Obligatory Briefing Scene
Ready Room, USS Portland
MD01, 1010 hours
Authors: Alenis Meru, Shras (played by Alenis Meru), Timothy Rouse, Sera Williams, Marcus Kallan, Jason Beauvoir, Tyrlai Zade, Brad Silverton, Arthur Reynolds, Kahnr Dai, Delainey Carlisle
Standing over the heavy ready room table, Alenis looked over the crew assembled before her. In the ten minutes since her conversation with Admiral Washington, she hadn't told anyone about the nature of this meeting, and could see the curiosity on some of their faces. Even the freshest recruit would have known that a sudden change of course and staff meeting meant that something was going on, and chances are it was serious. But what it was...
She looked down at Tim for a moment. She hadn't even told him, but he could tell by her eyes and her body language that whatever this was, it was serious.
"Thank you all for joining me," started Alenis. "I called this meeting because--"
Alenis froze, her eyes falling on Shras. "You're not one of my senior staff," she said, glaring at him.
"No, but if this meeting -- whatever it is about -- is going to affect my project, then I should be here," shot back Shras.
Alenis sighed. Part of her training as a tactical officer was knowing to pick her battles, and she had more important thing to do than fight with Shras over ejecting him from her ready room. "Fine. So long as you behave yourself."
"I'm always at my best behaviour," countered Shras.
"Whatever." Alenis rolled her eyes then glanced over at Tim; he simply shrugged his shoulders and looked back up at her. Taking one last look over her crew, Alenis tapped a button in front of her to activate the holographic display. A three dimensional star chart showing the position of Nova Europa, the nebula, and the Portland, among a few other things, appeared in front of everyone. "The Borg are back," she said in a firm tone, pausing for a moment to allow that to sink in.
Sera shifted uncomfortably in her seat, her eyes trying to read the reactions of those gathered. The Borg had been more than a match for an entire fleet of Starfleet starships on more than one occasion. They were on a ship built decades before first contact with the Borg, which wasn't very promising. She didn't even know if she'd feel good aboard the likes of an Akira, Sovereign, or even a Prometheus.
Marcus sat across from Sera, tugging at the turtleneck to his new uniform in Operations gold. It wasn't rational that the uniform itched or chafed, as it was made of the same synthetic, hypoallergenic material that all Starfleet uniforms were made of. Still, the circumstances leading up to his inclusion in the Portland's bridge staff still did not sit well with him. But, he had his former commanding officer's blessing and encouragement, with an open pipeline to Daystrom. For that, and for that reason alone, he convinced himself to put up with it.
"Was Nova Europa attacked by the Borg? Were there any survivors?" Jason asked fearing for his sister Yvette's life, she'd recently taking a position as Chief Intelligence Officer. Although the Science Officer had never encountered the Borg, he remembered his mother telling him of her encounter with them during the Battle of Sector 001 almost 20 years ago. He'd always dreaded coming across those cybernetic zombies.
"Yes," replied Alenis in a firm tone. Wearing a dataglove connected to the holo-projector on the briefing table, she pointed towards Nova Europa, highlighting it in red. "XX hours ago, Nova Europa sent out a distress call, reporting that they were being attacked by the Borg. Four hours ago, the USS Endeavour engaged a sphere in orbit of Nova Europa, destroying it and rescuing a few dozen survivors before being engaged by a tactical cube."
"Impressive that a Nebula was able to destroy a Sphere and hold off a Cube," Marcus observed. "Probably some grade-A officers aboard using some zany tactics." He looked across the table at Jason, noting the subdued concern on his friend's face.
"The Endeavour escaped destruction when the tactical cube withdrew," continued Alenis, using her dataglove to control the zoom on the display, "albeit not without some damage and the loss of her captain. Long range sensors have tracked the tactical cube's warp trail back to NGC-3814, a nebula in sector 112. Unfortunately, our long range sensor system can't penetrate the nebula, which Starfleet Intelligence suspects contains some sort of hub for Borg activity in the Alpha Quadrant." Alenis took a deep breath and then pointed to the position of the Portland, highlighting it on the display. "Which... is where we come in."
Sera pulled at the collar of her new uniform, it was the same style as Shras as she had been transferred to his command while retaining her Chief Engineer position. She had yet to really feel comfortable in it, especially when in the same room as the Portland's senior staff. "Was the Captain captured? If so, could this be another Captain Picard situation where her experience and knowledge could create another Wolf 359?" There was the slightest bit of fear in her voice. That battle had destroyed 39 starships and had been as devastating as any of the battles against the Dominion, and that had been against one tactical cube with the knowledge of one Starfleet Captain.
