsk cursed, his helmet out of reach. Gralt handed it to him. With a grunt, the old Tellarite replaced the helmet on his head so he could respond to the Orion.

    “What is it, I'nar? More explosives?”

    No, but I found something else . . . looks like a small subspace beacon . . . like the ones you'd find integrated into escape pods . . . except this one was hidden.”

    Torsk sat up straight. “Where?”

    EVA suit locker, which by the way, all the suits are present and accounted for. Found it near the ceiling. No one would have noticed if they weren't searching.”

    “Get Hayes to scan it, see what frequency it broadcasts on and if it's active.”

    Roger that. How's the bomb-squad doing?”

    “We're still alive, ain't we? Torsk, out.” He removed the helmet again and fixed Gralt with his large, black eyes.

    “What do you make of that, Mr. Gralt?”

    The younger Tellarite wrinkled his muzzle in thought. “My guess is whoever planted the explosives wants to know when they detonated. Subspace signal stops, the bombs went off.”

    Torsk grunted. “Yeah. I think you're right. Not that any of this makes much sense.”

    They continued working; Torsk successfully removed the detonators, rendering the explosives more-or-less safe. Gralt let out a long sigh and collapsed once more on the deck. He began to tremble violently as he unsuccessfully attempted to remove his helmet.

    “Easy there, Mr. Gralt,” said the old Chief, not unkindly. He removed Gralt's water flask from the Ensign's tool belt and helped him remove the helmet.

    “Drink this . . . slowly . . . that's it. Adrenaline overload will give you the shakes every time. I damn near broke my tusks the first time I defused a device. Soiled myself too, but don't you dare tell anyone.”

    Gralt nodded, either in agreement or because he was still shaking. He managed to take a few sips of water and croaked, “Thanks, Chief.”

    Torsk grunted and regained his feet. “Just rest here a minute, young sir. I want to take a look at that subspace transmitter that I'nar found.”

    This time, Gralt didn't argue.

    * * *
    To be Continued.
     
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  7. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    You've got some excellent tension going here, both for those aboard the freighter and those back on the Pug. Sylvest's blaming herself because she's a good leader, but she's wise enough to know better than to risk the entire ship at the expense of four people.

    Great character work as Gralt earns the respect of the crusty old chief. Plenty of goodness here to go around.
     
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  8. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Holy crap! That was tense. I was on tenterhooks, wondering what was going to happen next!
     
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  9. CamSPD

    CamSPD Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
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    Wow. Tense stuff there, TLR. I agree that you've created even more great character moments given the separation of the crew. It's good that Sylvest feels that little bit of guilt for leaving the away team -- it means she cares about her people.
     
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  10. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Still early in the man's career but already he's starting to show some of that grit which will eventually make him one of the most reliable engineers in the Border Service. Never to early to start.

    Defusing bombs is always fun. I'm really curious now who's behind this little present they left behind. I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'm already looking forward to some payback. For now, let's focus on the more urgent matters. Like now blowing up.
     
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  11. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
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    Chapter 6

    Stardate 2358.4 (17 May 2325)
    USS Pugnacious NCC-487


    January Sylvest was weary but in a considerably better mood as the Pug approached the ore tug, MV Roba, for the second time. She'd had precious little sleep over the previous 24 hours, between her initial focus on preparing the ship for Admiral Odegaards' visit and the search-and-rescue mission that had nearly ended in tragedy.

    At the moment, Odegaard's visit was the farthest thing from her mind as the image of the Roba appeared from the tempest of dust and rocks.

    “Helm, bring us in for docking. Prepare to drop shields on my command.”

    “Aye,” replied the Petty Officer in the left chair, “Closing the gap and aligning for docking. Holding at 50 meters off their starboard airlock.”

    “Very well.” Sylvest toggled the comm switch on her chair. “Pugnacious to boarding party, stand by for retrieval.”

    Torsk here, we're at the airlock and standing by.”

    “Any more problems, Chief?” asked Sylvest.

    None worth mentioning. The explosives are disarmed and we found no other traps, just a subspace transmitter that we left in place.”

    “Understood. Once you're back on board, all of you get out of your EVA suits, clean up, and get something to eat. We'll get together in the ward room at 2100 hours for a debrief.”

