- Text Size +

Observation Lounge, Deck 2 - USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II

Cascading lines of datacode descended across the display, graphic representations of the struggle being waged for control of Gibraltar’s main computer.  Sandhurst fought mightily and used every trick he knew to erect successive barriers of defense in the face of this technological onslaught.

In the wake of repeated Borg attacks on the Federation, Starfleet’s computer encryptions had grown more formidable by several orders of magnitude in less than a decade.  All those advances proved unable to stop the invasive program that plowed through layer after layer of cyber-barricades as if they didn’t exist.  Sandhurst was forced to choose between systems, gambling on what would best help Ramirez and her team regain control of the bridge.  He called to Ashok as the first hints of desperation crept into his voice.  “Lieutenant, I’m about thirty seconds from losing subspace communications.  I need you send out a message that will alert both Starfleet Command and our away team to our situation.”

“Aye, sir.”

His fingers worked furiously as Sandhurst struggled to compartmentalize and isolate those systems already compromised by the invasive programming.  If he could just hold out a little longer…  He broke stride just long enough to tap his compin.  “Sandhurst to Ramirez.  Whatever you’re going to do, do it quickly.”

He took the absence of a reply as an ominous sign.  The captain addressed the chief engineer once again.  “Ashok, when you’re done sending the message, ready our log buoy for launch.”

The Bolian’s only response was an unreadable grunt

*****

Pierosh II
Meteorological Research Station Aristotle


Olivia Juneau stood and observed the portal as her mind churned with helpless frustration.  A brief communiqué from Ashok had announced that Gibraltar was under attack by an unknown foe, and that Juneau should prepare the surface team for an assault should the ship and crew be overcome.

She had coordinated her efforts with Master Chief Tark, and the two had managed to assemble a layered defense of the facility.  The chronometric radiation generated by the portal would prevent the enemy from beaming into their midst, and would force any aggressors to fight their way into the basement complex from the surface.

Tark watched Juneau warily as he finalized his arrangements for an ambush of any would-be enemy near the main entrance to the facility.  From what little interaction he’d had with the junior lieutenant prior to this mission, Tark knew her to be immature, indecisive, and a poor leader with sub-standard interpersonal skills.  None of those were accurate descriptions of the woman who now stood before him.  In the face of a dire situation, she had proven calm, collected, and had displayed a grasp of small unit combat tactics that far surpassed anything she might have learned in Starfleet Academy.  Perhaps her time away from the ship had served her in particularly good stead, but Tark was still suspicious.

At the moment he had nothing but simple misgivings, and there was no plausible way to confront a superior for being too professional.  In the face of a possible attack from orbit, the master chief had other more pressing issues with which to deal.  But he would be watching…

*****

Ready Room, Deck 1 - USS Gibraltar

Liana Ramirez crouched on the floor of the ready room.  She knelt over a large duffel bag filled with photon grenades.  With her were Petty Officer 2nd Class Saihra Dunleavy and four others from the security division.  There was no time to plan a stealthy entry onto the bridge, as she was sure the enemy were equipped with sensor devices that would soon alert them to the security team’s presence.  Ramirez quickly outlined her assault plan to the others in a subdued whisper as she drew imaginary diagrams in the air with her finger to illustrate how they would breach the bridge.

Each team member took a photon grenade in one hand, primed it for a stun discharge, and hefted their compact Type-III ‘pug’ style phaser rifles.  Ramirez activated the door, and as it swooshed open she and the others lobbed their grenades onto the bridge.  They detonated in quick succession, bathing the command center in overlapping fields of concussive stun energy.

Ramirez entered first to take aim at a staggering Orion who had braced himself against the command chair to keep from toppling over.  The exec was impressed, the charge on the grenades should have been sufficient to render a Vulcan sehlat unconscious, yet this man was still on his feet.  Her heavy stun beam caught him mid-torso, and she drew it up his body, which launched him up and over the safety railing and splayed him across an auxiliary console on the upper deck.  Dazed and reeling, the other Orions were in no condition to offer much resistance, and the security team made short work of them with precise blasts of phaser energy.

