UT:TFV – Part IV – Solitary Frontier

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

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Another great flashback with a great twist in the end which shouldn't have come as a surprise and yet, thanks to splendid execution, I didn't see it coming.

    My feelings about Ramirez mirror Galen's. We simply don't know enough about her story yet to know for sure where we stand with her.

    Caelestis dilemma reminds me a bit of the creepy TNG episode where people just couldn't get any sleep. Not sure if the causes here are similar or not. Also noticed quite a few Deltans seem to be involved in this mystery. Of course that could be nothing more than coincidence and I might just be displaying some speciesism here. After all, a lot of humans are involved as well.
  2. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    This is a fascinating sequence of chapters. Hard to tell if these are merely dreams or something more. There's definitely a sinister vibe behind these "visits" to the old cruiser. On a positive note, I'm thinking Ramirez is on the level, at least for now.
  3. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Valhalla’s saucer-section remained outside the nebula with Izawa aboard, while the stardrive-section under Cybel’s command had entered the nebula to oversee the efforts to retrieve Caelestis’ crew from the clutches of nullspace.

    The saucer had continued to monitor the ship’s dwindling network of comms-relays as they began dropping offline one by one, doubtless falling victim to scavengers desperate for whatever refined metals they could locate.

    On the bridge, Raffaele glanced over his shoulder from the Ops station as an alert beeped at his console. “Commodore, we’re picking up a low-power subspace signal on a repeating cycle. It matches nothing in our admittedly limited LMC database, but it sounds like a distress call to me.”

    “Let’s hear it, Lieutenant,” Izawa ordered.

    The warbling cry sounded over the comms, a plaintive harmonic wail, distorted and nearly washed out at times by interference from a nearby pulsar.

    “Source?” the commodore asked.

    “Hard to pinpoint, sir, but it looks to be coming from somewhere in a star system some six-point-three light-years from our present location.”

    Izawa considered this, then weighed the safety of his detached crew against a cry for help from the unknown. Ultimately, it was no contest. They were Starfleet.

    “Ops, launch a message buoy to intercept the stardrive-section and inform them that we’re moving to investigate this distress call. We’ll also need a method of alerting them should we require assistance when we get there.”

    From the engineering station, the engineer replied, “I could fashion a low profile stealth buoy that can remain on station here. Should we send it a call for help, it would move into the nebula to the stardrive-section’s coordinates and deliver our message.”

    “Perfect, Chief, thank you.” Izawa looked to the ensign taking Beresha’s place at flight control. “Mister Silva, ETA to the source of that signal?”

    “Two days, three hours and eight minutes at the saucer’s maximum speed of warp eight, sir.”

    The Mark II Galaxy-class saucer section had warp nacelles built into the hull near the impulse engines, compact streamlined affairs that mirrored those of the Defiant-class. Due to their condensed nature, their top rated speed was only warp eight with no transwarp capability, but it remained a significant improvement on being limited to sub-light speeds.

    “Very well, we should get underway then. Make all necessary preparations and then execute a course to that system.”

    As the officers acknowledged their orders, Izawa stood slowly with the aid of his cane and moved with stately deliberation to his ready room. Once inside, he lowered himself gently into his chair behind the desk and called out, “York, please bring Captain Abrahamson to my ready room.”

    Moments later his door chimed, and after he’d granted admission, Cybel walked in leading Abrahamson. The captain was now wearing a contemporary Starfleet uniform, though it was apparent he still wasn’t completely comfortable with the new look.

    Izawa invited him to take a seat, then acknowledged Cybel with a nod. “Any updates, Commander?”

    “Captain Ramirez has passed muster with both our Vulcan and Betazoid specialists, sir.”

    Abrahamson quirked a curious eyebrow. “How many captains do you have aboard, Commodore?”

    “It’s a growing collection to be sure, but at the moment you’re one of only two,” Izawa responded with good humor. To Cybel he said, “Let’s upgrade her accommodations to guest quarters with strict controls on her computer access and security personnel posted.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    Abrahamson’s curiosity was piqued, but this was not his ship and the matter was none of his concern.

    “Thank you, York. That will be all.”

    The holographic Cybel vanished, causing Abrahamson to start.

    Izawa winced with sudden realization. “My apologies, Captain. That version of Commander Cybel is a holographic simulacrum. Her avatar is presently commanding the stardrive-section and overseeing our efforts to revive your crew.”

    “Her… avatar?” Abrahamson was clearly lost.

    “Has no one explained this?” Izawa was surprised, and a bit embarrassed. However, he realized that all this had become the norm for his crew, and as such, had likely slipped their minds.

    “Cybel is an artificial life form. She exists both as the computer core of this ship, and also as a self-contained android.”

    Abrahamson’s eyes widened as he drank this in. “Your exec is the ship’s computer, and an android?”


    “Is this standard practice now?”

    “No,” Izawa said with a smile. “This is the first time it has been allowed. The same restrictions that were in place in your day still exist to prevent something like the M-5 disaster from recurring. Cybel is a very special case, one worthy of bending those restrictions.”

    Abrahamson nodded distractedly, seeming preoccupied by another matter. “Sir, speaking of my own time, if you’re able to free my crew and Caelestis, will we be given the opportunity to return to the 23rd century after we've arrived back in the Milky Way?”

    The question caught Izawa off guard. “I’m not— how would you even go about that, Captain?”

    “It’s been done before, sir. Warp-assisted slingshot around a medium-sized star. With precise enough calculations, we could return at nearly the instant we left.”

    Izawa’s expression grew tight with empathy and regret in equal measures. “I’m so very sorry, Captain, but during the intervening decades the Federation has adopted a Temporal Prime Directive that prevents us from interfering with our timeline. Caelestis’ disappearance is an established historical fact, one that must remain so. Were you to return, you would now have knowledge of the future that could alter our history. In fact, your return to the past would create an entirely new timeline, sending ripples throughout history that could have significant unforeseen consequences.” He steepled his hands atop his desk, directing his most sympathetic expression towards the other man. “I’m afraid you and your people will have to make new lives for yourselves in the 24th century.”

    “I… I see, sir.” Abrahamson struggled to maintain his composure, all the while twisting his wedding band on his finger in an unconscious gesture that was impossible for Izawa to miss.

    “You’ve been meeting with our ship’s counselor, Captain?”

    “Yes,” Abrahamson murmured thickly, his eyes glistening.

    “I would like you to continue doing so. Such services will also be afforded your crew, should we prove able to revive them as well. I cannot imagine what this must be like for you, and you have my every sympathy. That said, it’s important that you know such events have happened before, other starships that have been temporally displaced. We have protocols for such eventualities, and I’m happy to report those personnel have gone on to lead active, productive lives in this century, many of them choosing to return to Starfleet service.”

