UT:TFV – Part IV – Solitary Frontier

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

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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

    William Wescott’s image stared back at Cybel from her padd. The service record head shot of his youthful, hopeful face seemed to mock her.

    She sat alone in the conference lounge, staring at the padd without knowing exactly why. She had full access to the ship’s personnel records in her head, but having something tactile in her hands that she could hold and examine somehow made this more real to her. It needed to be real; this death needed to count for something.

    He had been an honorable Starfleet officer, the type of person whose character and training demanded that he give an enemy the opportunity to surrender. Tactically, she knew, he should have simply stunned the Romulan, but in addition to being gallant Wescott had also been young and inexperienced.

    The Romulan, conversely, was a hardened soldier. His service record, what they knew of it, was that of a veteran of the Dominion War and the sundry peace-keeping actions that followed. He had not hesitated to kill, acting on impulse with practiced speed and accuracy.

    Despite all of her formidable mental and physical advantages, Cybel had had failed to save Wescott. In fact, her running off on her own after the mystery android likely contributed to his death. Cybel reflected that she could have stunned the Romulan herself as she made her way down the staircase after having captured Ramirez, but it never occurred to her that Wescott would hesitate.

    “Wool gathering?” Izawa asked from behind her. She wasn’t startled by his nearly silent arrival, as she knew the whereabouts of every crew member aboard at every moment.

    Cybel looked up from her padd as Izawa propped his cane in the corner and settled gingerly into the chair across from her. “Pondering imponderables,” she replied in a heavy voice that she hadn’t intended to sound thus.

    The older man gave her an inscrutable look, his wizened face bearing testament to decades of starship service. “I hardly need remind you that people die in the line of duty, York.”

    “No, sir,” she sighed. “During the war I planned fleet operations that led to the deaths of thousands, and vital intelligence missions with a high fatality rate.” She set the padd down and met Izawa’s eyes. “I don’t understand why this one feels so different.”

    “Operational planning is one thing,” Izawa replied, “an away mission is something else entirely. You saw Mister Wescott killed right in front of you. That has a visceral impact that a cold, impersonal after-action report from a distant mission or battlefield lacks.”

    A moment of reflective silence followed.

    “I messed up,” Cybel said succinctly. “A good man died because of it.”

    “Yes on both counts,” Izawa agreed. “Now the trick is learning from that mistake, and endeavoring not to make it again. Honor and Mister Wescott’s memory demand as much.”

    Cybel gestured to the padd, noting, “William’s older brother was a Marine who was killed in the war liberating Eustice Secundus from the Breen. His father was a chief petty officer aboard the Amberjack, killed just after the war during a skirmish with the Maquis. William was the first member of his family to earn an officer’s commission, and now I get to tell his grieving mother that she’s lost the final living member of her immediate family in service to the Federation.”

    Izawa closed his eyes, murmuring a prayer in his native Japanese so faintly even Cybel couldn’t make out the words. Then he offered humbly, “As our Vulcan friends so eloquently say, ‘I grieve with thee.’”

    There was another long moment of quietude before Izawa asked. “Any luck with Ramirez?”

    “Not as yet, sir. Dr. Zelbin’s kept her unconscious while he completes a thorough medical workup on her. Our initial scans showed some interesting anomalies with her physiology that we’re having difficulty explaining.”

    Izawa braced himself and then stood slowly in deference to his problem knee before moving to the replicator. “For instance?”

    “Chronologically, Liana Ramirez should be forty-one years old, based on her date of birth. Medical scans put her age at closer to sixty. She also has a host of exotic nanites throughout her body, the purpose of which is still unknown.”

    He cradled a cup of coffee as he returned to the briefing table. “Some kind of RNA re-sequencing virus, one of those rapid aging variants?” he asked.

    “Not from what we can tell, sir. Our Intelligence briefs on her indicate that she had access to highly advanced chronometric technology, perhaps even temporal dislocation capabilities.”

    “Time travel, eh?” Izawa frowned. “I’ll try not to mention that to Admiral Janeway, she’ll have a fit.”

    Cybel managed a weak smile at that.

    “And what of our Romulan guests, Commander?”

    “Stony silence so far, though Dr. Zelbin’s been able to confirm both of them have undergone significant genetic modification to enable them to survive the standard Class-L atmosphere that appears to dominate the LMC’s life-bearing planets.”

    “Very well, keep at it.” Izawa logged into the LCARS interface set into the tabletop at his seat and called a holographic screen to life in front of him. He began to sort through his daily command data-work, reviewing and filing departmental reports and the like.

    "Do you..." Cybel began before falling silent.

    "What is it?" he asked.

    "Sir, Wescott's reaction to the Romulan was the one of an explorer. It killed him. Commander Wu and the crew of Europa came out here as soldiers. Do you think that given what we've found here so far, that they just might have had the more prudent mindset?"

    "York, I have faith that the ideals and principles that Starfleet and the Federation were founded on will see us through."

    "Yes, sir," she replied without much conviction. After another moment, it occurred to her that Izawa was continuing work that would usually have been addressed in his ready room. Cybel cocked her head and gave him an appraising look. “May I ask what you’re doing, sir?”

    “My friend is grieving,” he said simply. “I am keeping her company.”

    * * *​
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2017
  2. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    A poignant interlude. Well done!
    Gibraltar likes this.
  3. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    I appreciate the continued philosophical thread throughout this story exploring the military vs. the exploratory mindset of Starfleet. It is an issue inherent to the organization and probably has never been more relevant than after the conclusion of the Dominion War and its aftermath.

    Also good to see that Cybel, the AI, struggles with the very human concepts of loss, regret and the responsibilities that come with those emotions. At this point its pretty obvious that she's far more than a machine but a real, sentient being in her own right. Wouldn't mind reading that backstory at some point.
    TheLoneRedshirt and Gibraltar like this.
  4. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Great interlude. It's interesting to see an A.I. struggle with loss. It shows that there's something Human inside of her.
  5. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    USS Valhalla
    Ship's Brig, Security Section

    Deck 7

    The prisoner lay atop the slide-out bed of the brig cell, staring at the ceiling. She didn’t react to Cybel’s arrival until the security field flickered off just long enough for Cybel to enter the cell before reactivating.

