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Thread: In Memory Still Bright

  1. #1

    In Memory Still Bright

    Thirty years. That had been how long she had, for all intents and purposes, been alone in her life. Beyond the windows before her spun the adopted homeworld of the Gorak'nar, capital of their new Commonwealth, where they had worked to rebuild what remained of their ancient civilization...and coming to terms with the ghosts of their past. Thirty years ago today, this planet had taken one of the men she loved, the one she had loved most of all - and it had damaged the others...one well beyond repair, and eventually to his own demise.

    Kelenek'che'sa.

    How she hated this planet. How she hated coming back here...but she had to. For him. For all of them.

    "Ambassador Britanov?" She turned slightly. "We've received clearance from New Po'gaenei to proceed to the surface."

    "Thank you, Captain." She sighed. "Time we were about it." She looked out at the planet again, then followed the captain out of Ten Forward.

    Catherine Britanov had made the voyage from Earth aboard the Sovereign-class U.S.S. California, detached from its duties in Joint Task Force 87 to travel beyond the Gateway. In late March on the Terran calendar, every year, she had made this voyage across her own galaxy, and then beyond it to M90, to pay homage to her late husband, General Mikhail Britanov, who had been mortally wounded during the liberation of Kelenek'che'sa. He had died on the 28th of March, 2386, and Catherine had made it a point to travel to his grave in the Fields of Sanctity every year. He had been buried on the field of his last great battle, alongside the dead from three nations - the United Federation of Planets, the Reydovan Empire, and the Gorak'nar exiles who would eventually form the Commonwealth of Kelenek'che'sa.

    On occasion, she was accompanied by her three children - her daughter, Anastasia, and her sons, Anatoliy and Vasily. Sometimes she was accompanied by her elder brother, Fleet Admiral Saxtus Fayhan, who had retired after a long career. More oft than not, she went alone, travelling aboard any ship that came out this way.

    For this trip, her companion was the ship's captain, Taelinkayn - the only daughter of High Inquisitor Velenkayn VI, the leader of Kelenek'che'sa, and his wife, Battlelady Zira'gaenus, who commanded its military. They had led the Gorak'nar exiles here in opposition to the "False Prophet", Artimus Devaneaux, who had allied with the Divine Alliance during the war. Taelinkayn had been born just after the conclusion of the war, and had been the first Gorak'nar to graduate from Starfleet Academy in 2409; Saxtus had sponsored her admission. Seven years later, she was now a starship captain, one of the youngest in the Fleet. She had not been back here since she had left to enter the Academy, eleven years earlier.

    As they stepped into the turbolift to the shuttlebay, Catherine looked up at her - the Gorak'nar Warrior was a good foot or so taller - and smiled. For all that she looked professional in her white-shouldered captain's uniform, Taelinkayn had a certain look about her that Catherine recognized. "Nervous?"

    "Very," Taelinkayn admitted. "With all that has happened these past few years, I have always feared that the Iconians would come here as well." The recent war against the ancient and powerful race had been even more destructive than that with the Divine. A Herald fleet had, in fact, made its way to Theta Antares and through the Gateway to attack the Alliance holdings in M90 - namely Gateway Station, the Kro'tak colony, and Kelenek'che'sa - and was destroyed by Zira'gaenus' fleet, in conjunction with Gateway's defense force. They had braced for reinforcements to pour through when word came that the war had ended at Earth, with the Iconians electing to cease hostilities for some reason. "Plus...I have not seen them since the graduation. I know that their duties keep them here, but I do worry that they..." She trailed off, as if unwilling to finish the thought.

    Catherine chuckled. "Just like my sons, the first time they were allowed to come back to Earth on leave." Her smile widened as she noted Taelinkayn's surprise. "No matter what planet you're from, military families tend to have standards. Misha was very keen to ensure the boys upheld their Starfleet oaths, just as his father had done with him. Judging from the fact that you're a Starfleet captain in command of a starship, and a decorated veteran of a brutal conflict, I think you're covered." As she mentioned the "brutal conflict", her smile had faded.

    Taelinkayn noticed it, too; the aura of sadness had followed the ambassador for the entire journey from Earth. "You don't like coming out here, do you? It reminds you too much of what happened."

    Catherine hesitated for a moment, and then finally nodded. "This planet left its mark on the men I upheld the most in my life, Captain - my husband, my brother, my sons, and my eldest grandson. Misha fell here. Saxtus made his career here. Anatoliy and Vasily took their father's place at the head of the family here. And Kieran...Kieran was broken here. It peaked his meteoric rise...and then led to his fall." She was painfully aware that Kieran had left a divided legacy. As the son of Artimus Devaneaux, the old human saying about apples and trees had come readily to mind - and the events on Reydovan Prime seven years ago had seemed to prove them right.

