Episode 1 – Prelude

The ink has barely dried on the order commissioning the Bravo Fleet Intelligence Support Activity. The custom wedges have barely settled into the superstructure of the newly minted USS Bellona. And now, ambiguously-worded dispatch orders fly across Federation space, summoning a hand-picked group of officers, specialists and civilians for their new assignment.

Read more about the mission premise and proceedings »


~ An Unexpected Call ~

Commander Jake Lewis, Rear Admiral Michael West, Captain Jason Mendoza and Leon Rice
Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco, Earth on Mission Day 1 at 1050 Hours

It was a foggy day in San Francisco. Last time Commander Lewis had been here, he’d come to face judgement for a crime he didn’t commit. He had proof of his innocence, but it would have done irreparable harm to the Federation to reveal it. So instead he came ready to fall on his sword.

In the end, the Algorab Commission found him not guilty, not because the bureaucrats believed he didn’t kill a Romulan Senator, but because they couldn’t prove he did. He kept his rank and didn’t end up in the brig, but that was about it. He applied for every command-level position he could find, but he didn’t receive a single positive response. He was a patriot without a post.

With nothing better to do, Lewis loaded up his backpack and set off. No one even noticed he was gone. For four months, he explored the most remote parts of Earth he could find. But then his combadge, all but forgotten at the bottom of his pack, chirped to life.

And now he was back, although unsure exactly why.

Maybe it had something to do with the Gorn invasion of Canterra? Or the building tension with the Klingons? Or the battle the Cardassians were now raging on two fronts? On his way into the city, he’d skimmed the headlines. The universe certainly hadn’t stopped moving while he was away. The borderlands were in chaos.

Those questions would be answered soon enough.

Commander Lewis made his way to the sixteenth floor of E building of Starfleet Headquarters. Wedged between the “Interstellar Astrometric Logistics Group” and the “Superluminal Communications Research Lab” lay his destination, a nondescript office with a nameplate that read “Fleet Specialized Support Activities”.

Before his summons arrived, he’d never heard of the unit before. When he stepped through the door, he found a small waiting room that reminded him of a dentist office. Three chairs to his left, a reception desk to the right, and another door directly forward.

“Welcome Commander,” smiled an unassuming ensign from behind the reception desk. “The Admiral has been expecting you. If you’ll just follow me.” The ensign rose and made her way towards the door opposite the one Lewis had come through. The commander nodded and followed.

Through the door, they walked down a hallway. They passed several doors, not one with a nameplate or anything to distinguish it from the others. At the end of the hall, they came to a stop. It was the only door with a nameplate:

Rear Admiral Michael West
Coordinator, Fleet Specialized Support Activities

An intelligence operator by training, Lewis had done a quick search on the office and the man whose name adorned the door during his trip into the city. The Starfleet Departmental Registry provided an innocuous description of the office as an interdisciplinary logistics unit. At first glance, the Rear Admiral at the helm was no more interesting, a man who’d taken the post five years ago and had absolutely no commendations or marks of interest to show for it. But, digging a bit deeper, Lewis found there was more to Michael West. He’d run psychological warfare operations, commonly referred to as psy-ops, during the Dominion War, and he’d commanded tactical wings during some of Starfleet’s conflicts at the start of the 2380’s. But then he’d returned to Earth and apparently disappeared into the trivialities of bureaucracy. To Lewis, this meant either he’d been shelved, much as the young Commander had, or he was in the thick of things that required more than a slight bit of discretion.

The ensign opened the door. Commander Lewis stepped through, and before he could even thank her, she’d slipped away, the door shutting swiftly behind him.

The office had a utilitarian feel to it. A giant floor-to-ceiling projection filled one wall, showing a map of the galaxy with the borders of Cardassian, Gorn, Klingon and Romulan space backlit in red. Opposite that wall, four traditional consoles flipped through more localized maps: the Canterra sector, the Raeyan Transit Corridor, the Triangle, the Inconnu Expanse, the Gavarian Corridor, and other places, all which Lewis recognized to be current hotbeds.

Between all this data, Rear Admiral West sat in a black leather-back chair behind a simple glass desk with three PADDs on it. In a pair of chairs facing him sat a Captain in intelligence gray, and a civilian in all black. A third chair, also facing him, sat unoccupied.

“Good afternoon Commander,” offered the Rear Admiral as he stood up and extended his hand. The other two followed suit. “May I introduce Captain Jason Mendoza, Starfleet Counterintelligence, and Mr. Leon Rice.”

As Commander Lewis shook their hands, his mind raced. What was all this about? What brought together a logistics Admiral, a counterintelligence Captain, and a civilian whose lack of a title did not go unnoticed.

“Sorry to draw you away from the backcountry,” apologized the Admiral. “I’ve read the Torngat range can be quite beautiful this time of year, even if none of us adventurers in this room would ever consider it, especially solo – but we have an opportunity for you.”

“In the past few decades,” began Mr. Rice, the civilian with no title, “Starfleet has faced a range of threats. The Dominion War, the Borg, the Omega Crisis, the C’hakilian Armistice Crisis, the Gorn Crises, and so many more. What if we could have stopped them before they happened?” Lewis quirked an eyebrow, curious to what he meant. “What if we’d collapsed the wormhole, released a biogenetic plague, moved to neutralize Omega sooner, influenced an alien political machine, or sabotaged a military-industrial machine?”

Lewis looked at the two Starfleet officers. Neither seemed phased by the fact that these ideas teetered on the edge of violating Starfleet regulations, Federation law, and interstellar treaties.

“During this timeframe, we’ve tripped over each other time and time again,” continued Rear Admiral West, the administrator. “Consider then the Marshal’s Office and Starfleet Security are chasing the same criminal and end up tainting each other’s evidence, or when Starfleet Command and the Marine Corps get in a tiff over jurisdiction that prevents a mission from launching until our colony worlds have already been sacked.”

Lewis nodded his assent. So far, he agreed with everything the men were saying. But that didn’t make the unconventional ops legal, nor the siloes easier to break down.

“And how about those threats we keep closer to the chest?” mused Captain Mendoza, the spook hunter. “The Temporal Cold War, the manipulation of our government by foreign powers, and, hell, even the manipulation of our own government from within.”

The candor had caught him off-guard. Was the civilian even cleared to know about the Temporal Cold War? And was the counterintel officer referring to specific conspiracies, like the one he, DeVoe and Tidwell had stumbled upon last year, or was he speaking in vagaries?

To all this, Commander Lewis kept his poker case, and offered a politically correct response, still unsure where this was headed. “These are the struggles we’re faced with as we uphold the ideals we serve.”

“Well gentlemen, sounds like we’ve got the wrong guy,” shrugged the Rear Admiral to his two colleagues, more than a hit of sarcasm in his overdrawn reaction. After a moment, he broke the third wall, the slightest twinkle in his eye: “But really Commander, what if we had an opportunity to change that?”

“Then I’d be all ears.”

Rear Admiral Wst slid a PADD across the desk. Commander Lewis picked it up and started skimming.

They called the concept the “Fourth Fleet Intelligence Support Activity”. He liked the name. Very boring and unassuming with bureaucratic buzzwords to really send it over the cliff of uselessness. The Starfleet Departmental Registry would describe it as an “interdisciplinary logistical support unit providing support where conventional platforms lacked the necessary personnel or expertise.” Perfectly fuzzy and trivial sounding.

As he drilled down into its proposed manifest, things really got interesting. It stripped away common operational personnel often found on Starfleet postings, or replaced them with dual role personnel, defining a slew of specialized teams and individuals. Augmenting tactical was a strategic operations focus usually only seen on starbases. Instead of a standard marine detachment, it had special ops unit of marine shooters and intelligence operators. Instead of botanists, hydroponics specialists, stellar cartographers, and counselors, it included specialists in exotic science, covert ops, psychological warfare, search and rescue, explosives, and alien technologies.

To allow it to reach wherever it would need to go, it would be based off the USS Bellona, an Insignia-class platform named after an ancient Roman goddess of war. As opposed to many of her sister ships, the modular space frame of this Insignia-class vessel would actually see real use through a series of modifications including expanded fighter bays, enhanced sensor equipment, advanced simulation facilities, a suite of interrogation cells, and more.

Then he hit the real kicker: they had listed him as the Commanding Officer.

“Why me?” asked Commander Lewis. “Last I heard, I was blacklisted from any command, even the Waste Reclamation Plant on Gemini IX.” It was no joke. After he’d gotten radio silence from all the applications to jobs he wanted, he’d applied to and been rejected from every open job in the Office of Personnel Management’s command-level database, even as the facility administrator for Gemini IX.

“Because you don’t always play by the rules,” answered Rear Admiral West. “And right now, we need someone willing to toe the line.”

“And because, if this goes belly up, your head is already on the chopping block,” joked Captain Mendoza, although Lewis wondered if there was a bit of truth in his statement, and if the Captain might even be the one to bring him down if so.

Before Lewis could entertain that cheery thought any further, Mr. Rice added: “Besides, enough time has passed that the press will have forgotten about you, and the unit is small enough you’ll mostly slide under the radar – we hope – unless you do something stupid.”

“And because I recommended you,” said a voice from the wall. Lewis turned to see they’d been joined by a newcomer to the conversation. One of the monitors was now filled by the face of Allison Reyes, who life seemed to have treated well of late given the fourth pip on her admiral’s collar.

