UT: TFV - Operation Vanguard

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Feb 16, 2012.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    A United Trek Event: Task Force Vanguard

    _______________________________________________

    Operation Vanguard (Part I): At the Gates

    *****

    Captain’s Personal Log.

    We’re presently en route to Caleda II, escorting a convoy of construction supplies for the Cardassian colony on that planet. This will be our fifth trip to Caleda II since the end of the war, and the visible signs of progress on that world have buoyed our spirits.

    Seeing the impressive rebuilding effort by the colonists on Caleda II, whose settlements were reduced to rubble by the Dominion, is one of those things that renews our hope when we’ve begun to feel these endless escort missions are of dubious value. Whole new towns and villages have sprung up from the wreckage of the old, and the fields surrounding them are heavy with all manner of produce, enough so that what the local citizenry does not need will be placed in stasis and shipped to the Union’s more heavily populated core worlds.

    Cardassia Prime itself is showing signs of recovery, from the massive urban-renewal projects in the cities to the formation of a permanent representative civilian government and the signing of the peace treaty with the former Maquis. It appears the wounds of the past are becoming a more distant memory with each passing day.

    It’s been four whole months since our mission to the Badlands, and aside from a single brief skirmish with a band of Nausicaan raiders near the Kiv’vna system, we’ve had little call to utilize the upgraded weapons or defenses that were installed on
    Gibraltar during Operation Indemnity.

    Our attendance last week at the Border Defense Conference on DS9 proved about as awkward as I had expected. As if I weren’t pariah enough among my fellow starship commanders for the events at Lakesh, the Briar Patch, and Velkohn, the fact that my fingerprints are all over the peace treaty with the League of Sovereign Colonies now seems to have rendered me
    persona non grata to many of my colleagues.

    While I’ve grown used to such treatment, it pains me to see my senior officers suffering the same kind of rejection from the crews of other, perhaps more noteworthy vessels. It is ironic how quickly some people have forgotten the desperate, life-or-death struggles we all faced during the war. These same people now choose to look down their noses at those of us who still regularly find ourselves in the line of fire out here on the periphery, fighting battles that while nowhere near as large as those of the war, often prove just as fatal to their participants.

    So be it. Life goes on aboard The Rock as we continue to accomplish whatever missions we are tasked to the best of our ability.

    End Log Entry


    *****

    The dream came for him again that night, the third time in the past week.

    Gibraltar’s bridge was awash in flames, the screams of the dying assailing his ears like a symphony of the damned. He remained fixed to the captain’s chair, unable to affect the catastrophe that unfolded around him. The viewscreen burned with white light, forcing him to look away from the monstrous cube around which their fleet of wounded starships orbited.

    ‘Let go,’ the voices cried soothingly. ‘You cannot fight destiny, nor bend it to your will. To become one with us is to have always been one of us. It is a bond unbroken by space or time.’

    Then he was aboard the cube, his hands shackled in front of him as he shuffled along, one of a long line of prisoners. ‘A dark lord seeks you out. Without our aid he will leave you broken and humbled, at the mercy of he who has none.’

    He fell to his knees before a glowing sculpture that throbbed with living energy. Raising his bound hands before him in supplication, he asked, “What must I do?”

    The sculpture evaporated into mist, replaced by a beatific female face that looked down on him from atop a body gilded with shimmering armor. Colors flowed across the surface of her armor in swirling patterns that seared his senses. When her voice came, it issued forth from the martial staff she carried in one hand. ‘Come to us, Zeischt. Our hunting grounds grow nearer with each breath. We follow in chaos’ wake.’

    The ground beneath him vanished and he tumbled into the abyss, his hands suddenly free of their bonds as he plunged, screaming into the dark forest within the great cube. The ground rushed up to meet him as the voices said, ‘Come home to us.’

