Wednesday, June 12, 2019

"The First Stand"

Cover art by Jetfreak. Text and story editing by Christina Moore.


Personal Log, Captain Scott Bishop, Stardate 54130.7…

I have enjoyed an extended shore leave on Bajor during the time that the Aurora has been in drydock, undergoing its systems refit. With the work finally completed, I’m on route to my ship at Deep Space Nine where we will receive additional supplies and crew members for our next mission.

It is with some hesitation that I accept Aurora’s next mission as I’ve been informed that Starfleet Command will be sending us back to the Khymerian frontier for a few months. Apparently, our brief but deadly encounter with the Blas Maraug four months ago has made us ‘experts’ on them. I’m not very enthusiastic about the assignment and I can’t say that the crew will be either.

****

Runabout USS Rio Grande


“Captain,” called out the voice of Ensign Caltashi Zagora from the runabout’s navigational console.

“Yes, Zagora?” answered the captain as he entered the runabout’s cockpit from the aft section. He sat down in the seat on his right side.

“We’re approaching Deep Space Nine, sir,” he reported as the old Cardassian mining station grew larger on the forward viewport. “You wanted me to inform you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Bishop smiled, his eyes glued to the window. “That trip sure didn’t last long, did it?”

“Not really, but I’ve been cooped up on the station for days, waiting for Aurora to arrive with nothing really to do. I wish the trip had lasted longer.”

Bishop eyed the young ensign carefully. He had definitely changed since the last time he had seen him. The ensign had grown. His gray and black uniform seemed to fit him better than before, but it was more than that. The old nervous and quiet Zagora had been replaced with a bolder and more confident one.

“I see that you’ve brushed up on your piloting skills,” he noticed. “I have to admit, I was surprised to see my science officer piloting the Rio Grande. I expected one of the DS9 pilots.”

“Well, after the incident with the Blas Maraug and with four months of shore leave, I decided to take an advanced piloting course at the academy. Naturally, I had to show you the results,” Zagora added, proudly. “How about a brief stop in the Denorios Belt? Then I can really show you what I’ve learned.”

“Another time, perhaps,” answered the captain as they approached the space station. “Admiral Rkassi is expecting me soon and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again.”

“Not everyone, Captain,” Zagora reminded him. “Doctor Thorne has a job at Starfleet Medical now and Ensign Bowen transferred to the Tortuga.”

“Yes, they did. Actually, many other crew members aren’t aboard anymore. Most of them had accepted positions elsewhere. I’m just happy to see that some people are still here.”

Zagora smiled happily. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, sir. So, what have you been doing to pass the time on Bajor?”

“Mainly sightseeing. I spent most of my time in Dahkur Province. It really is a beautiful place, you know. I also got a chance to visit some of Bajor’s most renowned wonders, too. I saw the Emissary’s Shrine, the lost city of B’hala, and the Fire Caves.”

“It sounds like you were quite busy too,” Zagora said, wondering if they had both wanted to keep busy to avoid thinking about the events that transpired four months ago.

As he looked out the viewport, Bishop could now see the many ships arriving and leaving the station. He spotted an Ambassador-class heavy cruiser as it glided up to one of the station’s lower docking pylons.

“That’s the USS Ranger,” Zagora told him, taking the liberty of pointing it out to his captain. “She’s arriving with the last of our crew members and supplies.”

Bishop laughed at Zagora, shaking his head. He may have gotten more confidence but he was still trying to impress. Looking upward, he also noticed a Nova-class starship that was docked at one of the upper docking pylons. The ship looked much newer and cleaner than she had been when he last saw her at Erebus Dawn. He couldn’t see any noticeable changes to the Aurora’s structure from where he was but he had read the reports on the refit and he was aware of the many changes that had been made to the ship’s interior.

Rio Grande to Ops,” Zagora said, hailing the station. “I’ve arrived with Captain Bishop.”

“Rio Grande, you are clear to land on Pad One,” came the operations officer’s reply.

The runabout slowed down as it approached the primary docking ring. Captain Bishop looked out the window and up towards his ship. From his position, he could just barely read the inscription on her hull: USS Aurora, NCC-72321.

“She looks better than the last time I saw her,” Bishop commented as the runabout approached the habitat ring and then descended slowly onto the landing pad. “Vata’s done a good job.”

There was a dull thud as the ship landed gently on the platform and a few seconds later, the pad lowered slowly into the service bay as a large door slid shut above them.

“Good piloting, Cal,” the captain commented as he headed towards the runabout’s aft section to grab his bags.

“Speaking of piloting, sir, I’ve heard some interesting rumors floating around about our new helmsman. Is it true that he’s actually a Bajoran war hero?” Zagora asked him as the pad reached the shuttlebay floor and the airlock began to extend towards the small ship. “I heard people talking about it all over the station. Something about him mysteriously leaving Bajor and joining Starfleet?”

“Well,” Bishop replied, returning to the cockpit with several suitcases strapped around his shoulders, “I reviewed Ensign Nerrit’s file. There’s no specific mention of him being a war hero, but he was a member of the Bajoran Resistance during the Cardassian Occupation and left Bajor four years ago. I figured if we’re going to be out there with the Maraug for a little while, then he might have some interesting tactics that could come in handy.”

The young officer deactivated the runabout’s main power systems and they headed towards the airlock that was now linking the runabout to the station.

“I understand, sir. I can’t wait to meet him.”

****

Deep Space Nine


Lieutenant Commander Clifford Doyle wandered across the Promenade and looked at all of the sights. The journey to Deep Space Nine on the Ranger had been rather dull and he was anxious to do something entertaining before he checked in and was given a multitude of new responsibilities. He finally decided to head over to Quark’s for a drink and see what was happening there. Walking inside, he squeezed past a group of Tellarites and sat down at the bar beside a Starfleet lieutenant. She had brown hair tied neatly in a ponytail, Trill spots running down the side of her face, and she was wearing the gold services color underneath her black and gray uniform.

