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Second Star To The Right

Posted on Dec 17, 2015 @ 12:28pm by Lieutenant James Barton & Captain Kassandra Thytos & Lieutenant Russ BaShen
Edited on on Dec 17, 2015 @ 12:28pm

Mission: Civil War


“Second Star to the Right”
(Continued from “The Turning of the Wheel”)


“Can you really fly?”

“I'll teach you.”

- Disney's 'Peter Pan', 1953



SCENE: Shuttlebay Two

“Shouldn’t you get the engineers to do that? Also, impending doom an’ all that; shouldn’t you be sitting in your cushy seat ready push the button to take evasive action?” The twang of Kassandra’s voice startled Russ, breaking his concentration and causing him to reflexively jump, smacking his forehead on the shuttle console he was underneath. Kassandra’s boots strolled into his view, and he heard her snickering lightly at his plight as he cursed. He slid himself out from underneath the console and met her gaze, feeling a flash of irritation rising in his chest. She’d ghosted on him after they left LIMBO. Even after taking into account the amount of work and pressure she’d been under dealing with the refugees, she’d been conspicuously absent, and he’d had no choice but to conclude that she was avoiding him on purpose. He was pretty sure he knew why - after the promos from her fight on LIMBO had exposed her as The Butcher, she’d essentially been social napalm. He’d figured that she’d been putting distance between herself and him for what she saw as his own good, but he’d wished that she’d trusted him to make his own decision rather than taking it out of his hands.

“Jake’s doing real work. I’m just fiddling. There ain’t nothing for a dumb stick jockey like me to do while we’re all waiting. So I figured I’d come work on the getaway vehicle,” he finished his statement with a wink, keeping the interaction light. Some of the tension left Kassandra’s shoulders at that, but she still looked touchy.

A wry smile crossed her lips. “Aren’t you the optimist, thinking we’ll get out alive?” Suddenly, the smile vanished, “An’ are you makin’ funna my accent?” she remarked offhandedly, a frown on her face. Yeah. Still touchy.

He chuckled. “Well, it’s better than the dumb ideas I’ve been kicking around in my head...and always.”

“You got dumb ideas too? And here I was, about to tell you mine. They're damned stupid since they pretty much all rely on you bein’ as good a pilot as you think you are,” she shot back. Russ didn’t take her bait.

He pulled himself up. “Well, let’s swap them and see where we get to.”

She nodded, and went over the plan with the shuttlecrafts that she had concocted with her fellow Marines. Russ listened, and then cocked his head. “So… all we need to do is coordinate with the fleet, hope that the CENTURY doesn’t notice that there are a bunch of signatures headed its way that it blasts out of the sky, and then somehow get shuttles through the shields before taking on the Century?”

Kass shifted, her posture tightening. “Well, when you say it like that, of course it sounds stupid,” she scowled. “Let’s hear your bright idea then, flyboy?”

Russ grinned sheepishly. “Oh, I had basically the same idea. Except... well this is going to sound ridiculous.”

“Too late, I already whipped mine out; now you show me yours,” she shot back, crossing her arms defensively. He knew she had a subtle inferiority complex when it came to the regular Starfleet officers. She’d deny it of course, she'd swear up and down that she couldn't care less about the opinions of 'shipbound pansies,' but she was extremely conscious of any criticism of her intellect when it came to Starfleet personnel.

He shrugged. “OK, well… I saw this in some ridiculous movie once… but basically, two guys went and took over a ship by getting shot out into the vacuum of space and traversed that distance in spacesuits instead of ships. So… I figured, why not do the same?” Inwardly, he cringed. The idea had struck him as crazy when he'd thought of it, but now that he was hearing himself say the words aloud, it didn't sound so much 'crazy' as 'a moronic waste of time.' But, in for a penny... He continued. “Basically shoot a bunch of us over to the CENTURY, find a way in, and, uh, take over.” He dared a glance at Kass for her reaction. She was staring at him, dumbfounded. He began to backpedal. “Look, I know, I said it was stupid, alright?” He laughed defensively. “It was just some dumb movie – it was a remake of some old sci-fi show; there’s no science behind it, they were just trying to get all the good action in.”

“Wait. Just so's I know I heard you proper. So… all we need to do is get a bunch of idiots willin’ to get suited up and willingly blast themselves into open space at a target that’s tiny in comparison t’ the vast nothingness, hope that the CENTURY doesn’t notice that there are a bunch of biosignatures headed its way that it blasts out of the sky, and then somehow get *people* through the shields without fryin’ them like bugs on a zapper, all before havin’ a handful a people take over the entire goddamn ship? ” One of Kassandra’s eyebrows shot up in a Vulcan-like look of astonishment.

“Well, when you say it like that, of course it sounds stupid,” BaShen quipped. Kassandra remained silent, but her brows were knit in concentration, and a smile was beginning to spread across her face - a wicked, sly thing - as though she was fighting a battle in her head, and liking the outcome.

“Actually, Flyboy, I think you just might have something there,” Kassandra conceded, a huge smile finally taking over. “Our bio-signatures would probably be missed, especially if we’re willing to low tech it and freeze our tushies off.” Her eyes began to twitch as she envisioned the operation, already beginning to consider the logistics. “As luck would have it, I actually have a team that specializes in ship boarding and infiltration, and I, for one, would really like to see them in action. They have a bunch a’ toys I ain’t even ever got to use before.” She turned her ersatz 'gaze' to BaShen, whose nervous grin had ebbed even as her own had grown to look curiously like bared fangs. “Come on, let’s go talk to Jebediah Chastity and the Captain about this.”

