- Text Size +

Lar’ragos counted himself as fortunate to have found the timeship’s medical ward so quickly.  The room was filled with all manner of analytic and treatment equipment, some absurdly antiquated while other tools were advanced beyond the lieutenant’s comprehension.

It did however support an automated diagnostic and treatment chamber.  Lar’ragos placed Sandhurst into this ‘autodoc’ and activated the machine.  Tiny armatures scanned and prodded the captain’s mangled body.  Intravenous feeds were inserted, and the device opened a small laparoscopic incision in Sandhurst’s abdomen and began a minimally invasive procedure to stem the man’s internal hemorrhaging.  The devices’ output monitor indicated that the machine was only capable of stabilizing Sandhurst and would endeavour to keep him alive until more complex medical technology could be brought to bear on his severe injuries.

To Lar’ragos it simply meant that for the time being, his friend would live.  His first priorities were clear: incarcerate the Baron and the Orion captain, and then learn how to operate this unlikely craft.  He was so consumed with the tasks at hand that the irony of hoping for more time to complete his work while aboard the Baron’s temporal ship was completely lost on him.

*****

USS Gibraltar

The gravitational stresses from the planet had dwindled to nothing and Ramirez gratefully gulped air with lungs no longer compressed by multiple g’s.  Plazzi called out from behind her, “One thousand kilometers altitude.  We’ve achieved orbit.”  On the other side of the bridge, Ashok throttled back the traumatized impulse engines and silenced the cacophony of alarms that issued from his work station.

The bridge was silent as a tomb.  Ramirez had experienced her share of close calls during her career, and a bit of self-congratulatory celebration was not unheard of among personnel who had just survived a particularly harrowing incident.  There was none to be had here.  People sat quietly as they wrestled with their emotions or attempted to puzzle out why they were still alive.  The exhaustion written on their faces was palpable.

Ashok lurched for the turbolift, anxious to determine the full measure of the damage done to the ship.

Ramirez let loose a long, slow breath.  “Mister Lightner, issue a general mayday.  Code one-alpha-zero… ship in distress.”

*****

USS Sovereign
Entering Pierosh star system, Full Impulse


Captain Rixx sat with his customary rigidity, his ever present aura of calm unperturbed by the mounting anxiety of the bridge crew.  Localized subspace distortions in the Pierosh system had prevented long range scans of the second planet and its vicinity, as well as made communications with Gibraltar impossible.  They had heard nothing in the past three days, and even Rixx had to admit the silence was ominous.

“Penetrating system boundary now, Captain.”

The ship jostled slightly as the heavy cruiser pierced the front of ionized gas that had apparently accreted at the farthest edge of the star’s gravitational influence.  This unusual phenomenon was only one of countless mysteries surrounding the discovery of the illicit research station and the subsequent attacks on Starfleet personnel.

Seated next to Rixx, the increasingly frosty Special Agent Ixis sat perusing her padd for the umpteenth time in the last hour as she re-checked her team’s readiness to deploy at a moment’s notice.  Ixis had still not forgiven him for cutting short her attempt to intimidate Gibraltar’s first officer.  Rixx knew there would be hell to pay for crossing an operative of Temporal Investigations, but he was confident that he possessed enough seniority and political leverage in Starfleet to ride out any unpleasantness.

Rixx mused darkly that Commander Ramirez, providing she and her crew had managed to survive, would have no such protection.

“Sensors clearing, sir.”

Rixx raised his head slightly as he awaited a complete report.  Ixis fidgeted beside him, conspicuously uncomfortable at having to await the captain’s clearance to deploy her team.

“Reading… Constitution-class starship in orbit of Pierosh II.  She appears intact, but has suffered serious structural damage, Captain.  Life signs are strong and clear.  The ship is running on auxiliary power and is missing both warp nacelles.”

The captain nodded with evident relief.  “Warm up the tractor beam, Lieutenant Evenson.  It appears they’ll be needing a tow back to DS9.”

“Incoming signal, sir.  They’re hailing us.”

The Bolian captain stood and ignored Ixis’ sullen look as she folded her arms across her chest.

The screen shifted from an image of the battered century-old starship to the tired but confident visage of Liana Ramirez.

Rixx offered the slightest of smiles.  “Commander, once again, apologies on our tardiness.  It appears congratulations are in order…”

*****

“I am not your foe, Starfleet.”  Kutav had been grateful to find himself alive after his thrashing at the hands of the Baron.  He had been less pleased, however, to find himself hanging once again in the temporal chamber’s suspensor field.

