It totally doesn't end on a cliffhanger >.
I TRUSTED YOU.
Well you should know better
Longer section this time. I wouldn't want to leave that cliffhanger too long...
... without a flashback, exposition chapter to explain what's going on inside Althaeon's head >
- VI -U.S.S. Emissary, Deep Space, 2405
Footfalls of heavy boots rapped crisply on a mesh floor grating. The owners of most of the boots seemed self-conscious of the clatter they generated, measuring their footfalls to attenuate the echoing metal din. There were two exceptions were stocky, grime-coated engineer and a tall, blue-skinned science officer with a long mane of white hair tied back in a simple knot – both seemed more at home on the unyielding metal than the carpet endemic to other Starfleet vessels.
was no such vessel; larger and more advanced than anything else in service, it was seen as the pioneer of a new era; like all of the class which bore the name, the Emissary’s hull was studded with phaser stations and her interior traded observation decks and botanical labs for dense armour and redundant shield generators. It mirrored the no-nonsense persona of the man who the boots came to a halt in front of – Admiral Grigori Yanishev, Director of Fleet Operations.
‘At ease,’ the barrel-chested Russian boomed, tone leaving no doubt that ‘ease’ was the last thing the assembled party should be feeling. Nonetheless, they smartly relinquished their salutes for hanging hands and relaxed their ramrod spines incrementally.
‘Lieutenant Cole,’ the Admiral aimed at the first of the party, ‘please summarize the purpose of Task Force Gemini.’ A flicker of confusion crossed the brunette Human’s expression momentarily.
‘Sir, Task Force Gemini is a training exercise. Its purpose is to test new tactics and give new officers the opportunity to take part in realistic field simulations, sir.’ Straight from the operational brief – almost.
‘You sell yourself short, Miss Cole,’ the Admiral replied. ‘Gemini’s goal is to give promising or exceptional
new officers that opportunity. Lieutenant Phogi,’ he continued, turning to a thin Bolian, ‘please summarize the planned simulation concluded at oh-nine-hundred hours.’
‘Sir, the simulation was an exercise in working in delicate situations involving pre-First Contact civilizations, sir,’ he belted out hurriedly, hoping his time under the Admiral’s hawk-like scrutiny was over. Predictably, it only attracted his attention like the panic of a wounded rabbit.
‘Excellent, Mister Phogi,’ Yanishev nodded. ‘Please elaborate.’
‘Sir... the exercise centered on a Federation observation post and a tribal society living on a floodplain near a dormant volcano, sir. Romulan loyalist forces had surrounded the tribe and set up transport inhibitors, intending to capture and interrogate the observation post’s staff. Our objective was to extract the Federation observers without contaminating the indigenous population, sir,’ he finished breathlessly, hardly having taken a breath during his description. It seemed to satisfy the Admiral, at least. He turned to the muscular blue-skinned officer, who stood at least a hand taller than any of the others.
‘Lieutenant Althaeon,’ Yanishev began with the tone of a man addressing a particularly stubborn and evasive housefly, ‘please explain how you arrived at the plan you enacted when given the command role.’ Like most of the other exercises the Gemini force had put its recruits through, in this one the young officers taking the lead in turns, and a new approach or variant tactic was expected from each. Though it was clear he was intimidated in the Admiral’s presence, the Kaerbadii showed none of the fidgeting fearfulness the other two had done in his response.
‘Sir, I hypothesized that it would be possible to create a distraction by forcing the team posing as the indigenous tribe to evacuate the area. Available intelligence suggested that the fictional tribe in question was nomadic and frequently relocated due to volcanic activity, and I believed that as the team was composed of a range of anthropologists, archaeologists and xenobiologists they would mirror the expected behavior of the tribe they portrayed.’
The normally stoic Admiral blinked at the thoroughness of the response – or more likely at the lack of fear or self-doubt audible within it. He narrowed his eyes, holding the gaze of the alien he addressed.
‘Very well, you extensively studied the background material. Please elaborate on the plan itself.’
