Literary Challenge #40 : Redux
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Frozen (LC #28: Stranded)
03-24-2013, 02:00 AM
I can't sleep
I've lost the urge to see
No one's left a friend
The cost of ill pretend
Where'd you go? I need you now...
Ten thousand miles apart
A frozen ocean joins our hearts
I can't wait to meet you when
The frozen waves meet ocean floors
You'll be standing on the shore
I can't wait to meet you then
I still dream
But what should I believe?
Frozen shapes to bend
Impossible sets in
Lost again, still alone...
Sisely Treasure and Chad Petree of Shiny Toy Guns - "Frozen Oceans"
Personal log: General Ssharki, commanding I.K.S.
. Stardate... 88... something.
, where do I start? If you're reviewing this log, what the hell took you so long? I am dead, as well as likely Cal and Nietta. And maybe even Chopper. The stupid little targ will probably outlast us all on this filthy iceball, unless I get desperate enough to eat him. Hah,
Pull yourself together, Ssharki. Prex, my security escort, died in the crash. Let the record show that he died performing his duty. His clan is to be compensated as per the details of his contract. He was a good and honorable man - a rarity among Nausicaans, I know, but that's the truth.
What follows are personal messages for my senior officers...
Ssharki finished recording his farewells and took a final look around the wrecked forward cabin of his personal shuttle, the
He exhaled his breath between his teeth in a hissing sigh as he tossed his old Starfleet-issue PADD onto the pilot's seat. The Klingons called this class of shuttlecraft a "Chariot" - intended for use by the most privileged Generals in the Klingon Defense Force and leaders of the Great Houses or their personal staff. They were luxuriously appointed even by Federation standards, and also well-armed, even by Klingon standards. One thing they lacked, however, was adequate thermal insulation.
Ssharki pulled his fur-lined cloak tighter around his shoulders as he walked back to the passenger compartment and looked in on the two figures huddled together in bed. Nietta was still shivering under her pile of blankets. Cal was not. That was a bad sign. Ssharki rested a clawed hand atop the unconscious form of his adopted son. He was still breathing, at least. And as long as Nietta could generate enough body heat to keep both of them alive, there was a chance he could be saved. But the half-Orion, half-human female would not last much longer. They had run out of emergency rations two days ago. Without food to metabolize, her body would burn her small reserves of fat, then consume her own muscle tissues. Then she would die of starvation. And then cold-blooded Cal would freeze to death.
Ssharki lifted the covers of his own bed. "Move over, Chopper," he ordered. They young targ growled sleepily. Ssharki prodded it with his boot and the animal looked up, yawned, and crawled towards the bulkhead. Ssharki laid down under his blankets, pulled his cloak over his head and spread it atop his covers, followed by his thick jacket. He then reached for Chopper and pulled his pet closer to himself. The hot-blooded targ nuzzled his master, and provided precious warmth.
Ssharki had ceased shivering hours before. He knew he was experiencing the final stages of hypothermia. He dared not fall asleep, but he knew it was inevitable. His body would slowly shut down whether he remained conscious or not. His eyes slowly closed. His mind drifted off into a dream. Or was it a memory? It was the memory of the crash, or rather, the moments before. It all seemed so long ago...
* * *
Ssharki had just returned to the forward cabin after mixing himself a drink from the on-board wet bar. One part Saurian brandy, one part Romulan ale, two parts Cardassian kanar and three parts bloodwine; dubbed the "Jane Zombie" after the
's shipboard bartender who claimed to have invented the drink in a previous life. Ssharki didn't really believe the human's claim that he lived a closed time loop. It didn't matter. His drink was delicious.
He sat down and sipped the drink, idly watching the stars zip by at Warp factor 8.5 for a minute or two, before turning his gaze toward the beautiful female across the cabin. Though she was a mammal, he still found her exotically stimulating. She knew this and delighted in this fact, and she wore a risqu? Orion bikini to show off as much of her silky brownish-green skin as possible without leaving the non-reptilian members of Ssharki's crew a quivering mess. Her long, luscious hair had been died indigo to match the color of her eyes. Her silk and metal costume presented complimentary shades of ruby and pale blue, apart from a kaleidoscope-print Tholian silk scarf that Ssharki had given her as a gift. "So, science officer, report: what did you enjoy the most about our survey excursion to New Romulus?"
Nietta Holbox stretched her long torso while thinking about the question. "What part did I most enjoy... I'd have to say the Atlai. I've never seen a more beautiful river, or more fascinating creatures gathered in one place."
"What about the bugs?" young Cal asked from the pilot's seat.