Lar’ragos gave a look of exaggerated skepticism.  “You don’t say?  Those bridge recorder images of you slitting my security man’s throat suggest otherwise, you cowering vuut.”  The El Aurian took silent pleasure from watching the conflicting emotions clash on Kutav’s face at his use of an extremely profane Orion insult.  To his credit, despite the fact that he’d have killed Lar’ragos for such a slur under other circumstances, the ahmet refused to be provoked.

“We can help each other here, Starfleet.  Your captain swore he’d release me in return for my help in freeing him.”

Lar’ragos grimaced.  “My captain is in an induced coma, clinging to life.  Whatever deal you had with him can’t be confirmed, and is of no consequence to me.”

“Then where do we go from here?  Do you kill me?”

Lar’ragos shook his head as he answered coldly, “No.  We strike a new deal.  You help me gain control of this vessel, and I’ll let you live.”

“You’ll release me?” Kutav pressed the issue.

“I said I’d let you live.  That’s the best you’re going to get from me.  You will pay a price for your actions, Orion.  Count on that.”

“And what of the Baron?  Is he dead?  Why haven’t you negotiated an agreement with him instead?”

“Too dangerous,” Lar'ragos replied bluntly.  “He lives, but he’s locked safely away in stasis.  There he’ll stay until I turn him over to the proper authorities.”

Kutav assessed the man, and quickly decided that this peculiar Starfleeter was fully capable of killing him, injured prisoner or no.  The ahmet had not achieved his present rank and station without the ability to read other humanoids with uncanny accuracy.  It seemed that after a lifetime of preying upon others, it was now his fate to serve as a pawn in the schemes of lesser men.  “So be it,” he sighed.

*****

Gibraltar was now safely cocooned within Sovereign’s tractor beam.  The larger starship’s engineering personnel swarmed over their smaller cousin as they helped to stabilize her primary systems in preparation for departure.

Meanwhile, the Temporal Investigations teams were scrutinizing every meter of Gibraltar, the remains of the runabout Brahmaputra, and the meteorological research station.  Special Agent Ixis had abandoned the Sovereign with enthusiasm, and now spent her time micromanaging all aspects of the TI containment team’s investigation.

There had still been no word as to the fate of Captain Sandhurst or Lieutenant Lar’ragos.  The security chief had gone missing along with the android Parlan, vanishing from the pockmarked turboshaft.  The TI investigators had found no traces of transporter energy in the vicinity but surmised that something must have spirited them away.

The Sentinel spheres had remained in sporadic contact with the ship as most of their of their time and effort had been directed towards stabilizing the system’s star and trying to undo some of the damage wrought upon the Pierosh system in their battle with the Baron’s creature.  They stubbornly refused any contact with TI personnel directly and insisted on utilizing Gibraltar’s senior staff as intermediaries.

Ramirez smirked slightly as she relayed that detail in one of the dozens of after-action reports she was required to file as acting commanding officer.  She had alternated between the stiflingly mundane reports and the achingly painful death notifications to the next-of-kin of those personnel killed during the mission.  This was usually a burden assumed by starship captains, but for the second time in as many months Ramirez found herself forced to shoulder the responsibility.  First to the loved ones of the Phoenix’s fallen, and now to the families of her own shipmates.

She found herself struggling to relay some small bits of personalized information into each of the letters, to let the families back home know their loved one was valued and appreciated as an individual, not just some nameless cipher.  The fact that this mission was being classified at the highest levels of Starfleet didn’t help matters any.  Your daughter died sacrificing herself to protect the Federation.  From whom, they’d ask.  Under what circumstances?  No answers would be forthcoming.

The entrance to the ready room chimed and prompted Ramirez to call, “Come in.”  The doors parted to reveal Special Agent Ixis, still clad in the norexaprene bodysuit that served as a body temperature regulating garment worn beneath Starfleet environment suits.  Ramirez glanced up at her from a stack of padds and a data terminal, unable to keep a scowl from taking over her features.  “Is it casual Friday already?” she quipped.  “Nobody told me.”

Ixis strode into the room, her bearing equally hostile.  “Commander.”

Ramirez set down her padd and leaned back in the chair.  “I’ll make an educated guess that this isn’t a social call?”

Ixis moved forward to brace her arms at the far edge of the desk and lean across it as she directed a baleful glare at the XO.  “I came here to tell you that another starship will be arriving in orbit within the next few days.  It’ll be a dedicated science vessel that my teams will be staging from.  The Sovereign will tow your little ship back to DS9 where all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will endeavor to put it back together.”

