Pythia's Tale (Excalibur-A)
With Starfleet unbelieving of the coincidental nature of the illness now raging through at least three planets on the Thracian/Romulan border, the USS Excalibur A is commissioned and sent to investigate and render aid to one of the planets within Romulan Space. Agurtha, by all accounts, appears to be the location of the first outbreak of the illness, making it vital to the discovery of the origins of the disease. Without time to digest the orders of change, the senior staff of Starbase 118 is reassigned to the brand new Vesta class starship and sent on a medical mercy and intelligence gathering mission.
A mere hours from Agurtha at maximum warp, the Excalibur leaves the safety of the Starbase and meets up with the Romulan fleet that had been waiting outside. Escorted by them and a promise of protection once the ships reached Romulan space, the crew doesn't have long to prepare for the eventuality of their work on the surface of Agurtha. The fact that it appears to be under heavy control of the Tal Shiar is discovered, but that alone is not enough to halt any attempts at bringing help and the prospect of finding a cure for the disease.
Now, as the ship approaches the planet, the training and testing of the teams about to beam down will be put to work while the rest of the senior staff makes sure that the ship stays unharmed in enemy territory.
On arrival at Agurtha, Fleet Captain Nicholotti determined that her skills would be necessary on the ground, brooking no argument from either her First or Second officers, who remained on the ship. She felt that it was necessary both for the medical, political, and diplomatic reasons. Oddly, Captain Walker remained quiet, not arguing the point at all. Security prepared for the difficult task of guarding the medical staff while in the hazmat suits, as the doctors prepared to combat an unknown illness.
The away team was met by the acting director of finance of Agurtha, and his "aide", who's actions lead many to believe him to be related to the Tal Shiar if not actively a member. They were walked around on the planet, only slowly making their way to the hospital...and not moving at all toward the cause of the plague.
Meanwhile on the Excalibur, passive scans were unable to pull significant data from the ground, requiring more active scans. Several options were explored, including the launching of a stealth probe. Unfortunately, launching the probe would be noticed, and other options were equally problematic. The first officer oddly pushed for a direct communication with the Tal Shiar, requesting access to directly scan the planet and assistance in cutting through the "red tape" on the planet. Shockingly enough, the Tal Shiar Commander agreed.
The Tal Shiar's approval wasn't all encompassing. Several areas were designated off limits, which didn't stop the crew from working around it. Using a combination of methods, the crew determined that items on the ground were showing differing rates of carbon decay. And the amounts of decay, not so coincidentally, were largest in the areas that the Tal Shiar had restricted scans. More interesting yet was the fact that those areas were all adjacent to waterways, as if items were being transported there.
On the ground, Fleet Captain Nicholotti and Lieutenant Commander Brek, fought a diplomatic battle to move toward the source of the problem. Unfortunately, despite their efforts and the assurances of the Tal Shiar, it was only after the Captain demanded to move that they were able to do so. But before they could leave, there was an assassination attempt on the acting Director Pondahk's life. The attempt failed, but only reinforced the director's desire to stay with the Captain.
Throughout the process, the doctors worked to find out what they could about the plague, but only came to understand that it was 100% communicable, and everyone who'd been exposed had eventually died. Until two hybrids were discovered who had been exposed and had survived. Interestingly enough, one of them was Lieutenant Luna Walker, who was supposed to be on Lambda Hydrae!
Upon reaching a mountainous region north of the capital city, an away team led by Captain Nicholotti discovered the source of intermittent interference that wreaked havoc both on the surface and aboard the starship. Upon further analysis, this turned out to be an Iconian gateway.
While investigating the hybrids, Ensign Cuthbert was injured by a Tal’Shiar officer. With Cuthbert transported to the ship for medical care, the officer was pursued into the area Captain Nicholotti’s team was investigating. The man’s crimes, which included the murder of those infected with the plague, were accounted and he was taken into custody by Agurthan officials. Shortly thereafter, the away team returned to the ship to analyze their data on the Iconian gateway.
Meanwhile, a medical team led by Doctor MacLaren discovered that a pair of amphibious sentient aliens had apprehended Doctor Banks. They made contact and sought his release, engaging in a first contact with the new species. The situation was still tenuous when a suicide bomber entered the cave, made his way toward the group, and detonated an explosive. The team was immediately evacuated to Excalibur, but it was too late for the aliens. The officers, including Doctor MacLaren and Ensign Shedet, were all severely injured and received immediate care in the isolation unit.