    Donald Sandhurst woke with a start, his heart pounding loudly in his ears as he gasped for breath, still in the clutches of the nightmare. After a few moments, he lay back down upon his sweat-soaked sheets as he tried to still both racing mind and heart with slow, deep breaths. He noted that the warp-effect he’d fallen asleep with was now gone, replaced by a spinning starfield out his forward facing viewport that implied the ship was changing heading. Then the ubiquitous flash as the ship transitioned to warp again, and the stars became smears of light across the transparent aluminum of the window.

    It was Beta Watch on the bridge, and Sandhurst knew any situation or orders that were vital enough to pry the ship from its current escort mission would warrant alerting the captain. He gave T’Ser ten minutes leeway as he got up and began moving around his quarters as Sandhurst tried to rid himself of the last vestiges of the reoccurring dream. When she still hadn’t called after that interval, he decided to inquire. Sandhurst was reaching up to touch the combadge affixed to his bathrobe when the enunciator to his cabin door chimed, prompting him to call out, “Enter.”

    Commander T’Ser, his Vulcan first officer stepped into the captain’s quarters, giving her eyes a moment to adjust to the subdued lighting. She clutched a padd in one hand, and her face carried a pinched, concerned expression that still looked strange to Sandhurst no matter how many times he reminded himself that as a follower of the V'tosh ka'tur philosophy, T’Ser was as free with her emotions as any human.

    “Hmm,” Sandhurst remarked dryly, “beware Vulcans bearing padds.”

    She smirked in response, though still appearing somewhat unsure. “New orders, Captain,” she said, inclining her head towards the viewport. “Hence the course change, sir.” She noticed he was clad in a bathrobe and added, “Did I catch you at a bad time, sir?”

    “Not at all,” he demurred. “Just woke up, in fact.” Sandhurst stood and accepted the padd from her, glancing at the device. “Something has you worried, Exec,” he observed. “Otherwise you’d have just piped these down here.”

    “Yes, sir,” she acknowledged. “They’ve pulled us from the middle of a convoy escort with no explanation as to why. That’s strange enough in and of itself, but our orders are to execute a series of seemingly random course changes en route to an unremarkable point on the Federation’s coreward frontier.”

    Sandhurst made a displeased face while gesturing for T’Ser to take a seat next to his work-desk. He sat in his desk chair, noting, “Okay, I'll grant you that's pretty strange.” Sandhurst activated the padd and scrolled carefully through its contents, his expression growing more perturbed the further he read.

    “Interesting,” he assessed at last. “Each time we make one of these course adjustments, we’ll have to modify our warp signature.” He looked up at his XO. “Do these modification specs mean anything to you?” he asked.

    “Sorry, sir,” T’Ser replied. “Warp field engineering isn’t one of my strengths.”

    “Tarellian freighter,” Sandhurst said, pointing to one set of equations. “And here, this is the warp signature of a Ferengi merchant ship,” he added as his finger moved down to the next series of figures. “And this is a Bolian courier… an Ansata trade ship… and a Nyberrite scout.”

    T’Ser quirked an eyebrow in a very Vulcan-esque gesture of curiosity. “Command orders us to shut off our ID transponder, observe complete communications silence, and to mask our warp signature with each course adjustment to make us appear to be other kinds of vessels.”

    Sandhurst nodded. “It certainly looks that way.” He sighed, deactivating the padd and placing in on the desk top. “Whatever their reasons, they don’t want anyone to guess who we are or where we’re going. That means something big is up.”

    “I can’t think of any hot spots in this area right now,” T’Ser remarked, looking thoughtful. “I know there have been some growing pains with the Maquis—“

    “League of Sovereign Colonies,” Sandhurst corrected gently.

    “—Er, right, sir, League. But nothing major’s happened there that I know of. The Cardassian insurgency is dying out, the Talarians and Orions are still sniping at one another, and the only thing out coreward of those coordinates within a hundred light-years is the Nyberrite Alliance.”

    “I suppose we’ll just have to wait until we get there to find out, Exec.” Sandhurst pushed the padd back across the desk to T’Ser. “Engineering already has a copy of the warp signature modification schedule?”

    “Yes, sir. As you might imagine, Mister Ashok was delighted with the news.”