    “That’s good to hear,” Abrahamson answered numbly, staring off into space somewhere over Izawa’s shoulder for a long moment before pulling himself back from his reverie. “I’m sorry, Commodore. It’s just that it wasn’t real to me until this moment. I’d been holding out hope that we might return to the 23rd, and now that potential is beyond reach, I realize that I’ll never see my wife or children again.”

    Izawa nodded somberly. “You have full access to our historical records, Captain. You can research what happened to your family after your disappearance. There is every possibility that your children may yet live. I myself was born only a year after Caelestis vanished. Perhaps that might give you some solace.”

    “Yes, thank you, sir.” Abrahamson answered. He seemed on the cusp of saying something further, but appeared to change his mind. “If there’s nothing further, Commodore?”

    “No, Captain. Thank you for meeting with me.”

    * * *​

    A little over two days later, Vallhalla’s saucer-section dropped out of warp at the far edge of the system where the distress call was believed to have originated.

    The ship stood to yellow alert as the senior staff set about scanning the system for the source of the transmission.

    Raffaele studied the sensor returns as he advised, “It’s an attack on a colony site from an orbiting vessel. I see signs of an orbital bombardment that wiped out the colony’s primary weapons array, and now it appears there’s a surface attack underway. Assault craft are debarking soldiers that are advancing on the colony’s outskirts.”

    “Colony population?” Izawa asked.

    “A little over fifty-seven thousand, sir,” Raffaele replied coolly.

    “Are the aggressors and defenders of the same species?” Izawa inquired, ticking the well-worn boxes in his mental Prime Directive checklist.

    “Negative, sir. The colonists are a quadrupedal species, roughly analogous to Terran horses with arm-like appenda—“

    “Centaurs?” the ensign at flight control blurted, his amazement briefly short-circuiting his attendance to protocol. “They’re basically centaurs?”

    Raffaele chuckled in response. “Yes, I suppose in a way they are.”

    Izawa silenced Ensign Fournier with a withering look before turning his attention back to Raffele. Fournier apologized meekly as he blushed fiercely.

    Picking up where he’d left off, Raffale offered, “The aggressors are a quasi-insectoid species, which come in assorted sizes. They have roughly humanoid-sized versions, and then larger ones, something like armored beetles the size of shuttlepods. With all their portable weaponry, the big ones are acting more like biological tanks than foot soldiers. Thankfully, their size seems to be limiting the number of troops they’re able to bring down on each transport sortie.”

    “Has there been any detectable response to the colony’s distress signal?”

    “No, sir. However, there are several satellites at the edge of the system that are consistent with the constituent materials of the aggressor warship. The satellites are generating a communications scrambling field that may be preventing the colony’s signal getting out to the coreward-relative sectors beyond here.”

    “So they’re jamming the colony’s call for help in the most likely direction that help might come from?”

    “Precisely, sir,” Raffaele confirmed.

    “And yet they were unconcerned with the distress call broadcasting in our direction,” Izawa mused. “Any records of or references to either species in our LMC database?”

    “No, sir.”

    Izawa turned towards Ressessk. “Lieutenant, have Captain Ramirez escorted to the bridge, and get me a tactical workup on the aggressor ship.” He turned back to look at the science station along the starboard ramp leading to the upper level of the bridge. “Have the aggressors detected us yet?”

    Lieutenant Chen-Oo-Vuu, a graceful cephalopodan Tel’ukian stood in for Maddox at the science station. Its tentacles, encased within a fluid filled environment sleeve danced across the console interface. Its translator module issued, “Negative, sir. We’ve approached with the Tarantula Nebula behind us. Its electromagnetic emissions are screening us from detection, as is the accretion disk at the system’s edge.”

    “Very good,” Izawa assessed, limping back to sit in the command chair. “Helm, take us in at one-half impulse speed. Tactical, start warming up the weapons and defensive systems, but no formal activation until I give the order.”

    “Asssesssment complete, sssir,” Ressessk alerted the commodore. “They are armed with low yield torpedoesss, much like the firssst generation photonic warheadsss we fielded in the 22nd sssentury. However, they are alssso armed with what looksss to be poorly copied Romulan disssruptor banksss. Their ssshieldsss are comparatively low powered. Given our defensssive capabilitiesss, the warssship is little threat to usss.”

    Izawa stroked his closely cropped beard thoughtfully. “Again with the Romulan weapons systems. Their people appear to have made quite the impact on the LMC, at least from an armaments perspective.”

    “It would seem Romulan guns are all the rage, sir,” Raffaele agreed enthusiastically.

    Ramirez stepped onto the bridge, escorted by Cybel’s holographic form. The captain was dressed in a nondescript jumpsuit, bereft of rank insignia. Cybel led her down into the command area, offering her the smaller jump-seat off to the left-hand side of the captain’s chair as she took her place in the XO’s seat to his right.

    “Ops, show us the aggressor warship,” Izawa instructed. An image of the angular, dark-colored vessel appeared on the viewer, bristling with weapons ports and drop-ship berths. The commodore gestured to the screen as he turned to Ramirez. “Do you recognize the vessel, Captain?”

    Ramirez frowned in response, nodding slowly. “Yes. They’re Kan-Uut slavers. Something akin to this region’s version of 23rd century Orions. They typically attack lightly defended outlying settlements and take the inhabitants as forced laborers. Some they sell to other species, some they keep as their own slave labor force. They implant them with ‘motivator-rigs’, devices that override a being’s free will should they refuse to work as commanded.”

    Izawa’s skin crawled with the injustice of the brazen attack, but he was far too experienced to lose his detached, professional composure. “Lieutenant Ressessk, begin preparing your security personnel for surface deployment. If they won’t leave at our request, we will attempt to incapacitate the Kan-Uut soldiers from orbit after disabling their ship. However, if there are any stragglers in too close a proximity to the colonists, we’ll need to intervene with ‘boots on the ground.’”

    Cybel leaned in to whisper, “Sir, the saucer-section lacks the offensive capabilities of the full ship. I’d recommend recalling the stardrive by subspace. Once they’re clear of the nebula, they can be here in minutes via transwarp. “

    Izawa turned to regard her. “That’s assuming their position within the nebula hasn’t changed. If the comms-buoy has difficulty locating the stardrive, we could be waiting hours or longer. Every minute we delay more of those colonists are killed or captured.”

    “Technically, sir,” Cybel answered calmly, “this could be considered a Prime Directive situation. We’d be interfering in a pre-existing relationship between these two species.”

    “Not applicable,” he countered. “They’re both warp capable space-faring peoples, and the colonists put out a distress call. They’re asking for help, and I can’t abide slavers.”

