"The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

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"The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:40 am

I'm only posting the first couple of chapters for now, I want to finish the story first before posting more.

This fic is set during the Interuniversal War, but since it doesn't have direct involvement and the main plot is elsewhere I'm not counting it in "A War Like No Other" like "Thundering Guns" was.

Some familiar characters here and some new ones. Enjoy!

Prologue



DNS Joshua Roland
Gateway System, Joint Administration Territory
Universe Designate FB-16
24 April 2160 AST



The Gateway System, home to FB-16's main Interuniversal Jump Gate Assembly, was not technically Alliance space. Under the terms of the MacAuliffe Treaty, the Alliance shared control of the system and its multitude of space habitats and mining stations with the Human power of FB-16, the Terran Confederation. Both powers maintained garrisons and naval forces on station to protect the Gate.

Among the ships now docked alongside Gateway Station was the DNS Joshua Roland. A ship from the SE-1 history naming rolls, the Roland was a Callaghan-class fleet destroyer, made for aiding in fleet engagements by clearing similar ships from the capital ships and for launching attacks on enemy capital ships with torpedoes and the spinal mount nuclear-disruptor cannon. Aboard, its crew was preparing for a change in command in special fashion.

Lieutenant Commander Moringe Jumbe, Executive Officer of the Roland, was the first person at the door to the ship's officer wardroom when it opened, and his voice was rich with happiness as he proclaimed, "Happy Birthday, Captain!"

Behind him, the other officers of the Roland lifted their voices in agreement. Lieutenant Kuei Guo Yu of Astrogation stepped forward with the birthday cake.

The greeting caused a deep blush on the face of Rana Shaheen. "You shouldn't have," she said softly, her cheeks burning as her officers applauded. A banner hanging from the wall proclaimed "Happy 40th Birthday Skipper!" She stepped up to the cake and blew out the candles with a quick puff. She had a runner's set of lungs, brought on by her preferred method of exercise which was made evident by her lean, athletic build and subtle curves. The officer's black duty jacket was the same as it had always been save for the recent change; the three gold stripes and one silver on the lapel that marked her as a Lieutenant Captain now, not a Commander.

Lieutenant Captain....now there was a rank that had spawned controversy. English speakers found it silly, with most wondering why the hell they just didn't keep Captain for all the commands Lt. Captains got and made a couple more of the largest ships the preserve of Line Captains. But the Alliance was not just a union of English-speaking Commonwealth nations, and a number of navies - especially in Europe - had a longstanding tradition of multiple Captain ranks. Usually they were denoted by the ships that were to be commanded. "Corvettecaptain", "Frigatecaptain", and on... but that would never have flown, so the compromise was the current system: Lieutenant Captains for cruisers and carriers of cruiser tonnage or command of squadrons of destroyers or other lighter warships, full Captains for almost everything else, and Line Captains for the three big types of Carriers, Superdreadnoughts, and Battleship Divisions and Carrier Groups.

Rana took the first piece of cake and enjoyed it. "You didn't have this made in the mess, did you XO?"

Jumbe gave her a pained look. "Sir, how could you think that? I had it baked on the station. We all pitched in."

"That's kind of you," Rana answered.

"You deserve it, sir. You've been good to this whole crew. And I know you're moving on soon to another command, but I hope you don't forget..."

There was a beep over the intercom, not from the ship but being piped directly through from Gateway Station. "All Stellar Navy ships sortie immediately! Red Zulu Alert from New Liberty! All ships sortie immediately!"

The good feeling and happiness in the room deflated immediately. Red Zulu... the alert for a hostile force attacking an Interuniversal Jump Gate Assembly. And given things in ST-3 there was only one power who could be responsible...

"XO, make sure all Cardassian and Dominion recognition telemetry is fed into the firing computer," Rana ordered as she went for the door, her officers following. She hit the comm unit on her wrist. "This is Captain Shaheen to CIC. We are now at Code Red. Sound General Quarters!"

Klaxons began to blare throughout the ship, sending a crew that had been relaxing and waiting for shore leave into unexpected combat stations. The voice of Lieutenant Ashley Jenkins, the Officer on Watch, echoed throughout the corridors. "All hands man your battle stations! This is not a drill! Repeat, ship now at Code Red, all hands man your battlestations!"

"Another go with the Cardassians then, and their new friends," Jumbe remarked. "It''ll be a change from blowing up the Cats."

"Doesn't matter whether they're Cardassian or Kilrathi, they can still kill you easily," Rana reminded him. "Let's do this one by the book.."




Ten minutes later the Roland was approaching a departure gate. Ahead of them was the heavy cruiser Blenheim, Vicksburg-class, to pave the way for their arrival. Everyone was in vac-suits and in seat harnesses. Lieutenant J.G. Anna Roschenko was at comms, whispering in her native Russian but giving reports in English as needed. "We're picking up a general message from the Confederation contingent," she told them. "It's from Admiral Tolwyn on the Concordia; 'Good luck and Godspeed'."

"Acknowledge with thanks, Ms. Roschenko," Rana said simply.

The Blenheim disappeared into the swirling vortex of the interuniversal jump gate. It terminated a moment later. "Ten seconds until jump point generation," Jumbe said from his station, getting an update from Gate Control.

"Begin entrance sequence, Mr. Eckhardt."

"Aye Captain."

The 'Zynski ring lit up with light and a powerful energy field erupted from it, moving inward until the points collided in the middle and a hole opened up in the universe. The drives on Roland hit full and propelled the ship into the gate...

...and straight into Hell.

No sooner had they come out the other end did their ship shake hard, a polaron beam playing over their shield and destabilizing it. A Jem'Hadar attack ship loomed ahead of them, the debris of another still beside it as a fresh kill. Rana didn't have time to give the order before Lieutenant Yao triggered the bow weapons. Two lances of ruby phaser energy erupted from the Roland's spinal mount and speared the Jem'Hadar ship, piercing its shields. An anti-matter torpedo plowed into it and blew the ship apart.

The Roland moved away from the gate and into the thick of a chaotic, desperate battle. Rana's uplinks automatically showed her ship's assignment to a provisional destroyer squadron tasked with protecting this segment of the gate. A Cardassian destroyer, Ikvak-class, moved in front of them, but before Yao could open fire a spear of blue light pierced its rear hull and destroyed it in a white fireball.

The blast had come from the particle cannons on the Blenheim, but Rana felt her mouth dry at seeing the heavy cruiser. Blenheim, a veteran of no less than five battles with the Kilrathi, was already ablaze, flame and atmosphere leaking from multiple wounds on the cruiser's hull. Her shields were out and no less than six Dominion and Cardassian ships were pounding her to death. "Mister Yao! Target Bleinheim's attackers!"

Pulses of phaser fire erupted from the light turret mounts on the Roland. The bursts of ruby energy penetrated a damaged ship's shield and caused plumes of flame to erupt from a Cardassian cruiser. The cruiser turned to them as Lt. Eckhardt brought the Roland's bow over. The phaser cannons lashed out again and pierced the aft of the Cardassian cruiser. The tail was suddenly engulfed in white energy and the Cardassian ship was nearly vaporized in an explosion.

But it was too little, too late for poor Blenheim. Polaran beams raked through her weakened inner keel and found her anti-matter fuel. The Vicksburg-class heavy cruiser blew apart in a fireball of white, the explosion claiming two of her weakest killers in turn.

The other three turned their attention to Roland... or rather to the gate behind them. A compressor beam blast came from the wingtip of a Dorkarak and went by the Roland, impacting on the inside of the gate they had come out of. The damage was not severe, but it was there, and further attacks were coming. "Hold position," Rana ordered. "Focus fire anything going after the gate!"

Yao and Eckhardt complied with the order even as the ship rumbled around them. Compressor beams swiftly drained their shields with one of the Cardassian ships focusing fire on them as its buddies poured fire on the gate. Yao ignored the attacker and fired every weapon he had in the bow arc, a collection of phaser pulses and cannon beams that blasted apart another Jem'Hadar attack ship. A torpedo took out the bow of the Dorkarak that had already hit the gate. The Ikvak alongside fired its own torpedo spread, but these were aimed at the Roland. The blue pulses of point-defense particle interceptors fired in return, destroying three torpedoes...

The fourth crashed into the Roland, throwing everyone against their harnesses. "Shield cohesion down below half!", Jumbe reported. "Captain, recommend we maneuver more widely."

"Negative, we'd give them a clear shot," Rana insisted. Her stomach twisted with the realization of what she was saying; that she and her crew mattered less than the gate behind them. But one look at the battle bespoke the truth of that as every gate still active was a gate bringing in reinforcements. Losing one ship to bring in five was a worthy trade. Even if we all die. Rana swallowed at thhe realization she was committing suicide, effectively. "Continue firing, Mister Yao!"

Yao complied, and Eckhardt used the limited range Rana perrmitted him to get the best shots, allowing the two in tandem to take out the Jem'Hadar ship as well. But the enemy destroyer would not be denied. It poured compressor beam fire into Roland's shields until they were dissipating, and then... more torpedoes. Another full spread. At closer range.

One torpedo was destroyed, then another. Rana thought she saw a burning Federation starship, Sabre-class, swoop in from behind and hit the Cardassian in the rear with quantum torpedoes. But then the Cardie's torpedoes hit. The ship didn't just rock heavily, but rattled like it was in the first of an angry god. Each rumble was worst than the one before until the final fourth hit came.

The command center seemed to literally collapse around them. Rana cried out as an object slammed into her skull, after which blackness claimed her sight.




Our Lady of Grace Hospital, Wexford
New Liberty, Republic of New Liberty, Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate ST-3
4 May 2160 AST



Rana felt like she had been asleep forever. Dreams had come to her, nightmares of enraged cat hominids and explosions and sensuous dreams of Dani Verdes being her's again and Dani's soft touches on her flesh... even a couple of dreams of her childhood, when the desert wind was hot and the muezzin's call as regular as the seasons.

But the long sleep ended, finally. She felt softness under her head when she awoke in a white environment; a hospital room. And not on a military base either. Machines were active around her, taking readings of her lifesigns. She moved her arm...

Well, she tried to anyway, but no arm answered her.

Bewildered and still mentally fuzzy, Rana lifted her head and looked to her left arm. It wasn't there. Nothing came from the sleeve of the gown. Nor did it on the right side.

And her legs ended at the thighs.

An involuntary sense of panic filled her, driving her heartrate up. A nurse rushed in, Bolian by her appearance, and looked at the readings. "You're awake," she said with some startlement and... relief?

"Where... are my...?"

A look of pure sympathy came over the nurse's face. "You... you were in bad shape when they got you out of your ship, Captain. I'll have the doctor come by to explain things..."

The nurse checked Rana's vitals and the equipment she was hooked up to. She left afterward, leaving Rana by herself until an African man in a white lab coat entered. "Dr. Thomas Lokobe" was written on his coat. "You were crushed, Captain," Lokobe explained. "You were seconds away from dying when.." He checked the folder in his hand. "...you were beamed aboard a Federation ship, the Starship T'Pol. Their medical staff stabilized you long enough for you to be evacuated planetside to Our Lady of Grace." He looked at her somberly. "You're lucky to be alive. I'm afraid the impacts you suffered severed your limbs. It was only by luck you didn't get debris or something in your torso, that would have killed you. The good news is that we've already taken the necessary samples and have replacement limbs being readied for grafting..."

"How many...?"

"Hrm?"

Lokobe offered Rana a cup of water. After she drank from it her mouth felt better and she was able to speak. "How many of my crew survived?"

He looked at the notes again. He took in a breath and his expression told Rana it was news she didn't want to hear. She steeled herself for it, to hear how many of her crew of 200 had died...

"You were the only survivor, Captain."

The news hit Rana with the force of a torpedo. She opened her mouth, but her chest felt like it was being crushed and she couldn't form a word at first. A hoarse "What?" finally came.

"The T'Pol recovered several survivors, but the others were too far gone. You were the only one we could save."

"No... no." The pain inside her grew so great that hot tears began forming in Rana's eyes. "I can't be the only one."

"I'm sorry, Captain. I will schedule a grief counselor."

"I'd rather die," Rana responded hoarsely, angry with herself. She was their skipper. She was supposed to be the first to die. She was supposed to keep her crew alive and bring them home.

She thought about Roschenko's kids. About Kuei's fiance. Jumbe's wife and siblings. Eckhardt's parents. Chief Corwin's family and Lieutenant el-Rahman's and Yeoman Delgado's....

"God damn me," Rana whimpered to herself as she thought of all the people she'd let down.

She was their captain. She was supposed to have brought them home. That was her responsibility. Instead, she had given the order to keep position and gotten every single one of them killed.

She had failed them.

She had failed... everything.

And all Rana could do was cry and beg forgiveness to their spirits.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:41 am

Chapter 1


Stellar Navy Recovery Station, Shanghai
Republic of China, Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate SE-1
19 October 2160 AST



It had been a long six months for Rana. Two months living as a helpless chunk of torso, having other people feed her and bathe her and take her to the bathroom, followed by four months of therapy to help her body adjust to her new limbs and to regain full use of them, and only now was it coming to an end.

But not the nightmares. They never got better, and whenever Rana closed her eyes she could see the accusing looks of her crew from the Roland.

Even worse, she knew that even if the Navy gave her another command, her crew would never trust her. They wouldn't be able to help it, not when she was a captain who survived instead of her crew. There'd be too many doubts in their heads, about whether she'd save them or get them killed to preserve her own life. They wouldn't care of the details, just the basic fact.

Maybe I should just resign was the constant thought. Admit that her career ambitions were unattainable and throw in the towel. Oh, she'd stay for the war of course. There would be desk jobs that could use filling in, or if absolutely necessary a frontier command in LRC-19 or GS-42 far from the fighting, where she couldn't do any harm...

The day began as most others. Breakfast, then physical therapy and a visit by Dr. Quang to see how she was progressing. Then lunch and a walk in the gardens and maybe another Chinese lesson just for fun so the neuro-translator wasn't being relied on so much...

But things changed. Instead of getting visited by Dr. Quang, she was being brought to his office. It was not too overly furnished, mostly his doctorates and various medical journals. A digital photo of him shaking hands with First Prince Hanse Davion and being presented a Golden Sunburst. It was curious to see Quang kept the picture up given events in the past couple of years...

Rana must have focused on the picture a second too long, because Quang looked up from his desk. "I know it's not desirable to appear close to Prince Hanse," he said, "but I do not believe deleting the past will fix the present."

"I guess you think we should have let Hanse conquer the Inner Sphere?", Rana asked.

"I don't pretend to know what's best in politics. All I know is that he was a worried father very happy to have his son restored to health." Quang motioned to a chair. "Captain, your recovery is, frankly, complete. I am prepared to discharge you. But I would like to ask you... how are you feeling?"

Rana gave him a blank look. "What do you mean?"

"How are you feeling? About everything that's happened?"

"How do you think?" Rana shrugged. "I got my crew killed, Doctor, and I lived. It's not right. And it means I'll never be able to command a ship again, not without having a crew that won't be able to trust me."

"You may overestimate the unwillingness of people to consider circumstances. You survived by only a thin margin. Very thin." Quang drew in a sigh. "Still... it is clear to me that while you are clear for duty physically, the Navy should give you time to attend to your mind. I'm going to have you transferred to Bethesda HE-1 for outpatient psychiatric counseling. I'm sure the Navy can find a suitable posting for you there."

"Whatever you think is best, Doc," Rana sighed. Just like she suspected....




Bethesda Naval Hospital
Earth, Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate HE-1
22 October 2160 AST



The office of the junior psychiatrist Rana was to interview with was somewhat sparse, but it was the sparseness of a new occupant over someone with a Spartan sense of decoration. Rana barely had time to take in the surroundings before a nurse showed her into the office. There was, yes, the long sofa for her to lay down in, and an occupied chair. The young woman in the chair had a smile on her face, with intelligent blue eyes and a smile that made Rana smile a little herself. She was... well, cute, and Rana appreciated that.

And then there were those spots... Okay, the shrink was a Trill woman. The Trill stood and offered her hand. "Captain Shaheen?"

"Yes," Rana answered.

"I'm Doctor Tigan. Ezri Tigan. Also Lieutenant Ezri Tigan if you'd prefer to stand on military custom."

Rana shook her head. "It won't be necessary, Doctor."

"Alright." Ezri gestured toward the chair. "Please, be seated."

Rana took the couch. Soon enough Ezri had her talking. She wasn't being asked about the Roland but about her past. About her upbringing, her religious experiences and beliefs, her early days in her career...

And then her love life came up.

"The closest I came to falling in love was with Dani," Rana admitted with a sigh.

"Danny? Who was he?"

Rana smirked. "She is an engineer in the Navy. Beautiful and smart, but a little undisciplined and very impulsive. Not that I can complain because she was just so... full of life, that I couldn't help but have fun around her."

"I see." Ezri continued to jot down notes. "You broke up with her or she did with you?"

"It was me," Rana sighed. "I... I was too much of a coward to come out and say it was a breakup. I held out the hope that we might get back together again. But I wanted to make command and that meant a career track and workload that would have kept us apart. It wasn't fair to her."

Ezri nodded. "So you focused on command, then."

"Yes, staff work and then ship command. I was given the Roland three years ago, a year after I made Commander..." And then she stopped. Thinking of her ship, her crew, was like pressing her hand to a hot stove... or more accurately her heart. She felt the tears in her eyes but tried to hold it back.

"I'm sure you were close to them."

"You don't understand," Rana murmured. The agony in her heart was getting stronger. "You can't."

Ezri said nothing. It was a silence that spoke louder than words.

"I was their captain," Rana thundered. Just like that, she felt the pain pour through her. "I was supposed to bring them home! It was me that was supposed to die, not them! I... I shouldn't be alive! Why?! Why am I alive?!"

"Survivor's guilt," Ezri said simply.

"No. No, it's not just that," Rana retorted through sobs. "You don't understand. I was supposed to bring them home or die with them. They died. I came home. It wasn't right. It's. Not. Right."

"You had no control over that. Nobody did."

"I'm sure their families were real comforted to know that when they got told about who lived and died," Rana cried. "Oh God, why did you do this? What am I to deserve this?"

There was silence again as Ezri let Rana pour her grief out. The session was over before Rana was done.



28 October 2160 AST


After a second session with Ezri Rana was set to attend her first group therapy session. She was in civilian garb today, her beige jacket slung over her shoulder with a green blouse and blue ankle-length skirt with triangular patterns in the hem. A pair of comfortable slip-on shoes rounded out the attire.

Ezri was dressed in a two-piece jacket and a trouser set when she greeted Rana at the door. There were already some people present in the circle of chairs when Rana entered. She found an empty chair and took it before looking at the person beside her.

Describing a woman as "handsome" was not something Rana usually did... but she would here. The chin and jaw were strong while still clearly feminine, a patrician nose and moderately-thin lips filling out the facial features. The woman's skin was a dark bronze, darker than Rana's, but not dark enough to lose the bronze element of the complexion. She was tall too, and her body looked powerful. A pair of green eyes looked over at her. "Hello," she said, her voice with a clear North American accent. "Welcome to Morale Building 101 for people who get their friends killed."

"Sounds like therapy isn't working then," Rana remarked plainly.

"Oh, it works." The woman smiled a little. "It just helps you live with it." She extended a hand. "I'm Nidaelle Vesdein, Lieutenant Commander, Nova Force. You?"

"Rana Shaheen. Lieutenant Captain. I'm in Command branch." Rana fought the urge to stare. Nova Force was, effectively, Stellar Navy Special Forces, in the same vein as US Navy SEALs or British Special Boat Service. While the Star Marines got the lion's share of attention amongst Alliance Special Forces, Nova Force tended to enjoy the obscurity to focus on less-glamorous tasks like supporting the taking of enemy space stations or starships and mounting rescue missions onto hostile starships and space stations. Assault beaming tactics, breaching pod tactics, they were good at all of it.

"So, what did you do?"

Rana found she couldn't lower her eyes away from Nidaelle's. "I... I was captain of the destroyer Roland. I took her to New Liberty during the battle and spent too much time trying to protect the gate and not enough saving my crew."

"So you put the mission ahead of the lives of your people and yourself, which is what Captains are supposed to do?"

"Yeah. But when some Fed ship beamed my surviving crew from the wreckage I was the only one to survive." Rana could feel tears starting to well in her eyes.

"You couldn't help it. You had no power over it. But... it still makes you feel guilty." Nidaelle looked off past Rana. "I know what that's like."

The door shut and everyone looked up to see Ezri stepping away, their final arrival in front of her. The young Asian man was younger then either Nida or Rana and, in his brown eyes, there was a wild look that told you this guy was not the most stable of people. He flashed them a grin and flopped in his chair. "More lesbos! We always need more lesbians! Girl love is awesome!"

"Excuse me?" Rana looked at him sharply... and out of the corner of her eye she saw Nidaelle was giving him a similar look, though it was born more of irritation than offense.

"No, it's cool," he insisted. "I like you girls, really. Fuck those Baptist Church assholes!"

"Lieutenant Lee." Ezri found her seat. "Are you going to keep this up? You know you're supposed to dial it down for group therapy."

"But we have a new friend!", Lee responded. "I just want her to have some fun the first time she's with us losers!"

Rana tried not to grimace or show any irritation.

"So, who are you new arrival?!" Lee grinned at her maniacally. "They call me John Lee, but to my buds I'm the Shroom Man!"

Ezri had her hand covering her face from mortification. "Well, Lieutenant Lee introduced himself for our new arrival. Everyone, please introduce yourselves."

The introductions started. Everyone was Stellar Navy obviously, and everyone apparently had a survivor's guilt story to tell, though Ezri didn't have that start yet. Nidaelle reintroduced herself as a matter of course. Finally Rana was prompted for an introduction, and was welcomed in reply.

"Everyone here knows what it's like to be the only one out," Ezri explained to Rana out. "I won't ask you to tell about your experiences right now. You'll have time to get to know everyone first."

"I don't mind telling her my tragic story, Doc," Lee said with a grin. "Though all I have to say is that I flew a Hellcat at Goddard."

Well, that explains that. Being posted in FB-16 for so long, Rana was especially familiar with that system. It was an old destroyed Terran Confederation colony and the site of the first battle between the Alliance's FB-16 naval expeditionary force and the Kilrathi Empire. The Stellar Navy had went in expecting numerical superiority to hand them an easy win... and had ended up fleeing with the destruction of the battle carrier Sparrowhawk, heavy damage to the Midway, and multiple other Alliance ships destroyed, as well as the loss of virtually the entire starfighter contingent. In just a few hours the Kilrathi had humiliated the Stellar Navy's carrier forces.

For Rana, it was nothing less than a miracle that Lee survived that.

"A Hellcat against the 'Cats.... man, that was horrible. If I'd had one of those cool new Excaliburs, maybe we'd have done better. But the fuckers never told us how maneuverable and nimble those Cats were." Lee's grin started to fade. "I'll be damned to hell to know how I survived, Captain. So that's why the Navy keeps me off combat duty, sticks me as a trainer, and has me come to these sessions. At least we have a cute doctor now." He winked at Ezri.

The look on Ezri's face was the patience one expected a psychiatrist to show their most troubled patient. "Thank you, John. Now, Chief Calvin, if you would like to..."




After the session Rana was the last one out, confirming the time for the next one. After she stepped through the door she found Nidaelle standing there, a little smile on her face. "So... it looks like Lieutenant Lee's gaydar is pretty good. I'd almost suspect him," she noted with humor.

Rana blushed a little. "I... well, I kind of guessed with you, but I figured I'd ask later."

"Married? Or with a girlfriend?" The grin turned wicked. "Several?"

"What?! No! No, I mean, not even a..." Rana narrowed her eyes. "Wait, you're into that?!"

Nida's reply was a husky laugh that made Rana giggle right along. "No, I just like to check. I have trouble handling one girlfriend, I'd be breaking necks if I had to deal with several."

"I know the feeling. It's really crazy when the girlfriend is someone you really like to be with but is capable of making you crazy with just how impulsive she is."

"I've been there. How did you deal with it?"

Rana felt a bit of a blush on her face. "Uh... it involved leather wrist straps and lots of tickling."

That drew more laughter. "Wow... and you broke it off?"

"I was going into Command. She was in Engineering. It... would've been too hard," Rana sighed.

"Yeah, I understand." Nidaelle grinned at her and motioned toward the distant exit. Rana began following her. "So, been around here before?"

"No, I haven't."

"Well, if you're hungry, there's an excellent Thai place not far from the base."

Rana had to crack a grin. It threw her off... her first day of group therapy and she already had a hot athlete asking her out to dinner. "A date? On the day we met?"

"Why not?" Nidaelle grinned at her. "We can eat, talk about things. Just... hang out. God knows I need something to do. Until I finish my therapy I'm barred from taking back my team."

"I understand that," Rana agreed. "Alright, let's go have some Thai. If I get heartburn I'll know who to blame."

As they walked away, Ezri was looking outside her office door, a little knowing smile on her face.




Stellar Navy Officer Housing, Bethesda
Earth, United Earth, Alliance of Democratic Nations
1 November 2160



The morning routine in her Navy-housing apartment was the usual for Rana; get up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast from the base replicator system while looking at war news. The fighting in CON-5 was still desperate but in ST-3 they were beginning to crack the weakened Cardassian defenses. More ominous were the reports of growing anti-matter shortages from the consumption of the growing Alliance fleet and the allied ones. One reporter on the feed remarked upon suggestions to cut fuel shipments to the Federation, which was dismissed as threatening Starfleet with being forced into dock from the loss of so much Federation fuel capacity in the short-term from Dominion raids.

I should be out there, a part of Rana said to herself. She reached up to turn off the feed and saw a message come over her military phone. It was a simple message, informing her to come to Lieutenant Tigan's office. I'm not due to have a session today...

Just in case, she made sure to put on her duty uniform before leaving.

After checking a hovercar out of the base pool she drove to the Hospital's Mental Care Wing and made her way to Ezri's office. In the waiting room she found she wasn't alone; Nidaelle was there too, also wearing her uniform. She looked up at Rana and gave a small smile. "Captain Shaheen, you're joining us too?"

Rana looked at her, but she quickly put two and two together. "Someone's here?"

"I saw Admiral Jarke go into the office as I got here. He's discussing something with Doctor Tigan. I don't think she was too happy either."

"Jarke? I know...."

"He's with Special Operations. Virtually every officer in Nova Force has met with him at least once." Nidaelle stood and drew near. "I'm wondering why he's bothering with us. And..."

The door opened again. Rana and Nidaelle turned and saw Lee enter. "You got called too?"

Lee looked up at them and smiled. "Oh, yeah. All three of us? This should be cool."

"I doubt it's group therapy..."

"So you gals got told to put your uniforms on too?"

"Uh, no?", Rana answered.

At that, Lee started laughing. "Yeah, Doc Tigan knows she's got to make sure I show up right."

The door to the office opened. Ezri stood there and motioned for them to come in. On the inside was a man with a brown complexion and a stout build, though not unhealthy, with a fuzz of gray hair on his head. All three saluted upon entering. Jarke returned the salute and nodded at them. "At ease," he ordered in a firm baritone, a man used to command. He looked toward Nidaelle and gave a nod. "Commander Vesdein. And you are Captain Shaheen and Lieutenant Lee." Jarke stepped up to Shaheen. "I understand you haven't finished therapy officially, but I'm afraid we're not being given much choice. All three of you are being recalled to active duty, effective immediately."

"Really?" Rana looked quizzically at him. "What are we needed for?"

"The Stellar Navy needs officers with experience for an operation related to the war effort. We do not expect combat conditions to occur but we are unsure as to how things will develop, and we want people on the scene who can handle themselves." Jarke turned back to them. "Do you feel up to it?"

"Of course, sir!", Lee proclaimed. "I'm looking forward to being back on a carrier!"

"I'll go wherever I'm needed, sir," Nidaelle offered, almost a little too quickly.