“I’ll have a Romulan Ale,” Doyle said to a Ferengi bartender who approached him.

The lieutenant looked over at him, surprised at what she had heard him order. He smiled at her, unsure of why she was looking at him. For a moment, he thought that his new found seat had been reserved for someone else.

“Romulan Ale?” she asked him, ending his confusion. “I had no idea that was legal now. When did they lift the ban on that?”

Doyle was confused by her question. Rather than look at her strangely, he replied politely, “It’s been legal since the Federation alliance with the Romulans during the war. One of the few bonuses that the Dominion War brought, although given the politics involved, the legality certainly may change again at any time. I thought everyone knew?”

“Almost everyone,” Vata admitted, “but I don’t drink much and I was on a deep-space assignment during the Dominion War.”

Doyle’s bright blue eyes lit up. “You mean you were on the Aurora?” he asked her, realizing that she wasn’t a member of the station’s crew.

“Yes, I still am. You’re looking at the chief engineer right now.”

“And you’re looking at the operations officer. I’m Lieutenant Commander Clifford Doyle.”

“Jedani Vata,” she introduced herself, shaking Doyle’s hand as a Ferengi waiter brought him his dark blue beverage.

“Chief Engineer?” he asked, impressed. “That’s a lot of responsibility.”

“You’re telling me. I just finished spending the last four months at the Theta Eridanus Shipyards, overseeing Aurora’s refit and repair -- I’m downright exhausted after all of that work. Did you know that we had to completely remove her old warp core and install a new one? Not to mention rebuild the bridge and shuttle bay. We also had new phaser banks and torpedo tubes installed, enabling her to fire quantums, along with enhanced regenerative shielding. She’s about as well-armed as the Defiant now.”

“It sounds like that refit was a lot of work,” said Doyle. “Why did you refit her anyways? Why not simply repair her?”

“Mainly because since the Dominion War, Starfleet’s primary objective has shifted from exploration to defense,” was the Trill’s answer to his question. “There aren’t as many starships as there were before the war. Starfleet wants to be sure that they can still defend the Federation in case of an attack. You know, I can’t say that I wish I had been around for the war, but I do like hearing the stories about it. I heard that a couple of the battles were fought on this station.”

“That’s true, but I wasn’t anywhere near here. I had to help defend the Neutral Zone from Dominion incursions. Those were some pretty frustrating months, the way that the Romulans just sat back and watched us get obliterated.”

“I can understand that,” Vata sympathized with him. “It’s one thing to read and listen to these glorified stories about the war, but it’s another thing to have had to be a part of them.”

“Glorified stories are the best kind and if you want to hear some great stories,” Doyle said, pointing towards a table of drunk Klingons downing glasses of bloodwine, “you should talk to them. Ever since the war ended they’ve been singing songs about glorious battles and how they stood up to hundreds of Jem’Hadar soldiers. I once had to listen to the Song of Martok. It is a glorious tale!” he said in his best Klingon impersonation.

“I heard that it’s two hours long!” Vata exclaimed.

“I wouldn’t know. I only heard the first half hour before I passed out from the bloodwine.”

Doyle and Vata chuckled for a few moments.

“Actually, I’m quite interested in history myself. Especially ancient Earth and Klingon wars.”

“Hmm… I've always enjoyed studying the Battles of Grish’tor but when it comes to Earth, it would probably be the American Civil War. Sure, it’s a dark chapter in Earth history, but it reminds me of how much we’ve progressed since those times.”

Their conversation was interrupted by Quark, who just happened to be eavesdropping while pretending to be talking to Morn. “Did I hear you two say something about Terran wars?” he asked in his sly voice as he walked over to him. “Because if you’re both big history buffs, then I’ve got the holoprogram for you.”

“No, thanks, Quark,” Vata dismissed him. “I’m not interested.”

“Not interested! You haven’t even heard what it is yet.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Doyle replied. “You’re going to try to sell us a few hours in a holosuite at outrageously high prices for some cheap war program. Well, forget about it. I know the Ferengi and besides, we don’t have a couple of hours anyways. The Captain’s coming aboard soon.”

“Alright,” Quark sighed, disgustingly. “That program was a complete waste of latinum!” He walked towards the drink rack behind his bar and removed one of the bottles to pour a drink for one of his customers. “I’ve asked fifty-two customers so far if they’d like to try it out. Besides you two, no one else even cares about Hew-man wars. Most of them don’t even believe that there were even wars on Earth!”

“Well, I'm sorry that Human history doesn’t make a good enough profit for you, Quark,” Doyle said, sneering at him. “Next time, you should test the market first before you acquire. Maybe they should consider adding that to the Rules of Acquisition?”

“Of course you’re right,” he admitted, irritated, “but the Bolian who sold it to me was in a rush. It was either yes or no. I don’t even want the damned thing anymore! If you want it, you can have it!”

Quark lifted the case of holoprograms from below the bar and opened it to remove the Cardassian data rod with the program on it. He rolled it across the bar at the two Starfleet officers. Doyle looked around at Vata, shrugging his shoulders.

“Well, if it’s free…”

“Okay, sure, why not?”

The Ferengi’s face turned from a frown to a grin at the opportunity to get rid of the program and potentially make a profit. “And to sweeten the deal, I’ll even have the data converted to isolinear format so that you can play it on your ship’s holodeck for a modest fee.”

He pulled a Ferengi PADD out of his pocket and after quickly typing on it, he thrust it into Vata’s face.

“You’re unbelievable, Quark!” Doyle explained, sarcastically, amazed at the lengths that the Ferengi would go to for gold-pressed latinum. Both officers shook their heads and picking up their drinks, they left the bar and headed over to a table near a corner of the establishment. Quark followed behind them, hoping to encourage them with a bribe.