Nietta laughed. "Bugs don't bug me. I grew up around swarms of mosquitos that could suck a person dry. But you spray a predator's pheromones in the air, or play the recorded acoustic signal of a bat, and they clear out quick enough." Nietta had been born to an Orion woman, but her father was a human Starfleet stellar cartographer, and she was predominately raised by him up to the age of thirteen. She developed a fascination with all manner of scientific phenomena, ranging from astronomical anomalies to the unique evolution of animal life on Dewa III.
"I could have guessed that would be your answer," Ssharki remarked, still nursing his drink. "I think my favorite part was the look on your face and the squeal you made when you first looked down from that old bridge and saw that giant octopus-thing sitting under those waterfalls."
"You mean the
," Nietta corrected, using the Romulan word for "mother" that the researchers had ascribed to the water-loving creatures.
"Whatever," Ssharki growled, though he smiled at the memory. "Yeah, that would have to be my favorite part. That, or the look on your face when that Hirogen Beta attacked you from out of nowhere while you were picking flowers in the forest."
"I'm glad you found my attempted murder so amusing," Nietta grumbled back, although her bitter sarcasm was entirely in jest. Ssharki had been scanning for radiation traces a short distance away and counter-ambushed the Hirogen, biting his neck and running him through with a bat'leth before he ever realized the Gorn General was even there.
"My favorite part was working on repairs to the Romulan shuttle," Cal volunteered. "I'd never seen a singularity drive before!"
"What about finding Watterson?" Ssharki queried, indicating the blue, furry animal curled up asleep at Nietta's feet.
"That was cool too, but a little scary at the time," Cal admitted. The juvenile Gorn had found the epohh pup being terrorized by a vivver cat - the feline was toying with its prey, and defenseless little animal was about to die of pure fright. Little Cal had instantly attacked the much-larger predator, with his bare claws at first, before he remembered his phased-tetryon compression pistol. Cal then picked up the baby epohh - which hadn't actually been injured by the cat - and ran off to find Ssharki to ask if he could keep it. Cal was a techie at heart, with a very sensitive nature and a compassionate spirit. He was press-ganged into the KDF infantry the age of twelve. After annexing the Gorn Hegemony, the Klingons had made a habit of forcing orphaned Gorn children into military service, either not realizing or not caring that Gorn mature at about half the rate that Klingons do. Fortunately for Cal, Ssharki was aware of this practice. He intercepted Cal's assignment order and placed him aboard his own ship, and adopted him as his own son. Ssharki was extremely protective of his "Little One," in whom he saw the best traits of their species. After two years, though, he had started to allow Cal to accompany him on less-dangerous away missions. Cal was curious and inquisitive about nature and other cultures. And besides, he had a certain knack for field repairs. And piloting small craft. And subspace physics...
"How 'bout you, Prex?" Ssharki turned to his security officer, sitting at the
's tactical station next to Cal. "What'd you enjoy the most?"
"Killing Tholians," the Nausicaan replied with a shrug.
"Okay, what else?"
"Okay, what else?"
"Killing anthro- artho... the big scorpion things."
"And after them, killing the bad Romulans."
"Did you enjoy anything
killing people and animals?"
Prex pondered for a moment. "I liked climbing rocks."
"Okay, that's a good hobby-" Ssharki was interrupted by a loud noise behind him. The shuttlecraft abruptly dropped out of warp. "What's happening?" the General demanded.
"I don't know," Cal told him. "Everything just went dead." The youth calmly tapped his engineering readouts to try to isolate the problem. "We can't generate a stable warp field. Let me check the intermix..." His eyes suddenly widened in alarm. "Oh,
"Watch your mouth, Little One," Ssharki admonished. Cal had picked up his elder's habit of swearing in Klingon. The word he'd just uttered was one of the strongest curses known in any language.
"We're losing antimatter containment!" Cal shouted, ignoring the rebuke. "I don't know how or why, but every magnetic field on the ship is collapsing!"
"Jettison the storage pods!" Ssharki ordered.
, don't you think I'm trying?" Cal pounded the display panel with his fists. "The clamps, the doors, the launching mechanism - everything is magnetic! Nothing works!"
"How long do we have?" Nietta wondered.
"Fifty seconds. Maybe a bit longer - it looks like the field collapse is following an inverse decay slope."
"Okay, I'll go back and release the containment pods manually," Ssharki decided. "You try to get the impulse engines online, set a course for the nearest M-class body, and transmit a distress call to the
," the overwhelmed young Gorn muttered in frustration.
