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Story Notes:

This is the second story in my Gibraltar series, and takes place some six weeks after the events chronicled in Embers of the Fire.


Captain’s Log, SD- 53336.9

We’ve just begun our escort duty to Phersivon VI, one of three starships safeguarding a convoy carrying humanitarian relief for the survivors of the Cardassian settlement on that beleaguered world.

It has been a month and a half since
Gibraltar departed dry dock, and our participation in the ensuing disasters at Lakesh.  The crew seem to be recovering from those events apace, and have begun to mesh into what I can only hope will be a cohesive unit.  I anticipate that they will enjoy some much needed R&R upon the completion of our current assignment and our arrival at Deep Space Nine.

*****

USS Gibraltar, corridor intersection 7-D

The attack had seemingly come from nowhere.  The transition from normal shipboard operations to a life-or-death struggle for control of the vessel had been brutally abrupt.

Blistering volleys of phaser and disruptor fire illuminated the dimly lit corridor intersection with brilliant, strobe-like flashes.  Terse shouts could barely be heard among the whine of weapons fire and the jolting claps of their impact against Gibraltar’s tritanium bulkhead plating.  Master Chief Tark, a stout Tellarite security NCO hefted his ungainly Type-III phaser rifle and drove the stock into his shoulder as he inched out around the corner he’d been hugging for cover.  “Two of them just headed portside!” he roared to his security team.  “They’re trying to flank us.  Weatherly and Stins, move to junction 7-E double time!”  With that, Tark triggered a three pulse burst of phaser energy towards the shadowy figures lurking ten meters away in the next intersection.

As he darted back behind cover, Tark queried loudly to the woman crouched next to him, “Dunleavy, where’s my damn forcefield?”  The petty officer was up to her elbows in an open power relay access hatch.

Dunleavy flinched as an eruption of sparks rained down on her from a disruptor strike overhead.  She groused, “This would be delicate work under the best of circumstances, Master Chief.”  Then, more quietly, “Piss off.”
 
Tark spared Dunleavy an admiring smirk and urged, “Hurry it up or we’re going to get overrun.”  The Tellarite sent another burst of phaser energy screaming down the corridor.

Dunleavy’s fingers felt leaden and clumsy as she rushed to swap isolinear chips in the relay control node.  The enemy had somehow been able to generate a power surge though the ship’s internal defensive systems only moments after inexplicably beaming through Gibraltar’s raised shields.  Now, the young woman struggled to bypass the primary and secondary power relays while squarely in the middle of a ferocious firefight.

From somewhere to port came the roar of an explosion.  Seconds later a wave of hot air laden with debris poured down the corridor and buffeted Dunleavy as she strained to maintain her concentration.  One slip and she’d have to restart the bypass cycle from the beginning.  Frantic cries for a medic competed with the near-hysterical screaming of multiple wounded, but Dunleavy forced herself to ignore both.

Dunleavy slotted the last of the re-synched chips and initiated the EPS bypass.  She breathed a sigh of relief when the small screen flashed a friendly green.  She bellowed, “It’s up!”

With a growl of approval, Tark lobbed a photon grenade down the corridor.  “Raise it!”

Dunleavy activated the field, which snapped into place with a brief flash of ionization.  The presence of the forcefield funneled the full brunt of the grenade’s explosion down the corridor towards the enemy.  Two of the furtive humanoids appeared to catch fire as a third was thrown bodily into a wall and collapsed.

Tark laughed appreciatively as he moved from his position and turned to the assembled security team.  “Alright, fan out, teams of four in covering pairs.  Advance by bounds and secure your six by erecting shield barriers behind you.”  The porcine-faced master chief glanced at Dunleavy.  “Saihra, you’re on bypass detail.”

Dunleavy rolled her eyes as she shouldered her rifle, “Grand.”  She turned, preparing to follow Ensign Qawasimi’s team and came face to face with one of their attackers as the figure appeared to step cleanly through the bulkhead.  She tried to yell out a warning, but her breath caught in her throat as the mysterious assailant, clad in black form fitting body armor and helmet, drove its rifle-fixed bayonet into her chest just below her sternum.