As she turned to confirm her section of the bridge was clear and secure, Ramirez unexpectedly came face to face with the man they had recovered from the surface, Dr. Stephen Benghazi.  He stood silently at the engineering console, apparently unaffected by the stun grenades.  The man turned an agitated expression on her as he waved some manner of yellow crystal above the workstation.  She raised her rifle at him.  “Doctor, don’t move.”

The crystal flashed brightly in response, and the status-ready light on Ramirez’s rifle winked out.  She depressed the trigger which elicited only a hollow click from the weapon.  As she hefted the rifle, she thought to herself that the situation felt strangely familiar.  Ramirez swung the weapon butt-first at the cloak-draped figure in front of her.

The older man blocked her strike with fluid ease as he swept down with his left arm to redirect the momentum of Ramirez’s makeshift club.  He raised the crystal in his other hand, and a pencil-thin beam of red light lanced from the facets of the device.  The beam sliced cleanly through Ramirez’s left arm before piercing the neck of Security Specialist Rulgt who was standing behind her on the lower deck.  Momentarily stunned, Ramirez heard Rulgt collapse to the floor, gurgling frantically.

Dunleavy vaulted the safety railing and drove her feet into the man’s midsection.  He was knocked against the console, but as she regained her footing and moved to strike him, he brought his hands up to parry her blows and Dunleavy ended up grappling furiously with him.

Her left arm now numb and hanging uselessly at her side, Ramirez used Dunleavy’s distraction to her advantage.  She side-stepped to her right and brought the rifle up one-handed to club her attacker across the temple with it as the man struggled with the security specialist.  He grunted as much in surprise as pain, and replied by delivering a palm-heel strike that caught the petty officer squarely in the face and snapped Dunleavy’s head back.  As she stumbled backwards into the railing, he brought the same hand in close to his chest, and then lashed out with it to land a vicious backhand to the side of Ramirez’s head that sent the commander crashing to the deck.

The other security personnel moved to encircle the deceptively aged looking man, extremely conscious of the fact that while he was obviously armed, their phasers had been effectively neutralized.  Apparently eager to avoid further unpleasantness, he turned and raised the crystal, which opened a dark doorway in the air at the back of the bridge.

The man had nearly reached the portal when the muzzle of the Orion rifle roared.  The plasma jacketed bullet slammed into the man’s left shoulder blade and spun him around in an almost graceful pirouette.  The yellow crystal tumbled to the deck as it slipped from his slackening grip.  He sank to his knees, his lips moving soundlessly for the briefest moment before he pitched forward face first onto the floor.  The portal collapsed silently as the crystal dimmed.

His lower face awash in blood and his right eye swollen completely shut, Brett Lightner sagged against the shattered console behind him and eased the cumbersome assault rifle to the floor.  He thought idly that it should have proved a more difficult shot as he slid slowly towards the deck.  As he fought to remain conscious Lightner decided that his ambiguity towards his current posting might just be coming to an end.

*****

Main Engineering, Deck 15 - USS Gibraltar

“Fall back! Fall back!”

Phaser beams sliced through the air around him as Ahmet Kutav backed out of the engine room as he laid down suppressive fire while trying desperately to herd the five remaining stragglers from his assault squad to someplace safer.  The attack on Engineering had been an abysmal failure, with many of his team cut down in the first moments by pre-positioned security personnel who had already been alerted to the presence of intruders onboard.

As he moved into the corridor, the air around him sizzled with phaser pulses criss-crossing the intersection.  A discharge that was most certainly not set to stun singed his hair and blistered his face as it flashed past.  He recoiled as the nearest of his men was vaporized where he stood.  Kutav flung himself flat against the wall and tossed a plasma grenade in the direction of the heaviest fire.  The explosion buffeted him as he sought escape through a maintenance access hatch and dragged one of his men through the ridiculously tight aperture with him.