    Liana Ramirez glanced up at Cybel as the ship's XO activated a slide-out seat across from her and sat down. “I’m Commander Cybel, first officer of the starship Valhalla. How’s your hand?”

    Ramirez raised her right hand, opening and closing it repeatedly. “None the worse for wear, now. My thanks to your ship’s doctor.” She gave Cybel the faintest hint of a smile. “You’ve got a hard jaw.”

    “I should think so,” Cybel answered noncommittally.

    Ramirez appeared to size Cybel up, taking full measure of the woman who was nearly twenty centimeters taller than her. “You aren’t afraid to be in here with me? There's no security detail at the door. After all the trouble you’ve gone to in order to capture me, I think you’d be more cautious.” Ramirez's subsequent threat was offered casually, “Rumor has it I’m a dangerous person.”

    Cybel held her hands up in front of her, palms facing. Blue electrical current sizzled and snapped between the fingertips of both hands. “I’m in no danger,” she said. There was no arrogance in this declaration, merely the fact of the matter.

    Ramirez sat up slightly, showing the first sign of real emotion since she’d come aboard. “What are you?”

    “I’m an android.”

    “Like Data?” Ramirez pressed.

    “Similar enough,” Cybel allowed.

    Ramirez appeared genuinely impressed. “Wonders never cease. Do all starships have one assigned now days?”

    Cybel smiled patiently. “No. Speaking of androids, what can you tell me about the one that was following you aboard the station?”

    Ramirez brushed her greying hair back behind one ear and sat up fully to face Cybel. “It had been following me for a number of days, long enough for me to fashion some rudimentary countermeasures.”

    “Do you know who sent it, or why?”

    “No,” Ramirez answered plainly. “I have no idea. I do know this is a dangerous region with lots of piracy, kidnapping, and a brisk slave trade, so the ‘why’s and wherefores’ don’t tend to concern me so much. I see a threat, and I neutralize it.”

    “May I ask how you knew it was an android?”

    “I conducted counter-surveillance on it as it was observing me. In all the time it was tracking me, I never saw it take a break to use a bathroom, or to eat or drink anything. Whenever I’d check to see if it was there in the middle of my sleep cycle, it was still standing watch outside my hostel, no matter the hour. It was too perfect a tail, nearly flawless in its tradecraft. On a hunch I had it follow me down to the lower levels where some of the older, more exotic field generators are. I hacked an engineering diagnostic scanner so I could observe it when it walked through a polarizing EM field generated by a zero-point energy module. The interference caused the sensor-blind it was using to mimic biological life-signs to crash for a few seconds. Voilà, android identified.”

    “Clever,” Cybel remarked. “Your service jacket indicates you had high marks in combat strategy and tactics.”

    Ramirez fluttered her hands theatrically. “I am delighted to impress.”

    “When you were able to scan the android, did you detect any anomalous energy signatures?” Cybel inquired.

    “Aside from it being an artificial construct, you mean? Nothing that I can recall. Why do you ask?”

    Europa’s Chief Medical Officer is a non-corporal Medusan who utilizes an android body as a containment vessel. I suspect that the android following you was from our home galaxy, but it wasn’t dispatched by Starfleet as far as I know. I was curious if the android you observed might have been Dr. Reskos from Europa with his body cosmetically altered.”

    “I saw no indications of that,” Ramirez provided. Her brave façade seemed to falter, and just for a moment an expression of uncertainty flit across her features. “I’ve answered your questions, Commander. May I ask a few in kind?”

    Cybel gestured her assent.

    “What year is it?”

    “2384, Terran Julian calendar. Stardate 60344.1.”

    Her eyes widened in realization and Ramirez’s breathing increased fractionally along with a detectable rise in her pulse rate. “And are we in the Small Magellanic Cloud? That’s the entire damn Milky Way we can see from here, isn’t it?”

    “It is,” Cybel confirmed. “But you’re off slightly. This is the Large Magellanic Cloud. One-hundred sixty thousand light years from home.”

    “How did I get here?”

    Cybel observed Ramirez, utilizing both her avatar’s own internal sensors as well as the ship’s, looking for any sign of deceit however minute. She detected none.

    “You came through a transit portal from the Delta Quadrant of our galaxy, allegedly leading a Romulan strike group against a joint Federation/Klingon taskforce sent to locate and destroy the Skorrah.”

    Ramirez blinked, her expression troublingly blank. “May I presume people were killed and wounded as a result?”

    “Yes, a good many.”

    The older woman closed her eyes tightly and bent forward, as though wracked with pain.

    “Those aren’t the only ones, of course,” Cybel added. “You led attacks on the starships Challenger and Europa, among others, and are suspected of abducting and later murdering Admiral Edward Jellico. You were witnessed executing Lieutenant Olivia Juneau, a former subordinate of yours. She was serving as the acting first officer of Europa when you and your merry band of blood-thirsty pirates seized the ship. Apparently, you slit her throat from ear to ear.”

    Ramirez moaned as if someone were twisting a knife deep in her innards. She rocked back and forth, murmuring, “No, no, no, no!”

    “May I presume from your reaction that you regret these events?”

    “Regret?” Ramirez shouted in disbelief. “Regret? I don’t remember them! I don’t remember anything!”

    Cybel was unmoved. “I’ll grant you it’s not the most original defense, but you sell it rather well. I’d wish you luck with that, but it would be disingenuous.”

    Ramirez shook her head lightly, her formerly luxuriant black hair now grey and brittle. “I don’t expect you to believe me, Commander. I certainly wouldn’t if our positions were reversed.” She took a deep, centering breath and focused on Cybel. “I think that’s what I’ve been running from since he left me… the thought of what I might have done. He said… said I’d done terrible things, that it would have been more merciful to wipe all my memories, leave me tabula rasa. He told me that I should avoid Starfleet if I ever encountered you out here.”

