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Found 22 results

  1. The Pain of Life O, that this too too solid flesh would melt Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2 The lieutenant’s glare spoke of anger, though he struggled to hold it back. His cynical, pessimistic, and weary expression said I don’t want to be here, but she knew that. She pressed through his candor to gauge his limits, to see how far he would go beyond addressing her as Chirakis rather than Captain. He grappled to hide his emotions, but it wasn’t working. At least not yet. Lieutenant Neufeld, exemplary Starfleet officer, team leader, and 15 year veteran of innumerable covert and clandestine operations, had been tossed aside, as though one would toss rotting gagh into a fermenting garbage bin instead of a recycler. She had worked beside him several times, especially during the V’Mal attack with the Stone of Gol. And now, after being a Tier I Starfleet operative, he was close to psychological collapse. Well into nightfall, Chirakis Kirel, SI-5 operative well versed in Special Operations, sat in her office paging through information regarding Admiral Vera Farragut. Her unit had come so close to destruction that the Alien Alliance could have used them for fodder or handed them over to Ragor Tal. Instead, Admiral Farragut had been court martialed. Had she been put into the hands of Kirel, Admiral Farragut would have vanished. Mysteriously. Without a trace. Third watch had begun. As usual, Kirel left her office door open. Yeoman Drexler entered soundlessly, set a tray on the captain’s coffee table and asked if she needed anything else. “Thank you, Yeoman. That will be all,” Kirel replied with a forced congenial nod, then continued to page through the information. According to the records, Starfleet Command disbanded Lieutenant Neufeld’s team because Farragut had weaved her web so expertly that whatever she did was beyond remission. Though Neufeld was not to blame, as the team leader he bore the brunt of the situation and was now paying the price. That Kirel’s ire approached the boiling point was an understatement. Lighting in the office dimmed abruptly, the office door closed and locked, and silence prevailed. Forcing a deep breath to contain her emotions, Kirel swiveled her chair to face the main screen as the image of Admiral Solokov, Commanding Officer of Rendezvous October, appeared. The captain stood respectfully in greeting, then leaned against her desk, arms crossed. “Good evening, Kirel,” the admiral sighed, running his hands through thin, graying hair before clasping them to lean forward on his desk, half asleep and half awake. “If it is evening. I’ve lost track of time, unfortunately, but such is the situation these days.” His eyes narrowed now noticing Kirel’s clenched jaw. “From your expression, I would say that what we need to discuss is important.” “The Farragut Affair, Admiral.” she replied flatly. "Hmm…" Another sigh and he leaned back. “She’s been in the foreground lately, but not exactly the foreground anyone would want.” A glass of water appeared on his desk. He nodded off stage and downed the glass before setting it aside. “Admiral Farragut has apparently dug such a deep hole for herself and her constituents that they will never again see the light of day. But what does that have to do with Aegis?” “Lieutenant Ethan Neufeld.” Solokov frowned, his lips pursed somewhat thoughtfully as he stroked the stubble on his chin. “One of their best operatives, if not the best. I take it that he is aboard Aegis with his team, which is a bonus for us.” “Unfortunately no, Admiral. He is here. On Aegis. Alone. His team has been disbanded, possibly scattered throughout the system.” Solokov was now wide awake. “Disbanded?” he whispered intensely, his eyelids narrowing as his face flushed to the point that Kirel reflexively leaned back. “How... in Thor’s Gates... did that happen?” “In short,” Kirel continued, struggling to maintain her demeanor, “Admiral Farragut created so much damage that Starfleet Command could not disentangle the spider’s web." "The black widow," he scoffed into a snort worthy of a targ. "She's been called that behind her back for many, many years, Kirel, and now the truth has come out." A few moments of deep thought as he drummed his fingers on the desk still did not cover his anger. "What do you want from me, Kirel? October?" “That… would not be wise, Admiral,” Kirel offered as she rounded her desk to settle in, contemplating the outcome of going too far too fast. “At least not yet. He is definitely capable, but it will take time for him to overcome what he has experienced. Eventually, if we can locate his team and they are willing, October is a possibility, but not until they are ready.” “Then what exactly can we help you with, Kirel?” At that point, Captain Raza, commanding officer of SI-6, appeared onscreen. “Find his team if possible Admiral. Assure their safety. Nothing beyond that.”
  2. 10 JUN 2388 Chez Antonio, Commerce Sector, Aegis “Relax, Lieutenant. Your tension is palpable.” He felt irritated that she casually pointed it out, much less that he struggled to hold it back in her presence. He heard the scoff-like chuckle that came from him before he could stop it, sensed dissonance in his curious look even as he tasted bitterness. He had written her off months ago, daring to hope on the flight to Aegis that he had more time to prepare for this conversation and more that it would never happen. “Lieutenant, do you know why you were sent here?” “Guessing you're about to tell me,” he countered, sounding more cynical than he had intended. “I would, but unfortunately I cannot. However, what you believe and the reality of it is... complicated. But I suppose you suspected that.” “Hmm,” he hummed wearily. “Apparently you were not wanted… for whatever reason. So I asked for you, and it was granted.” She reversed predictably from his perspective. “Though few know that, and it would be best to leave it that way. Does that disturb you?” She had dodged the question, like usual. He shook his head, unable to hide the flash of incredulity on his face as he verged ironically. “No. Surprises.” “I know your history, Lieutenant.” “Hmm.” He sounded almost dismissive. “What are you up to, Chirakis?” “Explain what you are asking. I am unfamiliar with ‘what are you up to’.” Irritation drew up a wry smirk. She knew exactly what he asked and exactly what she wanted, and he hated this dance. “Why did you ask for me?” “Ah... well, there are many who would like to see you hang - which is ridiculous. Then there are others who understand your abilities. You are a valuable operative, a leader among other things. This station.... is in need of quality officers, especially those who have 15 years of impeccable service as an operative. Some said that putting you here was a waste. I know otherwise. But you have a choice.” She looked relaxed, yet he felt her relentless focus on him as she turned the server away. “Hmm. You're not remotely concerned about how this will end?” After all, he mused, he had just contributed to the downfall of a once distinguished admiral and her entire organization. “How this might end? No one knows how things might end. You don't have to make a decision now, Lieutenant. Consider it more of an offer.” He sighed at her persistence and philosophizing around the question, nodding noncommittally as he still waxed ironic. “I'll think about it.” “Take as much time as you need.” He stared at her for a long time, picking at his order before the disillusionment and buried anger finally won over his laconicism. “It's been a while. Picked up an interesting package last time I was here. Everything still copacetic? “I am not Terran, Lieutenant. Explain ‘copacetic.’” He scoffed out of annoyance. “You know, it's not a disgrace to use a translator.” “I understand. I prefer to ask the question.” “Hmm,” he indulged despite feeling piqued. “Copacetic: Uh, is everything ‘in good order?’” “I see... as good as it can be.” “What about you? ‘As good as it can be?’” Ethan couldn’t help the hollowness in his gaze. It had almost slipped it into his tone. Everyone works an angle. Anyone who says otherwise is a Romulan selling state secrets. A mutual wariness had defined the so-called relationship between Ethan and Chiraks from the beginning. Or friendship, for lack of a better word. For all the long-standing success of her operations, Ethan had turned down posts under her command before, steering clear of direct involvement in her methods and connections. Until, laughably, her resources became the only force capable of deposing an admiral guilty of orchestrating extensive war crimes. The possibility that the captain would exploit the situation had crossed his mind over a year ago. Admiral Farragut and her project had critics, including Chirakis who played so close to the chest that he had never figured out why. At the time, he had hoped they shared the same justification for seeking Farragut’s dismissal as much as he worried that she coveted the power vacuum. In the months following the admiral’s indictment, while his unit fell from leaderless to suspended and finally disbanded, Chirakis had said nothing. Not even a call just to talk. She had ghosted him. Abandoned him while she reaped the advantage, masterfully backing him into an isolated corner. He felt like a fool to have gambled against this scenario, knowing that it fit her modus operandi. Her voice seemed to echo down a long chamber as he stared. “There is always something happening on this starbase. One never knows what might happen the next minute. So... things are well, as good as can be.” “Hmm.” A look of wry amusement pulled taut through his jawline as he nodded behind Chirakis, eyes on the short, babyfaced brunette who paid a tab for the beer she had just finished. “The kid at the bar—she one of your Geheime Staatspolizei, too?” Having almost inhaled a quantity of ale, she coughed a few times, then stopped to glance at Sierra, then back to Ethan. “Geheime Staatspolizei?” “Turn on your translator and listen,” he said levelly, leaning on crossed arms at the edge of the table. “Won’t play your games with my back to the wall.” “Qo’!” she replied casually, watching him seethe. “And it is not a game, unless you allow it to be.” He scoffed, settling against the seat to study the girl while he absently rubbed the side of his face and then sighed. “She’s not one of your spies,” he remarked dryly, more observation than a question. “Qo’ - she is not. She is an engineer, and a very good one at that.” Lips pressed in another exhale, he nodded as he found some other distant object at which to glower. “What do you want from me?” “That depends on what you want. Do you want to continue as an operative, or would you rather remain a civilian? It is your choice.” His head lowered in a shake, blue eyes briefly closed as he muttered, “Scheisse, wir reden im Kreis.” Rising to fix her gaze, he pointed between them. “This an official meeting?” “I suppose you could call it that. Perhaps more of a discussion that could lead to an official meeting,” she continued, her expression becoming more serious and her words sincere. “My question to you is, are you interested in joining our operation against the Alien Alliance?” She paused, leaning forward to rest her arms on the table for confidentiality. “Lieutenant, we are in great danger here, more than most realize. In fact, more than many in Starfleet realize. However, for me to continue this discussion I must know if you actually want to work with us.” A short, cynical chuckle spilled out as an excruciating sense of deja vu filled his brain. He could hear Admiral Farragut’s voice mingled below the captain’s like a bad overdubbing. The flatness of his tone couldn’t mask all of the profound disaffection he felt. “Permission to be dismissed, sir.” Relaxing into her chair, she nodded. “Permission granted.” “Thank you, sir,” he said, promptly standing. Then as he passed unhurried toward the bar to pay his bill, added neutrally, “Enjoy your lunch, sir.” Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
  3. 9 JUN 2388 Commercial Sector, Aegis Ethan waited in the darkness for klaxons or the call to general quarters, replicated water puddling at his feet. A second ago, he stood on a twelve-meter cliff overlooking a vast human-made reservoir — mercifully all forced perspective via holographics, none of the actuality. Meanwhile, elsewhere a host of scientists and engineers had toiled anxiously over a micro-wormhole to correct a mix-up à la Soulminder or The Identity Matrix. Then blackout! He figured the build must have overloaded the grid. The dim emergency lighting kicked on, and he mused dryly at the stark latticework. He philosophized on the history of electricity, its socioeconomic impact, and the crippling effect of its loss in the proverbial tin space-can. But mostly whether he should return to quarters over thirty decks up or venture to the park less than twenty decks down. He had the self-assurance and fitness to push a five- to fifteen-minute climb up, traffic permitting. But climbing down tempted him after expending the morning and his energy in more or less a self-initiated aquathlon. Given the right circumstances, he could race to the park in a couple of minutes before engineering restored power. Or he could stay here and conserve most of an entire room of oxygen to himself for a day or two — one emptily morbid thought among dozens of contingencies that streaked through his brain. Contrary to his inclination for solitude, he preferred dying usefully to bored and alone. Though he believed the situation unlikely to go that far, they faced only the danger of inconvenience at the moment, given the lack of … anything. Fortunately, he had brought an oversized, quick-drying towel that he used to rub his hair and wring his boardshorts. Mopping up the floor as much as possible, he spread out the rest of the water for quicker drying. A force of habit — he knew the system self-cleaned under power. He pulled on a gray tank, slid bare feet into a pair of sneakers, and rolled the saturated towel over his shoulders. Before tucking his PADD into a hidden pocket, he paused over the first passages of chapter fourteen, African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Japan. He appreciated the full hour he had for a swim, at any rate. On the other hand, he hardly felt a loss for a knockoff in lieu of the real leave they continually promised and never delivered. A mild premonition somewhere between an imminent static shock and face-plant typically kept him out of holosuites, apart from the practical stuff or a wild hair. Falling just felt downright weird. Opening a panel beside the double-door, he cranked the emergency release lever, disengaging the catch. A gap popped in the doors, and he pushed one aside into its pocket. The murmur of upset crowds floated in the storefront from the massive commercial commons outside. He imagined the station's emergency services would have a hell of a time fielding all of the calls from the nosey to the trapped or paranoid. "Oh! You got out. I was just coming to open the doors." The cheerful voice belonged to the anorexic college-aged clerk who looked thrilled as she bounced toward him sooner than he hoped. The brown-eyed girl had wrapped her blonde mane in a giant bun. An understated helix and forehead suggested Romulan-Human. She wore a small bright-pink tee, black leggings, neon sneakers, and a bedazzled name tag that said N'alae in a stylized Federation font. Maybe someone somewhere else thought her a cute, sweet, even fun girl. The smiles and curiosity about his plans from the moment he requested a rental had touched more on the creepy side of flattering. Enough that he had intended to escape out the side exit after his time expired. He smiled flatly in response. "Sorry that the power went out. Did you get to enjoy your swim in Norfolk Lake, Arr-Kanzas, at least?" She giggled awkwardly at his damp state. Eyeing the curved row of doors, he wondered how long she had stared at that monitor to memorize the name of a place unknown to her an hour ago and feel cheeky about it. "Yeah," he offered nonchalantly, tossing a gesture over his shoulder. "Anyone still stuck?" "Um," she drawled in thought. "Yes, all of them except you, of course. The people in five and two" — she pointed — "they left a little bit before the power went out. And there's no one in four, which is out-of-service for maintenance." He glanced at the numbered placard of the suite he had rented — the last suite — and back to the front desk beyond the first suite. Then nodding, he stepped past the clerk, lips pressed in an accompanying, "Hmm." "So, um, will you be coming back any time soon?" She fell in behind him, mimicking reflexively as he stopped at the next suite to trace the seam of a panel. "I have some coupons I can send—" "You have the key?" he cut her off, palm up and extended. "What? Oh! Yeah, here," she stammered before she slipped in next to him, prompting him to back off. The magnetic lock clicked as she placed a flat, mushroom-shaped object against the wall and then pressed the panel open. As a design variance from Starfleet specs intended to protect consumer privacy, it created an inconvenience. Though a significant amount of pressure held the doors closed, she effortlessly pulled the lever, thanks to old-fashioned hydraulics. Ethan reached toward the opening, and someone behind it shrieked, "No! Balik! Don't come in — I'm still dressing!" A female from the sound of it but debatable between species, among other things. "Eww," the clerk groused, disgust wrinkling her face. "That's something I did not want to think about." He paid the context little thought and turned his back to the door; eyes focused down the hallway. "We'll be here for a bit if you need anything." "Okay, thank you! I'll be out in a minute," came the shouted reply, underscored by several hops, a hiccup, and grumbling. Scoffing faintly in amusement, Ethan arrived at the next suite by the time the doors released from the inside. A Human male of average size strolled out with a petite, voluptuous Orion female scampering behind him. They made an unexpected pairing dressed in elaborate nineteenth-century, decidedly British costumes and modern clothing draped in the crook of their arms. "So it is a power outage," the man observed after glancing around. The woman said nothing, her attention lowered at the deck as she clung to her partner's bicep. "Yeah," Ethan answered, his right eye narrowing briefly, pondering how to interpret the couple. Either she had abjured the Syndicate, or he had fallen in thrall to her wiles. Feeling the clerk brush up beside him, he lifted his arm away to find her glowering at the other woman. "I'm sorry, but we're closed now," she announced tersely. "Please make your way to the exit." Ethan saw the ire flex from the other man's jaw to his temples. His Orion companion — who had shown little interest in, much less made eye contact with anyone else — rested a hand on his shoulder. "We can come back tomorrow, Uta," she purred a mid-Atlantic-like flavor in his ear. "I don't like her tone," he gnashed. "Don't stress yourself over it, darling." She stroked the side of his head. "It's been hours since my last dosage. Maybe I've given her a headache — you know how it is." "No, that's no excuse," he retorted, shooting daggers at the clerk. "Wherever we go, they treat you like a freak show." "Please," the woman cut Ethan off at the verge of speaking and cast apprehension at him. "Let's just go home. I'm tired, and these shoes are hurting my feet." "Okay, okay," her mate gesticulated wildly for a ceasefire. "We'll go, but I'll be calling your manager." "Shh, how about we relax tonight and talk it over first," she cooed. Ethan could only gaze curiously as she gently persuaded him toward the exit. The man sighed heavily, petting her hand. "Fine, I'll do my best to let it go — for you." "Thank you, Uta," She raised on her toes to peck at his cheek. "I don't understand how you can be so forgiving." "But that's why it's so easy to love you," she chuckled lightheartedly. "I love you, too. Did you at least have fun?" She droned in affirmation, and the rest of their conversation blended into the clamor outside. A fascinating history had to exist for those two; nothing else could suffice. "Don't worry, Lieutenant. I'll snap you out of it," the clerk said abruptly, pivoting to face him. He deflected the hand she meant to stick in his face. "Snap out of what?" he asked coolly, nonetheless aware of her meaning. The girl looked baffled. "Um, the Orion spell? Pheromones…?" Her eyes flicked to the side as she faltered. "Or are you Vulcan" — then whispering — "Or maybe you slept with a Vulcan?" "What?" The clerk balked at the hint of irritation in his voice while he swiveled toward a woman's cackle. From suite nine approached a dusky Bajoran, slender and nearly his height, dressed in bright layered robes and affixing glossy waist-length brunette twists to her head. "Really! Prophets forbid we pretermit inoculation... Whatever moron convinced you that one xeno-pheromone, virtually new to every other species' evolution, can subjugate all male-kind? The whole idea simply belies the fact that there are some 420 billion possible variations in your genome." She paused at the clerk. "Make that upwards of 570 billion. You may have been affected, and I think you were" — she leered — "by something." This provoked an embarrassed eye-roll from the half-Romulan, which she matched in a triumphant smirk. "But," the Bajoran