“Ma’am?” Lewis asked, surprised by the turn of events.

“While you’ve been trudging through Bornean jungles and climbing Canadian peaks, things haven’t gotten better out here,” explained Reyes. “The borderlands are a mess from Bajor to Canterra. We need someone to think outside the box, someone to bend so we do not break. And, after the sword you fell on last time, I have no doubt you’ll do what needs to be done this time.”

The twists kept coming. The sword he fell on? Of course, Reyes knew the truth about Algorab, but the other three didn’t, or at least he didn’t think they did. The circle had been kept small on purpose, because the truth would be devastating. But now she spoke so open of it with these three. Clearly, more was at play, but figuring that angle would have to wait for another day.

“Why now? What finally brought HQ to approve such a harebrained idea with a persona non grata at the helm?”

“After the Gorn attacked, it took Starfleet and the Marine Corps a number of days to get their shit in order enough to organize a response,” explained Mr. Rice, “by which time, it was too late. The Gorn had entrenched their positions, and the cost of a counter-attack was too much for the Council to stomach. With the Cardassians now beating the war drum, their neighbors mobilizing their forces, the Klingons pushing their boundaries, and the Romulans lurking about in the shadows, the Council doesn’t want to be caught with their pants at their ankles again.”

“Ignoring Mr. Rice’s crude analogy,” Reyes continued, shooting him a look that made it clear Rice and Reyes had more of a past than this conversation had revealed, “he’s exactly correct. Central is desperate for anything to make us look like we’re not sitting on our hands. They took Lazarus, Darax and I and made us a Command Council for the Fourth Fleet, they ramped up our Task Force allotments, and, when they were looking for more boots-on-the-ground strategies, we took advantage of the mood. We brought the idea to the CinC, who instead of taking it to the Council just went all Article 7 on us and signed it on the spot, before classifying the real purpose and hiding it away with lock and key. I think the CinC wants something to show for it before letting anyone in on it.”

Lewis wasn’t happy about that last bit. “I don’t like the idea of being a political pawn.”

“Never would have been approved overwise, Commander,” said Captain Mendoza, shaking his head. “That’s the reality we live in. Look at it as an opportunity, not a burden.”

~ Idle Hands ~

Lieutenant Jennifer Matthews
USS Katana, Personal Quarters on Mission Day 1 at 1430 Hours

Personal Log, Supplemental. This is my sixteenth entry today. I think I finally got my replicator adjusted properly. For the first time since I’ve been aboard, the German chocolate cake it produces is actually delicious. I don’t need to remind you how much like cardboard the samples have been for the last three months. After all, you the logbook, have heard many tales of my war with the replicator. 

Jenni sighed, leaning against the bulkhead of her quarters with the small plate raised high in one hand and a messy fork in the other. Her shift ended hours ago, and like every day the last few months, she turned over command of Engineering to the Assistant Chief and retreated to her quarters. When she came aboard the ship a year ago, it was drydocked and two years behind in her refit cycle. Here you go, they told her. Make her fly again.

And make her fly again Jenni did. Except she’d performed her job all too well. Starfleet and the Katana’s captain were pleased, but for someone who loved to tinker, somehow Jenni ran out of things to do. The Intrepid class could only do so much with fifteen decks and a crew of a hundred and fifty. Being stuck on diplomatic ferry duty between the core worlds didn’t help either. The Katana kept her status as one of the best ferries in the fleet, and that was all thanks to her.

Jenni needed something to do. Her war with the replicator started because she missed her mother’s recipe for German chocolate cake. It was always handmade from scratch and memory, and her mother never got the chance to pass it along. She was killed when Jenni was a child thanks to a plant explosion on Earth’s moon. Though Jenni had inherited her mother’s violin, the one thing Jenni wanted above all was her own mother back.

That, of course, was never going to happen. Nor would she have any chance to find enjoyment aboard the Katana. No, that ship had sailed, quite literally. It was only a couple weeks ago that Jenni started looking for vacancies on other ships. She even considered broadening her search to include vacancies outside of the engine room. Jenni had applied to Starfleet R and D, through a connection she had back at the Academy and was waiting to hear back.

She sighed again just before taking a bite of the cake. No sooner did her fork leave her mouth did her desktop terminal chime. A message! “Computer, end log!” she shouted, taking her cake and rushing over to the desk. There it was, a new message indicator displayed prominently on the screen. Without hesitation, she opened it and began to read.

Lieutenant Matthews,

As of this date, the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, on behalf of the Fourth Fleet’s Task Force 72, extends to you an offer for the position of Chief Engineer within the Fourth Fleet’s Intelligence Support Activity. Stationed aboard the USS Bellona, the Intelligence Support Activity is an interdisciplinary unit tasked with pursuing unconventional strategies where traditional operating procedures may prove insufficient. Be forewarned that these strategies may not always sit well with the public or even your own values, but they are meant to protect our Federation in these most trying of times.

For more information, contact the Rear Admiral Michael West, Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, or Commander Jake Lewis, Commanding Officer, Intelligence Support Activity.

If you choose to accept this offer, notify the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities no later than seven (7) days from this date. Upon receipt of your acceptance, an official transfer notice will be delivered by Starfleet Operations to your commanding officer ordering you to report to the USS Bellona as soon as possible pending any ongoing operations that prevent an immediate transfer.

This communication, and all proceedings forthwith, are classified Compartmentalized Access Zeta-641, not for disclosure without written permission from the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, the Fourth Fleet Command Council or the Starfleet Chief of Staff.

“What is this?” she mumbled, reading the message a second and a third time. It certainly lacked detail, but buzzwords like Intelligence and Classified caught her attention immediately. Her hand instantly went to type a reply, but she paused right before hitting the button. If she took this leap, where would it take her? What would clandestine operations do to her career? Would it be beneficial or harmful in the long run?

She read the message a fourth time, wanting to make sure that this would be a leap taken not out of desperation for a different life, but for a new opportunity. A life worth living. Her eyes looked down at her hand, watching it try on its own power to hit the reply button. It wanted a new life just as much as its owner. Jenni smiled and nodded, letting her fingertips quickly type a confirmation to the message.

A moment later, her reply was sent. There was no turning back now.

Jenni leaned back in her chair and stuck another forkfull of cake in her mouth as she swung around the watch the stars. Yeah, this was going to be worth it.

~ Back in Some Wings ~

Lieutenant J.G. "Tully" Tullerson
Starbase 24 on Mission Day 1 at 1800 Hours

The turbolift doors closed and the lift went up at a seemingly supersonic speed. If Tully did not know any better, he could feel like he was being ejected right off the Starbase. But that was not the case. He had just returned from his father’s funeral and helped his mother set things in order. Starbase 24 had accepted him back temporarily, at least for the duration of finding his next posting. Otherwise, he was being reassigned and was on unpaid leave until then.

Three weeks and nothing had come through. The ace pilot had become frustrated and a bit hopeless until the call today came in from one of the visiting admirals. Tully arrived at the upper decks and entered the main offices down the hall. Starbase 24 Headquarters and Operations was wide open, and still quite familiar to him.

“Lieutenant, this way,” came the voice of his old superior officer. “I pulled a few strings on this one. You’d better not screw this one up. Commodore B’Rol will not take kindly to your normal… spirit.”

Tully shook his head, but then exhaled as they neared one of the offices. “Thanks, Jank. I owe you one.”

“Not really. If you get this job, you’ll be off our base and we can call it even.” The two got along like brothers – not well.

Tully nodded with a bit of a grin and then gave a salute. “Thank you, commander!” He received the return salute and headed into the office.

~

“You’re late.” The voice was gruff and low, as if the man chain smoked. Although that would not be very common in Starfleet brass.

“Commodore, I appreciate–” Tully then remembered protocol and came to attention where he stood. “Sir, Franklin Tullerson, Lieutenant Junior Grade, reporting for duty.”

The admiral snuffed out of his nose and picked up a padd. “We’ll see about duty. Siddown.” The man examined what could be assumed to be Tully’s dossier and records. The commodore sat in silence for a good five minutes going over things. He had probably already read them thoroughly and was trying to make Tully uncomfortable. It was working.

“Alright then, Franklin,” B’Rol finally said. “Under the recommendation of this base’s wing commander and a special office’s decision, you have been chosen. If you can clean up your act, a new ship is spinning up and needs a good lead pilot.”

Tully was seated by now and cocked his head at the words used. Was this finally a wing command position? That was intriguing, although there had to be a catch. “Thank you sir. I can certainly work on things for a chance at a good opportunity.”

“You have no choice, Tullerson,” said B’Rol curtly.

“Uh just Tully is fine.”

B’Rol paused and kept his gaze on the younger pilot. He continued, apparently ignoring Tully’s ask for using his nickname. “The posting is classified for now, although you will receive full details when you arrive. A Commander Jake Lewis is heading up a new project, Franklin, and he needs a pilot.”

Ok, so the man had indeed ignored his nickname… on purpose. A datapadd was handed to him with now-signed transfer orders. Tully grabbed it and looked at it. “Wait, I think I’ve heard of this man. I don’t remember why, but I don’t recall it being good news.”

Commodore B’Rol sat there staring.

Tully looked up and down at the padd a couple times. “Oh, but um, I’m sure it will be fine.”

B’Rol finally broke his stern face. “Yes, it will be. Clean it up, fly straight. Pun intended.”