    “Who is the ‘he’ in that statement?”

    “Sandhurst. Or whatever the hell he’s become now.”

    “You’ve had contact with him,” Cybel noted. “Tell me about that.”

    “It’s the first thing I remember. Waking up in some back alley neuro-clinic with someone who looked like Donald Sandhurst. Only he was bigger, taller and better built, like he’d been heavily augmented somehow. I was scared, confused… he explained that he’d wiped my memory, and that it was for my own good. I’d committed many crimes, but he claimed it wasn’t my fault.”

    “Whose fault was it, according to Sandhurst?” Cybel pressed.

    “An old enemy of ours, someone who’d used me to get at him.” Ramirez’s eyes took on a faraway cast. “Someone who cheated me out of a good death, and gave me this… this shit existence, instead.” Tears welled in her eyes.

    “What happened to Sandhurst after he woke you?”

    “He stayed with me for a few days, helped me get my bearings. He was vague with his answers to most of my questions. It wasn’t just the physical changes… he was different from the man I’d known. Stronger and more confident, but more aloof. Less… human. After he determined I was stable, he just left. Gave me some local currency and some food and was gone.”

    Cybel leaned forward fractionally, her interest piqued by Ramirez’s unlikely tale. “What’s the last thing you remember before waking up here in the LMC?”

    There was a moment’s pause before Ramirez answered. “Dying. Or waiting to die, really. Diplomatic mission gone really wrong. I was in an underground bunker in the Gamma Quadrant, wounded and pinned down. I couldn’t deactivate the transport scrambler in time, and our away team was several floors above me, about to be overrun and massacred. To get the rest of our people out, Sandhurst had to blast the scrambler from orbit, and I was right next to it. No choice, really, I’d have…” she trailed off, her eyes fixed with the proverbial thousand-meter stare.

    Cybel sat back, giving the story consideration. “That jibes with the mission record from Velkohn. However, how do you explain apparently dying in the Gamma Quadrant, only to show up commanding a hijacked Defiant-class starship in the Delta Quadrant eighteen months later?”

    “You’d have to ask the Baron,” Ramirez answered tiredly. “Sandhurst said the Baron abducted me an instant before my death, and then brain-washed me into a weapon of vengeance.” She slowly lay down on the bunk on her side, hugging her knees into her chest.

    “Anything else?”

    “That’s all I know,” Ramirez offered in a small voice.

    Silence followed and Cybel eventually rose and exited the cell, leaving Ramirez alone with her anguish.

    * * *​

    Zelbin stood before a holographic representation of a human brain, highlighting the prefrontal cortex with a touch of his finger. “You can see evidence of synaptic degradation all throughout this area, which has been extensively repaired by the nanites we found in her cerebrospinal fluid. It’s akin to someone rebuilding a city after a catastrophic seismic event. Some of the foundations remain, but everything else has been laid waste and reconstructed from the ground up.”

    The Tiburonian doctor was briefing the commodore, Cybel and Raffaele on Ramirez’s medical situation in Sickbay’s primary exam theater.

    “So, she could be telling us the truth?” Izawa asked.

    “Yes, or a partial truth, or a complete fabrication. There’s no way to be certain without engaging in other, potentially more invasive measures,” Zelbin explained.

    Raffaele’s interest was piqued, “Such as?”

    “We have a Betazoid and two Vulcan crewmembers serving aboard, all of whom are qualified in telepathic veracity confirmation and memory retrieval.”

    “No,” Izawa waved a hand dismissively, “out of the question.”

    “Really, sir?” Raffaele was incredulous. “You’re just going to reject that without even asking her? She might very well agree to it.”

    “I will not compel someone to bare their most private thoughts and dreams to us, no matter what crimes they’re accused of.”

    “Respectfully, sir,” Raffaele pressed, “Ramirez may want to provide us verifiable proof that she’s telling the truth. What’s the harm in asking her?”

    Izawa raised a finger in a gesture of warning. “If and only if she volunteers for such an undertaking, Lieutenant. I will not tolerate threats or other coercion being used on a detainee. She has legal rights that will be respected.”

    “I don’t believe anyone’s arguing that, sir,” Cybel spoke up in Raffaele’s defense.

    “Very well, you may ask,” Izawa emphasized.

    “Bridge to Commodore Izawa,” Beresha’s voice announced from overhead.

    “Go ahead,” he responded.

    “Sensors have detected three vessels on a direct intercept course with us, sir. They match the profile of the rocket-type vessels that Task Force Vanguard initially encountered and engaged near Shul’Nazhar when they arrived in the LMC.”

    Izawa stood stiffly, wincing with the effort. “On our way. Izawa, out.”

    * * *​
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2017
    mthompson1701 and CeJay like this.
  6. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Fascinating. It's interesting to see the return of Liana Ramirez. Perhaps she can help the Valhalla crew find Europa and the crew.

    By the way, I wish I knew what happened to the Gibraltar after she was shifted over to the Border Service. Any chance on letting us know about those adventures and that crew at all?
    Gibraltar likes this.
  7. theonering

    theonering Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Oct 1, 2010
    Fascinating development. While I'm certainly glad to see a bit of the old Liana Ramirez again, recent history shows she can be manipulative enough to try something like this. Hopefully whatever damage the baron caused truly has been reversed.
    Gibraltar likes this.
  8. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Right there with the the others. I want to believe Ramirez, I really do, but I've been burned before...