    Aye ma'am, I can speak for all of the boarding party that we're ready to get off this ship and out of these suits."

    Sylvest smiled. “Good job, Chief. See you soon.”

    * * *
    Chief Torsk, Ensign Gralt, Petty Officers Hayes and Security Specialist I'nar appeared somewhat rested and refreshed following their harrowing experience aboard the Roba. As they recounted the timeline aboard the Roba, Sylvest noted that Gralt wore a somewhat distant expression, even for a Tellarite.

    Torsk continued his narrative. “If it weren't for Mr. Gralt's keen eye, we might have all been blown to the celestial mudbaths. He provided valuable assistance in removing and disarming the microwave transmitters and detonators.”

    Sylvest raised her eyebrows. This was high praise from the typically dour and critical COB.

    “Indeed? Well-done, Mr. Gralt. You're to be commended for your initiative and coolness under pressure.”

    Gralt turned to face Sylvest. “I just don't understand.”

    The Captain placed her mug of tea on the table. “What don't you understand, Ensign?”

    “Why would anyone leave explosives on an abandoned ship? For that matter, why was the ship abandoned?”

    Sylvest smiled. “None of us understand, Mr. Gralt. But that often goes with the job. We carry out our orders to the best of our abilities and hope to live to see another day.”

    She glanced around the table. “Thank you all for your input and, again, well done. Get some rest.”

    The Captain rose, signalling an end to the debriefing. As they were filing out, she spoke. “Boats, a word, please.”

    Torsk remained, as did Lt. Pasqal.

    “You spoke highly of Ensign Gralt's performance on the Roba. Chief. Anything else to add?”

    “Not really, ma'am. Mr. Gralt acquitted himself well, like I said. He was scared when he discovered the explosives, but . . . Deities! So was I. He set his fear aside and did his job well.”

    She nodded. “Good, glad to hear it. Now . . . about the Roba . . . recommendations?”

    Torsk scratched the graying fur at his neck. “I would advise against a prize crew to fly her back to Echo. The Ultritium is stable enough, but I wouldn't want to push our luck.”

    Sylvest nodded. “Agreed. I was thinking in terms of towing her back to Echo.”

    “Should be safe enough,” continued the Chief of the Boat. “As long as we tow at maximum range with our shields up.”

    “I think we're on the same frequency, Boats. Go get some rest; you've earned it.”

    Torsk inclined his head, slightly. “Ma'am . . . Sir.”

    The Captain and the XO sat again at the long table. Pasqal shook his head.

    “That was a near thing, Jan,” said the Denobulan. “We were lucky.”

    “Luckier than we deserved,” she agreed, “but sometimes the good guys win.” She paused, “Or, at least don't get blown up.”

    Sylvest studied her XO and friend. “What do you think we should do with the Roba, Pasqal?”

    He smiled but there was no amusement in his eyes. “My head says tow her back. My spleen says send a torpedo into her and watch the fireworks.”

    “Heart,” she corrected.

    “No, definitely my spleen. My heart says hunt down the bastards responsible and make them eat the Ultritium before we detonate it.”

    “I never realized Denobulans could be so blood-thirsty.” She rose and went to the beverage servitor, refilling her mug with Gwin'tja tea, a guilty pleasure after serving a year on Rigel VII.

    “Not really. Just practical. Whoever did this got clean away. They'll know they can do it again, maybe going after a bigger target.”

    Sylvest sighed. “No argument, XO. How about we tow this cursed ore tug back to the star station and let the forensic specialists do their thing. I believe our work is pretty much done.”

    “You'll get no argument from me, Skipper. Permission to stoke a fire under Lt. Duntov and see just how far we can extend our tractor beams?”

    “Permission granted,” she replied, moving to the twin viewports and the mesmerizing dust storm beyond.

    * * *

    Stardate 2359.3 (18 May 2325)
    USS Pugnacious NCC-487


    The return journey to Star Station Echo was uneventful for the crew of the Pug. They had no problems pulling the abandoned ore tug through the dust storm and into open space. Once in the clear, they were able to tow the Roba at a sedate warp four.

    Upon arrival at the star station, they dropped the Roba at a remote space dock where a demolition team could safely remove the Ultritium and forensic specialists could go over the ship with a fine-tooth comb.

