UT:TFV – Part IV – Solitary Frontier

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

  1. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

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    It absolute made my whole weekend to see this newest installment. And I agree: the use of the music box was inspired, and appropriately eerie. Looking forward to more, as always.
     
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  2. Count Zero

    Count Zero No nation but procrastination Moderator

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    Nice to see a new chapter in this tale.
     
  3. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    VIP Quarters, Deck 9
    USS Valhalla – Saucer Section


    Holograms depicting damage control efforts, casualty reports, and the current state of Valhalla’s onboard resources surrounded Ramirez. Her hands swept through the air, magnifying some of the images while discarding others as she formulated a plan of action best suited to the ship’s present condition.

    Ramirez was in her element, assessing, directing, monitoring, and taking command in the vacuum left behind by the dearth of the ship’s senior staff and the unwillingness of the junior officers to step forward to accept that responsibility.

    She started as a voice unexpectedly announced, “Like old times, eh?” from immediately behind her.

    Ramirez spun about, her hand reaching to toggle the combadge affixed to her chest. A gasp of surprise caught in her throat as she came face-to-face with the blanched countenance of a bloodless Lieutenant Olivia Juneau.

    Juneau sat in a chair across from Ramirez, the gold undershirt of her uniform soaked red from the horrific incision that stretched nearly ear to ear across her throat. A fatal wound inflicted by none other than Ramirez herself some six years earlier.

    The provisional acting captain scrambled backwards, tripping over a chase lounge in her haste to escape this improbable apparition. Try as she might, Ramirez could find no words, her breath coming in gasps as her mind struggled to dissect the surreal experience and give her some kind of rational reference point. She flailed backwards, clambering over pillows and an upset chair.

    “Long time, no see, Liana,” Juneau offered with what appeared to be a genuine smile. As she spoke, rivulets of blood avulsed from her neck wound, giving her voice a wet, gurgling tinge.

    Ramirez slapped at her combadge, but the device made no sound and stubbornly refused to connect her to ship’s security or the bridge. Her legs propelled her backwards across the carpeted deck on her backside until she collided with a bulkhead.

    “No need to panic,” Juneau observed wryly. “I just wanted to talk. I figured you owed me that much, at least.”

    After a few more ragged breaths, Ramirez’s mind finally fought through the panic and began to assess the situation. The specter of Juneau hadn’t made any aggressive moves towards her, though the experience had a concrete reality that suggested Ramirez wasn’t dreaming.

    “This… this is some kind of telepathic manipulation, isn’t it? Like what the Caelestis’ crew experienced?”

    Juneau shrugged, prompting another dribble of blood to seep from her neck. “Can’t say. I’m dead, and I’m sorry if I’m wrecking your expectations here, but there aren’t any miraculous answers on the other side. At least, not for me.”

    “What do you want,” Ramirez finally thought to ask.

    Her hand sweeping to encompass the compartment and the ship beyond, Juneau said, “It looks like you’re getting back into the swing of things. Starfleet, I mean.”

    Ramirez’s expression became guarded. “I’m doing my duty, trying to contribute.”

    “You figure you’re deserving? I mean, after all you’ve done?” Juneau gestured to her ruined neck.

    “I was under the Baron’s influence when that… when I did that,” Ramirez said fumblingly. “I’m sorry for what happened to you, Olivia. Truly, I am, but I’m as much a victim as you.”

    Juneau laughed at that, causing blood to spurt from the gash across her throat, which brought about a fit of coughing that subsided after a moment. “You really believe that, don’t you?”

    “Absolutely,” Ramirez replied, her voice lacking the conviction of her words.

    “Tell me, Liana, when you were waiting to die in that bunker on Velkohn, waiting for Gibraltar’s phasers to drill down and snuff you out, were you scared?”

    Ramirez blinked, caught off guard by the question. After a moment’s hesitation she conceded softly, “Yes. I was terrified.”

    ‘Were you angry?”

    “Absolutely,” Ramirez snapped, surprising herself with the admission.

    “Why were you angry?”

    “It… it wasn’t fair,” Ramirez spat. “I worked for command of a starship my whole career. My entire professional life was spent climbing that ladder, sacrificing relationships and delaying gratification so that I could take the center seat as soon as possible. And there I was, just weeks away from my first real command, and suddenly I was going to die on some backwater planet on the ass end of the galaxy!”

    Juneau nodded thoughtfully. “Now we’re getting somewhere. And when you saw that portal open, did you know what it was?”

    Another pause. “I did, yes.”

    “And what it signified?”

    Ramirez frowned. “What do you mean?”

    Juneau leaned forward, locking eyes with Ramirez. Juneau’s pupils were blown, dilated in death and now frozen that way for eternity. “Did you know that if you stepped through that portal you would be at the mercy of the Baron?”

    A weak nod was all the concession Ramirez could offer this time.

    “So, in that moment you accepted any consequences that resulted from that act. You chose imprisonment at the hands of the Baron over certain death. You gave yourself to him willingly, fully aware that whatever he did to you, whatever he might make you do, it was the direct result of your own decision.”

