Canopus Station
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Camp Sunshine

Posted on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 @ 4:32pm by Captain Benjamin Ingram Dr & Major Tatiana Skobelova

Mission: S2:3: Snow Drift
Location: Carpathia, Southern Hemisphere
Timeline: MD 1 23.00

The gas giant Tangerine Dream, of which the moon Carpathia orbited, hung heavy in the strange twilight sky. With the daylight side of Tangerine Dream facing the night side of Carpathia, an odd fey light of reds and soft-edged whites predominated the colour landscape. Dream Time was the local name for it, even if those locals were just ten thousand colonists living out of what amounted to a shantytown.

The dune sea below rippled in the Dream Time light, making the rise and fall of dunes look like the ripples of a blood-red sea. The Marine dropship, an up-armoured and mean-looking sibling of the sleek Arrow Class, cruised high above providing its single occupant with a good view on the approach to Camp Sunshine.

The mesa rose with a sudden abruptness out of the dunes, a massive protrusion of rock rising a hundred meters out of the sea of sand. As long as the SMFCS Normandy at nearly a kilometer in width and length, like its namesake the mesa was nearly perfectly flat.

The dropship flared for landing at a blaze of lights that filled the mesa's peak, and settled onto a makeshift landing area marked out with chemical glow markers. Another Arrow class runabout, as well as a cargo barge from one of the construction ships in orbit, rested beside it. Starfleet Corp of Engineer's officers and workers bustled to and from, working alongside construction mechs that were one step removed from the armoured bruisers stowed in the Normandy's well deck.

The cabin door open, and hot air rushed in to rapidly change places with the cabins cooler environs. Carpathia had a gunpowder smell to it, something that lingered at the edge of perception. The sound of cooling metal and the continuing construction work rattled in the air.

Major Tatiana Skobelova had arrived on her first world beyond the bounds of the Milky Way galaxy...with no one to greeter save the pilot that had ferried her down from the orbiting Task Force.

Several dozen fully armored marines scrambled out of the runabout. One NCO, Sergeant "Fender" McCord, guided the marines as they set up a perimeter. If the inmates wanted to get to the engineers, they would have to breach that line. Behind them, a mortar team deployed their weapon and a group of medics arranged medical containers to create an aid post. In between the two groups, Skobelova and some orderlies stood at the impromptu command post.

Flanking Skobelova was Captain Dalton Calhoun, 1st Company commander. "Major, permission to speak freely?" Calhoun asked.

"Always, Captain." She replied.

"Do you think we are overdoing it with the firepower? Our guys are using Isomagnetic Disintegrators against unarmed prisoners. Prisoners that were once marines." Calhoun lodged his objections. "I'm also sure that Federation law also prohibits the use of high powered weapons on prisoners."

"Captain, among those buildings is Lieutenant Colonel Sytex. He was once the golden boy of the SFMC. Sytex is cagey and knows more about our tactics than we do. He is now a fanatic under the control of an alien being. He has several hundred followers here that will die for him at the drop of a hat. If anything, I feel under-armed." Skobelov coolly explained.

As the Marines set up their fire lines, a ATV hummed across the construction site and slowly pulled up a stop by the dropship and the deploying army. The people within were in the white and gold shouldered jumpsuits of Starfleet Station Security. One of them got out of the four-wheel-drive electric vehicle, hands out by his side away from the holstered sidearm on his hip.

"Luetentnat Kitcher, Canopus Expedition Security," he introduced himself. His head was clean-shaven, and his nose had the crooked look of the oft broken pugilist. "Welcome to what will be Camp Sunshine, our isolation facility for the infected. Doctor Ingram's on-site overseeing the construction, and he voluntold me to come and bring you to him at his convenience. His words, not mine."

Tatiana was surprised to see that Kitcher was still alive after his encounter with Sytex. "Thank you, Lieutenant." She acknowledged Kitcher. "Captain Calhoun, you have the perimeter. Sergeant McCord, your with me." She then turned to Kitcher again. "Okay Lieutenant, we must not keep the Captain waiting." Tatiana wanted to ask about the Lieutenant's choice of words but decided to keep her mouth shut for now.

"Wiser words were never said," Kitcher said, turning and spoke to his people in the ATV. "Okay kids, out you get. Point the Marines towards the utilities and data hook up's for their gear, walk them around the place. Be the genial and polite assholes I know you can be."

The ExpSec officers hopped out of the ATV, and Kitcher slipped into the driver's seat leaving shotgun and the open back bay for McCord. Once aboard the electric motor hummed to life, and the dust and rock under the mesh tyres grumbled as they began to move.

"Camp Sunshine's on the opposite side of Carpathia from Landersfell and the Free State Romulan enclave. Given Carpathia's the only habitable world in this system, it's what we got. Though calling this place 'habitable' is a stretch," Kitcher commented. "No native life forms bigger than the single cell, no plant matter. Well, save for the creepy forest surrounding the White Tower. But that's a whole other can of creepypasta."

Kitcher swerved the ATV around a construction mech that had stepped out into the worn dusty track, the tracked machine stamping physical fence posts into the ground whilst running a wire mesh screen between them.