“Who?” Russ blinked.

“Barton, the Chief of Security. Come on Bird Brain.”

* * *=/\=* * *

SCENE: Captain’s Ready Room

Kane studied his MCO and his FCO, his face impassive. Russ wasn’t sure if the expression was polite incredulity, or if they’d actually stunned him into silence with their idea.

“That is… certainly creative, Major,” he finally said with a dry tone, leaning back in his chair and studying them both with his mismatched eyes.

Kassandra shrugged and inclined her head towards Russ. “Actually, pretty boy here thought of it.”

The Captain’s gaze honed in on Russ, making him uncomfortable, but he stood his ground and didn’t show it.

“How do you expect to cross the CENTURY’s shields?” Kane finally asked, in a tone that was neither icy nor warm. Russ could not tell whether or not he approved of the plan.

“Well,” Russ scratched his head. “Kass thought we could…”

“Oh no, you leave me out of this – this was your plan,” she interrupted, flapping her hand dismissively at him, a grin at the corner of her lips as though she could tell being scrutinized by the Captain was making him uncomfortable. “Don't be tryin' ta pull my head onto the block with you.”

Russ scowled at her. “Getting past the shields was your idea, Major.”

She smiled sweetly. “And I’m so ready for you to take credit if it fails…”

“People!” Kane barked, rubbing his eyes. “Professionalism, please. Mr. BaShen – I am running short on patience…”

Russ swallowed his reply to Thytos, along with his exasperation at being maneuvered into playing spokesman for an idea he was still unsure of, and the bitter taste of giving up a round to Kassandra. It was a hearty swallow. Then, without another option, he launched into his explanation. “The idea was that we could take the Marine’s shield belts and sync them with the frequency of the CENTURY's shields, basically something like joining the two fields like soap bubbles- if the two shields’ frequencies are the same when they meet they should just merge, allowing us to pass through, rather than bouncing off of it.” Russ explained.

Kane was silent again, but this time (much to Russ’s relief), he studied Kass with his piercing stare.

“Do you have enough personnel willing to risk life and limb on this hare-brained scheme of yours?” There was something sharp in his voice, and Russ could see Kassandra suddenly straighten up in response, just barely stopping short of standing at full attention. The question had obviously been rhetorical – the Marines had taken their oaths and would be expected to follow the orders they were given – but the Captain's underlying question was clear: Was Kass willing to risk their lives on this plan? He continued, “And once you’re on the hull of the other ship, what then? Can you get inside?”

Kass set her chin. She'd been here often enough to know that facing a Michael Kane grilling wasn't pleasant, but if you kept your head and made your case, the Captain was a man willing to see reason. Keeping a level tone, she set in. “Remember when I told you I was assemblin’ my Marines to better fit how you might be plannin’ to use us? Well one a the things I did was to set up four teams o' nine, and it so happens one a’ those specializes in infiltration an’ boarding. Run under Sergeant Anil Nelumbo, sir. I believe they can get us in the ship, and they'll be able to help us sabotage the weapons arrays. I’m takin’ it you actually got a solid use for us goin’ over there now?”

“Yes,” Kane leaned back in his chair and explained the situation with the nanites. Kassandra squirmed visibly, and looked increasingly uncomfortable. Finally, having explained the circumstances, Kane lay out the proposed tactic.“If you could get on the ship and plant those nanites, we might be able to force Marxx to surrender in order to save his fleet.” Thytos' squirming was getting worse, and Kane turned to her. “Is something the matter, Major?”

She didn't hesitate. “I’m worried about what might happen if those nanites get inta my nets,” Kassandra confessed, looking sheepish. “I don’t exactly like the idea of them, I dunno, assimilatin’ my nanites or cannibalizin’ my nets.”

“If we actually have to use them, that will likely be the least of your problems” the Captain pointed out patiently. “Right. Go talk to James Barton. I want him with you on this. He'll be an asset if it goes sideways over there, and even if it doesn't, he knows Dexter Marxx personally.”

“He was already going to be our next stop,” Kass agreed.

Kane nodded and rose, signaling their dismissal. “We’re calling this Operation Gambit, and I want you ready to go as soon as I tell you to.”

The two officers turned in unison, and walked for the door. The hiss as it opened covered her whisper. “Easy for him to say, he’s not the one who might have have Borg nanites takin’ over his systems!” Kassandra muttered to Russ, her face unhappy. “Come on, let’s talk to Chastity an’ my Marines.”

* * *=/\=* * *

SCENE: Security Office

“How bad is it,” Barton demanded with naked disgust on his face, as he looked at the PADD in his hands.

Mackenzie Procter was on the verge of explaining that the prognosis was clearly labeled on the PADD, but thought better of it. “According to Sickbay, he'll be fine, but he's on bed rest for at least a week.”

“God DAMN it!” Almost faster than Procter's eye could register, he hurled the PADD toward the nearest bulkhead, and the device exploded into a dozen pieces.

There had been an accident on one of the joint Security/Marine drills. Procter had explained what the purpose had been – either staging a defense of the Life Support systems or breaking a siege of the Life Support systems – but the detail had been eclipsed and consumed when she explained to him that Tomasso Casigllio had slipped from a ladder in a maintenance hatch on deck 12 and fallen to deck 14. He was lucky to have not been killed, and with the damage he'd taken to his head, a hundred years earlier he still would have been. Now, mercifully, he'd be back on duty in a week, provided any of them lived that long. Barton thought that perhaps he should be grateful for that, but he wasn't. He was furious.