    Sandhurst chuckled, “I’ll bet. Okay, Commander, you best get topside and start us off on our grand scenic tour of the coreward frontier. Rig us for silent running.”

    “Silent running, aye, sir,” she acknowledged, heading for the door.

    *****
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2012
  2. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Awww...I hate thinking of Sandhurst as a pariah. He doesn't deserve to be treated that way. :(
     
  3. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Well, thank you, Nerys, it's nice to know he has one fan.

    He's a controversial figure in post-war Starfleet. He fled from Lakesh instead of fighting the Klingons, he participated in Picard's War in the Briar Patch (and was part of the outgoing President's blanket-pardon that saved him from a court-martial), he killed the Maquis that borded his ship in the E’Mdifarr system in particularly nasty fashion, he killed his own XO during the Velk fiasco, and then he had the poor taste to seek peace with the Maquis while on the brink of having destroyed their movement.

    So... yeah... people tend to see him as a bad luck charm right now. :evil:
     
  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    An uneventful fourteen days and twelve light-years later, with long-range sensors offline, communications disabled, and bearing the warp signature of a Corvallen mining ship, Gibraltar dropped out of warp at the final set of coordinates the crew had been provided.

    Saying that the crew was on pins and needles didn’t quite do it justice.

    From the command chair, Sandhurst ordered Lieutenant Olivia Juneau at Operations to activate the main viewscreen.

    The image of an enormous half-built Spacedock-type starbase, surrounded by dozens of S.C.E. construction vessels and assorted starships appeared unexpectedly on the screen, eliciting a chorus of whispers and more than one muted gasp from the assembled bridge crew.

    Work-pods and robotic drones swarmed around the as-yet incomplete starbase, as twenty or more portable drydock facilities tended to a variety of starships undergoing refits. The flurry of activity was as dramatic as it was unexpected, as nothing of the sort was supposed to exist here. This was interstellar space, devoid of planetary systems, asteroids, nebulae or anything else that would encourage the construction of a major outpost.

    Juneau murmured, “That is not supposed to be here.”

    “Technically speaking,” Verrik corrected from the aft tactical console, “nothing is supposed to be here. This installation corresponds to no known Federation outpost.”

    Lieutenant Brett Lightner at Flight Control whistled at the sight of a nearby Galaxy-class ship. “That’s the Galaxy herself…” He turned to give Sandhurst a confused expression. “But she’s supposed to be patrolling the Romulan Neutral Zone right now.”

    “And Ascendant,” Lieutenant Kuenre Shanthi observed from the Science station, toggling his board to enlarge and enhance the image of a Sovereign-class starship. “I’ve got a cousin serving aboard her, but last I’d heard they were supposed to be out spinward of the Orion Nebula, over a thousand light-years away from here.”

    “Let’s keep the speculation at a minimum, shall we?” Sandhurst reproached the others. He stood from the captain’s chair, moving down into the well to stand behind the Ops and Flight Control stations. “Mister Juneau, direct a comms-laser to the starbase, and inform them that we’re reporting as ordered.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    Juneau touched a hand to the miniature comms receiver that was hidden in one ear. She glanced back at Sandhurst. “Sir, they’re ordering our senior staff to shuttle over to the base for a priority mission briefing in four hours.”

    There was a flash on the screen as another starship dropped out of warp and came to a stop among the gathered flotilla. This latest arrival was a four-nacelle Prometheus-class, all hard angles and barely restrained tactical potential.

    Sandhurst looked to T’Ser and gestured to his ready room, whispering, “Anyone else feel underdressed for this party?” to his XO as they stepped through the doors.

    “Yeah,” she replied as she took a seat across from his desk. “And here I was thinking how nice and quiet it’d been the past few months.”

    “That,” he said with a wry chuckle, “was your first mistake.”


    *****
     
  5. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Great job of creating a foreboding setting for Gibraltar and co. All of these top-of-the-line ships are in stark contrast to the old Connie. Something big is up, that's for sure.

    Peace and quiet? I doubt it very much.
     
