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Part of USS Sutherland: The Facility and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

The Visitor

Captain's quarters, U.S.S Sutherland docked at Starbase 93
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The turbolift thrummed its way through the Sutherland’s primary hull as her Captain reflected on the duty shift that just ended. It had been an uneventful day, not unexpected when docked at a starbase, but he enjoyed watching the more junior officers man the bridge stations. There was always a certain eagerness in the air, as though they wanted him to notice that they were doing a good job, even if that job was as routine as it gets. It was kind of charming in a way and also a good opportunity to get to know them. One thing that he’d learned over the years was that a crisis never waited until your most experienced people were available. 

The sound of the doors swishing open alerted him to its arrival and he stepped into the corridor, nodding an acknowledgment to a passing crewmember before covering the short distance to his quarters. He let out a deep breath, feeling the need to put his feet up for a while as the computer verified his identity and opened the doors.

“SECURITY TO THE CAPTAIN’S QUARTERS” he barked, relaxed muscles now tensed at the sight of a figure sitting on his sofa. Instinctively, he reached for his phaser but it wasn’t there.

“Captain MacLeod.” The man gestured towards him with an empty hand whilst the other appeared to be holding a drink? “Please forgive the intrusion.”

“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my quarters?” Struan demanded. Irritation burned within him, but the man smiled softly and seemed to be radiating a disarming calmness.

Struan was certain that none of his crew would behave like this, but could never be completely sure. The man possessed an oddly unassuming appearance. He was of average height and build, his complexion was unblemished and his features were symmetrical. Absolutely nothing made him stand out. If he disappeared, Struan would have trouble describing him in a way that would set him apart from a large portion of the human male population.

“Sir.” The new voice came from behind Struan and belonged to one of two security officers who had their phasers trained on the intruder.

“Impressive response time.” The intruder calmly placed his glass on the table and produced a chip in his free hand. “My identification, Lieutenant Foster.”

Struan sensed the security officer to his left shifting uncomfortably. The intruder had done his homework on their identities at least, and it felt like they were at a disadvantage. He waved Mr. Foster forward to check it out. The burly young officer carefully approached, but the intruder waited patiently and calmly until the chip was collected and placed on a security PADD.

“It checks out,” Foster declared. “This is Commander Gray, Starfleet Intelligence.”

“Thank you gentlemen,” Struan replied. “That will be all”

The adrenaline gave way to weariness once more as the security officers vacated the room. “What kind of game is this?” Struan thought to himself as he turned to face the visitor.

“It’s no game Captain.” The man made an open gesture with his arms. “More of a … demonstration.

Struan frowned. He was sure that he didn’t say that out loud, but perhaps he had communicated it with his face. “To what end?”

“Consider me a mission specialist,” Mr. Gray explained. “Trust me, the demonstration will save us time.” 

“So your specialization is breaking and entering?” The sarcasm in Struan’s tone underlined his irritation.

“Yes.” The word hung there for a few moments. “Infiltration is more concise though.”

Struan felt his annoyance morph into a knot of concern in his stomach. For him, that word carried a military connotation and also one of extreme risk. It occurred to him that there may be a more sinister reason for sneaking onboard. “Do you have reason to believe that there is a security threat on board my ship?”

“Not at all Captain.” The statement was accompanied by a reassuring smile. “I would not be here if that was the case.” The man raised a finger as though to accentuate a point. “Although, with your permission, I will need to install a filter on the communications system once we get underway. Just to make sure word of what we’re doing doesn’t get out.”

“I’ll consider it.” Struan rubbed his temple. He was liking this less and less as the conversation went on. “Now, this mission. I think it’s time you shed some light on what exactly it is.”

“Of course,” Mr. Grey motioned for Struan to take a seat opposite him as he placed a mini holo-projector on the table. “What do you know of the Second Battle of Chin’toka?”

“Our first encounter with the Breen energy-dampening weapon.” 

“Yes,” Mr. Gray confirmed. “We’ve had reports from the Deneb sector of a rogue Dominion force. We believe that they’re working with the Breen to integrate that weapon with a larger Dominion warship.”

“We have a countermeasure for that weapon though, do we not?” 

“Assuming that they’d be able to increase the effect of the weapon in line with the power that could be supplied by one of those ships…” Mr. Gray paused while searching for the right words. “Well, we don’t think it would hold. And we wouldn’t have enough time to refit the fleet to compensate.”

 Above the holoprojector, the Deneb sector materialized, with the region subdivided into areas controlled by the regional powers. A glowing dot stood out, well within Breen space.

”This is the Kaldara system,” Mr. Gray explained, making a hand gesture that expanded the dot into a solar system.

At the heart of the system was a dim red dwarf star labelled ‘Kaldaris’. Orbiting it in the inner system were two quite unremarkable rocky planets and then a gas giant with several unlabelled moons. Beyond that there was an asteroid field that had apparently been dubbed the Valaan Asteroid Belt. It appeared to be much denser in some parts than in others and these patches contained the much larger asteroids.Visually it looked like someone had blown up a few planetoids and gravitational forces had spread the debris in a messy orbital band. Two locations were highlighted in the system; the first in orbit of one of one of the gas giant’s moons and the second was one of the more substantial asteroids in the Valaan belt. Below the name of the system, there was a navigation hazard warning.

