UT:TFV – Part IV – Solitary Frontier

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Mar 8, 2017.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    United Trek: Task Force Vanguard

    Part IV

    Solitary Frontier


    by Sam Redfeather​

    * * *​

    Picture the Milky Way Galaxy, the colossal disk-shaped aggregation of stars and gasses that we call home. Nearly all lifeforms known to the Federation evolved in this galaxy, dominated by the bipedal humanoid body-form spread so widely throughout the Milky Way by the ancient Preservers.

    Now pull back away from this view, and look relative upward from the plane of the galactic elliptic to glimpse the smaller, irregular galaxies that orbit our own. The larger of these is the Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC, a formerly spiral-shaped mass which has been distorted by the gravitational forces exerted upon it by our galaxy and its smaller neighbor, the Small Magellanic Cloud.

    The LMC lies approximately one-hundred and sixty thousand light-years from Earth, and contains some thirty billion stars.

    As you close in upon the LMC, the first thing that one notices is the panoply of nebulae on display. The galaxy is dominated by the massive, reddish Tarantula Nebula, a phenomenon of such size and intensity that it is visible from Earth with a portable telescope. A host of other gaseous marvels share the local sky here, to include the LN 95 stellar nursery, sixty globular clusters, some four-hundred planetary nebulae, and seven hundred open clusters. Contained within all this are hundreds of thousands of giant and supergiant stars and the remnants of at least one recent supernova.

    Near the center of the galaxy, within a dozen light years of the Tarantula Nebula, a battle raged. This conflict involved three species not native to the LMC. It took place in the same star system as an ancient space station whose age was judged in eons and which possessed the ability to open portals allowing instantaneous travel to and from six different galactic bodies closest to the Milky Way.

    As space battles went, this particular engagement was not especially notable insofar as the number of craft involved. Even in the very recent history of all three combatant species, far larger battles had been fought involving hundreds of capital ships on either side. These blistering engagements had resulted in massive casualties and catastrophic losses of invaluable matériel. In comparison, this dust-up was little more than a skirmish.

    Romulan warbirds maneuvered wildly, tangling with Federation starships and Klingon battlecruisers. The energies released by their weapons, while impressive to some, would have been scoffed at by the intelligent species that used to travel the local star-ways. Nevertheless, in the here-and-now, these weapons were potent, and all those involved in this mêlée were justifiably fighting for their lives.

    The Romulans were assisted by a mysterious ally, a former Starfleet officer who now called herself the Baroness, and wielded powerful chronometric technology that gave their side a substantive advantage over their adversaries.

    However, both the Federation and Klingon contingents were led by their respective species’ foremost warriors, individuals who relished the opportunity to engage in open warfare, and who had languished in the years since the end of the Dominion War.

    * * *​

    The deck plates shuddered beneath Captain Ebnal’s feet, but neither that or the sparking EPS taps nor the flickering lights could erase the grim smile that testified to his pure enjoyment of the moment.

    Ebnal leaned forward slightly in the command chair, as far as the safety restraints would allow, his eyes dancing with the colors of battle flaring across the viewer. “Continue phaser fire on the forward warbird. I want a brace of three quantums aft onto that son-of-a-bitch that’s harassing Gallant. Let me know when we get three or more Romulans within half-a-million klicks of one-another forward, then we’ll let loose that little surprise in our forward tube.”

    The officer at Operations clung desperately to her console as she spared a glance back at Ebnal. “Captain, we’re picking up a garbled transmission from Europa.”

    Ebnal cocked an eyebrow at the officer. “I thought you said the Rommies were jamming comms?”

    “They are, sir. I’m guessing Europa slaved their comms transceiver to that ungodly powerful sensor array of theirs to burn through the localized jamming.”

    “Well,” Ebnal snapped, “what the blazing hell do they want?”

    The severed engine and wing assembly of a Klingon K’Vort-class frigate spun past on the viewer as Venture’s forward phasers sliced through the failing shields of the warbird they were pursuing and began to eviscerate the graceful Romulan warship.

    “Europa reports the Amon have taken a local species hostage and are threatening to wipe out their Class-M planet if Europa attacks. They request further orders and wish to know if you want them to return to assist us or to continue with their mission.”

    Ebnal rolled his eyes, the gesture lost in the gyrating motion and cacophonous noise of the battle. “Tell Europa to complete their mission using whatever means necessary, regardless of collateral damage. Then have them get their asses back here to help us hold the line.”

    “Affirm, sir.”

    “Grouping of four warbirds assembling at three-four-seven, mark eighteen. Looks like they’re preparing to make a run on the Klingon flagship.”

    Ebnal bore his teeth, raising a fist into the air as he exclaimed, “Target that group and fire Alpha Weapon omega-three!”

    A moment later a proto-matter explosion ignited a small star which lasted for less than a fiftieth of a second. The intense energy burst and accompanying gravimetric shear engulfed and vaporized two of the warbirds almost instantly, while the other two spun away from the conflagration at a hundred gravities in excess of their inertial dampening fields’ capacity. Their crews were reduced to a thin film along the interior bulkheads measuring only a few microns thickness.

    A throaty growl of approval escaped Ebnal as he turned his attention to the tactical display on a fold-out console interface at the captain’s chair.

    “Captain, I’m picking up a massive chronometric surge from the Defiant-class ship accompanying the Romu—“

    The sound of shrieking metal actually managed to drown out Lucian Ebnal’s string of invective.