    Regardless of what the truth turns out to be, a great way to bring this character back.
    Gibraltar likes this.
  9. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    What a terrible fate for Ramirez (assuming she is being truthful). The Baron's scheme certainly worked to her detriment and great sorrow. I hope she can recover from this, but the knowledge of her actions will certainly weigh upon her heavily. She's going to need considerable help to recover from this. Perhaps, if she's willing to undergo a mind-meld or something similar, more can be learned of the fate of Europa. At least we know Sandhurst is still around, but what is he up to now?
    Gibraltar likes this.
  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    I think Gibraltar's adventures with the Border Service are stories for a later day... perhaps. I do miss the old girl at times.
    admiralelm11 likes this.
  11. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    “Report,” Izawa called out as he settled gently into the captain’s chair.

    The ensign at Operations replied as he vacated his post for Raffaele to assume, “Three vessels inbound on an intercept course at one-quarter impulse speed, sir. They match the profiles of hostile craft Taskforce Vanguard engaged and destroyed during their arrival at Shul’Nazhar.”

    On the main viewscreen, three coppery-colored, octagonal-sided rockets angled towards Valhalla on plumes of blue flame.

    From the upper level of the bridge, the chief engineer commented, “If those things are all the way out here, I have to assume they have a faster-than-light drive, but they sure don’t look it.”

    “Confirmed,” Raffaele observed as he looked over a sensor-generated schematic of one of the vessels. “It’s a warp drive, but it’s an unusual one. The whole body of the ship acts as a single engine nacelle.”

    Cybel slid into her seat to Izawa’s right. “They must be immune to radiation, then.”

    “Any response to our hails?” Izawa asked.

    “None, sir.”

    “Life signs?”

    “Indeterminate, sir,” Raffaele replied.

    Izawa settled back into his seat, his face displaying a peaceful, untroubled countenance. “Status of their weapons and defenses?”

    “Their ssshieldsss are raisssed, sssir,” Ressessk divined from her scans. “Their weaponsss are not armed.”

    “A cautious posture,” Izawa assessed, “but not overtly hostile.”

    “Now receiving a transmission from the lead vessel, sir. It appears to be a variant of linga-code including a mathematical progression.”

    “Analyzing,” Cybel announced. “The coding checks out clean. You can transmit it into our new Universal Translator core we built for the Karera linguistic database.”

    “Done,” Raffaele confirmed. “Translation matrix is being formed, but it’ll take a few moments.”

    “Let’s hope they don’t take offense at long pauses,” Beresha said with an impish smile.

    * * *​

    Cybel appeared suddenly in her holographic form outside Ramirez’s brig cell. She tossed a holographic sphere into the cell that stopped dead center of the compartment and opened to reveal one of the alien rocket-type ships. “Captain Ramirez, we’ve just encountered three of these vessels. Do you recognize them?”

    Ramirez blinked, “Captain?”

    “You were posthumously promoted after your death. Per your service record, you hold the rank of captain. Now, if you don’t mind, the ship?”

    “Er… yes, of course. It’s a Namulkai skylance. The Namulkai are rumored to be one of the oldest species still active in these parts, but they mostly keep to themselves. I’ve never encountered them myself, only heard the stories.”

    “What are the stories?”

    “The Namulkai are said to have elevated themselves to an energy state thousands of years ago, but refuse to leave the physical plane. Instead, they supposedly inhabit elaborate, decorative mechanical bodies. They’re called clockwork men, among other euphemisms. They’re supposed to be difficult to communicate with, very cryptic”

    “Are they known to be hostile?” Cybel pressed.

    “Not necessarily, though they are somehow tied to a number of ancient space fortresses, Shul’Nazhar among them. They’re said to be very protective of those places, and will defend them to the death.”

    “Anything else?”

    “That’s all I know.”

    “Thank you, Captain,” Cybel said and vanished.

    * * *​

    On the bridge, Cybel’s avatar summarized this information for the senior staff.

    “Namulkai,” Izawa pronounced slowly, as if tasting the name. “Clockwork men… intriguing.”

    Raffaele’s console beeped and he offered, “Universal Translator matrix reports ready and estimates a ninety-seven percent linguistic efficacy.”

    “Open a channel,” Izawa instructed, standing with the assistance of his cane.

    “Channel open, sir.”

    “This is Commodore Takeo Izawa of the starship Valhalla, representing the United Federation of Planets. We are on a peaceful mission of exploration and diplomacy. I offer you greetings from our home in the Milky Way galaxy.”

    Behind him at the Tactical arch, Ressessk scrutinized their initial scans of the skylance spacecraft, only to see alert tell-tails pop up on her display in reference to damage on the vessel’s hull. She intensified her sensor probe of the hull section in question.

    “Federations,” the reply came in a strangely tinny, artificial sounding voice. “You have come through The Gateway, which no longer speaks to us. Why have you taken it’s voice?”

    Izawa shot a troubled glance at Cybel as he gestured for the audio to be muted. “Whatever does that mean?”

    “I think they’re referring to Shul’Nazhar, Commodore,” the XO replied. “The Gateway is one of its many designations in the LMC. As to what they mean by it’s ‘voice’, I’ve no idea.”

    “You have encroached upon our places again, after scattering the pieces of our brethren. You have inflicted much pain upon us and others. This cannot continue.”

    A metallurgical and energy analysis scrolled across Ressessk’s display and she hissed in surprise and consternation. “Sssir, one of the ssships hasss hull damage that appearsss to have been caused by Ssstarfleet Class-XI phasssersss. I ssstrongly recommend raisssing ssshieldsss.”

    “Not yet,” Izawa raised a hand in a gesture of abeyance.

    “This can’t be one of the ships Vanguard faced when they seized Shul’Nazhar,” Cybel observed. “All three of those Namulkai craft were destroyed in that engagement.”

    “Looks like Europa’s been making friends,” Raffaele suggested dryly. An alert sounded from his console as he warned, “Now reading their forward weapons charging.”

    "Raise shields," Izawa instructed. “Resume audio.” After the affirmation of his order, he said, “Namulkai vessels, we regret the earlier hostilities between our peoples, and I ask you to stand down so we may discuss these issues peacefully and avoid unnecessary conflict.”