The medical staff aboard Excalibur was able not only to treat the high numbers of incoming wounded, but study the plague's effect in those effected. Using an interesting hybrid named Lluneh Walker as the subject of such study, the doctors discovered a cure for the disease (called the Skyfire Cure), which could begin to be replicated and disseminated to the affected population.
One Romulan "victim" beamed aboard appeared to not actually be carrying the disease. Instead, similar symptoms were caused by theta radiation. On his person was discovered a data rod hastily encrypted using an exotic language as a cipher. Led by the science department, a cross-department team deciphered the data to discover allusions to a "gate".
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Brek conducted negotiations with the Agurthan government and Romulan fleet to decide what was to happen to the government in turmoil. Acting Director Pondahk, who had been filling in for the governor, was encouraged to guide the planet back to prosperity, with aid from the Fleet, Romulans, and Federation as required.
With the cure transferred to the Romulan fleet for distribution to the general populace, the mission, as assigned, was completed. However, events already set in motion were to be continued to their conclusions. To protect his family, First Officer Ben Walker resigned his commission and went down to the surface. He faced the Commanding Officer of the Tal'Shiar on Agurtha and, in a display of cunning befitting a Tal'Shiar officer, dispatched the head of the Tal'Shiar, resuming his own rank as a Tal'Shiar Commander. Meanwhile, Commander D'Amarok, previously taken into custody, was killed aboard a sabotaged shuttle on the orders of Acting Director Pondahk. Through these actions, Ben Walker came into effective control of the Tal'Shiar on Agurtha.
During a transporter anomaly, an entity known as "Scott" Walker took physical form. The being, previously a psychological remnant of the "shadow" creature that had occupied Ben's mind, was examined by the crew and allowed, for the time being, to remain aboard the ship.
Meanwhile, the crew of Excalibur grieved the loss of their First Officer, as relayed officially during a briefing. However, with the mission completed, it was time to leave Romulan space and head to Starbase 118 for a brief shore leave.
Having left Romulan space, USS Excalibur-A returned and docked at Starbase 118 without incident. With 48 hours of shore leave ahead, the crew relaxed after a difficult and tense mission. To help relieve them of their stress, Captain Kalianna Nicholotti decided to hold an off-duty gathering for the senior staff and other guests. Assigned with executing the event, Vitor Silveira took the opportunity to involve the entire staff in the preparations.
Each officer was given a piece of the event to prepare, which would be held in one of Starbase 118’s many holodecks and include a feast hand-cooked by the ship’s doctors. Others aboard were called upon to reserve and program the holodeck, procure foodstuffs for the meal, or ensure that other guests be present. Two such guest would be the recently rescued Lieutenant Luna Walker and Scott Walker, still aboard the ship as a civilian.
With the preparations almost complete, the shadow of the losses sustained during their recent mission – particularly the loss of their First Officer – are dulled but still present. The crew prepares to enjoy the fruits of their labor and their short shore leave to the fullest.
The crew of USS Excalibur-A, having enjoyed their first day of shore leave, rounded out the day with a celebratory dinner in one of the Starbase’s large holodecks. Decorated as an enchanted forest, the crew ate in a clearing surrounded by large trees, starlight, and the sound of crickets and other small creatures.
The evening began with an awards ceremony, with promotions given and service ribbons presented to the crew following their hard work on Agurtha. Following the ceremony, dinner was served, featuring a “stew surprise” and other homemade delights. Unfortunately, the festivities were interrupted by an attack by the fairies inhabiting the holographic forest. The crew swiftly recovered and, having prevented most of the stew from being stolen, continued to enjoy the evening. Music, dancing and conversation went late into the night.
Following the awards ceremony and subsequent celebration, the rest of shore leave was as a whirlwind. Many of the officers enjoyed their shore leave in peace, making the best of their short time off duty. For others, the “day off” was more work than pleasure. Many preparations had to be made. The new Chief Medical Officer, undaunted by the number of new arrivals in need of checkups, still managed to make time for discussions of improvements to sickbay, hearkening back to the cozy Starbase 118 medical center, which featured baked treats and tea for visitors.
Meanwhile, engineering officer Lieutenant Luna Walker ran diagnostic tests on power transfer methods, Lieutenant Silveira began pulling together plans for cross-department tactical and security drills to bring the ship up to full readiness, and Lieutenant Commander Ben Livingston was appointed as First Officer. With the day coming to a close, the crew made final preparations for their next destination: an asteroid field perfect for testing the ship’s capabilities.