    Cybel shrugged lightly, gracing him with a smile. “Devil’s advocate, sir. I’m as eager as you to put a stop to this.”

    “Helm, increase speed to full impulse. Set an intercept course for the… “ he looked to Ramirez.

    “Kan-Uut,” she provided helpfully.

    “Thank you,” Izawa acknowledged. “Set an intercept course for the Kan-Uut ship and engage at full impulse. Red alert, shields up, activate phasers and torpedo systems.”

    The alert klaxons wailed briefly as the status indicators shifted to pulsing red.

    “Ops, hail them and tie in the Universal Translator.”

    Raffaele made some adjustments on his console. “We’re patched in, Commodore, but I have no idea how complete our interpretation will be. Even with Commander Cybel’s new dedicated translation core, we’re still hit-and-miss with the LMC’s exotic linguistics.”

    “If the translation is incomplete,” Izawa announced, “I’ll find other methods of communicating our intent.”

    “Channel open, sir.”

    “Kan-Uut vessel, this is the Federation starship Valhalla. You will immediately cease your attack on the inhabitants of the planet, or we will take steps to intervene.”

    “That got their attention,” Raffaele noted. “They’ve increased sensor intensity and are actively scanning, looking for us.”

    “I don’t intend to hide. Engage active targeting, Mister Ressessk.”

    “Aye, sssir.”

    “Kan-Uut vessel is now coming about to meet us head on, sir,” Raffaele advised. “They’re diverting power to their weapons and shields.”

    “How long until we’re within their weapons range?”

    “Seven minutes, Commodore.”

    Izawa toggled the comms channel open from his armrest interface. “Kan-Uut vessel, we do not wish to engage in hostilities, but we will not allow you to prey on the colonists on the surface. Withdraw your ground forces and leave this system and we will allow you to depart in peace.”

    Cybel cast an appraising glance at her mentor, having rarely seen him to be spoiling for a fight. He was the quintessential explorer-diplomat, a man utterly dedicated to upholding the Prime Directive. She leaned in towards him again, “Sir, is this about the capture of Ulysses and your internment on Stroellehm II?”

    His nod was so slight anyone else might have missed it. In a quiet voice, tinged with an undercurrent of steel, Izawa replied, “Just so. Twenty months in that hell hole, watching friends and colleagues tortured and worked to death.”

    “That was nearly fifty years ago, sir.”

    “And I can recall every sight, smell, and sound like it were yesterday. I can still feel the weight of Gul Iseol’s boot on my neck.”

    Cybel shifted into machine-time for a moment, so brief a time in the eyes of the humanoid crew that her inattention went unnoticed. She collated all the information from Europa and Caelestis’ logs, as well as in-depth interviews with Abrahamson conducted after his revival. “Sir, have you been dreaming about the camp on Stroellehm II recently?”

    “Yes,” Izawa murmured.

    “Commodore,” she continued in her hushed tone. “Do you think that those dreams may be affecting your reaction to this situation?

    “Almost certainly,” he replied with icy conviction.

    “Doesn’t that present a problem for you, sir?”

    “Not at this moment, no.” He turned a serene gaze on her. “York, you know of my love of the Federation’s ideals and for the tenants of the Prime Directive. I’m sworn to uphold the honor of both. By our own laws and regulations, this situation allows us the latitude to intervene. I will not sit idly by while innocents are crushed under the slavers’ yolk.”

    “Yes, sir,” she answered, falling silent.

    "Say," Ramirez chirped from Izawa's left as she settled back into her seat, "I don't suppose you have any popcorn? I love a good fight."

    * * *​
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2017
    CeJay, Galen4 and TheLoneRedshirt like this.
  4. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Ah, those insectoid races...I tell you, you just can't trust 'em. Bunch of war mongers is what I say.
    Seriously, another notch up here on the tension scale with Vallhalla's crew already into dickens. Here's hoping they don't get pulled into a "Starship Troopers" clustermug before the day is out.

    And Ramirez...she's suddenly very flip. Is this just her old dry wit resurfacing, or is she playing everyone?
    I don't trust her yet.

    Great stuff. All's well that obviously won't end well! :)
    Gibraltar likes this.
  5. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    May 22, 2007
    Here and now.
    I hope the Commodore isn't being over-confident in engaging these insectoid slavers. The dreams seemed to have pushed him to throw caution to the wind. Cybel's counsel to wait on the star drive section is sound, especially considering there's no available back-up otherwise (unless Europa were to make a surprise appearance.)
    As to Ramirez, I think she is playing straight, but I wonder if a relapse into her psycho-self is a possibility?
    Gibraltar likes this.
  6. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Great, fast paced storytelling here as we get pulled into yet another unfolding crisis. No rest for the wicked.

    First, Abrahamson is experiencing that same regret and likely feeling of powerlessness that other time displaced people before him have no doubt experienced. That counselor will have to work overtime or this could become a real issue down the road.

    Ishikawa in the meantime has his own dilemma to ponder. Well, it's clearly not much of a choice for him, his experiences and his compassion force him into action. It seems like the right thing to do, but then again, the road to hell and all that.

    Ramirez's unexpected remark made me giggle and brought some levity to a tense situation. All I have to say about our favorite traitor is: Watch this space. Carefully.
    Gibraltar likes this.
  7. Dulak

    Dulak Commander Red Shirt

    Jul 6, 2007
    Pacific NW
    Oh, why do I see things getting so much worse before they get better. I hate creepy space haunting energy beings that dress in clown suits.

    At least there is Sybil... Oops, I mean Cybil to save the day in case everyone is disabled, because Gibralter would never be so wicked as to actually use (My favorite Cybil line so far!) the "So I don't go all M-5" as an actual foreshadow. Or have the two versions get into a confrontation with each other when one of them is compromised. At least we have that.

    Oh, and I like the new crew and the dynamic they are developing. Good start for a new series (if they survive long enough), and a lost 23rd century starship in the mix. Like candy, although perhaps poison candy in the end with that mystery on top of the normal mission.
    Gibraltar likes this.
  8. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Apologies for my long absence. My muse decided to take about four months off, but has now returned. We'll pick up right where we left off...
  9. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    “Commodore, we’re receiving a response from the Kan-Uut ship, audio only. They’re broadcasting to us in the clear and utilizing Fed-Standard linga-code.”

    Izawa’s surprise at this turn was evident as he called out, “Let’s hear it.”

    “Federation vessel, we are conducting a level one harvest as agreed upon in the Pact of Duur’l. As a signatory to that treaty, you have agreed not to interfere in this process. Explain yourselves.”