‘Sir, I believed the best way to provoke a tribal migration was to simulate a volcanic eruption. To prevent contamination of the local tribe, I ordered a defused photon torpedo with the warhead replaced with concussion charges to de dropped during the night into the volcano’s mouth. This successfully simulated volcanic activity and provoked the so-called tribe to begin to break camp and effect a migration.’
‘And the extraction itself – do explain how you evacuated our observers,’ the Admiral pushed, seemingly more at ease as he absorbed the information and zeroed in on his point.
‘Sir, I monitored the deployment of the Romulans from the ship; while some teams fell back from the volcano itself as a precaution, they retained an effective perimeter with transport inhibiter coverage. I isolated one team which was geographically isolated from the others, and elected to lead a small team to neutralize that team by beaming down beyond inhibitor range and closing on foot.’
‘Very well,’ the Admiral replied. ‘Obviously, you had to prevent that team from alerting their comrades. So, you ensured that they would be unable to do so by jamming their comms, correct?’
‘Correct, sir. Once they realized their communications had been blocked, they attempted to spread out for the dual purpose of making contact with other surveillance teams and intercepting the observers.’ Althaeon paused, but continued at a nod from the Admiral.
‘Our jamming prevented us from warning the observation team, and due to proximity weapons’ fire may have alerted the indigenous tribe. I elected to engage the proxy Romulans by way of ambush.’ At this, Yanishev raised a PADD, retaking control of the dialogue.
‘Indeed. And, as a result of this ambush, I have reports that five Starfleet officers received between them,’ he raised the data screen for dramatic effect, ‘three broken ribs, one dislocated shoulder, four concussions, a sprained ankle and a broken wrist. Not Romulan soldiers, Lieutenant. Starfleet officers
.’ An uneasy silence settled over the group. ‘Do you care to explain your actions?’ The Admirals’ voice was level, but full of menace.
‘Sir, the objective of the exercise was to provide a realistic simulation of special assignments. I attempted to force each to surrender without causing harm, and attempted to minimize injury and prevent lasting trauma when they elected to fight instead – presumably as per their instructions for the exercise. As a result of my actions, the observers were extracted without injury and with minimal impact to the indigenous peoples, sir.’ Althaeon’s reflective blue eyes were fixed on the Admiral, but he could not fail to catch the mixture of disbelief, horror and – though only visible by subtle hints – begrudging assent that was written on the faces of Cole and Phogi.
Though Admiral Yanishev had long-since learned to keep his temper under control – a necessity to ascend from a simple hotheaded ships’ Captain to the commissioner of Starfleets’ substantial resources – it was clear that he was within a hair of exploding now. He rounded unexpectedly on the remaining member of the group, the stocky and lubricant-coated engineer.
‘And you, Lieutenant Fergusson. How would you describe Mister Althaeon’s performance?’
‘Well, sir – it worked, didn’t it, sir? His tactics were extreme but he got the job done, didn’t he, sir?’ the squat-figured man bumbled in a heavy Yorkshire accent. His eyes darted to the others just long enough to catch a shrug and a nod of what seemed to be reluctant agreement from Lieutenant Cole.
A few minutes later, Althaeon stood alone with the Admiral, six pairs of boots drumming up an indecent clatter from the metal decking as they retreated into the distance with no regard for the noise, only the speed with which they were able to put distance between themselves and the remaining pair.
‘You risked contamination of a pre-warp civilization, and you brutally beat your fellow officers to win a training exercise. And it worked,’ admitted the Admiral wearily. ‘Even though you took matters on the ground into your own hands rather than remaining in control of the overall scenario.’
‘I felt that my skills were most valuable where I applied them, sir,’ Althaeon responded. ‘I assigned others to roles they were naturally suited for and thought it obvious to apply the same metric to myself.’
‘Like I said, it worked. Not many others accomplished things so cleanly, or at all. Just remember that one day, you will find a place where brute force and clinically-applied violence aren’t enough – where you have to rely on teamwork and trust, not muscles and claws.’