    Ramirez swallowed hard, her eyes glistening as the fully weight of Juneau’s statement settled onto her.

    “You’re a coward, Liana. Face facts. You were so scared and so angry at the injustice of your dying on Velkohn that you made a deal with the devil just for the whisper of a chance go on living, no matter the cost. The result was the wanton murder of thousands, perhaps even tens-of-thousands of people across that galaxy at the Baron’s bidding. If you’d accepted your fate, if you’d actually died as the hero you’re remembered for, I and a lot of others would still be drawing breath.”

    “No!” Ramirez jumped up, turning away from Juneau and pounding her fist on the bulkhead. “No, it’s not true!” She spun around to vent her rage at Juneau, but the specter was gone. The compartment was empty, save for a pool of blood on the carpet at the foot of the chair.

    The raw emotions Ramirez had kept tightly under control since she’d regained consciousness here in the Large Magellanic Cloud erupted. Her ability to contain the rage, loss, fear and regret that had consumed her for years since Sandhurst had freed her from the Baron’s mental conditioning fell away and she collapsed along with them.

    * * *​
     
  4. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

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    Great part! I'm glad to see you back writing! Did Ramirez see a ghost? Was it telepathic manipulation? Either way, Ramirez is, probably for the first time, having to fully face up to what she did. Now the question becomes: Can she forgive herself and go forward or will she give in to despair?
     
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  5. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

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    Whoa... that was awesome! I’m glad to see that you’re getting back to this, Gibraltar!
     
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

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    As always, a supreme treat to get some more ST:G. And although a short chapter, this one was a doozy. Loved seeing Ramirez get Scrooged by the ghost of Juneau and for the first time being forced to analyze her decisions which led to such disaster. Perhaps Ramirez is on the level after all, but even if she is, she may have been deluding herself about the level of responsibilities for her past crimes.

    Great stuff as usual.
     
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  7. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

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    Very nice scene, and a powerful reality check for Ramirez. Will be interesting to see what she does with the revelations.
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2018
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  8. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    A ghost? A waking dream? Or is Ramirez' guilty conscience pushing her over the edge? Whatever the case, she better pull it together as she has much bigger concerns at present. Nice chapter!
     
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  9. Blip

    Blip Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
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    Mid-Atlantic Ridge, 200ft
    What the hell... Phantom colleague, magically appearing bloodstains (speaking of which, I hope Ramirez summons the strength of mind to get a tricorder running on it!), could it be it's Halloween in the Large Magellanic Cloud, too? ;) Awesome addition, great to see you're still writing this!

    BTW Gibraltar, I don't think I ever asked this before: Do you happen to have any more detailed written descriptions of the interior of the USS Gibraltar, beyond what can be found in your earlier "episodes"? The Bridge in particular intrigues me :)
     
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  10. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Kan-Uut Slaver Galleon

    As prisons went, this was not as bad as Raffaele might have imagined. Though the Starfleet contingent had been stripped of their weapons and combadges and locked in what appeared to be holding pens, they had not been otherwise abused.

    True, what passed for food here was abhorrent, and the large cells themselves were dank and fetid, but when their teams had been forced to surrender after a frantic retreating battle on the surface, Raffaele had been certain torture and death awaited them.

    He was the senior-most officer in his pen, and truth be told, the senior surviving member of the away team after Cybel’s mobile-emitter had been wrecked in a volley of Kan-Uut weapons fire. Ressessk had been separated from him upon their confinement, after having proved difficult for their captors to control. Much as the hulking reptilian occasionally vexed him, Raffaele liked her and hoped that she’d avoided being killed by the slavers, problematic as she could be.

    He heard the security door to the pen cycle open and just managed to maintain his composure when the statistically improbable form of a staid Vulcan entered the chamber. The man was of medium height, light-skinned, and was clad in traditional robes embroidered with ancient runes denoting a family of significant repute. Raffaele placed him almost immediately, and was moderately surprised when the man identified himself straight away.

    “I am Verrik, Federation diplomatic representative to the Duur’l Coalition. I trust you have not been harmed, your capture and imprisonment notwithstanding?”

    “Tell me,” Raffaele offered dryly from where he remained sitting against the bulkhead, “what is your definition of harm? There have been fatalities not only among our surface team, but aboard Valhalla itself.” His eyes narrowed fractionally. “As a Starfleet officer yourself, Commander, I’d expect that you’d have a more definitively formed opinion of such matters.”

    Verrik inclined his head. “You know me.”

    “Lieutenant Commander Verrik,” Raffaele replied, “formerly chief security and tactical officer, starship Europa. Presently listed as AWOL from Europa after assisting the Amon renegade Sandhurst in his escape from that ship. You are wanted, if I’m not mistaken, for assault on fellow Starfleet personnel, conduct unbecoming, et cetera.”

    Verrik shifted his posture ever so slightly, and though the Vulcan’s face remained impassive, Raffaele couldn’t help but note the discomfort apparent in the subtle movement.

    “I was under duress at the time, the victim of forcible mind control,” Verrik offered.

    Raffaele cocked his head. “Seems to be a theme in this galaxy. Nevertheless, may I presume that you are not here to facilitate our escape from the clutches of our gracious hosts?”

