Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Sanctuary"

By Christina Moore
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U.S.S. Columbia - March 1, 2376


“Have you got everything ready?”

Grafydd looked at her, one of his four large hands raised to scratch his head. “Well now, Captain, I believe we do.”

Synnove Natale looked around the cargo bay they were standing in. About a dozen or so officers—most of them greenhorns who should still be studying at the academy—milled about checking and rechecking the equipment they had brought along. The dark orange Orion captain knew it was due in part to their need for reassurance, for the stability found in the process, for those ensigns knew they weren’t quite ready, just as much as she knew it.

It was not a choice she would make, to fast-track thousands of third- and fourth-year cadets just so the fleet would have some officers to make up for the staff shortages. But then, at least they had more training than some of the raw cadets who’d received field promotions in their second year, another desperate necessity brought about during the 2-year war with the Dominion.

With a nod, Natale glanced back at the Terellian standing next to her. “I know you want to go along, but we have to secure the station first before we can get started on making sure everything works.”

“Just so long as you don’t forget about me,” Grafydd replied with amusement.

Natale grinned and nodded again, sobering as she turned to the other two men who were standing near. One was a Human male in his late 30s, with close-cropped brown hair and light green eyes, whom she knew hailed from a long-standing family tradition of serving in Starfleet. The other was an aging (though it was hardly noticeable), blue-skinned Bolian in his mid-50s, an enlisted man whose career would not likely end until he was dead. The former had been assigned by Admiral William Ross as the station’s Tactical Defense Officer and the latter was to be the Chief of Security. Although Dilik Zram was a non-com, he and Lt. Commander Jordan Kelley seemed to be getting along well, though she supposed that was due in no small part to their mutual background in security.

“Gentlemen, each of us is going to lead a separate security team. Captain Regan has offered to lend us some of her crew for the sweep. There are ninety-eight levels to cover and I want every room on every level checked. The Cardassians are known for leaving booby traps when they abandon a place, so use caution. Let’s be fast, but let’s be thorough.”

“Last time anyone was at Empok Nor was last year, when a Pah-wraith cult took up residence,” noted Zram. “They were religious zealots, but then zealots are among the most dangerous of people. Even though they eventually left peacefully with Colonel Kira, I’d say the caution is warranted. Who knows what they left behind, or what other nasty surprises the Cardassians left that haven’t been triggered yet.”

“I’d personally like to get the station’s defenses up and running as soon as possible,” added Kelley. “Columbia’s only serving transport duty, and Triumph is hardly enough to defend us by herself.”

“Indeed, Mr. Kelley,” agreed Natale. “But even with a hundred people it’s going to take some time to complete a full security sweep. Hopefully you’ll get your chance to take a look at those defensive systems by the end of the day.”

Regan to Natale.”

Natale tapped her commbadge to respond. “Natale here, go ahead.”

Captain, we’re entering the Thivas system now, and will be arriving at Empok Nor within ten minutes. I have a security team standing by in transporter room four, and Captain Wallace has informed me that if you need anything from him, you’re welcome to it.

Natale thought about that only briefly. “If he can spare a few bodies, I’m sure we can get this sweep done a few minutes before tomorrow.”

Lindze Regan chuckled over the comm line. “I’ll let him know and keep my fingers crossed for you. Regan out.

With another nod at Grafydd, Natale turned and walked out of the cargo bay, with Kelley and Zram following close behind.

*****

To the surprise of all, the entire station had been walked through in just under seven hours. Natale knew that was mostly due to the extra hands lent to her by Captains Regan and Wallace. As soon as all the teams had reported in that the station was secure, she called her senior staff members—all three of them—to a meeting in the Operations center.

“Gentlemen, may I formally welcome you all to your new home,” she said jovially.

Grafydd, who had transported over as they were finishing the security sweep, looked around. “This place is a mess,” the big man said. “Might not be any people hiding in the dark, or physical booby traps to trip us up, but I can almost guarantee that there are bugs in all the systems.”

Natale grinned mildly up at the engineer, whom she had met during a stopover at K-7. He was the only one of his species in Starfleet at the time, nearly fifteen years ago. There were now ten in all of Starfleet, most of them going into engineering or security.

“And no doubt you’re just dying to get all four of your hands on them,” she quipped, then took in all three men with her gaze. “First thing we do is break for dinner. I don’t know about you three, but I’m famished. After a good meal to replenish our energy, we come back and start making sure that this bucket of bolts and bulkheads isn’t going to fall apart on us.”

“I’ll take my dinner here, if you don’t mind, Captain,” piped up Kelley. “I really want to get started on the weapons systems.”

The Orion looked over at him. “Your eagerness is appreciated, Commander, but the replicator systems on the station are not working. You might as well join us on Columbia—the station’s weapons’ sails will still be here when you get back.”

Kelley looked a little embarrassed but he nodded. Natale then tapped her commbadge and notified all the teams that she was calling a break, then contacted the Columbia to beam herself and her new officers over to the ship.