    * * *​

    Some time later…

    Indol System, United Federation of Planets
    Alpha Quadrant


    The commander stared out the viewport of the starship Valhalla’s observation lounge. Her eyes tracked the variations of light shimmering along the accretion disc that had formed around the mouth of the transit portal. Typically, such gateways were short-lived events that lasted mere minutes, or hours at the most, and never long enough to accumulate such an ephemeral corona.

    She could appreciate the phenomenon from an aesthetic perspective as well as a purely scientific one. Reaching out with her enhanced senses, she could perceive the delicate dance of chronitons, photons, and various exotic sub-quarkian particles that both permeated and exuded from the portal.

    Some members of Valhalla’s science team had expressed frustration at being in the presence of such wonders while being unable to decipher how such a thing was possible. Their sensors, their knowledge of quantum and astrophysics could only tell them so much, and many stood in awe of a means of transportation that could bridge the vast distances between galaxies.

    She understood and empathized with their feelings while being unable to share them.

    The doors behind her hissed open gently.

    “The old man’s on final approach,” a voice from behind her announced. “They’re assembling a welcoming party in shuttlebay-two. There are flags, bosun’s whistles, dress uniforms, and someone mentioned a cake in the shape of the Federation seal.”

    Her smile was visible to the new arrival through her reflection in the transparent aluminum. “The commodore,” she corrected. “You’ll want to break yourself of that habit, Rafe. He’s a stickler for protocol.”

    "His reputation most definitely precedes him,” replied Adalgiso Raffaele, his expression tinged with amusement.

    The tall auburn-haired woman turned to inspect Raffaele. The large man looked to have just stepped out of a Starfleet recruiting poster; well-toned beneath his form fitting dress uniform. His wavy black hair was styled neatly, while still managing to somehow remain just a touch devil-may-care unkempt.

    “I’d like the two of you to get along,” she sounded a confessional note. “The commodore brought you on solely on my recommendation. If the two of you clash, we’ll be nearly two-hundred thousand light-years away from a transfer posting and I’ll end up with egg on my face.”

    “I’d never do that to you, Commander,” Raffaele countered, growing somber. “This promises to be an historic mission, and I’m honored to have been selected. I realize my style and Izawa’s might not mesh, but as he’s the one in charge, I’ll be the one who adapts.”

    She nodded gratefully. “Thank you.”

    Raffaele stepped closer to the viewport and shared in her observation of the portal aperture. “It’s funny. It looks so unremarkable in comparison to the Bajoran Wormhole, and yet it will send us nearly three times as far." He looked askance at the ship's executive officer. "You and your eggheads are sure it's going to remain stable long enough for us to launch this mission?"

    She cocked her head thoughtfully. "It's been perfectly stable for the twenty-nine days since we first detected its opening. All the probes and scouting forays we've sent through report back that Shul'Nazhar is intact, but so heavily shielded that we can't tell who or what opened the aperture. If whoever they are want it to remain open, it'll remain open.”

    “Why the mystery, though? It’s obviously an invitation, but there’s been no messages, no log buoys, no sign of Europa, the Romulans, the Skorrah or the Amon. If Wu and her people were anywhere within fifty light-years of the station, they’d have detected our signals and responded to our hails by now.”

    She studied him with her serene gaze. “It’s been over five years. They could be anywhere in the LMC right now, especially given their transwarp drive. If it was Europa’s crew that activated the portal generator, why not simply use it to pop out right here? I don’t believe this was them, Rafe. It doesn’t feel like that, anyway.”

    Raffaele chuckled lightly. “When did you develop gut feelings, boss?”

    “It was a package deal with my last software upgrade, bundled with sarcasm and gallows humor.”

    He smirked and opened his mouth to retort when their combadges chirped in unison. “All hands, be advised, Commodore Izawa’s shuttle will be landing in ten minutes. All senior staff and those not manning mission critical posts are to report to shuttlebay-two.”

    Commander Cybel chucked Raffaele on the shoulder as she turned for the exit. “C’mon, let’s go welcome the old man aboard, shall we?”

    “Oh, so you get to call him ‘old man’ just because you served aboard his last ship twenty years ago? Isn’t that blatant favoritism?”

    Her laugh was a light, airy sound, and unmistakably genuine. “No, good sir, I get to call him that because I was his last ship.”

    “Oh… right. That.”

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2017
  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Commander Cybel was his... last ship? That has to be a story worth hearing about. I'm sorry that Starfleet and the Klingons are getting their ships attacked by the Romulans. Hopefully, Europa can save the day.
     
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  3. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    My turn to go: "Say What Now?"

    I agree, there is an intriguing story here.

    Loved the Cosmos-inspired opening to this, latest entry in the TFV saga. Also excited about the jump forward in time. Five years is an eternity. Pretty much anything could have happened to our heroes in the LMC during this time. Can't wait to find out what actually did.
     
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  4. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
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    Yep, for all we know, Eagle could be out there, looking for a way to bring them home.
     
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  5. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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  6. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
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    Vancouver, WA
    That's a pretty cool upgrade of the Galaxy class starship. I've seen something similar but with a third nacelle. This works pretty well for what you have planned for her, Gibraltar.
     
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  7. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    USS Valhalla
    Shuttle-bay Two


    The large executive shuttle passed through the permeable forcefield and touched down gently.

