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Ashes of Archanis

Posted on Sunday January 15th, 2017 @ 12:30am by Commander Magnus Sterling & Staff Sergeant Nichol Meyers

Mission: Enemies Closer
Location: Marine Country, USS Excelsior
Timeline: MD 4 0815 Hours

Magnus Sterling stepped across the threshold from the turbolift onto deck 25, colloquially called Marine Country by the ship’s crew. For Sterling starfleet marines were a curious bunch. By tradition and training marines always considered themselves at-war while deployed aboard starships. Indeed, Sterling would be hardpressed to find a more combat-able-and-ready department in all of Starfleet. The irony being, of course, Starfleet itself was rarely at-war, and command staff and starfleet brass had a terrible habit of neglecting marines during times of peace.

As Sterling strolled, he noted the halls were strangely quiet in comparison to Sterling memories from the Dominion War. Back then, berths like these were packed full of youthful, eager rookies and the rough and tough veterans barking to keep them in line.

Sterling took in a deep breath before entering the marine’s recreation lounge. A group of marines surrounded a table cheering two of their fellows in a contest of arm strength. Another group played some kind of card game, and a third group appeared to be engrossed in the words of a marine who seemed to be recounting one of her more heroic moments.

Finally Sterling spotted the dark figure of a man sitting at the bar, alone, and contemplating the bottom of his glass. The chatter of the lounge fell quiet as marine eyes took notice of Sterling working his way across the lounge towards the bar. He pulled up a chair and sat beside the dark-skinned staff sergeant.

Without looking up the sergeant said, “You sure you’re in the right place, commander?”

Sterling smirked and motioned for the marines to carry-on. “Quite sure. Isn't it a little early to be drinking?"

The sergeant sneered. "Just finished running first platoon through a thirty-six hour training program. So, it might be early for you, but it's damn late for me."

"Well maybe that explains it. It's been twelve years since last worked with Starfleet marines. It’s much quieter than I remember.”

“Different times,” the sergeant replied.

Sterling nodded. He need to earn this sergeant’s respect if his line of inquiry were to gain any traction. “Indeed. Back in the Archanis Campaign, the marines I knew were much more boisterous.”

The sergeant eyed Sterling suspiciously. “You were boots-on-ground in Archanis?”

Sterling nodded, drawing in a deep breath, dredging up the horrific memories of war with the Klingons. “Starfleet recalled me to duty to help plan and execute operations to retake the sector. Operation Righteous Indignation, that one was mine.”

“I remember that one,” the sergeant said. “Ballsy. Righteous Indignation gave us the beachhead we desperately needed to press the campaign towards Archanis IV, but that could have gone the other way too.”

“I know,” Sterling admitted. “It was a calculated risk. We didn’t have as much fleet support as we needed, Archanis had to be won on foot. Klingons were pushing our forces back on all fronts, we had to disrupt their momentum. Took some convincing, but I got the generals to support my plan for a massive landing operation hinging on a high speed penetration of klingon orbital defenses with marine drop ships. Losses were expected to be high.”

“Righteous Indignation was my first deployment out of basic.” The sergeant reached over the bar counter and retrieved a bottle and a glass, setting the glass in front of Sterling and pouring an amber liquid from the bottle into each of their glasses. “To the poor bastards that didn’t make planetfall.”

Frowning, Sterling accepted the glass and clinked his with the sergeant’s then downed the synthol liquor. Sterling tried to identify the beverage from the flavor. “Bolian whisky?”

The sergeant nodded with a grin. “As close as we can get, the real stuff would kill a human.” An eruption of cheers came from behind the men as one of the arm-wrestling contestants defeated his opponent. “Staff Sergeant Nichol Meyers,” the sergeant introduced himself as he poured another round.

“I know. Commander Magnus Alastair Sterling.”

“Do you always introduce yourself with your middle name or are you just trying to impress me?”

“Habit, mostly, it has a pretentious ring to it, served me pretty well when I was publishing archaeology papers and lecturing. I really doubt a Starfleet marine would be impressed by a name alone.”

Meyers nodded. “True enough. So what really brings Excelsior’s executive officer down into the bowels of the ship where the timid fear to tread? Surely not to reminisce about bloodier times.”

“What’s the status of Excelsior’s marines. I want your personal perspective.”

Meyers emptied his glass again. “We’re about half-strength and I don’t see that improving any time soon. Too many losses, not enough reinforcement over the past few years. All the marine officers aboard are flyboys and too junior to provide effective leadership. So it’s up to us NCOs to pick up the slack. Morale is, well, morale is improving at least.”

“What happened to your officers?” Sterling asked. To see a company without officers was almost unprecedented.

“Dead or transferred away for some reason or another. Who knows?”

Sterling sighed. This was the unfortunate tale of peacetime with marines. Not as much need or justification, downsizing and lack of personnel. And striping a company of it’s officers? Someone wasn’t paying attention.

Sterling decided it was time to get to brass tacks. “I also came down here because I have some information you were looking for.”

Meyers frowned. “I was hoping to keep that on the down-low. Ensign Ral told you?”

“She didn’t bring to my attention voluntarily. I do outrank her, you know.” Sterling said with a grin that quickly faded as he segued to the next part. “Official records show Lieutenant Felix Leighter is listed as MIA, along with most of the staff aboard Starbase 900. It doesn’t appear he escaped in time. Was he a friend of yours?”

“Friend of a… friend.”

Interesting, Sterling thought. It seemed this Meyers may have been an intermediary. His original hunch may be about to bear some fruit. He just needed to know which branch to follow. It was unlikely this other friend was aboard Excelsior, else he or she could have made the inquiry directly. Suddenly Sterling’s train of thought hitched to another car. “This friend of yours didn’t happen to contact you via subspace radio about two days ago? After 2200 hours?”

“This sounds more like an interrogation,” Meyers said flatly, neither confirming or denying Sterling’s flash of insight.

“Leighter was a Starfleet Intelligence officer who as best as I can surmise, supervised deep-cover operations. If there are any operatives still out there, we need to reestablish contact with them. No man left behind.”

Meyers seemed to study Sterling’s face, scanning for signs of betrayal or sincerity and determining just how much he can trust Excelsior’s XO. “Look, I don’t know anything about this Leighter other than to find out his whereabouts. And if my friend is a deep-cover operative, you can’t contact him directly, he contacts you.”

“So he trusts you?”

“He should, and I trust him.”

Sterling nodded. It seemed clear that whoever this friend was, the sergeant wasn’t prepared to name him. Maybe he understood the importance of undercover operations, or perhaps…

“Very well, staff sergeant. When your friend does contact you again, please let him know I’d like to speak to him too.” Sterling finished his glass and set it down on the counter. “Carry-on, sergeant, and let me know if I can do anything to help.”

Meyers nodded and Sterling made his way towards the exit. The marines completely ignoring him this time.

When the lounge doors closed behind him, Sterling tapped his communicator. “Sterling to Ral.”

Ensign Mirenna Ral’s voice came over the comm unit. “Ral here, sir.”

“I have some new criteria for your search for Leighter’s operatives. He’s a marine.”

“Marines generally don’t have the expertise to hack into our computer systems. Why do you suspect a marine?”

“By following the rabbit hole, Ral. Meyers wouldn’t give up his name, but he does trust this man, and he’s loyal to him. Marines are a tight-knit group, they don’t give their loyalty or trust away so casually, not to ‘outsiders.’ It’s another marine.”

 

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