    “That is correct. You and your crew have blundered into a complex, tenuous situation with no understanding of the larger consequences of your actions. You have ignited an interstellar incident with far-reaching repercussions for a great many peoples.”

    An indifferent shrug accompanied Raffaele’s response. “Wasn’t my call. Just following orders. You know the drill.”

    “Be that as it may, it will take a significant amount of time, energy, and diplomacy to extricate you and the others from confinement by the Kan-Uut, if that is even possible at this point. Your crew made this endeavor very expensive for the Kan-Uut, and as you’ve doubtless discovered by now, nothing comes for free in this galaxy.”

    Raffaele made a show of scrutinizing Verrik. “Tell me, Vulcan, are the rest of Europa’s crew also trafficking with slavers? Still, I’d imagine that after destroying a populated planet, scourging a lone colony must seem like a small matter to you.”

    There, Raffaele thought. I saw it in your eyes. A flinch by any other name…

    A moment passed as Verrik appeared to struggle internally to maintain equanimity. “If you are fortunate and I am successful, we shall speak again. May I know your name?”

    “Raffaele, Adalgiso Gian. Lieutenant, Starfleet. Chief Operations Officer, USS Valhalla. Serial number SV-917-2061.”

    Verrik inclined his head in a perfunctory farewell and exited silently.

    “Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Raffaele muttered toward the armored doorway.

    * * *​

    Main Shuttlebay, USS Valhalla

    Lieutenant Chen-Oo-Vuu floated into the cavernous bay, courtesy of the anti-gravity harness that also served to anchor the transparent water-filled sleeve in which he lived while outside of his quarters.

    He glided across to where three servitor drones were loading a cargo pallet into the rear compartment of one of Valhalla’s runabouts as Ramirez supervised and made notes on a padd.

    “You appear to be packing for a trip, Captain,” Chen-Oo-Vuu observed matter-of-factly.

    Ramirez favored him with a wan smile. “Medical supplies, Lieutenant. I’ve also upgraded the runabout’s computer core so I can run two EMH’s concurrently.”

    The Telukian’s articulated eyes fixed on the acting captain. “May I inquire as to why you are doing either of these things?”

    “I’m going after the combat team we left on the colony,” she replied. “Something’s delayed the stardrive section, or they’d have been here days ago. The saucer’s in no condition for a rematch with the ship that crippled us, so that leaves only one option.”

    “A covert rescue mission, sir?” Chen-Oo-Vuu’s dermis colored pinkish-purple; his people’s hue of incredulity.

    “No, actually. I’m going to politely ask for our people back.”

    Two of Chen-Oo-Vuu’s tentacles twitched as his optical lenses narrowed in an attempt to sense duplicity. “You’re not joking,” he assessed.

    “I am not,” she confirmed, making notations on her padd. “The Kan-Uut could have destroyed us easily, but they chose not to. They undoubtedly watched us limp into this planet’s ring system, and could have finished us off at any time. Again, they didn’t. I’m going to hazard a guess that they may be more amenable to diplomacy than the commodore thought.”

    “Perhaps,” Chen-Oo-Vuu allowed, his voice synthesizer doing an admiral job of conveying dubiousness. “But sir, why you? There are others aboard who could carry out the same mission.”

    Ramirez looked up from the padd. “Engineering says the main computer, along with your XO, should be back online within a few hours. Medical says the commodore should regain consciousness within the next day or so. Your command resources are returning, making me redundant.” She cast a glance at the runabout. “I’m not one of your crew, and that also makes me the only person disposable enough to undertake this mission. If it all goes to hell, all you’re out is a single runabout.”

    Chen-Oo-Vuu inspected her closely. “You are distraught, sir. If you have been emotionally compromised, this may not be a favorable time to undertake such a dangerous task.”

    She looked at him and cocked her head. “You’re quite intuitive, Lieutenant.”

    “In actuality,” Chen-Oo-Vuu replied, “I have been scanning you with internal sensors during our conversation. Your body chemistry is indicative of a human in emotional distress, based on neurotransmitter and adrenaline levels.”

    Ramirez had to laugh aloud at that, despite the grief that percolated just beneath the surface. “I’m going to offer some unsolicited advice, Mister Chen-Oo-Vuu. I strongly recommend that you switch career tracks from sciences to command. You are well suited to leadership.”

    “Now you surely are joking, sir.”

    “Not in the least,” she countered. “While the rest of Valhalla’s junior officers seem to be avoiding the burden of leadership, you’ve become my de facto executive officer. You’ve accomplished every assignment I’ve given you expertly. You’ve utilized your resources intuitively, and the crew follows your orders without question.”

    Chen-Oo-Vuu’s pallor became a sallow yellow, indicating discomfort. “My people are not given to—”

    “Don’t fall into that trap,” Ramirez cut him off. “Regardless of whether your race embraces ego-driven leadership like so many humanoid species do, you have demonstrated that ability. It is a rare thing, even among my people. You have the potential to be a leader, should you choose to pursue that.”