continued, sliding sideways in Ethan's direction. "Any number of mutations or rare genes would contribute to tolerance or even immunity." She stopped to appraise. "He could have a rare…metabolism. Just as for example, between two people, the sense of smell varies…" She faded to sniff at his opposite shoulder and sighed, "Mmm, hickory and a trace of...smokiness? Madam, please grant me this model next time.'" Depositing a hand on his chest, she dragged over his collar and darted out of reach, shrewd enough not to linger. Ethan scoffed, lips pressed in a flat smile blending wry and blasé. A loud gasp escaped the clerk. It took a few seconds for the younger woman to recover and snap, "You can't create holographs of living people without their permission." "Not if he consents," the other retorted in a sing-song, sashaying away. "Hah! Like he would." Her sniggering died in his aloofness; she had expected confirmation. "An-and if he doesn't, that's illegal!" The other woman wagged a finger in the air. "Only if you report me." "Nouhha, are you suggesting…? You are disgusting! Aren't you supposed to be celibate?!" "That's Deltans, chit," the Bajoran spat. "I know that. I was talking about your orange robes, you stupid monk!" "Bless your ignorance, child! You mistake me for a Buddhist," she spun, guffawing at the clerk's expense. "And besides, why worry yourself over the feelings of holograms? They aren't alive, remember?" "That's not the point!" she spluttered. "You had better not come back here, or I will report you!" The Bajoran sent up a rude, parting gesture, composed herself, and merged into the crowd. Best guess, the Bajoran either didn't visit often, or the clerk hadn't cared to memorize the name of a frequent customer that she just insulted. Ethan leaned toward the latter. "Dir haben sie wohl etwas in den Kaffee getan," he muttered in German, interpreted more or less as: you’ve got to be joking. That he had let the entire thing play out at all testified mainly to his overall apathy and confidence in any lack of peril. The real mystery remained in why so few of the holo-patrons had yet to self-extricate. Blind optimism or some form of helplessness weighed the most likely. Starting for the next suite, he abandoned the clerk to puff indignantly in a circle. "Can you believe her? She's sick! Shameless! How could you even stand her touching you?" She shuddered in a gag. Then it dawned on her, and she rushed him. "She touched you. Nouhha, that's … that's sexual harassment! I'm going to report that crone! She is not going to get away with this." "Hmm," he droned, barely listening. "Done?" He nearly winced at the coldness of his voice. "What?" "Unlock the door or give me the key," he said flatly. The clerk hesitated and then dumped the object in his outstretched hand. "Aren't you the least bit concerned about what she did to you? What she's going to do to you?" "Not at the moment, no." The lever snapped into place, and the doors parted. A stooping Cardassian male in a mullet and baggy clothes blinked just on the other side. His mouth hung open, head lowered in a way that he stared from the uppermost of his eyes at them. The clerk visibly shivered. "Damn! Does this mean the power isn't coming back?" "Dunno," Ethan shook his head. "Sure they're working on it." His brow rose at the use of an obscene native phrase he hadn't heard since the Dominion War over a decade ago. "Finally, got through all those freaking trash-mob zombies from last week, and I was this freaking close to kicking that petaQ's ***." The gaming addict weaved in and out of Klingon and English epithets like a pilot on amphetamines. He had the look of a dialysis patient. Trudging out, he slapped the door frame and boxed the air. "Ugh! I'm gonna be royally pissed if this thing didn't save my freaking progress!" "Ookay," the clerk drawled, lowering her voice until the Cardassian had left earshot. "So explain to me why you aren't remotely bothered by the rapist?" He gave a clipped chuckle at the nickname. "Not my problem." "But—" The squeal of a Ferengi from suite six drowned her out the very second Ethan had breached the door. He defied description save that he reminded Ethan of all the Ferengi he had met. Hobbling out into the hallway, every single step elicited an ugly ear-piercing wail. But his body language betrayed a bold bit of poor acting that had the clerk flinching as much as duped. She reached to help him reluctantly. "Nouhha, are you okay?" "My ankle! Your safety protocols failed!" He air-jabbed at the clerk. "Wait here, I'll go call medical." The Ferengi blocked her launch toward the desk, dazing her in a torrent. "Don't bother! The business bureau will hear of this! Everyone will hear of this! I'm going to sue this establishment for every slip of latinum." "What happened?" "Weren't you listening?!" He growled at Ethan. "I was walking down the stairs when the power went out. And your safety protocols let me fall! I know for a fact that my ankle is now broken and will require costly surgery to fix—" Finally, he noticed. "Wait, why am I talking to you? You don't even work here. But you" — he pointed at the clerk again — "you must answer for this-this…outrage!" "Looks fine to me," Ethan flatly rejoined. "Oh, and you fancy yourself some kind of expert, do you?" He faltered as Ethan swooped in at his eye-level and inches from his face, the air around him boding heavily. "Should I carry you out?" The Ferengi swallowed, licking his lips and backpedaling. "Don't you dare touch me. Don't. You. Dare. I can find my own way out, thank you very much." He bared his teeth at Ethan, then whirled on his heel. "Some customer service, humph!" The clerk stood speechless through the Ferengi's protest march that derailed in the throng of mostly taller people. Her confusion evolved to incredulity and she shook her head. But she didn't miss a beat, returning right back to the Bajoran. "How is it not your problem?" "Choose not to make it mine." He would count it a bonus if those holodeck fantasies kept that Bajoran too busy to even consider thrusting into his life. "But it is your problem. She's talking about turning you, I mean, your likeness into a" — her tongue smacked in distaste — "plaything." "I heard." "And you're seriously okay with that?" Shifting around the lever at suite three that refused to budge, he exhaled a growing weariness. "Real people look alike by chance. There's no rule in the system against that. All she needs is a decent memory and some skill in coding." "Wow." She glared at him with arms folded. A hard kick broke the release free, allowing him to push open the exit. He had no idea where he would have found an old-fashioned actuator in this place, much less a crowbar. "You talk like this has happened before." "Eh," he admitted in a drawn-out way. "Suspicions." "Not to rudely interrupt," said the Andorian man who had quietly emerged. "I would just like to say thank you and goodbye before I leave — according to your customs." "You're welcome." The blue, antennaed man looked pleased. "Ah, I believe a handshake is also warranted, is it not?" "Sure," Ethan smiled politely and initiated the gesture, bearing more of a resemblance to the Klingon custom, the Andorian grasping him near the elbow. "Goodbye," he nodded to the clerk. She returned it in kind, adding a wave. She waited for yet another of her customers to leave, rocking impatiently on her feet. "If I were you, I'd have sent all of them to jail," she continued tautly. "Civil." "Huh?" "It's civil," he repeated, clarifying, "as in lawsuits — no jail time. Only criminal offenses are for exploitation or rape." A hand lifted to quash what she would say. "Of real people." "Nouhha, I hate people," she said sourly and mulled over him for a bit. "How do you know all this anyway?" Ethan shrugged, disinclined to talk shop with anyone who lacked membership. Seeing no clue to pry what she wanted out of him, the clerk blessedly hushed for a while, and they cracked open the final suite. Here they encountered a voracious creature in its natural habitat, immortalized by the records of ancient civilizations as the Karen. "Well, it's about bloody time," the zaftig redhead grated in throaty Strine. "Do you even know how long I've been stuck in here while you two bludgers were out there mucking around?" Ethan made a perfunctory lift of his watch. "Uh, less than ten minutes," he countered flippantly despite himself. "Oh, you're a real riot — more like a real tosser. My son wet himself because of you." "Oh, geez," the clerk groaned behind him. "Your son?" For some reason, the sniffling only registered at that moment. Ethan peeked around the doorjamb for the source. "Yes, my son," she retorted, implying they should have known despite that she stood — and occupied the entire doorway — by herself. "What's more, we came here to celebrate his birthday, but you don't see any of that happening, now do ya? Didn't even get a bite of fairy bread because of you... "Where are you going?" she asked sharply as Ethan squeezed past her to the right. He found the small towheaded five- or six-year-old boy bowed, lightly banging his crown in the corner and wiping a stream of tears off his chafed face. At his arm's length, Ethan lowered to a knee. "Hey, buddy, how's it going? You okay?" The boy's head incidentally thudded against the wall as he shook his head. His mother cut in without missing a beat. "Don't talk to him: he's in time-out." "Scared?" A nod. "That's okay. Some days I feel scared, too." He gave him a moment. Then testing the residual dampness of the towel around his neck, he unfurled and transferred it to the boy's shoulders. "Don't put that on him!" He watched the child tense at first, gradually relaxing under the warmth and (figurative) cloaking powers of microfiber. "Are you even listening?!" the Karen shouted. Her son whimpered. "Maybe if you weren't such a *****, he wouldn't be crying," the clerk took a bite. The customer's face burned a deep red. "What did you say?! off, you ****. No one tells me how to parent my kids. I know your manager!" The clerk had scarcely parted her lips before Ethan pushed back to his feet. She swore the shadow that filled his wake had a threatening presence. It made more sense to her than attributing that darkness to the man who seemed downright phlegmatic. She almost missed the slight tension at his jaw that betrayed a seething. "I am the manager," he said evenly. The Karen gaped apoplectic, air squeaking from her in a struggle to form words. Her eyes ran him from head to toe and back. "I-I don't believe you." "Couldn't care less what you believe." One: he reserved most of his diplomacy for the job, as opposed to the personal time transpiring right now. Two: the drawn-out events leading up to his arrival on Aegis and in this mess had left him nearly empty of patience. Checked again. Nope, all out of ***** to give. "I-I don't have to put up with this…bullying," she said, pulling together somewhat. "I demand a refund, and I want her fired for being rude to me." "Nah, don't feel like it," he shook his head, transitioning smoothly. "But I know a counselor and a couple security officers who'll take your complaint." Mind stumbling in a confused rage, her mouth worked overtime like a fish out of water, and then the color drained from her face. "Come here, you," she squawked, trembling as she bundled the boy up in her arms and huffed in a beeline through the door. The clerk followed her out and slumped against the wall, watching the woman shuffle faster than she had looked. "Does that mean you're going to report her to social services?" "Yeah," Ethan exhaled deeply. "Someone'll stop by for her info after power's restored." "I'm technically not supposed to give it to you without a warrant, but it's for a good cause, right?" She winked and then cleared her throat, having steadily grown more aware and conscientious of where her eyes wandered in the last quarter-hour. "Hmm," he sounded, feeling no desire to engage with her to that degree. "Here." He held out the magnetic key, which she dropped it into a pocket and smiled. "Thanks for your help today." He nodded noncommittally. "Anytime." "Anytime?" The way she echoed and stared absently at him stalled his egress. "You got things from here?" Belatedly: "Ye-yeah, I'll just be locking up. I'll be fine, thanks." "Okay." "Wait. Can I ask you just one more thing?" "Hmm." Nearly out of the holo-café already, he backed a few steps. "I feel kind of awkward asking this now after the whole thing with the rapist. But, um" — she bit her lip — "would you be interested in dinner?" Catching his gaze narrowing, she quickly amended, "Or maybe just a drink…sometime?" "Heh, yeah, awkward doesn't do it justice," he scoffed mildly. Rubbing his face and slipping the other hand into a pocket, he sighed skeptically. "I'm old enough to be your dad." A smidge of an exaggeration. He estimated her birth had happened sometime during his junior or senior year in high school. "It only sounds bad when you put it that way. All that matters is that I'm old enough to drink." She counted on her fingers. "Me plus you, multiplied by a lot of good drinks, equals a great time. I don't see a problem with that math." He grimaced in a head-shake at the self-gratifying laughter that folded in the corners of her eyes. She might as well have divided by zero. "The problem is: I'm not interested." "Oh." A beat and then, signing with her fingers, "Not even—" "Nope," he said, an equally emphatic shake underlining his tone. "Go home, kid. Relax. Have a good night. Sleep for a better tomorrow." He channeled all the officer-in-charge aloofness he possessed, staving off the questions or bargaining by offering no sympathy. Iacta alea est: non-negotiable. Once decided, he loathed saying it twice, more than he disliked — or occasionally enjoyed — turning down those who handled rejection the worst. She deflated at the lack of appetence in his voice, pursing her lips. "Eh, yup. You, too." Weaving his way across the commerce deck, he sucked a breath of relief. He stopped a moment, listening as security organized the civilians to vacate the commercial sector to their homes. Then began a long, easygoing return to the one place he had authorized access and guaranteed solitude. Until the other junior officer's watch ended in a couple of hours, at any rate.
  4. No Worms in the Wormhole Chirakis Kirel, Captain, SI-5 The lights went out on the commerce deck, leaving everyone in the dark long enough for screams and a lot of grabbing hold of one another and hoping it’s the right person and not the neighbor’s husband. Or wife, but it’s usually pretty easy to tell which is which. Within seconds, emergency lighting flicked on, the screams and grabs settled down, and after a gasp with everyone looking up and around, a cacophony of questions in various languages—some not the best words to translate—echoed from the commerce deck into CnC. Pushing away from the CnC overlook, Captain Chirakis turned slowly towards the OPS console as she pinched the bridge of her nose and winced to quell a growing headache. “Lieutenant Hargraves, contact engineering and ask them if they were successful,” she ordered, her words close to a whisper. “And get security to the commerce deck to calm... those... people... down.” She heard his “yes ma’am” but nothing else as she slowly settled into the command chair. “They’re a little busy down there, ma’am,” Hargraves reported. “The transport was successful but the wormhole destabilized and overloaded the buffers. Main power is shut down to prevent a total system overload.” Something was missing. “And…?” “And… uh.…” Hargraves dug in to scan reports. “The medical complex is on emergency backup, and… emergency lighting is on throughout the station, but… you know… it’s not really good lighting, at least it’s not like we have here, or in the med complex, or in....” He skidded to a halt as the captain’s hand flew up. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Just keep me apprised,” she sighed as her eyes closed knowing that it would make it more difficult to stay awake. “And… unless it is an emergency, if anyone calls, I’m not available.” The last three days, or 72 hours, had been grueling to the point of exhaustion. Engineers and science personnel had worked through the nights while medical personnel stood ready for any situation, everyone hoping that as soon as the micro-wormhole engaged, thoughts would transfer from Prani to Nijil and vice versa. The stress of working and/or waiting had pressed their endurance beyond the limit. But now, with the aid of the micro-wormhole supplied by the Yith, Aegis’s duty was done. Except for the power outage, of course. Engineering minions could take care of that. As soon as possible, the captain released engineering and science from duty, ordering them to rest and recuperate. She would do the same, but only after the mechanism that created the micro-wormhole—at least what was left of it—would be locked and guarded in the security complex. If it fell into the hands of the Alien Alliance, not only Aegis, but the entirety of the Joint Allied Powers would be in jeopardy. Thankfully, the Yith technology was secure. After briefing the next watch, Kirel climbed to the station’s pinnacle where she could be alone, stare into space, and forget most of what could easily have happened.
  5. On the Edge Chirakis Kirel He's just ...off. And not just similar to a bad day, but - different. He's often talked about dreaming he's someone else, and now he's acting different. Like a different version of Nijil. Mannerisms are off. The way he talks to us. Like it's someone doing a Nijil impression. Imagine someone impersonating you and not seeming familiar with blades. ~Lt Commander Jylliene Kital Jylliene’s words to Captain Chirakis were startling enough to immediately call Psychologist Amanda Davis. Had Commander Korjata succumbed to a mental disorder? Did he possibly have a residual effect from the disease that had plagued the station? Had stress given him a mental disorder, possibly schizophrenia? After consulting with the doctor, Kirel left CnC, hoping that another crisis was not on the horizon. “Lieutenant Garand, meet me in surveillance immediately,” said Kirel as she entered the lift. “On my way, Captain,” Garand replied, scrambling to put aside his work in time to meet the captain as she entered the security complex. “We have a situation, Captain?” “Possibly,” she replied as he fell in step with her. “I need to check the surveillance footage from main engineering, Alpha watch yesterday morning.” Upon entering her code, the door to Surveillance opened to a large area covered by assorted screens that hung strategically on every wall and displayed internal and external areas of the station. Security personnel alternately hunched or relaxed at their stations as they monitored and assessed data while a few others moved smoothly among them. Captain Chirakis and Lt Jeremy Garand exited that room and entered what they called The Back Door: the observation area reserved for superior officers. The door closed, Garand offered Kirel a chair, engaged a console and flicked his wrist to throw images of engineering on the main screen. “Any particular area of engineering, Captain?” he continued as he made a few adjustments. “Follow Commander Korjata, since he is in command. And… since we are dealing with privileged information….” She slipped on a headset just as Nijil’s image appeared. “Commander Korjata beginning….zero seven hundred Aegis local, June 1, ma’am,” the lieutenant said, moving aside. As Kirel watched, Nijil seemed puzzled, looking around, and fidgeting with equipment. An approaching engineer startled him, the engineer apologized, and it was downhill from there. “Sorry, sir. Just the MP,” said the junior engineer. “MP?” said Nijil, definitely confused. “The Morning PADD, sir. The issues from the previous day that we need to tackle today.” The commander didn’t seem to understand. He stared at the PADD a moment, then took the PADD and read until he noticed a group of engineers standing next to him. “Yes?” “Your assignments, sir?” asked the team leader. “Assig… oh. Oh! Let me look here. Something good for you. How about hydroponics. Check the water lines and climate controls.” As soon as they left, the commander looked up to the ceiling as if he was waiting for something. He raised his hands and whispered, “Any time now.” Kirel reached forward to freeze the screen. “Sweep engineering for an intruder. Focus on the overhead.” “Sweeping the area… focusing on the overhead,” Garand replied, then watched the captain’s expression shift from curious to alarmed as she removed her headset with a sigh. “Secure the screen, lieutenant, and tell me…. Have you witnessed this kind of behavior in engineering before?” she asked, purposely leaving out the commander’s name. “Yes, ma’am, several times. But never out of the ordinary. Things have been pretty crazy everywhere on the station lately, so he’s not the only one to be distracted. You know… lack of sleep, lack of engineers, and especially the lack of coffee.” “Um… coffee,” she mused, relaxing into the armchair. “How long have you been watching this particular area?” "In engineering?” He shrugged. “Just over a week, ma'am." “And behavior was close to normal until recently?” “Yes, ma'am. Close to normal. The medical situation was our first priority.” “As was mine, Lieutenant. For now, keep eyes on. Alert me immediately to anything suspicious. Watch for strange behavior, odd shifts in language, talking when there is no one there. And be aware: this information is confidential.”
