Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

Part of USS Challenger: A Fragile Peace and Bravo Fleet: Sundered Wings

Sabre Rattling

U.S.S. Challenger NCC-71099
May 2400
0 likes 1163 views

The starship Challenger slipped gracefully into orbit over Vinex II, her three-day journey from Starbase Bravo ended. They joined a handful of cargo ships already in orbit; a sign that, despite the political turmoil, life on Vinex was continuing as usual.

Commander Gabrielle Bennett glanced over her right shoulder, suddenly overcome by the sense that she was out of place. As chief science officer, she would typically have busied herself by scanning the other ships while monitoring for signs of cloaked ships. Instead, she was seated to the captain’s right as they presided over the officers on the bridge. Gabrielle glanced at Commander Bentley, who was sitting to Forrester’s left. Bentley looked like he felt as out of place as she did; the easy smile that usually graced his features was gone, his entire body radiating tension.

“Commander Dal,” Forrester’s voice snapped her back to the task at hand, “hail the plan-“

An alarm on Dal’s console interrupted the captain. “Sir, there’s a Romulan vessel decloaking directly ahead.”

“Red alert,” Gabrielle ordered. The overhead lights dimmed, red lights slowly flashed, and the siren blared for a few seconds.

All eyes moved to the viewscreen, where the shimmering image of a Romulan warbird slowly solidified. “It’s a D-7 battlecruiser,” Dal reported, “the configuration matches a Romulan vessel you encountered in the Gamma Quadrant last year.”

“Oreth,” Forrester muttered, his right hand clenching into a fist.

She looked again at Bentley. He looked tense, and the colour had drained from his features. Gabrielle wasn’t surprised. The last time they’d encountered Commander Oreth, he’d engineered the death of a Prime Minister and ensured that Matthais was falsely accused. The diplomatic officer had spent several days in prison and been marked for death. That sentence would’ve been carried out but for the captain ordering a prison break.

“We’re being hailed,” Dal announced.

Gabrielle watched as Forrester took a deep breath, steeling himself for the conversation he was about to have. “Onscreen.”

“Captain Forrester,” Oreth began when he appeared on the viewscreen, “what a surprise.” His eyes scanned the bridge menacingly. When they fell on Bentley, his mouth twisted into a malevolent smirk. “Doctor Bentley, I hope you’ll manage to keep yourself out of trouble this time.”

Forrester jumped to his feet, both hands now balled into fists. “What do you want, Oreth?” He demanded.

“You are violating Romulan space.” Oreth’s smirk was gone, a cold fury shining in his grey eyes. “Withdraw to Federation territory immediately.”

That wasn’t going to happen, and Oreth knew it. “Or what?” Forrester challenged. “Even with all your ships upgrades, you’re no match for the Challenger.”

“I don’t have to attack your ship to hurt you.” That damned smirk reappeared on the Romulan’s lips as his eyes found Bentley once more, who paled further.

Oreth was baiting Forrester and, much as Gabrielle hated to admit it, was doing an excellent job. He knew exactly how to hurt the captain. “We’re here at the behest of Vinex’s government. If you have a problem with our presence, take it up with them. Challenger out.”

Forrester’s shoulders sagged the second Oreth’s face disappeared. Gabrielle shot Bentley a sympathetic look, but he only met her gaze briefly, his eyes darting to the floor in front of him. Having taken a moment to gather himself, Forrester straightened. “Commander Dal, hail the planet.”

***

“The Challenger is hailing the planet.” Centurion Setk announced.

Commander Oreth hadn’t expected the Challenger to withdraw just because he said so. “Monitor their transmission. I want to know what they say.” Rattling Forrester had been satisfying, but that satisfaction lasted only a few moments. He needed to find out why the Challenger was here and begin to formulate a plan. “I’ll be in my cabin.”

The commander’s cabin on the Vilinat was located near the bridge to allow the commander to reach the ship’s command centre in an emergency. When he entered his cabin, his eye was drawn to his personal terminal. It was active, which it had not been when he’d left. Looking around, carefully studying the room, there was no sign that anyone had been there since he left.

Cautiously, he moved deeper into the room, his eyes searching for anything, the smallest detail, that might provide a clue to explain why his terminal was active, but there was nothing. When he finally stepped around his desk and looked at the terminal, he found a message. ‘We have a proposal for you. Meet at these coordinates in one hour,‘ the message read with a set of coordinates for the planet below, ‘come alone.

***

“What d’you mean you’re not letting me beam down?” Bentley demanded. “I’m the CDO; you need me there.”

“Are you having hearing problems, commander?” Forrester asked snottily. “I’ll be able to manage the face to face meetings without you, and you’ll still be able to advise me from the Challenger,” Forrester said as he took a seat behind his desk.

While Gabrielle understood the captain’s caution, she felt he was being overly cautious but, for now, kept that opinion to herself and let the two men argue it out.