He'd agreed enthusiastically to Kassandra's notion of the joint drills at first. It had made perfect sense, considering not only that both of them had a majority of brand new faces in their departments, and that several in his were brand new to Starfleet, without a day of Academy training, but also because there was an unspoken, unnamed tension between the two divisions. It was difficult to tell if it had spread to their division heads, or if, in fact, it had stemmed from the two of them, but in either case, they could both feel it. Thytos had been responsible for ensuring the protection of the crew of the PHOENIX, and she and her Marines had done an admirable job at the task. Now the prodigal lieutenant Barton along with his band of strangers and 'Limboners' were assuming responsibility for being the PHOENIX's shield. They'd had more than one conversation about policy shifts from behind diamond-hard smiles that didn't touch their eyes. Their crews, not as constrained by the responsibilities of command and the tension of a strained friendship, were freer in communicating their misgivings and there had been some shoving matches. Before anyone could be seriously hurt, Thytos had proposed the drills as a way of developing rapport, and he had agreed, expecting that, as a bonus, his new recruits physical fitness and familiarity with the ship would begin to rise to where he wanted them.

Instead, Kass had immediately set to work overworking and grinding the usefulness out of every one of them that she could. Her marches were easily three times as long as they should have been, her sparring sessions were full-contact, and more often than not, completely unregulated. She concocted the most random objectives, then initiated the exercises in the middle of the night. Her ethos seemed lifted wholecloth from athletic coaches from bygone days: men who'd overworked teenage boys under brutal heat to make them strong and withheld decadent luxuries like 'rest' and 'water.' It had been a popular method until the fatalities began to pile up, then come to light, and then it had faded into history. But Kassandra had seemed determine to resurrect the mentality.

At first, the results had been minor. It started with only occasionally flaring tempers. Then small mistakes started appearing in people's work. Then the first, scattered injuries. At each step of the way, he'd tried to make her see the damage she was doing, and each time she'd refused to acknowledge what he was telling her. An old saying about “none so blind as those who will not see,” was often at the tip of his tongue, but he withheld it, just as he talked himself repeatedly out of shitcanning the drills. It would send a terrible message to both the Security and Marine crew, it would codify the sneaking belief that no one knew what they were doing, and it would have made he and Kass' professional relationship as strained as their personal.

Now, Tommaso Casigllio had been pulled out of bed with less than three hours sleep – for the second time in three days – ordered to climb in pitch blackness, and had fallen eighteen feet, landing on his head. When they'd beamed him to Sickbay, he'd been comatose. He would have been the first death under Barton's command, the first casualty of the Civil War and before anyone had fired a shot. The potential of what could have been soured the Security Chief's stomach. He was furious with Kass for pushing the crew so hard, and he was doubly furious with himself for allowing it. Now the camel's back was broken and, once again too late, he would attempt to repair the damage he'd done.

He inhaled deeply, let it out slowly, and growled, “The joint Marine drills are canceled. Effective immediately.”

From behind him, at his own desk, Virgo Silsby spoke up. “Thank Christ.”

Barton looked over his shoulder at Silsby, who was double fisting PADDs of his own. The gambler had been doing an admirable job as assistant Chief of Security, especially considering the steadfast and spirited refusal he'd mounted when Barton had first offered him the position. He'd explained in some detail the contempt he felt for taking orders in general, and the military in particular. In the end, he'd only accepted because his lot in the new Shanty Town was awful, with he and the others who had worked beside Barton to police Cargo Bay 3 effectively relegated to third-class citizen status, but also because the former sheriff had convinced him that the coming Neo-Essentialist wave would wash over the entire Alpha quadrant if left unchecked, and that with it came the kind of restrictions and laws that would choke off the freewheeling gambler's life he'd lived during his best days.

His primary day-to-day responsibility, as Barton had explained it, was to serve as the friendly face and ear of the security department, both within and to the rest of the ship. The Chief of Security understood that the most important role of the Security division aboard a Federation starship was a passive one: to serve as a resassuring presence to the rest of the crew. Firing torpedoes, stepping into skirmishes, and fighting off invaders was all part of the job, certainly, but more crucial, at least in the routine, was providing the certainty to the scientists, engineers, diplomats, and doctors that someone was there *to* do all those things. It was the sense of safety that came from that knowledge that allowed them to focus their energies on the nobler aspects of exploration and growing the Federation. Unfortunately, Barton also knew that he was ill-suited to that task. He didn't enjoy talking to people, he didn't enjoy listening to people talk, he didn't enjoy being looked at, and he was, by and large, terrible at hiding all of those things. That was why he needed Virgo Silsby. Silsby was there to smile at people in corridors and to listen to why Crewman Chadwick didn't want to work alone with Crewman Fonti because of a failed romance six months earlier. It was important work, Barton couldn't do it, and that made Silsby essential.

But he could still be a pain in the ass. As kind as he was to the rest of those around him, he seemed to get an unnatural kick out of winding Barton's spring. “We'll organize our own drilling and training schedule. Soon,” Barton said with a loaded stare at his aSec. Silsby gave him an exaggerated look of indifference to the idea, shrugged dramatically, and went back to reading.

“I'm certain I could arrange that, sir. I have a variety of Security and Tactical manuals, many with a number of my own margin notes. Now, the footnotes to my notes aren't completely indexed, but-”

Barton spun back to face Procter again. In a gesture that was becoming quickly ingrained to his muscle memory, he jammed up a hand, palm out to silence her. It looked almost as if he was reaching out to cover her mouth with his hand, and only barely containing the impulse. There was a very good reason why it looked that way. “Procter!”

