Before I forget again I would like to acknowledge Darth Wong and the excellent articles he has written as the inspiration behind this story.
"We where in the middle of an important experiment when you uneducated neanderthals cut the power to the room! It is simple luck that we where not working on something more hazardous! Ah, Commander, there you are. Commander, I insist that you have this man disciplined. He cut power to my lab in the middle of a very important experiment." It was always interesting to be in a ship under the care of the dockworkers of Utopia Planitia. They seemed to continuously be either taking something apart or putting something back together, even if it was on the other side of the ship to the areas that where being torn down and completely rebuilt. And now I had turned a corner and gotten stuck in the middle of one of those little problems that always arise when a ship is in drydock. In this particular case they had cut the power to a physics laboratory during the normal working day. I checked the work schedule for this area of the ship on my PADD and of course there should not have been any experiments running in that room on this day. The dockworkers that where responsible for the power issues had simply been following the schedule that had been posted to the ships information systems since before we arrived in drydock. And now the Petty Officer in charge of the work detail was trying very hard to restrain his temper while a tall but quite over weight physicist screamed in his face.
"Doctor Sirivan, could I ask you a question please?" I asked the red faced physicist.
"Commander, I must insist that you instruct this individual to turn the power back on in my lab and discipline him immediately. He has ruined several days worth of research on warp field manipulation."
"Doctor, you do realize that the power outage in this area has been on the schedule for as long as we have had the refit schedule?" I was late to meet the Captain and senior staff in transporter room six to greet the first Marines to come aboard ship. So having the semi notorious Doctor Sirivan impede my progress did not put me in a better mood. The man could barely be bothered to go to action stations during a red alert instead of working in his lab. "I would suggest that you apologize to the Petty Officer and vacate your lab for the duration of our stay here in drydock. As we discussed last week when the water to your cabin was cut off, the ship is in drydock. So take the vacation we discussed and let these men do their jobs. It will let you get back to work sooner." I could tell that the good Doctor was considering whether he could get away with arguing with me but after a few seconds he visibly changed his mind and turned away to storm back into his lab. I turned to the Petty Officer and his work detail. "PO, thank you for keeping your calm. Now is there anything you need? I seem to be in quite a hurry."
"No sir, we can take it from here. Thank you for your help sir." He then gathered up his detail that had been watching the spectacle and returned to their work. Walking towards my destination I observed all the work being done around me. I had seen ships under construction and had even been assigned to ships during their refit period. But I had never seen so many engineers in one place before. Well, except that time I accidentally walked into an engineering class at the academy, but that hardly counts. I could only assume that quite a few Admirals where serious about this little project, and considering the amount of resources and time spent on this project I felt that my assumption was solid. During our trip back to Sol from our designated patrol sector I had examined what I could find about historic examples of Marines in the ships data banks, as well as the briefing documents Starfleet had made available to me and the Captain. And despite any misgivings I might have about the nature of Marines and what it said about the direction Starfleet was heading. I knew that having them on board could give us a better chance at surviving when everything went wrong and we had no choice but to accept conflict. The casualties we had taken during Starfleets many encounters with hostile aliens or during the Dominion War certainly showed the reasoning behind having Marines on board Starfleet vessels.
My musings had taken me from the physics labs to transporter room six where I found the Captain, the ships Councilor Lieutenant Commander Grigorii and the chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Sands. The only person missing from our regular senior staff was Lieutenant Commander Roland, our operations officer. Who was in the sickbay with a broken leg from a skiing accident a few days earlier while on shore leave.
"Captain, I hope I have not kept you waiting. I ran into a slight problem on the way here." I said as I greeted my friends and colleagues.
"I hope it was nothing serious XO?" The Captain asked me as I took my place at his side while we waited for the Marine officers allotted time slot to transport up from Utopia Planitias ground station.
"No sir. It was simply a small disagreement between some dockworkers and a science team about relative priorities. I will have a report in your system by this evening." The transport technician spoke up.
"Sirs, we have received word from the ground station that the Marines, party of five is ready to beam on board."