"I'm on it, father!"
Ssharki sprinted back through the passenger cabin and entered the engineering section. The noise hadn't stopped. Back here, it was an ear-splitting shriek. The General ignored the pain in his auditory canals as he searched for the manual override controls. He found the locking clamps for the antimatter containment pods first, but step one was to open the outer hull doors so they could be jettisoned out into space. Those controls were located deep in the guts of the small craft. Ssharki wished he'd sent Cal back here and taken the flight controls himself, but there was no time for that now. He removed his leather uniform jacket, expelled the air from his lungs, constricted his muscles to make his massive body as slim as possible and maneuvered under the plasma manifold to reach the hatch release. Then he had to wriggle his way back out. All the while he had a countdown running in the back of his mind.
He opened the locking clamps and searched for the launching mechanism, figuring it would be in an obvious place next to the clamp override. He couldn't find it.
Ssharki tapped the communicator strapped to his wrist and called his young warp-drive expert. "Cal, where's the launcher control?"
"For'r'd bulkhead, lower panel, flat lever," came the instant reply.
Ssharki turned and scanned the control panel, picking out the Klingon word for "launch" from the foreign script. He yanked back the lever until he heard it click, then slammed it to the return position. The
of the launcher was inaudible over the tortured shriek of the magnetic coils, but he saw a red light on the panel turn amber, indicating that the emergency jettison procedure was successful. Then the panel exploded, as feedback current from the overloading magnetic induction coils found a new path of least resistance. Ssharki's keen reflexes kicked in - he turned away and raised his arm to protect his face. His tough, scaly hide absorbed the impacts of hot bits of metal, crystal and plastic without injury.
The screaming sound dropped an octave in pitch, and was now accompanied by a sickening high-frequency vibration that Ssharki could feel in the deckplate through the soles of his bare feet. Alarms were going off all around - too many for him to make any sense of. More display panels burned out. Ssharki scrambled back to the forward cabin where he hoped Cal knew what was happening now. "Report!"
"The fusion core is unstable," the adolescent announced. "I can't get more than one-quarter impulse, and that's pulling power from shields and weapons."
"Subspace radio is dead," Prex declared. "I transmitted a broad-spectrum distress call, but we're eleven light-years from the ship and six light years from the nearest traffic lane or inhabited system."
"There aren't any M-class worlds in range, General," Nietta informed. "Our best bet looks like a K-class ice asteroid. Breathable atmosphere, but sub-zero temperatures and no life forms."
"Set a course," Ssharki ordered.
"Done," Cal told him. "But we'll lose life support and impulse before we get there. I can stretch it just enough, though, if I deactivate the grav plating and inertial dampeners."
"Can you land this thing without inertial dampeners?" Ssharki asked the boy.
"Of course I can. But it won't be pretty."
Ssharki sat down in his seat and buckled his four-point crash harness. The others did the same. "Do it."
Ssharki felt a bizarre sensation in the seat of his pants, as the 1G downward pull normally exerted by the gravity plating was suddenly replaced by the 2.5G thrust of the impulse engines. He heard Nietta audibly grunt. He looked over at her and was - in spite of the situation - amused to see that her normally full bosom had been flattened by the G-load.
"Two minutes to impact," the fourteen-year-old announced.
Ssharki looked up through the shuttle's canopy. An ugly, pockmarked ball of ice and rock loomed ahead. "
" he repeated. "I thought you said this was going to be a 'not pretty' landing."
"Same thing," Cal said, with a shrug of his small shoulders.
Nietta stared forward. "We're coming in awfully fast, aren't we?"
"Have to," Cal told her. "If life support fails before we're close enough to shut off the impulse engines, we'll freeze to death in hours instead of days."
"Cal, do you have any
"Yeah: one way or another, it will all be over soon."
Prex laughed at that.
"One minute out. Shutting down impulse-
the controls aren't responding!"
Ssharki unfastened his restraints. "I'll go back and shut the engines down manually." He rolled out of his seat and actually fell back through his shuttle - as aft was now "down" as far as local gravity was concerned. On his way down he passed Cal's epohh - pinned to the bulkhead separating the cabins and screaming the terror. Then on his way through the passenger cabin he encountered his pet targ in a similar predicament, except Chopper was wrapped up in bed linens and so his fright was compounded by blindness. Ssharki took note the animals' plight and was briefly anguished for them, but some small, dark corner of his mind wanted to laugh out loud.