****

Nerrit Keral, a Bajoran Starfleet officer, walked across the upper level of the Promenade towards one of the many viewports along the walls, anxious to catch a glimpse of the wormhole. As he looked in dismay, he recalled the first time when he had stood there, eleven years ago. It had been a painful and overwhelming experience being back on the station after everything that he had been through. So much had changed since then, but underneath those changes, it was still the same space station. He had hoped that by joining Starfleet, he could get as far away from here as he could but ironically, his first mission sent him back home. Luckily, Aurora would be departing soon and he intended to spend the time until it did in his new quarters on the ship.

He turned away from the viewport and walked towards the upper level railing. From where he stood, he could see all across the Promenade at all of the people moving about like insects below him. He could see the Klingon restaurant, the Replimat, and the jumja stall. The view was extraordinary and the Bajoran was impressed by all that had changed.

“It’s a wonderful view, isn’t it?” a voice asked him from behind.

Nerrit turned around to see a Bajoran woman walk up to the railing beside him, dressed in the tan and brown uniform of a station security officer.

“I often stand here and just look -- usually not at anything in particular. Sometimes, it’s just fun to look. You’re Nerrit Keral, aren’t you?” she asked him, looking at his face closely.

He smiled slightly at the question. He could never get used to all of the attention that he had been given since the end of the Occupation; they all thought that he was some sort of war hero. “Yes,” he replied, “you’ve caught me. I managed to get past the mob of excited Bajorans near the airlock but it looks like my skills at avoidance could still use some work.”

“I’m Lieutenant Ro Laren, chief of station security,” she introduced herself, smiling slightly at him. “I heard some rumors that you were coming to DS9, but I never actually thought you would return. It’s good to meet you.”

“Likewise, Lieutenant. I suppose you’ve come to ask for an autograph too?”

“No, I don’t ask for that from Starfleet ensigns.”

Nerrit chuckled, admiring his uniform. “I know it probably isn’t what you would expect.”

“Why Starfleet?” she asked him. “If you had stuck with the Bajoran Militia, you could have been a General by now.”

“And I’d be sitting behind some desk at Militia Command, reading and filing reports,” he told him. “No, Lieutenant, ever since I flew my first Bajoran fighter when I was seventeen, I knew that I wanted to be a pilot. When the Occupation ended, there was no more use for pilots. There was no more adventure or excitement or any more use for me. I knew since the day that I was offered the rank of Captain in the Militia that I didn’t belong there.”

“So you joined Starfleet,” she concluded. “You shocked everyone when you resigned from the Militia four years ago.”

Nerrit laughed. “It was a tough decision but I knew that I had to follow the path that the Prophets had laid out for me. Look at me now! I’m a pilot aboard a Nova-class starship!”

Ro laughed along with him.

“And I’m the one sitting behind the desk.” She sighed as they began to walk along the upper level. “I understand why you left. I’ve spent my whole life not fitting in. It’s ironic though that I could never seem to fit in with Starfleet and look at where I ended up? A Bajoran Militia officer and you managed to be the opposite.”

“Why did you leave Starfleet?” Nerrit asked her, becoming intrigued by her.

“At the time, I thought that I had finally found the place where I belonged.  But then I was sent on an undercover operation to lead the Maquis into a trap and came to realize that was where I belonged, and ended up defecting to join them.”

“I’m sorry to hear about what happened to the Maquis,” Nerrit replied, solemnly. “Anybody that fights the Cardassians is a friend of mine.”

The two of them walked along the upper level in silence for a few moments. Several Bajorans smiled at Nerrit as they walked by. He turned his head back towards the series of oval-shaped windows, watching for the wormhole to appear.

“I was just thinking about the last time that I looked out of these windows. It was when the Cardassians ran the station. It’s amazing how different it looks now, and how much cooler the temperature is.”

“You were on the station when it was called Terok Nor?”

“Yes,” he replied, glancing briefly at her, a far off look in his eyes, as though he were having  flashbacks. “I was captured and forced to work in the ore processing center for a few weeks before I escaped.”

As Ro watched him, she was certain that she noticed a tear forming in his eyes, but he turned his face towards the viewport so that she couldn’t see it.

“Well, with all of the great things that have happened to Bajor over the past seven years, it wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for people like you,” she said, offering her thanks to the ensign.

“Oh, please, Lieutenant,” Nerrit exclaimed. “I didn’t come all the way back to hear praise from you. I did my job in the best way that I could. That’s all.”

“Well,” she replied, a little shocked by his response to her commitment, “I’m not the only one that’s going to be thanking you for a while. There are rumors all over this station about what great deeds that you did to free Bajor.”

Nerrit turned back toward Ro. His face regained its composure and he smiled at her. “I’ve heard just about all the rumors before,” he told her. “Don’t believe a word of them. They’re just a product of an overactive imagination. This station is filled with eager young officers who are much more interested in talking than listening.”

Just then, the bright blue colors of the wormhole caught his eyes as he noticed it swirl over for a small cargo ship. “Amazing!” exclaimed, coming closer to the viewport. “I always wanted, one day, to see the Celestial Temple. I was hoping to see it from the inside, but this will have to do, I suppose.”

A ship entered the wormhole and it closed swiftly behind it, leaving nothing to mark its existence. He stared for a few more moments as he was mystified by its beauty.

“I’d take you in a runabout if I could,” Ro said, “but the Federation now has strict regulations about any ship that enters the Gamma Quadrant because of the treaty with the Dominion.”

“That’s all right, Lieutenant,” he said, spotting a group of Bajorans pointing at him and heading towards his direction. “Why don’t we head into Quark’s? I’ll buy you a drink and you can tell me about how you went from being in the Maquis to head of station security.”

“Okay,” she agreed,” but only if you stop calling me Lieutenant.”

****

The gold-colored doors to the station commander’s office slid open as Captain Bishop stepped inside to find Colonel Kira Nerys and Admiral Rkassi waiting for his arrival. The doors closed swiftly behind him as he walked towards the center of the office.

“Captain Scott Bishop, reporting, sir,” he said, standing up straight in the presence of an admiral.

“At ease, Captain,” the Tandaran admiral said, walking up to Bishop as he relaxed his stance.