    A bright yellow beam lashed out from what on an ancient Earth rocket would have been its nosecone. The discharge flared against Valhalla’s forward shields, seeming to oscillate as it probed the frequency of the forcefield blister surrounding the ship.

    “They are probing our ssshield nutation sssettingsss,” Ressessk called out.

    “Alter our shield frequencies,” Izawa commanded.

    Cybel stood and approached Izawa, leaning in to whisper, “The shields do that automatically now, sir.”

    “The beam is adjusting faster than we can alter frequencies,” Maddox noted from the Science station.

    Izawa’s head dropped fractionally and a soft sigh escaped his lips. “Helm, initiate transwarp jump. Put us five light-years away in any direction.”

    “Aye, sir,” Beresha confirmed.

    On the main viewer the image seemed to blur and then blink out, to be replaced by the swirling energetic miasma of transwarp-space.

    “They seemed rather persistent,” Raffaele noted.

    “Rafe,” Maddox called from the upper level of the bridge, “come here and take a look at this.”

    Raffaele surrendered the Operations console to a relief officer and strode up the ramp to slide into a chair next to Maddox at the aft bank of stations.

    “There’s something weird about this phaser impact pattern on the skylance’s hull plating, but I can’t put my finger on precisely what it is.”

    The Italian called up an image of the blast pattern and stared at it while spinning it in three dimensions. After a moment Raffaele burst out laughing. “Okay, that’s a new twist,” he exclaimed.

    The storm of colors and patterns on the viewscreen was replaced by a new but equally mesmerizing view of the towering Tarantula Nebula.

    “Jump complete, sir. We are exactly five light-years from our last coordinates, relative spinward to the galactic plane.”

    Izawa acknowledged the report as he hobbled up to the Science station with the assistance of his cane. “What do you have, Mister Raffaele?”

    Raffaele turned to address Izawa and Maddox. “It’s a message in the Ktarian language.”

    The Ktarians, an insectoid species belonging to the Federation, had a distinct written language comprised of concentric and overlapping circular patterns in varying sizes.

    “A message?” Izawa frowned, squinting at the pattern. “What does it say?”

    A star-chart came to life on Raffaele’s display that centered on a gaseous offshoot of the massive Tarantula Nebula. “It’s a set of spatial coordinates, Commodore, utilizing Shul’Nazhar as a reference point. Someone utilizing Federation phasers wanted us to go here.” Raffaele tapped a finger at the location corresponding to the coordinates.

    Europa must have done this,” Maddox concluded. “They used their phasers to carve a message into the Namulkai’s hull. That’s brilliant.”

    “Brilliant, yes,” Raffaele conceded, “but it also smacks of desperation. Tagging the hulls of random ships in hopes someone from the Milky Way just happens to stumble across it? The odds of that working, even with tagging hundreds or thousands of vessels, are astronomically remote.”

    Cybel joined them. “Picking Ktarian was a stroke of genius as well. The written language looks just like random weapons scoring on a metallic surface.” She patted Raffaele on the shoulder. “And perhaps the odds of us encountering them aren’t as extreme as you’d make them out. The Namulkai obviously have a feud with the Federation. If Europa knew that, perhaps they hoped the Namulkai would seek a confrontation with any Starfleet ship they happened across?”

    “Perhaps,” Raffaele said, still dubious.

    Izawa cast a look towards the viewscreen. “Helm, ETA to those coordinates at transwarp speed?”

    “Three hours, twenty-seven minutes, sir. Those coordinates are seventy-four light-years from our present position.”

    Cybel stepped closer to Izawa, murmuring, “Didn’t you say you wanted to head back to the system with the planet shattered by the Alpha Weapon for a more detailed forensic analysis?”

    Izawa nodded fractionally. “That’s still a priority, but that rubble cloud isn’t going anywhere. This is our first real clue as to Europa’s possible whereabouts. This takes precedence.”

    “Lieutenant Beresha,” Cybel called out. “Set course for those coordinates and engage at transwarp.”

    * * *​
    Last edited: May 13, 2017
  12. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Interesting. Maybe Valhalla can finally find the Europa. I like how Europa left a message in the way of leaving signs on a starship's hull. That's quite ingenious, Gibraltar.
  13. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Yeah, what a curios way of leaving a bread crumbs. But hey it seems to have worked. I'm not sure if these Clockwork men would appreciate being used in this manner. And is there more to these ships than meets the eye. Something tells me we haven't seen the last of them.
  14. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    USS Valhalla
    Holodeck 3, Deck 11

    The racquetball caromed off the wall, arcing back towards the two heavily perspiring players. Raffaele’s racquet found it first and blasted it back towards the larger of two scoring grids shortly after it rebounded off the floor.

    Maddox lurched after it, trying to get into position to intercept it as it ricocheted, but Raffaele had put too much spin and speed on the ball, and Maddox missed cleanly.

    Chest heaving, Maddox braced himself against the wall on his shoulder and shot a rueful glance Raffaele’s way. “Nice shot.”

    “I agree,” Raffaele replied, “I’m pleased you noticed. That’s game to me, again.”

    Maddox snorted and moved towards the back of the court, calling a bench, towel, and a bottle of water into being. “It seems alienating the hell out of people doesn’t bother you any, does it, Rafe?”

    Raffaele followed along, electing to stand and stretch as Maddox seated himself on the bench and began toweling off. “What makes you say that?”

    “Your arrogance, your conceited self-superiority, and your appetite for embarrassing others needlessly.”

    The younger man appeared unfazed at this allegation. “I’m smarter, stronger, and more capable than most. What’s wrong with employing those natural talents?”

    Maddox toweled off his face and draped the cloth over his shoulder as he gulped greedily from the water bottle before replying. “Ordinarily, nothing. In your case, the fact that you delight in diminishing others. It isn’t necessary, and it sure as hell isn’t winning you any friends.”

    Raffaele scrutinized Maddox, cocking his head thoughtfully. “Why do you care?”