  6. The Little Things Security Locker Room A high pitched screeee echoed through security's locker room, the sound of Ens Stacy Slater twisting and poking at the door to her locker. “What the hell, Stace!” came from the other side. “Haven’t oiled that thing yet?” “Well, I would oil that if it took oil, Gaz! Find something that’ll stop the squeak and I’ll owe you one,” she retorted, finally twisting it enough to get her locker to closed as Ens Guido Gazelli rounded the corner and made himself comfortable against the locker next to her. “Seriously, Gaz,” she said on a sigh. “You’d think that a new starbase would at least have lockers that don’t attack you when you need ‘em.” He shrugged. “Could be worse. And it’s only the locker, right?” Another exasperated sigh, and she nodded, then straightened her equipment. “Graveyard’s got me off guard. And our little friends on deck 42, but I got....” She stopped cold. “Damn, Gaz. I left the bars in my locker.” “No problem. I got it,” he said, pushing away from the adjacent locker. One hefty jerk managed to pull the locker open. He grabbed the energy bars, then closed and secured the door without too much noise. “So, you’re on 42?” he asked, handing her the package, then continuing “Me, too,” as she slipped the bars into her satchel. “Awesome,” she managed as they moved out. “And we’re on two hour rotations, but I’m not sure it’s going to make much difference since it upsets our circadian rhythms, like the chief says.” She adjusted her uniform and ran a hand through her close cropped red hair. It glistened in the dimmed passageway illumination. The soft tread of her regulation boots might have been silent for humans, but not for gremlins. They apparently had "good sniffers", as her mom would say, and she was right. “So… what’s in the satchel,” Gaz asked as they stepped into the lift. “Smells great.” “They’re pretty good. From my mom.” Handing one to him, she continued, “I wouldn’t call them great. But our little friends love ‘em. Especially when they play up and down the passageway. They don’t make a mess so it’s no big deal.” The lift opened and she stepped out, but Gaz stared at her until the lift began to close behind him. “They play up and down the passageway?” “Yeah,” she said with a nod. “Sometimes climb the bulkhead. They play most of the night.” Slowing his pace, his skepticism echoed in his words. “They play most of the night.” “Yeah.” She stopped to stare at him. “You don’t see them, Gaz? I mean, they’re right there, coming our way.” He looked around. “No. No I don’t, Stace. We’re the only ones here.”
  7. Times One Thousand In engineering. Everything going wrong around me. Alarms going off. Nothing I did was making any difference. It was like the glitches times one thousand. ~Scott Coleridge Captain Chirakis arrived in CnC well before the change of watch, after her daily bout with Lt Klaxon in the security complex training room. Having been given orders to ignore her rank and fight to kill, the lieutenant had become quite an opponent and had mastered skills that could have easily ended her life. But this morning? His steps were uneven, his movements awkward, and his attacks slow. He was disoriented and often unable to focus. Kirel grabbed his shoulders, but he seemed to be in another world. “Lieutenant?” No response. She gave him a firm shake. “Klaxon! Respond!” His eyes glazed over. A trainer on the adjacent mat took firm hold just before Klaxon fainted. He called for assistance and beamed him to medical. Extreme fatigue had overtaken him, as it had many on Aegis. An hour later, the Officer of the Watch turned to the sound of the command lift. “Good morning, Captain,” he said on approach. “Situation normal.” “No ‘AFU’ this morning?” She asked, referring to SNAFU with a wry grin. Her glance swept the area: a ritual honed from SI-5 days, but still pertinent for any entry as far as she was concerned. “No ‘AFU’ this morning, ma’am. Coffee?” “Coffee?” she said sternly. “Decaffeinated, ma’am. It’s supposed to have everything… uh… all the bad stuff removed, ma’am.” Having just dealt with Klaxon, she didn’t trust anything remotely connected with coffee—at least until science and medical verified its use. “Remove the coffee, Lieutenant,” she said quietly, but firmly. “Remove everything even remotely connected to coffee, caffeine, or otherwise until Dr Pavilion pronounces it harmless. Understood?” “Yes, Captain.” After a curt nod she entered her office. Admiral Mullins of Federation Security would soon appear onscreen. In ordinary times they had reported weekly, but these were not ordinary times. Their weekly reports were now daily, encryption was beyond the norm, and security protocol was engaged in her office. Kirel’s desk viewscreen soon came alive with the image of Admiral Mullins. He seemed weary, as though he’d been awake all night, and a man of his age certainly did not need to. It triggered an alarm, like waiting for the next shoe to drop. “Good morning, Kirel. You’re early.” “As are you, Admiral. Should I ask why, or should I leave well enough alone?” The admiral’s slight grunt turned into a smirk. “Well enough alone is best. Report?” “Yes, Admiral.” She leaned forward to rest her elbows on the desk and thumb through her tablet. “Regarding glitches on station, those have surprisingly disappeared. However, we are now dealing with ...” She checked her list. “... approximately fifty three crew and some families who have extreme fatigue, strange dreams—they call them ‘nightmares’—and hallucinations. Science and medical are working diligently to diagnose the problem. “USS Missouri’s work on the Alien Alliance stealth ship is progressing. They have broken the ship’s code. Apparently a species similar to our gremlins—small, ignorant, and naive—was convinced to take the ship and breach Aegis’s space, for reasons unknown. No personnel of the Alien Alliance were aboard. “Missouri also reports that their personnel have fallen ill with symptoms similar to, but not the same as ours. So far, their illness presents itself as an allergic reaction. Captain d’Ka will give you more information. That is all I have at the moment, Admiral.” As Kirel relaxed in her chair, Admiral Mullins nodded into a dire expression, staring at the viewscreen. His exhaustion had turned suddenly to grief. His hands folded, he leaned forward and took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Thank you, Kirel.” He paused again, wiping a hand down his face before continuing. “Kirel…. two of our best operatives were taken hostage... and brutally tortured for information. Knowing these men, I doubt that they revealed anything. What was left of their bodies was bagged and sent to Starfleet Command with a note from….” Mullins stopped to stare at her. “... Ragor Tal.”
  8. Contemplation I and my bosom must debate a while, and then I would no other company. ~William Shakespeare ~Henry V, Act IV, Scene 1 Above the saucer section of Sky Harbor Aegis, several pinnacles reach into space to receive or deliver data for the benefit of Aegis security. Inside the station dome, on decks one through five, specialists monitored subspace communication. Specialists on decks six through ten were responsible for sensor monitoring and analysis. Above deck one was a little-known area that was used for tower maintenance. The area above Deck 1 was small, but comfortable and quiet. A viewport circled its rim. Kirel leaned against the viewport and stared into the void, a deep nothingness except for faint points of light: stars, galaxies, and nebulae. They appeared peaceful but were often tainted or destroyed by their inhabitants. Hopefully that would not be the destiny of Aegis nor TKR 117. The present situation concerning the Alien Alliance had taken its toll on Aegis command, especially on its commanding officer. As an SI-5 operative, Chirakis Kirel could deal with one puzzle at a time. As Aegis’s commanding officer she had been forced to deal with an onslaught of information that threatened to drag her into mental chaos. Too many thoughts. Too many incidents that seemed to point in one direction and suddenly pointed to another: the Alien Alliance. The disappearance of the Breen freed millions of slaves. Some were docile, desiring a quiet life in freedom. Others formed gangs, cartels, and syndicates. Now known as the Alien Alliance, they were determined to conquer the galaxy, beginning with Aegis and the Joint Allied Powers. The first major encounter with the Alien Alliance came when the Adriatic was pulled into a transwarp ribbon that threw them to the far edge of Alliance space almost instantly. When Alien Alliance ships caught them warping through their space on their return to Aegis, they gave pursuit but did not enter Joint Allied Powers space. Why not? Why did they not pursue? Two flights of A-85 Crusaders broke into her thoughts when they shot out of Missouri’s flight deck, swerved into formation, shifted into stealth mode, and disappeared. Missouri was on guard, as was the D’deridex class RSE Praetor and several birds of prey. They furnished defenses. Kirel needed answers. Pushing off from the viewport, she began to pace. Her list was expansive, much to consider. Glitches in the station's systems, a star’s EM pulses that almost devoured Argos II and Nei’rrh, the Gremlins and their ignorance, the Crow’s cartel below decks, the formidable Alien Alliance ship manned by ignorant non-humanoid beings attempting to attack Aegis, the planet Drakel’a that quickly shifted from a small way-station for organized crime to a major Alliance hub, the planet An-Ward and its delta-shaped black stealth hull, and Ragor Tal…. “Kh’éile.” D’Ka’s psionic call jerked her out of her thoughts. “What?” she growled at the interruption. “You cannot resolve these situations immediately, nor can you do it alone. Trust yourself. Trust those those around you. The solutions will come.” Bracing herself on the viewport, her anger slowly subsided. Very slowly. Eventually her expression relaxed into a slight smile. “You heard my conversation with Commander Coleridge.” “Of course. As your bondmate, it is my right. Your words to him were wise. I suggest you do the same.”
  9. Viral Exhaustion After a grueling 38 hours of dealing with false red alerts and lockdowns, replicators that served coffee without end, false emergency medical calls, and countless other glitches that seemed to multiply exponentially, Captain Chirakis and the crew yielded to the expertise of 30 plus engineers sent from Starfleet to relieve them. After an hour of debriefing, the crew of Aegis dragged themselves to their quarters for a long-awaited rest. At 0500 the next day the captain stepped off the lift and gave her usual pause for assessment. Not surprisingly, a cadre of engineers was checking various areas of Command and Control, and one engineer in particular caught her attention. Commander Eli Drexler, commanding officer of Starfleet Command’s special operations engineers, hovered over a console, tricorder in hand, working with the lieutenant next to him. Captain Chirakis would not have given the engineers a second glance except that their uniforms were a deep blue, their shoulders bore the insignia of Starfleet Command, and clasped on Commander Drexler’s collar was the gold insignia of Starfleet Command. As soon as her presence was noticed, the overzealous Officer of the Watch came to attention with, “Captain on deck!” His call brought CnC to a screeching halt until Kirel casually responded, “As you were.” Drexler turned with the others, stopped working and responded with a crooked grin as the captain approached. “Commander Drexler,” she said, her hand outstretched in greeting. “I knew Starfleet was sending engineers, but I had no idea that Starfleet Command was in the mix.” “Jolan’tru, Riov,” he said, stepping aside to take hold of her forearm as if he were Rihannsu, which he definitely was not. Fair skin, blond hair cropped to regulation, and a sturdy muscular build betrayed his full Terran ancestry. Of course, his crooked smile helped. “Your Rihan is improving, Commander… if only slightly,” she quipped with a glance at the console he had been checking. “Have you found anything new regarding the glitches?” Drexler sighed, shifting his weight to nod toward the console. “Unfortunately, not much more than your officers have found. You wanted to know why they sent Command? Well, there’s more to this situation than meets the eye… but I’m sure you already know that.” “Indeed we do, Commander. If you have a moment, we can discuss this in my office.” “Yes, ma’am. Jim, take over,” he said, passing the tricorder to the lieutenant. “See if you can pinpoint and trace that last red alert.” “Aye, sir,” he responded as the office door closed behind them. “We are still dealing with red alerts?” asked Kirel as she waved him into a chair. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied as his eyes swept the office. “We’ve been able to mute the false klaxons, but the false lights still engage. In a real emergency, the klaxons will sound.” “Excellent, Commander. Coffee?” “Probably a good idea, ma’am. It’s been an… interesting night.” “More interesting than our first 38 hours?” She asked, handing him a cup of coffee then pouring one for herself. “Not sure, ma’am. If you tell me what you’ve experienced so far, maybe we can put two and two together and get more than… one and a half?” The coffee seemed to console him as he settled on the couch. “And it would be helpful if you could toss me what your engineering team suspects... or whatever ideas they have, no matter how bizarre they sound.” “What do they suspect?” Kirel mused as she relaxed in her office chair. “Several things, one of which is that the origin, or the source of the glitches is somewhere on the station. “Commander Coleridge suggested that the virus could be a red herring or a smaller part of a larger offensive such as getting physical access to our systems and bypassing security. “Another? The virus is a programming virus, and someone could have planted a device on an unsuspecting individual and brought it into our systems. Or someone could have used the material as a vector for smuggling the virus into the station to avoid our security checks. “In any event, security is searching for suspicious activity that began in the past few days. They are targeting potentially vulnerable access points. "Should I go on?" "No, ma'am. That's pretty much what we've decided. So far, anyway. Our biggest problem is finding and losing. We start tracking something, almost get it, and bam, it disappears into something else, almost like it has a mind of its own. It moves to some other area or morphs into a different glitch altogether. One minute it targets the replicators, the next minute the replicators are fine and the klaxons start blaring. Like kids playing a game.” Kirel put her coffee aside and relaxed in her chair, mulling that over. “Captain,” Drexel continued thoughtfully, “has anyone outside the station reported glitches like this? Or anything similar?” “Not to my knowledge. However, I will investigate the possibility. USS Calgary has been working with us to rectify the problem on station. However, USS Missouri is due to replace them today. I will certainly ask.” “Good. Good,” he replied wearily, relaxing into the deep leather of the couch. “Is your billeting acceptable?" asked Kirel, noting his weary condition. "Oh, it's fine, ma’am. In fact, it's better than we expected, new station and all. Can't wait to test the bunks. Brand new?" "Indeed they are. And you will be able to make use of them within the next hour. Which reminds me that I am expecting a conference call in a few minutes. However, before you go, pass the word to your crew that all restaurants and bistros on the commerce deck are available and will be expecting them. As you are aware, the replicators are fickle. Among other things, they have a tendency to interpret steak as gagh.”
  10. Just Another Day at the Office Chirakis Kirel, Captain, SI-5 Kelly DeVoll, Captain, USS Calgary At 2330 Aegis local, most personnel on station were resting in their quarters. Since USS Calgary seldom patrolled this area of the border, Kirel and Captain Kelly DeVoll had been spending a few hours of relaxation in her office to catch up while enjoying a vintage ale. Until all hell broke loose. Just before midnight Red Alert klaxons cut through the relative silence of Command and Control. Chirakis bolted out of her office, calling for a SITREP from Lt Sykowski, Officer of the Watch. “Red Alert went off, Captain,” Sykowski explained, stymied, as the rest of the watch scrambled to rectify the situation. “No idea why. Can't get it to stop.” While CnC operators struggled to solve the problem, Kirel drew her blade, flung it toward the klaxon, and shattered it. “Problem solved,” she said, turning toward Sykowski. “Carry on, Lieutenant,” she snapped as she and DeVoll searched for other problems… and there were quite a few. Eventually Aegis’s engineers along with those from Calgary collaborated to restore the station’s alarm system. By 0236 the captains retreated to Kirel’s office, refreshed their drinks, and contacted Rendezvous October. “I hear you have an interesting method of silencing a klaxon." SI-6 Director Jin Raza grinned as his image filled the office viewscreen. Kirel shrugged as she relaxed in her chair. "Everyone, including our engineers, were on lockdown. The least I could do is muffle the noise." Kelly gave a snort as he put his empty glass aside. "It was target practice, Kirel. And you know it." "One must practice skills every now and then," she retorted, refilling their glasses, "and tossing a dagger is no easy task." A somewhat grumbling Admiral Solokov, Commanding Officer of Rendezvous October, appeared next to Raza. His thinning gray hair was somewhat ruffled. The collar of a robe replaced his usually impeccable uniform. "You are tossing daggers and you imbibe at this hour, Captain?" "And a good morning to you, Admiral." Kirel smirked. "I would share, but you are not quite close enough. Perhaps next time?" That elicited a grunt as the admiral adjusted his chair several times, muttering something about the last occupant's lack of protocol. Captain Raza did his best to ignore him knowing that the admiral would rather do it himself than be "treated like an old man". But it's hard to ignore a grumbling admiral, especialloy at 0300. "There. Finally," he said, settling in then accepting strong coffee from his yeoman. "So… Kirel, Kelly. What's going on that brings us together at this hour? And what time is it anyway?" "0300, Admiral," Kirel replied. The more coffee he drank, the more the admiral took on a contemplative, relaxed expression. "And when did your situation begin?" "At 2347, Admiral." He gave another grunt and thought a while as the yeoman refilled his mug. “Very well. Tell me what happened and how it might affect October.” “We experienced a sudden outburst of Red Alert when there was none. The system broadcast it throughout the station, which, as you know, is not general protocol. Every room on station, including CnC, went to lockdown. No one could enter, nor could they leave. They were essentially trapped. Internal and external communications became dysfunctional for a period, then a few became functional, then dysfunctional. Most of all, our tactical scanning system went down.” “Your tactical scanning system….” Solokov mused. He considered that for a moment, frowned, waved off his yeoman, then turned to Raza. “Does all that sound familiar, Jin?” “Indeed it does, Admiral. Kirel. Kelly.” Raza turned to face them. “Send us information on all ships that were in the vicinity at that time. If this happens again, scan all ships in the vicinity and send us that information. In the meantime, be vigilant.”
  11. Below Decks Senna Matise poked her head out the entrance to what had become their quarters in the unfinished section of Aegis known as Below Decks. She heard the children chattering enthusiastically, but couldn’t quite understand what they were up to, so she rounded the corner to find out. A group of pre-teens sat on the floor half way down the corridor, fiddling with what looked like metal. She and her husband Glen, both undercover security, blended well with the natives. They scavenged for the comforts of home: a bed, a worn out carpet, a few chairs—none of which matched—a small table and replicator, and other paraphernalia. They got to know their neighbors, most of whom were congenial. Senna had left her teaching profession to join Starfleet Security, but Below Decks lacked a teacher, so she volunteered for the younger group. Since Glen was smart—according to the neighbors— they snagged him to teach the older group physics and advanced mathematics—along with basic defensive tactics because the teens said it was “so cool”. Eventually the defensive tactics class added what they dubbed "scramble teams", a little wrestling and a lot of just plain scrambling on the deck. They enjoyed that part more than anything else. Today Glen had his teens in their makeshift gymnasium working on defensive tactics. As Senna moved around the corner to check on the younger set, Glen came up from behind. His towel barely absorbed the sweat dripping from his scalp to his forehead, he smelled of gymnasium, and his workout clothes were in desperate need of washing. Senna’s how did it go look elicited an eyeroll and a whispered, “Pretty much like skipper’s training. Damn, they’re good,” he sighed. Another swipe of the towel and he leaned against the wall to watch. A gaggle of giggles preceded, “No, no, no,” that came from down the corridor followed by “Let's change it around, Benji. That way they don't clang together and make such a weird sound. We can use… let me see… wood! Yes, wood will do it!" A few clanks against several metal objects echoed in their direction. Somewhere the children had found different sized sections of metal pipe, strung them together to make a rudimentary chime, and hung it between two chairs. “Yeah, Penny. That’s lots better,” said Benji, excited. “Can I try it out?” “Sure.” She shrugged. “You’re the one who found ‘em.” Benji grinned, looked at the chimes, and considered the smooth piece of round wood, holding it as though he was a conductor. “Okay, so… um….” Benji scrunched up his face to think, then took on a serious expression. “How about... Mary Had a Little Lamb? Mrs Matise really likes that one.” The others nodded agreement and began to sing as he played. Sitting on the decking cross legged they launched into Mary Had a Little Lamb in full voice. The metal pieces didn’t respond very well, but the children seemed to enjoy it anyway. They rocked to the meter and shouted at the end. “Bravo! Bravissimo!” Senna clapped vigorously, admiring their enthusiasm as she walked toward them. Within seconds the children surrounded her, talking excitedly all at once as she sat on the floor next to them. Glen hung back, still leaning against the wall near their quarters, beginning to smell himself. The children waved. He held up his towel and waved back. They obviously understood. “Did you like it? Did you really, really like it?” Really, really, really???” “Oh, of course I did. Excellent job. In fact, I would give it an A plus. And the chimes? Oh, Benji, you are worthy of a concert conductor. But where did the metal come from? Not from someone’s cabinet, I hope?” “Oh, no. You know that play room two decks down? The one we use for our clubhouse? We went to play in it yesterday and could hardly get into it. It’s loaded with stuff. You know, boxes of equipment, lots of different sized pipes. Like I said, lots of stuff. These sawed off pipes were in a trash bin—at least I it looked like a trash bin—so I took them for play.” Benji stopped suddenly. His eyes widened. “Was that okay Mrs Matise? I mean, it looked like…” Senna smiled. “I’m sure it’s okay, Benji. Don’t worry about it. But it’s best to stay away from there, just in case.” “Oh, I’m not going back in there. It stinks. I mean, it really stinks.” The children pinched their noses with an “Ewww” After a shower and clean clothes, Glen moved into a back room, engaged a small unit, and called quietly, “BD base, BD 7. Information incoming.” “BD 7, BD base. Go ahead.” “BD deck one eight eight, room three seven, contains unknown equipment, possible breach.” “BD base, BD 7. Stand by.” Glen relaxed in his chair, notating information as he waited. A few minutes later, “BD 7, BD Base. Confirmed. Quarantine that area. We will monitor. Copy?” “BD 7 copy.”
