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Everything posted by Tachyon

  1. “I Want to Be a Lion Tamer” Joint Log by Captain Chirakis and Commander Coleridge -------------------------------------------------------------------------- The captain stood staring at the door to her office as it closed behind Lt. Kenyon. She remained there a moment, as though contemplating her next move. “Where do we go from here?” she asked rhetorically as she turned to face the commander. “Here we are—an engineer and an assassin—in command of a starbase that is essentially on the edge of nowhere, and we are preparing to decide the future of a young man. We are not trained for this, Commander. At least I am not.” She gestured slightly. “Give me an SI-5 team and an objective, and I know exactly what to do.” Her fist gave the desktop a good shake. “Give me a young man who has made a mistake, and….?” A sardonic grin accompanied a slight head shake as she settled into her chair and flicked open her slate. “The irony of it all? If he had not asked for an investigation we would not have scrutinized Nei'rrh's flight recording, and we would not have known that he left his post. So, Commander, where do we go from here?” She turned her slate in his direction. “We have the rules. The regulations. Everything needed for the process, step by step. But there is no decision. That, unfortunately, is left to us.” Scott listened carefully. This wasn’t a side of Chirakis he was used to seeing. He was accustomed to the cool, unflappable, slightly-scary-in-that-knows-how-to-kill-you-with-her-thumb-kind-of-way captain. Usually he was the one talking about not being trained for this. As you moved further up the chain of command, he was learning, the burdens didn’t get any easier—and you just got to share in more of them. “We need to consider all the facts,” Scott said, “not just what happened on the Nei’rrh. Kenyon’s performance so far on the station has been exemplary. He shows both initiative and the ability to follow directions. This was his first away mission, and it was a stressful one.” “Indeed it was stressful, Commander. He is also a Junior Lieutenant, newly aboard Aegis and newly promoted. He was sent aboard an unusual shuttle craft to which he was not accustomed—in fact, most are not. He was not familiar with this area of space, he was sent on a mission that should not have been search and rescue, but turned out to be. I could go on for several hours, I suppose, but believe that is sufficient for now. I get your point, Commander.” “It’s safe to say that we agree a court martial is an extreme measure, all things considered, yes?” “Yes,” she responded, drumming her fingers on the desk, as if in thought. “The other measures available to us are also somewhat extreme, unless we make them less extreme. What are the options?” Scott listed them off on his fingers. “Demote him to ensign. Restrict him to his quarters for up to 30 days. Limit his access to areas of the station. Formal reprimand.” He added, “I don’t think we need to make an example of him, per se. This was a mistake, not deliberate insubordination.” “Agreed.” She nodded. “It should be done privately and should not be divulged to others, not even his commanding officer—unless it is deemed necessary in the future. Throwing oil on the fire exacerbates the problem rather than quelling it.” “Good point,” Scott said. “His relationship with Nijil is already somewhat strained. By the way, when I was interviewing Mr. tr’Korjata I did mention that some more … sensitivity … towards how his sense of humour might be construed would be prudent in the future. So,” he leaned forward. “A reprimand and some advice?” “Agreed. Only that, and in private. As far as anyone else is concerned, the investigation is closed, and nothing more.” Trust in an intelligence operative to find a way to organize an off-book form of punishment, Scott mused. “Well, that wasn’t so hard, now was it? Maybe we’re better at this than we thought.” It took a second or two before she responded thoughtfully, “Commander, anything that would affect the future of our personnel is a hard choice. Every step we take affects them in some way. Every word we speak affects them somehow. We are in charge of their safety and security, in every way. That we must never forget.”
  2. Memorandum From: Cdr. Coleridge, XO Aegis To: All personnel Subject: Workplace safety reminder -------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is just a blanket reminder of the importance of remaining aware of your surroundings while on duty. Even in a setting with no obvious safety hazards, ordinary equipment might be dangerous when operated or handled incorrectly. This includes PADDs, tricorders, hyperspanners, etc. For members of species capable of "daydreaming," remember that distraction while on duty can pose a risk to yourself and others. Please take steps to limit such activities. If you find yourself incapable of remaining focused, refer yourself to the medical department for appropriate remedies. Be aware that continual daydreaming, or related distracted activities, can be grounds for being placed on performance management targets at your next review. All Starfleet and allied personnel are expected to abide by Federation Health & Safety Standards, with particular emphasis on sections 38-53 and section 87, subsection alpha. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. -Cdr. Coleridge
  3. “The First Rule of First Contact Club” Scott Coleridge ---------------------------------------------------- “The first thing you need to know about first contact is simple: don’t do it.” Scott’s professor paused. He might have sworn it was for dramatic effect, and he might have sworn the voice carried with it a tinge of world-weary disdain, were it not for the fact that his professor was Vulcan. She stood still at the front of the room, hands clasped behind her back, no need to pace or gesticulate. Her voice carried to the entire theatre of cadets. “Avoid, if at all possible, having to make first contact. Because you will make a mistake, and then others who are far more qualified will have to be called in to fix it. “First contact is the most difficult and challenging type of mission you will ever face in the field. It is more difficult than combat against a superior adversary. It is more difficult than charting a multiplexing subspace anomaly. I’m not employing hyperbole, as some of your human instructors are so fond of doing. I speak entirely from experience and evidence. The best Starfleet captains have struggled with first contact scenarios, and none of you, at least not yet, measure up to any of them.” Scott blinked and stifled a yawn. He was having trouble staying awake for these 08:00 lectures, and the dry style and subject matter did little to encourage him. All the upperclassmen had told the first-years that First Contact Protocols was an easy class--dry, yes, a little dull, but by far one of the easier upper-year electives to take and round out your second term. So Scott shifted position and continued to listen. “Remember that first contact is far more than just establishing intelligible two-way communication. Yet it is also much less than establishing lasting trust. First contact is about laying the groundwork for eventual trust, and perhaps even a relationship, between the Federation and the species you’re contacting.” The professor touched a control, and a hologram of the Phoenix appeared. A few of the cadets in the first rows leaned forward, obviously excited. Keeners. “First contact with humanity could have gone very poorly had either species reacted even slightly differently. Fortunately, Vulcans had a great deal of experience with first contact scenarios by this point, and even contact with such a primitive species proved no more challenging than usual. While integrating humanity into the wider interstellar group of civilizations proved a long, slow process, it did gradually happen. “Which brings me to my topic for this first lecture: first contact is not a single event. It is a process, one that might span…” Scott started to zone out. He wondered if this was a mistake--when was he ever going to need to know this, anyway? If all went according to plan, he was just going to be a starship engineer, and engineers seldom went on away missions to uncontacted planets. That’s just not done. In what foreseeable universe would Scott Coleridge be responsible, in any capacity, for a first contact situation? Scott answered a few messages on his PADD. Scott jolted upright, wiped some drool from the side of his face, and glanced around to see if anyone noticed that he had slept through some of the lecture. “... will conclude with a reminder that your first assignment deadline approaches. I expect no fewer than 5 sources of information for your paper analyzing proper adherence to first contact protocols. Furthermore, and I don’t know why I always seem to have to reiterate this, but any captains of starships named Enterprise are not considered reliable sources for this assignment. “I am aware that it’s common practice among the upperclassmen to recommend this course to first year cadets as a ‘practical joke.’ Rest assured, regardless of your intentions for taking this course, I will hold all of you to the same standards as expected of Starfleet Academy cadets. One day, you may be representing the entire Federation in front of a species new and foreign to us. This is not a responsibility I will allow you to take lightly.” # Scott walked out of the meeting, his mind turning over those moments earlier on the CnC, when he stood in front of an alien and did his best to represent humanity. Well, as far as he could tell, he hadn’t started a war—point Coleridge? And it seemed like this species, while interested now in communicating, was just so different from them—not just in terms of communication, but in culture and perspective of time and space—that establishing a rapport was going to be a gradual process indeed. It was unusual for a station to be involved in a first contact scenario. Aegis wasn’t going anywhere; as long as the alien starship lurked nearby, Aegis was responsible for representing the Federation. Unlike a starship, it couldn’t move on or cede its mission to a new vessel. Fortunately for him, Scott wasn’t doing this alone. That moment on the CnC had been one of staggering, sobering responsibility—but now, that hurdle cleared, they were entering an exciting part of the process, the part full of discoveries. It would mean more hard work for everyone involved, but it would also be rewarding. It wasn’t a responsibility to take lightly, but it was also a responsibility Scott could share with a dedicated, motivated crew.
  4. “Sand” Scott Coleridge -------------------------------------------- The mug was still too hot to the touch, so Scott left it on its tray and instead pointed at the Bolian in a Starfleet commander’s uniform three stalls down. “That’s one of them.” “No, he’s not,” his companion said. Scott scowled. “How do you know? You don’t even know what I’m talking about.” His companion pushed back her chair and, reclining, placed her feet up on the table across from Scott, resting her hands behind her head. “You’re talking about the mysterious investigators who probably arrived on the Mason. Which means he isn’t one of them, because that’s Commander Lonn, passing through on the Meitner. He’s harmless. Even more harmless than you. You really are bad at this, aren’t you?” “You’ve been on the station for all of fifteen hours! How do you already know all this? And how do you know about the Mason? That’s all classified.” “Uh-huh. Scotty, darling, on a station this size, you can classify things all you want, but the really juicy gossip doesn’t stay secret for long. Look, one of your big and powerful starships comes limping back into port after supposedly going on a science mission, and then a few days later, another ship arrives and starts calling interviews with members of Aegis’ crew? It doesn’t take a Vulcan Kolinahr master to put the pieces together.” Scott winced as he briefly checked the temperature of his tea against his tongue. Caddy was one of his oldest friends, practically a sister, even though they had drifted in an out of each other’s lives over the years as their respective interests brought them closer together or farther apart. Her most recent career had her travelling Federation space on behalf of some obscure shortselling firm, and it brought her to Aegis a few times a year. Caddy had had a lot of careers, but gathering information had always been a specialty. Which was why he was neither surprised nor pleased that she already knew as much as she did. “Well, I can’t tell you any more than that. What? It is classified. Especially for you.” “Spoilsport. Fine.” Caddy idly plucked at her jacket. “Want to talk about it, though?” “Oh goodness, yes.” “Worried about it?” “About what? This inquiry?” “No, about the crop reports on Bajor—yes, obviously.” “I don’t know.” Scott paused for a moment, watching the business of the passers-by on the Commerce Level, letting his thoughts collect. “This isn’t my first time. Well, sort of. It wasn’t really an inquiry into anyone’s conduct. But years back, before Aegis moved here, Captain Sorehl headed up an inquiry into whether or not we were still needed in orbit of Cardassia. I was very green back then.” Caddy gave him a look. “OK, I was much more green than I am now. “Anyway, at the time, I kind of just dodged most of the questions. I told him I didn’t really care about the politics of the situation—I was just there to fix things. To be a good engineer.” “But now you have to care, Mr. I’m the Station’s XO.” “Yes. No—I—I don’t know. Maybe I do care more now.” “So you’re worried you’re going to say something that screws things up and gets people reassigned or in trouble?” “I guess.” “Should any of them be in trouble?” Scott raised an eyebrow. “What? No. They were just doing their jobs, and they ran into an impossible situation, and they had to figure a way out of it, largely on their own.” “So there you have it. They didn’t do anything wrong. Why are you worried?” “It’s more complicated than that. There are … other factors at play.” “Right, the same factors that involve two silent Romulan warbirds camping out here and an entire crew of another warbird living on the station.” Caddy held up her hands, palms out, in response to Scott’s glare. “I don’t know anything, I swear. Just what I hear.” She swung her legs down, turned in her seat, and leaned forward against the table. “Scotty, you’re overthinking this. If those investigators have some ulterior motive, they’re going to pursue it no matter what you say. It’s called a ‘kangaroo court’, and no amount of clever manoeuvring on your part is going to affect their decision.” “But what if what I say makes it easier for them?” Caddy put her head in her hands. “I swear, it’s like talking to a wall sometimes with you. If you’re right about them, then they won’t care what you have to say. If you’re wrong, and this is just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill inquiry type deal, then you’re not going to get anyone into trouble who doesn’t deserve to be in trouble. Got it?” “I suppose.” “Good!” She reached across the table, seized his mug, and drained the tea in a long, satisfying-sounding gulp. Standing, she said, “Much better! Good talk! Now, where did Commander Lonn go … he owes me—” she glanced carefully at Scott, then added, “—latinum. He owes me latinum.” And she was off, carefully adjusting her jacket and tucking her hair behind her ears as she went. Scott looked down at his empty tea mug and swished around the small remnants of the leaves therein. He had known, of course, everything that Caddy had said to him. That was the way it always was with them, telling the other what they already knew. When it came to politics, and anything Scott had once considered “above his pay grade”, he had always just stuck his head in the sand, so to speak. It wasn’t his problem. Let other people deal with it, and he would keep the lights on. Except now, it kind of was his problem. And the trouble with sticking your head in the sand is that, if you do it long enough, you’re going to have to come up for air.
