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Hunter Matheson

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Everything posted by Hunter Matheson

  1. “Brain Games” Super weird things spin around in your brain when you’ve been hit with something the size of El Cap. Well, maybe it wasn’t El Cap size, but it sure felt like it. This time the helm console takes the prize. What prize? The “Whoever gets Gunny slap happy first takes the beer" prize. Not exactly slap happy, but it takes a while to get your bearings, and even when you do, all kinds of stuff bounces back and forth—a ping pong ball not quite hitting the net and bouncing over… and over… and over. Kal figured that the ship had stopped spinning but his brain didn’t. It was definitely on a roll. At this point, the best pillow he had was the most recent nemesis, the helm console, so he stayed put, forehead resting on crossed arms, breathing deeply while he tried to keep his act together. And the way to keep you act together is to take notes. Sounds weird, but it works. It keeps your brain focused on something you want to think about instead of the ping-pong ball inside your brain. He just wants to get the stupid out in case he survives. And if he remembers the notes, he might just take himself up on ‘em. And if he doesn’t survive, whoever takes over can use it as a reference. Nice. Note # 1: Heads are not re-attachable, and you only have one. Unless you're an android, and even then you're taking a big chance. Note #2 Helm chairs are comfortable until they aren't. Sure, they're padded and got sweet arm rests with a cup holder, but they’re also bolted to the decking with the toughest alloy in the galaxy. And the decking is attached to the ship. If you're sitting there when the ship takes a major hit, that seat moves with the ship. You don't. Every jerk and spin takes you and your head counter to thrust, so unless you're secured with a five-point, a sudden reverse thrust or explosion smashes your head against the helm console, snaps your neck a couple times, then bonks your head again. Not so nice. Note #3 Working toward Akira Helm Master Certification is stupid unless you know what you’re getting into. Think about it. Just because that Akira is a lean, mean, flyin’ machine and puts everything else in port to shame doesn't mean it’s gonna treat you well. And it doesn’t mean you should listen to the stories at the bar, then perk up when someone drops a hint that they're looking for a new helmsman. That’s a dead giveaway that the guy might be a recruiter. So think before you sign. And ask. Exactly why do you need a new helmsman? If he didn’t retire, then what exactly happened to him on that last op? Remember the recruiter who spun his story so well that you signed up? He knew the real story. You didn't. You sign up for helm? He grins. Big time. You’re so psyched you can’t wait. He's psyched because he gets another bonus. He’s trained. You aren’t. Note #4 Watch out. Remember the Sirens in The Odyssey? If you don’t remember, better take a look ‘cause that Akira might be beautiful, but she’s a Siren. Once you take hold of her, you’re not gonna leave. Do I ever want to leave? You kiddin’ me? Hell no! Treat Excal right and she’s a sweet lady. Easy handling, smooth to the touch, and maneuvering? Handles like an SOC-R. [That’s a Special Ops Craft- Riverine if you don’t know. She’s an awesome babe, too.] Anyway, I’m never leavin’ if I can help it. Note #5 Make sure a damn good medical staff comes with the Akira. You're gonna need it. “How are you doing, Gunny?” Huh? Sounds like the doc. Walks like the doc. Must be the doc. “Uh… head jerked around a couple times,” he muttered without looking up. “Neck snapped. Nothin’ more that I can feel right now. Hell of a headache. Just wanna puke. And sleep.”
  2. Kal dropped his gear and spread it out on the floor of his quarters so he could sort it and stow it until their next liberty. Stuff you take on liberty doesn’t exactly fit what you sport on duty. Well, it mostly doesn’t. But when you start plowing through stuff like that, the memories spill out with ‘em—some good, some not so good, some weird, and some downright stupid. For Kal, the stupid ones tended to stick more than the others. They’re the ones you build into stories when the BS flies in the NCO lounge or when you’ve had one too many. Anyway, as liberties go, Kal had to admit his was pretty enjoyable. Nah, it was damn enjoyable. But it would have been even better if his plans went… well… according to plan. And that's a pretty strange way of putting it, but you get the point. The plan was to hike into backwoods nowhere, up the mountain to the hunting cabin that he and his dad built years ago, and have it all spiffed up when Syl arrived. What actually happened was the exact opposite, and he shoulda known. No matter what the plan, it usually goes south before you even deploy. It’s kinda like the universe giving you the finger. Kal was still several miles from the cabin when strange noises drifted down the trail and he stopped to listen. And by strange, I mean strange. Animal noises. Definitely not the four-legged variety. A little farther up the trail, the shouted semi-singing of a bunch of guys and echoes of Guns ‘n’ Roses screaming Welcome to the Jungle followed by AC/DC’s Thunderstruck and a chorus of seriously out-of-tune hollering confirmed his suspicion. He’d be sharing the cabin with a bunch of beered up Swickies—guys he'd gone through hell with before his Challenger post. Definitely a facepalm moment. He stopped, dropped his ruck, and took a breather for a long think. They were his brothers. They'd give their lives for him and he for them, but damn. That's not exactly what he had in mind for the next few days. He would’ve turned around and hiked the 20 plus miles back to the trailhead, but Syl was due in a couple days, and there was no communication from here unless you count smoke signals. But the thought of Syl dropping unescorted into a pile of beered up testosterone junkies was more than he wanted to think about, so he bit the bullet and pushed on. So, no, they weren't supposed to be there, and yeah, he was pissed. There were rules, and one of them was “Ask, jarhead! Let me know if you need the cabin.” Plain and simple. And you pretty much know the rest. It was his cabin so he didn’t knock. He wasn’t even over the threshold before getting doused with beer, stripped, and dragged into the shower for an icing down. It’s part of the ritual, so you gotta take it in stride. A mostly-fresh pair of fatigues and a can of beer later, he settled in for the usual BS, including female conquests. He ignored ‘em until it came to Coronado Beach, but his off-limits stare killed that, and they moved on to other, more useful things, like game trails, recent sightings, best hides, who wanted to bag what and if anyone had actually bothered to get a game license, and what it was for: bear, deer, elk, bighorn, and the like. ‘Course, Dan Kingfisher was full-blood Cherokee, so we could hunt anywhere. Anyway, when you get into hunting, it’s hard to think of anything else. Until everyone’s in the ice-cold stream, butt naked, washing a kill’s blood and guts off your body when a kickass female pilot appears. But they all pushed through it; the guys seemed to understand even though it took ‘em a while to wipe the stupid looks off their faces. Thankfully, Kal’s dad had fixed up what used to be the woodshed and made it into a small but cozy visitor’s cabin, complete with private facilities and running water. They still called it the woodshed, though, and that’s where she stayed. As Kal squared away his things, he grinned, wondering how long it would take for Syl to find the elk steaks he packaged and slipped into her gear. The look on her face when she bagged that buck—her first ever—was priceless. She did a damn good job of gutting and cleaning it and enduring the sacred ritual of jumping into the 40° stream to wash off. But she said it was like the place where she grew up, so she probably didn’t even feel it. So, yeah. As liberties go, Kal’s was pretty enjoyable.
  3. Leaving the Oyster Bed Standing on the bridge and sweating out every move the Caitian engineers made didn’t help Kal’s mood any, and he had already figured out that hovering wasn’t going to make ‘em go away. He had half a thought about pinching himself to wake up from the nightmare, but the doc was right there on the bridge and she’d probably try to patch him up or send him to the shrink. So he left the bridge to poke around the mess hall. Again. Nope, food didn’t help. He sat in one corner alone, stabbing viciously at a pile of mashed potatoes while he obsessed over a bunch of furry engineers mercilessly probing and rearranging the insides of Excalibur, the most beautiful lady in the fleet. She was sleek, she was elegant… and she was kickass. She could shed that runway facade in a heartbeat, creep up on the bad guys and take ‘em out with 3.1 million tons of diplomacy. “Hey, bro.” GSGT Brody Parker gave him a playful punch in the arm, then flicked a finger at Kal’s apple pie as he pulled up a chair. “You eatin’ that?” “Nah.” Kal swiveled the tray and slid it over. “I’m done.” “Things that bad topside?” Parker’s mouth was stuffed in half a second. He was that good. “Yeah, kinda,” he muttered, watching his bunkmate devour what was left on the tray. But at 6’5” and 257 lbs, with 473 lbs on the bench, he’d shed it in 24 hours. Maybe less. “Um….” Lips pursed, he gave Kal the once over. “You’re not lookin’ so good, bro. I’d say you need a cold one.” Brody started on the loin roast like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. “Can’t. Need to stick around while they…” Kal sighed as his PADD buzzed. Blowing out a breath, he pulled it up and tossed it listlessly on the table. “Gotta get this,” he said, semi-apologetic. “It’s probably….” A blink led to a frown, which led to disbelief and a long page through the document. Now he knew why they pulled him out of the teams for R&D and qual’ed him on a kickass Akira. “Sh*t,” he muttered as he read. Parker craned his neck to see. “What is it?” “It’s… uh…” Kal paged back to the beginning and began a re-read. “Well… who’s it from?” Parker’s hands spread as he crept closer; Kal moved away. “Dunno.” “C’mon, man. What’s goin’ on?” After the second read through, Kal looked up and holstered the PADD. “I gotta take care of something, Snatch. Catch you later.” Dumbfounded, Parker watched him leave, then shrugged and went for another piece of pie.