    For Lt. Commander Sylvest, arrival was a reminder that Admiral Lars Odegaard was due to visit the Pugnacious within hours. While the interior was still ship-shape, she dreaded to see the scouring effect the dust storm had on the cutter's hull during the time the shields were down.

    “Docking sequence complete,” announced Petty Officer Dorsett.

    “Very well. Initiate engine shut-down.”

    “Engine shut-down, aye,” responded the helmsman. “Station Control shows positive seal on airlock and requests permission to connect umbilicals for station power.”

    “Permission granted.”

    Sylvest could sense the subtle change as the impulse engines shut down. The tell-tale sub harmonics faded and a subtle quiet came over the ship. Jan always felt mixed emotions when returning to base . . . gratitude for completing a mission intact, melancholy that it was over.

    “T'Las, tie into the stations visuals. I want to see how the hull fared.”

    The Vulcan went to work. In moments, she announced, “I have visual link established, ma'am.”

    “On screen.”

    The exterior of the Pugnacious appeared on the large viewscreen, revealing the entire primary saucer and the warp nacelles.

    The damage wasn't as bad as Sylvest expected.

    It was worse.

    The cosmic dust storm stripped all markings from the Tritanium hull plates. The registry and Border Service pennants were completely scrubbed away. Sizable pits and gouges were evident where larger rocks had impacted the unshielded cutter.

    The storm literally sand-blasted the formerly pristine hull of the Pug. The old ship looked battered and worn.

    Jan took some comfort in that the damage was largely superficial. Pugnacious was still sound and space-worthy. Another few days in space-dock would repair the hull damage and replace her missing registry and markings.

    Far too late to salvage the visit from the great and powerful Odie, the Father of the Modern Border Service, retired Admiral, first C.O. of the Pugnacious, and birthday boy.

    She only hoped that the elderly Admiral didn't suffer a heart attack or stroke when he saw the Pug's sorry state. Yep, that would just make the day complete. Maybe she could command a skiff at a cold station somewhere.

    T'las interrupted her dark thoughts. “Ma'am, incoming message from Commodore Munson.”

    And it just gets better . . . she thought. “Pipe it through to my cabin, Ensign.” No point in the bridge crew enduring an epic dressing down of their commanding officer.

    In her cabin, Sylvest checked her unruly hair, shrugged, and sat at her desk, staring at the monitor which displayed the Border Service insignia.

    Maybe if I don't answer it, he'll give up and go away.

    An electronic whistle, followed by T'las' calm voice came over the speaker. “Commodore Munson, standing by.”

    She toggled the comm. “Thank you, Ensign.” Sylvest settled back in her chair, trying to look cool and professional.

    Commodore Arden Munson's visage appeared on the screen, his expression carefully neutral. Sylvest idly wondered if he practiced in front of the mirror, for certainly, he had a great poker face.

    Captain Sylvest, I understand you had an eventful recovery of the Roba,” began the Squadron Commander.

    “To say the least, sir. I will submit my after-action report as soon as we're finished hosting Admiral Odegaard.”

    That's actually why I'm contacting you. We've had to move up the Admiral's schedule. He and his entourage will be coming aboard in thirty minutes.”

    Sylvest stared dully at the screen, waiting for the punch-line, for Munson to throw his head back in laughter, slap his knee, and whoop it up over pulling a good one on his subordinate.

    But Munson had about as much humor as a Vulcan adept.

    Captain? Did you copy?”

    She cleared her throat. “Yes sir . . . I, uh, we suffered some damage during the recovery of the Roba . . . nothing structural or serious, but the Pug . . . Pugnacious . . . well, she's looked better.”

    Can't be helped. Sorry to put you in a tough spot, but do your best. Oh, and I'll want your report by 1630 hours. Munson, out.”

    “I . . .” but the Squadron Commander had closed the channel.

    She stood, her legs remarkably steady, and tugged at the burgundy jacket (which she secretly hated). Six steps put her in the private head that was one of the perks of being the C.O. The mirror showed her to be none the worse for wear, though her unruly copper hair would never be tamed. She affixed a head band, bringing some of her wild mane under control, brushed her teeth, and checked her uniform for lint, while adjusting the belt.