    Maddox met his gaze evenly. “Because I used to be you, Rafe. I was smarter and better than everyone around me, regardless of rank or experience. I sat in my ivory tower at Daystrom and looked down on everyone else. Do you know how many opportunities I missed to expand my horizons as a human being? How many friendships I lost out on that could have opened my eyes to new ways of thinking?”

    A shrug accompanied Raffaele’s reply of, “I signed on to this ill-advised expedition, didn’t I? How’s that for expanding one’s horizons?”

    Maddox shook his head. “For such a bright person, you can be unbelievably obtuse. Your attitude is affecting your entire department. The people assigned to Operations don’t like working for you because you consistently demean their efforts and make them feel unappreciated.”

    Raffaele tensed noticeably, scowling in response. “I don’t appreciate Commander Cybel sharing the content of our private conversations with you, regardless of your marital status.”

    The laugh Raffaele received in reply wasn’t what he’d expected. Maddox grinned at him as he shook his head ruefully. “Cybel didn’t tell me anything. I have eyes, Rafe. I see how your people respond to you.”

    Raffaele looked away for a moment before setting his gaze back on the older officer. “When do you think the old man is going to stop dancing around this nebula and take us inside?” he asked, clearly unconcerned with the painfully obvious change in subject matter.

    “The commodore is being cautious, as is warranted by the circumstances,” was Maddox’s considered response. “That part of the nebula is so dense that it would negatively affect our shields and phasers. Best to make sure there’s no ambush awaiting us in there.”

    “Our probes would have turned up something by now,” Raffaele countered.

    Maddox rejoined, “They haven’t turned up anything at all as yet. This might be a wild goose chase after all.”

    “Who else other than Europa could have left that message?”

    He placed the towel on the bench and looked up at Raffaele with a consciously patient expression. “What if it were the Romulans? Perhaps they got their hands on a phaser emitter from Europa or one of our ships destroyed at the Battle of Shul’Nazhar? They could have burned the message into the side of some Namulkai ships and then left a booby-trap at those coordinates so that we’d stumble headlong into it.”

    Raffaele flipped the racquet in his hands, fingering the elaborate pattern etched into the racquet’s striking face. He made no reply, but seemed to be giving the matter serious deliberation.

    “And why am I telling you this?” Maddox continued. “You’re supposed to be our hyper-intuitive resident oracle. I think you’ve got yourself so worked up about what the commodore’s doing and why he’s doing it that you’re failing to see the big picture here.”

    “We’re wasting our time out here, Commander,” Raffaele blurted.

    Maddox was incredulous. “We’re following our orders. That’s how all this works. They tell us to do something, and then we go and do it. Starfleet regs don’t include provisions for disregarding orders due to ‘Raffaele’s Intuition.’

    “Regardless, we need to go in there and find out if there’s anything in the nebula. We don’t have the luxury of waiting around for things to develop.”

    “Actually,” Maddox countered, “we have nothing but time at the moment. We’re in another galaxy, and we’re equipped with some of the most impressive sensor systems ever fielded on a starship. Every moment we’re here, we’re gathering volumes of stellar-cartographic data on this region. We’re dispatching and recovering probes and collating the data from those we’ve left further behind us."

    He stood, picking up his racquet, and gave Raffaele a small, sad smile. “We’re accomplishing our mission, Lieutenant. I’m sorry if it’s not to your satisfaction. That was an excellent game, thank you. I’m at your disposal for a rematch, should you be so inclined.”

    He left Raffaele there, inspecting his racquet in silence.

    * * *​
  15. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Raffaele needed that kick in the pants from Maddox. Let's see if he finally grows up and gets with the program.
    Gibraltar likes this.
  16. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

    Jul 9, 2001
    The Hub of the Universe
    Well, I know I'm a bit late to this party, but I've finally caught up and wanted to offer a few thoughts, to the extent they may be helpful.

    To start with ... HOLY $#!%!!! This is fantastic!

    As I have commented previoulsy, one of the many things I have long appreciated about you is that you are not afraid to take risks most storytellers would not (such as killing off beloved central characters) nor to take your stories in completely unexpected directions. And this is nothing if not unexpected. I really love the way you left us with a cliffhanger at the end of Infinities Unbound and that you are tacking back to the resolution of that tale from a completely different direction: a mystery within a thriller within a space drama. I love it!

    I really like the new crew and how creative you have been in composing the ship's compliment. My personal favorite, and perhaps one of the most original and inventive characters I've ever read, is Cybel. You have taken so many very basic kernels of stories and ideas from other sources and blended them together in a new and original way. I love that you have not slapped us in the face with a detailed "origin story" for Cybel, but have given us enough bread crumbs to construct it for ourselves, while leaving yourself room to play. As I've said before, this is one of many aspects of your writing style that I have always appreciated.

    I enjoy very much Cybel's relationships with both Commodor Izawa and Raffaele; and the fact that she even has a relationship with Maddox, much less being married to him, tells us volumes about them both, but especially Maddox and his "redemption" (I don't know anyone who was left feeling terribly positive about him after "Measure of a Man"). And, though I had not really focused much on Maddox himself until this last scene you shared, I do appreciate that you took an established character and so subtlely established a transformative life's journey since we last encountered him. Positioning Maddox as a counterpoint to Rafe was brilliant, and told us so much about both characters in a tight and interesting scene.

    Ressessk is a bold and intriguing choice that I'm already enjoying very much. I look forward to further development of her character, though she must be a pain to write dialogue for.

    Speaking of character development, there's a lot of history for the good Commodore to explore and develop. I hope you'll reveal more of that as time goes on.

    I will confess that I, personally, have not typically been a fan of an EMH as a CMO, but you've more than amply demonstrated in the past that you can make this believable and enjoyable to read.

    I am so excited to see Liana Ramirez back, and with such an unexpected turn. I really can't wait to see where this story takes her.