  5. "Never Say Never" Scott Coleridge ------------------------------------------------ "Above all else, remember this: you are not James T. Kirk. And that is a good thing." The instructor's voice reverberated across the lecture hall without aid or amplification, their attitude and poise perfected from years of delivery. Scott felt a small chill run down his spine. He licked his lips, glanced down at the blank PADD where he could have been recording notes. Suddenly aware that he was slouching, he straightened up in his seat. Was it cold in here, or was that just him? They were only twenty minutes into the three-hour class, "Advanced Command Ethics." Why had Scott taken this course, again? It was an elective, and he wasn’t on the command track. He didn’t need it. Then movement in his peripheral vision reminded him why: Ellis Navarro, a fellow fourth-year cadet. She was command track. She was also entirely out of Scott’s league. So, of course, when they had been chatting casually at the end of last year and she had asked if he had signed up for this course, which she would of course be taking, what had he done? Had he smiled ruefully and explained that, no, his full load of engineering and operations-specialist courses left no room in his schedule for a class that had no bearing on his future duties in the fleet? Of course not. He had nearly choked on his drink and mumbled an enthusiastic affirmative through a mouthful of bubbles. Ellis had laughed, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth, her eyes smiling at him. "Great! We can sit together and share notes." Scott had rushed back to his dorm to sign in to the Academy scheduling system and reconfigure his entire course load. "Kirk was an amazing explorer, of course. A very courageous, competent captain. One of the finest products of Starfleet's Golden Age, you might say," the instructor continued, their voice emulating, for a moment, the very cadence that Kirk was famous for in vids of his speeches. "But he was also a menace—to his own crew. "The average casualty rate on the Enterprise was 0.7 people per mission. That's over ten times the average rate for Starfleet at that time. It's an open secret that when Starfleet redesigned its uniforms near the close of the century, they switched the division colours of security and engineering with those of command and operations in part to shake the so-called 'redshirt curse' that loomed over the fleet's most famous starship. "But it wasn't a curse. It was a direct result of Captain Kirk's command style." Scott kept trying to look in Ellis' direction without actually looking. She listened with rapt attention to their instructor, who was themselves a decorated command veteran. Her PADD was already brimming with notes, and the lecture hadn't really even started yet, their instructor still waxing poetic about why they had it out for Kirk. "These days it's tempting to see only the story we've created about Kirk and not the man himself. He was a visionary and a leader, yes. I don't question his contributions to the Federation, or to the galaxy as a whole—these things are indisputable. Yet his legacy should not be one-sided. The galaxy is not the 'wild West' that it was in Kirk's day—in fact, it wasn't even a 'wild West' in his day, but that was the attitude of the time. "Kirk was a dashing, daring commander. He took risks. He got lucky. The risks often paid off. But when they didn't, they cost the lives of so many of his crew. Kirk routinely flaunted the protocols and procedures codified in Starfleet Rules of Operations—and he was seldom called on it, often commended for it, because it worked. "But those rules exist for a reason. And this class exists for a reason. All of you are sitting here because one day, you want to be in that command chair—" Fat chance of that, Scott thought. "—and you're all young. Some of you are thinking you'd like to replicate Kirk's feat of making captain by the time you're 30. Some of you can't wait to be in that chair, an entire starship yours to command. Some of you fancy yourselves Kirks in the making." If I were Kirk, Scott thought, I would at least be a little more successful with Ellis Navarro. "But I say again: you are not James T. Kirk. Kirk was reckless; Kirk was a hot-head. If you take command of a starship today and you use Captain Kirk as your template for a good commander, you will get a lot of good people killed. "I am here to save you from that fate. In this course, we will examine, dissect, critique, and codify what it means to be a good commander. In doing so, we will remember that at all times you have a responsibility to safeguard the lives of the people under your command." Ellis' hand shot up. If the room could have become any quieter, it would have. The instructor, clearly not anticipating an interruption, stumbled over their next sentence. Then they said, "Yes, Cadet Navarro?" "Sir, isn't it true, though, that a captain often has to order members of their crew into dangerous, perhaps deadly situations, for the greater good? Isn't it true that a captain has to be willing to sacrifice themselves and their entire ship?" The entire class was staring in their direction. Scott willed himself to become invisible. "A proposition!" said the instructor. "I'll entertain comments from the floor. Anyone care to respond to Cadet Navarro?" About ten seconds went by, and no one hazarded a response, so the instructor continued, "Very well, I'll just choose someone—" Oh no. Please no, Scott thought. Please please please… "—Cadet Coleridge." Of course. Scott looked from the instructor to Ellis. Both had expectant looks on their faces. Ellis seemed confident he would back her up. He wanted to. But to be honest, he had no idea how to respond. He didn't want to command; he wasn't built for command. The idea of having the lives of hundreds of people on his shoulders terrified him. He just wanted to fix things, to make those sleek and beautiful starships run as good and pure as he possibly could, all while seeing the most wondrous sights the stars could offer. Wasn't that enough? "I would say that Cadet Navarro is correct, that captains have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. But that's a last resort. And part of our duty as commanding officers is to manage a situation in such a way as to avoid that last resort whenever possible. The way I understand it, sir, you're not saying we need to minimize all risk, or nursemaid our crew. You're saying we need to recognize that our crew have unquantifiable intrinsic value, and as such, should be managed with care." That's what he would have said, in hindsight, hours after this class was over and he was sitting in bed reliving the entire experience in excruciating detail. "I think sometimes … captains make … hard choices. And, uh, sometimes captains will lose people, sure. But, um, we shouldn't, uh, go in guns blazing, right? Sir?" To say that the instructor was unimpressed with such a response would have been a generous assessment. They did their best not to betray any such emotions, but the flat affect in their voice as they replied was enough. "Perhaps, cadet, you'd care to re-read this week's assigned chapters, and compose for me a 1000-word essay on the responsibilities of a commanding officer." "Very good, sir," Scott replied. He almost didn't look at Ellis. But he did, and what he saw was worse than the remedial essay he'd just been assigned. It wasn't anger or dismay … it was a look of such pure, unvarnished disappointment. As if he had let her down, not by failing to come to her aid, but by failing to provide any kind of intelligent response. It was the I thought you'd be ready for this look. Scott just gave her an apologetic smile, then he fixed his gaze on his PADD and didn’t look up for the rest of the lecture. The instructor went on to present several case studies from the Enterprise's original five-year mission, explaining that in the next class, they would be breaking into working groups to analyze and critique the studies from various angles. Scott tried to pay attention, but something told him that Ellis wasn't going to be looking for him to be in her group next week…. In the end, he passed the course, just barely. The instructor's comment on the final report was along the lines of, "Should perhaps rethink command aspirations." Which was fair. Nothing about the experience had changed Scott's mind. When was he ever going to need this knowledge, anyway? His first posting was going to be as a grunt engineer somewhere, and his last posting would probably be, if he was lucky, maybe as chief engineer on a support vessel. But probably as the leader of a maintenance crew on a starbase, or maybe the engineer on a remote listening post. The idea that he, Scott Coleridge, would one day sit in the command chair of a starship, with people reporting to him, on some kind of mission into the unknown … it was ludicrous. It was almost as crazy as his idea that he had a shot with Ellis Navarro. So when she had showed up at his dorm that night, while he was still up obsessing over his abject freeze-up, maybe that should have set alarm bells ringing in whichever part of the cortex is responsible for warning of ironic twists of fate. When she explained that she had initially been planning to offer to tutor him, but that this was actually just a clever ruse to get her in the door, and that really she just wanted to ask him out, because she thought he was kind of cute, and she didn't care too much that he wasn't great at command stuff … perhaps Scott should have known, at that moment, that his life was not going to be straightforward and quiet and predictable. When they dated for the rest of the year, splitting up only after their first posts put them at opposite ends of Federation space, maybe Scott should have paid more attention. Improbable, nigh-on impossible things were already happening to him, and would continue to happen after his postings to Endeavor and Aegis. When would he learn to never say never? # "We're approaching p-Kappa 198, Captain Coleridge," Ensign Jackson said. The bridge of Aegean hummed with activity. It was different from the buzz in the Aegis CnC, more constrained in its chatter. Tightly focused. Fewer donuts. Scott sat in the captain's chair, one hand tapping a command into the panel next to him, the other holding a cup of coffee. He acknowledged a few reports that needed his eye, left the rest for Commander Lawliet. "Very good, Mr. Jackson. Once we're in range, drop us out of warp at the edge of the system. Let's get a nice, careful look before we get any closer." He sipped his coffee and looked around. Alpha shift had just come on duty, scheduled to coincide with their arrival. His crew. His mission. "Ellis Navarro," Scott said under his breath, shaking his head. Never say never. Jackson turned back, a quizzical look on his face. "I didn't quite catch that, sir." "Nothing," Scott said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. "As you were."
  6. Name: Caitlin Townshend Species: Human Age: 28 Height: 160 cm Hair: Blonde Eyes: Brown Identifying features: Scar along her upper left forearm. Tattoo of a small bird on her right ankle. Rank: Lieutenant, Junior Grade Current Assignment: USS Challenger, Acting Chief Science Officer Last Assignment: USS Brisbane, Assistant Science Officer Service History: Entered Starfleet Academy Graduated academy with honours Posted to USS Galway as assistant exobiologist Leave of absence (3 months), request to transfer Transferred to USS Brisbane as assistant science officer Promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Transferred to USS Challenger as chief science officer (acting) Interests and Qualifications: Degrees in exobiology (with a specialist in biomedical systems), bioethics, and linguistics. Certified Instructor in Vulcan Meditation Earth classical music, Vulcan classical music, contemporary classical composition Amateur solo athletics including track and field, gymnastics, etc. Visual arts, particularly painting and printmaking Family: Mother: Deborah Townshend Father: Gabriel Deschamps (estranged) Stepfather: Vijay Dalal Brothers: Clark, Christopher Biographical Information Caitlin is what is colloquially known as a "Starfleet brat". Her parents met aboard a starship posting. After deciding to start a family, they transferred to Starbase 11. When Caitlin was 8, her family transferred to Vulcan, where she spent her formative years of schooling among predominantly Vulcan peers. This instilled in her a knowledge and respect for Vulcan culture and tradition that informs much of her adult worldview. When Caitlin was 12, her parents separated and later divorced, with her father transferring to a deep space research vessel. She has since fallen out of touch with him. Caitlin excelled in both sciences and the arts, and her heart was always set on joining Starfleet and following in the footsteps of her parents. Originally planning to enter the Academy at 18, Caitlin deferred for three years to study first meditation and then linguistics and bioethics at the Vulcan Science Academy. She finally entered the Academy at 22, older but with a better awareness of her strengths and skills. Caitlin retained a somewhat jack-of-all-trades approach to her studies, often devoting inordinate time to esoteric fields. As a result, while she maintained high grades and a place on the honour roll, she never made a mark on any one particular field. However, Caitlin continued to gravitate towards scientific specialization. Her first posting was aboard the USS Galway, where she served as an exobiologist. She distinguished herself during a first contact mission with the Strathcori. One of the Strathcori delegation took ill while visiting the ship, and Caitlin played a significant role in reviving and stabilizing the delegation member. However, Caitlin and her superior officer did not often see eye-to-eye, and after several months of ongoing conflict, she took a leave of absence and then requested a transfer. Posted next to the USS Brisbane, Caitlin soon flourished among her new crew. Along with the transfer in ship came a transfer in department--the Brisbane's personnel disposition placed her under the wing of the science department, and Caitlin quickly felt at home. She soon earned a promotion and participated in a variety of scientific and exploratory missions. After nearly two years aboard the Brisbane, Caitlin was transferred somewhat abruptly to the USS Challenger to take over its beleaguered science department.
  7. Dear Michael, How do should I begin? “I hope you’re well” seems so insincere. I mean, I do hope you’re well. But isn’t that what everyone says in letters to their ex-spouse? I know we haven’t spoken since we separated. That’s on both of us—it’s not like either of us is exactly hard to find. I guess we still think the other needs time. I know I did, and said, things that hurt you. I wish I could just keep saying “sorry” until it would fix things between us. I know nothing I do can fix things between us. But as I sit here, about to tender my resignation, the only person I want to tell is you. The only person I think could understand, even if you don’t care any more, is you. My research, my reputation, my husband … Starfleet has taken it all from me. Everything except my life itself, and even that has been in question too many times to count. I’ve never been an enthusiastic explorer. Like so many others, I joined Starfleet because of the promise of a stable career path, of connections that would help me become a better researcher and join more interesting teams to solve the open problems of this era. I dreamed of reaching new heights in the field of cybernetics. The Academy was a chore, yes, but a bearable one. My posting to Jupiter Station was the type of sedate assignment I preferred. My transfer to Challenger was … well, a mistake. Not a mistake, not really, not where mother was involved … but that seemed like lifetimes ago. I hated it at first. Then some more. I kept wanting to leave, to escape the cavalcade of diplomats and subspace anomalies and pirates and Romulans. This wasn’t science! Science was sitting alone in a dark room listening to depressing music and wondering why your latest experiment had ended in failure. Science was laughing and chatting with your colleagues, who were also your friends, while solving the mysteries of neural networks. Science was not having your life threatened by strange creatures or hostile humanoids. Then my husband made the obnoxiously sweet gesture of closing his practice and enlisting in Starfleet just to serve alongside me. Having you aboard Challenger began to turn things around. For a time, I was genuinely content. I thought I had everything I wanted: a good ship, a good companion, a good career. But when things fall apart, they don’t always do so in a dramatic and obvious way. They don’t always fall apart in order, either. When the opportunity arrived to head up a new cybernetics project, I grabbed it. I said goodbye to Challenger, if not eager to leave any more then certainly not disappointed by the prospect. This was the project of a lifetime for me, and my colleagues were some of the best and brightest. I still don’t know, looking back, when I lost you. It’s a timeless story. We drift apart. We feel separate. The things we once said out of meaning soon become things we said out of habit, and then things we didn’t say at all. In the end, there was nothing to say. I drifted, and I lost focus. Starfleet shut down my project. I still don’t know why. They packed me off to Challenger like I had only been on temporary secondment. We all knew it was a farce, but since I was the actor and not the writer I could only play my part. Challenger was the same, yet different. Some of the same people. Some new faces, too. Whispers, when I didn’t return with you in tow, and then when I started acting … more flexibly … along certain dimensions. What can I say? I’ve grown tired of trying to be the good girl, the model scientist, the level-headed thinker with the fearsome work ethic and equitable demeanour. It was time I started learning how to fight for myself. At least, that seemed like a good solution at the time. Obviously it wasn’t, because here I am. This ship keeps trying to kill me. And this time, like so many other times, it almost succeeded. The difference now is that, in addition to the near-death experience I’m now going to have to recount to a counselor somewhere, I am also complicit in multiple illegal and unethical activities. I to—well, you don’t need to know the details. It was bad This is not the Starfleet I signed up for. This is not the Starfleet I want to serve. It’s not the fault of Challenger; it’s not the fault of the ship any more. It’s the uniform. It has blood on it, and not even a new one could possibly be clean. My only option then, it seems, is to resign. This probably sounds cliché, but I’m going to miss my crewmates. They are so … loyal. Even when I messed up, especially all the times I messed up, they never doubted me. Always there for me. I wish I could have always been there for them. I’m not a very good friend. This is not about them, though, or about me. It’s about what happened on that ship, and what Starfleet chose to do about it. I cannot, in good conscience, continue as Lieutenant Anastasia Poldara, chief science officer of USS Challenger. So, like a big girl, I’m going to run away. I don’t know where, whether I should stay on Earth, or maybe head out to Alpha Centauri. I hear the Daystrom Institute always wants new applicants. Or maybe I won’t even go into science as a civilian. I could get a job piloting long-haul shuttles out in the Kuiper Belt. Become a tour guide in the Vulcan Forge. Check out those beautiful cityscapes on Tellar that Hok always goes on about given half a chance. I don’t know where I’m going to end up or what I’m going to do. But here’s the thing: I might sound bitter now—I should sound bitter, because I am. This isn’t a sad moment, though, because I’m finally going to be free. I will make my own choices, and then I can live with those consequences. You look good. Family life suits you, Michael. I hope you’ve found something you were looking for. Maybe, one day, I’ll find it too. Yours, Anastasia Poldara OOC PS: For those not at the last sim, this is Anastasia's bow and my own. Challenger is a lovely place despite my character’s negativity—but my real life schedule makes it hard to keep attending. Aside from a leave of absence when I was living in the UK, I have been aboard Challenger since its inception. Being able to shape the sim from the beginning was a tremendous honour, and I have had so much fun aboard it with so many great players. I have no plans to leave Aegis or Excalibur. See you there!