*****

They were having a pleasant meal in one of the Nebula-class ship’s dining halls. Captains Natale, Regan and Wallace were all sitting together discussing the Orion’s new assignment—she was the commanding officer of Empok Nor, currently designated in the Starfleet database as TS-1. Admiral Tattok, she knew, was planning to assign the station a new name as had been done for her sister station (formerly Terok Nor, now Deep Space Nine), but thus far he had not come up with one.

“Why don’t you suggest something?” Wallace said, pointing his fork at Natale.

She shrugged. “I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know that I’ll have any say in the matter. I’m just here to set the place up and get it running. For all I know, they could be planning to replace me once that task is finished.”

Lindze Regan chuckled. “I doubt that, Synnove. Given the current staff shortages, it would be an enormous waste of resources,” the older woman pointed out.

The Scotsman nodded his agreement. “Aye, she’s right about that,” he said. “I’ve already lost count of the number of shiny new ensigns I’ve set eyes on. I’ve got a few on my ship, and we’re a small crew.”

“I think most of Grafydd’s engineers are ensigns,” Natale said. “And Zram’s not too happy that so many of his security officers are, as well. He said he’d rather work with Marines than a bunch of greenhorn recruits.”

The three captains shared a laugh, then were interrupted by the voice of Columbia’s communications officer coming through Regan’s commbadge.

Bridge to Captain Regan.”

Regan pressed her badge. “Go ahead, Mr. Steb.”

Captain, we’re picking up a Galor-class warship on long-range sensors. Do you wish to signal alert status?

Regan stood as she spoke, as did her colleagues. “Raise Yellow Alert and have weapons on standby, Lieutenant. Notify all senior officers to report to the bridge.”

The officer acknowledged and cut the comm line as Natale looked at Wallace. “You’ll want to report back to the Triumph, I presume?”

He nodded. “Aye, even though I kind of doubt that ship is coming to pick a fight. Best to be on the safe side, just the same.”

Brian Wallace then nodded and headed quickly out of the mess hall.

“Join me on the bridge, Captain?” Regan asked as the two women carried their trays over to the replicator to be recycled.

Natale nodded. “Thank you. I agree with Captain Wallace in that they’re not likely to pick a fight, but neither are they likely to be particularly friendly. Admiral Tattok said that some Cardassians aren’t too happy about Starfleet taking over yet another of their space stations.”

“They abandoned both of them,” Regan mused as they made their way out into the corridor. “And I was under the impression that the new provisional government had invited the Federation to come here, that the so-called Thivas System Revitalization Project was their idea.”

“That’s true,” Natale confirmed, “but due to my being posted here, I was allowed to see some intelligence reports which say that their military is just as obdurate as ever. Despite the fact that the Cardassian military is what cost so many their lives, they’re still trying to reassert themselves as the governing body of Cardassia, and the civilians who have formed the new government are having none of that.”

“And it’s the civilians who invited us here,” Regan guessed.

Natale nodded again as they stepped into a turbolift and Regan ordered it to the bridge. “That they did. They acknowledged how successfully Starfleet turned Deep Space Nine around and they want us to do it again at Empok Nor. The belief is that the station will serve as a stopping point for all the Federation relief efforts into the Cardassian Union, and some suspect that it may become a sanctuary for the people looking for a way to get out of the Union.”

Regan turned to her with a bemused smile. “I think you just gave the station its new name,” she said.

Natale looked over. “I did?”

Her companion nodded. “Yeah—Sanctuary.”

Natale tilted her head thoughtfully to the side as she considered Regan’s words. She didn’t have long to think about it, though, for the lift quickly stopped and opened onto the bridge. She followed Regan out, the other woman striding purposefully down the ramp to stand next to her first officer, who had himself just arrived, coming out of the turbolift near her ready room.

“Status report, Mr. Steb,” Regan said to the Selkie officer sitting at the main communications console.

“The Cardassians maintain a rendezvous course, and will be in communications range in four minutes,” the lieutenant informed her.

“Hail them as soon as they are in range, Lieutenant,” said Silmar, Regan’s first officer.

Natale stood silently by the command seats, next to the chair which would normally be occupied by either the ship’s counselor or the second officer. She watched as Regan and Silmar interacted with their subordinates, observing the subtle movements they made when standing near them, listening to the tone of their voices as they spoke to them. It reminded her with bittersweet fondness of her last assignment as captain of the Georgetown. She’d had a similar relationship with her former crew, one in which she had grown to care for the people under her as these two clearly cared for those who served under them.

Now, however, she was in command—or would be soon—of an entirely new crew, not one of whom she had ever served with before. The only one she was at all familiar with was Grafydd, as they had been pen pals of a sort for the last fifteen years. She could not say she was looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead of getting to know so many new officers, of the work that went into forging a smooth working relationship with each of them, of making sure they all got along well enough with each other to be able to work together.

“Captain, I’ve sent a standard hail to the Cardassian ship. They are responding,” Steb spoke up.