  12. If you prick me, do I not bleed? Cpt Je’rit d’Ka Cpt Galen Aayrn Cpt Chirakis Kirel While most of the ship had settled down for the night, USS Missouri’s fighter bay had business as usual. Patrol shift change progressed smoothly. Flights formed up and lifted to a silent exit into the void. Peacekeepers and their bay crews lined the hangar portside, Crusader Attack Fighters to starboard, each one glistening in the overhead lighting, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Security guarded the captain’s yacht, berthed at the far end. Security’s presence was ordinarily reserved for dignitaries, and this evening was no exception—except that this dignitary had been on this side of the galaxy only once, and his presence had caused quite a stir. “This is a rare wine, Galen,” said d’Ka as he handed his visitor a glass and settled into the chair opposite with his own. “I am sure you will enjoy it. Its grapes grow on the highest mountains of Sindar. But….” He held up a cautionary hand. “....take care. It is powerful.” Having almost empied his glass as he would have at home, Galen stopped to consider its contents. “Powerful… how?” D’Ka chuckled and curled his lips into a broad grin. “If you do not heed my warning, you might end up on the floor and need resuscitation.” “I see,” Galen replied, studying the glass carefully before sipping. “You were about to say,” said d’Ka, continuing their last conversation. “They are not ready, Je’rit. All the species that we have encountered here—with the exception of yours—are very young in their societal and technological development. The few technologies that we provided would have been discovered in their near future. We supplied them because they will be needed within the next few years. However,” he paused to set his glass aside, “some are very interested, but some are skeptical to the point of fear. Some are ready, but the majority is not.” * * * * * * Physically and psychologically worn, Kirel stepped into the bay from the lift. At this point, she didn’t care why d’Ka had asked her to visit—other than the usual. If it accomplished nothing else, it would give her time away from the grind of Aegis. And she had not seen him for… how long? It didn’t matter. Exhaustion was creeping in. Putting one foot in front of the other seemed to be an accomplishment. As usual, the bay chief accompanied her to the yacht. Flight captains and their crews turned in respect as she passed. D'Ka met her at the hatch, they exchanged their bond greeting, and he closed the hatch. When he stepped aside she froze. Captain Aayrn stood and nodded politely. “Captain.” Her response was a questioning glance to d’Ka and back. “Kirel,” d'Ka began in polite suggestion. “You know Captain Aayrn.” “I do,” she confessed in a somewhat aggravated tone, then spoke to Aayrn. “What brings you here?” “I have come to talk,” he replied simply. “About…?” “Whatever you want to discuss.” “Whatever I want to discuss,” she mused, studying his expression. “Yes. Whatever you want to discuss.” “I have much to discuss, Captain Aayrn,” replied Kirel. “In fact, I have many unanswered questions. However, it has been a trying few days—apparently four hours more than the rest of the crew—and I am not exactly in the mood, nor do I have the energy to discuss anything. But,” she sighed, settling into her usual armchair, “since you are here, I will try.” Aayrn sat in the chair opposite. D’Ka handed Kirel a glass of water and sat to her left. She downed it and asked for another, with a touch of something a little more potent. “Where are you hiding your ship?” she began. “Sensors cannot read it, of course, so there is no indication that you... or it... is here.” “It’s not hidden. It is under repair in our home system.” “Really?” she scoffed, taking her drink from d’Ka. Aayrn nodded politely. “So if your ship is not here, how did you get here?” The captain inhaled deeply, then paused a moment to think. It seemed to Kirel that he was either weighing his options or manufacturing a good lie. “There are more modes of travel than by starship,” he said finally. “The process is complicated.” “Enlighten me.” She tossed him a skeptical grin. “Very well,” he began, leaning forward to rest his hands in his lap. “What you see here—this ship, your station, this galaxy, and everything else that you can see or sense—is a minuscule part of the universe in its totality. The universe itself has many layers. When you travel through subspace or use subspace as a conduit for communication, you approach the outskirts of a larger universe that holds more than what we can see or experience as we sit here, discussing the matter.” “So you travel through a multiverse? Hopping from one layer to the other?” “Similar, but not exactly. It’s….” “...complicated. I know.” She sighed and downed another drink without losing eye contact. He didn’t seem to mind. She could not decide whether that was a plus or a minus, but it was certainly interesting. “You have something else on your mind,” Aayrn said finally. “Something disturbing.” “Why do you say that?” she said evenly. “Your expression, your body language, the way you sit in the chair, the touch of anxiety you are trying to hide.” A few seconds of thought, and she chuckled, raising a brow. “Not telepathy?” “Captain, It does not take telepathy to see that something is bothering you.” “Very well,” she answered with a glance to d’Ka for another drink. “I just returned from a debrief, a discussion with command. We discussed the possibility that your telepathy—or the telepathy of your people—is manipulating us. It brought to light many questions that I, as mission commander, could not answer. For instance, how do we know that you and your ship were really here? How do we know for certain that you are not just a solid image that is projected into our minds? How do we know that you were ever really here?” She paused to see if that elicited an answer—which it did not—so she continued calmly. “You come and go at will, Captain—or at least your image does. Your telepathic power goes beyond that of the Sindar. You could easily manipulate anyone on this station, to make them believe that you are real, or that your ship is real. How do I know that we were actually on the Voad, Captain? How do we know that we actually experienced your battle? How do we know that we were not in a holodeck? How do we know that we actually did stay away for four hours while this station experienced a time lapse of a few minutes? Explain that to me.” D’Ka placed another glass next to her, which she ignored. The chronograph on the wall hummed its way from one millisecond to another. The muffled roar of Crusader Attack Fighters launching could be heard outside. She waited for his answer. “I am not sure that I can explain that, Captain. You and your bondmate have physically touched me. Je’rit and Dr. Sandero, made telepathic contact with me. Frankly, I’m at a loss as to what could I use to prove that I am here with you now. That I am real.” “Then perhaps I can assist you,” she said, slipping her dagger from its scabbard. A flick of her wrist landed the dagger’s point in the decking between his feet. Aaryn recoiled to a stand, horrified. “Use it,” she said. He looked to her, then back to the dagger. “We don’t use these weapons. We engage in battle with ships and fighters. I am not familiar with your procedures.” It took him a second to regain his composure. “Are we supposed to fight here, with this weapon?” “No. This dagger is seldom used to fight,” she replied as she pulled it from the decking then cleaned its point. “It is used to form friendships, for bonding, and to call upon the universe when warriors pass in battle.” Whether he understood or not was immaterial. He seemed to understand, but he also seemed reluctant to come near the dagger. He looked to d’Ka, who nodded, then he acquiesced. “Very well. Show me how it is used.” Kirel educated him to the ritual: a slice to her palm and a slice to his, pressed together, then dripped onto a clean, white cloth. Besides Aayrn’s reaction to pain, the color of his blood—a dark crimson—drew her attention. Drs Pavilion and Sandero should be very interested. “And what does this do?” Aayrn asked, nursing the injury after d’Ka bandaged it. “It is normally a bond of close friendship, Captain,” Kirel replied. “However, your blood on this cloth will tell us if you are real, which you seem to be. Captain d’Ka, Captain Aayrn,” she said, nodding politely to each. “If you will excuse me, I have something to attend to.” And she left. * * * * * * Aayrn stared at the hatch as it closed behind her. “Is this normal, Je’rit?” “She is a warrior. It is her normal,” he replied casually. “And it is mine at certain times.” He turned away from the hatch and nodded. “Thank you. Our meeting has served its purpose… and moreso.” He rubbed his palm. “If we are needed, call us and we will respond. If not, we will not interfere with these species’ development. S’lan.” D’Ka nodded. “S’lan.” And he was gone.
  13. Missing Links Chirakis Kirel, SI-5 Ens Jackson called it a lighthouse. Kirel called it a nuisance, an interruption, and a nightmare that they certainly could do without. Even with discussion among those of rank in Command and Control, not much had been accomplished. Kirel stared at the Mission Operations screen as though her glare would make it disappear. It did not, of course, nor did she believe that it actually would, but it did help her to think. And those in CnC recognized that posture as a “Do Not Disturb” sign. They gave her a wide berth. Even her bondmate passed by with no more than a cursory nod. However, his expression was one of distraction and confusion—an expression she had seldom seen. She sighed. Hopefully the puzzle pieces would fit together into a comprehensive image, and soon. Whatever this blinking light is, it is a security threat, and would be so until proven otherwise. -------------------------------------- Chirakis Kirel, Captain SI-5 Chief of Security, Sky Harbor Aegis Stardate 2388.119 Sky Harbor Aegis is experiencing a strange phenomenon that appeared in the vicinity of nebula 236A. The incident began on this date and is ongoing. Every avenue is currently being explored, and as yet there has been no definitive answer. The Situation: A strange light blinks red continuously, at random intervals, in the vicinity of nebula 236A. One crewman described it as resembling “a lighthouse.” The red blinks appear only on the Mission Operations console. When Mission Operations is changed to another console, the red light follows is—meaning that the only console on which this phenomenon occurs is that of Mission Operations. Whether this light is a warning, an attempt to make contact with Aegis, or otherwise has not been determined. No other vessels, colonies, or starbases have reported a similar phenomenon, with the exception of USS Missouri. No reason for that occurrence has been postulated. Investigations are ongoing. Extended Data: Nebula 236A forms a major link from Federation Space and that of the Joint Allied Powers to former Breen space. Nebula 236A is a major conduit for former Breen slaves—both friendly and hostile. Both Task Force Aegis and Strike Force Aegis monitor Joint Allied borders and continue to repel hostile groups. So far, none of these hostile groups has been connected to a blinking red light. This area of Nebula 236A also fosters communication and navigation interruptions. [Refer to: N236A.2388.117.USSMissouri; N236A.2388.117.SHAAegean] Therefore, a warning has been posted for all vessels traveling close to that area. Aegis Computer System does not recognize communication with this red light. However, the blinking light seems to respond to our communication system. For instance, sending a message in Morse code has elicited a response in kind. Whether this is an actual response or a mirror of the message has yet to be determined. Regular reports forthcoming. If regular reports do not arrive on time, consider Aegis hostile territory and approach as such for investigation. Chirakis Kirel, SI-5 Computer encrypt, priority Alpha Send to Rendezvous October Riov t’Alani ----------------------------------------- After sending the report, Kirel turned to watch the Operations console continue to blink. It was time to “circle the wagons” as some Terrans say— though she did not completely understand its meaning. As Chief of Security, she was bound to respectfully approach Captain Ramson and request a command meeting to discuss the matter. For the sake of those not familiar with security’s parlance, she sketched out a suggested plan of discussion and forwarded it to Captain Ramson and Commander Coleridge. Suggested Plan of Discussion—Command Meeting 2388.119 - Sky Harbor Aegis We are witnessing a red area, flashing as though it were a lighthouse. The light seems to be emanating from nebula 236A, but that is not certain. The flashing could be in the nebula, close to the nebula, or even coming from the other side of the nebula. Is the light meant to be a warning, as would a lighthouse? Is it trying to send a message? Is it a lure similar to that of bioluminescent creatures found on several planets? That sector has a posted warning because something in it causes navigation and communication interruptions. Are the red dots linked to the absence of something rather than the presence of something? When we respond to the light, the same sequence responds— meaning that if we send two flashes, the response is two flashes. However, our computer does not recognize the blinking as any known code. We are not detecting any abnormal patterns in the energy relays that might be related to the light. Are sentient creatures trying to communicate? Is the light technologically responding to what we send? Are we sending a flash to a mirror? The red blinks appear only on the Mission Operations console. When Aegis OPS is moved to a different console, the blinking moves with it. Is it technologically attached to Mission OPS? Why only Mission OPS? It has not been reported by any other ships or stations. USS Missouri is experiencing the same phenomenon. Why are Aegis and Missouri experiencing the phenomenon? Is there a commonality between Aegis and USS Missouri. If so, what is the commonality?