    “I will consider it,” Chen-Oo-Vuu allowed after a moment. “That said, while I strenuously disagree with the course of action you’ve decided on, I respect your goals. Is there anything I can do to assist you?”

    “You can help smooth this over with the others in our little leadership cabal. They might not prove so accommodating.”

    Chen-Oo-Vuu gave his species’ variant of a shrug, a deft waving of the tips of three of his tentacles in quick succession. “As you point out, those officers chose not to step up, so I will take the opportunity to assume command and will take responsibility for allowing you to depart with the runabout.”

    She regarded him cautiously. “There’s a certain amount of risk in assuming that burden.”

    “More risk than requesting a position aboard a starship traveling alone into another galaxy presumably populated with not one but two hyper-aggressive species that make the Dominion pale in comparison?”

    Ramirez smiled despite herself. “I respectfully withdraw the observation.”

    He turned to appraise the runabout and said, “We haven’t much time to implement your plan, Captain. We should see to it.”

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
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  11. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

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    Pretty good addition. I’ve missed this story. More, please?
     
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  12. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The holographic image of the starship rotated end over end while spinning slowly in a three-hundred-sixty degree arc.

    “Uprated Galaxy-class by all indications, equipped with a transwarp drive based on what appears to be your design.” The Vulcan woman waved her hand in the air, highlighting the tactical systems aboard the image in an amber glow. “Her armament is formidable, to say the least. The phasers are likely class thirteen or better, something Ashok assures me was on the drawing board when we left the Milky Way. Quantum torpedoes, and some ungodly under-slung cannon the bottom of the saucer. We’re still working out what exactly that’s for.”

    The man known as Zeischt, formerly Starfleet Captain Donald Sandhurst nodded fractionally as he studied the sensor readouts from the vessel identified as USS Valhalla. “Starfleet obviously wanted to make sure they could defend themselves against whatever they found here. Still, it’s almost inconceivable that they’d only send a single ship.”

    A’lasha canted her head in consideration. She’d served as his first officer for nearly three years now, and still found the Human/Amon hybrid to be an enigma. A pre-Surak Vulcan soldier whose katra had been made flesh again by the Amon, she had over two-thousand years of experience, much of it consisting of warfare, espionage, assassination and general mayhem. Most recently she’d served as a disembodied agent of Section 31, flitting from host to host in order to carry out her superiors’ dark designs.

    “The intel we’ve received from multiple sources all confirm that they’ve only observed or encountered a single starship. Perhaps they sent her out here on a transwarp sled, something similar to the high-warp units used to push Operation Vanguard out into the Delta Quadrant?”

    Zeischt appeared unconvinced. “Unless they’re utilizing a power source far more potent than a standard warp reactor, I don’t see how they’d have the fuel for such a journey, even at transwarp velocities.”

    “Well,” A’lasha posited, “it’s either that or someone’s mucking around on Shul’Nazhar again.”

    He leaned back in his chair, issuing a long sigh at the very thought of that possibility. “You think someone’s opened the portals?”

    “Barring any evidence to the contrary, that would be my supposition.” She gave Zeischt a patient look. “However, I’m sure you’ll agree that isn’t our most pressing issue at the moment.”

    “Yes,” Zeischt concurred. “I concur. Valhalla has now stumbled into the middle of a coalition harvest and has nearly upset the apple cart.”

    “You realize how this must look to them? I’m not surprised that they attempted an intervention. The only real shock here is how much restraint the Regoth over-watch exercised in not completely obliterating the saucer.“

    Zeischt agreed, “The Kan-Uut wouldn’t have been nearly as generous.” He glanced at his monitor again. “May I presume there is word from Verrik?”

    “You may. Verrik reports the council is up in arms, no surprise there. The Cilar are howling for a suspension of the pact unless we can explain Valhalla’s presence and actions. They’re threatening to withdraw their peacekeeping contingent in the Bion and Rennorix systems.”

    Zeischt looked pained. “And if they pull out…”

    “…so go the Ghevroil, the Aellur and Syndicate Zail,” A’lasha finished for him. “Verrik also wants to know how far you want him to push the Kan-Uut to get them to release the Starfleet prisoners they’re holding.”

    “How far can we push them?” he asked, voice tinged with exasperation. “We had to put their feet to the fire to get them to raid the Caezieg colony in the first place. Now they want a pound of flesh as compensation for their losses, so how do we convince them to hand over Valhalla’s people?”

    A’lasha gave him a look that he dreaded, the knowing expression of someone whose next words will be received poorly. “We have to give them something tangible, something beyond what we’ve released through the pact’s science consortium.”

    Zeischt stood and made for the replicator, almost snarling, “That’d be laughably obvious to the whole coalition, and they’d all be screaming for equal rights to whatever we gave up.”

    She shrugged lightly in response. “Doesn’t have to be ours. Give them some low yield Cardassian phasers, or Romulan inertial dampening technology. Anything that doesn’t come stamped with ‘Starfleet’ across the front should do. We’re not looking to appear completely innocent; I’d settle for good, old fashioned plausible deniability.”