    The seemingly endless turbolift ride ended just outside the shuttlebay, and the pilot had prepared their transport for them. While they could have gone by transporter, Catherine elected to travel by shuttle whenever she visited here. It gave her time to think before the final approach. Taelinkayn took her seat next to the pilot up front, while Catherine sat behind them. As the bay door opened and the shuttle lifted off from the pad, it made its way around and over the saucer of the California before navigating the asteroid field in orbit - the field that had given the planet its name, meaning "Halls of the Blind" in Gorak'nar, for the obscuring density of the field when the planet was discovered. It had thinned out somewhat since then, though - partly to allow easier access without resorting to guideships for every vessel travelling through it, and partly due to natural stellar drift.

    Either way, the planet was keenly visible as they approached, and made their way through the atmosphere. As the clouds cleared, Catherine looked out the side window across the Plains of Sanctity, and the sight of one of the planet's two moons in the sky. The fact that this was a beautiful planet tugged at her heart-strings even further. It was a feeling she often experienced making this journey. She couldn't help it. She would endure it until the time came for the final journey. El-Aurians lived for a long time, and she did not know how long it would be before, at last, she returned to Misha's side. But she would.

    Until then...she would continue to hate this planet.

  2. #2
    Almost thirty years had passed since the end of the Divine War, and it seemed things had been no quieter ever since. The destruction of Romulus during the conflict had shaken the balance of power. The Borg had mysteriously returned, when it was believed they were gone forever. The war with the Klingons was over, the war with the Iconians was over, and a new conflict had now arisen involving the Tzenkethi against the Lukari holdings in the Alpha Quadrant.

    Just another day in the life of Fleet Admiral Joshua Underwood, overall commander of Joint Task Force 87 - a formation of Federation, Klingon, and Romulan ships that had assembled for Operation Delta Rising, and for all the events in the field ever since. It was a joint operation with the old Ninth Fleet, still going strong after all this time. His cohorts were D'Gehn, now a revered Dahar Master and commander of a substantial squadron in the Klingon Defense Force, and Taeril'hane Ketiron, an engineer in the old Romulan Imperial Fleet who had retired after the loss of his homeworld, only to answer the Republic's call to arms when Virinat was obliterated by the Tal Shiar and their Elachi minions.

    The years had not been kind to him; his brown hair, still tied back in its usual ponytail, had gone white nearly a decade before, and his boyishly chubby face had become lined, and dark bags hung under his hazel eyes. He walked with a slight limp, the old injury he had taken aboard the Iapetus during that last battle still paining him after all these years, despite all that two generations of doctors had done to ease it. But it was more the mental, emotional, scars of war that he carried than the physical ones. His old commander, General Jordyn Mormar, had disappeared into history after the events of Deneb IV, events that only he and Underwood - and perhaps that snooping vigilante Franklin Drake and his pals in Section 31 - knew for absolute certain. At the time, he had bitterly protested Mormar's plan to destroy the Judgment of the True Gods, the great Divine Holy War Ship that held the Milky Way powers at ransom...but at the same time, he saw there had been no option - except, perhaps, to surrender as the Divine demanded, or to die fighting. Underwood had been thinking the latter would be the only alternative, as he knew the others in his combined fleet would not lay down so easily.

    But Mormar had given them a way out, and he had paid for it with his career. Underwood nearly had, too, in a case of guilt by association - but fate, it seemed, was not done with him yet. He had spent most of the following two decades at his post at Caesius, perhaps as blowback for his part in Mormar's plan, before Fleet Admiral Quinn had recalled him and closed the place down. And ever since his return, the wars had not stopped. The Klingons, the Tal Shiar, the True Way, the Borg, the Undine, that Dominion fleet that had disappeared in the Bajoran wormhole in 2374, and the Vaadwaur in the Delta Quadrant...and then had come the Iconians. After that, Underwood thought, fighting the Divine and Gorak'nar zealots had been a piece of cake. And now, it was the Tzenkethi, with their protomatter weapons.

    Warfare, however, was not on Underwood's mind at the moment. He stood on the bridge observation deck of his flagship, the U.S.S. Adelbert Ames, docked at the shipyard at Frontier Station, the Ninth Fleet's base of operations. The Ninth had sent engineers and other supplies to help build a new colony in Lukari space, and Underwood was awaiting the arrival of the ship that would take him out that far - the U.S.S. John Franklin, a Pathfinder-class vessel commanded by Captain G'dath, one of D'Gehn's sons. His brother Gekran served as chief of security aboard the Ames. It had been nearly two decades earlier that D'Gehn had brought his sons to Federation space to escape having to kill Starfleet officers in an idiotic war...instead, having them follow in the footsteps of the "Kuvah'magh", Miral Paris. D'Gehn had been thought killed shortly afterward by Kieran Devaneaux, who had defected to join the KDF after the collapse of the Khitomer Accords, but the old captain had resurfaced and helped end Kieran's mad scheme to conquer Reydovan Prime for the Klingon Empire. Now D'Gehn was a revered figure in Klingon society, and Kieran had died a traitor to damn near everyone. His sons had flourished in Starfleet; Gekran had been a typical warrior type, while G'dath, much like his father, had focused on using scientific knowledge as his weapon of choice.

