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Remnants of Anchorage, Part IV

Posted on Friday November 18th, 2016 @ 11:23pm by Major Zeleny Novacek

Mission: Enemies Closer
Location: Starship Invidious, Anchorage System
Timeline: MD 4, 0743 Hours

The armored bulk of Invidious flashed into existence at the periphery of the Anchorage system. On the bridge, Zeleny stood at the captain’s perch, the pulsing combat alert status indicators cast him in silhouette to the rest of the bridge crew.

On the viewscreen, the primary star appeared as a small disc, burning white hot. Above the map table, where Jaxcen stood his post, a hologram of the planetary system hovered. Twelve planets and two asteroid belts orbited the star. Jaxcen studied the display and another hovering window of sensor data.

“Sitrep, Shakira.” Zeleny ordered.

Shakira sat at the sensor station and scrubbed through various screens of data. “Sensors are limited, as usual, but I’m not detecting any other vessels, ion trails, or recent warp signatures. It doesn’t look like anyone’s visited in the past few weeks.”

Zeleny nodded. His worst fear upon arrival is that someone would be waiting for them with phasers and torpedoes at the ready. On the other hand, a system completely devoid of activity was also suspicious. “What do we know about this place?’

Jaxen responded. “Looks like a class F star, elevated ultraviolet radiation. However it’s not a problem for Invidious. Seems there are three planets in the habitable zone but only one is actually habitable.” Jaxcen exploded the hologram leaving only the fifth planet which enlarged in size. “Anchorage. Class O. Water world. Rotational period, 31 hours. Axial tilt, 35 degrees, interesting. The planet seems highly volcanic, the ocean is so deep most of the volcanoes fail to break the surface. Shak, I’m seeing an unusual energy spike coming from the planet, but it’s not distinct enough to identify. Can you focus your sensors and give me the highest resolution you can?”

“Won’t make much difference until we get closer, but yeah.” She worked her controls.

Zeleny crossed his arms and frowned at the display. “Volcanic activity means lots of opportunity for geo-thermal energy, could that be what you’re detecting?” Zeleny asked. Forward Operating Bases were not extravagant affairs, usually temporary or repurposed shelters, and built using whatever resources were readily available in the area, even energy.

Jaxcen shook his head, disappointed at the refined sensor readings. “We’ll need to get closer.”

“Soldoro, take us in, one half impulse, set course for Anchorage and put us in orbit.” Zeleny ordered. “Midori, stand down from combat alert, but have crew remain at their posts. There’s a lot of places for ships or fighters to hide in this system, I don’t want to let down our guard just yet.”

A few hours later Invidious entered standard orbit above the blue-white planet Anchorage.

Zeleny was now standing opposite Jaxcen, as they scrutinized the display above the map table. At this range, Invidious’ sensors were sensitive enough to provide high resolution scans of the planet’s surface, even it’s ocean floor.

“There’s another one,” Jaxcen said pointing at a blip on a sensor display. “That makes twelve satellites in orbit so far.”

Zeleny grunted. During approach they started picking up debris in orbits around the planet. “Twelve damaged or dead sentry satellites,” Zeleny corrected. He recognized the type, used by Starfleet to project a sensor envelope around the entire planet so a ground-based facility would have an omnidirectional view of the space around a planet, eliminating line-of-sight issues. “Their presence confirms some sort of monitoring facility on this planet, but what could have killed them?”

Jaxcen shook his head. “They’ve all been blasted by phasers beams, it seems. Target practice?”

Zeleny slowly worked his jaw from side to side as he considered the information. What he really wanted was to find the FOB. “Any more on your mystery power source?”

“It's definitely not the satellites. It’s intermittent, comes and goes at random intervals, definitely artificial and I think it’s near the northern polar cap, but Shak thinks it’s just interference from a faulty sensor pallet.”

Zeleny looked over his shoulder at Shakira, pleading for an explanation.