“Sorry, sir,” she chirped, in an apology that must have been becoming equally familiar to her. She was a regular Suzie Starfleet, as earnest as Silsby was recalcitrant, heavy on the yes sirs and no sirs, eternally focused on whatever task was at hand, utterly professional at all times. She was ten minutes early for each of her shifts, uniform so crisp he suspected that she replicated it then ironed it, never a hair out of place. She was polite, helpful, and eager to please.

She was also neurotic, unsure of herself, and not particularly good at hiding her feelings of superiority to the rest of the division, in general, to Barton, in particular and to Silsby, exceptionally. She was openly ambitious, sometimes to a disconcerting point, and sometimes, when she didn't think she was being watched, her lip twisted in a way that spoke of a heavy chip on her shoulder. She was stunningly beautiful, and though he couldn't be certain, Barton thought that she might wear some kind of cosmetic. He'd seen it done before, both when he acted as a young man and also when he'd accompanied lady friends to formal occasions, but he'd never known a woman to do so daily. Her cosmetics, if she was in fact wearing them, were very subtle, but Barton suspected and wondered why she would bother. He'd seen, from the first day he'd met her, that she was neither liked nor respected by her peers. Silsby once informed him that she was called “The Book” behind her back, but hadn't been able to explain the origin of the name, as it had come over with those who'd been aboard her previous vessel.

But for all of that, she had also proven invaluable. She knew the PHOENIX's weapon systems, chapter and verse. She could calculate estimated shield durations under varying frequencies against an assortment of standard and non-standard weaponry in her head. When she'd pointed out during a training session that Leah Harvey was leaning too far back on her plant leg during a kick, the other woman had rolled her eyes at her and Procter had wilted in retreat. However, the next kick had been the first time that Harvey hadn't wound up on her ass that day. Procter had taken it upon herself to serve as an unofficial interim Security chief while he'd been on a three week bender, and she had obviously been expecting to be named to the position officially. She hadn't been pleased when Barton offered her the aTac position instead, but she had taken it nevertheless, and she had been doing a fantastic job from the outset.

If he could only keep from killing her. “It's fine. Just... We'll figure something out. First, I need to deal with the Marines and Major-”

On cue, the Security office doors opened and Kass sauntered in, Russ BaShen trailing behind her. There was a wry smile on her face as she called out to him. “Suit up, Jebediah Chastit-”

“Cut the shit, Thytos,” he barked, his color rising again at the sight of her. “I'm not in the goddamn mood!”

She hesitated, mid-stride, and her face twisted. For the barest instant, she had the shocked, confused and frightened look of a little girl who'd been caught off guard by a rebuke, but before that expression could settle even lightly on her face, her eyes narrowed and she jutted her chin out. “Best watch your tone, Jimmy. What crawled up your dickhole?” Her tone was an open challenge.

Taking the bait, he began drifting toward her, as Silsby stared with such intensity at the PADD in his left hand that it looked like he was trying to bore a hole through it with his mind and Procter took to darting her eyes around the room, desperately searching for something she could busy herself with as well. “Your brainless training program nearly got one of my team killed!”

“Casiglio? Jesus, Jebediah, I didn't *push* him off of that ladder!”

“Kass,” Russ spoke up. “We don't have time for this.”

The Marine Commander and the Chief of Security both looked like they were about to tell him to butt out, but the urgency in his tone brought Kass back to herself and she remembered her priorities. With a visible effort, she forced back her pride and relaxed her posture. “You're right.”

The change in Kass' behavior, and the significance it represented, was not lost on Barton. With one last meaningful cut of his eyes at Kass, he regained his own composure. “What is it?”

“New plan,” Kass declared without humor in her voice. “You're going to hate it.”

She laid it out for him then, quickly, with all of the relevant details and with any other commentary spared. Russ interjected occasionally, to clarify a point or to explain the maneuvers he foresaw using to make the crossing to the the CENTURY. After they finished speaking, a long moment of silence was followed by another just like it.

“You're not wrong,” Barton said finally, quietly. “I absolutely hate that.”

“Yeah, so learn to love it on the hurry up, because the order's gonna be coming down anytime now.” The anger at Barton's ambush had faded from Thytos' voice, but neither did she seem particularly interested in humoring him either.

“How many are you bringing with us?”

From behind him, Silsby spoke up. “You're serious? You guys are really gonna do that? Barnes...seriously?”

Every set of eyes turned to the gambler. “Yeah, Silsby, I'm going,” the hulking lieutenant answered him. “Don't bother trying to volunteer to take my place.”

Silsby snorted. “Oh, don't worry. I would NEV-” Seeing the expressions on the faces in front of him, his brow dropped in confused astonishment. “You're joking. That's the kind of thing you people DO?”

As if in answer to his question, Procter spoke up. “Sir. As the Chief Tactical officer, with battle imminent, your place is here. I am certain that I could provide adequate escort for the Major and-”

“Stow it, . We're taking your boss. I'm sure you can find some way to earn your Medal of Valor over here.” Procter's neck and ears flared red, and she said no more.

“How many,” Barton repeated.

“Ten of my best, trained for starship infiltration. Me, Amelia Earhart over there,” she said with a wave in Russ' direction, “and your big ugly ass makes it lucky thirteen.”

“Ten of your best,” Barton said, with obvious skepticism.

“Well,” Kass said with a victor's smirk, “they can climb a ladder.”

Barton's expression darkened and his chin strafed to either side as he choked down his response. Then he turned to the door. “Procter! If it hits the fan, I want you at Tactical. You have my authorization to relieve.” Without looking back at Russ or Kass, he began to march across the room. “Let's get it over with.”