    "Admiral." Thinking of Gekran, he looked up to see the Klingon officer standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the bridge. "G'dath has signaled that he is entering the system and will be ready to take you aboard at your discretion."

    "Very good, Commander. Only fitting, given that this ship will be stuck here for a while for refit. I understand the Blackstone will be coming around for you?" The Blackstone was a Galaxy dreadnought in the task force.

    "Yes, sir," Gekran confirmed. "Captain Alieth commented that sometimes logic requires a bit of reinforcement. A curious statement for a Vulcan; they typically believe logic is everything."

    "Alieth has a rather...interesting mindview, my friend." Captain Alieth was JTF87's chief engineer, someone who did not let rank or command of a starship keep her from getting her hands dirty. Her "off-time" after the Iconian War had been spent refitting an old Soyuz-class ship found in a surplus yard to modern Fleet standards, just for a lark. A number of words were typically associated with Vulcans - "logical" and "brilliant" when being polite, "cold" and "smug" when not...Underwood had not thought "tinkerer" would really fit until he had seen Alieth pilot the Salyut out of the yard on Vulcan three months ago. She, Taelinkayn, and G'dath made up a triumvirate of excellence among the captains in the task force, so far as Underwood was concerned. "Ever consider applying for a captaincy of your own, Gekran?"

    Gekran was momentarily wrong-footed. "I serve where I am needed, Admiral - where honor demands I serve. For now, my place is here."

    "Artfully diplomatic," Underwood replied, laughing. "But this is not the Enterprise, where we keep the same crew chained together for decades on end. Your place may well be on a ship of your own...and soon, perhaps."

    Gekran thought that over. "Perhaps," he said finally.

    Before he could go any further, the comm chimed. "Admiral Underwood, this is the John Franklin. We are ready to bring you aboard."

    "Thank you, Franklin." Underwood made his way upstairs to the bridge, to the transporter pads set behind the captain's chair. He stood on one, while Gekran manned the controls. He nodded. "Energize."

  3. #3
    The old saying was that the third time was a charm. Sitting on the porch of his home in the Willamette Valley near Salem, Oregon, Saxtus Fayhan was forced to wonder if that would hold true this time around - as this had been the third time in a century in the Fleet that he had tried to retire.

    The first time had been before the Dominion War; he had been at it for fifty years, and didn't think he would go beyond the engine room of some rattle-traps along the frontier. The second had been after the Dominion War, after he had been crippled by a collapsing bulkhead on the Concorde. He had spent nearly a year now working on his third retirement, after the recent war against the Iconians. He, Eidan Zherron, and Joshua Underwood had commanded a joint task force with Dahar Master D'Gehn and Fleet Admiral Ketiron during that war. Now he was back on Earth, living out another effort at being "away from it all". At 165, he was relatively young for an El-Aurian, but the wars he had fought over the past 45 years - with the Dominion, the Divine and their allies, the Klingons, the Borg, the Undine, the Iconians - had made him weary, and he thought that perhaps, at last, he would be able to settle down and stick with it.

    The trouble he had found, nearly thirty years ago - when he had settled here, after the Divine War - was finding a place to live. He had not wanted to stay in San Francisco, as it was a "company town", to use the humans' slang; he wanted a quiet place for his sanctuary. His family had their own homes - Catherine maintained the Britanov dacha in the Crimea, and his parents (still alive and kicking) kept their home in Florence, where his father taught at the UniversitÓ degli Studi di Firenze. He had finally decided on Oregon, not only for its natural beauty, but because it reminded him of the vague memories he had of El-Auria, now dust for more than 150 years. His wife Suzanne had agreed with the choice, as it was a hop, a skip, and an aircar ride down the Pacific coast to San Francisco to get to work at Starfleet Headquarters, or to visit Starfleet Academy.

    He had found himself visiting the Academy a lot more in recent years, as there had been two members of the Class of 2409 he had particularly kept an eye on. The first was Taelinkayn, who had come to him for sponsorship to the Academy as a non-Federation citizen; she had become a seasoned captain in Underwood's task force, and was now off on assignment. The second person was his daughter, Michaela, who was born in the final weeks of the Divine War, nearly thirty years earlier. It had been Suzanne's idea to name her for Misha, who had been her mentor in the Corps. Like her father, she had become chief engineer of a starship, specifically the Galaxy dreadnought U.S.S. Blackstone under Captain Alieth. Michaela, who shared with her Vulcan captain an interest in tinkering, had worked with Alieth to restore the Salyut, the old Soyuz found in a surplus yard and retrofitted for modern service. Rumor had it that the Salyut had been turned over to a former Starfleet captain from the 23rd century now working as a time agent, assigned to Underwood's command in light of all the temporal tinkering during the Iconian War - and plus, the captain had said, she was "looking to get back into the fun".