Shak obliged him. “Well, when we catch the signal, it looks like a low-yield fusion reaction, but that wouldn’t have an intermittent signal, it would be steady, fusion reactions have to be steady, otherwise they’re useless as a power source. Ergo, it can’t be a power source. Probably a faulty sensor pallet, I’ve been running diagnostics to chase down the problem.”

Midori chimed in from the weapons station. “What about a damaged laser-induction fusion reactor? If the lasers can’t sustain the temperature the fusion process stops until the temperature climbs again.”

Jaxcen and Shakira stared dumbfounded at her. Zeleny nodded. “Sounds reasonable to me. Focus scans on that location and see if you can find me any evidence of… anything.”

Shakira nodded and her hands danced across her console. Jaxcen zoomed in on the planet’s surface with the map table. “Lot’s of ice, more ice, wait a minute. Shak, focus on grid N-twelve. Trace amounts of refined duranium, and…” He took a step back and shot a glance at Zeleny. “Life signs!”

“Someone’s alive down there?” Zeleny asked incredulously. It had to have been several months since FOB Anchorage went silent. Zeleny knew survivors was possible, but estimated the odds were low if the FOB had been attacked.

“Definitely. It’s faint, probably obstructed by the weather, but someone is down there.”

Duchay the communications officer spoke. “Shall I try to hail them?”

Zeleny, Jaxcen, Midori, and Shakira shared glances. Zeleny nodded. He was assuming it was the marines Starfleet left here, but it could just as likely be whoever stole the Peregrines as well. He nodded to Duchay. “If you can find a receiver, then by all means hail them. Let’s find out who’s down there.”

Duchay tuned her console and began broadcasting a signal. “Starship Invidious to unknown lifeforms on the northern polar cap of the fifth planet. Do you read?”

Subspace static answered back.

“This is Starship Invidious to anyone receiving on the planet below. Do you read?”

More static. There was a brief crackle.

Duchay perked up and manipulated her controls again. “This is Starship Invidious, please respond.”

A garbled message came through, the distortion too great to make out anything intelligent from.

Duchay fined tuned her equipment further. “This is Starship Invidious, we are receiving you, can you boost your signal?”

“--there---that one---now---tain Shaan, Sta---rines--eight exped--” The signal dissolved into static.

Without much care or consideration, Zeleny practically lept over the map table to join Duchay at her station. Though garbled, he thought he heard the voice say “Starfleet Marines.”

“We’ve lost your signal. Retransmit last message.” Duchay replied.

Zeleny grabbed Duchay’s receiver and spoke into it. “This is Invidious, we’re coming down to you. ETA twenty minutes.” He handed the receiver back to the comm officer. “Midori, Shak, you’re with me. Jaxcen have the shuttledock prep the shuttle.”

Jaxcen spoke up. “Is this smart, Zeleny? That could be anyone down there.”

“Maybe, but with an apparently damaged power plant and poor transmission quality, we’re not getting any more answers from them while we're up here.”

Jaxcen sighed. “Could still be a trap. Be careful.”

The shuttlecraft shuddered as it descended through another thermocline. Fierce wind fought against Zeleny at the shuttle's controls. He struggled to exert his will over the shuttle, flying by instrumentation only. The canopy of the shuttle was a stark white with thin angry, gray whisps, as torrential clouds occluded the outside world. Turbulence buffeted the shuttle, and Zeleny was thankful he was strapped into the pilot's chair. Suddenly the shuttle broke through the low hanging clouds and emerged into a relative calm beneath. The wind still bucked the shuttle, but it was far less severe. Zeleny banked the shuttle into a wide circle around the target zone. He wanted to get a good view of the area as best as he could before setting down.

The canopy was still a stark white, but this time not because they were among the clouds, but because that was literally all there was to see. The ice sheet below was solid white, the sky above roiled with the fierce clouds from before. Everything shaded white. Midori and Shakira crowded the canopy viewports to look for any sign of the FOB.

Far to the south (at this latitude, nearly everything was south) the ice sheet extended towards a black ocean where the ice sheet began to break apart into ragged ice floes. There were no mountains, or valleys, any geographic landmarks, just a large, flat, white ice sheet at the top of the world.