  6. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Thank you for the comments. And yeah, peace and quiet hasn't ever been their stock-in-trade, has it? :devil:
     
  7. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    TFV - Operation Vanguard (Chapter 1 continued)

    Chapter 1 <cont'd>

    It was only a short walk from the cavernous hangar-bay where Sandhurst and company had landed their shuttle amongst a sea of other small-craft to the holodeck where the mission briefing was to be held. The unfinished corridors with their exposed conduits and optical cabling spoke to the haste with which this facility was being assembled.

    Heavily armed security personnel had greeted them upon exiting the shuttle, and subjected each of them to blood screenings, DNA-verification, retinal scans, and their individual security authorization countersigns before allowing them to enter the starbase proper. Even then they weren’t allowed free reign, and were instead herded directly to their destination by armed escorts.

    Sandhurst marveled at the resources being brought to bear on this installation, most especially in light of the fact it appeared it was being constructed in utter secrecy. The logistics alone of such a feat were dizzying in their implications. How many S.C.E. vessels had been diverted from other vital projects across the Federation? How many supply requisitions had to be falsified in order to covertly assemble something as gargantuan as an Orbital-class starbase in the middle of nowhere?

    The starbase’s largest holodeck had been programmed to serve as an auditorium for a massive briefing for the command staffs from thirty-one starships. Tiered rows of seats, each equipped with an LCARS interface, rose up into the darkness overhead as the assembled crews mingled and chatted quietly while they gravitated towards their assigned seats.

    Sandhurst shook a few hands and nodded towards a handful of old acquaintances in the crowd, but by and large most of the other personnel gave him and his senior officers a wide berth.

    “Nice,” T’Ser groused as they took their seats. “It’s the tactical conference all over again.”

    Sandhurst shot her an apologetic look, but said nothing.

    “Ironic that some of Starfleet’s most preeminent Maquis-fighters get grief for ending the conflict with them entirely,” mused Shanthi from down the row.

    “No good deed goes unpunished, Kuenre,” replied Juneau from beside him.

    The final seat in their group was taken by Ashok, and the others pretended not to watch as the large Bolian tried to wriggle uncomfortably into a chair that was far too small for him.

    Lieutenant Issara Taiee, the ship’s Chief Medical Officer, glanced over at Ashok with a twinkle in her eye. “Great,” she chuckled. “I’m going to need a surgical laser to cut him out of that seat when we’re done.”

    The others around them laughed, and though Ashok remained stubbornly silent he turned a decidedly darker shade of blue.

    A chime sounded in the auditorium, announcing the briefing would soon begin. The last of the latecomers jostled through the seated throng to their places as the lights dimmed.

    “Welcome to Starbase Bastion,” a voice reverberated throughout the chamber.

    Sandhurst groaned, murmuring, “No… oh, no…” and eliciting a curious look from T’Ser beside him.

    “This installation will be the command and control nexus and logistics hub for Task Force Vanguard, which in turn will be the tip of the spear for Operation Vanguard, the mission to which you have all been assigned.”

    The regally imposing form of Rear Admiral Terrence Glover stepped into the light at the center of the auditorium. Sandhurst dipped his head, bringing a hand to his brow as if suffering the sudden onset of a headache. A quiet stream of profanity escaped his lips that only T’Ser with her Vulcan hearing could appreciate.

    “You know him?” T’Ser whispered.

    “Think of him as my Deidre Bouvier,” Sandhurst replied, his voice pained.

    “Oh…” T’Ser trailed off, all too familiar with the infamous exploits of the cunningly mercurial Admiral Bouvier.

    “The purpose behind this facility and of our task force will soon become clear,” Glover continued.

    A holographic star map flared to life in the air at the center of the chamber, expanding to delineate the coreward frontier of the United Federation of Planets and those sectors that lay just beyond. An orange, elongated blob grew as the image resolution increased further and individual star systems become apparent until the political entity shown was recognizable as the Nyberrite Alliance.