    Fayhan sighed as he sat back in his chair. He spent his days alone more oft than not, with Michaela off on assignment with the Blackstone, and Suzanne - now a general - running the medical division of Underwood's task force. He enjoyed the peace of this place, just sitting and looking out at the scenery of the Pacific Northwest, or reading, or listening to music. It was something he shared with Underwood, he found - a love of beautiful landscapes, books, and music to help the mind work. But even out here, he kept abreast of the news, hearing about the new Lukari-Kentari colony on Dranuur, and the constant threat of the Tzenkethi.

    "Cosmic thoughts, Saxtus?" Fayhan looked over to see he had a visitor, his "fellow retiree" Eidan Zherron.

    "Hard not to, with everyone I know off galavanting," Fayhan replied with a smile, standing to embrace his old comrade. "Settling in yourself?"

    "Kind of," Zherron replied, as he took a seat next to him on the porch. "It's weird to always look up in the sky and see Earth, instead of how you see from down here." Zherron was from New Berlin on Luna, where he had moved into his father's old house. "With Mira and the little ones gone, and Lucia off in the field, it's kind of a lonely existence. Kind of like you, I think." Zherron's wife and three daughters had been on Earth during the Breen attack in 2375, and he had only discovered that his eldest, Lucia, had survived when he had come home after the Divine War. Like Michaela Fayhan, she had found her way into the Fleet, and was now a captain herself. "I heard a bit of news from Josh Underwood this morning."

    "Oh? What's he been up to?"

    "You might have heard a bit about the business with the Tzenkethi. There was a big showdown near Bajor, and DS9 got caught in the crosshairs."

    "Again?" Fayhan rolled his eyes. He had not been anywhere near Bajor in forty years, and his memories of Deep Space Nine were not particularly pleasant, given that they involved being stuck in the infirmary with Dr. Bashir or his nurses hovering over him, and Suzanne - then a junior officer - sitting constantly at his bedside. Thinking on that, he wondered why it had taken them a decade to finally hook up. Returning to the topic at hand, he commented, "Does that old pile of Cardassian scrap metal never catch a break?"

    "It's worse than it sounds, believe me. Remember when the Undine nearly slagged Spacedock a while back? Same deal. These 'Hur'q' may be lower-key compared to the Iconians, but still nasty...and the Fleet's hurting for captains and crews nowadays, with all the losses we took." Zherron hesitated for a moment, then said, "Which is why Josh has asked me to come back. I'm heading to the shuttle terminal in Portland once I leave, and going up to Spacedock to make it official."

    Fayhan's jaw dropped in astonishment. "But..."

    "Oh, don't look so surprised. I may be gray-haired and long-toothed nowadays, but I'm not dead. Not yet, anyway." Zherron grinned. "Though I would be if I went back as part of the brass. Ha! A most emphatic 'hell no' to that, thank you very much. I'm glad to give it up to get into the real work. I hated high command about as much as you did." He looked his old comrade over with a speculative eye. "You might want to consider it yourself. I told him I was coming down to check in with you...and he asked me to extend that invitation to you."

    "Me?" Fayhan shook his head. "Absolutely not. I've had my share of war."

    "You and me both. I didn't lose parts like you did, to be fair, but...I know you've been trying to settle down. Not all of us have a century in the Fleet under our belts, although I meet you halfway thereabouts. But the job chooses us just as much as we choose it, you know?" Zherron stood, smiling. "Think it over. I know you'll say you already did, but you never know." With that, he walked down the path to where he had parked his aircar. A moment later, it sped off into the evening sky, heading north to Portland.

    Fayhan watched the aircar leave, until he could no longer see it. Then he stood and went into the house, activating his comm terminal. A young-looking human appeared on the screen. "Starfleet Communications. Lieutenant Commander Rossi." The lieutenant smiled as he recognized him; he had been in Michaela's class at the Academy, and had seen both Fayhan and his wife on a couple of occasions. "Good evening, Admiral."

    "Good evening to you as well, young man. Could you see if the U.S.S. Amateria has arrived yet? I believe she is due in for resupply at Utopia."

    "One moment." A pause as Rossi looked off-screen, then turned back and nodded. "The Amateria docked at Utopia Planitia about an hour ago, sir. I'll put you through to the general right away."

    Fayhan nodded as the screen blanked. A moment later, his wife's face appeared on-screen. She grinned at him. "Checking up on me?"

