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 Post subject: Star Trek: Timelines "The Widening Gyre" PostPosted: 2008-07-03 12:54am
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Star Trek: Timelines
The Widening Gyre
by:
Stephen Garrett Jr.


Table of Contents

Author's Note:
The Romulans as portrayed in this story are based upon the works of Diane Duane.


"Turning and turning in the widening gyre..." - William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"



Prologue

.5LY from Federation-Orion Border
23 April 2368 Earth Standard Time


The brilliant white color of an Orion starship-grade blaster washed over the shields of the U.S.S. Salamis, rocking the Akira-class cruiser roughly as her shields struggled to absorb the shot. Three Orion raiders, each carrying deadly heavy blaster cannons on their bows, swarmed over the Federation strike cruiser as Salamis' own phasers sliced into the engines of an Orion transport. Inside was the entire reason Salamis had attacked in the first place: according to some partial intel, there were an estimated 200 civilians on board, mostly kidnapped off the streets of nearby worlds or taken in pirate raids, being brought to Orion to be sold into the Orion slave market. And only half a light-year stood between them and enslavement.
Half a light year and Salamis.

On the bridge of Salamis, Captain Adrian Parker was ignoring the klaxons of alert status and concentrating on the reports from his bridge crew. "Orion 1 is coming across our..." The ship rocked again as the other two blasted the ship simultaneously. The lieutenant at tactical finished with, "...bow! Dorsal shields down to thirty percent!"
"Heading zero-two-zero mark zero five two!" At Parker's order, the helmsman turned the Salamis slightly to the right and up at a fifty-two degree angle, causing the Orions to miss their next shots. The phaser arrays on the ship's aft arc fired, cutting into the weak shields of the light Orion raiders.
As Salamis turned again at Parker's order, this time to the left and on a down angle, quantum torpedoes raced out of her bow launchers at the raider designated Orion 1. One torpedo missed from the ECM put out by the raider, but the other three were right on target. Two impacted on it's dorsal hull shields and wiped them out, damaging enough armor that the third crippled the raider and nearly blew it in half.

The other Orion raiders turned sharply, seperating. Parker watched his screen intently, keeping track of their movements. "Helm, follow Orion 2! Weapons, keep an eye on that transport! Don't let him get back to warp!"
A pair of affirmations echoed from the respective bridge officers. Salamis turned to the left, following Orion 2, it's forward phaser arrays cut through space and into the smaller ship's rear shields. A burst of fire from the cruiser's forward-mounted pulse phaser cannons succeeded in finally ripping apart the raider's engine assembly. The crippled ship continued to drift forward, unable to maneuver any longer.

The final raider came above the Salamis and tore at it's weakened dorsal shields. The shield indicator on Parker's display quickly went from yellow to red. "Helm! Stop all engines and fire maneuvering thrusters to bring the bow up!" Parker's mind raced as he calculated his bow shield strength against the pirate's. Turning to the Lieutenant at Weapons, he barked, "At my mark, give me everything you've got in the forward arc!"
Salamis's main impulse engines quieted and her maneuvering thrusters fired. The ship turned as quickly as it could, showing her bow to the Orion raider as it came in for another pass. Parker shouted "Fire!" upon the completion of the maneuver, and the two ships exchanged vicious attacks.
While Salamis certainly took a hammering from the pure power of the Orion's bow blaster cannon, she had the advantage in her multiple weapons. The forward phasers, arrays and pulse cannons, handily-removed the raider's foreward shields so that a pair of quantum torpedoes could tear the ship apart.

With the starship combat ended, Parker immediately placed the order for boarding parties to be sent to the transport. When he was done, he turned to his XO and asked for a damage report. The Andorian replied quickly by rattling off item after item of damage. Casualties but no fatalities so far, which Parker was thankful for.
His gamble did pay off, however, as nearly twice the number of people that intel had estimated were aboard. With the transport seized, Salamis placed a tractor beam on it and took it to warp, moving at a leisurely Warp 5 to the nearest Starbase.





Starbase 419, Border Sector 4, Federation Space
10 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



Parker was in formal uniform, the familiar black jacket with grey shoulders plus black trousers, and standing at his full height of 183 centimeters beside his military advocate when the four leading admirals of the sector assembled again at their desk. He showed no immediate emotion in his gray eyes and did a rather good job of hiding any fear he might have had. He looked like the consumate military professional, with his black hair well-combed and trim to regulation and his hands behind his back.

In the week after Salamis had intercepted the transport and destroyed her escorts, a small political crisis had developed between the Federation and the Orions, and the Orions' Romulan backers. The Orions initially levied charges of unprovoked attack and for a short while seemed to be threatening war, with Romulan backing, before the images of the freed slaves-to-be were released to the public along with their debriefings. Immediately the momentum shifted; now the Orions were scrambling to find the corrupt officials within that were aiding the slave trade and the Romulans had backed off. In the Federation Council itself, the peace parties that had been calling for Parker's head were now quiet and incapable of speaking, or so it seemed. He had become a public hero now and politicians were apt to be silent when it meant going against popular opinion.

But that had not prevented an impromptu review board being appointed to review the case and find if he had overstepped his bounds. Parker waited silently for the sector CO, Admiral Hansen, to begin speaking. "Captain Adrian Parker, upon review of your actions on the 23rd of April 2368, we have concluded that you acted without orders or probable cause in intercepting the transport Meklavr. As such, you were technically in violation of interstellar law regarding the innocent passage of ships." Parker did not betray any emotion but permitted Hansen to continue. "However, it is clear to us that while you violated the letter of the law, the Orions were violating it's spirit, and in your actions you showed admirable traits in a starship captain, namely in your swift response to the evidence on hand and in your resolution to action. Since the Orion government has withdrawn it's charges against Starfleet, we will not bring this to court-martial." Hansen folded his hands together. "However, because of the seriousness of the breach with the Orion government and potential damage to the interests of the Federation, you are being re-assigned to another command outside this sector that Starfleet Operations will arrange immediately. That is the extent of our official findings." Hansen allowed Parker and his advocate to exchange a handshake and sighs of relief before continuing. "Off the record," Hansen's grim expression finally softened, "we are also in concurrence on one thing; we would have all done the same thing in your place, Captain Parker. You have done a valuable service to Starfleet and the Federation, not to mention four hundred and thirty innocent lives that were held aboard that slave carrier. We of this Review Board wish you good luck in your next posting. You are dismissed."


Parker was in his quarters on Salamis packing the last of his things when the door chime sounded. He openly declared, "It's open", and his XO, Lieutenant Commander Virshk, stepped in. "Commander, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Sir, on behalf of the crew, I'd like to say we've all been honored to serve with you," the Andorian said in a strong baritone. "We're going to miss you, Captain."
"Goes for me too. I'd be worried about you, but Captain Shelby is an excellent officer and I know she'll do you all good."

"Of course, Captain." Virshk offered him a hand. "Sir, may I?"
Parker looked back from his bags, showed a small grin on his face, and gave Virshk a handshake, the first they'd had since Virshk had been assigned to Salamis. "Help Shelby with the greenskins, will you?"
Virshk laughed, "Of course."
"Good, because after what we've done here, they're going to be looking to even the score. Wouldn't want them to pull a fast one over you." Parker went back to packing the last few items.

"Any idea where they're sending you, Sir?"
"I've been recalled to Earth," Parker replied. "Captain Sisko's letting me hitch a ride on the Saratoga. Once we get there, I'll see where I end up."
"Mind if I follow you to the airlock, Sir?"
"Not at all." Parker secured his bag and lifted it onto his left shoulder. With Virshk by his side Parker walked through the ship's port-side corridors to the port airlock, attached as it was to a berth inside Starbase 419.
The entire command crew was awaiting him there, and Parker would run the gauntlet they had created for him, shaking hands and giving pleasant goodbyes to the men and women he'd served with for the previous three years. At the end, when he was on the other end of the airlock, he took one last look at them before the airlock doors closed and they disappeared. With that done, Parker moved on.




Chapter 1


U.S.S. Saratoga, en route to Sector 001, Federation Space
13 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



The sound of laughter was coming from within the officer's lounge on the top deck of Saratoga. Inside it's occupants were dining on a meal prepared mostly by the ship's commanding officer, Captain Benjamin Sisko, who had used the last of his personal stores to put together what he insisted to be an authentic taste of New Orleans. Parker had known Sisko in the Academy long enough to consider him a classmate and friend even if they had spent the years since that time serving seperately.

The other two present were Sisko's XO; a Native American and Commander named Chakotay. Perhaps more prestigious was another one of his friends; a retired diplomat from Trill, Curzon Dax. The four men were seated at a circular table, their meals already finished, drinking glasses of technically-illegal Romulan ale that most Starfleet officers gained access to with virtual impunity; Romulan ale was "the second law that everyone breaks" according to jokes, with tax laws being the first. After finishing an amusing anecdote about playing revenge pranks on a few uppity upperclassmen while in their junior year, the conversation changed course for a moment. "And then there was the time Ben here," Parker began, chuckling from memory, "decided to take on this Vulcan. Suluk, Siluk, what was it again?"
"Solok!" Sisko began snickering. "You never got the name right!"
"That's right, Solok! Well, this Vulcan was being, well, being a normal Vulcan, and Ben took offense, and, well, never wrestle with a Vulcan."
"I'll take that in mind," Chakotay said in amusement.
"Ben, how long were you in the infirmary again? A week?"
"Just four days." Sisko rubbed the back of his neck, clearly smarting from the reminder. "I still want to wipe the smirk off Solok's face."
"Well, I almost did take a chair leg to him," confessed Parker. "But some of the others stepped in. Told me I was too drunk to swing it accurately."

Another round of laughter echoed in the room. "Well, now that we're finished with remembering what fools we were as cadets," said Sisko with a wide grin, "let's talk current events. Know where they're sending you?"
"Not at all," Parker answered. "I suspect they'll stick me on a tender of some kind."
"Depends on which admiral in Operations handles the appointment." Chakotay folded his hands on the table. "Admiral Paris would give you a rickety old Constellation and send you off to the farthest corner of the Quadrant to keep you out of the spotlight. Kirschbaum can be pretty fair, though."
"I'd bet on Admiral Leyton getting you something. You remember Leyton, right Adrian?"
"James Leyton?" Parker wagged his finger for a moment, as if to show he was trying to place something. "Your old CO on the Okinawa, right? The one who convinced you to go for command school?"
"That's him," Sisko confirmed. "You were on the Kursk as I recall, under Captain Sulu?"
"Yeah, that was her." Parker looked over the table at Chakotay and Curzon. "We were in the same task force fighting the Tsen'kethi. Closest Ben and I got to being assigned together after the Academy." Parker set his glass on the table. "So, Curzon, how did you manage a ride?"

"Blackmail," the older Trill said. "I'm blackmailing Benjamin."
"Actually, if any man at this table can be blackmailed, it'd be you, Old Man" Sisko retorted with a chuckle. "You're the wild one."
After everyone stopped laughing, Curzon admitted, "Yes, I did have quite a time in my youth. Those days are over with, though. Well, except for when I go to Risa and see Arandis."
"Somehow I have trouble seeing you keeping up with a Risan." Parker leaned forward in his seat. "So, seriously, you're going to Earth or something?"
"Yes, I am." Curzon nodded. "Earth's on the way to Trill anyway, and I've been exchanging letters with a professor on Earth, Jones, from Cambridge. He's with their history department, and is working on a series of what he calls counterfactual historical scenarios and wants my input."

Chakotay asked, "Counterfactual?"
"A 'what if', to put it simply," Curzon replied. "You see, I've been around in the Federation diplomatic corps for over seventy years, nearly eighty. Professor Jones is writing a counterfactual scenario based on something that happened in the Klingon Empire around 2293, concerning Praxis."
"Praxis is their homeworld's moon." Parker seemed to have spoken just to hear himself say it.
"Yes, it is. Used to be their key energy production facility. You might say they were putting all of their eggs in the same basket. Praxis had everything for them. Anti-matter generation facilities, dilithium mines and refineries, deuterium purification plants. Contributed about a third of the entire Klingon Empire's fuel supply. Well, it took us a couple years for some of our intel people to get wind of what happened, but sometime in 2293 there was a near-accident on the moon caused by some bad safety measures. It was brought under control but, well, if it hadn't have..." Curzon let the sentence trail off so he could take a drink of ale. "It probably would have blown the entire moon up."

The others showed a bit of surprise. "I can only imagine what that would have done to Quo'nos."
"It would have needed clean-up and some evacuation," Curzon admitted. "That's why the Klingons took the hint and moved some of the operations elsewhere. But the real issue is what it would have happened to the Klingon economy if they had needed to perform such a large scale clean-up and evacuation. The Klingons were within a year or two of economic collapse twenty years ago when they aligned with the Ferengi and became economic dependents. Imagine what would have happened if Praxis had exploded."
"It would have destroyed the entire Klingon Empire," said Chakotay.
"Well, perhaps." Curzon took another drink, causing the others to do the same, before continuing. "We discussed it a bit back in the day. Either the Klingons would have had to have gone to war with us while they had the military strength to fight, something that would have killed billions but left the Klingon Empire destroyed utterly, or..." Curzon sighed. "Well, Professor Jones is interested in the other route. The Chancellor at the time, Gorkon, was quite liberal for a Klingon leader. He was eventually assassinated by his own chief of staff for his views, but if he had an opening like the destruction of Praxis, I believe he might have pursued peace with the Federation. To cope with the disaster the Klingon economy would have to be demilitarized. Something that would require the Federation to demilitarize in turn to remove a threat to the Klingons' security. If that had happened..."

"...the entire history of the 24th Century would be radically different," Sisko finished for him. "Makes you wonder... where we'd be right now."
"That it does," Parker agreed. "But there's no use in putting too much thought in what might have been. Besides, I don't think any of us is sober enough to actually think about it too much."
The others laughed at that. "Well then..." Sisko picked up his glass. "I propose a toast, to my good friend Captain Adrian Parker, for his great accomplishment this past month in shutting the Orions up and giving them one hell of a beating!" He smiled toward Parker. "To Captain Parker, one of Starfleet's finest."
Curzon and Chakotay joined the toast, echoing the sentiment "To Captain Parker!", causing Parker to blush just a little bit.




McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001
17 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



Upon Saratoga's arrival at Utopia Planitia for her scheduled refit, Parker was flown by shuttle to McKinley for an appointed meeting with Admiral Leyton. He was escorted by a young enlisted crewman to Leyton's office. The admiral, complete with the now-graying beard Parker had remembered from the last time he'd met the man, immediately ordered Parker to be at ease and stood from his desk. "Captain Parker, good to see you."
"The same to you, Sir."
"Do you have your things?"
"I've got them in a storage locker until you give me a new assignment, Sir," Parker answered.
"Ah, well, you'll be seeing that soon enough. Follow me."

Leyton led Parker through a side door and into the corridors of the massive Starbase. "How's Ben?"
"Ben Sisko? He's doing fine. He's invited me to come down to New Orleans when I get the chance and see his father's bistro. He spent the entire trip from Starbase 419 telling me about how the Siskos are the best cooks in the entire city."
"That's good news. You know, at first I didn't remember you."
"Not surprised, Sir," replied Parker. "I was a third watch command officer at the time. Not very high on the chain."
"Yes, but then I recalled Captain Sulu insisting you were going to be an excellent captain one day. Looks like she was right." Leyton led him into a turbolift and entered a destination on the control panel. "I managed to mislead the press about your arrival. I wanted to spare you a media storm."
"Thank you Sir."

"After that fight last month, you had half of Starfleet ready to court-martial you and the other half wanting to give you a medal."
"Which half were you?"
"Which do you think?" Leyton grinned. "We've suspected the Orions were playing fast and loose with our treaty agreements. Now you've blown that door open. A lot of people are going to owe their freedom to you, Captain Parker."
"Just glad I could be of service, Sir." Parker waited a moment, thinking of how to phrase the question, when he asked, "So, Sir, what am I going to get?"
"Good things come to those who wait, Captain." The turbolift slowed and came to a stop. The doors opened and, on the other side of what looked like a waiting lobby, Parker saw windows out into a berth of the spacedock. Leyton walked up to the window and pointed out just before Parker could walk up close enough to look down at what he was indicating. "So, Captain, what do you think?"

Parker looked out at what he recognized to be a brand new Sovereign-class starship. The Sovereign was a new class, the U.S.S. Sovereign herself only commissioned earlier in the year before, equipped with the latest technologies Starfleet had to offer. Perhaps more prestigious than her class, however, was the name emblazoned on her upper hull.
U.S.S. Enterprise. NCC-1701-D.
"She looks good, Sir," Parker responded.
"Nice to hear you saying that, Captain." Leyton looked over at him. "Because that is your new ship."
For a moment Parker did not reply, and was not even thinking. It was a stunning thing to hear Leyton speaking those words. He had, expected, at best, one of the Galaxy-class Command Cruisers, and really nothing heavier than an Excelsior heavy cruiser. But the Enterprise? "Sir, I didn't..."
"...didn't expect this?" Leyton finished for him. "You've become somewhat of a public hero, Captain Parker. The President himself insisted you receive this command."
"I don't know what to say."
"Well, think on it a bit." Leyton pointed down one end of the corridor. "The airlock's down that way. Your Executive Officer is already on board the ship, waiting to brief you on the details. Call me later when you're done and we'll prepare for the official appointment."

Leyton turned and walked back to the turbolift, leaving Parker dumbfounded. In Starfleet, to be known as the Captain of the Enterprise was probably a higher honor than joining the Admiralty. He would join ranks with officers like Chris Pike and Rachel Garrett, not to mention James Kirk himself, the epitome of the starship captain. It was a great responsibility.
And it was a great opportunity as well. Parker resolved at that moment he was going to make the best of this appointment. He had to, as he was now thrust into the position as the torch-bearer for all of Starfleet. With his heart still thumping from excitement, he walked toward the airlock.




Enterprise was a big ship, nearly 800 meters in length, and Parker wasn't quite sure where he was supposed to go. Walking about the ship looking around he finally had a young woman from Trill walk up to him, wearing a duty uniform with beige color coding, and the gold and black rank pips of a Lieutenant J.G on her right collar. Standing at attention, she asked, "Captain, is there something I can do for you?"
"I'm looking for the ship's Executive Officer, Miss...?" Parker let the sentence drift off to indicate he wanted the woman's name.
"Right this way, Captain," she replied in a sweet, bubbly voice, obviously not getting the hint. She started leading him down corridors. "Commander Razmara is helping our engineering staff set up the anti-matter pods."
"And you are?"
"Lieutenant Jobrie Tevala, Sir," she answered in the same sweet voice. "I've been assigned as the weapons officer for second shift."
Parker nodded and said no more while following the anxious young lady through the corridors of Enterprise to the aft section of the ship.

After a turbolift trip, Jobrie led Parker through the upper engineering deck to the main fuel bunker. It was a sizable room, about the size of a shuttle bay, situated two decks away from the ship's dorsal hull in that area. The bunkerage was protected structurally by thick armor plate, so as to protect it from initial hits and increase the ship's survivability. Conveyers were placed facing the insides of the ship to transport pods to the injection chambers that sent the anti-matter into the warp core. The pods themselves were arrayed on trays attached to slings, so they could be tossed out into space easily and manually in the event of a possible containment breach.
A number of officers and enlisted crew were unloading the pods from anti-grav transports to trays. The pods were heavy, about 180 kilograms as Parker knew from personal experience, and in most cases each pod required two people to lift it.

That was why Parker was a little surprised to see a single woman, in burgundy red duty uniform, carrying a pod all by herself and with only some apparent effort. She had an attractive form, flattered by the form-hugging nature of Starfleet uniforms. Her skin tone was a light bronze, something Parker would expect from a Middle Eastern-born human. Brown eyes looked around the tray to make sure the pod was fit securely. Her black hair was slick and short, only long enough to cover a bit of her ears and some of her neck. Parker walked up to her and she turned. "Commander Razmara?", Parker asked while she straighened her back into full attention. "At ease."
Razmara relaxed. "Captain Parker I take it?"
Parker nodded. "Captain Adrian Parker."
"Commander Sophia Razmara," she replied. She used a forearm to wipe a little sweat from her forehead. "I take it you want the grand tour?"
"Looking to move in first. I also wanted to see who else on the command staff was available."
"Well, most are still en route, but there are a couple already here on Earth. They should be up later today."

Parker nodded. "Well, that'll do for now." Seeing Razmara wasn't moving, he added, "You're dismissed." She promptly turned and began walking away to resume her work while Parker went to leave. Before she could reach for another pod, Parker immediately turned back to her, having remembered something he wanted to ask. "Say, um, if you don't mind me asking... you're lifting one hundred and eighty kilo pods that are probably twice your weight. How?"
Without a slight hint of emotion on her face, Razmara brought her right hand up and moved back some strands of her black hair to show her right ear. Parker received his answer when he saw that the ear didn't end in a blunt shape but a sharp point. "You're a Vulcan?"
"Half-Vulcan," Razmara replied with some annoyance. "Anything else Sir?"
"Oh, nothing." Parker turned for the last time to leave the fuel bunker. "Nothing at all."




It was later in the day that Parker met Razmara again, on the bridge of the Enterprise. He had been looking over the control stations when he heard the familiar whooshing sound of the turbolift doors, and turned to see Razmara in her full uniform, including the jacket, flanked by two men. One, a Lieutenant Commander with dark skin and hair and - most interestingly - a visor device over his eyes, had a beige uniform top under his jacket; the other was a Lieutenant (S.G.) with lighter brown hair and brown eyes who wore a light blue one, meaning he was a fighter pilot. "Commander." Parker nodded at her and the others. "At ease."
They relaxed. "Captain," Razmara began, "this is Commander Geordi La Forge, our Chief Engineering Officer, and Lieutenant Chris Coleman, the commander of our squadron of Wolverine fighters."
Parker nodded in reply and accepted their greetings of "Captain". "That's all we have for now?"
"There is also Lieutenant Larrisa, our Sensor Officer," Razmara informed him. "But she is still planetside. My messages to her that you wished a meeting were not answered, so she's not in the apartment Starfleet rented for her in San Francisco."
"I want to see if there's a way to reach her. Admirals Leyton and Pressman will be conducting a tour of the ship tomorrow and I want everything and everyone ready." Parker nodded to the others. "Commander, Lieutenant, an honor to meet you. I'll see you again tomorrow."

After they were back in the turbolift and gone, Razmara looked to Parker. "I didn't want to bring this up in front of the others, but I have a feeling I know where to find Larrisa."
Parker folded his arms. "Oh?"
There was a tiny bit of humor in Razmara's voice when she remarked, "Where in San Francisco do you think an Edo woman would go at night?"
That provoked a blink and bewildered look from Parker. "Edo.... as in Rubicun Edo?"
"Yes."
At that, Parker sighed softly. "I suppose I'll look over her record. Have you met her?"
"She was assigned after shakedown, so I just saw her when I took a group of officers on a tour of the ship." Razmara answered. "I know Captain Harburton wouldn't have accepted her."
"Personnel wouldn't have assigned her if she didn't fit the bill, but I don't want the command staff getting disrupted by a contest to get into her bed. Did she seem.... you know."
"Slutty?"
Parker shot a partly amused, partly irritated glance to Razmara. "I was going to say 'flirty'."
"Not really, I admit, but I wasn't watching her the entire time." Razmara sat down beside him in her assigned station. "I don't suppose you're planning on asking for a different officer?"

Parker shook his head at that. "No, that wouldn't be fair. Not before I speak to her and see how she acts. But I'm not going to tolerate an officer who spends her off-duty time looking for people to slip into bed with."
"Of course not, sir." Having said that, Razmara had some ideas of her own, and intended to follow them through.




At about 2100 Razmara had beamed down to San Francisco, wearing a sleeveless silver blouse and blue pants. Her dress was casual enough, but she knew that where she was going it would make her clearly distant from the activities. And so she set off from the Starfleet apartment blocks toward the one place she'd expect an off-duty, planet-bound Edo to go.

The Edo were... unique. Protected by an unknown entity, or group of entities, in orbit over their world, they enjoyed an idyllic existance which they devoted to the pursuit of pleasure for themselves and others. Their protectors sustained them where their own meager labor efforts could not match their needs, but Edo society had one startling flaw to Parker and many others: every crime was capital. Even for something as meager as stepping over the wrong line or breaking an obscure minor law, an Edo was executed with little chance for appeal. The Edo thus lived in a paradox of love and fear for their society: they loved their effortless existance and the constant pleasure of their lives while they were terrified of their rulers and those who enforced the law.
The Edo had welcomed Federation tourists with open-arms, but always insisted on their laws being followed. Because only a handful of thrill-seekers were willing to risk death over a cultural faux pas or obscure law, most settled for Risa over Rubicon. This had changed after the Edo established enclaves for Federation tourists to visit and agreed to grant Federation citizens extra-territorial rights within said enclaves. In return, Federation citizens could not leave the enclaves without signing a waiver accepting responsibility for committing crimes and earning the death penalty. Though Risa was still the preferred vacation spot for most Federation citizens of sufficient means, Rubicon was also popular now for the particular ways and means that the Edo had created over the years for maximizing pleasure.

Very few Edo were well-equipped for living off their homeworld. Most were raised from childhood to be dependents of their society. They were incapable of anything more. But a handful did manage to make ends meet. Restless souls incompatible with the idle bliss of Rubicon and sometimes those who chose living a worker's life in the Federation over dying from the syringe of a police executioner on Rubicon. Apparently Larrisa was one of them. Before coming down, Razmara had noted that her record was surprisingly good for an Edo in Starfleet. She had good discipline and performance marks and the approval of her prior COs. No record of improper behavior, nothing one would associate with someone coming from such a hedonistic, pleasure-seeking society. Just a lot of hard work, almost extraordinarily hard, without actual "shore leave" for fourteen months as she scrambled to finish sensor qualifications.

After ten blocks of travel, closer to the city's other residential and commercial areas, Razmara came upon a building, a former warehouse/office building by the looks of it, but now with a gaudily-lit sign out front announcing the place's name: "Forbidden Desire". A couple well-muscled men out front were checking IDs to make sure the underaged didn't slip in, or those who were on the club's blacklist. She got into the small line and looked very much out of place with her wardrobe, given the women were wearing a combination of slinky dresses or halter tops and mini-skirts and the men, often enough, muscle shirts and shorts or pants.

Inside the main room of the club was much like any nightclub. A bar to provide drinks, a table for friends, and a dance floor. The dance floor included poles for the obvious use, with young women gyrating around them while their male (and in a couple cases female) dance partners held them in suggestive poses.

Razmara slipped over to the bar where an older man was preparing drinks, a Starfleet Marine tattoo visible on his right arm. Being in the place was not entirely comfortable for her, but she had the same curiosities toward their Lieutenant's personal conduct as Captain Parker. The very thought of an Edo in Starfleet was a shock.
As she put down a shot of tequila Razmara briefly thought of getting up and leaving. It struck her as uncouth and rather unkind to Larrisa, almost a breach of faith. But at this point her curiosity and her concerns were overcoming her sense of decorum.

"So, here for a date or are you waiting for the show to start?" the bartender asked.
"Show?"
"Yeah. In the backrooms."
About as good a place as any... Handing the bartender a few coins to pay for her drink, she asked, "Say, have you seen an Edo woman here?"
"Edo? As in..."
"Rubicun, yeah."
"Sure, I have." The bartender smirked at her. "Which makes your choice of clothing a bit more obvious. So, you her new CO, or some other higher up looking to spy on her?"
Razmara blinked at the man. "What do you mean? The Edo told you she was in Starfleet?"
"No, but I was a Starfleet Marine for twenty years. I know an Academy-bred Starfleet officer when I see one. Same as with you. You Academy graduates stand out in a crowd like this." The man smirked. "As the saying goes, whatever happens on shore leave doesn't come back."

Razmara nodded silently and left her empty shotglass on the bar. She followed a couple of people through the hall into a back area, a room with more benches than chairs and about halfway full in occupancy. She remained near the back and stayed silent as the show was begun.
"Here for entertainment, or because of me?"
Razmara turned back down the hall. Larrisa was standing beside one of the other doors, wearing a pair of leather manacles on her wrists and what looked to be an easily-removed loin-cloth, but absolutely nothing else. She was, certainly, a sexually-appealing woman; prominent, well-shaped and proportioned breasts, smooth lips, shining blue eyes, and a trim body with some light signs of muscle on her belly, arms, and legs. Her almost gold-tinted blonde-hair was let out from the pony-tail she'd kept it in while in uniform, flowing around her shoulders. Razmara's jaw lowered out of shock. "What are you...?"

Larrisa seemed rather surprised too, but there was more irritation, even anger, in her voice. "I'm not officially on post yet, Commander. This is my private time."
"And you want to be the slave-slut for the club?" Razmara almost gasped aloud. "Is that how you spend your time, Lieutenant? Being the metaphorical doorknob?"
That brought an even angrier reaction. "How dare you," Larrisa said. "How dare you spy on me. If any of us is out of line, Commander, it's you."
"I find this conduct unacceptable, Lieutenant, a disgrace to your uniform and an embarrassment to Starfleet!" Razmara's voice began to get louder, her disgust overriding her discretion.
"If anyone is going to embarrass Starfleet here, Commander, it is you," Larrisa countered. "You're the one making a scene. Now I insist you leave, or I'll ask them to throw you out and then I'll go file a harassment complaint."

With that said Razmara remained silent and watched Larrisa walk past. The crowd in the room cheered and wolf-whistled when she entered, a few shouting remarks. A voice introduced her as "Larrana" and remarked on the night's event; the men and the women in the audience getting to do their best to make her "submit". A hook was provided to link to Larrisa's leather manacles, holding her arms upward from a place before the crowd, and Razmara watched them put a ballgag into her mouth.
A couple of male volunteers stood up, but Razmara didn't bother staying to see what they were going to do. She walked out.




Parker had been returning to his new quarters when his commbadge made a message receipt tone. He tapped it and said, "Parker here."
"Captain, I found Lieutenant Larrisa."
"Did you ask her to be aboard by 0900 tomorrow?"
"I didn't get the chance, sir. I caught her..." There was a brief silence. "Sir, are you... alone?"
"Yes, I'm alone in my quarters. What?"
"I caught her at a sex club in San Francisco, about to play the helpless bound maiden and get nailed by every man and woman in the room."

For a moment Parker didn't react, but it was hardly out of surprise that Lieutenant Larrisa had been found in such a way; it'd be like being surprised at finding a Vulcan in a debate society. "You went after her, Commander?!"
"Yes, I wanted to see how she was...."
Angrily, Parker cut her off. "Commander, I am disappointed. I have my own way of getting the measure of the Lieutenant, I didn't need you going after her like some kind of morality patrol!"
"I.... you're right, Sir. What I did was unacceptable. I apologize."
"Don't apologize to me. Apologize to Lieutenant Larrisa, tomorrow. Parker out." Parker pulled the commbadge off and went about removing his uniform and finding suitable sleeping clothes. He took his usual nightcap from a bottle of Pacifican-brand whiskey and climbed into bed.



McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001
18 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



The office built into the Enterprise's bridge deck was on the starboard-bow quarter. It was of modest size, mostly consisting of a desk, a pair of chairs on the other side, and space for the CO to put personal effects. Parker chose to place a poster montage of the American nation's first nuclear carrier, also named Enterprise, on his wall. Across the bridge deck in the conference room was a similar brass model of the carrier and it's earlier cousin from World War II, as well as ships named Enterprise from the rest of human history up to the Enterprise-C, an Ambassador-class ship (originally built as a battleship but now classed as a large cruiser) that had been decommissioned in 2362.
Parker was reviewing a schematic of the Enterprise when the door swished open. Larrisa entered, wearing her uniform jacket over the blue uniform of the science-related branches. Her figure, obscured when he saw her the previous night, was a nice one. She was of a good figure and her uniform did not do much to subdue the attractive curves on her posterior and chest. Her long blond hair was well-kept and now pulled up into a ponytail. Larrisa's blue eyes stared forward, not directly making contact with him, and Parker found her stance at attention to be flawless. Certainly not something he would expect from someone raised on a planet completely lacking in discipline. "Lieutenant Larrisa reporting as ordered, Sir," she said to him in an emotionless voice, a voice not as high as Parker expected.
He waited a moment. Parker wanted to see how well she held her stance. When five seconds passed and she had not even blinked yet, Parker nodded. "At ease, Lieutenant. Sit down." While she sat, Parker wondered just how it was possible for an Edo to be that disciplined as their reputation seemed to speak against it. Furthermore it didn't jive with his mental image of her in the club tied up and having sex. That was the action of a wild and undisciplined girl seeking pleasure, not of a professional military woman.

But she had been doing that very thing yet had been flawless in her posture and stance while at attention; certainly she was professional in her manner. Parker drew in a breath and began to speak. "You were right on time, Lieutenant. I like that."
"I try to be perfect, Sir."
"So your record says. Your COs have all given you top marks. I can see why Operations assigned you here. But I have some concerns."
Larrisa's expression was cold. "This is about last night."
"Wearing that uniform means accepting a code of behavior, even when you're not in it." Parker frowned at her. "That was unacceptable."
"Permission to speak freely?"
Parker nodded at her. "Granted."
"To be frank, Sir, what I do in my private time is none of your damned business," Larrisa said coldly. "In fact, I'll point out that nobody could have any idea I was in Starfleet until Commander Razmara started arguing with me. Had you trusted me, and waited for me to report - and I would have seen that message the Commander left - they would have thought I was some Edo girl passing through. So if my actions caused Starfleet's reputation to be tarnished, it's only because she gave me away. And I'll point out that she didn't do this to any of the other officers on the ship. She did it to me because I'm from Rubicon and neither of you trust me."
Parker gave a short nod. She was right. Commander Razmara had stepped out of line, and he had probably encouraged it from his own reaction. They had only done so, certainly, because of her origins. "Well spoken, Lieutenant. I agree, Commander Razmara was acting out of line, and we both are guilty of not showing much trust in you." Parker folded his hands on the table. "You're correct about that.. But the question is now raised about your personal behavior. And I'd like an answer."

"My personal behavior on duty is the same as any other officer's, Sir. Off-duty and on-ship, it'll be the same as well." Larrisa was clearly upset as she continued. "Sir, I get to go planetside about twice a year and that's just my average in the five years since I graduated from the Academy. It's been fourteen months since I was last planetside, Sir. All of my off-days since were on military starbases and I remained on inactive duty, not full leave. I did this because it was the only way I was going to finish my advanced sensor qualifications and get my promotion." She leaned forward. "Captain, I've been training for two years to get this posting. I'm not going to do you or the crew wrong. I know what you're thinking. I'm an Edo. My discipline will waver as I yearn for the pleasures of life, the pleasures I got in ample quantity back on Rubicon. You think I'll be sleeping around, but I won't, Sir."
"You say that, but according to your record," Parker pointed on his screen, "you've had romantic liaisons with other personnel in every posting you've had."
"Sir, I'm not the only Starfleet officer to see a shipmate while off-duty," Larrisa pointed out. "In three cases, they came on to me first and it was only a couple of times. In another, she was my roommate and we actually had a solid relationship going. In not a single case were any of them working with me directly while on-duty." Larrisa shook her head. "Sir, what am I supposed to do? How do I convince you to trust me?"

"Show me that you can resist your impulses. Why were you at that club last night?"
"Because I hadn't done anything like that in three years," Larrisa replied. "Because it was nearby. It's not like I went there in my uniform, Sir. I was in civilian clothing and never mentioned my occupation. I just went to wind down."
"You call depraved sex winding down?"
"That's a matter of personal standards and not objective, Sir. And I hardly think anything I experienced last night to be anything but, maybe, unorthodox." Larrisa shook her head. "Sir, this is not going to get us anywhere. I promise you I am not going to do anything to bring you or the crew shame. I will maintain perfect discipline."
Parker found her expression and her explanation convincing. But there was something else he wanted to know. "Lieutenant... why are you here?"
"Because the Enterprise is where careers are made, Sir."
"No, you misunderstand me." Parker finished shaking his head. "Why are you here? In Starfleet? Why did you leave your idyllic paradise for the military life?"

Larrisa bit on her tongue for a moment. "Idyllic paradise? No. What kind of paradise is one where you die for any infraction, no matter how small?" Larrisa looked down. "I lost my father when I was eight. He and my mother got in a fight and he lashed out and slapped her. She... she didn't even mind, but he broke the law. So I had to watch as they put the syringe in his arm and killed him." Parker, for a moment, thought he saw a tear start to come down the young woman's right eye. "My mother wasn't the same after that. Oh, there were other men to pleasure her, but she loved my father. She missed him so much that every day she cried for him and died a little inside. So when I was seventeen and of age to live on my own, she just walked into a forbidden area one day. Instant death, which is what she wanted." Larrisa's fists clinched. "Do you know how many Edo live to see fifty years of life? One out of every ten thousand. Over the years, only a small handful can avoid breaking the law. It's simply a matter of time before you slip up somewhere. Almost all Edo die from the syringe because of that little fact. Some do it on purpose, without friends or loved ones to give them any reason to live." Larrisa smirked. "Our elders say that pleasure is a good enough reason to live. But it isn't. There is more to life than physical pleasure. Humans taught me that, you know. It was the strangest thing, staying in an enclave and finding humans cherishing the simplest pleasures. Little things that we considered a basic and daily pleasure were so sensual and pleasing to humans that it was... vexing. It took me a couple years to realize it, but by the time my mother died I knew the secret of Humans."
"And that is?"

Larrisa smiled and continued. "You cherish pleasure so greatly because you do not always experience it. You do not spend your days doing nothing but having fun. You work, you toil, you fight amongst yourselves and others day in and day out. No Edo, growing up, wants to work. Yet you enjoy pleasures greater than we do. After realizing that, I knew there was more to life. Pleasure alone is not a good reason to live. It is transitory. If it is experienced too often, it's effect is lost. The extraordinary becomes ordinary. I wanted to experience what you knew. I wanted to work and toil, to suffer pain, so that I could feel the same about pleasure as you did. And after coming to Earth, being schooled, and entering Starfleet Academy, I came to understand life like no Edo knows it. Life was never meant to be a short-term thing filled with pleasure and ended by execution. There are so many worlds to find, things to see and do, and you can't do that if you remain an ignorant member of idyllic society, spending each day doing simple tasks and enjoying routine pleasures. You have to push yourself beyond what you are at first. You have to improve yourself. That's why I'm here. I joined Starfleet to better myself, Captain. I joined Starfleet to make myself a better person, and I'm not doing it for my people but for myself. As far as I'm concerned, the Edo don't deserve to better themselves unless they are willing to work for it."
Parker nodded slowly. He finally stood. "Lieutenant Larrisa, go ahead and report to Commander Razmara. Welcome aboard."
Larrisa's reply was a vigorous nod. "Thank you, Captain." She stood immediately and went straight out the door.




Razmara was on the bridge when Larrisa came out.of Parker's office, awaiting the other present members of the Enterprise's command staff. Larrisa looked at her and went toward her new station. She ran a hand over the controls and thought of what an honor it would be. This was where she would be given a chance to shine. The most visible posting at her specialty in the entire Starfleet and it'd gone to her. The outsider from a race most found strange and weird if not selfish and hedonistic.
"Lieutenant?"
Larrisa looked over and saw Razmara looking at her. "Yes, Commander?"
"I'd like to apologize," Razmara said. "I... you were right. It was a breach of trust and I was wrong to do it."
Larrisa thought she could see some sincerity there, but she was certain it was an apology Parker had ordered. Nevertheless she allowed her superior a grin. Razmara hadn't been the first XO of a starship to treat her like that, just the first to catch her in such a "compromising" situation. "I accept the apology, Commander. I hope to do well with you during our service here."
"I feel the same way, Lieutenant."