  4. The Water Cooler Maneuver and the Waiting Game Kal looked at Gaither. Gaither looked at Kal, shrugged, and cracked his back. First and second string helm were in pre-engagement mode, sitting and waiting. They were a perfect match. Had the same skill set. Gaither wasn't SWCC, but it didn’t take years in the teams to be good at helm, just a good feel for the ship, treating her with respect, understanding her good points and her bad, what she responded to and why she kicked your butt every so often. You had to have confidence in your ability, and most of all you had to have the water cooler maneuver down pat. Yeah, the water cooler maneuver’s your best friend. Long time ago—before replicators, recyclers, and hydration units—workers gathered around a water cooler during break and caught up on the latest gossip about anything from the grumpy new boss to the length of the secretary’s skirt—how much it revealed, or how much it didn’t reveal and you wished it did. Aboard ship, it's called skuttlebutt, but skuttlebutt maneuver didn’t have the same ring to it, so they changed it to water cooler maneuver. Anyway, the idea is to listen to skuttlebutt. These days it takes place just about anywhere—on the bridge when everyone is bored, in passageways when you catch part of a conversation, in the gym during a break, and in the mess halls and lounge. It’s idle chatter, but idle chatter that could save your life and the lives of the crew. ‘Course, there’s always the other stuff, like how the new ensign works it when she walks by or how her uniform is way too tight, but that’s pretty much beside the point here, so I’ll move on. That’s how Matheson and Gaither heard about the Swain Maneuver. Yeah, the Swain Maneuver, not the Picard Maneuver, which is a pretty standard maneuver for helm. They call it the Swain Maneuver on Excalibur, and it’s not quite the same. The first time M & G heard that twist it was a real head-scratcher, so they stopped, they listened, they asked a few questions, and… they eventually figured out why. The Picard Maneuver came about when Picard, then CO on Stargazer, called for a few seconds’ burst of warp to get around an attacking ship. Thing is, the hostile was in open space, and there was plenty of room. You see where I’m going with this? Well, during one pretty boring bridge watch, M & G started thinking. Thinking turned to talking, and that turned to taking a good look at their present circumstances. Excalibur was in orbital dock around Camelot Station, waiting for the head shed to get things straightened out, supplies to be loaded, and the convoy to form up so they could move through the wormhole for the last time. But they had one little glitch in the crosshairs. The Jem’Hadar had a subspace weapon that they wanted to set off in the wormhole. Nice. How they would deal with that was a big question, so they started tossing around what could possibly happen. The Jemmies could stay and wait by the wormhole, sure. But their most probable strategy would be to attack the station before the convoy even started out. If the Jemmies attacked the station…. Whoa! Wait... wait...! Hold on! Nah, Skipper wouldn’t do that, would he? That’s crazy insane, man. There’s how much wiggle room between the station and an attacking ship? Well, how close can an attacker come? The answer is pretty damn close! Yeah, Excal's helm needed a solid strategy. They needed to know to the nanosecond and to Planck distance the threshold for that maneuver so when the skipper says “Can you do that?” they could either tell him aye or something he really doesn’t wanna hear. Everything had to be perfect, because it was going to take a hell of a collaboration to pull it off. And they had to override some of helm’s safety protocols so the ship didn’t balk when they needed her the most. Well, wouldn’t you know, the skipper came through (not that they wanted him to) and they were ready. ‘Course the rest of the crew wasn’t exactly ready, and neither was the IDS, so I guess you could say they gave the doc job security that day. But it worked. Barely. Their hands shook for a while, and they couldn’t wait for the next port of call and a cold one, but they did it, hoping it wouldn’t happen again for a very long time. Not long after that little test of skill, they were where this story began, in pre-engagement mode. That’s something you don’t pick up around the water cooler. You learn it from sitting long watches at helm when there’s not much going on but you have to stay alert in case something does go on, so you're alert but you're not alert, if you know what I mean. And you learn it in the gym with a kickass opponent who’s been slammin’ you to the mat so much lately you realize you gotta change strategy or you won't have any places left for bruises and your body's gonna turn to jelly. You get tired of the slams, the titters, and the jeers—not to mention the training officer’s disgusted head-shakes—and you finally understand what the FTO means by hanging loose and watching. You learn to wait, to watch, and to let your opponent make his move first. And damn, you do that and get him so confused that you get that first chokeslam, and it. is. sweet! But I’m getting off the subject again, so back to the point. A convoy defense force of Federation, Romulan, Klingon, Bajoran, and Al-Ucard ships— with one lonely Scorpiad who’s after one engineer’s skin in the mix— are holding position outside the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the wormhole, protecting it from hostiles who just happen to have a subspace weapon they want to test in the wormhole. The hostiles are playing mind games. They just sit and stare. You sit here, they sit there, and their backup is on approach, so it doesn’t look good. It’s unnerving. All you want to do is charge, and that’s exactly what they want you to do, so you sit tight and play it cool. Matheson looks at Gather. Gaither looks at Matheson. They’re not grinning, but they know the game. They have the presets, and by watching the steady configuration of the hostile forces and the variable configuration of the friendlies, they adjust, keeping in mind that they're working in a 360° battlefield with a spherical dynamic and the rest of the convoy will be playing ball while Excal plays goalie at the wormhole. Then the game begins.
  5. Article 32 Door to the Marine NCO lounge opened. Heads turned. Door closed. Matheson disappeared down the hall toward his bunk. Door Opened. Door closed. MSGT Murphy—aka Murph—peered over his magazine to take a good look around. His brow rose slowly as a few shrugs winged toward him, along with suspicious expressions, quickly hidden behind games, magazines, or holovids—like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Putting his magazine aside, Murphy excused himself to cautious glances, and wandered down the hall. He stopped a second to fling a menacing look at a few prying eyes, then pressed the chime on Matheson’s door. No response. He chimed again. No response. Murph leaned a forearm on the door frame and knocked. “What?!” shouted from the other side. “It’s me, Gunny. How long you gonna keep me waitin?” Within seconds the door slid open. “Hey, Master Sergeant,” said Kal, semi-apologetic. He had the same look the others had, only the others looked guilty and Matheson’s was more stressed out. “Come on in. I’d offer you a seat, but…” he shrugged, “...all the chairs are in the lounge.” Murphy gave his usual half-smile and stepped in. “It’s the same all over the station, Gunny. I’ll just borrow this rack for a few minutes.” He took a quick glance around the room before he settled onto the bunk, where Matheson’s PADD caught his attention. “Studying up for Master Sergeant exam?” “Uh… yeah, that’s right,” Matheson replied, quickly retrieving it. “Thought I’d get a leg up on it. You know, just in case.” “Um.” Murph nodded, pursed his lips doubtfully, then leaned forward to rest his forearms on his thighs. “Even when the next exam isn’t for another 14 months, and there’s nothing in the exam that has to do with the UCMJ?” He nodded toward the PADD. “Pretty ambitious, Gunny.” He extended his hand for the item in question. Kal stared briefly, then sighed and reluctantly handed it over. Head ticked to the side, Murph’s brows knit as he opened the PADD and began to read. Only once did he glance up, but by that time, Kal wasn’t watching anymore. Soon his fingers whizzed through the data. Outside, the com signaled change of watch. Kal checked the chrono, then remembered they were still on station. He ran a hand through his close-cropped hair, then down the back of his neck, waiting. “Huh,” said Murphy, then read aloud. “I’d almost forgotten this one. Starfleet Regulation 1165 prohibits ‘personal relationships between officers and enlisted personnel that are unduly familiar and do not respect the differences in grade or rank. Such relationships are prejudicial to good order and discipline and violative of service tradition. Conduct is prejudicial to good order and discipline if it calls into question the senior’s objectivity, results in actual, or an appearance of, preferential treatment, undermines the senior’s authority and compromises the chain of command. This regulation is a punitive article; consequently, it is a General Order and violation of it is punishable under Article 92, UCMJ’.” He looked up and handed Kal the PADD. “What’s Article 92, Gunny?” He was serious. It called for a deep breath and a slow exhale. “Well… Article 92 is a ‘General Court Martial, provided the Article 32 convening authority deems it appropriate’.” Yes, ever since the encounter with Syl, Kal had gone into information overload. “And Article 32?” Matheson blew out another breath and straightened up. “Article 32 is a ‘mandatory preliminary hearing under the UCMJ to ‘determine whether there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and the accused committed the offense, whether the convening authority has court-martial jurisdiction over the offense and the accused, the form of charges, and the disposition that should be made of the case’.” “Whoa, Gunny.” Murph grinned and used his heel to push back against the bulwark. “You’ve really done your homework. Ever think of going into the JAG Corps?” It took Kal a minute to process that, wondering if Murph was serious. “Well… yeah,” he ventured. “I thought about it once or twice, but I’d have to go back to school after I finish this tour of duty. But, yeah. I’ve thought about it.” Or had just thought of thinkin’ about it. Murph gave him an understanding nod. “So… just to test your skills here….” The Master Sergeant thought a moment. “What would you do if... say... your friend came to you and had a problem like that?” he said casually. “I think it’s called ‘fraternization’? I’m talking about a relationship that that… say… hasn’t gone far enough to get to an Article 32, but it kinda looks like it might get there eventually?” Kal’s face flushed. If Murph noticed, he didn’t show it. “That’s a tough one, Master Sergeant. I’m not… quite… sure about that one. You got any ideas?” “Hm….” Arms crossed and face skewed he took another long think. “Well... I b’lieve I’d tell ‘em to cool it. Talk it out. Come to some sort of agreement before it gets out of hand. Now, I’m no JAG, and I’m sure not a shrink, but that sounds reasonable to me. Sound reasonable to you?” “Hell, yeah,” Kal replied, a little too enthusiastic. Again, the Master Sergeant didn’t seem to take notice. “I mean… sure. That sounds reasonable to me. Cool it. Talk it out. Come to an agreement. Real reasonable.” Murph nodded, pushed off from the bunk, and gave Kal’s knee a slap. “Sounds to me that you’d make a good JAG, Gunny. Keep workin’ at it. I gotta move on out. Carry on.”
  6. Fishing in a Fishbowl Fishbowl: A small, highly exposed and largely indefensible area. When you’ve been staring blankly at a tactical board for a while without realizing it, it’s definitely time for a break. Matheson blinked, shook his head, and pushed off to wander the conference room and massage the back of his neck while he stared into space to get his brain back. The conference room table was more than ordinary. Well, it looked ordinary during meetings, but the touch of a button converted it to a Generation VII Integrated Command and Control table (G7ICC, or Gen7), a giant computer touch-screen, a completely integrated tactical marvel used by the top echelon of Starfleet’s Special Operations Command tier one teams. One click and you had an integrated Command, Control, and Intelligence/Information environment used to support operations of any genre for maneuvers or all-out war. Think of old time tactical planners with their paper maps spread out on a big table, and dotted with small model ships, tanks, guns, and you-name-it, and you get the idea. Except it’s all computerized. Matheson had everything he needed and then some—for most missions. Problem is, this mission didn't fall into the category of most. It was more into the category of deadly mission creep, meaning that a mission had drifted way off course, and the mission and the team were struggling to survive. Or so we’re told. If the team wasn’t in danger, it wouldn’t be a “rescue” mission, right? Anyway, Matheson was struggling with Hawthorne’s directive to review the reports. He didn't exactly fit into the category of top echelon. Sure, he served in SPECOPS, but he’s a gunnery sergeant. His experience was limited to working with a team, not planning a mission, and definitely not pulling a compromised team out of harm’s way—unless it involved going in, swooping down in his Special Operations Shuttle Craft (SOSC), guns blazing, clearing the way for a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) insertion and rescue. He’d never, ever planned or commanded a mission. Kind of a big difference there. But the skipper said he “was better trained than most of the crew for this sort of thing”, and you just don’t say no to the skipper. Pausing at the view port, Matheson blew out a breath, trying to clear his head. “So what do we have?” he said, thinking aloud. “We got Atrian IV buried in hostile territory. We’re talking Jem’Hadar, and anyone else that’d like to take out the Federation. The planet’s frozen. Or at least the surface is frozen. The latest intel on the planet is six months old, so we’re really flying blind there. We have no idea what the mission was. Ex Oh says we have the team’s files, so that’s a plus. And we know the handler. Or they know the handler. How do we locate them? Biotags? “And the planet? It’s a class R, meaning that it’s a rogue that got knocked out of one system and wandered for a while until it got trapped by a belching star. And it’s in a super weird orbit. And the planet has a powerful magnetic... field....” Crossing his arms, Matheson half-turned and stared at the table. Several colored dots indicated the team’s and handler’s last known locations. Squirly lines showed reported movements until 6 months ago when reports stopped coming in. The team never made contact with each other. That was a good sign. Covert Ops doesn’t exactly lend itself to group maneuvers. Staying apart insured that if one went down, the others didn’t—the purpose of SCI. And their handler, a local, seemed to be on the down-low. Good sign. But how did they get those reports out, given the power of that magnetic field? “Computer, what’s the likelihood that the magnetic field is artificial?” “There is a 63% probability that the magnetic field of Atrian IV is artificial,” it responded. “Huh.” Dropping his arms, he approached the table and braced against its outer rim. “Why is that?” “The magnetic field fluctuates at intervals coinciding with high energy particles emitted from the planet’s star, specifically during the planet’s orbital perihelion. The magnetic field does not match the configuration of naturally-occurring fields.” So… if the field is artificial, there must be.... “Computer, give me the most likely location for a field generator.” “Insufficient data.” “Okay, then,” he sighed. He was back to square one, it was report time, and he still hadn’t addressed the other concerns that gnawed at his gut, like the mine drilling in 2372—the same year the Founders began the Federation-Klingon War. And the sitreps stopped when Camelot came online? Matheson slipped his report onto a PADD and blanked the Gen7. Did he have something? Maybe. Maybe not.