In response, Ramirez offered her most insincere smile.  “Goody.”

Ixis’ feral grin widened.  “I also wanted to serve notice that my official report of this incident will contain some very unfavorable observations on your level of cooperation and professionalism.”  She leaned back and released her grip on the edge of the desk, unconsciously putting some distance between herself and Ramirez.  “I wouldn’t get too comfortable in Captain Sandhurst’s chair.  When I’m done with you, First Officer on this scow will have been the highlight of your career.”

Ramirez sat forward slowly.  “So, it’s come to making threats, has it?  I’m really perplexed as to why that is, Special Agent.  The situation here has been resolved favorably.  The dimensional breach is closed, the Sentinels have reported that the creature is no longer a threat, and we’ve countered what could have been a disastrous cross-dimensional incursion.  How is that not a ‘win’ for everybody concerned, aside from the traumatized crew of this ship and her missing captain?”

“The Baron’s timeship was the objective here, Commander.  Even having that black-hearted bastard in our custody would have made a nice consolation prize, but you couldn’t provide that, either.”

Ramirez stood.  “We got the job done, Ixis.  That’s what counts here.  You’ve never served in Starfleet; that much is obvious.  If you had, you wouldn’t be holding loyalty to one’s captain against us, and against me in particular.”

Ixis rolled her eyes and chortled, “Oh, please!  Don’t give me that ‘captain-my-captain’ crap.  I’ve read your service jacket, Commander.  After Sandhurst pulled you off Admiral Covey’s staff, you filed no less than half a dozen formal protests and requests for reassignment.  You don’t even like the man!”

She folded her arms across her chest, and Ramirez gripped her elbows to keep her hands from trembling with anger.  “Regardless of how I felt about my reassignment here, regardless of my personal relationship with Sandhurst, and regardless of whether he’s dead or alive at this very moment, the man is my captain!”  She fixed her fiercest gaze on the Efrosian woman.  “I owe him the same respect and loyalty that I will expect from my XO when I’ve earned the rank of captain.”

Ixis whirled around and looked back over her shoulder as she stalked out of the ready room.  “Not if I have anything to say about it.  And don’t think Covey can save you, Ramirez.  My contacts in Starfleet Command go a lot higher than a lone rear admiral.”

*****

The door to Ensign Kuenre Shanthi’s guest quarters chimed.  This roused him from a troubled sleep.  In truth, the intrusion was less an interruption than a blessed reprieve from his tormented dreams.  Image upon haunting image had overlapped in his mind until sleep had become a purgatory from which he struggled to escape.

Elisto Plazzi stepped through the door at Shanthi’s beckoning.  He smiled at the tired young man and the senior Science officer apologized for waking him.  Shanthi waved away the effort dismissively.  “It’s okay, sir.  I wasn’t getting much rest anyway.”

The ebony skinned young man padded to the replicator station in bare feet to order himself a cup of strong coffee.  He joined Plazzi in the sitting chairs as he tightened his bathrobe around his waist as he sat.  “What can I do for you, Commander?”

Looking uncommonly earnest, Plazzi countered, “Call me Elisto, please.  I actually came here to see what I could do for you, Ensign.”

“How so, sir?”

Plazzi’s grin broadened as the younger man nibbled at the bait.  “I want to offer you a job, Mister Shanthi.  Mine.”

Shanthi sipped at his coffee while looking skeptical.  “You going someplace?”

The older man bobbed his head, answering simply, “Back into retirement.  I was reactivated for the war.  The war’s over.”

He made a show of glancing around the guest cabin and then Shanthi finally let his gaze rest back on the senior officer.  “Not exactly the most prestigious berth in the Fleet.  What’s a tour on this ship going to get me, besides killed?”

Plazzi chuckled.  “Not all our assignments are this dangerous.  Here you’ll get to make a name and career for yourself.  Nobody can ever accuse you of currying favoritism from Command on a small support ship.  And,” he offered with a wink, “it’s a helluva lot roomier than a runabout.”

He found Plazzi’s grin infectious, and Shanthi answered with one of his own.  “You’re saying I could find a home here?”

Plazzi’s demeanor shifted to become more somber.  “Absolutely.  This is a terrific crew, and I’ve served on some exceptional vessels in my time, so I know what I’m talking about.”  He gestured to the ensign.  “Your talents will be invaluable to these people, and you’ll be appreciated for who you are… not to whom you’re related.  As for what they’re getting out of the deal, they’ll be getting a top-of-his-class academy graduate.”