Her weapon clattered to the floor as her hands clawed reflexively but ineffectually at her foe’s rifle.  It didn’t hurt as much as she would have thought, and she idly noted the sounds of hand-to-hand struggle around her as the enemy closed ranks with her crewmates.  A voice in her head that sounded very much like Tark shouted at her to remember her training and do something.

Instinctively, her right hand moved to where her phaser pistol sidearm was holstered.  Just as she grasped the phaser’s handle her opponent twisted the bayonet savagely which caused her knees to buckle and sent her sinking to the floor.  Her killer eased her to the deck with surprising gentleness, and as Saihra Dunleavy lost consciousness, she could hear the distant sounds of disruptor fire as the enemy soldiers attempted to break Tark’s death grip on their comrade’s neck.

“Computer, pause program.”  The words were spoken with a dissatisfied snarl.  As their attackers had done so moments before, Lieutenant Pava Lar’ragos emerged from within the seemingly solid wall of the corridor.  “Awful.  Truly appalling.  Everyone on your feet!”

Her simulated wounds now in abeyance, Dunleavy scrambled to her feet among a flurry of activity that brought the security team into formation.

Lar’ragos was not a large man, nor was he especially muscular.  He was, however, whipcord taut, lightening fast and surprisingly strong.  His jet black hair was tightly curled and cropped short, giving him the look that was so in vogue with the members of the security division right now.

As he looked down his nose at Tark, Lar’ragos’ tone dripped with derision.  “Situation not as 'under control’ as you’d thought, Master Chief?”

The Tellarite bristled as he reigned in his irritation with great effort.  He managed somehow to keep his tone civil as he replied, “The enemy has demonstrated some unexpected abilities, sir.”

“Really?  You don’t say?  After crippling our ship with their opening volley and beaming through our shields, they took you and your teams completely by surprise by doing something unexpected?”  The El Aurian lieutenant’s eyes narrowed and his upper lip twitched with the beginnings of a sneer.  “I’m shocked.  This is my shocked face.”

Tark took a deep, steadying breath and offered, “I think the team’s hit the wall for the day, sir.  Perhaps a chance to re-group and come at this again tomorrow?”

Lar’ragos chewed the inside of his lip as he considered that.  “Why not?  You’re all dead, anyway.”  He deigned to look upon his remaining subordinates.  “Go home.”

The group shuffled out sullenly, exhausted but clearly displeased with being dismissed so heatedly.  The doors to the holosuite parted, and the team left, muttering angrily amongst themselves as the doors closed behind them.

When they were finally alone, Tark grumbled, “You’ve never refused me the latitude to speak my mind, so I’m going to exploit that tradition.”  He set the butt of the rifle on the floor and rested the weapon against the wall of the holographic corridor.  “You’re pushing too hard.”

Lar’ragos gave him a sharp look, but held his tongue.

Tark folded his thick forearms across his chest.  “I’d understand if we were training for a specific mission, but you’ve been running the security department through these battle drills for weeks with no letup in sight.”

Lar'ragos glanced around at the war torn section of corridor and took note of the scorch marks and blast patterns that had marred the super strong alloys.  They seemed a fitting symbol of his present state of mind.  “The end of the war was in name only, Master Chief.  The Federation has never been so vulnerable; our enemies are everywhere.”

The Tellarite cocked his head slightly as he scrutinized his superior.  “I would agree that we’re living a dark chapter of the Federation’s history, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that we’re surrounded by foes.”

“I suppose you wouldn’t, Chief.”

The stocky non-comm glowered at the lieutenant.  “Meaning?”

“Bury your head in the sand if you like.  You were born on a peace-loving Federation planet, and given the end of active hostilities it’s only natural that you’d revert to your innate tendencies.”

Tark blinked, astounded.  “Peace-loving?  Have you ever been to Tellar?”

Lar’ragos continued his tirade, “The scavengers are approaching.  They smell our wounds and they’ll be drawn to see just how much of the Federation’s carcass they can take for themselves.”  Lar’ragos shook his head as his expression shifted to one of contempt.  “The Talarians, Tholians, Breen, Gorn, Tzenkethi… you name them.  Soon they’ll begin encroaching on our borders, testing our defenses, salivating at the chance to add to their little empires by tearing bits and pieces from our great civilization.”