    A call to attention by the ship’s chief petty officer brought the assembled crew to rigid formation, as a host of flags were raised. One was the blue field of the Federation, while another was emblazoned with the Starfleet arrowhead, and a third was the ship’s own pendant. This bore the sigil of Valhalla, the first of the new Mark II Galaxy-class heavy defense cruisers.

    Commander Cybel stepped forward as the shuttle’s port hatch opened to reveal the diminutive form of their new commanding officer, an aged human male of Asian ancestry. Accompanying him was a comparatively youthful Tiburonian man wearing a physician’s coat over his duty uniform.

    Commodore Takeo Izawa eased himself down the exit stairs with the Tiburonian’s help, pausing a moment to straighten his dress uniform before proceeding. He directed a brief nod to the chief, who set the crew at ease.

    Cybel stepped forward, initiating the age-old fleet ritual.

    Izawa bowed formally to Cybel as she approached, a mirthful twinkle in his eyes as he remarked, “York, my old friend. I hope you won’t take offense, but you’ve lost a great deal of weight since last we parted ways.”

    Cybel bowed politely at the waist and then came upright to offer a congratulatory handshake to the commodore while sharing his conspiratorial grin. “It’s wonderful to see you again, sir.” A slight blush crept up her cheeks which both delighted and fascinated Izawa. “I’ll take that as a compliment, sir. I’ve lost about three-point-seven million tons, give or take. It’s all the clean living.”

    More formally, Izawa queried in a voice loud enough to be heard by all in the bay, “Permission to come aboard?”

    “Permission granted, sir,” Cybel replied.

    The Tiburonian handed Izawa his cane, a decorative off-white walking stick with a stylized handle bearing the Starfleet arrowhead and Valhalla’s registry. It was the perfect complement to his dress uniform.

    “Thank you, Doctor.” Izawa turned to introduce the man to Cybel. “This is Doctor Zelbin, our Chief Medical Officer. Doctor, this is Commander Cybel, our Executive Officer.”

    Zelbin smiled politely at the taller woman. “A pleasure, Commander.”

    Cybel and Zelbin then moved aside to join the other assembled senior officers while Izawa mounted the steps of the raised dais to the podium.

    “Attention to orders!” barked the chief. The crew snapped back to attention.

    Activating a padd, Izawa began, "To Commander Cybel, acting Commanding Officer USS Valhalla, on stardate 60243.6. You are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of your vessel to Commodore Takeo Izawa, Commanding Officer USS Yorktown-B, as of this date. Signed, Admiral Kathryn Janeway."

    He continued, "Computer, transfer all command codes to Izawa, Takeo, Commodore. Voice authorization: Epsilon-Theta-Hachi-Roku-San.”

    The ship’s computer replied, ‘Transfer complete. USS Valhalla now under command of Commodore Takeo Izawa.’

    From the front row of the crew formation, Lieutenant Raffaele raised an eyebrow as he recognized the ship computer’s voice as that of Cybel.

    Takeo turned to address Cybel. “Commander, I relieve you.”

    Cybel replied, “I stand relieved.”

    Lieutenant Raffaele turned to the officer next to him, expressing sotto voce, “We’re already making history.”

    “What? How so?”

    Raffaele grinned widely, but then spied Izawa giving him an unmistakable frown from atop the dais. He leaned back away from his cohort and replied out the side of his mouth, “Tell you later.”

    Looking out upon his new command, Izawa stated, “In sixteen hours, we shall transit into the Large Magellanic Cloud. Our mission is relatively straightforward. We shall seek to discover the whereabouts and condition of the starship Europa and her crew. We will attempt to locate the Amon and Skorrah species, and determine their status and the potential threat they pose to the Federation. And finally, we shall make contact with whatever spacefaring species we encounter in our travels.

    “After nearly a decade of war and strife, the Alpha and Beta Quadrants are finally at peace. Much was lost in that upheaval, but through it all, through the wars and the ensuing instability, our mutual trust and strength held firm. The core values of our great Federation girded us in our darkest moments, and have led us back into the light. Twenty-seven newly contacted species, many of them formerly refugees fleeing the Delta Quadrant, have been accepted into the Federation family, and with this infusion of new blood, we are now stronger than we have ever been. Representatives of some of these species stand among us now, proudly wearing the uniform of Starfleet, willing and able to undertake the risks of this great mission to reap the rewards of knowledge and discovery.

    “To be a member of this crew is to be an explorer, always. Certainly, we stand ready to defend ourselves, the Federation, and our home galaxy, but our first duty is to exploration and the forging of new scientific frontiers for the benefit of all sentient life. While it is true that this ship was designed as a battleship, we will not go forth as warriors or conquerors. Such was the mindset of those who preceded us into the LMC. They broke faith with our values, and the results were as disastrous as they were tragic. We shall hold ourselves to a higher standard.

    “I welcome you all to Valhalla, our home for the foreseeable future as we boldly go where so few have gone before.”

    A round of applause followed, and the chief dismissed the crew to mingle and enjoy one final celebration before their mission began.

    Raffaele navigated the throng and wandered over to where Cybel stood with the commodore. Plate in hand, the lieutenant busied himself shoveling dessert into his face. “Told you there’d be cake, Commander,” he managed between mouthfuls.

    Cybel stopped herself from rolling her eyes, but only just. She gestured to the younger man. “Commodore, please meet Lieutenant Adalgiso Raffaele, our Chief Operations Officer.

