Location: Cornucopia Settlement (Gorn-controlled), 1km SE of the South Cornucopia Power Station, Cestus III
Timeframe: Present day, stardate 62021.7
It was clear the Gorns had been busy on Cestus Three since the Federation relinquished control of the colony to them over four years ago. They had obviously installed a new weather control system that changed the hydrology of the planet, increasing the rainfall patterns and converting the previous savanna-like climate to a new one that was more jungle-like; humid and hot, making it more like the Gorn homeworld of Tau Lacertae IX. Leon now knew why Hendrix was driving the squads to train in the wet, muddy conditions of the holosuite program on Republic.
The beam-down point was in the midst of a marshy landscape, with tree species that were unrecognizable to Leon, even though botany had been one of his past hobbies. The vegetation was lush and tightly packed; not sparse or arid. The smells were moist and moldy, devoid of the pleasing sage-like pungency of the home where he grew up. Back then, a storm rolling over the Gordonian mountain range was a welcome sight, bringing much needed rain to the parched landscape at the beginning of the monsoon season. Now, the intermittent rain showers that occurred sporadically throughout the day seemed oppressive and gloomy, with the bleak, rainforest-like flora blocking any view of the mountains. It gave the terrain less of an open feeling and more like a claustrophobic hodgepodge of relentless woody overgrowth stretching for miles, impeding all progress by ground with every step.
“Just like a day on the bayou,” commented Hendrix to Leon with satisfaction after noticing the doctor's hesitance with this new terrain. “A day on the bayou is like a day on the farm, right boys?” he called over his shoulder to a few grunts of acknowledgement to the rest of the nine-person squad. The commander had his “marines” separated into two squads: Alpha and beta squad. Each were a backup to the other when one was in the field. Alpha team was still on the ship, as this particular operation was seen as a “mop up” expedition to the main battle that had already taken place in orbit. While Hendrix technically took general deployment orders from Republic's chief of security, once they hit the ground, it was the commander who was in charge to accomplish the mission objective.
In truth, it had been almost a full twenty-four hour day since beam in, the squad materializing in a rural area to avoid detection by ground-to-air sensor networks, expecting to make quick work of the ten kilometer walk to the fusion plant on the outskirts of Cornucopia Settlement. However, what should have taken only a few hours walk in Cestus's previous climate was now constant drudgery, requiring their slow march to take an overnight bivouac in a mud pit swarming with mosquitos. At dawn on the following day, they continued their slog through the crepuscular undergrowth, continuing their trek through the meandering jungle, stopping every so often in an attempt to gain their bearings. While Republic could track their progress from orbit, Hendrix instituted radio blackout to mask their approach to the fusion plant.
“It just doesn't seem right, commander,” Leon commented with concern as the squads stopped again around noon to get their bearings once more. “We should at least have seen the city skyline by now. Either the Gorns let the wilderness take a lot of the city back, or they moved most of the equipment and housing underground. There were old storm tunnels below the city big enough to house a large population back when I lived here.”
“Orbital scans showed buildings all throughout the jungle,” a young ensign commented while working a tricorder, taking turns looking around at the terrain and back down at the scanning device. “We probably won't see them until we're almost on top of them.”
“The main fusion plant isn't much further ahead,” Hendrix explained, studying his own tricorder. “We've got four hours until golden hour. I want this operation wrapped up and back at the ship by supper. Let's go!”
Location: Cornucopia Settlement Fusion Plant, Cestus III
The front entrance of the fusion plant wasn't what the squad expected it to be. It was recognizable enough when they first approached; smooth bunker-like walls of standard concrete resin imbued with trititanium fibers, its honed surfaces broken only by four years of creeping vines and overgrowth that partially blocked ingress. However, missing from the scene was any sign of Gorn security forces, which something the squad was expecting all throughout their approach. Point in fact, the expectation of battle – and subsequent lack of it – put the squad of nine on edge, and consternation became the norm.
“I'm telling you,” explained Leon to Hendrix. “I'm not reading any weapon signatures. There's only the fusion reactor deep in the building, and a few discrete life signatures moving around the place.”