This left Rana. She met Jarke's look intently. There was something about this mission that she felt was off-putting, a reason why the Navy was assigning shrink cases and not cleared officers. But... she'd get to have a ship again, and a second chance, and she'd sworn an oath regardless.... "I'll be honored, sir," she informed Jarke.

"Then Dr. Tigan and the three of you will be shipping out tomorrow. The cruiser Tippecanoe will be leaving at 2100 hours Washington time. Please be aboard by then."

There were nods, though it was clear that Ezri was the least happy of those in the room. Jarke accepted their final salutes and left the room.




DNS Tippecanoe, Entering Nyere System
Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate GSB-9
2 November 2160



The Vicksburg-class heavy cruiser emerged from the GSB-9 Nyere Gate Assembly and immediately made course for the Nyere Naval Station. The facility was one of the smaller ones in the Alliance but remained a vital port of call for the growing flow of goods to GSB-9 Earth. In the observation bridge built into the bow of Tippecanoe, Rana and the others were watching with Admiral Jarke remaining silent behind them. Ships of varying size were milling around the station.

The biggest of them stole everyone's attention. It was the best-looking, a sleek and graceful structure that announced both power and elegance in its frame. Rana thought she recognized it and knew why as the Tippecanoe flew close enough for the ship's name to be visible: U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-E.

"Does this have something to do with our mission, sir?", she asked Jarke, but the Admiral remained quiet.

As Tippecanoe moved to a docking station, the ship docked in front of them made Rana stare. She'd never expected to see one of those. "That's an old Terran Confederation light carrier," she murmured for the benefit of Nidaelle's quizzical look. "Ranger-class. But there's something different."

"You mean the warp drive nacelles?", Nidaelle asked.

Rana nodded. The ugly box shape of the Terran Confederation carrier was now changed by the pair of warp nacelles built into its sides. They were clearly taken from another vessel and patched on with yard work, making the vessel strange to Rana. "What's a Terran Confed ship doing with a warp drive?"

"We put it in," Jarke announced from behind them. "With the armistice signed with the Kilrathi the Confederation is mothballing and scrapping large segments of their forces. They sold us some surplus ships for use in quiet fronts or training to free up our other vessels for the war. The Langley was one of them. I trust you know your way around Confederation ships, Captain Shaheen."

That remark led Rana to put two and two together. "That's my ship? You're assigning me to that?"

"For this mission, yes. The rest of your command staff will be present in Fleet Command for the briefing."

"Understood, sir."



A slight, steady thrum of activity filled the Fleet Command room while, above it, the briefing was imminent. When Jarke arrived he was met by an older, bald gentleman in a Starfleet uniform with command red color, a bearded man standing beside him in Starfleet command red and a pale-skinned man in operations gold. Given the gold sheen to his eyes and skin Rana couldn't place his race. She waited for Jarke to nod at the man. "Captain Picard," Jarke remarked, extending a hand.

"Admiral Jarke, a pleasure." A diplomatic smile appeared on Picard's face as he accepted Jarke's hand. "My First Officer, Commander William Riker, and my Operations Officer Lieutenant Commander Data."

"Gentlemen, a pleasure." Jarke accepted handshakes from them and moved to let Rana and the others exchange introductions. All saluted respectfully at Picard as the superior officer, with Picard accepting their salutes with an equally respectful nod.

Jarke led them further into the room, bringing them up to a human male with a Commander's uniform. He reminded Rana of Commander Jumbe from his skin tone and some of his facial structure, though he had a wider nose and a thinner face. "This is Commander David Luwum, your Executive Officer," Jarke explained.

"Captain, a pleasure," Luwum replied. He accepted Rana's hand when it was offered before going on to shake Nidaelle's and Lee's. "I look forward to serving with you."

"You'll get a chance to talk later," Jarke told them. "It's time for the briefing."

They nodded and found seats with their names displayed on the corresponding screen on the table. Jarke took the main seat with an Asian man sitting beside him, wearing a civilian outfit. An Andorian male, a thaan going by his name, was beside the Asian, while Picard sat beside the Andorian.

The most interesting figure took a seat between Luwum and Nidaelle. The man, looking in his late 30s, wore a uniform that was a bright blue, unlike any other in the room, and easily recognized by Rana as that of the Terran Confederation's Navy. He had pilot wings on his uniform and the rank insignia of a Major. There was a glint of mischief in those blue eyes, but also - interestingly - boredom. The name written on his uniform was "Marshall". "You are the Langley's Wing Commander?", Rana asked him from her seat, with everyone else still taking seats.

He looked to her and a crooked grin crossed his face. "Yeah." He looked at Rana like he was trying to place her. "I think we've met before? Gateway Station, about a year ago?"

"It's possible, my ship was part of the garrison."

"So... you have to know who I am," he answered, the grin growing. "Everyone on Gateway knows about the Maniac."

Rana gave a slow nod. She thought she could remember stories about some ace pilot called "Maniac", known for insane tactics and stunts against the Kilrathi, but she had never been in the carrier circles and was more familiar with her counterpart destroyer commanders in the TCN.

"Ladies and gentlemen, attention please," Jarke called out, ending the conversation prematurely. "Welcome to Nyere Station, Universe GSB-9. I am Admiral James Jarke of Special Operations. This is Xue Liu, Alliance Defense Vice-Minister for Supply and Procurement, and Virshk th'Raavik, Starfleet Commissioner for Logistics. As you know, the Allied Powers are facing a fuel crisis that, if not alleviated, threatens the war effort in the ST-3 universe and potentially other fronts. The Federation's anti-matter production facilities have suffered major damage due to the Dominion offensive toward Earth earlier in the year and, in order to keep Starfleet operating, the Alliance has been forced to supply Starfleet's fuel as well as that for the Stellar Navy. With the demands of the civilian economy and the growing use of the IU gates, anti-matter fuel is coming under restriction that will have a severe effect upon the Alliance and Federation economies in the coming year if we cannot ease the production shortfalls. And to do that we need raw materials. In short.... we need ripleyium." Jarke saw movement from the Federation side of the table. "Commander Data?"

"My analysis of current production levels corroborates your statement," Data remarked. "In order to rebuild damaged and destroyed Federation plants and to expand Alliance productive capacity, we require a large increase of ripleyite production, as much as 20%, even when accounting for the restoration of the Federation's lost production within the next year. Unfortunately, increases in supply anticipated by both Federation and Alliance planners over the last decade have not..."

"So is it ripleyium or ripleyite?", Maniac whispered to Luwum, loud enough for Rana to overhear.

"Both," Luwum whispered back. "Different words, same thing."

Jarke had taken over from Data at this point. "....have made several new finds, but our hopes for the Geronimo deposits were ruined when that system fell to New Plymouth in June," Jarke continued. "In addition, the supply issues in CON-5 with the plague that New Plymouth used on the Anatolian Worlds makes it almost impossible for more than a trickle of British and French ripleyium to be shipped in. We need an alternative source. And that brings us to GSB-9. Captain Shaheen?" Jarke looked to her. "Since you and Captain Picard will be taking the lead on this.... I would like to ask you what you know of this universe."

"Contact was established in December 2158 AST," Rana answered. "Earth is suffering from severe contamination of the planetary biosphere due to pollution, reaching an 8 on the Turner-Goldberg scale of Ecological Damage."

"Yes." Jarke nodded. "We've established favorable relations with the nations of that Earth since they've begun settlement of their solar system and meet contact standards. Aside from their desperation to repair Earth's biosphere, they have also developed anti-matter production on a large scale at an abnormally early comparitive time period, brought on by the energy needs to keep Earth going. It's given them a ravenous appetite for ripleyium and they're already beginning to exhaust the largest deposits in the Sol Asteroid Belt and have been looking for newer sources for some time."

"Well, I'm not seeing how we can help them," Rana remarked. "Given Mister Data's figures we need their ripleyium more than they do."

"That is the point, Commander," Jarke pointed out. "Unfortunately, even if they were to agree to giving us all of their ripleyium production in Sol System, it would be woefully insufficient. But they have given us assistance in finding a source sufficient for our purposes." Jarke took a moment to take a sip from the glass of water before him. "Although they lack true superluminal travel as of now, they have begun exploration of local space with near-c starships. And through them, we now know there is an... anomaly in Universe GSB-9. You've been to the Alpha Centauri systems, Captain?"

"Once, back when I was in 3rd Fleet staff and we had war games in the Proxima Range," Rana answered.

"So you're familiar with the gas giant Polyphemus and the moon Noman?"

Rana shrugged. The looks on the faces of the others told her that she wasn't the only one wondering where this was going. "I guess, I know they're all lifeless."

Jarke gave a nod. "Well, not in GSB-9. In GSB-9 Noman is, well...." Jarke activated the holo-emitter at the end, usually meant for displaying entertainment holos. But instead it showed a planet, or moon, that looked Earth-like.

"It's Earth-type?", Rana asked, puzzled.

"Yes. The people of GSB-9 gave it a different name, Pandora." Jarke looked at all of them in sequence. "Going by their surveys and our own preliminary probes, Pandora might have the greatest concentration of ripleyium in the known Multiverse. Unfortunately, Earth GSB-9's processing center was overrun by native life forms due to a territorial dispute. Our purpose is not to be drawn into this dispute, just to get the facilities operating again. So you will be supporting Captain Picard's diplomatic efforts to make contact with the natives and make whatever deals are necessary to secure their acceptance to mining operations on Pandora. The Langley is being loaded with a wing of aerospace fighter and bomber squadrons as well as support craft to either take over the abandoned Earth facility or set up the foundation of another. Your mission will be to oversee this process and give Captain Picard whatever assistance he requires in convincing the natives, these...." Jarke looked down at his digital reader to check his notes. "...these 'Na'vi', to cease hostilities and permit resumption of mining."

"Understood, sir," Rana answered. She looked to Picard impassively. "I am at your disposal, Captain."

"I look forward to working with you, Captain Shaheen," Picard replied. He looked to Virshk. "Sir, if I may, this case does sound like it is skirting the Prime Directive..."

"The local Humans have already contaminated the Na'vi with offworld contact, Captain," Virshk remarked, cutting him off. "After considerations the Federation has determined that the Prime Directive does not apply so long as you do not interfere in their internal politics."

"Very well then. But, in the same vein... Admiral, Commissioner, if I may.... what if they will not accept a presence, what are we to do?"

"We must have the ripleyium, Captain," Virshk answered. "Nothing else matters."

"Agreed," Jarke stated. "The fuel situation is critical. We face forcing the Navy into dormancy or restricting IU gate use if anti-matter production can't be expanded. Do whatever is necessary, Captains. And, despite whatever else you may feel on this... we are in no position to accept an answer of 'no'."

"Even if it means conflict?", Riker asked pointedly.

"Yes, Commander, even if it means conflict." Jarke's expression was cold. "We don't want it, but we need the material. I don't care how you do it. If that means using force then that is authorized. You are all dismissed."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:46 am

Chapter 2


Rana's heart was heavy after the meeting, and for the first time in months it wasn't about her old crew. Commander Luwum and Major Marshall were both picking up on her mood but saying nothing, leaving it for Nidaelle to speak softly to her. "You don't look very happy."

"Why do I suddenly feel like I should be wearing conquistadora armor?", was the muttered reply. "Did I hear them wrong, Commander? Are we being ordered to use force on a primitive culture if they don't give us what we want?"

"For all we know we'll have to use force just to get them to listen to us," Nidaelle poined out. "Some cultures are big on shows of force."

"If this becomes some bizarre pulp fiction where I have to wrestle an alien to prove my worth, Commander, I'm sending you."

That prompted a grin. "Yes sir."

Soon enough they were through the airlock and on the Langley. Rana hid the apprehension growing within her at the disheveled sight of her ship. Whatever external work was done, internally the Langley was a mess. Wires crossed the corridors are inopportune locations. Entire sections had unsteady power flows, reflected by flickering lights. Work crews were few and far between. They expect me to leave in two days with a mess like this?

Luwum led them to CIC. It was less of a mess, thankfully, but showed a hodge podge nature with Alliance and Confederation interfaces mixed and matched as best as they could. A holotank model had been bolted into place on the floor and, given the look of things, Rana suspected the CIC had been increased in length by an extra section or two to accommodate it and increased action stations for the command crew. Nor did it have the secure feeling of a CIC she was used to, but that wasn't surprising; the Confederation didn't use keel-hull cores in the same way the Alliance did.

Within seconds of her entering, Luwum lifted his chin and loudly proclaimed, "Captain in the CIC!"

Heads popped up and salutes were made... and then there was a "clang!" and a cry of anguish along with some cursing. Rana looked over to the comm station and saw a young woman trying to stand up, rubbing her forehead gingerly. She had short cut dark blonde hair and a fair complexion. When her eyes opened and focused on Rana they were shown as a faint shade of blue. The girl's eyes focused on Rana's rank insignia and a look of panic came over her as she struggled to her feet and gave the most enthusiastic salute she could - so enthusiastic her hand hit the part of her head she'd just struck against the console, causing her to wince openly. "Technical Officer 2nd Class Lindsey Hocken, ma'am!"

"At ease, Officer Hocken, everyone," Rana answered, returning the salute. "As you were." WIth everyone free to disperse to their duties, Rana found herself struggling not to giggle at the cute sight before her. Hocken looked maybe 110 pounds soaking wet and looked far more like a geek than military should. "Everything okay, Hocken?"

"No ma'am, I mean, yes ma'am!" Hocken was clearly flustered. "Just the comm systems, ma'am. Integrating the new parts into the existing Confederation systems is tricky and I've been having problems with it."

Oh, that's nice... "Keep at it, Tech Officer. We're going out on a mission in a couple of days, indeterminate length. I need comms."

"You'll have 'em, ma'am."

Rana said nothing has Hocken made another attempt to salute and again hit the sore part of her forehead. It was taking far more control to not giggle in amusement than Rana would ever admit. She turned her focus to the holotank and then to Luwum. "Commander, please feel free to refrain from answering this question if it makes you uncomfortable."

"Noted, ma'am."

"You were supposed to be CO for this mission, weren't you?"

Luwum nodded briskly. "Yes ma'am. Even if I was not due to a promotion they considered me the best officer for the role. Then Admiral Jarke found your status had been updated to being physically fit for duty and asked me if I would be willing to serve as your XO. I did not hesitate in saying yes."

"Oh?" That struck Rana as interesting, she'd imagine hostility over something like that. "I'm flattered. If I may...?"

"I would not like to discuss it further at this time, ma'am," Luwum replied. "Our CMO is not due to arrive until tomorrow, but I believe the Chief Engineer is on duty at the moment. Chief Engineering is this way..."




Chief Engineering was less of a mess than the rest of the ship, much to Rana's quiet relief. Luwum showed a slight stiffness as they came up past the anti-matter reactor - retrofitted into the ship in a partial rebuild - and to Main Engineering's Control Deck. A small, wiry man was standing amidst engineering mates, cursing and yelling at them. Rana noted with some displeasure his unkept black hair and slack posture, but he was at least forceful through his thick Dutch accent.

After hearing the man curse a bit more, Rana realized it wasn't just Dutch though, but a similar accent, one she couldn't place. "Lieutenant Hertzog is a Nieuw Transvaalian of LRC-19," Luwum explained quietly.

"You mean he's a Boer," Nida remarked disdainfully.

"Yes," Luwum remarked simply.

"And related to Jan Hertzog?"

"Grand nephew, I believe."

Rana drew in a breath. Of course, her crew wasn't going to be made up of the most desirable members of the service. But the Boers of LRC-19 had a reputation; they'd reclaimed that title and left Earth to restore the harsh, outright racist society they'd had in South Africa and lost to progress. Then they'd mellowed out and a few of their most liberal worlds had joined the Alliance in the past decade. But only the most liberal and, of course, even those nations still had the hardliners.

"Familiar with the Boers of LRC-19?", Rana whispered to Nidaelle. She said nothing more when she got a cold look in return.

After dressing down the rest of the engineering staff Hertzog stepped up to them and saluted. "Lieutenant Pieter Hartzog, sir, Chief Engineer." The silver stripe in his rank insignia clarified him as a junior grade Lieutenant - a low rank to have for a department head on a ship the size of the Langley.

"Captain Rana Shaheen," Rana answered. She gestured toward Nida and Marshall and introduced them both.

After giving the cursory replies, Hertzog motioned to the control displays. "I heard we're leaving in a coople of days, sir, so I've goot the crews working all shifts. These fookin' Confederation engineers doon't know what they're.... sorry Captain." Hertzog blanched at Rana's icy glare for his speech. "I try."

"You're new to the service, Hertzog?"

"Yes and no. Served with the Oranje Navy when I was yoong. Goot into too much trooble and left. Been working private ships ever since. Goot some time on FB-16 ships in the Landreich merchant marine soo I know my way aroond their technoology. Then I goot drafted as a specialist and handed over to the Stellar Navy."

Well, that explains that. "Just so we're clear, Lieutenant, I understand you were a civilian just a few months ago, but you will watch your language on duty. Discipline in the crew begins with the senior officers."

"Yes sir," Hertzog answered, saluting.

"Good. As you were." Rana nodded to Luwum, who led them on.

When they were out of earshot, Hertzog let his irritation loose by muttering, "Fooking kaffir cunt," and blanched immediately. Thinking things like that about his superior officer could only lead to further trouble.




The tour was over quickly enough, allowing Marshall and Nidaelle to head off to attend to their duties. Rana watched them leave the officer wardroom and turned to Luwum. "Commander, I notice we're short a few more personnel?"

"We couldn't get a sensor officer assigned on time so I've assigned one of the Technical Officers to oversee the department for the time being," Luwum replied. "And as for our tactical officer and security chief... I will need your assistance."

"Oh?" Rana gave him a look. "With what?"

"It takes a CO to get someone out of the station brig," Luwum explained.




The woman sitting on the other side of the brig was big, big enough to make even Nida look small. Rana figured the woman was over six feet tall easily, looking almost masculine with the strong jaw, cheekbones, and chin on her face. Piercing blue eyes and flowing blonde hair, along with a complexion so fair that it was almost literally white, made her look like a Valkyrie or female VIking of some sort. "Lieutenant Vigdis Skarsgard," the Stellar Navy MP standing beside the brig cell read from his display. "You'll have to sign the authorization for her, sir."

Rana nodded and accepted the reader. Okay, so my security chief and gunnery officer is an actual Viking, she thought, fighting a smirk as she put her name and authorization code in. "Just what did she do?"

"Nearly killed a Klingon exchange officer, sir."

Vigdis snorted. "The Klingon was the one who started it."

"The Docs had to nearly re-attach the man's arm," the MP added, looking warily at Vigdis. "Her attack nearly dismembered him."

Rana raised her eyebrows. "She nearly ripped it off?", Rana guessed. "Or shot it off?"

"Cut," the MP clarified. "Lieutenant Skarsgard attacked the man with a Norse battle ax."

"I shouted 'Blood for Odin!' for dramatic effect," Vigdis added, smiling. "Now nobody believes me when I point out I'm Lutheran."

Just what crew have I been given?, Rana thought to herself, though she had to hide a bit of attraction to the very literal warrior-woman who was stepping through the de-activated forcefield. "I hope you won't repeat that incident, Lieutenant. Given the state of Langley you'd trip over something."

"I was just making a point to Commander K'mbec," Vigdis replied. "It won't happen again, Captain."

"Good. I'd hate the paperwork."




Once back on the Langley, Rana went to work setting up her quarters. She'd put up pictures when she heard a rapping sound on the door. "Yes?" When it opened she turned to face Dr. Tigan. "Doctor?"

"Captain." Ezri looked at her quarters. "Good to see you're settling in."

"Are you?"

"As best as I can." The Trill girl let out an exasperated sigh. "I'd like to continue your therapy whenever convenient."

"That might be a while, Doctor." Rana gestured to her quarters. "I've got this to do and then I take over the official command paperwork, then meetings to make sure we depart on schedule."

"I understand. But, Captain.... I know it thrills you to have a command again, but I'm concerned that you're not recovered from your psychological trauma."

Rana said nothing and turned around to move things on her desk. "I think I'll feel better when I get this ship going, Doctor Tigan. I appreciate your concern..."

"I still think it best..."

Ezri was interrupted by a beep on the desk, specifically the intercom control. Rana leaned over and pressed it. "Shaheen here."

""Captain." The voice was Hocken's. "Captain... Pick-ard, no... Pie-card...? The captain of the Enterprise is on the comm for you."

Rana lifted her head and looked to a screen hanging on the wall. "Put it down here, Tech." A moment later Picard's face appeared on the viewer; he was clearly in his own office. "Captain Picard."

"I see you're settling in, so I won't keep you," Picard answered. "I wanted to propose a working dinner between my command staff and your's tomorrow evening, aboard the Enterprise. It will be a chance for us to go over the materials on Pandora and consider our plans for when we arrive."

"A great idea, Captain. My crew and I will be there."

"Excellent. We'll be ready by 1900 hours station time. Picard out."

Rana looked over to Ezri after that. "You're invited as well, Doctor."

"Of course. I'll be going now, but my door is always open."

"I know it is, Doctor." Rana drew in a sigh as the young woman left her alone. She took a seat and drew in a breath. The crew wasn't the best she'd had, and she found herself comparing them to Roland's crew... which only served to re-open that wound in her heart.

Good or bad though, this was her crew. And she'd be damned if she got another crew killed and walked away from it.




After a restful night and a morning of signing emergency requisition orders over a cold breakfast, Rana got into her duty uniform and headed to the ship's launch bay. Like with other sections of the ship the bay was a hodge podge of the built-in Confederation technology with jury-rigged Alliance modifications to bring the ship up to spec, resulting in a mess that the flight crew was scrambling to deal with. At least we've got our flight wi.... what the hell?

As Rana examined the flight wing, she recognized and was gratified to see a line of F-42 Excalibur starfighters, eight in all, representing the best frontline starfighters in the Stellar Navy. But the other berths were made up of F/A-38 Sparrowhawk aerospace strike fighters, multi-role aerospace craft normally seen in some of the national navies' planetary support forces (the Marines had doggedly stuck to the F-37 Corsair and its newer models).

As much as it made sense to have aerospace fighters for their mission.... the fact that these were clearly not Marine aviators made Rana uncertain of just what was going on with her Air Group (an archaic term, certainly, but kept on due to tradition). Stellar Navy pilots, in her experience, hated aerospace craft, seeing them as fit for the Aerospace Force and Marines (as the joke went, one being too scared to fly "real" fighters and the other being too "stupid"). If the Stellar Navy had assigned her pilots from its wings, she dreaded to see what dregs they'd be....

"Hey Captain! Captain on the launch deck everyone!" The voice made Rana look over from an F/A-38 that was in the middle of being emblazoned with... well, a lot of feline skull marks, which was enough to tell her who the pilot was. Major Marshall bounded up to her and made a salute that was only as professional as etiquette mandated. Other members of the flight crew made their own salutes. "Captain, how can I help you?"

"Just checking on our wing," Rana answered, returning the salute. "I was surprised to see Sparrowhawks in the complement. I haven't seen them since the cross-navy wargames I was in during my fleet staff service."

"Yeah, they're not the best." Marshall shook his head wistfully. "But they're tough. The automatic twin coilguns in the nose can tear an armored ground target to shreds in a pass and the nuke-disruptors have a fifty degree angle cone for dogfighting."

"I didn't think Confederation pilots had any more love for aerospace stuff than our own?"

"Oh, I hate 'em." Marshall smirked. "But being able to fly the damn things.... hell, I'm the Maniac, these things are good for the challenge. Now the Excaliburs... whole other story. Handle like a dream. It's like you took the best of our fighter designs and the best of your's and put them together. The Kilrathi are lucky they chickened out before those things came out in numbers."

"I think we are too," Rana answered, thinking about how things might have gone if the Kilrathi had resumed hostilities following the outbreak of the War. "Carry on, Major."

Marshall went back to looking over his fighter. Rana made her way around equipment and working flight crew to the starboard exit. She'd want to check in at CIC and Commander Luwum....

Her comm went off. She brought it up and answered after stepping through the starboard hatch to get out of the launch deck, wondering what it could be this time.

Hocken was on the other end. "Captain, Admiral Jarke wants to see you on the station, Docking Bay 10 reception."

I wonder what this is about... "Tell him I'm on my way."




It took almost ten minutes to get through her ship into the station and across to the docking bay receiving area. Jarke was waiting for her, alone. "Captain, I hope you've settled in."

"I'm focused on getting my ship in working order, sir," Rana admitted. "She's a bit of a... mess."

"Yes, it's unavoidable. If we had more resources I'd have preferred picking a more prepared vessel, but we needed a carrier and with the carriers in action tied up on so many fronts..." Jarke shook his head. "Speaking of resources, I have a piece of news you're not going to like."

"Oh?" Unease made Rana's stomach churn a little. What handicap was going to get thrown her way now...?

"With the war on, our special forces teams are stretched thin. We need every elite unit on a front somewhere and none could be spared." Jarke drew in a breath. "Minister Xue has authorized the employment of contractor forces for this operation."

Rana's look turned dark. "Mercenaries you mean."

"Yes."

"Inner Sphere? Some of their merc units are almost mainstream military at least..."

"With the problems going on in FedCom space and the growing likelihood of a conflict between Prince Hanse and Prince Victor.... I'm afraid their reputable merc units were considered either politically unreliable or were outright unavailable. No, we found a different source. A low key source that Minister Xue believes will help keep this mission under the radar." Jarke crossed his arms. "Universe LP-9, Captain."

Rana nodded. There were a few nations of LP-9 in the Alliance; they were the least advanced Earth in the known Multiverse, in which it was only the first decade of the 21st Century, as the result of a contact around the time of the Alliance's founding. "PMCs on a mission like this, Admiral? This isn't going to look well. And if something happens..."

"I know," Jarke conceded. "But Xue and I will take the heat for it. You're in the clear on this, Captain, don't worry."

That wasn't remotely was Rana was concerned with, of course. "And how is this going to work? They accept I'm in command?"

"Yes. The chain of command for this operation has been made crystal clear. You are in charge of the military element, Captain Picard has authority as the chief negotiator. And these people are consummate professionals, at the very least. They came highly recommended." Jarke motioned to the entry hatch.

The transport vessel had been docked for several minutes, but it'd taken time for the passengers to get their things and disembark. Rana and Jarke were standing and waiting for them to come off. The first men off were all silent, carrying their gear and wearing green paramilitary uniforms. They took up positions to the side of the dock. Behind them came a figure that broke the monotony of men in green uniform jackets; a woman in a red business jacket and skirt with her uniform jacket resting on her shoulders. Rana's brown eyes met her blue-gray eyes. The look was familiar; it was something Rana had seen in Nidaelle's eyes even in her softest moments, a cold look that said "I've killed a person face-to-face before and I can do it as easily as snapping my fingers". The right side of her visible face was marred by a sizable scar, what looked to have been a horrible burn in the woman's past. The eyes were inquiring as they looked into Rana, sizing her up, judging what she was by her look and body language. Rana resisted breaking the eye contact even if it felt like those eyers were looking at her and judging her past history, how she survived when her crew didn't....

"Captain Shaheen, these are the specialists hired by Minister Xue," Jarke explained. "Captain Pavlovena, welcome to Nyere Naval Station."

"Admiral Jarke." There was a nod and brief turn of the eyes to the admiral. "Captain Shaheen." The woman's voice was clipped and reserved, accented with Russian. "My respects to you, Captain. I heard about what you accomplished at New Liberty. It will be interesting to work with you."

"Captain Pavlovena, it will be a pleasure."

The scar-faced woman barely nodded. "Please, Captain. Balalaika will do."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Sat Sep 14, 2013 11:47 pm

As of this point in the story, Marina will be getting credit for writing material involving Balalaika, whom she asked to cover. Sometimes we did the scenes together and sometimes I wrote them and then she tweaked my Balalaika dialogue.

Chapter 3 is the last of the chapters I intend to post for a while. I may post a few chapters every time I reach another point in the story, but odds are that I'll stop at a certain point and wait until the story is concluded.