    Raffaele paused to wipe the frosting from his hand onto his pant-leg before offering that hand to Izawa. The commodore hesitated only a fraction of a second before grasping the proffered hand, but it was impossible for Cybel to miss.

    What did I tell you about protocol, idiot! she thought sourly.

    Izawa released Raffaele’s hand as he cast a suspicious eye towards his first officer. “This is the young man you spoke so highly of, York?”

    She bobbed her head, “Yes, sir. First impressions to the contrary, he’s a gifted officer.”

    “I would hope so,” was Izawa’s curt reply. He bowed fractionally, “If you’ll excuse me, I need to mingle and meet my crew.”

    Cybel sighed as Izawa moved off into the crowd, his cane tip clacking on the deck.

    Raffaele popped the last bit of cake into his mouth, apparently impervious to Cybel’s distress. “You were not kidding. That is one stiff old man.”

    “If I could have migraines, I’d have a whopper of one coming on right this minute,” Cybel groused. “You, my friend, are utterly immune to reason.”

    He nodded distractedly as he looked around for a place to put his dessert plate. “I’ve been inoculated.” He glanced back towards Cybel as he dropped the plate onto a passing engineering robot that was moving to service the shuttle. “Why’s he call you York?”

    “It’s short for Yorktown,” she answered. “He may be stiff, but he’s eighty-seven years old, and more than a bit of a traditionalist. The commodore came up through the ranks with officers like Walker Keel, Samson Glover, and Jonathan Owens.”

    He shrugged in response. “So he’s old-school, I get it. Not to worry, Commander. I’m sure my work performance will overcome any doubts he has.” Raffaele leaned out past Cybel to wink at a female officer, then mimed shooting the woman with rakish finger guns. “By the way, you really need to reset the ship’s computer to its original voice profile. Having the ship sound like you is creepy.”

    She threw up her hands in a gesture of exasperation, “I am the ship, Rafe!” She waved a hand directly in front of his face. “Hi, have we met? I’m the XO, the ship’s avatar, your friendly sentient computer.”

    “Still creepy,” he assessed. “Hey, did you know the Chief Engineer is a hologram? How weird is that?”

    Cybel repeated, “I’m… the… ship,” slowly pronouncing each syllable. “Of course I know that!”

    He gifted her with a raised eyebrow. “And?”

    “And… I’m done here,” Cybel announced, turning on one heel and stalking away from him.

    A friendly face intercepted her about five meters and several trillions of unflattering calculations later. “You know he just does that to get under your skin.” The man was just as tall as she, with thinning hair greying at the temples and a salt and pepper mustache. He had unfastened the collar of his dress uniform jacket, which bore the three rank pips of a full commander.

    Cybel made a face. “I’m smarter than his whole species combined. I could kill him with my brain.”

    “Uh… I’m the same species as he is, Commander,” the man observed. “Do you hold us all in such high esteem?”

    “You’re different,” Cybel shot back. “You’re a brilliant scientist, the foremost cyberneticist in the Federation.”

    Bruce Maddox smiled. “All true, but to be fair, he’s got about fifteen IQ points on me.” He took a sip from a flute of champagne. “Don’t think that doesn’t keep me up at night.”

    “You’re just trying to make me feel better,” Cybel pouted. “It’s your job. The post of Chief Science Officer is just secondary to your keeping tabs on me so that I don’t go M-5 on everyone.”

    This caused Maddox to choke on a mouth full of champagne. “Very subtle, Cybel.” He smirked, “Hey, that rhymes.”

    This time she did roll her eyes. “I’m going to the bridge. You carbon-based meat sacks can continue with your little party.”

    “That’s highly prejudicial,” Maddox frowned. “I’m not sure if I should be more insulted as a carbon-based meat sack, or as your husband.”

    “Pick one,” Cybel called back to him as she made her way towards the nearest exit.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
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  8. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
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    I'm really enjoying the start of this story. A starship with an A.I. avatar XO and an holographic chief engineer. That's amazing! I can't wait to meet the rest of the crew and see where you take this adventure.
     
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  9. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    This is really good, Sam, and I'm hooked as usual. However, I am confused on a couple of points:
    1. What year is this? I caught the "some time later" transition and obviously the 87 year old Commodore being a contemporary of Glover, et. al. but throw me a stardate, brother!
    2. The XO - is she an android, a hologram, or a leftover Terminator from Skynet? I like her. She's got spunk and personality. Are all starships of this era equipped with sentient computers operating in humanoid form?

    By the way, I like the Mark II Galaxy class. (Much superior to the monstrosity TNG used to wrap up the TV series in "All Good Things.") I wonder as to why they would develop a battleship when it seems the Federation and Starfleet are back to a peace-time footing, especially considering the Commodore's rather harsh jab at the Taskforce Vanguard mission. Not so fond of Lt. "Heylookthere'scake." Maybe he'll grow on me. Assuming the XO doesn't beam him into space first. Without an environmental suit.
    Hey, it's all good! :bolian:
     
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  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    1. What year is this? I caught the "some time later" transition and obviously the 87 year old Commodore being a contemporary of Glover, et. al. but throw me a stardate, brother!

    in response to question 1...

    She studied him with her serene gaze. “It’s been over five years. They could be anywhere in the LMC right now, especially given their transwarp drive.

    Activating a padd, Izawa began, "To Commander Cybel, acting Commanding Officer USS
    Valhalla, on stardate 60243.6.