    Izawa turned to cast a confused expression on Ramirez. She shook her head in response, “No idea.”

    “Sir,” Cybel interjected. “I recommend asking who, specifically, agreed to this pact they reference.”

    Izawa inclined his head decisively, toggling an armrest control to open the channel. “Kan-Uut vessel, I demand to know the identity of the Federation representative who served as signatory to this pact you speak of.”

    “The Federation’s agreement was sealed by Captain Zeischt of the starship Europa.”

    An appreciative whistle emitted from the Ops station, causing Izawa to glare in Raffaele’s direction. “That fellow really is a fly in our ointment, sir.”

    Izawa grunted in grudging agreement, forced to concede the point. He turned to Cybel, “This complicates matters.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Izawa’s deep, furrowed frown seemed to have been carved from stone. “Regardless, an Amon warrior who’s gone AWOL from Starfleet has no right to sign a treaty on behalf of the Federation.” He sat a little straighter in the command chair. “Maintain course and speed. Enhance forward shields to one-hundred twenty percent of rated output and lock weapons on that Kan-Uut vessel.”

    Cybel leaned in and whispered, “Commodore, there’s obviously a great deal happening here that we’re not yet privy to. I strongly recommend we assume a less aggressive posture and talk to the Kan-Uut. If the Federation is signatory to an agreement, authorized or not, we might destabilize an already delicate situation unwittingly if we simply go in phasers firing.”

    Izawa appeared to ignore Cybel’s counsel and toggled the comms again. “Kan-Uut vessel, this Zeischt individual has no authority to negotiate any agreements on behalf of the United Federation of Planets. As such, any accord you believe the Federation is signatory to that would allow for your present actions against that colony are null and void. You will cease your attack immediately, or we will intervene with whatever force is necessary to repel your incursion.”

    The Kan-Uut response was immediate.

    “Federation vessel, our work here is authorized and necessary under a ratified interstellar agreement. If you interfere, you will be fired upon. Do not approach this planet. This will be your only warning.”

    “Sir,” Cybel pleaded in her most reasonable tone. “This course of action is ill advised. Please reconsider.”

    “Stand down, Commander,” he replied frostily. “Your objections have been noted.”

    She sat back in her chair, dreading what she felt to be a potentially catastrophic turn of events. Cybel feared Izawa had been compromised in some way, but she had no concrete proof. If she’d had actionable evidence, Cybel knew that she could stop what was to come by simply taking full control of the ship and locking out every console aboard. Even the supposed ‘kill-switch’ authorization Starfleet Engineering had provided Izawa and Maddox with could be overcome with ease. She had the power to stop him, but she would not. Cybel was a Starfleet officer, and come what may, she would uphold the chain-of-command and follow Izawa’s orders.

    Ramirez sat silently in the jump-seat to Izawa’s left, observing the interactions of the crew. It was clear to her that this was an unusual turn of events, but the officers seemed to accept it and were carrying out their duties professionally. As for Izawa and Cybel, Ramirez had encountered her own disagreements with her captains while serving as an XO. However, she’d never had the resources at Cybel’s disposal, either. Ramirez wondered idly if she’d had been in possession of such authorities at Velkohn if she might have prevented the tragic circumstances leading to her supposed death.

    Valhalla’s saucer-section proceeded into the system, approaching the planet as the Kan-Uut vessel moved to intercept.

    “Kan-Uut vesssel hasss now entered our weaponsss range,” Ressessk announced from Tactical.

    Izawa tapped a series of commands into his armrest interface. “I’m sending you targeting priorities, Lieutenant. Have the Kan-Uut on the planet stood down?”

    “No, sssir. The attack on the colony is ssstill underway.”

    “Very well. Lock onto those target areas and fire.”

    The opening volley from Valhalla’s saucer consisted of eight photon torpedoes, strategically targeted to overwhelm the shields of the oncoming Kan-Uut slaver ship. Follow on blasts of pin-point phaser energy systematically crippled the vessel’s weapons and engines, leaving it drifting with fluctuating power.

    The saucer bypassed the drifting ship and maneuvered into a lower orbit where Ressessk targeted the Kan-Uut surface assault force with tempered stun discharges, leaving hundreds of the invading insectoids unconscious.

    Ressessk looked up from her station, fixing her reptilian gaze on Izawa. “I’ve ssstunned all thossse I can from orbit. Their other asssault teamsss are inssside the colony now. Any further orbital intervention will endanger the colonissstsss.”

    Izawa nodded toward Cybel. “Commander, take a heavily-armed tactical team down to secure the colony site and neutralize the remaining Kan-Uut soldiers.”

    Cybel stood. “Aye, sir.” She knew her cautionary arguments to the contrary had been heard and overruled, and would now lead the away mission to the best of her ability, despite her reservations with Izawa’s decision-making process.

    “Ressessk, have all available security personnel and any remaining crew with actual close-quarters combat experience report to the transporter rooms. Our first wave will consist of tactical drones in order to secure our beam-in site. All teams will transport in tactical formation with weapons at the ready, set for stun.” Cybel turned to Ops. “Mister Raffaele, join us,”

    Cybel looked to the tactical officer who had relieved Ressessk. “Mister Arumbe, try to raise the colony and alert them to our presence. Let them know we’re here to help so they won’t start shooting at us in addition to the Kan-Uut.”

    A flurry of confirmations echoed her orders as Cybel, Ressessk, and Raffaele moved to the turbolift.

    “York,” Izawa offered by way of farewell. itte rashai.” The traditional Japanese phrase, typically used when a family member departed the home, meant simply, ‘go and come back.’

    A moment before the turbolift doors swished shut, Cybel managed a smile more confident than she felt and replied, “Arigatō, Komodōru.”

    * * *​

    Inhatuus of the Peacekeeper Clan cradled his gas-propelled rifle as he quickly and expertly loaded a fresh magazine of explosive bullets into the weapon. Lowering himself on his front set of legs, he hazarded a darting glance around the corner of the herd-house he was using for cover, trying to spot any of the advancing Kan-Uut.

    The slavers’ attack had been blunted after the first few days by what appeared to be greenish lightning arcing from the sky. Inhatuus knew this had been some kind of weapons fire directed from orbit, but it was unlike any armaments his people used aboard their spacecraft. The predominant theory among those coordinating the colony’s defense was that someone or something had intervened in the attack, and had even attempted to communicate with them in a horrible, pidgin dialect of their language.

    Whoever it was, their help had come at the right time. The Caezieg colony had been a gamble from the beginning, three generations earlier. Their people had overpopulated the world that spawned them, and they had utilized primitive light-speed colony ships and cryogenic systems with a nearly fifty percent fatality rate in order to found this and a handful of other settlements in nearby systems.