    “Most of you likely already know something of the Nyberrite Alliance. For those of you unfamiliar with them, I’ll give you a brief rundown. The Alliance is a loose confederation of older Stage-VI spacefaring cultures inhabiting what’s commonly referred to as the Lower Escheleal Shelf on the spinward side of the Scutum-Crux galactic arm. Most of these societies were players on the galactic stage some thousands or tens-of-thousands of years ago, but have now made the conscious choice to withdraw from the greater galactic community.

    “As none of the cultures comprising the alliance wish to field their own military arm, they’ve assembled what amounts to a mercenary force to do that job for them. In the past thirty years over a thousand former members of Starfleet have joined the ranks of the Nyberrite military, often taking senior-level positions on their vessels and outposts. An eclectic mix of military veterans from across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants form the backbone of their armed forces.

    “Eight months ago, Starfleet Intelligence became aware that the Nyberrite Alliance had begun to purchase larger, more powerful warships in greater numbers than before. They approached the Klingon Empire, the Ferengi, and the Orions, paying top-latinum for warships, mobile defense platforms, and orbital weapons arrays.”

    “Oh shit,” Juneau whispered altogether too loudly to Lightner. “We’re going to war again!”

    T’Ser’s elbow encouraged her to reflect on that thought in silence.

    “This, of course, piqued our interest,” Glover continued. “So in an effort to discover what or who might be prompting this apparent military build-up, Starfleet directed the Hubble Array towards the region. Hubble was constructed during the Dominion War, and it remains our most powerful and discriminating long-range sensor platform.”

    The star map pulled back to show the audience several dozen sectors coreward from Nyberrite territory, hundreds of light-years deep, across the Scutum Gulf and into the periphery of the Norma Arm and the nearest reaches of the Delta Quadrant. A grouping of dots appeared in close proximity to one another, immediately identifiable to any Starfleet officer as a cluster of spacecraft. Then another formed, some dozens of light-years distant from the first. And another. Then more took shape in clumps, clusters and eventually, multitudes of groupings.

    As these disparate conglomerates took shape, lines appeared that traced their progress from the Delta Quadrant and projected their probable headings. Forty-three separate lines lanced through Nyberrite territory and into the Alpha Quadrant. Some of the projection lines pierced Klingon, Cardassian, Tholian, and Romulan territory. Others skirted the major powers entirely, and still others drove straight into the heart of the Federation.

    Murmurs of excited conversation began to ripple through the auditorium as the import of this revelation began to settle onto the crowd.

    “Before you ask,” Glover’s voice carried across the chamber, “we do not believe this to be the Borg. These fleets of vessels are using standard warp-propulsion rather than the transwarp conduits we’ve come to associate with the Collective. In fact, analysis confirms that each of these clusters likely represents an independent culture, as the differentiation in their warp signatures is quite noticeable, and in some cases, rather exotic.

    “We believe that what we are witnessing is a mass interstellar migration, sparked by some event or series of events farther into the Delta Quadrant, perhaps decades or even centuries ago. Think of it as a domino-effect, whereby a nomadic spacefaring culture invades the territory of a settled population that in turn must then escape into space to stay ahead of those who displaced them. The pattern recurs multiple times, ultimately leading to successive waves of nomadic species and space-borne refugees, everyone trying to stay ahead of those trailing behind.

    “Permanent settlement on a viable world likely becomes impossible for these societies, as the threat of invasion or environmental plunder by those following behind prompts them to maintain their itinerate lifestyles.

    “Various Federation member worlds have seen similar mass migrations in their own histories, most notably the four separate Brus’tt Surges of the Third and Forth Dynasties on Tellar, and the so-called Barbarian Invasions of Medieval Eurasia on Earth.

    “The only example on an interstellar scale in recent galactic history would be the Hur’q migration from the Gamma Quadrant a thousand years ago that succeeded in plundering Qo’noS and nearly overran the Alshain Exarchate before they were finally defeated.”