"Very well Petty Officer Michaels. You may energize when ready." The captain responded and almost immediately the familiar sights and sounds of an active transport filled the room. As the transport cycle ended I took in the first impressions of my newest crew mates. And it was a sight I had not been properly prepared for. I had of course familiarised myself with their uniforms and rank insignia, as well as their organisational charts. But I was unprepared for any number of other impressions I received in those first few seconds. To begin with they where all very fit. I had never seen so many individuals in a group with such a high level of personal fitness since I left the academy soccer team. My next impression was the way they observed everything around them, their movements where fast and organised as they all took in different parts of the room before snapping back to us. The leader of the party, a slim woman with very short black hair wearing a Marine Captains two bars looked at Captain Pelatier and said.
"Major Shari Nakhoda with party of four requesting permission to come aboard Captain." Her voice was surprisingly feminine. Not at all what I had expected from someone with such a fierce appearance and supreme focus. Their uniforms where also distinctive with the officers dressed in a regular duty uniform except the dark green collar and the different fabric used. And what I could only assume where what the briefing documents referred to as Sergeants wore all black uniforms with the heavier fabric, details in the same green as the officers and what was called 'chevrons' on their collars instead of the bars the Marine officers wore, or the pips regular Starfleet officers wore.
"Permission granted. Welcome Major Nakhoda, I have heard a great deal about you and your Marines." The new arrivals where greeted by Captain Pelatier. "I look forward to hearing more from you and your officers." The Marines stepped of the transporter pad and stood in a line behind Captain Nakhoda while the two captains shook hands.
"I would be happy to give you a more complete briefing Captain. Me and my officers are quite literally at your disposal sir. As soon as my company is settled in on board I was planning to give you and your senior staff demonstrations of our capabilities, I believe you will find them most interesting."
"That would be appreciated Major. I have seen some footage from your training but live is always better. And speaking about my officers, allow me to introduce them to you. This is my executive officer, Commander Jeremiah Sorenson." We exchanged handshakes and a simple greeting but did not have time for more. As the Captain was introduced to the rest of the officers from the ship I considered how odd it was to refer to someone with the wrong rank. But it had made far to much sense to argue with. There could only ever be one Captain on any ship. When lives where at stake, confusion was a killer. And if I was any judge of personnel records it was only a matter of time before Captain Nakhoda was a real Major, if she could get over her anger issues.
"I am pleased to meet you Lieutenant Commander Sands." She said as she was introduced to the last officer in line. "Captain, sirs, allow me to introduce you to my company command group. My executive officer 1st Lieutenant Sayuri Arisu. The commander of 1st Platoon, 2nd Lieutenant Tad Martins. My Company Sergeant, First Sergeant Chris Lindkvist. And Gunnery Sergeant John Williams, my operations sergeant." After we all exchanged greetings the Captain invited us all to the observation lounge to continue our meeting. On the trip to and from the turbolift I noticed the Marines looking around and seeing the ship in a way I did not entirely understand. The Sergeants I could see where tempted to stop from time to time when some feature caught their eyes, I overheard them discussing something involving kill-zones and dangerous corners. I was tempted to ask them what they where referring to but my questions where remained unasked due to our arrival in the observation lounge.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please have a seat." The Captain invited us. As we sat with Starfleet officers on one side of the table facing our Marine counterparts, Captain Pelatier leaned back in his chair and started our briefing. "So Major, I have read the briefing documents supplied by Starfleet but perhaps you could expand upon what was sent to us. In particular I would like to hear more of the background behind your joining us here as well as more detail in your units capabilities. The documents also noted that you would be under my direct command. Is this correct?" Captain Pelatier stroked his beard and waited for 'Major' Nakhoda to collect her thoughts and respond.