  14. From the Ashes Chirakis Kirel, Captain, CSEC, SI-5 There are times when handing duties over to a junior officer for night shift is not a good idea. This was one of those times. CnC’s chronograph kept a steady rhythm, ignoring everything but the passage of time. Shifts that should have changed did not. Some voluntarily left; others either decided to stay or became oblivious to time, mesmerized by unfolding events. Captain Ramson had left on Aegean to intercept a ship that was assigned to a stellar survey, then, either willingly or not, took another path—hostile and dangerous. To Kirel, the Tok-Pan-Jri would become another Vladivostok, whose crew paid a heavy price for entering that nebula unescorted. This time, Task Force Aegis—USS Missouri, USS Ramius, stealth destroyer USS Warren, and their support vessels—accompanied Aegean, and for that Kirel was thankful. Captain Ramson passed Aegis command onto Commander Coleridge, who was immediately drawn into another snare known as Starfleet Command. With him buried in his office to endure hours of mostly-idle chat filled with questions he could not answer and not a little posturing on their part, Kirel became Officer in Charge. Was it her deadly glare that kept Lt Cdr Tarisa, Ens Jackson, and Ltjg Lackey on shift? Kirel preferred to believe that they were dedicated, determined to stand the watch and see this through. In retrospect, she was correct in that assumption. Those three, as well as Midshipman Kenyon and Commander Cayne, kept her on an even keel, although it probably did not seem so to them. Her words were clipped, her expression grim, and the instant responses she demanded often became unbearable. Although she was not the only one on Aegis who remembered the incident, her personal memory of USS Vladivostok’s emaciated crew remained fresh. It cut her to the quick. “It will not happen again.” Just over three months ago, on an artificial cave on a cold, desolate planetoid within Nebula 236a, the crew of USS Vladivostok barely survived. Some did not. Stardate 2388.006 - January 6, 2388 Breath came at a premium for James Belton, captain of the USS Vladivostok. Several broken ribs, especially one that angled dangerously close to his left lung, hampered his breathing. Abrasions swelled his face and neck, and bruises covered most of his body. But he was still alive, which is more than he could say for… how many of Vladivostok’s crew? He pushed the thought aside. He had to focus on the future, absorb as much of his surroundings as possible, watch their captors, understand what he could from their language, movement, and mannerisms, and use that to survive, to plan an escape. The sudden awareness of a warm body brought him out of his thoughts. “Here, Jim,” a deep voice said softly, “we found the mylar blankets. They’ll warm you up.” Only then did he realize he was shivering uncontrollably from the heavy dampness of the cave and the icy water that dripped along its walls and ran in rivulets through tiny cracks. Aboard ship, he had almost cursed their uniform material, but now he was grateful. It was keeping him from pneumonia in this hellacious atmosphere. Two strong arms lifted him gently into a sitting position against the granite wall, wrapped the blanket around him, then carefully lifted his chin and peered into his eyes. “You’re doing okay, Jim,” said Cdr Alex Worley in encouragement. Beneath a forced smile, Belton new differently. He was lucky to be alive. Worley eased the captain’s chin and body back to their original positions, then pulled a blanket around himself before settling down next to him. Vladivostok’s executive officer had always been the crew’s encouragement. “We’ll be outta here soon,” he said. “She’ll send someone. We’ll be fine.” Belton blinked, disoriented and confused. “Logan?” “She got away,” Worley said quietly as he leaned close. “She stole one of their ships. She took the data crystal.” “Right. The crystal. She took it to…” “She took it,” Worley interrupted as his eyes darted around, looking for evesdroppers. “She’s good. We’ll be outta here soon.” The clank of metal on granite echoed from above. Soon several guards, accompanied by what looked like servants, passed among the crew, doling out a soup that looked and smelled suspiciously like the partially digested innards of some hapless invertebrate that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Belton wanted to retch, but Worley pressed the cup to his lips before he had a chance. “Easy,” he said. “A few sips at a time. It’s not exactly home cooking, but it’ll keep your strength up. You’ll feel better.” As soon as the captain dropped off to sleep, Worley waved a crewman over to take his place. The captain was in serious condition, but there were others who needed his attention. As a science vessel, most of Vladivostok’s crew were doctors and scientists, but their medical supplies were waning. They made do with whatever they could scrounge from emergency kits. Since their capture three days ago, Worley had wondered about this cavern—why it was so symmetrical, the walls so smooth, and why it seemed to lead nowhere, only from the surface to a few hundred meters below. As he wandered through, he watched, listened, and encouraged the crew to stay as positive as possible in this hell hole. The remains of those who had died in the starship’s takeover had been carefully laid out close to the snow-covered planet’s surface. The aliens that held them? They didn’t seem to care, as long as everyone was compliant. There were no interrogations or intimidation. Worley stood at the entrance, watching the snow swirl in soft eddies around the bodies, blanketing them in their sleep. “Maddie,” he whispered across the void, “tell me you made it. Please, tell me you made it to Aegis.” Stardate 2388.009 - Deep in Neutral Space The stealth fighter, Drakkor, slipped silently through space as the dark void thirstily swallowed her jet-black hull. The vessel seemed to relish its freedom, as did her pilot, Chirakis Kirel, Starfleet Intelligence Division 5 operative and former commanding officer of Sky Harbor Aegis. Closing her eyes against the firmament, she sank deep into the custom pilot seat, both pondering and trying to ignore what could be in store when she reached her destination: a covert base where SI-5, SI-6, and Tal Shiar operatives gathered when the Federation and its allies were in danger. “Destination Rendezvous October,” Kirel spoke quietly into her helmet communication system as soon as the computer signaled neutral territory. “Run dark. Engage avoidance maneuvers and random course changes at random intervals.” “Compliance.” The computer’s synthesized reply did not hold the concern of its master, offering instead a sense of calm. It allowed her to relax, if only for a few minutes. “Unknown vessel on intercept course.” Drakkor’s synthesized voice woke her instantly. Given the immensity of space, the odds that two fighters would just happen to be on an intercept course were astronomical, and the possibility that someone had detected Drakkor’s presence was highly unlikely. “Identify.” “Insufficient data.” “Vessel description.” “High warp capable starship, fighter configuration nine meters by five meters, one occupant, standard armament.” “Species of occupant.” “Human female.” “Are weapons engaged?” “Negative. Weapons are inoperable.” Inoperable? Strange. “Time to intercept.” “Ten minutes, 43.7 seconds.” “Projected destination given its present course.” “Sky Harbor Aegis.” “Kahless!” she growled. “Change course to parallel the unknown vessel. Maintain a distance of 5,000 meters. Commence audio and visual record. Track trajectory. Arm all weapons, but do not target.” “Compliance.” Soon a strangely configured fighter passed and faded in the distance. Drakkor’s data analysis revealed recent scoring of the fighter’s hull, though there was no major damage. Her pilot was indeed human, but lifesigns were low, and given the speed of the vessel, its fuel supply would not last long. It seemed odd, especially because this particular area of space was truly a void. Kirel took manual control of Drakkor and came about for pursuit. Not long after, she approached the vessel, now dead in space and beginning to drift. Her pilot, slumped forward and barely alive, wore the uniform of a Starfleet officer, though that did not guarantee it was a Starfleet officer. Kirel drifted wing-to-wing with the unknown fighter while her systems verified that there was no trap, no failsafe, and no danger in boarding the other vessel. But a nagging suspicion remained. The slow rise and fall of the occupant’s chest and the occasional twitch of her left hand indicated she was still alive, though given the state of her vessel’s life support, she would not be for long. Kirel locked Drakkor's emergency escape hatch with the other fighter. She eased through the passageway into the cockpit. The fighter was old, and its configuration was stranger inside than out. The console was worn and ordinary, but the language was a bizarre mix of Klingon and Romulan, and barely readable. As fresh air surged in from Drakkor, the young woman came around, drinking in great gasps and thirsting for more. Soon she slumped back into the pilot’s seat, her head lolling against the headrest for a minute or two until her gaze fell on the still-helmeted Kirel, who had left the helmet's black reflective visor in place as a precaution. “Who are you?" the girl breathed, her face pale and looking more like a girl's than a woman's. "I would ask you the same. Lieutenant," the captain countered skeptically. "Not until you tell me who you are." "It would appear,” Kirel replied, “that you are in no position to bargain. If you refuse to answer I will leave.” She shrugged. “Which means that you will be dead within the hour. Of course, someone else could come along, but it’s highly unlikely given this area of space." Clearly suffering from hypoxia, the girl gave her a blank stare. “Can't you at least let me see your face? Please? So I know this is real and not a dream?" Kirel’s hand grasped the girl's arm in a vice grip, releasing only after she cried out. "There. You are awake. Now tell me who you are." "Lieutenant Madelyn Logan, Operations Officer, USS Vladivostok." "And your destination?" “I don't know. The captain gave me the coordinates. I stole the fighter and entered them, then pressed what looked like the button to engage." "You stole the fighter? From whom?" "I don't know. They were all masked, and their bodies were completely covered. When they were around us they didn’t talk except for grunts, so…” she started to fade, then took a deep breath, “...so we don’t know… I don’t know who they are… they were….” “You said ‘the captain’ gave you the coordinates, and then mentioned ‘they were all around us.’ Who is ‘us?’” “The crew… our crew… the crew of Vladivostok.” A few labored breaths, and she asked, “Please, do you have any water?” “I do. Are you able to move?” “A little.” “Then come. Use the hatch to enter my vessel. I have plenty.” For a moment, the girl’s blank stare returned, but she shook it off as she struggled out of the pilot’s seat. “You still didn’t tell me your name.” “In due time. For now, you may call me Captain.” Leaving the aged fighter behind, Drakkor continued its silent slip through the void, changing course at random intervals toward Rendezvous October. A few sips of water and the girl was asleep. The DNA sample from the young lieutenant’s water bottle verified the girl’s identity as Madelyn Logan, Lieutenant, Operations Officer for USS Vladivostok, age... 19? Recruited at 14? Her small frame curled snugly in Drakkor’s second seat spoke of a naive child more than an officer. What had happened to the Vladivostok? Why had no one reported it missing? How did the stolen fighter just happen to be in the same area as Drakkor exactly when its occupant needed help? Kirel had found a data crystal in the lieutenant’s tunic pocket. A thorough scan had verified its authenticity, it took several hours to decrypt, and it was difficult to analyze. The young officer stirred, stretched, turned, and straightened up in her seat. She picked at the ill-fitting flight suit Kirel had furnished, then looked around in confusion. "Where am I?" “You are in my fighter en route to our destination, Lieutenant," the captain replied, casually. “We should arrive within the hour. How are you feeling?" "Okay I guess," she said, frowning, possibly trying to remember how she got there. Then she glanced through the canopy as she rubbed her eyes. “But I’m kind of hungry." The captain retrieved a small, green package from the food locker and passed it to her, along with another bottle of water. "Eat slowly,” the captain advised. “This has everything your body needs. And continue to hydrate." “Thank you…." The girl stared at Kirel’s flight suit, looking for something. “I know I’m supposed to call you Captain, but can you tell me your name?” “Chirakis.” It didn’t seem to register. “I am Captain Chirakis, Lieutenant.” Kirel nodded congenially. “Oh. Okay. So, thank you, Captain Chirakis… for the food. And for well... you know... saving me.” The girl waited, seeming to want a response. Kirel gave her customary short nod. Madelyn fumbled with the package and eventually conquered it. She took a tentative bite, then studied the wrapper, reading the contents thoroughly. Smiling at Kirel, she took another bite, chewing thoughtfully as she regarded the captain’s PADD. “Something else, Lieutenant?” Kirel asked finally. “What are you reading?” “Information possibly needed at my destination.” “Oh.” She took another bite, then fished in her tunic pocket. Confused, she stopped to strain her eyes toward the PADD. “The answer to your question is yes. I took it from your pocket.” The captain’s gaze met hers. “Where did you get it?” “The captain… my captain… Captain Belton? He gave it to me. He said it was important. I was supposed to give it to the commanding officer at my destination when I arrived. Well… actually… he said if I arrived.” “And what was your destination?” She shrugged, taking another bite, then disposing of the wrapper. “I really don’t know. He just gave me some coordinates. That’s it.” “And why did Captain Belton send you instead of your helmsman?” She stopped chewing and stared at the floor for a moment, then swallowed hard. “He’s dead.” After a pause, Kirel stowed her PADD and shifted her seat to piloting position. “We will be landing soon, Lieutenant. I suggest you prepare. Your helmet is behind the seat. Put it on and do not remove it until I tell you to. Do you understand?” “Yeah. I mean… yes, Captain.” * * * * * * * * * Just over an hour later, they reached the docking bay of Rendezvous October, situated below ground on an asteroid between Federation and Ferengi space. When Madelyn removed her darkened helmet, her mouth dropped open and she froze half-way out of the seat.They were in a cave. Well, kind of a cave. At least it looked like a cave. It had this weird lighting, kind of like a fighter bay. But the only thing that made it look like a fighter bay was... well... the fighters. And the plane crews. And the bay chief. And the equipment. And the floor. And the…. She blinked. There must have been over a hundred workers in the bay. Some of them were armed. And they were all standing still. Their eyes were fixed on the captain’s fighter. Oh no… they were fixed on her… and their weapons were pointed…. A firm grasp on her upper arm jerked her out of the seat. “Now, Lieutenant. State your name, rank, and posting.” “Yes, ma’am,” she squeaked, then swallowed and took a deep breath, trying to ignore the stares that came from every angle. “Lieutenant Madelyn Logan, Operations Officer, USS Vladivostok.” After a moment, “Voice print is verified, Captain,” came from the intercom. “Welcome aboard.” “Thank you, Chief. Lieutenant Logan.” The captain turned to her. Madelyn was shrinking away from one of the plane crew who stood on a platform ladder at her side, his hand extended as he waited to assist her. The rest of the crews had returned to work, and the hum of activity resumed. Slowly, the lighting returned to normal, and her pupils had adjusted; she was in a fighter bay, but somewhere underground, and probably somewhere super-secret, like in the movies…. “Lieutenant. Logan.” Her head snapped to the captain. Yeah, she was ticked. “Yes, ma’am?” “Sergeant Murphy will be your escort while you are here.” She nodded to the young man whose hand was still out, waiting. “He will take you to our medical personnel and then to billeting.” “I don’t bite,” said Murphy, smiling. “Let’s get you settled in, make sure you’re okay, get you some chow. How about it?” “Uh… yeah, okay. Murphy?” Only when she took his hand did she realize how weak she was. Her legs were trembling, and getting out of the fighter would have been a major accomplishment if he hadn’t been there. “You can call me Tim,” he said with a congenial smile. “It’s a lot easier than Murphy.” * * * * * * * Kirel stepped out of the cockpit and slid down her side of the fighter, landing easily on the tarmac. “Walk with me,” she said as she handed her gloves and helmet to the crew chief. “How many are we?” “Close to four hundred by last count, Captain. More coming in every day, but we’re slow in vetting them.” He handed her a PADD, which she read through and signed, then passed back. “A lot of records were purged when they were declared persona non grata.” “Understandable. Where is my team?” “Deck 8, substrata.” "And Admiral Solokov?" "CnC, with Admiral Mulligan." “Thank you, Chief. Take good care of Drakkor. You might be interested in her upgrades. Have a look, but don’t touch.” “Of course, Captain. We’ll keep her secure.” Equidistant from Federation and Ferengi space, a small group of asteroids floats, tethered to each other by a fragmented planet’s gravitational field. There, in collaboration with the Federation and to their mutual benefit, the Ferengi Alliance built a commercial complex where several corporations developed and tested new technology. One asteroid used by a number of technology corporations was devoted to ASTech (/Aztec/), Air & Space Technology, the premiere developer of cutting-edge technology for military and civilian spacecraft. A variety of unmarked spacecraft, especially fighters and specialized small craft, came and went from their facility with ease. It was the perfect place to house the base known as Rendezvous October. Beneath a dome that furnished both atmosphere and security, ASTech’s corporate headquarters was nondescript. Beneath the storage and maintenance levels, and the ASTech corporate landing bays, was Rendezvous October, with coded access through the corporate bays. Here, Drakkor had landed, only one of many fighters and other craft used by operatives from the Allied Powers, chief among them being Starfleet Intelligence and the Tal Shiar. "Admiral Solokov." Kirel acknowledged the gray haired officer who turned as her escort admitted her to October’s Command and Control center. "Captain Chirakis," said Solokov, moving to greet her, then turning to gesture toward the others present. "You know Admiral Mullins of Federation Security,… Captain Raza of Starfleet Intelligence, Division 6,... and Riov t'Aldani of the Tal Shiar." "I do," she said, greeting each superior in turn before they resumed their business. “Any word from USS Vladivostok?" she asked. “Vladivostok?" A brow shot up as he gave it some thought. “Not that I am aware. She’s a science vessel, Oberth class, specially modified to explore areas of high radiation, stellar prominences, emission nebulae, that type of thing, so they are not usually in this area of space. There’s really no reason for them to contact us. Why do you ask?" "Twelve hours ago I rescued their operations officer, Lieutenant Madelyn Logan. She was drifting in space, in a cross-platform fighter, on a direct course to Aegis, to deliver this." She handed the data crystal to Solokov. “What kind of cross-platform?” the admiral queried, regarding the crystal. “A strange mix of technologies and a different hull configuration, with a Klingon-Romulan console.” His brow furrowed. “Go on.” “She said she did not know her destination, that Captain Belton had only given her some coordinates, gave her the data crystal, and ordered her to deliver it to the commanding officer at her destination, which, of course, would have been me. Sergeant Murphy, SI-5, is escorting her. He is expert in… casual interrogation through relaxed conversation.” The Admiral regarded the crystal again, lips tight, and gave a knowing nod. “In any event,” Kirel continued, “the information on the crystal may or may not have something to do with Argesil. However, if the Vladivostok is missing we might want to investigate.” “Of course. Lieutenant Kapar," Solokov turned toward a prominent display, "Get me the last known location of USS Vladivostok." "Yes, Admiral.” A few taps of the young man’s console brought a report onscreen. “Its last known location was…” he paged down, “...the outskirts of Nebula 236A. They were investigating signals in the nebula that were inconsistent with data they gathered a year ago, Admiral. Do you want me to go into the nitty-gritty and read the specifics of the science report?" "No, Lieutenant. When was that report filed?" "Six days ago, sir." “Is there any evidence of weapons fire or debris?" Kirel asked. Kapar swiveled to face her. "We can't detect weapons fire or debris at this distance, ma'am, but we haven’t received any reports from that area." Solokov turned the crystal over in his palm several times before handing it to Kapar as he spoke to Chirakis. “I'll let you know what we find." Aboard USS Missouri Three Days Later - Stardate 2388.012 Captain Je’rit d’Ka strode smoothly from Missouri’s command lift onto the bridge. “Commander Lei’ri, the conference room, now. Mr. Tan,” said d’Ka speaking to the operations officer, “call Colonel Anastis and Commander Grigori to the conference room immediately. Mr. Doland, continue on course. Mr. Tan, you have the conn.” A series of “Aye, sir,” followed the officers as they left the bridge, the door to the conference room closing swiftly behind them. “They have found the crew of USS Vladivostok,” d’Ka began as he rounded the conference table and tapped its top to engage the wall screen. Lei’ri’s expression brightened as he joined d’Ka at the screen, arms crossed to listen. “One of their crew escaped and delivered a datacrystal to Rendezvous October.” “October?” Lei’ri raised a brow. “Who on Vladivostok has October clearance?” “No one,” d’Ka replied. “According to the report, Captain Belton gave the crystal to their operations officer. She stole an alien craft, entered the coordinates the captain gave her, and left, not knowing where she was going or what was on the crystal. She was bound for Sky Harbor Aegis when her vessel lost all power, and she was rescued by Captain Chirakis. “Colonel. Commander.” D’Ka and Lei’ri turned to the opening conference room door. “Join us. We have an urgent mission.” The captain’s swipe along the tabletop opened several screens to show a remote area of space. “The crew of USS Vladivostok has been located on a remote nebular planetoid, here.” One screen zoomed in. "It is reported to be cold, but not uninhabitable, composed mostly of granite with little to no vegetation. We are presently en route to Valaria, but will change course within the hour and run silent at best speed for extraction. "The aliens…." Another screen took precedence. "....are believed to be humanoid. Head and face are always covered, reason unknown. We have no idea who they are, and know nothing of their capabilities or purpose, but we do know that they are technologically advanced and possibly hostile. "Their ship….” Several images filled the screen. "....is similar to the one we have been watching. However, the presence of older Federation craft, Romulan warbirds, and customized small craft are noted here, and here. Where these images were taken is unknown, so we will expect at least some craft to be on planet unless we hear otherwise in the next few hours. “Colonel Anastis, your Nightmares will conduct planetary reconnaissance and serve as overwatch and backup. Commander Grigori, your Banshees will move in to rescue. The nebula is dense and will not allow transporter use, so it will be a shuttle recovery. Missouri’s Crusaders will provide atmospheric cover. Missouri will stay within weapons range. Questions so far?" The two officers studied the screens, then gave a collective, “No, sir.” “Vladivostok’s crew numbered 128. Some are known to be dead, and some are severely injured. Pull all your medical personnel into the operation. Missouri’s medical will assist—from Peacekeepers if needed—but your teams should be prepared to carry the injured out. Get with your teams, formulate your plan, and coordinate with the squadron commander. Questions?” “Yes, Captain,” said Grigori, manipulating the planetary screen. “Do we have any more information on the planet, itself? Gravity, tectonic stability?” “What information we have on the planet and the crew’s exact location has been uploaded to