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Chapter 2


It was exactly 1130 when Admiral Leyton and Admiral Pressman appeared onto the bridge from the rear-port turbolift. Parker and Razmara were waiting, flanked on one side by Lieutenants Larrisa and Coleman and on the other by Commander Dalke.
Behind there were five other individuals, three men and four women. One of the women was a redhead with a Marine's olive brown uniform on instead of Starfleet standard and with the rank insignia of a Lieutenant Colonel. The second was a human woman, with pale complexion, gray eyes, and short-cut dark hair. The third was another redhead, her long hair rolled up into a bun to be kept regulation, with a Slavic facial appearance and blue eyes, while the fourth was also of a lighter Caucasian complexion with shoulder-length dark brown hair kept to regulation trim and gray eyes. Of the males, one had red-hued light brown hair and a well-built frame, the second was lankier and had a fully brown shade of hair, and the third, the tallest one, having sandy-blond hair; all three having their hair cut in similar military style.

Leyton ordered the assembled to be at ease. "Captain Parker, I hope your new assignment is coming along well?"
"We'll be ready to head out by the end of next week, Admiral. I'm only waiting for the rest of my crew."
"You'll have them on time," Leyton promised. "Well, Captain, I'm sure you know Admiral Pressman?"
"Admiral." Parker nodded and accepted Pressman's offer of a handshake. "I've never met you, but I served under Captain Rosenbaum on the Persephone and he spoke highly of you."
"Good to hear. Captain, we're here because you're going to be assigned directly to my command in Special Operations."
"Special Operations?" Parker crossed his arms. "Sir, is that so wise? Enterprise is going to attract a lot of attention wherever she goes."
"Not all special ops are cloak and dagger, Captain," Pressman reminded him. "And you mistake the name. While you may be called upon to perform the classical definition of special military operations, the Special Ops division of Starfleet also handles non-conventional operations like diplomatic escort. You might say you'll be called upon to present the flag wherever we need it. And you won't be doing it alone. Enterprise will be the central vessel in a division of ships. These are your new peers." Pressman brought forward the man with light-brown hair. "This is Captain Patrick Phillips, the commander of the Intrepid." The two captains exchanged handshakes. "Captain Katherine Berger, U.S.S. Minneapolis." Again Parker shook hands. "Captain Drake Irvine, U.S.S. Hood."
"Captain Irvine, it's been a long time." Parker looked up at the three inch-taller Englishman, exchanging handshakes with him.
"Captain Parker, it is my pleasure." Drake stepped aside and began to shake hands with the others.
The other officers came by and more handshakes were exchanged. "Captain Marina Lenarova, U.S.S. Great Lakes, Commander Christopher O'Farrell, U.S.S. Avenger, and Commander Misty Greene, U.S.S. Valiant."

When the naval officers were by, it was the Marine's turn. Parker now got a better look at her and noticed her nose ridges and earing; she was a Bajoran. He had met a few before. They were a religious, spiritual people on the other end of the quadrant, near the Cardassian border. The Cardassians had subjugated them and occuped Bajor for decades, raping worlds held by the Bajorans for resources for their war machine until the Federation expelled them ten years ago during the Cardassian War. Bajor had been integrated into the Federation a year later by a plebiscite. It was contested in some regions of the Bajoran Homeworld as a number of religious extremists and xenophobes claimed that the Federation had fixed the vote, or that the vote was tainted by the miserable state of Bajor at the time. There was a more dignified independence movement to give credibility to that latter claim but most Bajorans were content to remain a part of the Federation.
Pressman's voice broke through Parker's deliberations. "This is Lieutenant Colonel Kira Nerys. She's going to command the battalion of Marines assigned to Enterprise and her companion ships."
"Colonel," Parker said to her, offering his hand.
"Captain." Kira's reply was cold and her idea of a handshake very stiff and unfriendly.
"Captain Parker, we'll have your first deployment orders by the end of next week," Leyton promised him. "In the meantime, why don't you get to know each other."
"Of course. I'll be seeing you later, Captain." Leyton walked to the turbolift and was followed by Pressman.




There were two mess halls on the Enterprise. The primary one was near the back of the ship's primary hull about five decks above the navigational deflector. The officer's lounge was closer to the bridge. The lounge attendant was sometimes military and sometimes not. In this case, he was a civilian, a dark-haired man in his early thirties with an accent that sounded Dutch. He was in a long-sleeved jacket and trousers, both the same shade of navy blue, and had a disarming smile as he welcomed Parker at the door. "Captain, a pleasure."
"Yes, Mister..."
"Vanbeggine. My name is Arno Vanbeggine. Please, sit down." Arno showed them to the table. "I wasn't expecting you quite so soon."
"We're just looking for some drinks." Parker walked over to the table and sat down at the head. His four subordinate officers took seats farther down to allow the others to sit. "So, we're going to be a glorified flag-bearer."
"Or so it seems." O'Farrell cracked his knuckles before continuing to speak in his Australian accent. "I wouldn't be surprised if we occasionally get some action though. It's good to know we've got you on our side, Sir."
"And it's good to know you actually know something about me at all," Parker replied with a grin. The others chuckled a little. "Seriously, I never expected to get something like this."
"Of course not." Phillips grinned widely. "Nobody ever expects it."
"Maybe they'll let us take a cruise by the Orions t' scare the piss out of 'em," O'Farrell chuckled.
"Oh no..." Parker shook his head, snickering. "Operations is going to keep me well away from the Orions."
A sly grin crossed Misty's face. "A pity. Shooting up Orion raiders sounds fun."
"That it does!" O'Farrell looked past Berger toward Arno, who was behind the counter. "Say, have any of that good Euro stuff?!"

Razmara looked across the table at him. "Drinking on duty, Commander?"
"Just a bit, not gonna hurt anyone."
Arno came from around the corner with glasses and a pitcher. "This is the finest beer in the entire quadrant," he declared. "It's brewed not too far from where I grew up in Belgium."
"Hmm..."
"I won't be having any," Larrisa said.
Arno looked over the table and Drake turned him down. Razmara also turned down the offer, followed by La Forge and Marina. Kira's refusal was obvious from her failure to pay attention. Misty seemed to think of it for a minute before accepting some. The rest gladly accepted glasses with the rich brown liquid. "If you need anything, I'll be behind the counter unpacking!" He turned and walked away, giving a second look to Larrisa beforehand.
Only Larrisa noticed it since everyone else turned their attention back to each other. Misty spoke first, smiling and joking, "So, O'Farrell, how did a guy with an Irish name pick up such a sexy Australian accent?"
"Earned it, sweetheart. Grew up in Oz. You?"
"Me? I come from the exotic, ice cold tundra of Minnesota."
O'Farrell nodded. Berger looked over at Misty and asked, "From the Twin Cities?"
"Around there."

"I hate to interrupt the chat, but let's get a little business finished first." Parker finished a drink and let it settle for a moment, admiring the rich taste, before he swallowed. "According to the admirals, I'm in charge, but I'll come out and admit right now that I've never been a situation that demanded direct command of several ships. I'm going to be relying on all six of you to make sure that whatever we're sent to do, we do right."
"Of course," Phillips agreed.
The other five commanders nodded in agreement. Parker took a drink before continuing. "I figure that once we're out, we will meet regularly to discuss any particulars of the operations. I don't know if any of you want to bring over all of your command crew, but I was going to recommend we hold large-scale meetings of all command staff, so everyone gets a chance to make their voice heard."
"Not t' bad," O'Farrell agreed. "But, for Miss Greene and I, that's a bit hard t' do. Our command crew makes up about a quarter of our officer complement."
"Well, exceptions can be made." Parker nodded in their direction. "We'll try to get together every couple of weeks or whenever it is deemed necessary. I have a feeling that they're not going to use us as an exclusive diplomatic courier service."
There were nods of agreement all around. "According to Operations, we'll be shipping out at the end of next week," Razmara said. "A couple of VIPs for an initial flight and that's it. Then Pressman decides where we're needed the most."

"Well, that sounds nice and simple." Parker went to speak again when he heard the door to the lounge swish open. The others turned to the door and he turned back as well. Someone had walked in wearing a Starfleet uniform, beige in color and with the rank insignia of a Lieutenant Commander. He looked human but upon a second glance he seemed too pale to be alive. His skin had a slight gold texture to it. The precision with which he stood at attention was inhuman and there was not a single hint of emotion on his face. "Commander?"
"Captain Parker, may I presume?" The commander's voice was flat-toned and constant, not betraying any kind of emotion.
"Yes?"
"I am Lieutenant Commander Data. I have been assigned to the Enterprise as your Operations Officer."
"Data..." Parker nodded slowly. "Yes, I've heard of you. Well, come, take a seat." He showed Data to the table and offered him the empty seat beside Razmara. "These are..."
Without hesitation Data rattled off the name, rank, and position of each occupant at the table. Everyone stared at him as he did this while Parker watched, not certain on whether he should be amused or irritated. "Well, Commander, it's good to see you're so well-prepared," Parker said, finally deciding to remain neutral in tone. "We were just discussing command issues. And since you're here, I might as well assign you to the task of coordinating command-level meetings in our division. Do you see a problem in this, Mister Data?"
"Not at all, Sir. It is nominally the place of the ship's operations..."
"Thank you," Parker quickly replied, cutting off Data before he could continue. "Let's move on to other matters."

The conversation re-commenced and it quickly became clear that it was limited in interest to the five commanding officers plus Colonel Kira. La Forge was the first to field a question to Data. "So you're Doctor Soong's creation?"
"I was built by Doctor Soong, yes."
La Forge nodded while taking a drink. "Yeah, I did a couple classes in robotics back in the Academy. Doc Soong's work took up, God, I think it was about twenty, twenty-five percent of the course material."
"Twenty-three point nine four six percent, to be exact."
La Forge nodded in agreement. Coleman and Larrisa exchanged annoyed glances. Razmara remained intent on the conversation and was a bit startled when Data turned to her and asked, "Sir, if I may ask a question?"
"Shoot."
"Your record says that you are half-Vulcan, yet you do not have the posture or behavior that comes from a Vulcan upbringing. How is this possible?"
"Maybe because I didn't have a Vulcan upbringing."
"Fascinating." Data continued processing the larger conversation amongst Parker and the COs while saying to Razmara, "This is the first time I have encountered someone of Vulcan heritage who has not been brought up as one. Considering the rank of your father's family, you are a statistical anomaly."
Razmara's fists clenched. "A statistical anomaly." The tone of her voice was bitter and immediately drew the attention of the other Enterprise officers.
Data did not seem to get the hint. "Yes. According to my research, all human-Vulcan pairings among the Vulcan upper classes have produced children raised as Vulcans. The social conditions that lead to this are complex but..."

"I don't care about the social conditions." The tone had grown nastier.
"Your father Stovuk was the patriarch of a leading Vulcan family. Their estimated material wealth puts them in the top thousand wealthiest families..."
"Data, I don't care!", Razmara muttered harshly.
Data blinked. "Fascinating. I would not have expected you to have absolutely no interest in your place in Vulcan society..."
"Shut up!"
Razmara's shout drew the attention of everyone in the lounge. She didn't really care. She was glaring intently at Data. Her dark eyes and the expression on her face was one of anger and even hate. "Commander Data, you will not bring up my father or his family again, do you understand?!"
"Yes Commander."
"In fact, around me, do not bring up the Vulcans at all." Razmara drew in a breath and rubbed at her head. A small headache began to develop in her forehead. Finally she stood up and went over to the bar, where Arno was still unpacking drinks. She motioned to him and he handed her a glass and took out a bottle.
"Looks like you touched some nerves, eh mate?" O'Farrell smirked at Data. "Gotta be careful, we're not all emotionless like you."
"Chris!" Misty glared at him. "You're being a bit too blunt, don't you think?"
O'Farrell shrugged at that, causing Marina to smirk as well. "Well, Cap'n, what were we talkin' about again?"
Parker sighed and resumed the conversation.



"You must be easier on the android."
Razmara looked up from a glass of light brown tequila. Arno was standing on the other side, looking over a bottle of green liquid. "Easy?"
Arno's head turned. "Yes. He does not understand human emotion very well and is naturally inquisitive."
"Well, he can be inquisitive with someone else."
There was no initial response from Arno. He nodded slowly for a moment and promptly set the bottle on the bar. "So, Commander, what wound did he open?" When Razmara looked at him blankly, Arno added, "He obviously said something that brought back unpleasant memories. What was it?"
"None of your business."
"And the scar on your ear?"
Razmara stared at Arno for a moment and then reached up toward her right ear. There was indeed a scar there, a line of rough and lighter tissue running from the front-edge of her ear tip to about a quarter of the way to the back. "An accident."
"It looks like someone tried to cut it off." Arno picked up the bottle of tequila on the bar and poured a little more into Razmara's glass. "Go ahead, take another drink. Taken in moderation, the alcohol will ease the pain... and make it easier for you to speak of what's in your heart."
Razmara smirked and took a drink. She set the glass back down, a little hard, and her hands clenched into fists. "What does it matter?"

"Well..." Arno put his hands together on the table. "I'm thinking that a little girl who hates herself, or should I say her Vulcan side, might try something so naive as to mutilate her ears to look human." When Razmara didn't respond, Arno asked, "What do you have against Vulcans? Why do you abhor them?"
"Because they were trying to hurt me and my mother," Razmara hissed. She grabbed the glass and took the last gulp left in it before slamming it back down. "Between what that Vulcan bastard did to my mother and what his bastard family did to mine, I think I have a lot of good reason to hate Vulcans. The fact that I can tolerate their presence is a big concession on my part."
Arno took the glass and went to put it away. "Well, I can't make you tell me the rest. But if you ever want to...." He looked back over from his receptable for dirty glasses and found that Razmara had already walked out of the lounge. He sighed and went back to work.




The officers had adjourned from the lounge and were heading back to their various ships. Arno watched them go while finishing on setting up a shelf with non-alcoholic drinks. He put the last keg in place and turned to find Data standing at the bar. "Mister Data, what can I get for you?"
"I do not require anything for sustenance."
Arno nodded in understanding. "Yes, you are right. So, it must now be asked, why did you come to me?"
"I am afraid I upset the Commander by mentioning her Vulcan heritage. I did not know she was so upset with her people."
Arno nodded. "Did you overhear her speaking with me?"
"Yes. I have very effective auditory reception, with an effective..."
Data stopped talking when Arno raised his hand. "First things first, Commander Data. That gets annoying."
The android seemed perplexed. "What does?"

"You were about to rattle on with the precise nature of your hearing. You don't have to give a precise answer for every single question you're asked." Arno pulled a stool up and sat down on it. "Sit down, Commander, and let me explain a few more things to you."
Data slid right into a chair on the other side. Arno leaned over the bar. "You have to work on your people skills. Learn to read the emotions of others."
"I cannot. I do not have emotions."
"Well, we'll work on that. But the case in point..." Arno pointed over to the table. "Commander Razmara gave you a number of warnings that you were treading in the wrong direction. And you didn't bother to pick up on those warnings. That is why she's mad at you, Commander. You kept prattling on, digging in, and you hurt her. You brought back painful memories."
Data seemed to consider Arno's words for a moment. "I cannot see any problem in what you have said. I did not understand the Commander's feelings when they were quite obvious. Will you help me learn to read human emotions better, Mister Vanbeginne?"
"Of course. And..." Arno clicked his tongue and pointed at Data. "Call me Arno."




A loud thud echoed in the Enterprise gym and turned a number of heads. Standing at a destroyed punching bag, in olive-colored sports bra and shorts, Razmara howled angrily and turned, bringing up her foot in a roundhouse kick that tossed the ripped-up bag off of it's hook and spilling sand onto the floor.
"Um, Commander..." A young dark-skinned human walked up beside her. "Are you okay?"
"No," Razmara huffed. "This is a cheap piece of crap."
"Ma'am, that one was designed for human use. It wasn't meant for a Vulcan."
The young man grimaced when Razmara's lips curled into an angry snarl. Before she could rant at the enlisted man, Parker walked up behind her. "Commander Razmara, let's go this way."
Razmara bit into her lip. She let Parker put an arm on her bare shoulder and pull her away from the others. When they were a safe distant out of earshot, he turned back to her and crossed his arms. "What was that about?"
"Blowing steam, Captain."
"You looked like you were going to punch that man's head clear off."
Razmara looked down. "Yeah, I suppose I did. But I wouldn't have."

"You know..." Parker took a seat on a bench, prompting Razmara to take the one beside him. "I've been looking at your record recently. Virtually spotless."
"I already know what the blemish is."
"Yes. Your ability to work with Vulcans needs work." Parker noted with amusement Razmara's sudden huff. "A lot of work."
"I've worked fine with Vulcans before, Captain."
"But only when they didn't have anything to do with you. Every time a Vulcan so much as tries to socialize with you, you have a noted tendency to cause fights."
Razmara "harumphed" again. "The Vulcan idea of socializing is to remind me of my blood and try to convince me to live a life of pure logic. They don't take no for an answer and instead press for logical reasons for me to deny being half-Vulcan."
"And do you have any?"
"What do you think?" Razmara crossed her arms over her chest.
"I think you bit Commander Data's head off."
"That'll teach him to pry."
"And you made a scene." Parker sighed and shook his head. "You know, I understand if you have something in your past you'd rather not talk about, but it's not going to do you any good to keep it bottled up inside forever."
"Yes, well, that's my option." Razmara stood up. "Anything else you'd like to say to me, Sir?"
"There is." Parker grinned slyly. "The next time you feel like hitting something that hard, go to a holodeck."
Razmara matched his grin. "Of course, Sir."
Parker stood and watched her walk away for a moment before stepping toward the door and heading out into one of the ship's hallways. He took about five steps before his commbadge beeped. He tapped it. "Parker here."

Data answered. "Captain, a Lieutenant Hamblin has arrived on the bridge and wishes to report to you."
"I'm on my way." Parker took a turn into a turbolift and rode up to the bridge deck. He stepped out onto the bridge and found Data standing near the rear with another, younger man with a tanned complexion. Parker recognized the young man's facial features immediately, even though he'd never met Lieutenant Hamblin before. The name, however, was enough. "Lieutenant James Hamblin Junior?" He offered his hand to the young man.
"Reporting for duty, Captain," Hamblin replied with a definitive Londoner accent. "It's an honor to serve on the Enterprise."
"I feel the same way." Parker allowed himself a grin. "I served for a short time under your father when I was fresh out of the Academy. You look like a chip off the old block."
"Thank you, Sir."
"Chief Navigational Officer, I take it?"
"Yes."
"Good." Parker put a hand on Hamblin's shoulder. "I never got to know Captain Hamblin personally, just by reputation. Going by that alone, well, I'm sure you're going to be a fine addition to this crew."
The young man nodded again. "Thank you, Sir."
"Go ahead and get settled into your quarters. Commander Data?" Parker looked over at the android. "Please show Mister Hamblin to his room."
"Yes Captain."

Data escorted Hamblin off the bridge, leaving Parker alone. He walked up to the command chair and eased himself into it. The viewscreen was offline and most of the stations were disengaged. Even without the bridge being active, Parker felt thrilled just to be sitting in this chair. The captain's chair of the Enterprise; the pinnacle of any Starfleet officer's career. Parker imagined the great commanders of prior Enterprises feeling as he did. Knowing the great legacy they were inheriting and feeling that weight on their shoulders.
Parker stood up again and walked toward the back of the bridge. Stopping beside the tactical station, he looked back over the bridge. He had entered Starfleet because he believed in the Federation and the need to protect it. He had trained as a military officer first and foremost. Yet there was something about the name Enterprise that made it transcend military excellence. The spirit he felt here was probably the same that inspired the motto inscribed on the ship's dedication plaque, a long-standing Starfleet tradition: To boldly go where no one has gone before...
"Exploring? In this ship?" Parker shook his head. Enterprise was built to fight. His assignment wasn't going to be exploration but defense. There was no use thinking otherwise, and Parker even wondered if he was cut out for exploration. Pushing these thoughts aside, he stepped into the turbolift and descended to the next deck, where his quarters were. It was time to settle in.




After working out Razmara was still wound up from Data's unwelcome prying. She washed off and returned to her quarters where she replaced her exercise suit for a flattering blue dress. It was transparent from the mid-thigh down and the top was cut over her chest, revealing some of her cleavage and leaving her shoulders and neck bare.
From there Razmara left Enterprise and ventured out into McKinley's commercial area. Even though it was a military base civilians still lived on station. Some were family members of personnel assigned to the base and with others they worked in the service jobs in the station's restaurants and such.
Razmara's particular destination was a bar in the "south-western" quadrant of the commercial area. It was modeled after an English pub and had some good, non-replicated drinks available. And Razmara felt like drinking a great deal. As for her choice of clothing, she had very little else other than her uniforms and Razmara didn't mind the possibility of male company for the duration of the evening. Anything to get her mind off of what Data had stirred up.

Sitting at the bar, Razmara attracted some immediate attention. A number of the men were eyeing her up from most directions. She ordered a screwdriver and sipped at it when it arrived. For the moment she was content to let the alcohol work it's way into her system and did not return the lustful glances of some of the men in the bar.
Razmara felt a hand touch her left shoulder. "Whoever you are, you'd better remove that before I break it," she muttered with her lips pressed against the glass.
"You haven't changed."
The smooth male voice made Razmara turn her head in surprise. A brown-haired man sat beside her, showing a wide smile. "Jack!" Razmara grinned at her old friend Jack Kelvin. "It's been a while."
"I'll say." Jack grinned at her. "Dressed to kill, Sophia?"
"Just something nice to wear." Razmara turned in her seat to better look at him. "You're doing good for yourself outside of Starfleet. Still in the Merchant Marine, right?"
Jack nodded. "Good money to be made." He waited for her to finish taking a drink. "I could use a good First Mate, Sophia. You'd earn more than what you get in Starfleet."
"I don't think so, Jack." Razmara grinned widely. "I'm not going to leave Starfleet when I just made XO on the Enterprise."
Jack's eyes widened. His face expressed surprise. "Ooh, that's a plum position. Well, congratulations!" He motioned to the bartender. "A martini for my friend, on me."

That drew a giggle from Razmara. "So, is this going to be like the last few nights have been?"
"Maybe." Jack shrugged. "Maybe not. I'd like it if we actually managed some consistancy."
Razmara finished her screwdriver and placed the empty glass on the table. The bartender brought her a martini and took Jack's credit chit. "Consistancy hasn't been our thing since the Academy."
"Never too late to start." Jack chuckled and then lowered his eyes a little. "Then again, I suppose you don't feel the old clock ticking as fast as I do."
"You're feeling old?"
"Aren't you?" Jack looked at her. After a moment he shook his head and sighed. "What am I saying? You look and feel as you did when we graduated. But I do feel old, Sophia. I'm already thirty-four."
"So am I." Razmara sipped at her martini. "If you want to do anything, we have to do it tonight. I've got to officially report to the Enterprise in the morning."
"Are you hungry?"
"Hungry enough to go out." Razmara grinned at Jack. "A sudden date sounds good to me."




Davy Jones' Locker was a popular hangout in McKinley for Starfleet personnel. A three-floored restauraunt and bar owned and operated by a former Starfleet officer, the aptly-named David Jones, it had the customary pool tables, nightly poker games and gambling, and dart boards, plus a sports bar. Over half of the bar's patrons were in uniform and of the rest, almost all were personnel out of uniform.
Misty and O'Farrell were among those in uniform, sitting at a table with Phillips in civilian clothes consisting of collared shirts and trousers. Each had a drink of varying amounts of alcohol and were laughing at each other's stories of their past experiences. As Misty finished recounting a humorous moment from her Academy days a redheaded woman walked up to the table, wearing the red of command and the rank pips of a Lieutenant Commander. "Janey!" Misty gestured to her and caused the others to turn to face the newcomer. "Gentlemen, this is my executive officer and helmswoman, Commander Jane April."
A chorus of greetings came from the other three. "Any relation to Robert April?", Phillips asked.
"Oh, no." Jane slid into a free seat. "Commander, just coming to tell you that Lieutenant Meyers finished that little fixup you asked him to do."
"Thank you, Janey. So, what do you want to drink?"
"I'm technically on duty, Commander," Jane reminded her.
O'Farrell laughed aloud. "Hey, this is the Locker, sweetie. No ranks here!"

Jane cracked a smile at O'Farrell. "Well, thank you for letting me know that, but please don't call me sweetie."
"Whatever you say," came his reply.
"So, Janey, going to sit with us and have a round?" Misty lifted her glass. "Might be our last night."
"I'll think about it, but I promised Lieutenant Meyers I'd..."
"Fred knows what he's doing. C'mon, I'll buy for you."
"Well, in that case..." Jane turned in her chair toward the bar and ordered a Californian wine. The others whistled. "What?" Jane looked at them with bewilderment.
"Wine." Phillips snickered. "Rich girl, huh? Too good for good liquor and beer?"
"My family's middle class, thank you," Jane retorted. "It's not that expensive anyway. Probably cheaper than a lot of that liquor you like so much."
The others began laughing.




Near the table, Berger was standing at the bar with Zaharia Herzela, ranked Lieutenant Commander and the recently-assigned Chief Engineering Officer of the Minneapolis. A great complication for her since the lovely, outgoing Zaharia had been her lover for twenty years, before either joined Starfleet. She was a short Trill woman, about thirty-nine years old now with long and rich red hair that went half-way down her back and bright blue eyes. The spots along her hairline and down onto her shoulders gave her an exotic quality even if she was physically just like a human woman.
Both were holding drinks and had been making small talk for most of the evening. "So, what next for us?"
"What next?" Zaharia's eyes sparkled. "I don't understand. We've carried on while posted together before."
"But this is different. Now I'm the CO and you're my chief engineer. It's conflict of interest."
"Don't you trust me to do my job?"
Were it not for Zaharia's pleasant nature, the phrase would've been said in an stinging, accusing tone. As it was, Berger knew what she was getting at. "Of course. But if we slip up even once, the others won't trust either of us."
Zaharia nodded. She giggled a little and put her arms around Berger's waist. "Oh, come on Katie. You worry too much."

The two lovers stared into each other's eyes for a moment. Berger finally looked past her and noticed Parker entering the Locker with a younger man standing beside him. He was a senior lieutenant with a beige operations service uniform, brown-haired and well-built. Parker zeroed in on Berger and Zaharia and walked up to them. "Captain, Commander, this is Lieutenant James O'Keefe, the Enterprise comm officer. He just got off the transport."
Berger introduced Zaharia to them and Parker moved on to introduce O'Keefe to the others.




As the night wore on, the group of officers from the Enterprise and her comrades coalesced until they took over an entire corner of the bar. Currently the entertainment consisted of karaoke night, with a Trill couple up on stage singing an old late 20th Century pop tune (and doing so rather badly). Most of those assembled were laughing at the couple, except for Drake. Parker sipped on a glass of tequila. "Still the Stoic, Drake?"
"I just don't find anything funny about them, that's all."
"So, Parker, you've served with Irvine here, huh?" O'Farrell chucked a thumb at the taller man. "Is he always like that?"
"Back in the Academy the running joke was that someone in Heaven got their wires crossed and so Drake was born a Human and not a Vulcan like intended." Parker noticed that slight curve in Drake's face that meant amusement. "And there was a strong belief that there were Vulcans jealous of him. Though few ever had the guts to say those things to the hero of the Academy rugby team."
If Drake was amused or annoyed, he showed neither emotion. Marina, however, seemed quite amused. "At first I did not recognize you, Parker," she said to him in an accent that hinted her Slavic origins, "but I do remember you know. You were the one who was going to bash a Vulcan in the head with a chair leg for picking on your friend."

"Seemed like a good idea at the time," Parker retorted.
"Well, if it means anything, I would have given you Last Rites after the Vulcans were through with you." Marina sipped on a small glass of vodka.
"How reassuring."
A small round of laughter echoed over the table. "What was your non-command specialty, Lenarova?"
"Engineering. I transferred to command after I made full Lieutenant. And your's?"
"I majored in Tactical and minored in Navigation," replied Parker. "Unlike Drake we don't all have rich and powerful noble parents to get the high-quality education for jumping straight into command."
A smirk crossed Marina's face and a number of the other officers laughed once more. Drake remained quite calm when he replied, "So sorry, chaps, that I actually passed at the top of my entry class to make the jump to command training."
Parker sipped at his tequila again. "Now there's the Drake I've been waiting to see again."
After finishing her vodka, Marina asked over the others' laughter, "Drake, why didn't you ever introduce us in the Academy?"

"Because, Marina, Adrian and I didn't know each other then."
"We met on the Persephone," Parker added. "Drake was the operations officer at the time to Captain Rosenbaum, and I was a night watch officer."
"Yes, I always said Adrian was going to be an excellent Captain when he grew up." Again Drake showed that slight curl at the lip that amounted to a smile. "He might look like a refined gentleman now, but when he was young Adrian was well-known for being quite the party animal."
Parker held his glass of tequila up, smirking while shaking his head. "I had my times, I'll confess."
"And ladies," Drake reminded him.
"And ladies," Parker agreed.
Misty leaned forward over the table "And what were they like?"
"Soft, kind, and sweet." Parker took the last gulp from his tequila and poured a little more from the bottle he was sharing with Phillips. "Though there was this one woman I remember from a short time I spent on the Agamemnon. Her name was Deanna. She was half-Human half-Betazoid, a shrink."
Jane blinked from surprise. "A shrink on a starship?"
"Yeah, uh, research mission or something like that. On the state of our minds while on duty." Parker raised his eyebrows for a moment and recalled just what kind of state of mind he used to have when around her, as well as other unpleasant memories regarding their seperation. "She didn't make it in Starfleet so she went into psychology. Her mother is Betazoid royalty, so she had plenty of support in that field. And Deanna... she was... well-built, if you get what I mean." Parker's gesturing made it clear just how "well-built" she was.
"And I'm sure you became quite acquainted with that build." Marina smirked. "Maybe some hands-on experience, yes?"

Parker nodded and took a sip of tequila, and this one for more than just drinking along with everyone else. "Ooh yeah, very well acquainted. Of course, well, let's just say it didn't work out."
O'Farrell shook his head in disbelief. "Yer one chance t' be made, and ya blew it!" He guzzled down the last of his beer and slammed the mug down on the table. "She was a Betazoid noble, mate! Ya should've gone for that! Especially if she had big knockers."
Marina and Misty managed the achievement of rolling their eyes in perfect synch. Jane snorted at took a sip of wine while Phillips shook his head. "Nice, Chris."
"Seriously, man, you'd be making a helluva lot more than.... woooh!" O'Farrell had been trying to balance himself with his chair on only two legs. He shifted his weight too far backward and fell over, tumbling out of the chair and... "Fuckin' hell, that hurt my arse!" He scrambled back up while Jane and Drake moved to aid him.

"On behalf of all Australia, I would like to apologize for Commander O'Farrell's conduct," O"Keefe said with mock sincerity. "This is what happens when a man from Oz drinks too much beer and gets pissed."
"Oh, no apologizes are necessary," Marina assured him. "He has been very entertaining." And with that note, Marina began to clap her hands. The others soon joined in the mock applause.
While this occurred, an officer walked up to them, in the uniform of a command officer and with the rank insignia of a Commander. She seemed to be around Marina's height, size, and built, in that gray area between "solid" and "athletic" that gave the impression of physical fitness without actual muscle tone. Her blonde hair was well-kept and tied into an upward pony-tail on the back of her head, keeping the hair from going lower than the nape of her neck. Her baby blue-colored eyes were covered by heavy and well-kept eyelashes. Drake looked up at her and immediately stood up to offer her a seat. "Rosa, why don't you sit?"
"Non, that will not be necessary," Rosaline replied in a French accent that, while noticable, had lost it's thickness over years of English-use. "I am still on duty."
"Nobody's on duty in the Locker, Miss...?"
Rosaline looked over at Phillips. "Je m'appelle Rosaline d'Orvilliers."
"Commander d'Orvilliers is my Executive Officer," Drake explained to the others.
Her blue eyes changing focus, Rosaline looked at Marina, who's smile was perhaps the warmest yet seen by the others. "Bonjour, Marina."
Marina slid back in her chair. "You can have my seat, if you like."
"I will not be here long." Rosaline pulled a PADD from behind her back and presented it to Drake. "Captain, Commander Engasser has finished rebuilding the port nacelle plasma relay. Here is his list of parts needed to begin work on the sensor grid."
Drake took the PADD and plastic writer from Rosaline and looked it over. He signed his name to the bottom and handed it back to her. "There you go, Commander."
"Merci."

Rosaline nodded once more to the rest of them and walked out. "A strict professional." A mirthless smile crossed Drake's face. "My last XO couldn't stand me. Rosa, however, is a perfect fit."
"I would say, Drake."
Jane finished a glass of wine and reached to pour the last few ounces out of the bottle she'd bought. Turning to face Marina, she asked, "So, I take it you two know each other as well?"
"Rosa and I served together about fifteen to twenty years ago," came the reply, in Marina's characteristic Slavic voice. "We were junior officers in the Engineering department of an explorer ship, the Stargazer. It was not an enjoyable posting. We were in unexplored space out past the Ferengi and Thallonian frontiers for three years straight and our captain was a better explorer than commanding officer."
"And he was?"
"A Frenchman, or so he said. Jean-Luc Picard. Of course, Rosa took to telling me and as many others as she could that Captain Picard was as French as a scone." Marina put her hands together on the table. "Picard was not a bad man, he was a good philosopher and very intellectual, but he was not a military man. He would try to negotiate too often and a number of my comrades paid the price for that. He eventually was transferred back to Earth as a desk admiral in the Exploration Department after he got the Stargazer shot up by Ferengi raiders."

"And Rosa is quite right about him," Drake noted. "His name is French and he comes from a region of France and a French family but Picard is, culturally speaking, English. That entire area of France was depopulated during the Third World War and drew English immigrants across the Channel during Reconstruction."
"Okay, that's enough history for one night." Misty let out a groan. "The hangover tomorrow's going to be bad enough already."
Jane looked across the table at her. "Drink too much, Misty?"
"Oh yeeeaaah."
"Well, it is getting late." Drake steepled his fingers together. "Perhaps we should retire for the evening?"
There were nods of assent and the gathered quickly disbanded back to their quarters and ships.




Razmara and Jack had finished dinner and Jack insisted on showing her to her room on the station. They entered together, Razmara going first. "Please excuse the mess." She gestured toward the open containers with personal belongings, clothes, and a few other items. "Tomorrow I'm moving onto the Enterprise." She walked over to her living room and tossed her entry card onto a nearby table before she sprawled out on the couch. "Sorry it's not any bigger. The best I could afford on my salary."
"Oh, big enough." Jack walked around. "At least you have two bathrooms and some good furnishing."
"And what did you manage, Mister Merchant Captain?" A sly grin crossed Razmara's face. "A luxury suite?"
"Of course not," scoffed Jack. "It'd be a waste of money for one person. I have a suite just like this one about five decks up, in C quadrant."
"But you could have afforded better?"
"Of course." He picked through a box, looking at a framed picture of Razmara as an adolescent with mother and grandmother. "If I'd known you were here I would have rented a two-room suite and offered you one of them."
"Oh. I get a seperate room." Razmara grinned widely. "How thoughtful of you. Here I thought you'd want to keep me in your's."

"Well, wouldn't want to force the issue." Jack picked up another picture showing a teenage Razmara with a young man. Her hair was longer in the picture and she was in the provocative clothing that one would expect rebellious teenage girls to wear. Razmara saw him looking at it and glared at him. He noticed it and put the picture back. "How is old Brad?"
"I wouldn't know. I haven't seen him since the time my grandfather died." Razmara frowned. "Not that I care. Last I heard of him, he found a wife who was into his demented tastes."
"Ah." Jack put the picture down. "Well, you always did talk about how you were different in your youth. And I was never one to pry." He walked over to her and sat beside her on the couch. Both could feel an energy begin to build in the air between them. A need for one another, an irresistable attraction.

When he could no longer resist, Jack pulled closer to Razmara. A grin began to cross his face and that was all she had to see. Razmara did not hesitate to move over toward Jack and press her lips against his. This was how it usually happened. They would meet somewhere, they would have dinner, go home and have sex; when morning came one or the other would be gone. But the only regrets they had about these meetings was that they didn't have more time with each other.
While they kissed Jack reached around Razmara's sides and pulled down the zipper that held her dress top on. The bodice-piece fell away from her and Jack discarded it, freeing Razmara's breasts. Razmara embraced Jack closely and they continued to kiss while Jack rubbed his thumbs over her nipples. She whispered "Don't stop" into his ear, prompting Jack to continue undressing her while Razmara pulled his shirt off.




Parker was only half-sober when he stumbled into his quarters on the Enterprise. Though most of the crew had not officially moved aboard yet, he and a number of the others had decided to save money and sleep in their assigned quarters. Currently his quarters were a mess, as he had spent most of the past two days looking over the information on the ship and getting to know it's capabilities. It would have been so much easier for Parker if he had commanded the ship on shakedown trials, but those had been performed by the ship's original CO, Captain Harburton, who had afterward transferred planetside to be with his ailing wife and family.
First he slipped off his uniform; second Parker slipped on his sleeping clothes and made a final check of his things and his schedule for the next day. Another staff meeting, the arrival of the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer, and the final checks to ensure the ship had been fully stocked by the Quartermaster. After he finished looking it over, Parker brushed his teeth and slid into bed. He opened his nightstand drawer and pulled out a bottle of dark red Pacifican whiskey; he poured about an ounce into a glass on his nightstand and put the bottle back. Closing his eyes, Parker downed the ounce of liquor with a single gulp. It burned it's way into his stomach while Parker set the glass down and rubbed his chest. With his nightcap finished, Parker slipped under the covers and whispered, "Lights off", prompting the computer to turn off the lights and plunge his quarters into darkness. Sleep came soon thereafter.




Open Space, The Triangle Region, Near the Romulan-Federation Frontier
19 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



A trail of leaking gas and debris was spilling from the wounded port side of the U.S.S. Equinox. The crippled Nova-class explorer ship twisted in space away from her attacker, a sleek and deadly Romulan Bird-of-Prey. Her aft phaser away lashed out at the Bird-of-Prey while it turned back toward the Equinox.
A flight of quantum torpedoes erupted from the Equinox's bow launcher toward a second foe moving in to attack her: a Romulan cruiser-type Warbird. The torpedoes battered the cruiser's forward shield and gave her commander pause in his maneuvers. As Equinox's forward phasers cut into those weakened shields, the Bird-of-Prey's own torpedo launcher tossed out a plasma torpedo. It impacted with the Equinox's port hull and nearly tore the ship in half.
The explosion caused structural damage within the ship and devastated the Equinox's bridge. Damaged bulkheads fell and electrical fires erupted from the sparks of damaged consoles. Fuses blew in turn and many of the consoles shut down around the bridge crew, or more importantly what was left of it.