They fell into step with him, and a moment later, the three senior officers vanished behind the door with a hiss.

“As the Chief Tactical officer, and with battle imminent,” Silsby began, in a high mocking tone of voice. “I'm certain that if you'd let me I could provide-” With a disgusted roll of her eyes, Procter moved to her own desk, awaiting the call to battle stations.

“Alla' bunch o' goddamned maniacs,” Silsby muttered to himself, wondering again what he had gotten himself into.

* * *=/\=* * *

SCENE: The Blackness of Space (The Final Frontier)


The order had been given. Kass had been right; it didn't take long.

Starlight filled Russ’s vision as he, Barton, Thytos, and a handful of her Marines stepped out into the inky blackness of space. Russ scanned the sky about him. More than a hundred kilometers away, he could see scores of bright lights milling about –the opposing fleet, too distant to see in detail with the naked eye. And nearer to them, he could see what looked like a fleet of toy starships, backlight by the light of Elandipole IV. It was a surreal feeling, looking about. One got use to the magnified displays aboard the bridge, where everything seemed nearby and retained familiar proportions. Evolving on a world where the curvature of the planet limited line of sight distances had not prepared the mammalian brain to cope with the scales of distances involved with the current view. Russ fought down a sudden surge of vertigo, and turned to his companions. He was glad to see that he was not the only one who was fighting to keep his courage at the view. One of the Marines had their head between their knees, obviously staving off nausea or hyperventilation, and he could see Barton slowly blinking and waggling his head. Kassandra seemed unfazed, but then again, her sensor nets didn’t have a range over a kilometer or two, so she wasn’t getting the full experience. “On your mark, Lieutenant,” he nodded to the SEC/TAC officer.

James shook his head, and Russ could see a touch of resigned bemusement tinge the man’s features. [[It’s your rodeo, BaShen,]] he grunted through the radio. [[Why don’t you do the honors?]]

Russ scanned the sky, and identified the particular dot of light that belonged to the CENTURY. His suit’s computer highlighted the target for him on the faceshield, as he was sure it did on everyone else’s. “Remember,” he said, speaking to the group in general. “Aim as best you can for the CENTURY, and once we get to speed keep your thrusters at minimum. We shouldn’t come up on their sensors, but if you’re fighting to correct your course, we may as well just open hailing frequencies with the CENTURY.” Someone chuckled at that, though Russ didn’t catch who. Taking one last look around, Russ signaled to the group. “Ready.” They crouched, ready to spring up into the inky blackness above.

“Now, remember,” Russ said. “Think a happy thought. Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.”

[Is that morning as in 'tomorrow,' or mourning, as in, 'We're here to mourn our friends who all drifted off into space yesterday,] Kass asked over the radio.

“Think. A happy. Thought,” Russ repeated with exaggerated emphsasis. Kass gave him a thumbs up, then moved to resume her launch position. Next to her, Barton reached out and took hold of the collar of her suit. He turned her to face him, and pulled the forehead of her helmet to his. Then he punched her gently, but not softly on the shoulder. She nodded and returned the punch. They both crouched and Barton repeated Kass' thumbs up.

BaShen nodded, and took a breath. “JUMP.” The thirteen of them leapt upwards, deactivating their magnetized boots and pushing against the PHOENIX.

Considering the ridiculous leap into eternity they were making, the feeling was anticlimactic. Without a sense of gravity, the sense of changing motion one would expect from such a jump was limited to the initial acceleration. Russ gazed back down towards his feet to see the PHOENIX slowly shrinking. He counted down in his head. 8… 7… 6… And then, “PHOENIX, we’re clear.”

The PHOENIX did not send an acknowledgment, but instead began to maneuver on a perpendicular course away from where it had been. The electro-optical sensors of the CENTURY, which were doubtless trained on the PHOENIX, would surely have picked up the approach of the small team. As it was, there was still a danger that they might be picked up by more passive sensors, but it was a much smaller risk – they'd shut down life support in the armor as they neared their target, depending on the limited oxygen in their suits while they made their breach but limiting their odds of showing up on biosensors, the cold metal would mostly mask their thermal signatures, and their limited energy output would probably be masked by the background stellar radiation.

*Probably.* Russ tried to follow his own advice about happy thoughts as he watched his ship veer away, under the hands of somebody else.

Stage one was complete, but now came the more harrowing part… a brief acceleration towards the CENTURY, followed by rapid deceleration for their landing. Because they'd be closer to the CENTURY, they would have a shorter window in which they could risk firing their thrusters, meaning that they would need to decelerate considerably faster than they'd sped up. “Remember, 10 seconds; that’s all you get to get this right,” Russ remarked. “If you aren’t aiming straight for the CENTURY, a small course deviation of just a meter at this end of acceleration will place you a kilometer off course by the time you reach the target, and we can't risk a bunch of correcting thrusters along the way. So get it right.”

[[This was a really stupid idea,]] Kass remarked testily.

“You can turn around now if you want,” Russ offered.

[[Anything you can do, Flyboy,]] she snapped back. Russ grinned.

[[Take your time. I mean, we have all day, right,]] Barton groused.

“On my mark… three, two, one, MARK.” A sudden kick of acceleration jerked him forward, hurling him towards the bright lights ahead. It felt as if a ton of bricks had landed on him from two stories up. Russ was a pilot; he had flown without inertial dampeners before, and so was familiar with the crushing weight that acceleration could bring about in any given maneuver. Starfleet technology had blessed many generations of crews by allowing them to make maneuvers that were impossible for the human body to handle. However, that technology had come at the price of leaving those same crews in ignorance of what the weight of 10Gs felt like in a linear acceleration.