Alenis paused for a moment. "Yes, she was," she replied. "We don't know what they've done with her. All we know is that the Borg broke off their attack and retreated as soon as they captured her, almost as if Captain Banninga was their sole objective." Alenis paused for effect. The Borg were as mysterious as they were dangerous. Their motivations, their strategies... it was still an enigma, something completely alien to individual beings. "We can only speculate as to what was done with her. Unfortunately," said Alenis in a heavy tone, "this is not a rescue mission. Our objective is to perform reconnaissance inside the nebula in order to gather information on whatever the Borg are doing in there so we can stop them."
"Finding a Nebula in a nebula," Marcus observed, his dry wit ever-so. "Captain, I happen to be intimately familiar with all of the data on Wolf 359 and the Borg's first attempt to assimilate a mouthpiece. The Borg don't assimilate individuals unless it suits a greater purpose. What they can't assimilate, they destroy. So it might be worth it from a scientific and cultural standpoint to understand why their behavior so closely matches what happened at Wolf 359. Maybe a secondary objective?"
The doors whooshed open and Tyrlai Zade walked in, dressed in a mostly black stealth field uniform with very shiny deep purple hair, one long strand tied in a braid at her right temple. She looked back over her shoulder speaking to someone in the hallway as she strode into the briefing room. "You did good today, Jena. That stuffy--" she paused as she spotted Shras seated prominently at the briefing table. "Commander, how nice of you to join us so inappropriately like this. Reminds me a bit of myself." The doors whooshed shut on her previous conversation and she sat down at the table and looked at all of the tense faces. "Sorry, I've been preoccupied a bit lately, what did I miss?"
Despite his concern for Yvette, Jason couldn't help but smile at Tyrlai's entrance. He liked the woman for befriending Jena and for the flare with which she approached life.
Tyrlai smiled back at Jason, hopefully he wouldn't be too mad when Commodore Stuffypants found all of that Gelatin in his temporary quarters. For a moment she thought she should probably be teaching Jenna more responsible activities. But those didn't generally make such cool looking swirling patterns of color. She discarded the notion and tried to pay closer attention.
Strangely enough, Arthur didn't seem to give the late entree a second thought. Instead, he appeared preoccupied by the news. Earlier in the meeting, he found the brief banter between the captain and the scientist strange, if not alarming. But nothing could have prepared him for the possibility of renewed Borg activity in the Alpha quadrant. He'd only heard stories of them in the Academy, but while they didn't exactly strike fear in him, they did fascinate him enough to consider joining the Circle Fleet in the Delta quadrant. Unfortunately, those plans were dashed the moment those Yridians got away from him on Starbase Montgomery. "Is there any tactical significance to the nebula? Where's it located?"
Alenis brought up the star chart again and zoomed out so the assembled crew could contextualize everything on the star charts. "It's not too far from Cardassian space, but there is little tactical significance to the nebula, apart from the fact that the nebula's interference means it can't be pierced by long range sensors, so it's a perfect place for doing something without any prying eyes." Alenis turned towards Tyrlai and said in a serious tone, "the Borg are back, and we're being sent alone into a nebula which is probably crawling with them."
"Starleet is sending the very oldest and smallest ship in the fleet into a Nebula full of Borg?" Oddly enough facing deadly and insane odds was not her first thought, it was how many Gaskets Thosk would lose when he found out about this. "If we were the fastest ship that might be something, why would we even be considered for such a,..." She trailed off remembering who's office she and Jena had just filled with translucent lubricating foam. "The Commodore brought something clever and untested along with him again, is that it? I didn't bring you back from the dead so you could just rush headlong back towards it!!"
"The prophets brought me back." She reminded the Trill.
"Technically." Tyrlai scowled, brightening only slightly as she remembered. "I haven't met the Borg before. They can only be bargained with from a position of strength, the Diplomatic corps doesn't really even have a specialist for them."
"If we do our recon well enough, we shouldn't need one," Delainey replied quietly. It pained her they weren't ordered to attempt a rescue, but she knew better than to voice that sentiment here. They had their orders and no amount of wishing they were different would change things.
Brad had sat silent during the briefing and watched Tyrlai come in late. No doubt she was up to something as usual, but his thoughts returned to the meeting. There really wasn't much for him to contribute towards at the moment. Any medical needs that would arise from a Borg mission would most likely mean a tactical engagement with matching one of the Federations most dangerous enemies with... the might of a Miranda class starship. If it came to combat the Portland would most likely be destroyed. Still, the medical department would be ready when called upon. Brad just spent the meeting nodding to other department heads discussing tactics.