Chapter 3


RDA World Headquarters
New York City, Earth
United States of America



Parker Selfridge tried to avoid the notice of the protestors outside of RDA's main entrances. Despite the towering arcologies and the smog enough sunlight came through that his face would be seen easily if he dared to more than glimpse at them and his curiosity often overpowered his irritation enough to see what they were saying today.

Getting enough of a glimpse to see the printed placard proclaiming "JAKE SULLY IS RIGHT!" was more than enough to tell him which brand of protestors it was today. The environmental ruin of Earth had made multinationals like RDA loathed by large swaths of the populace, and among the non-Western nations and the leftist street protestors that crazy crippled bastard had become a hero overnight, with T-shirts and placards and net sites, everything. RDA's announced lawsuit against his "estate" for violation of contract had only fanned the flames greater.

And when it wasn't the pro-Na'vi people, it was the humans-first groups, who as it turned out hated Selfridge just as much. To Sully's supporters he was the incarnation of the evil corporate managers who raped Mother Earth and the less-advanced cultures of the world and wanted to do the same to Pandora; to the humans-first types he was the idiot who let the Na'vi build their strength up and cost Earth vital resources. They hated him almost as much as they hated Sully.

If it hadn't been for the fact he'd been the first authority figure to make any contact with the Multiverse, Selfridge figured he'd have been long fired.

Memories of that horrid return to Earth almost two years ago came to him as he got into the elevator and swiped his card, headed to the highest floors. The survivors from Hell's Gate had been shipped off Pandora by Sully and his supporters, left to the long spaceflight home with meager provisions. They'd been on the outskirts of the system, preparing to go into cryo-sleep, when their instruments had spotted the surveyor vessel appear out of nowhere.... as it turned out, because it had been using Cochrane warp drives, a technology believed out of reach for 'his' Earth. Contact with the Multiverse at large had thus happened in part through him, and even if he'd long been displaced in dealing with day-to-day operations on that the prestige had let him salvage his career... at least partially. For all intents and purposes RDA had put him in an office, denied him the promised bonuses for running Pandora, and kept him on a (for him) meager salary that was just sufficient for his Manhattan studio.

Getting summoned to the highest echelons of the company was therefore something he hadn't expected. He had to pass through a phalanx of security, including armed guards carrying Alliance-make charge pistols of all things, and a whole host of interns and secretaries before he entered a richly-decorated office full of awards, mementoes, and other things that said "The guy who uses this place is more important than you". The man in question, Vice President Gephardt, spoke with thinly-accented German when he lifted his thin frame from his high-backer leather chair. "Mister Selfridge. Thank you for coming so quickly."

"Pleased to serve, sir," Selfridge answered.

"A shame about the Pandora fiasco," Gephardt continued. "Your work showed such promise before those scientists and jarheads ruined everything."

Selfridge said nothing. He could see it was idle talk building up to the real subject.

"You've probably heard about our arrangement with the Alliance of Democratic Nations? Specifically, their Defense Ministry." Gephardt continued to appraise him as he spoke, and his demeanor was a clear indication he expected a verbal response.

"I've heard a bit, but some of it is corporate rumor-mill, sir."

"Of course. Well, it's true. RDA is signing over its mineral rights on Pandora to the Alliance Government in exchange for many generous payments and concessions." Gephardt smiled thinly. "Since the company cannot afford any expeditions to re-establish mining on Pandora this is the best deal we could have hoped for. And with the Alliance becoming desperate for unobtanium for their war effort, we can be sure they'll do what's necessary."

"So they're going back to deal with the Na'vi?" There was a part of Selfridge who almost wanted to grin. The Na'vi had gotten lucky last time, but against a society with that level of technology? Hell, if they were lucky the Alliance would just drop anti-matter warheads on the moon until it was an unobtanium-rich cinder.

"Their primary goal is simply to restore mining in some fashion. But I imagine the Na'vi will not make it easy, not with that turncoat jarhead leading them." Gephardt returned to his seat. "That's why we're sending you."

And that was it. The shoe had dropped. Selfridge tried to remain passive even as a part of him quailed at returning to that horrid place. "Sir?"

"You have experience with Pandora. You know the players in the vicinity of Hell's Gate and the veins in that region. You've talked to Multiversals before. And you can convince them to resume exploiting the Hometree Motherlode."

"And I'm already tainted, so the company doesn't have to worry about whoever goes screwing up and causing more damage to the brand," Selfridge remarked.

Gephardt smiled thinly. "You are a bright young man, Selfridge. Think of this as... an opportunity. Do your best to make sure the Alliance and its allies don't chicken out, defend our corporate interests, keep the Board informed on everything going on there, and you can salvage your career."

Selfridge nodded. Carrot and stick in one. He was going back to Pandora or he'd be left adrift by the company. "Okay sir. When do I leave?"

"After lunch," Gephardt replied. "They're stepping up their timetable and we don't have the time to be more leisurely. A high-speed courier shuttle has already been contracted to take you to Nyere. When you're there, report to the office of Admiral James Jarke. He'll assign you to the mission."

"I'll go get ready now sir." Selfridge nodded.

"First things first. Since we want to make it clear how much we value their partnership, we can't just send a non-department office manager." Gephardt nodded at him. "In advance of your success, the Board has agreed to re-instate your operations manager position and to give you the highest authority."

So that was it. That was the carrot. Left unsaid was "if this goes bad we'll take it from you just as fast". But for the moment it meant he had everything he might need to re-establish operations on Pandora, even if just on behalf of the Alliance. He would have full procurement authority.

Nevertheless, as he shook Gephardt's hand and left, Selfridge's stomach was churning with dread. Back to Pandora. God, I'm going back to that hellhole.



Nyere Naval Station



Nyere's commercial deck was just a two deck area that took up the center of the station, display viewports showing views of the nearby star system and some approaching ships. Restaurants, specialty shops, and department stores abounded, though not nearly as many found at major facilities like Kensington or Meiersworld. One of the specialty restaurants was a Thai restaurant, opened by a family from Thailand AGC-1, and Nidaelle had picked it when Doctor Tigan had proposed a lunch with her patients to get at least some therapy in. Looking for a reprieve from work Rana had agreed, but she regretted letting Nida pick their lunch as she forced the spicy Thai down before it burned her tongue off. Nida was smirking at her in amusement before taking down her own bite, after which she looked to Ezri. "Doctor Tigan, it won't hurt."

"Pardon me, Commander, but I've had Human Thai cuisine before," Ezri answered. "It doesn't agree with the Trill palate."

"It doesn't agree with any palate that hasn't had its taste buds burnt off," Rana muttered. "What do they do, coat everything here with the hottest spices they can find?"

"Wimps." Nida gleefully took another bite. "So, Doctor, group therapy lunches are better, right?"

"Only if you're not trying to burn my tongue off," Ezri countered before forcing a gulp down. "Lieutenant Lee was supposed to join us here as well."

"He's too busy in the station sims." Rana put her fork down and wiped a bit of sauce from the corner of her mouth. "The look on his face when I told him he'd be flying the Sparrowhawks... I never expected a smile like that. The man is nuts."

"Funny how they put people like us in charge of this op, it's almost like the Federation used up all the 'top line' officer billets for this mission."

"Don't sell yourselves short," Ezri insisted. "I think it's pretty clear Admiral Jarke has high opinions of you."

"He does." Nida buried her form into more noodles and meat. "But we are getting a crew of cast downs."

"Picard's job is the important one," Rana pointed out, "they just need a small military backup for him in case things go south."

"You mean in case the Na'vi say no once too many times and we have to bomb them into submission," Nida remarked snidely.

Rana's expression hardened. The twist in her stomach wasn't from the spicy contents anymore, but the sheer sense that this was a mission she wanted nothing to do with. We need that material for the war effort, she reminded herself. There are good men and women of many races dying to save two galaxies from oppression, and they can't do their jobs without energy. I have to remember that. "Maybe we can just section off the mining area with forcefields to keep them out," Rana speculated. "Then their agreement doesn't matter."

"Yeah."

The three continued to eat. Rana's plate was almost done when a figure stepped up to them. He was in a black Stellar Navy duty uniform like the rest of them with the rank insignia of a senior lieutenant and the blue trim of a medical officer, a young-looking African man - Southern African if Rana was correct - with the name Buthelezi on his uniform. He saluted, not too stiffly but with enough respect. "Captain, I apologize for interrupting your lunch..."

She gave a quick salute in response. "At ease, Lieutenant. This is a restaurant, not my office."

Speaking again, it was clear the man's accent was as refined an English accent as Picard's. "Thank you, sir. I'm Lieutenant Daniel Buthelezi. Doctor, actually. I've been assigned to Langley as chief surgeon."

"I see. Welcome, then, Doctor... but can I ask what couldn't wait?"

He handed her a digital reader with series of forms queued. "I was told departure is tomorrow. I only arrived this morning and the logs showed Langley's infirmary as critically low on necessary provisions, I felt it best to get the requisition forms prepared and signed immediately. I only need your finalizing signature."

"Ah." Rana quickly scanned the paperwork, noted the requisitions in passing, and pressed her thumb to the reader's surface. The system read her thumbprint and geneprint in seconds, acting as an official signature for all the forms. "Thank you, Doctor. Good work with that, I want our medbay stocked."

"It will be now, Captain. Anything else?"

"We're having a dinner with Captain Picard and his command staff at 1900 tonight. Be ready by 1830 and meet us at the dock to the Langley."

"Yes sir." Buthelezi nodded and walked off.

"Let's just hope this Thai doesn't ruin our appetites," Ezri sighed.




"So, Capitan. What do you think of this one?" Boris settled back into the cabin on the carrier that was serving as their operational office.

"I think every single native on that planet is going to be spending the next year trying to kill us, Sargeant."

"Like the Dookhi." Boris frowned. "Capitan, that's a grim assessment."

"Yeah, but they're paying us well enough, and we cashed in our savings for the latest heavy weapons. I don't intend to lose any of the men to tribes, though." Balalaika paused for a moment and then smiled thinly. "We're not letting them get advanced weapons, any more than they have, for starters."

"True, Capitan." He sniffed dismissively. "Well, it's a job and that's all it is."

"Yeah, Sargeant. Just a job, these days. Isn't that what the capitalists wanted us to go out and get, after all?" She laughed, almost daintily, though the air of it was nothing but.

"A shot of tea?" She spoke as she finished.

"With pleasure, Capitan." It was, of course, not really tea.

They might need a lot of that, come soon, if it was anything like Afghanistan. But who knows, maybe these idiots are so dumb they'll actually take the offer and we'll get the big money for doing nothing.

A second later. I wouldn't. In their place, I'd fight. But if everyone was like me, there'd be a lot fewer corpses in Roanapur.




The command staff of the Langley, along with Captain Pavlovena, were met at the airlock by Riker and the Enterprise's security chief, Lieutenant Padraig Daniels. Vigdis seemed to size Daniels up with a look and grinned a little before following the two Federation officers to the officer's lounge in the bow of the ship. Several dinner items were ready for them already and Picard was at the head of the crew as they came in. "Captain Shaheen, welcome." Ever the diplomat, Picard offered his hand.

Rana took it and shook it. "Captain, thank you for the invitation."

Both command crews were introduced; Rana took the moment to introduce Captain Pavlovena as well. Picard's diplomatic smile didn't wane, but there was a clear indication of unease there. Her very presence is a reminder of how wide the gulf is between the Federation and the Alliance, and our willingness to intervene in less-advanced societies.

"Captain Picard. A pleasure to meet an officer of the United Federation of Planets," she spoke smoothly as she offered her hand, wearing her red business suit without the uniform jacket, informally, though it seemed a uniform on her as much as a real uniform was for everyone else. "I greatly admire the principles to which the UFP has tried to hold itself. You may be assured, of course, that my people are all disciplined former soldiers of the Soviet Union" -- not Russia, interestingly enough -- "And will obey orders regarding our mission and rules of engagement exactingly." Her smile was particularly grusome with the injury to her face and one might wonder with modern medical technology why it hadn't been repaired.

"I thank you for the reassurance," Picard replied.

Everyone gathered at the table. At the mutual agreement of Picard and Rana, Data delivered the basic information they knew about Pandora. "The RDA corporation on Earth GSB-9 has been very helpful with providing records of the conflict with the Na'vi," Data remarked as they brought up surviving footage of the battle that had been waged with the natives on Pandora. "Their official finding is that Colonel Quaritch acted too aggressively and caused the conflict to escalate, although some elements on GSB-9 believe RDA is downplaying the role their corporate management played in provoking the Na'vi."

"Either way, it is best if we keep them far away from this situation," Riker remarked.

Luwum, who had been on site the longest, spoke up next. "The Alliance has negotiated for RDA's withdrawal from Pandora affairs. For the moment, final agreement is contingent upon our securing of the Hell's Gate facility and the remaining ripleyium stores that RDA was prevented from moving offworld."

"The animals on that world look hardcore," Marshall mused, seeing the battle footage of the planetary fauna wreaking havoc on RDA's contractor forces.

"Yes. It's a very unnatural environment," Balalaika remarked, confident and very sharp, pressing forward on the table and very cold. "Our heavy weapons will be a necessity here. The local fauna will represent a major hazard to any landing party and to all mining operations even if the Na'vi themselves cooperate with us. From what the RDA has told us animals under the control of the Na'vi were virtually like an armoured force, and the light weapons of their troopers on the surface were inadequate to deal with them. It rather follows that animals not under the control of anyone at all will pose a major safety hazard. If the diplomatic affairs work out as desired, I would still expect my men to be very busy dealing with them."

"Our air group is being outfitted with specialized munitions to help clear secure areas and provide open ground to detect the approach of the most hostile megafauna," Luwum added. "Major Marshall will be coordinating heavily with Commander Vesdein and Captain Pavlovena to ensure efficient use of our air support."

"I see you have the military aspect of the situation quite well thought out," Picard remarked. "That will leave us with the other issues at hand, and how to deal with the Na'vi."

"The material doesn't leave much hope for a quick breakthrough." Luwum rested his hand on his chin. "RDA tried negotiations for years, everything they offered was turned down."

"Looking over the records, I'm not surprised." Riker looked up from the PADD. "RDA's offers showed no comprehension for how Na'vi culture worked. They presumed the Na'vi would have the same material wants and comfort desires that humanity here has."

"So we need to figure out what we can offer them that would be tailored to their interests." Rana looked to Picard. "Hopefully something that will get them to let us resume mining."

"I can't imagine it will be easy," Picard said softly, followed by a drink from his customary Earl Grey tea. "From their perspective, Humanity has proven to have violent and selfish intent toward them. We will have to be patient with the distrust we are likely to face."

"Patient within reason." Luwum's words drew attention to him, but he didn't flinch from the looks of the Starfleeters. "Our orders are clear. Mining must resume, and soon. We need the ripleyium for the war effort."

"Even if it means a war with the Na'vi, Commander Luwum?", Doctor Crusher asked pointedly.

Luwum didn't hesitate. "Yes."

Riker didn't hide the disapproval in his glare. "Starfleet will not take part in a blatant attack on a less-advanced race for material gain, no matter the situation with the war."

In response Luwum narrowed his eyes. "So you're perfectly capable of making deals with Aligar, where nine out of ten of their people are held as slaves, but this is too much for you?"

Before Riker or another of Picard's crew could protest Picard raised a hand to keep them silent. "That will be enough." Rana shot a look at Luwum; right or not, the last thing she needed was to undermine their ability to work with their allies, especially since the Enterprise was the heavy lifter of the two ships being sent. The two captains exchanged looks before Picard spoke again. "Whatever qualms we have with our orders, it is not our place to debate them here. Our energies should be turned toward doing whatever is necessary to ensure a peaceful solution."

"We will find some of them to work with us, certainly. Someone will want to be modern. Someone always does. A really quite realistic problem is the fact that everyone in this reports keeps referring to the Na'vi as a collective entity... Like, say, Afghans." There was a hint of something very old in her eyes, and perhaps even a bit tired, but still just as cold. "Well, there aren't any Afghans. There are Pashto, and Tajiks, and the tribals of Nuristan and Uzbeks and Turkmen and a dozen little groups, and then every ethnicity is broken down in turn... Why don't we just try to deal with different Na'vi? They have a very divided clan-tribal structure just like Pashto. On an entire planet, someone will make a deal. After all, if we want to avoid a fight, we can't go after the biggest Ripleyite deposit anyway. Unless you think that the Na'vi who have already fought will do anything but meet us with a bullet from a captured gun. Which they will have all the more reason to when Mister Selfridge is displayed. it is important to remember tribalists who have nothing also have nothing to lose by fighting. Which by the way is always the problem in these situations -- your allies who bought in to your efforts now have something to lose. They never fight quite as hard as your enemies."

"You speak as if you have personal experience with this kind of thing, Captain," Counselor Troi remarked, joining the conversation for the first time.

Balalaika grinned and looked toward the empath with an expression which was mildly psychopathic when twisted through the scar. "Well, you know, I've done this before. Six years as Afghanets. It's why I exclusively recruit Soviet and Russian veterans from my home universe. Gives us something to do. It's all in the company hire files, of course. We're not simple security personnel, and I understood in this mission I was being hired precisely for because I can guarantee all of my personnel are combat veteran desantniki--excuse me, airborne."

"Captain Pavlovena is a veteran of the Soviet-Afghan War in the 20th Century," Picard explained for the rest of his command crew. "I hope you understand, Captain, that for us your war is what the Time of Troubles is for you."

"I do, Captain, though sometimes it's strange still. Anyway, the point is, stupid and vulgar men made mistakes, and left my people with the consequences. In this case we have to be very careful because stupid and vulgar men have already made those same mistakes, and that can't be undone."

"Indeed not." Picard sipped at his tea. "I will be going over our materials on the Na'vi to determine is there is something we can offer them of value. Our orders are to try and secure Hell's Gate if it is possible due to the materials left there, but we will forgo intensive planning until we have arrived and can determine the situation. Now, I believe the main course is arriving..."




With dinner over the two crews had divided into groups sorted by profession. Buthelezi, Crusher, Ezri, and Troi were in one corner, Data was with Commander Luwum, Captain Picard, and Riker, Marshall and Lee were conversing with the Trill helmswoman Kell Perim (well, more like Perim enduring the antic discussion of Marshall and Lee), and similar divisions. Rana and Nida were standing at one edge of the lounge with Pavlovena - "Balalaika" - and observing quietly. Having nothing to say, she was quiet and unemotional, but she watched them back, and that was enough to speak again. "You don't like us on your job," she heard Balalaika speak quietly, the statement clearly directed at Nida.

"Mercenaries have never impressed me," Nida responded, arms crossed. "And on a sensitive mission like this I'm worried about having people looking to shoot first and ask questions later to save their own asses. It isn't a job."

"We will do what we have agreed to do without question, Commander. I am obeyed by bonds deeper than money." Balalaika focused a look at the younger, larger woman. "I would almost think mercenaries were involved in Smithson Station given your...."

"Don't you dare." Nida's voice went cold and tense. "I don't care how you learned about it, but you don't get to bring that up to my face."

"However your military has classified it, Commander, Smithson's story has been told in.. My circles. ...And I'm sympathetic to your... Misfortune." Even as she chose her words carefully, they cut deep.

"Nidaelle..." Rana said her name softly, seeing her muscles tense up. "Not here."

"Don't speak of it. Ever again." Nida turned and stalked off to stand by herself.

"I would be more concerned of her self-hatred than anything concerning my men," Balalaika. "In fact, I want to make sure it doesn't threaten my men."

"You provoked her," Rana said accusingly.

"No. I'm speaking with her honestly. We're both veterans, we've both seen this shit. My men and I need her to be at her best for the mission. That's just the way it is." Those cold blue eyes narrowed. "I... understand her position. Life was really cruel to keep her alive without her comrades, let's just put it like that. And you, Captain, have a similar story as I've seen."

Rana nodded tautly. "Mine isn't classified, it's just another footnote for the entire battle for New Liberty."

"Yes. You did your job, and lived, and came home. But there were just black tulips for your crew. I was relieved in some way to get burned up in a Glass--a copter. Made the dead a bit easier to stand, you know?"

"I... Yes, but, please, let's just not say anymore about it."

"Yeah. Right, I can respect that. We've just got jobs to do." Balalaika looked down, holding a cigar in her fingers and biting it once, but resisting the urge to light up in a room filled with people who hated smoking.

There was silence between them for a short time as Rana looked out the windows to space. "Who is the helmsman again?" Balalaika pointed out the stocky dark-haired man who'd joined Hertzog and Geordi La Forge. "He's seen the meat grinder, all right. Just like us."

"Lieutenant Christian Dawson. He's a newer recruit from his record," Rana explained. "Luwum handled his assignment, I haven't spoken with him yet but he came from Starfleet and the Federation originally."

"He was Starfleet, I see. Interesting that he immigrated and changed services." She looked again, and remarked with more certainty: "But not out of ideology or mercenary reasons... not with the way he acts. Men like that don't have ideology anymore." Balalaika moved away. "I have little to add to this crowd, Captain, so I am returning to the ship. We have final equipment checks to make before departure tomorrow."

"I understand, Captain. Commander Luwum will be by before departure to make sure everything is secure for you."

"My thanks. Have a pleasant evening." Balalaika stared off through the lounge's windows toward the Naval Station. "It will be the last for a long time."




Like any commercial space station, there was no "overnight" on Nyere. There was simply "Gamma Shift", aligned to the overnight hours of Stellar Navy Headquarters on Earth HE-1. That meant every shift there were those who were asleep, those who were working, and those who were off-duty and therefore shopping, dining, or just relaxing.

Nidaelle was watching them from a perch on the second floor. A naval memorial had been built to commeorate the crews of the four destroyers assigned to GSB-9's Defense Command that were destroyed fighting the Cardies and Dominion at New Liberty. She looked over the listed names and the Alliance torch-and-stars insignia and imagined similar names on a small memorial wall at Navy HQ, the wall for those of Nova Force slain in the line of duty.

Speaking with that cold Russian woman from LP-9 had gotten Nidaelle worked up, and she shouldn't be. Sure, the full story of Smithson Station was not public, at least not her part. People just knew it as this space station in LRC-19 that was blown up by anti-Alliance Boer nationalists. And in a multiverse with threats like Leewood, the Dominion, the Kilrathi, and fascist Europe FHI-8, the Boers of LRC-19 didn't even register. Hell, they didn't even compete with pissant little alien empires like the Erud of VCG-34 or the Tsen'kethi in ST-3, and that was with their CON-5 counterparts in New Oranje being allies of Hanson Leewood! And in those circumstances, how could anyone be expected to understand just how much they were to her.

But here was this cold bitch of a mercenary who somehow knew so much about what happened and was giving her goddamned platitudes about it!

Her senses were honed enough to hear the footsteps, and she knew whose they were by the weight and the gait implied by them. "Doctor Tigan," Nida sighed. "It's almost midnight local, you should be in bed."

"You've got work tomorrow before departure, I don't," Ezri retorted. "So that goes more for you."

"Touchè."

"I heard that Captain Pavlovena said some things."

"Captain Shaheen reporting to you on me?"

"No. Captain Pavlovena informed me by message." Ezri shrugged. "Something about how, as you are her immediate superior, her men need you in good shape."

"She shouldn't worry herself with that, when the mission begins that's all that matters," Nidaelle snapped. She smacked her palm against the railing overlooking the first floor of the commercial deck in irritation. "I understand your concern, Doctor, but I'm on duty now. I'm trained to put personal things aside."

"This is the first time you'll be going into potential combat since Smithson." Ezri stepped up beside her. "Everyone is relying on me to make sure you and Captain Shaheen and Lieutenant Lee are all in good mental shape for this mission."

"You should worry about the Captain then. The wound is old for me. It's still bleeding on her." Nida lowered her head and took in a breath. Try as she might to hide it, Rana Shaheen's agony at outliving her crew seemed to flare up every day. And she worried about that, not as a subordinate worrying about her commander but as.... Well, that was an interesting thought to go there. "Doctor.... you wouldn't happen to be trying to get me and Rana together, would you? Asking us to lunches with you, group therapy requests..."

"Actually, no. Not in the way you're implying," Ezri responded. "I'd prefer you not, at least not right now. But the two of you are, out of all the patients in my group, the most unique. Losing your unit's bad enough; losing a unit you personally command is far worse. And that's something you two share in a way no others do. You both made the commands. You both had your subordinates die when you didn't."

"Not how it's supposed to work," Nida sighed.

"The world's not perfect," Ezri pointed out.

"No shit, Doctor. If it was.... there'd be no need for us." Nida stepped away from the rail. "Well, you're right about the time. I've got work to do tomorrow, and if I'm too cranky I might try to punch Fryface's head in. I'm heading to my bunk."

"See you tomorrow."

"Don't get your hopes up, Doctor."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Heretic » Tue Sep 17, 2013 11:00 pm

Lol Shroom Man.

I read a good chunk, but the feel to it hasn't got into me yet. Is this an alternate Star Trek? A what-if of multiple universe colliding? It has Star Trek, but it reads as a Baen Sci-Fi novel. That isn't to say that it's bad, but my mind cannot compute military sci-fi with Star Trek (even the Star Fleet Battle universe felt weird for me). Looking back, it's probably multiple universes, since the effin title has multiverse in it. HURRR I'm still recovering from a sickness and my mind feels funny, but stories like these make me feel better.

In my sickness-recovering mind, I am almost ready to write a fanfic in this universe for shits and giggles. It seems interesting, and I'm sure I'll regret it later, as I am now knowing I can't finish one of my new years resolutions...

Edit: Perhaps a brief info blop of what's going on in this universe would probably make it much clearer without me stopping everytime I see Confederation and Alliance.

EDIT EDIT: Looking into your other "holy shit that's long" story (which I presume is a prequel to this, I might be wrong), I think the problem that some people might have is that it doesn't separate itself in any memorable way. Make something feel off about your universe that would also fit your theme. Star Wars had a universe that was futuristic with no Earth with lightsabers and Ewoks, Star Trek was modestly noblebright and had Kirk and Tribbles,, Warhammer 40k was extravangtly grimdark with starships that could dwarf planets and used manual labor to run, and that notoriously popular Attack on Titan anime is both bizarre and manly (heroines with six-packs and an awesome soundtrack).

Speaking of multiverse, what settings did you put in this TGG multiverse? From what I gathered, I was Avatar, Star Trek, and possibly Mass Effect.
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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Fri Sep 20, 2013 7:44 am

....doi, I forgot the intro thread fell off the front page.


http://www.omniverseone.com/forum/viewt ... =14&t=1183

I explain it here. TGG has mostly been popular on SDN and Spacebattles. It is effectively a Multiverse that explores what one reader once described as a "micro-crossover" - not just the big stuff but little stuff. President John Sheridan may visit DS9 to watch baseball with Captain Sisko, but it's also about "everyday" characters living in a vast Multiverse with many different societies and cultures mixing.

(Also a cynical deconstruction of Roddenberry's utopianist vision of Star Trek provoked by one too many preachy TNG episodes. It was popular in 2005. Not so much in 2013.)

In the context of the setting, the Alliance of Democratic Nations is a supra-national alliance, think along the lines of the European Union with a different organization of central authority, formed about a hundred years after the first Multiversal Contact (human nations from two different universes, with two distinct timelines, found alien ruins within a time span of each other that caused them to discover one another over interuniversal radio and eventually build the first Inter-Universal Jump Gates). It is predominately Human, and it'll be a few decades from its founding before it inducts its first alien-majority member nation, but it is predominately a trading power with a central military that can call upon member nation militaries for aid in time of crisis or war. The first big TGG story, "Anatomy of a War", featured the ADN ending up at war with the 4th-5th Season TNG Cardassians, about a year pre-DS9 launch, with ramifications for that show's timeline and very setting. And I believe that's the one you've alluded to reading.