Tully wanted to laugh but restrained himself. He stood and came to a salute once more. “Thank you sir, I will do my best.” He was kissing bum at this point, just elated to have a new assignment.

“At ease.” The commodore returned a loose salute and looked down at another padd. “You leave in an hour. Good day.”

Tully eased his straight body and looked around the room. The door opened and the larger operations space could be seen again. That must have been his cue. And he was not going to try to speak with the admiral again – he’d probably make things worse. It seemed like B’Rol would have rather sent Tully out of the airlock than send him to a new posting. He quickly glanced at the orders before he departed.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Franklin Tullerson:

As of this date, the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, on behalf of the Fourth Fleet’s Task Force 72, extends to you an offer for the position of Wing Commander within the Fourth Fleet’s Intelligence Support Activity. Stationed aboard the USS Bellona, the Intelligence Support Activity is an interdisciplinary unit tasked with pursuing unconventional strategies where traditional operating procedures may prove insufficient. Be forewarned that these strategies may not always sit well with the public or even your own values, but they are meant to protect our Federation in these most trying of times.

For more information, contact the Rear Admiral Michael West, Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, or Commander Jake Lewis, Commanding Officer, Intelligence Support Activity.

Upon your acceptance, an official transfer notice has been delivered by Starfleet Operations to your commanding officer ordering you to report to the USS Bellona as soon as possible pending any ongoing operations that prevent an immediate transfer.

This communication, and all proceedings forthwith, are classified Compartmentalized Access Zeta-641, not for disclosure without written permission from the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, the Fourth Fleet Command Council or the Starfleet Chief of Staff.

Tully simply turned, walked out, and headed back to his small quarters to pack his things. Game on!

~ Let Me Tell You about Harship ~

Lieutenant Commander Tom Brooks and Captain Marc Durand
Starfleet R&D, Mars Station on Mission Day 1 at 2250 Hours

“Hardship?! Let me tell you about hardship! It’s these idiots. The Alcubierre metric doesn’t have a random arbitrary limit!” shouted Lieutenant Brooks.

“Tom, four pilots are dead…”

“If you could just get me a team that knew the difference between the Casmir vacuum and the vacuum they should be pushing around my quarters…” he continued before coming to reality. “Wait, they’re dead?!”

Captain Durand put his head in his hands. Lieutenant Thomas Duncan Brooks, Ph.D., might have been one of the brightest minds to come out of Daystrom in a generation, but sometimes he could be a real idiot. “Do you see the test ship in our hangar?” he asked rhetorically. It’s not as if Brooks hadn’t been monitoring the attempted transwarp hop from the lab. How had he not put together than a ship vanished in subspace meant a dead crew? “Yes Tom, they’re dead. These mistakes have consequences… real consequences. It’s not just numbers in a lab. I’ve got four fine officers whose families I have to write and explain why their sons and daughters won’t be coming home.”

But Brooks wasn’t having any of it. “Don’t put that me Captain. I told you this team didn’t have what it takes, and I told you I needed more resources.” Ever since Manheim, it had been a downward spiral. First, he got the pinnacle of his research efforts taken away for a crime he had not yet committed. Then they shipped him off to a supposed science vessel filled with nothing more than pop-sci fans. And now four years of this, attempt after attempt to crack transwarp, every one less successful than the last. At least on the Discovery those supposed scientists had tried to expand their minds and embrace new concepts. Here, he was hand-tied by bureaucracy and surrounded by washed out theorists who couldn’t get a better job elsewhere.

Captain Durand could tell the conversation wasn’t going anywhere. Once Dr. Brooks started down a path, you either had to cut him off or ride it out, which could take hours. Tonight, with four dead test pilots on his watch, he had no patience for it. Before the Lieutenant could open his mouth again, the Captain ended the conversation: “Go home Tom. There’s nothing more to talk about tonight. We’ll pick this up in the morning – and in a more constructive way I hope.”

Brooks opened his mouth, as if to protest, but then he closed it again. Even he could tell that now was not the time. Without another word, the forty two year old physicist rose from his chair, grabbed his PADD and took his leave.

As he walked down the corridor, his mind started racing again. What had gone wrong? Why did the subspace manifold destabilize? It wasn’t because of an arbitrary limit, that much he was sure. Effects had causes, and he just needed to figure out what this cause was. But was it even worth it? He loved the mystery of science, but every step of the way these last few years, he felt like a mule with the carrot just out of reach.

Right then, his PADD went off. A new memo had just arrived. Had the Captain changed his mind? No, this memo was from the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities. Who were they? Sounded awful bureaucratic. He almost discarded it but curiosity got the better.

Lieutenant Thomas D. Brooks, Ph.D:

As of this date, the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, on behalf of the Fourth Fleet’s Task Force 72, extends to you an offer for the position of Temporal & Exotic Sciences Team Lead within the Fourth Fleet’s Intelligence Support Activity. Stationed aboard the USS Bellona, the Intelligence Support Activity is an interdisciplinary unit tasked with pursuing unconventional strategies where traditional operating procedures may prove insufficient. Be forewarned that these strategies may not always sit well with the public or even your own values, but they are meant to protect our Federation in these most trying of times.

For more information, contact the Rear Admiral Michael West, Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, or Commander Jake Lewis, Commanding Officer, Intelligence Support Activity.

If you choose to accept this offer, notify the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities no later than seven (7) days from this date. Upon receipt of your acceptance, an official transfer notice will be delivered by Starfleet Operations to your commanding officer ordering you to report to the USS Bellona as soon as possible pending any ongoing operations that prevent an immediate transfer.

This communication, and all proceedings forthwith, are classified Compartmentalized Access Zeta-641, not for disclosure without written permission from the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, the Fourth Fleet Command Council or the Starfleet Chief of Staff.

Now, simple curiosity had turned into a slate of questions. First off, what was the Intelligence Support Activity? Secondly, why, after seven years seemingly blacklisted from anything with the word “temporal” in it, was he now getting an offer to lead a team in exactly that subject area? Thirdly, what did they mean by unconventional strategies? The ambiguous wording of the letter, the way it was written as an offer instead of orders, the statement about strategies that might not sit well with the public, all of it left far more questions than it answered.

Lieutenant Brooks wasn’t someone to make a decision without all the data. He had a call to make.

~ A Second Chance or Delayed Sentencing? ~

Master Sergeant Alex Ryan
Spragus Colony on Mission Day 1 at 2335 Hours

Six months ago, Alex had stood only a few blocks from where he was currently biding his time, stood there and been judged for a crime he hadn’t committed. He knew he was innocent, but the Commanding Officer of all Starfleet and Marine Corps personnel assigned to Spragus had been ready to have him killed by firing squad, or some other suitable way to execute convicted murderers. It seemed however that the Fates were watching out for him that day. The jury had found him not guilty of the murder of the colony’s Marine Detachment CO. The evidence, though overwhelming in amount, was all circumstantial, and despite the prosecutions best efforts, it hadn’t been enough to persuade the jury he’d done it. So while he’d been found not guilty, the damage to his career and reputation were done. He was blacklisted. No available assignments to transfer him to and get him off Spragus. So instead the CO opted to put him on an Extended Leave of Absence and told him to get off the colony and not come back.

Well in that regard, he was disobeying a direct order from a superior officer. He’d returned to Spragus and he had a reason for being here. After kicking himself around the galaxy for a couple weeks feeling sorry for himself for being in the position he was in, Alex got mad. Someone had killed the MCO, a man Alex liked well enough, though they’d butted heads more than once, and then set him up to take the fall for it. Someone had framed him for murder and damn near had gotten away with it too. So that night, Alex had hacked into the comms of a rather shady looking freighter docked at the station he was on and reached out to the contacts who would still talk to him and started looking to find out who had set him up.

Whoever had set him up was good, they hid their tracks well. It was along five months of hunting down leads, questioning them, scratching them off the list, sometimes permanently, and moving on to the next lead. Five months of living off the grid. He’d modified his commbadge to not emit a tracer signal. He’d made a withdrawal of credits before he left Spragus and took jobs on shifty freighters that didn’t ask questions to move from place to place. Dropping off the grid was easy if you knew what to do and where to look for alternative modes of transportation.

He’d been on Spragus for almost a week now, and he’d been pleased to find out that the gaps in security he’d found during his time here hadn’t all been fixed. His job had been to identify security lapses, and he’d been very good at his job. Using that knowledge, he had set his plan in motion. Glancing at his watch he smiled to himself.  It was time for him to get going before the fireworks started. He’d found out who set him up and why. Now he’d arranged to tie up that loose end. The CO had gotten into a fight with the Marine CO and it had ended badly. Alex had had a rather loud disagreement with his boss earlier in the day and more than a few people had seen it. It was one piece of evidence used in his trial.

A little reprogramming of the CO’s replicator added a little something extra to whatever drink he ordered that night to ensure he’d be sleeping in that night rather than prowling around looking for something extracurricular. Of course a little extra sleeping juice would put him out for good. That wasn’t quite certain enough for Alex and the small present he’d left under the bed would take care of it all. And the timer was about to go off. He chuckled as he finished his drink and removed a Padd from his pack.

Master Sergeant Alexander Ryan:

As of this date, the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, on behalf of the Fourth Fleet’s Task Force 72, extends to you an offer for the position of Delta Team Leader within the Fourth Fleet’s Intelligence Support Activity. Stationed aboard the USS Bellona, the Intelligence Support Activity is an interdisciplinary unit tasked with pursuing unconventional strategies where traditional operating procedures may prove insufficient. Be forewarned that these strategies may not always sit well with the public or even your own values, but they are meant to protect our Federation in these most trying of times.