    Glover paused, taking the opportunity to turn a full circle to gaze up at the over two-hundred Starfleet officers who were giving him their undivided attention. “We have identified no fewer than forty-three separate groupings approaching the Alpha Quadrant. We estimate that the first of them will reach the Nyberrite Alliance in less than a month. As yet we don’t know what their offensive capabilities are, but we must assume that having been living a nomadic existence for decades or centuries, those who’ve made it this far are probably very good at overcoming the organized defenses of the territories they’re invading. The Alliance may be able to slow down the first wave or two, but history teaches us that the invaders are rarely merciful to those cultures they’ve overrun.

    “Additionally, there are very few star systems in the gulf between the Scutum-Crux and Norma Arms from which these fleets might have replenished their supplies of foodstuffs, fuels or energy-conversion matter. When they reach Nyberrite space, they will be… hungry.”

    Glover touched the podium display, causing the starfield to vanish in favor of an image of hundreds of spacecraft surrounding what could only be Deep Space Nine. “Eight years ago some three-million Skrreean refugees fleeing the Dominion arrived at Bajor via the wormhole. They were eventually settled successfully on Draylon II, an uninhabited Class-M planet. That settlement process not only took years, but it involved significant resources and the combined efforts of the Colonization Office, the Corps of Engineers, and the Ministries of Agriculture and Applied Technology. It proved a significant drain on the Federation’s resources, and this was before the destruction wrought on the Federation by the Dominion War. ”

    Sandhurst leaned towards T’Ser, muttering, “We’re going to get put on settlement detail.” He sounded relieved.

    T’Ser gave him a curious look, and whispered, “And that’s a good thing?”

    “Better than them,” Sandhurst replied, gesturing to the surrounding personnel in the audience. “Even latinum says they’re getting sent out there to intercept those incoming fleets.”

    “And we aren’t?”

    “We don’t have the legs for it,” he murmured. “Where they’re going, Warp 8.4 isn’t going to cut it. Every other ship out there right now can push 9.6 easy.”

    She made a noncommittal noise as she inclined her head towards Glover, who’d begun speaking again.

    *****
     
  8. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    It really is an interesting situation to be in. Even the best case will be a huge problem and disrupt the Alpha Quadrant powers.
     
  9. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

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    Invasion? Incursion? or just passin' through?

    Each scenario is fraught with problems, even if the approaching wave should prove friendly. This has the potential to be a disaster on a scale that could dwarf the Dominion War and the Borg incursion.

    Had to laugh when you compared Admiral Glover to Admiral Bouvier. That was cold, man. Accurate. But cold. :lol:
     
  10. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Yuck...Glover in charge? This does not bode well; arrogance is not a good thing in someone who has responsibility, let alone something on this scale.
     
  11. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Despite Terrence's ego, he's still one of the most talented commanding officers Starfleet has. Say what you want about the man, he gets results, and results are going to count in this present crisis.

    Of course, it's going to make Sandhurst squirm to have Glover around... and Glover knows it. :evil:
     
  12. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Perhaps, but it's a comparison she could understand! :devil:

    And yes, any one of those scenarios would be problematic. Unfortunately, with this many potential players, it could be all three at once.
     
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I do believe there's an ancient Chinese curse which says, "May you live in interesting times." It seems such times are on their way for the Alpha Quadrant.
     
  14. Cobalt Frost

    Cobalt Frost Captain Captain

    I am sooo hooked!
     
  15. BrotherBenny

    BrotherBenny Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    As a former writer in the UT group, I know the broad strokes of this adventure, but I like the way you've fleshed it out and I wondered if you guys would get on to this at all.

    I haven't been active in this forum much, since I've been focusing on my original mystery stories, but I've been lurking to see when Vanguard was happening.

    I like the start and I will keep popping in every now and then to see where it leads. I love how you started it though.
     
  16. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I tend to believe that you can only get temporary results by being an asshole. VERY temporary. It doesn't take long for the whole thing to come undone, if the manager or commander doesn't stop quickly; when that happens, the result is a sharp decline in performance. Rule by fear, or other inappropriate managerial styles, just doesn't work for long.
     
  17. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Okay...he's a douche. Who did he have to bribe to get an admiral's pin?
     