As they scrambled through the confusing warren of interconnecting crawlways, Kutav reflected that these men and women were obviously not the preening, egotistical Starfleeters of his youth.  These were the hardened veterans of the most destructive war the quadrant had ever seen.  More than ever he now regretted the fool’s pact he’d made with the Baron.  He feared he would be hunted down like an animal and killed here in the dark bowels of a Federation starship.  It was truly not the preferred fate of a merchant prince of Rigel; not a death worthy of an Orion pirate.

*****

The attack on Gibraltar’s systems had ended.  They had been only minutes away from losing life-support, and the magnetic fields encasing the ship’s anti-matter stores had begun to fluctuate troublingly.  Communications were out, internal defensive systems were offline, and both shields and weapons were inoperative.

A runner from the security detail had arrived to inform Sandhurst and Ashok that the bridge had been stormed and secured, and security teams were chasing down the remaining Orions who had been repulsed in Engineering.  The prisoners were on their way to the brig.  Casualties were significant, and the wounded were being moved to Sickbay

Captain Sandhurst backed away from the reconfigured viewer and leaned against the table as his adrenaline surge abated and his legs threatened to give way.  He offered a nod to the Bolian engineer.  “Good work, Lieutenant.”

Ashok gave him an impenetrable look.  After a long moment, the large man was moved to speak.  “How did you manage to keep ahead of that viral cascade, sir?”

Sandhurst stood and tugged at his uniform jacket while he worked to compose himself.  “I didn’t, Lieutenant.  All I managed were some tricks with smoke and mirrors to alter the pathways along which the virus was attacking.  We nearly lost anti-matter containment as a result, despite the fact that wasn’t originally one of the targeted systems.”

Ashok remained unconvinced.  “You saved the ship.”  It sounded more like an accusation than a compliment.

Sandhurst made for the exit and shook his head.  “No, Mister Ashok.  Ramirez and her team saved the ship.  We just bought them some time.”  He paused at the threshold.  “Get down to auxiliary control.  I’ll need you and Commander Plazzi to restore the computer from the protected backups in the core.”

Strangely reticent, Ashok murmured, “Aye, sir,” and fell into step behind his captain.

*****

The creature watched and waited, safely ensconced in the gravity well of the nearly lifeless planet.  It had regained much of the strength sapped from it by the subspace convulsions, and though it was inexorably anchored to the world below it had begun to stretch out with its senses again to study the universe that surrounded it.

It had been observing the orbiting starship, but now the presence of The One prevented it from considering the vessel available prey.  It turned its gaze inward towards the planet, sensing foreign life there that could perhaps meet its immediate needs.  It gathered itself together and descended.


*****

Taiee estimated the ambient noise level in Sickbay was hovering at about seventy decibels.  The screams and moans of the wounded competed with shouted instructions from the medical staff who endeavored to save them.  Nurses and medical technicians raced between biobeds, suturing wounds, transfusing fluids, and dispensing a host of analgesics and antibiotics to the injured.

The computer attack on the ship had rendered the two medical holograms inoperative, and Taiee found herself forced to cope without their invaluable aid.  She was no stranger to triage and combat medicine, but making life and death decisions about people with whom she served never got any easier.  She stepped away from the bed containing Engineering Specialist Moira Mattis, a young woman to whom Taiee had become both close friend and confidant in recent weeks.  But Moira was beyond her help, the victim of savage burns from a plasma grenade detonation just outside the engine room.  Taiee would grieve for her friend later and curse her own inability to treat Moira’s wounds, but now was the time for cold, clinical decisiveness.