    And, lest we forget, Valhalla: I love the idea that the basic Galaxy Class design was not merely abandoned but recognized for its strengths and enhanced for future missions. I also have to recognize your penchant for starships named Yorktown. ;) I'm curious - and I apologize if I missed this - but what class of starship do you envision Yorktown to have been?

    As for the story itself, as always, I can't express how much I'm enjoying the tale you are weaving: the creativity and new angles you're bringing to the story elements; the mystery you're infusing into the story (both about the mission itself and the motivations for the mission); the life and personality you're bringing to the characters (often in such subtle ways); and the very classically "Star Treky" humor you add to scenes. I like that the characters have imperfections. For instance, I think it was key that you showed so early on that Cybel is NOT perfect, despite being technically superior to her human counterparts. Likewise Rafe, and Izawa for that matter.

    And I think I've said more than enough for now. As always, I am very much appreciating your talents and am looking forward to following the journey you take us on. Engage. :)
    Gibraltar likes this.
  17. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    Raffaele, in several ways, resembles the lead character in BBC's wonderful series, "Sherlock." As that series protagonist self-describes, he is a "high-functioning sociopath." I think Raffaele fits that description aptly. He's brilliant, self-assured, and totally inept when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Nice interlude with Maddox (a recovering high-functioning sociopath, himself). Perhaps Maddox's tutelage will penetrate the Lieutenant's highly organized but arrogant mind. I honestly believe Lt. Raffaele could offend a Vulcan.

    Continued good stuff - I am enjoying this immensely!
    Gibraltar likes this.
  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Thank you all for the terrific feedback and the kind words! :o
  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Izawa sat at his ready room desk, looking across at Cybel. “Five days, and our probes haven’t found anything. I know without a doubt that you established the most productive search pattern for them, so I have to ask, was this a false lead?”

    “We can’t know that for certain, sir. If there was something there, someone else may have already stumbled onto it, or it might have drifted away. I’d like permission to take a shuttle in there for one last look.”

    “I’ll authorize that,” he agreed, glancing at the padd in his hand. “Updates?”

    “Nothing from our Romulan guests so far. They still refuse to answer any questions put to them. Ramirez is continuing to cooperate as best she’s able, and is enduring Dr. Zelbin’s repeated examinations. The doctor says he now believes that among other things, the nanites in her body are causing her to age regressively.”

    “You mean she’s getting younger?” Izawa asked, his voice tinged with amazement.

    “Yes, sir, and at a dramatic rate. If she continues at this pace, she’ll be biologically in her thirties in another six months.”

    “That’s astonishing,” Izawa said. “Do we know if there’s a cut-off point to this effect, or will she continue to regress into childhood or beyond?”

    “Zelbin’s continuing his analysis and can’t answer that just yet. As she has no memory of the procedures that were carried out on her, Ramirez hasn’t been any help in that regard. However, she’s been a wealth of information regarding local species and governments, most notably that there don’t seem to be many multi-system alliances or interstellar power blocs out here.”

    Izawa looked interested. “So, we’re looking at single-planet or single-system governments?”

    “Mainly, yes. The relative resource poverty of the LMC in this area prevents interstellar expansion. From what we’ve learned, it appears that the prior meta-civilizations that inhabited the LMC eons ago utilized most of the available resource base.

    “Which leads into my next brief, that being a significant increase in vessels in the vicinity of the stealthed comms buoys that we’ve left behind us. If I had to guess, the locals are trying to get a fix on what’s generating our burst subspace data packets. If they eventually locate our buoys and satellites, they’ll undoubtedly cannibalize them for their constituent elements.”

    Izawa sighed softly. “Yes, I was afraid that might be a symptom of the resource scarcity we’ve encountered.”

    “I believe that’s why we haven’t found any signs of similar log buoys left behind by Europa, sir. Anything left long enough is bound to be scavenged. That’s what leads me to believe that their best course of action would be leaving a buoy hidden someplace, like inside a dense nebula.”

    A small smile graced the octogenarian’s lips. “Hence your argument for not giving up quite yet.”

    Her smile matched his own. “Just so, Commodore.” She shifted in her chair, another remarkably human nuance that broadcast her discomfort with her next question. “Any word back from Starfleet on the android we encountered on the trade station?”

    Izawa’s expression hardened noticeably. “I put the question to them point blank, had they sent any operatives into the LMC? Their reply was, ‘Not to our knowledge.’”

    “I see.” She’d suspected as much.

    “Not ‘no’, not ‘absolutely not’, just ‘not to our knowledge.’ That leaves much room for interpretation.”

    Cybel offered, “May we presume, sir, that Starfleet Intelligence or some other related entity has dispatched operatives to the LMC?”

    “I believe we have to,” Izawa concluded with a frown. ”Otherwise, the presence of a Soong-type android out here makes no sense.”

    “Section 31?” she posited.

    “That cancer upon the Federation’s soul is dead and gone,” Izawa practically spat.

    “I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that, sir,” Cybel cautioned. “A group with no headquarters, no official membership roster, and with operatives both physical and incorporeal isn’t so easily expunged.”

    “As a civilian representative, I sat on the special taskforce authorized by the Security Council to hunt them down. I more than most know the lengths we went to in order to defeat them.”

    “I’m well aware of that, sir. I’m simply noting that an organization that old, with roots that deep, cannot be so quickly or thoroughly vanquished.”

    Izawa closed his eyes briefly, centering himself. “I apologize, York. You’re correct, of course. It’s just that the group is the antithesis of everything I hold dear, and I gave everything I had to the effort to eradicate them. The thought that even a scant remnant of their influence remains is almost too much to bear.”

    “I understand, sir. I know how much the revelation of 31’s existence impacted you.” Cybel was surprised at how much the mere mention of that dark agency still agitated the older man.

    “I’m unaccustomed to my superiors keeping things from me,” Izawa admitted. “I realize that was largely a byproduct of my being out of real-time comms range of Starfleet Command for sixteen years during our expedition, but I remain uncomfortable with the concept. I wouldn’t think this sort of need-to-know nonsense would be applied to a single ship assigned to another galaxy.”