  7. Rock and a Hard Place Initiate Record. Mark Confidential. Text only. Standard Encrypt. Personal Log Stardate 0123.2016 Gunnery Sergeant Hunter Matheson Helm Officer, USS Excalibur Admiral came. Admiral went. Skipper's not happy. Ex Oh’s on edge. Answers to questions are short, missing a lot of specs, and ending with a “that's all you need to know.” Not a good sign. Whenever flag officer brass comes and goes like that, it's never good. When the flag is Admiral Abronvinvich? Hell, yeah, it’s bound to be a major cluster frag. We’re headed deep into Dominion territory, going after a quad covert ops team that’s missed two windows. Their handler is with ‘em. Yeah, that’s right. The main guy, the one who’s supposed to stay put outside the fishbowl, direct the team, and get ‘em home.... is with ‘em. That’s bad, by any stretch of the imagination. You see, when it comes to security in the Federation—whether it’s government, military, or other—there’s a rank of levels according to importance. Lowest to highest, it’s Confidential, Secret, then Top Secret. Inside Top Secret is one that not many know about because it’s just something you don’t talk about. We call it SCI: Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. That’s the one we’re dealing with here. Confidential intel means you really shouldn’t tell just anybody. A lot of things fall into that category. Simply put, it’s when someone above your pay grade leans over and says “I never told you this” and you answer “told me what, sir?” that’s Confidential, between the two of us. Next comes Secret, meaning that if you pass it around, it could cause serious damage to Federation security. Then we get to Top Secret, meaning “unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause grave damage to Federation security.” That’s the textbook version, and that’s where the general knowledge terminology usually stops. But there’s more. It’s seldom talked about because it’s usually used in the realm of Covert Special Operations, covert meaning that you go in, blend with the locals, do your job, and no one’s the wiser. In fact, they might place the blame for what happened on someone else. Covert is a step above clandestine ops. In Clandestine you don’t blend with the locals. You go in geared up, stay low, do the job, and no one sees you—except when you blow it and/or you’re captured. To keep it quiet, Covert Ops uses Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. The teams are small and tight. All information is dispensed in a need to know framework, meaning that if you don’t need to know it, you don’t get told. Each one in the team has a mission, but they don’t see the big picture—only the handler does. Come to think of it, sometimes even he doesn’t know all of it, and sometimes no one knows all of it. Nice, right? Anyway, when the commander said, “That’s all you need to know,” I knew immediately what we were dealing with. Anyway, there’s a reason the handler’s not with any team. Sensitive Compartmentalized Information is some serious sh*t. The handler stays outside, away from the team, and keeps in contact in a predetermined manner at predetermined windows, which could be anything from once every 30 minutes to once a day. Miss one window, a red flag goes up. Miss two, and the handler gets dicey. Miss three and you send in someone for rescue—usually a QRF—or you wash your hands of the team and let ‘em die. The handler knows who they are, where they are, and—most important—he knows the security questions for positive ID. If the handler is with the team, no one else has that information. It all goes out the window, and we might as well kiss their keisters goodbye. So today the skipper didn’t look too happy. He says we’re going on a rescue mission to Atrian IV, deep inside Dominion space. A Starfleet team on a “classified” (SCI) mission missed "a few" windows, and we gotta find ‘em. My job is to get us there and keep us out of harm’s way “as much as possible.” And that’s all we get. Skipper leaves the bridge. Ex Oh still doesn’t look happy. When I ask, she says we don’t know their condition, they’ve been out 4 weeks, they’re 2 weeks overdue—meaning they’ve lost two windows, and the 3rd one’s the charm—their handler is with ‘em, and oh, yeah... what we’re doing is illegal as hell. But I’ve been around the barn enough times to know that SOP is often the same as FUBAR. Just another day in paradise. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Ooorah.
  8. Demons Excalibur’s training gym was silent except for one dark haired 6’ 2” helmsman pounding with a vengeance on an Everlast. With only a few layers of tape to cushion his fists, you might have wondered why he didn't ditch it all and go raw. With the ship underway and most of the crew elsewhere, only one other person occupied the ship’s massive tactical fitness space, and that was Marine Field Training Officer and 23 year SPECOPS veteran Lt Tim Glasco. The heavy, rhythmic thumps had drawn him from his work in the briefing room to lean against the doorframe and watch the gunnery sergeant’s merciless attacks, all the while wondering who would crater first: the gunny or the bag. He wasn't sure if he should approach or let the helmsman get his frustrations out, but when the pounding didn't stop within a reasonable time, he pushed off and began a slow, measured walk in that direction. Arms crossed, he stopped at a discrete distance. “Bro,” he said in a fairly laid back manner, but direct enough to catch the fighter’s attention. Matheson paused, but didn't turn. “Yeah?” His hands steadied the bag before continuing his assault. “Been watchin’ you a while. What's goin’ on?” “Nothin’,” he muttered, giving the bag another round. Glasco’s arms dropped to rest on his hips as he moved in. “Cut the crap, Bro. Twelve miles full ruck this mornin’, twenty miles two days ago, and now this? So I’m gonna ask again, Marine. What’s goin’ on?” Kal stopped mid-swing and settled the bag on the rebound. “Had a talk with the commander,” he muttered, staring at the bag. “So… Commander Strait, Commander Atkinson, Commander…?” Stepping away from the bag with a sigh, he began to pick at the tape on his left hand, “Ex Oh. Hawthorne.” “Um.” Glasco considered that for a minute as Kal began a slow, methodical peel. “So, whatever happened made you want to kill something. Or someone? Not exactly a good sign, Bro. I'm gonna say we need to talk.” Kal continued to peel, and by the time he looked up, Glasco was standing in the door of his office, towel in hand, waiting. As FTO, the man was patient, but insistent—not exactly someone you could ignore, rank or no rank—but rank didn’t count in training. When he said, “We have to talk,” everyone knew he meant business. It was his way of oiling the gears so things moved smoothly in the Marine detachment, and reaming out anyone that deserved it was well within his ROE. As Kal closed in, the towel hit him center mass. Glasco moved away from the door, kicked out a chair, and settled into his own, hands folded easily in his lap. “I let her get to me,” Kal began as he dropped onto the chair and began to towel off. “Pretty much violated every rule in the book.” He looked up, but Glasco remained passive, just listening, so Kal finished with a vigorous rub on his hair, then tugged the towel around the back of his neck. “When we're assigned outside the teams, everything goes out the window, right, sir?” Leaning one hand on his thigh, he gestured, frustrated, with the other. “Never mind the nondisclosure we signed when we joined up to do ‘Fleet’s dirty work. Never mind that we go places and do things no one else can or wants to. Never mind that you watch your buddies sliced and diced because of some miscalculation, a messup with command, some hot shot in the head shed that’s got a big idea that’ll get ‘em that extra star, or a block from intel that never got through. Never mind that if you open your mouth, and let anyone outside the circle know what you’ve done, you end up in some penal colony for the rest of your life. Hell, just put all that aside and spill the beans to some ship’s counselor or Ex Oh, right, sir?” The lieutenant’s lips pursed, but he still said nothing. “I told her about Bull and Scrap, sir,” he sighed, resting his head in his hands. “Bull and Scrap? Damn heavy, Gunny,” Glasco replied with an easy forward lean. “What exactly did you say?” “Don’t rightly remember, sir. I was seriously pissed off. She thought I was asserting some kind of ‘manly bravado’ because I wouldn’t spill anything to the counselor, which is why I was talkin’ to her, not the counselor.” “You recall if it was sealed information?” “Hell, no!” Kal’s head snapped up. “I mean, yeah, I recall, but there was nothin’ sealed. Nothin’ sealed, sir. Nothin’ at all. It was all about the guts and glory, like she wanted to know about it all, so I told her. Damn, sir, she wanted to hear that? She doesn’t understand. No one does.” Glasco’s brows knit, head tilted. “What exactly does she not understand, Gunny?” “What we went through, sir. What kind of hell it is to work in the teams.” “Of course she doesn’t understand.” Glasco shrugged as he rocked back in his chair. “How could she? She’s never been in the teams, Gunny. How the hell could she know what it’s like? There’s no way she could understand. But it goes both ways. She has things you’ll never understand either.” “Yeah, I suppose she does, sir.” “You suppose she does? Tell me, Gunny. You ever been in her shoes? You ever been a career Starfleet officer in command of an Akira that runs constantly on the edge from one quadrant to the other?” Kal’s head slowly lowered, a slight smirk forming. “Uh… no, Lieutenant.” Glasco bristled, smacked his hands on the desk and closed in on Matheson, his eyes narrowed as his signature ream-out tone rallied for attack. Kal recoiled; his smirk disappeared. “You ever been in charge of the lives of 550 plus on board a starship, Gunny?” he hissed. “You ever been responsible for a couple thousand dirty, ragged, half-starved refugees, stacked like cordwood and shuttled like cattle here and there several times while they try to get somewhere safe in this galaxy, Gunnery Sergeant Matheson?” Kal took a minute, then swallowed hard. “Well, have you?” “No, sir,” he mumbled, eyes diverted from his piercing stare. “Look at me when I talk to you, Marine, and speak up!” his hand slapped the desk, snapping Kal into ramrod attention. “Have you?” “Sir, no sir!” “Then you cannot understand her, can you, Gunnery Sergeant Matheson?” “No, sir! I cannot, sir!” “Has she ever been in the teams, Gunnery Sergeant Matheson?” “No, sir!” “Could she possibly understand what it’s like to be in the teams, Gunnery Sergeant Matheson?” “No, sir!” After a moment of continued glare, Glasco relaxed and settled slowly back into his chair. “Damn straight,” he said quietly as he straightened his uniform. “You both have demons to deal with, hers no less important than yours. Of course she doesn’t understand, and you can’t expect her to understand any more than you can ever understand what she's been through. So. Now that we got that straight, take a deep breath, relax, and siddown so we can sort through this mess you got yourself into. “Let’s take this one step at a time. I’m gonna say you were sent to the counselor for somethin’ important, and the counselor didn’t get much outta you so the commander took over, and you got in her face with some ‘guts and glory’ crap. Am I right so far?” “Yes, sir.” Glasco’s grunt melted into a silence that lasted a minute or two while he studied the ceiling, thinking. After a while, he ran his hands over his face, dropped them to his desk, then looked at Kal. “How much do you like flying Excalibur, Gunny?” “Oh, I love it, sir. She’s a sweet lady, easy handling, smooth to the touch, and maneuvering? Handles like a PCF, sir. Hell, sometimes I have to remind myself she’s Akira.” “You want to stick with her, Gunny?” “Oh, yes, sir.” “Then it looks like you got a choice to make. You got demons, I got demons, everybody has ‘em. If you don’t get those demons under control, you’ll be relieved of duty. If you're lucky you might be reassigned, you sure as hell won't ever rejoin the teams, and you might end up in some looney bin. “On the other hand, it sounds to me you must have some exceptional skill set for Commander Hawthorne to take you on for counseling. But you can be damn sure that’s going away if you don’t cooperate. “So here’s the choice, Gunny. Either you let those demons rule your life, or you deal with ‘em when they pop up. You got a problem on duty? Ask for relief, take a deep breath, and get your butt to the counselor. Off duty, same thing. Your life, your choice.”Hands spread, he waited for that to sink in. “Think you can handle that?” “Yes, sir.” “Damn right you can. But not on your own. Now get outta here.” The FTO pushed himself out of the chair to usher him out. “I got a team comin’ in ten. And next time you’re down here, go easy on the equipment. Gamma Quadrant’s a little thin on replacements.”