He reached the engineering section and landed on the cold and dead warp core. The fusion reactor which powered the impulse drive and auxiliary systems was still running, though its power levels were fluctuating wildly and excess deuterium gas was building up inside the reactor vessel. Ssharki diverted power from the engines to life support and was going to purge the deuterium when he suddenly floated away from the override controls. Without the 2.5G acceleration he was suddenly weightless. Then Cal fired the braking thrusters and the forward end of the chariot became the new "down." Ssharki bounced his way back to his seat and saw the icy asteroid filling the viewport.
"We're coming in too hot," Cal warned. "This is gonna hurt!" He pitched shuttle craft around so it would impact belly-first.
Ssharki glimpsed a furry blue shape rolling across the ceiling. Then he saw Prex leaning over in his seat, covering the young pilot's torso with his own. Then he felt a crushing jolt from the soles of his feet to the tips of his crest of head-spines. He saw sparks and arcs everywhere. He heard the terrible sounds of rending metal and flesh. And everything went black.
* * *
Ssharki woke up from his dream-memory. He was in his bed, and Chopper was kicking him in his ribs. The animal was whimpering and thrashing in his sleep, with nightmares of his own. Ssharki carefully rolled the targ over onto his other side, and cradled his chest with his right arm, and pulled him closer to his own chest. Chopper seemed to settle down. The motion allowed a bit of cold air to enter Ssharki's cocoon of sheets, blankets and winter attire, and he shivered a little. He realized that meant he was not as far gone as he had feared, or that he was slowly recovering from the hypothermia. "Stupid little targ; you might just save my life," he whispered in his pet's ear.
Maybe I'll survive to be rescued after all.
He smiled at the thought, and went back to sleep.
* * *
Ssharki hadn't actually lost consciousness in the crash. The blackness was due to the simultaneous failure of every single light source in the shuttlecraft. "Is everyone alright?" he asked his crew.
"Oh, God, my back," was the only response, from Nietta.
Ssharki unstrapped himself again and stood up, and bounced off the ceiling. He then remembered that the gravity plating was still disabled, and that they had crash-landed on a small asteroid. As he slowly settled to the floor, he mentally prepared himself to move in a microgravity environment. He pulled a flashlight from his belt and carefully stepped forward to the tandem cockpit seats, and checked on Cal. The child was alive, but in a catatonic state. He was frozen in shock, which was only natural, considering the dead man in his lap. The control console had exploded on impact, impaling the Nausicaan security officer's body with shards of burnt and broken crystal and plastic. One particularly large fragment had imbedded itself deeply in Prex's throat, causing him to silently and messily bleed to death before the frightened young Gorn's eyes.
Ssharki gingerly sat Prex back up in his own seat and unstrapped his boy. "It's okay, Little One," Ssharki whispered gently as he scooped up the petrified youngster. "Everything's going to be okay."
Nietta slowly stood up in a daze. "Are they alright?" she asked the General.
"Cal's in shock. Prex is dead."
"Oh my God."
"I need your help," Ssharki told her, as he carried the boy back to the passenger cabin. "Neither of us are doctors, but I know you've at least studied field medicine."
"Right. Shock is a defense mechanism; the brain temporarily shuts down to protect itself from trauma if it starts to experience input overload. Put him on my bed."
had four bunks - two on each side of the cabin. The lower beds were larger and could be converted into tables, while the top bunks could be folded flush to the bulkheads. Ssharki placed Cal in the lower port-side bunk and stepped back while Nietta examined him.
"Holy mother. He's not just in shock, he's catatonic!"
"What's that mean?"
"Awake, but unconscious."
"Will he come out of it?"
"Eventually, but there's no way of knowing how long it will take. And this usually means the victim has suffered severe neuropsychological damage."
Ssharki stared helplessly down at his son. "Is there anything we can do for him?"
"I think I read somewhere that physical and vocal contact helps. A comforting touch, a familiar voice."
Ssharki sat down on the bed and caressed the boy's cheek. "We'll be okay, Cal," he said softly. "You landed the shuttle. You saved us."
suddenly became very silent, as all the shuttle's power systems died.
"Oh, God, the life support," Nietta moaned. "What'd Cal say before the crash? That we'll freeze to death in a matter of hours?"
"Days," Ssharki corrected. "If the life support lasted longer than the impulse engines. Which it did." He pointed the flashlight toward the clothing locker. "Better break out the cold-weather gear anyway."
Nietta obeyed, changing her metallic bikini top for a black cropped jacket and bringing Ssharki two long winter coats.
"That's not going to help you much," Ssharki observed. Her jacket left her midriff exposed, and her legs remained bare.