“Welcome to Deep Space Nine, Captain,” Kira greeted him from behind the large crescent-shaped desk.

“Thank you, Colonel, it’s a pleasure to be here. You have a magnificent station, and on the behalf of my crew, we appreciate your hospitality.”

“I was sorry to hear about Captain Collins’ death,” Rkassi told him. “I know that you were close friends. I knew him well when he was a lieutenant aboard the USS Wellington -- I commanded the team that rescued him from the Cardassian internment camp. I know that Nathaniel had the utmost confidence in you and your abilities. You should be proud that he called you his best First Officer.”

“Thank you, sir,” Bishop said, shaking the admiral’s hand. “He mentioned your rescue on many occasions.” He took a seat directly across from Kira while Admiral Rkassi preferred to stand on the other side of the colonel’s desk. He turned his chair so that he could face him. “What did you wish to speak to me about?”

“I’m afraid there’s been some bad news,” Kira began to explain.

“About a week ago, the USS Bengaluru departed Starbase 523 to deliver supplies to the Khymerian trading outpost on Santor III,” Rkassi continued, taking over the conversation. “A few days later, they were attacked and boarded by Blas Maraug pirates near the edge of the Motaabi Nebula, not far from Santor. The KTGS Zollaac was the closest starship to respond to their distress message but by the time they got there, there was nothing left.”

“The Bengaluru is an Excelsior class starship!” Bishop exclaimed. “I don’t believe it! I’ve seen Blas Maraug ships in action and they’re old. Most of them have been upgraded with better weapons, even the stolen Khymerian ones! They should still be no match for an Excelsior class starship.”

“Starfleet Intelligence believes that the Blas Maraug are salvaging derelict Cardassian and Dominion ships left over from the war. Many ships have been left floating at the battle sites and there’s no way of telling what sort of technology they may have scavenged from them,” Kira informed him.

“The bodies of the Bengaluru crew were found floating in space near the coordinates of the distress signals. The ship itself is assumed to be at one of their refitting bases either in or around the nebula,” Rkassi brought up. “I’m afraid that in light of the recent events, Starfleet has decided to assign the Aurora to the Khymerian Frontier indefinitely, to assist the Nelson, Essex, and Kongo.”

“I see,” Bishop said, a little dismayed by the news. They were interrupted by a chirp from the communications system.

Admiral Rkassi, there’s an incoming subspace message for you from Admiral Ross. he’s requesting to speak with you in private.”

“Understood,” the Tandaran said, tapping his combadge. “If you’ll excuse me.” He left the station commander’s office, leaving Kira alone with Bishop.

“Well, I’d better get aboard and inform my crew,” Bishop said, getting up out of his chair to follow the admiral out. He was trying his best to hide the pain in his voice. “I doubt they’ll be any more enthusiastic about the news but we’ll do our duty anyways. Pleasure speaking with you, Colonel.”

Kira watched him as he turned around and headed towards the door. She could tell that, even though it had four months since Collins’ death, the wounds were still fresh and that Captain Bishop was still in pain.

“Captain,” she said, stopping him in his tracks, “I know what it’s like to lose a commanding officer and a friend.” She glanced down at her captain’s old desk where the baseball still sat on its stand. “Losing Captain Sisko was hard, too, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get used to sitting in his office and writing his reports, but I eventually did and so will you. In a way, we’re a lot alike -- we’re both first officers trying our best to fill our captains’ shoes.”

“That’s just what I’m afraid of, Colonel,” he said, his back still turned towards her. “I don’t want to get used to his death.” He walked out of the office, leaving Kira alone with her thoughts.

****

Christine Keller straightened the wrinkle in her uniform as she stood waiting in Aurora’s transporter room with growing anticipation of her captain’s arrival. She was a little nervous, hoping he would turn out to be alright. She couldn’t stand to serve under another captain like Captain Quadrini again -- with his regulations and formalities for everything, along with his cowardice, her service aboard the USS Serengeti had been the dullest of her career and that had been during wartime. That the captain had decided to forego the formal ceremony for accepting command had relieved her, somewhat, and considering that Aurora was a smaller vessel commanded by a younger captain, it seemed absolutely likely that he would be different.

The transporter panel behind her signaled and turning her head, she gave a quick nod to the chief who began beaming the captain aboard. A few seconds later, Captain Bishop materialized on the platform and began looking around the transporter room.

“Welcome back to the Aurora, sir,” she said, extending her hand to the captain as soon as he stepped down off the transporter pad, “I’m Commander Christine Keller.”

“Yes, I know,” Bishop said, shaking her hand. “You were assigned to me by Admiral Rkassi. Your record is certainly…interesting, Commander. Especially the way that you put the lives of the Serengeti’s crew in jeopardy by taking them into Dominion space against the captain’s orders.”

Commander Keller lowered her head slightly. It hadn’t been the first time that an officer had referred to that incident and it seemed less likely that it would be the last time.

“We received a distress signal from a Federation cargo freighter that had drifted across the border into Dominion space. Without engines, they were helpless there if the Jem’Hadar saw them. Captain Quadrini wasn’t willing to take any risk, so I relieved him of command and took the ship in myself. The Jem’Hadar didn’t detect us and we were able to save all thirty-eight crew members. I was court-martialed for that offense and exonerated all of the charges, sir.”

“Don’t worry about it, Commander,” Bishop replied, smiling. “I won’t hold it against you. I would have done the same thing in your position. Besides, I know what a cowardly asshole Gaius Quadrini is. I served with him on the Lexington.”

“Thank you, Captain,” the new first officer said, a little surprised to hear him say that. “It’s too bad that Starfleet commander wasn’t as understanding. Captain Quadrini saw to it that I was given a formal reprimand and I doubt I’ll be offered my own command anytime soon. Now, if you’d like to meet the new crew sir…”

“Yes, of course,” Bishop answered, following her out of the transporter room. “Just don’t ever do that to me.”

The corridor outside the transporter room was lined with personnel who stood along the walls, making a narrow walkway from the captain to follow as he made his customary inspection of the crew.