He eyed his accelerometer. 100m/s… 200m/s…

[[DAMMIT]] Barton cried out. 4 seconds…

“Stay on target,” Russ called out, feeling helpless, torn between wanting to look back and needing to keep his eyes on his target.

[[What happened?]] One of the Marines this time, in a strained voice. 5 seconds…

[[I... I thumbed my controls wrong, fighting to get back…]] 6 seconds…

7… 8… “BARTON?”


9.... He was out of time.

[[I’m OK now! On course!]] 10 seconds.

“Cease acceleration!” BaShen's order came out in a relieved bellow. In near unison, the small formation killed their thrusters. Russ tried to get a look at the others, but they were out of his field of view, and twisting around for a better look would be a bad idea..

[[That was horrible,]] muttered someone. There were nervous chuckles all around. With nothing else to do, he watched the bright lights grow steadily bigger as the group approached their destination, telling himself he wasn't waiting to be vaporized. Slowly, the outline of the CENTURY resolved into a familiar shape. Russ turned his attention to his chronometer. A minute had passed, with about another half a minute left to go. Time seemed to pass at its leisure.

[[We’re going to hit it…]] came a worried voice.

“Don’t worry, we’ll slow down in time…” Russ assured. *Happy thought.* “While we’re waiting, maneuver along your vertical axis so that you will be on your back for the deceleration. From here on, we're not flying toward the CENTURY, we're falling towards it.” The group did so. Russ could now see the other five. Their dispersal was a little wider than he would have liked, but at the very least, they would all be landing close together. “Standby… just a few more seconds…” Russ called.

[[Here we go again,]] Kass growled…

And then… “Three, two, one… MARK!”

Again, the weight came down on him.

* * *=/\=* * *


Scene: Hull

“Oh, thank fuck.” Kassandra breathed a sigh of relief as her feet magnetized to the hull of the ship. It had been a tense two minutes for her. Out there in the blackness of space, her sensor nets didn’t pick up much more than the people around her. She just had to hope that her suit and HUD readings were accurate, because there was no ‘eyeballing’ it. Not to mention the vacuum of space meant that things were uncomfortably close to being The Darkness; asides from her team-mates, her sensors were not picking up anything. It was weird, like going into a sensory deprivation chamber. Russ, who was standing next to her, put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She glared at him in return.

[[Told you,]] he said with a smile. [[Kid stuff.]]

Sergeant Nelumbo’s team of ten was standing around their two small crates of equipment. The young, dark skinned man with a rather impressive mustache was enviably as cool as a cucumber. Kassandra’s nets hadn’t once picked up his heart rate racing the entire trip over. He seemed entirely unimpressed by the whole endeavor, as though it was old hat. Adrenaline junkie, Kass decided. His second was a sallow, dour, thin man, with sunken cheeks and hatchet cheekbones named Corporal Beringer Seilmann. The older members of his team, a tall black woman named Lance Corporal Blake and a Caitian, PFC Manx, had been nervous for the flight over, but were now calmly and efficiently unpacking their equipment and distributing it to the younger members of the team, who seemed a little agitated and keyed up on adrenaline. Kassandra eyed them, feeling old. Finally, the chatter of the Marines died down, and they stood at attention waiting for orders to run off to do their jobs.

Sergeant Nelumbo looked at Kassandra, who nodded assent. He turned back to his Marines, and said something to them on their private channel. The Marines saluted, and activated the chameleon function of their armor. The surface of their armor flickered and began to transmit images of the space behind them using tiny holo-emitters scattered across the skin of the armor, rendering them nearly invisible. It wasn’t perfect - if you looked hard enough at them, you could see their outline up against the background, there were odd shadows and shading at the sides and along the inside of the arms and legs, and there was a slight lag when in motion - but it was enough. The human mind was generally lazy, unless it was looking for something, it was unlikely to notice small abnormalities in what it was seeing. Of course, they were absolutely no use against Kassandra’s sensor nets, the miniature holograms lit up her sensor nets as though they were walking around with flashing neon signs around their neck. They might have trouble with some of the Century’s exopods, however the Marines should be able to disable them before they became a problem.

The Marines would be keeping a low profile anyway, stealthily making their way to place the nanite canisters at critical junctions on the ship. The decided upon targets were anti-matter containment, environmental controls, the quantum torpedo launchers, the shield control room, two of the fore phaser banks, the main computer core, the shuttlebay, and the escape pods. Sergeant Nelumbo, Kassandra, Russ, and Barton would undertake a slightly more difficult mission, they’d first have to pinpoint Admiral Marxx’s location, then make their way across the hull to the nearest entry point. Kassandra focused her sensor nets on LCpl Blake and observed her as she prepared to enter the ship.. There was a bright flash that made Kassandra’s sensor nets sputter for a second as Blake fired a shallow penetration EMP blast into the hull, knocking out the systems lying between the hull and the Jeffries tube that she had chosen as her point of entry to reach the Antimatter containment. Quickly and with no wasted movements, the regal, lithe black woman assembled the containment and environmental field around her and turned it on, surrounding herself in a half dome of atmosphere. LCpl Blake activated a plasma welder and neatly cut out a hole in the hull just large enough for her to drop through into access tunnel underneath. Then she was gone, swallowed by the CENTURY and almost certain to die inside her. All told it took less than a minute for her to accomplish her task. Kassandra looked down at her watch. They needed to get a move on it, they didn’t have much time left.