  9. (Thumbs up to SGT Wise and Live in your Moment) Sometimes you gotta go back to move forward. Sometimes you just gotta sit still, listen to the hum of engines, contemplate the questions of the universe. Who am I? Why am I here? Dad used to say that. A lot. Don't know where he got it. He said at one time there was some guy sittin’ in a car, contemplatin’ the important things in life, like where you’ve been, how you got here, where you goin’. Dad wandered the feed yard, stoppin’ every now and then to check a steer, and he’d talk to it just like that. Sometimes he’d even talk to me. For the longest time I thought he was nuts, but then I got to thinkin’... he had a point. Now, sittin at helm a way out here, I’m startin’ to understand. You gotta step back, take a moment to reflect, try to make sense of it all. But you don’t join Starfleet ‘cause it makes sense. You do it ‘cause it’s cool. You get to wear the uniform, wander the galaxy, chase the bad guys, blow stuff up, maybe take a few trophies home to impress the girls that you couldn’t impress during high school. ‘Least that’s what the recruiter said. But now I understand that feelin’... wonderin’ how I got here, sittin’ here waitin’ for this convoy to get its act together, waitin’ for brass to herd a bunch of mostly broken-down transports loaded like Noah’s ark without the Noah, you know? Yeah, sometimes you gotta wait it out. Take a big step back. Not to chase ghosts, but just to get your head on straight. “That's your cue, Gunny.” Heh. That’s Lieutenant K’hal, tellin’ me it’s time to go, time to get the refugees outta this fish bowl before the bad guys show up. “Yes, sir. Going to warp 4, maintaining left flank, locked onto Wasp.” Just in case you’re wonderin’, the lieutenant over there? He keeps me on my toes, which is pretty much what I need, given I'm flyin’ a top-of-the-line Akira, loaded for bear, herding 60 plus mostly broken down vessels loaded with refugees. Kind of opposites, you know? What’d they call it —polar opposites? Yeah, polar opposites. But it could be worse. I could be in the cargo bay, playin’ Noah. The captain sits here, too. Well, in the command chair, not here, if you know what I mean. He’s waitin’. Kind of lookin’ the way I do, so I wonder what he’s thinkin’. He makes remarks like, “Gonna be a long three weeks to New Bajor,” then he sighs with a frown. ‘Course, I can’t see the frown, but by the tone of his voice, I sure can feel it. Everyone can. Then he says, “Start lookin’ for a place to circle the wagons when the convoy’s engines need a break. Normally, I’d say a nebula or something, but I don’t know if I want to deal with the crew navigating something difficult.” Difficult. Right. If they can navigate. So we creep up to warp 4 and hope everyone keeps together without scrapin’ hulls or gettin’ lost. There are convoys, and then there are convoys. This is one of the “and then there are” variety. On the one hand we got Starfleet’s Wasp, Vermont, Cape Horn, Kamakura, Prince de Austrais, Haig, and Nile, and a few IKS, all for protection around this little herd o’ somethings. Our group moves together, like one giant rack of starships, all connected. Locked onto each other, we can maintain a standard distance on exactly the same vector, then sit back and relax. On the other hand, we got the 60 plus, “in various states of disrepair” as the skipper puts it. I’ve lost count of the two-steppin’ we’ve done when they drifted off course or had to slow down for some reason or other. But we're still alive, so it’s all good. Now where was I? Oh, yeah. Sometimes you gotta go back. Why am I here? Well, that’s a good question. Join Starfleet, see the galaxy? Yeah, that’s pretty much it. But I wanted more so I went for the teams, Swickied a few years, and somehow ended up Akira qualified, so here I am. Excal’s a sweet ride, gotta hand her that, but somehow it’s not the same as Special Warfare. QRF small craft, slippin’ in and out all phantom-like, adrenaline rush included. Hot. Fast. Planetary exfil, vacuum infil, ship-to-ship, ship-to-ground, ground to…. “Gunny, d’A wants to bring in some of those fighters. Slide us to port, away from the Emissary’s Breath, to fit the warp docking safety protocols.” That’s the lieutenant again, just in case you wondered. So excuse me while I tend to business—not that I wasn’t before. “Yes, sir. Sliding to port, away from EB for warp docking. In position in five… four… three... two…. In position, running steady, and prepared for docking maneuvers. Standing by for Flight OPS.” Yeah, got her nailed. Fighters. They got some kickass pilots down there. Other ships have ‘em, too. I’ve known a few. There was this one pilot I remember, not too long ago. She had a fancy name. I called her Lieutenant, but thought of her as Syl. Talk about kickass, damn she’s good. A good pilot, I mean. She took me second seat a few times, made me actually want to go through fighter training. But that would take a few more years, and at this point, I’ve had all the training I can take. And Syl? Don’t know how the galaxy pulled it off, but somehow it put together kickass with drop dead gorgeous. She was…. “At least you've got some traffic to keep you sharp this time. I don't know how you can do it when it's hours of the occasional hydrogen atom floating by.” Heh. That Cait knows exactly when to break into my meanderings. Gotta admire him, despite the occasional tuft of fur landin’ on the helm console. “You get used to it, Sir,” I tell him. “Those atoms, they're first class. Can't fault 'em for that. An atom or two floatin’ by isn’t bad. But give 'em a salute, and they salute back? Then you know you're ready for retirement.” “No thanks,” he says. “I'll stick with the multitasking. At least if it's going to drive me insane it'll be a nice, major breakdown.” “Copy that, sir.” Then I get to thinkin’ about what the skipper said. “Got a place we can hide these warp 4's in case of trouble? Like a nice asteroid belt full of reflective metal?” I could see in his expression that he didn’t quite take to the idea. “You want those big, clunky civilian ships to be doing asteroid belt diving? While they're full of tens of thousands of people?” Hm… yeah. “Well, probably not a good idea, now that you say it that way.” Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Sometimes you gotta go back to move forward. I like bein’ here. Flyin’ all night long. Contemplatin’ the important questions o’ life. Who am I? Why am I still on duty? And why am I flyin’ warp 4 in a warp 8 zone? That's pretty bad for an Akira.
  10. Reset Every ship has its eccentricities and every console has its quirks. After several days of endless cargo runs from ship to shore, Kal had returned to Excalibur, cleaned up, and began to study its helm console, burning into memory every position, verifying every possible variation from the standard Akira class, and looking for every quirk. Matheson was certified and highly qualified. He had flown a few Akiras, but that was before he shifted into SWCC—Special Warfare Craft Crewman—and became part of a team of small craft extraction specialists. Sometimes referred to as custom shuttles or modified runabouts, Special Warfare Craft were actually a cross between a shuttle and a fighter: maneuverability, armaments, and jaw-dropping technology wrapped in a shuttle-sized sensor-defying skin that accommodated ten to twelve for quick reaction, exfil, or ordinary rescue. Typically, she pushed off with two corpsmen, and several weapons specialists—depending on the situation—and at least two pilots, just in case one bit the dust. Anyway, it had been a few years since his last Akira posting, so he had to recert. It took a while, but he got it done. You go where they send you, no questions asked, and here he was, getting into the groove of a high tech mega-monster of a starship, a big mind-shift from small craft. Excalibur was a bonafide kickass Akira. She was sleek, she was mean, and her very presence said back off. But she was big, and there was no way she'd stop on a dime. Her maneuvering took a tad more finesse, and she just didn’t fly into the shuttlebay at chow time. And this a convoy mission, transporting refugees to safe havens. Probably one of the most important and least favorite missions any squid could ever hope for, Kal would have to be on top of his game. Convoys were strange animals, mongrels, a Heinz 57 mix of craft ranging from high powered escorts and loaded supply ships, to lumbering transport vessels on the wagging end. With the possibility of max warp 4 to destination, it was going to be a dangerous ride, and if they just happened to be intercepted by the refugees’ pursuers, it could get real interesting.
  11. A Bridge Too Far Kal was dying, and he knew it. You can't mask the smell of death. No matter how hard you try, you can’t ignore it; no matter what you try, you can’t cover it. It seeps into your pores, corrodes your nasal membranes, and gets hard-wired into your brain. The memory is permanent; it never goes away. He reeked of death. His own death, as his body rotted away while he watched. Posters plastered in every school corridor, on street corners, in public transportation, and just about everywhere lured him into what looked like an exciting, heroic life. Join Starfleet! See the galaxy! Experience the trip of a lifetime! Well, it was the trip of a lifetime. His lifetime. What they didn’t say was the kicker. Sign up and your life belongs to us. You’ll probably die far from home, and guess what? They’ll never know where, why, or how it happened. They’ll never find your body, if there’s anything left. Great, purple pustules grew, split, and oozed down the hand that had been in contact with a strange goo that covered the Scorpiad eggs. He heard them talking. Even from here he could hear them. They were calling it repligoo? Saying something about him touching it before it was programmed? He wasn’t sure. For their sake he had moved away from the group, slumped onto a narrow platform and sat there, trying not to scream and wondering how long he had until this was over. Gees, how he wanted it to be over. Then there was the rash that was growing and spreading, driving him crazy, and the not being able to scratch. Where the rash wasn’t, his skin was pale and cold. His legs trembled, barely strong enough to keep him on the platform. He wanted to puke, but nothing came up. His casualty care certification told him that whatever it was had probably spread to his vital organs. It was over for him. Did he put his hand even close to his mouth? It really didn’t matter; the damage was done. Then came the hallucinations, wild psychedelic colors, swirling, scrambling his thoughts, vicious tendrils piercing his brain. Migraine headache had nothing on this. He rocked back and forth in agony, hoping he’d black out soon. Then he’d die. Peacefully. In blackout. Then it’d be over. He wanted it to be over. Please, let it be over soon. The mission was doomed from the beginning. That top secret garbage he thought he was getting away from by signing on? Hell, you never get away from it, not in this man’s navy. Ever. No one else knew where they were going; hell, they probably didn’t even have a handler. No backup. No ship close enough, even if they did know where they were. Ill prepared, ill equipped, and completely outside their comfort zone. And he was cold. So cold.