"I'll survive," she insisted. "But you two are cold-blooded. If you can't get life support back online, you won't last very long. I can share my body heat and sustain you for a while, but... I don't know how long."
"Not much more than a few days, I'd guess," Ssharki replied grimly. He took the smaller jacket she offered and draped it over the youngster's shoulders before pulling on the larger one. "I'll see what I can do. Why don't you gather the emergency rations while we still have warm air in here."
Ssharki went aft and entered the wrecked engine room again. He had been trained as an engineer, and was very adept at machinery and fabrication. At one point in his career he had been a damage control expert, but it been a long time since he'd fixed anything himself and he lacked young Cal's prodigious knack for power systems engineering. After two hours he worked out a system that would exchange the stale air inside the shuttle for fresh oxygen from the asteroid's rich atmosphere, while retaining pressure and heat inside. But he couldn't restart the fusion reactor or figure out any way of generating any more heat. Eventually the cold would creep in through the thin hull of the
Neutronium may be great for stopping phaser beams and photon torpedoes, but it made for a lousy thermal insulator. Ssharki could only hope for rescue before the cabin temperatures dropped below freezing.
His thoughts turned toward their rescue. They had been unable to signal for help via subspace radio, but Prex had managed to send a lightspeed distress call. Once the
realized they were overdue for rendezvous, the ship would come looking for them, retracing their route from New Romulus. The battlecruiser and its array of sophisticated sensors would stumble across the distress signal and locate the shuttle.
He shivered. It was already getting colder. He returned to the passenger cabin, sealing the hatch behind him. "What do we have?" he asked Nietta.
"Not much. We passed most of our provisions out to the colonists. We only have enough rations to last us a couple of days. Maybe three if we stretch it. And I found Cal's epohh wedged against a bracing strut with a broken neck. One of you could eat that if you're desperate, I suppose."
"Okay. What about Chopper?"
Nietta pointed to a bundle of fabric on Ssharki's bed on the other side of the cabin. "Your stupid targ is just fine. I suspect he slept through the whole thing. Oh, also, I was able to salvage two bottles of Romulan ale and half a bottle of firewine."
"That's good." Ssharki picked up one of the emergency ration packs. He peeled back the foil wrapper and sniffed the processed protein bar inside. He almost gagged. "Blech. Phaser-seared epohh is starting to sound really good." He passed the ration bar back to Nietta.
"Help yourself. Any luck getting the heater working?"
Ssharki shook his head. "I couldn't come up with anything that wouldn't involve killing us all in a plasma fire. Maybe if Cal comes around he could think of something. He knows these systems better than I do." Ssharki opened the lockers again, removing his Klingon
scarf, fur-lined boots and Honor Guard cloak as well as his disruptor pulsewave rifle. "I need to go out and take care of Prex. I'll be right back."
Nietta leapt to her feet and accidently launched herself across the cabin. "You can't go out there! Have you lost your mind? Let me handle it!"
"No!" Ssharki insisted. "This is something I must do. I promise I won't take a second longer than necessary."
Nietta knew Ssharki well enough to know she could not win an argument with him. Once he had made up his mind to do something, he would do it, and it was best to either help or stay out of his way. "Alright. If you're going out anyway, could bring back some ice? We'll need water."
"Sure." Ssharki made his way forward and closed the hatch behind him. He reached the cockpit, hoisted the Nausicaan's corpse over his shoulder, and opened the fore airlock. He was instantly blown out onto the frozen surface of the asteroid. He had forgotten about the pressure differential. The atmosphere was thick - almost liquid - but there was so little of it that the air pressure was insignificant. Ssharki could feel his blood seeping from his nostrils and the corners of his eyes. He dropped the body he was carrying and set about his work quickly.
He knew from past performances that the Nausicaan death ritual was a simple one - the body was simply vaporized to allow the spirit to be released to the sky gods of the Four Winds. Ssharki set his assault weapon to the maximum power setting, aimed, and hesitated. He knew the Nausicaans said a prayer for the deceased at this point, but he didn't know the words. He knew nothing about their religion except for the basic principles of their death rites. He decided to make up his own prayer, directed toward his own deity.
"S'Yahazah, this man laid down his life to save my son's. He is my brother. Please guide his spirit to the Four Winds."
And then he fired.
On his way back to the airlock he picked up a few chunks of ice that had been kicked up when the
crashed. He returned to passenger cabin, dumped the ice in a bowl, found the bottle of firewine and downed the contents. He began to shiver uncontrollably.
Nietta watched him, concerned and frightened. "Dammit, Ssharki! I told you, you shouldn't have gone out there!"
