The Fall Of the Chimera
Selam Star System
May 31, 2388, 0936 Hours (Earth calendar)
The sleek Intrepid-class Starship slipped into a low orbit above the planet Selam, a world of ochre-colored sand dunes, terra cotta oceans, dark red vegetation, and yellow-colored sky. Commander Suresh looked at the viewscreen, and was mildly dismayed at the complete absence of blues and greens in the planet's color palette. She held up her cup of masala tea, and took a sip. The burning liquid filled her with warmth, as the aromas of nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and clove burst on her tastebuds. She spread her hand around the warm cup - her fingers always felt too cold.
Suresh looked out the corner of her eye at Captain Marezzon. The Benzite was examining a data padd containing Starfleet's orders for the umpteenth time. She knew he was uncomfortable with the situation, but there was nothing she could do to ease her commanding officer's concerns. They had discussed this several times already.
Admiral Adislo, the commander of Starfleet's task force in the Gamma Quadrant, had been receiving unconfirmed intelligence reports of an impending threat to Starfleet and Federation interests in the sector. The reports had been fairly nebulous, but threatening enough to warrant Adislo sending the Chimera on an expedition to Selam, to open negotiations for a mutual defense treaty between Starfleet and this ancient Gamma Quadrant power.
There was a beep from one of the stations behind the Command Center. "Message from the capital, Captain," called out the Operations officer, a young Bolian named Porax. "They are expecting you."
Captain Marezzon turned to the young Bolian, and drew a breath from his respiratory device. "Tell them I'm on my way," he said. "Scan the upper atmosphere. Can you detect the radiation that we were warned about?"
Porax nodded. "Confirmed. The ambient radiation in the upper atmosphere will make transporters inoperative."
"Very well, we'll take a shuttle then," said Captain Marezzon. He turned to Commander Suresh. "The ship is yours, Commander," he said.
Suresh rose from her seat and moved to the chair on her left, the Captain's chair. She made sure to take her cup of tea along, wrapped in her fingers, warming her hands.
Marezzon walked to the turbolift, followed by Lieutenant Camarra, the ship's Betazoid Counselor, who would be helping in these negotiations. Suresh watched the turbolift doors close on the two officers, and settled into the Command chair. She activated the display on the armrest, and brought up the message she had received moments before, to confirm that the time had indeed come.
"Pity is treason." The words on the screen burned in her mind.
She had relayed the message to the ship's Chief Engineer, as well as the Chief of Security, Lieutenant Commander Simoneau. She glanced over her shoulder at the Tactical station, where the tall Security officer was towering over the rest of the Bridge, and nodded. Everything was set.
"Shuttlecraft One has cleared the shuttlebay," reported Ensign Porax. "Entering the upper atmosphere in three minutes."
Suresh nodded. She got up out of the command chair, and walked over to the tactical station to monitor the shuttle's progress. She placed her hand on Simoneau's shoulder.
And then it happened.
The sensor schematic showed the small blip that was the shuttle approaching the Selam atmosphere, coming down at a tangential angle to the planet, for a soft entry that would minimize air friction against the shuttle's hull. The entry was proceeding smoothly, almost textbook. Lieutenant Kelley was a good pilot, Suresh remembered. A shame to waste such fine talent.
As they watched, the shuttle exploded, about ten kilometers over the planet's stratosphere. The ship's sensors recorded the explosion, then the shuttle vanished from the sensor display. The blip that was the shuttle disappeared, and the planet was all that remained.
Suresh eyed the Operations officer. "Report," she ordered, almost too calmly.
The young Bolian looked panicked. He was working his console furiously. "Checking, Commander! The shuttle is… Gone!" He looked up at Suresh. "No life signs. Captain Marezzon…"
Suresh focused her gaze on the main viewscreen, where the image of the shuttle had been replaced by an expanding debris field, that was slowly drifting down to the planet below, trapped by its gravity. Soon there would be nothing left, as the debris would burn up in the atmosphere. No evidence of what had caused the explosion.
"What happened?" she asked, lifting her cup of tea to her mouth to take a sip.
Porax shook his head, and kept working on his console. "I don't know, Ma'am."
"Can you access the shuttle's logs? Can you determine what caused the explosion?"
Porax remained focused on his workstation. "I only have partial logs," he reported. "The planetary radiation might have interfered with the uplink from the shuttle."
Suresh nodded. They might never be able to determine the cause of the explosion. She exchanged glances with Lieutenant Commander Simoneau. "Order the senior staff to report to the observation lounge immediately."
Five minutes later
The remaining Senior officers had assembled in the Observation lounge. All of the faces looked distraught, and everyone seemed to be trying to make sense of what had just happened.
Suresh took up position at the head of the table. "Less than ten minutes ago, there was an explosion aboard Shuttlecraft One. Captain Marezzon, Counselor Camarra, and Flight Control Officer Kelley, have died."
She paused, letting the news sink in. "For some time now, Gamma Command has been receiving unconfirmed reports that a rogue group, called the Consortium, may have infiltrated the ranks of Starfleet, and is seeking to take over. It is our belief that the Captain may have been targeted, due to the nature of our mission here."
She nodded to Commander Simoneau, who pressed a button on the table, and turned to the monitor. The Federation emblem disappeared, replaced with the image of Commodore Terlexa, the commanding officer of Deep Space 11.