    Maybe Odegaard won't even notice the hull. After all, he's 125 years old.

    Right, and maybe a comet will crash through the station and take me out of my misery.

    It was, of course, a selfish and unworthy thought. Self-pity was unbecoming an officer, especially an officer in command of a vessel.

    “Come on, January Elaine Sylvest, get a grip. Meet the living legend and try not to embarrass yourself or the Border Service . . . at least no more than necessary.”

    * * *

    Lt. Commander Sylvest, Lt. Pasqal, Lt. Sylvest, and CPO Torsk stood at the airlock entrance to berth 14. Each tried to ignore the massive, transparent aluminum viewports that provided a spectacular view of the Pugnacious.

    Perhaps, “spectacular” was the wrong descriptor. “Sad” worked. “Sorry” fit. “Sordid?” no, a bit over-the-top.

    So much for alliteration.

    Right on time, the entourage appeared, heading toward berth 14 and the Pugnacious. In their midst, was a tall figure, slender, with snow-white hair. For 125, Admiral Lars Odegaard (ret.) looked pretty good. His bearing was erect and his face, though furrowed with wrinkles, still had a healthy glow about it.

    Sylvest's gaze was drawn to another familiar figure and she smiled. Rear-Admiral Brooks Erdun (ret.) was accompanying Odegaard and his keepers. Erdun caught Sylvest's look of surprise and grinned.

    Sylvest returned the smile until the group paused at the observation windows. Sylvest's heart sank.

    Odegaard approached the viewport, taking in the sight of the scarred cutter. He stood silently, hands clasped behind his back, for what seemed to be a long time. Jan couldn't read his expression. The old man was utterly still.

    Finally, he turned and, spotting Sylvest and her cohort, approached. Sylvest wondered if the ones surrounding the old Admiral were security types, P.R. hacks, or had merely been caught up in the regal-looking man's wake.

    Sylvest, Pasqal, Duntov, and Chief Torsk, came to attention. “Welcome to the Pugnacious, Admiral,” she began. “I'm Lt. Commander January Sylvest, in command. This is my Executive Officer, Lt. Pasqal, Chief Engineer, Lt. Zora Duntov, and Chief of the Boat, Torsk.”

    Odegaard smiled, and took each hand, providing a brief but firm shake to each. “It's an honor to meet each of you,” he began, his voice only slightly tremulous with age. “Please relax, gentle-beings, I've been retired longer than some of you have been alive. Hell, I'm even older than the Pug.”

    This elicited a smile from Sylvest. The old man seemed decent enough.

    “I hope you don't mind that I drug along another old retread. Captain Sylvest, I believe you already know Admiral Erdun?”

    “Oh, stop going on, you old fossil,” interjected Erdun, surprising Sylvest with a non-regulation hug. “I couldn't help but notice your ship looks like hell. I bet there's a story behind it.”

    “Yes ma'am, you could say that.”

    Odegaard looked thoughtful. “You know, there was a time that a bottle of Saurian Brandy could be found hidden in the C.O.'s cabin . . . I don't suppose one might still be there . . . I'd be most interested in hearing your story.”

    A dour looking fellow with a shaved head and no discernible neck, whispered loudly to Odegaard. “Admiral, we have a schedule to . . .”

    Odegaard looked at the man sharply. “Carl, it's my damn birthday and I want to have a drink and hear a tale from the C.O. Of my first ship. You all run along and get some coffee or something to eat. I'm sure I'm quite safe on a Border Service cutter. Besides, Admiral Erdun's with me, and she'd scare the bejeebus out of a rabid Nausicaan. Off with you!”

    Carl looked none too happy, but apparently he'd grown used to such deviations from The Schedule. With a jerk of his head, the entourage followed Carl, possibly in search of a Starbux.

    Sylvest, Odegaard, and the senior officers (plus Erdun and Chief Torsk), managed to squeeze into the compact ward room. Sylvest produced the aforementioned bottle of Saurian Brandy, only to learn that Odegaard was the one who created the secret sliding panel where the bottles were kept.

    Odegaard and Erdun listened with interest as Sylvest recounted the events of the previous 24 hours . . . the search for the ore tug in the midst of the dust storm, the damage incurred when they dropped shields to dock and board, the discovery of the Ultrititum explosives on the abandoned ship, and finally, returning to Star Station Echo.