For more information, contact the Rear Admiral Michael West, Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, or Commander Jake Lewis, Commanding Officer, Intelligence Support Activity.

If you choose to accept this offer, notify the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities no later than seven (7) days from this date. Upon receipt of your acceptance, an official transfer notice will be delivered by Starfleet Operations to your commanding officer ordering you to report to the USS Bellona as soon as possible pending any ongoing operations that prevent an immediate transfer.

This communication, and all proceedings forthwith, are classified Compartmentalized Access Zeta-641, not for disclosure without written permission from the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, the Fourth Fleet Command Council or the Starfleet Chief of Staff.

Alex was putting his thumbprint to his acceptance letter when an explosion rocked the area. Following the crowd, Alex left the seedy bar to see what was going on. While the crowd continued down the block, Alex took an alley headed away from the area. He had a new ride to catch and justice… well justice had been served to the correct person.

~ An Unexpected Message ~

and Commander Jake Lewis
on Mission Day 2 at 0610 Hours

LTC Nicole Johnson:

As of this date, the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, on behalf of the Fourth Fleet’s Task Force 72, extends to you an offer for the positions of Executive Officer and Ecological & Cultural Analysis Unit Team Lead within the Fourth Fleet’s Intelligence Support Activity. Stationed aboard the USS Bellona, the Intelligence Support Activity is an interdisciplinary unit tasked with pursuing unconventional strategies where traditional operating procedures may prove insufficient. Be forewarned that these strategies may not always sit well with the public or even your own values, but they are meant to protect our Federation in these most trying of times.

For more information, contact the Rear Admiral Michael West, Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, or Commander Jake Lewis, Commanding Officer, Intelligence Support Activity.

If you choose to accept this offer, notify the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities no later than seven (7) days from this date. Upon receipt of your acceptance, an official transfer notice will be delivered by Starfleet Operations to your commanding officer ordering you to report to the USS Bellona as soon as possible pending any ongoing operations that prevent an immediate transfer.

This communication, and all proceedings forthwith, are classified Compartmentalized Access Zeta-641, not for disclosure without written permission from the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, the Fourth Fleet Command Council or the Starfleet Chief of Staff.

Nikki sat in her office staring at the message for a good ten minutes before she took a sip of the hot tea sitting on the desk alongside her keyboard.  Who to call? The Admiral or the Commander? She knew that she recognized the name of the CO of the Intelligence Support Activity. It had come up often at her current assignment. She had thought that the man had been blackballed and that his career was done with.  As she thought more and more about it, the choice became evident.

“Get me Commander Jake Lewis, the Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Support Activity,” Nikki ordered her assistant who was sitting outside her office.

In the other room, the assistant pulled up the Starfleet personnel registry, located Commander Lewis having already transferred to the Bellona, and dialed up the Bellona. But, instead of the Commander, she got a perky Operations officer who reported the Command.

For a minute, and then five more, the seal of the United Federation of Planets sat motionless on the screen. The only hint the link was even established was small spinner in the corner of the screen. As Nikki sat wondering if she might need to just call the Admiral instead, the seal finally faded. In its place appeared a haggard man with tan, weathered skin and a rough complexion, dressed in tactical BDUs with beads of sweat running down his face, standing in a dark room framed by industrial pylons that hardly looked like they belonged on a Starfleet vessel.

“Forgive me Colonel,” he began with heavy breath, “but I was just testing out our new training facilities.” For the last hour, they’d delivered a solid workout and a much needed reprieve from the administrivia that had afflicted him ever since he’d accepted the new assignment from Admiral West. Now that reprieve had been cut short, but, he reminded himself, these people were hand-picked, they were good, and he needed them. So he shrugged off those inner frustrations and smiled. “How can I help you this fine morning?”

“It seems that I have an offer to be your Executive Officer,” she said, flatly.  “I was hoping you’d share more. I wasn’t exactly expecting a new assignment anytime soon let alone one that I had a choice of taking or not,” she said, as she leaned back in her chair.

“Ah yes, that little offer thing,” he chuckled, as if somehow he didn’t already know that was the reason for her call. “You have a unique skill set – a marine, so you can shoot, but a humint analyst, so you can think, and some command experience to boot – but what we’ll be asking of you isn’t the standard sort of job, so it’s only yours if you want it.” He paused for a moment to let that bit sink in. “Essentially, in these trying times, Fleet Command is desperate for wins – desperate enough to get a bit unconventional – and hence the Activity was borne. Our job is to abandon idealism in order to save those very ideals, and we must do so quietly without drawing attention because our choices will not always be understood or appreciated by the general public.”

“Like your last job?” she mused.

Lewis knew she didn’t mean the last half year on Earth, nor his little stint on Faltan Station. She, like many others, likely knew of him as the commanding officer implicated who supposedly assassinated a Romulan senator on Algorab and set Federation-Romulan relations back two decades. Of course, he didn’t do it, but for the sake of two governments, he fell on his sword.”I’d say we probably need to do a slightly better job than I did back on the Enigma,” he chuckled, apparently unfazed. “But yes, like you, I have a special skill set Starfleet looks to utilize, as do most of the crew selected for the Activity.” The truth would go with him to his grave, but her simple question here made clear he’d be ducking around this topic for a while.

“I’m intrigued,” she said, honestly.  “Though I know I won’t be able to find out more unless I accept the assignment so I suppose I’ll have to say yes. This desk job is getting boring.” That wasn’t completely true but she did feel she owed it to her former shipmates to stay in the field and do the work they would sign up for.

“Colonel, I’m not going to beat around the bush with you here. You’re a loyalist, and you’ve been through the shit. By contacting me, you’ve also agreed to the fact anything you hear is compartmentalized – whether or not you take the assignment – so let me shoot straight with you,” responded Commander Lewis, his speech fast, his eyes intense. “What if we’d collapsed the Bajoran wormhole in 2371? Or if we’d sabotaged the C’hakilian political machine so they couldn’t grow to oppose us, counter-attacked the Gorn before they could dig in without waiting for Fleet ops to get its head out of its ass, or struck back against those attempting to manipulate our timeline? A hell of a lot of pain and suffering could have been avoided. Our purpose is to do just that, to think outside of the box, to embrace pragmatism to defend idealism. You’ve done that ever since you took on the name Nicole Johnson,” he continued, making it clear he knew her backstory, as hidden as they’d tried to make it, “and now I ask you if you’d like to continue at it.”

“I do,” she said, more to herself then him. “I’ll take the job.”

“Well then, guess that’s settled,” Lewis said with a smile. Everything he’d read about Lieutenant Colonel Johnson made him feel they could be a good pair, and with her eager response, he was even more confident in that belief. “How soon can you get here?”

“I’m going to need a day or two to wrap things up at my current assignment and then travel time. When I have those details I’ll let you know?” she said, she was sitting forward again and through the camera, it appeared as if she were looking for her PADD. She needed to make a list of things for her handover of her unit to her successor, one she now needed to pick.

“I’ll get back to you sometime this evening sir, if not sooner. Johnson out.” Nikki said a neutral expression on her face as she seemingly remembered he was on the line and she looked up at him.

~ Small Wings Are Still Wings ~

Commander Jake Lewis and Lieutenant J.G. "Tully" Tullerson
USS Bellona on Mission Day 2 at 0940 Hours

The Bellona was a site for sore eyes. Tully had not seen such a ship in quite some time. They mostly had a mix of Galaxy, Sovereign, Akira, Nova, Nebula and Defiant class ships mucking through  Starbase 24. The Insignia’s sharp lines and smooth curves were a breath of fresh air.

On the inside was no different. She was a fine craft indeed. Now a lot of her had been gutted and replaced with more functional and tactical fittings for this new ISA unit, but it was still impressive and inspiring to Tully. Not that he would cut a tear over it but instead crack sarcastic jokes to those around him.

The pilot wanted to go elsewhere – shuttle bay or his new office on Deck 11. He wanted to go see if other pilots had arrived, and check on the 10 fighters they had supposedly received. But, Tully had to be on good behavior. This may well be his last chance in Starfleet, and he had to be on his best.

The junior lieutenant arrived up on Deck 1 and entered the bridge. It was the first time in a while he did not have to be escorted – senior staff had its perks, even if small. He did not see the commander around anywhere or anyone with high ranking pips. He had his gear on, full black and grey flight duty uniform and his pips, and yet none of the crewmen saluted. “Mr. Tullerson here to see the captain?”

“Oh,” an enlisted woman came over, about half his age, and grinned nervously as she came to attention. “Sorry, sir. Welcome aboard. I will check for Commander Lewis, sir.”

“Thank you.” Tully knew the commander was up on Deck 1, either in his ready room or perhaps in the small lounge here. He liked finding some of these things by talking to people instead of computers.

A moment later, Commander Lewis emerged from his Ready Room. Usually, a Commanding Officer in the midst of paperwork would take a few minutes to finish what they were working on and then summon the new arrival to their office, but Lewis didn’t even bother finishing the sentence he was reading. Hearing he had an excuse to abandon the administrivia, he chucked the PADD onto his desk, rose from his chair and headed for the bridge.