"Yes," called out Alenis, looking over at Sera and Shras in their matching uniforms. Shras was as calm and collected as he usually was, seated with a smug smile upon his face, though Alenis knew that just about anything could set off his hair-trigger temper and turn him from a minor nuisance into a serious problem. Sera, on the other hand, was visibly uncomfortable in her new digs, not the least reason being because of the association with Shras. "Commander Shras, Lieutenant Williams, I trust that these dark energy systems you are testing out include something which will enable us to slip in and out of a nebula teeming with Borg cubes without being detected?"
"Captain, in theory, we could come out of warp just beside a Cube without them noticing," Sera said with as much confidence as she could muster. The team had worked very hard and around the clock to integrate the Dark Energy systems into the Portland, which had not always cooperated. With much less confidence, she added, "However, nothing has been tested outside of the holodecks."
After being on his best behaviour for almost ten whole minutes, the mention of his reactor was the straw that broke the camel's back for Shras. "Captain, I protest -- the dark energy reactor is only just progressing out of the theoretical stages. It is too unpredictable for us to use in a combat situation without being properly tested. And these tests could take weeks!"
Alenis glared at Shras. "What are you saying, Commander, that your amazing new invention is a lemon? That we can't trust your new systems?"
"No, I--" Shras paused and gritted his teeth, realizing he was outmaneuvered. "I suppose in theory, if we were to flood the outer hull with tetryon radiation, we could use the dark energy generator to effect a trans-dimensional warp jump, and by keeping us just slightly out of phase, we could conceal ourselves in the plasma trail of a passing cube with only an approximately..." he paused for a moment to do some mental calculations. "three point seven percent chance of being detected." He looked across the table at the rest of the officers, wondering if their inferior intellects managed to grasp the genius of his plan. "At least, in theory."
Until that moment, Kahnr had been sitting quite peacefully down at the far end of the briefing table. With eyes heavy-lidded and a slouched posture, one might have thought him asleep except for the glitter behind them that had moved towards each person who spoke in turn. He hadn't even moved when the Borg had first been mentioned though that was mainly because he had been busy erecting greater mental shields before any brief surge in fear overwhelmed him. Now he had to speak up, and his eyes opened wider so he could stare at Shras, "You think we can ride the wake of a cube?" It was delivered with such a disbelieving deadpan that it might make blue antennae stick straight up. "And without getting detected, as the ship bounces around - presumably without us shaking apart - causing all sorts of energetic fields to fluctuate as well. Wow, this dark energy is some impressive stuff." Kahnr didn't sound very impressed, he sounded almost impudent as he gazed at the Andorian.
"Impressive is an understatement, Ensign," shot back Shras in a dismissive tone. While he was undoubtedly arrogant, he did not take compliments well. After all, a compliment does not mean much if it comes from someone so far beneath you, as Shras considered nearly everyone he met to be. "This dark energy reactor is the way of the future."
Sera's face went a bit pale at the exchange between both of her superiors. She had needed to keep the Portland-only crew in the dark about the vast majority of the dark energy work that was occurring in and on the ship. It had not earned her very much favor and had certainly gone a long way to distance her from her friends and crewmates. It was extremely dangerous work, and she honestly had her doubts if a ship that had been around during the "Kirk years" would even survive the experiment.
"Dark energy?" Marcus parroted in surprise, turning to regard Shras, then Alenis, and then Shras again. "You're telling me that you have a subspace manifold generator on board? Is that why engineering is upside down?" Despite the awkwardness of his transition to chief of operations, Marcus made sure qualified operations staff helped with the personnel reorganization. He even put in some extra hours, himself. "I mean, you might as well strap a Romulan singularity drive to the secondary hull. It'll be just as safe..."
Jason agreed completely with the Chief Operations Officers sentiments, but said. "Don't worry Marcus, the Commander's prototypes always work, just like his stasis field, that not only succeeded in immobilizing it's target, it also nearly immobilized us, for good, due to its massive energy drain. So I have every confidence that this dark energy field will work fine, I just don't think well still be alive to celebrate. Perhaps we should have the champagne now."
Pondering the situation, Alenis looked over the assembled officers before her. "Unfortunately, unless we have any better ideas on how to fly into a Borg-infested nebula and live to tell the tale, we'll have to entrust our lives to Shras' little gadgets."
