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‘The Gauntlet’
Shared Federation, Tzenkethi, Breen, Cardassian border
USS Osprey, Deep Space Border Cutter, Gryffon class
Captain Mercy Faraday Thatcher, Commanding

Captain Mercy Faraday came striding into mission ops, before her stood the grim faces of the four strike teams she was about to send into harm’s way. She gave a sigh to herself then steeled herself for the business ahead. She fidgeted with her unbuckled armoured jacket as she entered the op room, which overlooked the expansive forward shuttle bay housing three prepped Star Stallions.

Mercy’s requisite sidearm for serving onboard a border cutter was never from her hip but for the op she was additionally armed. She wore her carbine phaser strapped over her back, an additional phaser, flash bangs and frag grenades on her belt, cuffs and manacles attached to her armour suit, and comm. wrist strapped on so that she ready to enter into the op at a moment’s notice and when the plan required.

The captain gave the four teams a grave nod, her eyes intent and focused. Without precursor, there neither was the time nor was it customary for her to do, she launched into the briefing. She tapped the holo-display table before her. Actual time information was being relayed to it of the ship’s position and the position of the target. Circling and turning in the air were the ship schematics and data of the Star Stallions to be deployed in the mission, as well as those of the Osprey, a Deep Space Cutter Gryffon class vessel of the Border Patrol Service. Next to these were the readouts of a heavily armoured and nasty looking Orion Raider, brimming with weapons and harpoons.

“Listen up people, here’s the score. We are on a timer. Our intel tells us that this piece of scum is running the Gauntlet, high and fast. We don’t need to look past the fact that it is an Orion Raider to know it is up to no good this far from home territory but my sources confirm that it is transporting slaves. We’ve got a rough lock on its position. But we’re holding back out of their sensor range so not to spook ‘em and give them a heads up that we’re coming.”

The ship’s chief of the boat, Mitch Duncannon stood before his squad, his hands tucked into his armoured vest. He was fully clad in black amour, and bedecked in an array of phaser weapons and a few blades to boot. His motto was to go in armed to the teeth and go in kicking. “Any idea who the Chieftain is, Skipper?”

“Not a confirmed identity Mitch but my sources say the markings made it Lorish’s ship.” Mercy brought up Lorish’s record and file image to float among the other data. The Green Orion sported stripes of scars across his face and numerous face piercings and tattoos. He looked mean and brutish and his record attested to his look. “So we know he has form and it is in his suspected line of business. I’ll be damned if we can’t hang him for it this time. But... Lorish knows the Gauntlet, knows how to navigate and run it, and he knows that if he makes it past the marker he is no longer in our jurisdiction.”

There was a grumble of disapproval from among the teams who all clearly believed, like Mercy herself, that jurisdiction shouldn’t come between stopping him.

Mercy raised a hand to halt any dissension. “I know, I know. The here and now of it is simply this: it means Lorish knows the demands of the Gauntlet and knows how to outrun us in it too if he should catch a sniff of us chasing his tail. To that end, we’re running a parabolic course as best as we can so as to make our capture path as we make our run in. We’re coming up on that critical juncture now. We’ve a tight window and tighter still not just because of the jurisdiction boundaries.”

The captain tapped the holo-table and it switched to a 3D display of the region of space, the Osprey and Lorish’s ship highlighted with blinking icons. They were surrounded by a green murk of the stormy nebula region of space known as ‘The Gauntlet’, a dangerous region to all space traffic but also a nest bed of piracy and nefarious traders dealing in weapons, drugs and slaves. Bordering on numerous unaligned regions of space that were hotspots for Orion Syndicate operations as well as being on the highly combustive borders of Tzenkethi, Breen and Cardassian space, the Gauntlet served as a tempting backdoor for many illegal activities but with so many dangers and with high warp speeds impossible, to traverse it was to run a gauntlet.

“As you can see here ...” Mercy poked into the holographic display, “we’ve got a nasty tempest brewing up and headed our way. So we need to stop Lorish and get those people off his ship before the storm swamps us.” The display showed a rapidly progressing wave threatening to crash into them like a tsunami.