your personal slates, but we will not rely on it. When we are in range, Cdr Stevenson in science will give us a more comprehensive assessment.” “Armaments? Ships in orbit?” asked Anastis. “Do we know where these images came from?” “In answer to your first, we know of no ships in orbit, but we will know when we arrive. As for the images, Vladivostok’s commanding officer, Captain Belton, furnished them.” Belton's image appeared onscreen. “They were in a file delivered by an escapee. Starfleet Intelligence has examined them and determined them to be genuine. As for armaments and orbital protection, we will learn more when we arrive.” Grigori’s frown deepened as he read through the information on his slate. “How long have they been there, Captain?” “Vladivostok entered that nebula for exploration over three weeks ago. And no,” d’Ka interjected, anticipating his question, “we do not know if they are alive, but until we have proof that they are dead, they are alive.” After a few moments of checking the screen and referring to their slates, the officers seemed satisfied. “ETA to the planetoid is five hours. You will be informed as soon as updates arrive. If there is nothing else, carry on.” A few minutes after the officers left found the Sindar captain and his Qr’var first officer staring at the closed conference room door. They remained there for several minutes, lost in thought. Finally, knowing the captain’s telepathic abilities, Lei’ri broke the silence. “Are they alive, Captain?” “Yes, ‘Ri,” he replied, his eyes becoming the deep purple of concern. “They are. But they may not be for long.” USS Vladivostok’s Planetoid 5 Days Later - Stardate 2388.017 Cdr Alex Worley Executive Officer, USS Vladivostok “I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.” ― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye Twilight melted into darkness as Cresta Sanchez watched the makeshift honor guard lay her husband next to the nine others who had died since the crew’s capture. When they withdrew, she knelt beside his body, but the tears that should have come did not. Frail as well as grief-stricken, she was wasting from a strange disease that threatened to run rampant through the crew unless Dr. Gardiner could stop it. After a few minutes, Commander Worley gently squeezed her shoulders, then helped her to a stand and led her back into the comparative warmth of the cave, away from her husband. The planetary sub-zero cold, made more bitter with sunset, would keep the body intact until they were rescued. Then he would receive the burial he deserved. They would drape his coffin with a Federation flag, render him full honors, and lay him to rest at home. Leave no one behind. Put your tears in a box. Lock them away. Turn your grief to determination. Survive. As soon as Worley had her settled, he returned to their temporary morgue, just shy of the cave’s entrance, where he could gaze across the wasteland, as barren and frozen as they were in time. His jaw set, he stared at the stars with a childlike hope: the belief that if he watched, if he thought hard enough and waited long enough, someone would come. Then, half believing that his thought was folly, he would remember the young operations officer, Madelyn Logan, who risked her life to save theirs, daring to believe she could escape and go for help. She made it, he told himself, beating back the doubt. He would not lose hope. They could take everything from him, even his life, but he would never lose hope. “Commander?” “Yes, Salak?” Worley half turned toward the astrophysicist. “Captain Belton wishes to see you.” Within the Vulcan’s stoic expression was an alarming hint of sorrow. Worley dashed down the slippery rock floor, stumbling a few times until he rounded the corner to the warmer area where most of the crew huddled. Jim Belton lay propped up with several blankets wrapped tightly around him, his face like wax, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, his lips blue, and parted for nothing more than shallow breaths. Stacey Gardiner, ship’s doctor, knelt next to him, choking back her emotions as she watched his vital signs fade. Catching his breath, Worley dropped down next to her as she shook her head. “He has the disease,” she whispered in his direction, fighting tears. “I don’t know what to do beyond holding his hand. His injuries…” she left off, swallowing back a deep pain Worley knew all too well. “One at a time, I could deal with it…,” she continued, pleading, “but his injuries…. He’s just too weak, Al. He’s just....” “It’s okay, Stace,” he whispered, squeezing her hand. “I’ll take it from here.” Rage Against the Darkness "Do not go gently into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” — Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night The rolling hills of New Zealand shone more vibrant than he remembered. The path was smoother, the grass more lush, fragrant, and full—if that were possible. The scent of new mown hay hung in the air, and hedgerow blossoms bowed, heavy with pollen and eager honey bees that darted to and fro, across the path he had wandered as a child. Herds grazed or basked in the late afternoon sun, soaking up the warmth of mid-summer, and he laughed. Here he was, making plans for the beach while the North American continent was suffering one of the worst winters in recorded history. He shouldn't laugh, he told himself. Then he laughed again. This day, this place, was perfect. Absolutely perfect. In the distance, one long blast signaled the ferry’s last departure for the mainland. From the top of the hill, Jim Belton watched it pull noiselessly away from the dock toward open ocean, Dace Lingo at the helm, maneuvering it with the intricate skill of a master helmsman. It would be a short trip, just shy of an hour. Three related families had purposely chosen this island for their herds and crops. “Close enough for convenience and far enough away for privacy,” his father always said. “Jimmy...." His mother’s call drifted uphill on the breeze. It triggered a ravenous appetite, and he checked his chronograph. Homemade sausage, mashed potatoes with fresh churned butter, sliced deep red tomatoes still warm from the sun, and rich, dark coffee was waiting. Belton hopped the hedgerow then jogged downhill toward the main house, still amazed at his mother’s vigor and the carry of her voice, despite her age. His father was the same: strong, determined, hard-working, and openly opinionated as to how his farm, the island, the country, and the Federation should be run. They were a hearty people. Their ancestors had settled this island somewhere in the mid 19th century, and countless generations had inhabited the house, additions built as family size demanded, and pastures widened according to need. “Tea’s ready,” said his mother as he bounded up the steps and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “I made your favorite for your homecoming. It is so good to have you home again, but c'mon now; we’ve waited long enough.” "So've I, Mum," he sighed, content. "So've I." Thankful that his arduous journey was finally over, Belton paused on the porch for a moment, then turned to watch the ferry disappear, and to inhale the crisp salt air. Only then did he notice dark clouds looming on the horizon. Coming from that direction at this time of year meant that it would not be an ordinary summer rain. In fact, it could be devastating. Heavy, black clouds choked the setting sun, billowed into the stratosphere and took ominous aim at the island, rolling across the water with uncommon speed, churning the waves into a witch’s cauldron and spewing foam onto the shore well before the crests reached land. Mesmerized, Belton ignored his mother's plea to come in, his eyes fixed on the storm’s apocalyptic advance. When he finally turned to lead her to safety, his hand smacked against a cold, dank wall, and the echo of a heavy drip… drip… drip came from somewhere behind him. His mother was gone, as was the house, the yard, the farm, and the roiling sea, replaced with a hell he barely remembered. A residual slime clung to his hands as he fumbled and slipped through the darkness, feeling for an exit, or at least a handhold, fighting against confusion, disorientation, and panic. Then came the stench, and the putrid taste of death on his tongue, trickling down his throat and raging throughout his body until a surge of adrenaline opened his eyes and he stopped cold. After several forceful blinks, his eyes focused on a strange creature kneeling beside him. One of its hands held his mouth closed, and the other stroked his head—much like a parent would a child—while it made a strange humming sound. A blanket swaddled his body, pinning his arms to his torso. Belton swallowed, then struggled to retch in the realization that the putrid taste of death was real, coming from a mass of decayed vegetation the creature had stuffed into his mouth. His chest heaved as he choked, trying to breathe, until the creature tilted his head enough to open the airway, just before he passed out. Belton awoke… several hours later? He wasn’t sure. Time didn’t seem to mean anything anymore. The creature was gone, along with whatever it had put into his mouth. But the taste was still there, like soaked deadfall from a hundred year old forest floor where some animal had left its mark long ago, and its droppings had made a sick infusion. “Jim? You’re awake?” said a hesitant voice beside him. Belton’s head lolled in that direction, but the darkness was nearly total. Still, he knew that voice… from somewhere... from another time, another place…. “Al?” Belton’s wide-eyed struggle ended as an emergency chemlight brightened the immediate area, lighting the face of his first officer, Alex Worley. “Jim?” Worley breathed, still uncertain, his expression a mix of confusion, hope, excitement, and incredulity. “Jim! You’re alive!” Belton stared a minute. “Yeah,” he said, “I think so.” Then another face joined them, but it took Belton a minute to recognize Stacey Gardiner, Vladivostok’s chief physician. “Captain!” she whispered in awe, her eyes darting from his to Worley’s and back. “What happened?” “Happened?” Belton thought a moment. “I have no idea.” Aboard USS Missouri 2 Days Later - Stardate 2088.019 0100 hours, mission relative Colonel Anastis and Commander Grigori flanked Captain d’Ka as a small, barren, ice-covered planet appeared on the forward viewscreen, hanging like a glistening gem against a backdrop of oblivion: an irreconcilable oxymoron. As planets go, it was on the low end of the spectrum, and perfect for a penal colony. That it was even found was puzzling, except for the abundance of heavy metals. But heavy metals abounded in other, more accessible and workable places, such as asteroids. Why this planet? “They haven’t done any mining,” mused the science officer with a shrug, “aside from one long tunnel where we’ve detected the life signs, there’s no evidence that they even explored.” “You are certain the crew is alive?” said d’Ka, pensive. “Not entirely, Captain. The mineral content is both blocking and creating echoes in our readings, which could falsify the results. But I would say there is a very good chance that they are alive.” “Temperature on the surface?” “Negative thirty one degrees Celsius, estimated to drop another ten degrees within the operation window. The wind is presently at 25.7 kph from the north, holding steady, well within the tolerance of the teams’ equipment.” A glance at his Special Operations officers for affirmation, and d’Ka nodded. “Very well. Colonel, Commander, the mission is yours,” he said, returning to the command chair. Onscreen, two Starfleet Special Operations elements in Arctic operations gear, left the safety of their runabouts and advanced in a moonless night against a cutting wind that whipped ice against their full-face visors and plastered their suits tight against their bodies as they leaned into it. Having landed in seclusion far from their objective, their ETA was well over an hour. Given the atmospheric conditions and disruption from the planet’s mineral content, they knew it could be much longer—possibly creeping into the range of two or three hours. One hour turned into two, and still the teams advanced, keeping constant contact with the ship for verification of their position. Temperatures continued to drop, but so did the wind, making progress easier. At 0352, their objective came into view, and they stopped to regroup. * * * * * Not far from the SPECOPS teams’ objective, Commander Worley stepped wearily down the narrow path that served the crew as a guide to their makeshift settlement within the cave. Three standard days would pass before dawn would break the horizon and the planet’s surface temperature would rise enough for them to survive outside the cave. Until then, they drew every blanket, emergency Mylar covering, and piece of clothing close. They huddled together in groups inside crude shelters made from rocks and the few packs they managed to bring from their ship. Then they slept, making the prolonged darkness easier to bear, and conserving what energy they had left. The commander made periodic rounds, praying they wouldn’t lose any more to cold, starvation, or disease. Captain Belton and the others who had been treated by the aliens seemed to be recovering. Doctor Stacey Gardiner’s hope that many of the crew would survive was tempered by their lack of nourishment. But survival hinged largely on will, so she wisely kept her thoughts to herself. “Stace,” said Worley as he squeezed into a space next to her. “You holding up okay?” “Um…” she replied listlessly. “As much as anyone can under these conditions. What are they doing out there?” “Piling crates against the walls, making the outlet smaller. I think they finally got the idea that we’re cold.” His tone and smile came off as more sardonic than lighthearted. “You don’t think they’re boxing us in?” “Oh, no. If they wanted to do that they’d use rocks, or maybe fuse the cave shut with… whatever those weapons are.” “Phasers? Disruptors?” Worley shrugged. “They don’t look like either. I think the name and nature’s up for grabs.” He hugged her close. “Warm enough?” “Warm as I’ll ever be, I guess.” * * * * * “Doghouse, this is Bulldog.” The call from SPECOPS unit commander Lt Ed Lytle came through clearly. “In position, how copy?” “Copy, Bulldog,” Grigori replied. “Copy is solid, but visual is limited. Do you have eyes on?” “Negative, Doghouse. Request you verify the position of the hostile.” The lieutenant’s voice held a tinge of confusion. “Transmitting now, Bulldog. Stand by,” Gregori replied as d’Ka pointed to his tactical officer. A few taps on his console, and Sojek looked up, puzzled and seemingly speechless. “Mr. Sojek?” d’Ka’s chair swiveled in his direction. "There is no sign of the alien ship, Captain, nor are there any life signs other than those below ground." D’Ka took a moment to process that. “Has Ramius detected any ships leaving the area?” he said, with not a little skepticism. “No, Captain. Their report clearly states that there is not even a residual emission trail. Also, both their tachyon detection grid and their graviton subspace field-current scanner show negative.” “Mr. Ellis?” He turned to the science officer. “As far as our scanners are concerned, there’s nothing there, Captain,” she replied, as puzzled as her Vulcan counterpart, “and there never has been.” D’Ka, Lei’ri, Gregori, and Anastis exchanged glances. “Watchdog, Doghouse. Do you have eyes on?” Anastis commed the recon team this time. “Doghouse, Watchdog. Negative.” “What do you see, Watchdog?” “Well, sir, a whole lotta blowing snow, ice, and rocks. HUD* shows nothing in the area, no evidence of landing, not even pod marks. We’ve been around the barn a few times, and, well, sir, there is no hostile evidence outside the cavern.” “Can you see anything inside from your position?” “Yes, sir. Ten frozen bodies, humanoid, Starfleet uniforms, and a bunch of boxes piled at the entrance with just enough opening to get in and out.” “What kind of boxes?” “They look like ‘Fleet supply boxes, sir. We would have to move in to verify the contents.” In answer to Anastis’ look, d’Ka said, “Proceed.” “Watchdog, Doghouse. Proceed with caution,” said Anastis, automatically looking up at the viewscreen. The images were barely visible, but their movement patterns, enhanced by the computer, would have to suffice. ______ *Heads Up Display * * * * * Aboard USS Missouri Stardate 2388.021 - 2 days later En Route to Aegis Although activity on the bridge of USS Missouri had settled to a normal pace, an undercurrent of apprehension veiled the atmosphere. Heavy. Palpable. A curtain of suspicion and fear that was disturbing enough to distract Captain d’Ka from reading the After Action Report he had just received from Commander Anastis. It was common knowledge that the remaining crew of USS Vladivostok had been rescued and were recovering in sick bay, and many had attended the ceremony for the ten who had been laid to temporary rest in the morgue. The cogs of the rumor mill were hungry. Feeding on observations and whispers, they eagerly ground them up and spit out enough fodder to fill the void for months. The minimal hiss and vague scent of mocha that drifted through the opening lift doors went ignored by Captain d’Ka while he continued to read, his expression grim. “Captain,” said Commander Lei’ri as he secured the captain’s mug in the command chair’s holder, “the replicator is still not sure of the formula, but a few in science are familiar with the herbs. Hopefully they fashioned something closer to the original.” “Um…” mused d’Ka continuing to read, “thank you, ‘Ri.” After a moment he looked up. “Any progress on the rumors?” “Department Chiefs are working on it,” Lei’ri replied, settling into his chair, coffee mug in hand. The captain’s brow knit, his lips pursed. “My ready room, Commander,” he said. “Mr. Sojek, you have the bridge.” The tactical officer’s acknowledgment was barely heard before the ready room doors closed and d’Ka strode across the room. “Working on it, is not enough, Commander,” he snapped, tossing the PADD on his desk where it clattered to a stop just short of the opposite corner. He stopped, took a moment, then forced a slow exhale. “Apologies, ‘Ri,” he said quietly, then turned to wave his executive officer into an easy chair before settling wearily into the other. “I feel everything on this ship… see everything... hear everything. It is the price I pay for agreeing to command a predominantly human starship.” He sighed, sensing his counterpart’s scrutiny, the Qr’var sensitivity on which he depended. “The rumors must stop, ‘Ri, and they must stop now. Do whatever you must to accomplish that.” “Yes, Captain.” “These alien beings are formidable,” d’Ka continued, “and the crew’s suspicions threaten to make them even moreso. Contrary to their belief, these aliens are not ‘omniscient,’ they are not ‘ethereal,’ they have no ‘supernatural powers,’ they cannot ‘poof into thin air,’ and they are not... ‘cannibals.’” His eyes flashed dangerously close to violet as he stared across the room. They sat for several minutes, the silence disturbed only by the gentle hum of Missouri’s engines. “Keann-aí,”* Lei’ri said finally. “Your anger is more than I have seen since Grathor. But it is not against the crew or the aliens, is it. There is something more, something deeper." "Yes,” he admitted after a long pause. “I rage against myself for waiting too long. Against Starfleet for not finding them sooner. Against the situation... against the universe... against creation itself.” A sadness crept into his expression, then a sardonic smile that vanished as quickly as it came. “I rage to control the grief. “Theirs was a senseless death, ‘Ri. They died out of their captor’s ignorance. Doctor Shazarim informed me that the crew did not lack the proper nutrition; they lacked the proper amount of nutrition. The beings tried to adjust both the substance and the quantity, but what they concocted was so revolting that most of the crew could not eat it without regurgitating. When Missouri entered the system the alien vessel left, but they left crates of Starfleet rations at the mouth of the cave.” The captain’s eyes searched the room. “Why, ‘Ri? Why did they wait? The food was there all along. The crew was starving. Why did they wait? “I can think of several reasons, Captain,” Lei’ri offered cautiously. “If they were ignorant of the humanoids’ needs, they could have been ignorant of the crates’ contents, unable to read the label, unable to understand that the contents were edible, or they removed the crates without looking at the contents and simply left them behind.” “Um,” d’Ka replied, the pangs of anger, grief, and helplessness subsiding, if only a little. “You are wise beyond your years, ‘Ri,” he said on a sigh, then straightened up. “Doctor Shazarim also confirmed that the fermented leaves the beings fed to Captain Belton and the others who fell ill saved their lives. That, in itself, speaks well of the alien culture. Commander Worley gave him samples that will be passed on to Dr. Pavilion. Aegis’ advanced medical and science facilities should be able to analyze them. “But back to the rumors. We have no evidence that these particular beings are here for a hostile takeover of Allied space. In fact, we have evidence to the contrary. What the crew of Vladivostok endured is inexcusable, but the beings did not kill them, nor did they torture them for information, nor did they act as hostile invaders in any other way. “However, if these rumors continue, the crew will soon be convinced that they are up against an unconquerable foe. They will shrink in a crisis, jump to conclusions, or mistake an amiable gesture for a hostile one. And if they do that, these formerly friendly beings will retaliate and become hostile. Deal with the rumors in any way you can, 'Ri, and do so quickly. You have free rein.” ______________ Keann-aí - the Sindar word for captain, used when showing great respect.
  15. An Endless Circle Chirakis Kirel As Afternoon Watch changed to Evening, Captain Chirakis left Command and Control, entered her office in the security complex, and secured it for privacy. On the console before her sat several reports, each obviously connected to the other, but lacking specifics. Sudden flashes reported... freighter Oktazem’s helm noticed... and sightings in our vicinity seem to indicate… mean nothing if there is no viable evidence: an image, a sensor reading, or the like. As far as she was concerned, there were only two viable reports. Operations officer Ens Jackson reported repeating flashes on his console, “like a lighthouse blinking”, though no one else saw them and Cdr Cayne reported that there was “Nothing on long range or short range sensors, nor activity within Aegis proximity.” If Rendezvous October was not absolutely certain, Riov t’Aldani would not have forwarded their strange sightings and sensor readings. That in itself urged her to pay attention. Something told her that the reports, whether valid or not, might signal an emerging threat. After several minutes of thought, she called, “Kh’éile?” telepathically to her Sindar bondmate as if he were standing next to her, though he was several light years away aboard USS Missouri. It was several minutes before Captain d’Ka’s clipped response came. “What is it? We have an ongoing situation that needs my attention.” “Does it have to do with intrusion from Alien Alliance space?” There was a long pause. She felt his surprise and sudden interest. “Why do you ask?” “We have received disturbing information from several areas. I will forward it. When you are able, reply.” She broke the telepathic connection, encrypted the message, and then forwarded the information. For now, she would say nothing to anyone beyond Aegis command. Until the pieces of the puzzle fell into a comprehensive whole, Kirel would not voice her opinion, but the more she she thought about it, the more she realized that her nightmare was repeating itself. Tossing her PADD aside, she rested her forearms on the desk to think. Aegis had received information from Starfleet Command regarding the Alien Alliance. Information from Rendezvous October indicated a possible intrusion in progress. USS Missouri was dealing with “a situation” on the edge of Alien Alliance Space. The Operations console in Command and Control was blinking “like a lighthouse”, and the science vessel, toq-Pan-Jri, was docked for supplies and recalibration of their shielding—purpose unknown. “The science vessel. Toq-Pan-Jri,” she said aloud as she stood to check the tactical screens. “Are they recalibrating their shields for nebular investigation? Kahless, no!” Three months ago, the science vessel USS Vladivostok entered nebula 236A to investigate strange signals. The crew was captured and held hostage on a remote frozen planetoid by members of the Alien Alliance. Ten crew members perished before the remaining crew were rescued. “This will not happen again,” Kirel hissed, glaring at the screens. Then she shouted, pounding a fist on her desk, “This will not happen again!”