"I'll be alright." Ssharki sat down on his bed. Chopper was awake - he crawled out from the covers and nuzzled his master. "You just take care of Cal."
Nietta sighed, and looked back at the comatose young Gorn. "He snapped out of it as soon as you left, but the poor thing was delirious. He kept saying he had to get out, and tried to open the airlock back here. I had to sedate him." She sat down next to him, and stroked his scaly skin under his jacket and the blanket she'd placed on him. "I guess he won't be getting the life support back after all."
"Then I guess all we can do now is wait for rescue."
"Do you really think they'll find us?"
"They'll find us alright," Ssharki assured her, as he arranged his covers to construct a thermal cocoon. "The only question is will they find us in time."
* * *
Ssharki woke up to a clawed hand on his shoulder, and a familiar voice in his ear. He rolled back and looked up. His eyes slowly focused on his older adopted son, his chief of security, Sway. "Am I still dreaming?"
Sway smiled at him. "No, father. We found you."
Ssharki sluggishly sat up. "Cal? Nietta? Are they-"
"We're here," Nietta answered from the other side of the cabin.
Sway turned around and picked up his adopted little brother. Like Cal, Sway had been orphaned during the war with the Klingons and conscripted into the KDF at far too young an age. Unlike his brother though, he had suffered years of physical and psychological torment before Ssharki had found him. The security chief would give anything to prevent any member of his species from going through want he went through, and he was at least as protective of his brother Cal as the General was. "You're going home, little buddy," he whispered to the comatose child. He waited until the General and the science officer staggered to their feet, then he keyed his communicator. "Sway to
, four to beam up."
"Five!" Ssharki corrected, dragging Chopper out of bed behind him.
Sway smiled. "Four and a targ."
* * *
They were greeted in the bird-of-prey's transporter room by the ship's entire medical staff and Commander Louii, the Nausicaan provisional captain of IKS
. Ssharki's knees almost buckled with the sudden return to normal gravity, but he braced his legs and prevented himself from collapsing on the transporter pad.
"All three have severe hypothermia," Sway reported to Dr. Xyoosix, a former Rigelian biowarfare specialist under the Klingon's employ and now Ssharki's deputy chief medical officer. "This one also may have neurological damage. And Lieutenant Holbox is suffering from malnutrition."
"Let's get you all to sick bay," the Rigelian female said, giving an order that sounded like a mere suggestion. The two medics with her stepped forward, took Cal from his brother's arms and laid him on a grav-lift stretcher.
"I'm very glad that you're alive, General," Louii stated solemnly. "Where's Prex?" The pirate commander had already guessed the answer.
"Your cousin died in the crash, Louii," Ssharki informed him. "I'm sorry. He saved Cal's life. I performed the ceremony as best I could."
Louii nodded. Nothing more needed to be said. He knew the Four Winds would blow his cousin's spirit to the Heart of the Sky. And just as importantly, his clan would earn hefty compensation from the KDF. "I'm tractoring the
into the shuttle bay. We've already informed the
of your rescue. We will rendezvous and dock within the hour."
* * *
After consuming two plates of Sem'hal stew and three mugs of red leaf tea (all prepared by a Cardassian medic who pulled double-duty as the
's chef) and spending fifteen minutes convincing Dr. Xyoosix that he felt alright, Ssharki left sick bay. He made his way to his shuttle in the small hangar space. He shivered as soon as he entered the
. It was still colder than ice. He found his winter jacket and
and pulled them on. Then he retrieved his PADD. He left the chariot and the shuttlebay, and took the turbolift to the bridge.
Sway immediately rose from his tactical station. "General! You should be in sick bay!" He caught himself and added "Sir!"
"The doctor kindly gave me permission to leave so long as I do not exert myself."
Louii spun in his command chair, but did not rise. "You're just in time, General. We're about to dock with the
Ssharki looked through the viewscreen at his massive flagship. One-point-six kilometers in length, thirty decks high, and bristling with enough firepower to reduce the surface of a planet to molten slag - she was a sight to behold. "Carry on."
"Aye, sir." Louii turned his chair forward and conferred with his conn officer.
"How's Cal?" Sway asked.
"Still asleep. Xyoosix says he'll be alright, physically at least. As for the rest of him... only time will tell."
Sway nodded grimly. "I had really hoped he would never have to go through anything like that."
"So did I. Unfortunately, the Universe is a dark and cruel place, caring naught for our hopes, fears and wants. We all have to face it eventually, and deal with whatever it brings us as best we can."