The other big stupendous fics were "55 Days in Kalunda", which I co-wrote with Marina (SDN's Duchess of Zeon) and which premiered the ADN's peer competitors in the Taloran Star Empire and the Holy Roman Empire (the former an alien race with a feudalist, monarchist society and a Zoroastarianistic monotheist religion, the latter from a timeline where the Habsburgs never faltered and came to hold unquestioning dominance over Europe and then the world), "When Two Worlds Collide" (Marina's fic that introduced nBSG into TGG and which would have ramifications for the entire Multiverse's backhistory), and "The Last Woman Standing" (a fic between Marina and I that expanded upon a prior introduction of Stargate SG-1 to the setting that shined even more light on the past of the Multiverse and laid hints for future problems). (There are other fics listed in that thread, but I was giving you a laydown of the big ones).

Anyway, go ahead and ask questions if you've got 'em.

I'll add that this fic premieres not just Avatarverse, but is the first real major use of the Wing Commander setting which, until now, had only a brief throaway mention in "Last Woman Standing" and an appearance by Tolwyn in the Federation Civil War series.
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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Sun Sep 29, 2013 4:31 am

Ack, forgot about O1 again. I've posted up to Chapter 6 elsewhere, but I'll do bi-daily posts here to catch up.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Sun Sep 29, 2013 5:29 am

Chapter 4


When Rana awoke that morning it was with a scream. Sweat dripped off her skin as she upright in her chair, trying to collect her thoughts. Another nightmare. Everyone from Roland dying in front of her eyes. Then everyone on Langley. Then...

Then Dani. Dani's lips against her's just in time for her to be consumed in flames.

After several deep breaths Rana looked to her clock. It was 0552 local. An hour before she was due to be up, then. An extra hour to shower at least and check all the requisition orders, all the crew rosters, and make damned sure they were ready to go.

She wondered why she kept having Dani in her dreams. They hadn't seen each other in six years. Hadn't been together in almost seven. All this time and I'm hung up over just one of my relationships. She was so beautiful though, so full of life... Drawing in a sigh Rana found a duty uniform in the closet and hung it to the side for when she got out of the shower.




The "morning" shift of the Enterprise was coming on duty with the speed Captain Picard expected for the final day in dock. With departure set for Beta Shift's watch it meant the first shift would be busy with preparations for that departure; personnel on shore leave had to be checked and put back on station, supplies given a final check, and ship's systems confirmed ready for departure. The Enterprise has a particular advantage in this over other ships thanks to Data, though Picard and Riker still had their duties to attend to on the matter.

For the moment the two men were in Picard's ready room, going over the department heads' supply checks from the prior days to see if any last minute orders would be necessary. Riker had final posting orders to be signed by Picard and other assorted daily business faced by the captain of a ship with almost a thousand crew. Their long experience together made it easy for Picard to notice something was amiss with his First Officer. "Is everything alright Number One?"

"Of course sir."

The look on Picard's face was one of subtle disbelief, and Riker had enough experience with Picard to know what it meant. "Captain, this mission is.... we're under orders to go to a primitive culture and find a way to make them let us mine their world for resources. And if they say no, we're going to be made to sit back and allow the Alliance to use military force - mercenaries at that - to take what we need anyway. This is the kind of thing Starfleet is supposed to be against."

For a long moment Picard said nothing. "You're right, Number One," he finally agreed. "War has a way of changing priorities and encouraging us to make deals with the devil."

"It's one thing if it was a choice of allowing the Federation itself to fall, but we're not losing the war anymore," Riker continued. "The Dominion and Cardassia are on the defensive, for good. They say the Alliance could be landing troops on Cardassia Prime itself within six months. Maybe we wouldn't be facing anti-matter shortages if the Alliance gave up on the plan to invade the Gamma Quadrant, you and I both know it's not necessary to protect the Alpha Quadrant from the Dominion."

"They don't see it that way, Number One," Picard pointed out. "And you must remember that the Alliance is facing war on multiple fronts. Yes, we're winning in the Alpha Quadrant, but in Universe CON-5 they and their allies are barely holding on."

"Then they should prioritize," Riker insisted.

Picard said nothing and simply drew in a breath. "They have chosen their priorities, but that means Pandora's ripleyite must be mined. And so it falls on us to ensure this is done peacefully."

"And if it can't?" The look in Riker's eye was as piercing as his question.

"Then we do what we can to minimize any violence that may result." Picard breathed in a sigh. "As of right now that is all we can do."




After a morning spent checking the other departments, Luwum was ready to check the deck space set aside for the PMC contingent. He remained silent passing by several of the Russian troops, observing how they'd turned the converted hanger space into a barracks and armory. It wasn't hard to find the office that Pavlovena had set up. One of her sergeants was sitting with her and two other men were at the door. "Credentials?", one asked bluntly in a gruff voice.

"I'm Commander Luwum, the XO. I've come to finish pre-departure supply checks," Luwum replied. He gave a small nod, appreciating the professional demeanor of the Russian men standing as bodyguard.

"Capitan, the ship's Executive Officer is here," the man called into the room.

"Thank you, Kostya! Show the Commander in."

The man saluted, and opened the door for Luwum at once, to where Balalaika was sitting at her desk, and rose to offer her hand, the old VDV greatcoat draped across her shoulders as usual. "Welcome, Commander Luwum. What may I do for you?"

"Departure has been finalized for 1600," Luwum replied. "I need to make sure all ship supply loading has been completed, including your unit's gear."

"I see. A cup of tea?" She gestured to the teapot in front of her rather diffidently, and prepared to pour it herself to go along with her own mug, continuing to speak as she did. "We're bringing on board the last of the equipment right now. Some of the space-drop armoured reconaissance vehicles and hover gunships were just tractored aboard on pallets, so we had to secure those and then bring in the last containers of small arms and power armour suits. Do you want to review the tie-down measures for them?"

"Yes," he said matter-of-factly. "May I ask which type of tea?"

Balalaika cast him a slightly hooded look, as if she were wondering what he expected her to have. "Russian tea." She poured out a cup, and it looked very black.... And then stopped with a very small amount in the cup, reached for the boiling vessel and diluted it with boiling water before pressing the cup over to the commander. "The ratio of water to tea gets smaller the longer you're in the field, so it's always the best way of telling how long someone has been deployed for, in the Army."

He accepted it. "I was a junior officer on Adwa ten years ago, a heavy cruiser, and my department head was Lieutenant Commander Guliyev. He had two versions of tea, Captain; 'duty tea' and 'good tea'. The latter had ingredients that... were not fit to an officer on duty like I am now."

"At least in our days--I don't know about other ages and universes--when we offer good tea, we call it a shot, not a cup." Her lips curled into a grin, and she gestured with her mug. "Shall we review the bay, then, Commander?"

"Of course."

They walked through the barracks areas and toward those used for cargo. The latest models of AK in the Multiverse were visible, but just as plentiful were anti-material rifles and other weaponry that would be highly useful on Pandora. Several rows of ARVs and gunships were stacked to one side and secured with straps, emergency containment field emitters visible in the adjoining areas. Luwum looked over the models and kept his eye out for safety violations. He wasn't sure how experienced Balalaika's unit was in interstellar transport and operation and wasn't leaving anything to chance. "These vehicles look like they utilize CON-5 design principles and concepts," he spoke aloud. "Imperial French, British, Dutch, or Slavian?"

"French. They build the most sophisticated combat equipment of anyone that's lightweight and suitable for desantniki--even if they can't use it worth a damn. I was unwilling to spare any expense in providing power armour and arms for this mission based on the prior reports--my men are not expendable. But when it comes to the best of the best... Well, the French do tend to offer a good deal."

Luwum nodded. He bit his tongue on remarking on the French war profiteering going on, though he also imagined the French lightweight units were also useful due to their need for security operations in the Badlands of CON-5, the hyperspatially-unstable areas past their empire, the Austro-Bavarians, and the British. "They have excellent top of the line models, and since they're not at war I imagine their prices have remained fairly low." He continued to inspect everything, being methodical in the approach if on the time-consuming side.

"You seem remarkably well adjusted for an officer on the set of this, ah, Dirty Dozen," Balalaika spoke up with a hint of mirth. "What did you manage to do to end up here?"

That didn't bring a smile to Luwum's face as it might have in less-formal conditions, but it did confirm she'd been looking over all the records. "I was between fleet postings, and I've worked hard to keep my record pristine," he responded proudly. "So Admiral Jarke brought me into the operation and put me in charge of overseeing the Langley's retrofit. I was to be Commanding Officer. Admittedly my choices for crew were not the pick of the service, but we are facing major interstellar conflict on multiple fronts and I could not be picky."

"Yeah. It's bljadstvo, this thing is fucked, a fucking mess. Of course, live enough and you'll find out that's the norm." She paused, and slugged back the rest of her tea. "Is Captain Shaheen an old comrade, or did you find yourself playing second with no warning, Commander?"

"I had some. There were superiors who did not approve of my command of Langley since I had yet to serve a CO billet. Admiral Jarke kept me appraised of the consideration of other,higher ranked officers becoming available. When Captain Shaheen was cleared as physically fit for duty the Admiral let me know that he was being asked to place her as commander and shift me to XO. I told him I had no problem." Luwum tugged at a strap holding a hover gunship in place, ensuring it was taut and secure. After making a grunt from the effort he continued. "I had a close friend from my early service, Moringe. He had told me in letters about serving with Shaheen on the Roland, that she was an excellent commander who worked hard for her crew."

Balalaika was silent for a moment, but his voice told her enough. "Did you know his family? Get to go home with him?"

Luwum looked back to her and nodded. "His wife Anna is a cousin from my mother's side. He had a younger brother who served with me on the Adwa and the Poltava. A few other siblings I knew of. And I knew Captain Shaheen was suffering hell in her soul for all of them. A captain is not supposed to outlive his or her entire crew."

"Yes. I know about the tradition for you sailors--Captain's the last one off the ship. And I know what it feels, too, to go home next to the coffin of your 'comrade'... When the doctors probably just stuffed some burnt bones in the coffin and hoped they were the right ones. Well, I've talked to her, and I think she can do her job, for what it's worth." She gestured around to the men in the bay. "As for us, it's simple. We're not really mercenaries--it's more like, a soldier stays a soldier, always... Even when your nation doesn't want you anymore. Or doesn't exist, anymore."

Luwum gave a nod to that. "I... do not doubt Captain Shaheen., actually. There are those among the crew who do. But I have been in the service long enough to know how fickle fortune is. It is why I accepted when the Admiral asked me about letting her have the command. Moringe would want me to ensure she gets another chance, and as her First Officer I'll make sure the crew does too." He looked over to her. "Your world had it rougher than most when it came to Multiversal Contact. Most of our worlds have had the fortune of discovering interstellar flight first. I do not begrudge Captain Habariyama for his actions in Rwanda that thrust your world into our cosmos, but I know it is not pleasant for your people."

"I don't care about the rest of the world, Commander Luwum. That's not my concern. The hardships for us started years before Captain Habariyama arrived. For us first contact made things better for a while, and worse again later. And that's just the way it goes. I'm not bitter. It was your ideology that screwed us over but if our own leaders hadn't adopted it the moment they had the chance none of it would have happened. And if we had been found by the Federation, they would have just let us all die anyway, so it doesn't matter that much in the end."

"And all you have left are the men whom you have served with faithfully," Luwum noted. "As hard as things have been, I imagine there are worse fates."

"I've been fortunate. Read of the Mnhei'sahe of the Rihannsu--far more practical than the honour of both Clans and Klingons, I'll tell you that--seen a hundred different histories and a hundred different worlds. And I've kept the faith to my men and let them try about an equal number of space liquors and alien hookers." She grinned. "And now we're even getting used like real soldiers again. No, I really have no complaints at all, Commander."

"It is always good to have comradeship to fall back on." Luwum's eyes seemed to go distant. "If the Alliance ever faltered, if it ever came undone... that is about all I would have left." After this momentary consideration he made a final check of the bay. "Everything is fine here. I will be going."

"When you're off duty, come back down. You can sit around with the Sargent and Vasha and Gennidy and I and we'll break out that ' good tea'. But don't let me keep you when you're on duty, that would just be impolite."

Luwum gave a nod. "I may take you up on that offer."




The Enterprise sickbay was mostly vacant for the moment, leaving Beverly Crusher with just one patient. Lt. Miranda Kudohata fidgeted as the regenerator ran over her bruised elbow. "A rough round of Parisee's Squares?", Beverly asked.

"No, it was basketball actually. I was captaining some of our junior officers in a match with the Alliance personnel on Nyere."

"Oh? From the look of things it didn't go well."

"Better than usual, we only lost by twenty points this time," Kudohata answered. "I've been trying to find if there were any baseball leagues, but Nyere's holo-suites are too small."

"It's certainly one of the smallest Alliance ports I've seen."

The door opened. Kudohata looked curiously at the newcomer, but Beverly didn't turn until she had finished patching up Kudohata's elbow. The all-black Alliance duty uniform was instantly recognizable and the white trim meant she was facing one of her opposite numbers, confirmed when she took a moment to recognize the face. "Doctor Buthelezi?"

"Doctor Crusher." Her opposite number on the Langley nodded politely. "I can wait for you to finish with your patient."

"It won't be necessary." Beverly turned back to Kudohata. "Your elbow should be fine if you take it easy for the next day or so. And you might want to be more careful with what sports you pick to play next time."

Kudohata let out a shamed groan and walked past Buthelezi to leave. When she was gone Beverly motioned for Buthelezi to follow her into her office. "What can I do for you, Doctor?"

"I'm afraid that Langley's medical stores are still short on some supplies that Nyere's quartermasters couldn't find for me, I was wondering if the Enterprise's replicators could be used to make up the difference?"

"Sure." Beverly took the digital reader from Buthelezi and looked it over. "There's a couple of the specific drugs we can't replicate either, but I should be able to help with the rest. Why can't Nyere's replicators work for this, though?"

"Nyere's construction and systems predates our contact with ST-3," Buthelezi explained. "It was initially built to watch the Jeaxian border in HM-1 by some of the allied states of that universe in the pre-Alliance years. Or so the history files say."

"And you couldn't get these things from their lockers? Some of these items aren't that hard to find."

"I'm afraid that between aid sent to GSB-9 Earth and wartime supply issues... no, Nyere is out. And the next shipment won't be in for a week."

"I understand that," Beverly sighed. The Federation had suffered some material problems from the war as well. "Given we've had replicator technology for about the same amount of time, we seem to have quite the gap."

"Different needs, I suppose," Buthelezi remarked. He pondered on that; in the Multiverse from which the nations that formed the Alliance had come together, replicator technology was primarily an industrial tool, used to improve the machining and assembly process. While there were civilian models of replicators now, it'd taken years of refinement and development and finally marketing to put them out into the public, and the materials made by them never seemed as good as even the Federation replicated versions were. Conversely, Federation replicators were smaller, better suited for food production or quality replication, but their large scale replicators lacked the precision and speed of models in the rest of the Multiverse. It was an interesting difference, one that highlighted the different needs and influences that the technology had evolved in in ST-3 and the rest of the Multiverse. "Thank you for your cooperation, Doctor. I'm afraid my medbay doesn't have the same sophistication as your's."

"If you have any problems, let me know," Beverly said.

"I will."




Nyere Station was a pinprick in the distance in Lee's vision, disappearing as he turned the Sparrowhawk away. The aerospace fighter was sluggish, its maneuverability in space hampered by the necessities of its aerodynamic design even with wings retracted. He'd give anything for a fucking Hellcat again, or one of the sleek Excaliburs.. like the one he was hunting.

Ordinarily a Sparrowhawk would be almost helpless against the nimble, shielded and dangerous Excalibur, but Lee could see his opponent was a FOOLISH ROOKIE SHIT and didn't know how to use his advantages properly, just like his lazy partner who had flown right into a crossfire at the start of the exercise. He was flying lazy, trying to count on the Excalibur's acceleration to keep him out of danger, and Lee happily let him for reasons that became obvious a moment later.

A simulated barrage of phaser fire erupted from the other Sparrowhawk, coming from the direction of Nyere's star. The Excalibur's defenses withstood the simulated attack, but took shield loss in the process... leaving it helpless against the large automatic coilguns built into the Sparrowhawk's chin. The rounds were dummy rounds, but for the purposes of the simulation, they tore the FOOLISH ROOKIE SHIT to pieces. As said rookie wailed inconsolably at his lubeless violation, a laugh came over the comm. "You don't want to go up against the Maniac!"

"Shit yeah!", Lee agreed. He was taking a liking to Major Marshall. Fighting the FUCKING CATS was something they had in common, not to mention the fact that Marshall was almost as crazy as Lee was.

"That was awesome," Hocken's voice came over the radio. "I mean... you're not supposed to be able to beat Excaliburs with those things!"

"That's because we were up against foolish rookie shits!", Lee crowed. "The Maniac and the Shroom Man can't be stopped by rookie shits!"

There was brief silence before Hocken's voice came back, more restrained. "Um... Captain Shaheen wants to speak with you when you come back, Lieutenant. And she wants you all to RTB immediately, we depart in three hours."

Awww man... she's gonna chew me out, was Lee's thought. He let Marshall make the acknowledgement and came up on the Terran Confederation pilot's wing. That was fun though. It's been too long since I got to really fly!




With departure only hours away Vigdis had decided to take one last shore visit. After logging in with the Officer of the Watch she made her way from the airlock to the commercial area, getting stares from wary MPs along the way. She smirked; her reputation had traveled far, it seemed.

Her destination was a shop in the commercial area run by an old Master Chief, Miklos Kodaly. The grizzled old Hungarian saw her enter and called out in his accented English. "Ah, my favorite hardass lieutenant. They finally let you out of the brig for chasing that Klingon jackass?"

"My new captain bailed me out, I'm leaving this afternoon," Vigdis answered. She smiled and looked over the goods in his store. It was mostly a normal outlet for military personnel to buy trinkets to send home or to keep for themselves plus uniform parts should they want extras. "I'm sorry about the ax, though."

"Like I was going to hand you one of my crafted items," Kodaly snorted. "It was a replication, no big loss. So.... what will it be?"

They walked into the back area where he kept his "special" goods; melee weapons that were not entirely regulation, primarily. Vigdis looked over the axes, blades, mauls and other such things. She spied over the Klingon met'leths and a Narn ceremonial dagger. She spotted a pair of duelling daggers that shined in the light. "I like these. How much?"

"Five hundred Alliance for the originals. Fifty if you want me to replicate a copy."

"You Magyar bandit! Three hundred and fifty should be plenty for the originals."

"You Vikings have never been much on economics. I'm not haggling it down."

"We were excellent traders, I remind you," Vigdis retorted. "Four hundred fifty with my serving discount?"

"Fine, fine. Trying to beggar an old chief like me..."

"And I'll take a keg of your beer," Vigdis added. "Not the replicated crap. Twenty per keg?"

"Swindler," Kodaly laughed. "Yes, yes, it will do."




Getting a ship ready to leave port with a fresh crew could be aggravation enough for any commander; doing so with the crew Langley had been given, with all the technical problems the old light carrier had, was a taxing experience that even the reliable Commander Luwum could not relieve Rana of. She'd spent all day checking with every department, overlooking every store, and then dealing with Lieutenant Lee's outburst over the comms, and even with the ship still two hours from departure she felt exhausted already.

Her office was a mess of paperwork and reports, with no yeoman yet assigned from the ship's hodgepodge crew to check over it. A half-finished cup of basic brown tea was piled on a couple of the digital readers and paper - paper on a starship - and a half-eaten turkey and lettuce sandwhich was what remained of the small lunch she hadn't finished yet.

And now her comm was beeping. Again.

With all of the discipline she could muster Rana answered. Hocken was on the other end. "Sir, Admiral Jarke wants to see you in his office."

What now?! Looking at the clock - 1405 hours, only a hundred and fifteen minutes left - Rana stood. "Okay. Inform Commander Luwum I'm going on the station and he has the ship."

"Yes ma'am."

Briefly Rana was tempted to just ask the comm people to have the Enterprise beam her there and save time, but Rana - like many in the Multiverse - had trouble accepting being turned into energy or whatever. That it'd been done to her already was not the issue (she'd been unconscious and dying at the time after all); it was simply the force of decades of thinking of METters for cargo transport only and a few years of contact with the Federation and other societies that saw no problems with using METter technology to beam themselves everywhere wasn't going to change that. No, it'd be the long walk, at least ten minutes, so she'd lose half an hour in the end, at least. But she was just a Lieutenant Captain and Jarke was a full Admiral, so you did what you had to.

The long walk gave her time to think. She had to admit she'd prefer some one-on-one time with Doctor Tigan soon, or even a group session with Nida and Lee there... well, mostly Nida. Rana had so many thoughts about what was going on now that she wanted the chance to talk about them.

And the mission. A mission that she already knew the Enterprise crew disapproved of and might hamper if their Starfleet Morality demanded it. She didn't much like the thought of playing the bully either, but there was a war on. And news from the front wasn't all sunshine... she had friends and old colleagues getting blown to bits by Martyn's fleet in Scathford, who was she to say that a bunch of tribals was more important than winning the greatest war in Multiversal history against three of the most detestable regimes the Multiverse had ever seen?

She had to leave the ship, take a lift to the station's central core, and go through the administration wing to Jarke's temporary office while he was on Nyere. After Jarke's secretary waved her in, she found Jarke seated at his desk with a man facing away from the door. Another stood to the side, a slightly overweight man dressed smartly with brown hair over a round face. She stood and saluted. "Reporting as ordered, sir."

Jarke returned the salute and stood, as did his guest. "Captain, thank you for coming. I felt it best to personally introduce you to these gentlemen. This is Parker Selfridge, the RDA observer, and Charles Berry, the Ministry of Defense's hired expert consultant on mineral extraction in difficult environments."

"Gentlemen," Rana answering, shaking hands with both.

"Captain, a pleasure," Charles remarked, though Selfridge said nothing.

There was a sharp chime-like sound from outside the office. Several moments later the door opened and Captain Picard entered. He stood respectfully before them. "Admiral, Captain, I apologize for the delay."

"No need." Jarke motioned to the dark-haired man again. Rana got a closer look at him; thin goatee and mustache, light skin, very much a civilian completely out of his league. "Captain Picard, this is Parker Selfridge of RDA."

Picard nodded slightly and put on his best diplomat's smile. "Their observer, of course."

"And Mister Charles Berry, the MoD consultant for mineral extraction."

"Mister Berry, good to have you along, Commander Data and Commander La Forge have already been going over the data to determine the best methods of mining," Picard remarked, shaking the man's hand.

"I look forward to seeing their notes. It's going to be an interesting challenge given the data on Pandora's background magnetic fields."

"You and Mister Selfridge will be welcome aboard the Enterprise."

Rana nodded. She had no room for civvies on her ship as it was.

"I hope their knowledge will be of use to you," Jarke answered. "I won't take up any more of your time, I know you're due to depart shortly."

Picard nodded. His hand went up to touch the comm badge on his chest, but only a bit before he stopped himself. "Ah.... Mister Selfridge, Mister Berry, do you object to beaming?"

"Excuse me?", the corporate manager asked.

"He wants to know if you object to having your molecules scrambled and turned to energy to be instanteously transported elsewhere," Berry replied. "It's how people in ST-3 get around. Not as common in the Alliance, but I've done it before."

Selfridge gaped for a moment. "Uhh.... no thanks, I have to get my things anyway."

The look on Picard's face betrayed no irritation; Rana suspected he knew it'd come to that. "I can have your personal belongings beamed to your quarters and arrange escort for you to our airlock, then. Would this meet your satisfaction?"

"Oh, yes, it would."

"Very well. I'll have my chief of security meet us at your quarters." Picard looked to Rana and nodded. "See you at departure, Captain Shaheen."

"We'll be ready, Captain Picard." Rana waited until the three men were gone before looking to Jarke. "Admiral, I don't like this."

Jarke nodded silently. "Had they sent us another figure it'd be nothing. But sending the man who was in charge at Hell's Gate is questionable."

"This situation will be tense enough without having him around. I hope Picard keeps him on the Enterprise."

"I imagine he will." Jarke sighed. "But we can't freeze RDA out entirely. RDA is one of the most powerful institutions in GSB-9, more powerful than many governments. If our relations with them go south it'll imperil this entire operation."

"Given they're asking us to possibly use violence on a less advanced culture to get what we want, I don't think they could complain if we did the same to them," Rana pointed out sarcastically.

"Perhaps not, but that's not how things are being done here. Minister Xue has made it clear; we are cooperating with RDA. And Commissioner Virshk has his full support if Picard gives you problems." Jarke returned to his desk. "You're dismissed, Captain. Good luck out there."




After seeing Rana out Jarke remained quiet for several minutes, going over basic paperwork. He thought extensively of the scenario, how things could go wrong, the kind of reactions that could happen if things went violent.

And here RDA was, sending a figure almost certain to trigger mistrust and opposition in the Na'vi, as if they wanted violence to break out.

If RDA was up to something, Jarke wasn't going to be caught flat-footed.

Taking in a breath, Jarke finally reached for his comm line. "Enable top encryption and security protocols," he said to the system. It chirped in reply and flashed green to show it was enabling his orders. "Get me a direct connection to Earth HE-1. Langley. Alliance Security Agency."

"Processing. Establishing link. Encryption protocols initializing. Which office do you wish to connect to?"

"The Office of the Alliance Security Advisor," was his gruff response. If they were being played, Sir James Bronson was the one who would find out.




The timer in the CIC read 1558 when Rana entered, having finished one last whirlwind inspection of the ship. She tried not to show how winded she felt as she went to her chair. Dawson was already at the helm, Hocken at comms, and Skarsgard was in the ship's central gunnery station. Luwum would not be present but up at the navigation bridge to take over navigation if instruments required. "Status?"

"All systems show ready. All hands are aboard," Vigdis answered.

The door opened again and Nida stepped in, wearing a black duty uniform with the dark green color of Nova Force personnel in the trim. "Permission to observe departure from the CIC?"

Rana nodded at her. "Welcome to the CIC, Commander. We have an observer seat near the back."

Nidaelle gave a nod and found the seat. As she did so the timer went to 1600 and, like clockwork, Luwum's voice came over the intercom. "CIC, this is Navigation. All checks cleared. We are good to go."

"Roger that, Navigation. You are on standby."

"Clearing all moorings and umbilicals, Captain," Dawson reported. "We are receiving departure guidance from Station Operations."

"Follow them as instructed, Lieutenant." Rana sat back and, for all her doubts and worries, felt a little surge of excitement. She was taking a ship out again. Sure, it was an old piece of crap carrier from the Terran Confed that was retrofitted and held together by bailing wire and a cursing Boer for an engineer, but it was still a ship under her command heading out on duty.

They cleared Nyere at the same time Enterprise did. For all that Rana was still influenced by a bit of the Stellar Navy's habitual contempt for Starfleet (even if she was alive because of Starfleet and they were allies now), she felt a pang of sheer jealousy at seeing the Enterprise and comparing it to Langley. Whatever its military qualities with thin hull armoring... it was beautiful, all sleek lines and rapier sharpness, compared to her boxy old carrier. If starships were judged by aesthetics Starfleet would kick our ass every year. She watched as the large engine nacelles toward the rear of the ship lit up. Enterprise elongated briefly and was gone with a flash of light.

"Course set for Alpha Centauri systems," Dawson reported. "Warp power at your command."

"Take us to warp, cruise speed, Mister Dawson," Rana ordered. As she felt the warp drives thrum through the ship's deckplates she felt contented, happy to be heading back out, to have....

That was when the CIC was abruptly plunged into darkness. After a second the lights began flickering back on. "What the hell..?!" Rana hit her intercom key. "Engineering, what's going on?"

There was some silence before Hertzog's voice came over the speakers. "Engineering here. I'm soory, Captain, we had an ooverlood in the drives, automatic shootdown triggered. My crews and I are on it noow."

Rana sighed audibly. "How long, Mister Hertzog?"

"Half an hoor, then I can give yoo five lyphs."