Leann Mbeke, the ship’s Haliian chief security officer, standing before her team, asked, “What class of storm is it?” Facing a storm in the Gauntlet was not unusual but the danger was always the severity of the storm.

“T’Renna is speculating that it will be a class six at least.” There was an appreciative nod from the assembled teams at the mention of the ship’s science officer making such a call. “We all know T’Renna always bets conservatively without all the data. I expect it could get worse before it hits us. So this is going to be a case of hit ‘em hard and fast, swoop in and swoop out. Our priority is going to be the slaves. We get them off and to safety.”

Mbeke started to protest. “But Skip!”

Mercy had no time for disputes. “I didn’t say I liked it and I didn’t say we weren’t bringing Lorish in. But at the end of the day...”

The CoB pitched in with words that were likely to be more conciliatory than any choice from the captain, “... it gets dark.”

Faraday’s eyes flashed towards Duncannon and gave a fractional nod. “Well put Mitch. Our priority is what it is. I’m still hoping to clap Lorish in arms but priority one is those innocents.” At the display controls, Mercy activated a simulation of the Gryffon class vessel firing upon the Orion Raider. “We’re going to run in fast and hard. Hit them with the twenty-twos. Deploy the Stallions and crack its shell.”

The display simulated the Orion Raider dropping out of warp as the Mark-22s, torpedoes outfitted with an EMP, disrupted their warp field and brought down their weapons, controls, shields and just about every piece of electrical equipment onboard the raider. The 22s, known as rat-traps, were a stock weapon and tactic of the Border Patrol Service. The display continued with the simulation as Mercy narrated over it showing three vessels, moving at high impulse speed towards the raider and making hull contact at three different points. To which she now elaborated with quick fire speed as time was of the essence.

“Stallion One - that’s you Mitch.” Mercy leaned over the tactical display table, her face illuminated by the holographic projections, casting her in a grievous light. “You take the bridge. Get it. Control it. Stop it.”

Nonchalant, Mitch asked, “Call sign? You got a theme Skipper?”

Mercy cocked an eyebrow as his usual calm and even flippant demeanour in the face of such a situation, resisting the temptation to smile at it. “I’m thinking birds of prey for this party. Name one.”

“Vulture.”

“Fine by me. I’d have suggested bald eagle myself.” Flippantly she added herself, before pressing on as the display zoomed in on Stallion 1 making its landing to the fore of the ship’s hull and cutting into the connecting corridors to the bridge. “You take the bridge. ‘Dig in’ from above at this section. Lorish ought to be there, so you grab him. But the bastard won’t want to go quietly Mitch. Take care and expect a fight.” She levelled her trusted COB a warning and serious look.

The master chief petty officer only gave a fraction of a nod and remained stony solemn when it came to the particulars. “I always do.”

She added for his benefit, “You take him, whichever which way you can. I can pronounce a body bag guilty as good as a prisoner.” There was no rebuke for Captain Faraday’s suggestion and the implications of her comment. The only person it registered any negative response from was the ship’s first officer. To whom, Mercy turned now and addressed, ignoring any disapproval he showed.

“Stallion Two. XO that’s you. Got a name?”

Caught a little off guard Commander Gareth Hayes quickly composed himself, rubbing a hand over his stubble, to give his suggestion. “Eh... Falcon.”

“I like it. Good name. You got the slaves. On a Raider, we find the holding pens here on deck five to the rear. Nice and cramped - and not taking up much room. They prefer to give the legroom to the cargo that isn’t living.” Her lip curled in distaste at the slavers. Mercy turned his attention to the display where Stallion 2 came under the raider and connected to the underside of the vessel with the Stallion’s upper hatch. “You’re going to ‘mole’ in here. Cut through the deck floor and deploy the beam plates. Take this corridor, secure it and make it the disembark point.” Mercy twisted her comm. wrist and asked distractedly, “E.T.A. Helm?”

The bridge acknowledged, “Five minutes.”