Barton approached her, and she could tell by the his movement that he was as antsy as she was. [[Let's get moving.]]

“Right,” she answered. “You ready, Flyboy?”

[[As I'm going to be. Anyone got an idea on where to find Marxx?]] All at once, the size of the ship beneath them dawned upon them. The CENTURY was anything but a small ship, and with plenty of crew waiting to discover and kill them before they could reach their quarry.

“Not the foggiest,” Kass groused.

[[Captain's quarters,]] Barton stated with a flat certainty.

[[How do you know?]]

Barton turned to BaShen. [[I know Marxx. He's not the kind to make friends quickly. He's not the kind to kill time relaxing with a holonovel. He's either on duty, on the bridge or in his ready room, or he's off duty in his quarters. If it's the bridge, well, we're never making it there before they cut us down. So he's either in his quarters or this was a wasted trip. Happy thoughts, right?]]

“Makes sense to me. Quarters it is. Anyone know where they are?”

[[This way,]] BaShen pointed. [[It's this way.]]

They began to trudge off, BaShen leading the way. A few paces back, Kass sidled up to Barton.

“You know, your vitals are spiking like crazy right now.” It wasn't a lie. Heartbeat, respiration, perspiration...the Security Chief was pegging the dials on all fronts.


[[What's the matter, Jebediah Chastity? Cold feet?]]

He trudged along, snowshoeing along the outer hull of the ship. [[Nope. Just thinkin'.]]

[[Sounds like a fun new hobby. Thinking what?]]

[[This ship, the CENTURY. She's under Marxx's command.]]

[[Not exactly news.]]

[[So she's his.]]

[[What are you getting' at?]]

[[Nothing. Just that...]] He turned to look at her, but she couldn't see the dark smile spreading across his face. [[Just that, this time, I'm ready to get inside Dexter Marxx's lady.]]



SCENE: Dexter Marxx's Quarters

He was sitting, massaging his temples, when the lights dropped away. Captain Dexter Marxx, hero of Starfleet and recently unretired, had spent several minutes trying to piece together the situation he found himself in. His epiphany had been revitalizing, and he knew that he had made some kind of breakthrough, but the whys and why-nots of his present circumstances were still puzzling. On one hand, he was captain of this ship and logic dictated that he could order that weapons systems taken offline, shields lowered, and that hailing frequencies with the PHOENIX be opened immediately. He could order this conflict theory. However, the arrival of the defector Thoris T'Prell, and the familiar manner in which Heydrich had welcomed him aboard the CENTURY, signified clearly to Marxx that there was a lot going on he hadn't been made privy to. That gave him reason to think that the four rank pips he wore might not be enough to guarantee the crew's loyalty, and that meant he had to act very carefully.

He was considering a friendly visit to the Andorian new arrival, and trying to guess which casual, off-hand questions might glean him the most useful intelligence without tipping his hands, when his quarters went dark.

He leapt to his feet. Had the PHOENIX fired on them? Was battle upon them all?

“Marxx to Engineering,” he bellowed, but got no response. An icy chill began to climb his spinal column. “Engineering, report!”

Nothing. He was cut off now, and something was happening. Conspiracies be damned, he was a captain and his ship was in danger. In that moment, he'd have given his right hand to be back on the bridge, surrounded by Heydrich and his supporters, neck deep in their schemes. Anything to not be trapped, useless, in the dark.

Then, all at once, the lights returned. “Engineering,” he barked.

[[Engineering. How can we help you, Captain?]]

“I just lost power in my quarters.”

[[It's been happening all over the ship. We're not sure if there's a bug in the power grid or something else going on. Teams have been dispatched.]]

*A bug in the system.* Not likely. His instincts had been dulled and were layered in years of dust; the way he'd been maneuvered by Edgerton into his current position were humiliating proof enough of that. But he could feel them awakening within him, and they were singing to him now. The timing was too coincidental. This was Kane. They were up to something.

“Keep me abreast of what you've found out,” he ordered and cut the link. The moment of darkness had been enough to convince him that he'd spent long enough sulking in his quarters. Whatever he sussed out here, he could only do anything with on the bridge. For a heartbeat, he allowed himself to think of the fantastic things he'd accomplished from the bridge of a starship. He didn't do so for the sake of fond remembrances, but to buoy his spirits and carry him forward. He was confused, irritated, and as appropriately frightened as anyone on the business end of an armada should be, but some part of him felt alive, and vital, and young.

He took a step towards the exit and all his momentum was stolen by the door chime. The shrill chirp of alert struck him almost as a warning cry from the CENTURY itself. The thought was abandoned as soon as it manifested, but short lived as it was, the omen was ill enough to take the spring out of his step.

The chirp came again.

“Yes,” he called, knowing that he was already connected to the intercom outside. “Marxx.”

[[Cap'n, this is Smythe with the crew from Engineerin'. We're tryin' to figure what the he- what happened here, but we got orders ta make sure you were doin' alright.]] Obviously from one of the colonies. She sounded harried, out of breath.

Marxx's eyes narrowed. The CENTURY was a big ship, and he was newly aboard her, so he would be forgiven for not knowing every name of the Engineering crews. However, he had made at least a cursory glance over the crew manifest and he was...80?...percent certain that there'd been no 'Smythe' listed there.

As he moved to open the door, he tensed, breathing deep and filling his lungs with oxygen. He felt a tingle run across his skin as he stalked forward. Something was very wrong. He could feel it, he could *taste* it. Occam's Razor would insist that on opening that door, he would find nothing but an excitable member of the CENTURY's extensive staff of engineers, one whose name had escaped his attention. But he knew that Occam was wrong, and whoever the woman on the other side of the door was, she meant trouble. He intended to be ready for her and to spoil her surprise.