“Well you're not reading it right,” the commander dismissed. “We got Gorn troopers in there, and orders to stop them from overloading the fusion plant. Move in!”
Without another word, the squad dutifully followed Hendrix into the fusion complex, leaving Leon to do nothing more than to follow them up with a shake of his head.
The hallways of the plant were eerily deserted. As the squad made their way deeper into the complex, the walls and furniture were thick with dust and overgrowth. Conference rooms and break areas were long since abandoned, subject to the ravages of time. While there was still power to the complex, judged by the overhead lights still active with the occasional flicker from power surges, the security system was inactive, and there were no active control consoles in any of the side rooms. The only major power source they could pick up was the reactor core and the main control room several hundred meters deeper into the complex.
“What's the core status?” asked Hendrix as the squad continued forward, slinking around corners and across intersecting hallways.
“Uncertain,” one of the troopers replied, scanning his tricorder while holding his rifle at the ready in the other hand. “The power output isn't fluctuating as much as it was when we breached the entrance, but that's not saying a lot. It's still going into overload, but I don't know when. Hours maybe. The coolant system is all that's standing in the way of it going critical.”
“Lifesigns?” Hendrix asked Cromwell at the rear of the squad.
“Indeterminate,” he explained. “The deeper we go, the smaller the scan radius. I'm picking up sporadic lifesigns in the direction of the control room straight ahead. They're larger than humanoid size, and their metabolism is low enough to be reptilian. I'd say there's Gorns ahead, but I'm not sure how many.”
The expectation of oncoming battle seemed to shift the adrenaline of the squad to a higher level. Closer they loomed to the main control room, spying the door at the end of a long hallway that had vines growing up the walls on either side. Movement was seen beyond via the flickering light from underneath the door. Cromwell's tricorder began picking up the movement with soft warbling chirps as they made their approach. Hendrix and the lead troopers massaged the grips of their rifles as they slinked forward, their pulses racing and sweat trickling down their foreheads. At less than ten meters from the door, Hendrix signaled for the squad to halt, adjusting his battle helmet, and turning back to look at Cromwell for a signal of whether they can proceed.
The doctor, too, was similarly stressed, nodding with anxiousness back at Hendrix, giving the non-verbal signal that the life readings were dead ahead through the door. All they needed was to proceed. Looking at the troops around him, Hendrix found that last drive of assurance needed for battle, then gave the nod to proceed.
With fire in their eyes, the squad burst into the room. However, instead of burly Gorn troopers laden with battle armor meeting them with a volley of disruptor fire, there were only a few hisses of astonishment as four slim, bipedal saurians stood up from their chairs after being seated behind complex control consoles. They were clearly Gorn, but not of the subspecies normally encountered in battle or on the bridge of warship; less stocky tyrannosaur-like and more of a slender velociraptor build, and boasting more dexterous digits with thoughtful, calculating eyes – a stark contrast to their hulking counterparts. Confused, they looked at one another while a fifth saurian in a corner control booth remained seated, frantically working the claviature, his attention clearly split between the human interlopers and the status readouts that were cascading from a cautionary amber into a deep red, indicating they were engaged in a critical operation. The other four saurians looked between themselves and the Starfleet troopers with ambiguity before seemingly coming to a common conclusion, and began raising their arms in surrender.
Before they could fully extend their arms to abdicate their fate, a monotone two-word order from Hendrix shattered the scene of calming dedition.
Without missing a beat, Hendrix's men rained phaser fire into the room, tearing through metal consoles, counters, and chairs, as well as reptilian flesh and clothing. Within seconds, there was no one else alive in the room except themselves, and after the phasor fire ceased, the soldiers quickly slinked about the room, aiming their rifles around each turn, awaiting an attack that never came.
For his part, Leon was beyond astonished. Smoke and the stench of seared flesh hung in the air as incredulity bled from his shocked expression, watching speechlessly as the troopers casually pulled aside the reptilian bodies and began studying the the computer readouts. For his part, Hendrix carefully studied the room, and his attention was drawn to the corner control booth where he pulled the seated corpse of the fifth Gorn to the floor. Red lights and small alert chirps continued to sound as he called over his shoulder.