    There were a few times when Odegaard and Erdun exchanged glances, but they didn't interrupt Sylvest's narrative.

    All too soon, the old Admiral announced, “I am indebted for your hospitality, Captain Sylvest. My complements to you and your brave crew. I wish we could stay longer and trade space-yarns, but I do have a transport to catch.”

    “Thank you, sir,” replied Jan. “Any my apologies for the appearance of Pugnacious.”

    Admiral Odegaard's expression became stern. “Captain Sylvest, never apologize for going into harm's way, knowing you may not return. Those scars on the hull are a badge of honor. Do not be ashamed of the bravery required to carry out your mission.”

    She swallowed, chastened. “Yes sir.”

    He glanced around, a wan smile returning to his face. “If these walls could talk . . .”

    “Come along Odie,” said Admiral Erdun. “Carl is going to have kittens if we don't pick up the pace.”

    As they departed, and goodbyes were said, Admiral Erdun whispered in Sylvest's ear. “We need to talk, but not now. I'll be here a couple more days.”

    Sylvest nodded, puzzled, but smiled. “Sure, I look forward to it.”

    * * *
    To be Continued.
     
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  12. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    A gratefully uneventful conclusion to a harrowing mission. I'm glad to see the inspection turned out to be so benign, with Odegaard taking the ship's damage in stride.

    Sylvest's earned a happy ending to this particular misadventure. I'm thinking Erdun and Odie both might know (or suspect) more about what happened to the Roba.
     
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  13. CamSPD

    CamSPD Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2011
    Location:
    Space, the final frontier.
    What a happy conclusion to this story, though of course you have left things in such a way as to drag us back for more -- what the devil does Erdun have to talk to Sylvest about?
     
  14. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    A great addition to this story. I loved it.
     
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  15. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    EPILOGUE

    Lt. Commander January Sylvest stormed out of the Squadron Commander's office, her face red, and her eyes blazing. As she made her way back to the Pugnacious, she forced herself to calm down, slowing her breathing and reigning in her temper.

    'Need to know?' What the actual hell?!

    She's regained her calm demeanor by the time she reached berth 14, though she was still distracted by thoughts of her recent meeting with Commodore Arden Munson. As she boarded the Pug, the duty officer said, “Skipper, there's a message for you.”

    “Very well, have the comm officer relay it to my cabin.”

    “No ma'am, not that kind of message.” He produced a folded piece of flimsy.

    She looked at it puzzled, then shrugged, and accepted it.

    The arboretum. The bench. soonest. - B.E.”

    In five minutes, Jan Sylvest was surrounded by soaring trees and singing birds. This was normally her place of refuge, but she felt a degree of apprehension as she made her way down the familiar winding path.

    Admiral Brooks Erdun was seated on the bench where they had first met some days earlier. The older woman glanced up at Sylvest's approach and indicated for her to sit.

    “I take it you met with Commodore Munson,” began Erdun without preamble.

    “How did you . . .?”

    Erdun waved the question aside. “Come on, Jan. You were scheduled for your debriefing. That's easy enough for me to find out.”

    Sylvest snorted. “Debriefing? More like a dismissal. After I submitted my detailed report, I was told to 'forget it ever happened,' and 'it was above my pay-grade,' 'you have no need-to-know.'” She folded her arms, her face reddening. "I came within an inch of telling the Commodore where he could shove his 'need to know.'"

    She stopped, realizing her mouth was running away with her. “Sorry, Admiral. I was out of line.”

    “Hmm. Maybe, maybe not. But I have absolutely no doubt that's exactly what happened.”

    Sylvest frowned. “Ma'am, with all due respect, you contacted me. You told me yesterday that we needed to talk. Then I get a note to meet you, so . . . here I am. What's going in?”

    Erdun tucked a lock of white hair behind an ear. She wore fire-gem earrings that matched the red of her nicely tailored suit. Sylvest imagined that Brooks Erdun had been absolutely stunning in her day. She was still quite beautiful for a near centenarian.

    “I like you, Lt. Commander Sylvest. You remind me a lot of me when I was your age." Erdun paused as a Human couple strolled by.