"Very well. Get us going, Hertzog. CIC out." Rana hit the terminate button. "Hocken, inform Enterprise that we'll be delayed by engine trouble."

"Aye ma'am."

Rana put her hand over her face. This was not a wonderful start to the mission.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Mon Sep 30, 2013 9:09 pm

Chapter 5


Selfridge hated the Federation.

Oh, he'd not known much of them before this, just news reports and rumor. But since he'd met Picard and come onto the Enterprise they'd struck him as a lot of self-righteous leftist pricks who were going to undermine everything on Pandora. The pompous First Officer had almost scowled at him the moment they saw each other and the robot officer had spent the entire trip to Selfridge's guest quarters peppering him with questions on the damn Na'vi and why he attacked them. It'd taken every erg of his willpower to not simply say, "Because they're a bunch of savages who are squatting on valuable resources they can't even use, that's why!". Instead all it did was remind him of being ruined.

If RDA had this technology it wouldn't matter. We'd just clear them from an area, put up a forcefield pen, and rake in the unobtanium while the Na'vi screeched and pounded the field like idiots.

But that's not how it would go. RDA was playing the long game, letting the Alliance do the hard work and raking in the profit needed for expansion to other worlds using Multiversal technology. And Selfridge... if this worked, he'd be the face of the company in these endeavors. He'd finally get everything he wanted.




Charles had been met by the Enterprise's chief engineer on the way to his own quarters. Starship engineering work wasn't his specialty, but he did enjoy Commander La Forge's comments on some of the issues their equipment would have with the energy fields on Pandora. Machinery would have to be shielded or re-synchronized to account for the magnetic fields, survey probes shielded for protection from the hostile fauna... it would be an interesting challenge.

Once in his quarters Charles took the time to unpack and get his personal computer set up. He established a connection with the Enterprise computer and brought up the data on Pandora. RDA's survey reports made for interesting reading. He'd have to ask Selfridge about RDA operations before the... incident with the Na'vi.

He wasn't so worried about them as it was. Open pit mining had a certain cheapness that made it an understandable decision given limited resources and a push for maximum outputs, but when dealing with the land of pre-industrial natives it would have been understandably frightening and infuriating. It wasn't bad for asteroid mining, granted, but on garden planets and moons there were other options that technology made just as feasible and arguably more efficient.

Granted, one issue would be how much work they would get to do on Pandora and how much they'd have to do in off-moon facilities. There was a potential garden planet in most versions of Alpha Centauri in the Multiverse, after all, and they'd want to minimize agitation from the Na'vi. It was be an interesting challenge, all things considered.




"We're under way again," Rana said, her image on Picard's ready room monitor. "But we're limited to five lyphs at the moment and my engineer doesn't believe we'll be capable of going any faster."

"Commander La Forge is standing by to beam over and assist," Picard answered.

"We appreciate the offer, but Lieutenant Hertzog doesn't think it's something we can fix here. It was an error by the rebuilding crews.. To go faster the Langley would have to go into drydock to replace the entire power distribution system."

"Very well. We will reduce warp speed to let you catch up and match your best speed. Please keep me appraised, Captain Shaheen. Picard out." He pressed a key to terminate the call.

"For a mission of such importance you would think they would find a better ship," Riker remarked from his seat in the room.

"It's easy to forget that as militarized as they are, the Alliance is still not a military state and has limited military resources. Resources that, regrettably, have been stretched to their limits by their commitments." Picard put his hands together. "They are paying the price for their interventionist policies of the past decade. Although I admit I prefer them going for a smaller commitment, a more powerful vessel may have led to a captain more tempted to apply military force if diplomacy goes too slow."

"You mean men like Luwum." Riker was clearly not pleased with his counterpart on the Langley.

"Commander Luwum is as professional an officer as the Stellar Navy will ever field," Picard pointed out.

"Which means he has no concerns besides his orders," Riker pointed out. "I'm not sure about Shaheen either."

"We should give her the benefit of the doubt, Number One." Picard put his hands together on the desk. "Her record is exemplary for a Stellar Navy officer. A record of service in both the fleet and command staff. Tactically capable, merits for critical problem solving in fleet problems, well loved by her crew..." He drew in a breath. "Which makes what happened to her at New Liberty all the more a tragedy." His thoughts briefly flashed back to Veridian, where the Enterprise's crew would have died had he stayed in the Nexus.

Riker didn't give him much time for such ruminations. "But will she give orders to bomb the Na'vi?"

"Perhaps," Picard admitted. "I don't think she wants to have it come to that, and she has none of Luwum's non-plussed nature. It is easy to forget, Number One, that many officers of the Stellar Navy see themselves in similar lights as we see ourselves. They have an idealized view of themselves as protectors of sentient freedom and the rights of less powerful civilizations. We've seen how that belief can influence them in issues like Bajor, Kelos, and Orion."

"They're not living up to that right now."

"Nor are we, as you so astutely pointed out this morning," Picard noted wryly. He drew in a sigh. "Perhaps our mutual distaste for this hypocrisy may give myself and Captain Shaheen something to relate to with each other. For all the suffering of this war, if it ended with the Alliance and Federation seeing each other in a new light, being willing to tolerate our differences on behalf of what we do have in common, then maybe something good will come of this all..."

"And if another cost of it is the Na'vi?"

Picard gave no visible expression to that. He slowly looked up to Riker. "I hope it doesn't come to that. And even if we refuse to help attack them, even if Captain Shaheen sacrifices her career to side with us... one of the sad facts of the Multiverse is that someone else most assuredly will strike at them at some time or another. It may yet be the lesser evil if we are the ones to do it, as softly as we can."

Riker shook his head. "You don't believe that."

"No. I only dread it." Picard tapped at a PADD on his desk. "You're dismissed, Number One. Make sure the helm has my orders to meet up with the Langley."

Riker nodded, knowing Picard didn't want the conversation to continue. "Yes sir."




In Engineering Hertzog was resisting cursing as he took the lead in overseeing the delicate power balancing the flawed systems was demanding for warp flight. The Engineering crew would be on double shifts for the duration of the trip to make sure he had the personnel for the work, causing grumbling that was already making its way up to him.

Ensign Paul Gunther, a German-American, was his Engineer's Mate currently on duty, and the young wet-behind-the-ears kid was getting on Hertzog's nerves as he nervously relayed orders. In a quiet moment Gunther looked to him and, almost conspiratorially, whispered, "Well, at least it didn't blow up, right?"

"Noot exactly what I wanted to hear, Gunther," Hertzog mumbled. He hit a key on the display, highlighting power conduits feeding the port nacelle. "Make soore that splint is in place on the poort side."

Gunther did so. But he was back when the job was done. "Captain wouldn't have made it off this time, at least."

"Excuse me?"

"She got her crew killed at New Liberty," Gunther continued. "Only one to walk away from her ship. What's that tell you about her, sir?"

"It tells me that God has plans foor her," Hertzog responded flippantly.

"I'm just glad the locals don't have real combat starships. She can't get us killed too."

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Hertzog thumped a hand on the control before him. "Ensign, we have moore impoortant things to woory about than the Captain's oold ship. One miscalculation and this piece oof shit ship will bloow us up, Captain or noo Captain. I suggest yoou get back to woork."

"Oh.... sorry sir." Gunther slinked off. Undoubtedly he'd find someone else to say similar things to, but Hertzog didn't give a damn. He had a ship to keep functioning.




On the Langley Rana had returned to her ready office, from which she could go back on post if she was needed but otherwise was free to continue the paperwork of running a ship. Luwum was standing before her, scowling. "This is my responsibility," he announced. "The refit was done under my command."

"Commander Luwum, are you a starship engineer?"

"No. But that is immaterial. I should have had the systems double-checked." Luwum was visibly frustrated despite his usual demeanor. "I presumed too much."

Rana nodded, seeing she wasn't going to convince him otherwise. "Sometimes we forget starship engineers can be human too." Quoting one of her old fights with Dani almost caused a smile to curl on her face. "The important thing is that we're under way again. Is there anything else?"

"No sir."

"Very well. You're dismissed." Rana watched him go and breathed in a sigh. All this paperwork, and she still hadn't gotten her jog in for the day. Come to think of it, she hadn't even visited the ship's gym. The prospect of giving her legs a good jog, maybe even a run, caused her to make some haste.

After finishing the work and dispatching the filing to Communications for transmission back to Nyere, Rana returned to her quarters, changed into her jogging shorts and sleeveless running top, and sought out the gym. It was in the ship's forward reaches, bordering the officer quarters and the crew bunks, and looked properly stocked at least, if pushed together. There were only a couple of people in the gym at the moment. A gaggle of Russian-speakers, clearly Balalaika's men, were milling around the boxing ring in full sight of the treadmills. Rana paid them no heed as she stepped up toward a treadmill. She gave herself a minute of warmup stretches before she jumped on and set the machine for a steady rate increase every few minutes.

Once she was on and jogging, Rana let her mind wander for a bit. But only for a bit, as an angry, frustrated growl drew her attention to the punching bags ahead of her. One of the bags kept moving rapidly, being slammed repeatedly by Nidaelle, clad in a less modest blue sports bra and exercise shorts that showed off enough of her body's muscular physique that Rana involuntarily blushed. Her dark hair was pulled back into a high bun instead of a low one as usual. And there was a fierce, angry look in her emerald eyes as she repeatedly pummelled the bag. "Remind me not to get on your bad side," Rana remarked.

Nida looked over at her and smirked a moment, leaning against the bag she'd been pummelling and drawing in breath. "It'd be hard for you to," she consoled Rana. "It's just a way for me to deal with my rampaging anger issues. Or so my last shrink said."

"You've been with other doctors than Tigan?," Rana asked, her breath remaining steady as the treadmill was barely a strain at the moment.

"Tigan's pretty new, actually. I've had four different military psychiatrists since I lost my team."

"You've been dealing with it that long?", Rana asked.

"Yeah." Nida looked up at her. "I don't talk about it, though. I talked about it for three years and it didn't do a damned thing, so I don't see the point."

Rana gave a brief nod and focused, for the moment, on the increasing pace of the treadmill. Nidaelle took a few swings at the bag again before taking her gloves off and jumping on the treadmill beside her. "You're quite the runner," she said to Rana.

"It's my favorite way to burn the calories," Rana answered. "And not as crazy as other ways."

"But not nearly as fun."

Rana blushed involuntarily. "I actually meant my ex's martial arts interests. More of a kickboxer than a straight up boxer, though."

"So she liked beating things up. Still more fun than treadmills." Nida's smile become mischievous. "Still not as fun as what I'm thinking."

"You're incorrigible."

"Yep."

Rana shook her head. "If this is your attempt to seduce me, Nidaelle, it's not going to work. Besides, I'm the Captain, dating a member of my crew is a no-no."

"I'm not a member of your crew, not technically," Nida pointed out, the smile growing wider. "But don't worry, I'm not pushing for anything. Teasing, maybe testing the waters a bit...."

Rana shook her head in amusement.

Nida leaned against the treadmill more. "Life's too short for subtlety, Rana. That's what I learned the hard way. So yeah, I'm very blunt about stuff. If that makes you uncomfortable I'm sorry, and I do mean that."

"Everyone has their own way," Rana answered, huffing a little. She frowned at that; she used to be able to do this pace effortlessly. But that was with legs I'd had all my life. And before I spent months in a hospital bed. It was yet another reminder of what she'd lost.

"Your's is?"

"I don't have one," Rana admitted. "I'm a career animal, sex comes somewhere in fourth or fifth place."

Nida looked at her and let out a snicker. "Ah. Clearly you haven't been with the right woman yet."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. My engineer girlfriend was both ingenious and a little on the kinky side. If relationships were built entirely on how much you enjoy sex with your partner, we'd have gotten married."

That prompted a laugh. "Yeah, if only things were that simple."

Rana smiled and nodded. The quickening pace was making her focus her breath on the exercise, however, so she said nothing else.




After his talk with Captain Shaheen and finishing his work for the day, Luwum decided to follow up on the earlier invitation. He returned to the cargo and hanger spaces set aside for Balalaika's troops, where he was greeted with salutes and a professional form of politeness. "Capitan is waiting for you," one of them said as he approached Balalaika's quarters and office space.

As expected, she was inside, Boris present as always, and interestingly enough, so was Lieutenant Dawson. The former Starfleeter looked up at him and nodded to him, prompting Luwum to do the same.

"Commander, greetings," Balalaika offered pleasantly. "I had invited Lieutenant Dawson down as I thought he might want to relax more civilly, as old soldiers do. Please, join us." There was a bottle open; clear; and a variety of trinkets on the table which at closer examination seemed mostly soldier's momentos. "You get old and tired after a while, you know, and then all you can do is talk about the past." Contrary to how the words themselves sounded, her tone was one of comfortable bemusement.

"I've spoken with many a Master Chief with a similar view," Luwum remarked.

"Some of us get older faster than others," Dawson remarked quietly before taking a drink from his glass. "Are you letting that overload get to you, sir?"

Luwum frowned and didn't react immediately. "Looking back I should have had a second engineering team check the work."

"Has there been a shakedown cruise?" Balalaika asked, taking the bottle and pouring out a shot for the XO.

Luwum shook his head. "We had in-dock testing and sublight maneuvering trials, but this is effectively the ship's shakedown cruise."

"Then you've done nothing wrong, lay off of it. Command does these kinds of things. I remember when they sent jump-jets to be tested in Afghanistan..."

Boris laughed. "Capitan, the damned things fell out of the sky like flies."

"Yeah, exactly." Balalaika grinned, and went for a cigar idly with one of her hands. "Command gets these ideas to do things -- ah, we are in a crisis, let's send out personnel who are unprepared, ships that are unready, aircraft that are untested, something is better than nothing. It's all lies of course, you need acclimation to function in combat, so do machines. But you don't get in a say in that, so you're left just plugging the gaps and doing the best you can. And the fact that we are going to arrive at our final destination means.. This is just exactly what we should expect."

Dawson had the look of a man reliving old and bittersweet memories. Luwum had to nod. "The war is consuming everything, it seems. And we were not prepared enough for it." Sensing Balalaika's likely response, he continued, "Of course, who is ever prepared for it?"

"It's been much the same for you, hasn't it, Lieutenant?" Boris asked Dawson a moment later as he reflected over his vodka. Balalaika was brewing tea idly. Despite everything being prefabricated, it seemed comfortable, in that rough-hewn field way, inside of the hangar bay..

There was no immediate response. When he spoke, it was with a sigh and a thousand yard stare. "There are some things you can't prepare for."

Luwum tried to think of what he knew about Dawson's background, but aside from him being a former Starfleeter who emigrated and joined the Stellar Navy for "personal reasons" he couldn't recall anything immed.... and then it hit him. "The Gallant."

There was no immediate reaction from Dawson at hearing the name of his old ship. But the name clearly dredged up memories for him.

"Well, we have our Black Tulips. Body evacuation flights. For a 'war' that wasn't publically acknowledged. I did too many of those in the early days before we ended up in action when it all fell apart. Before then we had been training Afghan special forces, as you might call them, and they sent me back with the bodies. There is no way to tell a family that the corpse is a few chunks of bone, that might not actually be from their child. So the government's solution, of course, was to just tell them nothing. In the end we went into combat with the forces we'd trained, because they'd stopped caring about distinctions like that and because we'd have all gone mad if we hadn't. By the time it was over, we had seen more combat than most front-line VDV forces. And you know, every second of it was more pleasant than a Black Tulip flight."

There was a period of silence. "So, we've all seen the same things here, there's no use reflecting, there's only one solution for it, and we already have it on hand." And with that, Balalaika poured out another shot for Dawson.

Dawson wordlessly accepted the shot and downed it. Luwum matched him. "A very effective solution," he noted. "Though one we often pay for the following morning."

Boris laughed. "Commander, the best solution to that is a beer in the morning."

The remark prompted a bemused chuckle. "Remind me to bring that up with the quartermaster. Or find which chief has brought a beer ration aboard..."

Balalaika exchanged a glance with her sergeant. "I think we can spare some of the kvass... Here, let's see if you like it, first."




5 November 2160 AST


Ezri had been assigned one of the spare senior officer bunks, but compared to what she was used it seemed more like a very large closet than an actual living space (there were economy-class liner quarters more spacious than this!). The Terran Confederation had been just as sparse with living space as the Alliance was, so it seemed, and it made Ezri thankful that her profession meant she stayed "shoreside" most of the time.

After waking up she squeezed into the small head and shower and came out to find a message from her mother. The neutral world where her family's mining business was eking out a living had thankfully stayed out of the war so far, and with the Cardassians and Dominion being pushed back further into Cardassian space the threat to her mother and siblings was receding. As much as Ezri didn't get along with either, there were times she missed them dearly.

After sending off a reply she went over her notes and drew in a sigh. Her superiors, with Jarke's prodding, had ordered her to come along to keep tabs on her patients, but it had also disrupted her schedule and the caring of her other patients. And with Shaheen, Vesdein, and Lee all wrapped up in preparing for this mission she had been given little time for therapy with any of them either. For the moment she felt completely useless, and that gnawed at her.

Seeing nothing else to do, Ezri entered her passcode to access the mission files library and started to check the RDA files on Pandora, or rather on the personnel involved. RDA hadn't given any personnel files on the people who left with Selfridge, but they'd given full files on those who stayed behind. Jake Sully, Norm Spellman, Max Patel...

As their files popped up on her screen, Ezri felt a wave of disgust and revulsion. RDA hadn't just put in basic information, no, this was everything, including psychiatric and medical data that should have been confidential. It was a horrific breach of ethics on the part of the people responsible and a part of her almost closed the files. But if she knew these people, maybe it'd help deal with them.




Hell's Gate
Pandora



There were times that Norm Spellman regretted staying behind.

Not often, admittedly, but sometimes. Boredom and the paucity of people to talk to mixed terribly with the ghost town atmosphere of Hell's Gate since Selfridge and the others had been forced off. Even if going back meant lawsuits and even criminal charges from RDA's lackies in the courts, at least there would be new faces. Instead it was always Max and a handful of others, barely twelve people who had opted to stay and study Pandora in a state of peace with the Na'vi. Even the wildlife attacks had tapered off, happening only rarely and with the automated defenses sufficient to expel them. Given what Norm knew of "Eywa's" ability to control the wildlife, it reflected that whatever consciousness operated in the biosphere-wide neural network was tolerant of their remaining behind.

The day started like most others. Pre-midday meal, meeting with Dr. Patel to determine their health condition, fielding a call from Jake, and taking a turn in the Ops Center to stare at blank feeds from the satellites. It was generally accepted another mission from Earth wouldn't come for years - Selfridge wouldn't have even made it back yet - but a vigil was kept regardless.

Norm's day suddenly got very interesting. The satellites had a variety of scanning systems looking at various bandwidths. Suddenly radiation flared on some of the scanners, two distinct pulses with lots of energy behind them. Norm straightened up and directed his attention to the satellite controls. "What the hell...?", he breathed.

There had been nothing in space before. Now he saw two craft where the'd been nothing, as if they'd just appeared. The spaceships looked nothing like ISVs, hell, they didn't even look common with each other; a sleek long shape and a big box, the only similarity being the two large blue engine pods with red tips at the front.

Could it be aliens? Norm remembered Grace had advocated Pandora being an artificial biosphere, made by an unknown intelligence. Maybe this was it? Maybe whoever made Pandora was coming back to check up on it? He swallowed at the implications and zoomed the camera lens in on the ships.

"Norm, I wanted to..." Max's voice came from behind him, but it cut off when Max noticed the screen. "My God, what is that?"

"They just appeared. A big burst of radiation and poof, out of thin air. Or vacuum." Norm zoomed the camera in toward the top of the lead ship's sleek frontal hull. There were visible running lights and windows along the hull, pod hatches of some sort spotted here and there. And....

Lettering.

"U.S.S. Enterprise," Max read from behind him. "What the hell?! Have we gotten any..."

"They're still silent," Norm remarked. The loss of contact with Earth had been presumed to be the result of Selfridge's message home about the victory of the Na'vi and their expulsion. It had been unnerving this whole time, not knowing what was going on with Earth, if a military expedition was being outfitted or not. But even then, to have Earth ships here so quickly was completely outside of Norm's expectations. "I mean... look at that. I've never seen anything like it. And it didn't come in like an ISV. They just..." It seemed unfathomable that in just a few short years any nation on Earth, or even a group of them, could introduce such radically new designs and give them time to make the long flight to Pandora.

Max swallowed. "I'll go get everyone. Call Jake, warn him what's happening."

Norm jumped up and went over to the communciations desk. "I'm on it."




DNS Langley, on approach to Pandora


Even with Langley restricted to five lyphs, Nyere was still close enough to Alpha Centauri that the Langley and Enterprise arrived in the Proxima Range at noontime. The gas giant Polyphemus dominated the view on the Langley navigation bridge, where Rana had decided to watch the ship come in. The Enterprise was below and ahead of Langley, cruising gently on her impulse drives toward the blue pearl in orbit of Polyphemus.

In other universes this was just a lifeless brown moon called Noman, with plentiful if not superbly rich veins of ripleyium and latinum and all sorts of other vital minerals. But here it was a "garden moon", a rare case of a moon that, thanks to its rotation around its planet, had developed an atmosphere and biosphere. It was an anomaly, one of the cases where concurrent stellar development had not happened in line with the rest of the Multiverse, and that was intriguing to just about anyone.

"There are still some RDA sats in orbit," she heard one of the watch report. "I'm detecting scanning emissions and passive communication links. If anyone's monitoring the systems in Hell's Gate, they know we're here."

"Take us into high orbit," Rana ordered. She reached over to the nearby console and activated the intercom. "This is Captain Shaheen. Captain Pavlovena, Commander Luwum, Commander Vesdein, Major Marshall, Doctor Buthelezi, and Lieutenant Lee, please report to the Main Conference Room. Communications, I want an active link to the Enterprise ready when we get there." As she heard the affirmations, Rana drew in a breath.

They'd arrived at Pandora. The full weight of what might happen pulled at her shoulders and her heart. Of all the missions and posts she'd undertaken in the Navy, this was the one that would define her career and put her in the history books... and whether she was a heroine or a villainess would be entirely reliant on what she and Picard had to do.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Thu Oct 03, 2013 3:10 pm

Chapter 6


Hell's Gate Facility
Pandora



Max looked up from the control station, where the two ships were still visible as they maintained a high orbit over Hell's Gate. "Any luck, Norm?"

Norm shook his head. "Jake's out with a hunting party. Neytiri said she'd send runners to try and find them."

"The others are getting the defenses set up. So far the ships haven't done anything but sit in orbit."

Norm nodded and swallowed. Whatever these ships were, the quiet they'd enjoyed up until now was clearly over.




DNS Langley
In Orbit of Pandora



The display on the far wall showed the Enterprise command crew in their own conference room, with Rana and her assembled officers being seen similarly from the Enterprise. "Preliminary scans confirm the electromagnetic field around Pandora will interfere with transporters," Data reported. "Until we establish pattern buffer systems on the planet, we will not be able to beam anyone down."

"That leaves shuttles and landers," Rana pointed out.

"We concur." Picard was clearly uneasy with that prospect. So much could go wrong with a landing, and the flying fauna was known to be hostile. "The field is also making it difficult to scan for exact life signs. We believe there may be somewhere between six and twenty people in the facility. We can't get an accurate count of life in the jungles."

"What about orbital infrared scanners? Can't they pick out humanoid body heat from ambient temperatures?", Luwum asked.

"Not with precision," Data answered. "There is a low-level energy signature coming from the planet's vegetation, they interfere with our life scanning systems. With time I may be able to adjust Enterprise's systems to counter this effect."

"We'd be interested in those modifications, I'll see if Lieutenant Skarsgard and her people can perform similar fine-tuning."

"We have tried to hail the facility, but as of yet they've not answered," Picard continued. "It is not unexpected that they would react to our arrival with shock."

"With our timetable we can't give them too much time," Luwum pointed out. "I suggest that if we hear nothing in three hours we begin landing preparation."

"I concur," Picard agreed.

Rana looked around the room. "Any suggestions on the makeup of a landing force?"

"We will want a team large enough to secure the station, certainly," Balalaika remarked. "A company, at least."

"Too many soldiers may provoke them to violence," Troi pointed out. "A smaller, lightly-armed first contact team would be better-suited to making a peaceful contact."

"The violent wildlife of Pandora will not care how soft-spoken you are, Counselor," was Balalaika's response. "We must secure Hell's Gate from their attacks regardless of our relations with the natives."

"We should at least take a platoon of power-armored troops." Luwum looked to Rana. "And a flight of Sparrowhawks to protect them."

"They have no air forces that require that kind of force," Troi protested.

Luwum shook his head. "Did you not watch the RDA combat footage, Counselor? The flying beasts are violent as well and large enough to pose a danger even with deflector defenses. We must be prepared for them."

That drew Riker into the conversation. "Send too much and you provoke the Na'vi."

"If they are so easily provoked, Commander, then we should simply face the fact that we will have to war with them." Luwum shook his head. "Our mission is to gain the ripleyium, not to make nice with the natives."

"Enough, both of you," Rana snapped. "You both have good points and Captain Picard and I will give them all consideration. But for the moment, we have to recognize that we need to protect any landers we send. Captain, do you think two Sparrowhawks would be excessive?"

"Not at all,," Picard remarked.

"Major Marshall?" Rana looked to the Terran officer, who gave off an air of impatience. "Do you have any objections?"

"No, no, it works." Marshall nodded. "I'll fly the escort mission. Lieutenant Lee will be on my wing."

For what it was worth, Lee was fairly restrained when he nodded.

"If you arrange some of your landers for Captain Pavlovena's team, I'll have a shuttle prepared with pattern enhancers to join us," Picard noted. "I intend to lead the team down."

Riker looked uncomfortably toward Picard. Rana knew Starfleet enough to know their current SOP was that in potentially hazardous situations the First Officer led "Away Teams" - landing parties to her - while the Captain remained on the ship. "That's your perogative, sir. I'll have Luwum, Commander Vesdein and Doctor Tigan join Captain Pavlovena's landing force." Briefly Rana considered going ashore, but she held off. It wasn't her place to head down there.

"Very well. We'll keep hailing the station and let you know if there are any developments. Enterprise out."

The Enterprise crew disappeared from the screen. "We have work to do everyone, you're all dismissed," Rana pointed out. She saw a look in Luwum's eye that said he wanted to talk, so she said nothing when he stayed behind. "Yes, Commander?"

"Sir, I understand that the prospect of using force is unsavory to us," Luwum remarked. "But there are millions of Alliance citizens fighting and dying as we speak. Trillions of innocent beings suffer under Leewood and the Changelings. The Na'vi are not so special they deserve greater consideration than others. If it comes down to it... the greater good will be served by ensuring the mining begins regardless of Na'vi protest."

"'War makes for horrible arithmetic,'" Rana sighed.

Luwum raised an eyebrow. "A pithy quote from some old Earth war leader, sir?"

"Defense Minister Dale, in his naval strategy book," Rana explained. "I think it originated with Pobedonostev or Korchagin, though."

"Sounds very Korchagin-like."

"You are right that the war is the important thing," Rana said. "But.... they say a society is judged in how it treats the helpless. How will we be judged if we impose our will on the Na'vi by force? And what if it just makes it easier for us to do worse? Maybe next time it'll be some planet with vital materials that wants to remain neutral, and we occupy it because 'the greater good' requires we do. How long before 'the greater good' reduces us to being no different from another empire? The President talked about upholding our values in this war, but what will happen if we violate our values to win it?"

"It's not an easy question," Luwum conceded. "But it's not our place, Captain. We are given orders, we carry them out."

"Or we resign," Rana pointed out. "Which, as it happens, can't be done in wartime."

"Yes."

"So instead it's 'obey the order or get court-martialed'." Rana thumped her hand on the table. "Commander, if we must ignore the wishes of the natives of Pandora... would you agree we're obligated to do all we can to not bring them harm regardless?"