“Goldman!” Hendrix beckoned to his next-in-command. “Get on this console and tell me what's going on!” he ordered.
One of the troopers immediately responded to the commander by slinging his weapon and adroitly sliding into the newly-vacated chair. Punching several commands into the keyboard, the young ensign watched the readings coming in to the status monitors in front of him.
“Looks like there's a reactor overload in progress,” he explained. “The magnetic field in the core is deteriorating, probably due to feedback from a sudden drop in the power load.”
As the smoked cleared, an unarmed human woman in her mid fifties appeared in a doorway arch across the room that led deeper into the complex. She had a pale complexion, with a bun of black but graying hair, and wore black utility trousers with a long-sleeved green jersey under a white jacket-vest. While the troopers hadn't noticed her yet, all she could do is gawk at the carnage around her.
“Lins!” shouted Leon, who suddenly noticed her. In retrospect, the doctor realized that pointing her out without telling the marines to stand down was a bad idea, but the suddenness and sheer coincidence of her presence overwhelmed his common sense.
“LEON!” she returned, recognizing the doctor. Immediately, the squad tensed up, training their weapons in her direction. Leon immediately interposed himself as Hendrix realized the threat was minimal, waiving off what would have doubtless been another rain of phasor fire.
Leon was in such awe at her appearance that he too gawked, but at Lins herself and not the carnage. He wanted to greet her with a hug, but due the adrenaline and awkwardness of their reunion, only stood watching her as she scanned the room in disbelief.
“What did you do to my technical crew??” she finally asked with incredulity.
“They're your CREW?” Leon questioned her with confusion.
“They're YOUR crew?” a flabbergasted Hendrix asked.
“Cornucopia Settlement was abandoned three years ago!” she explained frantically to the doctor. “It was too damaged to rebuild, so we joined the Gorns to build a new settlement on the other side of the mountains!”
“You know this woman, Cromwell?” Hendrix turned to the doctor abruptly.
“She's Lindsey Davenport!” explained Leon. Even through his adrenaline, he was both surprised and relieved to see her alive. “She was one of colonists who stayed on Cestus Three after it was turned over to the Gorns four years ago!” A flurry of memories went through his head that beckoned back not only to the Republic Eight trial at Starbase Thirty Nine Sierra, but also to his own childhood when Lins was a homemaker and friend to the Cromwell family.
“We came back after your orbital bombardment!” Lins further explained, looking tensely between Leon and Hendrix, trying to ascertain why Starfleet was attacking the planet. “It forced an overload in the planet's power grid and destabilized the reactor's magnetic field! We were trying to get it back under control!”
Unfortunately, the reunion between Leon and Lins was short-lived. As with the order to fire on the Gorns, Hendrix brusquely commanded the troops to take action once again.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOI…” shouted Lins angrily before a stun beam hit her solidly in the gut. As she collapsed to the ground, Leon scrambled to break her fall.
“LINS!” he exclaimed, catching her torso and head before they impacted with the ground. Checking her over with his medical tricorder, he shot the Texan a furious rebuke.
“Have you lost your mind??” shouted Leon. “She's a fellow human being and friend of MY family!”
“I don't give a flying fuck if she was the Queen of Sheba!” Hendrix swore back at the doctor. “She's not a Federation citizen anymore and was working with the Gorns! That makes her a collaborator! You're lucky we didn't vaporize her on the spot!”
“COLLABORATOR?” Leon exclaimed in disbelief. “She's one of the most trustworthy people I know!”
“Trustworthy?” Hendrix returned. “Try 'traitorous'! You heard her! She was LEADING these Rexes!” Ignoring any further discourse with the doctor, the commander turned to other matters. “Johnson!” he shouted to another member of the squad who was monitoring the vicinity with a tricorder. “Are there any other lifesigns in the reactor complex besides our own?”