"Smart pathfinding my ass," Kitcher snarled. "The SCE tech's might be putting this place together quickly, but that just means they've left the machines to do a lot of the work. And given AI's from the Federation are forbidden in Messier 4, we'll we're doing a lot more of it with good old fashion human know-how. Like hit and runs. Had three of them since we started building because folk's are used to the AI driving. Just walk out in front of a load lifter carrying a prefab barrack, and blam: good bye left foot."

McCord had tried to lean on the back passenger seats but Kitcher's sudden swerve sent him spilling back into the cargo area. He struggled his way back again. "Lieutenant, something has been nagging away at me. You said that this world also has a colony on it? Aren't you worried about the inmates escaping and attacking the colony?"

"Can tell you're new here," Kitcher chuckled. "Carpathia is a class L/M. We've seen temperatures reaching close to 45C's in the habitable latitudes, and some of the equatorial hot spots having free-standing boiling water. Landersfell is on the opposite side of Carpathia to Camp Sunshine, not to mention different hemispheres. That's nearly 9000 miles of hellish desert to traverse on foot, not to mention crossing the regions with the boiling water features. Locals call the band of interconnecting dessert regions around the equator The Bane."

He nodded to his right, as the trackway they were following brought them close to the edge of the mesa.

"Of course if they can make it down 400 meters of sheer rock face without climbing gear, supplies, and succumbing to the environment...well then The Bane ain't gonna be a problem for them," Kitcher shrugged. "We keep them on the station they're a constant security risk. Here, if things go sideways, we can pull the security detail from the site and leave them to cook. The original plan was to make this a self-sufficient facility and give it over to them wholesale."

Kitcher pulled up outside a very familiar structure. Standing on four stubby legs, each set into the engine nacelle's with their thrust cones turned down to the glassed stone, was a SFMC command lander. Its back was festooned with comm's and sensor masts, and heavy armoured plate ran along its length like the scales of a sleeping dragon. The heart of any ground operation, they acted as forwarding command bases that could literally be dropped onto the front line from orbit. Not to mention its had enough firepower tucked under its skirts to make even the most gung-ho marine blush.

'It Was On Fire When We Got Here' was stencilled onto the flank of the command lander, next to its fleet and corp serial numbers.

"Ingram's inside," Kitcher nodded to the squat ship. "Third level, CIC. Want me to take your man McCord and show him where everything is?"

"Yes, Lieutenant, thank you." Tatiana replied as she dismounted the vehicle. "Fender, take notes. You'll brief Calhoun and myself when we get back to the perimeter."

The graffiti written on the side of the craft amused Tatiana as she entered. Inside, the environment controls were on so she magnetically clamped her helmet on to her belt. Tatiana had spent her fair amount of time in landers so she quickly found her way to the command section. Pausing a second to inhale, Tatiana tapped the door chime.

The heavy armour slab pretending to be a door grudgingly decided to move aside. inside the command centre was a stripped-down, lowest bidder rendition of a Starbase command centre. A central holographic display space, control stations for various specialists, as well as auxiliary stations if needs must. In full bore combat mode, this room could control orbital and frontline units as easy as three dee chess pieces.

"You're late."

The taciturn statement came from man standing on the opposite side of the holographic display space. The glowing model of the mesa and Camp Sunshine it displayed underlit his hawkish cheekbones and long face, giving him the look of a cadaverous fiend from beyond the grave. With a gesture to the display, a time index appeared in the pam of his hand.

"A month and change, but really who's counting?" Benjamin Ingram, doctor of various disciplines and captain in command of Canopus Station, flicked the holographic timepiece away to be dashed into glowing pixels. "You are here now. Best we put and your people to work, huum? I assume you've read the reports? They make for interesting reading."

Tatiana bit her lip when Captain Ingram told her she was late. The whole marine detachment had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Marin leadership had spent many a late night organizing and going over inventory. Marines hardly knew their leaders and leaders knew little of their marines. As of now, Tatiana would be reluctant to send the marines into a real fight. They needed more time to train. Time, however, was a resource in short supply. Tatiana also decided not to argue the point of her tardiness. It would just come off as petty on her part and she would lose the argument anyways.

"Yes Captain, interesting. I would also add terrifying." Tatiana replied. "We have a lot of work ahead of us and the marines are ready."

"Terrifying? An interesting if somewhat colourful descriptor. I, personally, would have gone with intriguing. Problematic perhaps. But terrifying is...huum." Ingram walked around the holoprojector as the image shifted, zooming in so that the flat top of the mesa was laid out like a map beside them.

"The good news is the climate and geology is on our side here. This mesa is an effective natural castle, with a moat thousands of miles wide in any direction. The good news is that the infected personnel now in our care are not immediately infection. Body fluid transmission is still a problem, but we have the medical division working on that. So apart from gloves and standard protective gear, your Marines are not immediately at risk. Unless one of them get's spat on in the eye or is bitten or scratched, in which case you can use another colourful expression if you like."

Picture windows appear in the air above the map of the compound.

