UT: Refugee Crisis / Bluefin - "Trajectory"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by TheLoneRedshirt, Feb 21, 2012.

  1. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    I know, I know - it stretches believability. :lol:

    Yeah, this isn't your typical baddie ship. It's lost, bewildered and scared. I have to admit I feel sorry for it myself.

    But I won't say whether everything ends well for Zhar or not.:evil:

    Thanks, TM. Bluefin's bridge is somewhat larger than the bridge of an Oberth-class ship (think USS Grissom from STIII: "The Search for Spock"). But still smaller than a Connie - same basic layout but more cramped.

    Ah, nice bit of observation, TM. More on the 'passengers' later.

    Heh. For me as well. :lol: I still have to finish writing this brain-bender.
  2. Tribble puncher

    Tribble puncher Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2012
    The Future
    Haven't seen any updates in awhile...any eta on the next chapter?
  3. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Glad this got bumped. I meant to comment on the last entry. I just can't wait for our ancient and confused traveler to hit Klingon space, alas with two Federation ships trailing, to boot. Looking forward to the fireworks, and more interplay between the respective captains.

    Oh...and get your butt to a keyboard and keep this thing moving, already!
  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Ditto! :lol:
  5. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    Alas, real life has raised havoc with my writing schedule as of late. My muse feels so neglected she's entered into counseling. We've lost two people where I work (now where did I put them?) so in addition to overseeing adult education at my beloved institute of higher learning, I'm temporarily overseeing some administrative duties. (The last I filed under, "what were they thinking?!? :wtf:)

    In the mean-time, please sit back and relax while the flight attendants hand out complementary beverages and lemon-scented moist towelettes. We are currently 132nd in line for departure. Thank you for flying Redshirt Airways. :mallory:
  6. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Hate those tarmac delays. Ought a be a law ...
  7. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 12, 2006
    In the illusion, but not of it.
    ...I have absolutely no room to criticize anyone about time gaps between posts...:whistle:

    ...having said that, you have an eager reader when you have the time and/or inclination. :techman:
  8. Tribble puncher

    Tribble puncher Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2012
    The Future
    Oh CMON!!.. MOAR!!
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    You know airlines get fined these days for torturing their passengers with unreasonably long tarmac delays. I think we should introduce the same kinda system here. After all this is a much worse kind of torture.

    I'm sure that'll motivate TLR and others to get back to writing real quick :lol:
  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    ^ This! :bolian:
  11. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    Aw, I thought there was an update. :(
  12. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    From the Necro-files, a story thought long dead and buried . . .

    "It's A L I I I I I V V V E !!!" (insert maniacal laughter) :evil:

    Sorry for the long delay (over a year, in fact). Personal matters have interfered with my writing, but circumstances have improved and it's time for me to continue "Trajectory."

    So, here we go . . .

    Chapter 8 – Countdown

    Stardate 54657.4
    USS Bluefin
    Sector 7432

    Every starship has its idiosyncrasies and crew members, in time, comes to recognize the unique traits of their ship – a vibration at certain speeds, the soft-gravity areas, even the odd creaks and groans from age and stress. These quirks vary from ship to ship and are obviously more pronounced in older vessels.

    The Bluefin was no exception. The cutter was over 70 years old and showing her age after countless excursions into the Molari Badlands and decades of navigating ion storms, not to mention the abuse of combat with hostile vessels. She had a decided lurch when transitioning from half to full impulse. There was an audible rumble in her hull that resonated underfoot when exceeding warp six. And, there was a miniscule delay in her inertial dampeners that accompanied that rumble. The crew of Bluefin had learned to brace themselves when they felt the warning rumble, lest they lose their balance and their dignity by ending up ass-first on the deck. Steadying themselves against the inertial shift was a small thing for the cutter crew, usually done without conscious thought.

    Unfortunately for Captain Samantha Franklin, it was not an expected occurrence as Bluefin was not her home. Had she been seated, or merely standing still, she likely would have felt only a brief moment of vertigo and perhaps taken a step to steady herself.

    But as fate had it, the ship transitioned to warp six just as she was stepping off the turbolift to return to the ward room. At the same moment, another gravity wave from the alien ship struck the cutter and the deck swayed precariously beneath her feet.

    Franklin attempted to cradle the PADD she was carrying, lest it be damaged, and tried to stop her fall with her shoulder. Instead, her head slammed against the edge of the open turbolift door, causing an explosion of stars in her vision. She crumpled to the deck as darkness overwhelmed her.