Lewis stepped through the threshold with his usual brisk pace, heading straight for the new arrival. The crewman had left out the new arrival’s name, but wavy blonde hair, short but a bit unkempt, dressed in a flight suit with a look more suited for the flight deck than the command deck, Lewis recognized him at once. “Lieutenant Tullerson,” said Commander Lewis as he extended his hand. “Welcome aboard.”

“Commander,” responded Tully as he had come to attention quickly before the man made it up to him. Then he saw the hand and eased a bit, accepting and shaking. “Thank you,” he replied a bit more casually.

The pilot paused as their hands disengaged and he remained at ease. He was not about to stand all rigid if he didn’t have to. “I’ve been waiting to see our little birds, but you know protocol and everything.” Tully motioned his hand at the commander indicting it was the reporting for duty he meant.

“You’ll find, Lieutenant, that protocol isn’t really my thing,” replied Lewis. “What matters to me is results. Much like this ship. A hundred less crew, all the nice little amenities stripped out, an interdisciplinary unit of Starfleet, the Marines and even Federation civilians, many in less than great standing because they’re more pragmatic than idealistic, all for one very specific purpose: to deliver results.”

Tully nodded, a slight grin coming to his face. This might be just what he needed.

“Speaking of the fact we’ve got a hundred less crew, and a specialized unit to boot, I noted in your assignment that you’re only listed as our wing commander,” Lewis continued, not one to wait long on frivolities. “When you’re not flying, what makes you tick? We’re all going to be doing double duty here, so where do you see yourself off the flight deck?”

“Well,” answered the lieutenant. “Coming from Starbase 24, I was almost always flying or helping out in flight control. We had to pull a certain amount of desk duty in a week, as well as tug piloting. It wasn’t the most exciting, but it kept us busy and kept things fresh.”

Tully cocked his head and squinted as if to search back in his memory banks. “I am trained in advanced law enforcement from my days before the Academy, and I am also skilled and certified to fly this boat. Just don’t have me repairing shuttles all day… I had to do that after a few reprimands on 24 and I– let’s just say I’d rather clean the latrines.” Tully chortled a bit, returning his gaze on the commander.

“Not unless you go off too the reservation,” Lewis chuckled as a joke, although there was also a bit of sincerity in it. He’d read Tully’s dossier and knew his history. “We’ve got more than enough shooters to fill security, and many of them would probably just put the throttle to full if I put them at the conn, so I think we can get you some time up front.” He glanced at the conn, which sat dormant given their position still locked in space dock. It’d not even been 24 hours yet and he already longed to just get this thing underway.

Tully, while not the most compassionate or empathetic of officers, could sense a bit of what Lewis might be feeling. “Sir, I’d be glad to help.” Flying this new vessel would be quite a bit of fun for sure. “While I prefer the freedom of a good Valkyrie under my control, there is something to be said for cruising and manning that station.”

Tullerson paused and then chimed back in. “Do we have a time estimate on departure?” he asked, returning to that feeling that was hitting them both now. “I’d like to check-in at our hangar bay but I could be back up here as needed.” This was the most courteous or proper he had been in a long while.

“Not yet Lieutenant,” Lewis said, looking out the forward viewport, longing to see stars whirring by it. “But soon, if I have anything to say about it.” He paused for just a moment, sensing the impatience in his counterpart. “Now, I’m sure you’ve got a million things to be doing down on the flight deck, so why don’t I let you get to it.” And let these damn formalities be over with, he thought to himself. He had work to do. They all did.

Tully nodded as the captain spoke and then almost came to a salute at full attention. He recalled the more lax environment Lewis preferred. He straightened up and gave a more firm nod. “Aye, there is plenty to do.” And he took the dismissal and made his way down to the hangar bays. He had an office area to look into and plenty of craft that should have been loaded by now. They all needed checking in at this point.

~ Back in Action ~

Lieutenant Commander Jeanne Lacroix and Commander Jake Lewis
Captains' Ready Room, USS Bellona on Mission Day 2 at 1500 Hours

The past few months had definitely been ‘interesting’. Despite in the end carrying out her true orders, the politics concerning the matter had culminated in the position she was in right now. While many would have considered a demotion horrible, the reality was that Jeanne never liked command much, and she longed for the days when she was back out in the field leading a team. The reduced paperwork definitely wouldn’t be a punishment. Nevertheless, she did feel somewhat nostalgic when she walked onto the bridge and saw the Command chair. Ignoring the feeling, she walked to the door of the Captain’s ready room and pressed the chime. She didn’t know too much about the man, except that he had apparently been similarly shafted by the system in the past.

“Enter,” said a voice over the intercom as the doors slid open. The room that greeted Lieutenant Commander Lecroix as she stepped through was a spartan one. To left sat a desk, one high back chair behind it, and two short back chairs in front of it. To the right, three monitors arranged as a tryptych across the length of the wall, and a small couch and coffee table hugging the back corner of the room. No awards, medals, family photos or artsy landscapes to be found. The only personal touch was a Type 3 phaser rifle discretely mounted near the floor behind the high back chair.

At the desk, Commander Lewis was setting down a PADD and rising to his feet. “Lieutenant Commander Lacroix, I presume,” he said, extending his hand across the desk.

Jeanne nodded at the man as she walked closer. “Reporting as ordered, sir.” She had given the room a look and could respect a Commander who opted to keep things simple. The grandness of some ready rooms felt kind of useless to here. They were places of work after all.

Why did Starfleet regulations always require senior officers to check in when they arrived? He’d seen her listed as arrived on the manifest, and he’d contact her when he needed, but alas this was one of the many formalities Starfleet seemed to think necessary so he played along with it. “And very punctually, might I add. How was the trip over?” As he spoke, he gave Lacroix a quick once over. Fifty years old, she looked maybe half that, basically the only blessing of the lost people. She had a generally petite look to her, but a tightness in her core and a sharp analytical gaze gave away her tactical background.

“Well, I do think anyone would have jumped at the chance to get away from the Starfleet Command facilities,” Jeanne replied, exhausted of having to explain her actions to admirals who thought they knew better about what Starfleet needed out there on the frontlines. “The trip over was okay though.”

“I can empathize with that,” Lewis chuckled. “Was never much a bureaucrat myself.” If he had been, maybe he would have dodged a tricky situation here or there, but he never would have been able to serve the Federation as he did. “May I offer you a seat,” he continued, gesturing for the pair of chairs opposite his own but waiting for her to accept before he took his again.

“Thank you,” Jeanne replied, as she sat down. Lewis then took his seat. He wasn’t one for protocol, but he was one for respect, and while an old world respect sort of thing, he still followed it, even if only subconsciously. “Oh, I couldn’t deal with bureaucracy for even one day. I was more there for the legal side of Starfleet protocol,” she continued.

“Hmmm, I see.” Commander Lewis didn’t exactly understand what Lacroix meant. From what her dossier revealed, even with some specifics missing as was common in clandestine operations, she didn’t exactly strike him as a legal expert. That said, Lacroix was going to be one of his chief boots on the ground, so it was important to understand where she was coming from. After a brief pause, he decided to take the conversation in that direction. “So Lieutenant, you’ve had quite a diverse set of experiences in Starfleet over your career. I get that you’d leap at the opportunity to get back in the field, but I can’t imagine that’s all. There are certainly other options open to you, so why this one?” Either he wasn’t aware of her recent issues with Starfleet Command, or he chose to ignore them in order to learn more about her.

Jeanne nodded. “As you will have noticed, I was recently demoted and removed from my own command. While the specifics remain classified, they boil down to different interpretations of the Federation Charter. When the choice was between going back to the field or being pushed into the regular fleet, that was an easy one to make. I have enjoyed my time on the front lines the most and I look forward to going back to it.”

“Ah yes, that pesky document,” Lewis grinned. “Had a couple of my own run-ins with it. Who was it that thought it kind to bail you out of whatever hole they were trying to stuff you in?” He didn’t like the fact she’d had a command of her own. It made him wonder if, when push came to shove, she might question his authority, but he’d deal with that if and when it happened. Still, he made a mental note just in case.

“My previous CO in the Special Intervention Division, sir. He still had a few favours in the right departments to keep me out of New Zealand,” Jeanne said. As the conversation proceeded, she started to feel more comfortable. It was becoming increasingly clear that the Captain would not be a pushover and did in fact have what it takes to keep the Federation safe.

“I think you can drop the sir’s, Lieutenant,” Lewis replied. “In the amount of time it takes you to say it, I can draw and double tap your forehead.” As soon as he said it, he realized that maybe that was a bit extreme – you know, talking about killing a crew member and all – but damn he hated that sort of extra protocol except when he was explicitly giving an order. “But no double taps today, nor thankfully New Zealand for either of us – even if I swear half the Algorab Commission though that was being merciful for me,” he added with a smile, trying to lighten things a bit. “It was impinged upon me when I met with Fleet Specialized Support Activities that, while we’re being given a wide bearth here, we need to be careful not to overstep or New Zealand could be in our future. I don’t get the feeling, if we do overstep, that they’ll hesitate to throw us under the bus.” His statement was part general musing and part an explicit statement towards his TACOPS Echo Team Lead that, if they went killing willy-nilly, they might not get out scot-free.

“I’m not sure I would let you get that far,” she responded jokingly to the double tap. Her demeanor reverted to a more serious one shortly after the topic proceeded to what they were permitted to do in the future. “I can say that as far as Echo is concerned, we will go as far as you let us go.”