They heard the humming of electric servomotors and the hiss of hydraulics as the
-class bird-of-prey's wings folded fully down to the docking position. Ssharki glanced at the viewscreen as the
slipped inside the specially-formed cutout in the stern of the
-class tactical battlecruiser. The docking clamps engaged, shaking the smaller warship for an instant before the inertial dampeners coupled with the
The deck beneath Ssharki's feet began to sink as it transitioned into a boarding ramp. He let it lower him to the docking bay deck of his flagship, where he was greeted by several officers, standing attention, awaiting his orders. He turned first to his chief medical officer. "Tr'vayn, Cal's still unconscious and Nietta's malnourished. Please transfer them to your medical facilities."
The Klingon female nodded and approached the
. Dishonored before her birth by her unknown parentage, Tr'vayn had devoted her life to the study of medicine. She sought new and inventive ways to make the warriors she served with stronger and quicker to recover from sickness and injury. Where before many of the crippled Klingons may have performed the
suicide ritual, under Tr'vayn's care they were back at their posts in a matter of hours.
As she boarded the bird-of-prey, Tr'vayn scanned the General with her medical tricorder. "Sir, your core body temperature is-"
"Very low, I'm aware. I'll be fine." Ssharki turned to the other Klingon present - actually a Human-Klingon hybrid named Abraham who served as his chief engineer. "Abe, I want you to investigate what happened to the
. Run a comprehensive diagnostic, review the sensor logs, and determine why every electromagnetic system on the craft decided to fail simultaneously. Cal will assist you as soon as he is cleared to return to duty."
Ssharki then turned the two Gorn. Commander Dou'gal - his second officer and chief scientist - was in his early sixties, making him a few years older than the General. But he had no desire to command a ship of his own, choosing instead to devote himself to scientific studies. The other - Brigadier Flescher - was comparatively ancient. Ssharki's military advisor had spent most of the three-and-a-half centuries of his life in the trenches with the Gorn Royal Infantry. He was old enough to remember the last border war with the Romulans. Ssharki glanced between two of his three most trusted friends and officers and asked them "Where's Maddox?"
"Bridge," Flescher replied curtly.
"We're glad you're back, General," Dou'gal offered.
"Yeah, so am I," Ssharki muttered. He stepped aside to allow Tr'vayn to disembark along with the
's medical staff and the two disaffected officers on grav-lift stretchers. "You will notify me the instant he wakes up," he instructed the CMO, indicating his adopted child.
"Of course, sir." Tr'vayn led her party to the cargo lift and they disappeared into the depths of the ship.
Sway finished securing his stations and joined the General at the bottom of the ramp. Ssharki slowly walked to the turbolift, followed by his three Gorn officers. "Bridge." The journey from one end of the ship to the other took forty-seven seconds. The trip passed in total silence. Flescher stared uncomfortably at his boots. Dou'gal studied refraction patterns in the light fixtures. Sway fixed his eyes on General Ssharki. Ssharki gazed through the door.
They were deposited on the cathedral-like command deck and Ssharki strode forward. "Maddox, report!" he ordered.
His first officer stepped down from the elevated command chair in the center of the bridge and saluted the General. "Sir, we have secured the
and are preparing to resume our patrol of the Tau Dewa sector. Our course is laid in for Beta Lankal, where Tholians have been recently active and disrupting a joint Federation-New Romulan archaeological research site."
Ssharki nodded. "Very well. Take us there."
Captain Maddox turned and called to the conn officer "Engage at Warp seven!"
Ssharki gazed out the windows surrounding the bridge as the stars streaked by.
"Incidentally, sir," Maddox said, turning back to the General, "let me say how pleased I am that we found you. I was going to give it another day before I called off the search."
Ssharki's eyes narrowed. "Six days? I'd hoped you'd put in more effort for me than the required search period for missing KDF flag officers. Or at least leave the
to keep looking for me."
Maddox answered dispassionately. "In my estimation sir, the
and her auxiliary craft are too vital of a strategic asset to waste on a search-and-rescue mission, even for a valued officer of the KDF Central Command such as yourself. But since you were recovered, obviously it all worked out."
"Thanks," Ssharki grumbled. He tried to read the first officer, but he never could. The two Gorn were too much alike. For Ssharki, trying to figure out Maddox was too much like studying a holograph of himself and looking for unfamiliar features. He gave up. "I've been told I need rest. You have the ship. Alert me when we reach Beta Lankel."
Ssharki rode the turbolift down and forward to his palatial quarters in the starboard bow. Sway discretely followed him inside. "Permission to speak freely, General?" he asked once the door to the stateroom closed behind him.