    "Always," Fayhan admitted with a smile. Then he became serious again. "Honey, there's something I'd like to run by you..." In the back of his mind, he thought that perhaps the third time was not so much a charm after all.

  4. #4
    Sunrise on Reydovan Prime.

    Three caskets lay in the great hall of the Imperial Palace in Montagne Noire, the Atlas Throne - the arms shaped like the Titan holding up the heavens - standing empty behind them. They were draped with the flag of the Reydovan Empire - blue, white, and light green, with the helix and the nautical compass in the center - on the lower two thirds. The upper third was open, to show their faces. They were the Dowager Empress Tatiana, the widow of Emperor August von Spee and mother to the current Emperor William; Prince Richard, the Emperor's younger twin brother; and Alastair MacDonald, the Imperial Chancellor. Both men were attired in formal white dress uniforms, adorned with medals; a golden coronet wrapped around Richard's brow, and the Chancellor's chain of office was draped over MacDonald's shoulders. Tatiana was attired in a white formal dress and gloves, a blue sash from right shoulder to left hip, and a silver crown of laurel leaves on her head.

    Standing next to the body of his mother, head bowed, was the Emperor. He was also in his dress uniform with crown and sash, and a silver-trimmed blue cape over his shoulders. He was silent as the sunlight, filtered by the smoke of the damaged capital, began to filter through the window panels of the great pyramid of metal and glass that served as his residence and workplace. The hall would be opened at midday for the mourners to file past the open coffins. The most prominent three of the millions of Reydovans killed by the Hur'q as they swarmed the galaxy. William pondered the prudence of having such a ceremony; when his father had died nine years earlier, fifteen million people travelled to Montagne Noire to attend the funeral, an event tarnished by the treachery of Kieran Devaneaux and the House of K'van. He would be surprised if fifteen thousand came, for he knew that he was not the only one who mourned this day.

    He heard footsteps behind him, but did not raise his head to look, nor did he when the man spoke, his Scottish accent echoing slightly in the otherwise empty chamber. "Forgive me for intruding at this time, Your Majesty, but you asked to be informed when the Parliament made its decision."

    After a long moment, William finally straightened and turned to face the speaker. Alexander McConnell had been his father's best friend, his first officer aboard the carrier HRMS Cardinal von Galen during the civil war more than four decades before, rising to become its captain when August became Chancellor and then Emperor. Now he was the Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy, recently named Warmaster of the Reydovan Military Body in the place of the retired Grand Marshal John Fielding, and the Emperor's profanely honest but loyal mentor. He gestured for McConnell to walk with him out into the entry hall, not willing to "talk business" in the presence of the dead. Especially considering two of them were members of his family. "Dr. Indrick then, Admiral?" he asked finally, when they were out of the throne room.

    McConnell nodded. "Makes sense, especially now." Lukas Indrick was a military scientist who had been the chairman of Caymarnian Weapons and Armor Manufactory, the primary producer of weapons and materiel for the RMB. He had been defense minister since the Divine War, after exposing the previous one as an agent of the Divine Alliance, and was widely seen as MacDonald's chief lieutenant. "I spoke with him before coming here and we both agreed this couldn't wait..." He sighed. "I received a communication from Fleet Admiral Underwood at Starfleet Command this morning. There's been a conference called on Deep Space Nine. We've been invited."

    "The nature of this conference?"

    "The fucking bugs who attacked us, of course. The Hur'q, the Klingons call them. There are representatives from damn near everywhere affected by these things: the Bajorans, the Lukari, the Cardassians, the Ferengi...they're saying even the Dominion is involved. But not against us...with us. The meeting's even being chaired by a fucking Founder. The one they call Odo."

    William was astonished. "The Dominion in the Alpha Quadrant...fighting alongside those they had tried to destroy? This must be serious. More so even than the war with the Iconians, if they're involving a Founder." He frowned. "Bajor will likely go with the Federation, but the others? The Cardassian military was reduced after the Dominion War, the Lukari are explorers...and the Ferengi are money-grubbing opportunists. What benefits could they gain from getting into this fight?"

    "Justice," McConnell said without hesitation. "We're not the only ones who suffered. You fuck with a Ferengi, they will fight back. Grand Nagus Rom saw the Dominion War firsthand, he knows how this shit works." He paused for a moment. "I'm thinking that since we're still putting the fleet back together both after the Iconian War and now this fucking mess, we'll end up sending officer exchanges and having the others ferry troops as need be. God knows we have a lot less to offer than we did before the Iconians came knocking."