“Lacroix, to be fair, it won’t always be my call,” Lewis said, using her last name to emphasize his minimization of rank and formality. “At times, you’ll have to make that call on your own, independently, without command support, because breaking comm silence or wasting those precious seconds may spell disaster,” he cautioned. “That’s a core part of why you were selected to run Echo. I just want to make sure that we’re on the same page that there’s no safety net here. Any of us fuck up, and we’ll be lucky for New Zealand.”

Jeanne nodded. “I understand that. While I cannot say with absolute certainty that the white knights in Command will always agree with my decisions, I can promise that every decision I make will be one I stand behind fully.”

“As long as you make your decisions ultimately with the best interest of the Federation in mind, and maintain some discretion, you’ll have my support,” Lewis offered.Unfortunately, he was a sort of persona non grata himself, so he wasn’t sure quite how far that went. “Any questions you have for me?”

Jeanne shook her head. “Beyond, when we are leaving, not at this moment.”

“Why is it everyone asks me that question?” chuckled Commander Lewis. “Guess it’s a good thing. We may look like a collection of misfits, but one thing we’ve got going for us is that it seems we’re also a ship of do-ers.” That was something he liked a lot about this posting. Now, if only they could get to the act of actually doing. “Wish I had an answer for you. At least a few days from now, it looks like. Best I can say is get with your team, check out the facilities, and get training.”

Jeanne nodded. “Sounds good, and I will definitely do that”

“If that’s all, then there’s one last order of business: with a hundred less crew than usual, but more equipment than usual, we’re all going to be pulling double duty here. On your transfer orders though you’ve only got one assignment. When you’re not shooting stuff, or preparing to shoot stuff, where would you like to be slotted as a secondary assignment?”

“Shooting our own people sounds like a good spot,” she said jokingly. “Security would seem the most fitting though.”

“Then I wish you luck keeping them in line,” Lewis smiled. He marked Lacroix down on a PADD as assigned as a Security Officer as her secondary assignment. “If there’s nothing else, your access codes have been transferred and you should be all good to go. Some of your team has already arrived, and the rest should be here in the next few days. I may also ask you to take on what’s arrived of Delta thus far. Sergeant Ryan, your counterpart over there, is at least eight days out still.”

“Sounds good, and thank you” She said before standing up and walking out of the Ready Room again, from there she’d proceed to her quarters first to settle in.

~ Tied Hands Untied ~

Lieutenant Lisa Hall and Master Sergeant Alex Ryan
Observation Deck, F.M.O. Wanderer on Mission Day 4 at 0300 Hours

The deck listing described the room as the observation deck, but it was really little more than an industrial compartment with a window looking out over the bow. Still, it had the best view on the small maritime transport. A couple with a nursing infant sat by the window. Near the door, a trio of traders stood talking in hushed tones, occasionally glancing towards the window. And in a shadowed corner, Lieutenant Hall leaned up against a pylon, peering out at the planet below and lost in contemplation.

“Last call for Spragus Colony,” rang the ship-wide intercom. Spragus Colony. Hall remembered it from the star charts, but that was about it. Nothing notable. Just like this ship. Nothing notable in any way. But it was the most direct passage back to the Alpha Quadrant. For the past two years, she’d been out here, first on Deep Space 6 in orbit of Qualor III and then on assignment aboard the USS Atlas patrolling the Raeyan Transit Corridor. She was looking forward to a change of scenery. So too was she looking forward to the opportunity to “take the gloves off”, as the Activity’s Commanding Officer, Commander Jake Lewis, had promised her when she inquired about the strange new assignment three days ago.

Commander Lewis. That was a name she knew. Between the news reports of the interstellar catastrophe and the political witch hunt afterwards, it would be hard not to. Someone on his crew killed a Romulan Senator, and they got caught red-handed – or at least that’s how the story went. Hall wasn’t so sure. If he went off the reservation, why would they give him a command again? If he didn’t, why did they throw him under a bus? Her guess was he took the fall for something. From what she’d seen on the vids and from the way he talked during their first call, it fit. He seemed the martyr type. She wasn’t sure she liked that completely. She’d rather not get killed for someone else’s righteous cause. That said, ever since she’d taken the job with Starfleet proper, they’d tied her hands. She missed manipulating foreign powers, like when they helped facilitate the collapse of the Krazzle Empire, and cracking the supposedly uncrackable, like pumping that wretched Klingon captain full of drugs and breaking him completely during the Omega Crisis. This was the first time she’d been told the gloves could come off again, and she wouldn’t pass that up.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the observation deck’s doors sliding open. The man who stepped through the door wasn’t like the others she’d seen on the ship. He wasn’t overly built, but his muscles were tight, his eyes cold, and his movements precise. Dressed in civilian clothes but definitely military.

Alex had his one bag slung over his shoulder. This was about as nondescript as travel could get, but it beat most of the rides he’d had to take the last five months. However that was behind him now and justice had been dealt. His career might be over, but he still had his moral obligations. One of which had gone up in a clap of thunder and a cloud of flames and smoke. One way or another people got what was coming to them, and often he was the instrument of that so called karma. He shook his head as he looked around the room. Small, cramped, and industrial. He found a place against the bulkhead and dropped his bag at his feet. He still wasn’t sure if this was a second chance or if this was his death sentence.

“Spragus seems an odd place for a shooter,” Hall mused towards the new arrival. There were three other dark unoccupied corners in the room, but he had to choose this one. He probably couldn’t help it though. Men fitting his profile always did.

“Officially, I’m a nobody. Persona non grata.” Alex replied. He kept his back to the wall and from his position could see almost the entire room. This ensured that no one was going to be sneaking up on him. “Murder charges tend to do that to one’s career. What brings a counselor into this band of dead men is what I want to know.”

Being a nobody didn’t bother her. Neither did murder, neither the charges nor the reality. But, at the mention of being a counselor, her eyes narrowed on him. Dressed in black civvies with no bags or identifying markings on her, he had no right to know who she was. Not unless he’d already seen her dossier. “Counselor hmmm? That’s a nice way of putting it. You still didn’t answer my question though.”

“That was a question huh?” Alex smirked. “Long term intel type. I specialize in infiltration and counter intelligence. They had me here, originally, testing installation security and identifying weak points. So, since we’ve obviously already read each other’s files, maybe we can cut the opening remarks.”

Inwardly, Dr. Hall was amused that the shooter assumed she had seen his file. She hadn’t. But what she seen was a hundred men just like him, each one thinking their issues were so grand and that somehow she’d be a sympathetic shoulder for them. Maybe it was that she was a counselor, or maybe it was that she was a woman of eligible age, but in reality, they were way off-base. Nonetheless, as that counselor and as that woman, she’d play the part for now. “You’re right,” she said, a warm smile overtaking her expression as she loosened her shoulders and extended her hand. “Lieutenant Lisa Hall, counselor for our boat of misfits.”

“Master Sergeant Alex Ryan. One of the tactical team leaders.” He said and shook her hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said still warmly, but then her demeanor darkened a bit. “As for what brings me here, well, someone’s gotta watch out for y’all, right? Can’t have the band of shooters they’ve put together here go all looney on us.” Of course, that was a half truth at best, but Dr. Hall wasn’t one to spill her real motives to a man she just met. “What about you?”

“Been on a leave of absence.” Alex shrugged. “Didn’t have much else in the way of offers lately. It’s gotta be better than bumming around the galaxy.”

“I see,” Hall replied, wondering if the ambivalence was one of boredom or a hidden defense mechanism. “Do anything interesting with your time away?”

“Not especially.” Alex shrugged indifferently. “Just wrapped up some loose ends really. Did some bumming around, a little survival training, some camping. I figured this sort of assignment might not leave much time for personal matters, so I wanted to finish some old business on Spragus before we deployed.”

“No, I suppose there won’t be much time for personal matters,” Hall replied. In the back of her mind, she made a mental note to check up on Spragus later. Might be nothing, but just the way he danced around specifics, she wondered if there was something more significant about it than just a tourist stop. These shooters weren’t usually the tourist type, and it was the job of a counselor to notice little inconsistencies like that. “It sounds like we’ll all be pulling a bit of double duty. They hooked me with the PSYOPS lead position but then they told me I have to babysit you all too.” In a counseling session, she’d be a bit more sensitive with their female Chief Engineer but figured a Master Sergeant would appreciate the direct approach.

“And I guess we’re all supposed to keep the boogeyman away from the Federation proper,” Alex said with a sardonic grin. “That I can do. It’s what I’m good at. I do what I do, and I live with the consequences of it. Means I’m not exactly fit to be around civilized society, hence why I live on the edge of Federation space.”

Dr. Hall looked over at the couple nursing the baby by the window. That was the civil society the Sergeant referred to. Still, she wasn’t exactly happy with his response. She was all for slaying the boogeyman. She had no hesitancy about crossing lines civil society wouldn’t appreciate. However, the Sergeant just seemed a bit overly enthused about the idea. “The trick is burning what must be burned without setting the whole forest ablaze. I suspect you’ll get your pound of flesh, but sometimes subtlety goes a long way. I assume you know who our CO is? He’s certainly one to know how a lack of subtlety can really fuck you over.”

“Jake Lewis.” Alex nodded and shrugged a little. “Good operator. A little idealistic at times for my taste, but we’re alike in that we do whatever it takes to protect the Federation. He’ll fall on his sword if required and I’ll, as you put it, burn down the whole forest or cut down a single tree. All depends on what’s demanded of us.”