"Yes sir, we are effectively under your command. In theory I can refuse to obey your orders but only under very specific conditions as laid down by the regulations concerning the deployment and chain of command of Marine units. Specifically sir, my commanding officer is Major Tekhavara, the commanding officer of the battalion my company serves under. But the regulations are quite clear that you are legally authorized to give me lawful orders. The reservations in my response are similar to any other specialist officer such as Commander Grigorii or your chief medical officer." She cleared her throat and continued in a voice that revealed how excited she was for the concept she had been allowed to be the first to field test. "I would like to continue with a general overview of the background to us being here as it shows where we took many of our ideas from." At this she got up out of her chair and moved to the display on the wall and started up a presentation. "About four years ago the federation council received a completed report on the Dominion War from among others Starfleet intelligence, security and operations. What the council took from this was that while regular upgrades could keep us at worst on par with any conceivable threat when it came to starships. As soon as we could look our enemy in the eye we lost all advantages and in almost all recorded close encounters involving personal combat we took losses we should have been able to avoid. The council for obvious reasons considered this unacceptable so they formed a group too look into possible solutions to the problem. Within that group there where two people that managed to convince everyone else including the council and the President of the Federation himself that what Starfleet needed was an organisation that could take the fight to the enemy in person. These two where then given the task of working up their ideas and giving a demonstration. Colonel LeMay and Sergeant Major Wyatt spent the next few months training a number of personnel from not only Starfleet security, but also the Society of Creative Anachronisms and a few other sources, to be what would soon become Marines. I myself come from Starfleet security. I was a Lieutenant Senior Grade before I was recruited to the Marines and was selected to be trained as an officer under Colonel LeMay. First Sergeant Lindkvist and Gunnery Sergeant Williams trained under Sergeant Major Wyatt in a similar manor. After our training and a little R&D assisted by the SCA we had our first demonstration for Starfleet High command. A simulated boarding of a Ferengi starship. The demonstration was an incredible success." At this the presentation on the wall that had been showing portions of the aforementioned report began showing recordings from the demonstrations the Marines had made. The display showed what appeared to be regular Starfleet security personnel wearing a heavy vest the briefing documents had referenced as 'body armor', as well as helmets. The personnel in the presentation where also moving in a decidedly odd manor but the lethal efficiency of the Marines new tactics where clearly on display. "A single Platoon, working together, strengthened by the new tactics we had invented and old ones we had discovered while studying historic Marine organisations, had let us secure control of one of their better starships in minimal time with very little casualties. The observers where, to say the least, surprised."
"Major, excuse me for interrupting." Lieutenant Commander Grigorii said. "But could you please define more precisely what the definition of 'minimal' casualties is?"
"Of course Councilor. We took three mortal casualties and six wounded to the degree that they could no longer continue the fight. In a fight where we where outnumbered more than 10-1 we took just over 20% casualties. Our simulations said that regular security personnel would have required a ratio of at least 2-1 to do the same thing. And at that minimum ratio they would have taken something like 36% total casualties." The presentation started showing images of Marines fighting in a clearing while others set up what seemed to be transport signal enhancers. Switching shortly to Jem’Hadar assault teams being wiped out by Marines in the corridors of what looked like a Sovereign class ship. "We then repeated the demonstration two days later in a simulated rescue of an away team, and then the repelling of Jem’Hadar boarders after another couple of days. The response, from those we where demonstrating our potential to, was intensely positive. As you have no doubt surmised we received clearance to move ahead and begin developing the concept in earnest with the ultimate goal of deploying Marines all across the Federation. That was just over three years ago. We began truly developing the systems we would require to fullfill our primary mission objective, which is to secure the persons, vessels and facilities of Starfleet against any threat." Shuttles, explosives, armor, weapons and other pieces of equipment flashed past on the screen as Captain Nakhoda explained some of the different pieces of equipment.
"Major, did the Marine development teams create all of these in just the last few years?" It seemed unlikely to me that all of those different and unique devices could have gone through the entire procurement process in such a brief period of time.