  8. “Command School: Lesson Zero” Scott Coleridge ------------------------------------------- The air on the bridge was acrid, scrubbers working overtime to erase the stench of overloaded components and strained ODN relays. A distant shudder passed through the spine of the ship as something—the port impulse engine?—finally gave out. “Captain, they’re coming around for another volley. Our shields will not hold!” There was a grim note of panic in the tactical officer’s voice. Despite being an experienced veteran, he clearly was not ready to face death. “The Ventar ambassador is still insisting we’re in violation of their space, Captain. She is refusing to call off the attack vessels unless we retreat.” “You must get to the planet and rescue our people! As a representative from the Federation Council, that’s a direct order!” The pompous but no-less-imposing Federation Ambassador was red in the face from bellowing orders. “What are your orders, Captain? Captain Coleridge? Captain? Captain, we need your orders...” The ship shuddered again, this time in reaction to more weapons fire from the Ventari cruiser. Alarms went off as the shields collapsed and the warp core overloaded. Everything flashed a horrible, final white … … and then the holodeck reset itself, the bridge emptied of crew. Scott collapsed into the command chair, his pose one of resigned defeat. “You are really terrible at this, you know that, right?” The voice came from the only other person on the simulated bridge—though “person” was a misnomer. The nondescript middle-aged human male was a hologram like everything else around Scott. But this hologram had attitude. “Hey, I tried. Isn’t the whole point of the Kobayashi Maru test supposed to be character or whatever?” “This isn’t the Kobayashi Maru simulation. This one is supposed to be solvable! You’ve tried it nine times now, and each time you’ve actually done worse than the last. You’re regressing.” “So what would you suggest I do? Give up?” Part of Scott wondered if that was even an option. The hologram gave a little “harrumph.” “Me? Give up? I will have you know—” “Uh-oh. Here we go.” “—I am the premier Distance Command School Training Hologram. I was created by the—” “—the best and brightest, yes, I’ve heard—” “—best and brightest holo-engineers Starfleet could find; my algorithms were trained on the decisions made by Pike, Kirk, Garrett, Picard, and even a few captains of ships not named Enterprise. I am the training program of choice for officers on long tours of duty away from the Academy.” “I know. You’ve already given me that speech. Twice.” “Be. That. As. It. May.” Scott could almost swear he saw the hologram gritting its teeth with each word. “Suffice it to say that you might be my most challenging student. I have literally seen cadets perform better than you. But you will not be my last student. If there is any training program that could possibly forge you into even a mediocre commanding officer, it’s me.” Scott hopped out of the command chair and paced the bridge. “I just don’t think I’m cut out to be ‘command material,’ Napoleon.” “Napoleon?” “You need a name. It will make you more approachable.” “I’m not here to be approachable. I’m here to teach you how to lead.” “Maybe I’m not meant to lead, hmm? Like you said, nine tries, nine failures. And that’s just this simulation. We tried those easier ones first, and even those were difficult.” Scott stopped at this bridge’s engineering station. He ran his fingers along the console and its frozen read-outs. “How did you ever manage to command the engineering department with that attitude?” “Hmm?” Scott looked up. “Oh. I don’t know. I didn’t really ‘command’ it. People did things, and I signed off if it looked reasonable, or suggested alternatives if it didn’t. But they were really responsible for any success.” Napoleon narrowed his eyes. “I want to say you’re being modest, but the last two hours suggest otherwise.” He brought a hand up to his chin. “Why are you so set on being a command officer, then, if you are so dismally unsuitable for such a position?” “Oh I’m not. I just sort of … stumbled into the job.” “Stumbled … oh, please. Don’t tell me I’m trapped on one of those Starfleet vessels that got stranded halfway across the galaxy. You’re not going to keep me running all day until I develop strange ideas about holographic rights and liberation, are you?” Napoleon began to get a slightly desperate look on his face. “One uppity hologram is enough for the fleet, don’t you think?” “Whoa, whoa,” Scott held up a hand. “Slow down, Nappy. We haven’t gone full Voyager, no. But Aegis is … unique. Ramson could have imported an XO from somewhere else, but I guess she feels that no one she could get would be as good a ‘fit’ for the station as I am. Mind you, I think at this point she might be restarting her search.” Napoleon mumbled something about how that would be a prudent course of action but didn’t repeat it at an audible level. Instead he said, “So you are a reluctant XO.” “You could say that.” “Fine. Get over it, then.” “Excuse me?” The hologram pointed to the turbolift door with one hand, and then to the command chair with the other. “There’s the exit; there’s your chair. Which will it be?” “I don’t follow.” “Look, you’re in Starfleet, not the Super Happy Funtime Space Exploration Scouts. You’re a Commander in Starfleet. Commanding is your job. And if you don’t want to do your job, then you can either shut up and do it anyway, or you can resign. “Now, if you take the latter option, I can’t help you,” Napoleon continued. “But if and when you decide you want to stick around, sit in that chair and shut up, and we’ll start talking about how you can be a good XO.” Scott sat in the damned chair. And shut up. “OK, we’re going all the way back to Lesson Zero here. Don’t worry, I’ll speak slowly and use small words….”
  9. “Dear Mom and Dad” Scott Coleridge ------------------------------------- I got promoted again. I don’t know what I did wrong. Well, I have an inkling. Captain Ramson said something about being familiar with Aegis. Truth is, I’ve just been here for so long now I guess I’m a bit of a fixture. I had hoped that if I kept my head down and just rattled around engineering they’d leave me be. All I want to do is fix things, build things. Well, that and research more applications of Kalubi-Yau geometry to subspace transporter technology. You know. The usual. But I screwed up. See, I’m not really a good manager of people. That’s why I avoided taking over the engineering department in the first place. I’m all right in a crunch, but day-to-day, I have trouble delegating. I tend to get caught up, start micro-managing, and before you know it, I’m off somewhere in the lower decks. But the deal was that Jorahl could still deal with a lot of the management side while also being king of the shipyard. I should have known that would be too good to be true at the time, but what other choice did I have? The good thing about station engineering is that the department structure here is a lot looser than on a starship. Out there, in deep space, with anomalies and enemies nipping at your heels, everything has to run smoothly and—well, ship-shape. Here, it’s more like a rolling schedule of replacing the thing most likely to break next. Now combine that atmosphere with a larger proportion of enlisted personnel, as well on Aegis as a small corps of Romulan volunteers, and you get something very different from the hierarchy aboard a starship. Surprisingly, this actually worked in my favour. Everyone has their specialties; I just had to make sure people showed up on time and kept everything running. Truth is, I discovered that the less I managed, the more we all got done. Where was I? Right, the screw-up. My mistake was trying to distance myself from anything that felt like being chief engineer. That light touch ultimately did me in. Instead, I should have made myself so indispensable, made the smooth running of the department depend on my presence there. Then Ramson would have had no choice but to pass me over and … I don’t know. There must be someone else on Aegis better qualified than me for this position. Mimi was in command while we were off skulking around a mining planet. Then again, she’s probably the only one less interested in such a promotion than me. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. Literally, I don’t know. Being executive officer has always seemed like a chore: all those reports, personnel tasks, etc. Maybe Dad can recommend some of those biographies of great leaders he’s always reading. Or biographies of great managers, hmm? Well, if you excuse me, I need to sneak into my old office. I have to retrieve my personal effects before Nijil clues into the fact I left him all the paperwork that accumulated while we were away and booby-traps it or something.
  10. “We Never Go Out of Style” Anastasia Poldara -------------------------------------------- After the transmission from the Einstein ended and Ja’Lale and Rinax had disappeared into the Captain’s Ready Room, Anastasia slumped in the chair at the science station, hoping her initial reaction had gone unnoticed. It was just … she hadn’t expected to see him here, of all places. Anastasia thought back to the first time she saw Brett Kincaid… The man’s swagger entered the room before he did. When he offered her his hand, it was far too warm. She avoided grimacing as she shook it. “Kincaid,” he said, obviously turning on the charm. “Poldara.” “Ah, yes—the computer scientist.” “Cyberneticist, actually. BCI and quantum logic gates.” Kincaid shrugged. “Whatever. Look, I know these group assignments aren’t supposed to be competitive, but I’ve got a couple of wagers going with some of the other cadets. I want to win this. So do you know any real science that could help us out?” “Oh, you want real science? Hmm … I think I made a volcano using acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate once. Would that help?” They did go on to win the competition, naturally. Kincaid was a self-absorbed, offensive jerk, but he was the second-best scientist in their year. What the two of them produced was far ahead of the other groups, their instructors had to admit. And so it came as no surprise to anyone when she or Kincaid invariably topped the charts in one science class after another. Their alternation in the top spot was almost rhythmic, with Kincaid having an edge in the physical sciences and Anastasia’s highly analytical, statistical bent serving her well in other areas. Yet this was not the cool, intellectual rivalry Anastasia had known in her formative years. There was a more bitter edge to her interactions with Kincaid, and almost always that smug lack of respect for what Anastasia did. He didn’t just set out to beat her. It was as if he wanted to show her that she was no scientist at all. There was a hunger to him that poisoned their rivalry, because he knew she was better than him. Anastasia knew this, because she recognized that hunger. She had felt it herself, twice before, when she met people who were just better scientists than her: smarter, cleverer, more open-minded or thoughtful or any of the qualities one needed for success in such endeavours. Whatever it was, Kincaid had it—but Anastasia had more of it. This was borne out when she graduated top of the class, Kincaid a close but forever second. Of course, observers mistook their sparks for attraction. Many remarked that it was inevitable they should become a couple—opposites and all that. Anastasia was, for her part, relieved she had never felt it, and if Kincaid had, he had certainly never sent any signals to that effect. Theirs remained purely a rivalry, no romance, doomed or otherwise, included. Anastasia had that, at least, to be thankful for. After distractedly responding to a report from Matheson, Anastasia pondered the last time she had seen Brett Kincaid… “Poldara! Wait up!” Anastasia turned, saw Kincaid quickly closing the gap between them with long strides. An athlete, like her, though he had never seen fit to take her up on that offer to teach him anbo-jytsu. “What?” “Off so soon? A bunch of us are going down to the bar for drinks.” “I’ve work to do, Kincaid.” “What work? We just finished our last exam. We’ll be Ensigns next week. Come celebrate.” “Why?” “Why not?” “No, I mean, why celebrate with you? Why keep up this charade? You don’t have to pretend you like me.” Kincaid’s smile faltered. He never failed to insinuate, but that was a far cry from the confrontational tack Anastasia now took. “I don’t know what you mean. I’ve always thought we challenged each other … made each other work harder, be better.” A snort escaped from her despite herself. “You, make me better? In your dreams. I would have been top of the class with or without you nipping at my heels.” “Is that so? Well, if you are such a hot scientist, why am I the one being posted to the Lexington while you go off to Jupiter Station, hmm? They’re about to embark on a six-month survey mission in Beta Quadrant.” “And Jupiter Station is doing cutting-edge work in the fields of nanotechnology and isolinear pathway engineering. I’m glad we’re both happy with where we’re going.” “But you’ll never make captain if you stay in the solar system all your life, Poldara.” “Why the hell would I want to be captain? So I can write reports instead of designing lab experiments? No, thanks. Climb the ladder all you want, Kincaid. I have more important things to do.” They didn’t stay in touch. Anastasia could vaguely recall hearing about his promotion to captain, his posting to the Einstein. But she hadn’t paid it much attention; Brett Kincaid was no longer a part of her life. So she had thought. Then she had rejoined Challenger, and despite it being a big galaxy, it obviously wasn’t big enough. Anastasia did the math. He was the same age as her, so he made captain extremely young. That was probably considered impressive. Mind you, captain of an Oberth-class vessel didn’t exactly have the same prestige as an Excelsior- or Constellation-class cruiser. It was barely a step up from a Miranda. But it was perfectly respectable for a science-track officer looking to command. Maybe he had changed, mellowed, become more tolerable. No, Anastasia had seen his demeanour on the viewscreen. That same smirk. Captain Brett Kincaid had not changed one bit. She could feel it, then, deep in her gut. The rumbling of the monster, the antithesis to Kincaid’s hunger. He made it easier, in some ways, because when she went up against him, she didn’t have to prove she was better than everyone else. He was better than everyone else, so by transitivity, all she had to do was best him, and QED. Hence the feeling, the exhilarating certainty. Every time they went head-to-head, every competition or collaboration. It didn’t matter how many times they settled the score in either’s favour: they always knew there would be another round. That’s the thing about rivalries. Even the ones that don’t end in romance are still like a candle flame: quick to gutter, but oh so difficult to extinguish.