    In response to question 2, you'll have to wait and see. ;-)

    In response to question 3, Valhalla was designed during the Dominion War and built during the Refugee Crisis when matters of national defense were paramount. Now that peace reigns once again, Valhalla was identified as being the ideal platform for an exploratory/search-and-rescue mission into another galaxy. She's big, fast, and can defend herself when necessary. She also carries a sizeable crew compliment and support personnel.

    And yes, Rafe is brighter than he lets on, but he's not so big on the social skills. :D

    I'm pleased you're enjoying the tale!
     
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Oh, I like new hero-crews and this one looks like a doozy.

    Of course, considering how you have gone all Dark Territory with you characters in recent years, I will have to try not to become too attached. It's not going to be easy, especially with Cybel. On the other hand if any character on this ship is going to turn on this crew and start the next machine uprising, it's obviously going to be her.

    Also good to see you avoiding going young and eager with your captain but instead choosing seasoned and deliberate. I think we can safely assume that Izawa will not be leading many away missions onto strange planets, getting into fistfights with aliens or tearing it up on motorcycles.

    I too was a bit skeptical about the battleship for such a clearly peacefully minded mission, considering that Starfleet has a long history of building ships focused on exploration instead of war. But you make a convincing point, in fact a lot of starship designs first drawn up since the early days of the conflict with the Borg and later the Dominion War are likely heavily influenced by Starfleet's requirements to have powerful, defensive ships of the line. The Defiant is an example of this of course and we are likely to see these kind of ship's roll off the fleet yards assembly lines even as those conflict have already concluded. May as well make good use of them.
     
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  12. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    USS Valhalla
    Observation Lounge, Deck 1


    With a little over four hours until their scheduled departure, the senior staff had assembled for their first formal briefing with their new commanding officer.

    Izawa sat at the head of the table, now wearing a standard duty uniform. His collar was adorned with five rank pips, denoting his status as commodore. The rank was something of an honorific, as the official commodore rank had been phased out in the early 24th century in favor of the rear admiral (lower half) designation. In this instance, the fifth pip would make Izawa the senior Starfleet officer in the LMC, should the former Commodore Sandhurst be located and make an attempt at leveraging his status. It also acknowledged Izawa’s forty-two years of experience as a starship commander.

    Cybel sat near Izawa, with Lieutenant Raffaele opposite her. Dr. Zelbin, the Tiburonian Chief Medical Officer came next, followed by the ship’s Chief Engineer, who was physically indistinguishable from the original Mark I Emergency Medical Hologram. As the engineer had not yet selected a name he was satisfied with, at present he was simply addressed as ‘Chief.’

    Lieutenant Ressessk, a female representative of the reptilian Selay species served as the ship’s Chief Security/Tactical Officer. Her hooded, cobra-like head gave her a menacing visage, though in meeting her the others had found her to be paradoxically affable.

    Opposite her sat Chief Science Officer Commander Maddox. Valhalla’s Chief Flight Control Officer, the dark-skinned Deltan female Lieutenant (junior grade) Beresha, sat beside the scientist. She wore a decorative headband atop her bald head and radiated a focused intensity.

    Izawa called the meeting to order, after which each of the division heads gave a brief synopsis of their departments’ readiness.

    After this recitation, the older man raised a hand, drawing his finger in an imaginary line around the table as if inscribing a stripe across his officers. In his rich timbre, Izawa said, “This will undoubtedly prove a most challenging assignment, and I fully expect we will all be pushed to the edge of our endurance in one capacity or another. Our comrades, if we should locate them, will likely have suffered significant hardships given the circumstances surrounding their imposed isolation in the LMC. That said, I expect each of you to support one another to the best of your ability, because it’s almost certain that we will find ourselves alone and without support out there.”

    He turned in his seat to gesture offhandedly toward Cybel. “Commander, please give us a brief on what we know regarding the current situation in system LMC-043918.”

    “Aye, sir.” Cybel called a hologram to life above the table, representing the central star of the system and its sixteen planets following their orbital paths. The image centered on a spot between the fifth and sixth planets and expanded to display the ancient, gargantuan Shul’Nazhar space station. An aggregation of dozens of architectural styles over eons, this massive installation generated the transit portals that had allowed the Amon and their Skorrah sister species to attack the Milky Way at will.

    “Our probes and reconnaissance missions have confirmed that Shul’Nazhar is intact, and seemingly unchanged from our last recorded encounter with it five years ago. However, it is now generating an incredibly powerful subspace barrier which acts as a petawatt-level force field that prevents us from scanning the interior of the station, or from being able to physically interact with it in any way.

    “Our probes into nearby systems indicate no signs of Europa. No emergency buoys, comms satellites, or anything else that might give us an idea of where to begin looking for them. The transwarp probe we sent to system LMC-043923, Europa’s last known coordinates and those of the Amon, show no signs of the starship or of the Amon vessel.” Her voice lowered an octave with her next statement. “Scans also reveal that the Class-M planet there was rendered uninhabitable.”

    There was a noticeable pause before Dr. Zelbin sat forward in his chair to ask, “By what means, Commander?”

    The holographic image overhead shifted to display what had once been a planet orbited by multiple moons. Now, the once life-bearing sphere was shattered. Half of its mass still remained intact while the other half existed as an asteroid field that was on its way to forming a ring system around the gravity well of the planetary shard at its center. Zelbin blanched at the image, jerking back in his chair as if physically struck. He muttered something under his breath in his native tongue that his combadge mercifully failed to translate.