    The ready room replicator hummed, producing a cup of Rigellian spiced coffee laced with bio-essence energy to feed Zeischt’s ravenous Amon metabolism. He gazed into the cup, considering A’lasha’s words.

    “You gave up on your Federation ideals some time ago,” she reminded him. “This is the carrot we’ve been dangling over the coalition’s collective heads this whole time. I know you’d rather apportion it out slowly and carefully, but it’s either this or we just forget the pretense and go straight to naked threats and aggression. Detonate an Alpha Weapon on an uninhabited planet in one of their home systems perhaps?”

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” he chided. “That’s not an option.”

    “And allowing the Skorrah to wake is?” she shot back, an arched Vulcan eyebrow raised in challenge. “You know the rules, you wrote them. Keep them fed, keep them sleeping, keep the galaxy alive.”

    He sipped distractedly at his coffee before grudgingly admitting, “I’d hoped we wouldn’t see Starfleet again anytime soon. Their ethics and morality are a credit to them, but those ideals are incompatible with circumstances in the LMC. The odds of us convincing them that what we’ve done here is necessary are… remote.”

    A’lasha snorted, “You’ve a gift for understatement.”

    He met her gaze reluctantly. “We’ll need to free the Starfleet prisoners and hand them over to Valhalla as a peace offering. I have to at least speak with their captain, try and explain what’s happening here in terms they can understand, even if approval is too much to hope for.”

    “I say this now because it needs to be said, not to hurt you…” she began hesitantly.

    He nodded soberly for her to continue.

    “We should attack that ship with everything at our disposal at our first opportunity.”

    Zeischt winced visibly, turning away from her.

    “That ship and crew are the greatest threat to what we’ve built here, and you know it," she pressed. "Once they piece together what’s happened, they’ll stop at nothing to disrupt the pact, the coalition, and all our plans. They can’t help but be what they are, Zeischt, what you used to be. You ask too much of them, and it’s more than they’re capable of accepting. It’s anathema to them, an abomination that they’ll be obligated to stop at all costs.”

    He shook his head. “You can’t know that. What’s to come hasn’t been written yet.”

    “You could,” was her surprisingly soft rejoinder. “You’ve turned away from that special sight, but it still remains, locked away deep inside you.”

    The cup in his hand began to tremble ever so slightly. He set it aside, bracing his arms atop his desk. “Never again. I can’t.”

    “You won’t,” she countered. “There’s a difference.”

    “Enough!” The command was uttered with a voice that was singular, yet seemingly comprised of a thousand others. A discordant chorus of one.

    Her own voice failed her, silenced by the overwhelming power of the directive. A’lasha physically recoiled from the force of it, stumbling backwards before catching herself.

    She called upon her Vulcan stamina and hastily recovered her wits, glowering at him. “That’s where we are now? Should I genuflect or simply grovel at your feet, m’lord?”

    Regret and embarrassment warred for supremacy across Zeischt’s features. It was exceedingly rare for him to lose control like that. “My apologies, Commander. What you’ve asked me to do is against everything I hold dear.”

    “No,” she corrected him coolly, “it’s against everything Donald Sandhurst held dear. He died years ago.”

    With that she walked out, leaving him alone with his thoughts and more than a little shame.

    * * *​
     
  13. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

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    Great chapter. I miss Donald Sandhurst. I was a real fan of the early Gibraltar stories.
     
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  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Interesting, seems like there is some do evil to keep a greater evil contained situation afoot in the LHC and Zeischt and the Amon are at the heart of it all. I can see how this will be a hard sell. But perhaps there are some among Valhalla's crew who will be more receptive to a purely pragmatic argument.
     
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  15. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

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    Fascinating. It's wonderful to finally revist some of our old friends ... and to see how they've changed over time. Not to mention the tantalizing hints at what they've been up to. As always, your storytelling style is a breath of fresh air, and I look forward to more, and soon I hope. :techman:
     
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  16. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    First Officer’s Log:

    Valhalla’s stardrive-section is on course at transwarp velocity to the last reported coordinates of our saucer-section. Upon exiting the nebula, we received a number of cached subspace messages from the saucer reporting that Commodore Izawa had taken the saucer at warp to respond to a distress call in a nearby system.

    Unfortunately, we have belatedly discovered that proximity to the subspace fracture in which the starship Caelestis is trapped also causes temporal dilation effects. Our internal chronometers recorded that we had been in the vicinity of the fracture for three days, seventeen hours, and twenty minutes. Upon exiting the nebula and linking up with the nearest of our comms beacons, we discovered that over a week has passed.

    We have unwittingly abandoned our crewmates, who have suffered significant damage and casualties in their ill-fated rescue attempt of the colonists. We will arrive shortly to mount a rescue, and given the existing tactical situation it appears necessary that we come in firing…

    * * *​

    Kan-Uut Slaver Galleon

    Liana Ramirez was unceremoniously shoved through the armored hatch into the holding pen. She sprawled onto the grated deck with a grunt, raising her head to glare at the Kan-Uut slaver who’d propelled her through the doorway as it hissed closed. “If I had a phaser, I’d be eating lobster tonight you chitinous shit!”