  11. “The Dangers of Caring Too Little/Too Much” Scott Coleridge --------------------------------------------------------- The strangest thing about this place wasn’t the smell. Or rather, it was the smell, in that there wasn’t as much smell as one would expect. Existing almost entirely below ground in these impressively wrought cavernous chambers, the settlement must have relied on an equally impressive array of scrubbers to keep the air clean and breathable. As such, the ordinary scents that permeate a cosmopolitan mining settlement like this one weren’t so much in evidence, and it was beginning to get on Scott’s nerves. They lingered on Q street, worrying about Tarisa’s fate. He had bitten back a quick remark when Dacia offered that scanning device, half-remembered, well after it might have been useful in finding their missing companion. It was all he could do not to snap. But that wouldn’t have been fair to her. No, it wasn’t her fault that he had been hurled from a suborbital spacecraft, collided with the planet below, nearly broken two limbs, and now trekked through sand and stone to this desolate backwater excuse for a mine. And for what? So they could figure out why some Pakleds had been so excited to bring a bunch of rocks to Aegis? So they could figure out what a Horta was doing making the trip? Scott believed these questions were becoming increasingly academic. He was tired and hungry and very nearly broken. He had not come here to play the spy or the agent provocateur; despite all presentations to the contrary, he was not enthusiastic about this role he was trying to play. And now a member of their team was out there, alone and vulnerable, and that was partially his fault. In the dim artificial night it was hard to see very far down the length of Q street. Scott tried nevertheless, hoping that if he squinted he might somehow will Tarisa to round a corner and approach them. But it was not to be. What do you care, anyway, engineering man? a voice sneered inside him. It’s not like you took the time to get to know her, or even to say hello. Well, voice, that was probably true. Scott had never been the most outgoing of personalities, and lately his enthusiasm for getting to know the newest arrivals had diminished even further. Partly this was an effect of life on a space station. The stability that had drawn Scott to settle on Aegis concealed a fragility to the relationships aboard the station. Unlike a starship, which could be posted to deep space missions that might last the better part of a year or more without resupply or rendezvous, posting to Aegis could always be temporary and transitory. Even now, in its remote location, when it felt like Starfleet forgot about them in every other way, personnel regularly rotated. If you like Aegis like Scott did, then you could stay forever--but if you craved reassignment, getting out was not particularly difficult. So Scott was used to the comings-and-goings of engineers and other staff. He learned not to worry too much about remembering birthdays or names of children or partners. If they stayed, then they stayed, and he would get to know them--slowly, more gradually, but inevitably. If they went, well, then someone new, fresh-faced and on their first tour or dour and lined with the years of experience leading up to this one last assignment, would step in to fill the void. They called him “Sir,” and “Commander,” (at least to his face), and he called them by their rank, and life went on. So no, Scott had yet to get to know Tarisa as anything more than “that new Mithraan scientist.” They had exchanged few words outside conversation related to work. Now she was out there, attempting to recover their key to unlocking the mysteries of this place. And there was little he could do to help, except wait and hope for the best. Would she prevail and find her way back? Or was she already captured—or worse? The worry, which had begun as a complacent note of concern steadily throttling up towards hysteria was now a twisted knot in his gut. Scott thought he might be sick. Give him something broken. Give him something to be built, no matter what parts or time are available. He can do it; that was his thing. But to ask him to stand by and wait while someone else--someone he had barely taken the time to know--risked herself for them and the mission? Scott would never get used to that, not in all his years of service.
  12. “Stranded Scott vs the Staring Sensors” Scott Coleridge ---------------------------------------------------- “Stop it. “Stop it! “I told you to stop staring at me!” Scott bounded across the barren, rocky landscape until he was mere centimetres away from its mocking, ever-smiling face. Its expression, locked into that horrible rictus, reminding him of the folly of his situation. “You think this is funny, huh? Commander Scott Coleridge can’t get sensors or communications working, hmm?” The Mark XV Hostile Terrain Complete Sensor Suite did not reply. It was the strong, silent type. Scott crossed his arms, the fabric of his jumpsuit crinkling in an unseemly fashion. “Fine. Be that way. In fact …” He reached down, picked up a rock. Scored a line clearly in the soil between him and the sensor package. “This is my side. That is your side. You stay on your side. I’ll stay on my side. Happy?” Scott was not happy. His arm hurt, for one thing. He thought it might be broken, but his tricorder wasn’t working. Maybe the wrist was sprained. That, combined with his headache, fatigue, hunger, and mild dehydration, and the incredible rudeness of his companion, and he was not having a good time. He kicked at another rock. There were a lot of them. So many--Scott shook his head. No good pursuing that train of thought--he was starting to sound like the Pakleds! He could see the appeal of this place to them though. Sitting down on another rock (this one larger and with a flatter, sheared surface), Scott took a few deep breaths. He began to meditate. The “landing,” if you could call it such, was mostly a blur. His last clear memory was off watching the rest of the team recede into the distance. He remembered trying to shout something over the comm, only for his words to be reflected back in his ear along with bursts of static. The ground hurtled towards him with frightening speed. He triggered his chute, but he wasn’t oriented properly, or his arm had been in the way, or something … there was a sharp pain, a tugging, and then his arm was free and the chute deployed and his feet soon had solid ground beneath them again. He glanced over at the sensor suite. It hadn’t moved. It just stared at him. The controls on the side facing him, the ones that looked like an ersatz smile, still showed an error readout. Damaged in the landing, or maybe during the jump. Typical. Scott had no idea where the rest of the team had landed. With his suit’s communications down, he had no way to contact them or Aegean. With the sensor package inoperable, he had no way to locate them. Fortunately, he had a plan. From the utility pocket on the leg of his suit, Scott produced his mini-spanner. Shielding it from the sensor suite’s field of view, he twisted the bottom of the spanner’s grip, felt its comforting weight and the hum of its servo mechanisms. Yes, it would do nicely as a murder weapon. Scott was almost certain the sensor suite suspected nothing. The whole “my side, your side” thing hopefully threw it off, lulled it into a false sense of security. It wouldn’t expect him to make the first move, and then--BAM. Too late, it would have no time to fight back. With the sensor package disabled, Scott would tear into its guts and find the power source, then trigger a short circuit in the capacitor grounding mechanism. Forty-six point five seconds later--plenty of time to get to a safe distance--and it would overload and discharge rather violently. The resulting explosion would be enough for Aegean or the team to detect his approximate position. It would also attract the attention of anyone else out there. But at this point, Scott just wanted to be rescued. Scott hefted the spanner in his hand. It was a shame the sensor suite would have to make this noble sacrifice. But it was either this, or they would both die out here. Scott wanted to live. He squeezed the fingers of his good hand around the spanner’s gripped, stood up, and turned to face the sensor package. “Look, maybe I was a little harsh earlier. Let me apologize…”
  13. N.B.: This is a six-part series of logs spanning the time that Tandaris has been absent from Excalibur, explaining why he left and what he has been doing since. "Opportunity" "Retrieval" "Discovery" “Introductions” “Intelligence" "Return" “Opportunity” Tandaris Admiran ----------------------- “Well then,” Swain said. “If you want someone to order my crew down there, you’ll have to find someone else to do it. And I wouldn’t count on finding that someone aboard this ship.” Abronvonvich didn’t like that answer, but despite himself, he respected it. “Then what do you propose?” “That if you want to continue investigating this planet and those creatures, which I highly recommend against, that you send a full bio-hazard team with a full complement of marines to do it.” “That could take months to put together...” “Well, they’re not going anywhere, now are they?” *** The Holy Grail was neither particularly crowded nor particularly full at this time of day. That would change soon, when the current shift came off duty and the regulars filtered in. Tandaris was sitting alone at a table near the back, two empty glasses in front of him and a third—not quite so empty—in his hand. The Excalibur was barely three hours back at Camelot, and he had already found his way here. His combadge was in his other hand. He stared at it. He had been staring at it for the past two hours, contemplating everything this small, shiny object represented. Once—a long time ago—it had symbolized something great to Tandaris. A freshly joined Trill, he had entered the Academy with a sense of optimism that had been refreshing to Admiran. After five eventful lifetimes, each one full of incredible heights and equally awful nadirs, Starfleet had represented a new beginning, a way to escape everything else that had come before. And it had been that beginning he had needed, for so many years. Despite all our centuries of coexisting, we have yet to see what effect an insane symbiont would have on a joined Trill . . . nor are we anxious to find out. Then the Scorpiads came. And one of their ships had muscled its memories into Admiran’s mind, and suddenly Tandaris’ predecessors numbered not five but six. He had tried coping in so many ways: getting counselling, not getting counselling; ignoring it, dealing with it; moving through it, moving on with it. Everything had seemed to work, for a time, but he kept returning to a basic, insurmountable obstacle: he had changed. This transformation was exactly that, and he didn’t like who he had become. He could feel it now, sitting alone in this bar, the ship’s memories pressing in on his current experiences like old associations triggered by a passing fragrance. Little more than instincts and fragments of moments, more a predatory recollection than any true intelligence, but enough to put an edge to everything Tandaris said or did. Enough that he had been having trouble, for a while now, to empathize. To care. He had been going through the motions, and so far no one had noticed—and that was somehow even worse. You have to let me do this…. But Swain hadn’t. Couldn’t, really. Tandaris knew that. Recognized how hard that decision had been for his captain. Sometimes leadership meant telling people what they didn’t want to hear and then dealing with the consequences. Tandaris sighed and replaced the combadge where it belonged on his uniform. Who was he kidding? He couldn’t leave, even if he wanted to. Where else would he go? On the run in the Gamma Quadrant? To the bosom of Vernas’ R&D outfit? There were always options, but none of them seemed quite viable. Downing his drink, he raised his hand for the waiter to bring him another. He stared down at his empty glass until someone approached and put the replacement on the table next to the two that were already there. “Appreciated,” he muttered. “You’re running quite a tab,” the waiter said, in a voice that was most un-waiterlike. Tandaris looked up and found himself staring instead at a Vice Admiral. He blinked, trying to decide between respectful acknowledgement and surly irreverence. As was all too usual these days, he opted for the latter. “I’m just getting started.” Without asking, the anonymous admiral sat in the chair opposite Tandaris. “You’re Commander Tandaris Admiran, just came back on the Excalibur.” “This is true.” “From Domaria V, investigating the disappearance of the Augustine.” “Also true, if your clearance is high enough, which I suppose it must be.” Tandaris raised the glass to take a sip. “Where you found deadly creatures of potential Dominion origin, no trace of the Augustine crew, and a Scorpiad suspended in stasis.” The glass froze at Tandaris’ lip. “You have very high clearance.” The admiral grinned. It was not a nice, friendly sort of grin. It was the kind of grin that revealed a line of too-white teeth and hinted at a past better left buried. “Let’s just say that certain elements of your mission reports caught the eyes of my deputies, so they landed on my desk.” “We’ve been back three hours. I doubt half of us have filed mission reports yet.” Tandaris had just filed his before leaving the ship. “My people are very efficient. Something you will no doubt experience firsthand, should you choose to accept the proposal I have for you.” Tandaris took a sip from his fresh drink as he considered the admiral’s words. He took his time in constructing a response. “Oh. Really?” “Allow me to introduce myself.” The admiral leaned in closer. “I’m Vice Admiral Ken Northway. I run what you might call the ‘acquisitions’ department of Starfleet Intelligence. When we get wind of technology or any other items that might be of interest to Starfleet, my people handle the retrieval component.” Tandaris thought he could see where this was going, but he nodded and went along. “What does this have to do with me?” “Your Captain Swain denied your request to return to the surface, alone or with a team, and retrieve the Scorpiad stasis capsule. I want to give you that chance.” Cue the derisive snort. “You can’t be serious. I don’t agree with Swain’s decision, but it’s done. Domaria is under quarantine.” Northway shrugged. “You and I both know that the quarantine is an ineffective deterrent to anyone determined to get their hands on that technology, like the Klingons. The moment they get a hint there’s something of real strategic value—like a preserved Scorpiad soldier—down there, they will return when they think we aren’t paying attention. We need to get there first. I can send a strike team down there, but their chances of success go up dramatically with you along for the ride. Your first-hand experience of the base, not to mention your knowledge of Scorpiad technology, is essential here.” Say what you will about Northway’s slippery exterior: he knew how to flatter a Trill. And Tandaris’ heart had started beating faster—though maybe that was the alcohol. “Let’s say I do this. I assume it would mean a leave of absence from Excalibur.” “For several months. A mission like this will take weeks of planning, time for you to prep and train with your team. And I expect we will need you around for the initial aftermath, assuming we succeed.” For the few minutes Northway had sat there talking to Tandaris, there had never been any question in either of their minds as to whether Tandaris would say yes. It was a foregone conclusion. Northway was an expert at recruitment and knew how to close a sale. And the moment he had offered Tandaris a way to achieve what Swain had denied him, he had felt that flutter of memory stir again. He wanted—needed—to recover that Scorpiad. It was important. We cannot stand by and watch Tandaris inflict further damage to the symbiont…. The host has been compromised, far beyond what any symbiont should ever experience. Tandaris put down his glass, barely consumed. He fixed Northway with his most serious expression, then held out his hand in that gesture of greeting and deal-making that humans had spread pathologically throughout the Federation. “When do I start?” * Quotations are from the following logs, in the order in which they appear: "Going All In", by Asher Swain “Unmaking”, by Tandaris Admiran “Folding”, by Swain and Admiran “Constructive Interference”, by Admiran