Captain Ransom and Lt. Commander Burke, the Equinox's senior officers, were both dead; the ranking officer left on the bridge was the ship's tactical officer, Lieutenant Commander Sharon Carter. Carter's red hair, normally shoulder-length and maintained in a bun, was disheveled and her face visibly coated with sweat. She slammed down on her controls trying to trigger the weapons, but the circuit had been broken. She cursed profanely at the dead console.
Nearby was one of the few consoles still working; Sensors. It was occupied by a Trill Lieutenant named Jadzia Idaris, a dark-haired woman only a few years out of the Academy. As Communications had apparently gone out, the computers rerouted the signal to Jadzia's console. "Commander, they're signalling a surrender demand!"
Carter looked back at the viewscreen and saw the Romulan cruiser looming on the screen. It stabbed at her crippled warship with it's disruptors, as if to remind Carter that she was helpless. She gripped her console and turned to the Ensign at Communications. "Did we get a signal out?"

The Bolian turned and nodded. "I think so. They were jamming us but Romulan electronics aren't very sophisticated. I sent it along some frequencies they aren't supposed to be capable of reaching."
"Then let's hope you're right." Carter looked back to Jadzia and wiped some of the sweat from her forehead, pushing aside strands of hair. "Go ahead, signal our surrender after you set the auto-destruct to blow in five minutes.
The Trill woman swallowed and gave a stiff nod. She brought up the destruct sequence and the computer requested ID. Carter gave her's and her code; the two Lieutenants who were still alive on the bridge did the same. The computer immediately began the auto-destruct. With this process started, Jadzia signaled a surrender to the Romulans.
Carter had very little time to consider her actions. Within ten seconds she and the entire bridge crew were snatched away by Romulan transporters. They materialized in a cargo bay. Shortly other Starfleet personnel did. Grim-faced Romulans holding disruptor rifles stood at close watch while others, holding medical kits, stormed in and began finding the critically wounded. The surviving medical crew of the Equinox aided them in trying to keep alive as many as possible.

The sequence of events was so fast that Carter could hardly believe this was happening. Now that the adrenaline of battle was starting to wear off, she tried to think of the occurrences. This was in open space, unclaimed by any of the major stellar nations; why did the Romulans attack them in such force? The Equinox was primarily an explorer and was only armed enough to resist light attack. But she had been unfortunate, attacked within the gravity well of a gas giant they were cataloguing and with a plasma torpedo having knocked out the port warp nacelle in the first volley.
There were many thoughts going through Carter's mind of what might happen. The Romulans, thankfully, were not Cardassians and they had a reputation for treating their prisoners fairly. But at the same time there was an ominous feeling in the air. These Romulans had attacked them in neutral space for no apparent reason. Why? What did they have to gain?
As she felt the ship tremor, the result of the Equinox destroying herself, Carter supposed she would find out soon enough.




McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001


"Bridge to Captain Parker."
Those words, and the loud beep that preceded them, sliced right through Parker's comfortable sleep and awoke him. Grumbling, he reached a hand over and slammed it down on the commbadge on his nightstand. "Yes?", Parker muttered
Now that he was awake, he could recognize the voice on the other end; it was Data. "Captain, I am detecting unscheduled activity in the medical computers. Someone is altering the software and accompanying network protocols."
"Well, ask them what they're doing with sickbay's comm network."
"I cannot, Sir. The computer activity is currently involved in overwriting some of the communication protocols as well."
"Then send someone else."
"There is no one else to send, Sir."

"Fine, fine, I'm on my way." Still grumbling, Parker slipped out of the bed and took about a minute to change into his uniform. He was still half-asleep for most of his walk to the nearby turbolift, which at his order took him to the deck near sickbay. Once there he walked in the port side of sickbay to find it was, as expected, mostly empty. The equipment in the entry room was on standby. However, there was a light coming from the office. Parker walked up to the entryway of the office and saw a man sitting at the desk, drinking something that looked like coffee and running his fingers over the desk monitor's control panel. He was in a blue Starfleet uniform and his commbadge was the insignia of Starfleet Medical. Three gold rank pips were set on his collar. "Um, hello?"
The man looked up and Parker could easily identify his Asian features. He looked to be about 40 with well-combed dark hair and brown eyes. Height-wise he was only about 177 centimeters in height. "Ah, Captain Parker? A pleasure." He stood and offered a hand. Parker walked up and accepted it with a handshake. "Doctor Phong Nguyen. I'm your Chief Medical Officer."
"Doctor." Parker nodded respectfully. "Um, what are you doing here so late? I thought you were arriving in the morning?"
"The Eisenhower put in early." Phong sat back down in his chair and resumed his work. "Any reason you're up at this late hour, Captain?"

"Yes. I have an annoying android as my Operations Officer. An annoying android who never sleeps." Parker frowned. "He woke me up when he detected, well, whatever you're doing to the computers."
"I'm updating and customizing the medical system software," replied Phong. He turned the monitor and pointed out where it was confirming the installation of new programs. "The Enterprise's computers are the latest and greatest but her software is over ten years old. This stuff was made earlier this year by myself and a few friends in Starfleet Medical. It'll maximize the use of Enterprise's computers rather than letting so much potential go to waste."
"Oh, uh, good."
"You don't look so good. Raktajino?" Phong lifted the mug toward Parker.
"Um... no thanks. I think I'm going to go back to bed. Coffee's not on my mind right now. I can only imagine how long I'd be awake from Klingon coffee." Parker turned back toward the door. "See you tomorrow, Doctor."
"Looking forward to it."
There was another nod and Parker went out the door, rubbing his head and longing to return to his bed.




Unknown Location


After a few hours in the holding bay on the Romulan cruiser, Carter was seperated from her crew. Romulan guards quickly shackled her wrists into a metallic restraint and guided her to a transporter. When the transport was complete she was taken from the transporter room through a handful of bland and unremarkable corridors lined with Romulan markings to a single room. It was an office, or something like it. There was a man at the desk, seated in the shadow of the room. Carter was brought up to a chair and forced to sit by her guards. "My my my, look at what we have here?" The voice seemed wrong for a Romulan.
"What is going on here? Why was my ship attacked?" Carter's voice trembled from an instinctive fear. Something bad was going to happen. That much she could feel from the air within the room. An oppressive, crushing air that made it hard to breathe, or so it seemed to Carter.

"Why are you here? Because we desire information. Why was your ship attacked? Because we desired to attack it." The figure in the chair leaned forward. His pale white skin and the scaley flesh marked him a Cardassian. Carter froze in place. "My name is Madred. I used to be Gul Madred, until the Federation was so kind as to demand my arrest for... what was it again? Crimes against sentient life?" Madred cackled for a moment. "Yes, that was it. Well, fortunately I had my friends and they arranged for me to leave Cardassia. Now, you are, let me see..." Madred looked over a data pad. "Lieutenant Commander Sharon Marie Carter. Tactical Officer on the U.S.S. Equinox, soon to be re-assigned to the starship Enterprise. Approximately one hundred and eighty-one centimeters tall with a mass of about sixty nine kilograms. Red hair and green eyes. Graduated one hundred and sixty-fourth in a class of twenty-five hundred Starfleet cadets in 2355 and with the second-highest score for your specialty in tactical operation." Madred put the padd down. "We do have a rather expansive library of Starfleet personnel records."

Carter did not reply. She watched Madred stand up and walk around the desk. For the first time she could see he was still in a Cardassian uniform. His movements were slow and deliberate as he walked toward her. He continued to face her with his hands behind his back. "We have need of information about Starfleet's patrol routes through this region of space. You were your ship's Second Officer, so it stands to reason that you know them."
"I don't." The words were cold and emotionless and Carter felt like they were being spoken by someone else.

"Well, that poses a problem, doesn't it?" Madred nodded to the guards who had escorted her in. They came up to either side of Carter and pulled her to her feet. She began to struggle when they raised her arms above her head. Above them, suspended was the roof, was a metal frame. Easily ignoring her efforts to pull free, the two Romulans locked her restraints in place and left her hanging about an inch off the ground. Carter winced from the tension growing in her arms. Before it could become painful, a metallic restraint was placed beneath her feet and her ankles locked into it. This did not eliminate the tension in her arms but it did reduce it. Madred removed a blade from his belt.
Unable to move, Carter was helpless to stop Madred from cutting off her uniform. He reached up and cut across the length of her shoulders and arms, causing her uniform jacket to fall free. Her uniform top came next, and after that the bra she wore underneath. Cuts across her the sides of hips and legs removed the bottom pieces of Carter's clothing. When she was completely naked he took a step back, as if to admire his handiwork. "We'll start again in the morning. Good night." He walked around her and led the two Romulan guards out of the office. The lights dimmed.

Now alone, cold, and helpless, Carter began to weep in fear of what he would do next. Her heart quivered from the terror of Madred's reputation as she had heard it. The cold air began to numb her skin while her arms ached from being suspended above her head. It would be quite a long time before Carter fell asleep, tears streaming down her face.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Last edited by Steve on 2008-07-07 02:15pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Chapter 3



McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001


Parker was awake and fixing a cup of coffee at his desk when his commbadge beeped. He reached over on the table and tapped it. "Parker here."
"Captain, Admiral Pressman wishes to speak with you." It was Data.
"Put him on." Parker looked over at the computer monitor on his desk. The monitor activated and Pressman appeared on it. "Admiral, what can I do for you this morning?"
"Captain, a situation has materialized. You and the senior command officers of your division are to meet with me at 1200 in McKinley's strategic operations center. As of now I'm ordering all Enterprise personnel to report immediately for duty, since you will be departing by tomorrow afternoon."

Parker blinked. "Sir, we're not due to leave for another two weeks. We're still understaffed and..."
"An emergency crew will be provided to you, enough to give you two watches and you will be given sufficient stocks for a single combat sortie. I'm sorry, that's the best I can do. This situation requires immediate attention. Pressman out." The Admiral's image disappeared from the screen.
Parker sat for a moment and then leisurely sipped at his coffee, not bothering to rush. He had four hours in whch to get the others and meet Pressman and he was damned well going to enjoy his coffee.




The clock on Razmara's nightstand was flashing 0803 when Razmara opened her eyes. Surprisingly enough Jack was still in bed with her, laying on his back with her beside him on her side. Razmara reached over to him and began to playfully twirl her fingers through his thick chest hair. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, causing him to turn her way. For a moment, Razmara didn't know how to greet him besides, "Good morning", which she said immediately. After he replied, she just went with the default, "I love you."
"Yes, I, uh, guessed that considering how loudly you were screaming last night," he answered, teasing.
Razmara suddenly blushed. "I did not scream that loud."
"Yes you did."
"I... I did not!" Razmara slapped him playfully on the shoulder.
"Loud enough that I thought the entire apartment section heard you." Razmara gasped and slapped his shoulder again. "What? You asked!"

"I did." Smiling, Razmara pushed her lips against his. They kissed for several moments, their arms around each other and their bodies pressed together. When the embrace ended Razmara brought her arms back to the front and pushed his back against the bed, rolling on top of him and sitting up in a convenient position. He sat up and they continued to kiss each other. Razmara began kissing him on the neck, pushing him back down so she could work her way down his chest, brushing his hair out of the way so her lips could touch bare skin and the sensitive flesh of his nipples.
But before they could begin making love there was a beep from Razmara's nightstand. Angrily she rolled off of Jack and with her left hand pulled open the nightstand's upper drawer. Her right hand reached in and pulled out a Starfleet commbadge. She put pressure on the front and activated it. "Hello," she growled. Even as she adjusted herself to a more comfortable position on the bed, she felt Jack's hands move over her back and butt. It felt good, but now her attention was on the voice that came from the badge's speaker.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, it was the bringer of Razmara's woe from the previous day. Data's immediate reply was, "Commander, we have new orders from Starfleet and are due to leave out tomorrow. You need to return to the ship to begin departure procedures."

"What?!"
"I must also inform you have both been called to a meeting with Admiral Pressman at 1200, after which we have twenty-four hours to prepare for departure."
"You have to be kidding." Razmara felt her breathing pick up pace while Jack kissed her on the back.
"I assure you I am not, Commander. I can transmit authorization codes if you desire."
"Data, it was a figure of fucking speech!" Razmara nudged her shoulder back, hinting at Jack to stop. "Listen, I'll be at the meeting. Is there any time the Captain wants me back?"
"I will ask him." There was a short pause, after which Parker's voice could be heard as replying, "1000". Data repeated it and drew an exasperated sigh from Razmara. "Will you need assistance moving your things aboard, Commander?"
"No, Mister Data, I will not. Razmara out." Razmara tossed the commbadge back into the drawer and, for a moment, remained on her belly. She muttered, "I fucking hate that android."
"Twice in one conversation," Jack whistled. Jack put an arm around her and prompted her to turn her head his way. "So, business as usual?"
"Yes, business as usual." Razmara felt a tear come down her face. She had been looking forward to actually spending the morning in bed with Jack, but now that hope was dashed. "Duty calls."

"I see." Jack's expression showed his own disappointment. "Can I at least make you breakfast and help you pack?"
Razmara nodded and kissed him on the lips. "After I get out of the shower, yes."
A fun idea occured to Jack, so he asked, "Can I shower with you?"
"No, Jack. It's not big enough and..." She playfully fingered his chin. "We'd be in there for an hour. So get started on breakfast while I go clean up, okay?" She slid off the bed and walked toward her small bathroom. Jack watched her go, admiring her gorgeous body and feeling very, very depressed.




At 0830, as was her custom while in spacedock, Marina strolled onto the spartan, utilitarian bridge of the Great Lakes. It didn't have the multiple stations or space of the Enterprise's bridge, or even those of the Hood or Minneapolis. If anything it resembled the bridge of the old Constitution-class starship. The command chair was in a central location in what they called the pit. In front of it was the helm and weapons' console, left to right respectively, and ahead of that was, of course, the viewscreen. To the chair's right were the panels for the science/sensors station and Communications. To the left was the engineering station and Astrogation.
Seated in the command chair, Lieutenant Commander Ariel Shaham rose to his feet and loudly declared, "Captain on the Bridge!" The assembled officers stood straight up in proper respect. There was one exception, however, and he was only partly-visible, his head and shoulders stuck underneath the weapons console's side hatch. "You'll have to pardon Lieutenant Dunai, Captain," Ariel said to her. "He's working on the weapons console. Again."
"Ed, can't you get anything right?" Marina asked in exasperation. All she got in reply was a "hmph" sound from Lt. Edward Dunai, her outgoing Chief Engineer. The short man - he was actually about her height at 171 centimeters - was cursing at the ship as was his custom, and an act that he wouldn't be continuing for long given his impending formal promotion to Lieutenant Commander and reassignment as Chief Engineer to the Intrepid.
Great Lakes wasn't new but fortunately she wasn't very old either; she'd been in commission for fifteen years as the first Type III New Orleans-class frigate. The last of that refurbished line had been finished earlier in the decade and the Type Is, past 30 and going on 40 years old, would now be replaced by the newer Steamrunner-class frigates coming into commission. As she was yet so young, Starfleet had been upgrading Great Lakes with new technology after every deployment for the last four years, starting with Marina's first cruise as Great Lakes' CO. "What is the problem anyway?"

"He's just fixing a few bugs in the console system." Standing beside the console was another officer who had just answered for Dunai. He towered over everyone on the bridge, standing at 190 centimeters; more than towering over them he was also much bigger than they were. Robert "Rob" Dalton was frequently compared with a mountain. In his late 40s, a little older than Marina, Dalton had gained his officer's commission after meritorious service in combat against the Cardassians. Sometimes crewmembers called him "Chief Rob" because he still acted like a non-commissioned officer.
"A few bugs is a crossed wire here and there, Rob," Dunai's voice called out from beneath the console. His left hand popped out, palm open. "Hand me that wire clamp, please."
Dalton reached into the tool kit set on the console and handed the clamp to Dunai. "So, what is wrong?"
"What's wrong? What's wrong is you keep fucking with the system, that's what's wrong. You may have been a technician on this thing when it was commissioned, but some of these systems are new and you don't know a thing about how they work. You just can't put..."
Marina looked back to Ariel, or "Arik" as she liked to call him informally. He nodded at her. "Captain Parker signaled earlier. Admiral Pressman's called us to a meeting at 1400 hours."
"I wonder what he wants."
Noticing the contempt in Marina's voice, Arik asked, "Anything wrong?"

"Yes there is, Arik. What's wrong is that we're being assigned to fake escort duty for a glorified flag-bearer. We should be back out by the Triangle chasing down Klingon Birds-of-Prey skipping by the Neutral Zone. I'd even settle for something out by the Cardassians to deal with Tsen'kethi and Breen." Marina sat in her chair with an annoyed expression on her face. "They handed a squadron command and command of the Enterprise over to a man who's never been on anything larger than a cruiser. All because he made the news."
"You have something against Parker?"
"No, not against Parker. He's a good man. Pressman, on the other hand, is a political opportunist."
Their attention quickly diverted to the rising voices of Dalton and Dunai. "Listen, you little brat, I was crawling around Jeffries tubes while you were screwing around at a playground."
"Who's the engineer here, Dalton? Huh? Who's the fucking engineer?! God dammit, just because you played with systems back then doesn't mean you know a thing about how these new ones are supposed to work today." Dunai swore as he apparently hit something and hurt himself. "I told you to stop making these modifications, you big oaf.... wait a minute, is this a doughnut?!"
"Huh?"
"It's a half-eaten chocolate-coated doughnut that looks like it's been here for months! Hell, there are even a few sprinkles left on it."
There was a short blush on Dalton's face which he quickly brought under control. "Give it to me, I'll throw it away," Dalton said to him.
"Or eat it," retorted Dunai. His hand popped out again with a stale chocolate donut, a few red and blue sprinkles left on it. "Take it and then go away and let me finish, please." After it went back in, an additional low grumble could be heard, "I hope to God I don't have these problems on Intrepid."
Dalton grunted and picked up the thing. "I always wondered where I set this thing down," he mused while walking to the bridge trash receptacle.
"So, 1400 hours." Arik nodded to Marina. "I'll make sure I'm there."




It was past 1100 when Razmara and Parker finished going over preliminary departure protocols. The dockhands were now busy moving torpedoes and other stores onto the Enterprise and the other ships of her group for their "emergency" sortie. Parker was busy getting the other commanders together leaving Razmara to unpack.
She did not feel in the mood to do much unpacking, though, so Razmara instead toured the ship. She went by the gym to see if anyone was inside. That was where she found Larrisa in a karate gi. She wasn't actually kicking or punching at anything, but rather engaging in what looked like t'ai chi, or something similar. Razmara crossed her arms while walking up to her. "Lieutenant?"
Larrisa did not reply at first. She finished a movement of her arms before clasping them together, slowly, and bowing to nothing. She turned to face Razmara. "Yes, Commander?"
"What is that? T'ai chi?"
Larrisa shook her head. "It is ihl'Rael. Somewhat like t'ai chi but developed by the Rigelians. It teaches physical and mental discipline, patience, that kind of thing."
"Where did you learn it from?"
"I had a Rigelian classmate in the Academy. She taught it to me." Larrisa was sweating but did nothing to wipe the moisture from her forehead. "It is very demanding."
"You look like you're doing it well."

To Razmara's surprise, Larrisa laughed harshly. "No, I do not. I am terrible at ihl'Rael. I would be laughed out of any Rigelian military school, or so Espera told me."
"Espera being your roommate?"
"That and more." Larrisa grinned sheepishly. "She was from one of the communal agrarian clans. Like me, it was her first time off her homeworld, so we bonded very closely."
"Ah." Razmara nodded, not seeking to probe deeper. "So, if you do it badly, why do it at all?"
"Because it helps my discipline." Larrisa finally deigned to pick up a towel. "It gives me an outlet for my lu'vreyko."
"Lu... what?"
Larrisa sat down on a nearby bench, prompting Razmara to do the same. She seemed to be struggling with something. "It's very hard to translate the term from Edo into English. The closest I can come is Great Heart-Fire and that doesn't really do it justice. It's a term that my people use for expressing the urge to be pleasured."
"So doing this is an outlet for your..."

"Oh, not in that way." Larrisa scratched at an ear. "Other races do tend to mistranslate lu'vreyko as meaning the Edo sex drive, but it's not that. It represents an energy within us that must be expended. According to our mythology, or religion if you will, the Edo were once like the other races of the galaxy. We were violent, brutal, and unkind to one another. This is because we did not expend our energy in kind purposes and so we lived lawless lives. Then the Gods came and brought us law, or so the teaching goes. And that is when the Edo became the people they are today. The Gods showed us how to expend our energies with pleasure so that we no longer needed to harm one another. And they made our laws punishable by death so that they would be followed without question. The first Conclave enforced these laws. Those who broke them were either killed immediately or banished, since in those days we did not inhabit the entirety of our homeworld." Larrisa shrugged. "And that's how we got to the condition we're in today."
Razmara slowly nodded. "So your people became hedonists because they were violent psychopaths?"
"Maybe." Larrisa grinned and shook her head. "The truth is... I don't believe in the Gods anymore. I know they're just powerful beings and not actually divine. This may all be myth, who knows, we might be a transplanted colony of humans with a few alterations on the inside to make us different." The two women laughed for a moment. "Since coming to Earth, and coming to Starfleet, I've turned my back on all of that. But even with that done, I still feel this restless energy build up within me. So I took up ihl'Rael as a way to give outlet to it. You may not believe me, Commander, but I put my career above everything else, including my own pleasure."

"On the contrary, Lieutenant, I do believe you." Razmara swallowed. It was hard to say that the Edo were any different, as she had just spent the night letting out some of her own pent-up needs. "Tell me one more thing. What was up the other night?"
"As I told Captain Parker, I was indulging." Larrisa looked down. "I really don't..."
"I know it's not directly our business, but Larrisa, I want to know something." Razmara drew in a breath. "Did you enjoy being tied up and helpless?"
Larrisa's expression became bewildered. "Well, um, not really. It was a new experience for me, and some of the people in that club had quite cruel minds."
"Then why did you do agree to it?"
"To be frank, it was the only way to get pleasured as greatly as I wanted to," replied Larrisa. "It had been quite a while for me and I was eager to press my limits. See if I still had the stamina to do something like that. And," she grinned somewhat sheepishly, "it seemed like an interesting challenge, a new experience. It's what a lot of my people look for, and even though I'm not the average Edo, well, I figured no harm would come to it." Larrisa put a hand on her breast and grimaced from memory. "Though I would have preferred that they had not put on that nipple clamp chain. Those hurt quite a bit."
Razmara brushed a bright pink. "Yeah, I can imagine." Recovering her composure about a second later, she asked, "So it didn't improve your, um, experiences by being helpless?"
Larrisa gave her a look of some confusion. "Of course not. Why do you ask?"

"Well, it's just that I wanted to be sure." Razmara scratched the back of her neck. "I knew a few people when I was younger, they were into the bondage scene. They loved being tied up for sex. Some even took pleasure in being stretched or hurt. Each of them had mental, um, problems I suppose. They weren't necessarily crazy, but they had severe trauma and they were in many cases without a bit of self-esteem. Not a good thing for an officer. I wanted to make sure you weren't suffering from that."
Larrisa nodded and agreed, "Of course not." She looked down at a watch on her wrist. "Commander, I'm sorry to go, but I have to wash up and meet Doctor Nguyen in sickbay. Another physical or something like that."
Razmara stood up and nodded. "Yes, well, I have to be going too." She walked toward the door while Larrisa picked up her towels and such. Before she got through the door, she turned back. "I look forward to speaking with you again, Lieutenant."
"Of course, Commander." Larrisa nodded and watched Razmara walk out.




Like any number of ships in Starfleet these days, the U.S.S. Minneapolis - Akira-class - had been equipped with a handful of holodeck chambers. The inclusion of these chambers, shortly after they arose to prominence in the civilian market, had been a matter of some controversy and fiercely resisted by conservatives in the Fleet who felt that the holodecks would create discipline problems. As it was, their inclusion was due to the sheer efficiency of their space and power demands on ship operations, since they were capable of both training and leisure. Some supporters of the system even noted now that opponents had gotten the last laugh, cynically using holodeck presence on starships as an excuse to cut short leave on deployment.
One of those opponents was most definitely not Katherine Berger, who had found an entirely unexpected use for Starfleet's holodeck; adapting civilian programs, notably fantasy holo-RPGs, to the Minneapolis' holodecks for her enjoyment and those who had similar interests.

She standing in one, in a holo-simulation modeled on artist work for the generic crumbling fantasy temple. She held a two-handed sword, European-style, up toward a number of howling grayskin creatures known in fantasy lore as "orcs". A chainmail vest was worn over a sleeveless leather jerkin and bra beneath, with trousers and a belt with pouches to round out the equipment, all of it created via replicator credits for holodeck usage.
Katie was not alone, having four companions on the ship's senior staff who shared her interests. Her lover Zaharia was one such companion, and was currently the object of the group's attention, having been stripped down to cotton strap and loincloth by her orc captors and chained in X-figure to a sacrificial altar, a suitably-clad high priest chanting nearby with a wicked looking knife in front of him. The holodeck was using it's rather robust capabilities to cover the visible spots on Zaria's body and to add extended points to simulate elven ears.
Cleaving her opponent's head off with a swing and a growl of exertion, Katie whipped around and found her most immediate compatriot battling two foes, and winning. Despite his lanky physical form, Lt. Martin Hall - the ship's tactical officer - had picked a robust Fighter-class character when they'd begun their campaign, and the Englishman from Appalachia was being invisibly augmented by the holodeck's systems, his opponents made to react to his attacks and parries and blocks as if he were a veritable Conan the Barbarian.

The holodeck simulated bolts of lightning, coming from the hands of the ship's new navigation officer Lt. Alexandra Reilly, known as "Alexia" much as Katherine was "Katie" and Zaharia was "Zaria", who had joined the group along with Zaria and decided to balance it out further with another spellcaster. Flowing blue and green robes were her fantasy garb of choice, with a band for her shoulder-length dark brown hair. A tall, long-limbed figure, her arms were long enough to better wield the oaken wizard's staff she was holding, and which she butted the head of into an orc's unarmored stomach as it tried to approach her through the flurry of lighting bolts aimed at their foes.
Katie saw more enemies coming and brought her sword back up, starting to feel a little tight due to the very real workout the holo-RPG provided. An arrow flew past her head and lodged into the chest of one orc before the other two made contact with her. Behind them all, coming down from the trees, was Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Hall - Martin's wife and the ship's Operations Officer - in green and blue cotton and leather garb, a longbow strung with a sword scabbard at her hip and a harp slung over her back. Her character for the campaign has been the result of house rules, existing rules regarding bards tweaked to allow the Irish concept of a magic-casting bard as she desired.

The quartet were facing increasingly-heavy odds, though their enemies were thankfully mostly lower-levelled foes quickly defeated. But a few elite guards began to come up and things were getting a bit hairy, especially as the orc priest was finished with his chanting. He picked up his knife and moved toward Zaria, the blade pointed down and moving over her chest toward her heart. "Uh, guys," she said, her voice full of panic given the instinctive reaction the realistic-feeling simulation was causing. "I'm about to get killed here. I really don't want to have to re-roll!"
If the holodeck was causing Zaria to instinctively react as if she was actually about to be cut open, Katie had a similar reaction toward the impending "demise" of her beloved. "Zaria, hold on!" She pressed her sword hard against an attacking elite orc and tried to push him out of the way. I'm too far away! Dammit, too far!
A movement from the shadows came, and a short dark-cloaked figure leapt out. A dagger in her hand found the heart of the orc priest, a one-shot kill that was entirely appropriate to someone trained to know anatomy.
The figure turned and threw the hood and cloak off and on top of a nearby orc, distracting him for a moment, revealing the short, lithe figure of Dr. Meredith Constantine, the ship's CMO, clad in a relatively immodest leather halter top and tight trousers with no less than three waist belts, a shoulder-to-rib bandoleer-like belt over her chest, and hip-belts as well. Her grayish-blue eyes focused upon a second attendant to the dear priest and her hand tossed a little ball procured from one of the many pockets she had. The ball smacked into the orc and disintegrated, dissolving and spreading holographic acid over the construct. It howled and screamed as it was being burned to death.

Turning back to the first attendant as it finally managed to get her discarded cloak and hood off, Meredith brought up her blade and dodged a strike with a sword, lunging in with her dagger and driving it into the orc's throat. A fountain of blood erupted from the severed carotid and the orc toppled over. Looking to the sacrifical table, Meredith reached into a pouch on one of her waist belts and took out four small ball-containers, red-colored, which she dropped on each base for Zaria's chains. The balls exploded with a brief, white-hot flame - the fantasy equivalent of white phosphorus - and melted through the chains to free the scantily-clad Trill-faux-Elf. Zaria got up, the manacles and chains still on her ankles and wrists, and began casting her own magic, bolts of fire joining Alexia's electric bolts.
The additional firepower changed the tide of the fight, and it took about a minute for the party of six to send their enemies into flight. When the last enemy was out of range or dead, fiery letters appeared above the empty sacrifical altar: QUEST COMPLETED. The holodeck's computer, reprogrammed to sound like a thunderous male voice acting as the GM, stated, "Well done, adventurers. You have thwarted the cult's evil plans. Prepare to receive quest rewards and experience points."

Sweating quite well, Katie hopped up to Zaria and embraced her. The two exchanged a small kiss. "Katie, it's not like I'd have actually died," Zaria said with a giggle.
"I know, I know...." Katie extended a hand and brought Meredith close to give her a hug. "That was awesome, Merdiff."
"I've been working out." Hugging her friend, Meredith added, "That was awesomely fun. Though I wish I'd been the one captured to be sacrificed. Less work!"
There was some laughter from the assembled. "Okay, everyone," Katie said, as the program brought up the list of the quest rewards to be distributed and the new level gains by Meredith, Alexia, Zaria, and Martin, with new abilities to be picked and talent increases assigned. "Let's get to work on divvying this...."

The holodeck suddenly elicited a familiar chirp, that of an internal communication channel being opened. "Bridge to Captain Berger."
Katie looked up, wondering what was so urgent as to necessitate an immediate call from her XO while they were on standby in spacedock. "Go ahead."
Commander Sebastian Breit's German-accented English replied, "Captain, we've received an emergency order from Admiral Pressman, you and I are to report to a meeting at the strategic operations center at 1200 hours."
Katie sighed at that. "What time is it?"
"1050, Sir."
"Barely enough time to shower and change. Okay, Commander, meet you at the airlock by 1130 hours" Katie looked to her five companions. "I'll get going, I'll trust Martin not to steal all the good Fighter gear."
There was chuckling, and Kat Hall elbowed her husband in his bare ribs. "Don't worry, I'll make him share."
"Thanks, Kat." She smiled slyly and winked at Martin. "Don't worry, we'll try to find you another guy on the team, Martin. Took bad we can't get Lt. Kebron to play."
"A Brikar in a holo-RPG would either cause damage I'd have to fix, or a very anti-climactic campaign," Zaria giggled, giving her lover another peck on the lips. "See you tonight."
"I hope," Katie said. "Computer, show exit." The holographic surroundings relented in one area to show the entry-arch, complete with control panels, and the door outside. She left and headed to her room, her sword still dangling at her hip given it was a genuine article and not a holographic construct.




Unknown Location


When Carter awoke she found herself unshackled and seated in a chair, wearing a simple cloth robe of brown color. It was a Romulan garment, shaped like a vest with a dress bottom attached. The vest bared Carter's muscle-toned arms and some of her shoulder and neck area. The dress left her legs below the midway-point of the thighs visible.
She was facing the desk. Carter looked closely and noticed Madred eating what looked like meat and a vegetable side. He finished chewing and looked up. "Oh, good morning." He pushed the plate aside. "Well, young lady, are you ready to answer some questions now?"
Carter nearly replied and bit her tongue. She recalled the Advanced Survival course she had taken in Command School concerning capture and regretted having spoken to him the previous night. "Carter, Sharon Marie. Lieutenant Commander. Serial Number 499230199 slash B9."
"Oh, how dreadful. You seem to think you're a prisoner of war." Madred shook his head. "Sorry, Commander Carter, but as there is no state of war between the Romulan Empire and the Federation you are not subject to the protections of the Solaran Conventions. Now, please state the established patrol routes of all Starfleet vessels in the Triangle region."

"Carter, Sharon Marie. Lieutenant Commander. Serial Number 499230199 slash B9."
There was a sigh from Madred, like he was disappointed. "Very well, I was hoping to avoid this difficulty." He brought out a control device. "We took the liberty of implanting a device in you last night. Marvelous little piece of technology. The Romulans I work for are so determined to avoid being detected that they designed a pain-giving implant composed entirely of materials found naturally in the bodies of most sentient species. On command it actually dissolves itself and mingles into the body, undetectable. As if it were never there."
Carter drew in a breath when his finger pressed down on the button. The sensation was sudden and shocking. It was as if every nerve in her body was on fire. Carter screamed and began to twitch, her body's natural reflexes trying in vain to end the pain as if movement could do so. After about five seconds Madred lifted his finger from the button and the pain subsided. Carter gasped for air and slumped over in the chair. He observed her for about twenty seconds before again saying, "Please state the established patrol routes of all Starfleet vessels in the Triangle region."
After drawing in another breath, Carter's reply was also the same as before: "Carter, Sharon Marie. Lieutenant Commander. Serial Number 499230199 slash B9."

Madred's finger again pressed on the control. Carter's agonized scream echoed in the room as she writhed about in the chair. "I see this is going to take us some time." Madred counted to fifteen and let go of the button. While Carter recovered he wistfully said, "You might as well tell me now. The longer we go, the more pain for you."
Carter resisted the urge to curse at Madred. That wasn't supposed to be done. Anything other than the customary answer would be seen as sign of weakness. She repeated her name, rank, and serial number.
Suffice to say, her answer was unsatisfactory.




McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001


The strategic operations center on McKinley was a massive chamber, large enough to actually contain a Defiant-class starship. At least four admirals of varying rank were present on a number of the levels, responsible for coordinating deployment orders to the starships and Marine divisions in the field. Multi-leveled, the center was filled with operators going over data culled from standard patrol scans and intelligence operatives to formulate a constant picture of the currently known activities of every star-faring power in the Alpha and known Beta Quadrants, which was presented on the massive main screen.
Pressman was on the upper level in a conference room when the assembled officers arrived. Parker had not yet met the XOs of the Avenger and the Intrepid, and was introduced to them upon arrival; Lt. Commander Natasha Yar and Commander Diane Howard. The former was a Caucasian woman with short-cut blonde hair and brown eyes and the latter a dark-haired Englishwoman; both looked remarkably fit and were about the same height, build, and complexion. With them was the Wing Command Officer of the Intrepid, Commander Garrett Petersen, a stocky New Yorker with well-combed brown hair.

Some initial introductions took place. Pressman waited politely for them to finish before calling the attention of the dozen assembled officers to the table. He sat at the head of the table while the COs took the right side and the XOs the left. Kira sat with the COs, beside O'Farrell, while Petersen took a seat by Tasha. "Ladies and gentlemen, a situation has developed in the Triangle," he began, referring to the region of space bordered by the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans and neutralized by the same; in it's central sector was the notoriously-failed "Planet of Galactic Peace" called Nimbus III. He hit a button and a holographic starmap appeared above the table; the Triangle was represented by violet and the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans by blue, red, and green respectively. The lights in the room dimmed appropriately causing the light from the holograph to fill the room, casting white dots and the conflicting colors on everyone. Pressman touched another button and highlighted a sector of the Triangle, nearly equi-distant from the Romulan and Federation frontiers. A star lit up. "About ten hours ago, our border stations received a distress signal from the starship Equinox, on a standard patrol of the Triangle. According to the signal she dispatched, Equinox was under attack from Romulan warships, including at least one Warbird of cruiser-class." Pressman put his hands together and let the officers present digest the news. "The Romulan Ambassador has so far denied his government's involvement and insists it is the work of pirates. We believe, however, that Equinox was attacked because she had the potential to have spotted covert, and illegal, Romulan activites in the Triangle."

"What kind of activities, Admiral?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. Either way, your mission will be to track Equinox's course and find her and any surviving crew. If at all possible, find out what the Romulans are up to."
"Why us?" Phillips now spoke up. "There have to be ships closer."
"There are, but most are older vessels and have been out on patrol for months. Your crews are fresh and your ships are at one hundred percent. Besides, if it is the Romulans, they'll be keeping a close eye on our local ships. They'll see us coming. They won't see us coming if it's you." Pressman put his hands together on the table. "And on top of all that, the Enterprise was built for just this sort of thing. Nothing shows our resolve, or our anger, more than the Enterprise barreling in at red alert."
"Where do we start?"
"System R4392," came the reply, and Pressman's finger pointed to the lit-up star. "That's where we pinpointed the Equinox's last transmission. You'll enter the Triangle near Radcliffe's Nebula." Another indicator lit up. "It'll mask your approach until you clear the nebula." Pressman hit a button and the holographic projector turned off. "The dockmasters will ensure your ships have more than enough provisions for this mission by this time tomorrow. All appropriate intelligence will be made available to you. You depart tomorrow at 1600. That is all."

The assembled command officers filtered out, with the exception of Parker. He watched as Pressman finished restoring the lights. "Sir, my chief weapons officer still hasn't arrived yet."
"There's a good reason for that, Captain." Pressman turned back. "Commander Carter was on the Equinox."
Parker took the news well. He nodded stiffly. "I see, Sir. I'll find someone suitable to man weapons then." He turned away from Pressman and walked to do the door.
"Captain, I hear you served with Commander Carter at one time?"
Parker turned back to face Pressman. "Yes, Captain. About eight years ago, when I was executive officer on the Yamato. She was the second watch's weapons officer."
"How well do you know her?"
"Enough to know she's one tough lady."
Pressman nodded stiffly. "I hope you're right, Captain. Odds are, she'll be needing that toughness when the Romulans get started on her."
Parker stopped and made a complete term. "Sir, if I may note something... I've read Terise LoBrutto's essays on the Rihannsu. They don't seem like the kind of people to torture prisoners for fun."
His remark was met by a scoff. "Terise LoBrutto," Pressman began, "was compromised by her work, Captain. She's not an objective viewpoint on the Romulans." The emphasis on "Romulans" seemed unnecessary to Parker, or perhaps as a retort for his use of their true name. "If she's right, why would they attack a science ship in open and neutral space?"
Though he wanted to, Parker couldn't immediately answer. "That's what I'm going to find out, Sir."
"Just be careful, Captain. We wouldn't want to lose the Enterprise to the green-blooded bastards."
Parker didn't reply to Pressman this time. He simply walked out.




Unknown Location


Carter writhed about the metal floor of Madred's office, her throat raw and her breathing strained. A constant expression of pain contorted her otherwise-lovely face. When the pain stopped again she looked up and saw Madred standing up for his desk. "You're a very stubborn young woman, Commander Carter."
"Carter, Sharon Ma.... aaaaah!" Carter's reply was cut off by Madred, who's finger again pressed the evil button within his hand. She slumped onto the floor, her hair and robes a disheveled mess.