"In a way Commander, yes. We have very few pieces of equipment that are entirely new. Most of our equipment as well as many of our methods are copies or simple evolutionary developments of historical examples. Take our combat armor for example. It is nearly an exact copy of the last generation of infantry armor deployed by the old Earth nation of 'Great Britain'. All we did was to change the underlying 'soft' armor to a slightly enhanced mechanical counter pressure suit and include modern high density materials in the design to make it more capable of protecting us against enemy weapons fire, hard vacuum as well as other hazards we Marines are expecting to routinely encounter. Our assault shuttles are simply Danube class runabouts with extra ground support weapons, more armor and upgraded shield generators. Of course this came at the cost of gutting the crew space and the changes have been so radical that it is being considered whether or not to simply rename the Marine variant runabouts as a completely new class. The first generation we tested, which was simply a standard model Danube with more seats, could take an entire Platoon of Marines with all their equipment. In the current model we can only fit 11, or a quarter of a Platoon."
"Would it not be more efficient to be able to carry more personnel 'Major'?" I could tell that Lieutenant Commander Grigorii was suspicious of this new concept and that it was difficult for him to reconcile his Councilors training and Starfleets traditional view on the application of violence with Captain Nakhoda and what was on display.
"In some ways, yes it would Councilor. However, in simulations and training we found that our shuttles get shot down on a regular basis. Especially when we are performing a forced boarding of an enemy ship. So we started to increase the armor and defensive systems of our shuttles to allow them to survive longer in the face of enemy fire. In the process we lost most of our internal space, which was the cost of increasing our individual and unit level survivability immensely. We can still carry more people in the shuttles should it be necessary but they start to get in each others way if we carry more than 14 people. We can make an extraction of wounded or a small away team in addition to their normal load, but that is just about the limit for this model of assault shuttles."
"Bridge to Captain." The intercom interrupted.
"My apologies Major. This is the Captain, what is it Lieutenant?"
"We have four strange runabouts requesting permission to dock with the main shuttle bay sir. They seem to be Danube class but their profile does not match any Danube we have on record. What do I tell them sir?" I smiled slightly as I could hear the Lieutenants confusion at the no doubt strange sensor readings on the Marines assault shuttles. Captain Nakhoda saw my smile and returned it.
"Those are Marine assault shuttles Lieutenant." Captain Pelatier responded. "Give them permission to dock with my regards." He turned to the rest of the conference table. "Shall we go meet them ladies and gentlemen? I have been curious about your shuttles Major and would appreciate an opportunity to see them up close." Captain Nakhoda inclined her head to Captain Pelatier.
"Of course Captain. We had planned on having you present when Saber Platoon disembarked so that you could get a first impression of Marines in combat gear with enough time for you to do an inspection of the whole Platoon. Of course I was not expecting them for another 25 minutes so I still have some more information to pass on sir. But none of it is time critical and you have heard the important parts already sir."
"Better early than late I suppose Major." Matt said to Captain Nakhoda. The Marine officer only smiled and nodded in response. Our chief engineer had always been a 'glass half full' kind of individual who was more interested in results than adherence to formalities. As we all left the conference room to head down to the main shuttle bay I overheard Captain Nakhoda addressing Lieutenant Sayuri
"I see we have to talk to the CAG again, XO" She looked slightly annoyed, but not particularly surprised.
"CAG?, Major?" I asked. "I'm not familiar with that term."
"Commander Assault Group, Lieutenant Commander Caroline Grooves, Commander. Her full rank with titles are a bit of a mouthful sir, so we tend to simply shorten it to CAG. Historically Marines tended to have specific honorific titles for certain positions. We have reintroduced a few as a bit of an internal experiment to see if it helps or hinders us. First Sergeant Lindkvist here is generally referred to simply as 'Top', and the senior NCO of a Platoon is referred to as 'Gunny'." She explained as we entered the turbolift. "We Marines tend to be a bit schizophrenic at times. Most of the time we have very rigid discipline and stand on formality even when in small groups. But then we call the most senior individual in the Platoon something as informal as Gunny, even if their rank is not Gunnery Sergeant. It took me a while to get used to it as well Commander, but it all makes sense in the end." Her smile as she finished was a little impish but there was no hesitation in her voice or manor.