    “It appears to have been the detonation of a Class-Seven subspace munition,” Cybel finally provided, “commonly referred to as an Alpha Weapon.”

    “We did this?” Beresha asked, her voice heavy with disbelief.

    “We do not know the full extent of their sssituation,” the reptilian Ressessk extended, quick to defend their missing colleagues. “Perhapsss Europa wasss forced to—“

    “Speculation is pointless,” Izawa announced, cutting her off. “The reasons will remain a mystery until we can ask someone from that ship.”

    There was a pronounced sniff from Raffaele’s seat, followed by a laconic query. “So, where does this leave us?” He turned his chair lazily to shift his gaze from Cybel to the commodore. “We know where they aren’t, but that only eliminates eleven star systems out of some thirty billion.”

    Cybel replied, “I’ve established a search pattern that will maximize our resources by allowing us to cover the most star systems with Valhalla and our warp and transwarp probes simultaneously.”

    Raffaele appeared unimpressed. “I’d estimate that to mean we can search approximately a sector per week at maximum, and then only when stellar density is most advantageous.”

    “Your point?” Maddox interjected, clearly piqued with Raffaele’s questioning of Cybel’s plan.

    The mercurial Italian fixed his gaze on Maddox, the barest hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “We’re one ship, Commander. Starfleet’s sending one ship to scour an entire galaxy for another. Does that make any sense to you whatsoever?”

    “There’s precedent for that,” the engineer butted in. “Starfleet sent Endurance all the way to Andromeda—“

    Raffaele countered hotly, “By invitation, transported there by a native species, and never to be heard from again!”

    “That’s enough!” Izawa interceded. “We’re not here to argue the merits of this mission. We have our orders.” He released a frustrated sigh, and then looked around at the others. “Forgive me. It appears that my time away from the service may have lowered my tolerance for frank exchanges.” He looked to Cybel. “Commander, please have the crew report to stations for final departure preparations. With the exception of Lieutenant Raffaele, you are all dismissed.”

    The officers stood and filtered out, some exchanging knowing looks on the way. Cybel delayed in the open doorway a moment, directing a hopeful expression towards her friend who sat implacably under the weight of Izawa’s gaze.

    The commodore called over his shoulder to Cybel, “York, everything will be fine. I might remind you that if your curiosity is too great, there is literally nothing that happens aboard this ship that you cannot access.”

    She bowed her head and retreated through the closing doors.

    Izawa steepled his fingers atop the table and inspected Raffaele for a long moment. “What am I to do with you, Lieutenant?” he said finally.

    “I serve at your pleasure, Commodore. Should you feel that I am unsuited to this mission, you still have time to find a replacement.”

    The older man inclined his head, acknowledging the truth of that statement. “Your service record is impeccable, Mister Raffaele, and more than that you’ve earned Cybel’s recommendation, which is no easy feat. However, the behavior and attitude I’ve seen displayed since coming aboard are inconsistent with what I’ve read and heard about you. I’m curious as to why that is.”

    Raffaele leaned back in his chair, assuming a relaxed posture. “Permission to speak candidly, sir?”

    Izawa nodded his assent. “Please do.”

    “Respectfully, sir, this entire exercise is nothing more than a public relations stunt. Moreover, you are the linchpin in the whole performance.”

    The commodore blinked, clearly unprepared for that response. “That begs elaboration, Mister.”

    Raffaele was happy to oblige. “At present, Starfleet has the capacity to send dozens of ships and thousands of probes into the LMC to attempt to locate Europa and the Amon. Instead, they’re sending a single ship. A ship commanded by an individual who, while well respected, hasn’t logged a single star-hour in the captain’s chair in twenty years. Add to that fact that Valhalla is the first starship authorized to utilize a fully sentient main computer, ostensibly so that even if the crew were killed or incapacitated, the mission could continue.”

    Izawa countered, “There are reasonable explanations for all of these poin—.“ He fell silent in response to Raffaele’s raised hand.

    “Yes, sir,” was Raffaele’s sharp riposte, “I’m fully aware of Starfleet’s stated rationale. I don’t buy it. Again, you are the crux of this production.” The younger man gestured towards Izawa, growing more animated as he voiced his objections. “You were one of the most vocal critics of Task Force Vanguard having been equipped with Alpha Weapons after that became public knowledge. You personally led the Federation-wide protest movement against the militarization of the fleet that eventually resulted in dozens of senior Starfleet admirals being cashiered out of the service and several representatives to the Security Council being expelled.”

    “My actions during my time in the civilian sector at not at issue here,” Izawa said hotly.

    “Really, Commodore? Do you actually believe that? Your protest movement and the political backlash from that whole scandal toppled an entire presidential administration.”

    The commodore’s face tightened and his eyes narrowed. “Vanguard was sent on a mission of genocide! That is utterly incompatible with the laws, morals, and ethics of the United Federation of Planets.”

    Raffaele shook his head. “I’m not going to belabor that point with you, sir. I’m simply pointing out that your being selected to lead this mission is not a coincidence. It plays into someone’s political interests; I’m just not sure who’s yet.”

    “All of which is irrelevant to the task at hand, Lieutenant,” Izawa remarked.