"You know, back on Cardassia we tended to shift between brutality and subtlety. This was just the warm-up. Then would come the rapings and the beatings, and if that failed, the drugs were our last resort; they were very expensive you know." Madred shook his head, as if dissatisfied. "Unfortunately my Rihannsu sponsers do not take kindly to the thought of such brutality. They desire to, what is the human expression again? 'Have their cake and eat it to'? Yes, that is it. Anyway....." Madred stood up and began walking around the desk. "The Rihannsu, sorry, Romulans... they believe very strongly in their own senses of honor. Even their desire to emulate the Central Command on Cardassia cannot overcome their peculiar perceptions on their own honor. And because of that, they really don't like torturing innocent prisoners, particularly with the brutal methods I would apply. Why, I couldn't find a single Rihannsu male in this entire facility willing to rape you. So bothersome."
Madred walked up to her and looked down at her. "Not that I have any personal hatred for you, Commander Carter. In fact, I do admire you. Many of those I have interrogated broke within the first hour, some even before I began. Eight hours, however, that is a worthy achievement! Such loyalty, it's no wonder Starfleet defeated us." Madred pocketed the pain control. "I think that when you finally break, I'll even raise a toast with you in honor of your patriotism to the Federation." He noticed the primal, angry glare in Carter's green eyes when she rolled over onto her back. "And you will break. The great truth about sentient beings, Commander Carter, is that they all have limits. Some are set higher than others, but they are there, and I have made a career in breaking them. Oh, I have seen the dedicated last through all of the physical techniques, but even they cannot resist an attack upon the mind." Madred pressed his right index finger against his forehead. "You would be sparing yourself a lot of pain if you answered me now."

Carter continued to suck in breath, staring at the ceiling while Madred walked back to his desk. He slid into the seat. "Oh, Commander, please look my way." She did not obey at first but finally rolled onto her side, looking at him across a distance of about fifteen feet. He hit a switch on his desk and three bright lights appeared behind him. "This question will be simple. How many lights do you see?"
With eight hours of intense torture having long blurred her thoughts, Carter habitually answered, "Three". She immediately regretted it and wished she could take it back. This was a trick; an attempt to slip something through the defensive barrier of non-responsiveness. And she had just handed it to him.
His hand went into his pocket and a moment later Carter felt the pain roll through her once more. "There are four lights."
"Carter!", she shouted. "Sharon! Marie! Lieutenant... aaaaugggk!" The pain intensified as Madred manipulated the power setting. She stopped breathing as the pain overwhelmed her, reducing her movements to tremoring in a fetal position on the cold floor.
"How many lights are there?"

The pain subsided enough for Carter to speak. She only managed the first syllabyle of her name before Madred turned up the power once more. The fire in her body was such that Carter for a moment ceased to exist, replaced only by a shrieking animal trapped within Hell; she had no memory or identity and knew only pain.
When Madred lowered the intensity of the implant to again talk to her, Carter's renewed ability to move allowed her to begin doing the only thing that went through her mind; she began slamming her head on the floor. The ache in her forehead that should have been felt was easily masked by the pain still coursing through her and did not dissuade Carter in the slightest. Why she began to do this she would never understand; perhaps it was out of desperation to stop the agony or perhaps Carter was genuinely trying to kill herself. Either way, she continued to scream and slam her head on the floor over and over.
Suddenly she was grabbed by the guards and pulled to her feet. The pain subsided and Carter, without her body's pain reflexes to push her muscles, went limp from fatigue. She could not resist the two Romulans yanking off her robe and putting the restraints back on, and within the minute she was again hanging naked from the ceiling. Madred crossed his arms. "You've now lost the privilege of being free to move," he remarked. "Now, shall we resume?" He watched the guards walk back to the door, noticing some of the displeasure on their features; they did not like what they were seeing and Madred suspected they were beginning to have sympathy for Carter. They would have to be replaced. He picked up the control and asked, "How many lights are behind me?"
Carter was answering with her name when the pain returned.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 4




McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001


A sense of urgency pervaded the Enterprise as the crew frantically prepared for their sortie. Stores were moved into place and damage control equipment checked and re-checked under Commander La Forge's watchful eye; a similar eye was cast by Doctor Nguyen on the medical staff as they prepared sickbay for combat.
On the bridge, Parker watched various engineers check every system and power supply. The rest of the crew were getting used to their stations. Aside from La Forge and Nguyen, Commander Razmara was the only senior officer not present.
"Sir, all weapons diagnostics complete," Lieutenant Jobrie replied from tactical. The high-voiced Trill's sweet voice didn't strike Parker was a good voice for a weapons' officer, and his memory recalled the deeper, stronger voice of Carter. Parker hoped she wasn't being harmed and his stomach twisted at the thought that Pressman might be right. LoBrutto had been highly-immersed into Romulan society in her time and since her return to the Federation a number of people had accused her of treasonous pro-Romulan sentiments. LoBrutto's works were nevertheless widely-read in the Federation, especially among diplomats and travelers who needed to know the particulars of Romulan society. Or Rihannsu. Parker found that he usually called them Rihannsu as LoBrutto had. He supposed it was his own personal act of respect to them. They certainly seemed a more honorable people than the treacherous Ferengi, brutal Cardassians, or sinister Klingons. "No problems," Parker heard Jobrie finish, snapping him back into attention.
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Parker said, looking at his personal data display on the right. The ship's schematics were shown, and the light for weapon systems flashed green. There were more systems to check, and some would take much longer. But they would all be done in time.
The turbolift doors opened and Razmara stepped onto the bridge. "Captain, the dockmaster says we'll be ready to depart by 0900 tomorrow."

Parker accepted a PADD offered by Razmara and read the data on it. "Only one hundred and fifty photon torpedoes?"
"And sixty quantum torpedoes. I asked for more quantums but apparently they're a bit short in the fleet locker. Still waiting for another delivery from Operations."
"Sixty is only about ten spreads," Parker said with a furrowed brow. "I was hoping for more."
"Well..." Razmara grinned at him and took her seat. "Give me the night. Captain O'Grady on the Majestic was an Academy friend of mine. And he's got a full stock of quantums. I'll see if he's willing to trade, since he's bound for the Thallonian frontier anyway."
"Oh? What would he trade?"
Though Razmara's answer would have been the perfectly reasonable "Our photon torpedoes" she decided to be a little mischievous and the resulting grin was the widest Parker had yet seen on his new XO. "That's my little secret."
Parker smiled in amusement. "Of course. Well, go do what you have to do."
"Yes, Captain." Razmara stood up and walked off the bridge once more.
When the turbolift doors swished close, Data turned in his Operations chair and asked, "Sir, what do you think the Commander is doing?"
"She was toying with us, Data." Parker laid his head on his hand, his index finger and middle finger pushing at his temple. "She's going to swap torpedoes with Captain O'Grady. The rest was just an act."
"An act?" Data's brow furrowed, showing human-like creases on his outer "skin". "Why should she be acting?"
"It's a tease, Sir," Hamblin replied for Parker, looking over from the helm. "She's joking around with us."
"In what way?"
"She's pretending she's going to seduce him, Data," Parker sighed in exasperation.
"Seduce? As in you say she is faking an intent to pursue sexual relat..."
Before Data could finish, Parker rolled his eyes and muttered, "Data, It doesn't matter."




Razmara was on her way to the ship's aft decks on a turbolift when it stopped suddenly. The doors opened and Razmara watched Misty step in. When the door closed and the turbolift ceased moving, Razmara asked, "Commander Greene? What can I do for you?"
"Help me find my XO. She came here to use your holodeck." Misty crossed her arms. "I don't understand why she couldn't use one of the holodeck services on McKinley. She insisted it was a matter of privacy and that the public holodecks wouldn't do."
"Ah." Razmara tapped her commbadge. "Razmara to Bridge."
After a moment, Data replied. "Bridge."
"Mister Data, which holodecks are currently operational?"
"Holodecks 3 and 5, Commander."
"And who is logged for use?"
"Holodeck 5 is being used by Lieutenant Horthy from Engineering. He is running an active diagnostic. Holodeck 3 is... curious. The entry code is a general Starfleet one and not assigned to any member of the [i]Enterprise. I shall check...[/i]"

"That won't be necessary, Commander. Thank you, Razmara out." She turned to Misty. "Deck 12, Quadrant C. Right, right, left, two doors down."
"Thanks."
The turbolift stopped on Deck 20 and Razmara stepped out When the doors swished close, Misty ordered the lift to Deck 12 Quadrant C. It took about a minute for the lift to reach it's destination. "Right, right, left, two doors," she whispered, repeating it over and over again as she followed the directions exactly. At the appropriate door she found the active holodeck and asked for entry. The computer required her to give her code and Misty did, upon which it complied.
The holodeck was running a customized program. It was a Japanese garden, filled with cherry blossom trees and other Oriental plants. Misty stepped out from the holodeck arch and onto a path of broken, irregular stones. It led to a central courtyard with a traditional Japanese structure on the opposite end, and trees surrounding the circle. Jane was seated in the middle in a white silken kimono with cherry blossom designs intricately sown onto the back, which is what Misty was facing. She was sitting cross-legged and in a meditative state, hands on her knees, with a single katana in her lap. Misty could only make out the jeweled scabbard's tip and handle, as it was laid across her crossed legs. Rubies were set into the hilt and pommel.

Before Misty could speak, Jane jumped with surprising quickness. She was on her feet in seconds, her katana drawn and readied. The computer spontaneously created straw dummies around her. Jane whirled about as is she were a ballerina, but it was not a dance but rather movement in time with the swinging of her sword. The blade sliced through each target with such fine precision that Misty couldn't see the breaks until the dummies fell apart one by one. Without a trace of sweat on her forehead, Jane sheathed the katana and seemed to finally notice Misty for the first time. "Hello Commander."
Before Misty could reply, the holodeck computer spoke in a male Japanese voice to Jane. Jane's reply was also in Japanese and the holodeck turned off. "Nice program. So this is what you do whenever you go on leave."
"Yes." Jane wrapped the scabbard around her waist. From the front one could see the rest of her kimono's design and the plain white silk of her matching ankle length hakama. "I like to keep in shape."
"Y'know, Janey, you don't look that athletic, but that was pretty impressive."
"Thank you, Misty. I know how hard you work out to keep your figure." A smile crossed Jane's face. "But the key to what I just did isn't the strength of my muscles but rather in how quickly I can move them. It's not a matter of power or stamina but movement."

"Yeah, ninjitsu or something like that, really cool Janey."
"Um..." Jane giggled for a moment. "It's not ninjitsu, Misty. Most of the real Japanese arts died out with original Japanese culture in the 21st Century. I'm a student of Modern Kendo." And from there Jane launched into a quick explaination, something she had memorized long ago." Unlike Old Kendo it's barely as old as the Federation. It was created in the mid-22nd Century by Ikemoto Matano, who traveled to see other races and combined surviving knowledge of Kendo with Andorian Hosh'kuskr and Old Vulcan il'Saeul to make Modern Kendo. There are several schools of Kendo, each originating from a different master that has come about over the years."
"Yeah, uh, okay."
A slight grin formed on Jane's face. "I just blew you away, didn't I?"
"Yeah, 'cause, like, you've never been a talkative one before." Misty crossed her arms. "So, going to get to work on the final departure protocols?"
"Lieutenant Suvok has everything he needs."
"Suvie told me..."
"Suvok told you an 'exaggeration'," Jane bent and moved the index and middle fingers on her hands to signify quotation marks, "so you'd leave him alone and stop calling him that ridiculous nickname."
"Hmph."
They stepped out of the holodeck and into the Enterprise hall. "I'll go change and return to the Valiant immediately," Jane promised. "See you there?"
"Uh, yeah, see you there." Misty watched Jane walk off and decided to do a little touring of the Enterprise. A part of her wondered if she'd ever get a chance to command a behemoth like a Sovereign. Then the next part wondered if she'd want to. With that thought in mind, Misty continued on.




Razmara was returning from one of the cargo bays when she ran into Data on his way to the airlock. Since it seemed so uncharacteristic for the android to be off the bridge, Razmara asked, "Mister Data, what's going on?"
"Captain Parker ordered me to meet a couple of guests at the airlock," came the calm reply. "We were due to give a tour to two VIPs and Admiral Pressman does not want us alerting the press to any change in schedule."
The reply that followed was pure sarcasm. "Oh boy, VIPs, I wonder who..." Razmara rolled her eyes and followed Data to the airlock. When the came around the corner to face the two attendees, Razmara felt her jaw drop.
The two men standing at the airlock entry were living legends of Starfleet and intricately linked to the name Enterprise. Of the two, Ambassador Spock looked more robust and healthy. Doctor, and Admiral, Leonard McCoy looked very much like the 140 plus years he had lived. The two men were not speaking when Razmara and Data approached. "Ambassador, Admiral..." Razmara felt her voice trailing off. "I wasn't expecting..."

"Commander Sophia Razmara." Spock pronounced her full name with some emphasis on the rank. "It is good to see you have reached your potential."
Razmara felt a great deal of humility swell within her when she answered, "Thank you, Ambassador, for your praise, and for what you did for me and my mother all of those years ago."
"Your thanks are unnecessary, Commander, I did what I believed was proper."
"But not logical?" McCoy looked to his old comrade with some surprise.
"And logical, but it was a logic not seen by most Vulcans." Spock turned his attention to Data. "Mister Data, I presume?"
"Yes, Ambassador."
"Doctor Soong was an acquaintance. I know he would be happy to see that you have made a life for yourself."
By this time, McCoy had walked up beside Razmara. It took him a few moments to notice the points on her ears, hidden as they were by her hair. "You're a Vulcan?"
"Half-Vulcan, actually," Razmara replied with some degree of irritation in her voice.
"And emotional too." McCoy smiled thinly. "I like you already."
At that Razmara had to grin. "I'm honored to hear it, Sir. But I don't see how I was acting that emotional."
"Trust me, young lady, when you've been around Vulcans as long as I have, you'll see."
Spock cleared his throat. "I believe that Commander Razmara and Mister Data have other duties they will have to attend to, Doctor. We should make our tour brief."
McCoy looked back to Razmara and rolled his eyes, drawing a grin from her.

As they walked on, Spock stayed behind long enough to let Razmara catch up to him. They let McCoy and Data go ahead a little before they resumed walking. "I have followed your career with some satisfaction," Spock admitted to Razmara.
"Any particular reason why?"
"I believe that you serve as a crucial lesson to Vulcan." Spock did not react to the smirk that momentarily crossed Razmara's face. "When the Vulcan people supported the family of Stovuk against your mother's family, they made an error based on a false assumption on the nature of logic. They believed that unless you received the training of a Vulcan our people's otherwise-unbridled passions would make you brutal and a threat to society. Yet you have restrained your emotional impulses just like any human would and have risen in rank to one of the most prestigious positions in Starfleet. I hope that this will persuade the people of Vulcan that their way is not always the right one."
"You'll understand if I don't care very much for Vulcans, Sir, no offense intended toward you."
"None taken." Spock's inhuman calm reminded Razmara of just what had been at stake in her mother's fight. She might have ended up just as emotionless as Spock had her father's family taken her away. "I understand that your family has much reason to be upset with Vulcans. Between Stovuk's rape of your mother and..."
"How can you say it so cooly?"

Razmara's question made Spock stop for a moment. He considered her momentarily and replied, "You believe I am being disrespectful." It wasn't a question.
"With all due respect, Ambassador, that... that man" - how odd a way to refer to one's father! - "raped my mother so brutally that she gets scared whenever a man so much as touches her on the shoulder. She spent a lifetime alone because she couldn't even stand the thought of sex. Stovuk broke both of her arms, Sir, he broke her pelvis and... and her spine! He nearly killed her! She spent months in the hospital just having her body repaired! And you stand there and you remark on it like it's some statistic! I...." Razmara felt tears flow down her face while she realized just how she sounded. "Oh God, I'm sorry."
To her surprise, there was a strange softness to Spock's reply. "Do not be sorry. In fact, allow me to say that I envy you. I was never allowed the luxury of a choice in how I was raised. Over the years, I have sometimes contemplated what life would have been like if I had been raised more in accordance with my mother's wishes."
"I try not to be angry," Razmara confessed. "But it seems like every Vulcan I meet has this chip on his or her shoulder. Like I'm some freak of nature."
"For all of our teachings on diversity in the universe, Vulcans are a people unaccustomed to change and difference. You are, to them, an abberation. I do not say that as an insult but as an expression. You are a woman of noble Vulcan blood who is not Vulcan in spirit." Spock continued to walk so as to catch up to Data and McCoy, prompting Razmara to do the same. "The concept, to a Vulcan, is disturbing. Even frightening."

"So I'm some kind of boogie-woman?" An amused-yet-bitter smile curled on Razmara's face. "Used to scare little Vulcan children, I suppose."
"Not in that fashion, but yes, you do cause fear among Vulcans, because you have broken their preconceptions. Indeed, that is why I and my father have taken pride in your achievements. By proving yourself you work to undo the misconceptions that cause Vulcans to reject you. Perhaps in time it will lead to even greater understanding between Vulcans and Humans."
"Your father supports me too?" Razmara expressed surprise.
"Sarek is unique. Though he is too devoted to control to show it openly, he has a deep appreciation for Humans. We do not agree on all things but we did agree together to support your mother thirty years ago. As we agree now that your career is of paramount importance to the future of relations between Humans and Vulcans. A small rift was torn between the two races by the arguments over your custody and raising, and it will be the example of your life that will help heal that rift."
Razmara let it sink in for a moment. "I never knew. I.... I don't know what to say..."
"It is understandable that you do not. It is a matter that is not openly discussed. It prefers to remain hidden in the thoughts of our peoples, and it must be countered there as well." Spock turned the corridor before Razmara and found McCoy and Data on the far end. "Let us catch up to the good Doctor and Commander Data. Time grows short."




"And located behind this door is the upper level for the navigational..."
"Was the man who built you, this 'Doctor Soong', a Vulcan?"
McCoy's question caused Data to stop. "No Sir. My creator, Doctor Noonian Soong, is a human."
"Ah." McCoy "hmphed" and began walking along. "Because I'll be damned if you don't sound like one." The older man looked around at the corridors of the Enterprise and a well of emotion sprung up within him as he sifted through memories of long ago. One hundred years... I'll be damned if I know where the time goes! It seemed like a great time passed before McCoy managed to speak again to the golden-skinned android who - to put it frankly - reminded him too much of Spock. "Well, she's a new ship," McCoy began to say, "but she's got the right name. Now you remember that, Mister Data."
"I will, Sir."
McCoy nodded with approval. "You treat her like a lady, and no matter what happens... she'll always bring you home."




The airlock doors closed behind Spock and McCoy. They had toured most of the ship - including the bridge, where Captain Parker gave them a warm welcome - while noting quietly the frenzied preparations for departure. They had not been told Enterprise was to leave but it was not a very hard thing to guess when one considered how fast the crews had been moving.
Entering a small lounge overlooking Enterprise's berth, Spock and McCoy stopped for the moment and looked out the window at the majestic ship. Neither spoke for a short time before, finally, McCoy said, "How do you think they'll do?"
"I suspect, Doctor, that they can do no worse than we did."
McCoy found himself grinning at that. "They're supposed to be this brave new generation, but they didn't seem so different to me."
"Indeed."

"Though, I suppose, it's meant to be that way." McCoy looked out the window and considered the name emblazoned on the mighty ship's starboard hull. The letters U.S.S. Enterprise made McCoy feel... proud. The legacy this ship's crew was carrying started, in so many ways, with himself, Jim, Spock, and all their other comrades, the men and women who made the name Enterprise unforgettable in the annals of the Federation. "I wonder what Jim would say if he were here?"
"I believe he would remind us that our time has passed, though the admission would be a great burden to him as well." Spock considered his next words carefully. "And he would also ask us to trust those who have followed."
"Yeah, I think so too." McCoy began walking away. "I could use a good drink right about now. Coming, Spock?"
There was a moment when Spock considered refusing his old comrade. But he remembered that now McCoy was the only comrade he had left. "I will be along shortly."
McCoy snorted, perhaps with amusement, and walked on. Spock turned back to the Enterprise for a moment and could not help but consider his own... feelings toward the ship. The Enterprise... the very name made him recall all of the old times, and for a moment Spock wondered if it had truly been that long since he and the others had completed their own voyages aboard that other Starship Enterprise.
Though none of this new Enterprise's crew was present to see him, Spock raised his right hand in the Vulcan salute and greeting. "Live long and prosper," he said softly. With that last act done, he turned to follow McCoy.




Growing tired, Misty was returning from the office of the dockmaster for Valiant's berth. She came around a corner at the Valiant's berth to enter the waiting room for the airlock and she saw Jane standing at the airlock, wearing her silken kimono and hakama. She was speaking with two Japanese men dressed in plain-clothes. Misty was just close enough to make out the sounds of Japanese in the conversation and choose to stay across the room.
Upon closer inspection, it was clear the two men were related. One was older, in his sixties or even seventies. The other looked the same age as Misty and Jane. Both had brown eyes and similar Oriental-features, nothing really unique to Misty, while the younger man's hair was pitch black in direct contrast to the elder's gray. From a distance Misty observed Jane stepping up to the younger man and embracing him. She said something to him and their lips locked together into a kiss, after which the younger man put an arm on Jane's waist and the three walked away from the airlock. Misty finally let her curiosity get the better of her and walked after Jane. "Hey, Janey!"
Jane turned, as did her companions. As Misty got closer she noticed a strange glint in Jane's eyes, something she'd never seen in two years of knowing her It went well with the wide smile on her face. "Hello Commander."
"I, uh...."

"Sakata-san, Takuro, this is my superior, Commander Misty Greene." Jane looked to Misty. "This is my adopted father and sensei, Sakata Noburo, and his son Takuro, who is... a great deal more to me." Jane and Takuro exchanged looks that told Misty just what they were to each other.
"Mister Noburo..."
Amused grins came over the faces of the two Japanese men, matching Jane's own. "Sorry, Misty, I sometimes slip and think in Japanese while speaking in English. Sakata is the family name. It comes first in Japanese."
"Oh." Misty blushed a little, noticing Jane was doing the same. "Well, uh, the dockmaster says we'll be ready to go on time. Suvie's volunteered to make sure everything's in order in the morning."

"I know, Commander."
Feeling very awkward, Misty nodded and said, "Well, uh, I guess I'll leave you to see your old boss... or teacher, or whatever." She stepped back and began walking into the airlock.
"She seems to be a very interesting woman," Takuro said to Jane in English. He pulled Jane closer. "It's good to see you are in good hands."
Jane, for her part, was doing everything possible to constrain her joy at being with Takuro again. It had been nearly twenty-six months since she had last seen him. "I will tell the Commander that she has your vote of confidence, koibito."
"I shall see you in the morning, Takuro," Sakata said to his son. "This evening is for you and Jane." The elder man walked off, leaving Takuro to follow Jane to her on-station quarters.




It was nearly 0230 when Parker finally walked into his quarters, tired from a day of rapid acclimation to the new ship. The coffee he had sipped down at midnight was wearing off and he was ready for sleep, at least for the six hours allowed him. Data, needing no sleep, had volunteered to continue overseeing the stocking of the ship's stores and promised to not wake him up until 0900. Parker was certain he'd be up before then, of course.
After indulging in his nightcap and slipping into bed, Parker closed his eyes and his mind wandered. He found himself thinking of Sharon Carter. He hadn't known her very well, as she had been one of dozens of officers serving under his command at the time, but he did recall her quite vividly. She was a firebrand and a very good officer. He didn't want anything to happen to her.
It was with this in mind that Parker slipped away into sleep.




Unknown Location


There was to be no rest for Carter. Even after he tired of watching her twitch in her restraints Madred made sure to leave the implant on when he left. At a low level, it caused a constant fire to burn within Carter's body, keeping her awake. The pain was enough that she felt like screaming at times, but for now all she could do was cry. It was something terrible to be here alone - naked and chained - and humiliated by a horrible man.
Carter's eyes closed as she tried to restrain her weeping. If Madred saw this he would only push her harder in an attempt to break her. Carter was determined not to let him torture her into submission but neither did she want to endure more pain. She had never given much thought to the idea of being captured by an enemy and tortured and now Carter regretted that oversight. She might have been better prepared.
Suddenly the pain in her body subsided. Carter felt a warm hand touch her on the cheek. She was facing a Romulan man about her age or a little younger in appearance. He looked like any other Vulcanoid Carter had seen. He spoke to her in the Romulan language. Carter couldn't understand what he was saying until he raised a cup of water to her lips. Carter tilted her head back and he allowed the cup to follow. Cool and fresh water served to quench her thirst and wet her throat, made raw from Madred's torture. Even though she drank the water greedily some managed to trickle out from the sides of her mouth, making two lines of cool water that ran down her face and neck. The wet drops mingled with her sweat and created an uncomfortable sensation on her bare skin, which was already chilled from the temperature of the room. It even tickled a bit as the two drops curved along the outer curves of her breasts and ran down her sides and hips to her legs. The Romulan pulled the cup away and regarded her for a moment. Carter wished she knew their language, but she did bring herself to gasp, "Thank you."

The Romulan guard nodded at her and moved out of her vision, leaving the tortue implant turned off. With some water to soothe her thirst and rest for her tormented body she was able to get to sleep, faintly, dangling as she was from the ceiling.
Briefly she began to dream. To dream of a warm beach, gentle waves, and a brilliant sun above. This pleasant image was ripped from her by the sensation of her arms being freed from the ceiling. The stock-like device her wrists were placed in was detached, as was the one for her ankles. She looked up and saw Madred observing the activity. She saw him turn the lights back on and reach for his control. "One chance, Commander. How many lights?"
"Carter, Sharon Marie. Lieuten.... AHHHHHH!"
Madred's finger held down on the implant control, the level set to a medium level that made Carter howl and struggle. The Guards took her by the arms and dragged her into the corridor, Madred following close-by.
As they moved down one, and Madred's finger tired enough for the moment to give Carter a temporary reprieve, she looked up in time to see two other Romulans dragging a long a bound Jadzia. The young Lieutenant looked toward her as they passed each other in the hall - clearly the intention of Madred - and Carter could see fear in her subordinate's eyes as she was led toward Madred's "office".

They passed no one else before arriving in an empty room with blues and greens in a cube-shape around it, like a holodeck but with a particular Romulan style to it. Madred twisted the dial on the control and pressed the button again. The agony that swept through Carter drew was about the most intense she'd suffered yet. She opened her mouth to scream but could not, her lungs unable to force the air out while her body's muscles contracted instinctively.
The intent was revealed as being to stun her completely. As Carter laid on the ground and moaned, her body unable to make any conscious movement, the Romulans removed the ankle and wrist stocks and placed bands on the ankles and wrists instead. A hypospray was taken out and pressed against Carter's neck. When this was done, a black mask of some sort was brought i by a third Romulan and placed over Carter's head. She couldn't see anything now, nor could she open her mouth, and only a couple air-ways existed for her nostrils to receive air. Though she couldn';t see it, she could hear as Madred and the guards stepped back into the entry-way of the holodeck. At a press of a button, Carter floated off the ground. She drifted toward the center of the room. A powerful force gripped her ankles and wrists, a tug against the new bands there, that pulled them outward so that her limbs formed a rough X-shape in mid-air. Even as this suspension took place, she began to feel numb in her limbs to the point that she didn't feel the bands on them anymore.

"My daughter was always afraid of the dark," Madred remarked. "For your sake I hope you don't have a similar fear, Commander." With that remark he stepped out of the room with the guards.
After they left there was nothing. Thanks to the mask it was pitch black, Carter unable to see anything. There was nothing to be heard, nothing to be smelled, nothing at all. Not a single sense in her body had any input. Sensor deprivation, was the thought that went through her mind.
But as she drifted off to sleep, a powerful electric shock filled her body. She tried to scream, but couldn't because the mask prevented her jaw from lowering to open her mouth. She tried to squirm but felt too numb to move. She could literally do nothing but try to wait for the severe pain to pass and for her to get some sleep.
The next time she started to drift off it wasn't a shock that interrupted her, but the sudden onset of a loud, boisterous racket, so loud it hurt her ears, and further distracted her from getting some sleep.
The third time.... it was the sound of agonized wailing.




Gul Madred considered the control in front of him, set to a second implant that had been planted in the naked, lovely Trill erected before him. "How many lights?" he asked her again, showing the same three as before.
"Three," was Jadzia's answer.
"No, four." Madred pressed his finger on the button and listened stoically as his new subject screamed in raw agony. It was a sound he was familiar with, from all recognized genders and all sorts of races. He'd heard the screams of a thousand or two people before this one, and would probably hear the sounds of another thousand or so if his fortunes held out, if he gained asylum with his new Romulan guardians.
He saw the new guards at the door, replacements as the ones from before had proven untrustworthy. The Romulans were being somewhat annoying, and while their leadership was minimally annoying and appreciative of Madred's service to them, the rank and file seemed to be showing doubts, something that was not a good thing for Madred's safety and relative freedom.

Madred slipped his finger off the implant control. "How many lights, Lieutenant? I can keep this up all night, you know." When she still gave the truthful answer, Madred pressed his finger to it again. Her screams began to drown out other noise that might have been heard in the room, but Madred blocked it out and read a Romulan datapad with news reports from his homeland.
Cardassia, his beloved Cardassia. Humbled in war by the Federation who's agents were now so completely at Madred's nonexistant mercy, Madred's implacable foe for life. They had destroyed him now, the weakling Central Command, they had begun poisoning his own daughter with lies about him. That he was a traitor, an evil man that had tried to destroy Cardassia, which was far to the truth. Even here, even now, he considered himself a Cardassian patriot, and in this exile he would create the connections that might one day see his triumphant return home.
There might have been a measure of enjoyable revenge in these acts, but if anything Madred was still a professional. The truly terrifying thing about him to many was that he was not a sadist. He did not take joy in the suffering of those he tortured. They were a means to an end. The torture was a duty he had to the State, to break the wills of the enemies of Cardassia and learn their secrets. He was no longer officially serving Cardassia now, but in his heart, he never stopped.

"How many lights?" he asked again.
As he suspected, the Trill girl's answer was unsatisfactory. And so her torment continued, the implant set to automatic, and Madred quietly sipped a nice cup of coffee and read a Cardassian news report as if nothing else was happening.




McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001
20 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



Waking up early in her spartan quarters on Valiant (and only Commanding Officers and Executive Officers received individual quartering at that), Misty Greene replicated a cup of rich, strong, and utterly tasteless black coffee. While the coffee circulated through her brain and woke her up, she began to look over various data reports on her ship's readiness. Ten minutes after this began, her display suddenly added a window display to inform her that McKinley's Comm system had a call incoming, from the U.S.S. Pericles out on patrol on the Klingon border. Smiling at the name of the caller, Misty touched a button and accepted the call. "Jakey!"
Commander Jake Herscher was about 3 centimeters taller than Misty, with rich blond hair and an athletic and lanky body. He had been her "boytoy" since High School and was now serving as Executive Officer on the starship Pericles. His blue eyes were sweet and endeared him to Misty's heart. Looking at him, Misty realized how much she missed him, and for a few moments she allowed herself a small grin because of the various thoughts seeing him provoked, including those concerning what she wanted to do with him that were intimate, carnal, and sometimes even depraved. "So, how is it out there? Any Klingon trouble?"
"Nothing in months," Jake answered her. "I heard you're heading out again on that little rustbucket. Still not looking for a real starship Misty?"

"This little rustbucket can kick your starship's pansy ass," retorted Misty with a silly grin. "Oh Jakey, when will you be back anyway?"
"Not for another two months, baby."
"But I miss you," she whined, only half-jokingly. She did, after all, miss her precious boytoy.
"And I miss you." Jake sighed. "And I'm reminded of that all the time. Really, every day I'm out here, staring at these stars and wondering when those smelly barbarians are going to come charging across the Zone again to pick a fight. I'd really like to be staring at you."
A smirk crossed Misty's face. "With or without clothes?" They both giggled at that. Seeing Jake brought out the inner child within Misty and made her even more immature than usual, such was the strange form of love they had together. Jake also happened to be talented in certain ways, meaning their nights together were usually very fun, very passionate, and very pleasurable.
"Both."
After more laughter, they spoke for the next ten minutes on varying personal issues and planning for their next night together.
When they exchanged goodbyes, Misty started changing into her uniform. They would be leaving within two hours and she had to be ready.




Phillips was returning to Intrepid from the rental office for the station's storage lockers when he found an expected but now feared sight. His family was standing at the airlock to the Intrepid. His eyes first went to Zandra, his wife, a woman with a light and slightly-tanned complexion, lovely brown eyes, and a gorgeous body that he literally worshipped at times. Standing beside her on the right, at one hundred and sixty-seven centimeters compared to her one hundred and seventy, was Patrick Junior, his eldest child at eleven Terran years and his only son. Patrick Jr. had his mother's eyes and face but his father's hair, nose, and build. And, like most kids would, he wanted to follow his father's career and become a Starfleet fighter pilot. Phillips had even been compelled to buy him a model kit of his old SF-30 Valkyrie fighter for Christmas. Standing by her left was eight year old Jessica, who more closely resembled her mother save for having her father's blue eyes; Phillips was almost dreading her growing up because he was certain she would also inherit her mother's body and attract a horde of would-be suitors. And in Zandra's arm was Willow, only 14 months old, with her mother's eyes.

"Zandra, sweetie..." Phillips walked up to them, seeing the disappointed and angry glare in his wife's eyes.
"You told me you'd be available all week, Pat." Zandra looked up at him. "What's this I hear about your ship leaving today?"
"Baby, something came up." Phillips put a hand on her cheek. "We're being sent on a mission, I can't say what."
"You promised me." Zandra's eyes began to tear up. She had been building up to this for hours. "You promised me we could spend the week together with the kids."
"I know I did."
"Then why? Can't they find someone else?" Even with the bitterness in her voice Phillips knew that she knew the truth. "Pat, our flight back home leaves next Monday. Please don't tell me..."
"Honey, we'll be back home before then, I'm sure of it." Phillips kissed her on the lips gently while suppressing the desire to make it more passionate; this wasn't the place. "I'm so sorry..."
"Patrick..." Zandra was still tearing up. "When are you going to get a planet-bound post? Weren't you promised the post on Pacifica?"
"They're still deciding on whether to form the command or to leave the squadrons seperate. Until they do..." Phillips shrugged. "I know we've had our hearts set on me getting something planet-side, but I haven't yet. And I've got to make sure that whatever it is, I'll make enough to take care of you and the kids."
Suddenly Patrick Junior spoke up. "Besides, Mom, Dad's a Starfleet officer. This is his duty! He's got to do it. Right, Dad?"

Zandra looked over at her son with a combination of amusement and bewilderment. "But I want Daddy home!" Jessica whined in disagreement.
"Oh, sweetie, I'll be home one day." Phillips hunched down and gave his daughter a hug. He turned to his son, standing up to his full height, and set his hand on Patrick Junior's shoulder. "Son, you're right, but that doesn't mean it's easy. I want to be home with you four very much. And I'm going to one day, no matter what it takes."
There was a nod from Zandra. "I know."
Patrick reached over and rubbed his finger on his baby daughter's chin. Willow did not respond since she was sound asleep. "She's growing up so fast."
"You've said that about all of the children, Pat," Zandra pointed out. "So, when are you going to get back from this emergency mission?"
"By Saturday, maybe even earlier. I can't tell you anything more, hon." Phillips bowed his head. "I didn't want this to happen, I..."
He found the index finger of Zandra's free right hand on his lips. "I know, Pat," she said to him. "Well, the kids and I will be waiting for you."
"Of course you will." He kissed her on the cheek.
"Oh, Dad, before you go, can I ask you something?"
Phillips turned back to his son. "What is it?"

"I, uh, my school has a course I can take next year. JROTC preparation, they call it. Should I enter it?"
"Well..." Phillips scratched at the nape of his neck. "It'll get you ready for JROTC in High School, and if you complete that you'll get a commission sooner if you join Starfleet, but it can be rough on you. Think you're ready for military-style discipline, Patrick?"
"Yeah!"
Somehow, Phillips doubted it. But he couldn't exactly say no to his son, knowing how badly Patrick Junior wanted to fly. "Well, you have my support. If your mother allows, go ahead." He noticed the bemused glance from Zandra as she feigned annoyance. Yes, honey, I'm foisting the decision on you, even though I know you'd rather keep Patrick out of Starfleet if you can. But I know you'll do what's best for him. Halting his thoughts for the moment, Phillips checked his watch. "Well, Commander Howard is expecting me and we pull out in two hours. I'll see you when I get back." He gave his wife a last kiss and hugged his kids before stepping into the airlock. Zandra called out to him to be safe, and he replied with a nod and a thumb's up gesture, which Patrick Junior enthusiastically copied. He continued on into the bowels of Intrepid, still smarting over that pained look he'd seen in Zandra's eyes. One of these days he was going to go planet-side, even if it meant retirement. That much he resolved to do now as he had in the past.
There was only the question of making it happen.




The bridge of Avenger was bustling with activity when O'Farrell arrived, having secured some of his belongings in his quarters before entering the bridge. He could see Tasha seated at the helm, running final launch checks. To his right, at weapons, was the big and burly Serbian farmboy Lt. J.G. Branislav Kojic, a native of the Belgrade region. He was only 25, having just won his first promotion as an officer. Brown hair and baby-blue eyes were his distinguishing features, as well as an excellent muscle tone that made him quite handsome to the ladies, or so O'Farrell had heard. At Operations, on O'Farrell's left, was Lt. S.G. Phil Leeson. An Australian like O'Farrell, Leeson was lanky and thin, though a little athletic in muscle tone, and possessed sandy-blond hair and brown eyes. Deep in the bowels of the ship was the ruddy-faced Irishman, Chief Engineer Lt. S.G. Miles O'Brien, who was actually the eldest member of the Avenger's senior crew; he had been an enlisted man with a technician specialty up until the Cardassian War, when he won a brevet commission that Starfleet permanently granted at the end of the conflict on the advice of the war hero Capt. Ben Maxwell. O'Farrell liked and admired the man, even if he couldn't stand O'Brien's tastes in alcohol.

"Final checks cleared, Commander." Tasha looked over her shoulder. "We're ready to depart."
"We'll let Enterprise get all the attention." O'Farrell eased into his seat. "Do your thing, everyone."
Avenger's atmosphere was informal enough that everyone went along with it. After the airlock was cleared the ship slowly eased out of it's berth, came about, and headed for an exit. Spacedock control vectored them in so that they could use the Gamma entryway after an arriving New Orleans-class ship, the Demosthenes, came through. Once outside, Tasha pulled Avenger up into formation with the other ships from the squadron that were waiting; Hood, Minneapolis, and Valiant. A few moments later Great Lakes came out Alpha Entryway. Intrepid was clearing her moorings and would join them soon enough.
Now all that was left was Enterprise.




Everything was now ready. The Enterprise crew was at three-quarters her intended complement and a little heavier on enlistees than Parker would have liked, but they would be enough. The ship's torpedo magazines were fully stocked with over two hundred quantum torpedoes and about fifty of the older photon torpedoes. Every section of the ship had been checked, double-checked, and triple-checked for problems; they were good to go.
Despite the best efforts of Pressman to keep everything hushed up, news on a Starbase traveled fast, and large crowds of onlookers were present at Enterprise's berth, awaiting her departure. From the bridge of the Enterprise Parker watched them over an external video line via the display screen to his right. All of his officers were taking their places and checking their appropriate systems. They each affirmed readiness up to Data, who reported, "All systems are at one hundred percent, Captain. We are ready to depart."