Across the room for them, one of the traders laughed loudly and then exclaimed: “Shit, look at the time! It’s time for another beer.” To which the other two responded, “Ehhhh!” And the three headed off. The couple, who’d quietly been keeping to themselves, turned at the commotion, then looked down at their watches and seemed to reach a similar conclusion – although probably off to sleep rather than off for another drink. It left the two of them alone in the room.

“I hear blowing up a planet is off the table,” chuckled Hall once the others were gone, “but if you bag the bad guy, I’ll melt his brain.” While said lightly, it wasn’t meant as a joke. “And I think we’re probably allowed to ‘help’ foreign governments reshape themselves and stuff like that. Supposedly, we’ve even got a crack shot temporal guy aboard with us, so really, who knows what’s in the cards.” Still, she worried that, even though she’d often been criticized for a lack of ethics, would she still end up being the conscience of this operation? If so, that would be one damn scary day.

“A temporal guy? Shit the council really is taking the gloves off.” Alex shook his head. “I’m a ruthless sonuvabitch and I admit to that. But temporal stuff? That’s going out of my comfort zone and there’s not much I’m not comfortable with doing.”

“I doubt we’re going to be messing with time, par se,” cautioned Hall, “but that appears to be what got him into trouble a few years back. Got reassigned for something he hadn’t done yet.” That thought amused and worried her. “My guess is that it’s not that we’ll be playing with time but that, in planning for the unconventional, this spooky Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities thought it wise to equip us even with the ability to step in when the timeline is being messed with.” It wasn’t in her style to gossip about the crew, but sometimes you needed to use someone else’s story in order to elicit where your subject really sat on things.

“It would seem they’re giving us just about everything we could ever need then.” Alex said and sighed. “I remember an old 20th century movie from Earth. A guy was a cop in some temporal crimes unit and someone was able to set him up or something for a future crime and he had to try and clear his name. The whole being found guilty of a crime that you might commit in the future bit is just unnerving.”

“Or having your infant self killed so you can’t even confront your killer?” suggested Hall. She couldn’t imagine that an in-your-face shooter would like the idea of having no say in his own death. As for herself, she kind of liked the idea. A child is incapable of suicide, so she was forced to endure years of hardship at the hands of her father, her world, and her abductors, but if someone went back and killed her infant self, then she’d cease to have known those hardships. But these dark spirals were just quiet thoughts in the back of her mind. She walled them off, and instead she got back on topic: “But yes, it strikes me they’re outfitting us for just about anything- except leisure. From the ship specs, looks like our arboretum is turned into a tactical facility, that the fancy VIP and senior officer quarters have been turned into team briefing rooms, that stellar cartography is now a logistics center, and a whole bunch of other things like that. Our purpose is clear, and, for once, it appears our tied hands will be untied to do it.”

“It’s normally fight to get them to take the gloves off one person or team.” He said as he crossed the room and leaned against the railing and looked into the endless expanse of blackness and stars in front of him. “Now they’re taking the gloves off an entire ship and creating an all new special unit to crew her. Somewhere out there is someone who really has the brass back on their heels and we’re the ones to make them look strong to the citizenry.” He shook his head and then laughed. “Whats another couple suicide missions before I go to Valhalla.”

“Look at the current state of things. We’ve lost territory to the Gorn. The Cardassians are beating the war drum. Things with the Romulans and the Klingons are tense at best. They had to collapse the portal to Delta. It’s no surprise they’re feeling choked out,” explained Hall, ignoring the suicide reference. “So we’re a pawn, yes, and don’t forget that as a pawn, if we overstep, I suspect they’ll let us burn. But, if we toe the line carefully, it’s a damn good thing we’ll be doing.” Not that Hall actually cared at all about good and evil, but the trope was useful.

“Oh we’ll do our share of good deeds for the Federation.” Alex agreed. “Being disavowed comes with the territory, not something I waste time worrying about. Don’t get me wrong, it’s about time they started hitting back. Hopefully we can do enough to put the other guy back on his ass so the next generation can do a little less fighting and a whole lot more living.”

“It’s been done before,” Hall volunteered with a twinkle in her eye. He’d probably assume she meant the Dominion, but her reference was actually more recent. It was also compartmentalized though so she couldn’t say more. “And it will be nice to be a part of such ops again.” That was the most she could hint at.

“It’ll take some getting used to, working with a team behind the lines. I’ve been a lone operator for years.” He shrugged. “Time for a few hours of sack time before breakfast. I guess we’ll be seeing each other later, huh? Hard not to on a boat this size.”

“Yeah, mighty late indeed.” Hall looked down at her watch. She wasn’t much of a sleeper, but even she could feel the late night hours draining on her. “Certainly see you around, but until then, it’s been a pleasure Sergeant,” she said. “Hope you get some good rest with your old business now well at hand.” She still wondered what exactly he meant by old business.

~ A Strange New Home ~

Lieutenant Commander Tom Brooks, Lieutenant Jennifer Matthews and Chief Warrant Officer Thol Azernik
Shuttle Bay, EXOSCI Labs and Main Engineering on Mission Day 6 at 1100 Hours

The moment he stepped off the shuttle, Dr. Brooks could tell just how different an assignment this would be. Instead of liberally-spaced auxiliary ships in nice neat lines, the flight deck here was a mess, shuttles, runabouts and fighters, probably double the standard compliment, wedged together in a jigsaw pattern. The ships weren’t the only odd thing about the bay either. The walls that usually separated the bay from guest quarters had been blown out, and in place of those guest quarters were all the storage lockers and maintenance equipment that were usually arranged in the non-existent empty space between the auxiliary craft. All of it spoke to the fact that this ship was set up for one thing, and one thing only: the mission.

“They weren’t kidding when they said she was lean and mean,” he remarked to no one in particular.

“Excuse me, sir?” said a crewman debarking next to him, trying to figure out if the Lieutenant Commander had been addressing him.

“Oh, nothing,” replied the scientist. He was used to talking to the walls, the whiteboards and the tricorders. So was the life of a scientist. He’d have to get used to being surrounded by folks who thought he meant to talk to them, like this crewman, who looked confused but went back to what he was doing. On a ship full of spooks who probably watched their speech more carefully than most, Brooks was going to need to work on that.

As he exited the shuttle bay, Lieutennat Commander Brooks wondered what other surprises awaited him. What had they done with Stellar Cartography, turning it into a Logistics & Command Center? What exactly were the TACOPS training facilities that had replaced the Arboretum? And, most importantly for Brooks, how exactly had they stocked the SCITECH’s EXOSCI labs and offices? That last question was really what he wanted to know most because it would give him some insight into how serious they were about actually letting him tinker with the exotic.

No time like the present, they say in temporal mechanics, so, completely forgetting the formalities of checking in with his superior officers, he went in search of an answer to that last question first. “Deck 9,” he ordered as he stepped into the turbolift, recalling the deck listings he’d gone over while catching up with family in Edinburg.

As the turbolift began to whir, Brooks was lost mostly in his own thoughts, but the tap of a boot against the deck next to him led him to notice he wasn’t alone in the lift. Next to him stood a man in black fatigues carrying a Type 3a Compression Rifle. What strange place was this he’d stumbled upon where people came to work dressed to kill? That thought unsettled him some, but he doubted the other man had any warmer of an impression of the idea of time travel as a solution to problems, since it wasn’t like his infant self could defend himself. Still, he was glad to step off the lift as soon as it arrived at deck 9.

Brooks looked around the corridor. This looked more characteristic of a standard Starfleet vessel, just a sterile hallway with teal and yellow shouldered crewmen walking about. Indeed, home to the SCITECH facilities for the temporal & exotic sciences and alien technologies teams, and the lower entry to the ISA’s Logistics & Command Center, shooters like the man in the lift probably wouldn’t often be found here. More thinking to be done here. He liked that thought. Blowing things up just seemed so short-sighted to him.

As he walked down the corridor, he realized one key oversight in his plan: since he hadn’t checked in yet, it wasn’t like he’d been assigned access codes for his office yet, nor that he even knew which doorway led to that office. But, as he walked down the corridor, he found one doorway open, and so he figured, why not take a peak?

What met him on the other side caused his jaw to drop. Running the length of the far wall was a model of the timeline that looked reminiscent of the one he’d built at Manheim doing probablistic compaction of the non-closed problem space arisen from the temporal waveform equation. “Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he remarked, again to no one in particular. They took his tech only to install it here. No wonder they invited him along.

And again, someone responded. “There’s no kidding to be found in these monitors,” said a Zakdorn warrant officer in teal as he rose from a crouched position behind a console where he’d been reconfiguring inefficient bioneural circuitry certainly laid by some inept dry dock assembly hand. “Only truth, probabilistically speaking, of what the timeline should be.” The Zakdorn approached him. “Dr. Thol Azernik, Chief Warrant Officer, SCITECH EXOSCI Specialist,” he introduced himself, the Zakdorn not a people short on their pretentious titles. “And you must be Dr. Thomas D. Brooks, Lieutenant Commander, SCITECH EXOSCI Lead.”

“Got it in one, Dr. Azernick,” replied Brooks with a smile, a bit surprised to find a Zakdorn scientist aboard. He’d interacted with a couple of them while studying at the Vulcan Science Academy and working at Manheim. They were skilled tacticians with self-discipline well-suited for the rigors of true scientific thought. If there was a good foot to start out on, this was it. “I must say, I’m impressed to find this here.”