  14. “Return” Cdr. Tandaris Admiran -------------------------------- Tandaris trained the viewer on Camelot Station as soon as it was within range. He noted, with a twinge of regret, that a familiar Akira-class vessel was docked. Had it really been nearly a year since he had last been in the Gamma Quadrant? But he was back now, the Audacity ferrying him, his new Scorpiad bestie G’jj;k, and Admiral Northway. The two Starfleet officers left the Scorpiad in confinement as they went aboard the station. Northway and Tandaris had argued for nearly a month over the plan. He claimed he was all for Tandaris and G’jj;k going along, but that “more conservative elements” of the leadership were not keen on the idea. Tandaris recognized this hedging for what it was: neither he nor the Scorpiad were trustworthy enough to be sent. Alas, Starfleet had little choice. G’jj;k would not divulge the location of the hatchery, only lead them to it. And without its knowledge of perimeter defenses, they would not be able to sneak in. Tandaris--well, he wasn’t quite as essential, but G’jj;k refused to go unless Tandaris would accompany it. And his ship memories could perhaps be useful to the mission. It was crazy, what Tandaris had proposed. Steal a baby Scorpiad ship? Tandaris still had bad dreams about the time he and Marius tr’Lorin had been abducted by a Scorpiad shuttle they had … er … Tandaris had acquired Scorpiad ships had minds of their own--Tandaris of all people knew that now--and would not easily be stolen. There was a way, though. As a ship captain, G’jj;k had learned certain methods of taming a newborn ship and letting it imprint on new commanders. If they could infiltrate the hatchery, steal an egg about ready to be hatched, and hatch it themselves, then Starfleet would have its very own Scorpiad ship. The people Northway reported to--Tandaris doubted many of them were admirals, or even in Starfleet--were salivating over this prospect. It surprised Tandaris that G’jj;k was on board with this plan. “You realize,” he asked it one day, the feeds again “malfunctioning” while they conversed in private, “that even if we succeed with our plan and you escape, Starfleet still has a ship? Not a tame ship like they would like, but a ship nonetheless?” “Irrelevant.” It almost sounded like an insult. “One ship, an infant, is not going to help you bring my empire to its knees.” It also seemed undaunted by its long absence from the empire. This time, in a session with Northway, Tandaris asked, “You’ve been away for centuries. How do you know this hatchery is still there, or that you can get us past the defenses?” “Your ponderous questioning grows irksome. Clearly your memories of our time together have taught you little about my people. We do not abandon hatcheries lightly. The conditions required--stellar density, solar wind velocity, ambient temperature--are quite constraining. It will be there. And its defenses will be as they always were. Not even the Dominion managed to penetrate into a hatchery.” It had taken weeks, but eventually Northway had given the go-ahead. And so now they were back in the Gamma Quadrant, having one last meeting before embarking. As they walked through the corridors of the station, Northway briefed Tandaris on the political situation for the past year. He mentioned the upheaval among the Vorta upon learning that the Founders weren’t on sabbatical but actually gone. With the Dominion leadership so weakened, some worlds were beginning to chafe beneath the Jem’Hadar-enforced yolk. “And something,” Northway added, “has the Scorpiads worried.” “Oh?” “They’ve requested a meeting. Not just them--the Al-Ucard and the Eratians too. Highest level. And they specifically requested that Excalibur conduct the meeting.” “I see. Well, best of luck to them.” They stopped outside a meeting room door. “You’ll be joining them.” Tandaris blinked. “What? But the mission--” “It’s the perfect cover and the perfect opportunity. The meeting place is just inside Scorpiad space, within light-years of the hatchery if our information is accurate. And you know most of the crew of Excalibur already; you know what they can do. While the ship and some of the crew stay for the talks, you will take a smaller team to infiltrate the hatchery.” Mixed emotions flooded Tandaris. He had left Excalibur abruptly, hadn’t really even said goodbye to most people. It would be good to go back. Yet at the same time, how could he, knowing he planned to betray them all and help G’jj;k escape, at the cost of lives? “One more thing,” Northway said as they entered the room. “The Scorpiads didn’t just request Excalibur; they were very particular about who they wanted to conduct the talks.” The room was not empty. Rather, a familiar figure stood with his back to the entrance, staring out the window at the starfield beyond. His long, white hair cascaded down his shoulders. He wore a Starfleet uniform that was too new, that fit too perfectly, and he wore it with a mixture of confidence and second thoughts. Tandaris recognized that feeling, just as surely as he recognized Ah-Windu Corizon. Corizon deigned to turn around, his eyes briefly lighting up as he saw Tandaris, a small smirk creeping across his face. "Ah, Mister Admiran. Good to see I'm not the only one whose retirement was cut short." The End
  15. “Intelligence” Cdr. Tandaris Admiran -------------------------------- “OK, Greg, let me see if I have this right.” Once again, Tandaris read back his notes to the hulking, arachnoid creature in the specially-constructed room on the unlisted starbase that was their prison. G’jj;k bristled--as much as a being with an exoskeletal carapace instead of fur could bristle--whenever Tandaris used the Anglicized moniker, but there was little the captive Scorpiad could do about it. “That is correct,” G’jj;k gave its assent. This had been their working relationship for the past six months. The Audacity had delivered its payload to this base, then Tandaris had bid goodbye to Abrams and her team in a not-so-teary farewell. Scientists poked and prodded G’jj;k to the very limits of its tolerance, but then they left it unharassed. Instead, Starfleet Intelligence seemed happy to let Tandaris handle the Scorpiad, in return for a steady stream of information. It was not easy, even with their little arrangement. G’jj;k was centuries out of date. It had no idea what the current structure of the Scorpiad Empire was like. When Tandaris had recounted the Federation’s contact with the Dominion and the subsequent quadrant-spanning war, it had scoffed at the idea that the Dominion could ever have grown so powerful. “They captured you,” Tandaris pointed out. That, the Scorpiad claimed, had been a tactical error on its part--the last it intended to make. Tandaris was no fool. He could see the way G’jj;k’s eyes scanned every detail of every bulkhead, looking for a way out. If it could find one, it would take it, regardless of its deal with Tandaris. Honour was a concept that existed for the Scorpiad, but it was a different concept. And memories of a ship or no, Tandaris understood he didn’t rate too highly in G’jj;k’s priorities. So for months, bit by bit, Tandaris gleaned as much knowledge as he could. He learned more about the Dominion base at where G’jj;k had been imprisoned. Together, they reconstructed basic schematics for some of the more simple Scorpiad ships and handheld weapons--in all these centuries, Scorpiad technology had not changed all that much. G’jj;k must not have thought the Federation such a threat if it was willing to hand this over to them. Its arrogance was astounding, would have been laughable in a being any smaller or any less imposing. But it was a Monday when G’jj;k dropped the ultimate bombshell. Tandaris could almost feel the bored ensign listening to the monitoring feed sit straight, suddenly alert. They weren’t even discussing any specific intelligence. Tandaris had, as was his habit, taken a break to ask G’jj;k some questions about their time together as captain and ship. The Scorpiad could fill the gaps in his memory and sharpen recollections that had been dulled by so much time limited to a single body of flesh. And during one of these conversations, G’jj;k casually remarked, “I was there when you were hatched. You were magnificent: the newest, sleekest of your kind.” “Did you just say you were there when I was hatched?” “Yes.” “Scorpiad ships are … hatched?” “How else would you construct an organic ship?” Well, when you put it that way. For the next hour and a half, G’jj;k described in detail the birthing process. Leptertus technicians harvest the genetic material from up to a dozen parent vessels, tweaking the DNA cocktail until they have arrived at the combination of strength, stealth, intelligence, and all the other factors they desired. The DNA was injected in an egg, which was then incubated on a moon specially designated as a hatchery. Along with hundreds of its siblings, the egg would grow larger and larger, until finally it was ready to be detached from the moon and towed into space. From there, it would naturally hatch over the course of several days, the warp limbs and weapons struts of the new vessel emerging gradually from the shell. “Greg …” said Tandaris, his voice unusually strained, “I don’t suppose you would happen to know where such a hatchery might be?” “Of course!” With those two words, Tandaris knew that somewhere in the depths of Starfleet Intelligence’s arcane bureaucracy, wheels of procedure had begun to spin faster than ever. And he was about to get his chance … his chance to do what, precisely, he still wasn’t sure.
  16. “Introductions” Cdr. Tandaris Admiran -------------------------------- The forcefield hummed at its particular frequency, the invisible barrier the only thing keeping the Scorpiad from lashing out and destroying both Tandaris and the marine posted as a guard. He didn’t argue when Tandaris ordered him out—he’s a good marine, trained to follow orders. Even unwise ones. The Scorpiad did not move the entire time Tandaris was with the guard, but once alone, it approached the forcefield. It raised a single limb in a way reminiscient of a benediction, but Tandaris recognized it for what it was: a challenge. Before Tandaris made any overture, he went to the control console. Disabling the security feeds was child’s play. Thus secured against eavesdropping, he turned back to the Scorpiad. “I know you can understand me, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t speak in scents and whispers,” Tandaris said. “I recognize you. What I want to know is if you recognize me.” A minute passed before the Scorpiad gave any indication it was going to reply. Finally, it said, “In the battle, your noises reminded me of something I knew once, long ago. But it’s not possible.” “Oh, it’s possible. More than that … it’s true.” Tandaris stepped closer, the forcefield just in front of his face now. And he added a single word, one difficult for a humanoid mouth to reproduce, but it comes from the effortless recall of memory, of identity. If it is possible for a Scorpiad to be surprised, then this one shows it. “I don’t believe you.” “I—it—was damaged. Centuries after you were captured. Another captain, a new crew. They died. It was dying. There are new powers at work in this quadrant. One of them found it, investigated—that’s what they do, they call it exploration but they are just as imperialist as us, as you, just nicer about it. Me, this individual, I was part of that team.” Tandaris pointed to his abdomen. “I have a symbiont, a creature with whom I share my body and my mind. It has memories of all its previous hosts. Somehow, when I began interacting with the ship’s systems, it discovered it could download its memories into my symbiont. “I remember everything. Meeting you. Feeling your mind through the link only captains have. Learning your habits. The battles. The hunts. The victory at Tervanian Prime.” Tandaris’ voice has taken on a steely edge, and his eyes seemed light-years away now. “You were my first captain.” “I still don’t understand.” “Then listen.” Hours passed as Tandaris began to tell his story. He started from the beginning, compressing decades into minutes as he described the history that he and the Scorpiad shared, establishing his identity beyond any shadow of doubt. Then he continued past their separation, bringing his captain up to speed on Gamma Quadrant history and recent events. “So I will remain a prisoner, and you are my jailor.” “In a sense,” Tandaris said. “But view it as an opportunity. At least you are no longer in stasis. In time, the Federation might decide to trade you for something it wants from the empire. Until then, you will be treated—we are soft in that way. They want whatever information you can provide.” “But if I say nothing, I will not be tortured?” “No. Although I should warn you, many will argue that you’re a security risk as it is. Already the commander of this vessel wants to terminate you. I am the only thing standing in her way.” “Ah, so this is the reason you are here. You want to impress upon me my dependence on you.” Tandaris shrugged. “I’m your ship. But I’m also not. I want—need—to learn from you, to better understand what’s happened to me. Beyond that, I don’t care what happens to you.” “I see. And what, exactly, will you do for me if I agree to cooperate?” Tandaris smiled. This was why he had disabled the security feeds. “Why, I will help you escape, of course.” “You would side with your former captain over your loyalty to these people?” “These people view me as almost as big a security risk as they view you. This condition, through no fault of my own, has made me unreliable. Suspect. And they have treated me unfairly as a result. I owe you nothing … and I owe them nothing. You have your cage. I have mine.” He pointed at the Starfleet insignia on his chest. The Scorpiad indicated its understanding by crossing its two uppermost limbs. “Very well. For the times we shared together, I will accept your proposal. But if you cross me, I will cut you down before you have time to second-guess your mistake.” “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m Admiran. Tandaris Admiran.” Tandaris knew the Scorpiad’s full name already, of course. The pattern of its owner’s mind was seared on his memory. But for humanoid mouths, the closest transcription was something like G’jj;k. And herein lay Tandaris’ advantage. After years together, Tandaris knew how G’jj;k thought, how it schemed and reasoned and acted. Admiran’s other memories, the blending of hosts, meant that Tandaris would remain largely a cipher to G’jj;k, unpredictable and erratic even though he was in other ways familiar. “Tell your commander that I will cooperate, provided you are my liaison.” And just like that, for the first time in a long time, Tandaris did not feel quite so alone.
  17. “Discovery” Cdr. Tandaris Admiran -------------------------------- “So what you’re telling me is this that you’re carrying around the memories of a Scorpiad warship in your symbiont? And this thing was the commander of that ship?” Abrams’ voice fluctuated between disbelief and derision. “That’s about the size of it,” Tandaris said. The two of them sat alone in the captain’s ready room. Abrams had redecorated it in such a way as to make it feel even more spartan than a Defiant-class starship’s ready room would feel by default. She had missed her calling, going into elite strategic recon and retrieval. Abrams stared at him in a transparent attempt to unnerve him. Just because he was aware of the tactic didn’t make it any less effective. Tandaris remained unflustered, for two reasons. Firstly, he was tired of superior officers pushing him around. He was past the point of caring, and if Abrams didn’t want to play ball, then tough. Secondly, he had just made the most profound discovery of his life. He had found someone--maybe the only person--who could make sense of what had happened to him. It was a vain hope, really. Even if this Scorpiad believed Tandaris’ story, and even if it cared, there was nothing to say that it had any special knowledge that could shed light on Tandaris’ unique condition. But it was all the hope he had these days. Unable to find any hint of subterfuge, Abrams shrugged. “Right. Well, this is beyond my pay grade. I’m happy enough to let the Admiral call the shots on this one. All I need to know is: is this thing”--she refused to even acknowledge it as anything else--“dangerous?” “Unquestionably. You are talking about one of the most brutal, aggressive, and intelligent species in the Gamma Quadrant. The Scorpiads were the bogeymen of the Dominion’s nightmares.” “Then we have to eliminate it, here and now.” Tandaris leaned forward across the table. “You can’t be serious.” “Commander, our mission was to retrieve a stasis pod and return with it to starbase. At no time did the Admiral ever mention he wanted us to bring back a live Scorpiad. If it poses a danger to this ship, not to mention the starbase, then I’m eliminating the danger before it becomes a problem.” She did not add, before we lose any more lives, but she might as well have done. Tandaris shuddered at the memory. Beta Team had eventually fought its way to their position. By the time they made it, the creatures had dispatched everyone except for him and the reanimated Scorpiad, which had continued to study him but refused to talk. Any time Tandaris had so much as twitched, it had snarled and moved in such a menacing manner as to discourage further action. Beta Team had managed to cut through the dampening field and beam them all back to the Audacity. They had erected Level 5 forcefields in the cargo bay and placed the Scorpiad, too big for the brig by far, there, where it currently awaited its fate at Abrams’ hands. It had spared Tandaris for reasons no one onboard had been aware of until now, excepting him. And Tandaris wasn’t even sure he understood how the Scorpiad had recognized him. “Major, if you kill it, you are throwing away one of the best research opportunities Starfleet has come across in decades. This is a living Scorpiad. But its information is out of date. It doesn’t know anything about the Federation or the Alpha Quadrant. It is a source of valuable intelligence on Scorpiad habits and technology, if we play our cards right.” “OK, say I buy that argument,” Abrams said. “What cards should we play?” Tandaris relaxed visibly. The Major was abrasive, but she understood how the game worked. If he could lay out a convincing case for keeping the Scorpiad around, she would acquiesce. All he had to do was sound sane, something that was increasingly challenging these days. “Let me talk to it. I’ll try to explain … the situation. I’ll keep it ambiguous though, nothing that hints at previous hostilities with the Federation. If I can calm it down, maybe I can convince it that the best thing to do is play along with us for the time being.” “What makes you think it will accept that?” “If it thinks that the best way to escape is to wait, watch, and bide its time, it will do exactly that. I just have to present an ideal scenario for such a course of action.” Abrams turned to the monitor at her desk. She tapped at it and turned it towards Admiran. It displayed a live feed from the brig: the Scorpiad was currently sitting in the centre of the cell, unresponsive. “You’re telling me you can make this thing cooperate?” “I can’t make it do anything. But I can persuade it that cooperation is in its best interests, for now.” Abrams did the staring thing again. For a moment Tandaris felt a brief, now unfamiliar twinge of empathy. In a way, she was in a position similar to his; she too had superior officers who could and would exact a price for anything they perceived as a mistake on her part. When her response came, it was with confidence and clarity. “Don’t mess up.” She didn’t have to add that it would be on both their heads if anything went wrong. So armed with his superior’s assent, Admiran left the ready room and made directly for the brig to see his other superior. They had quite a lot of catching up to do.