"Clear all moorings. Mister O'Keefe, contact Spacedock control."
"Clearing all moorings." Data flipped several buttons on his station and the umbilicals that provided life support and power from the station to the Enterprise were blown away by non-violent explosions of air.
O'Keefe came next. "Spacedock Control is on, Sir."
"Spacedock Control, this is Enterprise," said Parker with much subdued excitement. "We are requesting permission to depart."
A female voice replied, "Enterprise, this is Spacedock Control. You are clear for Entryway Beta. We will open doors in ten seconds."
"Mister Hamblin, maneuver us into position please."
Hamblin's hands moved over the maneuvering portion of his control panel. The ship's thrusters fired and pushed her into position facing the spacedock's entry doors. At the ten second mark, they slid open. The trails of running lights below Enterprise, on the spacedock "floor', seemed to beckon them to open space. "Doors opening, Enterprise. Good luck and Godspeed."

"Mister Hamblin, one quarter impulse power."
"Sir, might I remind..." The younger man seemed to think better of the complaint he was about to register while Parker shared an amused look with Razmara. "One quarter impulse, Sir."
Enterprise's main engines fired and she swiftly exited the starbase. Waiting for her outside were the other ships, arranged in an arrowhead formation with Avenger and Valiant on the flanks and Intrepid and Hood on the insides. The lead position had been left to Enterprise. "Ease us into formation, Mister Hamblin."
With uncanny accuracy, Hamblin brought the Enterprise into position at the head of the arrow. "Set course for Radcliffe's Nebula at warp factor 9, Mister Hamblin."
"Aye Sir."
"Mister O'Keefe, be kind enough to relay Mister Hamblin's course data to the other ships."
"Aye Sir!"
When both were done and made verbal confirmation, Parker exchanged an anxious glance with Razmara. "Well, let's get this show on the road," he muttered under his breath. Aloud, with none of his concerns allowed to weaken the strength of his order, Parker stated, "Bring us to warp, Mister Hamblin."
With a few deft strokes of his controls, Hamblin did just that, and Enterprise and her companions made the jump to warp.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 5




Captain's Log 20 May 2368 17:23 GST: Attached to the log is all current data and status on the running of the Enterprise. To sum it up, we are on course for Radcliffe's Nebula at Warp 9.29. I wanted 9.3 but Captain Lenarova on the Great Lakes assured me that her ship could not maintain that speed for the duration and that her chief engineer would personally flay me if I blew up his precious engines. So I compromised on a decimal point.
The ship is currently on normal running, though watches have been extended to account for the reduced crew we are operating with. I hope to get this mission completed before any fatigue can begin to set in.
I do not have a good feeling about this mission. There are far too many unanswered questions to be considered and be made the straightforward affair Starfleet Command considers it. Why would the Rihannsu - sorry, Romulans - attack a Federation starship operating legitimately in the Triangle? Why would they even plant a spy post there? They have their own problems with the Klingons, Tholians, and Ferengi, they don't need the Federation adding to it.
No matter what happens, I do intend to get to the bottom of this, and to rescue the crew of the
Equinox.

Parker handed the log recorder back to the enlisted yeoman who was responsible for it, a pretty young Petty Officer named Rachel Galvarez. The tan-skinned mestizo woman smiled at him, nodded, and walked away with it. Feeling restless, Parker stood up and walked up behind Hamblin, who was busy monitoring the ship's heading and speed. "ETA, Mister Hamblin?"
"Ten hours, fifteen minutes, Sir."
"I mean to System R4392, Lieutenant."
"Eleven hours, forty minutes, Captain."
Parker nodded. He looked back to Larrisa, who was minding her sensor station. "Lieutenant, if the Romulans do have some kind of spy post scanning Federation space, couldn't we detect it through it's scanning waves?"
"I'm not sure." Larrisa shook her head. "Uh, according to the knowledge of Romulan sensor capability that we do have, it'd have to be active so we would detect it, but if they've got anything better we don't know about..."
Razmara shifted in her chair. "What's on your mind, Captain?"

"Being detected too early. Pirates or covert Romulan forces, they're going to be watching the border like hawks." Parker looked to Larrisa again. "Lieutenant, what do we know about Radcliffe's Nebula?"
"She's a diffuse reflection-type nebula according to records, sir. Ionized hydrogen, the usual..."
"Size?"
"Four light years by three by point six."
Parker began to think on that. "Mister Data, Ms. Larrisa, how much of a sensor shadow do you think that nebula projects in the direction of System R4382? How well would it hide us from detection if we made an approach as close to the nebula, and on the opposite side of it, for as long as possible?"
"Well, the mass might give a small enough shadow on subspace sensors to hide us, though the range of that effect would be razor-thin," Larrisa said. "Within the limits that the ionized gas could hide our warp fields." She looked to Data seeking his concurrence.
"I must concur with the Lieutenant, Captain. I have already calculated the distance margin necessary to maintain a shadow effect...."
"Relay it to Helm and Comms. Mister Hamblin, plot a new course based on Commander Data's information and relay it to Comms for transmission to the squadron."
"Aye sir."
"To accurately maintain our presence within the sensor shadow, Captain, constant scans will have to be made to determine the precise level of gas and material particles in the area, otherwise we will depart from the margin." Data looked over from his console. "Additionally, due to the need to follow the precise contours of the nebula cloud, warp speed will have to be reduced to permit sufficient maneuverability."
"How much of a delay will that be, Mister Hamblin?"

"Well, Sir, anywhere from half an hour to five or six." Hamblin touched a few buttons to adjust the Enterprise's course after a gravitational field from a nearby star pulled a little too strongly. "It would depend upon the precise shape of the nebula, the angles of the maneuvers we'd have to make, and the skill of the squadron helmsmen."
"I'll add, Captain, that the shadow is of different margin for each ship, though the margins are negligible," Larrisa interjected.
Parker shook his head. Still directing his attention to the conn, he asked, "Give me a ballpark, Lieutenant."
Suddenly Data asked, "Captain, why are you asking Lieutenant Hamblin for a ballpark?"
"Figure of speech, Data," came the irritated reply. "I'm asking for a guess."
"Ah." Data nodded and went back to minding his console.

Razmara stood from her chair and walked up beside Parker. "Captain, that's a long delay. The longer we wait, the more the trail grows cold."
"Actually, Commander, traces of weapons fire and warp trails do not 'grow cold'," Data remarked, "but rather..." He silenced at seeing the looks his commanders were giving him. "Ah, sorry sir, another Human figure of speech."
"Mister Data, what other senior officers have you served under?"
"Captain T'Stel of the Victory, Captain Lud'na of the Dush'kal, and Captain Selek of the T'Pol, as well as my four-year posting as senior Operations Officer to the Vulke VII Science Station."
"Two Vulcans, a Vulcan-populated science station, and an Andorian," Parker remarked. "Well, that explains things." He turned to Razmara. "I'm going to catch a little shuteye. You have the Bridge, Commander. Call me in seven hours."
"Yes, Captain." Razmara nodded and moved over into the command seat while Parker entered the turbolift.




Unknown Location


Nothingness.
Carter wasn't sure how much time had passed in the oblivion of sensory deprivation mixed with the occasional moments of agonizing pain timed to prevent her from sleeping, whether it be a mix of screams and white noise or the electric shocks that arced through her bound body.
It got to the point where she was still getting light sleep between increasing cycles of pain. Not long after this that the door opened. She could hear footsteps, and the numbness had declined enough for her to feel her bonds begin lowered, bringing her body to ground-level. The mask was removed and lights shined in her eyes to check their dilation. "Madred," she muttered, but there was no answer. One of the Romulans took a hypospray, injected her with something, and then reloaded the hypospray to inject her again.
After the second injection the men stepped back again and closed the door behind them. As soon as the door shut the bonds holding Carter's wrists and ankles disappeared. She could move again.
Then the floor was gone. She wasn't sure how, just that her feet were not touching anything. She turned and turned around, reaching out with all four limbs, but there was no surface to touch. It was like being in zero gravity in a way, but she could see nothing, touch nothing, hear nothing. It was an even more complete sensory deprivation.

At first she hoped that they might stop torturing her to keep her from falling asleep, but after some time passed she realized what one of the injections had been for. She couldn't sleep. She was completely and utterly aware.
But at least she could scream. And she did. But she didn't hear it. She screamed again, thinking maybe she'd done it only in her head, but still nothing. And she did it again, and again, until her lungs could not expel any more air.
Still nothing.




Federation Space


With the ships scheduled to arrive in the morning at the nebula, Marina had ordered the night watch, midnight to 0600, to come in two hours earlier so that she and the command crew could rest up for the next day, which would likely involve combat. She retired to her cabin where she showered and changed into a blue nightgown made of satin. After some consideration of what to have to drink before retiring for the night, Marina chose a tea of middling strength to indulge in a philosophical mood. She walked up to her bookshelf and pulled out a copy of one of Hegel's works, preferring to have a solid book in her hands instead of reading from her desk monitor. She slipped into the chair at her desk and set the tea down after taking a sip. Doing so caused her to look at a picture over twenty-five years old; her, aged 19, on a yacht in the Black Sea with a girl of her age, Valentyna Lahenza. In those more libertine years of her life, when Marina was enjoying liberation from the stifling protocols of the independent theocratic Orthodox colony of Novya Sankt-Peterburg, she had been more open and, like Valentyna in the picture, was dressed in a revealing two-piece bathing suit. Seeing the picture made Marina blush slightly. In those days she had been quite stunning to look at, with that flat belly and those nice curves, while today Marina sometimes felt like she had lost the attractiveness and fitness of her youth no matter her personal efforts at physical exercise and activity.

Marina drew in a breath. Sweet Valentyna! O how Marina missed that lovely smile and the rose-colored lips that formed them. Valentyna had been her first lover and to this day there had been none whom Marina pined for more than Valentyna, who she saw far too infrequently. Her history with Valentyna was deeply-rooted in Marina's coming of age and entry into Starfleet. The Lahenzas had been far more understanding people than the Lenarovas that had raised her and she owed them greatly. Marina was living with them at that age to get her education in her family's native Ukraine (or somewhat-native Ukraine, Marina was somewhat of a Slavic mutt with many different national heritages, even including a little Cossack) and the Lahenzas had not objected to her intimacy with Valentyna. Marina considered those years of her life to be her true "growing up" period, when she found personal knowledge and a love of philosophy and history in Sergei Lahenza's study, the practical knowledge of the engineering trade from Svitlana Lahenza's books and office, and perhaps most importantly, love and the intimate pleasures of life in the company of her beloved Valentyna. Seeing that beautiful girl's face again, her graceful and slim figure and long blonde hair, made Marina's heart flutter. Valentyna had even aged gracefully, looking little different from the beautiful teenage girl in the picture. Like Marina she had entered Starfleet as an engineer, but unlike Marina she did not bother with attempting to go into command and had retired about eight years ago, joining an aerospace engineering firm based in Kiev and living in her parents' Black Sea dacha.
Even though she had other friends, Marina never spoke of Valentyna with the others. She valued her privacy above all else; her feelings toward Valentyna, her memories, were for her alone. That didn't stop her from talking with others about the issues of sex, though; she would joke with them in that usual vulgar manner that navy people had. On top of that, she had been recently found a sense of maternal pleasure in helping a junior officer working the comms on Beta Shift, Allen Jones, eliminate a sense of self-loathing over being a homosexual. Marina, and Allen it seemed, have never asked to be this way; it was simply there, and in Marina's case, it was the one thing that made it impossible for her to stay on Novya Sankt-Peterburg, where being homosexual would likely have earned her a painful end or an unhappy marriage by the force of her father.

After looking at the picture for a long moment, Marina sighed and opened her book up to read. She managed three pages before there was a beep from her communicator. "Bridge to Captain Lenarova," she heard Jones say. Marina pressed a button on her desk and replied. "Captain, we're being signaled from Enterprise. Captain Parker wishes to speak with you."
"Put him through to here." For a moment Marina considered asking for a few minutes to change, not entirely comfortable with being in a nightgown and speaking on a visual line. But the impulses toward conservatism that created that discomfort had served her purposes anyway, as her nightgown was a very conservative and unrevealing garment - it was cut just below her neck and shoulders with thick straps running over the shoulders - and there really wasn't much to her arms, shoulders, and neck being visible. She was surprised, however, to see her screen partition into six parts. Parker was in uniform and apparently in his own cabin; Berger was in a pink night gown in her cabin. O'Farrell, Phillips, and Drake were in their offices, or what passed for a captain's office (or ready room) on Avenger. Nobody spoke until the sixth screen came active. Misty was sitting in her own cramped cabin on the Valiant, wearing a red sports bra that bared her midriff and showed abs that Marina would probably kill to have once again. The look in her eyes said she had been asleep when the call came and Misty, not as conservative as Marina or perhaps too tired to consider it, hadn't bothered to put on her uniform.

With everyone present, Parker spoke. "I've spent the last few hours mulling over this situation. And right now I'm not too thrilled with the angle of attack Pressman assigned us."
Phillips beat Katie Berger to the punch. "You mean going in weapons ready, come hell or high water?"
"It can be a precarious route," said Drake in the stoic English reserve that Marina rather admired. "But it is a direct one."
"The motives Pressman claimed are rather silly anyway." Misty put a hand into her dark hair, which was disheveled from where she had been sleeping. "I mean, I thought we told the Romulans about our patrol routes anyway? Why would they plant some kind of super-duper array into the Triangle to spy on us?"
There was a shrug from Katie. "Well, if they are Romulan renegades, maybe they don't have the clearance to know about it? Or if it's the Romulans themselves, maybe the array that the Equinox found was directed toward the Klingons?"
"Then why is it in the corner of the Triangle between us and the Romulans?" Parker asked. "This entire thing doesn't make a bit of sense. Pressman's just using this as an opportunity to posture with Command."
A wry grin appeared on Marina's face. He's a smart one, she mused. She had spent most of the day and the one previous pondering most of these things. Speaking aloud, Marina inquired, "So, Captain, you suggest we don't go in directly?"

"I've already forwarded the course changes to your bridges. We'll slip around the nebula and keep it between us and the target area as long as possible." Parker's expression was grim. "I want to recover the crew of the Equinox, but this could start a war, and I'm not going to be responsible for that."
"And what about Pressman?" Now O'Farrell was speaking up. "He's not gonna be happy with a delay."
"Mister Data is handling the rapid course changes. The margin we have is very thin, requiring a slower speed for the maneuvers, and we'll be going the speed of our slowest ship to maintain formation. How well do you think your helm officers can do?"
"Alexia will consider it a challenge," Katie remarked.
"I've made it my business to keep my helmsmen well-trained and honed," Drake added. "You'll get no problems from me."

You're a clever man, Parker, It's no wonder I like you. Marina nodded. "We're familiar with using nebulas to mask our presence. I think Lieutenant Hipper will see it as a challenge."
The other captains affirmed that they considered their helmsmen able to maintain a good level of speed for the multiple maneuvers, though Phillips remarked that his ship was designed for this level of maneuvering. Parker then brought up the second part. "Now, I know we're losing time, so I want to make up for it. As soon as we can no longer use the nebula to mask ourselves, we need to hit high warp. I want to see if we can hit 9.5."
"Ed would be pissed off the entire time," Marina replied frankly, with a hint of a chuckle in there. She did derive amusement from her engineer's tantrums. "But we've pushed 9.6 a couple of times, 9.5 for a few hours shouldn't be bad. I'm in favor of your plan, Captain."
"Hood is not exactly young either," Drake reminded them. "Lieutenant Commander Engasser will probably give me hell for this as well. But I'll agree to your plan."

Everyone chuckled. Each commander knew full well just how cranky engineers could be when one tried to do things to their precious ships. One by one each affirmed their assent to his plan. "Excellent. We'll arrange to slow down for the close maneuvering at the appropiate time. Once we go into the Triangle I recommend we raise our alert status to Yellow." There were nods of assent. Parker looked to something on his side. According to my navigation officer we'll reach the slowdown point for the nebula in about five hours. I'll have him signal me at that time for the official course change. I'll leave the rest of you to whatever you were doing, as it seems we caught a number of people in bed."
Now that made Marina chuckle, especially considering Misty's disheveled appearance and Katie's rather informal attire. Indeed, Misty's was the first signal to cut off, followed by Berger's and Parker's. Marina waited until only Drake remained. The monitor immediately enlarged his image to full. She took a sip and asked him, "What did you think of that?"
"Parker plays a dangerous game." The widest smile possible for Drake formed on his face. "And you look like you're enjoying it. In fact, you have that dangerous glint in your eyes again, Marina."
"You say that all the time," she retorted. "I think he has a good point."
"As do I, or I would not have agreed. Well, you look like you were retiring for the evening. Go get some rest."
"I will. The same goes for you, of course."
"Of course." Drake nodded. "Good night." He touched something off-screen and disappeared. For a moment the Federation logo appeared on Marina's monitor before it reverted to the usual LCARS login screen. She turned the monitor off and brought up her book. Another half-hour of reading would come; afterward with her tea finished Marina slipped into her bed and fell asleep swiftly.



Katie saw the images of the other captains disappear and was immediately beaned in the side of the head by a pillow. "The other captains have less to worry about," Zaria scoffed, "since their engineers can't threaten them with abstinence!"
Giggling, Katie got up and moved over to the bed, where Zaria was half undressed and smiling widely. "Aw, you wouldn't."
"Only if you blow my new warp core up," Zaria remarked. "And really, I'd be spending so much time fixing things it'd count as abstinence." She moved to let Katie get onto the bed with her and laid back, the two kissing warmly. Zaria brought her hand up and gentley touched Katie's cheek. "You think we'll be fighting tomorrow?"
Katie nodded at that. "It wouldn't surprise me."
"I, well..." Zaria's face told Katie all she needed to know. "I'm scared. We've just gotten back together after so long apart, and we might lose each other for good tomorrow..."
"I know, I know. But I think we'll pull through. We have a good crew on a fine ship." Katie winked at her. "And you're here to keep her together."
After nodding at that, Zaria laid upon her back. "Hold me, please." Katie did so, and the two soon fell fast asleep.




Main engineering on the Hood was awash with activity as damage control crew were briefed by Lieutenant Tukronn, the Andorian Damage Control Officer, while the main engineering crew readied the old warhorse for battle under the watchful eye of Lt. Cmdr. Seth Engasser, the dark-haired, fair-skinned Human in charge of Engineering.
Overlooking the latest maintainence reports, Seth pointed to a couple of ensigns on the crew and said, "I don't like the structural integrity figures on the port nacelle strut, I want you to get a reinforcement field set up and ready to take up the slack if the structure needs it. Kowalski, Juronn, head to Deck 20 Starboard quarter and make sure the compartment doors are functioning, our last test showed some problems there. Ymala...."
As this was done Seth turned to see a solid-built man standing at the port entrance to main engineering, his equal in rank but not in seniority on the ship. "Commander Ye, what do I owe the pleasure?"

Lt. Cmdr. Ye Di Wen moved closer, his English sounding more like Drake's English than any other accent. "Commander, the Captain is looking to go to Warp 9.5 tomorrow."
That drew a sigh. "He didn't think to ask me if we'd be capable of it?"
"The warp drive is new," Ye remarked, "and the ship was originally designed to be able to survive Warp 9.6."
"Those are design maximums, Commander, not rules of physics. The ship is still old and I'm not sure if 9.5 is sustainable." Seth turned his attention back to his engineers. "Okay everybody, tomorrow we're going to Warp 9.5. I want all engine personnel to begin immediate diagnostics and physical checks on every system even remotely linked to the warp drive. All reactors will be thoroughly examined and power systems monitored closely. That is all." He looked back to Ye. "Tell the Captain we'll stay at Warp 9.5 until the ship falls apart. And it's his fault if that happens."
"I'll be sure to pass the message along."




Before retiring for the night O'Farrell made one last check on his ship. O'Brien reported from engineering that they were ready to make the sprint, Leeson and Kojic gave similar affirmations of readiness, and that left him the final detail.
The sickbay on Avenger was obviously not sizable. Just ten beds, five on each wall, a little cubby space for the CMO, and shelves with basic first aid equipment. The ship had a doctor, a senior nurse with a staff of two nurses and four medics, and a crew that was required to train frequently in first aid techniques.
The nurses were undergoing an inventory check when O'Farrell arrived. In the cubby he saw hhis new CMO, the Academy-fresh Dr. Halina Poniatowski, a Polish girl from Raimal II who still held the officer rank of Ensign and was effectively on her residency. The Starfleet equivalent of a residency took a couple forms: service in the frontier colonies and bases, residency in civilian medical facilities and hospitals on underdeveloped planets, or service on light vessels like the Defiant-class which typically remained on-station and under supervision from more senior doctors in those facilities. His ship's new assignment had not led to a reassignment being made in her case, though with experienced doctors on the other ships O'Farrell wasn't particularly worried.

He had to admit she was certainly cute. A bit filled out, short, and light brown hair of almost a honey color kept in a pony-tail on the back of her head. Her blue eyes looked toward him and she stood. "Commander?"
"Just checking on things, Doctor. We may see combat soon."
"Well, as you know, we're not designed for long-term treatment of combat casualties. And the designers were pretty cynical with our lack of beds." Halina brought a hand up to indicate her sickbay. "I guess they figured that if we have more than ten casualties the ship's doomed anyway."
"Well, that would be about a fifth of the crew, Doc," O'Farrell reminded her. "But hopefully we won't have to use them."
"I hope so as well, Commander." Halina looked at him closer for a moment. "You look tired. Go get some rest."
"Oh, I plan on it. I'm also sendin' Tasha to bed, we've got a busy day comin' up." O'Farrell stifled a yawn and said, "See you soon, Doc."

After he left, Halina returned to her notes. She felt her breath and heartbeat picking up. Given the fear she held in her heart, it was not a surprise. Not a fear of her own death, but a fear that a life would be lost because she messed up. It was the downside to her dream of being a doctor that occupied her greatly and almost suffocated her at times in the Academy.
Drawing in a breath to get control, the young doctor began thinking I won't mess up over and over.




Unknown Location


"Three dammit!"
The half-shouted, half-wept cry of Jadzia Idaris echoed in the room a moment before her renewed screams. Madred kept one finger on the manual button on the controls while his free hand brought a cup of coffee up for him to enjoy. He'd not gotten much sleep - he never did when he was so thoroughly engrossed in work - and was starting to run on coffee alone. He would have to take a rest now.
He'd already noted that Lieutenant Idaris was not as well trained as Commander Carter in resistance, but that was to be expected as she looked quite a bit younger and hadn't likely had the same training. Waiting for the torture to sap her energy a bit more, Madred turned his attention back to a datapad with her information on it. "Lieutenant Idaris, it appears you have a standing request for leave. Apparently you are to be Joined very soon." Madred released the control. "There is always the chance you will be ransomed to the Federation, you know. If you cooperate, I mean. Surely they'd still grant you that Joining, since as I recall it is very hard to get. Why, you must be quite the elite among your people. Real elite, I mean. Not someone born into wealth and power but someone with the skill and talent to attain it in life. I admire that quality in people, I really do. After all, I came from the streets as an orphan. You and I are alike in so many ways."

"We're... nothing... alike," Jadzia retorted.
"That's true. I'm quite sure that despite your many talents, your potentially great intellect, you would be unable to perform my duties. Your Federation is composed of many races who do tend to be rather... squeamish in character." Madred leaned back in his chair. "How many lights?"
"Three!"
He reactivated the device, but even the coffee was no longer helping him. It seemed, sadly, that Cardassians could not enjoy the full effect of caffeine like other races did. He watched the Trill woman squirm against her wrist and ankle stocks for a bit and released the button. "I think i'm going to go take a rest," he said while messing with the control. "Unfortunately, you won't get much. I've set the control to activate your implant at a high intensity level every five minutes. I'm afraid it will render sleep quite impossible. But I do have something for you to think about over the night as you no doubt try to find the courage to endure the interrogation longer." He slipped around his desk and walked up to her, drawing close to her and looking Jadzia straight in the face. "I've gone over the Symbiosis Commission's rules while interrogating you. It seems that even if you are returned or rescued, they will suspend your status as an approved host while putting you through renewed examination. And the way I see it.... if you give me what I want, you'll be stricken from the names of potential hosts, and if you don't before you are rescued, well.... the things I will be doing to you over the next few days, Lieutenant Idaris, are such that they'd reject you given the scars I will leave. Your life's work at becoming a host.... is now a dream that I have snatched from the jaws of fruition and denied you, possibly forever."
"Bastard," was the only remark she could make. His words had hit home. Jadzia feared he was right. She couldn't be Joined, not now, and maybe not ever. Years of hard work, study, and expectation, so close to being fulfilled, but now denied her.
Then the pain struck, a raw scream erupting from her throat as the tears began to come down her cheeks.
Smirking slightly Madred said, "You might want to consider giving me useful answers tomorrow," and went to leave. He quickly, almost as an afterthought, added, "Have a good night, Lieutenant" sarcstically before walking out.




Federation Space


Replicator coffee was to be found far and wide for the understaffed engineering crew of the Enterprise as they prepared the new ship for a high-warp sprint. From the central console of Engineering Geordi La Forge had little time to marvel over his new ship, occupied as he was running multiple physical and automated checks on the warp drive system, the ship's structural integrity, and other things necessitated by the impending warp-speed maneuvering, high-warp sprint, and finally, the strong possibility of an engagement.
"Port plasma conduits are looking good, people. Meyers, Sulek, starboard conduits are showing some need for tweaking. If we're going to hit 9.5 tomorrow we need the warp nacelles getting all the plasma they need."
Geordi returned his view to the console before him. Footsteps came from behind him and a voice said, "Commander, perhaps I may be of service?"
The engineer turned to face Data, who was now standing beside him. "Commander Data, aren't you off-duty?"
"I am not on bridge watch that moment, true, but I am not in need of rest and there are other ways I can be of service in ensuring the ship is at peak readiness for the coming mission."

"Well, Commander, it's good to have you down here." Geordi motioned toward the warp core. "If you can take over in monitoring the recrystallization process I can get to work on the reaction diagnostics."
"Of course." Data slipped in to where Geordi had been standing. "Commander, if I may inquire, what is the full capabilities of your VISOR device?"
"Ultraviolet, thermal, reduced light," Geordi replied. "I can even set it to normal human eyeball wavelengths when I want to."
"Fascinating," was Data's reply. "I have often considered if it was possible to have my own visual processing enhanced beyond my current capabilities."
"Well, I can imagine it wouldn't give you any headaches, Mister Data," Geordi answered.
"Naturally." Data's attention returned briefly to the console. "Recrystallization process is operating within acceptable parameters."
"Good, now we need to run diagnostics on..."




Larrisa had returned to her room for rest, with the Enterprise just six hours out from the Radcliffe Nebula and the beginning of what could turn out to be her first combat operation in Starfleet.
Her case was not unique, she well knew - a Starfleet officer could go for a decade before being in any kind of combat situation. It was not exactly the reason she'd joined Starfleet either, but in a way, Larrisa knew that it was an experience she needed to face if she were to step further away from her people and into her own mold. There was no conflict among the Edo, just the daily numbing fear of doing something wrong in a punishment zone and getting executed.

Given the situation, Larrisa still removed her uniform and clothes before getting into bed, as sleeping nude she'd been raised to consider natural. She rested her head on one pillow and held tightly onto another, wondering what it would be like to actually be in combat, not just undergoing a simulation - which were often terrifying enough - but actually feeling a starship rock around her and, perhaps, the ever-present risk of an electrical feedback striking her console.
Larrisa closed her eyes and prayed. She prayed to whatever would listen out there for the strength to do what had to be done and the courage to overcome her fears in doing it. Because above all else, she was afraid that she was going to fail. And that she could not accept.
And slowly, the prayers in her mind took on a melodic feel, and she began to fall asleep and dream of home, a field of soft grass and flowers beneath her and a lover's arms around her.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 6




Neutral Space, The Triangle
21 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



Radcliffe's Nebula was looming ahead on the viewscreen when Parker returned to the bridge. He stepped out of the turbolift first and was followed by Hamblin and Larrisa, who had joined him on the trip up. Razmara had beaten them to the bridge, apparently. "Commander, how much rest did you get last night?" Parker asked as he went to his chair, prompting her to move to her's.
"Enough," was her reply while settling into her seat and bringing up her display panel.
"Coming up on the nebula, Captain," Data reported from his seat. "Lieutenant Larrisa, please relay sensor data to my station, I will provide course corrections to helm and communications from here."
"Yes sir," was her response as she settled into her seat.

Parker looked to Hamblin as he relieved the ensign at the helm. "Lieutenant, are you ready?"
"As I can ever be, Sir."
"Course data on real-time relay to the squadron, Captain," O'Keefe reported.
"Then let's get started. We'll slow to Warp 5 and increase speed until we start to lose formation or slip out of the shadow."
"Commander, sensors are patched into your station," Larrisa reported. "I'm working through communications to give you readings from all seven ships."
"Thank you, Lieutenant, you are most efficient," Data replied before going to work, his hands moving swiftly over his controls and his station's screen displaying the relevant information. "Lieutenant Hamblin, I will be providing necessary course corrections to you. I will try to make sure you have sufficient warning time given the limit of feasible Human reaction time."
"Thank you Commander," Hamblin answered.

Parker laid back a bit in his seat. He looked over to tactical and saw a Vulcan man there, an Ensign. "Lieutenant Tevala is off-watch?" Parker asked Razmara.
"I told her to get some rest," Razmara said. "We'll need her at top form if we go into combat."
"Of course."
"Captain, we're moving into the shadow. Preparing to decelerate.... now. We're beginning our run."
With nothing more to do but watch, Parker observed as Hamblin and Data worked together to follow the outskirts of the nebula to slip into the Triangle.




Unknown Location


After a sound sleep Madred had been summoned to meet with the ad hoc committee of Romulan political rogues and militarists who commanded the facility. Two men and two women, the apparent leader being a man he knew as tr'Haelvi, operated the place in the name of whatever Romulan faction was truly at power here, Madred having not ascertained the truth there yet.
"Our sources in Federation space indicate no rescue mission seems to be undergoing preperation," one of the women said as he entered, "but it could simply be Starfleet biding time. Reports from our agents in Ra'tleihfi have confirmed that the Federation has issued several warnings to the Emperor and the Praetorate that Starfleet would be responding. The government's response has been, as usual, limp-wristed."
When they saw Madred arrive, they ceased talking for the moment. Madred sometimes had the feeling they hid a lot more from him, things that may very well determine his survival. "Has the Federation dispatched ships to search for their lost vessel?"
"Not as far as we can determine. Perhaps they really are that weak," tr'Haelvi said, "or maybe they're scheming. We do not know." The Romulans, as a group, directed their gaze to Madred. "What we do know, Madred, is that we were promised results that have not been attained yet."

"I told you before that Advanced Interrogation is as much art as it is science," the Cardassian replied. "As it is, my progress with Commander Carter was undermined by one of your own men."
"We have dealt with that transgression, you needn't worry about any more of your guards." tr'Haelvi stood from his chair and moved around it, focusing his dark eyes on Madred. "We have sheltered you at great expense, Gul, and have spent not-insignificant resources to give you the tools you say we will need. We want to see results."
"You should come by my office," Madred answered. "While Commander Carter endures further sensory deprivation to weaken her mind, I have brought the Trill lieutenant, Subject Idaris, to the breaking point in very short time. She's a rather exceptional specimen, I must say. But that's what one expects from those Trill chosen to be hosts." Madred showed a small satisfied smile. "Of course, as I've told you before, such strengths themselves expose weaknesses, and I have pressed her's hard."

"We're not interested in your breaking some junior officer's will, Madred. Carter has Starfleet's Advanced Survival training. They are about the best in the quadrant in training resistance to such techniques, we want proof that you can break through it...."
"Everyone breaks, tr'Haelvi," Madred said. "It's just a matter of time."
"And time is something we don't have. Even if the Federation is not coming soon, this location is jeopardized," tr'Haelvi said. "We intend to begin evacuation procedures immediately and to depart within two days. If Commander Carter is not, as you promised, 'a mewling, cowed beast begging for our mercy' by the time we are ready to leave, Madred, we'll leave you behind with them."
Madred's jaw clenched at the threat. He suspected the Romulans wouldn't kill the survivors of Equinox. They hadn't really wanted to attack it in the first place, only doing so because they believed the ship had detected their presence, and killing the survivors may only start the war they weren't quite ready to fight yet while, alive and rescued, the story would be an embarrassment to the Romulan government that these people sought to depose anyway. And that meant arranging for the survivors to call in Starfleet after the Romulans had abandoned their position. Madred didn't quite fancy the fate that awaited him with the Federation if he were left behind as well.
"By the time I am through with Jadzia Idaris and Sharon Carter, my dear Rihannsu, they will be about the most docile, cooperative Starfleet officers you will have ever met," Madred promised.




When the holodeck door opened the light shined brightly in Carter's vision, more than it should have. She still could not hear it, of course, but whatever trick of technology prevented sound from reaching her ears was turned off moments later as she could hear the footsteps. A Romulan operated the controls and brought her down to the ground. She had no energy to stand, but remained curled up on the ground, only her head raised.
Two guards dragged Carter to her feet. One grabbed a fistful of disheveled red hair and pulled Carter's head back, allowing a hypospray to be applied to her neck. When this was done she was dragged back through the station to Madred's office.
The Cardassian motioned toward a seat, which the two Romulans placed her in. "Ah, Commander, welcome back to the land of the living," he remarked. He could see that she was having trouble with her vision, among other problems, and added, "I trust you emerged from your taste of oblivion with some of your faculties intact."
"Go to Hell," was what Carter managed, her control rattled enough that she did not simply return to her routine of name, rank, and serial number.
"Yes, well, I was wondering if you had any comments for poor young Lieutenand Idaris here." Madred pointed to the Trill woman, and Carter could see that Jadzia was in as bad shape as she was, with sleep-deprived eyes and a worn expression.

"She's a junior officer, Madred, she doesn't know anything you couldn't get from public sources," Carter remarked. "It's a waste of your time."
"Oh, I don't think so, Commander. So, Lieutenant, where were we? Oh yes." At a key press those damned lights came back on behind Madred. "How many lights Lieutenant?"
"Three."
"You strike me as rather bright, Lieutenant, do you really think that answering that time and time again will do anything but get you more suffering?" Madred pressed down on his control. Jadzia's body tremored and a raw scream came from her throat.
"Lieutenant, don't give him any answer, only your name, rank, and serial number!" Carter ordered.
"That hasn't done her very much good, Lieutenant," Madred pointed out before releasing his thumb from the button. As Jadzia panted to regain her breath he continued, "I mean, do you want to enjoy oblivion next? To be completely alone, without even gravity to keep you on firm ground? Adrift and alone and unable to feel, hear, or sense anything? I will be happy to arrange it, and then I shall send for the next ranking officer on the Equinox." Madred looked to Carter. "I could interrogate you for a week, Commander, before you finally relent. But I don't have the time to wait for your will to be sapped that way, so I'm afraid I must try a different tactic. You give me answers I want, or Lieutenant Idaris pays the penalty. So, Commander.... how many lights are there?"

There was a pleading look in Jadzia's eyes when she looked over to Carter. Carter saw it and felt her stomach twist painfully, knowing what was going to happen. "Carter, Sharon Marie. Lieutenant..."
Madred's finger hit the key and Jadzia's screams filled the room, cutting Carter off. She found that this, perhaps, was the most agonizing torture of all.




The Triangle (Neutral Space)


As the hours ticked away, Parker went to his “ready room” on the Bridge’s port-bow side. It was nearly unfurnished with only a desk and office chair. He sat in the chair and stared at the ceiling in an attempt to clear the anxiety from his head. After a short - or perhaps long - period of time passed, he heard the room’s chime sound. When it sounded a second time he sat back up and faced the door. “Come in.”
The door slid open. Razmara entered and stood at attention. “Captain?”
“What is it, Commander?”
“Sir, Commander Data informs me that we're going to emerge from the shadow within ten minutes. Would you like me to go to Yellow Alert?”
“Red Alert, Commander. Have Colonel Kira prep her Marines, just in case we need them.”
Razmara nodded in reply. But she did not move. Parker considered the icy calm in her face and stature. Not the emotionless of the Vulcans he had known but rather that of a trained, seasoned military professional. It was a little odd for Parker - to notice such a difference considering the points on Razmara’s ears, the one outward sign of her Vulcan blood. “Of course, Sir.”

“Anything else, Commander?”
Razmara thought for a moment. “Sir, you seem to be rather nervous.”
“Why shouldn’t I be? We are barreling into Neutral space to look for a lost ship on a mission that could very well spark a war with the Rihannsu.”
“Rihannsu.” Razmara finally seemed to let that calm slip as an indicator she was now speaking informally. “You don’t agree with Pressman, I know. But can you be so sure the Romulans aren’t as bad as he claims? We all know about the experiments on Vulcan abductees a hundred years ago, about the scheming and plotting for war, and this was when they were a third-rate military power behind the Federation and Klingon Empire. They could be much worse now.”
“I don’t deny, Commander, that the Rihannsu are prone to the same vices as we are. But this entire thing doesn’t seem right. Even if we assume they did it, then why? They know our patrol routes in the Triangle. If they wanted to build an illegal facility they would do it outside of those patrol routes."
"Well, Sir, people don't always act as you think they would. And I would point out that the time you spend thinking about what might be the truth is time you won't spend preparing to deal with it."

A smirk curled up on Parker's face. Razmara could be blunt when she wanted to. "Is that a curt reminder of my duties, Commander?"
"Of course not, Sir. Just friendly advice."
For a moment Parker considered telling her how much she looked like a Vulcan while saying that but he thought better of it. Before he could remark, Data's voice came over the intercom. "Captain, we are emerging from the shadow and setting course for System R4392."
"Very well, Mister Data." Parker looked to Razmara and added, "Let's go." He got out of his chair and followed her out.
Once out onto the bridge, Parker barked "Red Alert!" and went toward the command chair. Red light flooded the bridge and a series of five alert klaxons sounded with a shrill "wiiiiir" sound. Across the ship the crew was rushing into battle stations. Lt. Jobrie's fingers moved over a couple sections of her console, raising the shields and powering the weapons. Parker and Razmara took their seats almost simultaneously. Razmara immediately said, "Readiness report."
One by one, each station reported in, starting with Hamblin. "Helm responding, sir. All engine systems are functioning properly. We are now at Warp 9.5 with no sign of engine difficulty."

"Bringing tactical sensors online, Captain," reported Larrisa. Parker privately noted his satisfaction with her attentiveness, so much unlike the stereotype of the Edo, while Larrisa's slender fingers moved over a section of her board. He nodded to Razmara, who pressed a number of keys on her console and brought up the holographic three-dimensional tactical display that rested on a pedastal-shaped emitter between their chairs. The Enterprise was represented by a Starfleet arrowhead in the center; their six companions were blue marks. The display was zoomed in to a two hundred kilometer range, encompassing the formation and little else. The graphical representation of warp space, that of streaks of color, appeared around the ships. "Long range sensors are at peak capability; magnetic, heat, light, mass, radio, and subspace scanners are all functioning properly."
Jobrie came next. "Primary phaser arrays and pulse phaser cannons are functioning properly, Captain. Shields at full strength. Torpedo launchers are functioning and loading of first spreads is almost complete. Defensive phaser banks charged and targeting network online."
"Comm arrays are online, Captain." O'Keefe turned his chair forward. "Tactical uplinks with the rest of the squadron are complete."
Data's fingers raced over his own panel besides Hamblin's. "All ship sections report readiness, Captain. Commander La Forge reports that the warp core and fusion reactors are functioning properly; main and auxiliary batteries online and charging. Sickbay is preparing to receive battle casualties. Lieutenant Coleman is beginning a pre-launch briefing with his pilots and the fighter launch deck is arming all craft."