"I can only imagine the difficulties in creating a whole new branch of Starfleet from nothing Major. And I can safely say that I am very impressed with what you have accomplished already. So what can you tell me about the unit we are about to meet? Or am I wrong in assuming that it is a single unit we are meeting?" She simply looked back at me with that same smile.
"Yes Commander, it is a single unit. It's my 3rd Platoon under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Gardner. They are flying in on Javelin flight, Four Marine variant Danube's commanded by the CAG in Javelin 1."
The main shuttle bay was revealed to be a mass of apparent chaos as the turbolifts doors opened and we stepped out into the cavernous bay. Shuttles where being transferred from shuttle bay two and three while they where refitted to allow the Marines shuttles to be used as they where intended. Material and specialist equipment was being flown in to aid in the refit. Add that to any shuttle bays workload while in port and the pace quickly reached frantic levels of activity.
"Sword six actual to Saber six" I heard Captain Nakhoda speak into her combadge.
"Saber six actual here. Go ahead Sword six."
"What’s your ETA to Venture Saber?"
"ETA six minutes Sword."
"Saber, be advised that Sword command is in the main shuttle bay with Venture six and staff. Deploy in parade formation. Pass the word to Javelin six as well please."
"Solid copy Sword six. Parade formation on exit of shuttles."
"That's affirmative Saber six. Sword six out." Captain Nakhoda turned to to Captain Pelatier. "Sir, may I have permission to clear an area in here for my shuttles to land slightly dispersed? It would help me get them out of the way quicker after you have inspected the Platoon."
"Of course Major. XO?"
"Already on it sir." I responded as I tapped my own combadge and gave instructions to shuttle ops to have a portion of the bay cleared for the Marines. Just as an area was cleared Lieutenant Sayuri pointed out through the shuttle bay forcefield towards four small but growing specks that turned out, a few seconds later, to be the assault shuttles we had been briefed about. They had lost some of their sleekness when the Marines had modified them and the dark grey color they where painted in was not really to my taste. But they did seem to be able to fly straight through a planet with all the extra armor that was visible. And to my surprise I could even see weapons mounted on the sides and bottom of the shuttles. My fellow officers, I guess we should be called Fleet Officers now, where just like me staring at the shuttles and absorbing every discernible detail. However our reactions to what we saw was quite varied. Captain Pelatier had what I could easiest describe as a predatory look on his face and I had no problem guessing that he was considering the effect the shuttles would have the next time we ran into something hostile. Matt seemed to be disassembling them in his mind and I could tell that he was looking forward to getting his hands on them to see just what had been changed when they where modified. Lieutenant Commander Grigorii on the other hand did not look happy to see them. I noticed that he seemed to take special offense at the visible weapons that where obviously meant to be used against ground targets. Personally I was simply hopeful that I could get a ride in them at some point. I had always enjoyed my time piloting shuttles before advancing to my present position. The nose of the ships where streaked with black burns, indicating that at some point they had hit atmosphere while going very fast and hadn't had their shields up. I looked over at Captain Nakhoda and asked her about it.
"Sometimes we wish to be as quiet as we can when we make a drop and the best way to do that is to turn off as many systems in the shuttles as we can and do our best to imitate an asteroid coming in from deep space. We actually managed to breach Mars orbital security net that way once. But it does tend to cook the leading edges of the shuttles a bit." Her smile changed slightly to become more aggressive as she looked inward to a fond memory she had. "I was on one of the shuttles that made that drop Commander. Everything in the shuttles, including inertial dampeners were turned off so we experienced over three G for five minutes with peaks of up to eight G's. It was one of the wildest rides I have ever been on. That was the moment my decision to join the Marines was validated." She looked back at me and shook her head with a silent promise to explain later when we had some time to spare. And the view in front of us was certainly captivating, the shuttles had touched down and figures where disembarking from one of the front hatches. When I heard Grigorii stifle a gasp at the appearance of the armed and armored individuals I had to quickly change a snort of amusement into a not very convincing cough. Matt was almost as surprised but he concealed it admirably, he at least had his mouth closed. The figures where dressed in what might have been regular duty uniforms but it was hard to see under all the equipment they where wearing. Thick padding, interconnected with tubes covered their lower bodies with the new phaser pistols in holsters high up on their right hips. Their upper bodies wore hard metallic vests with numerous connections points and pockets for who knows what. Their heads where completely hidden inside helmets that not only covered the entire head and face, but which also seemed to be connected to the top of their vests. The only visible portion of their faces where their eyes and they where hard to make out through the visors that reflected the lights of the shuttle bay and what seemed to be faint lights coming from the inside of the visors.