“Negative sir,” came the reply.
“Goldman!” he beckoned back to his second-in-command. “How long until reactor overload?”
“Less than two minutes,” Goldman reported. “We fried the reactor's coolant control when stray fire shot up that thermal regulation subsystem panel,” he pointed to a smashed, sparking computer interface console across the room. “The superconducting coil packs are getting too warm to maintain the magnetic field. You want me to try flooding it with the emergency cryotanks?” he asked.
Scanning the room, Hendrix took in the information from his subordinates, pausing in thought only long enough to come to a decision.
“No,” Hendrix ordered as Leon's face contorted into disbelief.
From his view, the doctor couldn't understand why the commander wouldn't at least TRY to stabilize the magnetic field, but judging by the look in his eye, Leon came to realize that saving the colony's reactor wasn't on the commander's mind… only saving his ass was.
“I'm calling it,” Hendrix ordered firmly, tapping his combadge and breaking radio silence. “Hendrix to Republic. Ten to beam up for emergency extraction. Energize!”
Location: Transporter Room Three, Deck 8, USS Republic (Luna Class)
As soon as the squad stepped off the transporter pad, Hendrix began handing out orders like the practiced military commander that he was. The first order was to the squad behind him, where a pair of enlisted troopers held on to the unconscious form of Lindsey Davenport.
“Take her to the brig,” he ordered the pair, and acting with precision, they promptly carried her out the door.
“WHAT?” Leon exclaimed, following the commander as he stepped off the transporter.
“Stand down, Cromwell!” ordered Hendrix, clearly expecting the doctor's protest. “You'll get a chance to be with your friend soon enough,” he said smoothly. “Right now, we've got work to do… Goldman!” he turned his attention to his next-in-command. “Get these chowderheads turned around back to ready-one!”
Reacting with immediacy, Goldman began ordering the tactical team over to the weapons locker and began redistributing freshly charged phaser packs.
While the rest of the squad began reloading, Hendrix walked up to the transporter console across the room, reaching over to activate the comm panel, behind which a young transporter chief in operations gold stood silently in dutiful attendance.
“Hendrix to Ragnar,” he beckoned to the bridge.
“Ragnar here. Go ahead, commander.”
“Encode to Task Force Command that our mission to secure the fusion plant failed. No casualties and one prisoner. We're standing by for further orders.”
“Aye, sir. Encoding your traffic now. Stand by.”
“Aren't you going to tell them that you LET the reactor overload?” Leon accused.
“I doubt your spin of what happened down there will get you many friends on the command staff,” Hendrix seethed with disgust. “And while you're at it, why don't you stick with what YOU do best and just shut th' hell up until we need you?”
“Tell me, commander… Is it SOG policy to fire on surrendering civilians?” Leon shot back.
The cold stare of the battle-hardened lieutenant commander sent chills down both Leon's spine, and the spine of the poor young ensign who stood silently behind the transporter control console. Realizing that the conversation between him and the doctor was being observed by an unwanted third party, Hendrix turned his ire to the young man watching them.
“Ensign,” the commander addressed the transporter chief with frosty succinctness. “Take a powder.”
“Excuse me?” the young transporter chief replied, unclear of what the commander was saying due to his Texas accent.
“Beat it,” he replied more forcefully, looking him directly in the eye and using his thumb outstretched towards the door to emphasize. “You're relieved.”
With reluctance and confusion, the ensign looked between Hendrix and the doctor while he made his way to the door. As he left, it whispered shut behind him, and Hendrix called over his shoulder to his ensign.
“Goldman!” he order. “Take over!”
For his part, the young hazard trooper had just finished reloading the squads' weaponry, and without a word, crisply took his place behind the transporter controls, dialing in the change of transporter control into the log record.
“Now look, Cromwell,” Hendrix began another diatribe towards the doctor. “I've TOLD you that you need to play BALL! That means that you and I…”
“Ragnar to Hendrix.”
“Hendrix here,” the lieutenant commander replied with irritation due to the interruption. “What is it? I'm very busy!”