“Our attention was drawn to this system by an unusual amount of subspace transmissions between it and the location of Breen Military Command.”

Struan nodded, “So a significant project there.”

“It certainly seems so. We’ve only had partial success at breaking the encryption, but what we do have points toward it being weapons research and the energy-dampening weapon in particular.” Mr Grey took a sip of his drink before continuing. “Unfortunately, the whole system is a blind spot for long-range sensors. Kaldaris emits erratic magnetic fields and frequent solar flares so the sensor interference is substantial.” He waved at the holographic map. “We managed to acquire most of this from the Ferengi. Apparently the asteroids are rich in metals and they used to have a trading relationship with the Breen.” 

The tone was loaded with disapproval. Struan didn’t need clarification that it was most likely enslaved people that were traded for the metals.

“According to the Ferengi data, it’s a starship maintenance facility near the gas giant and a cargo depot set into the asteroid. Given the transmissions, we believe the cargo depot has been repurposed for weapons research. We’re calling the facility D-218-C.” 

“Hold on,” Struan interjected. “The Sutherland is a research vessel. She’s not really equipped to be close to hostile space let alone conducting a strike that far into it!”

“Ah, two things,” Mr. Gray smiled whilst holding up a finger. “Firstly, who said anything about a strike? If we destroy the facility, they’ll just resume the work elsewhere and possibly with increased resource. Our mission is sabotage. They have to conclude that it’s not viable.” His smile got wider. “Remember, I specialize in infiltration.”

Struan frowned at him. In absorbing the information, recent events had been relegated to the back of his mind but the reminder brought it back to the forefront along with the associated irritation. Worse still, he now understood that the ‘demonstration’ was intended to skip past the part where the Captain doubts the abilities of the new guy to pull off the feat. He had to admit he was more concerned about where this guy would creep into than if he could do it. He could swear that Gray knew what he was thinking, that his train of thought was proceeding along the expected route. He pushed the feeling down and settled for not providing an opportunity for Gray to be smug about being right.

“And the second thing?” Struan asked, pushing the briefing onward.

“I have a present for you,” Mr. Gray’s smile was different now. It had shifted to a less self-congratulatory, more appreciative form. He handed over a PADD.

Struan activated it and was greeted with a ship specification and command transfer paperwork. “U.S.S. Hornet?”  

“Yes, Defiant class,” Mr. Gray confirmed. “She can plug the gap in your tactical capabilities and you can be a mobile repair and replenishment base for her. This has been in the works, but we’ve managed to move it up for this mission. It does mean that you’ll have to crew her from the Sutherland’s complement for now.”

“I see,” Struan’s response was muted. It was a lot to take in even before his responsibilities were expanded. He needed to think it all over. “I have a non-negotiable condition. Your little infiltration expedition is going to be led by my first officer, Commander Zh’tora. I know her and I trust her instincts.”

“That’s acceptable to me, Captain.” The certainty in Mr. Gray’s response gave the impression that this had also been expected. 

“I’m going to need some time to go over all this information.” Struan admitted in his wrap-this-up tone. “We will meet tomorrow morning with Zh’tora to go over the mission parameters and requirements. In the meantime, I’ll have some quarters assigned for you. 

Commander Gray nodded and stood up to leave.

“And Commander..” 

“Yes, Captain?”

“No more demonstrating your capabilities on my ship.” Struan cautioned. “Understood?”

“Yes, Sir.”

When he heard the door slide closed, Struan let out a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. The holoprojector and PADD remained on the table in front of him, a physical reminder that he’d not be able to get any sleep unless he straightened out all the details of the forthcoming mission in his head.

“Computer, Large coffee with cream, hot, double strong, double sweet.”

 

Comments

  • I enjoyed the gentle start to the story, reflecting on Struan's wisdom as a leader. It felt like a truism that thing you wrote: "One thing that he’d learned over the years was that a crisis never waited until your most experienced people were available." I like that a lot. All of that left me unprepared for the whirlwind of mystery you spun up around Commander Grey. I couldn't be sure if he was a Q or a Time Lord, appearing in the captain's quarters like that? Between the two of them, you've set them on a dangerous and frightening path of adventure!

    May 19, 2023
  • Nothing gets me quite like a mysterious spook showing up and creating some chaos. Consider me intrigued and excited to see what sort of a goose chase Commander Grey is cooking up for them. I also enjoyed how, following the initial encounter, the captain then began to question himself with lines like “He could swear that Gray knew what he was thinking, that his train of thought was proceeding along the expected route”. Really added to the relatability, as that would be such a natural feeling to have after his sanctuary was invaded.

    May 20, 2023
  • Great start to Sutherland's mission, I enjoyed how Struan reacted to an intruder in his quarters only to come to find out it was an intelligence officer who was here to give him his mission and another ship under his command! The irritation that the Captain had with the overall interaction was golden, now I am curious to see how this mission progresses as they get underway and if they can sabotage the plans of the Dominion using Breen technology especially that kind of weapon! You left me wanting more, how will everything play out? Great job!

    May 20, 2023
  • Starfleet Intelligence, sneaking around and dropping surprizes in peoples laps, they seem so good at it. What other tricks has this Commander Grey got up his sleeves. It will be interesting to see how the Captain splits his crew between the USS Sutherland and USS Hornet; two very different vessels.

    May 20, 2023