Coiling for her, he thumbed open the door.

*Oh, * he was able to think, seeing it wasn't a 'her' waiting for him at all, before the hairy mammoth buried the palm of his hand underneath Marxx's chin. Then he was too busy sailing backwards in a high arc to think much else.

He crashed to the floor, his shoulder shouting in protest, but he rolled as best he could and came up in a ready stance as he watched the trio slip through his door and thumb it shut. They stood between him and the most direct path of exit now. All human. Two men and a woman. The shorter of the two men was the last one into the room. He was good looking, but nervous. Before him came the woman who'd obviously been the voice on the intercom. She was as small as she sounded, though much harder looking, and older. She looked as if, if their trio hadn't opted for the misdirection tactic, she wouldn't have had any hesitation at taking him on herself. In the lead, the largest of the three, the cheap shot sucker punch artist who was much bigger than most Terrans, but still a good three inches shorter than Marxx. All three were staring at him, but the largest one more intently, more expectantly.

“Hi, Dex.”

*That voice.* It was maddeningly familiar, like a single note of a forgotten song that you'd used to know well, played from another room. Something of years ago. He searched the face in front of him, looked past the beard, past the over-muscled frame...


A long unopened file cabinet was pulled open in his mind. Jim Barton had served with aboard the ODYSSEY under Archer, and then under Marxx's own command. As an ExO, he'd found the younger man exasperating. He was too cocky, too full of himself, and too interested in cracking jokes. His work had never been poor, quite the opposite, but it had also never begun to approach the obvious potential that Barton possessed, which was saying something, considering it had been enough to get him the posting of Chief Tactical Officer of the flagship of the Federation fleet. However, after Marxx had assumed command, things had changed. Barton matured, and perhaps Marxx had mellowed. In the end, he'd known the younger man had looked up to him, though he hadn't really ever known what to do with that. Ultimately Starfleet had come calling and transferred Barton to the newly christened GATEWAY Station and that had been the end of it. To be honest, he didn't know if he'd thought of Barton since. A twinge of a memory whispered to Marxx that he may had heard at one point that Barton had died, but that may have been someone else...and in any case, he obviously hadn't.

“Yeah.” He was still staring a hole through Marxx, even as he shook out his hand. He'd probably hurt himself on Marxx's exoskeleton. The Vegan hope it hurt, because his chin was sure as hell pounding.

They were wearing Starfleet EVA suits, which told Marxx a lot of what he needed to know. They were also armed, and that, added with the fact that they hadn't fired on him yet, told him a lot more.

“You're from one of the rebel ships,” then, as certainty took him, “you're from the PHOENIX.”

“And you're on the wrong side, Marxx. We're here to take your surrender.”

The notion was enough to mark Dexter Marxx chuckle, but he didn't because the situation wasn't funny in the slightest. “Why would I do that?”

“Because Barton's right. You picked the wrong horse this time, sir.” That was the smaller man, who still looked unhappy to be here, but much less worried now that his team wasn't standing in an exposed hallway. His intonation was respectful, but hard-edged, a fact underlined by the phaser he was leveling at Marxx.

“And if ya don't, we'll tear yer' ship, and yer' whole damned fleet, apart, Marxx.” Kass unhooked and held up the alert signal that would trigger the PHOENIX to activate the nanite tubes and unleash the doctored nanites on the Neo-Essentialist fleet.

The look in her eyes assured him that she wasn't making an idle threat. “I don't want to know what that is, do I?”

“Ya really don't.”

“Well, then, you have my full attention. Lay out your terms. But I'll tell you right now that I'm not inclined to agree, that I'm not convinced by your boogeyman button,” he nodded at Kass, “or your ghosts.” With that he turned his stare back to Jim Barton. “And you've only got a few minutes to convince me before my crew starts putting two and two together and comes for me.”

Barton looked at Kass, who looked at Russ. This part hadn't been discussed, apparently.

Russ spoke up. “Admiral, how familiar are you with the Essentialist movement? Edmund Dupree?”

Marxx's brow furrowed by the seemingly random question. “I've...heard of it. Heard the name. It was all after my time in Starfleet and I was pretty busy with the Vegan military. Why?”

Russ sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay. Well, then...this is gonna take longer to explain...”

So Russ dived in, trying to hit the highlights of what Marxx didn't know about the Neo-Essentialists, Edgerton's rise to power, the temporal machinations of the PENDRAGON's crew, and the desperate blind struggle of the PHOENIX's to counter them. Kass interjected where she felt necessary, such as noting how Edgerton had manipulated her into her posting on the DISCOVERY. Marxx nodded thoughtfully at that. Through all of it, Barton, who had nothing to add about the Neo-Essentialists simply stood, coiled to spring, and stared at Marxx with a coldness in his eyes that demanded to know, “How could you?”

Finally, Marxx held up his hands. “Stop. This is becoming a waste of time.” BaShen gripped his phaser tighter. “I've made up my mind...”


NRPG: Hey...were you guys, like, waiting for this or something?

ALIX, CHRIS: Hope it turned out alright for ya.

A Joint Collaboration Brought to You by

Dale I. Rasmussen
Lt. James Prophecy Barton
Mean Old Codfish

Alix Fowler
Maj. Kassandra Thytos
She's short, but don't call her “Tinkerbell”


Christopher B. Del Gesso
Lt.(j.g.) Russ Gerodi BaShen
The Boy Who Could Fly


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