"Then it's settled," added Alenis, exasperation beginning to show in her voice. Looking over at Shras, she could see a look of smug indignation on his face. Alenis looked at Shras and Sera. She knew this order would be painful for everyone around the room, but she had no choice. "Commander Shras, Lieutenant Williams, your job will be to train everyone on the dark energy systems, their properties and uses, as well as proper safety protocols."
"Captain, I protest!" shouted Shras, standing up from his seat. "This project is confidential and knowledge of my experiments is on a strict need to know basis, authorized by Admiral Washington himself!"
"Washington," cursed Alenis under her breath. For a split second, she wondered if this was all simply the Admiral's revenge for what happened between his daughter and Timothy. "Commander Shras, this may be your project but it's my ship. And in my judgement, knowledge of the dark energy systems is critical for the success of our priority one mission and the survival of the ship. Besides, the project won't be very confidential if the Borg assimilate you and half the quadrant." Alenis stood up, placing herself at eye level with Shras. "You will train my entire senior staff, and if you have a problem with that, I'm sure Washington would love to hear it -- after we complete this recon mission.
Marcus added nothing more, simply watching the exchange between his captain and the Andorian. He sniffed and rubbed his nose at Alenis' smackdown, no doubt desperate not to snicker.
Sera sat awkwardly as her superiors argued. She made no effort to defend either of them, she was already viewed upon with distrust by many and didn't feel like adding any weight to the rumors.
Shras was boiling with rage. "This is going to go--"
"Yes, I know, in your report," replied Alenis with a wave of her hand. She knew from her last encounter with Shras several months ago that he was extremely meticulous in his reporting, documenting every slight against him, real and perceived. "You have work to do. Get to it."
Shras stared into Alenis' eyes, fuming mad. Then, he placed a hand on Sera's shoulder. "Come on, Lieutenant, you heard the captain. We have work to do." With that, he turned and started to storm out.
With a slight, apologetic smile to the rest of the crew gathered, Sera replied, "Yes, sir." She then turned and followed her commanding officer. She felt a small sense of relief that she would finally be able to let the crew in on what the dark matter experiment actually did.
Marcus' eyes narrowed at Shras putting his hand on Sera's shoulder, and there was a certain rigidity to his spine and shoulders all of a sudden. He watched the two leave, and then sat back in his chair, brooding.
"Everyone else," called out Alenis as the two black-shirted officers left, "prepare your sections for contact with the Borg."
Jason felt for Sera, it wasn't her fault that Shras had recruited her. Not everyone was willing to accept the consequences for disobeying orders they don't agree with.
Arthur pursed his lips as he watched Shras leave, glancing back at the captain with an eyebrow perked. This ship resembled his first assignment on the Warren more and more every day, and that worried him considerably. Crew interactions and relationships were complicated, and the whole mess back on the Warren reminded him of those 20th century soap operas... or certain life experiences of his own. But as anyone who read his Starfleet record would know, his only concern was efficiency - and the lack on the Warren led him, in part, to join the Tactical department. So when he spoke again, his mind called up whatever information he could remember about Borg tactical systems - and especially their regeneration technologies. "Right away, captain."
Marcus didn't need to be told twice. Once his fellow officers started to move, he headed towards the exit for the bridge.
Tolaran had remained silent through the briefing, absorbing all the new information, he wouldn't question the Captain but he did not like the Andorian, something about him irked him far more than he'd liked. He watched the other officers file out as the briefing ended and knew he'd have to put in extra training for his team, extra security points through the ship in preparation for any Borg that might infiltrate the ship, he had spent a lot of time during his time at the Academy studying the Federation's enemies and had hoped to never meet the Borg. He saw Meru giving him a questioning look and he simply nodded, stood up and began to leave the room.
Kahnr slid his long body out of his chair and stretched, big arms overhead, and bit back a yawn. It probably would be pushing proper decorum a bit too far to yawn. He wasn't sure. The Betazoid had some plans in mind for his team. The Portland had two Type 7 shuttles and three Type 8 on board. The 8's were too big and too powerful for what he had in mind, but the low-powered 7's might do the trick. He headed through the Bridge and to a turbolift heading for Deck 6 to see just how low they could get the energy signatures of the shuttles and to make them appear to be tiny asteroids to sensors, as it could be very handy to have a ride or two ready to go to sneak up on the Borg. Kahnr wasn't going to only rely on Shras' miracle machine, just as he assumed none of the other officers were going to either.
As the crew filed out of the room, Alenis stood and turned towards the window, gazing out at the stars. But when all her other officers left, one man remained.
"Captain," said Timothy in a soft voice, "we need to talk."
Capt. Alenis Meru