  18. “Retrieval” Tandaris Admiran ----------------------- “It’s time.” Tandaris already knew this. He had felt the shift in vibrations as the Audacity had dropped out of warp and settled directly into orbit. The Defiant-class vessel had been refitted for stealth, but its power balance was still way off, and its rides weren’t as smooth as Excalibur’s. Not that he missed his old ship or anything. Well, not much. Major Abrams’ voice snapped Tandaris out of whatever memories had lately resurfaced, dragging him back to the present. She had come up behind him—his fault for sitting with his back to the door—and, as befit her training, had made hardly a sound. Tandaris placed his PADD on the table, slid his tray of uneaten salad and beans forward for no particular reason, and stood. He opened his mouth to address her before realizing that she was addressing the room entire, and having made her announcement, was already on her way out. It had been that way since Tandaris had come aboard the Audacity. Now, as he stood on the transporter pad next to Vassir and the rest of Alpha Team, she chose that moment to send him a private comm. “My orders make it perfectly clear that we are to return with the Scorpiad at all costs. My team understands that and understands the risk. Make no mistake, though: they said nothing about your return being part of the mission. If there’s a choice between you or my team, I won’t hesitate. You won’t be around to contradict the report.” Tandaris barely had a chance to gulp, let alone reply, before he felt the subaudible whine the preceded transport. A few seconds later, he was standing in the same room where the away team from Excalibur had materialized so many months ago. A few metres away, the lift to access the lower levels awaited them. He heard the familiar whine of a transporter as Beta Team followed on their heels, ready to secure the area and await their return to the surface. Alpha Team’s tech, Alex Mingram, moved forward to check the lift’s status while his comrades covered him. “Clear,” he said. They crowded into the confined space. Tandaris punched in the floor that was their first destination. The doors closed, and the lift shuddered as it began its descent. Occasional jolts and an unconstant speed reminded everyone aboard that it was on its last legs. Tandaris felt sweat trickling down the back of his environmental suit. The model was slightly different from the one to which he was accustomed: newer, one QA round short of experimental. The joints had slightly improved flexibility; the HUD was more responsive. He liked it as a piece of technology, but he hated that he was somewhere that required it. The lift groaned as it stopped at their destination. After their exit, there was a second, more gradual moan as the lift began to slide farther down the shaft. It gradually picked up speed until it became a humming, sparking wreck that culminated in a satisfying, if unfortunate, crash. “We never planned to come back this way anyway,” said Vassir. To Tandaris, she added, “Lead on, Commander.” They walked two abreast. The lab that housed the Scorpiad stasis pod was not accessible from the main lift system, which was why it had remained preserved for so long. They would need to take a roundabout route to reach it. Before leaving the Audacity, each team member had memorized the route. Actually walking it, suppressing the atavistic urge to flee the darkness and the staccato sounds of implied but unperceived life, was another matter. “Sensors don’t show any life yet,” said Corporal Lundrum, who had taken point. “Those things don’t show up on sensors,” Mingram replied, tightening his grip on his rifle. “Remember? That’s how those engineers discovered them on the—” Vassir cut them off. “Quiet. No unnecessary chatter.” With the environmental suits forcing them to use comms rather than speak aloud, there was no danger of idle conversation alerting the creatures to their presence. Vassir knew this as well, so Tandaris shot her a grateful look. Then he stopped in front of a small access hatch. “Here,” he said. “Through here, three levels down, then over to an auxiliary lift.” He stooped to open the hatch. It resisted, requiring more force than he had wanted to exert. Positioning his foot so he could push off from the wall, he gave the hatch another tug. It pulled away from the wall with a hideous ringing that echoed down the corridor. The marines, already standing stock straight, stiffened. “Maybe there aren’t any left in this section,” Mingram began optimistically, until distinctive chittering required him to revise his statement. “Maybe there aren’t many left…” Alpha Team automatically spread into a semi-circle. Lundrum wriggled through the hatch first, followed by Mingram and Tandaris, with Vassir and the other two going last. They made it to the next lift without incident, only to discover that the lift’s controls were offline and the manual override had fused. With a series of well-chosen expletives shared between them, the engineers set to work while the rest of the marines kept watch. The lab itself was almost pristine compared to the state of the rest of the base. It was as if this area, unlike the others, had simply observed an orderly shutdown. As with most Dominion facilities, there were no chairs to be toppled. But the consoles and workstations gleamed as if they had just been cleaned; trays of tools and specimen containers sat in the middle of the room, ready for the next time they were needed. And on one end of the room, tucked in a corner by itself, the Scorpiad pod slumbered. It was large, as it needed to be, and out of place among the sleek Dominion technology. Tandaris felt a twinge in his gut as he recognized its intensely organic contours. He was so close! Without thinking, he rushed ahead and laid his hand against the side of the pod. He ignored a chastising hiss from Vassir as he began consulting the nearby readout screen, muttering to himself all the while. Vassir quickly handed out assignments. “Lundrum and Hislaaan, cover this exit. Auberk, you and I’ll take that door.” She nodded to the tech, Mingram, to help Tandaris. “Quick as you can, boys.” Mingram began setting up the transport enhancers that would allow them to beam the entire pod back to Audacity’s sickbay. Tandaris continued to evaluate the pod’s status. It was amazing that, after all these centuries, it still functioned. Its occupant, a middle-aged Scorpiad, was still alive. In all their decades of possessing it, the Dominion researchers here had never tried to open the pod or revive their prisoner. When an alarm went off and all the displays on the pod’s exterior went black, Tandaris suddenly had an inkling as to why. “What is that racket?” demanded Lundrum. Tandaris had already jumped to one of the lab stations and was attempting to activate the remote interface. “It appears that the pod has a built-in security system to prevent tampering.” “Whatever. Can you turn it off?” “Um … no. I need an authorization code, or about five more hours to get around it.” In the cacophony that was the pod alarm, no one heard the chittering sound until it was too late. With no warning, a posse of the carapaced creatures that had so terrorized the Excalibur team descended upon the lab from all directions, attracted to the enticing smell from a brand new, untouched area. With no more time for debate, speculation, or recrimination, Vassir snapped to Tandaris, “Just prep it for transport!” and raised her rifle, squeezing off shot after shot. Tandaris bent over the pod again, his tricorder scanning for any more booby traps. Behind him, Mingram shouted, “Ready on my end. Admiran?” “Let’s do it.” “Mingram to Audacity. Energize.” The pod didn’t dematerialize. There was no hum, no curtain of energy. Mingram and Tandaris’ expressions both fell, and they rushed to check their respective charges simultaneously. All the systems checked out—except one. “It’s the dampening field,” Mingram said. “The enhancers are fine. We just can’t get through to the Audacity.” “Then we move the pod!” shouted Vassir. “We’ll take the auxiliary lift and rendezvous at the alternative extraction point. Let’s go, people!” Mingram turned to help Tandaris disconnect the pod from the base’s computer interface. He was deploying a pair of antigrav lifters from his pack when the console next to him exploded. From the sparks and shrapnel, one of the creatures emerged and launched itself at Mingram’s neck. He emitted a gurgle and fell to the floor, rolling madly from side to side while the creature found itself an even more secure grasp. Tandaris moved to assist but found the way blocked by two more of the creatures. They shouldered at each other, competing to see who would get to tear out his throat first. Tandaris tried to use this momentary distraction to his advantage. As he backed away, he tripped over an exposed panel, falling backwards. The creatures were upon him in a heartbeart. Claws made quick work of the environmental suit. So much for the armour-plating or the responsive, just-in-time forcefield technology. The creatures ripped through the chestplate. Just as they reached flesh, one of their tails came down hard on his faceplate. Spiderwebs of cracks blossomed across his field of vision, and that was when Tandaris knew he was going to die. He screamed. It was a raw, primal thing. It was a Scorpiad scream. Suddenly, the pain diminished, and the horrific weight was pulled off his chest. Tandaris managed to sit up. The faceplate’s self-repair mechanism began its work, and gradually his vision cleared. He gasped. Standing in front of him was a Scorpiad, one claw neatly snipping a creature in half while the other crushed a creature’s head. It flung the corpses into two approaching attackers before turning in another direction and letting loose a ferocious sound. It made short work of the other creatures in the area, including the one feasting on Mingram, before it turned its attention back to Tandaris. “Uh-oh,” Tandaris said. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the worst. So when the Scorpiad squatted--as best as Scorpiads could squat--and squinted--as best as Scorpiads could squint, which wasn’t very well--at him, Tandaris opened one eye. “Uh … hello?” What he saw made him open the other eye and stare, long and hard, at the being in front of him. This was no ordinary Scorpiad, no run-of-the-mill soldier or labourer. This was an elite Scorpiad, bred to command and rule. And even among all the myriad Scorpiads who could claim such a lineage, this one was special to him in particular. This one was his captain.
  19. “Turning (Your) Back” Anastasia Poldara ------------------------------- And so we hereby reassign you to the post of Chief Science Officer, USS Challenger, effective immediately. Report for duty the day after the Challenger’s arrival at Earth pending the conclusion of its current mission. Anastasia read the message again, for what seemed like the hundredth time. Cal had gone inside nearly an hour ago. The sun, once a majestic orange disc dominating the horizon, was now only streaks of brilliant gold, pink, and red light through the clouds. With its setting, the beach had started to turn chilly. She should retire as well, but she just couldn’t shift herself. She wanted to stay on this beach forever, to sink into the sand and just forget about the cares of the world--of the galaxy--beyond. “Challenger,” she said, rolling the once-familiar name off her tongue, trying to gauge it after so long. It had once meant “home.” But now it was alien again. For over a year, she had left that chapter of her life behind to embark once more on her true passion: cybernetic research. The director of the Daystrom Institute had personally requested her secondment. It was a dream come true, and the project had started with such promise. Ashes, all of it, leaving the bitterest of tastes in Anastasia’s mouth. Now here she was months later, on a beach, trying to forget with sun and alcohol and sex how things had gone wrong. Maybe the worst part of it was that nothing had gone wrong. At least, not from a technical, scientific, engineering perspective. The project was a success. Her theory and the engineers’ implementations matched. They were making progress. Not enough, though, to satisfy the vulture bureaucrats who circled, harping on the expense, the waste of resources. Not enough to justify the expenditures--or so the final report had said, as if blaming Anastasia’s leadership personally. The writing had been on the wall for ages. She should have seen it. It was all too easy to blame others, or blame the distractions in her life. Even now if you asked, Anastasia couldn’t begin to tell you whether the project’s failure had ended her marriage or whether her marriage ending had killed the project. They were now, in her mind, inextricably linked. Now here she was, on a beach, on vacation with a man who was not--and, let’s be real here, would never be--her husband. Pretending to be happy. Anastasia had fought tooth and nail for the project. Oh, how she had fought. She had called in every favour, wheedled and pleaded and even threatened right up to admirals and chairpeople of committees. None of it sufficed. In the end, it became clear that whatever she might have done wrong in the past, the ultimate decision to scrap her project was not really her doing. It was merely convenient, and by that time, no amount of apologies or blackmail could have averted this outcome. But to be reassigned to Challenger after so long? On the surface it seemed like a reward, or at least, not a reprimand. Officially it meant her secondment was over, and she was merely returning to active duty. None of the fallout from the project would touch her as a matter of record; that was a civilian matter. But Anastasia’s reputation was about as intact at this point as her sense of calm or her good mood. On a beach, tendrils of twilight reaching across an ocean towards her, Anastasia thought about her future. There were positives to going back. She knew the people there. Counted, or had counted, some of them as friends. But there would be questions. They would be genuinely interested in her time away. They would notice Michael’s absence. She would need to make explanations. Abruptly, Anastasia got to her feet. She was a little dizzy. But she steeled herself, determination fixed in the expression on her face. She was going back. So, she would be prepared. She would be … collected. This was something she had learned from her mother: no matter how defeated you felt, never let it show. Put on your face, and face them all, and challenge them to call you a liar. Anastasia Poldara turned her back on the beach and the sunset and went inside to begin making up the rest of her life. She didn’t know who she was any more. She wasn’t sure who she would be. But no one else needed to know that.
  20. Qualified Starfleet engineer seeks position well away from borders, fronts, or other territorial delineations. Can fix warp drives, impulse manifolds, and flux capacitors. Heisenberg compensators and subspace arrays particular speciality. Can handle temporal incidents if necessary but strong preference for linear events. Previous positions include ill-fated starship and hodgepodge station recently crippled by crazed commander of Klingon bird-of-prey, with particular focus on routine maintenance procedures and defence grid deployments. Have experience with shipyards and ship construction. Also certified pilot for small craft. References available upon—oh, who am I kidding? I’m never going to leave this place. Computer, delete posting.