“I need to be in the room.” Bentley remained standing, pacing back and forth. “I need to be able to look people in the eye, read their body language, and let their demeanour tell me what their words don’t.”

Forrester’s chair tilted back as he leaned against it. He was trying to look relaxed, something he usually managed to do even during peak stress. But right now, she could see the tension in his muscles; he was wound as tight as a coiled spring. “I’ve already told you, you’re not beaming down. This isn’t a discussion. I’m the captain, the decision ultimately rests with me, and I’m saying no.”

“Captain,” Gabrielle leaned forward slightly, “I think Commander Bent-“

Forrester’s head snapped sharply around, and he glared at her with an intensity she’d never seen from him. “As you were, Commander.”

Gabrielle recoiled like she’d been slapped. Since she’d been on the Challenger, the captain had never spoken to anyone like that. He certainly would never have spoken to Commander Kailir in that manner. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.

“Commander Bentley,” Gabrielle  said softly, “can you excuse us for a moment.”

Bentley glared at Forrester for a few moments, who just glared back before turning on his heel and walking out. Once Bentley was gone, Forrester turned lazily to face her. “Whatever you ne-” He stopped abruptly when Gabrielle raised a finger to silence him. The look of surprise at being sushed in such a manner was priceless. Had the atmosphere been less tense, she might have enjoyed it.

“Why did you choose me to be your Executive Officer?” She eventually asked, folding her arms.

Forrester seemed visibly confused by the question. “Excuse me?”

“Are you having hearing problems, captain?” Gabrielle took a small measure of satisfaction in throwing Forrester’s own snotty question back at him. “Why did you choose me to be your Executive Officer? Is it because you wanted a ‘yes man’? Because of my lack of command experience, you thought I’d just go along with whatever you decided and if not that I could be cowed into submission by the great Captain Forrester?”

Gabrielle watched as realisation dawned on the captain. “I’m sorry.” He rubbed his forehead. “I shouldn’t have shut you down like that.”

“You wouldn’t dream of treating Commander Kailir like that,” Gabrielle scolded him, “and I won’t be treated that way either.”

Forrester nodded. “You’re right.” He agreed. “If I tried, she’d call me on my bullshit.” The ghost of a smile appeared on his lips. “And I’m glad you’re calling me on it. It only reinforces my belief that you’re the right choice to replace her.”

“Oreth really rattled you.” It wasn’t a question.

The captain nodded in agreement. “Yeah.” He replied with a heavy sigh. “If he’d threatened me, he wouldn’t have gotten a rise. But when he threatened….” Forrester trailed off, meeting Gabrielle’s gaze.

“I understand.” She told him softly. “But Commander Bentley’s right. You can’t wrap him up in cotton wool because of what happened at Darox. You’ll need him in the room with you.”

Forrester didn’t react immediately. His gaze fell to the surface of his desk, and he stared intently at it. “I know.” He finally admitted before pushing himself out of his chair. “I should get going.” Forrester emerged on the bridge moments later, striding towards the aft turbolift.      “Commanders Bentley and Dal, with me.” He stopped near the turbolift. Both Dal and Bentley walked past him, with both men studiously avoiding making eye contact. “The Challenger is yours, Commander. Don’t scratch the paint.”

Gabrielle nodded and watched as the captain entered the turbolift. When the doors closed, she slowly lowered herself onto the centre seat. This wasn’t her first time sitting on this piece of bridge furniture, but with the captain beaming to the surface and Kailir off, who knows where this was the first time the buck really stopped with her. The gravity of this moment wasn’t lost on her, underlined by Oreth’s D-7 on the viewscreen.

Comments

  • The centrepiece confrontation between Oreth and Forrester was everything. It needed to happen with all of the build up from previous chapters, and the story was well structured to make the other scenes hinge on that confrontation. It's just tragic that Forrester is more ready to defend Bentley's honour or argue with Bentley, rather than tell him how he feels. Of course, Bennett's discomfort in the XO position was the other compelling thread of this chapter. That feeling of knowing what to do in your old job, and not the new one, is so terribly relatable. When Forrester undercut her, I worried it would fracture her confidence more, and I was so gratified to be wrong. Bennett's demand for respect was more than fair; she deserves that piece of bridge furniture. The twist I really didn't see coming was the break-in to Oreth's quarters. It's always unsettling when the villain of the piece, and a Romulan at that, can be out-spied by someone else. But by who?

    June 7, 2022
  • Just catching up and damn what an opener! Oreth is such a great antagonist and I'm glad to see him returning. And even as a victim of someone else's plotting for now at least. The start of something fun to read! Bennett's reactions feel perfect to me and I'm glad she's comfortable calling Forrester out to remind him he is a better man than someone like Oreth wants to tease him into being. I'm loving the dynamic and can't wait to see more and how both of them grow further into their working relationship.

    June 12, 2022