“Ok. Falcon 2, you get the slaves back to the plates.” Newly minted commander, Gareth Hayes, seemed to stiffen at the assignment but said nothing. He just gave a silent nod to his new C.O. and wondered if she didn’t trust him with the bridge assignment because he was new or because he was a Fleet officer. “With the storm coming in, I’d prefer not to give them an arduous ride back but the storm could also play havoc with our transporters. Putting the onus on speed and achieving our goal of swift and brute domination of the scene. I repeat,” Mercy’s eyes swept the assembled team members and met them levelly, “swift and brute domination of the scene. Pop the locks and get them out of there.”

“Stallion Three.”

Leann Mbeke, the ship’s chief security officer, flashed a big smile. “Sparrow?”

“Not a bird of prey, don’t mess with my theme, Leann.” But Mercy’s attention, for all the banter, was on the display showing Stallion 3 attaching to the side of the raider near to the rear. “You get engineering. Woodpecker in from the aft.”

Beside Leann, Shelly ‘Sparks’ Logan, the ship’s senior chief petty officer, elbowed Mbeke and called out, “So woodpecker won’t work for you either huh Boss?”

Mercy gave that a withering raised eyebrow. Mbeke offered up an alternative. “Ok, kestrel.”

“Another good name. Take out engineering. The place will be a mess once we hit the ship with the rat-traps. Expect trouble of a different kind. Sparks.” Mercy turned her attention from Mbeke to the SCPO. The Senior Chief was the engineering lead on the team while Mbeke would be the muscle to secure it. “You secure any workings that need securing but only enough to stop the place exploding. The damn ship can drift after we are done with it.”

“Yes Boss.” Leann curtly nodded, taking a small step back among her team, which included Shelly ‘Sparks’, the non-com equivalent of the ship’s chief engineer and her handpicked engineering specialists.

Gareth stepped forward to poke the holo-display, pointing out the area to the fore of the holding pens where stairs and corridors funnelled into his section to take. He noticed that it was the point where his team would come under attack. “What about this area here Captain? We’ll be open to attack from any reinforcements.”

Mercy nodded impressed at his tactical sight to observe and discern that, for she knew he was unfamiliar with Orion Raiders coming from the Fleet. “You sure will. That’s where team four will beam in and hold that position.” She pointed to herself as she said this. “Team Raptor.”

Mbeke ribbed, good-humoured, “Oh, we going for a dinosaur theme now?”

“My theme, my rules, my plan of action. Teams make sure you deploy your enhancers. They’ll help us punch through the static and interference. Then, we make a dam between you and any reinforcements XO. Right there where they will funnel in.” She stabbed the position Hayes had highlighted. “Once the ship is boarded the slavers are going to make two runs - one for the bridge to save the captain and their collective asses and two for the slaves, where they’ll want to dump the evidence.” Which Mercy did not have to explain was why they were wasting valuable time trying to get the moves on sneaking up on the Raider.

“We’ll sort any reinforcements that come your way. Don’t worry; none will be getting past us XO, so team Falcon focus on getting the slaves out.” Gareth stepped back appeased.

“Ok. T’Renna makes the call on when the storm is upon us, when she does, I pull the cord on the mission and we all pull out.” Mercy clenched her fist and made a pulling motion to illustrate her words. “No holding back, no heroics, no dawdling. When that front hits us, it will wallop us good and hard. If we can, I want us to turn tail and try to outrun it as much as we can. That way, at least we’ll have less stormy seas to endure and be sooner to the other side. Make this a fast and clean getaway. If that means hitting hard and ugly when we enter then you hit hard and ugly and fast. You got me clear? Good. No questions?”

From her tone it seemed as though no questions was less an invite than an order not to question her plan. “Good. Ok. Mount up. Use your tactical drones and deploy your transporter enhancers. Keep your transporter tags active and comms open. Remember, we’ll have rat-stat after the torps hit that may interfere with your equipment no matter what the brochure says.”

Even after the mark-22s did their job, there was often residual interference they called ‘rat-stat’ that could play havoc with any technical equipment. Most of their Border Patrol equipment however was designed to enter into such a situation and had increased shielding from such effects. However, as Mercy did not get into, the rat-traps created other interference when they boarded. Lights would be down and many power systems overloaded when hit, exploding and igniting and spitting angrily. Conduits could rupture to spill gases and liquids and the air would be choked with smoke and other fumes. In essence, they would enter into a cauldron of hell and mayhem.