Struck momentarily speechless by this uncomfortable insight into his superior’s psyche, Tark finally conjured up a response.  “You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Absolutely.”

Tark shrugged and turned for the exit.  “That’s very sad, sir.”

“We’re not done here, Chief.”  That stopped Tark in his tracks.

His frame rigid with barely contained rage, the Tellarite pivoted back towards Lar’ragos slowly.  “Sir?”

“The security teams, their performance in this round of scenarios was unacceptable.”

Tark snorted derisively, “This isn’t the Enterprise, Lieutenant.”  It was widely known among the crew that Lar’ragos had passed up an opportunity to serve aboard the Enterprise-E under Captain Picard in order to take his current post aboard Gibraltar.

Lar’ragos stepped forward, bridling at the implication.  “Beg pardon?”

The Tellarite snuffled humorlessly.  “Forget I mentioned it.”  He abruptly turned and stormed out.

Lar’ragos directed a surly, “Dismissed,” at the master chief’s retreating back.

*****

USS Brahmaputra
Patrol grid Alpha-Epsilon 3
Federation/Cardassian Border


The cockpit of the Danube-class runabout Brahmaputra was the last place Lieutenant(j.g.) Olivia Juneau had expected to find herself.  Strangely, however, the decidedly claustrophobic confines of the small ship were proving a welcome distraction from the emotional turmoil that had thus far marked her lackluster Starfleet career.  She didn’t believe she was a bad officer, not really.  The grueling workload and rigorous testing of Starfleet Academy were usually sufficient to weed out those persons that would otherwise prove incapable of the day-to-day tasks required of a Starfleet officer.  Granted, she had graduated at the bottom third of her class, but she had graduated.

Juneau busied herself with routine administrative tasks while Petty Officer Duane Shaver piloted the craft.  She was settling into her first genuine command, getting a taste of what some more ambitious officers strove their entire careers for.  At the encouragement of Lt. Commander Ramirez, the executive officer aboard Juneau’s current posting, she had accepted a temporary detached assignment to the sector’s Reconnaissance and Patrol section.  It was, as Ramirez had put it, an opportunity to explore her command potential that might not otherwise be available to her for years.  Or decades, Juneau thought soberly.

Juneau wouldn’t go as far as to say she and the others aboard had melded into a seamless whole.  However, two weeks into an assignment whose most defining feature was the nearly absolute lack of personal space and privacy, and they had yet to get on one another’s nerves.  It was a good start.

Her first commission consisted of herself and a crew of three, tasked with routine patrol and light escort duties along the Federation/Cardassian border.  At times Brahmaputra pulled convoy escort duty with other Starfleet vessels, and alternately engaged in solitary patrols.  The Fleet’s runabout assets also served as mobile sensor platforms, giving Command more reliable real-time data about the region than could be gleaned from long-range sensor arrays or fixed satellites.

The hum of the replicator station behind her announced the arrival of Ensign Kuenre Shanthi, the ship’s young science officer.  Barely four months out of Starfleet Academy, Shanthi had forgone a berth aboard a Galaxy-class explorer as a third string science technician in order to double as both science and communications officer aboard a patrol ship.  It was an incongruous posting for the youngest son of revered Starfleet Fleet Admiral Thuosana Shanthi.  Nevertheless, he eschewed any connection to his mother’s lofty station, and claimed that he sought only to make a career and name for himself.

Juneau felt a swell of envy towards the man.  Shanthi was here because he had chosen to be.  She was here because her superiors felt she needed remedial instruction in leadership.  Nevertheless, she bent over backwards to be civil to the man, if for no other reason than his political connections within the Fleet.

“Good morning, Kuenre.”  She glanced over her shoulder from the co-pilot’s seat, favoring him with a smile.

Shanthi’s first reply was a barely audible grunt of acknowledgement.  Following an experimental sip at his steaming mug of what Olivia presumed to be coffee, he muttered something unintelligible that ended in ‘sir.’