Shanthi blew softly across the surface of the coffee to cool it, looking thoughtful.  “Why me, Elisto?  Seriously, my graduation standing aside?”

Inclining his head, Plazzi noted, “You’re bright, you’re likeable, you do your job without any expectation of fanfare or accolades.”  He began to tick off these bullet points on his fingers.  “You’re observant, we wouldn’t have located the Baron’s craft in the cargo bay without you.  You’ve no problem picking up a phaser when it’s called for, and you can hold your own in a fight.”

As he cradled his mug, Shanthi closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself on the bridge of the Gibraltar.  He opened them to look at the older man, his expression serious.  “We’ll see, Elisto.  I liked Captain Sandhurst.  Not many men in his position would take the time to sit and comfort some no-name junior officer whose not even assigned to his vessel.  But Sandhurst's gone, and I don’t know if I want to sign onto a ship that’s just taken a pasting and lost its captain.”

Plazzi smiled knowingly and cautioned, “Don’t count Donald Sandhurst out just yet.  The man has been proved to be one surprise after another since I’ve been aboard.”

*****

Olivia Juneau turned off the padd and let it drop onto her chest as she lay atop a biobed in Sickbay.  The away team members’ reports had referred to her leadership under fire with such phrases as ‘inspired’ and ‘outstanding.’  She had never before had words like that associated with her.  The most damning thing of all is that she couldn’t remember any of it.

She’d supposedly experienced some grand epiphany, made some kind of fantastic breakthrough that had apparently allowed her to tap unknown resources of strength in order to lead men and women in battle.  But whatever it was she had learned, whatever had motivated this amazing transformation, it was gone.  Once again she was left the junior lieutenant whose latest claim to fame was losing a runabout under her command and getting someone killed.  Tears welled in her eyes at the thought of all that she’d lost on the surface of Pierosh II.

Beside her lay a sleeping Master Chief Tark. He had similarly awakened after hours in an inexplicable near-comatose state, his mind also a blank when trying to reference the events of the past two days.  Unlike her, however, he had absorbed the missing memories with nothing more than a characteristic bout of colorful swearing.  Having vented, he’d done little more since than sleep and make irascible demands on medical staff.

Juneau was so wrapped up in her own pain and misery that she almost failed to hear the low humming sound that accompanied the transmat beam that deposited Captain Sandhurst on the ward’s main examination table.  A nearby med-tech gasped, then tapped his combadge to alert Taiee of this miraculous event.

*****

The squalling winds here bit so fiercely they made the blustery gusts of Pierosh II seem warm by comparison.  Snow and ice blew in all directions to score Ahmet Kutav’s skin the instant Lar’ragos pushed him through the timeship’s doorway.  The Orion fell heavily into a snow drift and gasped with the sheer onslaught of sensation as cold permeated every cell of his body.

The El Aurian, his face partially obscured behind the high collar of an ancient woolen coat, sneered at the man.  “Enjoy.  Compliments of the starship Gibraltar.”  He closed the door of the black pillar, ignoring the pirate’s pleas for mercy as the man struggled to his feet and pounded on the side of the timeship until it became insubstantial.

A sensor pod detected heat and movement where there should have been none, and telescoped up through the snow pack to observe.

Kutav gathered his meager clothing around him as best he could, though the thin fibers offered little resistance to the twin assaults of freezing temperatures and clawing wind.  He knew that he had only moments to live, and could not begin to fathom where the Starfleet officer had deposited him.  Kutav had done everything Lar’ragos had asked of him, from helping him to learn the fundamentals of piloting the bizarre craft to assistance in placing Sandhurst in medical stasis.  Despite the sheer audacity of the emotion under the circumstances, Kutav still felt a keen sense of betrayal.

The hiss of hydraulics momentarily drowned out the howling wind, and Kutav turned to see a hatch opening, a dark maw that extended up through the icy crust.  Bulky figures moved within the shadows there, and emerged to reveal bodies clad in animal fur, leather, and metal.

Klingons! Kutav marveled.  What is this…  Agony flared suddenly as one of the figures drove a Klingon pain stick into his side that knocked the Orion to his knees.

A squat Klingon draped in furs smiled cruelly down at him.  “We do not receive many unannounced visitors here on Rura Penthe.  You are most welcome!”  Throaty laughter from the others confirmed Kutav’s darkest fears.  “Bring him inside, men.  Let’s show our new Orion friend here our idea of hospitality.”

And with that, Ahmet Kutav, merchant-prince, formerly of the Rigellian flagged high speed courier Sethret was dragged below the surface to meet his destiny.

*****



You must login (register) to review.