"Are those your Marines Major?" Commander Grigorii asked of the Marine officer. "They look very fierce and I am worried what others would think if they saw such aggressive forms while we where under sensitive diplomatic negotiations."
"No, Councilor. Those are the flight crews of the shuttles. My Marines are disembarking now" Even as she said it doors slid back on the sides and dropped down at the back of the shuttles to reveal large androids that promptly started marching out. Or that must be what Grigorii was seeing because he started to actually stammer and took a step back in what seemed to be fear. Captain Pelatier and I shared a very predatory smile at the sight of a Marine Platoon in full combat armor assembling into a parade formation in total silence and with perfect precision. Matt turned to me and whispered
"Jer, I thought they were going to have humanoids as Marines? Not some type of androids." I turned to him and lowered my voice so that I would not be overheard.
"Those aren't androids Matt, they are humanoids. They are just wearing about 40 kilos of armor and equipment. Ask Major Nakhoda if you want the details but for my own sake I have been looking forward to this since I read the briefing documents." Matt gave me one last look before turning back to the Marines on display. And what a display it was. Each Marine was dressed from head to toe in heavy armor and they where armed with the most diverse array of weapons I had ever seen. Black, rigid and as far away from subtle as I think you can get. Most of the body was covered in a thick carapace of what the briefing called 'ceramic metallic composite armor' with equipment and weapons attached to what seemed to be just about every single surface. They were painted a simple flat black color only broken up by Marine green details, name tags, the occasional rank and in one case the grey shoulders of an officer. I could even identify the personnel from Starfleet that served in specialist positions within the Platoon by the blue or gold detailing on their armor. Even their helmets seemed designed to depart from traditional Starfleet patterns. Most of the head was protected with the same armor as the rest of the body with even most of the face under a thick layer of armor. Only a vaguely 'T' shaped visor would allow you to see who was inside the armor, if it had been turned off that is. At the moment they where all a silver color that did not allow anyone to see in and according to the briefing documents also protected the Marines vision from a variety of harmful effects. The Platoon had finished deploying with two Marines standing at the very front of the formation, the entire Platoon braced to attention and a slightly distorted voice came from speakers on the helmet of the officer.
"Saber Platoon reporting for duty Major."
"Saber Platoon, off covers." For a fraction of a second the Marines simply stood still and then with a coordination only possible after long hours of training and a silence only possible with sub vocal microphones, every single Marine in the Platoon removed their helmet. Most seemed to be human but more than one Andorian or Vulcan could be seen among them. Captain Nakhoda gestured for Captain Pelatier and me to join her as she walked over to the two men that had stopped in front of the Platoon. "Captain, Commander. This is 2nd Lieutenant Ronald Gardner and his Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Winston Booth." We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with the newly arrived Marines. As I looked around at the stoic Marines standing at attention I couldn't help but notice that they almost to the last person where clean shaved and had cut off almost all their hair. Gunnery Sergeant Booth was nearly unique in that he had a mustache, but even that was almost painfully well groomed and uniform. Even the females in the group had a tendency to wear far shorter hair than was common on board Starfleet vessels.
"I must say that this has been a truly remarkable experience Major." The Captain remarked as we finished our inspection of the Marines. "Perhaps we should retire to the observation lounge again to work out the details involved with your units deployment on board. And if you would be so kind as to invite Lieutenant Commander Grooves, I would like to hear a little bit from her perspective as well." Captain Nakhoda simply nodded, and just before we turned towards the turbolift she addressed the assembled Marines one last time.
"Saber Platoon. Dismissed."