    * * *

    Stardate 54657.4

    The Borderland – Klingon Territory
    Klingon Forward Station Ke’PucH

    Captain Mertok, Second Son of the House of Pogh and Commander of Forward Station Ke’Puch, poured a sizeable dollop of prune juice into his Kef. The prune juice was a gift from Admiral Morgan Bateson of the Federation Border Service. Mertok had a soft spot in his liver for the Earther - he was a shrewd and honorable warrior, even if he did hold to peculiar Human notions.

    Mertok smacked his lips in appreciation as he slammed the now empty goblet on the desk. He was resigned to his fate as caretaker of this leaky, cold, miserable tin can that floated near the Neutral Zone. Without a war to fight, the Imperial Council had relegated the one-legged warrior to the station built nearly 100 Earth years ago for an invasion from the Earthers that would never come. The old captain would do his duty without complaint . . . well, he would do his duty.

    Belching loudly, he folded his hands across his midsection, the leather in his gauntlets creaking loudly. The feedback from his prosthetic leg - primitive by Federation standards - offered just enough pain to be satisfactory. If he had to hobble around on the infernal thing, it should at least hurt enough to remind him of the glorious battle in which he lost it (plus an ear, his second liver, and both spleens).

    Perhaps it was the accumulation of years or perhaps it was the tedium of overseeing the aging and irrelevant outpost that prompted him to wax philosophical. Pondering life’s vagueries was not the typical pastime for a Klingon, particularly one of the warrior class. Yet Mertok was a thoughtful being. Glancing at the nearly empty bottle of prune juice, he considered the perplexing nature of the Starfleeters he had encountered during the recent war. They had proved to be fierce in battle, brave in the face of death, and honorable as allies. Yet he could not understand why they now sought to aid their mutual enemies, the Cardassians, when they could crush the remnant and share the spoils with their allies.

    He shook his craggy hear in consternation. Bateson had once tried to explain the concept of ‘mercy’ to Mertok, but the concept was so . . . alien, that Mertok’s head hurt for days.

    As he reached for the bottle of prune juice, a junior sub-lieutenant appeared at the open hatch and brought a fist across the breastplate of his ill-fitting armor.

    “Honored Captain, I bring a report,” the youngster spoke rapidly, obviously excited and still holding the salute.

    Mertok glared balefully at the young subordinate, trying to recall his name. “Then report and be gone,” he replied in a slow, rumbling voice. “And lower your hand, or does your armor chafe you?”

    The sub-altern looked down at his fist and lowered it quickly. “Sir, Lieutenant Korch requests your presence in the control center . . . as soon as possible,” he added.

    The old captain regarded the bottle before setting it back down on the desk. It rocked precariously before settling. Mertok stood, grunting as the artificial leg protested, then straightened. He wished the cursed leg hurt more to distract him from the annoying child pretending to be a Klingon Warrior. Where did they get these sucklings, anyway? Poets and minstrels, and not a blooded soldier in the lot.

    “Very well. I will attend the Lieutenant.” He glared at the sub-lieutenant. “You may go. Now.”

    The sub-lieutenant saluted again, eliciting a warning growl from the captain, before scurrying quickly out of sight.

    Captain Mertok coughed raspily and cleared his throat. He would proceed at a dignified pace to the control center. After all, what was the rush? It wasn’t like the Federation was about to invade.

    * * *

    Captain Franklin awoke, surprised to see three faces peering at her. It took a moment for her to realize she was lying on a bio-bed, apparently in Bluefin’s sickbay. Two of the faces she knew – her husband of course, Commander John Vanboerner, and Captain Akinola. The third was a balding man wearing a blue lab coat. He peered at her with professional interest as he waved a medical device over her.

    Franklin cleared her throat. Her mouth felt like she had been chewing on cotton. “What am I doing here?”

    “It seems you took a nasty blow to the head,” replied the physician, as he tapped the overhead readout with a frown. “The biometric sensor in your combadge alerted us when you lost consciousness and we beamed you directly to sickbay.”

    She tried to lever herself up on her elbows but a wave of dizziness caused her to sink back on the bed.

    “Whoa, hold on,” admonished Dr. Castille, “You’re not going anywhere yet, Captain. You’ve got a nasty subdural hematoma and an impressive concussion. In a couple of days you’ll be perfectly fine but for now you stay put. Doctor’s orders.”