    The Emperor nodded in grim agreement. "You're not exactly becoming Warmaster at our high point, certainly." Both men knew this was something of an understatement. Most of the Imperial Navy was in shambles; what hadn't been destroyed had to wait for repair facilities to open up, and both Fielding and McConnell had debated sending a request to the Federation and the Klingons to allow Reydovan ships to be repaired at their shipyards, but theirs were also swamped. McConnell's flagship, the battlecruiser HRMS Springhawk, was one of those affected by the shipyard backlog. The battleship HRMS Absolution, flagship of the Imperial Navy since the civil war, had been destroyed by the Iconians, taking Grand Admiral Geraint Fraser along with her; the Galen, also old but still formidable, had fallen to the Hur'q. "But I'll not make any decision of who or what to send to the fight before we hear what this Odo has to say for himself. If the Founders are getting involved with us 'solids' again after thirty-odd years, there's bound to be some kind of ulterior motive."

    "Especially if they're bringing in hordes of Jem'Hadar." McConnell shook his head. "I heard Underwood even had a Jem'Hadar on his crew at one point."

    "You're kidding."

    "A bunch of them ended up 'liaising' with Starfleet, Klingon, even Republic crews after some mess on DS9 involving a fleet that got lost in the wormhole." The Warmaster chuckled. "It sounds like complete bullshit, I know, but seriously, isn't bullshit becoming kind of the norm? I mean, we all thought the Iconians were dead and gone until they were at our fucking doorstep. Makes me wonder how the Klingons feel about this mess - first demons from their own version of Hell, and now the only invaders to attack Qo'noS and get away with it." He shook his head again. "Well. What's the plan then, sire?"

    The Emperor was silent for a moment. The sun had risen a bit more outside, but some hours remained before services began. "With recent events, as you say, it's probably best that our new Chancellor has a grasp on matters of defense. Let's see how well he handles foreign affairs. You're going with him, I take it?"

    "Of course. If what's left of my command is needed, it's best I get a first-hand account of what to expect, instead of any watered-down political bullshit. Not that Dr. Indrick would stoop to that, but..."

    "I understand completely, Admiral. Very well. Go with my blessing - and with the memories of the fallen."

  5. #5
    D'Gehn, son of Kormal, Dahar Master, stood on the upper level of the Promenade on Deep Space Nine, arms folded across his chest, his fingers tapping on the engraved wristguards of his Honor Guard uniform as he silently watched the assembled forces of nearly the entire galaxy once again coming to this old Cardassian rust-pile, while the leaders - the Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet, the Klingon Chancellor, the Romulan Republic Proconsul, and the Ferengi Grand Nagus, just to name a few - had their meeting with Odo. The last time he had been here was forty-three Earth years ago, when the Dominion War had ended in a victory over the Gamma Quadrant invaders. Now the Dominion was turning to their old foes, the very people they had tried to destroy all those years ago, to save them - to save the galaxy as a whole - from an even greater threat.

    Like most Klingons, D'Gehn had thought the Hur'q to be long dead, their existence confined only to the tales of the Loresingers. Recent events had shown him just how wrong they all were. Then again, recent events tended to show the Empire how wrong they were about a lot of things. Like how not all Romulans were backstabbing cowards who hid in the shadows, for instance - the ones he had worked with from the Republic over the years had proven to be strong, honorable, and courageous in their struggles against the odds - or how, despite all evidence to the contrary, Martok had not died on the floor of the Great Hall two decades or so ago. Part of him wondered if, now that he was back in the Empire, Martok would end up challenging J'mpok, despite the general's claims to the contrary; the Chancellor had refused to commit the Empire to the cause, and Martok believed fear was most certainly the reason why.

    On the one hand, D'Gehn could understand J'mpok's hesitation - after all, the Hur'q were the only invaders to ever take (and very nearly destroy) Qo'noS, something not even the Iconians got close enough to do. Plus, all of the Alliance forces were badly depleted by the Iconian War. On the other hand, they had not quailed in the face of annihilation before...so why now? He looked at the various races of people who had come to Odo's call - the Lukari, a race just now discovering the stars, and rediscovering themselves; the Cardassians, still scarred by the memories of their foolish decision to ally with the Dominion, and still picking up the pieces the Dominion had left behind; even the Ferengi, the greedy rodent-men who placed their profits above all else. All of them were committed to fight the Hur'q swarms.

    And yet the Klingon Empire was not? D'Gehn could not grasp such an idea.

    "Brings back memories, doesn't it?" D'Gehn turned to his right - his "good side", as his left eye was covered by a leather eyepatch - at the speaker. Taeril'hane Ketiron was easily double D'Gehn's age, his short-tailed hair pure white, and the skin of his face - his forehead adorned with the tattooed symbol of mourning for the homeworld adopted by many Romulans - worn and leathery, though he still maintained the vitality of a much younger man. He wore the long coat of a Republic flag officer, his shoulderguards indicating his rank of fleet admiral. "Back then, you and I just had our own ships to worry about, and we were most certainly not on speaking terms...now we're comrades of a sort, tempered by time and the constant struggle to survive."