  12. On The Sixth Day Kal Matheson She had that look. The look they gave you just before the turd hit the fan. It said any number of things, all meaning you’d better backup and regroup or forever regret it. Kal’s mother had it. His sister had it. Syl had it. And… yeah, Lt Poldara had it. Or so he figured. He didn’t have the guts right now to take a look. So what started it? Kal wasn’t sure, but he thought it could have been his simple question, “We're going to be overlapping Einstein's Charlie grid, ma'am. Is that going to be a problem?” It was innocent enough. Routine. After all, bumpin’ into another ‘Fleet ship on a grid sweep just didn’t look all that good on a resume, especially if the ship was smaller and pretty much defenseless. Well, defenseless in relation to Challenger. “Only if we can't turn up something to embarrass them with,” she replied. Cutting. Edgy. A jolt that gave him a wake-up call. Lit up a neon sign that said, “Don’t mess with the El Tee at science. She might rearrange your chromosomes.” Finally, he chanced a peek in her direction, and… there it was. That look in her eyes, the overall expression of a big cat on the prowl, that far away from her prey. Hungry. Dangerous. Gettin’ ready to pounce from her hide in the sword grass. Except the El Tee wasn’t hiding. She wasn’t that kind. Her look of pointed determination said it all. His eyes diverted to the helm/navigation console as a “Yes, ma’am,” accompanied his tentative crooked grin, all the time wondering was that for me? Something I said? Something I did... anything? ———- “Dad?” Kal paused, leaning on the pitchfork to wipe the sweat from his brow with a dusty forearm. “Yes, Son?” His dad didn’t miss a beat, just kept on pitchin’ into the mow. Kal looked around for any sign of his sister before asking, “What’s up with Sam?” This time his dad paused, but only briefly before heaving another load up to the rafters. “She’s got that look again?” “Yes, sir. I’m not sure what I did, but….” He shook his head and studied the floor a bit. “Well, Son, she’s a woman.” Kal looked up, waiting. His dad continued working. “I got that, Dad. I just don’t get…” he waved a hand, “...what I did. Can’t figure it out.” “You’re trying to figure it out?” His dad scoffed into a hearty laugh, then drove the pitchfork into the wooden barn floor, leaned on the handle, and pulled a hanky from his back pocket to wipe his brow. “Son, it’s this way,“ he began, jabbing the hanky back into his pocket. “On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth. Along about the sixth day, he created man. You. And me. Then he got this notion about creating a mate, and he created woman. Now, that word — woman — is supposed to mean ‘a help meet,’ a companion, a partner. Well, that she is, Son, but there’s something else in that word.” Now Kal was really confused, with that huh? look all over his face that spilled down his whole body. “Hunter Kal Matheson,” his dad sighed and jerked the pitchfork into his firm grip, “there’s a reason God named her woman. It’s a warnin’, Son! Whoa, man! Don’t ever try to figure it out; it’ll drive you nuts. Just watch your back for a couple days. Now get back to work.”
  13. If you’ve been there All he needed was a swagger stick. Whether he knew it or not, General Willey came off as arrogant, officious, ambitious, and a downright jerk. As far as Kal could see, he was looking for another bright, shiny new star for his shoulder and using the loss of their exec as an excuse to get it. In Kal’s mind, Willey was prime head-shed material. Special Warfare Craft Crewman GYSGT Kal Matheson had a lot of experience with the head-shed. He’d lost count of the times he’d been scrambled to provide extraction cover for a team that was pinned down and under fire with dead and wounded in tow, while some schmuck head-shed general sat all safe and comfy behind his desk... cigar in one hand, coffee in the other... watching the op on a screen like it was a Saturday night movie. Sometimes the stars aligned for the team, but sometimes the “go for extract” came too late, so all that was left was enough DNA to wrap next to a silver star in the casket, and enough to have inside a coffin when your fist came down on that gold Trident, pounding it into the spotless oak lid where it would sit in a straight line next to the other twenty-odd Tridents forever. Duty. Honor. Federation. Hooyah. Ltn Sylvanis' hand on his shoulder jerked him back to the present, and when he turned, her normally light blue eyes were deep pools of compassion. Kal’s gaze dropped to the table. It took a while to process. Something he’d done. Maybe the way his leg twitched, maybe the angry flush as he listened to the general’s rant? Something sent her a red flag. When he came around, he realized she knew what he was thinking. She’d been there. No words were necessary. He could barely hold it in. When the Quick Reaction Force returned to base, Shadow Squadron was out of the bay, their tiny fighters nothing more than gnats to the Romulan warbird keeping pace with Challenger. We could have lost her. Could have lost them all. A few deep breaths, and he finally regained his focus. The general was peppering the crew with questions about a “lightning ship.” He traipsed back and forth in the conference room, waving a cup of coffee in the air, spouting orders that made no sense, then threatening the crew with consequences if they didn’t answer. Did the general want them to do his job? Had Fleet Command been caught with their pants down? Was this general about to mop the floor with Challenger’s crew? Was the crew headed to Leavenworth? “Security, Gen M Willey,” he spouted into the com. “Lockdown Challenger. Secure every loose crew member wandering around this place, and place security outside my conference room. Interview each of them to find out what they've done, who they've talked to and what they have discussed after they exited Challenger. Be thorough.” Huh? Did he read their After Action Report? Gees… that took hours…. “And no more of this protocol. I want each of you participating,” Willey continued, eyeing the crew. “He's vouched for each of you, and you now know top secret information. Don't hold back.” Matheson’s mouth dropped open. In less than a minute, the conference had turned into an interrogation. “He’s grabbing at straws,” Kal mumbled in Sylvanis’ direction, apparently loud enough for the general to hear. “You think, Marine?” he challenged. “I try not to, sir,” Matheson replied calmly, devoid of insinuation, meeting his superior’s glare straight on. “Thinking leads to speculation, and and this point, due respect, sir, I don’t believe you know anything and you’re grabbing at straws.” “Here are the facts,” Willey growled, waving that coffee cup again. “The lightning has been spotted by several ships. Yours is the only one that took damage.” “Maybe we took damage because we were already damaged, because somebody told our QRF to stand down… sir.” Yeah, he was getting hot. “Marine, if you have timeline proof of that, then you’d better present it before you leave this station. I want facts, not opinions.” No, the general didn’t have a clue. He hadn’t read their After Action Report. He hadn’t looked at the ship’s logs. He damn sure didn’t care about the loss of Commander Rinax, he didn’t care about the crew, and he didn’t care that if it weren’t for the grace of a higher power they might not be here now listening to this bull…. Another hand on his shoulder. It settled him down. A little. But he couldn’t get the thought of the general’s head on a platter out of his mind.
  14. =/\= Personnel File - Hunter Kal Matheson =/\= Name: Matheson, Hunter Kal Service: Starfleet Marine Corps Service #: 12-Ω-2882 Rank: Master Gunnery Sergeant Vital Statistics: Height: 6’ 2” Weight: 195 lb Eyes: Blue Hair: Dark Brown Born: November 7, 2360 Place of Birth: Sheridan, Wyoming, USA, Earth Citizenship: Federation Marital Status: single Primary MOS: Special Warfare Craft Crewman Current Certifications: Field Medicine/Tactical Combat Casualty Care Special Warfare Craft Crewman (SWCC) Akira Class Helm Master Certification Education: 2378 - Graduated Sheridan Regional High School 2378 - Enlisted Starfleet Marine Corps 2380 - Assigned USS Bonaventure 2381 - Assigned Special Warfare Craft Crewman Training 2383 - Assigned MARDET USS Kitty Hawk NCC 1063 2386 - Assigned USS Excalibur NCC 2004-C If you’re raised in the mountains of Wyoming, it’s a given that you’ll learn the basics of survival as soon as you can walk or you’ll never make it to adulthood. If you don’t know the territory, don’t know the dangers involved and don’t prepare to survive or know how to survive if you get in a jam, chances are you’ll be found several weeks later, if they find you at all. It’s no wonder that many Starfleet Special Warfare personnel come from areas like the wilds of North America and the Australian Outback. It takes a special breed -- one that’s used to being beat up, hungry, blistering hot or half frozen with their wits about the only thing left to survive on -- to endure the training and not budge an inch, never quit, and never complain. In other words, to survive. One of many such people was Hunter Kal Matheson, and he’ll be the first to tell you he's not special. He is just one of a team. Born to Tyler Matheson and Melanie Durant, from the time Matheson could reason he was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. A career Starfleet Marine, Tyler Matheson served 27 years until an injury forced him to retire to the family’s remote Wyoming ranch in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. As soon as Matheson and his sister, Jessie, could walk, their parents took them on forays in and around the range. By the time they entered school, hiking, camping, trapping, fishing, and hunting both small and big game had become as much a part of growing up as changing their boot size. The day Matheson graduated from high school was the day he enlisted in the Corps. Knowing he would not be satisfied with an ordinary career, Matheson set his sights on Starfleet Special Warfare. Since the 21st century, all branches of the military had meshed into one cohesive unit: separate entities working together like a well-oiled machine. Cross-training was common, and Starfleet Marine Special Operations training merged with Starfleet Special Operations Training, under the already existing umbrella of Starfleet Special Warfare. Recognized for his survival skills, his facility with weapons and wilderness vehicles, his drive and attention to detail, Matheson was fast-tracked into Special Warfare Craft Crewman School where he learned every aspect of Starfleet’s covert and clandestine Special Operations, including techniques and procedures for insertion, extraction, reconnaissance, combat, and the operation of SPECOPS specific vessels as well as modifications that could turn any craft into a more formidable instrument. Their style, their no nonsense approach, and especially their cool toys suited him just fine. Upon earning his SWCC rating, Matheson was assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk, a Quick Response Vessel (QRV) in Starfleet’s Border Patrol. He is currently attached to USS Excalibur as Master Helmsman.