  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Maybe he borrowed them from his dad? :shrug:

    And I still insist that Terrence Glover is merely misunderstood. He's a complicated man, and no one understands him but his wo-- no... actually, even she doesn't fully understand him.
     
  19. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    TFV - Operation Vanguard (Chapter 1 continued)

    Sandhurst leaned towards T’Ser, muttering, “We’re going to get put on settlement detail.” He sounded relieved.

    T’Ser gave him a curious look, and whispered, “And that’s a good thing?”

    “Better than them,” Sandhurst replied, gesturing to the surrounding personnel in the audience. “Even latinum says they’re getting sent out there to intercept those incoming fleets.”

    “And we aren’t?”

    “We don’t have the legs for it,” he murmured. “Where they’re going, Warp 8.4 isn’t going to cut it. Every other ship out there right now can push 9.6 easy.”

    She made a noncommittal noise as she inclined her head towards Glover, who’d begun speaking again.

    “The point being,” Glover emphasized, “is even if the majority of these nomadic groups turned out to be peaceful and were willing to be settled on uninhabited Federation worlds, the resources necessary to do so would easily overwhelm the Federation’s present capabilities.

    “Perhaps the most controversial decision so far in our response to this impending crisis is that we have not yet alerted the Romulan or Klingon empires to the potential threat. Our fear in that regard is that the news could further destabilize the fragile political balance in both those governments. Having either empire fall into civil war or open rebellion would only create greater uncertainty and turmoil in the Alpha Quadrant.

    “Additionally, it’s a certainty that both empires would dispatch battle fleets to intercept the incoming alien formations. This could provoke hostilities where a peaceful First Contact might otherwise have been possible.” Glover paused to drive home his point. “To put it bluntly, we want first crack at them. Starfleet’s success record with this kind of mission profile far exceeds anything the Romulans or Klingons can boast.”

    Verrik frowned and turned to speak softly to Taiee. “It is a certainty that once those governments discover the Federation withheld this information, our diplomatic relations with both nations will be damaged.”

    Taiee groaned and shook her head fractionally. “You took the words right out of my mouth, Lieutenant.”

    “Formal announcement to the other major powers in the quadrant will come six weeks after Task Force Vanguard has been launched. That will give the other governments sufficient time to prepare their defenses, while giving us the lead time we need to assure we are first to make the initial cultural and technological assessments of the incoming societies, as well as make First Contact.

    “Your mission, people, will be to intercept, study, contact, and should it prove necessary, engage and divert the incoming ship formations. Obviously, time is of the essence, as the sooner we can intercept them the more time we’ll have to generate and exploit options.

    Glover shifted images again, and now a three-dimensional schematic rotated slowly overhead. The diagram was of some kind of warp-sled housing, a design Sandhurst remembered having seen in passing some years before.

    “This is the Mark-III Heavy Warp Sled, originally designed after the first Borg attack on the Federation as a last-ditch contingency should the Federation be overrun by the Collective. Various classes of starship can be housed within the sled, which can transport the vessel at warp speeds exceeding those of our fastest ships for a prolonged duration. The plans were shelved after the Borg threat receded, only to be resurrected during the Dominion War when it again seemed possible that the Federation’s ‘best and brightest’ might have to flee to parts unknown in order to preserve some semblance of our respective cultures.

    “It proved fortuitous that the warp sleds had nearly been completed when the war came to a close. They were placed in storage intact, and since the discovery of this crisis have only required eight weeks of effort to make ready for this mission. Each vessel in the task force will be slaved to a warp-sled. Their crews will be placed in stasis for the outbound journey, and the sleds will travel at Warp 9.997 for up to five months before their coils burn out. This will enable our five individual Contact Cells to reach IP with the intruder formations approximately six months faster than if the starships proceeded under their own power. However, it also means that the trip home will be a lengthy one. At present, we’re tentatively estimating TFV will be a five year plus assignment.”

    Another ripple of muted conversations swept through the crowd.