    "I once lost a very dear friend because of bad intel. No . . . that's not right. It was intel we should have received but was withheld. Ever since, I've fought an uphill battle to make sure ship commanders had the information they needed to complete their mission.”

    Jan shook her head. “I'm not following you, Admiral.”

    The older woman smiled. “Brooks, please. I'm retired, remember?”

    Erdun brought her hands together and placed them to her lips, either gathering her thoughts or remembering something from long ago.

    “Two days ago, you were tasked to search for a missing ore tug, the Roba. You successfully located the ship in the middle of a cosmic dust storm, no less. In the best traditions of the Border Service, you risked your ship and crew to attempt a rescue of the ore tug's crew.”

    “Only, there wasn't any crew,” interjected Sylvest.

    “No. There wasn't. They were long gone at the point you discovered the vessel.” She propped an elbow on the back of the bench, leaning her head against her fist as she studied the young commander.

    “Let me tell you a story, Jan. It will sound crazy and you might write it off as the deluded ramblings of a woman who's taken a trip down Senility Street.”

    “I'm listening,” said Sylvest, with some trepidation.

    “Just imagine, if you will, a rogue group within Starfleet, made up of self-righteous intel types, willing to do anything and everything to preserve the Federation, or at least the version of the Federation they have created in their minds. Are you tracking with me so far?”

    Jan stared at Erdun. “Um, no. Not really.”

    Erdun made a dismissive gesture. “Didn't expect you to. It gets better. Imagine said intel types deciding that the Orion Syndicate could be useful as a means to keep the Klingons on edge . . . a thorn in their side if you will. . . the old triangulation strategy.”

    “To what end?” interrupted Sylvest. “We have a peace treaty with the Klingons, the Khitomer Accords of 2293.”

    “Which this same rogue group nearly derailed. Fortunately, Captain James T. Kirk and his senior officers interceded and prevented the assassination of the new Klingon Chancellor. But this group has continued to work in the shadows. They don't just mistrust the Klingons, they hate the Klingons . . . and the Romulans . . . and the Gorn . . . pretty much all current and former adversaries.”

    “Brooks, forgive me, but I'm having a hard time believing such an organization could exist. Granted, I'm just a Lieutenant Commander on a small, aging patrol cutter, but to be honest . . . this sounds a bit like institutional paranoia.”

    Erdun smiled and inhaled deeply, savoring the fragrant melange of flowers. She patted Sylvest's knee.

    “I was about your same age and rank, serving on the Merlin, when I first heard whispers about this group. My response was less diplomatic than yours . . . I thought it was a steaming load of Targ crap. Unfortunately, I soon learned first-hand that this group is all too real.”

    She turned to face Sylvest. “Ever read the Starfleet Charter?”

    Sylvest smirked. “Read it? I pretty much memorized it as a plebe at the Academy. The upper-classmen during those years just loved to harass newbie cadets and quiz them, asking them to quote random articles from the Charter. After doing my share of push ups on the quad, I decided I would be ready for them.”

    “Do you remember Article 14, Section 31 of the Charter?”

    Jan chuckled. “Wow, that's getting down into the weeds.” She paused, trying to remember. “Brooks, it's been years . . . I believe it made allowances for bending Starfleet regulations in times of extraordinary threats.”

    “You have an excellent memory, Jan,” remarked Erdun.

    “This is all fascinating, but I still don't understand what it has to do with an abandoned ore tug and being told, quite rudely, by my Squadron Commander to 'drop any further inquiries' because I lack 'need-to-know.'”

    “It has everything to do with it, Jan. You had the misfortune of stumbling upon a Section 31 operation that went wrong. The Rigellian Captain, who was likely an accessory and a victim, wound up in the employ of Section 31. Maybe he needed credits, maybe his family was threatened, regardless, the operation had him smuggling for an Orion Synidcate family, the Elix clan. Apparently, some sort of meeting was set up to entice their clan Ah'met-sur to stir up things along the border, interfere with Klingon shipments, or some such foolishness. I don't have those details. To make a long, sad story short, the operation was a cluster-frak, the Rigellian Captain was taken by some of the Syndicate goons, so he's probably dead or on a slave ship. The Section 31 operative, or at least his head, was delivered to Starbase 72 in care of the Intel Commander.”