    D'Gehn nodded. "And commanding more than one ship. Fate is whimsical."

    "Isn't it so," Ketiron agreed. "It's remarkable how many different species and organizations have come out to try and kill us these past few years. And to think I used to worry about the Tal Shiar."

    "You had good reason to at the time, Admiral," D'Gehn pointed out.

    "True. But time proved they were not the worst evil to assail us." Ketiron shook his head. "I had thought, after Hobus, to find a corner of the galaxy and just stay there to live out my days." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a familiar figure down on the lower level, walking into Quark's. He glanced in that direction with a slight nod of his head. "I'm sure he thought the same thing after the Iconian War."

    D'Gehn turned and looked down. Sure enough, it was Saxtus Fayhan, wearing the white-shouldered uniform of a Starfleet captain. "This war has brought all comers, it would seem. I saw the new Reydovan Chancellor here earlier, along with the Warmaster. And Captain Taelinkayn mentioned her father is en route from Kelenek'che'sa."

    Ketiron's eyes widened. "The Hur'q got through the Theta Antares gateway?" The Romulans had only been peripherally involved in the conflict with the Divine Alliance - the Hobus supernova occurring just after the fall of Gorak'nar - but the admiral had worked with Taelinkayn and some of her people during the Iconian War, learning about how the Gorak'nar, like the Romulans, had been forced to resettle and rebuild their lives.

    "Not so far as I know, but Taelinkayn has set an example for her people in Starfleet, fighting in the wars. They applied for Federation membership about a year ago." D'Gehn chuckled. "Plus, Velenkayn is a warrior. He's not one to stay on the home front. Which is probably why you and I are here, after all."

    "Probably." The admiral rubbed the bridge of his nose, sighing. "If only your Empire was of a similar mind. It's good that Martok, at least, still has a spine, but...these bugs have J'mpok shaking in his boots, and anyone with the sense to see it knows it. He plays the bluster card well enough, but when you've got people not known for going headlong into a fight doing just that, and people who are known for it refusing to do so..."

    "I know," D'Gehn agreed grimly. "I had just been thinking on that when you walked up. J'mpok is our leader, even Martok accepts that. But his...reluctance baffles me. Certainly, there is good reason to fear the Hur'q. The Klingon Empire has a long memory. But to sit idle and watch as they consume not only the Alpha Quadrant, but all of existence? This is not just a Dominion problem, no matter what the High Council believes. As we see, many races - even those we considered weak and self-serving - are here to fight. And the Jem'Hadar, among the most fearsome threats we have ever faced, now fight with us instead of against us." He snorted. "I still struggle to accept that."

    "You're not the only one," Ketiron pointed out. "Though most of our commanders are children compared to us, we have a few who served in the Dominion War: Fayhan, Zherron, Shivanek, my son Ord'taeril...and you and I." He laughed. "I don't know about you, D'Gehn, but when I took my ship home after the treaty signing, I never thought I would ever be back here again, let alone see Jem'Hadar in the Alpha Quadrant."

    D'Gehn smiled. "Nor I, Ketiron. Nor I." Any further commentary was interrupted by the sound of the station's klaxons, followed by a voice from the communicator in D'Gehn's wristguard. "joHwi'!" It was the captain of D'Gehn's flagship, the bortaS qa'.

    D'Gehn raised the comlink to his lips. "Speak, Kavrul."

    "My lord, the Hur'q return! A swarm of the vermin come from the wormhole to attack us. Fleet Admiral Underwood has already returned to his ship and is directing the task force to join the other Alliance forces in defense of the station."

    Ketiron was speaking in Romulan in his own comlink, the look on his face confirming to D'Gehn that he was getting the same news from his own command ship, the Katar. When he was done, he met D'Gehn's gaze. "We will find out what J'mpok will say after this."

    "Indeed so." He grasped the admiral's arm in Klingon style. "Good hunting to you, Admiral."

    "And to you, Dahar Master." With a nod of his head, Ketiron beamed back to his ship.

    D'Gehn looked for a moment out the nearby viewport as the ships of so many nations moved to face the hated foe. It was time he did likewise. "Kavrul, jol yIchu'." A moment later, he was taken by a transporter beam.

  6. #6
    The Adelbert Ames found herself in the center of a swarm as she moved in at Fleet Admiral Quinn's instruction to assist the refugee ships fleeing from DS9, escorted by the Nathanael Greene and the John Franklin, both loaded for bear. Or in this case, for bugs. It was the worst thing Underwood had ever seen - because even though the Iconian fleet had blotted out the stars around Earth, they had at least done so at a distance. This was up-close and personal.

    "Aft and starboard shields are failing, Admiral," Gekran reported calmly from the tactical console. "The Hur'q swarmers are focusing on those sides."

    "Bring us about! Try and turn our stronger shields towards them!"

    "Trying, sir!" the helmsman replied. "They're too fast!"