  16. Play Misty for Me Coleridge, Cayne, and Chirakis “You are more than your thoughts, your body, or your feelings. You are a swirling vortex of limitless potential who is here to shake things up and create something new that the universe has never seen.” Richard Bartlett, Into the Matrix It all began with a Pakled ship. That, in itself, should give you a good indication of how events progressed. Chaotic is probably the best word to use, although the word “normal” seems to be synonymous with “chaotic” when Pakleds are involved. But I digress. Suffice to say that over the last month, Aegis sector had been introduced to several new alien species. Some were fairly benign and others not so benign, but all seemed to be probing Allied space. So far, command had decided that these new species had been held in check by the Breen. Their demise had left a vacuum, and since nature abhors a vacuum, the surviving factions were more than willing to fill it. And now, with Captain Ramson occupied in a far off region of the galaxy, another something had come to probe the station through what appeared to be a subspace rift. All efforts to close the subspace rift from our side failed, and what appeared to be a dense fog materialized near the station. No life signs were detected, nor did Aegis' defense grid recognize it as a threat. However, as soon as the fog disappeared, power levels dropped across all departments, leading to a station wide failure. Added to that, the USS Toronto reported the station was glowing. “Did they say glowing?” “Your station is glowing. Like an emergency lightstick.” After considerable thought, Commander Coleridge mused wistfully, “If we're ‘glowing’ it's not something we're doing. We uh … we can't glow. I pushed for it, but we couldn't spring for the upgrade. Rov charged too much.” Staring blankly at the commander, Chirakis paused for a long moment, took a deep breath, and began to rethink the situation. With the power drain external to the station, they considered the possibility that an alien weapon could be forcing a fusion reactor overload. As soon as Commander Coleridge ordered a complete shutdown, the main computer core began spitting out a strange mix of languages—some familiar, some not. nuqneH... Nnnnk qochin ah... Quaequesta jubinv… komduhit… GaaaagH… beep… peep… cheep… And on it went, in a jumble, for what seemed like hours but was only minutes. Was it an attempted communication? Were we experiencing something or were we experiencing someone? A droid? An artificial intelligence? A sentient being? That it was a sentient being seemed preposterous. Then again, it seemed plausible. What was the quote? “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Several attempts at communication involving chemistry, mathematics, binary code, and finally Morse code ended abruptly with station lights blinking, “.... . .-.. .--.”. “Help?” Time paused as everyone on the Command and Control deck considered the implications. That the word “help” appeared in translation on the screen meant both something and nothing. It meant something in that it instead of the gibberish they had been receiving, it was a word that they all understood. It meant nothing, in that it did not prove nor did it disprove that whatever had invaded and hijacked the computer core was not a construct of the same nature as the droid cores that attacked the station and had sent Aegean into the farther reaches of the cosmos to seek their origin. It seemed a wrinkle that needed ironing, but there was no iron. And if this were actually a new life form, a sentient being without form or substance, the fabric of the universe as they knew it was unraveling. * * * * * Security Officer Commander Wyatt Cayne had supervised fellow officers as they secured the levels leading up to the CnC. Now he, along with a contingent of station security, kept a close watch on events as a precaution for a possible foothold situation. The ride up on the lift took longer than normal, just the luck he'd had during this latest station episode. The lift system worked on altogether different kind of power when the mains were down. The emergency lighting was a viridescent green which made one wonder what Rihan engineer had a handle in its design. At the top it screeched loudly as the magnetic locks pulled it into place. The lift doors opened at CnC, and a slightly weary Commander Cayne stepped out. Between crises he got shut eye, just not quality sleep. His gaze moved from person to person in search of Chirakis. People on the station were a little more than concerned with the power problem. They wanted answers and Cayne could only give them "they are working on it" answers. He hated that. He stood patiently behind Chirakis' group and waited. He knew people snapped together at different intervals. He'd just started to mesh with his other security officers after years of working on his own. Not with these officers, yet. The discussion between Coleridge and Chirakis seemed to be going in circles, all coming back to the basic “what is it” and “how can we stop it”. Random power surges followed by power outages further complicated the matter, but he finally caught her attention. He whipped out his tattered PADD before saying a word. The information was buried somewhere in its filesystem. "Ah here we go. As I made my rounds about the commerce and residential areas, people kept on pulling at my arm and talking about some kind of speaking face across their displays. At first I thought everyone was just on edge from lack of sleep, but then I heard and saw it myself." He started a holo-vid, only shown in tw0 dimensions, of a nebulous face across someone else's display. It spoke into the nothingness, the "mouth" too blurry to discern the words. The voices in the video were that of two Risian women questioning each other on what they saw. "That image across their entertainment display is the gist of what I gathered from the people I spoke with on my way to the CnC. Some said they heard a voice, but in this video we did not. Have we been able to scan for anomalies in our computer core and network?" “Well we definitely have an anomaly in the computer,” Coleridge said. “We’ve been trying to communicate, with very limited success. But maybe this is another attempt.” He gestured at the still face on the PADD. Chirakis lifted her gaze from the PADD to the cloud that was slowly forming throughout the CnC. “Indeed we do.” TBC in sim.
  17. ...and then the lights went out. SuCdr tr’Korjata, Dr. Pavilion, Dr. Sandero, Counselor Davis, Cptn Chirakis The subspace probe was like no other—neither the Breen, nor the latest alien presence. Ensign Jackson described it as a banging, like someone or something was trying to get out. Whatever it was was persistent, and attacked only in the area used by the first alien probe, directed at Aegis. Science sensors detected no life signs accompanying it. They detected nothing biological or metallic. “Only energy,” reported Science Officer Lawliet. “We can rotate the subspace grid frequencies,” Lawliet continued. “That should do the trick, if not delay whatever's out there.” And it seemed to help. The probing stopped. Completely. It that seemed strange. Then, even stranger, a mist appeared in space, not far from the station. The defense grid did not detect any danger, and to Commander Coleridge’s question, LtCdr Lawliet suggested we send a shuttle craft to investigate. An incoming comm chime echoed throughout Command and Control. "Lieutenant Jennifer Larson here, engineering. The station is experiencing erratic power drains. We will have to shut down the M/AM generators and go to fusion. What's your current status?" The comm scratched a bit, not a good sign. “Status is unusual, Lieutenant Larson,” Chirakis replied with a glance to Commander Coleridge. “There is an unidentifiable mist, or fog, outside the station. Do what you have to for station integrity. Can you identify the reason for power drains?” The audio crackled. "No, the dropping levels are randomly distributed over the entire grid. There's no risk to losing chamber containment, but as you know, shields are less than effective running off of the fusion backups." She paused. "I need a check of your backup status. I don't trust my readings." Jackson glanced across his board. “Backup is steady and ready,” he said into the comm. "Confirms my readings. I'm no SubCommander tr'Korjata, but I'll do my best to get this under control. Call us at the first sign of trouble. Larson out." Jackson relaxed, but only a little as he continued to stare at the mist on the viewscreen. Captain Chirakis made a mental note to post more experienced Starfleet personnel at OPS, no matter what the cost, then turned to OIC Commander Coleridge, ready to suggest the shuttlecraft, but the mist had vanished. And then the lights went out. “CnC to Engineering. Report.” "Larson here," as the channel quickly reopened. A rumbling of voices played behind her. "We have just lost all primary power generators simultaneously. The system should automatically switch to secondaries, but none of them are coming online either." A garbled sound burst interrupted her report. "Sorry, the wireless comm lines are being affected. Vital systems on specialized power systems have remained online in medical, shelters, main engineering, environmental, and CnC." The channel remained open, but she stopped speaking. “Do what you must to keep us alive, Lieutenant. And get the power restored in any way possible.” Chirakis turned to Jackson. “Inform Starfleet of our emergency.” “Informing Starfleet now….” Jackson’s voice trailed off. “It’s…. Hm. Well, ma’am, I sent the message, but we have limited range for external communications. I’m not sure they’ll get it.” “Can USS Toronto receive and relay?” “No idea, ma’am.” * * * * Lured by the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee, Amanda Davis exited her office and ran straight into a frantic Lieutenant Alison Crenshaw. Her face was flushed, she was breathing heavily through her clenched teeth, one hand braced against a table and the other clutching her very swollen abdomen. “Help,” she squeaked. “Please. It’s….” “The baby’s coming?” The young lieutenant bent forward to stifle a scream, and the hand that braced her upright took a death grip on Amanda’s arm. “Umhum…” came out, high-pitched, before a forced exhale of relief. “Mimi! Dacia! Kat!” Amanda hollered across sick bay, bracing herself to keep the lieutenant from falling over while she reached for a chair that would hopefully support the mother-to-be until help arrived. “Help! Come quickly!” There were a few shouts from not too far away, then Mimi arrived. “What is… oh…” Mimi started to say as she noticed Lt. Crenshaw doubled-over in pain from the contractions. “Alright, let’s get you into the Labor and Delivery suite.” Mimi told two nearby nurses to get the suite ready, as Mimi helped get Alison prepped. A tremendous groan, followed by a gasp, forced Alison to her knees before the nurses could get hold of her and a tremendous gush flooded the floor. “Doctor Pavilion,” said Amanda, her arm growing white in the lieutenant’s grip. “I think it’s coming right now. Did you say it is twins?” she said to both, trying to steady and encourage the young officer, who, at this point, needed a little more than encouragement. And just when she thought things could not get any worse, the lights went out. “Mimi?” echoed in the brief darkness before emergency power engaged. “Yes, it’s twins, but right now they’re ready,” Mimi replied. “What should I do, then? Stay here with her, or try to get her to delivery?” She he was losing the feeling in her arm. Lieutenant Crenshaw seemed to have relaxed a little, but she was approaching panic. “Is this her first?” “Yes, Amanda, the twins are her first delivery.” Mimi turns attention to Lieutenant Crenshaw, “Think you can get up and move to the delivery room?” Alison nodded vigorously, then mumbled, on the verge of tears, “I think so. It hurts… so… much. No one said it would be this….” She gave a gurgling groan. “Go as quickly as you can, but be careful, Lieutenant. Before another contraction.” Amanda looked to Mimi for further instructions, ready to help in any way possible. “Ok, on the count of three we’re going to lift the lieutenant up,” Mimi said to Amanda. “Alison, you let us do all the lifting, you just try and get your balance, alright.” “Okay,” she squeaked. Mimi moved one of her arms under one of Alison’s shoulders, nodding to Amanda to do the same, “One… two… three…” Mimi, along with Amanda’s help, lifted Lieutenant Crenshaw up to a standing position. “I think we’re now ready to hustle to the delivery room.” Dacia was in the medical lab performing experiments when she heard the commotion outside, after someone called her name. She helped Mimi and Amanda to the bio bed in the delivery room. Dacia asked how far apart the contractions were. “Thirty seconds? Cutting it close here, aren’t we?” asked Dacia before helping with the childbirth process. Luckily, with Dacia being a licensed pediatrician, none of this was new to her but it was still an exhausting process. A few minutes later, just as her excited but apprehensive husband entered delivery, they were presented with a healthy, rosy-cheeked boy who seemed ready to conquer the universe. A few minutes later came the twin, identical in every way, squirming and kicking like a tier-one athlete about to run a marathon. The exhilaration of childbirth hit them both at the same time. “Alie,” he breathed, his hand grasping hers. “They’re beautiful. Are you okay?” “I’m fine, Bill.” She turned, her smile ecstatic. “I’m fine.” Dacia checked both twins, cut and tied off the umbilical cords, cleaned up and weighed the two twins and recorded them in the computer’s database. “Congratulations” smiled Dacia. “You have two new healthy boys,” she said before handing them to the happy new parents. “Thought of their names yet?” she asked again, mainly to enter them into the records, but also a hint of curiosity. “We have a few, but haven’t been able to make up our minds,” replied LtCdr Bill Crenshaw as he watched Dacia work. “I’ll…. we’ll let you know when we do.”
  18. Of Stone and Metal Hearts Cptn Ramson, Cdr Cayne, Cptn Chirakis Lieutenant Grun, Xenolinguistics Specialist for SI-6, appeared on the main screen of Aegis’s security complex, his expression stoic as he played the recording gathered from a seldom used subspace frequency. Faint voices became artificially magnified. The universal translator struggled for a moment, then interpreted the conversation, mimicking the inflection, cadence, and nuances of the original as best it could. "The siege is proceeding well. We have removed the last orbital threats and eliminated all known launch sites. They will come to terms before any orbital bombardments are necessary. The Tsuramera and a few escorts can maintain the blockade." "Negotiations with the Kuromites are concluded. The 8 ships left in their fleet will now join us at Maravon." "What of the Metal Hearts?" "We have spotted operatives of theirs on An­Ward and we believe some have moved past the old border in search of the Children of Stone." "And our own search?" "No change since our last report." "With our forces free of the siege and our new allies we can begin the coreward expansion." "With care. Those beyond the border are still unknown to us. If they kept the Breen at bay, then we will find no small task in bringing them into our alliance." A voice, broad and with authority, raised itself above the others. "The fleet will ready itself at Maravon. Send the fastest ship of the Kuromites to follow the Metal Heart operatives. We will await their results before proceeding." The echoes became a unified chorus, "As you command."* The transmission ended. Chirakis’ left elbow balanced on the armrest and a finger pressed against her chin in thought as she leaned back in the chair and inhaled deeply, eventually swiveling to shift her focus from Ltn Grun to Commander Cayne, next to her. “AnWard I am familiar with, but Kuromites? Metal Heart operatives? Children of Stone?” she queried, calling for his input. "There's a lot of information in that communique...let's see." Cayne leaned against the nearest structure. "I think we, at least Aegis or our alliance, are the unknown they speak of that kept the Breen at bay. Children of Stone could be the Horta, which I have mistaken for a large rock some time ago." Cayne watched the now paused audio track display. "If what they say they did, then they are building a possibly massive force, perhaps on par with the Dominion, but how did they keep off our intelligence circles for so long?" He did not expect a response, only pausing to consider the message further. “How did they, indeed,” considered Chirakis, glancing to Grun. “The subspace channel was efficiently buried under several layers. Our only indication was one section that poked out enough to raise a red flag and force us to investigate,” Grun responded. “Then, if we are the unknown,” Chirakis continued, “they could mean Aegis, the Allied Powers, or even more? Should we consider the possibility that massive allied fleet of alien powers is ready to invade, Commander?” "I think they may mean our station in the short term and more the further you look. I don't believe they mean to ask for Federation membership. I'd guess they'd break us until we relent to joining them. Who are the other players and Metal Hearts? That sounds vaguely non-biological to me. Killer space androids..." Cayne was simply thinking out loud without the aid of a nip of whiskey. In his universe not the best conduit of ideas. “Hm,” she mused. “The androids: another chink in the armor. Then considering siege, orbital bombardments, blockade, ships left in their fleet? It certainly does not sound like a friendly encounter.” She turned to Grun. “Is this the only transmission?” “The only one so far. We’re monitoring that frequency constantly now, but the chatter seems to have stopped, at least for a while.” “Monitor frequencies close to it, if you would, Lieutenant, and forward all you find. If nothing else, then carry on.” Grun nodded, the connection terminated, and Captain Chirakis stood. “I believe it’s time to see the Captain, Commander,” she said, clipping her slate to her belt. “We have had enough surprises in the last few days. We do not need another.” ___________________________ *Taken from The Breeze From Foreign Shores by Kallah Ramson
  19. Look Who's Coming to Dinner (1 of 2) She’d seen strange messages on her PADD, but never one like this. “See you later tonight. I'll cook something up for all of us. xo” Taking into account the sender, SubCommander Korjata, and the “xo” at the end - which definitely did not refer to the executive officer - Kirel raised her eyes to regard the SubCommander’s fiance, SrLt Kital, for a long moment, then shifted her focus back to the message. Could it be that the engineer used the captain’s first name, and that Kirel and Kital were close enough together that he hit the wrong key in sending? However, the phrase “all of us” changed the meaning altogether. “I look forward to it,” Kirel replied and turned back to her work… until the message repeated itself, and a response came from SrLtn Kital, “Will be nice.” Kital’s expression had changed. A press on her PADD revealed that tr’Korjata had mistakenly chosen default group messaging. She smiled. After some time, she read, “May have invited the Captain to dinner…” “I look forward to it. Make sure you have enough for us all.” “I miss you. It has been too long.” “And I, you. See you this evening.” Nijil chopped. Nijil sliced. Nijil diced. Nijil minced. Nijil was tired. He'd not gotten to the cooking yet, but the guests had to be here for that. Three junior engineers were nice enough to bring up a large fusion-powered cooking stove that now sat in Nijil's living room next to an elongated dining table that would accommodate his guests. He hoped Annisha appreciated his cooking effort compared to her Klingon friend. No targ served here. "Daddy," she pulled at his shirt and looked up to him with her big eyes. "Why is this big thing in here?" "Oh I wanted to cook something nice for Jylliene and you. Nothing replicated. When's the last time you had an unreplicated meal?" Annisha perked up. "Oh last week at the Klingon place. He made sure my food did not move." Her father groaned at the thought of live food. "Oh, did I tell you about my new friend?" "Yes, a thousand times. Something new about her?" "Only that I invited her over." He stopped his chopping. "I mean if you can invite the Captain why not Alexis? She won't eat much." "Probably not, but let me add more." He grabbed more of each vegetable and renewed his work. She hugged his waist tightly. "Thanks, you'll really like her." The door chime sounded. "I'll get it!" Her hair bounced as she hopped to the door and pressed the entry key. "Daddy, she's here!" "Just a moment." He put down his knife and straightened up his shirt. A quick check of his hair and he walked over, prepared to see the smiling face of Jylliene, or, if a bad day, a worn out version. "My e'lev, it-" Nijil froze. "Captain, you are early, I-I thought you were someone else." The captain gave a gracious, though playful smile. “I can always come back later.” "No no, you are welcome anytime Captain. Let me, er, get you something to drink." Next time he spoke to Annisha he would go over the times when names are needed. "Replicated or something from our stock?" Now stock in a Starfleet station is limited to a small refrigeration unit, but this was from the off-world family vineyard. Doubt Chirakis has this spirit in her locked cabinet. “Some of your stock, thank you. Your father’s vineyard and its products are legendary,” she responded, admiring the decor. Her eyes fell on the youngest Korjata. “Annisha.” she said cordially. "Captain." She gave her a look. "Have you ever thought about trying a dark green rather than black? My parents wore black all of the time, but that's the Tal Shiar way." The little girl looked her squarely in the eye. "You have the Tal Shiar look, except for the ears." “I have the Tal Shiar look for good reason, young one. The black serves the same purpose as it does for the Tal Shiar. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.” "In the shaaadows..." She raised her hands and waved them about. “Indeed,” Kirel replied, leaning forward mysteriously. “In the shadows.” Back in her quarters, Alexis was curious to see what would be served at this dinner. Donning one of the new dresses Dacia bought her earlier, she quickly sent a message to Dacia asking permission, and got a quick response back saying she could. Her quarters were close by so it did not take long to arrive. She pressed the chime button and waited. "Daddy, she's here!" Annisha shouted. "Finally," Nijil said, once again putting down his knife. The Captain seemed to enjoy the Korjata wine, or the view out the long window. He wiped his hands, walked to the door, opened it, and spoke. "Long day at work swee-" "I'm not your sweetie. I'm Alexis. Is the lady of the house here?" "Well, Jylliene is not here yet...," he said and paused. "But you mean Annisha." Annisha jumped from behind her father. "Boo!" “Hey Annisha. Long time, no see.” Alexis replied sarcastically. "Wait, did I just try to scare a mind reader?" Annisha looked dejected, thinking Alexis knew she was there the entire time. "It has been long time," she continued in clear earshot of her father, who believed she had never left her room after the broadcast. Alexis giggled. “I didn’t read your mind, but I can detect your presence nearby. You’ll have to try harder than that,” she replied smiling, sauntering over to Annisha. “So, what’s for dinner?” she asked. "He's fixing noodles, vegetables and protein on this large stove thing. Said he had to modify the fire suppression so it would not kill the flame.” “Hmm sounds delish,” replied Alexis tentatively as she peaked into the living area. “So, who else is coming? Ooh, and is that the Captain there? Your father must be making something fancy.” She latched onto Annisha’s waist. "I dunno what he's making. It a big stove is all I know. He said his mother made him cook. She was often on the other side of their farm." Annisha placed her hand over Alexis' clutching hand. "He, let's go see my room. I don't think you've been there. Come on.." Alexis needed no coaxing and the bedroom door slammed behind them. "Whew, thought Annisha was going to hang around me while cooking. Bless her friend." Nijil continued to cut up fungus. "Captain, you are being quiet. I am not keeping you from something am I?" “Not at all, SubCommander. I’m observing your process while enjoying your father’s excellent vintage. It’s too smooth to interrupt with words.” She held her glass up, admiring its contents. "Well the plant does not exist anymore, so it's some of the last batch from the homeworld," he said with disappointment. "He is trying again at his new place though, but it will be a bit before it's ready. He chopped and she observed in silence until he once again broke it. "About the misdirected message. I'm glad you are a good sport about it." “Misdirected? Interesting.” She let it hang, as a smirk broke her otherwise stoic expression while she placed her lips to the glass and raised a brow. Nijil diced the last of the vegetables and wondered where Jylliene was; her shift had been over for some minutes. Lots of ships in orbit he thought. "Unless you think the evening could go somewhere. I'm sure Jylliene won't mind, if she ever gets here. Now where..." The door chimed. Nijil sighed in relief, put down his utensils, approached the door, and opened the comm. "I'm not kissing whomever is at my door. I've been burned twice." "Well then you are going to have a very lonely evening sleeping on the floor." It was Jylliene, but Nijil could not tell if she was serious. Opening the door, he went in for a peck on the cheek, but her hand blocked his attempt. "Nah ah, it's my turn to burn." Jylliene walked in and stopped as she saw the captain. "Captain, good to see you. I presume Nijil is trying to court another?" She gave the woman a grin, barely able to hold back a chuckle. Nijil's face turned green with embarrassment. Kirel turned to face him. “You’ve already consulted Captain d’Ka? Has he accepted the agreement?” "D'Ka? Agreement? I have not spoken to him." Nijil had never even met him. “I thought it was customary to consult with the bond-mate before proposing to his significant other. Am I mistaken?” The captain’s expression turned serious, the wine glass cradled in one hand. Clearly nervous and off-guard, Nijil stammered, his hand shaking. "I-I did not consult with anyone. I did not know he was your significant other; my apologies to both of you. I should contact him now to see if this meal is okay." “Unfortunately, the USS Missouri is not in system. However, the meeting can be arranged at his earliest convenience. You should know that he does not respond well to surprises, nor is he prone to sharing.” Kirel exchanged a playful glance with Jylliene. "Okay, okay. Either I will be roughed up by this d'Ka or I'm being played. In any event I am ready to start the grill." He looked around. "Where are the girls?" Giggling came from Annisha's room. At his comm, they jumped and skipped into the room and to their seats. "Jylliene, I'll begin to cook while you get ready." He heard her affirmative from the other room then turned to the Captain. "This protein will taste like chicken, so how do you like yours cooked?" “However you prefer,” she replied graciously. “I am not particular. And,” she spoke in quiet confidence, “do not worry about Captain d’Ka. He is a peaceful man.”
  20. Facility 78628 JAPSB - Joint Allied Powers Star Base Captain Chirakis, Mr. Roberts, SubCommander Jorahl, and Dr. Pavilion Sky Harbor Aegis, Facility 30218 UKRFCB, was well past its prime. Considering the attacks it had endured, the number of internal accidents and acts of sabotage, a few relocations and an unexpected trip into subspace, it should have been replaced long ago. That it took a full scale attack by a Negh’var Class Klingon warship under the command of a deranged Klingon-Bajoran captain to jerk the powers that be out of their pocketbooks and consider replacing it did not speak well of the Allied Powers, but it got the job done. That's all that mattered. After several weeks of studying its layout and watching the various corps of engineers assemble, test, and install the systems, it became more and more obvious to Captain Chirakis that the latest incarnation of Sky Harbor Aegis - Facility 78628 UAPSB - had been built as a first line of defense along the border, along with Joint Task Force Aegis: USS Missouri, USS Tsinghua, USS Anhui, RSE Praetor and IKS Fek’lhr. Its mere presence spoke of authority, and it raised questions in the captain’s mind. Did Design and Construction Contractor Rov actually search for and find the station, or had it been conveniently placed there for him to find? Why had the Allies been so forthcoming with funding, equipment, and personnel after decades of dearth? Why here? Why now? What are the Allies not telling us? Paranoia? Hardly. Foresight and knowing what goes on behind closed doors leads to discretion and vigilance. The top saucer section, decks 1 through 69, housed a military base capable of serving 2800 personnel attached to Aegis and the Allied Powers. Decks 14 - 16 provided spacious quarters for 140 senior officers, 380 officers, 800 junior officers, 1200 enlisted personnel, and 200 civilian specialists. Quarters ranged from 1600 to 2150 sq ft, depending on rank and purpose, all customizable at the occupant’s expense. Gone was the patchwork Control Tower. In its place stood a Command and Control center overlooking the commercial section of the station. The present C&C module incorporates work centers for C&C staff, office space for command personnel, a conference room and a staff lounge that allows duty personnel a chance to recuperate during alert status situations, while being moments from their stations. One way transparent aluminum comprises the outer perimeter viewports and floor, as well as a 6 panel transparent viewscreen with holographic overlay. A holographic situation display table is surrounded by Strategic and Station Operations, and workstations for the Executive and Commanding Officers with command offices located two steps up and to the rear of the module. Alternate Tactical and Security, Engineering, two science stations and two mission configurable stations complete the workstations, allowing complete control of the station from the C&C. The Primary Medical Complex, under the direction of Dr. Pavilion, rivals any facility in Starfleet. It and the Children’s Home are located in the central core. At the urging of Dr. Pavilion and with the approval of the RSE, the Children’s Home is restricted while it is surrounded by the arboretum and equipped with advanced educational facilities. As Kirel studied the holographic station display that hovered above her desk, her attention wandered to another monitor. Outside the station, work drones darted along the station’s exterior, occasionally disappearing on one side, only to reappear on the other. Freighters docked at the ring like lampreys, attached to the station while they deposited their cargoes, then detached for other destinations. In the distance, a mere dot on long-range, a section of Facility 30218 UKRFCB slowly receded from view. Without a second thought, she raised her glass. “Q’plaH. Beidh tú díoghal’ar.” * _________________ * Klingon and Sindarin words of salutation.
  21. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” It seemed to Captain Chirakis that the Rihan child known simply as Annisha had a facility for swift computation of statistics, compiling complex bits of data for evaluation and making accurate conclusions even more quickly than some of the seasoned operatives with which she worked. As Annisha continued to assemble the bits of Aegis available to her on the view screen, the captain decided to up the ante by secretly removing two or three puzzle pieces. “I think your game is broken,” Annisha said with no change of expression. She tilted her head to view a piece of the station propped at a strange angle on the display. “Oh, this needs flipped.” The tiny exterior section of the outer hull was indeed flipped the wrong direction. Changing this however still left an incomplete version of the station on the screen. Annisha sat motionless and looked quizzically at what she had remaining. "If it is broken, then, to save the lives of those on the station, we must determine why it is broken, then formulate a strategy to fix it," the captain replied, mirroring the young engineer's concerned and puzzled expression. "Perhaps a three dimensional puzzle will clarify the problem." Kirel tapped the board to modify the image. "Ah,” she vaguely pointed, “do you see it?" “No,” Annisha answered, her voice trailing off. “I, um...wait.” She brushed her black hair back with her hand to get it out of her face, studied the additional dimension further, then started to manipulate the controls. In what looked like an ancient 3D Tetris game, the pieces began to fall into place. Not every attempt was successful and a few times she dug herself into a hole. She let out grunts at failed attempts, but kept at it. This diversion sucked her in. Minutes passed. Annisha hardly noticed the time, nor the Bajoran watching her. “I’m thirsty,” she said in the middle of moving a large piece with her fingers. She could be clever with puzzles like these, especially when it did not feel like a test. Everything stopped as she rubbed her eyes and wrinkled her nose, then resumed. Annisha let out a raspberry sound with her lips. “Oh...” When Annisha turned, a glass of water sat within reach. The girl grabbed the glass without lifting her gaze on the display. “Hmm...,” mused Kirel. “Why did I not think of that? It’s the obvious solution, and quite simple.” The child definitely had some kind of education, and possibly advanced. Moreover, she had been encouraged to explore. Aristocratic or high-ranking diplomatic family. Only they would have regularly used the vocabulary and high Rihan dialect Kirel had been speaking. Only they would have encouraged her in this type of education. If not, the child was either precocious or truly brilliant. “I believe it’s time to progress to the next step, Annisha. Are you ready?” “Next step?” She asked peering up. She then gave a brief smile and appraised her work. Her eyes danced around the outline of the station. When she arrived the true nature of Aegis had been hidden behind bulkheads. This station soon would be a memory as another transport sped her off to a new life on A’Tari. Not enough time to learn all of the kid-only hiding place. “I’m ready,” she mumbled as if in trouble. What did she know? “Then I have another surprise for you. A sanctuary into which few are admitted.” The Rihan vocabulary increased in difficulty. Kirel watched Annisha for signs of comprehension. “My office, wherein resides an athenaeum of documents and assorted paraphernalia that should be very interesting, especially for one of your caliber.” A button on the console erased the puzzle and brought up another outline of the station. Kirel gave one command. “Three-dimensional solid, one meter by one meter, non-permeable manipulative, monochromatic, materialize on the command office floor, central area,” she paused to consider, “difficulty seven.” She turned to Annisha. “Come.” “Toys?” she asked. “I had those. But I have drawings back at my bed. They gave me some paper. I can get them.” She got out of her seat and brushed back her hair again, its length had started to annoy her. She followed behind Kirel and got her first real view of her attire. “Why do you dress like a Tal Shiar person?” “Do I?” Kirel turned, bemused, as the office door opened. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. But now that you mention it, I suppose my uniform does resemble one. If you’re referring to the black,” she paused as the doors closed behind them, “I am a Starfleet officer but I work for a very special branch of Starfleet, a branch that wears black uniforms.” “Ohhhh,” was all Annisha could muster as she looked all around. Her excitement got a hold of her and she rushed to every corner to get a closer look. Every place she’d been since the Great Fire was plain and merely functional. Even her hero’s place seemed boring by comparison. “What’s this?” She pointed to the pieces of a puzzle in the middle of the room. Then she walked right in the middle of the numerous pieces and started grabbing each one. “What do you believe it to be?” “Something you put together? A house?” Annisha placed a piece on her head. She then took the piece and played with it in her hands. With her other hand she grabbed a piece on the floor and hooked it to the other one. “Look.” showing her accomplishment to Kirel. The captain turned from the bar, drinks in hand. “Excellent. I wonder if all the pieces fit together like that. And when you’re ready, I have some Romulan ginger ale for you.” “I have to put this together?” Kirel shrugged, setting the child’s glass on the coffee table close to her. “You do not have to do anything. You can sit and watch them put themselves together if you wish, but that may take a very long time. I’m sure they would appreciate some assistance.” She sat in an armchair and pressed a button, bringing Dr. Davis to the small viewscreen on her desk. Pressing a finger to her lips, Kirel pointed to Annisha, who seemed completely absorbed with the puzzle. “I’ve done this before, first you lay out all of the pieces so you can see what you have.” She began to arrange the pieces apart from each other. She sat in the middle of the pile and arranged them radially in circles around her. “This looks like a bird,” she said of a piece resembling such. A minute passed and she had placed all of the pieces out where she wanted. “Hmm.” She laid herself flat on the floor staring at the arrangement for a time. In short order the Rihan girl had moved pieces together appearing to be similar shapes. She wrinkled her forehead as she has seen something like this before. “These fit together like plates,” she observed, holding one-half a plate in each hand. She held them in midair as she looked on the floor for other pieces. She knelt, “Here’s one...and another.” She stacked the plate-shaped pieces into a pile. She spotted another piece, grabbed it and sat down with it. “Are we here?” “I am here. Are you?” She smirked, sipping her ale. “You are home, I am not,” she said, manipulating the piece for the tip of the station. The girl poked at the very top of the piece, an antenna relay or something. She smiled as the realization of all this hit. So many pieces. She’d never seen something this large or complex. A tinge of worry that she’d not get this finished crossed her mind. Her stomach growled and her mouth dry. “I think I need that drink now, please.” “The one on the table?” The captain pointed to the glass that had been sitting close to Annisha while she had absorbed herself in the puzzle. “Perhaps something to go with it?” Embarrassed, she grabbed the glass and took a long drink. “I think I may need more. This is a big puzzle,” she explained, spreading her arms wide and almost spilling her drink. “And big puzzles need more concentration, which can quickly drain your body of energy,” Kirel replied. “Computer, some of Dr. Davis’s cream scones, with chocolate bits for energy, on the table next to her.” Within seconds the plate materialized along with another glass of ginger ale next to the one Annisha had just drained. Annisha nearly jumped out of her skin and pounced on the treats before her. “Mmmm.” She ate quickly and started in on the puzzle before her. The universe around her shrank to encompass only the puzzle, and the occasional drink. After several hours’ work, the nine-year-old Rihan child had accomplished what should have been impossible for her age. Slowly, carefully, but not without a little frustration, she had completed a level seven difficulty puzzle of Sky Harbor Aegis, one intended to judge the manipulative ability and concentration of prospective station engineers - minus a few intricacies, of course. Kirel was nothing short of astounded, but refrained from showing it. Instead, she replicated another, smaller version, at the next level of difficulty, placed it in an Aegis satchel, and handed it to her before escorting her back to the orphanage.
  22. Sky Harbor Aegis Message Utility System (SHAMUS) Stardate: 2387.165, 13 June 2387 Time: 23:57 hours Aegis time To: Captain Kirel Chirakis From: SubCenturion Nijil tr’Korjata Subject: Request for better quarters I hope you are well when this message does get your attention. First, let me thank you for taking me in at this station after the confusion and tragedy of the gamma ray burst that decimated Romulus. I know I said I would take any accommodation when offered a position here. The quarters given were small and I did not complain at the time. Now after a slight accumulation of items the room has shown to be too small. I have a collection of processing units and devices to monitor them for scanning subspace transmissions to and from Romulan territory. Tapping onto the stations cores would be a policy breach and not a good show of trust. My bed now is stuck in its small and uncomfortable configuration. Jylliene, your very capable operations officer, has a particularly comfortable couch I would love to get a replica of, but it will not fit in my current quarters. We have talked at great length about this furniture over our tea sessions. I have sat in it, read in it and even slept in it just to get a restful sleep. I have wondered if Jylliene has done this rather than her own equally delightful bed. Perhaps I could request replicas of both pieces. Almost sounds like I should ask to remain in her quarters instead if accommodations are scarce. Anyhow, if I am to expand my personal comfort in my quarters I believe my productivity will improve around the station. Jylliene’s would surely improve as well. She has not complained at my overnight layovers, but I am sure if I continue I will wear out my welcome. While I am only a lowly SubCenturion I believe she is the most capable and trustworthy non-Rihan I have ever met. For a time I sat alone in the midways and mess halls until our chance meeting. I have read of how the rest of the galaxy regards Romulans. I expected people to avoid me while stationed at Aegis. She has not said go away or whispered behind my back (is that the right phrase?). I would trust her with my life and that of the Sky Harbor Aegis. Perhaps I have gone on too long. So to make a long story short is there a way to have quarters roughly the same configuration as Jylliene’s? I presume the same deck would afford the most similar setup. Unless she finds the same deck unsettling. Are there regulations concerning the proximity of crew quarters? Anyhow, thank you for your time and I hope to continue to best your expectations of me and my people. Nijil tr’Korjata 1st Assistant Engineer, Small Craft Specialist *** Nijil sent this out while resting comfortably on Jylliene's often mentioned couch. As he read the request letter to make sure it arrived he stared at it in shock of what information he passed on to the Captain. He pulled the blanket over his head knowing he was unable to unsend.