    “Well, well,” remarked Raffale from where he sat cross-legged on the floor. He dropped something unappetizing he’d been eating with his fingers back into a worn bowl that he set down beside him. “If it isn’t the effervescent Captain Ramirez, space pirate. To what do we owe the honor, Captain?”

    She glanced over at him, muttering, “Raffale, you survived.” Her observation had an unflattering edge to it. Ramirez crawled over to seat herself next to him, eying the contents of the bowl. “You going to finish that?”

    “Mi prisión es tu prisión,” he answered glibly.

    “I came by runabout,” Ramirez provided, picking up the bowl to sample the local cuisine. “Had a brilliant idea about trying to open negotiations with the Kan-Uut’s allies. Didn’t exactly work out according to plan.”

    “They proved unreceptive?”

    “You could say that, yes.”

    He sighed. “Still, it’s the thought that counts.”

    “Say,” Ramirez asked, “how big are these slave transports? Half a million tons, or thereabouts?”

    Raffale sucked thoughtfully at his teeth. “Sounds about right.”

    “Okay, good.”

    He shot her an appraising glance. “And that’s relevant because…?”

    The slaver galleon lurched dramatically and the sound of an explosion echoed through the vessel's interior. The pair could hear cheers from some of the nearby pens as prisoners voiced their defiance.

    “I set the anti-tampering system,” she explained dryly. “How’s that taste in your mouth, lobster-boy?” she shouted at the doorway.

    * * *​

    The transwarp tactical probes winked into existence for only fractions of a second before vanishing again. The cycle was repeated, with the probes remaining just long enough to register on the Kan-Uut’s sensors only to be gone before the slavers were able to achieve a weapons lock.

    Thus, the Kan-Uut and Regoth presence in the star system was catalogued and analyzed. Even the Regoth capability of submerging their vessels in the nearer layers of subspace and phasing out of regular space/time was noted by the probes as countermeasures were devised by a machine intelligence several thousand times more sophisticated than any that had previously existed in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

    This particular intelligence had been created without the dispassionate, logical framework that had been the hallmark of so many of its predecessors in the Alpha Quadrant of the Milky Way. It possessed a daunting intellect, to be sure, but it had also been gifted by chance with the full range of humanoid emotions. Thus bequeathed, it occasionally fell victim to the same insecurities, hurts, and furies as many organic sentients.

    To say that Cybel was angry would be a gross understatement. Not only was she enraged by damage inflicted on the ship’s saucer-section and her holographic counterpart aboard, but the majority of the stardrive-section’s crew under her command had been incapacitated by the malevolent entity preying upon them.

    She was still studying that creature in order to develop a defense, but as yet she could do nothing to safeguard the vulnerable crew from its nightmarish assaults. The hostile presence threatening the saucer-section, however, that she could do something about. Cybel inhabited the most formidable weapons platform ever devised by the member worlds of the United Federation of Planets, the stardrive-section of a Galaxy II-class heavy defense cruiser.

    At the advent of the Galaxy-class starships, the stardrive-section had been euphemistically referred to as the ‘battle-section’, as it held most of the ship’s weaponry while having shed the greater bulk of the ship’s saucer. It was an apt description for the craft that would now make its presence known.

    The two Kan-Uut corvettes posted as overwatch on the saucer-section’s hiding place within the gas giant’s rings had just registered the appearance of an intruder less than a thousand kilometers away when a volley of quantum torpedoes enveloped them. Before they could send a warning to their flotilla orbiting the nearby Caezieg colony planet, the corvettes had been completely disabled.

    The Kan-Uut slaver galleons holding position above the now-conquered colony were next to fall as Valhalla’s battle-section briefly appeared. Torpedoes collapsed the vessels’ shields, followed by pin-point phaser strikes that neutralized their weapons and engines. The battle-section continued to wink in and out, disgorging torrents of fire as it jumped from place to place so quickly that even automated targeting systems couldn’t keep up. The handful of Kan-Uut satellites in orbit were likewise annihilated in the storm of weapons fire.

    The phase-cloaked Regoth frigate that had crippled Valhalla’s saucer observed the launch of a dozen photon torpedoes in their direction without distress, confident in their invulnerability. They were unprepared when the torpedoes, modified with subspace phase discriminators, transitioned into the same dimensional layer occupied by the Regoth vessel. Denied the advantage of its phase-cloak, the frigate was effectively unshielded. The torpedoes had been intended to incapacitate a vessel with defensive screens, and the unfortunate Regoth ship flew apart under the impact of overlapping detonations.

    The Amon orbital energy siphons, similarly hidden, also fell victim to Cybel’s modified torpedoes. Without their multi-dimensional camouflage they proved remarkably fragile.

    The battle-section reappeared near the galleon containing the Starfleet prisoners, and transported them aboard en-mass while delivering a hail of phaser fire towards the surface that destroyed every Kan-Uut shuttle, outpost, and soldier in less than thirty seconds.

    Maddox, seated in the XO’s chair next to Cybel, cleared his throat. “All threat vessels, vehicles, satellites and personnel have been… neutralized, sir.” Internally, he blanched at the naked savagery they had just unleashed, regardless of how well deserved.