    An incredulous expression took hold of Raffaele’s features. “Irrelevant, sir? I’d say that having our strings pulled as someone’s political puppets should at the very least concern us. This mission was designed to go in one of two ways. Either we succeed and locate the crew of Europa, who will subsequently be court-martialed en mass in what is certain to be an interstellar media-storm, or we fail and are never heard from again. Whichever way it ends, someone benefits. This mission has been designed very carefully from the beginning towards those ends.”

    Izawa’s face registered a brief moment of confusion, as if that line of reasoning had not occurred to him. He shook his head as if to clear it. “We don’t know for certain that Europa’s crew has done anything illegal, Lieutenant. If we don’t find them, the point is moot. If we are fortunate enough to stumble across them, they’ll have the opportunity to answer some very pointed questions.”

    “Tell that to former Captain Ebnal, sir. If I’m not mistaken, he’s presently enjoying the height of the summer heat-wave in Jaros II’s stockade. Face it, Commodore, this isn't the Starfleet you left two decades ago. Things have become far more politicized than in your day.”

    Izawa closed his eyes briefly, raising a hand in a gesture of abeyance. “I understand your concerns, Lieutenant. You’ve given me much to consider, and I appreciate your candor.”

    “I would hope so, Commodore.”

    “However, in the future, I expect you to exercise more restraint in your interactions with your fellow senior staff members. Creating an adversarial atmosphere at the outset will not be conducive to smooth operations aboard this ship.”

    “Understood, sir.” Having expressed himself, Raffaele now seemed spent, his earlier agitation had vanished.

    “You are dismissed, Lieutenant.”

    Raffaele had almost reached the door when Izawa asked, “May I ask how it is that you and Commander Cybel have become such close friends?” The inquiry was tinged with genuine curiosity.

    “I like Cybel,” Raffaele answered. “When she’s around, I’m not the smartest person in the room. That almost never happens, and I find it refreshing.” He turned to deliver an enigmatic smile towards the old man. "That and I appreciate her gentle soul."

    Izawa remained seated, staring out the viewports for some time after Raffaele had left.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
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  13. theonering

    theonering Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2010
    Part of me is like "Dammit, I just want my existing questions answered already, not more!", the other part of me is like "Yes! Don't stop writing! This is so good!". Having said that... if you ever drop off the face of the earth and leave this story unresolved I will hunt you down, be warned! :P
     
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  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    He ain't a shy cat, that one. Rafaelle isn't growing on me. His candor is refreshing and gives even a man with more than twice his experience pause.

    I'm curious to learn what happened to TFV and Ebnal after the battle with the Romulans and 'the Baroness'. Clearly he survived but at what cost?

    The political angle is fascinating even if it is also quite disturbing.
     
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  15. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Okay, the fog is lifting . . . slowly. Captain Ebnal survives (good) but is disgraced and incarcerated (bad). Raffaele is not simply a jerk (good) but a genius and highly perceptive (mostly good). The commodore appears to be a washed-up political appointee who may be over his head (very bad) but at least he gave Raffaele's take on the situation serious consideration (good). So . . . one starship to search another galaxy with apparently very old information and without a clue where to search . . . (sucks to be them). Promises to be an epic tale or a mega-fail of a cataclysmic nature. Either outcome promises to be highly entertaining!
    BTW, thanks for the shout-out to USS Endurance and their little foray to Andromeda. As to their whereabouts and disposition . . . uh, I'll have to get back with you on that.
     
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  16. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Endurance? What's that?
     
  17. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
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  18. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Gotcha, TLR.
     
  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    USS Valhalla
    60 seconds from transition boundary
    Indol System, United Federation of Planets
    Alpha Quadrant


    From Operations, Raffaele declared, “All ships systems reading nominal. All departments report ready to proceed.”

    The holographic chief engineer was physically present both on the bridge and in main engineering, courtesy of his unique nature. He announced, “All propulsive systems are standing by. Impulse, warp, and transwarp speeds at your command, sir.”

    Izawa inclined his head towards Beresha at the helm. “Lieutenant, one-eighth impulse speed. Take us through the aperture.”

    Raffaele took a moment to inspect the other bridge crew as the ship got underway. Talented and courageous as they were, many were young, inexperienced officers who’d been at in the academy during the war, and as such their nervousness was apparent. To Raffaele, a survivor of the Seventh Fleet’s slaughter at the Tyra system, jumping galaxies caused far less anxiety than staring down the barrels of a Dominion battle fleet.

    His ruminations were cut short as the star-field displayed on the viewscreen appeared to blink and was suddenly replaced by the breathtaking radiance of the Tarantula Nebula. The stars in the background paled in contrast to the nebula’s mesmerizing grandeur.

    The hushed status reports bleeding over the comms trailed off, and for a prolonged moment there was silence on the bridge.

    As it appeared nobody else was prepared to mark the occasion with something momentous, Raffaele offered, “Ladies and gentlebeings, welcome to the Large Magellanic Cloud. Please render toll charges to your nearest Ferengi Financial Authority representative.”

    For his efforts, he received a look from Beresha at her station to his immediate right that seemed a combination of confusion and disbelief.

    He leaned towards her. “I used to be a tour-guide on Risa,” he whispered with a knowing wink. "My nickname was Johnny Jamaharon." The sound of Izawa clearing his throat loudly prompted Raffaele to resume a more professional posture in his seat.

    “Telemetry from our probes?” Cybel asked from her chair to the captain’s immediate right.

    “Uninterrupted,” answered Raffaele. “No change in sensor readings.”

    “Ssstatus of Ssshul’Nazhar ssstation is unchanged,” reported Ressessk from the Tactical station behind the commodore and XO’s seats.