Mercy continued as she deactivated the display. “Ryuu and Mercus are fielding the new CPRs.” She referred to the newly approved and designed Concussive Pulse Roto-Thrusters weapons. They worked much like the tried and tested ARC (Adjustable Radius Concussion) weapons, but were of a more compact design created by someone within the Border Service who recognised a unique need in the work of the border service for such a weapon. Such thinking had created the ARC suppressant weapons and the rat-trap technology. “This will be their first field test in a live and dangerous situation. Be aware and be wary.”

The Skipper turned to a young Japanese enlisted. He looked serious and deathly but gave a devilish grin at mention of deploying the new hand weapon. “Ryuu, try to contain your enthusiasm. It don’t make you a one man army.” He gave another grin, part sheepish and part feral, to that comment. Despite his skinny frame, accented by the thin micromesh armour suit he wore, Ryuu Takeshi was a fierce and aggressive combatant. He used his small frame to his advantage, with speed, lightning reflexes, agile movements and sharp shooting to be the point member of Team Falcon.

“Team Falcon,” Mercy addressed all of Ryuu and the XO’s squad, “you take down your guards with brute force. We don’t need any of them getting back into the fight once the slaves are escaping. When the slaves are free, you switch to the ARCs or stick to the CPRs. I don’t want casualties - they’ll be in a bad way as is. Medics with Falcon, you have a job to do but you move the slaves - get them back to the ship where you can do some real good. Get them back here and back to the Doc. Don’t be sitting on the deck of that raider cos it won’t be going anywhere and that front will be coming in fast.”

The assigned medics all nodded having been fully appraised and instructed by Doc Suthy prior to this in a brisk no nonsense lecture.

“Bridge to Faraday. E.T.A. two minutes.”

“On my way, bridge.” Mercy depressed her wrist comm. and turned her attention back to the four squads. She gave them all a level and stern look, but a look that held concern and pride for her people. All of her crew were brave and skilled at what they did but she knew that the Stallion teams required an extra edge of courage to do the things they did - enter a firefight guns blazing or throw themselves into the fire of an emergency situation. There was no sure thing what to expect, the only constants were their courage and the fact that they might not come back. Still Mercy Faraday for all her toughness and fierce demeanour looked at them all and declared, “Ok, you better get going and you better all come back. Y’hear?”

They chorused, “Yes Boss!”

The three Stallion teams all turned on their heel and made towards the shuttle bay below. Team Raptor filed out at quick march to the transporter room where they would await the arrival of the captain when she had conducted her business on the bridge.

As they trooped pass, Mercy held back as the three other team leaders also stood in the room.

Gareth stepped forward, concern or questions in his voice. “Captain?”

“Sorry XO. We don’t have the time to debate the plan. This will work. Another time, I’ll invite discussion and input but for now you gotta trust me on this one. We’re responding quick and fast to last minute information and I don’t have time for a sit down. I know this is your first mission and you’d sooner more information and planning. But the situation doesn’t allow for that luxury.” She gave a wan, resigned smile to her XO. “It ain’t you and it ain’t me, it’s just the situation we’re facing.”

She then addressed the three of them in turn, one foot out the door itching to get to the bridge. “Leann, Mitch, Hayes, I’m trusting you to bring my people and those slaves home.” She gave one last word of advice to Gareth. “XO, trust your team and take their lead. Even though the likes of Ryuu is a mere slip of an enlisted and looks as if he should be at home with his granny he’s a seasoned hand at this thing and this makes it his eighty-second Stallion interdiction. God speed folks. Do good.”

Leann chimed in with an encouraging, easy smile. “You too Skip.”

Mitch Duncannon gave a singular terse nod of his head, conferring all his faith in the captain’s plan and his ability to carry it out. To which, Mercy returned, with a similar nod bestowing her confidence in him.

At the last, Mercy and her XO shared a look and settled matters between them unspoken. But still Mercy had to have the last word. “Welcome to the Dogs, XO. It’s a Dog’s life.”



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