    A little over two minutes. Maddox tried in vain to fathom what she’d wrought. She conquered an entire occupied star system in one-hundred and forty-three seconds. And they knew we were coming.

    “Transporter chief reports all surviving members of our surface teams have been recovered from the Kan-Uut ship as well as the remains of eight fatalities, Commander.”

    The ship jumped again, this time coming to rest within the gas-giant’s rings where the saucer had taken refuge. “Initiate saucer reintegration and coordinate repairs with their engineering teams,” Cybel ordered. She surrendered control of the ship’s navigation, helm, and tactical systems to their respective officers as she stood. “I’ll be in the astrometrics lab.”

    The silence on the battle-bridge that accompanied her departure was deafening.

    * * *​
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
  17. Blip

    Blip Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    May 2, 2001
    Location:
    Mid-Atlantic Ridge, 200ft
    So Cybel just pounded the Kan-Uut, wielding the Battle Section like the fist of an angry god... Frankly, they deserved it - and I personally couldn't care less about any human egos bruised just because they didn't get to deal the punishment out themselves.

    Oh, I'm sure we'll get the usual pious hand-wringing over "AI gone mad" and how it's "just like M5 all over again", but in this case it'd be nothing more than Starfleet (with its thoroughly ingrained automatonophobia) over-reacting to their own impotence in the face of a stunningly well-executed surgical strike, that yielded zero loss of Federation lives. :P

    Awesome update Gibraltar! I've been missing these hugely. At some point I'll have to get back on those blueprints we talked about (I suspect that as with you, real life considerations intervened!)
     
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  18. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Oh boy, is it Christmas already? How do we get two solid new entires of some of the best Trek fanfic out there in one go? Awesome.

    This one's been long overdue and to be honest, I had to go back and refresh my memory a bit. Didn't take long.

    I like Ramirez here even though I know the jury is still out. But hot-damn, you do NOT want to tick off Cybel. Ever. Not sure if the man formerly known as Sandhurst and his compatriots have accounted for the deadly efficient AI yet. Regardless, this is going to get really interesting.
     
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  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    PCV (Pact Coalition Vessel) Europa

    “It’s pandemonium,” A’lasha remarked, gesturing towards Zeischt to throw a holographic display into the air before him containing a diplomatic update. “The council is quarreling openly now. The Cilar and Syndicate Zail are demanding the Caezig offer up another colony for harvest. They’ve refused, of course, claiming that Federation intervention nullifies their responsibility in the matter. We may be looking at a war within days, perhaps hours. It will start on Duur’l and then spread out from there. Ghalkeon, the Negnuid systems; once it’s begun it’ll take on a life of its own.”

    Zeischt’s hands were steepled in front of his mouth and he said nothing in reply.

    “The pact is fracturing. This disaster with the Caezig means that we’ll miss an entire shipment and we’ll be unable to fill our quota.”

    “I know what it means,” he rasped tiredly.

    “If we miss an allotment and can’t supply the Skorrah, their Reapers will wake and they’ll attack anything in their vicinity. Might be a colony, might be a member world, could be a gods-be-damned fully inhabited star system. And we never know which creche will spawn the Reaper swarm, so all members of the pact are equally terrified.”

    He dropped his hands into his lap and fixed a cold stare on her. “Why are you explaining all this as if I’m not already aware of the consequences?”

    A’lasha put her hands palm down on the top of his desk, leaning in towards him. “Because you’re just sitting there looking lost rather than doing something about it.”

    Just for a moment, she saw the old fire in his eyes. “What would you have me do?”

    “There’s a Gix'ox settlement less than five light-years from here that would more than fill our quota. It’s lightly defended.”

    He looked at her, aghast. “The Gix’ox aren’t pact members!”

    “That hardly matters now,” she snapped back with a dismissive wave of her hand. “The Reapers might just as easily cull a Gix’ox planet as any other. Just because they’ve lacked the collective backbone to admit they have skin in the game until now—”

    “Not an option!” he barked, standing from behind the desk. “This… this is unbelievable. We were on the cusp of developing a weapon that will smother the Skorrah in their sleep, and just now everything starts to come apart at the seams.”

    A’lasha’s expression was one of barely concealed disgust. “I told you we should have attacked Valhalla as soon as we’d confirmed its location. Now they’ve stumbled into the LMC and set a torch to everything we’ve built!” She turned away from him, marshalling the strength to reign in her Vulcan passions.

    Turning back to face him, she mustered a surprisingly calm tone. “Harvesting the Gix’ox colony and destroying Valhalla might be enough to save the pact, but there’s no guarantee. You know how much mistrust and bad-blood there is between the signatories.”

    His face took on a haunted aspect as what remained of the Starfleet officer at the core of him was strangled by the Amon pragmatist that he’d become.

    A’lasha added fuel to the pyre consuming the Sandhurst of old. “We both know that if the Skorrah fully awaken, they won’t stay in the LMC. It will only be a matter of time before they move against the Milky Way; sooner if they can seize Shul’Nazhar and its portal generators. Distasteful as this course may be, it might be the only way of saving our home galaxy.”