    “A couple of day? No way – I’ve got to . . .” She began to rise again but Castille gently but firmly pushed her back onto the bio bed. He glanced sharply at Akinola.

    “Honestly, do they teach you to be bad patients in command school?”

    Akinola ignored the jibe. “Doc, we’re at a critical juncture. Can’t you give her a shot or a pill so she can get back to her ship?”

    Castille shook his head. “Absolutely not! I’ve repaired some of the damage but you cannot rush a brain injury. Her body needs time to heal on its own and I still have some work to do with the protoplaser or she could suffer a brain bleed that might kill her.”

    “Look, Doctor . . .” began Franklin, trying to get sound reasonable.

    “Not a word from you. And it’s Dr. Castille.” He turned back to Akinola and Vanboerner. “You two – out. I have work to do.”

    “Doctor Castille – may I have just a moment with Captain Akinola and my husband . . . please?”

    The CMO glowered, then threw his hands up. “Fine. Sure. Whatever. But if you so much as sit up, I will sedate you so deeply you won’t wake up until the 25th century.”

    Castille left the cubicle, muttering to himself.

    “Are all CMOs like that?” wondered Franklin.

    “How are you feeling, dearest?” asked Vanboerner.

    “Like an idiot,” she replied. “Good Lord, a plebe on a cadet cruise wouldn’t have done something this dumb.”

    “It seems you’re going to be our guest for another few days,” said Akinola.

    She shook her head and stopped as dizziness and a wave of nausea washed over her. “Uh, no – I must get back to the Resolute.”

    “Sam – you heard the doctor,” said Vanboerner as he took her hand. “The trip back on a Stallion is going to be rough going. You could risk permanent harm or worse. Xyrel and I can take care of whatever you need done.”

    She smiled at her husband. Akinola thought it a sad smile. “No, John . . . you can’t.” She glanced at the Nigerian cutter commander. “I need a moment with Captain Akinola – in private.”

    Only a slight twitch of an eyebrow indicated any surprise on Vanboerner’s part. “Certainly. I’ll return to the wardroom.”

    She squeezed her husband’s hand and Vanboerner gave an encouraging smile before leaving the two captains in private.

    Franklin’s smile faded. “I hate keeping secrets from him.”

    “It goes with the job sometimes,” replied Akinola.

    “Yeah. It does.” She turned and fixed Akinola with an appraising stare. It was so intense that he actually felt a bit uncomfortable.

    “Since your CMO has seen fit to incarcerate me in this bed, I am going to turn operational control over to you, Joseph.”

    He nodded. “I appreciate your trust.”

    “Don’t thank me. You’re probably going to hate me when I tell you everything.” She glanced around him. “Please slide that door shut.”

    Akinola complied and took a seat on the stool by the bed. “Alright, you have my attention.”

    “I’ll bring you up to speed, but you will need this.” She removed her combadge and handed it to Akinola. “After we talk, take it to your ready room and place it on an encrypted PADD. You have one, don’t you? Good. It will activate a Captain’s eyes-only subroutine. The access code is Zed Omicron 34992. Can you remember that?”

    He nodded. “Zed Omicron 34992. Got it.”

    “It will then ask you for your command code, which you must enter.”

    “What will that do?”

    She turned her gaze away. “It will provide you release codes for the Alpha weapons that will be transferred to your ship from mine.”

    His mouth went dry. “Alpha weapons? You mean . . .”

    Her gaze returned to his. “I mean you will have the ability to make a sun go nova or take out an entire planet.”

    Akinola slumped backward, momentarily speechless. He felt as if he’d taken a punch to the gut. “My God . . .”

    She remained silent for a minute, allowing the gravity of this revelation to sink in. “You cannot share this with anyone else, Joseph. Not your First Officer, not your Tactical Officer – no one.”

    “What about Xyrel . . . or your husband? Don’t they know?”

    “No. And I despise keeping secrets from them - especially something like this. But those orders come from the very top and are inviolate. As for my crew – and yours –they will be told that those are quantum warheads we're transferring to Bluefin. If accidently launched in a mixup, they will appear to be duds unless the release codes are entered, either by me or you.” She paused, a look of concern on her face. “Can your ship handle quantum torpedo casings?”