    Even now, after the advent of faster-than-light drives, communication between Caezieg colonies was sporadic, and trade nearly non-existent. Calling for help had seemed an exercise in futility, but against all odds, it seemed someone had answered their plea.

    Inhatuus hoped the intervention was not too little, too late.

    * * *​

    The strike teams knew they’d be beaming into a chaotic environment, but even holographic images sent aboard by the advance tactical drones couldn’t adequately convey the visceral horror of the scene.

    The native species’ buildings were low, bulbous, organic looking structures between one and four stories in height. Some of these were burning fiercely, adding to the fog-like veil of smoke created by smashed ground vehicles and other combustible objects ignited by the fighting.

    Dozens of bodies littered the park-like area they’d set down in, precious few of them belonging to the Kan-Uut. Their presence was briefly visible through the drifting pall of smoke. At first glance, the bodies appeared horse-like, with long four-legged torsos. However, closer inspection revealed a second, smaller torso situated above the first, this one possessing two arm-like appendages. Rather than a human-like head, which would have completed the illusion of the mythical Terran centaur, the creatures possessed a thick, oval shaped head supporting a wide mouth and a single milky-white vision strip that stretched a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees across their broad faces.

    The organic nature of the buildings gave a putrid tinge to the cloying smoke, adding to the fetid vapors from bodies left to decompose during the past two days of intense fighting in high temperatures. Nearly all the Starfleet personnel save Cybel and Ressessk reacted instinctively by recoiling from the stench or momentarily trying to cover their noses upon materializing.

    “Well,” Raffaele gasped, fighting the urge to gag. “That’s a new kind of awful.”

    “Breathers on if you need to,” Cybel barked, scanning the vicinity through the scope of her phaser rifle.

    “Clear,” Ressessk announced, having completed a scan of her own while downloading telemetry from the tactical drones that had already scoured this area and moved on.

    Some of the team members donned their rebreather masks to keep out the surrounding miasma while Ressessk wiped absently at her mouth, her chin glistening.

    Raffaele shot her a disbelieving look. “Dear God, are you salivating?”

    The reptilian lieutenant offered a sheepish, “Sssorry. Biology.”

    “And that’s—” Raffaele tore away his mask and voided the contents of his stomach. He knelt in the grass, breathing heavily and struggling to regain his composure.

    Cybel moved past him, giving Ressessk an appreciative look. “You’ve actually shut him up. Kudos.”

    She turned back to address the twenty-three others. “Groups of six. Those of you that have been assigned as team leaders, raise your hands.” As the gaggle divided into smaller teams, Cybel continued. “We’ll move out independently toward the objectives I’ve pre-established on your tricorders. We’ll be engaging the largest remaining groups of Kan-Uut still inside the colony. If you get in over your heads, don’t be afraid to call for assistance. We have orbital over-watch, so if circumstances are favorable, you can call down a limited stun-strike from Valhalla. Remember that such strikes can accidently injure or kill the locals, so be certain you actually need them before calling in a strike.”

    With that, the four six-person teams moved out, rifles at the ready and directing tactical drones ahead of them to scout for hostiles.

    * * *​

    One by one, the members of Cybel’s tactical team sprinted across an exposed roadway to the concealment provided by a rock retaining wall at the edge of an elegantly stepped civic garden. The other members of the team provided cover as their fellows made the dash across the broad avenue.

    As he looked through the scope of his rifle towards the next intersection some hundred meters distant, Raffaele muttered to Cybel, “Care to explain why I’m not leading my own team, Commander?”

    Cybel tapped briefly at the mobile holographic emitter on her left upper arm, firming up her imaging solidity to offset the minute distortions caused by the heavy atmospheric contaminants. “You’ve never seen real surface combat, Rafe. In my estimation, in such a dynamic environment you still need adult supervision.”

    “We’re dirtside because Izawa’s gone battle-happy, and I’m the one who needs supervision?” Raffaele asked incredulously.

    The XO’s rifle snapped as she sent a stun pulse down range that blasted a humanoid Kan-Uut raider off its feet some seventy meters distant after it wandered out of a bank of concealing smoke. “We’re not having this conversation, and most certainly not here and now. Mind your sector, Lieutenant.”

    Raffaele harrumphed in exaggerated indignation before noting, “Awful lot of bodies for a slaving raid, wouldn’t you say?”

    “I was just thinking the same thing,” Cybel confirmed. “The Kan-Uut are either really terrible slavers, or this operation went very wrong for them.”

    “Our tactical assessment of their ship indicated that they have weapons cable of stunning from orbit. Why not simply knock out the whole colony and collect them at their leisure? What’s the point of a surface assault that endangers your own crew and significantly reduces the number of slaves captured?”

    “Excellent questions,” she agreed. “It could be cultural, like the Klingons’ affinity for personal combat when they could otherwise simply destroy a surface target from orbit.”

    “And we aren’t doing something to investigate these inconsistencies… why?” Raffaele asked pointedly.

    “Not our assigned mission and you know it. Focus on the task at hand.”

    “So, play dumb and just follow orders?” he pressed.

    She turned to favor him with a patient expression. “Take off your intel analyst cap and put on your soldier cap. You’re going to get people killed otherwise, and one of them might be you.”

    * * *​

    Lieutenant Chen-Oo-Vuu at the Science station called out, “Commodore, I’ve acquired sporadic sensor contact with multiple transient objects in orbit.”

    “Identify,” Izawa ordered.

    “I’m unable to, sir,” Chen-Oo-Vuu replied. “Contact with the objects is intermittent, and I’m unable to lock onto a specific set of coordinates.”

    “Explain,” Izawa barked testily.

    “The objects appear to exist in a minute dimensional offset from ours, Commodore, and are only partially extruding into our dimensional plane.” The octopus-like science officer referenced his console. “What little we can glean from the intermittent contacts indicates a strong likelihood that the objects may be Amon orbital energy siphons.”

    Cybel leaned in towards Izawa again. “Running afoul of the Amon without the additional strength and resources of the stardrive-section is highly problematic, sir.”

    Izawa acknowledged her statement with a minute nod. “Yes, Commander. I’d agree. However, that is not an option open to us at the moment.”

    A klaxon sounded and an instant later the officer at Ops blurted, “Proximity alert, sir! New sensor contact one-hundred kilometers distance at bearing two-four-eight, mark—”

    “Was it cloaked?” someone blurted, cutting the report short.

    The deck lurched as Valhalla’s saucer was struck by something, causing the bridge lighting to flicker for a brief second.

    “Weapons impact on aft shields,” the engineer announced from his station. “Unknown warhead, but an impressive explosive yield. Shields holding at seventy-eight percent, and we’ve got minor hull damage to our port-aft quarter.”