“Sir, Task Force Command has received and acknowledged your situation report, and are sending further orders. They've located the last remaining resistance cell on the planet, and directing your team to attack. I'm feeding the orders and co-ordinates to the battlenet now.”
Instinctively, Hendrix and Goldman both turned their attention to their wrist-mounted display controls, reading the new orders from command, studying the detail and surmising the best strategy to carry them out. Hendrix took only a moment of thought before nodding his head in agreement. His posture changed to a more formal one, voicing his next set of commands with practiced authority.
“Lieutenant Ragnar,” Hendrix formally addressed the Republic's security chief over the intercom. “As of this moment, my men and I are taking over command of the Republic's security department. They'll be working out of the deck eight security office and brig area, so keep the rest of the crew out of those places. Tell the captain 'code green'. She'll know what to do.”
Ragnar's reply indicated that he was not only cognizant of what Hendrix was doing, but also chose to be compliant.
“What the hell is 'code green'?” Leon questioned with rising apprehensiveness.
Hendrix looked at the doctor with a touch of annoyance, perceiving the doctor's question as impudence on his part.
“It means that the situation on the ground has changed,” he explained, as if driving the point home that it was inappropriate for Leon to have asked and was simply humoring him with a response. “I'm exercising my prerogative to switch operational control of ship security over to military operations command, which means that I'M now in charge of both ship security AND away team operations.”
Leon could only watch as the situation turned further and further away from his favor, and Hendrix began exercising his newfound control over the security department.
“Goldman,” Hendrix addressed his ensign at the transporter controls. “I want you and beta squad to stay here on the ship and take control of the security section. You're in charge until I get back.”
“Understood, sir,” The ensign nodded back as the commander tapped the comm console again.
“Hendrix to Ensign Purcell,” he called out to his other team lead amongst the hazard trooper contingent on Republic.
“Purcell, we're at code green,” he said definitively. “Beta squad is commandeering the security deck. I want you and alpha squad to report to transporter room three for landing party duty. Configure your ordinance for a forward assault. Cromwell and I will be beaming down with you.”
“On our way.”
“Wait a minute!” interrupted Leon. “I have a patient in the brig, and you've got some explaining to do to the captain! I'm not just going to stand here and let you…”
“AT EASE!” shouted Hendrix at the top of his lungs, drawing a flinch from the doctor. With an outstretched finger aimed at his chest, the commander forcefully pushed back at Leon. “Yer going NO WHERE but where I tell ya!” his Texas accent becoming more pronounced. “Whether ya like it er not, we got orders DIRECT from the FLEET COMMANDER! You're our 'special adviser' with 'local expertise'… That means where WE go, YOU go! We land NO WHERE on Cestus without you! Do I make myself clear??”
The shock of Hendrix's invective was still gripping him as the door to the transporter room slid open once again, and alpha squad began filing in with heavy gear and weaponry while the rest of beta squad went the other direction, filing out of the room with orders to take over command of Republic's security department. Trailing alpha squad was a bewildered Lieutenant Commander Nathan Hawk, who strolled up into the doorway, watching the spectacle of heavily-armed marines march up the transporter pad. It was then that he spied Leon Cromwell, who stood watching the same scene with disapproval.
“Leon?” Hawk addressed the doctor, who suddenly noticed his friend standing confusedly in the open doorway. As he sprinted up to him, the Republic's first officer took note of the concern in Leon's face and wanted to address it. “What in Sam Hill is goin' on?”
“Hawk,” Leon responded soberly. “These guys have violated interstellar law… They fired on surrendering civilians!”
“They what?” Hawk returned, concern growing in his voice.
“The doctor's stretchin' the truth a bit,” Hendrix interrupted the conversation as alpha squad began assembling on the transporter pad. “We ran into a bunch of Gorns down there that were trying to blow up the fusion plant. We took em' out, but the doctor here thinks that just because they didn't have disruptor rifles that they weren't dangerous, which is a bunch of bullshit.”