    “I wholeheartedly agree, sir,” she attested.

    “As a Twentieth century soldier once said, ‘If you’re going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you, but the bureaucracy won’t.’” Izawa offered this wisdom with a mordant smile.

    * * *​

    It was hour five of the runabout Namsen’s as-yet fruitless search of the nebula tendril, and though boredom hadn’t officially set in, glimpses of it could be seen on the horizon. Quietude had led to conversation, and given the personalities involved, conversation had invited friction.

    “I don’t want to be lectured,” Raffaele insisted, running the same scan cycle for the fifth time in as many minutes as a form of distraction.

    “I’m not lecturing,” Cybel insisted. “I’m simply pointing out that the premise of your thesis was fundamentally wrong, nearly laughably so.”

    Raffaele finally tore his eyes away from his display to stare daggers at the XO in the pilot’s seat. “Take that back! I graduated with honors, fourth in my class, and my thesis is still being taught at the academy as an example of divergent cognition.”

    “I will not,” Cybel replied calmly. “I’ve run eight hundred and fifteen simulations of your equation over the years, having accounted for all possible variables to the input parameters, and the end results remain inconsistent. That’s not a verifiable result. It looks like a verifiable result if you take it at face value, but dig deeper and it all falls apart. Hence, your unsupported opinion does not constitute a scientific fact.”

    “I’ve seen your simulations,” he snapped, “and you’ve failed to take several factors into account, which we have already discussed ad nauseum on several occasions!”

    From behind them at an auxiliary console in the cockpit, Ressessk inquired innocently, “You are both ssscertain this is not a mating ritual?”

    Raffaele yelled something incoherent in response, slapping his hands atop his console.

    “This,” Cybel said, looking back to Ressessk, “is a primitive homo sapiens behavior known to Terran psychology as, ‘a tantrum.’”

    “You are infuriating,” Raffaele seethed.

    “I don’t think that’s the word you wanted, Rafe. I believe the word you are looking for is ‘superior.’ For what it’s worth, I know.

    “You know what?” Raffaele spun the co-pilot’s chair towards Cybel, gesticulating furiously, but before he could launch into his diatribe an insistent cry from his console diverted his attention.

    “Sensor contact,” Cybel announced, beating Raffaele to the punch. “Metallic object measuring five meters in length, comprised of duranium and tritanium.”

    He intensified the runabout’s scans of the object, saying, “Reads as a Starfleet Class-7 log buoy, modified.”

    “Modified how?” Ressessk asked.

    “It appears that additional protective layers have been added to the exterior of the buoy to safeguard it from the corrosive gasses in the nebula,” Raffaele replied. “We’ve had to refit a number of the probes we’ve been using in here for the same reason, though ours had a much shorter exposure time. Judging by the significant level of degradation, this buoy looks to have been here for years.”

    “Itsss been here the whole time?” Ressessk sounded incredulous. “We’ve had probesss ssscouring thisss area for daysss, why have we only found it now?”

    “Because we stumbled right into it,” Raffaele remarked, hands flitting across his console as he tweaked sensor parameters to get a better reading on the buoy. “We didn’t pick it up until we were less than three kilometers from it thanks to the interference from the surrounding nebula.”

    “We’re being scanned,” Cybel noted. “The buoy is requesting Starfleet authentication codes.”

    “Sending the appropriate countersigns for codes of that time period,” Raffaele answered. “Authentication confirmed.”

    Cybel watched as the runabout’s computer linked with that of the probe. “We’re receiving an encrypted download from the buoy; data files, sensor logs, personal and official logs from Europa… two years, seven months and sixteen days worth. It will take a few minutes to complete the transfer.”

    She looked across at Raffaele. “Your graduate thesis. It was an elaborate practical joke, wasn’t it? A joke that lives on to this day. Each time another academy class is exposed to your theorem, the joke is perpetuated.”

    A smile spread slowly across the man’s features in response. “The most brilliant minds in the Federation. Vulcans, Bynars, other AI’s, and you’re the only one who’s managed to figure it out in nearly a decade.”

    Warning tell-tails began to flash red across both their consoles simultaneously, strobing in time with an audible alert klaxon.

    Cybel frowned, her brow furrowing in confusion. “Something just seized control of the navigation and helm. We’ve been hacked by the buoy!”

    “Were our infiltration firewalls offline?” Raffaele asked.

    “No, they’re working,” Cybel countered. “Whatever this is, it got past them.”

    From behind them, Ressessk monitored the engineering systems and announced, “Our navigational deflectors are being retuned to a higher energy frequensssy.”

    “Someone must have compromised the buoy,” Raffaele offered as he tried in vain to stop the cascade failure of command and control systems. “Nothing I’m doing is slowing it down.”

    Cybel set her hand atop the console to establish a physical link and interface with the computer directly. “I’ll try some countermeasures, but I can’t risk exposing my own operating systems to this virus.”

    Twin beams flared to life, projected from Namsen’s two navigational deflectors located on the craft’s engine pylons. They lanced ahead of the runabout and intersected some five kilometers away where a swirling aperture began to form.

    “Impulssse enginesss coming online,” Ressessk noted with concern.

    “Cybel?” Raffaele urged. “I really don’t want to go in there!”

    The android drew her hand back from the console in alarm. “No choice I’m afraid. I just tried an emergency shut down of the computer core, but we’ve been locked out.”

    The Namsen thrust ahead, pierced the veil, and vanished.

    * * *​
    Last edited: May 20, 2017
    CeJay likes this.
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    And down the rabbit hole we go. I wonder if Europa is on the other side? If so, somebody will have some 'splaining to do. I don't like the runabout's chances if its a hostile force waiting for them on the other end instead.

    The continued character work is outstanding, from Izawa's seemingly uncompromisable ethics to Raffaele's continued ... douchiness.
    Gibraltar likes this.