Juneau laughed softly.  “Sorry, I didn’t copy that.  Your universal translator must be inoperative.”

Shaver looked up from punching navigational waypoints into the helm console long enough to give Shanthi a conspiratorial smirk.  “Morning, sleepyhead.”

His mug still tilted to his lips, Shanthi took a draught of the steaming liquid.  He held Shaver's gaze a second longer before he remarked dryly, “I thought the field bunks we had at academy away mission training were uncomfortable.  They were nothing compared to the coffins onboard this tub.”

Olivia shrugged lightly.  “Well, if you weren’t so tall…”

“I’m Zulu, Lieutenant.  We’re built tall, can’t be helped.”

Shaver tossed him a data padd, which Shanthi fumbled while trying heroically not to spill his coffee.  “I thought you’d find this interesting.  We picked these up on the overnight long rang sensor telemetry.”

Shanthi squinted at the padd and looked befuddled.  “Weird.  This looks like some kind of energy spike.”

“Aye, that’s what the computer thought,” Juneau replied.  “Only there’s nothing in the Pierosh system that should be producing anything like that.”

Shanthi slid into one of the unmanned auxiliary stations and activated the console.  “Does the Federation have any assets in that system?  I’m not familiar with it.”

Juneau shook her head.  “Only one.  An old meteorological survey station on the second planet that was abandoned three months before the war started.”

“Is Pierosh II Class-M?” Shanthi queried.

“Barely.  More like a Class-K having a really good day.”

Shanthi set to work.  He accessed the sensor logs and compiled an initial science report based on the gathered data.  “Give me a few minutes to crunch the numbers, sir.  I’ll have something for you before too long.”

“Take your time, Ensign,” Juneau coached.  “I’d rather have complete facts as opposed to conjecture.”  She glanced at the pilot and said, “Mister Shaver, come to course 284-mark-19.  I’m putting us on an oblique trajectory across the stellar plane of the Pierosh system.”

Shaver raised a curious eyebrow while he input the new coordinates.  “Not waiting for new orders, sir?”

Rather than chafing at the petty officer’s implicit questioning of her command as she might have done two weeks earlier, Juneau patiently tolerated the inquiry by her subordinate.  “We haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary out here in the past week.  Command will take one look at the ensign’s report and send us for a look-see.  This way, when the order arrives, we’ll already be halfway there.”

Shaver nodded but still looked unconvinced.  “If you say so, sir.”

Juneau tried to look authoritative and couldn’t quite pull it off.  “I do.”

*****

Pierosh II

The scientist intoned a calming mantra over and over, forcing himself to relax.  The realization of his life’s work was only minutes away, and he fought to maintain his composure at this most critical of junctures.  ‘Be still.  Become the stillness.  Emotion is entropy; anticipation courts disharmony.  Revelation comes only unto still waters.  Be still…’

The pieces were all in place.  Equipment was functioning at capacity and repeated computer modeling indicated that their probability of success was high.  He looked around the room and saw the others just as excited and anxious.

These men and women, all undeniably brilliant in their own right, had foregone notoriety within the scientific community in order to toil here in obscurity with him.  It was both measure of their individual dedication to the project, as well as the importance of their work.

Once the initial breakthrough had occurred, then and only then would the skeptics and charlatans seated on the Science Council admit the brilliance and necessity of what they had accomplished.  Time and again his requests for approval and resources had been denied.  Too dangerous, they’d said, too many unknown variables.  They had raised the specters of the Genesis experiments and the tragedy of the Omega molecule.  Finally, in despair and anger, he’d cut his ties with the apostates of the Federation’s science community and struck out on his own.

Fortunately, he had found a benefactor, an individual who seemed to grasp how utterly essential his research was to pulling back the curtain on the multiverse.  The necessary deceptions and guile that had followed troubled him greatly, but they had proved instrumental in safeguarding the existence of the project.

It was now out of his hands.  Either their calculations were correct, or they weren’t.  One of his assistants handed him a padd containing updated information on the countdown sequence.  “Seventeen minutes, Doctor,” the young man noted eagerly.

*****



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