    “Yeah, we had the mods at the first of the war. Never used them and we don’t have any on the ship.” He fixed her with a hard stare. “And I’m not sure I’m ready to start firing off planet busters without a damn good reason.”

    She smiled faintly. “Well, that’s good to know. And they are weapons of last resort. I hope to God they are never used.”

    “Why would they be used?”

    “When I told you that my orders are to prevent that ship from entering Klingon space . . . it means at all costs.”

    His eyes flashed with anger. “That’s insane!”

    “Maybe so. But before you pass judgement, hear me out.”

    Akinola glowered but nodded curtly. “Okay.”

    Her eyes appeared drowsy. “Not sure how long I can stay awake. You can access all the official stuff when you access the release codes. But let me tell you about Task Force Vanguard . . .”

    * * *

    Captain Mertok stomped into the command center of the Klingon forward station, his annoyance evident by the scowl on his face.

    “Well?” he barked. “Did you find another comet, Lieutenant? Or some previously undiscovered pocket of space gas farted out by an ancient space dragon?”

    Korch, one of the few actual combat veterans on the station, took the sarcasm in stride. “No sir. We found this.” Lt. Korch indicated one of the myriad sensor screens that monitored the Federation side of the Neutral Zone.

    Mertok frowned as he observed the data flow. “So, it IS another comet.”

    “Comets do not travel at warp velocities, Captain.”

    Mertok turned sharply. “A ship?”

    “Yes sir, it must be. And it is headed for our space. On its current heading it will cross the Neutral Zone in less than one standard cycle.”

    “Whose ship is it?" he demanded, "Federation? Romulan? Cardassian?”

    “Unknown, Captain. It is still on the edge of our sensor range. But it is massive – almost 20 kellicams long.”

    Mertok stared at the lieutenant. “Your sensors must be wrong!”

    “I have checked and cross-checked. That ship – wherever it’s from – is more than 20 times the size of this station.”

    The captain rested his knuckles on a console, considering. “You say we have a day until it enters our space?”

    “As long as it holds its present course and speed, yes sir.”

    Mertok stood, his decision made. “Then we shall intercept it before they reach our border. Sound alert status and prepare my ship for launch. I want to see this monster up close.”

    Korch frowned. “Cross into Federation space? Sir, since the incident at Fo’Puk . . .”

    “Incident?” roared Mertok. “Speak plainly, Lieutenant! It was a debacle, an embarrassment to the Empire, and the Starfleeters are angry! We poked the Targ and any incursion into their space will provoke a response. But before we call out our fleet and possibly start a war, I will see with my own eyes what manner of ship threatens our borders. Now see to my ship and if that jh’nost cloaking device fails again, you will be the first casualty should I return alive.”

    Korch inclined his head. “Yes sir – at once!” he turned and hurried to carry out his orders.
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Joseph learns the terrible truth of how far the Federation is willing to go, and now an honorable Klingon ally with too much time on his hands tempts fate.

    If nothing else, the Klingons might provoke a reaction of some kind that lets Starfleet know what they're up against... :eek:
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Awesome to see you and this story back.

    I was wondering how you could make is story possibly any more interesting than it already was. Well, give Akinola operational command, a few alpha weapons and introduce a wild card in form of a possibly unpredictable Klingon warrior past his prime. That'll do it.

    Can't wait for more.
  15. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Good to see you back, TLR! :bolian:
  16. mirandafave

    mirandafave Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Apr 26, 2008
    Excellent. So excited to see more Bluefin and to have you back TLR. You've been missed as have your stories. And what a strong return we have here into the bargain.

    Things were complicated and messy but now that mess is firmly in Akinola's responsibility. He's in the loop (or will be soon) but damned if even knowing that will provide any answers as to what to do. And now there's a character of a Klingon entering into the fray. Dynamite meet match. Combustive situation much? Looking forward to where this goes.
  17. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 18, 2005

    Glad you're back.
  18. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    Thank you for all the kind comments! It's good to be back in the saddle. :)


    Chapter 9 - Invitation

    Stardate 54657.6
    USS Bluefin
    Sector 7432

    Akinola sat in his ready room, trying to fathom the weight of responsibility he now carried. It was all surreal – the massive alien ship, the thought of thousands upon thousands of possible refugee civilizations headed toward the Alpha Quadrant, and the fact he would shortly be in possession of more destructive power than would be standard for a thousand Sovereign-class starships.