There was an approving nod from Razmara. "Captain, the Enterprise is ready for action."
"Maintain course and speed, Mister Hamblin. Lieutenant," Parker turned to Larrisa's wall station to his left, behind and to the left of Data, "begin sensor scans of the area. Look for any traces of the Equinox."
"Aye, Captain."
O'Keefe turned again. "Sir, the other ships are reporting in. All readiness checks complete and satisfactory. We're ready for combat, Sir."
"Very good, Mister O'Keefe." Parker looked at Razmara. "All that's left is to find out what's happened."
"Somehow, Sir, I think that will be the hard part," came her reply.




The bridge of the Intrepid was dim and covered in red light. Since the Intrepid was an Independence-class starship and thus derived from the failed Galaxy-class, it had the established format of a Galaxy-class ship's bridge with an added station on the Captain's left for the Wing Command Officer. It was there that the stocky one hundred seventy-seven centimeter Commander Petersen was normally seated; the proud Long Island native was now in the main briefing chamber giving a rundown for the four hundred pilots and weapons/sensor officers on the varying fighter craft Intrepid carried.
Seated in the command chair, Phillips thoughtfully considered the situation. They had been racing for the last hundred and fifty minutes toward the Equinox's last position. The passive sensors were now starting to pick up the signs of a battle; telltale remains of torpedo trails mostly. The brown-haired Vulcan male at the ops station, Lt. Commander Sevak, was busy at his station trying to finetune the Intrepid's sensor equipment to get a clearer picture; as remote help he had the ship's Chief Engineer, Lt. Cmdr. Adam Dalke, at work in the ship's engineering section playing with the ship's power systems.
Phillips looked to his right and Commander Diane Howard. Born of English aristocracy, Diane had rich black hair tied up into a pony tail that when loose flowed to her upper back. Her ice-blue eyes were as stern and demanding as Phillips had ever seen; a perfect match to her unofficial title of "the Duchess". Now thirty-nine years old, going on fourty, Diane was still as beautiful and fit as the day she entered the Academy. There was a wedding ring on her right hand's ring finger to speak for her lost husband, Edward, a Starfleet Marine killed by Cardassians ten years ago in such a brutal way that his widow's severe hatred of Cardassia rivaled most Bajorans. They had a son, Eddie, who as Phillips recalled was about to end his second year at Starfleet Academy (she had lost an entire year at the Academy to bring Eddie into the world and fulfill maternal obligations in his infancy). Diane's eyes met Phillips and their extreme boredom showed. It was an anxious kind of boredom, a knowledge that something was about to happen but they couldn't see it coming; not until someone got a clear sensor picture of System R4392. "Lieutenant Larsen," Diane spoke out in an aristocratic-sounding "ordering" voice, "double-check all weapons systems."

Similarly bored at the time was the sandy-haired woman seated behind Phillips, the ship's tactical officer and native of the Lunar Goddard Colony; Lieutenant (SG) Saffi Larsen. Saffi's aquamarine eyes looked over the tactical console under Diane's watchful gaze. "Phaser arrays charged and ready. Primary torpedo launchers loaded with quantum torpedoes as the Captain ordered. Secondary torpedo launchers on the primary saucer hull loaded with photon torpedoes and ready. Defensive phaser banks charged and ready; defensive targeting computers are operating properly and all known Romulan projectile weapons and light craft have been fed into the system."
"Thirty minutes until we enter System R4392, Captain," reported the ship's nav officer, Lt. Antonia Rigatti.
"I just wish we could bloody well hurry this up," muttered Diane. "I'm getting tired of waiting."
"So am I." Phillips rested his head against a hand. "Commander Sevak, anything more on sensors?"
The stoic Vulcan's reply was customary. "Nothing of note, Captain."
There was an agitated nod from Phillips. He put his hand on his command chair's comm system and punched the link to Main Engineering. "Bridge to Engineering. How is the core holding up?"
Dalke's reply was punctual. "We're starting to see some wear and tear in the reaction containment fields, Captain. But we'll make it with plenty of time to spare. Just don't push her much harder."

"I'll relay that to Captain Parker." Phillips severed that link as well and sighed. Right now he didn't want to be racing through warp-space but back on Earth, sitting on some quiet tropical beach beside Zandra while his kids played in the surf. Or at least a holodeck representation. The Starbase would have sufficed. Well, not for the other things he'd want to do with Zandra on a nice, secluded, and intensely romantic beach. But that was what bedrooms were for.
For a short while nothing was said. Suddenly Diane asked, "How is Patrick Junior?"
"He's doing fine."
"And the girls?"
"Growing up faster than I care to see." Phillips saw where the conversation was going. "How is Eddie?"
"He's ranked in the upper third of his class right now." Maternal pride briefly showed through the professional cold of Diane's manner. "If he gets at least a B on his term finals in Tactical Operation he'll be allowed into the command line a year before he expected to."
"Good to hear."

"Captain, I am receiving a communication from the Enterprise." Sevak did not turn his head and seemed intent on his board. "Their Navigation Officer is transmitting new course data to us. I am relaying it to Lieutenant Rigatti now."
Sevak nodded at Rigatti who looked over her console. "Sir, the course would take us to a system about twenty light years away from the Equinox's last known point," Rigatti said. "System designation R4425."
"Enterprise is altering her course, sir."
"I am altering course to maintain formation. ETA to R4425: forty-four minutes."
Phillips looked on with some interest; he hadn't even been given a chance to render a decision in the matter, speaking for his bridge crew's ability to act without superior officers' input. "Mister Sevak, any idea why Enterprise changed course?"

"None, Sir." Sevak was examining his sensor screen on the left partition of his console. "My readings have not changed. But Enterprise does carry sensor equipment of finer capability than our own."
"Then they've found something. Finally we're getting to the bottom of this." Phillips and Diane exchanged looks. "Bridge to Fighter Command; Mister Petersen, you'd better hurry it up down there."




It had been a few minutes before Sevak's report to Phillips that Larrisa was staring intently at her sensor screen. At warp, only subspace scanners functioned with any kind of accuracy; they could, however, act as a medium for the other sensor equipment. She was currently reading the decaying warp trails of at least two ships, preserved by the particular "ecology" of local subspace, streaking away from the Equinox's last position. Most Starfleet ships would have been incapable of detecting the minute traces. Enterprise, fortunately, was not like most ships.
"Sir, I've got a decaying warp trail in-system," she reported to Parker, turning in her chair. "Very near Equinox's last position."
Razmara beat Parker to the next question. "Picking up Equinox at all, Lieutenant?"
"No, Sir. I'm not picking up a single warp signature. And I'm not close enough for mass sensors."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Transfer the course heading to the conn." Parker stood up and walked to the helm. "Mister Hamblin, tell us where it leads."

"Running the trail through now, Sir." Hamblin's fingers touched a number of keys, adjusting the the information on his panel's main screen to show the path of the trails Larrisa had detected. "Nearest system is R4425, Captain. Twenty light years from Equinox's last position."
"Lay in a new course and bring us onto it. Mister O'Keefe, transmit new heading to the squadron."
Two affirmations echoed on the bridge. Slowly the Enterprise changed direction, moving about a tenth of a degree to the left and bringing the bow up by about a quarter of a degree. The maneuver was so slight that the naked eye would barely notice it. Sophisticated computers controlled the proper attitude changes for the ship to meet it's new course, since the distances of interstellar travel meant that even the slightest course change would lead to a new direction that could become quite far from the original. Indeed most of interstellar navigation consisted of general course headings to get near a system and then a series of course corrections to enter the destination system, where ships generally dropped to sublight and maneuvered their way back in at impulse.
Parker nodded with satisfaction and went back to his seat. He looked over at Razmara and met her glance. "Looks like we're going to find out the truth soon enough. Let's go through one more systems check."




Unknown Location


The room was now quiet. Madred had left briefly, called away by the Romulans in charge of the base, leaving Carter and Jadzia alone. A low moan came from Jadzia due to the meager setting Madred had left the device on before leaving, constantly sending low levels of pain into her taxed nerves.
Carter, meanwhile, hadn't been touched, and she'd begun regaining strength. With the guards gone and no one in sight she forced herself out of her chair. The air was warm like Cardassians preferred it, almost unbearbly hot, and her nude body was soaked with sweat that was dehydrating her steadily. Putting one foot before the other carefully, forcing her legs to support her weight, Carter stumbled over to Madred's desk and held onto it to support herself.
On top was the control mechanism for their pain implants. For a moment Carter just stared at it, gritting her teeth and trying to focus on the object. It seemed so small and simple, not at all the kind of thing that could cause her and Jadzia such hideous torment.

Then Carter simply snapped. An animalistic shriek came from her lungs and she reached forward, gripping the device. The pain dissolved away into rage as she began to slam the device down on the desk over and over again, screaming hatred at it over and over again. After so many hours of pain and suffering it seemed a insuitable release to punish this inanimate object. But in Carter's mind it was Madred she was assaulting. That sinister face, those cruel eyes.... she was slamming them into the desk over and over again.
Weakened by this act of retribution-by-proxy, Carter collapsed to her knees and dropped the controller. Her body simply quit on her, without energy to do more than sit there and weep from pain. It took her a short while to realize the pain was no more. She had broken the device with her assault. A weak smile crossed her face as she felt a euphoria at her "victory". No matter how petty it seemed she had struck back at Madred.

Carter remained in her pose for a while. Her breathing was quiet and strained. Carter's entire body seemed stretched and worn, every muscle worn out and unwilling to move without painful protest. Her neck protested with such pain when she raised her head to see Jadzia wake up. The device's destruction had turned off her implant. Jadzia's eyes looked back at Carter's, full of pain and misery. "What happened?"
"I destroyed it."
There was a simple nod. Then Jadzia sighed and closed her eyes again. She suffered from the same stiffness as Carter's, amplified because unlike Carter she had been restrained for the previous day. "What are we going to do?"
"Resist."
"Why?"
"Because it's our duty." But Carter now wondered if it was even possible to resist. She felt so weak and empty. All of that time watching Madred torture Jadzia whenever he didn't get the answers he wanted from either of them. It gnawed at her that an innocent person was suffering and all she had to do to stop it was claim there was an extra light.

There were tears on Jadzia's face when she whimpered, "I'm not going to make it. I just want him to stop. I just don't know how to make him."
Carter tried to get back on her feet to face her shipmate directly. She stumbled onto one foot, using the desk to pull herself up. "Don't speak like that. That's what he wants you to think."
"Commander.... it hurts too much."
"Jadzia...." Carter looked into Jadzia's eyes as firmly as she could manage. "You're not going to submit."
"It's too much, Commander! I can't resist it anymore! I just want the pain to go away! I...."
"Lieutenant, you are a Starfleet offiicer!" Carter snapped (as much as she could snap in her weakened condition). "I order you to stand firm. It is your duty and it is mine!"
"He's going to break us anyway." Jadzia protested.
"The longer we hold out, the better chance for rescue," Carter said, hoping there was a rescue coming.
"Commander..."

"I gave you an order, Lieutenant. I expect you to carry it out." In Jadzia's blue eyes, which usually shined with the intelligence the young woman usually possessed, Carter could see only misery and despair. Jadzia wanted so desperately to be safe, to be spared, and was near the breaking point. In her heart Carter regretted having to be so rough on Jadzia. But it was necessary to bolster her flagging will. Jadzia was younger and since she hadn't gone through command school had no resistance training, only the basics taught to cadets. Carter had taken the Advanced Survival and Resistance course a few years before to make senior security officer (and eventual command officer) grade. If not she probably wouldn't have lasted very long either.
It looked like Jadzia was going to reply for a few moments. No reply actually materialized. Instead she began to weep bitterly. Carter steadied herself against the desk to try and think of something else to say.

The doors swished open and Madred walked in. He looked at them and then his eyes spied out the broken control mechanism. "I see you broke my controller. No matter; I have another in the desk." He walked toward them in a matter that seemed rushed to Carter. There was something amiss, she felt; Madred's pace was off and his expression was a little paler than usual. "This has been an interesting few days, Commander Carter. You're quite strong-willed. Your young friend, however." Madred moved beside Jadzia and looked over her body. A hand came up and gripped Jadzia's chin. Madred turned her head to look at her. "Lieutenant Idaris seems ready to accept the inevitable, don't you think? How much longer will she last? Well, Lieutenant? How much more can you take?" Madred walked around the desk and leaned over at it's right side. He pulled out another control mechanism and changed a setting on it. His fingers wrapped around the dial and twisted it. Jadzia stiffened up and her upper teeth bit into her lower lip. "Is the pain becoming too much, Lieutenant?" Madred flipped a switch on the underside of his desk and activated the three lights. "I'll tell you what. You tell me how many lights there are. If you answer as I want to hear, I'll let you go. What do you think?"
There was no response from Jadzia.
"How many lights are there?"
For a few moments there was no response. "Three lights," Jadzia finally answered, despite the expression on Carter's face.
"Wrong." Madred turned the dial, causing Jadzia to howl. Her twitching increased in intensity, as she was unable to move from the shackles holding her to the ceiling, and the pained expression on her face grew stronger. "There are four lights. How many lights are there?"
"Three lights."

The dial was turned again and Carter watched helplessly as another howl came from Jadzia. "How many lights?", Madred asked again.
This time there was a pause. From appearances Jadzia was in too much pain to think clearly. "Three lights," she finally managed to say.
Again the dial turned. Carter closed her eyes, unable to look at the pretty young Trill while she suffered so horribly yet again. She could hear Madred repeat "There are four lights" and again make that damned inquiry. Jadzia's answer was weak and half-hearted; "Three."
This time the scream that came from Jadzia was so horrible that Carter forced her eyes to open. With the restraints holding her in place there was little that Jadzia could do save screaming, and she did that quite loudly. Tears began to form on her eyes from the intensity of pain shooting through her, her nerves catching fire. Madred made his inquiry once more. Jadzia's eyes were closed, so Carter could not read the emotions that might be there. A thought crossed her mind: would it be so bad to answer for Jadzia? She, Sharon Carter, was the one that Madred wanted. Jadzia was just a pawn. A playtoy for Madred.

"There are four lights!"
Jadzia's agonized cry echoed in the room and in Carter's heart. She looked to Madred with hate burning in her pale green eyes at his smug and satisfied grin. He twisted the dial once more, in the opposite direction. If her wrists were not locked into the metal block connected to the ceiling, Jadzia would have crumbled onto the floor. Her weight shifted forward and her head fell completely downward, causing her disheveled hair to fall over and partially obscure her chest, which was heaving from the effort of breathing. Her body glistened from sweat produced during the intense pain. Her eyes finally opened and Carter looked into those blue eyes and saw a new emotion to go with misery and despair: sorrow. Jadzia's will was broken.
Before Carter could speak to her in any way, Madred walked around the desk again and came up to her. "Well, Lieutenant, you finally accept the inevitable." He put a hand on her chin and lifted her head up. "It took you long enough. But before I let you go, I really would like to know more of what you know. About your ship's course in the Triangle... about the courses of other Federation ships. You were Equinox's sensor officer, were you not?"
"I was the science officer. I never kept track of those things."
"That answer is not satisfactory." Madred turned the dial back on all the way. Jadzia screamed. "Don't try to hold out on me, Lieutenant. I've already broken you. You belong to me now."
"I don't know!" The dial turned up more. Jadzia's wailing echoed in Carter's heart and made it feel sick. "I don't know!" Jadzia shouted before resuming her screaming.
Madred looked to Carter. "She doesn't know, does she? Go on, you can answer."
"Go to Hell."
"If she doesn't know, Commander, I have no more reason to interrogate her, do I?"
Carter bit into her lip. "It doesn't matter. You'll continue to torture her anyway."

"Oh, very bright." A smile curled on Madred's lips. "I've observed you two since I put you together. It fits your file, Commander Carter. Your loyalty to your subordinates and shipmates; that is your singular fault. If I continue to interrogate you, your resistance will continue. But your shipmates? You'll break for their sakes. After all, even the implants can kill, and Lieutenant Idaris has only minutes to live. But she won't be the last. One by one I'll parade them in here. They will be there, suffering, degraded, pleading for mercy. Pleading to you to help them escape the pain. And you will, Commander Carter, because I will make you watch." Madred turned the dial and Jadzia's screams stopped; the pain was so intense that she could barely breathe. "How many lights are there, Commander?"
"Three."
"Are you going to let Lieutenant Idaris die over the lights? Would you? I will kill her, Commander." Madred's expression was cold and sinister. "Your lives are nothing to me. You're just tools. Pawns. I do with you as I please. So, your pride... or Lieutenant Idaris' life? Those are your only options."
That was it. Madred watched the conflict in Carter's face as Jadzia slowly suffocated. His ultimatum would work; she would break for him rather than let her crew be tortured and killed in turn. Madred had set this up completely by the book. It always worked, no matter which race his subjects were from. Carter could not let her subordinates suffer because of her own precious honor; she would give him what he wanted to spare Jadzia.
Which is why it was to Madred's complete surprise when Carter chose a third option and lunged at him like a wounded and enraged animal; an appropriate comparison to Carter at that moment.

Carter's body was weak from days of intense torture, zero-g suspension, and lack of food and adequate water. But what little strength she had left was now augmented by her hatred for Madred. Transformed to rage, it was a spring of strength that now drove Carter to her frenzied attack. Though Madred outmassed her handily Carter's attack caught him by surprise. He tripped backward onto his desk and dropped the control, which Carter grabbed. She twisted the dial clockwise until she felt a click. Jadzia began breathing hard and again slumped over. Carter saw Madred reach for the control and threw it against the opposite wall, where it clanged against the metallic wall and hit the ground. Madred angrily slapped Carter in the side of the mouth, knocking her down and drawing blood, before going for the control mechanism. Carter recovered in time to jump onto his back, shrieking like a crazed animal, and put her arms around his armored throat. If he were human the chokehold might have worked but Madred's Cardassian flesh was scaled and tougher than human flesh, so she could not restrict his airflow as easily. He turned and began to slam her against the wall, pounding again and again. Carter screamed as she tried to hold on against the pain of being crushed between the wall and Madred's mass.
As Madred pulled away from the wall after the fourth slam, the entire station seemed to shake and he fell downward, sending both sprawling onto the floor. Carter scrambled to her feet in a half-daze, wondering why it seemed that the station shook. As she went after Madred, another rumble tossed both off their feet. Klaxons sounded in the room, echoing over and over again, and a voice began barking orders in the Romulan language.
The station was under attack.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 7




The Enterprise and her squadron dropped out of warp about a light second away from the Romulan station that had just appeared on their sensors. Parker was swift to begin issuing orders. "Launch all bombers. Target the station with a spread of quantum torpedoes and try to hit their comm array, I don't want them calling for help."
Data turned in his chair. "Sir, wouldn't it be best to hail them first?"
Before Parker could respond, Larrisa shouted, "I've got contacts decloaking around the station! Reading ten Warbirds, including three D'Deriderix-class capital ships!"
"Larrisa, run life scans if you can, I want to see if you can find non-Romulan lifeforms." Parker considered the tactical display for a moment. "Lieutenant Jobrie, target Capitals 1 and 2. Leave Capital 3 for Intrepid and her bombers. Our bombers will focus on that station, I want to knock her shields down so we can seize her."
Affirmations sounded on the bridge. "Quantum torpedoes locked on the station, Captain!"
"Sir, the lead Romulan is firing!" The ship rocked slightly from the impact of a heavy disruptor on the bow shields.
Parker wasted no time shouting, "Fire!"

A spread of four quantum torpedoes erupted from the Enterprise's forward launcher. They raced through space at a high fraction of light speed, bypassing the Warbirds before they could react and slamming into the station's shields. On her own accord, Berger had Minneapolis send another spread of quantums against the station before turning her ship to engage the lead cruiser-grade Warbird. The lead four Warbirds fired their plasma torpedoes in concert against the Enterprise and Intrepid. As they drew closer the small phaser banks on Enterprise's forward hull stabbed out. When they struck torpedoes the detonations created greenish-orange flowers of color in space. The remaining torpedoes struck the Enterprise, causing the bridge to shudder from the strain on the shields. "Forward shields holding at eighty percent," Data reported.
In retaliation for the one torpedo that managed to hit her, Intrepid's own torpedo launchers fired in anger and her two main phaser arrays fired. One of the phasers barely missed; the other drained the bow shield on Capital 2. The torpedoes slammed into its bow shields while Enterprise's phasers lashed out. A spread of photon torpedoes from Hood lashed out in term; the Excelsior's phasers indicated her target was the second cruiser grade Warbird, which responded with plasma torpedoes and disruptors. Avenger and Valiant raced away from Intrepid toward the four Romulan destroyers closing on the squadron.




On the bridge of Great Lakes, the crew was deathly quiet and not quite sober; they had spent the last hour indulging in a half-pint each of vodka. Marina had found that such a quantity was usually enough to steel her crew's nerves for combat without inebriating them, though naturally Starfleet would not approve. Dalton reported quickly on the targets of the other ships. Marina did not wait for Parker to assign her ship a target; she thought about the targets before her and chose one of the Romulan destroyers. In a loud voice she barked firing and maneuvering orders to Dalton and Lt. Frank Hipper.
In reply Great Lakes' forward phaser banks and arrays fired. Four beams converged on the destroyer, three making contact with the bow and ventral shields. Quantum torpedoes raced out of the rapid-fire launcher pod fixed to the frigate's drive hull and each exploded either against the destroyer's shields are in proximity to them. This alone might not have killed the destroyer, but the follow-up fire from the Valiant's forward phaser cannons did the job effectively. The destroyer's shields crumbled and her prow was blown half-off; a phaser blast from one of Great Lakes' arrays finished her in that area.
The ship immediately shook from the attack of another destroyer coming to aid her slain sister; a spread of two plasma torpedoes detonated against the Lakes' shield. Phaser and disruptor fire passed by each other and the two ships exchanged fire quickly. "Shields holding at sixty percent," Dalton's gruff voice reported.

Another maneuver order led to the Great Lakes rolling to present her ventral side to the oncoming destroyer, which was racing past. The ventral phaser banks fired and strained the destroyer's shields.
The ship rocked hard and the reason why became apparent. With Hood and Minneapolis engaged with the other cruisers, the third had moved on to strike at Great Lakes; probably she intended to get on Enterprise's back while Parker was mixing it up with the D'Deriderix Warbirds. The cruiser's plasma torpedoes had already battered the smaller New Orleans-class frigate's shields and now her forward disruptor cannons were draining them. "Forward shields below fifty percent!" shouted Dalton while he returned fire. The Great Lakes retorted with her own phasers and a spread of photon torpedoes from her drive hull's bow tubes. The Romulan swatted two of the three torpedoes away with smaller disruptors and the last only managed to further degrade shields not badly-hurt from the Lakes' comparitively weak phasers.
Another burst of disruptor fire struck Great Lakes. Hipper maneuvered the ship to the right to present her stronger port shields. Marina permitted this but ordered Hipper to keep the Lakes between the cruiser and the Enterprise. While the Lakes exchanged fire with the cruiser the other destroyer came back around to hit her from behind. Dalton caught the ship's approach and fired the Lakes' rear phasers and torpedo tubes. The streaks of phaser energy crackled against the shields of the destroyer and a pair of torpedoes, their propulsion fields creating red sparkles, impacted against the same shields. A followup blast from a lighter phaser array cut into the Warbird's primary hull on the right side.

It's return fire hit the Great Lakes at an inopportune time; the cruiser was pouring it's firepower into the rear portions of the port shields. The fire from their disruptors and the destroyer's plasma torpedoes overloaded the shield generator responsible for the quadrant. The shields on the port side fell, exposing the Lakes' hull to fire. A disruptor beam from the cruiser immediately fired and sliced up the Lakes' port drive hull, damaging the armor and causing a couple of hull breaches.
Before the Warbird could resume its attack, Intrepid raced in at three-quarters impulse. On her bridge, Saffi Larsen's aim was straight and true; all of Intrepid's bow and starboard phasers cut into the larger of the two Warbirds and dropped her shields. Quantum torpedoes erupted from the main launchers and impacted with the cruiser's hull, causing eruptions that shattered the metallic-green hull plates that protected her insides. The cruiser immediately turned to engage Intrepid while Lakes retaliated with her own weapons, maneuvering to present better shields to her and the destroyer Warbird.




Harnessed to the pilot's seat of his Wolverine heavy fighter-bomber, Chris Coleman noticed the beating that the frigate Great Lakes was taking, and the threat to Enterprise's rear presented by her foes, and swung his craft away from a planned attack run on one of the capital Warbirds to aid the frigate. "Vertigo 1 to Vertigo Flights 1-3-5-6, come into formation with me. Vertigo 3, take the rest of the squadron and deal with those big birds."
The eight Wolverines arranged in a vertical X formation as they closed on the cruiser Warbird, which was thrusting away from the massive Intrepid while Great Lakes scoured her ventral shields. At range Coleman shouted on the squadron comm "Fox 1!" and fired one of his quantum torpedoes. The other fighters did so as well and they broke away.
The torpedoes raced through space and impacted against the cruiser's port and bow shields. The last torpedo penetrated the Warbird's depleted port shield and slammed into one of her engine nacelles. A spectacular explosion tore the nacelle off and left the Warbird trailing atmosphere and debris from her wounds while her crew endeavored to establish emergency forcefields.
Coleman saw the wounds on the cruiser but ignored them. Intrepid was there and could handle it, proven since he saw her phasers continuing to flay the wounded cruiser while he came about. "Stay in formation, folks, let's go for that station." Coleman flipped his comm unit over to the frequency with Enterprise. "Vertigo 1 to Enterprise, I'm going to make an attack run on the station so we can send the Marines over."
"Good luck, Vertigo 1", he heard O'Keefe reply.

The Wolverines accelerated to full impulse quickly and soared by the Warbirds tangling with Minneapolis and Hood. A destroyer broke off from a run against the Enterprise and fired a few disruptor beams at them, all missing, before it was hit by a burst of fire from the Valiant and forced to turn away to avoid destruction. Within range of the station the Wolverines fired once more. Their forward-mounted pulse phasers stabbed at the shields of the space station. As he banked away Coleman switched to the forward-mounted phaser cannons on the fighter and fired; red streaks of energy punched through the weakened shields and scoured some of the station's hull. His wingmate and the other fighters with him did the same before coming around with him for another attack run.




Enterprise's weapons were firing in anger for the first time; for the Romulans, it was a particularly nasty fury. The Sovereign-class ship raced straight for the capital Warbirds, absorbing their initial shots easily. Phaser fire struck out again and again, as quickly as Jobrie could manage, draining the shields of her targets. Another spread of quantum torpedoes erupted from the launcher and impacted on the shields of one of the D'Deriderix Warbirds. An immediate burst of fire from Enterprise's bow-mounted pulse phaser cannons finished off the weakened shields and tore into the prow of the Romulan ship.
The second D'Deriderix fired her wing-mounted disruptor cannons at Enterprise, impacting on her shields with a splatter of green-on-blue energy. Plasma torpedoes erupted from her command prow's launcher and were immediately met by the Enterprise's defensive phasers; two out of five made impact on the shield. The third D'Deriderix moved into range while the Enterprise maneuvered to starboard, presenting her ventral shields while the ventral phasers drained away the first Warbird's shields further. A pair of photon torpedoes came out of her aft launcher and impacted with the Romulan cruiser tangling with the Minneapolis, hitting her in her weakened starboard shields to bring them to near-collapse. Berger returned the favor by bringing her forward torpedo launcher to bear on the Enterprise's main target and hitting her with a spread of quantums. The phaser arrays on the Enterprise's belly, under her navigational deflector, struck out right after the quantums exploded. Twin beams of ruby energy lanced behind the Warbird's command prow and struck her port nacelle. It seemed to shatter for a moment before the plasma in the nacelle exploded, sending shards of nacelle fragments into nearby targets.
The wounded Warbird reacted by striking Enterprise's belly shields with her disruptors. She pulled upward to follow Enterprise on her aft; an unfortunate move as it brought her into the sights of two squadrons of bombers from Intrepid. The Wolverines fired a barrage of quantum torpedoes that battered the Warbird's weakened shields. Explosions began to flower on her hull as the second squadron poured on phaser fire. Avenger turned from a crippled destroyer Warbird and lashed out at the big but wounded D'Deriderix. Her quantum torpedoes found their mark in the Warbird's lower hull, which seemed to shatter before the D'Deriderix finally came apart and was silent.

The last two capital Warbirds combined their fire on Enterprise's bow shields. A pair of plasma torpedoes from the third broke through the Enterprise's shields and detonated against her main hull. On the bridge, sparks showered over the bridge from feedback through the shield systems and violent rocking strained the bridge crew against their seat harnesses. Parker's voice was loud and firm as he demanded a damage report. "There are two hull breaches on Deck 12," Data reported. "Emergency forcefields are in place and damage control teams are moving to patch the damage."
"Lieutenant Jobrie, target Capital 3! Mister O'Keefe, tell Intrepid's bombers to focus their firepower on her."
Two affirmations were quickly given. Hamblin rolled the Enterprise to present her port to Capital 2, making her seem "upside down" compared to some of the other ships. Her starboard phasers lashed out at Capital 3 while the targeted D'Deriderix fired her plasma torpedoes into Enterprise's strong starboard shields. Enterprise turned toward Capital 3. Jobrie was starting to sweat while she waited for the bow torpedo launchers to lock onto Capital 3. She stroked the keys to fire bow phasers at Capital 3 while the Enterprise's aft phaser array struck at Capital 2. Capital 2, not to be outdone, poured disruptor cannon fire at the Enterprise and began battering her aft shields.

The moment she acquired a lock, Jobrie fired all of the bow torpedo launchers. Two spreads of quantum torpedoes, four from the primary launcher and two from the primary hull's secondary launcher, struck out at the Warbird. They found the shields easilly pierced with the aid of the Enterprise's phasers and smashed against the Warbird's massive prow. Explosions flowered over its hull repeatedly; one of the torpedoes had impacted with the Warbird's torpedo magazines. It made the combined particle cannon fire of the bombers rather unnecessary. The lights on the massive Warbird blinked out bit by bit as its power grid was devastated by internal explosions. The bombers' attack run finished off what was left.
Enterprise shuddered again from the plasma torpedoes and disruptor fire that battered her aft shields. "Aft shields at thirty percent!" shouted Data. "The generator moorings are buckling!"
"Bring us about, Mister Hamblin!"




Enterprise turned to the last D'Deriderix, which was firing another spread of plasma torpedoes. Before the torpedoes could impact on Enterprise's failing aft shields, Minneapolis moved between the two ships and took the hits to her stronger dorsal shields. The cruiser she had been dueling came after her and took a spread of quantum torpedoes from Minneapolis's aft launcher for her trouble; her command prow nearly suffered a similar fate to the second D'Deriderix but her shields held and allowed her crew to fire another burst of disruptor fire into Minneapolis's failing aft shields. The shields flickered out of existance in time for another green lance to rake along the rear of her primary hull. The last D'Deriderix fired a full volley into Minneapolis's dorsal arc and the ship's shields collapsed from damage to her generator. In the few moments it took Zaharia to bring the secondary shield generator online, a disruptor beam from the D'Deriderix cut into the housing for one of Minneapolis's nacelles.
On the Minneapolis's bridge, the crew was thrown against their seat harnesses by the impacts. The shaking grew worse when the cruiser behind them put a disruptor beam into the back of her torpedo pod just before the auxiliary shields engaged. Later it would be determined that a mere ten centimeters of armor had held to protect the torpedo magazine in the pod. For the moment, Berger bellowed out a demand for a damage report. "They've knocked out our warp drive, Sir!" Katherine Hall replied from her station. "Hull breaches in the launcher pod and Decks 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9!"
"Sickbay is sending medical teams to the breached areas, Captain," Breit quickly added. "Doctor Constantine estimates at least two dozen casualties!"
"Miss Reilly, get us out of the way!"
Alexia bellowed an affirmative from the helm and maneuvered the wounded Minneapolis away. Martin took his chance to fire all of Minneapolis's available phasers toward both of her foes. The cruiser behind her followed while the D'Deriderix, her crew probably cursing her missed opportunity against Enterprise, resumed her fight with the Federation flagship. "He's good, Captain! He's staying on our rear!"

"Cut starboard impulse engines and boost power to port! Bring us about hard to starboard! Mister Hall, all weapons on my mark!"
Minneapolis's port impulse drive cut out and the ship began to whip around at a rate that strained the weakened inertial dampners to the point that the crew felt intense G forces from the sudden turn. The Romulan cruiser's captain saw the maneuver and wisely tried to maneuver away.
As he did, Enterprise lended a hand with a spread of photon torpedoes from her secondary launcher. The red sparkles detonated against the cruiser's aft shields. Alone they did no damage but it did provide strain to the overall shield grid of the cruiser, weakening her for Berger's intended attack. As her ship's bow pointed toward her foe, a single shout of "Fire!" echoed in Minneapolis's bridge. The Minneapolis's forward phasers and torpedoes fired in concert. The phasers were the first to make impact and drain the enemy cruiser's failing shields. This left the pulse phaser cannons to completely remove them. The final bursts from the cannons tore up the cruiser's prow so that the spread of quantum torpedoes could finish the vessel off, beheading it.
"Bridge to Engineering; give me a time estimate to restore warp drive."
Berger's message was answered about five seconds later by Zaharia. Any of the usual giddyness in her soprano voice was missing at this point. "I've got two teams working on restoring plasma flow to the nacelle, Captain, but I can't complete repairs without sending a team EVA to examine and patch over the external sections. An estimate is going to have to wait until we're clear from combat."

"Do what you can. Berger out." Berger took a moment to look over the battle on her own small tactical display. Enterprise was duking it out with the last of the D'Deriderix Warbirds. Three of the four destroyers were either destroyed or crippled; the third actually blinked out from a quantum torpedo fired by Valiant while Berger was looking. This left the other two cruisers. One was hobbled and dueling it out with Intrepid and Great Lakes and the other was fighting with Hood while fending off a squadron of Wolverines from Intrepid. Berger thought for a moment before looking back up. "Miss Reilly, three quarters impulse, bring us by Cruiser 3. Let's give our English friend a hand."




The second-to-last Romulan destroyer erupted into flame on the viewscreen of the Valiant. Misty took a brief moment to admire their handiwork while Jane's fingers flew over her console, bringing the ship about and changing it's attitude so they could target the fourth and final destroyer, which was exchanging shots with Avenger. A plasma torpedo exploded on Avenger's weakening shields. Her dorsal phaser bank retaliated and stabbed the destroyer's bow shield with a ray of red energy. "Suvok, give him something else to worry about," she ordered, not bothering with her informal and highly irritating nickname for the Vulcan.
Suvok's aim was quite good; a burst of fire from Valiant's forward banks tore through the destroyer's shields. The bow torpedo launchers were reloaded too late to fire at the destroyer as Valiant moved past so Jane maneuvered the Valiant so that Suvok could lock on with the aft launcher. A single quantum torpedo came out the rear and struck the destroyer's dorsal hull and it's cloaking emitters. The cloaking device was killed by the shot. The destroyer vented atmosphere and debris for a few moments before her forcefields kicked in.

Before the destroyer could manuever to pursue either foe, Great Lakes put a spread of quantum torpedoes into her aft section. Hipper maneuvered the frigate so that Dalton's bow phasers could each find their target. Four beams converged on the sleek green craft and cut through her aft quarter. Hipper pulled the bow up and the lower torpedo tubes spat photon torpedoes at the damaged destroyer. Two red sparkles raced through space and slammed into the destroyer's rear. The resulting explosion birthed more destruction; white and red plumes erupted through the destroyer's sleek green hull. The destroyer came apart, the shattered remains of her aft section seperated from her dead command prow.
This left two targets. Misty turned her chair to face the young Ensign at Operations, a New Zealander native named Christine Bennington. Christine had an exotic appearance thanks to her auburn-toned red hair and the tanned bronze skin complexion from Maori and Caucasian parents; she was Misty's favorite workout partner and the only female on the ship to match her in athletic build, having been a key player on the Starfleet Academy football - soccer to North Americans - team. "Christie, information on targets?"
"They're down to two, Commander," Christine answered. She checked her systems. "The last D'Deriderix is getting pounded by the Enterprise, Intrepid, and Avenger plus Intrepid's fighters, and Great Lakes is turning to help Hood and Minneapolis deal with the cruiser Warbird."
"Well, let's start dealing with the station then. Suvok, target the station. Let's try to get rid of her shields."




The remaining Romulan D'Deriderix filled Enterprise's bridge screen. Parker had already noted with satisfaction the progress of the battle while barking firing orders to Jobrie. The ship rocked again from the D'Deriderix doing it's best to kill the Enterprise and his display showed his ship's overall shield strength reduced to fifty percent even before Data said a thing about it. That might seem bad but considering the competition...
The D'Deriderix was trying to keep up with Hamblin's excellent maneuvering of the colossal Enterprise. She wasn't alone as Intrepid was maneuvering closer to use her own extensive combat load to strike the Romulan capital ship. Avenger was running interference as well, darting in and out to put quantum torpedoes and bursts of phaser fire into the Warbird's dorsal and ventral shields so her shield generators would become overtaxed.

Hamblin seemed to read Parker's mind, because just as Parker prepared to order a hard turn to port, Hamblin cut the port impulse engine, fired the retro-thrusters on that side, and re-routed power to the starboard engine. Enterprise performed a tight turn and presented her port arc to the Warbird. Jobrie swiftly lashed out with her phasers, each array fully recharged now. Stream after stream of ruby fury stabbed the Warbird's failing green shields. The timing was well-played as Avenger had come about. O'Farrell's weapons officer poured the small ship's phaser and torpedo fire into the Warbird's command prow. Adding to the strain was a sudden assault on the Warbird's aft by Intrepid, with her forward weapons. The Warbird's crew responded by twisting away. They actually managed to evade Intrepid's torpedoes and a couple of phaser shots, but it was too late to avoid hull damage. As she began to break away, Avenger fired a quantum torpedo that got through her shields and detonated on the bridge linking the command prow to the upper hull. The detonated blew the bridge in half. As Avenger moved away the disruptor mounted on the upper hull fired several times. Half of the shots connected; the last broke through the shields and hit her rear-dorsal hull, tearing some off and destroying the emitters on her cloaking device.
While the wounded Avenger moved away Enterprise finished coming about and the angle was sufficient for Jobrie to get a torpedo lock. A quartet of quantum torpedoes spat out of the forward launcher, followed by two photons out of the secondary launcher. Again her phasers flashed ruby over the faltering green field protecting the Romulan command prow. It fizzled out first, allowing a brief lance of red to spear the Warbird's hull and create a well of red flame. The torpedoes did the most damage however; only one missed directly, a photon torpedo that veered to the right and up and hit the upper hull, blowing through it. The rest created massive explosions along the Romulan's hull. A torpedo from Avenger's rear launcher connected with the top of the bow and its explosion was close enough to take out the top-mounted disruptor.