“There!” Midori said. “I can see an outline of the base, three o'clock.”

“Incredible,” Shak said switching to Midori's side of the cabin. “There’s debris, elevated background radiation, and craters." Her prosthetic eye allowed her to see substantially better than its organic counterpart. "It’s pretty bad, how could they have survived?”

“They’re marines,” Midori said with a smirk. Shak gave a disapproving shake of her head. She didn’t understand. Not like Zeleny or Midori. To them t was explanation enough. “There, set it down there,” Midori said pointing towards an open patch of ice just outside the perimeter of the FOB.

Zeleny brought the shuttle down on the ice, the surface crunched under the weight of the shuttle but was otherwise sturdy. Zeleny exited the flight cabin went towards the main cabin and pulled on a heavy arctic coat and trousers then strapped his heavy phaser to his leg, he didn’t expect trouble from the marines but on the other hand, he was a pirate, so he better be ready for anything. Shak and Midori pulled their arctic wear on as well.

Zeleny pounded a button and the cargo door of the shuttle lowered to the ground, a powerful blast of frigid air struck Zeleny immediately, his exposed skin on his face immediately felt cold and burned at the same time.

Outside five figures stood a few meters away from the shuttle. Two appeared armed with phaser rifles, another two had their hands on their sidearms, still holstered. The fifth, waved Zeleny over.

Shakira stayed with the shuttle while Zeleny and Midori marched over through the snow towards the marines. The wind tore at his hood and Zeleny held onto it with one hand, his other hand rested firmly on his sidearm.

“Are you in charge here?” Zeleny roared over the wind when they got close to the figures.

The middle figure stepped forward towards Zeleny, he was a bearded andorian. “I’m Captain Shaan, Delta company, 38th Starfleet Marines. When we got your signal, I could scarcely believe it! And you’re humans! I was afraid Starfleet had forgotten about us!”

“Zeleny Novacek, commander of starship Invidious,” Zeleny introduced himself. “This is Midori Kiryu, my weapons officer. I’m sorry, captain, but Starfleet didn’t send us. Is there someplace we can get out of this damn wind and talk?”

Shaan nodded and gestured to his men, then all together they marched into the remains of the FOB, rows of thermal insulating tents lay buried in snow, many were collapsed and just misshapen snow drifts. Zeleny caught glimpses of many more marines moving among the gabion walls that partitioned the base. They arrived at a domed building at the heart of the base, covered in snow and ice, almost invisible against the pale white sky.

They entered through an airlock into the interior. Many more marines dwelled inside, warm enough to shed their outer layers, but even so still uncomfortably cold. A young female marine greeted them and upon seeing Zeleny and Midori, broke out into an impossibly large joyful smile. “Good morning, everyone.” She had a steaming mug in her hand that she passed to Shaan. “I’ll get some for everyone!” And rushed into the adjoining room which looked like a field command center - or the remains of one at least. The screens were dark except for a few banks of lights that cast a dim glow unevenly across the chambers, running on minimum power.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen her smile in months,” Shaan said and grinned himself. “I hated how cheerful she always was, until she wasn’t, and then I missed that. Shaan pulled his hood back and let his antennae stretch out. “Alright, if you’re not Starfleet, who are you people, and how did you find us? And more importantly, can you help us?”

Zeleny paced across the airlock foyer trying to collect his thoughts as to how best approach the captain’s questions. The whole truth, part of the truth, none of the truth? Keeping secrets was never Zeleny’s preference, especially from fellow marines, but he was also dedicated to the mission, so he had to.

“We’re independent contractors of a sort,” Zeleny lied. “We take jobs as we can get them, and right now we’re looking for a group of Peregrine-class fighters that have been harassing our client’s business.” That was true.

Shaan frowned and hunched over a nearby table, leaning heavily against it. “Has there been any casualties?” Clearly Shaan knew something about it, and it weighed heavily on him.

“Apparently they don’t leave any survivors.” Zeleny answered back.