"Commodore," greeted Suresh, feigning surprise. "I was attempting to contact Admiral Adislo."
"I know," came Terlexa's terse reply. "I'm sorry to report that the Admiral is unavailable. We are searching for him. Admiral Adislo, Rear Admiral Cameron, and Commodore O'Connell are suspected of treason, sedition, and conspiracy against the Federation."
Suresh blinked. "That is very hard to believe," she said, exchanging glances with the Chimera's senior staff.
"I'm afraid we have compelling evidence against them."
"I'll have to defer to you on this," conceded Suresh. "But we also have urgent matters to bring to your attention. I'm sorry I have to report the deaths of Captain Marezzon, Counselor Camarra, and Flight Officer Kelley, in a shuttle accident."
Terlexa hung her head low, and stared at her table for a few seconds before taking a deep breath, and returning her attention to the screen. "So now we can add charges of murder to Adislo's slate," she mused. "I'm sure this was a Consortium attack. We've had similar reports from other ships, as well."
Suresh frowned. "Who else did we lose?" she asked.
Terlexa looked at a list on a data padd she was holding. "The Beifong, the Maketu, the Callisto and the Valcour have been overrun by Consortium forces," she said. "The Antares has been severely damaged, and the Ottawa is missing. That's as much as we know for now. The situation seems to be evolving rapidly."
She straightened her spine, and her voice became more authoritative. "Commander Suresh, in light of recent events, I believe a change in the Chimera's command structure would be counterproductive. I hereby promote you to the field commission of Captain. The Chimera is yours. See to it that it is defended against our enemies." She paused. "I wish the circumstances were different, but Starfleet is under attack. You may choose your First Officer amongst your senior staff. Choose wisely, as these are troubled times. Terlexa out."
Suresh turned to her senior staff, and examined their stern faces. Disbelief showed on several of them, anger, and grief over the loss of their Captain and Counselor. They'd been serving together for years, and the sudden loss was difficult to accept for many of them. Only the faces of Simoneau, and the ship's Tellarite Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Krex, betrayed no emotion. She could see tears welling up in the eyes of Doctor Young, the ship's Chief Medical Officer, and Lieutenant T'Jara, the ship's Chief Science Officer, exhibited her typical Vulcan calm, but her arms were stiff, betraying her struggle to contain herself.
"You heard the Commodore," said Suresh. "We are under attack. Under the circumstances, I believe Commander Simoneau, our Tactical officer, would be the ideal choice for First Officer." She walked over to Simoneau's seat, and shook his hand.
She returned to her position at the head of the conference table. "Now, let's consider what we know so far. Admiral Adislo and the rest of the Gamma Command senior staff are accused of treason. Consortium forces have seized control of the Maketu, Callisto, Beifong and Valcour."
Simoneau checked his data padd. "At last report," he spoke up, "Callisto and Maketu were less than ten light-years from here."
"Then those are our targets," declared Suresh. "To disable those ships, and arrest those responsible for the death of our Captain, our friend and comrade." Her features hardened. "Let us not take pity on those who killed such fine officers, who attacked the Antares, and who may have destroyed the Ottawa. Let our justice be swift, and firm. Pity would be treason."
She saw Porax, the Operations officer, frowning.
Ensign Porax raced to the Operations office. He logged into his console, and tried to access the shuttle's protected computer core, before it fell out of orbit and disintegrated in the atmosphere. The unit was badly damaged, and there was a lot of interference from the ambient atmospheric radiation, but he could still get bits and pieces of information from it, and combine them with the ship's own sensor logs.
After an hour of searching, he had managed to isolate one odd transmission. It seemed to be a coded subspace transmission, from the Chimera to the shuttle - but the hailing frequencies from the ship to the shuttle had been closed at the time. And the explosion had occurred two seconds later.
It was clear to him now that the explosion was a result of sabotage, and that the detonation signal had come from the Chimera herself. The murderers were here. Now he had to work through the ship's own logs, and determine where the transmission had come from.
The door to the Operations office opened, and Suresh walked in, her uniform now bearing the four pips of a Captain. Porax was startled to see that she was followed by a tall alien. Standing at a little over seven feet, the alien had grey purplish skin, with dark red circles around his deep-set yellow eyes. He had yellow serrated teeth, and wore burgundy robes, with a stiff collar that rose up to his ears. His head was elongated, topped with a bald dome.
"Ensign," said Suresh. "This is Minister K'Farl, of the Selamat Security Agency. He is here to help in your investigation of the shuttle accident."
Porax turned to the tall alien, and gave a short bow. "Minister," he greeted, looking into the Selamat's eyes.
He turned back to Suresh. "I have reason to believe the signal to destroy the shuttle came from the Chimera," he began.
Suresh raised an eyebrow. "Do you now," she said. "I do believe you need to have a long talk with the Minister. I'll leave you two alone, and make sure you're not disturbed."
She exited the Operations office, leaving Porax alone with Minister K'Farl.
The Bolian looked at the Selamat official, and was somewhat surprised to see him staring at him with those yellow eyes of his.
His deep-set yellow eyes.
The Selamat bared his teeth, and inhaled.
And bore his deep-set yellow eyes into Porax's own….
-- END --