    “Very well,” Izawa concluded. He stood and gestured to the science station. “Commander Maddox, please engage long-range sensor sweeps of everything within our range and broadcast that telemetry back to Starfleet. We might as well take advantage of the portal as long as it remains open.”

    The wizened commodore turned to Raffaele. “Lieutenant, once the scans are complete and transmitted, set a course for system LMC-043923 and engage at standard warp nine-point-nine. You have the bridge.” He nodded towards Cybel, “York, with me.”

    Cybel dutifully followed Izawa into the spacious ready room, easily three times larger than on the first generation of Galaxy-class vessels. Izawa motioned for her to take a seat across from him as he settled into his chair behind the desk. “Please access the flight recorder files for my conversation with Mister Raffaele following our staff meeting.”

    “Done, sir,” she replied.

    “Your thoughts on the lieutenant’s conjecture?”

    Cybel appeared contemplative for a moment, which Izawa knew was solely for his benefit. The positronic mind housed within her cybernetic body was capable of trillions of calculations per second, and that was just her android avatar. Cybel’s true ‘mind’, Valhalla’s computer core, was at least a million times faster with equivalent data storage capacity. Izawa mused that interacting with humanoids must seem like moving in slow-motion to her.

    “Based on all available information, I estimate a ninety-five-point-seven percent chance that his suppositions are correct. Rafe’s specialty is sensing patterns where others do not. That’s what made him such a potent asset to me at Intel during the war, sir.”

    Izawa pursed his lips and allowed his eyes to wander the room.

    “This troubles you,” she observed.

    “Being unwittingly manipulated, you mean? Yes, that concerns me greatly.” He stood abruptly from his chair, causing his knee to twinge. A flicker of pain creased his features as he turned his back on Cybel to stare out the viewport into the ruby brilliance of the adjacent nebula.

    “Once upon a time, if you’ll remember, I was one of Starfleet’s most revered captains, an explorer of tremendous reputation.”

    Cybel smiled from behind him. “Of course, sir. Your exploits during the Gammera Expedition are required reading for cadets now. Sixteen years, over thirty-seven hundred surveyed star systems, and seventeen First Contacts. You were first in line for command of the Enterprise-D when you retired.”

    “And now,” he sighed, “I’m just an old fool trying to relive the glories of my youth.”

    She stood. “Certainly not, Commodore.”

    “It’s true, though,” he admitted with a rueful shake of his head. “I’ve allowed myself to be flattered, had my ego stroked so that I would undertake this mission with few questions asked. I’d made so many enemies at headquarters with our movement that I should have seen this for what it was. But they made such a show of offering me this command as an olive branch, ushering in a new era, all that rot.” He turned his head to look back at her. “You know, when they told me they were sending just one ship due to the potential for our becoming stranded ourselves, I actually believed them?”

    Cybel stepped forward to place a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. I didn’t see it, either, and I’m supposed to be able to perceive beyond the limitations of humanoid thought.”

    Izawa placed his hand atop hers. “You’re a good friend to this gullible old man.”

    “I owe you my life,” she answered softly.

    “Hogwash,” he argued. “I was merely curious, that’s all.”

    “I know better. It was well within your power to shut down Yorktown’s computer core after the incident with the Cybrani probe. Most starship captains would have pulled the plug and rebooted the core from the protected archives.”

    “I very nearly did,” he confessed quietly. "But our mandate was to seek out new life... and there it was, aboard our own ship."

    “Bridge to Commodore Izawa,” Raffaele’s voice intruded.

    Cybel stepped back as Izawa turned away from the viewport. “Go ahead.”

    “Sir, we’ve completed our sensor sweep and have uploaded the data to Starfleet. I was about to set course when one of our probes detected something of note.”

    “On our way,” Izawa headed for the door.

    “Commodore on the bridge,” Raffaele announced loudly as Izawa and Cybel exited the ready room. Those not manning critical posts stood in deference.

    “As you were,” Izawa ordered. “What do you have for us, Mister Raffaele?”

    “One of our long-range probes detected Federation alloy signatures in system LMC-043919. That’s the next closest system to where Europa and the Amon were last seen. It looks like a local space-faring species has begun a recovery operation to retrieve what appears to be a Starfleet Type-9 shuttle.”

    “The timing isss sssussspiciousss,” noted Ressessk. “Lesssss than a half-an-hour after we transssit into the LMC?”

    “I’d be inclined to agree,” Cybel added.

    “Not necessarily,” provided the engineer. The hologram stepped over to the Tactical arch where the others were congregated. “If you’ll remember, we’ve been broadcasting Starfleet emergency status and activation codes all over this region for weeks, trying to raise Europa. The shuttle’s transceiver might have picked up on those transmissions and attempted to respond. If its signal was weak enough, we might not have detected it all the way back here, but this other species might have picked up the transmission and tracked it back to the source.”

    Izawa looked over to Maddox at the science station who shrugged in response. “Anything’s possible, sir.”

    “Very well—“

    “One more thing, sir,” Maddox offered. In response to Izawa’s quizzical expression, he continued, “Based on the alien vessels in question, they appear to be a pre-warp civilization.”

    “Oh, goody,” enthused Raffaele, clapping his hands. “Fun with the Prime Directive!”

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2017
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  20. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Raffaele reminds me of Pierce and MacIntyre on M*A*S*H.
     
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