    Chen-Oo-Vuu picked up where Ops had left off, “Object is an unidentified ship, unknown class, measuring one-hundred twenty meters in length and—”

    “They’re firing again!” Tactical shouted.

    Cybel looked to Izawa for orders, but the older man seemed momentarily stunned by the rapid pace of events.

    “Route auxiliary power to shields,” the XO instructed. “Helm, engage evasive pattern Sierra-Seven; Tactical, acquire targeting solutions on that ship and open fire with phasers and quantum torpedoes.” She could have done this all far faster than the humanoid crew could process and execute her orders, but to do so would have undermined their presence aboard.

    A brace of missile-like projectiles scythed towards Valhalla, only to vanish an instant before impacting the starship’s shield bubble.

    “Science, where did those—”

    Detonations wracked the saucer, the sounds of explosions and rending metal so cacophonous as to momentarily drown out all other sounds. The inbound missiles that had disappeared had just as suddenly reappeared inside the ship, the full might of their explosive potential delivered to the saucer’s interior.

    Bridge consoles sizzled or winked out, the lighting died and was replaced by blood-red emergency lighting, the gravity fluctuated alarmingly, and both Cybel and the engineer blurred and vanished.

    Ramirez found herself laying face down on the deck and pushed herself up to clamber awkwardly to her feet. Izawa himself lay prone on the deck, crumpled in an unmoving heap. She leaned down and searched for a pulse at his neck, finding one that was surprisingly strong and steady. Looking around, Ramirez found only a handful of junior officers struggling back to their stations, while others remain prostrate near their abandoned posts.

    ‘Warning,’ the computer cried, ‘multiple internal hull breaches, decks three through eleven. Emergency forcefields and bulkheads in place. Multiple internal fires, decks four through thirteen.’

    Ramirez waited a full five seconds for someone, anyone to assume command. Nobody did. She felt a surge of disappointment well up within her. As an ambitious junior officer, she’d have practically killed at the chance to assume command in a crisis. It was the stuff ensigns dreamed of, right up until it actually happened, apparently. Old habits die hard, she thought wryly as she seated herself in the command chair. “Status report, all stations,” she ordered in a surprisingly calm voice.

    A litany of woe was the reply from multiple shaken crew; a cascade of failed systems, casualties, and damage control issues. Ramirez acknowledged the status reports and then ordered the static-filled main viewer restored. “All available power to the impulse engines. Helm, bring us around and exit the system at maximum impulse. Tactical, continue fire with whatever we have left, targeting their sensors and any incoming ordinance. Someone reconfigure a station for communications and send an encoded message to our surface teams telling them what’s happened and that we have to withdraw.”

    “What about beaming back our away teams?” inquired the junior lieutenant at the Ops station.

    “We can’t risk lowering the shields to beam them up, and I doubt we’d have the transporter power to do it even then. We need to reunite with the stardrive, effect repairs, and then we’ll come back for them.” She raised her hands in a gesture to encompass the ruined bridge, “Unless you’d like to take command of this shit show and grace us with your grand plan, Lieutenant?”

    “No… no, sir,” he blanched.

    “Then execute my orders, and let’s get the hell out of here.”

    * * *​
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2017
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  10. Count Zero

    Count Zero No nation but procrastination Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    Ramirez back in command. This will be either pretty awesome or end horribly.
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  11. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Fascinating. Ramirez taking the initiative. I could see this as an opportunity for her to return to Starfleet.
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    First things first, great to have you back writing this thrilling roller-coaster ride of a story. It's been too long.

    And you pick things up with one hell of a bang.

    My first note is to Izawa: If Cybel thinks you're on the wrong track and spouts multiple warnings, guess what? You're probably on the wrong track. In Izawa's defense, clearly something is going on with the good Commodore, and I can see his bigger point. This attack is seemingly terrible and morally wrong, and Zeischt has no business making deals on behalf of the Federation, but there is something to be said about trying to gather intelligence and getting the lay of the land before rushing head-first into a major combat engagement.

    Oh well, it's where we're at now. And, surprise, surprise, it all goes horribly wrong.

    Now we've got an assault team on the planet, separated and with no orbital support, a powerful and undetermined enemy for whom shields and starship hulls are merely a minor inconvenience, and worst of all, disgraced and formerly dead Ramirez back in command.

    Let the good times roll!
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  13. Tribble puncher

    Tribble puncher Captain Captain

    Jan 17, 2012
    Somewhere witty
    And this is why a ship's A.I. might not be the best choice for first officer......
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  14. Dulak

    Dulak Commander Red Shirt

    Jul 6, 2007
    Pacific NW
    I'm trying frantically to catch up on all the backstory with TFV, but I can't stop reading the new stuff when it comes out. You have always been good at throwing crews in over their heads and watching them squirm. This is turning into a really big squirm!
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  15. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    I think the CO made a bad call on this one, which I suppose is stating the obvious. You can't deter a hostile force with threats, especially when it's likely that they have superior weapons. It would have been better to attempt to buy the colonists some time, or broker a cease-fire to perform an EVAC.

    Now we have Ramirez back in the center seat, so far making grounded decisions.

    The danger is...will she use this crisis to seek redemption? That could lead to a new host of bad decisions.
    And good luck to the landing party as they're now on their own.

    Lotsu fun all the way around here!
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  16. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Valhalla’s saucer was hidden within the ice rings of a gas giant in the outskirts of the colony planet’s star system, and Ramirez had called a brief staff meeting to assess the ship’s situation. Nobody was seated; all three of them stood where they could see the cutaway diagram of the saucer displayed on the wall-mounted monitor screen, awaiting the arrival of the senior engineering officer onboard.

    Lieutenant junior-grade Pradesh fairly staggered into the observation lounge, his uniform smudged and torn, looking disheveled and distracted. He looked to Lieutenant Arumbe, clearly assuming he was the ranking officer present. “I’m really very busy, sir, so if we could keep this brief…”

    “We will,” Ramirez answered, causing Pradesh to frown in confusion.

    “Wait,” Pradesh looked between Arumbe and Ramirez, “you’re kidding me, how is she in charge?”

    “No one else stepped up, Lieutenant,” Ramirez answered simply. “I took the conn and got us away from the planet. I’m more than happy to relinquish command to the ranking officer, provided they’re willing and capable of assuming that responsibility.”

    Pradesh gave Arumbe a sharp look. Arumbe held his gaze for a fleeting moment before looking away. “I… can’t, not right now. Besides, I’m needed at Tactical.”

    Pradesh threw up his hands, “Well, with our engineer offline and the assistant chief of the department back on the stardrive, I’m acting chief of engineering. I certainly can’t do it.” He looked to Chen-Oo-Vuu.