    “Weigh the costs,” she pleaded. “Sacrificing a thousand lives to save untold trillions across multiple galaxies.”

    His head dipped for a second before looking up to meet her eyes. “Tell Commander Kirk to set a course for that colony, and to have Hub standing ready to jump the siphons into orbit as soon as we’ve given the word.”

    She nodded fractionally, finally satisfied that he would act. “And Valhalla?”

    Zeischt’s eyes narrowed. “Their attack on the Kan-Uut and the Regoth, did it remind you of anything?”

    “If I’m not mistaken, it was quite similar to your sneak attack on the En-Il-Que species at Akovos Prime in the Delta Quadrant.”

    He nodded, his expression appropriately grim. “Precisely. This was as much a message to me as it was a rescue of their personnel. Somebody on Valhalla has studied my tactics, and they want me to know they’re coming.”

    “That ship is formidable, there’s no denying it.”

    “So are we,” he reminded her. “And we still have three Alpha Weapons onboard.”

    A’lasha’s prolonged stare was pregnant with meaning. “It appears we'll need every advantage we have to win the coming engagement. Every advantage.”

    This time it was Zeischt who turned away.

    * * *​

    USS Valhalla

    Sickbay was filled to capacity, both with wounded from the saucer section as well as those personnel overcome by the ongoing psychic assault from the phantom creature plaguing the crew. The medical staff moved between and among the biobeds, comforting and healing, representing the best Starfleet had to offer.

    Cybel briefly reflected on the juxtaposition between Starfleet Medical’s mandate and the massacre she had just visited upon the Kan-Uut and their allies. Part of her felt shame, while another part of her reasoned with the clinical calculation of a machine that the ferocity of her attack had actually minimized enemy casualties. Do I contradict myself? she reflected on the words of Whitman. Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. The concept was truer for her than for any human who had ever lived.

    Commodore Izawa had a private medical suite, where Cybel located him. After being granted entry, she found him in an elevated sitting position, padd in hand, face creased with worry compounding the ravages of time.

    “I’m glad to see you’re on your way to a full recovery, sir.”

    Izawa lowered the device, and scrutinized Cybel for a moment. “Thank you, York. Doctor Zelbin informs me that I suffered significant neuro-trauma, complicated by existing damage left over from my time with the Cardassians.”

    Cybel seated herself at the foot of his bed. “Fortunately, you have excellent taste in physicians. Zelbin’s treatment was as successful as it was unconventional.”

    Izawa found himself unable to stomach further small-talk. “Cybel, what you’ve done… what we’ve done—”

    “Our actions were in full accordance with Starfleet rules and regulations, sir.” It was unheard of her to cut him off when speaking, and his face registered his surprise.

    “Be that as it may, we came here to this galaxy as explorers and emissaries. Now, we’ve acted no less reprehensibly than Task Force Vanguard.”

    “Respectfully, Commodore, your actions led to this situation.”

    Her succinct appraisal shocked Izawa and left him momentarily speechless. Cybel stood and continued, “Decisions you made while under what I suspect was the influence of an alien entity contributed to a reckless charge into an unknown situation. Your attack without reconnaissance led to the saucer’s defeat in battle and its eventual retreat. The saucer was damaged, trapped, and unable to negotiate with a foe which had taken members of our crew prisoner and had no interest in parlay. I did what was necessary to effect the rescue of the saucer and our captured crewmates.”

    He stared at her for a long moment, considering her words, his expression carefully neutral. “You suspected I was under the influence of that… thing?”

    “I did.”

    “May I ask why you didn’t stop me?”

    She cocked her head slightly. “I had no definitive proof, sir. Countermanding your orders without concrete evidence that you were not of sound mind would have been mutinous.”

    Izawa sighed, accepting the validity of her statement.

    “Repairs are underway, and the saucer’s structural integrity should be able to handle a transwarp jump within the hour. I’m setting course for a nearby nebula where we’ll hole up until repairs are complete. I’m working on a defense against our psychic intruder, based on some of former Captain Sandhurst’s technical specs. And no, the irony isn’t lost on me. I’ve also apprised Starfleet Command of our situation but our communications time-delay to the portal is nearly two weeks. We won’t receive word back for nearly a month.”

    “You could send a transwarp comms-drone,” he noted helpfully.

    “I could have, but I didn’t,” she answered concisely. “There is the possibility that Command will take exception to some of our recent actions. I’d rather we retain a certain flexibility of decision making for the time being, sir.”

    Izawa turned the padd over in his hands, deep in thought. “Very well. Thank you for the update, Commander. Well done on all fronts.”

    Cybel seemed about to leave, but instead she paused on the threshold and returned to kneel at his bedside. She leaned in and delivered a gentle kiss to Izawa’s temple. “I’m glad you’re going to be okay, Father. You scared me.”

    * * *​
     
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    “Why are you explaining all this as if I’m not already aware of the consequences?”
    “Because you’re just sitting there looking lost rather than doing something about it.”

    That exchange made me smile. That's how you weave exposition gracefully into the narrative. Nice.
     
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