“Captain on deck!” Keller cried out as the crew stood at full attention.

Moving to the front of the crew line, the captain stood in front of a tall, well-built, dark-skinned man. He had a shaved head, bright blue eyes, and wore a happy smile on his face.

“Lieutenant Commander Clifford Doyle, sir. Operations Officer,” he introduced himself, shaking the captain’s hand as he passed by. “Please to meet you, sir.”

“Likewise, Commander. You do realize that Michael Adams’ shoes will be hard to fill? I hope you’re up to it.”

“I am, sir,” he replied as the captain moved to the next officer down the line. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

“I believe you know our chief engineer,” Keller said.

“It looks like you did a pretty great job fixing her up, Jedani. I just hope she stays this way for a while.”

A look of exhaustion came across the Trill engineer’s face as she briefly remembered the condition that Aurora had been in after Bishop had assumed command four months ago. “If you ever do something like that again to this beautiful ship, I’ll wring your neck!” she joked, patting the captain on the back.

“Nala ch’Dalvis,” Bishop remarked to the large muscular Andorian officer standing beside Vata. He had white hair that was slightly shorter than average. “I feel safer already, knowing that you’ve returned to be our security chief.”

“And I feel better knowing that you’re in command. Now we’re going to see some real action -- I’ve had enough of cataloguing stars.”

“Me too,” replied Bishop with a nod.

The next officer down the line was a Bolian, who looked more than eager to be finally meeting the captain. Bishop noticed his distinctive blue-skinned face, halved by a bony ridge down the center. As he approached him, the Bolian sprang into action.

“Good day, sir. I am Jakta Lim, Chief Medical Officer. Let me take this opportunity to welcome you aboard the Aurora. Let me say, sir, that she is a fine vessel. A little small, but fine nonetheless. It must make you very proud to command her. I’ve prepared a duty roster for Sickbay if you’d care to take a look.” The Bolian pushed a PADD into the captain’s face.

“Later, Doctor,” Bishop said, waving it away with a flick of his hand as he moved on.

“Actually, Captain, I’d rather prefer it if you called me Jakta, rather than Doctor. I mean, that’s what my friends call me and I’d like to think of you as a friend, if that’s all right? Saying ‘Doctor’ just sounds so dull and official, don’t you think? Why, I think if I had it my way, I’d just abolish the formality of calling superiors by their rank and… “

“Yes, thank you, Doctor,” Bishop said, interrupting him. “You may find that during intense times when we’re under attack, I ignore the usual command formalities. However, most of the time, I’d prefer it if you stuck to ‘dull and official’.”

“Aye, Captain,” he replied, slightly embarrassed, his face turning a darker blue.

The last officer in the command crew line was a Bajoran ensign. He looked eager and happy to be aboard. Besides his earring, he had a long, jagged scar down the side of his face from his right eye to his lower cheek.

“You must be Nerrit Keral,” Bishop said, shaking his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ensign. Though according to what I’ve heard about you, you deserve a much higher rank.”

The Bajoran beamed with pride, even though he was a bit embarrassed and didn’t care to be singled out in the middle of a crowd. “Most of the reports are somewhat exaggerated. Besides, what would be the fun in that, sir? I’d never get to pilot the ship.”

Bishop laughed and slapped the Bajoran on the back. “It’s good to have you aboard.”

Turning around towards the rows of junior officers and crewmen further down the corridor, he decided to address the crew. “I know before I even have the chance to get to know all of you that you are fine officers. Some are fresh from the academy and others have had many years of experience. I know that you will do a fine job. This ship has been redesigned for battle and outfitted with state of the art tactical systems, but our mission will still be challenging and dangerous. This crew will need to come to depend on each other. I must inform you that the situation on the frontier is rapidly deteriorating. The Blas Maraug grow stronger and more numerous every day, and so Starfleet has decided to assign us to Erebus Dawn and the Khymeria task force permanently. That is until we’re needed elsewhere. Though I am confident that with the help of the Nelson, Essex, and Kongo, we will be able to eliminate the Blas Maraug threat, I am fairly certain that we won’t be leaving the frontier after two months like we had originally planned. I am not a captain who is strict on formality as you may have noticed, but I do not run an idle ship. I expect the best from you at all times. I know that you’re capable of it and so does Starfleet, or you wouldn’t be here. Dismissed.”

The crew dispersed and went off to their various posts, leaving Bishop and Keller alone in the corridor.

“It sure does feel good to be aboard her again. I see that they haven’t changed anything in the corridors.”

“No, sir,” replied the first officer as she escorted the captain to the turbolift. “The refit was mostly conducted on the propulsion and tactical systems. But I suppose a few new toys were added all over the ship.”

“Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing the results of Miss Vata’s labor -- especially the bridge.”

“I think you’ll like it, sir,” Keller said as they entered the turbolift car. “Bridge. If you don’t mind me asking, sir, is this your first command?”

She assumed his answer would be ‘yes’ since she had recently found out from Lieutenant ch’Dalvis that Captain Bishop was actually a year younger than she was. Hearing that had made her a little jealous, since she had been struggling to achieve her own command for the past ten years that she had been in Starfleet.

Bishop chuckled to himself over her question before he finally replied. “Yes, this is my first official command as Captain, but it’s definitely not the first time that I’ve had to assume command of a starship.”

“I see,” she said, still doubting that he had more experience as a commander than she did. She was overall unsure of what to think of her new captain, who seemed to be rather sure of himself and his abilities. She would be watching him closely over the next few weeks, though she doubted that there would be much more that she could learn from him.

“Oh, and Commander, schedule a senior staff meeting at eleven hundred hours,” he said as the turbolift came to a stop.

“Aye, sir,” Keller replied as the doors opened to reveal the Bridge.

The captain stepped out of the turbolift and onto the deck, finding the layout immediately familiar and comfortable. Standard in a Nova-class starship, it had a large, round area with five main consoles around the perimeter. These stations resembled booths as a protruding bulkhead separated each station. At these consoles, personnel sat or stood in order to carry out their assigned duties with controls and display monitors at all levels.