"I would, yes," Luwum remarked. "For what it's worth... I'd also say that after the war we would be obligated to leave."

Rana laughed bitterly. "Yeah... that won't happen. Someone will argue we put too many resources into it, or that we need the ripleyium for the rebuilding. And we'd stay."

"Quite possibly."

"Regardless... we'll have to see where things go. Hopefully Captain Picard is half the diplomat his reputation claims." Rana motioned to the door. "Otherwise... all we can do is hope God forgives us."




USS Enterprise


With an hour left before the cut-off time for an answer to their hails, Picard had returned to his ready room to make a final review of all the data they had been provided on the moon and its inhabitants. He was deep in reading notes from the late Dr. Augustine about the Omaticaya culture when his door chime went off. "Enter." He looked up and watched Riker enter. "Number One, any developments?"

"No answer yet," Riker confirmed. "Captain, I really think you should re-consider... allow me and Data to go on the landing mission, you can be beamed down when the pattern enhancers are up."

"It's entirely possible we'll need to commence negotiations before we can do that, Number One. I'm sorry, but my decision is made."

Riker drew in a breath. "I understand sir. If you're going down, have you decided who's joining you?"

"I'll be bringing Data and Deanna." Picard tapped at his screen. "And for security... I believe Lieutenant Vale would be a good selection?"

Riker nodded. "She's got good instincts, I think Lieutenant Daniels will agree with that choice if you're not bringing him."

"I'd rather have Daniels remain at tactical should Enterprise need to provide some kind of orbital support," Picard noted. "Hopefully nothing will be necessary. But that is in the hands of those on Pandora at present."




Omaticaya Hunting Grounds


The arrow that left Jake's bow was straight and true, going through the head and neck of the beast his warriors had been hunting. He let out a whoop of success that the others echoed and jumped down from the trees to the jungle floor. Knives came out as those assigned to preparing the beast went to work on carefully scavenging the carcass (the creature being too big to bring back to the new settlement).

"The hunting is getting better," one of the younger warriors, Lakaya, noted. "It is good that the animals are recovering from what the Humans did to their numbers."

"A pity it will take longer for Eywa to repair the rest of the damage done," another of the warriors remarked sullenly.

Jake had nothing to say about that, focusing his senses toward his surroundings. In the distance he could hear an onrush of air signifying the approach of an Ikran. He turned toward the sound and watched one weave through the trees. The female Na'vi riding it was another young one, personally trained by Neytiri, and that told him something was going on. He called out to the young girl, who screeched a reply before bringing her Ikran down. "Jake Sully!", she called out. "The Humans at the Gate have called! You must go to them immediately!"

Given Norm had confirmed everything was normal that morning, Jake knew something had gone horribly wrong. "What happened?"

The girl was clearly scared, which made Jake more fearful as she regained her breath. "There are Human ships in orbit. The Humans of Earth have returned!"




DNS Langley


Luwum checked his breather's settings one last time while stepping out onto the hanger deck. Behind him Balalaika and Boris had already finished another check along with their immediate landing team while Nidaelle was helping Ezri go over her survival gear. The desantiki were loading vehicles onto landers in preperation of not just this landing but any emergency follow-up landings, adding to the tumult on the hanger given the Sparrowhawks were also being prepped for launch. Captain Shaheen was standing beside one of the Sparrowhawks, speaking with Marshall as he looked over the aerospace craft. She turned toward Luwum and Balalaika before they could call to her. Luwum saluted and prompted a return salute. "We're ready to go, Captain."

"Good. I'm sending you down in one of the L-10s." Rana indicated the light cargo lander, of which Langley had four. "Your pilot is already finalizing flight checks."

"Yes. Anything else before I go down, sir?"

"Yes. Even if you think he's being too soft, follow Picard's lead. We don't want anyone to think they can split us, it'll only make things worse. If you feel Picard is undermining the mission parameters, call me and I'll deal with it."

"Yes Captain."

Rana nodded and looked to Balalaika. "Good luck to you too, Captain Pavlovena. Your men will be on standby if something goes wrong, and they will have escort."

"Thank you, Captain." That was followed by a brief nod. "We are prepared for anything that may come."




Omaticaya Village
Pandora



The loss of Hometree had made life hard for the Omaticaya. Despite the difficulties they had perservered under Moat and Neytiri's guidance, with Jake leading the warriors in protecting the boundaries from the fauna. Joy had started to settle into their hearts again.

But there had been a blade hovering overhead. Everyone knew the Humans might one day return and seek revenge, and when they did so the Omaticaya could end up being the first target. That day seemed long off by what Jake and Norm and Max had insisted... but now it was evident they were wrong.

Neytiri sat alongside her mother while the matter was discussed by the elders. Fleeing the area had been mooted, but where would they go? The Omaticaya were a forest people; trying to survive in the plains or coasts or mountains would leave them truly homeless and forced to rely on the other tribes to survive, and even with the bonds of alliance Jake had forged the prospect was not good.

Neytiri shifted restlessly. The doom-filled talk was getting to her. She considered a prayer to get away from this, to do something and not just sit and talk and be fearful...

There was a cry from nearby. Heads turned and one of the young mothers of the tribe, Laya, stumbled up and cried out. "My son! My son is gone!"

That prompted Neytiri to stand. "Tell me where you last saw him. I will find him."




Hell's Gate Facility


The scientists and researchers were in the mess hall. All remained quiet as the situation was explained by Norm. "We're waiting to hear from Jake and the others," Norm explained, "so in the meantime we need to decide on whether to answer their hails or not."

"If we do, aren't we betraying the Na'vi?", Dr. Larkin, the senior remaining biologist, asked pointedly. The thin, wolf-haired man looked around from his seat. "We rely on their good faith to live here. If we open communication without them..."

"We might not have a choice," Norm pointed out. "Those ships know we're here. If we don't answer, they might come in shooting thinking we're going to be hostile."

"And if we turn the Na'vi against us?"

"I doubt they'll consider answering a call betrayal," another voice called out. "We really don't lose anything by answering."

Larkin shook his head. "We can't give the Na'vi any reason to think they're wrong for letting us stay here. I honestly think we need to hold off until Sully..."

Disagreement came from other quarters. Max finally smacked his hand on a table. "Okay, we have to make a decision. No putting it off. Do we answer their hails? All in favor?"

Hands began to go up.

"Against?"

Other hands went up, Larkin's first. They were noticably fewer.

"Then we answer." Norm got out of his seat and headed to the Op Center, everyone else following him. They filed in behind him as he took the seat. As his hand went toward the control he looked and drew in a breath. "They're launching ships," he remarked to the others. "We've got craft inbound."




USS Enterprise


Passing Starfleet officers and crew looked with irritation or simple bewilderment at the figure of Selfridge rushing through the corridors. He kept glancing at the PADD he'd been given as it directed him to the shuttlebay. Irritation welled within him at not being told they were going down yet. He was supposed to go, dammit, and ascertain the state of RDA assets!

There was a warning light on the shuttlebay door's side panel, but Selfridge ignored it. He stomped in just in time to see one of the shuttles go through the forcefield holding in the atmosphere. "Wait a minute!" he cried out, seeing Commander Riker and Lieutenant Daniels standing in the middle of the bay. "What.... I'm supposed to go down there!"

Riker and Daniels exchanged agitated looks before Riker looked back to Selfridge, oozing arrogance from every pore. "Captain Picard will let you go down once we establish a working dialogue," he said, not hiding his contempt.

"You made a deal with my company!", Selfridge barked. "And that means I have to check on our assets down there! I have to see what those blue savages and their friends have done to company property!"

Riker visibly bristled at Selfridge's bigotry. "As I said, Mister Selfridge, you'll be permitted to go down to Pandora after diplomatic negotiations have commenced. Given your history with the Na'vi, I think you can understand that your presence would only make things more difficult in establishing a peaceful dialogue."

Selfridge rolled his eyes. "We're not here to establish a 'dialogue', in case you forgot. We're here because your Federation and the Alliance need our unobtanium rights to fight your war. RDA will not permit the deal to go through if you freeze us out."

Riker stepped up to glare into Selfridge's eyes, mere inches separating the two men. "You don't have to remind me of our agreement, Mister Selfridge. But nothing in our orders requires me to do a damn thing you want. And if you want me to go through the trouble to arrange your shuttle flight instead of using our transporter, I suggest you return to your quarters, calm down, and wait for Captain Picard to say he's ready for you. Otherwise the only ship you'll find to take you down will be one of the Alliance's assault landers, and they're not nearly so comfortable. Am. I. Clear?"

Selfridge didn't flinch initially, but he knew he wasn't winning this. "Fine. But I'll be mentioning your attitude in my report."

"You do that, Mister Selfridge." Riker stood still as Selfridge barged his way out of the shuttlebay.

Lieutenant Daniels stepped up beside him. "What a weasel."

"Frankly I can't wait to get him off this ship," Riker sighed.




Selfridge returned to his quarters to find a guest waiting at the door. Charles Berry nodded toward him and held up a bottle. "Mister Selfridge, I was hoping to find you. I have this bottle of Savayan-brand brandy on a ship full of people who drink nothing but synthehol."

"Okay, okay, what is it you want then?"

"To talk, of course," Charles answered. "I have questions about how operations on Pandora worked for you."

"Badly."

"That goes without saying." Seeing Selfridge's surliness was not receding, Charles continued. "Mister Selfridge, out of all the people on this ship I am the only one who knows anything about what kinds of expectations and demands you were under. I'm not here to judge you for what you did or didn't do on Pandora, I'm simply here to find out more so I know what I'm dealing with. The more successful I am, the bigger the yields and the more RDA gets from it."

Being reminded of why he was here made Selfridge drop some of his attitude. "Alright, alright.... you've got my attention."

"Splendid. Now, this brandy bottle is just asking to be opened. And I think I've managed to coax the replicators into making a marginally acceptable lamb chop..."




Marshall's F/A-38 came out of the launch bay and accelerated. He smirked and maneuvered the fighter, enjoying the slight pull of Gs as he lined it up and awaited Lee's fighter and the landers he was to escort. Moments later Lee's voice crackled over his radio. "Shroom Man here, Maniac, on your wing."

"Roger that, Shroomy." Marshall put on the main comm channel to the other craft. "This is Maniac, everyone form up. Shroom and I have your six."

"Acknowledged," replied the pilot in the lead lander. As she directed her lander to begin their atmospheric entry course, a Starfleet shuttle moved into formation behind them. "Shuttlecraft Cameron, this is Lander Bravo. Relaying formation and course data."

"Acknowledged, Lander Bravo," the Starfleet pilot answered.

Marshall kept his controls steady and followed the vessels in. Their protective fields began to glow red from re-entry friction. On the landers, the inertial dampeners wouldn't be enough to keep the occupants from rocking around, but the Federation shuttle and the two fighters had dampeners powerful enough to absorb the friction without causing any effects. Marshall actually regretted this a little since it made him feel like he wasn't doing anything special in bringing his fighter into atmo.

As they descended into the atmosphere, Marshall reached over and switched drives to the fusion-generated jet engines. Retro-thrusters fired, allowing the atmosphere to slow his fighter without threatening to tear it apart despite its protective systems. "Feet hot," he called into the radio, Lee saying the same a moment later. "We're on course."

"Enterprise, have we had any communication from the complex?," Picard asked.

"They gave us a response hail, saying they were waiting for us to land. They want to speak with you," Riker replied.

"Excellent. We'll keep you appraised, Number One. Picard out."

With their dampener-assisted deceleration the flight began their final approach on the first pass. At about three thousand feet Marshall leveled his Sparrowhawk to maintain altitude. Below was a thick jungle canopy, or at least outside of a clear series of lanes to open pits marking the RDA mines. The RDA machinery had gouged out the jungle wherever it had gone. "Damn, they did a number to this moon didn't they?"

"Can't blame the natives for wanting them out," Lee muttered. "Goddamned corporate whores."

Ahead of them the landers and shuttle began their final approach. Everything looked fine...

A large flock of flying creatures suddenly erupted from the forest, racing through the landers and shuttle. The Cameron took a glancing hit and spun around. "Trying to regain control!," the pilot shouted.




In the Ops Center at Hell's Gate, Norm watched with horror as the incoming craft were set upon by a flock of forest banshees. "Where's Jake?! Dammit, get Jake on the radio! I don't care how!"




"Beginning evasive maneuvers!"

"Landing Team, confirm status", Tech Officer Hocken called over the radio.

"We've got angry beasties!", Marshall responded. "Weapons free!" He brought the nuclear-disruptor emitters online and targeted the creatures, setting the weapon for low power rapid fire mode. Beams of ruby-orange light erupted from the front of his Sparrowhawk, pulsing rapidly as the weapons cycled on and off. Several of the beasts took the hits and veered away, if they didn't outright fall from fatal shots.




Jake urged his Ikran on faster as he saw the flashes of light in the distance. Were the incoming ships engaging the animals or had the ikranay - the forest banshees - attacked what they perceived to be a territorial threat? The latter didn't seem right, but even RDA never engaged the fauna unless forced too....

As he focused his view on the two fighter jets, he saw the flashes of light again. His stomach churned; those were not tracer rounds. They looked like actual laser beams of some sort. Laser beams.

Just what the hell is going on?

Jake noticed movement from the corner of his eye. Something moved beside him and the warriors following him, staying a short distance away, and cruising just below the canopy line. He recognized it immediately. Toruk.....




"Cameron, this is Enterprise, status?" Riker's inquiry was tense, though not panicked.

"We're... we're fine, I've got control, running evasives!"

"Climb! Climb!," was the call from the cargo lander.

Lee was watching the landers and shuttle regaining control and trying to gain atmosphere, just as another group of the beasts raced in like flying suicide beasts. Suicide animals! It was crazy! "I'm covering you!", he cried into the radio, triggering his nuclear-disruptors. Twin beams lashed out in a millisecond of fury, slicing into the flock of flying suicide beasts. He kept up fire and prompted the beasts to break off. Some turned toward him and he did a barrell roll, just like his instructor always insisted he do in situations like these!

"Shroom, watch your six!," Marshall called out. Lee pulled his fighter up hard, wishing he was in goddamned vacuum and didn't have this stupid atmosphere to maneuver through. Beasties narrowly missed him as he pulled a loop. Coming back down he raked several more of them, his beams and Marshall's forming a crossfire. The flocks dispersed as several were hit and went plummeting back to the ground.

"Dammit, Maniac, we're dogfighting goddamned suicide animals!", Lee shouted. "This is crazy! This is awesome!" He looked back to the landers and shuttle; their charges were forming together again and climbing.

A massive yellow and blue beast, several times larger than the ones that had attacked, suddenly erupted from the canopy and struck at his fighter. Warning klaxons went off in Lee's cockpit and he tried to regain control of his craft. There was a shriek of protesting metal that made him look over... just in time to see the big damn beast rip his wing off. "Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck fuck!!!" His F/A-38 began to spiral uncontrollably and head toward the jungle.

An order from Marshall broke the whine of alarms. "Eject Shroom! Get out of there!"

"Ejecting!" He grabbed the eject handle and pulled it. Charges blasted his canopy away. The on-board systems, even with the fighter dying, worked as designed and didn't fire his chair's rocket until his fighter was pointed away from the ground. He flew into the air and away from his fighter, forced to watch as it plowed into the nearby jungle, setting a fiery trail through the vegetation as it went.




Marshall saw Lee eject, but he had no time to say anything else. The big beast that had taken out Lee's fighter was coming for him, maneuvering hard and preventing him from getting a lock with his nuclear-disruptors or a shot with his coilguns. Marshall fired the afterburners and pulled up, evading a strike from the damn beast. "Cameron, time to landing? I'll try to keep this thing off you!"

"We're coming in now, we just need a minute!"

Marshall looked on his screens and saw the beast turning toward them. He didn't know how fast the thing could go and wasn't going to have it attack them after they landed, which ruled out disengaging by climbing. He twisted his fighter around and lined up his weapons on it, setting his nuclear-disruptors to higher power with a flick of his thumb and getting the beast into his crosshairs. Two lances of energy lashed out, but the creature shifted at the last moment and evaded them. Marshall frowned and triggered the coilguns next. EM fields powered in the chin of his craft and a storm of metal erupted; the result was almost like a laser in of itself, an almost solid beam of metal that ripped through the jungle and set fire to the trees as it tracked on the massive beast. It dove into the jungle and out of sight. "Shit, lost sight of him," Marshall muttered. "Oh no you don't...." He kept his fighter level over the canopy, watching, waiting....

Without warning it erupted from the canopy again, heading for him like it had Lee. But Marshall was ready for him. He twisted his fighter and pulled the stick back, "lifting" his nose and narrowly avoiding the creature. He fired all the maneuvering thrusters and turned the fighter so hard that even with the dampeners G-forces still pulled at him. The creature was ahead of him, turning and moving back toward the protection of the canopy. Marshall's fingers tensed on both triggers. Twin beams of energy lashed out ahead of the thunder of his coilguns.

He didn't miss this time.




"Eywa help us...." One of the Na'vi beside Jake breathed the phrase in horror, and he had to agree. The fighter didn't just kill the toruk, it annihilated the beast. Half of it disappeared in a haze of red and orange, and what was left erupted in blood and flaming guts as supersonic metal ripped through it.

And the G-forces the craft had pulled with that turn... it was impossible that RDA had such technology. They were dealing with someone else. Someone new. And he wondered if even Eywa could save them this time.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Fri Oct 04, 2013 4:29 pm

Chapter 7


DNS Langley
In Orbit of Pandora



Rana was leaning over the holo-tank displaying the area near Hell's Gate. "Where is Lee's transponder, dammit? Hocken?!"

"Sorry ma'am." Hocken looked up from her station. "The moon's energy fields are disrupting the signal, I can't get an exact fix."

God dammit! "Get a lander prepped, I want rescue teams dispatched!"

"Incoming signal from Captain Picard," Hocken informed her.

"On speaker."

"Langley, Enterprise, do what you can to track Lieutenant Lee's landing point, but hold back the rescue team for the moment. There are Na'vi following us to the Complex, the situation is going to be critical."

Rana frowned. "With all due respect, Captain, that's my man down there."

"I know, Captain, and I don't ask this lightly. But we can't make this look like an armed invasion."

Seeing the looks some of the others were giving her, Rana drew in a breath. "Is that an order, Captain Picard?"

There was brief silence. "Yes, Captain Shaheen. It is one."

Eyes rolled in at least two heads on the Langley CIC. Rana ignored them. "Very well. I'll have rescue teams standing by for your go-ahead, Captain. Langley out." She nodded to Hocken to cut the channel.

"Captain, this is bullshit," Vigdis growled. "We don't leave a man behind. If the natives don't like it then they can go to Hell, sir."

"I don't like it either, Lieutenant," Rana grumbled. "But Picard has the higher rank. He gives the orders."




The jungle was alive with color around Lee. He staggered away from his chair, his stomach ill from the G-forces of his ejection, but other than that he felt no injuries. His breather was active as well, scrubbing the harmful gases from the air he was breathing in, though sadly that was all it scrubbed; Pandora frankly smelled like fucking shit. God damn shit-smelling moon!

He quickly checked his charge pistol sidearm, his spare clips, and the rations he had in his survival pack. His transponder was active but a warning light was flashing, indicating the system was detecting interference that might make his signal unreadable. Ugh, it's like the air is shit! Fucking shit. Goddammit. Lee brought up his digital compass. The energy field screwed it it too, but it could still roughly lead north. And all he had to do was remember where the RDA corporate whores had torn out Pandora's jungle to find a way to rejoin the others.

Arrrgh, shit smell! Lee forced himself to take in a breath of the air and began to trudge through the undergrowth.




The shuttle and landers set down on the vacant landing pad at Hell's Gate. Inside the Cameron, Picard finished attaching the breather to his mouth and nose. Lieutenant Vale and the other security officer, a male Trill Ensign Vale had picked for the mission named Harlo Gestani, already had their's attached and their phaser rifles slung on their shoulders. Picard had already spoken to both on avoiding any sign of hostility and he trusted they would remain reserved. He wasn't so sure about Pavlovena, Vesdein, and Luwum, unfortunately.

The landing party from the Langley met him as they approached the airlock entrance to the Complex. The outer door opened as they walked up. Pavlovena gestured toward the others and one of her men nodded. Aside from Boris, the others remained outside to check the defense perimeter, joined by Vale and Gestani. Once they were inside the airlock, lights informed them when the outside air had been cycled out and oxy-nitro blend cycled in. Everyone removed their breathers and turned them off.

On the inside if the airlock, every occupant of the Complex was waiting. "Um... Captain Picard, is it?", one of the men, of Indian descent from his appearance, asked.

"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise," Picard introduced himself. "My associate, Commander David Luwum of the Democratic Nations' Ship Langley...." He introduced each in turn.

"Doctor Max Patel, formerly of RDA. Norm Spellman...." The introductions were given, but eyes were already widening and whispers passing back and forth over Ezri and Data, both clearly human-looking but bizarre in appearance. After Max introduced the others, he finally allowed his curiosity to come forth. "Captain Picard... just what is the Federation? Or the Democratic Nations? And how did your ships appear like that? And..."

"What I am about to tell you will sound extraordinary," Picard said. "Your Earth has recently been introduced to the Multiversal Community."

"Multiversal what?", one of the scientists asked.

"There exists a technology, Inter-Universal Jump Gates, that allows for travel between universes," Picard explained. "I represent the United Federation of Planets, a multi-species union co-founded by the Humanity of Universe Designate ST-3 over two centuries ago. Commander Luwum is from the Alliance of Democratic Nations, a cross-universal union of nations formed sixteen years ago to unite the space-faring Human nations of several universes under a single government for defense and trade purposes. In most of the Multiverse, Humanity has discovered superluminal travel capability...." Picard quickly explained, in laymen's terms, the existence of warp drive and other ways to break the light-speed barrier. "We have come to resume contact with you and to open negotiations with the Na'vi on the use of this facility."

Norm visibly glowered. "You mean you want to pick up where RDA left off. You want to strip-mine Pandora."

"Not at all," Picard replied. "We have technology to access underground minerals without despoiling the natural wonder of a moon like this. And, as an archeologist myself, I can state that there will even greater interest in the Multiverse to explore Pandora and learn more of its unique biosphere and cultural heritage."

"Then what happened to Pandora in the other universes?", Larkin asked. "If Earth exists in the other universes, Pandora should too."

"Actually.... Earth seems to have a fairly unique situation in the Multiverse, and in the case of Pandora.... this is the only case in the known Multiverse where this moon is life-bearing," Picard explained. "Pandora doesn't exist in my home universe or any others."

"That doesn't make sense..."

"Captain." Luwum cleared his throat. "I think it best if we get on to business. We need to speak with the Na'vi."

"Jake should be on his way," Norm answered. "You can explain to him and the other Na'vi what is going on. We'll...."

They were promptly interrupted by the sound of gunfire.




The animals had gathered slowly on the perimeter of the Complex. Their eyes and senses ranged everywhere, the smallest ones entering the complex - harmless enough that the defenses did not engage - where they could observe the newcoming Humans firsthand. Though beasts, they were not quite themselves. All were part of something larger, an ancient intelligence that had long watched this world blossom, and had reacted ferociously when it was threatened.

Humans again. There was spite, irritation. They had not retreated like she'd hoped. She'd lost precious creatures in trying to drive them off. For the moment she paused; the Humans still at the Complex had fought for her creations and deserved her patience. She would not threaten them if it was not necessary. If....

The Humans from the vessels emerged. New uniforms, different behaviors from the ones before. But they were still Humans. She felt disgust at them. Anger and hate and irritation roiled within her for what seemed a long while and she pondered how to deal with these new interlopers....

Her creatures looked to one of the figures in the black and gray uniforms. Male. Human-looking, but the senses of the animals felt something new. She could see it through their eyes, smell with their senses, see the spots that Humans did not possess.... not Human. Not entirely. Something else. Something familiar.

And then she knew what it was. Ancient memories, hot with pain, came back with force, and she knew things had changed. Her world was under threat like never before. The Humans had achieved a potential that made them a horrific threat, one she could not tolerate. She would not let history repeat itself.

Eywa screamed with rage. Her creatures echoed her rage and charged in union with her terrible will: DESTROY.




Jake and the warriors accompanying him were coming in low on their ikrans. There was a thundering roar from ahead and Jake watched as a herd of the hammerhead beasts charged into the Complex perimeter, ignoring the automatic defenses that fired bullets into them even as gouges of flesh and blood erupted from their number. That wasn't normal, not at all....

But he'd seen them act that way before. They'd done so when Eywa had sent them to fight the RDA. Eywa herself was attacking the newcomers, and that left him both curious and full of dread.




Max and Norm followed the entourage back out of the airlock and were immediately beset by the thunder of gunfire. Balalaika's desantiki had taken cover and were pouring firepower into an onrushing herd of animals. "They've... they've never done that before," Norm muttered.

Nidaelle was quick to get on the comm. "We're being attacked by the fauna! We need support now!" She looked to Picard, almost daring him to contravene the order.

He didn't, of course. Instead he was busy locating Vale and Gestani, who had taken cover. "Report, Lieutenant."

"They just started charging in," Vale replied. "We tried returning fire but our phasers are giving safety errors and won't shoot."

"The error is mine, Captain," Data remarked. "I did not realize that the fields would be capable of this level of interference."

"Are you going to be okay, Data?", Troi asked. "I can't imagine the field is good for positronic brains either."

"My internal shielding against such interference is holding for the moment."

"Zero-four-four inclination seven stand by for rapid fire -- fire!"

The voice cut across the den of the combat as Balalaika stood, gas mask covering her face but her blonde hair tossed out behind her in the breeze as she looked through rangefinder on a tripod -- old, but totally not subject to any kind of interference--talking through an old-style combat radio, Boris at her side with a heavy chemical charge rifle in hand and two more desantniki prone before them with heaped dirt already thrown up around a machine gun on another tripod.

The order was followed by a quick wumpf, wumpf, wumpf, wumpf of mortars hammering back rounds and sending them downrange. The mortar rounds had simple bistatic electrical impulse fuses that set them off at a standardized distance from the ground, their plastic explosive cores almost twenty times stronger than old fashioned TNT--they were one of the more powerful stable chemical explosives yet found--and showering the beasts attacking their position not with shrapnel but with heavy ball rounds which would actually cut deep into their hardened flesh and inflict hydrostatic shock to internal organs instead of merely wounding them.

The shells kept thundering down--Balalaika was short of people, not ammunition--as she flung to the side and looked back to the rest of the group. "You'd be smart to return to the facility at once. These beasts are keeping my men quite busy and it simply isn't safe."

Punctuating Balalaika's words was the roar of jet engines. Marshall's F/A-38 soared overhead. Air-to-surface munitions detached from his craft's wings and fell into the onrushing horde. Submunitions from the bombs ripped and tore through even their hardened flesh, killing many.

"Or we can be like Americans, and do stupid things but get away with them thanks to air support," Balalaika amended, and one could imagine the death's head grin of her burned face that had surely accompanied it.

The slaughter continued, appalling Norm and Max as they retreated back inside. Picard watched wistfully, but said nothing to interfere with the terrible storm. Whatever rage had inspired the beasts seemed to finally give way before their self-preservation instincts. The herd moved to the side and away, fleeing from the firepower they'd been faced with.

"I'm glad that's over with," Ezri muttered.

"It's not quite over yet, Doc," Nidaelle pointed out.

In the distance, at the breaches of the defenses, a large gathering of horse-like creatures were assembling. Creatures that clearly had riders.




Eywa's rage was further stoked by fear as she watched her creations get butchered by the Humans. She would need time to direct more of her creatures to the base, and it would be difficult; she had engineered her creations to have powerful instincts and will.

She watched her children starting to arrive. A part of her relished the thought of seeing them put down the Human defilers, but she reacted with horror. No, my children! Flee! They are too strong! But none were connected directly to her for the moment and their mounts only allowed her the barest whispers of influence.