“This is but one of many fascinating tools our mysterious creators have left us with,” replied Azernik.

“Really? Tell me about the rest.”

The Zakdorn seemed a bit off-put by the scientist’s enthusiasm. There were forms to be followed. But the Lieutenant Commander pips carried weight for a man of conventions, and so he answered as requested. “Tetryon resonance tracking arrays, subspace interfold analysis processors, graviton variance monitors, sub-quanta dimensional analysis cores and interphasic inversion scanners, to name a few,” explained Azernik.

Brooks nodded at each technology his colleague mentioned. From what the warrant officer described, they were outfitted like a hunting dog. If the systems worked as claimed, it would mean they could track ships through the smallest of warp trails even through intense gravimetric conditions under the use of a modern Romulan cloak. Of course, these tools were all on the fringe of science. They wouldn’t run themselves like the sensors usually fitted on Starfleet vessels. Now he was starting to get an idea of what his EXOSCI team would likely be called on to do – and, in the Lieutenant Commander’s eyes, it sounded awesome.

As Brooks stood looking around the room like a kid in a candy store, Azernik had finally had enough of the oggling. Norms were to be followed. “I believe before you get to work, should you not first check in with the senior staff?”

Brooks frowned. Ugh, that was the catch with the Zakdorn, he thought to himself. Pretentious and fussy, ever too focused on how things should be done. It worked well maintaining an air of tactical superiority that kept even the Klingons from invading their space, and it made them damn good analysts in the lab, but it also annoyed the hell out of Brooks at times. “I suppose you’re right.” And then, as he strolled out of the room, his mind already debating who he should go see, he remembered his manners. “It was a pleasure meeting you Chief,” he said just before the door shut behind him.

Brooks made his way back down hall from whence he’d come. A part of him wanted to go see if any other doors were open, or what the ISA’s Command Center looked like, but the Zakdorn Chief was right. He should probably check in and get his access codes first. Two options: Commander Lewis or Lieutenant Matthews. Lewis looked rough, and Brooks knew his backstory. He’d have to meet with the man eventually, but it’d be nice to get settled first. Matthews looked more inviting so he settled on her, as she was his superior officer for his secondary assignment as a Warp & Propulsion Specialist. At least he should be able to get officially on-boarded through her.

Brooks didn’t have access codes yet so he couldn’t just queue up the system to find her, but he figured he’d start his search in Main Engineering. When he stepped into the turbolift this time, he was pleased to find it completely absent of anyone with a big gun. Just a nice empty lift. “Deck 14.” As the turbolift whirred to life, so too did his mind, working through the possibilities of what they might be doing with all the tech he’d just learned would be at his disposal.

When he stepped off the turbolift, the trip to Main Engineering was easy. As opposed to so many other decks of this ship, Deck 14 was completely standard. He took a left out of the lift, then a right, and then another left, and he was greeted by the grand atrium of Main Engineering, leading directly forward to the warp core itself.

Jenni had not wasted a minute since coming aboard. Ever since her first glimpse at the Bellona’s unusual schematics, the engineer found herself burning with a desire to get her hands on the ship’s engines. The Insignia class always struck her as an interesting design, a grand take on what Starfleet had accomplished with the Danube and Arrow class shuttles. Its modular design made the ship quickly refittable for any kind of mission or, in their case, discrete activity.

The one feature she felt the ship sorely missed, given the fact that the word “Intelligence” was used in her invitation, was a cloaking device. Given the spartan treatment of quarters and amenities, and the constant presence of armed personnel, Jenni wondered if perhaps such a device was really installed but its presence kept quiet. That was not her primary concern, nor would it be. As she stood now at a console before the mighty warp reactor, Jenni knew all too well what her job was: to keep the ship running.

To say that the ship’s schematics were amazing would be an understatement. This ship was a far cry from the Intrepid-class she just transferred from. A smile crept onto her face as she thought how much she was going to love it here.

“Power consumption report, Lieutenant,” said a crewman, approaching her with a PADD.

Jenni nodded in reply, closing her schematics and accepting the PADD. Aboard the Katana, she’d just glance at these, affix her thumbprint and return it. She imagined for a while that she’d have to study these, to know what was and wasn’t acceptable aboard this ship. “Holy hell,” she muttered, turning away from the console and headed for the pool table with her head face down as she read the PADD’s contents. The power consumption on this ship was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. TACOPS, SCITECH, and even the ISA Logistics Center were among the top consumers of power.

So many systems had been integrated into these areas, leading her to wonder what she’d have to sacrifice in emergency situations. The very absence of amenities didn’t leave her any options. “SCITECH’s gonna have to be first,” she said aloud, unaware of who might have been standing near her.

“If you mean first to be cut, that might not be wise if we’re chasing an interphasic shadow through a patch of intense gravitational sheering,” volunteered a voice from directly behind her. Surprised, the Lieutenant turned, nearly bumping into an older man in teal with pips of a Lieutenant Commander. He must’ve been all but standing directly over her shoulder reading the same details she was, and he’d clearly deduced the very decision she was trying to make as she stared at the power consumption metrics. “I’d suggest that decision might need to be made a bit more dynamically.”

It took Lieutenant Commander Brooks a moment to realize his approach was probably more than a bit out-of-line. He’d spotted her by the warp core, meant to approach her normally, but then he got interested in the metrics she was looking at, and so rather than announce himself, he snuck up a little too close for a look. “Sorry Lieutenant,” he offered, stepping back to a more comfortable distance. “Sometimes my fascination with numbers gets the better of me.” He smiled, a bit quirky and awkward the way he stood off-kilter with messy hair and excited eyes. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Dr. Tom Brooks, your Warp & Propulsion Specialist when otherwise not leading the Activity’s EXOSCI team.”

Jenni couldn’t help but raise an exasperated eyebrow at the man and his unexpected comments. “Of course the decision would always be dynamic,” she fired back, almost offended at the commentary offered by the teal-collared individual. “I don’t think I would have been assigned as Chief Engineer if I couldn’t make such decisions, Mister Brooks.”

“It’s Dr. Brooks,” he corrected awkwardly. He’d been precise in his introduction, and, as engineering should be a precise science, he expected as much from her. He didn’t care so much for the Lieutenant Commander pips, but he’d worked hard for that Ph.D.

In response, a slight smile curled onto her lips. “Jennifer Matthews,” she added, introducing herself. Like the Doctor before her, she cared little for rank, but she would make him work for the right to use her nickname. Jenni had a bit of time to review the ship’s manifest, at least what was available to her. The name sounded familiar, but not by much. “It surprised me that your work with EXOSCI gives you enough time to lend us a hand in Engineering. How exactly is that supposed to work anyway?”

“Because, as the logic of some pinhead in Starfleet Command goes, the temporal density wave function isn’t always in flux,” he chuckled, proud of his little temporal mechanics joke even if it might fall on deaf ears. “But no, seriously, the Activity’s units are specialized. With this ship as understaffed as it is, everyone is pulling double duty when their primary mission unit isn’t active. We won’t always be hunting interphasic ghosts, chasing temporal anomalies or navigating gravimetric eddies. And in my case, it just so happens I created news forms of several of the higher order warp field equations, spent three years on transwarp field theory at Daystrom and have been at Mars Station the last four years trying to help monkeys who can’t spell Alcubierre build a transwarp gate.”

“That’s where I’ve heard of you,” the engineer remarked as a light bulb illuminated the dusty corners of her mind. “I experimented with some of your warp field equations on my last assignment. Unfortunately, the Intrepid-class warp core wasn’t quite up to the task. That begs the question though, if you’ve been so involved at Daystrom and Mars, why the hell are you here?”

“Because sitting on my hands in the ivory tower bores me,” he offered in reference to Daystrom before then taking a clear shot at Mars: “And the exotic and unconventional are surprisingly under-appreciated by folks supposedly responsible for R&D. They tell me here that I won’t be surrounded by idle thinkers, imbeciles or stupid regs that prevent real science from being done.” Whether or not that was the truth remained to be seen, but irregardless, his work on Mars was going nowhere with the pathetic funding and inept staff he’d been given.

“I can appreciate that,” Jenni concurred. “My last assignment started out exciting, but got boring rather quickly. There’s little freedom when all your ship does is transport dignitaries from one world to another. I, for one, look forward to a bit of experimentation.”

Brooks wondered how far Matthews’ threshold for experimentation went. His last experiment killed four people, and one a decade ago was shut down before he could even do it by mysterious authorities he could only presume to be from the future. In the meantime though, he was starting to get restless with the conversation already. He wanted to discover what other hidden secrets lay waiting on this ship. “Forgive me Lieutenant,” he said handing her a PADD with his transfer orders on it, “but I’m excited to get tinkering… unless you’ve got any other questions, I look forward to getting to know you and the rest of the staff more during my shifts down here.” It might have been perceived as rude in many cases to cut such a conversation short, but Brooks wasn’t one to even recognize such things. His mind was already wandering to what awaited him next.

“Fair enough,” Jenni said, accepting the PADD, but pushing it behind the one displaying the power allocation report. “There’s nothing to forgive, doctor,” she replied, almost forgetting to use the title he insisted on using. “And I look forward to it too. You’re welcome to take a look around, but try not to touch anything until your first shift if you can help it.”

Brooks chuckled. That he couldn’t promise.