Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

Part of Bravo Fleet Command: Lore Office Release

What’s Old is New Again

Former Demilitarized Zone
Stardate 2401.8
1 likes 226 views

After three days of sifting through the wreckage of Outpost C-91, Arcturus had only managed to glean a few scant facts about its destruction: there had been a massive ultritium explosion from within the station, presumably delivered aboard an unscheduled freighter. No one from station operations had survived, and the handful of people they’d rescued were still in shock—one security officer had remembered a bomb alert being declared before the explosion, and that was it. Until they were able to modify the main deflector to clear ionizing radiation, it was days of slow and dangerous work recovering bodies and hunting for clues. Even with transporters and tractor beams functioning better now, the crew remained frustrated and exhausted. Being so close to Cardassian territory was also draining: the former Demilitarized Zone had never escaped its reputation for lawlessness.

“Admiral, ultritium has many legitimate uses, including asteroid mining. I still can’t conclude that this was an attack,” Fleet Captain Michael Lancaster protested to Admiral Liam Dahlgren’s scowling face on his ready room viewscreen. “We can’t rule out a catastrophic industrial accident.”

“I understand that, Captain, but I have half of Starfleet Command banging down my door to authorize sending in an entire fleet to secure the region. I’m running out of ways of stalling them until you conclude your investigation,” Dahlgren replied. “I need you to work faster.”

“I… Yes, Admiral,” Lancaster said.

“Get it done. Dahlgren Out,” the admiral ordered before the transmission ended.

Lancaster looked down and saw that he’d managed to leave nail marks in the leather armrest of his desk chair from how hard he’d been squeezing it. He’d never been so caught between the discontent of his own crew and of Starfleet Command. After attempting to breathe for a few moments, he stood up and strode out onto the bridge. The instruments pulsing softly were the loudest sounds—there was little conversation as the officers focused on their work. Like all Odyssey-class starships, Arcturus was an elite unit, and Lancaster had picked his crew personally; over the past 30 months, they’d grown together as a highly-trained exploratory and defensive force, but this mission responding to a mass casualty event had drained them all.

“Please tell me you have something,” the fleet captain said as he approached his first officer.

“I guess that answers how your call went,” Captain Alesser quipped. The Ardanan man stood up and gestured towards the communications station, prompting Lancaster to follow him to look over Lieutenant Belvedere’s shoulder. “A salvage team was able to find a sub-processor from the station’s short-range communications array. It’s just as badly damaged as the other computers we’ve found, but we believe we’ve been able to isolate a partial transponder signal from just before the explosion.”

Leaning in to examine the mass of frequencies and data on the screen, Lancaster felt his heart leap. It was their first real lead on connecting the survivor’s claim of a “freighter” to any hard evidence. He could see that there wasn’t enough information to make a complete ID, though. “NAT-6654[][][]” was all that came up.

“Can we get anything else from the buffer or cross-reference with the other computer equipment we’ve recovered to get the other three digits?” Lancaster asked. “That’s a Federation registry number, which points to some sort of accident.”

“I don’t believe we’ll find those digits anywhere, sir,” Belvedere replied. “While the transponder signal is partial, it’s a complete record. This is what the station received. It’s flagged as a malfunctioning transponder,” he explained.

“Standard protocol would be to bring the vessel in under guard to evaluate the risk,” Alesser said. “Malfunctions like that happen all the time on older vessels. It would be a good way of getting something past the station’s shields.”

“This transponder should have also pinged local subspace relay networks and border monitoring buoys,” Lancaster said. “Check everything in the sector.”

Belvedere pulled up the records while Lancaster and Alesser watched. The lieutenant put the partial registry code into the database, and a list of entries was created.

“Based on these records, there was an identical partial transponder hit from the subspace relay station in the Pullock system five days ago. It’s about a parsec away,” Belvedere said. “There’s also a warp signature on file,” he added.

“That’s not a Federation warp signature. It’s Cardassian,” Alesser said. He pointed to the readout. “You can tell from the variations in the mid-frequencies.”

Pullock was a name that Lancaster recognized: Pullock V was the site of the first Bajoran strike outside of their home system during the Occupation. A former Cardassian colony, it had been in Federation space for nearly 30 years now.

“A Cardassian ship using a Federation transponder to infiltrate a Starfleet facility…,” Lancaster said, trailing off as he thought about the implications. He stepped back towards the center of the bridge. “I want all salvage teams looking for even a scrap of Cardassian technology in the debris field. It’s our highest priority,” he ordered.

Before Lancaster could sit in the command seat, Lieutenant Belvedere spoke up again.