    He had read the orders. Three times. There was no wiggle room, no escape clause. The relevant passage in the ‘eyes-only’ orders was terse and frightfully chilling.

    All unidentified transient vessels are to be prevented from entering Klingon, Romulan, Talarian, Cardassian or Breen territory. Commanders under TFV protocols are to:

    • Attempt to contact vessel(s) and persuade a change of course.
    • Failing that, board the vessel(s) and seize control, bringing said vessel to nearest Starbase.
    • Failing that, disable said vessel(s) before it can enter exclusionary zones.
    • Failing that, authorization is given to destroy vessel(s), using Alpha-class weapons if necessary.

    He wondered who had actually parsed the orders – a faceless admiral or some ensign sitting in a cubicle in San Francisco? Were they drinking coffee and eating a doughnut as they authorized the use of force that was outlawed by every accord and convention to which the Federation was bound? Did they have a class at the Academy in writing bureaucratise?

    I’m just a cutter driver. Hell, I didn’t even vote in the last presidential election. How did I get caught up in this?

    Joseph Akinola was generally not given to self-doubt, but he felt totally inadequate to the task before him.

    If it comes down to it, can I actually give the order to launch one of those things?

    His musings were interrupted by the chiming of his door annunciator. “Come!” he called.

    Commanders Xyrel and Vanboerner of the Resolute entered. The Vulcan spoke first.

    “Captain, I understand you wish something to be brought back on your Stallion.”

    Akinola nodded tersely, the acid roiling in his stomach. “Yes, Captain Franklin suggested that two high-yield quantum warheads be transferred to us.”

    Xyrel and Vanboerner traded a look. The Vulcan cocked an eyebrow as he returned his gaze to Akinola. “May I enquire as to why?”

    A damn good question, Commander. I wish you had not asked. Aloud, he replied, “It may become necessary to force the ship to change course. If so, a quantum-yield explosion in the vessel’s flight path may force it to alter course.”

    Xyrel remained silent for a moment as his gaze bore into Akinola. He nodded imperceptibly. “Very well. We shall see to it when we arrive on Resolute. I understand your Lt. Bralus and Senior Chief Brin will accompany us?”

    Feeling both relieved and guilty, Akinola nodded. “Yes, that’s right. Bralus is an excellent pilot and Brin can see to securing the warheads on the Stallion.”

    Vanboerner spoke up suddenly. “Captain, Commander . . . with your permission, I would like to remain on the Bluefin . . . for the duration.”

    Neither Akinola nor Xyrel were surprised by the request, considering that Vanboerner’s wife, Captain Franklin, lay in Bluefin’s sickbay.

    “Look,” continued the South African, “I am probably more needed here than on Resolute, especially if these gravity waves increase in intensity. No reflection on Commander Gralt’s skills, but you may take on considerable damage while Resolute hangs back in relative safety. Lieutenant Parshav is fully capable of handling our engineering department, Xyrel.”

    Akinola looked to Xyrel. “It’s your call, Commander. I have no objections and we might very well need the extra help.”

    The Vulcan nodded. “It is a logical suggestion, Mr. Vanboerner, though I doubt logic had any bearing on your request. Very well, I will return to Resolute while you assist Chief Engineer Gralt. Captain Akinola, what are your orders?”

    “Stay within laser-comm range and see if your people can punch through the subspace interference. Your transceiver is more powerful than ours, so maybe you can get a message through to Star Station Echo. But keep your distance from that alien ship. There’s no point in both our ships getting tossed around.” Or blown to kingdom come, he did not say.

    Xyrel inclined his head in acknowledgment. “Understood. I take my leave of you, Captain Akinola. Though I do not embrace the concept, I wish you . . . good luck.”

    * * *

    Stardate 54657.6
    IKS SarTuQ
    Sector 7432

    Mertok drummed his fingers on the worn armrest of his command chair. He could hear his blood singing in his ears as the lust for battle threatened to consume him. But he could not afford to simply give in to his warrior nature. Far too much was at stake to concern him only with personal glory or the thrill of battle.

    “Helm! What is our speed?”

    “Warp seven, Captain. It is the fastest we can go while operating the cloak.”

    “Bah, this bucket couldn’t go faster if it were sucked into a black hole.”

    The SarTuQ was ironically named. Translated, it meant “Reliable.” But the old ship was anything but. Built at the end of the previous century, it had been intended as part of a sale of ships and weapons to the Romulans. Politics and alliances changed, and the transfer was cancelled by Imperial Command.