All she could do was watch and wait, shuddering with rage and fear.




"Hrrm." Balalaika walked back over to the rangefinder, her greatcoat rustling with a wind coming in from their direction, and looked again. "A couple thousand basmachi. Don't seem to have any rifles."

"If they charge us, it will be a slaughter," Picard noted ruefully.

"Well, Comrade Captain... Do you want to go forward and parley with them?" She looked up and directly faced him as she spoke. "Because otherwise I will just start shooting now. I've read the reports. It won't be as one-sided as you might think, and I need the head start."

"I know. Which is why, yes, I am going out to speak with them."

Balalaika paused for a moment and then shrugged her shoulders. "Come on, Sergeant." And then she stepped over to Picard's side and gestured with her left hand. "After you, Comrade Captain. We'll pick up my reserve squad on the way forward."

"Captain, I should be alongside you," Troi insisted.

"For the moment, Counselor, the fewer people we step forward with the better," Picard replied, walking toward the front line of Balalaika's men.

When they arrived, Balalaika called out “Eh, Tolya! Form up your squad behind me.”

The commander of the squad stood up, clutching his rifle. "Capitan, why are you going forward? We’re not fire free?"

"No, we're not. We're going forward to talk. Captain Picard's orders."

Her face tightened visibly despite the mask. "And if something goes wrong, we get him back to our lines alive."

She looked at the squad, saw their dubiousness, shared it… And didn’t give a damn. "Вопросы есть? Вопросов нет!"

Picard's universal translator rendered it as 'Are there any questions? No, there aren't!', but he suspected it was rather more direct in the Russian.

And with that, she waved them forward.




Lee clambered over a massive tree root and down the other side. The Pandoran jungle was colorful at least, even if the stink had sunk deep into his nostrils. The planet reeked like it was intentionally trying to drive him off of it. He glanced upward again and checked the position of the sun and looked back down at his compass. He was heading in roughly the right direction, but through this growth making time was nigh-impossible.

At the periphery of his senses Lee heard undergrowth rustle nearby. He turned to the source and walked up to the brush in question. For a moment he thought it was nothing.... and then a flash of blue crossed his vision.

Or more accurately, plowed into him.

The force almost knocked him off his feet. He looked down to see a figure sprawled out. Blue skin, yellow eyes, long tail, looked like a cat.... one of the natives! A blue cat-boy! Lee smiled a little. "Hey! You oka...."

He was silenced by a roar from the other side of the brush. The Na'vi began scrambling to its feet and for good reason; a nasty creature came bounding over the brush with long nasty teeth and claws. "Oh shit."

The child screeched and began to run. The predator homed in on that and jumped toward the child, only barely missing him. The Na'vi stopped with the beast ahead of him, screeching again with clear terror in his voice.

Lee pulled out his charge pistol. In a smooth movement he released the safety and leveled the weapon. His finger squeezed the trigger.

The sound was right. The whiff-whiff he always heard in the shooting ranges. But instead of the little bursts of blue light, it was just a brief flash at the muzzle and the bursts falling apart. "Stupid shit!"

The sound and Lee's angry shout drew the attention of the predator. It roared and bounded toward him. "Shit!", Lee cried out again, rolling out of the way. Pain surged up his right leg from a partial impact. When he landed he started to get up just to have pain shoot through his right foot, centered on his ankle.

The predator looked to him and back toward the Na'vi child, who was turning to run. The goddamn beast was smart; one prey hobbled, so go after the other one. The child shrieked and tried to run, just to have the beast cut it off. Every time the Na'vi tried to move one way the beast would cut it off, tightening the circle with every move. With pain shooting through his broken ankle Lee managed to limp closer.

He leaped just before the beast did. Lee's jump helped him push the Na'vi out of the way, but it left him open to the beast without a chance to get out of the way. The creature slammed into him and smashed him against the nearby tree. Lee cried out, his ribs breaking from the impact. It bit into his arm and shoulder, ripping through his flight suit and to the flesh beneath, and used the leverage to toss him into another tree. Lee cried out as he impacted again, his back slamming first and the force jerking his head back and smacking the back of it up against the tree. Pain flared in his skull and he felt the world start to slip away. I'm gonna die on this fucking shit world for those goddamn corporate WHORES....

For a brief moment he saw the creature come forward, intent on finishing him off. And then everything went black.




The beast had earned its meal and moved in for the kill.

It died a moment later.

The Na'vi arrow pierced it in the skull directly, a perfect shot that killed the beast instantly. It toppled over. Young Li'sey of the Omaticaya looked up from where he'd scampered into the bush to see a familiar form jump down from the trees. "Neytiri!", he called out.

"Li'sey!" Neytiri's tone was a scolding one, making Li'sey blanch. "You have worried your mother to death! You know better!" She looked back to the Human. "Which of you provoked this nantang?"

"The Human," Li'sey insisted.

Neytiri looked at him. "Eywa does not honor those who lie, Li'sey."

The boy looked down. "I... I didn't...."

"No time! I already hear the rest of the nantang in the distance! This Human saved your life and nearly lost his own, and so you will help me." She let out a cry to summon her ikran and reached in her pack. There wasn't much she could do for him here, but if she stopped the bleeding he would survive the flight to Hell's Gate. From there... it was up to Eywa.




As they drew closer the Na'vi horsemen, for lack of a better word, seemed a bit more unnerved. Certainly they hadn't expected a small party to leave their defenses and come talk. But there was a nervous energy in the air and the warriors mumbled to themselves. Could this be a Human trick?

Observing this, Eywa was also unsure. She could easily coax the riders' mounts to rush forward and kill the approaching Humans, but tht would just trigger the slaughter of her children. And.... the idea of Humans of this capability risking themselves like this? Her curiosity was growing, even if it was matched with loathing.

Steady, my creations. If need be you will charge, but not before!




"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise," Picard called out. Their Universal Translators had been loaded with the Na'vi language and allowed him to communicate openly with them. "I have come to meet with your people peacefully."

There was silence from the other side.

"I understand that you have little reason to trust my species, but I am not affiliated with the Humans who came here before. I represent a multi-species union called the United Federation of Planets. We mean you no harm and only wish to enter discussions with you peacefully."

"We know what Human 'discussions' mean, Pee-card, and we want nothing of it," one of the Na'vi shouted back. "Only those who sided with us at the Well of Souls are welcome here. If you do not leave all of the tribes and Eywa herself will come to drive you off."

"What might we do to prove we have no hostile intent?", Picard asked.

There was slight laughter from a few of them. Before any more speaking could be done more of the flying creatures swooped in, Na'vi on their backs. They landed between the horsemen and Picard's group. "Laotu, I can handle this," the lead Na'vi called out.

"I am not sure of that, Jake Sully," 'Laotu" replied.

"This is Omaticaya land, Laotu, and we will handle this."

Laotu snarled and hissed, and Jake returned it. Picard watched quietly and observed the interplay between the two before Laotu finally nodded and motioned to his riders. They pulled back into the distance, still within close sight.

Picard glanced over to the newcomer. "Mister Sully, I presume?"

Jake turned his attention to him. "So what do you have to do with the RDA?"

"Nothing," Picard answered. "I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise, representing the United Federation of Planets and our allies, the Alliance of Democratic Nations. We came to Pandora to open a dialogue with your people."

"I've never heard of either," Jake responded. "And I don't believe Earth will have changed that much."

"It's not your Earth," Picard answered. "The Federation and the Alliance are but two of many societies and races that exist in the known Multiverse."

Jake stared at him. "Is this some RDA plot to get in our graces by sending madmen?" But there was a thought there, nudging in the back of Jake's head, asking if it could be true. He remembered seeing the toruk being destroyed and the beam weapons employed, like nothing Earth had.

"We can prove it to you," Picard replied, not paying heed to the growing tension. "All we need is to sit down and talk."

"Capitan..." Boris whispered. "Doesn't he remind you of the honest atheist in Hell?"

"...I'd feel better if I thought he were really going to make them into Young Pioneers...."

Jake and Picard were still looking toward one another. The former could see the earnest and forthright attitude of the latter. Here he was, away from the safety of his defenses, risking his life to ask to talk? No, that wasn't RDA. Whatever this was, it wasn't an RDA trick. "Return to your people then, Captain Picard. I will speak with the others on your request."

"Very well." Picard nodded. He showed no undue haste in turning his back to them and beginning to walk.

Balalaika watched the others depart, and then turned her own head back to Jake -- aware that by some mad science, he'd once been human -- and politely tossed a salute before walking back with a fling of her coat. She might have eyes in the back of her head, though, for all she tested every sense and perception and lucky instinct against the knowledge that many of these warriors... were literally chafing at the bit to charge after them.




Jake brought his ikran up toward Laotu. "I am going to get Moat and the other leaders of my tribe. You are welcome to join us."

"So we are going to drive them out?"

"No." Jake looked back to the base and the distant figure of Picard. "We're going to talk first."

"Talk?! So the Humans can try to trick us with their trinkets and...."

There was a sudden squeal from near Laotu. One of his warriors' mounts reared up, frightened of something, and nearly knocked his mount off. The others reacted immediately.

They charged.




As they brushed aside the shrubs and small scale growth that was still recovering around the old RDA base, perhaps two hundred meters from Balalaika's line of desantniki, a war whoop or something of that sort cut through the clean air behind them, and a moment later a rustle and then a rumble of pounding feet of animals thundering down shook the ground around them. Balalaika had already stopped, spinning back on heel to look back at the suddenly surging lines of mounted warriors.

"Squad, cover! Captain Picard, run! They've decided not to wait. We'll handle it." She brought her radio up with a reassuring click to order supporting fires and air support.

Picard had not run, however. "You are going to slaughter them," he pointed out. "And in so doing our chance for peace with them will be gone."

"Comrade Captain," she answered, without turning her eyes away from the looming charge--for now it was very much a charge--coming down on them. "I take you as a man of your convictions even if I doubt your Federation. Are you ordering me not to shoot to kill?"

"Capitan..."

Balalaika just raised a hand to Boris, waiting for the answer and watching the cavalry.

"I am," Picard answered, knowing full well that he was risking his own life.

"Tolya, my rifle!"

The squad leader rose and flung a second gun he'd been carrying across the gap to Balalaika. She grabbed it smoothly in both hands, her gloves stripped from her hands and left to fall to the ground as she jerked the slide back. "I need to fucking see," she muttered under her breath as she flipped the bipod out and dropped down to sight on the lead edge of the charging Na’vi, coming on like so many colourful basmachi.

"Sergeant, give me data!"

Boris rose to his full height. "Squad, fall back!" He shouted crisply, and the men retreated, leaving the three alone, as he brought up a pair of rangefinding binoculars that auto-stabilized on the charging host before them.

"Lead wave only!" He shouted, and then: "Two-oh-five-oh, vee ten, 880 em-be."

And Balalaika, facing the Na'vi, blanked her mind, took a deep breath and ripped her mask off of her face to shoulder her rifle and dial in on the sight.

"One-nine-six-oh, vee twelve."

The rifle cracked.

And on the leading wave of the Na'vi charge, one of their great horse-beasts toppled in a blur of blood, a little crackle of electricity through the wound, a Na'vi sent tumbling free, unharmed but his mount slain.

"One-eight-eight-oh, vee fifteen."

Crack.

Another of the beasts flipped back, tumbling as the electrostatic charge in the bullet electrocuted it from inside out, but contained within its thick hide, left rider humiliated and tumbled down into the dirt but alive. No phaser set to stun would work in the mysterious energy fields of Pandora.

But Balalaika's eyes would have to do.

She held her breath for ninety seconds, and every six, in a complete union of woman and rifle, she slew another of the beasts as they charged closer. For a moment in Picard's eye, he was at the field of Agincourt or Poitiers, watching an English longbowman strike down the courtly honour of his ancestors. It was an incredible spectacle for a historian, even as his mind reeled with how thin the chance was that, no matter how impressive, it would deter the Na'vi from continuing to attack.

The Na'vi beasts were incredibly fast for living things, and now they were almost upon them, having covered the distance that had taken them fifteen minutes to walk back, in less than two. Balalaika lunged to her feet, no longer able to hit them prone, but so close she could fire from the shoulder.

Boris stopped giving ranges. Balalaika's gun barked faster, a rolling drum-beat. And not even once did she miss and hit a Na'vi. Oh, some shots were very poorly placed on the beasts, but each time she hit them rather than their riders, or else dug a round into the ground rather than risk striking them, and the electrostatic bullets were enough to bring them down from any but a glancing blow.

If the Na'vi continued their attack, they'd only have seconds, now, and Boris shouted out to his commander, something that caught Picard's attention. "They'll never see it so fine in the Olympics, Capitan!"

Balalaika took aim at the beast of a particularly colourfully painted Na'vi—she decided those ones might be leaders a few rounds ago--and with a final shot, brought him tumbling down into the dirt, spinning forward before he caught himself to look up with wide eyes toward the unmasked Balalaika, the way a human had never before faced the air of Pandora. She glanced down with expressionless blue eyes out from her heavily scarred face.

The Na'vi parted like a wave around a rock thrusting up from the sea, and swung out in two circles away from their positions. Their spears didn't fly, nor were their bows strung. They slowly lost the momentum of the chaotic and unplanned charge, and would come to a stop in their host, a respectful hundred meters or so from the little party.

Balalaika let the gaze linger just a single moment, and then snapped her mask back across her face, letting her rifle fall to its strap, and sucking air in greedily. She turned back without a word, and left the Na'vi in the dirt.

"You have your chance, Comrade Captain. Please use it dearly."

"Thank you," Picard said quietly.

"Nonsense. If I was still a communist, thanks might be in order. But now, it's just a job to do." She stood at his side, and looked back over the Na'vi ranks for quite a long time.

The silence the sentiment demanded seemed to dissipate, and it was time for business, anyway. "They seem to be arguing... No surprise, really.” She hazarded the speculation: “Not a very resilient command structure. But I wonder what it's about..."




Eywa had watched the charge in disbelief. The Humans could have commenced slaughter and she could not have stopped it. But they did not? They claimed her animals, yes, but her children were all still alive.

Ancient memories stirred. She'd never seen Humans with this capability act like this. It perplexed her. Was it a sign of actual change? Or were they simply playing the long game?

She would wait and watch to see what happened next.




Jake flew his banshee up to Laotu, glancing briefly over at Picard and his associate. He felt gratitude that none of the Plainsriders were shot and an old part of him reveled in such excellent shooting. "Do you need help, Laotu?"

That led to a growl of frustration from the other Na'vi. His warriors were keeping their distance now. The blonde-haired, scar-faced woman had been impressive to them and they didn't know what to make of it. Was it a challenge? Something else? Jake could see that it was something else; they were deliberately sparing Na'vi to avoid bloodshed between the two sides.

Laotu got to his feet, glared hatred at Balalaika, and turned away to speak with his warriors. This freed Jake to settle down in front of Picard. "Okay, I'm impressed," he admitted. "But trust won't come that easy."

"I should think not," Picard answered.

"Answer me this. Are you here for the unobtanium?"

Picard didn't flinch. "Some, yes."

Jake narrowed his eyes. "So you're here for wealth."

"No." Picard shook his head. "My people and the Alliance need the ripleyite... what you call unobtanium... because we face an anti-matter shortage that could cripple us against the threats we face. We are fighting a terrible war..."

"War is always terrible, Captain," Jake remarked. "But my people will not tolerate mining. RDA has caused too much damage."

"We have superior methods, even with the planetary field effecting technology. And we can help repair the damage RDA did."

"Can you bring back the dead?"

Picard had to shake his head at Jake's pointed question.

"This is pointless," Laotu grumbled. "Humans are always looking to destroy. We have heard of the devastation you caused your world..."

"We have moved beyond that," Picard insisted. "The Earth you know is not the one we have."

"The Captain is right," Balalaika spoke hoodedly. "They came to my homeworld, and when they were done with it, there was no place left in it for soldiers like me. In time his goal is to make the whole galaxy like that--genuinely a universe at peace. He means what he says, as much as it pains me to admit that someone actually exists who lacks an ulterior motive. You may not like what he has to say, but he won't be lying."

Picard stepped up toward Jake and Laotu. "I come with my cup empty and waiting," he remarked. A flicker of recognition came to Jake's eyes. "I am ready for your knowledge to fill it."

Laotu broke out laughing. "You think to impress us with words, Human? You cannot know our ways."

"I am willing to learn," Picard insisted.

"Only so you can get us to agree to mining!", Laotu retorted.

Picard shook his head. "No. I wish to know what your people are like. I am a Starfleet officer and Starfleet exists to explore. I serve because I wish to seek out new life forms and new civilizations and your people... why, they are among the most unique that a teeming Multiverse can provide. My superiors may have ordered me to discuss mining with you, but I simply want to learn about you and to bridge the gap between Humans and Na'vi."

"There's a lot of blood in that gap, Picard."

"I know, Mister Sully," Picard answered. "Just as there was blood between the Vulcans and Andorians two centuries ago when we founded the Federation, blood between the Federation and the Klingons when we signed our alliance, blood between Humans and Minbari when they built the Babylon-5 station to foster peace and diplomacy between races. It takes time to bridge such gaps, yes. But it can be done."

"You spout names as if they mean anything, but you are all outsiders." Laotu pulled a blade weapon and advanced toward Picard. Balalaika's hand went to her gun, as did Boris'. Behind them the desantiki were readying weapons alongside Nidaelle while Vale and Gesti started moving forward to get to their captain and protect him. Those of Laotu's warriors still mounted tensed and shifted, clearly moving into position to start a new charge.

Jake watched and tensed up. If fighting started, there was no telling how many would die, and it would herald a war that he wasn't sure he could win. But before he could act and try to restrain Laotu, Picard's voice boomed over the field. "Lower your weapons, that is an order!" He had glanced back toward Balalaika and the men beyond, mere dozens of yards away and where they could hear him. "Everyone stay where you are!"

Cursing, Nidaelle lowered her rifle, but the men around her kept their weapons raised and were moving forward. "Halt," she ordered. When they continued, she was drawing in breath to repeat the order when Balalaika made a hand signal and they stopped and lowered their guns.

Picard looked back in time to see Laotu bring his blade up to within inches of his face. "Enough blood has been spilt between our races. I will not spill more."

"And if I spill your's?"

"Then you've killed an unarmed man who came to you seeking peace between our peoples." Picard met his gaze and did not flinch. "What will Eywa say to that?"




Eywa heard those words and felt them cut. How, indeed, was she to think about this Human, this Jean-Luc Picard? He was nothing like the other Humans, even those he had come with. Had it been the female one she would have thought nothing of seeing her child cut her down, but Picard was different. With him she was uncertain. Picard's words were not the empty lies she had heard Humans say before, they had the spark of conviction to them. He was ready to die for his desire for peace.

It was so... un-Human. So different. Picard was, perhaps, worthy of the same honor she had granted Jake Sully. If only the Humans would make him a Na'vi form as well...

For the time being, she subtly felt her creatures that her children used as riders. She encouraged them to be calm and quiet. She needed time to decide on how to deal with the Humans here.




All eyes were on Picard, Laotu, and specifically Laotu's blade. Laotu's face twisted in anger. "Do you know how many of my tribe died fighting your kind? And now, with all of that death, now you dare to come and say 'oh, we wish peace' and 'it was not us'? You dare try to make yourself the victim..."

There was a cry from above as another ikran descended. Jake looked up and had to not smile at seeing Neytiri swoop low and land between them and the Complex. He recognized one of the tribe's children and...

Slung and secured onto her ikran was another Human, whom Picard and the others identified as Lieutenant Lee.

"Your man is badly injured, he needs your care!", Neytiri cried out. She disconnected herself from the banshee and jumped down, bringing the injured Human with her.

"Attend to the wounded!", Balalaika shouted to her men. "There is a doctor in the complex!"

Moments later the nearest airlock door re-opened and Max appeared, shouting something inside before the door closed. He rushed forward to meet Neytiri, getting there just after Balalaika's medic did. The two medical professionals looked over Lee and his bloody wound. Max pulled his helmet off and noted the swelling on his head. "Looks like a concussion, but it might be more, and the maul injuries are severe," Max murmured. "Help me get him into our infirmary."

A stretcher had already been acquired by the desantiki and brought to them. Neytiri and Max placed Lee on it. Max motioned to the stretcher-bearers and brought them to the airlock.

With the immediate crisis out of the way, Neytiri looked over to the others and got back on her mount, the boy still sitting there. She walked it over to them and looked from Picard to Jake to Laotu. Finally she looked to Picard. "He was one of your people."

"Yes," Picard answered. "Lieutenant Lee was piloting one of the escort craft."

"He saved Li'sey from a nantang... I believe you Humans call it a viperwolf." Neytiri turned to Laotu. "What is going on, Laotu? Jake?"

"Captain Picard wishes to talk to our people to find peace between Humans and Na'vi," Jake said simply. As Laotu went to speak he added, "He says his people need some unobtanium to defend themselves in a war."

Neytiri hissed at that. She looked over to Picard. "You Humans have done enough harm looking for your rocks. But since your man has nearly died to save a child of my tribe, I will hear what you have to say."

Picard nodded. "That is all I can reasonably ask."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Sun Oct 13, 2013 7:18 am

I like it, that was certainly a way to start off with a bang; "these are the missions of the starship BOOM! All dead!"
And it has been a good character piece from there slowly building up to the main action, and while I have never gotten into TGG I do like the political wrangling with all these different settings.If there is one thing I am unsure on it is making Eywa a viewpoint character, which kind of detract from its ineffability, but this is your story and I am sure you have a particular plan for her/it.

@Heretic; Noblebright? Is this a word in use now? o_O
"Little monuments may be completed by their first architects, but great ones; true ones leave their copestones to posterity. God keep me from completing anything."

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Heretic » Sun Oct 13, 2013 6:36 pm

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:27 am

Chapter 8




Hell's Gate, Pandora


The ikran settled alongside Jake's and Neytiri's. The rider remained still while Neytiri helped Moat get off. "I had prayed to Eywa that the Humans might never return...", Moat sighed, knowing full well from Jake that those prayers would never be answered. "But I had never expected this. Where is Laotu?"

"With his warriors. He has made it clear he will not talk."

Moat looked at Neytiri with concern. "Will he attack?"

"He's thinking about it." Jake shook his head. "I think he's spooked though. He was shot off his mount during the charge they did make."

"But he's fine? The Humans shot the animal but not him?" Moat's expression was clearly one of surprise. The carnage of the battle of RDA was fresh in all minds. "How?"

"One of their shooters is very accurate with a rifle," Jake explained. "Captain Picard is trying to avoid any bloodshed. He's honest about wanting unobtanium, but he's been very sincere about wanting our friendship too. He ordered his own side to lower their guns when Laotu put a blade to his neck."

Moat stopped and stared for a moment. She looked over to Neytiri, as if for confirmation, and received a nod. "And one of his saved Li'sey. These Humans are not like the others. Let us hear what they have to say."




DNS Langley, in orbit of Pandora


"Lieutenant Lee is stable." Rana heard those words from Luwum and felt a surge of relief. "Captain Picard wanted you to know that the lieutenant's actions were 'critical' to starting peaceful dialogue with the Na'vi. For the moment."

"Only for the moment?", Rana asked.

"We nearly had a fight with the locals. Picard and Pavlovena managed to avoid casualties. But I'm not sure it'll last, Captain."

That's what I was afraid of. Rana put her fingers to her forehead. "I'm ready to release the rest of the mercenaries and our security detachment to go surface side."

"Captain Picard doesn't want them yet. He's afraid more troops would undo what he's accomplished." The skepticism in Luwum's voice was apparent.

"And what do you think, Commander?"

"With respect to Picard.... I think that fighting is going to happen down here, sir, and I'd rather have the forces on hand to prepare for it."

"Thank you, Commander. Keep me informed and have Commander Vesdein give me a report on the defense situation when possible. Langley out." Rana hit the intercom button on her chair to end the call. At least Lee was alive, but she could hear in Luwum's voice agitation with Picard. She couldn't blame either; Picard was right that sending more troops down would aggravate tensions, Luwum was right that they were lacking in defense with the company elements they sent down already.

Something else bothered her. She had expected Nidaelle to be the one to call. She was in charge of the ground element after all. What was going on down there?




Hell's Gate, Pandora


Waiting for Balalaika to finish settling her men was supposed to help Nida calm down when the confrontation came. Instead she found herself growing more and more agitated. Everything she had been worried about regarding the mercs had come true; they hadn't obeyed either her or Picard, only Balalaika.

By the time Balalaika was finished Nida was ready to give her a dressing down, and what's more, her body language made that clear to the Russian mercenary. "Commander, my apologies," she said, preventing Nida from starting in on her. "Some of my men are not using translators and didn't hear the orders properly. The others were uncertain and used to protecting me in dangerous situations. I have reminded them of their duties being more important than that." It was, admittedly, a rather breezy speech.

"Of course. You reminded them," Nida countered. "Instead of letting me speak with them directly."

"How much Russian do you know, Commander?"

"If need be I'd ask the Enterprise for a Federation-model translator."

"Ah, I see." Balalaika remained expressionless. "Commander, it will not happen again. We are soldiers and we will do our duty."

"See that it doesn't." Nidaelle stalked off.

Boris stepped up behind Balalaika. "Is she going to give us problems, Capitan?"

"She may. But she is a soldier too, and she has a right to be angry. Just because our unitary command structure is important for us doesn't mean she lacked a point--she was the superior officer and she should have been able to order the men to stand down."

"You were in danger, Capitan, and you know how many times before we've all reacted like that when you are."

"Yes, well, we are trying to be an army again, after a fashion. She is our superior officer, Sargeant; that is all that matters."




The medical bay of the Complex had a sole patient now, for the first time in weeks. Lee was secured on a bed with IV drips and the like already in place. He remained asleep for the moment while his body recovered from the physical damage, but he was not alone. Ezri sat at his bedside, a digital reader with the RDA material in front of her as she waited patiently to see if he would awaken.

"Doctor."

Ezri looked up and saw Troi standing nearby, looking toward them. "Counselor." She set aside the reader. "What can I do for you?"

"I could say the same." Troi walked to the opposite side of the bed and looked down at Lee. "How long has he been your patient?"

"He's one of my first military patients," Ezri admitted. "They sent him to me after all of my superiors got tired of him. They were trying to have him removed from the Navy as a psychiatric discharge. But... I think I could see that he wasn't out of touch. He has a particular view of the world and a good heart." After a moment passed Ezri brought her head up a bit further. "Counselor, can I ask you a question?"

"Certainly."

"Why don't you have a doctorate? I mean, with your years of experience..."

Troi lowered her head and smiled. "Well.... I like where I am. If I were to confirm my doctorate, I would be overqualified for my posting."

"So you want to stay on the Enterprise."

"Yes." Troi allowed herself a half smile at that. "The Enterprise and her crew are my friends. I wouldn't want to leave for anything."

"I see." It made Ezri think of her background. She had, honestly, never had somewhere she wanted to be. She liked many of her patients, but when the day came she was offered a new posting she'd take it.

"Things were quite different for you, I imagine. Leaving the Federation and going to the Alliance for your education, to serve."

For a moment Ezri thought it was another case of a Federation member being judgemental, but she could see Troi was not judging but establishing a rapport. "I was getting away from my family," Ezri admitted. "My family owns mining interests in the Sapporo system."

"So your family is on New Sydney. A tough place to grow up."

"I considered Starfleet, but the Alliance had better civilian opportunities. Then the war began and..." Ezri shrugged. "I mean, I was huddling in one of those bunkers when the Cardassian and Dominion fleet hit New Liberty. All of those thousands of people were dying overhead, and knowing how many survivors would be traumatized I felt like I should do something."