  15. Flashback Granger and Matheson Sometimes you learn too much when you’re sitting on the bridge not listening. Yeah, not listening. That’s the job up there: having convos float around you, the head shed talkin’ like you’re not there, ‘cause basically you’re not. Well, you are and you aren’t; you’re not supposed to listen, sworn to silence like the suits that walk around with diplomats, ears wired, sensor lenses in place to give instant readout on every single person that passes by, every building, every vehicle. They watch the dip’s area for danger and pull ‘em out and cover their tracks if need be. Sometimes it’s because the dip does something stupid; sometimes it’s the opposition getting a jump. Doesn’t matter; the result is often the same and usually not pretty. The suits heard every word, but they didn’t hear it, like Kal “didn’t hear anything” as the conversation bounced from Captain Granger to Captain Ja’Lale to Commander Rinax, to Ambassador Arleth, then back again. They were getting nowhere, just like before. But he didn’t know that. His fingers tapped against the helm chair, a nervous reaction Kal picked up a bit ago, when he knew something was going down but was powerless to stop it. It was one of those little-known OPS involving an eight-man team on an easy-in, easy-out, basic recon mission on a planetoid close to the RNZ. He was the SWCC, the Swickie, the Special Warfare Craft Crewman, flying a top-of-the-line uber-tech shuttle they called a drop-ship, the kind that doesn’t exist, but it does. You get the picture. Someone had set up a listening post in Fed territory. Or someone thought someone had set up a listening post in Fed territory. Yeah, it was one of those things, one of those decisions. The brass suspected it was Romulan. How they figured that one was anybody’s guess, because if it was Romulan no one would have detected it, especially the Federation - but who was he to question? He was the Swickie, their transportation. Anyway, to be sure it was or it wasn’t, brass decided they’d send down eight of the best and brightest, the highest trained operations personnel they could find, 1/1 FORECON, to check it out. The drumming on the helm chair turned into a nervous tick. Going in was dicey: odd atmospheric eddies almost flipped the drop-ship several times, then a natural sensor blackout area scrambled all their nav gear and sensors, making it even more dicey. He figured it was a good thing they trained him to work without everything but the engines, and sometimes that happened, but he prayed it wouldn’t. Glide ratio in a drop-ship is nil; it’d be like landing a skyscraper without wings. His eight-man “cargo” in their five-points hung on and bit down on their mouth guards. A few lost their lunch. No problem; happens all the time. They made it down. They didn’t all make it back. Kal’s vital signs skyrocketed. His face flushed. Deep, controlled tactical breathing didn’t help. Feeling a hand on his shoulder a few seconds later, he catapulted from the helm chair, spun into full defense, and pinned his attacker with a one-handed throat-crushing grip, his elbow poised to smash in the skull. It was Captain Granger. Her instantaneous head-twist/duck and parry countered his move and pinned his hand to his back, pressing him into the console before ordering bridge security to stand down. “Gunny,” she whispered calmly into his ear as soon as she felt him relax beneath her hold, “you’re with me. Kozlowski,” she spoke a little louder, “take helm. Captain, Commander,” she slowly released him as he came back to reality, then turned to face them, “Gunnery Sergeant Matheson and I need a moment.” Ten minutes later they were in her office on the Marine deck, door secure, the light outside the door signaled a secure conference, and all windows were blanked out. Kal’s coffee was turning cold in his hands. One leg bounced nervously while he talked to the floor. Captain Granger listened quietly until he finished and looked up for the first time. “How’d ya know, Cap?” he asked, squeezing away tears with his free hand. “I knew you were there,” she responded with practiced calm. “I knew it would happen some time. Operation Blackout is legend in JSOC.* Every star on that wall is a testimony to their sacrifice. Thanks to you it won’t happen again. “And I know the look, Gunny," she continued with a sigh. "It’s been coming on ever since we achieved orbit.” Her head ticked to the side, pausing long enough for him to interject if he had a mind. “CPTS* isn’t something to mess with. You know the routine. Now the question is: what’s your choice? Can you suck it up? Be a Marine?” Kal put his cup aside, stood to attention, and said somewhat convincingly, “Ma’am, yes ma’am.” Captain Granger studied him a long moment, then moved around to give him a long, hard stare. “Very well. But consider this, Gunnery Sergeant Matheson. If Lieutenant Reed had put a hand on your shoulder you would have killed her.” Kal swallowed hard. The tears returned. “Your record says you had a week of counseling.” “Yes, ma’am.” “That doesn’t cut it, Kal. CPTS needs more than that. Before you return to your post, you will report to Doctor Hanson for a full psychological evaluation and scheduled counseling. Until she determines that you are fit for duty, you will confine your shift duties to the Marine deck. Got it?” “Yes, ma’am.” ============================ JSOC - Joint Special Operations Command CPTS - Combat Post Traumatic Stress
  16. Qo’noS Orders were clear: rendezvous with a support fleet of ten, make for Starbase 180 on the Klingon border, make for their home world. Just what every gropo, swickie, or otherwise SPECOPS dreams of: being in semi-hostile territory far from home. But hell, that’s what they do. So…. Kal stretched with an audible sigh as the starfield zipped by on the forward screen. Qo’noS. Hell of a place to be, but it could be worse. We could've been there when Praxis decided it'd had enough Klingons gouging out its innards and vomited everything at the perps, making the Klingon homeworld in danger of losing its ozone layer. Yeah, over mining and ignoring safety precautions will do that to a moon. When that went down and Kal drew the short straw for evac/SAR, the evac brief called the explosion “titanic.” Interesting comparison, he thought. All they needed was the iceberg, and they would've had that if the polar icecap hadn’t already melted. A vector change interrupted Kal’s thoughts. Couple taps, few course adjustments from Reed, and they were in the green with Kal's thoughts zipping back to his first visit a couple years ago. That first visit to Qo’noS never happened. Officially. SF R&D got new toys, went hyper, and put a perfectly good Excelsior on steroids. They named it Specter, figuring it’d sneak around all ghost-like, slip right into Klingon space for a clandestine look-see, and slip back out again. Piece 'o cake. Yeah, the lab rats liked to dream, big time. But dreams can flip to nightmares at the speed of 3150 fps or more. Kal leaned back at helm, watching the starscape whiz by. He could think of a few missions that just might make their dreams come true... and maybe think twice before ruining a perfectly good starship. Anyway, bulked up starship or not, they didn't quite think the whole thing through. Sure its latest and greatest wasn’t detected - it slipped right in - but everything deployed became a classic SNAFU. The team got out (barely), Specter’s skipper took the fall (they called it early retirement) and R&D went back to the drawing board to dream up another stunt. But the last time Kal entered Klingon space was more like this one. They deployed on SAR from USS Kitty Hawk just after Chancellor Gorkon “made peace” with the Federation after Praxis. Seems like the Empire spent too much on their military. Their funds were depleted so he turned to the Federation. Nothin' like an exploding moon to make your enemy your friend, right? It was a hell of a way to make peace, but hey... peace is peace, right? Anyway, someone in the head shed thought it might be a good deal. Protesters on both sides had their way - in the Federation and on Qo’noS. Opposition groups held contests to see whose protest was bigger and badder. True to their MO, the Klingons won by taking out Chancellor Gorkon. But then his daughter, Azetbur, took over. Strange thing about that? Chancellor Azetbur had the same “peaceful” leanings, so what did she have that he didn’t…? “Yes, ma’am,” Kal replied at Captain Granger’s request, “ETA to rendezvous 4 hours. Course is green.”
  17. “Hunting” It wasn’t until after he spit it out that Kal realized he may have just insulted his boss. When he asked Cptn Granger about women it was almost like saying she wasn’t a woman. Well, there was no doubt she was a woman, but there was also no mistaking she was first a Marine. She’d said time and again that there was no gender on the Marine deck, and especially none on mission, so maybe he wasn’t that far off. Anyway, she didn’t seem to take offense, but no matter how he spun it, the rationalization just didn’t seem to fly. Don't' expect to understand women, she said, We don't understand you half the time either. Big help that was. So just a few minutes later he grabbed Hector Gonzales, Delta’s explosives expert and the acknowledged go-to for advice; he was known to have defused more than a few gender bombs in his day. He was older, he listened, and he actually made sense. Keeping it on the down-low and pausing whenever someone came within earshot, he rushed to explain himself in the few minutes it took to get to wherever Hect was going. “...she’s hot, man. Sooo… hot,” Kal gushed to Hector’s apparent indifference as they walked toward the lift from MARDET. “And she’s... intelligent, you know?” He couldn’t seem to get the words out - the right words, the ones that would really pin down his thoughts, mostly because he didn’t have a clue what he really thought. That’s what Hect was for, right? To help him think? He thought he had it all together until Reed’s comments on the bridge, then it all went south. “... and she’s got this cute little turned up nose that kind of twitches when she's thinking.” A forefinger wagged the air. “And that accent… smooth... educated. .. it kind of puts her in a class by herself. And... man, those eyes….” He blew out a breath. “Um hum,” said Hector, leaning his back against the wall as they waited for the lift. “What.” Hect shrugged, arms folded casually. “Couple things you might want to think about,” he said. Kal waited. The sergeant's expression didn’t change. Kal was definitely missing something. “About…?” “For starters, she’s a lieutenant.” The lift doors opened. Kal stood there, staring. The occupants grumbled. Hect gave Kal’s arm a jerk and Kal stumbled in. “Uh… yeah. Kind of thought about that,” Kal muttered, now pressed against the back of the lift. “But she started it… like she wanted to…” he waved a come-hither, “...you know.” Heads turned. Kal’s hands went up. “Oh, wait… no. Not…. no, not that...” ended in a blush. Gonz fought back a grin. When the lift finally emptied, Kal had recovered and pressed on. "So what should I do?" Another shrug. "Far as I can see you either stick to Swickie*...” he slapped Kal solidly on the back, “...or go for it." Kal thought he heard a chuckle as Hector passed through the docking ring. Just before the doors closed, he craned his neck to shout, "What kind of help is that?" ________________________ *Swickie - Special Warfare Craft Crewman (SWCC), Kal’s Military Occupational Specialty (MOS)
  18. “SAR Copernicus” Semper paratus was the motto of the old U.S. Coast Guard, but somewhere along the line 1/1 FORECON Marines added it to semper fidelis. At first it was a joke - a stab at the Coast Guard’s work in murky waters. Then it stuck. FORECON was always ready for anything and everything. At one point someone wanted to shove the e pluribus unum from the old United States into the mix, but they nixed it as overkill. Bottom line was each team functioned as a unit and each platoon functioned as a unit of always-ready teams. Within those units were specialists: tactical, communications, and medical among them, with all team members having extensively trained in a broad range of weapons. No wonder it took two years (and sometimes more) of very expensive training to be tagged 1/1. The training was there, the teamwork was there; all they needed were the specifics, so when the major called for gear-up, Delta, Easy, Charlie, Foxfire, and Geronimo would prep and be ready for mission-go in ten. Team Leaders gathered ‘round the team prep room table, the rest filing in behind and lining the walls to listen. “Settle down, listen up. The situation is this,” Kal began as a detailed map of their area of operations appeared on the screen behind him. “USS Copernicus hasn’t reported in for 14 plus days, no contact, not even so much as one ping. No transponder signal, nothing. They took no backup. No other ships have been in the area, no comm chatter; they’re essentially out there on their own. “Last known location was here,” he stepped back as a point materialized on the screen, “in the middle of the nebula that’s only 20 minutes from our location. She’s Oberth class scout-science. Specs will be uploaded to your slates. She was tasked with investigating a class M planet that’s inside the nebula. Nebula is cold, but we’ll prepare for hot in case we hit any pockets. Corpsmen, take extra and be ready for anything; we don’t know their situation, might have to carry them out. “Communications...” he glanced around the room, “... don’t depend on it. Like I said, we’ve heard nothing from them so there might be a block. Same thing applies to transporters and emergency beam-out tags. “Gunny’s going to fill you in on tactics.” Kal stepped back and GYSGT Momoa took the platform as a hash line snaked across the screen to mark what the Klingons considered their border. “As you can see, we’re barely 38 minutes from Klingon space. Gunny Kal mentioned it’s a cold nebula and according to CPTN Granger, there are large quantities of dilithium present. The chance that we’ll run into Klingons is pretty much a given - at least we’re going to go in that direction. Major’s ordered hardtail brush-up on Klingon everything. She’s got a lot of experience with Klingons and given us some good training programs. We’ll prepare for boarding, ground, class M all terrain, asteroids, you name it. Maintenance support is rigging up the tactical prep area now. “The latest known Klingon tactics and ship specifications are on your slates. We’ve pulled every weapon from the lockers for hand-to-hand. Any of you have a prize of your own, now’s the time to share. Questions?” “Any chance they’ve strayed into Klingon space?” CPL Johnny Longknife, Easy Team’s tactician pushed off from the wall. “Not likely, but possible,” replied Moa. “CO is Vulcan. CPTN Sivok. Knows his stuff. At this point we’re considering everything. And along those lines, CPTN Granger’s doing her counterintel thing; she’ll fill us in with anything we need to know. Other questions?” He glanced around. “A’ight. Let’s do it.”