"Always, my son."
Sway took a deep breath. "I just want you to know what I would have done had Maddox called off the search. I would have kept looking for you in the
. If Louii or anyone else got in my way, I would have confined them to the brig. And once I found you, I would have returned with you to the
, where I would have killed Maddox for being such a disloyal
." He gazed at his left hand as he flexed his clawed fingers. "Personally, I believe he deserves to be spaced for even considering abandoning you. That's up to you, of course, but at any rate, in my opinion, Captain Maddox is no longer worthy of your trust."
Ssharki slowly nodded. "Thank you, son, for your loyalty and... discretion." He was unsure what else to say. His son's opinion mirrored his own, and barely scratched the surface of his darker suspicions.
, father!" The twenty-three-year-old security chief saluted and departed.
Half a minute later, as if from someplace very far away, Ssharki said "
" to the closed door.
He pulled his trusty old Starfleet PADD from the pocket of his coat and activated it. He always found the familiar LCARS interface to be a comforting reminder of his past. It provided a tangible link to his memories - some bright and cheery, like those of his childhood on the joint Gorn Hegemony-Federation colony world of Cestus III; others dark and unpleasant, like those of his service in Starfleet during the Dominion War. But the connection was always there. And he always kept it with him. That's why he always stored all of his personal logs on this device. It represented his memories. All of his memories...
He called up his last log entry for playback.
What follows are personal messages for my senior officers.
Sway, my Soldier Boy - I assume you would be the first to read this. I know as my security chief you will blame yourself for my death, and no reasonable argument I make would absolve your guilt. But you must forgive yourself. You could have done nothing to prevent this - you would only have frozen to death by my side. But I want you to live. I
for you to live. Like you, I've already lost my whole family once. Now if Cal's gone, you're all I have left. You will be promoted. You are and will continue to be a great warrior, feared by our enemies as well as the Klingons who presume to be our benevolent masters. But you must not limit yourself to walking the path of the warrior. You are so young; you have centuries of life ahead of you still. Centuries to travel the galaxy, to explore its beauty, to take a mate for yourself, to have babies of your own, to discover your true self. You must live, Sway. Live for me, live the life I no longer can. And may you find peace.
Maddox, you are my first officer; obviously the
is yours. You know as well as I do that she is a fearsome ship. You have stood on her bridge with me and watched our enemies flee at the mere sight of her. I have no doubts that her legend will continue to grow under your command. You have the respect of the entire crew. They will serve you well. May success always find you.
Maddox, Flescher, Dougal, my brothers, I have let you down. I have delayed our plans to restore our King for too long, and now it is too late for me carry out my part. I only hope that my influence will carry enough weight after my death, that along with your own, you will be able to bring about the changes we seek. I'm afraid my own hunger for power has blinded me to the opportunities that lay before me. I was content to be the puppet of the Klingons when I could have been High Admiral of the entire Gorn Space Command. Perhaps I was afraid of failure. Perhaps I was afraid of success. The responsibility - the consequences of liberation for our people - did I want that? I told you I did. Perhaps I lied. I did lie. Honestly, I would rather have the Great Houses of Qon'oS singing my praises and owing me favors than to allow that
Slathis - that misguided
- to rule as my King again. So, I sought my own interests rather than seeking after the welfare of my people... No, scratch that.
the truth is I just didn?t want another war with the Klingons. You all see what would happen, don't you? Even if J'mpok were dead and Drex ruled the High Council, the rest of Klingons and their damned honor could not abide the Gorn Hegemony breaking away from their control. They would be
to try and conquer us again, nevermind their simultaneous wars with the Federation, the Romulans, the Borg and the foul isomorphs who call themselves the Undine. I don't know what would happen. Maybe we would hold them off this time. Maybe the Federation would join us. All I know for sure is that many more Gorn would die. Gila IV, Seudath, Hranar and Gornar already have too many widows and orphans. I did not want to catalyze events that would lead to more needless deaths. But then again, many Gorn will die anyway if no one puts an end to J'mpok's unnecessary wars with the Federation and the Romulans. The point is that I lied to you; I lied about my ambitions and never disclosed my fears. For that I am truly sorry. Do whatever seems best to you.
Ssharki looked up from his PADD and fixed his stare at some point a thousand light years beyond the bulkhead. He tapped the interface and whispered an instruction. And the log entry was permanently erased.
The Empire Strikes Back
The Masterverse Timeline
Last edited by sander233; 05-02-2013 at
. Reason: continuity