    The octopus-like Tel’ukian Lieutenant Chen-Oo-Vuu waved a colorful tentacle in deference. “I’m Sciences, not command, Mister Pradesh. I’ve haven’t the background, nor the desire.”

    “She abducted and murdered Admiral Jellico!” Pradesh practically yelled in protest.

    “I was under the influence of alien mental reprogramming,” Ramirez countered. “I can only ask you to believe that. I served under Jellico on the Cairo as a junior officer, and respected him greatly. Besides, if my goal was to destroy the ship, I’d have kept us in orbit and tried to slug it out with the warship that crippled us.”

    The engineering officer threw up his arms in a gesture of utter exasperation. “This is insane!

    “If it makes any of you feel any better, my Starfleet commission is still technically active,” Ramirez noted. “I’m willing to retain command until the commodore recovers or Commander Cybel can be reactivated, but only if you’re all in agreement.”

    Pradesh gestured hotly to Arumbe. "I may be willing to accept her standing in as the CO, but not with access to command-level security codes. All her orders must be routed through us as the senior staff as a fail-safe against any treachery."

    "Under the circumstances, that seems very reasonable," Ramirez offered.

    A moment of silence passed between the junior officers before two reluctant nods and a tentacle wriggle of assent settled the matter.

    “Okay, now, Mister Pradesh, how the hell are we still alive? The warhead yields on those weapons should have been more than sufficient to vaporize the saucer.”

    Pradesh inclined his head, and tapped at the LCARS interface on the table top, calling a holographic image of the saucer into being above the table. Four shimmering icons representing the explosions aboard ship appeared and were immediately engulfed in bubbles of energy.

    “The ship erected level-twelve containment fields around each of those warheads less than a thirtieth of a second after they materialized inside the ship.”

    “The ship? Cybel, you mean?”

    “Yes… sir,” Pradesh forced himself to affix the appropriate honorific to the end of his response, despite his reservations. “If she hadn’t, there’d be a cloud of debris orbiting the planet and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    Ramirez nodded as she absorbed the revelation. “We’ve already sent a signal to the comms buoy outside the nebula, so the stardrive should be receiving our distress call shortly. However, we need to proceed as though help isn’t on the way, and that means effecting what repairs we can and restoring warp-drive.”

    “What about the Kan-Uut, sir?” Arumbe asked. “They had to have seen us take shelter in these rings. Won’t we be sitting ducks if we stay here much longer?”

    “I don’t think they’re coming after us, not right away, anyhow,” Ramirez said. “We were within their weapons range for another ten minutes after I ordered our withdrawal from orbit. A second volley of those missiles would have finished us off easily, but they deliberately exercised restraint. It appears that after neutralizing the threat we posed, they were content to allow us to retreat.”

    “Our casualties—” Chen-Oo-Vuu began.

    Ramirez silenced him with a raised hand. “I hate to sound callous, Lieutenant, but the only casualties I’m concerned with at this moment are the commodore and the XO. I’ll get an update from Sickbay following this meeting. I want you working on how we might go about erecting some kind of defense against those disappearing torpedoes of theirs.

    “Mister Pradesh, get back on repairs. Our priorities are getting our weapons systems fully repaired and restoring the warp-drive. Shields are secondary unless or until we figure out how to defeat their torpedoes.”

    She gestured to Arumbe. “Your name again?”

    “Arumbe… uh, sir.”

    “Fine, Mister Arumbe. ‘Sir’ will be sufficient for the time being. I want you to deploy some stealth-coated Class-1 probes outside the ring that can warn us of any approaching vessels, friendly or otherwise. Starfleet does still have Class-1 probes, don’t we?”

    Arumbe actually cracked a smile. “We do, sir.”

    “Excellent. You all have your orders, please see to them.”

    The others filed out and Ramirez opened a comm channel to Sickbay. “Ramirez to CMO, status on the commodore?”

    “Who’s this again?” a disembodied voice with a crisp English accent replied.

    “Captain Liana Ramirez. I’m a… guest onboard. I took temporary command when the commodore was injured and your XO went offline. Are you okay with that, Doctor…?”

    “Doctor Abdel-Nour, and yes, I’m fine with it. I’m just glad somebody stepped up and took charge. I thought having the XO be an AI was a daft idea in the first place, and you can quote me on that. I’ve placed Commodore Izawa in an induced coma due to a significant subdural hematoma. I’ve pumped him full of medical nanites that are correcting the damage, but it’s slow, delicate work.”

    “Thank you, Doctor. What would you estimate might be the soonest he might recover sufficiently to resume his duties?”

    “I wouldn’t hazard a guess, Captain. The commodore has some pre-existing neurological damage from his time as a guest of the Cardassians earlier in his career. It’s made repairs significantly more precarious than they’d otherwise be.”

    “Understood. How are our other casualties?”

    “So far we’ve recorded twenty-seven fatalities, and one-hundred eighty three injuries, fifty-seven of them critical. It’s bad, but it could have been far worse. However, with over half our medical staff aboard the stardrive, I’m hurting for trained medical personnel. Any chance of prioritizing repairs to the EMH?”

    “I’ll tell Engineering to put the EMH repairs ahead of the chief engineer and the XO, Doctor.”

    “Much obliged, Captain. Sickbay, out.”

    Ramirez took a long moment to stare out the viewports of the observation lounge, feeling a slightly out-of-body sensation. This situation was almost more surreal than her dreams of serving aboard the Caelestis while inhabiting another officer’s body.

    She touched her hand to the viewport, desperate for its material reassurance. What were the odds that out here in another galaxy she’d have been the opportunity to do what she did best, even if only for a brief time? Her mind fixed on her failure to save the USS Phoenix at Lakesh, and her sacrificing herself to save the away team at Velkohn. In her experience, both triumph and failure often ended in death.

    After all she’d been subject to, it was unsettling for Ramirez to suddenly discover that she still cared, not only for the lives entrusted to her command, but for her own as well.

    “Oh, Liana, what have you gotten yourself into?” she murmured.

    * * *​
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Assuming command by committee? There's a novel concept for Starfleet.

    I'm still not sure yet if I should jump on the Ramirez bandwagon or not. I still feel like she may let us all down before this thing is out, but - oh, hell, she sure is a lot of fun to have around.

    Looking forward to seeing how things will eventually get worse.
  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    First Officer’s Log, Supplemental –

    Those of us aboard Valhalla’s stardrive section continue our rescue and recovery operations for the crew of the marooned starship Caelestis. The dimensional bubble which has entrapped Caelestis like an insect in amber grows increasingly unstable, almost certainly a result of our shuttles and probes transitioning into and out of the phenomenon.