She still had her forward-mounted torpedo launcher, which she used to lash out against Enterprise. Another flight of plasma torpedoes smashed into Enterprise's bow shields. But it was not enough to bring them down. Another phaser shot from Jobrie silenced the Romulan torpedo launcher for good and left the ship un-defended; her disruptor cannons had already lost power from so much damage to the ship's internal power grid. The captain of the Romulan ship did what was probably the last thing she could do; her engines fired to the point of near-overload as she began to race toward Enterprise in an attempt to ram. Unfortunately it was clumsy and desperate; Hamblin easily rolled the ship to port and Jobrie fired the ventral phasers while the Warbid flew past. The Warbird's shields were gone and she had no protection from the attack. Ruby spears pierced the Warbird's starboard nacelle and parts of it's outer hull area. Her impulse drives went down now. Intrepid's phasers shot one more time at the crippled Warbird before her captain did the last thing available to her. Explosions began to flower across the Warbird's hull. After about five seconds, she was a collection of drifting metal fragments.
This left the Romulan cruiser to deal with besides the station itself; that was now starting to suffer the ill effects of Coleman's determined bombing runs plus Valiant's own strafing. Already Great Lakes was beginning to ignore the remaining cruiser to direct long-range phaser fire against the station. Parker looked to Data and ordered, "Mister Data, put the Romulan station on screen." The station blipped into appearance. It was a cylindrical station which seemed little more than a gray tube with pins sticking out. This was from a distance, of course; the pins were actually large docking bays and the tube was about a kilometer long and three hundred and ninety meters in diameter. Not an overly impressive facility, easily dwarfed by a Starbase, but still quite large for the Triangle. Her defenses were sufficient too as she was stabbing away at Coleman's fighters and the Valiant with disruptors. Plasma torpedoes struck out at times. One went past the immediate attackers and slammed into the bow shields of the Great Lakes, causing them to flicker. "Mister Hamblin, bring us in toward that station."

Parker immediately looked over his shoulder to Tactical. "Lieutenant, lock on quantum torpedoes and weapons. Prepare to fire. Mister O'Keefe, put me on all frequencies and hail that station."
Jobrie gave a swift affirmation. O'Keefe took a moment at his station before turning. "You're on, Sir."
"This is Captain Adrian Parker of the Starship Enterprise. You fought well but your defenses are hopelessly outmatched now. I ask you to stand down and aid us in our investigation. As you are probably aware of, the Federation ship Equinox disappeared in this area and we are searching for her and her crew. Aid us in this investigation and we may allow this violation of the Imperium's treaty with the Federation and Klingon Empire to go unpunished. I will give you two minutes to stand down before opening fire on your station, so long as you and your cruiser hold your fire during the time period." Parker nodded to O'Keefe. "Signal the other ships and fighters. Back off of the station. If the cruiser and station stop firing, hold fire. And have Colonel Kira ready her Marines for a boarding action." He turned to Larrisa now. "Lieutenant, did you scan that station for non-Romulans yet?"
"I've been trying since we came within range, but the fleet was putting up too much ECM. Now that they're gone, if you move within twenty thousand kilometers I can punch through the station's shields to give it a life form scan."
"Do so. Mister Hamblin, bring us within range."
After twenty-seven seconds of moving toward the station, Larrisa turned from her station. "I'm cutting through the interference, Sir, and there are definitely non-Romulan life forms on the station. All seem to be in one of the lower decks, probably a containment area, but there are three in an upper deck."
"Can you lock on for transport?"
"I'll relay the coordinates to Mister Data's board."
Data watched the information come over his screen. "Relaying information to transporter controls now." He turned in his chair. "Sir, we will have to wait until they lower shields before we can begin beaming people off."

Razmara looked up from her damage report screens. "I thought there were ways to get around shields?"
"For a single transport, it is plausible to attempt to match the reverse frequency wavelength of the shields to send a transport beam through, but it will take at least six transport operations to get every form we are detecting. By the time the second is away I am certain the Romulans would create magnetic fields to block our transporters. Given the Romulan penchant for honor, the attempt would ruin the Captain's attempts at diplomacy."
Parker slipped into his seat to wait. There was half a minute remaining before his deadline. "Mister Data, if you get any sense that they're initiating a self-destruct sequence, begin the beaming process." That order covered the last eventuality.
With ten seconds left to go, Larrisa turned in her chair again. "Sir, I'm reading multiple internal explosions in the last Warbird! She's breaking up!"
"Mister Data, stand by...."
"Sir, the station is lowering it's shields."

"I'm getting a text message, running it through translators.... they're surrendering, Captain."
There were sighs of relief across the bridge. Parker hadn't expected a full surrender, just an agreement to help him. "Okay, Mister Data, alert Security to be ready for any surprises and begin beaming over the non-Romulans. Is Colonel Kira ready yet?"
"She will be shortly."
"Beam her teams straight over to take control of all key facilities on the station and begin copying their computer data." Parker turned his attention to Razmara. "Damage report for all ships?"
"Hood's shields are below fifty percent and she has a single hull breach on her primary deck, nothing major. Avenger's cloaking device has been disabled and her aft shields are not yet restored. Great Lakes reports five hull breaches and shields below twenty-five percent. Minneapolis's warp drive is offline from damage to their port nacelle; they are dispatching damage control teams into EVA conditions to do what patch work they can. Valiant has no hull breaches and her shields are holding at fourty-one percent. Intrepid reports no major damage."
"Ask Captain Berger if her ship needs any assistance in getting her drive back online, I don't want to stay here longer than is necessary."
Razmara nodded and typed in the message, which was transferred via the direct combat link in the squadron. A few moments later she answered, "They're doing all that can be done, according to Captain Berger. Our assistance won't be necessary."
"Send the data down to Commander La Forge anyway, see if he knows any way to get that nacelle fixed and fast."

Parker barely had time to sit down before Phong's voice echoed on the bridge. "Sickbay to Bridge. Captain, we've got the crew. Or at least what's left of them."
"Who's the highest ranking officer?"
"I've talked to a couple of crew, apparently Captain Ransom and Commander Burke were killed, so that leaves Commander Carter. In fact, they just beamed her in..... Sir, you'd better get down here."
Parker exchanged worried glances with Razmara before standing up from his chair and going toward the lift. "Commander Razmara, you have the bridge. Call me if anything happens."
"Aye Sir."
The turbolift doors closed and Parker immediately barked for Deck 9.




The station had ceased rocking long enough that both Carter and Madred recovered and dove for the implant control. Carter had been further away but Madred was larger and slower; they managed to arrive at precisely the same time, clawing at it and wrestling with one another. Carter used her free hand to claw at Madred's face and eyes and his hand was, at the time, with the other one reaching for the control. Madred brought it back and gripped Carter's left wrist while her fingers pushed into his eyes, both growling at one another. He applied pressure, causing Carter to shriek from the pain in her wrist, and slowly forced the hand off. His grip actually broke Carter's wrist at this point and the shriek in her throat became a full scream.
Both of their free hands touched the control at the same time. They did as much as they could in their positions to wrestle for it. Madred was the first to try and break the deadlock in another fashion. He used his fingers to push the remote a little further away and then brought his other hand back into the fight. He slapped Carter across the face hard, drawing blood from her nose and lips. Then he punched her, hitting her in the right temple and eye. Her eye shut closed from the pain shooting through it, leaving Carter half-blind as she tried in vain to bring the other hand back to oppose Madred. The next punch landed in her gut, causing Carter to curl up into a fetal position while she screamed. It was in this moment that the spring of energy created by her rage subsided. Carter stopped resisting while Madred punched her a few more times, one pair of punches cracking two of her left ribs and the other rupturing her stomach on the inside. Content that Carter had lost her fighting will, Madred crawled away from her and scrambled to his feet. He scooped up the control triumphantly before standing up completely. For a moment he looked over Carter, broken and bleeding as she was, before setting the control to her implant and turning it on. What little energy she had left was expended in screams. She writhed about on the floor and was once again completely at his mercy. "Well, that took the fight out of you, didn't it? I must admit I never expected you to do that. I've never had a prisoner attack me successfully before. I suppose I should have kept those Romulan guards after all."

"BASTARD!!!" was all Carter could manage before the pain caused her to scream again.
"Screaming epitaphs at me isn't going to get you anything, Commander. In fact, I don't think there's anything I want from you anymore. Since you're such a rabid animal, I'm going to treat you like one and put you down." He turned the machine up to maximum. Carter tried to do something, but even the screaming no longer worked. The pain built up within her until she thought her body would explode. She couldn't even scream now. She began to suffocate.
The machine turned down and Carter could once again scream. "But how about I allow you a sporting chance. How many lights are there, Commander?"
"Three!" Carter screamed.
"Only two more chances, Commander, and then I put you down. How many lights are there?"
It took Carter a short time to stop screaming long enough to answer "Three!" again. Then it was back to the wailing.
"One more chance." Madred knelt beside her, grabbing a handful of her red hair and pointing her to the lights at his desk. "Do you know what I'll do after you die, Commander Carter? I will have my fun with Jadzia. And then when she has mercifully expired, I'll take the rest of your crew. How about Ensign Masters? I can only imagine what the implant will do to her unborn child. The battle outside is over, whomever attacked is probably space debris by now. There is no rescue for you."

"You evil bastard," muttered Carter.
"How many lights are there, Commander?"
Through the pain, Carter could barely thing. She didn't care about death anymore.
But her crew! They didn't deserve to suffer because of what she did! She attacked Madred; she had to take responsibility for it!
But she couldn't give in to this man. They were all Starfleet; it was their duty to suffer for the Federation if it came to that.
But Rose Masters was having a baby! It didn't ask for this, it never joined Starfleet! Could she take the risk that Madred wasn't lying? That whatever attack had started was over now, the attackers driven off?
"How many lights are there, Commander?!" Madred's gaze was relentless.
Carter was about to speak when someone else made the decision for her.

The door swished open and Madred turned to face four grim-faced Romulans. Two were men and two were women from what Carter could tell; all seemed quite young, which meant they could be anywhere from their thirties to their nineties. They spoke to Madred in their native language, which Carter could not understand without a universal translator programmed in Rihannsu. Madred seemed like somone had kicked him. His words she could understand. "The Federation? Here? But you said they'd never find us!"
Carter's heart nearly leaped out of her chest. Rescue!
The Romulans spoke again, prompting a frantic reply from Madred. "No, you can't surrender. I can't return to Cardassia, do you know what they'll...."
And then realization dawned upon him in the moment it took one of the Romulans to lift her disruptor pistol. Madred didn't have a chance to say anything before the weapon fired and he disappeared in a cloud of green vapor.

The control mechanism had been in his hand. The disruptor energy had not vaporized it completely, but it had destroyed the internals of the control. The implant inside Carter turned off, without a signal to tell it what to do, and it began to dissolve. She moaned loudly and curled into a fetal position on the ground. Her body refused to move. The pain in her body from where Madred had struck her still existed, and was worse now without the implant to reduce it to background noise in her overtaxed nervous system. One of the Romulans, a woman, walked up to her and looked down at her. There was some measure of pity in that stern expression that Carter could see. The woman muttered a phrase in her home language at Carter and then looked to her compatriots. Each pulled out a small flash of reddish liquid and took a swig. Carter watched through a haze of pain as they convulsed and dropped to the floor, dead.
For several seconds more, Carter remained on the floor. Then a familiar tingle filled her, and for the first time in days Carter felt peace as the transporter on the Enterprise whisked her away from Hell itself.




Parker entered Sickbay's starboard door to find the medical personnel milling about, tending to the wounded of Equinox's crew. He waded through the assorted "blueshirts" toward Dr. Nguyen's office. On the other side he found a secluded medical bay where Phong was busy examining a young Trill woman seated on the bed. She had a blanket draped around her and as Parker walked up beside them he saw that she was in pretty bad shape. Phong was checking her over with a scanner and gently told her to lie down. While she did, he took out a hypospray and pressed it against her neck in the middle of her spotline. She closed her eyes and seemed to settle into sleep. "Doctor?"
"Her name is Jadzia Idaris. She was science officer on the Equinox." Phong tapped the side of his neck. "She's got something around here. It's starting to disintegrate so I'm going to have to remove it quickly, but the damage to her nervous system indicates neuro-torture." Though he seemed unflappable, there was an edge to Phong's voice, the kind of anger at deliberately-applied pain that only a doctor could possess. "Commander Carter is in the other room. She's got it even worse. We found traces of drugs in her system; the names I'm not going to bother pronouncing. They inhibit nerve signals, creating a sense of sensory deprivation in the skin. They also inhibit the chemicals that induce sleep."
"More torture?"
"Yes." Phong let him to the door, where Carter was seated on a bed having a swollen eye checked over by a dark-skinned human nurse. "She's your's for the next ten or so minutes, then I have to take her into surgery to repair her stomach lining. She got one hell of a beating."

"I won't be too long." Parker walked into the room and waited patiently while the nurse finished patching Carter's broken nose and her swollen eye. Even with the dermal regenerators at work, Carter still had a nasty splotch of dark blue around her right eye and temple and a similar bruised area around her nose. The nurse stepped away and left the room, causing Carter to look toward the door and see Parker standing nearby. "Hello, Commander Carter."
"Captain Parker now, I see." Carter managed a weak grin. "You look like you're doing good for yourself. Command of the Enterprise?"
"They dropped it in my lap after that business with the Orions." Parker walked over to a chair and brought it up to the bed, sitting in it. "So what happened?"
"They had a Cardassian with them. The Cardassian, you might say. Gul Madred."
Parker could only nod. Madred was notorious in the Alpha Quadrant for being one of Cardassia's most proficient "interrogators"; he was wanted for war crimes against Bajoran and Federation prisoners-of-war and had escaped Cardassia when the Central Command made peace with the Federation. "And what happened to him?"
"Some Romulans vaporized him just before they killed themselves, and then you beamed us over." Carter looked down at the floor. "It's starting to become some bad dream. I mean, it's all a blur."

"Well...." Parker wanted to say something more but couldn't. "I'm sorry we couldn't get here sooner."
"Yeah. So am I." Carter's voice was cold and emotionless. Her eyes seemed dazed and confused. "It's just... I felt all of that pain and I...." She looked to Parker. "Sir, how's Jadz, er, Lieutenant Idaris?"
"She'll survive. You certainly took the worst of what he dished out."
"Yeah...." Carter stared at the ceiling now. She thought very briefly about whether she should tell Parker about Jadzia, but thought better of it. It wasn't her place. "She wasn't trained for it, Captain. She... she wasn't ready. I knew what he was going to do the moment I saw him, but she... poor Jadzia."
"You'll both get a debriefing and I'll pull every string I've got to get you the best therapy." Parker looked away from her. "The posting on the Enterprise will still be here when you're ready."
"Thank you." Carter stopped speaking for a long moment. "I didn't think I'd make it, to be honest. There were times I just thought of giving up. Especially when Madred starting using Jadzia against me. I looked at her and saw just how badly she was doing..."
"It's all in the past now." Parker stood up in front of her. "Doctor Nguyen is going to take you into surgery. I'll let you go."

Parker stood up to walk away. As he reached the door Carter looked over at him and spoke out, driven by a sudden recollection on her part, an act of decency that she could not leave unsaid. "They weren't all bad, Captain. One of my guards... he... gave me water."
Parker stopped and turned back half-way. "I'm not surprised. The Rihan... the Romulans can be brutal when provoked, but when they see no reason for it most would be like a Human or any other race in watching atrocity."
"When they killed Madred, one of the Romulans said something to me." Carter thought back for a moment and made a sufficient, if not perfect, approximation of the term. "I wonder what it means."
Parker drew in a sigh. He did not speak fluent Rihannsu but it was a term he'd recognized from LoBrutto's glossary of Rihannsu phrases. "It was an apology, Commander. A particular one meant to express regret for dishonor. The Romulan who said it to you probably harbored private regrets for aiding Madred and turning you over to him. He, or she, was driven by mnhei'sahe to apologize to you."
"Mnhei'sahe?"
"The Romulan concept of...."
A beep sounded in the air. "Bridge to Captain Parker," said a female voice that Parker immediately recognized as Razmara's. He tapped his commbadge and Razmara wasted no time in continuing. "Please return to the Bridge immediately. There are more Romulans inbound."
Carter nodded at him, mostly to appease any guilt he might feel at leaving her in mid-sentence. Parker nodded back and went through the door. "Commander, I'm on my way!"




Parker didn't even need to demand a report when he stepped on the bridge. Razmara was waiting. "Twenty contacts, including four D'Deriderix Warbirds and a Kerchan. They are at full combat alert and will be in firing range in around five minutes."
"How is Minneapolis' repairs coming?"
"Still half an hour from restored warp, Sir."
Parker slipped into his chair. "Signal Valiant. Order her to cloak and retreat to Federation space for help if we come under fire. I want the entire force ready to run the instant Minneapolis brings her warp back online."
Razmara waited for O'Keefe to finish transmitting orders before asking, "We're not going to fight them, are we?"
"Not if I can help it." Parker waited for a moment and then stood again. "Mister O'Keefe, open hailing frequencies."
"Yes Captain."
Ten tense seconds passed before O'Keefe turned once more. "That Kerchan is responding, Captain. She identifies herself as the Battlequeen. Shall I put them on the screen?"
"Go ahead, Mister." Parker waited for the screen to shift. What appeared was a Romulan officer, proudly wearing the scarlet red tunic and black robe of his fleet. He seemed older, about a hundred and fifty or so years of age for his race. "I am Commander-General tr'Malak, Imperial Warbird Battlequeen."
"Captain Parker, Federation Starship Enterprise."
"Well, Captain, I have a very interesting sight on my sensors. Perhaps you would care to explain why your ships are lingering about the remains of several Romulan ships?"
"We have good reason to believe that these ships attacked the Starship Equinox as she was passing through this region, Commander-General."
"And that good reason would be?"

"We found her surviving crew in the holding bays of the station that should be appearing on your sensor screens now." Parker maintained a stiff posture, trying to read the Romulan as he continued to speak. "Considering that by treaty the Romulan government, like our's, is forbidden from having such facilities in the Triangle, we assumed that they were pirates."
"I do not know what the treaty says about stations in the Triangle, Captain, but I do know what I see; the remains of ten Romulan ships and a Romulan facility seized by a Federation task force which itself is violating our treaty." Tr'Malak's expression was dangerously cold. "This does not bode well at all for you, Captain Parker."
"If it's not a pirate base, Commander-General, would it not make it a base operated by the Romulan government in violation of treaty? A treaty signed between Earth and ch'Rihan in good faith."
"Perhaps they are pirates, Captain. If so, that is why they should be left for us to punish, instead of the Federation taking it upon itself to act."
"We had missing people, Commander-General. Would you abandon your's to pirates?"
Parker watched tr'Malak consider the point for a few moments. "No, we would not."
"Indeed, would you not agree that we had an obligation to our comrades to recover them? Our's was an honorable purpose. Mnhei'sahe." Parker noticed a very intrigued expression appear on tr'Malak's face. "Surely you are here to investigate the pirates on your own, to protect the honor of the Empire?"
"Perhaps so."
"Then let us help you fulfill mnhei'sahe on your end. We have taken prisoners from the station and prevented the pirates from wiping their computer cores. We will turn everything over to you, Commander-General, if you allow us to finish our repairs and return to Federation space with Equinox's crew." Parker stepped closer to the screen. "That way you will have the chance to punish those who have brought dishonor to the Empire and we will have recovered our people. Then we can say that we both fulfilled our obligations to the honor of both the Federation and the Empire."

There was a short pause. During that pause, tr'Malak's task force came out of warp within firing range of the Enterprise and her ships. The pause became tense as the entire bridge crew on Enterprise seemed to anticipate a battle.
So it was with great relief to the rest when tr'Malak looked offscreen and barked orders that led Larrisa to calmly report, "The Romulan ships are powering down their weapons." She could barely believe the coolness in her voice, considering the sweat that was gathering on her.
"Thank you, Commander-General. I'll have my Marines pull off the station at once, and we will begin transmitting all data we have gathered."
There was a brisk nod from tr'Malak. "I will take over from here. We thank you and the Federation for your cooperation in these matters and naturally we will help protect your squadron while you regain warp capability." An amused grin crossed tr'Malak's face. "I never imagined I would see the day when a Terran invoked mnhei'sahe and actually had the slightest inkling of what it means. I'll make sure to remember you, Captain Parker of the Enterprise. You are a very dangerous man. Honorable, but dangerous."
"Thank you for the compliment, Commander-General. Enterprise out." Parker turned and nodded to O'Keefe. "Signal the other ships to stand down from Red Alert and power down all weapons."
Razmara didn't seem pleased at first. "Sir, are you sure we can trust them?"

"Implicitly. tr'Malak is not going to open fire on us now, not when he's getting what he wants. Besides, it would be dishonorable to attack us now, and tr'Malak is old school Rihannsu." Parker walked up to his seat and looked back to Data. "Mister Data, begin transferring all of the data we've gleaned from the station's computers and recover the Marines we've sent to the station so far. As soon as the Romulans secure the space station, beam whatever prisoners we took back over. Mister O'Keefe, signal Valiant and tell her to hold position until we get there." Parker turned his chair to Larrisa. "Lieutenant, scan the debris from the destroyed ships. If you detect Romulan life signs anywhere, relay the information to Battlequeen."
"Aye Captain."
Razmara shook her head while Parker settled into his chair. "Admiral Pressman's not going to like you handing over all of that intel to the Romulans."
"My mission here was to recover the surviving crew of the Equinox, and I did that." Parker crossed his arms and considered the look on Pressman's face. "Oh, he'll be mad about not getting it, but we accomplished the mission and avoided a war with the Romulans. Tr'Malak's going to go home and tell everyone about how courteous and understanding the Federation was here and it's going to help matters more than hinder them."
"Avoiding a war with the Romulans might not have been very high on Pressman's list of priorities," Razmara remarked. "Sometimes I'd wager that the exact opposite is rather high instead."
"Well, there will be no war here, and that's what I'm going to drink to tonight."




System R4425 was a cluttered system of a dozen planets, all uninhabitable, and the last eight all being gas giants. It was why the rogue Romulans had chosen the system in the first place; all of the gas giants, plus the star itself, would hide their station from long range scanners thanks to the gravity wells they projected.
But what the Romulans could use to hide could be used by others.
It orbited R4425 VIII; a small ship, black as death, hidden in the stars. The Romulans and Federation could not detect her, for the eighth planet was a particularly large and dense gas giant with a very effective gravity well. From afar it watched, having observed the battle and now the tell-tale signals as the Federation ships spoke with the Romulan ones. Minutes passed and there were signs of heavy transporter activity and data transfer. After about half an hour, the Federation ships warped out in unison, leaving the Romulans alone.
The purpose of the ship's presence was finished. It turned away silently. A shimmer appeared around it and it swiftly faded away into nothingness, as if it had not even been there.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 8




Captain's Log 21 May 2368 13:06 GST: We have completed functionary repairs to Minneapolis' warp drive and are underway to return to Earth; given our engineers' concerns about straining our drives, we are cruising at Warp 8.5 and our ETA to Earth is the morning of the 23rd. Minneapolis will not be with us; she is going to stop over at Starbase 11 for repairs so that she can manage something faster than Warp 4. We offered to follow her in but Captain Berger insisted we head straight home and that her ship could care for herself. She can be a very stubborn woman, I've found.
The
Equinox crew is mostly in fine shape. At least eighty out of a hundred and thirty survived the attack and wounds brought about by it. On the request of their medical officers I have entered into my logs, for transmission back to Battlequeen, note that the Romulan medical staff saved several lives that would have otherwise been lost.
I am more concerned with what occurred to Commander Carter and Lieutenant Idaris. Their preliminary debriefing with Commander Razmara and Commander Data was emotional to say the least. They can rest easier knowing Madred is dead, I suppose, but I know I would have loved to throw the man out of an airlock myself.
On a final note; my crew came through the fire unscathed, and I'm thankful for that. Given time, I think the
Enterprise will live up to her name. I'll see to that myself.

Parker was seated in the ship's lounge reading over the ship's after-action report on a remote-linked PADD. Before him was a simple dinner, or rather what was left; a few leftover French fries and a barely a crumb of the quarter pound cheeseburger that Arno had replicated for him. It hadn't been very good, edible but without substantial flavor. Though replicator food was the staple of the Starfleet diet, there were times Parker couldn't wait to get planetbound to have a nice, juicy burger straight off the grill of some small North American diner.
Parker looked up from the report to order another soda from Arno and saw Carter and Jadzia seated at the bar speaking with him. He served them up drinks and they began to talk to one another. Not being one to listen in, Parker turned his attention back to the PADD.
A short time later he heard a voice right beside him. "Captain, may I?" Data put a hand on the table seat opposite of Parker's. He nodded and set the PADD down while Data slid into the seat. "I have finished compiling the operations segment of the after-action report, Sir."
"Very good, Commander," Parker replied dryly. "Did you send it to Commander Razmara?"
"She is going over it now."
Parker nodded and picked up one of his last fries. It tasted cold and mushy so he quickly swallowed it. "You've done well so far, Mister Data."
"Thank you, Sir."

"Need anything to eat or drink?"
"I do not require sustenance, Sir. My internal power supply operates..." Data stopped when Parker raised his hand. After a moment he stated, "No thank you, Sir."
"Very good, Mister Data. But, I think the others will feel a little better if you at least pretend to go along with it, hmm?"
"In what way, sir?"
Parker rubbed his temples to dull the headache forming there. "Pretend to eat or drink with the rest of us. At staff meetings and such."
"Well, I was built with systems to ingest and process material. I suppose I can, if you desire it, Captain."
"I do desire it."
Data nodded to indicate compliance in the future. He looked to the bar where Carter was now apparently comforting Jadzia, with a hand on her shoulder and their faces close to one another. "Commander Razmara seemed disturbed when we were conducting the preliminary debriefing with Commander Carter and Lieutenant Idaris, Captain."
"I'm not surprised. Something very disturbing and sick happened to them."
"Yes. Most records of the career of Gul Madred state him as being very uncaring for the suffering of other beings." Data looked out the window at the streaks of light racing by the ship. "Given that I cannot feel physical pain and have no emotion, I am unable to sympathize with them despite my attempts to do so."
Parker sighed and shook his head. "At least you put forward the effort, Data, and you have a good excuse. That's more than we can say of Gul Madred."

The android nodded in acceptance of Parker's point. "Sir, have you read the debriefing report yet?"
"Not while eating." Parker pointed to his plate. "I was going to do it tonight, and only after finishing that bottle of Pacifican whiskey I have in my nightstand."
"Ah."
"Was there anything you wished to discuss about the debriefing, Mister Data?"
There was no immediate response from Data. He looked once more to the bar, where Arno had walked up once more to talk with Carter and Jadzia. "Lieutenant Idaris reported that Madred, when torturing her, only inquired into the number of lights he had turned on. When she spoke the proper number, three, he would turn up the implant's power level and demand that she answer untruthfully with 'four'. Finally, when the pain became too great, she replied as he desired. I do not understand the significance. It is irrelevant to any useful intelligence that the Lieutenant could have provided to Madred."
And now Parker wished he had that whiskey in his hand. He motioned to a crewman working with Arno and asked for a bottle of sweetened vodka from New Russia. While the enlisted man went to fetch the bottle and a glass, Parker looked back to Data. "Well, I'm no expert, Commander, but the answer is pretty obvious. Men like Madred do not just extract information with pain. They break down the will of their victims so that their victims are submissive to them. That was what the entire issue of the lights was about. It was a method of breaking the will."
"Curious." Data blinked. "I will have to note that point for further study. Captain, what will become of Lieutenant Idaris? If her will was broken, would that not hinder her abilities to function as a Starfleet officer?"

"Well, Commander, we have to remember that she was not a Command level officer and did not receive Advanced Survival training, so she didn't know how to properly resist torture. Still, she's never going to see a line command. She'll likely spend the rest of her career as a science officer, probably on stations, planetside posts, or perhaps explorer and science ships. Because her will has been broken and that never goes away." Parker clenched his fist and slammed it on the table. "Damned bastard destroyed that girl's life. If he weren't dead I'd want to toss him out the airlock myself."
The crewman returned with a small glass and a bottle of clear vodka. Parker screwed off the top and poured a little bit into his glass before putting the top back on. Data was closely observing the activities at the bar while Parker drank his first gulp. There was a sweet tint to the vodka, a diluted honey-like taste, when he swallowed it; afterward was the usual burning sensation of alcohol going into the stomach. When he finished swallowing, Parker asked, "So, Mister Data, what are you thinking about right now?"
"I am observing Commander Carter and Lieutenant Idaris, analyzing the collected works of T'Pyra and Shuzinsky on the behavior of subspace within gravity wells, calculating the course changes the ship is currently making, and...." Data stopped when Parker let out an amused whistle. "Sir?"

"Mister Data, do you always multitask like that?"
"I do, Sir."
"Well, keep at it then." Parker took another drink. "Wouldn't want you to stop on my account."
"Very well, Sir. Would you like me to give you a report on my findings?"
"Oh, it won't be necessary." Parker took the last sip of his drink and poured a little more. And just a little more; already Parker felt the familiar slowing of thought that alcohol caused him. "That's not my particular field."
"Oh." Data watched Parker pick up his PADD again. "Sir, is there anything else you require?"
"Not at all, Mister Data. Go back to your business."
"Yes, Sir." Data walked away briskly with the unnaturally-straight posture that Parker had taken to noticing.
Parker turned back to the PADD and continued reading. He managed about two paragraphs before his commbadge chirped. "Bridge to Captain Parker." He tapped it and sighed before replying to O'Keefe with, "Parker here."
"Sir, I've got Admiral Pressman on subspace for you."
I knew this was going to happen before the day was out. "Okay. Patch him into my quarters, I'll be right there."




Parker was very gratified that he had diluted his nerves with vodka when the screen at his desk slid up and Pressman's face appeared. "Captain Parker, I hear you've recovered the Equinox crew. Good job."
"Thank you sir." Well, that was it; the initial show of gratitude for the accomplished mission. Now came the chewing out part. "Anything else?"
"Yes, Captain." Pressman's expression soured. "Why in the Hell did you hand over to the Romulans what was certainly crucial intelligence data?!"
Parker drew in a breath before replying. "Well, Sir, we couldn't just escape. Minneapolis' warp drive was disabled and at the time she was half an hour from warp capability. Towing her at escape warp speeds would have been impossible. And the Romulans outnumbered us almost three to one while we already had battle damage from the first fight. The odds were against us so I had to take that approach. And as you can see, it worked, and I'm certain that it'll improve our relations with the Romulans in the long run."
For a few minutes, Pressman seemed to digest Parker's defense carefully. "The records, as they appear, do bear you out, Captain. And you did recover Equinox's crew. But I promise you, Parker, that the next time you do something like this without an Admiral's consent, I will drag you into a court-martial! Do you understand me?"

Parker's jaw was firm when he replied, "Crystal clear, Sir."
"Good. Pressman out."
And that was that. Pressman's image was replaced by the symbol of Starfleet Intelligence; the usual arrowhead with an eight-pointed red star centered in the middle. Parker waited until the image disappeared and his monitor defaulted to his login screen. He brought out the keyboard on his desk and typed in his ID and password to unlock his command files. As he expected, Razmara had sent the rest of the after-action report for his approval and signature. He began to read it over despite the headache forming in his forehead.




Pressman watched Parker disappear from his screen. His leaned back in his chair and took in a breath. Now he began to wonder if Parker was such a good choice for the Enterprise's chair; he was a little too independent-minded.
Then again, that's why he was such a good starship captain.
"Looks like we lost our chance," he murmured.
The figure standing in the corner of his room turned around from examining Pressman's scale models of his prior commands. The rather darkly-dressed man gave off an air of mystique and shadow; he clearly did not like being in the open. "Others will present themselves, Admiral. At least this way the Romulans will not be on to our plans. Parker has done a good job of continuating their perception that the Federation will avoid war."
"Your ship did pretty good to go undetected," Pressman said to the man. "It got the entire battle?"
"Yes. It's very good data on Romulan tactics and weapons. Your analysts will be receiving their copies shortly."

"Good news, then." Pressman stood up and walked over to his coffee-maker. There was a replicator nearby but he found the "real thing" preferable. "Might I offer you something?"
"Thank you for the offer, but I'm fine." The man walked up to the side of Pressman's desk while he poured some of the coffee into a cup. "Admiral, what will you do next?"
"Nothing for the moment. The diplomats will sort out any leftover quibbles. Knowing the Administration's touchyness about conflict, they'll lie and say it was pirates, and that it was a joint effort between Starfleet and the Romulans to drive them out. The idealists will proclaim it a victory for galactic brotherhood." The tone to Pressman's voice was full of scorn and disgust. "Those of us who know better will go back to preparing for the future."
"Indeed."
"You know as well as I do that this was just the beginning. They tried this a hundred years ago too. It's apparently the same faction, or at least their relatives. Tr'Illialhlae, t'Kiell, t'Anierh, tr'Annhwi, the names read right out of the reports from the Romulan Civil War. They're coming into power again in the Praetorate and the Senate." Pressman thumped a fist on his desk. "This time, I will make sure the Federation is far better prepared than it was a hundred years ago."

"A patriotic sentiment, Admiral."
"And now we're back to waiting." Pressman sipped at his coffee and returned to his chair. "Waiting for the Romulans to slip up."
"That we are." The man nodded. "Admiral, I will be leaving now. I have other business to attend to. I'll see you later."
Pressman nodded and watched the man leave his office. He sipped on his coffee for a short while before he called up the intelligence reports that had crossed his desk that day.




There were certain things that commanders and leaders were supposed to do. That, at least, was what Marina Lenarova believed and had believed since very early in her life. After spending the earlier portions of the day overseeing aspects of the ship's repair and meeting with the department heads to prepare Great Lakes' after-action report, she fulfilled one of those obligations by stepping into her ship's sickbay for the purpose of visiting the wounded.
Great Lakes had a crew of about two hundred and she made it her business to know each and every one of them by name and they, naturally, all knew her. Upon entry into sickbay she found every man and woman present standing at attention or trying too. They had little time to do so, as she quickly ordered them to be at ease. And naturally they responded immediately by relaxing and returning to whatever it was they were doing, reassured by her presence.
Most of the wounded were engineering and damage control crew who had been hit something after being knocked off their feet during hits or, in a few severe cases, been wounded by shattered bulkheads or debris from the hull hits that Lakes had suffered in the battle. A number of wounded were from the rupturing of a plasma conduit caused by Romulan fire near the end of the battle.
Marina was finishing a brief conversation with a young enlisted man from Bajor, trying not to look too hard at the plasma burns that covered part of his chest and left hip, when her CMO left her office. Dr. Allyn was one of "the two 'Chelles" as most crew knew them; she was Michelle and her wife was Lieutenant Rochelle Allyn, the ship's sensor officer. Their marriage had been the first of three that Marina had performed as commanding officer of the Great Lakes, an ironic coincidence to Marina considering her own preference. For her own part, Michelle had managed to maintain a nice and slim build, with brown hair rolled up into buns and equally-brown eyes. Marina already knew the reason Michelle was approaching her, as it was the only reason she'd come. Neither woman spoke a word while walking into the ship's morgue.

Marina felt some relief at only seeing two sheet-covered bodies on the slabs. It was unfair, of course, but it could have been worse. She was saddened, however, when Allyn lifted up one of the sheets and revealed the paled face of Senior Chief Rachel Corwin. To see those thick lips now turned blue was depressing enough; Marina felt an intense pain from knowing that her crew had lost the one person they all looked up to. Even the officers had respected Chief Corwin's views and opinions, as she was about eight years Marina's senior in age and an honored veteran of Starfleet. They would not be the only ones to suffer from this loss; Rachel had been a mother of four children and had a husband who was a civilian architect working in Chicago. Her eldest child, a son, was working with his father as an architect; her next two oldest, a daughter and a son, were in Starfleet Academy, and the last Marina heard from Chief Corwin was that the youngest, another son, intended to join the Starfleet Marines next year when he turned 18.
Marina waited for Doctor Allyn to reveal the other dead crew member; the continuing noise of the sickbay became an oddly great irritant in those heavy seconds. This one was also a loss that would be missed; Ensign Kiska Karro, a Bajoran serving as an engineer and a victim of the port plasma conduit that the Romulans managed to rupture in the last minutes of the battle. Half of his face and body was burned beyond repair. He had started out as an enlisted man on the crew and made commissioned officer after several exemplary acts in previous skirmishes with the Klingons the past year. Marina recalled the man's courage and will and his own personal pain; his wife had been brutally raped and murdered by the withdrawing Cardassians during the final days of the Occupation. He still had a daughter, LoMarr, who was about fifteen... and now an orphan. In this case, Marina would do as she had always done; go to the Bank of the Federation and establish a fund for young LoMarr's future education and ask the crew to contribute to it. Though there were organizations established for this purpose, to Marina it was an issue of obligation and honor to lost comrades and her crew, like her, never shunned away from giving what they could.
When they were done, she followed Michelle to her office for a drink. Though not a coffee person, she graciously accepted the Columbian stuff that Michelle offered from her pot. "Two dead, twenty-three wounded," Michelle recounted for her. "Four will be out of action for most of the next year and another four will probably spend the next month or two in therapy."
"It could have been worse."

"Probably, but I don't think Rod Corwin and his kids or Kiska LoMarr will feel very assured by that."
Touchè, Michelle. "Of course. But we all have our duties." Marina stared into the black liquid in her cup for a few moments, and into a strangely comforting silence. "We all know that our next battle could be our last. You know, 'Chelle, that I'd rather they were alive."
"Of course."
Immediately the subject changed. Marina and Michelle spent about ten minutes with what might call "girl talk". Michelle naturally asked her elder for advice in her own relationship troubles with Rochelle - these things happened in all couples, after all - and Marina did her best to answer well. Through the entire conversation, Marina noticed Michelle was periodically looking at her monitor and sifting through data. Finally, she asked what it was. "Data from Doctor Nguyen on the Enterprise," Michelle answered. "He sent it to all of us to get our input."
"What is the issue?"
"A new Romulan-designed torture device," she replied. "He found remnants of it in the bodies of two of the recovered Equinox crew. It's a nasty little thing. Composed entirely of common biological elements so it can dissolve and disappear into the body, leaving no trace of it's presence. Even their nervous systems healed quickly from the damage it caused. It's designed, I'd say, to inflict maximum pain on someone with minimal damage, and to leave no evidence that the deed was ever done."
"Evil." Marina did think about it for a bit; like Parker she had studied the Romulans - the Rihannsu - and knew of their culture and manner. "Not the kind of thing that their judiciary interrogators would employ?"

"Maybe the first part, but why leave no trace? This is... something else." Michelle sipped at her coffee. "Something else entirely."
"I'm certain Starfleet Medical will be interested in reviewing it's effects. If this thing gets on the black market I suspect it will make a very nasty slave-control mechanism. And the Klingons will love it." There was a hint of anger in those blue eyes that Michelle recognized easily as Marina's well-refined moral outrage. Few invoked it as frequently, or as strongly, as Klingons. Their allies were also pretty high on the list, since Marina was by nature a feminist and the Ferengi were noted misogynists.
Michelle, for her part, did not reply, but went back to sipping coffee and reading the data. Marina, after finishing her own - such was courtesy, after all - excused herself and left sickbay. There were, after all, other things to do before she could retire to her room until her next bridge watch.