“Yer th' only one filled with bullshit, Hendrix!” Hawk shot back, trying to keep his focus on Leon, who he saw as the only possible purveyor of truth at the moment. Unfortunately, the retribution only served as bait for further retort.
“Well ain't you th' little brute?” the commander returned as he stepped onto the transporter pad himself, his voice laced with sarcasm, revealing his prejudice towards Hawk as both pretentious and amusing. “I guess our baby fly-boy here thinks he's a big shot now!” he remarked over his shoulder to the troops on the pad behind him, drawing chuckles of disrespect. “I tell you what, Mister Death Wish,” he rebuked Republic's first officer. “Why don't you stick to drivin' the boat, and we'll take care of the doctor's homeworld, m'kay?”
At the mention of Leon's homeworld, Hawk's attention suddenly re-focused back to the actual reason he came down to greet the doctor upon his return to the ship.
“Leon,” whispered Hawk as they stood in the open doorway. “We got a burst of flash traffic from the fleet battlecomm jus' now. An emergency personal memo came through for you from Elysium colony…”
Leon stared at Hawk, recognizing not only the source of the memo, but also noted the “flash” and “emergency” precedence, as well as the seriousness in Hawk's demeanor that indicated something terrible had happened.
“Dad?” he whispered.
“I'm sorry, Leon,” Hawk consoled in a hushed tone so that Hendrix and the marines wouldn't hear him. “There was nothing they could do… He had a sudden heart attack yesterday. They couldn't contact us due to the blackout. He died yesterday evening…”
“Let's go, Cromwell,” beckoned Hendrix from the transporter. “Yer homeworld is waitin'.”
The commander's voice resonated in the doctor's mind as if it were calling from across a great chasm. Leon heard it, but it was so inconsequential compared to the news he had just received, that he didn't acknowledge it right away. His gut tightened and his pulse skipped as a touch of vertigo washed over him. His father was gone. He would never hear his voice again, to say nothing of seeing the joy in his face when Leon expected to tell him that he could come home and carry out the rest of his sentence on Cestus Three. Everything he had worked for – everything he had sacrificed to make his father's homecoming possible – was for naught. His honor… his principles… his self-respect… he gave it up for this war against the Gorns, just for the selfishness of wanting to bring his father home.
“Cromwell! Let's go!” Hendrix beckoned again. The doctor stirred, but just barely. He moved slightly in Hendrix's direction, but felt lost. He wasn't sure of where to go next.
“Can it, Hendrix!” Hawk shot back loudly, taking note of the shock that the doctor was in. “Leon ain't goin' anywhere! I'm puttin' him on restricted duty til further notice!”
“Nice try, Hawk,” Hendrix retorted. “But Cromwell is under MY orders, and you ain't got nuthin' to say about it.” Turning to the doctor – who was still shaking off the shock of the news – he took no notice of his psychological condition, increasing the firmness of his decree.
“Cromwell… Get. On. The. Transporter. NOW… That's an ORDER…”
Leon's eyes were a blank stare. He looked at the wall, unblinkingly digesting the news that told him that he was the only one alive in his family now. He was alone. He was alone, and was about to go into combat. He didn't know if he was going to come out alive.
“CROMWELL!” shouted Hendrix angrily for the last time. “IT'S TIME TO GO HOME!”
It was time indeed. The thought of home seemed to move his legs. Dejectedly, the doctor turned around and climbed the single step up onto the transporter pad, taking his place next to Hendrix, who only scowled at him before Hawk tried to get in the last word.
“I'm takin' this to the Captain…” scolded Hawk soberly.
Instead of an additional furious invective in return, Hendrix simply gave a half-smirk that not only raised the right side of his trimmed mustache, but revealed his gleaming white teeth as he gave a weasel-like smile.
“You do that,” he replied with self-assurance, confident that the outcome would be in his favor. “In the meantime, I gotta job to do…” Turning his attention to Ensign Goldman standing behind the transporter controls, he gave finality to the conversation with his next order. “Energize.”
LTCR Leon Cromwell, MD, PhD
Chief Medical Officer
USS Republic, NCC-81371