"The problem is...the situation is evolving." Ingram nodded at the images. One showed a wall, another a bulkhead liner, and one an arm. On each picture was a crudely wrought symbol, two circles overlapping. On the wall, it had been smeared on with fingertips and food paste. Under the bulkhead liner, another had been scratched into the metal, a hundred minor nicks all adding up to form the symbol.

And on the arm, whilst harder to see for the blood, was the symbol carved into the flesh.

"Three separate groups, isolated from each other in the medical wing. All using the same symbol. Going back over the security logs of their confinement we can see it popping up here and there, doodled in the water on a tray, or scrawled on a data slate. My medical people tell me it might be some sort neural imprint the implants are providing to them. But they didn't start doing it until a week ago. And all within the same half-hour." Ingram gestured to the symbol. "Meet the Concordance. We've matched it to descriptions given to us by the Xilosian refugee's. By the way, their Force Commander Klee will want to talk to you. She has it in her fool head she can became some sort of alien auxiliary or some such. Disuade her of the notion."

"Commander Klee's ambitions aside, this is very concerning." Tatiana answered. "The patients are acting in unison, like a hive mind."

Tatiana studied the display for a moment. "Colonel Sytex isn't stupid. He knows the longer he waits to act, the stronger our position gets. They are going to strike. A sudden human surge against security will not be enough. Sytex is intelligent, resourceful, and audacious. He will conceal his intentions, possibly cause a diversion to stretch our resources, and then land a blow where we least suspect it."

"Which is why they are all still on the station awaiting transportation to the surface. Until this facility is secured to my satisfaction, that is. But you are right, time is not our friend here." Ingram noted. "As for the hive mind theory, we've tested that. Normal extrasensory perception testing scored at a 30 on the Ma'rvel Scale, which puts them actually below average for non-gifted beings. Even guessing the average person scores at around 40-45, which is why we do not often test for gestalt networks. What we theorize, and unless we euthanise one of them to perform an autopsy in-depth it shall remain so, is that the implant itself is passing along the information to them individually. Some sort of seed crystal, perhaps epigenetic junk data from the fungal infection. After all the fungus is able to generate a self-assembling nano scale scaffold, throwing in a little firmware is hardly a great leap of faith."

He stepped back from the hologram, and looked Tatiana over.

"So we have a company's worth of trained soldiers who now see themselves as captured enemy combatants. And religiously fanatic ones at that. No doubt you saw Kitcher's nose on your way in, so their threat response is somewhat keyed up. How would you handle moving them from the station to the planet's surface?" Ingram asked.

Explanations of Ma'rvel scores and gestalt networks made Tatiana's head swim a bit. They reminded her that she was better off in the marines than on a scientific expedition. "I'll contact the detachment staff and arrange the deployment. I would like to keep a reserve on the station for any unforeseen emergencies that will come up."

"Do you have any idea how long this deployment will last?" Tatiana asked. "Keeping personnel on a high readiness posture will cause fatigue. If we are planetside for anything longer than a month I would like to rotate them back up to the station."

"Plan for the long term Major. The Phase Space Accelerator in the Alpha Quadrant is a one-way street. And whilst we are currently putting the systems infrastructure into high gear, there are other priorities over which a second companion Accelerator takes a back seat. Not to mention we are reliant on the Cardassian Union to supply the super capacitance material needed for the machine to operate," Ingram sighed and shook his head. "Not to mention at the moment we have no viable means of treatment for the infected Marines or any subsequent outbreaks. For the time being, Camp Sunshine will be our leper colony of sorts."

He turned to look at her.

"I would advise not placing your full strength or full attention on this facility. So far we've handled threats to station and system security well, but there is an upward curve we've begun to see. The Myriad, the Concordance, the Merchantile Academia. The bloody Reka infesting the asteroid belts. I hope you have come to work for your supper Major," he warned.

"To be honest Captain, I prefer to have a more active role. More than once I have been stuck on a ship and the marines have been told to wait until they are needed. Then we get stuck with tasks the rest of the crew find unsavory or monotonous. I eventually become the commander of the unassigned labor pool." Tatiana replied.

"So, with what you told me I will assign one company here on a rotating basis. Normally we would have a platoon sized quick reaction force, given the volatile situation I'm going to increase that to company sized force. The QRF will also have their own dedicated Arrows. Any other unit that is not deployed will be in reserve. Of course all that is subject to change if the situation dictates, Captain." She explained.

"A sensible flexible strategy," Ingram said after a moments consideration. "As for the Arrows, I can dedicate a single Arrow full time to your company. That is not thrift, but circumstance. Until the manufactories come fully online we're running into maintenance problems with flight-critical parts. Things replicators can't just make on a whim. Give the engineer's a few months, and we'll have every toy you can ask for."

A holographic timepiece went off on Ingram's wrist, and he glanced at it.

"Alas, time is fleeting. I must depart for the station. I'll be sure to pass along your comm details to the Xilosian military head, Klee. As I said she is quite adamant. A worthy woe, fortunately on our side," Ingram commented before turning to leave. "Oh, and one last thing. If you should bump into a fellow called Bar'soon on the station he is to be given nothing. Regardless of what he might say or promise. Trust me, his idea of an inch is a mile long."


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