In the center of the bridge was the command area with the Captain’s and First Officer’s chairs, facing the viewscreen. At the front of the bridge was the helm which sat directly in front of the viewer in order to obtain an unimpeded view. The decor was standard Starfleet with a plain gray carpet covering the whole floor. In fact, the bridge design and the relative position of the various consoles and seating was very similar to that of an Intrepid class starship but on a smaller scale.

“Captain on the Bridge!” Lieutenant Commander Doyle called out as he had just arrived on the bridge moments before them.

He got up from the captain’s chair as all hands rose from their seats and positions to stand at attention.

Captain Bishop walked over to the command chair and sat down, beginning to relax. It felt good to sit at command as he remembered.

“As you were,” he said to the officers standing around, watching him.

The crew returned to their duties and carried on with their work.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Keller told him. “I’ve still got more to show you.”

Bishop sighed, getting up out of the comfortable chair and following Commander Keller into his new Ready Room.

****

Bishop entered the conference room and sat down at the head of the table. Gathered around him was his entire senior staff. Also present was his new science officer, Ensign Zagora.

The captain looked around at the young faces. Some of them he barely knew, and others he had known for years. Each of their faces displayed a look of impatience as they waited anxiously to hear what he had to say.

“I just wanted to clear up any doubts or questions about our mission. We will report to Erebus Dawn, where the Nelson, Essex, and Kongo will rendezvous with us. From there, we’ll split up and patrol the cluster while the Essex will head towards the Neutral Zone to join Admiral Ross’ task force there.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Nerrit interrupted with a raised hand, “but I'm not sure everyone here is aware of the situation on the Khymerian frontier. Just who are we protecting the Khymerians and the colonists from?”

“Even the latest Starfleet reports still have little to tell about them besides the designs of some of their more common ships,” began Lieutenant ch’Dalvis, who had become as much of an expert as possible on the Blas Maraug. “Starfleet believes that they come from some distant star empire in the Aries Expanse. Their ships have been raiding colonies and shipping lanes on the Frontier for the last two years. However, the frequency of the raids are becoming greater than before.”

“Each Blas Maraug ship encountered is different from the next,” added Vata, “and so it’s difficult to be prepared. Also, at different encounters their ships have used radically different tactics. Some ships will retreat while others go looking for trouble. Recently, they’ve begun using salvaged starships from other races. Mainly they’re using commandeered Khymerian cargo transports.”

“Hasn’t the Federation attempted a peaceful solution?” asked Doctor Lim.

“There isn’t any way to contact them. No starship has ever managed to establish communications with a Blas Maraug ship. We don’t even know what a Blas Maraug looks like and they don’t respond to hails,” ch’Dalvis told them.

“Our orders are to patrol the frontier and to escort Khymerian Trade Guild ships and colonial transports in and out of those sectors. We’ll also be assisting the Khymerians in repairing the damage caused by Dominion attacks during the war. It may sound easy, but the Blas Maraug have some pretty big advantages over us. They have somehow adapted their shields so that they can pass through the Nebula without being exposed to the radiation.”

“Most weapons are useless inside the nebula due to the high concentration of metreon gas, which explode when they interact with torpedoes and phasers,” Zagora informed them. “The nebula’s radiation also blocks communications, so we’ll pretty much be alone out there, making the Motaabi Nebula the perfect haven for those barbarians to hide in and launch attacks from.”

“They also have a pretty big payload of plasma torpedoes at their disposal and some ships are even equipped with photon torpedoes,” added the Andorian tactical officer.

The captain took another pause to let the information soak in before he said, “Well then, if there are no questions, you’re excused.”

The crew got up and began exiting the conference room.

“Oh, and Commander Keller,” he added, “inform the crew that we’re leaving Deep Space Nine in half an hour.”

As Doyle and Vata headed out of the conference room together, they were intercepted by Ensign Zagora who rushed up to them. “Sorry, Commander. Quark asked me to give this to you as soon as I got aboard,” he said, handing Doyle an optical isolinear chip.”

Vata was shocked to learn that Doyle had given in and purchased the chip, especially after he had been so adamant in rejecting Quark’s offer while they had been aboard the station. She realized that he must have bought it after she’d left.

“I thought that you didn’t want…” she began to say but she was cut off by Doyle who had an embarrassed look on his face as he tried to explain.

“I know, I know… I gave in. The truth is I was actually anxious to see what the program was. I’m a sucker for history. Besides, it’s a good thing I did. Have you seen the holo-programs that this ship has on file?”

“So I guess you’re not really as tough as you pretend to be, are you, Mister Doyle?” Vata said, laughing as she walked off into the turbolift towards Engineering.

“You forgot, did you?” Doyle asked, suspiciously, turning towards the young ensign. “You picked a heck of a time to remember. I can’t believe that Quark got you to deliver it to me. That means that the little weasel didn’t have to tip one of his waiters to do it. He got you to do it for free!”

“I guess we both have a lot to learn about the Ferengi,” Zagora said, chuckling to himself as he walked off.

****

Captain Bishop stepped out of the ready room and onto the bridge. All officers appeared to be at their stations as he went and sat down in his chair.

“Captain, all crew members have reported aboard,” Keller reported from her seat to the captain’s left.

“Good. Send our thanks to Deep Space Nine for their hospitality and clear us for departure.”

Nerrit tapped away at the console in front of him for a few moments before he said, “DS9 has given us clearance. Docking clamps have been released. Taking us out on thrusters only.”

The Aurora fired its starboard thrusters and drifted gently away from the upper docking pylon. Within a few minutes, the ship was moving away at impulse power.

“Mister Nerrit,” the captain said, once they had cleared the station, “set course for Khymeria Prime, warp eight.”

“Aye, sir.”