Shaan pounded a fist on the table and seethed through his gritted teeth, “Those damn, dirty, sons of--

“Here we go!” The grinning marine said bringing a tray of steaming mugs. “It’s not much, but it’ll warm you right up!”

Zeleny and Midori accepted a mug each and the rest of the marines followed. Midori looked at the contents. “Is this just hot water?”

“I’m afraid so,” the female marine said. “Plenty of it around here, and it’s important to keep warm! We ran out of coffee a few months ago. I think everyone has just about kicked their caffeine addictions though, so there’s also that!” She said cheerily.

Zeleny frowned and sipped from his mug, grateful to replace the warmth their brief stint outdoors robbed from them. He glanced at each of the marines in the room, haggard in appearance, their faces thin, vitality diminished. But their resolve remained firm. They were marines, they could survive in any conditions, and they had, but it was costing them so much.

Zeleny considered if he could leave them here like this after he got what he wanted, but every attempt to justify that course of action he rejected. He may be playing pirate, he may have done despicable things for the sake of the mission, but couldn’t abandon his fellow marines in this condition.

“Captain Shaan, a word in private?” Zeleny asked.

Shaan glanced up and nodded, then to the rest of his marines he jerked his head towards the next room. Wordlessly they all trudged off, Midori following behind casting Zeleny a concerned glance before disappearing into the main chamber leaving Zeleny and Shaan alone in the airlock foyer.

“How bad is it here, really?” Zeleny asked, leaning against the table beside Shaan.

The andorian turned around and matched Zeleny’s posture. “I’ve got 78 survivng marines and 3 civilians. Power plant is shot. No replicators, and most of our perishable stores are depleted. We’ve had some luck fishing off the edge of the ice sheet, but it’s mid-spring and the shelf is breaking up and retreating towards the base. In the summer there’s no telling if the ice we’re standing on will still be here. This FOB was a temporary measure only.”

Zeleny stroked his beard thoughtfully. How could he aid these people without jeopardizing his mission? How could he justify it to his crew? It had to be believable. “Well,” Zeleny began, “I can offer you two options, Captain Shaan. I have a contact in Starfleet, I can let them know your situation, but,” Zeleny paused, not sure how to best break the news to Shaan. Marines preferred the direct approach, and that was good enough for Zeleny. “But the fleet is in tatters. The Borg destroyed Starbase 900 and the gateway.”

Shaan’s eyes went wide. “We’re 10,000 light years from Borg Space, how did they--

Zeleny held up a hand. “I don’t know any more than that, I’m afraid. I don’t know when rescue could come. Maybe not in time. Which brings me to your second option. I have room and supplies enough for everyone here on my starship. When our current contract is completed, we can drop you off someplace where maybe you can get passage to Diogara station or at least wait for Starfleet to pick you up.”

“That’s more than acceptable,” Shaan replied quickly.

Zeleny shook his head. “Hear all of it first. It’s a small ship and cramped spaces, you’ll have access to some medical equipment but we’ve no doctor. My crew is not very altruistic, in fact, they’re downright mercenary. I don’t want any conflicts with them. You and your men will be expected to pull your weight while aboard my ship, and they will respect my officers’ and my authority. And, I can’t make any guarantees of safety, we do sometimes get into skirmishes.”

“Hell,” Shaan said, crossing his arms with a grin. “You almost make it sound like paradise, compared to what we’ve been through already. But let me be clear about one thing, these are my men and they are under my command. They are marines, they aren’t mercenaries. I am responsible for them. You will go through me.” Shaan puffed up a little bit to show he won’t be intimidated.

Zeleny smirked. He really wanted to tell Shaan the truth, that Zeleny didn’t need Shaan’s approval for anything, but for the sake of the mission, Zeleny allowed this power-play to continue. “Very well, Captain Shaan. And if any of your men step out of line, you’ll be held responsible. I do need one more thing from you, though.”

“You’re twisting my arm here, what more could you want?”

“I need to know what the hell happened here.”


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