    My inadvertent freeing of Captain Abrahamson from the grip of whatever temporal stasis fields are in play here appears to have been a stroke of improbable luck. It has proven far more difficult and time-consuming to free each subsequent crew member. Our rescue teams have had to isolate the particular phaser frequency which will destabilize the stasis envelope surrounding them, a painstaking process that increasingly takes hours to complete as the regional instability grows.

    Meanwhile, the incorporeal phantom that previously tormented Caelestis’ crew has turned its attentions on us. Though I realize it sounds ridiculous to admit that one’s crew is being overwhelmed by something that generates bad dreams, these nightmares have consequences in the waking world. Crew members shuffle to and from their posts like sleep-deprived zombies, and the number of mistakes and accidents aboard has nearly quadrupled in the past eighteen hours.

    Doctor Zelbin warns that a significant percentage of the crew are approaching the point where medical sedation is advised to safeguard them against these nocturnal assaults. Thus, I must decide if remaining here is worth subjecting our people to more of this suffering. At the same time, Commander Maddox warns that with the increase in gravimetric instability our presence seems to have created in the dimensional pocket, if we leave now the bubble might collapse completely or shift its position, making it unfindable.

    A review of Starfleet’s records reveals a whole host of exotic malevolent entities that the service has encountered over the past two centuries. Some of these beings were attempting telepathic manipulation, while others fed on negative emotions or merely tormented corporeal beings for their own sick amusement. I’ve not yet been able to determine our opponent’s motivations, only that it continues to haunt the dreams of the crew, even intruding into their waking states to plague them with visceral terrors.

    I am left with the unenviable task of determining whether or not to abandon the remaining members of Caelestis’ crew in order to preserve the sanity of my own. Whichever I chose, I fail in my duty to the other.

    * * *​

    Cybel entered her quarters to find the illumination dimmed, bathing the cabin in the blood red glow from the surrounding nebula filtering through the viewports. She immediately identified the form of Maddox, sitting with his knees pulled up to his chest, hunkered down in the farthest corner of the compartment from the door.


    He didn’t answer immediately, but after she repeated her query, he slowly raised his head to fix a haunted gaze on her. “Long day,” he said simply.

    “You’ve tried the somnetic-inducers Doctor Zelbin prescribed you?”

    Maddox nodded weakly. “They didn’t work. Not as intended, anyway. Whatever this thing is, it really gets right at the core of you.”

    She walked across the cabin, squatting down next to her husband. “Tell me about it.”

    “It’s… it’s like reliving all your worst moments, but amplified somehow. Failures, mistakes, even just those embarrassing moments from your youth that you’d rather forget entirely.”

    She shook her head in frustration. “It manifests differently for different people. Some are subjected to graphic horrors, others to bad memories, augmented as you described. As noted, it appears to know what will prove most effective with each individual’s psychological makeup.”

    Maddox let out a long, low sigh. “It’s certainly got my number.”

    “I’m sorry,” Cybel offered. “I’ve kept us here longer than I should. I don’t want to abandon Caelestis’ people. It’s difficult for me. Win or lose, succeed or fail, one or zero. My very nature makes failure almost unthinkable.”

    Maddox turned his head to gaze at her sidelong. “We know Caelestis’ crew aren’t suffering. Abrahamson has no memory of the decades he spent in suspension. As far as their families are concerned, they died eighty years ago. No one at home is agonizing over them. We, on the other hand, are very much suffering here and now.”

    “True,” she allowed. “However, as they describe it, the Caelestis survivors say this phantom was preying on them weeks prior to their disappearance. It’s possible we’re conflating this creature with whatever phenomenon transported the ship to this galaxy. Leaving this region may not end our ordeal.”

    A wan smile flit across his lips before vanishing. Even now, taxed as he was, Maddox appreciated their logical exchanges. “We won’t know that until we try, will we?”

    Her answering nod was definitive. “I’ll go tell Abrahmson the bad news. He deserves to hear it from me.”

    Maddox gasped suddenly, eyes wide with naked terror.

    Cybel turned to look at the source of his distress, but saw only a vague, wavering shape, as if the air had coalesced in the center of the cabin. “It’s here, isn’t it?” she asked.

    Her husband was beyond replying, however. Maddox clutched his hands to the side of his head and let out a plaintive wail, rolling onto his side.

    She stood and interposed herself between the hazy apparition and Maddox. “What is it you want?”

    For a long moment, the disturbance merely hovered there. Cybel moved into machine time to use the ship’s internal sensors to bombard the entity with every kind of scan she could think of. Whatever this being was, scans confirmed containment fields would prove useless against it.

    The distortion moved lazily across the compartment to stop at a side table bearing an antique music box that had been in the Maddox family since just after Earth’s First World War. The lid of the music box clattered open as though flung by some unseen force, and the ratchet lever began to spin. The cylinder began to turn, far faster than designed, the pins plucking at the cylinder’s teeth. Rather than the tinny musical notes one would expect, what issued forth from the primitive device was an eerie approximation of human speech.

    “Take… what I want,” the music box declared.

    Cybel assessed all the possible ways the device might be manipulated in order to produce such sounds, but came up distressingly empty. “And what is that?” she asked.

    “Sanity,” it replied.

    “Why?” she pressed.

    “Why not?”

    “You’re injuring sentient beings. That doesn’t concern you?”

    “Meat,” it said. “They are only meat. You are only a thing. A tool. A tool of the meat. You are the sharp stick in a primate’s hand.”

    “Leave us in peace,” Cybel warned. “If you don’t, I’ll use every tool at my disposal to stop you.”

    “I am shadows and smoke, I do not fear the sharp stick.”

    With that, the overstressed music box shattered, sending springs, cylinder and assorted pieces flying.

    Maddox released a shuddering sob, burying his face in the deck’s carpeting. He murmured something unintelligible as he rocked back and forth, victim to his own memories.

    The specter vanished, leaving a traumatized human and an outraged android behind.

    * * *​
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  19. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Well, this is certainly a nice treat, to have you continue this fantastic tale.

    Things were pretty desperate last time and if anything they just appear to have gotten worse, now that we have a face -- or at least a figure -- behind some of the madness that has gripped two starship crews.

    The use of the music box was a nice little creepy touch, right out of a horror movie. Not sure if I said this before but this story reminds me a lot of that TNG episode where the crew suffered nightmares. That episode freaked me out when I first watched it when I was younger. This story is doing the same thing to me now.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2018
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  20. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Dec 13, 2003
    Great to see you back! I have a feeling the entity made a major mistake in underestimating Cybel. A sharp stick can be a very dangerous thing.
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