“Sir, I am receiving a general distress call from Pullock V. They say that they’re under attack by Federation vessels,” Belvedere said.

“Hail them.”

“There’s no response, sir. It’s the same message on a loop.”

“If they can spoof our transponders, this might be the first battle in an invasion,” Alesser suggested. “A false flag.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Pullock V is still predominantly a Cardassian colony. It’s not a logical target,” Lancaster replied. “But the Cardassians aren’t always logical. I want all of our small craft back on the ship. Helm, plot a course for Pullock V and prepare to engage at maximum warp,” he ordered.

Lancaster paced in front of his chair while their shuttles and runabouts returned to the bay. He knew that he should inform Fourth Fleet Command, but without a good picture of what they were running into, he was hesitant to do something that would prove a full-scale fleet response.

“Mr. Belvedere, send a message to Admiral Dahlgren detailing our findings,” Lancaster finally ordered.

“All craft are aboard,” Bowens reported from operations.

“Course plotted,” Marshall added.

“Red alert. Engage!”

The alert klaxons began to sound as Arcturus pulled away from the debris field and then jumped to warp. It was a two-hour journey, even at maximum speed, but Lancaster remained on the bridge to monitor the situation. No further progress could be made with the salvaged computers they’d located, so they had to put one mystery on hold for another, though Lancaster knew that the Pullock system must be the key to understanding both.

“Captain, I am picking up substantial energy readings over the colony. There’s definitely a battle in progress,” Bowens reported when they were just a few minutes from coming out of warp. “I can’t get anything more specific out of the sensors at this range.”

“That’s odd. With energy readings this high, we should be able to make out something,” Lancaster replied, looking at the sensor readings from the console in his chair.

“Now arriving in the Pullock system,” the helmsman reported.

The viewscreen was immediately filled with an image of a massive starship—clearly Cardassian in design but made of a steel-gray material Lancaster hadn’t seen before. It had the typical ankh shape of Cardassian warships, but it was massive. The ship was being swarmed by Federation ships, easily identifiable as Raven and Phoenix-type ships, along with a handful of older Ju’Day-type couriers. They were lobbing torpedoes at the larger ship but it was returning fire with powerful strikes.

“I want us nose to nose with that ship,” Lancaster ordered. “Attention Cardassian vessel, this is Fleet Captain Michael Lancaster of the United Federation of Planets. Call off your attack and withdraw from Federation space immediately.”

A reply came almost immediately, and the face of a Cardassian woman appeared on the screen.

“This is Gul Rayel of the Cardassian Union. We are responding to this colony’s distress call. Your ships attacked us,” she replied. “What Federation trickery is this?”

Before Lancaster could react, Arcturus rocked. He could see from the tactical display in his armrest that the flotilla of small vessels was firing on them as well.

“Sir, I am picking up another transmission, on all channels,” Belvedere said.

“Show is on split-screen,” Lancaster ordered.

Next to Gul Rayel’s image, there was an image of something that to Lancaster looked like a red leaf. Maybe it was supposed to be a sunrise. Whatever its symbolism, he recognized it as the insignia of the Maquis. While the Maquis hadn’t existed since the organization was wiped out by the Dominion, their tactics were well-known even to officers of Lancaster’s generation. It was now clear that the former Demilitarized Zone was slipping back to the chaos of the early 2370s.

“This is the New Maquis. All Cardassian and Federation forces must leave the Neutral Zone. We condemn the Cardassians for their continuing oppression, and we condemn Starfleet’s inability to protect even its own facilities,” the broadcast began. “For months, the True Way has been murdering and kidnapping citizens on every world in this region. A few days ago, they succeeded in destroying a Starfleet facility, which we can confirm with the evidence we are transmitting now. The Demilitarized Zone does not need you here. Leave, or die.”

The transmission ended, and Lancaster slumped back in his chair slightly. Gul Rayel was still on the screen, and the Starfleet captain had a difficult time imagining his Cardassian colleague responding to that threat with any other than maximum firepower. There, on the edge of the Federation, Arcturus was staring down the Cardassians’ newest, largest starship while the New Maquis were lobbing potshots—and they still had no idea who to believe or what really happened to Outpost C-91.

Comments

  • What a great story, well done! It certainly had me wanting more, and a can't wait to see how this develops. The tension between the characters was well written. It a great start to what I hope will be an amazing operation.

    March 6, 2024
  • Great first entry for the next chapter in Bravo Fleet’s adventures! Looking forward to reading the rest

    March 7, 2024
  • Great first entry for the next chapter in Bravo Fleet’s adventures! Looking forward to reading the rest

    March 7, 2024