U.S.S. Hood, Sol System, Sector 001
23 May 2368



The veteran warhorse Hood was one of the lead ships in the Enterprise's squadron formation, on the venerable ship's left flank, when they came out of warp near the Moon. Hood stood out among the other newer ships, considering she was over forty years old, which was perfectly fine to Captain Irvine as she proved that you didn't need to be brand new to be effective.
Hood's bridge layout was a classic one. Helm/Navigation and Weapons at the two-chaired console in front of the captain's seat, Communications behind the Captain and to his left, Engineering and Sensors to his right. At the helm was Ensign Meriweather, a petite young Englishwoman only a year out of the Academy. Beside her sat a Bajoran, Lt. (Senior Grade) Renel Sakal. Rosaline was in the chair to Drake's right, her usual position. Back at Operations sat Commander Ye, attending to his duties as usual.
At Communications sat a young Chinese woman, Lt. S.G. Me-Ai Kim. She turned to Drake and Rosaline and informed him that McKinley was ordering them to standby for clearance to dock. "Ensign, bring us to full relative stop with McKinley."
"Yes Commander." Meriweather's hands pulled back the slide controls to zero, cutting off Hood's engines. She moved her attention to the thruster controls, using them to maintain Hood's relative position to McKinley.
After a few moments, Rosaline finally broke the silence. "Another successful mission, yes?"
"Indeed, Commander." Drake put his hands together. "And we're quite fortunate that Leyton picked Parker and not one of Pressman's people. They undoubtedly would have gotten us all killed facing those Romulans."

"You seem troubled, Capitaine."
"I am." Drake stared at the viewscreen, watching civilian craft whiz in front of the majestic Hood. Enterprise's engines fired; she had been cleared for docking. A few moments later Valiant's engines came to life. "Romulan pirates with that much backing does not suit me well. Because the question must now be asked... who is backing them?"
"You don't think they were on their own, Sir?" asked Lt. Kim.
"No, I do not. A station like that, and ten warships of those sizes? They had to get the material to support them from somewhere." Drake crossed his arms. "There are a number of possibilities and none of them are good."
"Captain, McKinley is signaling." Kim turned again from her station. "We are clear to begin docking procedures through Entryway Beta, Dock 23."

"Mister Meriweather, one quarter impulse power until we enter the Entryway."
"Yes Sir." Meriweather's fingers slid up the appropriate sliders to fire Hood's impulse engines. One hand began to direct the ship's maneuvers with the engine control.
"When we get into dock, have Commander Engasser deliver a list of his needed parts and repair team man-hours to me." Drake stood up and walked toward his ready room. "Commander, you have the bridge." Inside his ready room, Drake kept a small bookshelf of books mostly relating to naval history and mathematics, considering his family's traditional occupation was in that field. He eased into the seat behind the desk and began writing a log out. By the time it was finished he could feel the vibration through the Hood as it was latched onto by docking clamps.
Drake's monitor beeped. An incoming transmission was being routed to him. He showed no surprise when Marina's face flashed onto his screen. She was in her private quarters and still in uniform. Undoubtedly she was calling to arrange dinner or some such so they could continue their intellectual discussions face-to-face. "Good day, Marina. Docking now?"

"We're in Dock 32," Marina confirmed.
"So, where shall we meet tonight? I recently had the time to read over a translation of Herzok's 'History of the Ancient Andorian Kings', and it's just as good as you promised."
She shook her head. "Sometime later, I think. Arik might wish to join you tonight, but as soon as I sign all of my forms and arrange a dock watch, I will be going planetside to see Valentyna."
Drake nodded in understanding. "I see. I hope you and Miss Lahenza have a happy reunion."
"Thank you, Drake." A smile curled on Marina's face. "I'll be sure to go over Herzok with you when I return Monday."
"Excellent. Good day, then."
"Good day."
They terminated the link almost simultaneously. Drake brought up his logs again to give them a once-over before transmitting them to the Starfleet Archives.




Starbase 11, Sector 011, Federation Space
23 May 2368 Earth Standard Time



Minneapolis had berthed in one of the repair docks in Starbase 11 upon arrival the previous night. The station's trained work crews had already been given the list of needed repairs, parts, and materials when they arrived and work had commenced immediately. The crew had immediately stood down from the usual watches, going into the less frequent dock watches that increased their private time by a great deal.
Zaharia had spent the night watch directing repairs from main engineering. The patch work done in the Triangle had been a temporary fix and actually increased the time needed to do full repairs, since they had to remove said patch work to begin reconstruction of the nacelle housing. There were also other hull breaches to fix and a shield generator to replace. All things considered, they'd be in dock for the next week and a half before they could join back up with the others at Earth.

It was 0700 when Zaharia stumbled into her quarters. Though she and Katie slept together most nights, there was no way they could fit all of their things together in the same room so she had accepted the quarters that were her's by regs. It was fortunately on the same deck as Katie's though in the next quadrant over so it required a short walk. As it was now, though, she didn't feel like walking to her bed, much less walking another twenty meters to her lover's quarters. Zaharia tossed the uniform jacket draped over her shoulder onto the lone couch in her room and peeled off her sweaty uniform trousers and shirt. She finished stripping and jumped into the shower to wash the grime of a hard night's work off. Zaharia was not one to mind sleeping in the buff, so she didn't bother doing more than drying herself off with a towel before stumbling back into her room and curling up into a semi-fetal position on her bed, not even pulling the sheets over herself. "Lock door," she muttered to the computer. "Dim lights to ten percent." The computer did both duties immediately.
Within minutes Zaharia was nearly asleep. But she didn't stay that way. The door chime sounded. At first she ignored it until it sounded again. "Go away!" Even that didn't work, however, so at the fifth chime she slipped under the sheets and sat up, taking care to hold the sheets over her chest. "Come on in, then," she sighed. If my phaser was by the nightstand I'd stun the bastard just for bugging me.
That emotion did not dilute in the slightest when Berger walked in, wearing her role-playing get-up. "Kathy and Martin are going to meet us at the holodeck at 0825, Zaria. Got your costume ready?"
"Katie, if I didn't love you I'd kill you." She let the sheet fall when the door closed; it wasn't like Katie hadn't seen her naked breasts before (indeed, her lover typically did very pleasing things to them). "As it is, you're looking at about two weeks at least before I fuck you again."
A cringe crossed her face; whether Berger was disturbed by her hostility or by the prospect of two weeks without sex, one could not tell. "You stayed up all night, didn't you? I thought you were going to let Kathy relieve you at 0200?"
"She and Martin lost track of time," Zaharia muttered. "And I wanted to be on hand to make sure that the airhead dock master didn't fuck anything up."
"Oh. Well, I'll call 'em and let them know we're not coming."
"Do that. But you're still not getting sex for two weeks."
"Hmm...."

Zaharia turned onto her stomach and closed her eyes, burying her face into the pillow. She heard Berger walk about, calling up Martin to tell him they were cancelling, and was again falling asleep (though not as well from agitation) when she felt Berger sit on the bed. She was about to yell at Katie to leave when she felt Katie's hands press against her bare back and begin to knead her tight muscles. They were surprisingly cold at first, prompting her to hiss at Katie, but suddenly they warmed up. She felt an oily texture on her back even where Katie wasn't touching her. She almost asked about what kind of muscle relaxer Katie was rubbing onto her, but all that came out was a moan. Her tight muscles protested being forced to relax, but that pain mixed well with the pleasure of the very same relaxation, giving her an intensely enjoyable sensation not unlike sex. She even said as much, murmuring under her breath that it felt better than sex, but Katie could not hear her. Zaharia's breathing slowed and she relaxed, only taking the time to moan while she allowed sleep to come on. She felt Katie's hands move down, rubbing the backs of her thighs and calves for a short while the remaining muscle relaxer kept her back warm. Her feet were next, Katie's fingers kneading the muscles around her ankles before kneading the bottom of her feet. And then she worked her way back up, massaging her buttocks this time. Zaharia's moans temporarily grew louder from the increased pleasure. But that gave way to the pull of sleep, and Zaharia slowly felt the feel of Katie's hands fade...
Katie could tell Zaharia was sound asleep shortly after she was rubbing her shoulders. She slid off Zaria's bed and moved the sheet and blanket back over her. After getting up, Katie put the container of massage oil back on the shelf, noticing the Risan lettering on the bottle for the first time while her fingers moved away from it. After a thought she turned back to Zaharia's sleeping form. Zaharia had turned in her sleep, laying on her back. She stood for a moment, quite unable to tear herself from the image of her lovely face sound asleep, but it only lasted for a few moments. She used each hand to rub the other, getting out some of the ache that had developed from the massage, and walked out the door while taking care to activate the computer lock.




McKinley Base, Earth Orbit, Sector 001


Phillips and Petersen were arriving at the airlock together and Phillips was not surprised in the slightest to find Zandra waiting on the other side. They stopped walking and he looked to Petersen. "Well, Garrett, this is where I leave you for the weekend."
"Yeah." Petersen shook the offered hand. "Well, have fun with the family, Phil."
"I will. Just make sure you don't get too used to staying planetside."
"Oh, don't worry, I'll be back." An amused grin crossed the younger man's face. "Unless my lady decides not to untie me."
They broke out laughing together while walking toward the airlock. "Take care, Garrett!" Phillips shouted after him while Petersen walked out the lock and toward the civilian transporter bays. Phillips himself walked up to his waiting wife, who hugged him closely. "I told you I'd be back on time," he said to her during the embrace.
"Yes, you did," she replied. Zandra smiled sweetly at him when the hug ended. "The kids are back in the rooms. Got anything planned?"
"Oh, I was thinking we beam down to Aruba..." He put a hand around Zandra's waist and held her close with his left arm while they walked away. "Let the kids play in the beach while you and I catch up on some things."
"Not everything, though."
"Of coiurse not." Phillips winked at her. "The rest is for tonight."
And that made Zandra giggle from anticipation.




Diane Howard had walked up to the airlock just as Phillips put his arm around his wife's back. She watched the happy couple walking off together and heard their laughter very faintly. She could not help but fear a tinge of jealousy in her heart. Edward would have held her like that, she knew. He would have brought her close with those strong, loving arms of his and she would have gladly let him, wanting to feel security in them.
She had not yet seen the two Equinox crew tortured by Madred yet, but Howard didn't need to. She had heard enough in her lifetime. Sometimes at night, when sleep would not come, she thought of how the Cardassians tortured Edward to death. She had not been there - thank God for small favors - but the thoughts stayed with her, unceasing, over the years. And every time she did, Howard raged that the Federation had backed off with the victory still incomplete. In the name of galactic politics and expediency, they had let the brutal torture and murders perpetrated by the Cardassians to go unpunished. There were days Howard wished Cardassia Prime had been burned to the ground.

A single tear began to work it's way down that cold right eye of icey blue. It wasn't fair, dammit! Zandra Phillips had the perfect husband. A noble, brave man, a caring father who loved his kids and who literally worshipped her. And what was she left with? Diane Howard was left with a broken heart, an orphaned son, and a bitter hatred in her heart for all things Cardassian. That little girl, that stuck up little girl, didn't know how damned lucky she was. Why did she get to have her husband while all Diane was left with was her memories, bitter and sweet?! What did Zandra Phillips do to deserve that man, whom she certainly didn't earn, while Diane Howard was left alone?! Howard was close enough to Phillips to know how Zandra whined and cried about Phillips not being home, about having to take care of the children....
You're being too harsh, Diane chided herself. Zandra has done nothing wrong. She misses Patrick as much as you miss Edward. But at least she got to be with him every few months. She could do something with that pent-up passion that Diane felt within herself every day. Sometimes Diane wondered if she should stop being the mourning widow and actually see if there were men willing to be with her. She wasn't bad looking, after all.
With her emotions overflowing, Diane struggled to restore her control before she burst. She was not a tramp and she certainly wasn't going to look for the first willing man to sleep with. Edward was gone, and for ten long years she had accepted that as best she could. Zandra Phillips was a good woman, a loving mother and doting wife who only wanted her husband home, just like Diane wanted Edward. And she had to be more careful with her feelings. She was Commander Diane Howard of Starfleet. More than that, she was Her Grace Diane Howard, Heiress to the Duke of New Norfolk. She had a responsibility to her family - not to mention Starfleet - to conduct herself accordingly.

Footsteps came from behind, prompting Diane to turn. Walking up behind her was Dr. Drola Marskukas, the Intrepid's CMO. Drola was an Orion and had a particularly bright emerald green complexion. She had brown eyes, dark brown hair, and stood at about a hundred and sixty five centimeters with an attractive build. Drola was probably the closest thing to a friend Diane had on the ship and had her own personal share of tragedy in her life. Diane didn't know all the details save that Drola had at one time been a slave. Whether she was a household slave, a concubine, or a prostitute-slave Diane didn't know and never asked about, all she knew that Drola had been born in the Orion upper classes and had, through misfortunate for her nation of Rorlurai in one of the many Orion internecine wars, been taken for slavery. She had an accent, somewhat like on would expect from an Iranian (The language of the Rorlurai had some phoenetic simularities to Farsi), and spoke to Diane upon being noticed. "Doing okay, Commander?"
"I'm fine, Drola."
"I don't think so." Drola put a sympathetic hand on Diane's right shoulder. "The tears in your eyes are telling me that you're lying." She grinned slightly. "Why don't you let me take you to the Locker and buy you something?"
After a few moments, Diane replied, "Give me an hour, Drola. I have to talk to Sevak and make sure everything's in order for the dockmaster."
"An hour, then." Drola nodded. "I'll met you at the Locker."




In her quarters, Razmara was finishing the procurement and repair requests to the dockmaster when she noticed an icon flashing in her monitor's corner. She tapped the screen to bring it up and saw that it was Jack. Smiling, she began playing it.
The smile evaporated when she saw that he was not in his quarters on the station but on a ship, with a window in the background clearly showing a ship at warp. "Hi Jack," Razmara said faintly, her heart falling into her stomach.
"Hi Sophia." Jack didn't seem so happy either. "I... tried to wait. But the company had a cargo at Andor headed out to a distribution warehouse out in Sector 220-B and I have to go run it out there."
"That's awfully close to G'kkau space." Razmara shifted in her seat. The disappointment was obvious, since both had been looking forward to another dinner date and the love-making that always followed. "Be careful, okay?"
"You know I will. And Sophia..." Jack finally restored the smile on his face. "Good luck on the Enterprise. You've earned it. Who knows... maybe in a few years you'll be sitting in that captain's chair?"
Razmara smirked. "Don't I wish?"

"I know you do. Well, I've got work to do, so I'll call you later, when we get to Sector 220-B. Maybe we'll be able to run into each other soon enough?"
That made her cringe. Jack and Razmara never had such good luck; their meetings in the last six years were annual if they were lucky. "Well, we can always hope, can't we?"
Jack nodded. "Talk to you later, lover. Take care of yourself."
"I love you, Jack."
"And I love you." Jack touched a button on his desk and the signal cut. The symbol of StarComm Technologies Incorporated appeared on her screen; it was the company that his subspace communications were routing through. Razmara let a few tears come down her cheeks, an outlet to the sorrow of another lost chance with the man she loved, before returning to finishing her work.




Leyton had been kinder than Pressman in their meeting. Though Starfleet Command was Not Happy with his actions in handing the data over to the Romulans, Parker's handling of the situation was being lauded. The press was now labeling him as the man who kept peace with the Romulans, seeming to confirm to the public his worthiness to command the Enterprise.
The Equinox crew was going to be debriefed extensively. Lieutenant Idaris and Commander Carter would be given two weeks paid leave, with psychological therapy with the most prestigious medical experts on Earth, before returning to duty. If either requested retirement, Starfleet would do so immediately and give them full benefits. For the interim, Starfleet was going to keep Carter in her position aboard Enterprise until she made that decision.
Parker sincerely hoped that Carter would stay. He entered sickbay through the aft door and went through two labs before finding himself in the room where she was kept. Carter was sitting up, talking with a attractive 30-something nurse standing nearby with her back to Parker. The white Nurse Corps uniform contrasted sharply with the other colors of Starfleet uniforms, not to mention her chestnut-coloredhair. Her rank insignia on the collar identified her rank as Petty Officer 1st Class. She was probably the chief nurse of the watch, and was giving Carter a hypospray when Parker got next to them. "Commander, doing well?"

Carter nodded. The woman turned and faced Parker, stiffening her back in response to his presence. Parker gave her a quick lookover. She was quite attractive, with a generous and curved bosom. Her eyes were aquamarine in color, a definite sea-green shade, and her face made her look more like her late twenties even if she was probably at least five years older than she looked. "Captain, nice to meet you. I'm the Chief Nurse of Beta Watch, Petty Officer Kristin Ignacian."
"Miss Ignacian, the pleasure is mine." Parker nodded to her. "Can I speak with Commander Carter for a few minutes?"
"Oh, yes." Kristin nodded. "In fact, as soon as Doctor Nguyen gets back, she'll probably be free to go."
"Excellent." Parker watched Kristin walk off, trying not to seem too intent on admiring her posterior - Parker was a warm-blooded man, after all, if unattached and older - and looked back to Carter, who had an amused smirk on her face. "What's so funny?"
"She's far too young for you, Captain," Carter needled. She certainly seemed in a joyous mood now, even if Parker knew it probably hid deeper and unpleasant feelings. "Don't bother trying to deny it, I was trained to spot that kind of thing."
"Okay, I'm guilty." Parker raised his hands in a sign of surrender. He slid a chair up and sat down by Carter. "You look better."

"Well, yeah." There was an edge to her voice as she added, "Doctor Nguyen's so good that I"m sure you can never tell I just spent a few days being tortured half to death."
"Sharon, I'm sorry we didn't get Madred."
"It's not that." Carter drew in a breath, noting the informality he was using now. "Even if I personally tossed him screaming into the plasma chamber of a nacelle, he'd still be there in my dreams. I'm... never going to forget this, Adrian."
"I know."
"So, what did Starfleet say about us?"
"Two weeks paid leave, at least. Further leave will be issued on advice from the psychologists you'll be sent to see. And naturally Starfleet will be paying for your therapy. And if either you or Lieutenant Idaris decide to resign your commissions, Starfleet will accept them without complaint."
"Ah." Carter nodded. "The admirals heard about what happened to Jadzia?"
"Yes. Officially, it's a foregone conclusion that nobody can resist torture for prolonged periods of time, and she will not be penalized. Unofficially, Admiral Leyton tells me that with her will so thoroughly broken, Starfleet can never trust her with a command position. She'll be planet or station-bound for the rest of her career and probably never do better than science officer postings."
Carter pounded a fist onto the bed. "God dammit!" She began, slowly, to weep. "God dammit..." Parker moved from his chair to sit beside her. Carter buried her head into his shoulder, while he saw Kristin re-enter to investigate the shout. He waved her off with a free hand while Carter began to go from weeping to all-out crying. "I should have given in, for Jadzia! She's ruined now, because I... I was too stubborn...."

"Shh...."
"How could I have been so selfish?!" Carter gripped him tighter. Parker could feel some moisture through his red uniform shirt. "Jadzia's life is gone now, Adrian. She had potential. So much potential. And it's all gone now. God dammit it's all gone."
Parker held onto Carter and let her continue to cry. It was a few minutes before she managed to work it out of her system. She moved away from him awkwardly and tried to smile weakly. Her eyes were reddened from crying now. "I'm sorry," she murmured.
"Don't be, Sharon." Parker brought his left hand up and cleaned the tears off her cheeks. As a junior officer on the Yamato, she had been a rather spunky redhead and Parker had always found that appealing. To see that spunkiness, that defiance and self-confidence, so badly damaged by Madred just added further insult to the injury his brutality to her had caused. "Sharon, Madred destroyed Jadzia's potential, don't let him destroy your's too. And it's not the end for Jadzia. I talked with Admiral Leyton. Starfleet is going to have an opening on a frontier station out at Bajor, Deep Space Nine. They're going to send her out there in three months."
After a few moments, Carter seemed to calm down. "It's good to know she'll have something to do. She's a really bright girl."

"I'm sure of it." Parker nodded and tried to smile. "So, shall I go about finding a new Tactical and Security Officer? Or do you want me to leave the position open for you?"
"Oh, let me think about it for a minute," Carter said with much sarcasm. "It's such a tough choice, a planetside posting or the Enterprise.... I'll take the Enterprise."
They both laughed, and Parker felt good to see some of that spunkiness back in Carter. "Well, Commander, then you are cordially invited tonight to Sisko's Bistro in New Orleans. Ben Sisko's an old buddy of mine, and his dad's going to throw a party for the Enterprise's officers tonight."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Carter laughed.




After Parker had left, Nurse Ignacian and Doctor Nguyen returned and gave Carter a final checking before letting her go. While responding to them, Carter could not help but think back...
She had survived. She had beaten Madred. Or had she? All those moments of doubt, all those moments contemplating the sweet bliss of surrender, those were still there. Madred had been a very good torturer; that much was certain. And he knew he had her close to her limit.
But how close?
Carter could not bring herself to consider that at the end, she might have actually seen four lights....
No! The voice, her voice, echoed in Carter's mind. She beat Madred! She was not going to surrender. Death would have freed her from him, and she knew she was going to take it.
But the crew had mattered too. He was going to hurt them if she died. Was she going to surrender for them? For Jadzia? For Rose Masters and her unborn baby? Would she have sacrificed them for her pride?

Madred never would have hurt them anyway; the Romulans would never let him. He was bluffing.
Or was he?
"You're free to go."
Phong's voice had been gentle, but it cut straight through Carter's concentration. She blinked and asked, "Huh?"
"I'm done." Phong patted her on the back. "Nurse MacMillan will be returning with a uniform for you, Commander. Then you're free to do what you want. Though I'd recommend being down at McKinley's Alpha Transporter in three hours. That's when we're beaming down to New Orleans for the party. It should be a fun night."
Carter forced herself to grin. "I'll be there." She watched Phong walk away. Again her mind returned to the question. Had Madred broken her? Had she been close to submission?
These questions, Carter would find out, would haunt her for quite a long time.


The sentiment "Tonight should be fun" was also foremost in the mind of Arno Vanbeginne, currently in his modest quarters about five meters away from the lounge. He had a different reason, of course, given that his face was not even an inch away from the ample cleavage of Kristin Ignacian. He had met the buxom young nurse when he first arrived on the Enterprise and had been pursuing her - in a chivalric manner of course - since that time.
All that hard work had finally paid off. She had come in when her shift was ended, a glass of champagne in hand. After drinking some of the sweet alcoholic beverage, the two had settled on Arno's couch and some friendly talking had become touching, kissing, and now they were starting to undress. He could hardly help himself; Arno was a romantic gentleman, enjoying the pleasures of life with beautiful woman whenever he could. Of course, he didn't sleep around. He would give Kristin a chance for a relationship; if they ever called it off for whatever reason, he would go looking for something new.
Nor did Arno bed or seek to bed every lovely woman he met. He took his self-appointed position as soother of sorrows very seriously, and never sought ladies who he felt needed his help in that regard. Kristin, however, did not fall into that category. She fell into an entirely different category, with her beauty and feisty personality; that of the woman to be desired.

Arno had nearly unbuttoned her uniform by this point. Her exquisite breasts would be freed next, and he would use them to pleasure her while they worked their way to the bottom set of clothing. However, he was just about to undo the last button when his door chime sounded. Kristin moaned irritably, but Arno showed his usual cheer and even had the presence of mind to pick up a case of beer that he knew the man on the other side of the door would be expecting.
However, it wasn't Lieutenant O'Keefe as he expected, but Commander Data. The golden-skinned android appraised Arno carefully, noting his undressed state. "Lieutenant O'Keefe beamed down early," Data explained. "He asked me to come down with the beer."
"Ah, yes, well, hear it is." Arno lifted the heavy case and let Data take it. "Do enjoy it, Commander. There should be plenty for everyone!"
"I will convey that to the others." Data seemed to hesitate for a moment. "Have I interrupted something?"
"Yes, but do not worry about."
"Ah." Data had learned just enough of human interactions to not reveal that he had already seen Kristin Ignacian from Sickbay in the room and in a similar undressed state. "Can I speak to you tomorrow? I am curious as to how I might better improve my relations with my fellow officers."
"Of course." Arno, for his part, did not show the slightest bit of impatience in getting Data to leave. It was some cleverness on his part; if he got mad, Data would be inquistive as to why. And then he would delay even further.

Data nodded. Arno wanted him to leave to resume mating with Nurse Ignacian. Undoubtedly he had chosen her because of her uniform, which Data was told made women very attractive as mates. He would have to study that phenomenom in the future. For his part, Data stepped away from the door and let it close. He still had twenty minutes and twenty three point five four nine eight seconds to get to Sisko's Bistro.
Arno stepped away from the closed door and found that Kristin had finished the undressing job herself during the conversation. She was laying on the bed half-naked, her arms to either side and under her head so as to not obscure his view of her chest. He grinned; she had left her panties for him to remove at their leisure later on.
The night was looking very fun indeed.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Epilogue




Located near the French Quarter of New Orleans, Sisko's Bistro was a favored dining spot for the locals. Tonight, they got treated to a larger show, that of a crowd of Starfleet officers from the Enterprise who were in one of Joe Sisko's side rooms drinking a great number of things. Most of them were in uniform. A few, though, were not; O'Keefe had come in a nice shirt and khaki pants, and Parker could see Jobrie in the corner wearing a strapless red evening gown showing her spotline down to the shoulders where it turned down her body. She had her arm crooked around a junior doctor from Sickbay and a wide smile on her face.
Ben Sisko emerged from the kitchen with a few side dishes, wearing a cook's uniform opposed to a Starfleet one. His son Jake trailed behind him with another side dish. They brought the dishes to the large table that stood in the center of the room. Sisko took the time to kiss his wife Jennifer on the cheek and pat her growing belly before returning to the kitchen.
Parker was watching the entire assemblage from the corner of the room. Carter was seated with Phong and Razmara, carrying on a conversation, while La Forge was chatting with his senior Engineering Mates and Hamblin.
O'Keefe returned from restroom and walked up to Parker. "Looks like a lively place tonight, huh Captain?"
"Oh, it does," Parker agreed. "So, that cute girl turned you down, huh?"

There was a dissatisfied expression on the younger man's face. "The night's still young."
"Well, go get 'em, tiger." Parker watched O'Keefe walk back out to mingle with some of the people waiting to be seated. He watched Sisko emerge again with more dishes, with Jake on his heels still, and set them on the table. This time he didn't return to the kitchen and instead walked toward Parker. "Looks good, Ben. You've already got my stomach growling."
"Oh, it's not done yet." Parker could swear there were two stars in Sisko's eyes, they way they were lighting up. "No no no, we still have the souffles and the...."
"You look like a kid, Ben."
There was an expression of mock horror in Sisko's face. "Never insult a man's calling," he chided Parker mockingly. "Cooking is in the Sisko family blood."
"I already knew that."
"So..." Sisko looked back at the table. Jennifer took the challenging role of keeping prying hands away from the dishes, giving a quick slap to an erring hand from Commander La Forge and glaring down some of the junior officers eyeing the table. "The Enterprise. You're one hell of a lucky man, Adrian."
"Well, we all have luck in our own way, Ben. Another baby on the way?"
Sisko nodded. "Yes. We're going to name him after my father if it's a boy, and after Jennifer's mother if it's a girl."
"Ah, one of the couples that doesn't like finding out the sex before birth, huh?" Parker grinned. "Make sure to tell me when she's due, I'll have that buddy of mine in Havana send you a box of cigars."

"He'll be shipping them an awful long way..."
Noticing the tone to Sisko's voice, Parker asked, "What's wrong, Ben?"
"Still getting used to the idea of a new assignment." Sisko crossed his arms. "Operations decided the Saratoga's going to cost too much to upgrade. They're sending her to the scrap yard."
"My condolences."
"Yes, well, everyone on board is moving up. Chakotay is getting his own command, that new ship that Planitia's designed, the Voyager. He's going to take her out for shakedown runs next year. She's some kind of new explorer ship, even has a new warp propulsion system using configurable nacelles." A smirk crossed his face. "Those damned engineers are always coming up with new toys."
"Oh, they are." A young Caucasian woman with a Cajun accent stepped up and offered them drinks. Parker took a glass of wine but Sisko didn't bother. Parker sipped at the rich wine for a moment, recognizing it as Chateau Picard. "So, where are you going to go?"
"Since I can't go back to Saratoga and there weren't exactly any choice postings available, I asked Starfleet to let me take a position where I could have Jennifer and Jake with me. They offered me a frontier posting out at Bajor. That rickety old Cardassian space station they christened Deep Space Nine."

"Bajor's not that close."
"No, but at least it's not out near Thallonian space or, heaven forbid, G'kkau." Sisko shrugged. "The station's safe for families, I'm told. So I figure there's no harm in heading out there for a year or two until Starfleet finds me a bigger ship."
"Yeah, that's a good idea. You're probably good for an Akira at the very least. Though I hear they're going to be bringing a new line of modernized Excelsior."
"We'll have to see."
Parker nodded. After a moment of looking around, he asked Sisko, "So, have you see Larrisa? I know she was coming down."
"That blonde Edo girl they assigned to you? Not yet." Sisko checked the clock. "Ah, the roast is probably done now. Let me go get that and the jumbalaya."
Parker nodded and watched Sisko go back into the kitchen. Razmara walked up, having come from the outside floors of the bistro. She was in full uniform, jacket included. "In uniform tonight, Commander?"
"Best thing that fit the occasion," she replied. "You're in uniform too, I see."
"Couldn't think of anything better." Parker heard a commotion in the other room and walked in to see all of the civilians staring at Data in his full uniform, holding a massive box.
"Captain, I apologize for being...."

"Data! Come here." Parker waved him over into the side room. When Data got into the room he had him set the case down and out of the way and opened it. It was a cooler, set to keep the contents rather cold. They were glass bottles - Glass! Like out of some holovid in the 20th Century! - and filled with a thick golden fluid. Parker reached into one and pulled it out. The markings, while Human, were in a European language he didn't know, but he didn't need that to read the title. "Bilzen Brewery?" A wide grin crossed his face. "Been years since I had this. Oh, Vanbeginne has outdone himself this time."
He turned to watch Data take a seat beside Jennifer Sisko. Data did not wait and immediately reached for a roll. Jennifer, as she had done with everyone else, smacked him on the hand. However, it was she who made a yelp of pain. She reached for her hand and rubbed it. "What are you made of?"
Parker cringed when Data began to rattle off the precise nature of his construction. The android was going to take quite a bit of work. However, he soon gained the attention of Jennifer's son. Jake quickly left his mother's side and began bombarding Data with all sorts of questions. Parker now had to smile, wondering which would win out first; Data's compulsive need to share unnecessary information or Jake's compulsive need to ask for it?
Sisko was coming out with the jumbalaya and gumbo when Parker heard another hubbub in the main dining room. O'Keefe was standing nearby and his jaw nearly dropped from surprise. Parker walked over and quite nearly dropped his jaw as well.

Larrisa entered the Bistro wearing a sparkling black evening gown, an appropriate thing when one considered the sparkles resembling stars on black space. It was cut below her shoulders, with two thin straps rising up from where the gown covered her cleavage - it revealed only the beginning of the split between her breasts - and wrapped around the back of her neck. The gown bared her upper back as well, but that was all it showed; it flowed down over her waist and legs, hiding her legs and the curve of her posterior. She was not wearing high-heels but rather flat-heeled shoes that matched her dress perfectly. Diamond earrings, adorned with the Edo words for light and love, hung from her ears and added to her sparkling appearance. Her blonde hair was free and curly, flowing over her shoulders and halfway down her back. Her lips were a bright and sexy red color. Larrisa looked more like a diva than a Starfleet officer, and it certainly was something that suited her.
She seemed to glide across the room, but did not get far. Somehow, Joseph Sisko appeared beside her and offered her his arm. "Welcome to Sisko's, young lady. Would you like me to show you to a table?"
"I already have one." Larrisa looked up at Parker, who was doing quite well hiding any surprise at her appearance out of uniform.
Joe Sisko noticed Parker and the looks they were exchanging. "Ah, you're from the Enterprise. Well, young lady, follow me."
Parker stepped back into the side dining room and gave Joe Sisko and Larrisa a wide berth. All eyes turned toward them, particularly male eyes, which were lingering as she took a seat beside Data. Joe Sisko offered her a drink and she chose one of the wines on his menu after consulting with him on them. Jennifer and Larrisa began introductions to each other and concerning Jake, Larrisa ignoring the eyes still peering her way once and a while. Parker finally sat down near her, waiting for her to finish with Jennifer. When she did, he asked her, "Where did you get that dress?"
"It was a gift," she replied. "A friend of the family, you might say. He gave it to me when I graduated from the Academy." She touched one of the earrings. "And these were my mother's."
"It's, well, stunning."
"Thank you sir." Larrisa looked around at everyone, smiling. Joe Sisko returned from the kitchen with a bottle and a glass and poured her a drink. Larrisa sipped at the rich red liquid and set it back down. "Looking at everyone I guess I should have worn the uniform."
A half-dozen dissenting voices rose up. Razmara sat down on the opposite end of the table and shook her head. "Don't worry about it, Larrisa."

"Exactly what I was going to say." Parker stood back up and walked to the head of the table, where the Siskos had insisted he sit. As he arrived, the last dishes came out, including a large pot roast. A second, Parker had been told, was on the way, just to feed all of the fifty officers in attendance. The main table and a smaller one was nearly filled with a number of side dishes. A pair of Joe Sisko's waitresses helped to re-fill everyone's glasses. Sisko himself, having seen Jake off to his bedroom for the night, returned to take a seat between Jennifer and Parker. Before anyone could make a grab at the food, Parker rose to his feet, gathering the attention of the senior crew at the table and the other officers scattered around this side room and the balcony. When all fifty were in the side room or at the doorways, Parker looked around him and picked up his glass of Chateau Picard. "Ladies and gentlemen, I propose a toast. This past week, we've had an honor that is probably unrivaled in the annals of Starfleet. We get to say that yes, we served about the Starship Enterprise. We brought her out and back again in one piece." Parker looked down into the glass for a moment. "Just a week ago, I had half of Starfleet wanting to wring my neck. I had been taken from my ship and sent back to Earth for re-assignment to, well, God knows where some of the Admiralty wanted to send me; probably some place unpleasant, like the Embassy on Quo'noS." A roar of laughter came from all the assembled save Data, who looked around at the others. "But now I'm Captain of the Enterprise. That's a big leap, and I couldn't have done it without you. I can't tell you how much it honors me to know that I've got a crew like you to back me up." Parker raised his glass, prompting the others to do the same. "To the men and women of the Starship Enterprise; past, present, and future. And to the Enterprise herself. May we all keep that name proud and true. To the Enterprise!"
And the others responded.
"To the Enterprise!"
And as the dinner began, and everyone received their plates, Parker could not help but consider again the voice inside his head. The voice that insisted that the Enterprise transcended what she had been built for. She would not be content with her mission. She couldn't be. She had a mission of her own...
And the words of that mission still echoed.


Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Her continuing mission to explore strange new worlds... to seek out new life and new civilizations...
To boldly go where no one has gone before....



The End.... for now


*cues the End Credits from any of the Goldsmith-scored Trek movies, credits roll*



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-10 10:16am
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Oh, and since it was requested....

The character list as of the beginning of Timelines #2

U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D (Sovereign-class) Crew:

CO: Capt. Adrian Parker (black hair, grey eyes, 183cm)
XO: Cmdr. Sophia Razmara (black hair, brown eyes, 178cm)
Operations Officer: Lt. Cmdr. Data
Tactical Officer: Lt. Cmdr. Sharon Carter (red hair, pale green eyes, 178cm)
Chief Engineer : Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
Chief Medical Officer: Dr. (Cmdr.) Phong Nguyen (black hair, brown eyes, 175cm)
Sensor Officer: Lt. S.G. Larrisa Josica Hortul (of Edo) (blonde hair, blue eyes, 172cm)
Communicatons Officer: Lt. S.G. James O'Keefe
Squadron CO: Lt. S.G. Chris "Vertigo" Coleman
Navigation Officer: Lt. S.G. James Hamblin Jr.
Lounge Supervisor: Arno Vanbeggine
Chief Nurse of Beta Watch: Petty Officer Kristin Ignacian
Tac. Officer: Lt. J.G. Jobrie Tevala (of Trill)


U.S.S. Intrepid NCC-79326 (Independence-class) Crew:

CO: Capt. Patrick Phillips
XO: Cmdr. Diane Howard
Wing CO: Cmdr. Garrett Petersen
Operations Officer (includes Sensors/Communications): Lt. Cmdr. Sevak (of Vulcan)
Chief Medical Officer: Dr. (Lt. Cmdr.) Drola Marsukas (of the Orion)
Chief Engineer: Lt. Cmdr. Edward Dunai
Asst. Chief Engineer: Lt. S.G. Lanel t'Saillel
Tactical Officer: Lt. S.G. Saffi Larsen (brown-blonde hair, aquamarine eyes)
Navigation Officer: Lt. J.G. Antonia Rigatti


U.S.S. Minneapolis NCC-79451 (Akira-class) Crew:

CO: Capt. Katherine 'Katie' Berger (dark hair, gray eyes)
XO: Cmdr. Sebastian Breit
Operations Officer (includes Sensors): Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Hall
Chief Medical Officer: Dr. (Lt. Cmdr.) Meredith Constantine (brown hair, gray eyes, 1.5m height)
Chief Engineer: Lt. Cmdr. Zaharia Herzela (of Trill)
Tactical Officer: Lt. S.G. Martin Hall
Communications Officer: Lt. J.G. Falon tr'Kaeyr (of Rigel)
Navigation Officer: Lt. J.G. Mary Alexandria Reilly
2nd Watch Tac. Officer: Lt. J.G. Zak Kebron (of the Brikar)


U.S.S. Hood NCC-42296 (Lakota-class) Crew:

CO: Capt. Drake Irvine
XO: Cmdr. Rosaline d'Orvilliers
Operations Officer: Lt. Cmdr. Ye Di Wen
Chief Engineer: Lt. Cmdr. Seth Engasser
Chief Medical Officer: Dr. (Lt. Cmdr.) Soliar Malix (of Bolarus)
Tactical Officer: Lt. S.G. Renel Sakal (of Bajor)
Communications Officer: Lt. S.G. Me-Ai Kim


U.S.S. Great Lakes NCC-549-C Crew (New Orleans-class):

CO: Capt. Marina Lenarova
XO: Cmdr. Ariel Shaham
Operations Officer: Lt. Cmdr. Amy Collette
Chief Engineer: Lt. S.G. Yefim Galkine
CMO: Dr. (Lt. Cmdr.) Michelle Allyn
Tactical Officer: Lt. S.G. Robert Dalton
Navigation Officer: Lt. J.G. Frank Hipper
Sensor Officer: Lt. S.G. Rochelle Allyn


U.S.S. Avenger NCC-79501 (Defiant-class) Crew:

CO: Cmdr. Christopher O'Farrell
XO: Lt. Cmdr. Tasha Yar
Chief Engineer: Lt. S.G. Miles O'Brien
Operations Officer: Lt. S.G. Phillip Leeson
Weapons Officer: Lt. J.G. Branislav Kojic
CMO: Ensign Halina Poniatowski


U.S.S. Valiant NCC-79486 (Defiant-class) Crew:

CO: Cmdr. Misty Greene
XO: Lt. Cmdr. Jane April
Chief Engineer: Lt. S.G. Siegfried Meyers
Operations Officer: Ensign Christine Bennington
Tactical/Weapons Officer: Lt. J.G. Suvok (of Vulcan)
CMO: Ensign Thadis Tugan (of Trill)


Squadron Staff:

Chief of Squadron Staff: Cmdr. Felix di Montecuccoli
Squadron Quartermaster: Lt. Cmdr. Laurie Hicks
Squadron Intelligence Officer: Lt. Cmdr. Kristina Ivanova
Squadron Tactical Officer: Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Williams



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

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