  19. Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t ‘a done that. Kal Matheson with the assistance of CPT Granger Shouts of cheeerrrryyy echoed through the Marine locker room as Hector Gonzales and Danny Souter tackled Kal and dragged him, kit and all, feet first into the showers. Kal knew it was coming. In fact, he’d expected it since he came aboard. Now, normally someone’s a “cherry” if they’ve never seen combat. But in the teams they use it for someone who’s new to just about anything, and especially new to the team. No one was immune, not even senior officers, and in this case the non-immunee was Gunnery Sergeant Hunter K. Matheson, better known as Kal, who was brand-spankin’ new to Delta team. (Well, he’d been on one mission but that didn’t count because he came aboard during mission planning, the team didn’t have time or opportunity, and they had to do him up proper, yuh know.) Kal wanted to get it over with. He figured it was better done sooner than later, so on his way past CPL Johnny “Jack” Daniels he butt-snapped him with his towel to start the ball rolling. And yeah, it rolled. He was about to get butt-whipped big time. Delta’s corpsman Tasha pulled out the hard green lava soap - reserved for such occasions. Maori-warrior-in-residence Moa had his hand on the cold-water button (freshwater courtesy of station docking, of course, and ordered extra-icy and high pressure with the lame excuse that it was needed for mission training). A stiff-bristled scrub brush sailed over the lockers to bulls-eye the skull of O’Neill’s Punisher T-shirt while Daniels, who had earned the right to do the honors by virtue of the towel-swat Kal had given him, stood over Kal and read him his rights. “You have the right to remain silent. If you decline the right to remain silent anything you say or do can and will be used on the Marine video feed throughout the ship and maybe even into the station. Hell, we might even broadcast it to HQ - depending on the quality of the actions and/or statements.” Daniels grinned. “Oh, and keep your eyes closed.” Hot damn, I’m in for a ride. “Other than that, you got no rights, Gunnery Sergeant Hunter Kal Matheson. Your. Ass. Is. Ours. Is... that... clear?” “Yes, sir,” Kal muttered the best he could with his T-shirt pulled over his head as a restraint. “I... can’t... hear..... you!!” Daniels shouted into his ear, DI* fashion, complete with funky Hollywood accent. “Sir, yes sir!” On came the water - full force - while Gonzales and Souter splayed his hands and feet and pressed them into the shower floor and wall. The resulting string of expletives weren't repeatable in Marine company, much less polite company, so the chances of it being cleared for any feed were nil. His body pounded mercilessly by the water’s icy fingers, Kal was soon red - like a cherry - and then came the best part: the lava soap and bristle brush scrub-down. Head to toe. No holds barred. Tasha turned politely away when the shorts came off. As team corpsman, her job was to discreetly monitor the situation, to make sure Kal wasn't seriously injured (ego excluded) and to patch up any minor scrapes, which were bound to happen but were usually brushed off and tended to by the recipient. Moa also took a back seat. As ATL,* his job was to keep any onlookers (non-team members who wanted to join in) at bay and, when it was over, informally report the incident to TL* CPT Granger, who would report it to Marine CO, MAJ Johnson. But they usually found out through the grapevine before he could tell them. So they rubbed and scrubbed for what seemed an eternity to Kal, but was actually only five minutes. Biting ice-cold water numbed him to the core, lava soap and a stiff-bristled scrub brush took off a layer of skin - but he had more than one, so no problem there. By the time he came out he was more than squeaky-clean inside and out. His mouth would taste of lava soap for several days. Hell, he might even lose that tiny bit of flab that had grown around his middle during liberty because everyone knows that the taste of lava soap and food don’t exactly mix. Covered with several large towels, Kal sat on the bench where the team had left him. His teeth chattered uncontrollably and his body was engulfed in shudders. “Kal?” Tasha’s voice. “I’m good,” he responded, “hell of a shower.” He tried to laugh, but his teeth wouldn’t let him. “Can you walk?” Kal looked up. “Guess we’ll find out.” Wrapped in several warm blankets, Kal’s body slowly recovered while Tasha examined the “damage” in the seclusion of the team room. “You’ll be red for a few days,” she said. “The antibiotic should take care of any nasties. You’re up to date on your virals. Look at me.” She nodded as she examined his eyes. “They’re good about staying clear, but I like to be sure,” she said to his questioning look. “No major damage to your body. You start feeling anything strange, you hightail it straight to sick bay, understood?” Kal dropped his head with a chuckle, then looked up with a sheepish grin. “Feeling strange include wanting to take you out for a stiff drink?” “Get outta here,” she teased, the implication clear. “You’re fine. Bed rest until you’re on duty, which shouldn't be for another two hours. Got it?” “Ma’am, yes ma’am,” he said, grinning as she walked out the door. A fresh set of civies later, while relaxing in his bunk, all he could think was, Damn, one hell of a woman, one hell of a shower. ______________ DI - Drill Instructor ATL - Assistant Team Leader TL - Team Leader
  20. It’s What We Do Chatter on the Marine comm band had been pretty quiet compared to the last few days. The occasional update came down from Main* with a response from Actual,* but other than that they’d had almost nothing. Captain Granger’d put the word out for random frequency shifts and they seemed to be going pretty smoothly. Kal was pretty impressed at how Challenger OPS handled things; there didn’t seem to be any interference, not even the slightest static in frequency shift. Had to admit he’d been on some ops where that drove him crazy thinking it would be a dead giveaway to anyone trying to listen in, make it easy to follow the shift even though Actual assured him it wouldn’t be. But he wasn’t a comm officer. He was FORECON SWCC,* and damn proud of it. The frequency shifted again. “...going in.” A pivot toward Moa and Kal saw that his partner was as surprised as he was to hear Samuels’ voice. Moa shrugged; Kal moved on. “Damn muddy down here; deep sucking mud. Eddies strong. Tighten the tether, Adams. Let it slip and you’re buyin.” Kal thought he heard a snicker. As he passed Moa, the Maori gave the standard dive signal. Their favorite frogs were in the water, searching for something. Could get interesting. “Engaging ocular monitor, direct feed, Main. Use heavy filter; diffuse light if any at all.” Kal’s eyes remained focused on the launch pad perimeter as he listened. “Contact. Body. Equipment. Ready to extract....” “Zeus 1, this is Hera,” Captain Granger broke through the Major’s feed. “Hera, Zeus 1,” said Kal without missing a step of his AOR. “Confirmed hostile, Main era on surveillance record. Energy weapons. Go to red.” Kal’s hand tightened on his SAW.* “Copy, Hera. Delta, go to red. Stay tight. Maintain standard AOR.”* Damn, thought Kal. Just when it was nice and quiet. But, hell, it’s what we do. ------------ Main: Challenger Actual: Cdr Morrison FORECON SWCC: Marine Force Reconnaissance Special Warfare Craft Crewman SAW: Squad Automatic Weapon AOR: Area of Responsibility
  21. "Launch Site" The world of 1969 was a whole lot different from the one Kal knew. Not that he expected it to be the same, but he just wasn't quite ready for, well, pretty much everything, the sounds and smells being the worst. 'Course he had to admit that seeing contrails slice the sky was something - what he'd never get to see in his lifetime had he not been on this mission. But the earthshaking, bone-rattling roar those birds needed to get off the ground? Damn. Took all he could do to keep from duck and cover. Then there was the stench of atmo aviation fuel on the ground, burning rubber and combustion engines on the highways, and cigarettes. Seemed they were everywhere you turned there were cigarettes. But let's not even go there. "Zeus 1, check your five o'clock." A casual change in patrol pattern brought Kal around at Momoa's com call. Not far from a supply truck stood someone who just didn't look like he fit, like he was either lost or looking for something. A few seconds later NASA security guard approached the wanderer, removing him from Kal's area of responsibility, but Kal continued to watch. Just in case. "He's showin' green," Kal replied as he watched, "but scan to be sure." "Copy that." The tracker in his ocular told Kal that, whoever it was and whatever his business, he wasn't blue - military or assigned law enforcement - but green: he belonged on the base for some reason. But around the launch site? Might be a different matter. July 5 fell on a Saturday in 1969. It was the weekend, and by all accounts it was supposed to be a non-work day. For those assigned to Kennedy Space Center, though, it seemed that not much stopped for weekends. Oh, everything stopped to celebrate the 4th, the U.S. Independence Day, but everything started up again on the day after. And so it went throughout their first morning: watch, check, and verify - watch, check, and verify. Step back for the real guys; watch for the bad guys. So far no sign of the supposed terrorists that might try to stop the launch - operative word here being 'might.' Kal turned to resume his patrol pattern, kept regular so he wouldn't stand out among NASA security and the bolstered military and federal pre-launch presence. A quick check with the rest of Delta told him all was quiet. But was it too quiet? Not goin' there either, just goin' with the flow.