Regan, who had been standing next to her operations officer, straightened and moved to stand between the Ops and Helm consoles. Silmar stood next to her, slightly behind to her right.

“Open a channel to the Triumph, Lieutenant, and then put the Cardassians on screen.”

“Yes, Captain,” the young man replied.

Natale looked forward as a Cardassian male appeared on the screen.

“Greetings. I’m Captain Lindze Regan of the Federation starship Columbia. What can we do for you?” Regan said politely.

“Which of those people behind you is Natale?” said the Cardassian.

Rude much? Natale wondered as she stepped forward, Regan and Silmar moving aside to give her room. “I am Captain Synnove Natale. To whom am I speaking?”

“Dal Eton Kirek, your new first officer,” the new arrival said, his voice dripping with disdain.

Though her expression remained neutral, Natale felt her blood pressure spike; Tattok hadn’t told her anything about this.

She nodded politely to Kirek. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kirek,” she said, her tone courteous. “Welcome to Sanctuary.”

“Don’t you mean Empok Nor, Starfleet?” Kirek retorted.

“No, Dal Kirek, I mean Sanctuary. It is my understanding that the members of the new Detapa Council granted us the privilege of renaming the station if we saw fit to. Given the circumstances under which Starfleet is taking on the challenge of making this station operational once again, I believe a new name is entirely appropriate.”

She could see that Kirek was about to lose it, but then a young female Cardassian leaned into viewing range. She placed a hand on his arm and spoke into his ear too quietly for the transmitter on their end to pick up her voice. Kirek closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath before he opened them again and looked at Natale.

“Prepare to meet with me and several members of our staff on the Promenade in one hour,” Kirek said, then abruptly cut the transmission.

“Captain, the Cardassians are entering the system and it looks like they’re preparing their ship for station-keeping,” said the officer at Ops.

“Keep them on sensors, Ms. Guinan,” Regan said. “I want to know if they suddenly decide to stop being so cordial.”

“Shall we maintain alert status, Captain?” Silmar asked.

Regan looked for a moment at the Cardassian ship on the viewscreen, then shook her head. “No, stand down from Yellow Alert, Commander. We don’t want to give our friends out there the wrong impression.”

Silmar turned and nodded to the green Orion tactical officer. The yellow alert panels went dark as Regan turned to Natale. “I wasn’t aware that this was going to be a joint venture, Synnove.”

Natale looked back, allowing, for a moment, for her expression to show her annoyance. “Neither did I, but given what happened with Deep Space Nine seven years ago, I don’t know why I’m so surprised. It makes sense that the Cardassians would want to have a hand in the project, but I would have appreciated some warning. May I use your ready room for a moment, Captain?”

Regan gestured toward her office door. “Of course.”

Natale nodded and headed for the office. Once inside she marched over to the desk and sat behind it, switching on the desktop monitor and engaging the communications system. Several moments later the face of Admiral Tattok appeared.

“Greetings, Captain Natale. To what do I owe the pleasure?” the Roylan asked.

“Admiral, did you know that the Cardassians had assigned one of their own as first officer of Sanctuary?”

The admiral’s eyestalks twitched. “Beat around the proverbial bush you certainly do not, Captain. No, I was not aware—but nor am I really surprised. I take it this officer has arrived?”

Natale nodded. “Yes, sir. He just popped up on our doorstep a moment ago and said he wanted to meet with me and several members of ‘our’ staff. I have a feeling he’s not the only Cardassian I’m going to have to deal with.”

Tattok nodded. “It would appear so. I think I’ll have a few words with the Detapa Council.” He sighed, then looked at her again and added, “Maintain civil relations with the Cardassians, Captain. The Federation is invested in this project, and we’ve absolutely no desire to see it fail.”

With a sigh of her own, Natale nodded. “Yes, Admiral. If I may say so, at least I’m not the only one who was in the dark about this.”

“The Humans have a saying: Misery loves company,” Tattok said. He then asked her, “Sanctuary, you said?”

Natale nodded. “Caught that, did you?” Tattok returned her nod. “My apologies, Admiral. I was talking earlier with Captain Regan, and in the course of our conversation I mentioned the possibility that the station might become a sanctuary for people looking for a way out of the Union. She then said that Sanctuary would be an appropriate new name. I guess it stuck in my head.”

Tattok tapped one of the fingers of his right hand against his chin, saying, “She is correct. You have given Empok Nor a new name, Captain.”

A little surprised, Natale nevertheless smiled. “Thank you, Admiral. Should we still expect your arrival in June?”

“I will be there, as scheduled. My office will inform you if there is a change in plans.”

“You have my word we’ll have a suite ready for you, sir,” the dark orange Orion said.

“And a senior staff chosen, I hope,” he added. “Tattok out.”

Filling out the senior staff is the least of my worries, she thought as the transmission ended. Right now she had to deal with an obviously unhappy Cardassian first officer and who knew how many others.

Rising, she pressed her commbadge and contacted both Kelley and Zram, and asked them to meet her in the transporter room.



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