    Designated by the Federation as a D-7 Mark II class battlecruiser, it was obsolete before its keel was laid as the newer K’tinga-class cruisers were already in production. SarTuQ and his two brother ships never received official classification as they officially did not exist, at least not among the list of active duty vessels. To stave off embarrassment and finger-pointing over who had authorized the ships built to Romulan and not Klingon specification, the vessels were moth-balled for decades until the first war with the Cardassians erupted. As in any inter-stellar war, there were losses and the three ships were activated, though relegated escort duty. Now, the three ships were again serving in obscurity – tasked as ships along the border to wait for an invasion that would never come.

    Or, so Imperial Command thought.

    “Captain – I am now picking up additional contacts near the inbound vessel.”

    “Tactical plotter!” Mertok commanded.

    A yellow grid appeared on the trapezoidal viewer. Mertok squirmed in his chair, mentally cursing the designers who built it for the skinny asses of Romulans rather than the proper, well-built rumps of Klingon warriors.

    “Well?” demanded the Captain. “Can you identify them or not?”

    The weapons officer who also manned the sensors (after all, what was the point of sensors except to acquire targets?) grunted. “Target one is a Federation border gunboat, Albacore-class. Target two . . .”

    Mertok impatiently ground his teeth to the point of tasting blood.

    The gunner straightened in his chair in obvious surprise. “Akira-class battlecruiser! It appears to be pursuing the alien ship. The gunboat is running parallel to the alien.”

    The Captain sat back with a grunt. It was not surprising that one of the Border Service ships should be in the sector – there were several stationed along the Neutral Zone.

    But an Akira-class battlecruiser?

    “Time to intercept?” he queried.

    “Half a demicycle.” One hour.

    “Shall I sound battle stations?” asked the first officer – another unblooded officer who had thus far remained out of Mertok’s sight and mind. He was the grandson of the governor of some conquered world or another.

    The old captain turned and eyed the Lieutenant with contempt. “If I decide it is merited, I will let you know, Ju’nuq. However, if you have a battle plan to engage an Akira-class ship which outguns us ten to one, an Albacore class ship that is faster and more maneuverable than our ship, plus a vessel with a mass greater than our entire border reserve fleet, please . . . share your great insights.”

    Ju’nuq stepped back and inclined his head. “I spoke out of turn, honored Captain.”

    Mertok sighed and returned his gaze to the main viewer. There was a time when an officer with any heart would have growled out a challenge if so shamed before subordinates. Unfortunately, it seemed that with a few exceptions, the entire crew of this dishonored ship had been neutered. He would likely kill the next crew member who called him ‘honored Captain.’

    And what of you, old man? Have you lived too long and become too cautious?

    No. This was the correct course. They would remain cloaked at least for now.

    If necessary, they would drop their subterfuge and fight. Mertok did not fear death; after all, any day was as good as any other to die.

    But was this the right day and the right battle?

    * * *

    The flight from the Bluefin to the Resolute had been uneventful if a bit on the rough side. Commander Xyrel had remained silent most of the trip, but considering that he was a Vulcan and a senior officer, neither Lt. Bralus nor Senior Chief Brin had thought it strange.

    On the return trip, the Bolian Lieutenant kept casting anxious looks back toward the cargo section.

    “Something wrong, Mr. Bralus?” asked Solly as he watched the massive Star Shroom plow through subspace. It looked a lot bigger through a viewport than on a computer-generated viewscreen.

    “Wrong? What could possibly be wrong? There’s only about a million isotons of explosive ordinance a few meters behind us.”

    Solly turned and looked at the Bolian. “Relax, Lieutenant. There’s not a thing to worry about.”

    Bralus looked skeptical. “Really?”

    “Sure. There are more safeguards on those warheads than on Admiral Bouvier’s chastity belt.”

    The Bolian frowned. “What is a ‘chastity belt?’”

    Solly chuckled. “Sir, you should ask the XO. I’m sure she could explain it much better than I could.”

    Bralus’ brow knit in puzzlement, but he nodded. “Okay, Senior Chief. I will. Thank you.”

    The burly Orion grinned. “Any time, Lieutenant.”

    A sharp tremble reverberated through the Stallion’s hull, causing Bralus to struggle with control for the ship. The sturdy smallcraft bucked and pitched until the gravity wave subsided and the ride smoothed out. The Lieutenant noticed that Brin had a tight grip on his armrests.