  22. "Taking Point" Granger & Matheson July 4, 1969 Cape Canaveral, Florida Taking point on your first mission with a new team wasn't exactly what Kal expected when he was assigned to Challenger. 'Course he already knew their reputation as quick-change artists, having heard the scuttlebutt from most of his buddies. Oh, you want us to go there instead of there, sir? You completely changin' the mission, sir? No sweat, sir. Roger that, sir! We got it! It's called a lot of things, but the polite way of sayin' it is mission creep. You begin with one mission and it creeps into a totally different one, as dangerous as dropping into a hot zone with no support. When a mission changes it leaves everyone but the head shed* out in the open, aka Kal & co. But, hey... it comes with the territory. "Okay, few changes for Zeus Boy," Kal began, settling onto a handy bunk in the largest bedroom of their quarters, the only room large enough for a private team meeting. The rest of the team draped over chairs, sat on the floor, or leaned against the wall. PFC Souter sat on one of the top bunks swinging his legs over the side, lookin' like a kid arriving at camp. But he was pretty much a kid anyway, the youngest of the bunch. "Today's standard patrol, civilian clothes. Cap'n Granger's picked out... uh..." he grinned as he glanced up to the figure that leaned against the wall. She shrugged, giving a playful smirk in response. "...anyway, they're on the dresser over there for y'all to fight over. Just pick some'n that fits." O'Neill rolled his eyes. Moa gave a low snort. Danny opened his mouth to make a comment, then shut it when he noticed the cap'n had him in her crosshairs. The rest seemed pretty content except for Tasha, who seemed to be looking for something in particular. Cap'n pulled out a sundress with matching swimsuit and tossed it to her. "Stay sharp for anything out of the ordinary," Kal continued. "Frequencies we're monitoring won't change and if a frequency comes in under the radar, Main will be on top of it and send an alert. Then we switch to plan B. Three nets we're monitoring: Main, team, and NASA. Got it?" Kal looked around for nods, then moved on. "The mission. Cap mentioned, I'm repeating: Cap, Lance," he glanced at Tasha, "and Cmdr Rinax will be located in the main building. If they move beyond that Main will pick that up and transmit to Actual, who will establish the creep, if any. No contact - repeat no contact with any of them. Cap has that covered." Kal looked to Cass, who confirmed. "All other AORs* are still valid. Gunny," he looked at Momoa, "you're with me at the prep and launch area covering HVTs.* Daniels, there was discussion about pulling you off overwatch with NASA security, but that's a critical position and still a go, so stay put. The rest of you clear on your AORs?" Again he looked for nods. " RIght. Rules of Engagement. Lance," he looked at Tasha, "MEDROE* has changed." Tasha looked puzzled. "How so?" "Only personnel you treat are Challenger mission personnel, and then only if they are critical and can't be medevaced. Don't even think of helping a kid with a skinned knee. Head shed says you're not supposed to be medical so they don't want you actin' like it. The rest of you, if you're injured and need assistance, move to a secure location and use that medevac tag. Your buddy gets injured, same thing. No one - repeat, no one gets left behind on this mission. Timeline is critical. Got it?" A chorus of, "Got it," came from everyone but Tasha, who gave a reluctant, "Aye." "Okay. Call signs. Commander Murphy is Zeus Actual. I'm Zeus 1, Cap's Hera, everything else stays the same. ======= Cheat Sheet: AOR - Area of Responsibility HVT - High Value Target ROE - Rules of Engagement MEDROE - Medical Rules of Engagement Head Shed - Command Main - Challenger OPS Actual - mission commander
  23. "Independence Day" Fourth of July, 1969, and astronaut central was a hive of activity with folks up and down the block stoking their barbecues - or what passed for a barbecue in Florida. One old Victorian style house stood at the end of the block - a cul-de-sac they called it, meaning when you got there the only thing you could do was turn around and go out. Kal figured that long before anyone else even thought of living here it had belonged to a wealthy family. As the generations died off, the heirs probably sold the land and laughed all the way to the bank while developers carved out this gawd-awful 1960's subdivision. Anyway, whoever lived there now had draped Old Glory on the railings that lined their wrap-around porch, and Kal had to admit it didn't look half bad. The house reminded Kal of home, especially the Bishop's sprawling ranch house that dominated one desolate hill about 15 miles outside of town. Many a 4th they spent popping cherry-bombs in milk cans or the closest neighbor's old mailbox. They shot off Roman candles and blew half last month's pay on the heaviest, most bad-azz rockets you'd ever seen. Or they'd make their own, at great personal peril. They'd set 'em off, watch where they landed, and high-tail it out to the spot to douse it before the thing started a grass fire. In wetter years they'd build a bonfire, shoot a feral hog, spit it and roast it for most of the night while they huddled in blankets with their girls to watch meteorites streak through an obsidian sky stretching from the eastern horizon to eternity. Now and then they'd catch sight of a starship just entering low orbit, guess its business or destination and where it'd come from, then they'd all vow to be on it someday and boast about where they'd go and what they'd conquer. As Kal stared down the street, for the first time since joining the Corps he was just a bit homesick. Problem was that if he went home to celebrate he wouldn't have been born yet, the Bishop Ranch wouldn't be there, and there for sure wouldn't be a starship entering low orbit. Well, at least not a friendly one. Down the hall in their common room the black-and-white TV blared the latest information on the weather. Ohio floods were the worst in history, they said, but today hadn't been half bad and the good weather should continue into the night. They'd experienced the occasional passing shower, the humidity had stayed its usual high and the temperature hovered around 90 with winds five to ten and visibility 13 miles, give or take. Behind him, Daniels arranged his weapons on a small table, cleaned and checked them for the fourth or fifth time, sorted his magazines, and checked and seated his rounds. In a few minutes Kal would join him to go through his again, maybe take a few practice draws, because no matter what the situation, in their world they could always expect it to change. Arrive early and you wish you'd come earlier; arriving late wasn't an option 'cause either you or your team mate could be dead. And sure enough, Cap'n Granger'd changed the game plan for today, Independence Day, 4th of July, 1969. Families would be out: spouses, children, parents, probably even some grandparents and dignitary guests. Parades, picnics in the backyard or on the beach. Everyone but the core group of NASA, absorbed with the upcoming launch, would be out celebrating the 4th. Prime time for a terrorist group to cause a disruption that could jeopardize or scrub the mission. So she'd changed the game plan and set up recon/support teams for the afternoon and evening. A trip to the local stores brought the latest casual men's wear - loose enough for conceal carry. GySgt Momoa, Cpl Daniels, and Sgt Gonzales made up team one, assigned to monitor astronauts' families, wander outside their perimeters, check in on their backyard or beach gatherings, and, in general, watch for anything that looked out of place. Team oculars would tell them who belonged and who didn't and three-channel audio feed kept them up on the latest, but probably the telltale sign would be someone not acting quite human or acting totally out of place. Kal would head up team two with SSgt O'Neill and PFC Souter. They'd be doing pretty much the same thing as team one, but in different areas. Cptn Granger and LCpl Hammond would slip on the latest fashion and blend with beach-goers or partiers, maybe get a taste of the best barbecue while monitoring three feed channels, and determine threats. All in a day's work.
  24. "Time Warp" Matheson & Granger (her NPCs) Relax, she says. Sit back and enjoy the ride, she says. Right. Kal's grip on the five-point approached white-knuckle as Challenger began its slingshot around the sun. It was supposed to send them back to 1969, but who really knew where they would land? "Hey. Sarge. Relax." The voice sounded distant. Distorted. And kind of... fuzzy? Kal blinked but it didn't help. "Seriously, man. It's okay. Really." Kal strained, his eyes pressing into their sockets as he looked toward the voice. Challenger's IDS fought to keep up with the acceleration and it suddenly occurred to Kal what a rock in a slingshot felt like. Finally, just across the way the voice came into focus. It was Souter. What was his name? Danny? Yeah, Danny Souter. Private 1st Class Dan Souter, just sittin' there, chewin' gum and grinnin' like this wasn't any worse than a HAHO.* Walk in the park. Right. Danny's head lolled easily against the headrest while Kal fought to keep a straight face. "Sounds like you've been here a few times, Dan." Kal's voice shook with the ship. At least that's how he figured he'd explain it. "Maybe." Danny shrugged. "Maybe not. Gum?" Another squint and Kal barely made out the pack. He waved it off. "No? Then you're prolly gonna need this," Danny's grin grew as he waved a barf bag in the air, "'specially if you're a first-timer." He gave a snap-pop of his chew. "Usually happens 'round about when, Tash?" He turned to LCpl Hammond, the team medic. "Apogee," she said casually. "Yeah. Apogee. That's when we actually whip around," his finger circled, "and it shakes us up real good." Danny leaned forward to wave the bag in Kal's face. Smartalec kid. "Thanks. I'm good," he said, pressing his lips tight, fighting the urge. Next to Danny, O'Neill grumbled and snatched the bag, crumpled it and tossed it into the stowage area. "Can't a guy get some sleep?" he mumbled, closing his eyes and curling into the bulkhead. No harness. No belt. Looked like his natural sleeping position. Kal tried to relax and kick back like the others. Until the ship approached apogee, where the real 'sling-shot' would happen. Soon. He cringed, wishing he'd taken the offer of that bag. --------------- *HAHO - High Altitude High Opening, used to conceal the aircraft from detection.
  25. First Contact Kal Matheson's sea bag hit the deck with a thump as he froze momentarily, then eased into a crowd of gawkers that pressed close to the observation windows of Starbase 103. Outside, the USS Challenger drifted into port, the former majesty of the Excelsior refit a shadow beneath its battle scars. "Whoa," muttered a seaman. "Heard they took damage, but didn't know it was that bad." Up and down the line the silence broke with similar thoughts whispered from one to the other, like mourners at a funeral. Kal had been making his way toward Sector Commandant Col. Danielle Jeorsey's office, but the sight of Challenger slipping into berth at Starbase 103 not only brought him up short, it put a knot in his stomach. It wasn't the scarred starship that got to him; he'd seen enough and been on the receiving end a few times during his six plus years on the Kitty Hawk. But he'd heard rumors of a SpecOps buildup in this area of space. As he watched Challenger chug wearily into its docking bay, Kal couldn't help wonder if there was more to his assignment than he'd been told. Wouldn't be the first time. Ten minutes later Kal stood at parade rest, eyes front, before the commandant's desk thinking his apprehension was pretty well hidden as he waited for the colonel finish up before addressing him. "Something on your mind, Gunny?" Jeorsey's question jerked Kal from his thoughts and his eyes dropped to hers in respectful attention. "No, ma'am" She gave a grunt and tossed her glasses on the desk, rubbing her temples as she leaned forward. "Cut the crap, Kal. Thirty years in the Corps's made me pretty much immune to that kind of bull. You got concern written all over you and if you didn't watch Challenger dock you're the only one on the base that didn't. Siddown." A slender finger pointed him into a chair. Tongue in cheek, Kal settled into the chair, forearms resting easily on his thighs, hands clasped between them. Still rubbing her temples, Col. Danielle Jeorsey began, "Cardinal rule is 'don't believe everything you hear,' but in this case...." she let it hang with a shrug and slid a padd toward him. "You already know you've been assigned to the USS Challenger MARDET,*" she said, "Challenger's commanding officer is Captain Fahrouk Ja'Lale, Rigelian and Academy graduate. Not a mustanger.* Not a shoe-in.* He's earned his stripes, and then some. "Served on the USS Churchill and the USS North Carolina, worked several clandestine missions and a few covert* that're still under lock and key* before taking this command. Get the picture, Gunny?" Kal passed the padd back with a, "Yes, ma'am." "So don't let that first 'Fleet command thing fool you. He has a knack for it, often sees things others don't. Not sure if that's a Rigelian thing," she waved a hand, stifled a yawn, and began to rub her eyes. "Follow his orders and he'll back you up, a hundred percent. "First Officer," she flicked another padd toward him and plowed on, like it was her thousandth briefing today, "Commander Erkia Rinax. She's an M.D. and big on psychiatry. Don't let her psychoanalyze you or you'll find you have more buried in your brain than you could ever dream about." Jeorsey stopped rubbing her eyes suddenly and looked up. "And I didn't say that." "Say what, Colonel?" He grinned as they exchanged padds. "It's her first Exoh position, so cut her some slack and don't go all Ooorah on her. She does have some deep cover experience, so she's definitely no pushover. Got it?" "Got it." "MARDET CO is Major Kimiko Johnson. She's West Point, but reupped as a Marine after she paid her dues.* No reason why. Personal preference, I guess?" she smirked. "Decided Marines were a step up from the Army?" Jeorsey's uncharacteristic smirk lingered and Kal couldn't help returning it. "But let's not go there." Back to business. "Security Chief and Tactical Officer is Ensign Long. Get to know him; he might tap you now and then to augment his section, bolster a mission, whatever. Questions?" "Yes, ma'am...." Kal waited for her to look up, which took all of a nanosecond. She had that hell, what did I forget this time look on her face, but he ignored it. "My primary assignment aboard isn't clear, Colonel, and I've heard rumors...." "I'm sure you have,"she broke in, suddenly wide awake, "some true, some exaggerated, a lot of 'Fleet disinformation. SpecOps is being bolstered big time and Challenger is part of it. It's need to know so you'll get final assignment and briefing when the time is right. For now, consider it an ordinary change of station." "Yes, ma'am." ---------------------------- *MARDET - MARine DETachment *mustanger - someone who has come up through the ranks *shoe-in - Starfleet sometimes accepted officers who had earned their credentials for command outside the Federation. *Clandestine missions are those carried out without the operators revealing their presence to the enemy. Typically, SpecOps missions are clandestine. Covert missions are those carried out in deep cover, where the operatives are disguised as locals and, ideally, the presence of foreign intervention is never known. Typically, missions of the CIA are covert. *under lock and key - classified top secret, records of which are inaccessible to all but the highest clearances *paid her dues - Graduates of military academies are required to serve a certain number of years as payback for their education.