    “Once the starships have detached from the sleds, the sleds will become logistics supply nodes. They’ve been coated in our most sensor impervious stealth surfacing, so they should be largely invisible to any local spacefaring species in that area, and are equipped with their own shields and defensive systems. Two weeks after the task force is launched, we’ll begin dispatching smaller resupply modules containing anti-matter pods, replicatable matter stores, and additional replacement personnel as we believe there is a strong probability of sustaining casualties in the ensuing contacts.”

    “Replacements,” Taiee sighed quietly. “What a lovely thought.”

    “At least they are planning proactively, Lieutenant,” Verrik observed with a hint of approval in his voice.

    The image displayed washed away and re-coalesced into the previous star map. This one plotted the course of a wave of over a hundred objects moving outward from Federation space toward the oncoming alien fleets.

    “We have already dispatched a flight of one-hundred fifteen high-warp reconnaissance probes that will arrive in the vicinity of the oncoming alien formations some three months before the first starships arrive on scene. These stealth-probes will begin collecting data on the technology, biology, language, and tactical capabilities of the species in question. Hopefully, that data will be put to immediate use as our crews revive from stasis and begin making preparations for the initial series of First Contact scenarios.”

    Glover looked out across the veritable sea of Starfleet personnel, his expression appropriately somber for the circumstances.

    “This concludes the basic overview of your assignment. Subsequent briefings will concentrate on more specialized areas for various operational departments in the coming days. As it stands, all of you have a great deal of work ahead in readying your crews and your vessels for this vital mission. Requisition and supply manifests have been transmitted to your respective ships.

    “Again, this mission falls under the highest level of security classification, and thus the communications blackout will continue. Your crew members may write non-specific letters or compose vid-messages home to loved ones detailing their assignment to an unnamed deep-space exploration mission. Those messages will be screened by sensors prior to being sent, and will be delivered only after the task force has departed.”

    Rear Admiral Glover looked out to the audience, now ghostly silent as the enormity of their task settled onto them. “You have your orders, people. Make ready.”

    Sandhurst stood and turned to see the stunned faces of his crew, save for Ashok and Verrik, who appeared to be trying to out-stoic one another.

    “You heard the man. Let’s get back aboard and start making preparations.”

    As the others waited in the queue to exit the holodeck, Sandhurst made his way to where Glover stood at the podium, just finishing a brief conversation with another member of the admiralty.

    “Admiral Glover,” Sandhurst extended a hand, curious as to how the gesture would be received by his old nemesis. “Congratulations on your promotion.”

    Glover grasped Sandhurst’s hand, shaking it firmly but perfunctorily. His gaze passed over his former colleague from the Cuffe with barely a flicker of recognition. “Thank you, Captain… Sandhurst, isn’t it?”

    So that’s how we’re playing it today, eh, Terrence? Sandhurst thought coolly. “Yes, that’s correct,” he answered in what he hoped was a neutral tone. “I’m curious as to the reason for Gibraltar’s presence here, sir. We’re hardly the platform for a deep-space exploratory and First Contact mission.”

    Glover appeared to assess Sandhurst carefully for a prolonged moment, made all the more awkward by a sudden lull in the surrounding conversations. The admiral glanced down at a padd atop his lectern. “You’re here because Admiral Brandies requested your presence, Captain.” Glover toggled the device, scrolling down and over until he found the notation he sought. “Ah, yes, you’ll want to report to Brandies straight away,” he gestured off to a bank of turbolifts with his free hand. “Administrative level four.”

    There was another aching pause as Sandhurst stood there, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for Glover to make some kind of snarky comment or back-handed compliment. Neither occurred.

    “Aye, sir,” Sandhurst offered finally, turning on one heel and marching smartly towards the turoblifts. Jackass, he thought uncharitably.

    *****
     
  20. BrotherBenny

    BrotherBenny Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2005
    Location:
    BrotherBenny
    Sandhurst is about to get the shock of his life, I'm sure. Pariahs generally don't get assigned to missions such as this unless they're being placed out of the way. Out of sight, out of mind.