  21. “Maintenance as Usual” Cdr. Scott Coleridge ---------------------------------------- It wasn’t that Scott disliked covert missions. It wasn’t that Scott had anything against them. He just found them taxing. They took a lot out of him, physically and mentally and ethically. Some people were built for infiltrating the enemy or even combat. Scott wasn’t such a person. His first starship posting had demonstrated that. At the Academy, a battery of tests determines where you’re sent after you graduate--if you graduate at all, that is. Some of these tests are obvious: psych evals, Kobayashi Maru simulations and the like, emergency drills, survival training. Some are sneakier: the spy planted as a roommate, the recommendations of instructors, performance scores on the Academy lounge pinball game. Everything is supposedly taken into consideration. Still, mistakes are made. People test well but then crumple under the real pressure aboard a starship. Scott’s experiences hadn’t been awful. But the near-fatal encounter with a wormhole had left a bitter taste in his mouth. He had seen the opportunity for the relative safety of Aegis and leapt at it. Now, all these years later, the station moved halfway across the quadrant and attacked more times than he would like to count, Scott was wondering if that had been such a good call. He hadn’t left, though. Adam approached Scott with a grim expression and a PADD in his hand. “Latest projections from the most recent upgrades to the replicators. It’s … not good.” Scott took the PADD and skimmed the results before handing it back. He swallowed the bitter taste of disappointment and bit back the retort he was going to make--they had enough on their plates as it was. “Reroute some of the resources devoted to the sonic shower upgrades. We need the replicators more. Put the showers onto the Delta-list, right above the turbolift speed improvements.” “You got it.” Adam hurried away to make the changes on engineering’s big board of priority upgrades. It was usually busy but seldom cluttered; on a station of Aegis’ size, upgrades were a way of life for engineers but were just maintenance as usual. He hadn’t left because, despite everything, Aegis was still a home. A starship is always moving; by definition, it goes to new people. New people come to Aegis. All Scott had to do is walk down the midway to see the truth of this. With the influx in refugees, the station was getting even busier despite its relatively remote location. It wasn’t just the refugees themselves; entire industries were booming. Refugees mean new customers, new subscribers, new cult members. Entrepreneurs, salespeople, and even cult leaders were all making their way to the station to pitch their tents and offer their wares. “Commander?” asked a lieutenant whose name Scott could not recall. Were they really making them that young these days? Wait, when had he gotten old enough to ask that question? “Commander?” the lieutenant repeated nervously. “The diagnostics on the new fusion generator have come back. The control rods on the first injector port are faulty. We’re preparing a replacement batch, but I’ve had to take it offline for now.” Scott had returned from their mission only to find engineering in a state of controlled chaos. With Jorahl and Nijil consumed with other matters, he had decided to throw himself into more mundane aspects of station operations. Not only was it a necessity, but it was something he rather enjoyed. He relished in the normalcy of it all, the predictability of the day-to-day needs. And those needs were mounting by the day now: an influx of new people meant new demands placed on older systems that had, let’s face it, already been strained beyond capacity. Clever just-in-time solutions that Scott and his colleagues had implemented a few years ago were now bottlenecks that would have to be rethought and reworked in order to prevent total chaos from taking over. The day-to-day had suddenly become one of the biggest challenges of his career. Scott had experimented with Borg technology and built a quantum communications device. He had recently helped to infiltrate a rogue station bent on wreaking havoc. He had, though he wasn’t proud of it, dabbled in time travel. None of it compared to trying to get the plumbing working properly on a station that combined the worst components of Federation, Klingon, Cardassian, and Ferengi design philosophy. You did not want to see some of the bizarre pipe arrangements on record. Scott blinked, realizing the lieutenant was still waiting for an answer, or even an acknowledgement. She was, he noticed now, trembling slightly. He wondered if he had really become so fearsome, or if she had recently had a run-in with Jorahl and met with his disappointment. Or maybe some of Jorahl’s icy exterior had rubbed off on him over the years. “That’s fine, Lieutenant ... um …” Help me out here. “Curtis, sir.” “Curtis, right. These things happen. Just make sure you realign everything properly.” Lieutenant Curtis seemed to start breathing again. The tension drained from her body; she looked as if she had just been given a reprieve. “Of course, sir.” She sped away to do whatever it was she had to do next to avoid drawing the ire of her superiors. Such was life in the busy environment that was engineering. More people coming to Aegis also meant more demands placed on engineering’s other service: starship repair. The station’s location was more remote than most, and Starfleet didn’t have enough ships to patrol the region effectively. As a result, pirates had become increasingly bold, setting upon lone merchants and even picking off weaker parts of convoys bound for Aegis. Those who survived such attacks continued on towards the station, determined to recoup their losses somehow, and they naturally expected the Federation to repair their ship out of the goodness of its heart. Scott didn’t mind the repairs all that much, but the increased workload alone, even with a shipyard to help shoulder the burden, was beginning to wear him and the rest of the crew out. Any much longer like this, and they would all be as nervous as Curtis. Scott glanced at his console, where he discovered, to his surprise, that he had begun a wishlist. Right at the top was, “More personnel”, followed quickly by, “Reprogram the defence grid to create a time dilation field around the station so that time passes more quickly within the station than outside it.” One of those was possible. The other would require a lot of whinging and hand-wringing in front of senior staff. It might just be worth it though. Another voice now begged audience. “Uh, Commander, you better take a look at these readings.” Urgency in the air now, Scott suppressed a sigh and swung himself out of his chair and in the direction of the voice. He had, what, three or four hours left on duty? Time enough to put out a few more fires, maybe even start some of his own.
  22. Players' Choice Award “Unsolved Case Files Presents: The Mysterious Exploding Planet Surface!!” ----------------------------------------- Narrator: Tonight, on Unsolved Case Files, we bring you a mystery from 2387. Two Federation ships have been dispatched to inspect Maasune, a planet in the Kirsha 716 system. It is a candidate for a new settlement for the Romulans, who had recently been displaced by the destruction of their homeworld. But when the Aegean and Revenge arrived at Maasune, they discovered the planet devastated by destruction on a massive scale. [stock footage of visual approach to orbit of Maasune.] Narrator: What caused the destruction? Was there an alien intelligence at work, or was Maasune merely the victim of a geophysical time bomb? After an intense round of investigations, the two ships had to leave the planet abruptly—some sources say they fled. Tonight, we take you inside recently de-classified files and bring you expert witnesses. This is … UNSOLVED CASE FILES. [Opening credit sequence. The theme is reminscient of early 23rd century neo-neo-classical chthonic synth and gives a good indication of why this show has not won any awards.] Julie Aster: If you look here … and here … you’ll notice well-defined craters. This suggest an asteroid, or rather multiple asteroids, hit the planet’s surface over a period of a few days to maybe a week. Narrator: Julie Aster is the Director of the Institute for Geophysical Planning and Preparation. She has thirty years’ experience in the field of detecting, analyzing, and defending against natural phenomena on a geological time scale. According to Aster, the destruction on Maasune is simply a freak accident. Julie Aster: We see things like this happening all the time—on a relatively geological scale, that is. A group of large rocks, too weak to collapse until one large asteroid but still bound together by their relative gravitational forces, falls into a planet’s gravity well and enter the atmosphere. Many of them vaporize harmlessly in the upper atmosphere—but any of them that are large enough make it to the surface. Narrator: But even Aster doesn’t see Maasune’s case as entirely normal. Julie Aster: I wouldn’t call it normal. These things do happen, but Maasune is unusual in the level of destruction. Normally these events result in a global winter and mass extinction, not the kind of damage to the lithosphere that’s evident from these files. It suggests that the bombardment had immense energy—that is to say, velocity—behind it. Another alternative would be a chain of global supervolanoes…. Narrator: Ms. Aster doesn’t believe that there is any evidence to say that the asteroid bombardment, if that is what happened, was caused by an alien force. But she did not rule it out either. And others are not so convinced that Maasune is so cut-and-dried…. [Cut to footage of a man walking along a garden path.] Narrator: This is Shawn Beckstein. For the past twelve years, he has dedicated his life to examining the declassified files Starfleet releases each year. He says it’s no coincidence that Maasune’s time ran out when it did. Shawn Beckstein: Planets don’t just explode. Something makes them explode. [Fade in and fade out where there would be a commercial break. Brief, redundant recap of what has happened thus far.] Shawn Beckstein: Oh, on its own, Maasune looks like an isolated incident. But if you go back far enough, those “isolated incidents” start piling up. If you look hard enough, the evidence is right there, staring you in the face. For decades now—maybe even centuries—Starfleet has been sabotaging some of its own missions. It’s as if there are some discoveries they want to redact from the public sphere … some things they need to keep secret. Narrator: Beckstein asserts that the Aegean and Revenge were not the first Starfleet vessels to visit Maasune. Rather, they were dispatched to clean up after a previous mission … a mission gone awry. Shawn Beckstein: What I want to know is what they found there. Sensor logs indicate some kind of structure exposed after the bombardment. We know they brought back things from the planet’s surface, but those files haven’t been declassified. What did they bring back? Was it the body of a new alien species encroaching on Federation space? Or were they simply sterilizing the planet to prevent it from being given to the Romulans? I don’t know. But I know that the truth is out there, somewhere. Starfleet can’t hide it from us forever! Narrator: Finally, there are those who still reserve judgement on just what happened on Maasune. Prak is one such sceptic. Though she disagrees with Ms. Aster’s evaluation of the destruction as a natural phenomenon, she doesn’t think Starfleet knows all the answers either. [Cut to a Bolian scientist sitting in front of a rather impressive display of laboratory equipment. Intelligent pattern-matching software would be able to discern that this is actually a stock backdrop used in several low-budget serials. Prak is a discredited researcher originally attached to the Daystrom Institute, redacted after she was found guilty of publishing fraudulent research.] Prak: There’s no way the destruction on Maasune is the result of a natural phenomenon. Leaving aside the fact that the probe Starfleet initially sent to investigate the system detected nothing out of the ordinary, the central crater was swimming in radiation that Starfleet’s sensors could not identify. That means there were exotic particles at play—and though those occur in nature, they are seldom seen in such quantities as would be required for that much radiation. [Cut to an animation cutaway of Maasune, showing the surface in profile and a large, hypothetical structure embedded within the planet’s crust.] Narrator: Prak hypothesizes that Maasune’s destruction was caused by the planet itself—or rather, something buried within it. This is a visualization of a superweapon that could have lurked beneath the surface of Maasune, programmed to fire at anything that threatened the sovereignty of the aliens who constructed it. Whether that species is still alive somewhere, monitoring Maasune, or the weapon simply fired on its own … no one knows. Prak: The weapon actually fired twice. I don’t know what set it off the first time. But the second time must have been the result of Starfleet’s investigations—perhaps the fusion plumes from the fighters they sent into the atmosphere. Either someone was controlling it, or it was an automated defence response. Whatever the reason, it seems pretty clear to me that Maasune wasn’t so much a planet as a giant artillery encampment. Narrator: But the crucial files that are needed to prove or disprove any of these theories remain classified to this day. Some say that Starfleet itself never solved this case, that it remains a mystery even to the people on that mission who since went on to become household names. Others are certain that Starfleet is hiding something, worried that the truth is too mysterious—too dangerous—for the public to find out. All we know for certain is that the destruction of Maasune remains … an UNSOLVED CASE FILE. [Cut to closing credits, with music even worse than the opening sequence, if that is even possible.] Narrator: Next time, on Unsolved Case Files: Bigfoot sightings on Bajor. Did humans bring the elusive Sasquatch with them as they spread through space? Or did ancient Bajoran astronauts visit Earth long ago and bring home indigenous fauna? You be the judge on the next UNSOLVED CASE FILE.