Troi said nothing at first. She could remember being there on the bridge of the Enterprise when the live combat footage played on the viewscreen. She remembered feeling not just her guilt but Picard's and Will's over their majority sentiment: relief, even joy, not horror. They'd sat and watched as tens of thousands of Alliance officers and crew died in a horrible battle and felt good... because that had been the moment when all of their nightmares of being conquered by the Dominion had been swept away. It made her think of Captain Shaheen, knowing that the Langley's commander had been there, had lost her ship and crew in the battle. And we all couldn't help but feel grateful to see it.

Ezri noticed Troi's silence was lengthening. "I imagine the people in the Federation were relieved by it. I can't blame you. The Federation was being overrun, and here you were watching the Dominion draw another power into the war against them."

"We were so happy that we weren't fighting a hopeless war that we almost forgot all the people who were suffering," Troi murmured.

"You couldn't help it, you were afraid." Ezri looked back to Lee. "That's whar war does to people. And then we start to do things..." Ezri lifted her eyes and saw a peculiar sight approaching.

At the entrance, Neytiri stopped in low to fit into the chamber, the Na'vi boy Li'sey in front of her. The two Na'vi were wearing breathers now; the same compounds of their atmosphere that were poisonous to Humans were needed for them. Li'sey trudged up. Despite being a child he was already the size of Ezri. He looked from her to Lee. "He is okay?" The accented voice made it clear this was not their translators in operation; it was Li'sey speaking a little English.

"He is," Ezri assured Li'sey.

"That is... good." Li'sey looked ashamed. His grasp of English was obviously reached, as his next words were less accented, indicating their translators were in action translating Omaticayan Na'vi. "I provoked the nantang because I thought I was smarter. But I was wrong, and I would have died."

"You're young," Troi remarked.

"I am ashamed." Li'sey looked at them apprehensively. "Can... I sit and wait? To see if he wakes up?"

Ezri nodded. "You may. We can talk, if you want."

Troi found a seat for Li'sey. It was a basic frame chair where the back and seat were not meeting, allowing him to slip his tail into the gap. After he did so Li'sey looked from Lee to Ezri. "Are you his mate?"

That caused Ezri to laugh while Troi stifled a giggle. Ordinarily such might be an insult, but the source made it amusing. "No. He's my patient," Ezri explained. "I'm his psychiatrist." When she saw the look of confusion, she added, "Lieutenant Lee has had problems in his mind. I am helping him handle this. I'm keeping his mind healthy." In so many words.

Li'sey nodded, still uncertain, but at least understanding.




"And what about this deposit?" Charles indicated a marker on the map of the region around Hell's Gate.

"Too hard to get to," Selfridge remarked. "I would've spent the entire operating budget pushing us there, and my engineers were doubtful about the projected size of the lode anyway."

Charles nodded slightly and took another bite of replicated lamb chop. Both men were not entirely sober anymore, but sober enough to continue their discussion. "So Hometree was your entire focus?"

"It's the largest lode of unobtanium in the region," Selfridge answered, his tone growing defensive.

"Yeah." He sighed and nodded. He'd have made the same decision in the same circumstances too. "And digging a tunnel to get at the lode from the side would have taken you an extra what, nine months?"

"Fifteen." Selfridge took another drink of brandy. "I mean... I'm not an idiot, Charles, I knew I'd have to deal with the damn Na'vi if I took the open-pit route, but I didn't have a damned choice. The mines I had operational were starting to tap out, and my quotas were already going up."

Charles smiled thinly. "So you figured you'd jump ahead of the quotas and get a fat bonus in the process."

Selfridge said nothing at first, then waved his hand in frustration. "Well, yeah. Yeah, I did. I could've retired on that bonus. Instead that idiot gyrene had to go and get our forces killed."

Charles had no immediate reply to that. The fact was, looking at the capabilities of RDA, he would've made the same decision that Selfridge made. The Hometree deposit was the best one to go for. He might have tried the tunnelling anyway, but there was no guarantee there. "We have better technology to apply, though I'm not sure how far the effects of the planet's field will interfere. We could try the underground approach."

"What's the point? We destroyed Hometree. They left the area. I'd already started excavation when Quaritch attacked."

"The Na'vi will probably care," Charles pointed out.

"To hell with those monkeys," Selfridge retorted. "Seriously... why do people give such a damn about them?! They're primitive cavemen without caves who live in their own shit and love it. Maybe if they wanted to make something of themselves, yeah, I can see that working. But... hell, I offered them that! We built them a school, they got it shot up! We offered to build them a damn arcology, a massive outlay of resources that would have cut into my budget, just to get them to move, and they said no. No, they had to have their precious tree. All I got were sanctimonious platitudes about Eywa and the moon and whatever mystic claptrap it was they had. And I'm supposed to give a damn about them when back on Earth we couldn't even breathe outside without breathers?!"

Charles shrugged. "Yeah. I have to admit I can't understand their attitudes myself. But I can't imagine Picard okaying the open pit method. And, honestly, even if the negotiations fail, underground will probably make it a lot easier to protect the transport of the ore anyway. The Na'vi can only attack on the surface."

"Yeah, I suppose," Selfridge grumbled. "So, you're a professional mine engineer."

"Prospector, engineer, a little of everything." Charles poured himself another drink from the brandy bottle. "I specialize in exotic and hazardous environment extraction. Usually lifeless moons, planetoids, and asteroids that have peculiar issues with them. Pandora's field isn't the only such interference I've seen before and hopefully we can work around it just as easily."

"Hopefully," Selfridge muttered. He brought his glass up and took the last drink from it. "If you need any of our gear I have instructions to provide you some generous leasing terms."

"Really? Do tell..."




After months of work following the Battle for the Well of Souls, Norm had been able to rework one of the old conference rooms to support Na'vi visitors, allowing Jake and Neytiri to take seats flanking Moat. Their heads nearly touched the ceiling, sure, but the chairs fit them and there was a table at height for them to go near a Human height table. That was where Picard, Luwum, Data, and Troi now sat. The elder Na'vi woman was quick and to the point. "You seek the same rock that the Humans before you did."

"It is a vital material used in the generation of anti-matter for fueling our interuniversal gates and our starships," Picard explained. "Because of the war our usual supplies are insufficient to our needs."

"Your people's need for this metal has already cost us," Moat remarked bitterly.

"I am aware of what transpired before." Picard put his hands together on the table. "And I am appalled by the behavior of the RDA. I do not wish to repeat that history. My people have the means to mine the mineral cleanly, without damaging your land."

"RDA made promises like that at first," Moat countered. "They were quickly proven to be liars."

"I invite your people to observe the process then. So we can demonstrate our ability to get what we need without infringing upon the Na'vi and their way of life."

"I was told that Pandora's EM fields prevented use of sophisticated technology," Jake spoke up. "How are you going to get around that?"

Picard looked over to Data. "Mister Data can explain better than I."

Data nodded and looked to them. "I have been analyzing the field since the Enterprise arrived. The shielding for my positronic brain has proven effective against the field's disruptive elements, allowing me to consider several technical methods to overcome..."

"You are... not Human," Moat suddenly said, looking very curious.

"No, I am not. I am an android."

"Mister Data was built by a human scientist, Doctor Noonian Soong," Picard explained. "He is an artifical lifeform."

There was sharp, surprised glances amongst the Na'vi. They looked at Data with multiple and conflicting emotions. "Your people can build beings?", Neytiri gasped.

"Data is one of a kind," Picard replied. "His creator did not share the means to build more."

There was silence from the other table for an uncomfortable minute, leaving Picard worried that they might not have taken the news as well as he'd hoped. Jake finally broke the silence. "You were saying, Commander Data?"

Without pause Data continued his discussion.




Luwum endured the meeting with a growing sense of agitation. It was becoming clear to him that Picard was so focused on negotiating with the Na'vi that he was going to jeopardize the important part of their mission; securing the ripleyium. He had hoped that the revelation of Data's origins and Picard's behavior would awe them enough to get them to agree on the spot, but that hope was dashed when Moat, clearly not the pinnacle of health any longer, said she would consult with the tribes. The three Na'vi left the room with no agreements made or deals signed; nothing to show for the effort at all. Luwum held his tongue, not caring that Troi was clearly sensing his feelings on the subject.

"At least we have them listening," Picard sighed. "It will take much effort to overcome the bad blood that RDA fostered. Mister Data, we should go verify if the pattern enhancer systems have been completed. Commander Luwum..." Picard nodded to Luwum and left with Data.

But Troi stayed behind. "Commander, a moment of your time?" She spoke before he could get to the door.

Luwum's first reaction was to refuse and continue on. But Rana's orders were clear; more than that, they were reasonable. He turned to face the Starfleet empath. "Counselor?"

"I get the feeling you considered today a waste."

"It was a waste, Counselor," Luwum insisted. "We had them awed and uncertain. We could have pushed for an agreement now that would have prevented conflict and saved lives. Instead we're giving them time to recover and to decide to resist."

"Captain Picard is trying to build a foundation for a lasting peace with the Na'vi, Commander. That wouldn't happen if we push them now and make them feel like we took advantage of them."

"A lasting peace with the Na'vi was not in our orders."

The look on Troi's face betrayed some mild surprise, but only mild. "Would you really prefer war then?"

Luwum's jaw tightened. "What I would prefer, Counselor, is that we keep our thoughts on the larger picture," he said in a harsh tone. "How many thousands of our people died today in the Alpha Quadrant alone? How many more will die over the coming days? And how many after that when our anti-matter reserves deplete and our production facilities can't match the wartime demand, and we give our enemies time to recover?"

"You can't expect the Na'vi to have to suffer for a war they're not a part of," Troi retorted.

Luwum's reply was immediate. "I can expect them to show sympathy for other sentient beings who are suffering. The Vulcans have a good saying for this situation. 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.' There are trillions of beings out there that we're fighting to save, why should that be jeopardized for one small group?"

"That doesn't give you the right to sacrifice an entire people, not when there is an alternative! And that's what Captain Picard is trying to give us!"

"And I hope he does get them into this peacefully, Counselor."

"And if they still say no, you're just going to take the imperialist route?"

Luwum's eyes narrowed. "Do you think I want to do this? And you want to throw that word around?! Centuries ago it was my ancestors in the place of the Na'vi, having greater powers come in and seize their lands. And they went even further; they took over every spot of land my ancestors had and ruled them directly! It took us over a century to recover when we were finally freed!"

"And how long will it take the Na'vi to recover from you, I wonder?", Troi asked pointedly.

"They won't need to," Luwum muttered. "Because we're not going to rule them. We're going to take what we need and nothing more. And God help me, I want them to side with us, but if they don't... we're at war. And as an officer of the Alliance Stellar Navy I am obligated to do whatever is necessary to end that war with a victory, to bring about the greater good."

"'Following orders' is your defense, then?"

"You have the luxury of the Dominion no longer heading toward your homeworlds," Luwum pointed out. "Tell me, Counselor, would you still be saying these things if we needed that fuel to keep the Dominion from conquering Betazed and your universe's Earth? Would you still be so upset about the Na'vi if the Federation was teetering on defeat? Would you put their welfare over the survival of your people?"

Troi went to open her mouth, but for a moment she thought about it. Would she be able to make these arguments if the Jem'Hadar were marching through San Francisco and on her family's land on Betazed? "I.... I would like to think I would," Troi said quietly. "I'd like to think that I wouldn't give in to desperation and despair and would still stand for what the Federation believes in. If we act like the Dominion to win, then we've become no better."

"I think the billions of beings who have experienced our system and that of the Dominion's would disagree, Counselor," Luwum remarked quietly. "Excuse me, but I have to report to Captain Shaheen. Have a good evening."




Ugh, my fucking head! It's worse than being hungover!

Lee let out a groan. "Lieutenant?", he heard Doc Tigan say. "Doctor Patel!"

He opened his eyes and looked around. Doc Tigan was looking down at him and, on the other side,, was... the catboy!

"Hey kid," Lee muttered. "I didn't get eaten?"

"No, you didn't," Ezri remarked.

"Good. It'd fucking suck to get eaten by a wolf thing after surviving the fucking Cats." He glimpsed over to the blue catboy. "Not you. Evil orange space cats. Totally different."

"You are alive," the catboy said, seeming glad. "I... I am thankful for your help, Lee. I am Li'sey of the Omaticaya."

"John Lee. Call me Shroom," Lee answered.

Another guy Lee didn't recognize came up, and he was evidently the doctor as he began examining Lee. "You've got a slight skull fracture and concussion to go with your mauled shoulder," Patel said. "I know you feel tired, but try to stay awake."

"Shouldn't he be transported to one of our ships?", Ezri asked.

"If need be I'll agree to it, but I'd rather keep him from being moved," Max answered. He turned as Lee started to close his eyes, feeling very sleepy. "No! Lieutenant, you have to stay awake."

"John, we can talk," Ezri suggested. "About anything."

"More therapy, Doc?" Lee smirked. "Sure, but I'd like to talk to Li'sey too."

Ezri looked up at the boy. "I imagine you have to go home."

"Neytiri will come for me when it is time. But I would like to get to know John. He saved my life. I didn't think tawtute would be like that."

Ezri smiled and nodded. "Well, until you have to go, I don't see the harm."

"Cool," Lee said softly. He turned to face Li'sey. "So, what was it that wanted to eat us anyway?"




Chapter 9




Hell's Gate, Pandora


The local residents had readily agreed to doling out old quarters to the newcomers; even with numerous of the bedrooms and suites being converted to storage, plenty of rooms were available, and Nidaelle had claimed one. With the day over with and her report finished she had taken her nightly shower and was sitting alone, wearing her sleeping tank top and shorts in Nova Force green. She had her holo cycling through the pictures of her old team. It was a painful memory, but one she felt obligated to endure for their sakes.

A knock at the door interrupted Nida's musings. She stood and went over to it. The door opened to reveal Picard on the other end. "Commander, I hope I have not interrupted anything," he said politely.

"No, you haven't." Nida stepped away. "You can come in, if you like. The quarters are more spacious than I expected." Indeed they were, though they were still smaller than Picard's quarters on the Enterprise. Nevertheless he did enter and let her pull a chair out for him. "What can I do for you, Captain?"

"I wanted to apologize for earlier today," Picard said plainly. "You are in command of the military element and I undermined your authority by going through Captain Pavlovena. I am deeply sorry."

Nidaelle made a "hmph" sound as she returned to her seat. "You were just reading the situation well. The fact is, Pavlovena's men are the problem. They don't want to obey anyone but her."

"I trust you two will deal with this issue?"

"To the best of my ability." Nidaelle leaned back against the wall from her chair. "I'm guessing Commander Luwum's not being very supportive."

"He has his concerns," Picard remarked tactfully. "I sympathize with his desire to get operations started immediately. I'm simply trying to ensure the long term is tended to. Avoiding conflict with the Na'vi is the best chance we have at a sustaining mining pace."

"Unfortunately they might not care," Nida pointed out. "That horseman Na'vi didn't look too interested in peace."

"There is a lot of blood we will have to overcome," Picard mused. He put his hands together and got comfortable in his seat. "And what of you, Commander? Do you think I am ignoring the mission in favor of my desire for diplomacy?"

"I'm not sure," Nidaelle admitted. "I think sometimes a little diplomacy is the way to go. But the fact is.... you can't negotiate with everyone. I've learned that the hard way over the years."

"Indeed you have. What little of your record I've been allowed to see is exemplary." Picard leaned forward. "Commander, I know that it can be difficult for your Navy and Starfleet to work together. There is an... institutional gap that can be hard to deal with. But I'm hoping you will understand that I am committed to seeing this mission through to success. I just believe we can do it without ruining our relations with a unique species."

"I hope you're right, Picard. But you'll understand if I have to get ready in case you're wrong."

"Indeed..."




DNS Langley


It was late in the day and almost time for bed, but Marshall was biding his time in the ship's small officer lounge, not far from the general mess. In the TCN such a place was for pilots only, but the Stellar Navy had re-designated it for all officers and repurposed the non-pilot officer lounge for other duties.

For the moment he was nursing a shot of bourbon, thinking of how close he'd come to losing a pilot. He'd lost too many friends fighting the Cats as it was; this time it was to a pilot under his command, flying his wing. He thought idly of Blair and wondered just how much of Blair's attitude came from guilt over the pilots he'd lost on his wing over the years, not to mention the fate of the Tiger's Claw.

Being moody didn't suit Marshall. He was the Maniac. He was the crazy bastard who was supposed to give CAGs and squadron leaders white hair, not getting the white hairs himself. It made him irritated to get mopey like this.

There was movement beside him. He lookved over to see a light-skinned arm reach over and grab the bourbon, a shotglass already in the other hand. Lieutenant Skarsgard slipped into a nearby seat and poured herself a glass. "Always a good nightcap. I thanked God when the stupid American infatuation with dry navies was put down in the Stellar Navy." She looked over to him. "Major Marshall. You look like crap."

"Yeah. I'm new to this command stuff," he responded. "Say, aren't you that crazy Viking chick who almost took that Klingon's arm off?"

Vigdis let out a throaty laugh. "Yes, everyone seems to know me as that now."

"I was there, watching from that second level pub by the NPCU branch. I enjoy seeing people as crazy as me."

"Ah yes, the 'Maniac'," Vigdis said. "I have a pilot friend on a carrier at Gateway."

"No kidding. The Centurion?"

"Yes." Vigdis took a drink. "I heard lots of stories."

"But only second hand," Marshall pointed out. "The exploits of the Maniac are best told by the Maniac himself" He grinned widely.

"Well, I have a while before I need to get into my quarters." Vigdis smirked at him. "Regale this crazy Viking chick with the stories of your exploits in battle."

"Sure... wait, are you actually Viking? I hear some people are actually following..."

"I'm Lutheran," Vigdis laughed. "I just enjoy playing the part."

"Ah... gotcha." Marshall grinned widely. "So, we were out on a combat patrol in the Kurasawa System...."




Omaticaya Home Village


Jake finished securing his ikran for the night when he heard shuffling feet behind him. He turned and saw Li'sey standing there looking quiet and bewildered. "Li'sey, what is wrong?"

"...are all Sky People like Shroom?"

Jake blinked at him. "Who?"

"The one who saved me," Li'sey clarified.

Good to know crazy pilot handles don't change between universes... "Some. People can be very different."

"Then why must the Sky People be our enemies?"

"They don't have to be," Jake pointed out. "Li'sey, I was of the Sky People. Sky People fought and died alongside the tribes to defend the Well of Souls."

"That's not what the warriors say," Li'sey pointed out. "They say the Sky People will always be our enemies. I don't understand."

"It's the place of warriors to be on the look for enemies everywhere, Li'sey, to keep the tribe safe," Jake said, not quite agreeing with the sentiment himself.

"But doesn't that mean they might make others into our enemies?"

"Sadly, yes. But we won't let it get that far." Jake drew in a breath. Given what he'd seen of the Multiverse's technology, he hoped they wouldn't let it get that far.




DNS Langley
5 November 2160 AST



After another night of nightmares and uneasy sleeping, Rana returned to the ship's CIC for the morning watch, relieving the Officer of the Watch - a man she barely knew the name of and was too busy to think about at the moment. After checking in on the ship's status she went to the comms and opened a hail to the planet. When she heard Nidaelle's voice come over the other end Rana almost smiled, catching herself at the last moment. "Commander Vesdein here, reporting from Hell's Gate."

"Captain Shaheen on the Langley. Everything still okay?"

"For the moment. Commander Luwum is still meeting with Picard over what passes for breakfast here, i stepped away to give our report."

"Spare no details...." Rana listened as Nidaelle laid out everything that had been prepared and established. There were no problems with the scientists yet, but she was concerned about security threats from the most pro-Na'vi of them. She ended with asking for a rotation of squads from Balalaika's unit, as Picard had yet to authorize sending more troops in. Rana said nothing to that; it was his show and she wasn't eager to provoke anything as it was so long as he got results. "We're supposed to send Berry and Selfridge down as soon as possible," Rana pointed out. "What has he said about that?"

"Turned down doing it today."

Rana shook her head. "That's not good. We're supposed to work with this guy, even if he's not likeable."

"Tell that to Picard. He's adamant that neither come down until he's spoken to the local tribes again."

It's his show, for now... "Alright. Keep me updated. Langley out."




Charles was with Selfridge for a business breakfast when Commander Riker stopped by to give the news. He couldn't help but notice the satisfaction Riker had in bluntly informing Selfridge that he was barred from the surface. Selfridge didn't behave as he had before, if only because he'd realized by now Riker was trying to get a rise out of him and had decided not to give the smug Starfleeter what he wanted He sat, quiet, for a few moments after Riker left while Charles finished a cup of coffee. "I'm going to have to report to my bosses that your people aren't honoring our contract," he finally noted.

"Understandable," Charles sighed. "I can understand what Picard is trying to do..."

"That's nice, because... because I don't."

"Humans from ST-3 and some of the other universes have different views on alien life than your Earth's people do," Charles pointed out. "And Picard's Federation has always been about respecting other civlizations and life forms."

"Like the ones they're at war with that want to conquer everyone?", Selfridge guffawed.

That made Charles chuckle. "Yeah, well, not everyone takes to the peace and mutual respect among sentient species that the Federation can't shut up about."

"All I know is that I'm supposed to go down there and get to work, and Picard is blocking it because he's trying to talk to those thick-headed blue monkeys. And I'm going to report it."

"Do what you have to, Mister Selfridge," Charles said calmly, making it clear he was not going to take a side in this. "In the meantime, we can discuss Commander Data's notes on dealing with Pandora's disruptive fields."




The infirmary was quiet when Picard stepped into it. Dr. Patel was reading over test results on Lieutenant Lee's examinations and showed no inclination of approaching him, allowing Picard to move quietly to the bed where the Alliance pilot was resting. Lee was clearly in a state of near-sleep, if not actual sleep given his head injury and the need to keep him awake. He stirred as Picard neared the bed and looked up. "Captain," he mumbled softly. "Aren't you, like, negotiating and stuff?"

"We're still waiting for the Na'vi to return," Picard said softly. "I wanted to see how you were faring."

"Something turned my shoulder into ground meat," Lee responded. "My head still hurts. But I'm breathing. And I met some awesome cat people."

Picard allowed himself a slight grin. He'd observed Lee's... eccentricity before. At the time he'd been uncertain about letting a man with such a tenuous grasp on reality in on such a critical mission, but events had reminded him of how judgemental that was; however he saw the world, Lieutenant Lee was a good soul. "I wanted to thank you, personally, Lieutenant. Your actions have given me the opening to make peace with these people."

"Yeah, that's good." Lee nodded gently. "Just so long as we don't have to let the corporate whores take their land from them."

"It is my fervent hope to prevent such calamities," Picard noted.

Lee nodded slightly. He looked over toward a screen showing an image of Pandora. "This place is beautiful, isn't it?"

"Very," Picard agreed.

"I've seen nothing like it," Lee admitted. "But it's not just beautiful. It's beautiful and terrible at the same time. It'll rip your face off as soon as let you look at it and admire it. It's... this living, breathing monster that looks like the most beautiful thing you've ever seen but can kill you without a thought. You can admire it but you've got to take it seriously, or it's going to kill you in a thousand horrible ways."

Picard remained silent at that. Words stirred in his memory from a decade in the past, of the first time they encontered the Borg and Q's reminding him of the dangers of exploration. It's not safe out here. "Exploration has never been for the timid," Picard remarked. "You have to respect everything you find."

"Yeah. Like Pandora. Even if it smells like shit."

At that, Picard could only chuckle.




RDA World Headquarters
New York City, Earth
United States of America



"We appreciate your patience, Selfridge. Just do what you can, we'll deal with Picard's intransigence." Gephardt smiled at Selfridge's image on the holoviewer and reached over to turn it off. The Multiverse's technology had lost its wonder for him over the past two years; instead it left Gephardt burning with irritation that his planet was so backward.

"So this Starfleet captain is undermining our contract," one of the other figures in the board room remarked. RDA COO Jahinder Singh, broad-shouldered and clad in his usual turban, stroked thoughtfully at his beard. "I'll issue a complaint to Minister Xue immediately."

"We were warned it might happen. Amherst!" Gephardt turned his head to face RDA's Chief of Security, Jeremy Amherst. "What about our contacts?"

"Hagath has the shipment ready, and the ship. Our contacts on Galatea have found a few companies that are willing to accept the pay we're offering. They're not the best, but they're willing to do what needs to be done if it comes down to it."

"Good. We have options then." Gephardt let out a sign. "And it's a good thing too. The Alliance alone is squeamish enough about the necessities of dealing with the Na'vi, but with the Federation along as well..." He shook his head.

"Hagath may have provided us the devices, but will Selfridge authorize the expenditure?" Singh crossed his arms. "That's what he's there for. If he refuses to sign..."

"He'll sign," Gephardt assured them. "Don't worry about it. The company will be shielded."

"And Selfridge?"

"It would be rather crass to leave him out to dry. There are ways to make him our shield but reward him as well. Mister Amherst?"

Amherst nodded. "I have made arrangements in that fashion as well."

"Good. And is Sarkove ready?"

"His men will form the core of whatever force we may be tasked to send," Amherst said quietly. "Should the current mission fail and Minister Xue be persuaded...."

"Let me worry about Xue," Gephardt cut in. "Just have SpecOps ready."

"Sarkove is itching for the orders."

"Hopefully he'll remember what happened to Quaritch before he lets that itch become too powerful," Singh murmured.

Amherst smirked. "Oh, he remembers...."

"Then our plans are set. I'll get a hold of Xue immediately on this Selfridge matter. In the meantime, we'll let the pieces fall into place."




In his office, Amherst took a call from Galatea. The non-descript man on the other end was in business casual dress, a Lyran style Amherst was familiar with from his own visit to MWB-32 some months prior. "We're in the final stages of preperation here. What about on your end?"

"The Fists are on board. The budget you gave me is too sparse for me to hire Bronson's Horde, and Waco turned me down flat. The Black Warriors are desperate, though, and I think I've got them aboard."

"As long as we get those 'Mechs. They'll be useful. Keep me updated." Amherst cut the channel and began scribbling notes on the conversation.




Galatean City, Galatea
Skye March, Federated Commonwealth
Universe Designate MWB-32




Jeremy Amherst's image disappeared from the holo, leaving his contact alone for a moment. He noted some things on his file before setting up his best encryptions and opening another channel. "Jorowsky here. The operation is proceeding."

"And there is no suspicion?"

"No. Amherst has shown no signs of realizing just who is helping him."

"Good. Make sure the mercenaries don't either."

"I'll make sure of it. As far as anyone knows, RDA is the only organization involved here."

"Keep me posted. Curaitis out."
Last edited by Steve on Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Steve » Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:33 am

speaker-to-trolls wrote:I like it, that was certainly a way to start off with a bang; "these are the missions of the starship BOOM! All dead!"
Yeah. Poor Rana.
And it has been a good character piece from there slowly building up to the main action, and while I have never gotten into TGG I do like the political wrangling with all these different settings.
That's supposed to be the fun of TGG; seeing how all these disparate governments and societies interact, as opposed to the usual "crossover" element of "What if Captain Sisko and Captain Sheridan got together to kick ass and play baseball?" in such work.
If there is one thing I am unsure on it is making Eywa a viewpoint character, which kind of detract from its ineffability, but this is your story and I am sure you have a particular plan for her/it.
Oh yes..... Eywa has a very big purpose not just for this fic but for all of the TGG Multiverse.

For more on the metaplot, you need to seek out "One Small Step", "When Two Worlds Collide", and "The Last Woman Standing". The first was mine, the second Marina's, and the third was written by us together as a co-operative work. Additionally there is Marina and Chris writing "Sole Survivor", which has metaplot links. You can find them on SDN if you don't want to deal with SB's laggyness.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Burdens of Command" - TGG Multiverse

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Dec 28, 2014 10:57 am

Hahahaha, this is a pretty fine story and it never ceases to amaze me, the effort and dedication and detail and sheer work and volume and scope and breadth of your TGG thang - Jesus. This would fill how many omnibuses...

It goes without saying that I love the Lieutenant Lee bits. BALLS BLURTED LIEUTENANT LEE!
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"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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