    Jan gaped at Brooks Erdun. “That's horrible!” she finally gasped.

    “Yes, it is. All the more so, because some idiots wearing uniforms that look much like yours, took it upon themselves to upset the balance of power in the Alpha Quadrant. They sorely underestimated the ruthless nature of the Elix clan.”

    “But how can they get away with it? I mean . . . they are part of Starfleet, aren't they?”

    A sad smile formed on Erdun's face. “I believe in the Federation, Jan . . . the ideals, the freedom, all of that. And, for the most part, I still believe in Starfleet. I got screwed over early in my career, and nearly quit. Honestly, my stint in the Border Service was the best thing that happened to me in a lot of ways. But in any organization, there can be rot at the core. This group . . . Section 31 . . . they get away with it because none of the powers-that-be want to face the problem. . . fear of bad publicity, or maybe blackmail, bribery, . . . I don't know. The other problem is knowing the players. It's not like there's a roster of these snakes.”

    “Do . . . do you think Commodore Munson is part of this group?”

    Erdun shook her head. “Probably not, if so, he never would have sent you on a SAR mission to find the Roba. My guess is that someone up the food chain told him to black-hole the mission report and to make sure you kept quiet. Can't say I blame him, they can be pretty damn persuasive.”

    The two women were quiet for several minutes as a group of Arkonian monks strolled through the clearing. They nodded toward Sylvest and Erdun, who nodded back in return. Hidden air handlers provided a mild breeze, the soft wind sighing through tree branches. A Vulcan rock lizard skittered across the path, pausing as its four eyes scanned for insects before disappearing into the woods.

    “I have a transport to catch,” announced Erdun, breaking the silence. “It's unlikely we'll meet again, Jan, so this is farewell.”

    “One more question,” replied Sylvest as they rose from the bench. “Why tell me all this?”

    Erdun chuckled. “Because I can. Look, Jan, I'm just an old Border Dog that's been mothballed for years. I can't do much, but I can look out for those like you that still go out into the storms.” She shrugged. “I thought you deserved to know.”

    Jan nodded somberly. “And what am I supposed to do with this knowledge? I can't very well share it with my crew.”

    “Probably not,” agreed the older woman. “I recommend getting shit-faced drunk.”

    Jan stared at the old Admiral , then laughed. “That is the first thing you've said today that makes sense.”

    They shook hands. Erdun had a remarkably strong grip to be nearly one hundred standard years.

    “Good luck to you, Lt. Commander Sylvest. It's been a pleasure to meet you. I'm sorry to unload this cloak and dagger crap on you, but if I were in your position, I'd want to know.”

    “I'm not sure if 'thank you' is the appropriate reply, but I appreciate your trust. Where are you headed?”

    "Earth . . . Chicago. It's where I grew up."

    Sylvest noticed she didn't call it home. "Safe travels, then. It's been an honor to meet you."

    With a jaunty wave, Brooks Erdun turned and disappeared amongst the trees, following an alternate path. Jan sat down on the familiar bench, deciding a few more minutes of peace and solitude might do her more good than a stiff drink.

    END
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2020
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  16. CamSPD

    CamSPD Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2011
    Location:
    Space, the final frontier.
    nice wrap-up. Glad Jan got some answers -- should have known 31 was at the bottom of this mystery. Something tells me this won't be the Pug's only run-in with them.
     
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  17. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Good closing. I wonder if you're going to write more about the Pug and her crew.
     
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  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    And Sylvest is introduced to Starfleet's darkest facet, those who will do anything at any price to achieve goals set by themselves alone. I'm not sure Erdun did her any favors, though. Perhaps leaving Sylvest in ignorance would be better than revealing to her that her organization's much-vaunted values are regularly spit on by people who profess to hold those very same values.

    A wonderful ending to this story, which introduced us to a rich period of Border Service history. Love the characters and the ship, and I'm eagerly anticipating many more adventures with them.
     
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  19. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Very cool stuff here.

    Nice to see that not every mystery gets a nice bow at the end, because life don't work that way.

    The Section 31 angle is obviously disturbing and the way you left things here, I feel we deserve a follow up story with Captain Sylvest and her ongoing adventures.
     
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