  23. John Scalzi has a new novel coming out next week called Redshirts. It’s a spoof of Star Trek that follows security crew aboard the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union. The main characters begin to notice that on every away mission, at least one redshirt dies a terrible death—and they’ve all replaced someone who who died. Eventually it becomes clear that something more sinister is afoot. I’m quite excited for the book, both because of its Trek-inspired background and because I have enjoyed other stories by Scalzi. Anyway, Jonathan Coulton released a theme song for the book today. Many of you will get a kick out of it even if you have no interest in the book itself. You can listen to it here. <link removed, but you can go to whatever.scalzi.com and find a link to the song> “They said this air would be breathable…”
  24. “Breathing Life into the Nightmare” Ensign Perry White ---------------------------------------------- “Fall the hell back!” the security officer shouted. She aimed her phaser at one of the creatures and let loose at point-blank range. The phaser had no effect. This registered on White even as he put the officer’s advice to good use and began running, something he had a lot of experience doing thanks to serving under Commander Admiran and Captain Corizon. As he ran, he turned his head to see the two security officers continuing to fire in vain at the approaching creatures. It was no use. They were coming. They were angry. --------------------- Thirty minutes ago. Ensign Perry White was, for the moment, the only person aboard the Augustine. He was by no means unaware of the profound creepiness of this situation. Every small beep and chirp from a piece of equipment, every creak of his chair, was a cause for him to start and look around the bridge. He had spent nights alone in engineering before, but this was different. Then, other people were a deck—or less—distant. There was still no indication of where the entire crew of the Augustine had gone. The bridge might be deserted, but everything was in working order. The rest of the away team had returned to Excalibur to prepare for an investigation of the Dominion base on the planet below them. He had been left behind to get to the bottom of a power drain. White sighed as he packed up his gear and prepared to leave for sickbay, where his scans had localized one of the power drains. He wasn’t convinced this mystery was worth solving—so the ship had a few blips in power usage. If it were up to him, he would have left with the rest of the away team and be back in engineering right now, writing a report and basking in the presence of all the other people around him. Of course, it wasn’t up to him. It was up to his department head, whose reputation among the junior officers of the Excalibur was well-deserved. Yet White had to admit that if Commander Admiran thought this power drain was relevant, it probably would be. He was a competent enough engineer and very good at working under pressure, but he wasn’t the most creative or insightful of his colleagues. White’s talent was perseverance, not perspicacity. The turbolift ride to the sickbay deck was uneventful, as was the short trip to sickbay’s doors. They were unlocked. He could just walk in right now and access the EPS taps for this section. But he had been told to wait for a security and engineering team—and he had no intention of going in there alone. Giving the doors a wide berth, White settled himself down against the opposite bulkhead. He waited. A few minutes went by before the telltale static charge of an annular confinement beam caused the hair to rise on the back of his neck. With a soft hum that slowly ramped up into a whine, four people materialized to his right: two security officers and two engineers. White suppressed a groan when he saw who was leading the security detail. Ensign Mahdiya Khatib quickly took in her new surroundings, a hand on the phaser at her hip, ready to react at a moment’s notice. White and Khatib had gone through the Academy together and been posted to Excalibur as their first ship. It said something about them that hey had stayed—in White’s case, he genuinely enjoyed his department and his superior, even if it meant a little more mortal peril than was good for him; for Khatib, Excalibur was probably the only ship remote enough to satisfy her sense of adventure. She was a better security officer than White was an engineer, and she should have been a senior lieutenant somewhere else by now. But Khatib had an impulsive streak in her that made some Klingons look calm, and White was always nervous when on away missions with her. “This the place?” Khatib asked, gesturing at the sickbay doors. When White nodded, she said, “Right. We’ll enter first, make sure it’s secure. Follow only on our signal. Ready?” She looked to the entire group.. White and the others gave a general assent. The security officers went to work. Khatib’s partner went to one side of the door, phaser drawn. Khatib took the other, waited a few seconds, then nodded at her partner. She pivoted. The door opened, and Khatib entered, her phaser ready. Her partner followed on her heels, and they spread out into sickbay. After a moment, Khatib called back into the corridor, “It’s clear!” “The EPS tap is just behind that bulkhead,” said White, pointing at a wall between the main biobed alcove and several secondary beds. “Luthor, you and Kent go ahead and open up the access panel. I’ll run a power diagnostic on sickbay systems here.” As his fellow engineers went to work, White moved to the main sickbay console and pulled up the diagnostic suite. He ran a check on the log integrity—nominal, unlike the main computer logs or sensor logs—and then checked the power usage data for the sickbay systems. “Hmm. Nothing out of the ordinary.” “That bad?” Khatib asked. “Not good, for us. It means this anomaly really is an anomaly.” Khatib gave him a dangerous grin, the type she reserved for situations where the universe was delivering her some long-awaited action. Meanwhile, Luthor and Kent had accessed the EPS tap. As Kent set the panel to one side, Luthor crouched and peered into the crawlspace. With an abrupt exclamation, he backpedalled until he hit a biobed, at which point he lost his footing. Kent glared at Luthor, then looked toward the crawlspace. His glare dissolved into confusion and apprehension before finally settling on terror. “What is it?” White approached the others, the security people following. Inside the crawlspace, two of the exoskeleton-like artifacts were nestled up against the EPS tap. They were moving ever so slightly. “What are those?” “We don’t know. The ones we’ve found so far have all been dead.” “Those don’t look dead to me.” “No,” White agreed. “They look like they’re … feeding … directly from the EPS grid. Which is strange for a number of reasons. Direct exposure to that much plasma should incinerate them.” Khatib put her arm out in front of White and raised her phaser in her other. “Shall we take care of them?” “Are you crazy? Shoot a phaser at a live EPS tap? Do you want to blow us up?” “Uh, sirs?” Luthor attempted to interject. Khatib gave White a look that said well-I’m-just-trying-to-solve-the-problem. “What do you suggest?” “We leave. We report this back to Excalibur. They tell us what to do.” White didn’t necessarily lack initiative when it came to engineering matters. But this was not a simple engineering problem any more, which made it outside his area of authority. “No, really, sirs, you need to look—” White and Khatib turned to Luthor, both of them in unison saying, “What?” only to see Luthor, pale and terrified, pointing back at the crawlspace. The brief but heated discussion had evidently interrupted the creatures’ meal. Both had turned to face delicate yet sharp mandibles in the direction of the away team. From somewhere within their thorax came a low rumbling sound that reverberated off the walls of the crawlspace. The creatures charged. The lights in sickbay flickered, dimmed, and went out. This was the part where they ran. Only, as a graduate of Starfleet’s security program, Khatib used the more optimistic language of, “Fall the hell back!” The engineers did not have to be told twice. They dropped their equipment. Kent, who had backed himself away a considerable amount already, was quickly out the door. Luthor vaulted over a biobed and followed. White and the security officers were the last ones left. As White ran out the door, Khatib and her partner stopped and fired their phasers at the creatures. The phaser beams hit the creatures point-blank and were just absorbed into their jet black exoskeletons. All it did was make the creatures angrier. “Cease fire!” Khatib shouted. She followed her own advice, but her partner only had eyes and ears for their adversaries. He continued firing his phaser wildly at the two creatures, his feet planted firmly on the ground. Khatib grabbed at his arm and tried to shake him out of this paralysis. “Natapos, we have to go!” The closer of the creatures reared up on its hind legs. It seemed to swell for a moment, puffing up in a way that its exoskeleton shouldn’t have allowed. Then it belched a ball of plasma in the direction of the sickbay doors. Khatib ducked and rolled out of the way, but not before a last-ditch attempt to take her partner with her. The ball caught Natapos full-on, quickly reducing him to the charred remains of a security officer. Its heat scorched Khatib’s left arm and leg, the blisters and burns causing her to scream as she pulled away, but left her otherwise intact. They were out of sickbay but weren’t safe yet. The creatures were still coming. White tapped his combadge and yelled, “Excalibur! We need immediate beam out! Now!” There was no response, though, and with a sinking feeling White realized that the creature’s burst of plasma had left residual ionization in the air around them. Their combadges would be useless until the ionization decreased or they got out of this section. “We need to get out of here!” he said. But Khatib was slowed down by her leg injury, and he could see from his vantage point at the intersection that she would never make to him in time. He could see the other creature rearing up and preparing to belch more plasma. White bit his lip. If he didn’t do something in the next few seconds, another person was going to die. This was not his element, though. He was an engineer, a systems expert, not some kind of guerilla pest exterminator. All he knew how to do was reprogram computers and reroute EPS conduits— As that last thought raced through his mind, White was already in motion, sprinting for the closest control panel. He keyed in an override sequence. The panel beeped furiously at him, because what he had just told it to do was “not recommended.” To hell with that! He tapped the override button. The console emitted a brief but satisfying alarm. Then sickbay exploded. Khatib was far enough away by this time that she managed to dive around the corner before the explosion consumed her. The creatures, positioned directly outside the sickbay doors, were not so lucky. They could absorb, digest, and even regurgitate electroplasma like it was a gourmet meal—but the explosion that caught them was several orders of magnitude nastier than the ball of plasma that they had generated. White knew that the power drain would have caused an imbalance in the EPS tap’s flow regulator. An engineer in the right mindset—that was, an engineer completely terrified and out of his right mind—would be able to exploit that imbalance and trigger a catastrophic failure of the EPS tap, resulting in an overload and a very bad day for the Augustine’s sickbay. He reached Khatib’s side and helped her to her feet. Luthor and Kent rejoined them from their refuge around the next corner. “We need to contact Excalibur,” Khatib said. “Somehow I think this will get their attention,” White said.
  25. “First Impressions, Second Opinions, Third Options” Cdr. Scott Coleridge -------------------------------------------------------------------- Main Engineering on Sky Harbor Aegis wasn’t like Main Engineering on a starship. In the latter, the warp core dominated the main chamber, its dull throb and gentle glow a constant companion throughout one’s duty shift. Two or more massive EPS conduits jutted from the core to carry power directly to the ship’s nacelles. It was a constant reminder that engineering’s duty aboard a starship was, above all else, to keep the ship moving. Aboard a station, the opposite was true. Aegis seldom went anywhere, and so its engines—such as they were—needed little attention. Instead, Main Engineering was like a second Control Tower, a nerve centre where engineers congregated to receive orders, make reports, and gather resources before heading out to the far-flung reaches of the station on missions of maintenance and good will. As duty shifts changed, different faces came and went. Engineering was never deserted, even during the night shift. By the same token, it was almost never very crowded, except on the slowest or busiest of days. Scott enjoyed the atmosphere of Main Engineering, and he enjoyed working there. He liked having access to the station’s systems at his fingertips. Engineering had some dedicated consoles for key systems, but most were multi-purpose workstations to be used for whatever needs an engineer had. Scott had all but permanently commandeered one such station for his own personal use, littering it with PADDs, esoteric subspace communications equipment, and customizing the user interface beyond recognition. He had made a nice nest for himself in engineering, and for the most part he found it a peaceable place to work. His coworkers didn’t always think so. Commander Coleridge was notable among the lower-ranking engineers for the conversations he held with himself. Working late into the night, long after the faces he most commonly recognized had gone home (or wisely chosen to work elsewhere), Scott would begin pacing around Main Engineering, working on the problem of the day. He would work it through, arguing all the sides himself, until he struck upon a solution or ran up against a wall. Usually, it was the second outcome, and then Scott would reluctantly close up shop and call it a day. He was doing just that, arranging for one more computer analysis on the Athra data before he retired, when his combadge chirped. “Commander Coleridge? You have an incoming subspace transmission from Deep Space Nine.” “DS9?” Scott wondered briefly who would be calling him from there—then recognition sparked and he said, “Right, I’ll take it here.” He sat back down and tapped to open the comm channel. The Federation logo briefly flashed on screen before being replaced by a redhead with a smile that could have been described as pleasant, were it not at the moment being corrupted into a scowl that Scott knew was all too habitual. “Penny,” he said, “good to see you too.” “You’re lucky I responded at all, Coleridge.” Penny Howell held up a PADD. “What do you call this?” “I call it a puzzle worthy of your formidable talents.” That earned Scott not just the renowned scowl but a round of derisive laughter as well. “Oh, that’s what it is. For a moment I thought someone had sent me data on slipstream technology with all the interesting bits carefully redacted.” “What can I say, Penny? You chose conscience over clearance.” “You know how I feel about Starfleet and the military-industrial complex.” “Look, I’m sorry I sent you only tidbits, but that’s probably enough to get me a stern lecture as it is. And that’s before they discover I sent it to Charo as well. He’s no longer on any blacklists—or so he assures me—so technically it’s just as legal as sending it to you. Except, you know, he has a criminal record a light-year long.” This news broke the storm clouds on Penny’s face, provoking genuine amusement. Penny and Charo had been close friends of Scott back in their Academy days—except Scott was the only one of them who graduated. Penny decided by the end of their second year that Starfleet was too militaristic for her tastes, and despite offers of advanced training from both the Corps of Engineers and Starfleet Intelligence, she walked away from San Francisco and became an independent contractor. Charo had the matter decided for him, expulsion following swiftly once the Academy discovered the gambling ring he had helped organize. Both were innovators in their own way, though, and Scott had been bashing his head against this slipstream communications problem long enough to recognize he needed help. “I’m working on a project that should properly take the resources of a fully-equipped laboratory at the Daystrom Institute and require an army of people like you.” “It looks to me like you’re trying to construct a viable way of carrying on two-way communication with a vessel in quantum slipstream transit.” When Scott made surprised sounds, she added, “I can read between the lines, Scott. You didn’t send me anything that wasn’t already in the public sphere, but the specifics are enough to point to a communications problem. So my next question is why.” “Why am I doing this? Or why am I doing this?” “The first one. I know why you’re assigned to it. You’re the only one crazy enough to think you could actually do it. Because you can’t, you know.” “The Borg can do it.” Penny snorted. “Don’t tell me you think transwarp is similar enough to quantum slipstream that you could bootstrap Borg communications technology. You of all people know that the PDEs have entirely different boundary conditions. You can’t just substitute one for the other and expect the same eigenfunctions to work.” “It’s all I’ve got for now—well that and access to the remains of a symbiotic fighter craft I can’t tell you about—and it’s of great interest to my superiors here on Aegis. I know I’m grasping at straws here, but it’s all I can think of … unless you have any brilliant suggestions.” “As it so happens, I do.” Penny gave a self-satisfied smirk. “Actually, I’m surprised you haven’t thought of it yet—you were the one who taught me about this back in first-year. You and your interest in history.” Scott tried to think what Penny meant. How did his interests in history have bearing on this project? Unless she meant there was some kind of principle or praxis that had been in vogue in the past but was now, for one reason or another, no longer common knowledge. But the possibilities were vast, and Scott was tired. “I give up. What did I miss?” “Quantum entanglement, my dear Mr. Coleridge.” Those two words jolted his consciousness back to alertness. Suddenly her earlier remark made sense. Quantum entanglement had, centuries ago, been hailed as the solution to faster-than-light communication. Entangled pairs of quantum bits would allow parties to communicate over vast distances. But limitations of bandwidth and decoherence had slowed R&D to a halt—and then warp drive came along, and with it the marvels of subspace communication. Subspace radio made the entire project obsolete, and it had been shelved. “You think it could work in slipstream?” he asked. He had built a primitive quantum communicator in his days as an undergraduate. The basics of the device were easy enough for a skilled engineer, but scaling it was another matter—and that was before one took into account the challenges posed by slipstream. Penny shrugged. “It all comes back to the boundary conditions, right? But in theory all the matter is still fermionic while in slipstream, so provided it doesn’t intersect any alternative manifolds, you should be able to do it. In theory.” She leaned closer. “Are you telling me you have access to a vessel with a working quantum slipstream drive, Scott?” “Maybe. Let’s say I can probably do more than run simulations. But I’ll run some simulations first. And this opens up some interesting experiments I can conduct while on the Aegean.” “Ah yes, the famous Romulan–Federation starship, with a black hole at its heart. I would dearly like to get a glimpse at that.” “You’re welcome to enlist any time, Penny. Aegis could always use some more engineers. I don’t why you’re slumming it on DS9 when you could be here, cleaning plasma conduits! Why are you on DS9 anyway? Don’t tell me you’re studying something as boring as the wormhole.” “You have your secrets, and I have mine. You have no idea what sort of strange chatter I hear from your region of space … the things you must be doing…. sometimes I admit to a twinge of envy—just a twinge, mind you. But I have no deluge of dull moments myself.” “Whatever it is, I look forward to reading your paper about it. Maybe I’ll even come to the conference this time. I was held up by the unexpected return of the Breen the last time around.” Penny said, “Tsk, tsk. Those Breen and their sense of timing.” He expression softened, “I took the liberty of doing a few preliminary calculations. I hope they help. Take care, Scott.” “You too. And thanks for contributing an idea to yet another impossible project.” “Just like old times!” The screen went back to the Federation emblem, and Scott leaned back in his chair. Around him, the complement of engineers who made up the night shift were coming on duty: checking work orders, drawing supplies, and running diagnostics. He could hear the chatter of old friends greeting one another at the beginning of just one more day on the job, their routines established and easy. That was what Scott liked about Main Engineering. As the hub of their huge department, it was a second home to Aegis’ engineers, providing both continuity and stability. Each day he could arrive at the start of his shift knowing things here would be much like the day before. The challenges might be different. The faces might change. But that pattern of enthusiasm and activity would always be there to greet him like a warm and welcoming embrace.