    “Are you okay, Senior Chief? I thought there was nothing to worry about.”

    “It’s not the quantum warheads that worry me. It’s that damn weird ship.” He leaned forward, frowning. “Hey, Mr. Bralus – can you take us in closer?”

    “Uh, Senior, that doesn’t sound like a very good idea.”

    “Humor me. Look there . . . at the base of the ‘Shroom’s head, or the forward section or whatever the hell it is.”

    Bralus looked and was surprised to see an opening where the large forward section of the alien ship connected with the long, tapered aft end.

    “I don’t think that was there a minute ago.”

    “I know it wasn’t. I’ve had my eye on that ship ever since we left the Resolute.” He turned and looked at Bralus. “We need to get on that ship.”

    Bralus shook his head. “No way. We have orders to return straightaway with these warheads. No sight-seeing. And we can’t ask for permission since the comm is down.”

    “Lieutenant – we might not get another chance.”

    “Not without permission.” The Bolian was adamant.

    Solly grunted and stared back out the viewport at the Star ‘Shroom. He knew that Bralus was right (which annoyed him) but he also knew time was running short.

    An idea struck Brin. “How about if we can get permission – will that satisfy you?”

    The Lieutenant glanced at Solly then back at his controls. “I just told you – the comm system won’t work. Too much ionic interference.”

    “I know that, Lieutenant,” replied the Orion with practiced patience. “We’ll just do it old school.”

    Bralus’ face went blank. “What?”

    * * *


    “What is it, Lieutenant Rune?”

    “Sir . . . I’m not quite sure. The Stallion is on approach but it may be having technical problems.”

    “Elaborate,” he demanded.

    “Their navigational lights are going on and off erratically.”

    Akinola frowned. “Put them on the main viewer.”

    The image shifted and the Star Stallion appeared. Sure enough, while the strobes blinked steadily, the other nav lights that should remain constantly on were going on and off in an irregular fashion.

    A smile formed on the Captain’s lips. “It’s not a malfunction, Lieutenant. It’s Morse Code.”

    Realization dawned on the Orion operations officer. “Oh! I should have picked up on that. I’ll run it through the computer.”

    “No need – I still remember how.” The captain carefully watched the screen, his mouth working silently as he translated the short and long flashes into words. His eyes suddenly widened.

    “An opening,” he breathed. He turned back to Lt. Rune. “Zoom in on the forward section of that ship, Lieutenant – near the base.”

    Rune quickly complied. Sure enough, there was now an opening that was not there earlier.

    Strauss turned from her seat at tactical. “An invitation? Or a trap?”

    Akinola rubbed his face. “Damned if I know, XO. But it is an opportunity.”

    “Do we let them go in?” queried Strauss.

    The Captain considered this. They desperately needed to get someone on board, but to send Bralus and Solly without backup or anyone from engineering or medical made little sense.

    And there was the matter of the Alpha weapons on board.

    “Lt. Rune, signal them to continue back to the ship as planned. We’ll off-load the ordinance and send a properly equipped away team. Contact the hangar deck and tell them to prep the other Stallion for departure in fifteen minutes.”

    * * *

    The approach of the tiny spacecraft triggered an automatic response in Zhar’s systems. Whereas the arrival of the larger ship had initiated a flight response, the mass and general shape of the smallcraft had seemed familiar – at least as much as the ancient and corrupted memory banks could collate.

    A faint tendril of memory – Zhar’s designers had used small ships like this to gain access. Perhaps someone had come to help?

    In a response, more instinctive than conscious, the alien vessel calculated the size of the Stallion and provided an access point for it to land.

    The tiny ship, however, did not continue its approach. Instead, it joined with the small vessel that first approached Zhar.

    Confused, the ancient ship closed the port with a feeling akin to sorrow.
  19. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Outstanding chapter all around, from Akinola's very much appropriate doubts over using alpha weapons to the use of old school communications and the reminder that we are dealing with some sort of intelligence on board the mystery vessel. And of course there's the Klingons lurking.

    Very excited about what comes next.
  20. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jul 5, 2013
    Okay, I'm annoyed. First, you write faster than I do. Second, you just used a plot device not unlike the one I had planned in my story, that I've already set the stage for. I don't want people thinking I borrowed your idea. If anyone asks, I'll just tell the them the truth: Great Minds Think Alike.