Sandhurst waded into the chaos as he followed two crew carrying Ensign Qawasimi’s body into Sickbay on a litter.  He steeled himself against the sight of his people, broken and bleeding and beyond his help.  He navigated his way through the jostling crowd of medical staff, but stopped short at the sight of Dr. Benghazi resting peacefully atop an examination bed within one of Sickbay’s isolation wards.  Sandhurst grabbed a nearby engineering crewman by the arm and spun him around as he inquired briskly, “I was told Dr. Benghazi participated in the attack on the bridge?”

The young man, nearly overwrought with emotion at the loss of a comrade, strove to pull himself together long enough to answer the captain.  “Sir, not that man.”  He pointed to a figure currently lying on a bed flanked by two armed guards.  “The person you want is there.”

Sandhurst made a beeline for the biobed, his mind at first refusing to believe the image being relayed from his eyes.  The gray haired figure on the bed was a nearly identical twin to Benghazi.  He lacked only the doctor’s receding hairline and a few of the character lines around the man’s eyes.

A med-tech studied the readings on a medical tricorder as he passed the sensor wand over the mysterious doppelganger’s body.

“A Changeling?” were the first words out of Sandhurst’s mouth.

The tech frowned as he returned the sensor device to its housing within the tricorder.  “No, sir.  We’ve already drawn and analyzed his blood.  He’s not human, but he’s no shapeshifter.”

Sandhurst noticed the hastily applied pressure dressing on the man’s through-and-through bullet wound, now soaked dark crimson.  “What species?”

“I couldn’t tell you, Captain.  His biology doesn’t match anything in our database.”  The med-tech pointed to a viewer extending down from the ceiling which displayed an internal scan of the man’s torso.  “He’s got some pretty exotic organ structures and his blood chemistry is especially unique.”  The man looked perplexed.  “He’s got a binary cardiovascular system, and the computer can’t make heads or tails of his DNA sequencing.”

The captain studied the man briefly as his mind raced to try and place this new piece of the puzzle.  He eyed the man’s biometric readouts on the bed’s headboard display and took note of the fluctuating readings.  “What’s his condition?”

“Not good.”  The tech swept a dermal regenerator over the man’s wound, but stopped after the device trilled a warning klaxon.  He replaced the instrument on the equipment tray beside the bed and gave Sandhurst a pained expression.  “I’m sorry, sir.  The damage is too extensive for this gear.”  He looked past the captain to where Taiee was fighting to revive a crewmember who had slipped into cardiac arrest.  “Hopefully the lieutenant can do more to help him.”

The words were barely out of the young man’s mouth when Sandhurst moved away and strode over to stand beside Taiee.  Her medical smock streaked with the mingled hues of blood from multiple species, Taiee refused to spare the captain even the quickest glance as she directed yet another pulse from the cardio-stimulator into her patient’s chest.  “What do you need, sir?”

“The prisoner is dying, Lieutenant.  I need you to stabilize him.”

Her reply was voiced more tolerantly than even she had expected.  “I’m busy at the moment, sir, but I’ll certainly take a look at him as soon as we get more of our people triaged.”

Sandhurst’s voice lowered and took on a steely quality that Taiee hadn’t heard before.  “This man might hold the answers to what’s been happening here.  He might know why we were attacked, and if more of the same are forthcoming.”

Taiee increased the joules output on the cardio-stimulator and gave the woman on the bed a jolt sufficient to make her whole body shudder.  “So you want me to cease my efforts to revive this person so I can treat one of the men responsible for her injuries?”

His reply seemed to freeze the air in their vicinity.  “Yes.”

In response, Taiee tossed the stimulator noisily onto the equipment tray and shouldered past Sandhurst to head for the Baron’s bedside.  “Fine.  I’m sure you’ll do me the honor of calling time of death for Crewman Eravine, Captain.”

Sandhurst watched her go, then forced himself to look into the slackened face of the woman on the examination table.  He surprised himself when his voice failed to crack with the words, “Of course, Doc…”

*****



You must login (register) to review.