    "Gekran, tell the Franklin and the Greene to pull some fire off of us!"

    "The Greene is doing what it can, sir - but the Franklin's shields are down as well, and most of their weapons arrays are offline. G'dath advises he is withdrawing."

    "God damn it!" Underwood pounded his fist on the arm of his command chair. "Where the hell is our support?! Get me D'Gehn, Ketiron, SOMEBODY! We need --" The console behind him exploded, hurling him out of his chair and across the floor. The admiral raised his hands to keep his head from hurtling right into the viewscreen. Coughing as the smoke began to fill the bridge, Underwood painfully got himself to his feet, leaning against the viewer. "Engineering, report!"

    "We've lost the starboard nacelle and impulse engine, Admiral!" the chief engineer reported. "Port nacelle is also damaged, and main power is failing! Weapons are down!" Alarms began to blare all over the ship. "Antimatter containment could collapse at any moment, sir!"

    Underwood staggered back into his chair, wincing. Fine time for the damn knee to act up. "Evacuate to the saucer, and prepare for emergency sep."

    "Separation systems are damaged, Admiral," Gekran said grimly. "Fused by the loss of our starboard warp and impulse engines. The saucer can't separate."

    Underwood looked over at him, seeing the grim truth in his expression. Then, finally, he nodded. "Assemble the surviving bridge crew, Commander, and prep the Rockland." The attached Aquarius was still docked in its berth at the aft portion of the engineering hull; God willing, it was undamaged. "Sound the all-hands...abandon ship." The klaxons took on a much more ominous tone as the computer signaled all hands to find their nearest means of exit. Most would use the escape pods; a number would use the shuttlecraft if they had time to get to the hangar. The bridge crew would all transport to the Aquarius' bridge.

    The order given, Underwood stood and walked over to the door nearest the turbolift; guided by an action he did not entirely understand, he pulled the dedication plaque from the wall, and read the motto inscribed at the bottom: The true touchstone of civil liberty is not that all men are equal but that every man has the right to be the equal of every other man - if he can.

    "Sir, we are ready to transport." Underwood did not look up as Gekran approached him, nor as the deck heaved. "Sir?"

    "All I've done, Gekran," he said, "all the mistakes I've made, and the mistakes I've corrected. I've been relieved, dismissed, transferred, demoted, promoted...but I've never lost a ship before. Not like this."

    Gekran was silent for a moment, then gently grasped Underwood's shoulder. "We must go, Admiral. The warp core could go critical any second now."

    Underwood looked over to him, and then with a resigned nod, tucked the dedication plaque under his arm and followed Gekran over to the transporter at the aft of the bridge. He looked around one last time, sadness evident in his worn face, before finally saying, "Energize."

    ----

    The Rockland detached from the aft section of the engineering hull, zipping away like so much flotsam, as the great vessel began to drift. Like the Enterprise, she had undergone refitting to Yorktown configuration just after the Iconian War. And all that had now been for nothing.

    As the little escort got clear, the warp core went critical. There was a brief, blinding flash, a burst of energy...and then nothing. The U.S.S. Adelbert Ames was no more.

    Underwood's eyes were closed as he laid his head back in the Rockland's command chair. "Message from Deep Space Nine, sir," Gekran reported. "The Hur'q have withdrawn...for now." He looked over to his commander. "Your orders?"

    "How many of our task force's ships survived this whole mess, Gekran?"

    "Seven others in addition to the Rockland, Admiral. The Bataan, the Nathanael Greene, the John Franklin, the Blackstone, the California, the Ezra Meeker, and the Aurora. Fleet Admiral Ketiron reports that only six others from the rest of the task force are still in fighting shape - the Katar, the Shadowtalon, the Paraxis, the bortaS qa', the Rezan, and the Lukari vessel Elodor, although the Lukari report their captain and first officer killed in the fighting. The rest are either destroyed or severely damaged, several beyond repair."

    Underwood's anguish deepened. Joint Task Force 87 had begun in the Delta Quadrant with nearly sixty ships. Now they were reduced to fourteen, with this sturdy little Aquarius left to take the place of her destroyed mother ship. "Which one is closest to us still?"

    Gekran consulted his board. "The Aurora, sir."

    Somehow, Underwood found that appropriate. The first ship of that name, a refitted Kelvin - a subclass of the Sovereign - had been his first command since he had been removed from the Excelsior all those years ago, when he had been dismissed from the Fleet, and then reinstated and forced to work back up to the captain's chair. After Underwood had been promoted to the admiralty, he had turned her over to his first officer, Matthew Russell. During a confrontation with pirates near Kro'tak in M90, Russell had destroyed the ship rather than allow her to be captured...

    Underwood shook off the memories. There was work to be done. "Open a channel to the Aurora​, and request permission to come aboard."

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