****

Captain’s personal log, stardate 54151.8…

We have been on route to Khymeria for seven days now, stopping occasionally to conduct tests on our new systems, especially our new tactical systems. Over the past week, there’s been a few system malfunctions as expected with any shakedown, but Lieutenant Vata has assured me that she’ll have all of the nuts and bolts tightened by the time that we get to Erebus Dawn. We’ll be arriving momentarily and to her credit, the ship is running much more efficiently now.

The crew is slowly adjusting to the newness aboard ship and to each other. I am quite confident that they have the potential to become a great crew, given time and experience.

However, I am finding adapting to my new role as ship’s captain to be much more difficult. I am constantly plagued by memories of the very place that we are returning to. I still can’t forget the look on those officers’ faces that I knew for so long when they died. It’s been haunting me ever since and being back here only reminds me. This time, however, things are going to be different. I will not let the Blas Maraug take another friend from me!

****

Bridge to Captain Bishop,” said the voice of Commander Keller over the communications system. “Sir, we’ve arrived at Erebus Dawn but only the Essex is here. Captain Hadleigh wishes to speak with you.”

“Understood, Commander. Patch it through to my Ready Room.”

The monitor on his desk lit up to display the image of Captain Hadleigh, who was also in his own Ready Room. His face had a worried look on it.

“Scott, welcome back to the Khymerian frontier,” he said in a friendly manner.

“Thank you,” Bishop replied. “It’s good to see you again, Braden. I was told that the Nelson and the Kongo would be joining us as well. Has that changed?”

“No, but that’s what has me worried. They should have been here a while ago. They must be beyond sensor range. It could be they’re running late but I have a feeling that something else is up.”

“I agree, Captain,” Bishop said. “In these parts, I would assume the worst. If we don’t hear from them within the next ten minutes, I would recommend that we go out looking for them.”

“No, I think we should leave now. The Blas Maraug are quick and lethal. If the Nelson is running into trouble with them, then in ten minutes we may be too late. Besides, we have nothing else to do here.”

“Good point. We’re ready whenever you are.”

“Then let’s go,” ended Hadleigh.

The screen went blank, leaving Biship alone to wonder what was happening to his cousin. He wondered what chances the Aurora would have, if these Blas Maraug could even take on an Intrepid-class and Akira-class starships.

He was interrupted again.

Sir, we’re receiving a distress signal from the Nelson.”

“I’m on my way,” Bishop replied, getting up from his desk and rushing onto the bridge.

“Sir, Nelson reports that they are under attack by two refitted Khymerian transports, a Blas Maraug cruiser, a Klingon B’Rel-class bird of prey, and a Federation Excelsior-class starship,” Doyle reported as the captain arrived on the bridge. “They also report that the Kongo has been destroyed.

“That Excelsior-class ship must be the Bengaluru.”

“Sir, the Essex has received the message as well and she’s standing by to go to warp.”

“Then I think it’s time that we repaid the Nelson with our help,” Bishop said, taking his seat. “Red Alert! All hands to battle stations! Mister Nerrit, set a course for the coordinates of the distress signal, maximum warp. Engage!”

Aurora blasted off with the Essex at warp nine-point-nine-three to aid their comrades.

****

It had been nearly fifteen minutes now and the battle was drawing close. The young captain gripped the arms of his chair tightly in anticipation. The people around him appeared anxious too, but he knew that his crew was ready for what was to come. He stared out the main viewscreen which showed the stars streaking by and the Akira-class starship in the upper left corner but his mind was on other things. He kept remembering how the Blas Maraug had surprised them in the nebula and killed so many good people. He realized that this would be a good chance for vengeance and he intended to exact it.

“Captain,” Nerrit reported, “we’re now approaching the Nelson’s coordinates.”

Aurora and Essex dropped out of warp just outside the battle zone and began heading towards their targets at full impulse.

“What’s the status of the battle?”

“The Nelson has sustained heavy damage to its outer hull, its shields are offline, and there are multiple hull breaches throughout the ship. They’re losing structural integrity. I’m detecting irreparable damage to their warp nacelles and the antimatter containment field is critical,” Doyle reported from Ops. “It also looks like the Nelson managed to destroy the Klingon BoP and one of the transports.”

“Sir,” Keller reported, “the Essex is hailing us.”

Scott, you and your crew take the transport and the cruiser,” Captain Hadleigh said over the communications channel. “We’ve got our hearts set on recapturing the Bengaluru.”

“No problem. Mister ch’Dalvis, raise shields and arm weapons. It’s time that we test how good this ship really is!”

As the Essex swung past the Nelson, taking a barrage of torpedoes against its fully-energized shields, Aurora flew over the Khymerian transport, firing its phasers at the ship’s weapons system. The ship returned fire, catching Aurora in her aft shields.

“Direct hit! Our shields are down to ninety-four percent,” ch’Dalvis reported from Tactical.

“Lock quantum torpedoes on their warp engines,” commanded the captain. “Let’s hope the shields fail there first. Fire at will!”

Aurora came around for another pass and fired a spread of torpedoes from its forward and aft launchers, along with a few phaser blasts. The transport’s shields held but there was significant damage to them. Aurora continued firing its phasers at the transport as it came around for a third pass.

The ship shook violently as the transport’s phasers hit the shields repeatedly, showering the tactical station with sparks.

“Nala?” the captain asked, turning around to see the security officer. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, sir,” he said, recovering quickly from the blast. “It’s just a little burn, that’s all.”

The ship was hit again by the incoming Blas Maraug cruiser’s torpedoes, knocking everyone around a little.

“Sir, that ship has photon torpedoes!” ch’Dalvis exclaimed.

“Come on, Nerrit!” the captain called out to his helmsman, who was trying desperately to dodge the incoming torpedoes. “Hold her together now!”

“Don’t you worry, Captain!” he exclaimed, his hands moving over his panel. “The only thing that’s falling apart today is the Blas Maraug’s battle plan.”

The ship was struck again. This time, it came on both sides by the transport and the cruiser with Aurora stuck in the middle. Ensign Nerrit had counted on that, and he was now ready to executive his plan. He turned the ship towards the cruiser which was pursuing them at low impulse. Once they had nearly caught up to them, he abruptly altered course and aimed Aurora on a collision course for the transport.

“Watch out for that transport!” Doyle cautioned him as the ship was struck by another spread of torpedoes.

“Shields are down to sixty-three percent,” Keller reported.

The cruiser increased speed in pursuit of Aurora as it bombarded the aft shields with phaser blasts. Nerrit knew that the ship was more maneuverable than the cruiser and he waited until it was only a few hundred meters away. Then he pulled up hard, just missing the transport. The cruiser was moving too fast to avoid the collision and it wasn’t able to pull up in time. The cruiser’s forward section crashed into the transport and scraped up along its hull.

“Captain, both the cruiser’s and the transport’s shields are down,” ch’Dalvis reported to him.

“Excellent work, Nerrit!” Commander Keller congratulated the Bajoran pilot. “You used the cruiser to take down the transport’s shields.”

“What do you call that maneuver, Mister Nerrit?”

The Bajoran gave it a moment of thought before he shrugged his shoulders and said, “The Nerrit Maneuver.”

“Nala, lock quantum torpedoes on that transport and destroy it!” Bishop ordered as the Nelson fired a short blast at the cruiser from its damaged phaser back.

Aurora launched another salvo of torpedoes at the transport’s bridge, engineering section, and weapons systems. It caused a series of explosions that engulfed the transport. Seconds later, the ship exploded and Aurora took off after the cruiser which the Essex was now targeting.

Aurora was hit again by the cruiser’s torpedoes which crashed through the weakened shields. It caused the science station to overload. Ensign Zagora was knocked unconscious to the ground as a small fire began to burn on his console.

“Bridge to Sickbay,” Keller said, rushing over to the fallen ensign. “We have a medical emergency up here!”

“Is he alive?” Bishop asked her, a look of worry across his face.

“Yes, I think so,” she said, feeling for his heartbeat.

“Commander, get him to Sickbay.”

Commander Keller put the young ensign’s limp arms around her shoulders and slowly walked him into a turbolift.

“Sir, that last torpedo penetrated our forward shields,” Doyle reported. “We have a minor hull breach on Deck Eight. Emergency force fields are in place. There’s also some damage to the auxiliary deflector dish.”

“Sir, the Bengaluru!” ch’Dalvis pointed out, looking at the viewscreen.

“It’s firing on the cruiser,” Bishop noticed. “It seems that Captain Hadleigh did take care of her!”

Together, the three starships continued to fire on the cruiser as the Nelson slowly retreated from the battle, trying to get as far away as it could. The steady barrage of quantum torpedoes smashed into the cruiser’s hull, taking out half of the forward section. Aurora’s phasers ripped through the starboard nacelle, causing a massive explosion and sent the cruiser into a spin. A few more blasts at the out-of-control ship from all three ships and it exploded, ending the battle.

“Yes!” Bishop cried, making a fist in excitement. “Take that!”

“Sir, Nelson is haling us.”

“On screen,” Bishop replied, calming himself down.

The viewscreen was divided into three windows, showing Captains Figueroa, Hadleigh, and Commander Sean Reich, the Essex’s first officer who was standing on the bridge of the Bengaluru.

“Gentlemen, thank you very much,” Figueroa said, quickly. “Unfortunately, it’s not over yet. We have a warp core breach in less than ten minutes. I don’t have time to evacuate the area around the core.”

Hadleight took control. “Don’t worry, Valeria. Do what you have to do. The rest of us will stand by to make sure you get clear.”

“Thanks again. Figueroa out,” she said and then the screen went blank.

“Doyle, start locking onto any lifesigns near the stern of the ship,” Bishop ordered him. “This is the Captain to all transporter rooms. Stand by to beam aboard Nelson crew members. Captain to Sickbay -- Doctor Lim, be prepared to receive casualties.”

“Captain, sensors indicate that the Nelson’s warp core will overload in nine minutes and twenty-five seconds.”

“Is that enough time?” asked ch’Dalvis.

“Let’s hope so,” was all that Bishop said.

As Nelson’s crew tried desperately to eject the warp core with its badly damaged systems, the rest of the crew sat back helplessly. They watched the image of the Intrepid-class starship on the main viewer, hanging there in space. It drifted with his exposed decks and its huge hull breaches. The hull casing around the port warp nacelle was completely ripped off and they could see the damaged plasma injectors as they leaked plasma out into space.

It reminded Captain Bishop of how Aurora had looked after its first battle with the Blas Maraug. He had been ready to give up all hope on the ship, then the Nelson had arrived just in time to save them. The Essex was directly ahead of the ailing ship and the Bengaluru was on the Nelson’s port side, while the Aurora was on her starboard side.

“Warp core overload in one minute,” Keller reported, now that she was back on the bridge.

“Captain, the Nelson has ejected her warp core,” ch’Dalvis reported.

The crew watched as the long, blue-glowing warp core shot down from the ventral section of the Nelson’s drive section. The core spun rapidly as it floated away from the damaged ship, propelled by the ejection sequence. Soon afterward, the ship began to maneuver away from the core on its few working thrusters.

“Captain,” Doyle reported, “we have to get out of here before she blows! At her rate of speed, the Nelson isn’t going to make it!”

The Nelson had now engaged its impulse engines and she was moving behind the other ships. However, she was still too slow to escape the imminent explosion. Then the Bengaluru, which had been following behind the Nelson, swooped down and locked onto her with a tractor beam, pulling the damaged Intrepid-class ship along with her.

“Get us out of here, Mister Nerrit! Warp one!”

The four ships jumped ahead into warp towards the Khymerian space station as a large bright explosion lit up the viewscreen. Scott relaxed, sitting back in her command chair. The battle was over and they had been victorious. He had gotten revenge for the deaths of his colleagues.

Or had he?

Somehow, he wasn’t sure.

One thing he was sure about was that this had been only the first stand. There would be others. They had won the battle, but would they win the war?



The End.


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